Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 8

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But this was nonsense. If the man was Magneto, he was a monster and Joseph shouldn't find himself sympathizing with him. If he wasn't, then he was a liar, or at the least severely deluded. "So you are the wronged innocent, then?" he said sarcastically. "A curious claim for one who purports to be Magneto to make. Suppose you are the real Magneto. What do you expect from me, approval? Do you want me to join your cause? Or are you simply here to convince me of your identity, and then, if I won't join you, kill me for refusing?"

"My cause?" The other laughed bitterly. "Which cause? The cause of preparing myself to fight for my people in the inevitable war, which I seem to have sabotaged by precipitating that war? The cause of world domination, fighting the tyranny of humanity's bigotry by replacing it with my own tyranny? The cause of redeeming myself in the eyes of the world, which I sabotaged spectacularly by killing ten thousand people? I have no cause anymore, Joseph. I have had so many, in the time I cannot remember, and I seem to have ruined them all. The only one I would call my cause, the one I remember holding, was the belief that sooner or later, humanity would turn on us, and that it was my duty to prepare for that war, to train myself and husband resources such that, when the war came, I could step in as a general and lead our kind to victory. Instead, apparently I changed my mind, took it into my head that the only safe path for mutantkind was one where we ruled over them with an iron fist, and started the war before I or anyone else was truly prepared for it. Thus precipitating a history of internecine conflict and squabbling amongst mutantkind, making an enemy of the one man I most wanted and needed as an ally, and offering human bigots a convenient scapegoat and mutant bigots a convenient figurehead. They compare me to Hitler! The evil that destroyed my life, the greatest evil I can imagine, and they compare me to that..."

His voice dropped to a whisper. "And I cannot even say it is undeserved. When I look at what I did, what I actually did versus what they claim I threatened to do, up to the events of Blackout Thursday, I can say, this was justified, wrong but an understandable mistake. 1,400 dead. Casualties of war. Men firing guns at me, men firing missiles at me, men in tanks and planes attacking me. I didn't kill civilians. It is perhaps frightening, that one man can conduct a war all by himself, but that is what I was doing and the casualties were within reason, for that." He shook his head, his face pale. "And then... and then, ten thousand dead. Men, women, children. Business travelers. The aged and sick. And I..."

He was giving voice to things Joseph himself had thought, things he'd tried desperately not to think about, though he couldn't really avoid it with people who were so quick to remind him. "And you want to think you did all this, and not me?" he asked disbelievingly.

"It doesn't matter what I want, Joseph. As you yourself pointed out, if the crimes of Magneto are on my conscience, I cannot deny them or place the blame on anyone else. And I have rather good reasons to think that I am the one they belong with. So no. I don't want your approval. I can't approve of myself, why should I expect such from you? And I don't want you to join my cause. I can't believe in your cause, but given how little good any of my causes have done, perhaps the very fact that I can't believe in a cause and therefore don't fight for it means that it will succeed."

"That's far more defeatist than I'd expect from you."

"Expect from me?" The double smiled mockingly. "So now you have expectations of me? Doesn't that mean you have made a decision, as to who you think I am?"

"It doesn't matter who I think you are. You think you're Magneto, and you have enough of Magneto's memories and patterns of thinking to put on a very convincing impression. Is it true? I don't know-- I can do a convincing impression myself, when I want to. But being convinced that anything you could possibly do is going to end in failure is not one of Magneto's attitudes. Everything I have learned of the man-- and everything I know of myself-- tells me that Magneto would never admit to defeat. There has to be something that can be done."

The doppelganger sighed. "Perhaps there is. I may see a path in a week, or a month, or a year. I have fallen to despair before, and always before I made my way back out of it; I suppose there's no reason to think this much different. But... it is only, I have apparently tried so many different things, and those I did not outright fail at were never good ideas to begin with." He sat down on the bed. "What I remember... I was so sure of myself, so arrogant in that surety. Twenty years ago I knew what was going to happen. More and more of my people would be revealed to the world, until eventually humanity did what it has always done with the strange and the different. They would try to send us to the gas chambers, and we would fight back. I would lead us in that fight, I would find Charles and persuade him to join my cause now that his dream had proven itself bankrupt, as I'd always known it would. And the two of us together would lead the battle against humanity, and we would fight, and we would win. And in the aftermath, we would be left the dominant species on this Earth, due to our evolutionary superiority; or, if not, we would claim part of the Earth for our own, and the rest of Earth's natives to live elsewhere. Perhaps we could take over North America. The people who live there can't claim any moral right to the territory, given they themselves took it from those who were there before them."

A lot of this sounded suspiciously like ideas Joseph had had before he'd met the X-Men. "So what happened?"

"Obviously, not what I thought would." He stared into emptiness. "I remember... the death of a dear friend, at the hands of one I trusted, and a single moment like a dark epiphany. The realization came to me that humanity was fundamentally corrupt, self-serving and stupid. We were the next step of evolution, we were the ubermenschen, our morality far superior to their petty, vicious little nationalistic squabbles. For their sake and our own, we had to rule them, and clearly I was the one best suited to do that... I, with Charles's help."

He looked at Joseph. "Memory stops there. I can only assume Charles... didn't approve of the plan, and friendship became enmity. I must also assume that that particular demented vision stayed with me. I can't understand why. Isabelle was human. The pain of her loss, of knowing I'd once again failed to protect one I cared for, and the rage at the betrayal that allowed this... that could have deranged me for a time, but for years? Mutants are superior to humans in many ways, but one way we are not is in our morality. We are far from above the petty squabbling that's characterized humanity from the dawn of time. I knew that. I'd met few of our kind by then, but that I knew. I knew also I wouldn't have made a very good ruler. I simply don't like people enough. Mutants or humans... I prefer to be left alone. But that seems to be what I decided I would make my new life's work... so, apparently, I cast Charles aside, and started the war, and painted mutantkind as ravening monsters who seek to take humanity's place on this world to all humans, thus ensuring that even those who might have believed in peaceful coexistence were now convinced of the danger we represent, and that we must be killed or controlled." He stood up, pacing restlessly.

"After that... after awakening to this new world, this world I helped create, and seeing what I have done to the dream I remember, how can I believe in myself? I don't think I've done any good for mutantkind in all the twenty years I don't remember. I think I must have tried... I did surrender myself to stand trial so that I could be punished for my crimes and not my people... and then, miraculously, I was acquitted, a judgment that flies so in the face of what it looked like the judges planned for me that it looks to me as if I somehow rigged it, and if it looks that way to me who can blame humans for thinking so? Rioting broke out, anti-mutant sentiment worsened... and then I went back to terrorism again, spitting in the faces of those who'd held out hands in friendship and justifying everyone who believed me a monster. How could I possibly have made worse decisions? I don't understand any of it. I'm not a stupid man... is it only with hindsight that these mistakes become so apparent? Why didn't I see any of this coming before I did it?"

Hesitantly, Joseph said, "Does it feel... sometimes... as if it can't have been you? That so much of it was so stupid, or so malicious, that you simply can't imagine how it could have been you doing it?"

The other looked at him hard. "To be frank... no. No, it always has seemed like myself. Myself making an outrageously stupid mistake, myself doing things I can't quite fathom why I would have done, but... no, it was me. Why? Is that what it was like for you?"

"I... well, yes. It doesn't... it's never felt like me." For the first time, Joseph began to seriously believe that the man might really be Magneto. He would have thought the other would have shared that sense of disconnection, the feeling of being caught up in a nightmare where you realize suddenly you have done things that you would never do, only it wasn't a nightmare and he could never awaken from it. The other seemed to share his horror of the things Magneto had done. He knew a lot more about them-- Joseph had had no idea Magneto had surrendered himself to stand trial-- but he claimed to have forgotten them equally as thoroughly. The sense of disconnection, that another man had committed those crimes, should have applied to him just as much. The only reason Joseph could think of that that wouldn't be true would be if both of them knew, somehow, deep down in their souls below the level of memory, who they really were-- and the other was, indeed, really Magneto, and Joseph really wasn't.

"You realize, of course, the most likely reason for this."

"Yes." Joseph took a deep breath. "But it isn't proof, Magnus." And realized, as he heard his own voice speaking the name, that proof or no, some part of him had already decided. But he couldn't give in to that-- he had so many reasons to want to believe, so many reasons to deceive himself. "I can accept, provisionally, that maybe you're the original Magneto, and I'm a clone. But I need more than my own vague feelings that I didn't commit Magneto's crimes, and your statement that you feel you did. To begin with, if I am a clone, who created me and why?"

Magnus looked uncomfortable. "I can't tell you that."

"Why not?"

"I have sworn to keep a confidence, and that confidence includes your creator's name and the reason. I will tell you this: you've fulfilled the purpose you were designed for already, or so I'm told. You are your own man, burdened with no hidden purpose, no secret agendas to be fulfilled. At least, I am told this, by one I have some reason to trust."

Interesting that Magnus should choose to tell him that. It hadn't occurred to Joseph that, if he was a clone, and therefore created for some purpose, that that purpose might still affect his life. Perhaps it was his arrogance-- Joseph invariably assumed that he was in control of his own destiny. Or perhaps it was just that the clone thing hadn't sunk in. Part of him was yearning eagerly toward the thought that he might not be Magneto, but to believe that he'd have to accept the thought that he might be a clone, and none of him was ready to do that yet. Cloning was something that happened to other people, mostly relatives of Scott and Jean. The thought that he might be a clone was unreal, and disturbing. When Ororo had told him all about Scott and Jean's insanely convoluted past and family tree, involving clones, time travel, obsessed geneticists and alternate universes, he'd thought of Madelyne Pryor and Stryfe as figures of evil as much because they were clones as because they had been evil. As if somehow being a clone made you the dark shadow of the original, by necessity. Something less, something not human-- not in the sense of being a mutant instead, but in the sense of being less worthy than human, not more.

"Why haven't you tried to destroy me?"

Magnus sighed. "I told you--"

"I know what you told me. Hear me out. If I'm nothing but a copy of you... and mind you, I haven't yet accepted that, not without proof, but if it's true... every case I've heard of where there's been a clone, he or she has tried to destroy the original. And generally done so in a fashion that would cause maximum damage to the innocent. Why would you take that risk, and let me live?"

"I hadn't heard of any such thing."

"The X-Men have had encounters with two clones. Both turned evil, or were evil, and left untold death and destruction in their wake."

"And I am supposed to judge you on the basis of a sample of two? Without knowing anything of the circumstances that created them, or the things they did? I called you a clone because technically that's what you are, but in fact I--" He smiled suddenly, an expression of embarrassment. "It's foolish in a way, but I've begun to think of you as a son. I know I have had a son and daughter who I have no memories of at all, who I apparently encountered and abused in the time I don't remember, and now my daughter is dead, and my son apparently hates me. I had hoped, in a way... you're clearly more like me than Wanda or Pietro could possibly have been. You share some of my memories and all of my genes. You are... much like I might have been, if... if the Holocaust had not happened, or perhaps only even if Magda hadn't turned from me... like a younger, brighter, less tainted self." He held up a hand. "I know, you are your own man. I don't seek to shape your destiny. I've ruined my own, why taint yours? But you are... you are the man I might have been, and the choices you will make, of your free will, are the choices I might have made if I hadn't been permanently tainted by the darkness I grew up in. You are my second chance, not because you will live out my dreams, but because your own dreams, whatever they might be, must of necessity be the ones I might have had, if I had been a better man."

So, good people had evil clones, and evil people had good ones? Joseph didn't believe that for a minute. He knew he wasn't a good man-- better than Magneto, perhaps, but not good-- and unless Magnus was lying outrageously throughout this conversation, Joseph no longer believed he was an intrinsically evil one. "I am hardly untainted."

"What have you done?"

No accusation, nothing but curiosity. Though it wasn't as if someone who thought himself to be Magneto had any room to accuse. "I have killed," he said, hesitantly. He'd never told the X-Men about this; in the light of all his other crimes, there didn't seem to be any need.

"Tell me."

"In South America. They were drug lords, or the sort of scum that work for drug lords. They wanted me to use my powers in their service." The words became easier to say as more of them came out. "When I wouldn't, they kidnapped-- I'd been staying at an orphanage; the children found me, feverish and half-dead, on the property, and Sister Maria, the woman who cared for the children, had taken me in and nursed me through it. They kidnapped Sister Maria and the children. I tortured a man to make him tell me where they'd been taken, and then I went there." The memories rose up. "They held guns, threatened to kill the children if I moved against them. I remember thinking what fools they were, how little they understood what they were dealing with, and how very deserving of death that made them."

"So you killed them."

"Brutally." He could still hear the screams. The rage had been wholly in control of him then. He had simply grabbed anything metal he could use as a weapon, and bludgeoned, impaled or strangled all of them. He hadn't even been particularly quick about it, let alone merciful. They had started by snarling curses and shooting at him. By the end, they had screamed, and prayed, and begged. None of it had stopped him, not until they were all dead. And then he'd rescued the children and Sister Maria, not even thinking, not even attempting to shelter the children from the carnage... and they had seen what he'd done, and they'd all turned from him in terror, cringing against the Sister. All the love they'd given him, all the eager childish worship, wiped away in a moment of rage.

"Because you were angry. Because they had threatened what you loved, and the rage had control."

There was still no condemnation in the man's voice, only understanding. It was eerie. No one else had both understood and accepted. "Yes," he said softly.

"And did they turn from you then? The people who had cared for you, sheltered you? When they saw what you had done, what kind of monster you were, did they reject you?"

"Yes," he said, and immediately followed it with "No. In that moment, yes-- all of them. The children, Sister Maria-- but I talked to the Sister later. She, at least, had forgiven me. She said that the children would forget, in time... that I didn't have to go. I... didn't believe her. I was sure that when the children woke, they would look at me with the same fear and revulsion they had, that night..."

Magnus nodded. "So you left."

"That wasn't the only reason." Joseph poured himself a glass of water. "I needed to find my past. I had... I'd known all along that sooner or later I'd have to go, but I didn't really want to know. I was convinced I'd done evil... I didn't know what, but whatever it was, I wasn't at all sure I wanted to know... and I felt as if perhaps this was the only time in my life, or at least the first time in a long time, where I was accepted. Where I could have anything approximating a home. I knew it would end, sooner or later. Deep down, I even think I knew it would end that way."

"It always has," Magnus said. "Whatever you do remember of my life, you must have that in you, buried at some level you cannot access, perhaps. But it seems you remember my... lack of any connection that isn't destroyed, sooner or later."

Yes. He understood suddenly why he had always felt that desperate hunger for belonging, the terror and certainty that sooner or later the X-Men would reject him and deservedly so for his crimes, the overwhelming gratitude he felt to them as a group and Rogue in particular for giving him a second chance. He was a proud man, and yet he'd clung to any scrap of friendship they'd been willing to toss him, tossing away his goal to regain his memories because they told him he'd be evil if he did and he didn't dare lose them. And because he feared becoming evil, but deep down he'd never truly believed that regaining his memories would change who he was so fundamentally. "Why doesn't that drive you, then?"

"Drive me?"

"Magneto willingly abandoned friendships and connections. I believe he and Rogue were..." Lovers, if those dreams had as much basis in reality as his nightmares did. "...close. He was once friends with the X-Men, and they all say he betrayed them... well, Storm says that, Cyclops and the other originals seem to think he was always an enemy. I couldn't understand why. To me... it seems so inevitable that sooner or later I will lose them, that they will turn from me, but I can't imagine willingly turning from them. I can't imagine the severing coming from me."

Magnus shrugged. "Eventually, one gets used to it."

"I find that hard to believe."

"I suppose that's because it isn't true. No. You do get used to it, the way one can get used to hunger and filth. It becomes... less horrifying, more a sad and dirty fact of life. You would give anything to change it if you could, but you no longer truly believe that can happen... so you stop reaching out, you isolate yourself and let none inside. I have done it more times than I can count. In my case, every time I remember doing it, I remember eventually the isolation growing painful enough that I would take the risk, I would indeed let someone in... and, with the exception of the situation I find myself in right now, every single time I have made a friend, in my memory, it has ended in pain and severance. I suppose that eventually I did get used to it. Perhaps I turned from the X-Men merely because they're fools who will get themselves killed, and it would be entirely too hurtful to let myself care for them when they're inevitably doomed. Perhaps I did something I thought I needed to do, and they found it monstrous, and turned from me."

Actually, that sounded painfully likely. "You said you have books. They don't tell you?"

"About the X-Men, and my relationship with them? None of the books were written by people with connections to the X-Men, or if they had such, they didn't include that information. I know the X-Men opposed me in battle on many, many occasions. Then, suddenly, I was seen in public fighting by their side against a religious anti-mutant crusade. Not long after that, I became publicly affiliated with the team, to the point that they fought to protect me from other superheroes who wanted to bring me to justice. And then they all apparently died in Dallas, and some months after that I turned up as a terrorist again. There are vast holes in that, I fear. Everything in the books comes from information that was publicly available one way or another, and the X-Men are secretive, even more so than typical superheroes."

The thought occurred to Joseph that the files he wasn't allowed to access undoubtedly contained that information. When he got home, he was going to have to have a talk with someone about that. There was no reason to restrict him from those files if Magneto's memories literally were not present in his head; the whole reason they'd blocked his access was to prevent his memories from being triggered by exposure to the files, and flooding back into him. Even if they were his memories, that wasn't going to happen. "What else is in those books, then?"

"Wait here," Magnus said-- apparently forgetting that Joseph was his prisoner, and couldn't very well do anything else-- and left the room hastily. He returned a few minutes later with an assortment of hardcover and trade paperback books, and piled them on the bed. "I'd also give you the videotapes of the trial, but I'm afraid I can't have you handling videotapes at the moment."

"What did you do to my powers?"

"Your brain's been temporarily stripped of catalysine. Do you know what that is?"

Joseph gave him a dirty look. "I have retained most of my scientific knowledge."

"I didn't know that," Magnus pointed out reasonably. "In any case, I imagine you'd probably want to read these. I'm afraid I've scrawled notes all over them-- I'm hard on books."

"I know that."

"Yes. Yes, of course you would. I wonder if your handwriting is the same?... It must be, mustn't it, or the X-Men would have figured it out already."

Joseph flipped open one of the books to a dog-eared passage, and glanced down at the barely legible German scrawled in the margin. "Yes, it's the same." He shook his head. "I may have a hard time reading this. I generally decipher my own notes by remembering what it was I wrote rather than actually reading what's there."

"Ah, but it's invaluable if you want privacy from other people reading your notes. You don't even need to encode them."

"I've noticed that." He glanced up at Magnus. "Why are you giving me this? If your thesis is true, this isn't my life."

"You're genetically identical to me." Magnus picked up one of the books-- Master of Magnetism, it said on the spine, and the back of the book jacket had a photograph of Magneto, in costume but unhelmeted. "That has to mean something," he said, idly flipping through the book. "You're not me, no. But you could have been. You have the same potentials, for good or ill." He set the book down. "Perhaps if I can teach you of the mistakes I made, you won't need to make them. You can learn from my experiences."

"From books? When you yourself admit there are holes in them?"

"It's better than nothing." He picked up another of the books-- Faces of Evil: Demagogues of the 20th Century. "Some of what's contained in these is outrageous lies-- a few of them so outrageous that I suspect even you would recognize them as such. Gabrielle Haller, who writes the chapter about me, and who in other respects seems to be sympathetic to me-- which is gratifying; she was a friend in Israel, and I knew she was my lawyer at the trial, but of course that doesn't necessarily mean a great deal-- claims that I am a gypsy!"

Joseph blinked at that. He'd figured out that he'd been born Jewish within a month of his awakening, when he'd gone rummaging through everything Sister Maria could find for him of other cultures and other ways to try to figure out what he was. "Could she have been mistaken, somehow?"

"Joseph, she was a friend of mine in Israel. No, she knew perfectly well it wasn't true. I suspect there was some sort of political nonsense going on-- Israel disavowing the evil Magneto out of fear that, in addition to awakening virulent anti-mutant hatreds, I might re-invoke anti-Semitism, too. I also find myself wondering why, given the sympathies her article shows toward me, she was willing to submit it to an anthology called Faces of Evil."

"I was wondering that."

"Still, from my notes-- I usually made a great number of corrections all over the page when I encountered something I knew to be false-- and from your own fragments of memory, I think you might well be as easily able to tell as I am when someone is doing more of a hatchet job than is called for."

Joseph looked down at the books, and back at Magnus. The man had just handed him what he'd craved for close to a year now-- answers about his past-- apparently without strings. These weren't propaganda pieces, and just from reading the backs of the trade paperbacks, he could tell that a number of them were extremely uncomplimentary toward Magneto. Hell, Magnus as much as admitted that the one essayist who was a personal friend had not only lied to disassociate him from her people but had published her essay in a book called Faces of Evil. The intent couldn't possibly be to brainwash him. From Magnus' behavior, the outpourings of confidences that couldn't very well be something he did with everyone, Joseph was beginning to think Magnus really had forgotten that Joseph was his prisoner instead of his guest.

"Even as quickly as I read, this will take me a few days," Joseph said casually. "Why don't I take them back to the mansion with me and read them there? I can always return them to a mail drop if you have one."

"That's reasonable," Magnus said.

Joseph fought to keep his jaw from dropping to the floor. That had really worked?

Magnus looked at him with a puzzled expression, then burst out laughing. "Joseph, how many times must I tell you? I never intended you any harm. All I wanted was to talk to you-- of course I'd let you go when our conversation was done."

"And is it?"

He sighed. "I can't force you to believe that you're not Magneto. So yes, I suppose it is. You have the books, and I can give you the videotapes to take with you in a shielded case, to watch when your powers return--"

"Which will be?"

"In a day or so. You'll be safely back at your mansion by then."

Joseph shook his head. "Unless you made notes on those as well, it won't be necessary. I'm sure the X-Men have copies of the tapes, somewhere, and I intend to get them from them."

"Then I suppose there's no reason we can't toss the books in a bag and take you home now."

In fact, Magnus didn't drop him anywhere near home. He dropped Joseph off at an airport in Nebraska, with a bag of books and cash for a plane ticket-- apparently, unlike Joseph, Magnus remembered most of Magneto's bank account numbers. Joseph debated actually purchasing said plane ticket-- he didn't like the idea of being beholden to the X-Men for a ride home. He also thought of getting a hotel room and holing up here with his books until his powers returned. In the end, however, he did have a responsibility to the X-Men. Rogue was probably worried about him-- and he was rather worried about her, given that last time he'd seen her she'd just been electrocuted with his power. Cyclops would probably give him hell if he waited the day or so for his powers to return before contacting the X-Men. And he was entirely too large a man to be at all comfortable flying in a commercial airplane, even first class. Not to mention, he probably wasn't safe to do so-- with his body generating an EM field that he couldn't control, he was likely to cause all kinds of radio interference.

Instead, he phoned the mansion. Jean picked up the phone. "Xavier Institute of Higher Learning."

"It's Joseph, Jean. I'm glad to hear you're all right; how's Rogue?"

There was a moment of silence. Then, "How's Rogue? How are you? What happened? Where are you?"

"I'm fine. I was captured, and then released. I'm in Omaha, at the airport. How is Rogue?"

"She's fine. What do you mean, you were released? Who captured you? What did they want?"

"Apparently, to have a conversation and give me some books. As for who captured me... I still haven't any definitive answer to that one." He sighed. "I'm sure I'll have to endure a complete debriefing. At the moment, however, my powers aren't operational, so I'm actually calling to see if anyone can come pick me up. Otherwise I'll just stay here until they return; I'm told they should be coming back tomorrow, and I really don't dare take a commercial flight until they do."

Another moment of hesitation. "All right. We'll send someone out to get you. See if you can find somewhere convenient for the Blackbird to put down; there's got to be an area at the airport for private flights to come in and out. It'll take us about two hours."

"I'll be waiting."

Next: What you've all been waiting for. Joseph and the X-Men get in each other's faces, and Joseph demands the right to know the truth about Magneto.

I love feedback, including tough critique, so 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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