Fanfic Time: X-Wars, part 29

Continued from yesterday:

  When the X-Men finally left the sewers, it was with heavy hearts and a sense of importunable dread at something indefinable, yet close. None of them could forget the rainbow of expressions flitting fitfully across Nightcrawler’s face, and Scott might have given his eye teeth to have Jean there as telepathic translator, had he not been so certain to keep her away from all things blue and fuzzy.

  Nightcrawler was even more het up about this whole affair than they were, and they’d been trying to apprehend the dregs of Magneto’s crew since they learned of them. Nightcrawler’s personal stake in matters made things knife-edge - children were at risk should the Legion become scapegoats. It only took one man to throw a rock, one rock to start a riot, and one riot to massacre hundreds of innocents.

  Spiral had teleported them out, much to her own chagrin, and vanished again before Colossus could so much as thank her. Thus it was they traipsed back to where they’d left their vehicle, furnished with knowledge they’d rather not have had.


  “What’s up with you?” Stacy had changed into a form-fitting bodysuit, the better for working in filth and muck but looking glamourous at the same time. On one hip was balanced a small girl with hands instead of feet and knotted blonde hair.

  Rita stalked past, portal rapidly closing behind her. “Fuck you,” she snapped.

  The little girl opened her mouth, but Stacy cut in. “Um, far be it for me to interrupt you in auto-bitch mode, but I could you a hand back here. Kids are waking up for their nap. Need feeding.”

  Rita stopped, spun, and hissed, “Fuck ‘em.”

  “You crabby because of the Luvums thing?”

  “I’m crabby because some jerkoff is trying to make us targets for every nutball with a gun and an anti-mutant leaflet. I’m crabby because I just had to waste three minutes of my life teleporting a bunch of sell-outs to the surface. I’m *crabby*,” her voice rose and octave “because even after all the fucking work we do, all the fucking sacrifices we make, it’s never *fucking* *enough*!”

  Stacy regarded her coolly, the complete antithesis to her earlier distress. Quietly, she put the little girl down and shepherded her back into the little alcove they’d come from, then focibly grabbed Rita and dragged her down the tunnel.

  “Listen to me,” she said soberly, ignoring the Glare of Doom. “You want to lose faith, fine. You want to mouth off against the world, hunky dory. But you want to panic these kids anymore than they have to be panicked, then I don’t care *how* many swords you can wield, I’ll ram your teeth right down your throat. We clear?”

  Her voice never rose above a murmur, but it had the required effect - albeit with teeth-baring and a good deal of irate gurning first.

  “Fine. I’ll just go kvetch to a wall somewhere. Wouldn’t want to be an inconvenience.”

  “Pity Parties aren’t the reason we’re here, Rita. They are.” She gestured to where they’d left Analee and the kids. “You lose sight of that, you leave. End of story.”

  “You’re not the leader. You can’t say who stays and who goes.”

  “No, but Nightcrawler is, and he cares for those kids more than he does for us. You probably know that even more than I do. We die on a mission, boo hoo. We knew the risks when we signed on. Little crying, maybe some sort of eulogy, and nothing else. *They* bite it, and he’d be a wreck. *They* didn’t sign on for anything, they just need protection. That’s us. Given the choice between us and them, Rita, guess which he’ll choose?”

  Rita’s face showed a range of warring emotions, before something approaching resentment won out. “Get away from me,” she said, shoving hard and turning the movement into a series of graceful steps that spirited her away to some other part of the sewers.

  Stacy watched the smoking spot for a moment, rearranged her insides from the home truths she’d spoken, and marched back to where she was needed.


  Xaviers brows were so furrowed that they could have been the grand canyon.

  'Erik…’ he muttered, 'Magneto…’ he tried the word in his mouth, testing it’s sound.


  Truthfully, he’d held little hope that the Master of Magnatism would just stay locked up forever, he was too powerful, but it seemed only yesterday they’d managed to capture him…

  Now he was back and, if Charles knew anything, he was more dangerous than ever, if he hadn’t felt he had the upper hand he wouldn’t have pulled off a stunt like this. For all his bravado and pride, Magneto was not a rash man, not always.

  His thoughts were interrupted by Dan, who stormed into the room a look of fury on his face.

  He slammed a file down on Xaviers desk, 'damn!’ he swore, then sat down in a chair facing him.

  'Something has you riled?’ asked Xavier, hoping it wasn’t him or the X-men. The last thing they needed now was the governments displeasure.

  'No,’ snapped back Dan, 'it’s not you, it’s this damn… situation. We should have spotted it! As it was… he slipped out streight under our noses.’

  'I trust you are reffering to Magneto and his escape? How was it we were not notified of it? And how did he escape anyway?’

  'That’s what’s got me peed,’ grunted Dan, 'you remember Magneto’s prison?’

  'An antarcit base, made entirely out of aluminum,(1) the magnetic interference from the pole, intensified by technology, was supposed to have contained his powers, correct?’

  'Exactly,’ replied Dan, 'and it was entirly hidden, cut off from the outside world. Supplies of food are sent once a month, no one except the the most trusted guards go in or out. And the guards are only switched round once every three months. It was almost complete isolation, good in theroy, but it meant that when he broke out-’

  'You had no idea of it,’ finished Xavier, 'hence you probably didn’t even know he was free untill this incident.’

  Dan nodded, 'Charles,’ he said, 'I’m no telepath, but know you don’t particually like me, I know most of you think the government is incompitent and meddlesome, and sometimes…. sometimes you’re right. We’re not complete fools, though, we’re sure that it wasn’t the Legion, and we won’t ask you to chase them up about this. This had to be Magneto and if it is… well, you’re main mission is to neutralise him, in any way possible. No matter what the cost. You can take any means neccesary.’

  'Are you saying what I think you’re saying?’ asked Xavier.

  Dan shrugged, 'you’re the telepath. Get this, too, officially, the Legion are not suspects, but they’re still enemies. Unnoficially… well… it they offer help head office has promised not to get on your backs about accepting it. Just don’t let it leak out that they’ve done their bit, and don’t get to cushie with them, they’re still the enemy.’

  'Very enlightened,’ remarked Xavier.

  'They’re the lesser of two evils,’ sighed Dan, rising up out of the chair. 'I’m going back to see what I can see, even as we speak there’s an investigation going on at the empty prison, to dicern how he got out. I’ll keep you updated if we find any clues.’

  Xaiver nodded, 'thank you,’ he said, and for once he meant it.

  Dan just grunted and stalked out.

 (1) Aluminium isn’t magnetic.


  Hank’s cell phone had been buzzing insistently for several seconds while he finished up and egressed under the police picket. The X-Men provided a swathe through the band of reporters and ogling bystanders, and upon reaching their vehicle allowed him on board to answer his call in relative peace.


  “Hank. Thank goodness.” It was Allison, sounding frazzled as a pin in a socket. “Are you still busy? Only we’ve got a bit of a situation here and kinda need your help.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “Some idiots decided to target the building with home-made molotov cocktails after the Luvvums thing. Logan scared them off, but a few of the kids took it upon themselves to go help. Hank, there was a skirmish. One of them’s been hurt quite badly, but we daren’t take her to a hospital…”

  “I’ll be home as soon as I can. As a matter of interest, who’s the

injured party?”

  “Little blue furry girl, can’t remember her name. Nikki, maybe?”

  “Niota. I might’ve known.” they completed the conversation in terse sentences, culminating in Hank ringin off and asking for a ride home.

  “No problem, mon ami,” Remy drawled, moving to the controls. “have you dere in no seconds flat.”

  Hank thanked them gratefully, then drew Jean to one side, pressing a scrap of paper from his pocket into her hand. On it was a name and address written in neat, completely un-doctor-like script.

  “This is an old colleague of a colleague whom I’m told is the best in his field. His name is Doctor Nathanial Essex. Call in on him, talk, see what he has to say on… things. He’s a much better port of call then myself, I think. You’d be wise to consult him on any action you might want to take.”

  Jean nodded, crumpling the paper in one hand nervously, and swallowing hard. “Thank you.”


  Nightcrawler hung the faces on the walls, as was his habit.

  “These are the people we’re looking for,” he said. He tapped each portrait as he announced their name. “Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, aka Magneto. Todd Mortimer Toynbee, aka Toad. StJohn…” he paused, squinting at the name[1]. “Pyro. Don’t let him get near *anything* hot. He’s a pyrokinetic.” He paced up and down the assembled line. “Be very careful with these people. They’re violent and dangerous psychopaths. Find them. Do not attack them until you’re *certain* of victory. Magneto can effect anything with magnetic properties. Toad can spit a chemical soup that can do anything between setting rock hard in instants to *poisoning* you. Or both. He also has a very flexible tongue. Watch out for it. I don’t have to warn you twice about Pyro.”

  As one, the Legion nodded.

  “Sehr gut. Go.”

  They scattered through the tunnels.


  “Yes, Tech?”

  “Um. There’s something on the news you want to know about…”


  “Ah yes. My old friend Henry…” Essex smiled companionably. “He would know about my little -er- technique.”

  “I want to know everything about it,” said Jean.

  Essex sipped his tea. “It isn’t an abortion, of course. Previous attempts to abort mutant babies have been notorious, and sometimes gory, failures. It’s more like… adopting the foetus out, to a better home.”

  The attending nurse, on cue, bought out a machine. It looked like something from Jules Verne’s fantasies.

  “My personal triumph. The artificial womb. It’s the only way to -ah- *convince* the foetus to move.”

  “Convince?” echoed Jean.

  “Oh yes. One of the miracles of early mutant foetal development is a condition known colloquially as placenta mobillus. It’s why curette abortions just don’t work. And similarly, why drugs to shed the uterine wall are ineffective.” He laughed. “The mutant foetus clings to life, madam. We make an incision and 'chase’ the foetus onto a nutrient sponge that mimics the uterine lining perfectly. From there, its transferred into the machine to gestate in peace.”

  The nurse, setting up at the table, poured fluids into the machine. She also laid parts in sterilized trays.

  “This way,” said Essex, “everyone gets what they want.”

  “Why don’t you just shut the machine off once you have it secure?” asked Jean.

  “Have you ever seen a prenatal eruption of a mutant power? You, madam, are a telepath and a telekinetic. You list the father as having a teleportation power. Can you imagine the results of *that*, madam? bursting out with the single purpose of maintaining its life. Often at the expense of another’s.”

  Jean could picture it exactly. She went pale. “So what happens to the baby?”

  “You wanted to kill it,” said the nurse. “Why should you care?”

  “*Nurse*…” said Essex. “Excuse her. She has *Views*.” He aimed a meaningful glare at the nurse. “You shouldn’t worry, madam. There are plenty of homes that will adopt a mutant. Even in the current atmosphere. Just step up and lie on the bed, madam. We will take care of the rest.”


  _T'was the night before Christmas, and all through the house_

  _Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…_


  Christmas eve. Snow falls, as it often does in winter; but the fact that it’s Christmas eve makes it all the more special.

  Some people are mourning lost family members. Putting them in the Earth or in memorial vessels. Leaving flowers.

  One woman, who lost her husband in the mutant attack, marches right into the Humane Foundation. She’s still in black.

  “Can I help you?” asks one of the volunteers.


  _The stockings were hung by the chimney with care_

  _In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there…_


  The woman in black, wiping her eyes, her voice shaking, speaks. “I want to adopt a mutant,” she manages. “Kyle and I… we were trying to have a baby… and–”

  The volunteer notices the pin. The special edition Luvvum’s pin, given to the loved ones of the people who died in the attack. “Are you sure you want a *mutant*? After what happened?”

  “I’m better than what happened,” she says. “I’m going to teach it that not all humans are bad. I’m going to be a good Mommy…” and then she breaks down crying.


  _The children were tucked all snug in their beds_

  _While visions of sugarplums danced through their heads…_


  One by one, the children of the Humane Foundation are tucked in. Volunteers soothe tears and settle woes. Some even lie beside their tiny charges until they’re sure that the children are asleep.

  In one hospital, a child, barely visible to the human eye, is removed from its mother.

  And in another, a father reads to his daughter. Nothing out of the ordinary, one would think, until one saw how very different this father and daughter are.

  “What are sugarplums?” says Niota.

  “They’re baked plums mit sugar on them, liebe. They were very popular as a Christmas treat at one time.”

  “Yuck…” Niota makes a face.

  Nightcrawler just smiles at her. “Don’t bad-mouth it until you try it, liebchen. They’re rather nice.” He waved the little book in his tridactyl hands. “Shall I continue?”

  She nods.

  Nightcrawler clears his throat. “When all of a sudden, there was such a clatter…”


 [1] I can’t remember Pyro’s real name.


  He waited until Niota was asleep… well and truly asleep. He watched her, lying there, swathed in bandages, for more minutes than he could count. He was father to this child through no action of his own. He had no idea who her mother was, he could only assume she was another of Weapon X’s many 'guests’. He wondered if this miracle of life was a creation of science or of nature. Was she born from a test tube or from the body of a woman that carried her…carried her as Jean now carried her half-sibling, if indeed she still did. The X-Man had made it clear she had no intention of bearing his child.

  He brushed a strand of hair from Niota’s face…a face so much like his own. He may be her father but he was in no position to be a father to her. He sighed. Maybe Jean was right.


  He walked the streets for hours after he left her bedside. He had no destination in mind. It was late, but the streets were still crowded with people enjoying the feelings of the season. None paid him any heed… or so he thought.

  He first caught sight of his tail… the person following him, not the appendage that was wrapped securely around his leg… as a reflection in a store window. Dressed in a heavy cloak it was difficult to ascertain the gender of the person, but the grace with which it moved spoke female to him… young and female. He rolled his eyes, though none would have been able to tell, turned a corner and stopped.

  He heard a very feminine gasp as the figure turned the corner to find him leaning nonchalantly against the wall looking in her direction. She was certainly pretty enough. Auburn curls framed a pale-skinned face. Her full red lips quirked in a slight smile as she regarded him with bright blue eyes. He was impressed at how quickly she recovered.

  “I guess I should have known better.” She smirked. Her English was perfect, too perfect, obviously not her native tongue.

  “Why are you following me?”

  “Don’t beat about the bush do you.” Her perfectly sculpted eyebrow arced.

  “What do you want?” He said in a low threatening voice.

  “Can we discuss it over a drink?” She suggested.

  “Why don’t we discuss it now.”

  “Fine.” She sighed. “I have a proposition for you…”

  “Just because I’ve been elected the world’s most layable mutant doesn’t mean I give out free samples.” He said haughtily.

  “It’s not that kind of proposition.” She assured him. “Still…” She looked him up and down, a mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes. “Once we get to know each other…”

  “What do you want!” He repeated.

  “My employer is a man of considerable means…he wishes to offer you a helping hand.”

  “Really…?” He arced a sceptical eyebrow. “And why exactly does your employer wish to do that?”

  “He knows what you’re going through.” She explained.

  “And how does he know that?”

  “He’s been through it himself.” She said. “Persecuted merely for being born different…doing everything he can to protect those who can’t protect themselves…even if it means going without himself…”

  He studied her face for a moment. She obviously believed what she was saying, believed in who she was speaking about. But he’d been through too much to take anything on face value.

  “What does this… proposition… involve?” He asked.

  “Food…clothing…a better place to live.” She told him. “The children you care for wouldn’t have to live in filth…you could all have a place in the sun…”

  “Sounds too good to be true…” He mused. “Which means it probably is.”

  “He said you’d be sceptical.” She nodded. “You don’t have to give me an answer right away.” She produced a non-descript business card from her cleavage, smiling as she handed it over. She leaned forward and whispered into his pointed ear. “My number…” She told him. “Call me anytime… for anyTHING…”


  “I told you - ”

  “No free samples, I know. My, what a filthy little mind you have, Nightcrawler. Actually, I meant for anything as in everything, not just sexual favours. Even if they would be fun…”

  His tail ducked behind his legs.

  She twirled a hand at the wrist, like the joint was too weak to hold it up properly. “Medicare, victuals, warm beds for the children that they don’t have to share with rats - you want an upgrade to your technology? Can do, will do, done.” Her smile was vaguely predatory, and not unlike that Stacy wore when on the prowl - in all senses of the word. “Sound good?”

  “You know it does. What’s the catch?”

  “Who said there was one?”


  She blinked, as if processing a private joke and trying not to laugh. “Mayhap destiny would be a more fitting word, but in any case, the survival and wellbeing of those under your care would be reward enough for my employer. I wasn’t lying when I said he has their best interests at heart. Time was he might have done the same as you and gathered genetic misfits under his wing, but due to circumstance he hasn’t been able to do even half of what he’d like in life. Hence, wanting to help you and yours.”

  “Me and mine. Hmmf, we’re fine. Unlike the Humane Foundation, we’re not a charity case. We can cope on our own, and don’t need to be indebted to others.” One hand went to the collection at his throat, finding a small beaded chain of magenta and green. “Debts always have to be paid, no matter what’s said at the start of the… relationship.”

  “Cynical. But smart. He said you were canny. Anyway, think about it. Keep the card,” she said, pushing his fist closer to his chest and then backing away. “I’m available 24/7.”

  He narrowed his eyes. “Just supposing I did contact you, who should I ask for?”

  Again, the private joke she wouldn’t share danced behind her eyes. “Ask for Spellcaster.”

  After she’d left, Kurt glanced at the small card clutched in his fist. It was the kind handed out from stalls at supermarkets - neat, printed text with no pictures or address. A series of phone numbers, some landlines, some cell-phones, made up the bulk of the message, followed by the same name she’d given him. Spellcaster.

  He had no reason to take her seriously her, and even less to trust her. Still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to toss the card away. Instead, he pocketed it, ducking into an alley and the drain therein before the roosting pigeons his above even knew he was gone.


  This is paradise.

  Paul McGough sat surrounded by the trappings of luxury, a room guilt with gold and jewels, soft silken cushions surrounding him, a banquet of fine foods before him and, by his side, beautifully naked women. They laughed and giggled at his every joke, peeling grapes for him to eat, singing to him, indulging him. For a while, he is in heaven.

  Then he falls back down into hell.

  He could not suppress a sob as he slips into reality, the stink of the streets and his own filth assailed him, the cold night air leaking in his patched clothes, the beast of hunger once again clawing at his belly. He glared and the culprit.

  'Again!’ he yelled, 'that weren’t hardly five minutes! An hour, a paid for an hour!’

  “s twenty bucks for an hour,’ slurred the pile of rags near him, 'you only paid five. I gave you 'alf an hour, more 'n’ enough. 'Sides, I’m too tired to do any more. Gonna have to come back 'morrow, with more money.’

  'You’ve got all my money you filthy freak!’ yelled Paul, and he rushed forward, grabbing the other speaker, 'I gave it all to you! You’re the only one who can make it better, make this bearable! Give me more!’

  The figure, suspended several inches of the ground by Paul, shook his head vehemently and his stained and ripped hood falling down to reveal his face. He is a boy of mid to late teens, not terribly handsome, with greasy hair and piercing green eyes. His face was pale and wan with exhaustion, his nose dripped blood.

  ’M’ too tired! Can’t do any more tonight!’ he wailed, recognising his situation.

  'You liar!’ screamed back Paul, 'I know your game, you’re using us, right? You’re just getting us addicted and giving us what we want and taking it! Taking it all away when we need it the most! You monster! I gave you everything and you just take and take and take and take! I ain’t got nothin’ left! I had less than I came with! I an’t got nothin’, an’ you won’t even give me a dream!’

  He was crying now, tears trickling down the grimy, stubble covered face. The boy went even whiter and started to struggle against the hands holding him. He tried to summon his power, but his head throbbed abominably, the blood flowing from his nose increased.

  Meanwhile the bum was slipping deeper into hysteria and madness, tears falling from his eyes like moisture, he reached into his rags and brought out a knife.

  'Freak,’ he sobbed, 'look what you’ve done? You’ve taken it all away! You’re just a monster! Just a filthy fucking monster! I… I can’t let this happen, if I can’t have no more, then I won’t let anyone else fall, yeah? I ain’t lettin’ this continue! I’m gonna finish this!’

  The knife drew back, aiming for the boy’s chest. He cried out and closed his eyes, waiting for the knife to come down and slit open his throat.

  He heard the bum give another scream, felt something wet splash across his neck and face. Odd, he thought, he’d expected more pain…

  The hand holding him went limp, and he fell onto the hard tarmac. There was a strange gurgling sound, and another thump.

  He opened his eyes and saw Paul McGough lying still on the floor, his life blood soaking his clothes, his throat slashed open by his own knife.

  Phrases such as, 'what the hell?’ and 'thank god!’ should have been uttered from the boy’s mouth just then, but they weren’t. He found himself unable to speak for the lump of shock and fear that clogged his throat. He found himself unable to tear his eyes from the gory corpse.

  'Are you not going to thank me?’ asked a deep, clear voice from the shadows.

  The boy twisted round and sees another man, dressed in black and red, a helmet obscuring his face, a cape billowing around his body.

  He reached out for the knife, still clutched in the dead man’s hand.

  'I wouldn’t bother if I were you,’ said the mysterious man, 'I could use it to kill you as easily as I used it to kill him, besides, I mean you no harm. I’ve come to help you, Jason.’

  'Yo-you know my name?’ asked Jason, his shock finally overcome. He felt his usual, cool, collected side take over.

  'Of course. Jason Wyngrade, evicted by his own parents when they discovered he was a mutant. You’ve spent the past five years on the streets, surviving by using your powers of illusion to give other bums a taste of paradise. Whoring out your genetic inheritance, serving those who should be your slaves. Tell me, Jason, has it ever occurred to you that you should be the one sitting in heaven, a real heaven, instead of languishing on the streets, selling fake dreams to low lifes. Have you ever thought, Jason, that you should be a god?’

  The boy opened his mouth to speak but, once again, was unable to say the correct words. Instead his sharp, green eyes showed all the reply the caped man needed.

  'Then come with me,’ he continued, 'and I shall lead the way to godhood.’

  With that he turned on his heel and started off, back down the alley.

  Jason looked round at what passed as his home, the grimy walls, the mouldy box covered over by a rag of cloth, the dead body…

  In his short life he had learned that trusting only got you hurt, that everyone was in it for their own skins, their own gain.

  On the other hand, nothing that happened could make his life any worse, right? Even a half baked heaven was better than hell.

  Jason knew this, it was his main selling point.

  So, after grabbing the dead man’s knife and a few other paltry possessions, the ragged boy followed after the caped man.

  Followed him down the road to godhood.

::Chapter:_:Five: Negotiations

  Niota sat quietly in the bed while nice Mr. McCoy unwrapped her bandages. Off to one side, Alison waited impatiently. Roman was due to take her on her first date-like outing in weeks in less than an hour, and she still had masses of duties left to attend.

  "There you are, sweetheart. Good as new. Now run along with Alison and don’t go getting into mischief straight away, okay?”

  Niota nodded, hopping off the bed and carefully taking Alison’s hand. The pair trundled off, leaving Hank to his paperwork and passing a clutch of Jamies who were trying to take down the last vestiges of tinsel in the corridor beyond.

  “Hey,” said the one at the bottom of the tower.

  “Is that safe?” Warily, Alison eyed the heads-shoulders-knees operation.

  “Perfectly,” said the top Jamie.

  “So long as we don’t fall over,” added his prop. “Hey, Niota. All better, now?”

  The little girl nodded, tugged on Alison’s hand, and the pair went on to reunite her with the rest of the children - some of whom had been more worried than others over her impromptu stay in the lab-like medical facility.


  His newest recruit moaned softly at each new mouthful. He had no eyes for what was on his plate, nor the sumptuous surroundings of the facility. He didn’t even hear the delicate strains of the Moonlight Sonata.

  Magneto smiled. So many of his team had sold their allegiance for a hot meal and a comfortable place to sleep.

  Jason Wyngarde was no different.

  Magneto had been watching him for a while - through various agents, of course. And selected the best moment to pluck him from ruin and plant him in luxury.

  A flicker of yellow light derailed his train of thought.

  “St. John…” he warned. “Must I remind you again how - *effective*; the fire control system is in this facility?”

  “No worries, boss,” the Australian grinned. “Froggy *promised* he toned it down a bit.” He made the flame in his hands a living creature. A dangerous little sprite of fire.


  Todd Toynbee was greatly changed since his imprisonment. Rescued, initially, from death, he was intensely loyal. Now, missing his master for an extended period, he had backslid into the emotionally insecure, babbling near-savant Magneto had saved.

  “Gotta make it better,” he said. His nervous tics began to control his eye and head. He dropped the little gizmo he’d been playing with as his left hand spazmed up. “I-i-i-i only refined it… specified the constraints on uncontrollable fires. Gotta make it better, bossman… Better for the boss. Better butter… Betty Botter’s better butter for m’ bread'n'butter…” He began to rock in place, which only circulated his smell.

  “Did I or did I not leave exact instructions for you to *bathe* before dinner?”

  “B-but *sir*… slippy soap is slicky suicide, it saps–”

  Magneto cut off the impending alliteration with an upraised hand. Nothing more than a 'stop’ motion, but the boy still flinched. “You *know* I would never hurt you, dear boy,” he toured around to Todd and brushed his cheek. “I only care about your health and welfare.”

  “It saps strength through skin…”

  “Not the stocks I gave you. Remember the special formula?”

  “Oh yes,” Todd sighed. He fell forward and embraced him. “Prime potion, my pontif… O master…”

  “Shhh…” Magneto soothed his hair. “Restrain yourself, please. You might disturb our new guest.”

  Jason Wyngarde hadn’t even looked up. St John Allerdyce, on the other hand, had his eyebrows up so high that they almost merged with his hair. Thankfully, he kept his foul mouth shut about the little play he’d just witnessed.

  {Zwip!} “Ha! Mysister'scomeback - *alone*,” said Pietro. “Watch the non-triumphant return. Prodigal daughter, where *are* your victories?”

  Wanda. Beautiful Wanda, strode into the room. “At least I have him *thinking* about it,” she said. “You… I doubt he’d understand your babbling.”

  “Idoeverythingfast,” said Pietro. “It'sefficient.”

  “Efficient doesn’t always catch the fish, brother-dear.”

  “Fighting again?” said Magneto. “Petty rivalries don’t ensure our victory, my children. You each have gifts that raise you above the rest of humanity. You are *unique*. Cherish it. Don’t fight with it.”

  Pietro hadn’t listened. He had the patience of a goldfish[1] sometimes. “Sowho'sthis?” he tapped Jason’s shoulder, then zipped over to the other side. “Hashetoldyouabouthisotherhimsyet?”

  “What?” said Jason.

  “C'mon, Dad. Who'stherube?”

  “Jason? You may use your gift to demonstrate your superiority.”

  One finger moved, and Pietro resembled a stunned idiot.

  Todd laughed. “O *master*… this is going to be *fun*! Can I trick him, too?”

  If only the boy wasn’t so inherently *useful*… his combination of physical mutation and machinery genius had become the keystone of Magneto’s organisation.

  “No,” said Magneto. “I’d much rather you bathed, dear boy. Cleanliness is the first sign of self-respect. Self-respect leads to victory.”

  Todd caught one of Magneto’s hands and pressed it to his cheek. Then he looked up with soulful and pleading eyes.

  “Go alone,” said Magneto.

  “But *master*…”

  “Alone,” he repeated. “You know that you’re not permitted to show your devotion so - publically… in a social arena.”

  Todd hung his head and slunk off.

  Magneto returned to his throne. “Now. Jason… Please release my son? Thankyou. Jason… Tell me *exactly* what would make your life here *comfortable*.”


[1] Goldfish are supposed to have an attention span of five seconds. According to the boffins, anyway.