Raison D'être Section 1
"Die! Everyone, everything, die, die!:"
A lifetime of struggling, of giving everything he had to achieve the goals his creator set for him, and now it ended in this. Abandoned by his creator, facing the destruction of his entire planet because he was fool enough to trust in someone so completely, Berg Katse flung himself into the pit created by his creator's departure, toward the lava that boiled below.
Superheated steam rose, cooking him. He screamed with agony and despair, falling toward the bottom and an instant death.
The bottom never came. Space had been torn to shreds by the alien's stardrive engines. Holes and currents, warps and eddies seethed through the pit. Berg Katse fell into a hole in space, and blackness took him.
It had been three months since Zaladane had tried to kill Magneto, three months which he had spent healing, and brooding, and trying very hard not to think about much of anything. Nothing on the planet below interested him anymore; they could go on with their petty wars, they could all annihilate each other for all he cared, and for all his bravado about a kinder, gentler Magneto not being able to save his people, in point of fact he didn't much care about that, either. His people didn't want him, and after the series of spectacular failures he'd had in the past two years, he was beginning to suspect they didn't need him, anyway. Let them turn to someone with a better track record, let someone else bash his head against the brick wall of human ignorance, greed and the capacity for evil. He was tired.
The electromagnetic disturbance in the region of the Himalayas was the first thing to actually catch his attention in three months. It hit him while he was eating breakfast, and his startlement was such that he ended up spilling coffee all over himself. Only the low gravity of Asteroid M and his own hair-trigger reflexes prevented himself from burning his legs with the scalding liquid, as he barely managed to shield himself in time. It felt like someone had just torn a hole in the Earth's EM field.
That got his attention. The ideologue was burnt down to the core, but the scientist still had some fire left in him. So curiosity dragged him out of his orbital exile and back down to the planet where he'd been born. A slight spark of interest flared up in the cold wasteland of his numbed emotions, and he had to follow it, wherever it compelled him to go, if he wanted any hope that he might ever feel alive again.
The center of the disturbance was a blasted field in the middle of a mist-filled area of the Himalayan mountains, at what counted as a low altitude, for the Himalayas. It looked like a rocket had taken off from the area; heat-blasted scatters of burnt grass and bare soil sprinkling the ground. The odd thing was that the burn damage was uneven, more like a mutant with heat blasts had been fighting here than a rocket after all. In the midst of all this a person lay.
At first Magneto thought the person was dead. He had smelled that stench before-- burnt flesh and rot, the smell of the dead, of a dead body that hadn't been cremated all the way, or a person who'd died from burning. It was sufficiently obvious from the smell that the person had to be dead that had he been a normal man, with normal senses, he would have left it at that. But he shifted his senses to perceive electrical patterns, simply because it was second nature for him to do so.
There was massive electrical activity going on in the apparently-dead person's brain. Startled, Magneto stared at the person. The activity didn't indicate consciousness-- while he wasn't able to tell much about brains with precision from their electrical activity, he did know the difference between a conscious and unconscious mind. But the electrical activity was far greater than he'd seen an autonomic system display before. And it certainly meant the person wasn't dead. There were several possibilities, but the most obvious one was that the injured was a mutant, one of the people Magneto had sworn to protect. And even if not, he wasn't quite disaffected enough from humanity just now to leave even a human to die of such injuries, provided there was anything else he could do.
Carefully he cocooned the burned body in a gentle grip of magnetic force, and lifted off, merging his forcebubble with the person's so he wouldn't have to tow an extra forcebubble, and therefore could make maximum time back to Asteroid M.
Asteroid M had the most advanced medical technology available anywhere on Earth. Specifically, it used Shi'ar technology that Charles Xavier had brought to Earth, a gift from his Shi'ar lover the exiled Empress, and that Magneto had copied back when he was a teacher at Charles' school and had free access to the stuff. In those days he hadn't wanted to believe he would have to turn his back on Charles' dream, but he had made provisions for the possibility anyway. The philosophy of his life was to expect the worst, and somehow, he had never been disappointed.
He laid his burden down gently, making the force field between the burn victim and the diagnostic bed thinner and thinner and finally nonexistent. The diagnostic bed couldn't do much with the patient in this condition, of course, so he walked over to the bed, took up a slender and extremely sharp blade and began carefully to cut the burnt remains of clothing off the injured person, using a magnetic field under the clothing to prevent him from accidentally cutting the person.
The face was badly burned from the nose down to just above the chin, with the ragged remains of a mask lying on the rest of the face. The burnt mask could be plucked off easily, revealing an androgynous, fine-featured face, blistered and burnt but not as severely as the parts that had been exposed. There was a great quantity of fine blond hair, both long and dense, that spilled out when he pulled the mask away. Some of it had been singed, but most of the hair was in fine condition, having been protected under the stiff surface of the mask. There were livid bruises visible on the face even through the burns. He recognized the marks, having borne them often enough in his life, as coming from punches and kicks. More bruises and burns covered the upper body, and massive cruel blistering, though the blisters didn't seem to be associated with the burns necessarily. Magneto realized with some startlement that even with his patient stripped to the waist he couldn't really tell what sex the person was; the chest was broad but within the feminine range and the breasts were tiny, still within possible male range.
He cut away the burn victim's pants, including stiff protective armoring in the region of the groin, and discovered what the problem was. Though there were no burns here-- the clothing was singed but the groin protector was undamaged-- the blistering and smell of rot was strongest here. The patient had two undeveloped sets of sexual organs, both looking raw, inflamed and almost skinless, with blisters all over and blood and slimy unidentified substances. Magneto was at a loss to explain how it was possible, but it looked as if the person was either a hermaphrodite suffering a wasting disease who just happened to also have been burned, or was somehow undergoing some process that was changing one sex into the other.
Once his patient had been placed in the diagnostic bed, stripped and the diagnostic computers set to work, Magneto ran a genetic analysis, fairly certain he'd find a mutant. The results were far more startling than that. The person was a mutant, yes, with the clear markers of X-factor in his or her genome. That genome was much farther from human norm than the ones he usually saw, however. Normally a mutant had a handful of anomalous genes, which looked just like normal human genes unless one did a detailed scan. This person, however, had double the number of chromosomes a Terran could be expected to have, whether human, mutant, Inhuman, or Atlantean. The genetic code was Terran, though-- there was nowhere this person could have come from but Earth. And when Magneto did a further analysis on the doubled chromosomes, he realized there were actually two separate genomes, very closely related but not identical, as if of a brother and a sister, merged together in each cellular nucleus of the mutant's body. Such a thing ordinarily could not survive; presumably the X-factor present in both of the genomes was mediating between the two somehow, so that two separate genetic codes could co-exist. And while it seemed that one was partially inactivated, it looked as if which one was partially inactivated was changing, with the sites of the most horrendous damage showing both sides to be active.
A few further studies confirmed it. The mutant possessed two separate genomes, and was capable of shifting between them. The process seemed to involve the entire body breaking down and reforming on the template of the second genome. It was a type of healing factor, but far more painful, gruesome and time-consuming than the healing factors he knew of. For a moment he wondered why such a wasteful power would come to be, and then shook his head at his own blindness. He was thinking like a user of mutant power, considering mutations to be essentially things to be used and classifying them in terms of effectiveness, rather than a scientist, who should recognize that mutation was random and not necessarily useful at all. Besides, this actually wasn't a healing factor as he understood it. It was an ability to mediate between two genomes. Healing was a side-effect, as was the sex change-- one genome was male, one was female. He felt a deep pity for the person. His power was both enormously useful and practically invisible; he could pass for human anywhere that didn't actively use mutant detection technology, as long as he wasn't recognized as Magneto-- and if he was, it was his own fault for making himself notorious, not a flaw in his genome. This person could not use his/her power without being obviously cut off from the common run of humanity, and even many mutants would find such a transformation troubling.
Of course, it was also possible that the person had another power. Judging from the signs he'd seen of a battle, it looked as if the person had been in battle with someone with heat blasts. That might well indicate some sort of agility or shielding powers, since a mutant without such abilities would probably be fried in a heat blast.
He spent the next several days caring for the person while she-- it became obvious after a day that this particular transformation was from male to female, and since she would end up a woman, he mentally pegged her as such, if only to have a pronoun to use-- lay in the grip of violent fever and the horrendous process of regeneration. Occasionally she recovered only enough consciousness to be aware of pain, it seemed, and would moan and cry out, writhing weakly. There was nothing more he could do for her than he was already doing; he had no idea what drugs might do to the process she was undergoing. So he bathed her, with water the temperature of her feverish body, and made sure she didn't dislodge her IV drip of water and nutrients, and sprayed her mouth with water mist every so often because he didn't dare give her anything to drink, lest she choke on it.
After a day or so, she opened her eyes. What she saw seemed to galvanize her. She jerked to a sitting position. "Wer bist du?" she demanded. The question meant "Who are you?" in German, rather rudely-- she used the familiar form of "you", normally reserved for family and friends, and her tone was harsh. Magneto couldn't exactly blame her for any of that, though-- she was still feverish, and clearly frightened.
"A friend," he replied in the same language. No sense frightening her with his true identity until she was stronger. "I'm trying to help you. You're very ill."
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Are you a doctor?"
"Not precisely, but a scientist with advanced medical--"
He didn't get to finish the sentence. With no warning whatsoever she slammed her hand into his nose, and only years of fighting people who thought with their fists enabled him to throw up enough of a shield that she didn't manage to drive the bone back into his brain. As it was, she broke it. As Magneto staggered backward with a cry of pain, she flung herself out of the bed, moving faster than he would have imagined, and ran for the door, the IV tearing out of her arm.
"Stop!" he shouted, flinging up a shield to block her. She slammed into it and spun around, berserk animal rage in her eyes.
"Won't go back!" she shrilled, her voice shifting wildly-- high male tenor, deep female contralto, and sometimes, impossibly, both at the same time. "No scientists! Koroshite yaru!" He didn't recognize the language, but the intent, as she flung herself at him with clawed hands aimed at his eyes, was unmistakable. Again Magneto shielded himself, knocking her back, and her eyes widened.
"Omae ningen ja nai..." she whispered hoarsely. "What are you?"
"I'm a mutant, like yourself, and--"
"No! Don't lie, uso uso!! Kill you, won't go back!" Whatever lucidity flinging her back had brought to her, it was gone now. She grabbed a chair and threw it at him. Since nothing on Asteroid M wasn't magnetic, he repelled it with ease, then used his powers to paralyze her. The tormented mutant screamed, struggling against the field that held her, as Magneto attended to his nose, using the Shi'ar medtech to realign it and begin healing the damage. "Hanase, hanase, let me go, kisama yam'ro! No, no, let me go, let me, damn you, iya, yamero..." It took two minutes. By the time he was done-- his nose not fully healed, but no longer shrieking in pain at him-- she was sobbing, and her multilingual cursing had reduced to a single language, the one he didn't speak. "Tas'kete, Sosai-sama, tas'kete kudasaii, Sosai X-sama, please please, tasukete..."
Magneto released her. "I won't hurt you," he said gently. "I mean you no harm. I only want to make you well."
"Help me?" she whispered. The fight seemed to go out of her, and she slumped.
He stepped toward her, preparing to lead her back toward the bed, when again without warning her leg snapped up and kicked him in the chest, hard enough to fling him backwards and fast enough that he didn't block in time. "Scientist liar! Won't go back, won't study me, you won't--" and she was off and running again. This time she'd made it out the door before Magneto had enough of his breath back to pursue her.
Apparently calling himself a scientist had been a bad idea. Magneto flew out after her. She seemed proficient in dealing with the low gravity of the Asteroid, indicating she'd perhaps spent time in space herself, but she didn't know her way around and she couldn't seem to fly. He caught up with her easily, and this time quickly rendered her unconscious, inhibiting electrical communication in her nervous system in such a way that she instantly slumped over. He picked her up and carried her back to the medical ward.
He watched her warily over the next two days, hooking up a monitor to tell him when she was conscious and shielding himself then. But she made no attempt to fight him or bolt again, though she didn't seem to recognize him from waking to waking; she would stir, moaning, her eyes would open, but there was no recognition. Sometimes she would plead with him to make the pain stop, sometimes she would beg not to be hurt. Most of the time she just repeated that foreign word, "tasukete".
Magneto was actually asleep when she finally awoke completely. Stretched thin as he was by the hours he'd spent caring for her, he didn't register the chime of the monitor until he actually heard a hoarse voice saying, "Mizu, kudasai?"
Voices near him woke him regardless of how tired he was, legacy of a lifetime of fighting. He jerked awake in the chair where he'd drifted off and turned to face her. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" he asked in German.
"Water? Please?" This time she responded in German.
"Of course." He gestured to a pitcher and a glass, both made of metal with glass interiors so the metal wouldn't get into the water. The pitcher rose and poured into the glass, which then came to his hand. The weakened mutant watched intently, her eyes enormously wide. Leaving the glass floating in midair, Magneto helped prop her into a sitting position against the pillows, then brought the glass to her lips. She batted at him weakly.
"Give... me. I can... drink."
"It's heavy," he warned, but gave her the glass anyway. He knew what it was like to be weak and sick, and desperate to reassert one's own power against the world, railing against one's own weakness.
She spilled some but managed to get most of the water into her mouth. The glass dropped from her hand; he caught it with his powers. "More?"
"What are you?" she asked.
"You asked that during your illness. Do you remember what I told you?"
A harsh, barking laugh escaped her throat. "You'd be lucky if I remembered my own name during the Change."
Good, then he could avoid the mistake of calling himself a scientist. "I'm a mutant, like yourself, and a friend. Men call me Magneto."
She looked at him speculatively for several seconds, and finally asked, "What do women call you?"
He'd heard that one before, several times actually-- an occupational hazard of fighting wiseass teenagers. Nevertheless it struck him as funny from her, and he smiled. "Generally the same thing. Those who I call friend are allowed to call me Magnus."
"You don't have any men friends?"
This was probably intended as a continuation of the joke, but it sobered him. He thought of Xavier. "Most likely not, anymore."
Again she watched intently as he got her the water, as if she'd never seen a telekinetic-style power in action. Which possibly she hadn't. The fact that she was a mutant didn't make her familiar with other mutants, necessarily. "What is your name?" he asked.
"Where am I?"
Well, he supposed she had the right not to answer him until she understood her situation. She hadn't shown any recognition at the name Magneto, but then, she might not be easily surprised. "Aboard my space station, Asteroid M. I found you burnt and apparently dying, and brought you here."
He shrugged. "I didn't know of any hospitals in the area, and a dying mutant in the company of a known mutant terrorist is not likely to get good care from most hospitals anyway."
"Known mutant terrorist?" Her eyes narrowed.
"I told you. I am Magneto." That clearly didn't clarify the situation. "You've never heard of me?"
"I should have. Things like a man who moves glasses of water with his mind should have been brought to my attention." Her tone promised that heads would roll for not having done so.
"And you are?"
She hesitated. "What do you know of Galactor?"
Now she frowned. "You haven't heard of Galactor?"
"The name isn't a familiar one, no."
"Have you been living in a cave for three years?" she rasped, clearly miffed.
A slow anger burned inside him. He forced it down. "For three months, I haven't had much contact with the outside world. Before that, however, I was well informed about the political situations on Earth, especially that having to do with the superhuman community. If there were a person named Galactor--"
"It's an organization."
"--or an organization, and it had any relevance in world geopolitics, I would have heard of it."
"Perhaps you're not as well-informed as you thought," she sniped. "The UN certainly seems to think we're of relevance. They have an entire department solely to deal with us. We're 40% of ISO's budget."
She looked at him. "You cannot not know the ISO."
"I'm beginning to suspect something. When you came here, there was an electromagnetic disturbance, similar to what I'd expect from a teleportation effect, but extremely strong. As if you came here through time--"
"What year is it?"
He told her. "That's it," she whispered. "I'm from 20 years from now. That explains it."
"Only 20 years? I fear it doesn't," he said. "While I admit this might be my ego speaking, I find it hard to imagine the name Magneto will be forgotten by mutants in 20 years."
"Modest, aren't you?"
He laughed. "I have been accused of many sins and character flaws in my time, but false modesty is not one of them. I am very well known, possibly the best-known of the so-called 'mutant supervillains'. Even were I to die tomorrow, I can't imagine my name being forgotten in a mere twenty years, so long as mutants still exist to remember me-- What?"
"You keep speaking as if mutants are... common. As if there's... more than a few. To my knowledge... I only know of three other mutants like myself, and none of them can do anything like what I've seen you do. So.. perhaps they don't exist to remember you. Perhaps they were all killed, in the war."
"World War III... no, wait. You'd be in the middle of that war right now..." She subsided in confusion.
"If mutantkind were exterminated, we would have taken out as much of humanity as possible. Is that consistent with your history?"
"No, World War III killed 130 million people, but the population was 5 billion before that. And the death toll was due to conventional and biological weaponry... if it had been people with telekinetic powers, I'm sure I would have heard about it..."
He nodded. "I don't think you've merely come back in time. I think you've come from a parallel universe. Are you familiar with the concept?"
She stared at him. "Yes," she finally said quietly. "I know about parallel universes... So I am not only in the past, I am not even in my own world?"
"It seems that way," he said gently. "I'm sorry."
"I thought the fact that I was here... that I was alive... that it proved something, but now..."
Her eyes were wide, filling with tears. She seemed not to see him. "The world... my world... oh god..."
"What's wrong?" He put a hand on her arm, trying to reassure. "Listen, there may be a way to return you to your world. We'll have to figure out how you got here, but--"
"You don't understand!" she screamed, her face twisting with fury. She tried to sit up, pulling her arm away from him. "My world is destroyed! Everything, everyone, destroyed, everything I ever knew, anyone I had the slightest modicum of feeling for, they're all dead! Sosai-- Sosai killed them all, and I didn't stop it, I didn't see... trusted him, I trusted him, oh god and I didn't see it coming, I didn't put in a failsafe and he killed them all..." She grabbed the material of his costume where it went over his chest, pulling him toward her. Magneto blocked her, forcing her hand to slide off his magnetic shield. "Why did you save me?" she howled. "I should have died, should have died, oh god I killed them all..." Whatever else she might have said was lost in hysterical sobs.
"I'm sorry," he said helplessly, not knowing what else he could say, as she sobbed. She had curled away from him, and when he had reached out to her, to offer comfort, she jerked away from his touch. Not much he could do in the face of that. "But I cannot let you die. I know... something of grief. It will never pass entirely, but eventually it will heal enough that you can survive."
"What would you know of it?" she screamed. "How often has your entire planet been destroyed?"
"My planet? No. But my world has been annihilated," he said softly. "My family, my friends, my entire way of life, all were destroyed in the Holocaust, when I was a child. Not the same, no. I cannot pretend I know what it is to see my homeworld destroyed-- but to see one's home destroyed, to lose family and friends and all anchors to humanity, yes, I know what that is. So I believe I can fairly say I understand your grief. I will do what I can to help you, but I will not let you die."
"You should," she muttered, but her voice was no longer as challenging. "I trusted him... I should have known..."
"Do you want to tell me about it?" he asked, awkwardly.
"No!" She glared at him. "It's none of your fucking business!"
"Then I won't pry. Tell me if you wish, or not. But please, believe me-- the pain will grow less, in time. Never gone, but you will be able to live with it."
Well. That would have essentially been his reaction, if someone had told him his pain would pass back at the beginning, when his survival seemed like a cruel trick of fate. He suspected the best thing he could do for her now was to leave her alone.
Half an hour later the alarm he'd set to warn him if she tried to leave the infirmary chimed. He followed the sound to where she stood in the corridor outside the infirmary, hugging the wall to keep herself upright. "Is something wrong? Are you all right?" he asked.
She glared at him. "Food."
Which should have been the first thing he thought of. Standing up in her hospital gown, she was skeletal, hardly more flesh on her bones than there had been on Magda's, when they'd escaped Auschwitz together. Of course she wanted food. "Lie down. I'll bring you something."
"Steak," she croaked. "Thick, bloody, rare steak."
Magneto doubted she could eat a thick, bloody, rare steak. He remembered Magda wolfing down a ham he'd stolen from a farmhouse, and throwing it up afterward. The only reason he hadn't thrown up his own portion was that he'd eaten half his portion when he'd found the thing, unable to stop himself from tearing at it with his teeth, and the other half when he reached the fire where he'd left Magda to huddle, and even then he'd been ill. But he understood the craving. And it wasn't like he had a shortage of food.
In the kitchen there were stasis banks, Shi'ar food storage technology. To amuse himself, Magneto had taken to cooking sprees, five hours spent in the kitchen making every delicacy he could think of, to stave off boredom. But then it went against everything he believed in to waste food. So what he didn't eat was sectioned off into neat portions, the size of a dinner meal for him, and placed in stasis. He popped out a beef stroganoff meal and tossed it in the microwave while he located a really nice steak and placed it in the oven-- pre-cooked food from stasis could be reheated quickly in the microwave, especially food in a sauce, but trying to cook a steak that way was a good way to get leather. In two minutes, he had something to tide her over. He brought it with a carafe of water back to the infirmary.
She was sitting on the bed, at least. He'd told her to go lie down, but something had told him she wasn't likely to do it, and the fact that she'd compromised this much almost surprised him. "I'm cooking your steak, but I thought you'd best have something quick first."
She took the stroganoff from him without so much as a "Thank you" and proceeded to devour it at an alarming rate. With her left hand, she used the fork he'd given her; with the right, she plucked hot chunks of beef out of the stroganoff and tossed them into her mouth while the fork was going for another load, so there was never a time when new food wasn't going into her mouth. "You shouldn't eat so quickly. You'll make yourself sick."
She finished chewing, gulped water, and glared at him. "Thank you, Mr. Patronizing. I've only done this fifty-odd times in my life, I certainly need your advice."
Now he was beginning to get irritated. He had done his best for this person, had rescued her, bathed her, fed her, and so far she'd done little but shower him with abuse. "Forgive me," he said with heavy sarcasm. "Clearly I was supposed to have a near-omniscient understanding of what you do and do not know. My apologies for failing to be telepathic."
"You've never seen anything like me before, have you?" She sounded puzzled, and a trifle hostile.
"I have never seen anyone who regenerates from injury by changing sex and losing most of their body mass, no. I have seen stranger things, but not precisely the same thing. "
"You said you were a mutant like me. But you're single-sex, aren't you?"
"To the best of my knowledge," he said dryly.
"So in what sense are you like me?" she asked triumphantly, as if this proved something.
"We are both mutants."
"And we both speak German, and judging from your clothes we both like purple. So? You're still only a man."
"As a general rule, a man who controls one of the four fundamental physical forces is not considered 'only' anything."
"That isn't what I meant." She ate the last of the stroganoff. "You're not hermaphrodite."
"As I said, you're correct. I'm not. I don't see what it matters."
"You're not like me."
"No, probably not. I would have the common decency to thank someone for rescuing and feeding me instead of sniping at them over nothing."
"I'll thank you, if I ever do, when I figure out what you want in payment. Are you going to keep feeding me, or are you pissed at me now?"
"Your steak should be done in fifteen minutes or so. In fact I should go flip it over."
"Can I have something else too?"
"I don't know. More stroganoff. Noodle casserole. Whatever you've got."
"Are you sure hunger isn't misleading you as to how much you can eat?" He assessed her. "I'm familiar with starvation. There's no way you should be able to eat that much without making yourself sick."
"I'm not starved, Magneto. I've Changed. It's physiological, not pathological." She hugged her arms around herself. "I'll pay your price when I'm back up to strength. Whatever it is. But I need more food."
"My only price is that you show me a little courtesy," he said quietly. "I'll get you more food. Hopefully when you're less hungry you can be more civil."
She devoured the spaghetti and meatballs he brought her, and when he brought out the steak, with mixed vegetables in a bouillon broth and macaroni and cheese with mushrooms, she ate that too. He ate a portion himself, sharing the food with her, pretending there was something companionable about the shared meal and that she wasn't just putting up with him because it was his space station and she couldn't very well get away.
"Did you cook all this?" she asked, after finally sating herself.
"Yes," he said warily.
"It's excellent. I've had $100 meals that weren't as good."
The compliment surprised him. Perhaps she wasn't prickly all the time. "I thank you, but in your condition I suspect anything would have tasted delicious. At least, that's how it was for me when I was starving. You've pointed out this isn't quite starvation for you."
"It's close enough to get the effect. I've eaten out of trash cans and enjoyed it after the Change. But that gives me a comparison. Normally I have fine chefs cooking for me when I come out of it, and... well, you're very good." She finished off her water and pushed it aside. "So what do you want?"
"Why must I want something?"
"You've rescued me, washed me up, fed me and put up with my shit. Why? Is it sex? Because if it is, you're better off waiting a few days until I put the weight back on, unless you like screwing skeletons. Or do you want me to work for you, or what?"
"My motives were humanitarian. I saw you were dying, and I acted to save you. There's no more to it than that."
She laughed bitterly. "You must think me very naive, Magneto. There's always more to it than that." She leaned forward. "No one does something for nothing."
"You are wrong. No one does something for nothing, unless the person they are aiding is one of their own kind. Humans can be wonderfully philanthropic when it's their siblings, or their neighbors, or their ethnic group. It's very rare to find a human who is willing to consider all men his brothers, all worthy of his aid."
"And you're such a philanthropist?" Her expression was full of scorn.
"Not at all. Had you been human, I would likely have taken you to the nearest hospital and dropped you there. But you're mutant-- one of my people. I saved you because you are a mutant. There really isn't any more to it than that."
Which was a lie. If there was no more to it he'd have left her behind, mutant or no. But he wasn't about to admit that he was desperately lonely, that simply having someone to talk to was something he'd thought he'd given up forever. Admit to emotional weaknesses, and they'd be used against you. He remembered Lee. Hand a woman your heart... But that wasn't fair to women. It was everyone. Anyone you dared to hand your heart would crush it. And Miss Prickly Pear the hermaphrodite seemed entirely too capable of casually crushing him. A damaged person herself, clearly, to be so defensive. He would be patient, and kind, and understanding, and never ever admit that she was here because he longed for company.
She shook her head. "But I'm not. You're a man-- single-sexed. You should despise me."
"I have known men covered with fur, aliens of no determinate gender, women who transform into mist, and many have been good friends to me. Why should I care what sex you are? Why is that so important that you believe even a man as inhuman as you are should despise you? I am feared and hated the world over for my actions and for my power. If I am to despise someone, it will be for what they have done, not what shape their body takes."
"You believe that." She stared at him.
"Indeed. I have far better things to despise people for than mutations they were born with and did not ask for. I was fortunate; my power is a valuable one. It's given me much. But it's also taken away any hope I might have for love or a normal life. I suspect your power has done the same and given you less. How dare I despise you when I am more fortunate than you?"
"You're a strange man, Magneto."
"This is a strange world, to you. I don't doubt that there will be some who despise you for your gender, but among the mutant community I think that will be very few. You belong here, now." He sat down on the edge of the bed. "If your world is destroyed, you can't go home. I don't see any reason why you can't make a new life here, with your own kind. While mutant intolerance of fellow mutant occurs, it's something we all strive to overcome. You could have a people, here. You needn't be alone."
She looked away. "I need to sleep," she whispered. He'd seen something before she looked away, some hunger in her eyes. Perhaps he understood her. He understood very few people, but loneliness and alienation was something he comprehended well-- and the fear of making friends, the fear of reaching out for what you want more than anything, because you were sure it would be snatched away. Perhaps they had much in common.
"Of course," he said, standing. "I'll let you rest. Please call for me if you need anything. There are sensors which will pick up my name and relay me the message."
"You're sure Galactor doesn't exist here?"
The non sequitur surprised him. "I've never heard of it, and I should have, if it were a power."
She rolled back to face him. "My name is Mountaincat," she said.
He frowned slightly. That was hardly a name. "Your code name?"
"My real name. As real as it gets. Oh!" She laughed suddenly. "No, it's a proper name. Berg Katse, two words, and I spell Katse with an s, not a z-- a personal idiosyncrasy. It doesn't mean I'm a kitty who lives up high."
"Do you prefer Berg or Katse?"
"Do you prefer Magneto or Magnus?"
"That depends on who is speaking."
"As does this. Call me Katse. Berg's not very feminine anyway, so I prefer not to use it in this mode unless it's part of the full name."
He nodded. "You may, if you wish, call me Magnus. It is... a less formal name than Magneto, but presupposes alliance, not necessarily friendship."
"I'll call you whatever you like, if you wake me up and feed me in about four hours."
In four hours he'd planned to be asleep himself. But she was ill, and probably needed food on a regular schedule to build herself back again. He could forgo the sleep. "I will. What would you like?"
"Anything. Literally. I haven't yet found food I won't eat after the Change." She grinned. "Later I get finicky."
"It is your prerogative as a Katze," he said solemnly, meaning it was her prerogative as a cat, and watched her laugh. It suited her face much better, lightening her intensity.
"That was revenge for asking you what women call you?"
"If you like."
"I'd like to go to sleep. Good night, Magnus. And-- thank you."
"Gute Nacht," he replied, and headed for bed himself, smiling. When she had enough food in her to be civil, and her knee-jerk fear of people with only one sex's reaction to her was addressed and alleviated, she was actually pleasant company.