2020-07-09: The Return of Mike


MikeF_icon.jpg RashmiF_icon.jpg MagnetoF_icon.jpg

Summary: Mike goes floating through the tunnels, looking for a familiar face. Rashmi looks for that same face, hoping for news from Theo. Both find something not quite what they expected.

Date: July 9, 2020

Log Title: The Return of Mike

Rating: PG

Magneto's Junk Room

The scavengers know to pick up metal objects and bring them here. It doesn't matter what metal, or what object, all are wanted, needed, and welcome. There's a rough order to the mess, with bins along one long wall containing raw materials, from bottle caps to bicycle parts to a stack of manhole covers three feet high. Along the other long wall are shelves, metal of course, bearing finished items, from swords and surgical pins to water filters and frying pans. The shelves are never more than one tenth full. A small area at the back contains a cot and evidence of habitation; it is separate from the main room by a pierced metal folding screen. The design on the screen changes without notice; today, it is cherry blossoms.

A small robot scout seems to have escaped Theo's pack. It's floating, six little robot legs semi-kicking at the air underneath its frizbee-sized body, hover-wandering around the tunnels without apparent motivation. A faint music comes from a tiny speaker on its body, "Don't stop believing, hold on to the feeling" … optical and sonic sensors and perhaps other strange electronic senses are scanning away. It stops, suddenly, "it goes on and on and on and on" … and follows down a hallway, coming within range of a white-haired gentleman of advanced years, but somehow not exactly "feeble dotage."

Magneto is sitting in his junk room, wearing a pair of reading glasses, and leafing through a notebook. He makes a note and points a finger at the floating 'bot when he's finished. "If it isn't important, Theodore, I would appreciate some peace and quiet." Another few pages and he frowns at what he's reading. He hasn't looked up at the 'bot at all.

The hovering scout bobs up and down once, then its passenger begins testing. One sensor-point, held away from the scout bot, manifests a magnetic field precisely as strong as that produced by a hydrogen atom, blinking on and off in one-half second intervals. If that is not noticed after 20 blinks, it will increase to two atoms, then four, then eight, etc. until Magneto notices or reacts.

Magneto notices the first blink. He ignores the next four, then sighs and turns to peer up at the floating 'bot. "Yes. You have talents. Thank you for sharing. Now, if you don't mind…" The finger points again and this time, the 'bot is shoved backward, toward the door in. Just enough to move it, not enough to do anything else to it.

The normal electromagnetic field around the bot erupts into a complicated weaving, making a matrix of magnetic energy that should be far too weak to make that kind of a pointillist lattice, especially since it looks like a tiny motorcycle. It lasts a half-second then disappears.

The bot seems to resist being moved, but only in the same way a kitten resists being moved.

Magneto pauses and his eyes narrow. Then all of his fingers flex and the magnetic signature of the motorcycle is back, stronger and more sharply defined. He also stops pushing the 'bot out of the room. "Interesting. Theodore, what are you trying to tell me? Or…" Another pause. "Or you are not Theodore."

The robot speaks, in a faint voice that doesn't sound at all artificial, nor at all like Theodore.
"No, I'm not. I was hoping you couldn't sense the single atom flash. It bodes ill for my attempt to ghost past the sentinel scanners."

The bot moves back, lowering to "eye level," and a holographic image appears, almost star-wars style, above the top of the scout disk. The image is one of a robotic-looking man in his early 20s. It vaguely moves to match the voice. "How are you doing, Magneto?"

Magneto gives the disk and the hologram a severe frown. "If you were not appearing and disappearing in a way that is not natural, you would be far less noticeable, young Michael. As it is, to me, you are like a blinking light in a dark room. You do not have to be big to be noticeable, when the contrast is that strong." No, he does not ask where Mike has been. Critique first; Magneto believes in survival skills over social ones.

"Acknowledged. It was adapted from the usual test for peripheral vision. Clearly you have no problems in that area. Theo is more sane than when I saw him last, but his sociopathy seems to be replaced by a variety of schizoid mania. Could you tell me what happened? I've been underwater and broken until yesterday."

The sensory fields around the little robot move almost randomly, apparently composed of magnetic monopoles (since their opposite terminus is in a decidedly non-traditional direction.)

Magneto eyes the magnetic fields around the 'bot. "Better," he says. "If you mimic this pattern…" he warps the magnetics in a slightly different way, not so much pattern as frequency and amplitude, "Then you will look very much like a type of flying sensor, to anyone without a visual of you.

Satisfied for the moment with his critique, he turns his attention to Mike's other information. "Theo is perfectly within the parameters of sanity, Michael. Has he told you the history that you missed? There is a very strong anti-mutant faction in control of the government these days, and they're willing to commit mass destruction of civilians and property to get to us. Theo is neither schizoid nor manic; he is rightfully paranoid of assassins and murderers lurking around every corner."

"He hasn't told me much, only incomplete stories of Sentinels. He talks to his machines, as if they were completely sentient, but they aren't. They're very close, though. I wasn't aware there was still a government, though. It seemed rather more like anarchy, along the path we followed through the wreckage."

Mike stops making the hologram change, while he goes over this new information, chewing at it like a squirrel with a coconut. Meanwhile to all this, the signal of his sensory extension changes to exactly mimic the sensor remote, as shown, even overriding the normal pattern for Theo's regular sensors. Any "irregularity" will come out of slight variations in the pause times between cycles.

Magneto nods at the change in the sensory pattern. "Excellent. —If all he spoke of was Sentinels, then yes, you got incomplete information. There is a government, and it is unremittingly hostile to mutants. Actually, it is unremittingly hostile to all metahumans, although lip service is paid to praising those who are not mutant.

"You may have thought there was anarchy, coming through the New York that is, but this is an active war zone, Michael. It no longer functions as anything else. The people — including us — who abide here are either combatants or dead." He tips his head up. "This means everyone you meet is fighting for one side or the other… and you might be surprised at the sides the people you meet are on."

"Fourteen people I thought I knew were killed when I crashed my body into the ocean floor," Mike replies. "They were, each of them, SHIELD agents that I trusted, until Barnes Academy was invaded. They attempted to hurt the students, so I reconfigured the sub, sent my secondary-drone with the students towards Canada, dived into the walls of the Hudson Canyon. I lost track of the drone … it was a copy of my mind but without actual will. Of course, I also lost track of everything else for quite a while. Dying is very disorienting, and it doesn't improve the second time." The figure on the hologram 'sits' cross-legged.

"So I've spent the day moving around the tunnels, trying to find people I know. You're the first I found."

The sound of booted feet can be heard coming down through the upper tunnels, drawing closer to Magneto's 'junk room' by the minute. Before long, a dark-skinned woman with short, stringy red hair rounds the corner, combat vest and camo pants tattered and smudged. "Evening, Magneto," says Rashmi, voice notably older and harder than five years prior, eyebrows drawn together in mild puzzlement. "…Theo has some news?" The floating drone is nodded to; apparently the redhead has come to the same conclusion that Magneto did.

"I know what you mean." Magneto has 'died' a few times himself; it is never a pleasant experience, in his opinion. "I believe your drone did reach Canada; there have been some reports of the Barnes students having survived and gone on to activities of their own. Such reports are spotty, however, and I have no particulars to share with you."

He pauses as Rashmi enters the room and he gives her a nod of greeting. "Miss Franklin. Yes, Theo has news. Meet young Michael Drakos — he is returned to us." A gesture at the flying 'bot.

"Hello, Rashmi. You look terrible." Mike's voice comes from the small drone, with no trace whatsoever of electronic overtone. His holo-image looks something like the "combat schematic" he'd been trying to develop at Barnes. The drone waves two of its spider-like legs at the redhead. "I would offer you a hug except I'm a bit small."

For a moment, the redhead simply stands there, silent and motionless, as her brain works to process the reality of Mike's presence. For five years, the Barnes student had been missing-presumed-dead, and even to see his hologram this way, a bodyblow to Rashmi's sense of the world. Shaking her head, she approaches slowly, eyes fixed on the hologram, as though the sight is too good to be true. "…Mike…?"

Magneto leans back in his chair, arms crossed, and watches the reunion. He'll let this play out — fewer distractions later that way.

There is for Rashmi a very brief sense of something almost like touch, a moment of sensing in all directions, as Mike brushes touches several thousand infinitesimal probe-limbs across her, momentary synchronous contact with her nervous system. Something she may have felt once but certainly not often; Mike did learn not to intrude that way.
"Yes, it's really me. Did you know that the bottom of the ocean is very much like sitting on a pillar in the desert? Nothing to do but listen."

Rashmi shudders for a moment, closing her eyes against the sudden, multitudinous input from her zone of awareness; apparently, the ability to 'know' the space in her immediate area has its drawbacks, when that space is suddenly occupied by far too many objects to comfortably catalog at a moment's notice. Once the sensation is gone, the redhead opens her eyes, drawing in a deep, shuddery breath. "I didn't… and as much as it'll probably upset you, I envy you those years of silence. But… it's good to have you back." Her eyes flick across to Magneto, an eyebrow rising. "Has the state of the world been explained to him, Magneto?"

"In my terms, yes. In yours, most certainly not." Rather dry tone; Magneto and Rashmi have not seen eye-to-eye on much, if anything, ever. "He knows that we're at war with humanity, at least in the form of the United States government. He knows that we're living in a war zone. He does not yet know who is friend and who is foe — he claims that mine was the first familiar face he saw, after Theo retrieved him."

The small holographic image shifts around, "That's pretty much it. I could use a sitrep, and some direction. What do you need me to do? Theo says he has a Sentinel for me… I can do quite a bit with that, but I'm afraid he may not get it back. If I make it into a body, then it changes things … I'm the ghost in the machine now, and a permanent connection would change that."

The drone moves to a place equidistant from the other two, to make conversation easier.
Mike laughs suddenly, and says to Rashmi, "It just occurred to me. I am not Michael the White, but I guess it's true enough that I was sent back. To misappropriate a good line, 'I come back to you now - at the turn of the tide.'"

Rashmi wrinkles her nose at Magneto; clearly finding fault with the elder mutant's casual minimalism, but content to keep the arguments for another time. "Okay, a sitrep… Well, let's start with after Barnes and Xavier were attacked, the world went as close to Hell as it could manage without another Inferno. President Kelly's fixed it so Ahab and Boliver Trask get to run roughshod with federal sanction, and so we've got Sentinels, Hounds, and Hunters to contend with. Where you are now is the old Morlock tunnels, and it's pretty much become Sanctuary here in New York; there are other Rebel cells around the country, but we don't keep in touch. Lately we've been close to winning the war… but then Trask changed the field. Instead of the old model of Sentinels, now he's taking powered prisoners and making cyborg slaves out of them; Patriot Sentinels, the President called them. If you want a full list of known Hounds and Hunters, I can supply you with all the information you need. Robin… she's done a good job of taking over for Robyn… Er… Robyn with an i, taking over for Robyn with a y. He, um… died not too long ago. …So did Jericho. So… it's mostly up to me to do the flag-waving and planning for the others." Nodding to Magneto, the redhead clears her throat, shaking off the momentary pall of upset that Robyn's name had summoned. "It's going to come to a head, soon. You're more right than you know; we're expecting a major Hunter offensive here, any day now."

Magneto nods. "What she isn't telling you — yet — is that the attack we're expecting is the direct result of the actions of Dingo. Do you remember Dingo? He turned traitor, exposing this base, damaging our supplies, and assassinating Robyn. —The one with the y." His tone goes dry. "Others that you knew are also enemies. Your search for a friendly face could very well have taken you straight into enemy hands, Michael. Ahab has made Hounds of some, and others are Hunters. We kill each other, when we meet." He gives the 'bot a level stare. "Can you kill, Mr. Drakos? It is expected, in these trying times."

"I'll say the prayers for the dead later," Mike says, "and I suspect it will be a long list. Dingo. I don't remember him but I do have a link to an archive, I'll pull it while we talk. Tell me, then, what is a Hunter, what is a Hound, who is Ahab, who is Bolivar Trask? How did that clown Kelly get to be President? Parts of my memory around that time are still being repaired, was he elected before the attack? Who are these 'patriot sentinels' then?"

The little robot spins in place, its magnetic signal becoming very flat, hardly there at all, as if it weren't even present. "Yes, Magnus. Remember I took fourteen people to their death. I intended to survive that, but they had bombs. I don't like to kill, and I will avoid it if there is hope for redemption, but even now, I'm being reminded that it can be the only option to save the lives of the innocent and the souls of the guilty."

Rashmi settles down onto the floor of the room, raking a hand through her hair with a sigh. "Okay… Hunters. Santioned mercenaries, really. Their job is to round up mutants and dissidents and plop them into concentration camps, or kill them on the spot. Some are mutants, and by the looks of it there's been some conditioning going on to keep them loyal. Hounds… trace back to Ahab. He's… I'm not sure, really. None of us are. All we can be sure of, is that he… does something, to mutants he gets his hands on. Reprograms them, something deeper than just brainwashing. Some of them don't even remember their old lives, most of them are unstable, *all* of them are more fanatical than any zealot you've ever known. Most of the time they're led by a Hunter, when they're encountered, and they all have full access to Sentinel support. …Which leads me to Trask. He's the one responsible for the Sentinels in the first place, and he's got full federal funding to make as many as he can. Kelly? Well… yeah.

"After the attacks, mutants started rebelling. There was all kinds of fighting, even before the Rebellion could get really organized, and he rode that paranoia into the Oval Office in 2016. It's pretty likely he engineered the whole thing, but, we can't really be certain without getting it from his head. Anyway…" She pauses, clearing her throat. "The Patriot Sentinels are a new thing. Like I said, we were doing an okay job of gaining ground in this war, and most of the big Sentinel production factories were destroyed over the past couple weeks. So, Trask is working smaller; using powered captives, making cyborg slaves out of them, and tarting the whole thing up as an escalation for public safety from the mutant menace." Her lips twist at these words, as though the redhead had bitten into an unripe lemon.

Magneto clears his throat in a half-laugh. "Ahem. 'The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.'" He looks betwee Mike and Rashmi, a dark sort of mirth lurking in his eyes. "A very successful man said that. Do you know his name? A political strategist, American, of nearly equal success used to quote him."

The hologram is too small for the sour expression to carry, but Mike answers, "There are several who've said that over the years. Agustus used that trick to dismantle the Republic and turn it into an Empire. You may be speaking of that weasel Goering, but he was paraphrasing Machiavelli, who learned from the Borgias, and they were the descendants of those old families. I hate to think that there are so few who would stand up and say 'no more' before things got this far. I wonder, though, with creatures like Ahab, whether they relied solely on puffed-up terror and machinations."
The hologram starts pacing, though it stays in place, the "ground" moving transparently under it.

"Oh, I doubt it," Rashmi says darkly, eyes narrowing. "But a few weeks ago, the President made a critical mistake; one that we've managed to use to a considerable advantage." She pauses here, drawing in a long, deep breath. "…He executed Captain America. On live broadcast, even… personally."

"And wasn't that symbolic in all sorts of interesting ways? No doubt he felt he should be the triggerman, to prove that he, too, was a man unafraid to do the necessary, dirty work — which I put down to too many re-runs of 'Independence Day', but no aliens to fly a fighter jet against." Magneto snorts. "Fool. He will fall. It is certain. What is not certain is who will fall with him, and who will rise after." His eyes glitter. "We fight to determine that outcome."

"I am sorry to hear that," Mike says. "So I will pray very hard for Kelly that the Holy Spirit should visit him as He visited Nebuchadnezzar so that Kelly should come to understand and repent." Mike's voice isn't cold, or hard … it hasn't been even when talking about killing. It's more resigned. If anything, sad.
"Magnus, I believe I know who will rise after. Creation is not yet finished and humanity must change to meet the future. Mutants of our kind are only one of the ways humanity will change. All will be needed."

Rashmi watches Mike's hologram for a moment, as though unearthing memories of times long past, and lets out a long breath through her nose. "…Because it's not going to be us who finally unseats Kelly, Magneto," she says with a slow shake of her head. "It's going to be the people who vote, who've been tasked with deciding the country's fate since it started. I know you don't have much use for politics," she rejoins, a wry twist to her lips, "but it's true. If the people have a flag to rally behind, a cause they *believe in* hard enough, then you'd be amazed. We can fight and fight and fight until every last soldier, Sentinel, and politician is dead and buried, but there won't *be* a victory without convincing everyone else to stand and be counted. That's *why* Captain America's death means so much, Magneto, and I fully intend to hit Kelly where it hurts the most as hard and often as I can with it. And already, you can see how well it's worked. Yet another civil liberty pulled, and on an election year no less. Even if the Heather angle plays out to no benefit, we could manage to end this war by November, the way it *should* be won."

"It never surprises me to see sheep baaing in long lines behind flags, Miss Franklin. I watched them follow the bent-legged cross and the hammer and sickle and the blue star and the tri-color green and now they are following the stars and stripes. They NEVER go where they should — they ALWAYS go where they think they will be safest. That is the difference between your rosy understanding of politics and mine — you believe they will vote in their best interest. But, and this is the important thing: these people don't know what their best interest is!" Magneto's lip is curling and he's snarling now. (So much for putting arguments aside for later…)

"What is the Heather angle? Do I need to know about this?" Mike continues pacing, the spy-drone spinning faster and faster independent from the spinner. His real self, the part that only partly intersects the three-dimensional world, harvests the virtual particles as they pop into being, shunts them to the small glowing star in his abdomen, and he watches Magnus as he goes down his same old bitter path.

"Well it's not 'away from the swath of destruction' you've so often favored whenever it concerns somethinig *besides* your precious Genosha!" Like Pavlov's bell, that curled lip and bitter snarl boots one of Rashmi's oldest and deepest reflexes into high gear. "And it's *appalling!* You even managed to start something *good* back then, that embassy was probably one of the single most constructive things you've managed to *do* before all this! And—" Mentally hauling her mouth back in line with her brain, she shakes her head, taking in a deep calming breath. "…Heather. Right. Anyway. Turns out she's a timebender. Ahab got ahold of her a little over a month ago, and has been using her to hop back in time and take Hounds before the war even started. Cam and Jeremy, for example, and we have proof as conclusive as such proof can be."

"And look how that turned out! My embassy…" Magneto starts to pace the room. "Bloody stupid blinkered hide-bound reactionary idiots…!" He passes Mike on the 'bot and gives him the Eye. "You are being noticeable," he snaps, and he stalks to the far side of the room. He turns and stops, crossing his arms, and glaring at Rashmi. Oil, meet water…

He snorts at the mention of Heather. "She left a poem. And a wristwatch. And riddles. Theo isn't the mad one… she is."

"Cam and Jeremy are slaves?" Mike's hologram stops walking and does that "pinching the bridge of the nose" thing. The 'noise' from the energy harvest fades as Mike shifts the sweep away from the closest 3D space. The spybot slowly stops spinning as he asks, "Poem? Wristwatch? Riddles? She was always trapped in a solipsist world. They have to mean something. Show me."

"Chloe's got the watch," Rashmi replies, turning a positively sulfurous glare on Magneto for his pouting, for lack of a better word. "The riddle's about as cryptic as you can expect out of her; yes, she's never been all too tightly nailed down, but her perspective is as… unique, as anyone who sees the world through a different filter than the rest of us." This last, said with a shark's grin at the Master of Magnetism, before turning her attention in full back to Mike. The redhead, it seems, has gotten a lot nastier over the years, and isn't afraid to pick at her ethical opposite just as much as he does to her. "Anyway, the riddle. 'Keep sight of my many faces, listen to the bells and chimes. Retrace all my muddled paces, and turn back the tides of time.'"

Magneto gives as good as he gets. Sulfur meets iron, and the metaphorical temperature of the room rises. "There are many ways to be a sheep, yes," he snaps. "And yes, Heather's is a bit more unique than most, but she's still just another domestic pet in Ahab's kennel." He's stalking back toward Rashmi and Mike again. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the only one that matters at all? 'Tis Heather, see, who walks through time, and answers to the Hound-man's chime." Rashmi gets yet another curl of his lip. He'll lean over to pick up some bar stock, because if he doesn't start making knives right now, he'll blow the roof off this damned burrow.

"Huh. Never thought of her as the kind to make an obvious cry for help," Mike says. He crosses his holograph-arms, standing and watching the apparently long-practiced argument between the two, an old and comfortable dispute filled with venom and carefully served with tea and cookies. "I suppose it must not be terribly pleasant to be forced to be someone's Hound." The hologram-robot starts, for a moment.

"Say. Did you ever read Zelazney, Rashmi? The book was 'Creatures of Light and Darkness' … the combat style was the Temporal Fugue. She seems to be inviting us to unravel a temporal fugue. Or, depending on the way it was presented, to inflict one upon us. My own fourth dimension is not time, or I'd be better able to help with this one."

"Unravel, I'd say, since it's ten years old. You'd have to ask Chloe the particulars, every last part of me still goes cross-eyed when I try and explain exactly how the riddle was come by. Let's just say that Heather back in the school days ran into the Heather of now, and I guess didn't exactly like the bondage-gear Hound getup," Rashmi says with a shrug. "We're trying to work that angle… as much as we can, since it involves breaching physics in a way that only Connor can really grasp. But until the more urgent matter is dealt with, that's got to remain a secondary priority. Right now, our big concern is surviving the next few days. And Magneto, for all we disagree… You *know* how important you are to making sure we do." This last, said without rancor. Simple fact, and as close to a call for truce as the elder mutant's statement the week prior.

For answer, Magneto hands Rashmi a brand-new razor-edged knife. "The upcoming Sentinel attack. Which is likely to involve Sentinels, Patriot Sentinels, Omega Sentinels, Hounds, Hunters, and possibly Ahab himself." He pulls another piece of steel off the bar in his hand and rolls it between his fingers like taffy. "*They* think they'll behead the Rebellion with this move. *They*…" he tosses the rolled steel into the air, and it falls as another razor-edged knife. "*They* will find what 'beheading' means." He catches the knife and throws it, one motion, into the wall. THUNK.

"I'd like to see the math, if he really does grasp it," Mike says, and nods at the encounter described. So, it was Heather asking Heather. That makes some sort of sense, but he has too many things to comprehend at the moment, and a number of unpacked memories have just come online.

"I think I need to take an hour and ten minutes to recall things that I had forgotten," Mike says. "Is there anything you wanted to ask me before I let this little robot recharge itself?"

Rashmi takes the knife with a nod of thanks, a grim smile touching her lips for a moment. "Indeed they will, Magneto," she says, climbing to her feet and turning to Mike. "…Actually, um… I think maybe all the big questions can wait until we've all gotten some rest. For now, all I can realy ask is…" The redhead moves aside the hem of her vest, revealing an old, battered device clipped to her utility webbing; the old voicebox that had ridden on Mike's collar, a keepsake from before the robotic mutant had upgraded his schematics. "…D'you mind if I hang on to this?"

Mike's voice comes from the air - a self-canceling magnetic flux forms and breaks as if metal were heating in the sun; it looks almost bright in the air even to Rashmi but then damps itself out as the machine-ghost makes a membrane out of the water vapor and vibrates it. "No, I would like you to keep it. It's a graduation gift, remember?"

Magneto finds his chair and sits down again, pulling pieces of steel off the bar, forming knives, throwing them into the wall opposite. The conversation has passed him, and he's content to let it. He'll work out his peeve on useful objects for a while.

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