I began my interview with the same apprehension that most of my readers undoubtedly feel when it comes to mutants and the very concept of Genosha. However, being the first and only person on the planet invited to interview the near-fabled royal couple, there was really no option other than attending, and trying to write the best article of my life.
Genosha is beautiful. It has sandy beaches, a beautiful blue ocean, palm trees, and Hammer Bay is quickly on its way to a full recovery, thanks to the Independent Sanctuary of Genosha's superpowered population - the same beings that destroyed it in the first place. However, the validity of the mutant uprising has never been questioned, and this reporter isn't arguing that. Their oppression and use as slave labor is well documented, the horrific conditions they were subjected to is unquestionable, and personally, I think the previous Old Genoshan government got what it had coming.
But that still doesn't mean I trust Genosha.
The palace is a remnant from Old Genosha, a sprawling, still-crumbling building on the highest hill in Hammer Bay. It used to be the sole residence of the Prime Minister, but now it is a triple-functioning building that serves as the government headquarters (as the senate was obliterated in the uprising), an orphanage and training center for the youngest of the mutants who were captured (the youngest on record being five years old), and the home of Genosha's Imperator, Voice, and the Duchess of Mystique.
When I entered the building, I had expected to be led into the old great hall. Instead, I was brought to the south wing of the palace and escorted into what had previously been called the English Drawing Room but everyone seemed to call, quite simply, 'their office.' It seems unusual, but as the royal couple is best known for being unrepentantly strange, I wasn't very surprised. When the man escorting me opened one of the double doors and introduced me, I was readily invited in by a friendly voice.
At first glance, the royal couple look like a couple of old friends playing chess. There's no adornment on them that signals their positions, and they look completely human. Proof that one should not trust appearances if ever there was any.
The Voice of Genosha smiles, moving a rook forward one space on the board, and says, "King me."
"I knew that was a pawn," says the Imperator, and with a flick of his finger the rook now has a bump on the top of its head, as if the castle shape has turned itself into a very ugly crown. The Voice looks supremely smug, but it doesn't last very long, considering one of the Imperator's knights moves forward a space. "Pre-check, by the way."
"Clever," the Voice says dryly.
The Imperator smiles. "I do try."
I clear my throat, and it pulls their eyes away from the board and each other. "What are you playing?" I ask, because they're obviously not playing actual chess.
"Horrible Chess," the Voice says cheerily. "Proper chess isn't nearly as fun as Horrible Chess. This version has surprises, like that the pieces aren't actually what they look like - for example, my rook was a pawn, which has now turned into a king, since we also like checkers and decided to put some of those rules into Horrible Chess as well."
For a moment, I wonder if they're aware that they've more or less called one of the most strategic games ever invented unsurprising, and have invented an infinitely more complicated version seemingly on the fly to keep themselves interested in it.
"It's an acquired taste, though," the Imperator adds, giving his co-ruler an amused glance, and motions me to one of the nearby chairs. "Have a seat. Interview us."
I do as I'm told, because if there is one thing that is well known about the Imperator, it is that he's an remorseless Nazi hunter, going far enough to add it onto the end of his name like a title he's more proud of than his chosen title as one of the leaders of Genosha. "Thank you for inviting me," I say.
"Thank you for coming," the Voice says, and sighs. "Please, call me Charles. All this 'voice' and 'imperator', it's getting exhausting. Do I really look like some sort of dictator?"
I look at his outfit - slacks, plain collared shirt, and a cardigan - and have to admit that no, he doesn't.
"Charles, then," I say, and he smiles. It is only a moment after he turns back to the chess board that I realize he'd just read my mind.
"Please, calm down," Charles says. "You're thinking very loudly, I can't help but hear you." He frowns, glancing over at his co-ruler. "Could you...?" He waves a hand through the air, fingers wiggling slightly.
"So spoiled," Erik says, and turns to look at me. "I'm going to put an electromagnetic barrier around your head. You won't feel it, and he won't be able to hear your thoughts. You might have a slight headache in a couple hours, but that'll be all."
There's no direct request for permission, but it's implied enough that I nod. He stretches a hand towards me, and I don't feel a thing, but Charles lets out a breath and puts a hand on Erik's shoulder. "Thank you."
"Of course," Erik says, and looks back at me. "Aren't you meant to be asking us questions?"
"Yes," I say, snapping back into my role as reporter. There's something unsettling about them, but I try to calm myself down. "I was hoping to hear, in your own words, the stories behind some of the new Genoshan lingo, starting with your titles."
They are quiet for a moment, and then Charles speaks. "Mine's fairly simple, and came about from how we freed our people, of course," he says easily. "They heard my voice in their heads, and were referring to me as 'the voice' when they didn't know who I was or where to find us. After that, it just...stuck." He smiles. "And I wasn't looking to be a president or dictator or king or anything, so it worked out fairly well when they decided to put us in charge."
"Mine's very simple. I'm Imperator because Charles said I couldn't be Emperor," Erik says.
"Erik," Charles chides.
"What? If I'm going to be in charge of a country, I want to be called Emperor, whether or not it's an actual empire," he says, and shrugs. "But Imperator sounds just as good and Charles couldn't find any objections, so that's what I am."
"And this is why I said we shouldn't do an interview yet," Charles says.
I nod, grateful that they have no concerns about the furious shorthanding I'm doing instead of paying as much attention to their body language as I should. "And your currency, the Charlemagne?"
"Ah," Charles says, the sound strangely ominous.
"Again, it's because Charles thought something sounded inappropriate," Erik says. "I thought we shouldn't bother with regulating an economy and just let them run amok, but Charles said no, so it's Charles' money. Which he said sounded inappropriate, so Raven slurred it into Charlemagne."
"Raven being the Duchess of Mystique," I say, hoping to clarify.
"Raven Xavier, my dear sister," Charles says, and frowns. "Or is she using her original last name now?" When he notices my confusion, he adds, "She's adopted."
"And blue," Erik says.
I swallow, looking up from the tablet. "Really?"
"When she chooses to be, yes," Charles says. "She's also currently occupied, so I hope you'll forgive her absence."
It's obvious that her absence is a point of contention between them, although I've no idea why. "And what's the origin of her title?"
"She called herself Mystique when I met her," Erik says. "But she didn't want to be Raven Xavier, Mystique of Genosha, so we told her she could be personally in charge of whatever land she wanted, called it her duchy, and now she's the Duchess of Mystique."
"And our heir apparent," Charles adds.
I nod, considering my next question. "What are your feelings on the, ah, population ratio of Genosha?"
"You mean the fact we're a country mostly made of mutants," Erik states.
"Yes," I say. "A lot of people are concerned that your 'independent sanctuary' is an isolationist, segregationist attempt at mutant superiority."
Charles moves to put a hand around Erik's hand, saying, "At the moment, we're just trying to get these people back on their feet," he says. "You know the state they were in when we arrived. And I'm very sad to hear that a lot of people think of us that way, but here are the real facts: the original human inhabitants of this island kidnapped mutants, horribly abused them, and were generally cruel to what's left of the Genoshan population. Our people need time to recover before we can truly integrate."
"That, and there's been a human navy loitering around the island ever since we freed the camps," Erik states. "That puts a damper on mutual trust, and also cuts down on opportunities to not be isolationist or segregationist. So really, it's more of a question of when we'll be able to meet our neighbors and invite new people in without threat of a nuclear attack."
"I was under the impression your country could take care of itself," I comment.
"And more," Erik says, and smiles at me. It's one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen. "It is a good feeling to know the people playing volleyball on our beaches could take out the four-country fleet on our doorstep, but I don't take threats very well."
I nod, clearing my throat and turning to Charles. "And I assume this is why you're planning to visit the United Nations next week."
"One of the reasons, yes," Charles says. His smile, I note, is tighter than usual. "I look forward to a peaceful and mutually beneficial meeting of minds."
"For the record, I find your diplomatic streak terrifying," Erik tells him.
"Of course you do, dear," Charles says, and pats him on the hand. "You should pay more attention to the news. We’re very scary people."