I found out about it in the usual way. Through the newspaper. One wouldn’t expect Magneto, Master of Magnetism, to do anything as mundane as read the Sunday New York Times. But in the cracks of time between my grasps for power, I led a very different life. I slaved away for wages alongside genetic dead ends, pretending I was one of them. Even a savior must have a roof over his head and food to eat, and I’ve never felt comfortable spending hard-won Nazi gold on creature comforts.
There it was, on the cover of the magazine section. A picture of a furry blue young man eating pizza and laughing with what appeared to be several normals. “Grey’s Revolution,” the headline trumpeted, “Can mutants and humans live together in peace? Dr. John Grey says we are asking the wrong questions.”
I nearly tore it up, unread, in my rage. Using that blue boy, an obvious mutant, as a poster child for mutants everywhere. Was that one boy Grey’s pet cause? What sort of lies had he fed this boy to make him cooperate?
“Dr. John Grey may be less charismatic than his long-time opponent Charles Xavier in person, but he is no less sure he speaks the truth. Grey’s moment of truth came eighteen years ago, with the car accident that killed his daughter Jean’s best friend. ‘Jean was catatonic. At first, we thought it was psychological trauma. But after several incidents I won’t go into here, it became clear that Jean was a telepath and telekinetic. Like any parent, I started investigating what options we had to help her. I was horrified to find that those who trained people like Jean usually had their own agendas. They were amassing private armies. There had to be a better option.’
“Bard College, where Grey teaches, is well-known for its tolerance of differences. A stone’s throw from Woodstock, it is a haven for creative misfits of all types. In this environment, Grey’s plans were sheltered from the bigotry and ignorance of the outside world. Grey created a program with the college president, Botman, which allows mutants to come learn to control their powers. This program is separate from the normal school curriculum, and doesn’t give mutants a free education at Bard.
“Today, Grey continues his work at Bard. His daughter Jean is married to billionaire mutant Warren Worthington (himself a former student of Grey). They and Grey’s other daughter, Sarah, run a free clinic in New York City that brings John Grey’s ideals to the greater population of mutants. But Grey says this isn’t enough. ‘Charles Xavier, though well intentioned, has done more harm than good for the cause he advocates. It was he who coined the terms mutant and Homo Superior. Mutant implies freak, something to be eradicated. Though technically correct, the term invites racism. And Homo Superior suggests that mutants are a different species, putting themselves above other humans. These people aren’t a different species, they are our daughters and sons, and they can marry people outside their own group. If one must use a word for scientific and political discourse, why not Homo Fluxus, Changing Man? The bigotry has to stop on both sides if we are to find a solution.’ ”
The article went on, and I read it through several times. I wanted to laugh. Charles Xavier, a fanatic? A reverse-racist bigot? John Grey was obviously insane.
I had to put a stop to this. Grey might mean well, but he was denying my people their own voice. He was no mutant! What did he know about teaching us to be ourselves? I had to liberate those poor, deluded children from his care.
John Grey’s office was indeed cluttered. Papers piled up to the windows, bookshelves stuffed with academic journals and books to the point of collapse. I offered him my hand, forced a smile. “Dr. Grey? My name is Magnus.”
“What can I do for you?” Grey asked. “Here, have a seat if you can find one.” He indicated a wobbly wooden chair nearly buried in a mound of papers.
“I saw the Times article earlier this week. I wanted to get a better idea of what goes on here.” I settled into the chair, eyeing with disgust the monumental pile of papers that now tumbled and buried my feet. I extracted my feet and rested them on top of the pile.
“Can I ask what your interest is, Magnus?” He frowned at my shoes resting on his papers.
“My son and daughter are both mutants. I want to know what options they have. You understand, surely.”
“Of course.” He lightened at that, the fool. “I understand, I went though exactly the same thing with Jean. What can I do to help?”
“I’d like to hear more about how you train your students, perhaps meet some of them to see how they feel about the school.”
“I can do better than that. I’m running one of our weekly training sessions this afternoon; you can see the training for yourself. And I’d be happy to introduce you to the kids.” He stood up and indicated that we should leave the office.
“Tell me, how did you manage to train your pupils? You’re not a mutant, are you?” I asked as we walked out onto the campus grounds.
“No, I’m not. But I realized that it’s such a diverse group that any teacher would have difficulties. My son-in-law may have wings, but that doesn’t qualify him to teach telekinesis any more than the next man. I listen to them, obey their instincts and mine, and we muddle through together. I keep finding out more that I didn’t know, and adjusting my curriculum to fit.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“Well, for one, a former pupil of mine just joined the Avengers. I’m opposed to vigilante groups, I think they’re counterproductive in the fight for equal rights; they just create more fear and distance. But my dream is that my students will be able to choose their own paths. It’s been quite illuminating to talk to him about his work, even if I don’t agree with it.”
We crossed the street and walked over to a set of rickety wooden dorms that hung over a tree-filled ravine. A Coke can propped the door open. “Doug should be home now. I’d like you to meet him.”
He rapped on one of the doors. “Doug? It’s Grey.”
A young blond boy no older than thirteen opened the door. “Hi Professor.”
“This is Magnus.” Grey introduced me. “Can we come in?”
The room was an odd double: it looked like a giant had taken a rectangle and tried to snap it in half, leaving the room bent like a kidney bean. Half of it was covered in posters of women in various states of undress. The other half fluttered as we entered. Hundreds of Xeroxes of symbols in various sizes papered half the room. “What is this?” I asked.
“Homework. The Prof’s got me working on Linear B right now. It’s a dead language no one can translate. We only have little scraps, not enough to put together whole sentences. If I can crack the code, I’ll be world famous. I think I’ve got twelve of the symbols figured out, but there’s no way to tell until I get more of it. There’s just not enough context to work with. A lot of it comes to me in my sleep.”
“You’re a language major, then?” I asked. “It makes sense.”
“No, I can’t major in languages. No real point to it. I know every language instantly, and because of that, I can’t really do comparative work well. I’m probably going to major in political science.”
“You’re very young to be at college.”
“Yeah, I took an equivalency test. It’s kinda weird, being here so young. Hard to get a date.” He blushed a little. “I’m probably going to take next year off so the age difference won’t be as bad. You know, travel the world or something.”
“Do you like it here?” I asked.
Doug shrugged, looked away. “I’ve never been away from home before. But everyone here’s really--”
“Hey Doug,” an English girl’s voice said behind us. “Hi sir.” The young woman squeezed past us to give Doug a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then turned to give Grey the same. She was lovely. Slender, blonde, with bright green eyes and a winning, innocent smile. Her clothes were form-fitting artist’s black, and her ears had a peculiar elfin lift.
“Hey Meg,” said Doug, “You’re an hour late.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Who’re you?” She gave me a worried glance.
“You can call me Magnus,” I introduced myself. “You’re a long way from home.”
Meg nodded, still giving me an odd look. “I found out about Professor Grey though my friends Betsy and Brian. Betsy went here for a bit before my time. Professor Grey’s been teaching me how to control my shape-shifting, and Doug’s been teaching me how to read.”
I couldn’t have heard that correctly. “What?”
“Two of my students, Meg and Kurt, are gypsies,” Grey explained. “Kurt also has a few areas of difficulty, but Meg’s education was entirely neglected. She’s taking a few art and drama courses here, but she’s not a full time student. She’s working very hard to fill the gaps in her education so she can apply here. She’s making tremendous progress.”
Gypsies. Mutants. Outcasts in every way. How could they be happy at this college for bourgeois Americans?
A young man pushed past us into the room. “Hey Doug, hey Meg.”
“Hey Jack,” The two mutants responded.
“Are you a mutant too?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? I’m just Doug’s roommate,” said Jack, grabbing a candy bar out of a box in the closet. “I’m as normal as they come.”
“Normal? You?” Doug tackled his roommate, gave him a noogie. “If you’re normal, I’m the queen of England.”
Jack pretended to spasm and twisted up his face. “We’re all mad here,” he drooled.
Doug rolled his eyes. “This is a madhouse. I’ve checked myself into the loony bin.” He smacked the wall lightly with one hand. “Where are the padded walls, dammit? I thought this was a first class establishment here!”
Grey checked his watch. “Meg, practice. We have to go.”
“Right. See you at supper, Doug.” I was alone with Doug and Jack.
“You don’t attend the practice sessions, Doug?” I asked.
“Nah, cause what I do is so different. It’s all in my head, and it’s really hard to practice or improve. The only two ways I can really work on it are translating Linear B and helping teach Meg to read and write, because that forces me to translate what’s in my head into something she can understand. Good practice, even if it is all in English. Sometimes I go so I can laugh when the other guys fall on their butts. I’m on the fencing team with Kurt afterwards.”
“And you?” I asked Jack, “How do you feel, living among mutants? They don’t frighten you?”
“No, why should they?” He seemed puzzled.
“Even the blue one? You can accept him?”
“Who, Kurt? Kurt’s a morning person. An annoyingly cheerful morning person. Aside from that, yeah. I guess the only one who scares me is Meg.”
I was shocked. “Why?” Nothing here made sense.
“Well, she’s an empathic metamorph. Unless she concentrates, she latches on to whatever you’re feeling and turns into your wildest fantasy. I don’t need that kind of karma.”
“Yeah, you should have seen her when she got here,” Doug added. “That Brian guy must have been a real sicko. She looked like a Hustler centerfold. But she’s been a lot steadier since she figured out what her true form is. She switches back and forth when she wants variety, but she’s really starting to stand on her own two feet. She’s not just what other people want her to be anymore.” Doug tugged on my arm. “Come on, we can head over to the gym.”
The gym was huge. The basketball team practiced on half the court, and Professor Grey coached his own students on the other half. One of the two students was Meg. The other was the mutant from the newspaper. Kurt. Tall, lean, and blue, barefoot and bare-chested in blue jeans. His eyes were golden, and his tail swished lazily between his legs. The basketball team was busy on the other end. They didn’t even look at the mutants. “Kurt, I had Meg hide red silk ribbons all over the woods on her morning walk. I’ll time you to see how long it takes for you to find all twenty. Meg, I want you to turn into all the creatures on this list, and let me inspect each before you move on. Ready? Go!”
There was a puff of awful smoke as Kurt vanished. Meggan took a look at the list and began shrinking, her features becoming more bird-like. Grey turned to examine the hawk that settled on his shoulder. “Very nice, Meg. Can you fly and maneuver properly? How are the senses?”
I jerked back in surprise when Kurt suddenly reappeared with a handful of bright ribbons. The basketball team was equally startled. “Jesus, Kurt,” a Hispanic boy shouted across the gym, “Do you have to do that in here? There aren’t any windows, we’re gonna have to smell that all day.”
I tensed, waiting for a fight to break out.
“Ach, it’s not as bad as the stench of your gym socks, Charlie.” Kurt replied with a grin.
Charlie laughed, and the team got back to their game.
“Fourteen minutes! Not bad, Kurt. You haven’t beat your record, but that was pretty impressive,” Grey declared, patting him on his furry blue back. “Okay, let’s do some ceiling work. I want you to walk, not crawl, as far up that wall as you can. If you can make it to the top, I want to see a waltz. Okay, Meg, next form.”
Kurt walked over to Doug and myself; lay down on the floor with his bare, three-toed feet touching the wall. His stomach muscles clenched and trembled as he tried to keep himself parallel with the floor. One little step. Two. Sinews stood out on his neck, his tail lashed and knotted, sweat beaded on his forehead. Five. Six. Seven--he dropped, rolling as he hit the ground. “Gah! Ahh, huhhh,” he wheezed, clutching at the floor.
Doug explained, “The Prof only pushes him like that because Kurt’s a glutton for punishment. Meg needs to learn control so she doesn’t shift when she doesn’t want to. They all want to be pushed to the limit, learn all the subtle stuff, but the Prof won’t push you if you don’t want it.”
Kurt had recovered by now and slumped on Doug’s shoulder. “Ach, I can’t move. It hurts too much.”
“Poor baby,” Doug teased, giving Kurt a noogie. “I guess you’ll just have to let me run warm-up today.”
“Oh no, not after last time. I don’t care how much you like Emily, you are not getting her to lead us all in step aerobics again. I’ll kill you first.”
“Hey, you have to admit it was a great workout, better than those endless drills. Advance, retreat, retreat, lunge. Epa!” Doug gestured with his hands as though holding a sword.
“Drills may be boring, but if Emily runs us through the wringer one more time, we’ll become the Bard Suicide Squad.”
A redheaded girl walked over to us. “Hi Kurt.” She kissed him, and his arms and tail embraced her for a long moment.
“You’re a mutant too?” I asked. She gave me a quizzical stare.
“This is Magnus,” Doug explained. “Some friend of Grey’s or something. He seems to think the three of us are a little mutant clique and don’t talk to you poor normal people.”
“Oh a bigot,” she replied cheerfully, smiling to take the sting out of her words. “Kurt, I just came here to find you for a second. I have to study tonight, I can’t come over.”
“Chinese homework again?”
“Yeah. You know how it is.”
“All right. See you tomorrow, then.” He kissed her good-bye.
This was my chance. Grey was working with Meg; I could talk privately with Doug and Kurt. “Are you two really satisfied here? Living with people who could turn to fear and disgust at any moment, unable to travel anywhere, for fear of persecution?”
“We go into New York all the time, sir,” Doug protested.
Kurt shook his head. “You know what he means, Doug. Mein herr, three months ago, in Germany, Grey rescued me from a mob. I know what humanity is capable of. But that is what we are fighting for here. We are learning to use and control our powers, and then we’ll go out into the world, looking for jobs, friends, lovers. We’ll fight ignorance by being normal.”
“By stifling your potential, knuckling under human authority? Why not realize the truth; that we have a greater destiny; that we are meant to rule? They--”
“Magnus,” Kurt protested, “Who do you suggest we conquer? Doug’s parents? Our girlfriends? My philosophy professor? If we stop seeing them as equal, then how are we any better? This is a hard road, but it’s the only one I want to follow.”
I opened my mouth, ready to protest. Homo Sapiens ran the death camps where I grew up. They killed my daughter. They made me what I am. I wanted to live a normal life, be a son, a husband, a father. And every time, humans came and forced me to do terrible things just to stay alive, while those around me, those I loved, died in pain. We should revolt, put them in their place...
But what good was my revolution? Who was it for? These children of the atom wanted nothing to do with it. They were happy. They had everything they wanted. And I? All I wanted was revenge. I’d killed the peasants who watched my daughter die, but all that did was chase away my wife, my Magda, the only sweetness left in my life. If I killed them all, every man, woman and child, would the pain really stop? I wanted to believe it. But that dream wasn’t enough for Kurt, who had as much reason as I to hate. Why couldn’t I be happy, as he was?
The fencing team came in, started to warm up. Grey walked over to me. “We should leave,” he said.
I walked out of the building with him, feeling lost for the first time since my daughter died. “I don’t understand.”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Dr. Grey.
“They’re going to die. Why don’t they see that? Those children in there, human and mutant, will be at each other’s throats. It’s the way it has always been. They should be learning to protect themselves!”
“There are different kinds of protection,” said Dr. Grey. “Not being ‘other’, being part of a community, is perhaps the best protection there is against blind hatred.”
I met his eyes. “Tell that to my Polish neighbors who let my little daughter burn to death because a gypsy whelp wasn’t worth saving,” I growled at him.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, his eyes flashing with what seemed to be genuine pain. “I won’t deny that bigotry is a powerful force. But you can’t deny that it’s harder to turn on your child or your lover than on a stranger.”
“In the Holocaust, I saw people turn on their Jewish lovers for their own survival. I saw children crushed underfoot in the panic of the gas chamber.”
“And, as I understand it, many Christians with everything to lose chose to shelter their Jewish neighbors because it was the right thing to do,” said Dr. Grey. “The human race can be despicable, but it’s not beyond hope.”
He believed it. He truly loved those mutant children as though they were human, and believed the rest of humanity could feel the way he did. I ached to trust his naive dream, but how would he feel about mutants if faced with real power, real threat? “Dr. Grey?”
“I’m afraid I’ve lied to you,” I said, beginning to pull at the EM field around us, letting the power tickle his flesh. “My name is Erik Magnus Lensherr. Magneto.” He tensed, cautious, but met my eyes unafraid. “I--” I’m a terrorist. “I--” I’m the bogeyman. “I’m ... a little old to be a student. But it appears I have much to learn. Will you let me stay here?”
“I won’t let you hurt those kids, or make them do anything they don’t want to,” Grey warned.
I met his gaze. “I doubt very much that I could force them. You’ve taught them well.”
“We’ll have to talk to the college president.” But Grey extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Erik.”