“Move it, R-tard!” thundered Dan Williams. His arm was around his girlfriend of four months, Alicia Anderson. His foot was planted firmly against the backside of Jeffrey Smith—applying just enough force to topple the young man to the ground.
Most just continued on their way; classes had let out for the day—bringing an end to the first week of the new semester. A few stopped to see what the commotion was and laughed when they found the source of it. Almost as if she had appeared from nowhere, Alicia’s older sister Sarah had come to Jeff’s rescue. “Real mature, Danny,” she grumbled, kneeling down to help Jeff up. “Are you okay?” she asked him, not caring if her actions prompted another tirade of insults her way. It took more than the words of the ignorant to hurt her: all it did was make her angry.
“Be nice to Jeffy!” Alicia laughed from Dan’s side. “He might be my brother-in-law someda-ay.” Her eyes widened as her last word slurred ever so slightly. Her face twisted slightly in discomfort. For all the days of her life, she would never come to understand just what had happened. It was as if something had grabbed her tongue, pulling it just slightly—enough to disorient and annoy but not to hurt. Perhaps it was something to do with her new tongue piercing…
From the sidelines, Magnus Loder watched the situation with a satisfied grin. Anyone who noticed him may have mistaken it for Schadenfreude—the malicious enjoyment of another’s suffering. Still, he was not smirking at the misfortunate of Jeffrey Smith but at what small steps he had taken to avenge the young man. Like the other students of the New Vindicators Academy of America covertly attending classes at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, he had been instructed not to attract attention. Their goal was to make it to graduation without their status as Neo-Sapiens being discovered, that Colonel John Sidell of the Department of SPB Affairs could proudly display the results of their social experiment: humans and Neo-Sapiens COULD coexist peacefully without either tearing each other apart.
Humanity feared that the strain of the day-to-day would pressure Neo-Sapiens to use their powers immorally. Why work to support your family when you could turn your body into its insubstantial state and permeate your way through bank walls at night? Why wait in traffic when you could telepathically command the other motorists to pull over to the side of the road? If conflict arose in your life, you didn’t have to talk it over—not when you could emit white-hot jets of flame from your eyes; it was hard to argue with a disintegrated skull. Most Neo-Sapiens understood the fears mankind had- their own kind gave them cause for concern. Alcatraz Island was filled with Neo-Sapiens who had opted to use their abilities in just those ways. It was largely in part to their efforts that all of NS-kind had been blacklisted by humanity. Still, most refused to refute that there were those souls who did not misuse their genetic gifts; there were many Neo-Sapiens who so desperately dreamed of being accepted. They hid their uncanny talents from friends and family, lovers and co-workers alike out of fear of persecution.
Most Neo-Sapiens just wanted to live a normal, peaceful existence and some wanted to prove themselves the antithesis of the labels they had been branded with. That was the sort of Neo-Sapien Magnus Loder was; he determined to not only become a Vindicator but become the forerunner of the next generation of Vindicators. Still, despite the heroic ideals he supported himself on, he was not above using his abilities to make normal humans think twice before making hurtful comments.
Part of his smirk was from satisfaction at what he had accomplished… and the other half was a smirk; Magnus believed he had gotten away with the act without any taking notice. One being had witnessed the meager display of the Lodestone’s power: Cloud Goodman, the New Vindicator codenamed Fog for his ability to transform his body into a mass of living vapors. Moving fast, Cloud slipped, undetected, into the office of ERHS’ acting principal, Miss Reice.
Missus Thomas, Miss Reice’s secretary, was not in at the moment. For that, Cloud was truly thankful. It was always difficult to explain his casual coming and goings out of this office without a referral. His excuses were wearing thin and he knew she was growing suspicious. Still, sometimes it was an unavoidable risk… playing the part that he played.
Outside the office, the situation had been defused by Mister Gentry, the aging History teacher. Sarah had helped Jeff to the parking lot where an official from the United Nations was likely waiting to take him across the river to his father in Turtle Bay. The other students were beginning to slide away; the weekend had begun with the ringing of the last bell and any time they spent loitering the halls of the high school was time wasted. Magnus too had plans. It had been two days since he had broken things off with Chienne. He had a big, red, googily-eyed, stuffed octopus waiting with Maria Espada’s name on it. In some odd way he couldn’t begin to fathom there was something about the girl that made his spirits soar. Chienne had been his first girlfriend—the first relationship he had ever had was founded on a lie; things never would have lasted as long as they had if she had known he was a Neo-Sapien. With Maria though… with her he could be open and honest. He simply hoped he hadn’t done too much damage back in Japan.
Magnus looked up at the sound of his name. Gertrude Reice was a heavy-set woman of African-American heritage, well into her thirties. She had been involved in the music program at an arts institute in the Windy City before coming to the Big Apple. Magnus Loder knew little else about his principal… other than that Deimos might well consider her office a second home. “I was wondering if we could speak for a moment…”
Thinking nothing of it, Magnus accepted the invitation and entered her office. She led the way into the inner sanctum and past the seat Deimos routinely sat at, carving tallies in the ceiling tiles above him. Missus Thomas had failed to notice him using his hellfire to etch a memento of each visit into the building’s fixtures. “Please… sit.”
Magnus was a model student; he achieved impressive grades and was never in any sort of trouble. He knew he had nothing to fear from the powers that be—at least… nothing that most students feared. “I’d like to make you an offer,” she said. “One that may very well help you to… build your leadership skills.”
Magnus was intrigued.
“I have a small group that I would like you to… to coordinate for me.” The woman navigated the office to move around her desk and to sit at the high-backed chair resting behind it. “You would be compensated in ways you could only dream of…”
“I’m listening…” he said. “What’s it about?”
A grin flashed over Miss Reice’s face. “I suppose I should be frank with you. I want you to trust me… and for that to happen, I’m going to need to trust you. Magnus… I’m offering you the opportunity to join the Affiliation.”
Magnus had forgotten how to breathe.
“I’ve recruited a trio of young Neo-Sapiens—they’re just two years your senior—who lack leadership potential and… I think that you could come in handy in commanding their squadron.”
“You’re with the Affiliation!?”
She only nodded slightly. “My job was to monitor the Neo-Sapiens who came through this office. Obviously, anyone who’s referred to me is a bit of a delinquent. Those with potential were given our sales pitch. Black Widow, Lurker… even Mirth and Girth came out of this office.”
Magnus voiced his worst fears then. “Deimos!”
“Mister Carlson was never offered the chance to join, I’m afraid. On his first visit with me, he attempted to intimidate me with his Neo-Sapien abilities. Hellfire erupted through this window behind me and the intrepid youth threw himself out of it. Glided off on wings of shimmering black energy… I assumed that he would blow our cover. Mirth and Girth have been able to hide their genetic gifts, even from the New Vindicators. Deimos, I feared, would flaunt his talents and believe us to be a safety net who could drop into when things became too dangerous for him.”
“This… this isn’t possible…”
“I can give you the opportunity that the New Vindicators Academy so wrongfully denied you, Magnus…”
“No. I can’t.” Suddenly, he fell forward, clutching his head in pain. A sudden throbbing left him feeling as if his head were about to split into two. Magnus reeled back, feeling as though he were about to collapse from the pain. Was this Miss Reice’s doing or was it…?
“I’m in!” Magnus said passionately. Miss Reice was astonished at the sight. Magnus devoured that expression, running his hands back through his long, ocean-blue hair. In the chair beside him, the red-haired Magnus seemed just as shocked to discover the split. “So what do you want us to do first? Beat on Lex and Jacque for telling you all to suck off?”
“No!” Magnus thundered. “No! We—we can’t! These are the people who killed Addison and Lucas. They killed Kai and Quinton too!”
“Lucas was a psion,” the other Magnus grumbled. “God, I hate psions… They’re so cheap! It’s impossible to guard yourself from a mental attack. A punch or a kick you can see coming but… meh, I don’t like them. That pudgy piece of nothing got what he deserved.”
“Why?” Magnus asked. “I have to know… why did you kill him? Or any of them for that matter?”
Miss Reice shook her head. “I was sorry to have to do it… but… our leaders demanded my loyalty be tested. One of our members, Lawanda… she went behind our backs and told Addison of the Affiliation. She was happy to be accepted and she wanted her best-friend to be a part of this as well. Addison didn’t like what she heard and she told—she told the wrong person.”
“One of the teachers?” Magnus asked. “One of your members?”
Miss Reice nodded in response to both questions.
“Who?” demanded Magnus. “Who did she go to?”
The woman only shook her head. “We didn’t want Addison to tell anyone else-”
“Who did she tell!?”
“-and I was told to kill her. Lucas… well, Lucas wasn’t so fortunate. He was scanning the surface thoughts of the girls at this school when he picked up on Lawanda’s thoughts concerning Addison’s death.”
Magnus’ face twisted into a pained image. He knew what this meant. He had been waiting on the front steps of the New Vindicators Academy, waiting for his two roommates to return. At the sight of Adonis and Drew, he had happily told them about his date to homecoming. “Yeah, I was thinking we could all go together,” Magnus had told them both all those months ago. “Adonis has Cassandra and well, I’ve got Lucas Howell on finding a girl for you, Drew!”
“Well, he’s going around scanning the thoughts of the girls at the school to see if he can find someone who maybe-kind-of-sort-of likes you.”
His fault—it was his fault that Lucas Howell had died. He was the one who had asked him to go and find someone who liked Drew. He was the one who had pulled the trigger. He was responsible for Lucas’ death. Suddenly, he wanted to throw up. He felt like he was. He could feel it slowly snaking up the back of his throat. He could all but taste it on his tongue and feel it burning in his nose. Still, nothing came out.
As Magnus began to cry, the other Magnus looked to Miss Reice excitedly. “So… what’s your power?” he asked. “I mean… you must be a Neo-Sapien, right? I figure you’ve gotta be…”
Miss Reice bowed her head and reluctantly told him part of the truth: “I can transform my body—morphing into anyone I’ve ever come into contact with.”
The other Magnus’ brow furrowed in confusion. “What? Like Chimera can?” Miss Reice’s density changed then and her bone structure melted down and began to reform itself. Her skin tone altered and her hair lightened. Crow’s feet appeared and finger prints were transfigured into the natural form of Richard Jorgenson. “You—you ARE Mister Jorgenson!” the other Magnus exclaimed, knocking over his chair as he rose and stepped back from the changeling before him.
“Not quite,” Chimera said sadly. “Try… Missus Jorgenson. My real name is Silvia Li… the Vindicator formerly known as Xianbei… and the woman who married the Chimera.”
“So… what?” asked the other Magnus, throwing back his head to whip the long, blue hair from his face. “You’re not really Chimera… you’re his old lady?”
“It’s complicated,” Chimera said. “My name is Silvia Li… my father was the grandson of Huang Li—the Vindicator known as Jaundice. He was one of the original Vindicators—the team of five that was dispatched to stop your great-grandfather’s father… Johann Meinstein, the Fuhrer. Though an Esper’s abilities are not hereditary, I am capable of a fraction of what he was: I can switch bodies with any living being. Still, the powers were unpredictable and activated seemingly at random. It was usually when my own body experienced extreme pain...
“When the Vindicators VII moved to fight Atlas, Richard and I found ourselves in the fight of our lives and… and I… well, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that as I was dying, I traded places with my husband. His consciousness died in my body and mine lived on in his.”
“That’s sick, lady!” the red Magnus snapped. “That’s real sick!”
The other Magnus Loder was just as exasperated by this revelation. “I—you—you let the one you love die!? You killed Addison and Lucas… just because they found out something they weren’t supposed to know? What about Kai and Quinton? He was your own son-”
“Quinton’s not my son!” snapped Chimera. “How stupid can you all be? Quinton is white; he’s one-hundred percent Caucasian and I was a native-born Chinese woman! Besides, Quinton’s powers don’t take after either of our genetic templates. I couldn’t… I couldn’t have children. Richard slept around on me. He slept around and he produced Quinton with another woman and… and I just accepted it. I believed him when he said he was done cheating. Quinton isn’t my son… but I loved him like he was. I did not kill my son!”
“But you did kill Kai!”
“No! That was—no. Nevermind.”
“Who? Who killed Kai if it wasn’t you?” Chimera shook its head. “Did Kelvin learn something too? Did he find out about the Affiliation? Did he find out about you?”
“He found out who the Leader is!” Chimera snarled. “He found out who’s commanding the people who are above even me! Kelvin found out who’s really at the top of the food chain… and he died trying to tell Deimos just who’s in charge!”
Magnus shuddered as he thought back on Deimos, relating to them what Kai’s last words were: “Don’t trust Mi-”
“Michuru,” snarled Magnus.
Chimera fumed. “As I said, even I do not know just who’s pulling the strings… but I don’t think it would be Michuru. I knew him. I fought beside him. I consider him a friend. He’s not the sort to do this…”
“And what is the Affiliation going to do?” asked the other Magnus, his interest still peeked.
Chimera fixed them both with a sad, somber look. “The Affiliation is going to warn humanity. We’re going to make an example out of the Church of Genetic Purity. We are going to teach all of mankind that they are right to fear us and right to hate us… they will not respect us after everything is done… they will tremble at our feet and see us as gods among men.”
The other Magnus grinned and the red-haired Magnus frowned. “And what then? What happens when… when the proud, noble Neo-Sapiens that rule over humanity give birth to a human child? It’s possible for two Neo-Sapiens to produce a normal son or daughter so… what then? Will they be cast down to the lowest stages of your caste? Or better yet, what happens when the oppression we repay with oppression breeds a new war? We’re talking about an endless cycle… Miss Reice—Mister Jorgenson—Miss Li—whatever your name is! You talk like this is a noble ambition but its just insanity.”
Magnus rose up and moved to leave the room. The other Magnus moved to bar his exit. “I want to do this!” he barked.
“Then do it!” Magnus snarled. “Just remember what happened the last time we differed: you know well and good what happens if we’re apart for too long! I’m willing to risk it… are you?”
The other Magnus said nothing. He merely folded his arms across his chest and lowered his eyes in a childish pout. Long tendrils of blue swept over his eyes, obscuring the glare he fixed at the floor. He attempted to rebel—to maintain some modicum of his reputation. Ultimately, he opted instead to remerge; the pair of Magnus Loders recombined and a white-haired Magnus barged out of the room.
As he thundered past a startled Missus Thomas, Miss Reice calmly followed him out. Angry as he was, he failed to notice the pair he almost hit throwing open the door. Stomping off and out of the school, Miss Reice slipped out quietly, shaking her head at his naiveté. “Should I-”
Miss Reice shook her head at Marcos Verón—the New Vindicator known as Coriolis. By his side stood Loess, also known by Maria Espada. “He’s not stupid,” Miss Reice intoned softly. “He knows my abilities would let me hide anywhere should I be exposed. He’ll keep my identity secret just to be able to keep tabs on me.”
“He doesn’t trust the teachers anyway,” Maria said. “None of them do. He doesn’t have anyone to tell.”
Miss Reice grinned at the young woman. “That’s where you come in though. He’ll need a confidant.”
Marcos seemed shocked at such a suggestion. “No!” he thundered. “She can’t-”
“I’ll do it,” Maria said, a vicious smile spreading like cancer across her face. “Just leave Magnus Loder to me.”
To Be Continued... wrote:The return of Suicide Dave