Title: Sole Survivor
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author's Email: librarie@...
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: G. Vague, roundabout X2 spoilers.
Setting: Post-X2, if it matters.
Summary: An old soldier relives a nightmare.
Disclaimer: Marvel and Fox create the characters that sell. Not me.
Notes: Now here's a sharp twist on reality for you. This is one of those
odd speculative stories, most likely alternate-universe.
The whole thing was about me grasping at straws, more than anything.
Three months ago, I'd hit upon what I thought, at the time, was a brilliant
idea: write a book examining Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. mutant terrorist
Magneto. It wasn't exactly my first choice for a subject, but no one else
had tackled a biography of him yet. Besides, I knew any book dealing with
the "mutant threat" issue would be a sure sale with the hyper-paranoid
reading public of today.
However, it was *not* a sure sale with my publishers. Besides being
completely spineless about taking on so hotly debated an issue, they also
didn't think I could actually find enough information about Lehnsherr to
fill an entire book. It took a lot of work to convince them.
But after three months--and a lot of personal expense--in my mostly futile
effort to research the life of the mysterious Magneto, I was starting to
think they were right.
I'd started out with a promising enough lead when I was referred to one
Colonel William Stryker, a military scientist who had reputedly overseen
Lehnsherr's confinement. However, that went nowhere fast. I soon learned
that Colonel Stryker had vanished without a trace--at roughly the same time
as Lehnsherr's escape from captivity.
Well, that would at least make for some juicy speculation in the last
chapter of my book, if indeed I ever did gather enough information to write
it. "Did Magneto murder his erstwhile keeper?"
In the meantime, I kept on doing my best to explore Lehnsherr's sketchy
past--a pursuit that eventually led me to a home for the elderly in Warsau,
on one of my typical wild goose chases.
A resident of the home, who was a survivor of a World War II concentration
camp, allegedly had a story to tell about seeing a boy tear down a
barbed-wire fence without touching it. In the very vaguest of ways, the
circumstantial details seemed to fit with Lehnsherr's history. However,
upon making the trip to Poland to visit this gentleman, I found that he was
simply too senile to be relied upon. My final conclusion was that his story
was nothing but a crock.
It had been a worthless and miserable trip in every way, and visiting that
institution was the grand climax of it. In half an hour, I saw more
emptiness and tragedy in the residents' faces than I had before in my
entire life. There are some horrors that even the forgetfulness of old age
I had interviewed the old man in one of the common rooms. When I finally
shut off my tape recorder, stood up and began to make my way out--eager to
escape the incongruous gloom in that brightly lit, antiseptic place--I was
stopped by a gentle tug on my shirtsleeve.
Turning, I found a tiny, sparrowlike old woman gazing brightly up at me.
She didn't speak, which I imagined was for lack of English, but she
gestured for me to follow her. I shot a helpless look at the orderly who
was escorting me, and he said something apparently intended to placate the
woman, but she was remarkably persistent. In the end, just to resolve the
situation, I gave in.
Smiling charitably, the woman took my hand in hers--she was strong for
someone who must have been in her late eighties--and towed me across the
room to a table by the window. There sat an old man, dressed in a
threadbare blue bathrobe and confined to a slightly rusted wheelchair,
looking out at the rain that fell on the neglected garden outside.
The woman smiled, patted my hand, and shuffled off.
Mildly confounded, I turned to the old man, and he ducked his head with an
apologetic smile. "Forgive me for sending her, but it is not so easy for me
to go about." He made a deprecating gesture to his wheelchair. His English
was quite clear; his voice was strong, and marked with a decidedly German
accent. Though age had taken its toll on him, I could imagine that he had
been handsome in his youth. His body was now frail, and what remained of
his hair had turned to steel gray, but his knife-sharp blue eyes were still
the marvel they must have been in the days when young women sighed after him.
"You are the woman who came to ask Otto about the magnet-mutant?" he asked
These geriatrics apparently had quite a grapevine among themselves.
Surprised, I nodded, wondering why this fellow was interested--and sure
that I was about to find out.
A wry smile hovered over his lips for a moment, and he spoke in a voice
that was low, but still comfortably conversational. "I do not know about
this one, but I could tell you a story about another mutant. A story from
For a moment I was torn between curiosity and impatience. Such early
instances of mutation were rare. If this guy knew what he was talking
about--and those eyes alone told me his mind was as keen as my own any day
of the week--then he just might have a fascinating tale to tell.
On the other hand, if I got back to my hotel in time, maybe I could change
my flight reservation and be on my way back to the States before the day
I looked at the man for a long moment. He gazed up at me steadily, his lips
still crooked in a smile.
Finally, I sat down. I felt almost *compelled* to by that calm, direct
gaze. I set my tape recorder on the table between us; he glanced down at
it, then up at me, with a look of subtle amusement and reproof.
The tape recorder promptly went back into my purse.
He smiled in satisfaction and leaned back in his wheelchair, folding his
"It was the winter of 1944," he began. "I was a soldier in the Wehrmacht. I
was very young; I didn't want to fight. It was only in fear for my family
that I was pressed into service.
"One day, not long before Christmas, my patrol came upon a handful of
Allied soldiers. They had become lost somewhere, I think, and some of them
were injured. When they met with us, there was a brief but fierce battle.
Those men fought well, but... they never really had a chance."
He paused for a long moment, staring at the pattern of raindrops against
"My friend Gunther--my friend, but not a nice friend, ja? Well... you see,
he liked to strip the dogtags from the dead, for trophies. I watched him as
he went among the bodies, collecting his prizes. There lay one man, so
young--much younger even than I was. The shrapnel wounds in him were...
very bad." The old soldier grimaced slightly, but his eyes were haunted by
much more than memories of the dead.
"Well... when Gunther bent over the body to take the dogtags... I do not
think he even lived long enough to understand what killed him."
He looked up at me then, with a grim smile--not warm and light, as his
other smiles had been, but cold and almost lifelessly empty.
"The dead man got up," he said, in a flat voice. "It all happened so very
fast... yet it seemed so slow that I could see everything. I saw the
shrapnel just... fall out of his skin, as if it were being pushed out from
the inside. I saw the wounds close before my very eyes. I saw his face--and
I could not recognize it as human. Bared teeth and wild, raging eyes, like
He drew a breath and let it out. "Gunther was only the first. The man...
the thing... it killed them all... every one of my comrades. Killed them
with its bare hands. Sometimes... it tore them apart. It took several
bullets without even slowing down--and then, it turned to me."
Absorbed in a sense of visceral horror, I found myself leaning toward him
intently as he went on.
"I would also have tried to shoot him... but then I looked into his eyes,
and I knew that he was as confused and terrified as I was. He didn't
understand what had happened to him. I didn't either, until many, many
years later--but now I know what I saw that day." He paused. "Mutation most
often appears in the young, and often after a trauma, ja?"
I nodded slowly, finding my voice. "So you think that with the shock of the
attack, his injuries... a mutation was triggered in this young soldier."
The old man nodded solemnly.
"So what happened next?"
He let out a grim chuckle. "I dropped my gun."
I gaped in surprise. He smiled wryly and went on.
"I truly thought I would die. The gun was useless against him--against
something that could heal like that. So I waited for him to attack... but
he only stared at me for a long moment, covered in blood and panting like a
wild dog. He seemed like a cornered animal. Something so inhumanly savage,
yet at the same time, so afraid--shaking with the horror of this monstrous
thing that had happened to him.
"So there I stood, staring into the eyes of the beast that we had
awakened... until, slowly, I saw some kind of true human awareness return
there. At last, he simply said one word.
His lips twisted in a bitter smile. "And so I ran--and I never stopped
running. I deserted the Wehrmacht. I changed my name and my identity, and
after the War, I spent my years alone and in fear. Because you see,
somehow... I have always been afraid that *he* would finally come for me."
He closed his eyes, leaning his head back. "But now that I have told
someone, I don't feel afraid anymore."
For a long moment I was silent, trying to absorb his fantastic and terrible
story. I was certain I didn't believe a word of it--and yet...
"Do you know whatever happened to this man?" I asked faintly.
The old man opened his eyes and shook his head. "I thought, once, that I
saw him. A man came here from America--a professor, I think, who was in a
wheeled chair, like me. He came to ask Otto for his story of the magnetic
mutant, as you did. And there was someone with him, who looked so much like
that young soldier that..." He paused. "Ah, but no. It could not have been
him, for he was much too young."
"What about your family?"
"I don't know." He lowered his eyes, quiet pain filling his expression. "I
never saw my wife and son again. I tried, after the War, for many years...
but I couldn't find them."
I was left speechless.
Somehow, whatever he might have done as a soldier, I found it impossible to
think ill of this lonely old man. He could never have been a violent
person, if that single terrifying encounter he described could have so
completely shattered his life. All I could see was a man who had been used,
and had lost everything, never to gain it back.
My proposed book about Erik Lehnsherr could wait. I had something more
important to research now. After a long moment's thought, I leaned across
the table toward the old soldier.
"I can't promise anything," I began. "But if you want me to, I could try to
trace your wife and son--maybe even your grandchildren. I can try to find
them for you."
I hadn't thought it was possible that his blue eyes could become any
brighter, but they did. "You would do this?"
"Yes." I pulled my notebook and pencil out of my purse. "I just need to
know a few things. Let's start with your name--your *real* name, that is."
The old man smiled understandingly. He glanced left and right, then leaned
forward in his wheelchair and spoke, his voice low but clear.
"My name is Wagner... Gerhard Wagner."
(c) 2003 Jordanna Morgan - http://www.jordanna.net