An old man sat alone at one of the chess tables, with his collar turned up and his cap on. The spring sunshine invaded the scenic park around him and made it glow. The spring breeze blew past him, the last remnant of a winter everyone was glad to see the back of. Children flew kites and young adults played with their dogs, but he took no joy in this. Nowadays, the whole world made him gag and his skin crawl, but he had been slowly learning to suppress his disgust and self-pity.
Although he was alone, he didn't look lonely. His eyes were tired and sad, but there was something predator about this man that made you hesitant to approach him. He was so focused on the chessboard in front of him that he didn't even look up when a mutant swooped overhead, attracting the stares of everyone else. The empty chair opposite him had a weight to it, the vacuum created by somebody's absence was palpable. The old man felt the unfilled chair like guilt, it was his trigger. Try to fill it at you're your own risk. A chair like that was not meant to be sat on.
The chess pieces before him took on names and histories, and once again he tried in vain to find where he had gone wrong. His queen had been stronger than him just like the carved regent standing on her black square, but the parallel didn't make him smile. He'd lost his knights, his pawns, and now he was faced with an inescapable checkmate. What would his next move be? For the first time in his life, he didn't have one, and that was what filled him with a numb emptiness. The was no way to regain what he had lost.
With nothing to gain, he had nothing to lose. He raised his hand and focused all his mind and soul on the piece before him, fancying for just a moment that he was the same fear-inspiring titan he had been just a week ago. His delusion was so enticing that he thought he saw the piece move, and he felt his despair afresh.
The quick clip of a woman's heels sounded behind him, such frustrated steps seemed out of place in the postcard surroundings, but he didn't turn around, expecting her to just pass by. Instead, she was suddenly in front of him, sitting opposite him, facing sideways, without looking at him. She was dressed expensively, her cream suit well-tailored, with stylish black hair cut short. Her face was familiar but she didn't look like anyone he knew.
"So, the rumours are true." she said, breaking the silence.
"Yes, my dear, I'm afraid they are." he replied.
"I could hardly believe it when I heard, I had to see for myself."
"And how was it exactly that you found me? If you don't mind me asking."
"It wasn't hard." He nodded, but didn't say anything. After a moment, she turned to look at him fully.
"You do look pathetic." she said, no trace of compassion in her voice.
"The same cannot be said of you, however. You appear to have done quite well for yourself."
"I'm part of the Bureau for Mutant Relations now. The humans think I've seen the light." She scoffed.
"You forget, we are just as human as they are now."
"No, we will never be what they are, we are more. It's in our blood. No cure can ever change the fact that they have become obsolete and we are what comes next."
"If only I shared in your confidence." he said with a sad smile.
"Why don't you? You used to."
"It's hard to believe in a future that is no longer yours."
"It could be. The mutant I knew would find a way. He always did."
"The mutant you knew is gone, leaving only this old man in his place to play chess and await his end of days."
"Well, I was never very good at chess." she said scathingly.
"No, I remember." There came a pause in their conversation.
"So you're just going to sit here? Well that's the last thing I thought I'd find when I came looking for a leader."
"I couldn't have predicted it either. But in truth, you don't really need a leader anymore."
"Maybe I don't, but the boy does. He's been making a nuisance of himself, causing a stir. He's trying to continue your legacy, but he's only going to get himself locked up, and there won't be anyone to break him out this time."
"The sooner he learns not to fight for fallen idols the better."
"And your ideals? I suppose they're not worth fighting for either anymore?"
"You sound angry, my dear. If you want to continue to fight, be my guest, but I am far too old."
"So you're just going to pretend your life didn't happen? Your vision? You were certainly willing to leave me on that convoy because of it."
"Ah yes, allow me to take this oportunity to apologise for that, I was perhaps a bit harsh, especially after all your years of loyal service. But I would have expected you to do the same thing. Can't you understand that I cannot fight for a cause that no longer applies to me?"
The woman sat back in her chair, studying him.
"Well I must say, your new attitude makes me hesitate to reveal the reason behind my visit."
"I was under the impression it was curiosity that made you track me down."
"In part, yes, but there was more to it than that. But I just don't know what to think now. If I can even trust you."
"It would be cruel not to tell me now that you've peaked my curiosity."
"I suppose so. But answer me this – Are you happy?"
The old man looked her straight in the eye, catching her gaze and holding it, and she saw a flicker of the man she had known in his steel-blue gaze.
"The only answer to that question is that I would gladly tear out my eyes with my bear hands to return to my former life, if only for a moment."
"That's all I needed to hear. The reason I came is to tell you that the Bureau is planning to raid our old lair and I was wondering if you would like to join us, since they no longer consider you a threat, bearing in mind that the blueprints for the machine that was destroyed on Liberty Island are there."
The change in the man was immediate. He was no longer frail or feeble, now he thrummed with the same innate strength as she had always known him to. All he had needed was the tiniest glimmer of possibility to draw him out of his despondency, and now that he had it, you would never have known he had ever been anything less than the force he was now.
"Yes…" he said, working out all the chinks in his head. "We could rebuild… With some modifications… If we used an electromagnet instead… We should get the same powers again…" He looked up at the woman before him and fluidly got to his feet. He held out his arm for her,
"Come, my dear, we have a future to build." She gladly stood and took his arm, and together they left the park, heading for New York.