My mother loved music.
She was a violinist. It was always her bane that I couldn't carry a tune-- "how can you be so good with foreign languages, and mathematics, and not with music?" she would ask me, in mock despair. I generally responded by insisting that foreign languages and maths were interesting, whereas only girls could possibly like music, at which point she would declare I was not her son and feint at pulling my ear. Then we would laugh, and I would run off to play.
In the camps, the orchestra played constantly, a macabre counterpart to the horror we lived in. We would stand at attention for three hours in the freezing pre-dawn, shivering, exhausted, and the band would play a sprightly tune. At the time if I could have killed the musicians, I would have; now I wonder what it might have been like for them, forced to put on a show of normalcy, to prostitute their art for the pleasure of our captors, while all around them people died in torment.
I developed a taste for classical music late in life, but it was never anything like a grand passion. Music was tied to my memories of my mother and to memories of the nightmare I endured, but I took this for granted. I never thought it was of any real importance to my life.
A bitter irony. I almost think I might trade my power to hear the violin again.
They say you never acquire new languages as an adult with the facility you had as a child. It is true that as many years as I spoke English, I never lost my accent, nor developed a fully native understanding of it. Still, I thought I was remarkably adept at how quickly I picked it up.
I expected the same to happen with sign. But it was not the way I was taught to think of language. To me, language is in words and cadences and voices, not the cold movement of fingers. Or lips, for that matter. I thought I already knew how to lipread, but now that I am limited to that, now that I cannot catch bits and fragments of voice any longer, I realize how flawed my abilities are. Sign would be far more efficient, if I truly knew it, if I could only think in it as I still do in words. It has been months, though, and still I struggle.
I had to step down from my political position, of course. It is nearly impossible for me to modulate my voice without a telepath assisting me. Apparently, I shout. All the time. And my accent has gotten nearly unintelligible, as I can no longer correct my excesses. And I do not understand when people speak to me, and so they repeat themselves in very small words, as if I lost my intelligence when I lost my hearing. After I nearly strangled one of my aides with a small iron statuette for behaving as if I were brain-damaged, I realized I needed to retire.
It's just as well. I hated politics anyway. Why did I waste so much time trying to conquer the world? Ruling a small country turns out to be a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I prefer to remain in solitude in my Antarctic citadel, writing, occasionally making press statements to support my successor, Amelia. At least in writing I can sound like the power of old, not an old man who will never hear a violin or make a speech again.
Theresa insists on coming here on a regular basis. She's Catholic; they're even stronger on concepts of atonement than we are. She also knows Sign fluently, and is in fact my teacher. I can't count the number of ways that's ironic. Her team comes with her as well; it is often a pleasure to talk with Samuel and Danielle, although "talk" is a misleading term in this case. Danielle's Sign is fluent, but Sam is as halting as I am, and occasionally we need to resort to pads of paper. Still, I am pleased to see them, and see how well they have grown; another generation taking on the mantle of adulthood, new young blood to take up where we left off. I have highly recommended to Amelia that she take Samuel on as an aide, and I am trying to talk him into it; one who has learned from Xavier and Cable as well as myself, who has been tested in battle since adolescence, and who showed some small talent for diplomacy in his youth, is an aide Amelia needs. She's still surrounded by my former Acolytes, many of whom are, not to put too fine a point on it, morons. I think Samuel somehow feels that he'd be betraying Charles' dream if he went to Genosha; he doesn't realize that it's exactly his perspective as an integrationist with battle scars that I wanted, for my people cannot separate themselves entirely from the world. Nations interact with other nations. I've learned this to my cost.
But of course, I'm retired. It's no longer my place to worry about it any longer.
It is simply so frustrating to have worked on something so hard and long, fought so hard to build a dream into a viable reality, and then, just as I was beginning to find my legs as a statesman, have it all taken from me. I sit here, in solitude, and fume, and decide that whatever may come, I'm going to go back, be on the spot again, and at the very least advise Amelia, direct her.
And then I talk to one of X-Force, or an Acolyte come to visit, or some X-Man or another, and I who was always so verbally adept am left fumbling for words. They shout at me, and still I do not understand them. They Sign, but aside from X-Force, who found it useful in battle when one of their number drowns all other voices, none of them have any fluency whatsoever. They write things down on pieces of paper. And their faces show that my lack of understanding translates, to their minds, as a mental incapacity and not the merely physical one it is.
The truly ironic thing is that it wouldn't have happened had I not been trying to save my hearing.
Standing within the center of a buzzing electromagnetic force field for many years takes its toll, as does being at ground zero of far too many explosions. Words in battle warped to mush. So I built hearing aids, miniaturized and very powerful, that actually enhanced my hearing beyond normal human levels, without being visible at all. The fact that I could fasten them magnetically inside the canals was an aid to my vanity. No one was supposed to know.
To this day I am certain that Astra did not know, that she chose Siryn to brainwash because I have no obvious defense against sonic attacks as I do against other forms of energy. I'm sure she had no idea how effective having the girl simply walk up to me, having made an appointment to see me on the strength of her X-Force connections, and scream, would be.
By the time I got out of the hospital X-Force had already deprogrammed their teammate and killed Astra. They assured me that she was exceedingly dead. A matter I should have attended to myself, before it came to this-- but I had a country to run, and the boy was dead. I assumed that would be the end of it. Who could have imagined she was so obsessed she'd fall back on a Plan B?
Charles was no help, but then, perhaps I could have guessed that. If he can't get the Shi'ar to fix his back, why would he have them repair the hearing of a man he'd tried to mindwipe? I tried to build prosthetics, but that last overload didn't merely rupture the eardrums, it also burned out the auditory nerves. If I built prosthetics, there would be no nerves to attach them to.
So I live now in silence.
Since the accident, I have entered combat only once. I thought that, since I was no longer ruler of Genosha and no longer bound by the UN compact, I could perhaps take back an older role. Genosha is a sanctuary, but my people are still suffering and dying in other countries. I thought to help them. So I went after an American Sentinel plant, run by Shaw, and nearly got killed. I'd never realized how desperately I relied on hearing in combat; I'd thought the sound of my own force field muffled and drowned enough that I couldn't be depending on it too heavily.
It was another irony that X-Force had taken it into their heads to hit the same plant, that they showed up in time to save my life. Fortunately for my dignity, I had to save theirs as well before that battle was over, but the incident convinced me that my adventuring days are over. Unless I worked with a team that included a telepath, my injury entirely precludes my being able to defend myself effectively enough, and I have never worked well with teams. Enemies that were prepared to strive against me when I was unstoppable will find in me now too large a weakness to exploit. I do not dare.
It was because of the awkwardness of communicating in that battle that Theresa offered to teach me Sign-- out of guilt, I'm sure, but as much as I dislike pity, I do understand atonement. I do not fault her-- my disability is Astra's fault, and she and her teammates saw to Astra's punishment. Theresa was only a tool. But I understand how she feels-- that while under other circumstances she might have fought me willingly and been glad to see me go down, especially after what I did to Cable, she could not bear the thought of having been forced to attack me that way, against her will, after I'd successfully stablized Genosha and brought some measure of sanity to the mutant question worldwide. Besides, Cable recovered fully from what I did. I will not recover from this. So I accepted her offer.
Now sometimes I think these children are the only people in the world I can speak to. Aside from Charles, and I'm still not speaking to him. Others who cannot Sign cannot speak to me, and so they treat me as if I were not there, or as if I am stupid, and my pride is far too touchy to bear much of such treatment. Only the children-- not children, not any longer-- can behave as if I were still Magneto, former teacher to some of them, former enemy to some of them, and now their ally and a source of advice to balance against what Cable and Domino tell them they should do-- a person of value still, not a deaf old man.
I look forward to their visits. When they come here, sometimes I can almost forget--
--And then I dream of my mother, playing the violin.
By the way, if you liked this story, check out "The Music Lesson" by Dannell Lites; it's an authorized sequel to this one, and it's very cool.