“Yo, Magneto, what’s the word?” asked Manny’s curious neighbor Wyatt in the Lakeland Special Correctional Facility. Manfred Wells, aka Magnes, didn’t appreciate the nickname, but his gimmick, gadgets, and popular culture made it inevitable. He knew when he first started his career as a criminal to expect his fair share of derivative nicknames. Besides, Wyatt wasn’t too bad a fellow, Manny figured. His next door neighbor had taken it upon himself to make sure Manny didn’t get into too much trouble.
Superhumans seemed to breed conflict enough when they had space and freedom. Throw them into prison together, and there are bound to be conflicts. Manny hadn’t come in to be some swaggerer throwing his weight around. Just the opposite. He’d reverted to how he’d been his whole life: a nice guy. After seeing him volunteer his lunch’s cube of cornbread to another inmate who had dropped his, Wyatt sat down beside him and insisted he keep an eye on him. It had only helped so much, but then he wouldn’t have known he had any mail if not for a telepath alerting him to it. The same fellow he’d given the cornbread to, in fact.
“The word’s not good, Wyatt. My best friend is dead. Killed, actually.”
Wyatt frowned, and Manny felt like he was being watched. People often felt self-conscious about their thoughts, Manny more than most. His crimes didn’t warrant customized high-security incarceration, so they placed him in the closest prison environment to fit his powers, the Telekinetic Containment Wing of Lakeland Correctional. Manny could confirm the long-standing public assumption that telekinesis and telepathy went hand in hand. He’d felt like people could read his thoughts a lot, especially his first week in.
“You knew Electroman?” Wyatt asked.
Manny cocked an eyebrow up at him. Wyatt answered an unspoken question. “I respect your privacy, especially when you’re watching TV. You don’t want to know what people think about when they can see women again.”
Manny shrugged. “You got me there. Anyway, we went to high school together. We were on the football team, him on defense and me on offense. Elec was one of the honorary offensive linemen because he could somehow out-eat most of the rest of us. He stayed back home and I went to college, but we kept up. Then we got powers and did a little work together, until I went off to sleepaway camp.” He held out his hands to indicate the prison.
“Knock knock!” called a voice. Wyatt and Manny turned toward the entrance of Manny’s cell to find a purple-skinned man with one eye peek in. “I heard what happened a week back. What happened in the letter, you know, but I found out back then. Here, figured, you know, seeing as how you helped me that time.” The Spectacular Oracular, aka Fred, held out a candy bar.
Manny reached over and took the bar. “Oh, the cigarettes? Who hasn’t had a bad night of toilet hooch and poker, right? Besides, I don’t need them, but if they’re your thing in here…” Manny didn’t care for smoking, but he also didn’t think prison was the best time to go cold turkey on a habit like that. Manny shook his head, “Besides, who else do us cons have in here but each other, right?”
Wyatt shook his head as well. “Seriously, I can not believe you worked with Electroman, or ever did anything bad enough on your own to get sent here. What, did Electro leave you holding the bag?”
“I robbed armored transports. I think they’re called armored cars, but they’re really vans. Anyway, I needed the money to pay off my student loans, and then I just wanted the money. I messed up on the last job I did. Electroman hung me off a bridge that crossed over the road this gold shipment was going to be coming along.”
“No shit,” said Fred. Having the gift of precognition, he would know.
“Yeah, Elec heard about it from a guy he knew. We had a reputation at the time, and my abilities are great for this kind of thing, so sometimes we got information that we paid off after the heist.”
“He didn’t get paid in the end,” said Fred.
Manny shook his head. “I can’t say. All I know is I messed up. My powers are all or nothing, see. I turn them on, and I attract everything magnetic around me, or I push everything magnetic around me. I can’t hold something in midair and twist it around all kinds of funny ways. I can’t even just pull one thing at a time. I pulled all of traffic, but I got distracted because that was a pretty cool thing to do. I didn’t stop as quickly as I needed to. My second mistake was not pushing. I thought I was safe as high up as I was. Nope. They didn’t hit me hard, but they hit me. Next thing I know, I’m waking up in ceramic handcuffs, even though metal would have worked because of my powers. Shame, too. Gold, man.” Manny sighed, then smiled at the others.
“Shit…gold? Damn,” Wyatt said, then asked, “You going to be alright now that your old partner’s gone?”
“No,” said Manny and Fred at once. Manny looked at him, then figured the precognitive must have gotten a vision. Manny took it from here. “Nope.” He held up the letter. “This is from his little sister, and before you get started, she looks exactly like a girl version of him. She wanted to let me know because she remembered I was his friend, and because she wants as many people as possible to know he was killed fighting Liberator.”
“The patriotic boy scout killed someone? I call bullshit,” Wyatt said, disbelieving.
Fred spoke without a hint of humor. “But wait, there’s more.”
“Yeah, there is. I have to break out. I need to avenge my best friend.” Manny looked around, taking stock of the situation and trying to ignore Wyatt’s laughter.
When Manny didn’t bust out too, Wyatt stopped. “You’re serious? He’s Liberator. He can fly to the moon and back. Punch through this prison. He can pick up the prison if it would hold together in one piece, then fly it to the moon. The prison that’s holding you because you got caught, where half the inmates have stolen your food at lunch because you’re too nice.”
Manny smiled at him and gave the only explanation he thought mattered: “I know, but he was my friend.”
“Alright, but what about if anyone finds out?” Wyatt looked over to Fred.
Fred shook his head. “I’m not telling.”
From the cell next door, Manny’s other neighbor assured them, “Yeah, your secret’s safe with me.”
“Me too!” called a voice from down the hallway. “Thanks for making me that cookie for my birthday, man! Meant a lot!”
“Thanks. Anyone else want to leave early?!” he called out.
“No thanks, but if you want to let my wife know how I’m doing, she’s-”
“What’s all this racket?!” shouted a harsher, commanding voice, almost certainly a guard. “What in the Sam Hill is going on you want everyone in the state to know about?”
Thinking fast, Manny had to come up with something to explain all the shouting before someone gave away his intention to escape. Before he could, a different voice added to all the loud noises, “Hit! You sank my patrol boat! Now I’m aiming for D-10.”
“Miss!” said the other voice Manny had been communicating with.
After a few more minutes of back-and-forth playing, the guard told them “For Christ’s sake, try not to play Battleship as loud as the damn boats from now on, alright?” and slammed the gate to go back to their station. The Department of Corrections was well aware of the risks of keeping guards too close to a population of telepaths for extended periods of time unless necessary.
“Thanks for the cover,” Manny told the other voice.
The voice called back. “Don’t mention it. You were cool about that one night.”
Wyatt raised an eyebrow. Manny rolled his eyes and conjured up a very clear memory. “Not what it sounds like. Turns out, there are advantages to having a good memory and a computer full of pirated porn around pent-up telepaths.”
Wyatt snorted. “When are you making your move?”
Manny thought it over for a couple of seconds. “When are people sleepiest?”
Later that evening, it was morning. To be more precise, the night had become morning through the ingenious mechanism of midnight, and continued on until two o’clock, when the magnetism manipulator woke up to Wyatt’s voice in his head in spite of the pair not sharing a cell. Rubbing sleep out of his eyes, he thought back, “Thanks Wyatt. Good luck whenever you get out.”
He stood up amidst Wyatt’s advice to “Look after yourself out there,” and “Try not to be too nice.”
Rolling his eyes, Manny stepped up to the rear wall of his cell and pressed his body to it as if giving it a hug. “I’m as nice as circumstances let me be. Now, you might want to let everyone know to take a step back.”
As large a prison population of telepaths, telekinetics, and various other sorts who get lumped in with them because they can manipulate physical objects from a dsistance could have easily escaped any time. The guards recognized this, though their superiors had doubts and the average man or woman on the street didn’t want to believe it. “Why not escape then?” they’d ask, not considering the problem with being an escaped convict when someone wouldn’t have to get chased if they waited another year or two.
On the day when something provoked Magnes, the nicest guy in the cellblock, to use his powers for the first time since he went to prison, he didn’t move the prison. He came very close to it. He tore off the walls on his cell and adjacent cells. He bent bars and shifted walls further. At that time of night, the guards responded to what seemed like an earthquake’s aftershock to find their computers and phones were down. Curious, a test of the fire alarms turned up a worrying lack of functionality.
After eight minutes of panic, the night shift dispatched one man to go up the road until he could call out. The others took another fifteen minutes to don their psionic-resistant riot suits to make it more difficult for anyone to get in their heads, then went in to do a headcount. Because the prisoners acted up with confusion and insults, it took another five before an initial count was completed, then another five to double check. After that, and in light of the damage around some of the cells, they checked around outside the building to make sure they didn’t miss anything. There, out of sight and with a building in the way, someone noticed the hole in the wall for the first time. Unfortunately, who could they punish? So many of the inmates in for having telekinesis also had telepathy.
Five minutes later, another officer had gotten out of his gear and ran out to the parking lot to catch up with the first runner they sent, who just then pulled into one of the few businesses still open that time of night that far outside of town, a gas station. The second runner didn’t catch up to him right then, though. First he had to go back inside and ask to borrow someone else’s car; he’d gotten to his parking space to find nothing but shattered glass.
In the end, Manny had more than an hour’s headstart before anyone outside the prison knew he was no longer inside, and none of them realized that this was the easy part. He was a minor super villain, after all. Certainly nobody worth calling in Liberator to find.
Want more by Psycho Gecko? Check out World Domination in Retrospect.