SPIFFY DISCLAIMER THINGIE!

Ah do not own Magnus, Robot Fighter in any of his various incarnations! This is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only and not intended to infringe on copyrights held by anybody a'tall:):) So don't sue moi!

Rated G for absolute purity of content! No sex, no drugs, no Rock and Roll! It's a Christmas fic for goodness sake!:):)

Authors Note: This story is based on the Acclaim run of Magnus stories and not the earlier Gold Key one!

PeaceOn Earth And Mercy Mild

A Magnus, Robot Fighter Tale by Dannell Lites

I'm sure I would have noticed him under any circumstances. After over twenty or so odd years (some of them very odd, indeed!) in "The God Biz" as Father Douglas calls the clergy, you either develop an instinct about people or you go under and drown. Since I'm still here, still swimming in the treacherous, deceitful currents of these deep waters, I suppose that speaks for itself, doesn't it? The truth is I've learned to navigate my way fairly well in all this time. I'm rarely caught out; not like so many of these young, inexperience priests who'll fall for any sad tale, any drunken sod who comes through the soup line or stumbles into the Confessional. They're only headed for heartbreak and I've tried to tell them that. They never listen, of course. I pick and chose my causes very carefully. That's why I'm still around to fight the good fight today. Because I chose my own battlefields and make the enemy come to me.

Still, as I said, I would have noticed him regardless. You don't see many men quite that large these days. We get a lot of strange people through here during the Holidays. No one wants to spend Christmas Eve alone, it seems. I can't blame them. For so many people, the joyous birth of our Savior is just another day in Paradise as the modern song goes. Another day they spend alone and forgotten. It's terribly sad. The homeless, the lonely, the handicapped, we at Saint Jude's get them all in the end. Patron saint of lost causes, that's us.

I noticed him immediately. There was simply no way I could miss him, to be truthful. He stood head and broad, broad shoulders above anyone else impatiently elbowing their way in line, waiting for the doors to the shelter to open. Grumbling and gripping, complaining vociferously ("It's fucking COLD out here!" "Open the damn doors already!"), the men and women milled about, restlessly stamping their feet in the freezing sleet, trying futilely to keep warm. I didn't blame them in the least. The digital thermometer on the nearest downtown bank building read -10F. Everyone was moving about in that strange dance, that odd Brownian movement, that is particularly devoted to keeping warm.

All but one of them.

He was standing absolutely still, staring up into the sky at the graceful falling snow and sleet as if he'd never seen its like before. He hadn't but I couldn't know that, then. And he wasn't even wearing a coat. Never mind a hat to cover his short cropped flaming red hair or gloves and a scarf like all the rest. No, he was clad only in a very tight fitting red and white short sleeved bodysuit with a wide stylized belt and short topped red ankle boots. At first I took it for some bizarre new fashion or another. Like so many other things that I assumed about Magnus, I was wrong about that. It wasn't a new fashion at all. At least not a new fashion from *this* century ...

Just as I was wrong about him being cold. He wasn't. But I didn't know *that*, then, either.

Through the closing heavy oak door of my domain wafted the sounds of merry voices singing a Christmas carol. It must be coming from Weisinger Plaza, only blocks away from this scene of loss and privation, I realized. No one in this part of town ever sang Christmas carols.

"Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"

Sad to say, I already had my doubts about these particular sinners.

The men shuffled forward and the man behind Magnus pushed him gruffly forward. His green eyes flared emerald wrath for a brief moment that swiftly died down to the smoldering embers of defeat and depression. As he stumbled passed me I detected the heavy scent of alcohol on his breath and frowned.

'Another one of those,' I remember distinctly thinking.

But I also noted that his clothes were relatively clean. He hadn't been on the street for very long then, apparently. I looked up at him (and I am not a small man, no, I'm not) and for the briefest of instants I felt rather like a sapling in the lee of a great oak, sheltered and protected. An odd feeling, indeed.

He began to intrigue me, then.

He collected his soup dutifully and the sandwich that went with it and sat down well away from the other men. A loner, perhaps? But I noticed that he didn't eat much. Big as he was, I expected him to have quite an appetite. Not so, apparently, if my eyes were any evidence. He ate only about half the sandwich and sipped listlessly at the lukewarm soup.

"Hey, buddy, you gonna eat the rest of that?"

Dully, Magnus made no protest when the other man scooped up the remains of the sandwich and fled. 'Wise man,' I thought. I had the definite feeling that you didn't want to make this man angry. Not if you were smart.

I lay one compassionate hand on his wide shoulder. He flinched away from me as if I'd burned him and I could feel the coiled muscles beneath my hand tense. Carefully, I removed the offending hand and he seemed to relax a bit.

"You really should eat," I told him, filling my voice with professional concern.

"Not hungry," he grunted.

Unasked and perhaps unwisely, I sat down across from him, leaving poor Sister Teresa to patrol the tables and keep the precarious peace. He didn't seem to notice.

"What's your name, my son?" I asked, trying to engage him in conversation.

His red head shot up and he just stared at me for a long moment. "I'm not your son!" he hissed, his lips peeling back from his teeth in a feral snarl. "I'm not anybody's son!"

Calmly, I replied softly, "Of course you are. We're all God's children." Standard answer, that. Even cynical, perhaps. God help me I see them all the time; the young priests right out of seminary, bight eyed and eagerly bushy-tailed, going to save the world and pave the way for the Second Coming. If they're lucky most of them end up like me; a little disillusioned but still trying to save the world ... one soul at a time.

But Magnus' deep green eyes widened in surprise as if I'd uttered something profound, he swallowed hard and stared down into the depths of his half empty soup bowl as if the rapidly cooling vegetable there could provide him with the answer to a desperate, vexing question.

I didn't make the mistake of touching him again. My hands remained firmly at my side. But this had suddenly, mysteriously become very important to me. I wanted to reach him; to help him, I suppose. So the concern in my voice was quite genuine this time.

"Everyone has a name," I smiled. "Won't you share yours with me?"

He sighed deeply. "My name is Magnus." he told me. And then he scowled. "That's a joke, Father, why aren't you laughing?"

My eyes spoke my confusion. "A - a joke?"

His lips peeled back from strong white teeth in a bitter travesty of a smile. "In Latin," he informed me through gritted teeth, "Magnus means 'Great One'. My *father* thought that was very funny. Don't you?" There was such loathing and hatred when he spoke the name "father" that I shuttered almost visibly.

"Your ... father ... ?" I managed.

So casually that I almost didn't notice it, his busy, unthinking fingers twisted the sturdy steel spoon in his hand all out of shape and then snapped it in twain as if it were a burnt out matchstick. "I always called him The Good Shepherd," he whispered. "His designation was 1A. He was a robot."

I gulped and my heart sank, settling down into my suddenly queasy stomach. Damn. Why did all the interesting ones frequently turn out to be so crazy? With a heavy heart, I was already considering how to steer him gently in the much needed direction of Belleview General or perhaps County Mental Health. Obviously he needed professional help that I couldn't provide. But all such thoughts soon vanished when he spoke once more.

"That shickin' can raised me," he spat. "He raised me to believe that I and others like me were the salvation of mankind." With an angry sweep if his heavy muscled arm, he send the soup bowl flying off the table and into the back wall where it shattered into a million small pieces with a sound very much like a breaking heart. Alarmed, Sister Teresa came rushing to my rescue, but I waved her off. Magnus' throat worked but no sound emerged until ...

"He lied to me!" Magnus cried and there was such despair in his strong, vibrant voice that I winced at the sound of it.

After a moment he calmed and lay his hands on the table where I could see them, flexing and unflexing his sinewy fingers unconsciously. "I don't belong here, Father," he whispered. "I won't even be born, in fact, for almost two thousand years." He stared out the window for a moment and then gestured toward it. "All this," he indicated the great sprawling city beyond and beyond that, even. "In the 42nd century, in my time, all this is one giant metroplex. The whole continent. We call it North Am and more than a billion people call it home. But it's all run by Robots, though. The cans have taken control of everything. Because we humans let them. Handed it to them on a silver platter, in fact. It's so much easier that way, don't you see? No worries, no shickin' decisions to make. Just enjoy the Utopia they've created for us."

He made a wry face. "Oh they're not ordinary Robots and that's a fact, Father. Not at all what you're probably used to thinking of as robots. Not like the ones in your science fiction tales. Oh, no. These are sentient robots. They think for themselves. They make decisions for others. And they like it that way. I guess they're what you'd probably call AI's. Artificial Intelligence's."

I suppose my disbelief must have shone from my face like a light in the window of an abandoned house.

Magnus' eyes went the dull green of raw, unpolished jade. "You don't believe me do you, Father?" My silence was confirmation enough for him, it appeared. He studied me carefully for a moment, as if struggling valiantly to come to a hard decision. Then, decision reached, he pinned my hand to the table for a moment beneath his much stronger ones. Good God the strength in those hands!

"Let me show you something, Father."

And before I could try and stop him, he cut a deep gash in his exposed forearm with his fingernail. Astonished and appalled, I moved to staunch the flow of blood. But, like a vise, Magnus gripped my hand and would not let me touch the wound despite my hardest struggles. I began to pray. Was he trying to kill himself?

"No!" he insisted in a hard voice. "Don't touch it, Father!"

And then I noticed that he was bleeding ... silver ...

Viscous silver like mercury.

My eyes rounded like saucers and all I could do was stare.

"Believe me, Father, you don't want that stuff inside you," he assured me grim voiced

I worried at my bottom lip with my teeth until I could taste the salty metallic flavor of blood pervading my mouth.

"Wha - what is it?" I breathed hard. "I've never seen anything like it!"

Before my very eyes, already the shallow wound was closing, healing itself. Absently Magnus swallowed the last traces of the silver ... blood? "That's because it doesn't exist yet, Father. Not for about another thousand years or so. It's called 'liquitech'."

I frowned. "Liqui-tech?" I rolled the strange name around experimentally on my tongue, testing it out, tasting its beguiling flavor. It still sounded very odd, though. "What's that?"

Magnus squeezed another tiny drop of the silver substance from the mostly closed wound and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger, playfully almost, smiling. So he did know how.

"Why, it's the very latest in nanotechnology, Father!" He almost sounded as if he were bragging, now. If it hadn't been for the profound look of disgust and loss staining his sharp, vulpine features, I might even have believed him. He proffered the tiny silver pearl for my closer inspection, but again did not allow me to touch it. "In this single drop of fluid," he sounded as if he were lecturing, now, "are tens of thousands, millions, of microscopic machines called nanites, carried though out my body by the veins and arteries of my body. They pervade my every cell, every organ, strengthening, repairing, manufacturing nutrients, hormones and biochemicals. They're what make me so strong and durable. They make it possible for me to do the things I was taught to do: smash robots. Ordinarily a normal man wouldn't be able to do that; rend steel with his bare hands. But I can. The Good Shepherd taught me how; taught me all the weak points in any robot's construction. He showed me how to 'center' myself, how to put all of me, all that I am, into every blow I struck. For most of my life I thought it was some sort of mystic thing, like the ancient martial arts promulgated. But it wasn't. It was the liquitech all the time."

He sounded so lost, so betrayed that it wrenched at my heart just to hear him. Dizzy, disoriented, I rubbed my temples with my hands, trying to find my own 'center'. Dear God! It was true then! His crazed tale of the robot ruled future was true. But ... how? How could it be? Surely it was the ramblings of a madman. Surely.

But I had seen the evidence with my own eyes, hadn't I? How could I deny it? How? But, God as my witness, I wanted to. I wanted to.

"Let me show you something else, Father." Magnus said.

And with that he causally bit off the end of the metal soup spoon he held in one steady hand, chewed, and swallowed.

"Could an ordinary man do that?" he demanded quietly.

Numbly I shook my head. I couldn't bring myself to speak. It was impossible. So I simply sat and listened.

"Don't you see, Father?" he pleaded. It seemed very important to him that I understand him. Very important. "That shickin' can turned me into the very thing he taught me to fight and loathe! Shick him, he told me that I, and the others who would follow in my foot steps, were the only way to save mankind. From the robots and from themselves. But he lied to me. It was all a lie. All of it. He created his own rebel against the system because it was fun. Because he could. But most of all because it was a challenge."

I found my voice at last. I cleared my constricted throat. "You - you say you won't be born for almost two thousand years ... How, then, did you end up here in our present, your past?"

"T.I.M.E Vaulting," Magnus answered with a distracted air. "That's Temporal Interference in Mankind's Emergency. Time travel into the past to prevent the future from coming to pass. At least that's what the Good Shepherd told me. He lied about that, too, you see. What he really intended to do was play a game. To release me here into the past to bang my head against a temporal brick wall trying to abort what must be. While he, meanwhile, accelerates the invention and development of sentient robots such as himself. Fun, huh?"

"Not for you," I guessed.

"No, not for me," he agreed, hanging his head. "It's already started, Father. It begins with a man named Angel. Damon Angel ... "

My ears perked up at that. Damon Angel was a name much in the news, lately. With a rush of cold fear, I remembered that he was a computer systems design specialist. Which is a little like calling The Devil a nuisance, I'll admit. He's THE systems design specialist. No one else can touch him. His new computer software and hardware designs are the standard now, light years ahead of any one else in his field. Just the previous month he'd unveiled his latest innovation, a machine, he called Vito ...

My fingers went numb. Vito ... Latin for "life" ... and it was Angel's claim that the thing was alive in its own way ... sentient ...

My God.

As if reading my mind Magnus nodded. "I tried to destroy it!" he cried. "I did! But ... " he bowed his rufous head in abject defeat. " ... I failed ... "

After a moment he looked up at me with a rueful smile, a mere showing of strong white teeth. "And do you know what I did then, Father? Oh, you'll like this!"

I shook my head and waited. I wasn't kept in suspense for long, as it turns out. My companion scarcely waited for my curt nod before he spoke once more.

"I prayed," he said.

I must have looked startled, I suppose. Magnus proved once more that he could smile. "Yes, that's right, Father," he nodded. "I believe. I believe in God. I've got to admit when that shickin' can showed its true colors ... well, I doubted. It was The Good Shepherd who taught me to believe in God, you see. But I found him again. Yeah, I believe in God." His face seemed to empty itself, them, of all expression, like a rapidly draining cup of sacramental wine in the hands of a drunkard. "The problem is that God doesn't believe in me. See, I've talked to him and he doesn't think my crusade's worth a good leak."

I frowned, unsure of what to do or say. It's supposed to be my job to help men find their faith again, but I had no idea what to say. I don't believe I've ever meet anyone before who claimed to have seen God. I must be hanging out with the wrong people, I guess. But Magnus didn't notice my conundrum.

"I found myself in his presence," Magnus continued. The wonder and awe of his experience still lingered in his voice and sent chills down my spine. "He looked straight at me. I laid my heart bare before him the way you're supposed to do. I spread my life out in front of his eyes, begging him to help me, to guide me. 'Tell me what to do Lord!' I prayed. And you know what? He ignored me. Looked at me like I was a shickin' insect! And then he left me alone. Alone and lost in pain and confusion."

I found my voice at long last. Thank God.

Yes, thank Him. The answer hit me as suddenly, as blindingly, as Magnus' epiphany. And I knew what to say.

"God always answers our prayers, Magnus," I put all the sincerity of my own belief into my voice, trying to make it strong. "Even if the answer is no. Magnus, listen to me. Your loss and bewilderment have brought you here, to me. On this day; the Eve of His birth. There must be a reason for that. There must be!"

For a moment he looked unsure but rather hopeful and my heart leapt within me to see it. "But why, Father," he demanded. "Why?"

"I don't know," I was forced to admit. "But I'm sure we'll stumble upon the answer sooner or later. All in His good time." I like to think that I saw him relax a bit, then. In repose his face was much less harsh and stony visaged, I thought to myself. "You said that 1A, this 'Good Shepherd' called you Magnus, " I said softly. "Is that that your name, then?"

He shook his head. "My - my name is Russell."

I had to smile at that. "It's French. It means 'little red-haired one'," I chuckled.

He ran long, blunt fingers through his buzz cut flame colored hair. He even smiled, the first true smile I'd seen from him. I wasn't entirely sure that he could. Smile, that is. I thought that they might have forgotten how in the 42nd century.

"I guess it fits," he nodded in wry acknowledgment.

"So what's your last name?" I inquired lightly. From his look of bewilderment, I hurried to explain. "Your family name," I urged, "your patronymic?"

He swallowed hard and looked away.

"I - I haven't got one. . ." he confessed.

I patted his hand and this time he didn't flinch away from my touch. "Well, we can take care of that!" I maintained stoutly. I marshaled my thoughts for a moment, then grinned in radiant triumph. "How about Russell Magnus?" I wanted to know.

He stroked his chin in contemplation for a moment. "'Little red-haired 'Great One'?" he inquired archly, lifting one auburn eyebrow to signal his doubt.

Vigorously, I nodded. It seemed to fit him perfectly, in my humble opinion. Finally, he nodded his assent. "It's a good name," he said indifferently. "As good as any, I suppose."

"Do you have a place to stay for the night, Russell?" I asked.

He shook his head in negation. "No. But it doesn't really matter, Father. I don't feel the cold. The Good Shepherd saw to that. Save the bed for someone who needs it."

I set my teeth. "Nonsense!" I cried. "You need that bed! Tomorrow is Christmas day, man! What sort of man of God would I be if I turned you away on Christmas Eve?"

"A smart one," he returned simply.

I got stubborn. "Well, in that case just paint me red and call me a fool!" I declared. "Your staying and that's that!"

I was rewarded with another smile, one that reached and warmed the depths of his bright emerald green eyes, this time. I thought I knew just the thing to seal our new found friendship. But when I glanced at the food line, I could see that I was too late. All of Sister Margaret's wonderful mince pies were gone. Every single slice. I was very disappointed.

"Father? Is something wrong?"

I shook myself out of my discontentment. "All the mincemeat pie is gone." I mourned. "Sister Margaret bakes a dozen or more every year for the Shelter and she's such a wonderful baker! Her pies are always outstanding. Melt in your mouth. People are forever fighting over them. But we've been talking so long that all the others have beaten us to them, I'm afraid." My sad look would probably have melted stone. But then I was struck by a happy inspiration.

Lurching to my feet, I smiled down at Magnus. "Wait right here," I instructed. "I'll go back in the kitchen and see if Sister Margaret saved a piece or two for us. She does that sometimes because she knows how much I love her pies. I'll be right back!"

Magnus nodded and I made my way back into the kitchen hastily. No luck, though. This year Sister Margaret had been unable to save any of her pies. But she did promise me that she would bake a new pie just for me. Glowing with her promise and happy at the prospect of feeding my notorious sweet tooth (known though out three parishes!) I made my way back to Magnus.

And there he sat, gazing cautiously down at a slice of Sister Margaret's mince pie topped with whipped cream. "Where did you get the pie?" I wondered aloud.

Magnus blinked and looked up at me in befuddlement. "From that man over there," he said. He was pointing at old Radar. They call him that because if there's a dishonest dollar to be panhandled anywhere in this City, Radar will find it like ... well, like radar. Radar has been on the streets almost as along as I've been a priest. He's a regular here at the Shelter.

And Radar never gave anything to anybody. Ever.

"He just handed me the pie and said, 'Here buddy. You look like you need this more than I do. Merry Christmas, pal.' Why did he do that, Father? He doesn't know me."

"Mirabilu dictu!" I cried, smiling broadly. "It's a miracle! A Sign from God!"

I was only half joking about that, to be honest.

"Well, eat it!" I urged. "Enjoy your pie, Magnus and then we'll see about getting you settled for the night, okay?"

The look of pure bliss that overwhelmed his harsh features when he first tasted that incredible pie was reward enough for me.

From the warm air wafted the sound of those carolers once more, singing melodiously, in perfect harmony, lifting the spirits of all who heard them..

"Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and Sinners reconciled!"

The End