There’s a girl, slouched disconsolately on a bench in a London park. It doesn’t matter which park - she doesn’t know herself. A passer-by makes his way towards the other end of the seat, intending to relax and enjoy the sunshine. A flat, cold glare from dark-lashed, clear grey eyes sends him veering away.
She’s trying to remember. Only since her journey do her memories make any sense - before that they are broken, muddled, out of sequence like jumbled up snapshots.
She remembers catching a glimpse of her reflection in a polished, metallic surface in the Resistance’s hidden headquarters. She stops and stares in fascination - she’s never seen a perfect mirror image of herself before. She’s waif-like and pale; delicate elfin features and slender limbs. Huge grey eyes stare back at her from a startled, wary face. Her hair is so close-cropped it’s nothing but black fuzz. The resemblance to the child she still is ends there, however. The Krai have marked her, a change that goes deeper than the alien code tattooed on her right shoulder or the intricate metallic joints and sinews of her left arm. She’s a soldier, a killer. She walks with a brash stride, intimidates those who come too close with an aggressive glare. Even now, unprepared and afraid, she is tense, ready to fight. Someone appears behind her, puts a hand on her shoulder, and leads her away. She walks in a daze.
She remembers training sessions, confused and blurring into one memory of running, drills, sparring with others like her - children taken from their parents as toddlers and trained as hunters, eventually to be loosed like hounds to course for prey of their own kind. Human rebels. She remembers the dark, inhuman eyes of their overseers, barking commands in their guttural language, furred faces inscrutable and impossible to please. She remembers vicious sparring bouts with the other trainees, the ugly hum and clash of energy blades, trembling muscles, blood and sweat. The impenetrable gaze of the Krai, unflinching and emotionless, save for a flicker of irritation when her opponent’s cyber sword crashes through her defence to shear through her arm in a screaming, inexorable sweep.
She remembers running across the moors, a training exercise; taking fierce pleasure in the sensation of the breeze in her face, the springy, gaudy purple heather underfoot. She takes little notice of the Krai craft swooping low overhead, until a net envelops her, tangling her feet and sending her rolling in a helpless, thrashing bundle. She should be able to break free, but the net is reinforced. The craft lands, and the door cycles open to reveal humans: a man and a woman. They gaze at her intently. She ceases her futile struggling and meets their evaluating eyes with defiance and suspicion. The woman frowns. “You’re sure this is the right one?”
The man nods impatiently. “Of course I’m sure, Morgan. Let’s get her out of here.”
They hustle her on board the vessel like a reluctant child, and smoothly whisk her off to her new life.
She remembers when the Krai put their mark on her. She’s just a small child, perhaps eight or nine years old. She can’t move - restrained in a chair that would probably be comfortable if she could relax. Two Krai efficiently assemble delicate, silvery equipment that no human tattooist would recognise. It hurts more than she expects - she screams and tries to struggle, but they ignore her frantic pleas and tears and the pain continues. It seems to go deeper than merely marking her skin, to burn into her soul. That was the last time she wept.
She doesn’t remember her parents. Not at all.
She remembers the first time she killed - a cornered human, no match for her training and abilities. A test which she dares not fail. She doesn’t think about it until much later, but now she remembers his dark eyes when he realises that he’s going to die, his angry shouts, “What have they done to you? How can you do this?” severed abruptly by her blade.
She remembers fighting Krai, helping to hold back the assault while the base is evacuated. Her energy blade humming eagerly in her hand, a new and unholy joy filling her as she gives expression to a hatred she’s never before acknowledged. Dr Equation drags her away, shouting, “Don’t be stupid, girl! You can’t kill them all!” But oh, she wants to.
She remembers the faces of the other hunters in the barracks - some older than her (although she can only guess her age), most similar or younger; frightened, wide-eyed children, new arrivals whose unmastered powers cause trouble and sleepless nights until they learn control. After lights out the younger ones talk, whispering into the darkness about the future. The older children are silent. They know the future.
She remembers Dr Equation pacing, Morgan standing regally, arms folded. She watches them warily from behind a confining force field. Morgan shakes her head. “You’re not getting anywhere,” she snaps, “they’ve brainwashed her.”
Equation shoots a murderous glare at Morgan and continues to pace, agitated. “She’s just scared. She’s the right one, I tell you. I’ll get through to her.” He spins round and fixes the girl with a piercing look. “I know you understand me. I know you can speak English. So you might as well answer me. I’m trying to help you. Do you have a name?”
Something in his irritation and frustration provokes a response this time. She shakes her head hesitantly.
He looks incredulous. Morgan gives a short laugh. “Well, what did they call you?”
She recites her code number. He mentally translates it and shakes his head angrily, his eyes flicking to the tattoo on her shoulder. Haltingly, she gives the closest approximation in her strangely accented English: “J6NX”
Morgan laughs merrily and says, “See, Equation? It’s spelt out for you. The girl’s jinxed.”
The girl meets Dr Equation’s gaze and some understanding passes between them.
She remembers the hospital where the Krai rebuilt her lost arm. Stark and unwelcoming, neither hot nor cold, pale and featureless. It smells of nothing. She eats listlessly, sleeps, stares into space. Her only visitors are her supervisors. They come to check on her recovery. She greets them with a flat stare.
She remembers standing in front of a real mirror, seeing Dr Equation’s proud grin reflected as he shows her how to activate the hologram projector he’s installed in her arm. She runs her right hand through her hair. It’s grown now, and is spiky and unruly. With a smile, she marvels at the illusion that disguises her other arm. “You’ll pass,” he says, ruffling her hair, “it’s nearly time to go.”
She remembers waking up, fuzzy and bemused, after he destroyed her memories. Something, an unnamed compulsion, niggles at the back of her mind. She blinks sleepily at him, sitting at her bedside with a concerned frown on his face. “How do you feel?” he asks as soon as she opens her eyes.
She mumbles something and frowns muzzily at him. “It’s…vague.” She pauses to take stock. “I think I’m okay.”
His face clears with relief. “You remember what you have to do?”
Anger steadies her voice, gives her strength. “How could I forget?”
Jinx sighs and forces herself to relax, closing her eyes briefly and enjoying the warmth of the sunlight on her face. Peace. She looks around, scanning the area and marvelling. This time is so new and strange - for now at least, humans are their own masters. Sometimes they don’t seem to be making a very good job of ruling themselves, she thinks, but at least they are free. It frightens and exhilarates her at the same time.
It’s time to leave. In an hour she will meet Dr Equation and the Cavalier, and deliver her message, whatever it is. What will happen after that she has no way of guessing, but she knows she will follow Dr Equation to try to reclaim the future. The future which, thanks to him, is now her own.
Note: The message, if I remember correctly, was "strikeback." Ah, those were the days!