Regeneration: Part 1
Regeneration: Part 1 - A Lull in the Storm
A city street on a warm evening in early Autumn. The promise of thunder charges the air with pressure. A sunset of blood-and-fire paints the gathering clouds. The fading daylight belies the hour; the shops are shuttered and locked, and few people are about. A couple, arm-in-arm; an elderly woman with a small terrier on a leash; a pale, slight teenage girl.
An alleyway – cobbled, littered, tall dark-granite buildings looming claustrophobic on both sides. The slap-slap-slap of running feet echoes from stone to cobbles in the still air. A boy rounds the corner into the alley, arms windmilling in an effort to keep his balance. An angry shout follows him: “Right! He went right! Get the little bastard!”
Sobbing for breath that tears his exhausted lungs, he forces his aching legs to one more burst of speed, his brown hair falling into his eyes, desperately seeking escape. He falls rather than runs out into the main street, colliding squarely with a passer-by – the girl – and flinging them both to the ground in an ungainly heap.
Mark lay on the pavement, momentarily unable to do anything other than gasp for air. The girl bounced back to her feet, fixed him with a cool stare for an instant, and turned as if to walk on.
“There he is!” The shout rang down the alley, accompanied by the sound of running feet. Terror gave way to resignation as Mark realised that he couldn’t run any further, much less escape. He dragged himself slowly to his feet, aching muscles protesting, and turned to face his pursuers. Three teenage boys a couple of years older than him, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, and a lot bigger and more vicious besides – pounded into the street and halted abruptly, ranging themselves in a semicircle around him. The tallest was nursing his right hand, clasped in his left, to his chest. “What did you do to my hand, you little mutant freak? That fucking hurt.”
Mark stumbled back a step as the boy moved towards him, face twisted in a hate-filled scowl. “I…I don’t know. I’m sorry, okay?”
“No, it’s not bloody okay!” his pursuer shouted, raising a fist threateningly. “We don’t like your kind, freak.”
“Then I guess you’ve got two of us to deal with,” said another voice, clear and calm. And the girl stepped up to stand beside and slightly in front of him. The three older boys looked disbelievingly at her. The leader burst into incredulous laughter and the other two grinned. Mark glanced at her, horrified. She was several inches shorter than him, not even five and a half feet tall, and looked so fragile that a strong wind might knock her over. But the fierce, intense energy which animated her gave him pause. One of the others noticed it too. “Look, Dave, is this a good idea? She’s just a girl.” His gaze flickered nervously from her, to Mark, to his leader.
Dave either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Yeah, and she’s in the way.” With that, he lashed out, perhaps intending to grab her and haul her out of his path.
She didn’t even move fast, Mark thought in disbelief, but her small hands caught Dave’s muscular arm, twisted it at the wrist and elbow, forcing him to his knees with an agonised howl. One booted foot lashed out, catching him under the chin and sending him sprawling backwards.
There was silence for a moment as he pulled himself to his feet, slowly, rubbing his jaw, and regarding her steadily and warily. His cronies looked in horror from their leader to the slender girl who had just floored him, and who was now watching them with a cold, dispassionate stare. Bravado won out over wisdom, however. Dave growled, “You little bitch!” and all three rushed at her, the other two just a fraction of a second behind their enraged leader.
Mark leapt back reflexively, then realised that he should perhaps have tried to help her. But it soon became clear that she didn’t need his help. Her right hand connected with Dave’s solar plexus, and as he staggered, she swept his legs from under him, sending him crashing to the ground with a yell. One of the sidekicks wrapped his arms round her waist in an attempt to restrain her. She slammed an elbow into his ribs with such force that he staggered back, winded. The third threw a wild swing in her direction. She deflected it, using the momentum of his strike to swing him lightly over her shoulder and crashing to the floor. Dropping into a crouch, she drove a knee hard into his ribs and drew back a fist; then froze for a second, murmured, “Damn it,” under her breath, almost too softly for Mark to hear, and jumped to her feet.
She looked right at Mark with serious, cool grey eyes and said, “Come on,” before turning to stride briskly up the street. He limped to keep up, glancing unbelievingly from her to the groaning forms of his erstwhile attackers. The woman with the terrier snatched the dog up in her arms as they passed. The girl paid her no attention.
She led him a twisting route down several side streets before stopping, gazing at him with a disquieting intensity and saying, “What was that about?” She spoke quietly, but in a firm, even tone, with a hint of an accent he couldn’t identify.
He dropped his gaze and concentrated on a crimson scrawl of graffiti on the wall to one side as he answered, wearily, “They must have followed me from the bus station. I suppose I looked pretty lost. They said they wanted money, but it was just an excuse. I…lashed out.” He looked back at her, meeting her even gaze. “I don’t know how I do it.”
She nodded slowly. “So you are a mutant. What’s your name?”
He hesitated. “Tom.”
“Well, if you’re Tom, I’m Julie. And you’re obviously on the run from something.”
He looked startled. “That obvious?”
“You were at the bus station, you were lost, you’re a mutant who has discovered his abilities late and hasn’t yet learnt to control them. Call it an educated guess.” She paused, sizing him up, and shrugged. “Want a coffee?”
He got a chance to study her a bit more as she made coffee in her tiny bedsit. It had begun to rain by then; great, fat drops pregnant with the promise of a lot more to come, sliding down the single, dirty window. He watched her mutely as she handed him a chipped blue mug and sat down on the narrow bed across from his chair. Skinny, rather than slim; with delicate features and huge, serious, grey eyes. Her hair was the shortest he’d ever seen on a girl, almost like black fur, and she was dressed all in black, her only concession to the day’s earlier heat being a sleeveless top. Her right upper arm bore a black tattoo in a strange, curly script. Despite her brusque, independent manner, she appeared no older than Mark’s sixteen years.
Blowing gently on her coffee to cool it, she regarded him in silence across the small room. He’d expected her to ask him questions, but she just looked calmly at him. Eventually, he couldn’t stand it any longer. “Who are you? How did you do that, fight three blokes off like that? Why did you help me?”
She waited for his outburst to subside and sipped her coffee. “Firstly, as I told you, if you’re Tom, then I’m Julie. As for the second question, the answer is practice. I already answered the last one, back there. I don’t like to see mutants getting mistreated.”
“You’re a mutant too.”
He sighed. “Okay, okay. You’re right. I did run away. I’m from Worcester originally - I left home last week. My…abilities…showed up late, as you said, only a few months ago. My parents…” he paused, searching for the words. “Dad couldn’t handle it, didn’t want anything to do with me once he found out I what I was. Mum took me to hospital, they did tests and stuff. Then…last week, I was in for more tests, the doctor and some other men I didn’t recognise were talking to Mum. They brought her to speak to me…she was crying. They said I was a danger to myself and other people, that I should go into some government training programme, ‘for my own protection’. They said, look at your mother, she can’t cope any more, we’ve got the facilities and the skills to help you…They were probably right, but…” She was still looking at him with that steady gaze, not judging or second-guessing him, just listening intently. He sighed and continued. “I was frightened, angry…I just lashed out. I know I hurt them. I think I nearly killed one of them.”
He paused, met her grey eyes for a moment, and began again in an unsteady voice, “So I left. They couldn’t stop me. I can’t control it, it only comes when I’m angry, or afraid – I can see people differently, hurt them somehow…I don’t know how.” She was still looking at him with that level stare. He’d forgotten something. “Okay, all right, and my real name’s Mark. Mark Thomson.”
Solemnly, she offered her right hand. He shook it tentatively. “Jinx.”
“That’s not a real name.”
“I happen to like it.”
“Where are you from?”
“London.” Her accent wasn’t London, but he let it pass.
“You work here?”
“Just for the summer. In a hotel, near the sea front.”
“But you’re only…how old are you?”
This time she hesitated. “Seventeen.”
There was silence for a long moment. Mark gave a half-smile. “Thanks for helping me.”
She shrugged. “You’re welcome. You can stay here for now if you like – there’s just about room on the floor, and there’s spare blankets and stuff in the cupboard. Probably a bit moth-eaten though.”
“Thanks a lot. I don’t know where I’d go, to be honest.”
“That’s fine. Let’s get something to eat.”
They were just settling down for the night, and the sky had darkened to soft, rain-filled velvet, when Mark gave a muffled exclamation and sat up. She rolled over and demanded irritably, “What?”
“I know where I’ve heard that name before! You’re that Jinx! From Storm Front!”
“Mm,” she replied sleepily.
“But that’s incredible! Storm Front! I remember, it was on the news, that they’d recruited a mutant. But we never heard much more about you.”
“I don’t like the limelight.”
“Have you left or something? What are the others like? What’s Cavalier like?” he demanded excitedly.
She closed her eyes and sighed. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Go to sleep.”
15th September, 1988
I want this to be a beginning. I’ve been thinking of keeping a diary since June. In a way, I suppose, to reinforce the fact that I still exist. It’ll have to be in Krai – my written English isn’t up to much. It’s only recently I’ve started thinking of things that I’d like to write down – I guess that’s a good sign, that I’m getting my thoughts in some kind of order. I’m going to start with the stuff that’s been going round in my head since we faced the Krai and Overlord’s gang of traitors on the moon. It was only a couple of months ago, but it feels like it was forever, and yesterday, both at the same time.
It took me the better part of a week just to get my head round the fact that I was still alive. I’d got out of London as soon as I could, headed into the south-west. I’d been there before, looking for the Starlight Pact, so it was the only part of the country that I knew at all besides London.
She was sitting high atop a rocky outcrop halfway between the Lizard and Land’s End, summer rain hammering down out of chill, low cloud; drilling ever-changing patterns on the grey, churning sea. Rain and spray indistinguishable, water pooling in the curves of the rock and dripping, splashing, bowing down the long grass on the clifftop. She was cold, soaked to the skin, her hair plastered to her head and rivulets running down her face like tears, arms wrapped around drawn-up knees, staring at the restless, beleaguered ocean.
The same thoughts had been marching round my brain for days, memories and unanswered questions: Storm Front, the Krai, the Heart of Darkness. I’d known, with absolute certainty, that one way or another I wouldn’t come out of that last confrontation alive. I’d accepted it. If being erased from the timeline was the price I had to pay to stop the Krai, I’d pay it gladly. I just hoped that maybe the girl in the future who’d live a more innocent life as someone’s daughter, not a slave, would maybe retain a little of the original Jinx. And then, when we were there, in Overlord’s base, I also knew that, irrespective of the timeline, the Krai captain was going to kill me.
But the contempt in her voice, “So, rogue drone, die,” gave me something to focus on. To hell with the timeline, the Krai, Overlord and his fellow scum. I think that was the turning point, if there was one in all the chaos.
“I am not a drone.” Not a denial but an affirmation. They don’t control me any more. I will not be less of a person because of what they have done to me.
She shifted her focus from the tormented sea, looked anew at the sky, the falling rain, the churning surf, and smiled slightly.
I am alive. The whys and wherefores don’t matter. Confused and hurting, but alive. It’s a start.
I spent a couple of months just wandering around the country, trying to get things straight in my head, finding some peace and focus in training, until in the end my few savings ran out and I ended up here, in Aberdeen, almost as far from London as possible. Managed to get a job for a few weeks in a hotel, and tried being an ordinary person for a while. Until last week, when I met Mark. I wish I could help him more – he’s so frightened and confused, and I feel like a fraud because he thinks I have the answers. I don’t have any answers. I’ve told him about Storm Front, Black Sun, Atlantis, even the Krai invasion. I think it’s helped. At least he has something other than fear to focus on now – he’s determined to master his powers. He wants to meet the rest of the team, especially the Cavalier. I didn’t tell him where I came from, though, or how I got here. It was too difficult. Strange. I must be getting sensitive.
Mark had almost reached a kind of contentment after a fortnight or so, sleeping on the floor of Jinx’s tiny flat and living on spaghetti and rice (she didn’t earn enough at the hotel to feed them both particularly well, and she couldn’t cook besides. Her only culinary achievement was coffee). His awe of her had turned to affection, without him really being conscious of the change.
But one grey, rain-filled evening, their fragile equilibrium was shattered as his life became weird once more. They had finished dinner and Mark was talking animatedly about his ideas for getting his abilities under control. Things got out of hand very quickly.
“I think,” he said, “if I touch someone, it might make it easier to visualise them to start with.” And without thinking, he reached out to touch her hand.
Three things happened at once. His fingertips passed through the surface of her skin and touched something hard and slick. His powers came to life, and he saw her limned with the blue aura he associated with people; yet darker than most, almost indigo.
Except for the hand he’d just touched, and the whole arm, which faded from blue to a faint, almost sickly green. And she leaped to her feet as if electrified by the human contact. He’d never touched her before, except for that first handshake.
One long second passed as they looked at each other, Mark confused, Jinx’s expression hard and unfathomable. Then the silence was shattered by a knock on the door.
She looked at the door, then back to him. Again, a knock, more insistent this time. She shook her head, as if to shake off confusion or rainwater, and answered the door.
Two people stood outside, a man, shaking out an umbrella, and a woman, both smartly dressed if a little damp. To Mark’s still-active mutant vision, the man was unremarkable, his aura sky-blue. The woman – red haired, with bright green eyes – had the same indigo aura as Jinx. The man said something to Jinx, but the woman fixed her brilliant green gaze on him. “Mark,” she said in an endearing voice, “we’d like to talk to you.”
He glanced doubtfully from her to Jinx, who gave him one of her unreadable looks. She regarded the woman, then stepped aside to let them in and said, “So talk.”
The woman sat opposite Mark, and leaned earnestly towards him, leaving her companion standing just inside the doorway. “Mark, my name’s Elsa Kennedy, and this is Daniel Mackay. We’re from an organisation called the Caliban Society. Our aim is to help young mutants like yourself find a place, and acceptance.”
He looked around, hope and fear churning in his stomach. Jinx – still cloaked in that strange blue-and-green light to his senses – gave a barely perceptible shake of her head.
He asked Kennedy, “Are you something to do with the government?”
She smiled. “No, although we believe that the government is also very interested in you. We found out about you from their records. There are people who are pretty angry with you right now.”
“What do they want?” he demanded. He had to know.
She took a deep breath, “You have a lot of potential. From what we were able to tell from your records, you can perceive and affect people’s bioelectric fields, effectively manipulating their nervous systems. With practice, the government believes that you could become a perfect lie detector as well, even a telepath. You’d be very useful to them.”
“Why are you so interested?”
“Mark, helping people is what we do. We monitor their records, keep an eye out for runaways. We have several safe-houses. We want to allow you to make your own decision, not be spirited away by government agents.”
Jinx interrupted before he could think of a reply.
“I’ve never heard of the Caliban Society.”
“We keep a low profile.” Kennedy turned her attention back to Mark. “I realise it’s a lot to take in, but you’re in real danger.”
Jinx met Mark’s gaze, spoke directly to him. “Mark. Do you trust me?”
He glanced once at that strange green aura, then nodded.
“I’ve researched mutant organisations. They’re something else. Don’t go along with them.”
Kennedy stood, fixing Jinx with an icy glare which the girl met calmly. “And just who are you?”
“A friend. Get out of my flat.”
“I don’t think so, girl.”
Mark opened his mouth to shout a warning as Mackay, standing ignored to Jinx’s left in the doorway, levelled a gun at her. Before he could say anything, she reached out without breaking eye contact with Kennedy, and crushed it.
Mackay let out an exclamation and backed off. “Ember, do something about her! I’ll get the kid!”
“NO!” For the first time, Mark reached out consciously and twisted the man’s aura. He screamed and fell to the floor, unconscious.
Kennedy – or Ember – raised her hands, turning to face him once more. “You’ll pay for that, boy.” And her hands burst into flames.
The blue coffee mug flew across the room and hit the back of her head so hard it shattered, making her stagger and swing round to face her assailant.
“I said,” repeated Jinx, picking up another, “Get out.”
Ember flung one hand towards her and a ball of white-hot flame hurtled across the small space. Jinx felt the heat on her face as she dodged. Scooping up Mackay’s fallen umbrella, she charged at Ember.
The red-haired woman ducked aside, the tip of the umbrella just catching her in the ribs. Lashing out, she caught Jinx across the cheek with one flame-gloved hand. The girl winced, but didn’t make a sound or hesitate. Spinning round, she brought the length of the umbrella crashing, full force, into Ember’s midriff. Mark leapt up from where he had been sitting, frozen in shock, as the woman stumbled back towards him, and wrenched her aura.
Cursing, she ducked past Jinx. Extinguishing the flames from her hands, she picked up her prone companion and flew straight through the window with a crash, disappearing into the dark and the rain.
“Jinx – the kitchen!”
The tiny cubby-hole that served as a kitchen was ablaze. The fire was spreading swiftly, with voracious hunger. Somewhere in the building, an alarm began to wail.
“Come on.” He pulled back reflexively as she grabbed his hand, but she didn’t seem to notice. “It’s time to leave.”