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March 2008

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Utena - Revolution

thebirdwoman in a_tangled_bank

Regeneration: Part 2

Warning: This is Quite Silly. But hey, it's superheroes.


Marie gazed, unfocused, through the window into the cold, wet, winter night. A mug of tea, ignored, grew cold as she stared past the rain-streaked glass, lost in tangled thought. Every so often blurred lights would appear, and vanish as quickly, as a car swished through the rain pooling on the road outside. A low murmur of conversation hung in the air like smoke; smells of coffee and cheap, greasy food permeated the humid atmosphere of the café. The bell above the door gave an incongruous, cheerful chime. Glancing round reflexively, Marie barely noticed the two teenagers treading dirty water through the doorway, but her overactive mind tucked away the details nonetheless; a boy, thin and wiry, with a mop of tousled brown hair and gentle, hazel eyes, and a girl, slender and serious, short hair like black fur, and a wary manner.

Distracted from her reverie, Marie’s attention was drawn to the droning television set in the corner, high on a bracket above the counter. A newsreader, drab and English, shuffling paper.

“…local residents are preparing for the long-anticipated arrival of the Cardinal, the well-known priest-turned-superhero and the only British crime-fighter to be officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church. The Cardinal is to meet community and youth leaders and lead Mass in the Cathedral. Often cited as a shining example of morality and spirituality, the Cardinal is also known for his unyielding support for tougher legislation regarding mutants.”

An image of a tall, dignified man in flowing crimson robes and a skull-cap, bony hands clutching the sides of a lectern, speaking with magnetic intensity. “The mutations which lead to these abilities are a mark of corruption, an imperfection from conception itself, unclean and ungodly. Yet the unfortunates bearing these marks of shame can achieve perhaps a higher state of grace than can others; they must resist this temptation, this lure set in their way by evil. To use these abilities, no matter how righteous the purpose, is to follow the easier, more seductive path…”

“Yeah, just like the Dark Side of the Force,” Marie muttered to herself, tearing her attention angrily from the TV screen and concentrating on the sound of passing traffic and conversation to drown out the rest of the report. Her restless gaze settled on the two teenagers. The boy was talking animatedly, gesturing at the television. The girl, slender hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee, listened solemnly, glancing around occasionally. Her grey eyes met Marie’s for an instant. And something in Marie’s razor-sharp mind fell into place – a memory of another news report; wrecked buildings, a mob of frightened and exhilarated people, eager journalists crowding around a group of superheroes. And one of the heroes, a girl in a nondescript costume with strips of red, white and blue cloth knotted in her spiky hair. Hanging back, in silence, largely ignored by the cameras.

“Good lord…” the more she thought about it, the more certain she was. This was an opportunity not to be missed. Abandoning her cold tea, she stood and walked over to their table. The boy was still talking. “I mean, who do they think they are? We’re all people, aren’t we? It’s as if they’re pushing deliberately, just to see what it takes to make us fight back…”

“Very true,” Marie agreed with a smile, pulling out one of the plastic chairs and sitting down.

The girl regarded her with a hint of suspicion. The boy stopped talking immediately and stared at her boldly. “Who’re you?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt. My name’s Marie Harland. I’m a member of a group called the Next Generation.”

The girl narrowed her eyes slightly, in concentration. “That’s a mutant rights group, isn’t it?”

“Yes, although not one of the most militant ones.” There was an interested gleam in the boy’s brown eyes. “I recognised you. You’re Jinx, from British Storm Front, isn’t that right?”

The girl nodded, carefully expressionless. Marie glanced at the boy. “Mark,” he said eagerly. Another piece of the puzzle clicked into place. A runaway, mentioned fleetingly on the television. A dangerous mutant. Out of control powers, they said. He didn’t look out of control. “Mark Thomson, right?”

“Sharp,” Jinx commented in a level tone, “What do you want?”

Marie spread her hands in a self-deprecating manner. “I was kind of hoping we could help each other. There’s been a lot of speculation in certain circles about why you left Storm Front. A lot of people think it was to do with the mutant issue.”

“It wasn’t. And I haven’t left for good.”

“Fair enough. Maybe we can help you, though,” she nodded at Mark, “Several of our members are runaways. We know what you’re facing. But to be honest,” she looked back at Jinx again, and spoke earnestly, “I’d just be honoured if you would agree to meet our local group. It’d give them a lot of encouragement. Especially with the Cardinal’s visit and everything…”

Mark’s face lit up in a grin that made him look even younger than he was. “Jinx, that would be fantastic!”

The girl shook her head doubtfully. “I don’t know…”

“Please, Jinx, you said yourself you’re going to go back to London sooner or later and then what am I going to do? I need to meet people like this. Better them than…” he glanced at Marie and shrugged.

Jinx sighed and leaned back in her chair, sipped her coffee. “All right then, Marie Harland, if you are who you say.” There was an unspoken threat in that if, and the confident tilt of her head.

Marie smiled in relief. “Jinx, Mark, I promise you’ll be made extremely welcome. You’ve nothing to fear from us.”

Setting her cup down, Jinx rose and slung a battered backpack over her shoulder. “What are we waiting for?”

Marvelling at her luck, Marie led them out into the rain.

10th October, 1988
Since Ember burned my building down, we’ve been heading south. We helped to get everyone out, then left that night. Neither of us has much money, so we’ve been hitchhiking as much as possible. I thought some of my contacts in the south of England might know something about this “Caliban Society”. I don’t think we’ll go back to London though, if we can help it. Not yet. This is something that I have to deal with by myself. That we have to deal with.
I’m still not used to having Mark around. I’ve never met anyone like him – or maybe I have, but I just never noticed. He’s so enthusiastic and naïve. I can talk to him – no, I’m not good at keeping secrets from anybody, it’s not so much that I feel able to talk to him, but that I want to. As soon as we’d got away from Aberdeen he told me that he thinks he’s figured out part of what his bioelectric field perception means – he says that “normal” people have a blue aura, but mutants have a darker, indigo one. Ember had it, and so do I. But he says that my aura fades to a greenish colour along my left arm – presumably the life-signs of the organic parts of the Krai biotech. So I ended up explaining everything to him, about the Krai, me, the whole timeline thing. It was uncomfortable. I guess I’ve become more aware of how out of place I am in this time.

No sign of Ember or her friends yet, and none of the people we’ve spoken to know anything about the Caliban Society. I want to know what they want with Mark. And what the government think they’re doing. Special training programmes, indeed. Mark was surprised that I was as suspicious of the government as he is; after all, he said, don’t I work for them? I told him I work for this planet, over the top as it might sound. I won’t see anyone using mutants – least of all, Mark – the way I was used. We’re all just people. Just human beings, for better or worse. Why can’t they see that?


Mark took advantage of a lull in the conversation to take a good look around the room. Although the Next Generation had small groups dotted all over the country, there were only about a dozen people milling about in Marie’s small flat. Already more than usual, she’d explained, but a lot more would arrive tomorrow in preparation for their planned protest at the Cardinal’s visit. Most of the people present were young, in their early twenties, with only one boy as young as Mark and Jinx. The majority looked pretty ordinary, apart from a couple of more obvious mutants - one woman had a bluish tinge to her skin and hair, and an extra finger on both hands, while one otherwise-normal man had a faint yellow glow, giving the aura that Mark saw a dark green colour. There had been general excitement when Marie introduced Jinx, and everyone had been very pleasant to them both. They had listened with unfeigned interest as Jinx, on request, briefly recounted a couple of stories about Storm Front’s more public successes, particularly their defeat of Black Sun. Jinx had given an uncharacteristic smile and remarked that she did little more than provide a distracting target while the rest of the team dealt out the real damage on that occasion. Several people had asked questions, some of which she’d answered. Then Marie, noticing her discomfort, had called the questions to an end.

They’d already had several offers of places to stay, and Mark was thoroughly enjoying all the attention. The Next Generation were the first people he’d met - apart from Jinx - who didn’t treat him like a freak or some kind of dangerous animal.

The blue-skinned woman (he remembered someone introducing her as Sarah) clapped loudly and gradually everyone hushed and focused their attention on her. “An honour though it is to have visitors tonight,” she began, “Let’s not lose sight of the reason for this meeting. We still have to finalise arrangements for tomorrow’s protest.” She glanced around at the assembled people. “For those of you who’ve come from further afield to take part, let me just summarise: the Cardinal is due to arrive at the Cathedral at 7.30 tomorrow evening. The Next Generation is going to lead a peaceful protest outside, and we are expecting a large turnout of supporters from as far away as Manchester and Leeds.” She fixed her gaze on Mark, then Jinx. “Will you two be joining us?”

“Yes, definitely!” Mark said immediately.

Jinx shook her head. “I don’t think I will.”

A low babble of conversation broke out. Sarah spoke firmly over the noise, “Don’t you feel you should support your people?” The talk subsided, all eyes turning to Jinx.

The girl shrugged. “In a sense, but not by waving placards. I don’t think of myself as a mutant most of the time. Human beings are ‘my people’, and I have an equal duty to everyone.”

Conversation broke out again; questions in raised voices were flung accusingly at Jinx, who stoically ignored them. “That’s enough!” shouted Marie, sternly, “Jinx is a busy person. And our guest, so mind your manners.”

Jinx spoke, quietly, and several people stopped talking and listened. “I’ll hang around and help make sure that nobody causes any trouble. That’s more my kind of thing.”

“Thank you,” replied Sarah graciously. “Mark, you’ll come?”

“Just try to stop me,” he responded fervently.

Jinx had been waiting, with the practised patience of a hunter, in the vestry for most of the day, holographically disguised as a particularly elaborate flower arrangement. Marie, who had some telepathic ability in addition to a photographic memory, updated her regularly on events outside the cathedral. Although it was perhaps more likely that trouble would break out in the open air, the Next Generation should be able to take care of themselves. Inside the cathedral, full of hundreds of ordinary people, things could get decidedly more unpleasant if any of the more militant mutant rights groups decided to get involved.

Eventually, after hours of sitting in silence while final preparations went on around her (fortunately, nobody tried to rearrange the “flowers” of her disguise), she heard the dull roar of cheering drifting on the still air of the nave. The huge oak doors stood open to the chill night, and a figure swept majestically between them, tall and red-robed, his retinue flocking after him like small birds. Jinx got a chance to study him briefly as he strode past, before disappearing through a small door next to the choir stalls. Not a young man, his swept-back raven hair was liberally peppered with silver. His features were harsh and angular, his eyes dark and piercing. He walked with the easy, confident stride of a much younger man. An impressive figure. It was easy to see why most people either loved him or detested him.

Gradually the cathedral filled up until not a single space remained in the pews. The congregation stood as one as the Cardinal took to the pulpit. Most of the service passed Jinx by - it made little sense to her. She had been under the vague impression that Christianity was basically about being nice to people, but the Cardinal seemed keen to instil the fear of God in his followers. There was some singing; the sheer power of hundreds of voices raised in praise briefly impressed her. And some readings from the Bible, which made even less sense than the rest of the Cardinal’s sermon. Only years of training kept her from falling asleep.

The sermon got a lot more interesting about halfway through. The Cardinal was expounding passionately about something - Jinx wasn’t exactly sure what - when an arc of electricity crawled like white fire across the high ceiling of the cathedral, drawing all eyes upward to a figure standing on the balcony below the tower. Tall and dashing, with carefully styled, long, curly hair and a blue tabard bearing an elaborate white cross. He wore a hat with a huge, soft white feather in it, which reminded her of the Cavalier. “You have insulted mutants for the last time, monsieur. Now, en garde!” And, drawing a slender rapier, he leapt lightly from the balcony. Shouts broke out among the congregation as a large proportion decided it was time to leave.

As the panicked crowd spilled between the huge doors, Mark felt himself being pushed backwards, and ducked hastily into a side street. For a moment he watched frightened people rush past, and wondered what was happening. Then everything else but fear fled his mind as a familiar, woman’s voice drawled casually from behind him, “You’ve run far enough, Mark Thomson.” His mutant sense flared to life, blue fire turning to sky turning to water as something snatched at it
and everything slipped away.


Two more tabard-wearing men, rapiers in hand, appeared from the sides of the cathedral, and ran gracefully towards the pulpit. One shouted, enunciating each word with pride, “One for all, and all for one!”

The Cardinal’s face twisted in righteous anger. “This time, Musketeers, I will teach you to respect the word of the Lord!” He raised his hands to the heavens and, for an instant, blinding, golden light streamed down from somewhere in the vicinity of the roof, catching the first musketeer in a pool of radiance. He let out a yell and the feather on his hat caught light. Snatching it from his head, he dashed the flames out against his leg and replaced it at a jaunty angle.

Jinx! Marie’s voice echoed in her head, bypassing her ears and going straight to the relevant sections of her brain, What’s going on in there?

Three men with swords attacking the Cardinal, she thought back as hard as she could, her reply tinged with amusement.

The Three Musketeers! Marie’s mental voice was horrified. For an instant, Jinx got an image of her, eyes wide in shock. You’ve got to stop them. They’re mutants – the press will associate them with us. We’ll get to you as soon as we can – the crowd are blocking the door. People were still shouting and shoving each other in their haste to get out.

On to it. With the fingertips of her right hand, she touched her left forearm and flicked a tiny switch. The hologram of the flower display blinked out, replacing itself with the illusion of healthy skin that disguised her left arm. None of the four combatants noticed her immediately. One of the musketeers rushed at the Cardinal, rapier at the ready. The red-robed priest pointed one long, bony finger at him and a flash of golden light sent him flying backwards to strike the altar with a sickening crunch. His sword clattered to the stone flagged floor. The Cardinal laughed scornfully. A soft yellow light sprung up around him, and he rose gracefully into the air.

“Two can play at that game, Monsieur!” The third musketeer leapt, his short cape billowing out behind him. “Athos! If you please!”

A flare of white, electrical light caught her attention. Athos – the first musketeer, with the singed hat – stood, hands raised, electricity snaking down his arms like living creatures to concentrate in balls of blazing charge over his hands.

Jinx decided it was time to distract his attention from the Cardinal. “Can’t you people fight fair?” she demanded.

Athos fixed his attention on her. “Aha, a sympathiser of this red-robed charlatan!” She noticed, with vague amusement, that his accent wasn’t even particularly French. “This is our fight, mademoiselle.” And he unleashed the lightning at her.

Her shielding kicked in and sent the worms of electricity skittering harmlessly across her body, with a not-unpleasant tingling sensation. Not hurrying, she stepped forward and picked up the fallen rapier. And grinned fiercely. The sounds of conflict from above, the shouts of the panicked congregation, faded away. The sword was heavier in her hand than her lost energy blade, dead and still, without the familiar, eager hum. It made no difference. This is who she was, for which she had been ruthlessly, relentlessly, trained.

Athos responded to her feral smile with one of his own, stepped into a formal guard position, and inclined his head politely. In one smooth movement, she lunged forward. The ferocity of her attack momentarily drove him backwards, but his smile took on a genuine enjoyment, perhaps appreciation of her skill, and he responded with a flurry of counterattacks. “An interesting style, mademoiselle,” he cried cheerfully, “May I inquire who trained you?”

“Nobody you’d know,” she replied bluntly, and launched a second, more savage attack, her features now a mask of concentration. The sword had no edge, and required a different technique to that with which she was most accustomed.

He leapt lightly aside, but the tip of her rapier tore through the corner of his tabard. “Close, ma cherie, but not good enough!” Lightning danced down the blade of his sword from his hand, sending blinding electrical sparks into the still air as she deftly flicked her wrist and deflected his lunge. The clash of steel-on-steel rang and echoed about the cathedral like a new kind of music. A paean to the Cardinal’s warlike god, perhaps.

His rapier flicked out, as fast as the lightning that sheathed its blade. The electricity dissipated harmlessly over her skin, but the point of the sword grazed lightly across her ribs. In response, she renewed her attack, laying open his cheek to the bone. Blood painted purple blotches on the blue of his tabard. His eyes widened in shock as he realised that this battle was a lot more lethal than he had thought.

Something in the fear that leapt fleetingly across his face broke Jinx’s concentration. Her next lunge sent his rapier skidding across the floor, tendrils of electricity burrowing vainly into the stone and burning out. The point of her sword lifted his chin. “That’s enough. Get your friend,” she nodded towards the groaning form of the musketeer who the Cardinal had flung into the altar, “And get out.”

He stepped back, regarded her with a new and healthy respect for an instant, then turned and strode towards his companion, scooping up his sword and sheathing it as he went.

“Not so fast, young man!” the Cardinal alighted in a swirl of crimson, leaving his opponent, charred and bruised, to stagger clumsily to the ground, knees giving way as his boots touched the floor. “This time I intend to make an example of you that your mutant friends will heed.”

“Go,” Jinx repeated, implacably, fixing the Cardinal with a cool stare. “There’s no mutant conspiracy, Cardinal. They’re just three men with a grudge against you. And I can see why.”

“Well.” He walked over to her and looked her up and down. “My thanks for your help, young lady, but I don’t care for your attitude. Might I ask who you are?”

“Jinx, of Storm Front.”

His face clouded over. She could practically hear the words, the mutant, resonating in his mind. Glancing over his shoulder, she saw Marie, Sarah and several others of the Next Generation crowding through one of the small back doors, and parting to let Athos shepherd his battered friends through. Without another word, she raised the musketeer’s sword and, with all the unnatural strength of her bionics, drove it point-first into the stone floor. She met the Cardinal’s piercing gaze for several seconds, then brushed past him and walked away.

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