Log in

No account? Create an account

March 2008

Powered by LiveJournal.com

thebirdwoman in a_tangled_bank

Regeneration: Part 3

“Home…hard to know where it is if you’ve never had one.”
- U2, Walk On.

Mark dreams of Christmas. His parents look on fondly as eleven-year-old Laura tears open her gifts. He laughs, carefree, as Harley, their collie, pounces on the gaily coloured paper and worries it to shreds across the well-trodden carpet. Snow darkens the early morning sky. Later they take their old sledge, with the blue runners, to the park and race their neighbours’ children down the hillside, veering wildly round trees and snowmen.

It’s a good dream. Lost in the depths of the seductive blend of fantasy and memory, he is no longer aware that it is a reward. A rare moment of bliss, thoughtless and innocent, in return for cooperation and good behaviour. He can fight the loneliness, the silence, even the mental agony they can, if they choose, inflict. It’s getting harder and harder to fight the dreams.

Laura marches up to him, dragging the sledge behind her, its faded rope in her red-mittened hands. Her face is rosy with cold and excitement, her hat missing, snow scattered in her dark hair like diamonds. “Your turn, Mark,” she insists, proffering the rope to him. As she grins up at him, the winter sun shining in her blue eyes, for an instant the irises seem transformed to a clear grey. “Prospero says it’s your turn.”

January 3rd, 1989.
It’s been nearly three months and there’s still no sign. It’s as if he disappeared from the face of the planet the night of the demonstration, when the Three Musketeers attacked the Cardinal. Nothing. Except for that brief message, etched into the wall of the alleyway in flame-blackened letters: “Involve Storm Front and the boy dies.” Dramatic, simple, effective. If it were on my own account, I wouldn’t care, but I don’t know who they are (except, presumably, Ember) or what they’re capable of. Besides, if it is the Caliban Society targeting mutants, what help would Storm Front be anyway? The others have their own problems to deal with.

Damn it, I want to go back. Marie, Sarah and the others are trying as hard as they can, but he’s gone and I don’t know where else to turn. I’ve never felt lonely before. Or so helpless. He could be anywhere by now. They could have done anything to him. I wish I could talk to Dr Equation. Or even Cavalier. I miss them.

Another good day. They’re pleased with him now, his progress is slow, but sure. In a few more weeks, or months, they’ll have him. He’s mostly living in dreams now, more vivid than memory. Reality is being overwritten, and he’s too tired to notice. Tonight his exhausted mind can’t even hold onto the dreams, they keep slipping away from him like silvery fishes. They’ve worked him hard, trying to break down the barriers that keep him imprisoned in his own mind. Habit rather than defiance keeps him retreating, until he doesn’t know how to reach out.

Tonight there’s no safe corner, no part of his mind that will let him rest. Images and fragments of past dreams slide in an out of the corner of his mind’s eye, until he feels dizziness tossing him like waves. Laura laughing in the snow. Harley, with a face half black, half white, his favourite squeaky toy in his soft velvet mouth. Jinx, staring at him solemnly with so-serious grey eyes, slender hands wrapped round a mug of coffee.

For one, eternal second, reality returns and the barriers dissolve like mist.

Marie was woken at 4 am by someone pounding on the door as if to break it down. Startled unpleasantly out of a deep, restful sleep, she padded to the door of her apartment in her pyjamas, pushing her hair out of her eyes, and unlocked it after glancing through the spyhole. Jinx practically fell into her hallway, and slammed the door behind her. Marie winced at the noise.

“Mark contacted me,” the younger girl announced, before Marie could greet her. “Some kind of dream. Ember said he might be telepathic…”

“Calm down. Let’s sit down.” Marie led her into the sitting room and collapsed onto the sofa. “What happened?”

Jinx refused to sit, standing with her arms folded nervously, her oversized woollen jumper (black, of course; a hand-me-down from Sarah) making her look even more slight and fragile than usual. “I don’t really remember. The only thing that’s really clear is the word ‘prospero’, but I don’t know what it means. I just felt that I had to come see you…”

Marie blinked sleepily at her. “Prospero? Isn’t that a Shakespeare character?” Jinx shrugged impatiently. “So Mark gave you a message, but you don’t know what it was. You’re sure it wasn’t just a dream?”

“Of course I’m sure!”

“Okay, okay, calm down.” Marie fell silent for a moment, thinking. Jinx watched her expectantly. “You say you had to come to see me. Is it possible that Mark gave you some kind of compulsion? I might be able to retrieve the message, if there is one…”

Jinx nodded, thoughtfully. “I suppose it’s possible. Would he know how to do that?”

It was Marie’s turn to shrug. “Who knows what he’s capable of? Whoever abducted him obviously felt he would be very useful in some way.”

“All right. So can you retrieve his message?”

Marie frowned, doubtfully. “I probably could, but my psychic abilities aren’t very controlled. I’m nowhere near as powerful as Mark would have to be to send you that kind of message. Are you sure you want me to try?”

“Yes,” Jinx replied, impatiently.

Standing, Marie laid her fingertips on Jinx’s temples, and, closing her eyes, opened her psychic awareness. Jinx’s mind appeared to her as a compact, brilliant white ball of fiery energy. Gathering her telepathic sense about her as best she could, Marie allowed herself to be drawn towards it, through the surface and into the girl’s memories, all the while seeking some construct that didn’t belong there. For several seconds she glimpsed images of Jinx’s recent past flashing by her, instants of colour and sound, flavoured with emotion. The first time Jinx and Mark met Marie, in a café, regarding herself with suspicion through Jinx’s eyes. Anger burning beneath a cool exterior as Jinx turned her back on the Cardinal and walked away. Something approaching contentment as Mark talked animatedly, with enthusiastic gestures. And many memories of Storm Front: tension as Jinx met Cavalier, Dr Equation and M-Power for the first time; quiet pride at a job well done after their defeat of Black Sun; sheer, instinctual terror as their scout ship plunged deep beneath the churning surface of the ocean, the confinement and the ship itself triggering a wash of disjointed fragments of memory -

And Marie was tumbling, her fledgeling talents unable to fend off the bombardment of incomplete memories which came lightning-quick, flashing through her mind and gone again into the dark spaces between; memories which brought such strong emotions that her head spun and she felt sick. Hatred burning low and hot like a well-built fire; flickers of acute, all-consuming fear; too many violent, bloody battles to count, with a ruthless concentration that was entirely alien to Marie. Spinning through the host of broken, sharp-edged memory fractions she was momentarily lost, forgetting herself, her purpose - until her uncontrolled fall suddenly stopped as she rebounded off something, a construct, like that for which she had been searching, but certainly not put there by Mark - this was older, far stronger than anything she had ever seen before, massive. A gleaming white wall, stretching as high as her mind’s eye could see and for an infinite distance to the left and right, faint heiroglyphs shining dark just beneath the surface.

It took her several long seconds to get her bearings, steady herself, as she gazed in awe at the barrier before her. Then, cautiously, she retraced her steps, sifting carefully through the thin layer of recent, intact memories until finally she found it: a parcel, compact and undefined, glowing a faint blue-green that somehow (to her psychic sense) reminded her of Mark. Tucking it carefully away into her own mind, she fled.

Marie staggered as she opened her eyes, her hands falling limply to her sides. Jinx caught her before she fell and guided her to the sofa. Her grey-green eyes fixed Jinx with an unfocused, wild stare. “Dear God…Jinx, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” the girl’s voice was hard and carefully level, “That just brought back some unpleasant memories, that’s all. Are you going to be okay?”

Marie nodded, distractedly, and blinked, her gaze clearing somewhat. She rubbed her forehead with one hand. “That got…out of control. You have some very strong associations which I accidentally tripped. But, Jinx, someone’s done a very thorough job on your memories. Beyond about a year ago there’s hardly anything, just fragments - probably the most important ones, the ones with the strongest emotions attached to them…and there’s a kind of wall…I don’t think I could even begin to break through it…”

“I know. I know. Don’t even think about trying,” Jinx interrupted. “I don’t want to remember. Everything I can remember is enough.”

“But who did that to you…?” Marie asked in disbelief.

“Dr Equation,” she replied in a matter-of-fact manner. “Did you get Mark’s message?”

Marie shook her head, unbelievingly. “Yes, yes, I did. I think he was in a hurry and acting on instinct - only a telepath could understand it. Think of it as a language that non-psychics don’t speak. But he probably found it easier to get through to you than me - he’s closer to you, and your mental shields are unconscious and weaker than mine.”

“So what does he say?” Jinx demanded, impatiently.

Marie closed her eyes and concentrated briefly. “There’s a lot of information here - it’s as if he just parcelled up everything that he could think of, in no particular order, and then flung it haphazardly into your head. It’ll take some time for me to figure it all out. But you were right - it was Ember who kidnapped him, along with some psychic friends. That memory stands out. He’s been taken a long way…I think he’s on the Continent somewhere.”

“What about this Prospero?”

“I think it, or he, is a person. Something to do with…the Net?”

“That figures,” Jinx grimaced. “I don’t know much about them, but they seem to get everywhere. They’re a huge criminal organisation. Their leader is called Gauntlet, but again, I don’t know much about him. I’ve heard Doc Equation talk about him.”

Marie sighed. “Sounds like Mark has got himself into a lot of trouble. Look, Jinx, there’s not much we can do now, and I need to rest, sleep on all the information he’s given me. We’ll talk to the others tomorrow, okay? You can sleep on the sofa if you like. There’s a sleeping bag in the hall cupboard.”

Jinx nodded, distracted. Marie stood and made her way back to bed, glancing back from the doorway of the living room to see the girl standing at the window, staring out into the night.

January 30th 1989
It’s 3am but I’m far too wound up to sleep; too many thoughts and plans running through my head. I haven’t written in this diary for a couple of weeks so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recall the things which have happened in that time. Marie managed to untangle Mark’s message. His perspective on things was pretty confused, but from what she was able to figure out he’s being held by a branch of the Net led by this Prospero person. They seem to be recruiting kids - there have been a few other disappearances over the last few months, once we stopped to look - but only ones with extremely strong mutant powers. That would explain why they haven’t bothered with the rest of us, just Mark. Not just telepaths, either, although it seems that a lot of them have some psychic abilities. Marie thinks they’re training Mark and playing mind games with him at the same time, trying to brainwash him in a sense. We need to stop them as quickly as possible.

From his message we managed - eventually - to track him down to an estate just outside of Paris. Just getting here was tricky - the authorities were suspicious of a fairly large group of mutants (most of Marie’s group of the Next Generation insisted on helping out) travelling into France, and of course I don’t even have any documents. But in the end we managed it and went to have a look at the place. It’s an old house, huge and rambling, with a high wire-topped brick wall and a lot of security. Masquerading as some kind of secure hospital, I’m not sure exactly. But Marie’s positive that this is the place. We need to figure out how to get in there and get Mark - and as many other of those poor kids as we can - out. The Next Generation are, on the whole, pretty weak in terms of powers and they don’t have any of the kinds of skills and experience we need to break into a place like that. But I know of some people who might.

“What do you want?” He was no longer dressed in a ridiculous hat and tabard, and his long brown hair was pulled back into a tidy ponytail, but the man who answered the door to the apartment was definitely the mutant known as Athos. The fine scar on his cheek where her sword had laid it open confirmed it.

“I need your help.”

“You’re joking.” He tried to swing the door shut, but Jinx caught it and held it open.

“You and your friends really want to help mutants? Then listen to me.”

“How did you find me?”

“You’re the only Musketeer who’s not actually French, right? You’re registered in Britain. I got some contacts to look you up.” She shrugged. “Now can I come in or what?”

He threw up his hands in surrender and stepped back. “All right! But you’d better be serious. You didn’t exactly convince me of your support for mutants by siding with the Cardinal.”

She followed him into the small living room. “Your attack on the Cardinal was a stupid idea. I don’t like him any more than you do. I was just trying to stop people from getting hurt and my friends from getting into trouble on your account.”

He sprawled in a chair and regarded her in an evaluating manner. “So what do you want?”

Briefly, in clipped, even sentences, she outlined the situation. “The Next Generation want to help, but they’re not powerful or skilled enough to go up against people like this. You and your friends might be. If you want to stop mutants from being exploited, here’s your chance.” She leaned forward in her chair, speaking quickly and intensely. “I won’t let these people carry on with whatever it is that they’re doing. I’ll go in there alone if I have to, but I don’t think I’d succeed. I need your help.”

He considered her for a long moment. “I’ll talk to the others, but I think they’ll agree. We need to talk to your friends, particularly Marie Harland. And we’ll need to have a good look at this place. No hard feelings about that business with the Cardinal?”

She looked faintly surprised. “Of course not.”

He held out his hand. She hesitated, then shook it decisively. Athos smiled. “Let’s get started.”

Jinx dropped to the ground beside Athos, hidden by the darkness and the unkempt long grass. “Aramis, Marie, we’re over the wall. How are you doing?”

Over the small radio which he had adjusted to transmit on the same frequency as her communicator, Aramis replied, “We’re over. Marie?”

There was a brief pause, then Marie’s voice replied, somewhat out of breath, “We’re over as well.”

“Right. Time for stage two. Out.”

Keeping low to the ground, Jinx and Athos ran across the lawn and up the rockery, into the shadow of the looming building. Moving along the wall, they soon reached a small side door. Athos swiftly and expertly picked the lock, and gave the door a gentle shove. It swung inwards, the hinges protesting with a tiny creak. As they slipped inside, two armed guards rounded the corner of the house. “Perfect,” Athos whispered in satisfaction as he softly closed the door behind them, unseen by the guards.

“Don’t relax yet,” Jinx warned him, before striding off down the hallway. He had to hurry to keep up. “I hope your friend Aramis was right about the security cameras.”

“The cameras won’t be a problem, my dear.”

“Good.” She stopped at the end, checked briefly round the corner and moved on. As they methodically searched the wing of the house, Athos wondered at her terse, professional way of working. She had an unnerving manner for one so young. For maybe fifteen minutes they continued, in silence, checking rooms, most of which were dusty and unused. Once they heard footsteps and ducked into a dust-sheet shrouded sitting room in time to avoid discovery. Aramis and Porthos reported finding nothing of interest in the wing they were searching, but Marie and Sarah found what appeared to be classrooms and training areas. As midnight approached, the three groups converged on the main part of the house.

“Let’s hope our luck holds,” Athos whispered, grinning, as he and Jinx moved into a clean, well-lit hallway.

“Don’t count on it,” Jinx warned him.

“I hope you don’t live up to your name, otherwise we will be in trouble,” he teased her. She shot him an irritated glance at his constant interruptions of her concentration. Then, suddenly, grabbed him in a vice-like grip and pulled him round a corner as a door slammed somewhere nearby and voices echoed down the bare corridor. “See you in the morning,” called a woman’s voice, and footsteps came towards them.

“Looks like we’re in luck,” Jinx whispered, smiling viciously. A red-haired woman strolled round the corner, dressed in a kind of uniform in shades of yellow and orange. She passed by them without looking round. Before she had taken two steps, Jinx called out, “Ember.”

Jinx was already moving as the woman turned, catching her off-balance and by surprise. Athos was momentarily startled by the ferocity of her attack. A single left hook sent Ember, unprepared, reeling backwards. Jinx hammered a spinning kick into her ribs, sending her crashing to the floor, winded. In one smooth motion the girl drew the sword she’d borrowed from Athos (a sabre, this time; she’d specifically requested “something sharp”) and held the point to Ember’s throat before she could scramble to her feet. “Unlucky for some,” she said, glancing briefly at Athos before returning her attention to Ember. “Where’s Mark?”

“To the point,” Athos commented quietly.

Before Ember could reply, Jinx stepped back and let the sword point drop to the floor. “Show us. And if you try anything, I’ll kill you.”

Athos looked disbelievingly at her but she ignored him, focusing her attention on her adversary. Slowly, wincing slightly, Ember got to her feet. She looked from Jinx to Athos, and back again, as if judging Jinx’s threat. Then she nodded. “Okay. Follow me.”

Either Ember believed Jinx or they were just lucky; either way, they didn’t meet anyone else. After a few minutes, they reached a door with a keypad next to the handle. Ember entered a code and pushed the door open onto a white, tiled corridor, lit with fluorescent strips. There was a series of metallic doors along the left hand side. She led them to the fourth door along and pressed her hand against a plate set in the wall next to the door. Silently, it slid open. The room inside was small, functional, lit only by a dim night light. Athos could see someone curled up in the narrow bed.

For a split second, Jinx was distracted, peering into the shadows in an attempt to make out the sleeper’s features. She barely ducked in time as Ember flung a hasty bolt of flame at her face. Acting out of instinct rather than reason, Jinx brought the sword round in a two-handed swing which – perhaps fortunately – failed to connect as the woman took to the air and fled down the corridor. Athos turned to pursue her, but Jinx shook her head. “Let her go. Let her warn them. I don’t care.” Sheathing her sword, she stepped into the room. Athos glanced round nervously and followed.

The figure asleep beneath the pale blue woollen blanket was a boy of about fifteen or sixteen, slim and wiry with unkempt brown hair. Gently, Jinx reached out and shook the boy’s shoulder to wake him. “Mark? Mark, it’s me.”

There was a ripple in the air around her and something flung her across the room, sending her crashing into the far wall. Athos leapt backwards from the bedside in shock. Mark sat up, brown eyes wide and fearful, not seeming to realise where he was. Jinx picked herself up, unhurt, and took a step forward, stopping a short distance from the bed. “Mark, it’s me, Jinx.” There was a note of pleading in her voice.

Silence for a moment as Mark blinked, seemed to focus slowly as the waking world claimed him. Then he jumped out of the bed, impatiently throwing aside his tangled blankets, and gripped Jinx in a tight embrace. “Jinx, I knew you’d come, I knew it…”

For the first time since he’d met her, Athos saw her composure slip. A genuine, joyful smile lit up her serious features, and she awkwardly patted Mark on the back before extricating herself from his grasp. “Mark, this is Athos. We’ve got to get the other kids out. Athos, can you get Marie, Aramis and the others here to help you?”

“What are you planning?” he asked suspiciously.

She turned to Mark, and this time her smile was the feral one Athos had seen before. “Care to introduce me to Prospero?”

Ember had evidently raised the alarm. As Jinx and Mark strode through the polished corridors of the old house, they met no less than three patrols. The first and second they managed to avoid by ducking into nearby rooms; the third they simply walked through, Jinx sending one of the guards spinning aside with an almost-casual backhand while Mark flung the other back without even looking at him. Eventually they arrived at a tall set of double doors. Without breaking stride, Mark slammed them open with the power of his mind so hard that one was half ripped from its hinges. They strode through.

The room beyond was bright and airy, and full of people. Dark-uniformed guards and technicians bustling to and fro, manning the half-dozen computer consoles lining the walls. The object in the centre of the room, however, drew their attention immediately. A huge, scarlet thing that reminded Mark of a giant mermaid’s purse, except that it appeared to be made of some sort of smooth, translucent stone, radiating a crimson inner light. And before it two figures, a man and a woman. Ember, and a tall, striking man with blond hair and cornflower-blue eyes, wearing flowing red-and-black robes.

The man folded his arms as they entered and looked studiously unimpressed. “You’re a fool, girl. What do you expect to achieve?”

Jinx stopped a few metres away and gave him one of her cool, evaluating looks. Mark knew her moods well enough by now, however, to see that beneath her calm exterior she was tense as a tightly-wound spring and furious besides. “I won’t let you use mutants like that, Prospero.”

“I have helped your friend. Without me, he may never have mastered his powers. I will raise these children far beyond what your society would let them be. They will be better than human. And in return they will help us.”

Her left hand crept to the hilt of her sabre. “Enough. I’ve heard this before. Hearing it from you doesn’t make it any less vile.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You cannot threaten me, Jinx of Storm Front. You are interesting – a dark horse, shall we say – but you are just one small player in a much bigger game, the rules of which you don’t understand. Ember, deal with her.”

As Ember smiled unpleasantly at Jinx and raised her hands, igniting her flames as she did so, Prospero fixed his cobalt gaze on Mark and lifted one hand in a lazy, theatrical gesture. Invisible to everyone else, but plain to Mark’s mutant senses, a swarm of gleaming green balls of energy – psychic wasps, perhaps – poured from Propero’s hand towards him. He had time to shout, “Jinx – you get Ember, I’ll take care of this!” before they were upon him. Visualising blue flames leaping from his own aura, he destroyed the wasps in a shower of green sparks.

Jinx ducked two of Ember’s fire bolts, the second of which scored her leg as she flung herself into an economical roll, bouncing to her feet right in front of the woman and slamming a roundhouse kick towards her, which she dodged. For several seconds they traded blows, before Jinx succeeded in landing a strike which sent Ember staggering backwards. In retaliation, the woman loosed a much bigger fireball at her, which washed over her right shoulder, causing her to clench her teeth and curse in an unfamiliar language.

Jinx! Mark’s voice resonated in her mind, The red stone – his power is focused through the red stone!

Her hand closed on the sword hilt. “I said, enough.” And in one smooth motion she spun, the blade of the sabre gleaming blood-red in the light from the strange stone as it slid from the sheath and into a shining arc. It flowed through the air as if an extension of her arm, and came crashing and shattering through the surface of the red stone. The brittle surface gave way more easily than she expected and the sword passed through empty space in the centre, causing her to lose her balance and jerk forward; then red light unfolded from the shattered stone like a flower of bright fire. The floor rolled underfoot, and light and heat washed outwards. Prospero screamed.

Something snatched her in midair as the explosion flung her backwards, a cool bubble of oxygen and safety enclosing her and pulling her back, to Mark’s side. As the ground beneath them began to buckle and unnatural red flames grasped hungrily at the air, the walls, anything within reach, she felt Mark take her right hand in his left, and heard him say, “Come on. It’s time to go home.”


16th February, 1989
Finally, after so many months, I’m going home. Back to London, the base, Storm Front. Mark and I left Marie and the others after getting back to England, although we promised to keep in touch. The Next Generation are doing good work. I think they were right – this is my fight. Mutants are my people, although just one group within a greater whole. I never used my mutant powers all that much – I wasn’t particularly trained to. Now I’m wondering what I can do with them, having ideas for ways to branch out and explore. I feel like I’ve come a long, long way; far further than the few hundred miles I’ve travelled in the last few months. Just reading back through the pages of this diary I see that I wrote, right at the beginning, that I would not be less of a person because of my past. Now I feel like I am a real person at last, more complete, with friends and a life and memories other than those painful shards that Dr Equation left me with back in 2012. All the reminders of that time - my name, the mark on my arm - are trophies, symbols of everything that I’ve faced and beaten. Maybe I’ll never quite fit in with this world, but now it is my world, strange and silly but vibrant and alive. It’s home.

The headline read, in stark, black letters: “Is this the end for Storm Front?” Mark had to read the article out loud, Jinx protesting that her English wasn’t good enough and her translator not fast enough. All the news was the same: Dr Equation a wanted man, for various reasons; most seemed to agree that he’d gone renegade in some manner, possibly involved with the supervillain Gauntlet. Even though he wasn’t even a mutant, the news had sparked anti-superpower and anti-mutant rioting in several of Europe’s major cities. The Cavalier had not been seen since the incident; the only recent footage was of Shimmer, looking uncomfortable, announcing that he had no comment to make.

Their leisurely homecoming trip became a race.

They had reached the nebulous commuter belt of not-quite-London, walking down a quiet, winter-tree lined street, when the message reached them, the psychic overspill echoing in Mark’s mind, as well as probably the minds of dozens of other psychic sensitives within hundreds of miles.

Jinx, contact Dr Equation. We have work to do.

Afterwards, Mark remembered thinking that things never work out as you expect. She fumbled in her bag for her communicator, disappeared round a corner so fast he didn’t see where she’d gone until she reappeared, tense and focused, the old Jinx, edgy as a cat.

“I’ve got to go.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No! He says he’s leaving. Leaving Earth. Look-” she pulled a dogeared notebook from her bag, rifled through it to find a blank page. Mark saw pages of lettering in a neat, curly script, written in cheap black biro. Tearing out a page, she began to write, muttered impatiently, “Bloody stupid English language,” and began again in that same indecipherable alphabet. Proffering it to him, she said, “Go to London. Call the number at the top of the page – the bit in English. Tell Shimmer I sent you. He’ll know what to do. Give him this note. And tell him…I don’t know. Tell him, I trust Doc Equation and I’ve gone wherever he’s going. Okay? And…look after yourself.”

“You too.” He couldn’t believe it had all ended so soon, so abruptly. So many feelings churned inside him, he didn’t know how to express or release them, or even fully identify them all. Impulsively, he gave her a brief, tight hug, and kissed her on the cheek. As he stepped back he saw a look of utter confusion fleet across her features, as she unconsciously raised her fingertips to her face where he had kissed her. “Well…” he took a deep breath, tucked the note safely into a pocket. “Take care of yourself. And maybe I’ll see you again soon.”

She smiled, relaxed slightly, although he could still see that she was eager to be gone, on the move, following that call. “Yes. I hope so. Goodbye, Mark.”

“Bye, Jinx.”

And she turned, walked away down the avenue beneath the leafless limes, wintry sunlight striping through the branches across her slight, monochrome figure. One more thought occurred to him. “And thank you!”

Briefly, she stopped, glanced back at him with that rare, radiant smile, and raised a hand in farewell. Then she turned again, rounded the corner, and disappeared from view.

And that was the beginning of the next campaign, in which Storm Front went into space. And boy was it fun! Although I do feel sorry for wee Mark turning up in London with nothing but a phone number and a note written in an alien language.