Continued from yesterday:
‘Do you have any names?’ asked Nightcrawler.
The little girl, stronger for some food and water, looked up at his with wide eyes, she turned her attention back to his fur. She’d been petting it for the last few minutes, a thoughtful expression on her delicate features.
Eventually she spoke, 'No-one used names, just called each other letters, for see-cree-see, they sayed. But… one man… someone… they called him Mr Greenwood. He came in lots 'n wrote stuff down. Is that good?’
'Ja, liebes, that is very good!’
Nightcrawler turned to his assembled crowed of followers, 'Hack into the city’s computer systems,’ he barked. 'Look for a Mr Greenwood working for government sources. He’ll probably be middle or upper class, perhaps he has no fixed job description, he’ll probably have some science qualifications. Well, what are you waiting for? Move it!’
They scattered, eager to do their leader’s bidding.
Now it is time to learn about Mr Henry Greenwood.
Greenwood, or Henry, was a tallish man with black hair, greying at the temples. He was in his early thirties, lived in the suburbs and drove a metallic red Mazda car. He had a wife called Marie and a six year old daughter, Juliet and a little boy, not quite one year old, called Paul. It will be Paul’s first birthday soon, and plans are already being made for a small party.
Marie studied art in college, had long, mousy brown hair which fell to her hips, blue eyes, and enjoyed reading historical and sci-fi novels. She is vegetarian and has converted the entire family to this dietary habit.
She and Henry had met ten years ago, had been married eight years ago, and had since created a steady home for themselves. They had the odd argument of course, but generally cohabited very well.
Their daughter, Juliet, liked watching My Little Pony and other such cartoons, she was rehearsing for a part in a school production of The Wizard of Oz (she was going to be the Tin Man) and also had a part in the school quire, her parents were extremely proud of her. She also took after her mother in that she greatly enjoyed drawing, and indeed was engaging in this activity when Henry Greenwood entered the home after a long day at work.
He kissed his wife, remarked on the delicious smell of coming from the kitchen, and went to sit in the living room and watch some TV.
Henry, whilst enjoying some baseball, is not an avid fan and prefers to watch scientific and nature documentaries. He is odd in that he dislikes the taste of beer, but often has a glass of wine before and during dinner.
He did, indeed, work as a supervisor for a mutant testing facility. If one were to approach him about this he would listen sympathetically but would present his arguments as so, in a reasonable and patient manner. He would say that, whilst his job is indeed regrettable, it needs to be done to protect the vast majority of human kind, and also to help create a cure for mutant kind. He will say that, like animal vivisection, it is necessary to do some small cruelties in order to help mankind as a whole. It is better a few rats die than a few humans, and besides, mutants aren’t really humans, are they?
If one were to accuse him of inhumanity he would be honestly shocked and insulted, he was certainly no monster! Why, he had taken part in many anti-war demonstrations during his college years, had written treaties on proper ethical procedures, and regally gave money to charity. Last year he had even sat in a bath of cold bake-beans to round up some cash for a Homeless Children’s charity group.
At the time of his homecoming he was not aware of 237’s escape. Indeed, at this time the only guilty or worried thought in his head was that he had forgotten to buy his mother a mother’s day card this year.
So, all in all, Henry was totally unprepared for what happened next.
There was a sound behind him, almost drowned out by the music from the TV, he turned and came face to face with a demon out of his worst nightmares.
Pain exploded in his face as the creature hit him, from the kitchen there was a scream and the sound of smashing crockery. Marie!
Another scream came out of the mouth of his daughter; Henry tried to hit the monster back, fear, rage, and concern for his family fuelling his movements. It was to no avail, he hadn’t even started to move before the fined picked him up and threw him across the room. He slammed into the wall, agony blossomed in his back, air rushing out if his lungs, stars appeared in his vision.
The creature was on him again, punching, hitting, thumping. Agony beyond description blossomed in every part of his body. The cracking sound of bones filled his ears, the biologist in him automatically placed and diagnosed the injuries, he managed to open his eyes a fraction, noted with a strange kind of abject interest the bright crimson of his own blood. Funny, he’d seen blood plenty of times before, but never had it seemed so… vibrant.
That redness soon filled his vision as the blue monster, three fingered hands stained dark with that vital liquid, punched his nose, the cracking of bone and gristle filled his ears, fountains of gore fell from his ruined nostrils. His tongue tasted an irony, metallic flavour.
There was a strange sound, Henry became aware that it was his own voice, screaming, then the screaming was cut off with pain as the creature’s fist slammed into his throat. Still the attack continued, but the pain, which had previously assaulted unbearably from every side, lessened. Henry felt he was becoming strangely detached, he realised he must be loosing consciousness. He wondered weather he would ever regain it? He hoped so, he wanted to so stuff, send his mother a card, tell Marie he loved her, see Juliet’s play. He wanted to be at his sons first birthday.
But he was so tired, he felt darkness coming up to meet him in its sweet embrace, all other feeling and sound was muted now, it didn't matter. So, feeling oddly at peace, he jumped into the abyss.
The human had stopped moving now, its broken form hung limply by the wall, swathed a pool of its own blood.
Panting Nightcrawler stepped back, unconsciously wiping his gore stained hands against his armour.
He turned to Marrow and the human female she was 'working,’ on. A grim smile of satisfaction curled his mouth, Sara had done her job well.
Long locks of hair were scattered on the floor, the woman herself was now completely bald, those long tresses had been shaved off with bone daggers. She was crying hysterically, her left eye was dark and bloated, but other than that she was uninjured. Nightcrawler looked over her critically, then punched her twice. She fell down, unconscious.
There was a strangled sob from the corner of the room, the human child.
Nightcrawler marched towards her, the little girl tried to back up against the wall, as if attempting to push through it. Then he was upon her, lifting her up by the front of her T-shirt.
'What is your name?’ he growled.
The girl just sobbed.
He slammed her, not too roughly, against the wall, 'What. Is. Your. Name.’ he said again, slowly.
'J-J-Juliet!’ the child squeaked.
He nodded grimly, turning he picked up one of the felt tip crayons Juliet had, only a few minutes before, been playing with.
'Your father stole a child’s name,’ he growled, 'so now we take one back. You are no longer Juliet, you are 237.’
Using the felt tip, he wrote those numbers on the girl’s arm.
'Remember, we do not hate you, but we will defend ourselves, and anything you take from us we will take back, in one form or another. Remember.’
He dropped the girl, who sat where she had been deposed, her eyes wide, her limbs drawn into and around herself. Not a sound did she make.
At this moment the third member of their party, Spiral, emerged from upstairs, all her hands were carrying large sacks, filled to over-brimming with various objects.
'I cleaned them out, boss,’ she said, 'found some documentation, perhaps clues about who that ass-hole was working for, and I got loads of things for the kid. But there was a baby up there, what should we do about it?’
'Nothing,’ replied Nightcrawler, 'it’s probably an innocent, there has to be an innocent somewhere here,’ the last was said in a soft, almost regretful tone.
'Shall we split?’ asked Marrow.
'Ja,’ said their leader, 'just one last thing.’
He spun round and kicked the screen out of the TV, an early silence descended in the wrecked room.
Then he took up the felt tip pen again, and wrote on the wall. Stepping back, he surveyed the message, checking it, then turned back to his followers.
With a nod from her leader, Spiral began to dance, soon a portal formed and one by one the terrorists slipped through it.
When they left the only sound was that of a home breaking.
The little mutant girl giggled in joy and excitement as the fuzzy blue man came towards her, a large sack in each arm.
'I have presents for you,’ he said, a gentle smile playing on his usually harsh features. It was these few, rare, precious moments in which he felt that his life had meaning, in which all the pain made sense. The look on this little girl’s face as he upturned the sacs revealing the toys and cloths from the raid was worth all the pain in the world.
'And I have something else for you,’ he added, 'something very special.’
'I have a name, I’ve decided to call you Juliet, a nice name, ja?’
The girl now known as Juliet jumped into his arms, 'it’s the best name in the world!’ she squealed, tears of joy dripping down her face, 'thank you!’
Again a rare and precious smile found its way onto Kurt’s face. Yes, it was moments like this which made all the pain worthwhile.
“Look, liebchen… Spiral found some pretty clothes for you. There's everything in here. Undershirts, underpants, tights… Even a pretty dress. Do you need help putting them on?”
Juliet picked up the undershirt as if she’d never seen one before. "Yes.“
Meggan had been drawn to the haul like a moth to a flame. There were lots of pretty things, and this poor little girl, who possibly knew even less of the world than she did. "Can I help?”
_What the hell. They’re both empaths._ Kurt smiled at the image. “Ja. You help her out, Meggan. I think you’d make a lovely couple.”
“Hallo,” said Meggan, stretching out her arms. “Can I have a cuddle?”
Juliet ran into the monster’s arms, smiling and giggling.
Jean clambered into her car and slammed the door with such force that a passerby and his dog looked up in surprise. Her patently angry expression made them look a little longer, and she caught faint strains of recognition wafted from him before glaring in his direction and sending him scurrying for proverbial cover.
Several hours, three bikinis, a ballgown and many, *many* rolls of film down the line, Jean was cranky, angry and altogether disillusioned with the entire modelling gig. If ever a time had come when she appreciated having the job she had - and the braincells to go with it - it was now.
And not just because being a doctor-turned-superhero required actual grey matter to avoid becoming a greasy stain on the asphalt, but also because it meant she never had to interact and/or take orders from people like Gregorio Fradas and his ego-the-size-of-Calcutta on a daily basis.
Leaning forward, she rested her forehead on the cool plastic of the steering wheel, taking a moment to let her anger run its course. After the very public events of the previous evening, the last thing she needed was a traffic accident. Dann was already pissed at the X-Men, but since the situation had been out of all their control, he’d been able to smooth things over enough that none of them faced legal action. That much had been related to her via Scott and a cellphone during one of the few breaks she got this afternoon, just before an argument with Gregorio over her 'flabby thighs’.
_Bastard,_ she thought weakly, tired and drained by a full night and day on the trot of work and awry heroics. Calling on the meditation Wolverine had taught them all as kids and young adults, before disappearing off into the sunset last Spring, Jean allowed her frustration to flow out of her, imagining it filling the wheel and seeping away into the tarmac beneath her tyres.
It took ten minutes, but at last she felt calm enough to drive without slipping into road-rage or similar, and peeled her face away. The steering wheel had left a red indentation in her skin, but she paid it no heed as she started the engine and pulled out the the Sunshine Studios parking lot.
A cluster of kids and their childminder crossed the road, forcing her to slow down not five feet from the exit, and she watched them alternatively walk and caper. Schools had gotten out not long ago, and kids were either trekking home or already there.
_At least I missed rush hour,_ she told herself, pulling away and opening her window to allow fresh air into the stuffy interior of her car. Scott had the right idea with a convertible. Even if he did have terrible taste in colours. Burgundy paintwork with yellow side-stripe? Ugh, it made her feel ill just thinking about it.
Warren stepped out onto the street, shouldering his collar up a little to shield the bottom of his face. A cool breeze had sprung up, though the heat of the fading sun still sat heavy on the air.
Behind him, Stacy shivered, her short dress doing nothing to help keep the cold out. Warren smirked as she wrapped her arms around herself. "I’d offer you my coat, but…“
She returned the smirk with one of her own. "I doubt you’d appreciate the exposure, I know. Care to step in, flatscan?”
Greg blinked. “Flat- oh, right. Well, I suppose I should get a moniker or two to make up for the ones you guys get lumbered with. Never heard that one before, though.” He shucked his jacket and threw it about her shoulders in a very debonair manner.
She nodded imperceptibly in thanks, a little surprised at his reaction to the name. In most circles, 'flatscan’ was an insult akin to 'freak' in the opposing camp, and humans took umbrage at verbal fighting back. At least, they had whenever she saw them.
They started walking, and Warren dropped back to her side in what she discerned as a protective gesture. That brought a smile to her lips, as did the fact that Greg walked a little to one side of them. He was nervous of her, not knowing what to make of this mysterious girl his best friend was obviously quite taken with. Good. He wasn’t as important as Warren, and it didn’t pay to get humans too closely involved where Nightcrawler was concerned.
For a second, Stacy experienced a shiver that was nothing to do with the cold, but pushed the feeling away. “So, where are we headed?”
Warren looked down at her, standing at least a head taller. He swapped a look with Greg, but the human seemed uncertain.
Stacy decided to step in, cranking out a few pheromones to make the two of them more malleable in her capable hands. “No more coffee for this girl. I’m not gonna sleep for a week as it is. How about we just go for a walk?”
Despite her efforts, Warren seemed scpetical of the idea. “Walking in New York without a destination? Easy way to get mugged.”
“Not if we keep to the main streets,” she countered. “Oh, come on. It’ll be sunset in about an hour, and I’m sure you know a great place to watch it. Surely we can kill some time until then?”
Greg cleared his throat, as caught by the pheramones as Warren, to the point where 'gooseberry’ lost its meaning. “We could go to Central Park? You get a great view of the sun going down if you stand on the bandstand and look at it from the proper angle.”
“Well, there you go then. A plan of action.” Stacy smiled, tugging on Warren’s arm. “Come on, it’ll be fun. Haven’t you ever just watched a sunset before?”
Warren’s indecision didn’t last long. “Oh, alright then. Come on, I know a shortcut to the park.”
Jean was listening to the radio when sudden pain lanced through her skull like a white hot poker. It was so intense and unexpected that all her muscles jerked involuntarily, and she very nearly skidded clean off the road. The car behind her beeped, but she was so preoccupied with blocking out the pain that she didn’t bother the energy to give him a one-fingered salute, instead letting him pass and pulling over.
Not cutting the engine, she let her head drop into her hands and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force the sensation back.
Jean was no fool, and had come a long way from the bewildered ten-year-old girl whose latent telepathy first broke out during the untimely death of her best friend. Xavier had helped to hone her abilities, teaching her application and technique, and passing on his own expertise to help her learn more about her talents and how to use them. Thus it was that she recognised a mental cry for help when she felt one, and recognised how this particular cry bore the distinct markings of being involuntary. Someone was mentally screaming, but didn’t even realise they were doing it.
Erecting a psionic shield to rival Fort Knox, Jean collected her own thoughts and rearranged them into a more coherent order. Straightening in her seat, she caught the flutter of curtain at an apartment window, and made good her escape before people realised the reason behind her discomfort, or recognised her picture from the newspapers.
From there she followed her instincts, swinging the car around and tracing the dulled scream with her mind. Whatever and whoever was making that cry wasn’t letting up, which could only mean something bad. And since she was supposed to be some kind of superhero, she figured she might as well take the initiative for once instead of waiting for Dann to give the go-ahead. In the times when the X-Men had been vigilantes, they’d answered any call for help without question or fear of reprisal.
The rebellious part of her brain felt good to be doing it again.
When Warren stopped suddenly, Stacy walked straight into the back of him, bumping her nose on a concealed wing - which was deceptively bony. Stumbling backwards, she was about to voice her annoyance, but was cut short by his abrupt voice.
“The woman from last night. you know, with that group of government lapdogs.”
“The X-Men,” Greg supplied, having been briefed on the previous night’s events back at the cafe.
“Yeah, them. Look, there she goes.” He indicated to a car that blew past without stopping, eliciting a whistle from both his companions.
“Wow, she’s doing some speed.”
“She looked worried about something,” Greg said, drawing closer. “Did you see her face? She looked almost… scared.”
Stacy made a 'pfft’ noise, inwardly cursing anything and everything that had chosen to drop an X-Man shaped bomb on proceedings. Warren's attention had snapped to the rapidly-distancing female, and Stacy felt her grasp on him slipping a notch.
He started walking. They pattered after him. “Hey, hey, hey, where d'ya think you’re going?” Stacy laid a hand on his arm, but he just kept going.
“I’m following her.”
“Um, hello? She’s in a car, and you’re on foot. Plus, why would you want to? She’s not exactly loyal to our kind, is she? Why bother?”
Warren frowning, breaking his gaze away to look directly at her. His blue eyes were harsh, but there was something in them that shocked Stacy. Something akin to curiosity. “Because… look, I have my reasons, OK? You can come along if you want to, but I’ll understand if either of you want to jump ship.”
Stacy frowned. “But *why* go after her? She didn’t even see you standing here, and from what I saw last night, she doesn’t know you’re a mutant at all.”
“I… want to ask her something,” he replied enigmatically. “About why she does what she does.”
Stacy cut her eyes at him, and then sighed. “I abandoned you once to a weirdo mutant, I’m not about to do it again.”
“Greg? You coming?”
Marie clung tight to Paul. Possessively tight. When she’d woken up to find Henry dead, the first thing she’d run for was Paul. He was only a little baby. He couldn’t look after himself.
She’d gathered Juliet under her other arm and run from the house, crying and whimpering. Straight across the road to Mrs Kilmer’s.
Sandra had taken one look at them and dialled 911.
Now there were lights flashing on their lawn. The lawn Henry mowed every Saturday. Regular as clockwork.
Who’d mow the lawn now?
The nice EMT’s pried Juliet away for a check-up, but kept Paul with her while he had his.
Marie’s information was brief and unhelpful. A zombie-creature with bones coming out of her body had burst into the kitchen… and then she’d woken up and Henry was dead.
Therefore, the EMT’s turned to the only living witness who was conscious during the entire attack.
“Hi, honey. My name’s George. What’s yours?”
“Her - her name’s Juliet,” said Marie. “She’s six.”
Juliet shook her head. “The monster man said he was taking my name back… he said Daddy stole some other kid’s name… so he was taking mine.” She began crying. “Maybe if I stay Two Thirty-seven, he won't come back…”
“What else did the monster man do?” asked George.
“He hit Daddy a lot an’ he put numbers on my arm.” Juliet - or Two Thirty-seven - showed her left arm.
“OmyGod…” whimpered Marie. “That’s the serial number of one of Henry’s *files*.”
Juliet filched a marker pen from George and drew over her numbers.
“What are you doing, honey?” he asked.
“They’re fading,” she complained. “I gotta keep 'em. If I keep 'em, maybe he won’t come back. Maybe he won’t hurt anyone else.”
A solemn-faced policeman arrived into their little cluster. “Ma'am… we were able to revive your husband. The medical team’s taking him to the nearest trauma ward, right now.”
A siren started up as an ambulance lumbered through the cul-de-sacs of their neighbourhood.
Tears fell. She’d thought he was dead. How could she think he was dead? What sort of person *WAS* she?
“Does the phrase, 'Nie weider’ mean anything to you?”
Marie shook her head.
Her daughter put up her numbered arm. “I know what it means. I learned it in social studies. It’s Jewish. They don’t want the concentration camps to happen again.”
“Jewish,” said the cop, taking notes. “Uh-hunh.” After a few minute's scribbling, he added, “Mutant nutcase for sure.”
Shawn answered the 'phone. “Talk to me.” He waved a finger at the mutants. He only really spared that courtesy because they could argue with him.
“We’ve got a problem. Turn on CNN.”
Without a by-your-leave, he did.
“…just in. An horrific mutant attack on a suburban family. Police report that Henry Greenwood was viciously attacked by a band of mutant psychopath monsters…” the screen showed a jumpy handicam shot of the Greenwood family. Mr Greenwood being wheeled into an ambulance. Mrs Greenwood appeared to be both bald and nursing a baby. An anonymous Greenwood child huddled in a blanket. “At this time, no-one has claimed responsibility, but the police are investigating the Jewish phrase, 'Nie wieder’, written on the wall…”
“It’s 'nee veeder’, dumbass!” Scott heckled. “Not 'niy wider’. And it isn’t Jewish, it’s *German*!”
“We need a press statement,” said Dann’s boss, still on the 'phone. "We’ve been telling our public that the X-Men are there to protect people from the Big Bad Mutants out there. They’re going to ask questions. Questions like, 'Why wasn’t there a warning system?’ Do your job, Dann.“
"Yes, *sir*,” Dann hung up, and speed-dailled his people. “We need an emergency press conference *stat*. We need to work out a mutant activity alarm and response times that make the EMT’s look like little old ladies with zimmer frames and we need it *yesterday*. Make it happen.”
Scott squinted at the TV screen through his glasses, leaning forward as Dann rattled on in the background. Suddenly he pointed, grabbing the remote and hitting 'record’ before anyone could stop him.
“Hey,” Ororo protested. “That’s my tape in there.”
“So I’ll buy you a new on,” Scott replied as the article ended. He jabbed at the buttons, rewinding the snippet of film and replaying it in slow motion on the oversized monitor. Abruptly he paused the picture completely, shifting onto his knees and pointing at a small smudge to the left of the reporter. “Is that… Jean?”
The others all crowded forward, peering at the grainy image. “Y'know, I t'ink it is,” Remy said at last. “Why she be hidin’ behind dat buildin’? Look like she don’ wan’ nobody to spot her.”
“Maybe she does not,” Piotr said with what he hoped was a wise air. "But why would she be there at all? Was she not at her photo shooting today?“
"Photo shoot,” Scott corrected absently, “And yes, she was. She called me earlier, said the session ran over time.”
“Doesn’t explain what she’s doing at the crime scene of a mutant attack, though, does it?” Alex put in, helpful as ever.
Scott didn’t grace his brother with a reply, instead chewing his lip and staring at the unmistakable short red hair and hoop earrings peeping almost culpably around the side of a wall in the background.
_Jeannie, what the hell are you up to now?_