Written by Erik Garkain 2018
Genevra was stuck in the middle of a riot.
They’d interrupted her early morning pancakes at an artisan coffee shop only a short walk from her home. It was one thing she did to spoil herself for the week and she’d barely made a dent in the three-high stack when the commotion from both ends of the street stole her calm. At first it was people gathering quietly, but the street soon filled. And it was Jokers. It didn’t make her feel any safer. As a recent victim of the virus, she did not want any part of any riot that was about to go down. Genevra felt her skin flush with panic and she tried to regulate its colour. Only a month ago she’d woken up on a regular Sunday morning, just like every other one before it, only this time her skin was green. It was a pretty green if she thought about it, but green nonetheless. Whenever her skin heated, like when she touched something, or when she was flushed, she turned yellow.
At one end, only a hundred metres away, a picket line of Jokers assembled. The Jokers weren’t angry; they were just sitting, silently blocking the road. They were barely a few rows deep, perhaps fifty at a stretch, and she feared what would happen when the angry mob of hundreds reached them. She wanted to be there, to stand with them – with her own kind – but she couldn’t bring herself to move. Her trembling hand still clutched a fork full of wavering pancake.
The angry Nats spat their vitriol, their stomping boots getting closer and closer. They were out in force, coming down King William Road – the main thoroughfare through the city – with their placards, shouting their venomous catchphrases to the ogling crowds gathering blocking the footpaths. They wanted the South Australian government to forcibly cure its Wild Card population.
The Nats had the numbers by at least three to one. It was a standoff. They reached a young man sitting, head bowed, holding a sign that read, We will not be cured. Behind him the Jokers stirred, waiting for something to happen.
Two men in bandanas, pulled up to cover their faces, approached the young man. ‘You’re an abomination!’
The young man raised his head, the skin on one side of his face scaled and pitted like a desert lizard.
‘Freak!’ One of the men wrenched the Joker to his feet. Behind him, the rest of the Jokers rose in unison, but the young Joker shushed them with a wave of his hand, holding them back.
No one saw what was going on until it was too late and Genevra could not find her voice to warm them. The man flicked off the cap of a needle and forced it into the Joker’s upper arm. Nothing for a moment. Then he convulsed. It was like the footage circulating online, the cruel memes floating around with the tagline: the only good Joker is a dead Joker, of people who’d been intentionally infected with the Wild Card virus.
The young Joker collapsed.
How many syringes did the Nats have?
Murder. It got the crowd moving. Nats murdering Jokers in broad daylight. Leaving the young Joker in his final agonising thrones of death, the two men looked at Genevra. She wasn’t hidden behind the small protection of the other Jokers; she was caught between both groups, out in the open, exposed. Finally unfrozen, she wrenched herself to her feet, but the chair toppled over and she lost her balance, tangled in its legs.
The groups clashed.
The Jokers didn’t have superpowers. None of them could overwhelm the volatile group beyond what brute strength they had. And the Nats had more. The Nats had weapons. They pulled bats and crowbars from their backpacks and beneath jackets. Most of them found blood. Many Jokers fell in violence and bloodshed. Two men in white lab coats ran to catch up with the felled bodies. They handed out syringes like medication. The Nats injected them.
Genevra didn’t want to be trapped in the middle of this. It wasn’t long before the two men caught up with her. There was nowhere for a Joker to go in this clashing crowd. The onlookers were disappearing, safe behind the privilege of not presenting as Wild Card, not wanting to risk their lives for a battle that wasn’t their own.
‘You’re pretty, for a freak.’ One of them pawed at Genevra and she squealed at his touch, jerking away.
‘Are you kidding Dan? She’s fucking green!’ His friend mocked.
‘That’s not so bad. At least she doesn’t have scales or an elephant nose.’ He bent her head back to inspect her face. ‘I wonder if she’s normal down there.’
They both laughed. ‘Don’t. You might catch something.’
‘Please,’ she sobbed. The man tugged at her pants waist.
‘Tell you what, pretty freak.’ He grabbed her by the hair and dragged her into a doorway away from the cacophony. ‘I won’t give you the cure if you do something for me. All this killin’ of freaks is making me real frisky.’
She struggled with his grip, attempting to pry his fingers from her. ‘Please. Let me go.’
‘Pete, make sure none of them come this way.’
‘Sure Dan, but she’s going to bite it off, or you know, give you something nasty.’
‘No, she won’t. Not if she knows what’s good for her.’ Dan slammed her against the back entrance of a building. Her head smashed against the doorframe and lolled to her chest. Stars floated on the edges of her vision and she tasted blood.
When a shadow filled the side street she thought she was hallucinating. A corporeal form within the darkness grabbed Pete and rocketed him against the building with such force that a splat mark of blood remained after his lifeless body crumpled to the ground. Before Genevra could blink, the shadow had appeared behind Dan and thick tendrils corkscrewed around his neck.
He dispatched the Nat as easily as he had the first and discarded the body as if it were a paper doll. ‘Are you alright?’
She nodded and burst into tears. ‘Thank you.’
‘Are you hurt?’
‘No, I’m sorry. I’m okay, truly. Please—go help the others.’
He backed away, then evaporated into shadow once again.
She followed his darkness back out onto the main road where the bloodshed was overwhelming. The shadow fell between the battling forces; though to call the diminished Joker side a force was giving them too much credit. The few remaining survivors were barely doing just that. The Joker-Ace hybrid changed everything.
He materialised amidst the battle and let out an earth-moving roar. Everyone stopped and stared, flinching at the power. The couple with the syringes fumbled for their supply but the hybrid was a blur of movement, their whole cache of needles upended into their own supple flesh before they could protest. Their bodies fought the black queen, twisting and convulsing in violent spasms.
The Nats stared up at the hybrid. Most of them fled, and he let them go, but some didn’t. They stayed to fight. They couldn’t compete with the hybrid’s power. His shadow forced its way into their mouths and filled their lungs, their chests expanding until muffled pops left their bodies limp and lifeless. And he was so fast. Others advanced as a group, but in seconds their broken bodies quivered on the ground; arms snapped at shoulders, legs broken in half.
The streets were soon empty of rioters. The ground was littered with the bodies of dead and dying Jokers. Lingering onlookers were coming over to tend to the wounded – but the wounded were few. Dead Jokers. Dead Nats. The smell of blood was thick in the air.
The hybrid stood still at last, unmoving at the head of the group. His black eyes surveyed the scene around him. His broad chest rose and fell with every breath. The shadows had lifted but darkness was still heavy around him. Behind, what few Jokers could stand, gathered.
He turned to them, all the Jokers staring wide-eyed.
‘You’re the one from the TV,’ a voice from the crowd cried. ‘You attacked the scientist.’
‘No, he didn’t,’ said someone else. ‘He saved the scientist. And the reporter.’
‘You saved us all.’
‘You’re a hero!’
The mutterings and adorations fell away, waiting for him to claim his victory. Waiting for him to say something, to take charge, to lead them ahead… anything. The hulking Joker did nothing.
Genevra processed all that had just happened. To think it had gone on in broad daylight. None of them were safe anymore. The Wild Card virus was harmless against an already infected person, so what had been in the syringes? Was it the recently developed ‘cure’? Or a bastardisation of it? So far, no stories of success had been released about the infamous cure, only stories of other people who knew someone who had been cured. Stories on TV of people swearing they’d been cured, with out of focus ‘before’ pictures, and no real proof of anything. Things like that had happened before, so it was totally plausible. Now they’d weaponised it. Look what they'd done to her kind. If not for Talon, far more lives would have been lost.
Overcome with gratitude, she stepped forward, fumbling for the hybrid’s hand with trembling fingers. He was massive – his hand could have crushed hers with a mere muscle twitch. ‘Thank you.’ It felt woefully inadequate but she needed to say it. She stared up at him, the others receding. It was just her and him. ‘What’s your name?’ she asked.
He looked down at her, at her hand still clutching his. ‘Talon.’ His voice was deep, guttural, like too many cigars and whiskey. He too ignored the people around him, finding an anchor in her.
‘Thank you, Talon, for saving me from those monsters.’ She released him and dropped to her knees, the exhaustion overwhelming.
His dark eyes watched her, searched her, and she felt exposed but it didn’t creep her out. Around her, the remaining Jokers followed her lead and bent the knee. All of them, one after the other until there was no one left standing, but him.
Genevra stared at them, the emotion an immovable ball in her throat, tears collecting in the corners of her eyes. She turned back to see Talon’s reaction.
His brow furrowed as he looked over every single one of the kneeling Jokers. Lastly, he turned to Genevra. She offered a smile. It’s not what she’d intended, but how else could they thank him? He could help them. He could change things. She saw the future and it was beautiful. And they could help him. She could help. The tears fell silently down her cheeks and she brushed at them, her vision blurred.
Remnants of shadow flitted away into the daylight, and just like that, Talon was gone.