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Feature of the Month
For November, 1998
DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to Marvel. The world belongs to Marvel. The author belongs to Kielle.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, this one's a little long. I tried very hard to get the characters right, and the legal issues and continuity. I apologize for anything that is unclear or blatantly wrong. All in all, though, by the end, it should all be clear.
SPECIAL THANKS: Abyss beta-read this. He did a heroic job, catching all of the points I tried to gloss over, all the legal issues that I didn't want to deal with and all the character points I forgot. I owe him a great huge mug of Guinness, I have to say. Abyss, thank you!!! This story worked out because of you!
I'm waiting in my cold cell when the bell begins to chime
Reflecting on my past life and it doesn't have much time
Cos at 5 o'clock they take me to the Gallows Pole
The sands of time for me are running low
When the priest comes to read me the last rites
I take a look through the bars at the last sights
Of a world that has gone very wrong for me
Can it be there's some sort of error
Hard to stop the surmounting terror
Is it really the end not some crazy dream
Hallowed Be Thy Name -- Iron Maiden
Jennifer Walters was sitting in the most uncomfortable chair she had ever had the misfortune of resting her six-foot-ten emerald-green Amazonian frame upon. The problem was not the cramped quarters which had her so tightly packed that her fingers and toes were losing circulation. Nor was it the lascivious leers coming from the prison guards standing by the door. It was not even the fact that juggling her super-hero and professional careers had resulted in her being here with a wrinkled skirt and a blouse with an embarrassing ketchup stain over her left breast.
What had Jennifer Walters writhing was the fact that she was here to watch her client die.
Her client did not appear to her to be the cold-blooded murderer that everyone else saw. There was something almost noble in the sedate young face of the person sitting upon the electric chair. She set her jaw and forced herself to remain outwardly calm.
Jennifer had never been in this position before. She had rarely ever tried cases where the death penalty was invoked, and had not lost one of those before now. Her personal convictions were that capital punishment was wrong.
But the lives of three people had been lost, and the state of New York demanded justice.
Straps were put into place and cinched tight. There was no struggle from the victim now. The time for that was past, she knew. Now was only the time to accept and prepare.
Jennifer briefly entertained the thought of a heroic rescue. In point of fact, she had already thought long and hard on the subject. There had never been a more unjust verdict, in her opinion -- a point validated by how quickly the state had moved to the execution phase.
The first mutant execution was as much a matter of politics as it was one of justice. Both the D.A and the Mayor had ridden to re-election on the success of their state in this trial a point she had tried and failed to make in court. No one had wanted to hear that her client could not get a fair trial surrounded by so much publicity. It made her ill just thinking about it.
Rescue was just not an option, though, and she knew it. The prison authorities had objected strenuously to her presence at the outset. The only way she had finally been allowed in was through an agreement which had resulted in the loan of special weapons to the prison guards.
Weapons that had been designed with the Hulk in mind.
Jennifer could not do anything for her client even if she wanted to; which she did more desperately every minute. Since she did not want to find herself in a cell of her own, however, she focused on keeping her considerable temper in check.
In an effort to distract herself, she tracked back over the events that had lead up to this travesty of justice. All of the litigation and appeals had done nothing but delayed the inevitable. The razor-sharp sword of justice was about to fall.
It was, perhaps, appropriate that it had all begun in the Morlock Tunnels. From all she had read and heard through the course of her research for this case, the subterranean labyrinth seemed to be a breeding nest for misery...
To most people, the crepuscular, dank tunnels beneath New York were an anathema. Boiling over with rats like a festering wound oozes pus and reeking of methane and detritus, few people would voluntarily venture into the maze.
There were rumors, too -- stories of ghosts that lured children into the darkness and never let them go. On cold winter nights one could, if one listened, hear the panicked wailing of people dying carried on the chill breeze. Though no one knew the Morlocks or what fate had befallen them, most everyone could sense the tragedy soaked into the stones -- a carnal reek that touched the soul like unto that which plagued such places as Auschwitz and Dachau...
To Sara, it was, and always would be, home.
She had grown up in the maze of tunnels. There was a perverse comfort in the endless shadows beneath the lighted streets. It was familiar to her and, despite soul-scarring memories of one fateful day that had sundered her childhood, she was most at peace down here.
The X-Men didn't want her around, certainly. She knew that. It was convenient to her, though, since she had no desire to be around them, either. Despite the presence of her Angel and the somewhat tolerable Bobby and the pleasant-though-she-would-never-tell-him-so Sam, she could barely stand being around the self-righteous heroes.
Down here, too, was the last person she would willingly admit to caring about. Callisto lay in failing health after being terribly wounded. She had brought the one-time Morlock leader down here for sanctuary, a place to find healing.
Sara simply refused to accept the idea that Callisto could die. If she believed it for an instant, she knew, it might just come to pass.
Marrow frowned slightly when she saw a bright orange "X" spray- painted on one of the tunnel walls. She was too far in for it to be one of those vandal gang-banger taggers, and it was no gang symbol she recognized anyway. Judging by the symbol smeared on the wall, it was on all likelihood the beginning of some kind of anti-mutant slander.
The question was, where had the little misfits who had started it run off to?
Sara slowed down and started skulking more quietly though the tunnels. Now that she was paying attention instead of wandering around like a brain-dead flatscan, she could sense the intruders.
There were surface-slugs in her home.
"Lucky you didn't just walk right into them," she told herself accusingly. She reached behind her, not finding any protrusion that was actually "ripe" yet. So she gritted her teeth and snapped off one within reach, letting the pain that sent shooting through her fuel her anger. "'Hi, I'm Marrow, your mutie chump for the day, how would you like to murder
Voices ahead of her marked the enemy's location. The casually thrown words also showed that the intruders were not concerned about someone finding them, which probably meant that they were just people here on some innocuous errand.
Sara crept closer until she could make out what was being said.
"...we should be able to punch right through this wall."
"Looks like a stable flooring too, Bob. The budget boys will be thrilled to know we won't have to spend a fortune on laying a foundation."
Wry chuckles responded to the man's statement.
Humans, she thought bitterly. The most unwelcome kind of intruder. Fortunately, they were the sort who scared easily. She'd be able to run them off and be at Callisto's side in just a few minutes.
Marrow crouched low like a hunting cat and prowled around the corner. There were five men that she could see, each adorned with ties and hardhats. Harmless, unthreatening in both appearance and demeanor, none of them appeared to even notice her.
She detested the thought of flatscans in her domain and she intended to demonstrate her displeasure.
"Clear the way!" someone else shouted, just beyond her intended victims.
A pair of blue-jacketed humans were carrying a stretcher towards her. Another one -- a policeman, she saw -- was carrying a clear bag alongside the stretcher at eye level. Two more cops flanked the stretcher. One was pushing the tunnel-workers out of the way of the procession while the other muttered a report into his radio.
"Hey, is she gonna be okay?" one of the workers asked.
"Not sure yet. What the hell was she doing down here?" one of the blue-jacketed men replied.
Sara caught a glimpse of her on the stretcher.
Thought became more of an addendum to action than a precursor to it for Sara at that point.
"Leave her alone!" she screamed, advancing on these intruders with a hateful look.
"Jesus. H. Christ!" one of the cops yelped.
"What the hell is that?" a stretcher-carrier gasped.
Marrow punched that one in the face and lunged at the second one carrying the stretcher.
The cops and construction workers grabbed her and hauled her away from Callisto, despite her frantic struggles. They were each of them stronger than she, and all together she could not overpower them.
But she could try...
"We're taking her to a hospital," one of the police shouted over her inarticulate screams.
"Do you know her?" another one asked her.
"She doesn't belong with you!" Sara hissed. "Put her down or I'll kill you all!" She got an arm free and clawed at one of the blue-jacketed men. 'Damn these humans!' she thought.
"We're trying to help, lady, now calm down!" the first cop ordered.
Sara stomped on a foot and ripped free from their hands. Her mutation betrayed her, though, for one of them was able to get a hold of a growth jutting from her left ulna. With that handhold, she was pinned for a moment.
"My...god..." the cop whispered.
The much stronger policemen yanked her back a step, using his macabre grip to its fullest. The bone snapped off as she struggled, sending a wave of nausea through her as the not-quite-ripe growth broke. She redoubled her struggles within a heartbeat, thrashing and flailing like a wildcat. Her elbow smashed into one of their faces and there was a scream.
Her blood was high, though, and so she did not so much as pause.
"Pin her down!" one of the workers, watching all the while, shouted.
Sara ducked around a clumsy grab and spun, kicking one of the slow-moving surface-slugs in the gut hard enough to knock him flat. They pressed in on her now, grabbing and swinging at her and trying to subdue her.
A nightstick hit her hard across the backs of her knees, but that hardly stopped her. Her knife slashed outward, cutting through and flesh within reach.
A tazer took her in the back, though, and the fight was suddenly over.
The manila folder landed on the table with a rather pathetic "thwump." Sara did not so much as blink, her eyes fixed straight-ahead. The orange prison-overalls hung on her like rags on a scarecrow. The inhibitor collar around her throat blinked and blipped as it countered her body's continuing efforts to mutate her bones.
She tried not to remember the first moment very often -- when the ignorant prison officials had clicked the damnable device onto her and her mutation had been silenced. The bones had stayed, of course -- only without her power dulling the pain of her sundered flesh or supporting the inhuman skeletal structure.
Even after the surgery she had ached all over.
"Sara, I'm Jennifer Walters. Your friends have hired me to represent you."
"Friends?" she snorted at the green giantess.
"Yes," Jennifer affirmed. She looked quite odd, dressed in a custom black suit as she was. As a hero and a fighter, the attempt at elegant professionalism made her look almost ridiculous.
Sara had the sense to not laugh.
"Now then, you're facing three counts of first-degree murder, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon and a single count of attempted murder. That's quite a laundry list. Care to tell me your side of it?"
Sara leaned back in her chair, an arrogantly defiant smile on her face. "So, they send a freak to defend a freak. How appropriate."
"My name. It's Jennifer, not freak. Keep that in mind."
Sara shrugged indifferently. "Whatever."
"Thank you," was the cool response. "Now, if we can continue?"
"Sure, Jen," Sara replied, all smiles.
The tall woman gave her a warning glare. "All right, now what happened?"
"We fought, they lost. End of story."
"Three of them died. Six of them were hospitalized. One of them is still in a coma. That's a bit more than an average street brawl," Jennifer countered.
"So? Is it my fault that nine men couldn't beat one woman?"
The green-hued lawyer sighed heavily and shook her head. "You'll have to come up with something better than that before you go before a jury."
"Well, what started the fight? Was there some mutant slander? A sexual assault, perhaps?"
Sara laughed out loud. "Oh yeah, that's it. They were overwhelmed by my gorgeous bod and lost control." The sarcasm positively dripped from every word. "It happens to me all the time."
"All right," Jennifer snapped, her gaze dangerous.
"Hey, speaking of, is it true what they say? Did you really get to be She-Hulk by swallowing Bruce Banner's choad?"
The table snapped in two and collapsed.
Jennifer, on her feet and quivering, stared at Sara with agate-hard eyes. A guard came in, but she waved him out. "Enough." Sara folded her arms defiantly, refusing to be intimidated. "You think you're a tough-as-nails, wise-ass, heroic rebel, I know. Well, I've got some tough reality for you. The state of New York wants to see you dead for these
crimes and I'm the only one who can keep it from happening. The judge and jury won't be amused by your childish attitude and your pre- pubescent humor. This isn't a game and it isn't for fun. This is more real than anything you've ever experienced. If you want to live to see the millennium, you'd better climb down from your high-horse and
knock that chip off your shoulder and give me some god-damned cooperation. Got it?"
Sara stared at her, unable to mask the glimmer of terror dancing in her heartless blue eyes. Her pale skin took on a sickly pallor and she shivered.
"It doesn't matter what I say. They're gonna kill me no matter what. Why bother?"
Jennifer sat back down, a wry smile on her lips. "Why not?"
She had tried every legal maneuver that she knew -- and had even invented a few new ones along the way, but it had not been enough. Her arguments, clearly-spoken and inspired though they were, had not swayed any of the three judges that she had come up against. The juries that she had struggled so hard for during the selection process had also proved unsympathetic.
There was an irony there, of course. The United States trial system was set up to give the accused a trial by a jury of his peers. Such had not been the case here. She had tried desperately to get a couple of mutants on one of the juries, but those candidates had been the first that the prosecution had picked to be removed.
The one truly solid defense that Jennifer had found for her client was a severe, deep-rooted childhood trauma. She had summoned one of the leading hypno-therapists in the country to testify on what Sara had told him while under.
The prosecution had parried that move with testimony from the police chief that emphatically stated that there was no evidence now or then of a massive slaughter under the streets of New York.
And what could she do to counter such irrefutable evidence?
The only living witnesses to the crime that he had known of were the X-Men, but calling them would have been utterly futile. Each of them were guilty of any number of minor or major crimes -- a fact that the prosecution would gleefully use to undermine the given testimony.
There had been only one single hope -- something mentioned to her by Warren when she had interviewed the X-Men who had been witnesses. Thor had been down in the tunnels during the killings, and as a former teammate, she was able to call in a favor.
The prosecution had thrown a fit at her motion, though. The judge had ruled against her on the grounds that the jury could not be expected to believe the testimony of a man who claimed to be the ancient Norse god of thunder.
So, piece by piece, Jennifer had watched her case come apart. She knew that she had done her best. There were just too many factors involved -- racism, for one. All three juries had been made up of at least two mutant-haters -- or at least Jennifer had suspected as much. Her attempts to link a few of the jurors to the Friends of Humanity had failed, though.
Politics, too, had played their part. The D.A., the governor...even the judges...each had known that sending a mutant to the chair was a good P.R. move. It would show everyone (and most especially their constituents) that no one was above the law.
Amnesty International had gotten involved, and about a dozen other anti-death penalty groups, but they had met with the same failure Jennifer had. There were people who normally opposed capital punishment that were in favor of this execution.
The trouble Jennifer was having, though, was that of all her cases, this one had been the one she had need to win the most. Failure was not so bad, but now a life was lost because of it and the knowledge made her ill.
For the first time, she started to empathize with Sara's bitter cynicism.
Sara's death sentence, when it was decided, struck the X-Men very hard. Never in their history had they been in so difficult a position. They had lost friends, certainly, but not like this. This was far, far worse, because they were being asked to stand by and watch.
Scott knew the dangerous temperaments of his friends. Living just outside the law as they all had for so long, with only each other for support, had made them a rather insular group with loyalties that superseded laws and personal danger.
Bobby and Hank took up position on the couch, looking pensive and unhappy. They were some of his oldest friends. Scott knew he could rely on them, but he had summoned everyone so that he didn't give the appearance of playing favorites.
He did not know that burning in Bobby's heart was a burgeoning sense of responsibility. He had befriended Marrow and brought her in with promises of safety. To abandon her now would be breaking his word. The idea of betraying Sara that way made Bobby furious.
Sam was sitting in a chair with his head between his knees and his hands in his hair, obviously torn right in half by the circumstances. Scott knew the young man well enough that he trusted him, but he had called him in too.
Storm stood upon the stairs, her serene expression unfathomable. She had once led the X-Men, and since his return as leader, he had always felt that she judged his every action. Now he felt that scrutiny all the more.
Warren and Betsy were standing by the stairs, their faces expectant. They were obviously anticipating action. Angel, especially, who shared a connection with the girl that Scott did not even begin to understand.
Maggot sat cross-legged on the floor, as enigmatic as always -- doing what Scott assumed was cuddling with his symbiotes.
Dr. Reyes seemed aloof and indifferent, but Scott did not trust his reading of the woman. He still did not understand her very well. For all he knew, she might already be laying plans to break Sara out.
Jean stood next to Scott, as she always did, providing the strength and support that she always did in these difficult times. Her expression was serene and impassive, betraying nothing of her thoughts.
The psychic link, however, gave him an even more disturbing picture. He could feel an icy, bitter hate pulsing through his wife. It was unlike any feeling he had ever picked up from her.
Rogue and Joseph were still off on whatever personal business they had left for, and Bishop was still absent as well.
Scott looked around, frowning. His biggest worry was not here at all, and that was a very bad sign. He started to turn and ask Jean to do a telepathic search when the last X-Man finally made his entrance.
"I'm already packed," Logan growled as he walked into the living room in full costume. "Don't even try to talk me out of it. Ain't no bureaucrat gonna kill an X-Man while my old carcass is still moving around."
The furtive glances exchanged between a few of the others warned Scott that he had a potential mutiny on his hands. He gave the dissenters a stern, unwavering glance. He wanted to be sure that they understood that going rogue was NOT an option.
"Settle down, Logan," Scott ordered. "Before you all go running off half-cocked, you're going to listen to me.
"Sara got the best representation that could be bought. She was convicted by twelve people who don't know her from Adam. The state has spoken. We may not agree with it -- I certainly don't -- but we have no right to interfere.
"Do not forget that she killed three people. They had a right to live too. I'm not saying that this is right or fair, I'm saying that no one in this room has the right to make that decision.
"If you go and use your powers to break her out of prison, then you become the very thing we fight every day. You will be no better than the Marauders or Magneto or Apocolypse.
"Just because we have the power to do something, it does not mean that we have the right."
"Something tells me, maat, that you'd be whistling a different tune of it was Jean facing the chair," Maggot spoke up. "No offense meant."
"She wouldn't kill three people," Scott returned coldly.
"She didn't get a fair trial, Summers, and you know it. At least one of those juries was slanted against mutants."
"How do you know that?" Scott demanded.
"I could smell it," Wolverine snarled.
"Logan, I am forbidding you are any X-Man to intervene in this matter," Cyclops said sternly.
Logan shook his head and headed for the front door.
"Don't even push it, Logan. I'll blast you straight into next week and lock you up in cold storage if I have to." The set of his jaw under his glowing visor drove home the point that he was not joking.
Wolverine threw a feral glare over his shoulder. "Try it, Summers. I'll cut you open like before, only I won't let Dr. Reyes stitch you back up."
"You wouldn't be able to stop me," Dr. Reyes spoke up defensively.
A feral grin split the short, burly man's face. "Think not?" he challenged.
"Logan, stop," Ororo said sternly.
"Leave me be, 'Ro," the veteran warrior replied, more gently. "X-Men stick together, end of story. What she did ain't right, and if I thought she got a fair trial, I'd let it go, but we all know that she didn't."
"Wolverine, my friend, you must not do this. You will have us all branded as outlaws," Storm warned, her calm voice tinged with steel.
"We already are," Logan snapped.
"And you will destroy Xavier's dream. The dream so many have bled for," Ororo pressed, her tone emphatic.
Scott nodded slowly. Wolverine snorted bitterly and stalked off in the direction of the Danger Room to break some things. The meeting adjourned then, and with it went the brittle tension pervading the room. Each X-Man left, shuffling silently out.
Scott breathed a sigh of relief. "Amazing, they listened. It's nice to know they still have some respect for me," he breathed, looking over at Jean. "I'll need you to keep tabs...on...Jean, honey, what's wrong?"
Her green eyes were narrowed on him and her expression was colder than he had ever seen it. "I never thought I'd see the day that you turned on an X-Man."
Scott jerked backwards as if she had slapped him. He could hardly believe her reaction. "But...Jean..." he murmured, reached out to her.
"Leave me alone," she hissed and stormed off.
"They're going to kill me. I'm gonna die."
Sara had glared at the pinch-faced judge with venomous contempt when the judgment had been laid down. She had spat oaths at the jury when the bailiffs had taken her from the courtroom. Even Jennifer, whom she had come to admire somewhat (though she'd never admit it) had only received an ironic "I told you so" smile at the last.Now Sara was alone
and so, since no one would see her shaking, she gave into full-fledged panic.
She sat upon her cot with her knees drawn up to her chest and did her best to block out the idea of what it would feel like to have thousands of volts of electricity shot through her body.
"I didn't actually mean to kill them," she thought with a snuffle.
"Oh First One," she whispered. "I know what I did was wrong. But...I won't do it again. I've learned my lesson. If I could just have one chance...I'd do everything right..."
Sara meant it, too. She had never been more alone than she was at that moment, and it had her deeply frightened. Only now did she realize how attached she had grown to the X-Men... "Well, some of them anyway. Scott's still an insufferable, power-crazy -- okay, okay, right...I promised -- Scott's...nice..."
Sara was a warrior, and she truly did not fear dying in battle. The idea of sitting in this cell, though, until the men came to take her to her execution made her ill.
"I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid," she thought desperately. "I...I'm just not ready to die."
It was not her choice to make, though, and that knowledge -- that awareness that her life was no longer her own to control -- angered and scared her.
She ran her shaking hands over her goose-pimpled flesh, still amazed at the sensation of skin unbroken by protruding bones. The inhibitor collar around her neck had kept her mutations at bay for months.
Briefly, she remembered the look on Sam's face when he had first come to visit her. Had it not been for the glass separating them, she was certain that the blushing farmboy would have kissed her. Or tried, if she'd let him...
Sara did not allow herself such thought -- they were too dangerous. Hope was something that would break her here, and so she denied it to herself. In prison, he could not touch her and on the outside, she was a freak.
"That's life," she told herself. "Don't whine about it."
**************End of Part 1************
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