“Off our streets!”
“I’m England till I die, I'm England till I die…”
For fucks sake.
York Minster, midday. Hundreds of miles away, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, sits rotting in a jail cell, locked up for contempt of court for interfering in a child prostitution trial. The suspects in the trial happen to be Muslim, prompting him and fellow far-right pondlife to jump on it as the case of the century.
And now little Stephen is locked up for contempt, his coverage risking triggering a mistrial and setting the accused free. His followers, on the other hand, are alive and kicking.
Correction: alive and yelling. Vulgarities targeting anyone from gays and foreigners to the European Union, George Soros, the Masons, Marxists and Jews.
It's a big conspiracy. The biggest. You won't believe the size of our conspiracy, trust me.
We are gathered in Minster Gardens, two hostile crowds divided by a wall of police. On one side, young and old, waving flags - socialist, anarchist, trade union, Yorkshire, LGBT. On the other, a group of mostly middle aged white men wielding a wall of England flags and expressions that could slay the dead.
Every so often, a projectile - an empty bottle or can of lager - is flung from one side to the other. The police charge forward, force the crowds back. Then back to stalemate.
I draw near to the front of the crowd, a point where the two sides are close enough to hear one another, voices raised over the chants and profanity. A young person draped in a trans flag is engaged in a yelling match with a shaven headed man in his twenties on the other side.
Man: Dyke! Ugly fucking dyke bitch! I wouldn't touch you with a fucking bargepole pole!
Young person: In your fucking dreams! Bet you need a microscope just to take a piss you fucking fash cunt!
The police start to gather together, talking quietly, a commanding officer giving out orders. They look at the two crowds, sizing up numbers.
Suddenly, a roar goes up from our side of the crowd. I duck just in time to avoid a bottle as it sails towards me, bouncing off the wall of the church, shattering, sending shards of glass raining down. Moving as one, the Robinson supporters charge forward, pushing past police as they try ineptly to intervene, a wall of humanity rushing towards us.
I reach out, grab the young person from earlier, snatch them out of the way as the bonehead they had been yelling at made a beeline for them. He turns to me, snarls, shoves me backwards. I trip and fall, and he returns his attention to the young person standing terrified in front of him, trans flag wrapped around them.
He slaps them across the face, shoves them, tackles them to the ground. He raises his fist,punches them, reaches to do more damage and I run, jump, land on his back, arms wrapped tight around his throat. I pull him back, squeezing as hard as I can, holding tight as I feel him struggle for air. His body starts to sag. Then release, kneeing him in the back. He stumbles forward, falls to his knees, coughing and spluttering.
I turn to the young person. Blood flows over their face from a cut to the cheek, wincing, lower back clearly hurt when they fell. I extend a hand
Young person: Jean. What do we do now?
I turn. Six police are making a beeline for us, truncheons at the ready, cuffs in hand. Shit.
Omega: Nice to meet you Jean. My advice: run.
We turn, moving as one, charge out of the gardens. Police continue in hot pursuit, stepping up the pace, held back by the weight of their uniforms and the chaos of the crowd. We exit the gardens, out into the city centre, disappearing into the midday crowds out to shop and visit the walled city with no idea of the upheaval taking place a few streets away.
We take one side street then another, staying hidden in crowds and alleyways, make our way to the river and away, leaving the city behind us.
The sun shines bright, the birds sing in the trees. Adrenaline starts to fade. My arms are sore. I can still feel him, feel his body go limp.
Jean: Thank you.
Omega: Not a problem. Jean, wasn't it?
Jean: Yeah. As in Androgyne. Not a woman, not a man. Just...Jean.
Omega: You remind me of someone.
Jean: Someone special?
Omega: You could say that. They're one of my best friends. Or were. I don't really know any more.
We walk on in friendly silence. A boatload of tourists passes by. I hear a snatch of conversation, “She looks just like…”. Smile.
My phone vibrates. I check it. An update from my lover, recently returned from work on Project Starchild. All is going as it should.
How suddenly things change. A year ago, CWF was but a memory, something for wrestling aficionados to get nostalgic over and a source of quick name recognition when we were on the road.
Then the company returned.
Then Elisha returned.
And then we went to war.
The Academy and the Institute, itself divided between Elisha and Sunset. Three armies that unleashed unholy hell, devastation without regret.
Still now the Academy lies in ruins. My lover and I stand alone, rejected by those we once saw as friends, allies. Comrades.
They believe we betrayed them and they are right. We believe we did what we needed to do - and we are right, too.
Jean: You could have killed him.
Jean: Sorry. But - that man earlier. You literally choked him unconscious. A few more seconds and he'd be facing brain damage, maybe worse.
Jean: And you're fine with that?
Omega: It is what it is.
Jean: Doesn't that kinda make you as bad as them?
Omega: It does not. What matters is power and the pursuit of power. All else is commentary. Tommy Robinson and his ilk seek to target the most vulnerable and ostracised. Violence towards them, even if preemptive, is self defense and defense of others.
Jean: And if he had died?
Omega: He did not. Trust me. Anyway - we are nearly there.
We carry on down the river, turn left, up to a motorway. Past a series of burned out cottages, abandoned vehicles dotted here and there. Finally we end up at a large warehouse.
The windows are boarded up, walls covered in graffiti. We approach one of the side doors. I stand in front of it, turn to the left, wait a moment. There is a beep and a soft click as the door unlocks. I turn to Jean, looking on confused.
Omega: Iris recognition. Come in!
The warehouse is decrepit yet somehow elegant. Water drips from a broken pipe, erratic and unsteady.
The floor is littered with miscellany - old dolls, battered and broken, the Queen of Hearts with her mouth dripping blood. Porcelain models of twins stare out into nothingness, their eyes scratched out, mouths disfigured into ungodly grins. A walrus and carpenter stand locked in bitter battle, its tusks embedded in his torso, a hammer in his hand ready to strike.
Empty spaces form a path through the mayhem. In the centre of the vast room is a wrestling ring, surrounded by tall standing mirrors. Two sets of ropes are studded with broken glass, the other two missing, huge glass pits erected outside of the ring.
At the far end of the warehouse, written in fading paint. OMEGA'S FUNHOUSE.
Jean: What is this place?
Omega: Home. Well, sometimes.
We make our way through the assorted chaos to the end of the warehouse. Half a dozen beanbags lie in a pile, a refrigerator whirring unsteadily nearby. I open it, take out a pair of beers, hand one to Jean. We open, toast, drink.
Omega: So. Jean. What's your story?
Omega: It's pretty clear you weren't just there today because you wanted to be. You had to be. Right?
Jean: I...usual story. Trans teen in a conservative family who thought loving me meant suppressing who I was. I walked out on them a year ago, been struggling ever since.
I nod. No point in platitudes.
Jean: What about you? You're not just the average activist out for a fight or some social justice cred.
Omega: Long story.
Jean: Start short then. What is this place?
Omega: I...I was brought up in an organisation that makes what we saw today with the EDL look like a teddybears picnic. Was groomed to see the world their way and no other. Waited on hand and foot, kept in perfect isolation away from all but the highest level members. Treated like a Princess.
But it came at a cost. They made me do things. Terrible things. And made me watch as they did even worse.
As I grew older I saw through the bullshit, turned my back on them, fought my way out. Came to York.
Jean: Why York?
Omega: I have...roots here, after a fashion.
For a time I was on the streets. Found this place, watched it for a couple of weeks to make sure it was empty. Went in, cleared out the condoms and used needles, turned it into this.
Jean: And you live here now?
Omega: No. My lover and I live some distance from here. Yet this place retains its uses.
Jean nods. I drink deeply, smile as I feel the fluid flow through my body. Gaze upwards; the ceiling is a mural, painted by my lover and I years ago. Sky of deepest blue, dark red moon, the sun a shining white. Stars are a shimmering gold, twinkling down from on high, almost hidden behind storm clouds black and foreboding.
A prophecy and a warning, painted here by my own hand so many years ago. Now so terribly, horribly real.
I notice Jean looking around the warehouse, their eyes increasingly drawn to the ring in its centre.
Omega: Everything okay?
Jean: Sure. Just…the ring. You're preparing for a fight?
Omega: Always. But not here. That one's for training.
Jean: Where's your next fight?
Omega: Rhode Island. The US. Against a young man by the name of Azrael.
Jean: Who is he?
Omega: A snivelling, self-pitying little shit with both an inferiority complex and an ego the size of the I-Rex’s first poo of the day. Believes the world owes him something yet resolutely fails to do anything about it
Jean: Talentless, just looking for the easy way ahead?
Omega: Not quite. He's talented, certainly. But he lacks the drive to be anything more than an also-ran, a footnote when he could be an opening chapter. He cares little for himself, even less for others. Underwhelming and uninspired.
Jean: You don't sound impressed.
Omega: He is neither hot nor cold, genius nor idiot, he has the tools for greatness yet fails to use them. Instead he expects failure, sets out for mediocrity and is forever satisfied.
Happy to wallow by the fireside mumbling platitudes to himself as the world goes on without him. Squandered opportunities one after another.
If he could be one thing or another, hero or villain, champion or failure, that would be fine. Instead he hides away, content in his safe little mundane space where nothing ever has to matter.
In urgent times there is no room for neutrality and mediocrity. Azrael is a waste of space and a waste of my and everyone else's fucking time.
Jean: Can I ask you one question?
Jean: What are you really angry about?
Omega: Long story.
Jean: Well tell it. Not like I'm going anywhere. Except to take a piss.
Omega: Follow the yellow drip road.
They rise, make their way to the door sitting unsteadily on its hinges, edging their way through the blackness and onwards to the toilet.
I feel a vibration in my pocket, open my phone. Two messages. One from my lover at our home, the bunker under the ruins of what was the Academy. A stream of consciousness, updates on meals and sleeps and laundry mixed with thoughts on Project Starchild.
The other from…
For the first time in months. Why now?
I open up the message. It is a video. Footage from a security camera, black and white. My heart skips a beat as I recognise the location.
New York City.
That building in New York City.
The timestamp in the corner of the screen shows that the footage is from a few days ago. My lover steps into view, approaches the building, knocks in a certain order. The door opens, and I watch as I see myself step out, skipping into the sunlight, arms thrown around my lover's neck as we embrace.
Standing in the doorway, a group of men in expensive suits. They beckon him inside and he enters. I make my way away, bouncing from one foot to another.
The footage freezes, zooming in on the door as it closes. Small and discrete, a plaque just below the door knocker reads simply:
ORDER OF THE ONCOMING STORM
The image vanishes, the video blank. All I can hear is Caledonia's voice, ice cold.
Caledonia: I know what you did. You can't keep secrets forever. See you in Rhode Island.
The video cuts out.
Jean returns, rubbing their shins, victims of the lack of lighting in the bathroom. I barely register them, scrolling through my phone, drumming my fingers on my knees. I glance at them distractedly as the call connects.
Omega: Jean, I...I'll be with you in a moment, okay.
Omega: We have a problem.