The Evo world is forever turned upside down when a man named Dr. Nathanial Essex begins a project known as Shadow Cell from which the lives of Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 are changed forev...
Chapter 11: Extraction
In a small, confined room with white padded walls, a young girl looking no older than eight or nine years old was locked in like a caged animal. The room looked as though it had no entrances or exits...Giving off the feeling that there was no escape from this confined prison. However, despite this the young girl showed no signs of emotion on the surface. There were no tears in her eyes or sobs from within, for this was a place she had been forced to stay many times before...But that didn't make it any easier for her because this place was practically the living embodiment of all her nightmares. This is where reality itself seemed to blur and all her tortured memories and feelings manifested as if they were as real as the metal claws in her body.
She was stoic and emotionless...But she was not this way by choice. In her brief life, she never once got a chance to do something as simple as choose, feel, or experience anything else every other human being experiences. She was brought up by her creators to be sub-human...No will, no desire...Nothing. She didn't even have a real name like her creators did...All she had was a number. She was X23...A living, breathing weapon meant to do one thing and one thing only...Kill.
Outside the nightmarish prison that was X23's 'punishment cell' to the rest of the people who worked with her, a middle aged woman stood anxiously as she watched activity within the halls of the super secret Hydra complex reach a fevered level. Everybody was rushing around, moving equipment, and burning incriminating documents. Everything they had all worked for after so many years was falling apart around them. And for the woman who had created and headed the project that brought this young little girl known only as X23 into the world, it was a truly desperate time.
Dr. Deborah Riesman had been a part of the X23 project for nearly a decade. After 22 expensive, unsuccessful attempts to recreate the Weapon X project, she and her team at Hydra finally managed to make a successful specimen that had everything Dr. Cornelius had to work with all those years ago and then some. Through her own blood, sweat, and tears she created this beautiful little girl in the image of Weapon X...This girl that would later endure treatment meant to dehumanize her in every way, shape, and form. And while she knew this was a part of the plan from the beginning...Dr. Riesman truly had no idea how deeply it would affect her conscious with each day of rigorous torture that was inflicted upon her from her birth.
X23 was never meant to have emotions. She was meant to be a soulless, fearless killer that would never rebel, question, or have second thoughts of any kind. Every single sense of individuality that made a person who they were was stripped away, leaving nothing but a shell to mold and shape into the perfect killer that they all so sorely wanted. Hydra went to great lengths in order to accomplish this. They used physical, mental, and psychological methods to make her more machine than human while at the same time training her to kill. However, as with Weapon X, this did not go entirely as they had hoped.
X23 was already a killer even though she was only eight years old...But the rigorous torment she had to undergo every day of her life since she was born had taken its toll on her. Many times, she lost control of her anger and would rage uncontrollably in a berserk fury of torment and anguish for all the things she was not allowed to feel. This yielded many 'punishments' for her over the years...Punishments that Dr. Riesman was often forced to watch. Everything from beatings with rifle butts to the solitary confinement she was being subjected to now were means that Hydra used to make sure she would never feel any sense of self or individuality...But no matter how much they punished her, it didn't stop her from feeling it.
Seeing other children and families while witnessing the emotions people felt all around her brought out so many things that she didn't even have words for to describe. They taught her only what she needed to know in order to be a killer and emotions or individuality wasn't one of them in their eyes. She didn't even know what it was she was being used for. Was she just meant to kill? And if so, why? Why did they want her to kill? Why did they have to treat her so harshly if they just wanted her to kill?
Dr. Riesman was tempted to unlock the door and let her out before the chaos got any worse, but she knew that if she did, it would only mean more punishment for the little girl that she helped bring into this world of torture. The project had been created with huge hopes and now all those hopes were falling apart around them. All those hopes had been met with little progress that never lived up the expectations of their superiors and after so much time and money spent, they were finally turning on them. No matter how hard they tried or how much they pushed this little girl, they could never bring her to the level that their superiors wanted...And because Hydra made many deals in many high places, they ran serious risks of being seriously reprimanded for not delivering. And the fact that there were plenty of organizations like SHIELD out there that were just itching for an excuse to take them down didn't help their situation to say the least. In their line of work...Failure was dealt with harshly and severely. And where Dr. Cornelius had failed with the original Weapon X...They had failed as well and with the creation of new competition, Hydra could not stand the pressure and was now finally falling apart under the stain.
"Come on Deborah! We have to get a move on!" said Dr. Riesman's chief superior that had been overlooking the progress of the project since their last head was fired for corrupt dealings with private investors interested in exploiting their research.
"But...What about her?" she asked, still unwilling to leave the little girl she had created and allowed to be tortured so much over her brief life.
"Forget about her!" he said sternly as several armed Hydra guards passed them, looking as thought they were ready for all out war, "The project has been officially terminated! They gave us an ultimatum that they knew we couldn't meet, and that's pretty much Washington lingo for it's over!"
"But we worked so hard...We accomplished so much," argued Dr. Riesman, still not budging from her position right outside X23's punishment cell, "We can't just abandon her and let them kill her!"
"Deborah...Face it," said the angry man as he looked down with utter distain at the woman responsible for this young girl's creation, "This little bitch is the reason why Hydra is about to go up in flame! We poured countless resources into her...Resources that have cost our primary fundraisers millions and we haven't been able to give them anything in return other then some messed up hunk of flesh that we can't control!"
"But she's still our life's work!" said Deborah, yelling back with nearly equal frustration at their grim situation.
"And she failed, Deborah," said the stoic man in an ice cold tone, "She failed in becoming everything we wanted her to be. She failed in the same way the original Weapon X failed. Now all that's left is to leave her to the military where they'll probably dissect her in hopes of one day making another Weapon X...One that will probably fail every bit as miserably as this one."
Deborah Riesman didn't respond to those cold words even as she watched so much of what she worked so hard on fall apart around her. Everything she had worked so hard for and lost so much sleep over thinking about each and every night was all crumbling before her very eyes, but she stubbornly refused to accept it...Not wanting to give in to that which everyone else knew was already true.
"Come on Deborah...Hydra's officially dead. Forget about X23 and get the hell out of here while there's still time!" he said as he grabbed her arm, but she quickly shook free.
"No...I'm staying," she said sternly.
"Deborah...Don't be a fool! Are you really willing to die for a girl who has just destroyed you and your career?" he asked, growing all the more anxious with each second that ticked away towards inevitability.
"I'm not leaving her...She's my life's work," she said, intent on staying until the bitter end.
Time was running out...Hydra was about to go out with a bang. The older man that had developed such bitterness towards the little girl that had drained so many resources that he was almost glad that she was about to be annihilated along with the cursed project that had been the undoing of all those involved. However, Dr. Riesman, one of the chief architects and one of the most brilliant scientists Hydra ever had, was not willing to let it go.
"If you stay...You'll probably die with her," he said coldly as more armed Hydra guards passed them, "But, if that's what you want...So be it."
After that, the head of this doomed organization grabbed an assault rifle along with the rest of the Hydra guard units and prepared for battle...For they knew the end was near. X23 didn't know what was going on outside, for she was still trapped in this world that she had been forced into by the people of Hydra. In this room, so many of the painful memories of how she was brought up here flashed before her as vividly as they were when she first experienced them. All the training, conditioning, and torment she underwent played over in her mind...Reminding her that she was not a person...Just a weapon. And while she was trained not to have any emotions whatsoever...That didn't stop a slight tear from falling down her face as she sat motionlessly in a corner, unaware of the true turmoil that was going on outside this tortuous prison.
Outside the perimeter of the main Hydra facility right up against a high, chain-link fence, several dark, unmarked vans lay in wait for the coming storm that was looming over the area. Hydra was coming apart...SHIELD was on its way to make sure of it...But neither of them knew that they would be mere puppets in a ploy that was to work against the both of them while one party benefited completely.
Two of the vans contained fully armed GURSO soldiers, but in the main van, Dr. Essex was in the driver's seat and Magnum was right next to him brandishing her guns in preparation for the daunting task at hand. Behind them in the back, the four mutant recruits of Shadow Cell sat in wait for what they were told was going to be a moment of vital importance for them and the unit. While they were kept in the dark about many of the details, they did know that this involved a new recruit. And from what they were told about this new recruit's condition...They would most certainly have to be there in order to help their newest teammate.
"Are you ready Magnum?" said Dr. Essex, breaking the ominous silence that had been strictly maintained since their arrival.
"I'm always ready, Nathanial," she answered in a stoic tone as she did a final check of her prized 44 caliber magnum that she wielded with such unparalleled skill.
"Good...Now remember, you mustn't let anybody see you or leave any trace of your presence behind at the scene," he said even though Magnum still seemed focus on preparing herself for the task at hand, "We were lucky to get a layout of the facility thanks to the efforts of the General, so be sure to use all the data we have to your full advantage. X23 is your primary focus and if anybody gets in the way...Make sure they'll never reveal anything about our involvement."
"Don't worry comrade," she said confidently as she placed her trusty gun back in her holster and looked ready to go, "You of all people should know that I NEVER fail."
"Indeed I do Magnum..." he said with a grin as he checked his watch, "Now SHIELD will descend upon the facility at any moment now and once they do, you'll have a maximum window of ten minutes."
"I only need five," she said as she opened the doors and stepped out, "Just keep the van ready and leave everything to me. I'll have our last recruit...You can count on it."
"I most certainly will," answered Magnum, knowing the fireworks were about to start soon, "Godspeed my friend."
Then, without another word, Magnum shut the door and made her way up to the fence. Both Dr. Essex and the children of Shadow Cell watched as she performed an impressive acrobatic maneuver and flipped over the barbed wires on top and landed softly on the ground. They kept watching her until she was out of sight, leaving only the lights in the distance coming up from the vast Hydra facility that was brimming with so much frenzied activity.
"Watch carefully my children..." said Dr. Essex to the four mutant kids sitting quietly in the back, "A mission like this is but a mere taste for what you'll be doing in the future. You're all still young...But don't forget that every soldier comes of age sooner or later. And with this new recruit, you'll be a complete unit...So start preparing yourselves now. The time is fast approaching for each one of you...And once it comes, you'll be a lot more than a mere collection of soldiers...You'll be warriors of Shadow Cell."
Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda stayed silent, but they took those words to heart as they waited eagerly for their last teammate. They only knew so much about her and they didn't know what to expect, but nevertheless...As teammates, they would help her in the way they had come to help each other. And hopefully, this fateful night would be the one that would forever complete them both as a unit and as a team.
As Magnum quickly made her way past the perimeter, she used her powerfully honed agility to avoid the sensor placements that riddled the ground. Even though it probably wouldn't have mattered if she tripped one given Hydra's current state, she did it anyway out of habit since this was still a stealth operation and secrecy was the top priority.
As the vast facility came into view, Magnum stuck to the shadows and stayed low as she observed the movements of the frantic Hydra guards that were scurrying throughout the area like a vast array of confused rats. It seemed as thought order had broken down and numerous officials were barking out orders, but few were really following them in the current confusion of the situation. Equipment, files, and drums of chemicals were being frantically loaded into large trucks, but it was done in a highly disorganized manner...Which would only make things easier for Magnum.
As she snuck up to the main rear of the facility were many of the trucks were being loaded up with equipment, she hid behind a series of creates and quietly made her way to the rear entrance. She stayed out of sight, but once the true chaos started, the clock would start ticking and it would be a race against time instead of a struggle to maintain stealth.
Checking her watch, Magnum knew there wasn't much time left before SHIELD would attack. She didn't have a transceiver on her or any kind of com-link since strict radio silence was crucial in order to keep this mission secret, so she had no way of being warned about a coming attack. However, this did not worry her in the slightest because in her mind, once all the Hydra guards were distracted by SHIELD, that would make her job much easier.
Then, as she was a mere couple of feet from the secure rear entrance, she heard a distinctive sound in the air over the loud noises of truck motors and incessant shouting. As her mind quickly processed what I was, a slow grin spread across her face...For she knew what it was.
'Perfect...' she thought as she whipped out her silver 44 caliber magnum with one hand and grabbed a large knife with another, 'Time for the chaos to being...'
Then suddenly...A huge explosion rocked the facility as several 500 pound bombs exploded around the area, destroying roads, paths, and other gates of escape...Boxing in all those present in the facility and sending off a wave of panic.
"THEY'RE HERE! SHIELD IS HERE!" yelled one of the main Hydra officers as soldiers scrambled to recover from the shock.
The power flickered and flames began to erupt from within the building. Out in the front, a fleet of advanced AH-72 Tomahawk attack helicopters...Aircraft that didn't even exist in the eyes of the public, appeared out of the night sky, breaking their stealth as wave after wave of SHIELD agents descended upon the ground and swarmed the facility head on, catching Hydra's soldier's by complete surprise. Nick Fury was in one of the helicopters and was barking orders to secure the area and cut off any and all routes of escape, but Hydra quickly began to fight back despite the shock and armed several M1-A1 Abrams tanks and manned a series of anti-aircraft guns.
The night sky was soon filled with the lights of the exploding ordinance, but SHIELD didn't let up in its assault as they quickly stormed the area, taking out guard after guard while igniting a path of destruction in their wake. Yet unknown to them or Nick Fury, they were doing Magnum a big favor as many of the guards that had been in the rear area were now storming towards the front in order to help with the fighting. Since the rugged terrain in the rear made an assault there unlikely, they seemed to negate their guard, giving Magnum he window she needed to do her job.
As the power flickered on and off once again, the mechanical sliding door at the rear was forced open by a group of armed Hydra soldiers as they stormed out and headed around the corner in the same direction where Magnum was hiding. Feeling as though she was ready to make her move, she jumped out of her hiding spot and fired five shots with blinding speed and skill, killing each of the five fully armed guards before they could even get a single round off.
With the door open, Magnum wasted no time and running in and heading deeper into the facility, but as she made it through the first round of halls, she was suddenly met with three armed Hydra guards, each equipped with illegal Eastern European made MP5s.
"Hey you! Stop!" yelled one of the guards.
However, those would be his last words as Magnum skillfully fired off three quick shots with near superhuman speed, sending them all falling to the ground. Other guards seemed to hear these shots and quickly made their way over towards Magnum's vicinity...However, she was ready for them as she took cover behind a corner and waited for them to get closer as she changed the clip in her gun.
"Over here! I think she went this way!" she heard one of them say.
Then, as they neared her corner, she sprang into action, using her advanced CQC skill to disarm the lead guard before he knew what hit him, put him in a choke hold, and use him as a human shield as she faced down six other fully armed soldiers.
"Wait! Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" choked the guard who was now in Magnum's death grip, but unknown to him...That was the worst possible thing that his comrades could have done.
Their hesitation was their undoing as Magnum wasted no time in getting off five perfectly aimed shots that downed each guard in the span of a few seconds. And once she was done with them, she used her knife to cut the throat of the man she had used as a human shield, letting the blood burst from his neck as she discarded the body off to the side and made her way back down the narrow corridors to her target.
The lights were continuing to flicker and the regular locking mechanisms that usually secured the doors were no longer working. This allowed Magnum to get through each security level with relative ease as she occasionally ducked behind a corner or in an empty room to avoid being seen by the guards as they rushed by, intent on getting out of this facility before it was turned into a big pile of rubble by SHIELD.
After making her way to the level five security area, Magnum encountered two more security guards, each of which she easily downed with two well fired bullets, but as the sound of her gun echoed through the hall, it reached the attention of Dr. Deborah Riesman, who was still at the door of X23's cell.
Dr. Riesman knew what was going on outside, but she had no idea that SHIELD soldiers would get this deep into the facility so fast. Hydra was on its last breath and she had known that for some time now as conflict and corruption tore apart the once proud organization. But for her and the project that she had dedicated so much of her life to, it was hard for her to let go. Since her creation, Dr. Riesman let X23 undergo dehumanizing treatment every day of her life. She watched the truly awful affect it had on her and she never said or did anything about it. Now in the twilight hour of Hydra's existence, her conscious was finally catching up to her as she waited for the inevitable...Praying for forgiveness for everything she had done.
Then, as Magnum showed up at the prison entrance that housed young X23, she was met with the sight of a distraught, desperate woman clinging to the door. Looking up at the imposing Russian woman, Dr. Riesman felt a new wave of fear overtake her as she backed up against the wall in a state of fear and hysteria as her life's work was coming apart all around her.
"Who are you?!" she demanded, "Are you here to kill X23?!"
"No..." said Magnum simply as she put her knife away and took out two guns, one of them being her beloved 44 magnum, "I'm here to rescue her from this corrupt, insane organization that has done nothing but use the gift of science to dehumanize."
"No!" she said in response with near insanity in her tone, "I won't let SHIELD take her! I won't let anybody else use her!"
"You used her...And you didn't feel too bad about that in all the years you've stripped from her all the things that make a person human," quipped Magnum stoically as she took a step closer with both her guns looking ominously ready to blow this woman away as they had done with everybody else that stood in her way, "Now, only as everything is coming apart all around you, your conscious finally catches up...And you think that because of this you can find some sort of repentance."
The look in Dr. Riesman's eyes became moist with tears of sorrow, for she could not deny what this mysterious woman was saying. As she watched her take a step closer, doing a few gun-slinging tricks to show her skill and add to her fear, her legs began to grow weak and all she had to support herself was the wall.
"Why do you want her? Why does SHIELD want her? They can't use her...Fury knows that," said Dr. Riesman, seeming as though she was on her last whim.
However, Magnum simply scoffed at the woman's words, for they meant nothing and she was merely trying to delay the inevitable.
"You're right...SHIELD can't use her," she said much to Dr. Riesman's surprise, "But who says I am an agent of SHIELD?"
"Then...Who are you?!" she demanded angrily, sounding as though her sanity was pretty much gone at this point.
Magnum's stoic face did not flinch in the slightest as she pulled off one last impressive gun-slinging trick. Then, in the blink of an eye, Magnum used her secondary gun and shot two perfectly aimed bullets right into Dr. Deborah Riesman's chest. As she let out a pained scream and fell to the floor, she was quickly consumed by blood. Magnum had made sure that she hit her in a way that would keep her alive for a few minutes at the most, knowing that it was only fair that she suffer in a way similar to those who she inflicted suffering upon. Magnum may have been a stoic killer, but she still had a sense of justice when it came to instances like this.
As Magnum walked up to the dying woman before her as she lay flat on her back, bleeding and dying fast, she tried to say something. Blood was quickly filling her lungs and she was choking on her own bile...But still, she tried to speak one last thing before she gave into the darkness.
"X23..." she struggled as more of her body was soaked by blood, "I'm...Sorry...."
"No you're not..." said Magnum as she stood over the frightened woman as she looked to be on her last breath of life, "You only say that for you...Not for her. You say that because you are begging for forgiveness over what you have knowingly done to her. Well guess what? Everybody must pay for their sins sooner or later. And for someone like you...Someone who shuts out ever sense of remorse or humanity until she now faces the ultimate judgment in the next life...I do not feel an ounce of compassion for you...Instead, I pity you."
Dr. Riesman's eyes began to fill with tears of blood, knowing that everything she had done in her life was her fault and hers alone. She had sat by and watched as X23, a little girl she helped create, was tortured like an animal. And during all this time...Not once did she step in and stop it...Not once did she allow for any sort of compassion. And now she was about to die...She was about to leave this world after having done so much to corrupt it.
"Your final tears should not be one of fear, Doctor," said Magnum as the power flickered again, "They should be tears of sorrow...For you will need all the sympathy you can get for where you're going."
Then, with one final motion, Magnum pointed her silver 44 caliber magnum directly at the head of Dr. Deborah Riesman and pulled the trigger...Blowing a single, death dealing shot to her head and splattering it's contents all around the area...Ending her life once and for all.
With the final obstacle out of the way, Magnum put both her guns back into the holsters strewn throughout her body. The door before her had an electric locking mechanism to keep whoever was inside secure, but because of the failing power it had failed and with one hard kick from Magnum, the door was open and X23 awaited her.
As soon as Magnum entered the small, cramped white padded room, X23 was suddenly brought out of her weak state of mental musing and her animalistic rages quickly took over as she unsheathed her claws and lunged forth at the Russian born mercenary. With a roar that reminded Magnum of a raging grizzly, X23 attacked her with every bit of intent to kill her...But this was something she had anticipated based on what she had read about this girl and easily countered with CQC.
X23 tried a series of horizontal slashes with her adamantium claws, but each time Magnum easily blocked them with her forearm, swatting them away and countering each move she tried. Then, as she tried a few stabbing motions and vertical slashes, this made her vulnerable for just long enough for Magnum to grab her arms with her firm grip and put X23 in a hold.
"You shouldn't struggle little one..." she said, showing no real strain in her accented tone, "I'm not here to hurt you..."
However, the raging animal in X23 that Hydra had so ardently trained throughout the course of her life with torture and conditioning the likes of which no human being had ever been forced to go through broke free from that grip and went on the attack again. But this rage was uncoordinated, uncontrolled, and easily countered for a well trained fighter like Magnum. Her movements were very fast and her reflexes were beyond anything human...But she was still driven by too much rage and that made too many of her movements easy to predict and counter. She was only nine years old and her body was not as strong as the fully grown, fully trained woman before her that had pretty much every advantage over her with her size, weight, strength, focus, and skill. However, this didn't stop her from trying as she attempted a series of moves that started with a stabbing motion, but would end with a spin move and a kick. But as she tried this, Magnum's many years of experience was easily able to see and counter this as she veered off to the side of the stab, stopped her spin move by grabbing her forearm, and using her free hand to grab her leg as she tried to attack her with whatever free limbs she had. But knowing that time was of the essence, Magnum delivered a swift combo of her own in response and threw the young girl back into the padded room with her uncanny strength.
"Fighting is not going too get us anywhere..." she told her in a calm, collected tone, "I am not your enemy...The people who have tortured you are your enemies...And I am here to take you from them."
X23 was quick to get back up, but her words sent a wave of memories through her mind as she remembered all the torment that Hydra had made her go through. It made her saunter somewhat as she recalled so much pain that had taken away so much of her humanity, yet despite all this torment and conditioning...Her human side just couldn't be suppressed. Every time she was forced to see another family...Every time she saw the slightest hint of emotion in the eyes of those around her...It triggered the deep yearning that clearly existed within her as she tried to keep it from overpowering her, yet time and time again it proved to be something that she could not forget no matter how hard she tried.
"Who...Are you?" said the young girl in a tone wrought with a mixture of anger and inner turmoil as more explosions caused the complex to shake.
"I am one who can help give you that which Hydra has taken away," she said stoically as she took out one of her guns, "I am a part of an organization that takes individuals of great power such as yourself and refines them into a force that does not just kill...But makes a true difference in the world. Everything you've fought for now has been without reason or purpose...You simply do as you are programmed like a dog. But come with me...And I can help give you purpose...One that Hydra could never give you. I can teach you how to be strong...Not just physically like you clearly are...But mentally as I know you clearly aren't."
The mysterious woman's words caused X23 to freeze, for many of the concepts she was talking about were completely alien to her. Yet as she thought back to all the times she was beaten and used by Hydra for a purpose that had never been clear to her in the slightest, the human side within her that had been so desperately suppressed all this time began to take hold as a slight hint of tears formed in her eyes at the onset of so much confusion for the young girl that had been dehumanized for the better part of her life.
Magnum, however, seemed to pick up on this and walked over towards the young girl, unafraid of her retaliation as she presented to her a gesture that greatly shocked and surprised the young girl.
"Here..." she said, presenting the living weapon with one of her guns in a gesture of peace, "Take it...And if I let you have it, then you'll know that I am not your enemy and I am not here to hurt you."
X23 was definitely suspicious about this gesture as she looked at the small firearm being presented to her. Nobody had ever done something like this for her and such a situation was very overwhelming in many ways since Hydra was coming apart and her life had always centered around it. Yet her instincts knew that this was not something to be ignored as she slowly reached forth to take the gun. Part of her thought that at any moment, this woman would simply turn the gun on her and blow her away...Yet with each second that passed, that did not happen. The lights were still flickering, but this didn't seem to register for either of them as X23 finally reached forth and took the gun...Which Magnum let her have.
"You see...You can trust me little one," said Magnum as she let the young living weapon take in the gravity of the situation, "Just let me get you out of here and I can take you to a place where you can learn that which you have been denied. Come with me...And you can become something much more meaningful than a mere weapon of Hydra."
The word Hydra triggered so many burning feelings within the young girl as she looked down at the gun that Magnum had let her have. Such a gesture was not something an enemy did in a fight. Giving her a gun...One that she could simply blow her away with and end the fight...Was not the action of any mere combatant. No...This was something much more and X23's young mind struggled to ascertain it. However, she seemed to understand that what this woman was saying was sincere. She could hear it distinctively in her voice and smell it in her unique scent.
X23 had been denied so many things in life...Yet now, she was given an opportunity that she had never been given before...The opportunity to choose. Choice was not an attribute of a weapon...It was an attribute of a human being. It was an alien sensation to her since she had been forced to do everything in her life. Yet the chance to fight these painful memories...The chance to prove all those who had tried to dehumanize her wrong...It was something the young girl truly yearned for deep down.
"Now come...Time is of the essence," said Magnum as she extended her hand to the little eight year old girl that had been put through so much rigor in her short life, "Take my hand...Leave behind Hydra forever...And find a new purpose in life...One that you can truly be proud of."
The human part of her mind was taking hold as she did something she had never done before in her life...She made a choice. As she looked at the extended hand of the stoic Russian woman standing before her, the look in her eyes changed from that of conflict and turmoil, to that of raw determination and drive. It was something that Magnum couldn't help but grin inwardly at, for it showed that this little girl had truly awesome potential as a soldier and warrior of Shadow Cell.
Finally, X23 gave back her gun and willingly took her hand, not knowing where this first major choice of hers was going to lead, but fully determined to see it through. As Magnum gave the young girl an approving look, she held her hand and led her out of the white padded room for what she hoped would be the last time.
"You have made a wise choice X23..." she said as they walked past the corpse of Dr. Deborah Riesman, "Take one last look at this place...For you shall never see it again. Now come...We must hurry. Your new life awaits you..."
Back in the van with Dr. Essex and the four recruits of Shadow Cell, the firefight between SHIELD and Hydra was lighting up the night sky in the distance as they waited eagerly for Magnum to return. Knowing they were still on strict radio silence, there was no way of knowing her progress. However, they were all confident in Magnum's skill, for if anybody could break into a super secure government research complex in the middle of an all out melee that threatened to demolish the whole area around them, she could. Magnum wasn't one of the greatest mercenaries in the world for nothing and as Dr. Essex checked his watched to see how much more window they had left...Suddenly, Magnum came into view with X23 close by.
"There she is!" said Dr. Essex as he turned back towards the others, "Open the rear door! We have to move fast!"
Following those orders without question, Vincent and Wanda unlocked the rear door and opened them in preparation to receive X23. Scott and Jean were standing by with first aid in case she needed it, but as they all waited anxiously...The ominous noises of jets flying overhead echoed through the air. The proud facility that was once the hub of Hydra was in flames as fanatic officials were mowed down by SHIELD guards as trucks, crates, and entire sections of the building exploded with deafening bangs that became louder and louder in the distance.
As Magnum and X23 got up to the fence, X23 unsheathed her claws and tore a hole for the both of them to get through. Knowing the sound of jets in the air was the tell tale signs of a surgical bomb strike, it was clear that it was time for them to make their leave. Magnum led X23 to the rear of the van where Vincent and Wanda helped get her in as Dr. Essex started the motor and flashed his lights, signaling to the other cars that they had what they came for and were ready to make their quick getaway.
"Go Essex!" yelled Magnum as she jumped into the passenger seat, "Drive!"
Not wasting anytime, Dr. Essex slammed on the gas pedal and led the other vans away down a bumpy dirt path back towards the main roads. Then, just as they got out of sight under the thick cover of the trees, a deafening explosion lit up the area they had been overlooking as the Hydra complex exploded in a fireball.
"Cutting it a little close, aren't we Magnum?" commented Dr. Essex as they made their way down the rugged terrain.
"We still succeeded, did we not?" quipped the Russian mercenary, "Hydra is dead...We have X23. Everything went flawlessly. It is a key victory for Shadow Cell."
"Indeed it is..." said Dr. Essex with a grin as he looked back to see that Jean had helped the dazed X23 fall into a deep sleep with the help of her telepathy, "And now our team is complete. Everything we have worked for is going better than I ever could have hoped. Now we have what we need to make Shadow Cell a true masterpiece...For this is merely the end of one key phase and the beginning of another."
As the convoy made their way back towards the Shadow Cell base in the dead of night, strict radio silence was maintained until they got back, knowing it was always possible for the ever nosy forces of SHIELD to pick up on something. Once they got back, the main scientists had already prepared the bio-mutagenic accelerator for X23. She was still out cold thanks to Jean, but as soon as she was taken out of the van, Dr. Essex sedated her and ran her through his machine for her enhancements.
Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda stayed with the unconscious little girl the whole time, getting to know as much about her as possible from Dr. Essex and Magnum. Needless to say, they were quite shocked when they heard about the inhumane upbringing she had been forced to endure. To grow up and have everything taken away was one thing, but to be born into a world where all hints of individuality and self were stripped away was something that not even the four mutant kids could fully comprehend. They had endured a harsh life, but X23 was in a league of her own with being trained and tortured like an animal. Hell, she didn't even have a name...Just a designation.
After learning as much as they could about the young girl, they watched as she was put through the bio-mutagenic accelerator. Because of her healing factor, it would take her a fraction of the time to recover compared to the others. And since her body and DNA were already very advanced thanks to Hydra's tampering, there wasn't much to modify so it was easier on her overall. They just needed to make her a shadow class mutant.
Her enhancements weren't as radical as the others, but Dr. Essex was enthusiastic about them. Most of her enhancements centered around her reflexes and reaction time, which was greatly advanced to a truly superhuman level for an eight year old girl. Her healing factor was also matured to the point where she had near instant regeneration capabilities...Which would certainly come in handy on the battlefield. In addition to this superhuman agility, her strength levels were also enhanced to a level far more advanced than any being of her stature, boarding on the line of Captain America levels...Although it was nowhere near that of Vincent or Scott when he was energized. But with all this in conjunction with her adamantium claws and superhuman senses, Dr. Essex was very optimistic about making her the final member of the Shadow Cell unit.
Once the process was done, Dr. Essex ordered X23's unconscious form to be taken to her new bedroom instead of a hospital room. Given how she had been treated by Hydra, he felt it would be best if they showed her that Shadow Cell was more humane and hospitable. In addition, her healing factor made any need for medical oversight unnecessary and the only thing they had to worry about now was getting her adjusted to such a dramatically different program compared to that which she was used to.
"I love it! This whole thing turned out better than I ever could have anticipated!" exclaimed the Colonel as he, the General, and Dr. Essex stood outside X23's door where she and the other four recruits currently resided.
"Indeed it has Colonel," said the General, also sounding quite pleased with how things were going for them, "Not only did we just stick it to Nick Fury, but we also took the only thing our competitors had against us. Now X23 fights with us and our unit is complete."
"Are you sure just five recruits is enough?" asked the Colonel.
"Trust me, Colonel..." said Dr. Essex confidently, "These five strapping young lads are plenty. They have all the qualities we need to make a good solid unit. Using any more would be unnecessary and more costly than it needs to be."
"Oh I don't think cost should be our concern anymore, Doctor," said the General with exuberant grin on his face, "I just got off the phone with the higher ups in Washington and they're all ecstatic that everything went exactly as planned. Now we have their full support even from the old Hydra hardliners since we managed to save the fruits of their labor. But the best part of all is that now we have officially obtained all their funding and it now supplements our own. So Shadow Cell is officially flushed with cash!"
"Yes, and don't forget all the military hardware Hydra had access to," said the Colonel, showing his uncharacteristic support for the success of the situation even though he had been a chief critic of it, "Now we have at our disposal a complete arsenal of advanced equipment from all over the country that we can use for future missions. It should make our jobs that much easier when the time comes."
"Indeed it shall, Colonel," said Dr. Essex in agreement, "This is truly a momentous day for Shadow Cell. We have officially beaten our competition. However, I'm afraid we cannot take time to stop and celebrate. Now that we have our full team, we must work even harder to turn them all from just a bunch of young superpowered kids...To a team of all out soldiers."
While Dr. Essex was discussing future plans to develop the team, inside X23's new room the four mutant recruits of Shadow Cell hovered curiously over their new teammate. She was still unconscious, but since she was now apart of the team, it was their job to make sure that she knew she was in a friendly place when she woke up. One of the things they had all learned about being in Shadow Cell was the importance of showing comradery both on and off the field of battle. And for X23, who never had any such comradery, it was vital in the eyes of Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda to show her that which she had been denied.
"So how do you think she'll manage when she wakes up?" asked Wanda as they all stared curiously down at the eight year old girl that had once been trained to be a living weapon.
"Well she'll be confused...No doubt about that," said Jean confidently.
"Yeah...We all were at one point when we woke up," said Vincent in a deep tone as he looked down at the unconscious little girl, knowing all too well how it felt to be treated like an animal in a laboratory.
"All the more reason to make sure we're here when she wakes up," said Scott, "She's clearly been through a lot and Dr. Essex said she may need some separate mental conditioning off to the side of training in order to undo what Hydra did to her."
"I don't think something like that can ever be undone, Scott," commented Vincent, speaking directly from his personal experience.
"But then...How do we help her?" asked Wanda as she turned towards Vincent, clearly seeing the somewhat distraught look in his eyes.
Vincent was silent for a moment, for he had been contemplating that very issue ever since he first heard about her. After surviving the torture of the Prodigy Project, Vincent remembered how slow it had been for him to recover. But it was different then because he didn't have any friends or companions there for him to help him when he needed it. It was only after he was taken in by Father Michaels when he began to really recover, but it was still something he struggled with. In X23's case, she had suffered unparalleled, dehumanizing treatment and never had a soul to comfort her during all that time. Maybe in this instance, they could give her that which it took Vincent so long to find...But would it work for a girl who had been so dehumanized that she didn't even have a name?
Suddenly, the silence that had fallen over the room was broken when X23 began to stir from her unconscious state.
"Hey! She's waking up..." said Jean as she began to get a few projected thoughts from her mind, "Careful...She's still a bit confused."
As the others waited anxiously, young X23 felt as though her whole world was spinning. Her mind was fuzzy with confusion and her memories about what had happened were choppy at best. She didn't know if she was still in Hydra or someplace else. But either way, she wasn't in the white padded room and that was somewhat of a comforting feeling for her.
However, as she woke up...She felt something different about her surroundings. For one thing, the bed she was sleeping on wasn't hard and bumpy...It was actually soft and comfortable. The room she was in didn't feel confined or cramped and the air didn't reek of Hydra personnel. Instead, she was met with the scent of four distinct figures, but they smelled nothing like Hydra and didn't trigger her usual defensive response.
"Easy...You're safe now," said a female voice as her vision and hearing began to clear.
Then as she became more aware, she was met with the sight of an older girl with red hair, a boy of the same age beside her with brown hair, another boy with short dark hair, and a girl that with short black hair. Out of habit, she unsheathed her claws even though she was still somewhat out of it, but the figures were quick to respond peacefully.
"It's okay X23...We're not here to hurt you," said Scott as he kept the tone in his voice as non-threatening as possible.
Although X23 was never one to talk much, for the first time...She was allowed to be curious about something. It was clear that these kids were not Hydra, otherwise they would have reeked of their stench that she knew all too well. It was an unfamiliar experience in an unfamiliar setting for young X23...Which only exemplified just how much she didn't know and just how much she had to learn.
"Who...Who are you?" she said in a deep, emotionless tone, "And where am I?"
"We're your new teammates," answered Wanda, "And you're in your new room."
"My...Room?" said X23, since she had little concept of ownership.
"Yeah...This is your room," said Vincent, shifting his tone in order to make sure he spoke soothingly so as not to agitate her, "You're in your new home."
"New home?" she said, still feeling a bit unclear on what was going on, "What about Hydra? Where's Hydra? Won't they come to get me?"
"Don't worry about those assholes anymore," said Jean, "You're safe from them. Hydra is completely gone...They were all destroyed."
"Destroyed?" she said in a dazed tone as she withdrew her claws and rubbed her head, groaning in frustration over what was going on, "Then where am I? What do you want with me?!"
"Easy, easy..." said Vincent as he saw a look of anger threaten and turmoil fall over the young girl's face, "We want to help you. Everybody here wants to help you."
"I don't need help..." she said sternly in response.
"Yeah...That's what we all thought too at one point," said Scott, watching as the young girl grew increasingly frustrated as the lingering affects of Hydra still hung strong upon her, "But you're here now. You're not with Hydra. You're not with those evil people who made you suffer and feel nothing but pain your whole life. They're gone now...And you don't have to keep living under the effects of what they did to you."
The look on X23's face shifted as she looked away from the four young mutants of Shadow Cell. Being reminded of all the things Hydra put her through was always harsh for her. The vivid memories of each rigorous test, trial, and punishment hung so strongly in her mind that it was almost as if she relived it every time she closed her eyes. Even though she was trained not to have emotions, such memories made her feel a great deal of pain and sorrow...Almost to the point where it brought tears to her eyes, but she always hid them...For showing weakness had always let to more punishment.
"Hey, come on...It'll be okay," said Wanda upon seeing the traumatized young girl turn away from them in a fit of emotional strain.
"How can it be okay?!" she shouted at them, "You don't know me! You have no idea what they did to me! I...I don't even know the words to describe it because I was never allowed to! You don't know...You don't know..."
She was clearly becoming hysterical with everything that had happened to her, but as she began breathing in somewhat ragged gasps, she felt a warm hand upon her shoulder...One that didn't feel threatening or evoke a defensive response within her. For some reason, she found herself reaching up and taking that hand and turned to see that it belonged to Jean, who simply stood her ground along with the others to show that they were here to help her...They were not like Hydra and they wouldn't hurt her.
"Maybe we know better than you think..." said Jean, speaking in a lower tone, "You're right...We don't know you. But you don't know us either. You don't know what we've been through."
"How can anybody ever understand..." she said bitterly, "How can anybody ever know what it's like to..."
"Be thrown into a cage and get tortured every day of your life by some tall, scary guards who seem to take a perverse pleasure in watching you suffer?" said Vincent, finishing her sentence before she could even find the right words, causing young X23 to react with unabated shock, "Yeah...I know. Believe me, I know."
The dark, hollow look in the young man's eyes told no lies and X23 knew it. She knew that look all too well and as she looked around, she saw that same expression on the faces of all the others as well. To her, it was a confusing revelation...Finding out that there were other people who had suffered like her. Her whole world had been Hydra for so long...She had no idea that others like her even existed. Yet here she was...Sitting in their presence, unable to deny the emotions this was causing her deep down.
"We all have our tragic stories..." said Scott as X23 began to calm down from her earlier angered state, "But that's why we're here...To move past them...To rise above them. Here...We are taught not to be mere weapons...We are taught to be soldiers. We are individuals, yet we operate as a team...We feel, yet we don't fret."
"There's a whole new world for you to explore X23," said Jean, sensing that her mind was finally beginning to ease, "We once thought there was no hope out there either...But we all proved ourselves wrong and now we can work to take what we have been blessed with to truly make a difference in the world."
"Yeah...And now your one of us," said Wanda, feeling that if what this younger girl had shown her was any indication, then she was going to be one hell of a Shadow Cell soldier, "So from this point onward...Don't ever think that you're alone...Because now you have a new life...A new chance."
"A new life..." said X23, taking a moment to process the sheer magnitude of this moment.
"Yes...A new life," proclaimed Vincent, "You are now one of us...You are now a part of the team. It'll be a rough adjustment, but you won't have to go at it alone...Not now, not ever. Because from this point on...You are a member of Shadow Cell."
X23 may not have been all that experienced with feelings or emotions, but there was something about the words that these four new friends of hers that made her look at her world differently. And despite so many lingering uncertainties, she actually managed to smile somewhat. This simple gesture caused the others smiled back at her, triggering a mysterious warm feeling within the young girl that she didn't understand, yet took comfort in knowing that her future may not be so bleak after all.
AN: Well there you have it! Shadow Cell is officially complete! Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 are now the ultimate team of mutant soldiers and they have a long road ahead of them. Stay tuned to see just what kind of soldiers these five mutant recruits turn out to be as they live, learn, and grow together along with Shadow Cell! The team is formed...And soon the true impact of this dramatic change in the X-men Evolution universe will come into perspective. But until then, don't forget to REVIEW with each chapter! Send your feedback to me via email or post it on the fanfiction website! I hope you all have enjoyed this story thus far because there is plenty more to come! Thanks for readying everybody and I wish you all the best!
SHADOW CELL IS NOW WHOLE! CELEBRATE IT'S COMPLETION BY REVIEWING!!!