Categories > Cartoons > X-Men: Evolution > Sinister Soldiers

Days In The Lives Of The Lost

by slickboy444 0 Reviews

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...

Category: X-Men: Evolution - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance, Sci-fi - Characters: Avalanche, Berzerker, Blob, Boom Boom, Cannonball, Colossus, Cyclops, Gambit, Iceman, Jean, Magma, Magneto, Mr. Sinister, Multiple, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Professor Xavier, Quicksilver, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Shadowcat, Storm, Sunspot, Toad - Warnings: [?] [V] [X] - Published: 2006/02/28 - Updated: 2006/02/28 - 9689 words

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Sinister Soldiers
Chapter 12: Days In The Lives Of The Lost


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"UP! UP! UP! YOU LITTLE MAGGOTS!" yelled the Shadow Cell Marine drill sergeant, abruptly waking Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Vincent Freeman, and the recently newly X23 from their light slumber.

Loud buzzers sounded, helping to quickly stir them all out of bed after having only been allowed a mere three hours of sleep. Instinctively, young Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda were quick to stand tall and firm before their superiors as GURSO soldiers entered their rooms, their high powered weapons fully armed and ready to blow them away while the high ranking officers entered to give them their morning inspection.

X23, however, didn't react so well, for she was still new and still used to Hydra, so when they entered, she instinctively unsheathed her claws and prepared to pounce upon the intruders.

"Erraaahhhhhh!" she roared as she jumped the nearest GURSO soldier.

"Not so fast girly!" grunted one of the soldiers as he used the butt of his high tech, metallic rifle to hit her in the head and sending her falling to the ground.

She was about to respond, but luckily Magnum was there to stop her...For she had a feeling her presence would be needed to get the former living weapon up and ready since she would probably still have her Hydra mentality drilled into her from the years of 'conditioning' she endured.

"Easy there X23..." she told her, abruptly grabbing her shoulders and stopping her in mid stride.

Her breathing was still irregular and her mind was still brimming with the instinctual rage and defensiveness she had been taught since birth. However, slowly but surely, she managed to calm herself thanks to Magnum's presence.

"It's okay little one..." said Magnum, seeing a hint of sorrow on her face, "This is but your first day...You cannot expect to overcome everything so soon. Even a thousand mile journey begins with the first step..."

X23 then managed to withdraw her claws, collecting her thoughts as she now stood before the imposing woman that had saved her from Hydra.

"Good...Now stand up straight before your superiors," she ordered, "You are no longer a mere weapon...You are a soldier! And soldiers stand tall, proud, and firm in every order they are given! They address each and every officer and comrade with respect! Because if you want to be human...You have to learn to respect them! And I will keep telling you that until you remember it! Is that clear?"

"Yes..." said X23, shaking off the blow to the head and forcing herself to stand up tall and firm as she had ordered.

"Bullshit! Say it not as a machine! Say it as a soldier!" shot Magnum in response.

"YES!" she shouted back, actually putting something into her words for the first time in her memory.

"Good..." said Magnum, giving her an approving smile, which seemed to speak volumes to the young girl, "Now come...It's time you begin your training."

Upon being escorted out of her room with plenty of GURSO soldiers on her heals, X23 met up with Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda, all of whom were walking along in close sync, each one of their moves carefully scrutinized by the surrounding guards. Not saying a word, she walked with them, simply following them down the vast halls of the elaborate, high tech facility which any normal human would have mistaken for something out of a sci-fi movie.

"Let me guess...Rifle butt to the head?" whispered Wanda under her breath to X23, seeing a slight mark on her forehead, which was already quickly disappearing because of her healing factor.

"How...How did you know?" she asked quietly, surprised that she had noticed it.

"Same thing happen to me on my first day..." she told her, the memory still fresh in her head as she looked back on it, "They stormed my room and my powers accidentally flared up...Earning me a bruise that lasted pretty much the rest of the day."

X23 was silent upon hearing that, her feelings about this strange new place still mixed. The others seemed to sense this in her demeanor, for it was an easily recognizable sight for them, given how they had all felt things like that at one point. And since she was now part of the family...It was up to them to be there for her.

"Don't worry X...It'll get better," assured Jean, "After a while...You get used to it. Just give it a chance. We'll help you...I promise."

Young X23 didn't know how to respond since human interaction was never her strong point. So for the most part, she just stayed silent. She would have to learn the basics all in due time...But for now, she would follow Magnum's advice and take it one step at a time.

*************************************************

As always, the mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell reported to one of the many labs of the base where they all went through their morning physicals. Dr. Essex was there waiting for them along with dozens of other scientists, all of whom were walking about, carrying out their specified tasks. Activity rarely waned in Shadow Cell and the five young mutants often found themselves at the center of it and this morning was no exception.

Ever since their first day at Shadow Cell, the young recruits went through physicals which usually included such things as drawing blood, testing reflexes, and EKGs to monitor internal function. This was done for many reasons, but it was mostly to track their stats as they grew while maintaining a strict level of scrutiny concerning their mutation.

Being surrounded by so many scientists and doctors was an odd feeling at first, but for the most part, it was something they got used to. However, for X23...It was a lot more trying since she had been surrounded by such people her whole life and had developed a rather harsh distaste for them over the years. Again, the others were forced to keep her calm, sticking close to her and lending what support they could.

"Easy X..." said Scott as they all sat up on an examining table to draw blood, "This is all standard...Nothing to worry about."

That didn't help much as her breathing became irregular once again, forcing Vincent step in since he went through the same thing when he first arrived as well.

"Hey...It's okay," he told her in an understanding tone, "I know how you feel...Believe me, I know."

X23 took a moment to look the former Prodigy Project specimen in the eyes...Taking in his haunting blue eyes that told so many tragic stories. As the scientists surrounded her, she found herself focusing on those eyes, trying to just get through this one test...But it was still hard because of many of those old feelings from Hydra just wouldn't leave her. Scott, Jean, and Wanda cast a worried glance towards her while some of the doctors drew some blood and got their vitals. However, Vincent felt that this was something only he could help her with...For he probably knew what she was feeling better than anybody there.

"Here...Take my hand," he told her, "I promise you, it'll be okay..."

Not arguing the matter, X23 found herself firmly grasping Vincent Freeman's hand as she closed her eyes and let the doctors get her vitals. And since a few of the doctors were still weary of her, Dr. Essex took it upon himself to be the first to handle such a task...But from what he could see and sense, young X23 was handling it quite well. There was still plenty she would have to overcome if she was going to become less Hydra and more Shadow Cell...But such things could not happen overnight.

X23 maintained a firm grip on Vincent's hand the whole time, which helped to steady her breathing and kept her from losing control of herself as she often did when she faced things like this with Hydra. But thanks to his actions...It was over fast and she could breathe a sigh of relief.

"See...It's no so bad," he told her, "It's over now. The first one is always the hardest."

It was her first major obstacle...And she had overcome it. It wasn't much, but it was a good way to start. And with this in mind, young X23 could only think of one thing to say.

"Thank you..."

"Anytime," said Vincent, actually managing a smile, which was rare for him or any of them for that matter.

Then, as she finally let go of his hand, Vincent took a moment to crack his knuckles a bit...Earning him somewhat of a humored glance from Scott, Jean, and Wanda.

"What's the matter Vince?" asked Wanda with a slight grin, "I thought you were invulnerable?"

"I am..." he said as he looked at his hand and flexed his fingers a bit, "She's just got a firm grip for someone her age."

"Hey...I think that's a good sign," made Scott, who could clearly see the signs of a good soldier in this young girl who had been created and conditioned to be a living weapon, "And complications aside...I think she'll fit right in."

*************************************************

After their physicals, the five mutant recruits were allowed a brief moment for a quick meal. They were led by a platoon of GURSO soldiers down to a small cafeteria where they were served a specially formulated type of oatmeal-like soup that Dr. Essex had concocted himself. It was packed with a vast yet carefully measured amount of nutrients that was specially formulated to keep them in peak health while giving their bodies everything necessary to grow stronger. In addition, they were also fed some pills and multivitamins, which weren't that different from over the counter type supplements, but specially tailored to their unique physiology.

Once they got their food, they were allowed to sit together at a designated table, which was always in the sights of at least half a dozen GURSO soldiers at all times, but despite this, they were allowed to converse. It was one of the rare times they were actually allowed to talk without being yelled at or reprimanded by their superiors. During these moments, they would often talk about some of the hard challenges they had faced in their training, give each other advice, lend each other support, or sometimes just tell stories simply to ease their minds and allow them to think about something else.

However, X23 wasn't much of a talker, so at first she listened while merely picking at her food, noting certain things about each of her new comrades. But since she was new and still struggling with this new life, Scott, Jean, Vincent, and Wanda took it upon themselves to at least try and help her ease into things, explaining this and that to her along the way.

"Hey, aren't you hungry?" asked Scott, seeing that X23 hadn't eaten much of her food.

"Not really..." she answered in a somewhat mechanical tone.

"Well you should still try and eat," said Wanda, "We don't get a lot of time for meals here and this stuff isn't so bad."

"Yeah, I've definitely had worse," said Vincent, still seeing this stuff as a major step up from the gruel he was served in Prodigy.

X23 still just picked at it, not showing much desire to eat anything. In a ways, her mind remained controlled by Hydra...And always would in a ways. But this place was very different...And similar in many ways. On one hand, her life was still dominated by scientists, officers, and doctors...But on the other, officers like Magnum and Dr. Essex seemed to actually care about her and allowed her certain things Hydra never would have even considered for her.

And then there were these four...Teammates of hers. She had little concept of teamwork since she was trained to function as a weapon, more machine than human. But that was just one of the many things she had left to learn now that she was a part of this strange new program.

"Is it always like this?" she found herself asking as she found herself taking another bite of her meal.

"Like what?" asked Scott, not knowing if she was talking about the food or things around them in general.

"I mean...Is it always this difficult?" she asked, "Is every day this hard?"

"Well..." said Jean, giving that question a little thought before answering, "It does get easier in some ways...But it gets harder in others."

"What do you mean?" she asked curiously.

"Well..." began Jean, struggling to elaborate, "Things like the rude awakenings, the morning physicals, and always having the GURSO unit nearby are all things you kind of get used to. But there are other things you go through...Hard things that test every limit."

"Yeah, just wait until you get into the marine training or Delta Force conditioning..." said Wanda, speaking with distaste over how hard those first few sessions were, "But you learn to manage it. The key is just taking each challenge as it comes."

"You mean like...One step at a time?" asked X23, thinking back to what Magnum had told her earlier about such things.

"Exactly..." said Jean, thinking that probably best summed it up, "And in the end, you'll grow stronger with each challenge you overcome. You learn to fight the things that make you weak...Things like fear, stress, and the past."

X23 still was unclear about what they were describing to her...But she was slowly starting to understand. And in many ways, it was an appealing thought to her because it gave her hope that she could actually learn to fight the haunting memories that Hydra had left with her. And from what she could tell from the others, mainly Vincent thanks to the help he offered her earlier, they had faced similar inner conflicts as well.

"Hey, it's just the first day..." said Vincent, seeing that she was still conflicted, "You'll get it...I know you will. Hell, the first day was hard for all of us. I don't think either one of us handled it without difficulty."

"Yeah...Don't I know it," muttered Wanda in response, "My first day with the Army was awful. I was so weak from living in an insane asylum for over four years that I could barely do two pull ups."

"Hey, at least it was the Army and not the Navy Seals," commented Jean, also speaking from some rather unpleasant memories, "I remember the first time I met those guys, I ended up crying from all the yelling and I got a rifle butt to the stomach."

"Yeah, I remember..." said Scott, that day sticking out pretty strongly for him since it had been an uphill struggle to say the least, "I got one too because I ended up doing the same..."

"Well at least you still held out longer than I did," made Jean, remembering how Scott had been pretty much the only support she had those first few days.

"But we all broke down a bit in the end..." argued Vincent, "Shadow Cell isn't easy...That much we can all be certain of. There's always going to be rough spots. I remember having panic attacks that nearly made me puke because so many things reminded me of a lot of painful memories."

"Then...How did you all overcome it?" asked X23, not seeing how such things were possible.

Vincent merely shook his head, for even he wasn't sure how he managed at some points. But time and time again...He had been brought to his limits in terms of physical, mental, and emotional endurance only to see that he could overcome them with the help offered to him by his friends, his officers, and his trusted mentors. It was hard to really gauge when he overcame the initial jitters that had so consumed him on that first day he had arrived, for it had been a gradual process. But nevertheless, he had overcome them...And if he could do it, so could X23.

"There's no easy way to overcome such things..." he told her honestly, "Believe me...I know. I too was a guinea pig for inhuman experiments just like you. And coming here was a challenge...But it takes time...Effort...And hard work. And if there's one thing we've all learned here at some point or another...It's that you can't keep on crying about the past. You can cry and cry...But it'll never make it go away. It'll always be with you. And once you learn to accept that...All you can do is stand up straight, suck it up, and fight. Even if you feel weak and completely lost...You just have to keep fighting. That's what we do...That's what we're taught...And that's what makes us soldiers."

Fight...A word X23 knew, yet hadn't really thought of in that context. But strangely...It made sense to her. Vincent understood what it was like to live this life after having been a guinea pig for experiments that would have reeked havoc on anybody with a weak stomach and X23 found a strange level of solstice in such words. It actually made her feel as though she wasn't some machine...For there had been others to endure what she had endured and she drew a great deal of strength from that.

"I...I think I understand," she said with a renewed sense of confidence.

"Then that's all you need..." said Scott as he looked back towards their new friend and comrade, "Just remember one thing X23...No matter how hard things are from now on...No matter how strenuous or agonizing life is...You're not alone. You're a part of the team now...You're a part of the family. We're all in this together...And we'll be there for you...Always."

X23, the former living weapon that was trained never to have any emotions or humanity, actually found herself smiling at such words...For they actually made her feel...Nice for a change. The mention of things like friends and family were difficult concepts for her to manage...For they had always been one of the main sources of her endless rages. But as she looked back at these four remarkable strangers that had come into her life so unexpectedly...She could see that they genuinely wanted to help her...They actually cared for her.

Maybe she would never get over what Hydra did to her...But she sure as hell wasn't going to let that affect her forever. She was going to fight it...She was going to beat it. And for once...She wouldn't have to do it alone.

*************************************************

"DIG! DIG! DIG YOU LITTLE SHITS! SHOW ME SOMETHING! COME ON!" yelled the Delta Force commander as he barked out orders and commands to the five mutant soldiers as they traversed a grueling obstacle course outside in a designated field near the airstrip.

After eating, Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 were allowed to change into uniforms which included an unmarked white shirt, black boots, and jungle camouflaged pants for their training. And as luck would have it, the weather wasn't cooperating with them much with cloudy skies and an on again, off again drizzle that moistened the field and made the obstacles more difficult to cross.

"SUCK IT UP SHADOW CELL! COME ON! SUCK IT UP!" yelled the commander as he watched X23 traverse a rope swing and scale a wall, stumbling a bit because of the sheer height.

As always, the Delta Force training was tailored to the same caliber as regular human recruits...But with a more aggressive and accelerated feel. Because if these five were to see action soon...There could be no room for lost time. And because of that, the young mutant kids were pushed to the limits of their endurance with each and every task, working to help themselves grow into the soldiers they strived to be.

After making it over the initial rope swing and wall, the group was forced to diverge with Vincent and Scott heading off in one direction and Jean and Wanda heading off in another. X23 was lagging behind a bit, not used to such kind of training since Hydra only stressed the necessities, but she kept up for the most part.

The next part of the course was one of the things that made Delta Force training some of the most advanced in the military. In order to instill a sense of stealth and cunning into their mentality, they were forced to navigate their way through a maze of mechanical sentries, each of which looked like a simple small pole, but had a flashing blue light sensor at the top. And if they crossed the sensor...They got a painful shock from an electric discharge. It was a good way to commit their skills to memory, but it didn't make it any easier.

Scott and Vincent, both having powers that involved firepower and strength, worked well together on parts like this. Whenever obstacles came up, which were always thrown in by the drill sergeants to make things even tougher for them, they did a good job of working together when it came to punching through anything that stood in their way.

"Vince! Up ahead!" yelled Scott as he saw what looked like a hidden steel plate that popped right out of the ground, effectively blocking their path.

"I see it! Together now!" he said in response, summoning his super strength while Scott tapped the necessary amount of energy to give his punch an extra bit of force.

Then, simultaneously, both young boys delivered a crushing blow to the plate, knocking it off it's hinges and clearing the path for them to the next obstacle. However, the sudden rush of energy had overwhelmed Scott a bit, for he still struggled with certain aspects of his powers and whenever he tried to use advanced forms like extra strength, he had a tendency to wear himself down pretty quickly.

"Come on Scott! Keep moving!" urged Vincent as he saw his friend stumble a bit, forcing him to slow down and help him maintain his balance.

"I'll...Make it," he said, still a bit dazed.

"I know you can! But we can't slow down!" said Vincent as he continued to help his friend and comrade, "Now come on! Let's go!"

Not fighting his help, Scott regained his bearings with the help of his friend. The drill sergeants, along with Dr. Essex who was watching from afar, saw this and cast approving gazes on such behavior, for it showed that they were all growing closer learning to trust each other on a deeper level. And for two boys who had both endured the streets and orphanages, the trust they developed was stronger than any uninformed observer could have imagined.

Over with Jean and Wanda, they had been fortunate enough to face one of the Delta Force training's most exhausting obstacles...The triple walls. Each one had only one rope and they got progressively bigger and more difficult. It was slow getting over one by one...So they had to help each other if they were to overcome this obstacle fast and that's exactly what the drill sergeants always stressed.

"COME ON! COME ON YOU TWO! FASTER! FASTER GOD DANM IT!" yelled their drill instructor as they coughed and huffed from fatigue as their young bodies were pushed the limit physically and mentally.

"Come on Wanda...Keep going!" urged Jean, her arms burning with fatigue as they both made it over the second wall.

Wanda had always struggled with the walls because she hadn't developed as much upper body strength compared to Jean. But she kept going beyond the stresses of her body and slowly managed to work her way over, nearly collapsing in the process, but thankfully, Jean was there to catch her.

The two young girls then continued to scale the next wall...Which also happened to be the tallest. To make matters worse, the steady drizzle that lingered over the obstacle course had turned into an all out downpour, making it even more difficult to get over as rain soaked their young bodies and further pounded away at their endurance.

With only one rope at their disposal, Jean and Wanda had to coordinate with each other to make their way over. Jean led the way, knowing Wanda often struggled with this and tried to help her up by steadying the rope and keeping her pace slow...But the key was to keep moving and the more it rained, the harder it was.

"Almost there..." grunted Jean, her body now sore with fatigue, "Just a little bit further..."

Then suddenly, a burst of thunder echoed in the distance...Causing Wanda to freeze half way. Thunder always had a horrible affect on her...For it reminded her of the night when her father had thrown her away into the insane asylum that had robbed her of so much. Memory flashes of that fateful moment began coursing through her mind, plaguing and haunting her as they often did whenever something was there to remind her of that which she could never escape.

However, Jean seemed to recognize her sudden shift in demeanor and immediately knew what was happening. Like Wanda, she too had suffered in an insane asylum for years before Dr. Essex found her. It was because of that Wanda actually confided in her about many of the painful memories that so often plagued her. And through such things, they helped each other through the difficult times they often faced whenever they were confronted with their past.

"Wanda...Wanda, listen to me!" urged Jean, "You're not there...You're not back at that place...You're here now! You're with me! Come on, Wanda! Come on!"

The sound of Jean's voice helped young Wanda Maximoff give her the extra push she needed to fight her way out of her daze. Then, with the stanch determination that had so often driven her beyond her limits, Wanda began moving again, forgetting the pain of her memories and focusing on the task at hand.

"That's it...Almost...There!" said Jean as she reached the top and extended her hand to help her friend.

"I...Made it," she gasped as she felt the grip of her friend pull her over.

"I knew you could..." said Jean, casting a slight smile at the girl who she had grown so close to, feeling almost like they were siblings with the similar experiences they had endured.

Wanda managed to smile back a bit, but there was little time to celebrate...For they still had an obstacle course to run.

"YOU'RE GETTING SLOW SHADOW CELL! AND I DON'T LIKE SLOW! COME ON! MOVE!!!" bellowed the Delta Force commander as he pushed the young mutant recruits into the home stretch.

X23 continued to bring up the rear, still struggling since this was her first run. Even with a healing factor, her young body was pushed to the limits of endurance as she struggled with the sensors much more than Scott and Vincent had, but made up for it on the walls thanks to the use of her claws. And with the end in sight, her sore body was on the verge of collapse. It was even more grueling than some of the things Hydra made her do...But this time, she had something else to go on other than her purpose as a living weapon...This time, she had true drive.

It was slowly beginning to dawn upon her that she wasn't a machine...She was a human being. And as a human being, she could be driven by more than just orders. But she didn't want to just be human...She didn't want to be a weapon either. Now...She had something else to shoot for...Something more meaningful than either. She wanted to be a soldier...And as a soldier, she was determined to overcome this first great challenge.

Up at the finish line, the main objective of the course was in sight. And in this instance, it was five, life-like humanoid dummies that represented target kills. Their final task with this course was to destroy, disembowel, or annihilate these targets by any means necessary, powers or otherwise. The drill sergeants did this to get them all used to the feeling of killing...Which they would have to do eventually when they began field work. But as kids...They needed to take small steps.

"THE CLOCK IS TICKING MAGGOTS!" yelled the commander as he saw the recruits limping up a hill towards their targets, "THE MORE IT TICKS, THE MORE PISSED OFF I GET! NOW MOVE!!! SUCK IT UP! YOU'RE TARGETS ARE JUST UP AHEAD! YOU MUST KILL THEM! YOU MUST COMPLETE THE MISSION!"

With their young bodies on the verge of collapse, the young mutant kids of Shadow Cell pushed themselves until they finally got close enough. And once they were in range, they systematically blew away their target dummies without hesitation. Scott took his down with a single optic blast, Jean burned hers to a crisp with her pyrokenisis, Vincent managed to get close enough to rip it's head off with his super strength, and Wanda used her hexing powers to warp one beyond recognition. That left only one more target...But this one was reserved for X23.

"Come on X! You're so close! Just a little bit further!" urged Scott, who was still struggling to catch his breath along with the others.

In the distance, they could see young X23 making her way slowly up the hill, moving with great strain in her young body and grunting in frustration with each step she took. Yet the words of encouragement offered by her new friends and comrades were helping to push her beyond her normal boundaries...For they were giving her something she had never been given before...Support.

"That's it X! You're doing it!" said Jean as she and the others kept urging her on.

"Yeah, you're going to make it girl! You're going to make it!" said Wanda through her lingering fatigue.

X23 was now within twelve feet of the target and her body was about to give out...But thanks to the remarkable words of encouragement, she kept going...Driven not by rage, but desire, passion, and strength...The kind of things Hydra had never given her.

Then, in one solid swipe of her claws...She decapitated the dummy. Almost immediately afterwards, her legs turned to jelly...But thankfully, Vincent was right there to catch her along with the others.

"You did it X! You did it!" said Vincent with great praise in his voice as he held her up with the help of Wanda.

It was strange...Feeling this warmth within her as these four young mutants she had just met clamored around her and supported her after simply carrying out an order. But strange or not...It felt good having accomplished what she did...Good in a way no other accomplishment back at Hydra felt. It was as if she was actually given a reason to do what she did...A reason that resonated strongly within her. And through this newfound strength, X23 once again managed to smile...

"Congratulations..." said Wanda upon seeing the young girl's reaction, "You've just taken another step..."

"Yeah...Now it's on to the next challenge," said Scott as they all waited for their next set of orders.

*************************************************

After their Delta Force training, the five mutant kids were allowed a quick breather to change out of their wet clothes and attend a little class with Dr. Essex. Even though being a soldier was demanding enough physically, it was still necessary for them to be prepared mentally in the heat of battle, so they all had to keep up with a rigorous, fast paced course of academics that taught them reading, writing, math, and language skills.

Thankfully, X23 had already been taught such things by Hydra and their shadow class mutation helped enhance their mental function to the point where they absorbed information and knowledge at a rate much faster than any normal human. And now that the team was complete, it was just a matter of getting them all on the same page, which was pretty much what Dr. Essex and a few of his assistants spent the session doing. Through this, they gained information and insight on the function of their minds while also making not of their personal and psychological progress for future reference. And since there was plenty to learn when it came to the art of being a soldier, the five mutant kids definitely had their work cut out for them. However, as Dr. Essex so eloquently put it when he first began, "Sometimes on the battlefield...Knowledge is every bit as deadly as bullets. Therefore, you all are going to need all the knowledge your brains can manage if you are to be the best soldiers you can be."

For nearly three hours, Dr. Essex and a couple of aides read over a few textbooks and notes, setting up the basic structure of their academic plans now that the team was whole. Since they all knew how to read, write, and speak properly, they could proceed with more advanced concepts like math, physics, biology, and other useful subjects that would become useful on the battlefield. It was sure to be intense and fast paced...But as with their physical training, they were ever bit as determined every challenge as it came.

After the session was over, the five young recruits were led to a room that was right across from the study area where a team of mind body specialist that ranged from former Psy Ops agents to a few ex-CIA officials. Here was where they often underwent psychological conditioning, not only to help them with their powers, but also to keep their minds level and strong through the rigor they lived each and every day as soldiers of Shadow Cell...While also sewing the seeds of the soldier mentality that would make them swift, efficient, and deadly on the battlefield.

Along with Dr. Essex, Magnum was also usually present during these times to watch and observe as each one of her pupils developed their ever growing powers. She even taught them a few techniques she knew from her extensive travels and experiences as a fighter and mercenary that had seen practically every corner of the world. But the emphasis here was on a link between the mind and body...For such attributes were vital in order for them to be in control of and more attuned to their powers, their bodies, and their minds.

"Okay my children..." said Dr. Essex in a low, calming tone as several of his aides hooked up some electrodes and nuerophones to each of their heads, "Now the time has come for you all to relax and focus within. In order for each of you to function at their greatest...You must be attuned to your mind, body, and spirit. And now that you are whole as a unit...Such things must take on a greater meaning. For no matter how strong a single part is...It is nothing compared to the whole."

The five mutant kids all took a seat on a specially cushioned side by side one another and began taking deep breaths. Their eyes were closed and their bodies were still. For X23, it was an unusual exercise given that Hydra had always stressed physical training and not mental training. But as a new soldier of Shadow Cell, she now had her own platoon of scientists and specialists specifically tasked with helping her control her powers and abilities, helping to hone them to their utmost power.

Compared to the others, she was a bit stiff and still plenty stressed with this new environment. But as with the physical challenges, she hoped to overcome such barriers as well...It would just take a little time and patience on her part.

"Don't be so stiff little one..." said Magnum, noticing X23 was fidgeting a bit, "Relax...Breathe deep. Stop fighting the animal you constantly battle...Instead, learn to embrace it as part of yourself. Look deep within...Find your center...And hold onto it as you would your life."

Taking Magnum's words seriously, X23 began to gradually ease into a deeper mindset. For some reason, she found it necessary to have her claws drawn during this...For it seemed to help her stay in tuned with who and what she was. As a being created solely as a living, breathing weapon...There was a lot to overcome mentally. But for the first time, she wasn't fighting it. If anything...It was as if she was embracing it. And through this, she could become even deadlier than her creators ever could have imagined.

"Good...That's it," said Dr. Essex as he and his specialists began running a few machines, which broadcasted calming thoughts through the neurophones while also sending deep, subconscious messages that helped them with their powers, "You are now one Shadow Cell...Embrace it...Cherish it...For this is the first day of the rest of your lives."

The exercises were now in full swing as each team of specialists focused on their designated recruit. As specialists in the mind/body field who adamantly studied the stats of whoever they were assigned to, it was their job to make sure their minds were centered on both their powers and their bodies. They spoke words of encouragement, strength, and even issued a few instructions on how to perform certain tasks concerning their abilities. It was different for each one of them...But they all had the same purpose.

"Can you sense it Wanda?" said one of her specialists as they kept with a steady stream of calming signals through the neurophone, "The chances of every conceivable possibility...The chances of anything and everything around you? You are attuned with them...You are one with them. See them as the invisible limbs of your body that extend far beyond that which you see. And use them to change the world around you. Feel it...Sense it...Take hold of it and never let it go."

"Never let it go..." said Wanda in a deep tone, feeling as though those words extended beyond merely her powers.

Over with Vincent, he was undergoing a similar process, sensing a stream of thoughts echo through his mind, helping him to focus on his powers and take hold of them. It helped put his abilities into perspective, which meant a lot to him given how much they used to confuse him.

"You are indestructible...You're body is a colossus of strength..." said his specialist to him, "The power you wield is like a river of strength...A river that you can control by means of will. And it is only a matter of how you use that will that determines just how strong your control is. And in order to do so, you must hold onto to that which keeps your mind and body linked...You must hold onto the words for which hold the greatest possible meaning."

For Vincent Freeman, mediation came quite easy for him given the experience he already had with Mr. Kansuke, but the depth in which he learned it at Shadow Cell took it to another level. But even for a former lab rat to a most dubious experiment...He had plenty to hang onto.

'Honor...Strength...Courage...Compassion...' he thought as the words streamed through his mind, helping him take hold of his abilities as if they were tangible, 'Father Michaels. God. Mary. Benny. Mr. Kansuke. Dr. Essex. Magnum. The General. Scott. Jean. X23. And...Wanda...'

For some reason, his mind shifted a bit upon thinking about Wanda, but he quickly shook it off as he continued to focus on his center...For that issue should probably best wait for another day.

Over with Scott and Jean, the words of their respective specialists echoed through their minds...But it hardly registered for them. They had been doing this for over two years now and they had grown somewhat accustomed to it by now. Their powers were still growing, but they were keeping up with them fairly easily thanks in part to their training and thanks in part to their shadow class mutation. But that didn't mean that these sessions were pointless...Not by a long shot. These sessions helped them exercise their inner strength in the same way they exercised their outer strength.

However, to Scott Summers and Jean Grey...These sessions had been taking on a new significance for them...One that nobody else could have ever possibly known about.

'Scott...' sent Jean through the powerful bond that had inexplicably linked them since that fateful day they first arrived.

'Jean...' sent Scott in response, letting her know that he felt what she was feeling.

'It's getting stronger...' she said to him through their thoughts in a way that penetrated deep into their very being, 'I can feel it...Each and every day...Growing stronger.'

'I can feel it too,' he responded, 'I can feel you...In my head. It's warm...Gentle...And calm. I...Like it.'

'Yes...I like it too,' she told him, feeling his sincerity down to the depths of her soul, 'I don't think I could have gotten through all this without it.'

'Neither do I...' replied Scott.

'I don't ever want it to go away,' she added, feeling as though whatever this feeling was, it was becoming an increasingly large part of her.

'It won't...' assured Scott, 'I promise you, Jean...It won't ever go away.'

With those warm thoughts and feelings in mind, Scott and Jean sank into a deeper state of relaxation and inner strength. It was as if they drew off one another...Using whatever this powerful link was to stay strong...Centered...And in many ways, complete. After having lost so much in their short lives, it was a warm, comforting feeling to have something so profound to hold onto and cherish. And no matter what lay ahead for them...They sought to hold onto this feeling...Now and through each and every challenge they faced.

Yet unknown to them, such closeness only made Dr. Essex more content in the progress of his plans...For in his mind, such closeness would only aid in the culmination of his most ambitious plans.

*************************************************

After mind/body training, the five young mutant kids proceeded to endure what was without a doubt, the most grueling part of their training as soldiers of Shadow Cell...CQC with Magnum. Even though they were still young, Magnum treated them as if they were full grown fighters...Not holding back in any way, shape, or manner in what she taught and how she demonstrated it. Part of what made her sessions so grueling was that it integrated pretty much everything they learned else ware, including nearly all aspects of physical, mental, and psychological training. CQC was part style, part ideology in a sense that it so practically took fighting to another level, making it more a part of their being rather than simply something they did.

For X23, it was a fighting style unlike anything Hydra had ever taught her and was plagued with confusion and conflict from the beginning as they all went through some of the motions while Magnum barked out conflicting orders that were often hard to process while keeping up with the movements. But as with everything Magnum taught, there was a reason for this. CQC was just as much about thinking, or in some cases the lack of, as it was fighting. And in order to get them to do that, she would have to make sure that their minds were developed along with their bodies.

Whether sparing or working on specific moves and techniques, Magnum was constantly giving orders or preaching what came to be known as 'CQ sayings.' These included phrases like, "Fight with honor...Fight with spirit" or "Live...Breathe...Fight." In time, such sayings were sure to add up...But for Magnum, the more they learned, the better they would get. Eventually, they would fight as easily as they breathed the air around them...But to get to that point, it would take some serious work for the both of them.

"Keep going!" she ordered as they all went through the complex motions of basic CQC maneuvers, "I want you to do these exercises until they're burned into your minds! You will do these maneuvers as easily as you blink! They will become more then reflexes...They will become a part of your very being! Now...Again!"

With a loud grunt, the five mutant kids did the maneuvers in near perfect sync. X23, however, continued to struggle, for she was not used to such styles of teaching. This certainly didn't go unnoticed, but Magnum expected as much from their latest recruit...And from the looks of it she had a lot of catching up to do.

"Keep going! Again!" she ordered a second time, causing them all to go through the motions again before they had even finished the first order.

However, this caused X23 to fall even more behind, prompting Magnum to give her a little 'initiation' ploy similar to that which she had done with the others when they first arrived as well.

"X23! You're not keeping up!" shot Magnum, casting her newest pupil a cold glance.

"It's...Hard!" she struggled, not used to such movements or techniques that required such complexity and thought.

"No..." said Magnum sternly as she approached the former living weapon, "It is only as hard as you allow it to be...And I'll prove it to you. Hit me."

X23 cast her mentor a confused look, for she wasn't sure that she had heard her right. However, Magnum was never one to joke and her intimidating glance left little room for argument. And being the impatient woman she was, the Russian born mercenary wasted no time in getting her point across.

"HIT ME!" she yelled at her.

Letting her animal instincts take over, X23's claws popped out of her knuckles and she lunged forth at Magnum.

"Oh boy...I think I know how this is going to end," said Vincent, who couldn't bear to look.

Even with all her Hydra training and her raging temper, Magnum made quick work of the young girl. Just like their first encounter, her moves were brash and easy to predict, making her the ensuing counter attack effortless. X23's impassioned attack was met with a firm grab of the arm, an quick skeletal manipulation move, and an easy flip to the ground, leaving her downed, dazed, and shocked...For it was as if all that training from Hydra meant nothing against this woman.

"You have guts little one..." said Magnum as she at the downed little girl, "You have skill, agility, and strength...But that alone means nothing if all that drives you is rage and fury. Now I did this to show you that you can do more...You can do better. CQC is not just about fighting...It's about learning. And as with all knowledge, you must be willing set the past aside...You must bee willing to learn. And above all else...You must let me teach you."

Then, while X23 was still downed on the mat...Magnum extended her hand to her, casting her an approving glance that seemed to make what she had just endured easier. The former living weapon accepted her gesture...Allowing her to help her back up to her feet as the other gathered around her to show their support.

"This goes for all you..." she went on, "Now that the unit is complete...We take it to the next level. You must learn from me...But you must also learn from yourselves as well. CQC isn't just about knowing your enemy...It's about knowing yourself and embracing everything you learn throughout your training. Knowledge means nothing if you don't use it...And it is only though what you take from that which you learn that you will become true soldiers..."

The five mutant kids remained obedient in their poise, showing that they understood and respected her words. They took everything she said to heart, for of all the officials at Shadow Cell...Magnum was the one who had the most insight into the world of a soldier. What she taught brought every other skill they learned together...And it was through her that they would build off the skill that would hopefully make them a true unit.

However, as Magnum finished her little speech, her session was abruptly halted by the sudden sound of clapping from across the room. This didn't seem to startle Magnum much, but it did startle the kids...For the General, the highest ranking military officer in the organization, was now standing in their presence.

"Well said Magnum..." said the General with a slight smile on his face as he approached the five young kids with two GRUSO soldiers at his side, "Couldn't have put it better myself."

"Thank you sir..." said Magnum respectfully, although she was somewhat irked that he had interrupted their session.

"I apologize for intruding...But I wanted to have a word with you," said the General as he looked down at the young kids that held so much hope for a country that was in such dire need.

Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Vincent Freeman, Wanda Maximoff, and X23 all stood tall and firm as any soldier did in the presence of a superior officer. The General couldn't help but gaze approvingly on this, for it showed that these kids had a true drive to become something great. For a project that had taken so many risks and broken so many rules, the result was nothing short of remarkable. Five young kids brimming with so much potential were driven by duty, honor, and service to become true soldiers for their country and their world. And as the General gazed upon their respectful glances...He looked back at them with the highest respect and pride.

"You are now whole Shadow Cell..." he told them, standing tall and firm as the proud officer he was, "No longer are you mere recruits...You are all now officially a unit. That means that from now on, whenever you look at each other...You'll be looking at more than just your fellow comrades...You'll be looking at the friends, family, and fellow kinsmen that you will follow into battle."

As Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 took a moment to look back at one another, they could truly feel the power in the words of the General. For now that they were complete...It felt as though they were closer than just a bunch of messed up, traumatized mutant trainees...It felt as though they were truly a part of something. And while their young minds couldn't yet fully ascertain it, the General went on...Knowing full well that this was only the beginning.

"Looking at you now...I can tell that you'll all bring something with you into the field of battle...And I can tell that you'll be there for each other every step of the way. You've already proven to me, your drill sergeants, and everybody else here at this base that you're very strong...But the only one's you should be trying to impress is yourselves...Never forget that."

Then, the General's demeanor shifted a bit as he took a step closer and began walking amongst the proud young mutants that would make up this most formidable team. It was rare for any officer to get emotional...But for the General, this project held many special qualities that he wanted to share with these very brave youngsters.

"Proven or not...I want each one of you to know that I'm very proud of all of you. You're all doing this for reasons far better than most of the people I've ever dealt with. You struggle...You learn...And you train for a reason. And it's not to prove a point or to make a statement...It's because you have a cause...A truly noble purpose that drives you to become more than the average human. Honor...Compassion...Patriotism...Self sacrifice...These are what drive true warriors...These are what drive true soldiers."

The General then once again paused to let that sink in, for he wanted each one of them take something from this...Something they could always use whether they were in the heat of battle or simply training. For each one of them, it rang true. Words like honor and compassion were especially powerful for young Vincent...Who had held himself together with such virtue ever since everything was taken away from him. For Scott and Jean, the notion of having a cause...A noble one that made them more than just tragic figures with a tragic life...Made them feel as though they were doing more than just surviving...They were making a difference. This held true for Wanda as well...Who took to heart the notion of self sacrifice...Leaving behind her father and brother that had so heartlessly thrown her away and embracing this new world of drive, strength, and valor not for them...But for herself.

And for X23, it was specially significant...For such concepts were so much greater than merely being a living weapon that sought only to kill and follow orders like a machine. There was so much more to this world...So much that she had yet to fully ascertain. But after only one day...She had overcome challenges she never would have been able to overcome under Hydra. Here...She could actually hope to become something. Here...She wasn't just some hunk of flesh without any humanity. She actually had friends now...Comrades who cared for her and sought to support her during her time of need. It was a strange, yet wonderful feeling for her...And it was one she sought to hang onto now that she finally felt human for the first time in her tortured life.

"This project...Means a lot to a lot of people," continued the General, "And I'm no exception. My father once worked on a super soldiers program many years ago during World War II. His work helped create one of the greatest soldiers of our time...Captain America. He was one soldier...Yet he fought with great honor and valor that led him through each battle. I'd like to think that I'm honoring my father's work by dedicating myself to a similar project...But that would be selfish of me. Shadow Cell is not for me...Not for the organization...Not even for the higher ups. It's for you...And only you. Because now you are a unit...Now you are a team. You're still young...But that only leaves so much to build upon."

Then, as the General once again shifted his demeanor back to the strong, upstanding officer he was so proud to be, he cast the mutant children of Shadow Cell a determined glance...One that sent a message to them...A message definitive and true...A message that they would hopefully carry into battle with them for many years to come.

"You're not freaks...You're not lab rats..." he told them sternly as to get the point across, "You're not tragedies or lost causes...Not anymore. Now...You are soldiers! Proud and strong...Noble and true. You are Shadow Cell! Bear that name with pride and honor! For you are soldiers! Do you hear me?"

"Sir, yes sir!" they all shouted at once.

"I can't hear you, say it like you mean it!" he yelled back in a more forceful tone.

"SIR YES SIR!" they all shouted louder and with greater emotion.

"What are you?!" he bellowed.

"Soldiers!" they all answered in unison, now speaking as one.

"WHAT ARE YOU?!"

"SOLDIERS!!!"

"OF WHAT?!"

"AMERICA!"

"OF WHAT?!"

"OF HONOR!"

"OF WHAT?!"

"OF SHADOW CELL!"

Finally, the General seemed satisfied as the fury of his words died down and he cast an approving gaze towards all of them...One that seemed to signal the beginning of many grand new challenges to come.

"That's right. You are soldiers...Never forget that."

*************************************************

AN: Quite dramatic is it not? This is the life Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 grow up in with this world. This is how things build. This is how their lives are managed. I thought I'd give everybody a little taste of their existence as youths before things progress any further. Also, this shows just how strongly they all interact so they're more than just a bunch of soldiers...They're a real, cohesive unit. And don't forget the seeds of Scott/Jean and Vincent/Wanda that have been planted! Rest assured, that will come into play later one, but for now, get ready to see just how significantly the world changes as a result of Shadow Cell! The X-men and the Brotherhood will come in soon enough, but for now, the world must adapt to this dramatic shift because the affects they will have promise to be very far reaching! So what do you all think so far? Has this universe enticed you yet? Please tell me! Send me your feedback via email or post them on the fanfiction website! I don't care what you do as long as you REVIEW! Thanks for reading everybody and I wish you all the best!

DROP AND GIVE ME 20 MAGGOT! IT'S TIME FOR A REVIEW!!!
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