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 20: Sight Unseen
After countless hours of seemingly unending training session, the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell were finally given a little break. Their already rigorous schedule had truly been taken to another level since news of the sentinel fiasco spread and naturally, it didn't take long for it to reach the five mutant soldiers, who had only been given short, bare bones briefings on the matter from Dr. Essex. They were never really told much about the details, for protocol dictated that they only be told what was necessary for them to know. But they had grown used to such feelings over the years since as soldiers, it wasn't their duty to know...Only their duty to act.
But for now, they simply used what little time they had to unwind from the incessant complications of their lives whether it be through missions or training. They were all gathered in their specially designated break room where they usually relaxed and recuperated from the rigors of their training. In this room, there were allowed to do things like read, chat, and even play a few games. Their selection wasn't too broad though. They were only allowed books that had to do with war, each magazine they had was highly censored so as to keep them ignorant of trivial information, and the games they were given were only those which helped build one's mind like chess, checkers, and even a few card games.
As always, there were GURSO soldiers present during their break time, but for the most part, they were there just as a formality. They were still allowed to talk, relax, and do whatever they could to help them unwind. At the moment, Jean and X23 were simply enjoying a game of chess at one of the tables while Scott and Wanda sat on the couch adjacent to them reading a couple of magazines. Sitting in a chair near the bookcase was Vincent, who preferred real books as opposed to magazines, and today he was reading a book he had been trying to finish for some time now. It was entitled "The Five Rings," by Miyamoto Musashi, and it was a book he found deeply intriguing for it's value in terms of battlefield knowledge and philosophy. With concepts like timing and strategy and an emphasis on the warrior spirit, the book spoke volumes to young Vincent and it had quickly become one of his favorite reads. Given that it was written by an ancient samurai warrior, it was something that resonated with him in a powerful manner. And being that he was the philosophical one of the group, it seemed appropriate that he find a great deal of intrigue with this...For in reading it, he often found himself thinking back to some of the things Mr. Kansuke had taught him and the ideas Magnum later build upon.
"Man, can you believe what some of these people write?" commented Wanda as she looked over a recent issue of Newsweek magazine, "It's like they focus more on celebrities than real conflict."
"Yeah, I know..." said Scott with a slight chuckle, "It hardly seems balanced."
"Who would want to know about what some bimbo wore to some big movie premier anyways?" she wondered, "Is that really as important as say...The small little article about North Korea conducting secret trade deals with Latveria?"
"I don't know, Wanda..." said Jean as she made another move on the chess board, "I guess some people would rather focus on something trivial like celebrities, scandals, and what not rather than focus on the more serious side of the news."
"In other words...Ignorance is bliss," said X23 as she countered Jean's move.
"Yeah, I guess it's only natural that people wouldn't want to focus on things that could potentially frighten them," said Vincent as he turned another page in his book, "And in addition, it makes our jobs and the jobs of everybody else in the super secret world a lot easier."
"Definitely..." said Scott as he looked through an article in a recent issue of Time magazine, "And it's kind of funny really. Sometimes I see articles in these things that we were behind. Like get this...That little incident we took part in with that Columbian drug lord who tried to buy a nuclear weapon from the Russian mob is mentioned in here as just a 'major drug bust.'"
Upon hearing that, a round of laughter arose from the five mutant soldiers, which was rare for them, but it was something they still experienced from time to time. And when it did happen, it made them feel less like drones and more like human beings...Which was something they all wanted to hang onto, for that's part of what made them function so well as a unit and as soldiers.
"Major drug bust my ass..." said Jean with a grin as she made another move on the chess board, "That deal almost left BogotÃ¡ a smoking crater!"
"Yep...But we stopped it," said X23 with pride as she once again countered Jean's move, staying on the offensive.
"And we did it with style," said Wanda, who couldn't help but shake her head in amusement at some of the influence she and her comrades had exacted upon the world without anybody knowing it.
Once the laughter died down, things fell silent again...But the notion of them having such great influence upon world events without anybody outside world of black programs knowing about it still lingered with them. One day they were in the Hindu Kush stopping a killer virus from being released and a day later, here they are sitting together casually reading and playing games together as if they were a family. It was sobering in some ways...But rather humorous in others.
"Man we really are something, you know?" said Scott, letting out another chuckle as he reread the article.
"What do you mean babe?" said Jean as she made another move, hoping to send X23 back on the defensive with her bishop.
"I mean look at us...Sitting around here, joking about how we saved the world," he said, "The rest of the world doesn't have a clue...But for us, it's just part of our lives."
"Well when you put it like that..." said X23 with a slight chuckle, "I guess it does sound a bit odd. I mean, the way we go about our jobs is just so crazy at times."
"And yet, we manage," said Vincent casually, keeping his eyes on his book.
"But we don't just manage..." argued Scott, "We live it...We embrace it."
"Well it's what we do," said Wanda as she closed her magazine, thinking she had just about read enough useless babble for one day, "We fight, we train, we manage this life together. And when you think about it...We're almost like a family in how we do things."
There were some mixed feelings among the five mutant soldiers upon hearing that. The word 'family' had always had some pretty rough connotations. Scott, Jean, and Vincent had lost their families, Wanda's had abandoned her, and X23 never even had one to begin with. But in the context of what a family was and how it functioned...It really did kind of make sense to them that this is what they were at heart.
Whether they were in the heat of battle, training and honing their skills to perfection, or simply lounging around just like this...It all resonated so strongly in their minds. As a unit, they trusted each other with their lives...But as a family, they were close in a way that no mere comrade could ever ascertain. And with that thought in mind, the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell took a great deal of comfort in such closeness.
"Family..." said X23, feeling a strange, yet warm sensation within her as she looked back at the four friends who had helped her become human, "Yeah...I can see that."
"Me too..." said Jean with a smile as she looked back at Wanda.
"Same here..." said Vincent as he closed his book and shifted his gaze towards the woman that so often made things easier for him, "I guess we are a family in every way that matters. Family is what you make of it...It's the people you know will always be there for you."
"And after everything we've been through together, I think I can safely say that as messed up as our lives are in many ways...At least we still have a family to help us every step of the way," said Scott, who couldn't help but smile as he looked back at the people who had filled that hole that had been left in his heart since that fateful day in the skies over Alaska.
"Amen to that!" said Jean as she made one final move, "Check mate..."
"Damn..." said X23 with a sigh as she looked at the trap she had walked right into, "Best two out of three."
"You're on!" said Jean as they began to reset the pieces.
Then suddenly, before another game could begin, the door to the lounge was opened and the five mutant soldiers quickly stopped what they were doing and instinctively took their usual, respectful poise...For Magnum, their trusted teacher and mentor, had stepped in with a simple, yet vital message for her pupils.
With a course of action finally given to them by the higher ups, the General called in an impromptu meeting for the five mutant soldiers that had served the organization so well. His trip to Washington had been cancelled in light of the mass chaos caused by the sentinel incident and a new set of priorities now dominated for the super secret program. This wasn't the first time such a meeting had taken place as a result of a crisis, but this was by far one of the most serious gatherings thus far for Shadow Cell.
As with all meetings, there was a great deal of protocol that the five mutant soldiers had to follow before heading into the aptly named War Room where they got most of the details concerning each mission. It was a very advanced area of the facility and was usually forbidden for any of them, the five mutant soldiers included, to tread anywhere near it because of the sensitive nature of the data that was being processed. It was here where much of the information that was gathered from all over the world from many different branches of the intelligence web was compiled and analyzed by an elaborate team of analysts that worked almost as long as the soldiers did to keep up with the flow of data. And given the magnitude of this situation, they had been putting in even more time as the mutant phenomenon took a firm hold of both government and society.
Of all the rooms, this one required the most GURSO soldiers to guard. Even thought it was always an annoyance for the General and Dr. Essex since they never questioned the loyalty of the team, the Colonel insisted upon it. Now, Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 were standing in a well lit area in front of a long table with the General, the Colonel, and Dr. Essex at the head along with many other subordinate officers surrounding them. And as with pretty much ever other part of their lives at the base, GURSO soldiers kept their guns pointed directly at them the whole time as the meeting commenced.
"Greetings once again Shadow Cell. I see from your schedule that you all have been working quite hard this past week," said the General as the meeting drew into full swing.
"Yes sir," said Scott as he and his comrades stood firmly and respectfully to their superior officer, "At the request of our drill instructors, our regiment has been intensified quite significantly."
"Indeed, and there is most certainly a reason for that," said the General as he was handed a folder with a classified sticker on the front, "Now I won't bore you with the formalities at this point, but you all probably have a pretty good idea of why you're this meeting was called."
"However, for the sake of argument...We're going to keep this really short and simple because there's really only so much you need to know," added the Colonel, sounding somewhat more distasteful as the General shot him a dirty look, which he fully ignored.
Many more of the officers opened up their files as a readout of the current situation was displayed for all to bear witness to. It was complicated to say the least, but luckily that was Shadow Cell's specialty as the General took over once again.
"As you all know, last week a historic incident took place in downtown Manhattan at approximately 11:47 AM Eastern standard time," said the General as many of the other officers began to take down notes and read over the reports, "The now infamous sentinel fiasco that exposed mutants to the world has sent the higher ups back in Washington into a tailspin and the public's reaction has been far from accepting. Now we don't know all the details, but what we do know is that both mutants and a group of humans known as the Friends of Humanity are responsible. The Friends of Humanity built the sentinel to destroy mutants...And mutants exposed it and themselves in the process."
Images on a holographic projector with a team of mutants fighting off the giant robot then flashed before the five mutant soldiers. Much of the footage came from news reports, but after some of the clips played, new image files came up showing specific individuals that had been key players in the incident...That they knew of at least.
"Now first off...We'll give you all some of the good news," said the General as an image of Bolivar Trask, the man who created the sentinels came up on the hologram projector, "The man you see before you, Dr. Bolivar Trask, was the man behind the sentinel program and the founder of the Friends of Humanity, an anti-mutant group that seeks to eliminate all mutants. He's a former black ops program leader who was the best in his field when it came to robotics, but he was kicked out for radical idealism and theft of classified data which would later be used to construct the sentinel. But as a result of this incident, he has been arrested and imprisoned indefinitely while his group has been officially disbanded."
"However, that's not what we're concerned about here," said Dr. Essex as he took over while the General organized his papers and a new stream of images were displayed on the holographic projector, "Just because Trask and his organization was stopped doesn't mean that all is said and done. What has been concerning the government as of lately are the other individuals that were involved in that incident...The mutants who helped take him down."
Then, images of the X-men and the Brotherhood were shown on the projector and the five mutant soldiers knew to make mental notes of each of them, for they had a feeling that they were going to be a chief concern in the not too distant future.
"We know them by two main groups..." said the Colonel as he brought up more image files, "One group is known as the X-men...The other is known as the Brotherhood. The X-men are based in a large, secure school that preaches peace between humans and mutants...The Brotherhood is based in a run down boarding house and preaches a less pacifists view."
"So it's the Brotherhood we should be we should be worried about?" asked X23 as looked at some of the major differences between the X-men and the Brotherhood based on their data images.
"No...It's both you should be worried about," said the Colonel, "Now mutants everywhere are still scattered and living in the shadows, but these two groups already show the early signs of factions and ideology. And both sides have already sought to recruit other mutants."
"In other words, they're setting up sides..." said Wanda, thinking it sounded too much like a rebellion of sorts that she and the others were so used to dealing with.
"We don't know that just yet," said the General, not jumping to the same conclusions he knew the Colonel had already taken hold of, "We don't know much of anything about each group other than some personal data. Details on their mutant powers, aspects of their daily lives, and data on the overall operation of their respective groups are sketchy at best and we've only had the bare bones data to go on."
"And that, my children...Is why you're here," said Dr. Essex with a slight grin, "Your mission as of now is to go on a series of reconnaissance runs of each group over the course of the next week. You will be conducting concealed stakeouts and obtain photos of each facility and their members while also taking note of the powers and abilities of each mutant."
"You will each go out on a strictly undercover ops basis," added the Colonel, going on in greater detail, "That means no regular uniforms since you'll all have to blend in."
"Don't worry Colonel, we've done that before..." said Vincent, remembering all the times he and the others had to fly in to heavily populated areas around the world like Moscow and Hong Kong to carry out missions against concealed urban based enemies.
"Not in this respect you haven't," said the General, "You'll be going to the city of Bayville...A regular American city with regular American...In other words, it's a place none of you have ever operated in before. This isn't going to be some run and gun style infiltration in Tehran or Latveria, you're going to be amongst the average, regular Americans that you all have done so much to save. The big catch here is that you'll be monitoring other mutants and not terrorists or enemy soldiers. Now they all look like regular, ordinary people...But that's pretty much where the similarities end."
"In other words...This is a strictly incognito operation and you are to give absolutely no hint of your existence...No exceptions!" stipulated the Colonel.
"Yes sir, we know the drill," said Jean, for the Colonel had made it a habit of drilling that one detail into their heads time and time again.
"And see that you stick to it..." said the Colonel firmly.
Even though it wasn't the most polite or respectful way to get a point across, the five mutant soldiers nodded in affirmation that they understood the terms. Over the years, they had grown somewhat used to this with the Colonel, but that didn't make him any less of an annoyance.
"What about our guns?" asked X23, still not clear on what they'll have to work with in carrying out this mission.
"You'll be in a crowded, social environment at times...So you'll only be allowed to carry concealed side arms," answered the General.
"But you are NOT to use them unless it's absolutely, positively necessary," stated the Colonel, making sure they got the importance of that vital detail, "And that goes double for your powers unless it's necessary to carry out the mission. If at all we hear of any misuse...Then you all will face punishment. Is that understood?"
"Sir, yes sir!" they all said in perfect unison.
"Good..." said the General as he took over, "Now you're all to begin immediately since this is a high priority mission. You are to check in ever three hours via com-link and whatever data you compile must be secured on encrypted data disks. You will use a handheld XR1000 GPS mapping and computing device that will give you the scope of the entire area both within the city and around the facilities and you will also use it in conjunction with the disks in order to create the necessary reports on each mutant you observe. Now normally we'd try to get you some safe houses to stay in, but given the short notice of this mission, the best we could do was locate specific isolated areas outside the city for you to camp at. They're not far from the target, so you should be able to stay close to each group. Time is key here so we can't afford to squander any. We've already provided you with appropriate clothes, food rations, supplies, camp equipment, and transport, so good luck and Godspeed. Dismissed."
Upon hearing that, Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 were led out of the room by a couple of lieutenants towards the main deployment area where they would undergo the usual protocols before they were released onto a mission. The rest of the officers present also got up to make their leave as well, but Dr. Essex, the Colonel, and the General all stayed behind for a brief word as the prospects of this mission.
"I noticed you didn't tell them everything we agreed upon Colonel," said the General as he pulled him off to the side away from curious listeners.
"The less they know, the less inclined they'll be to question anything," said the Colonel in response.
"I'm not concerned about that Colonel," stipulated the General in a somewhat annoyed tone, "Since when have they ever given us a reason not to trust them? They deserve to know as much as they can so they can better fulfill our mission and that includes some of the background data they were supposed to have on Xavier, Magneto, and the Brotherhood...Especially with Wanda."
"General...As shocking as it may be, I'm going to have to side with the Colonel on this one," said Dr. Essex.
"What?" both men said at the same time in a surprised tone.
"Dr. Essex, I thought..." began the General, but he wasn't allowed to finish.
"Yes, I know General...But for now, I think it would be best if the unit only occupy themselves with the most objective of details," said Dr. Essex in his highly refined tone, "You sometimes forget General...They are mutants. And this situation is entirely centered around mutants. They all know what they are and they all know how the world feels about them. And it is for that reason we must maintain their indifference even if it means leaving a few specified details out...And that includes keeping family issues like Wanda's out of the loop."
As much as Dr. Essex's words made sense, it was still strange that he was siding with the Colonel for a change since they had always been polar opposites since the early days of the project. The General still didn't agree with it since he had come to so greatly trust the five mutant soldiers that had dedicated their lives to their duty, but it was a little too late to change that now.
However, for Dr. Essex, there were plenty other reasons why he felt that the team should be kept in the dark about some of the more intimate details of what they were doing. In his mind, the less they knew the easier it would be for him when he finally puts his ultimate plan into action. Not to mention the fact that if Wanda found out about Magneto being the founder of the Brotherhood as well as her twin brother being a member, she may not take it very well. But that was a little tidbit he decided to keep sequestered for the time being, for it may come into play later.
"I see what you mean, Doctor...But still, don't you think that if they are to continue to trust us, we must also show that we trust them to do their duty?" asked the General.
"Indeed I do, sir...But with the way things are at the moment, I think it would be better if we kept it simple until the fury over the sentinel incident dies down," said Dr. Essex, sounding confident and certain of his position.
With a defeated sigh, the General conceded to the validity of what they were saying. He wasn't often swayed when it came to matters of protocol, but with everything being so messed up in general, it was probably for the best anyhow.
"I suppose you're right..." said the General, "But we have to consider what we tell them more closely with future missions...Especially if human/mutant tensions escalate."
"Oh don't be such a pessimist, General," said Dr. Essex in a more casual tone as he and the two officers made their way out of the room, "Let's just focus on the mission at hand with our strapping young lads out in the field once more and make sure we learn as much as we can about our latest point of interests. For who knows? Perhaps these X-men and Brotherhood will come into play later on..."
After leaving the War Room, the five mutants of Shadow Cell went through the usual protocols they had to follow before any mission. As always, they were repeatedly searched and monitored through numerous checkpoints as they made their way to a specific locker area where the clothing their superiors had carefully selected for them was laid out. It may have been a far cry from their usual uniforms, but they made no qualms about it as they got dressed, concealed their knives and firearms in special harnesses that would be worn under their shirts and along their legs, and retrieved the tools they were going to use during this mission.
Pretty much every detail about their appearance was made to help them blend in as with any other undercover spy mission...Only this time, it was somewhat strange because they were wearing clothes to make them look like regular, run of the mill Americans. Few missions ever required them to work like this. The only ones that did were the very rare missions where they would have to spy and infiltrate high risk terrorist groups that operated within the boarders of other Western countries like Germany and Sicily, but those kinds of missions were few and far between since they fell under the jurisdiction of other agencies like SHIELD and Interpol.
However, this time, the stakes were different and the situation was unlike anything they had ever encountered before. They were out to spy on mutants...Mutants just like them. They had never really come into contact with mutants with the exception of each other throughout the course of their lives as soldiers with only a few rare cases where their enemies had a psychic. But never before had they ever had to deal with mutants in a setting like this...Never before had they ever had to worry about mutants in a world like this since they officially didn't even exist up until a week ago. But, situation aside, it was another mission for Shadow Cell and they would carry it out like any other.
Once they were all properly dressed and outfitted with the necessary equipment, they were led by a sergeant towards a garage area where a single, mundane looking black sports car awaited them. It was no super sophisticated, high-tech spy car, but that really wasn't their style anyways. It only had a slightly supped up engine, a few compartments to store food and ammunition, and bore a special license plate that would keep them off the radar of local law enforcement. For the most part, the car would simply get them around and help them blend in, and that was more than enough for them.
As soon as they passed the final check point, they sent a confirmation signal to the General and the rest of the monitoring staff back in the heart of HQ and they were finally sent off in their regular looking sports car in their regular looking clothes. At first, they drove along poorly kempt dirt roads past all the security barriers that kept the vast Shadow Cell HQ hidden from the public eye. It took them a few hours before they even got onto a real road, but once they were on, the mission officially began.
"Damn it, do people really wear this shit?" asked X23 as she adjusted her somewhat uncomfortable red shirt, since she wasn't used to baggy clothing after all the skin tight combat uniforms that she had been wearing her whole life.
"Yeah, I know...It takes some getting used to," said Vincent, who was dressed in fairly loose fitting black shirt and dark blue jeans, "Then again, I haven't worn this stuff in years, so I wouldn't know."
"No kidding," said Wanda, also feeling a bit strange wearing regular baggy clothing that included a black shirt and black denim pants, "It's hard concealing weapons with American clothes since they've all become so damn loose and scant over the years. Hell, I almost prefer those burkas we had to wear back in Afghanistan. At least it was easy to hide weapons and blend in with those."
"Yeah, you could probably conceal an RPG launcher in those things," said Jean, who was wearing a simple loose red shirt and jeans.
"You can...I've done it before," said X23 in response.
"I don't doubt that," said Scott, who was dressed in dark blue shirt with black cargo pants, "But clothing aside, I doubt a mission like this will require anything near that kind of firepower. This is just a reconnaissance mission. If we do everything right, we won't have to fire a shot."
"And besides, you know how the Colonel feels about pyrotechnics," said Vincent, his tone growing somewhat distasteful at the mention of their least favorite commanding officer.
"Hey, pyrotechnics or not, he'll still find some way to yell at us when all it said and done," said Jean, rolling her eyes at the constant apprehension they had to endure at the hands of the Colonel.
"Well then let's not disappoint him, because I think the guy enjoys it," said Wanda as she finally stopped messing with her clothing once she was sure her guns and knife were secured and concealed.
"He probably does..." said Scott in agreement, "With any luck, he'll give himself a heart attack or stroke."
"Nah, he'll stay alive forever just to fuck with us," said Jean, "I think he sees that as his purpose in life as long as we're still breathing."
"Sucks for us...But then again, what else is new?" said Vincent as everybody began to settle in for the long three hour drive to Bayville.
In their minds, they began going over some of their many tasks that they were assigned to handle during this week long reconnaissance run. This was their first mission where mutants were the focus, but they had a feeling it wouldn't be the last. And for that reason, it was probably necessary for them to get up close and personal with these two groups that had garnered such interest among the organization. Neither of them knew what to expect, but then again, that was part of the job.
"So what do you think we'll find with these X-men and Brotherhood mutants?" asked X23 as they all mentally prepared themselves for the task at hand.
"I don't know X..." said Scott as he stayed focused on the road even as details of the mission ran through his mind, "There's no telling what either side will have in store for us...I mean, these are mutants we're talking about."
"Do you think some of them could be hostile?" she went on to ask.
"Knowing our luck...Probably," said Scott, speaking strictly from their track record, "But for now, we'll just have to forgo blowing people's heads off with this mission. We've got a job to do...And we won't know what we find until we find it."
It was Monday morning for the X-men, the Brotherhood, and the rest of Bayville as the five mutants of Shadow Cell drove into the area around seven in the morning. As soon as they were within the city limits, they activated their secure, low-frequency com-links to contact the General. Yet as they all parked the car in a relatively unoccupied parking lot not far from the office building, they all got a surprise as they checked in for the next phase of their mission.
"General, this is Cyclops...Part one of Operation Eagle Eye is a go, I repeat...Part one of Operation Eagle Eye is a go," said Cyclops as he and the others held back in the car.
"That's good to hear my boy..." said Dr. Essex over the line.
"Sir?" said Cyclops in a surprised tone as the sound of their mentor's voice echoed through the links.
"Surprised to hear from me?" said Dr. Essex over the line with a hint of humor in his voice.
"Dr. Essex...But, I thought..." began Mayhem, but Dr. Essex was quick to fill in the blanks.
"It was a last minute change at my request," said Dr. Essex, "I wanted to be the one who oversaw this mission for a change since it involves something I know more about than the Colonel and the General combined."
"But I thought the protocols of mission said we had to specifically check in with the General and at least three of our officers?" said Phoenix, remembering clearly what the General had told them.
"Let me handle that my children," assured Dr. Essex in his confident tone of voice, "Many of those protocols are unnecessary and you damn well know it. They're just a bunch of paranoid rules set up by the Colonel and his posse to better control you even when you're off doing your duty. And rest assured, I have pulled the necessary strings this time around so you can all better carry out your mission."
As the bewilderment of the five soldiers began to quickly wear off, the tension surrounding the mission seemed to ease some what. It didn't mean they would take it any less seriously, but it would give them one less thing to worry about while they carry out the tasks that they had been assigned. Yet still...There were some lingering questions about why Dr. Essex chose to head a mission like this when they were so used to the Colonel or the General being the one who gave the orders while they were in the field.
"But...Why now?" asked the Scarlet Witch.
"Because...Special situations sometimes call for special actions," said Dr. Essex in response, "I am the foremost authority on mutants and I know them better than anybody on the face of the planet. A mission like this simply requires someone who knows the finer details on the matter and as good as the Colonel and the General are at managing terrorists...Their knowledge of mutants is antiquated at best."
"I understand..." said Cyclops as the words of their mentor seemed to make at least some sense, "But how'd you get this past the Colonel?"
"Both he and the General have enough on their plate as it is..." answered Dr. Essex, not willing to give them the exact nature of how and why he wanted to head this mission, "But do not concern yourself with that just now...You all have a job to do."
"Right..." said Cyclops as he and the others stood ready to begin the next phase, "What are our orders?"
Over the line, a sinister smile spread across Dr. Essex's face, for he could barely contain the excitement he felt at the sheer implications that this mission had...Both for Shadow Cell and for his more 'ambitious' plans.
"I'm sending you the necessary protocols to your handhelds," said Dr. Essex, "In there, you'll have a complete map of the area encompassing the whole city, files on the known mutants that have many blanks we need to fill in, and a timetable for you all to carry out your observations. Now I've already divided you up into teams...Phoenix and Scarlet Witch will scope out the Xavier mutants while they attend school while Cyclops and Mayhem keep tabs on the Brotherhood. X23 will keep watch over the mansion in the meantime and be sure to make note of the layout and security of the area just in case we end up having to make a move on them in the near or distant future. Be careful and thorough at what you observe...Find out as much as you can about them both in terms of mutant powers and personal behavior."
"Consider it done, Doctor," said Mayhem with a firm confidence in his tone.
"Don't get too cocky," warned Dr. Essex, "Remember, there are still plenty of unknowns to deal with and it's vital that you all keep your anonymity. It'll be more difficult this time around because you'll be in a public setting dealing instead of a war zone. Add to that, some of the mutants in question are suspected psychics, so make sure your mental shields are at their utmost."
"Don't worry..." assured Phoenix, the team's powerful psychic, "I'll make sure no telepath catches even the slightest trace of our presence."
"I know you will, but remember to expect the unexpected my children...For there's no telling just where the information you gather will lead us," said Dr. Essex in an ominous tone, "Now go forth Shadow Cell...Make me proud."
Without another word, the com-link went silent and the five mutant soldiers were ready to begin their mission. With clothes that made them blend in like a fly on the wall and concealed powers that would aid them in each and ever facet, they were all ready to take on the daunting task at hand. Phoenix, the Scarlet Witch, and X23 exited the car while Mayhem and Cyclops stayed in and started the engine.
"We'll meet back here for a report at 18:00 hours," said Cyclops as the timetable was about to begin, "If you have trouble getting around and following them, Dr. Essex gave us the locations of a few places where you may be able to hot wire a few motorcycles."
"Don't worry...We'll find our way," assured Phoenix, "And if anything happens at all with any team, I'll keep a psychic channel open for us all to talk through."
"Good, we'll need something if we're going to maintain radio silence," said X23.
Then, as the sunrise began to bathe the city in a morning glow, the five mutant soldiers stood poised to begin their mission. While it was very different in many ways compared to the kinds of missions they were used to, it was a mission none the less and they were determined to carry it out with every bit of intensity and efficiency as they would any other.
"Okay Shadow Cell...We have our mission...Let's see it through," said Cyclops as they all put their hands in the center as they often did as their own little ritual before each mission.
"Kuwabara...Kuwabara..." they all said simultaneously.
And with that they broke the circle and made their way off to their respective targets.
Back at the Shadow Cell base, the com room where all missions were observed and carefully scrutinized, things quieted down for the most part as radio silence was initiated and the rest of the staff shifted into maintenance mode, simply keeping the channels of data flowing and keeping firm watch of the area.
Dr. Essex was the lead official present in the room, which was a great change for those who were used to the Colonel or the General, but they were all quick to adjust as things eased into more relaxed state of awareness as they simply let Shadow Cell do their duty.
On the high resolution video screen, an aerial view of the entire Bayville area was being broadcasted in real time from a spy satellite hovering over the area in cold vacuum of space. Certain places like the location of the Xavier Institute, the Brotherhood boarding house, and Bayville High where most of them attended were marked for reference as everything from traffic patterns to the flow of people along the streets was carefully monitored. And somewhere within this sea of data were the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell, working to carry out their mission as the data teams could only wait and wonder what kind of information they would receive.
Dr. Essex seemed somewhat more optimistic than usual as he looked over the map and made note of a few key features around the area where the two mutant teams resided. While the rest of the team was wrought with uncertainty, Dr. Essex seemed to be brimming with confidence as he kept a close eye on the status of the mission that he felt was the most important one to date...For him at least.
This attitude of his did not go unnoticed, but nobody dared to say a word...Except for the only person who was ever allowed to openly address Dr. Essex other than the Colonel and the General.
"Has it already begun?" asked Magnum as she stepped into the room and approached Dr. Essex from behind.
"Indeed it has, Magnum," affirmed Dr. Essex, "The next vital step has officially begun and not a moment too soon..."
"But what do you expect to find with the data that Shadow Cell gathers?" asked the deadly mercenary in her thick Russian accent.
Dr. Nathanial Essex simply flashed his most trusted associate a sinister grin as he leaned in closer so that nobody else could hear what he had to say.
"I only expect to find confirmation of that which I already know..." he whispered under his breath, "It's not the data that I'm eager for...It's the insight. Once I can confirm what I need to confirm...Then the next phase can begin."
"Does that mean I should prepare for more...Unofficial tasks?" she asked him in an equally discrete tone.
"Don't worry...I trust you'll be ready," said Dr. Essex, "It's the rest of the world that should be preparing...For it shall all begin with this fateful mission."
Back at the Xavier Institute, the usual scramble for a ride to school was in full swing as the students scurried about in preparation for yet another day at Bayville High. Things may not have gotten any easier with them being known mutants, but that didn't mean that they had to deal with being late in addition.
"Come on you bloody slowpokes! We're going to be late again!" yelled Betsy as she and Warren stood in the foyer with their backpacks in hand, looking ready to leave.
"Oh, don't leave yet!" said Kitty from upstairs who was trying to fix her hair, "My blow dryer was acting up again! I'll be right down!"
"Well hurry!" shouted Warren, "We don't want to give Principal Kelly another reason to yell at us!"
As activity on the upper levels intensified, Bobby and Sam made their appearance as they both slid down an ice slide that Bobby had made and scrambled to the garage.
"C'mon Bobby! Let's grab a couple of the motorbikes before Ray and Roberto take em first!" urged Sam.
"Right behind you man!" said Bobby as they both slid off the ice slide and passed an increasingly frustrated Betsy.
"Bobby! I thought the Professor told you no ice slides indoors!" yelled Betsy, growing annoyed with everybody's incessant tardiness.
"Hey, sorry 'mother,'" said Bobby with a laugh, "But you did say to hurry!"
Before Betsy could yell at them again, Sam and Bobby were already gone. Then, Tabitha, Rahne, and Amara made their appearance as they all slid down the banister and scrambled towards the garage as well.
"Heya wings!" greeted Tabby, "We're catching a ride with Roberto today, so don't worry about overcrowding your car!"
"What? How'd you rope him into that?" asked Warren, surprised because Roberto had just gotten his license, he had been more partial to taking one of the many motorbikes that Xavier had in order to help them all get around.
"Flashed him my boobs! Now come on!" said Tabby as she and the two other giggling girls made their way towards the garage, leaving Betsy and Warren to just look back in bewilderment.
"Something tells me I don't even want to know..." said Betsy as she just shook her head at the New Mutant's knack for making mischief, "Come on, let's get going luv."
"They snooze they lose I guess," shrugged Warren as he adjusted his shirt so that his confined wings were secured, "You want me to drive today?"
"Yeah, sure," said Betsy as they both made their way towards the garage, "I could use a break anyways after all the rides I've been giving the girls since the whole sentinel thing has made public transportation a nightmare."
"Tell me about it..." said Warren as they arrived just in time to see Roberto drive off with Tabby, Amara, Jamie, Rhane, and Ray in one of the Professor's many cars while Bobby and Sam sped off on motorbikes.
As they got into Warren's prized red convertible, Kurt appeared in the back seat ready to go and Jubilee ran through the door out of breath from making a mad dash to catch a ride with the rest of the New Mutants, but apparently arriving too late.
"Hey! They left without me!" said Jubilee in a disgruntled tone.
"Relax, they're out of sight now and you'd probably be safer with us anyways," said Warren as he started the ignition, "Roberto may have managed to get his license, but that doesn't mean he's a good driver."
"Hey! At least he's not as bad as Kitty," said Jubilee as she hopped into the back seat next to Kurt.
"True..." said Betsy, still cringing from the last time she was suckered into taking Kitty out for a drive.
As Warren was about to pull out, Kitty ran out into the garage still fixing her hair with a comb, grunting and struggling to get the tangles out.
"Hold on, ugh! I'm here! I'm here!" she said as she climbed into the back and sat between Kurt and Jubilee.
"Let me guess...Phased through the blow dryer again?" said Kurt with a smirk on his face.
"Yeah...I know," grumbled Kitty as she put her comb away and just sank into her seat, "But it wasn't my fault! Rogue, like, totally startled me when she started banging on the door!"
"So what's that now...Three gizmos you fried this year so far?" said Jubilee with a smirk.
"Four..." said Kitty grudgingly as Warren started to pull out.
"Hey vait! Vhat about mein sister? Aren't ve going to vait for her?" said Kurt, stopping Warren once again.
"She snoozes, she loses," said Betsy with a shrug.
"Besides...She'll probably catch a ride with Remy or something," said Warren as he wasted no more time in pulling out into the driveway.
Just as the car left the garage, Rogue stormed out of the door just in time to see them leave without her. Letting out a frustrated grunt, Rogue did not look forward to facing another detention in a school that was already made worse with mutant bigotry.
"Aw dang! Not again..." moaned Rogue.
Just then, another presence entered the garage.
"Dey leave without ya, cherÃ¨?" said Gambit with his accented voice as Rogue was once again startled by Remy's sneaky entry.
"Well it ain't like it was mah fault! Kitty was hoggin' the bathroom all mornin' and Ah couldn't find mah gloves!" she said in a fit of frustration.
The Cajun mutant only saw this as another opportunity as he kept up his cocky grin that had come to define him so well.
"Well dat ain't no problem," said Remy in a confident tone as he walked over to his motorcycle which sat next to Logan's and grabbed his helmet, "Remy would be more den happy to give ya a ride."
"A ride from you?" said Rogue, sounding somewhat skeptical, "Why? Ya don't even go to school."
"Doesn't mean Remy can't give ya a ride," said the Cajun as he tossed her a spare helmet, "And besides...It'll get ya there faster and it'll be more excitin' den ridin' wit de others."
As Rogue checked her watch, noting that she was probably going to be late if she tried any other way, she let out a defeated sigh as she took the helmet and strapped it on.
"Fine swamp rat...Ya got yourself a deal," said Rogue much to Remy's approval, "But if this ends up anythin' like that last time ya gave me a ride..."
"Aw come on, cherÃ¨..." coaxed Remy as she got on the back of the motorcycle, "Ya can't say dat ya didn't have fun speedin' down dat hill and winnin' dat drag race."
Rogue blushed somewhat at the memory, but thankfully the helmet concealed it, for she didn't want to give Remy anything else to be cocky about.
"Well...Maybe a little," she conceded.
"Dat's de spirit!" said Remy as he revved up the engine, "Now hold on, cherÃ¨! Dis is gonna be the best ride to school ya ever had!"
Upon hearing that, Rogue proceeded to securely wrap her arms around Remy's torso, a feeling they both secretly relished in as the motorcycle sped out into the driveway with a roar and passed through the open gates. And even though Rogue probably wouldn't have admitted it directly, she was happy that she could do something like this that felt so close to touching, yet so far at the same time as she simply held on and enjoyed the ride while it lasted.
However, as Warren's car and Remy's motorcycle passed the gate and sped off for another day at Bayville high, none of them saw X23 hiding in the bushes watching them leave or noticed when Phoenix and the Scarlet Witch began following them at a discrete distance on motorcycles of their own. None of them had a clue that they were being closely observed, and if the mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell had anything to say about it...It would stay that way, for their mission had just begun.
AN: To be continued for now folks! Shadow Cell has a new task to take care of, but they'll definitely have their work cut out for them. And it seems that it's holding a special level of importance for Dr. Essex, but you'll have to read on to find out why! What will Shadow Cell find as they learn about the X-men and the Brotherhood? Stay turned to find out! So what do you all think? How have you been enjoying this new universe I have created? Please tell me! Send me your reviews via email or post them on the website! I hope you all have enjoyed this story thus far because trust me, it's far from over! Thank you all very much for reading and I wish everybody the best!
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