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 22: Interpretation
Throughout the course of the week long mission, data kept streaming in from the field at a near constant pace for the advanced intelligence deciphering teams of Shadow Cell to process. There were few breaks for the five mutant soldiers or the teams back at the base, but like any mission, there was often little time to set aside for rest. Nevertheless, the five mutant soldiers in the field managed to sneak in what sleep they could by camping out in the designated areas given to them by the protocols or taking a quick rest in the jeep if possible. Yet even as shifts came and went for the crew and the five mutant soldiers, Dr. Nathanial Essex stayed present the whole time...Never once taking a moment to rest or sleep. It seemed like a super human feet to those who worked with him, but they dared not speak a word about it as they kept to their duties as much as the doctor kept to his.
The data that was coming in was quite diverse. Everything from names and powers to personality profiles were taken by the five mutant soldiers and sent back to HQ for logging and interpretation. Yet there was certain data that Dr. Essex took far more interest in than others...Data that he took careful note of when the rest of the crew wasn't looking. There were so many mutants...So many diverse powers...And each one of them was a testament to the power of the X-gene. Progress on the next step of his ultimate plan was already secretly underway, but he needed to know what he had to work with and as he looked over file after file of data on the mutants of the X-men and the Brotherhood, he grew all the more optimistic about the resources he would have at his disposal for when the time came.
"Doctor...We're getting another uplink from the Brotherhood front with Cyclops and Mayhem," reported one of the female computer operators, "They request permission to transmit."
"Permission granted..." said Dr. Essex eagerly as he watched more information blare across the many computer screens littered throughout the area.
Before him, data over each member of the Brotherhood was added to supplement what had already been found out. Now they were getting a clearer picture of what their powers were and how they functioned in comparison to that of the X-men. There may have been a world of discrepancy between them in the eyes of an impartial observer, but such differences meant absolutely nothing to Dr. Essex, for there was so much more beneath the surface that fascinated him with every new tidbit of information that came in.
"Amazing..." said Dr. Essex as he went through some of the Brotherhood files, "So many different powers...Such great potential for growth. It's almost a shame that they act like such arrogant outlaws...No discipline...No rules. It's sad really."
Few of the computer operators thought much of Dr. Essex's words, yet the more he looked at the data, the more enthused he became. For it wasn't just their powers that fascinated him...It was their connections as a group that he was curious about. Pre-mission intelligence stated that Magneto, a mutant Dr. Essex knew better than anybody could have imagined, founded and ran the Brotherhood from afar. Yet while Dr. Essex didn't doubt that in the slightest, Magneto's plans were of great interest to him for a multitude of reasons.
He knew he had to be planning something...But at the moment, it was clear that he didn't have the resources to do something as grand as the rest of the officers throughout the base suspected. No...Dr. Essex knew Magneto better than that...There was most certainly something else he had planned before he went along with his pro-mutant bandwagon that he had so foolishly ridden for the greater part of his life. While his intentions were clear, Dr. Essex was more concerned with the means in which he chose to go about his ultimate goals...For such resources may prove vital for him to finish what he had started all those decades ago.
As Dr. Essex was eagerly pouring over the data about the Brotherhood, the secure door that separated the super secret intelligence processing area from the rest of the base opened and the Colonel stepped in. Like the rest of the staff, it looked as though he hadn't been sleeping much since the mission began, but as always he took such restlessness in stride as several of the officers present in the room saluted him as he made his way over to Dr. Essex.
"Still at it I see..." said the Colonel as Dr. Essex turned to face the officer that had been his most vocal critic since the project began, "Do you ever sleep?"
"Whenever I can work it into my schedule, Colonel," joked Dr. Essex in response, "You said it yourself...If our enemies don't rest, then neither can we."
"And what have you managed to find as a result of this void of sleep that you seem so predicated on expanding?" asked the Colonel.
"A lot of useful data, in fact..." stated Dr. Essex as he displayed for the Colonel some of the readouts on the mutants of the X-men and the Brotherhood on one of the computer screens, "We're finally getting an idea of their powers, history, function, and ideology. And for the most part, the early suspicions about Xavier and Magneto were right. They are in many ways, the two sides of the human/mutant conflict...One advocates war, the other advocates peace...A classic hawk and dove dichotomy if you will."
"And what about their plans? Did you manage to get an idea of any sort of steps or protocols they operate under for the advancement of their cause?" asked the Colonel.
"Colonel...It's a school and a fraternity...Not the military," stated Dr. Essex, earning him a cold glare from the disgruntled officer, "One operates like any other school...Teaching and helping students find their place in the world. The other operates like a haven...A place where rebels who feel like outcasts and are driven by their arrogance can go to follow an idea that gives them a sense of belonging and ambition."
"But they're all mutants, Doctor..." said the Colonel, sounding quite distasteful of the breed as he looked at the screen, "There's no telling what kind of conflicts they could cause. We don't know what they're planning...We don't know if they constitute a threat...And we don't know what kind of action to take."
"Well you best not worry about that in this instance, Colonel," assured Dr. Essex, "Such decisions are not for you to make in this instance."
"Indeed...But I'm still not too fond of the General placing you in charge of this most critical operation," said the Colonel distastefully, "Mission operation protocols dictate that only ranking officers may oversee a mission and you're not an officer last time I checked."
Dr. Essex didn't flinch even at the look the Colonel gave him. It was clear he was still sore over him being chosen for the job when it was almost always the Colonel who took to such duties. It seemed as though no amount of success or prestige from over eight years of success within Shadow Cell was enough alleviate his lingering suspicions over the esteemed scientist. And while Dr. Essex had grown somewhat accustomed to his attitude...He was beginning to grow quite annoyed with it, especially when he was on the verge of accomplishing his lifelong dream.
"Special situations sometimes require special actions," said Dr. Essex in response, "You may be a good officer, Colonel...But you don't know shit about mutants other than the fact that they're a menace."
"Say what you will about my beliefs, Doctor...My rank still supercedes yours in instances such as this," said the Colonel in a threatening tone that did not sit well with Dr. Essex, "Now I don't have to approve of the General's actions...I don't even have to like them...But it's not the actions that bother me."
"Then what is it Colonel?" asked Dr. Essex, "What is it that still sours your mood even with all the success and stature that Shadow Cell has brought you these past eight years?"
"It's you...Doctor," said the Colonel, his tone growing all the more hostile as he looked Dr. Essex in the eye with a cold glare, "For eight years...I've watched you use this vast, elaborate facility as your own personal chemistry set. And with every accomplishment you've flushed out of the resources of this project, it's brought you lavish praise from the General and immense influence."
"I'm waiting for the bottom line Colonel," said Dr. Essex, not flinching under the Colonel's gaze.
As always, Dr. Essex seemed to simply brush the Colonel off as a mere annoyance. Yet that only seemed to give him more reason not to like him. And either way, it only heightened the message that the Colonel was trying to convey.
"Doctor...You can brush me off like a bug as many times as you want and forget every word I've ever said to you," said the Colonel, his tone brimming with seriousness, "But remember this and remember this well...I'm not afraid of you."
And upon saying those final words, the Colonel made his exit, a couple of GURSO soldiers following him closely in his wake. As much as Dr. Essex detested the Colonel, he couldn't help but snicker inwardly at those final words that he had spoken to him...For neither he nor anybody else at the organization had a clue as to what lay ahead.
Then, as Dr. Essex looked back at some of the profiles of the X-men and the Brotherhood, a sinister grin spread across his face as he reflected upon what the Colonel had just said.
"You will be Colonel...Mark my word...You will be."
On the battlefield that was Bayville, the five mutants of Shadow Cell worked into their third day of the mission. So far, their targets had operated in a pretty predicable fashion. They got up, went to school, came back, took part in training sessions both indoors and outdoors, and then went back to sleep. All along the way, none of them had a clue that they were being closely monitored. Professor Charles Xavier may have been the most powerful telepath in the world, but even he was no match for the strong mental shielding of the highly trained soldiers or the shadow class psychic powers of Phoenix.
The five soldiers kept with their constant reports back to HQ and monitored any suspicious activity that they exhibited. And for the most part, the Xavier Institute didn't garner too much suspicion, for it seemed to follow the guidelines of it's name and functioned as a school. Every time when the students returned to the institute from Bayville High, Phoenix and the Scarlet Witch would converge with X23 and carry out a more thorough investigation of the activity that was brewing within. And thanks to Jean's psychic scanning and the Scarlet Witch's computer hacking, they learned more of the elaborate lower levels of the institute. They were a bit shocked to learn that the school had such vast facilities underneath, some of which resembled the technology back at Shadow Cell. They even discovered that Xavier had a plane which they had to contact Cyclops to identify, which turned out to be the SR-77 Blackbird...A plane that was thought only to exist on paper. It showed just how advanced and well connected Charles Xavier was, but despite such advanced resources, he did not garner nearly as much suspicion as the Brotherhood.
Cyclops and Mayhem continued to scope out the Brotherhood boarding house far more intently upon hearing that mysterious phone call between Mystique and the leader and founder of the group, Magneto. The overall operation of the Brotherhood was nothing short of chaos with Mystique being the only one trying to maintain a certain level of control and order. Yet time and time again, the two mutant soldiers watched as she failed to keep the peace whenever conflict broke out. Her solution to everything seemed to be shouting...A trait both Cyclops and Mayhem were quite familiar with, only in Mystique's case, the Brotherhood often gave her reasons to lose her temper. And if their sense of pity hadn't been trained out of them over the course of many years of soldier training...They may have actually felt sorry for her. But pity or not, she was still a target and with every occurrence they followed with them, the overall undertone of the Brotherhood became more and more suspicious.
After checking in with HQ for their scheduled report, the five mutant soldiers settled in their secretive positions around their targets as the night fell upon them. Cyclops and Mayhem took up shelter in the trees surrounding the Brotherhood boarding and Phoenix, X23, and the Scarlet Witch did the same along the perimeter of the institute. They remained vigilant and alert even as the residents in each facility turned in for the night, for they couldn't allow themselves any rest on a mission like this...Not when everything they found only drove them to seek out more information concerning this mysterious place.
On the perimeter of the institute grounds, Phoenix returned to the concealment of the trees where her two comrades were still observing the institute through binoculars and microphones after having done a flyby and a quick survey of activity on the other side. It was late and they all knew that activity inside would be down for the night, but they were all used to functioning at such hours and took the time to rest their minds, which seemed as though they had been going a mile a minute from the very instance this mission started.
"So how's activity on the other side?" asked the Scarlet Witch as she continued using her handheld computer to access a few of the security cameras for an inside view of the institute.
"All quiet by my readings," said Phoenix in response as she sat down behind the large tree along with her two comrades, "What about the inside?"
"Sleeping for the most part," she answered, "Although I have seen some activity from a few light sleepers."
"Well keep an eye on them...Light sleepers usually have a reason for being light sleepers," said Phoenix, speaking from her own experience as she did a quick psychic scan of the area, "What about you X23? Can you hear anything?"
The former living weapon was silent for a moment as she listened in on some of the noises she picked up with her keen sense of hearing over the sonic ears. She was also using her binoculars on their night vision setting to observe the exterior of the institute, but it was merely a formality since the Scarlet Witch was taking care of the interior with her computer hacking.
"Not much other than a few people snoring..." she said in response, "And a few people sneaking around."
"Yeah, I saw that too," said the Scarlet Witch as she shuffled between security cameras, "That girl with the short blonde hair and her friend went downstairs to steal a few snacks and the purple haired girl snuck into the winged guy's room."
"Gee...I wonder what they could be doing," said Phoenix with a hint of sarcasm in her tone as she rolled her eyes.
"Like that's hard...And I just heard some of the noises they were making. You think we'll need to know what she means when she screams 'winged stud hunk?'" said X23, her face cringing slightly as she quickly switched the channel on her microphone.
"Well that's one bit of intelligence we don't need to know," said the Scarlet Witch, "If for some reason Dr. Essex wants to know about their fucking habits, then he'll let us know."
Silence once again fell upon the three mutant soldiers as they continued their observations, working under strict radio and communication silence as dictated in the protocols. The only thing they were allowed to do offhand was psychic communication to check in with Cyclops and Mayhem, who kept up with activity on their end. Yet even this mode of communication was silent as they all focused on their mission despite the lack of activity.
While they were all working in a more relaxed state for the most part, X23 on the other hand, was still quite edgy from all the things she had seen over the past three days...Namely the actions of Wolverine. She didn't tell any of her comrades about what she had felt when she first saw him...She didn't even think too much about it. But whenever she caught a glimpse of him through her binoculars or heard his voice through the microphone...Her mind and body tensed.
However, among all the things she had observed with this mission, none stuck out more strongly than...The interactions Logan made with that white haired woman named Ororo. At first she thought that was just some kind of fluke, but as her experience always reminded her...There were no such things as flukes in this world. They did what they did for a reason...And every time X23 thought about it, she grew all the more dazed and confused.
Suddenly, through her binoculars, X23 caught a glimpse of Logan as he made his final rounds for the night, checking up on all the students to make sure that they were safe and secure. Yet as he neared Ororo's room, he stopped for some reason and simply looked at the closed door as if there was something there that X23 could not see. She watched with curiosity as the man whose blood created her just stood there before Ororo's door, not doing anything else from what X23 could see. Then suddenly...She heard him say something that came in over the microphone...Something that only confirmed that what she saw between them earlier was no fluke.
"Night darlin'..." whispered Logan into the night as he finally retired to his room.
X23 set the binoculars down and simply looked back at the darkened mansion with a look of confusion. Phoenix and the Scarlet Witch were too preoccupied to notice, but such a sight struck a chord with X23...For what she saw simply didn't make sense to her. Emotions had never made much sense to her, but this one was just...Different. She had seen it before...But had never commented on it or so much as asked about it. Now she was curious...And she had to know whether it pertained to the mission or not.
'Phoenix...' sent X23 via psychic communication, quickly gaining the attention of her comrade, 'Can I ask you something? Something that's not necessarily mission related?'
Phoenix looked back down at her friend and fellow soldier with a curious look, seeing the somewhat confused expression on her face and grew somewhat concerned.
'What is it X?' she sent back to her, sounding every bit as willing to listen, 'Is something wrong?'
'No...' she assured her, 'Nothing's wrong it's just...Some of the things I've been seeing on this mission...The things I've been seeing between certain people...They just...Don't make any sense.'
'Well it's best not to worry about such things now,' sent Phoenix, once again preparing to focus her attention back on the task at hand, 'You should probably save such concerns for when the mission is over.'
'No...This is important...I can feel it,' responded X23 in an affirmative tone, 'I just...I need to know...'
'What do you mean?' asked Phoenix, growing all the more curious, 'What did you see earlier that didn't make any sense?'
'It wasn't just what I saw earlier...' sent X23 in response, 'It's what I've seen in other forms for years now. I know it means something...I know it's important...But I don't know what it is.'
'Okay...You've officially lost me here, X,' said Phoenix in response, now growing confused.
'Well...It's just that I've noticed...' began the former living weapon that had once been forbidden to feel, 'Some of the ways in which certain targets look at each other resemble the ways in which you and Cyclops look at each other.'
That had caused Phoenix to nearly freeze up upon hearing her words...For she hadn't thought anybody had noticed the way she and her long time friend, whom she had come to consider her soul mate, interacted when nobody was looking. She thought they had done such a good job of hiding it...Keeping inside all those pent up feelings and emotions and only letting them out with each other through their special mind link or when they had a quiet moment alone. But if X23 had seen it...Then was it possible for anybody else to have noticed? Neither she nor Cyclops wanted anybody to know about their secret love, for they didn't want any of the Shadow Cell officials to split them apart or forbid them to feel such things for each other. Even though they were often told that emotions on the battlefield were a tremendous liability...Phoenix knew from experience that they could also give her the strength and drive she needed to push herself beyond her limits and succeed where she would have otherwise failed.
'How...How did you know about that?' asked Phoenix to her comrade as she struggled to hold her focus after what X23 had said.
'I've known about it for a long time,' answered X23, making it sound as though it wasn't a big deal, 'It was clear for anybody to see...Only I could notice certain aspects that others couldn't. Whenever you two look at each other...I hear your heart rate go up, I see your eyes dilate, and I sense a change in your breathing. It's as if...Somehow, you look at each other in a way that you don't look at anybody else. You see something in each other that nobody else is able to see. I just...I don't know what it is. I don't even know if I'm familiar with the terms to describe it...'
'That's probably because there aren't any...' said Phoenix with a sigh.
'What do you mean?' asked X23, hoping that maybe this would lead to some answers.
'X...You know that Cyclops and I were the first once recruited by Shadow Cell, right?' she told her, hoping to at least try and explain this in the clearest possible way.
'Yes, I know.'
'Well...The thing is...Cyclops and I have a...Connection,' said Phoenix, trying to use her words carefully.
'Connection?' asked X23, sounding confused by her use of words.
'Yes...A connection,' explained Phoenix, thinking hard about how she was going to explain this, 'You understand what love is right?'
'Yeah...A little bit,' she sent in response, making it clear that her perceptions on emotions were sketchy at best.
'Then...You understand that it's a powerful emotion that links two people together in a unique way, right?' continued Phoenix.
'I...I think so,' replied X23, not quite understanding her definition of love in comparison to the one she was familiar with.
'Well...' explained Phoenix, trying to find the right words, 'With me and Cyclops...It's more than just love.'
'More than just love? What do you mean?' asked X23, only growing all the more confused.
'I mean...' she said, struggling to put into words what she had always felt, yet never been able to ascertain, 'Cyclops and I are linked in a way that goes beyond things physical or emotional. When I first saw him...I thought he was a dream or some kind of angel. He was the first person I saw that actually made me feel...Warm inside. I don't know exactly when it happened...But after joining Shadow Cell, going through the accelerator, and growing up together as friends and soldiers...Something formed between us...Something that went beyond just love. Even when we're not around each other...I can feel him in my head...And he can feel me.'
'But...How is that possible?' asked X23, still not understanding this strange phenomenon.
Phoenix simply let out a light sigh, for she had been trying to find a way to describe it for so long now, but she was no closer to doing so than she was on that fateful day when she first saw him back at the insane asylum. Much of her memories from the past may have been fuzzy or jaded at best...But in many ways, it all became so much clearer that fateful day when she first locked yes with the young boy that she was now so deeply linked to in such a profound way.
'I wish I could tell you, X...But I honestly don't know,' answered Phoenix in response, 'What you probably saw that confused you was affection and attraction...Some of which are early signs of blossoming love, but not exactly love itself. But for me and Cyclops...It's a lot more complex than that.'
It began to make a little sense to X23 as she took a moment to think about it. Some of what she saw looked like it went beyond interaction and now she was understand what it was. In the past, she had only been taught that there were certain levels of closeness between people such as like and love...But what Phoenix had just described sounded as thought there was something else to it...A level of closeness between two people that she could not fully ascertain. She had seen it's power when she looked at Cyclops and Phoenix, yet until now she never thought too much about it or had an understanding of it.
Thinking back to what she had seen between Wolverine and that woman, Ororo, it began to make sense. What she saw was simply deeper than affection and showed signs of something more beneath the surface...Some of which had yet to manifest. It was still a very confusing concept for her...And for Phoenix as well. Yet it made more sense now and she hoped to more fully understand it in due time.
'So...Are you and Cyclops in love?' asked X23 simply.
'Yes...More so than even I'll ever be able to understand,' answered Phoenix without hesitation, 'You can clearly see it between us...But that doesn't mean you can understand it. Love just comes in so many forms...For some it's not returned, for some it's not as strong, and for some it's simply there, but unspoken...'
'You mean...Like Mayhem and the Scarlet Witch?' sent X23, thinking the first thing that came to mind.
Both she and Phoenix froze a bit as they cast a slight glance at the Scarlet Witch, who was still occupied with her computer hacking. Neither of them had really discussed much about some of the interactions they saw between Mayhem and the Scarlet Witch over the years. Both Cyclops and Phoenix suspected it that fateful day when they met her at the asylum and Mayhem seemed to be the most drawn to her. And over time, they appeared to share a close, yet unspoken bond...But unlike Cyclops and Phoenix, they didn't express or admit it, neither to themselves nor others. It was a strange quandary, yet it had been ongoing for some time now and nobody had really questioned them about it.
'Oh...So you see it too...' sent Phoenix in response.
'Well...It wasn't that difficult really,' replied X23.
'I know...' sent Phoenix.
'But...Why do they hide it more?' she asked as she thought about it a bit more, 'You and Cyclops seem to accept it...Mayhem and Scarlet Witch seem to repress it for some reason.'
'That...I can't be certain of, X,' answered Phoenix, choosing not to speculate on such matters, especially when they involved her two close comrades, 'Like I said...Love is a complicated matter. Some embrace it...Some scoff at it...And some are just confused by it because they don't know what they feel or what it means.'
The two mutant soldiers then fell silent as their gaze finally shifted away from the Scarlet Witch, yet they still wondered what it was that seemed to beholding both her and Mayhem back from accepting what was clearly there. Neither of them may have ever stated it directly, but they sure as hell hinted at it over the years whenever they confided in their friends. But only time would tell for them as it would for Cyclops and Phoenix...Only in their line of work, things were many times more complicated and matters of the heart often had to be set aside for the sake of the mission.
As night fell upon the Brotherhood boarding house, the chaos that usually ensued finally fell silent as the whole house was now almost completely dark. Cyclops and Mayhem took the time to grab a quick snack with some of the supplies they had stashed with them, which only consisted of a granola-like bar that was specially formulated to stave off hunger and provide their bodies with whatever they needed to keep going. Usually, they couldn't carry much, but they had grown used to running out of supplies in the field over the years and knew they could always hunt or gather what they needed to keep themselves going.
Activity had pretty much ceased within the walls of the Brotherhood boarding house and the information they could gather in such a state was minimal at best. It had been three days since they started their observations and the two mutant soldiers watching them were somewhat under whelmed with their level of activity. Only on a few occasions did they go out, mainly for food and such, and even though they always followed them, via the car they had or via the flight capabilities of Mayhem, they didn't find much more on them other than personal and character information.
Now, the two young men had a rare moment of silence in their job as they sent their scheduled report back to HQ, stating that the entire Brotherhood was now asleep and they were settling in for the night. Mayhem made a few flybys, but he didn't see much other than a darkened house. Now, on the third night of their mission, they found themselves huddling quietly under the cover of the trees, letting the night shield them as it so often did in the past and gathering their physical and mental strength for the next day...Although at this point, they didn't know what more they could gather on these renegade mutants who called themselves the Brotherhood.
"You know for a supposed threat to human civilization...I have to say, the Brotherhood doesn't exactly rank up there with some of the other threats we've faced," commented Cyclops in a low tone as he and Mayhem kept their eyes on the darkened house.
"Yeah...I'd have to agree with you. Because honestly, I was expecting more," said Mayhem in agreement, "But then again...We've only been observing them for three days. There's still plenty we don't know."
"But from what we do know, I think it's safe to assume that these teenage misfits can hardly be classified as mutant supremacist or militant terrorists at the moment," said Cyclops in response as he did a quick check of the interior with the sonic ear.
"No, but as their home can attest...They're plenty capable of causing untold destruction," commented Mayhem.
As under whelming as the Brotherhood was to them, they couldn't deny that the residents inside wielded a great deal of power with their abilities, which ensured that they would still be a target in the eyes of Shadow Cell. Yet as mundane as many of their observations had been over the course of the mission, they couldn't fight the feeling that there was much more to them than the protocols had told them. On the outside, such a notion would have seemed crazy to most...Yet to the well trained eyes of Shadow Cell, there was definitely something more going on here and they would sure as hell find out even if it took them the whole week they had been given.
"Any signs of the shape shifter in there?" asked Mayhem as Cyclops looked through a pair of binoculars at some of the darkened windows.
"Mystique?" said Cyclops as he shifted the binoculars to the top floor where her room was, "Nope...None."
"I think she's the one we need to keep closer track of tomorrow," suggested Mayhem, "She's the real wildcard here and if anything is going to shed some light on whatever it is they're planning...It's her."
"No argument here," said Cyclops as he set the binoculars aside, "But I'm more concerned about the man she keeps talking to over the phone...Magneto. He's definitely the one pulling the strings here...He's definitely the one behind the scenes, working the Brotherhood towards something big."
"But we haven't been able to trace any of her calls yet," reminded Mayhem, "And until we do, I believe our best bet at getting to him lies with Mystique. I don't know why she's doing what she's doing...But she's definitely a pawn in whatever game Magneto is playing."
"And an unwilling pawn at that..." added Cyclops, remembering how disgruntled and dissatisfied the shape shifter seemed to be with her current position, "It could be something we may be able to work with if we have to if mutant/human issues start to escalate."
A brief silence fell over the two soldiers as they went back to watching the house from afar, finding no activity other then snoring. Yet both mutant soldieries remained as alert as ever, knowing that missions like this required more patience than force. Doing reconnaissance work required its own unique mindset and as with every other aspect of being a soldier, Shadow Cell had learned to master it. Even though this wasn't some army of Latin American guerillas or a terrorist training camp in the Middle East, it was still important enough for them to take on the challenge with every bit of skill they had developed over the years.
However, they could not deny that this mission was unique. Never before had they been forced to deal with mutants like this since they had been officially non-existent in the eyes of the public and the government for so many years. Yet now that it was all out in the open and the world grew into a much more tense state of being, the mutants of Shadow Cell couldn't help but wonder where this would eventually lead them. And now that things were quieter throughout the Brotherhood house, it gave them a chance to think about it.
"So what do you think is going to happen?" asked Mayhem, breaking the silence as he kept the microphone on, scanning each channel for any unusual noise.
"With what?" asked Cyclops as he set his binoculars aside and turned his attention back towards his comrade.
"I mean with this...You know, with mutants," he said as he found himself musing over the state of the world that they now found themselves working to alleviate, "Everything is so messed up now. The government's scrambling, the people are scared shitless, and every branch of the military has been on high alert. Add to that...Some are already starting to take sides."
"I wouldn't exactly say that they're sides, Mayhem..." answered Cyclops, knowing where he was going with this, "Everybody is just scrambling for some sense of reassurance at this point. Some mutants find solstice with one group while others find solstice else ware. Humans act in the same way, pretty much going wherever they feel helps them deal with the new world they live in. Whether it's about war or peace isn't important when you think about it. It's just the world trying to balance itself after going through such a major change."
"But seeing all this has just got me wondering...What if a war does erupt between humans and mutants?" said Mayhem, "What if when everybody finds their place, one group decides to wage war on the other because they feel that they have the right? That certainly seems to be the Brotherhood's stance."
"Every side in a war feels they have a right...Otherwise, nobody would ever fight," reasoned Cyclops, "The mutant/human issue is no different. As long as one side opposes the other in some way, shape, or form...There's going to be conflict. That's just the nature of how different people interact."
"But this is mankind we're talking about here," reminded Mayhem, "And for something as fantastic as mutants, it's not impossible to consider that the fear and uncertainty surrounding them will inevitably consume them."
"That's just a by product of fear," said Cyclops in response, "Mutants are still new and nobody understands what they are or how they came to be. Mankind has a habit of fearing things they don't understand and Mutants may be a hard pill to swallow, but like it or not, mutants are a part of mankind. It all just depends on how long it will take humanity to realize that."
"The same should also go for mutants..." said Mayhem, "But conflict or not...How do you think the state of the world will affect us? I mean...We're both mutants last time I checked."
"Yeah...But mutation aside, we also officially don't exist," reminded Cyclops.
"All the more reason for the rest of the world to consider us expendable," made Mayhem, "One day, humanity could decide that the only way to achieve balance in the world again is to do a way with mutants. And one day, mutants could decide that the only way to achieve balance is to do a way with humanity. You and I are mutants...Phoenix, X23, and the Scarlet Witch are mutants...And if that day came, which side would we be fighting on?"
The two men thought about that for a moment as they considered the state of the world they found themselves embroiled in. Ever since they had joined Shadow Cell, they learned to think less of their mutation and more of their ability to use it to carry out a task. They had long accepted mutation as simply being a part of them. Even though they had long endured snide remarks from the Colonel and his GURSO unit, they never thought too much of comments because they just didn't pertain to their focus at the time. Now, whether they liked it or not, they actually had to worry about how humans and mutants got along. They may have been a government sponsored mutant task force...But the government was run by humans last time they checked.
"I don't think we should worry too much about sides at the moment," said Cyclops as he shifted his attention back towards the darkened Brotherhood house, "Magnum always taught us that in any conflict, it's best to be neutral and simply fight for whatever keeps you going. The human/mutant conflict may evolve into a war or it may gradually balance itself out with time, but either way...The ending is not as important as the path that leads there."
"Then I guess it's up to people like us to make sure that path mankind takes isn't one of self-destruction," concluded Mayhem, "Because as much as we've trained our whole lives for war...Nobody hates fighting wars as much as warriors."
"And I think that maybe that's what side we're on...The path and not the ending," said Cyclops as things once again fell silent between the two men as they focused back on the task at hand.
Each moment that came and went for them was merely a moment meant to prepare for the next. In a way, that was how they had always operated at Shadow Cell whether they were on a mission or simply training. Whatever helped them complete a task and move on to the next one, no matter how challenging or mundane, was enough to keep them going through the many rough times they faced together and on a personal level. But in the end, that's what helped make them stronger than any other force before them and they intended to stay true to that idea until the end...Whatever it may be.
The night passed on and few incidents other than the occasional breeze or forest animal sparked their interest. Yet both Cyclops and Mayhem kept themselves alert for any signs of activity. Then suddenly...Out of the quiet of the night...Something happened that shattered the serenity that had hung so strongly over the area.
"Cyclops, look!" said Mayhem as he pointed up towards the window of Mystique's bedroom.
"I see it..." he said as he grabbed the binoculars while Mayhem grabbed the sonic ear.
A lone black raven had suddenly made its way into the area and landed upon an open window on the top floor of the boarding house. Both Cyclops and Mayhem knew what this was as they watched the raven shift into the full form of Mystique. The shape shifter seemed exasperated and tired as she sauntered into her room, but she didn't collapse on her bed like she so desperately wanted to. Instead, she made her way over to her dresser and picked up a single black cell phone.
"Mayhem, can you filter out the static on the microphones?" asked Cyclops as he adjusted his earpiece which fed into the sonic ear, "We need to know who she's talking to on the other line."
"Don't worry...I already took care of it," said Mayhem as he adjusted a few knobs on the device, "During my last flyby, I snuck into her room and placed a mini-bug on that phone of hers."
"Will we be able to use it to trace the signal?" asked Cyclops, hoping they could somehow get a location out of where these calls were coming from.
"I already tried that, but I couldn't get past the scrambler," said Mayhem, shaking his head, "But we will be able to listen in on her this time."
As he got the right signal from the mini-bug, they quickly heard a dial tone in their earpieces. They listened intently as a number was dialed, which was probably a clone number from the sound of it, and a dark voice answered after only two rings.
"Mystique...Right on time," said the dark voice, "Did you get it?"
"Yes Magneto," affirmed Mystique, "I left the supplies at drop point like you said. It's already on it's way."
"Excellent," said the master of magnetism over the other line, "Did you encounter any problems? Does anybody know of what you stole?"
"Of course not," answered Mystique, confident in her abilities to perform the tasks that she was ordered to carry out, "You know I'm always careful."
"Careful is not enough in this instance, Raven," responded Magneto in a menacing tone, "Those parts are more vital than all previous components before it."
"I understand that, Magnus," said Mystique in an exasperated tone, clearly tired from all the running around she had to do in order to get this vital part in the first place, "I know how important that stone is to whatever it is you won't tell me about. But I managed to get it, didn't I?"
"Don't patronize me, Mystique...You have no idea how important that stone is," said Magneto in response, his tone more ominous and threatening, "It is the cornerstone of the next part of my plan for mutant liberation. My entire base was constructed around it. And if by chance that stone was somehow damaged or mishandled...Then the full blame will be placed upon you. Is that clear?"
"Crystal..." muttered Mystique in response, "But I assure you that the stone is completely intact and nobody knows of it's importance."
"They better not...For your sake, you should hope this next phase goes off without any complications," warned Magneto.
"I understand," said Mystique, hiding her bitterness towards Magneto's overly harsh tone, feeling as though it wasn't at all helping her state of mind, "So does this mean that the Brotherhood and I will finally be able to report to Avalon?"
"Eventually, Mystique..." said Magneto in an ominous tone, "Nobody must lay eyes on the fruits of my labor until the time is right. Keep the Brotherhood ready for now, but before any of you can come...I must make the final preparations."
And with those final ominous words, the line went dead and Mystique was finally allowed to collapse onto her bed, hoping that all the hard, painful sacrifices she had made would soon pay off. She tried to hold onto whatever faith she could even though Magneto had made it painfully clear that he neither liked, nor trusted her. But she didn't have much of a choice at this point and could only rest with the assurance that she'd know soon enough.
While she grappled with uncertainty, Cyclops and Mayhem quickly went to work recording and processing what they had just heard. They knew it was important and they had to report it promptly. Neither of them knew exactly what it meant, but they didn't think about that at the moment as they sent out an impromptu signal back to base.
"Dr. Essex, this is Cyclops and Mayhem reporting in, do you read?" said Cyclops into the transmitter on his handheld.
"I read you loud and clear, Cyclops. Go ahead," answered Dr. Essex.
"We just received some new data that may be of great importance concerning the Brotherhood," said Cyclops as he signaled Mayhem to prepare the uplink, "Mayhem is about to send it right now and we need an uplink."
"You've got it," said Dr. Essex without hesitation, eager to see what they had found on the Brotherhood since he knew they wouldn't have called unless it was important, "Linking up now. Just what is it that you're sending us?"
"It's a recorded phone conversation between Mystique and the leader of the Brotherhood, Magneto," answered Mayhem as he entered the necessary commands into his handheld, "I managed to put a mini-bug in Mystique's cell phone and we got what sounded like some very important information."
"Important how?" said Dr. Essex as he watched the file transfer into the database.
"We're not exactly sure," answered Cyclops, "But it sounds as though Magneto may be planning to make some sort of move very soon. He was talking about moving ahead with the next phase of his plan. We don't know what it is, but we know he's moving ahead with it."
This definitely sparked Dr. Essex's curiosity as he wondered just what Magneto was up to. He knew that he was a man of grand ambitions capable of even grander planning and if this came into conflict with what he was already in the progress of doing, then something may have to be done about it. Nobody knew Magneto like he did and as the file completed the transfer, he eagerly picked up a pair of headphones so he could listen to it without any interference from the other operators.
"Hold on...I'm listening to it now," he said as the transmission link between them went silent.
Dr. Essex didn't know what to expect as he heard the tense conversation between Mystique and Magneto through the headphones. Yet when he listened to the relatively brief conversation...A slow, sinister smile spread across his face. He couldn't believe it...Once again, the fates had been on his side. Those words...Stone and Avalon...He knew what they meant. He knew their significance. And with this data, it may be possible to proceed sooner than he had expected.
'Yes...I knew it!' he thought to himself as he could barely contain his enthusiasm, 'I knew that simpleminded wannabe tyrant would end up as yet another pawn in my plans! Oh Magneto, you ignorant fool...Can you really be this imprudent?'
His ultimate goal was so close now that he could taste it on the tip of his tongue. Everything was there...The place, the time, the resources...It was all there just waiting for him to implement. He was so lost in his thoughts that he almost didn't notice Cyclops and Mayhem voices coming through on the uplink.
"This call was all we were able to get and the mini-bug couldn't get around the scrambler so we don't know where the signal went," reported Cyclops as they finished up with the transmission, "We weren't able to ascertain what Magneto was talking about or what the importance is of this stone or where this Avalon base of his is located, but..."
Suddenly, Cyclops found himself cut off by Dr. Essex as he issued an order that was sent to all five of the mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell.
"Shadow Cell, this is Dr. Essex. Pull out and return to base. I repeat, pull you and RTB," ordered Dr. Essex in a tone that seemed to have a subtle hint of urgency.
The five mutants of Shadow Cell were all quite shocked upon hearing that order since they were never usually pulled out of a mission early. Cyclops and Mayhem simply looked at each other with a bewildered expression, wondering what it was in that phone conversation that had triggered this.
"Sir?" said Cyclops, not certain if this was an emergency of sorts, "But...We still have four days left in the mission. We've only..."
"The protocols have changed. The mission has been accomplished, Shadow Cell," said Dr. Essex, once again cutting him off as he frantically made his way about the data control consoles and issued the necessary commands to ensure that what he now knew would stay with him and him alone, "We have what we need, so gather your things and return to base...That's an order."
Upon finishing those words, the transmission link went dead and the five mutant soldiers were left in their bewildered state for a good couple of seconds or so before they silently complied with the order they had been given, not questioning it in the slightest as they had always done. Yet curiosity surrounding the abruptness of this change still hung strong, but they would have little time to ponder this too much...For back at the base, Dr. Essex already had big plans in store for them.
AN: Well there you have it! The mystery continues to evolve as Dr. Essex and his sinister plans finally begin to unfold! Do you want to know what the importance of Avalon or that stone is and why it got such a reaction out of Dr. Essex? Well stay tuned to find out! There is still plenty to come as things in the X-men: Evolution universe continue to change as a result of Shadow Cell's presence! So what do you think? Are you eager to see where this goes? Please tell me! Send me your reviews via email or post them on the fanfiction website! Either way is fine as long as you REVIEW! Thanks a lot for reading everybody! I really appreciate it and I wish you all the best!
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