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 24: Secret Mission
Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Vincent Freeman, Wanda Maximoff, and X23 wasted no time in getting dressed and reporting to Dr. Essex's office. Although from the get go, they could tell that something was slightly amiss. While they whole heartedly trusted him as their guide and mentor who had brought them out of the collective hell that was their past lives, they couldn't help but get an ominous feeling as Magnum led them to his office.
"Hey, where are all the GURSO soldiers?" asked Jean as she looked around the halls as they passed through the upper levels of the facility, "Don't they have to be here and have their guns pointed at our backs like always?"
"Don't worry...I took care of it," said Magnum in her stoic Russian tone.
"But...What about the Colonel or the General or pretty much every other officer on this entire base?" said Vincent as he kept looking around, finding none of the usual swarm of fully armed soldiers ready to blow their heads off at a moment's notice.
"You need not worry about that at this point. GURSO has been given another little task to carry out."
"Another task?" said Scott, finding that hard to believe if not impossible, "I thought their sole task was keeping us in their gun sights?"
Magnum remained stoic as the five mutant soldiers continued to sense a rather ominous feel about their current situation. Since they had joined Shadow Cell, there was no instance they could remember when the GURSO unit wasn't guarding them or looking over them with their weapons at the ready. It was one of the base protocols of the whole facility and the project in general and they knew how strict the leaders of the organization, Dr. Essex included, were when it came to protocol.
However, Magnum wasn't talking...For she would leave that task to Dr. Essex. As dutiful as her students were, there were still many things they were not yet ready to know. Growing up in a life so regimented and strict had placed them so firmly in the mentality that every aspect of their lives were regulated whether they were training at the base or in the field on a mission that it was definitely cause for concern when one simple aspect of their existence was changed. But to Magnum...There would be plenty of time for answers later...For as strong as her students were, they were still somewhat naÃ¯ve in the manner in which they perceived. And they would stay that way until they were ready...Whenever that may be.
"All your questions will be answered shortly my students," said Magnum as she led them down one of the main executive halls of the base, "There is a reason behind the suspicions I know you feel. But such feelings aside, you had best not concern yourselves with the minor details for now. Dr. Essex has already taken care of it..."
Shadow Cell once again fell silent as they simply followed Magnum down the unoccupied halls. It was still a strange feeling not having a platoon of heavily armed men packing enough firepower to wipe out a whole city block concentrated on them, but they pushed such thoughts aside for now, trusting that there was a good reason for all this and they would find out soon enough.
Once they got to the end of the hall where the offices of the Colonel, the General, and Dr. Essex resided, Magnum led them into the office where their next fateful challenge awaited them. Even though they had been in this office before on a few occasions in the past, it was always a big deal for them because whenever they entered, they would come out with their lives being very different. This is where they went when they were first issued their customized uniforms...This is where they were given the details of their very first mission...And this was where they had officially chosen the codenames they still bore to this day.
It was for that reason and many more that they could not yet fully ascertain that Shadow Cell was certain that what Dr. Essex had to say was of the utmost importance. And they would soon find out just how much such feelings would be affirmed as they approached the desk of Dr. Nathanial Essex and stood respectfully before him, ready to receive their orders.
"Ah my most dutiful children..." he said to them as he looked back at them with an ominous grin on his face, "I apologize for interrupting your much needed period of rest...But I'm afraid there is something of far greater importance at the moment."
The five mutant soldiers were completely silent as they listened attentively to their mentor who had been nothing short of a father figure to all of them since the fateful day he entered their lives and took them into this complicated existence. Dr. Essex had prepared a few holographic images for them in order to best explicate what he would require of them for this most important of tasks.
"First off...Yes, I know the GURSO unit is not present during this little meeting," he said, addressing their first major concern right off the bat, "And yes...I ordered it so without approval from the Colonel and the General."
"But sir..." said Scott, still finding it hard to believe that anybody at the base would allow them to exist outside of the crosshairs of the GURSO unit's guns, "How did you pull that off? And how can the Colonel and the General not know?"
"Simple tricks Cyclops...That's all you really need to manipulate a world such as this...Simple tricks," said Dr. Essex with a confident tone, "They all believe they have a place to be...They all believe what they are seeing right now is nothing out of the ordinary...And I simply made sure they do not have a reason to question it. Like a magician, it's only a matter of making them see exactly what I want them to see. You of all people should know that lies and truth can be one in the same as long as they are believed."
"But why sir?" asked X23, not used to any such break in regiment given her life both in Shadow Cell and Hydra.
"Because this needs to be secret my children..." he told them, adding to the overall ominous feel of their current situation, "What I'm about to tell you must not under any circumstances leave this office. Now I know it's a major breach of Shadow Cell protocol...But when you see for yourselves what I have to show you, I believe you'll understand."
The team of young mutant soldiers didn't comment or question the doctor in the slightest as he typed a few commands on his computer an activated the holographic projector. Then, upon his desk, several familiar images appeared before them as Dr. Essex began what he knew would be a moment to remember for each of them.
"As you all know...The data you gathered on the X-men and the Brotherhood was of the utmost importance for both national and global security," said Dr. Essex as he filtered through a few images of the X-men, "And as you also know...I pulled the plug on the mission early...But as I think you all probably have suspected by now, it wasn't for the reason I gave."
A strange feeling came over the five soldiers of Shadow Cell as they looked back at one another with a concerned expression, feeling as though all the uncertainty and suspicion they felt had actually been confirmed. This definitely garnered a great deal of their interest as they looked at a few holographic images...Many of which they took throughout the course of their mission.
"Now I understand the magnitude of my actions...But it was all for a good reason, I assure you," said Dr. Essex as he prepared to go to a few images that he knew some of his children may find disturbing, "First off...The initial protocols you were given to work off of for the mission were not exactly complete. We left a few minor details out...Some of which I think you all discovered during your observations."
Then, an image of Wolverine came up and X23 quickly tensed. The others quickly saw this and looked back at her as a troubled expression fell over her as she locked her sights on the man she that had so ardently confused her and caused a great deal of tension and stress.
"What you are seeing is not a fluke...That is the real Weapon X himself...The first ever attempt by our government to make a living breathing weapon and the precursor to Hydra. Yes...We knew he was a part of Xavier's institute...And yes...We kept it from you, X23."
The former living weapon gritted her teeth and forced herself to take deep breaths as she looked back at the image of the man responsible for her existence. At first she thought it had just been a one in a million chance that she just so happened to stumble onto. But as her experience always told her...Chance is only relative to what one knows of their world.
"But...Why?" she said as she felt Wanda and Jean place comforting hands upon her shoulders, helping to calm her down.
"Because we didn't want it to affect you my dear..." said Dr. Essex in his defense, "We were concerned that if you had known, you would have gone after him as I know your instincts so sorely desire...And from what I can see, I now know that such actions were justified."
Such actions still didn't sit well with X23 or the rest of the team for that matter since they never thought that Dr. Essex would keep something of such importance from them. They could see the Colonel doing that any day of the week...But Dr. Essex on the other hand was the one they were supposed to trust in the utmost. And unfortunately, there was so much more he had to tell them that would continue to erode that belief.
"But I'm afraid that Weapon X was a mere lead in to the true reason why I pulled you out. What truly made me so concerned was what you uncovered about the Brotherhood and Magneto...And as was the case with Weapon X...There was another little detail that was left out of your main protocols."
Dr. Essex then brought up an image of the master of magnetism himself...Magneto. And as soon as Wanda saw it, her eyes widened and her emotions immediately took hold...For all the anxiety and tension that she had been experiencing since the end of the mission had just been affirmed. Magneto...The man whose name evoked so many mixed feelings within her...Was her father. He was the man who threw her away into that heinous asylum all those years ago and left her to suffer.
"No! It can't be!" she yelled as her eyes began to glow and her powers began to simmer beneath her skin.
The lights began to flicker throughout the office and a few small objects began to rattle. Dr. Essex had expected as much, but even he couldn't have foreseen the usually reserved Scarlet Witch react with such fury. Then again...This did concern her father and if there was any issue on the planet that could get her so worked up...It was him.
"Wanda...What's going..." but Scott was unable to finish as Wanda's reaction continued to escalate as she looked into the eyes of the man she hated so much.
"It's him! It's him!" she yelled as her powers continued to cause light tremors throughout the office.
"What? Who is it?" asked X23, not knowing who exactly she was talking about.
"My father..." she said, her voice now speaking under a powerful strain, "He's...My father..."
Vincent immediately took action as he placed his hands upon Wanda's shoulders and allowed her to take his hand. Her breathing was still erratic as she looked at the holographic image with such intense revulsion and hatred...But gradually, Vincent managed to calm her down with his words.
"Easy Wanda...Easy," he said in a soft tone, "It's alright...It's alright."
Eventually, the room stopped shaking and he lights stopped flickering as the rest of Shadow Cell anxiously clamored around their distraught comrade and friend. They had not expected such a powerful reaction from her, but given what they knew about her past with her father...It was definitely understandable.
Dr. Essex gave his children time to calm her as only they could while he prepared for the next big revelation. Seeing Wanda's reaction to the mere sight of her father had triggered more than he ever could have imagined...Which actually made Dr. Essex grin slightly, for it gave him a few ideas as to how to use such feelings in the future should they be necessary. Magneto was once his ally...But when they parted ways, he knew he had become his enemy. And after what he had planned...He'd give the old holocaust survivor plenty more reasons to hate his guts.
"I'm sorry you had to see that my dear..." said Dr. Essex with a certain level of compassion in his tone, "But now you see why I kept it from you."
"But..." began Wanda, still struggling to recover from the shock of what she had just seen.
"I know it hurts to see the face of the man who caused you so much pain, Wanda..." said Dr. Essex, not letting her finish, "But if you had known...Would you have been able to stop yourself from reacting in such a manner?"
Looking back into the eyes of the man who had been more a father to her than Magneto ever could have, she finally managed to swallow her bitterness and concede to his actions. As much as she didn't like them...It was clear that he had kept it from her for a good reason...For if she had known, she doubted she would have been able to control her emotions. It seemed as though no matter how much training she went through or how many skills she mastered...The one thing she could never fully ascertain were her emotions...Whether they be about her father or otherwise.
"No...I wouldn't have," she finally told them, hanging her head low for having allowed herself to lose control after everything Dr. Essex had taught her, "I'm sorry Dr. Essex...I should've..."
"It's okay my child..." he told her in an affectionate tone, "You need not apologize. I can't say I blame you. But as hard as I know this is for all of you...I'm afraid there is much more to it than even I could have foreseen."
Dr. Essex then proceeded to bring up a few images of the Brotherhood boarding house and a few more of Magneto. Now that he had gotten through the first difficulties concerning what he had kept from them during their mission...He could get to the more complicated parts. He knew that what he had in store for them was going to completely diverge from the usual Shadow Cell operation procedures that they all had so dutifully gone by without question for so long...But all the trust he had garnered from them over the years would work to his advantage as he prepared to give them their most ambitious mission to date.
"What you see before you is the boarding house where the Brotherhood of Mutants operates out of," explained Dr. Essex as he filtered through some of the shots that Scott and Vincent had managed to take during their observations, "It's not fancy on either the outside or the inside...But it's the place they all call home. Now before you went on your mission...We all had reason to believe that Magneto was the founder and the mastermind behind the ideology and operation of the Brotherhood. It's his ideas they all believe and it's his path they wish to follow. While we didn't know exactly what he was planning beforehand...Some of the data you all collected gave me a pretty good idea."
"You mean from that phone conversation we tapped?" said Scott, remembering back to how that had been the moment where he had made the fateful decision to pull them all out.
"Indeed...At least in part," said Dr. Essex as he brought up an image of the shape shifting mutant known as Mystique, "The mutant you are looking at now is Magneto's right hand. Her name is Raven Darkholme...But she's better known as Mystique. She's a shape shifter and an ex mercenary with experience that one would be hard pressed to match. She is the one who recruited most of the Brotherhood members and she is the one who runs their day to day operations."
For some reason, Magnum tensed up upon seeing that image...But she kept it to herself and let Dr. Essex go on. She had her reasons...But those are reasons she had best set aside until the time was right.
"So she's the one Magneto trusts the most..." said Jean, putting together a few of the pieces on her own.
"Well...No quite Jean. You see...Based on the observations done by Scott and Vincent, it's logical to assume that the relationship between Mystique and Magneto is rocky at best. Based on some of the recorded musings of her and the phone conversations you were able to eavesdrop on, her participation can be thought of as slightly conflicted to say the least. Yet it is through her that Magneto's orders filtered through during the sentinel incident and it is through her that we believe his next plan will be unveiled."
"But what exactly is Magneto planning?" asked Wanda, her voice now filled with a new sense of determination to fight against the man who had caused her so much pain.
"That's where it gets a little interesting my dear..." said Dr. Essex as he typed a few more commands on his computer, "While I told the Colonel and the General that it was impossible to tell at this point...In reality, I am almost certain of what Magneto has in mind."
"How could you know that?" asked Vincent, still staying close to Wanda as she continued to feel a little tense about having learned of her father's involvement with all this.
"Because unlike everybody else here at the organization...I have been working with mutants for many years...And at one point, I had a more personal relationship with Magneto."
"Wait...You knew my father?" said Wanda, once again overcome with shock over everything she was hearing.
"Indeed I did, my dear. We once worked together in our study of mutants...But unfortunately, somewhere along the lines we diverged in our ideals. I wanted to study and help mutants...He wanted to use them to overthrow humanity. After that...We kind of lost touch."
"Yeah, big surprise..." grunted Wanda.
"Yes, it was a shame really...But in the end, it's how I found you my dear," said Dr. Essex as he gave the troubled young soldier a reassuring smile, "And now you all have a chance to show him the true folly of his insane ways...Which brings me to the task I have for you."
Dr. Essex then proceeded to bring up a small image of Asteroid M. While he hadn't told them the whole truth about everything thus far...They were accepting every word he said and he hoped to keep that up with the daunting task he was about to give him.
"What you are looking at is an image of Magneto's base..." he told the five mutant soldiers as they took in the sight of the unusual structure that only someone like Magneto could ever have dreamed up, "It is called Asteroid M...And this is where he has been planning his operations for many years now. I remember him vividly describing such a place where he dreamed he and the rest of the mutant race would take their fight to humanity...But I had no idea he had completed it. I only knew when I heard one of the many names he called this strange, fantasy place of his...Avalon."
"Avalon..." said Scott, immediately remembering back to the phone conversation they had recorded that had led to the abrupt ending of the mission, "That's what he said when he was talking to the shape shifter about on the phone..."
"Yes...And that was all I needed to hear in order to know with an absolute certainty that he had successfully completed it."
"And that's why you pulled us out early..." said Vincent, now finally beginning to understand.
"Indeed...And that's also why I've called you all here to my office on this very discrete task," he said as he prepared to give them the mission that would finally give him all he needed to accomplish his ultimate plans.
Once again, Dr. Essex brought up images of the Brotherhood boarding and showed a few images of the inhabitance inside, namely Mystique. The five mutant soldiers were now all ears as they listened intently on the undertaking they were about to take part in, for if Dr. Essex had seen it fit enough to keep it from the rest of the organization, it most certainly had to be of great concern.
"The mission before you is simple...Stop Magneto," he told them bluntly, "But as always...Such a task is easier said than done. Magneto is a special case, therefore we must use special means to stop him...Hence the lack of support from the rest of the organization because if we operate by all that red tape, there's a good chance we'll be too little too late in the end."
"So that means we won't have our usual tactical support from the info center or the war room..." concluded Scott, who was starting to get a feel for the kind of task they were dealing with.
"Indeed...You'll be completely severed from any contact be it emergency or otherwise from the base. Both Magnum and I will do what we can to cover for you using what we can with my office and we'll make sure that the rest of the organization is unaware of your absence."
"And how are you going to do that?" asked X23 curiously.
"Trust me...The less you know, the better off you'll be," stated Dr. Essex, which pretty much laid the matter to rest in their minds, "With the Colonel and the General in Washington, we'll have a nice, solid window to work with, but that still leaves a time limit on this operation."
"How long?" asked Vincent.
"Four days tops...Which should be plenty. Now we won't be able to enjoy the luxury of solid protocol or completely clear objectives, but we will have an additional resource that you all have so rarely enjoyed...Freedom."
"Freedom?" said Scott, not understanding what he meant.
"Yes...The freedom to operate outside of base rule protocols. And you'll need it for a mission with this many unknowns."
Such a concept was almost completely foreign to the team of young mutant soldiers since they had been so used to working out of a ridged structure of protocol and objectives in past missions. But protocols or not...A mission was a mission to them and as with any other, they would carry it out with the same level of efficiency and skill as they would any other.
"So what exactly do you want us to do in order to stop Magneto?" asked Jean, knowing Dr. Essex had to have some kind of plan.
"That my dear, is where in lies the complicated part," said Dr. Essex as he brought back up a few images of Asteroid M, "You see...As much as I am aware of Asteroid M's workings, I'm afraid I am completely in the dark as to it's location."
"Something as big as an Asteroid shouldn't be too hard to miss with a few scans of some spy satellites," said Wanda, already eager to go up against her estranged father.
"Yes, I thought so too...But unfortunately, Magneto has a cloaking device that shields his precious base in a holographic veil, rendering it invisible to the naked eye and spy satellites," explained Dr. Essex.
"You mean like the one covering this base?" asked X23, who was familiar with such technology since she had often used her keen senses to detect them.
"Exactly, only on a grander scale," affirmed Dr. Essex, happy to see that his creations' knack for perception had become so acute.
"So then how do we find him?" asked Wanda, feeling as though no cloaking could keep her from facing the man who once threw her away.
"That, my dear, is where the Brotherhood comes in," said Dr. Essex as he brought up images of the Brotherhood once again, "Based on the call you tapped earlier, it's logical to assume to that the shape shifter who answers to Magneto, Mystique, knows or at least has some idea of it's location."
"What about the others?" asked Vincent, not forgetting about the other young mutants they had observed.
"It's doubtful they'd know anything useful. If from what I know about him is any indication, I don't think he'd trust them all that much with such valuable information. So at this point, we can only surmise that the shape shifter will know anything of value. And rest assured, I doubt she'd be willing to reveal anything to us given her track record."
"So I guess that means I'll just have to 'coax' it out of her," said Jean, who was the main expert on interrogation of the group and had become pretty much the undisputed master of breaking anybody and everybody's will to resist with her power.
"Indeed, but don't assume she'll give an exact location. Our best bet with her is to find at least a general location. It's like I said...There are too many unknowns to contemplate at this point."
"Then I guess we'll just have to see for ourselves when we meet her," said Scott, speaking with more determination in his tone as they all came to grip the gravity of the mission as told by Dr. Essex, "But what about the others?"
"Oh please...Those unruly punks are a mere nuisance," scoffed Dr. Essex, showing he had every bit as much confidence in his creations as they had shown him over the years, "Do what you want with them as long as they stay out of the way."
"Right..." said Wanda, "I'll hex them to death if they give us any problems."
"I don't doubt that you will..." said Dr. Essex as he looked back at the eager young soldier with a hint of concern, "But I must warn you Wanda...You must remain in control with this. I know how much you hate your father...But our focus now is to merely stop whatever he has planned. And I'm not going to lie to you...You may in fact face him through the course of this mission...But you must avoid that in order to keep him from retaliating in any way against us. Shadow Cell must remain in the shadows...Do you understand?"
Wanda let out a deep sigh as she remembered one of the key rules of Shadow Cell...Maintaining secrecy. As much as she hated Magneto, her loyalty still resided with Shadow Cell and no matter how much she so desperately wanted to...She couldn't deviate from the mission.
"Yes sir...I understand," she told him, earning her an approving smile from her mentor.
"Good..." he said with a nod, "I trust in your loyalty and you all have my utmost confidence."
"Thank you Dr. Essex," said Wanda, hoping she could maintain control even if she ended up coming face to face with the man that still haunted her dreams, "So is that the plan for now? Find and interrogate the Brotherhood and beat Magneto's location out of them?"
"For now..." he told them as he leaned back in his chair, choosing to hold off on telling them about the stone for now, "I'll reveal more as I uncover more...At the moment, you must take this one task at a time. Magnum has smuggled your suits from the holding sector and I've prepared for you another car. Just follow Magnum and do exactly as she says and you should be able to get out of the base without incident. Any questions?"
Nobody said a word, for they knew everything they needed to know now to do their job...It would just be strange for them operating outside of the protocols that had so rigidly run their lives for so long. But for the sake of the mission and the cause they had dedicated their lives to, they were willing to work around such complications and do what they had to in order to stop Magneto.
"Excellent, now remember...This is all completely off the books," he told them, "None of this is officially happening...And we must keep it that way. I won't be able to contact you via the main radio frequency, but I will give you all an encrypted cell phone to use so we can still be in touch. I know it's a bit limiting...But it's the best we have to work with."
"Better than nothing I guess..." commented Scott as Dr. Essex gave him a simple unmarked black phone that would be their only link back to base.
"Be prepared to work with even less on this mission my children," he told them as he stood up and saluted his proud creations, "But don't forget what's at stake here."
"Don't worry...We never do," assured Wanda, wanting to make it clear to him that even though this involved her father, she would not allow it to hinder her performance on this or any mission whatsoever.
"And I would expect nothing less from you," he told them, not hiding the great deal of pride he felt for them as he looked upon the powerful team he had created, "You have all made this old man of science so proud with how far you've come since you're induction into Shadow Cell. No go forth and do what you all do best...Complete you mission and stop another catastrophe from forming before it ever begins."
Without another word, the five mutants of Shadow Cell saluted the man that had been like a father figure to them ever since he found them all those years ago and followed Magnum out of the office down the halls where they would retrieve the resources they would need to complete this very unique mission. Once they were gone, Dr. Essex sat back in his chair and grinned ominously at the holographic image of Magneto and Asteroid M. His eyes flashed their natural bright red color as he looked back at his computer screen of redesigned images of the bio-mutagenic accelerator.
All this time, he had been working towards such great goals in such utter secrecy. An entire organization that exacted influence upon the highest echelons of power operated before his very eyes without the slightest hint of what they were secretly helping him to accomplish. He was so close...So incredibly close that he could feel it in his bones. Even his beloved creations were unaware...But they would be...Everyone would be very...Very soon.
In the discrete airspace over Washington DC under the cover of early morning darkness, numerous jets carrying a large array of military and political officials from all over the country and even included a few foreign allies as well. They landed discretely and secretly at discrete airstrip near Quantico Virginia right outside the Washington DC area. Amongst these influential people were the heads of Shadow Cell, including the Colonel and the General. They were accompanied by many other officers and scientists, all of which would exact their own level of influence to the higher ups.
Big meetings had become a big part of their operating procedures ever since the onset of the sentinel incident, which had left many levels of the government reeling since it exposed a strictly kept secret in such a big, public way that they couldn't cover up. This one was certainly no exception as data from Shadow Cell, SHIELD, the CIA, and numerous other organizations were to be coordinated to determine what route they should take in dealing with mutants. There were anti-mutant war hawks and anti-violence peace doves all present, but such tension was a part of any debate whether it be in government or otherwise.
The Colonel and the General themselves seemed to reflect this dichotomy because of the seemingly opposite nature in which they acted both on and off duty. The Colonel, being a brash, paranoid, suspicious man who had a hard time getting along with anybody who wasn't his subordinate, had been a vocal proponent of waging what he called 'acts of containment' on all mutants both in and out of the United States with international support. Some, like the General, considered that nothing short of a genocidal and spoke passionately against it.
In stark contrast, the General, who was intelligent, understanding, and very amicable overall, held a much more pacifist and understanding viewpoint towards the issue. Unlike most of the other military leaders, scientists, and politicians the General had first hand experience with mutants and knew them on a personal level through his work with Shadow Cell. In seeing how strong and dedicated Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 had become to their cause and their country, the General developed a great deal of respect for them and credited them with giving him a reputation and prestige that he was proud of. Shadow Cell had shown him that anybody, mutant or human, could accomplish great things if they are simply given the chance and understanding to grow and flourish. He harbored a great deal of pride in having the opportunity to work with what he considered to be the most effective and powerful team of soldiers ever assembled and sought to defend them with every fiber of his being as they had defended their country and their world.
Needless to say, such differing views upon the issue had only added to the rift between the Colonel and the General. While there had always been a great deal of conflict between them, the onset of the sentinel incident had only worsened the division even further. But since they had built Shadow Cell up together, they garnered their own brand of influence both within the organization and among the higher ups. They remained allies in some ways, but the great differences between them were beginning to take a toll on their ability to cooperate and coordinate. However, for the sake of the organization that had saved their careers, they would have to work around it in order to maintain that which they had worked so hard for.
"These trips never get any easier, do they Colonel?" commented the General as they both stepped off the jet and were led by a platoon of security personnel towards a cluster of convoys that would take them and the rest of the officials into the heart of DC.
"No kidding..." mumbled the Colonel as he took in the sight of the many other officers...Some of which were from whom he considered rival organizations, SHIELD being the biggest.
"I see the plane ride hasn't bettered your mood," said the General as he looked at the disgruntled expression on the Colonel's face that had gone pretty much unchanged since the end of Shadow Cell's latest reconnaissance mission, "I'm hope you manage to improve your demeanor before we face the higher ups."
"With all due respect, General..." said the Colonel as he looked back at his superior with a displeased expression, "I believe you may be taking things too lightly...And I'm not just talking about this upcoming meeting."
"My God man," said the General, rubbing the temples of his head, for he knew what the Colonel was referring to, "Are you ever going to give it a rest?"
"General! You know how I feel about you putting Dr. Essex in charge of that mission instead of me! You know how I feel about his so called 'decision' to end the mission early when there were still many objectives left unfulfilled!"
"The team got everything they needed, Colonel...Or didn't you see the report?" reminded the General, growing all the more aggravated by his subordinate's attitude.
"Of course I saw it! And you don't see the inconsistencies?" he argued, not believing for a second that Dr. Essex had given them the full story.
"I saw what our soldiers reported...You only saw what they didn't report, Colonel," quipped the General, not letting the Colonel's paranoia get to him, "You think that every report is missing something...You think that everybody's holding back from you. Just because they didn't uncover some vast mutant conspiracy doesn't mean that they didn't do their job!"
"I'm not arguing that sir..." said the Colonel, trying to keep his voice in line with his superior officer, "What I'm arguing is that something stunk about that mission. Now I know the reason Dr. Essex gave us for why he cut it short...But that doesn't make it any less suspicious."
The General was seriously not in the mood for this old argument again. No matter how many times Shadow Cell succeeded, no matter how many times they were praised by the government, and no matter how many times Dr. Essex came through for them...It just never seemed to placate the Colonel. He wasn't sure if it was because of his innate paranoia that had gotten him into so much trouble in the past or if it was because of his strong anti-mutant feelings...But it was clear to him that nothing short of all out conflict surrounded him and nobody could be trusted.
"Colonel...Dr. Essex had come through for us in every conceivable measure since the project began. He's been truthful, dutiful, and honest about everything he's given us. Now you can deny it all you want, but he saved your ass. For crying out loud, you were heading for a major court marshal and conspiracy charges before you became a part of the project!"
"I understand that, General...Don't think I'm that ignorant," he told him, lowering his voice at the onset of his superior's tone, "But we're talking about a real conflict here, General. This human/mutant thing could blow up in our faces and send this whole planet plunging head first into World War III as early as tomorrow morning! Now you may consider me paranoid, but I think that we shouldn't overlook any possible inconsistencies whether it be from Dr. Essex or Shadow Cell. We need to be prepared for when conflict arises!"
"And that's exactly what I'm trying to prevent, Colonel..." said the General, once again finding himself arguing with his subordinate over the ever divisive mutant issue, "Honestly, it sounds as though you WANT a war between humans and mutants to arise."
"I never said that, General...But I..." however, the General didn't let him finish, for he knew he was just avoiding the truth.
"Colonel, don't mock my intelligence! I know what you've been pushing for at these meetings every time somebody whispers the word mutant. And I know you have your own brand of supporters who want to see the GURSO unit put into action against all suspected X-gene carriers. But we are NOT in the business of starting wars. We are in the business of preserving peace."
"But General...You can't preserve peace when it's falling apart around you," argued the Colonel, unwavering on his position for which he stood so strongly for, "The longer you give something time to fester and grow, the more carnage it'll lead to!"
"Colonel..." said the General, forcing himself to speak in a less forceful tone, knowing that he wasn't going to get this man to change his views, "I have a wife and three kids...One of them who's currently attending West Point and another who's looking to join the Army. Now part of why I do what I do is to ensure that my family and millions of other families don't have to live through the horrors of war. And I don't care what the cost may be...I'm not going to provoke something that could end up leading to more death and destruction than mankind has ever experienced. Now I'm not going to deny that mutants are a difficult issue...But if Shadow Cell has taught me anything, it's that they're human beings capable of the same things the rest of us are and if we're to resolve this issue, we need understanding...Not bombs and bullets."
"But sir..." said the Colonel, thinking his superior was being a fool for thinking such naÃ¯ve thoughts.
"That's enough Colonel...This conversation is over," said the Colonel sternly as they neared their unmarked convoy, "Save the rest of your comments for the meeting."
The Colonel didn't like the General's stance one bit...But whether they saw eye to eye on this matter was unimportant, for he was still his commanding officer. And because of that one unavoidable fact, he grudgingly responded, "Yes sir."
As they both entered the convoy with the rest of their officers, the Colonel got a quick glimpse at some of the other officials who would be present for the meeting. The higher ups had really gone all out with this gathering from the looks of it, for there were officials from all over the country. Yet as he looked over the large collection of powerful men and women that he would have to sway at the meeting, his eyes fell upon the last person he wanted to see...Colonel Nick Fury of SHIELD.
The famous cold warrior with the distinctive eye patch would be riding in the convoy just up ahead of theirs with escort from a platoon of SHIELD agents. He casually smoked a cigar as he waited for his crew to pile into each convoy and eventually, his eyes fell upon the Colonel that he had once helped reprimand for his unscrupulous paranoid behavior. His cold, unabated gaze met his as the window of his convoy rolled up and the black vehicles prepared for their departure.
As a man of such status throughout the government, Nick Fury was one of the few who knew about the Colonel and his GURSO unit from its onset nearly ten years ago. But that's wasn't what was unsettling about him. What truly made him an enigma worth keeping an eye on was the organization he helped run that so often worked in competition with SHIELD. While he there was only so much he could 'officially' know about his activities...There were other less publicized details that were a bit disturbing to him.
But despite his suspicions, there wasn't much he or his organization could do other than keep a close eye on the Colonel just as he knew he kept a close eye on them. And while he couldn't quite put his finger on it, Nick Fury had a feeling that he would eventually clash with whatever shady work the Colonel and his GURSO unit did in such a shadowy world.
Working their way around carefully planned security holes that Dr. Essex and Magnum had meticulously and carefully orchestrated, the five mutants of Shadow Cell were led down toward the lower levels of the facility where they picked up their special combat uniforms. In order to avoid detection, they were forced to change in a storage room and they couldn't get access to some of the recourses they usually had a chance to equip themselves with on most of their missions like grenades, heavier assault rifles, or their handheld computing devices. This was a strictly bare bones mission so they would need only the essentials. This included their guns, knives, and flash drives in case they needed to do a little computer hacking. That along with the cell phone Dr. Essex gave them was all they would have, which in their minds would be plenty as it so often was with previous missions.
However, what continued to stick out in the minds of the five young mutant soldiers was the absence of many of the usual protocols that had always governed their function as a unit and a team. They would have no tactical support from the base and no pick up and processing from the GURSO unit. It was a mission of the utmost secrecy...A mission that brought many mixed feelings within the team since there were still some inconsistencies that continued to fester in their minds.
A threat like this was usually the kind of task that Shadow Cell was best at, tactical support and all. Yet they were still operating off the books with this one with only Dr. Essex's word to go on. Just because it involved a mutant didn't make it very different in their minds...But this was what their mentor had insisted upon and they were never one to question.
Once they were all in their uniforms, Magnum led them down another level towards an unoccupied sector of the garage area where many of the vehicles that they would often use on a mission or train with were stored. With most of the staff working in other areas, probably by request of Dr. Essex, the team had a narrow window to take one of the transports they would need to carry out the mission. There wasn't much to choose from, but they didn't have to think too hard about it as they settled on a rugged jeep that was inconspicuous enough not to draw attention, but versatile enough to go off road and over rugged terrain if necessary.
They had to wait a few moments before Dr. Essex opened a window for them so they could leave discretely, but once the time finally came, they were ready to head out on their secret off-the-record mission. But before they parted, Magnum had one last thing to say to them before they embarked on what she knew would be their most important mission to date.
"Be weary my students..." she told them in her stoic Russian tone, "I know you all feel anxious because this mission is completely off record...But it is still a mission and it is every bit as important as every other if not more so. Protocol and procedure may offer assurance in and out of combat...But you must never forget that they are mere abstracts to those such as yourselves who fight, bleed, and die."
"Then how do we operate effectively if there's no procedure or protocol?" asked Scott as the large garage door opened and the light of the morning sunrise bathed the area.
Magnum merely shook her head at her still young students, for they still had so much to learn about being a soldier and warrior. Such mastery could never come with teaching alone...For only they were capable of doing so and the only thing she could do at this point was guide them to their awaiting destiny.
"You operate as you always do whether you know it or not..." she told them as the hum of the engine filled the air and the open road awaited them, "You fight from within...Don't ever forget that. No matter how much I teach you or how much you believe your lives are run by protocol and procedure...You're strength shall always come from within."
With an affirmative nod, the saluted their trusted teacher and drove off into the rising sun, embarking upon the mission that was sure to be unlike any other. Their target was Magneto...Their current destination...The Brotherhood.
AN: And so a new conflict for Shadow Cell begins! But where will this one lead them? Moreover, how do you think they'll be when the meet up with the Brotherhood? And don't forget about Nick Fury! Now he's involved as well! There's still plenty to come and a lot to uncover with this fic, so stay tuned to see just how crazy it gets as big events unfold in the coming chapters! Until then, don't forget to REVIEW! Please let me know what you think by sending me an email or posting your thoughts on the fanfiction website! Thanks a bunch for reading everybody and I wish you all the best!
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