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 38: Do Or Die
With the General now officially a prisoner and the Colonel now officially operating under his own authority, things at Shadow Cell HQ had gotten quite intense. Massive numbers of GURSO soldier were mobilizing and preparing for all out engagement against whoever attacked first...The mutants or the government. With some of the best technology on the face of the planet, the Colonel had a formidable force at his disposal and he intended to use it in it's utmost to get the job done.
However, while the Colonel's sudden rise to power disturbed many of the Shadow Cell officials who were now forcibly under his control...For Dr. Essex, it was all part of the plan. The Colonel was doing exactly what he had planned for him to do. He was nothing more than a deception measure to keep all eyes off him while he proceeded with the next part of his plan...A pawn playing out his role in a vast, elaborate game that was quickly reaching it's grand conclusion.
"Everything is in place..." he mused as he watched his machine do several scans of Rogue's unconscious body, which still remained suspended in the bio tank, "Now all that's left is for my most wondrous creations to play out their part..."
Dr. Nathanial Essex had ever bit of confidence that the five mutant soldiers he had so adamantly taught and nurtured over the years would not let him down. He knew how they thought...How they felt...How they perceived their world through the vision he had endeared them with. Like all those around him...They were but mere puppets for his grandest dream. And he was so close now he could practically taste it.
"Nathanial..." came Magnum's voice over the intercom on the computer console, "Our backup has arrived."
"Excellent...Was security a problem?" he asked as he did a quick sweep of the security system.
"Oh please...Do you really have to ask?" quipped Magnum.
"Point taken," he said with a grin, "Send them in..."
After giving the necessary authorization codes, Dr. Essex opened the man security doors leading into his lab...Which the Colonel had conveniently quarantined him to. And near as he could tell, he was too damn busy at the moment to even think twice about what he was doing. Such was the Colonel's most serious flaw...For he was simply too arrogant to understand the true majesty of what was going on.
Then, as the final security door opened, Magnum entered, followed by four other curious figures. One of them was completely covered from head to toe in a red and black suit and armed with a couple of katanas and guns. He was the internationally renowned mercenary known as Deadpool...The merc with a mouth as he was often called because he was a few birds shy of a flock. Another one was a tall, imposing, pale skinned man with a cybernetic eye and oversized, metallic fists. He was the one known as Gauntlet...A super tough mercenary that could punch his way through an army if he had too. Not far behind him was a man covered from the neck down in a black suit of high tech armor and an ominous target on his forehead. He was Bullseye...An assassin who stayed true to his name, for whenever he had a target...He NEVER missed. And last but not least was a tall, muscular man with wild hair, red and white clothing, and an omega sign on his forehead. He was known as Omega Red...A Russian born super soldier with strength, invulnerability, and a couple of metallic bullwhips that could tear through anybody who stood in his way.
Together, they were all some of the best in their field. They were skilled, deadly, and strong...Exactly the kind of qualities they would need if they were to prove decisive in this most important of tasks. They had gone to quite a few lengths to be there...But when there was a fight like this going on, distance was all but irrelevant. And upon entering the lab, they finally got a handle of the true scale of what they were a part of.
"Wow! Sweet digs Doc!" exclaimed Deadpool as he took in some of the high tech surroundings of Dr. Essex's lab, "Too bad you don't make house calls."
"Ah yes...I take it that obnoxious tone could only be you, Deadpool," said Dr Essex in an amused tone as he took in the sight of the deadly mercenaries which would be the key to keeping his plan on track.
"Hey, they don't call me the merc with a mouth for nothing!" he said in a somewhat crazed tone, "And besides...How can I turn down a battle with every psycho killer's dream?"
Magnum rolled her eyes as she felt Deadpool's flirtatious leers, but she had come to expect as much from this man. And even after having shot and injured him on several occasions, he still wouldn't stop.
"Now is NOT the time Deadpool," grunted Magnum in response, "Keep your eyes and hands to yourself or I'll put another round of bullets in that giant scab you call a body!"
"Meh, wouldn't make a difference," he shrugged, "I'd heal from it anyways. And besides...Knowing you, that kind of shit's practically foreplay!"
This only seemed to anger Magnum further, who was now once again tempted to whip out her 44 and fire a shot into this man's pelvic region...But thankfully, Bullseye stepped in.
"Do you EVER take this job seriously?" said the skilled assassin, wondering how he ever ended up in the same league as the rest of them in the mercenary game.
"Hey, I may be a few bullets shy of a clip...But I'm good at what I do!" said Deadpool in a humored, yet confrontational tone, "Care to have me demonstrate?"
"Little man...You wouldn't even be able to lay a hand on those guns of yours before I put a knife squarely in your neck," taunted Bullseye in response.
"So says a guy with a target on his head," quipped Deadpool, who seemed ready and willing to prove himself.
"Enough!" yelled Omega Red in his Russian accent, using his metallic tentacles to separate the two bickering mercs, "You two act like school children! Show some respect for the wondrous beauty who has given us such a grand chance to fight by her side..."
"Wondrous beauty?" said Deadpool with a slight chuckle, "I think somebody's been slamming back too much vodka."
"No more then usual I'm afraid..." said Omega Red as he approached Magnum with a strange smile that seemed very uncharacteristic for anybody who knew him, "But what can I say? Being apart from my Tsarina has reeked a terrible havoc on my being."
"You still insist on calling me that..." said Magnum in response, once again sounding a bit annoyed.
"But of course..." he said with an adoring smile as his cold, imposing hands gently cupped her chin, "You are and have always been the only warmth in my cold, desolate heart..."
Seeing Omega Red continue to lovingly gaze upon the stoic Russian woman was definitely an unusual sight for the others...Although Dr. Essex seemed to find it quite humorous, for he had known a bit about Magnum's past...A past in which Omega Red was a fairly significant part of.
"Uh...Am I the only one here completely confused?" said Deadpool, his eyes widening at the sight of the usually cold and sinister Omega Red acting like a Russian Romeo around Magnum.
"Don't tell me you didn't know..." said Gauntlet, who knew the story, but still found it frightfully disturbing.
"Know what?" he asked curiously.
"Magnum and Omega Red have a...History together," said Gauntlet, not going into any further details.
"Damn..." said Deadpool, definitely feeling the shock from that one, "Omega Red and Magnum? Even by my standards, that is pretty fucking messed up."
"For once...I agree," said Bullseye, finding the sight of the two deadly Russian mercenaries to be strange, yet disturbing in many ways.
However, such comments didn't seem to really affect Omega Red. The only thing he could focus on was his beloved Russian princess. While Magnum didn't seem as enamored, she did seem somewhat affected by the presence of her former lover. Calling him had been a rather abrupt decision on her part...But if ever there was a man who she trusted to fight with her in times of crisis, Omega Red was the only one she trusted.
"It has been too long my dear..." he said to her, keeping his hands on her beautiful face that he adored so much, "The Russian motherland has been so much colder since you left."
"Knock it off, Omega..." she told him, finally backing away from his grasp, "You know it's over between us."
"Do you really believe that my dear?" he told her, not looking convinced in the slightest, "We could have ruled Russia together...We could have been the new Tsar and Tsarina of the motherland. Our hearts may be as cold as the Siberian winter...But together, we made plenty of warmth."
True, Magnum couldn't argue they had shared many passionate nights together back during her time when she was still working out of Russia. But that was another time...Another life. She had since moved on...Although it was clear Omega Red had not.
"Warmth or not...You know it could never have worked," she said coldly, but that only seemed to make her more alluring to Omega Red.
"That's only because you left..." he responded, "All because you became hopelessly attracted to that Punisher character."
"Well to be fair, Omega..." said Magnum, her face now inches from her former lover, "He lasted a lot longer than you did in bed..."
"Ooh! Damn! Even I can't heal from that one!" said Deadpool, who was practically holding his gut to contain his laughter.
"Omega Red to ol' Frank Castle?" said Bullseye, who couldn't help but find such a revelation amusing as well, "Damn lady...You've got some dangerous tastes."
"And what part of that should shock you?" she told him in response.
Such words pretty much silenced the others as Dr. Essex once again drew the attention of his new team of enforcers that would help see this project through. He new his creations would play their part...But being the careful man he was, he knew it was necessary to have a little insurance. And thanks to Magnum's connections, he could safely say he had plenty to go around.
"Charming crowd you follow, Magnum..." commented Dr. Essex as he directed their attention towards his machine, "Quite diverse and unique if I do say so myself."
"Get to the point, Nathanial...Time is of the essence," said Magnum, still feeling Omega Red's eyes on her.
"Indeed it is..." he said as he now stood behind the bio tank that contained Rogue's unmoving body, "Everything is coming together. After so many years of toil and meticulous planning, my greatest dream has finally culminated with this wondrous moment..."
"Well, whoop di do..." said Deadpool sarcastically, "Just what is this gizmo anyway?"
"This 'gizmo' is the result of decades of toil and strife..." explained Dr. Essex, "It is the final solution of mankind's destructive ways...It is but the grandest step in the three billion year history of life."
"Nice...Does it play DVDs?" quipped Deadpool, earning him a punch from Bullseye.
"Oh it does much more than that..." said Dr. Essex ominously, "And it is only just nearing completion. Only a few more parts remain before its true function is unlocked."
"Then what's with the girl?" asked Gauntlet, not one to understand science all that much, but was nevertheless curious at what this guy seemed so strangely passionate about.
"She is but a medium..." said Dr. Essex as he looked back up at the unconscious girl, "Her mutant powers are a necessary component to make this machine work. And as soon as my machine adjusts her mutation to the necessary level...It'll all be ready for the final step. And that's where you come in..."
"Sounds good to me!" said Deadpool, caring little about the science and more about the action, "So what's the plan?"
Dr. Essex simply flashed his new allies a sinister grin. He could see it all coming together. Like a well played game of chess, all the pieces were in place. Now all he had to do was wait for each piece to play their part. And in the end...The world would be in for the dawn of a sinister era.
"The plan is simple my friend...All you need to do is follow my instructions and it'll all finally come together in the end."
Back at the Xavier Institute, everybody was scrambling to prepare for what promised to be their most arduous mission to date. After agreeing to fight alongside Shadow Cell against the forces of the Colonel and whatever this Dr. Nathanial Essex had in store for them, the X-men were gathering their resources, organizing a plan, and getting themselves mentally attuned to the task at hand. Having to work alongside five deadly soldiers who had already beaten them once before was far from comforting...Especially considering what they found out about them from Nick Fury. But for Rogue's sake and the sake of many other innocent people out there who would surely suffer at the hands of this mysterious organization, they were all willing to take that chance.
For the Professor, there remained many ominous feelings about this mission that he just couldn't seem to resolve. It wasn't just that Rogue had been captured or even that they were having to work with the five mutant soldiers that had fought so hard against them...No, there was something more to this than any of them could tell. He knew there was a much more sinister force at hand...One that he just couldn't quite put his finger on. He had a bad feeling about this Colonel...For he seemed like quite a character to say the least. But it was this Dr. Essex that made him so anxious...For there was just something about him that seemed...Strange. After having followed his work for so long and learning of his shady history in the world of black programs, he just couldn't escape his lingering suspicions that there was something more to this. And while he wasn't quite sure what it could be...His instincts told him it was very sinister.
"Charles...Charles, are ya ready?" said Ororo as she stood in full uniform alongside Hank at the entrance to Cerebro where the Professor was making some final preparations.
"Yes Storm..." he said, sounding obviously stressed about the current situation, "Just...Let me make a few more preparations."
"Well I would advise you to go easy on yourself Charles..." said Hank in a near coaxing tone, "I realize that it's a stressful situation, but we mustn't lose our heads in this matter."
"Yes...I understand Hank," said the Professor, who kept his attention on Cerebro, using it to bring up a few old files he kept of Dr. Essex's work, "But stress or not...I have a rather bad feeling about this mission. Danger aside...Something just feels..."
Even for a man of Xavier's intellect, he couldn't quite find the words to properly describe what he was feeling at the moment. There were just too many complications and too many unknowns to be certain at the moment. But he was determined to uncover the truth...Even with a seemingly endless cover of lies, he knew the truth was the key to understanding this mystery.
"I know...It's been hard on all of us," said Ororo, even if she couldn't quite understand just what it was that was bothering Xavier, "But I'm sure we'll find the truth and stop whoever it is that's behind all this. Just remember, we'll all need stay strong."
"Yes...For I have few doubts that whoever is behind all this will expect as much from us," said Hank.
"Don't worry my friends...I'll be okay," assured Xavier as he turned to give them a reassuring glance, "Just make sure that the team is ready and well prepared. I feel it's best we all depart as soon as possible."
"Agreed..." said Hank, "For in the battle against the greatest of foes...Speed is often one's greatest weapon."
Bearing that thought in mind, Ororo and Hank left Xavier to his musings again as he continued to go through some of the records he had saved concerning Dr. Essex. He wasn't quite sure what he hoped to find within these old documents...But hopefully, it would help him gain a little insight onto this most mysterious of figures. For a man who had shown such heartlessness and brutality with the Prodigy Project...It was quite a wonder that he managed to instill so much passionate loyalty among Shadow Cell.
Such attributes only made him more mysterious and gave Xavier all the more reason to continue his search. There were so many lies surrounding this man...So much deception and trickery. But just what was it that he was trying to hide? What were these secrets that he seemed to so adamantly guard? It may not have been clear to any of them know...But something told him, they would all find out soon enough.
"What are you hiding Dr. Essex?" mused Xavier as he found himself fixated on an old picture of the mysterious scientist from his earlier, more 'innocent' days, "Just what is it that you're planning? I know there's something...Something big...Something sinister that you're keeping from the rest of the world. You're a mysterious man...But even the greatest shroud of lies can't hide the truth forever."
While Warren and Betsy were quickly organizing the others in preparation for the mission, Remy Lebeau remained somewhat secluded from the chaos as he lingered a bit in the locker room after having suited up for the fight. For him, he couldn't care less about the secrets, the deception, or the inherent danger that seemed to so significantly symbolize this daunting mission. Right now...All he could think about was Rogue...And getting her back before it was too late.
In his pockets along with several decks of cards, the Cajun mutant kept with him a little good luck charm that he always carried with him when the going got tough...A queen of hearts. It was a little something that seemed to give him strength when he needed it the most. And after having come from a life of stealing, trickery, and deceit...A little luck was something he genuinely treasured, for he had a feeling he would need it with this fight.
It was hard not knowing whether or not Rogue was okay...But Remy knew in his heart that she was hanging in there as strong as ever. From day one, he knew Rogue was a strong woman. In many ways, that's part of what drew him to her. He never made a secret of his attraction to her since the day he chose to join the institute, but few people could ever understand just how deep it extended for him. In his eyes...Rogue was so much more than just a pretty face with a drop dead gorgeous body. She was meant much more to him that that...More than even he ever could have imagined.
"Gambit..." came Kurt's voice, breaking Remy's train of thought as he appeared in a puff of smoke.
"I know...I know," muttered Remy in an annoyed tone as he secured a few extra decks of cards into his other pocket just in case, "Remy'll be dere in a moment. Just...Give me a few more minutes."
Then, as Remy shut the door to his locker, Kurt's eyes fell upon a picture that he had mounted on the inside. It was one of him and Rogue...A picture taken not long after he joined when they all went to a carnival that came to town a while back. He had no idea he kept it since he never saw Remy as the sentimental type...But when it came to Rogue, there was clearly more to it than that.
"You really like her, don't you?" commented Kurt as Remy tucked away the last of his supplies.
"Don't tell me ya just figured dat out, homme," made Remy as he turned to face the younger blue mutant, his usual cockiness no longer showing in wake of the situation at hand.
"You vish..." said Kurt in response, "Just thought I'd get you to admit it...For once."
"Is dat all you came down here for?" he asked, sounding somewhat skeptical at Kurt's intentions.
"Nein...Not exactly," he said, scratching the back of his neck, finding this to be a bit more awkward than he had anticipated, "I just...I vanted you to know that...Rogue's mien sister. And...Vell, seeing her around you has been..."
Kurt tried to find the right words, but he found himself trailing off. It was difficult since he had always avoided talking to Remy about Rogue...But given the circumstances, he was intent on making his peace with this issue before they went out into the melee.
"Yeah...I know," said Remy, who had a pretty good idea what Kurt was implying.
"Just remember..." said Kurt in a serious tone, "If you really do care about Rogue in the vay I think you do...Just promise me that you'll never hurt her and I promise you I'll never hassle either of you about it."
"Dat sounds fair to me..." said Gambit, glad to get something like this out of the way before the turmoil began, "And don't worry about Rogue, homme...As long as she's wit Remy, ain't nothin' gonna hurt her. Ya have my word...Thieve's honor."
Knowing Remy never made promises he wasn't willing to keep, Kurt actually managed a slight smile. As weary as he had been about Remy and his constant flirtation with Rogue...It was nice to know that there was someone out there willing to do so much for his sister. And looking back at the former thief...Kurt felt as though he could finally be assured that his sister was in good hands.
"Good enough for me, mien friend," he said as Remy followed him out of the locker room and back towards the hanger.
"Glad to hear dat, homme..." said Remy, who managed to return his smile, "Now come on...Rogue needs us."
With the rest of the X-men scrambling in preparation for what was sure to be a hard, arduous mission...The five mutants of Shadow Cell were unusually stoic about the situation, keeping much of their conflicting feelings about this whole mess to themselves. Yet while they didn't openly voice their concerns, they truly felt torn on the inside.
For so long now, their lives had revolved around Shadow Cell. All those years of training, discipline, and loyalty had practically become a part of them. They knew no other life other than that of a soldier. And yet here they were...Preparing to fight against the very people who had made them into a powerful force. They kept trying to tell themselves that this wasn't happening...That Dr. Essex would never betray them. But after seeing what he had hidden from them concerning the Prodigy Project, it was a cold hard feeling having been lied to from the man they trusted the most.
Yet despite so many conflicting feelings, they were still Shadow Cell...And no amount of lies or betrayal could ever take that away from them. They were more than just specimens in a project...They were soldiers. And as soldiers, they were never one to back down from a fight. As complicated as this situation was, they could never forget the one piece of themselves that would always be their greatest strength...Their will. And in the spirit of true warriors, they were completely willing to fight to their last breath to find the truth behind all the lies that had controlled them for so long.
The hour of conflict was fast approaching...The final preparations were nearly complete. Soon, they would all be facing one of the most powerful and secretive organizations in the world. An entire army stood in their way...A veil of lies seemed to obscure everything...Yet despite this, it was still a mission. And for Scott Summers and Jean Grey, it was a mission they knew would be their most trying.
At the moment, the two long time friends and lovers were standing in a secluded area not far from the hanger...Simply taking a moment to relish together, for it was unclear whether or not they would get another chance.
"Do you think these X-men will make much of a difference?" asked Jean, standing close to her lover's warmth, committing every possible moment with him to memory.
"Can't say for certain..." replied Scott, who had an arm affectionately draped around Jean's shoulder as he hugged her close to his body, "They're pretty strong in some ways...But they really have no idea what they're up against here."
"And in a ways...Neither do we," said Jean, finding her thoughts drifting back to what they learned about their most trusted teacher and mentor.
"Yeah...Can't argue that," admitted Scott with a sigh, "Terrorists, dictators, and rogue armies we can handle...But this...These are the people who made us, Jean. They're the people who brought us together and helped us become soldiers."
"I know...I don't like it either," said Jean, "People like Dr. Essex and Magnum have practically raised us. They're practically like parents to us. I just...I don't know if I can truly fight against them."
"Me neither, Jean..." said Scott, feeling at such great of loss with this that he truly didn't know where this would all lead them, "But it's like Magnum once told us...The world can change in the span of a moment. Yesterday's good can become tomorrow's evil. Right and wrong are only relative. And no matter who the enemies or allies are...There's always going to be a single constant..."
"The mission..." said Jean, knowing those words all too well.
"Right...The mission," said Scott, feeling as though they both needed to remind themselves of that which they truly believed in, "This situation is no different. Our world may be in shambles...But we're still soldiers."
"But for what?" questioned Jean, the long standing drive that Shadow Cell had instilled upon them no longer there to give them strength, "What is it that we're fighting for now that we're just a bunch of renegades?"
Scott was silent for a moment as he thought about that, but as he remembered back to some of the things he had learned over the years through training and experience, he remembered how often they were faced with difficult moments from which they had to draw strength from something to make it through whatever challenges lay before them. From the earliest days of their training, they all learned about how a soldier thinks and operates both on and off the battlefield. There was only so much they could hold onto in terms of the mission...It was those true, underlying constants that stayed with them during each and every challenge. And in the end...Those constants...Those deep rooted beliefs and ideas they carried with them into battle...Could never be changed. And that is what they needed to remember in times of such conflict.
"I think...No, I know...We're simply fighting for the same thing we've always fought for," said Scott, suddenly feeling stronger and more assured, even in the face of so much uncertainty, "Looking back on everything we've done...I don't think it was just for the unit or for the mission. Renegade or not...We're still soldiers. We have a cause...We have a purpose."
"And what purpose is that?" asked Jean, not knowing what he was implying.
"Ours..." answered Scott definitively, "We have a choice...And what makes us soldiers is that we choose to fight for what we believe in. We fight not just for Shadow Cell...Not just for our country...But for us. The only side we're on here is ours and no one else's. I guess...It just goes back to faith...And how much of it we're willing to put into something we believe in. And I believe in us..."
The two lovers were silent for a moment as their minds took a moment to process such things. It was a rather simple solution to a very complicated issue...Yet in essence, it made sense. As soldiers of Shadow Cell, they never really thought too much about the groups they fought for. They may have saved civilization more times than they cared to keep track of, but the countless souls that were still among the living from all their deeds was a weight no soldier could carry. Saving billions was just too daunting for any mind to process...So in a ways, they weren't just fighting for the world, they were fighting for themselves...And each other.
"You're right, Scott..." said Jean as she found herself snaking her arms around her lover, drawing him into a close embrace, "I've always had faith...I think we all have since day one. And I guess this is just the greatest test our faith has ever confronted before. But...Test or not...I don't think anything can ever break it."
"What makes you say that?" asked Scott curiously as he found himself wrapping his hands around her waist.
"Because we still have that which makes us strong..." she told him, now feeling as though they had everything they needed fight and succeed, "We have our faith...We have our cause...And most important of all...We have each other."
Their embrace grew more passionate as Jean found herself resting her head against her lover's chest, listening to the calming sound of his heartbeat. Scott could do nothing but simply hold her...Treasuring this warm feeling that so often gave him comfort in his darkest hours. It was one of the many reasons why this woman meant more to him than anything on the face of the planet. He could live without Shadow Cell...He could live in a world of lies...But he couldn't live without Jean. It was as clear as night and day...And even with their faith and their cause...Nothing was nearly as important as what they shared together.
"I love you..." said Scott, savoring the warm feeling, "I love you so much, Jean."
"I love you too, Scott..." said Jean, no longer able to hide the strain in her voice and allowing her emotions to take hold, "And no matter what happens...No matter what the out come of this or any conflict my bring...Nothing will ever change that. We fight...We bleed...We die...Together."
"Together..." said Scott, swallowing the lump in his throat as he embraced the woman he loved.
There was no telling just how hard the coming fight was going to be. There was no telling the kind of secrets they were going to uncover as a result. But no matter what happened...They still had each other...They still had the loving bond that had always guided them through the darkest of times. And with the strength of their love to guide them...They would have everything they needed to fight the battle that was sure to be so trying.
And with that thought in mind, Scott Summers and Jean Grey met in a deep, passionate kiss...Letting down their shields and savoring each blissful sensation through their link. It was unclear whether or not they would come out alive with this one...But even if they did die on this mission, they refused to die with any regrets. They were still soldiers...Bound close by the love they shared and the strength they gave one another. And with this truly grand mission looming over them like a raging storm...They managed to find their faith through such hardship...And they would most certainly need it for the daunting task before them.
While everybody seemed to be clamoring in the lower levels of the institute, Vincent Freeman found himself taking a brief moment to savor calmness and serenity of the night sky. Even with all the lingering struggles that were tearing him apart inside, he managed to find solstice in the peace that nature had to offer. His mind was still a mesh of confusion, pain, and sorrow...For he was still struggling with the revelation that Dr. Essex, the man he had put so much trust and faith in, had been behind the project that took everything from him.
It hurt in a way no words could truly describe. It was a revelation that practically tore his world apart yet again. There seemed to be no end to it. It was almost as if he was destined to always see the things he held dear shatter in a maze of pain and loss. First there was Prodigy...Then there was the orphanage...And now there was this. How much more could he take? How much more could he possibly endure after having lost so much?
As a soldier who had killed plenty of people and saved plenty of lives, there wasn't much for him to hold onto. He still had his comrades...He still had his friends. But with the current mission at hand...He felt a strange, sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach...Almost as if it were an ominous sign from some higher power that he was only going to face more heartache with this mission. It was a true test of faith...A true test of his will to fight. And in many ways, it was a test he was truly not prepared for.
"Vincent?" came a voice that suddenly broke him out of his thoughts, "Vincent...It's me."
The lone Prodigy survivor knew that voice could only belong to Wanda Maximoff...The only person who could ever keep his wounded soul so strong. Turning to face her with his weary, pained eyes...His gaze fell upon the woman he had come to cherish over the years with each and every challenge they overcame. From that fateful day their eyes met to all the hardships they endured together...Wanda had always held a special place in his heart. And after having discovered a secret so horrible...He needed her now more than ever.
"Wanda..." he said in a low, distraught tone, "What are you doing here?"
"The person I care about more than anything in the world is up here in a world of pain...And you're asking me what I'm doing here?" she told him as she found her way to his side, letting her presence sooth away some of his pain.
"Oh..." he said with a sigh, feeling somewhat sheepish now for implying as such, "Sorry."
"Hey, you've got no reason to be sorry..." she said as she gently took his hand in hers and held it tightly, "It's just...I'm worried about you. I...After seeing what the Professor showed us...After seeing all those horrible images...I just...I had no idea you endured something so horrible."
"Yeah...I know...Even I have a hard time believing it," conceded Vincent, "But...It's not just the fact that I went through something like that and remember it all as clearly as the moment it happened...That much I've learned to cope with over the years. It's...It's just that after all this time...After all these years...I find that the one person responsible for all the pain I've felt is also the one person I've come to trust so much. I mean...Dr. Essex was someone I always thought was an honorable man...A man who took me in when I thought I had nothing else to live for. He gave me so much...He gave us all so much. But now..."
Vincent found himself trailing off, for he could not find the right words to truly describe the pain of such betrayal. He felt so lost...So confused...So betrayed by the people he placed so much trust in that it was hard for him to hold himself together. But Wanda couldn't bear to see him like this...And she refused to let him do this to himself.
"Yeah...I know...It hurts," said Wanda, tightening her grip on his hand, "And...I know I can never truly understand how you feel...But...Vincent please...Don't do this to yourself."
"I can't help it!" he said, turning away from her, unable to look her in the eye in his current state, "After everything we've done...He betrayed us! He lied to us! And now...We have to fight him to find the truth! And I just...I don't know if I can do that..."
"Vincent stop!" said Wanda sternly, forcing him to look her in the eye again, "I'm not going to let you destroy yourself because of this...And besides, you're stronger than that. And I don't care if I have to hex you to the end of the universe...I'm NOT going to let you forget that! You're the strongest fighter I know...And I know you've been through hell with your life, but that's no excuse to just keel over when the going gets tough!"
Wanda's words were firm, but effective in reminding Vincent of who he was. For so long, his past had been the one thing that he wasn't willing to fight...For it always seemed to cripple him mentally, physically, and spiritually. But he was still a soldier...He was still Vincent Freeman. And Wanda would not allow him to forget that.
"But...I don't know how I can face something like this, Wanda..." he said, finding himself consumed by his greatest weakness, "I can tear through armies...Rip apart tanks with my bare hands...And hold a North Korean nuclear reactor over my head...But this..."
"Is just another challenge you're going to overcome..." finished Wanda, not letting him finish, "We're going to fight this Vincent...We're going to fight our way through whatever shit we have to in order to find the truth. We may be lost in our own world of shit...But we're still soldiers...We're still a team. And we're going to fight with every fiber of strength to succeed...We're going to overcome this. I just..."
Then, Wanda suddenly found her words becoming more emotional as her voice became strained in the face of her emotions.
"You mean a lot to me Vincent..." said Wanda, swallowing the painful lump in her throat that had formed as her heart began to beat like a mantra, "You mean more to me than...Than I can ever put into words. And I want to be there for you...I want to be your strength...I want to be your strength in the same way you were for me all those other times when I needed it most."
Such words actually brought a smile to Vincent's face as he found himself snaking his arms around her waist and pulling her into a strong embrace...Feeling strong for the first time since he found out. It was as if the memories that haunted him couldn't touch him when he was with this woman...It was as if he finally had something to fight off his greatest weakness. And it was all thanks to this special woman who had become such a huge part of Vincent's tortured soul.
"You are my strength, Wanda..." he said softly, feeling a new sense of determination in his spirit that he thought had been shattered, "And I need you...I need you now more than ever. I'm going to fight this...I'm going to beat this...I just...I don't want to lose you or any more of the people I love."
"And you won't, Vincent..." said Wanda, her strength returning to her as well as they both stood with a determination greater than anything they could have hoped for, "We're going to fight this battle together...We're going to fight as the soldiers we are...And we're going to find learn the truth."
There was so much more that Wanda wanted to tell him...But she found herself unable to say any more as she simply sank into Vincent's strong arms. He too, wished he could say more...But with so many complications and challenges ahead of them...He had little strength to spare for what he knew would be the fight of their lives. But with so much at stake...It was a fight neither of them were going to back down on. Vincent owed that much to Wanda...And to his honor.
Down in one of the lab areas not far from the main hanger, X23 was making a few last minute preparations for battle. Having always been the loner of the group, she had her own way of getting herself ready for a fight and this was no different in her eyes. Even though she was well aware that she would be fighting against the organization she had come to trust so much...It was still a battle and she still went through her usual rituals, meticulously checking each one of her guns, carefully organizing her supplies, and doing a few mediations exercises to get herself mentally prepared.
However, even as a former living weapon that had faced such unimaginable danger and taken so many lives, she couldn't deny the mixed feelings she had about this mission. She and her friends knew no other life than Shadow Cell...It was just so much a part of them that it was pretty much impossible to imagine any other life. This was the organization that rescued her from Hydra...These were the people that taught her how to be her own person...And these were the people who gave her life meaning in many ways.
Yet after seeing images of the Prodigy Project, for which their teacher and mentor just happened to be behind, it brought back many painful memories of what she had endured at Hydra. It was like seeing the true face of something after having been shown a completely different world for so long...And Dr. Essex was at the center of it all.
It was unclear just how she would be able to take part in this fight...But in her mind, at least she still had a few things to hold onto. She still had her comrades...Who were more than just friends to her in many ways...They were practically family. They fought and bled together on and off the battlefield...Supporting and helping one another through each and every challenge. And as she finished prepping her guns and doing a few quick guns slinging tricks, she sought to hold onto those memories with her comrades that she had come to treasure...For she would most certainly need them in the fight to come.
"That's some pretty nice tricks ya have there, kid..." came a voice, snapping her out of her daze and nearly sending her into a defensive stance.
However, before her usual reflexes could even begin to take affect...Her mind remembered that voice all too well. It brought back the still troubling memories of that fateful fight when she had who she once believed to be the source of all her suffering at her mercy...Yet could not go through with killing him. He was Logan...The original Weapon X whose image she had been made in. And looking back at him, she still felt that raging conflict inside her...Not knowing how to think or feel in this man's presence and only going on that which she had learned from her friends about managing emotions.
"They're not tricks..." she found herself saying without thinking all that much, "They're exercises...They help to prepare me for battle."
"Funny...Ya don't exactly look too prepared to me," he commented, having noticed her anxious demeanor.
"I'm ALWAYS prepared to fight," she said sternly in response.
"Even battles like this?" he quipped, knowing she was just like him in a sense that she didn't like to let her emotions show.
X23 didn't have a response for that and merely let out an exasperated sigh, not knowing how else to think or feel during times of such struggle. Yet in looking back at this man who had caused so many conflicting feelings within her...It felt as though there was something more to their connection than simply blood. He came from a similar world...A world in which he had been used by those he thought he could trust. He understood what she was going through in a way nobody else did...And yet, it still caused conflict within the young soldier.
"How would you know?" she said in a low, somewhat bitter tone as she forced herself to look away from him, "How could anybody possibly know?"
"Hey...I've said those exact same words many times before...More than I care to count," said Logan as he found himself moving in closer towards her, unafraid of her reaction, "It ain't easy feelin' betrayed...Feelin' as though everything ya once believed is now gone and there's nothin' left. And now, ya don't even know if ya can fight back..."
X23 couldn't deny the truth in his words. She could clearly hear it in his tone...She could clearly sense it in his poise. He knew...He knew in a way she hadn't expected. And this was a man she had once tried to kill. Yet here he was...Talking to her and trying to lend what comfort he could. It made the former living weapon feel strange and deeply conflicted inside...But for some reason, it wasn't necessarily in a bad way. In fact...It felt good. And through it all...There was only one question that came to mind as she finally managed to look back into the eyes of the man who was responsible for her existence.
"Why?" she asked him with a look that made Logan feel strange for some reason, "Why are you doing this?"
"What do ya mean?"
"I...I tried to kill you," she told him, her voice actually straining, "I fought you and your friends...And I injured quite a few of them. But still...I tried to kill you...And now you're helping me. Why?"
Logan found himself unable to give her a simple answer. In all honestly...He didn't know why he was doing this. This girl had been a few inches away from decapitating him...Yet here he was trying to lend what comfort he could in her time of need. He couldn't explain it...And neither could see for that matter. It could have been because of their past lives as living weapons, it could have been because they shared the same blood, or it could have just been some deep laden need for the two loners to reach out to one another. But whatever it was...It definitely meant something to the both of them.
"I...Can't really tell ya, kid," he said, rubbing the back of his neck in a show of his uneasiness, "Maybe it's because we've been down a lot of the same roads...Or maybe it's somethin' else...I don't know. But...Thing is...This is a fight we're all a part of. This is somethin' that's a lot bigger than some run of the mill mission. I know it...You know it...Everybody knows it. And I guess...I guess there's just more to it than either of us can really say for certain. But if we make it out of this intact...I'd definitely like to learn more."
"More..." said X23, actually finding herself cracking a rare smile, "Yeah...I'd like that too."
It was a strange feeling for the both of them...Yet it was one they inherently shared. And even in the face of a truly daunting mission...They found time to smile about something...For now they had something to look forward to if they succeeded. But before either of them could work on that...There was still one major obstacle to overcome...The mission.
The final preparations had been made for both teams...The time for planning was officially over. Shadow Cell and the X-men were now ready for what was certain to be their most trying test. Both teams had a lot at stake...For the X-men, they were fighting for a friend whose life was now hanging in the balance...For Shadow Cell, they were fighting for their honor...For their right to live...And most of all...For the truth. There was no telling just what they would face or what secrets they would uncover. But one thing remained clear...It was going to be a hell of a fight.
"Okay teams, let's roll out!" ordered Warren as everybody gathered in the hanger, "Except you two..."
"Aw man! You can't be serious!" said Sam, who was standing alongside Jamie as they were stopped cold in their tracks.
"Yeah, Bobby and Jubilee are going! Why not us?" asked Jamie.
"Because they have experience and you guys don't," answered Warren, "And besides...We still need you to look after the others and prepare the med bays in case we have any injuries to take care of when we get back."
Both Sam and Jamie let out a disgruntled groan, but nevertheless did what they were told...For now was definitely not the time to argue.
"What a jip..." muttered Jamie.
"Hey! Be glad you're not going on this one kiddies!" shot X23, who had heard the naÃ¯ve young boy's comments, "Missions like this aren't for the faint of heart!"
"Yeah...That's comforting," said Bobby, not feeling any easier about it.
"Since when have you known anything involving these guys to be comforting?" muttered Kitty.
"Hey...Watch it girly," said Jean in a stern tone, "We don't comfort...We prepare."
"Right...It's a motto of the Marine Corp...Semper fi, do or die," said Scott as they all gathered around the XR-77 Blackbird.
"Well dis may be news to you homme...But we ain't soldiers," made Gambit, "We're in this to save our friend and stop a madman."
"Well in that case...You might as well buy your friend a tombstone," quipped Wanda in response, "Because that pacifist mentality won't do dick against the kind of people we're about to face..."
Gambit was definitely noticeably irked by that...But thankfully, Betsy stopped him before he could do anything more to provoke the five mutant soldiers.
"Don't bother, luv..." she told him, "They obviously don't have anything to say to make this job any easier."
"But they do have a point in some regard..." said Xavier as he wheeled himself into the hanger to see his team off, "We are up against an enemy the likes of which we haven't faced before. Whether it's this obscure Colonel, this dangerous mercenary, or this enigmatic doctor...We mustn't see this mission in the same context. There's a lot at stake here...Including the life of our friend. I know we're all merely peacekeepers and not soldiers...But that doesn't mean we should be afraid to fight."
"Don't vorry Herr Professor..." said Kurt, eager to get his hands on the people who abducted his sister, "Ve'll fight...For Rogue's sake."
"And for the sake of many others as well..." added Warren, "You can count on us Professor."
"I know I can..." said the wheel chair bound man with a proud and approving tone, "Good luck X-men...And Godspeed."
And with that, the two teams prepared to file into the X-jet. Time was definitely of the essence here and they were all eager to take the fight to the source before it was too late. But then...Just as Logan and X23 were about to enter first...They stopped in mid stride as a strange new scent filled the air.
"Logan...Hey Logan!" said Remy, growing somewhat impatient, "What's de deal homme?!"
"Somethin' ain't right here..." he said ominously.
"You're right...I smell it too," said X23.
"And I can sense it..." said Jean as she took out her gun and knife and began scanning the area.
Everybody looked noticeably confused...Not knowing what this was or even if it was serious. But it was clear that something was amiss...Something or someone was there.
"Professor..." began Warren.
"No...They're right...I sense it as well," said the Professor as he began scanning the area.
"Right...And I think I know who it is!" said Jean as she suddenly turned back down towards the corridor Sam and Jamie had left through and used her telekinesis powers to pull in the presence from the shadows.
Then...To everybody's amazement...The identity of the disturbance was revealed. And in some ways...They weren't exactly all that surprised.
"Mother?!" exclaimed Kurt as he watched her struggle in mid air against Jean's telekinetic grasp.
"Err!" she grunted, "Let me go! I'm not here to...Erah! Fight you!"
"I'll be the judge of that..." said Jean as she lowed her to the ground as the rest of the team gathered around her.
"Mystique!" growled Logan, his claws now showing in a threatening gesture, "You got a lot of nerve lady!"
"Not to mention seriously bad timing..." said Betsy as she formed a couple of psionic blades.
Jean kept her telekinetic hold on her and maintained a defensive stance with Wanda providing back up with her hexing powers just in case...But as she neared the hapless shape shifter, she quickly began to sense something different.
"Will...You...Knock it...Off!" she yelled in an angry tone, "I told you! I didn't come here to fight!"
"Oh yeah? Den what de hell do ya want? Cause we're kinda in a hurry," said Gambit, who had no love lost on this woman after what she put Rogue through.
"Is it really that hard to figure out?!" she shot at them, growing increasingly frustrated, "My daughter's been kidnapped!"
"Yeah right...Since when do you care?" muttered Bobby, ready to put her on ice.
"Wait!" said Jean as she lowered her to the ground and undid her telekinetic hold.
The Professor soon joined them, sensing the same abnormalities as Jean...Which was a sign in and of itself since Mystique usually bore some very strong mental shields. But for some reason, her mind wasn't being shielded...Not because they were weak, but because she simply didn't want them up. She had a feeling they wouldn't be happy to see her, so she decided to at least do something to show she was being sincere...She just didn't expect to see the same five soldiers again that had initiated all this turmoil.
"Hey! What are you..." began Warren, but he was quickly cut off.
"Shut up!" she said sternly as she studied the shape shifter closely with her acute perceptive abilities that any skilled interrogator had to have.
There was a brief moment of tense silence as Jean studied the shape shifter's face...Looking for any signs of dissent. The rest of the X-men seemed ready to tear into her, but she didn't seem to care...Hell, she didn't even look that surprised. The Professor seemed to know it and Jean was quick to see it...But Mystique, despite all the unsavory enemies she was now surrounded by, didn't flinch. She kept a strong, stern demeanor...Which seemed to speak volumes in the eyes of the five mutant soldiers because it told them she was no stranger to the game. If anything...She looked as though she had more experience than they had originally thought. She was tough...Jean could attest to that...But could she be trusted?
"So what's the verdict Jean?" asked Scott, knowing full well what she was doing.
Looking back at the shape shifter's face, she was somewhat surprised to see her looking relatively unscathed by her glance despite the world of pain she had put her through earlier. And for Mystique, who had a good idea what this was all about, it was all merely an inconvenient formality that was keeping her from finding her daughter.
"Are you done yet?" she said, sounding completely unafraid, "Or do you want to interrogate me again just for kicks while my daughter's out there suffering?"
That seemed to be the clincher for Jean as she put her gun and knife away and turned towards the others.
"She's good...She can come," said Jean affirmatively.
"WHAT?!" yelled Logan, forcing Ororo to hold him back.
"I said...She can come," shot Jean in response in a stern tone, "We'll need all the help we can get...And I know she's tough enough, so she can come. She's got just as much stake in this as you do..."
"Are you high?!" yelled Warren at the imposing redhead, "You have no idea the kind of shit this woman has put us through! You can't be..."
"Warren..." said Xavier, stopping him in mid sentence, not willing to let this escalate any further, "It's okay...I agree. Rogue is her daughter...She has every right to fight with us."
"Yeah right!" spat Gambit in response, "Why don't ya just fight wit Magneto instead?"
"Because Magneto doesn't give a damn whether or not Rogue lives or dies!" shot Mystique in response, "Now you all hate me...That much I get. And honestly, I couldn't care less. I don't like you all very much either, so we're even. But Rogue is still my daughter! And like it or not...I'm going to get her back! Now you can either fight me...Or let me help. Either way is fine with me...But you're NOT going to keep me out of this fight!"
Her words were strong, yet passionate...For it was a rare thing to see Mystique so wrought with maternal concern. It was something that struck Kurt as being quite odd, for he hadn't even spoken to her since he found out Rogue was his foster sister. Yet here she was...Every bit as intent to save her as the rest of them. It brought out plenty of mixed feelings...But there was little time to think about such things.
"Professor..." began Betsy, but Xavier had already made his decision.
"She's right X-men..." said Xavier in a tone that left no room for argument, "She has a right to be here...And we have no right to stop her. And if any of you have a problem with this, you may take it up with me AFTER the mission. Is that clear?"
There were still plenty of hard glances...But nobody said a word.
"Very well...Then get ready," he said as he began to wheel himself back to Cerebro, "We cannot afford to waste another second...Our most challenging mission awaits."
"Professor..." said Scott, knowing that was the understatement of the millennium, "You don't know the half of it..."
AN: Dun, dun, dun...Dramatic pause! The final mission is finally upon them! The X-men, Shadow Cell, and Mystique are about to embark on a fight like no other! Dr. Essex and the Colonel seem quite prepared for them and now there's Deadpool, Bullseye, Gauntlet, and Omega Red to worry about! I wanted to bring in a few more Marvel names, so I hope you all enjoy how I use them in the coming chapters! Trust me...You won't want to miss this one! There are plenty of secrets just waiting to be uncovered and plenty of action and drama to come! In the meantime, don't forget to REVIEW! Send me your feedback via email or post it on the fanfiction website! Thanks a ton for reading everybody and I wish you all the best!
ACTION IS BRIMMING! REVIEW WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!!