5 years after Sinister Soldiers, a sinister ghost from the past arises and brings Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 of Shadow Cell out of retirement one last time. Jott, Wanda/OC
Chapter 2: Dropping In
As sunset drew near over the skies of Westchester, the five former members of Shadow Cell and their children prepared for a nice dinner together. Yet unknown to them, an unmarked Blackhawk helicopter was heading in their direction.
Less than 20 miles away, the lone aircraft carried on it some of the most important men in the United States Military, one of them being the legendary Nick Fury, leader of the largest peacekeeping entity in the world, SHIELD. He was the one who picked up the slack left behind by Shadow Cell when the program was disbanded. And he was the one who nations turned to when tyranny threatened their citizens.
But despite his presence, the officials in the aircraft did not look too pleased with his presence.
"I'm telling you, Fury. This is a BIG mistake," said a neatly dressed middle aged man in a military uniform, "I don't like where this is going one bit!"
Fury was not fazed by the younger man's words. He just sat there smoking his cigar, looking over a file that bore horrors the likes of which even he had never seen before.
"Sir! Sir, are you listening to me?!"
"Can it, Major. I heard you," grunted Fury as he closed the file, "And you best watch your tone. You're the one that called me, remember?"
"Gentlemen please!" said an older looking man sitting adjacent to the two bickering officers, "Let's not fight our battles here."
That didn't change the look on Fury's face, but it did get the Major to stand down.
"Commander, if I may be frank for a moment," said the Major, his tone still dead serious, "I think we can do better than these guys. It's been five years since any of them wore a uniform, they were part of a program that betrayed the entire US Government, and on top of that they're not even supposed to officially exist!"
"Yeah, well neither is this threat," quipped Fury as he put out his cigar.
"But bringing in a dead black project?!" exclaimed the Major, "With all the resources at our disposal, how is it that we aren't mobilizing our manpower to take care of this?"
"Because we already tried that, Major," said the Commander in a solemn tone as he rubbed the bridge of his nose, "We've sent the FBI, the CIA, Delta force, and Special Ops into the fire and all we've got in return is a long list of families we have to send our condolences to."
"Fuck with the bull and you get the horns," said Fury indifferently.
"With all due respect," continued the Commander, "Even I'm skeptical about bringing in a dead black project to help with an issue of this magnitude."
Colonel Nick Fury's stern expression didn't change. He had faced enough global threats to be hardened even by something like this. For these military desk jockeys, however, they didn't know how to get their hands dirty. And for a threat of this magnitude, there was no way around it.
"Say what you want, Commander, but this is our best bet. I know you and most of the government for that matter considers these guys to be mistakes, but trust me...these five are the only ones for a mission like this. You want this job done, you're gonna need to break a few rules. But think of it this way...you're not doing anything our government doesn't do on a regular basis."
The helicopter fell silent as the three officers waited anxiously for their arrival. None of them liked this situation, but it was one that could not be ignored. Fury may have been crass, but he had more experience than half the Pentagon. And the sooner this issue was handled, the sooner the country could sleep easier.
"Sir," said the helicopter pilot from the cockpit, "We're going into our final decent."
Tucking the file into his coat, the three men held on. The Captain and the Major still thought it was a mistake. But for Nick Fury, these were the only ones for the job.
"Relax you two," he said in his gruff tone, "You'll be back in your cozy little offices in no time. You just better pray we catch these guys in a good mood. Because if they can't do it then we're all as good as dead."
As dusk settled over the Summers house, Scott was putting the finishing touches on the steaks he had going on the grill. Inside, Jean was preparing mashed potatoes and corn for their feast with help from Laura, who had developed some good culinary skills thanks to Ororo.
Outside, Vince and Wanda played around with the children. By now, their fun with the sprinkler was done and Nathan, Rachel, and Maggie were piling on Vincent with glee.
"Please Daddy! Pretty please!" begged Maggie as she held onto her daddy's neck while Nate and Rachel tugged at his pants.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, but you know the rules," said Vincent with a mix of seriousness and playfulness, "It's not safe to fly during sunset."
"Oh come on, Uncle Vincent!" chirped Rachel, "Take us over the lake before the sun comes down! It's SO pretty!"
"Yeah, please Uncle Vincent! Please!" begged Nate.
Wanda couldn't help but laugh at such a cute sight. One of the drawbacks to being able to fly is that it made Vincent a living rollercoaster to the kids. While he was very strict about safety, there were times he just couldn't say no to those kids. They loved flying and it was hard to resist when they had him cornered like this.
"Uh, wanna help me out here, hun?" said Vincent as he turned to his wife.
"What? And ruin this priceless moment?" she laughed, "It's times like this I wish I had a photographic memory."
With the kids still tugging at him for a ride, Scott finally stepped in to help his friend.
"Hey, come on now kids. Leave Uncle Vincent alone," he said as he walked over to pick little Rachel up in his arms, "Besides, going on a flight at this hour may spoil your appetite. And you don't want our Saturday feast to go to waste do you?"
"But daddy!" whined Nathan.
"No buts, Nate. Food now. Flying later," he told him with a smile.
"I promise, son."
"You know it."
That was enough for Nathan, for his daddy never broke warrior promises. It was one of the many things he and Rachel emulated from their parents, that strong warrior spirit. But in their hearts, they were still fun loving kids.
"Thanks man," said a grateful Vincent as he held his daughter in his arms.
"Hey, what are fellow soldiers for?"
"Well they're great for Saturday night dinners, that's for sure," said Wanda, "And I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving."
"I second that," said Vincent, "What about you, baby? You hungry?"
"For desert," cooed Maggie in response.
"After dinner, sweetheart."
"Okay," sighed the little girl.
"Kids..." sighed Wanda, now wanting more than ever to discuss that second baby with Vincent.
Just then, Jean and Laura stepped out onto the deck.
"Hey Scott, are the steaks done?" said Laura.
"They've been done for ten minutes," he replied.
"Then let's eat!" said Jean with a smile, "I hope you're all hungry because we made extra..."
Then suddenly, Jean stopped in mid sentence. The look on her face suddenly fell and after having spent years on the battlefield with her, they knew full well what it meant.
"What is it, Jean? What's wrong?" said Scott, feeling her anxiety through their link.
"Oh no...that better not be who I think it is," she muttered.
"What do you mean?" said Vincent, his concern growing as well, "Who are you..."
"Wait! You guys hear that?" said Laura.
Silence fell over the former unit as they listened for whatever sound X23 was picking up. She had vastly superior hearing compared to the others and when she heard something, she didn't mess around.
Soon, the former soldiers heard it to and Scott picked up on the noise without hesitation.
"Blackhawk helicopter...the stealth model," said Scott, his vast knowledge of aircrafts coming into play.
"Daddy, what's going on?" asked a curious Nathan Summers, watching as all the grown ups started acting really strange.
Without hesitation, the mutant soldiers took action to protect their children.
"Go inside, kids," said Jean as she rushed them back into the safety of their house, "We'll be in soon. We have to take care of some grown up stuff, okay?"
"Okay, mommy," said young Rachel as she followed her friend and brother back into the house.
Knowing not to argue with that kind of tone, the three children obediently followed, leaving the five former mutants of Shadow Cell to make deal with this new threat.
"The front yard!" said Jean in the assertive tone of a soldier.
"Who is it, Jean?" asked Wanda, half expecting to be under attack.
"Someone I hoped we'd never see again," she answered cryptically.
The five mutant soldiers ran around the side of the house to see the unmarked helicopter landing in a clearing about 100 yards away from the house. They looked around for any other threats, but they sensed nothing as they approached the lone aircraft.
"Wait here," said Fury to the Major and the Commander, "It's probably better they not see more military men then they have to."
"Rest assured, I'm not getting up from this spot," said the Major, "Let's just get this over with, Fury."
"And people wonder why America has so many enemies," quipped the Colonel as he stepped out of the helicopter and was met with five faces he never thought he'd see again.
Five years had done a lot for them. They sure weren't teenagers anymore. But apparently, five years hadn't been enough because they did not look too happy to see him.
"Hello, Shadow Cell. It's been awhile," said Nick Fury as he stood before the five mutant soldiers.
"Hasn't been long enough, Fury," said Scott in a disgruntled tone, "What are you doing here? I thought we were done forever."
Fury had expected this. He knew he was not Shadow Cell's favorite person. But he was used to this kind of treatment. And after everything the military had put these five through, he could hardly blame them.
"Good to see that attitude hasn't changed," he said as he took out a cigar, "And here I was thinking civilian life had softened you guys."
"Skip the icebreakers. What do you want?" said Jean, folding her arms in frustration at his intrusion."
"Just a moment of your time," he said as he lit his cigar, "You know I wouldn't have even considered coming here if it wasn't important. So you can either kick me off your lawn or hear me out. It's your choice. So what's it gonna be?"
The five mutant soldiers exchanged weary looks. They knew Nick Fury. He was not one for spontaneity. And after officially declaring Shadow Cell dead, it had to be big if he had come to them.
Not needing much debate, the five mutant soldiers relaxed their guard. The man had made the trip. They might as well make it worth something.
"Come on in," said Jean as she directed him towards her house, "But make it quick. We have kids to take care of."
"Don't worry, Phoenix," assured the old Cold Warrior, "This won't take long."
Never one to let little things spoil the dinner they planned, the former Shadow Cell soldiers set an extra place for Fury. They also set up a separate area in the living room for Nathan, Rachel, and Megan so they could watch TV and stay occupied while they handled this.
Needless to say, the presence of the old Cold Warrior was not expected, but for the sake of keeping things civil they let him partake in some of the food. As cynical as they were about Fury, he had to have a good reason for showing up. So they kept it casual, hoping for a little transparency from a man who lived in a world of secrets.
"So this is how the five greatest soldiers in the history of man spend their retirement..." commented Fury as he took in his surroundings while eating his steak, "Nice house, white picket fence, couple of kids...hell, if I didn't know any better, I'd think I'd just walked into some corny 50s sitcom."
"Glad you to hear that age hasn't affected that charming personality of yours, Fury," said Scott in a sarcastic tone, "But we all know you didn't come just to mooch some home cooking. What do you want?"
Taking in a few more bites of steak and potatoes, Fury reached into his coat and pulled out the file he had been looking over earlier. Tossing it in the center of the table, his expression remained indifferent as he told them about the horrors of this crisis.
"We've got a problem...a very serious problem. Millions of lives at stake, little time to act, and no other options...the kind of thing you're all used to. The government is stretched beyond its limits and we've tried everything. So naturally, they came to me looking for any possible solution. Hence my little visit. You follow so far?"
"We know the drill," said Vincent as he reached over to pick up the file, "Just what is this monumental threat? Is it another rogue dictator? A state sponsored militia? Some crime lord out for weapons of mass destruction?"
"No...much worse," said Fury as he wiped his mouth of steak sauce, "That file you're holding does not officially exist, but it's the only material on this threat we've got."
"Just what kind of threat are we talking about here?" asked Laura, growing increasingly curious.
"Two words...weaponized virus," stated Fury.
The five mutant soldiers all scoffed. They knew this guy was an enigma, but to come all this way for a virus? That was something they dealt with at least once a month back in Shadow Cell. It wasn't the kind of crisis that would warrant his intrusion.
"You gotta be kidding me," said Wanda with a raised eyebrow, "You ruined our Saturday dinner for a fucking virus?"
"Yeah, this should be right up your ally, Fury," added Jean, "Bio weapons were in Shadow Cells jurisdiction, but last I checked SHIELD took that role."
"I wouldn't have come here if it was just some run of the mill bug. Trust me, this is something much more serious," said Fury ominously.
"I'm sure it is," said Scott with an exasperated sigh, "So who made it this time? Was it the North Koreans? The Russians? The Swiss?"
"None of the above. This little bastard is made in the USA."
That revelation got their full attention. Dealing with foreign threats was one thing, but an internal threat was always much more complicated. They didn't deal with those kinds of things back at Shadow Cell, but on the rare occasions they did, it was always serious.
"You're kidding," said Vincent, "Word is the United States has been out of the bio weapons business for thirty years."
"Yeah, well word is that Elvis is still alive, but that doesn't change anything," said Fury as he took out a cigar, "Officially, we condemn all use of germ warfare. But unofficially, the government sanctioned the formation of splinter cell black projects. They were dirty, disorganized, and completely unregulated."
"Hence deniable by the Department of Defense," added Jean.
Fury chuckled at that as he lit his cigar. Even as civilians, they hadn't lost their edge.
"Bingo. And one of these shady projects was a program in response to the Soviet Union's growing Anthrax arsenal. The way the higher ups saw it, if the communists were making enough doses to wipe out all human life on Earth, we had to have some ammunition of our own."
"In other words, mutually assured destruction?" concluded Laura.
"It worked for nukes. Why not germs?" shrugged Fury as he took a puff of his cigar, "But since we couldn't make Anthrax at the same level as the Soviets, the higher ups sought a smaller, more compact weapon that was just as potent. So they funded a covert program meant to make the ultimate bio weapon. And they called it Legacy."
"Legacy?" said Vincent as he thumbed through the file, stopping on a section with pictures of a strange microscopic organism, "Just what kind of virus is this?"
"The worst you can possibly imagine," said Fury ominously, "One so bad that God himself wouldn't even create something like this. It's got the lethality of Ebola and plague with the durability of Anthrax. It's air born, efficient, and quick. Once you've got it, call a coroner. The mortality rate is one hundred percent. And after confirmation of infection, you've got just 48 hours and then you're a corpse."
The former unit was now taking this very seriously as they gathered around Vincent to get a glimpse at this file. Having dealt with bio weapons before, they knew the kind of lethality they were capable of. But none were quite as horrific as this.
"Son of a bitch," said Scott as he looked at Fury with disgust, "And this is American made?!"
"It gets worse," he said, taking another puff of his cigar, "Unlike other viruses, this thing is part mechanical and part biological. In other words, you can program it like a computer to attack certain groups. Don't like some pesky ethnic group? A few commands and you can wipe them out by the end of the week. Hell, you can even program it to kill only one person and make it look like the flu."
"Sounds like it would double as a no-fault assassination tool as well," commented Laura.
"It was versatile, no doubt about it," he said, "But as much potential as Legacy had, the program was scrapped after three years and all the materials were destroyed...officially, that is. But recently, all that has changed."
"How so?" asked Scott, who was beginning to feel the urgency along with his friends.
With a deep grunt, Fury took out a small picture from his jacket and tossed it on the table. It displayed a sophisticated looking middle aged man wearing a priest's robe and holding a bible. And from what the five mutant soldiers could see, Fury had little love for this guy.
"His name is William Stryker," he said bitterly, "Ever heard of him?"
"Not really. Who is he?" asked Laura.
Fury scoffed as he took another puff of his cigar.
"You gotta be kidding me? This guy is in the news at least three times a day."
"We don't bother with the news," said Jean, "Too depressing."
"Whatever," said Fury, rolling his eyes, "But if you kept up, you'd know that this guy is Capitalisms golden boy. He's been this planet's top industrialist for the last decade. Oil, cars, trains, weapons, you name it this guy has stock in it. In fact, he supplies a good portion of our military with advanced weapons."
"Great, I'm guessing that gives him influence," said Vincent.
"You have NO idea. This guy doesn't just have influence, he practically owns governments. He's got over half the politicians in Europe in his back pocket, he's a chief financier of Asian interests, and he's put plenty of senators, governors, and judges in office. But that's not the worst part."
"Oh boy, I know I'm going to regret asking this, but what is it?" groaned Scott.
"He's a religious fanatic," replied Fury distastefully, "He even calls himself Reverend. But trust me, he's not out to spread the word of God's love."
"Must be an Old Testament guy," commented Vincent.
"Wouldn't surprise me," said Fury as he finished his cigar, "But because of this guy's influence, he found out about Legacy. I don't know how, but I'm guessing all that money of his makes a hell of a truth serum."
"Money talks last I checked," commented Wanda, "So I take it he wants Legacy?"
"Bingo," affirmed Fury, "Because of his influence, he's practically untouchable. The Department of Defense has put together several covert task forces from law enforcement and military personnel over the past eight months to try and stop this guy, but so far all we've gotten in return is a mountain of bodies and an overly amused Stryker."
"So is that why you came to us?" said Vincent as he put the file down and stared at Nick Fury with a hard scorn, "You want us to take care of this guy Godfather style?"
None of the five mutant soldiers looked to happy with that possibility and Fury couldn't blame them. After all, they had been used enough during their time with Shadow Cell. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but that's only part of it. Stryker is not just a billionaire and a religious nut. He's also a skilled tactician. He spent four years at West Point before he found God and he's put together his own private army to enforce his will all over the world. They number in the thousands, they're fanatically loyal, and they're armed with weapons that would make most countries drool in buckets."
"And I take it he thinks Legacy will make his power complete?" concluded Jean.
"That's part of it," said Fury ominously, "But there's something else about Stryker you should know...he hates mutants."
That got the five mutant soldiers to groan, for they dealt with that enough already. As X-men, they saw protests on a regular basis against the 'evil' of mutation. Because of this, they had to keep their kids on the grounds of the institute most of the time and couldn't let them out to play like normal.
But when somebody powerful hates mutants, then it's usually goes beyond simple protesting.
"Great, another greedy power monger who hates mutants," growled Laura, "And I'll bet he wants to use the Legacy virus to wipe us all out."
"He calls it part of his 'purification' process," said Fury, "But I'm afraid it doesn't stop with mutants."
"Let me guess...genocide?" sighed Wanda.
"Worse than that. According to Stryker's logic, it's his job to inflict God's wrath on the wicked and wipe out all those deemed unfit for survival. So that means everybody that he judges as unworthy are candidates for extermination. And with Legacy, he can wipe out every soul he deems unworthy of living in his own little kingdom of God."
Silence fell over the five mutant soldiers as they took a moment to digest this. As Shadow Cell, they had faced plenty of global threats, but this was in a league all its own. A billionaire religious nut with apocalyptic prejudices was a bad mix by any stretch of the imagination. And with something like Legacy in the mix, the possibilities were just too horrible to contemplate.
"A God fearing nut who wants to make his own version of the rapture," said Vincent as he looked at Stryker's picture in disgust.
"Exactly," said Fury as he got up from his seat, "That's why I came to you guys. SHIELD is already trying to put together a task force to take him down, but because of the moles Stryker has in the government it's a guaranteed fiasco. In other words, you guys are it. You're the only ones who can stop Stryker."
"The only ones?!" said Jean in a frustrated tone, "All the resources in the world, yet you still come to us?"
"Well...there's another reason I thought I'd come to you for this."
"Which is?" asked Laura skeptically.
"Look on the last page of the file. You'll see..."
Curious as to what he was referring to, Vincent turned the file to the last page. But the second he and his comrades laid eyes on it, a cold chill came over the room.
"No..." said Scott as he looked wide eyed at the page which included a grainy black and white photo.
"It...it can't be!" said Vincent, his fists clenching in a rage of pain and anger.
"It is," said Fury in a dark tone, "Dr. Nathanial Essex...before he worked on the Prodigy Project, he was put in charge of creating Legacy. At the time, he was the most respected man in the field of biotechnology. He had the expertise, the know-how, and the vision to make the ultimate weapon. Hence the name Legacy...because this virus is all that's left of him."
A heavy silence fell over the five mutant soldiers. For five years, they had been haunted by the shadow of Dr. Essex. He brought them together, trained them, and then betrayed them all for his sick goals. He had been like a father to them. Yet he killed their families and lied to them.
They were his children. They were what he was going to use to create the ultimate life forms. And now a demon offspring of Mr. Sinister was back and the world hung in the balance once more.
"Sinister..." said Vincent, his tone thick with anger.
"I know this is a very personal issue for you guys," said Fury, casting them a look of sympathy, "And I know it's wrong to step in after you've rebuilt your lives and actually found a little happiness for once. But Stryker is a threat to everybody. And if he gets his hands on Legacy, then Sinister will truly have had the last laugh."
The five mutant soldiers had heard enough. Throwing the file back down onto the table, they knew what Fury was asking of them. But after five years, it was not a road they wanted to walk again.
But at this point, there seemed to be no other choice.
"What are you asking of us, Colonel Fury?" said Scott, talking to him as if he were an old officer.
"I'm asking you to be Shadow Cell again," answered Fury ominously, "Neither SHIELD nor any part of the government can support or acknowledge you. We can't even give you any clues to help find him. But I know you guys can do this. You're the only ones with the skill, drive, and passion to pull this off. I know I don't have the right and I know you don't deserve to have to deal with this, but Stryker will kill us all."
"Wait, so let me get this straight..." said Laura, "You can't support us in any way, but you want us to help on our own?"
"Think of it as a mission without government interference," shrugged Fury, "But you're civilians and I can't make you do this. I'm not officially here right now and all I can give you is that file. When I leave, I don't expect any action. I'm just going to go back, get my task force ready, and try whatever I can to stop Stryker. But time is running out. And if neither of us can stop Stryker, then we'll all pay the price."
Leaving Shadow Cell to decide on their own, Fury turned to make his leave. But along the way, he stopped briefly to look at the pictures on the wall. They were baby pictures of Nathan and Rachel, wedding portraits of Scott and Jean, and shots of the whole team standing together as family and not just a unit.
It was a powerful sight to Nick Fury and it prompted him to give the former soldiers one last message.
"By the way...you guys have built a nice life here."
"Um...thanks," said Scott.
"It's nice to know that there can be happy endings for people like us in this messed up world. Just make sure you treasure it every day...because you of all people know how things can get complicated in the blink of an eye. Thanks for the dinner."
With those final words, Colonel Nick Fury left the Summers household and didn't look back. Now the five mutant soldiers were left with a difficult decision. Do they dawn their Shadow Cell uniforms once more or do they hold onto the peaceful lives they spent so much time rebuilding?
Dead silence came over the former unit as they looked at the ominous file.
"So what do we do guys?" asked Scott as he looked at a picture of the legacy virus, "We've got a madman out there looking to kill millions and there's nothing the government can do about it."
"Add to that, we're dealing with Sinister again," said Jean with a hint of pain in her tone, "Even after five years, we still can't escape this bastard."
"But doesn't that make this our responsibility in a ways?" said Laura, "Isn't it sort of appropriate that we handle the last ghost of his legacy?"
It was an interesting point to ponder. In a ways, they were still Sinister's children. They couldn't escape that. But that made destroying the last piece of his being all the more important.
"I don't know," said Vincent in a daze, "We've spent all this time trying to get away from Shadow Cell. Do we really want to go down that road again?"
They were about to debate this further, when suddenly the sound of an innocent young voice broke them from their state.
"Mommy? Daddy? Who was that?" said Nathan as he looked up at his parents with curious eyes.
Rachel and Megan stood there as well, each bearing a worried look on their face. They knew when something serious came up. Every time there was a mission with the X-men, they would have that same urgent look. And even though they were young, they were smart enough to know it meant trouble.
But looking back at the three beautiful kids whom they had brought into this crazy world, it gave the five mutant soldiers all the more reason to stop William Stryker.
"It was just an old friend, sweetheart," assured Jean as she bent down to give her son a hug, "Don't worry about it, okay?"
"Okay, mommy," said the little boy, not arguing with his mother when she had that look in her eyes.
Without another word, the three children obediently returned to the living room. But seeing their faces had done enough, for it was now clear what they had to do.
"Well guys...what do you think?" said Scott, although he could tell by their change in demeanor what the verdict was.
With a heavy sigh and a renewed sense of determination, the five mutant soldiers had their answer. There was no getting around it. William Stryker and Sinister's Legacy had to be stopped. And if that meant dawning their guns again, then so be it.
"I think we know what we have to do, hun," said Jean, her thoughts still on her children.
"It's either wait for Stryker to make his move or stop him before he gets that far," said Laura with a grunt, "Some choice."
"A madman is pursuing the most powerful weapon ever created and the world is on the verge of catastrophe...just like old times," mused Wanda.
"Old times indeed," said Vincent as he firmly gripped the file, "Well guys...looks like we've got a mission on our hands."
With a look of affirmation, the former soldiers stood united as they had five years ago. They had their duty and they were going to see it through. And for one last time, Shadow Cell would ride again with the weight of the world resting on their weary shoulders.
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