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 4: Old Friends
After half an hour of flying, the X-jet landed in a small forest clearing just outside an area of quaint, yet affluent suburban homes not far from Baltimore, Maryland. Night had settled over the area and many were preparing for bed, so the five former soldiers of Shadow Cell were careful to not disturb the peace.
Without any support from SHIELD or the government, they would have to follow up their own leads concerning Legacy. Fortunately, they didn't have to look far.
"Is this the place?" asked Scott as he powered down the jet.
"According to information, he moved here just last year," affirmed Vincent.
"Not bad for a retirement community," commented Wanda, "Very low key."
"Probably just how he wants it," said Scott, "And after all the crap the General went through, I can't say I blame him."
It had been five years since they had spoken with General Nathan Grimshaw, the only man who hadn't betrayed them at Shadow Cell. They owed him a lot. He taught them how to find truth in a world of lies. And because of his influence, Shadow Cell had been quietly laid to rest. In return, the government forced him to retire, which was a hell of a way to let go of a man as good as him.
But once again, they needed his help.
"Okay guys...let's go," said Scott, taking a deep breath as they prepared to confront their former superior.
Stepping out of the plane, the five mutant soldiers quietly made their way to Nathan Grimshaw's listed address. The skies were cloudy and there was thunder in the distance as if nature was trying to warn them.
For a moment, they all stood at the door in silence exchanging worried looks. It didn't feel right bringing the General back into messes like this, but he was their only hope.
"Here goes," said Jean as she rung the doorbell.
The next few moments were very tense as they awaited an answer. Soon, they heard footsteps and just as raindrops started falling from the sky, the door opened and the five mutant soldiers were met with a familiar, yet surprised face.
"Well I'll be..." said former General Nathan Grimshaw as he took in a sight he never thought he'd see again.
"Hello sir. It's been awhile," said Scott with a respectful poise.
A smile formed on the General's face. Even after five years, they still treated him like their superior officer.
"Indeed," he said, scanning the area around them for any signs of suspicious activity, "Come on in."
For the next half hour or so, the five mutant soldiers sat with the General in his living room telling him about everything that had happened in the last five years. From their marriage to their children, they spared no details.
For the General, it was nice to know that the five soldiers he proudly led had turned out happy. And after what they went through, they deserved it.
"Sounds like the kids are quite a handful," said the General as he sat in his recliner while the five mutant soldiers sat on the couch.
"They are," said Jean with a sigh, "Almost more so than dealing with terrorists. But it's worth it."
"They always are. What are they're names?"
Scott and Jean both smiled as they pulled out the pictures they had tucked away in their uniforms and showed them to their former superior.
"The little redheaded girl is Rachel. She's three," said Scott proudly, "The boy next to her is five. His name is Nathan."
Upon hearing that, the General smiled. Shadow Cell's loyalty seemed to know no bounds and even though they had severed their ties with one another, it was nice to know they still remembered.
"Nathan huh?" he grinned, "I'm honored. I feel like an uncle."
"Well with all the people at the institute, they've already got plenty of those," said Jean, "But I guess another couldn't hurt."
"And who's to say we're done?" added Wanda as she pulled out her picture of Maggie and showed it to her former superior, "We've been thinking about having one more."
"Gonna stop at two, I suppose," said the General as he smiled at the picture of the beautiful little girl.
"Yeah, we figured three would be pushing it," said Vincent, "And besides, we think Megan could use a playmate."
It was hard to believe that these remarkable youngsters were already starting a family of their own. Hell, it seemed like only yesterday they were just teenage soldiers in the most advanced unit every conceived by man. Now they were dedicated parents and friends.
"You all have beautiful kids," he said to them as he gave them their pictures back.
"Thank you, sir," said Scott respectfully, "It's been tough, but I think we've done well so far."
"Just wait till they get to be teenagers. Then the real challenge begins," grinned the General as he took a sip of his tea.
"I shutter to think about the possibilities," said Vincent, "They already take after us so much. They're so young, yet they already want to be soldiers. We've started teaching them CQC."
"And I take it that doesn't sit well with you?" said the ever inquisitive General.
That got the five mutant soldiers to laugh.
"Still haven't lost your touch, sir," said Laura with a humored grin.
"Nah, I'm just speaking from experience. I went through the same thing when my kids started having soldier aspirations. It scared me to death because I knew the kind of world they were getting into. But as a parent, all I could do was support them and I couldn't be prouder."
"Did you ever try to talk them out of it?" asked Wanda.
"At some points, yes," explained the General, "But they made their choice. And I think they made the right one. My son became a proud Navy Seal. My oldest graduated from West Point and became a Captain in the Marines. And my daughter just finished a term in the Air Force. Now she's working full time at the Veterans Hospital."
"That's quite a feat, sir," said Scott, wondering just what route his kids would take.
"Yeah, being both a General and a father, retirement must be a blessing," commented X23.
"I guess so," he said with a sigh as he took a sip of his tea, "I get to wake up late and fall asleep in front of the Golf Channel. I can even take vacations now. Just this past year, my wife and I went sailing in the Caribbean. But still, it's hard to leave the military world behind."
"Do you ever miss it?" asked Vincent.
The General was silent for a moment as he pondered that. But it didn't take him long to make his response.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't. Even though peace has its benefits, it's still hard being a soldier when there were so many battles I wanted to fight. I know it seems odd given how rough you guys had it, but sometimes you just can't get away from the life no matter how hard you try."
"Believe me, General...we understand," said Jean, "Which sort of brings us to why we're here."
"Yes, I take it something had to pull you guys out of retirement," he said, taking another sip of his tea, "I'm guessing you're faced with one last battle...one that's come out of the shadows of the past that has great potential for mass destruction."
Even at his age, the General was still as sharp as ever. For Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and Laura it was just like old times. And like their Shadow Cell days, the General would be their guide.
"You guessed right, General," said Scott as he cut to the chase, "Something big has come up and you're our only lead."
"In that case, what can I do to help?" he said in the assertive tone they all remembered.
"First off, what do you know about Project Legacy?"
The General's face went pale upon hearing that. That more or less gave away his answer, but from the looks of it there was more to it and it definitely wasn't pleasant.
"Project Legacy...now there's something I hoped I would never hear again," he said as he got up from his seat and began pacing.
"Then I take it you know all about it," said Vincent.
"Indeed I do. But I wish to God that I didn't," he sighed as he looked out his window with a distant gaze, "It's been over thirty years since I helped shut that program down. As an up and coming officer, I got a chance to see firsthand just what that monstrosity was capable of."
"You mean you saw it work?" said Wanda with a nauseous feeling in her stomach.
"Oh yes," said the General in a grim tone, "One doesn't easily forget something like that. They say that living through a nuclear blast is the worst way to die. But after seeing the power of the Legacy virus, I'd beg to die of nuclear winter. But the sad thing is...that wasn't the reason why I worked to shut it down."
"What do you mean?" asked Laura curiously.
The General hoped he wouldn't have to go through this memory again. But after thirty years, it was time he got it off his chest.
"It wasn't about morality," he said in a low tone, "Every officer leaves those at the door when they put on their uniform. It was purely political. The way I saw it, a virus that wiped out a specific group would be too conspicuous for the international community. If one group dies while another lives, that would implicate America in a huge breach of international law. It would have isolated us as a power and galvanized our enemies."
"Makes sense," said Jean, knowing enough about politics to see the reasoning.
"Luckily, that's what the top brass thought as well. After Leon Breznev's regime weakened and the USSR started to fall apart, I managed to get Legacy shelved under the guise of impracticality. It would have been useful had the Soviet Union held together, but history had other plans."
"So the project was scrapped?" said Laura.
The General's expression sank upon hearing that.
"I wish it had," sighed the General, "But you of all people should know that black projects are never truly thrown away. Officially, Project Legacy was purged from the records."
"What about unofficially?" asked Vincent.
"That...is where my knowledge of the subject ends, I'm afraid. I was promoted soon after the project was scrapped. I hoped I'd never hear of it again. I was there when the facilities were cleaned out, but I also remember the way Dr. Essex looked while it happened."
"Sinister..." said Scott, his fists clenching with anger.
"Yes, that was the first time I met him. And I think it was because of that day over thirty years ago that I wasn't surprised by his betrayal of Shadow Cell."
"Why is that?" asked Wanda curiously.
"Because while we were destroying all his equipment and records he had spent the last three years compiling...he was actually smiling."
"Smiling?" said Jean with a strange look.
"Read my mind if you doubt me, but I'll never forget his face," said the General as the memory of that moment came rushing back, "I think he knew something. Nobody bothered to question him, they just let him go. And from there, you know his story. But now that I look back on it, I wish I had said something. My gut told me he was keeping secrets. But I was too naÃ¯ve for my own good. I thought once this program was dead, I would never hear of it again."
There was a great deal of pain in the retired officer's tone. It made this mission all the more vital to the five mutant soldiers. If this was anywhere near as bad as the General said it was, then it had to be destroyed.
"Sorry to open up old wounds, sir," said Scott as he and his comrades got up off the couch, "But we need your help with this. If Sinister made arrangements to save Legacy like you said so, does that mean parts of the virus are still out there?"
"Knowing Dr. Essex, I'd say that's a pretty safe assumption," affirmed the General.
"Then where can we find it?" asked the young leader, "Help us destroy this thing once and for all. Because if we don't, a guy named William Stryker will."
Once again, the General's expression fell. Of all the names he had to hear, that was by far the worst.
"William Stryker?" he said, his whole body tensing up, "You mean to tell me that William Stryker is involved with Legacy?"
"Yes sir," affirmed Vincent, "Nick Fury came to us and told us that he's been trying to get a hold of Legacy. We don't know how, but..."
Then, the General cut him off.
"It's just as I feared," he said as he walked over to a large picture that was hanging on his wall, "I warned them about Stryker. I warned them for years, damn it!"
"Sir?" said Laura, growing just as confused as the others.
The General didn't say another word as he opened the picture frame to reveal a hidden wall safe. Shadow Cell fell silent as they watched their former officer place his thumb on a small biometric scanner and punch in a six digit code. This opened the safe and inside, they could see a large assortment of unmarked files. And out of this secret cove, he pulled out a slim brown folder that looked as though it hadn't been opened in years.
"This is a record of Project Legacy's termination," said the General as he handed it to Scott, "It has a record of the locations where research was conducted. This file was supposed to be shredded years ago, but I made a copy just in case."
"You never cease to amaze us, sir," said Scott as he thumbed through it.
The General managed a small smile upon hearing that, but it didn't make this matter any less grim.
"If there's any trace of Legacy left, it'll be in one of these places. Dr. Essex worked out of a small facility located in Quantico, so your best bet is probably there. Last I heard, the lab was mothballed and used for storage. But it's still on military grounds."
"That's all we need to know," said Scott as he closed the file.
"But I must warn you," said the General, his tone growing more serious, "Stryker probably knows about that place too. He's crazy, but he's not stupid."
"But how would a guy like him know about something that's supposed to be so sensitive?" asked Wanda, "I can see leaks like this happening within the government, but Stryker's a private citizen."
"No, he's worse than that," muttered the General, "He's a private citizen with lots of money and enough fat military contracts to get his hands into any place he wants. I met him only once and I didn't need to meet him any more to know he was bad news."
"Then I take it you know his history," said Jean.
"Unfortunately, I do," he said, "But that makes stopping him all the more important. If he gets his hands on Legacy, there's no limit to the level of suffering he could cause. You HAVE to stop him!"
"Don't worry, General. We will," said Scott in a determined tone, "You have our word."
"Good enough for me," said the General with a respectful gesture, "But be warned, Shadow Cell. The worst thing you can do when facing William Stryker is underestimate him. Because if he sees his chance, he'll take it."
"Which is why we have to get to Legacy before he does!" said Laura.
"Yes, but that may not be enough," warned the General, "Stryker is a very resilient man. The only way to stop him is to take the fight to him."
"If that's what it takes," said Jean in her tough warrior tone, "This guy is a threat to everybody, not just mutants. He's a danger to the world...to our children."
"In that case we better act fast," said Vincent, his thoughts drifting towards his daughter and how vulnerable she was to Stryker's wrath.
"Right!" said Scott as he turned towards the General, "Sir, I think I speak for all of us when we say thank you for all your help. I promise you we'll stop Stryker and destroy Legacy once and for all."
The General may have been retried, but hearing those determined words almost brought him back to his uniformed days. The ghosts of the past had come back to haunt them all and he could think of no better team to handle it than these five brave souls.
"Still warriors at heart, I see," he said with an approving gesture as he extended his hand, "I know I should have done this long ago, but there's no one else I trust more to handle this than you guys."
"Thank you, sir. That means a lot to us," said Scott as he shook the hand of his former superior.
Once by one, the five soldiers wished the General well. Scott and Vincent shook his hand while Jean, Wanda, and Laura gave him a hug. Goodbyes were always hard especially to a man they owed so much. But even if he wasn't their officer, they would always remain loyal.
"Be careful out there," said the General as he looked upon his former soldiers with pride, "Stick together, be strong, and make it home to those kids of yours."
"We will, sir," said Jean, "You can count on us."
Then, just as they were about to make their leave, the General gave them one last message.
"Shadow Cell..." he said, drawing their attention one last time, "Godspeed."
Smiling back at their former officer, the five mutants of Shadow Cell were ready. They had the information they needed and the determination to guide them to the end. William Stryker was raising the ghost of Mr. Sinister and it was up to them to stop them. And with their families waiting for them at home, they had all the more reason to succeed.
Next stop...Quantico, Virginia.
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