RALLYING THE TROOPS
I– Mind Games…
Three months ago, Muir Island…
Adamantium claws sliced through flesh, muscle and organs as easily as they would have cut through paper. An almost inhuman scream filled the air in the seconds before she hit the ground. The X-Men had found them, and she was the first casualty of the battle. The sounds of battle echoed around her as she felt her illusion drop entirely. The pain had hit her suddenly, like a fist of flame to the gut. Her wounds were serious, and she knew she would succumb to them if she didn’t get help soon.
But who would help HER? The pain was becoming more intense by the moment. She placed a hand on her midriff and removed it to see that her fingers were drenched with blood. Moaning, she tried to crawl to safety, only to find that her left leg had been rendered entirely numb, becoming so much dead weight. She gasped and panted as she hauled herself out of the direct line of battle. If only she could get to help… but then the question remained… who the hell would ever help HER? The X-Men wouldn’t waste Elixir’s gift on her, not on someone who had betrayed the team at their most vulnerable moment. And as for Exodus… well… did she count as someone worth saving, in his opinion? If she was caught and wounded gravely so easily, was she someone he would even bother trying to save?
“Exodus,” she called out mentally, barely managing to block out her pain long enough to broadcast to him. Her breath was becoming more ragged, and she was sure she was starting to taste blood with every exhalation.
“Pathetic,” came his response. “You fall at the first hurdle and then you cry like some mewling child for help? And you thought yourself worthy of working alongside me and my warriors?”
“Please…” she whimpered, unable to concentrate enough to use her powers, but aware that Exodus would still be able to hear her. “Please, just help me… I don’t want to die…”
“Were you not willing to give you life for the glory of your own species?” he asked. “Truly, you’re far less worthy than I suspected in the first place. Sinister’s lackeys always were notoriously weak.”
“I don’t need a lecture, I just need you to help me,” she pleaded, as she realised that she was starting to feel cold… she knew that wasn’t an encouraging sign…
“Very well,” he replied. She was sure she could detect a perverse sense of humour in the tone of his psychic voice, and positive that she felt him rooting around in her memories for something… but what, she couldn’t tell. “I’ll give you an opportunity to live to fight another day. Look at it as the crucible of your soul, illusionist. This should prove to be either the making or the breaking of you…”
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth as a wave of agony washed over her, forcing her to double over in pain. She could feel a cold sweat erupting over her skin in a thin sheen, and was faintly aware of a metallic taste in her mouth– blood. The sound of battle around her seemed to vanish, replaced in an instant by the distant clanking of machinery. The sharp rocks underneath her gave way to smooth metal, Exodus’ teleportation power transporting her far from the scene of the conflict for the supposed Messiah baby.
She opened her eyes and instantly wished that she hadn’t. The wild Scottish isle had given way to what appeared to be a laboratory, with a group of people standing over her, their faces hidden by yellow box-like helmets with grey visors.
“Aw, shit,” she groaned, as she recognised her new location. She tried to summon her powers to defend herself, but to no avail– she was just too weak to be able to pry open the minds of the men slowly moving to surround her, one of whom was armed with a syringe.
“Miss Wyngarde,” said one of the AIM scientists. “And here I thought we’d never have the pleasure of your company again!”
“Jus’ back the hell up, okay, bee-keeper man?” she mumbled as he crouched over her and grabbed her arm roughly, the needle penetrating the vein on the underside of her elbow joint. Black dots began to dance across her vision, the result of her body entering a state of shock due to her injuries, as well as the effect of the sedative.
“Oh, that’s not likely,” he replied, as her body began to succumb to the effects of the drug. “We’re going to keep hold of you this time…”
Monday, a remote cabin in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada…
“This feels very strange,” commented Piotr Rasputin as he slid the Cerebra headset over his head. “I’m not so used to even seeing Cerebra, let alone using it.”
The X-Man known as Colossus was sitting back in an armchair, the metallic head-piece one of the few signs of the modern world to be found in the cabin. The main room of the cabin consisted of mostly wooden furniture, with the armchairs and sofa the only items that included anything so modern as cushions. The bare wooden floors were covered haphazardly in a collection of fur rugs, and the only source of heat came from a large stone fireplace built into the western wall.
His fellow X-Man, and the owner of the cabin, Wolverine, was wearing a similar headset.
“I know the feelin’, Pete,” he replied with a sigh. “But until Em has the king-size version of Cerebra up and running again, it’s easier for her to reach us if we’re hooked up to one of these things too.”
“This is not one-size fits all,” replied the Russian mutant. “If I were to turn to steel, I think I would probably smash it.”
“Simple solution then, Russkie,” said Logan. “Don’t turn into metal.”
“When you’re quite finished, gentlemen?” called out the telepathic voice of Emma Frost. It had been a long few weeks for Emma, between establishing the new school and working almost around the clock to make sure that everything was set up correctly– and of course, her pregnancy too.
“Sorry,” offered Colossus, with Wolverine grunting in agreement. “You have our first candidate?”
“I do indeed, although I fear that this may not be as cut and dry as you would have liked,” she began.
“All we need are the details,” said Wolverine. “You can trust us to do the property damage and rescuing whichever creep we’re bringing into this mess.”
“Thank you, Logan. Although I’d like to stress that I was never concerned about your ability to leave a trail of destruction in your wake.”
“Good to know my talents are appreciated,” he replied with a smirk. “So who are we looking for?”
“You’re not going to like this, Logan,” warned Emma.
“But I will?” asked Colossus.
“Well, you might not exactly be happy about it, but you’ll certainly not be as concerned as Logan that you’re possibly losing your touch,” replied Emma. “Your first target is Regan Wyngarde, AKA Lady Mastermind.”
“Fair sure I carved that two-faced bitch up on Muir,” snorted Logan. “You mean to say she got away?”
“I can’t tell you the specifics of her escape from Muir Island,” admitted Emma. “Indeed, her trace is rather faint, but I’ve isolated the location, and Forge has been able to utilise some of Danger’s more subtle diagnostic tools in order to assess the threats that you may be about to face in retrieving her. I’ll broadcast his findings to you now.”
Logan and Peter both winced as a substantial amount of information was placed directly into their minds.
“I think you may be out of practice, Emma,” said Peter, shaking his head. “That hurt.”
“Apologies,” she replied. “So I take it you see that our problems are at least three-fold?”
“Ain’t a problem, Em,” grinned Wolverine. “I could do with the work-out.”
“Pixie shall be along presently to act as your transportation,” said Emma. “She’ll be there to deliver you to your destination, and again to extract you. She also has something for you that may prove useful on this mission, courtesy of Forge.”
“You’re sending the kid?” growled Logan. “She doses me with that fucking dust of hers again–”
“Now, now,” said Peter, grinning. “Mind your language, Pixie will be here any moment and she’s still a minor…”
“More like a major irritant,” grumbled Logan.
As if on cue, there was a flash of pink light and the young Welsh mutant appeared in the centre of the room, banging her shin on the corner of the coffee table as she did so.
“Crap!” she exclaimed, bending down to rub her leg where she had collided with the heavy wooden table. “That really hurt!”
“Woulda hurt more if you’d ‘ported into it,” replied Logan. “Still probably wouldn’t have shut you up…”
“Okay,” began Megan, ignoring Logan’s comments. “So Miss Frost told me that you need to suit up so I can drop you off for your top secret mission that she won’t tell me about but seems mega important, and to give you these and she’ll tell you when to use them because she’s going to be monitoring the mission from Cerebra to make sure you don’t get into loads of trouble, because even though Forge is really smart and has a metal hand and leg, she thinks he’s a bit broken after Bishop shot him, but she didn’t say it, but she didn’t have to, y’know? Anyway, where are we going and can I help because I bet I could help, I can teleport and I’ve got my pixie dust and I can fly and I have a soul dagger and–”
“Kid,” said Logan gruffly, interrupting her. “This is a stealth mission. You’re kinda just proving why we DON’T need you taggin’ along.”
“I can be quiet!” insisted Megan, pursing her lips and placing her hands on her hips.
“Megan, I think maybe this mission isn’t so suited to your talents,” said Colossus, placing a hand on the young girl’s shoulder. Even in his human form, he dwarfed the teenager. “But from what I hear, it won’t be long until you’re joining us on missions.”
“Wow,” sighed Megan, her eyes growing wide and a faint rosy flush tainting her cheeks. “Hisako was right, you’re way cute… say, are you taking any classes at the school this semester? ‘Cause I think I still might have time to change my schedule and–”
“Megan,” growled Logan in a warning tone. “Not the time or the place, kiddo.”
“Okay, okay, sorry! Focusing now, promise!” she said. “So how long do you think you’ll be?”
“An hour, tops,” replied Logan.
“An hour?” asked Colossus. “You’re slowing down with age?”
“Wow, harsh burn,” whispered Megan, even as she noticed that Wolverine was grinning ever so slightly.
“No chance,” replied Wolverine. “Thought maybe you’d want me to go easy on you, seeing as how you’re only recently back in active service, ya slacker!”
“Enough,” laughed Peter. “I think we shouldn’t keep Pixie busy longer than we need her. Pixie, do you have our coordinates?”
“Yup, and then I have to go straight back to the school and wait for Miss Frost to tell me to come and pick you both up and not ask any questions, and take you both to another place that she put in my head already,” said Megan with a smile. “Everyone ready?”
“Let’s just get this over and done with,” sighed Wolverine, pulling his mask over his face. Both he and Colossus had chosen to deviate from their usual colourful X-Men uniforms, instead settling for ones that were entirely composed of black and grey, the kind usually used for covert operations.
“Da,” agreed Piotr. “The sooner we go, the sooner we can come back and plot our next move.”
“Suits me,” shrugged Pixie, fluttering her wings. A faint pink nimbus surrounded her hands as she cast the one spell she was proficient in– a spell that would instantly transport her and her passengers wherever she willed it to. “SIHAL NOVARUM CHINOTH!”
The room exploded in a luminescent pink glow, one that would have been blinding to onlookers, had there been any. As the flash subsided, the room in the log cabin was left devoid of human life, its inhabitants transported elsewhere…
AIM Facility, Alaska…
Regan awoke slowly, her thoughts coming to her with such a lack of urgency that it almost felt like she was swimming through tar. After a few moments of confusion, she realised that she was probably still heavily sedated, to make sure that she didn’t use her powers to escape.
Not that I could move anyway she thought, as she considered how leaden and heavy her arms and legs felt. She opened her eyes and blinked, her vision hazy. Glancing down the bed, she realised that her limbs didn’t just feel heavy– they were actually restrained to the bed. Trying her hardest to concentrate, she realised that there were a number of tubes and wires connected to her– after several minutes, she noticed that she was not only connected to intravenous drugs, but she was also catheterised. On the plus side, she was no longer in excruciating pain, and seemed to be alive– either that, or the afterlife was as much of a crock of shit as life itself.
“Fuck…” she mumbled, as she realised that her mouth felt so dry that it was as if her tongue had been welded to the bottom of her mouth. “How long have I been out?”
A buzz of static cut through the cold, clinical silence before a voice sounded out through a loudspeaker in the upper right hand corner of the room. “It’s been a good few months, Miss Wyngarde,” replied a male’s voice, crackling through the system.
“Shit, yeah,” she groaned, her head flopping back down on the thin pillow beneath her. “Exodus screwed me over and left me with you nerds with AIM, didn’t he? Have any of you even gotten laid since last time I was here? Taking advantage of me while I’m sedated doesn’t count, FYI, it just means I’m going to kill you slower when I get out of here, fair warning, no?”
“Same old Regan,” replied the disembodied voice. She could tell from the tone of his voice that beneath his ridiculous yellow helmet, the guy was probably smiling. “Except this time, you’re not escaping. This time, you’re going to become our greatest weapon yet!”
“Oh please,” she sighed, trying her hardest to sound nonchalant whilst testing how much give was in her wrist restraints. “What makes you think I’m going to work for you? You’ve got the ugliest costumes of any evil group around, and I’m counting the Hellfire Club in that list!”
“Allow me to answer your question with another question,” said the scientist. “What makes you think you’re going to have a choice in the matter?”
Regan felt something snap within her, as the gravity of her situation sank through into her consciousness, awakening a kind of primal fear. She began to flail, yanking as hard as she could at the restraints, screaming wordlessly as she tried in vain to release herself from the shackles that held her to the bed. Automatic doors to her right hissed open, and four AIM scientists entered the room, two pushing in a trolley covered in what looked like heavy duty cybernetic implants, whilst the one who entered first was carrying a silver metallic briefcase. The last scientist held what appeared to be a helmet, although where the visor would be was matt black, like the rest of the device. It was the last scientist that approached her first, while the remaining trio bustled around the trolley, their backs to her as they worked and discussed whatever it was they were about to do in hushed tones.
“It really is quite pointless to struggle,” said the man holding the helmet. “By the time the sedatives wear off, we’ll have finished the procedures, and you’ll be perfectly compliant as our newest weapon– MODOT; Mental Organism Designed Only for Torture. Finally you’ll be putting the gifts you’ve wasted all of your life to good use!”
“You bastard,” she hissed as he pulled closer, moving to lower the helmet over her head. “I’ll tear your mind apart, neuron by neuron for this!”
“Oh, I should hardly think so,” he replied, sliding the mechanism over her head while she screamed in impotent fury, her cries become muffled as he slid it into place. “When your procedures are complete, I think you’ll find that this device not only amplifies your powers, allowing you to broadcast more capably, but will also have the added bonus of making it almost impossible for us to hear what you’re saying, which means at least we’ll have peace and quiet while you–”
Without warning, Regan’s back arched, her body going into spasm as the machines she was connected to began to beep rapidly, red lights flashing on all of the units simultaneously.
“What’s happening?” asked the lead scientist. “Is she suffering an adverse effect to the sedatives?”
“No,” replied one of the scientists who had been pushing the trolley, as he darted over to the machinery to check the readings more closely. “Get the Psyche Empowering Unit off her, now!” he instructed, pointing at the headgear. “It’s activated prematurely! She’s accessing–”
“Daddy?” came a quiet voice from behind the scientist. He felt a tug on the back of his trouser leg as he turned to see a little girl, no older than six or seven standing behind him. Her face was red and puffy, as if she’s been crying, as she shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. “Why don’t you come home any more, Daddy?”
“Sweetheart,” he breathed, as he pulled off his helmet and knelt down to face his daughter. He didn’t even notice as the operating theatre before him melted away to become a plain black room. “Grandma took you away from me… I wanted to see you and stay with you, but–”
“But you killed Mommy,” she said, her face twisting again and her voice cracked into a sob. “You killed Mommy! Why did you do that, Daddy?”
“Baby, I was doing it for us, I did it to look after us!” he pleaded, feeling his eyes burn with tears. “I had to do it, don’t you see?”
“Daddy did a bad thing,” she cried. “And now the bad men are here to get me!”
“No,” he said, his voice no longer wavering, his resolve strengthened. “No. I’m not going to let anyone hurt you, baby, I’m not gonna…”
He trailed off as the scene melted back to normality, save for the image of his daughter. He paced towards the door of the operating theatre an swung it open, heading out in to the stark white corridor, lit only by fluorescent tubes. He walked down the corridor and took a left, walking like he was sleep-walking, not entirely aware of his surroundings, yet moving with an unerring purpose, his eyes glazed over. The other three scientists followed him, just as a burst of pink light erupted in the hallway.
“So much for a stealthy entry,” grumbled Logan, slipping into a fighting stance.
“This shouldn’t be so hard,” replied Colossus almost conversationally. “AIM are scientists, not soldiers, Logan.”
“Yeah, which means all kinds of weird science junk they can throw at us,” he said, before turning to address the scientists. “Hey, tech guys. Make this easy on yourselves. Stand the hell down and take us to the mutant girl, or this ends in a world of hurt, okay?”
“You mean more than you already hurt me?” asked the lead scientist, his left hand hanging loose by his side as though holding hands with someone a lot smaller than he was. “Last time I saw you, you were burying your damn claws into my guts!”
“Wait, what?” said Logan.
“Logan, you’ve been here before?” asked Peter, shifting into his steel form. “Something maybe you could have mentioned when Emma was talking about recon?”
“Never been here before in my life, doesn’t mean I haven’t stuck one of these guys before,” breathed Logan, before returning his attention towards the scientists. “Listen bub, don’t take it all personal like, but I’ve got no idea who you are.”
“Oh, typical,” chimed in one of the other scientists. “You can remember fucking your way through most of the phone book, but can’t remember stabbing me? Way to make a girl feel special.”
“Logan, something isn’t right here,” warned Colossus.
“You mean the way that man with a beard just referred to himself as a girl?” asked Wolverine sarcastically. “Yeah, got that one, Petey. Think maybe the engine’s running but the wrong person’s behind the wheel…”
“Bravo,” replied one of the other scientists, as the others around him began to slow clap. “So, what? You guys are here to finish the job you started on Muir?”
“Ah,” nodded Colossus. “This would be Miss Wyngarde, then?”
“Just doing what comes natural,” shrugged the final scientist. “They wanted to turn me into some damn cyborg thing. Who can blame a girl for wanting to get the jump on them? They were getting ready to hack me open– you know, the same way you did– so I got into their head first. I win, they lose, now how about you two go play with the traffic or something equally impressive while I get the hell out of here and vomit in these guys’ brains on the way out? Sound good to you?”
“Wow, ain’t you just the big bad girl with all the answers,” replied Wolverine. “Say, did you ever wonder how you end up in situations like this on a semi-regular basis anyway?”
“I guess I’m just shit out of luck,” smiled the first scientist, before the second took over speaking. “For the record, this time it’s Exodus’ fault, and when I get my hands on his scrawny little red neck–”
“Is revenge really all you consider?” asked Piotr. “Because you don’t have a track record of making good on it, Regan.”
“And who the hell are you?” spluttered the third scientist, the first taking over again. “I mean really, who the hell? You never even spoke to me when you lived in the mansion, either of you, so it’s kinda late to be pulling the concerned team mate card! And after I hung you all out to dry, now I’m what? Some loose end for you to tie up?”
“Something like that,” snarled Logan. “Look, we’re here to get you out, but if you’re going to be pig-headed about it, we can get gone and leave you here.”
“You think I can’t handle this on my own?” yelled the fourth scientist. “You think I need the X-Men’s help?”
“Regan, listen to yourself,” said Colossus softly, placing a hand on Wolverine’s shoulder. “You keep going at these people who hurt you, and you do it alone. Every time you do, you don’t scratch anyone off your list, you just add another name to the pile and you get kicked down again. What kind of life is that?”
“And you haven’t added me to your list? I helped take down an entire team of you guys, worked with Sinister to steal the baby and landed you in a whole world of trouble, and I’m meant to believe that you guys are here to what? Bail me out?”
“Regan, whatever they’ve done to you, it’s dangerous and it’s only gonna hurt you,” said Logan. “You need help, Wyngarde.”
“I get by just fine on my own,” snarled the lead scientist.
“Yeah,” muttered Logan. “Sure looks that way. And what happens next time you find yourself in a bind like last time? Just gonna sit around in a lab, hooked up to a machine until they decide to let you go?”
“I’m fine alone,” breathed the fourth scientist.
“Come with us,” offered Colossus. “Learn to channel your anger into something productive.”
“You’re inviting me to join the X-Men?” laughed the third scientist. “Are you high, or just insane? YOU CAN’T TRUST ME!”
“No, we can’t,” agreed Logan. “But we can use you. And you can use us. We have some mutual enemies, Regan. Wouldn’t you rather take them on with some support? Who knows, you might even stand a chance of evening some of those scores instead of being a constant loser.”
“Constant loser?” breathed the first scientist.
“He’s got a point,” replied Colossus. “How many successes do you have to your failure ratio?”
“I just need to rest up before I go after people this time,” she retorted, via the second scientist.
“Regan,” said Logan, calmly but firmly. “Look at what you’re doing. Doped up to the gills and hooked up to some machine to make you more powerful, and you’re still losing your shit.”
“We’re offering you an alternative,” continued Colossus. “Come with us. Work with us. Let us help you.”
“You’d help me kill people?” smirked scientist number four. “I doubt that.”
“Not kill,” replied Logan. “There’s other ways to stop people.”
“And if I say no?” asked the second scientist. “I’m meant to believe you’re just going to leave me here to get on with things?”
“Not quite,” frowned Colossus. “Come with us and you get a fresh start. A clean slate. You don’t come with us? I’ll knock you out and hand you over to SHIELD. Apparently they’re quite interested in talking to you.”
“Bastards,” whispered all four scientists in unison. “This is blackmail.”
“Maybe,” shrugged Wolverine. “But you’ve done worse. So you’ve got your standard choice– Rock and hard place. Which is it?”
Silence fell for several moments as all of the scientists turned their gaze to the tiled floor. All at once, they looked up at Logan and Piotr.
“Fine,” said the choir of scientists. “I’ll come with you. Anything to get out of this hell hole and back somewhere with a working shower. Oh, and tin man? You’ll have to carry me. Three months unconscious means I’ll need to pull an Uma circa Kill Bill volume one moment later.”
“What’s Kill Bill?” asked Colossus, his brow knitting together in a frown.
“Ah, musta been while you were dead,” replied Wolverine, as three out of the four scientists fell to the floor unconscious. He turned his attention to the remaining man, still carrying Regan’s consciousness. “You kill ’em, Wyngarde?”
“No,” she sighed. “More’s the pity. Filled their heads with a few slow burning psychoses though. And made them all haemophobic, too. The lab they’re holding me in’s just around the corner. Come get me.”
With that, the final man’s eyes rolled back in his head as he slumped to the floor.
“She did that to four men at once?” asked Colossus. “Impressive.”
“Not really,” sniffed Wolverine. “This base has over sixty members of staff according to Emma’s intel. Gotta figure as soon as things started going south on the operating table, an alarm was triggered. Petey, we shoulda had to fight our way through a hell of a lot more AIM soldiers.”
“You mean–” began Colossus, shaking his head. “No… she’s just not that powerful.”
“Russkie, I wouldn’t question it. Let’s just get her and get the hell out before Emma sends us on our next search and capture mission.”
“Da,” he nodded. “I wonder who’s next on the list…”