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Volume 4 -- Issue 80 -- The Lotus and the Warrior Part 3

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The Lotus and the Warrior Part 3
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The human race is evolving. Mutants are being born with extraordinary powers. They have the potential to help mankind grow and they have the potential to bring great destruction. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have dedicated their lives to ensuring growth over destruction. Now, they may have some new allies.

Since Robert Kelly was elected President, the mutant issue has been at the top of everyone’s agenda. What started as a radical plan to register all mutants has turned into a less intrusive plan concocted by General Nathan Grimshaw. He believes in holding mutants accountable to the law and he wants the X-men to help them in doing so. His plan requires a great deal of trust. And for the X-men, he has already provided some profound incentive.

Grimshaw revealed that Weapon X was active again, this time in Japan. The Yashida Clan, an influential Yakuza family, recently acquired Weapon X technology and are poised to test it on a comatose mutant named Kwannon with the aid of an unwilling young telepath named Elizabeth Braddock. Wolverine and a team of X-men traveled to Japan to investigate, but were quickly confronted by shadows of Wolverine’s past. Now the past and the present are set to collide as the Yashida Clan, led by the Silver Samurai, prepare to activate a new Weapon X.


Rinku Industrial District – Building X-10

It was a scene that had played out many times in the history of Weapon X. A team of eager scientists, a group of powerful individuals seeking greater power, and a couple of unwitting participants were set to conduct an experiment that would open a Pandora’s Box of possibilities. The idea of using mutants as weapons was just too alluring. Many had tried and many had failed. Now the Yashida Clan looked to finish what the US and Canadian military could not.

Harada Yashida, better known as the Silver Samurai, led the charge to turn Weapon X from a failed military experiment into an invaluable resource for the Yashida Clan. Everything was set up. His ninja army surrounded the central area, which had been cleared for the experiment. The scientists he enlisted were rushing back and forth checking every component to make certain  that everything was in order. The two test subjects were also in place. At the center of the array of elaborate machines were two bio tanks, very much like the ones used by Abraham Cornelius and Professor Thorton. In one of them was the comatose Kwannon and in the other was a sedated Elizabeth Braddock. Hovering silently in a tube of greenish fluid with wires and tubes going into their bodies, they were set to become the latest victims of Weapon X.

“We are almost ready, Lord Harada!” said the chief engineer from the central test area, “The biomechanical sensors are in place and the DNA supercomputers are at full power. The procedure can begin in ten minutes.”

“You had best make it five,” said Harada from behind a protective barrier, “Since Deathsrike and Wolverine are on our trail, we must finish quickly! As soon as we have the data from the experiment, I want it exported to our secure database overseas. Our ability to utilize this technology is only as good as the data we extract!”

“Understood, my lord,” said the loyal acolyte, “We shall succeed!”

The Yashida science team worked faster as they checked and re-checked the systems. Under the watchful eye of Harada, now in his Silver Samurai armor, they understood there would be no tolerance for failure. They were just as eager to finish this experiment. They were all well-aware of the mishaps many others before them had faced and were intent on avoiding a similar fate.

The only one more anxious than the Yashida science team was Matsu’o Tsurayaba, who was standing with Harada behind the glass barrier that surrounded the central test area. He still couldn’t believe what he was doing. He willingly tricked his own goddaughter, Betsy, into being a guinea pig for this experiment. If her father, who was also his best friend, was still alive he would be disgusted. He never imagined he would do something so shameful. He also never imagined his daughter, Kwannon, being so close to a second chance. Whatever shame he had to endure, he kept telling himself it was for the sake of his daughter.

“Do I even want to know the details of this experiment, Harada?” asked Matsu’o solemnly.

“It’s not as gruesome as you think,” said Harada with a half-grin, “We won’t be infusing metal into flesh or warping minds with this experiment. The key to Weapon X has always been the ability to make any human being durable enough to endure the rigors of being weapons. The scientists at Weapon X perfected a process that infused advanced healing into a specimen.”

“Is it the kind of healing that will save Kwannon?”

“That and so much more,” said Harada ominously, “Being in a coma has rendered your daughter weak and fragile. Even if she wasn’t brain dead, she would probably be paralyzed. By infusing her with a healing factor, her body can repair the damage in full.”

“So then why is Betsy here? Why does she need to be involved?”

“That’s where it gets tricky, Mr. Tsurayaba. You see, the damage to Kwannon was so severe that even if her body and brain healed completely, there wouldn’t be a mind to occupy it. That’s why we need Miss Braddock’s telepathy. Lucky for you, Weapon X also developed a means to rebuild the cognitive functions of a test subject. Traditionally, it was used to deconstruct their personality and make them more obedient. But it works just as well in reverse. With Betsy’s telepathy, we can recover Kwannon’s mind to go with her body.”

“So this procedure has been done before?”

“To a certain extent,” said Harada cryptically, “Healing a mind was never part of Weapon X. Betsy’s role is the result of our researchers having to improvise. But in theory, it’s possible. Our science team is confident it will work.”

“I wish I could share that confidence. If all this suffering and deceit is for nothing, then you and I are going to have some serious words, Harada.”

“Seeing as how you’ve surrendered all your leverage, expect those words to be brief,” said Harada menacingly, “I did not force you to partake in this experiment. Whatever happens to your girls is on your shoulders.”

Matsu’o scolded Harada, but he had nothing to respond with. Harada was right. He was responsible for Kwannon and Betsy being in those bio tanks. In that sense he was worse than Harada. He had to look away as the experiment began. Even with the promise of embracing his daughter again, he couldn’t bring himself to watch.

“We’re ready to begin!” said the chief scientist, “Prepare to initiate healing infusion. As soon as the procedure is at fifty percent, begin the psionic re-integration procedure.”

“The data is processing and the infusion lines are ready,” said an engineer working next to Betsy’s tank, “We’ve got EKG and electrode PET scans of the specimen’s brain waves. I’ve linked them to our psychic participant. As soon as we being, her mind should do the rest.”

“Keep an eye on her vitals. We need her mind intact if this is to work,” reminded the chief scientist, “Also make sure every bit of data is collected and stored.”

“Already taken care of, sir!” said a technician working on the other side of the test area, “We’re ready to start compiling the information.”

“Good. I’ll make sure the up-link remains intact and secure,” said the chief scientist, “We’re about to enter charted yet treacherous territory. Let us proceed carefully!”

The tension in the test area grew as the chief scientist delivered the final commands. All systems were officially up and running. With the flip of a few switches and the activation of several computer terminals, the next step in the bloody history Weapon X began.

Harada and his Yakuza associates watched the experiment commence from behind the glass barrier. The lights flickered and the computers hummed with activity, every ounce of the factory’s output being channeled into this experiment. The two bio tanks containing Betsy and Kwannon started to bubble and glow. Various chemicals flowed through the tubes, infusing the two unconscious women with unknown agents. Within seconds they began to react.

Kwannon’s once lifeless form started twitching and contorting erratically. Betsy remained still as the wires going into her head triggered a fury of new activity in her brain. Bubbles formed within the tank and sparks began shooting out from machinery. Many different processes were going on at once and a band of Yakuza scientists weren’t nearly as equipped to deal with it as the original Weapon X team had been.

“That better not be a malfunction!” warned Harada.

“Do not concern yourself, Lord Harada! This is to be expected!” said the chief engineer as he rushed over to fix the sparking wires.

“If that is the case, I would have preferred a warning,” muttered one of the technicians who was shielding his eyes from the sparks.

“Quiet! Complaints are not a variable in this experiment so do not add them!”

Now Matsu’o really couldn’t look. He hugged his shoulders as the noise from the machines intensified, causing the lights to flicker. Harada and the rest of the Yashida elites watched intently as their scientists worked feverishly to keep the process intact. For nearly ten minutes, the experiment unfolded. It wasn’t as smooth as they expected. Kwannon’s body was contorting more violently. Even Betsy started to show discomfort, her face tensing as if she was being shocked.

One of the scientists had an electronic image of Kwannon’s body on his screen. It highlighted the progress of the healing infusion. Various fluids and catalysts flowed into the young woman, causing a surge of activity throughout her physiology. It data coming in was erratic, but the progress was apparent.

“It’s working!” said one of the scientists, “It’s unstable, but it’s working!”

“What’s the specimen’s status?” asked the chief scientist.

“She’s at 40 percent! The healing agents are systematically restoring her damaged tissues and organs! But with no higher cognitive functions, the instinctual part of her brain is going into overdrive! At this rate she’ll have a seizure!”

“That wasn’t in the protocol,” dreaded the chief scientist, “Looks like we’ll have to jump start her mind ahead of schedule!”

“But if the brain isn’t fully healed, that could…”

“There’s no time for a neurology lesson! Just do it!”

The scientist obediently did as he was told. More sparks were flying and some of the computer servers began overheating. He had to shut out these distractions as he began feverishly typing, overwriting several safety measures and psionic infusion process with Elizabeth Braddock. If they were to heal Kwannon, they needed to heal her mind.

As soon as this psychic procedure began, Betsy’s whole body reacted. Sparks flew into her bio tank and the wires going into her head crackled with energy. This sudden surge caused her whole face to tense. It looked like she was in sheer agony. The bruises on her face started festering and actually grew under the strain. It was not a pretty sight. At one point Betsy’s eyes shot open and she screamed within the tank.

“Hnnnnnn…auuuuugghhhhhhhh!”

When Matsu’o heard this, he finally turned around. What he saw was horrific. Betsy looked like she was being burned alive. Kwannon didn’t look much better, her body contorting more violently with each passing second. It was unbearable to watch. His daughter and his goddaughter were suffering and it was all because of him.

“Damn it, Harada! You’re killing them!” exclaimed Matsu’o, “Stop this right now!”

“Calm yourself, Matsu’o. That isn’t a request!” said Harada firmly, “The procedure is working.”

“You call this working?!” he exclaimed.

“Like I said, it’s bound to get messy.”

Matsu’o was filled with dread, now unable to tear his eyes away from Kwannon and Betsy. More sparks flew and a few small fires erupted near the servers. Engineers scrambled to put them out while technicians struggled to keep the lights from flickering. It was hard to tell if either woman was healing. Even if they were, the pain they suffering was apparent.

While his Yashida associates looked worried, Harada saw before him a glorious moment. Their clan was about to obtain the ultimate weapons program. HThis was going to work. His family legacy was about to be realized.

‘It’s exactly as my uncle described it. Agony with a touch of beauty. Oh if Kenji Oyama were alive today, he would be proud! It’s a shame he and the rest of his family had to die. Yet through his disgrace, the honor of the Yashidas shall be restored!’

The experiment appeared to finally be settling. Betsy and Kwannon were still in a world of pain, but the Yashida science team had it under control. The data was coming in and it looked promising. It looked like they were going to get their weapon.

“Just little bit longer, brothers!” urged the chief scientist, “We’re almost finished!”

With so much focus on the experiment, Harada and his acolytes didn’t notice some unusual activity unfolding in the rafters above the test area. On nearly every walkway overlooking the central area, legions of Yashida ninjas kept a close watch. They were to act as security throughout this experiment and Harada made it clear that he would accept no interruptions. Unfortunately for them, there was only so much they could observe.

On the third level rafter, three ninjas watched the scene below unfold. It was quite a spectacle, watching the scientists scramble to keep everything together. They were so drawn to the sight they didn’t notice two figures literally emerging from the walls behind them. One was Shadowcat and the other was Gambit. Using Shadowcat’s phasing powers, they made their way through the walls and into the perfect position.

“Mind if Remy does the honors, petite?” whispered Gambit.

“By all means,” said Shadowcat politely.

The ninjas didn’t hear them because of the noise. They only noticed when they heard footsteps behind them.

“What the?!”

“Bonjure to you too,” grinned Gambit.

Before their reflexes took hold, Gambit took out two of the ninjas with his bow staff. One was slugged across the face with the metal tip while the other was jammed in the stomach, causing him to keel over so the Canjun to finish him off with an uppercut. The three other ninjas present attempted to counter. They reached for their katanas, but they didn’t have a chance to draw them. Shadowcat came in, dropping one of them with a roundhouse kick and another with a kick to the knee and a punch to the face. The last one got his katana out, only to have it knocked out of his hand by Gambit’s bow staff. He was then taken down by a kick to the gut.

With the five ninjas down, Shadowcat and Gambit had their window. They saw there were saw plenty more ninjas to deal with.

“Whew! These Yakuza be invitin’ everyone to the party!” commented Gambit.

“Although it looks like some didn’t RSVP,” said Shadowcat as she gazed anxiously at the two subjects in the bio tanks, “This is some plan. We’re outnumbered and surrounded.”

“No worries, petite,” he grinned confidently as he took out a fresh deck of cards, “This always be Gambit’s my favorite part!”

Taking three cards in each hand, Gambit charged each one of them so that they were glowing brightly. With skill honed from years of thieving, he threw each card at one of the light fixtures hanging overhead the main text area. When they exploded, they filled the area with a deafening bang and took the lights out with them. Within seconds the whole test area was covered in darkness, the only light now coming from glow of the two bio tanks.

“The lights! Somebody get the lights!” exclaimed one of the chief scientists.

“What happened?! Were they overloaded?” said one of the technicians.

“No…they weren’t,” said Harada Yashida grimly.

While the Yashida science team scrambled, Harada and his Yashida associates went into full alert. Some were already trying to escape while others were looking to their leader for answers.

“What is going on, Harada?” said one of the leaders.

“Is it not obvious? We have intruders!” he replied, drawing his decorated samurai sword.

“Intruders?!” exclaimed Matsu’o, “You told me you were prepared!”

“On the contrary, Matsu’o. I anticipated this. Weapon X isn’t just about reclaiming my family’s legacy. It’s about confronting old enemies. If I’m not mistaken, one should be close by!”

Matsu’o was in a panic and so were the rest of the Yashida elites. Apparently, they weren’t as prepared as Harada. Not being an elite, he was shoved back into the glass barrier while others made their escape. All the while, Harada remained remarkably calm. Gripping his sword, he held it up and used his powers to infuse it with energy. This also created a brilliant light that helped illuminate the area.

“I know you’re out there!” he demanded, “You ran away in shame! Now face me with honor!”

Almost immediately, Harada got a response. In the wall behind him, there was an ominous snikt. Two sets of claws drove through the wall, surprising a few Yashida elites and ninjas who had been nearby. In a swift slash the wall crumbled and a figure all too familiar to the Yashida Clan entered.

“Shiroi Akuma!” said one of the Yashida elites with dread.

“That’s Wolverine to you, bub!” he snarled.

Letging out an angry grunt, the former living weapon tore through several ninjas and two Yashida elites. Two of his victims were brutally stabbed while two more lost their arms to his claws. They had little hope of stopping Wolverine from confronting his nemesis.

“It’s been a long time, Harada!” growled Wolverine, “I remember now! I know what you and your family did to me!”

“What we did?” laughed Harada, “You brought this on yourself, Logan-san! Do you really think you’ll escape your shame by meddling in my affairs like this?”

“Who said I was alone?” he retorted with a half grin.

Moments later a deafening bang erupted from the ceiling above. His ninja army and scientists all looked up to see two ominous figures descend towards them. One was Storm and the other was Rogue. Both were hovering on a trail of wind and clouds. Storm stood ready to unleash her fury. Now the next part of their attack plan could unfold.

“I’ll take care of the ninjas! You take down anybody with a gun!” Storm commanded.

“Always givin’ me the hard stuff,” commented Rogue, “Good thing the hard stuff also happens to be the fun stuff!”

“Let ‘em have it, cherè! Give ‘em a few extra hits for, Remy!” Gambit called out from the rafters.

“Cheer her on by getting down to the test area with Shadowcat!” Storm replied, “Stop this monstrous experiment!”

“With pleasure!” grinned Shadowcat.

The X-men unleashed their attack on the Yakuza. Storm summoned a fury of winds and directing them all throughout the enclosed area. Streams tornado-like gusts swept through the rafters overlooking the test area, literally blowing away the hoards of ninjas tasked with protecting this experiment. Most were only equipped with katanas and had no way to effecitively counter. Some of the more elite guards had guns and assault weapons. Those that weren’t overwhelmed by the winds tried to take aim at Storm, but because the lights had been knocked out it was hard to aim properly. They were also spotted by Rogue, whose invulnerable form allowed her to take them out even after they started shooting.

“Take the intruders down!” yelled one of the elite guards.

“Ah don’t speak Japanese, but Ah’m gonna assume you deserve this!” said Rogue.

With bullets flying around her and bouncing off her body, the invulnerable mutant flew right into a cluster of armed guards. For them it was like being run over by a speeding car. Some fell right off the rafters while others were dazed or knocked out. They were just the first as Rogue picked up speed and zeroed in on other clusters of armed ninjas throughout the area. Pretty soon she was drawing most of the gun fire, leaving Storm free to add a little thunder and lightning to her attack. Hoards of ninjas and Yakuza fell and none were equipped to retaliate.

While the Yashida Clan’s ninja army was overwhelmed, much of the science team had taken cover or fled. All the while, the experiment was still ongoing. Betsy and Kwannon continued to react to the Weapon X treatment in their bio tanks. With the scientists no longer monitoring their condition, it quickly grew more chaotic. Some tried to salvage the experiment, but they soon had to contend with Shadowcat and Gambit. They quickly made their way down the rafters. Shadowcat phased Gambit through the obstacles along the way and they were soon within the testing area.

“I don’t know which one of you speaks English, but somebody’s going to shut this thing down!” said Shadowcat as she and Gambit emerged through the glass barrier.

“No!” exclaimed one of the scientists, “It’s too soon! The specimen…”

“They be people, homme! And femmes no less!” said Gambit, holding his bow staff menacingly, “Now be a gentlemen and do what the my lady friend asks!”

From across the test area, Harada responded.

“Do not dishonor yourselves!” he called out, “Keep the experiment going! Cowardice in the Yashida Clan will not be tolerated!”

That put the science team in quite a predicament. The wrath of the X-men versus the wrath of Harada Yashida certainly seemed like a no-win situation. Knowing what Harada would do was probably world’s worse than what these costumed heroes were capable of, they chose to attack. Scientists, technicians, and engineers grabbed whatever blunt instruments they could and charged to two X-men.

“For the honor of the Clan!” yelled one of the engineers.

“Finally, some scientists with some balls!” grinned Gambit.

“Teach them a physics lesson, Gambit! We have to free those girls!” exclaimed Shadowcat.

The two mutants went to work fighting off this new threat. These scientists were not equipped to fight. Many of them fell easily with standard take-down maneuvers. They were just looking to slow them down. The experiment was still progressing and nearing completion.

With time on his side, Harada narrowed his gaze on Wolverine. Gripping his glowing sword, he stood before the man who had been a legend and a shame of the Yashida Clan.

“So you finally choose to confront your shame, Logan-san,” he said, “I had a feeling you would show your face as I rebuilt Weapon X. I’m only surprised you were able to uncover my plot this quickly.”

“What can I say? I can smell the stench of Weapon X from the other side of the world,” snarled Wolverine.

“You’ve already dishonored yourself! You single-handedly destroyed this family! What was done to you all those years ago was merely a fraction of what you deserve!”

“No need to remind me, Harada. I remember this time!” said the feral mutant, “Gives me all the more reason to take you down! Hrrrrrrraaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!’

Driven by burning rage and grim memories of his past, Wolverine attacked the Silver Samurai head on. His adamantium claws clashed with the glowing sword. Because of Harada’s metal-charging powers, the adamantium could not slice through it. This allowed the Silver Samurai to deflect his attack and counter with a series of horizontal slashes, capped off by a powerful stab. Wolverine was able to block the slashes, but the stab took a good chunk of the left side of his torso. Letting out a pained howl, the former living weapon gritted his teeth and launched another attack.

This time the Silver Samurai was the one on the defensive. He was forced back towards the glass barrier, having to block Wolverine’s relentless claw slashes. A few managed to land, tearing off chunks of his armor. One landed along his hip, causing a deep wound. It hurt, but the well-trained Harada barely slowed down. Once backed into the glass wall, Wolverine tried to go in for the kill and lunged forth with both his claws aimed at his chest. The Silver Samurai used his charged sword to deflect and twirl them in a ways that entwined his blade with Wolverine’s claws. With this leverage, he shifted his weight so that now Wolverine was pinned to the glass.

With seething determination, the Silver Samurai infused more energy into his sword. Adamantium may be unbreakable, but Wolverine was still flesh and blood. He could end his shameful life by systematically hacking the flesh off his bones.

“It seems time has not made you wiser, Logan-san!” sneered Harada, his blade now inches from Wolverine’s face, “I am still more skilled than you! And this time, my sister is not here to protect you!”

“Ungh! Like it was me she was protecting!” grunted Wolverine as he struggled to hold back the glowing blade.

“You insult yourself! There were plenty of times I could have ended your sorry life during my training! I didn’t because Mariko convinced me you were an honorable man! Then you killed her! You killed my entire family!”

The blade inched closer to his face as Wolverine recalled more vivid memories. He saw images of a heated battle between the Yashida’s and an unknown foe. In that battle he was trying to protect Mariko. But at some point, he lost control. He went into a berserker rage and ended up killing the woman who gave him a chance to be an honorable man again. Like Rose before her, she died by his claws.

The memory stung, but there was more to it than Harada recalled. He was too arrogant to admit the full truth. With this in mind Wolverine summoned more strength and started pushing back so that he and the Silver Samurai were evenly matched.

“I know what I did! At least I fess up to it!” grunted Wolverine, “Which is more than I can say for you!”

“You dare accuse me of dishonoring the Yashida name?!” spat Harada.

“I told you already, bub! I know the truth!” he sneered, “And I ain’t the only one!”

The Silver Samurai looked at his enemy strangely. That’s when he heard a deafening screech behind him.

“Hyyyyyaaahhhhhhhhhhh!”

It was a war cry from someone he knew all too well. While still locked in a fight with Wolverine, he turned around to see Yuriko Oyama enter through the hole that Wolverine had made earlier. As she stormed into the area, she cut down several Yashida elites who were trying to escape. She showed no mercy, decapitating one and impaling two others with her claws.

When the Silver Samurai saw this, his hold on Wolverine suddenly faltered. Wolverine was able to break the hold and jump kick him right in the chest. He fell back against the glass. His sword was still glowing menacingly. Only now he had two of his greatest enemies staring down at him.

“Yuriko…” said the Silver Samurai through labored breath.

“It’s been a long time, Harada. You’ve had this coming!” said Deathstrike, now standing besides Wolverine.

“You foolish child of a degenerate whore!” he exclaimed, “You ally yourself with this dishonorable beast?!”

“Don’t tell me you’re surprised, Harada,” scoffed Deathstrike, “It sickens me as well, but you of all people should know I value our family’s honor more than you ever did. I will fight to reclaim it, even if I have to make a deal with the devil himself!”


Earlier

Deathstrike was a devious woman. Even as Wolverine and his fellow X-men had her pinned into submission, she maintained the upper hand. At the moment she was holding a detonator that would trigger a series of explosives powerful enough to rip the building they were in to shreds. There wouldn’t be enough time for him, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, and Shadowcat to get away. She could have gotten her vengeance right then and there. That’s why Wolverine was so surprised when she decided to strike a deal.

“Wait a sec…run that by me again?” said a bewildered Wolverine, “You lure me here, try to gut me on the spot, and now you want my help?!”

“Are those senses of yours working, Logan-san? You heard correct!” said Deathstrike bitterly, “As much as I detest the idea, I require your assistance in reclaiming my family’s honor.”

“She hates him, yet she trusts him enough to ask for help,” surmised a tense Shadowcat, “Am I the only one confused here?”

“You be in good company, petite,” said Gambit.

However, Storm wasn’t buying it. Still skeptical of Deathstrike’s intentions, she made her way over towards the deadly woman and stood over her while Wolverine held her down.

“Forgive me if I’m hardly convinced,” she said sternly, “You say you want our help, but if we’re to even consider such an offer you owe us an explanation!”

“Now you’re trying to intimidate me?” scoffed Yuriko, “You’re wasting your time! I would never give such satisfaction to one who is bedding this insufferable creature!”

Storm was taken aback. This woman came out of nowhere and already she knew of her relationship with Wolverine? Before she could start questioning, Deathstrike explained herself.

“Do not look so surprised. I can see it in your eyes! That sickening affection! My sister, Mariko, had that look too. She let it get the better of her and eventually paid the price for it.”

“Okay, now Ah’m really confused. Who the hell is Mariko?” said Rogue.

“Just one of the many victims this monster has claimed!” spat Deathstrike, “She along with many others in the Yashida Clan fell because of Wolverine! This family…my family…offered him sanctuary! He rewarded our charity with trechery and misfortune! But his transgressions were not the worst!”

“The way you so lovingly describe me, I find that hard to believe,” snarled Wolverine, “If I’m really that bad, then who the hell is worse?”

“How about Harada Yashida…does that name ring any bells?”

Wolverine snarled instinctively as this name triggered a new rush of memories. This time they were different. In another flash he saw himself back with the Yashida Clan just as he remembered earlier. This time he remembered being around this eager young man named Harada, who was being groomed to take over the clan. He was Mariko’s brother and the descendant of samurai. He remembered training with him, learning the Way of the Warrior as it had been taught in the Yashida family for generations. He remembered many heated sword fights, most of which ended with Harada getting frustrated numerous losses. Mariko was always there to pull him away, but that wasn’t all he remembered.

As he remembered Harada, he begrudgingly realized that Deathstrike wasn’t his greatest enemy. He ended up releasing his grip on her, much to the surprise of the others.

“Logan, what are you…” began Storm.

“Let her talk, Ro,” he said, “I’m starting to remember. She may be an angry bitch, but she’s right. Harada is the bigger threat here.”

“That and so much more!” seethed Deathstrike as she finally rose up, the detonator still in hand, “Harada was my half-brother and the future pride of the Yashida Clan. He was so eager to take control he often went behind his father’s back to do what he thought was best for the family. And being a gullible fool, you often helped him! I blame Mariko for that.”

“Can we keep her out of this? I know how that part ended,” groaned Wolverine.

“She cannot be separated from this! It was because of you two that the Yashidas sparked a conflict with the Hand, an organization with resources every bit as vast as ours.”

“The Hand?” said Rogue, “Didn’t Kurt deal with them back in the day?”

“I think he did,” affirmed Shadowcat, “He said they were enemies of the Azazel.”

“They were involved in many conflicts,” Deathstrike went on, “Harada foolishly brought their wrath upon us and utter carnage followed! Our entire family was attacked. I tried to fight back! We all did! But many perished. Along the way, the white devil within Wolverine reared its head! He lost control and in his madness, he killed my sister and my uncle!”

More visions played out for Logan as he recalled the image of standing over a crying Yuriko as she wept over the body of Mariko and her father. Now he remembered that fight vividly. There were so many enemies swirling about. He fought so hard, trying to use the training he learned with the Yashidas. But it wasn’t enough. The Hand was winning. At one point all that discipline and training was forgotten. The monster Weapon X created returned and he went on a rampage. It allowed him to overcome the Hand, but not without paying terrible price.

“I remember now,” said Wolverine distantly, “I spent years fighting off all that damn programming Weapon X put into me. I thought I had beaten it, but…”

“My goodness,” gasped Storm, offering a comforting gesture to her lover.

“Do not make excuses! He deserves no consolation!” scorned Deathstrike as she retrieved her arm, “You left the clan in disgrace! Harada did far worse! He took the name Silver Samurai and asserted control over what was left of the Yashida Clan. As soon as he was in power, he kicked me out since I was the bastard child of his uncle! I was shamed once more and left to rot in obscurity!”

“Looks like that didn’t last,” commented Gambit, “You definitely be having some work done.”

“These claws? These cybernetics?” she said, showing off her enhancements, “They were all means to an end…one that Harada started, but was made necessary by Wolverine’s failure!”

The angry woman then demonstrated the extent of her enhancements. She held her severed arm up to the exposed wires on her shoulder. In a display of exotic technology, the wires came to life and promptly reintegrated the arm into Deathstrike’s body.

“Whoa…Beast would be jumping out of his briefs if he saw that,” commented Rogue.

“Such tools are necessary to confront one’s fate. It is a fate that I only learned recently is far more devious than I assumed! You see, Harada’s bumbling with the Hand was no accident. He wanted it to happen! He was not content to be a Yashida Lord in training! He wanted power immediately and he was willing to sacrifice his own family to get it!”

“So…he basically got the Hand to do his dirty work for him?” surmised Shadowcat.

“Dirty, dishonorable, and very worthy of my wrath!” seethed Deathstrike, “With the fruits of Weapon X at his disposal, he seeks to solidify his position for good! Which is why I require assistance in taking him down!”

“Right…so you hate Logan enough to rough him up, but you hate Harada enough to team up with us,” said Rogue skeptically, “Sorry lady, but that doesn’t exactly inspire a whole lot of trust!”

“The feeling is mutual, I assure you. However, there is more honor is working with a lesser enemy to defeat a greater enemy…one who wouldn’t hesitate to kill us both should he succeed in utilizing Weapon X.”

The rest of the X-men remained unconvinced. Wolverine remained skeptical as well. He continued scrutinizing this devious yet cunning woman. She roughed him up just so she could make a deal with him. Something clearly wasn’t working right in that brain of hers. However, he still saw a trace of the Yuriko Oyama he remembered back when he was with Mariko. She was at her core a woman driven by honor. It may be honor of a perverse nature, but it was still honor. For that reason, he made a decision that went against his better judgment.

“I’m still sore as hell from those stab wounds,” he said, “But if you’re serious about taking down the Silver Samurai, I’m all ears.”

“What?!” exclaimed Storm, “Logan, I don’t know if you’re bleeding internally, but…”

“I know, darlin’. It sounds crazy, but I think I know this woman better than I remember,” said Wolverine as he approached Deathstrike, “Beating a guy half to death and then making a deal with him ain’t the craziest thing she’s ever done.”

“That be a disturbing yet oddly intriguing thought,” commented Remy.

“Ah’d say you have a dirty mind, Cajun. But even Ah’m curious,” commented Rogue.

“You and your misfits better not be getting coy with me, Logan-san. My sister may have loved you, but I still despise you!”

“You wouldn’t be the first. Now are you gonna put down the detonator or do you need to rough me up a little more to get going?”

Deathstrike snarled at this monster of a man. It was quite tempting to leave with him more wounds for him to remember her by. However, there was no honor in wasting time. The threat Harada posed was much more serious.

“Very well,” she said upon finally putting away the detonator, “I’ll tell you everything I’ve uncovered thus far. If you and your sideshow you call X-men wish to contribute, you had best listen closely!”


Building X-10 Test Area – Present Time

Harada couldn’t believe it. The two enemies least likely to join forces had come together in order to oppose him. He expected such deceit from Wolverine, but not from Yuriko. She was supposed to be the one obsessed with her family’s honor. Seeing her stand beside Wolverine ready for battle was a travesty of epic proportions.

“Yuriko…you dishonorable bitch!” spat the Silver Samurai.

“Do not dare talk to me about honor!” she exclaimed, “You used trickery and deceit to gain your power! Now you shall suffer for your trechery! Hyyyyaaaaaaaa!”

With reckless abandon, Deathstrike lunged towards her half-brother and attacked with her sinewy metal claws. The Silver Samurai defended himself with his sword. However, she was much more agile and acrobatic than Wolverine. She managed to execute a few impressive mid-air flips that landed a few kicks on his head. She then aggressively slashed at his armor, plunging one of her claws right into his left forearm. This along with the wound on his hip that Wolverine left earlier further added to his pain.

Disoriented and enraged, the Silver Samurai struck back with a series of skilled sword slashes of his own. Deathstrike was so caught up in attacking she failed to block it and her right cybernetic arm was severed cleanly.

“Ahhhhhhh! Not again!” she cried out.

“Cheap cybernetics won’t make you any less a disgrace!” yelled the Silver Samurai as he went on the offensive, slashing relentlessly at the now prone figure and forcing her to block him, “You were always a shame, Yuriko! You will never reclaim your honor!”

“Never say never, bub!” snarled Wolverine, now getting into the battle as well.

While Harada was slashing at Deathstrike, Wolverine lunged forth and attacked him from the side. He managed to tackle the armored figure back towards the glass barrier, driving with his claws in the process. Harada was forced to raise his sword away from Yuriko in order to defend himself. It left him vulnerable for a split second, which was all the time the nimble Deathstrike needed.

Despite only having one arm, Yuriko Oyama lunged towards her half-brother and drove the claws in her hands right towards his gut. This time he was in no position to block her. The adamantium pierced his samurai armor, driving the ridged blades right into his flesh.

“Ungh!” he choked, blood suddenly filling his mouth.

“Hurts, don’t it?” grunted Wolverine, still keeping Harada’s sword at bay with his claws, “Now you know how Mariko felt.”

His eyes bulged with pain as blood poured out from the wound. The Silver Samurai’s once unshakable poise was struck by a mortal blow. Looking down at the wound, he knew it was fatal. His gaze soon fell upon Yuiko, who took a special satisfaction in this blow.

“You…traitorous…bitch!” he choked out.

“You dishonored the Yashida name, Harada,” she said stoically, “On this day, I reclaim that honor!”

The formerly scorned woman twisted her claws to do even more damage. The Silver Samurai cringed in greater pain. His body weakened and he dropped his sword, which was no longer glowing. Wolverine cut it up into pieces for good measure while Deathstrike yanked her claws out of his gut, allowing the once proud Yakuza leader to fall helplessly into a pool of blood.

“I would ask you to say hi to your sister for me, but given where she is and where you’re going I don’t think that’s possible,” commented Wolverine.

“Spare me…your tongue, Logan-san!” grunted Harada, “What I did…was for the glory…of our family! Had I waited…we would have perished! We were…too weak!”

“That is no excuse! It is still treachery in the highest degree!” scorned Deathstrike.

“The greatest treachery…would be not to act,” he went on, coughing up more blood, “Now…without Weapon X…our family…is doomed.”

“You doomed yourself, Harada,” said Wolverine, “You were long overdue for this. Trust me when I say the past will always come back to bite you.”

It seemed fitting that these would be the final words Harada Yashida would hear. With Wolverine and Deathstrike standing over him, he finally succumbed to death’s waiting grip. He was yet another victim of Weapon X. Except for once, he was more than deserving of such a cruel fate.

While Wolverine and Deathstrike were dealing with the Silver Samurai, the experiment with Betsy and Kwannon was still unfolding. While the ninja army was being manhandled by Storm and Rogue, the Yashida science team tried desperately to keep Gambit and Shadowcat away from the experiment. They came at them with anything they could wield as a weapon.

“Jeez, could these guys be any more pathetic?” commented Shadowcat as she phased through an attack from an engineer, who tried to hit her with a wrench.

“They be determined, that’s for sure!” said Gambit as he skillfully jabbed his bow staff into the gut of a technician before he could attack.

“Can’t you just clear them away with that 52 pick-up trick you always do?” she said.

“Too many gears, petite! Remy don’t think the femmes in those tubes would appreciate it!”

Shadowcat shifted her attention away from the attacking science team and towards the bio tanks. They still attacked her, but she just kept phasing so they couldn’t touch her. Sparks were flying and several small fires had erupted around the wires and tubes going into the bio tanks. Both women appeared to be in pain. Betsy, however, was getting the worst of it. Her body was actually starting to burn around her scalp where the electrodes were placed. It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t look like either girl could hold out much longer.

“Ooh, this is getting ugly!” said Shadowcat, “We better get them out of there!”

“No!” said one of the technicians still guarding his console, “The data is still being gathered. We’ve worked too hard to be denied!”

“Sorry pal, but you’ll have to wait in line like every other asshole who’s messed with Weapon X!”

Shadowcat tried to run through the technician, but he countered unexpectedly by taking out a fire extinguisher and using it on the young mutant. The spray of thick gases caught Shadowcat by surprise and she was unable to continue phasing.

“Ack!” she choked as she fell back.

“Petite!” exclaimed Gambit, fighting off two wrench-wielding engineers before coming to her aid.

“It’s almost complete!” said the technician as he held the extinguisher protectively, “These specimens may be lost, but the data they give us is worth it!”

While Gambit helped Shadowcat recover, one figure emerged from within the barrier. It was Matsu’o Tsurayaba. In the chaos of the attack, he was among those stunned by Storm’s wind attack. While the rest of the Yashidas fought back, he slipped away and into the lab area for cover. From here, he watched the experiment involving his daughter and his goddaughter go further awry. Looking at them now, he saw nothing but suffering. It was a suffering he was fully responsible for. He could no longer bear such a burden.

‘Damn you, Harada! I will not let your thugs reap rewards from my family’s suffering!’

Grabbing a katana from one of the downed ninjas, the determined Japanese man ran towards the main console array. Most of the science team was focused on Gambit and Shadowcat. Only the lone technician monitoring the data saw him coming.

“No! Somebody stop him!” yelled the technician.

But nobody was in a position to thwart the determined father and godfather. Matsu’o arrived at the main console just in front of the two bio tanks. Gripping the sword intently, he drove the blade right into the center of the console. As soon as it plunged into the complex machinery, more sparks flew. Every system within the test area started to go haywire.

“The data! It’s being…” began the technician.

The technician’s concerns were further cut off when chemicals that had leaked around the tanks ignited. When the fluids reached the base of the computer array, they exploded in a powerful burst. The technician and Matsu’o were caught in the blast, taking a lethal amount of shrapnel. Shadowcat was able to phase Gambit through the danger, but most of the surrounding science team wasn’t so lucky. While most were just moderately wounded, the worst of the blast was felt around the bio tanks. Yet through this chaos, something unexpected happened.

In the tank containing Betsy, the small fire that erupted near the tubes spread quickly from within. It caused the chemicals inside to react, severely burning her body. As this was happening a series of mysterious sparks shot through the electrodes connected to her head. From this connection, another series of sparks erupted around the head of the comatose Kwannon. It took a few seconds for the sparks to settle. Then from within the bio tank, the once mortally wounded figure sprang to life.

‘What in the bloody hell?!’

Upon seeing her eyes open, Gambit sprinted away from Shadowcat and towards the bio tank.

“We have to get them outta there!” exclaimed Gambit.

“Ooh, this is going to be messy,” groaned Shadowcat.

Gambit rushed towards the tank holding Kwannon while Shadowcat ran towards Betsy. As soon as Gambit reached the tube, he touched the glass with his fingertip to give it a light charge. A couple of sparks followed and the glass dissolved, allowing the fluid to spill out. Gambit got out of the way and stood by to catch the trapped woman. By the time the fluid was half-drained she fell out into the Cajun’s waiting arms, detaching from the electrodes and wires in the process. Her body was wet and messy, but she was alive.

“Unn…I feel nauseous,” said groaned as Remy laid her down on the floor.

“If you gotta throw up, by all means,” said Gambit with a reassuring grin, “Wouldn’t be the first time a pretty femme lost it in Remy’s arms.”

“Did you really just flirt with me?” she said dryly.

“Already pickin’ up on Remy’s my charms,” he grinned, “I think you’re gonna be okay.”

The tired woman actually smiled at this man’s remark. It hardly seemed appropriate, but it reassured her that her mind was intact. Yet still, something was not right. Something felt out of place. Her train of thought was interrupted by a sickened groan from nearby.

“Oh my God! I am so gonna throw up!” exclaimed Shadowcat as she phased the body of Elizabeth Braddock out of the bio tank.

“What happened, petite? You okay?” said Gambit as he helped the young woman up.

“I’m fine. It’s her that’s not okay!”

When Gambit made his way over to the other tank he saw what she was talking about. Shadowcat had freed Betsy, but her body was almost unrecognizable from the model-worthy figure from before. Her entire face was burnt and swollen, nearly all of her hair had been burned off, and a good portion of her body was badly burned. It was not a pretty sight. There was no signs of life either. It seemed Weapon X had claimed another victim.

While Shadowcat and Gambit grimaced at such a sight, the woman standing next to them was in shock. Now she was even more confused.

“That…that’s me!” she exclaimed.

“I don’t think you wanna be her, cherè,” said Gambit, “Looks like she’s checked out.”

“No, you don’t understand! That really is me! That’s my body!” she cried as she knelt down to scarred figure.

“Wait…if that’s you’re body, then who are you?” asked Shadowcat in confusion.

“Damn it, I’m Elizabeth Braddock!” she said in her thick British accent, “This…this isn’t me! This body belongs to someone else! That’s me on the floor! Or at least it was!”

Gambit and Shadowcat exchanged looks. While it wasn’t unusual to encounter strange things with Weapon X, this was certainly a first. This woman claimed she was in the wrong body. It had to be a very disorienting experience. She clearly needed a moment to process it all.

While she gazed over the gruesome remains of her former form, she heard a familiar groan from across the lab area. It was Matsu’o Tsurayaba and he was gravely injured.

“Kwannon…my little lotus flower,” he gasped.

“Uncle Tsurayaba!” she exclaimed, shaken from her confused state.

Betsy rushed over to the injured man. Gambit and Shadowcat followed close behind. Along the way, Rogue and Storm joined them. Most of the Yashida ninjas had been taken care of. As soon as they saw the Silver Samurai fall, many of them retreated and now much of the area was clear. When they landed they were just as confused as their friends.

“What the heck is goin’ on here?” asked Rogue, “Please tell meh that gal ain’t the latest death machine from Weapon X!”

“Remy thinks it be a bit more complicated than that, cherè,” said the Cajun, watching curiously as this confused woman confronted the dying man.

“She doesn’t look threatening,” Storm pointed out, “What’s her story?”

“I’m not sure, but I think we’re about to find out,” said Shadowcat.

The four X-men clamored around Betsy and the wounded Matsu’o, whose injuries were quite severe. The shrapnel from the explosion went right into his chest. If the bleeding was any indication, some shards made it into his heart. There seemed little hope of survival and he knew it. Yet for some reason, this man didn’t seem too concerned. His focus was completely on the young woman gazing down at him with tears in her eyes.

“Is…is it really you? Do I have my daughter back?” he said with blood dripping from his lip.

“Daughter?” said Betsy in confusion, “Uncle…”

“Your voice,” said Matsu’o, “It’s…different?”

“I…don’t think I’m who you think I am,” she said awkwardly.

The dying man gently cupped her face and gazed into her eyes. It quickly dawned on him. That voice was just a small sign. The confirmation of what had just happened was written in her eyes. He could see it as clear as night and day.

“Betsy…” he said, coughing up more blood, “You’re…in Kwannon’s body?”

“Is that who this is?” she said, looking down at her new figure, “Kwannon, your daughter?”

“Then that means…my sweet lotus has been lost. Harada’s experiment failed. He did not heal you completely. He…he must have transferred your mind into Kwannon’s body.”

That’s what this was about? An experiment?!” Betsy exclaimed, “Just what the hell did you get me into, Uncle?!”

Matsu’o continued gently cupping Betsy’s face. To him this was the face of his daughter, but he saw no trace of her anymore. It was a harsh realization. Knowing he had but a few moments left in this life, he came clean.

“Betsy…I’m so sorry. I never should have dragged you into this,” he said with tears in his eyes, “My daughter was in a coma. Every doctor…told me to pull the plug. Harada said that Weapon X…could heal her. To succeed, he needed a telepath.”

“So…you tricked me,” Betsy surmised with a mix of anger and resentment.

“Yes…and I will not make excuses. I wanted so badly to save my daughter. I…I abused the trust your father placed in me. I…I abused the trust you placed in me…my own goddaughter. I know you must hate me. If there’s some part of Kwannon that’s still alive in you, I’m sure she hates me as well.”

Betsy tensed, yet still she was overcome with sorrow. She was enraged by what this man put her through. Yet still, he was her uncle. Maybe part of Kwannon was still inside her. Her love for her father may be finding its way through so she could hold his hand in his dying breath. It left her conflicted, but Betsy chose not to fight it.

“I won’t beg for forgiveness,” said Matsu’o as his breath grew short, “There is still a life for you to live. Whether it’s as Betsy or Kwannon…you have a life. You have gifts.”

“Gifts?” said Betsy in confusion.

“Yes…the same mutant gifts my daughter wielded.”

Betsy looked down at her hand for a moment. In what felt like a purely instinctive act, she clenched her fist and a strange purple energy formed around her arm. It created a purple, blade-like formation. She had never wielded such a power before, but somehow it felt as natural as breathing. It must have been from Kwannon again. It was hard to figure out where she ended and Betsy Braddock began. Yet she had this power along with her telepathy.

“Wow…” she said in amazement.

“I…I cannot atone for what I’ve taken from you…not in this life. Please…find the strength…to carry on. Both of you…my daughter and goddaughter…have so much to offer this world. Treasure it…as I treasured you.”

“Uncle…Father,” said the conflicted young woman with tears in her eyes.

She continued holding his hand, despite the anger and betrayal. She kept holding it with a comforting affection, watching as Matsu’o Tsurayaba drew his last breath. He smiled proudly one last time, sharing a moment with both his daughter and his goddaughter. He bore a heavy burden after putting these girls through so much suffering. In his dying moments, he accepted that burden. When death finally took him, he didn’t fight it. His time was over. Betsy Braddock in the body of Kwannon Tsurayaba was just beginning.

Betsy held back a sob as she felt her uncle and father slip away. Conflict and confusion still raged within her. Who was she? Was she Kwannon or Betsy? This conflict was all because of this man’s misguided yet admirable desire to save his daughter. It was hard to hate him. It was also hard to forgive him. Two lives were now at a crossroads and only one could be left to live.

Rogue, Storm, Gambit, and Shadowcat weren’t sure what to make of it. Some of their questions were answered, but now there were a new set of issues before them. They gave Betsy some time to process the loss of this man. Then Gambit stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“You’re gonna be okay, cherè,” he told her.

“In what universe is this okay?!” she said bitterly, “My body is destroyed and my mind is trapped in someone else’s head. My uncle is dead and my life as I knew it is over!”

“That that just means you gotta make a new life,” said the Cajun, “It’s just gonna have to go through some changes.”

“Moving to a new house is a change. Taking on a new career is a change. I’m in someone else’s body for crying out loud! How am I supposed to handle change like that?!”

“If you really ain’t sure, then maybe the X-men can help. Helping people through crazy changes in their lives is kind of our specialty,” said Gambit, “It may seem rough now, but we can help you put it into perspective.”

“What kind of perspective can you give tome one adjusting to a new body?”

“Remy’s always found it helpful to look on the bright side, cherè.”

“I fail to see how any of this can have a bright side,” said Betsy bitterly.

“Hey, there are worse bodies for you to be stuck in. You now be a hot, sexy Asian woman with some pretty nifty powers. Adjusting to a body like that don’t have to be too bad, non?”

It was a wry if not crude remark. Yet Betsy found herself laughing somewhat. It was an odd moment to have a sense of humor, watching her uncle die while contemplating this dramatic shift in her life. At the same time, it felt good to laugh. It was also flattering as well. She reached up and placed her hand over Gambit’s. It was nice to know that she wouldn’t have to go far to get the help she needed.

This seemingly innocent gesture drew a reaction from Rogue. She didn’t much appreciate the moment this stranger was having with Remy. She clenched her fists in a show of frustration. Luckily, Shadowcat kept her from making a scene.

“I know what you’re thinking, Rogue. Don’t start drawing conclusions,” she warned.

“Ah just finished ramming mah way through an army of ninjas. Excuse meh for being a little instinctive,” quipped Rogue dryly.

“She’s right, Rogue. We don’t need any extra melodrama,” coaxed Storm, “Besides, we still have plenty of loose ends.”

Storm turned her attention towards Wolverine and Deathstrike, who were still standing over the dead body of Harada Yashida. She left Betsy in the capable hands of Remy, Rogue, and Shadowcat to join him. She still didn’t trust Deathstrike when she was around Logan. As soon as she arrived, she slipped her arms around his waist in an affectionate gesture.

“Are you alright, Logan? Is it over?” she asked him.

“It’s Weapon X, darlin’. It ain’t ever gonna be over and I ain’t ever gonna be alright,” he said distantly, “At the very least we have one less asshole from my past to deal with.”

“You don’t seem to take much consolation in it.”

“I wish I could. Normally when I finish off a dirtbag like this it leaves me more questions than answers. This time I have the answers and now I’m even more pissed off!”

The former living weapon tensed despite her lover’s gestures. Storm tried to console him, but this was something deeply personal to Logan. Weapon X always had such a profound effect on him. Sometimes it changed his outlook on his struggles and it wasn’t always for the better.

“You are making a grave mistake, having feelings for this monster,” said Deathstrike coldly as she scorned Storm’s affectionate gestures.

“Coming from someone intent on killing him, I’ll spare myself the frustration of taking your opinions seriously,” said Storm sternly.

“Then you are a fool. This man will only break your heart. If he doesn’t kill you like he did my sister, he’ll torment you with a hallow love that is never absolute.”

“Save your breath, Yuriko. Storm is smart enough to sense your bullshit,” said Wolverine defensively, “You ain’t gonna convince her.”

“It is not just her I am speaking to,” she said sternly, “You may say you love her. You may give her wild sex with the passion of a wolf in heat, but bear in mind you gave that to Mariko as well. She was completely dedicated to you. Yet you never loved her as much as she loved you. Just as you don’t love this woman as much as she loves you.”

“As if someone as bitter as you could understand love?” shot Storm.

“Oh I understand…more than you think,” said Yuriko sternly, “Ask Logan. He knows the truth. He’s a monster. He cannot love another…not anymore. He’ll only end up hurting those foolish enough to pity him.”

Wolverine snarled angrily, shaking off Storm’s embrace and angrily confronting Yurkio. As much as he wanted to scold her remarks, his memories kept him from doing so. That snide look in her eyes only reinforced what his memories confirmed. Visions of him and Markio came rushing back once more. What they revealed was disturbing and disheartening.

“I’m sorry, Mariko. I wish I could love you ine the way you deserve. Believe me I want to. I just…can’t.”

Clenching his fists, Wolverine drew his claws and pointed them directly at Deathstrike.

“I think I’ve had enough of our little reunion, Yuriko! So unless you wanna finish this like we finished Harada, why don’t you just get the hell out of my sight?” he barked.

“Oh I would love to stay here and slay you just as I did Harada,” she seethed, “Unfortunately, I remember making a promise that I would not pursue you so long as you aided me in this attack. And unlike my half-brother, I am not without honor. I will respect that promise. But mark my words! Just like Harada, you will pay for your crimes against my family!”

“Lookin’ forward to it,” said Wolverine dryly, “So are you gonna make like Houdini and disappear?”

“For now,” said Deathstrike, “But not before leaving you with one last parting gift.”

With a sinister grin, Deathstrike reached into her pocket and pulled out the same detonator device she had used earlier. This time she didn’t even hesitate. She pushed the button on the top and tossed it aside.

“What the hell?!” exclaimed Wolverine, now pointing both claws at Deathstrike.

“You know that building I wired with explosives? Well I took the time to wire this one as well,” she said wryly, “The fuse is for thirty seconds. Are you going to stay here and growl at me? Or are you going to get your friends to safety?”

“Errrrrr Yuriko!”

His burning anger quickly gave way to instinct and he turned back to the X-men. The moment he shifted, Deathstrike skillfully slipped away. She ran back through the hole in the wall Wolverine had carved earlier, grabbing her severed arm in the process. Within seconds she disappeared into the shadows from where she would surely emerge again.

While Yuriko made her swift exit, Storm and Wolverine rushed back over to the others.

“Break it up, kiddies! Deathstrike wired this place to blow!” the feral mutant roared.

“Aw hell, why does everything in Weapon X gotta explode?!” groaned Rogue.

“Explode?!” exclaimed Betsy, “What in the bloody hell is with these people?!”

“Welcome to our world, Betsy,” commented Shadowcat.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get us out here!” said Storm, her eyes already glowing white.

“Here we go again,” sighed Gambit, keeping close to Betsy, “Better hold on tight, cherè! This always be a bumpy ride!”

Betsy had no choice but to place her trust in the X-men. She stayed close to Gambit as the team gathered around Storm, who quickly formed a powerful stream of wind. With howling gusts, they were lifted into the air and guided towards the hole in the roof Storm made earlier when she and Rogue entered. They flew along the tornado-like winds while Rogue following close behind. They barely cleared the building when the first explosion went off. Deafening shockwaves soon filled the air as a series of fiery bursts consumed the building.

The X-men managed to barely clear the chaos. They encountered a few random columns of smoke and some debris as they ascended up and away from the structure. Once they were clear, they looked back to see yet another Weapon X facility crumble before them. For everyone it was a welcome sight. For Wolverine and Betsy, however, it was bittersweet. These people had taken so much for them. Whether it was in the past or the present, Weapon X always left an indelible and painful mark.

‘You deserved better Mariko. Hell, even Yuriko deserved better. The only one that really deserves this shit is me. And I just can’t seem to find a way to keep it from hurting others. For Storm’s sake and for your memory, I’ll find a better way. I promise.’


Later

The aftermath of the explosion in the Rinku Industrial District was expected. Emergency crews and fire fighters descended upon the area to put out the flames and sort through the damage. By the time they arrived, pretty much everything had been destroyed. There was no trace of the Weapon X experiment and the bodies of Harada Yashida and many of his elites were charred beyond recognition. The X-men stuck around and helped out. Storm helped put out the fire with some rain and Betsy told the authorities about her Uncle. But for the most part, they watched from afar on a rooftop a couple blocks away from the crumbling structure.

“So what’s the story, Miss Munroe? Any chance Weapon X will be on the front page?” asked Kitty as Ororo landed on a rooftop.

“None whatsoever, I’m afraid,” she said, “I just spoke to the police. The official story is that a meeting concerning Yakuza leaders went bad and someone planted a bomb. Everything concerning the experiment has been destroyed.”

“Guess we can always count on the media to get only half the truth,” sighed Rogue.

“Still better than an outright lie,” Remy pointed out, “Does this mean the Yashidas be finished?”

“With their leader dead, they’re going to be in disarray. But plenty of ninjas and elites escaped as soon as Harada fell,” Ororo explained, “With Deathstrike still out there, there’s a good chance we haven’t heard the last of them.”

“Like it matters anymore,” said Betsy bitterly.

The conflicted young woman wasn’t even looking at the burning building anymore. It was not easy since her old body was probably in there and utterly unrecoverable at this point. Her old body was like her old life, charred beyond all recognition.

“Miss Braddock,” said Storm in a caring tone, “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I know how you must feel. I can’t think of too many people who are dealing with what you’re going through right now.”

“Guess I shouldn’t count on a support group for displaced minds,” said Betsy dryly.

“But if you want, the X-men can help you rebuild your life. We can introduce you to Charles Xavier. He has a talent for helping people who believe they are beyond hope.”

“Therein lies the problem,” she mused, “I’m not sure if I can go back to my old life. Hell, I’m not even sure if I want to. This new body I’m in…it’s just so confusing.”

“Then we’ll give you the tools to figure it out,” said Ororo with a kind smile, “Even if you can’t return to the life you once had, that doesn’t mean you can’t build a new one.”

Betsy mused over her predicament. Looking at Ororo and the X-men, she saw an opportunity. With her options so limited it seemed foolish not to take advantage of it. She still remembered the words of her dying uncle. He placed a lot of faith in her. Even though he was responsible for what happened, this seemed a fitting way to honor his final wishes.

“Guess I’ll have to start somewhere,” she sighed, “You guys saved my life. I might as well return the favor.”

“That’s the spirit! The institute could use some new X-women,” said Kitty, offering Betsy a welcoming gesture, “If you’re tough enough to handle Weapon X, I think you’ll fit right in!”

“I appreciate the enthusiasm,” said Betsy with a half-smile, “Besides, it also couldn’t hurt to make a few new friends.”

Her gaze shifted towards Remy and she gave him a flirtatious look. It was enough to make the Cajun smile back. Having comforted her at her darkest hour, the subtext wasn’t lost on him. It wasn’t lost on Rogue either, who stayed silent but still managed to shoot Remy an angry glare.

‘That swamp rat better keep it in his pants. Ah just turned a corner with mah feelings. It better not be too late! It can’t be…’

While the team contemplated their newest recruit, Ororo shifted her attention to Logan. He hadn’t said a word since they escaped. For the past half-hour, he had just been staring out into the distance. He looked like he was lost in memories while contemplating the present. He seemed much more shut off than usual, adding to Ororo’s concern. She carefully made her way towards his side and offered him a loving gesture.

“Do you need more time, Logan? We can stay here as long as we have to,” she told him.

“Don’t bother. If I never see a sushi bar again it’ll be too soon,” muttered Logan.

“So then why do you linger? Clearly, there’s something keeping you here and it isn’t Weapon X.”

Logan remained distant despite his lover’s comforting gestures. With new answers about his past there came some unpleasant realizations.

“It’s Yuriko,” he said bitterly, “I think she might be right.”

“About what? You being a monster?” scoffed Ororo, “That’s wrong and you know it!”

“Maybe, but for once I ain’t so damn certain. She’s right to want to torture me. I killed her family…the same family that once took me in and helped me. What does it say about a low-life like me when I kill the people trying to help me?”

“It says you’re still a victim of forces beyond your control,” said Ororo in a more sincere tone, “I can’t imagine what it must be like living with that guilt. There mere fact you acknowledge it is enough to prove Yuriko wrong.”

“It ain’t just the guilt!” he seethed, tensing with inner rage, “Even if she’s wrong about me being a monster, she was right about me and Mariko. I remember how much she loved me. I also remember how much I loved her. Problem is…I didn’t love her completely. I wanted to, but I couldn’t! Just like I couldn’t love Jeannie! It’s got me thinking…”

“That what? You can’t love me anymore!” said Ororo with a touch of hurt in her voice.

Logan’s turned towards the woman who meant so much to him, offering whatever kind of an affectionate gaze a monster like him could manage.

“No…it’s that I can’t love you as much as you deserve,” he said.

“Does…that mean you’re ending this?” said Ororo with tears in her eyes.

“Hell no! Have you ever known me to give up that quickly? It’s just gonna be…harder from now on.”

Ororo settled somewhat, wiping some of the tears from her eyes as she stood in her brooding presence. Such unpleasant truths meant more hardships. Such was the nature of relationships and their ongoing struggle as X-men. It was a lot for any woman to bear, but she felt strongly enough for this man to bear it. Taking his hand in hers, she pulled him into an embrace.

“I’ll manage,” she told him.

“Yeah…I know you will,” said Logan in a soft yet gruff tone, “You ain’t a quitter.”

“And neither are you,” she said strongly, “Whatever painful realizations your past may bring, I’m not willing to quit on you so long as you’re not willing to quit on us, Logan.”


Washington DC – Gold’s Gym

Everybody had their own way of blowing off steam. Most people would not choose aggressive weight training in a gym that was supposed to be closed. But Jack Freeman wasn’t most people. He bore two burdens that separated him from the rest of society. He was a mutant with extraordinary strength and adaptive powers. He was also a dedicated Green Beret. To say he was a poorly understood individual would have been quite the understatement. It often made for a lonely life when he wasn’t in uniform.

But Jack Freeman was used to fending for himself. When major stresses came along, like accompanying General Grimshaw to the Xavier Institute, he found his own way of coping with his angry emotions. As soon as he returned to Washington and was debriefed, he ventured out into the city where he found a closed gym. Using a little extra strength to break the lock, Jack let himself in and went to work benching heavy weights to take his mind off how much he hated dealing with the X-men. It gave him time to be alone with his thoughts while he aggressively benched a couple tons on a weight bench.

‘God damn mutant politics! God damn politics period! What the hell is General Grimshaw thinking? Having me be the unofficial face of his mutant plan? I get next to no respect as it is! I understand the man trusts me, but he knows how I feel about this shit! The less I have to think about being a mutant the more I can focus on being a soldier. I thought he understood that!’

Letting out a labored grunt, the sweaty Green Beret dropped the heavy bar bell onto the floor. It was so heavy that it left sizable dents, but he was beyond caring at this point. As he caught his breath, he briefly contemplated his new mission.

‘Maybe I’m being selfish. General Grimshaw may be the closet thing I’ve ever had to a father, but he’s still a General. I can’t help it if part of my job involves carrying out his orders. I understand times are tough and mutants are front and center. But is it wrong for me to want no part of it?’

The mutant soldier wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to do a few more sets. While he had a quick drink of water, he heard the main door to the gym open. Immediately, he became defensive. Nobody was supposed to be here at this hour and he was not in the mood to be disturbed.

“Who’s there?!” he demanded.

“Take it easy, captain. It’s me,” said casually dressed Scott Summers as he emerged from the doorway.

“You!” said Jack apprehensively, “What the hell do you want? How the hell did you even find me?!”

“I live in a house with the two most powerful telepaths in the world and I’m sleeping with one of them. Finding you was easier than you think,” Scott answered, “And seeing as how you left on a sour note I wanted to catch up so we could clear the air.”

Captain Freeman scolded the X-leader for his resourcefulness. He thought he made his point clear back when he was at the mansion. He wanted no part in X-men affairs. Apparently, that dent he left in the Danger Room wasn’t big enough.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he said as he made his way to another weight machine, “Or do I have to leave more dents in the wall to get my point across?”

“For the sake of whoever owns this place, let’s try to avoid that. I don’t care if you stay mad at me as long as you listen,” said the X-leader as he approached the frustrated soldier.

“You’re shoveling against the tide, kid. I’ve already tuned you out,” he said as he sat down on a chest press machine.

“I’m not a kid, Captain. My name is Scott Summers and I’ve stared down danger every bit as nasty as I’m sure you’ve faced. Or did you not follow all those stories about the X-men fighting Juggernaut, Magneto, the Sentinels, and the entire nation of Genosha?”

“Still tuning you out,” Jack grunted as he started doing reps, “There’s noise coming from somewhere, but I’m not hearing anything.”

Scott hid his frustration as Captain Freeman did his best to push him way him off. This guy was as stubborn as he was immature. He reminded him of Alex, except Alex never stooped to the silent treatment. It was a good thing he was very patient when it came to certain people. He dealt with Alex and Wolverine on a regular basis. He was confident he could deal with this man despite his attitude.

“They ever teach you about history in your training? Someone with the rank of captain would have some knowledge on missions of the past,” said Scott as he casually leaned against a nearby weight machine.

Jack remained silent. Nevertheless, Scott kept talking.

“I’ll give you a refresher course anyways. World War II, a war my own grandfather fought in, was a big lesson in the history of battle. In 1943 the allies invaded Sicily as part of the campaign against Italy. It was supposed to be a stepping stone to the Italian mainland. The allies anticipated a long, drawn out battle. They were pleasantly surprised to find out that there weren’t many loyal Italian forces left. Even the Italian citizens didn’t put up a fight.”

Jack was still silent, doing more reps at a faster pace. It showed that it was getting harder for him to shut Scott out.

“The Fascist government fell so quickly that it prompted Nazi Germany to invade Italy,” Scott went on, “Not only did it divert desperately needed resources from the Russian front, it gave the allies a template for liberating Europe. You see, the allies found out that having the support of the people they were trying to liberate went a long way. For the next two years, the Italian citizenry harassed and sabotaged the German occupiers to the point where they could not maintain their position.”

“If you’re trying to teach a lesson about working with people you can quit while you’re ahead. There’s nothing history can teach about teamwork that I can’t learn from watching clips from 1989 San Francisco 49ers.”

“I’m sure you’ve been bored to death with the merits of teamwork. But there’s another side to the story that sends a more powerful message,” said the X-leader, sensing he now had the captain’s attention, “During the Italian campaign, there was an allied officer named Lieutenant General Maxwell D. Taylor. He secretly parachuted into Rome when it was still occupied. There, he met with the Italian government and established that critical link between the allies and the Italians that allowed them to negotiate an armistice. He put himself behind enemy lines, a place no soldier wants to go, so he could turn enemies into allies. It just required one man to separate himself from his fellow soldiers and do the right thing.”

Jack finally stopped his set. Still covered in sweat and catching his breath, he looked back towards the X-leader more seriously. It was no longer possible to ignore his message.

“What are you saying?” he surmised, “That I should go behind the back of my superiors and get friendly with the X-men in case the shit hits the fan?”

“I’m not asking you to go behind anybody’s back, Captain. I’m offering insight for someone who may be in a position to do the right thing when everyone else loses sight of the mission. This plan General Grimshaw is putting together has a lot of promise, but it could also go bad.”

“I don’t see how I’m in a position to do anything about that,” Jack scoffed, “If it all falls apart one day and General Grimshaw starts agrees with the Graydon Creeds of the world, who am I to stop them?”

“You underestimate your worth, Captain,” said Scott adamantly, “You’re probably in the best possible position as the only remaining mutant in the military. You claim not to care about being a mutant, but even you must know you can’t escape what you are.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said bitterly.

“You’ve already made it clear that that being a soldier comes before being a mutant. You of all people should know that the best soldiers are the ones that stay true to their cause. And sometimes in order to stay on that path, you need to make connections that go beyond the scope of duty.”

He definitely had Jack’s full attention now. Looking to make good use of it, Scott reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black disk with a red X on it. He then placed it on the floor next to Jack’s backpack and started backing away.

“That little device is a special communication link directly to the Institute. It’s durable, well-shielded, and highly encrypted. Nobody will know if you use it. If at any point you feel the mission is lost and you can no longer do the right thing, activate it and the X-men will be there.”

“Why? So you can save my ass?” made Jack, “I don’t know if I haven’t made this clear, but I don’t need saving.”

“I used to believe that too,” said Scott, “Back when I was living on the streets, I thought needing to be saved was a sign of weakness. I’ve long since learned that everybody needs saving at some point. It takes a lot of humility sometimes. While you may not need someone to save your life, you may need someone to save your soul.”

“Now it’s my soul that needs saving?” said the rugged soldier dryly.

“Roll your eyes all you want. A lot of us did at some point. But there’s a fine line between holding your own and shutting yourself off. As soon as we cross that line, we abandon our humanity. And without humanity, it doesn’t matter whether we’re a soldier and an X-man. We’re still nothing.”

Jack’s expression hardened. Still sitting on the bench press, he contemplated a world of unpleasant truths. He always tried distancing himself from the conflicts that reminded him of what he was and where he came from. It was part of what helped him become such a dedicated soldier. But could he continue to avoid that now that he was part of General Grimshaw’s plan? Could he still be the soldier he wanted to be in this new role of his?

While Jack contemplated the many conflicting possibilities, Scott made his leave. He said what he needed to say. The rest was on Jack Freeman’s shoulders.

“That’s all I have to say. I’ll leave you alone and so will the rest of the X-men,” said the X-leader, “Do whatever you want with the communicator. If you’re as good a soldier I think you, you’ll do what you think is best for your mission.”

Jack watched Cyclops leave through the same door he entered. Now alone once more, the mutant soldier reached for his backpack and took the communicator. For a moment he just stared at it. Tomorrow, General Grimshaw was going to announce his plan to the world. It was going to usher in many changes, plenty of which he was going to be part of. Whether he kept this close by or crushed it in his hand right now could mean the difference between doing the right thing and making a grave mistake.

With all these conflicting thoughts pulling him in many different directions, Captain Jack Freeman made his decision. Clutching the communicator, he carefully slipped it into his backpack under his uniform.

‘That’s some kid…a soldier in his own right, but still a smart ass. Damn him for making me think. I’ve never been very good at it. I doubt anybody is going to be too pleased with me holding out on my superiors. But I guess the arrogant punk who used to thumb his nose at authority isn’t completely worthless. As much as I trust General Grimshaw, the system itself has plenty of flaws. I just hope there aren’t too many assholes left in the military that’ll make the X-men a necessary ally.’


Capitol – William Stryker’s Office

“Uh huh…right…excellent! I’m looking at it right now…no, I have everything I need…no, thank you. I’ll take care of our little deal within the hour…don’t worry. Your commanding officer won’t know what hit him. Enjoy your promotion, lieutenant. You’ll find the benefits to be quite comfortable.”

Colonel John Wraith bore a smug sense of accomplishment as he hung up his phone. Sitting at the desk of Reverend William Stryker, he now had everything he needed to reclaim what he had lost. His days of being a disgraced, demoted officer were numbered. Soon even General Grimshaw would have to respect his authority once more.

“I take it everything went smoothly?” said an anxious Reverend Stryker, who had been pacing restlessly for the past two hours.

“I wouldn’t exactly say it was smooth. As I expected, there was some interference. Wolverine and the X-men found out about the experiment on Japan and made quite a mess of things.”

“In other words they utterly destroyed equipment you helped the Yashida Clan get a hold of,” he surmised.

“An expensive, yet acceptable loss,” Wraith shrugged, “The important part is that we got the data from the experiment. We can proceed on our own, albeit with less resources than I hoped. It’s a shame the Yashidas couldn’t hold their own, but I suppose it’s for the best. It saves me the trouble of having to deal with Harada and his goons down the line.”

“It should also make the incident easier to cover up,” said Stryker.

“I’ve already taken care of that. The mole I had in the Yashida Clan was able to fully transfer the data and delete the originals so that no one else can tap it. I also had some friends of mine in Interpol go over the site and destroy anything incriminating. As far as the rest of the world is concerned there is nothing left. The fruits of Weapon X are now ours to enjoy.”

Reverend Stryker finally stopped pacing. Initially, he had been skeptical of Wraith. Yet he was able to deliver as he promised. He obtained knowledge from Weapon X, a program that had a long history with mutants. When he first heard of it he was intrigued. The idea of using the wicked to combat the wicked was intriguging. It spared the righteous from putting their spirits on the line. There were still many aspects to Wraith’s plan he wasn’t sure of, but if it put them in a position to oppose men like Nathan Grimshaw he was willing to go along with it.

“So what’s the next step?” he asked Colonel Wraith.

“First off, I’m going to make a secure copy of this data and treat you to some champagne and a steak dinner,” grinned Wraith as he entered a few commands on Stryker’s computer, “Second, you’re going to call your Purifiers and I’m going to call Dr. Cornelius. If we’re to make good use of this data, we need to pool our resources.”

“Agreed, but what about General Grimshaw and that unholy proposal of his?”

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to stop that at this point. But don’t worry. We’ll eventually prove them wrong. Let President Kelly dance to Grimshaw’s tune for for now. All you have to do is stay by his side and stand your ground.”

“That’s still asking an awful lot,” said Stryker, “The president knows my position and he’s already shown how little he appreciates it. I’m not sure I can keep smiling and nodding for him.”

“Just hold your tongue and don’t get yourself fired,” said Wraith, “Everything he and General Grimshaw are working towards is going to come crashing down. And when it does, we’ll be there to reap the rewards! Weapon X laid the foundation for using mutants to secure the future of humanity. Where Weapon X failed, Weapon Plus shall succeed!”

Next Issue: Political Incorrectness

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