It is a tense time for Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men. They fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them, often clashing with those who would bring hate and destruction. They came close to losing that fight when the Weapon Plus program went rogue and attacked Genosha. Even though the X-men stopped them, the dust from this ordeal has yet to settle.
In the midst of this chaos, there are some unresolved issues surrounding the techno-organic material that created Weapon Plus. Captain Jack Freeman of the MSA confronted Warpath and Rogue in an investigation at Shaw Industries. They all had different missions, but they had the same suspicions. Shaw Industries did extensive research with the techno-organic material and someone is planning to use it again.
One who definitely has the means is Sinister. Since the loss of his beloved Selene, he became unstable and has ordered his Marauders to move forward with an ambitious new plan. Part of that plan involves Mystique, who has been working for Sinister in hopes of answering some unresolved questions from her past. After an ill-fated confrontation with her estranged son, Graydon Creed, Sinister made good on that promise.
But Mystique isn’t the only one learning the truth either. In a coincidence that may not be a coincidence, Wolverine is getting help from Jean Grey to unlock more secrets about a woman from his past named Rose.
World War II – Team X Headquarters
“It looks…disturbing,” said a humored James Howlett.
“Don’t tell me it scares you, James,” said an equally humored Rose.
“There ain’t no room for fear in this line of work, Rosie. Disturbing is my way of saying it works better than I thought it would.”
“Our mentor wouldn’t have chosen me if I didn’t have a talent that set me apart. Now you know what it is. I think you understand the potential as well as he did.”
James Howlett wasn’t easily impressed. This was one of those rare occasions when he was at a loss. Rose had just joined Team X a week ago. She was set to be their top spy, tasked with going into the most dangerous war zones and gathering intel. To get the necessary intel, she needed something that made her more than human. This definitely qualified.
Rose was standing right in front of him, but she didn’t look like Rose. She looked like an old German SS officer in his mid-forties. Her face had been altered to take on a resemblance that felt more real than any make-up or mask. Everything from the wrinkles on his forehead to the stubble on his unshaven face was duplicated. She even had a uniform to match the look. If James saw her in the battlefield like this, he would never suspect that she was an imposter.
“I’m not your typical spy. I can deceive in ways most spies can only dream of. I can even match the voice of whoever I’m impersonating,” she said, altering her voice to sound like a middle-aged German man with an accent.
“Now that’s even more disturbing,” grinned James.
“I’ll have to learn to start taking that as a compliment.”
“You shouldn’t. You still ain’t shown me how you’re gonna make use of this little trick of yours,” he said in a more serious tone.
“It’s no trick, I assure you,” said Rose in her normal voice, “Like your healing, my abilities are unique. Being a run-away, I learned early on that it helped to not look like one. I used to use make-up and wigs to trick others into caring for me. Then one day I discovered that I could reshape my face in a way no makeup artist could ever match.”
“Does that mean you can reshape everything?” questioned James, “What if you’re impersonating a guy and his wife gets suspicious? What’s to stop her from taking a peak under the hood?”
“Usually people are tactful enough not to ask such questions, but you don’t strike me as the mindful type,” she said dryly, “Like your healing abilities, my powers are limited. I can change my face and appearance. I can’t completely change my body. This uniform you see had to be stolen. I also can’t take on the shape of an animal or anything.”
“Too bad. Turning into an angry bear would be pretty damn useful.”
“We’ll have to make due. Your mentor found me and showed me how to refine my talents. Now I’m going to use them to help Team X. You seem skeptical, but intrigued. So tell me right now whether or not you’ll be able to work with me.”
James scrutinized this woman as he did with everyone who joined Team X. This team was the best it was at what it did and what they did wasn’t nice. It took a special breed to be part of this team and his mentor didn’t recruit just anyone, but that didn’t mean he blindly trusted his judgment.
Rose was different on a great many levels. She was hardened like him from a rough life. She was not the kind to beg others to help her. She was willing to be every bit as resourceful as a man in her position, if not more so. There was also something else to her personality. It was difficult to see, especially when she was in disguise. Even through this elaborate ruse, he could see it in her eyes.
While James was looking her over, Rose looked away for a moment and rubbed her face. Within a minute or so, her complexion turned back to that of a stunning redheaded woman. In her true form she stood before this legendary killer, unafraid of his scrutiny.
“Well…are you going to answer? I may be a woman, but I’m every bit as impatient as the stubborn men you work with,” she told him.
“You got a mouth on you, Rose. For most ladies, their father or husband would have tried to condition that sort of thing outta you by now,” said James.
“You’d be surprised how many have tried. You’d be even more surprised at how many have failed,” said Rose with an ominous grin.
“It’s that side of you I’m trying to pin down. You may be able to deceive everybody else, but you can’t deceive me. Who you are and what you do are very different concepts. I know you can do the job. Question is can it be part of you?”
“Well we won’t know until we find out, will we?”
“No…we won’t,” he said, his tone still serious, “Because of that, I’m gonna keep a close eye on you.”
“For some reason, I don’t mind that,” she said coyly, “The way I see it…if I can win you over, then I can win anybody over.”
“You getting fresh on me, Red?”
“No more than you are with me,” said Rose, “Now unless you’re going to oppose me, let’s get started on our first mission.”
James hesitated to do so, but did as she requested. As she walked by him, he kept scrutinizing her every move. He also found himself grinning. Rose was a bit of a mystery, but her presence on Team X was sure to make things more interesting.
Present Time – Scott and Jean’s Room
“Ungh! Hold up, Jeannie,” grunted an increasingly distressed Logan.
“Whoa! Those are some volatile thoughts associated with these memories,” said Jean, who had to step back and collect herself.
“Volatile my ass! This shit’s making my head pound. That can’t be normal.”
“It isn’t,” she said in a serious tone.
It had only been a few minutes since Jean began probing Logan’s memories and it was already getting messy. It wasn’t unusual for him to get agitated when revisiting his past. There were times he had gone into a berserker rage during a psychic therapy session, but this was different. In retrieving memories about Rose, a vast range of feelings were unleashed. Even for a psychic of Jean’s caliber, it was overwhelming.
“Maybe we should take a break,” Jean suggested, “These memories I’m finding…they’re associated with some very intense feelings. It’s probably why you weren’t able to recall them. They were buried in the equivalent of a psychic shell.”
“So crack it already!” urged Logan, who was still catching his breath, “I need to know what’s inside that shell.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I saw a bit of what you saw,” Jean went on in a more serious tone, “In your other memories of Rose, she mentioned she was a mutant. But we never found out what her powers were. Now it seems she was some kind of shape-shifter.”
“I know what you’re thinking, Jeannie. I ain’t psychic, but I still know so stop thinking it,” said Logan in an apprehensive tone.
“I know there are other shape-shifting mutants in the world, but one with red hair who can fight, spy, and deceive…a certain name does come to mind.”
“And I know that ain’t possible!” Logan barked, “You can’t say for sure until we sift through the rest of my memories. Now are you gonna get back in there or not?”
Jean stared anxiously at her friend. For once, she wished that had been one of his immature sexual remarks. He looked so tense. Anger mixed with confusion, sending him dangerously close to berserker territory. It still did little to dissuade him. He wanted to go on. He trusted her to show him the truth and she couldn’t betray that trust.
“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath, “But if you get too worked up again, I’m pulling out.”
“Do what you gotta do, Jeannie,” said Logan as he lay back down on the bed, “Find the rest of those memories. They gotta mean something.”
“Thoughts like these always have meaning. Sometimes that meaning is suppressed for a good reason,” sighed Jean.
Logan wasn’t going to be dissuaded and Jean wasn’t going to turn back. Taking another deep breath, she put her hands back on his temples. This was sure to get messier before the truth finally came out.
World War II – Spain
It was as good day for Team X. Their latest mission had been more successful than they expected. An incursion into neutral Spain was a risky operation. It was none-the-less necessary so they could round up Nazi spies that had been hiding in what they thought was a safe haven. Team X made sure they were wrong.
At the end of a street in the countryside, Team X had over thirty German spies on their knees with their hands behind their heads. Their cover had been blown. Team X had better intelligence this time thanks to their latest member. Rose had come through in a big way. James and Victor were impressed. They stood around the captured Germans with a team of covert operatives. The waiting was difficult because the Spanish military had to know something was up. They were probably on their way and if they didn’t get out of the country, then they risked escalating the entire war.
“This is getting dicey, Jim. I just got word from British intel that some MPs heading our way,” said Victor, “They find us with a bunch of Nazi spies and we’re gonna have a hell of a time explaining this shit.”
“We’ll make it outta here. Quit sounding so damn scared,” said James as he carefully walked along the rows of petrified Nazi spies.
“I ain’t scared,” he retorted strongly, “I’m thinking we may have to implement that contingency plan we set up.”
“You’re resorting to Plan K already, Vic?”
“Why not? It’s done us well before. We line these pukes up, send them to that big Nazi rally in the darkest pits of Hell, and go undercover until we’re extracted. It’ll be like a Spanish vacation and you sure as hell could use one.”
The mere mention of this plan evoked utter terror through the captured spies. James kept walking along the rows of spies, sensing time working against them. He usually didn’t hesitate to implement the infamous Plan K that Team X was so fond of. But this time was different. This time they had an incentive to be patient.
“Don’t give me the silent treatment, Jim. Let’s do it already!” urged Victor.
“Keep your britches on, Vic. We got more cards to play this time around,” argued James.
“What sort of cards are you talking about? Where the hell was this when we were playing poker last night?”
“You think you’re good because you’re lucky, bub? I don’t give a damn how much you scare people. You still gotta know how to bluff.”
Victor looked at his comrade strangely. James wasn’t usually this hesitant. He kept walking past each spy as if he was looking for something. James was the last guy to over-think a mission. This sudden change of tactics was peculiar and somewhat disconcerting.
James ignored Victor’s gazes and kept scrutinizing each spy. He ignored their terrified trembling. Some were stronger, ready to face death if that’s was to be their fate. James never hesitated to give it to them before. He kept his weapon at his side, just in case he had to use it. He passed by another row of men and was running out of bodies to scrutinize. Then one in particular caught his attention.
It was one of the less intimidating spies they had captured. He was short compared to the others. He had glasses and dark hair, not fitting the mold of the Nazi spy network. He looked a bit sickly. It was hard to tell if it was because he was scared or if he really was ill. No one else at Team X really noticed it. James was the only one that saw through it.
“You can quit the act,” he said as he pulled off the blindfold to the man, “You got a damn good bluff, but you gotta learn to hide that tell.”
“I have no idea vhat you’re talking about,” said the man in a thick German accent.
“Quit toying with us, Rose. Your mission just got revised.”
The man paused for a moment. Then to Victor and the rest of Team X’s surprise, the face of the line spy shifted. He revealed that he was actually Rose in disguise. The reactions she got from the team was nothing short of hilarious. The rest of the German prisoners were obviously confused, having no idea of how deeply they had been deceived.
“How did you know it was me?” said Rose as James undid her restraints.
“Your scent gave you away,” he told her.
“My scent? Since when did you have such a keen sense of smell?”
“Since you used more cologne than any regular guy would,” said James.
Rose kept smiling as James helped her up. Victor was still confused and somewhat pissed off.
“Are you shitting me?” he exclaimed.
“Don’t look too surprised, Victor. How else do you think I obtained the intel on all these gius?” said Rose wryly.
“To hell with the info! You were supposed to stay undercover. What kind of spy lets herself get captured?”
“Maybe you guys are just that good,” she shrugged.
“Or maybe you’re just that lousy,” retorted Victor.
“Shut up, Vic. It’s a damn good thing we got her. Now she can buy us more time from those Spanish thugs heading our way,” said James.
“How the hell do you expect her to do that? This board got herself captured, remember?” his partner scoffed.
“Actually, you captured only one of my aliases,” revealed Rose, “First rule of spying. Have as many identities as possible. As it just so happens, there’s one alias I have that earns me instant creditability no matter where I am in Europe.”
Rose altered her appearance again, taking on a new appearance. James and Victor watched carefully as her form took shape. As she changed she grabbed a radio transceiver from her pocket and issued an order. With a new identity and voice, she sent a deceptive message to the enemy that was sure to buy them as much time as they needed.
“Attention all military personal in sector 16. Authorization code 1015,” she said into the device, “We have new intel on possible incursion. Please direct all forces to sectors 10 and 18. Proceed with extreme caution. This order is issued under the authority of…”
Present Time – Scott and Jean’s Room
The psychic probe stalled again. Jean pulled back before the memory was fully brought to surface. Logan was getting more agitated by the second. He was tensing and snarling as if someone was jamming a red-hot needle into his brain.
“Errrrrrrrr! Keep going, Jeannie!” seethed a determined Logan.
“Logan please! These memories…they’re getting more disjointed,” said Jean, who needed a moment to collect her psychic energy.
“I don’t give a damn how disjointed they are. We’re getting close. I can feel it. Now show me the rest!” he demanded.
“It’s not that simple. Some of these memories are buried so deep that they’re entwined with the past and the present. It’s as if your brain is trying to make a connection, but it’s burning through other connections in the process.”
“So help me finish that connection. For this, I can spare a few brain cells,” said the feral mutant.
He sounded dangerously close to another berserker rage. He also sounded close to a serious breakdown. Jean had never seen him so distressed. Logan didn’t just want the truth. He needed it.
Despite the dangers, Jean resumed the psychic probe. She went back to that shell of memories in his mind that had been buried so deep. The connections were almost complete. The truth, however brutal it may be, was almost within their grasp.
Once again, Logan found himself in a vast mental abyss. The last time he was in a place like this, he was at death’s door. Now it was different. It was like he was walking through a thick mist. Within that mist were shadows where memories of the past and present converged. He could feel Jeannie’s presences nearby. She was trying to shed light on these shadows. There was a pinkish light above him that was struggling to shine brighter. In its glow, the connections between memories began coming together.
“Probe deeper, Jeannie. I see something!” said Logan as he pushed his way through the mist.
‘Something strange is happening. I’m not sure I should…’
“Fine! If you won’t go the distance, then I will,” he said in a fit of frustration.
It was too late. Logan charged ahead into the shadows, ignoring Jean’s warnings. As he did the abyss was illuminated in a series of flashes. These flashes took his already fragmented memories and mixed them with the present. In doing so, he saw a new string of images that overwhelmed him in ways he never could’ve imagined.
Night had fallen on Election Day. Senator Robert Kelly was about to be elected President of the United States. On this historic day, Logan was standing on a ridge in the outskirts of Westchester. He agreed to meet Mystique here. She claimed to just want to deliver a message to her kids. He wasn’t convinced. For reasons beyond his understanding and hers, they were drawn together.
“But it makes no sense! Why would there be something…anything between us?” Mystique lamented.
“I don’t know. I don’t…”
Then they kissed. By whatever mysterious forces had befallen them, Logan kissed Mystique. As he did, the sweet taste of her lips brought him back to a moment in time that had been long forgotten. In an instant the blue form of Mystique was replaced with someone else.
Rose and James had done it. They had escaped the clutches of Team X. As of this moment, Rose and James were no more. They had faded in the confusion in the Battle of the Bulge. Now in the waning hours of the war, they hid about the ruins in Berlin. With the end of the war drawing near, they could finally begin a new life together.
“I think I’ve found our way out,” said Rose as they stepped over the ruins of a German clothing store, “There’s a convoy of refugees heading out of the city in a few hours. They’re going to meet up at a port controlled by the Russians. If we can get there, we can hop a boat and make it back to Canada.”
“How sure are you we ain’t gonna get jacked by the Allies and shipped back to the States?” asked James.
“As sure as I can possibly be, James.”
“Good enough,” he said, “And remember what we talked about, darlin’. Call me Logan now.”
“Right…Logan,” she said with a grin, “I’ll have to get used to that.”
James, or Logan as he now went by, grinned back and helped her gather a few more things. Bombs and artillery shells were still going off in the distance. The Russians were closing in and the city was already decimated. For the past two days now they had been gathering clothes, food, and various supplies. They were ready to start a new life together. Once they got out of Europe, they could leave this bloody chapter of their lives in the past.
“So long as we’re picking new names, what should I call you?” said Logan as he picked up a cowboy hat from some wreckage.
“I don’t know. I never had a complete name to begin with. Since Team X destroyed most of the records from my old life, it’s probably safe to keep calling me Rose,” she told him as she picked out a few dresses and stuffed them into a bag.
“That’s fine with me, but that name will probably raise some red flags when we get to the port. You got another name we could use?”
Rose thought for a moment. The bomb blasts were getting closer. They would have to move out soon and it was sure to get dicey. For that reason, one name in particular came to mind.
“There is one name that should serve us well…at least until we rebuild our lives,” she said.
“I think I know which one you’re referring to,” said Logan with a wry grin, “It’s one of my favorites too.”
“Then it’s settled!” said Rose as they began their journey to a new life, “From this moment forward, call me…”
Logan found himself in Magneto’s citadel again. Magneto was about to wipe the face of the planet clean by guiding a metal-rich asteroid towards the planet. He and the rest of the X-men fought hard to stop him. He led the charge, taking on the Brotherhood in full force. He ended up fighting Mystique. She got the upper hand on him, pinning him against the wreckage of the jet they used to crash into the citadel. He was at her mercy and watched as she prepared to impale him with a metal shard.
Then she stopped. For reasons that defied explanation, she didn’t finish the job. She just stood over him, her hands trembling as if something was holding her back. As Logan looked up at her, he saw someone completely different. He saw her take a new yet familiar form.
“Raven?” said Logan in a wave of confusion.
“ROSE!” yelled Logan in a terrified and pained voice, “HOLD ON, DARLIN’! STAY WITH ME! DON’T…”
It was a painful yet defining moment in Logan’s past. He and Rose had done it. They had made a new life together. Then in one night, it all came crashing down. Sabretooth and the remnants of Team X found them. They attacked their secluded cabin in Canada. They managed to escape. But while making their escape, something terrible happened. A rocket struck near them and they tumbled into the snowy terrain. In the process six boney claws shot out shot out from his knuckles and plunged right into Rose’s body. Now with bombs going off around them and Team X operatives closing in, she was lying in a pool of blood.
“Logan…my love,” she said weakly, “I…I’m so sorry. Please…don’t ever forget. Don’t ever forget…us.”
“Rose…no Rose! Don’t you leave me! Don’t you…”
It was too late. Rose drew her last breath and in the bitter cold of the Canadian winter, she died in his arms. As Logan gazed with anguish over her body, something changed. Her body took on a new form. Before his eyes, the identity of his love was burned into his psyche.
Through the mist and shadows, the connection was made. The truth had revealed itself. Raven Darkholm was the alias. That was the identity Rose used to get them out of Europe. It led to a stunning conclusion that shook both the present and the past.
“Raven…and Rose? No freakin’ way!” he exclaimed.
Despite his disbelief, the truth emerged through the mist. Logan watched as the shadows took a familiar form. He stopped trying to pursue it. For once, the truth sought him out. When the connection was finally made, Rose approached him. However, she was wearing Mystique’s distinct black uniform. He gazed at her with a wide range of emotions. When she reached out to him, her skin turned blue to take the familiar form of Mystique.
“Logan…” she said.
“No…this is wrong,” said Logan, closing his eyes and looking away, “I DON’T BELIEVE IT! GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!”
Present Time – Scott and Jean’s Room
Logan shot up from the bed in a cold sweat, hovering dangerously close to that fine line that separated him from his berserker rage. Jean stumbled back to avoid the feral mutant’s outburst. It was as if he had just awoken from a terrible nightmare. He was dazed, confused, and even more frustrated than before. Clutching his head, he groaned as the new memories burned a fresh wound in his already-tormented mind.
“I…I remember now. But it…it ain’t possible,” said Logan through a pained tone.
“No Logan…I saw it too. It isn’t just possible. It’s the truth,” said Jean, sharing in his disbelief, “Rose…she didn’t die that night. Rose is Raven Dakholme. She and Mystique…they’re the same person.”
It was too crazy to contemplate, but it made too much sense. It answered more questions than it asked while turning Logan’s world upside down yet again.
He thought back to all those times he confronted her. There was the incident in Magneto’s citadel, the confrontation with the Cambrian, and those strange moments when he saved her against Shadowking and she saved him against the Inner Circle. However, the moment that stood out most was the kiss on Election Day. Now it made a disturbing level of sense. These strange feelings he had for Mystique were because a part of him sensed that she was Rose. She was that woman he fell in love with. What may be just as distressing was that she seemed to sense it as well.
It was the kind of revelation his fragmented mind had been struggling with for so long. Rather than ease his frustrations, the former living weapon was even more agitated. Still fuming in his confused state, he got up off the bed and stormed out of the room.
“Logan, whatever you’re thinking, it’s a bad idea,” said Jean, using her telekinesis to pull him back from the door.
“Let me go, Jeannie. Don’t make me fight you!” yelled the feral mutant.
“Don’t make me consider it,” she retorted, “What are you going to do? Run off and stab the first person who looks at you cross-eyed?”
“If you saw what I saw, then you know what I gotta do.”
“That’s how I know it’s a bad idea. If you’re going after Mystique…”
“Don’t tell me all the ways it can go wrong, Jeannie. We’re a few miles beyond that point!” barked Logan, silencing Jean with a tone he rarely used with his friends, “I know the truth now. I know who Mystique is and why I kissed her. I don’t know if she knows and that’s why I gotta find her.”
“But why?” said Jean desperately, still not letting go, “The woman you knew may not even be there anymore.”
“Even if she ain’t, I still gotta find her. I made Rose a promise. I ain’t gonna break it again.”
With a rough tug, Logan broke free from Jean’s telekinetic grasp. Within moments he was out the door and on a new warpath. Jean didn’t bother stopping him. Standing in the middle of her room, she hugged her shoulders and swallowed a hard lump of emotion. Her boyfriend was a wreck over the revelations about his family. Her friend and former lover was in an equally fragile state. This was one instance where the truth was more difficult than any lie.
“So many hearts are burdened with secrets. Yet when those secrets are revealed, the burden only grows.”
‘It’s a lot worse than that, Phoenix. For mortal beings like us, the truth really does hurt.’
“Hnn…it’s not true. It can’t be true,” cried Mystique in a fit of anguish.
“But it is, Raven. Or should I call you Rose now?” said Sinister in a stoic tone.
Mystique tensed at that name. Looking down at the dog tag Sinister had given her, she saw a name that was burned onto her soul. For so long she had been living the lives of others. She used her powers to deceive, rarely having a life to call her own. To have her own life would make her vulnerable. Now the truth had come out. She did have a life before she became Mystique.
Raven Darkholm was the only name she ever remembered. It was the name she used when she wasn’t shape-shifting. She was never clear on where that name came from or if it even had a history. She assumed it was the name she was born with. She never questioned it because she never had a reason to.
Now Sinister’s revelations answered that question before it was even asked. Raven Darkholm was just another deception. Her real name was Rose. In addition, it linked her world to that of Wolverine’s in a way she never expected.
Sinister remained mildly bemused by her anguish. It was remarkable to see such a strong and bitter woman reduced to such a pathetic state. A lifetime of deception made the truth especially painful. It didn’t bother him in the slightest. He put away the mnemonic regenerator that gave this woman back the memories that she had lost. There were still blanks to be filled and he was the only one who could complete her story.
“I understand your confusion. Such is the byproduct of ignorance,” he told her, “Even a shape-shifter can’t go on deceiving forever. You may have forgotten your life as Rose, but you never stopped being Rose. I should know. I witnessed the transition.”
“You…you knew? How?” seethed Mystique.
“That’s where even your memories won’t do you any good. As you recall, Rose did not survive that fateful night with James Howlett in Canada. She would have become a faceless corpse in the Canadian wilderness had fate not intervened.”
Many Years Ago
The scene around what was once a peaceful cabin in the woods now resembled a war zone. There were parts of war-torn Europe that looked better than this. When the United States and Canadian forces descended upon the area, they found little in terms of an explanation. Several teams of Canadian Special Forces combed the ruins of the cabin, looking for clues as to what happened along with survivors. The United States sent a few agents from the CIA along with a few low ranking military officers. They all offered a fairly bleak assessment.
“They really went all out,” said one of the Canadian officials, “They tore into this place like an angry grizzly.”
“Who exactly is they?” asked one of the American officers.
“It has to be Team X. Or at least what’s left of them,” said the CIA agent.
“Team X? That squad of walking death machines that was done in at the Battle of the Bulge?” said the American officer.
“I wish. They’ve been scattered since the end of the war. We’ve been tracking them for a while now. We knew they were going to strike at some point. Guess they jumped the gun. Doesn’t look like anything here escaped.”
The CIA officer spoke too soon. While he and his subordinates were assessing the damage, several medics from Canadian Special Forces came rushing in with a body.
“We got a stiff!” one of them said, “It looks fresh too.”
“Who is it?” said another Canadian official as he came rushing over.
“Don’t know yet. She has a few dog tags on her. One says Rose. The other says Raven Darkholme. Not sure which is right.”
“Hmm…this could be promising,” said the American officer as he approached the unmoving body.
“How do you figure? She looks pretty dead to me. Dead people don’t talk last I checked,” said the CIA agent.
Many questions were raised as they gathered around this lifeless body. It didn’t look like they were going to learn much from it. This woman had three gaping wounds in her torso, indicating she died a pretty brutal death. But as they were assessing her, another figure approached the scene.
“Excuse me, sir. I believe I may be able to help,” said a shadowy figure wearing EMT attire instead of standard military gear.
“And who are you?” asked the Canadian official suspiciously.
“Dr. Nathanial Essex,” he said in a friendly tone, “I apologize for interrupting, but I am somewhat new to this shadowy world. I just joined America’s black ops program for advanced research and this stunning figure before me presents an opportunity.”
“You must be new if you’re still cracking jokes like that,” said the CIA agent, “Don’t know if you realized it yet, but this lady is dead as dead can be.”
“She’s also the only one we found,” said the Canadian official, “There are no other bodies. Either everyone else got away or someone did a hell of a clean-up.”
“I only need one specimen,” Essex assured them, “As it just so happens, I’m trying to get my research bumped up a few notches. If you’re not going to find much use of this corpse, then allow me to take it off your hands. It’ll prove useful in a few experiments.”
“Useful how?” asked the Canadian official warily.
“With all due respect…you don’t want to know.”
Sinister’s Lab – Present Time
Mystique looked up at this man with increasing outrage. Sinister had revealed many painful truths to her. He only added to the pain by revealing that she was another one of his experiments.
“You…you used me?” she seethed.
“You make that sound like it’s a bad thing. If by used you mean brought you back to life, then yes. I most certainly did,” said Sinister, almost sounding proud, “I had them ship you to my lab just outside Seattle, Washington. You were still dead. But unlike other corpses, your biology gave you an advantage. At the time, my research was still deemed either too speculative or outright quackery. I needed a proof-of-concept type demonstration to get my foot in the door so to speak.”
Mystique fumed with greater anger. He spoke of her as if she were some lab rat. He was so ambivalent about what he did to her that it was both infuriating and disturbing. However, she couldn’t help but listen.
“Your shape-shifting abilities were pre-cursors to the processes later developed in Weapon X. As you may or may not know, we had to enhance the healing abilities of Wolverine and Sabretooth so that they could survive the adamantium bonding process. Doing so required a little refinement.”
“You say that in a way that makes me want to kick you in that disgusting excuse for a face,” she scolded.
“Being a shape-shifter, your body is quite malleable,” he went on as if he hadn’t heard her, “There are some healing properties involved. In order to make those properties a tangible treatment, I conducted a series of tests on your DNA. From these tests, I extracted a series of catalysts. These catalysts were the first steps towards taking something that healed and turning it into something that could regenerate.”
“Regenerate? You mean…” she began as she pieced together the clues.
“Correct,” said Sinister, not needing to hear the rest, “The potential for this healing catalyst was so great that in theory, it could heal the dead. I wasn’t sure of the extent of this process so I decided to conduct a test before a small audience. It was this test that laid the seeds of Weapon X. It also gave birth to Mystique.”
Many Years Ago – Dr. Essex’s Lab
The stage was set. Dr. Nathanial Essex was about to prove to his peers that he was a man ahead of his time. Armed with the research he had been conducting over the past few months, he was about to do a trick that hadn’t been done outside mythology.
“Are you ready, gentlemen?” he said to his audience of military officers, who were sitting behind a glass window.
“We came all this way to see results, Doctor. Make this trip worthwhile,” said a young Major John Wraith.
“Very well,” said Essex with a smile, “Now if Dr. Cornelius and Professor Thorton would assist me, I’ll begin the experiment.”
Dr. Essex signaled his two associates to proceed. Cornelius and Thorton were also young researchers looking to get into this shadowy world of black ops. They were the ones that chose to follow his work and they were the ones that helped get the attention of the top brass. They were equally intrigued by what his research promised they made the necessary preparations.
The body of Rose had since deteriorated. She had been officially dead for a week so she had to be kept frozen to prevent further decay. Her once radiant skin was now blue from the cold. She looked quite fragile, lying atop a gurney surrounded by machines. In her arms, neck, and legs there were IVs going into her body. These IVs were loaded with donated blood and a series of special substances. These substances consisted of some very special catalysts that Essex had concocted and they promised to be the driving force of this ambitious research.
“We’re ready, Dr. Essex,” said Professor Thorton.
“The pumps and the dosages have been calibrated,” said Dr. Cornelius, “If your calculations are correct, we’re about to one-up Jesus Christ.”
“Except we won’t need magic or miracles,” said Dr. Essex ominously, “There are no miracles in this world. There is only cold, hard truth. Begin the interface and show our guests what truth can offer.”
Thorton and Cornelius nodded. They eagerly flipped a series of switches and turned on the pumps. They were just as intent on impressing the visiting officers as Dr. Essex, but truth to them was a secondary concern. They were more concerned with furthering their careers and if it meant exchanging miracles for truth, so be it.
Once the test was initiated, the three men stood back. The officers behind the glass watched as well, patiently awaiting the outcome this bizarre experiment. From the IVs, the donated blood was sifted through a series of pumps. These pumps got fluids flowing into the body again. It was still fairly discolored. But now that it had warmed up a bit, it didn’t look like a frozen corpse anymore. Soon the veins throughout the woman’s body were a bright shade of blue, indicating that the fluids were moving through her system. Once this was achieved, Dr. Essex entered the next command to begin the real meat of the experiment.
From a series of IVs, the healing catalyst he synthesized was pumped into the body. The dosage was high. Healing from death was quite a feat, requiring much more than merely jump starting the heart. As the healing agents flowed through the lifeless body, it underwent a series of radical changes. Color and warmth returned to the figure, but it wasn’t the same color as before.
The healing agents mixed with the other fluids, turning her skin even more blue. Soon her entire body was as blue at the ocean. Her hair became more vibrant as well, becoming a deeper shade of red than before. Some of the wounds, including the gashes in her torso, healed before everyone’s eyes. However, there were still no signs of life.
“It’s working, Nathan,” said Cornelius, “But her physiology doesn’t seem to be resetting itself.”
“All the damage she sustained has forced the body to reshape its default form,” surmised Professor Thorton, “That or this is a reaction to the catalysts.”
“We’ll have to ask her later,” said Dr. Essex with an ominous grin, “Stand back while I kick-start her vitals.”
This was the riskiest part of the experiment so the two men left this one to Dr. Essex. They watched as he stood over the lifeless body with a series of electrodes that were attached to the machine array. He waited for a moment, watching as this woman’s body continued to heal. Despite her discoloration, she didn’t seem dead anymore. Her organs and cells were healing, but she still needed the right jolt.
“Time to wake up, my dear,” he proclaimed.
After quickly tweaking the electrodes, he placed them on the young woman’s temples. He then adjusted a few dials and with the flip of a switch, delivered a series of jolts. In an instant, the once lifeless woman was thrust back into the world of the living.
“Rrrrrraaahahhhhhhhhhh!” she cried out in a raspy tone.
Her whole body arched and her eyes shot opened. They were now yellow and wide with shock. She looked confused if not deranged, but she was alive again. The vitals from the machines were reading again. Her body had healed, despite being a vibrant shade of blue. Such a profound display shocked the officers watching.
“My God…” gasped one of the top ranking General’s.
“No…not God,” said Major Wraith with a wide grin, “But definitely the next best thing!”
This research was no longer quackery. It took a dead woman and brought her back to life. Professors Cornelius and Thorton watched proudly at the bewildered reactions they got from their audience. For Dr. Essex, it was rewarding in a much bigger way.
“Welcome back to the world of the living,” he said to his first specimen, “Time to show the world your new mystique!”
Sinister’s Lab – Present Time
Raven Darkholme, or Rose as she now knew herself to be, turned from enraged to conflicted. Still on her knees, she looked up at Sinister with mixed emotions. This man may have used her for his own selfish means, but she owed him his life. Her first inclination was to call him a liar. However, Sinister made it clear he was repulsed by such lies. For that reason along with the all too clear memories she now had, she knew this man was telling the truth.
“From a lifeless corpse to a new woman,” said Sinister upon finishing his retelling of the experiment, “You were my first success, Mystique. You were the one that got me through the doors that eventually led to Weapon X. It was a bit messy. The process of bringing you back to life was what turned your skin blue and your eyes yellow. It also had the effect of enhancing your shape-shifting abilities. Now you can go beyond faces. You can take on the entire physiology of a person. You can even mimic certain animals, which I know you’ve done.”
Mystique looked away from this man, unable to endure his gaze anymore. It was too much. All these revelations felt so wrong, but they were all painfully true. And despite her bewildered state, Sinister kept rubbing it in.
“It got a little dicey after the experiment. You barely remembered how to walk and talk, let alone your former identity. You remained in a state of confusion. I brought in some outside help to get your mind working again, but you wouldn’t have it. You ran away before your mind could be rebuilt. And as it just so happened, the only name that still had any meaning to you was Raven Darkholme. I surmised that as your mind healed, this was the identity you embraced. You embraced it so much that you completely suppressed your memories of Rose. And yet the truth still caught up to you.”
“Quit sounding so amused, Essex,” muttered Mystique, “Your sense of humor is wearing thin on my nerves.”
“Do I sound like I’m laughing? I admit I’m tempted because your refusal to accept to truth is hardly the most amusing part of this little revelation” said Sinister without cracking a smile.
“I think I’ve had enough revelations for one day. You can keep this one to yourself,” she spat.
“Oh but this one doesn’t involve you. It involves someone you’re very close to whether you like it or not,” he told her, “You know him by a number of names, but you know him best as Logan.”
Mystique tensed upon hearing that name. In an instant all those strange moments she had with him flashed before her eyes. That kiss they once shared and the many awkward situations that followed now took on a much greater meaning. These feelings she that were once so confusing now made more sense than she cared to make of them.
“Logan…” she said distantly.
“That’s another interesting aspect to truth. It is only when truth comes to surface that real emotions matter,” said Sinister, “From what you told me, you were able to fight him. You were able to wound him. But when the opportunity came to kill him, you were unable to do so. Why is that?”
“I…I couldn’t,” said the shape-shifter without having to think.
“Exactly! That’s because deep down you still knew the truth. Logan was and still is that man you fell in love with as Rose. Just as Logan and Victor’s hatred for one another has spanned a fragmented memory, your love for each other has been retained in the deepest recesses of your psyche. As someone who has recently lost his greatest love, I can appreciate such feelings. However, that is still not the greatest irony.”
Sinister turned away and walked back towards his latest machine. Mystique turned around and rose up, still wrestling with so many conflicting emotions. She watched as he did something with the machine just under the spherical orb hanging over the center. She approached him apprehensively, conflicted on how to confront with this devious man.
“You don’t have to attack me to get the rest of the story. I was going to tell you anyways,” said Sinister, still looking away from her.
“Then why do you insist on being so coy about it?” demanded Mystique.
“It’s hard not to be when the circumstances are so utterly insipid,” he said, “When I brought you back, you ran away from your old life without even realizing it. At the same time, a deeply disturbed man once known as James Howlett sought me out. I won’t bore you with the details of how he and Victor ended up in Weapon X. I’ll just say I had to hold my tongue when I explained to them where I got my research.”
Mystique’s eyes widened. Now her conflicting feelings were becoming hostile again. Despite him making good on his promise, she found yet another reason to despise him.
“You took what you did to me and used it for Weapon X,” she surmised.
“It worked, didn’t it?” he said almost casually, “Logan never knew. Victor never knew. Lucky for them, the procedure was refined to a point. He and Victor still ended up as failures. That wasn’t an accident either, but that’s another story.”
“I’ve had enough of your stories,” she barked, “I still have plenty of reasons to end you where you stand!”
“The story isn’t important. It’s the ramifications that matter most. Even as their memories were stripped away, you’re still linked to them. It’s what led Victor to take such satisfaction when he had his way with you during the conception of Graydon Creed.”
The shape shifter clenched her fists. All notions of understanding were fading fast. More rage filled her and the only one she could take it out on at the moment was Sinister.
“It’s also what drew you to Wolverine,” he went on, ignoring her angry state, “He’s responsible for you being Mystique. You’re responsible for him being Wolverine. The connection between you two is more than just ironic. It is downright obscene. That’s the power of truth. I only regret it has to end before it can blossom.”
Mystique had endured enough. She couldn’t take it anymore. Looking at the dog tags bearing her true name and back towards Sinister, everything made sense now. Knowing the truth tormented her more than not knowing ever could. Destiny warned her that walking this path would lead her to great suffering. Once again, she was right.
“You deranged son-of-a-bitch!” she seethed.
“Why are you insulting me? I’ve no control over the truth. I merely reveal it,” said Sinister, his back still turned to Mystique.
“You still used me. You used the truth to serve whatever sick plan you’ve concocted!” the shape shifter shouted, “Well guess what? This time the truth isn’t on your side. I can’t stop the truth from hurting me, but I can make sure it hurts you!”
In her blind rage Mystique attacked Sinister. Despite him being stronger and more durable, her only intent was to hurt him as much as he hurt her. He was mere inches from her grasp. Then with superhuman reflexes, he turned around and casually blew a grayish substance in his hand right into her face.
“Ungh! What did you…” she coughed
“Don’t look too surprised,” he said stoically, “Once again, you will be my first test subject.”
She didn’t see it coming. If she had been thinking clearly she would have seen him reach under the spherical container and grab a wad of grayish matter. Using his unique physiology, he refined it into its perfect form. That form reacted the moment it came into contact with Mystique. Now her fate was sealed.
The shape shifter was suddenly drained of her energy. Her attack stopped dead in its tracks and her body lost much of its strength. As she wiped away the dust from her face, she looked down at her arms to notice a series of dark scabs forming on her skin. They looked like circuits on a computer chip. As they formed she started to feel very ill. In addition to the scabs, she noticed her blue skin fading and she took on a new form.
“My…my body,” she said in a weakened tone, “It’s turning…ugh.”
That was all she could get out. The once enraged shape-shifter fell limply to the floor. Her body kept changing, her skin shifting to a form she hadn’t taken in many years. For Sinister, it was the first step in a much greater revelation.
“Your life is only a small part of a much greater process. No matter what we gain or lose, our mark on this world is sealed within our legacy,” said Sinister ominously as he stood over her, “On this day I will bring the same harsh truth to every man, woman, and child. Those who can handle it will survive. Those who cannot will perish from this world.”
Xavier Institute – Cerebrum
Scott Summers was patient with a lot of issues, but not those that involved his family. It was one of those sore subjects that was difficult to get around, even with support from Jean and the X-men. It was usually his brothers that agitated him the most. This time it was his parents. The possibility that they might be alive was overwhelming. He needed to know the truth. Unfortunately, only one person could give it to him and finding that person was now an obsession that would drag the rest of the team into the mix.
“How much more of my blood will you need, Mr. McCoy?” asked the X-leader as he sat impatiently in a chair next to some medical equipment.
“Given what you’re asking of my scientific expertise, I may need more than your body will safely allow,” Hank warned his student.
“Take more than that if you have to. A lack of blood is really low on my list of concerns right now.”
“I hope your well-being along with that of your loved ones isn’t rated that low, Scott,” said Ororo, who was helping with the procedure.
“It’s higher than you think,” he said, trying not to sound light-headed, “So keep going until we have what we need to make this work. I can’t look Gabriel up on Google and Cerebrum has never been able to track Sinister’s goons. So we need a more novel approach.”
“I would question whether this is novel or foolhardy,” said Ororo.
Her words weren’t completely inaccurate. Scott didn’t contest that even as Ororo finished drawing blood. He was feeling a bit groggy now. This was the third blood donation he had given in the last three hours. He was playing a dangerous game, but that didn’t bother him in the slightest. The truth he sought was worth it.
After his meeting with John Proudstar and the Professor, he set out to locate his other wayward brother. He didn’t take the usual Wolverine method, running off on the team and searching on his own with no direction. He favored a more planned approach. He lured Hank out of his lab to assist him with this and after an hour of brainstorming, he surmised a way to locate Gabriel. It involved using his blood and mutant signature to calibrate Cerebrum for a special search.
It wasn’t an unreasonable strategy. Scott and his brothers had more than just similar DNA to connect them. Their powers were uncannily similar. It was remarkably uniform for three siblings and it gave them a sign to search for. Hank had been calibrating Cerebrum to conduct this search, using an analysis of Scott’s blood as a means to get the necessary calibrations. There were a lot of variable to consider and Scott’s impatience was adding more complications to this task.
“This looks to be quite a challenge for Cerebrum,” said Hank as he calibrated a few sensors adjacent to the main console, “I don’t think I need to tell you that this machine wasn’t designed for this, Scott.”
“I know what Cerebrum was designed for, Mr. McCoy. Right now, I’m concerned about how flexible it can be,” said Scott as he placed a small bandage where Ororo had drawn his blood.
“It’s not impossible to do what we’re asking. The core of the device involves tracking and identifying mutant signatures through psionic means. Your powers and that of your brother’s are not psionic in nature. They involve energy distribution. Granted, that’s not an uncommon ability. However, your genetics are unique.”
“You and the Professor always say that all mutation was unique,” said the X-leader.
“We also say it’s widely varied as well. One of the many mysteries we’ve encountered with mutation involves the unusual properties of the Summers bloodline.”
“It can’t be too unusual. We’re brothers. We share a lot of thing in common…some more than others.”
“From the perspective of traditional genetics, that’s true. But keep in mind that the X-gene goes beyond such traditions,” said Hank as he attached his laptop to the console to upload the data, “It’s not unusual for the X-gene to be inherited within family lines. It’s how evolution works. When the X-gene gets passed down, it still manifests in a wide variety of ways. Look at the Maximoff twins. Their father had magnetic powers, but neither Pietro nor Wanda have such abilities.”
“Lorna does and she’s his daughter too,” argued Scott.
“Therein lies the mystery. The variation among bloodlines is unpredictably random,” Hank explained, “For every case like Jean and her cousin, there are others for which the variations have no uniformity. Between you and your brothers, the uniformity is uncanny. It isn’t just the nature of your abilities that is so similar. There is a unique energy signature within your blasts…so much so that it defies our limited understanding of the X-gene. It’s so unique that it narrows the search for Cerebrum.”
Scott was left to ponder this as Hank finished the calibrations. Cerebrum was already booting up. Streams of data flashed across the holographic screen. It included pictures of Scott’s genetic makeup with his X-gene singled out. Images of Alex and Gabriel came up as well. Based on the unusual noises coming from Cerebrum, it was definitely struggling to process the data.
The X-leader rarely gave much thought to the inner workings of his mutation. Looking up at the screen, he couldn’t help but wonder about these mysteries surrounding his bloodline. Was there really something more profound that he had yet to uncover? Was this another secret that Gabriel kept from him?
“You have that look again, Scott,” commented Ororo.
“What look?” he asked incredulously.
“The look that makes me want to call Jean so she can come down and knock some sense into you,” she said as she put away the medical equipment, “You’re obsessing over this and not in a good way.”
“I’m well-aware of that, Miss Munroe,” sighed Scott, “It’s hard not to be when you find out your crazy older brother (that you didn’t even know existed) has been keeping secrets.”
“In my experience secrets are kept for a reason. I don’t blame you for wanting to know the truth, but the truth can be devastating…especially when it involves family. You’ll only make it worse by obsessing over it.”
Scott kept looking up at the holographic screen, fixated on the images of his brothers. It was hard to argue that he was walking that fine line between focused and obsessed. As much as he wanted to learn the truth, a small part of him worried about what that truth could reveal. It may have motivated Gabriel to seek out Sinister. It could send the rest of the Summers family down a very dark path.
While Cerebrum continued powering up, Professor Xavier and John Proudstar stood nearby to do their part as well. The two men had been on their cell phones for the past hour or so. In addition to Cerebrum, they had other resources to utilize.
“Very well…thank you, General…I understand,” said Professor Xavier in a serious tone.
As soon as his conversation ended, the Professor turned off his phone and put it away. John had just finished making a call as well. He didn’t seem too optimistic, but that was to be expected in any affair that involved Sinister.
“What’s the story, John? Were you able to get anything else from White Cell?” the Professor asked.
“Not as much as I hoped,” he grumbled, “I talked to Karma. I had her do some follow-up work. She’s been trying to learn more about the work Scott’s parents did in Alaska. She mentioned that their research was very secretive, but this is a level of secrecy that even White Cell’s connections can’t uncover.”
“That may be another telling clue in and of itself,” said Xavier.
“My gut tells me it’s connected,” he said strongly.
“You’re in good company. It would certainly justify a cover up that has spanned nearly two decades.”
“Makes me worry about what else it could justify,” mused the Native American mutant, “What about your connections, Professor? Did that General Grimshaw have anything to offer?”
“More than I expected, but less than I hoped,” Xavier replied, “He mentioned a recent incident on Genosha that involved what a report described as a goblin attack. I’m not sure if that was a euphemism, but a goblin attack is the mark of Madelyne Pryor, who happens to be another wayward family member.”
“Jean’s sociopath cousin,” groaned John, “I still remember her. If she’s involved, it can’t be good.”
“It suggests that Sinister is up to something. I didn’t hide this from the General. He is aware of Sinister, mostly through his former alias Dr. Nathanial Essex. We learned a while back with Wolverine that he was an instrumental figure in the Weapon X project. Given the recent damage done by Weapon Plus, he has plenty of motivation to thwart someone like Sinister.”
“So what’s stopping him? Why doesn’t he use all that political clout of his to start a worldwide manhunt for the guy?”
“It’s not that simple, John. Officially, Dr. Nathanial Essex has been dead for decades. It’s hard to launch a manhunt for a dead man who was part of a program no one in any government wants to acknowledge.”
“In other words he can’t do squat,” surmised John, “We’re on our own yet again.”
Professor Xavier shared his former student’s frustration. It seemed the X-men were always left with little support from the authorities. Thinking back to their previous encounters with Sinister, the implications were not good. Sinister went out of his way to make the world think that Dr. Nathanial Essex was dead. He wanted no connection with his previous life. Someone didn’t go to such lengths without having a plan.
“We may be in a better position than you think, John,” said the Professor, “General Grimshaw is a man of great cunning. If he truly despises Weapon X, he’ll find a way to go after Sinister. Whether it’s official or unofficial doesn’t matter to him, especially when the sentiment surrounding living weapons is so hostile.”
“So how does that help us?” asked John.
“At the moment, very little,” said Xavier as he started wheeling towards Cerebrum, “Sinister has remained hidden from everyone for a long time now. He’s not going to slip up anytime soon. However, if we’re able to find him through Gabriel, then maybe we’ll have some added reinforcements this time.”
“You really think the General and the MSA could make a difference against this guy?” said John skeptically, “I sent Jean-Paul and Jean-Marie to catch up with a few other White Cell contacts. We may have better luck with their help.”
“Against a man like Sinister, we can’t rely on luck. We need as many reinforcements as we can muster. The biggest challenge will be finding him. I doubt Sinister will make that easy for us.”
The Professor was prepared for a long, frustrating search. As he passed by Scott and Ororo, they seem to be expecting the same. Cerebrum was finished booting up so he could begin the scan. He hadn’t even reached the console yet. Then the holographic screen flashed a surprising message.
“Preliminary tests complete. Three signatures detected. Tracking program initiated.”
“Mr. McCoy, should we assume that’s a bug in the program?” said Scott as he and the others looked up at the image in confusion.
“I’m inclined to say it is. However, I see no errors on my end,” said a baffled Hank McCoy.
“How is that possible? I haven’t even begun the scan yet,” said Professor Xavier anxiously.
“It appears no psionic scan is unnecessary,” said Hank as he looked over the data on his laptop, “As soon as Cerebrum processed the signature from Scott’s DNA, the preliminary scan was all it took. It has locked in on him, Alex, and Gabriel. It is tracking them as we speak.”
“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” asked Ororo.
“In my experience when something is this easy, it’s usually a bad sign,” said John.
While Hank kept going over the code in search of errors, the others looked up at the holographic screen. It was all happening so quickly and efficiently. An image of the world was expanded to encompass much of the Cerebrum chamber. As this image rotated, three red dots formed on three separate points. They were all consistent with the energy signature from the Summers bloodline. One was on Genosha, which indicated Alex. The other was in Westchester, which indicated Scott. The other was different in that it was moving. It could only be Gabriel.
“According to these readings, Cerebrum has locked onto Gabriel’s energy signature,” Hank reported, “He’s moving fast and at a high altitude, indicating he’s on a jet. He also appears to be slowing down, which may mean he’s close to his destination. A brief extrapolation of this data indicates his destination somewhere in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, most likely around Mount Rainier.”
“And you’re sure there’s no error?” asked Scott intently.
“I’ve no reason to suspect as such,” said Hank, shaking his head.
That was all the verification the X-leader needed to know.
“Then that’s where I’ll find my brother!” he said.
“Scott, I know you’re smarter than this. This is way too easy and way too suspicious,” said John.
“I don’t care. I need to confront Gabriel!”
“That look I mentioned earlier is getting worse,” said Ororo warily.
“Obsessed or not, you can’t expect me to pass up this chance. This is my family we’re talking about. Gabriel has the truth and I’ll beat it out of him if I have to!”
“Even if it means clashing with Sinister?” said Xavier.
“Especially if it means clashing with Sinister!”
There was no use arguing with Scott. No matter how suspicious this was, he was going after his brother. His normally collected demeanor faltered under the weight of uncovering the truth about his family. He was going to go through with this regardless of how dangerous it was.
“We’re all going after him, aren’t we?” surmised Ororo.
“Gather the team, Storm. Tell them to meet in the hanger immediately,” said Professor Xavier flatly.
“I missed the yes in that statement, but I’ll get right on it,” she sighed.
“So will I,” said John, “It’s been a while since I joined the X-men on a mission. Might as well get into the spirit again.”
“You’ve done a lot for us already, John,” said Scott, “But if you really want to see this through, I’ll welcome you with the rest of the team.”
“You can thank me by not doing anything too stupid, Cyclops. And call me Thunderbird while you’re at it,” said the Native American mutant with a grin.
Scott nodded graciously as he and John followed Ororo out of the chamber. It had been a while since John had been part of the team. Any awkwardness that had lingered from him leaving the team quickly melted away. He brought this revelation to the X-men. He was going to see it through.
With John on board and General Grimshaw a potential ally in the wings, Professor Xavier wheeled himself up to the console next to Hank. Looking up at the holographic projection screen, he saw plenty of reasons to worry.
“Go with them, Hank,” said the Professor, “I’ll stay here and analyze this data.”
“Are you sure, Charles? If there’s an anomaly to be found, I should probably stay and help uncover it,” said Hank.
“There are far more important anomalies to be uncovered with Sinister. That’s why I need the X-men to confront him in full force,” he said strongly, “Scott is blinded by his emotions at the moment. There may be more damaging secrets waiting and we need to be ready should they be revealed.”
“You’re worried Sinister will catch us off guard like he did in Nova Roma, aren’t you?” surmised Hank.
“Sinister always catches us off guard, Hank. That’s what makes him so dangerous. We’ve been lucky to overcome him thus far. We can’t expect to be that lucky again.”
District X – Sage’s Quarters
“Are you sure this is all you were able to recover?” asked Sage.
“For the last time, yes. This is all that’s left,” groaned a pacing Rogue, “Shaw Biotech was wiped clean by that little fireworks show. If there was anything, it was probably confiscated by Shaw’s goons after Ah got out.”
It had been frustrating week for Rogue and Sage. After the Weapon Plus debacle, they had to get back to work in a big way. Sage had Rogue investigating the vast network that was Shaw Industries for any remaining techno-organic research. It was as daunting as before, but this time Sage was intent on destroying every last trace of her creation. The techno-organic material was simply too dangerous, especially for someone like Sebastian Shaw.
Rogue’s latest mission didn’t yield much. The data disks she obtained from Shaw Biotech weren’t going to give them everything they needed. For the past few days, Sage had been combing through the disks in search of any useful information. There was a lot to go over and if there was anything useful in these terabytes of data, she would find it.
It helped that Sage was handling herself a lot better now. Since the clash with Fantomex, a number of painful burdens had been lifted. Hank’s support certainly added to her strength. While she was focused and motivated again, Rogue was heading in the opposite direction. The latest debacle at Shaw Biotech left her in a foul mood. It wasn’t the first time an investigation into Shaw Industries went bad, but it was the first time she really let it get to her.
“You’re starting to worry me, Rogue,” said Sage as she sat behind her computer array, typing at her usual rapid pace.
“Why? Because Ah’m losing more data than Ah’m bringing in?” she said dryly, “It ain’t mah fault that Shaw has the kind of failsafe that blow up in mah face.”
“I wasn’t just referring to your work. You’ve been troubled lately…more so than usual.”
“Since when do you care about meh being troubled? Ain’t caring one of those emotions you can turn off?” quipped Rogue.
“Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. You act like I’m your nosy boss rather than your friend. Need I remind you that I never forced you to come to District X. I’m not forcing you to stay either. If there’s something about this work that is troubling you, then don’t feel obligated to continue.”
It was hard to tell how sincere she was. Whenever Tessa turned off her emotions, she was difficult to talk to. Rogue did a very poor job of hiding her problems. She had been carrying them ever since she arrived. It was only recently that those problems had grown too strenuous.
“If you don’t wish to talk about it, could you at least stop pacing? I need to concentrate on decrypting these disks,” said Sage.
“Ah can’t help it. Ah pace when Ah’m restless or upset,” retorted Rogue.
“Well which is it? Restless or upset?”
“Both,” she replied, “Now if you don’t have any questions about these disks, can Ah go now? Ah’ve got other stuff Ah need to take care of.”
“I take it this stuff involves more face time with Isaac,” Sage surmised.
“So what if it does?” she shrugged.
“Keeping in mind you’re talking to a telepath, it seems his presence has been contributing to your current state almost as much as Shaw.”
Rogue grumbled bitterly. Working with telepaths was annoying, especially when they didn’t have the same tact as Charles Xavier or Jean Grey. The sad part was that even if Tessa wasn’t a telepath, she was smart enough to pick up on the other signs. Her recent activities with Isaac weren’t well-kept secrets.
“Why do Ah even bother?” she sighed, “Can’t you just read mah mind so Ah don’t have to go over the full story?”
“Sifting through thoughts while decrypting a 512 megabit alphanumeric sequence on a three terabyte disk? For once, you’re overestimating my brain power, Rogue,” said Sage.
“So much for saving meh the trouble,” Rogue grumbled, “Fahne then, Ah’ll tell you. It’s true. Ah have been hangin’ out with Isaac on mah spare time. The man has been doing some good work since he got here. He’s the only human the folks here in District X actually respect.”
“I’m aware of his contributions. He seems to make a great impression on everyone he meets. So why does the opposite seem to apply for you?”
“Mah problems run a lot deeper. You knew that the moment Ah got here,” she sighed, “Since Ah started mah work with you, Ah’ve been keeping mahself busy. Ah hoped it would help meh get mah head straight after all this stuff with Kurt, Remy, mah powers, and the X-men. Ah thought Ah was making progress. Then Ah started talking to Isaac and now Ah ain’t sure.”
Rogue stopped pacing and hugged her shoulders. This was upsetting her a lot more than she expected. Ever since she left the X-men, she had been stumbling around in the dark. She sought guidance from wherever she could find it. That included the guidance of an eccentric holy man. And some of that guidance led her to unexpected places.
“You’ve been around Isaac. You know how he loves to relate everything to God,” said Rogue distantly, “When I talk to him about mah problems, he would relate it to stories like Job or the devil tempting Christ.”
“I’m not sure you’re in quite the same position, Rogue,” remarked Sage.
“You know, Ah said the exact same thing to Isaac. And you know how he responded?”
“I don’t deal with holy men. I find highly encrypted files much easier.”
“He would just go on for hours about losing faith, gaining faith, and questioning faith,” Rogue continued, ignoring Tessa’s remark, “The guy hasn’t had it easy. He lost his whole family before he was ten-years-old, but somehow he clung to his faith. He fought long and hard, stumbling one too many times along the way. But somehow, he says God put him where he needed to be. The key to getting there was being humble enough to realize we ain’t as strong as we think we are. Even when you’re as strong as Ah am, there are just some things you can’t punch through.”
Sage didn’t respond this time. She kept on typing at her console. It was hard to tell if she was still listening. That didn’t bother her. She remained distant, contemplating all the possibilities and risks of where she was going with her life.
“Maybe that’s why Isaac is making more sense to meh lately. He keeps tellin’ meh to follow mah heart. What’s so dang frustrating is mah heart and mah brain keep pulling meh in opposite directions. Every time Ah think about Kurt or Remy or mah friends, it’s like Ah’m beatin’ myself over the head with a steel rod. Ah couldn’t follow both even if Ah had Jamie’s powers.”
“This is very wrong,” said Sage grimly.
“Ah know. It sounds like the right thing to do on paper, but Ah can’t put it into practice!”
“No Rogue, I wasn’t referring to that. I just decrypted some of the data and I found something very wrong with it.”
Rogue was so lost in her musings that she didn’t notice that Tessa had turned on her emotions again. Now her demeanor was full of dread. She stopped typing and rose up from the seat behind her computer array. She had to take a step back as she took in this data. Rogue quickly lost interest in her problems and walked over.
“Ah won’t call this a cop-out if you’re being serious here, Tess,” said Rogue strongly.
“It is serious,” retorted Sage, “You mentioned something about Warpath bringing up a file on Shaw’s techno-organic research. After I left, he continued working on it and got some outside help. Well I found out who that outside help is.”
“Who? Anyone we know?” she asked more curiously.
“Take a look and see for yourself.”
Rogue leaned over the main computer screen. She saw the same research paper Warpath had brought up while she and Captain Freeman were at the Shaw Biotech archives. He had been going over some very sensitive data. There was a name associated with it, but the alarms went off before they could read it. Now that name was staring right at her and it was a name that sent a chill down her spine.
“Dr. Nathanial Essex,” she read with hatred laced in her tone, “Sinister!”
“Hank told me about him. He would definitely be one of the select few who could utilize my techno-organic material,” said Sage.
“As if Ah didn’t have enough reasons to hate that son-of-a-bitch!” she yelled, slamming her fist against the wall and leaving a sizable indent.
“For the sake of my wall, I hesitate to tell you what else I discovered. Apparently the research Sinister did with the techno-organic material was far more extensive than anything Weapon Plus ever imagined.”
“Oh this Ah gotta see!”
Rogue didn’t wait for Sage to explain it to her. She scrolled down through the decrypted file. She wasn’t a science expert, but a number of graphics stood out. One in particular caught her attention. It was a sketch of a molecular map of the techno-organic material. It had a unique configuration and was programmed for a specific function. That function was detailed in a small caption. As soon as Rogue read it over, she was filled with even more dread.
“The Legacy Virus,” she mused.
“I wouldn’t call it a virus,” said Sage anxiously, “Even the worst of viruses pale in comparison to this little bug.”
Rogue was now seething with anger. Sinister once used her for one of his twisted experiments. It was robbed her of the ability to control her powers. Now he was looking to inflict more pain and this time the whole world would suffer.
“Ah gotta warn the X-men!” she said as she stormed past Sage.
“Rogue, this file is old. We don’t even know if Sinister is planning to use it,” reasoned Sage.
“A fella like Sinister doesn’t go through the trouble of making something that deadly without using it,” Rogue retorted, “He sure didn’t seem too happy about what we did to Selene on Nova Roma. Either he’s planning to use it or he’s already using it.”
“Then help me learn more. There may be more information at Shaw Industries in a…”
Sage didn’t get a chance to make her case. Rogue had already opened one of her windows and flown out at speeds that made her impossible to reach. By the time Sage got to the window, she wasn’t even within shouting distance anymore. Rogue wasn’t going to be reasoned with. Even her telepathy wouldn’t bring her back.
“That must be her way of saying she quits,” sighed Sage, “I still need some muscle to compliment my brain. Guess she isn’t up for the task anymore.”
Sage rushed back to her computer array. Now that she knew what she was up against, she could formulate her own course of action. This wasn’t an issue that could be resolved with hacking or telepathy. She still needed some outside help. If Rogue wasn’t going to fill that role, then she would have to get it from someone else.
“If Shaw worked with Sinister, he definitely has more secrets to tell,” she said intently as she opened up her communications line, “To get them I’ll need to cash in a few favors. I hope an old friend of mine is in a good mood. I’m sure she’ll love what I’m about to ask of her.”
Near Canadian Boarder
It was a rare moment for Wolverine. Usually when he went chasing after his past, he was tormented by not knowing the truth. This time he remembered everything. He knew what he was going after and in many ways it was far more agonizing.
“Please…don’t ever forget. Don’t ever forget…us.”
Those words kept echoing in Logan’s head as he rode his motorcycle at excessive and illegal speeds down the highway. He thought they were Rose’s final words to him. Now his memories of her were mired in confusion.
All those memories she had of her and all the moments they shared were mixed with memories of Mystique. There were flashes where he was holding Rose in his arms and in an instant she would turn into Mystique. It was like his brain was struggling to process the revelation that Rose and Mystique were the same person.
‘It’s official. Ignorance is bliss when the truth is fucked. Too bad I’m way past ignorance. Can’t believe I’m complaining so damn much when it makes so much sense. Rose and Mystique…it’s so wrong I should be locked away just for thinking it. But memories don’t lie. All those moments we’ve shared…somehow she’s gotta know. Now I gotta find her. I gotta keep my promise to Rose.’
It still didn’t make sense. Confronting Mystique may only make everything worse. She seemed just as confused as he was when they had those awkward moments, one of which ended with them kissing. She may be a deceptive bitch, but she was also Rose. Beneath that bitter exterior was the woman he once loved. If any of that love was still there, it was worth salvaging.
But in order to confront her, Logan had to find her first. Mystique by her very nature was good at remaining hidden. Tracking her was infinitely more difficult than tracking someone like Sabretooth. If he was going to find Mystique, Logan needed to improvise. That meant asking a favor of someone who this revelation was bound to affect.
He passed a sign indicating he was five miles away from the Canadian border. There were also a string of small diners and rest stops up ahead. Having already formulated a course of action, Logan slowed down on his motorcycle and pulled to the curb. He then took out his X-men communicator. He kept it off so that Jeannie or the Prof wouldn’t try to coax him into coming back. This was his mission. As he made a fateful call over a secure line, he could only dread at how awkward this is going to be.
“Heya Elf. Got a moment to talk?” said Logan into his communicator.
“Logan? Zhis is rather sudden,” said the tone of Kurt Wagner on the other end of the line, “Since you rarely call just to chat, I’m going to assume something is very wrong.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” muttered the feral mutant, “I gotta as you a hell of a favor so don’t hang up on me when you hear it.”
“You’re making me nervous, Logan. Vhat sort of favor are you asking?”
“The kind that involves you contacting Mystique. Get Pete’s little sister to warp you to a diner near the border. I need your help and so does your mom.”
Next Issue: Dark Legacy
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