"Razor" Part 1/5
All recognizable characters and settings belong to Marvel and 20th Century
Fox; I am using them without permission but mean no harm and am making no
profit. The plot and original characters, however belong to me. Any and all
feedback is appreciated at dexf@...
. Redistribution of this tale
for profit is illegal. Please do not archive this story without contacting
me first to obtain my permission.
Many thanks to Minisinoo, Rossi, Mel and Matt Nute for betareading and
CAPITOL HILL, WASHINGTON DC: 2002
"I think I need a drink," J. Andrew Keating said, leaning back in his chair
and rubbing the bridge of his nose. The Democrat Senator from Massachusetts
was dressed in a sharp blue suit, his eyes a bright grey and very alert.
The man sitting across from him laughed, a deep baritone that filled the
room. The senator's gaze settled on his partner, and a wry smile twisted
his face. "Something funny, Lyle?"
"Just you, Andy. Still keeping that look for the papers?" Lyle Brown Jr,
the Republican Senator from the north of Texas laughed. "Hell son, if you
want a scandal to keep the press in line, why not do a speaking tour on the
coast? Lots of little teenage girls in those colleges. No doubt the
tabloids could get a story."
"You're a horrible old man, Lyle. You know that, right?" Keating grinned.
Both men had been in politics for more than a decade, often bitterly
opposed on issues on the senate floor. However, they each shared a common
passion, and both had found their way into the Senate's committee on mutant
affairs. Each was a contradiction in his own right. Keating was notorious
for his alcoholism, philandering and excesses. Many wondered how he was
able to keep his seat year after year, even though not a single case of
infidelity had ever been proven. In fact, he had won four libel cases
against tabloids, enhancing his reputation. Lyle Brown Jr was almost the
caricature of the Texas oilman. He was rough spoken, prone to using
vulgarities and politically incorrect language on the floor of the Senate.
His record was one of rough talk and angry rhetoric, a tireless
law-and-order advocate and the bane of the liberal leaning members of the
Both men were political chameleons, assuming a form to amass power behind
it. Both men held positions of power because other politicians bought into
the decoy, bringing them into circles that normally would have been closed
to them. They had outlasted many politicians, replacing and removing their
structures, absorbing them into their own. People who looked closely would
see that no real evidence existed of Keating's indiscretions, and that
Brown held one of the toughest records on racial harassment and
discrimination in the United States. Each held as their central principles
the idea of individual rights and freedoms, as guaranteed by the Bill of
Rights. Both had moved to Mutant Affairs early, anticipating the fears that
would come from a rising population of mutants in the country. It was
mostly their influences that kept the late Senator Robert Kelly's Mutant
Registration Act from passing into law.
"It's this damn Washington weather. Do you think that it could stop raining
for at least an hour? I'm going to need a damn boat to get here if this
"Fine New England weather. Can't all be deserts."
"True. It just ain't Heaven if you spread it around too much."
"Senators?" a voice said from the doorway, and both men swivelled in their
"Ah, Doctor Grey. Just in time," Keating grinned, rising from his chair to
shake her hand. Brown did the same, something halfway between a grin and a
leer on his weathered face. Dr. Jean Grey greeted them both and accepted a
chair, held out in an old fashioned kind of courtesy by Senator Brown. Jean
had been working with both of them on and off for over a year, and had come
to genuinely like both old men. Keating had a mind like a laser behind his
handsome political face, and he was a passionate defender of his beliefs.
Brown provided the down-home' knowledge that Keating lacked; a practical
side from a mind no less acute. Even his occasional leering didn't bother
her. Brown was still very obviously in love with his wife of forty-three
"Thank you Senators. I came as soon as I was able."
"We appreciate it. Some information has come into our hands of late that we
feel needs to be researched, and you would be the best candidate to do so."
Keating sat down.
"Being a doctor and all that," Brown equipped.
"What am I looking at?"
"A little government infighting," Keating said. "We received the first part
of this document from a journalist who is sympathetic to our point of view.
He passed it along to us, and we passed it along to a few discrete agents
in the Bureau to check on for us. What they turned up is mostly
circumstantial, but no less disturbing for it."
"And that is?"
"Experimentation, darlin'. The way this reads, elements in our very own
military are engaged in some kind of program to develop augmented soldiers.
Now, since neither the good Senator from Massachusetts or I have had
anything like this come across our desks, that means it is proceeding
without the authorization of Congress," Brown said.
"Now, none of this information is enough for us to convene an actual
inquiry into the departments that are outlined. However, if someone "
"Say, some one who isn't an elected official or a paid staffer " Brown cut
"-were to find some additional information, that would give us the ability
to investigate this directly." Keating patted the file. "Not quite sure who
that person might be."
"Senator, are you asking me conduct an illegal investigation into the
United States Army?" Jean said, a touch of incredulousness in her voice.
"We're just pointing out the possibilities, Doctor Grey," Brown drawled.
"Just thoughts in the air and what not."
"Doctor Grey," Keating pitched his voice theatrically low, bending towards
her ear. "The fact is that this information is suggesting some very
disturbing violations of our government's laws. Worse, it's by members of
our own government. We go through the channels, and I can assure you that
we'll find nothing. If there is any truth to these allegations, we need
someone on the outside to uncover it."
"Senator. Reservations aside, I simply can't wander into Army Research and
start firing off questions."
"No. Not yet, anyway. However, if you can back up the outside sources
enough, we can then empower you to start an internal investigation. You get
the case built outside, and we can spring you on them too fast for them to
hide anything." Keating's grey eyes danced. Jean flicked through the
documents, scanning names and information. After a long moment, she faced
the two senators.
"I'll take a look. That's all I can promise." Jean wasn't as comfortable
with the powerplays in the government yet. The professor was too well known
to do his own political work on the minor levels, and no one else up at
Westchester was suited to this sort of work. The twisted angles most
politicians thought on would make Scott alone explode with frustration.
This was her job, and it was a little like learning to swim in a shark tank.
"All we're asking, ma'am," Brown said, his crooked smile growing. "Do pass
along our regards to the Professor, would you? The missus wants to know if
we can expect him for dinner when he's down at the XUN Conference."
"I'll ask him," Jean said, covering her shock. The XUN Conference was an
international symposium on mutant rights and integration scheduled in
Washington next year. The deliberations would produce the guidelines along
which human/mutant relations would follow in world policy. Charles Xavier
had been working on obtaining a position as a genetic expert during the
conference, but so far had been rebuffed. Outside of resorting to
telepathic manipulation, an anathema to him, he had quietly despaired of
every getting in. The senators had made an obvious offer: track down this
anomaly, and in return, Xavier would find a place on the US team for the
"Now, unlike the rest of you, I have work to do. Doctor Grey, a pleasure as
always." Brown said, taking her hand before seating himself back down and
opening a new set of files. Keating sighed, shaking his head.
"Always the charmer. Doctor Grey, one of the chiefs of Army Research is
going to be speaking in a few minutes to the Budget community. I reserved a
pair of seats in the gallery, if you'd care to join me?" Keating shrugged
into his jacket and picked up a valise. "Senator Brown,
you think you can handle this alone?"
"Run along, Andy. Play with your friends. I'll call you in time for
dinner," Brown said dryly and Keating scowled at him. Jean suppressed a
smile and followed Keating out. Together they walked through the halls of
the Capital building, dodging the normal flow of staffers and
lobbyists that filled it. Jean flipped through the file as they walked,
making mental notes.
"Who are we going to see?"
"Two people. The current administrative head of the department we're
looking at is Colonel John Wraith. Political officer. Took over for then
Colonel Ross, before the Chiefs gave him his stars and bumped him of to New
Mexico. The head of research is a Doctor Nathaniel Essex."
"Doctor Essex? He's working for the Army?"
"You know him?"
"I know of him. He did a lot of the pioneering work on mutagenics at Johns
Hopkins in the early 80s. Disappeared for a while, and then chaired
research into amplified genetic agents for immunizations with the CDC in
Atlanta. Basically wrote the book on identifying and isolating mutant
genes," Jean said, momentarily stunned.
"Have you ever worked with him?"
"No. He left Johns Hopkins a few years before I interned there. I believe
the Professor has met him once or twice though. I only know him through his
"Well, I think we're going to get to know him a little better soon, Doctor
Grey," Keating said with a small smile. The attendant held the door for
them as they walked into the gallery, and settled into a pair of seats. The
circular room held a smattering of senators, congressmen, reporters and the
ever-present swarm of staffers. Sitting in a bench-like arrangement arrayed
across the front were the members of the Budget Committee; the direct line
to the purse strings of the Treasury. Normally, Army Research was supported
out of the military budget, administered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The
last few years had seen a surprisingly growing rate of collaborations
between the Army and independent laboratories across the United States,
bringing civil concerns into the normal areas of military control. The
augmented oversight committee was responsible for the accounting in any
program that overlapped with private and public research and educational
institutions. As to be expected, the Joint Chiefs were not happy about it,
which had led to the current atmosphere of an us verses them' mentality by
the military researchers. The committee had responded in kind by demanding
more documentation and updates on all projects, holding the funds under
their control to a trickle.
"That would be your researcher, Dr.Grey." Keating pointed to the pale man
sitting ramrod straight at the table. He wore a dark suit and a deep
crimson tie, but had a white lab coat thrown over both, as if just pulled
from a test. The slightly annoyed look on his face certainly reinforced the
overall image of a busy man interrupted by crying children. On the floor, a
shorter solid man in an immaculate uniform was addressing the panel,
motioning every so often to a uniformed aide working the projector.
"In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, it should be abundantly clear that
the new lines of research are showing above projection, I might even say
remarkable developmental progress. We are confident that the next stages of
research will yield a great advance in biotechnological support in the
active theatre," the colonel finished, brushing an imaginary piece of lint
from his shoulder and facing the panel. "However, we will require the
promised funds allotment to expand on the current successes."
"Now just a moment, Colonel Wraith. First of all, the funds were not
promised. At least, not by us. I hope you're not attempting to hold us to a
mandate we did not create," one of the senators said sharply, and Wraith
"Senator Williams, this entire project was begun based on a specific
timeline. To deny us the operating resources to maintain that plan would be
the equivalent of pulling the plug half way. Countless hours of research
would simply be wiped away," Wraith said, his voice tight.
"Some of my constituents think that might be a good idea, Colonel," the
woman at the end of the table responded tartly, brushing back a lock of
white hair with a practiced gesture. "Not only is the mutant question far
from resolved, but the ethical implications of genetic cloning are
currently under heavy scrutiny at this point. For us to support a ban on
the irresponsible tempering by creating human life on one hand, and then to
support an Army-based Frankenstein project on the other would be not only
politically disastrous, but ethically negligent as well."
"Madam, if I may introduce Doctor Nathan Essex. He's the head of our
research, and can better explain the specifics of the program." Wraith
yielded the floor as Essex gathered his notes. Keating leaned over to Jean,
"The budget committee is getting all kinds of flak over these programs, and
with people like Ellen Carver-Simons on the panel, there is nothing they'd
like to better than to pull the plug and grab the voter support."
"Which would be just as irresponsible," Jean answered.
"Doctor, in this city, politically popular trumps irresponsible every time."
"Wonderful," Jean Grey responded, tuning out the Senator and letting her
mind drift. While the Professor had not agreed that her telepathic
abilities were ready to be brought into full bloom, he did encourage her to
use the less intensive aspects of it regularly; a sort of exercising of a
mental muscle to ready her mind for full telepathy. She hovered just at the
edge of the room's consciousness, drinking in the surface thoughts of those
around her. Most of the panel were calculating the pros and cons of axing
the program, ignoring the actual details of it. Wraith was tense and angry,
not that he cared for the program, but rather that its termination under
his command would quickly dead-end his career. Essex, on the other hand,
was impossible to read. His casual thoughts were shielded from her, and
Jean was surprised by his remarkable self possession. He stood and walked
to the centre of the room, glancing at his notes once before filing them in
an inside pocket.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the committee." His dry English accent filled the
hall, resonant in its intensity. "A great deal of information has been
summarized for you in your briefs, documenting the areas of research over
the last few years. I would like to address some keys
points within, as they seemed to have been missed or unclear."
"We've read the brief, Doctor," Senator Carver-Simons said sharply.
"If you are classifying our work along the lines as a Frankenstein'
experiment, then obviously we did not make the information clear," Essex
replied calmly, and a small stir went through the panel. Senators were not
used to being yanked up for not reading their briefs, and Essex' politely
veiled accusal was a sudden rebuke. "Currently, we have three major lines
of research under way. The first being the identification and
classification of the mutant genome in the DNA structure. The current
technology for both identifying and classifying mutants is extremely
clumsy, expensive and time consuming. As well, it offers no insight into
the relative strengths and details of the mutation. Now, in our current
testing, we've discovered a series of connections, linkages so to speak, on
certain types of mutations to other aspects of the DNA chain. While it is
still mostly guess work, we are slowly compiling a library of identifiable
mutations. When combined with Trask Industries prototype genomic scanning
module, it will not only allow us to identify genetic mutations even in the
womb, but also to identify the type as to prepare waiting medical staff."
"And why is this important?" Senator Carver-Simons said.
"It has the potential to save thousands of lives every year. Children who
are born with rare mutations, requiring methane or pure oxygen to breathe,
water-based mutations; any thousands of variations that currently leave
them dying in front of an unprepared medical team."
"I should point out, these are mutants dying, not people."
"These are children dying. Perhaps you should put that question to their
parents," Essex replied calmly, his voice never changing tone.
Carver-Simons flushed darkly as the excited mutter of the press in the
gallery rose up a notch.
"Army Research is not designed to be the lab for pediatric care!"
"No. Obviously, the military aspect of a scanner to detect and isolate
mutations in the field of combat or in secure installations hasn't been
lost on the panel," Essex said. The panel shifted nervously, and Senator
Williams leaned forward in his seat.
"We have considered all the aspects, Doctor. You spoke of three fields of
study, and your other two concern us most."
"Of course, Senator." Essex nodded. "The initiative we first started with,
Project TEARAWAY is also well into production, although this program is on
the longest timeline. We have had some initial success in the suppression
of the mutant strains in the DNA structure, but as yet have failed to
achieve the transposition of altered genetic code over the mutant element.
In conjunction with Forge Technologies, we have been working on a few
divergent lines in modifying the code directly from the existing material,
but this program is on our longest schedule." Essex stopped and motioned to
the aide, who snapped on the projector again. A two column list of programs
and objectives appeared on the screen.
"Now, the third and most important aspect of this research is the
derivative applications from the classification process. By identifying the
genetic modifications to produce such gifts as advanced physical healing,
strength, speed, we can apply those in a limited fashion to other
applications for normal humans."
"This is unacceptable, Doctor!" Carver-Simons shot to her feet. "This
committee will not allow some kind of freak generator to be built under the
auspices of this government!"
"Senator, if you read your brief, you will find it's nothing of the sort."
Essex motioned and the screen switched to a new page of text. "As outlined,
the idea of a limited effect application of mutant genes was approved by
the Joint Chiefs several years ago. This includes applications such as
using the mutation for accelerated healing in the units of blood issued to
Army medics. Specific enhancers in ration kits for extended missions. No
different in application than the drugs we currently use, but a hundred
times more effective. We have already projected a decrease in combat
fatalities by fifty percent or more. All of this with technology no
ethically different than a polio vaccine. Certainly the panel would not
advocate the senseless waste of lives merely because the media buzz words
being brandied about misrepresent our research?" Essex said and the
committee stirred nervously. The reporters edged in, capturing every word
with a grim anticipation. Senator Carver-Simons was already resigned to a
rough handling in the morning news, and Essex' dry detached summary had
trapped them into a corner.
"Colonel Wraith," Senator Williams said finally. "While we need to take
some time to actually review the entire program, I think I speak for the
panel in saying that your research should continue along the established
timeline and funding you began with. We will be commissioning a thorough
review and re-establishing of your research guidelines in six months. I
am assuming you will be prepared to deliver a full overview of your
progress at that time. Until then, we will be in touch for additional...
clarification." Williams smiled thinly, mentally promising retribution for
the public humiliation of his panel. Fortunately, that idiot Carver had
taken it in the teeth without dragging the rest of them in, but the whole
panel would look foolish by association. That would show in the morning
"Thank you, Senator," Wraith said, keeping a smile from his face. The panel
slowly gathered their materials and left, Essex and Wraith going through
the front doors. Keating leaned back and smiled at Jean.
"Well Doctor, that was exciting."
"No doubt. I see that Doctor Essex is not in line for an ambassadorship."
"The way he hung that committee out to dry, no. That puzzles me. All of
them know what happened, especially Carver-Simons. Their comment about
re-assessment of the program is basically a direct threat to shut it down
or replace him with researchers more on their line of thinking."
"He did get the funds."
"True, but in Washington, you try not to make the gun too obvious, Jean."
Keating stretched. "There's something here that I don't like. Too many
"Agreed." Jean said, turning over the scenes in her head. Even in the midst
of the emotional swings on the floor, Doctor Essex did not waver for an
instant; the same flatline continued without a twitch even during the
Senator's attack. That either meant impeccable personal control, or someone
who had training like hers, to counter psion-active mutants.
"In any case, Doctor Grey, I have to be getting back to the office. Do you
need anything right now?"
"No Senator. I would like to show this information to a friend at Johns
"I'm not so comfortable with that. Some of it is classified."
"He's got mid-level clearance. Does some research work with the CDC."
"Alright. Make sure he knows not to tell this to all his friends over
"Barry started off his career on the Nimitz, Senator. A couple of years in
Bethesda before he took Hopkins' offer. I doubt it'll be a problem."
"Excellent. A pleasure as always, Doctor Grey."
"Of course. I'll be in touch in a few days. I'll update you then, and we
can talk about our next step."
"Fantastic. I'll leave instructions with the staffers to put you through
immediately." Senator Keating smiled as he shook her hand. "I appreciate
"Thank you for the confidence, Andrew."
"Well, that went well. Nate, boy, you have got to learn to go soft on those
assholes. Ripping them a new one might be a lot of fun, but they hold the
all those dollars we need," Colonel Wraith said, walking down the hall.
"Senators come and go, Colonel."
"So do Colonels and head researchers, Nate."
"Indeed." Essex nodded, mostly ignoring his defacto boss. To him, John
Wraith wasn't much more than a jumped-up foot pounder, with delusions of
high command. Colonel Wraith was hungry enough for that promotion that
minor details like ethics and the law fell to the wayside on his charge.
In a way, Doctor Essex almost pitied him, as much as he could feel any real
emotion. Wraith was going to be the scapegoat in the rare chance that the
actual work in the lab was leaked to Congress or the public. Colonels did
come and go, but minds like Essex' were considered
strategic assets, and his own future was untouchable.
"So, I was reading over your memo. What's with the delay on the first
series of geno-grafts?"
"Colonel, once again, I have to protest the control group you've foisted on
me. Most of them barely meet the minium conditions I've developed. The
possibility that their genetic material will not take the strain of the
process is far too high for a practical test," Essex said, in the
same tones as a man ordering a coffee.
"Hold on a sec, Nate. In my office first." Wraith said sharply, and the two
men walked in silence to their staff car. In minutes, they were on the
beltway and heading into Virginia. Both men sat reviewing details from
their cases, ignoring the other as they scanned the documents.
After a half hour, the car pulled off the highway and onto a smaller road.
It followed a winding path through a lightly forested area, small estates
and old farms passing by. The sedan turned finally up an ordinary drive,
and stopped at the lowered barrier. A sergeant came out of the shack to
peer at their identification, while three other soldiers stood with their
M-16's in hand, ready to be used at a moment's notice. The sergeant nodded
finally and snapped off a crisp salute to the rear of the car. Wraith
returned it absently, and they rolled into the facility.
The current main research centre for the United States Army had started off
as a typical gentleman farm in Southern Maryland, surviving a hundred years
of conflicts in the hands of the same family. The military had picked it up
following the Second World War, due to the proximity to installations in
the area, and the bargain price. Army Research had seized on it in the
early sixties, expanding the actual compound to hold labs, clean rooms and
Wraith's driver parked the car in the small underground lot, and both men
walked past a trio of armed soldiers to an unmarked door. Wraith's security
pass opened it to an elevator, and they both stepped into the tiny metal
box. Anyone without proper authorization would find themselves trapped
until a substantial number of Army soldiers had assembled in the hall with
any variety of weapons. In their case, it was merely a short and silent
ride up two stories into the building. While all of Doctor Essex's labs
were below ground, the administrative offices overlooked the rolling hills
and thinned forest strands around the building. Wraith took a seat at his
desk, leaning down to spin the combination on his secure safe. He opened it
and pulled out a thick stack of files, placing them on the centre of his
desk blotter. Essex sat down across from him.
"I have the information committed to memory, John."
"Hell, Nate, I don't. You won't mind if I have this here to refresh
myself?" Wraith grinned. Twisting Essex' tail as slightly as he was able to
was a small pleasure of his position. The lead doctor was a cold man,
almost emotionless. True, he had a considerable amount of charm when
required, but even then, his tone never warms. The staff called him
IceMan'. "Now, tell me again why you have a problem with the advance team."
"Colonel," Essex tapped the top file. "There are a hundred reasons. The
genetic graft process is extremely demanding physically, mentally and
technically. The chances of rejection by the base genome, or worse,
catastrophic reaction to it are far higher than they need to be."
"Nate, we've been through all of this. Unfortunately, solely scientific
concerns aren't the only factor involved in this case. The fact is, our
little side project here isn't legal, and we just can't screen a couple of
thousand soldiers for the top ones. Besides, those chosen have a good
reason to be here; they've been involved since the beginning."
"Colonel, the process is extremely punishing to the body. A young man or
woman will have the best conditions for recovery. However, the youngest
subject you've given me is almost thirty. Your group leader is in his late
forties. This does not bode well. Their genetic material is, across the
board, borderline for the acceptable range to accept the graft. I'd
estimate an increased chance of thirty percent of failure."
"True, but Nate, we don't even know if your little transfer will work, or
if it will deep-fry those boys into a chicken nugget instead."
"The process will work."
"Of course, Doc. These folks are the basic first set. They've been selected
for a lot of reasons. One of those is expendability. If they all drop off
the map for good, which is the plan, no one will ever know and come
sniffing around. Plus, they are all trained operatives, which gives us a
head start on their reliability."
"You're so sure about that?"
"Well Nate, half of these boys are from the Ranger team that found a good
chunk of your genetic materials. They already knew that much; Army grabbed
the whole lot for additional training, Joint Chiefs black operations, like
that shitstorm in Somalia, or our little incursion into Venezuela."
"I wasn't aware we had been in Venezuela."
"No, and that's how the public should be kept. These are well trained men
whose entire background and identities exist solely to a small group of
officers. That's how we want to keep it, especially if your program works.
The rest are mostly from our good friends at Langley. Career spooks,
fortunately most from Operations. Not my Rangers, but not badly trained,
and their own skills help round out the military side. A couple of career
fuck-ups looking at life in prison or loyalty to us gives us a nice
balance. Remember what we want here, Doctor: a team loyal to us, since they
have no alternative, that can penetrate well ahead of any operation, hit
the opposition like a goddamn horde of marauding raiders, and disappear,
leaving only bodies and paperwork for our boys in the field. This works,
and we can up the process, bring it from black to grey and start creating
"It is still technically illegal."
"Success has a way of changing those concerns, Nate. We make this work, and
Congress will fall over itself making it happen. Plus, all those little
applications will help ease the way." Wraith smiled. Essex' three tiered
research plan that he'd unveiled to the committee was completely true; in
fact, most of the researchers believed wholeheartedly that those were the
only real programs they were involved in. By rigidly sectioning departments
and research teams, they had managed to keep their core development team
down to a select few, which meant their security was excellent. "We get the
public on the idea that small modifications are alright, we can sell the
whole program to Congress inside of six months. If these boys don't work,
we quietly remove them and you've got better data for next time."
"I would still prefer different subjects, but you have a point," Essex
said, and John leaned back in his chair, satisfied. Handling the doctor
wasn't all that hard, he considered, as long as you made very sure things
made sense. One of the first things Ross had told him before he took
command was to avoid using any sort of top-down ordering with Essex. The
doctor was extremely sensitive to it, and he was worth any number of
"Thank you, Nate. Hell, we'll do our best to get you top subjects next
time. Think of these like first tests, gonna make your real first product
better. Even save the high end Alpha and Omega grafts for now."
"I had no intention of going higher than the Beta strains."
"It's your show, Doc. Now-" Wraith flipped open the top folder. "-you said
you had a basic plan for the first assault group."
"Something like that. We simply don't want to risk our top materials, and
since you claim these people are trained, augmentation rather than straight
empowerment seems our best course. Besides, those grafts will be slightly
easier to integrate, hopefully offsetting the age disadvantage. The exact
mix has not been decided on yet. You've limited our access to the full
personnel files of the subjects."
"True, mostly since we hadn't fully signed off on the group until now."
John passed over the stack of files. "Full jackets, not just the physical
information and samples. Let me give you the basic rundown." He clicked his
shades with a remote, and they closed, darkening the room. Like most senior
officials, John Wraith gave a number of presentations to various
politicians and senior officers, and had a video projector slaved to his
"The first set of subjects are Rangers, like I mentioned. The chief is
Captain John Grey Crow. Started off as a sniper, went mustang and was
commissioned right before the Gulf. Top marksman, almost took the Hathcock
Trophy one year. Hell of a shooter. Also a pretty good tactical commander.
Small unit mentality, but gets extremely effective use out of his squads.
Not afraid to take the initiative. He's the senior officer and will command
the team itself. The other Rangers are a standard grab bag of specialists:
Jonas Quested, Michael Baer, Marion Watts and Hallie Sagatuk. They've been
working as a team for years, and it shows. Good soldiers, the type that ask
a lot of questions about a mission, but never ask why. Real professionals."
"We can factor that in with development."
"Good. Kim Sung is with the CIA, as an assistant to the DDCO which is the
Deputy Director in Charge of Operations. He's an ass-kissing little apple
polisher, but he's damn good at his job. He's the one who recognized the
whole genetics lab in Iraq for what it was. He's also ambitious. If we have
to lose someone, he'd be a good choice. Ally Greenmind is also ex-CIA, from
their Operations area. Field operative; according to her files she's
involved in wetworks. Take out a few politicos with bombs, a bit of
sniping, and another unfriendly power is destabilized. CIA gets new rings
and assets in place while their intelligence services are disoriented, and
you're two-thirds of the way to a puppet government. The last subject is
Philippa Sontag. Marine master sergeant, nasty as hell. Decent record, but
she's always been a bit of a hot head. In Afghanistan, she was in a copter
that got clipped flying in a couple of casualties. Chopper went down in a
village near the Pakistani border. Sontag got a little too... enthusiastic
with her demands to the headman for assistance. There was a scuffle, and
four natives caught rounds, including his eight year old daughter. Even
with mitigating circumstances, the Marines sent her back for trial. It's us
or the rest of her life in prison."
"Expendability, Nate. You shake and bake them, and I'll make them work in
the field," John Wraith said, tipping his chair back.
"Indeed." Essex tucked the files under his arm, heading for the door.
"Colonel, you are quite sure of our security?"
"'Course. Everyone with any knowledge of this program either works for us,
gives us orders or is dead."
"Kapow! Lady Grey on the target."
"Barry, you're an idiot," Jean said, walking into Depres' office. The black
man at the desk held his hand like a gun, his index finger pointed at her
chest. It was an extremely old joke from her days as an intern, and only
Barry, then a junior researcher, would remember. Jean had been one of the
first people in the department to experiment with a laser surgery tool that
Stark Industries had given them to test. The software was a little buggy,
and about two seconds after she touched it, the beam twisted askew to burn
a thin line down the dummy patient's torso and stopped directly on the
groin area. The next day, the cafeteria was selling the Jean Grey special:
a burnt hotdog on a bun.
"But a live idiot, ma'am." Doctor Barry Depres smiled warmly and stood up,
shaking her hand over the desk. Her delicate hands was almost lost in his
massive grip, but Jean knew Barry had one of the most delicate touches in
the business. As one of the top surgeons in the country, he
"I'm glad you see you haven't lost your sense of humour."
"With the amount of paperwork I've got in this place, it's the only thing
keeping me from lobotomizing myself with a letter opener," Depres said,
waving her to sit. "Now, what brings you back into our halls, Dr. Grey?
Finally decided to accept Dean Wilson's offer and get back where
"Sorry Barry. You know how much I'd love to, but I've got other
"Acting as a glorified school nurse up in Westchester, or the political
staffing in Washington? Dammit Jean, you're one of the brightest
researchers I've ever met, and you're a hell of a doctor. You're wasting
your talent up there," Barry said, frustration boiling over in his voice.
The worst part was that Jean Grey knew he was part correct. She was a
doctor, but between managing the political end of the X-Men, as well as
serving as a field operative meant her only real medical work had been a
queue of sprained ankles, cut fingers and scraped knees from the students
at the school.
"Maybe, but that doesn't mean I can just drop everything to do what I
want." Jean said finally, and Barry nodded.
"Was that one I taught you? Damn, I knew it was going to bite me on the ass
one day. Alright, you're not here to take a position, and I'm pretty sure
it's not the cafeteria cuisine, so why don't you tell me what brings you to
"Funny, us being researchers."
"Hush." Jean smiled. "You've been on the genetics research staff for what,
"Five and a half. Actually, it's on and off. I still like to muck around in
other people's bodies once and a while."
"Great. When you first came on staff, do you remember a shipment of
specimens coming in from Army Research, via Bethesda?"
"Narrow it down, Doctor. We've done thousands of samples for the Army."
"It would have been cross-cultures, solely for the spe-X-tograph analysis."
Jean pulled a sheaf of flimsies from her files and slid them over the desk
at Depres. He scanned the pages quickly, leaning back in his chair.
"Yeah, I remember this now. Two hundred and change. All set up for the
scans already. I remember because it was Myers who dumped it on Kate and I.
Practice' for the new blood." Barry snorted. "It was really because it was
boring as hell doing them."
"How did the samples read?"
"Mutagenic positive. High ranges too. Some cellular deterioration."
"Do we still have the files?"
"Because it turned out to be a big foul up. The samples were supposed to go
down to the new graph in Houston. The ones we were supposed to get were for
modified structures in the DNA code, not natural mutations. We got the
right paperwork and the wrong samples. I remember the officer in charge
ready to chew nails."
"Who was that?"
"Dirt pounder named Ross. Colonal Ross, as I recall. He made the mistake of
trying to vent on Dean Wilson and she nearly took his head off." Barry
grinned. He had paid his way through medical school by enlisting in the
Navy, and the institutional prejudice towards the Army was obvious.
"Classic government accounting, Jean."
"What about the samples? Anything odd, like series breakdown?"
"Like cloned cells? No. These were straight out of the body specimens. Not
as well cared for as they should be, but clean samples. That's likely why
they were sent out in the first place. A storage unit must have failed, and
they were testing the batches. Since only us and Houston had the graphs at
the time, it's not surprising we got them."
"Still, there was nothing odd about it?"
"Jean, what's going on here? You're looking for an answer to a question you
"Barry, do you still have your security clearance?"
"Of course. You get it and you end up keeping it for ever, like luggage."
"There have been some rumours cropping up that the Army is involved in some
sort of genetic experimentation, specifically using mutants, in a kind of
super-soldier program. It's all pretty speculative right now, but a lot of
circumstantial evidence makes sense." Jean said. "The head of the program
is Doctor Nathaniel Essex; used to teach here."
"Dr. Essex? So that's where he went."
"A little. He was the department head from 92 until 94 or so. When I was
an intern, I did some work on his team, just before he left. I worked with
his team at the CDC after for a little while. Hell of a mind."
"What's he like?"
"Essex? Very cold. Never saw him laugh or joke once. He was really smooth,
that sort of Brit cool when one of the bigwigs was around, but otherwise
was all business. Very polite, never had a bad word to say about anyone
except if your work was sloppy. He ended a couple of careers before they
started with his lab reports." Depres tapped the top of the folder with his
index finger. "So, you think that the Army is mixed up in experiments and
those samples we did years ago are a clue?"
"Possibly. It's too early to say anything, really."
"Look Jean, you remember the first rule you learn about diagnosis? Take
into account what you see, not what you think you should be seeing. If you
look hard enough for something, eventually you're going to find enough
clues to rationalize it. That doesn't mean it's really there."
"Occam's Razor, Barry?"
"The most likely hypothesis. Hell, the government's a giant bureaucracy. If
they can't balance the budject, how do you expect them to keep something
this big secret? Lady Grey, I'd give you long odds that those samples were
anything but the usual Army screw up."
"However " Barry said quietly, pulling on his lower lip. "However, if I
was trying to get some information about those samples from a public
institution and needed to do so secretly, this is likely the best way."
"That's not helpful."
"Look, Jean, my official on the record recommendation is that those samples
were nothing more than a simple error in processing, and haven't the
slightest element of mystery about them. Now, outside a court of law, I can
tell you one thing I do remember. The specimens were in sealed tubes,
fitted on the bottom for bayonet-style connection to a couple of different
types of processing equipment. Each had a label with a name; Smith, Jones,
etc... but I remember on the vials, they had registration marks etched
directly on to the plastic. The mark tallies were in a couple of different
symbols, like Hebrew or Arabic. To me, that's odd for a bunch of samples
taken from US Army soldiers." Barry Depres laced his fingers together and
rested his chin on top of them. "Only three countries in that region at the
time equipped to do such work are Israel, Iraq and Iran. Maybe the Saudis,
but I doubt it. If you're following this thing through, that should be your