Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

[MOVIEVERSE] "Razor" - Part 1/5 - R

Expand Messages
  • Dex
    Razor Part 1/5 by Dex All recognizable characters and settings belong to Marvel and 20th Century Fox; I am using them without permission but mean no harm and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 12, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      "Razor" Part 1/5
      by Dex

      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
      technical assistance.

      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
      House.

      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
      keeps up."

      "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
      chairs.

      "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
      years.

      "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— "
      Keating paused.

      "Say, some one who isn't an elected official or a paid staffer— " Brown cut
      in.

      "-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
      conference.

      "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
      work."

      "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
      flushed.

      "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,
      whispering softly:

      "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
      polls.

      "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
      conflicts."

      "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
      Hopkins."

      "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."

      "Who?"

      "Barry Dupres."

      "Alright. Make sure he knows not to tell this to all his friends over
      cocktails."

      "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
      this, Jean."

      "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
      surgical theatres.

      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
      official squads."

      "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
      colonels.

      "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
      laptop.

      "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."

      "Charming subjects."

      "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."

      "Fair enough."

      ***

      "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
      had to.

      "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
      you belong?"

      "Sorry Barry. You know how much I'd love to, but I've got other
      responsibilities."

      "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
      Johns Hopkins."

      "Information."

      "Funny, us being researchers."

      "Hush." Jean smiled. "You've been on the genetics research staff for what,
      five years?"

      "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?"

      "Nope."

      "Why not?"

      "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
      haven't asked."

      "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."

      "Know him?"

      "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."

      "You're right."

      "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
      next step."

      ***
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.