AS GOOD AS DEAD
E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; theSummary: Back with his old "friends", Logan taps into a more chilling side of his personality that he never realized he had, seemingly losing himself to a past he doesn't remember or want. And trouble is brewing for him back at the mansion ...
character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob is *my* character - keep your hands off!
Notes: Takes place shortly after the "X2" movie, and "Falling Angels".
She couldn’t do this. There was no way in hell she could do this.
She knew Logan and Keogh had gotten in a screaming argument over whether she should come along on this mission or not. Logan had insisted she was too young and not trained enough to go on a mission as dangerous as this one; Keogh insisted that Reaper and Control had vetted her, and figured it was time she started to “pay her own way”, earn her keep as it were. In theory, she agreed with him - she felt as ready as she would ever be, and Logan had trained her well. But …
Could she hurt people? When it came down to it, Xia wasn’t sure. If they tried to hurt her and someone else, sure, but if they were simply in her way or doing their job? How could she do that to someone?
As if the mission by itself didn’t sound scary enough. Here they were, in the middle of a Tunisian desert, in an illegal nuclear facility that seemingly had multiple ties to several governments ( none overtly friendly ), and yet was officially claimed by no one. Bad enough as it was, the Organization had it on good intell that they were experimenting on mutants in here too, as well as trying to make their own, possibly with the help of all this radiation. It wasn’t working either.
This entire site was unbelievably toxic. It was a way of keeping unwanted visitors, where local or not, out of here, just in case the mines, weapons, and aggressive soldiers weren’t enough.
Since she was just a rookie she was part of the “second wave”, the team that came on the site after the “first wave” team had secured the location. The first wave team was simply Logan, Keogh, and Juliet, all veterans, all with devastating powers. Keogh was a “quasi-telekinetic”, which meant he could cause objects to explode with his mind; the quasi was in he could only make them explode, not move them or do anything else with them. From what she had unfortunately seen, this included Human faces. Juliet threw fire, as all the burning, overturned jeeps on the surface could attest to. As for Logan … well, he was Wolverine. What more explanation did you need? The people not taken out at a distance by Keogh ( code named Timebomb by the unimaginative wags at HQ ) and Juliet ( code named Inferno by the same creative folks ) were taken out more up close and personal by Wolverine. As a trio went, you couldn’t find a more effective fighting force, that really covered all the base! s. If it could die, they could kill it.
She shivered and hugged herself, even though the heat in this irradiated underground tunnel was making her sweat like she was in a steam room. The radiation wasn’t really so bad here; it got worse as you went lower. In fact the bowels of the installation was off limits to all but Inferno - who seemed to be able to handle such things - and Wolverine, who couldn’t be killed or even harmed for very long by something as puny as radiation poisoning. It still made her feel strange, loitering in what was little more than a glorified access tunnel, just on the off chance someone escaped them and tried to leave.
She could have gone down with Logan; from what she understood, the force field she could project around herself could even protect her from radiation. But they were pretty sure there’d be reinforcements waiting in the lower levels, closer to the heart of the complex - reinforcements that were far from Human. That was why he told her in the chopper, while he was zipping up the vest ( she didn’t understand why he was wearing body armor, until he told her, “They have to get a tracker on me somehow. My body destroys the implants.” It took her a while to understand that he meant his system somehow attacked them, eroded them until they were useless ), that she was to stay there and “… stay out of it, kid. If I go berserk, you don’t wanna be there. I don‘t want you there.” He looked away when he said that last bit, as if ashamed.
There was something she really didn’t get. She had heard several references to Logan going “berserk”, and didn’t understand any of them. Maybe it was the language barrier, or the simple problem of usage and lingo. She’d had to look it up in the dictionary. Logan never went crazy - what were they talking about? Control had even warned her to get out of Logan’s way if he ever “turned” that way, and to keep her field up. Although he did add, “If he’s far enough away, you might want to drop it for a second. The only thing that really gets through to him in that state is smells; if he can scent you as friendly or known, you’ll be all right. Your field seems to block his ability to smell you too.” He talked about him like he was a mindless attack dog. She wanted to ask more questions, but she had learned you didn’t ask Control questions. You spoke when you were spoken to, and no more. She knew she should ask Logan, but she had never figured out the right way to ask, “So, why do! es everyone think you’re crazy?”
The lights were dim, an emergency dark amber that painted shadows of old blood on the smooth, curved walls of the tunnel interior. A single bend behind her was the emergency access hatch, the one they were most likely leaving through, and technically Keogh had already gone - he was working on securing the “up top” from any secondary personnel who might be coming in overland. He’d taken one of the other second wavers with him, and two others had moved to separate points in the complex. She hated being alone here, even though she knew she really wasn’t. But this whole place was creepy.
There had been automatic weapons fire at first; she could still smell the acrid tang of gunpowder in the recirculated air. There had been shouting too, that quickly turned to painful, frightened screams. She heard a louder scream as well, a virtual roar, and she was pretty sure that had been Logan. She’d never heard him sound so angry.
And that had been the last sound she had heard.
Well, save for the constant thrum of power through the thinly shielded walls. It was a deep hum, the kind you could feel in the back of your fillings, and she wondered if the other second wavers were freeing the other mutants; not the hostile mutants Juliet and Logan must have “engaged” down in the core, but the others, the ones supposedly being experimented on. She had really wanted to be in on that. After all, she herself had been a captive of a secret base. No, they had never experimented on her, but it had probably only been a matter of time.
Finally she heard another noise, a sort of shuffling, and she made sure her field was up. It took a good deal of concentration for her to keep it completely intact. Logan told her that once she got used to it, it’d be an almost autonomic response, that she’d be able to keep it in place without thinking about it, but she wasn’t sure she believed him. After all, how would he know? His body pretty much healed itself, and he could retract his claws whenever he wanted. Okay, so he had to punch them out through his skin, and she couldn’t imagine that that didn’t hurt, but he must have been used to it by now.
As the noise grew closer, she fumbled for her sidearm, heart in her throat, and then wondered if she’d really drop her field to use it ( she had to - nothing could get in or out. She wondered, if she kept the field up long enough, if she’d run out of air ). She put a hand on it, but left it in its holster.
Finally a figure shambled around the curve of the hall, leaning heavily on the wall, leaving a slight smear on it as it struggled to both advance and stay upright. It gasped something that may have been a request for help.
She advanced cautiously, quickly scanning his clothes. He wasn’t wearing the uniform of the security staff, it looked like he was just wearing torn, bloody jeans, and a rag that may have once been a shirt. “Are you … are you one of the mutants?” She asked in English, belatedly remembering that Logan had spoken to the locals in a language she thought was Arabic, or some derivative thereof. She only spoke and understood English - barely - and Cantonese.
As it turned out, though, he spoke English. “I am a mutant,” he said, then collapsed to the floor on his hands and knees.
She reached for him, then remembered to drop her field for a moment so she didn’t hurt him further. Blood looked to be pouring from his mouth, dribbling on the cement floor in a steady rain, and she had to fight back a brief wave of nausea. God, she hated blood.
She’d just touched his shoulder when he reacted so fast it was all a blur. One second she just touched his shoulder, and the next second she hit the wall on the far side, hard enough that she could hear the dull thud of her head against the concrete. Stars exploded before her eyes, and what she could see of the room had gone liquid.
His leering face filled her limited vision, and she could now see his face was half burned away, possibly from the radiation in the lower core, or from being hit by Inferno; either way, she could see the muscles of his jaw had a thin crust of blackened flesh that crackled as he smiled, exposing a white glimpse of mandible that matched the dead eye socket on his right side, and she knew if she had the strength, she’d have thrown up all over him. “Stupid little bitch,” he spat, blood still pouring out the bottom half of his ruined mouth. He must have been mortally injured, but he was still going - how was he still going? “Did you think you could stop me?”
It hurt to concentrate and raise her field, but she did, although it didn’t feel stable. She could feel blood crawling down her scalp, matching the itch of sweat trickling down her spine. The dim light appeared to waver, and suddenly his chest seemed to explode, splattering blood on her field.
She thought that Keogh had come back, but then she saw a glint of metal before it ripped to the side and the top of half of his torso seemed to slip to one side in a gush of blood. He died so fast surprise barely had time to register on the remains of his face.
He landed on the floor with a wet splat, leaving her looking up at Logan, who appeared to be partially ruined himself. His vest was all but torn off, hanging in shreds around his waist. Since he wasn’t wearing a red t-shirt underneath, she was puzzled by his appearance until she realized it was blistered, burned skin, liberally dosed with blood - some his own, most probably not. The hair of his face, arms, and torso had been mostly singed off, although the hair on his head appeared mainly just messed up, and she watched as the broken blood vessels in his eyes - which turned the whites a bloody crimson - healed up, making the white look like something moving within his eye sockets.
But that was just about the only thing in his eyes. It was disconcerting, but his eyes seemed completely empty, full of nothing but a vacant, aimless rage. “Logan?” She asked, as he had not retracted his claws inside his ruined hands, and he seemed to be glaring at her like she was a target. His lip was curled up in a sneer, and his teeth looked bloody, but she assumed it was the radiation exposure. It made your gums hemorrhage, right? ( Right? Why else would there be blood on his teeth? ) The poor man - how much pain was he in? She couldn’t even begin to imagine it, and felt sick for him. She had no idea how he was continuing to move either.
He didn’t respond to his name at all; he didn’t recognize it. She heard another noise, like someone had loosed a tiger in the hall, and slowly realized the noise was coming from Logan - he was growling. He growled? He didn’t sound Human; he sounded like the animal she could see lurking inside his eyes. Logan wasn’t here anymore, and she wasn’t sure what was. It scared her more than the man with half a face. He looked through her like he didn’t see her, or she wasn’t worth seeing - she didn’t know which was worse.
She saw his nostrils flare as he kicked aside the torn corpse of the man who attacked her, and she remembered what Control had said about scents. Was this what he meant? Was this what they all meant by Logan going crazy? What had been the etymology of the word berserk? It was old Norse, and meant essentially “bear shirt”, derived from “berserker”, an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable. That was exactly what they meant. They were being literal; he went crazy with pain, or bloodlust, or both, or something she couldn’t hope to guess at.
“Wolverine,” she said firmly, briefly dropping her field. Not long - she was too frightened to do it for long, and he was too close - but she didn’t think it would matter. Logan’s sense of smell was acute enough that he could pick up the scent of a single person in an arena full of thousands of them. He only needed half a second - or so she hoped.
She saw it then, confusion passing over his face, and he paused his menacing forward advance and blinked rapidly, as if he had just woken up. His eyes no longer looked empty; something had come back, something - someone - who hadn’t the slightest idea what the fuck was happening. It was like he’d been in a trance, hypnotized, but he hadn’t been. ( Had he? )
He looked around, looked down at himself, finally spotted the mostly bifurcated corpse and stared at it for a few long seconds. He retracted his claws, but still looked around as if expecting an attack from either or both sides. When he looked back at her, his eyes were still wide and fever bright with confusion. “Xi, are you - are you okay?” He asked, glancing back at her. He tried to pretend he was fine, but she wondered what he would say if she asked where they were.
She simply nodded, although it caused a sharp pain to rear up inside her skull, and she winced, watching her vision turn to sparkling pixels of light. “Let’s get you out of here,” he said, then paused as he reached for her. She wondered if it was the blood on his hands, or the fact that her field was still up, even if only partially. Then he met her eyes helplessly, and asked, “How the fuck do we get out of here?”
Xia learned two important things that day. One, mutants wouldn’t hesitate to hurt fellow mutants. And two, Wolverine and Logan weren’t necessarily the same thing at all.
“You’d better cash in!”
“Fuck!” Ortiz cursed, ripping off his earphones. Jane’s Addiction was still pouring out the headset at a volume loud enough that the bass line could be heard loud and clear. The sheer volume could probably stun a bat, and if he had been deafened, he was so going to kill all those fucking muties.
“They’re having a party?” Gallagher suggested.
Haigler snorted derisively. “Probably an orgy. They don’t got anything to celebrate, do they?”
Ortiz shook his head, hoping the ringing in his ears would stop, as he looked up at the house across the street. It was a little split level, an innocuous exurban dwelling outside of Salem, Oregon, set apart from its nearest neighbors by the sprawling hay fields of a former horse riding facility, recently abandoned and sold to housing developers at a cost that would have made a sadomasochist blush. This home, its closest across the way neighbor, was inhabited by a corporate middleman with a real estate agent wife, two kids and a dog, good citizens who found something else to do for the evening as soon as they were offered sufficient financial compensation. Jerks. Where was their fucking patriotism?
It wasn’t clear why Zhang, Quinn, and the other muties were here, but Dorn - the new Control - figured it couldn’t be good. They seemed to be sticking together as a cohesive unit, and that itself was suspicious. He quickly consulted his laptop to confirm visual I.d. on all the muties who had gone inside the house just three short minutes ago. Yep, most of the old Alpha team - Xia “Atomic” Zhang; Tom “Quake” Quinn; Clive “Spider” Koslowski; Cressida “Chameleon” Santiago; Sanjay “Spike” Dhaliwal ( who ironically used to be Reaper’s right hand man, when he was the top mutie in the Org; of course, now he was compost, like Dhaliwal was soon to be ); and Jayson “Specter” Miazaki, who appeared to have been partially using his powers on the walk up the drive, as only about half of him appeared visible in the digital photo. That in itself wasn’t suspicious, because he’d worked with him before, and knew that his power had control over him. If he didn’t totally focus! on being visible, he wouldn’t be.
They would be hard to contain as a group. If they could separate them, Miazaki - who was so milquetoast after all this time he still abhorred fighting - Dhaliwal and Santiago would be easy targets, as they could be sniped at a distance, with little in the way of defense. Quinn was on the borderline, because if he suspected something or remained conscious, he could drop a building on them. Spider was just fucking nasty, and the most incredible sniper that had ever been ( he could drop someone from a quarter mile away, easily ), while Zhang would always be a problem, as long as she was on her guard. They probably stuck together thinking they could form an ever increasing circle of protection, the strong ones protecting the weaker ones, guaranteeing safety for them all. Of course, that was a nice idea, but it was never going to work.
The Organization knew the weaknesses of all its muties. You didn’t let your monster loose if you didn’t know how to rein it in, and he wasn’t just talking about the explosive trackers most of them used to have ( it was assumed one of the telekinetics took them all out at once, destroyed them inside their fellow muties - he could only be happy that they were probably dead ). Some of them would be difficult to get, but none were impossible.
“Cho, anything on infrared?” He asked, closing the laptop and doing a final weapons check.
“Negative. They still got those hot spots all over the place.”
“Hot spots” were a defensive counter-surveillance measure they had obviously stolen from the Org. They were little devices that basically scrambled all infrared readers by putting out tons of infrared wavelength garbage, masking true heat signatures. Cho thought he could compensate for it, but apparently he couldn’t.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ortiz insisted, facing his strike team. A dozen commandos, a two to one ratio to each mutie, the bare minimum of accepted mutant confrontation protocol. But considering how tight and scare resources and men were at the moment, he would have to live with this. And at least he knew these guys were good. “Beta team, you’re on. You have sixty seconds to get to get to target.”
“Affirmative,” Cho said, tossing his useless infrared goggles aside, and grabbing up the snub nosed tube of the grenade launcher. Haigler, and Baker followed him out, taking up grenade launchers of their own. Out in front of this home on the street was a manhole cover, giving direct sewer access … assuming you could lift the damn thing. Luckily they could. It still didn’t smell too good, but the pipe, if followed correctly, would take them to a spot fifteen meters out from the house where the muties were holed up, behind and slightly to the west. That afternoon, they cut out an egress point in the pipe, so they could emerge at just the right place, a blind spot from the house. It didn’t matter that it was late night, and the moon wasn’t out ( and it was drizzling slightly, so even the stars were hidden by clouds ) - there was no taking chances with muties like these.
They all loaded up with grenade launchers, although they were all packing different grenades. They had heavy gas canisters and flash bangs, both of which would be used concurrently. No real choice; they had to hit them hard and fast in order to incapacitate them, or just bag the whole operation. That was the problem with muties - they were unpredictable, and generally too powerful for their own good.
Time elapsed, he, Gallagher, and Williams headed out the front door, and as soon as Gallagher confirmed through his binoculars they were not be watched, they scrambled quickly across the street, as quiet as cat burglars. They were on radio silence to prevent them from intercepting any transmissions, but he saw the shadows of beta team moving into the backyard, and after a five second wait, they all fired as one.
Each shooter picked a window - he took lower left, and right, Gallagher took upper right, Williams took upper left, while Cho, Haigler, and Baker split the back windows between them. Gas grenades went in a split second before the flash bangers, and whatever glass that was left in the panes after the explosive impact of the grenades blew out when the flash bangs detonated, sprinkling glass like sleet on the overgrown front lawn. They let the gas hiss for a moment, filling the home with a white vapor ( it would also serve to show them where Specter was, even if he’d totally disappeared inside his power ) that started billowing out the broken windows like smoke.
There was no movement, no sound inside the home, and as soon as Ortiz and his men lowered their breathing masks over their faces, he shouted, “Go!” They used the butt ends of the now empty grenade launchers as battering rams to smash in the doors, and once inside they slung them over their backs and pulled forward the guns with the special loads, Teflon coated with explosive charges in the tips - a nasty bullet called a hornet. It would drop all of the mutants, save for Zhang, if she had her field up; they weren’t sure what could get through if she had her field up.
When they entered the gas filled home, now looking like a tornado had hit it, Ortiz was immediately hit with the idea that something was very wrong, but he wasn‘t sure what. They had moved through the ( formerly ) neat kitchen and small dining room, into the wide living room, where the white vapor was swirling in the air currents coming in through the hole where the bay window used to be. It was then that Ortiz figured out what was wrong with this entire scenario.
There was no music. Considering the volume it was at while pouring through the headphones, they should have been able to hear it on the front lawn - hell, maybe on the street. But the music was only in this room, and at average volume, and he saw why as the white vapor began to clear. The stereo speakers were pressed right up against the wall on the left side … exactly where the passive bugs had been planted, using the house’s own wiring to feed them sound in a way that the muties shouldn’t have been able to detect. But they had, hadn’t they?
“We’ve been made,” he shouted, heart in his throat. “Abort!”
But the order was barely out of his mouth when he heard a dull, meaty thud behind him, along with a brief grunt of pain. He spun on his heels, gun raised, just in time for a gun barrel to be shoved in his own face. Looking beyond it, he saw a man with astonishingly bad hair, scruffy facial hair, and cold green eyes studying him like a bug he just found in his soup. “If anyone would like to see their team leader’s brain painted all over the carpet, move,” he snarled, barely sparing the others a glance.
He wasn’t wearing a mask. The narcotizing gas swirled between them like thick fog, and the man didn’t even cough, and Gallagher’s gun in his hand ( he could tell by the hair color that it was Gallagher face down on the floor ) didn’t waver a single iota. And that’s how he recognized him.
As Ortiz felt his own eyes widened in surprise, Wolverine smirked coldly at him. “I’ve breathed the gas before - I’m immune. Nice try, though.”
“Stand down,” Ortiz snapped to his men, trying not to let the panic creep into his voice. Wolverine, fucking Wolverine - no wonder they were made. They hadn’t moved, as they knew the mutie might shoot, but they all had their guns fixed on him in case he fired just for the hell of it. “I said stand the fuck down! Bullets don’t work on him, you assholes!”
“Who the fuck is he?” Cho asked, obediently - if reluctantly - lowering his weapon.
“You don’t recognize me? I’m hurt,” Wolverine said sarcastically. God, he wanted to smash this smug mutie’s face in … but he wasn’t sure exactly how one did that.
“This is Wolverine,” Ortiz replied, spitting the word out like it tasted bad. It did.
Perhaps they hadn’t seen his mugshot before, but obviously they’d heard of him, judging from the small, disappointed groans. “How - why are you here?” Baker asked savagely. She was the only female on the team, and made up for any supposed inadequacies by being more obnoxious than anyone else. “You’re with Xavier now.”
“I’m with no one,” Wolverine corrected her, never taking his eyes - or his gun - off Ortiz. “I work for myself.”
“How long have you known we were watchin’ this place?” Ortiz asked, mostly out of curiosity.
“Long enough. How long have you guys known I was here?” It was a sarcastic question, as obviously he had somehow foxed them - they had had no idea he was here; they wouldn’t have hit the place like this if they had. It was then Ortiz suddenly realized why Specter was partially phased out on one side - he was hiding someone else. He had totally phased out Wolverine, probably on his request. Shit! This whole thing had been n ambush - but on them, not the other way around, like it was supposed to be.
“If you knew we were gonna hit this place, why are you still here?” He didn’t want to ask, but again he felt he had to, even looking down the barrel of a gun that he knew Wolverine wouldn’t hesitate to use. “Is it revenge, is that it?”
Wolverine smiled slowly, evilly, and Ortiz again longed to find something to smash his face in with. “Not everything is revenge, although there’s a bit of that. No, Team Leader, we want some information.”
The gas had thinned enough that they could see all the others joining Wolverine in securing the troops, although they were wearing breather masks. Quake, Chameleon, Spike, and Atomic started gathering guns and spare grenades from the troops, while Ortiz was pretty sure he saw a phased out Specter, limned by the lingering wisps of gas, watching from the dining room but making no move to help his compatriot in gathering up arms. He wondered where Spider was, then glanced up - yep, there he was on the ceiling, leering at all of them with a sordid satisfaction. “Go fuck yourself,” Baker spat, pretty much just speaking for herself. “We ain’t telling’ you shit.”
Wolverine ignored her, showing his old control, his old leadership skills. Ortiz wondered how much he was starting to remember. “You will let us have access to the new Organization database, and you will not fuck us over, or I’m gonna start loppin’ off body parts until you’re nothing more than stumps and a head.”
“What’s in it for me to cooperate?” Ortiz replied. He figured Wolverine was going to kill them all anyways, if Spider didn’t.
“Play nice, and you’ll wake up with your life and all your limbs. And decide fast, because by the count of five, we’re killin’ you all and tryin’ to hack the database ourselves.” Wolverine said this all very coldly, with no true anger, no remorse, no hate - it was matter of fact, inevitable as the tides, and all the more chilling for it. This was the old Wolverine, back in his element of control and intimidation. He was in killing mode, and it had nothing to do with resentment and everything to do with professionalism; achieving an objective. “One.”
Did he believe him? Beyond a doubt. But did he believe they wouldn’t kill them if they did capitulate? No, not really … but he had to give it a shot ( so to speak ), didn’t he? Live to fight another day, live to maybe take this fucking arrogant son of a mutie bitch down. His superiors might not see it that way, but he could always concoct some story that was more acceptable. What the fuck could they want with the database?
But he wasn’t going to worry about that until he found out if he was going to live through this night or not.