Title: How's it Gonna Be?
Chapter 6: Ghosts of Rumika (final chapter)
Feedback: Yeah, that would be good.
Notes: Takes place during the bone claw era. Sabretooth escaped from custody at the X-mansion as described in 'Red Zone', but in this timeline, he was never re-captured.
Summary: On an island known for death, a new horror waits.
Chapter 6: Ghosts of Rumika
/Rumika/ Logan thought, bitterly. /Fury knows I don't want ta go back to that island. He also doesn't give a rat's ass what I want, if this is what needs to be done. And he's right, this needs to be done... but I still don't have ta like it.
Kyle sits across from me in the chopper, hands loosely around the top of his rifle's stock, carefully avoiding the delicate scope without conscious thought. His eyes are open and unafraid, pale yellow eyelids protecting against the glare of the South China Sea below us. He knows better than to try and talk over the storm of the rotors, or maybe he's got nothing to say.
The last time I came to Rumika, there was a village, there was life, but there was also a secret, and it drew a band of mercenaries who used child soldiers, working for something called 'the Lazarus project'. It drew Karma, Shan Coy Manh, and it drew me, even if I didn't remember why by the time I got there.
There were three survivors from that fracas.
Me, Karma, and a teenage soldier they called Target, whose name had been Teddy once.
Hell only knows what's waiting for us down there this time, whatever the intel says- -which isn't much. Something about unexplained surges of beta radiation, lights in the sky, weird readings on the satellite photos. The usual secret weapon bull. Our job is to find out what it is, and/or frag the thing. I'm hoping it's not another Mutant.
Creed cut his hair short for this op. It doesn't mean anything really, but I notice it, and I wonder.
Just after the pilot signals that we're approaching the drop zone, Kyle grins and offers me his hand, fingers out flat and palm downwards. It takes me a moment to figure out what he wants. I clasp Kyle's hand from underneath, which screws up his sports-huddle thing, but this ain't a game. Creed reaches over, closing his hand over both of ours. I doubt he'll admit to doing this later, and I wouldn't blame 'im one bit. We break, and get down to business.
Ten miles offshore, we drop the Zodiac boat, and rope down into it. The water around this island is teeming with sharks, never mind that they fish the heck out of them in nearby Madripoor bay. There's ALWAYS more sharks./
Rumika's shore was deceptively quiet at night, sharp spines of dark rock bordering soft, pale beaches. Just beyond, lush waist-high grass sloped up to meet the edge of the forest. Higher, steep mountain peaks were silhouetted against the night sky, not the glacier-carved saw-tooth profile of the Rockies but the raw, fresh spikes of volcanic Southeast Asia. There was a touch of wood smoke in the air from somewhere in the island's interior.
Logan thought of the way the firelight had moved on Karma's face while she watched the pyre he'd built burn.
Forcing his thoughts back to the present, Logan helped Kyle haul the Zodiac up onto the beach and hide it behind some rocks. It was high tide now, so while the boat would be further away from the water on their return trip, at least they wouldn't lose it when the tide turned. If they had the opportunity to come back this way, that might be useful.
Creed had already left to scout further inland. Logan melted into the long grass above the beach, and Kyle followed him, keeping an eye on their back-trail. There was a lot of game on this island from the scent of things, mostly wild pigs and reptiles. Kyle felt something like a set of fangs close abruptly around the top of his ankle, pricking his skin through the tough leather of his boot.
Kyle slashed the creature off with his claws, flinging it away from him hard.
Creed, lying near-invisibly in the grass beside Kyle's feet, licked the cuts on the side of his hand, and looked up at Kyle pointedly. Kyle hadn't seen the ambush coming, but he hadn't given away their position by yelling in alarm either. A draw.
"Better luck next time, boy," Creed snorted.
"What have you found out?" Logan asked.
"We got a straight shot South to the mountains from here, but there's a ghost town just East o' the beach, and a firing range two clicks Southwest," Creed stood up, and tossed Logan a spent shell casing.
"Standard, all the way," Logan turned the casing around in his fingers, examining it.
"I smell something," Kyle cut in, peering off into the trees.
"What?" Creed tested the air himself.
"I'm not sure," said Kyle.
"Ozone..." Logan frowned, sniffing in the same direction that Kyle was.
"Kinda like a pottery kiln, ain't it?" Creed put in.
No one could pin the scent down exactly, but they tracked it to a clearing where the surrounding tree trunks had been scored by recent gunfire. There were shell casings all over the place, Human scents, but no blood, and no bodies. Curiouser still, Logan started finding bullets lying in among the casings that looked like they'd come out of an L.A. forensics lab. The slugs were clean, not even a scent of blood, but the way they were flattened and squashed indicated they'd hit flesh. Most of them were the same caliber and make as the one Creed had found at the firing range.
"What the fuck is goin' on here?" Creed muttered, tossing a handful of squashed bullets over his shoulder, "-YOU got any ideas?"
"Know any teleporters who can teleport blood that's soaked into the ground?" Logan asked.
"No, but I can sure think of some uses for 'em," Creed mused.
"Let's go find out where all these toys are comin' from," Creed decided.
"Fair enough," agreed Logan.
They set off.
Even a week or two after the fact, the trails in and out of the clearing were easy to spot. Most tracks had been made by boots of one kind or another, though there were two sets of sandal marks as well. Ammo standardized, uniforms not. That meant mercenaries, and not a group that was used to working together for longer than the life of a pair of shoes. -Good.
Logan found the trail, and followed it due West.
Hidden on the far slope of a deep-cut valley, they discovered the camp. From the look of the wooden palisade surrounding it, the ramshackle fortress had been the target of frequent attacks. Again, there were no war casualties, and no bloodstains.
There was one body, that of a scruffy Chinese man, dead about two months ago. He'd been crucified to the outer Northern side of the palisade, though from the lack of struggle-marks on the stakes, he'd already been dead or dying before they hung him up there. Behind the body, the wooden wall was covered with several layers of tar paper, out to about six feet all around it. There was no clear reason for this, but it made the man looked like a butterfly on a display board.
"Lousy taxidermist," observed Creed.
Kyle wrinkled his nose. The ripest days of the corpse's decomposition had passed, but it was still pretty rank. It was a good bet the inhabitants of the camp could smell it too. What could that guy have done to make such an example necessary?
Or was it a camp at all? There were four palm-thatched guard towers, one at each corner of the palisade, but the setup could be the same if it was a prison.
The hot-rocks ozone smell was strong, almost within the limits of a regular Human's nose.
"Whatever it is, it's here," said Logan. "I don't smell any guard dogs. Dig in."
"Right," Kyle agreed. He chose a blind carefully, deciding on a high thicket of bamboo forty feet away. Kyle hid his pack under a drift of dry leaves, and checked the angle of fire he would have from here. He could cover the main gate, and about half of the visible palisade, including three guard towers. The angle on the camp itself was too low, and he wouldn't be able to cover that.
Scouting done, Kyle returned to where he'd left his dad and Logan.
They were gone.
"I hate it when they do that," said Kyle, walking back towards the bamboo thicket.
"Lookin' pretty worried there, partner," Creed observed.
"Do the words 'disintegrator ray' mean anythin' to ya?"
"Yeah. Sunburn," Creed smirked.
"Let's get this done," Logan ghosted out from beneath the cover of the trees, crossing the open country in front of the palisade in a single silent dash, and flattening himself against the rough wooden wall as soon as he reached it. Logan snuck around to the base of one of the guard towers, and climbed to the level of the chest-high wooden box that enclosed it.
Deliberately, he scuffed the side of the box with the toe of his boot. The guard looked over the edge of the box, rifle in his hands, but not quite ready for what was coming. Logan applied fist to face, and grabbed the guard by the hair to keep him from making noise when he dropped.
An American soldier, complete with dog tags. Interesting.
Logan allowed the guard to slide down into the box, and climbed over the side. There was a ladder in the center of the tower floor, made of bamboo poles and rungs lashed together with yellow nylon rope. When he reached the ground, Logan found Creed waiting for him.
"Just out o' curiosity, why didn't we torch this place?" Creed asked.
"That woulda been a good idea," said Logan, skipping over the moral arguments and going straight for the implied 'you didn't ask'.
Creed looked irritated.
The interior of the camp consisted of four long barracks buildings on the West side, two supply buildings near them on the North side, a cooking setup under a palm-thatched awning near the center, and a command post on the South side that looked newer than the rest of the camp.
Most of the camp's occupants were in the barracks buildings, and though the one nearest the command post was quiet, a heated mahjong game was taking place in the second one. Ducking beneath the more quiet of the two buildings, Wolverine slunk to the corner nearest the command post. Monsoon rains in this part of the world made it necessary to build on bamboo stilts, the higher the better, and the buildings of the camp were no exception. Three feet of ground clearance allowed Logan to move almost normally beneath the floor base, as long as he stayed hunched forward. Sabretooth didn't bother. He simply dropped to all fours like the hunting cat that was his namesake, and kept going. Looking across the hard-packed dirt between the barracks and the command post, Logan paused, hand up. Something wasn't right.
Creed looked at him questioningly, irritation tempered by the knowledge that Logan was often right about things like this.
Logan looked around carefully. Nothing was this easy. High tech weapons always came with high tech security. Or at least a LOT of low tech security...
No dogs, no laser-alarms, not even any guards inside the camp itself, just those at the perimeter.
...Unless, of course, the weapon could defend itself.
Logan fished out his Zippo, and pointed to the cook's setup in the center of camp. He needed a diversion. Creed pointed to the ammo supply building, and nodded. Logan shook his head no. If the unknown weapon used some kind of nuclear or chemical-based ammo, they could to kill off every man, fish, and microbe from here to Madripoor bay by cooking it off like that. He pointed to the palisade instead.
"That works," Creed shrugged, vanishing into the surrounding night.
Logan waited until the first scent of burning wood drifted past, then made his run. It was dark beneath the command post, scraps of moonlight filtering down through the slatted floor above in window-shaped squares. Someone was up there. Probably whoever was in charge of this little operation. Smelled human, and Logan had some experience judging these things. A cry of alarm went up from one of the sentries. Fire spread well across the seasoned timbers of the palisade.
"Bloody hell..." the voice in the command post swore, "-they've finally come looking for it!"
"Mnhh?..." a second voice queried, sleepily.
"Get the Master Form out of here. I'll stay. Come back for us and tidy up later," the Brit ordered.
/The Master Form. That's what the Lazarus project was after the first time I came here/ Logan thought, /I've never seen it actually DO anything, but I've seen what it can inspire... I left the damn thing here last time, after the massacre. Are these guys just squabbling over it again, or has some bright lad finally figured out how ta turn it on?/
A blast of white-hot rocket exhaust broke apart the floor a few feet to Wolverine's left, narrowly missing him and singing his sleeve. The roof was torn open a moment later, and the roar of a departing rocket-pack dropped off swiftly.
Just like that, the prize was gone. Logan blinked.
They'd been prepared. Not for Team X specifically, but for commando raids in general, and they didn't seem to care what happened to the rest of the camp.
Logan reached up through the charred hole in the floor, and pulled the Brit down to the ground under the command post. The Brit didn't make a noise, and he tucked his head down towards his chest as he fell, thus avoiding being knocked out. Logan took away his sidearm and clamped a hand over the man's mouth, just to be sure. His catch wasn't classically British looking, more East Indian, and his uniform was mostly SAS stuff without the patches. Dark, cool eyes looked up at Logan impassively, watching for an opening.
Wolverine knew this kind of warrior well enough to know that the value of surprise and intimidation had just dropped to zero. He'd die before he talked, and he couldn't be set loose. Logan broke both of the Brit's wrists, and choked him unconscious.
From the roof of the ammo supply building, Creed watched the scurrying forms below him run around like confused ants. They wouldn't be able to stop the wildfire spreading across the palisade, they just hadn't realized it yet. There was a flash of fire to the South, streaking upwards out of the ruins of the command post with the hollow roar of a chemical rocket. Some guy was trying to bug out, using a jet-pack. Some sixty meters above the camp, the jetpack slowed, preparing to change direction. A single shot rang out, and the wearer of the jet-pack jerked in midair. The pack's fuel tank exploded a split-second later, swallowing itself and it's wearer in a black and orange ball of flame. There was a secondary explosion, pure white light edged with a nearly ultraviolet purple glare. This light was steady, a soft, searing blindness that drifted downwards from the core of the explosion like a dandelion seed. The hurrying forms on the ground slowed in proportion to it, as if time was slowing down too. Gripped by the panic of an animal who hears a trap snap shut, Creed threw out a hand between himself and the unholy light above. His fingers moved unhurriedly, as if he was trying to swim though hardening epoxy.
The world ground to a halt above him, and the soft, terrible oval of light exploded. The last thing Creed was aware of was the curious sensation that this light had gone through his eyes into his head somehow, and was shining through his brain against the back of his skull.
Logan heard the sharp thump of the explosion overhead, and hit the dirt. Something like the heat of the sun struck the back of his neck, and his scalp and the backs of his hands tingled, as his healing factor kicked in. He didn't -feel- injured anywhere...
He didn't look up. He couldn't even open his eyes. The light was everywhere, and though it's source was in the air somewhere overhead, it came from everything, and it was bright even through both sets of eyelids.
/Is Kyle out of range?/ Logan thought anxiously, /-this could let up any minute now, and then what? Will everyone else be dead? Or gone? -Creed!! Where-...Can't smell anything. Too much burning ozone. If this ends and there's cover, I'll go for that. If this ends and there's nothing, I'll stay down and see what happens. I won't leave here without my partner. Never again. Wait- -AGAIN?!/
The image of Creed snarling in a dimly-lit concrete hallway flashed in front of his eyes.
/The weapon X lab. Why did he want to stay? Creed's feral in this memory. I can see it in his eyes. He wants to speak, and he can't, but he's telling me to run, and he means it. Why-/
The light was fading. Fragments of rocket-pack clinked onto the ground nearby. Logan opened his eyes, cautiously. The night was quiet. The palisade fire was out. Still bodies littered the ground around him. They smelled burned. Logan's night vision wasn't as sharp as usual, but he caught the sound of faint movements from here and there in the camp. About half the mercs were dead. One of the live ones was lying under a dusting of metal scraps from the rocket pack, naked. He didn't look injured, but he didn't move, except for breathing. -Asleep, from the sound of it. Four yards away, a mercenary Logan had seen alive before the blast went off lay stone dead with deep red scorch marks on his face and arms. Standing quickly, Logan found sanctuary in the shadow under one of the barracks. Sorting sounds in his head like a Las Vegas card counter, Logan found the one he was looking for. Creed was alive. Darting quietly past dead and sleeping enemies, Logan reflected that Creed's heartbeat sounded a lot more like a large wolf's than a Human's. He'd never given that much thought, and right now it just made his search easier.
Gaining the roof of the ammo storage building, Logan found Creed alive but unconscious. His hair had grown back. Logan shook Creed by the shoulders, without result. He slapped him. Again, nothing. Logan glanced around at the ground warily, to see if anyone ELSE had woken up. No. Taking Creed's head in both hands, Logan head-butted him forehead-to-forehead, in true bar-fight-starting fashion.
Creed groaned softly, and scowled. Then he punched, eyes still closed, catching Logan in the solar plexus. The blow knocked the breath out of him for a moment, but no more than that. It hadn't even knocked Logan off the roof. Creed didn't look coherent enough to have pulled that punch consciously, which meant he was in a really bad way. Logan growled in his ear, letting Creed know who he'd just punched.
"...'At you?" Creed asked.
"Course it is," Logan glanced around the camp again.
"Did you -SEE- it?"
"...Guess not," Creed covered one of Logan's hands with his own, smiling a little and looking very tired.
"C'mon. Get up."
"You gotta be kiddin'."
"No. Get up."
"Why?" Creed asked, sounding almost confused.
"On your feet, dammit!" Logan ordered.
Creed tried. If his sense of balance hadn't suggested to him that 'up' was to the left and downwards, he might have even succeeded. As it was, he nearly fell off the roof. Logan caught him, preventing this.
"Fine. Don't say I never did nothin' for ya," Logan put him in a fireman's carry, and didn't stop until they were safely under the cover of the forest. No-one followed.
From the bamboo stand on the hillside above them came a soft, questioning whistle.
"It's us," said Logan. A normal speaking voice wouldn't carry back to the camp, but it would reach Kyle's ears just fine. Kyle joined them a moment later. He got nearly within arm's length of them before he realized Creed was sitting on the ground.
/Kyle's night vision must be more messed up than mine/ Logan decided.
"What happened?" Kyle demanded. He had tried to keep the fear out of his voice, but he failed. This would be over soon. Dad was invulnerable. ...Wasn't he?
"No idea. We'll sort it out later," Logan told him, briskly. "Let's get some distance first. I'll take point."
Kyle nodded his agreement, then looked uncertainly at Creed.
"If he bites, bite him back," Logan advised.
"Just give me a hand up. I can walk from here," Creed brushed him off.
Kyle did as he was asked. Creed still looked a little rocky, but he was as good as his word. He did tend to walk into things, though.
Three miles Southeast, they camped in the shelter of a sandy undercut stream bank, thickly overgrown with reeds and ferns. Kyle had his full night vision back, and he was glad of this. The dark, blank gulfs under the trees had given him the willies.
"Catch," Creed said, from behind him.
Kyle snatched the object passing by his head deftly. Dry rag knotted around gun-cleaning stuff. Figured.
Food was easy to find in this forest. Dates, tree snake, and some kind of yellow tropical fruit Kyle had never seen before. Most of it went well with peanut butter.
"I thought we -talked- about that Skippy shit," Creed objected, pointing at the plastic jar Kyle had just opened critically.
"Want some?" Kyle asked, innocently.
Logan snorted. They were -never- gonna get Kyle truly trail-broken if Creed didn't stop sharing Kyle's stash. Kyle always brought something. What it was varied, but he never seemed to be able to get through a mission since the Balkans without pulling out some kind of junk food. It had been pop-tarts last mission, strawberry jam the mission before that...
What the hell. Kyle already knew he could survive without bringing extras. If the kid wanted to go to the trouble of carrying the stuff with him anyway, he might as well reap the rewards.
Hell, after a night like this one Logan could have done with a fifth of JD's himself, though he hadn't brought any.
Nobody was talking about it. Not even Creed, which was saying something. Whatever he'd seen at the heart of that fierce, terrible light, Creed was keeping it to himself.
Logan waited until after the food was finished, and then asked Kyle what he'd seen from the hill when the strange bright light had gone off.
"I think I caused that light somehow," Kyle began, "-it started right after I shot down the guy with the jet pack. It came out of the fireball, and I blinked, and then I couldn't open my eyes again until it was over."
"Same with me except I never saw it straight on," said Logan. "I know what we're up against now though. Ever hear of somethin' called the Master Form?"
"Uh-uh," Kyle shook his head.
"What?" Creed looked over at Logan sharply.
"Ya heard of it?"
"You gotta be kiddin'. You know what kind o' holy-grail stuff you're talkin' about here?" Creed asked.
"Yeah, I do."
"Huh. I knew ya came out here sometime, but the -Master Form-..." Creed smirked, "-whassa matter? Get bored with the Ghenna stone?"
Something in Creed's expression set off alarm bells. Big ones.
"...Tell me you didn't set that up," Logan growled.
"Happy birthday," Creed grinned.
"How the HELL-?!" Logan broke off, eyes narrowed, "-PROVE it.
"Who d'ya think put together enough o' the stone ta start the ball rolling in the first place?"
"Any kook coulda done that," Logan pointed out, dubiously.
"Put it together, yes. But only I coulda given up a chunk that big willingly, an' you know it."
"You JACKASS! The stone USED you ta-"
"Why didn' it stick with me, then? You can't tell me Ba'al wouldna liked BEIN' me..." Creed countered.
"Flamin' possessed crystal out o' the old testament," Logan seethed, "-I s'pose a card was out o' the question?"
"Done to death," Creed snorted, "Cyclops could do better than that."
"Less damage to yer rep, though," Logan pointed out.
"It's really too bad nobody knows ya set up a big bad demon like Ba'al ta get his ticket punched, ain't it? A move like that's almost heroic."
"That's not fair."
"What d'ya know about the Master Form?" Logan asked, offering a subject-change.
Kyle made a mental note to get the Ghenna stone story out of BOTH of them, and see what, if anything, matched up.
"The Master Form's been around since before the colony days. Dependin' on who you listen to, it's either some kind o' holy relic, or it carries a curse, and you know what it looks like better than I do. Priceless don't even scratch the surface when it comes to this thing," Creed explained.
"Anything more specific?"
"Rumors. Rivers of gold, raising the dead, world domination. The usual."
"Raising the dead, eh?..." The Master Form could have done that, from what Logan had seen back at the mercenary camp, but it also killed. Holy, but also accursed. No wonder there was so much blood on the thing.
And was a bullet the trigger to activate it? The death of the jetpack-rider? The heat of the burning fuel? The belief of one or more of the mercenaries down below?
"Pretty useless door prize, from where I'm sittin'," Creed shrugged, "-if I kill someone, I'd just as soon they stay dead. Closure, and all that."
"It's a white elephant," Logan agreed, unhappily, "-even if it's never misused, just owning the Master Form would paint a target on the owner that would make that contract o' yours look like amateur night."
"So, ah-" Kyle paused.
"Yes?" Logan prompted.
"You're going to destroy the Master Form? Just because?" Kyle asked.
"Yeah, that's the plan," said Creed.
"Can we DO that?"
"Probably," Logan told him, "-but you mean 'are we allowed to', don't ya?"
"I don't give a rat's ass if we're allowed to or not," Kyle corrected, "-don't you think it might be useful to have? Nobody has to -know- we kept it..."
"Last time a guy tried that, a tank drove up through a nice quiet suburb, and blew away his house with him and his wife still in it," Logan said, flatly, "-somebody sent these mercenaries here, and they know the Master Form's here. People in SHIELD know we got sent here, and the helicopter crew... That's already a blown deal."
"What if-" began Kyle.
"NO," Creed cut him off, "-the Master Form gets aced. End of discussion."
The mercenary camp was empty when they returned four hours later. It wasn't hard to see which way the mercenaries had gone though, back towards the firing range near the beach. So many tracks... It was true, then. The whole camp, both the survivors of the first explosion AND the casualties of it, had walked out without so much as a blood trail.
No, that wasn't quite true... The body nailed to the North wall of the compound was freshly killed. The fire had damaged the palisade enough that when the Master Form activated, some of the holy/deadly light had shone on the corpse despite the tar paper behind it.
So, someone had done the poor crucified S.O.B. a favor and killed him again before the camp was abandoned. Looking at a fresh corpse that he had already seen two months decomposed made Kyle's head hurt.
Creed seemed to be much quieter on this visit, and he searched around carefully for the bodies of two soldiers he'd killed just after he set fire to the palisade. They were gone.
The prospect of hunting a mercenary battalion of Humans that could come back to life repeatedly didn't sit well with Creed, Logan noticed. He wondered why.
For the next two days, they ambushed the new camp the mercenaries had set up near the beach repeatedly, without success. Each time, the mercs set off the Master Form when almost all of them were dead, bringing back the bulk of their forces just in time. Each time the mercs hit their precious re-set button, they came back fully rested, which balanced disgustingly well against the extra endurance provided by Team X's healing factors. Both sides were wearing down, but on the mercs' side it was more from shell shock than fatigue.
Except for a handful of bullets that only worked in the sniper rifle, Team X was raiding their ammo from the mercs, and that wouldn't hold out much longer. In the interest of not letting this standoff go on forever- -which it literally could- -any boats that tried to re-supply the mercs were shot at by either Creed or Kyle until they veered off. They had to end this quickly. Whoever the mercenaries' employer was HAD to have heard about the attacks by now. Of course, that was exactly what Wolverine had said at sunset yesterday. The mercs couldn't get away, but neither could team X get close enough to take the Master Form away from them. The mercs surrounded the watermelon-sized round sculpture fiercely, like a flock of birds protecting a single egg. It was their life, their only ticket, and they knew it. Instead of setting up anything like a normal camp, they simply set up around the Master Form like a colony of gun-toting sea lions. Logan wished he had brought a fuel-air bomb like the one he'd used on the bio-weapons lab. THAT would have taken care of this.
Two days ago, Wolverine had almost pitied the mercs, having to die over and over- -REALLY die, not just get injured and heal as Team X did.
Two days ago, he hadn't killed most of them more than once. There was something in these men's eyes that was no longer Human, like the glassy hollow need in the stares of drug addicts.
That damn Easter-egg was their religion, and the mercs would die for it over and over. Maybe the Human mind just wasn't designed to handle death more than once or twice a lifetime...
Creed had named it the Easter-egg. The Master Form did sort of look like one. Maybe a piece of modern art, or a big ovoid of Swiss cheese. Definitely not something that looked like it had the power over life and death, and yet it did. They SHOULD be able to handle these mercs, but the Easter-egg wouldn't let them die. Either it was a piece of alien technology, or the gods somewhere were laughing.
In the early dawn of the third day, a heavy, soaking rain pounded the beach, and the mercenaries' driftwood fire wouldn't stay lit. Creed had taken a pack of 'Lucky Strike's off of one of the mercs in the last battle, and he was smoking them the under the hood of his rain slicker, listening to a couple of enemy sentries talking about a whorehouse in Alabama the way most men talked about their mothers just before crying. At his back, a tarp rigged between some palm trees was keeping Kyle and Logan dry. Drier. What ammo they had taken was stashed under the tarp as well, shored up on rocks to keep it out of the wet sand.
It was fucking miserable weather on zombie island, but the mercs were feeling it more than Team X was. Considering what passed for a nice warm spring in the Alberta back-country, this was peanuts. The cigarettes tasted pretty good right about now, though.
They'd been fighting more or less non-stop for seventy-two hours, when the rain started back around midnight or thereabouts. The mercs had just set off the Easter-egg, and the newly-reawakened soldiers had found a case of grenades.
Creed had dropped back to the tree line, and laid down covering fire for Logan and Kyle. Then both sides dug in against the weather, tried to sleep while they could, and waited for the day. Creed ducked back under the edge of the tarp, when he heard Kyle waking up. Kyle was in full child-mode this morning, looking up at his father uneasily from under the shelter of Logan's arm. Kyle glanced back at Logan guiltily, opened his mouth to -try- and explain, then closed it and swallowed, watching Creed's expression darken like the clouds overhead.
Creed crouched beside them, looming over Kyle like a second conscience. Then he smirked, and scratched Kyle behind one of his ears.
"Shhh," Creed put a claw to his lips.
"Right," Kyle whispered.
"Let me guess," Creed whispered, conversationally, "-ya sleep better by Logan, but got no idea why?"
"Relax. It's a cub thing. You imprinted on 'im or somethin'."
"I'm twenty-six, though..."
"In Human years, yeah," Creed pointed out.
"Hmm," Kyle frowned.
"You sure ya don't smoke?" Creed asked.
"I do," Logan mumbled, sitting up sleepily. Kyle froze, and glanced up at Logan sharply. Logan cracked his neck a few times, then pushed Kyle's head back down against the liner of Kyle's sleeping bag with two fingers, "-go back ta sleep, kid," he ordered, with a lopsided smile.
Creed lit one of the remaining cigarettes from the end of his own, and passed it to Logan.
"Mercs do anything?" Logan asked him, after taking a deep drag.
"Nah. Too busy bitchin' about a little rain."
Logan peered out through the rain at the bedraggled encampment on the beach. Hardly anything was moving. There were worse ways to wake up, Logan decided.
Maybe it was having had six hours sleep, and maybe it was the cigarette, but Logan felt especially deadly this morning. What they'd been trying wasn't working, and probably never would. These weren't normal Human soldiers. This was more like a cult, or an alien hive-mind. They talked like Humans, they walked like Humans, but they no longer thought or died like Humans.
The mercenaries could not simply be overrun. These men would kill their wounded, and have just that many more fully healed soldiers as soon as the Easter-egg went off. There men were the ones Marlon Brando's character had wished for in 'Apocalypse Now', the soldiers who would do anything necessary, no matter what the cost to body and soul.
These were the arm-cutters.
It was damned impressive, and it would have even been admirable, if the mercs' core beliefs had hinged on something more significant than a way to cheat their way out of failure. Cheating or not though, the Easter-egg WORKED for these losers...
So, Team X would have to change the whole game.
Half a dozen sleeping gas grenades, for example, could have dealt with the problem nicely. Neither side had brought any of those. Pity. Ditto for tear-gas, and the flash-bang grenades had been used up in preparation for a night attack a day ago. Calling SHIELD for an air strike would look extremely bad, but-
"Who am I speaking to?" the Brit demanded, over his radio.
"How are your wrists?" Logan asked.
"Listen, you mad sonofacunt-" the Brit started snarling, then caught himself, "-I know what you want, and I'm not giving it to you. We have nothing to discuss."
"You seem to like boats. Now me, I like helicopters..." Logan continued, "-lots more range, ya know? With all the entrepreneurial sprit in this part o' the world, I'm sure I could have a cloud of stinger missiles gift-wrapped for you by lunchtime."
"I could do the same," the Brit pointed out.
"Why haven't you?" Wolverine asked, "-wait, don't tell me... you don't want big brother ta find out about this little incident, right?"
"It's not like you're keen to see this on CNN either," the Brit pointed out, derisively.
"It ain't the news I'm worried about. Turn to the Madripoor coast guard channel."
"The Prince of Madripoor would never-"
"Try the North Vietnamese Navy. You're screwed," Logan grinned.
There was a pause, as the Brit switched channels. Even from up near the tree line, Logan could hear the heated exchange between the head of the Madripoor coast guard and the radio operator of a North Vietnamese warship. Since French was used as the local international language, that's what they were speaking. 'Pardon my French' indeed. The warship captain was PISSED. Something about Madripoor having violating international anti-nuke-testing treaties, and his ship blowing the hell out of Rumika island. Activating the Master Form as many times as the mercs had in the same spot, they'd inadvertently created a radiation hot zone.
Logan waited, and mentally crossed his fingers.
"You dog-soldiers can't take a ship-to-surface missile either, can you?" the Brit said, when he switched back to Logan's frequency, "-what's the deal?"
"If I don't let your boats land, you're not leaving. At the same time, you have something I want. I don't expect you to give it to me, so let's trade: you, in exchange for us letting the boats land."
"Why me?" the Brit asked, suspiciously.
"Because I've seen what the magic prize DOES to you people. You'll never give it up now, will you? That's my guarantee. You held me at a standstill for three days. That's smart enough to find your own men later, whether they want you to or not," Logan explained.
"If I refuse?"
"I've seen your heart, British. Literally. What do you think?"
The radio crackled quietly in the rain. A fight broke out near the center of the mercenary camp.
It was over quickly. The Brit was thrown out of the mob towards the tree line, with his wrists tied behind his back, and a very ugly bruise over one eye.
"Twenty-eight seconds," Creed smirked, checking his watch. Logan watched with a quiet smile. The Brit had gotten back on his feet, and was cussing out his lieutenants. They, in turn were telling him to start walking before they got trigger-happy.
"Don't forget," Logan warned, elbowing Creed.
"Who, me?" Creed faked sounding offended.
Logan nipped him on the ear, hard. Creed hissed, just barely audible. Between one breath and the next, Logan disappeared into the brush beside him, and Creed was alone.
The Brit tramped sullenly up the slope from the beach, casting venomous glances behind him. Creed waited until the man had walked past him, and then tripped him casually.
"Got voted off the island, huh?" Creed grinned.
"HEY-" the Brit looked up at Creed, angrily, "-where's the little guy?"
Creed grabbed the merc by his hair, and duct-taped his mouth shut. He looked at the tape roll thoughtfully, and then kept going, wrapping the merc's entire head, except for his eyes. The effect was not unlike a ninja-mask, and made sticky sounds whenever he tried to move. The Brit looked panicked for some reason, and was making whimpering sounds.
"Oh yeah," Creed flicked his thumb claw across the Brit's face just under his nose, cutting him a little, but creating a breathing hole.
-Gasp gasp gasp...-
Creed inspected his handiwork, satisfied.
"Okay-" Creed thought for a brief moment, deciding on-, "-Calvin. Get up and start walking North, Cal."
/CALVIN?/ the Brit shuddered, standing, /-what's this nutter playing at?/
Wolverine gained the cover of an outcropping of seaweed-draped rocks, and slipped into the surf up to chest level. He settled his mask into place, carefully checking the rubber seal to see that none of his hair was caught in it. The seal was good. He dove. Underwater, the beach looked a lot better, all shades of blue light and darkness, pale sand, and twisting red coral. Above, the low waves were pocked ever so slightly by the impacts of rain drops. There were two sharks nearby, but he wouldn't be in the water long, and they'd never met a sea lion with foot-long claws before. There were more sharks just down the beach from the mercenary camp, circling. The rain was sluicing blood down through sand and out to sea. They looked happy.
/You guys ain't seen nothin' yet.../ Logan thought, swimming out towards the deeper water.
None of the hunters had long to wait.
Motorboats skimmed through the water overhead, throttles to the wall as they raced for the tainted beach. A larger boat waited uneasily a quarter mile offshore, the color scheme unmistakable. Madripoor coast guard. Surprise, surprise. Logan waited until the motorboats had stopped to pick up passengers, and found a concealed loop of rope just under the bow of the second boat to arrive. The sharks got a few chunks of mercenary during the boarding process, but didn't do too well against the knives that were used to punish them for this. The boat, now riding lower in the water, came about and started picking up speed, actually raising up again as the sleek hull hydroplaned towards the larger coast guard vessel. Logan kept his knees near his chest, holding as much of his body out of the water as possible, and hung on. When the boat slowed and slid back down so most of it's hull was underwater, Logan detached unseen, and swam under the keel to the opposite side of the bigger boat. A shark swam under him, brushing the bottom of his heel with it's dorsal fin speculatively. He unsheathed his left set of claws and slashed at it. The shark was fast, and barely managed to evade him, but it got the message.
Unchallenged, Wolverine climbed a low-hanging tack-line, waited until no-one was looking, then was over the white-painted railing, and well hidden in a high coil of mooring rope. From the conversations he could pick up, the Easter-egg was already aboard, in the main mess hall.
That would do.
Creed shoved the Brit forward one-handed, almost knocking him down again.
"Quit draggin' ass, Cal. Yer beginnin' to irritate me."
They were almost there, Creed noted. He could hear Kyle's voice just up ahead.
"-You don't get your coast guard out of the way in five minutes, we will be forced to consider it an openly hostile act. Aiding terrorists-"
"Captain, I'm still not picking you up on radar," -the voice on the other end of the radio interrupted him, "-please re-state your position, over."
As they emerged from the cover of the trees, the Brit froze in his tracks, staring. Sitting casually on the pontoon of a small Zodiac at the water's edge, was the younger of the two blondes, the sniper. He was talking into a radio, and his careful French carried a slight Quebecois accent, now that the Brit could hear it without radio static. Wait a minute...
-THIS was the North Vietnamese navy radio operator?!
"Mhhhph -hmmmhh hmuhk- -huvmm?!" exclaimed the merc, glaring at Kyle in disbelieving rage.
Kyle waved to him, still arguing on the radio.
"Thought you might say that," agreed Creed, understandingly, "-shut the fuck up and get in the boat."
Shoulders drooping, the merc wondered if there was anything sharp in the boat he could use to cut the rope around his wrists, and whether it would be worth his while if there was.
"Yes, I'll hold-" Kyle said, feigning irritation.
"Time to cut 'em loose," Creed told him, pushing the Brit down in the bow of the boat.
"Uh, yes? Hello? Well, there's been a big misunderstanding..."
"What do you MEAN there's-" the coast guard demanded.
"Prank call, sucker. Have a nice day." Kyle told him, in English.
The radio was silent for a moment, then it exploded in a stream of what sounded like someone cussing him out in Chinese. Kyle turned it off, chuckling to himself.
"Nice work," Creed told him, as they pushed the Zodiac down into the surf.
"I'm an old hand," Kyle shrugged, "-the phones in Department H were set up to block caller I.D."
The engine room was deafening. Silver-gray pipes laced with oil and rust chugged with the power of the huge diesel that dominated the compartment.
Diesel fuel would burn, but not half as well as gasoline, and it wasn't explosive.
Logan went looking on the storage deck. He found a case of signal flares, and half a pound of potent cocaine, bagged and duct-taped under the bottom of a red fire-hose storage locker.
Logan couldn't use this, but it gave him an idea. He took the breather-mask in the firefighting kit.
Following the scent of blood, latex, and iodine, he located the ship's medical center.
It wasn't much, just a converted ship's cabin with a rumpled bunk on one wall, a sink, and several locked cabinets.
One of the cabinets smelled like-
"Hey, what are you doing in here?" the ship's doctor demanded, "-get out!"
"Back off, I've had medical training. We got shark-bites and two gunshot wounds upstairs." said Logan briskly, without turning around, "-where d'ya keep the suture kit and anesthetics?"
"Oh- -second cabinet from the left," the doctor told him.
"Thanks-" -it was Chloroform. Primitive, effective, perfect.
"How many-" the doctor began, reaching for one of the boxes in the same cabinet. Logan grabbed the doc's wrists, twisting them sharply behind his back, and slammed the guy up against the door frame. "-WHAT THE HELL!?-" Logan taped the guy's mouth shut, and secured the doctor's wrists together with a roll of surgical tape, then attached him to a water pipe on the wall.
"Use the bolt threads at the base of the pipe to cut the tape. You should be loose in about five minutes. There really are shark bites upstairs," Logan told him. Then he grabbed two of the large brown glass chloroform bottles, and left, closing the door behind him.
The main mess hall was on the deck above. Logan ran into a couple of mercenaries guarding the door, but they couldn't stop him. One cut him on the arm before he could knock the guy out, though. It was hard to hold glass bottles and fight at the same time.
Kicking the door open, Wolverine lobbed both bottles into the mess hall. One hit a merc on the back and dropped to the floor without breaking, but the other hit the deck and shattered, sending a thick cloud of anesthetic fumes in all directions.
Half the mercs held their breath, and another four had gas masks themselves, but everyone else was hitting the floor very quickly. Logan went to work, starting with the conscious mercs nearest the door, and waiting for the rest of them to run out of air. Somebody thought to open a door. It was a good idea, but there was already too much vapor in the compartment. Half a minute later, only ten people were still standing. Logan, Two native Madripoor thugs, three of the gas-mask guys, a huge Jamaican, and three others who must have been pearl-divers at some point. One of the gas-mask guys had the Master Form. The Jamaican opened up with a pair of Mack-10's and Logan had to dive out of the way fast. He hit the deck and rolled, then came up, and killed two of the pearl-divers with his claws.
Then there were eight. One of the gas-mask-wearers opened a crate at his feet, and started pulling grenade pins.
The merc standing next to the bomber, the one holding the Master Form, closed his eyes and started whispering.
A series of explosions rocked the newly quiet bay. With the heavy gray clouds overhead, it could almost have been thunder, if it hadn't been for the column of thick black smoke. Creed brought up the Zodiac's outboard motor with a pull or two of the starter cord, and took the tiller, steering out towards the sound of the explosion.
"Yes?" Kyle was surprised. Creed never called him that. It was his codename, though.
"Bind his eyes," Creed instructed, "-the tape's in my pack's side pocket."
"Right," Kyle added two more strips onto the Brit's duct-tape facemask, sealing the eye-slit. The merc's eyes were dark brown, with tiny, sun-squint tan lines at the corners. Kyle felt a little sorry for him, but not too much. He patted the merc on the head, then checked the plastic bag over his rifle to make sure it hadn't gotten wet. It had. Kyle wiped it dry. The gun might still work, or it might not. He unloaded it, and got his M9 ready instead.
There were survivors in the water, mostly Madripoor coast guard. Creed drove past them. The pale silhouette of the slowly sinking ship could be seen below through the turbulence on the surface, passing the fifty-foot mark on it's slow downward drift. There were probably a lot of sealed compartments with trapped air.
No sign of Logan. Maybe he was still in one of these compartments?
He would find his way out, Creed decided. Even if Logan had been nearly killed by the blast itself, he would wake up soon enough.
Unless... the Easter-egg had the power to knock him cold, and there was no reason it couldn't do the same to Logan. Could he find Logan in the dark water, without the sound of his breathing, and possibly his heartbeat? Underwater, he wouldn't be able to track by scent.
He could send Kyle down, but then he would eventually have to explain why...
-Creed had kept this to himself, but he hadn't actually seen anything for three days, not since he'd seen the Easter-egg go off for the first time. It hadn't killed him, as staring at the thing would have killed a Human, but it had blinded him. Not that big of a deal, for someone who relied more on scent and hearing anyway. Even an eyelid made a sound when it blinked.
Maybe he should go searching in spite of it. If this vision problem was psychological, needing the missing sense that badly would probably return it to him. Not a bad idea.
Then again, if he was willing to risk missing Logan in the water because he couldn't see him, he probably wasn't attached enough for it to work. -Damn.
Assuming that Logan needed the help to begin with.
He was probably already swimming up from the wreck or still kicking mercenary ass in one of the ship's dry compartments. Had to be.
Kyle seemed antsy. Maybe he'd offer to go down after Logan without being asked. /C'mon, boy.../
Creed killed the Zodiac's engine, and leaned over the side, ducking his head underwater. Millions of bubbles rising from the sinking ship, and the creaking of the hull warping under greater and greater pressure drowned out everything else at first. The voices of people still trapped on board cut through. Thrashing water all around. A grinding crunch that sounded suspiciously like a bone breaking in the jaws of a shark. A metallic snap, one of the ship's antennas, maybe. A grunt, and a hollow, meaty thud, as something solid connected with a shark's rough flank. That sounded like it came from deeper than most of the live ones were, maybe thirty or forty feet down.
Creed pulled his head out of the water. Logan would be up soon.
He felt almost disappointed.
Something brushed Creed's hand at the water's surface, something he KNEW wasn't Logan. Creed slashed at it with his talons, and was rewarded by a howl of pain from the merc who had been trying to climb aboard.
"Punk," Creed spat. The merc floundered around a bit in the waves beside the boat, and then screamed, and was silent. Logan's shark fan club had found easier pickings.
Logan broke the surface a minute later, grabbed a breath, went back under, and handed Kyle a sodden backpack strap. In the backpack, was the Master Form. Creed took Logan's hands, and hauled him aboard. Logan fell over the side into the bottom of the boat, covered in healing shark bites, and the tattered remains of his uniform. He didn't get up. Creed covered Logan with a rain slicker, and pointed to the stern of the craft.
"I got 'im. Get us out of here."
Kyle re-started the motor, and steered the boat East, out towards the open sea. Creed got some drier clothes on Logan, curled up in the bow of the boat with him, and slept.
Hours later, the rain had lightened to a drizzle. The volcanic peaks of Rumika were still visible to the West, and the red sails of a large junk glided past on the Northern horizon. The Brit, sitting in the stern opposite Kyle, wished to god somebody would take the duct tape head-wrap off.
Kyle decided against waking anyone up. He changed course, and headed back towards Rumika. Two miles off the Southeastern tip of the island, Kyle spotted another boat, a speedboat that didn't look like one of the coast guard's. Probably the one Col. Fury had promised him over the radio an hour ago. Kyle's thoughts strayed to the contents of the backpack Logan had brought aboard, sitting safely beside him. They hadn't planned to let SHIELD have it, right? Kyle checked the speedboat's progress. Ten minutes, max. He couldn't destroy it in that time. During the siege on the beach, he'd skipped several sniper-rounds off the thing, without effect. It was heavy, though...
If he woke up his parents to ask what to do with it, the Brit might figure out that they had the Master Form in the first place, and then they'd have to kill him. As far as anyone else knew it had gone down with the main coast guard ship, and as of now, that would be the official story. Kyle raised the backpack carefully, one-handed. He passed it over lowest part of the engine, behind his back, then lowered it into the propeller-wash, and let go. Kyle glanced at the others anxiously.
No one moved. He'd done it. Out above the choppy green water behind them, the massed rain clouds were beginning to break up.
Unloading the remains of their gear from the Zodiac into the speedboat a quarter of an hour later, Logan asked Kyle if he'd seen his backpack.
"No, not since we left the beach," Kyle lied. Logan and Creed exchanged glances.
"Huh. Guess I lost it to the sharks," Logan shrugged.
That was the end of that.
Sabretooth woke up to a band of light stretching across the ceiling above his bed. The ceiling fan turned quietly, and the wood grain on one of the fan blades looked like Alaska. Creed shut his eyes, took a breath, and opened them again. The fan was still there. He'd gambled that his sight would return before it became necessary to tell anyone, and hot damn, that bet had just paid off.
Grinning, he threw off the sheets, and ran to the back door.
The pale sand burned like glass, and the sea looked like a stadium full of flashbulbs.
Creed went back inside, and shut the door partway. Things caught his eye, like the bright red plastic of a coffee can lid, and a stack of papers he'd been collecting as he found them over the past few weeks. One of Logan's plaid flannels lay on the floor partway behind the couch. It hadn't been worn, and Creed doubted it would have fallen there by accident. A clean shirt didn't smell, and it could have lain undisturbed for months if he hadn't...
How long he'd known was a very good question, but it no longer mattered.
Logan was in Japan now, visiting Amiko and probably giving the local Yakuza boss a fast ulcer.
Kyle had gone back to Canada. Something about Alpha Flight, and people to see.
Creed favored the shirt with a wry smile, and tossed it on the coffee table. He blew the dust off his computer, booted it up, and logged in.
Four hundred-odd e-mails. Great. Creed deleted all the obvious junk mail, and everything with the 'BroEM:' header. Giving Magneto his e-mail address had been a mistake, but the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants mailing list was the next best thing to Mutant news, so he hadn't blocked it. Toad, on the other hand...
There were lots of job offers, which wasn't surprising for an election year.
Ah, here was something- -the Foreigner didn't correspond much. The message was brief, "Are you bored?" and the subject line read "Re:Last placed contract."
"What's the problem, old man? Don't like me thinnin' out the fresh meat?" Creed asked the screen, in annoyance. He checked the date the message was sent anyway. Three days ago.
Good. The Foreigner usually gave it about a week before he decided that one of his orders had been ignored and rained unholy whoop-ass on the guilty party.
Creed had been called on to administer that punishment far too often to take the order lightly.
Hell, if Logan was leaving shirts behind his couch, maybe the outside entertainment was overkill anyway.
He'd cancel the price on his head later.
Maybe talk Constrictor into kidnapping Kyle while he was at it. Constrictor was just tough enough to handle attempting a stunt like that, and he could probably use the work as much as Kyle needed the practice...
I wrote this one back in '03-'04.
I didn't write it to post it. I wrote it for me. Still, since you're here at the end readin' this, I hope you liked it.
Since I am a die-hard scary comic book geek, I'll tell you where I got some of the details:
'Ghosts of Rumika' was based on the events in, 'The Lazarus Project'
Sabretooth visits Wolverine every year on his birthday, and leaves... presents.
(Begins with Wolverine #10)
The 'Ghenna Stone Affair' was explained in 'Wolverine # 11-16'.
Tyger Tyger is Canon. She can be found in many of the Wolverine issues set in Madripoor. She's a bad-girl crime boss (though thoroughly back-storied and not completely evil), and that suits Logan just fine.
Frank Payne, AKA 'Constrictor', was once a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative working for Nick Fury. He became a villain after being forced to continue a traumatic undercover assignment too long (revealed by Fury in 'Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #36).
Constrictor and Sabretooth have worked together as hired muscle and mercenaries, and they go way back.
They also shared a small apartment in New York in the 1970's, which was FUNNY AS HELL. (Sabretooth Classic #2)
The events surrounding the Hotel(/shelter) Prophesy and Logan's escape from the Weapon X Project are detailed in the graphic novel, 'Weapon X' by the freakin' awesome Barry Windsor-Smith.
The explanation of Elsie Dee and Albert was in 'Wolverine' #35-42.
I got Nick Fury's 'What I know I can't tell, but have a cigar' line from the last page of #42.
The full conversation was,
SHIELD doc #1: "Wh-who was that crazy guy?" (talking about Sabretooth)
Logan: "He said he was my father."
SHIELD doc #2: "No way... ...Both your blood samples gave us some screwy readings but the basic blood types are clearly discernable and unless Gregor Mendel was dead wrong-- --that wasn't your biological father who just took a dive into the East river!"
Logan: "Whu--? He was LYING?"
Fury: "Nope. He really thought he was your pappy, Logan..."
Logan: "You KNEW? You never told me? What's the WHOLE story? Best give it to me straight, bub!"
Fury: "Don't know the whole story and what I know I can't tell. It's classified and ultra hush, and I swore the oath... Sorry. Here, have a cigar."
The Canon story of how Sabretooth and Mystique met was given in 'Sabretooth: Death Hunt #3' by Larry Hama and TEX. Birdie was also explained in the 'Death Hunt' arc, and she dies at the hands of Graydon Creed in issue #4.
If you really want to know where I got anything else, drop me a line.