Undisclosed US Special Forces Base, just south of the North Vietnamese border, January 14th 1973, 2300 Hours
"We're gonna die man, I tell you, this is not good. This is fucking INSANE. As soon as the Jeeps drop us off, boom! I am not joking, they will kill us all. I seen 'em do it...My old squad, they were sniped from the trees, I was the last one left and this slant eyed bastard, just comes up behind me..." the corporal gestured, hands and arms at ninety degrees, clenching his fists, "He wraps a rope around my neck, but just before I pass out...I see my lady from back home. She's there, one hand to her mouth, 'Shh,' she says, 'It'll be okay.' That's when I woke up and turn it back on him; I grabbed my knife, dug it into his side, and shoot him with his pistol. That's heroism, son."
Smoke blinked a few times, digesting the corporal's story, "That's quite a tale," the Czech said, "But we'll be fine, we won't die. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm older than you."
"You don't look a day over twenty five!" the corporal replied, "I wanna believe you son, I really do, but what I've seen...it'll turn your hair white."
"I think it already has," Smoke ran his hand through the tiny bristles of hair on his head. He walked from the mess hall to his quarters and sat on his bed. The din behind the closed door and the walls seemed to fade as he pulled his backpack from the floor, he lifted it on to his knees, and pulled out a picture of his wife. It had been crumpled in the bag, but that reminded him of how he felt dedicated to her, how deeply in love he was, and with that, a few tears were shed, then he sobbed and attempted to keep his wails to himself. The pressure of this war was crushing his mind; his will to keep fighting. Was it really worth the trouble? It had been six years since any of the Mortals or Grims had seen other another super soldier, soviet, or otherwise, apart from occasional briefings with Raiden.
"When will this end?" Smoke spluttered into his hands.
Scorpion opened the door and noticed how disturbed his second in command was, "I...I didn't realise you were in here. I was...I was just going to bed."
Smoke rubbed his eyes and replied, "Don't worry, you can. I-I'm just feeling...shaken up. Nerves, as always."
"You'll see her again."
"I hope so."
Scorpion sat down next to him, the bed nearly breaking under their weak supports, "I'm not very good at this, you know that...but you can talk to me about it. I can't have you crying over spilt milk."
Smoke itched his heavily bristled neck, "It's not spilt milk, it's not only the thought of going back in a coffin; it's the killing. We do it, nobody talks about it, is it normal? Is it just a boring work chore? Are we all just hired killers? Murderers for the greater good?"
Scorpion's dark eyes flickered with a minuscule flame, the familiar yellow highlighting his irises, "We've shot, stabbed, beat, maimed, tortured and strangled people to death for over thirty years and you still get guilty?"
"YES. Oddly enough I do," Smoke calmed his mild temper.
"I have nobody, this is a job for me. I don't know when we'll die...or if we'll die. I've looked in the prime of my life way longer than any man should and you know what? I'm tired of it. I want to retire, but my body is fit and energetic, it won't let me quit. I don't complain about it, so why should you?"
Smoke didn't want to make eye contact, he shifted his gaze to anywhere apart from his squad leader, "Everybody bottles everything up. I think that is unhealthy."
"Talk to Sub Zero, isn't he your friend?"
Smoke chuckled, "Yeah. Yeah he is, but he's not Bi-Han."
Scorpion felt his stomach clench, the name making him furious, "No. No, he's not."
"Did you ever think it was out of the ordinary that he...y'know...killed them?"
Scorpion clasped his hands together, "The thought did cross my mind. Why would he do it, what were the reasons? I have resigned myself to just believing it was jealousy, it seemed easier that way."
The two of them slept soundly, Reptile and Sub Zero crawled into their own beds in the early hours, having been to a brothel, they were too tired to keep drinking.
"Can we keep this war going?" General Stryker asked Kabal, the scientist typing in his office.
"I doubt it...Nixon is adamant that the treaty go through tomorrow. Mass withdrawal of troops will go ahead as planned, the war, for the US, will be over."
"God-damn plans will got to shit..."
Kabal turned in his seat, "Sir, with all due respect, I don't think we can do it. Super soldiers take a long time to train, adapt and build on their powers...we can't rush them into mass production. They're people, not cars."
Stryker stared straight into the ageing scientist's eyes, "Are you trying to be funny? It was your idea in the first place! You're NOTHING. You are a fuckin' roach on my shoe, you piece of shit."
Stryker grabbed him by the neck, his grip tightening every second, "If you worked harder on getting the drugs, serum...whatever, ready, we would be knee deep in government contracts and grants. Despite this, you feel the need to invent gadgets and useless equipment that wouldn't even pass the prototype stage. Do I make myself clear?" He let go.
"Ye-yes..." Kabal gasped for breath.
Stryker grabbed schematics from the desk, "What the hell is this thing anyway? Some kind of sadist gear? It's immoral. Get rid of it."
"It's an advanced gas mask..." he rubbed his reddened throat, "Designed to adjust and fit anybody...man, woman or child..."
"Huh. Well, like I said, it's some faggot shit. Get it out of my face," Stryker snorted some phlegm and spat it on the linoleum flooring before walking out, "Clean that up."
Kabal cursed under his breath, they were the only two in the admin part of the facility, others floated in and out of the place, either for temporary experimentation or as punishment. Stryker ruled with an iron fist, and little got away from his attention. Kabal, however, was lucky, despite the outbursts, Stryker seemed to trust him. The disturbed scientist snatched up his papers and rushed to the bathroom, light seeped in like sick dripping down a bucket. The walls were a metallic blue-grey, the iciness of the area seemingly designed to make people feel uncomfortable, Kabal felt the effects of it as he locked himself inside a stall. He scribbled on a blank canvas, his knee providing insecure support for his ink; his glasses fell repeatedly off of his slender nose as he wrote frantically, wrathfully. When he was finished, he stood up slowly and read it back to himself, once, twice and a third time and nodded to himself. This one sheet of paper would change everything.
Somewhere over East Germany, January 15th 1973, 1700 Hours Approx.
"I can't believe it's finally over," Sub Zero repeated for the third time over their plane journey, his hands fidgeting excitedly. "Almost ten years in that godforsaken country."
Smoke turned towards him, "It's not over yet, those people are still fighting for their freedom. We just got out of the way."
"Yeah, well, maybe it's for the best. The world hates Americans."
"With good reason sometimes..." Smoke replied.
Reptile picked food out of his sharp teeth, Chameleon simply watched, silently.
"Something I can help you with?" Reptile asked the enigmatic figure nervously.
"I am...intrigued by your mutation. Did you expect to become a reptilian man?"
The man once known as Eli Cash put a well groomed fingernail to his bottom lip and looked upward, before coming back to face Chameleon, "No. To be honest, I thought I was gonna turn into Superman. That's why I signed up."
The quiet man coughed, suddenly finding himself slightly stunted as Reptile continued, "Did you always expect to become a man made out of Jell-O?"
Chameleon ignored him.
Rain eyed Scorpion and Sub Zero, then turned towards Tremor and gave him a small smile, patting him on his leg before standing up and checking a few crates in the back of the plane. Frost adjusted her mask a few times, eventually choosing to take it off, her crystalline hair shone brightly, but that was overshadowed by a scar crossing her mouth. Sub Zero directed himself towards her, noticing it, however, he said nothing. The journey home was to be a long one.
A good fifteen minutes passed, nobody had so much as uttered a word, until the co-pilot – the man who had helped them escape Russia – came and greeted Scorpion with an envelope.
"For you," said the Chinese American. Scorpion stared at the man for a few seconds, before taking the paper from him.
'Scorpion. I have written this letter to you as I believe you deserve to know the truth. Back in 1944, days before your team went to fight in the D-Day invasions, your family was attacked and, ultimately, murdered.'
Scorpion felt the familiar fire burn inside of him.
'Stryker told you that he kept it a secret from you because he believed you would have been unable to take such a burden, that is untrue, he intended to use it to his advantage, to make you a better soldier. Bi-Han, the former Sub Zero, did not kill your family as you were led to believe, instead, your wife and child were shot by an agent as part of a training exercise and used as a deal in giving said agent, super soldier enhancement.'
Scorpion grew angrier.
'The general has no particular need for 'the Mortals' in his plans any longer. He sees you as outdated, overly egotistical, wastes of space. I don't believe this should be the case, but he will eventually want rid of you all. I had some suspicion towards our newest recruits, but it turns out they were all sent on similar missions to the agent before they became enhanced.'
Everybody was watching Scorpion as he read the letter, his hands were shaking violently.
'I cannot keep the truth from you any longer.'
"Scorpion?" Smoke said nervously.
'Rain was the agent that shot your wife and child. I'm so sorry. From a friend.'
Scorpion jumped at Rain hands first, he ripped the violet mask off, digging into his cheeks as he attempted to rip his face off. Chameleon and Reptile tried in vain to pull the Yellow Yank off of the co-leader as he punched the younger man furiously in his mouth.
"GET OFF OF ME."
"Scorpion! Stop it, you'll kill him!" Frost pleaded.
He didn't stop hitting him until Tremor grabbed him around the neck and threw him to the end of the plane. Rain coughed harshly, his face was bleeding heavily, with bruises around his eyes and, now broken, nose. Scorpion immediately got up and charged towards the usually well groomed man, Chameleon sweeping his legs with a well placed kick, flooring him once again.
"Tie him up!" Rain spat, his wounds beginning to heal.
Smoke, Reptile and Sub Zero held Scorpion back, his ferocity hard to chain down as he swung empty strikes and punches. His eyes burned a deep seated amber as he tried to tell his team that he was doing the right thing.
"Let go! He killed my wife! He destroyed my family!"
Rain stared straight at him, knowing that the Mortals had loosened their grip on their leader. Smoke uttered in Scorpion's ear, "Is this true?"
"It's true," Rain interrupted, "I followed my orders, like you always made sure to remind me."
"You bastard! I'll rip your heart out!" Scorpion screamed, the grip on him loosened ever more as his squad realised they'd be doing everybody a service.
"Open the door, Tremor, It's becoming a little too hot in here." Tremor did as he was told, walking past the four veterans quickly, ultimately pushing on a lever to release the emergency precautions. The back of the plane opened to the German sky, a familiar, if ruinous place, for the four of them.
"Let me go!" Scorpion shouted, his fellow squad members obeyed and let him run at Rain. His counterpart was prepared now, and fully healed. A sudden blast of high pressured water shot out of Rain's palms, slamming Scorpion into the roof. Sub Zero conjured ice from the roof and projected it vertically, hoping to hit Rain. Frost, surprisingly, stopped the ice and froze Sub Zero to the spot instead.
"I'm sorry..." she mouthed as she froze his entire body from head to toe.
Scorpion attempted to get up, but was met by another blast of water that fired him into his two remaining men, and on to the edge of the plane.
"Hurt those two," Rain ordered Tremor and Chameleon as he sauntered to the rear of the aircraft. Scorpion held on tightly, his strength depleted, his mind exhausted. "Just give up," Rain callously muttered.
"No..." came the weakened voice of the Mortals leader.
"Fair enough," replied Rain, kicking Scorpion's face with his boot, forcing him to fall through the clouds.
"NO!" Smoke yelled. Reptile stayed silent as the two of them were tied and gagged, beaten by Tremor until they didn't want to move voluntarily.
"Now that your pest has finally been dealt with, just listen up, Stryker has placed me in charge of this particular special ops unit from now on. I didn't think it would be this soon, but it was inevitable..."
"You ruined his life..." Smoke interrupted, Tremor slamming his head into metal as punishment.
"I made his life BETTER. He would have never become so powerful if it wasn't for them dying. Even Reptile would have been more powerful!"
The lizard man spat a tiny bit of toxicity to the ground, Rain continued, "I am your leader now, so listen to me, or be terminated. It would be too easy to dispatch you, but I persuaded the general to let you live."
"How kind..." Reptile muttered, suddenly feeling the earthquake-like force of Tremor's foot. Frost sat still, not knowing where to look as Rain and Chameleon wandered over to their captives and waited for the journey to Nevada to be over.
Nevada – 1800 Hours Approx.
The orange hue settled over the runway as the plane descended over the desert, the old military complex greeted the remaining soldiers as they stepped off the cargo plane, willingly, or forcefully. General Stryker greeted them in an army Jeep, closely followed by a truck which Smoke, Reptile and the frozen block that contained Sub Zero, were bundled into. Rain and Frost went with the general, Tremor and Chameleon sat with the prisoners and they rode the half mile to the base, Stryker eagerly asking questions and grinning non-stop. Tumble weed skittered back and forth in the light breeze, vultures flew overhead and MP's with rifles, stood on the entrance, welcomed the returning guests home. Tremor went in last, his hulking frame barely managing to make it through the door. In Stryker's office stood Kabal timidly, making sure to pour a glass of whisky for the general.
"God help me, you've done a brilliant job. Shame about Scorpion, but he was a lost cause anyway," Stryker laughed and Smoke struck out at him, Chameleon held him back.
"You destroyed him!" Reptile shouted. "I'll kill you!"
Stryker sipped on the brown liquor, tapped his lips together and chuckled, "Don't talk to your superior officer like that, you ugly piece of shit."
"I quit then!"
Stryker laughed again, "You can't quit. You're bound for life. Seeing as you all want to disobey, I leave you a choice; stay and fight on the front lines and assist your superiors..."
"To Hell with you!" Reptile exclaimed, prompting a disapproving look from Stryker, and a punch from Tremor.
"...or I will let you live whatever lives you have outside of here, untouched."
This piqued Smoke's interest, "What's the catch?"
The general lit a cigar and put out the match on his desk, "You tell nobody about this, you die with the secret of this experiment."
Reptile stared at Smoke, glancing back and forth at Stryker, "Smoke? Smoke, you're not seriously thinking about this are you? Are you?!"
"Wait a minute Reptile."
"Don't do it," the lizard man warned. Stryker sat inhaling greyish fumes, "He'll kill you anyway!"
Smoke didn't know where to look, what to say, or what to do. He was trapped between the offer of he had been waiting for, or staying with his friend.
"I-I...I don't know..." said the vice commander.
"I give you my word, I will let you live in peace," Smoke's lip trembled. Stryker continued, "All you have to do is keep quiet. If I wanted you dead, you would have been finished long before now. Scorpion was dangerous, you know that, and so does Reptile."
"You're unbelievable! How dare you talk about the man who led us to safety on so many god-damn occasions? You did nothing for us apart from give us orders. NOTHING," Reptile was battered repeatedly by Tremor once again, "Y-y-you..." He couldn't speak.
Stryker held his hand out to Smoke, "Shake my hand and you can live with your family again, no more wars, no more killing. Tell any newspaper, or reveal your abilities and we will cut your wife up in front of you, then cut you up."
Smoke endlessly gazed at the large hand before him, "Why?" he asked softly.
"Because I want to help."
"No," Smoke looked up, "I mean why did you have to kill Scorpion? He...he wasn't a danger."
Stryker sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "His power knew no bounds, he would have grown too thirsty, too angry for his own good. He had to be stopped prematurely, all of you fighting him together couldn't have ended him." Smoke was silent again. "Listen to your wife's voice inside your head. She wants you home. At least you have a home, unlike these two. One's a washed up old hick, the other, an adulterer who slept with his dead brother's fiancé whilst he was away fighting."
Smoke's eyes widened at that revelation, "What?"
"That's where we found him, deep inside Bi-Han's bedsheets. We recruited him there and then."
"Make your choice," Stryker waved his hand towards Reptile, Chameleon and Tremor lifted the near unconscious man by his arms.
"I want to go home..."
"Sm-Smoke..." Reptile whispered.
"I am tired of fighting these same battles, killing the same people for little benefit. I have seen no positives from ruining lives to save ours."
"D-don't lis-listen to him..." came the whisper again.
General Stryker stood up and shook Smoke's hand, "You have your life back Tomas. This concludes our business, this also concludes your business with the United States government. Thank you for your service. You shall receive a payment bonus for your hard work."
"I'm taking Sub Zero with me," Smoke demanded quietly.
"Very well, he too shall receive a payment bonus for his services. Brief him on what he needs to do."
"What about Reptile?"
Stryker glanced at their sole captive, "He shall be kept here, if he doesn't comply with our rules, he may be executed, or he could be experimented on further."
"I want to take him too."
"He doesn't want to follow my orders, he will only try and ruin our work."
Reptile hung from his arms in his cell, green blood dripped from his vastly mutated face as he was locked up. Smoke sat in a car with fresh clothes on, Sub Zero thawed next to him, still unaware as to what happened. He would be told within the next twenty four hours. Tomas Vrbada took his beret off and turned to the windows in the back of the motorcade, he could see the sun set over the Nevada horizon, the whole time thinking about the long journey to New York, his family and whether he had made the right choice.
Scorpion's body lay face down in mud in Eastern Germany, undiscovered.
A.N. Thank you as always to all the people that follow/favourite/review this story. I didn't realise it had been two months since I updated, and for that, I sincerely apologise. I became very angry with myself as I had promised this chapter much, much sooner than the time it has actually taken me. I promise this story will be finished before the end of the year, but that will be no excuse for any future content that seems rushed. I am going to put my best efforts into this now.
Memmek10k – Thank you, you are too kind.
Mr. Havik – If, for any reason, you want to PM me, do it. I want you to push me, I am not abandoning this for anything. I would rather you be concerned and want to talk to me, than think I've left this. Quan Chi will definitely be developed further, but I hope this chapter has answered some questions for you. As always, thank you.
P.S. I made a simple book cover, the minimalist look felt right!