"I could go with never hearing that sound again," Virus murmured. His hands, cupped around a warm mug of coffee, shook ever so slightly. Tanner's gaze shifted from the scarred hands of his friend to his face.
"Is it the sound, or is it because its her?" Tanner asked knowingly. Virus' eyes rolled deliberately.
"Not like that," Virus sighed.
"...She's the same age we were when we joined District X and she's already seen more than we did in the first decade. Born into hell, dragged into a war. She's already killed, seen a fucking massacre, saved lives, risked her own life... She deserves better than this. He'd want more than this for her."
Tanner smiled to himself.
"You think I didn't figure it out too? She looks just like him. 'Cept the eyes." Virus mused.
"I'm not a believer in fate, but you've gotta admit, its pretty strange," Tanner chuckled.
"And from the ashes the Phoenix will rise again," Virus smiled.
"Do you think he'd be happy? With us? With this?" Tanner whispered solemnly.
"I think he'd be pissed with us, but you know he'd come around. But Zaria? He'd be proud as all hell."
"Yeah. Yeah he would," Tanner grinned, leaning his own cup of coffee to knock it against Virus'.
"Excuse me, gentlemen, but may I speak with you a moment?" The voice of Petrovich called out from behind them. Tanner and Virus both turned in tandem to face into the communal space of New Kennedy. It was still the wee hours of the morning and the pair hadn't expected anyone else to be awake. The only other sounds around them were the birds, the crickets and the distant, muted, inhuman scream of Zaria that rose the hairs on the backs of their arms.
"Sure Alfred, what's goin on?" Virus queried.
Petrovich took a heaving sigh. His skin was sweaty and his eyes shifted uncomfortably from Virus to Tanner and back. He unconsciously scratched at his growing, white beard and approached them.
"Is everything all right?" Tanner asked, rising slowly from his seat.
"I-I-I believe that I know what's happened. With everything," Petrovich stuttered out. Virus' expression grew watchful, unsure. He, too, rose from his seat and approached Petrovich.
"Explain," Virus stated.
"This girl of Zaria's, this... Rogue... what she's done is not her fault. At least I don't think so."
Virus felt the color leave his face. His hands felt as cold as the shiver that ran down his spine. He glanced over at Tanner whose face was as concerned as it was hopeful.
"What does he see in that monster?"
"Please, continue," Tanner pressed concernedly.
Petrovich took a long breath and, after dragging a nearby chair to himself and taking a seat, he spoke.
"Do you know why the existence of the Super Soldier program was not allowed to be known to the public?" He started.
Virus was the one to answer. "Because it would scare the shit out of people."
"Yes and no," Petrovich answered. "The primary cause was that the way the augmentation happened would create fear. Much like in the early twenty-first century when citizens still used social media and primitive Artificial Intelligence, they feared the governments ability to listen in and to take advantage of them. Could you possibly imagine what panic would ensue if the public learned that the government was injecting individuals of the next evolutionary chain with tiny robots? It would be chaos."
"You're not wrong," Tanner agreed.
"People still should have had the right to know. People aren't all weak," Virus argued.
"Irrelevant to your opinions, this is what the government believed. Thus, the program was kept Ultra Secret. However, the public would have been right to fear what we were working on."
"Why?" Tanner asked.
"That the machines could be used for mind control." Petrovich paused, as if for dramatic affect, however the two Mercenaries reacted quite mildly.
"That was a thought, but some Mechanic's proved that was a crock of shit."
"They were wrong," Petrovich mumbled. His fists clenched weakly, before opening in defeat. "I've kept it a secret for so long... But it's time you knew, that someone knew, the whole story."
Virus walked forward and leaned down into Petrovich's face; so close that their noses nearly touched. His almost black eyes pierced deep into Petrovich's own tired pupils. "What did you do?"
"I did it. And that's the real reason that Seraph wants me dead," He said shakily.
"You made a fucking mind control device? Bullshit," Tanner bit out.
"Not a mind control device, and I never made it. Essentially, what I designed was a version of the Augmentation Serum that, when programmed a certain way, would give control to the nano system to a single master control. Voice command. The machines would then take the orders of the master command, process, interpret and force the body of the augmented individual to follow through with those commands. It is arguably far worse than mind control, because at least with mind control, you believe you want to do what you are told do."
"Why? Why would they want that? That's insane!" Virus barked.
"Don't be naive, Virus."
Petrovich's shoulders sagged at the retort. He knew that the respect of these men was gone for him.
"Please, let me continue?" Petrovich asked.
"Please," Tanner sympathized, reaching a hand out to pull Virus, at least a small distance, from the doctor's face. Virus snarled, but backed off, at least for now. Exhaling sharply, Petrovich continued.
"We never created the devices. It was enough for the company that we had a functional formula. It would have been forgotten except issues with another project arose. Project S.E.R.A.P.H."
At the name, Virus nearly exploded, his face red with anger and pent up vituperation. Tanner closed his eyes, prepared himself and nodded.
"Before he was called Seraph, he went by the name of Fell Antar. Long story short, he was a master manipulator and an experience killer. He was the only non-chinese individual that worked as an enforcer for the Triad before the District pulled him from FBI custody. Knowing he would be a useful too, we augment him. Long story short, Fell's advanced genetic structure allowed him to be changed into not just a Wraith of high caliber, but also with traits of Scout and Mechanic as well. He was a literal genius in all capacities."
"He already sounds like a fucking monster. What, were you just stupider back then?" Virus gnashed.
"More stupid," Tanner corrected reflexively, knowing it was a mistake as soon as he said it. Virus glared bullets at him, but said nothing.
"Did I like him? No. But it was my job, Virus," Petrovich fought back.
"So said the Nazi's. So said the M.A.G.A. supporters. So said the settlers that slaughtered my ancestors," Virus responded, straightening his back and tightening his fists. Tanner placed a gentle hand on Virus's shoulder.
"Petrovich, just get to the point before he snaps," Tanner pleaded tightly. Virus' jaw flexed heavily as his teeth ground together, biting back the violent and harsh words he wished to bellow out.
"Yes, well, the District sought to control Fell, or rather, Seraph as soon as he started to use his new abilities for self benefit. Upon figuring this out, Seraph ran. I believe the two of you remember the female Wraith, Widow?" Petrovich asked. Tanner nodded solemnly.
"That fucking psychopath? Yeah, Karma was bangin her for a while. They sent us on a mission aboard a freighter ship. Karma got in a fight with her, but he let her get away. Can't blame him though, bitch was engaged to him before then. Only other class five Wraith in the world," Virus answered crassly.
"Well, yes. You didn't know it at the time, but District X knew that she would be there. Their hope was that Phoenix would kill her, and put Seraph on the run once more. Instead she helped hide Seraph from us for nearly two years. It was near the end of that second year that District X located Widow again and sent your squadron after her in hopes of killing her and showing Seraph that he was their property. The biggest issue with their plan was that it worked."
Tanner took a sip from his coffee and sighed. "Karma killed her. It broke him for the longest time, but he did it."
"Yes, and if he hadn't, none of this likely would have happened. The end of the civilized world, the deaths of all your friends and families... none of it."
"What do you mean?" Tanner pressed.
"Widow and Seraph were married. The reason she off the radar for so long was due to her giving birth to an exceptional child."
"She had a kid?" Virus asked.
"Yes... A unique child with blonde hair... and eyes of violet."
"No..." Virus moaned.
"That's why he wanted her...." Tanner realized.
"Zaria's Rogue is the daughter of Seraph and Widow. A genetic masterpiece. But I'm sorry to say that that isn't the end of the drama."
Virus knocked back his coffee and started walking around the counter in which they sat in front.
Reaching down beneath the counter, Virus removed a dusty bottle of whiskey and dumped as much as he could into mug. He took a long, slow gulp before gasping, taking a deep breath and releasing it.
"Mind if I have some of that?" Petrovich asked. Virus shrugged and poured more of the bottle into an empty mug and passing it to Tanner who passed it to the doctor. Looking at Tanner, Virus offered up the bottle.
"I'm 0kay. I'd rather be sober for this."
"Nope," Virus told him and dumped a heavy shot into Tanner's still semi-full mug of coffee.
"You're a dick."
"Can't be. Drunken immunity. Magneto, go ahead," Virus offered, raising his mug to Petrovich. The doctor took a long drink from his cup before speaking.
"Ah-- Well, after Rogue, or Azrael as Zaria explained to me, was born, Widow began working again. It was then that she came out of the woodwork and Karma ultimately killed her. This sent Seraph into a frenzy, a hatred. It was the government that sent you after his wife. It was the government that destroyed his family. And so he manipulated and twisted and created a war that took everything from the world. They would all suffer as he suffered. That's justice in his eyes.
"So this is all our fault..." Tanner muttered.
"No. It's his. We didn't make him do anything. Seraph chose to do all of this," Virus assured.
"I haven't gotten to the most relevant part," Petrovich said softly. Virus and Tanner looked on expectantly.
"The formula my team developed. Based on what Zaria and Grant have told me and what I've seen in reaction from the two of you, I'm convinced that Seraph has developed a working Augmentation Control Serum. And that he's injected it into his own daughter."
"God fucking dammit," Virus swore.
"Zaria's got another half day before the Augmentation ends. When she can focus, we'll tell her. This will ease her mind quite a lot, if its true," Tanner processed.
"I'm sorry," Petrovich spoke.
"We all are," Virus spat, pounding back the rest of his mug of whiskey. As the ceramic base of his mug touched the counter, alarm bells shrieked in the Scout's mind.
"Fuck. So that means she's been augmented, huh?" He said, his voice quivering ever so slightly as the words left his lips.
"I'm afraid so."
The three men were quiet for a long while, their minds processing the danger that could be looming just out of arms reach.
"So what do we do?" Tanner was the first to ask. Petrovich sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth and spoke.
"I may have a way to stop it, but I'll need time," He offered.
"How much time?" Tanner asked. Petrovich's response was cut short as the entrance of the communal tent was whipped back and Grant stumbled in, his eyes wide and his words filled with uncertainty.
"Redding's been attacked."
"The Army base? There's no way someone would be that stupid. What's going on Grant, you should be resting," Tanner worried.
"We just got a transmission over the radio. Redding wasn't just attacked. It's... gone," Grant muttered.
"I don't understand," Virus replied, "Gone? Like vanished?"
"Gone, like everyone there is dead. The whole population, torn apart."
"Was it her?" Tanner asked, his head now in his gnarled hands.
"I- The scout saw one person leave the site. She said the killer was covered in too much blood to identify..." Grant groaned. Virus' fist slammed into the counter, startling everyone in the room.
"You'd better hurry up Doc." Was all the Scout could muster to say.