Prelude: Distant Thunder

"Your conscience is good. Embrace it, but don't let a misguided conscience mislead you. Before you buy into the veil of 'brotherhood and righteous purpose,' take a look for yourself. I'm not raising you as a mindless weapon. Realize that your conscience is a good thing, but keep control of your emotions and maintain a rational mind. This man and his cohorts are not worthy of your sympathy."

As Antonia led Nastya down the darkened corridor, a series of holographic images displayed at various points along the passage. Gothic, the Hellfire Club, attacks on New York...Comprised of true memories, footage, and fabrication, all shared a common thread tying them to the mutant leader. Nastya paused every so often to gaze upon an exciting scene or occurrence, those which both fascinated and horrified her.

"Amaranth is harmful to both humans and mutants," Antonia explained as scenes from the burning of Gothic materialized around them, displaying damage brought upon both human and mutant communities. "Uprooted from their homes and forced to fight, this is what becomes of even those truly peaceful equalists of either genetic origin."

Suddenly, they were placed within a tomb. Unbeknownst to the clone, as had been the case with the scientists, the tomb of Amaranth's brother. "A peaceful expedition. Unrelated to human-mutant relations in any way." Before them, the now deceased explorers appeared alongside their murderer, reliving the scene vicariously through gathered footage of the failed venture. "No public message. No spreading of even misguided ideals. Simple murder."

By then, Nastya's face had gone blank, adopting a similar expression as her keeper when making an important judgment. Beyond the indignation brought on by the most recent show, she withheld a deepening curiosity to sift through the mind of her progenitor for cognitions, experiences, motivations, and simply...more. Memories, understanding, anything retained throughout his eons of living. She was snapped out of her own thoughts by the illumination of the corridor. In front of them appeared a vault-like door. As they approached, Antonia addressed Nastya with a final inquiry.

"Do you understand what this is? What all of this means?"

"Yes, doña."

"Very well. Aeon..."

With that, a series of mechanisms commenced the vault's unlocking, a sonorous groan accompanying the sequence of bellowing clanks and clicks as it opened, slowly unveiling to them the tall, slender silhouetted form of the notorious "messiah," suspended in a midair stasis.

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Field Test: Aftermath

"How long were you out?"

"...."

"How long? Answer. This is important."

"No se."

"Come on, Anastasia. It's important that you answer this. How long were you out?"

The use of her full given name, rather than her most often used nickname, as well as Ms. Dain's deliberate inflection, expressed perfectly her annoyance. She never let anything slip without a purpose. The possession of that knowledge often meant a hard time either way for those who knew. Staring into the pitch-black void from whence the voice came, she sputtered an unnerved response.

"I don't know...a few minutes? It's not exactly a clear experience. Long enough for them to carry me into the house."

"Very well. Now, run through the events for me again. Tell me what happened, how you felt, and why one of them still lives." Everything in her voice then was smug, carefree, even...pleased, in spite of Nastya's disobedience. The absence of an upset reaction suggested something more; if nothing else, something else she saw that could be gained by the experience. And that was even more unnerving.

Nastya swallowed hard; the room was so silent it practically echoed. Recounting events wasn't easy, but she imagined it'd be even harder if she'd allowed herself to kill that boy. Even still, some part of her feared something would go awry with it sooner or later anyway.

"That one...he was nice to me. Genuine concern—"

"How can you be sure it was genuine?" Antonia cut her off.

"You know how. You taught me to read them." Bodily expressions, that is.

"Continue."

"Alright. Killing them didn't sit right, and after that, I thought...I could get off without it. I was found out before I got in the house. They attacked. Firearms and a sonic mutant. You have the catalog of trauma. I awoke in the house...mad. And...I killed them. Seven shots. Full aortic ruptures, all around." That, she considered her abrupt conclusion.

"And then?"

"I got up and left...after freeing the boy."

Following her open statement admission, a light quickly but gradually shone into the room. The door was open. Initially jarring, Nastya's eyes quickly adjusted to the influx of light.

"These feelings...They're not inherently bad," Antonia offered light consoling. "You have a conscience, and that's good. It's just...misdirected." Already, the woman had mapped out a number of planned institutions to help free her of these. The wrong sympathies easily led to the following of those who subscribed to the radical ideology and Amaranth as a messiah. They could not afford such a problem with Anastasia. And if all else fails...the failsafes.

Antonia stood from her chair and began moving toward the door, motioning for the girl to follow.

"C'mere. There's more I want to show you."

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Prueba del Campo

Los Angeles, California - 12:00 AM

"Our enemies have already targeted us directly. This most recent move represents active aggression, as far as we're concerned. We learned many things about the enemy, but there is still much left unanswered. His exact affiliation, for example. Subtlety isn't really Stark's MO, so we're not considering him a major possibility at this point. We're thinking either SHIELD or the Arcani. There's already another putting in work on the former. Your job is to do what you can with the latter. But the Court is larger and more fragmented. This could come up nothing, and we might be searching a while before working to the level of anything important, but we've located what is believed to be a nest of them right here in the heart of L.A. Your job is to investigate."

Ms. Dain's instructions were as vague as they were clear. She made it sound simple, but gave no indication as to how the task should've been done. It was the first mission for the operative, and she had been given no hints whatsoever, making the job as difficult as possible while testing her natural inclinations and overall functioning in a living environment.

The off-site briefing saw Aeon explain the situational background, including general state of the world, relations between humans and mutants and the situation with Avalon reaching back to the time before it was even Avalon, and where she herself had come from and what her purpose was. He did not mince words. If anything, that would be seen as a detriment to the development of the operative, considering the experiences she would be exposed to.

"Si, Doña," she responded calmly, the language and strong natural accent indicative of all the time she'd spent in the company of Aeon, which was, in fact, more than with anyone else in her existence.

"And Nastya," Antonia reminded one last time before cutting her end of the communication. "No matter what, remember that these people are, at their core, radicals and terrorists. See to it that they're not in a position to endanger anyone, anytime soon or later."

The implication was clear. She knew what her handlers wanted. It was something she'd practiced many times on Aeon in the body of a training droid over various combat modules based on memories of foes past as well as hypothetical situations. But no matter how realistic, it was always known that she was facing artificial beings. She'd never done it to an actual person. It was...unnerving. Like the man from whom she was birthed, at her core, she desired peace and equality between the races and their factions. Unlike him, she hadn't been hardened to ignore what her heart felt was likely not helping, or even contrary to, those desires.

As she approached the beat-down shacklike house, a small group conversing on the lawn came to attention to meet her. From where she stood, she could already hear numerous others inside. Before she even got close, she knew. The distinct smell that had lingered on Antonia from her encounter was completely absent. These boys had never met the man. With a bit of focus, she discerned that neither had anyone else within the property. He'd never crossed the area, not even in passing. At least, not tangibly.

"Hey soul sistah, when's the revolution gonna start?" one of the boys greeted her with an upwards nod.

She scanned his features for clues as to any possible meaning, but nothing in his face or demeanor matched with the inquiry. The confusion showed in her face.

"Relax, girl. 'S just a simple greeting," he said as if to correct, waving away her confusion. "Like, 'wassup?'"

"He hasn't been here," she said lowly, both for herself and her handlers listening in on the encounter. There was a bit of dejectedness in her voice that was no doubt noticed by the woman in charge.

"Who? You lookin' for somebody? A person? A pet?" His eyes hinted at a tinge of worry to go along with his confusion. She answered him with the same silence that gripped her over the earpiece, searching for...something abstract and intangible on the ground.

The time had come.

Without warning, her arms shot out. Before he or his comrades could react, his body seized under the effect of a series of well-placed pressure point strikes. Within two seconds, she was already in the midst of the others, this time using much less subtle techniques to likewise beat them to incapacitation.

Those inside had apparently been made aware of her attack, because not long after, the cringe-inducing sound of some sort of alarm or siren sounded, assailing her senses in a way that threatened to rupture the more sensitive organs in her body. Those inside took the opportunity to emerge from the house and begin shooting, revealing in the process that the cause of the sound was a mutant with an impressive voice box.

Not long afterwards, Nastya's body went limp and the noise from the guns and the mutant died down. After a moments long pause, one of the residents was sent over to investigate the body.

"Nada," he shouted back after an analysis, making a chopping gesture at his neck. "She's dead."

After that, the unconscious were helped to their feet, the paralyzed gathered and carried inside for further examination to try and discern what exactly had happened and how he might possibly be helped. The girl's body was likewise carried inside for examination, search and looting, and then most likely disposal. That could wait until after the others were tended to.

The beaten down members of the cadre recovered well, all things considered. The other, however, would not be shaken from his paralysis through any means they could find in the house.

"Yo, get the phone and call—hhk!"

The sound of a suppressed gunshot rang out still loudly just before the bullet tore through the sonic mutant's chest, severing his aorta and flooring him in an instant. There would be no saving him.

All heads in the room whipped simultaneously in the direction the shot came from. Without a wasted moment, more surgical shots released until the gun was empty and seven boys and men lie on the floor, bleeding out. All that remained, then, was "Mister Soul Sister," paralyzed on the couch, eyes widened in fear. Nastya rose herself from the floor, glancing briefly at her stained and torn suit before plodding through the mess of bodies to his side. Touching her hand to her ear, she switched off the earpiece.

"I didn't want to...kill everyone," she disclosed apologetically, shaking her head. Utilizing the Vespa innovation taught to her by Antonia, her hands once again thumped rapidly over his body in a similar but different manner as before. "In approximately sixty seconds, you will be able to move again. Las policias will be here in three, assuming minimal traffic obstructions," her information just about confirmed by the sounds of the sirens and judgment of the speed with which they approached. "Take a change of clothes and just leave. Forget what happened here."

With no more words, she departed through the back. Hidden from view by the fence, she phased into the ground, making her escape.

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