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Volume 5 -- Supreme Reflections -- Jack Freeman

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Jack Freeman
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Jack Freeman’s Reflections (AN: Takes place shortly after issue 125)

“You’re a degenerate punk! That’s all you’ll ever be!”

I still hear that on a daily basis. That’s the kind of shit I heard from pretty much everyone I ever came across. Jack Freeman epitomized what it meant to be a degenerate punk. He wasn’t smart, his parents (at least the one that stuck around) did a lousy job raising him, he made his living sell weed out of the back of a pickup truck, and he always found new ways of pissing people off. Who would ever want to be Jack Freeman? I sure didn’t. That’s why I spend every second of every day trying to get away from him.

It was a strange feeling for a battle-hardened soldier. He wasn’t on duty, he wasn’t training, and he wasn’t preparing for a mission. General Grimshaw ordered him to take a brief leave from his duties as a Green Beret. Like any good soldier, he obeyed his commanding officer. It was a major shift for Captain Jack Freeman and one he wasn’t entirely comfortable with.

For the past two hours he had been walking aimlessly through downtown Washington DC. The streets were still pretty desolate in wake of the Legacy Virus. Even though the bodies had been cleared and the streets were open to traffic, there wasn’t much activity. Only a handful of stores and restaurants were open. There were some people out trying to return to some sense of normalcy. For Jack Freeman, normal was a very uncomfortable feeling. What used to qualify as normal for him turned into something he had been running from for years.

I know it’s not healthy, hating myself and trying to be someone else. I once had a psych evaluation done by some doctor at a VA hospital. He said my level of self-loathing is symptomatic of some potentially serious mental condition. So long as it’s potential, I could care less. Hating myself isn’t part of some disease. It’s a natural reaction to living half my life as an unapologetic screw-up.

I was born on the streets of Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. That’s basically ground zero for hippies and stoners. My mother was a hippie. She was a poster child for a post-60s hippie. She left home when she was 14, got into drugs when she was 15, and was preaching all this peace and love crap when she was 16. So it really shouldn’t have come to anyone’s surprise when she got knocked up by some faceless guy when she was 19. So when I was born I came into a world where things like responsibility, discipline, and sobriety were actively discouraged.

I don’t remember much about my early years. Guess that’s a side-effect of having a mother who regularly ingested LSD, shrooms, and weed. I’m not even sure if I had a place to call home. My mother and I would stay in these random buildings that doubled as hippie communes. It sounds good on paper, everybody working to take care of everybody. In practice, it’s like having someone mentally retarded do brain surgery.

It was a mess. I don’t think I was in a place with a fully functioning toilet until I was ten. My mom and her fellow hippies were never abusive or violent. Hell, the people I grew up around were probably the least violent people in the world. I was probably a major buzz kill because I had a bad habit of lashing out.

Even as a kid, I didn’t care much for the whole hippie life. My mom and her buddies were completely detached. It wasn’t just because of drugs either. They brushed aside any sense of responsibility. So I basically had to raise myself. Sometimes I had to steal or pickpocket to get money for a meal. Sometimes I had to complain about living in a dirty building that no one bothered to keep clean. Sometimes I had to fight to show people that I wasn’t some crazy pacifist like my mother. It eventually got to a point where my mother realized I wasn’t jiving with their hippie philosophy. I think it messed her up more than she cared to admit.

Jack stopped near an intersection to gather himself for a moment. While he stood at a curb, he saw a woman and her young son crossing the street. The boy couldn’t have been more than four years old. He was eating one of those messy corn-dogs and his mother kept trying to wipe his face.

“Looks like we’ll have to start packing spare bibs for you,” the woman said to her son, “No matter what I get you for lunch, you find a way to a mess.”

“Quit it, mommy!” the kid complained as she tried to wipe his face.

“Be more careful with your corn dog and we won’t have this problem.”

Jack kept watching the woman until she and her son reached the other side of the street. It didn’t seem like much, but that woman demonstrated more parenting skills in one minute than his mother ever did in a lifetime. He learned the hard way how poor parenting affected an already troubled kid.

By the time I was eight, my mother sobered up enough to realize that she couldn’t raise a kid effectively in a hippie commune. That and her drug use was causing all sorts of health problems. If she wanted to live and avoid the authorities, she had to shape up. She actually moved us to a real apartment in San Francisco. She got a job in some hippie apparel store. Except with my mother, she never goes the full distance.

Working in a store brought in money, but not nearly enough. So my mother supplemented her income by selling weed. She didn’t hide it from me. She did it for herself as much as she did it for me. She was totally ambivalent about it. So I guess she wasn’t too surprised when I became ambivalent about her. I never grew close to my mom. As I got older, I avoided her more and more. Her job and drug dealing made money that paid the bills. That was the most she did for me.

Going to school was my first taste of structure and discipline. At first, it didn’t really go over well. I was a problem child. I disobeyed, I talked back, and I lost my temper. I was the bane of so many teachers. I didn’t make too many friends either. Being the son of a hippie drug dealer didn’t teach me many social skills. Even the handful of friends I made thought I was a little punk. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t know any better. That extended to my test scores as well. In terms of academics, I just above that fine line between being mentally challenged and just plain dumb. I was held back a few grades and could barely read by the time I was in middle school.

Poor grades never bothered me. By the time I was in high school I learned all the skills I needed. I could read, write, and do basic math. That’s the only skill you need to sell drugs. That was probably the only useful skill my mom ever taught me. I learned from her the tricks of the trade. During my freshman year of high school, I was the football team’s sole supplier of pot. It helped make me new friends and essentially set the stage for what my life would become.

By the time I was 18, I had only reached the 10th grade. I dropped out entirely as soon as I figured out I was a legal adult and didn’t have to live with my mom anymore. By then her health rendered her incapable of dealing with me. She developed lung problems and years of LSD use left her spaced out for hours at a time. There was no heartfelt goodbye between us. I just told her I was going out on my own and she just shrugged her shoulders. That sums up my entire relationship with my mother.

Once the mother and her son were out of sight, Jack sighed and kept walking. He still had no direction or destination in mind. He passed by a couple of subway stops and a few outdoor restaurants. Across the street were a few theatres and shops. Standing next to them were a few street performers. Some were singing, some were playing instruments, and some were selling small apparel.

“Hey buddy! You want an official MSA T-shirt?” said one of the guys, “You can’t police the mutants of the world without one!”

The Green Beret rolled his eyes. Whoever decided that licensing T-shirts from the MSA should have been fired. The whole mutant controversy seemed to settle after the Legacy Virus, but it still struck Jack personally. Like it or not, he was a mutant and a soldier. It used to be he was just a mutant and a degenerate. In many ways it was a much more volatile combination.

I know it’s petty. The whole policing mutants deal still pisses me off. It’s not that I disagree with the premise. I think it’s a good idea to hold people accountable. I’ve seen first hand what happens when nobody does. It’s just a painful reminder that I’m a mutant and I can’t do anything about it.

My powers didn’t manifest in some elaborate moment. They developed in spurts over the years. The first sign I had was when I was 13. My mom and I were staying at this crack house one night when some doped up idiot accidentally set the place on fire. I had fallen asleep and my mother being the attentive parent she was, left me on the couch. The room filled with smoke, the fires turned the place into an oven, and three people who had passed out were killed. I was lucky though. When I woke up I wasn’t scared or anything. I was confused. I think at that moment my powers kicked in. I adapted my body to breath through the smoke and tolerate the heat. I adapted so well I casually walked out of the smoking house just as firefighters were breaking in. It sure surprised my mother and the authorities, but they had other things to worry about.

There were a bunch of other little incidents like being able to breathe smoke and making my skin harder so I could get through gym class. I didn’t get a full grip on it until I was 16. I followed the football players out to the docks overlooking the bay. It was the middle of winter so it was pretty cold. I passed out the weed and everybody started smoking. I’m not sure how it happened, but one of the guys wandered off and stumbled right into the water. Since it was freezing cold he was in big trouble. Being only slightly high, I went in to help him out when I saw him struggling. While I was in there my body adapted again. The water was no more uncomfortable to me than a hot bath. I couldn’t understand why the guy was in so much pain. Then I figured it out.

While I was dragging him to the dock, this boat came speeding by. The guy driving it must have been high too because he ran right into us. I instinctively sheltered the guy, but as I did I saw my skin change texture. It became tough and ridged like a rock. So when the boat it I barely felt a scratch. The guy I was helping noticed and he braved hypothermia to reveal the truth.

“D-D-Dude! You’re o-o-one of those m-m-mutants!”

I didn’t know much about mutants except for what I heard on the news. By the time I got the guy back to the docks, everyone was pretty messed up. They didn’t have time to worry about me being a mutant. After watching TV and reading some of the papers, I accepted it. I was a mutant.

At first it didn’t bother me that much. I actually thought it was cool. I found out I could adapt my body to survive pretty much anything. I could take extreme cold and extreme heat. I could breathe in shit that was toxic to every other living thing on the planet. I could make my skin so hard that I could take a bullet to the head and not feel it. Me being the degenerate punk, I figured it would help me in my drug endeavors. As if I wasn’t enough of an insufferable jerk, I had even more reasons to be arrogant. Hell, I was as bad as Magneto.

Jack held his head lower as he walked faster. He got away from the theatre and art centers for somewhat blander surroundings. He eventually found himself on a street lined with office buildings. It was a bit of a reprieve, but only for a moment.

As he turned the corner to another street, he came across a mural that had been painted along the walls of one of the buildings. It was a mural depicting mutants in a less than flattering way. Magneto was at the center and underneath a large mock-up of him were images of dead bodies. It was not a pleasant picture. Some had spray-painted over it, but not enough to obstruct the underlying message. It was a message that resonated with Jack on a very personal level.

In some ways I think I was worse than Magneto. At least Magneto was motivated by his powers. To me, they were just a tool. After I moved out of my mom’s place, I started selling weed full time. I actually used some of her contacts to beef up my business. I set myself apart by coming off as tough and resilient. I would demonstrate my powers to prospective customers, letting them know that if they bought from me they were buying from someone who could adapt. It was a good selling point. I made a pretty decent living because of it. By decent I mean I made enough to ride around in a beat up truck, stay in cheap apartments when I needed to, and have money left over to have fun. Because of my powers, I could be as irresponsible as I wanted.

What often happens to drug dealers and street punks is they get a nasty dose of reality at some point. Someone beats them up, someone shoots them, or someone finds a way to hurt them. I was pretty much immune from that. One time this guy tried to stab me and take my weed. He was pretty shocked when his knife bounced right off my chest. This one other time three guys came at me with baseball bats. They might as well have been hitting me with pillows. I laughed at them before I kicked their asses and took their weed.

It began another trend. With my powers I wasn’t just a degenerate. I was a degenerate that could fight. I pretty much taught myself to fight so I could deal with the competition. My powers ensured that nobody could measure up. I pretty much had the market cornered in my area. I had a steady stream of customers and income. Being a tough guy earned me some respect despite my lousy social skills. It even earned me my share of girls. It’s amazing what a couple of college girls will do for a few bags of weed.

It was a stoner’s paradise. I worked only a few hours a day, I had money in my pocket, and I was both feared and respected. Yet at the same time, I was miserable as hell. I hated myself. I hated my life. I felt like a loser. Hell, I was a loser. I never had anyone come along to give me a good kick in the ass. That all changed when I met up with a grizzly old Vietnam vet named Major Lenny Romita.

Captain Freeman turned away from the mural and kept walking. His demeanor eased somewhat. He needed to stay away from the kind of imagery that reminded him of his mission. General Grimshaw wanted him to take a break from being a soldier so he didn’t forget how to be a civilian. As he got away from the image, he passed another mural that was written along a wall. This one was a bit more upbeat.

It was a mural of an American flag. It may not have been a mural at all. It could be an advertising slogan by one of the companies in these nearby offices. Whatever it was, Jack took comfort in it. As he walked by it, he smiled. He may have been cynical about a lot of things, but it was impossible to be a good soldier without some form of patriotism.

Growing up, I never considered myself all that patriotic. When you’re surrounded by hippies and stoners, it’s a lot more acceptable to hate America. Lieutenant Lenny Romita offered a different take. I met him in a bar where I often hung out to sell weed. He was down on his luck. He recently lost his wife, the medical bills pretty much bankrupted him, and he couldn’t hold down a job anymore. He also had some medical issues of his own and he used weed to self-medicate. I’m not sure what he had, but he said the pot I gave him made it manageable. So he ended up buying me a round and shooting a few rounds of pool. In the span of a night he became my best friend.

We were a lot alike. He had crappy parents and grew up in a world without discipline or responsibility. He didn’t have very good social skills, but he managed to make more friends than I ever did. What really stood out about him though was how he always smiled. At first I thought it was just the weed, but the man seemed genuinely happy for a guy whose life was as crummy as mine. Even when he told horrible stories about how his dad disappeared for three months before driving his truck into a bar over an unpaid tab, he wouldn’t stop smiling. It baffled me how I could so utterly hate myself while this guy was so content.

We started hanging out a lot. For a time he even bunked with me in one of my apartments when he ran short of money. The more we talked, the more I learned about him. His life had been on the same path as mine. Then he did something different that never crossed my mind. He joined the military. Actually, he got drafted, but it didn’t bother him. As strange as it sounded, joining the military was the best thing that ever happened to him. For the first time in his life, he had structure. He would get up in the morning and know what he was in for. It didn’t matter how smart or dumb he was. So long as he ran the drills as well as his fellow soldiers he was an equal.

Lenny had quite a career. After basic, he joined a unit and was sent to Vietnam. He did a lot of grunt work, toiling in the jungles and conducting countless drills. He saw his share of combat, but he was no John Rambo. He never liked war or killing. What made it special for him was just being a soldier. Being Lenny Romita was nothing, but being a Lieutenant gave him an identity.

He once told me that in the field of combat, you learn who you truly are. It’s only when you face death that life is simplified. For some, it’s crippling. Some people can’t handle who they really are or are just indifferent about it. For others, it was liberating. On the streets no one would care if he died the next day. But if he died serving his country then he died for a purpose. So even though his life was shit now, it didn’t bother him. Lenny knew that he had done something with himself. He saw who he truly was in combat and that made him content for some reason.

This fascinated me to no end. For a long time I couldn’t wrap my head around it. How could joining the military make some no-name grunt into someone so content? I was under the impression that being a soldier in war traumatized people. Maybe he was traumatized, but only to the extent that it made him who he was. I actually lost sleep over this shit. It didn’t become clear to me until one fateful night.

Jack’s expression fell again as he passed by the mural. Walking down the street, a large dump truck drove by. The truck was marked with government tags. That meant that it was likely carrying dead bodies from the Legacy Virus. It was fully concealed so none of the civilians saw it, but having been part of the cleanup he knew the truth.

“Death answers more questions than we’re comfortable with,” he said to himself.

It was still haunting him, the sight of so many dead bodies. As a soldier he had become hardened to such horrors. That didn’t mean he wasn’t bothered by it. General Grimshaw once said that when a soldier is no longer bothered by death, then he’s no longer mentally fit to be a soldier. He’s perfectly capable of being a murderer and a murderer isn’t a soldier. Nathan Grimshaw wasn’t the only man who taught him this. He learned much earlier just how sobering death could be.

It happened pretty suddenly. One moment Lenny and I are hanging out near the docks and the next he goes into this horrible coughing fit. It was so bad that he started coughing up bits of his lung. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I was slightly buzzed, I admit. I tried to get Lenny to an emergency room, but he wouldn’t have it. He just asked to lie down and so I helped him. I thought it was just his condition or whatever was acting up. I know now that whatever disease he had was more serious than he let on.

He knew this was it for him. He didn’t try to fight it. Maybe he thought it would be easier to just let go than keep lingering in life so his suffering would be dragged out. He may not have been thinking straight, but I was sure messed up about it. This guy was my only friend so I panicked like the idiot I was. Then Lenny smiled at me. With what little life he had left, he told me something I’ll never forget.

“It’s okay, Jack. I’ve done…all I needed to do. I don’t care…how messed up my life has been. For one small stretch of time…I was Lieutenant Lenny Romita. That’s good enough for me. You…I know you can do better. You…got a gift. Use it. Make something of yourself, Jack…something to be proud of. It’ll make every other part of life…better.”

Those were his last words. He kept on coughing for a few minutes. Then he passed out. I stayed with him, sitting on some dirty bench along the docks. I watched until he drew his final breath. When the time came, I closed his eyes for him. It was at that moment I decided to stop hating myself. I was going to find a new path. I was going to make sure that whenever my time came, I could die with a smile like Lenny Romita.

Captain Freeman watched the truck until it was out of sight. He watched as the people on the streets didn’t even look at it. They seemed completely oblivious. The death from the Legacy Virus may have hardened them so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. It helped remind him of what a powerful influence death could be. It was this influence that helped him take his life in a new direction. Ironically it was only when he became familiar with death that he came to appreciate the value of life.

The next day I completely walked away from the drug dealing business. I got in touch with a local VA and they took care of Lenny. They gave him a burial complete with military honors. I was one of the only ones who showed up. I left some flowers on his grave (with a dash of his favorite weed) and paid my respects. One hour later, I was standing in line at a military recruitment office. I was giving up a cushy life as a decadent drug dealer and becoming a soldier.

I didn’t know what to expect. Hell, I barely thought it through. This was something I didn’t want to screw up. Mutants in the military was a big issue at the time so I kept my mutant status a secret. Once I signed up, I was shipped off to basic. The first few days I was pretty shell shocked. I actually had authority figures telling me what to do. I actually had a schedule to keep and responsibilities to maintain. At first I didn’t care for it that much, but when I made myself do it I actually got something out of it. I wasn’t sure what it was and not too many of my squad mates shared those feelings, but it was special and I went with it.

Pretty soon I embraced the whole notion of being a soldier. Being Private Jack Freeman was a hell of a lot better than just being Jack Freeman. I woke up in the morning, drilled, trained, drilled some more, then drilled again, trained some more, and drilled again. It was pretty rough, but every time I accomplished one challenge I felt emboldened. I hated myself just a little bit less. When they asked me to do fifty push-ups, I did sixty. When they asked me to do twenty pull-ups, I did forty. It helped that I could adapt my body when I needed to. It also helped that I put on some muscle from all my training. It was peaceful in a weird sort of way. Being in an environment so structured was good for me. I felt like this is what I was meant to be…a soldier.

The biggest obstacle I faced wasn’t toughness or on an obstacle course. It was my lack of social skills. As much as I loved being a soldier, I didn’t get along well with my fellow squad mates or my superior officers. I got on their nerves and they got on mine. I used their disdain of me as motivation, but I get the sense they were never that motivated. The problem was I performed too well. Like my powers, I adapted my body to be as tough and resilient as I needed it to be. I had stamina and endurance that none of my other fellow soldiers could match. So after I made it through basic, I was upgraded to Special Forces.

This is when my training really stepped up. I had to push myself in ways that even my powers couldn’t help me with. Green Berets are a cut above your typical soldier. It’s not enough to just be a grunt. You have to eat, sleep, and breathe the mission while every possible distraction is pummeling your senses. It wasn’t just running, push-ups, and weapons training. We did survival training, handling explosives, infiltration, and all sorts of advanced operations meant to separate men from boys. I held my own, albeit barely. I still didn’t make too many friends, but there was too much going for them to bust my chops about it.

The training lasted six months. It made me a totally different person. My mindset changed, my body changed, and my whole outlook on the world changed. Life became a mission. You stay focused, disciplined, and in control. You also have to learn how to fight. I’m not talking the kind of fighting that will win you a feud with a rival drug dealer either. They teach you any number of ways to kill a man. Beyond the fighting, I had to learn how to think and assess a situation. Sometimes you can’t be a blunt instrument. You need to use tact and diplomacy. While I may not be able to do algebra, I could read a situation as well as anyone. It was tough to learn, but I learned it better than any shit they taught me in school. I continued to annoy people while putting up good stats. I went from a dirty stoner to a hardened, focused soldier.

The fate of my soldier career eventually this 24-day-long qualifying regiment where the officers weeded out the real Green Berets from the wannabes. It was essentially 24 days of non-stop missions meant to break your will to continue. Hundreds enter. Only a handful makes it out. It was probably the toughest test I took to date. It required me to adapt my bodies in ways I never expected.

This ended up creating a problem though. Because when I made it through the final test, I did so with colors so flying that it made my superior officers suspicious. They thought I cheated somehow. They assumed no one could be that good without some help. At this point I couldn’t hide my mutant status any longer. A quick physical proved it. I was a mutant and because I didn’t disclose that, everything I worked for hung in the balance. It was the first time I started resenting my powers and it wouldn’t be the last either.

Captain Freeman reached another intersection. To his right was a fast food restaurant and while he was waiting to cross the street, two little kids came rushing out. One of them was wearing a toy mask of some monster. The other kid had this T-shirt with a picture of the X-men on it. As controversial as mutants were, that didn’t stop some people from profiting on the controversy of the X-men. These kids didn’t seem to care for that controversy as they ran past him.

“Get back here creature of Magneto! I am an X-man and I, Cyclops, will stop you with my ice powers!” proclaimed the younger boy.

“Cyclops doesn’t have ice powers, stupid! He shoots lasers from his eyes!” said the older boy.

“No! He has ice powers! And I’ll use them to take you down, evildoer!”

While the younger boy chased his brother, their mother came running out of fast food restaurant carrying bags of groceries. She stumbled a bit as she tried to catch up with her overly energetic kids.

“Both you little sugar-fiends, get back here!” she ordered, “We’re running late for your doctors appointment!”

“Aw come on, mom! Are you really going to stop the X-men from saving the day?” whined the younger boy.

“Not even the X-men will be able to save you if you don’t get over here this instant!”

This was enough to settle the boys down. They ran back towards their mother, who was loading her bags of groceries into her car. The kids were still fooling around, playing hero and pretending to be the X-men. For some it was cute. For Jack Freeman, it was a harsh reminder of his ongoing conflict between being a mutant and a soldier.

I never lied to myself. I know my powers are a big reason why I was able to excel in my training. However, I wanted my mutant powers to be secondary. I saw myself as a soldier. I didn’t want to just be some mutant freak who played soldier. That’s the kind of thing the X-men do. I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted to be more.

For a while I may not have had the chance. My officers weren’t sure what to do with me because it looked like mutants were going to be banned from the military any day now. So they didn’t want to commit. That’s when I had another stroke of luck. My performance in training caught the eye of a General named Nathan Grimshaw. This man would pick up where Lieutenant Lenny Romita left off and go further.

Grimshaw was the first officer who saw past my anti-social exterior. He once said he looked me in the eye and saw a real soldier, one that went beyond mutant powers. For that reason, he agreed to take me under his wing. My drill sergeants were all too happy for him to get me off their hands. There was no way I would make it into a squad or a team so the General would have to find other ways of using my skills. I quickly learned that Nathan Grimshaw could adapt to a situation better than I could.

At the time, General Grimshaw was an up-and-coming name in the world of warfare. He didn’t get a chance to participate in many major operations so he dealt mostly in small, localized conflicts. He would send small, covert operations into active or potential war zones. He loved to walk a fine line between mitigating a conflict and provoking it. He needed someone who could adapt to the situation and I fit the bill perfectly.

I still remember how messed up I was about my first mission. It was a simple rescue operation in Columbia. This drug cartel abducted a high-ranking ambassador. They needed to get them out. I went in ahead of a small reconnaissance team. It didn’t exactly go smoothly. All my training couldn’t prepare me for what I faced. I made it past the first round of guards. Then I flat out tripped over a guy and set of some alarms. It got pretty hectic. I had an entire cartel bearing down on me so I had to improvise.

It happened to be late at night and pouring rain, which wasn’t unusual for the jungle. So instead of wasting bullets on the soldiers, I shot out the lights. I carved out my own little path of darkness and adapted my eyes so that I could see in the dark. It allowed me to get in close to take out these cartel thugs. The first time I had to kill one of them, I made sure it wasn’t pleasant. Grimshaw warned me of it. When a soldier first kills a man, it’s a test of his resolve. If he hates it, then he’s a good soldier. If he likes it, then he’s dangerous. I like to think I passed with flying colors.

I tried to keep the killing spree to a minimum. I managed to fight my way into the compound, find the ambassador, and use my body as a shield while I got him out. I got yelled at for setting off the alarms, but the ambassador was safe and we avoided an international incident. It took me a few days to really process everything. Being on a mission, taking a life, and serving my country were all new feelings. When it finally sank in, I realized something profound. I was a soldier. I was proud of myself. This is what I was meant to be.

Jack sighed to himself and crossed the street. It was impossible to avoid, him being a mutant in addition to being a soldier. It was easy for others to lump him with teams like the X-men. Even though he had a healthy dose of respect for the X-men, he was not like them. He was a soldier. That’s how he saw himself. That’s how he wanted others to see him. The whole hero act wasn’t for him and he never aspired to be that way.

After crossing the street, he passed by a few news kiosks. In one of them the front page of USA Today blared a major headline.

“CHARLES XAVIER AND X-MEN TO BE HONORED AT WHITE HOUSE.”

It was framed as good news. Charles Xavier and the X-men were instrumental in stopping the Legacy Virus. They deserved recognition. However, it still left Jack Freeman conflicted.

I’ll never understand it. Someone is born with powers, they put on a costume, and play hero. It sounds so noble. Maybe it doesn’t work for me because I know I’m a loser and a lowlife. Being a hero isn’t enough. I have to be a soldier.

After my first mission, I pretty much became General Grimshaw’s go-to guy. I was on the front lines of his every operation. My missions took me to Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Congo, Southeast Asia, China, South America, and the Middle East. I’m pretty sure I’ve visited every time zone and stepped on every continent, including Antarctica (long story there). The missions I went on rarely required diplomacy or complex tasks like hacking a computer. I was strictly a throw-into-the-fire-and-watch-him-come-out-with-the-goods type guy. Thanks to my training and my powers, I was good at what I did.

I was so good that I ended up making myself an asset. I was eventually promoted to the rank of Captain. Even the officers who didn’t like my attitude had to admit I did a damn good job. They called me a renegade, but I was a renegade that got the job done. So when an international treaty was passed by the UN banning all mutants from the military, General Grimshaw was able to pull enough strings to get an exception. I’m not sure of the legality. I think the way it works is I was scheduled to be discharged, but the date keeps getting pushed back. It’s not pretty. I’ll still take it. Anything that allows me to keep being a soldier.

Over the years, I refined my skill. I went on mission after mission, taking everything the General threw my way. Sometimes other officers sent me on missions. I did a few operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I worked with other Special Forces units like SEALS and marines. I even worked with some UN forces on humanitarian missions in hostile territory. I still never made too many friends so I settled for respect. There were times I was sent on missions that nobody expected me to come back from. I kept adapting and surviving, much to the chagrin of some officers. The looks on their faces never gets old.

When I wasn’t on a mission, I was training. Since I’ve got a below average IQ, I have to compensate by being physically and mentally tougher than my enemies. There was always something to do. I found it helpful to stay busy because it kept me from falling back into old habits. I never wanted to go back to being Jack Freeman again. I needed to remain Captain Jack Freeman, Green Beret and soldier of the United States Armed Forces. So when General Grimshaw came to me with his plan for the mutant conflict, I was pretty torn. To this day, I’m still not sure about it.

Jack kept staring at the headline on the paper. The same story blared on other papers. The X-men were getting honored for their heroics. There were even a few smaller stories about how the Legacy Virus proved that mutants may not be the biggest threat. It was good news for human/mutant relations. For Jack, it meant his mission would become more complicated.

While he mused over this mission, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small slip of paper. On it was private contact information for the X-men. He didn’t tell anyone in the Pentagon he had this information. Cyclops gave it to him with the understanding that they could help each other. Soldier or hero, their missions were intertwined. If he felt the people he worked for were losing sight of their mission, he had someone to turn to. He had recently turned to the X-men when it seemed nobody had an answer for the Legacy Virus. That didn’t mean he wasn’t bothered by it.

I avoided mutant affairs for a reason. I didn’t want to get caught up in something that would make me more mutant than soldier. General Grimshaw is the one who took up this challenge. He asked for my help and I gave it to him. It started with me stealing Magneto’s helmet from Genosha. That got him the credibility he needed to form the Mutant Security Agency. Now he’s the one everyone is turning to for answers to the mutant controversy. As his right-hand-man, I’m going to be affected by it.

I’m still not sure if this is a mission that can be accomplished. Policing mutants and equipping law enforcement to deal with them is all well and good. As a former street punk, I know how some people with too much power can become arrogant jerks that need a kick in the balls. However, there are still the Magnetos and Sinisters of the world. These are the kinds of men who for whatever reason have a perverse desire to destroy this world and impose what they feel is better. Unlike the rogue dictators or terrorists I deal with, they actually have the power to do so.

Magneto almost succeeded. During the Cambrian affair, he unleashed a menace that even he couldn’t control. For a moment every mutant on the planet was a genuine threat. Even though the X-men put a stop to it, the whole affair put a serious dent in the idea that mutants could be held to the same standard as humans. He almost succeeded again with that alien tech. Where he got alien gear is beyond me, but it was somehow advanced enough to cripple every communication network on the planet. That could have brought the General’s agenda down completely. Then he pulled a miracle and worked out that deal to trade alien tech with Genosha. To this day I still don’t know how he managed to negotiate that.

Then came Sinister. I swear that guy makes Magneto look like a pre-schooler. I was caught up in his shit and didn’t even know it. After that incident with Shaw Industries, Grimshaw had me investigate. My main mission now was to take down anyone who would destroy the Genosha treaty. I was pretty content just shooting up thieves, smugglers, and rogue dictators. Shaw Industries opened up a whole new can of worms when I found out that they actually funded Sinister. He was the one behind that techno-organic goop that made Weapon Plus. That kind of bullshit has no equal.

Sinister put us all on a mission that we weren’t going to win. He was ahead of everybody. By the time I figured out his shady dealings along with the X-men, it was too late. He unleashed the Legacy Virus. Over 250 million deaths later, my head is still spinning. That kind of body count is bad enough. What worries me now is where it goes from here.

Captain Freeman was still tempted to throw the number away. It happened pretty often. Whenever he thought about the X-men and how they obscured his mission, he considered casting them aside. Then another part of him remembered that they had done plenty of good. They acted as a balance for the MSA and the people that ran it, who weren’t always altruistic to say the least.

“Still…you X-men keep making my job harder,” Jack sighed.

Shaking his head, he put the slip of paper back in his pocket and continued walking. This was one mission that was still unfolding. He couldn’t barge through it like he had done with so many others. He had to be patient and let it unfold. It didn’t sit well and it put him in an awkward position. The time may come where he had to choose between being a soldier and being a hero.

Maybe this is another reason why General Grimshaw ordered that I take a break. I can’t afford to ignore this. Weapon Plus showed that people in very high places are willing to resort to extremes to combat mutants. The Legacy Virus showed that threats involving mutants had the potential for a hell of a blood bath. I love my country, but how do you fight for it when your leaders are threatening to destroy it?

General Grimshaw understands that it won’t take much to provoke a full blown human/mutant war. He believes that such a war will be as bad as World War III. Nobody will win. The human and mutant race may end up destroying one another, leaving cockroaches and rats to become the dominant species. I’m inclined to believe him. This is one mission I can’t afford to screw up. The problem is whose side I support.

I’m a soldier. I want to keep being a soldier. If the day comes when President Kelly orders that mutants be hunted or detained, then I’ll be more inclined to go with the X-men. If mutants like Magneto enter the picture again and threaten the whole human race, I’m inclined to stick with General Grimshaw and the MSA. All the while, I’m constantly reminded that I’m a mutant. I’ll be affected by this. I can’t win, but I sure can lose. It’s just a matter of not losing big.

The world is going to be a very different place after this whole Legacy Virus affair. Maybe it’ll get better or maybe it’ll get worse. Either way, I’m a soldier in this mission. I’m going to be a soldier to the end. I’m not sure which side I’ll end up supporting. It all depends on forces beyond my control. I can adapt to a lot of things, but I can’t adapt to poor judgment. When the time comes, I need to be able to make the right call. Jack Freeman will find a way to fuck it up. That’s why I have to be Captain Jack Freeman, a Green Beret and a mutant…not the other way around.


Next Issue: James Proudstar

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