A moment ago, Jean Grey – only she doesn’t currently wear the face of Jean Grey – could feel the delicious warmth of the tropical sun on her skin. She could smell the salt water that surrounded her on every side. Now, all she feels is the dry, searing heat of a roaring inferno. A moment ago, she had closed her eyes in Paradise… only to open them in Hell.
A completely flummoxed, flustered Jean spells out her husband’s, Scott’s name, as she finds herself suspended in the air, by some restraints. Deafening explosions wrack the surroundings. Instinctively, she pulls against her restraints, finds them lacking and breaks free. “Instinctively,” because her entire life, it seems, has been one long struggle. In her youth, she battled the advent of her psionic powers – a mutant ability that manifested itself before she was ready to bear the burden. As a woman, she and her friends fought for years to protect a world that feared and hated them simply for what they were. But not today. Today was supposed to be different. Today was the first day of her honeymoon.
Jean is not too proud to say it: she’s officially confused. One minute, she and Scott are lounging on the shores of Saint Barts. The next, she’s alone in the absolute middle of the strangest place she’s ever seen in her life. All around, she sees a complex of bizarre platforms – most of them smoking. A quick glance at the complex’s nerve center – if indeed, that is what it is – tells her there’ll be no information forthcoming from those who brought her here. All the people she sees around her are dead, their remains in many cases charred or burning.
A bit further, she sees another man suspended in the air, in a similar fashion to how she was. She almost didn’t realize she had company in her travels. No one she recognizes, but someone who could use a hand nevertheless. She’ll just reach out telepathically and pull him to…
Suddenly, she realizes in panic that nothing happened – her telepathy doesn’t work. She has to do this the old fashioned way. With that poor man’s platform and half a harness blown away, she’d give him another five seconds – which gives her three. “Here goes nothing!” she shouts and makes for the long leap. Wherever Hank McCoy is, she hopes he’s smiling! Just as the hapless man’s support gives way, she grabs him, while holding onto a cable.
Despite the deafening cacophony, the violent heat, the thick black smoke that seeks to engulf them both, she still knew – they both knew the instant they touched. “A real close save there… Jean,” the man quips in a very weak voice, as Jean catches him. Jean recognizes him in turn: Scott! Cyclops confirms it’s he, but what he’d like to know is where they are – and what are they doing in these bodies?!
Underneath the giant citadel, the denizens of this alien place show very little interest in what happened there. Few of them only glance upwards at the sight of the assault on the Askani Cloisters. For nearly five decades, it has towered here above the old meandering river, a mockery of – as well as a challenge – to the despotic rule over the land. Everyone knew such a challenge couldn’t last forever. Apocalypse would not – could not – tolerate it. Almost two thousand years to the day Scott Summers and Jean Grey pledged each other their love, Apocalypse, He-Who-Never-Dies, decided the final day of the Askani Sisterhood had finally come.
Moving around the Askani Cloisters, Jean asks Scott if there’s any chance his new body has optic blasts. Scott reveals it doesn’t seem to. He asks her if she thinks they’ll need them. As if to answer them, a deafening noise is heard. “Just a hunch,” a frightened Jean quips. Good hunch, Scott agrees.
Hidden, they both watch a bit below, where a hard-faced, blond man, dressed in a sophisticated costume and wielding energy in his left hand, announces to several armored soldiers that they have their orders. Now that the child has been found, every one of these traitors is expendable! One of the soldiers tentatively suggests that it appears that everyone here is already dead. The blond man urges them to be creative then. For years, the many humans below have drawn strength from the tenants of the Askani Clan. “We’ll see how loud and clear they cheer, when the remains of their precious saviors are draped about the city forum!” he gloats.
Still hidden, Jean and Scott telepathically communicate with each other, verifying that, despite everything, they’ve maintained their psychic bond. Scott supposes it makes sense. Whoever placed them in these bodies, filled them with Scott and Jean’s essences. Scott and Jean were part of each other, long before they got married.
One of the soldiers addresses his superior. The officer coldly tells him to shut up and start dragging corpses up to the surface transport. The soldier explains that’s just it – he’s bio-scanning two survivors! The officer is surprised. “Where, you gene-dropping son of a flatscan?!” he demands. The soldier points to the rafters, where Scott and Jean are hiding.
“Should we rush them?” Jean telepathically asks Scott. “You have to ask?” Scott replies. “On three…?” Jean suggests. Below, the cruel official orders everyone to get their weapons down. “Powers at the ready!” he exclaims as her charges himself with energy. Mother Cromwell’s favorite son didn’t become part of Apocalypse’s elite to spend his career on clear-up duty! Once he pulls the secrets of their sacred clan from their bleeding lips, Apocalypse will be…
Those are the last words he ever speaks, as a wave of psionic energy eviscerates him. “Sir?!” a soldier gasps in shock. One of his colleagues is sickened: that was disgusting. The voice of Cromwell’s murderer is heard, asserting that Apocalypse is a fool. He’s been a fool in all his myriad forms and features, for as long as she’s known him. All of which speaks ill of his followers. She asks them to leave now and they shall live.
“B-by the lips of our master!” one of them exclaims in terror, upon recognizing her. Another soldier is in disbelief: the initial reports said she was killed in the first wave. A blue-skinned mutant soldier deduces the reports were wrong, then. Quickly everyone, she urges them – on her command, they attack as one! “Then alas, children – I fear you’ll die as one,” the mysterious woman proclaims and lashes out with her psionic powers at them, killing them without restraint. Though there was a time she could easily disarm them with but a thought, the years have robbed her of her ability to be subtle. May God forgive them all.
Jean suddenly recognizes their rescuer and alerts Scott. For all her aged, wrinkled, wizened face, this appears to be Rachel Summers! Rachel telepathically shushes her “mom.” Not another word, until she’s taken them away from here where they can…
Suddenly, Rachel is trapped in a psionic cocoon. After all that’s happened, she’s weak to fight it! She hears a voice behind her: “Consider yourself twice blessed, Mother Askani!” Rachel telepathically instructs Scott and Jean to stay out of this.
Rachel’s captor, the stout, towering Prelate of Apocalypse known as Ch’vayre, shows himself. He admits that his understanding was “after all that happened” that she was killed during the first wave of their ambush upon her home. Yet a closer look reveals barely a scratch to her! Apparently, she enjoys making the Lord’s dog soldiers appear to be idiots, by causing them to believe they cut her in two with their weapons. Not at all, Rachel retorts. There are still mutants upon this Earth who believe that don’t believe having genetic attributes entitles them to…
Just then, she lets out a cry of pain and anguish, as Ch’vayre tightens the hold of his psionic cocoon on her body. Considering her a “traitor,” Ch’vayre stresses that what she or he believe doesn’t matter. All that truly matters is the law of the Apocalypse! It has always been a mystery to him why he has put up with the existence of her petty religious order as long as he has. For years, she and her sisters have catered to the needs of humans and mutants and synthetics… ever androids were beneath their “standards.” Instead of offering them the hope of a better world, she should have taught her congregation to accept the world the way it is! Mutants rule… and only those of them who are the strongest, survive! Mother Askani and her entire clan of sycophants have just become extinct!
Much to Scott’s surprise, Jean suddenly leaps down. She tells him she’s sorry but she has to – and asks him to cover her. Facing Ch’vayre, she asks him to hold it: that woman is under her protection. “And you arrre…?” Ch’vayre derisively wonders. A friend, Jean simply replies. Ch’vayre suggests that, in her next life, she takes greater care in establishing her allegiances. As it is, she has chosen to enlist her services to a broken and dead religious order, just at the moment the same religion is being interred in the ground. Jean insists that where there’s life, there’s hope.
“Really?” Ch’vayre scoffs – he’s never found that to be true. Without any qualms, he fires at her with his gun. Jean dodges the shot, but realizes Scott was right to hang back – this is suicidal. Until she learns what new powers come with this body, she’s nothing more than a moment’s distraction to this behemoth!
Ch’vayre suggests that, if she insists on pursuing this charade, they at least scan her genslate for future reference. Indeed scanning her, he puffs out in contempt as the Cerebro pinpoints her as human. He’s impressed she’s willing to sacrifice her life for a mutant. It’s not what he’d expect of a human. Jean is aghast: a human?! Is he serious?! She realizes that someone – their own daughter? – transported them who knows where without any powers! “Nice try, flatscan… you even look surprised,” Ch’vayre scoffs and punches her in the face.
Scott also jumps down next to him. “Now what?” Ch’vayre huffs. He had long suspected this place was crawling with vermin – he just assumed they weren’t of the Homo inferior variety. Undeterred, Scott instructs him on “Lesson Number One”: never underestimate your opponent; it’s a sight of poor upbringing. Furious, Ch’vayre pushes him away. He roars that he was raised in the gene-caste were all the gifted were taken! There are no aspersions to cast upon his childhood! Scott tells him to relax: where he comes from, that was barely an insult. Ch’vayre retorts that where he comes from is the sewers – the very spot to which he will return his soon-to-be-decaying corpse! He urges him to beg him and perhaps he will die sooner.
Scott quips that they’ll both die of boredom before that day comes. In all his years of supremacy, Ch’vayre may have forgotten – if he ever knew – that a “mutant” is nothing more than a human who has learned to change; to adapt to his environment. Putting theory into practice, Scott grabs the remains of a dog soldier’s weapon and points it at Ch’vayre. He apologizes for the sucker punch, but it’s not as if Ch’vayre went out of his way to be polite before he ambushed Scott’s daughter. Ch’vayre is puzzled: daughter?! The Mother Askani is…? Before he can think further, Scott anesthetizes him with the gun. He tells him to rest now – they can talk later.
Jean rushes to Rachel. The exhausted Rachel tells them they must quickly leave here before… “No!” Jean disagrees. Rachel is in no position to move. They’ll fight if they… Rachel shushes her. Jean’s speaking nonsense to an old woman who has no time for it. Many people risked everything they had to bring Scott and Jean two thousand years into their future. She begs Jean and Scott not to throw away their hopes and dreams on her behalf.
Jean is at loss for words: two thousand? Rachel apologizes. She should have asked first – but they being her parents and all, she didn’t think they’d mind. Jean asks her if there’s a way out of this place – before Ch’vayre wakes. Rachel motions at a portal – for all of them. Scott argues he’ll bring up the… Rachel cuts him off: all of them, she repeats. Together.
Her rationale is immediately obvious. For this is but one of countless maintenance tubes, woven throughout the Askani Cloisters, making travel through a difficult proposition. After traveling about a mile straight down, Scott, Jean and Rachel end up splashing into a water-filled room. Scott muses that, for all her power, it seems Rachel is running scared from something.
Words between Scott and Jean are unnecessary, as the effrontery to their five senses confirms their immediate location: the three of them are at the bowels of the Askani Cloisters. Unnerved, Jean notices there’s… blood seeping from the walls. Is this entire complex… alive? The hopelessly weak Rachel, resting in Scott’s arms, explains the blood is a result of the massacre above. All of them are dead, their lives willingly given willingly for theirs.
Scott urges her to rest now. Later she can tell them… Rachel insists there’ll be no “later” – not for her. Not for the rest of the world if the two of them don’t stop interrupting her. Best way to sum it up is that, two millennia after Scott and Jean joined the X-Men and first defeated him, Apocalypse is triumphant. She manages to conjure an image of Apocalypse, which Jean notices looks like…
“A woman, Jean?” Rachel finishes her thought. She confirms this. This is Apocalypse’s most recent vessel. Just as Rachel is – was – the final vessel of the Phoenix Force. Nearly eighty years ago, it left her old and fragile frame, to search for more fertile ground. It is fortunate that even the residue of the Phoenix Force is still impressive.
Scott wonders how she got here. Last they saw her… Rachel confirms that yes, it was at their wedding. Upon arriving home, she learned she was the key to saving Captain Britain from the time stream. Elated that her parents had just wed, she joyfully exchanged places with Brian, never once regretting her decision.
What she found when she arrived in this time, almost a hundred years ago, was the Apocalypse’s long predicted Dark Age of the Homo superior, had come to pass. Perhaps even a little more anarchistic than even he would have preferred. Murdering sects of savage, cruel, powerful mutants had their way with the “dinosaurs” that had become humanity. A considerably broader definition that in their time, humanity came to encompass all life forms weaker that the strongest of the mutant caste. Anyone could have been killed, at any moment, for any reason.
“My God…” Jean whispers. She wonders: wasn’t there anyone to stand against them. Rachel tries to make them understand: for almost a century before this, the world enjoyed an almost unprecedented racial harmony. The age of Xavier was a time when all races lived in peace. A peace Apocalypse used against an unsuspecting, trusting planet. The people had their will badly battered by the time he’d arrived. Rachel began the Clan Askani. In today’s language it means “family of the outsiders.” Closest thing she could come up with that sounded like “X-Men.”
As Rachel catered to the sick, she observed that every few years, Apocalypse took on a new form. And spent less and less time in each new manifestation, as if he were burning them out – and therein lies the key to his defeat. He’d been looking for a frame that would accommodate his powers. He who preached the survival of the fittest was trying desperately to survive. And then it occurred to her: he was trying to hold on for the perfect vessel. One dear to all their hearts: Nathan Christopher Summers. Which is why she arranged to grab the child first.
But baby Nathan was desperately ill. She did what she could to save him from the ravages of the Techno-organic Virus. But he was running out. As a failsafe, the Askani created a healthy clone. Once Apocalypse figured out Nathan was in his timeline, Rachel knew he’d become desperate and attack Askani Hold. Together, a cured Nathan and she would have ultimately had the power to overthrow Apocalypse. It is clear now, that day will never come to pass. Which is why she sent for her “mom” and “dad,” Jean and Scott… They’re their last hope.
Telekinetically raising them in the air, Rachel explains that, to accomplish their goal, Scott and Jean will need the proper… tools. As they’ve already discovered, the bodies they currently possess, and will possess for their entire stay here, were provided by cloning DNA remains the Sisterhood gathered from their descendants. They are as genetically similar to their original bodies as possible. Unfortunately, Rachel continues, with her own power fading, there’s a limit to the degree she can recreate the mutant abilities they possessed in their own bodies – which would never have survived the time jump arranged by Rachel and the Clan Askani. Bodies which will become available after Cab… after Nathan has defeated Apocalypse.
Showered in Rachel’s psionic energy, Scott and Jean experience a brief moment of agony, before they are returned to the ground, their powers partially restored. Catching his breath, Scott musters the strength to ask where Nathan is. Rachel reveals that, moments ago, he was spirited away from the massacre above by a synthcon named Boak, a friend of hers. They will find them, no doubt, at a safe house in the upper region.
Jean notices that Rachel must be in incredible pain. She begs her to let them help her. Rachel explains they cannot, for if she is to be any use to them at all it will not be on this plane of existence. Her time is growing near, for without the Phoenix Force she is not much longer for this Earth. She urges them to go quickly now, before Ch’vayre…
Uttering a terrible scream, she suddenly collapses and stays still. The feelings that wash over Jean are startling and unfamiliar. Owing less to the mild disorientation that comes from residing in a body that is not her own than to the surprisingly maternal nature of her feelings. Rushing by Rachel, she holds her lifeless body in her arms. Jean is dejected. In their own era, it’s been hardly a week since she and Rachel reconciled, and here she is, knee deep in the blood of strangers, with Rachel’s comatose body in her arms. It can’t end this way… it can’t. Scott promises it won’t.
It was less than a week – and two thousand years ago – when this couple made a similar promise to one another. To love, honor and cherish each other, every day for the rest of their lives. Having taken their vows in front of friends and family, they left for a tropical paradise to celebrate their union in privacy. A celebration three days new, when it was irrevocably shattered by the gentle caress of the Clan Askani, echoing across the ages. Upon the moment of contact – of intrusion – Jean was overcome by an agony that was not her own, as five of the Askani sisters ignored the pain and bloodshed and chaos of Apocalypse’s assault, in order that they might allow the minds of Scott and Jean to traverse the centuries. As pre-ordained by the Mother Askani, once Jean was assimilated, the psionic bond that exists between her and Scott insured completion of the time switch. What became of their original bodies, emptied of mind and soul before they even hit the shallow waters off the beach in Saint Barts, is a question they both push out of their minds for the moment.
Emerging from the Askani Cloisters, Jean tells Scott, who follows suit, carrying the comatose Rachel, that he should see this. She finds it all so different now. Scott agrees that the landscape looks unrecognizable. If not for Rachel, he’d doubt they were even on… Jean clarifies she’s not talking about the view. She’s talking about the perspective. Since the day the slipped into those blue and gold jumpsuits at the Professor’s school, they’ve faced everything the world had to throw at them. There were times, she’ll admit now, when she was nervous. Other times she was surprised. And, once in a great while, scared.
But now? This is different. The Professor. Ororo. Warren. Everyone they ever knew – ever loved – is gone. They’ve spent years risking their lives for a world that feared them because of what they were. Not a lot of fun… but at least it was their world, their lives. But now they’re so far into the future, they might as well be on another planet entirely. Scott stresses she’s forgetting the one thing that hasn’t changed: their love for each other. Any world with that much going for it, is worth fighting for.
“My human friends – why do you delay the inevitable?” they suddenly hear the voice of the dreaded Ch’vayre. Patrolling the area on a vehicle with his aides and still searching them, Ch’vayre promises that, if they agree to spare all of them the time it will take to track them down, he might be able to arrange their deaths at the hands of the Lord Apocalypse himself. “Think of the glory!” he tries to lure them. How positively generous of the guy, Scott sneers as he and Jean, along with the comatose Rachel, go into hiding.
Ch’vayre clarifies that the House of the Askani has fallen. Just as the Xavier collective fell before that, and the Scions of Genetics before that, and the X.S.E. before them. Only Apocalypse remains… only his vision of a world where the strongest survive!
One of his soldiers informs Ch’vayre that the cerebral imprints he’s been trailing have gone suddenly… cold. Working under the assumption he’s being psionically blindsided, he suggests a bio-anomaly scan of this quadrant. Ch’vayre replies that won’t be necessary. Even if Mother Askani is still alive after all this, she would be much too weak to jam his scan – and he’s already established her would-be saviors are humans. He finds this is getting tedious. They should be celebrating with their Lord, instead of wading through the remains of his transgressors. This man and woman, whoever they are, have already shown an affinity for the weak and helpless. On this note, he orders them to bring forth the child! “The child,” Scott thoughtfully whispers. Jean shushes him; her powers apparently aren’t as developed in this body. It’s all she can do to mentally block awareness of all three of them.
Ch’vayre holds an infant high up. He proposes an exchange: a new life for an old one. This infant was torn from the grip of a wounded synthcon who counted himself among the Clan Askani’s supporters, so he’s assuming it holds some significance for these people. He asks them to step forward, lay the dying, broken body of their sacred mother before them – and the boy is theirs! Jean asks Scott if this is… Scott can’t tell – not from here. He can’t even tell if the child is still alive.
Ch’vayre boasts that soon these tunnels will be filled to overflowing with soldiers loyal to Apocalypse. He’s offering the two renegade humans a chance to leave, to divorce themselves of affairs which do not concern them. He’s allowing them to opportunity to leave here with one of their own… a human. Flawed; scarred; afflicted, he clarifies, as he reveals the face of the baby – but a human, nonetheless, he adds.
This is a sight Scott felt he’d never see again in all his life. The sight of his infant son, Nathan Christopher Summers – his face ravaged by the Techno-organic Virus. Jean alerts Scott that Ch’vayre’s baiting them. Scott insists that’s Nathan, just like when he was, when he was forced to send him into this future to save his life! One Ch’vayre, or one thousand – nothing’s going to keep them apart! Jean wasn’t suggesting otherwise, just pointing the obvious. “On three, then?” she offers. “No!” Scott replies. He instructs her to take Rachel and find a way out. The four of them will meet up later.
Seeing Scott ready for action, Jean pleads him to come back. He doesn’t even know what he’s working with. He’s already too far out of her range to psionically mask! Scott urges her to give him a telekinetic lift to Ch’vayre, then go! Jean insists they’re in this together: “Till death us do part, remember?”
Nevertheless, she telekinetically pushes Scott towards Ch’vayre – although Scott remarks she didn’t have to throw him this hard! He manages to right himself just in time, as Ch’vayre’s lackeys begin to attack him. Ch’vayre observes him slamming into his men with enough force to shatter every bone in his body. He finds it an “interesting” fighting technique – desperate, yet effective. He gives the child to his assistant, Aurron. Charging up, he confesses to being surprised the humans hadn’t left when they had even the slightest chance of survival…
Scott retorts that Ch’vayre is the one who should stick around – he hasn’t even begun to surprise him! A limited amount of energy begins fizzling from Scott’s eyes. Ch’vayre is at loss: his eyes? But the readings indicated he was not a…
Scott zaps him with his optic blasts and gives him lesson number two: don’t believe everything you read. The frightened Aurron mumbles this is insane! No one has opposed the will of Apocalypse in nearly a hundred years – let alone a mutant! Times change, Cyclops retorts and blasts him. And every once in a while, they change for the better, Scott thinks as he grabs baby Nathan. “Daaa…?” the infant struggles to speak. Scott confirms that yes, daddy’s here.
Jean telepathically assures him that no one could be happier for him, but they’ve got to get moving if they’re going to be holding any family reunions any time soon. And it looks like Scott’s gained a lot more control over this version of his optic blasts. Scott advises her to ignore the remaining attacking soldiers. Jean quips there’s an idea she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. Scott urges her to concentrate on throwing open the drainage pipes and flood the chamber with all the water all at once. Satisfied, Jean admits she knew there was a reason she agreed to obey him. She does as Scott instructs, and floods the room.
Scott reminds her she didn’t agree to obey him. She had that specifically written out of the marriage vows. Jean admits that’s true. But that was for another reason entirely. Scott begs her: not in front of the children! “See you below, Scott?” Jean asks him. It’s a date, he replies.
It’s nearly an hour before the manufactured flood abates – a testament to the will of the lone survivor of Apocalypse’s soldiers. Ch’vayre spent that time clinging to the walls of the remains of the sanctuary that was, until recently, the Askani Cloister – just as surely as he will refuse to let go of the mystery presented here to him this day. He vows that whoever this man and woman are, wherever they go, they should know that this is not over. In the name of the Apocalypse, this is not over!
Some twenty miles down along the shoreline, Cyclops makes it to the share. Amazingly, it also appears Nathan slept through the whole thing. Jean also reaches the shore and wittily wonders which side of the family Nathan gets that from. Scott is relieved to see her. He was afraid it’d take weeks to find each other again! Not likely, Jean replies. Fortunately, their bond allowed Rachel and her to stay telekinetically tethered to Scott and Nathan. Helping her to the shore, Scott asks her if Rachel is all right. As near as Jean can tell, she is. She’s in a coma, but Jean’s not able to detect anything active within her mind.
She remarks, it’s official… If they’re going to pull this off – raise Nathan, overthrow Apocalypse and liberate all the races enslaved in this era – it’s entirely up to the two of them. Scott banters that if they accomplish even half of that, he’d say they had a fairly productive honeymoon.