Fortress X, 998 days ago. ‘For the record: I’ve never hated mutants’ Captain America thinks to himself. ‘For all their protests, all their rage and violence, I’ve never thought them evil’. He decides that what it comes down to is mutants cannot see the situation like humans do. ‘We real humans’ he tells himself. Captain America decides that mutants call understand that it is not about prejudice or injustice or cruelty - it is starker than that, as mutants are simply too powerful, too unpredictable, to be left to their own devices. ‘So it’s up to my team to make them understand’ Captain America boasts.
At that moment, a mutant is watching guard at one of the many windows of Fortress X. An instant later, blood pours from his neck as Redback slashes his neck with a blade that extends from her wrist. Thanks to the Invisible Woman, Redback, Iron Man and Captain America are invisible as they break into Fortress X. ‘I’m gonna be sick’ Susan announces as she keels over. ‘Sue Storm Moan-o-meter: 15-16-17-18-19’ Iron Man jokes, until Captain America tells him that is enough, before Captain America orders Sue to get their cloak back up. Susan vomits, as Captain America announces that they are going in.
As they walk down a corridor (or in Redback’s case, crawl along the wall of the corridor), Captain America thinks to himself that the saying “For the security of the many, the few must sometimes suffer control” until today meant “arrest and detain”, but now, not it seems there are more efficient forms of control. Suddenly, Bruce Banner’s voice is heard of Iron Man’s communicator who informs his teammates that telemetry suggests a blast-shielded chamber is on the next level, so it must be Magneto. From his position on a hillside outside Fortress X, Bruce Banner stands with General Frank Castle, and several soldiers. ‘There will be sentries. Kill them all’ Banner orders.
Peering around a corner, Captain America asks Iron Man to remind the doctor that he left him at camp on request of the General, probably because he is a 600-pound liability and not a strategic insight. ‘I’ll lead my team how I see fit’ Captain America adds. ‘So you don’t intend to commit murder?’ Susan asks. Captain America fires a dart gun at a mutant, and replies that Magneto is a terrorist, a military target, that if you cut off his head, the body dies. ‘It’s not murder. It’s orders’ he adds, before crouching beside the blonde mutant and pulling the dart out of her neck, he tells Susan that, since she asked, he has no desire to kill anyone unless he has to.
‘And if you do?’ Susan asks. Captain America pauses, before replying that he will cross that bridge when he comes to it. Still invisible, the four Avengers enter an area where several mutants are gathered, including Avalanche and Callisto, who is drinking from a large bottle of alcohol, another in her other hand. Susan walks alongside Callisto, whose enhanced senses picks up Susan’s invisible footsteps. ‘Who’s there?’ Callisto shouts, as she waves one of her bottles around - which smashes against the Invisible Woman, causing her to lose concentration over the invisibility cloak.
‘Cloak’s down! Take them!’ Captain America orders, and so, the battle begins. Captain America fires at Avalanche, while Redback goes up against Bliss. For what it is worth, Captain America keeps his word, nothing lethal - just tranq-shots and body-blows - incapacitate and then move on. Captain America tells himself that he is no assassin like Redback, nor a machine like Iron Man. ‘Object: Fish. Context: Barrel. Pew pew pew’ Iron Man shouts as he fires some plasma blasts, while Colossus suddenly grabs Captain America’s gun, and Warlock goes for his shield. Susan forces Colossus back with an invisible force field, while Captain America smacks Warlock at the knee joints. ‘Besides, they’re no real threat, these mutants. There’s no cooperation, no unity. They stand apart; they fall apart’.
‘ONWAAARDS!’ Captain America orders as the Avengers surge onwards, pushing through the mutants. Captain America tells himself that there is a seduction in the violence, a joy of progress, of doing something that has got to be done - which brings down the red mist like a sunset - until all of the soft options are gone - and the blood is roaring like life itself. The rabble is too dense behind them, and the only way is forward. A door opens up ahead, and a blue-skinned woman stands there p Mystique. ‘Drop the weapon! Drop it!’ Captain America orders. ‘No. Wait - stop!’ Mystique calls out. But Captain America is ready to find the way forward and fires his machine gun. He enjoys it. ‘No!’ Susan shouts as she pushes Captain America’s weapon to one side. Captain America may have been ready to move forward, but Susan was not. ‘She keeps our heads…and breaks our hearts’
Susan bursts into the room - toys are scattered across the floor. Bullet holes line the walls, and several young mutants are huddled in a corner, while Mystique lies on the floor in a pool of her own blood. Captain America and Redback enter the room as they and Sue stand over Mystique’s body. ‘She was guarding them…’ Captain America remarks. ‘Look at them, Steve…look at the fear. Look at the care!’ Sue declares, announcing that these are not military targets. Anxious, his eyes wide, Captain America replies ‘But…we’re soldiers. It’s just orders’. Suddenly, ‘What about the…the little girl?’ Mystique asks. ‘Huh?’ Captain America asks. Mystique looks up at him from the pool of blood and replies ‘She’s human. She’s only eleven. She writes stories’.
Mystique, though weak, continues: ‘Stories so powerful they…they sear the soul. Stories to uplift or devastate. Stories of such beauty her school teachers know they’ll change the world’. Mystique asks Captain America what would happen if that little girl was being raised as a communist, or an anarchist, or a fundamentalist. ‘Will you kill her too?’ Mystique asks. ‘And what about the scientist with…with contrary views on drug control? Or the pink-vote politician? Or any opinionated folks with an IQ over 150 and…and bigger muscles than yours? Or anyone special and unpredictable and unique who you can’t control. Where does it end, Captain Am…Amer…ck’ Mystique asks with her dying breath.
There is silence as Captain America, the Invisible Woman, Iron Man and Redback stare down at Mystique’s body. The silence is broken by Redback - ‘This is wrong’ she states. Iron Man and Sue look at her. ‘You have a voice?’ Iron Man asks, shocked, but Captain America remains stoic, frowning. ‘We all do’ Captain America states, before asking Tony to open a line to General Castle. ‘Tell him we quit’ Iron Man looks surprised. ‘Th…that’s, uh… oh crap’ he mutters, as energy starts crackling around him, emitted from his armor. ‘Negative, negative, negative, override’ Iron Man calls out, urgently as he raises his hands to the children, still in the corner. ‘The machine…can’t stop it!’ Tony calls out, as the voice of the machine states ‘Extant objective: code Omega!’ it announces.
Tony turns to Steve and tells him that no human should be controlled. ‘How do I help you?’ Captain America asks. ‘Not me. Help them’ Iron Man replies as his hand is still aimed at the children - but Captain America raises his machine gun to Iron Man’s head - and fires before Iron Man can kill the young mutants. General Castle hears the BDAM over the communicator on Iron Man’s armor. Captain America picks up Tony’s arm and speaks into the communicator: ‘General Castle?’ he calls out. ‘Captain’ the General replies, telling Captain America that before he says anything, ‘And I’ve no doubt you’ve got a principled little resignation speech all lined up’ the General adds, informing Captain America that there is something he needs to understand.
Several other mutants enter the room where Captain America, Redback and Sue are still gathered, and Captain America listens to General Castle still: ‘You’re going to die’ the General announces. ‘You hear me, turncoat? You haven’t saved $#!&’ General Castle declares, warning Captain America that he is going to die - along with every last America-hating, filth-spreading, family-murdering mutant there is. General Castle informs Captain America that extinction has always been the aim, and points out that a nuke would have done that, but for that they had to be rid of Magneto. ‘You couldn’t even manage that. Plan B’ General Castle declares.
Frank Castle smirks as he announces ‘A chemical bomb…two megaton. No detonator, no metal parts. Triggered at source by a true patriot. He gets into position, my men and I pull back like crazy, and mutantkind officially joins the dodo’ he explains. ‘You found a patsy to die for your genocide?’ Captain America asks via Iron Man’s communicator. Susan begins pointing out the window, while General Castle replies that he doesn’t think his “patsy” will mind too much, and suggests Captain America take a look outside a judge for himself.
Banzai, Captain America. Burn in hell!’ Frank Castle replies, while Banner, now transformed into the Hulk, and with the bomb strapped to his back. ‘NO. MORE. MUTANTS!’ the Hulk booms.
Captain America, Redback and Sue race out of Fortress X. Captain America is still holding Iron Man’s arm for communication purposes, and Sue throws an invisible force field around them while several mutants, including Legacy and Legion, stand nearby. Captain America turns to the mutants and tells them that he cannot order them, that he doesn’t have the right to do that. ‘But if he gets through us… when he gets through us…you’re next’ he warns them, suggesting they stand ready. ‘And stand united’ Captain America adds, as he, Redback and Sue rush towards the Hulk.
‘Hold him! Not one more yard!’ Captain America orders as he lunges at the Hulk, while Redback attacks the Hulk from the side, and the Invisible Woman uses her force field. Captain America remembers Susan saying “Cooperation has to be the key”, and realizes she has understood that from the beginning. He tells himself that when something matters, when something is unjust, regardless of who says different, then it is not about control or rationale or orders it is about working together to make a difference - or dying together if you can’t.
From the hills nearby, General Castle is watching the battle through binoculars. ‘Storm’s the problem’ he announces, before telling a soldier to aim for her shield and spread her thin, as Banner must get closer to the tower. The missile is launched, although Captain America and Redback are knocked aside, the Invisible Woman holds her ground, and her force field remains around her. ‘Ha! Pathetic! Useless traitor!’ the Hulk calls out as he slams a fist down on the force field. Captain America calls out to the mutants: ‘The few…stronger together!’ he shouts. ‘Failing! Weak! Weak!’ the Hulk booms as he continues to pummel Sue’s force field. ‘Cooperate, damn you. Work together! Help her!’ Captain America pleads, as he lies on the ground, his lower legs blown off - and an instant later, the Hulk smashes Sue’s force field.
General Castle smirks in delight. ‘Help yourselves…’ Captain America whispers. Legion and several other mutants look horrified, as does Redback. The Hulk holds Sue up above his head, his hand wrapped around her neck, and he shouts ‘Finished! Like mutants! All vermin! All race-traitors…finished! Unworthy name “human”!’ he declares, but before he can kill Sue, his arm is severed. ‘Wh-?’ the Hulk utters. “Human” Redback remarks as she clings to the Hulk’s shoulders, Iron Man’s glove around one of her arms. ‘You don’t know the meaning of the word’ Redback tells the Hulk, as the glove begins to emit energy p and an instant later, there is a massive burst of energy, and a huge explosion.
‘Eagle one, you got visual? Did the blast reach the tower?’ General Castle calls out from the safety of the hills. ‘Anyone?’ he radios. But gets no response. ‘What the hell happened before detonation? Could’a sworn I saw some sorta light’ the General remarks as he looks out at the decimated land before him.
But, at the grounds outside Fortress X, ‘Sue…?’ Captain America calls out as he and Legacy are kneeled beside the Invisible Woman. ‘She’s gone’ Legacy tells Captain America, while up in the air, Legion, Hellion, Psylocke, Carmella Unuscione and Revenant have used their power to secure a force wall around Fortress X. ‘The force field wall. It worked. She showed us the way, darling. You all did’ Legacy tells Captain America as she touches him. ‘We’ll never forget you for that’ Legacy utters, while Captain America passes away.
Today, Legacy hangs her head as she remembers her encounter with Captain America. ‘You there? Hey, Reaper!’ Cannonball calls out over communicator. ‘Huh?’ Legacy asks. ‘I said: How’s the barrier holding up? Any sign of that top bomber?’ Cannonball asks. Legacy gazes out a window and replies ‘That’s a negative, Sam. Shield’s holding just fine’ Legacy tells him. ‘Uh-huh’ Cannonball replies, while he, Colossus and other mutants examine the damage down below after a recent battle. Cannonball tells Legacy that for what it is worth, he is sorry that she does not get to see much action out here, but points out that they have all got their orders, and it makes for a lousy defense if your soldiers can’t even do what they’re told’.
‘You’re wrong’ Legacy replies. ‘Excuse me?’ Cannonball asks. ‘I said you’re wrong, Sam. We’re the few in here. Soldiers are the last things we wanna be’ she tells him, and Legacy looks out over the ruined landscape around Fortress X, as she tells Cannonball ‘It’s heroes we need’….
Inside the sewers beneath Manhattan, three mutants trudge through the water, the dark tunnels illuminated thanks to the light power of Dazzler. A young male mutant darts around the tunnel and announces that he has checked the tunnel up ahead and that it is all clear. ‘Ugh, how much farther, Gabriel? My stupid shoes are killing me’ Dazzler tells the young man, who replies that it s just a few more miles, and that once they get out of the city limits, it will be a lot safer, as there will be fewer patrols and scanners. The third mutant tells Dazzler that her whole outfit is stupid. ‘We’re on the run, not the runway’ she points out. Dazzler frowns and tells the young woman that it is her stage costume, as Exonim soldiers attacked her in the middle of her own concert. ‘Whatever’ the other woman mutters, before lowering her coat, revealing her wings, and declaring that she finds a coat big enough to cover her freaking wings, and now it smells like dookie.
Gabriel calls her Angel and tells her that down here she doesn’t have to hide her wings, just like Fortress X. ‘We can use out powers as much as we want there’ he points out’ Gabriel adds, but Dazzler tells herself that all he can talk about is Fortress X and his ticket to a new life. Me, I think life’s over’ Dazzler tells herself. Gabriel announces that he heard everyone gets a codename, too. ‘What do you think of “Velocidad”?’ he asks. ‘The recording contracts, licensing deals, the money - all gone. Now I’m just a crazed monster terrorist: a mutant’ Dazzler tells herself. Suddenly, Gabriel holds a hand up to his face and asks Dazzler to turn her light down - but it’s not Dazzler, and a beam of energy knocks Gabriel back against the sewer wall.
‘Oh no oh no!’ Angel gasps as she puts her hands to her head. ‘It’s him’ Dazzler tells herself as she looks at the man hovering before her, flanked by several armored soldiers. ‘I really can’t decide what’s more disgusting. The smell down here…or that half-girl, half-fly freak’ he declares. Dazzler stands motionless as she stares at the most terrifying man alive to any mutant - Stephen Strange, the government’s top bounty hunter. Dazzler read on the internet that Strange uses sorcerery to trace and kill mutants - and that no one has ever escaped him. ‘But screw him. I outsold Gaga on iTunes!’ Dazzler think to herself as she releases beams of solid light energy at Strange, who holds the energy back with a force field.
One of the soldiers begins shooting, but Strange shouts ‘You idiots! Stop! I have this!’, while Dazzler and Angel cower against the wall, now littered with bullet holes. ‘Stop it! Leave me alone!’ Angel shouts as she starts to flap her wings. Strange chants something in an untranslatable language, before dowsing Angel in energy, killing her. ‘You idiot! Your ricochet fire could have killed us’ Strange tells the soldier, before another announces that the other mutant must have escaped. ‘Of course she did. Find her. But be warned, if I hear one gunshot, I’ll turn your skins inside out’ Strange warns the soldiers. ‘The girl is mine’ he declares.
At that moment, down another tunnel, Dazzler is running for her life. She tells herself that when the bullets started, fight or flight just took over, and it was a good minute before she even realized she was running. ‘So I’m lost’ Dazzler admits, not to mention she is exhausted, as she never used her powers this much, probably because she hates them, because she has spent her whole life trying to pretend they don’t exist. Dazzler admits to herself however that it feels good to use them, and even better now that she has a plan. Dazzler begins by shining ultraviolet light, as it is perfect vision for her, but pure darkness for them.
Dazzler creeps through the tunnel while converting sound to light energy to mask any noise her footsteps might make, so she can get a drop on the soldiers without making a sound. Dazzler does so, striking down a soldier. Her plan?? Simply to get out of these tunnels, and to take out as many soldiers as she can. She thinks her plan is going well, as she comes to a large grate in the tunnel. She tells herself that this is the first time she has ever been happy to see New Jersey. Suddenly, red energy solidifies around the grate. ‘Oh dear. So close. If only that unbreakable gate of Cyttorak weren’t blocking your way to freedom’ Strange announces as he appears behind Dazzler.
Strange remarks that this is a first for him, that he has never killed an honest to god celebrity before. ‘No. You’re the one who’s going to die today’ Dazzler replies, while telling herself that this is it. ‘Do or die’. Dazzler turns around and tells Stephen Strange that this is not just for her, but for Angel and Gabriel - before Strange decimates her in his mystical energies. ‘We’re done here’ Strange tells the soldier. ‘Make a note when you turn in this invoice…I want double hazard pay for making me come down here’.
An undetermined amount of time later, Dazzler opens her eyes in a hospital bed. ‘I think she’s coming around’ someone says. ‘Good morning, Dazzler’ another greets Dazzler, who looks up and sees Angel and Gabriel. ‘But I saw you die. Is this Heaven?’ Dazzler asks. ‘Close. Welcome to Fortress X. And the name’s “Velocidad”!’ Gabriel replies. ‘Yeah, look out for Mister Mutant Pride here. He won’t even respond to “Gabriel” anymore’ Angel remarks. Dazzler begins to ask how they got here, before seeing Magneto through a window. ‘And Strange?’ Dazzler gasps as she sees the two men talking. Dazzler leaps out of bed: ‘Strange! I’ll kill you!’ Dazzler shouts, while Velocidad and Angel try to hold her back. ‘Let go of me! Don’t you see? He tried to kill us!’ Dazzler declares.
Velocidad smiles and tells Dazzler that she doesn’t understand, and explains to her that Strange works with Magneto, that he is one of the good guys. Dazzler looks shocked, while Angel explains that Strange teleported them here, right under the Exonims’ noses, and that all the mutant hunter stuff is just an act. ‘Strange has saved dozens of mutants’ she adds. Magneto greets Dazzler by addressing her by her true name, Alison Blaire, and welcomes her to Fortress X. Strange bows in front of Dazzler and apologizes for the deception and cruelty, adding that he has a reputation to protect.
Dazzler tells Strange that the Exonim soldiers attack Fortress X every day. ‘If they see any of the mutants you’ve saved, they’ll know…’ Dazzler’s voice trails off, but Strange points out that it is probably a matter of “when”, not “if”. Dazzler tells him that when they find out, they will hunt him too. Strange tells her that they will eventually turn on him in any case, so he might as well give them an actual reason. Dazzler points out that Strange would be safe if he stayed here, but Strange replies ‘With so many lives at stake? No. Death is dull, my dear. Everyone does it’ Strange adds that it is how you live your life that really sets you apart.