The years that have followed the fall of Apocalypse have not been kind. The early promise of freedom faded in the face of bitter civil wars. And those who survived the fall often wished they had not. For their lot was hard and their memories short. Only by gathering for weekly services, do these people rekindle the histories of those who had partaken in the epic war. Woven by conjurers of both fact and fiction.
This evening, such a recitation of fact and fiction takes place again. Fossil, an elderly man with a haggard face, glassy eyes and rotten teeth is sitting at the center of a square. He is watched by several cloaked people, most of them looking impoverished. The man projects a psionic hologram of a man confined on a wheelchair – Professor X. Xavier is depicted as a saintly figure, with a wreath around his head and heavenly balls of light emitted from his palms. The audience members hold their breath as the Fossil begins spinning his tale.
His name, Fossil tells them, was simply Xavier. It can be said that he was the father of the Askani. It is said he was the wisest. A man whose teachings brought about the legendary first ones – the followers who fought the evil that infected their time. The narrator accordingly generates images of some of Xavier’s followers, such as the X-Men. As the years flowed by, others came to take the first ones’ place, as dark times overtook all and humanity’s diverse branches suffered much. But among them were those who remembered Xavier and his band that fought the good fight through the dark, dusty years. And they, who walked the path that would someday lead to the House of the Askani. “Askani” which means “outsider,” sworn to protect a world which greeted them with hate and fear.
Among the audience is a young, robed man. Rather bemused by the story he hears, the man, Nathan Christopher Dayspring, asks his companion, the flamboyantly dressed Tetherblood, whether he can believe this pipe. Tetherblood tells him to keep it down. He’s being disrespectful… again.
Fossil continues his narration. Generating an image of Rachel Summers, embroiled in a fight with a monstrous version of Apocalypse, he asks his audience to behold the “Bright Lady,” who was delivered to them from what could only be heaven itself, to face Apocalypse as the harbinger to his destruction. She who brought into their children’s prayers a new message: “thanks and please.” “Thanks for today” – since during the years of Apocalypse, none of them – neither mutant nor human – knew if they would survive. “Please for tomorrow” – acknowledging that for all the efforts of Apocalypse and his ilk, it could extinguish the one tie that binds them all: hope.
It is not the terrible visage of their cruel oppressor that all but silences the crowd. Rather, it is the very image of she who was mostly holy, Rachel – known in this time as Mother Askani – the leader who alone fought the evil that was Apocalypse and gave her life in that long struggle. All save one, who finds the image disturbingly familiar – Nathan.
The young man challenges Tetherblood whether he wants to see “disrespectful.” Tetherblood nervously replies he doesn’t. For of all those among him, Nathan alone was there when Apocalypse was destroyed. As a mere child, he stood side-by-side with his adopted parents, the mysterious beings who simply called themselves “Slym” and “Redd.” When the battle ended, these two vanished, returning to whatever far place they came from, leaving Nathan, as a boy, to find his own way. Abandoned by all who loved him, Dayspring views the world differently.
Ignoring Tetherblood’s pleas to the contrary, Nate stubbornly insists he will show him “disrespectful.” Interrupting Fossil’s recitation, he asks him to tell him – tell them all – what sort of “goddess” abandons her people to a life such as this. In the end, it was not Fossil’s legendary fairy tale “goddess” who overthrew Apocalypse. It was a handful of living, breathing people who gave their all, so that other could reap the benefits of that struggle. Taking off his cloak and revealing himself, he suggests Fossil look at them. Another shadow looms over the world, one which may prove greater than Apocalypse himself. And how do they meet the challenge? By holding services at night and turning over all their food and earnings to support the Canaanites by day? “Here we go…” Tetherblood wearily remarks upon hearing Nate’s outburst.
Fossil calmly points out that not every battle needs to be fought by the blade of a sword or barrel of a gun. Nate is annoyed by Fossil’s tone. He asks not to be patronized by him. He was…
Suddenly, he screams in mid-sentence. Tetherblood tends to his friend. In the crowd, they wonder whether it was the gods themselves who struck down Nathan for his heresy… or was it the government? A woman makes her presence known, escorted by two guards. She announces that this concludes their services for this evening. They are to go to their homes, secure in the knowledge the Canaanites honor and respect all religions. The elderly Fossil doesn’t immediately recognize her. A young girl whispers to him the woman is ‘Strator Umbridge and suggests they go.
In the years that followed, with Apocalypse’s dog soldiers to maintain order, a new group arose “for the best interest of the people.” Taking their name from the city where the revolution was born – New Canaan – the Canaanites now act as the official guardian to the populace, promoting peace, harmony and… profit.
Tetherblood mumbles to Nate, who’s still in pain, that he picked the absolutely worst time to spell out on him. He asks him what the deal is. Nate admits he doesn’t… it’s like his gut’s on fire. It happened before… it’s getting worse… Grimacing with pain, he suggests they get out of here before…
“…It is too late?” Umbridge completes his phrase. Standing there with her arms akimbo, she observes that Nathan was embarking on an interesting discourse. The administration encourages free thinking and would like to hear more. Tetherblood whispers that next time he says “let’s go to the southern coast,” they should go to the southern coast!
Soon, aboard the Canaanite patrol vessel, ‘Strator Umbridge stands before a giant monitor and reports to her superior, Tribune Haight. She debriefs him that they encountered a small gathering of dissidents… Isle Kin types. Nothing too radical, except for a pair of…
Tribune suggests she forgets about that. She has been reassigned. He wants her at the Temple of Control and he wants her quickly. Is he being sufficiently clear? Abundantly, Umbridge assures him. She asks him, though, what he wishes done with the pair of dissidents. Haight stresses she knows the options open to her: Incarcerate. Incinerate. Obliterate. He suggests she picks one and be done with it. “Understood, Tribune Haight,” Umbridge complies.
Meanwhile, Nathan and Tetherblood are kept in a holding cell, several decks below. Tetherblood speaks in Nate’s mind. He is aware of the strain involved, but with the guards upside, they need to psi-link. He’s wound up in worse situations with Nathan – well, not much worse – but Nate really went after it tonight. Insistent on his views, Nathan explains he just hates seeing those sheep following some dream that doesn’t help anybody. Tetherblood clarifies he isn’t talking about politics. From day one, Nathan has spat on Apocalypse like he took him down himself… personally. He’s asking Nate why seeing the hologram of Mother Askani set him off like it did. “The truth?” Nate replies. “No, lie to me,” Tetherblood’s snarky reply follows. Nate explains that the Mother Askani reminded him of someone he knew long ago…
Elsewhere, in a place that the legends say can no longer exist, a hidden sanctuary shelters the remaining survivors of the Sisterhood of the Askani. Though she is but a novice, Aliya came here to learn the ways of the Sisterhood, just as Madame Sanctity did before her, a charge of the Mother Askani herself.
The young Aliya enters a room, in which she finds Madame Sanctity floating as usual. Frightened and unnerved by the old woman, Aliya asks if she sent for her. Pleased to see her, Sanctity admits that seeing novitiate Aliya’s fresh face always brings a smile to her face. Aliya queries if there is… some way she can be of service to her. “In more ways that I could count, precious,” Sanctity responds. But for now, she needs Aliya to make ready for his arrival. “Who, Madame? If I may ask, whose arrival?” Aliya reservedly questions. “Why, the Askani’Son, of course!” Madame Sanctity grins. “The Askani’Son…?” Aliya whispers the name, as if testing it.
She thoughtfully exits the room. She had heard whispers that the psionic power which her teacher and mentor, Madame Sanctity, had harnessed, despite her training and precaution, had left her unbalanced. Until today, as Sanctity’s psionic laughter chills Aliya to her very marrow, Aliya had not listened…
As impressive as the Clan Canaanite’s transport vehicles are, they are dwarfed by the massive dry docking bays. Inside the anchored Canaanite patrol vessel, Nate and Tetherblood are still kept shackled in a cell, along with other arrested people. Tetherblood tries to remember how the woman who arrested them put it: “The administration encourages free thinking and would like to hear more.” He doesn’t get the sense they’re being invited for a few drinks. Still aching, Nate boasts that if it weren’t for these energy shackles, he’d have them out in… Before he finishes, yet again, he screams and kneels down. He tells Tetherblood he is sorry. This is another fine mess he’s…
“What is… is…” a voice telepathically speaks inside Nate’s mind. Nate is at loss: who the…? The proprietor of the voice is an odd-looking mutant. He wonders what use one has for a word such as “sorry.” Once the situation has presented itself, it is the situation which must be addressed, not the circumstance under which it was arrived at. Tetherblood intervenes and assures him both he and Nate would love to stand here and argue philosophy, but right now, what his friend needs is a physician. He suggests to the man to just waddle on out of here. The strange-looking, misshapen man argues that a physician would be of little help to Nate now. Nate’s condition is worse than even he had expected. “Expected?” Tetherblood exclaims, in confusion. Tetherblood asks the man if he’s got the man. His interlocutor reveals he is known as “Blaquesmith”. Since Blaquesmith seems to know so much about Nathan, Tetherblood asks him if he can help him!
At that moment, in what was once the city of New Orleans, there remains the skeletal framework of what had been a monument to ego. These – the first temples of the High Lord – were among the first places routed after Apocalypse had died. Stripped of whatever value they contained, they are now looming shells, a mockery of the man who built them. But even now, this particular temple is being revived as a citadel of pain.
Having set the temple ablaze, the man known as Stryfe casts a hard glance on an abject man, the last survivor of a group of people he’s already massacred, their corpses lying around in the temple. Desperate, the man asks him why he’s doing this. They sought only shelter… they’ve done nothing to harm him!
His eyes lighting up with insanity and intelligence, Stryfe admits it’s true. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see it that way. The man and the other homeless people living in the temple exist, yet they are weak. And Stryfe has gone too long without bathing himself in another’s agony.
“Stryfe! That’s enough!” Ch’vayre calls him to order, as his hand rests on Stryfe’s left shoulder. Stryfe coldly retorts that Ch’vayre presumes too much in touching him – or has Ch’vayre forgotten, like the rest of the chattel on this planet, that Stryfe is the sole heir to the throne of Apocalypse?
Ch’vayre, who has proportionally grown in size in the last few years, wonders: is it difficult for a king to rule… without a kingdom? Isn’t this the reason for their being here? Stryfe answers back. To rebuild Stryfe’s kingdom? Ch’vayre nods that yes, that is why they are here. “And may God forgive me,” he adds in a lower voice.
Aboard the Canaanites transport ship, Tetherblood asks Blaquesmith if he’s afraid the guards might see them. Blaquesmith argues that the guards will see only what Blaquesmith wishes them to. He’s shifted all three of them in the space of time between one heartbeat and the next. For the three of them, time has stopped. “Now hold him still!” he commands Tetherblood. Examining Nathan, he explains that the Techno-Organic Virus, which ravaged Nathan’s body since he was an infant, has one advantage. It allows Blaquesmith access to what otherwise…
“Curious,” Blaquesmith unexpectedly remarks. Tearing apart at the metallic flesh of Nathan’s T.O.-infected chest, he discovers something is here that should not be. Nate asks him what it is. Blaquesmith extracts a glowing orb. Making to touch it, Nate observes this thing is almost as if it were alive. Tetherblood incredulously wonders how it could be alive…
The glowing orb escapes Nate’s hands and maniacally swirls and bounces around the room. Tetherblood admits he doesn’t like this… not one bit. The orb returns to Nate… and then it speaks in a flat, robotic voice: “Greetings, Nathan. It’s been a long time.” Nathan is surprised this thing knows his name – and even more, that it can speak. He asks who or what it is. The orb explains it is whatever Nathan needs it to be. Friend. Confidante. Professor.
Watching this exchange, Blaquesmith interjects and remarks it’s fascinating – but he fears he no longer has the strength to cloak them. As he passes out from the strenuous effort, a guard sees them and demands to know what happened here!
Elsewhere, high above the city, Tribune Haight converses with ‘Strator Umbridge. He urges Umbridge to look out on the horizon, at all they’ve been able to accomplish since the fall of the High Lord. For all of Apocalypse’s posturing about “the survival of the fittest,” where is he now to enjoy his long sought victory? Soon the Clan Canaanite will be stronger than even he dreamed!
Umbridge remains silent. Her silence is a sign, for as much as she yearns to ascend the Canaanite hierarchy, surely Tribune Haight knows that speaking this way of En Sabah Nur is tantamount to blasphemy. Haight shrewdly notes that Umbridge is ever one to think before she speaks. No wonder she’s gone so far in such a short time. Umbridge takes this as a compliment. “As it was intended,” Haight assures her. He asks her what she knows about the Clan Askani. Only what every other child learns growing up, Umbridge admits. The stuff of fairy tales her parents read to her before bed. They believed in them still. To Umbridge they were of stuff of history.
Haight offers her a drink, which Umbridge curtly rebuffs: not while on duty. Haight notes that her devotion to duty is admirable. He hopes she doesn’t mind if has her drink then… Gazing at the horizon, he wonders: what if he told her the Askani still existed? And that they are all that stand between the Clan Canaanite and the throne of their dear departed Apocalypse?
Umbridge is shocked: what?! Surely, he’s not implying that this… stuff of myths poses any actual threat! Haight is amused, seeing that one can get a rise out of her. He’s found that a soldier with ice in his veins is of little value under fire. What he is telling her is known to but a few. It was long believed that the last of the Clan Askani were eliminated in the Cloister slaughter, when the hated Mother Askani finally fell. Apparently, one or two strays survived, and have resumed teaching their ways to others. He needs her, ‘Strator, to stop from that happening. Certainly, Umbridge replies. But… how?
A holographic map of Eurasia is automatically generated. Umbridge is perplexed: Eurasia? They barely have running water, much less a government they could… Haight cuts her off. As far as this mission goes, the only government she needs to concern herself with is their own. This requires a certain… subtlety. Is she up to the task? “You needn’t ask, sir,” Umbridge boasts. Haight smirks devilishly: outstanding. He has one last thing to tell her: they have reports of a young man. Someone this “Sisterhood” has a high regard for. Their “Messiah,” to pick a word. If Umbridge should encounter the lad, she is to kill him. “As so ordered,” she assures him. May she be dismissed? “G’journey,” Haight wishes her – as they used to say!
As Umbridge leaves, she realizes she nearly showed him her hand. She has little belief in fate; less in coincidence. But if that young dissident they arrested tonight turns out to be who she now suspects he is, Haight may be reporting to her next time!
Elsewhere, in the open air entrance to the docking bay, the situation progresses from bad to ugly. Confronting Nate, Tetherblood and Blaquesmith, a guard argues they can save the administration the cost of processing these three by erasing them now, instead. Nate telepathically alerts Blaquesmith. Now that he is back with them, doesn’t he happen to have any other tricks up his sleeve? Tricks, no. Solutions, yes, Blaquesmith replies. With all but a psionic thought of his, the energy shackles fall aside. Blaquesmith urges them to go now. Nate is baffled: go? He can handle these guards and… Blaquesmith insists that Nathan’s destiny lies elsewhere. Nate mumbles that he doesn’t understand… Blaquesmith, more peremptorily, insists they go!
One of the guards realizes the three prisoners are unshackled. The guards immediately open fire. As their reports would later reflect, it matters little where the guards actually aim, as Blaquesmith acts a shield – apparently at the cost of his life. “Butchers!” Tetherblood rages, as Blaquesmith is seemingly shot dead. Nate reminds him that Blaquesmith bought them an exit, and like it or not, they’re taking it! They both jump off the platform of the docking bay.
‘Strator Umbridge joins the guards and orders them to hold their fire. One of the guards explains that the prisoners were escaping… Umbridge counters that she is not interested in her excuses – she wants them found! Another guard, with all due respect, emphasizes that after a fall from this height, there will be little more than ink stains for them to…
“Would you bet your very life on that?” Umbridge counters as she walks over to the edge of the platform and spots Nate and Tetherblood alive and well below, entering an escape pod. She commands her guards to have the tower dock all pods. No one gets in or out, unless…
Much to her surprise, the pod in which Nate escaped, takes off and away at an exponential speed. The dock systems warn of an unauthorized launch of escape pod unit nine. Umbridge ponders that pod broke free of a secured mooring and now accelerates at nearly ten times the velocity it is rated for. Whoever this young man is, he has just made her job all the more intriguing…
Inside the incredibly fast-moving pod, a surprised Tetherblood asks Nate what he’s doing. Nathan insists it’s not him, it’s the pod! Tetherblood tells him to stop it! “Stop?” a flat voice intercedes – it thought Nathan wished to escape. Upon hearing this voice, Nathan realizes it is that thing that was inside of him. Correct, the A.I. replies. It has taken the liberty of overriding this unit’s control center. Nate remembers that before, it said it could be his… “Professor”. Will it mind if Nate calls it that? The Professor cryptically replies that Nathan has always called it that.
“Not to bring up a sore subject,” Tetherblood interposes – but does anybody know where they’re headed? Nate reveals that before Blaquesmith died, he put a telepathic suggestion in his head – a sort of lifesaver, he thinks. So, unless either Tetherblood or the Professor says otherwise, they’re going in search of the last Askani!
Dawn. In Apocalypse’s temple in New Orleans, Stryfe rather compulsively asks Ch’vayre if it’s ready. Ch’vayre wryly notices that “patience” was never a virtue he could instill in Stryfe. Stryfe insists he just activates the unit, Ch’vayre informs him they should be on-line in three, two, one…
The synthetic unit known as Zero is activated. Its prime directive commences: the resurrection of the High Lord. “At last!” Stryfe enthuses. “We begin anew…!”