Manhattan, at an ice-skating rink, the alien called Warbird watches, seemingly unaware that she herself is being watched by someone who thinks ‘They teach you to never let your guard down around them. They aren’t like us, no matter how much we want to believe they are’.
On the ice rink, husbands Jean-Paul “Northstar” Beaubier and Kyle Jinadu skate hand-in-hand, and Jean-Paul assures Kyle that it will be okay, as he has the best immigration lawyer in the country working on his case. ‘They’re not going to deport me’ Jean-Paul smiles. Kyle tells Jean-Paul that he can’t help but worry. ‘They try to deport everyone else who’s here illegally. At least, everyone who’s brown’ he points out. ‘See? That’s means I’ve got a chance’ Jean-Paul jokes, while Kyle tells him that he isn’t funny.
The unseen watcher decides that there is no such thing as universal brotherhood, and Warbird leaves the skating rink.
Warbird passes civilians who are outside huddled around a food truck,
‘No such thing as peace, no matter how often it’s promised’ the mystery person thinks, while at the food truck, Gambit asks Dr Cecilia Reyes,if she thought he’d come. She reminds him that he said he was planning on spending Christmas in South America so he can, ‘And I quote “steal a ruby the size of my head” from a Colombian drug lord. So no, Gambit, I didn’t think you’d be here’ Cecilia replies as she passes some food from the truck to one of the needy civilians gathered. ‘You wound me, chere’ Gambit tells Cecilia, remarking that, between the two of them, actually he did steal that ruby, and it only took a minute and a half. ‘You’re that good, huh?’ Cecilia asks. ‘Pfft’ Gambit tells her. ‘Merry Christmas, Doctor Reyes’ Gambit declares as he pulls the ruby, wrapped with a bow, from his jacket and smiles, leaving Cecilia wide-eyed.
‘All it takes is one lunatic. One bad day… and suddenly people are dead and the Earth is shuddering and cities fall. I’ve seen it happen’ the mysterious person thinks .
Warbird carries on down a near-empty street, and comes to a stop outside an art gallery.
‘So we watch them all. The ones we know about. Been watching her for months. The Shi’ar alien called Warbird. Warrior race, they tell me, ruthless. Deadly. Trained from birth to kill’.
Warbird enters the gallery, where the assistant nervously asks ‘Can I…er help you?’ but Warbird just goes over to one of the paintings and looks up at it in awe. Warbird leaves, and the woman watching her stands at the end of the street,
‘All I’ve seen her do is wander. Wish I knew why. What she’s planning’ she thinks to herself. ‘Because what’s a warrior without war?’
Soon, Warbird is in the apartment that Xi’an Coy Manh a.k.a. Karma lives in away from the Jean Grey School, with her two younger siblings, Leong and Nga. Warbird sits between the children on bar stools at the kitchen counter, while Karma cooks nearby. ‘Really, you’ve never experienced snow?’ Karma asks. ‘Never’ Warbird replies, explaining that the Shi’ar cannot survive long in the cold, as their blood does not generate its own heat. ‘Are those feathers?’ Leong enquires, adding that Shan says she is an alien. ‘Yes’ Warbird confirms. ‘Cool. I wish I was from another planet’ Nga remarks. ‘To me… you are from another planet’ Warbird tells the child, before Karma announces that dinner is ready.
They all head over to the dining table, and referring to the reindeer antlers on Leong’s head, Warbird asks ‘The protuberances from his head are not real, are they?’ Karma explains that it is just part of a costume, something associated with the holidays ‘You dress as your gods, you mean’ Warbird declares. ‘Well, I don’t know if reindeer count as gods, so, sort of?’ Karma replies, before telling Warbird that she is glad she came tonight, as she knows it hasn’t been easy since she was left behind by her people. ‘I am… fine, Karma’ Warbird responds, ‘Yes, but… I know what it’s like to be an… an immigrant. A stranger in a place that I don’t recognize’ Karma explains, adding that when she came to this country, nothing was familiar, nothing made sense, it was all traumatizing. Karma tells Warbird that she wants her to know that she is not as alone as she thinks. Warbird thanks Karma and tells her that she will adapt, as she is still a Warbird, and they do not falter.
As the evening carries on Warbird glances over to a side table and sees some books. One of them has a strange design on the front of it, and she picks it up and starts to walk towards the door without so much as a word. ‘Uh, Warbird?’ Karma asks. She goes to the door, struggling to get her boots on, she calls out down the apartment hallway stairs, asking Warbird to wait. But Warbird doesn’t, and when Karma reaches the snow-covered ground outside, all she sees are footprints in the snow. ‘Damn it’ Karma mutters.
Later, Warbird is in one of the X-Men’s Blackbird jets, streaking across a cloudy sky. ‘Warbird, this is Logan. What the hell are you doing -’ Wolverine demands over the communicator, which Warbird promptly switches off. She turns her attention to the book, reading an article about the object, she sees maps and photos. ‘Impossible. We killed them all’ Warbird remarks as she gazes out the window she sees pyramids below her.
‘She’s in Egypt’ Karma announces. ‘I know. Been tracking the jet, but -’ Wolverine begins, as Karma tells him not to mind that, but to come and look at what they found in the Shi’ar database. Gambit is in the control room with them, and they look at the object which Karma has put on the screen in front of them. Karma informs her teammates that she bought another copy of the magazine Warbird took and ran it through the system, and that it was flagged almost immediately. Karma reports that the artifact discovered is in Egypt and that it is definitely alien. Wolverine asks what the problem is - why would seeing the damn thing make Warbird run for it. ‘Homesick, maybe?’ Gambit suggests. ’No. the race that made this thing was obliterated by the Shi’ar more than a thousand years ago. Like, wiped out completely. Their entire homeworld destroyed, as if they never existed’ Karma explains.
‘Why the hell would the Shi’ar do that?’ Wolverine wonders. ’Because they were scared of them’ Karma reveals. Putting different articles and photos on the monitor, she explains that the alien race had a weapon the Shi’ar believed could destroy their world, but there is no mention of what it was. ’But it could be this thing, non? Can’t take a chance, can we?’ Gambit remarks, referring to the strange object. ‘Logan. We have visitors’ Ororo “Storm” Munroe announces as she enters the room with a woman and two men dressed in black suits. ‘Now ain’t a good time, ’Ro’ Logan tells Storm, who replies that it will have to be - as it is about Warbird. ‘Who the hell are they?’ Wolverine enquires. The woman introduces herself as Agent Benzan of the SHIELD Extra-Terrestrial Task Force. ‘We want to know why the Shi’ar has left the country’ she explains, adding ‘And why she’s in the Middle East consulting with known terrorists’.
Warbird wears a white hooded cloak to disguise herself as she makes her way through the civilians in the marketplace. A shopkeeper approaches her and asks her what it is that she desires - ‘Something sweet and cool? The oranges arrived just this morning as did the grapes’ he informs her. ‘What is desire… is to speak with her’ Warbird replies. Matching the man’s native tongue, she points at a woman sitting next to the stall. ‘Is that so? And what could you possible want with -’ the man begins, before the woman looks up from her newspaper, wide-eyed, ‘Oh, dear’ she utters. Warbird gabs the woman by her arm and pulls her into the building behind them. ‘You have no right’ the woman exclaims. ‘I am Shi’ar. I have every right ‘Warbird replies. ‘But - this is Earth! I’m - I’m human!’ the woman declares.
Warbird shoves the woman against the corridor wall, ‘Pretend if you must, but I know you are not human’ Warbird declares. ‘I feel human. doesn’t that count?’ the woman asks. ‘Not in the slightest’ Warbird responds. The woman asks her what she would know anyway - as death is more flexible than a Shi’ar. ‘You’ll be able to test those words if you don’t do exactly as I ask’ Warbird threatens. Holding up the magazine, Warbird announces that she needs to enter the facility where this… thing… is being kept. ‘What makes you think I can help you?’ the woman asks. Warbird explains that the Shi’ar keep perfect records of all alien life on this planet, as well as the known associates of those aliens. ‘Pfft’ the woman mutters. Warbird points out that the woman knows men who are well-placed in this city, men who can pay the right people - men who others are afraid of crossing. ‘Do this… and you will never hear from me again. I swear it, on my honor as a Warbird’.
Later, darkness shrouds the city, and inside a sprawling building, a security guard walks past a door and unlocks it. He leaves, and a moment later, Warbird enters. The building is some sort of museum or storage facility for artifacts, statues and coffins. Warbird makes her way through the facility, and comes to a storage room. A cupboard has been opened and a tray pulled out from it - the object that appeared on the cover of the magazine sits on the tray. ‘It is true. The design is the same’ Warbird remarks, while a cloaked figure lurks nearby, as Warbird utters ‘But how…’
Suddenly, the cloaked figure lunges at her, ‘Because we knew… what was coming!’ he exclaims in his undecipherable native tongue. His sword strikes the cabinet, and Warbird leaps backwards. She reaches for her sword as her attacker boasts that they refused to let the Shi’ar win. ‘What do you mean… we?’ Warbird asks, kicking her attacker in his chest. ‘Hmmm’ her attacker replies, before sending Warbrid careening backwards into some crates and sarcophagi.
Warbird drops her sword when she is flung backwards, and her attacker reaches down and picks it up. ‘We. Plural. Inclusive’ he tells her as he snaps her sword in half with ease. ‘We, the Fianden’ he adds. ‘We who protect what is ours. No matter what it takes’. He reaches dor the object, ‘I will not let you!’ Warbird exclaims as she rushes over and pulls him away.
They start to fight again, and when Warbird pulls his cloak back, she gasps ‘Impossible. Your kind are gone’. The green-brown skinned alien replies ‘Yes. Because your kind exterminated us’. Warbird edges backwards and picks up a wooden plank lying nearby, while the alien announces that he likes to pretend he is not te last. ‘But I know that is not true’ he frowns, holding a pink orb in one hand, and Warbird rushes towards him, screaming, the alien crushes the pink orb. ‘No, Shi’ar. You will not kill me today’ the alien declares as energy from the pink orb surrounds her face, ‘What… have… you… done?’ she utters. Warbird drops to her knees, seemingly unable to move. The alien picks up the object and tells Warbird that she does not know her history. ‘The weapons we made to destroy your minds? Your poor minds, which are so empty of light. Ah, well. Dream, if you can. Though no Shi’ar ever has’.
Warbird appears almost anguished as she sees patterns of color before her eyes, and the memory of herself as a child. ‘No Shi’ar… ever dreams… except… for the ones… who are born… defective’. And Warbird starts to cry.
‘Whoa!’ Wolverine exclaims, dropping his can of beer as Warbird suddenly sits up in a bed, wires hooked up to her forehead. Karma is with them, and she tells Warbird to wait. ‘Can you feel me? Am I real?’ Warbird asks, grabbing Karma’s wrists. ‘I… yes’ Karma replies. ‘And you… you feel… real. Where am I?’ Warbird enquires as she starts to pull the wires from her body.
Karma informs Warbird that they are in a SHIELD safe house in Egypt. ‘We tried to reach you first, but SHIELD already had agents on the ground. We arrived after they’d already scooped you up’ Karma explains. Warbird announces that the Fianden took the weapon. ‘If I do not find him…’ her voice trails off. She looks at a sketchpad, ‘If I do not find him…what. What is this?’ she asks, looking at the drawing. Wolverine informs Warbird that she drew that, that her hands were restless while she was out. ‘I… did this?’ Warbird asks. ‘You kept scratching yourself. Restraints made your scream’ Karma explains, adding that, out of the blue, Warbird asked for a paper and a pen, and those were the only words she spoke the entire time.
‘When we gave them to you… that happened. You never looked at the paper. It’s beautiful, Warbird’ Karma tells her, while Wolverine asks her what it means. ‘Nothing. It is… nonsense. Weakness. Insanity’ Warbird replies. ‘Get it away from me’ she declares, throwing the pad across the room. This action is watched on a monitor outside the room, by Agent Benzan and an older woman.
‘You’ve observed this Shi’ar longer than any of us. What do you make of the situation?’ ‘Bloodthirsty in a fight, Agent Benzan, but not the type who seeks out violence for pleasure. Then again, she’s an alien. I have no idea what gives her pleasure’ the older woman replies. ‘Smart to remember that’ Agent Benzan remarks, adding that all these alien races are a snowstorm and right now, they are dealing with just a single flake. ‘What do we know about anything?’ she asks. ‘How do you handle it?’ the older woman enquires. ‘You get used to your irrelevance’ Agent Benzan mutters, adding that reading Lovecraft helps.
A tall alien approaches the woman and with the older one, enters the room where Warbird is being kept. ‘Time is running out. I need to leave, now’ Warbird announces. ‘Care to explain why?’ the older woman enquires. ‘No. it is Shi’ar business’ Warbird replies. The older woman tells her that if the stolen artifact is a weapon, then it is Earth business. ‘Is that why you brought your pet?’ Warbird asks, looking up at the taller alien. ‘My name is Sydren’ the alien announces with a few extra “s’s” in his speech. ‘You’re a Drenx. Telepath. Empath. Here to raid my mind for them’ Warbird declares. Sydren tells the older woman that Warbird is afraid, that much is the truth, and she is deeply afraid and ashamed. ‘Why?’ the older woman asks. ‘Stop this, agent. There are better ways’ Wolverine remarks, and Karma steps in front of Sydren, ‘You’re not going to do this’ she tells him.
But Sydren boasts that he cannot be stopped, as he sees the Shi’ar’s mind, twisted with pain, and that she is weak and feels violated. ‘I’ll show you violated’ Karma declares as she punches Sydren, knocking the tall alien backwards. ‘Stop. There is no time for this. I’ll tell you…what I can’ Warbird announces. She states that she doesn’t know if the artifact is a weapon, but that the race who made it was exterminated by the Shi’ar Empire, for it was essential to their survival, as the threat they posed was too great. ‘And what was that threat, exactly?’ someone asks. ‘They could…do things to the mind’ Warbird replies. ‘Telepaths?’ someone enquires. But Warbird explains that what they crafted was by hand, and other tools, with their voices as well. ‘What you call here…music’. Warbird continues, stating that it is a terrible weapon, as music distorts perception, it causes a warrior to lose focus and creates deviant thoughts. ‘Everything they did was deviant. What they made with their paints and light and carvings. What they sang. What they imagined’. She adds that all of it was dangerous, heretical, addictive and beautiful.
Elsewhere, Gambit meets with a figure cloaked by a large coat and hat. He gives the figure some money in exchange for a piece of paper. Gambit then carries on through a marketplace, and readies his kinetic energy when he comes to a building.
‘I’m sorry…but it sounds like you’re talking about…artists’ Karma remarks to Warbird. ‘Artists. Yes’ Warbird agrees. Sydren points out that the Shi’ar do not outlaw art on other worlds, but Warbird explains that the Fianden were different. Touching her chest, she states that could enter here, inside them, in ways that no one understood. ‘It was like a disease’ she remarks.
‘Damn, Warbird. I suddenly want to read a book’ Wolverine tells her, when suddenly, there is a loud BOOM! ‘That’s our cue from Gambit. He’s erased the security tapes’ Wolverine announces, opening the door to the room, while Karma reports that she has locked down every agent in the facility, but that she can’t hold them for long. ‘Go, now’ Karma tells Warbird, who rushes out into the corridor, past Gambit, who hands her the piece of paper he received, and tells her that he hopes it helps, and that they will follow as soon as they can.
Warbird runs through the marketplace, and opens the piece of paper, which gives her an address in Cairo. At the same time, Agent Benzan realizes that one can never let their guard down - but wonders what it matters if they do? For constant vigilance does not mean safety, and killing the possibility of danger does not mean that the danger is gone. There are no guarantees - except for one - that we will always be surprised at what can hurt us, and, equally, what will save us. Warbird climbs up a ladder and reaches the top of a tall building. She look out over the city, and touches a marking etched into the rooftop. She thinks to herself that she is strong, and will not falter, for she is Shi’ar. ‘I am… Warbird’. And with that, she begins to cry.