This issue reprints Uncanny X-Men #137.
Second story :
Flashes of Jean Grey’s life:
Young Jean holding her dying friend, Annie Richardson, in her arms, psychically bonded to her until she dies. A little older, fiercely trying to save her mentor Charles Xavier. All grown-up, trying to save her friends, the X-Men, by guiding a space shuttle through a solar storm. Later still, using the power she’d won that day to save the universe. Her love for Scott Summers and her corruption into a threat to the universe. That role, she refused to play and so she killed herself… in front of Cyclops’ eyes.
All those snapshots and more form the pattern of a human shape on the ground. The shape begins to burn, a Phoenix raptor rises and, when the fire fades, Jean Grey awakes, horrified that she still appears to be alive when she tried so hard to die.
Suddenly, on the ground besides her, a trapdoor opens and a whistling construction worker comes up, carrying a load of girders. He gets to work, erecting the girders, while Jean tries to start a conversation. She explains that she’s lost and he blissfully ignores her until she loses her temper, shouting that she’s talking to him. He tells her that he’s a schedule to keep and the universe doesn’t revolve around her. He has no time for idle chitchat. She walks away pissed, telling him to go to Hell.
A moment later, she wonders about the implications of that word. Is she dead? Is this Hell? It’s certainly not her notion of Heaven. She takes in her costume for the first time. She is still wearing a version of the Phoenix costume, but it is completely white. Green and gold stood for the good Phoenix, red and gold for the bad one; so what does this color scheme mean?
She looks at the stars above and walks to the edge of the construct, only to jump back startled a moment later. She’s on the top floor of a construct, similar-looking to a skyscraper, which floats feely in space. A moment later, the realization hits her. Those aren’t simply stars she sees above her. Those pinpricks are entire galaxies. Is that the whole universe she’ looking at? she demands.
Handing her a cup of coffee, the worker agrees that this view takes some getting used to. When Jean asks where she is, he cryptically replies his place and only gives an evasive answer when she asks why he’s building it.
Jean wonders if this isn’t just some hallucination. Maybe her entire life as a super-heroine has just bee a mad hallucination or this is the last delusion before death. Whatever works for her, the worker shrugs. Angrily, Jean orders him not to patronize her. What would happen if she jumped, she announces and proceeds to do so. She’d fall forever, he angrily replies and catches her by the wrist. At that moment, Jean realizes that her powers don’t work It’s been too long since she’s known such quiet.
Unimpressed, the worker tells her he has work to do. Jean has had enough and descends the stairs the construction worker originally came from, only to find she ends up again where she came from. Seeing no way out, she finally agrees to help the worker.
Some time later, Jean has finished her work, but she wonders why does he build an entire floor of the construct while she got to build a miniature representation of the building? She looks closer at her construct and sees a flash of light inside.
Suddenly, she finds herself on D’Bari, reliving the life of a D’barian, surrounded by friends who are trying to set her up with a boy. Jean refuses. A moment later, they all see the sun go nova, surrounded by the Phoenix effect. As she burns, Jean remembers that she as Dark Phoenix destroyed that sun, never stopping to consider the consequences.
A moment later, Jean finds herself as an ensign on a Shi’ar dreadnought. The dreadnought, she realizes, Dark Phoenix destroyed. As Phoenix attacks, she feels her backbones breaking and the terror of the young ensign, as she is sucked into open space, her last image the glee on Dark Phoenix’s face.
Back on the construct, Jean shouts in horror and denial as the construction worker tries to calm her. She’s finally figured out who he is – Death. He explains that this place is the beginning and end of all, where the physical universe merges with the domain of spirit and imagination. Just words, Jean protests. That, he points out, merely describes the image of her perception, not of his being. Jean caustically states that she got her wish after all. She managed to die.
So which room of his edifice is meant for her? He laughs telling her if she was meant to be here, she’d be there. Part of the construct, as are those in her small contribution. Horrified, Jean asks if that means she is to be his apprentice. Is she death as well? No, and she already made her choice, he tells her. But she killed, Jean states and she built a piece of his tower, what else could she be but a part of him? Life is a part of death he explains and death the frame that gives life structure. The universe revolves about his tower. He builds the structure that the Phoenix may craft her chaos within and without and Jean is hers, body and soul. Why can’t she just belong to herself, Jean protests.
Death tells her that he’s never encountered a creature as fiercely devoted to life. That’s why the Phoenix heard her; they are kindred spirits. It wasn’t an accident, he continues, that, as a child, her thoughts touched those of Scott Summers’ or that he was orphaned by the Shi’ar. That fleeting contact eventually drew Scott to Xavier’s school, where he became Cyclops, leader of the X-Men. He and Jean fell in love so that, at their proper time and place, when D’ken attempted to obliterate the universe, Phoenix would be there to stop him. If she wants to judge herself, she should also consider the countless lives she saved.
So, this was pre-ordained, Jean asks. Are they all just toys for him? Patiently, Death explains that she is the embodiment of life itself and couldn’t bear to see her handiwork undone. She required a form, an avatar through which to act. And who better than a spirit carved most closely from her own?
Fine, Jean sulks, but why couldn’t she have gone back where she came from when she was done? Because she came from Jean, Death explains. He and Phoenix are concepts defining themselves in terms Jean can comprehend easier. The Phoenix isn’t a being or entity, it’s a force, the sum and substance of all that lives. It is Jean’s unique gift to be capable of wielding that force. It came to her, as it will come to her children, because it is hers by right. Too bad, Jean states. She’d selfishly hoped that there were two of them. That she had been possessed by some frightful creature she could blame for what happened. Passion is a two-edged blade Death warns. But, when the scales were lifted, the balance came down in the side of love. A hard lesson, but she’s learning. Who pays the price while she’s in school, Jean muses. She swore no more blood on he hands. She wonders what comes next, as she jumps, her powers restored once more. Jean tells Death that she won’t forget him, nor their talk, and that this time things will turn out right.
As she disappears, Death pities her, knowing some things she doesn’t. He looks at more snapshots, mosaic pieces Jean isn’t aware of:
Phoenix sacrificing herself on the moon.
Mr Sinister intending to destroy a lifeless clone of Jean’s.
The Phoenix trying to wake Jean Grey’s body in Jamaica Bay only to be rejected.
Phoenix fleeing to take possession of the next best thing – the clone.
Madelyn Pryor awaking in Sinister’s arms.
These are things Jean couldn’t be told but had to learn for herself, Death muses. She won’t remember him but she will learn… the hard way.