Kurt Wagner knows the Reaper’s eyes. He knows…for once he stared deeply into them on a night such as this, many years ago. A night when - if not for the air of a single Samaritan - he would have become kin to Death itself…the victim of a bigoted bloodthirsty mob. ‘Our Father who are in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…’ the leader of Excalibur code-named Nightcrawler whispers in the darkness as blood trickles from his nose, mouth and various cuts on his face. Indeed, he knows the Reaper’s eyes. They are hollow…cold and blacker than darkest midnight. And just like this subterranean labyrinth where the former X-Man now finds himself trapped, the Reaper’s eyes are an impenetrable pitch from which neither light nor life dares hope to escape!
‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil…’ Kurt whispers as he clings to the side of the chamber, while thinking to himself that blending into the shadows is the only defensive option getting him through the verdammt “valley”, for as he doesn’t know where he is, it is too risky to teleport. ’Materializing inside a wall would put a serious damper on my weekend plans’ Kurt jokes silently to himself, deciding that it is best to stick to the darkness and the walls - though he prays that the creatures do not catch him first.
Suddenly, a chilling voice echoes through the chamber, as one of the apparent creatures warns Kurt, calling him “Earthling” that he can skitter the corridors all he wants, but must know that his only salvation…is death - and fires some sort of substance at Kurt, who leaps out of its way, thinking ’So much for plan “A”’ only to find himself stuck in some kind of gunk. The creature remarks that although Kurt is fleet and nimble, once ensnared, his dexterity is no protection from their gelatinet’s sting. Kurt cries out in pain, before weakly asking the creatures what they want from him and why they are doing this. Three large purple and yellow creatures step into the light. ‘Who - who are you?’ the defenseless Kurt gasps. Yes, Kurt Wagner knows the Reaper’s eyes. They are hollow…cold…blacker than the void of space…and alien!
Meanwhile, at the Muir Island Genetic Research Center, off the coast of Northern Scotland…a place upon which the voracious eyes of Death have glared for far too long. Pete Wisdom knows the Reaper’s eyes. Violently ravenous they are. Insatiable. And the moment a man peers into them, he realizes not so much that Death comes to us all…but rather it is sometimes we who are its harbingers. Indeed, better believe Pete Wisdom knows the Reaper’s eyes. He is the reason why Black Air seeks revenge on his newfound friends. He is the reason why Nightcrawler has gone missing and is now presumed dead.
Although Wisdom is unaware that his teammate still lives, he feels the Reaper’s eyes as if they were his own. He sits slumped in his untidy quarters, lights another cigarette with his mutant power hot-knives, while a large half-drunk bottle of alcohol sits in his hands, and Wisdom thinks to himself ‘Had to go and grow yourself a conscience, didn’t ya?!’ He reminds himself that he was not born with a conscience, and nor did he learn it in “spook school”. Not until he joined up with this “heroes” lot. ‘Not until you met…Pryde’, he thinks, referring to his lover and teammate Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde.
Wisdom tosses his cigarette butt out the window and reaches for another, telling himself to face facts - that “little Yank” did something to him - something good. ‘Helped you reclaim your soul she did. Should be grateful!’ he tells himself, before deciding that the question is, what good has he ever done for her? ‘Better yet, what good have you done for anyone on this team - except nearly getting them all bloody killed!’ Angry, Wisdom screws up the empty cigarette packet and tosses it out the window while asking himself if he has to self-pity now. ‘Unbelievable what being a part of a family can to ya - even a dysfunctional one like this’.
Wisdom is about to take another sip of his drink when suddenly the cigarette packet somehow bounces back in through the open window and lands on his head. ‘Stupid wind’ Pete grunts as he tosses it out the window, when an instant later, it returns, smacking him on the head again. ‘What the sod…?’ Wisdom mutters, before getting up and lumbering over to the window, he shouts out ‘Who’s got a death wish?’ he calls out. But when he gets no response, he warns whoever is out there to quit throwing his rubbish back in here before he shoves his hot knives up their - ‘But Mr. Wisdom…don’t you know it’s rude to litter?’ exclaims the elemental Meggan as she flies up to the window and into Wisdom’s room, startling Wisdom and causing him to stumble back, spilling his drink.
Wisdom informs Meggan that she scared the “bejeebees” out of him, before asking her if she cannot use the door like normal people. ‘Oops’ Meggan whispers. ‘”Oops”? “OOOPS”?’ Wisdom mocks as he lies slumped on the floor. Meggan hovers above Peter before asking him if he was the last person using Cerebro to find a mutant’s bio-signature. ‘What of it?’ Wisdom replies. Meggan drops to the floor and starts walking out of Wisdom’s room as she remarks ‘Oh, no biggie. Just thought you’d like to know…it found one!’
Someone else who knows the Reaper’s eyes is Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin. To the former Siberian farm boy, they are they eyes of the dispassionate harvester, hacking away at people’s souls like fields of grain…incrementally cutting a swath through their lives until there is nothing - and no one - left to hack. Yes, he knows the Reaper’s eyes too well, which is why he stares defiantly in its face by continuing the search for his missing friend, with the aid of Excalibur’s resident extra-terrestrial Douglock. Colossus notes that the Cerebro unit has located a teleporter in Italy, and asks Douglock if he can get it to be more specific. Douglock replies that he is trying, ‘If only this mutant tracking machine of yours wasn’t so crotchety!’ he remarks, adding that he may be able to coax it into helping them.
Small wires extend from Douglock’s form, hacking into the Cerebro unit and giving it a techno-organic upgrade. Suddenly, Wisdom, huffing and puffing, rushes into the communications room, ‘Where…is…he?’ Wisdom manages to utter. Colossus tells his teammate that he sincerely hopes that is the timbre of genuine concern in his voice and now just the wheezing of his corroded lungs. ‘If Nightcrawler is the victim of any senseless tragedy, it will be on your conscience’ Colossus warns Wisdom, who replies ‘Spare me the “holier than thou” riot act, Rasputin! Wagner nearly got whacked helping me in Germany, I know I owe this to him!’
Wisdom then narrows his eyes as he pushes the hand that Colossus placed on his shoulder away, ‘I don’t need you to remind me!’ he snarls, just before Douglock announces that he has found Nightcrawler’s bio-signature, ‘Good news, gentlemen. Nightcrawler’s alive…and in Venice!’ This surprises Wisdom, who asks what Kurt would be doing there, as Black Air has no safe house in Italy. Colossus suggests that perhaps someone else has taken Kurt, before pointing out that, regardless, Kurt has been one of his closest friends for years, that he is like a brother to him, which is why they will go to Venice to rescue him…or avenge him!
At that moment somewhere in Venice, the aliens that have imprisoned Kurt in the sticky substance tell Kurt to gaze into their eyes. ‘Can you see the hate?’ the aliens ask. Exhausted, Kurt replies that he does not understand why they hate him so. ‘I don’t even know you!’ Kurt exclaims. ‘Of course you don’t…you left us for dead!’ one of the aliens reveals. Kurt claims that he has never seen them before. One of the aliens asks Kurt if his mammalian brain is so inchoate that he has no recollection of a certain journey aboard the intercalative vessel…the Starjammer! Suddenly, long-forgotten memories flash into Kurt’s mind as he remembers the alien ship the X-Men encountered en route to Earth during their battle with the Brood once adrift in space. ‘I remember debating about a rescue mission…’.
(Flashback, takes place between Uncanny X-Men #166 and #167)
Aboard the versatile space craft are the members of both the Uncanny X-Men - Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Kitty Pryde, and the intergalactic “pirates” known as the Starjammers - Corsair, Binary, Hepzibah, Ch’od, Sikorsky and Raza Longknife, along with the Shi’ar royal Lilandra Neramani. Storm turns to Cyclops and remarks that it is a Sidri ship, a bounty hunter. Cyclops points out that it is just like the one that attacked them a couple of months ago.
Lilandra remarks that the Sidri ship appears to be in trouble, to which Wolverine points out that so is Xavier if they don’t get back to Earth, pronto, adding that if the Brood have implanted one of their eggs inside him, then there is no telling when he will turn into one of those sleazoids. Colossus asks if the X-Men are now in the business of doling out death sentences - whether it be to their own, or strangers such as these creatures. Binary tells her dear friend Wolverine that Colossus has a point, and reminds everyone how her newfound powers helped cure them when they were all infected, so perhaps she can do the same for Charles.
Storm declares that all life is sacred, and something to be cherished. ‘Charles’…the Sidri’s…even the Brood’s’. Storm goes on to declares that she believes they can, and must, aid both the ailing aliens and their mentor. Cyclops tells Storm that they would be cutting it awfully close if they did, and admits that he is not personally inclined to risk the Professor’s life for the sake of this clearly hostile race, before pointing out that it is not their decision to make, as they are just passengers in this ride. Cyclops then motions to the Captain of this vessel, the leader of the Starjammers and his father. Corsair. ‘what so you say…Dad?’.
Corsair ponders for a moment, before turning to Hepzibah and announcing ‘Steady as she goes’. Hepzibah follows her lovers command, to the protest of the pink-clad Kitty Pryde, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re just gonna let them die!?’ she exclaims, while Nightcrawler tries to step in front of her and shush her, Kitty just phases through, telling Kurt that she will not “shush”. ‘Not when someone you guys tell me I can trust is willing to be a party to murder!’ Kitty marches right up to Corsair, who snarls ‘Watch me, little girl!’ before informing her that those “poor creatures” are some of the deadliest predators this galaxy has ever seen, and that when he, the Captain of this ship, gives an order, he expects everyone - ‘Especially a snot-nosed Earther punk like you - to step to…that is unless you fancy a quick trip through the airlock without a spacesuit!’
Kitty angrily calls Corsair “Mr. High and Mighty” and tells him that the Sidri’s deaths will be on his conscience. ‘See if I care!’ she snaps, before beginning ‘And another thing -’ until Nightcrawler suddenly wraps his tail around Kitty’s mouth, preventing her from speaking and smiling at Corsair, asks him to excuse Kitty. ‘She’s new here’ he adds, before pulling Kitty away. Kitty asks Kurt what he thinks he is doing and exclaims that Corsair is wrong to just let those aliens die out there - ‘You know I’m right!’ she exclaims. Kurt whispers that he does, before telling her that arguing with the Captain in front of his crew is not going to make Corsair change his mind, as there are rules of decorum by which they must all abide, certain laws by which their conduct as guests is governed. ‘Of course some laws…’ Kurt begins. ‘…Are meant to be broken!’ Kitty grins, before Nightcrawler suddenly teleports them both away.
A fraction of a second later, and several decks below, in the Starjammer’s “sick bay”. Kitty remarks that it is a good thing Sikorsky is up on the bridge with the others, or else he would have their heads for messing with his lab. Kurt agrees and points out that they must hurry, as they will likely be going through warp soon enough, and once they do, he is afraid they will be too late to save the Sidri. The duo begin searching through the computer system, and Kitty remarks that her Shi’ar is a little rusty, but that she thinks she has found something that may help, something which looks like a revitalization serum. Moments later, a capsule is ejected from the Starjammer, and Kitty explains that once the capsule containing the formula has punctured the Sidri ship’s outer “hull” it will insinuate itself into their genetic codes, completely repairing and rewriting any damaged material.
Kitty adds that if it works as well as she expects, then this treatment should have all the Sidri linked within that gestalt back up to speed in no time. Suddenly, Kurt detects someone approaching and teleports himself an Kitty away quickly. But, the moment they vanish from the scene of their altruistic action, Sikorsky flies into his lab, and sees that a mutation virus has just been jettisoned. Sikorsky assumes that it was just a malfunction though, and mutters that he told Corsair he needs new medical systems, as they loosen from this system at the slightest impact. Sikorsky wonders when Corsair will start listening to him.
Colossus looks out towards the Sidri ship, shown on the monitor, unaware that while he and his friends watch, the Sidri are suffering. Colossus thinks that no matter how many times he may journey into the great beyond, he doesn’t think he will ever acclimate to space’s breathtaking panoramas. Colossus smiles as he understands now, why his brother, Mikhail, left for the stars, and wishes that he could have gone with his brother, when suddenly Kurt and Kitty arrive back on the bridge laughing.
Colossus turns to his friends and asks them what is so funny. Kitty grins and exclaims quietly that, she showed “big bad Captain Corsair” who is really the boss around here, and gave the Sidri a little “chicken soup”. Colossus grins and takes Kitty in his arms, exclaiming that he is so proud of her, that she is truly amazing. ‘And don’t you forget it, mister!’ Kitty grins back. Colossus remarks that all which is left now is to return to Earth and save the Professor. Nightcrawler agrees, and asks Colossus if he thinks they will make it. Piotr replies that he hopes so, for there is not a thing he wouldn’t do to protect the lives of all of them, his closest friends, his family. ‘Amen, brother!’ Nightcrawler exclaims, the three friends embracing.
In the chamber still, one of the Sidri asks Nightcrawler if now he recalls the event that made them abominations in the eyes of their own people. The alien reveals that they returned to their home world, seeking succor, but were greeted with scorn, hatred and ultimately exile. ‘I - we - had no idea…’ Kurt whispers. The Sidri replies ‘Of course you didn’t - how could a species such as yours - a species of self-important, self-serving individuals - understand what it means to be an outcast…a pariah…for no other reason than that you simply exist!’
‘More than you can imagine!’ Kurt replies. ‘Look at me! My face…my body. Do I represent the typical human? I am as scorned by my own people as you were by yours!’ Kurt exclaims. One of the Sidri’s remarks that would explain why the mammals calling themselves “Black Air” so eagerly forfeited Nightcrawler to them. ‘No matter. He will soon be dead…and so shall his friends!’ another of the Sidri exclaims, revealing in a holographic illusion Excalibur arriving in Venice.
At that very moment, indeed, the remaining members of Excalibur - Meggan, Colossus, Wisdom and Douglock - arrive in Venice. Colossus asks Douglock if he has locked on to Nightcrawler’s bio-signature yet, but Douglock doesn’t hear him, until Colossus shouts his name. Douglock apologizes and replies that his CPU was momentarily “elsewhere”. Wisdom scowls and calling Douglock “Gameboy” warns him not to go crashing on them, as they are coming up to Venice. Douglock thinks to himself that he misses Wolfsbane so much, that there is nothing he can do to stop thinking about her, before announcing that Nightcrawler’s bio-signature has been detected in the Grand Canal, right below them.
Wisdom informs his teammates that he is switching to amphibious mode, and remarks that it is too bad Captain Britain programmed this aircraft to operate only one function at a time, pointing out that without a cloak to cover their landing, not only are they sitting ducks, but are going to make a rather big spectacle of themselves during “splashdown”. On the Grand Canal, a group of tourists are being taken for a ride on one of the gondolas, when they see the Midnight Runner approaching, ‘Look at that! It’s an invasion! Quick - where’s the camera?!’ one of the tourists asks.
Suddenly, Excalibur splashes down into the Grand Canal, diving deep below into the murky canal, navigating slowly, unsteadily - as if in anticipation of impending tragedy. Excalibur pass beneath the infamous “Bridge of Sighs” - the romanticized site that was once the final path of condemned men, sentenced to death - a chilling silence descends upon the anxious heroes who fear a similar fate has befallen their missing friend. Only then, at the bottom of the canal, does Excalibur realize how prophetic their fears were. ‘Holy mother of mercy! What in God’s name is that!’ Wisdom asks, gazing out the window at the Sidri vessel sitting on the bottom of the canal.
Colossus replies that all sensors indicate it to be their target, but he is not so sure, and turns to Douglock, who replies that despite the obvious variations to the outer dimensional hull, which he suspects might be a mutation of some sort, that vessel before them is definitely a Sidri ship. This shocks Colossus, ‘Bozhe moi, nyet!’ he exclaims before ordering Wisdom to take evasive maneuvers. Wisdom urgently replies that he is trying, but that the Midnight Runner has been jammed. ‘Let’s see you pilot this bird without helm control!’ Wisdom mutters, when suddenly the alarm goes off and Wisdom warns everyone to brace themselves for impact, as they have got incoming.
Indeed, the Sidri vessel fires some shots at the Runner, and Colossus asks Meggan if she can reroute the blasts. Meggan replies that she will try, when suddenly water breaks into the Runner and, taken by surprise, Meggan is overcome. Colossus tells Wisdom to attend to Meggan and informs Douglock that they need a confirmed location for Nightcrawler, immediately. Douglock replies that Nightcrawler is inside the ship, when suddenly an electro-pulse short circuits his mainframe, and his systems begin to crash. Tossed about the in the water which is rapidly filling the Midnight Runner, Colossus knows that with Meggan down, there is no way to stop this tide, and therefore the cabin will soon be completely flooded. He thinks that his teammates will surely drown, before calling to Wisdom and asking him if he has enough oxygen to make it to the surface carrying Meggan and Douglock.
Reaching for Meggan, Wisdom gurgles a reply, so Colossus uses his incredible strength to burst a hole in the side of the Midnight Runner, providing an exit for his friends, while hoping that fortune is kind enough to let them swim to safety. Colossus tells himself that his conscience would crack if his sole accomplishment on this mission was to lead his friends to a watery grave, and as a blast almost reaches Piotr, the former X-Man thinks it lucky that the Sidri seem content to make him their lone target, which he decides is good, as they have come too far to forsake this quest now.
Swimming towards the Sidri ship, Colossus thinks that if Nightcrawler does live, trapped somewhere within the belly of that alien beast, then he swears to free his friend - his brother. Colossus then punches the side of the Sidri ship and rips an entrance for himself. ‘So much for the “subtle” approach Colossus tells himself, before calling out to Nightcrawler, asking if he can hear him, when suddenly, the chilling voice of the Sidri can be heard, as one of the aliens approaches Colossus and exclaims ‘The dead are not renowned for their hearing, terran!’. Colossus calls out to the Sidri, warning it to show itself, if it dares.
‘Aren’t you the proud one, metal man?’ the Sidri replies as it strikes Piotr from behind. ‘You wish to challenge us for your friend’s life…? Very well, Terran, we accept!’ the Sidri exclaims, remarking that they have nothing left to lose, before firing that sticky goo at Colossus, asking him if he can say the same while he is knocked across the water-filled chamber. Looking around, Colossus thinks to himself that he never realized there were three of them, before reminding himself that it doesn’t matter, as his friends life is at stake. Piotr uses his powerful body to rip the goo from his form, thinking that although it may be the death of him, he will not fail to rescue his friend.
Colossus tells the aliens that they are mistaken if they believe his concern for his friend is a weakness, revealing the contrary - that it is the very engine which drives him to defeat them. ‘So I shall be driven until he is safely at my side!’ Colossus admits that it sickens to the core, but that if they have harmed Nightcrawler, then he shall not rest until all the Sidri lie broken and bleeding at his feet. Suddenly, Colossus loses sight of the Sidri, who have darted around the chamber, which suddenly darkens.
The Sidri make a strange noise, before dropping down from above, informing Colossus that they also posses and armored defense, explaining that it is what allows them to survive for extended periods within the darkest depths of intergalactic space. The Sidri add that the pounding of asteroids and radiation of the very sun itself cannot penetrate their hides in this state, before smacking Colossus to the floor. Colossus tells himself to resist the pain, to fight on. The Sidri smack him over again, telling Colossus that it is arrogant of him to think that his puny metallic fists could fare any better, before the Sidri’s form shifts again and looming over the weakened Colossus, tell him that he will now discover why the Sidri are the most feared hunters in all the known galaxies…and die!