Rory Campbell thinks to himself that, by all accounts, it was the happiest day of Excalibur member Rachel “Phoenix” Summers’ life. However, for all intents and purposes it, was also her last.
Rachel smiles as she flies towards Muir Island, Scotland, where she and her Excalibur teammates as based at the famous Research Center. Suddenly, her teammates in their jet are caught up in the raptor manifestation of her powers. She telepathically apologizes to Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde and Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner, exclaiming that with her mom and dad finally tying the knot, she wasn’t paying attention.
Shadowcat informs Rachel that even though she was distracted, she brought them across the Atlantic ocean - from Westchester to Muir - in just under seven minutes. Rachel declares that it seemed like a lot longer, as she is just excited about coming…she hesitates before saying the next word, so Kitty says it for her - ‘home’. Rachel screams ‘Home! Home! Home! What a great word!’
Watching the three mutants as they approach the landing strip, Rory remembers how he came to Muir Island at the request of Charles Xavier, and how he was half-expecting an island of complex mutant “lab rats”, but what he discovered, was Excalibur.
Inside the jet, Kurt informs Rachel that she has telekinetically “popped the hood”. Kitty smiles and tells Kurt that she is pretty sure Rachel knows that. ‘My parents got married today, people!’ shouts Rachel telepathically, before lifting her two friends from the jet, adding that it makes her real. Kitty tells Rachel that they couldn’t be any happier, but Kurt mumbles under his breath that he would be happier inside the aircraft.
Rachel flies over to Kitty and Nightcrawler and tells Kurt to stop teasing, as for the first time since she came to this era, she feels like she belongs here. With Scott and Jean married, it means that she might actually be born in this timeline.
Rory doesn’t pretend to understand this…something about alternate timelines and “Days of Future Past”. What he does understand, is the basics: that Rachel was a woman out of time and place, who found her time and place, and friends and family.
Kitty smiles, and hugs Rachel, telling her ‘that being the case, happy birthday’. Kurt jokes that while they are waiting for the cakes and candles to arrive, there is the little matter of a certain hovercraft to which she might attend to - if not for their sake, than surely for Dr. Campbell’s. ‘Good point!’ agrees Rachel, giggling as she dives downwards alongside the aircraft that is plummeting towards Rory.
Rory Campbell has read Dr. Moira MacTaggert’s files on Rachel, and understood, as much as one can, the incredible power that is at Rachel’s command. However, he thinks to himself that there is something about standing beneath several tons of flaming steel that is less than comforting. Kitty asks Kurt if Rachel just giggled, to which Kurt confirms that she did. Rory wonders how best to sum up his detached professional scientific observation…’I was scared’.
However, Rory realizes that his fear was without just cause, for Rachel Summers managed to stop the ship’s descent with millimetres to spare. At least. Rory calls to his associates, telling them that it is far from him to cast himself in the role of class curmudgeon, ‘but is this the type of thing you people do for fun? Sort of a “terrorize” the new kid on the block?’ ‘Nothing so devious Rory!’ smiles Kitty as she and Nightcrawler are lowered to the ground. Rachel grins and tells Rory that she thought he was here to study their ability to control their powers, “Doctor”, and asks why he is getting so wigged over a little example.
Rory declares that while he doesn’t mind their playful games, it is exactly this flagrant disregard for human reactions, that is the very source of strained relations between homo sapien and homo superior. ‘Normal people tend to hate and fear that which they don’t understand -’ Rachel smiles as she cuts Rory off, and informs him that she has been from one end of the universe to the other, from the beginning of the Time Stream to the end, and much as she hates to be the one to break it to him, he needs to take it from her - there is no such thing as a “normal person”.
‘Why don’t I doubt you’re an authority on the abnormal?’ mutters Rory. Rachel smiles and tells Rory that she wasn’t talking about her, that she is perfectly normal. Underneath all the cosmic smoke and flame, beneath her polished veneer as a primal force of the universe, as intergalactic avatar, she is just a good old-fashioned red-blooded chronologically displaced American woman. ‘See?’ Rachel asks as she kisses Rory on the lips. ‘Ms Summers!?! We don’t even know each other that well!’ exclaims the surprised Rory.
Rachel exclaims that everyone has to start somewhere, when suddenly the aircraft slams slowly into the island. Rachel giggles and exclaims that she must have lost her concentration. Kurt tells Rachel that she has to explain to Moira what happened to her transport she was so kind as to lend them. ‘No problem, Moira and I are like this! ‘Sides, she must have a spare one around. Somewhere,’ Rachel declares.
Rory watches as Rachel flies off towards the Research Center proper, thinking that Rachel wasn’t so different from the lonely young woman in the files, yet that her love for life, on this day at least, was positively infectious.
Rachel thinks to herself that it is funny how everything can change so suddenly, for yesterday, she let what little life she did have was falling apart, sure she had finally changed her future - only to discover that Captain Britain got lost in the Time Stream on the way home. Rachel has finally realized that she was Brian’s only hope, only she couldn’t bring herself to take the risk necessary to save him - for his essence somehow needed to, and was trying to, “switch” with Rachel’s…but where would that send hers?
Rachel thinks to herself that today, she doesn’t have a care in the world - when suddenly, she is knocked back by a brilliant light, and someone crying ‘Enough, Rachel!’ Upon seeing who the source of light and words came from, Rachel’s expression is one of horror, fear fills her eyes and she whispers ‘No, please…not you…not now…’. ‘Yes, now!’ exclaims the elemental faerie Meggan, no longer distorted in her appearance, Meggan appears beautiful, light twinkling around her.
Meggan tells Rachel to look at how her body has morphed in preparation for his return. Meggan tells Rachel that she can no longer ignore the reality, that he is coming back, and there is nothing she can do to prevent it. Still frightened, Rachel asks Meggan what she is talking about, and who it is that is coming back. ‘Brian Braddock, my light, my life, he has been reaching across the years…struggling, straining for a handhold in this, his rightful place in time’.
Meggan points out that Rachel has ignored Brian’s calls for assistance, ‘until now’. Hovering above Rachel, Meggan declares that Brian is out there, somewhere, and that Rachel is his only hope. Rachel protests, telling Meggan that she cannot possibly no that for sure, but the comely Doctor Moira MacTaggert walks up behind Meggan, pointing out to Rachel that they may not know for sure, but that Meggan is a metamorphic elemental, and they do know her body responds to the feelings of those closest to her.
Rachel asks Meggan what it is that she is saying, so Moira explains that the way Meggan appears now, is an idealized version of her, a vision of pure and perfect love, that this is Meggan as viewed across the ages by Brian Braddock. Nightcrawler, Kitty and Rory Campbell come rushing over to the trio, Kurt declaring that they heard the commotion. Rachel exclaims that she does not know how to answer that question, so Meggan tells her to start with the truth.
Rory Campbell notices that Rachel was on top of the world one moment, and despondent the next. ‘You couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid’. However, before any revelations can begin, the intruder alarm goes off. Kitty asks her friends if any of them have been waiting for uninvited surprise visitors, to which Nightcrawler reveals that he has been anticipating the arrival of just such a person, and turns to a communications board.
A cloaked figure appears on the view screen, asking Kurt if that is he. Kurt speaks in his native German, greeting his visitor, he thanks her for coming so quickly. ‘Nonsense, what are friends for?’ replies the mysterious visitor, before asking Kurt if he is going to invite her in, ‘Or did I travel half-way across the globe to freeze on your front stoop?’ Kurt asks his guest to pardon his manners, before informing her that he will be with her in a moment - but the cloaked woman tells Kurt not to move, for with a pinch of “pixie dust”, she can find her own way in!
The cloaked woman teleports, declaring that very few places are off-limits to someone with the magical abilities of Daytripper! Her cloak falls off as she arrives amongst Excalibur, where upon seeing his foster sister and sometime girlfriend, Kurt asks “Daytripper?”. ‘I thought it sounded more dramatic that Amanda Sefton’ Amanda declares, before explaining that it is only a working name. The beautiful and powerful sorceress tells Kurt not to look so surprised, reminding him that he is the one who called.
Nightcrawler agrees, he did leave a message on Amanda’s machine, but points out that it has been so very long since they last saw each other, and he was afraid…his voice trails off before he can finish his sentence. Amanda understands what Kurt is talking about, and asks him if he really thought she wouldn’t honor the vow they made as children: ‘Any friends, any time, any place, any where’.
Rory examines Amanda and Kurt, deciding that the way they spoke to each other was the kind of banter that takes place between the oldest of friends, and knows that Amanda was a temporary resident on Muir Island, she has a cursory personnel file. ‘Get this, she was “a full-time flight attendant, part-time sorceress” Honest, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried’. Rory thinks that if it wouldn’t have been rude, if the situation didn’t appear so dire, he would have laughed.
But as it is, Rachel is not taking Amanda’s sudden appearance very well. ‘WHAT is she doing here? There’s nothing she can do that I can’t!’ Rachel snaps angrily.
Trying to calm her friend, Kitty tells Rachel that no one is saying that, and Kurt informs Rachel that he only asked Amanda here in order to offer a different perspective on -
Rachel interrupts Kurt and declares that she doesn’t need to sit here and be accused like this, and so she storms off. Kurt tries to reason with Rachel, but Daytripper tells her foster brother to let Rachel go, for as she turns to Meggan, she declares that Meggan can probably answer all the questions she has for the moment.
‘This is so unfair!’ Rachel thinks to herself as she enters the Research complex, suddenly, she keels over as a voice enters her mind: ‘Help me! Rachel, please…help me!’ ‘NO!’ Rachel screams, and clutching her head she begs Brian, wherever and whenever he is, to try and understand what it is he is asking of her. She informs him that for the first time in her entire life, she has a present - and a future. She tells Brian that he is asking her to give that up, to exchange her place in this era with him.
Rachel gets up and begins to leave the room, telling Brian that to leave what she knows, again, and to venture into what she doesn’t know…’I’m sorry Brian, I can’t do that. I’m sorry, but I won’t’. A voice comes from behind Rachel and asks her who it was that said she had a choice in the matter. It’s Brian’s voice, and Rachel’s body begins to distort, changing into Captain Britain, as Brian reveals to her that there is much he has to do in this time, for he has learned many things that need to be applied if this world is to survive. He tells Rachel that one way or another, he is coming back.
‘No, you can’t do this! This is my body!’ ‘For now, true’, Brian declares, before reminding Rachel that above all others, she should know, that nothing lasts forever. Rachel screams, ‘Get out of my body!’ and shoves her/Brian’s fists into a wall. Rachel’s body returns to normal. She looks at her hands, they hurt, ‘Is this what I’ve come to?’ Rachel drops to the floor again, she wonders if she has been shut off from her emotions for so long, that she is even happy to experience pain, just because it is her own pain.
Suddenly, Kitty Pryde makes her presence known, asking Rachel how long this has been going on for. Shocked, Rachel turns to her best friend and asks her if she saw everything. ‘Most of it’ the solemn Kitty Pryde replies. Kitty reminds Rachel that in the past weeks, Brian was lost and Meggan went catatonic, and is shocked that she knew what was going on and didn’t say anything. Kitty asks Rachel if she didn’t think that by working together, they might have found a way out of this.
Rachel hangs her head, explaining that she couldn’t risk it, that she didn’t want to risk it. She apologizes, before reminding Kitty that she has recently made friends with Jean, with her mother, and that Jean even let her call her “Mom”. Rachel states that she wouldn’t have given that up for anything. Kitty asks Rachel if she is afraid that by reaching out to Brian means she has to let go of what she has. Rachel turns her back to Kitty, as Kitty tells Rachel she is not going to pretend to know what she is going though, but promises that they will see it through together.
Kitty reveals that Amanda already has a theory, and tries to comfort Rachel by telling her that she is sure everything will work out - but Rachel turns to Kitty, and asks her to stop trying to make her feel better about this. ‘Someone needs me and I’m too selfish to help’. Kitty doesn’t agree, as she believes that Rachel is suffering from something called “survivors guilt”, which is quite common among Kitty’s own people, survivors of the Holocaust. Kitty believes that Rachel feeling badly about living while Brian was trapped started long before Captain Britain left.
Shadowcat put a hand on Rachel’s head, asking her to open up her mind and memories, to go back together, before Excalibur was founded, before she came to stay with the X-Men - back to the pens of the Hellhounds. Rachel whispers that Kitty is the only person she trusts enough to do this.
(In Rachel Summers’ mind, “Days of Future Past” era)
Rachel sits, crying and chained at her neck, caged along with other mutant-hunting Hellhounds in a filthy pit.
Viewing the images in her mind, Rachel reminds Kitty that this is the nightmare that was her life, the same nightmare she sees every time she closes her eyes. Even though it has been years since she was one of Ahab’s elite sect of mutant trackers, a day has not passed when Rachel doesn’t remember - in vivid detail, the filth and squalor in which they were kept. But worse than the surroundings, was what was happening inside, in her heart and remains of her soul. Rachel explains to Kitty that in order to live, for any of the Hellhounds to live, they had continue serving Ahab and his masters.
This meant, tracking down other mutants, in some cases, friends and family, who they knew were targeted for execution, or worse, the camps. Rachel declares that every night, as the screams of the dead and dying echoed in her ears, she realizes she bought herself one more day of freedom, with someone else’s blood. Kitty reminds Rachel that Ahab had total control over her, that she wasn’t responsible. Rachel mumbles that she knows this. Now. But turning to her former self, she asks Kitty to try explaining it to her then.
Suddenly, there is a loud scream, and the startled Kitty asks Rachel what it means. Rachel explains that it is one of their fellow mutants they tracked down today, but pointing to the pink light, she declares that the light is worse than the sound. Rachel reveals to Kitty that Ahab was a control freak, and that this was his final twisting of the knife, an example of his sadistic sense of humor. Rachel explains that whenever Ahab killed one of the “residents” of the camp, he would leave this door to the Hellhound pens open, taunting them with freedom, daring them to step out of the darkness, and into the light.
‘But you…couldn’t?’ asks Kitty. ‘How could I?’ replies Rachel, reminding Kitty of everything that she had done, the crimes she committed against those that she loves - she didn’t feel she deserved freedom. ‘I didn’t deserve to be happy’. Rachel holds herself as she reveals to Kitty that she remembers this night above all others, because it is the night she stopped crying. Stopped hating herself. She stopped thinking about anything other than eating, sleeping…and hunting. It was the night she stopped feeling anything at all.
Kitty walks to the light and tells Rachel that she is long overdue, to find out what is on the other side. Rachel asks Kitty where she is going. “We”, replies Kitty as she tells Rachel that she already knows the answer. Kitty extends a hand to Rachel, telling her that what Ahab did to her was unthinkable, cruel and painful, a part of her life was taken away and can never be returned. ‘But it has to end here, now’ declares Kitty, before telling Rachel that she cannot allow Ahab, or the memory of him, to continue to take away the rest of her life.
Kitty continues, telling Rachel that she cannot let Ahab take away her ability to make difficult choices, she cannot let him trap her in this room for the rest of her life. Rachel looks back at her past self, asking what will happen to her. Kitty tells Rachel that she, and her other self, deserve the right to see what is beyond the light. Leading Rachel into the light, Kitty tells her that it is time she stopped punishing herself as severely as Ahab once did. ‘Come on, Red, let’s find out what there is on the other side…together’.
Rory doesn’t know what Kitty said to Rachel, but some half hour after she stormed out, everyone had assembled on the cuffs of Muir, nobody happy about being there. But Rory could tell there was something different about Rachel, possessed of a sense of calm, of happiness unlike anything he had ever seen. As an expert on control, it was obvious to Rory that Rachel seemed completely in control of her own destiny, probably for the first time in her life. Kitty and Nightcrawler look at their dear friend, ready for whatever may happen. Meggan floats overhead as Daytripper tells Rachel that she is not offering any guarantees. Much nicer to Amanda this time, Rachel replies that she knows she is trying, which is all she can ask of anyone.
Amanda Sefton declares that as far as she can discern, is that Meggan’s love for Brian, their love for each other, is acting as sort of a temporal anchor for Brian’s journey through time and space. Amanda explains that pulling Brian back, if at all possible, might not be doing him any favors, as he has been trapped in a chronological wave, buffeted about to and fro from the dawn of time, until the end of time, to the point where he might very well be insane when he returns.
Amanda explains that as this time-line’s most powerful and glaring temporal anomaly, Brian is apparently trying to switch places with Rachel. Amanda suggests that there may be a way to retrieve Captain Britain without sacrificing Rachel, but being honest, Amanda exclaims that it is not likely. Rachel tells Amanda that she appreciates her efforts, but that regardless of what is going to happen to herself, she has put this off long enough. ‘Let’s go get Brian’.
Meggan and Rachel link hands as Amanda levitates them. Rory Campbell can barely explain what happens next, for it is certainly not possible to rationalize it with science, facts, theories or equations, the method of choice to which he is accustomed. “Preternatural” is probably the closest he can come, it is as if Amanda reaches out with her life essence, and embraced the same aspect in Meggan and Rachel. Rory remembers that Daytripper said earlier Rachel was the means to Excalibur’s lost teammate, whereas Meggan was the destination.
Rory assumes that “weaving” the two women together, even if it was just for a moment, was the means by which this bizarre triad was reaching out across the millennia to pluck Captain Britain from eternity. But just as Rory was getting an accurate reading on the event, time and eternity seemed to split in two. Amanda, Meggan and Rachel are at the center of the disorder, as Rachel calls to out Daytripper, asking her what happened, as she can see X-Men and other mutants represented from different timelines - past, present and future.
Amanda informs Rachel that the three of them have dived into the Time Stream, which she adds is, aside from being a monumentally stupid, though necessary, thing to do, is like trying to hold back the tide with a tea cup. Amanda reveals that they only moments to find Brian Braddock, reel him back home and seal the Time Stream back up. Amanda warns everyone that if they don’t, if they can’t, then every variable Timeline in all of infinity is going to come flooding into their own.
Suddenly, a figure near Rachel calls to her, asking if she has come for him. Rachel sees that it is Brian, and hesitantly replies that she has come for him. ‘I’m right where I’m supposed to be’. It was at the exact same moment that Rachel came to terms with her destiny, that Rory, unnoticed by everyone in all the commotion, came face to face with his own. Looking into the Time stream, Rory sees someone, and though he doesn’t know his name, and can barely recognize the face - but he knew he was looking at. Rory Campbell stares at his self, he stares into the future.
Brian Braddock reminds Rachel that she doesn’t belong in this reality, that it is his place, his home. Rachel remains calm as she realizes Amanda was wrong, that Brian cannot be pulled through the Time Stream, it is either him or her. Rachel motions to Meggan and tells Brian that at least here, he has his one true love, whereas she is leaving this time with everything she came with. Just herself. Rachel tells Brian to ‘come home’, but as she reaches her hand to his, Kurt steps in and pulls her away, declaring that he cannot accept that this is the only way.
Amanda announces that she cannot hold the Timeline together for much longer, and tells Rachel that she must make her choice, now or never, forever and always, the choice remains hers. With tears in her eyes, Rachel tells Kurt that she appreciates the sentiments, but she has made her choice. Kurt begins to protest, but Rachel asks him not to. Rachel turns to her best friend, Kitty, and asks her to promise she will say “hello”. Sobbing, Kitty tells Rachel that she doesn’t understand. Rachel also begins to cry, and explains that she wants Kitty promise to hold her in her arms when she is born, to keep her safe, warm and give her a kiss “hello”. Rachel wipes Kitty’s tears away, and Kitty promises.
Rory Campbell watches, as at that moment, the laws of quantum physics kick in. Everything that is Rachel Summers, is replaced by everything that is Brian Braddock. Brian returned to here and now, while Rachel is hurled to the farthest reaches of time - forever. Rory realizes that this is supposed to be the universe’s way of “correcting” itself, he cannot help but think how much darker, how much smaller, this corner of the universe will be, without Rachel.
But in keeping with the roller coaster ride that has been Rory’s experience since he first arrived, the mourning and recriminations, whatever they might be, would have to wait, as Excalibur go from one crisis to another - Meggan returns to her default appearance, as Daytripper passes out. Nightcrawler catches his foster sister, Amanda declaring that she is okay, but not half the mystic their mother is. Amanda begins to say that she is sorry she lost Rachel, but Kurt assures her that Rachel made her own decision, sacrificing her life for that of another, something he is sure any one of them would have done.
Tears streaming from her eyes as she looks at the space where Rachel used to be, Kitty asks if they saved Brian or someone else completely. Meggan gasps, ‘Brian, my love…is that you?’
Brian Braddock looms over everyone, telling Meggan to fear not, as it would seem obvious he is neither of sound mind, nor sound body, to answer to the name “Brian”. A strange smirk on his face, and darkened eyes, the former Captain Britain tells everyone that they may henceforth address him by the epithet he acquired upon his trek through eternity. ‘From this moment on…call me, Britanic!’
Rory Campbell has discovered something that is probably common knowledge to everyone who deals with mutants in general, and “X” mutants in particular - that sometimes, more often than not, there’s no such thing as…the end.
Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner stands before a large building that is on fire. People run from it, and he thinks to himself that he doesn’t belong here, down on the street with everyone else. He belongs in the spotlight, with the eyes of the entire world on him. He can still hear the voices, like at the Saturday matinee - gasps from the crowd, the crunch of peanut shells below children’s feet, the mega-phoned voice of the big-hatted man announcing the great “Nightcrawler of the trapeze”.
Kurt’s mind races back to a childhood spent defying death in Europe, before Professor X, before the X-Men, before Excalibur. Kurt thinks that he should not even be walking down here when his mutant ability lets him teleport from one location to the other in the blink of an eye. He thinks about the many worlds he has visited as leader of Excalibur, of how his teammates must look up to him and wonders why it has suddenly become so hot.
A little girl points to the burning building and screams ‘Mommy!’ Kurt reacts instantly, teleporting into the midst of the flames, while imagining he is under the big top again, a member of the X-Men once more, leading Excalibur into another battle. Doing the only thing he’s ever really loved…being a hero. Kurt sees the trapped women, her name is Karen Wallis and in her own mind, she is already dead.
Looking through the flames, Karen sees Nightcrawler - but this cannot be Heaven - a three-fingered hand reaches through the flames, smoke and scorched air. Karen Wallis winces at the touch, wishing away her life’s every mistake, every digression, every iniquity, pleading through fear-cracked sand-paper screams for a second chance to be good. Any words of hope or reassurance Kurt Wagner speaks are snatched by the deafening roar and flickering teeth of the surrounding inferno - and then he’s upon her.
‘NOOO!’ she screams, whispers a prayer then shuts her eyes. Bamf is the sound of Nightcrawler’s teleport as he saves Karen Wallis, they return to the street below where fire fighters are not dowsing the blaze. The little girl calls to her mother, ‘Jenny’ cries Karen as she rushes to her daughter, before turning to her rescuer and saying ‘Get away from us…you…demon!’
Kurt Wagner has heard those words before, words that hurt before, words he thought after all these years, he would never hear again. He stands in the orange glow of the night, listening for a matinee cheer, hopes for reassurance from his teammates. But there is nothing. He should be above the pain, but below the blue-furred skin, just short of his pointed tail and three-toed feet, Kurt Wagner searches the world around him, feeling only harsh stares - and wishes the crowd would look away.
Later, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned’ declares Kurt in a confession booth. It is a different church, but he has come for the same reason as always - for hope. He says words he’s said before, and prayer’s he has prayed before. The priest does the same. Kurt tugs at the scarf around his neck, thrown on to cover his skin, as the priest tells Kurt he senses he is not telling him what is troubling him.
‘I want forgiveness for being born a mutant’. The priests eyes flash open - it has been along time since Father Brennan has been shocked by a confession. Nightcrawler is expecting words of absolution, but receives instead, a condemning silence.
Kurt jumps up from his seat, apologizing and wondering how he thought this priest could have been any different. ‘Please…please don’t leave’ Father Brennan asks, before declaring that it is now his turn to ask for forgiveness - for being only human.
Nightcrawler tugs at his scarf again, replying that he understands, but wonders why he must go through this Hell to get to Heaven. ‘When will it end?’ Father Brennan asks Kurt if he means man’s fear of what is different, his hatred for what’s hard to understand…then he prays it ends soon. He believes that on that day, their faith promises there will be no more crying, no more hate - and no more fear.
Father Brennan exclaims that he has no immediate answers, and until that day, they can only stay strong and not tire of doing good, because whether they are a mutant or a judgmental old priest, ‘we all have our crosses to bear’. Nightcrawler looks down at his scarf, and raises it up - it is covered in ‘X’s’ - the symbol of the X-Men.