Sarcastically, Kitty Pryde paraphrases the song from the musical “Sound of Music” I am fourteen, going on fifteen, old as I’m gonna get. She realizes that tomorrow at the very last she will be gone. Her only hope of salvation is Dr. Doom, maybe the most infamous villain on Earth. To save her, the X-Men are going to put themselves in his debt.
She sees her dragon, Lockheed, lying dejected in front of the tube that houses her. She tries to get his attention but she is so far out of sync with reality she can’t talk. Angrily, she pounds against the walls of the tube, wondering why this is taking so long. Why can’t Doom get this over with… one way or the other?
That moment, Franklin Richards’ astral form makes his entrance. Lockheed checks him out. Remembering him, he licks his face, much to Franklin’s annoyance.
Franklin tells Kitty he would have been there sooner, but his dreamself only works when he is asleep and he was so excited that night he couldn’t fall asleep. He tells her his father is coming to save her, like Franklin promised. Isn’t that great? Kitty thinks to herself that Reed Richards already tried and said there was nothing he could do. Plus, there were a lot of hard feelings between both hero teams because of that. If Richards shows up, it could start another fight.
Franklin admits there is a bad part too. In his special dreams, he saw both teams die, with Doom the winner. All because his Dad found that old book that said he was as bad as Doom. The book part came true. He’s scared about the rest. Since he echoes Kitty’s own doubts, she begins to cry. Frank apologizes and tries to make her feel better by telling her a story like his dad did for him.
Elsewhere, the Fantastic Four’s hyper-space plane flies towards Latveria. Sue holds the sleeping Franklin, noting they are all as tense as before battle. Everyone expects a fight. And why not? She hopes the X-Men are still their friends, but Doctor Doom has been Reed’s bitter rival from before the FF even came into being. She should have left Franklin behind but, when he insisted it, somehow seemed right to take him along. She wonders what’s his dreamself is up to. Suddenly, a cup of tea is held under her nose, courtesy of the Thing.
Sue thanks him but who is flying the plane? Autopilot and Reed wanted some privacy there, Ben explains. Sue uses her forcefield to create a comfy chair for Ben. He notes how powerful she’s gotten and muses that a lot changed since the rocket flight gave them their powers. They’ve changed with the years, Sue agrees, why not Doom? Hate like his is a drug to a guy like him, Ben explains. Sorta gives his life purpose, focus, a goal. No matter what Doom does, he always sees Reed stealing his thunder, denying him his proper place in the sun. Maybe they should let him win once to get that out of his system, Sue remarks.
Taking a metal stick and shaping it in his hands, Ben remarks that, while she is talking about Doom, she is thinking about someone else. She admits that this mission is so important to Reed. The stakes are so high. If something goes wrong and Shadowcat dies, he will never forgive himself. Is she expecting the worst? he asks. He has no confidence, only doubts, she replies. They are eating him up like a cancer. Why can’t he believe in himself like they do? They are talking faith, Ben replies. You either got it or you ain’t, and that’s a battle Stretch’s gotta win or lose all by his lonesome, just like the rest of the human race. Good or bad though, they will pull through. He is a brick she tells him. Nawh, he’s the Thing. He’s made o’ bricks.
Further forward in the plane, She-Hulk and the Human Torch are sitting. Jennifer seems engrossed by a fashion magazine but has noticed that Johnny has been silent all along, unlike his normally gregarious self. Johnny is tormented by his memory of accidentally dealing Storm a crippling injury with his power. He wonders how to face her and the X-Men, what to say.
She-Hulk asks him what he’s thinking of. Johnny tells her he was thinking of something his buddy Spider-Man once said: With great power comes great responsibility. He thinks now – maybe too late – he’s beginning to understand what that really means. She agrees that growing up and having to live with consequences is hard.
Johnny asks her why she is coming along, considering she’s an Avenger. She was in at the start, she replies, and maybe she can help. Plus, she respects Reed as she does few others. They broke the mold with him and she wants to see him get well. What she doesn’t understand is the thing between him and Doom. She hears they go pretty far back. All the way to college, Johnny replies telling her that Ben and Reed were roomies.
Johnny’s story, accompanied by flashback pictures:
Doom was a stiff and formal person. Nobody liked him and, after a while, nobody tried. Johnny attended the same school years later and talked with some of Reed’s old profs. They said it was like teaching a pair of Einsteins, or Mozarts or DaVincis. Both of them grasped any concept instantly, no matter how complex. Brilliance was second nature to them. The school computers weren’t good enough for them, so they built their own, revolutionizing the field. Day or night, they’d argue theories, wacko mathematics, physics, cosmology that even the school’s Nobel laureates had trouble following.
For Reed, this was heaven because he loved learning. And he planned, showing his buddy, Ben, the plans for a rocket he wanted to construct. For Doom, though, these debates were battles he always had to win. And knowledge the key to power. He even dabbled in the black arts.
At the same time, outside of class work, Doom was working in the dorm on some secret project of him own. One afternoon, Reed saw his notes and realized there was a fatal flaw in Doom’s calculations. He tried to warn Doom of the danger. As usual, Doom wouldn’t listen and threw Reed out. He went through with his experiment and, as Reed predicted, it blew up in his face. Doom blamed Reed for the accident. He couldn’t make a mistake after all, so it had to be somebody’s else’s fault. And he’d do anything to get even.
And the way Reed behaved since he found the journal, Johnny continues glumly, Doom may just have his chance. If Reed doesn’t regain his self-confidence, he’ll lose his next fight with Doom, before it’s even begun.
On the flight deck, Reed is left alone with the journal that started it all. He knows every word by heart. If only he knew his heart; his memories as well. How can so much truth add up to such a monstrous awful lie? If indeed it is a lie. Every thought, every theory every opinion in these pages is his. But the presentation is wrong, the order twisted. Yes, he often thought of the danger posed by hostile extra-terrestrials and sociopaths possessing parahuman abilities, and the need for a person or group to act as heroic paradigm and focus society’s opposition to these dangers. The FF became that example. Except the diary says their creation was no accident, but the culmination of a ruthless plan. His plan.
He tells himself, it didn’t happen that way; that, had he suspected any risk, he would have aborted that fateful spaceflight. But suppose there were warning signs and he chose to ignore them? Ben, Sue, Johnny were his closest friends, he couldn’t have betrayed them!
Suddenly, he notices that Franklin in his astral form has joined him. Franklin tells him he has visited Shadowcat and told her he was coming to save her. Franklin knows he will. He has to go back to her. See you soon. Reed tries to stop him, exclaiming he doesn’t know if he can save Kitty anymore!
Outside the wilderness of Doom’s castle, the X-Men are training. Wolverine seems to be alone when he is suddenly attacked by Longshot’s blades, which he easily deflects with his claws towards Havok and Dazzler on the turret. He orders them to deal with the blades and the two of them fire their powers. Dazzler is the one who hits the blades and she flashes Havok a triumphant smile.
Wolverine praises her growing control over that aspect of her powers. He hasn’t forgotten Longshot though, who is crouching on a tree and throws the last blade at him. Before he falls, Rogue flies him away. However, suddenly she decides this is a waste of time and tosses him down into the snow. Longshot is immediately delighted about the snow he lands in; another thing unfamiliar.
Why did she throw him? Havok asks Rogue. She replies that she counted on his luck powers guaranteeing a safe landing and suddenly angrily kicks a castle wall in frustration. She admits she hates waiting. Lord knows what’s going on with Kitty. Angrily, she exclaims for Doom to finally save her!
In Kitty’s chamber Franklin tries to tell her the story his father told him… but not having his stretchable fingers he can’t make the same shapes to accompany the tale. He tells her about her stillborn sister, admitting that, while he has friends, that isn’t the same. She thinks that she is an only child too. Both of them state at the same time that, if they had a sibling, they’d want them to be like the other. That moment, they realize they can hear each other, courtesy of Psylocke, who has psi-merged their thoughts so they could have a proper conversation.
The mood is spoiled by Doom, who asks how Kitty is. While Franklin hides, Psylocke explains that her own powers are maintaining the coherence of Kitty’s consciousness as the lifecell does her being. Doom announces that his preparations are complete. They can begin.
Kitty is scared, wishing someone could hold her hand. Even their new headmaster, Magneto. But he doesn’t care, or so she presumes.
Magneto is standing outside the castle, lost in thought. After Storm addresses him jokingly, he explains that roughly five hundred miles in the direction he was looking at is Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where his parents and sister were murdered. Enraged, he reaches out with his power and grabs one of Doom’s robots. He should have died with them, he announces. And due west from Latveria is the Soviet city of Vinnitsa. There was a fire. He was injured saving his wife. His daughter remained trapped in the burning building. She was much like Kitty, his Anya. The most beautiful of children, two years old and she never cried. She only laughed with wonder and joy.
He uses this power to shape the metal into a sculpture of his lost wife and daughter. She burned, he tells Storm. His power was weaker then. He used it to save his wife, but couldn’t reach Anya. A crowd had gathered. He begged for help. They refused him. They saw he was a mutant and some called for him to be hurled into the same flames that consumed his child.
Too late, in rage and grief that ravage him still he came at last into his birthright. The absolute control over the forces and manifestations of magnetism that is the power of Magneto.
Calmer, he admits that, terrified of his power, Magda fled. How different might his life have been, if she had not. In that awful moment he lost everything.
“And is he now trying to cast away Shadowcat’s life as well?” Doom, via hologram, demands angrily. Why does he think he had Magneto remove himself from the castle? Doom continues. The reintegration process requires absolute precision, so much that it must be under total computer control. And thereby it is especially vulnerable to intense magnetic fields, of the kind Magneto generates. Another such outburst will have catastrophic consequences! The hologram disappears.
Ororo tells Magneto that they all wear scars and all make mistakes. But the past is done. What matters is who they are today and wish to be tomorrow. Easily said, he sighs, but so many insist on seeing only the Magneto that was. He strokes the chin of the Magda sculpture. The arch-villain, avowed enemy of humankind. He had his opportunity to square those accounts before the world court, he muses, but the trial was never concluded. Perhaps he should have gone back? Yet, to do so now would mean abandoning Xavier’s school when its students need him most.
Ororo interrupts his musing, pointing to the sky. The Fantastic Four’s aircraft is heading for the castle. Assuming an attack, Magneto fires a magnetic field at the aircraft to stop it. Angrily, Storm reminds him what Doom just said about the danger his powers pose to Shadowcat!
Inside Doom’s lab, Doom sees the computer’s magnetic memory fields disrupted by Magneto’s outburst. A moment later, his scanners reveal that the FF are there. He immediately assumes that Richards cannot abide the thought of Doom succeeding where he failed. He means to foil him, even at the cost of an innocent life. He orders the X-Men present to put an end to the FF’s interference, before it is too late.
Rogue asks Psylocke if she can telepathically take the FF out. Standing next to Kitty’s tank, the telepath explains she dare not. It’s taking all of her strength to maintain Kitty’s psychic cohesion!
Doom continues that, thanks to Magneto’s outburst, the primary computers are crippled and their only replacement commands the castle’s defensive systems. If he must use them against his foes, Shadowcat is as good as dead. They get the picture, Rogue replies and flies outside along with Wolverine. Doom urges them to hurry and wishes them good luck. Kitty throws him a dirty glance, sure that this is all an act.
Meanwhile, outside the FF leave their plane. Without a greeting Storm instantly asks why they are here. Shadowcat’s plight is no longer their concern. They’ve come to save the day, Johnny announces, then happily notices that her burns are healed. No thanks to him, Magneto replies in a steely voice and adds he should take care not to burn her again. That was an accident, the Torch replies angrily, and he’s got a hell of a nerve taking that attitude after making them crash!
Reed calls Johnny back and explains to Magneto they only wish to help. Magneto reminds him he had his chance. They begged him and he refused. Is pride more worth than child’s life? Sue asks Storm and reminds her how in the past the X-Men risked everything for the FF. Can they possibly believe they couldn’t do the same? Reed’s certain he’s found the key to saving Shadowcat.
It is unknown what might have come of the conversation, for that moment Rogue and Wolverine attack.
Rogue slams Wolverine into the Thing. So much for the peaceful approach, the Torch thinks. Looks like they have to knock some sense into their thick mutie skulls. Rogue grabs him by the ankles in spite of his flaming form. She tosses him into the snow and tells him to watch his mouth. Call them “muties” again, she guarantees he’ll never do anything again. Satisfied, she observes that the snowdrift snuffed Johnny’s flame right out. This is too easy, she gloats. They should beat on those chumps more often.
The Thing is down and Wolverine’s shoulders ache. Mister Fantastic threatens if Wolverine has hurt Ben… L’il fella like him? Ben asks as he gets up. If that lovetap was Wolverine’s best shot, he got nothin’ to worry about. Oh yeah? Wolverine growls, ready to use his claws. Yeah, Ben replies and knocks him on the head. Logan’s out like a light and Ben pats him on the head with a grin, wishing him sweet dreams.
Reed remarks that Wolverine was still too dazed from his initial impact to act as quickly as he did when last they fought. His adamantium claws could probably cut even Ben’s skin. They have to stop this madness. He doesn’t want to fight the X-Men.
Trouble is, closing in in a jeep are Havok, Longshot and Dazzler. She-Hulk lifts a rock to throw at them. Dazzler immediately shoots it apart. Rogue, in the meantime, has absorbed the Torch’s powers (which killed her outfit) and gets ready to attack She-Hulk and the Invisible Woman. Sue encloses Rogue in a forcefield bubble, taking away her air and snuffing out her flame, leaving Rogue a naked cannonball that the Invisible Woman uses to smash apart the others’ jeep.
They want to play rough? She-Hulk asks, facing Storm. Be her pleasure to oblige. Pity Storm lost her weather powers, she gloats as she grabs the other woman by the front of her coat. If she had them, they could go a round or two. Storm looks at her with cold rage and suddenly, out of nowhere, lightning lights up the sky, giving She-Hulk pause.
Magneto fires a magnetic blast at the plane. Too late Reed and Sue scream that their son is aboard. Furious, Reed attacks Magneto, believing him to still be a villain.
Suddenly from above, they hear Franklin’s voice. He is riding on Lockheed. Angrily, he tells them Lockheed came and got him when everybody started rough-housing. He tells them they are all acting like babies and should be ashamed. Kitty is fizzing away and this dumb rumpus is making her fizz faster! In agreement, Lockheed growls at the heroes. “Don’t they know she is dying?” Frank shouts, giving all of them pause. “Don’t any of them even care?!”
Up in the lab in her container, Kitty is almost gone, with Psylocke desperately trying to hold onto her, trying to give the hopeless girl strength and courage. Doom is more interested in the spectacle going on outside his castle. He considers having the Fantastic Four cast from his realm. He could easily shame them. Shadowcat’s death would be their fault, not his. And yet, suppose against all odds he saves her? Especially with Reed Richards looking on. What a coup to demonstrate once and for all which of them is truly the master!
As he sees the heroes walking towards the castle, he notices that Richard walks with none of his characteristic confidence. He enhances his suit’s optical scanners to see what he is clutching to his chest. Amused, Doom thinks to himself that this is a most unexpected but delightful surprise. Whatever else occurs here tonight, Reed is… doomed.
When the heroes have arrived in the lab, Doom tears into them for their behavior. How shameful that a child must remind them of their responsibilities. Had this interruption not occurred, he would have saved Shadowcat by now! Now, as things stand, thanks to their idiocy, he regrets he can no longer say that success is guaranteed. Storm shouts that he has their pond of flesh from them. He should save Kitty if he can.
Doom begins the process. The others watch. Reed strolls to the computer display terminals that monitor Kitty’s condition and the progress of her re-integration. Thus far, he observes, the process proceeds correctly. Doom’s done his work as well as he could himself. Perhaps better. Does that make him angry? Jealous? Is he so petty? He tells himself to stop thinking about himself. Shadowcat is the one in need. Suddenly, he shouts: Wait and freeze display two.
But the data stream is moving too fast. He orders Doom to shut down the process and then stretches his arm to pull the lever himself.
Doom points an accusing finger at him, shouting that, if the child dies, it will be on Richards’ head. And it will be Doom’s pleasure to see him punished to the full extent of the law. Getting in his face, Reed shouts at him to stop posturing. He’s made a mistake. Impossible! Doom scoffs. Ben backs up Reed and reminds Doom of the first warning Reed gave him back in college. Didn’t he learn his lesson then?
Suddenly from below, a voice shouts at them to stop fighting. The two geniuses look down to see Franklin standing between them. He reminds his father that Kitty is sick. Can’t he and Mister Doom wait till later to do more yelling? He then pulls at Doom’s cloak, asking if it matters if his pa helps, so long as Kitty gets saved. Isn’t that more important than being boss or proving how smart he is?
He looks up at Doom trustfully and maybe something within the villain is moved. He turns around, asking Reed to explain himself. Richards explains that the reintegration process allows for Shadowcat’s wild genetic structure but evidently the specific interaction of the device and her phasing power generate an ongoing feedback, infinitesimal at first, so small to be irrelevant. But as the process continues, the feedback increases exponentially. Eventually, it reaches the point where it destroys the organism.
Suddenly, he finds that the displays are spouting gibberish. The matrices were disrupted by Magneto’s actions. There is still a chance, Reed announces, if he plots the reintegration himself. Perform all the calculations in his head, instantly, with nor margin for error? Impossible, Doom scoffs. Sweating, Psylocke shouts at them to act now! She’s losing Kitty.
Reed tells himself he created this machine. Surely he can solve the problem. But he’d missed that feedback anomaly. It’s the sort of thing that can’t be predicted, only discovered and dealt with through experience. Just like the cosmic rays that transformed them into the Fantastic Four. Suppose he makes another mistake? He needs to be certain!
Enjoying every moment of Reed’s dilemma Doom purrs, asking if he can be of assistance somehow, while Sue inwardly curses Doom for this.
Reed admits he can’t drive that diary from his thoughts. Sue said he couldn’t have written it, but she is wrong. Ben said he could be utterly ruthless in the pursuit of what was right and necessary. Was the creation of the FF an accident or a deliberate act on his part? Suppose his subconscious prompted him to commit an atrocity his conscious mind would never countenance? He doesn’t know – and that uncertainty’s destroying him! He has to settle this, once and for all, or he’s no use to anyone!
Not poor Shadowcat, that much is sure, Doom taunts. The solution is at hand. Psylocke is a telepath. Have her read Reed’s innermost thoughts. That shall settle his doubts. But do so quickly or an innocent life will be forfeit!
He’s right, Reed thinks, that way he would know for sure. Holding onto the tank with a silently screaming Kitty, a straining Psylocke shouts at them to hurry! Reed realizes the flaw in Doom’ suggestion. If Psylocke helps him, Shadowcat will die! And even if she could do both, suppose her psiprobe confirms his worst fears?
Choose, Doom tells him.
Rogue suggest to Storm she could absorb Richard’s psyche and save Kitty. Ororo holds her back. That decision and its consequences must remain Reed Richards’ alone, she decides. Taking a big risk, Wolverine remarks. She has no choice, Ororo replies, and he knows why. Wolverine agrees. If Richards needs Betts to validate his life, if he has so little faith in himself, he’ll never get as good again. Deep down inside, where a person needs to be certain, there will always be doubt that will eat up his soul like a cancer.
Still Reed struggles. Suppose Psylocke learns the truth but lies to him for Shadowcat’s sake? How can he believe he? He doesn’t know what to do!
Holding Franklin, Sue notices that Doom doesn’t seem surprised about Reed’s dilemma at all. Suddenly, she realizes who could have written that diary if not Reed himself. Who knows Reed as well as himself yet remains a twisted doppelganger filled with hatred and evil? But she has no proof. Even if she had, she still couldn’t’ say a word. That would be as bad as having Psylocke scan Reed mind. To win that battle he has to cast out his inner demons by himself. The answers to who and what he is lie in the hearts of those he loves and in his soul. They require no proof, merely faith, which makes them the hardest answers of all.
Reed struggles and suddenly, slowly, he begins to smile.
To Kitty, the next few hours are a big blur. The next thing she knows, it is night, she is back in her tank and she can hear the sound of laughter, see flashes of light courtesy of Dazzler through the window.
In the castle, Doom is holding a party in style. Storm tells Reed they can never repay him, Funny, he thought that should be his line, he replies. If not for this crisis, who knows how things would have turned out? Saving Shadowcat catalyzed a lot of thoughts he’d been having lately. It enabled him to resolve a basic conflict within himself.
Shadowcat’s disintegration has been reversed, her molecular structure is returning to its normal configuration. It won’t be a quick convalescence. They’ll be letting the natural healing process run its course. But the prognosis is good. Her recovery should be complete.
Franklin cheers him. He adds that his mistake and Doom’s was trying to rush things along. Fortunately, that error was correctable.
At the buffet, Doom mocks how blithely Richards forgives. Everyone but himself, Sue shoots back. Under the circumstances, she states, addressing Doom, he’s behaving with uncommon grace. Even a gypsy’s son has some small awareness of the rules of hospitality, Doom replies glibly.
Sue remarks that her son had a prophetic dream of sorts before this adventure began. Fascinating, Doom comments. In it, he saw Doom and Reed merge into one, she continues. They are much alike, Doom muses, like Cain and Abel, David and Jonathan. What of it?
Jennifer notices the tense atmosphere between them and warns Ben to get ready.
Magneto moves towards Richards, commenting that in darker times they were bitter foes. He does not ask him now to forget what he was or forgive what was done. This day however, he acted the fool. He let rage and fear and mistrust rule and almost paid the most terrible of prices. He asks Reed to accept his thanks for Kitty’s life and his apology. Reed grabs his hand, admitting the Magneto he remembers could not have said such words. He had too much arrogance to ever admit a mistake. Perhaps he misjudged him, he truly hopes so.
Storm is hopeful this is a step into the right direction, while Wolveirne takes a more cynical view.
Back at he buffet, Doom urges Sue to have some Latverian caviar. Sue flat-out accuses him of writing that diary. This is like him. A cold man who thinks of others as pawns. He crafted that forgery, set this trap years ago, not caring about the damage it would cause, so long as it hurt Reed! Spreading a bread with caviar, he mildly replies that her accusations wound him.
Sue continues. If Reed had turned to Psylocke, he would never have been the same man. A smidgen of doubt would always remain. Effectively, this would have given Doom that victory he’s lusted after since college.
The X-Men get ready for battle.
A fascinating theory, Doom remarks. Does she have any proof? Sue asks if he has ever considered how deadly her forcefield can be if she decided to fight by his rules? Is this a challenge? he asks, her will and natural strength against his technology? With a dark smile Sue warns him to be careful. A lioness is most dangerous defending mate and cub and den. But there’s no need to speak of challenges or proof, because this match is over and they won!
She walks away from him to her family. Reed signals her to keep quiet not to wake Franklin and she thinks to herself that Doom took the hardest cruelest shot at them but they survived as a family and are stronger than before. And it is his tragedy that he will never comprehend why.
Franklin’s body is in dreamland, so his astral self visits Kitty in her tank. They dance and Kitty promises that she will be out one day. Maybe then they can hold hands for real. Franklin offers to visit from time to time when he’s asleep and both of them are happy for the moment.