(1859, London, England)
Nathaniel Essex cradles Jean Grey in his arms as she recovers from being dumped in the river. He asks her what she is. He saw her fly and move solid objects through the air. He presumes she must be a precursor of the great mutation that he has predicted. She is proof that he is right, and the pompous fools who ridiculed him are wrong. Jean offers no response, as she now knows that Nathaniel Essex will one day become the predator on humanity known as Sinister.
Meanwhile, Oscar Stamp looks back at them, and figures the lady can take care of herself. He doesn’t sees Cootie Tremble bearing down upon him. Jean finally speaks, and tells Essex that the offer that Apocalypse has made him will damn this planet to untold pain and suffering. Essex asks who she is to judge him. The being she speaks of has walked the Earth for untold ages. He asks her to imagine the knowledge he has gathered and the wonders he has seen. Jean replies that her husband isn’t unlike him. She explains that he almost lost his son forever because of that creature. Like Essex, he is a passionate, driven man, and he has suffered greatly. But, he doesn’t let that ruin him.
Essex tells her that it’s irrelevant. All that matters is his work. What is the fate of one man compared to the future of a species? Jeans asks what about Rebecca, his wife. Essex turns from her and admits that any chance of happiness they may have had with their unborn child is gone. Jean tells him that it’s never too late. They can change. They have a choice. It’s what makes them human. There’s still time. “Still time?” replies Essex. He can only imagine what exalted climes of scientific achievement he would forgo if that were only true.
Oscar Stamp is pounced upon by Cootie; now a horribly changed man. Apocalypse has changed him into something less than human and he tells Oscar that, even though he has a terrible pain all over his body, he can’t resist the temptation to rip his treacherous head off. Jean hears Oscar’s cries for help and uses her telekinesis to fly herself to his assistance.
She smashes into Cootie, freeing Oscar from his grasp. She knows Essex will have to wait for now, but she feels she’s getting through to him. Essex is left to think for himself. He realizes that something is wrong. He’s been obsessed with the survival of the fittest, but how does what he is witnessing fit into the scheme of things? He always presumed that when the great mutation came, a chosen few would have the correct Essex Factor. These men would eclipse their cousins further down the evolutionary ladder, and diverge from the unmutated rabble. But the woman he watches risking her own life to save a lowly thief… how can that aid in her own survival? Could it be that, in the future, some of the mutated ones, though a divergent species, will remain in every way that matters, human? There is too much to think about, and he flees the scene to better concentrate.
After defeating Cootie Tremble, Jean notices that Essex has vanished. She has to find Scott, as they have less than a day to stop Apocalypse. Oscar reckons he might be able to return her favor. He knows the sewers and backwaters well. Good, replies Jean, and she calls out telepathically to Scott, who at that moment is in a spot of trouble.
Beneath the streets of London, Apocalypse’s stronghold has remained hidden for centuries, awaiting the dawn of a dark age. Scott Summers wakens after blacking out for a while, and is faced with questions from the mighty Apocalypse. He demands to know from where Scott derived his powers. Scott has his eyes closed, and Apocalypse tells him to open them. Having no visor, Scott is all too happy to oblige, and his optic blast pummels Apocalypse, who struggles to maintain his balance.
Cyclops is even stronger than he suspected, and he asks Scott who he is. Scott replies that he’s someone who’d be happy never to hear his name again. After a short time, he closed his eyes again, unable to maintain that level of intensity. Apocalypse closes in again, and says that it sounds like his opponent sounds like he is in possession of… secret knowledge. But, knowledge is nothing without power.
He moves in once again on Scott who unleashes his optic blast at him. However, Scott hasn’t fully recovered from his previous efforts, and Apocalypse manages to get close enough to snap him into some kind of techno-organic machinery, similar to what he and Jean faced in the twentieth century. Apocalypse has sought someone like himself since time immemorial, and Scott’s appearance proves that the hour of his ascendancy is at hand. He believes it’s just a shame that Scott wastes his power on those too puny to defend themselves.
The restraints lock Scott in place, and he taunts Scott by informing him that he will suffer; experiencing pain on a hitherto undreamed of scale. But first, he activates another component in his machinery. Alien metal flows like cool lava across Scott’s face. His optic blasts burns through it, but the clever metal speedily reconstitutes its chemical make-up, like a species adapting to new environments. There’s nothing Scott can do to prevent this. The metal morphs into a hard, red mask, which covers his eyes like his visor. He is effectively rendered harmless.
Apocalypse is pleased. He decides to leave Scott alone and tells him that, by the time he returns, he will be broken, and prepared to bare his soul to him. With Scott having refused to explain his powers to Apocalypse, the final words he hears inform him that one cannot combat strength with goodness, or loyalty… only with greater strength. So endeth Scott’s final lesson.
(on the road to Kent)
Nathaniel Essex returns to Milbury House thinking about his wife, Rebecca. He cannot believe that he ever thought of forsaking her. He wishes once more for the warmth and succor of their marriage, and promises to dedicate his life to her and their child. He also wishes to fight the malady that took their son, Adam, from them. His intentions seem clear, and he appears to have a desire to change the direction of his learning.
However, when Milbury House comes into view, he sees the poor unfortunates outside. He pulls up his horse and demands to know who set them free. Young Daniel speaks up. He admits it was his wife that freed them, and the other lady that speaks inside your head. She was the one that got him talking again. Essex demands to know his wife’s whereabouts. As soon as the words leave his mouth, he hears a scream. He rushes to their bedroom and finds a doctor standing beside their bed. He calls her name, but the doctor asks him to please be quiet. He’s only just calmed his wife down. “But the child…?” Essex asks. The doctor replies that it’s as good as dead; born prematurely and perhaps induced by some sudden stress.
Essex kneels beside the bed and bends over Rebecca. He asks for her forgiveness. He admits that, when Adam died, he withdrew from her and she suffered alone. He swears on his life that she will never be alone again. He realizes now that she means more to him than his work; more to him than mere science.
The doctor informs him that he should perhaps wring what solace he can from these last few precious moments with his wife, for he is afraid that her time grows short with each passing moment. “No!” he cries, “Rebecca, you cannot die!” The doctor asks him for courage. There is nothing that can be done. Rebecca opens her eyes slightly and looks at her husband. She tells him that she cannot give him the forgiveness he asks for. She loved him. At first it was only duty, but she grew to love him with all her heart. Essex stands, refusing to let her die.
Rebecca continues to tell him that she was so proud of his brilliance, and how romantic he was, in his own way. But, after Adam died, he became twisted and cruel. Essex turns back to her and, with sorrowful eyes, replies that he never meant to be cruel. He realizes she is right, and he is damnably wrong. He promises to save her using his genius. Rebecca offers her hand to his, and asks him to see where his so-called genius has brought them. In the end, she feels no love for him. His genius has seen to that. She tells him he is her husband, but he disgusts her. He made her lose their child. “To me, you are... utterly… and contemptibly… sinister!” He hears her death rattle and, with it, the end of all hope and the beginning of a dark and terrible age.
(some time later)
Nathaniel Essex is in the family cemetery. Some of the stones date back to the time of King John, and he smashes them all. His grief has caused him to go on a rampage through the hallowed ground, but no matter how many stones he cracks or bones he crushes, he cannot escape the fact of who he is. If only he could turn back time. He takes his gun and places it against his temple. He knows full well that time is not a highway down which he can travel.
(the Hellfire Club)
The Hellfire Club’s members drift back to their establishment with great reluctance. If they don’t obey Apocalypse, he will make them his slaves. They know they need a strong leader, as events in Russia demand action and Lincoln’s going to cause trouble for them in the United States. Shaw wishes someone would shoot this foreign blackguard right between the eyes, but as he speaks, Apocalypse appears. He is in his human guise, and he warns them that the only reason he doesn’t tear out their tongues is because they are of use to him.
He tells them that he has made a study of their age and it has a soft underbelly, which he will tear open with the ragged teeth of Seth. He will use a tactic which is well-documented in the papyri of old Egypt, through to the writings of other wide fools; war and pestilence. He informs them that Mister Essex shall develop pestilence and, in time, through breeding, he will help control those who would be born with power to stand against him. He calls the Hellfire Club members dogs, and they will provide the conditions for global upheaval and conflict. In turn, the weak will be culled from the strong. His plan is a long-term one, for he admits it might be years before the great nations of the world finally clash.
He continues to state that from the bloody ruins of this modern Golgotha, newer and more terrible conflagrations shall arise. Hope will be crushed, and prejudice and hatred nurtured. He wants war, despair and carnage. He wants country against country, brother against brother and black against white, for the Age of Apocalypse begins now!
One of the braver members asks if he will be at the forefront of this movement. Apocalypse replies that he does not wish to unite mankind against a common foe, so at first he will remain in the background. When the planet is ravaged by war and disease, he shall appear like the reaping wind. They will await his signal for their work to begin. Someone asks how they will know this signal. “Do not fear,” he replies. “You will know.”
(an old sewer by the River Thames)
Oscar Stamp escorts Jean Grey to Apocalypse’s lair, and she senses Scott’s suffering. Once below ground, Oscar reckons that, judging by his screams, her ‘bloke’ is just round the corner. Scott cannot hold out much longer. Alien weaponry bombards him, but he says he will die before he reveals who they are. Jean cannot stop thinking about Essex, and of how his own tragedies so closely mirror what Scott went through with Cable, which Essex himself will be responsible for.
They enter another passageway, which leads to the room where Scott is being looked upon by a couple of enhanced Marauders. Jean communicates with him telepathically, and asks her to be careful of the Marauders. Jean isn’t worried, and she hits them with a blistering psi-assault. They are telekinetically hurled through the dank air of the sewer, and like sewer rats, they flee.
Scott warns Oscar not to touch anything, as he might get hurt. He suggests Jean try to release him. Jean notices that the metal that is holding him is alive. Scott informs her that it’s techno-organic. Jean is careful, but is still caught by surprise by tendrils that immediately grab a hold of her. Scott tells her to fight it, but they don’t respond to her mental commands. She’s in real trouble.
Charles Darwin is having tea with several of his friends. One of them asks if this survival of the fittest malarkey justifies slavery, for instance. Darwin replies that slavery is an evil that debases the slave owner himself. His maid appears with some more tea and informs him that there’s a rather unkempt looking gentleman to see him. Darwin doesn’t wish to see him, but Nathaniel Essex enters regardless. “Darwin! They didn’t believe me! But I was right… I was right!
Charles takes a look at him and asks him what’s happened. Essex replies that he’s seen it with his own eyes. He’s seen the veracity of his theories. Their species is moving ineluctably towards the great mutation, and he has seen the future. He tells his audience that the strong will be bad and the good not strong enough. He and Charles have helped kill off the old gods, but there will be new ones, and they will be made in their own twisted image. The worst of them will be cruel; so very cruel.
Darwin stands and asks if it’s Rebecca or his child. Essex tells him not to speak of them. They were things of love and goodness, and they withered and died at his touch. Tonight he will join them, in sure and certain hope of nothing but an eternity of thankful oblivion. He leaves the future to Darwin, and says he’s welcome to it. As he departs Darwin House, he sees two of Charles’ children looking down at him. He thinks of their innocence and of other children like them. He thinks of them growing as his own children might have, and then he thinks of Apocalypse.
With Scott captive and Jean Grey entangled within Apocalypse’s futuristic trap, he appears and gloats that he knew she would return for Scott, instead of abandoning him as any more highly developed creature would. Jean knows she has one chance to attack, and so she hits Apocalypse with another might psi-blast. The ancient one reels in pain, but still manages to throw her effort back at her. He realizes she has the power to influence men’s minds and to control them. Surely there is no greater power, he feels. This is something he will prepare for.
Jean speaks with Scott telepathically. She informs him that she might have persuaded Essex not to accept Apocalypse’s offer. Scott doesn’t think it will help much if they allow Apocalypse to take control of the planet. Jean then groans as she sees Nathaniel Essex wandering towards them. He sees that Apocalypse has captured both of the ‘mutated ones,’ and Apocalypse offers them to him to dismantle, piece-by-piece, cell-by-cell.
Jean asks him not to be fooled by this creature. He is inhuman! He should think of magnifying his own suffering a billionfold and he’ll have some idea of what he plans for the next five millennia. If nothing else, she pleads, he should think of his wife and child. Essex replies that he is. He asks Scott, who he is meeting for the first time, how he manages to grieve and suffer, yet still persevere. He loves this woman and she loves him, and he remains a good person. How? He would clearly like to study Scott more closely, for he seems to possess a capability that he does not. “What is that?” he asks.
Scott replies that it’s called not forgetting where you come from. It’s called not forgetting the pain that you’ve had, but not letting it twist you either. It’s called being human! Apocalypse calls for this banter to cease, and asks Essex what the answer is to his offer. Essex tells him, “Yes.”
(several levels above)
Oscar Stamp emerges from the sewer and into the waiting arms of the people freed from Essex’s captivity. They attack him, and Oscar accepts that he treated them like animals, but he explains that the people who helped them escape from their cages are down below them, and they need help. If they turn their backs on them, then Cootie and that devil will have won.
Danny stands before them and, despite being a kid, he tells his friends that he knows that Oscar is right. His comrade agrees, and adds that there are other captives down there too, suffering like he was. They must start fighting back. It’s silently agreed, and the freaks head down to wage war on Apocalypse and his acquired help.
Meanwhile, a liquid plague percolates slowly in a chamber of Apocalypse’s stronghold. Its lethal ingredients are designed to paralyze the higher, evolved functions of the brain, needing only a touch of sinister genius to be complete. The man known as Nathaniel Essex willingly undergoes a harrowing transformation. Wires and tubes are inserted into his flesh, sending catalysts of mutation into the very building blocks of his being, and he allows himself to think of Rebecca and his dead family. He allows himself to feel levels of pain he has hitherto evaded, for he knows that, soon, he will lose all capacity for such feeling.
Apocalypse informs him that the preparations are complete. The final state ensues. First, though, Essex must shed his old self and with that, his name. He asks Essex to choose one. The response is an obvious choice. It’s the last word that Rebecca spoke to him. “Sinister.”
Apocalypse flicks a switch and a metal harpoon shoots into the center of his forehead. Essex screams in agony, as the agonizing transformation begins to run its course. Apocalypse decides to leave his machine to do its work, and informs Essex, should he be capable of coherent thought at this time, that by the time he returns, Mister Sinister will be working on perfecting the scourge. The world as they know it will be in terminal upheaval. As he leaves, the sewer resounds to the awful screams of Nathaniel Essex as the last vestiges of humanity are torn from his soul.
Scott Summers knows he has failed to turn the course of destiny. He tells Jean that he has tried blasting through the helmet, but it’s made of ruby quartz and is therefore impenetrable. Jean informs him that Oscar and the freaks are tearing the Marauders apart nearby. Suddenly, Scott’s optic blast sears its way though the chamber, and burn away the fetters that contain his wife. Jean asks how he freed himself. Scott tells her that as soon as Oscar and his pals attacked, the stronghold went into defense mode and the helmet pulled itself away.
The Marauders flee, leaving Scott and Jean a few hours to find and destroy Apocalypse. Scott asks Jean to psi-link with him and let him see through her eyes. He needs to see the man who has done so much to bring them and others so much suffering. He knows Essex is inside the chamber, halfway between Essex and Sinister. What can they do? Jean notices the chamber is beginning to open.
(Pall Mall, London)
Apocalypse makes his way through the crowded streets, past Pall Mall and along Whitehall to what might be seen as the center of the empire. There a flag is raised which reveals its inhabitants are at home. Apocalypse is outside Buckingham Palace; the London residence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Its railings are no protection against the power of someone like En Sabah Nur. Today, the king and queen will die, and tomorrow, the Age of Apocalypse will be born.