It is a world very much like our own, and a world which is completely different. It is a planet called Earth and it stands on the brink of destruction! The only hope left is a band of young heroes who will face their greatest challenge ever. A band of young heroes destined to change the fate of an entire world.
Forty-two miles outside the protected walls of New Memphis City, on the abandoned oil refinery fields of New Hebrides, Vance Astrovik, Sam Guthrie and Angelica Jones march through piles of debris lying in what remains of the city’s streets. Guthrie, the airborne mutant known as Cannonball, acts as the squad's scout. Vance, also known as Marvel Man, orders him to stay alert. Angelica, meanwhile, reports they are half a mile from the bunker entrance. She once again apologizes for her inability to go airborne with Cannonball. Sam tells her not to worry about it; the Cerebro controls can detect her microwave emissions with much more ease than they can Sam's blast field. If only the mutant-detecting Cerebro hadn't been stolen from Professor Xavier, Firestar laments.
Suddenly, a powerful bolt of raw energy strikes in front of these young mutants. A booming voice tells them to halt where they stand—or suffer the consequences. "As duly appointed peacekeepers of the United States of Assyria," Captain Assyria says, "—the Avengers place you under arrest!" Firestar, Marvel Man and Cannonball groan at the prospect of facing Horus, Sceptre, Captain Assyria, Nova, Storm and Iron Man—the entire Avengers team—at the same time. As Firestar activates her microwave powers, she asks Vance if he must always rattle off the enemy role-call like a hero-groupie.
Cannonball, also diving into the fight, asks his teammates to concentrate on staying alive instead of bickering.
Captain Assyria shouts to his troops to take out Firestar and Marvel Man first, as they're the most dangerous. Firestar immediately goes after Nova. Instead of trying to hurt him, however, she begs Nova to leave and let them go in peace. He can't, he says; he has a job to do—even if it's one he's beginning to hate. During the fight, he realizes this is the third time he has fought this trio of enemy mutants, and each time, they have pulled their punches. How can they be as dangerous as Nova always hears if they fight so defensively?
Storm, meanwhile, brings Cannonball crashing to the ground with one of her hurricane gusts. Horus, the warrior dressed in Egyptian garb, stands over the defenseless mutant and prepares to deliver the coup de grace. Sam is saved at the last minute by Wolverine, who leaps out of the shadows and slashes Horus across his back. Wolverine orders Marvel Man, Cannonball and Firestar to run for safety while he covers them. Although they initially resist, it doesn't take much from Wolverine to convince them to comply.
Vance, Angelica and Sam begin their aerial escape. Before they reach their bunker, they must repel the pursuant Avengers. Sam incapacitates Iron Man with a high-speed blow to his stomach, while Firestar topples a dilapidated, brick building on Nova. Vance finishes the escape with a psychokinetic pulse that propels the Avengers far away. With the coast clear, Sam, Angelica and Vance dive into their camouflaged escape hatch—but worry about their ally, Logan.
Wolverine, meanwhile, holds his own against Horus and Captain Assyria. Captain Assyria offers his opponent a compliment as he kicks him in the gut. Ever since he met Wolverine in the Second Great War, he has admired his prowess in battle. However, his mutant rebellion must come to an end! He apologizes for what he must do, but this is a war—and Captain Assyria believes in his God and his country. He orders Horus to finish off their opponent. With pleasure, Horus fires a searing beam of energy out of his talisman-shaped scepter, praising the gods of Egypt as he fires. The blast incinerates the flesh clean off of Wolverine's body.
Firestar and Marvel Man watch in horror as the life of their mentor and ally comes to an end. Vance advises her not to look; Sam, meanwhile, advises both of his teammates to take cover before one of the Avengers sees them. Sure enough, Nova, flying overhead, spots the three rebel mutants outside their secret base—but says nothing. He lets them go and returns to his teammates.
The Avengers stand over Wolverine's smoldering adamantium skeleton. Iron Man, always thinking like an engineer, had heard rumors about his skeleton before, but never believed them. When Nova returns, Sceptre asks if the others escaped. He responds affirmatively. Was he at least able to spot the entrance to their bunker? No, Nova says. He claims they fled after Firestar disoriented him with a blast. Although the situation is certainly regrettable, Captain Assyria suggests they call it a day and hit the Quinjet. Iron Man asks why they shouldn't continue searching for the entrance to the bunker; they know it's somewhere in the area. Because they have hidden traps everywhere, Captain Assyria answers. Does Iron Man not remember what fate befell the Assyrian Eagle and that S.H.I.E.L.D. unit a few months earlier? Besides, even though the Avengers failed to stop the mutant rebels from obtaining the information they needed, they did manage to eliminate one of their key commanding officers. He suggests they head back to Maqaman and be satisfied with a glass that is half full.
Or half empty, Nova thinks as he flies alongside the Quinjet. He wonders if the other Avengers suspect he saw the mutants enter the bunker. He doesn't think so—but wonders why he let them escape. How could he risk everything he attained for himself and his family for the sake of some mutie rebels? It could cost him his apartment on Maqaman Island, his job with the Avengers and his father’s job—all for a bunch of mutants he doesn't even know! I must be crazy, Nova says to himself.
As he touches down next to the Quinjet, Nova tries his best to act casual. He doesn't want the Avengers to suspect something is amiss. Captain Assyria graciously informs the Avengers he will postpone their debriefing until morning, meaning they have the rest of the night off. Delighted, Iron Man asks his date for the evening, Sceptre, if she wants to get dinner before they head to the opera. Similarly, Horus asks his wife, Storm, if she would also like to go out for the evening. Delighted, she asks Captain Assyria if he wants to come with them. He thanks her, but declines; he has work to do.
Nova observes these interactions with envy. His teammates talk back and forth with each other as friends and lovers. It isn't fair! Suddenly, the Avengers butler, Jamaal, emerges from the stairwell and asks Nova if he needs anything. Nova tells him he is going home. He begins his flight home, the whole time wondering why he feels so odd around his teammates. Is it because he's younger than them? It can't be his lack of experience; he has more than both Storm and Sceptre, after all. Could it be the color of his skin? He is the only white guy on the team. It can't be that, he thinks; the Avengers have always treated him with respect. Nova brushes all these thoughts aside. The problem must be internal. He just wishes he knew why he felt so bugged out lately.
As he nears home, however, he wonders if the problem is larger than he is. The entire world seems like a mess! Their country has threatened war on the Pacific-Asian Union, the Anglo-Saxon Confederation is threatening to secede from the United Nations, the global discussion about Apartheid has everyone worried about racial problems, and the mutant rebellion is now attracting non-mutant followers, like the pink-skins and the under-privileged.
Nova notes that he would have been a member of both these castes, had he not been blasted by an alien ray so many years earlier. Now, instead of living life as Rich Rider, he acts as a superhero, an Avenger and a role model as Nova, the Human Rocket. Without his position, his family would still be part of the lower classes.
Finally arriving home, Nova greets his mother and father. His mom asks how his day went; he tells her it was business as usual. His father, reading the newspaper, asks if that is a bad sign. Meanwhile, Nova's brother, Robbie, reminds his forlorn, superhero sibling that many people look up to him. Nova knows this; he sometimes wonders if he deserves their admiration, though. Trying to reassure their son, Nova’s father asks Nova to remember how hard he worked to achieve what he has, while his mom reminds him he does so much to help the world. Nova doesn't see it that way. His achievements include getting called 'mutie-hunter' by people on the streets, and having teammates who completely ignore his existence. Besides, what is he really doing to make the world a better place? The world is on the brink of its third Great War, racial tensions threaten to tear their country apart—yet Nova can do nothing to stop it! Robbie reminds Nova that one man cannot save the world. Nova disagrees; obviously, one man can do a lot of damage to the world. Couldn't that same man do just as much to help it?
"You can, Richard Rider," a ghastly voice says from behind. Nova gasps. Turning, he sees an ephemeral figure in a white cloak and robe floating in the doorway. "I can show you a way to change this planet, Richard. I can show you a way to change it forever!" The specter introduces itself as Sayge. In any world, at any given time, Sayge embodies the truth. It has come to set this world on its proper course, to make what is wrong right again. Nova asks Sayge what it means; how is the world wrong? "Why, in nearly all ways," Sayge says. "Would you like to see the truth, Richard? Do you feel you are capable of handling it?"
Nova pauses for a moment. Then, he looks Sayge firmly in the eyes and tells him he is ready.
Meanwhile, in the mutant bunker facility underneath the refineries of New Hebrides, Cannonball, Marvel Man and Firestar report back to their master, Magneto, with bad news. Although they retrieved the information packet left for them, they lost a dear comrade. Magneto has already heard the news. Vance tries to explain, but Magneto assures him everything is all right. Logan knew the risks involved. His sacrifice, however, may very well have saved their rebellion—and the entire world! As Vance comforts the crying Firestar in his arms, he reminds Magneto the information they received may also cost their informant, Sergeant Fury, his life as well. This time, it is Juggernaut who reminds Vance that Fury made his choice fully knowing of the possible consequences. Isn't it better to die trying to save the world anyway?
Sam wonders if the material they recovered is even that important. Magneto assures him it is. If the information is accurate, it may help the rebels find a way through the mutant detection field around Maqaman Island—thus allowing them to take their rebellion to the heart of the enemy stronghold. He asks Scott Summers, their computer technician, to run the plans through their mainframe—and to send it to their mole on the island. Turning to his soldiers, Magneto tells them this may be the chance they need to free their planet from the stranglehold of the Sphinx!
Back at the Riders' midtown apartment, Sayge warns Nova to prepare himself for what he shall soon hear, for it will forever alter his view of his life. Pulling back his hood, Sayge reveals a flash of bright light—the shining light of truth!
The mistake that made this a world of lies occurred thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, Sayge begins. He recounts how the Hebrew leader Moses confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt and demanded he free his people. Moses cast his staff upon the ground, at which point it turned into a giant snake. The Pharaoh's wizard did the same. His snake proved superior to the one Moses had created: Egyptian magic superior to that of the Hebrew. It was in this crucial moment, Sayge says, that history was made wrong. After the snake fight, the Pharaoh's honor guard slew Moses, piercing him from behind with a spear. The Pharaoh, meanwhile, was so pleased by his magician's performance that he made him his most trusted confidant. He actively involved his magician in every facet of the Egyptian Empire's growth over the following years. Decades later, the lives of this Egyptian wizard—and all the people of Egypt—would change dramatically.
Continuing, Sayge recounts how an Egyptian work crew found themselves engulfed by a violent sirocco while working on a highway between Memphis and Cairo. When the storm settled, the sole survivor of the storm beheld the once-buried Temple of Ka, which had been hidden beneath the sand dunes. This peasant serving woman entered the temple and discovered the Ka Stone, a fabled, mystical gem of power and passion. Returning to Cairo, the woman turned the Ka Stone over to the Pharaoh's wizard. It sang to him, pulsing in his hands, as he nervously placed it on his forehead, Sayge explains, ...and in many ways, destiny was fulfilled, for in your false world—as in the real one—the great wizard was transformed into the immortal being known as the Sphinx! Sayge describes this being as one with the ability to alter reality at his every whim. Fortunately, the Sphinx also had a responsible conscience, and chose not to abuse his powers. Meanwhile, he took the woman who had brought him the Ka Stone as his bride. Through his mere proximity to her, the woman became immortal.
Together, they advised a succession of pharaohs, serving the rulers of Egypt over several centuries. The world proceeded apace with the discovery of the New World, the rebellion of the colonized states, and the establishment of the United States of Assyria. Decades later, an internal civil war wracked the Assyrian states, resulting in the abolishment of slavery and freedom for the Caucasian race. Through this all, the Sphinx and his wife quietly, intelligently and passionately guided the course of modern civilization. Great though his powers were, he favored the open hand to the closed fist.
“This is all standard history,” Nova says, interrupting the storyteller. “Why are we running through things we know already?”
“Many times, young Rider, the only way to learn what is,” Sayge says, “…is to fully understand that which is not.” Continuing, the truth-speaker details how the beginning of the century saw the coming of the First Great War. The Anglo-Slavic states of Europa and Slovakia became embroiled in a deadly culture clash. For the first time in recorded history, events escalated beyond Cairo’s ability to control them. The Sphinx and his wife turned to the United States for help. Their participation brought an end to the war, but the turn of events weighed heavily on the Sphinx. He had considered ending the war through a show of force on his part—but chose not to. As a result, the world order was more fragile than ever.
The Sphinx and his wife came to live in the United States, hoping the move to this new world power would be a signal in setting the planet’s path back on course. Their time in the new center of civilization was an exciting one for both of them. Twenty years of tranquility came to an abrupt end with the Second Great War began. The Anglo-Saxon, Egyptian and Assyrian forces met the nations of the Pacific-Asian Union in combat. The Pacasian countries struggled for sovereignty—and they struggled hard. The Egyptian Empire was fraying at the edges when the scientific ingenuity of the Pacasian Union created the ultimate weapon of war—the atomic bomb.
En masse, they dropped the bombs over New Memphis City, the social hub of the planet and home of the Sphinx. Only through extraordinary force of will was the Sphinx able to create a field which spared his city. The outlying areas of New Hebrides, New Memphis and Aknatonicutt were not so fortunate. Millions died. Fires raged for years before the radiation subsided enough to allow them to be put out. The area outside of New Memphis City was turned into an uninhabitable wasteland—and the Sphinx found himself exhausted, both on emotionally and physically.
The war was termed a stalemate, though in all the ways that matter, the Pacasian Union had won. Afterward, the Sphinx found himself uninterested in continuing his life; he had endured enough. He gave the gift of immortality to his wife’s pet cat so that she would be reminded of his love every time she held the gentle creature. He bestowed the gift and burden of power—the Ka Stone itself—upon his wife’s brow. A sense of symmetry and finality permeated this action. She, who had found the Ka Stone thousands of years ago, possessed it again—and with it, the mantle of power over a world in turmoil. A new day had dawned on the planet. A new Sphinx ruled the course of civilization.
It was a rapidly changing world, indeed. The coming decades saw the advent of the superhuman. They were being who were gifted—or cursed—by powers and abilities superior to those of the common man. Some received these abilities through accidents of fate, and some through accidents of birth. Either way, they represented yet another challenge to the waning power and control the Sphinx had over the planet’s destiny.
“Sure,” Nova says, “…but the Sphinx has been able to consolidate enough of us under her rule for things to not get out of hand, while the mutants have become the focal point of the rebellion.” Sayge does not totally disagree, but reminds Nova that the very fact of that rebellion’s existence is a sign of the Sphinx’s deficiencies as a leader. And yet, somehow, she has imposed her will on the world for thousands of years.
This comment takes Nova aback. Thousands of years? How can that be? Sayge answers his question others: what if he lived in a world in which history was not a product of natural creation? What if he were to learn that his free will and right to self-determination had been denied to him? Nova has seen the history of the world according to what he believes—and this, Sayge tells him, is a lie. Now, if he so desires, he shall see how that lie came to exist. Nova agrees. He wants to know the truth.
Meanwhile, beneath the abandoned refineries of New Herbides, Magneto confers with the top members of his Mutant Liberation Force. Beast confirms the veracity of the information they received. If so, they shouldn’t delay another minute, Sebastian Shaw says! Magneto disagrees. He orders Hank McCoy to contact their mole in Maqaman, thank him for all his help, and warn him that the Mutant Liberation Front will prepare a strike force immediately. He tells Cain and Sebastian to gather everyone; tonight, they strike at the heart of the devil herself.
On Maqaman Island, at the corporate headquarters of the Taylor Foundation, Dr. Reed Richards closes out his communication with Hank McCoy. Richards tells Hank he will reroute the shields right away. Suddenly, Mr. Taylor enters Reed’s lab. He surprises Reed and asks to whom he is speaking. Reed spins around and, with sweat dripping down his forehead, fumbles his way through a fib. Mr. Taylor tells him not to lie; he knows he contacted the mutant rebels. He asks why, and for how long. Reed admits he has worked with them for several years. “What in Set’s name are you thinking?” Mr. Taylor asks.
Reed solemnly admits to Deir that although he considers him a good friend, and acknowledges all the good he has done for Reed’s family, he can no longer ignore the problems of the world! He knows Mr. Taylor feels the same way. He knows he has felt disenchanted since he returned from the Vietnam War. Of course, Mr. Taylor says, but what Reed is doing is treason! Worse, he’s using the facilities of the Taylor Foundation to do it! Has he thought about how he endangers his own wife and son—not to mention Taylor’s as well? Reed insists he is doing this for Franklin and Alicia, and even for Dwayne. Their children are the future. Reed hopes they can inherit a better world. Mr. Taylor asks what, exactly, is going to happen. Why did Dr. Richards disrupt the city’s protective field? Reed explains that a Mutant Liberation Force squadron will strike the city that night, with just one goal: to capture the Sphinx. They will not harm any civilians; they have assured Reed of this. In that case, Mr. Taylor says, he wants to know what he can do to help.
Meanwhile, in the top two levels of the Chrysler Building, the Sphinx sits in the darkness, in the company of no one but her immortal cat. Speaking to her long-dead husband, she tells him the time has come. Her empire is in disarray and the wolves are howling at her door—but they are sadly mistaken if they think she will give up without a fight what she and her husband worked so hard to achieve. The Sphinx rises. The Ka Stone embedded in her forehead glows as brightly as her pink eyes. She will show the invaders that time is hers to control! And, if she cannot possess all of the world and all of time, then the planet—and everything and everyone on it—will burn in flames for all eternity!