Six members of the Mutant Liberation Force make their way through the long-abandoned Libredes tunnel under Maqaman Island. Vance Astrovik, the airborne mutant known as Marvel Man, tells the squad leader, Sebastian Shaw, that the coast is clear. So he sees, Shaw tells him. According to the blueprints he currently holds in his hands—the same blueprints they obtained the day before at the cost of Wolverine’s life—the Mutant Liberation Force has reached its destination.
They stand transfixed by the eerie glow of the force field, which could kill them with a touch. Even the most powerful among them has lost a friend or loved one to this ever-present field. Firestar looks at it with confusion plainly written across her face; this is not what she was expecting. Her teammate Juggernaut tells her not to judge a book by its cover, and Beast agrees. Cannonball, meanwhile, admits the force field looks almost soothing. “And it’ll lure you into eternal peace, Cannonball,” Beast says.
Shaw, map still in hand, reminds Beast that sort of thing is what they came to prevent. According to the blueprints, the mechanism to shut off the force field lies right behind a concrete wall. Shaw asks Juggernaut to do the honors. If it gets them into Maqaman and allows them to nail the Avengers, Juggernaut tells Shaw, then there is no need to ask. He smashes through the concrete barrier.
Marvel Man, meanwhile, removes the scrambler from Shaw’s backpack. Once inside the control room, Juggernaut reveals to everyone’s relief that the blueprints were accurate. He points to the force field’s circuitry. He admits, however, that he wouldn’t mind charging through the force field while still engaged—just to see how tough it really is. He may just get the chance, Vance tells him; the scrambler can only disrupt the force field for a few seconds at most! Vance puts the scrambler in place, tells the team to get ready, and as soon as he hits it, orders them to go. Shaw, Firestar, Marvel Man, Cannonball and Beast rush down the hallway, with Juggernaut bringing up the rear. Beast urges everyone to hurry; the field could reactivate right on top of them!
Sure enough, it does—but ensnares only Juggernaut. He screams as his momentum carries him out of the range of the force field. He falls first to his knees, then keels over and lands face-first on the ground, his backside smoking. Firestar fears the worst; is he dead? The other heroes gather around. Surely Cain Marko cannot be dead; he’s the Juggernaut, after all! Shaw begins to explain how the force screen operates on the principle of mutagenic cellular disruption, but Juggernaut regains consciousness and interrupts the lecture mid-sentence. He’s fine, he says. “Yeah, Jugs. Just peachy,” Beast adds. “If a weakened field did this to you, I’d hate to see what would have happened to one of us!”
Suddenly, a quartet of heavily-armed soldiers enters the corridor and orders the mutants to freeze. In the name of the Assyrian National Guard, they are all under attest! Firestar supposes they alerted these guards when they disrupted the field. Cannonball is somewhat glad; this gives him a chance to let loose! He activates his mutant propulsion power and barrels through the soldiers, knocking them all out of commission. Piece of cake, Sam tells his team. If the guards can’t even stand up to his blast field, then they will have no chance against the combined might of the MLF! Beast warns him not to get overconfident. They came to Maqaman Island not to fight, but to destroy the force field’s main generating plant. Once they do that, the entire Mutant Liberation Force will storm Maqaman Island and confront the Sphinx as one.
As they emerge from the tunnel system, Juggernaut advises his teammates to take a good look at the skyline. Personally, it’s been a while since he last visited, but doubts any of his teammates have ever had the chance to see Maqaman Island up close! Unfortunately, the MLF has no time to sight-see. They set out to put the plant out of commission immediately.
Meanwhile, at the Avengers Mansion in Midtown Maqaman, the Sphinx meets with her team of Avengers. Captain Assyria asks if she is sure of what she is asking. The Sphinx glares at him; does he really need to ask? The Mutant Liberation Force obtained vital information pertaining to the mutant detainment field around the island—as well as information about the Assyrian army’s troop movements! What have the Avengers done about this? Nothing at all, the Sphinx shouts! Captain Assyria asks her to pardon what he is about to say, but the Avengers work non-stop to safeguard the country.
“With very little in the way of results to show for it!” the Sphinx says. She begins to berate them further, but an incoming call on the video phone interrupts her. The man on the phone tells her a band of mutants has penetrated the field and entered Maqaman Island! “I knew it! They are here to kill me!” the Sphinx gasps. Captain Assyria asks her to calm down; they would not attempt something so foolish. By his assessment, the most viable strategic move would be to take down the field generators on the Upper West Side. The Sphinx concurs; such an attack would allow the entirety of their forces to attack the island in unison. She orders her Avengers to stop the intruders—now!
As they fly toward the location of the MLF, Storm asks Iron Man if he has contacted Nova. He sent the signal, Iron Man says; Nova’s helmet should receive it shortly. Captain Assyria, who hangs to Iron Man’s shoulder during the flight, hopes Nova joins them, as they will need all the help they can get. Sceptre doubts they will need help in handling a small band of rebels, but Horus advises her not to underestimate their opponents. He is prepared to unleash his full godly might should the battle call for it!
Taking advantage of his time alone with Captain Assyria, Iron Man asks if he thinks the Sphinx might be losing control—or worse, losing perspective of right and wrong. Captain Assyria doesn’t know; for now, they should worry only about maintaining the peace. “Only through order can positive things happen,” he says. Iron Man wants to believe him. However, he has this nagging suspicion that no matter what they do, their world is in a heap of trouble.
Meanwhile, at the Midtown apartment building of the Rider household, Richard Rider—also known as the Avenger called Nova, the Human Rocket—converses with the enigmatic Sayge. Richard Rider has stated he senses his world is wrong, and wants to see it as it should be. Sayge, the living embodiment of truth, offers him this possibility—but only if he is truly ready. Yes, Nova says; if there is a way of making his world right, he wants to know it! So be it, Sayge says. As the spectral guest prepares to expose Nova to the truth, however, the young Avenger’s helmet sounds a call for help.
Nova slips his helmet over his head to receive the message. The news that mutants have invaded Maqaman Island shocks him. He prepares to leave to help his fellow Avengers. Sayge, however, urges him to wait until he hears of the truth it has to share. Nova hesitates, and Sayge continues. It tells Nova that the truth will make him question on which side his loyalties should lie—with the Avengers, or with the Mutant Liberation Force. Sayge removes his hood. The white light of truth pours into the room. “Look upon the light of truth, Richard Rider—and let it set you free!”
Reality, as it should be, is very different from your own, Sayge begins. The truth-speaker explains that in the real world, the Pharaoh’s magician lost the battle against Moses and was cast out of Egypt for his failure. He spent years living a nomadic existence, until he discovered the Temple of Ka. He entered and found the Ka Stone, which he placed upon his brow, thus bearing the immortal mantle of the Sphinx. The world carried on, and as it did, the Sphinx eventually grew tired with living. He sought a way to end his own life. He found what he sought in the form of the cosmic entity known as Galactus. Once the Sphinx was defeated, Galactus played a cruel—but just—trick on the immortal who dared challenge him. He sent him back in time, forcing him to relive his life over and over again.
Nova interrupts the story. "But how does explain any of what you're saying? If this isn't the 'real' world, then how did we get this way to begin with?" he asks. Sayge explains that in the 'real' world, upon discovering the Ka Stone, the Sphinx emerged from the temple, dazed and overwhelmed by the enormous rush of power. Unable to focus past the surging energies within him, he collapsed in the desert. A poor, lonely outcast woman later discovered his ailing body. She had no idea how long he had lain there; it could have been days, weeks, or even months. Regardless, she diligently nursed him back to health. During this time, she fell in love with the mysterious stranger—and he just as quickly left her.
For years, this woman longed for his touch and his caress. Her unrequited love fueled a lifetime of unconsummated passion for the man whose name she never knew. She grew old, pitifully alone, and her regretful life quite mercifully neared its end. She experienced the numbing black envelope of death in the same way she experienced her life: alone and miserably lonely.
Much to her surprise, after she passed away, she awoke in the body of a young Egyptian boy from a privileged caste. Her bitter memories of her previous life wholly intact, she grew to be a member of the Pharaoh’s architectural team—a team that uncovered the Temple of Ka decades after the Sphinx's original discovery. From the parchments and tomes found in the temple, this reincarnated man learned Ka Stone's many secrets. After years of study, he died, only to be reborn once again as a woman who grew to marry the Pharaoh himself. Somehow aware that she had become a perpetual reincarnate because she had absorbed the energies of the Ka which spewed from the Sphinx when she first met him, the woman schemed for the day when she could reunite with the man she loved.
She orchestrated a plan that allowed her royal body to be buried with the Scepter of Ka—an artifact taken from the Temple of Ka that could focus and attune the energies of the stone upon the Sphinx's brow. This woman then lived down through the centuries, reborn time and time again in myriad bodies, a diverse array of lives, waiting, hoping for the time when the man she loved—the Sphinx—would emerge to prominence. “That day arrived in the latter half of the twentieth century when the Sphinx confronted you, Richard Rider!” Sayge says.
"What?" Nova gasps. Indeed, Sayge tells him. In fact, in the real world, the Sphinx was Nova's deadliest foe! The very fact that he survived numerous encounters with the Sphinx is a testament to Nova's courage and honor!
Nova asks what this has to do with the woman. Ironically enough, Sayge tells him, the woman found herself reincarnated in the body of an Egyptian woman. After reading about the destruction of the Sphinx at the hands of Galactus, she journeyed to her homeland, namely to the most important of her many burial sites: that of the Pharaoh's wife. She retrieved the Scepter of Ka from the grave of her former self and used its ancient jewel to align and attune the Ka Stone energies present in the atmosphere after the Sphinx's defeat.
Charles Rider—Nova's father—asks if the woman could even handle power as immense as that possessed by the original Sphinx. Exactly, Sayge answers. It turns out that in her fevered rush, the woman unleashed the full energies of the Ka and retroactively changed reality, all so she could achieve her lifelong dream of loving the Sphinx and living happily ever after. "Your entire world has been remade by a woman who couldn't have what she wanted in any of her countless lives—the love of the Sphinx!" Sayge says. "For all intents, you are living in a false present, born of a false past." Sayge tells Nova he must stop the Sphinx and prevent her from destroying this world through her own selfishness. Nova hangs his head. If he does this, won't he lose everything he achieved for himself and his family? Sayge asks him to consider how much more he might gain through success.
Nova pauses. His parents remind him the Avengers are waiting; what is he going to do? Nova doesn't know. Regardless, he blasts off and flies out the window of their condominium.
Meanwhile, far over the Atlantic Ocean, Magneto escorts Emma Frost, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, to the underwater home of the Atlanteans in a magnetic bubble. Before they take the plunge into the ocean, Emma asks if his bubble can even withstand the pressures of the deep ocean. They're about to find out, Magneto answers. The bubble dives into the ocean. As they push forth, Magneto points out all the underwater people watching them. Emma tells him not to worry; she sensed their presence the moment they entered and saw they posed no threat.
As they near the home of King Namor on the bottom of the ocean, Emma informs Magneto that it took her months to scan the minds of everyone on the world until she finally found him. King Namor now expects and awaits their arrival with cautious optimism. "I pray you're right, my love," Magneto says. "No one has established a peaceful contact with the Atlantean race since the end of the Second Great War."
They approach the throne of King Namor. After asking Emma to telepathically translate his words, Magneto addresses the Atlantean King, first thanking him for allowing them an audience. Magneto's consort has gone a long way toward establishing a fruitful dialogue between their people, Namor says. He is eager to proceed for their mutual benefit. Out of curiosity, Magneto asks for this consort's name. Namor says her name is Namorita, and she is his cousin and valued counsel. In that case, she should have quite a bit to say regarding his request, Magneto says. Namor interrupts him. "The surface world is in turmoil and you need our help?" he asks. "That is no surprise, Magnus."
Magneto wishes things were not so. Unfortunately, things are different than in the past. Namor asks if the chaos of the surface world now threatens the safety of his underwater kingdom and its people. Magneto tells him that things have indeed gone that far—and beyond. Namor understands. To negate this threat, he assumes Magneto will require his forces in aiding his naval fleets, just like they did during the Great Second War. He agrees, and asks Magnus to elaborate on the situation of the surface world.
Meanwhile, at the Taylor Towers on Maqaman Island, Deir Taylor tries to explain the severity of the current situation to his wife. She asks if things are truly as grave as he says. Absolutely, Deir tells her; that's why he asked Reed to bring Susan and their children with them. According to Reed, they must find a way to aid the rebellion without forfeiting their safety. He has experience using the Taylor Foundation's computer mainframe to access the military datanet; if they could just get somewhere safer, Reed could channel vital information to the rebels. Deir tells him it will have to be Upstate at the foundation think-tank. This would be a better hiding place for their families, Reed adds.
The two proud fathers look over at their children, Dwayne and Franklin, playing together on the carpet. The kids are so unaware of how harsh life can be, Deir says. Reed reminds him they're staging this rebellion precisely for the kids, for Reed's baby Alicia—and for the sake of the future. He turns to Deir and decides the think-tank will indeed be the best place, and Deir agrees.
Suddenly, they hear a strange noise coming from the hallway. Before they know it, an explosion tears a hole in the wall and sprays them with plaster. Reed and Deir barely have time to react before a squad of Assyrian National Guardsmen enters and obliterates them both in a spray of machinegun-fire. Franklin and Dwayne watch in horror as their fathers are murdered. The guardsmen then turn their guns on the mothers in the room, slaughtering Mrs. Taylor, Susan Storm and her infant, Alicia. Dwayne and Franklin begin to run. However, Franklin isn't fast enough, and falls victim to the gunfire next.
Dwayne barely escapes the room with his life. He ducks under a line of gunfire as he reaches the hallway. Outside, he sees the service elevator waiting with its doors ajar. Rushing inside, he frantically presses its button, hoping the doors close in time. When they finally close, Dwayne Taylor allows himself to react to what just happened. Tears pour down his cheeks as he mutters the names of his parents. He vows to make the perpetrators pay for this.
At the field generators on the Upper West Side of Maqaman Island, meanwhile, the MLF arrives as planned. Beast gives them the signal to go. Firestar burns a hole through the barbed-wire fence surrounding the facility, while Juggernaut follows closely behind, ripping the torn fence aside with his massive strength. Shaw orders Juggernaut and Marvel Man to take the forefront—and prepare themselves for a surprise attack. Sam, he orders to do a quick recon run.
Moaning at his leader's orders, Juggernaut takes point—but still falls victim to an acute electrical attack. The Avengers emerge from their hiding place and charge at the MLF. "Avengers assemble!" Horus shouts. Captain Assyria warns his teammates to be careful; the rebels are dangerous! Cannonball decks Iron Man with a high-speed uppercut. Captain Assyria charges at Sebastian and cracks him across the jaw. Always the peacemaker, Firestar tries to convince Horus that the MLF doesn't want to hurt any of them. Horus finds this hard to believe, especially since while saying this, Firestar fires microwaves at her. Down below, Juggernaut attacks his mark, Sceptre, with enthusiasm. He's been dying to see how tough this supposed god really is!
Nearby, Sceptre fires an energy bolt at the bouncing Beast. Inevitably she's going to nail him, she says as he evades yet another attack. Hank tells her he tingles with anticipation. He scoops up a chunk of iron debris as he eludes her attack and hurls at her in the air. As the iron passes through her self-generated electromagnetic form, it disrupts it, removing Sceptre from the battle.
Sebastian Shaw finds himself in a fistfight with Captain Assyria. The Avenger realizes that Shaw absorbs the kinetic energy from each of his blows. He asks Shaw why he doesn't use this added energy to aid the Avengers in their fight for a greater good instead of fighting against them. Shaw, wiping the blood from his mouth, tells Captain Assyria he has grown blind to reality. The world is in flames and he believes a glass of water will douse it! "The time for talk was two years ago," Shaw says, backhanding his opponent, "—now it's time for action!!"
While his friends fight for their lives, Marvel Man slips away, much to his own, personal torment. However, their mission is to destroy the generator field so the force field drops. As much as he hates to think so, accomplishing that mission is more important than the lives of his friends—even Angelica. While pondering the ramifications of his decision, however, Marvel Man drops his guard and opens himself up to a sneak attack by Nova, who smashes him into the ground.
Nova holds one hand over Vance's throat and keeps the other one steadied in a fist. "I'm sorry, Vance—but I have to stop you!" Nova says. Vance gasps; how did he know his name? Nova seems equally surprised. He has no idea how; it just popped into his head! Regardless, it doesn't matter. Vance agrees that it doesn’t matter, but adds that stopping their world from falling to pieces does! He begs Nova for his help in their struggle to make the world a better place. Nova closes his eyes in contemplation. He lowers his fists and asks how he can help.
As Nova helps him off the ground, Marvel Man shares their plan to bring down the force field. He needs Firestar's help to accomplish this, but unfortunately, she is preoccupied at the moment. "Great," Nova says, glancing over at Firestar and her opponent, Sceptre. "Not only am I betraying my teammates—I'm starting off with Horus's wife!" He realizes he has no choice, though. He has to do the right thing.
Nova flies up behind Sceptre and clocks her over the back of the head. He tells Angel to go help Vance right away. At first, Firestar hesitates, but Nova insists. He promises to fight off her assailants for as long as he can. As Marvel Man flies off with Firestar, he says that he thought he saw Nova watching them as they entered the bunker the day before. When Nova didn't report them to the rest of the Avengers, Vance held out hope that he might come over to their side. Firestar asks about the risks he's taking, but Vance reminds her that they take the same risks every day of their lives. Right now, they need only focus on turning this power plant into a pile of dust!
Meanwhile, Horus, having witnessed Nova's treacherous act against his wife, charges at the traitor within their midst. Iron Man joins him; how could Nova betray them? The Avengers took him in and made him somebody! "Shut up! Just shut up!" Nova screams. They have no idea why he is doing this! They have no idea how difficult this is for him! The future of the planet rests solely in his hands! He didn't ask for it, he doesn't want it, but since he has no choice in the matter, one thing is for sure—he's not going to fail! He unleashes a powerful energy attack against Horus and Iron Man.
When the surge of power settles, Nova looks at his body in awe. What was that? He has never done anything like that in his life! Nearby, looks at the team of fallen Avengers in awe. He didn't think the twerp had it in him!
Elsewhere, Marvel Man and Firestar succeed in destroying the force field generator and return to their friends. The MLF cheers. Captain Assyria, meanwhile, takes in this scene in horror. "Without the force field around Maqaman Island, the mutant rebellion will—"
"—be able to walk right in," Shaw finishes for him. As if on cue, the totality of the mutant rebellion flies into the now defenseless Maqaman Island, carried by the magnetic fields of Magneto. He commends his warriors for accomplishing their part of the mission. Now, they tread bravely into the valley of death! Now, they attack the Sphinx in unison!
"THAT WON'T BE NECESSARY!" a voice commands. The MLF looks up and beholds the towering figure of the Sphinx. If it is a battle they seek, she is more than happy to accommodate, she says! She merely asks they be prepared—for a final confrontation with her could very well mean the destruction of the entire planet!