Listen…can you hear it? The synchronized, simpatico beating of a thousand tiny wings, vibrating in unison in the skies of Houston, Texas. The whirs, ticks and clicks of a million minute voices, an ominous buzz screaming out against a hundred-thousand years of misery and oppression. A chorus of insects, united across all boundaries of genus and species in a common declaration - a declaration of war! Bobby “Iceman” Drake inside a jet and Warren “Archangel” Worthington III can hear it as they approach the Rand-Meachum facility. ‘Iceman - look out! BUGS!’ Archangel calls out from where he hovers in the bug-infested air. Archangel sweeps his razor-sharp wings upwards to scatter the bugs away from him, while telling Iceman that he thinks they have found the mutant activity Professor X sent them to investigate. However, Archangel’s sweeping wings send the bugs towards the jet. ‘I don’t like the way they’re eyeing this ship!’ Iceman calls out.
‘Score one for the kid! They’re making their move - a suicide squeeze into the air intakes!’ Iceman exclaims from within the jet, as countless insects swarm into the air ducts, which causes the Blackbird to overheat, and suddenly starts to plummet downwards. Archangel calls out to his friend, and speeds downwards after the jet, telling Bobby not to panic. ‘you’ve got an angel on your shoulder’ Archangel jokes as his metal wings shatter part of the jet, and he pulls Bobby to safety, as the jet slams into the ground below and explodes. ‘Great! Now I’ll have to explain to the Professor how I totalled a multi-million dollar prototype!’ Bobby complains. ‘You could always tell him it had a few bugs in it’ Warren jokes. ‘I think I liked you better as the cold, aloof, bitter Archangel!’
Archangel drops Iceman out of his arms as Bobby starts to release beams of ice and creates an ice-sled, while Bobby points out that at least the old Archangel would have remembered which of them was renowned for sardonic wit. ‘Now just give me a minute to ice up…and I’ll show you the one about the fly and the ice cube’ Bobby jokes as he blasts the insects with ice beams.
Listen…can you hear it? Deep within the walls of the Rand-Meachum research facility, the footsteps of a horde of miniscule soldiers, charging an enemy fate made up solely of sound - slowly, inexorably working their way through invisible cracks. ‘They’re getting closer, Giant Man!’ calls out Danny Rand a.k.a. Iron Fist as he stands nearby as Dr Hank Pym a.k.a. Giant Man, who releases a sonic vibration from a headpiece he uses to communicate with insects. ‘I know, Iron Fist! I’ve been trying to shift the transmission frequencies of my crude jammer fractionally to compensate…but whatever consciousness is guiding these insects is adapting at a phenomenal rate!’ Giant Man explains, adding that in another few moments, the insects will be all over them.
Inside a chamber nearby, the scientists, and the man called Mathieson, who is currently here under the alias “Harvey Allwood”, look out the door of the chamber, and Mathieson wonders where Druid and his people are. ‘If they don’t check in soon…I’ll be forced to take drastic measures to save humanity’ he thinks to himself, knowing that Bureau 18 will arrange a covert missile strike, and the name R.G Mathieson will become synonymous with nuclear devastation. A woman in the chamber calls out to Giant Man and informs him that their situation is more critical than he knows - revealing to him that the supercollider is already on-line. ‘WHAT?’ Giant Man gasps. He points out that without someone to regulate its operation, the entire installation could be reduced to a smoldering crater. Giant Man knows that he has to make contact with the intelligence behind the attack, but wonders how.
Listen…can you hear it? Reverberating through the bowels of the earth…a voice like a hundred diminutive buzz saw on dry wood…tinged with hatred that spans decades. ‘We encounter resistance! One seeks to disrupt the community that is we!’ exclaims the being known as Swarm deep in a cavern underground. ‘His efforts are futile! We are the future of this planet! We are Swarm!’ the being, comprised of insects, with a large purple cloak flowing behind him - it - them - calls out. Behind Swarm floats Jillian Marie Woods a.k.a. Shadowoman floats, and seeing Dr Anthony Druid and Cadaver trapped against the wall of the cavern, she tells herself that this is not good. She knows she has to find a way to free them, and wished she knew more about how her shadow-powers work.
Jillian switches into an almost fluid-like shadow state, unsure of what she can do to help the others, especially if Cadaver’s own strength can’t bust him out of the binds that trap him. She wonders if Swarm will be so dazzled by her charm, wit and beauty that he will unwrap them just to get on her good side, but decides that won’t happen. She is relieved that the bugs can’t detect her in her shadow form, and moves towards where Druid and Cadaver are held captive. ‘This did not need to happen!’ Swarm exclaims. ‘We would have been content to let your species’ self-destructive nature prove its downfall! But the attack of your hive / colony upon we demand response!’ Swarm adds, declaring that mercy only breeds contempt, this they have learned from the man they once were.
‘Shadowoman!’ Druid calls out mentally when he sees her above him. He explains that Swarm intends to create a massive electro-magnetic pulse to cripple man’s technology, using the supercollider at Rand-Meachum, and tells her that it is imperative she free them. ‘How?’ Jillian asks. ‘Attend my words…’ Druid begins, informing Shadowoman that she must compress her shadow form into a minute pocket of non-being, centralized at the heart of Cavader’s prison. ‘I can do that?’ Jillian asks, as she shifts into a tiny stream of shadow, and forces herself into the rock that has encased Cadaver.
Druid explains to Shadowoman that in this manner, she should effect a trans-temporal null-space, allowing Cadaver to slip through. Suddenly, a fist bursts from the rock, and then another, and a head. ‘Freedom!’ Cadaver exclaims as he pulls himself out of the rock. ‘Better speed it up, Cody. Bugface’s got your number!’ Shadowoman exclaims as she returns to her shadow form. Cadaver begins punching at the bonds that trap Druid. ‘I shall tend to your liberation with due haste!’ Cadaver exclaims, while Swarm sends a flurry of insects towards the heroes, ‘We do not comprehend the how of your escape! But before the fury of the master race…it shall prove a highly transient state!’ Swarm exclaims.
Listen…can you hear it? The frantic pounding of a man’s heartbeat as his nerves are strained to the breaking point - and a desperate decision is reached. Hank tells himself that they are out of options, as he has pushed the inducer coils as far as they will go and now the helmet is beginning to overheat. Sweat pours down Hank’s face as hew decides that there is one more thing he can try, and tells Iron Fist to move back into the chamber with the scientists and to cover his ears. ‘Whatever else happens…there’ gonna be one heckuva band!’ Giant Man calls out, and suddenly, there is a loud THRUUUUMMM noise, and energy radiates from the helmet. ‘The insects are scattering - as though the hand which guided them had received some sudden shock!’ Iron Fist calls out as he exits the chamber, followed by “Allwood” and the others.
‘That’s exactly what happened, Fist!’ Giant Man replies, explaining that he purposely overloaded the helmet’s transmission nodes, causing a sub-harmonic pulse that shot clear back to the source of the hive-mind. ‘Then you could have done that at any time?’ Iron Fist enquires. Giant Man points out that he is a scientist, and that he prefers to utilize empirically-proven procedures, while this was nothing more than a fortunate gamble. Hank adds that the effect will only be temporary, so they have to move. Everyone follows he and Iron Fist through the facility, announcing that they have to pull the plug on the supercollider before the insects unscramble their synapses.
Back in the cavern, ‘NO! Something strikes…at the very core of me!’ Swarm shrieks, falling backwards. Cadaver continues to free Druid from the bonds, while Shadowoman floats over to Swarm, deciding that it looks like their happy host is having trouble keeping his head on straight for some reason. Jillian tells herself that she might be able to add to his confusion by creating a zone of null-perception, and she hovers over him, while Dr Druid exclaims ‘Excellent! I am free!’ and tells his companions that they must move quickly. ‘The supercollider -’ he begins, while Swarm shouts ‘Arrogant meat! We are very disappointed! If your sprays and poisons and bombs cannot destroy we, did you believe your noise would?’, and boasts ‘We are the superior species! Supremely adaptable! And our acts of reprisal shall proceed as planned!’
In the research lab, Giant Man sees that the insects are regrouping for another attack. ‘Already played my trump card! Nothing left -’ he thinks to himself, when suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Everybody…FREEZE!’ and a powerful ice blast strikes the insects, as Iceman attacks them. ‘Looks like Christmas is coming early for you folks! And a white Christmas at that!’ Iceman jokes. ‘The X-MEN!’ someone calls out. Iron Fist declares that he doesn’t know how or why the X-Men are here, but that they could certainly use their assistance. Giant Man tells Iron Fist to get the scientists out of here, and announces that he is going after the supercollider.
Iron Fist begins to say that he will go with him, but suddenly, he collapses. “Allwood” rushes over to him, and helps him up, as Giant Man suggests he leave with the others. ‘After that stunt you pulled holding off those insects…whether you’ll admit it or not, you’re in no shape to continue!’ Giant Man continues down the corridor, with Archangel and Iceman following, as Iceman exclaims ‘Don’t worry! We’ll see to it that this menace is stopped…no matter what it costs!’
Meanwhile, on Route 87, just outside Omaha, Nebraska, night has fallen, and a hitchhiker stands on the side of the road. ‘Here comes one now! Get ready!’ a strange voice calls out. ‘Shh!’ the young man exclaims, as a red car approaches - and then speeds past him. The hitchhiker raises a hand and strange energy bubbles around it - the car then comes to a stop. Two men exit the car and look under the hood. ‘Spit! Looks like the manifold’s shot!’ one of them exclaims, adding that there is no service station for miles. The hitchhiker, face hidden by the shadows of the night, approaches them: ‘Pardon me. Maybe I can help. I’ve got a - way - with cars’ he explains, adding that all he would ask in return is a lift, as he has to get to Boston, Massachusetts. The men look at him strangely.
Inside the cavern, ‘Why do you insist on opposing we, soft-bodied bipeds, when your extinction is a conclusion foregone?’ Swarm asks, telling them that they have fouled this sphere with the excrement of their civilization for too long. ‘See now - know now - the wraith of we!’ Swarm boasts. Cadaver points out that the creature’s mass discorporate into a million minute organisms. ‘Its essence is both everywhere…and nowhere!’ Cadaver adds. Druid realizes that when denied his Sword of Bone, Cadaver is at a distinct disadvantage, as the sword is a literal physical extension of his body, so the aura should resonate in synch with his own. Druid supposes that it may be possible for him to divine the sword’s location, and he succeeds in doing so, locating the sword at the heart of the catacombs.
Armed with the knowledge of the sword’s whereabouts, Druid is able to exercise his power of psychokenesis, and in doing so, transports the Sword of Bone to its rightful hand - and Cadaver grasps it as it appears in front of him. ‘The Sword of Bone! Once more, its flames fairly sing in my grasp!’ Cadaver exclaims, before swinging the sword about at the insects which attack him. ‘Feel you now, vermin…the righteous rage of the Pale Horseman!’ Cadaver declares that this hive of evil must not stand, so he starts slicing the cavern walls in an attempt to raze it to the ground. ‘Since you so cavalierly advocate the annihilation of an entire species…let us see…how greatly you savor…the destruction…of your own!’ Cadaver calls out as there is a rumbling, and the cavern walls begin to fall inwards.
Listen…can you hear it? The low, rumbling hum as subatomic particles collide and shatter in an orgy of conflagration…like the sound of Gabriel’s Horn, heralding the end of the human epoch. Archangel, Iceman and Giant Man arrive in the lab where the supercollider is housed, and Iceman exclaims ‘The giant popcorn-popper is snapping and crackling like it’s fit to burst!’ while asking Dr Pym what it means. Giant Man replies that in laymen’s terms, it means that it is time to break out the lead suits and the burn salve. ‘Follow me!’ he tells the X-Men, rushing over to where some suits are stored, he tells Archangel and Iceman to grab an environmental suit, as they will help minimize exposure to any radiation that escapes the contact chamber.
Tapping away at a console, Giant Man announces that he is trying to regulate the reaction, but it is no good, as most of the controls are inoperative. ‘Best we can hope for is to decrease the radius of the blast’ he tells the X-Men, when suddenly, he screams as insects burst from the circuit boards and begin attacking him. Iceman pardons himself if he is overstepping himself, but points out that he possesses no more than a degree in accounting, but recalls that all molecular motion ceases at absolute zero, which would explain the condition of his love life, as he begins to freeze the supercollider. He tells Archangel and Giant Man to get into the environmental suits, and prepare for the big chill.
Outside, Iron Fist, “Allwood” and the scientists have gathered away from the complex, but they see it suddenly start to freeze solid. ‘Never seen anything like it!’ one of the scientists gasps. Iron Fist frowns, he can’t imagine what is transpiring within those walls, but he feels that he should be there, beside the others. ‘If you have laid down your lives in my stead, my friends…I shall avenge you’ he tells himself. Suddenly, a very large Giant Man bursts through the side of the complex, while Archangel flies after him, carrying Iceman. ‘They’re alive!’ gasps Iron Fist, while Giant Man explains that the containment suits saved them, barely. Giant Man reports that the supercollider has been neutralized, but that he wouldn’t hazard into the building anytime soon, while Archangel suggests they get on with tracking down the intelligence behind the attack - and he thinks he knows what they will discover when they follow its emanations back to the source.
Down in the cavern, there is a rumbling, as the Sword of Bone bursts up from underneath the rubble caused by the cave in. ‘When! What a way to travel underground’ Shadowoman exclaims as she flies out, while thanking Cadaver for the assist, as she thought he had lost it there for a minute. ‘Fashioning an escape for those with corporeal forms had ever been my intent’ Cadaver replies, while Druid points out that Swarm’s hive is no more, but wished they could say the same of that entity. ‘Oh, be real, Anthony! It was like Hiroshima in there! Swarm couldn’t possible have survived!’ Shadowoman exclaims, when suddenly, countless insects gather together, and re-form, as Swarm calls out ‘Foolish meat-mammal…your assumption is erroneous!’
‘No longer do we require the remains of the human Von Meyer around which to coalesce! We cannot be killed! Cannot be held! We adapt to any and all eventualities! And there is always more of we!’ Swarm boasts, explaining ‘That is our strength…and the source of your eventual downfall!’ Druid, Cadaver and Shadowoman remain ready for combat, with Druid asking ‘If what you say is true, Swarm, then why squander your resources in a petty war whose eventual outcome is already predetermined? That is…the human thing to do!’ Druid continues, stating that if man is as self-destructive as Swarm claim’s, then Swarm need merely wait, as its victory is inevitable. ‘We will do your work for you!’ Druid points out, adding that escalating acts of aggression, then Swarm risks attracting the enmity of the human race.
Druid points out that Swarm has seen how skilled humans are in the arts of war. ‘Tell me…do you wish to see those talents turned towards your destruction? Swarm hovers over the heroes, and replies ‘Your point…is valid! And yet your hive / colony…’, to which Druid interrupts, assuring Swarm that he shall see to it that Swarm’s grievances are addressed. ‘On this you have my word’ Druid adds. ‘Very well. You have given we much to think upon. But know that, should your word prove false…we shall be back’ Swarm calls out, as the insects begin to separate and disperse.
Listen…can you hear it? The scratching of heads, the stroking of chins…and silence. ‘So what happened here?’ Iron Fist asks as he, Giant Man, Iceman and Archangel stand over the large hole in the ground. ‘Darned if I know!’ Giant Man exclaims, adding that his cyber-scanner indicates that the aggregate intelligence had amassed at this spot, but that it has since dissipated into its constituent parts. Suddenly, the telepathic voice of Professor Charles Xavier calls out to Archangel and Iceman: ‘Forgive my bluntness, but what are you doing in Texas?’ Xavier enquires. ‘You…you sent us here…to check out a sighting of mutant activity…didn’t you?’ Archangel replies. ‘I did no such thing!’ Xavier retorts. ‘Weird’ Archangel remarks.
‘Maybe it was your evil double from the future or something. Wouldn’t be the first time’ Iceman matters, while Xavier agrees that something is indeed amiss, and asks them to return to the Mansion, as they must investigate this matter most thoroughly. Gazing down into the hole, Giant Man rubs his head and wonders if they will ever know what really went on here. ‘Its doubtful’ Iron Fist decides, adding that from the look of things, he would say humanity has itself a few secret defenders’.
‘This affair is concluded, Mathieson…for now. And shall remain so as long as the Rand-Meachum supercollider project is abandoned’ Dr Druid tells Mathieson. ‘Not to worry, Anthony! I’ve already set events into motion which will result in the re-zoning of this entire area. I think it’d make a nice park, don’t you?’ Mathieson remarks, to which Jillian warns him that he keep his peepers polished, as Swarm is still out there, and he is not the sort to be bought off with a few acres of land. Druid agrees, and remarks that Swarm’s eyes are everywhere. ‘And should we again fail to consider the consequences of our actions…he will know, Mathieson. And our time in the sun will be over!’ Druid declares, the four unaware that several insects are flying after them.
Listen…can you hear it? Can you…?