You’re going to have to fly today, Archangel. Faster, higher, better than ever before.
There is tension in the air. The Void has returned and, before this day is through, Archangel and all the other heroes are going to have to overcome the impossible. Collectively, they’re going to have to outperform their individual selves. Warren Worthington III flies over New York City and lands next to the Statue of Liberty; watching. The Void, the indiscriminate devil of darkness, is coming to devour the spirits of human and mutant alike. He’s half a mile offshore and closing rapidly. The resulting storm is going to blow them all away. There is only one hope for the universe now; one man standing in the way of the Beast. He is an almost-god who glows with inner light. He is the Sentry.
Archangel watches the Sentry flying above him. He thinks about how the man is a representation of everything he has lost; all of the potential he once had before everything became so convoluted and difficult to comprehend. Before the blue skin and the attitude adjustment. The life he was going to enjoy. The one filled with fame and fortune and unfeasible adventures.
Warren is a young man with a great life to look forward to. He revels in his ability to fly, dropping to the water’s surface before arcing upwards once again. He is young, innocent and still beautiful.
He is about to engage in an exercise with the X-Men, organized and monitored by their mentor, Professor Charles Xavier. Angel stands beside Cyclops, as Xavier explains that their task is to rescue two hostages (dummies), from the nefarious clutches of their teammates. They should then return the hostages to safety at the far side of the room.
Cyclops takes lead and punches through Bobby’s first ice barrier with his powerful optic blast. Angel asks him to see if he can’t hold the others back while he takes care of the hostages. So far, he’s only been on two or three missions, and is still gaining control over his abilities. He isn’t half as good as he thinks he is. Iceman creates a flurry of ice that throws Angel off balance. Beast tries to grab Cyclops from behind, but misses his hold. Scott calls for Warren to help him, but Warren concentrates on the hostages, leaving Scott to fend for himself. Between them, Beast and Iceman manage to subdue Cyclops. Before Angel can reach the hostages, Marvel Girl confronts him, using her telekinesis to confuse him with an array of flying objects. As he crumples to the ground, Xavier shouts, “Enough!”
Professor Xavier then proceeds to explain where exactly the youngsters went wrong during the exercise. Angel should have helped Cyclops to eliminate the first obstacle, so the second could have been overcome more easily. In this case, his partner would most certainly have been overpowered and the hostages killed. “Three lives lost for the sake of one moment of bravado.” Charles then quotes Alexander. “Only a fearful man rushes blindly towards death.” Angel reacts angrily, replying that he thinks he’s so special, just because he’s got that Zen-master-of-the-mind speech all rehearsed. He asks, rhetorically, if he’s ever pulled a barrel roll under heavy fire. He doesn’t think so. He storm out, adding that Charles should look him up when he masters the power of flight.
Warren thinks back to those days when he was a little punk kid. He should never have said half what he did. He was just tired, embarrassed and scared. He knew Charles was right. He pulled out of that dive too early and left himself vulnerable. Still, back then he was still just testing his wings. The exercise was too difficult and Charles had set him up for a fall. He wasn’t even a hero yet, for Pete’s sake; not like the Sentry.
The day after the exercise, Xavier sent him into the city, informing Warren that he’d been invited to meet the Sentry. He didn’t explain why but, even then, Warren had a shrewd idea. He remembers flying over Manhattan and glimpsing the Watchtower up close for the first time. It rose ominously over the surrounding buildings like a scorpion over its prey. His heart began to jackhammer, and then he was there; the man himself. He was a novice about to be chewed out by a god.
Angel arrives at the Watchtower, and a voice asks him over the intercom to state his name and business. He is allowed inside, and meets the Sentry face to face. Charles had sent the Sentry video captures of the training session the day before. The Sentry explains that he pulled out of the dive too early, because he was afraid he’d hit the platform if he went too close. Warren replies that it doesn’t make him a coward. The Sentry agrees and says that no one’s blaming him for that. It was self-preservation. He understands himself what it means to be afraid. Warren is surprised, and asks when the last time he was scared. The Sentry replies that he’s scared all the time, but he’s learned over the years that it hurts more to fail than to fall.
Angel doesn’t get it. He replies that, surely, if you fall, you fail anyway. The Sentry explains that bruises go away after a while. It’s a lot harder to shake the memory of where you made your mistake in the first place. He adds that, in their line of work, you might get hurt, maybe even get yourself killed, but there’s so much riding on what you do, your own well-being has to become secondary. Once Warren accepts that responsibility, he’ll see things from a different perspective. He might even find a way to enjoy himself.
Suddenly, Cloc calls him and apologizes for the intrusion, but there appears to be a disturbance. Cloc is receiving reports from the Whitlow missile silo in Massachusetts. They’ve been attacked and quite possibly subdued by miniature soldiers and assorted battlecraft. “General!” cries the Sentry.
Warren recalls the General’s name as the storm clouds begin to close in. How long is it, he wonders, since he heard that name? The last he heard, the old duffer was hiding out in Europe somewhere. The General was an arch-enemy of the Sentry’s, who figured it was his turn to rule the world every so often. He was a fruitcake who operated miniaturized armies that he’d developed for the military before he went mad. The old guy was always a handful. For some reason, he had a particular thing for the French.
Warren catches the Sentry’s updraft and flies to the silo, meeting up with his fellow X-Men outside the base. It is silent and strewn with corpses. The X-Men’s victory over Magneto was their finest hour to date, but they aren’t prepared for anything like this. Sentry goes in first, and immediately encounters a barrage of laser blasts. He is lost from sight and, in an instant, he and the others are surrounded by the General’s robotic army. It’s over almost before it starts, as the Sentry destroys the small-scale tanks.
They venture further into the base and the Sentry explains that the General’s M.O is to send his army in waves. The soldiers here didn’t stand a chance. As they round a corner, they discover the General standing at the top of a flight of stairs. The crazy General hopes they liked the fireworks, because he is going to take care of those commie pinko frog-munchers, and there’s nothing they can do to stop him. The Sentry warns him that he’ll never be able to set off those weapons. He won’t let it happen. The General waves his arms, and explains that it’s too late, as he already did it; five minutes ago. He cackles, as the X-Men and Sentry look on in horror.
The Sentry immediately takes control of the situation. They’ve got to get to the missiles, and he asks Angel if he can count on him. “S-sure,” replies Warren, reluctantly. The Sentry takes off at speed to intercept the missiles. The General sends his miniature helicopters and tanks into action against the remaining X-Men. Cyclops finds his visor is glued up, rendering him unable to see. Beast is blasted in the back whilst Marvel Girl is assaulted by high-pitched sound waves emitted from the tiny tanks, preventing her from concentrating enough to use her telekinesis. Iceman, meanwhile, is fired at by heat waves which cause him to transform back into his harmless human form.
Angel is the last to fall, as the battlecraft wrap his wings up in some kind of strong carbon filament. He crashes to a walkway above the General, helpless. The General revels in the fact it takes only thirty-five seconds to secure victory. He gloats that this is why you never send a child to do a soldier’s job. Even for all his might, the Sentry should have known better. Iceman points to the General’s command board, and tells him to think again. On a control screen, the General can see that the Sentry is managing to disable all his warheads. “My beautiful new toys! He’s ruining them,” he cries.
High above the Earth, the Sentry is closing in on the final missile. The General reckons that only he gets to blow things up around here. He flicks a switch, and a massive nuclear explosion tears into the Sentry; much to Bobby’s horror. Angel, meanwhile, lies there, above the General’s control room as the crazy old fool rants and raves below. He is momentarily stricken by those old fears. The Sentry is gone, and he and his fellow X-Men have been defeated in a matter of seconds. Isn’t he supposed to have learned a lesson somewhere along the way?
The General sits himself down and tells his ‘cadets’ to pay attention. He informs them that they’re witnessing the first rule of battle; never show your hand until you’re sure you’ve won. In this case, it’s the Sentry falling towards Earth in a million pieces. He thinks now is as good a time as any to release the other half of the nuclear warheads he has at his disposal. “Zut alors!” Ah-ha ha ha..!”
Angel stands, unseen by the General. He now realizes what the Sentry has been trying to tell him. He’s gone now, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Warren stands on the precipice, his wings still bound by the carbon filaments. Between him and the deaths of millions of innocent people, is a drop of about forty feet, and a big decision; his death or theirs. Warren closes his eyes. He can’t… he just can’t do it. Despite telling himself this, he knows he’s going to do it anyway. He leans forward and begins to fall.
In those few brief seconds as he plummets like a cartoon anvil towards Earth; he finally understands what the Sentry had tried to teach him before he died. He has been liberated not from the constraints of gravity, but from his fear of it. As he falls, he begins to feel an exhilaration that he’s never felt before, even when he had his wings at his disposal. This is the most he’s ever enjoyed flying. For the last fifteen feet or so, he thinks he is actually going to laugh out loud. And then, he crashes into the General, knocking him clean unconscious. His fellow X-Men approach him, gingerly. “Warren?” asks Jean Grey, “You okay?”
An ambulance is called and medics collect the General, who is in a bad way. Warren suffers a few busted ribs and a torn wing, but they aren’t going to stop him from getting outside under his own steam. He can’t believe the Sentry is dead. Scott asks him not to try speaking, and they’ll get him home. Warren is about to tell Scott what the Sentry told him before he died but, before he finishes the sentence, the Sentry walks towards them. His clothes are tattered, and his mask if gone. “I may look like I just went ten rounds with a nuclear device,” he smiles, “but you should see the other guy!” Angel is aghast that the man is still alive. “So… you having fun yet?” he asks Warren.
Today, Warren is going to have to fly faster, higher and better than he ever has before. He’s going to have to look into the eyes of a creature that represents not only the end of him, but the end of everything. The Void is coming, and he’s bringing the proverbial ball of wax - everything he’s got, this time. He thought he understood fear before. He must think again. He’s going to have to fly to his death today, but at least he’ll be able to take one comforting thought with him into battle. It’s a lesson he learned a long time ago from a very wise man. The only way he’ll ever truly fly, is to learn how to fall. Warren smiles.