There are two great cities floating in the air. Cities forged from suffering. Suffering brought on – as it always is - by man’s unceasing hunger for power. Here, the masters sought to make weapons of the oppressed as history instructed them. But this time their slaves became something greater than soldiers. This time something new happened.
The old structures fell and a different way was born. From the source came rebirth and transformation for all who wished it. Two brothers: Xorn and Zorn. Enlightenment and entropy. They would lead this place now. They turned away all those who would challenge them and let the call ring out through a world that would have feared them. Here was escape for the persecuted! Here was hope for the hopeless! All were welcome. There are two great cities, floating in the air. The Celestial and the Eternal. All bow to their glory! All hail Tian!
In Washington, DC, Valerie Cooper pays a visit to an unsurprised Nick Fury. Nick makes some smalltalk before asking why are they finally talking. The SEAR, she replies. Ultimate X. Homo superior SHIELD operatives who pop up on the pay charts twelve hours before they are dropped into Southeast Asia. She is special liaison on mutant affairs. He had to figure that would get her attention. He had been trying so hard, Fury agrees.
Val continues that she is just trying to make sense of all of this. The former government of the SEAR engineers a virus to eradicate the potentiality for mutant births on a global scale. It then creates a serum to move themselves up the genetic sweepstakes on a number of levels. But the first injectees get a different idea and they overthrow their own government, setting up what they are now calling Tian. Yes, they had a big week, Fury agrees.
Cooper continues that Fury set in his trusted agent Hawkeye to make sure they get some of the serum. And they ended up giving it to him. So see, we had a big week too, Fury agrees. Val returns to Ultimate X or as they are now called Runaways. The mutants receive orders via mindtalk to pretend to be the first takers of the new regime’s open door policy. In actuality, they are Fury’s inside men. He doesn’t do this stuff for the ‘thank yous’, Fury remarks.
So there’s three of them, Val continues. A firestarter, a pair of wings and their squad leader, a telepath? Yes, Karen Grant, Fury agrees. She is doing a hell of a job for them already. Got in nice and tight with Xorn, the softer side of the new regime. She is a bit green but-- She didn’t come here to discuss Karen Grant, Val interrupts. She wants to talk about Jean Grey!
Just outside Tian, Karen Grant, Firestar and Derek Morgan are targeting a freighter. Karen explains to the others that there are child traffickers on board. About forty children on the boat en route to Cambodia. Smugglers have gotten used to these routes, consider them friendly waters. Xorn has asked them to change that impression.
Derek is glad about some proper superhero stuff to do. Karen warns him that they have high security tech. They need to hit them fast, send a message. She asks Liz for a fireball and she complies. With the hull broken, Karen announces to her team to earn their keep.
Hitting the traffickers, Derek announces how much more he likes the new job. Liz agrees. “Erstwhile revolutionary” suits her. She doesn’t actually know what “erstwhile” means, does she? Karen asks.
A man comes in with a suitcase. Derek expects a bomb. Instead, he opens the case which is full of money. A bribe. Karen responds by making the kidnapers feel what the children did. The she levitates the kids outside while the men suffer. After Karen makes sure they have all the kids, Liz firebombs the ship and the traffickers.
Where are they going? the kids ask. Someplace safe, Karen promises them, somewhere better.
That’s her real name, isn’t it? Val asks. Karen Grant is Jean Grey. He’s got a very thick dossier that says otherwise, Nick claims. The one thing he could not do here is insult her intelligence, Val replies and insists that she is Jean. If she says so, Nick shrugs.
She’s really trying to understand, Val replies, because right now it looks like Nick just wrapped a bow around the most powerful weapon in the country and handed her over as a welcome gift to a brand new threat. At least he got them something, Nick replies. It had to be her, he adds more seriously. She’s powerful when she wants to be. When she lets herself be who she is. That’s why the plan works. They can’t get inside her head. Anyone else, they’d see right though. Not her.
She’s not even in her right mind, Val insists. And they should all be thankful for that, Nick agrees. Val reminds him this country has a lot of Jean’s friends locked up in camps. The others half are dead. These guys are preaching mutant unification. How does Nick know he can trust her?
Let him ask her something, Nick replies. How does she know what’s real? He has a really nice dorm, she replies unimpressed. Nicks asks her to indulge him. How does she know this conversation is really happening? She pinches herself. Nick muses he read an article that said all of them, the entire universe, are just echoes of an explosion. Just light travelling fast as it can, hurtling towards God knows where. But then he read another, that said they are actually a hologram. That somewhere there’s a two-dimensional surface projecting a three-dimensional world. That’s them. They are like ghosts. At this point, there are so many of these things he has no idea what the hell is going on. So he just assumes that absolutely nothing he does and no one he talks to or has anything to do with is real. He has found this keeps him several steps ahead in the game.
Please go somewhere with this, Val sighs. He intends to. “Karen, can you come in here?” he asks. The next moment, Karen Grant, wearing a SHIELD uniform, steps into the room. Meet Karen Grant, Nick tells a flabbergasted Val. Their inside man on the outside.
How is she here? Val sputters. And here she mocked his metaphysics. She’s there! Val continues, referring to Tian. Sitting down on the desk, Karen announces that she is not. But they’ve seen her, Val points out. There’s intel. Video.
They see what their brain tells them they are seeing, Karen replies. She tells their brains. All of them? Val exclaims. Well, she’s telling the whole world, just to be safe. Val is reeling.
Karen explains she has work to do here, so she multitasks. Do the other operatives know? Val asks. No. Xorn is insanely powerful, but an optimist. He doesn’t suspect anything.
Val sputters they are brainwashing the entire planet here. Nick agrees, but it’s cheaper than finding another universe-level telepath.
How does he know Karen isn’t just controlling him, making him see what she wants? Karen hints that the general and she have an… agreement. Turns out he has his hands on the one thing Grant here can’t think her way to. He considers himself a very lucky man.
Making her apologies, Val leaves. A moment later, Karen informs Nick that Val has already forgotten.
In Tian, Karen is asked to visit Xorn in his home. Xorn commends her accomplishments this day. He’s been thinking about the man who sent her here, Nick Fury. He is an arrogant one. Does he still believe she is there with him? Karen assures him Nick believes he has defenses against her, but she found a way around them. Xorn is glad to hear that. The road before them is a difficult one and he can’t allow Fury to interfere. She understands that, doesn’t she?
When she says so, Xorn asks why she continues to hide from him. He asks her to sit down with him and say the words. They kneel down, touching hands. “There are two great cities floating in the air,” Karen recites. “The Celestial and the Eternal. All bow to their glory.” Show him the truth! Xorn asks, Jean Grey. And Karen shows her real face with short red hair. “All hail Tian!” Jean announces.