The rain beats down upon the weakened form of the uber-mutant known as Apocalypse as he trudges through water. His every step is pain. His slightest gesture is agony. Muscles rend and bones break - only to be rest and to be broken again, as withered lungs strive unsuccessfully to separate the stream of air from the river of blood and bile - which seeks savage purchase within his dying frame. Despite this blessed torture, or in truth, because of it - Apocalypse has not been this happy in a thousand years.
From the moment his master’s whip first bit deep into his all too malleable flesh - Apocalypse understood the secret of life is not in living - but rather in surviving. It is this one basic truth he has spent a lifetime - a score of lifetimes - trying to impart upon his genetic brethren. Only the strongest survive - ever feasting upon the bones of the weak and unfit. He also learned a long time ago…no one loves a prophet.
Apocalypse reaches the shore, and begins the climb up a steep cliff face. ‘Whoever you are - you must know I will not yield. For I take sustenance - I take joy - in the struggle with my pain!’ Apocalypse exclaims. ‘Summoned too soon from the embryonic embrace of my restorative womb…I will seek out my Horsemen!’ he boasts as he approaches the building at the top of the cliff and smashes his way into it. ‘I will know why they sought to challenge the X-Men - the great unwashed - on their own initiative’ Apocalypse tells himself.
‘How fortuitous for you, oh, ancientest of adversaries’ remarks Dr Hank McCoy a.k.a. the Beast as he stands with his teammates - Ororo “Storm” Munroe, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren “Archangel” Worthington and Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin as well as X-Factor’s Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff. The Beast informs Apocalypse that they took it upon themselves to bring his Horsemen here, to Apocalypse’s former abode. ‘Welcome home, Apocalypse!’ Colossus stands over the unmoving Horsemen - Caliban, Famine and War - as he informs Apocalypse that they are here in search of their comrades. ‘We have reason to believe you know where they are!’ Colossus adds. Iceman tells Apocalypse not to think that his sickly complexion means they are going to take it easy on him. ‘Believe me, children - I would have it no other way!’ Apocalypse replies.
Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Salem Center, New York. With the assassination attempt on the school’s headmaster and founder, even the cool autumn winds whisper quietly, respectfully as they waft about the Xavier Estate. Inside, however, another primal force of nature is handling the situation in a different manner altogether. Jubilation Lee a.k.a. Jubilee stands before the renegade mutant team known as X-Force and shouts: ‘- and I’ll say it again, LOSER! Yer nothing but a whining bunch of head-padded, hyper-thyroided, pig-headed, spoiled brat, poorly dressed, overly accessorized disadvantaged X-Men wannabes in major need of a total attitude adjustment!’
Guido “Strong Guy” Carosella of X-Factor asks Jubilee if she is finished, but the young X-Woman replies ‘Not hardly’, and begins to launch into another verbal attack, but Strong Guy grabs her by her yellow jacket suggesting she rephrase that, telling her that she is finished. ‘Lemme go, ya third-generation Colossus knock-off!’ Jubilee snaps, telling Guido that X-Force started it.
Sitting in a cell inside the Danger Room, and all wearing the standard blue and gold X-Men uniform, Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie thinks to himself ‘So this is what it comes down ta? The team Ah was supposed to lead - according to some the team Sam Guthrie was born to lead - and the best Ah can do by Boom-Boom, Rictor, Sunspot, Shatterstar, Warpath, Siryn and Feral here - is a cell in the X-Men’s Danger Room’. Feral growls, ‘Easy, gal’ Sam tells her, while Sunspot and Siryn hold back Shatterstar, who is attempting to get at Jubilee. ‘Boyo, the lass dinnea even know yuir mother!’ Siryn tells him.
‘A word outside, Jubilee?’ Guido asks. ‘Another “suggestion”?’ Jubilee asks him. ‘Riiiight’ Guido tells her as he throws her outside the Danger Room. ‘Things are tense enough, little girl - you wanna at least pretend you’re not the spoiled brat that you are’ Guido tells her as she lands on her butt in the corridor. ‘Fine. I was leaving anyway!’ Jubilee mutters. The door closes behind her and she thinks to herself ‘I just got schooled on the topic of maturity…by someone named “Strong Guy”? Color me humiliated’.
At that moment, up in the Danger Room control booth, Lorna “Polaris” Dane stares down at X-Force and whispers to herself ‘No hologram programs. No social amenities. Nothing to suggest this is anything more than a holding cell?’. Alex “Havok” Summers approaches Lorna, reminding her that X-Force’s leader, Cable, is accused of an assassination attempt on Professor Xavier. ‘Until we can prove their claims that they have cut all ties with Cable, we have to detain X-Force as suspected accomplices’.
Polaris is crying: ‘”Detain”, Alex? “Accomplices“? - you’re really getting into the euphemistic double-speak of X-Factor’s role as government agents’ Lorna tells him, before exclaiming that X-Force are just kids. ‘No older than we were when we started out. What happened?’. ‘Life’ Alex replies as he wipes the tears from Lorna’s yes. ‘Life happened’ he adds. They hug, and Alex tells Polaris that they have to go, as Valerie needs them for the debriefing.
One flight above, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock holds silent vigil over the critically wounded Professor Charles Xavier, while Dr Moira MacTaggert appears on a communications monitor. ‘More so than any of your students I understand what you are going through’ Betsy thinks to herself, recalling that she too had her mind, body, heart and soul sculpted into another form entirely. Betsy forms a psychic knife and holds it over Xavier, telling herself that she will not stand by and see it happen to someone else. She is about to bring the psychic knife down into Xavier, when Dr Valerie Cooper appears on the monitor, ‘All hands to the War Room - stat! I repeat! All hands to the War Room!’ Valerie announces. Betsy drops her psi-knife, and tells the Professor that she will be back - if necessary, to complete the task that technology could not. Betsy leaves the room, while the technovirus continues to spread across Professor X.
Meanwhile, ‘According to Mr Sinister - you’re indirectly responsible for Jean and Scott’s disappearance!’ Iceman shouts as he traps Apocalypse in ice-bonds. ‘You chose to believe him over me?’ Apocalypse asks, wondering if the weak are so easily misled. ‘Yeah, well - lesser of two -’ Bobby begins, before he screams in pain as Apocalypse attacks him with an energy blast, knocking the handsome young X-Man back. Apocalypse booms that he has never enjoyed being used as a pawn in the games of others, preferring instead the role of the grand manipulator. He breaks the ice-bonds around his body and remarks that, unaccustomed as he is to engaging in physical confrontations, the X-Men can rest assured in knowing that his power is more than up to the task.
‘Me? I’m not convinced’ the Beast exclaims as he bounds towards the uber-mutant. ‘Despite your considerable and sudden bulkization - from my perspective it looks as though you can barely stand!’ Hank remarks. ‘Then I suggest, Beast - you look closer!’ Apocalypse booms as he smacks the Beast backwards. ‘I stand corrected’ Hank mumbles. Storm flies towards the Beast, to absorb the impact, but the force that Apocalypse hit Beast causes both Hank and Ororo to crash out of a window. ‘STORM?’ Quicksilver shouts out. Apocalypse tells Quicksilver that the X-Men have a propensity to disregard the wisdom of the ages, and suggests Pietro pay less attention to the demise of his comrades and more to his own ultimate fate at the hands of Apocalypse.
Someplace else, Jean Grey is held in place by robotic arms which extend out and grab her. It has been hours since the powerful telekinetic was separated from Cyclops. She has spent every moment since on the run - unable to break the grip of the hundred thousand servo-arms that push and shove and paw and grope her. Too add to her humiliation and the overwhelming crush of hopelessness is the realization that her mutant powers are all but useless in her futile bid for freedom. Jean lunges past the servo-arms, and to her credit, she suffers this outrage in silence, knowing her assailants deepest desire is to hear her cry out in pain and despair. Her opponent wants the sound of her begging for mercy - to drown out the roar of his joyless laughter. Jean Grey refuses to allow him the satisfaction.
‘A horrifying feeling, no?’ Stryfe asks as he appears before Jean, who drops to her knees, the servo-arms retreating. ‘To be clutched and claws by strange unfeeling, uncaring alien hands? Not at all unlike…I must assume…what an innocent babe feels when bereft of the love and warmth that is its birthright? Wouldn’t you agree?’ Stryfe asks as he wraps his hands around Jean’s throat. ‘Why…why have you done this to me?’ Jean asks, her eyes rolling back into her head as she falls into unconsciousness. ‘How ironic’ Stryfe remarks as he holds Jean in his arms. ‘I was just about to ask you the same question’ he exclaims, cryptically.
At that moment, in the “War Room” inside Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the glamorous Dr Valerie Cooper stands on a platform as she addresses the members of X-Men and X-Factor before her. As well as Havok, Polaris, Psylocke, Strong Guy and Jubilee, there is James Madrox the Multiple Man, Rogue and Remy “Gambit LeBeau. On a monitor, an image of Stryfe appears, as Valerie announces that for reasons of his own, Mr Sinister was “kind enough” to point them in the direction of this man. ‘Despite the collective resources at our disposal - X-Factor’s government intelligence pool and the X-Men’s I-don’t-even-want-to-ask sources…there’s precious little we know about the man besides his name. He’s called Stryfe’ Valerie announces.
Valerie continues, remarking that as near as they can tell, to date Stryfe has managed to focus most of his as yet undefined energies into surreptitiously leading the Mutant Liberation Front. Valerie points out that, until now, Stryfe seemed content with hit-and-run tactics against human-run facilities like the genetic imaging plant in France. ‘With the assault on Professor Xavier and the kidnapping of Jean and Scott - Stryfe is obviously broadening his horizons’ Valerie points out. ‘Maybe he’s still upset about his missing glove?’ Guido asks, holding up one of Stryfe’s gloves. ‘Yeah. Maybe, Guido. But for the moment, let’s assume his motivation is a little…’ Val replies, ‘Stronger?’ Psylocke suggests. ‘Yes - a little stronger, now’ Val agrees.
‘This is some briefing, G-lady’ Jubilee mutters. ‘You called us up here to say ya ain’t guessed zip? For all anybody knows…it could be Cable walking around with an ice bucket on his head!’ Jubilee exclaims. ‘That’s…’ Val begins. ‘…conceivable’ Havok remarks. Valerie frowns and announces that at this point every theory is a viable one - with the possible exception of the glove scenario. ‘Before I continue, why haven’t Wolverine and Bishop arrived yet?’ Valerie asks. ‘They, uh…haven’t have they?’ Rogue smirks. Gambit remarks that they will probably be along any minute. ‘Probably’ Rogue adds. ‘Any minute’. ‘Prob’ly’ Gambit agrees, frowning.
But not likely, as right now Wolverine a.k.a. Logan and the newest member of the X-Men, Bishop, are in Canada, inside the mysterious Department K. ’You were correct regarding Department K’s reluctancy to share their resources - in trying to track down Cable at one of his multitude of safe houses’ Bishop remarks as he and Wolverine battle a dozen or so armored Department K operatives. ‘Well, kid - I’m intuitive that way’ wolverine remarks. Together they are the best at what they do. But what they do is never very subtle. Logan adds that Canadian intelligence doesn’t have the type of files one can access from their laptop. ‘Job like this requires a more “personal” touch’ Logan exclaims.
‘Indeed’ Bishop replies as he blasts at the Department K operatives with his myriad weapons. ‘Fortunately Weapon Prime must be off on assignment - or things might have gotten violent’ Logan points out. ‘If it doesn’t come up later -’ Bishop remarks, before warning Logan about an approaching operative behind him, ‘- I appreciate you trusting me to accompany you on this unauthorized mission’ Bishop remarks. ‘No problem, kid - but I ain’t known ya long enough to trust ya’ Wolverine replies. Logan explains that he needed back-up, and that what they are doing violates international law. ‘Way I see it, you already got a record in the States…whereas the rest of the X-Men got a reputation to uphold!’ Logan exclaims as he slices at one of the operatives.
‘How forward thinking of you’ Bishop remarks, before asking Wolverine if he has any idea where to find the records they need. Wolverine sees a sign marked “records room” with an arrow pointing to it, and replies ‘My heightened senses being what they are - combined with my ability to read - I’d say they’re down this way’ Wolverine points out. Both mutants rush from the Department K operatives towards the records room, and Bishop remarks ‘Once this is all over, if you could make a point to tell Storm…’ his voice trails off, as Wolverine asks ‘What? That ya subdued these guys without killing any of ‘em? I’d be happy to kid’ Logan tells him, before revealing that Bishop reminds him of himself in his youth.
Back at Apocalypse’s old base, Apocalypse transforms his fist into a massive swat, which he smacks into Quicksilver, who moans as he is knocked backwards. ‘Your over-confidence is much appreciated, Quicksilver’ Apocalypse remarks. ‘Or can it be no one warned you that your super speed is all but useless against a mutant who can control his every molecule?’. Colossus uses this opportunity to lunge at Apocalypse, knocking him backwards as he tells him that like others before him, you mistakes reason and compassion for cowardice and weakness. Archangel swoops in and latches on to Apocalypse, remarking that Colossus is right, pointing out that Storm was hoping this battle could have been avoided.
‘Et tu, Archangel?’ Apocalypse asks. ‘Me especially!’ Warren shouts, moving his razor sharp wings to Apocalypse’s throat. ‘There’s nothing I’d like better than to separate your head from the rest of your shape-shifting body!’ Warren exclaims. Holding Apocalypse down, Colossus remarks that he would be hard pressed to find a reason to stop his teammate. ‘But fortunately for you, creature, we realize you represent our best hope of finding Cyclops and Jean!’ Colossus exclaims. Apocalypse reaches out and touches the wooden floor, telling the X-Men that they have no hope at all, revealing that he did not return “home” out of some misguided sentimentality, explaining that this estate houses power.
Recharged, Apocalypse knocks Warren and Piotr backwards as he is recharged with energy. Though the uber-mutant would never admit it to another living being, but there is actually very little he understands about the alien technology at his disposal. Technology which is incorporated into the very structure of safe houses like this throughout the world. But what he does comprehend, however - proves to be more than enough. ‘Six X-Men in under sixty seconds? To think I felt I’d past my prime several years ago!’ Apocalypse booms as he stands over the fallen mutants. ‘I should take this opportunity to slay them - to cull the chaff from the wheat…but to slaughter an unconscious foe is so…unseemly’ Apocalypse tells himself.
He stares out the window, while the rain continues to pour down, lightning crackles, as Storm and the Beast lie on the ground nearby. ‘The truth of the matter is, the kinetic transference I received is limited at most. It would be best…if I am elsewhere when they awake!’ Apocalypse decides. He remarks that the X-Men’s words and deeds suggest someone else is orchestrating their every encounter. ‘Until I can discern the identity of the tormentor - and put an end to his machinations…I would do well to conserve my resources for the battle to come!’ he declares, and with that, teleports away.
A continent away, back at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. ‘Y’all sent for me?’ Cannonball asks as he enters a room where Havok and Gambit are waiting for him. ‘Yes, Sam. Come in. Make yourself -’ Alex begins, but Sam interrupts: ‘”Comfortable”? Not likely, Alex. Not with the rest of my time locked up like a bunch of criminals…while you and Gambit here attempt to divide and conquer X-Force by prompting me to drop a dime on Cable’. Sam tells them that the problem is he already told them what he knows.
Gambit holds up a kinetically charged playing card and asks ‘You might even believe that, homme. Me…? Gambling man that I be - I’m willing to bet you got more information floating around in that head of yours than you know. Just a matter of how we gonna pry it out!’. ‘Very subtle, Gambit. Just like we rehearsed. Maybe next time you could hit him over the head with a brick?’ Alex mutters. Havok apologizes to Sam, before asking him to reveal what he knows about the MLF. ‘The Mutant Liberation Front? Buncha thieving’, ‘stealin’, murderin’ mutants led by a hombre name a’ Stryfe. But if ya’ll looking for some connection between him and Cable - ya’ll wasting your time. They hate each other!’ Sam exclaims.
‘So we’ve surmised’ Alex remarks, before sitting behind a desk while Sam explains that the problem is that if they knew where Stryfe was, they would have nailed the MLF’s sorry hides months ago. He remarks that if he had access to X-Factor’s government computers he might be able to narrow down a list of suspected hideouts, ‘But it’d come with a price tag, fellas’ Sam declares. Alex tells him to cut to the chase. Sam sits down and declares that he wants a full presidential pardon for every member of X-Force. ‘Everyone should have a dream’ Gambit mocks, while Alex tells Sam that request is not even a consideration. ‘Tell you what - help us find the MLF…and you can help take them down as an equal partner’ Gambit remarks, handing Sam his purple and white costume. ‘Muh uniform?’ Sam exclaims, before telling Alex and Remy that they realize he is only offering his best guess. The handsome Havok turns and looks out into the night as he replies ‘Sam, offering your best…is all the Professor ever asked from any of us…or have you forgotten that?’
Back in Canada, Cable a.k.a. Nathan Summers teleports into Department K, finding several motionless operatives around him. ‘Department K - I spend any more time here, I might just as well rent out a room!’ Cable mutters, weapon ready. ‘Probably not a viable alternative to your current housing arrangement, Nathan’ Professor, Cable’s electronic companion, remarks. Cable tells Professor to make himself useful and confirm that piercing klaxon is a parameter breach. ‘Affirmative. It seems this complex was under assault prior to your arrival’ Professor confirms.
‘Perfect’ Cable remarks. ‘That means while K security is knee-deep in one fire fight or the other - I can slink in - steal the necessary files I need to track down Stryfe and the MLF - and body slide home before anyone has a clue!’. Cable blasts a wall down and jokes that it is nice to see all his clean living finally paying off and something is working out the way he planned it, for once. ‘Not according to my sensors, Nathan’ Professor announces, for as Cable enters the records room, so does Wolverine and Bishop! ‘YOU!’ the X-Men shout. ‘It’s going to be one of those days…’ Cable mumbles to himself, weapon ready to battle!