‘What is happening to me?’ Selene screams as her body is literally torn apart. Someone announces that the technical term is “Transpatial bio-molecular displacement”, but that in the mutant detainment centers of the early twenty-first century, it will be called “Spooling”. The voice explains that the process involves being ripped to shreds one instant, back to form the next, then shredded and formed over and over. ‘I’m told it’s quite painful’ he remarks. Trevor Fitzroy stands with his arms folded across his chest and proudly looks at Selene, stuck in the spooling chamber, and remarks to his companion Bantam that he had forgotten this particular device on their one way trek through time.
Bantam looks at Selene and replies ‘That’s why you need - er, tolerate - me, Lord Fitzroy…because only I can catalogue the countless temporal-portals you have in stasis’. ‘By the Gods of Ebon, Fitzroy - the moment I’m free I will -’ Selene screeches, but Fitzroy tells Selene that she will expire long before she is free. ‘The Black Queen gone the way of the rest of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle’ he adds. ‘Truth? The only reason you’re still alive is because I need your pain and suffering - your honest reaction to this unique form of torture - to get the attention of the Gamesmaster’ Fitzroy explains.
Fitzroy declares that as he is not the leader of the Upstarts, not yet at least, he is forced to be more creative in how he petitions the Gamesmaster for an audience. ‘Ungrateful cur! I created the Upstarts - hoping competition would forge you spoiled brats into the next generation of mutant leaders!’ Selene exclaims. Suddenly, a holographic projection of the Gamesmaster appears, ‘And don’t think we don’t appreciate it, “your majesty”’ he exclaims to Selene. ‘Gamesmaster! May I assume by your astral projection you’ve agreed to my request for a meeting of the Upstarts?’ Fitzroy asks.
‘Yes. If for no other reason than your machinations have provided a momentary respite for my…condition’ the Gamesmaster replies. Then, without another word, the Gamesmaster shows his appreciation, by ripping the essence from Lord Trevor Fitzrtoy’s mutant body. ‘MASTER?’ Bantam gasps as Fitzroy falls to the ground. ‘Pssst. Hey?’ Bantam calls out. ‘Is he…dead?’ Selene asks. ‘No such luck. His body is intact. His mind…is someplace else’ Bantam replies.
That “someplace” is - as specifically as possible - the mind od the young mutant known only as the Gamesmaster. An Omni path, he has, for some time now, found himself in almost constant contact with nearly every sentient mind on the planet - loves, hates, desires float unbidden through his mind like faded memories. And the diversity of emotion would drive him mad if not for the blessed release of the game…the Upstarts.
Fitzroy, Shinobi Shaw, Siena Blaze, Grayon Creed and Fabian Cortez all “materialize” in the Gamesmaster’s mind. The Gamesmaster apologizes to them all for taking them away from whatever they were doing, but points out one of them requested a meeting. The Gamesmaster announces that for the benefit of Ms Blaze he believes introductions are in order. ‘You all recognize young Fitzroy, of course’ the Gamesmaster begins, adding that their terrorist from tomorrow has earned quite a number of points with the slaughter of Donald Pierce, the Reavers and several Hellions. ‘You forgot to mention Emma Frost!’ Fitzroy exclaims.
But the Gamesmaster announces that the White Queen is still in a coma, and tells Trevor not to get greedy, before declaring that Shinobi Shaw was too lazy to hunt down and kill mutants, so he settled for slaying his own father, Sebastian, the Black King. With a rose in his teeth, two champagne glasses in one hand, a bottle of champagne which has just popped in the other, and a small towel falling from around his waist, Shinobi asks ‘Is this going to take long?’ The Gamesmaster declares that Siena Blaze got her first shot out of the gate and tried to kill all three leaders of the X-Men. ‘I awarded her points simply for chutzpah’ the Gamesmaster declares. ‘No one ever accused me of small thinking’ Blaze exclaims.
The Gamesmaster continues introducing Blaze to the other members of the Upstarts - Fabian Cortez, the heretofore undisputed forerunner of the Upstarts, and explains that while the majority of his points are currently in “arbitration”, he is certainly not lacking for a power base, as founder of Magnet’s disciples, the Acolytes. ‘A congregation I should be getting back to’ Cortez exclaims. The last member of the Upstarts is Graydon Creed, wearing a revealing outfit as he pumps some weights, the Gamesmaster announces that although Creed is human his “heritage” is cause enough to explain his desire to rule mutants. ‘While he has yet to kill a single mutant, he intends to make up for in quantity…what he lacks in quality’ the Gamesmaster explains. ‘If you’re done, Gamesmaster - we all have things we could be getting back to’ Creed declares.
‘Some of us, Creed, are curious - to learn the next mutant target worth the most points’ Fitzroy exclaims, adding that it is obvious Cortez is no longer the leader, to which Cortez declares that he refuses to abide by the Gamesmaster’s arbitrary rule until - but he is interrupted as Creed exclaims ‘Save it, mutie. We all agree his word is law - so stop whining and play by the rules’. Siena exclaims that she did no join them to sit around and butt egos, and asks the Gamesmaster to tell her the name of the next target so she can start scoring major points. Shinobi tells Siena that established etiquette dictates that she wait her turn. ‘Trevor called this meeting. As such, he gets “first dibs” on the mutant’ Shaw explains.
Fitzroy smirks as he thanks Shinobi, telling him that he is both a gentleman and a slug. ‘Without further ado, Gamesmaster?’ Fitzroy exclaims, to which a projection of Forge appears. The Gamesmaster tells the Acolytes that, as they are aware, the universe is in a constant state of flux. He remarks that at this particular moment in the Time Space Continuum, there is one man whose actions during the next twenty four hours will directly affect the fate of every Homo Superior on the planet - unless he suffers an untimely demise. ‘Ignorant of this fact himself, he is the mutant called Forge!’ the Gamesmaster declares.
Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin sits next to his young sister, Illyana, who touches his steel face. Were he a normal human, Colossus would have been dead by now. If not from the wounds inflicted upon him by the mutant hunter called the X-Cutioner. It is an injury which prevents his return to human form - then he certainly would have died from a broken heart, a heart rent by the suicide of his brother and the murder of his parents. Colossus calls his bed-ridden sister “Little Snowflake” and apologizes in their native Russian for being late. ‘I feel I’ve let you down. I should be attending to you, not the other way around’ Colossus exclaims.
Illyana tells her brother that he is being silly, and coughs as she tells Colossus that they can get better together. Colossus goes quiet as he replies ‘When….when I first learned of my mutant power to turn my body to living steel - I remember being scared. I remember wondering “why me? What have I done so wrong that I deserve this additional hardship?” as if life were not difficult enough - helping to support our family on the harsh terrain of the Ust-Ordansky Collective’ he exclaims, adding that joining the X-Men helped, but that it wasn’t until he learned that his sister was a mutant as well that he realized he had nothing to be ashamed of - nothing to be afraid of.
‘Though you might never have known this - because I may never have said it out loud - you have always been there for me, Illyana - and I will always be there for you’ Colossus declares. Illyana looks at Colossus with wide eyes, and asks, while coughing intermittently, that just because he is stuck in armoured form, if that means she can still give him a hug. ‘I was going to ask you the same question’ Piotr replies, reaching down he embraces his younger sister. ‘I promise I will…’ he begins, but Illyana shushes him: ‘No more promises. Just hold me’ she tells him.
Meanwhile, watching from an observation room, Dr Moira MacTaggert tells Professor Charles Xavier that they should tell Colossus, as it is not their place to hide the truth. ‘There is nothing to tell him, Moira. Until we know more, we’d only be upsetting him further, and the boy’s suffered enough’ Charles declares. Crying, Moira pulls her shawl tighter around herself and exclaims ‘Then tell him what ye do know, Charles Xavier! That we believe the mutant named Stryfe has unleashed a virus on the mutant population - his “legacy” ye say he called it - and there is precious little good ye, me, or all the Shi’ar technology in the universe can do to stop it from taking the life of his sister’.
Watching the various monitors around them, Charles tells Moira that she is assuming Illyana’s condition is related to the recent cases they have studied - and what is more - untreatable. Moira tells Xavier that he is not being reasonable, motioning to a projection of Illyana’s DNA helix, and tells him that it is fluctuating exactly the way it was with Mastermind. ‘Ye cannae deny it!’ she declares, adding that the Shi’ar diagnostic can barely make heads or tails of those readings. ‘That’s why I’ve taken steps to insure someone who can understand those readings takes a look at them’ Xavier announces, adding that the only person he knows capable of “talking” to the alien technology, and adapting it to their needs….
At that moment, in Dallas, Texas, where according to the tour books, Eagle Plaza is “the largest capital finance megaplex in all the Lone Star state”. The Pentagon has a different classification entirely, however: “The Aerie serves as primary living space and laboratory for weapons manufacturer and techno-futurist - the mutant inventor known only as Forge”. Inside the Aerie, Forge stands in one of the large rooms and stares out over the sprawling cosmopolitan city below, telling himself ‘Not the first mistake I’ve ever made. Won’t be the last. I’d even like to pretend I don’t know why I did it…why I didn’t leave word with Nightcrawler about the recent discovery in Kuwait’.
Forge tinkers with his mechanical arm, reminding himself that there is no proof Magneto survived the destruction of Asteroid M, he cannot help thinking he should have presented Xavier with the evidence and let him draw his own conclusions. ‘Problem being, I was more concerned with putting distance between myself and Ororo - before I wound up making things worse than they already are’. Suddenly, a figure appears in the doorway at the back of the large room. ‘Forge?’ the new arrival calls out. ‘You left me alone, again. You know how much I hate “alone”’ a raven-haired woman smirks.
The woman approaches Forge and takes his metal hand, telling him that it is time for their workout together. ‘Or are you going to renege on your promise?’ she asks. Forge calls her Raven and tells her that he is a man of his word, reminding her that if she refrained from “morphing”, picking one physical form and sticking with it for three days, they could go back to working out together. Raven follows Forge and tells him that she wants him to know that she appreciates everything he has done for her over the past few weeks. ‘Ever since Irene…died…it’s been getting progressively harder to just concentrate on being myself’. Raven remarks. Forge tells her that losing someone you love can have a devastating effect on one’s self-image under the best of circumstances. ‘But for a shape-shifter…’ he begins.
‘It’s a living nightmare’ Raven replies, adding that it is funny, she spent so many years pretending to be one person or the other, now she is afraid she has lost track of the “real” her somewhere along the way. They enter the workout room, and Forge reminds Raven that he is a builder, meaning he knows that if something is wrong with the end product, it can be traced back to the foundation. ‘Maybe if you’d open up regarding your life before you met Destiny -’ Forge suggests, but Raven removes her coat, and exclaims that she thought they came here to exercise, telling Forge that he is wasting valuable sweat time.
Someplace else, and closing fast, inside the Blackbird, Ororo “Storm” Munroe informs Bishop that the next time Jubilee asks if the two of them are dating, the correct response is “no”. Storm adds that “none of your business” would also be appropriate. Bishop tells Storm that he hopes has did not offend her when he told the child that he really did not know. ‘I’m afraid the XSE’s training didn’t involve the intricacies of interpersonal relationships’ Bishop explains. Storm remarks that it is hardly a subject she can claim to have mastered, having spent the better part of her life in the relative seclusion of Africa.
Storm explains to Bishop that she has discovered though that many people in twentieth century America find it difficult to accept that single men and women can have a friendship based on mutual respect. Changing the subject slightly, Bishop tells Storm that he doesn’t mean to be rude, and asks if this journey is a good idea. ‘Sending you to petition the aid of the man whose heart you broke?’ he asks. Storm tells Bishop that, not that it is any of his concern, her feelings for Forge, and his feelings for her, were never in question. ‘Our relationship - such as it was - ended because of different life views. He had a right to his, I to mine’ Storm declares, before remarking that she is certain Forge is enough of a professional not to let that interfere with their quest.
Suddenly, the onboard Cerebro picks up an unidentified life form homing in on the Aerie, and traveling at an incredible speed. Storm gasps that she has never seen readings such as these.
At that moment, ‘ - Leonard Samson is a friend of mine, Raven’ Forge explains while lifting some heavy weights. ‘I’ve never been a big fan of psychiatry…but if you think it’s a good idea’ Raven replies while swinging from rings, when suddenly, an alarm sounds. ‘A perimeter breach!’ Forge exclaims. Raven drops to the floor, shifting back to her default form - Mystique - ‘Company’s come to call?’ she asks. ‘Uninvited company at that’ Forge tells her, before pressing a button on a small console nearby, which activates the sec-cam, to put a face to the alarm klaxon.
A distorted image appears on a large monitor in front of Forge and Mystique - and the figure exclaims ‘How positively enthusiastic of you! Most people run and hide…but here you are trying to get me on tape!’ He adds that given he is a wanted man, they must excuse him for being a bit camera shy. ‘Impossible. Whoever it is, he’s shattered the titanium-polymer lens’ Forge exclaims, unaware it is Trevor Fitzroy. ‘Any chance he’ll be able to break though the Aeries defenses?’ Mystique asks. ‘Five minutes ago, I would have said no…’ Forge replies.
‘But now you realize its true what they say - “timing is everything”!’ Fitzroy exclaims as the large monitor shatters into countless shards. ‘RAVEN - get behind me!’ Forge exclaims as he turns around and covers Mystique with his body. Wearing a futuristic armor, Fitzroy hovers overhead, and declares ‘I should tell you - right up front - that I am here to suck the life essence out of your body, Forge. If you can help it…don’t take it personally’.
Fitzroy lands on the floor, and asks Forge - calling him “Maker” - where he is going. ‘Yes…where are we going?’ Mystique asks as a panel underneath them lowers them. ‘Away’ Forge replies, when the hover panel drops into the room below. ‘It’ll be all of ten seconds before he figures out Interact!’ Forge exclaims, before telling Raven that he is going to need her to do something for him. ‘Name it’ Mystique exclaims. ‘There you are! I must say I’m not impressed!’ Fitzroy exclaims as he bursts into the room below - only for the hover-panel takes off in the other direction. ‘I was hoping you were man enough to stay and beg for your life. I would’ve enjoyed that’ Fitzroy calls out to Forge.
‘Forge? What now?’ Raven asks as they enter another room. ‘Much as I hate the expression, Mystique…call in the cavalry’ Forge exclaims, before reaching for a large weapon, declaring that he will see if he can’t find something to keep their mystery guest occupied. ‘Nice gun’ Fitzroy remarks as Forge spins around and aims the massive gun at him. ‘Before you fire it, there’s something you should know’ Trevor announces, explaining that he is wearing body armor, which is constructed of omnium mesh. ‘It is impregnable. It was created one hundred years in the future’. ‘Fair enough. Before I fire it, there’s something you should know’ Forge exclaims.
‘This geo-thermal .960 I’m holding is constructed out of a vibranium polymer. It hurts like all get out. It was created by me. This morning. Over breakfast’. And with that, Forge fires the weapon - which blasts Fitzroy upwards. ‘And if you haven’t noticed…I’ve always been just a little bit ahead of my time’.
Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Salem Center, New York. ‘I know you like tea, but all we have is coffee. I mean, I would have gotten tea, if I knew you were going to surprise me like this. But I guess if I knew it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But at least I would have had the tea. Instead of coffee’ Bobby “Iceman” Drake exclaims to Opal Tanaka, who tells Bobby that he is babbling. ‘Am I, Opal? About the tea?’ the handsome Bobby asks. ‘Or the coffee?’ Sitting at a bench, Opal tells Bobby that she figured it was time they either talked things through, about what happened to Hiro, or find a bigger apartment. ‘Is that a thinly veiled reference to the dozen roses I’ve been sending you every day for the past month?’ Bobby asks. ‘Maybe not so thinly’ Opal remarks.
Suddenly, Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel enters the kitchen and tells Bobby to shake an icicle, as they are Texas bound in two minutes. ‘Texas? Why do we -’ Bobby begins, but Warren has already left the room. ‘Warren? Come back here! I can’t - I - manoman’ Bobby exclaims, turning back to Opal: ‘That wacky Warren. Heh heh…’ Bobby utters, to which Opal tells him to go. ‘Really? I mean…are you sure? Bobby asks. Opal tells him they can discuss this later, so Bobby leans over the counter and kisses Opal on the cheek, telling her that she is the best. ‘Better than the best! Beyond best!’ he declares. ‘Who am I to argue?’ Opal asks, before telling Bobby to get going as he probably has a world to save. Bobby leaves, and Opal hangs her head, forlorn: ‘No sense wasting all that time and energy on anything as trivial…as the woman you love’.
Back inside the Aerie, Forge approaches Fitzroy who is laying on the floor, rubble all around him. ‘Unlike every other mutant on the block, I’m not a big fan of mindless violence’ Forge declares, suggesting that Fitzroy do them both a favor and lie there until the authorities arrive. ‘You can explain your motivation to Henry Peter Gyrich of the National Security Council. I’m sure he’ll be full of questions’ Forge declares. ‘Please…help me…’ Fitzroy gasps - ‘Help me finish the job I started!’ he booms as he leans upwards and uses a sharp spike on his wrist - to slice through Forge’s mechanical leg.
Forge groans, while Trevor remarks that it is funny - Forge is not the warrior that picture books pained him to be. ‘The Genesis of legend would never have allowed himself to be set-up so easily…to DIE so easily!’ Fitzroy booms, getting to his feet. ‘Genesis? S’name Bishop called me when we met’ Forge remarks as he struggles with Fitzroy. ‘It is the name you would have taken in the future…a future that depended on your continued existence. How sad that must not be allowed’ Fitzroy declares as he grabs hold of Forge’s mechanical hand. ‘Said he has the ability to siphon energies! Let’s see what happens when he tries it on a bionic hand!’ Forge thinks to himself.
It is a necessary evil as old as time itself. Literally sacrificing a part in order to save the whole. Forge’s hand explodes, sending Fitzroy backwards. ‘Mesmro’s eyes!’ Fitzroy gasps. Despite the splitting flame and flying shards - it does little more than antagonize Forge’s enemy. Shards of debris are stuck across Trevor’s armor. ‘You couldn’t possibly know…as we’ve just met…but my father used to humiliate me like this. Enjoyed making me look foolish. Incompetent’ Clutching his handless wrist, Forge hobbles away from Fitzroy, telling himself that he must reach the gun, while hoping that it has held its charge.
‘Before I arrived I was content to kill you quickly, Forge. As it is - by the time I’ve decorated your home with your lower intestines, you’re going to want to finish the job yourself!’ Fitzroy declares. ‘Indeed?’ a voice asks - it’s Bishop! The newest X-Man stands over Fitzroy, asking him what reason he can think of that Forge would want to miss Trevor’s funeral. ‘BISHOP?! How did you find me here?’ Trevor asks. Bishop replies that he looked under “chronologically displaced gene trash” in the phone book, and “voila”! Fitzroy declares that it is Bishop’s fault he is trapped in this century, and lunges at the X-Man.
‘You and the cursed XSE, hounded me at every turn - tossing me into the pit, so that the only escape from my father’s wraith…was to travel back in time’. Bishop grabs Fitzroy’s wrists and holds him back, remarking that Fitzroy is really fixated on this “father” deal. ‘Why is we never hear about your maternal relationship?’ Bishop asks. ‘You were there when she died at your sister’s hand - and now I will avenge her murder!’ Fitzroy exclaims as his spiked glove lashes against Bishop. But the sound it makes is not a sound often attributed to torn flesh. Instead of the ripping and tearing, it is more like the noise a balloon makes when losing air - or the sound of breaking glass!
An illusion is shattered, ‘Raven?! I told you to stay away - to send for help!’ Clutching her wound, Mystique’s disguise is revealed as she falls to the ground. ‘Did. But…y’think I’d miss all the fun…?’ she asks, before passing out. There is a glow of energy as Trevor gathers himself and stands over Forge and Mystique - ‘Five seconds. You’ve got five seconds before my battle armor reaches a full neutron charge!’ he announces. Forge declares that even the slightest explosion would threaten the lives of the innocent people in the plaza below. ‘Yeah. So?’ Fitzroy replies casually.
Outside, Storm flies towards the top of the Aerie, where smoke billows from a broken window. She radios Bishop, telling him to put the ship in hover and join her when he can, while she sees to Forge and Mystique. ‘And ask that the Bright Lady protect him until I arrive’ Storm thinks to herself. But even as she thinks those thoughts, Ororo is aware of a simple truth. That no prayer ever goes unanswered. But - where the X-Men are concerned - more often than not, the answer…is “no” - and with that Storm is knocked backwards mid-air, as the top of the Aerie explodes!