Gambit is swimming in the Hudson River to escape the giant, reaching hand of the Phalanx unit. It grabs his legs and, as it drags him underwater, it mocks that he will be assimilated into the Phalanx. When Gambit charges three cards, the Phalanx informs him that it’s useless, as it can compensate for any external damage caused by his powers. As it opens a giant spiky toothed mouth to engulf Gambit, he thinks, ““External” maybe. But I’m betting “Internal” is a crawdad of ‘nother flavour!” With that, he fires the cards into its mouth.
The explosion causes the Phalanx to release him and Gambit swims free of it. Gambit then spots Yukio unconscious in the water and decides to rescue her in spite of their past. Starving for air, he finally manages to drag her to the surface. When he pulls her onto the pier, he tells her he has good news and bad news. Good news is that a thick fog has rolled in, so Storm must still be alive battling the Phalanx on her own. The bad news is that he has to invite Yukio back to the land of the living. However, as he’s about to give Yukio mouth-to-mouth, she slaps her hand over his mouth and tells him to save his breath. She didn’t become a ronin by depending on losers like him! He replies that in case it doesn’t come up later on... “you’re welcome.”
Xavier’s School for gifted Youngsters, Salem Center, Westchester.
Shivering with cold, her breath visible in the air, Jubilee gazes down at the body of Iceman. Now completely composed of ice, Bobby’s body has become strangely elongated and is growing spiky icicles in all directions. Jubilee asks if Bobby’s mind is still working, to which Banshee speculates that it’s like Bobby is learning about his body from scratch. It’s only a possibility but, while he’s in a coma, they have no way of knowing the full effect the power surge had on him. Nearby at a computer terminal, Beast quips that he’s worried it means they’ll have 6 more weeks of winter. “But seriously folks-- until the popsicle here thaws himself out, we...”
Jubilee suddenly blows up at him and tells him to do them a favor and shut up! Tears streaming down her face she yells, “He’s not a popsicle, he’s a person! A person like Wolverine or Illyana, and the dumb ole White Queen and everyone else who gets hurt or killed or mangled for no good reason! You should be tryin’ to help him, instead of makin’ lame jokes!” Banshee talks her down, reminding her that Beast is Iceman’s best friend, he’s doing all he can and he “makes light” because that’s his way.
Jubilee calms down and apologizes. She confesses to Banshee that she joined the X-Men because she thought it would be fun. But it isn’t, always… and she misses Wolverine. She doesn’t think she’s ready to be an X-Man and feels unsure about everything. Banshee somberly watches her leave and thinks about Charles leaving soon for Muir Island to help Moira study the Legacy virus. With the rest of the X-Men dealing with one crisis after another... maybe someone should be looking after the children involved in this “gig.”
Several floors below... in the seldom used maximum security chamber…
Bishop worries that Professor X is too close to Sabretooth. Xavier, however, reassures him that if Creed is foolish enough to attack him, he will be gentle. Creed gloats at how close he was to killing them all and admits he got greedy and should have bolted instead. His tells them to think about what could have happened then. Every drop of blood he spilled would be their fault because they didn’t kill him. Professor X tells him he’s growing weary of Creed’s attempts to bait him and that Creed will not kill again. They’ve already stopped him in case he failed to notice. He will cure Creed of his madness and his addiction to the “glow” only psions can provide. “And if you can’t, Chuck? What then?” Sabretooth smirks. Xavier vows it will happen even if one or both of them die trying.
Back at the docks…
Storm has frozen the “male” Phalanx in ice and observes that it seems its ability to “counter any mutant power” used against it is not as effective when it’s been separated from the rest of the Phalanx. It responds that is shares a collective intelligence as well as the strength of their conviction to purge this Earth of genetic anomalies!
Storm comments that it talks as if it was anything more than a computer program. As if the fear and loathing it espouses comes from a genuine, if unenlightened, concern for humanity. “Make no mistake, mutant-- we are human! Human… and something much, much more!” Each of them was a common person who willingly sacrificed their claim to humanity in order to insure the purity of their gene pool. “By the Bright Lady-- that is madness.” Storm whispers in shock. “Madness?” asks the Phalanx which used to be the NSC agent. As it fires an energy blast at Storm, it exclaims that madness is an entire race sitting back and waiting to be engulfed by another.
Storm just manages to dodge the blast and it informs her that the people who comprise the Phalanx were the only ones brave enough to fight for their destiny. The “male” Phalanx unit is blasted apart instead, which sends feedback to the “female” unit causing an overload. Storm lands next to the damaged, smoking female unit which has mostly changed back into the NSC agent again. She asks it if that is her original form, of a woman who willfully infected herself with the transmode virus. For what reason? “Just the one reason… really…” it replies as it grabs Storm’s wrist and a gun forms out of i’s damaged chest, “…to destroy you and your kind! Say good-bye, Storm.”
“Myself, chere…? …I always been partial to ‘adieu’,” Gambit replies as he smashes the back of its neck with his bo staff. He’s surprised that his attack seems to have taken it out. Storm comments it was still reeling from the biofeedback and thanks him for the assist. He tells her to keep it in perspective; “she” stopped being a person the moment she became part of the Phalanx. He compares it to a Sentinel with a conscience. It’s the enemy and thinking anything else will just get them killed. Storm asks if he believes that and wonders if their claim to life is any more valid than the Phalanx. He replies that for now he believes it, ask him in the morning and he might say something different. In the meantime, they have to get Yukio and be somewhere else.
The naked body of a man hangs suspended within the Phalanx where he’s watching a fractured image of Storm on screens created by the wall of the Phalanx's interior. Except for his grinning face, his entire head is covered by tubes and wires that extend into the ceiling and the Phalanx structure holds him up and wraps around him.
There was a time when he was alive, “human” in ever sense of the word, save perhaps the soul. Then he was called Steven Lang. In his more lucid moments… there are the slightest echoes of his past life… which occasionally reverberate through the chambers of his mind. With great difficulty, he can recall his role as the original director of Project Armageddon. He was a proud man, then… at the pinnacle of his career. Yet, what happened afterwards, the fall from grace, his near-fatal accident aboard an orbiting SHIELD platform… his exposure to radiation… his long wait for death and release… are memories that seem to belong to someone else entirely.
Even his most recent past… his liberation from the convalescent home… his “downloading” to the core of the Phalanx collective intellect… there is nothing which he can relate. The moment is all that matters. And this moment finds his attention divided between the fate of the Phalanx’s current target designates… and the state of the latest handful of recruits to their cause.
At this moment, his attention is divided between the fight with Storm, Gambit & Yukio and the state of the latest handful of recruits to their cause. He asks for a status report from “Mr. Ramsey.” An armless torso extends out of the wall of the Phalanx with a face that looks like Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher. It replies, reluctantly, 50% success ratio, “Profile: Camden, M.-- fully integrated Phalanx core. Profile: Schwandt, H.-- Biograph rejected at 87.39 ratio… transmode sequence aborted at 0200 hours”
It claims it has insufficient data to recommend parameter alterations but the “Lang” Phalanx realizes it’s trying to resist its programming. Based on the assimilated dead cells of Douglas Ramsey and Warlock, Lang tells it it’s nothing more than a program. Again Lang asks it for “recommendations for higher biographical yield” and Ramsey replies “insufficient data.” “Enough!” Lang shouts and tears it from the wall, hurling it into another Phalanx protuberance. “There is no place individual thought among us! If you cannot exist within the Phalanx, you cannot exist at all!” Lang begins a self-diagnostic but is interrupted by “Hodge,” who alerts him that the units have cornered Yukio and await confirmation order. Lang delays the diagnostic and reschedules it for later.
At that moment on the pier…
The “male” Phalanx informs the “female” unit that the core unit is not responding to its download and asks if they should depart and await further instruction. The other replies it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to finish the assignment. Yukio is lying on the pier not far away and weakly tells them she can be reasonable when she’s cornered, beaten and about to die. If they need dirt on the X-Men, they just ask. They don’t have to kill her.
They respond that the information they seek goes far beyond anything she could tell them. When she is assimilated, every thought she ever had can, and will, be accessed. They will be privy to memories, details, experiences she could never hope to recall. Whether she volunteers or struggles, is of no concern to them. Far above them, on a massive ship, Gambit is charging one of the ship’s anchors with his power. Below, Yukio asks if the process will hurt and the Phalanx replies “horribly” but it will pass. “Soon?” Yukio asks. “Eventually” the unit responds. Storm checks if Gambit is ready yet and he replies “I cannae change de laws o’ physics, cap’n! De bigger de object-- de longer it takes to charge… and it don’t get much bigger dan dis, chere.”
The Phalanx informs Yukio that it is an honor, for up to that point only volunteers have joined. She is the first to be chosen. Yukio replies weakly that, when it puts it that way, she just gets warm and fuzzy inside. Storm breaks the anchor’s chain with an intense bolt of lightning and Gambit shouts “Bon sior, my Phalanx!” Looking up, the “female” unit says, “Communication core central: Logging off.” As the huge, glowing anchor falls, Gambit asks who wants to bet that, even with their ability to adapt to any power, it ought to reduce them to spare parts. Yukio quips, “Just for the record, “mon amis”…? Gotcha!” and dives into the river while Gambit leaps from the falling anchor into the river chanting, “Viva la X-Men! Or, something equally as witty.” A massive explosion obliterates the Phalanx.
Storm thinks to herself that, at first glance, this is clearly a victory. Yet it’s impossible not to look closer. If she believes their claims that the Phalanx are more than Sentinels, how long before they will be forced to accept the Phalanx as a lifeform that has a right to exist? She uses a gale force wind to blow the remains out to sea and wonders if it will cost them their souls to ultimately defeat the Phalanx.
As Gambit climbs out of the river, Yukio kicks him in the face. He tells her that most people just say “thank-you”. “I ain’t most, Remy,” she retorts, and tells him if he hurts Storm in any way, his Cajun butt is hers! “It’s always been… chere.” he quips. Storm lands and asks if they’re alright. Gambit replies that Yukio is “One spoon short o’ a bowl o’ gumbo, but other dan dat…” Storm says they should report the incident but Yukio cuts her off telling Storm she has to be back in Tokyo by noon and they have too much to catch up on. Yukio links elbows with Storm & Gambit and begins to drag them along. Storm protests that they have responsibilities, but Yukio cuts her off again saying “Stop! I’m getting hives just thinking of the word!” She asks if they’ll at least drop her off at the airport and Gambit grumbles that he knows just the runway…
Professor X tells Bishop there is no reason for him to blame himself for Sabretooth’s rampage. When the security system went down, he did all he could… Bishop interrupts him and tells him that’s the problem. By XSE standards, Creed is a lightweight. There was a time Bishop would have “snikt” him before either one of them broke a sweat, even without his powers. In his effort to adapt to life among the X-Men, he feels he’s lost his edge.
Suddenly, Jubilee busts into the room and tells them they have to come quickly. “It’s Bobby! Sorta.” They hurry to the infirmary and find it so cold they can see their breath. Professor X asks Beast for a report. “Stars and garters” is the only thing that springs to mind, Beast tells him. “Saints preserve us” Banshee breathes. “Okay, that too.” Beast quips.
Before them, Iceman climbs off of his bed. His all-ice body is a spike-covered, monstrous version of his normal self. Bewildered, Iceman asks them, “Why so surprised, X-Men?! Surely you didn’t think you’d trap me here, forever…?!” Professor X doesn’t need a mind scan to recognize “her” and explains that they were only attending to her needs while she was recuperating from her injuries. He welcomes back to the land of the living… “Emma Frost.” “Wha--?!” Beast exclaims, “The White Queen…” Jubilee finishes his sentence for him, “…in Bobby’s body?! Whoa.”