At first, she’s like a small meadowlark, gently flitting her way around the faces that shaped the nation’s finest moments: the Rushmore Mountain. But it isn’t the guidance of her nation’s founding father she seeks; it is a lone man and he’s not here. To continue her search, she must change, push past the limits in her mind, become something larger and more powerful, a proud eagle, forcefully arcing her way over the continental divine of the Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. But it isn’t the serenity of the high country she seeks. It is a lone man who’s not here, either.
To continue her search, she must change, push past the limits in her mind, become something larger and more powerful, a hungry vulture, surveying her way over barren stretches of the American southwest. She feels it in the isolation of the red desert that the lone man she seeks could be found. But before she can change again, push past the limits in her mind, become something larger and more powerful, Jean Grey’s mental essence is pulled from its silent flight by an unexpected force and thrust back into the cabin of an airplane that carried her physical essence on a much more troubled flight.
Their plane going through a terrible turbulence, Cyclops asks his wife what’s wrong. He was asleep; he didn’t see… With huge effort, Jean stutters that it’s not the plane. She thinks it’s something – someone – on it. Their mind is… is… Her sentence is cut short as she releases a cry of pain.
Unbeknownst to everybody, a small aircraft slyly accosts the plane. Agent Copernicus radios his colleague, Agent Euclid, informing him that they are approaching the target craft, with radar cloaking at 100%. Agent Euclid orders him to prepare for docking. Copernicus complies and docking commences immediately: “Mass correction displacement engaging” At that moment, the airplane’s co-pilot senses the change in mass and finds himself at loss: there’s no choppy air outside! The plane’s captain remarks that it feels like the plane just got heavier. The instrumentation’s all over the place; they’ll do a full check once they get out of this turbulence.
Meanwhile, Cyclops asks Jean about whose mind she meant. Jean explains she was mentally open, trying to locate Professor Xavier, when everybody’s fears came crashing up against her thoughts. She needs a minute to get her head together…
And then, suddenly, the disconcerting sensation is over as quickly as it started. Cyclops asks Phoenix if she’s all right. Phoenix retorts she could use a few hundred Tylenols but otherwise… She wonders how he is. Speaking in a lower voice, Cyclops admits he feels like he had a bomb cut out of his chest with a Wolverine claw. He wonders if they have any more of those pills Doctor Reyes gave him for the pain. Jean replies they’re out. She knew they shouldn’t fly until he’d had time to heal better. Cyclops quips that he feels like he’s about to birth a Brood.
Jean suggests they discuss this telepathically – that way, they won’t be overheard. Speaking in Scott’s mind, she offers to help him psychically by dampening his pain receptor neurons. Scott insists he’ll be okay. If she were searching for the Professor, that’s where her skills should go. Phoenix, however, reveals she can’t find a trace of Charles’ thoughts. Even if his powers were shut down, she should be able to find something. Besides, she wants to help Scott. He always shoulders all the pain of the world without mending his own. She reminds him he doesn’t have to be a hero around her. Cyclops insists he doesn’t want to be a martyr, he just…
Jean retorts he is trying to be one, she’s just not letting him succeed. Anyhow, she explains that there’s some kind of weird static on the psi-plane that’s making it almost impossible to search. She had to conceal herself as a bird. Cyclops accentuates she shouldn’t worry about him. If he needed her, he’d tell her. Jean wishes he would tell her more often.
Their new acquaintance, Staci Murphy Miller, interrupts their telepathic exchange and remarks that the two of them sure are quiet. Jean argues that some things are better left unsaid. “Can you believe this air?” Staci huffs. If this keeps up, they may not get to be new next-door neighbors in Anchorage! Cyclops telepathically notes that their new friend is nervous. Maybe she could use a little piece of Jean’s mind. Maybe, but only a good old-fashioned neighborly piece, Phoenix quips back.
Speaking aloud now, she encourages Staci not to let these bumps get to her. She and Scott have been on flights that make this one look like a carnival rider. “Really?” Staci exclaims in disbelief. “The stories we could tell…” Jean assures her. Staci’s husband, Chris, admits they don’t fly much… well, ever. He nervously asks Jean if she thinks this is okay; that they’re not going to…
“We’re all going to die! They’re here! The powerful minds are here!” one of the passengers suddenly flips out. Watching this, Cyclops tells Phoenix that maybe they should… Jean, however, quickly deters him from taking action: they should stay in their seats and leave the man to the professionals. If they’re planning on being civilians, they have to start acting like them. There’s no reason to panic. The raving passenger frantically runs along the aisle, shrieking that he’s got to get out of here; she’s in his head! Two flight attendants grab him and politely explain that they need him to take his seat now. The man blabbers that she did it…
Through the loudspeakers, the plane’s captain apologizes to the passengers for the rough ride. They don’t know what’s causing it but if they remain seated and calm, they’ll let them know once they find out. One of the flight attendants asks his colleague to see if they have a sedative to offer to the panicked gentleman. Staci humorously notes that the man who burst into hysterics is more nervous than they are. She wonders what got into him. Jean pensively admits she does, too…
Salem Center, New York
Archangel is gracefully looping his way down to the Westchester school and headquarters of the X-Men. Still in mid-flight, he contemplates how surprised he is: who would have thought Scott and Jean would actually take a vacation? Even living in Manhattan with Betsy, he sometimes feels smothered by everything being an X-Man carries with it. On the contrary, Scott thrives on it. Still, he acknowledges it’s great for them to get away and it’ll be good to see them off.
Flying through the enormous hole on the roof, Warren greets the X-Men, who are cleaning up the shrapnel. Seeing this mess, Warren quips whether Hank finally put talked them into putting in that skylight with his time-life do-it-yourself home improvement library. “Hardly, Warren!” Beast replies and explains that all this damage is from Scott’s emergency arrival. Warren asks him where’s the One-Eyed Wonder. He came to wish him and Jean luck on their trip; are they upstairs? Wolverine snaps that they’re about 32,000 miles upstairs, as in, he already missed them. Archangel is flustered. That can’t be, he just called…
Incensed, Wolverine reminds him he called two freakin’ days ago when he said he’d try to come lend a hand – and now he shows up after the hard work’s done? Thanks for nothing again, he harshly reprimands him. Warren defensively stresses out that he didn’t come here to fight with him – with anyone… It’s just, when Betts shadow-shifted them back from Antarctica after Gambit’s trial, she instinctively went to their apartment. They got wrapped up in keeping their normal life there together.
Beast acknowledges that they all have lives outside of the X-Men. Warren doesn’t have to justify his decision not to come help. Archangel retorts it sure sounds like he does. They’re acting like he’s never here for them. He stresses he went through a lot at the South Pole. It’s not like one can turn a page and just suddenly be over stuff like that. Besides, he has a fortune to manage and an apartment to take care of, a girlfriend who needs him and…
Maggott intervenes and scoffs that a millionaire playboy with a penthouse flat sounds like a truckload of worries to him. Warren is surprised that Maggott’s staying here; that was fast. “Ah, well, your room was open, so…” comes Maggott’s snarky response. Archangel snaps that Maggott is not even an X-Man and warns him to get his bugs away from him before he stomps on them. Maggott retorts they’re sweet on him; can’t he tell? Besides, they’d hop down on Archangel’s ankle before he finished stepping down.
In an equally hostile manner, Joseph informs Warren that he’s better now, in case he was wondering. He asks. Warren to give his warmest regards to Betsy, who could have rushed him to a hospital, but chose instead to drop them here and return Warren to his penthouse. Warren retorts it’s not like that… “Do I?” Joseph retorts. Or is he to assume that in Archangel’s mind he will never be anything more than the face of Magneto, their greatest enemy, even though he proved his soul quite different?
Archangel is sorry if they all think they’ve got it bad and he doesn’t. He came to see if things were okay here and to say goodbye to Scott and Jean. But if all he’s going to get is a bunch of garbage about not doing enough, or not caring enough or whatever… then maybe he should just leave! Wolverine concurs that maybe he should – at least, till he remembers what being part of a team is all about. Warren retorts that he doesn’t need to be bashed by people he considers his friends. Beast tries to stop him from leaving: “Warren! Don’t…” Wolverine instead encourages him: “Do! I’ll help you!”
Marrow taunts Wolverine, exclaiming how nice it is he doesn’t just pick on the new kids. She’s sure it’s a sign of affection! Sending her kisses to the departing Archangel, she whispers that he’ll always be an angel to her… even if everyone else doesn’t appreciate him. Indignant at his teammates, Archangel blurts out that this is crazy and departs, flying through the hole in the roof. Turning to Marrow, Wolverine tells her to either come down here and help or just sit out of the way. They don’t need her stirring up extra trouble. Marrow retorts that he’s the one who’s gonna get it. “Name the day, girl. We see,” Wolverine growls.
Meanwhile, the mysterious little ship attaches itself on the plane. Inside the airplane, Jean asks Scott if he felt that. It was like… She then pauses, seeing Scott squirming with agony. Cyclops explains the altitude is making the pain worse and worse. Phoenix decides to go and see if the attendants have some aspirin or something. Walking in the aisle, she ponders that Scott’s in more pain than he let on. She may have to sneak into his mind and help him, if this keeps up. Passing by the panicked man, she hears him raving that they are outside and want him back with them! Phoenix wonders what’s up with this guy. She thought he was talking about her earlier but now he’s fixated on the door there where that noise came from…
“Oh, no!” Jean suddenly exclaims, as she sees three armed and armored agents of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) storming into the room through the cabin door! Agent Newton warns the passengers to remain seated or they will be executed! He orders his colleague, Agent Planck, to seal and reserve pressure. The other agent asks him which seats the targets are in. Ahead on the left, Newton replies.
The changing air currents blow Jean down the aisle. She has to concentrate in order to stop. She contemplates that this is impossible: a mid-air hijacking? Where did they come from? Are they after Scott and her? Is it foolish of them to even pretend they can be civilians? She telepathically calls out Scott. She explains him she’s fine; she was blown back to the galley. She asks about him. Cyclops reassures her he’s okay. The agents seem to be concentrating on passengers in front of him.
Aiming his gun at a man sitting two rows in front of Cyclops, one of the A.I.M. agents demands to know where the entity is. The man, Doctor Sibelius, retorts that he and his evil custodians can’t have it! Does he think they didn’t know there would be people like him after it? It’s rigged to explode if the agents try to remove it at this altitude! The agent retorts they are a cadre of the most advanced intellects in the face of the planet. They will not tolerate insults or any obstruction on their directive – and with this, he shoots him with an energy weapon.
Cyclops screams in Jean’s head that they just shot one of the men with a… Phoenix assures him she can see it from where she is. She adds that the man is still alive; they still need him. The agents are after something in this plane and, for once, it’s not the two of them. Cyclops proposes they move quickly and take down the intruders before anyone else is injured. Phoenix refuses: they don’t know what kind of strain Scott’s powers could put on his wounds. Besides, they’re thousands of feet up with no clues as to how that hallway is attached or to what – plus, Cyclops has his future neighbors sitting across the aisle from him. If they act in the open here, they might endanger the other passengers. They have to…
Staci interrupts their telepathic session by asking Scott where Jean is. Scott replies that she went to the bathroom. She’ll be okay if she just stays… An agent interrupts him by shoving his gun at Scott’s face, ordering him to stop talking! Or he’ll be ex…
Suddenly, Cyclops and every other individual on board suffer through another emotional turbulence. Dark forces set to carry Scott back, to the most troubling moment he has ever faced, the moment he saw the woman he thought was the love of her life sacrifice herself on the surface of the moon. Scott is not alone in his emotional upheaval. Across the aisle, Staci Miller remembers the day her doctor told her of the lump he found in her breast – a lump that meant malignant cancer and surgery that left her feeling uncomfortable with her own body.
Beside her, Staci’s husband recalls the day he found his mother on the kitchen floor of their Cincinnati home. He was twelve years old and had only seen TV deaths before this. Even Agent Planck is cast into his painful past, the day volatile chemicals exploded in his face, causing him to lose his job and his face in one swift and merciless morning.
Though all on board have been forced to remember something they long to forget, the effect ends as quickly as it came. Cyclops psychically asks Jean if she felt that. “Did I ever,” Jean replies. She felt something like it earlier when that man was screaming, but she let herself open this time hoping to get a bearing on its source. “Any luck?” Scott asks her. Phoenix thinks that no one noticed her, so she’s taking the galley lift down to check on the cargo hold. She thinks the phenomenon is originating there.
“No! No one come near me! No one!” the hysterical passenger again freaks out and begins to run in the aisle, before one of the agents stuns him with his weapon. Despite Staci’s pleas Cyclops interferes and urges the agent to stop, telling him this man isn’t well! He angrily orders them to stop or he’ll… Before he is able to carry out his threat, he moans in pain, on account of his injuries. Agent Planck retorts that Cyclops will do nothing. There are no superheroes here to rescue him; they are in charge! Agent Copernicus intervenes and informs Agent Planck that they are taking their two hostages below. He orders Planck to return Cyclops to his seat and guard the cockpit; their plans may have to change. “On your order, Copernicus,” Planck complies.
“Mail call, bubbas,” Maggott announces. Three bills, one catalog, something from ‘Department of Education’ and… Rogue interrupts him and anxiously asks if there’s anything for her. Maggott is negative. However, there is a sweet-smelling little love note for someone named ‘Sam.’ Cannonball angrily snaps that’s his and snatches it from Maggott’s hands. “Stroppy, kid. Something secret?” Maggott teases him. Cannonball retorts that’s none of his beeswax – it’s private, that’s all!
Flying high above the mansion, Cannonball finally lands somewhere else in the mansion’s grounds, eager to read Meltdown’s letter away from prying eyes:
It seems like a million years we’ve seen each other. I’m trying to convince everyone to go to the Colossal Man gathering in Texas. It’s supposed to be a real freakshow. Sounds like fun, huh? If you want, I mean, if you’re not too busy with the X-Men, you could meet us there, too. I would love so much to see you, even for a few days. I miss you, and think about you a lot.
Without thinking twice, Cannonball blasts off to meet them.
In the plane, Jean telepathically informs Cyclops she’s in the cargo hold. Scott warns her there are men on their way in her direction. Jean assures him she can handle them, but she’s going to have to break their contact. Something in here is searching out her mind and she doesn’t think Scott could withstand the psionic feedback she felt before. She then decides to confront the entity directly: “Entity… I can sense you, but… what are you?” Her answer – the entity’s answer – is a firebird flying free in Jean’s mind.
Random images of being torn from another dimension, of being subjected to torturous tests by unknown men, of trying to touch but killing instead, of being imprisoned in an explosive cage for transport. Jean grits her teeth: the pain… thoughts… too alien…
She suddenly hears someone shouting: “Agent Copernicus! In here!” Realizing she can’t be seen in here, Jean hides behind some luggage, still struggling with the unbearable pain. The A.I.M. agents enter, dragging the scientists with them. One of the scientists retorts that this will do them no good! Agent Copernicus orders him to silence and demands to know which container holds their objective. Addressing the entity, the scientist begs her not to harm them! The other scientist also stresses that it is other men who are a danger to her! Copernicus is baffled: they bargain with a human they transport like a creature? The scientist is surprised they think she’s human. They’ve no idea what they are after!
Copernicus snaps they are after a scientific marvel better suited to their cause than the scientists’ petty black market profiteering. He asks them where the bomb mechanism is. One of the scientists points at the corner but reveals it cannot be removed at altitude or it will detonate. Agent Kepler examines the mechanism and concludes it’s a comparative altitude sensor trigger. He could dismantle it, but he does not have the proper tools with him. Their objective briefing did not indicate a need for them. Copernicus decides that, if it is volatile only at altitude, then they will simply take this craft down. He radios Agent Planck and tells him to order the pilot to land immediately to an airport or a highway – it’s inconsequential. He orders him to have their ship rescind the transport tube, de-dock, follow them down and prepare for…
Suddenly, the terrifying sensation within everybody awakens yet again, causing everyone to scream… and just as quickly nests once more. Copernicus inquires Kepler about the scientists, who now lay lifeless on the floor. Not dead, but close, Kepler reveals. Copernicus realizes that the entity grows more powerful – they must act! He radios Planck and tells him to get this plane down! Planck reports that he’s awaiting completion of de-docking. Copernicus retorts they have no time to wait!
Jean psionically informs Cyclops that there’s an otherworldly entity down here with emotion-focused psionic powers. It can’t be removed at altitude so… Scott completes her phrase: so they’re landing. He can see it from here: they’ve just released the cabin door. As the de-docking commences, however, the entity psionically lashes out at everyone’s mind again. The captain screams and the plane spirals out of control, its left wing smashing the A.I.M. aircraft, causing it to explode in mid-air! Hearing the explosion, the plane’s passengers believe they’ve been hit; they’re going to die!
As panic takes over, Cyclops informs Phoenix it’s bedlam up here! Jean knows that: she can feel the thoughts of the passengers. So much anguish… fear… Scott urges her to shut it out and do what she can down there, while he takes care of what he can up here. He may not be able to use his optic blasts, but a man is never without power. Seeing Scott about to sneak up on Agent Planck, Staci begs him not to do it; the agent will kill him! Scott tells her it’s a risk he’ll have to take for all their sakes and lunges at Planck, slamming his head on a metallic door and incapacitating him.
Another agent appears. A noble attempt but a common man is no match for an agent of A.I.M., he scoffs. Suddenly, though, one of the flight attendants sneaks up on him and bats his head with a fire extinguisher, knocking him out. “Well, how about the common fire extinguisher, kettle head?” the flight attendant boasts and tells Scott to take his seat: the pilot is trying to make an emergency landing in Winnipeg, so it’s not safe to be out of his seat. “You’re telling me,” Scott laughs.
In the cargo hold, one of the agents suddenly discovers Jean. Jean doesn’t know where he came from, but she knows where he’s going – and then gives him a punch to remember, breaking the glass in his helmet. She knows she can’t risk using her mutant powers this close to the entity. She could trigger another devastating emotion wave. However, she’s more than just psychic ability. She’s Jean Grey… and sometimes that’s enough. “How…?” the half-conscious agent barely mutters. Jean scoffs that technology is their servant, not their master.
Scott suddenly alerts her that the cabin’s filling with smoke from the crippled wing; everyone is panicking again! Jean can feel them. Even the pilot is afraid, making him nervous, affecting his abilities! Scott stresses they have to do something before people begin hurting themselves! Jean realizes it’s too many minds for her to aid alone. Hesitantly, she telepathically requests help from the entity. She knows she can instill emotions. She asks from her… one mind to another… to give the innocent minds aboard this flight tranquility.
Pushing past the limits in her mind, changing, becoming something larger and more powerful, Jean manages to mentally hold the explosive trigger in check, enabling the tormented entity to take flight from her cage and fly throughout the plane, instilling peace of mind in the passengers. The entity has feared and hated humans for what they have done to her, but in this moment she senses their admirable qualities, their quiet, heroic nobility, and in that moment, she, too, feels like a part of their flock, enough so to sacrifice herself for the greater good of many, knowingly returning to her prison in order to ensure their survival. As the entity returns to her box, an astounded Jean thanks her and tells her she’s beautiful.
Some time later, the plane lands to a far runway in snowy Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. After she and Cyclops disembark with the rest of the passenger, Phoenix tells him that she wishes they could do something. Cyclops thinks they have. The plane would’ve crashed if they hadn’t been on it. “Darndest thing, eh?” Jean huffs. Scott points out that after all they’ve been through, they all look as calm as can be. It’s good for them, though, because now that the government guys are here, they won’t have to worry about the lion’s share of the work.
An angry Jean retorts she meant to do something for the entity. She wants to talk to those ‘government guys’ about it. Cyclops reminds her they’re in Canada; this isn’t their government. Jean suspiciously notes that for a ‘random’ event, they sure got here awfully fast. It’s almost as if they were expecting trouble. She wonders if this had anything to do with Zero Tolerance. Cyclops conjectures that maybe their intelligence knew about this shipment and was keeping an eye on it. Still, if Jean wants to check…
Indeed, Phoenix asks one of the armored government agents where they’re taking the crate that contains the entity and which is now being loaded into the back of a truck. The agent replies it’s classified information. Jean thinks that the being in that container is a mutant who helped everybody aboard this flight. She stresses she should be freed. The agent nonchalantly replies that, if so, that’s most likely what the Ministry of Defense will do with her after she’s evaluated. He then tells his colleague to close up the truck. The truck is revealed to belong to Department H, bearing the motto “Building a better tomorrow for Canada today.”
Cyclops is surprised. He didn’t know Department H was operating again. They should tell Logan, make sure he knows. Jean assures him they will, once they’re back home. Scott asks her if she means she wants to go back to Salem Center. Jean corrects him: their home, in Anchorage. They’ll call Logan when they reach Alaska. This is a mystery for someone else to solve. They just needed to live with it, with no one the wiser, which they did.
Staci and Chris finally catch up with them. Staci thinks she just heard them say they’re glad they lived through that – that goes double for them! She is relieved that Jean’s all right and asks her where she was. Chris remarks that all this is like something out of a Bruce Willis movie! He bets nothing like that has happened to Scott and Jean before! Scott retorts he’s not a gambling man! Staci acknowledges that Scott put his life on the line for all of them. He was a hero up there! The way he leapt after that man! Jean gripes that she had to miss all that, hiding out in the bathroom, too afraid to come out! Staci is confident they’ll be talking about this for years to come up in Anchorage. Scott hopes not. He’s looking forward to a nice, quiet life up there. Jean seconds that: a normal life, with normal friends nearby…
They suddenly see the delirious passenger being carried off the plane, strapped on an ambulance, rambling on that he’ll be fine and they don’t need to worry about him. Staci notes there’s always one odd bird. Jean agrees – and it’s usually the one you’d least expect. Still, she hopes she’ll okay. “She?” Chris wonders.