(New York City)
Kitty Pryde relaxes in an apartment with Rogue and Nightcrawler. Rogue says that it never fails. They tried stepping out for night on the town and ended up getting into trouble with Mystique, not to mention their old pal Sunfire and old enemies Mesmero and Mastermind. Kitty reckons Mystique played them. For better or for worse, by clearing her name, they have exposed themselves to the conspiracy that framed her, without the slightest clue as to who they really are or what they want. Kurt reclines with his hands behind his head. He finds it disturbing. His encounter with Lorna Dane the previous evening was cause enough for concern. He thought she had become emotionally unbalanced after the death of Alex Summers, but now her behavior doesn’t seem quite so irrational. She could be a target of the same plot.
Kitty thinks that it might not matter anyway. Holding one of Destiny’s journals, she thinks that, if there’s any truth to her predictions, they’re on the brink of a global cataclysm. Rogue’s confirmed the handwriting, and they all know that Destiny’s mutant clairvoyance was real, if not quite perfect. Kitty then receives a phone call and it’s bad news. She informs the caller that they’re on their way.
Meanwhile, Piotr and Marrow head back towards Westchester by car, with an unconscious Mikhail Rasputin lying on the back seat. Piotr tells Marrow that she hasn’t taken her eyes off his brother since they set off. What is she thinking? Marrow replies that she knows Mikhail is his brother, but he was her master until recently: savior, lawgiver, judge, jury and executioner. She looks at him and sees a part of herself wanting to forget… now. Piotr assures her that Mikhail is unconscious and no threat to her. His mind was warped by the other-dimensional entity that he had unwittingly bonded with. Now that he is free of its influence, she has no reason to fear him. Right now he requires medical attention that only the X-Men can hope to give. Piotr then receives a phone call and receives the same information as did Kitty. He informs the caller that they are already en route.
Elsewhere, Sam Guthrie and Dani Moonstar are with Professor Xavier. Sam tells him that he’s real grateful for letting them know what’s going on and taking them into his confidence, even if the mind probe was none too pleasant. Dani reckons that’s an understatement. Even her nightmares will never be the same again. Charles replies that it was unavoidable. He admits that he contacted their team first out of concern, not preference. X-Force’s independent nature makes them particularly vulnerable to infiltration. Its casual affiliation with the X-Men makes them the weak link in their chain of defense.
Dani says they’ve heard this all before, and wonders whether he’s going to give them the ‘Toe the line or ship out’ speech. Charles assures her that it doesn’t have to be that black and white. But, there is a lesson to be learned from this crisis. As long as humanity distrusts and fears them, they have only each other to rely upon. When this is over, perhaps they can re-establish closer contact. Sam figures that it can’t hurt to try. Charles says that is all that he asks, adding that he and Storm should be on their way now as they have a meeting with Emma Frost. As headmistress of their school, she is best placed to evaluate Generation X. Before he can continue, Storm calls over to him and lets him know that she’s just received word from the others. They must return to the school immediately. It is Wolverine. He’s dead!
Everyone has returned to the school. The disparate groups join Nate Grey, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable, Gambit, Archangel, Beast and Moira MacTaggert in the med lab, where Wolverine is sprawled on a table, dead. Charles asks Scott how such a thing could have happened. Scott isn’t sure he knows how to answer that. Not in any way that’ll ease the pain.
He explains that the Mannites came to them for help. When Nina couldn’t get through to him, she turned to Jean instead. They’re just kids, scared kids who couldn’t understand what was happening to them. They were afraid of their burgeoning powers… and something else. Someone else. A living, breathing, killing machine - more a force of nature than a man.
The Mannites claimed he was death personified, so the X-Men did what Charles taught them and protected the weak. To save the Mannites, and themselves, Wolverine gave his life. In the end, the Mannites went into seclusion to ride out the next stage of their evolution, so Wolverine’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.
Tears creep from Kitty’s eyes as she clutches Colossus’s arm. She thinks it’s impossible. What about his healing factor? It’s always saved him before… always. No one can explain why it didn’t work this time. Charles informs Moira that he’s summoned Hank to assist with the autopsy. Hank is determined to find out precisely what killed him. It’s the least he can do now. He asks Moira if they should begin.
Marrow points out that Wolverine’s already dead. Mikhail isn’t. Moira assures her that Mikhail will be fine. His condition’s stabilized and his life signs are strong. The intensive-care monitors will alert them to any change. Marrow is a different matter entirely, however. Moira has read the med-scans that were forwarded to her. That’s why she was on her way over when all this came down. She wants to run a full physical-series on her before she’s done and find out how the Skrull technology has changed her, and how deep that change goes.
Kitty still doesn’t believe it. She can’t believe she was wasting time on the stupid diaries while Logan was actually dying; bleeding to death without her. Rogue says it sounds like it wouldn’t have made any difference in the end. He sacrificed for every one of them at one time or another. Now he’s gone. The best they can do is to find his killer and bring him to justice. Someone is out there in the shadows, waging war on the X-Men. Kitty figures that Destiny’s journal might, in that case, be the only weapon they have worth keeping.
Kurt chats with the others. He tells Scott that there is no direct danger, but he is concerned nonetheless. Lorna seems to be having great difficulty dealing with Alex’s death. He should go see her. It would mean a lot. Scott replies that he’s been trying to contact Lorna since Alex… disappeared, but X-Factor has disbanded and she’s obviously been avoiding everyone else. He assumed she wanted to mourn alone. At least they know she’s safe, adds Jean. There are still others they haven’t been able to locate such as Iceman. They don’t know about Wolverine yet. Warren thinks Bobby can take care of himself. He’s more worried about Betsy. She has effectively lost her powers and, if mutants are being targeted, he needs to know that she is secure.
Storm assures him that Psylocke is hardly helpless, even without her psionic abilities. Charles tells him that the discussion is premature, not to mention disruptive. In deference to Moira, they will continue to the command center two floors down. He wants all available X-Men gathered for a formal debriefing. Warren tells him he can count him out. There’s obviously nothing much he can contribute there and, the more he hears, the more desperate he is to find Betsy. He promises to stay in touch, but then leaves the mansion.
(fifteen minutes later)
The X-Men are gathered in the command center. Scott has told Charles the full story twice now and feels that there is nothing left to add. Charles replies that it is not his decision to make. This was his team, his responsibility and he will answer for the loss of one of his X-Men. Scott asks if this is what it’s all about; Charles’ need to control everything and everybody. Ororo asks the two men to put their differences aside for now. They must work through this together. “Like one big happy family,” quips Gambit, looking rather unimpressed with the whole situation. Rogue says that Storm is right. They owe it to Logan.
Suddenly, everything goes dark and a voice tells them that they are under attack. Everyone gets into fight mode, but the lights return immediately. Charles informs them that they aren’t under attack. It was just a minor power fluctuation according to the control monitor, but very well timed under the circumstances. He thinks that their hysterical reaction to such a mundane event illustrates the lack of discipline and self-control he’s been warning them about. “Well excuse us for being human, sir!” barks Cyclops. He reminds Charles that they all live on the edge. In case he hadn’t noticed, their lives seem to be one continuous battle. He adds that a friend has just been killed, so he can forgive them if they don’t share his cool detachment.
Charles replies that Scott chose to lead. He cannot escape his responsibility now by hiding in self-pity. Scott asks him to get serious. He’s the one who’s been deceiving himself for a while now. His way simply hasn’t worked. For all their efforts and sacrifices, they aren’t a single step closer to his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, and that drives him nuts. Magneto beat him hands down when the U.N. gave him Genosha.
Charles replies that Magnus is a terrorist and people will see that soon enough. He will be proved right. Scott asks if that’s what really matter to him; being right. That’s all that matters! Charles defends himself by saying that it isn’t Scott speaking. Some agency has obviously twisted his perceptions and taken command of his mind. Ororo steps between them and calls for them to stop their bickering. Scott tells Ororo to go ahead and defend him. They all know whose side she is on. “Nonsense,” she replies, “This is not about sides. It is about the X-Men pulling together as a team once again.” Scott offers a sarcastic response, asking her to look around. The factions are crystal clear.
Scott tells her that Nightcrawler, Colossus, Shadowcat and even Cable all share her concerns about Xavier - about his mental health and sanity. But, they still want to believe in the dream and follow it blindly. He points to the others, and says that Phoenix, Rogue, Gambit, X-Man and Marrow, along with himself, still have minds of their own and can still think for themselves. They know this is wrong. Kurt says he can speak for himself. He thinks all this is insane. Why are they arguing anyway? They should be working together to try and identify the real enemy.
Charles suddenly points his finger at Phoenix and shouts to the others that she is controlling Scott’s mind. He recognizes the psi-patterns. Remy can’t believe it. Charles says he will put an end to it once and for all. He attacks Jean psionically, causing her immense pain. Scott calls for him to stop, but Charles simply says that she is resisting him. Scott once again orders him to stop and release her. Charles refuses, and Scott finally loses his cool. He fires his optic blast at Charles, but sensing the danger, Kitty reaches out and touches him just in time so the blast passes right through his body. Unfortunately, it connects with Storm, who is standing behind Charles and it slams her against the wall.
The X-Men are shocked at the brutality, and Charles blames Scott for giving in to his rage. He attacks Scott’s mind, and Phoenix immediately leaps to her husband’s defense, hitting Charles with a psi-bolt that destroys his wheelchair and sends him sprawling. Cable orders Jean to back off before he does something he’ll regret. He says Charles was just defending himself. Remy grabs Cyclops, who is still breathing, and X-Man backs them up. Jean tells her team that they’ve got to get out of there and she uses her telekinesis to fly them away, just as a barrage of energy blasts separate the two factions - the walls literally coming down between them.
The two separated teams then gather their senses. Piotr tells his team that the professor is injured and Storm is unconscious, hemorrhaging from internal injuries. Cable wants to get them to the medilab immediately. Charles whispers that he sensed something about Phoenix most strongly. A darkness… Cable thinks that Nate Grey seemed awfully eager to leap to her defense. He’s the greatest unknown and most powerful of them all. They have to consider the possibility that he’s controlling her. “Or she’s controlling him,” replies Charles, weakly. Piotr wonders if something else entirely is at work, affecting them both. Charles agrees that it’s a possibility. Just before the X-Men split up recently, Gambit incited much of the disruption. He was the very first to abandon them. He went off alone, made a deal with Sinister. What he brought back could destroy them.
Nightcrawler considers that it might, but he admits that his concerns are for Marrow. The Skrull technology that was used to save her life brought about radical changes in her body. Who can say what it did to her mind? Kitty says it might not even be the real Marrow anymore. Piotr thinks that Sarah is as real as they come. They spent a lot of time together recently and he trusts her. But Rogue on the other hand… he doesn’t know quite how to say this but she seems so different after returning from the city. Looser somehow. She talked of conspiracies. Kitty replies that she was there, most of the time. Could Mystique have done something to her? Cable thinks that all this speculation is getting them nowhere. He walks away and asks them to do what they can for the wounded, and have them prepared for transport by the time he gets back.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the barricade, Phoenix cares for Scott, and informs the others that his mind is gone. Charles wiped it away like it was nothing. Rogue thinks this can’t be happening. Everything’s spinning out of control way too fast. She thinks Charles is off his rocker. Marrow wonders what happened to him all those months while he was imprisoned. Could Bastion have broken him and taken control of his mind? Or, is he slipping back into old habits and turning into Onslaught again?
Nate reckons that Xavier is definitely being forced to act. He’s sure of that. The most likely culprit is Cable. If he’s finally lost the battle with his techno-virus, then who knows what it would do to him? He picked up something alien, no doubt about that. Gambit asks what if it was Kitty. She was alone with the Skrulls for a while on their homeworld. Maybe they messed with her head. Jean asks about Nightcrawler. He seemed awfully determined to send Scott into the city and away from them. Rogue thinks he was acting a little weird in New York, but she trusts him. Colossus is the one she is worried about.
She mentions that he once defected to Magneto’s Acolytes. Maybe he’s done it again. Jean replies that he was in shock then, drowning in grief over his sister’s death. He’s whole again now, and absolutely loyal. He hasn’t anywhere near the level of power she sensed. She’s much more concerned about his brother, Mikhail. He can alter reality to suit his whims. Marrow reminds her that he longer has that power. Nate thinks that all this talking is pointless. The only way to find out who’s doing what to whom is to take it to its source.
Archangel glides through a storm, using the warm tail wind to aid his flight. As he flies, he spots something that he noticed a little earlier. It could be a coincidence, but decides to investigate. He plunges quickly and uses the forest canopy to hide his flight path. He then spirals back up again behind an object following him. Nothing man-made could have followed his evasion pattern at that speed and so low to the ground. He flies up behind it and realizes that it’s definitely a craft of some kind. It’s large enough for a manned crew but there are no portholes or visible markings to identify who’s piloting it. He follows it towards the estate, presuming that it must have determined his final destination. They know too much about him, and he knows nothing about them.
Back at the mansion, Gambit is starting to think that Nate had the right idea. He’s ready to get to the bottom of this himself. Rogue asks him nicely not to go, and Remy appreciates the fact that she still cares. As they make nice, a huge blast throws them both off the ground as Cable storms through the barricade, using his psimitar to focus his telekinesis. He orders the other team to surrender, or he’ll take them down piece by piece.
Phoenix asks him to listen to her. She reminds him that Scott, his father, is hurt. Cable apologizes, but he can’t take any chances against her powers. She can’t keep on playing her headgames… without a head. Jean is hurled backwards by the force of his blast, and Marrow leaps to her defense, striking Cable’s face with her claws and ripping his costume. In retaliation, he blasts her with the psimitar and she falls down hard, not breathing.
Rogue kicks Cable hard, reminding him that Marrow was just a scared kid who knew nothing but pain until a few weeks ago. She’d just begun to get a handle on her mutation and was finally getting a real shot at life. She was also shaping up to be a mighty fine X-Man, which is more than can be said for him. Injured by her forceful attack, Nathan weakly asks her to wait, but she continues her verbal attack, asking how it feels to be taken apart by a bigger, badder mutant. Unfortunately, Nathan was trying to warn her that his thermite grenade is sparking and, before Rogue can understand the danger, the grenade goes off, blasting the pair of them.
Piotr checks the damage caused by Cable’s impulsive exit, and realizes that it will take time to repair. Kurt tells him that it’s no good. Storm and Charles require immediate attention and both are too weak to be teleported or phased. Kitty adds that Ororo is getting weaker by the second, and her temperature is still dropping. She’s dying. Nate Grey then bursts through the rubble in the opposite direction to where Cable departed and he blasts away as he tells them they brought this upon themselves. They made the mistake of putting their faith in Xavier: a fatal mistake like he’s tried telling them all along. He aims to correct it. Piotr is caught by the blast and he falls, as Nightcrawler goes on the offensive. He kicks Nate, but knows that his speed will not serve him long against a telepath of Grey’s power. He can only hope to keep him off balance for a few moments, distracting him so Kitty can phase through the floor while she still can.
He shouts at her to do so, but Nate unleashes a fearsome burst of energy that vaporizes Nightcrawler where he stands. Piotr, ablaze from Nate’s assault, grabs him around the waist and pulls him onto a long sharp spike, which is thrust straight through Nate’s chest, killing him. Piotr then lands on the ground, burning. Kitty screams as she witnesses the horror before her.
Archangel follows the strange craft to the estate in Connecticut. He was hoping to pick up something about its occupants in order to gauge the level of opposition, but if he moves any closer he runs the risk of being spotted. And, if Betsy is in trouble, rescuing her is his top priority. As he flies in towards the estate, he sees several uniformed and heavily armed soldiers with light equipment, which allows them maximum aerodynamic firepower. They open fire when they see him and he is caught mid-air. He lands, only to look up and see a reflection of himself swooping towards him. The man apologizes for any damage. He explains that it’s in their best interests to keep it to a minimum, though everything can be replaced.
Gambit picks up Rogue and asks her to hang on in there. She can’t die now. As he holds her head gently in his hands, she asks him not to get sappy on her now. They had their moments, and she loved every single one of them. But, it would never have worked. Remy kissed her tattered glove and tells her he loves her. He’s always loved her. She needs to know that. Rogue asks Remy to move on, and then goes limp. Remy holds her tight as Rogue breathes her last breath.
Remy looks up to see the image of Jean Grey in her red costume hovering nearby, with Jean’s body being used to give it form. She calls him a whimpering cur. Rogue is gone and, if he thinks that hurts, he hasn’t even begun to suffer. He has no idea who he is up against. “The name’s Dark Phoenix!”
Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde goes over to Piotr and can’t believe that they’re all dead. Logan, Kurt, Ororo and even the professor. Piotr is also on the verge of death, and he asks her to save herself. Kitty doesn’t want to leave him again after all they’ve survived together. Not again. As he also breathes his last breath, Kitty kisses him and slumps over his body.
She is startled by a voice behind her, laughing. She turns to see the image of Onslaught surrounding Charles’ body. He tells her that Colossus is no more. As are the rest of the failed X-Men now. They were so easily duped into destroying each other. Kitty thinks that Nate was right all along. Charles has turned back into Onslaught. Kitty asks why he would do this to them. They believed him without question.
Elsewhere, Gambit doesn’t know how this happened, but he tells Dark Phoenix she made a big mistake. He charges several cards and throws them, but both the X-Men are stopped in their tracks. Onslaught’s hand grabs Kitty, and says, “Enough. The root mind’s ring clear. No evidence of psi-shielding.” Remy is caught in Dark Phoenix’s telekinetic grasp as she says, “They are who they appear to be.”
All of a sudden, everything changes.
The X-Men find themselves still sitting in the command center, all alive and free from injury. Charles apologizes for the deception and sympathizes with their confusion under the circumstances. Even played out in their minds, such a psycho-drama involves a high level of risk for all concerned - a risk he couldn’t even have considered without the combined support of X-Man, Cable and Jean. It finally proved to be the only way to firmly establish their identities beyond any shadow of a doubt, since he discovered that the team had been infiltrated.
Remy is clearly annoyed that he put them through that hell just to satisfy some paranoid delusion. Before he can continue, Ororo informs him that the professor’s breakdown was a ploy from start to finish. There is more happening here that he yet realizes. She is convinced that the team is at risk, and would never have agreed to this ruse otherwise. Charles explains that he couldn’t afford to raise suspicions by confronting them individually. So, he distracted them with extreme training sessions in the Danger Room, all the while attempting to probe their minds one by one. It didn’t work, however, and as Storm’s thoughts have always been the least cluttered, making her allegiance easiest to read, he took her in his confidence first.
Scott and Jean were next, he continues. He knows them best, having helped discipline their minds since early adolescence. The rest of the team are loners by nature, more defensive in some cases or simply unfamiliar to him after his long absence. He needed a plan, so he decided to drive the X-Men apart to limit any damage the infiltrator might inflict. Then, he turned to X-Man and Cable, knowing their powers could be utilized to test the others, but Wolverine’s death forced them to radically speed up the timetable.
So, he adds, they created a single situation that exposed their deepest loyalties and most primal emotions. As soon as they were satisfied that each of them was authentic, they removed them from the psi-scenario. “By killing us,” replies Marrow. “It was even worse for de survivors,” adds Remy. Rogue thinks it was all very cunning. But, if they are all authentic, then who is the big bad wolf in their midst? Charles turns to the door and asks them to accompany him. He believes Hank and Moira should be able to supply the proof they’re looking for.
Warren is attacked by his doppelganger who lays him out with a solid left cross. As he moves in for another go, the impostor is kicked in the face by Psylocke. The doppelganger goes down hard, and Warren exclaims, “Betsy!” She dusts her hands and asks him not to look so surprised. She lives there, remember?, and was trained by ninja masters. Warren tells her to carry on later. Right now they need to get some distance between themselves and his assailants. He flies her from the estate and down into the forest.
The X-Men are led to the medilab bed where Wolverine lays dead. Moira tells Charles that his suspicions were right all along. The corpse conforms completely to all of their medical records on Wolverine, right down to the cellular level. Hank adds that even at the molecular level, it’s taken hours to identify inaccuracies in the replication. “Inaccuracies,” exclaims Kitty, surprised by this revelation. “Then this… this isn’t really Logan?” Hank tells her that the D.N.A is wrong. It has no X-factor; the gene that causes genetic mutation. It isn’t even human. It appears to be and, even tests as, Logan’s genetic code, but only superficially. It’s a mask, a chemical matrix that cloaks an unknown form of elastic D.N.A.
Hank plunges a syringe into the corpse’s chest. He tells them that with the aid of a device Gambit brought back with him, they’ve isolated a compound that will relax the matrix and cause the body to resume its natural state. They’ll finally see who, or what, they’re dealing with. Once injected, the body quickly changes form and Wolverine’s body is replaced by that of a Skrull.
Everyone is shocked at this revelation. Charles says that, despite him being a Skrull, he managed to achieve a remarkably accurate forgery of Wolverine, both physically and physiologically for some time. The implications are staggering to say the least. Marrow doesn’t understand. She asks how long this has been the case. Charles explains that most of them were there when it began.
Immediately upon returning to Earth in a Skrull starship some weeks ago, they were blasted back into space again unexpectedly. At the time, they assumed Magneto’s electromagnetic pulse was responsible. They lost weeks of time because they believed the ship’s hibernation systems had reactivated automatically. However, he sensed other forces at work.
It confused him at first. If they had them, whoever they were, why did they let them go? They made it seem like a nightmare somehow. He desperately wanted to believe it was just a nightmare, but the damage to the hull was real enough. It had happened. They were attacked. Perhaps it was nothing more than a chance encounter. Perhaps they followed them through hyperspace. Charles adds that he still can’t fathom what their motivation was, but Wolverine was at this point replaced by a Skrull in order to infiltrate and observe the team. Logan was chosen, most likely, because they’d need a technological augmentation to duplicate any of the other X-Men’s powers. If the Skrulls were aware of Wolverine’s healing factor, they apparently relied on the impersonator’s ability to avoid any real danger. That, of course, can only last so long.
Piotr says that they saw the Skrull training moon themselves. Perhaps they were making preparations to invade Earth, but it was all destroyed. Kitty points out that they spent the next few years in stasis while they advanced their plans. Kurt asks what their plans actually are. Charles replies that they simply do not know yet.
Psylocke congratulates Warren on his moves. They lost the saucer a good twenty miles back playing duck and cover with the storm clouds. He replies that she’s still got some pretty good moves of her own judging by what he saw. They embrace, and he asks how she knew which was the duplicate. She reminds him that she cuts his hair. Whoever is behind this doesn’t know a thing about hairstyling. Hardly the most scientific approach, replies Warren as Betsy lands a kiss on his lips. “Some things are beyond science,” she smiles. “Warren is convinced, but he’s betting the professor holds out for something a little more conclusive.
Piotr informs the rest that others are starting to arrive upon hearing the news of Wolverine’s death. Jubilee and Banshee just pulled up in front and the rest of Generation X can’t be far behind. Charles replies that X-Force is due as well, and Hank covers the Skrull’s body. Sean and Jubilation enter, not knowing the truth. Jubilee is very upset, but Kitty assures her it isn’t as bad as she expected. Charles informs them that there has been some confusion, and if they care to join him in the study, he can clear it up.
For everyone, it has been a long night. It ended in a lot better place than it started, but everything’s changed. Things were said today, and things were done that can never be undone. One question still remains unanswered, and Ororo is the one to say it. “If the Wolverine in our medilab is a Skrull… then where is the real Wolverine?