(Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning)
The times they are a-changin.’ A long-overdue game of baseball is being played in the Memorial Garden, overlooked by the newly rebuilt Institute for Higher Learning. The building is habitable but not quite complete and scaffolding still stands in certain parts. Storm’s team has returned to Westchester after spending time in Valle Soleada and helping out with the rebuilding of New York City. She has been in negotiations with some of the world’s governments to have the X-Men legitimized and become members of the X.S.E (X-treme Sanctions Executive). Their role will be to keep the peace between humans and mutants. Professor Xavier has travelled to Genosha with Wolverine to bury Magneto but didn’t return with him. This leaves the X-Men with some re-organizing to do. Although the mansion has been rebuilt, there is still plenty of work to do but, for now, it is a time to relax.
Karma and Moonstar commentate on the game, which sees Cyclops and Storm once again on opposing sides. Emma Frost is at the home plate and preparing to face a pitch from Rachel Grey, the newly-minted Marvel Girl. In front of Bishop, who umpires, Nightcrawler squats behind her in his role of catcher. He does his best to distract her and she warns him that, one more word from him, and she’ll banish him to his father’s dimension herself. Dani recaps the state of play for the assembled crowd which is a mixture of X-Men, their associates and students at the school.
It’s the bottom of the ninth; bases are loaded with two outs. Storm’s team leads by a run. For the visitors, Cannonball covers first base, Wolverine second, Magma is at shortstop and Sage is on third. Outfield are Rogue, Storm and Gambit. For the home team, Beast is at third base, Cyclops at second and Husk at first. The starting pitcher, Kitty Pryde, is having her arm treated and has been replaced by Rachel. The game rests on her performance.
She delivers a brushback, which startles Emma, and Rachel doffs her cap. “Made you flinch, Emma Dahling,” she smirks. Emma gives her daggers in return but stays silent, as Bishop calls ball two. Cyclops asks Wolverine why he’s on Storm’s team and asks if his place isn’t with the Institute. Logan replies that he makes his own place, just like he chooses his own friends. Scott asks what that’s supposed to mean but Logan simply tells him to stay focused; they’re playing a game here.
Rachel’s second pitch flies just as close as her first and Bishop warns her that a third will mean disqualification. Dani comments that a hit or ball four wins the game for the home team. For Marvel Girl, this is the pitch of the day. Emma doesn’t like losing and uses a little telepathy to foresee Rachel’s intentions. Rachel winds up her third throw and launches it towards Emma, who, despite the advantage, is unable to connect. She’s out and her momentum takes her crashing into the dust, much to Rachel’s amusement. As she laughs, Rachel creates a mental image of Emma, sitting in the dirt, crying.
Nightcrawler helps her up but Rachel uses her own telepathy to inform Emma, “That one was for my mom, Emma!” Emma is furious and says she heard that, calling her a cow. Rachel isn’t intimidated and wishes Emma to know it. “Moo!” she replies. Kurt immediately teleports himself and Bishop between them and Bishop tries to remind Emma that not only are they ladies, but she is supposed to be setting an example.
Emma is left fuming, as the away team celebrate their victory. Scott wanders over to her and assures her that it’s only a game. Of course it is, she smiles, and says that Rachel is but a child, who should never have been born. Strangely, Scott doesn’t refute that. Wolverine offers the couple a sideways glance and says that he guesses some folks have all the luck.
Back in the day, the school housed perhaps a dozen students, tops. It was totally clandestine then, because all students were mutants. That meant they were born with a wild genome, which gave them powers that separated them from the majority of humanity. That, in turn, made them objects of fear and hatred throughout the world. Charles Xavier’s dream was to forestall what some see as the inevitable confrontation between these branches of the human species. Charles, though, no longer leads the X-Men, nor does he reside at the school. The school is no longer a secret and neither are the identities of the X-Men. Nowadays, there are a whole lot more mutants in the world than anybody ever dreamed of, which means a whole lot more potential flashpoints. Someone has to keep tabs on them.
Sage has showered following the game and makes her way to her quarters, which are situated in a stablehouse. She tidies her hair, seats herself in the center of an empty room and puts on her cyber shades. The computer display appears and she asks it for options. A variety of external database icons appear including those belonging to the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, The White House, the Hellfire Club and Purity. She decides to take a look at a few satellite links to see who is looking at what.
The National Reconnaissance Office has one of its geosynchronous satellites aimed squarely at the new Institute. It is noticeably different from the building that Magneto destroyed. The building is now a blending of the old and the new, and from above it is X-shaped. The classrooms and dormitory’s provide the arms of the X, whilst the atrium, the headmasters’ offices, Professor Xavier’s office and the observation tower make up the central section. At one end, a glass cafeteria looks out over the basketball court and swimming pool. A further new addition is a memorial statue to Jean Grey-Summers in the courtyard.
Sage switches to surveillance cameras operated by the Department of Homeland Securities, which focus on the main gates on Greymalkin Lane. The FBI appears to be more interested on what’s going on inside the gates and their cameras focus on the swimming pool. Beast dive-bombs the pool, splashing both Sunspot and Evangeline Whedon, who get a little too close for comfort.
As the X-Men play, MBS-TV reporter, Shanna Cho, flies above the Institute in a helicopter, as she delivers a report on the recent changes in their status quo. She explains to her viewers that world governments recently announced the establishment of a team of X-Men, code-named the X-treme Sanctions Executive (X.S.E). This team has global law-enforcement responsibility for the apprehension of mutant criminals. A voice in her earplug tells her that she should check behind her, as they’ve got some live ones.
Shanna looks to her right and sees two mutants flying beside the helicopter. They pose for the cameras and love the attention. Shanna says this is pure gold and tells Gino to get in as close as he can. She asks the two mutants, one of whom is Sam Guthrie’s brother, Josh, if they can answer some questions. Before they can reply, Cannonball interjects and flashes his X.S.E badge. He warns Shanna that this is restricted airspace and that includes the media. Josh’s companion, Melody, asks Sam not to be so lame; she’s on TV! Sam turns to her and says she’s totally grounded and informs his brother that he should know better. Josh responds angrily, saying he’s only his brother. “You’re not the boss of me, not now, not ever!”
Underneath the basketball court, hidden from view is the X-plane hangar bay. Rachel is working on one of the planes’ engines, which has seen better days. Sage appears in holographic form and asks if she needs any help. Sure, she replies, otherwise she’s gonna have to rebuild the engine from scratch. Also below ground is the medical bay. Dr. McCoy is checking out Gambit, who asks if he checks out perfectly. Hank tells him that both he and Storm feel he needs more time in rehab, just to be sure that his restored powers are as ‘perfect’ as he claims.
In the Memorial Garden, Bishop places a bunch of flowers next to a photograph taken of Scott and Jean on their wedding day. She may be gone, but certainly not forgotten. Dani Moonstar is looking for Jean’s other half, Scott, as well as Emma, but unfortunately they are in conference. Upon closer inspection, they certainly appear to be doing more than conferring. Both Scott and Emma wear their new costumes. The leather has been ditched and Cyclops now wears an all-in-one black costume with gold lines and wristbands. Emma’s is not dissimilar to her previous outfit, but is a little less revealing.
Far below the mansion, almost as far down as the complex gets is the Danger Room. Rogue, wearing a temporary costume based on the old blue and yellow number, is showing round a group of young students, wearing similar costumes only in black and yellow. They have a session booked but the door to the room is locked. Rogue informs them that she guesses some folks believe that rules were meant to be broken. She shows them to a windowed observation room, which hangs down from the ceiling. Their faces take on the look of surprise and horror as they witness what’s going on from the safety of the control hub. There’s a battle going on outside and it’s raging.
Below them, three X-Men take on a small army of Sentinels; some based on the old giants and some on the small flying Sentinels once controlled by Cassandra Nova that took part in Genosha’s destruction. Nightcrawler, Storm and Wolverine also sport old-style uniforms, as they run through the combat situation. Despite being dwarfed in both size and number, they show exemplary teamwork in dispatching not only the giants, but also the nasty little critters too. Each watches out for the others and they use their respective powers to make short work of their opponents. Rogue can’t help but indulge in a little schadenfreude as she sees the look on the students faces. She informs them that they usually use the Danger Room for training; but a session like this is mostly just for fun. Storm ends the session with a huge electrical strike, which takes out everything still mobile.
The trio congratulate one another and Kurt reckons they should work together more often. Wolverine asks Storm to tell him more about this X.S.E. Storm replies that someone has to keep the peace. The first generation of mutants needs to take responsibility for their heirs. Sage’s hologram then appears and asks them to forgive the interruption, but they have missions.
(The Central Saharan Republic)
In the middle of the Saharan Desert, there resides a fort. It was built by the French, as an outpost for their foreign legion. Since then, it has protected this remote oasis, until today. The raiders attacked without warning, without mercy. They call themselves Weaponeers and their technology puts the defenders’ skills and courage to shame. The villagers place their hands behind their heads, as the Weaponeers stand victorious and their craft hovering overhead. Their outfits are a strange amalgam of Arabic and ninja, with V-shaped red visors covering their eyes. Smoke drifts silently from the ruins as the Weaponeers’ sergeant clenches his fist and gives his victory speech.
“We claim this land, and the lives of all who live here, in the name of our master, Achmed Al-Khalid!” Marvel Girl appears, wearing a newly designed green and gold costume. She surprises him by holding up her X.S.E badge and informing him that she has a problem with that. She’s Marvel Girl and represents the X.S.E. For violating the sovereignty of this land and for piracy, they’re under arrest. The sergeant places his hands on his hips and asks nonchalantly, “Oh really? By you and what army?” His answer comes in the form of Lucas Bishop, who tears his way through a group of Weaponeers as if they were paper. “That would be me!” The sergeant orders his troops to kill them and battle ensues.
Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to create a protective bubble over the villagers, as the Weaponeers’ aircraft unleashes a bombardment. The villagers cower but they are safe for now. Bishop is blasted by the Weaponeers but, as he absorbs energy, the more he is blasted, the more powerful he becomes. He hands them back their energy in spades, as around them, despite this being the Saharan Desert, snow begins to fall. It appears Rachel and Bishop aren’t alone.
The Weaponeers’ craft suddenly finds itself crippled, courtesy of Cannonball, who tears right through the ship. His near invulnerability allows him to stay untouched. The ship’s pilots inform their hirsute boss that their shields are offline and their defensive array is unable to lock onto its target. Some kind of electrical interference is degrading all their electronics. Cannonball rounds and prepares for one more attack but, as he speeds towards the ship, it suddenly vanishes.
Storm glides effortlessly through the blizzard she is creating and tells Sam that they should deal with the soldiers that remain. The sergeant orders his men to maintain discipline, but without aerial backup, Storm is able to pick them off one-by-one with small discharges of electricity. Soon, Bishop asks her if that’s everyone and Ororo creates an area of clear air to reveal a couple of dozen incapacitated Weaponeers, all out for the count. Storm surmises that their ship must have teleported. That’s how they can achieve total surprise. She bends down and picks something up. This is the first time they’ve been beaten, she informs Bishop. They now have a name for them and for their leader. They’ll learn more from their prisoners.
Bishop smiles and asks that she turn off the weather now that the fight’s over, and return the town to its people. Rachel has quickly created a snowman for the children. This is probably the first time that most of them will have seen real snow.
(Xavier’s Institute for Higher learning)
Sage is monitoring everything that occurs and is soon in conversation with Rachel. Sage can find nothing on any database concerning either the Weaponeers’ uniforms or their technology. They’re dealing with something completely new here. Rachel adds that they have pretty good psi-blocks too. If she uses her telepathy she might fry their brains. Sage replies that she should leave their interrogation to her. She has ways of making people talk. Rachel also asks about something else she mentioned, about Brian Braddock. Sage says she’s calling him as they speak.
(Braddock Manor, England)
A telephone rings and a voice says, “Braddock Manor, Brian Braddock speaking.” Sage asks him something about the team being able to pay him a visit and he replies that the X-Men are always welcome here. They’ll be waiting for them with open arms. Sage apologizes, but she has another call. Wolverine’s face appears on a monitor and he informs Sage that they have a problem. The local law won’t accept their X.S.E badges. Kurt’s trying to finesse the situation, but they’re acting like they’re the bad guys.
(Wade River, Washington)
Nightcrawler and Wolverine are in discussion with the local sheriff. They are both sporting new costumes. Wolverine’s harks back to his blue and gold outfit and Nightcrawler’s is a svelte, classic red and black number with an X on the chest. Kurt tries to explain that he is Kurt Wagner and his partner’s name is Logan. They represent the X.S.E. The sheriff looks at his badge and says he got a flash from the feds that they’d be coming. They don’t need their help. Kurt explains that they’re dealing with an alpha-level mutant here, but the sheriff is having none of it. He tosses Kurt’s badge back in his face, saying they don’t want their help.
Wolverine picks up his badge and tells Kurt that he told him it would be a mistake coming in openly. They should have played this sneaky. Kurt persists in trying to assure the sheriff that they have the experience and the training, and he asks if they can work together. “Bull!” replies the sheriff. “As far as I’m concerned, you got no jurisdiction.” Wolverine then feels something and, with a sense of urgency, tells Nightcrawler that they’re done talking. They gotta get inside… now! Kurt teleports them both and they vanish instantly. As soon as they’re gone, the whole building explodes. The police and fire crews can only look on in horror.