(Wade River, Washington)
As horrified police officers look on, a school building burns, after exploding just seconds earlier. Wolverine and Nightcrawler had teleported inside just moments before the blast destroyed much of the building. A handful of police officers, some of whose kids are in the building, think that the two mutants are inside, killing their kids. They rush into the inferno, pulling away fallen timber which blocks their path, as fire fighters hose down the lobby. “The school’s a wreck,” cries one officer, Lou. “Did they plant bombs?” His colleague replies that he should check out the Purity Website. Some muties are bombs.
Lou shines his flashlight into the building, bathed in an orange glow. He mentions that the two outside, Nightcrawler and Wolverine, had badges. His colleague is unconvinced, pointing out that those can be faked. They’re monsters and how can he trust monsters? Lou soon finds something and calls his sheriff over. He shines his beam into a darker area of the building to reveal Wolverine, his uniform in tatters and with a look of pain all over his face, lying next to the dead body of one of the school’s pupils. Small fires still flicker all around him and his left hand still has its claws extended. “That’s Tommy Reichert!” exclaims another officer. “That mutie killed him!”
Without even waiting for a response, the officer smashes Wolverine in the face with his rifle butt, telling him that he was a good kid and he butchered him. His fellow officers pitch in, surrounding the X-Man and give him a good beating. They shout at him and inform him that he’s under arrest. Another asks where his partner is, and another enquires about the other children. There were thirty children trapped within the building and they wanna know what he’s done with them. After the kicking, they lay Logan on his stomach and handcuff him as a paramedic arrives on the scene to check on Tommy.
The paramedic finds it very strange that, although this is the epicentre of the explosion, it’s a miracle that the mutant survived. Indeed, Tommy isn’t even scratched. Upon closer inspection, he notices Tommy has mutant features under this clothing. Grimacing as he speaks, Wolverine informs them that the boy’s a mutant, same as he, only his power was to blow up things and he couldn’t control it. An officer lands another kick to his face, calling him a liar. He readies his rifle butt once again, telling him he did this to Tommy, and he’s gonna pay. Matt Massey, the sheriff, rushes in. “Greg, that’s enough,” he shouts; “Leave the prisoner be while we sort things out.”
Before he can do anything else, a fellow officer, Danny, calls him on the phone. He tells Matt that they found the other mutie. Matt asks about the kids and Danny replies that it looks like they’ve got ‘em all, safe and sound. Huddled in a corner, frightened, Nightcrawler stands amongst the children and tells them he knew they’d be rescued. As he speaks, several weapons are aimed at his head.
Soon, Nightcrawler is thrown to the ground outside the school, handcuffed beside Wolverine, now both on their stomachs. Logan turns to him and says that, as he recalls, he was supposed to jaunt them clear. Kurt replies by asking him how much energy he would have after teleporting thirty people at once. He asks if Logan’s all right and he replies that he’ll heal. “What about the mutant?” Kurt asks. As rain begins to fall, Tommy is taken away and placed in an ambulance, as police officers and fire crews look on. Kurt is furious. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Logan tries calming him down, pointing out that they were simply too late. Kurt isn’t having any of it and replies that they were here in time. If only they’d listened, if only they’d trusted them.
Kurt teleports out of his cuffs and appears almost instantly in front of the sheriff. He grabs his collar and lifts him into the air. The sheriff is petrified as Kurt releases his anger verbally. “We could have made the difference!” he cries. As other police officers train their weapons on him, a voice from above orders them to stand down. The officers turn and see both Storm and Warbird descending towards them, followed by a flying shuttle belonging to the DHS. Lightning crackles around Storm, who quite likely caused the downpour to help quell the flames. The rain now stops.
They separate Kurt and the sheriff, and Ororo assures Kurt that they came as quickly as they could. Warbird introduces herself to Sheriff Massey as Warbird of the Avengers, but also as Chief of Tactical Operations with the Department of Homeland Security. She points her finger at him, demanding to know what happened here. Her office vouched for the X-Men’s credentials. “They’re muties,” replies the sheriff. Warbird says they aren’t; they are federally sanctioned officers of the law, and he should cut ‘em loose.
Ororo unlocks Logan’s handcuffs and asks what went wrong. What didn’t, replies Logan. Kurt offers a sideways glance at the sheriff and tells Ororo that they wouldn’t accept their bonafides. They acted like they were terrorists, coming to save one of their own. Wolverine explains that the kid’s power generated plasma charges. It was a self-initiating chain reaction. He couldn’t stop and didn’t want to. He takes a hot drink from Carol and continues to say that the kid was babbling about his girl, his grades; his life. It was all in the toilet and he wanted to get even; make his mark on the world. He wouldn’t listen to reason and couldn’t even feel his punches.
Wolverine frowns as he continues the story. The way Tommy’s detonations were building, one more would’a turned the whole school into a crater. Carol says it sounds like he made a valid decision; under the circumstances, the only decision. “Carol, he was just a kid,” Logan adds. Carol places her hand upon his and reminds him that so was Kitty Pryde when she joined the X-Men. So were Sam Guthrie and the original New Mutants. Kids are nothing new to the X-Men, she continues, as heroes or adversaries. Why should he treat this one any differently? He answers that it’s because back in the old days, mutants came to Xavier’s because they were primed for the life. “You think Charley recruited on a whim? That this was all accident and serendipity?”
He stands and points out that the man’s a telepath. He knew from the start who to draft. Kid like this; all he wanted out of life was a decent shot to have one. There’s a whole world out there like him. Kurt pitches in, adding that like these people here, parents, friends and family try to make sense out of madness. He wonders if they will even remember the children they just saved, or just that an X-Man killed one of their own. Carol replies that, right now, all they understand is that they’re afraid.
Carol’s fellow DHS officers begin to interview bystanders and survivors, as the children are reunited with the families who have arrived at the scene. Kurt watches the DHS doing their job and says that they themselves are what they’re afraid of; the monsters in their own genes. “Only you’re not monsters,” points out Carol. “You’re the best chance those kids have, which is why you have to keep trying to make a difference, no matter how hard it gets.”
(Xavier Institute for Higher Learning)
Sage is once again inside her Carriage House, monitoring everything she possibly can on an array of monitors. She asks the computer for global access and suddenly has available to her audio visuals from the strangest places, including the FBI Field Office in Seattle. She watches Wolverine being interrogated by DHS officials over the Wade River incident. They ask him if he could have just knocked Tommy out. Wolverine replies that he tried. NPR-TV reporter Lars Hoel reports from outside the building, commenting that sources close to the investigation indicate that no charges will be brought against the X-Men involved in the tragedy.
Elsewhere, Evangeline Whedon, speaking on behalf of the X.S.E, informs journalists that, while the X.S.E applauds the exoneration of their agents, their hearts go out to the family of Tommy Reichert. A vox-pop, meanwhile, takes the thoughts from the general public and they aren’t quite as keen on the X-Men’s involvement in the affair. With Neal Conan asking the questions, one person asks what kind of mutant kills one of their own. Another guy points out that this is America. Both the ‘muties’ were foreigners, so what gives them the right to interfere? Sage checks the Purity website, which shows a caricature of Wolverine foaming at the mouth and attacking an innocent woman. It reads - “Wake up world. The mutie take-over just happened, and nobody noticed.”
Later, at the end of a hard day, Nightcrawler says his prayers in Latin, kneeling in front of a cross on his chest of drawers. Storm appear at his doorway and assures him that it wasn’t his fault, or Logan’s. Kurt replies that he’s okay; he’s just not in the mood for company. She tells him that he did his best, but he turns and replies that the boy isn’t any less dead though, is he? Sadly, no, but twenty-odd classmates of his still live thanks to him, says Ororo.
Kurt stands, and points out that it’s just that, the harder they try to make things better, the worse they seem to get. Ororo smiles, and asks if he really thinks that. She explains that he was there as himself. She remembers when he didn’t dare go out in public without the protection of his image inducer. “A lifetime ago,” replies Kurt. Ororo places her hand warmly on his shoulder and comments that so much has changed since then, and yet what really matters remains constant and true. If the X-Men don’t show the way, then who will? And Kurt thought he’d be the one providing the shoulders for her to lean on.
Ororo pulls out an image inducer and asks if he recognizes it. It’s Sage’s latest iteration. She switches it on and the image shows her in a long maroon dress, with Kurt in a dashing black suit with gold waistcoat and red bowtie. “Remember when I wore this,” Ororo asks, “I asked if I was pretty.” Kurt flatters her, replying that she is as beautiful now as she was then. “And you’re still the charmer,” is her response. “You make it easy,” Kurt says. Their banter is warm and knowing.
Ororo puts her arm out and they assume a dance position. Ororo tells him the night’s still young and he begs her pardon, not quite knowing what mischief she has in mind. He twirls her as she informs him that, where she grew up, the Masai tribespeople weren’t very big on waltzing. For too long after she joined the X-Men, it didn’t seem important but, when she watches him move, she sees a grace that makes her heart ache. They continue spinning as Ororo creates a breeze, strong enough to lift them out of Kurt’s skylight and into the night sky. She tells Kurt that she hoped he wouldn’t mind sharing it with her. In front of a full moon, they dance on air in each others arms.
As Ororo and Kurt dance, Marvel Girl, Bishop and Cannonball are en route to Braddock Manor. Travelling in a convertible, they wind their way through the English countryside, with Rachel singing as she drives. It’s one of her mom’s favorite songs. She herself prefers Psychic Fractal Geomancers, a Chicago band; punk particle physics!
Bishop changes the subject to that of Sam Guthrie’s siblings. “Apropos of nothing special,” he asks, “When do you Guthrie’s get to form your own team of X-Men?” Rachel also asks exactly how many of them are active mutants. Sam replies that he has a brother with wings, which he finds unbelievable. Rachel mentions his two sisters and asks how his mom feels about that. Sam tells her that she enrolled Jay at the institute and, of course, he totally hates it, which means he hates him. Rachel puts her arm around his neck and says he’ll get over it. Sam replies that she doesn’t wanna know how his mom reacted when she saw them on TV. When she called, he felt like a kid again. Rachel kinda feels like that now. She’s nervous coming back here after all this time.
The convertible is driven through the open gates of Braddock Manor, towards the splendid house at the end of the meandering driveway. Rachel knocks at the door, thanking the guys for coming with her. They collect their luggage. Bishop informs her that it’s the first chance she’s had to pay her respects to Brian over the loss of his sister, Betsy. It isn’t right to face that alone. Cannonball adds that it’s especially so, considering what happened to her mom. Rachel thinks it’s funny, but she still doesn’t believe that was real. The X-Men break so many rules…
There is no answer at the door and no answer to her telepathy either. She asks if anybody’s got a cell. Bishop uses his cyber shades to contact Sage for assurance that Brian knows that they’re coming.
Back at Xavier’s, Sage sees Cannonball and Rachel through Bishop’s shades and confirms that everything is arranged, asking if there’s a problem. Sam tells her he’ll keep her posted. Rachel manages to open the door and Sam asks if she’s had any luck scanning inside. Unfortunately, the house is shielded from her psi powers. As they enter, Sage’s monitors receive only static as the glasses’ signal fails. She loses audio too.
Inside Braddock Manor, the place is dark and quiet. They call out, but nobody replies. Rachel shines her flashlight at a large painting of Brian and Meggan, as Sam notices a gaping hole in the floor. “Why can’t things ever be simple?” enquires Rachel. Sam shines his torch into the hole and Bishop tells them to get into uniform. As of now, they’re working. As they descend into the shadows below, Rachel attempts to contact Sage but is unable to get through using either her psi-powers or any of Sage’s datalinks. Sam wonders if there’s simply been a domestic spat, as there appears to be no damage, save the hole in the floor. Bishop is doubtful.
They make their way into an area of semi-darkness and see that the whole place is an intricate set of caverns. Bishop asks Rachel, since she used to be a team mate of Brian’s, what she knows about the place. Rachel explains that they are at a nexus of natural caverns and old mine shafts that extend for miles. It used to form a sentient computer, with capabilities that rival what they have at Xavier’s. The last she heard, Brian had deactivated the entire system. Things could have changed, though, she adds.
Unseen by them, they are captured within the frame of a scanning device, which analyzes them. Rachel somehow senses that they are not alone and turns to look behind her. Instinctively, Cannonball powers up and rockets away, whilst Bishop leaps at Rachel and knocks her to the ground. A powerful blast splits them, but thankfully misses. Sam recognizes the blast as being a charged particle beam and, as his blast field makes him virtually invulnerable, he takes point. Believing himself to be safe, he heads straight for a strange creature that lurks in the shadows; only its glowing weaponry highlights its whereabouts.
As soon as Sam reaches the creature, he is smashed in the face by an almighty blow which incapacitates him, leaving him sprawled on the ground. The creature stands over him. It is grey in color, with an array of sensors in place of facial features. Its left arm hosts the weapon it used to blast them with. Bishop asks Rachel if it looks familiar, but she replies, “Only from nightmares.” She doesn’t much care where it came from, because in a couple of seconds, it’ll be history. She takes to the air and thrusts herself forward with her telekinesis. She snaps off a hefty looking stalactite and flies straight towards the creature, the phoenix emblem glowing gold over her left eye. She thrusts the stalactite straight into their foe’s chest, knocking it backwards. Unfortunately, its lack of balance is no cause for concern and it uses its club-like left arm to smash Rachel clean through the cavern ceiling, through Braddock Manor’s garden and high into the air with amazing force.
Bishop picks up Sam, who regains his senses. Bishop is astonished that the creature hit Rachel as hard as it could and, not only did it send her into orbit, it’s also regenerating. Bathed in fresh sunlight, the strange being rebuilds itself from the surrounding materials, as well as the stalactite impaled in its chest. Bishop opts to attack while it is temporarily incapacitated, and orders Sam to go after Rachel. He adds that, as soon as he’s clear, he should contact Sage and call for backup. Bishop lays on the power and increases his energy output as the creature analyzes its opponents.
It classifies them as being metahumans, but is unfamiliar with this variant. However, it will analyze and adapt, and will ultimately prevail. Bishop’s energy reaches a crescendo, which causes Sam to stop in his tracks and turn. After a major explosion, Sam sees the creature kneeling, with smoke drifting from its strange form. It has dealt with innumerable dynamic energy beings, but never any of such magnitude. At the end of its attack, Bishop was channelling the output of a small star. Fortunately, for the creature, that same power can now be utilized for restoration.
It spots another target but, before it can act, believing it to be another opponent, it finds Cannonball launching himself into it, throwing it backwards against the cavern floor. He suddenly realizes his mistake in getting so close. His arm becomes caught in the creature’s malleable body and it recognizes him as being not a fresh opponent, but his first target. It stands and Sam struggles to free himself, even using his blast field to try and pry himself from its taffy-like body.
Sam recognizes the immense danger he is in. The creature adjusts the polymer matrix of its shell to resist Cannonball’s maximum heat coefficient. Sam’s last thoughts are inevitably of his family. ‘I love you mama. Paige, you’ll be the oldest now. Look after Jay and Melody, sis. Make me proud!’
The creature analyzes Sam’s power. He can manipulate kinetic energies to generate motive power and an envelope of protection. Being dynamic, the system is inherently unstable and thereby vulnerable. It slams Sam to the floor with horrifying ease. With Sam no longer able to fight, it picks up his cyber shades. The object is intriguing to it, as it represents a locus of extraordinary cybernetic power. It will follow the network back to its source and, if it proves useful in the fulfilment of its prime directive, assimilate it.
Back at Xavier’s, the communications link appears to be operating again. The Fury’s strange face appears on all Sage’s monitors and she screams Sam’s name.