(Xavier’s Institute for Higher learning: Sage’s Loft)
Sage processes date at speeds that put the fastest computer to shame. She forgets nothing. After witnessing Cannonball’s apparent demise at the hands of the Fury, she knows something is seriously wrong, as she looks at the monitors and, again, says Sam’s name, receiving no answer.
(Underneath Braddock Manor)
The Fury holds Sam’s cyber shades and studies them. The object is more than it seems. It is part of a global data network. It represents a potential threat, but also an opportunity. Using its own inbuilt circuitry, the Fury carefully carries out an intricate operation on the shades’ own circuits.
(Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning)
Sage asks for a response from Bishop and Rachel, but still receives no response. For all her skills she remains fundamentally human; bound by human limits. She calls Ororo and tells her that they may have a problem. By the time she realizes she is in danger, and all she needs is a fraction of a second, the battle is lost. Prompted by the Fury’s machinations, her own cyber shades begin to act in an organic fashion, shooting tiny wires into her complicated brain. The effect of this invasion is devastating. A burst of energy is released, shattering monitors around her and throwing her from her seat. The Fury will acquire control of the network, by assimilating its host.
At that moment, above the mansion, Storm and Nightcrawler are still waltzing in the clear night sky. He compliments her on her ability to waltz, but she replies that, in the air, everything’s easy. Her glasses receive Sage’s message and beep her. She grabs them from nowhere and Kurt asks where she could possibly hide them. She smiles and puts on the shades but, as soon as they are in contact with her skin, she is attacked in the same way as was Sage. Electricity fizzles around her, as the wires try to take a hold of her, but, in a final moment of desperation, she tells Kurt to get them away. He teleports himself and Storm away, leaving the cyber shades hanging in mid-air without a host. A belated lightning blast then destroys them.
The two X-Men land near the end of the jetty on Breakstone Lake and Kurt asks what’s happening. She hurls him away with one arm, before kneeling and pointing at the sky. A fierce electrical current is released harmlessly into the atmosphere, as Kurt covers his eyes from the blinding effect. Water is forced away from her as she momentarily releases an astonishing amount of energy. Spent, she lies on the jetty, as Kurt rushes to her aid. He thanks heaven she is alive and cradles her, but Wolverine appears behind them, carrying a beer, and informs him that she got lucky. He tosses his own pair of broken shades to the jetty. “I think we all did,” he continues. “If you got a pair of Sage’s special shades, bub, ditch ‘em now.” His own eyes reveal that his healing factor has yet to repair the damage done by his own shades.
Wasting little time, Kurt teleports into Sage’s carriage house. She sounded the alarm, just before both Ororo and Logan were attacked by their shades. He guesses this is where to look for trouble. Seeing her chair empty, he calls out for her but receives only a deft kick in the arch of his back for his trouble. Wolverine crashes through the skylight above with Storm close behind him. His claws are at the ready. “I’ll take her,” he warns, but Sage is too quick to be taken by surprise. She uses Wolverine’s momentum and uses her cane to divert him to the floor. Logan crashes face first into the shards of glass and other assorted debris which came from the Fury’s initial attack on Sage. Storm calls Cyclops and tells him that they have a combat situation at the carriage house, adding that Kurt and Logan are already down. She sounds a full team security alert as she looks at Sage. Under her hood, she notices that her cyber shades have somehow rearranged themselves into a strange pattern.
Cyclops is having dinner with Emma Frost and rises from the table. Emma thinks it’s tiresome. She reminds Scott that Storm’s a big girl. Her precious X.S.E is officially sanctioned and everything. She even has a badge, she adds, sarcastically. Surely, she can save the world all by herself? Scott has little time for Emma’s games, and replies to Storm that they’re on their way.
Now in control of Sage’s actions, the Fury views Ororo. Its tactical scans targets multiple potential hostile contacts in the immediate vicinity. It initiates appropriate counter measures. The mansion’s intruder systems become active, and gas quickly spreads through the buildings. Emma and Scott collapse onto their dining table, while Dani Moonstar and her students drop like flies. Hank McCoy slumps into unconsciousness and Rogue, along with a group of young students, all submit to the rapid effects of the gas. This takes out all the other residents and potential threats to Sage.
Ororo crackles with electrical energy as she tells Sage to give up, warning her that she won’t get close enough to do her any harm. Wolverine pre-empts the mansion’s defensive actions and leaps onto Ororo, as a host of laser beams begin strafing the room, leaving Sage safe. He takes the brunt of the pain, figuring his healing factor will repair any damage soon enough. He tells Kurt that it’s time to bail. “Make us like Morlocks,” he cries. Kurt teleports to their side and the trio vanish, just as Sage swings her club at them.
Sage’s rearranged face is impassive as the Fury reassesses the situation. It increases its hold over Sage. Her enzymes flow and her protein strands weave fresh patterns, which place the Fury more in sync with its host. Its targets will be found and eliminated.
(Underneath Braddock Manor)
Cannonball, thankfully, isn’t finished just yet. He strains to sit up, as he sees the Fury holding the unconscious Bishop before it. Sam’s leg is broken, despite his blast field being activated during the fight. That’s not supposed to happen. He sees the Fury pointing its left arm towards Bishop’s face, about to perform a swift operation to have him placed under its control, but Cannonball isn’t about to let that happen. Despite the awful pain in his leg, he blasts and collects the Fury in his hands, arcing upwards and out through the manor grounds and high into the air.
He ignores the pain as he realizes that the creature is already adapting to his attack. Tendrils drift out of its body towards him, and Sam knows he must act immediately. Below, he notices a large propane tank and descends at high speed straight towards it. Without blinking, he smashes straight into it, taking the Fury with him. A massive explosion destroys much of the surrounding area, the force of the blast spiralling Sam out of control. He lands and reckons that, even if it survived, it will be in pretty bad shape. Unfortunately, the Fury simply strides from the flames, seemingly intact and none the worse for the experience.
Marvel Girl is unconscious and in flames. The creature had hit her with such force, she was sent high into the air where she passed out. Now, the only way is down, and she plummets towards a large body of water, hitting the surface hard like a bomb.
(Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning)
Back at the mansion, Storm creates a localised rainfall above Wolverine, dousing his back to lessen the pain the lasers caused. Kurt notes that Sage is stronger than she looks. Ororo says she’s full of surprises. They have to assume that whatever controls her has access to them all. She asks Logan why he had Kurt teleport them there. He turns to her, and replies, “Tactics, darling. Define the ground, you command the battle. Against Sage we’ll need every asset we can find.”
Storm surmises that the glasses are the key. Something in them tried to take her over. With Sage, they must have been completed. Her winds have flushed the intruder gas from this section, but the rest of the institute is still compromised. She wonders what other defenses Sage has activated. Everyone is at her mercy and they cannot abandon them. They have to make their stand here, and they have to win. “Assuming she comes after us,” adds Kurt. Logan reckons she has to. They are the active threat and they have way too much power to ignore. But, Kurt points out, in this confined area, their tactics are limited. Logan admits that was a mistake in his part. Must be getting’ old.
Kurt points out that Sage knows their powers, their capabilities and, more importantly, their weaknesses. She knows how they think. Wolverine says that’s what he’s counting on, ‘cause it gives them the chance to blindside her. First, though, he pops a middle claw and looks at Ororo’s dress. He tells her there’s no way an evening gown is designed for a running fight. He slashes the dress, and rips it from her body. Ororo is horrified. She and Kurt are, of course, still using their solid light image-inducers, and the evening gown Wolverine holds is simply her own skirt. Wolverine reacts without smiling. He has more important things to worry about now. He has Sage’s scent.
The tunnel network beneath the estate is vast. Finding her targets is a relatively simple matter. Reaching them takes time. Sage doesn’t make it easy for the Fury. As she walks through the tunnels, weapons in both hands, she is fighting the creature all the way. It has never encountered a consciousness of such wily complexity. The harder it tries to solidify control of her, the more tenaciously and inventively she resists. She stops, drops the weapons and reaches for her face. The Fury remotely rebalances her brain chemistry to make her more pliable. She struggles yet more as the Fury builds alternate neural nets, and reformats the acetylcholine levels of her somatic and parasympathetic nervous system. This makes her comply with the Fury’s wishes, and she picks up the weapons.
Sage is as methodical as she is relentless, but the Fury will do whatever is required to fulfil its prime directive. As Sage approaches the three X-Men, Storm uses a lightning flash to disorientate her. The Fury sees Storm through its host’s new eyes and notes that Ororo has the ability to generate a huge electrical field. It knows that a lightning strike will probably prove fatal to Sage, but that’s not a significant problem. The same energy Storm manipulates, also mark her as a target. Sage removes a small device from her belt and aims it at Storm. It fires a succession of darts towards her, and Storm’s energy fades.
Nightcrawler then attacks her himself. He emerges from an access tunnel and tells Sage that Ororo was her friend. She saved her life and she cut Ororo to pieces. Sage fires at him but his agility removes him from her line of fire in an instant. She continues firing as he scampers around the walls, talking all the time as he runs. He leaps and crouches, each time avoiding her attack. He appears to be trying to distract her. He tells her that the Sage he remembers worked for the Hellfire Club. She was the willing partner of one of their most formidable adversaries. As far as he is concerned, she is just reverting to type. A cartwheel knocks the gun from her grasp, and she looks back at Kurt, now holding them in his own hands.
Sage lunges for the weapons, but Kurt tosses them away before deflecting a kick from her spiked high-heeled boots. “I love what you’ve done to your face, Sage. A ‘gift’ from your puppet master?” he asks, not expecting or receiving a reply. He acrobatically avoids another kick, asking if it’s anyone they know, or someone brand new. Sage loses her balance, as Kurt swipes her leg away with his prehensile tail, but she quickly grabs the tail and drags Kurt from the wall and tries to knock him out with her fists. Again, he avoids her blows, but knows he must be careful. Despite his agility and speed, one careless move and he’s going down.
Above them, watching the action from a ventilation duct, Storm knows that, although Sage isn’t at her best, she is still dangerous. They can’t afford a single mistake and must play against type. This is why Kurt is fighting without teleporting, and she is hiding in a small space; somewhere a claustrophobe would never choose. She tells herself not to be afraid. She has room. She can breathe. She can survive this.
Below her, Sage manages to catch Kurt with another swinging kick but, with her concentration on Nightcrawler, Wolverine is able to get behind her, and he places his two outer claws at either side of Sage’s neck. He tells Ororo to nail her with her E.M.P. If it doesn’t work, he’ll pop the middle claw. He means it. The Fury watches everything and, as Storm gets within range and zaps Sage, her opponent reacts with amazing swiftness, taking out both Storm and Wolverine in one graceful move. Fools, thinks the Fury. Do they know nothing? Against some adversaries, they dare not show the slightest mercy. Sage catches Nightcrawler again, as she grabs Storm by the hair and prepares to finish her off.
“No!” screams Sage, “I - will not - do this.” Her indomitable will reasserts itself at the crucial moment and she stops herself. Storm’s E.M.P has crippled the cyborg nanites infecting her, and the cyber shades from which they were created. “I will be no one’s slave,” she cries, as she tears away at the shades. She can feel them adapting, and has only a moment to act. Charles Xavier taught her that the mind is of the body, the body of the mind. Properly focused, her capabilities are extraordinary, and he still considers her very much a work in progress. She crouches down and desperately rips the shades from her face.
Suddenly, there is quiet. For now, Sage is grateful for what she learned. Her colleagues approach her gingerly, making sure she is all right. She assures them that she is herself again. She explains that, by focused application of her will, she treated the cyborg elements like any biological virus, and purged them. As for the creature responsible, she continues, it calls itself the Fury. “It doesn’t know the meaning of the word.”