(the Xavier Institute, Westchester)
Rachel Grey wakes up to a fresh day, relishing the liminal moment when she’s not quite sure what is real and what is still a dream. She stretches, wanders over to the window and pulls her curtain open. Outside, one of the Sentinel Squad O*N*E robots stands guard; the glowing eyes in its huge head staring right back at her. This is reality.
For Rachel’s entire life, Sentinels have been one of the X-Men’s defining threats. They’re one of the main reasons for their very existence. The X-Men live to protect mutants and, by extension, humanity. Sentinels were designed to kill them. With several giant Sentinels posted around the grounds of the Xavier Institute, they’re practically part of the family. The feds say that this time is different, but do they always tell the truth? She considers something worse. What if the robots have other ideas?
She strips off and hits the shower. As she washes herself, her every move is being monitored by staff at Project O*N*E (Office of National Emergency). Their technology scans everything possible, ensuring that her physical vitals are consistent with baseline species parameters. It’s also noted that she’s cute, too. Banks of scientists study CCTV relays and computer screens filled with data. One man says he’d kill for a look at the archival data to see how Rachel’s power stacks up against her mother, or Xavier himself.
Colonel Reyes makes an appearance, and he isn’t impressed by what he’s hearing. He reminds his staff that they are soldiers and scientists. They are professionals, not voyeurs. He expects them to conduct themselves accordingly. Stanley replies that this is what they’re doing. They’re trying to establish a database on Marvel Girl, but they can’t get a decent scan-lock. Colonel Reyes asks him to keep his viewing off the main screens. If Dr. Cooper sees this, she’ll go postal. He adds that he doesn’t want to catch anyone making copies, either. All the while, Rachel watches them, telepathically, as she showers.
Suddenly, the screens turn to white noise, and a new image fills their screens. It’s a man on horseback, wearing a brown jacket and hat. Reyes orders the plug to be pulled, but Stanley replies that no data is being stolen. This is a broadcast! The stranger looks at the camera and fixes his audience with his steely blue eyes. He introduces himself as Bean, and then proceeds to offer his viewers an overview on the state of the world after M-Day.
Images of a riot replace his image. He explains that in the worst outbreak of violence thus far, in a central Asian city, mobs drove all the known mutants, now powerless, to a clinic formerly operated by X-Corp. They then torched the building. It didn’t much matter that many rioters had been patients of the mutant healers, or that some were neighbors. The former mutants begged for mercy, as the local police stood by and did nothing.
Dr. Valerie Cooper enters the room and asks what’s happening. Colonel Reyes informs her that it’s a pirate news feed. Bean continues his report, as a photograph of the X-Men appears on screen. He explains that there was a time when innocent mutants, or people for that matter, were threatened. They could depend on the X-Men to save the day, but they haven’t been active since M-Day. “Don’t they care anymore?” he asks. “Do they even still exist?” He wonders if maybe it’s that these days, they can’t even protect themselves.
Bean returns to the screen. The world is a bad place, he concludes, when it puts good people under armed guard. He signs off, leaving Val to ask them to take this Bean character off air, and stop violating Marvel Girl’s privacy.
Bishop is preparing a meal whilst listening to Bean’s broadcast in the Carriage House. He knows Bean means well, but his words could get people killed. A holographic image of Storm appears beside him, courtesy of some impressive Wakandan technology. She enquires about Rachel, asking if she’s all right. Bishop assures her that she is, and that the Shi’ar Death Commando’s are in custody. They’re working on their next move. With everything that’s happened, Ororo wishes to come home, but Bishop asks her not to. Intervention by her at this stage won’t help. She’s better off where she is. As a free agent, she gives the X-Men, and mutants in general, options. The rest of them are in a box for the time being.
Ororo knows that Rachel grew up imprisoned by Sentinels and thinks that this must be a nightmare for her. Bishop replies that it’s a nightmare for them all. Ororo says it’s no better in Africa. Mutants who’ve lost their powers live in terror, hiding their identities from those who still view them as threats. The X-Men have never been more needed. A ‘thoom’ causes Bishop to look around, and Storm asks what’s happening. Bishop replies that the Sentinels are moving.
Elsewhere, a Project O*N*E soldier is defenestrated by a furious Husk. Her silver form reigns blows down on a hapless soldier inside, as she reminds them whose room it is. They have no right to bust in there. Another soldier offers her a final warning. They are there on official business and he orders her to stand down. Paige replies that they have no weapon that can hurt her, but she’s wrong. A knockout gas leaves her unconscious and she slowly reverts to normal.
Upon seeing the confrontation, Cannonball blasts in to back her up, but one of the large Sentinels erects a forcefield, which Sam bounces off. It then envelops him in a small force field bubble from which he cannot escape. Its lasers target Sam, and Colonel Reyes waits for the X-Men to make their next move. Bishop is the first one to act, and he calmly walks up to Sam and tells him that the show’s over. His sister is fine, and the whole thing was just a misunderstanding. They’re just doing their job. They thought there might be a connection between Paige and this ‘Bean’ character.
Sam’s bubble dissipates, and he complains that they don’t appear to have any rights anymore. Aren’t they even allowed to say no? Bishop replies that the Sentinels could have killed him, and they still can. There is a new reality, and that comes with new rules. Like it or not, they have to learn to play by them.
Meanwhile, Rachel is lying on a bed in the medical center as Beast carries out tests on the Phoenix symbol that has been imprinted onto her back. Hank has determined that her tattoo is more than just indelible paint. It’s a specific alteration of the pigmentation of her skin, etched into her genome much like the ‘M’ on Bishop’s face. He’s afraid that he cannot remove it or alter any of its properties.
Rachel gets dressed and walks into the recovery room where both Psylocke and Nightcrawler are relaxing after their run-in with the Shi’ar Death Commandos. Kurt doesn’t understand how it is that a woman malleable enough that she transformed herself into an evolved dinosaur can’t erase this ‘deathmark.’ Rachel shrugs her shoulders and says she tried. She guesses a girl has to learn her limitations the hard way. She gives them both a hug and thanks them for helping against the Shi’ar. They really saved her life, and along with Hank, they are the next best thing to family.
After she departs, Betsy asks Kurt if he believes Rachel about the deathmark. Kurt remarks that the Shi’ar have just massacred her entire family, and so long as she wears that tattoo, they can find her. Betsy suggests that maybe that is precisely what she wants.
Rachel later meets up with Doctor Leonard Samson, a colleague of Dr. McCoy’s. He thought they might benefit from a talk. He explains that he’s a psychiatrist and an MD with a specialty in post-traumatic stress disorder, especially as it relates to people like them. He adds that he has powers too. Rachel says she was born with hers. He got his by accident, right? Is that why he can come and go as he pleases… he’s not a mutant? Leonard smiles and replies that she’s not making this easy. Hank thought his experience treating Bruce Banner might give him a certain… empathy.
Rachel looks over his head and comments that the camera is new. Does he tape his sessions? Leonard turns to look at the camera which is being monitored by a O*N*E operative. He replies that he’s lousy at shorthand. During his sessions, he prefers to focus on his patients. He reviews his tapes after to make his notes. Whatever Rachel says to him stays with him. The camera makes a clicking sound, and Leonard tells her it’s now off. Rachel knows that he believes that, but she’s nowhere near as trusting. She uses her powers to scan him and the world around them. The O*N*E Sentinels are filled to bursting with cutting-edge tech, but she cut her teeth learning to outwit versions that were a quantum leap more sophisticated. “Really?” she replies.
Soon, Doc Samson is with Colonel Reyes and Val Cooper. He is furious that they were under continuous surveillance, even after he switched off the camera. Reyes tells him that this information is classified, but Leonard is angry that Reyes’ doing his job has totally compromised any chance of him doing his. Val asks Colonel Reyes if he can excuse them. She’s like to speak with Leonard privately.
He leaves, and Leonard pours them both a drink. She asks about his session with Rachel. Big Brother may be watching, he replies, but Val takes that as a given. He informs her that it was a bogus session, but he thinks that Rachel is a young woman who, in the space of weeks, has seen her mother killed and her entire family, to the most remote and inconsequential blood relation, executed. She also finds herself under a death sentence. Combine that with the events of M-Day, and the consequences to her extended adopted family, the X-Men, and he can’t imagine a better recipe for disaster.
Val says she seems all right. Samson admits she is functional, but so’s Bruce Banner until he gets angry, and then they have the Hulk on their hands. Val asks if the X-Men can help her. Leonard hopes so, but then they are damaged goods themselves. The level of post-traumatic stress around the place is off the charts. They’ve lost their friends, their mentor, and the order of their world has been turned upside down. They ask the X-Men to trust them, and then surround their school with Sentinels. Some of them used to joke about Xavier’s being a mutant ghetto. They’ve just made it a reality.
Val replies that it’s Hobson’s Choice - the best of two bad alternatives. Samson thinks Rachel needs a mental health professional to turn to, preferably off-campus where she can relax. Val apologizes, but says that can’t happen for reasons of national security. Samson thought they were there to help, but Val wishes it were only that simple. Rachel has been listening in on their conversation.
Outside, tearing across the snow-covered grounds is Paige Guthrie driving a vehicle with wild abandon. On the back are several boxes marked with an M, filled with supplies for their new guests. Sam flies in to join her, but she tells him she doesn’t need a babysitter. As she almost knocks a soldier down, Sam tells her that’s a matter of opinion. She’s not making the X-Men any friends. “Like I care?” she replies. She’s not in a great mood following the earlier confrontation in her room.
She asks Sam to open his eyes. They treat them like they have the plague. Sam asks if she knows what caused M-Day? Can she guarantee the world that it won’t be followed by something worse? Paige reminds her brother that this is America. They’re heroes, and this isn’t supposed to happen. Sam is resigned to the fact that sometimes, for reasons God only knows, good people suffer.
They pull up alongside the makeshift village of tents set up to house incoming refugees, and start to unload. Paige thought that because they made the sacrifices, then Jay and Melody and the rest would get the happy ending. She wishes her momma was there. She feels so helpless. Sam reckons she’s better off at home with Melody and the other kids. Paige admits that she’s angry that O*N*E has taken her computer. It contains her e-mails and her diaries. There are things on her hard drive that no one is supposed to see. She can hear ‘em laughing; turning all her secrets and dreams into their dirty jokes. She starts to cry, and Sam tells her to get as mad as she likes and to get it outta her system. “And then what?” she asks. Sam grins, and suggests a little payback, if she’s up for something sneaky.
Inside the mansion, Cyclops browses through a bunch of DVD’s that Rachel has picked up, noting that they are current. The store doesn’t deliver. “So?” replies Rachel. Scott looks out the window and tells her he needs her help. Rachel is happy to oblige. She is an X-Man and he is the boss. She can’t ask for trust if she’s not prepared to give it in return. Scott turns to her and says, “Suppose I said Stop.” Rachel replies that she’d then hope that the trust thing also goes for understanding. Scott says that goes without question, but he’s still asking. He thinks Rachel is very much like her mother.
Rachel likes that, and asks if he’s angry about what happened to her family. Scott replies that it’s his family too. For as long as he and Jean were together, John and Elaine welcomed him into their home as their son. ‘Anger’ doesn’t begin to describe how he feels. But, he has Emma to turn to. Rachel tells him she’s glad, and she really means it. Scott thanks her. He looks outside again at one of the looming Sentinels. He feels they’re walking an incredibly fine line between survival and catastrophe. Even though it hurts them, they have a responsibility far greater than themselves. She gives him a hug and says she’ll remember. Scott tells her he’s glad she kept Jean’s name. She makes them both very proud. He also reminds her to watch out for the late fees. They really add up. “I’ll be careful,” she replies, “And… dad? Thanks.”
Later that night, Bishop and Val Cooper are having a pleasant dinner, the one he prepared earlier. She’s impressed. It was both delicious and unexpected. Bishop asks her to call him Lucas, and says he’s just trying to build bridges. Elsewhere, Paige has gotten her hands on another computer, courtesy of Sam, and he watches her effortlessly glide through the screens. She asks who he wants hacked. Sam suggests they start at the top. “Colonel Reyes. This is your life.” The unsuspecting colonel relaxes by looking at an old photograph of his and his sister, unaware of what is to come.
Outside the mansion, a trail through the snow goes unseen by the normally all-seeing Sentinels. Rachel had spoken with Kitty who had given her a name. Getting the videos were a trial run to determine just how porous O*N*E security was. She scrambles over the barbed wire that now adorns the mansion’s exterior walls, using her psi to blind the perceptions of their jailors and her teke to block the robots’ sensors and edit their computer memories. Rachel has plans. ‘A visit with Forge for some equipment. Just like old times. Only tonight I’m not fighting for the future, or even the X-Men. This one’s for me.’