(Xavier Institute for Higher Learning)
With several giant Sentinels frozen in mid-stride and their pilots trapped within the cockpits, there is an eerie stillness in the air around the Institute. It’s all thanks to Jamie Braddock and the quantum strings, which he’s been playing with of late. Something ripped open a hole in space and snatched Jamie away, and now his quantum pranks are beginning to wear off.
Inside the O*N*E Mobile Operations Command Center (MOCC), the screens are still showing white noise as everyone emerges from their miasma. Colonel Reyes asks someone to find out how long they were out. Elsewhere on the grounds, Cyclops rouses Emma Frost from her stupor. She asks him what happened, and he replies that Jamie Braddock happened. He explains that Jamie’s gone now, but he doesn’t think their troubles are over.
He’s right. Standing nearby and towering over the Institute’s tallest point is the Watcher. He’s a cosmic being who only tends to appear when some kind of major change is about to occur. Jamie’s rampage has caused him to visit, and Betsy in particular is very concerned.
Back in the MOCC, Colonel Reyes orders the Sentinels on full combat footing, but a scientist explains that they can’t do this. Their power cells are completely inert. Val asks Reyes what he expects them to do anyway. Pointing at the Watcher on screen, she asks if he knows who that is. Reyes replies that he expects the Sentinels to lock up the X-Men until he gets answers about the goofball that attacked them. And yes, he adds, he does know who the alien is, but he’s a non-factor. All he does is watch.
Outside, Betsy is struggling to come to terms with the news that Jamie has been playing god with her body. He told her that he ‘re-knitted’ her quantum structure to armor her from some threat he said was coming. When a delusional nutter mucks about with your atomic structure, it’s not a happy day. Kurt steps in to try and calm her down, as Cannonball informs them that several O*N*E soldiers are closing in. Rachel figures they must think Betsy is in cahoots with her crazy brother. Betsy says they can stuff their suspicions. She’s leaving. Bishop asks for a moment to reason with them, but Nightcrawler has a better idea. He asks everyone to hang on to their lunches, before teleporting his four friends away from the Institute.
Cyclops was asking Psylocke what her brother wanted when they disappeared. He asks Emma if she can track them, but for some reason, she finds it difficult getting a fix on them. Something unusual is interfering with her telepathy. Scott wants to follow them.
Something big is brewing, but Val Cooper appears with Colonel Reyes, and informs him that no one goes anywhere until they explain what the freakin’ Watcher is doing there. Emma reluctantly explains that, generally, his presence among the X-Men has something to do with the Phoenix and, thus, with the end of the universe. “Can we go now?” she asks. Before an answer is forthcoming, the Watcher fades away, and Scott figures that maybe they’re not so interesting with Kurt’s team gone.
Next to Cleopatra’s Needle, Kurt appears with Rachel, Bishop, Sam and Betsy. He immediately collapses from the strain of having teleported so many so far. Rachel doesn’t think he meant to bring them this far. Something pulled them there, and it felt like Jamie. Betsy cuddles Kurt and agrees. Bishop bends down and tells Kurt they needn’t have bolted like that. They need to start looking at O*N*E as a resource and not a roadblock. Kurt weakly asks for his forgiveness, but he isn’t as comfortable with his jailors as he is.
Bishop refutes the allegation. He claims his relationship with Val Cooper is purely professional. Does he really think he’d let her come between himself and the team? Sam steps in and asks them to give it a rest. Save the flexing for when it’ll do some good. Besides, he adds, the point isn’t why they’re there; it’s the Watcher that’s the big question. They turn to see the alien looming over the Needle. Sam figures he isn’t following them by chance. He’s gotta have his reasons.
Sam seems to think a whole lotta things lately are happening for a reason, and maybe it’s Jamie that’s been pulling the strings. He’s even wondering if it was him that sicced the Fury on them a while back. Kurt asks him not to fall into the trap of ascribing every strange circumstance to him. His ability to manipulate reality works only on a localized basis. He cannot alter whole worlds.
Rachel mentions the butterfly effect, like in the Ashton Kutcher movie. Kurt replies that anything after Errol Flynn is crap. Rachel continues to point out that the butterfly effect is chaos theory coupled with the law of unintended consequences. It’s the sort of thing Kitty starts yammering about after a couple of drinks. A butterfly flaps its wings in Maine and eighteen months later you’ve brought a drought to China. In this case, Jamie pulls a string, and on some level, all the strings in creation are tied together. Who knows what the ultimate effect might be? Bishop reckons the Watcher knows, but Sam doesn’t reckon all the drinks in Manhattan could get him yammering.
Kurt asks about the word Jamie mentioned before he was taken. Betsy replies that ‘The FourSaken’ is what Jamie and his friends called themselves back in the day. Along with Jamie there was Amina Synge, Ned Horrocks and Godfrey Calthrop. They got thrown out of every school they attended, hence the name. They didn’t need rules. They preferred to make their own. She figured they’d be mates for life.
Kurt asks what happened. Betsy informs him that Jamie became the hottest thing on the Formula One circuit; world champion twice running. On a lark, the four of them joined the Trans-Sahara Rallye and as usual her brother was winning. Then something went wrong. There was a terrible sandstorm, and only Jamie came back. Over fifty vehicles, racers, drivers and support staff vanished without a trace. After that, she adds, Jamie was never the same. She thinks that is when he went bad. She knows it’s when he went well and truly insane.
Surprisingly, the Watcher speaks, and tells them that there is another meaning. He explains that, like all things, the universe has a natural span of existence. It began and it must ultimately end. Most belief systems presume that it then begins again. He creates the image of the Phoenix Entity, and says that the Phoenix is both the spark that ignites creation and the final fire that consumes it. But, nature is also about balance, and there exists a polar opposite of the phoenix. The image of a masculine face appears, and the Watcher tells them that as the Phoenix is female, this entity is male. He is known as the First Fallen. As the Phoenix perpetuates the cycle of life, death and rebirth, so the First Fallen seeks to end it.
The span of the universe is broken into seven stages – pillars of wisdom akin to days on our world. Four have passed. From each of those pillars, each cosmic ‘day,’ the First Fallen has gathered a servitor. They are his Forsaken. Betsy realizes that a being like the Watcher doesn’t usually give history lessons for nothing. This thing must actually have him scared. She wonders what Jamie has gotten himself into now. Kurt asks why this First Fallen would come to Earth. It’s a big cosmos after all… and why now? Rachel replies that her mother is the Phoenix made flesh. Earth is her home. If one force is here, then why not the other?
The time for talk is over. It becomes obvious why Jamie pulled them to Central Park, and specifically to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cleopatra’s Needle begins to glow; bathed in a greenish yellow swirl of energy. Raw power lances out in all directions from the central column, like greedy fingers clawing at the horizon. To Psylocke, the energy feels like Jamie’s, but she’s never seen him do anything like that. She wonders if Kurt was wrong. Maybe her brother has found a way to change the whole world; to remake it as he did her.
All of a sudden, Rachel clutches the sides of her head and reels in pain. Kurt rushes to her assistance, asking if she was attacked. Rachel doesn’t think so. She tried to make telepathic contact with the source of the energy, but all she felt was pain. The team notices that the glowing energy is changing and, from the column, strands of energy begin to form salamanders. Bishop wasn’t expecting this. Betsy finds them strangely beautiful, but Bishop isn’t quite on the same page.
As Cannonball watches one of the creatures float around him, its mouth opens to reveal a fearsome set of teeth. It plunges straight through Sam’s body and grabs what appears to be his soul from inside him, leaving his physical body behind. It hurts, and Rachel’s attempts to grab it using her telepathy fails. Luckily, Psylocke appears to be able to take them by surprise, and she uses her psi-sword to slice the Salamander in two. It releases Sam’s essence and it floats back into his body. The salamander’s body then dissipates into small globules before vanishing.
Rachel’s mental pain increases, and Betsy sees that the creatures are grabbing people from all over the city. They have men, women, children and pets – far too many to save with her psi-sword. They have to nip this at the source. Kurt informs them that he can’t just teleport them in blindly, so Bishop reckons they’ll have to sneak in the old fashioned way. A noise distracts them, and Psylocke turns to see a large robot creaking towards them, eyes glowing. It appears to have been put together quickly and shoddily. Walking before it is a man wearing a long dark overcoat. His long black hair flows freely as blue energy sparks around him.
Betsy recognizes his aristocratic tones the moment he speaks. When she was a schoolgirl, his voice made her swoon. It’s easy to mistake arrogance for sophistication. The man is Godfrey Calthrop. He is Jamie’s long-lost friend, who always fancied himself above the maddening crowd. Apparently, he now has the power to match the attitude. He doesn’t seem to notice Psylocke, but then, she did look quite different back then.
Calthrop says it’s about time they showed up. They have a schedule to keep. Now will they come quietly, or must he insist? Bishop takes command, ordering Kurt and Betsy to take care of the salamanders whilst he, Sam and Rachel deal with the tinker toy. Bishop blasts the giant robot with his guns, but inexplicably, he finds himself caught unawares by a blast of energy that throws him across the park. He picks himself up and wonders where that came from.
His answer comes from the blond Ned Horrocks, who flies towards him, surrounded by blue energy like Calthrop. Bishop puts two and two together and figures Calthrop is the engine and Horrocks must be the spark plug. He thinks he’s catching on. Horrocks doesn’t believe he is. He doubts Bishop’s little mind can contain what they’ve become.
Rachel backs up Bishop, but he tells her he’s fine. For some reason he couldn’t absorb this guy’s energy. He wonders how well he’ll take a punch. The two men appear quite unafraid of the physical threat. Horrocks is then surprised by a sonic boom above him, and he looks up to see Cannonball blasting towards him, fists at the ready. The robot turns to meet him, but it is unable to prevent Sam from making a sharp upward turn to catch Horrocks on the chin.
Bishop continues to shoot at the robot, aiming at its weakest areas: the joints. Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to put the robot out of commission, and Cannonball congratulates his comrades on a job well done. Bishop warns that they’re not down yet, but it comes too late as they are assaulted by Ned Horrocks’ energy blast. Nice one Ned, says Geoffrey, who replies that they shouldn’t keep the lady waiting.
Elsewhere, Kurt and Betsy head inside the museum and Kurt finds that the people taken by the salamanders still have a pulse, but that’s about it. Up a flight of steps, Amina Synge’s voice can be heard asking her boys to get them in place. In a room surrounded by stone pillars, Amina stands, arms outstretched, wearing a flowing orange dress. Jamie Braddock is tied above her with his own strings, whilst Bishop, Sam and Rachel are each tied up using the same strings.
Jamie pleads with Amina that it’s not too late for her to stop. She asks him to hush. This has been fated since time began. It was always too late to stop it. She knows that they’re one short, and wonders where Nightcrawler is. Ned figures he must have run off on his own when these four arrived. He’s probably skulking around somewhere. Amina reckons it’s only a matter of time before her pets find him.
In front of Amina and below the suspended Jamie, an eight-sided star-shaped image on the floor begins to crackle with power. Kurt and Betsy watch from a shadowy recess, as a salamander picks up Kurt’s scent. Betsy reckons the jig is up, and it’s time to hit them hard. Kurt asks her to wait. Didn’t she hear? They think there are only four X-Men. He doesn’t believe they know she is there. Whatever Jamie did to her, he appears to have placed her outside their perception. He scampers up the wall away from Betsy, but is caught around the waist by a salamander.
Betsy realizes that he is correct, but wonders how she can use this to her advantage. She must think like the nasty folks she hangs out with for a change, and find the weak flaw in their plan. She wonders what would happen if they lost the big bowl that the salamanders dump their stolen souls into at a critical juncture. One good swipe with her sword should do the trick. Maybe she can distract them with the bowl and free the others?
Meanwhile, Marvel Girl tells Amina that the Watcher told them what she was doing: summoning the end of everything. Amina grimaces and replies that the Watcher knows nothing. The First Fallen will bring a world without end. Betsy wonders what can disrupt magic. She remembers that iron should do the trick. She finds a security guard lying unconscious on the floor and removes his pistol. She then compresses it telekinetically into smaller denser projectiles.
Amina’s ceremony brings results and a large arm begins to climb out of the octagonal shape on the floor. Betsy realizes it’s now or never. She telekinetically hurls the projectiles at the bowl and it shatters. Everything goes pear-shaped. The First Fallen is now unable to manifest itself in New York, so it tries to haul everyone responsible back to wherever he is. Everyone except for Betsy and Ned Horrocks are sucked into a portal. Betsy says that if her friends go, they all go. She grabs Ned by the collar and leaps into the portal, which closes behind them with a shwup.