They will talk of this day for years to come. The day the mutant named Tower passed through San Miguel…on his way to the revolution. How “one for the road” become “one too many”. Sitting at a bar in the run-down town, the drunken Tower mutters ‘Stupid job. Like I care about who wins some stupid war…in some stupid country in Central stupid America. Should’a asked for stupid time-and-a-stupid-half’, before shouting ‘Doesn’t anybody here speak English?’, and a young waitress approaches him, nervously, she informs him that she does, and asks if there is anything else before he goes. ‘Go? You want me to leave?’ he asks. A young boy watches as Tower lifts the woman up into the air, and she informs him that the soldiers have loaded up his jeep. ‘I thought -’ she begins, before Tower interrupts: ‘What - that I’d leave this place before I enjoy everything this stupid mud-hole has to offer?’
The woman struggles, and the young boy watches in shock, while Tower tears the woman’s clothing off. He grins wickedly and tells her that he loves it when people beg, but that it is too bad, as he loves the sound of a neck snapping, too. ‘Madre de dios!’ the boy utters, as a shadow descends over him - human, and walks past him, towards Tower. ‘WHU?’ Tower asks as he spins around only for the newcomer to grab him, and throw him across the bar, and out of the building.
They will talk about the stranger, how he seemed less interested in saving the life of a young woman, than he was in taking the life of the mutant who had been tormenting her. The mysterious man walks out of the new hole in the wall, towards Tower’s burning body. Some will hail him as a savior - an armored guardian who appeared to them in their darkest hour. Others will insist he was a demon, a monster cloaked in the form of a man. Still others will recall little more than the smell of burnt flesh, the sight of a smoldering husk that was, if nothing else, a human being before the stranger’s arrival. None of the people of San Miguel, however, will exactly know who he was, or why he did what he did. If the truth were known, the man called the X-Cutioner would be at a loss to explain himself. ‘Waste’ the X-Cutioner calls out. ‘Senor…? Gracias’ the local woman calls out.
“Thank you” the X-Cutioner quotes. ‘For taking another man’s life? I’m afraid I can’t accept your gratitude’ X-Cutioner tells her. ‘But I can make you a promise…I will never forsake humanity…the way humanity forsook me’. The X-Cutioner tells the locals to not look at him with their eyes full of fear. ‘You see, I only kill mutants. And then…only mutants who kill first’ he explains, before turning and walking away.
Someplace else, entirely….
Inside Mastermind’s Illusion:
‘Would you like me to wrap that, Mrs Summers - or will you be wearing it home?’ asks Marni, the shop assistant inside a store called Jean’s Desire. Holding up a skimpy purple dress, Jean Grey-Summers asks ‘Does it come with a bodyguard?’ Marni reminds her that she did say she wanted something to perpetuate that honeymoon called a marriage. ‘And I would have bought this in a hot second - one or two children ago’ Jean replies, before looking around and remarking ‘Speaking of which, where did Nate run off to?’, while Marni motions in his direction and says to Jean ‘You have to ask?’, where a young Nate is standing in front of a toy store window, where a collection of X-Men figurines are on display.
‘Oh, Mom - I can’t believe it. They have the entire X-line. They even have the Icemaster figure - nobody sells them anywhere! Please say we can get one, please!’ Nate exclaims, excitedly. ‘Just one, please! Just one and one other, please. Just two. All I want is just two and - Nate calls out, while Jean leans down beside him and smiling, tells him that he has convinced her. ‘One for you, and one for your sister’ she tells her son. ‘Aw, Mom - you’re the bestest’ Nate exclaims, when suddenly, Jean and Nate are knocked backwards, as the toy store window front explodes, and several Nimrod emerge from the smoke and debris. ‘“Bestest” is not a word’ one of them states. ‘Bad grammar is the least of his sins’ another Nimrod states, while the first announces that Nathan Christopher Summers is a latent mutant and must be terminated prior to fruition of biological parameters. ‘Mom…they think I’m a mutant!’ the child exclaims. ‘Please - this is some mistake!’ Jean pleads.
‘If he were a mutant, we would have registered him at birth with the Xavier Institute’ Jean assures the Nimrods. ‘An “oversight” easily corrected’ one of the Nimrods states, before raising a hand to release a charge of energy down towards Nathan. ‘MOMMY!’ Nathan screams, and just in time, Jean pulls him to safety. Jean tells herself that she doesn’t know what she can do to save her son from the Sentinels, as she doesn’t have the skills to fend off a trio of government-issued Nimrods. Jean picks Nathan up and begins to run away with him, rushing past a group of humans. ‘Hey!’ one of them shouts. ‘Watch it’ another warns. ‘What’s your hurry?’ another enquires. ‘Where’s the fire?’ someone calls out, while Jean tells Nathan to keep his head down. ‘But, Mom - they’re right behind us’ Nathan alerts her.
Suddenly, there is a surge of energy released from the Nimrods, which completely wipe out the humans. ‘Ooops. Our apologies, humans’ one of them states. ‘Someone grab the skull for dental verification’ the Nimrod adds as one of the skulls bounces nearby. Jean is down another corridor, and begins pounding on an exit door. ‘C’mon, c’mon!’ Jean exclaims, adding that if they make it to the parking lot, they will be in the clear. ‘Um, Mom? Mommy!’ Nate exclaims as the Nimrods move towards them. ‘I’ve told you this must be some mistake - a loose wire in your programming. My son and I have rights under the Kelly Civil rights Act of ‘91!’ Jean declares.
Tears in her eyes, Jean tells the Nimrods that they have forced her hands, and that she didn’t want to do this. ‘Hardball it is, then’ she exclaims, but before Jean can act, a voice calls out ‘Then don’t force yourself, lady’, and one of the Nimrods is torn apart. ‘That’s why there’s an XSE in the first place!’ another voice declares. ‘Your aim is as bad as it’s ever been, sister’ states Bishop as he and Shard appear behind the Nimrods, several civilians gathering around to watch the commotion. ‘And you’re assuming I meant to take out all three of them at once, Bishop. Truth being, it’s been so long since Xavier’s School Enforcement got to slug it out with the Sentinels, I was hoping my big brother wouldn’t mind if I indulged myself’ Shard smiles. ‘If you must, Shard’ Bishop sighs, while Jean drops to her knees, holding Nathan, who calls out to her. ‘It’s okay, Nate. It’s going to be okay - I promise’ Jean assures him, as she notices an envelope on the floor, with “To Jean” written on it.
‘Nimrod Central does not recognize the XSE as a legal peace-keeping force’ one of the Nimrods states as both remaining robots fire energies towards Shard, who flips backwards, dodging the blasts, and exclaims ‘Then maybe you’ll accept me as an individual’ as she leaps on to one of the Nimrods and introduces herself . ‘Capable of transubbing mass into light-aural dispersion. Your abilities are well known to us. We simply do not acknowledge your authority’ one of the Nimrods states, adding that Shard is only a mutant to be terminated, and he releases a charge of energy - right at the Nimrod which Shard is standing on. ‘Wait a moment you idiot! I am -’ the second Nimrod states, but Shard leaps from the explosion, and the second Nimrod is destroyed. ‘Ooops again’ the remaining Nimrod mutters. ‘You have an “ooops” quota you’ve got to fill?’ Shard asks as she falls to the ground, seemingly trapped as the Nimrod looms over her. ‘It would appear you have outsmarted yourself, designate: Shard’ the Nimrod tells her as it fires up its energies. ‘It’s a matter of perspective, really. From where I’m sitting, you’re the one posing for Spare Parts Quarterly, Shard jokes. ‘Indeed’ Bishop calls out, and the Nimrod turns around, only for Bishop to be standing there, aiming his large gun at Nimrod’s chest. ‘I order you to take your finger off the trigger’ the Nimrod calls out, but Bishop fires. ‘Sorry. Didn’t catch that over the sound of the explosion’ Bishop jokes.
With all Nimrods destroyed, young Nathan calls out to Bishop, asking ‘Why’d you help us, Mister? The XSE only helps mutants!’ Bishop replies that their primary function is to police the mutant population, but that they are afforded limited action outside of their jurisdiction. ‘We appreciate your help’ Jean tells him as she and Nathan stand up. ‘It was nothing’ Bishop replies. ‘I’ll say! I wanted to be rescued by an X-Man!’ Nathan exclaims. Jean tells her son that was rude and asks him to apologize. ‘I’m…sorry…um’ Nathan utters, as he notices a strange glow nearby. ‘Mom? I think we’re still in trouble’ Nathan exclaims, pointing at the increasing glow. There is suddenly a loud BRAMM!, and music begins to play. ‘That light!’ Jean exclaims. ‘That…theme song!’ Bishop mutters. ‘It can only mean one thing…’ Shard declares.
The glow subsides, and five mutants suddenly appear: Wolverine, Havok, Polaris, Professor X and Icemaster. ‘Icemaster’s X-Men!’ Polaris calls out. ‘Nice to know all that money I pour into public relations is finally paying off’ Icemaster declares, reminding his team that they told him he was crazy to commission a group theme song, and adds that he is glad he finally had the nerve to become head chef in this genetic stew of theirs. ‘None of our other leaders ever held a candle to you, Bobby’ Havok gushes. ‘Havok is right! You should have led the X-Men from day one!’ Professor X announces. ‘Charles is right about Havok being right. We’d be nowhere with yer good looks, charisma and financial savvy’ Wolverine, drool dribbling from his mouth, calls out, and adds ‘To think of the years we spent cowering from humans who feared and hated us, when we could have been basking in the spotlight!’
Nathan goes wide-eyed and exclaims ‘I just wanted to say, Mr Icemaster, Sir…that you’ve been an inspiration to me. Just like you, I’m going to foresake my college career, blame my parents for every bad thing in my life…and refuse to ever take anything serious or accept responsibilities for my actions. Ever!’ the young boy grins. ‘Cute kid. Kind of reminds me of me before I grew up’ Icemaster smiles, before asking where the survivors of this debacle are. Suddenly, ‘I refuse to stand here and allow you to make a mockery of everything I’ve ever respected in the X-Men!’ Bishop calls out. The civilians suddenly rush past Jean, Nathan, Bishop and Shard, all calling out to the X-Men: ‘Sign me!’ one of them pleads. ‘Icemaster rules!’ another shouts. ‘Sign my book’ someone asks. ‘I love youse guys!’ another declares.
Icemaster tells Bishop that he is still thinking substance over style, as the X-Men of the Nineties are about giving people what they want. ‘And what they want…is me’ Icemaster boasts as he drops his ice-form, revealing his human for underneath. ‘I mean, what’s the big deal here? Humans don’t treat mutants like people anyway…so what’s wrong with being treated like a star instead?’ Icemaster asks. Wolverine turns to Bishop and tells him to go find another fantasy, ‘Before I show ya what yer made of’ he warns him, claws ready. ‘Anytime, showboat’ Bishop calls back. ‘Whenever ya got five free minutes to spare…’ Wolverine snarls. Shard steps between Wolverine and Bishop and points out that it is a small playground, so they should try to get along. ‘We’re bamfed, Bishop’ she tells her brother. ‘But…’ Bishop protests. ‘Now!’ Shard orders.
Shard and Bishop walk out the large hole in the shopping centre wall that the X-Men created, and Bishop thanks his sister, telling her that, as always, she is the voice of reason that helps him keep things in perspective. ‘A full time job’ Shard mutters, pointing out that is more than half the reason she outranks him in the XSE. Shard drops a few paces behind Bishop as he tells her that he doesn’t know where he would be without her. ‘I’d be lost. Lost in time? Past’ he utters, unaware that Trevor Fitzroy has suddenly appeared and grabbed Shard. There is a surge of energy, and Shard is destroyed. ‘Alone? Without you. Why does this seem so…wrong?’ Bishop calls out, as tears fall from his eyes. ‘A dark fantasy’ he tells himself. ‘Nothing unreal about it. So long as you need me. Believe in me. I am here for you, brother. I am here for you’ Shard’s voice echoes.
As the crowd continue to show their adoration for the X-Men, cameras flash as Iceman asks Jean Grey what is wrong with living in a fantasy. ‘I always felt I should be in charge, and now I am. I’m just bringing my accounting experience into super heroing’ Iceman adds, to which Jean tells him that she is happy for him, really. Bobby takes Jean by her chin, ‘You could be happy for you too, Red’ he tells her, smiling. Jean looks nervous, and reminds Bobby that she is a married woman. ‘And ecstatically married at that’ Jean assures him. ‘Yeah, well…at least I’ve got myself. Later’ Bobby tells her as he turns his attention back to the adoring civilians.
Jean turns away, and thinks to herself ‘If life is so perfect, why does everything seem so strange?’ when suddenly, Cyclops and their daughter, a young Rachel, arrive. ‘Great. As per usual, we missed out on all the excitement’ Rachel mutters. Jean turns to them as they gaze around at the destruction. ‘See, Dad - told ya you didn’t need that double-dip Belgian chocolate chocolate!’ Rachel adds. Scott tells Rachel that he is sorry, before asking Jean if he missed anything life threatening. ‘Can I tell him, Ma? Can I?’ Nathan pleads. Jean rushes over to Scott and tells him she is so happy to see him. ‘It’s been a whole half-hour. Imagine my concern’ Scott replies. Jean smiles and tells him that sometimes she cannot believe they are married. ‘Happily to boot’ Scott points out, adding that he is speaking for himself. ‘How could I help but be happy…an upstanding husband…two beautiful children?’ Jean remarks, putting a hand on Rachel’s shoulder and stroking Nathan’s face. ‘Four tickets to the new X-Men movie?’ Nathan asks. ‘What tickets?’ Jean replies. ‘Please say yes, Mom - please!’ Nathan calls out.
Everyone is unaware that a strange figure in a tuxedo has appeared behind them, the happy family continue their conversation. ‘Illyana and Doug and Dani and everyone is going!’ Nathan exclaims. ‘Welllll, if everyone is going…’ Jean tells him. ‘Yay!’ ‘Yippee!’ the kids exclaim. ‘We’re going to the movies’ one of them sings. ‘Cause we have the best mommy’ another declares. ‘Going to the movies’. The strange figure in the tuxedo smokes a cigarette, and grins wickedly.
Present / Reality:
Jason Wyngarde a.k.a. Mastermind grins wickedly, his eyes don’t blink as he stares up blankly from his hospital bed in a quarantine room on Muir Island. There is no noise, save for the intermittent beeping of the life machine he is hooked up to. However, he is not alone in the room, for Jean Grey lies sprawled across his bed. One hand clasping Mastermind’s, the other inches away from an envelope with the words “To Jean” written on it. Bishop lies face-down on the tiled floor, also unmoving. While the handsome Bobby “Iceman” Drake lies on his side on the other side of the room, a chair upturned beside him.
‘The guy’s in a coma - what possible threat can he pose to three X-Men?’ Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel asks Ororo “Storm” Munroe and Colossus a.k.a. Piotr Rasputin observe their unconscious teammates and Mastermind from a connecting monitoring room. Storm reminds Warren that Jason Wyngarde’s power is psionic in nature, and that they must explore the hypothesis that his catatonic state does not hamper his mutant ability. ‘You’re saying he can mentally control them despite his condition?’ Warren enquires, while Colossus frowns and mutters ‘Perfect. Back home, my sister is sick and not getting any better, and we are stuck in Scotland battling a corpse?’
Archangel tells Storm that Colossus has a point, and asks if they can’t just wake the others up. ‘Something? Anything?’ he enquires. Storm turns away from Warren, who mutters ‘Great. Ororo, are you ignoring me or does Mastermind have you too?’ he asks her. Storm gets up from her seat and apologizes to Warren, telling him that she has had more important things to attend to than listen to his prattling. ‘I knew that. Finally…this mean we’re going in?’ Warren asks. ‘Not at all’ Storm replies, announcing that she will not provide Mastermind with more fodder until she is sure of what they are up against. ‘Computer?’ Storm calls out. ‘Muir Isle Computer - Greetings’ the computer responds.
Warren throws his hands to his head and asks Storm to not run the holo-program again. ‘I’ll scream if we don’t do something soon’ he announces. Storm strokes her hair and tells Warren that if he thinks it will help, she will not stop him. Ororo asks the computer to run the surveillance tape, focusing on subject Jean Grey. ‘Please begin’ Storm orders.
Flashback / Recording on Computer:
0600 hours, the Blackbird was cleared for landing, and touched down on the Great Muir Isle landing strip, where it was greeted by a skeletal ground crew of science staff, not Dr Moira MacTaggert. The present X-Men were Jean Grey, Iceman, Archangel, Storm, Colossus and Bishop. Jean held up an envelope with “To Jean” written on it, they were here to confirm a message sent to Jean. The X-Men were escorted to the quarantine unit.
Present / Reality:
‘Computer, at this point please provide transcript of all dialogue. Vocal and psionic, thank you’ Storm orders the computer.
Flashback / Record on Computer:
‘No idea how he managed to sneak out a letter. Despite the fact he’s under constant surveillance - it should be obvious to all concerned he is in no correspond with anyone’ one of the scientists points out as he shows the X-Men a window into Mastermind’s quarantine room. Jean looks shocked: ‘Oh, Lord…look at him’ she utters. Bobby sticks a finger down his mouth and exclaims ‘The guy’s a founding member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. What do we care what happens to him?’ From inside the quarantine room, Mastermind calls out ‘Drake has a point’, and tells Jean that the very reason she feels the right to ignore him is the reason why she needs to talk to him. Jean asks the doctors if whatever Mastermind has is contagious, to which one of them replies ‘Not that we are aware of at this time’, so Jean announces that she is going in. ‘Now’ Jean declares.
‘Yeah. Right’ Bobby tells his friend. ‘Like Storm’s going to let you waltz in there on your own, Jeannie. I don’t buy that sickly act for nothing’ Bobby adds. ‘How perceptive, Robert’ Storm tells him, announcing that he and Bishop will be joining Jean. ‘Oh, c’mon! Why should we risk our lives for this yahoo? What’s he ever done for us beside almost try and kill us all more times than I can remember?’ Bobby protests. Storm offers no response, so Jean, Bobby and Bishop enter Mastermind’s room. Bobby sits down on a chair beside the bed, while Jean sits on the bed and takes Mastermind’s hand. Bishop stands against the wall, and everyone turns their attention to the door as there is a psionic / bio-matrix flare up which slams the door closed. Whether intended or accidental, remains unknown. What is clear is the involuntary link established between Wyngarde and the X-Men who entered the chamber, as they all collapsed soon after.
Present / Reality:
‘That is more than enough!’ Colossus shouts as he slams an organic-steel fist into the computer control panel, ending the playback of the recording. ‘Why are we wasting valuable time and resources on this - this pariah - while Illyana is herself facing a medical crisis?’ Piotr demands to know. Colossus declares that he, for one, is tired of getting their needs taking a back seat to concerns of their enemies - human or mutant. ‘When are we going to start putting ourselves first?’ Colossus asks. Storm stands up and shakes her fist at Colossus, telling him that this is a conversation for another time, and that at this moment they must concentrate on the fate of Jean, Bobby and Bishop. ‘Or have you forgotten about them, Peter?’ she asks.
Storm tells Colossus that she, too, is worried about his sister, but that she realizes being an X-Man has always demanded difficult choices. ‘We know from experience that Mastermind’s telepathic grip is essentially unbreakable. What we do not know is the effect his impending death will have on the minds of our friends’ Storm states, suggesting that in all likelihood, if Jason Wyngarde does not release the others before he dies…they will die as well’. An alert signal appears on the monitor, signalling Mastermind’s weakening form. Warren tells Ororo that if they do not do something soon, they will find out for sure. ‘His condition weakens by the moment - how much longer can he last?’ Colossus enquires. Storm replies that she doesn’t know, but fears the effect Mastermind’s convulsions are having on their friends trapped within his dying mind.
Inside Mastermind’s Illusion:
Inside a very nice suburban home, Scott and Jean are sitting in front of the fire place late at night. ‘Will you look at the time? I can’t believe this!’ Scott exclaims. ‘What is it, Scott?’ Jean asks him. ‘Here it is, midnight…and it’s been almost an hour since I told you how much I love you’ he tells her. But Jean replies that is not necessarily true, for every time he looks at her, every time he smiles and she knows it is because of her, because of the two of them, he “tells” her. ‘Am I that obvious?’ Scott smiles as they hold their wine glasses up to each other. ‘And here I thought you were a mind reader’ Scott adds, when suddenly, from the fire bursts a massive, shrieking Phoenix, only to vanish as quickly as it arrived. ‘Did. You. See. That?’ Scott and Jean ask each other. Jean gets to her feet, ‘I think so. But I have no idea what it meant’ she tells Scott.
‘Betcha do!’ calls out a voice. ‘Kids? What are you still doing up?’ Cyclops asks, as he turns with surprise at seeing Nathan and Rachel standing on a flight of stairs, Rachel clad in a tight red spandex outfit, with sharp spikes down the front and on the arms, and Nathan wearing jeans, large shoulder pads and assorted pouches across his body, while holding a weapon bigger than he. ‘We were talking, Nate and I - about how the two of you have been total zips on the parental front. ‘You couldn’t care less if I live in England or if I’m out in space’ Rachel exclaims, while Nate declares ‘First time I get sick, you ground me in the future’. Scott and Jean approach their children, and Jean tells them that nobody is perfect. Scott asks them if there is anything they can do to make amends for all this.
‘Not even anything! You totally trashed our lives…so we’ve decided to return the favor’ Rachel shouts angrily, raising her arms towards them. ‘And then some!’ Nathan exclaims as he raises his weapon. ‘Maybe in your next life you’ll be a little more considerate’ Rachel suggests to her parents. ‘Doubt it’ Nate exclaims as they both fire at Scott, sending him careening backwards. ‘JEAN!’ Scott calls out as he is obliterated before Jean’s very eyes. Jean drops down beside Scott’s ashes as her children move towards her. ‘One down’ Rachel declares. ‘One to go’ Nate adds. ‘Why?’ Jean asks, looking at Scott’s glasses. ‘Awww. Did we spoil your perfect little world. Sorry’ Rachel snarls.
Suddenly, ‘I don’t owe you anything!’ Jean shouts as she uses her telekinesis to slam Rachel and Nathan hard against the lounge wall, shattering it. She holds them in pace with her TK and declares that she is not the woman who gave birth to Rachel Summers, as that happened in a future that will never exist, while Nathan’s mother was Madelyne Pryor, her clone. ‘I’m tired of feeling responsible - feeling as if I’m less than a person for not being a parent to you’ Jean shouts. ‘This was a dumb idea’ Rachel mutters. ‘It was yours’ Nathan tells her. ‘Was not’ Rachel sulks. ‘Was too’ Nathan declares. ‘Not!’ Rachel shouts. ‘Too!’ Nathan tells her.
Jean clenches her fist and announces that something is wrong with this picture, she is sure, but cannot see it clearly. ‘So you figure you’ll just kill us to be on the safe side?’ Rachel asks. ‘Not very maternally correct!’ Nathan points out. Jean tells them that she would only be killing them if they were alive in order to die. ‘What?’ Nathan asks. Jean tells them that she read their minds to see if they genuinely believed they were her children, and found nothing but her own doubts and fears staring back at her. ‘That makes you both figments of my imagination!’ Jean decides.
Jean Grey is not a person given to fits of anger. Partially due to her personality and upbringing. And partially due to the incredible telekinetic power that is hers to command. The suburban home, and the suburb around it suddenly implode in a blaze of telekinetic power, and Jean hovers mid-air, telling herself that she supposes she should feel guilty, but that is probably what the person responsible for these illusions wants her to feel. ‘What I don’t understand is why offer me paradise one moment, and purgatory the next?’
Jean wonders, when suddenly, there is a voice that calls out to her. It is a voice she barely remembers, and a face she hardly recognizes. ‘Never my intent for you to suffer’ the voice calls out. ‘I know you, don’t I?’ Jean asks as she hovers over the body of a man lying in the rubble of the imploded house. ‘Were I able to return to you your mind would recall…I am Jason Wyngarde - the man who loved you. The man who almost destroyed you’ Mastermind reveals.
Suddenly, an intruder alarm sounds, and Storm, Colossus and Archangel look up. ‘As if things were not complicated enough’ Colossus mutters, while Storm suggests they don’t assume the worst. As they see a man clad in strange armor skulking about Muir Isle, Warren declares ‘I don’t know, Ororo. If that’s not the “worst”, it’s certainly halfway there’ he points out. The computer analyzes the intruder. It is the X-Cutioner, who is not known to the X-Men, nor to the computer, who states that a positive identification is not possible at this time, and reveals that the armor and armaments are of widely varying classification - Shi’ar, Z’noxx, Sentinel mach I, and that a partial bio-scan reveals that the intruder is a non mutant. ‘So what we basically have here is a sort of walking medley of the “X-Men’s greatest villains” Storm points out, before deciding that the intruder looks like he knows they are watching him. ‘Impossible. Surveillance cameras are totally camouflaged…ulp’ the computer states as the X-Cutioner turns to one of the cameras, and fires at it, shutting it down.
Storm tells Archangel and Colossus to see that their uninvited guest does not get any closer until he makes his intentions clear. ‘You don’t think he’s hear to read the meter?’ Warren jokes as he spreads his wings and takes flight. Storm points out that Muir Island is still reeling from the latest battle upon these shores, so if at possible, they should try to avoid a physical confrontation. ‘Failing that, Storm, I guarantee it will be an extremely short-lived conflict’ Colossus announces as he shifts to his armored form. Storm turns her attention back to the monitor, where her dear friend Jean remains motionless across Mastermind’s bed. ‘By the Bright Lady, Jean - I hope you know what you are doing’ Storm thinks to herself, while the monitor reports that Jason Wyngarde is now in a critical condition.
Inside Mastermind’s Illusion:
‘I see you’ve figured it out as well’ Bishop tells Jean as he materializes beside her. Jean asks Bishop what happened to Shard, to which Bishop explains that Shard was an illusion, just like everything else in this place. Bishop states that he wanted to believe Shard was alive, that what happened had not. ‘It seems our mutual dream world collapsed at the same time’ Bishop explains. Jean turns back to Mastermind, only he has vanished, and Jean points out that he was going to reveal the what and wherefores. ‘Jason?’ Bishop asks. ‘He was going to explain what’s been happening’ Jean declares, wishing that she could remember where she has met him before, and what he has to do with all of this. Bishop tells Jean that they already know all they need to, and Jean supposes that they do.
The instant she realizes the truth, the illusion fades, and she returns to her costume materializes, replacing her civilian clothing, and she leaves, for better or worse, what passes as reality in its wake. Jean thanks Bishop for helping her see things for what they are, but Bishop tells her that he is not sure he did her any favor. Jean suggests they go find Bobby and get out of her, and telekinetically lifts herself and Bishop away.
Present / Reality:
At that moment, X-Cutioner climbs up the side of one of the cliffs surrounding Muir Isle. ‘Carl, you’re an idiot. You should be in an office - in old J Edgar’s building in DC. Instead, you’re scaling the side of a mountain in Scotland’ he tells himself, and as he loses his grip, decides he is not doing a very good job of it, at that. ‘Hope you appreciate this Fed Duncan. Wherever you are’ X-Cutioner mutters as he regains his grasp, and flips over the remaining part of the cliff, landing on the field above. He decides that he doesn’t owe his former mentor a great deal, however. ‘If he hadn’t spent years stock-piling every weapon or device in some way related to the X-Men, from a Shi’ar psilance, to the prototype Sentinel propul-units, he would never have been in this position to “avenge” Fred’s death. ‘The old guy let his respect for the X-Men blind him to the very real threat that some mutants represent’ X-Cutioner tells himself.
X-Cutioner sees the Muir Island Research Center up ahead, and using the Z’noxx pilfered sensors, knows that the mutant called Mastermind should be here. He hears a strange noise, and mutters ‘Aw, man’, as Colossus, dropped from a great height, drops down , shattering the side of the cliff that the X-Cutioner stands on, sending him falling back to the rocky shore below. ‘This is private property. Thank you for leaving’ Colossus calls out. ‘That’s how you “avoid a physical confrontation”?’ Archangel calls out. ‘Yes, well…I did promise to be brief’ Piotr reminds him. As he plummets down, the X-Cutioner tells himself that the Omnium-mesh he wears should absorb the brunt of the impact, when Archangel soars down and grabs his hand, ‘Just in case it doesn’t…let’s skip ahead to the rescue and the apology’ Archangel calls out as pulls the X-Cutioner to safety.
“Apology?” X-Cutioner asks. ’On behalf of Colossus. He’s had a lot on his mind lately - and I’m afraid he’s a bit on the cautious side’ Warren explains, and as he sets the X-Cutioner down on the ground, states that they cannot assume anyone in a costume without an “X” on it is automatically a villain. Still holding Archangel’s hand, the X-Cutioner pulls down hard, and declares that “villain” and “hero” is all a matter of perspective. ‘There are some people who might find my goal to execute the “evil mutants” of the world - to be quite admirable. While others, like say, the X-Men, might try to stop me’ X-Cutioner states as he puts a hand over Warren’s face, releasing a neuro-charge, which immobilizes Archangel.
‘As I said…a matter of perspective’ the X-Cutioner points out. Colossus climbs back up the cliff, and moves towards the X-Cutioner, who tells him to step out of his way, and that he will spare him the pain and suffering inflicted upon his teammates. ‘I don’t believe there’s much chance of that happening’ Colossus replies. ‘Oh. You’d be surprised’ the X-Cutioner boasts.
Inside Mastermind’s Illusion:
Jean Grey and Bishop find themselves up against the X-Men, while Iceman has been hung up to a large X made of debris. ‘We will no longer tolerate oppression by the humans. Any mutant who seeks to defend them will himself become our enemy!’ Polaris announces as she and Havok confront Jean Grey. Jean informs Bishop that she is not getting psionic imprints from any of the “X-Men”, and that with the exception of Bobby, they are all illusions. ‘Which, if we are on a mind-scape as we’ve surmised, make them no less deadly than if they were “real”!’ Bishop points out. ‘Ya got that right, Bub. We kill ya here, yer body’s iced as well!’ Wolverine states as Bishop punches him in the face. Strung up to the large X, Iceman finds himself confronted by Professor X. ‘I, uh…command you to stop’ Bobby calls out. ‘And what an enthusiastic “command” it is, Robert! Perhaps you’re saving your energy for some last minute begging?’ the Professor suggests. ‘Perhaps’ Bobby replies, wondering why he suddenly feels like he walked in half way through the movie. ‘Ten minutes ago I was leader of the X-Men…’ Bobby points out.
‘…and now you’re a victim of your ambition’ Bishop tells him as he fires his gun at Havok, tearing him apart. ‘You, Jean and I are being exposed to the flipside of our desires’ Bishop explains. The Professor grins wickedly and announces ‘In your case, “Icemaster”, you simply stand revealed for the excess baggage that you are. You’re dead weight to the X-Men - and soon you’ll just be dead’ the Professor tells him. ‘You are not strong enough to resist -’ Polaris tells Jean, only to be trapped in a telekinetic field. ‘Shut-up, phantom!’ Jean exclaims. ‘Someone is trying to push our buttons - to find out what makes us tick’ Jean adds, before announcing that this is where she returns the favor. ‘Your telekinetic power…pulling me…in two?’ Polaris gasps as she is slowly torn in two. ‘“Shredding” is more like it’ Jean replies, deciding that she is not about to argue semantics with someone’s stray thought, however.
Jean looks down, and notices an envelope, with the words “To Jean” written on it. ‘That letter again’ Jean remarks, before telekinetically pulling the letter up to her, and deciding that it is time to see what is so important. She opens the letter, while Wolverine suddenly lunges towards her: ‘Put that down, RED! It’s not important!’ Wolverine tells her urgently. Jean just tells him to “shush” and begins to read the letter: “Dear Jean. Final hours. Make amends” is all the letter says. ‘I remember now!’ Jean declares, spinning around and tearing the Wolverine phantom’s head off. ‘I came to Muir Island to honor the last request of a dying man. I was naïve to believe your death bed conversation. Let him go, Jason Wyngarde!’ Jean calls out, pointing at the Professor.
‘Mastermind?’ Bobby utters, as the Professor’s hand is around his throat. ‘About time’ Mastermind declares, dropping his guise as the Professor, revealing his withered form beneath. ‘I’m not strong enough to fight the effects of the fever on my own. No surprise, really. Strength - physical, moral or otherwise, has never been my forte’ he declares, claiming that he was rather hoping to change that on his way out. ‘Jason!?’ Jean exclaims as she rushes over to Mastermind, who collapses. The psychic landscape around the heroes vanishes, leaving them floating in white nothingness. ‘I’m not even going to pretend to understand what just happened’ Bobby mutters, adding that he got the part where Mastermind has been mastering their minds - but where are their bodies?
Bishop points out that despite his weakened state, Mastermind seems to be providing answers, and motioning to a room which can be seen through the nothingness, adds that on the other side of the frame is the room where the three of them approached the man’s bedside. ‘It’s all coming back now! But if we’re in here - then essentially we’re on the outside looking in…at reality!’ Iceman declares.
A series of loud THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! Noises can be heard booming across Muir Isle, as Colossus continues to punch X-Cutioner in the face, but causes no damage. ‘Force field…or battle armor?’ Piotr asks. ‘Little bit of both’ the X-Cutioner reveals as he suddenly grabs Colossus’ fist, and throws the powerful mutant overhead, slamming him into a tree. ‘If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a bit of as pack rat. A high-tech pack rat - but a pack rat nonetheless’ the X-Cutioner declares, revealing that the force field was Factor Three - pre budget cuts, while the boy armor is strictly Shi’ar. Holding up a form of weapon, which he reveals is the only tangible proof that the Z’noxx ever came anywhere near this galaxy. ‘Care for a demonstration?’ the X-Cutioner asks as holds the weapon up, ready to strike Colossus, who replies that he is certain he has survived worse. ‘You’d be surprised’ the X-Cutioner declares, as he prepares to bring the weapon down, only to be struck by a burst of lightning and knocked aside.
‘That is more than enough!’ Storm shouts as she hovers in the air overhead and warns the X-Cutioner that he has something less than a moment to explain who he is, and what he is doing on Muir Isle. ‘You can probably figure out the answer to your second question upon hearing the first’ the X-Cutioner announces, introducing himself, and announcing that he is here to terminate the mutant known as Mastermind. ‘And despite the cliché…I will kill anyone who gets in my way’ he warns Storm, while Archangel lies motionless nearby.
Inside Mastermind‘s Mind:
Jean crouches beside Mastermind, while Bobby and Bishop stand over them. Mastermind, his voice weak and failing, explains that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, not any of it, and reveals that he was let go from the asylum when the physicians informed him that something was very, very wrong with him, a sort of “genetic deterioration” was the best diagnosis they could muster. Jason announces that with his death so near, he started reflecting on his life, before laughing. ‘My life? A life spent bitter and angry and spiteful…resentful I was born weak, scrawny, frail…useless’ he declares.
Mastermind continues: ‘Imagine my elation the day I woke to discover I was “different”, a mutant, and decided this was compensation, for if he couldn’t be different, he could look different, and quite literally recreate the world in his image. ‘I found out quickly, it wasn’t enough, underneath the light and shadow I was still the pathetic creature I always was…and hated myself for it’ he reveals. Bobby frown, and looks concerned. ‘It’s funny, isn’t it? I mean, to me he has always been some jerk in Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But to him - he’s a whole other person’ Bobby declares. ‘We’re all “whole other people”, Robert’ Bishop explains, adding that it is always just a matter of perspective. ‘I guess’ Bobby whispers.
Mastermind tells Jean that being who he was, what he was, he had never known love, until he met her. ‘Jason, that wasn’t -’ Jean begins, but Mastermind shushes her, and admits that he knows Jean never truly loved him, and that no one ever has, ever could. ‘Yes, I coerced you into “loving” me…but please understand…even as unreal as it was…it was the closest I ever came to a relationship” Mastermind explains. Jean holds Mastermind’s head up as he states that he spent his whole life taking, and that when he learned he was dying, he wanted desperately to give something, once, a gift goodbye, wanting them all to glimpse of a better world. His decrepit form apologizes and explains that his condition, the fever, has left him too weak to send them back, which was not his intent. He coughs and splutters, while Bishop asks Jean what will happen if they are still here when Wyngarde passes on.
Jean explains that their bodies could stay alive fore years, but their minds will die when Jason does. Bishop declares that they have to find some way to free themselves, to blast their way out if necessary. ‘You don’t get it, B. We’re on some kind of astral plane here - physical force is useless’ Bobby tells him. Jean announces that Bobby is right, and exclaims that her telekinetic power should be more than up to the task, as she uses it to hurl Bobby and Bishop into the panel, despite Bishop’s protests: ‘Jean, there must be another way! Don’t sacrifice yourself for us!’ he tells her.
Bishop wakes, and calls out to Iceman, asking him if he is all right. ‘I’m fine…but judging from the noise, Wyngarde there is in dire straits’ Bobby replies, referring to the urgent noise screeching from the hospital equipment. Bishop gets up and goes over to Mastermind, announcing that he has gone into cardiac arrest. ‘Where are the others - the medics?’ he wonders. Looking out the window, Bobby points out that by the size of the tornado brewing, he is guessing Ororo has cleared the area for the doctors’ safety.
Back outside, Storm hovers in the air. Though one of the most powerful mutants on the face of the Earth, the times she has unleashed the full fury of her weather-manipulating abilities can be counted on one hand. This is one of those times, as a blazing tornado sweeps across Muir Island, while the X-Cutioner manages to hold onto the ground, though dragged backwards, leaving claw marks from his gloves, down the grass. He tells himself that the first opportunity he gets, he is going to have to re-read Agent Duncan’s dossier on Storm. He hopes she will exhaust herself soon, but realizes that may not be possible. He calls out to Storm, telling her that before he kills her, he would like to make one thing clear - that the X-Men have no one to blame for this mess but themselves.
‘And how have you come to this conclusion?’ Storm enquires. X-Cutioner clicks a button on his armor, and a force field surrounds him, and tells Storm that he only came here today to rid the world of Mastermind. ‘It was your decision to get involved. You made the mistake of trying to stop me!’ X-Cutioner tells her. He raises a weapon and points out that the X-Men could not have known he was training for months, and that his extensive arsenal has prepared him for every eventuality. Storm tells the X-Cutioner that she does not doubt he did well against holographic projections or won all the simulations on countless computer programs, but that nothing he did could have possibly prepared him for the power that is Storm. With that, Storm unleashes a powerful lightning bolt, which charges around the X-Cutioner’s force field.
Back inside, Bishop is doing heart compressions on Mastermind, but announces that bit is not working, that his body is too far gone. Bobby holds up Jean’s body and declares that they are losing her, too, as if her mind is convincing her body that she is dying. ‘Ms Grey, can you hear me - it’s now or never!’ Bishop shouts as another lightning bolt surges outside.
Inside Mastermind‘s mind:
‘Why are you being so kind? After everything I’ve done to you…I don’t deserve…’ Mastermind coughs as the astral plane around him begins to shatter and break down. Jean tells Jason that people make mistakes, that sometimes it is a momentary lapse in judgment. ‘Once in a while, it’s an entire lifetime spent charging off in the wrong direction’ Jean adds, telling Mastermind that he is one of the fortunate few who got a chance to make amends, and that she was fortunate enough to have shared that experience with him. Mastermind asks Jean for one last favor. ‘Certainly’ Jean tells him. ‘Years from now…when you think of me…promise you won’t hate me’ he utters, explaining that he certainly couldn’t spend eternity knowing that she hates him.
‘I promise. But you don’t have to worry. I’ll be right here with you’ Jean tells him. ‘No. You won’t…’ Mastermind calls out with his dying breath, as he suddenly passes away in Jean’s arms. ‘JASON?’ Jean exclaims, when suddenly, psionic arms form from the astral wall and grab Jean. ‘You’re using the last of your power to save my life? Jason, no…you don’t have to die alone!’ Jean tells him as she is pulled closer and closer to the wall of the astral plane. Jason Wyngarde is beyond words, beyond thoughts, now. He died knowing his last action on this world was also his most selfless. An act made no less noble by the fact that “Jean Grey” he had used and manipulated and nearly destroyed so long ago, was not a woman at all, rather, it was an entity known as the Phoenix, cloaked in the form of Jean Grey.
And while Jean Grey shares the hurt and betrayal and anger over what happened to her cosmic counterpart, this woman possesses attributes that are uniquely human. Such as compassion, forgiveness, and love. ‘JASON!’ Jean shrieks as she wakes in Bobby’s arms. ‘Ms Grey - you’re back’ Bishop declares, while Bobby asks his friend how she escaped. Jean explains that she didn’t “escape” at all, but in fact was set free. Bishop looks at Mastermind’s smiling face and points out that judging from his expression, Jason Wyngarde has died a happy man ‘That’s because he left this world with the only thing he ever wanted’ Jean explains as she kisses Mastermind’s head. Bobby asks Jean if she didn’t tell Mastermind that she and Phoenix were two separate people, to which Jean points out that Mastermind lost his life, so she saw no reason to take his dreams.
Back outside, Storm drops down to the ground, where the X-Cutioner’s weapon lies smoldering on the grass, but the X-Cutioner is nowhere to be seen. ‘Is there no end to this man’s resources?’ Storm wonders, announcing that by all appearances, all that remains of the X-Cutioner is his weapon. ‘You’re taking it…very well’ Archangel tells her as he looks up. ‘There was a time you’d be clawing at your clothes and begging the “Bright Lady” for absolution over taking a life’ Warren tells Ororo, asking if they have changed so much that death is just business as usual. ‘A discussion for another time, perhaps’ Storm tells him, as Storm states that as much as the X-Cutioner would like them to believe he is dead, she merely electrified the air around him.
‘So then you’re saying he must have teleported away under the cover of the blast?’ Warren asks. ‘If you knew that, why did you let me ramble on?’, to which Storm tells him it was such an interesting speech, she could not bring herself to interrupt. ‘Could your feelings have something to do with what happened to Kamikaze?’ Storm enquires, asking whether he would like to discuss this when they return to the mansion. ‘Please! I’m one of the most well-adjusted members of the team’ Warren replies. ‘If anyone needs a doctor, it’s…it’s…’ Warren’s voice trails off as he suddenly finds something - someone. ‘STORM!’ he calls out. ‘Warren, what is it?’ Ororo replies as she turns to Warren, seeing who he sees. ‘As near as I can tell, it’s Colossus!’ Warren replies. ‘Goddess, no! PETER!’ Storm gasps as their friend lies slumped against a tree, trapped between human form and his steel form, and very, very still….
‘Please don’t…I have a wife…kids…’ a tradesman pleads as the powerful mutant called Trevor Fitzroy holds him up in the air by his neck, and his power surges through him. ‘They’ll just have to wait their turn. I can’t be expected to kill everyone all at once. It’s positively exhausting’ Fitzroy remarks, examining his nails as he doesn’t even look at the tradesman. ‘I know. I’ve tried’ Fitzroy boasts casually. He lets the tradesman fall to the ground, his body smoldering from the attack, and Fitzroy turns and walks away, stating that there is something about siphoning the life essence of a flatscan, a human, that always leaves such an unpleasant after taste. Crouching down beside his associate, the unmoving Bantam, Fitzroy decides that it is a necessary evil, for unlike the future where he was born, mutants aren’t easy access - whether it’s the X-Men, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Acolytes…most mutants are accounted for in one group or another.
Fitzroy decides that this is the reason why he needs his stooge to insure he makes the most of the life energies he does manage to siphon. ‘Did I say “need”? More than reason enough to want him dead in the first place’ Fitzroy thinks to himself. Bantam suddenly wakes, and wonders what is happening to him. Fitzroy welcomes Bantam back to the land of the living and suggests he doesn’t make the same mistakes as last time. Bantam apologizes to Fitzroy and tells him that he was foolish to question him in front of the others. ‘Er, at all…it was foolish of me to question you at all! Ever.’ Bantam adds quickly.
Bantam asks Fitzroy to forgive him, but Fitzroy tells him that forgiveness is not an issue, and explains that he infused Bantam with the life force of another, granting him the mobility he had been so long denied, because they have mutual needs. ‘Your mutant trans-temporal awareness is capable of monitoring my self generated time portals’ Fitzroy points out. ‘And you, my lord?’ Bantam asks as he gets up and follows Fitzroy around the room. ‘What need do you fill in my life?’ Bantam asks. ‘Your need to keep breathing’ Fitzroy tells him, before telling Bantam that it is time to get to work.
Elsewhere, a normally deserted strip of US I in New Mexico finds itself no longer deserted, as a young man and a young woman crouch behind a crashed car, which is being fired at by several local police. ‘You swore to me you were a mutant, Siena - it’s the only reason I agreed to go along with your crazy plan’ the young man declares. ‘Shut up, Wallace! I can’t think!’ Siena exclaims as she puts her hands to her head. Wallace tells her that she doesn’t have to think, just use her mutant power to get them out of this mess. ‘You don’t understand - I’d only make things worse’ Sienna replies. ‘Worse? We’re already surrounded by half the state police in New Mexico - and none of them particularly interested whether we surrender or not’ Wallace tells her, pointing out that they have no transportation and no supplies.
‘Even if, as you said, you’ve only used your powers twice before, what could you possible do that would make things worse?’ Wallace asks, when suddenly, a portal opens overhead, and Bantam emerges, announcing ‘I have found them, my lord!’ to which Wallace asks if it is too much to hope that this is Siena’s power. ‘Not…that I’m aware of’ Siena replies. Bantam falls to the ground, and Fitzroy emerges, ‘Hi’ he calls out as Bantam declares ‘Ms Siena Blaze and her consort du jour, Wallace Benton. It is with great honor that you stand before Lord Trevor Fitzroy. ‘Hi yourself’ Wallace declares, before announcing that this is getting too weird for him. ‘I’m not a big fan of mutants…I hooked up with Siena here because she has such a nice -’ he begins, unable to finish his sentence as Fitzroy puts his hand around Wallace’s throat and tells him that no one likes a sexist, before draining his life.
Wallace’s body collapses and Siena rushes over, asking Fitzroy why he had to kill him. ‘Sorry, was he a friend of yours?’ Fitzroy asks. ‘Not really. But still -’ Siena begins, while Fitzroy tells her that he needed Wallace’s life energies. ‘In order to do…THIS!’ he shouts as a huge vessel appears through a portal overhead. Although he won’t be born for a number of years, Trevor Fitzroy is gifted with the power to open portals in time, for the most part, in one direction. In the time it took him to travel through the Continuum to our era, he has gathered scores of “things”, such as the hundred or so escaped convicts from the Pit, a Sentinel, a Sydri Python, and in this case, the “Cattle Car” from the so-called Days of Future Past.
The Cattle Car was once used to transport mutants to the work camps. The police look upwards, and moments later the Cattle Car charges into them. Many of these transported by the Cattle Car were of such levels that they didn’t even realize they were mutants. Others, are more easily recognizable. ‘That woman…she’s me!’ Siena thinks to herself as she looks up and sees an older version of herself staring back through the bars on the Cattle Car. Some of Fitzroy’s time mementos, like himself and Bishop are trapped here in the present forever, while most are just passing through a pocket in time, a hint of what is to come that vanished in a flash.
The Cattle Car disappears through another portal, and Siena stands gape-jawed watching it. ‘Wow. I thought my power was impressive’ she utters. ‘Believe me, Siena, it is. Otherwise I would not have sought you out to enlist you in a little game’ Fitzroy tells her, adding that it is an exclusive club known as the Upstarts. Siena turns to Fitzroy and tells him that she is grateful for the rescue, but that she has her own agenda. ‘As do we all’ Fitzroy replies, telling Siena that it doesn’t mean they are will to pass up the opportunity for omnipotence, and instructs Bantam to gather up what is left of the survivors, as he will need their essences if they are going to return to Four Corners. ‘Yes, Sir. Right away’ Bantam replies.
‘Assuming I’m interested…and I’m not…what do I have to do to join your billionaire boys’ club?’ Siena enquires. Fitzroy explains that she has to kill off fellow mutants for big points. ‘Those with the most points wins’ he explains. Trevor tells Siena that she is the last official member, and that her anarchistic behavior has attracted the attention of the Gamesmaster. Holding herself, Siena asks Fitzroy how he knew where to find her. ‘Because someday, years from now…you told me…’ Fitzroy reveals cryptically.