In a trailer park in the desert of New Mexico, the man sitting by the fire is not native to the deserts of the southwest. He has had his share of loss and pain, but is not enslaved by his troubles nor is he inured to them. The cold air of the desert night seems to amplify his senses. The wind in his face brings him the scent of sagebrush and jimsonweed. Normally, there would be the sound of coyotes but something has scared them off. He listens and hears five people walking out of the great nowhere.
He hears a wild-scented man, snarling like a roustabout (Wolverine), a woman with a voice like springtime (Jean Grey), and another man who talks like a scoutmaster (Cyclops). He also senses another man, no a boy, who takes uncertain steps (Cannonball), and a second woman, a trace of cinnamon, exotic spices, and an electricity, like ball lighting after hail (Storm). As the X-Men approach the man, Wolverine warns him not to make any fast moves. Jean tells Logan that there’s no need to threaten him. Cyclops tells the man that they mean him no harm. They know they must look pretty bad, but…
The man lifts up his sunglasses revealing his heavily bandaged eyes. He then tells Cyclops that he’s going to have to tell him how bad they look. Cyclops apologizes, he didn’t know. Wolverine tells him not to be apologizing too quick, something ain’t right about the man. Sniffing him, Wolverine asks him he’s not an android, is he? The man replies android? No, stranger though to his eyes he must look inhuman, he’s afraid the truth is far more earthly. His legs were crushed by the engine of his plane when he augured in. Lots of steel and plastic is surrounding his leg now. The doohickey sticking out of his side is a dialysis shunt. His kidneys fared about as well in the crash as his eyes did. He has to go to the clinic every two days and get his radiator flushed.
Pointing to his head, he tells them there’s a steel plate up there, a lot of reconstructive dental work. In his right arm, there’s a new socket joint. They fixed him up pretty good, so he looks pretty normal and can walk around. He can do just about anything except see. And maybe, if he’s real lucky, Doc Prospero down at the clinic ten miles down the highway can get that cleared up for him, as well.
Next pointing to the rest of the trailer park behind him, he tells the X-Men that the others stay at the clinic while doc works on them. He is a special case, sort of what ya might call a “long-term project.” They all came there because they had no hope, and the doc, he gave them hope and some kind of purpose. Wolverine tells him they all found their purpose with a doc o’ sorts, a professor to be exact.
Just then, there is a faint moan and the rustle of a body falling. It is the woman who smells of cinnamon – Storm. As Cannonball helps her up, Storm tells him that she will be fine, she simply needs to rest for a moment. Cyclops tells the man they need help. They’re on the run, but they’re not criminals. He asks if he will take their word on that. When Wolverine asks how do they know the can trust the man, Cyclops mentally asks Jean if she can psi-read the man to see if he’s clean. As Jean’s warm glow washes over the man’s consciousness, Jean informs the rest of the X-Men there is no betrayal in the man. The man replies that’s good to know, he’d like to feel he’s as stand-up as he thinks he is. He then mentions that they are hungry and tired. He’s going to rustle up some chow for them. He adds that they can call him Mustang, everybody else does.
Later, Mustang and the X-Men sit around a fire and eat their food. Mustang tells them that the trailer park was an illegal immigrant smugglers camp that got shut down by the feds. A lot of them with nowhere to go, mostly patients of Doc Prospero, came there. In the desert, there’s peace. Their own society uncorrupted by the greed and bigotry that grips the rest of the country.
As Mustang talks, he senses that the “Cinnamon” girl, Storm, is not listening to him. She is staring out into the desert, where they trudged out of an empty landscape. Mustang can picture the footprints disappearing into blackness. Suddenly, a wind comes from nowhere, conjured up by Storm. Without prelude or coda, it whistles across the sand and is gone. Cyclops asks Storm footprints? Storm informs him that they are gone. Mustang asks the crew before him if they are some of the mutants they’ve been hearing about – human beings born with all kinds of strange attributes. Their kind is hunted, outcast because people are afraid of them. He’s not about to turn them in, but they should know that they can’t fool him just because he can’t see. One of them sniffed him and figured out that half of him is prosthetic. The girl with the silky voice, he thinks she read his mind. He felt her in there, probing. And the other girl can call up a wind out of a calm desert night. He then tells them that he heard that some of them can even fly.
At first he was wondering what they were doing trekking across the desert on foot but then it hit him that they might be wanting to avoid radar. There’s an old army base about ten miles from there, in the most remote area of the desert. It’s supposed to be inactive but he’s heard a lot of aircraft flying above recently. Cyclops tells him that it’s not just the radar. The people who are in pursuit have sensors that can pick up disturbances on the infrared wave-length, and they have scanners that register telekinetic flux. Three of them can fly and could have carried the other two who can’t but using their powers that way would have been like waving a flashlight in a dark room. Mustang mentions that it’s sorta like turning on their own radar when they’re supposed to be in stealth mode, huh?
Mustang adds that he was a Navy Tomcat driver. When he got out, he bought himself an old P-51 and became a stunt flyer. He was in heaven in every way. He was making a living doing what he had always wanted to do and he was up there in the clouds in the beauty and the glory of the firmament. He asks them if they know what he means. One day, he was playing an air show in Iowa. He was pulling out an immelman and that big Rolls Royce Merlin was screaming. Mr. Murphy was his co-pilot that day. The engine blew and the stick went dead. Every instinct he had told him to bail out. But he knew he couldn’t live with himself if Sally went into that grandstand full of kids. So he rode it out on a wing and a prayer. Nobody else got hurt.
Later, as they all lie down beneath the stars, Mustang tells them that he tries to imagine the stars, strewn across the vast darkness, twinkling like diamonds on a jeweler’s velvet and he listens to them. Cannonball asks listen to them? Mustang tells him that’s right. The ancients thought the stars and planets made grand orchestral sounds as they spun through their orbits. They called it “the music of the spheres.” Midway twixt midnight and dawn, at the grey hour favored by suicides and footpads a figure stirs, rising like a mute revenant.
Silent as a stalking panther, the mutant code named Wolverine creeps past the sleeping forms of his fellow X-Men, unheard by all but one. Mustang – a man who has become, by necessity, a good listener. He notes that Wolverine’s faint footsteps fade off in the direction of the highway. As he dozes off, he wonders what the mutant expects to find at the clinic.
In the morning, he finds out. As he awakes, Cyclops informs Mustang that they need to have a little talk. Mustang asks if it is about what their sharp-nosed friend sniffed out down at the clinic. Cyclops asks how did he… Storm cuts him off and tells Mustang that Logan saw something there that he should see for himself. Mustang asks see, did they forget that he was blind? Jean tells him that she can show him in his mind if he lets her. In essence, he can take the memory from Logan, and put it into his brain. She tells him that he’ll be able to see what he saw. When Mustang asks that he’ll be able to see, Jean tells him in his mind’s eye he will. She tells him to relax and begins the transfer.
Mustang feels the presence in his mind again, and then a light like a billion suns. When the light wanes, he sees with an awesome clarity. A multitude of smells assail his nostrils, each distinct and familiar. The thick bristly hairs on his arms quiver in the breeze, and there is a low growl deep in his throat. He then sees the source of the pungent odor. It is a coyote, foraging for garbage. He then sees the coyote being electrocuted by a laser fence. At that moment, he senses something coming down the highway. It sounds like an eighteen-wheeler.
In the memory, he is running at an incredible pace and effortlessly he leaps. Atop the trailer, he stares down at the transport roof and his hands explode in exquisite pain. As the memories of Wolverine’s continue in his mind, the claws retract and the roof is peeled back to reveal a nightmare shipment from some Frankensteinian mail-order house. It is full of mechanical arms, legs, skulls, and eyeballs. The realization pierces Mustang like a scalpel. There is the stuff of Dr. Prospero’s miracle cures. There is the promise of vision.
Mustang asks them what they are telling him. That Doc Prospero is fixing him up with some kind of robot eyes. He tells them that he doesn’t care if they’re voodoo eyes as long as he can see again and fly. Wolverine tells him that he’ll be able to fly just fine without a plane except he just won’t have a soul anymore. Jean adds that they had been wondering where the new Prime Sentinels were coming from, and now they know. Mustang asks prime what? Jean touches his mind again and tells him that she’ll show him. Sentinels are constructs programmed with one purpose – to hunt down and destroy mutants. The Sentinels they know of were giant androids, nothing more than hunter-killer machines with a humanoid mask.
But the Prime Sentinels, the ones that attacked and captured them, are human-sized and they seem capable of initiative. They should have realized that they were cyborgs, human beings enhanced with cybernetic technology. People coming to the clinic were being unwittingly converted and sent out into the general population. Sleeper agents awaiting an electronic signal to override their human consciousness and become obedient cogs in the organization called Operation: Zero Tolerance.
Upon hearing that, Mustang replies that he should have known it was too good to be true. Cyclops asks him if it would have been worth it to give up his humanity. Wolverine tells Mustang to trust him, he don’t want nobody muckin’ around inside him.
Just then, Cannonball calls out that aircraft and Sentinels are approachin’. They’re exposed, the trailers won’t shield them from their scanners. Mustang tells them that he can hide them and reveals a secret hiding place in the ground directly below the fire. It was built by the smugglers to hide their human cargo. It’s cramped but the hard desert clay is better shielding than concrete. Cyclops adds that the fire might even mask their infrared signatures. Storm tells Cyclops that this will be difficult – her claustrophobia. Cyclops tells her that it’s their only chance until they can figure a way to take out the Sentinels without harming them. Closing the compartment off, Mustang tells them to sit tight until he gives them the all-clear. Below, Wolverine comforts Storm and tells her it will be all right and to hold his hand.
As lighting flashes in the sky, Bastion aboard his aircraft, notices the trailer park and inquires as to what the gypsy encampment is down there. He asks if it has been rousted and searched. One of Bastion’s informants tell him there’s no need to worry about that place, it’s a holding area for sleeper units. It’s doubtful that the mutant escapees are down in the middle of that. However, they are registering a previously uncharted atmospheric disruption. Bastion tells him that that the X-Men set the aircraft they escaped in on automatic pilot and pointed it south, to trick them into concentrating the search in that direction, towards the border. So it would be logical that they really came in that direction and the weather pattern could be the mark of the weather-witch, Storm.
Down below the ground, Cannonball peers out and tells the rest of his fellow X-Men that the plane is flying right on by and not landin’ but some old school bus just drove up. Wolverine mentions that he saw a bus in the parkin’ lot at the clinic, it must be the other patients. Storm tells them that she wants to get out of there, but Wolverine and Jean continue to try and comfort her. Cyclops asks Sam, Cannonball, what he sees up there. Cannonball tells them that Mustang is actually trying to spill the beans about what’s happening at their clinic.
On the surface, Mustang’s friends tell him that he’s basically full of it. Mustang tells them don’t take his word for it; ask the mutants and points in the direction of where they are hiding. Below the surface, Cyclops asks what Mustang is doing. Wolverine says this is gonna get out of control, those innocents could get caught in the cross-fire.
Up in the plane, Bastion tells his informant that sleeper agents are easily replaced and what they need right now are active Sentinels to track down their fugitives. He tells him to send the activation code. The informant tells him that there are only three of them complete enough to have weapon systems installed. They don’t even have communication suits to update central control. He then activates their sensor modules to initiate a full Sentinel morph upon contact with a confirmed mutagenic signature.
In Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Virginia, Senator Robert Kelly stands before the gravestone of his dead wife, Sharon. He tells her he’s sorry. He never thought it would come to this. For years, protecting mankind from the threat of their superhuman brethren has been his own personal crusade and perhaps it became his own personal vendetta when she was taken from him. He lost what he held most dear because of mutants and it blinded him, made him make decisions as a man, not as a statesman. Maybe that’s why he didn’t stand in Bastion’s way when he appeared, promising a final solution to the mutant problem.
Now, a man with no past, no identity, has marshaled his own army and he’s declared a war that is very close to exploding into a conflict far worse. Something that places the very people he’s sworn to serve in grave danger. What does he do? It might even mean getting voted out next election. It’s everything he’s worked all his life for against everything he believes in and holds dear. And, he doesn’t want to feel like he’s failed her. He can’t make the decision himself. Which way does he go?
As if receiving a response unheard by others, he then thanks her and tells her that he thought she’d see it that way. He promises that he’ll be back again soon. When he makes it back to the waiting limo, he tells Henry Peter Gyrich that they’re going back to the Pentagon. He’s made a decision: they’re going to shut down Zero Tolerance and he wants Gyrich to get the gears in motion. When Gyrich tells him that Bastion is not going to take this lying down, Kelly tells him that he doesn’t expect him to. That’s why he wants him to get in contact with G.W. Bridge. Gyrich asks, “mobilize S.H.I.E.L.D.?” That’s going to take direct intervention from the executive office. Kelly tells him that he suggests that he get on it then. His order given, Agent Gyrich tells him “will do.”