Nate Grey a.k.a. X-Man lies on a barren landscape. He is cold. Confused and cut off. In other words - home. The young hero slowly rises from the dirt, when suddenly amongst the spiralling towers around him that rise up from the small mountains, there is gunfire. He is in the Age of Apocalypse, a long dead world where millions died in agony and millions more lived on in misery. It terrifies him. Even though he knows this is a dream, the fear is very real. He knows it from the way his heart races and his pulse pounds. And he wonders why he must suffer though this nightmare again and again. Every night the images become more real, more intense - and he prays for release. ‘No…’ Nate utters, as the green robotic soldiers called Infinites dart about around him. ‘Surrender is not an option, traitorous mutant!’ one of them states.
The Infinite adds that Nate should expect no rescue from his fellow saboteurs, as all are long gone by now - cowardly and clever enough to realize that if his fall didn’t kill him, the Infinite legions most certainly would. ‘Due to your involvement in yesterday’s destruction of Gene-Farm 66A, you are hereby sentenced to death… by direct decree of the High-Lord Apocalypse himself!’ one of them declares. Nate knows this is wrong. He starts to scramble up the side of one of the rocky cliffsides.‘Not Apocalypse! Not again!’ he calls out. He left this nightmare world behind when he crossed over into another reality. He jumps upwards to avoid some more weapons fire. He is a singularly powerful mind, possessed of spectacular psionic abilities. Abilities that allow him to reach out and touch the world around him with just a thought. He misses the next ledge he wanted to reach, and falls to the ground. He is a boy, still. And though he has powers that could one day remake reality, he is often unsure how best to use them. More often than not, finding himself…cold. Confused. Cut off.
‘Nate…’ a voice calls out. ‘Rise and shine, Nate’ Jean “Phoenix” Grey-Summers calls out as she leans over the sleeping Nate. Scott “Cyclops” Summers stands nearby. Jean and Scott are wrapped up warm in protective gear, and packs wait nearby. ‘Alaskan sun’s coming up and the snow’s coming down’ Jean tells Nate as the snow starts to fall over his sleeping bag. Jean adds that climbing is only going to get slower from here for all of them - and no one wants to spend a single night more on this mountain than they have to. Scott reports that there gear is packed and ready to go, and asks Jean if there is something wrong. ‘Jean…?’ Nate utters as he starts to wake. ‘Good Lord!’ Jean gasps, before telling Scott that she isn’t sure, as Nate looks up at her, confused.
Scott notices Nate’s clothing, and points out that they have transformed - that Nate has psionically rearranged the molecules of his mountain gear. ‘Yeah, into my old leathers…from home’ Nate utters. Scott walks closer to Nate and declares that Jean isn’t the only one concerned now. ‘We need to figure out why you’ve become so focused on your past suddenly’ Scott points out. ‘Why it’s even taken to haunting your sleep’ he adds. As Nate gets to his feet, he adds ‘You mean besides the fact that my birth world has always been the source of most of my nightmares? Or the fact that my dreams have a nasty habit of coming true lately?’ Neither Cyclops nor Phoenix respond. Nate reminds Jean that she is a telepath, like him, and asks her if she couldn’t cleanse his mind of those memories?. ‘It might be worth it for the nightmares to be over’ he suggests as he puts on his protective jacket to keep him warm from the snow. ‘We’re mutants, Nate. Not gods’ Jean replies.
Nate starts to hammer some spikes into the cliff before them to enable an easier climb. ‘Jean’s right, Nate. But listen…up against conditions like these, we can’t afford to waste any energy’ Cyclops tells him, adding ‘That includes the power you used to telekinetically transmute your clothes like that’. Jean goes over to Nate and offers to try and help him with his nightmares, but explains that it is a delicate thing, entering people’s minds, even if it is to soothe pain and ease fear. Cyclops starts to climb the cliffside and Jean starts to follow him, adding that they may open up demons no one knew existed. ‘But I think you knew that, didn’t you?’. Jean looks back down at Nate and tells him that he is afraid - she can see that even without her telepathy. ‘What is it?’ she asks him. ‘I wish I knew’ Nate replies as he starts to climb the edifice.
Nate explains that it is just a feeling - a really intense gut feeling that there is something on top of this mountain - something evil. ‘That’s why I came to you. I’ve got no one else to turn to’ he adds. Jean assures Nate that they understand how serious this is to him, which is why she wishes he had let them take the time to contact some sort of backup. ‘You might feel like you could wait, Jean’ Nate replies, while, up above, Cyclops informs Jean and Nate that he is going over the edge to secure the lead-line, and suggests Nate anchor in tight, and that he doesn’t move a muscle until Jean is on the ledge behind him. Nate tells Jean that he can’t wait, as he needs to know what has been causing these dreams of his.
Suddenly Jean exclaims ‘Scott! Look out!’, and Scott shouts ‘NOOO!’ as he fires an optic blast and falls backwards off the cliffside. Nate is cold, confused - but no longer alone, as a sight he never thought he would see again falls towards him - three Infinite robots from the Age of Apocalypse, partially embedded in some ice.
‘Infinites! Here? This can’t be!’ Nate gasps, while Jean declares ‘Whatever they are we’ve got to help Scott’. As in his recent nightmares, Nate reacts instinctively against the threat at hand. ‘Hang on, Cyclops!’ he shouts as he drops down the side off the cliff, swings out on his rope and grabs hold of Cyclops before he can fall any further. ‘I got you!’ Nate assures him. Scott thanks Nate, before reminding him that he told him to stay anchored. ‘Looks like your suspicions about this mountain were right’ Scott adds, before asking Nate what that was that attacked them. Nate looks down to the ground below them and sees the Infinites and explains that they are soldier clones of Apocalypse. The men continue to climb the cliff, as Nate explains that they are from his world, which is not supposed to exist anymore.
Nate adds that the Infinites shouldn’t be here and that he has never seen ones that looked quite like that. Jean stands on the ledge and tells the men that she would say something was radically wrong with them, something wholly unnatural. ‘Looked that way to me’ Nae agrees as he and Scott reach the ledge, before he asks Jean how she knew that. ‘You’ve never seen -’ he begins, before seeing more Infinites scattered amongst the snow, along with frozen civilian bodies. ‘Oh no… what is this?’ Nate gasps. Jean tells him that she doesn’t know, but that for what it is worth, she hasn’t found a single sign of life yet. ‘Thank God’ Jean adds, before reporting that she has been running up against increasing psi-static as they get higher and higher up the mountain, and that it is interfering with her telepathy, so now she can’t be certain of anything.
‘Over here - both of you!’ Jean shouts, eyes-wide, she finds a man who is alive. Scott and Nate rush over to the man half-buried in the snow, and upon closer inspection, Nate tells the others that the man’s face is half-merged into the rock, so he is barely able to breathe. ‘We’ve got to do something!’ he exclaims. ‘He’s dying right before our eyes!’ Nate adds. Nate tells the man that he is not alone anymore, and assures him that they are friends. Cyclops asks Nate what they are looking at here, pointing out that he sees fused pieces of those “Infinites” and normal humans both - as well as evidence of mechanically enhanced humans heavily armed and armored. ‘And branded, apparently’ Nate adds. ‘By Apocalypse’ he points out. As Jean tends to the survivor, Nate reports that those enhanced humans are traitors to their own kind.
Nate continues, telling Cyclops and Jean that regular humans who traded their humanity for the privilege of serving the Dark Despot - Mecha-Mutates, groomed specifically for assaults on the human rebels’ mutant-nullification grids. Nate explains that the grids were an experimental revel defense system, and from what he heard tell, they only deployed the prototypes in Europe during the last days - for the Atlantic Sea walls. The three heroes look up at another mountain and see strange, futuristic structures protruding from the cliff sides. ‘But how can an entire sea wall be here merged into the earth itself?’ Nate wonders. Jean reports that there is something else, informing them that the man they found earlier has died, but his thoughts reached out to her, and she learned something.
Jean reports that both sides in this conflict are in the dark as to what has happened to them - they don’t even realize that they have shifted realities. ‘But they do know they’re lost, and they’ve taken steps to regroup and find their leaders’ Jean announces. ‘Wait’ she suddenly tells the men. ‘Do you hear something?’ Nate asks. ‘From right there, underneath the -’ Scott begins, as suddenly, Mecha-Mutates that are merged with the Infinites burst forth from the snow. ‘YERREEERRR!’ one of them screeches. ‘Down boys!’ Nate shouts as he fires blasts of telekinesis at them - his best shot, but his telekinesis suddenly fizzles out on him. Nate supposes that he must be suffering from the same psi-interference that Jean mentioned. ‘Down yourself, Nate!’ Cyclops calls out as he leaps towards Nate and pushes him to the ground. ‘These things were enraged enough already, lashing out in pain - now they’re out of control’ Cyclops explains.
Cyclops suggests that they could have entered this situation more productively by using teamwork instead of acting so impulsively. ‘Don’t say it. Let’s just do it’ Nate replies, before alerting Scott to the fact that Jean is in trouble. ‘We’ve got to get to her before she’s overwhelmed’ he adds, as some of the combined begins leap towards her. Jean stands at the edge of the ledge, she throws a telekinetic shield between herself and the enemies. Scott tells Nate to listen to him, and points out that even diminished, the combination of his optic blast and Nate’s telekinetic force should be enough to knock those Infinites over the edge - if they hit them at exactly the same time. The men rush towards the ledge, ‘On my mark’ Scott orders. ‘What about Jean? If she doesn’t get out of the way…’ Nate begins, but Scott tells him to trust him, as they are using good team strategy. ‘Jean knows that, and I’d never risk harming my wife’ Scott adds, as optic energy pours from his visor, and Nate releases telekinetic energy, ‘Guess not! But I hope you’re not relying on some sort of a miracle’ he remarks.
Jean leaps into the air, and telekinetically levitates herself over the Infinites as the optic blast and Nate’s telekinetic bursts strike the villains in the back, and pushes them over the edge of the cliff. Scott reveals to Nate that no matter how weakened Jean’s telepathy is, the two of them are always connected, so she knew exactly when to make her move, just like they practiced as X-Men. ‘Two down… twice as many to go’ Scott adds as another four of the beings rush towards the trio. Scott and Nate fire more of their respective energies above the Infinites, ‘So let’s cut straight to the chase already - and bring down the house!’ Nate exclaims as their energies strike the cliff above, bringing down an avalanche of snow on their enemies - and themselves.
‘ALL RIGHT!’ Nate shouts an instant later as he, Scott and Jean emerge from the snow inside Jean’s telekinetic bubble. ‘Pulled the last-second telekinetic bubble trick a few times myself’ Nate admits, while Scott tells Jean ‘Nicely done’. Jean begins to continue what she was saying before they were attacked - that the rebel’s thoughts revealed that the enemy has already taken steps to ensure their survival. She adds that the Infinite soldiers have the ability to self-replicate and they have begun this process somewhere within the remains of the sea wall. Jean reports that by dawn tomorrow, a full contingent of Infinites, over one hundred strong, will be born with one goal in mind - descend this mountain and return to their leader, Apocalypse - destroying anyone in their path.
‘Over my dead body!’ Nate shouts as he takes flight, towards the mountain with the sea wall embedded in it. But Scott and Jean don’t follow him. ‘What?’ Nate asks, dropping to the ground. Nate admits that his psi-energies are spotty now, this close to the mutant null-zone generator inside the sea-wall. ‘Then you’ll have no powers at all inside it, Nate. None of us will. So you can’t do this alone’ Scott tells him, putting a hand on his shoulder. ‘We do it as a team’ Scott declares, motioning to Jean who is hammering another spike into the next edifice. Nate and Scott start to follow Jean up the cliff, and Nate replies ‘No complaints from me’, while thinking to himself that when it comes to Apocalypse, he will take all the help he can get. There is a haunting sound, and Nate hopes that it is just the wind. ‘I’d hate to imagine another survivor down there alone in this storm’.
But, unbeknownst to Nate, that is exactly what the noise is - one of the humans merged with the Infinites is slumped over in the snow - when suddenly, a large mechanical being emerges from the whiteness behind him, and steps on his head, before lumbering onwards.
As they continue to climb, Nate asks Scott ‘Let me get this straight. You really don’t mind Jean’s constant intrusion in your head? You’re actually okay with that - all the time?’ As they reach the next ridge, Scott replies that it is not an intrusion, not even close, but more like a presence - powerfully familiar and reassuringly comfortable. ‘And she’s always in my thoughts anyway, tell you the truth’ Scott adds. ‘I hear you, but still…’ Nate replies as he reaches the ridge. ‘Enough already, Nate…’ Scott asks as they and Jean stare up at the massive structures embedded into the mountain. ‘Where’s the front door?’ Scott asks.
As the strange mechanical being climbs towards the three unsuspecting heroes, ‘Out of the frying pan…and into the fire’ Nate exclaims as he leads Scott and Jean into the sea wall structure. ‘Ground zero, X-Men. This is my worst nightmare… my home’ Nate declares, looking around at the various broken machines and contraptions strewn about. They hear the strange haunting noise, and Scott remarks that it sounds like some sort of echo, but he can’t tell where it is coming from. He adds that he can barely tell up from down in this mess so far, as everything is twisted inside out, mangled into the mountain-side. Jean tells the men that it seems colder in here than it was outside somehow. ‘And the silence- such dead silence’.
Scott tells Nate that the first thing is first. ‘From what you’ve told us already, the mutant nullification grid’s generator will be positioned at the interior perimeter of the complex for maximum range and efficient’. He adds that if they can destroy it, the whole field should collapse. Scott adds that they will get their powers back, firing on all fours again. ‘Good plan, Scott’ Nate agrees. Nate wishes Scott good luck, announcing that he is going after the infinites before they finish replication. ‘Where?’ Scott asks. Nate explains that it is in the water-basin level, most likely, best bet for a replicating pool, the way he figures. Nate adds that he knows it makes more sense to head for the target they are sure of first, but he also knows what is at stake here. ‘I’m the only one of us who could navigate to the lower levels in time’.
Scott agrees to the plan, supposing that the interior perimeter can’t be much more than a hundred yards, tops, and what he can see of the path, at least, looks clear. ‘On it, Scott. Watch his back, Nate. We’ll meet back here in an hour’ Jean declares as she takes off away from the men. ‘Mission accomplished. ‘Or not’ Nate mutters as he and Scott trudge off in the direction of the water-basin level. And, the mechanical being arrives at the sea wall. Only, as he steps into the structure, out of the snow, his appearance becomes that much clearer - part machine, part man. Hatchet-9 is in the house!