The malevolent laughter of Stephen Lang, head of Project Armageddon, echoes through the corridors of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s long-abandoned orbital station. He watches in a giant monitor the impending confrontation between the old and the new X-Men, and realizes, in ecstasy, that he’s won! In a few moments, X-Man will be killing X-Man and, when this battle is done, no power on Earth will be able to stop him from achieving his ultimate goal: the extermination of mutantkind!
In the room Lang overlooks, a battle is about to break between the two factions of X-Men: the veterans – Professor X, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Polaris, Havok – and the current members. Angel goads his teammates into action. They heard Professor X: those imposters are the deadliest foes they’ve ever faced! Iceman asks him what they’re waiting for: “Let’s waste ‘em… an’ let’s do it now!” Angel lashes at Banshee and tries to pull him down. He believes Banshee has one heck of a nerve; where does a two-bit crook like him get off calling himself an X-Man? Nearby, Iceman screams “Heads up, midget!” and tosses a snowball at Wolverine.
Narrowly avoiding a blast by Cyclops, Storm tries to reason with the inexplicably aggressive veteran X-Men. She asks them to listen to her: there is no need for violence. They wish none of them any harm. She proposes they simply sit down and talk. Turning to Nightcrawler, she tells him they must make them understand! Kurt thinks it’s too late for understanding. These so-called ‘friends’ of theirs are acting more like panicked humans than X-Men; he suggests she looks into their eyes.
As the inevitable showdown heats up, Colossus repels Havok with a punch. He doesn’t understand this madness, nor why Havok seeks their deaths a second time, but if he thinks Colossus and his comrades are going to give up without a fight, he should think again!
Beast goes after Nightcrawler. Kurt teleports away from his grasp and seeks shelter higher on the walls. He recognizes Beast from some old photographs; he’d thought he’d gone all hairy and joined the Avengers. “You anthropomorphic elf!” Beast spits in disdain. He claims he has never been hirsute, and as for the rest… “They threw you out?” Kurt ventures a guess. Beast is sorry but, since Nightcrawler won’t come to him, Hank and his dexterous digits must of a surety come up to him! Reaching up, he succeeds a violent kick on Kurt, before the latter has time to react.
As Beast’s kick sends him flying, Kurt has time to ponder about Hank’s speed and agility. It is phenomenal. He has never seen the like… Before he finishes his thought, he ends up landing on Cyclops. From afar, Hank apologizes to Cyclops; it seems the floor is more crowded than he thought. Trying to reason with him, Nightcrawler asks Cyclops why they are fighting among themselves. What of the threat of Stephen Lang and of his Sentinels? He suddenly discerns something happening to Cyke’s visor. Cyclops coldly replies that Nightcrawler has got it all wrong. Nightcrawler is the threat and here’s where he gets eliminated – and then zaps him with his optic beams.
Close nearby, Wolverine is busy fighting Iceman, when he sees Nightcrawler taking Cyclops’ blast head on and then going down – not moving! Trying to completely ensnare him in ice, Iceman warns him to worry about himself; another second and he’ll be on ice… permanently. Wolverine retorts he doesn’t have that second and breaks through the ice with his claws.
Angel cuts in, grabs him and rises in the air. He mockingly asks from Wolvie to be nice to the kid, Iceman. He may be kind of dumb sometimes, but he’s lovable. Incensed, Wolverine demands he put him down, or he’ll clip his wings for good! “Always threats,” Angel sighs. If the midget wants down, Angel will be glad to oblige him. “Here, tinhead… catch!” he exclaims and tosses Wolverine against Colossus. Wolverine pounds hard against his friend’s steel body, as Piotr cannot get out of his way in time. Buried amidst some debris, Peter asks Wolverine if he heard the hatred in Angel’s voice. Wolverine replies he heard it and suggests they get out of here; that winged yo-yo owes him a rematch!
Piotr does as Wolverine wishes and reduces all the rubble into smithereens. Wolverine instructs him to do just like they did in the Danger Room. He urges him to execute the Fastball Special. Colossus complies and sends Wolvie flying against Angel, with his claws protracted and ready to slash.
Havok takes advantage of Colossus’ momentary distraction and attacks him with a plasma burst. If Colossus is wondering which X-Man has the pleasure of blasting him from here to Hades, all he has to do is cry Havok! Colossus assures him he knows who he is. He never dreamed such power. Were he human, that blast would have burned him to a crisp. But even his armored body has his limits. By all that he holds dear, it is causing him pain! He cannot stand much more of this. But he will stand; he will – he must – survive.
Continuously blasted by Havok, Colossus slowly but steadily approaches him. He warns Alex he’s coming for him – and he will not be stopped. Twice now, Havok tried to kill them in cold blood, kill those who called him comrade and friend. No reason, no explanation, just mad, uncontrolled butchery; he is beneath contempt! He swears that from this day forth, Havok will be butcher no more – and picking up a large timber, fiercely bats him away.
Nearby, Storm faces off against Marvel Girl, who is dressed in her old costume. She notes that Jean’s powers seem much weaker than usual. She could deal with her easily, but cannot bring herself to harm her. She decides she must use reason instead. She asks her why she had turned against her friends. Jean hostilely retorts she is no friend of hers! What of the hours they’ve spent together? Ororo reminds her – the confidences they shared? “Liar!” Marvel Girl accuses her. She insists she doesn’t know her, never talked to her, never shared a confidence! She dismisses it as a cheap shot and it won’t work! Storm wonders how she can deny the truth and with such hatred. How could Jean’s brief captivity made her so unlike her self – unless, she’s not her ‘self’ at all… her true self. Putting two and two together, she deduces that must be; this Marvel Girl is an impostor…
Before she can elaborate on her epiphany, Polaris magnetically manipulates and smashes a haphazardly compiled junk of metallic equipment on Ororo. Jean congratulates Lorna on her beautiful move. She kept Storm occupied while Polaris slipped in and let her have it with a magnetic force blast. Now that their target is down and helpless, she suggests they finish her! Hearing this, Ororo is all the more desperate: her legs are pinned in the debris; she can’t pull free; she has no chance for escape, no chance at all…
Thankfully, just then, Marvel Girl and Polaris are attacked from behind by Banshee, who is using his sonic powers to drive them away from Storm. Jean instructs Lorna to follow her and get back to others. These “imposters” barely held them this time; another attack will finish them. Seeing them flee, Banshee scornfully urges them to run back to their hidey-holes – and while they’re running, they should thank the Lord that Banshee doesn’t hold with killing!
Still trapped in the debris, Storm complains to Colossus about her leg. Piotr tells her he will have free in a moment. Banshee sternly points out that their adversaries will be on top of them in another moment. Their only chance is to fight as a team and… Before he can keep with his argument, he looks around and wonders where in the blazes Wolverine has gone.
Violently making his way through the assembly of veteran X-Men, Wolverine announces that he is over here – and heading for the top man. After he reaches where Xavier complacently sits on his wheelchair, he calls him out. Wolvie is burning on a short fuse, so Charles has got about three seconds to make with the answers – or else… Xavier defiantly states that his threat do not impress him. In fact, very little about Wolverine impresses him, he adds and surprisingly stands up, startling Wolvie. Xavier boasts that one of his mindblasts has the power to shrivel Wolverine where he stands, but his fist contains all the power Wolverine deserves – and, to demonstrate this in practice, he punches his adversary with contempt.
As Wolverine is still on the floor, dizzying from Xavier’s surprisingly hard fist, Professor X urges him on his feet; he wants the satisfaction of knocking him down again. Wolverine admits it was a nice punch, he’ll give him that, but he isn’t going down a second time. On the contrary, Marvel Girl says as she intervenes; he is going down, only he be won’t be standing up again… ever. Professor X is delighted: that arrogant fool, Wolverine, hasn’t a chance against Jean’s mental powers.
Bombarded with Jean’s psionic power, Wolverine feels like his brain is burning… He can’t think from the pain… Only his instincts are left to guide him… His instincts… His senses… Intensifying her onslaught, Jean promises to Xavier it won’t be long now. Wolverine remarks she’s right, only she got it backwards… he just couldn’t see it until now. He’s like an animal; he doesn’t know from faces. He knows from scents, voices, feelings. He also knows Jean Grey. And whatever this one is, she is not Jean Grey! Content with this knowledge, Wolverine lashes at her with his claws – and with unmitigated ferocity. There isn’t even time for a scream.
All the other X-Men, both new and old members, cease their quarrels, as they turn to face what happened. “Lenin’s ghost… no…” a shocked Piotr whispers. “Wolverine… ye bloody homicidal maniac… what have ye done?!” a horrified Banshee exclaims. Watching this from the control room, Lang orders the computer to shift to camera 3 immediately. He must see what’s happening.
“Done?” Wolverine repeats. He met the enemy – and it isn’t them. His point made, he stands above the eviscerated “Jean Grey” – a robotic duplicate of Marvel Girl, mechanical circuitry and cables gushing out of her “gash.”
“How…?!” an utterly infuriated Lang cries out, seeing his plans foiled. By all that’s holy – how could this be!? His X-Sentinels were a stroke of genius, the ultimate in anti-mutant technology – they should have been unbeatable! The new X-Men should have died, not the Sentinels – and the X-Men will die, for this game is far from over.
Three of his captives – Peter Corbeau, Marvel Girl and Cyclops – stare at him from within the tubes they are encased, their faces fixed in expression of horror and surprise. Lang notices how surprised they all look. They shouldn’t be. His goal has always been not the investigation of mutantkind – but its total, complete extermination!
He began quietly enough, that’s true, head of a government project that was trying to determine why mutants exist. His position gave him access to Larry Trask’s upstate New York base – and all his notes. It was there that he became convinced that mutants were a threat to all humanity. He determined to deal with that threat, and so became involved with the Council of the Chosen. The Council wanted to control mutantkind – and mutant powers – for their own benefit. Lang simply wanted them all dead. And by what more ironic means than the X-Sentinels – using mutantkind’s strongest defenders as their executioners. And who better for the X-Sentinels’ first victims than the real X-Men? Still, one defeat doesn’t mean the war is…
Just then, he notices the nega-tube of one of the prisoners is glowing white-hot – and finally Cyclops smashes through it with his optic blasts. Enraged, he thinks Lang has said enough! “Oh my God,” Lang mumbles, in shock. “Liberation day, folks – everybody out!” Scott proclaims and literally cuts them free out of their tubes by way of his beams. Jean notices that Professor X is still unconscious, and Corbeau catches him before he collapses to the floor.
Lang seizes the chance to flee. “Leaving so soon, Lang?” Scott mocks him. That’s awfully rude of him – but then, what else can they expect from a murdering coward? Lang seethes with rage: coward?! He dares call him a coward?! He proudly proclaims he is a man – which is more than Cyclops, this mutant swine, will ever be! “D’you hear me, Homo-so-called-superior? A man!” he melodramatically hammers the point. He is better than any of them, all of them! And now he’s reached his flying gunship, he’ll prove it! In the background, his monitor shows the X-Men swiftly smashing away at the remaining robotic imposters.
After he embarks on his gunship, Lang proceeds to fire away at them, without any delay. Cyclops retorts he’s not proving a thing, except how sick and twisted he is inside! He’s fought a lot of villains in his time but, until he met Lang, he never hated before. Lang would hound them without mercy, exterminate them, for no other reason than that they’re different from his conception of humanity. Just who does he thinks he is?! And for his information, Jean adds, Lang won’t be killing anyone today.
Indeed, as per Jean’s telekinetic influence, the controls in Lang’s ship begin moving by themselves. Lang realizes he’s got to break away free, get away before he’s captured! He believes he can do it. He’s a man – his will is stronger than any mutant witch’s. All he has to do is hit full power on the thrusters. However, much to his horror, he realizes the controls are jammed; he can’t turn! Heading right for the giant screen and consumed by utter panic, he begs the X-Men to help him! He’s going to…
And then, the ship explodes – in a terrible, fiery explosion that demolishes the giant screen. The rest of the X-Men enter through the demolished screen, amidst flames and smoke. Seeing Scott and Jean, both still reeling from the explosion, Colossus alerts the others that he found them – and they still live! Banshee brusquely suggests he quits jabbering, then! They should get them out of here. This whole section of the space platform is ablaze, and the fire is spreading. Lang’s freebooting goons have already evacuated in re-entry lifeboats – the X-Men are the only people left. And they’re aboard a station that could blow itself in bits any minute now!
A few minutes later, Corbeau and the X-Men are inside the Starcore shuttle, assessing the damage it has sustained. Cyclops reports that the fire has almost reached the hypergolic fuel cells; they haven’t much time. Corbeau grimly informs him he’s wrong; they have all the time in the world. They are sure not going anywhere – at least, in this crate. The flight control computer must have gotten slagged during their little fracas with the Sentinels – and without it, they’re as good as finished. Wolverine suggests a manual re-entry. “What about it, Wolverine?” Corbeau snaps. In case he hasn’t noticed, they’ve got a thumping great whole in the shuttle’s hull and – thanks again to the Sentinels – no functional pressure suits. But that’s the least of their problems. Kurt suspects what he means: the solar flare.
Corbeau confirms that. The worst flare in years. The computer was supposed to fly them through it while they sat safe-and-sound in the shuttle’s shielded “life-cell” – only they have no computer. Sure, Corbeau could fly a re-entry, but he wouldn’t last thirty seconds in that flare. One of the X-Men might survive the flare, but they can’t pilot the shuttle. They need someone who can do both, and there’s no such animal.
Jean stares at him intently, her features hardened by an unexpected decisiveness. She tells Corbeau he’s wrong: she can do both. Cyclops bursts out in anger and disbelief – is she crazy?! Since when is she a qualified astronaut?! “Since now,” Jean stoically replies, undaunted by Scott’s tantrum and touches Corbeau’s forehead with her hand. She tells him to hold still, this will only take a little. She reminds Scott she’s a telepath. She can absorb all Dr. Corbeau knows about flying the space shuttle. She won’t be a great pilot, but she’ll be good enough to get them down.
Completely out of his mind now, despaired over her plan, Cyclops grabs her by the shoulders: “And how will you survive the solar flare, you little…” Jean explains her telekinetic powers will screen out the harmful radiation. She promises she’ll be all right. “For how long?!” Scott insists. Even her powers can’t handle that much. “Perhaps not – but I can do this,” Marvel Girl replies and anesthetizes him with a – momentarily painful – mindblast. She coldly tells Banshee to take him to the life-cell. Sean notices she hit him pretty hard. Jean clarifies she meant to. By the time he wakes up, they’ll be committed.
Wolverine takes his turn trying to dissuade her. “Nice shot, lady… you suckin’ for martyr o’ the year or something?” Impatient and annoyed, Jean tells him to make it quick; she’s busy. Wolverine wonders what she’s trying to prove; that she’s a noble as big daddy X? “It’s suicide, Jeannie!” Marvel Girl vents all her tension and anguish on him. She reminds him the name’s “Jean” – and she has just about had it with him! She has tried to like him – obnoxious little upstart that he is – but for the life of her, she doesn’t know why she made the effort! She suggests he shuts his mouth and get into the life cell – now – before she loses her temper!
Wolverine winces but silently complies. Storm approaches. “Jean…” she says, softly. “Not you, too, Ororo. I couldn’t’ bear it,” Jean sighs. She reminds her she has the best chance of survival. That’s it, pure and simple. It’s her… or it’s none of them. Resigned, Ororo embraces her tightly: “Then – may the gods protect you, Jean Grey.” Jean thanks her, tears flowing from her eyes. As an equally tear-eyed Ororo walks away, Jean asks her one last favor: would she tell Scott that she loved him?
Left all alone, it’s time for Jean to do her stuff – namely, seal the hull telekinetically with a piece of wreckage. According to Starcore, the flare is a minute away – and it’ll be half an hour at least before they’re safe. “Lord, I’m scared… I don’t want to die…”
In the life-cell, Scott has regained consciousness – and is frantic. Nightcrawler grabs him by the neck with a vise-like grip. If he opens the life-cell door, he’ll kill them all! “Let me go, blast you!” Scott howls. He begs him to let him go to her before it’s too late. Kurt weeps: it’s already too late. Bowing his head in grief, Scott keeps pleading: “Please, Kurt… I beg you… please…”
In the cockpit, Marvel Girl reads it’s twenty-seven minutes still to Earth’s atmosphere; not long at all; just the rest of her life. Corbeau wasn’t kidding about this flare. It’s barely here and it’s already pushing her powers to the limit. Only consolation is that not even Colossus wouldn’t have survived this long. She urges herself to hold on. For the love of all she holds dear, hold on!
A few minutes later, she can barely read that it’s twenty minutes to go. But the strain… she can’t take much… Oh no – her screen’s starting to give way! The flare – the radiation – it’s starting to get through! “Scott!” she screams – and then is bathed in the solar flare that violently surges into the shuttle.