Magneto strides majestically through the Royal Australian Aerospace facility at Woomera. He smashes through the defensive perimeter with ease and, within minutes, the facility’s occupants find themselves in a desperate battle for survival. He tears apart sophisticated machinery like it is paper. This is the latest in a series of daring raids on research complexes in Australia and New Zealand and nothing yet, not even the finest troops in the Australian army, has come close to being a match for his mutant power.
A television camera focuses on the face of Magneto, who wipes out their coverage with an electro-magnetic blast. He likes his privacy. Hours later, BBC news reporter, John Cheever, reports on this devastation. Many fires still rage out of control and, behind him, the facility’s infrastructure has become just another expensive salvage job. Woomera flight center has been destroyed but the authorities refuse to speculate on exactly what Magneto has stolen. They may never know. In the past, he explains, super-villains such as he have been successfully opposed by groups of super heroes. Unfortunately, of those groups, the Fantastic Four and the Champions have disbanded. The Avengers are under virtual house arrest by order of the government and the X-Men, who stopped the master of magnetism once before at Cape Citadel, seem to have vanished off the face of the Earth.
(Kirinos, Southern Greece)
On the beautiful island of Kirinos, one of the Cyclades islands off Southern Greece, Charles Xavier sits alone in a restaurant. He found this peaceful isle years before, when he was bumming around the Mediterranean, trying to make sense of why Moira had left him. Now, he’s brought Lilandra with him, a woman he loves as much as he once loved Moira MacTaggert. She is Princess Majestrix of the Shi’ar, heir to the throne of a galaxy-spanning empire. She is beginning to enjoy what she sees as a primitive planet, with Charles being the all-important reason for her happiness. She cannot conceive of life without him, yet she must soon return to her homeland and hopes he may join her there.
She asks Charles if he is well. He looks agitated and explains that he has lost his telepathic rapport with his X-Men. She places her hand on his and says that there could be a natural, logical explanation, but Charles worries that they could be in deadly danger. If only he knew where his students were.
Meanwhile, in the frozen wasteland that is Antarctica, it’s just past dawn on the surface of a new day. A mile below the snow and ice, Nanny, Magneto’s robot assistant, wishes the ‘children’ a good morning. In turn, she tends to each of them, feeding Wolverine, informing Cyclops that he will receive a bath and massage, and combing Beast’s fur. Cyclops compares her voice to marshmallow-soaked in honey. Telling Hank that she will try and find some bows for his hair, she departs, letting them know she’ll be back at lunchtime to read them a nice story before naptime.
Hank could scream; they all could, but Magnetos inhibitors don’t allow them the freedom of speech. Storm looks determined as she sees Nanny depart. She has three, maybe four hours, in which to implement her plan. It has taken her days to build her control, as well as observe Nanny’s routine, but she thinks she is ready. She reckons Magneto made a fatal mistake in her case. True, her body is forced to function at the level of an infant but, at just six months, she had the coordination of a young girl.
The effort of maintaining control over her body puts an enormous strain upon her but if she can control it; she can act. She begins to rock her head back and forth. Wolverine wonders what on Earth she’s doing but, slowly and methodically, Storm manages to dislodge her headpiece. She knows that if it hits the floor, her plan of escape is over, and she is overjoyed when it finally falls from her head almost exactly where she wanted it to.
She looks down at it and, hidden behind the headpiece, a selection of lock-picks are revealed. She totally relaxes her body and uses her tongue to gently maneuver one of them high enough to clasp it in her teeth. ‘Got it!’ she thinks, as her plan begins to look promising. Her shackles are held together by a complicated lock. She’s never seen the design before and is so out of practice. She tries to remember what Achmed taught her.
As a young girl, Ororo was taken to Achmed El-Gibar, the self-styled thief of Cairo by some of his urchins. They had found her in a back alley a few weeks after her parents had been killed. She learned to open safes with her toes amongst other things. Within a year of meeting El-Gibar, she was the finest beggar in Cairo but Achmed wanted more from her. He trained her day and night until she could open any lock, under any conditions, and in record time. One day, he bound her and locked her behind a bolted door. He told her that if she was still there when he returned, then she was not the pupil he believed her to be and would deserve her fate.
Cyclops can sense something is happening, despite being unable to see past his metal visor. Ororo begins to sweat. The operation is taking its toll on her. The slightest mistake will mean she must start at the beginning again. As she gently manipulates the lock pick with her mouth, she thinks Achmed would be proud of her. Suddenly, the pick loosens itself from her grip and drops to the floor, with Ororo helpless to do anything about it.
Nanny comes wheeling in. Storm knows she must keep her attention and hope she doesn’t notice the pick. She was so close. She gurgles and Nanny approaches her, saying she’s knocked her headdress off. No wonder she’s upset. She gently places it back on her head and leaves to find some pins, with which she can secure it tightly. She advises Ororo to take a nap. Ororo face is impassive as she rolls through the door, but then, piece by piece, the mask begins to crack. For only the third time since she was a child, Ororo cries.
Times passes. A thousand miles out in space, a small roving asteroid swings past the Earth in a wildly eccentric orbit. Magneto uses an array of sophisticated electronics, superior to anything used by the Russians or NASA, to keep it hidden from ground-based radar and satellites. Aboard the asteroid, Magneto operates a control panel. Since his resurrection, he has been subtly altering the Earth’s magnetic field. He has generated an impenetrable wall of psychic static to inhibit all long-range telepathic broadcasts. Charles suffers as a result of this, being unable to communicate with his students. However, Magneto still wishes in some small way that things could have been different. They were friends once and he wishes they could have been allies.
A ping from the control panel alerts Magneto to a minor systems malfunction at his Antarctic complex. He wonders why Nanny hasn’t repaired it. Although it could be nothing, he doesn’t wish to take any chances and heads through the asteroid to the air hatch. His complex contains data in its computer’s memory banks that is irreplaceable. Using his magnetic force field to protect him, he leaves the asteroid and sails towards the Earth. In the past, his powers were so diluted by his defeats that he no longer had the strength to return to his asteroid, let alone rebuild it.
Thanks to Eric the Red, that has changed. He is strong beyond belief, his power untainted by wasted battles. Once the asteroid is completed, it will be an impregnable fortress from which he will teach mankind that he is truly the master of the world. He gradually nears his hidden complex and understands that, at this moment, when he is splitting his time between space and his terrestrial bases, he is at his most vulnerable. He effortlessly drops through the lava flow, protected as always by his magnetic bubble, wondering what may have caused the malfunction. A score of alarm systems would have gone off if the X-Men had gotten free and, anyway, even if they have escaped his neural shackles, he has beaten them twice already and will do so again.
The dome opens and he enters his complex. The lights are off and he notices Nanny spinning around out of control below him. He halts her progress and tells it that he thought he built it better than this. He tries to act as if nothing’s amiss, to allow them to make the first move. He will then smash them down. His instinct is correct and he is hit on both sides by blasts from Cyclops and Banshee. Nanny drops to the floor as Magneto reels from pain and joins his creation. He looks up at the approaching Wolverine. He was braced for their attack, yet it was almost more than he could handle.
Wolverine wants to make sure he stays down but Cyclops telepathically says that he knows the plan and should stay back. He can either follow his orders or back off. Wolverine agrees to stay back but tells Cyclops to get out of his head. Scott catches the anger behind Wolverine’s parting thought but ignores it. Phoenix is telepathically connecting all the X-Men together, which allows Cyclops to call the shots without their opponent from hearing them. He asks Storm to draw all the humidity out of the air around Magneto but the strain of working again with a second lock pick has left her feeling weakened. She doesn’t know if she can do it.
Magneto begins to recover but Banshee soars towards him and unleashes another sonic blast, which hits Magneto directly in the back. Wolverine then gets the go ahead from Scott and lashes out with his claws, and this time he digs in deeper than last time. Magneto grabs his back with one hand and throws Wolverine away with the other. He warns the feisty mutant that he’ll pay for that when the battle’s done. Phoenix then attacks immediately. The Phoenix bird glows around her, as she throws Magneto backwards. She catches him off-balance. She is nothing like she used to be and Magneto feels that she’s wilder now, more barbaric. She appears to enjoy using the power at her command as much as Wolverine loves using his claws.
Magneto’s personal shield holds up but Jean assaults him long enough to force him back across the hangar into the control console. The explosion wrecks a large section if it and Magneto soon begins to sweat profusely under his helmet. The X-Men are using hit and run tactics to prevent him from responding. He also realizes that it’s getting hot all of a sudden. He wonders if this is part of their plan, as Colossus stomps towards him. He connects with his first punch but Magneto’s armor allows him to meet the steel giant on similar terms. Piotr knows that, should Magneto be allowed to access his magnetic powers, he will have absolute control over his metallic form. He’ll keep hammering at him until he drops.
Cyclops, despite having told Piotr to remain on the sidelines in his human form, is glad that at least he seems to be holding his own. He orders Hank to give Nightcrawler a hand and, using his tail to swing him with, Kurt is hurled towards Magneto at speed. He teleports in mid air and appears again right next to Magneto. He removes his helmet and tells Colossus to put him down for the count. He obliges and smashes Magneto in the face with his powerful fist. Kurt lands nearby and thinks that the punch would have torn the head off a normal man, yet Magneto’s still on his feet.
Magneto praises Scott’s tactics but notices that, all around them, lava is beginning to seep in through cracks in the walls and roof. Colossus asks his foe what he has done but Magneto replies that if they’re doomed, then it’s all their fault. Phoenix’s blast destroyed the main control console. Systems all over the complex are running wild and they can’t do a thing to stop them.
The battle comes to an abrupt end, as everyone takes a moment to witness what may be their undoing. Lava drips from every crevice and Sean asks Scott what they can do now. They’re a mile underground. Scott is stuck for an answer. Magneto taunts him, telling him that his team’s depending on him and he’s running out of time. Kurt suggests that he has Magneto get them out the same way they were brought in, inside a magnetic force bubble. Magneto replies that it’s an interesting thought, but he thinks not. He throws Piotr and Scott away from him. Where he walks, he walks alone.
Kurt leaps away from more falling lava, while Banshee swoops across the room to rescue Wolverine from another deadly splash. They’re running out of places to go but Hank tells them that, until the point comes when they have nowhere to go, they don’t give up. He leaps towards Jean and throws her clear of yet more lava. Cyclops asks Storm and Banshee to help him blast a channel through the lava flow in order to get to Hank and Jean but the roof suddenly caves in and Magneto decides to take his leave. He draws his helmet towards him and puts it on, as he glides through the lava to safety. He must move quickly. When the lava reaches the thermal converters, the complex will go up like Krakatoa. He’s seriously underestimated the X-Men. Somehow, Cyclops managed to get them fighting as a team this time. They had their rough edges, but they were dangerous.
Although Magneto remains unharmed by the lava, getting to the surface takes longer than he expects. He suspects broken ribs, possibly worse, and is in poor condition. He calls on his last reserves and emerges successfully through the surface as a massive explosion follows him above ground. There’s sadness in his eyes as the volcano explodes. The work and memories of a lifetime had been stored there and now they’re gone. Even in death, the X-Men managed to thwart him. He is alive but, thanks to Colossus, it will be months before he is fit enough to resume his work. His plans will gather dust but at least he is alive. His one consolation is that, when his plans finally do come to fruition, the X-Men will not be there to interfere.
As he disappears into the distance, he doesn’t see the huge fiery bird smash through the ground behind him. Jean and Hank have managed to make the surface but the effort has taken its toll and she falls to the snow-covered ground. Hank can barely feel her pulse, it’s so weak, and has to get her to a doctor. He picks her up, as the blizzard lashes all around them. He moves slowly through the deep snow and wonders where he will find help a billion miles from nowhere. A few hundred yards later, Hank can move no more and he drops Jean to the ground, falling on top of her. He can’t feel his feet but wills himself to pick her up again. Unfortunately, he is exhausted and, slowly but surely, he is forced to give up. It’s so cold, he thinks, so how come he doesn’t feel anything…