(The Kuril Islands)
North of Japan you will find the Kuril Islands, a group of volcanic formations, which Storm and Nightcrawler currently look upon from their elevated position. One of the volcanoes is not the simple rock it appears to be. The X-Men came to the land of the rising sun by accident, after a last minute rescue at the seaward entrance to the Savage Land. All they wanted was some help from Sunfire, Japan’s premier superhero, a fellow mutant and occasional ally. As usual, things have worked out somewhat… differently.
Soaring on the winds she creates, Storm carries Nightcrawler over their target and asks if he is ready. Kurt has spotted where he wishes to land and says that, despite this being his idea, he wishes there was another way. Ororo wishes him good luck and Kurt teleports, reappearing almost instantaneously on a maintenance platform, just inside the crater of an ancient, extinct volcano. He is relieved to have made it safely. He didn’t want Storm to see how scared he was, as one mistake and he could have teleported himself half-in, half-out of the steel floor.
Unfortunately, he has landed at the very top of the complex and can’t do Cyclops and the others much good up there. He has to get inside and that means getting past a guard without making a fuss. He positions himself directly over the guard’s head and lowers his prehensile tail. Wrapping his tail around his neck, he quickly lifts him, knocks him out and scampers to the floor. The guard should be unconscious long enough for him to do his job. He knows that Wolverine would have handled this differently but Kurt hasn’t got his instinct to go for the jugular. Stealthily, he enters the complex. He thinks that, after all the X-Men have been through, they’d be used to this sort of thing but he still can’t believe it is happening. How can one man off-handedly condemn a hundred million people to death?
The Japanese prime minister’s aide, Osama, briefs the X-Men and Sunfire on their mission. He shows them that Moses Magnum’s threats are theoretically possible. He explains that the Earth under Japan is inherently unstable. If sufficient tectonic pressure is applied along these critical fault lines, the home islands will shatter. Last night’s obliteration of the port of Agarashima was a most effective demonstration that his threat was no bluff.
He displays a photograph of Magnum, the self-proclaimed heir to Anthony Stark’s title of ‘arms dealer to the world.’ He describes Magnum as brilliant, strong and ruthless. He’s also very lucky, having reportedly been killed twice, but surviving on both occasions. Thanks to the investigative works of his grand-niece, Colleen Wing, and her partner, Misty Knight, they at least know where Magnum’s base is. He shows them a photograph of a small group of volcanic islands in the Kuril Chain. Its defenses are reportedly impregnable. Magnum has also made it abundantly clear that, at the first sign of attack, he will trigger his so-called ‘Magnum Force.’
He tells the X-Men that this is where they come in. He asks Cyclops if they can reach Magnum and stop him before he unleashes his monstrous power against Japan. Cyclops is unsure and asks if there are any alternatives. None, replies Osama. The prime minister has already informed the emperor that they will not yield. If the X-Men and Sunfire cannot save them, then Nippon is doomed!
Nightcrawler calls Misty Knight to let her know that he’s in safely. She asks him to get ready to move while she calls Storm. She signals her and, along with Banshee, who is raring to go, they begin their aerial attack. Sean screams up and down the harmonic scale to play havoc with Magnum’s scanners. His interference attracts the attention of some guards monitoring the system and, feeling that it could possibly be the first stages of an attack, they sound the alarm claxons. Their sound gives Nightcrawler the signal to act, as he knows that Ororo and Sean are drawing everyone’s attention. This leaves him to free to sneak down to the basement in order to find a safe route for his teammates into the rock, before they run out of air.
Guards race to their combat stations, as Nightcrawler moves swiftly through the complex, but they don’t get very far. Ororo uses her elemental powers to generate a vicious ice storm within the crater, whilst, elsewhere, Banshee takes out a sonic disintegrator cannon. The feedback from his scream leaves the monitors temporarily deaf, at least for a few days. Storm feels that the battle is going almost too well. However, their victory will only be a pyrrhic one if Moses Magnum is allowed to fire his doomsday weapon. She and Banshee are doing their part; now it’s up to Cyclops to do his.
Above ground, lightning constantly rips up the crater, illuminating the sky that’s heavy with thunderclouds. Storm’s powers begin to take effect, changing the weather patterns around the island. The disruption spreads quickly, like ripples across a pond. At the same time, just off-shore and about a hundred feet below the sea bed, the rest of the X-Men and Sunfire are making their way to Magnum’s base in a style uniquely their own. Wearing breathing apparatus, Cyclops blasts his way through the rock, which Sunfire cauterizes to allow Colossus and Wolverine to walk through. This also provides a potential escape route. Sunfire’s powers are holding up but he would prefer a more direct approach. He feels more like a thief in the night than a samurai. Colossus is relatively unaffected by the heat, having withstood much more of late, and Wolverine too has felt worse.
Cyclops, though, is sweating profusely under his breathing apparatus. He reminds them that it’s the only way of reaching the heart of Magnum’s base undetected. He thinks to himself that, with no signal yet coming from Nightcrawler, they are stuck. They need him to send a radio beam to give them a precise target. They’re tunnelling blind and could punch through to the ocean instead of Magnum’s base. They’re running out of time, and air.
Meanwhile, Kurt finds himself in a chamber, which looks perfect. It took him longer than expected to get there but, from here, he can activate the homer for Cyclops. As soon as he switches it on, he hears a strange noise. Cyclops now knows where to focus his optic blast and, along with Sunfire, they give the rock everything they’ve got and soon punch a hole in the floor of the base. Colossus is the first to check out their surroundings and he removes his breathing apparatus, as he pops his head above ground. He calls for Nightcrawler but finds that he isn’t there. Unfortunately for him, Moses Magnum is!
Magnum grabs Colossus around the back of his neck and lifts him from the tunnel with ease. He informs Piotr that his colleague is here but is in no shape to answer. He is the master of the Earth and no one moves through it without him being aware of them. Piotr lets out a scream, as he finds himself helpless in Magnum’s grasp before being punched clear across the room. Piotr can’t remember being hit so hard and, after smashing through the wall, he only just manages to stop himself falling off the edge of the island. Once again, he thinks, he has let his comrades down. He is supposed to be the strongest X-Man, yet, of late, he has been used as a walking punching bag. That will happen no more!
Back inside the complex, Cyclops, Wolverine and Sunfire have emerged and are in a running battle with their host. Sunfire says that this is madness. Their dossier said that Moses was a normal human, yet he fires bolts of energy from his hands that hit like atom bombs. Cyclops blasts the floor beneath his opponent and warns Wolverine that he’s heading his way. Wolverine says he’s ready for him but quickly finds himself on the receiving end of a powerful backhanded punch, which even he reels from.
Cyclops is shocked by this and tells Sunfire to blast an opening to the outside; they need Storm and Banshee’s help. Sunfire flies away but feels that even Scott’s friends won’t be enough. Magnum is taking their strongest energy beams and laughing them off. He breaks through the roof and the flare attracts the attention of the two airborne X-Men. Cyclops calls Storm on the radio. His tone sounds desperate and with good reason.
Magnum informs them that he could destroy them where they stand but why should he waste his time when his Mark II Mandroids can do it for him. Cyke sees the two hulking Mandroids approaching and thinks that he picked one heckuva time for a one-man stand. Suddenly, Colossus reappears and screams, “No! Send two of your metal monsters against the X-Men, madman, or send two hundred; Colossus will smash them all!” The battle is short and sweet, as Colossus moves with a speed that belies his massive armoured form. He hurls his opponents around like rag dolls from one end of the chamber to the other, dodging their lasers until the battle is ended.
Magnum fumes and tells them that they’ve won the battle but will not win the war. He swore that, if they attacked, he would destroy Japan and, by Hades, he shall. Banshee sees him depart but is too late to follow, as two huge doors close behind him. Some kind of device protects the doors from his sonic blast. He remembers that Mr. Osama and his scientists figured that the Agarashima quake was triggered by an intense beam of energy. On the radio earlier, he heard Sunfire screaming about Magnum firing energy blasts. It’s a long shot, but he has to play it. He reckons that, if the Magnum Force is some kind of energy beam, then he’s the only X-man capable of stopping it. He calls Cyclops to get everyone off the rock, and hurry.
Moses Magnum moves swiftly through his complex and as he runs he feels the power within him, struggling to be free. He can’t help remembering those last moments, months ago, on the island of Katsya Shima, when a massive earthquake had toppled him screaming into the shaft his laser drill had bored to the center of the Earth. He should have died but, as he fell, the laser beam, the exotic weaponry of his combat suit and the elemental force of the ‘quake itself, somehow combined within him in some mad, arcane fashion. This gave him the power primal; the ability to focus an infinite amount of energy anywhere on Earth, in any manner he chose. In this case, he chooses to create an earthquake.
Outside, Banshee prepares to carry out his plan. He hovers, facing the island. He then slides a wall of sound across the base of the island, countering energy with energy to block magnum’s beam and reflect it back on itself. Magnum feels that something is wrong and increases his power output. Banshee sweats from the exertion his prolonged scream places upon him. There is no margin for error. He has to match Magnum’s energy frequency exactly. It hurts, a lot, but if he goes, at least he’ll go with style.
Banshee screams like never before and the X-Men nearby cover their ears to offer at least some protection. The battle rages for a seeming eternity. The eerie, unnatural silence that grips the island is broken here and there by cries of pain, as X-Man and mercenary alike are cut down by a sonic bombardment too high-pitched to be heard - only felt. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, it’s over, as the island literally shakes itself to pieces and crumbles into the sea.
(the following day)
It takes a full day for the weather to calm and allow search planes to enter the area. Their initial reports are terrifying. Yesterday, a hundred tiny islands dotted this section of the North Pacific but, today, there are none. On board one such plane are Misty Knight and Colleen Wing with two pilots at the controls. Misty says that sonar readings indicate that the whole shape of the sea floor has been changed. Seismographs the world over went off the scale. “If all that energy had actually hit Japan….” One of the pilot’s informs her that the fuel is low and asks if they should continue the search. She tells the major that they’ve only just begun, hoping the X-Men made it through. She doesn’t want to have to tell Jean that the X-Men are dead.
Suddenly, in the distance, she spots a light and recognizes the signature as that of Sunfire. He is pleased that he has been spotted and leads the plane to the X-Men. It’s a miracle they survived, he thinks. An instant before the island exploded, Storm flew Cyclops, Colossus and Wolverine out, while Nightcrawler teleported to safety. The X-Men see their friend and the plane pass overhead and wave from the small piece of rock they have found which is still above water. Wolverine asks Storm how Banshee is doing. Her prognosis is not good. She fears he may have burned out his power and worse.
(Shiro Yoshida’s house, ten days later)
A doctor kindly drops Sean off back at the estate. He wonders why no one was at the hospital. They knew he was being released today and the doc said that they never left the waiting room while he was in a coma. Three days he was in the coma and it was touch and go; he almost died. After this nasty caper, he has a feeling that, for all his courting of the reaper, he’s destined to die in bed. He moves into the silent house. He feels a little aggrieved that no one is there to greet him and wonders if he can get a phone call through to Moira MacTaggert. He misses her. He enters another room and is lost for words, as there to greet him are the X-Men, along with Sunfire. A large sign reads, ‘Welcome back Sean. Merry Christmas,’ and they raise their glasses to him’
The date had totally slipped Sean’s mind and he feebly wishes them a merry Christmas too. Scott asks him not to try and talk. He can see from the look on Sean’s face that he isn’t feeling great. He tells Sean that it’s great to have him back and offers him some punch. Ororo notices Wolverine slipping away, as he has spotted Mariko Yashida, alone. He assures Ororo that he’ll behave himself and she notices how gentle he sounds. It’s a nice change, she thinks. So much has changed since they became X-Men. They began as loners and have grown into a family.
She wonders over to Kurt and plants a kiss on his cheek. “I just wanted to tell you that I love you very much,” she says. Kurt blushes, overwhelmed by Storm’s overt display of affection. She then strolls onto the balcony, where Piotr stands, and asks if everything is okay. He’s been quiet and withdrawn all day. He tells her that he feels as close to the X-Men as he does to his own family; but then that’s the problem. He has a family. He figures he’s the only X-Man with a real home with roots and, tonight of all nights, he misses them.
Half a day later and half way around the world, it’s still Christmas Day when the legendary Flying Scot express train from London pulls into Edinburgh station. Among the passengers is Jean Grey, who’s finally come to terms with the death of the X-Men and, most painful of all, Scott Summers. She’s now ready to pick up the pieces of her life once more. She senses the cold weather and likes the fact that, since becoming Phoenix, her body hardly feels the heat or cold anymore.
She is greeted at the station by Alex Summers, Lorna Dane, Moira MacTaggert and Jamie Madrox, and tells them they’re a sight for sore eyes. Moira replies that she envies her tan, before adding that a train station is no place for a proper reunion She recommends that they spend a few days in Edinburgh, see the sights of Christmas and hear Jean’s tales of her wild and woolly weeks in the Aegean. Then, they can head north for Muir Isle. The computers and automatic systems will handle things till they get back.
On the forbidding, once-uninhabited slab of rock on Scotland’s rugged northern coastline resides Moira’s Mutant Research Center. She’s made it clear that she likes her privacy but some people just won’t take the hint. Angus MacWhirter, a man from whom the X-Men once rented a hovercraft, carries a flashlight as he coaxes the lock to the facility open. Despite being compensated for the loss of his hovercraft, he has harboured a deep growing hatred for the X-Men and anyone connected with them ever since. He plans on planting some charges to wreck the place and, if people get hurt along the way, then so much the better. He passes a doorway with the words ‘Mutant X: No Admittance’ printed on it. As he makes his way through the complex, a shadow crosses his face and he looks up in horror. “Humannn… I need… you…” Angus doesn’t stand a chance; he doesn’t even have time to scream. Christmas Day on Muir Isle; a life ends and a nightmare is born.