Lately, Colossus has been feeling like he hasn’t been of much use. Everything he does seems to go wrong and his self-doubt increases as days go by. Cyclops has him in the Danger Room, standing between two hydraulic presses, which, unless he accesses his huge reserves of strength, will crush him. Wolverine watches alongside Cyke and knows Piotr isn’t even trying. Cyclops ran a medical on him this morning, so he knows that the problem isn’t physical. Logan points out that he’s been fretting ever since they tussled with Magneto, worrying about not pulling his own weight.
Colossus struggles with the pressure, and calls for Cyclops to shut the hydraulic press down. Cyclops monitors the control panel and thinks that this is ridiculous. Piotr is nowhere near his limits and wonders how he’ll stand up if his strength fails him in a fight. Wolverine replies that he ain’t gonna fold and silently pops his claws into the control panels. With that, he leaves the observation room, leaving Cyclops to discover what he’s done in his own time.
Moments later, Wolverine enters the Danger Room and casually places himself besides Piotr. The presses maintain their pressure, unable to be switched off due to Logan’s claws short-circuiting the equipment. Piotr is shocked and warns him not to remain there or he’ll be crushed. Logan simply lights a cigar and replies that everyone dies sooner or later. It might as well be with a friend. He tells Piotr that he has an idea what’s bugging him. Most of them were loners before they became X-Men. The team’s kinda given them the family they never had. He, however, has got family and roots. There’s no law against being homesick but what’s stupid is letting it tear up your guts.
Cyclops informs Colossus that Wolverine has sabotaged the controls with the press at full power. Either he stops it on his own, or they’ll both be squashed. This acts as a catalyst for Piotr and he finally uses his strength not only to keep the presses at bay, but physically demolish them. “Way to go Ruskie,” says Wolverine, as he hops from the press and back onto the Danger Room floor. Piotr is amazed that he did it and praises his friend’s tactics. Cyclops rushes in and asks if they’re okay. Logan thinks he did pretty well with Petey and wonders if he’ll ever replace Joyce Brothers. Cyclops hands him a toolbox and says, before he does, he’s going to replace Mr. Fix-It and have the press cycled into the repair shop. He also wants the main control panel rewiring. Reluctantly, Logan takes the box, having wanted to head into town this afternoon. Cyclops reckons he should work fast and leaves with Piotr.
Leaving the Danger Room, Scott meets Colleen Wing in the corridor, who’d felt the whole building shaking. Scott tells her that he’ll be ready in a minute and is looking forward to taking the day off, especially after that crazy fight with the Living Monolith. He calls Banshee, who is in the hangar with Nightcrawler. They are carrying out maintenance on the Blackbird, which had been mothballed as if it was never intended to be used again. Banshee has his hands full and asks Kurt to teleport over to the phone and see what Scott wants. Scott asks how it’s going and Kurt informs him that it’s going slowly. Conditions there are as bad as they were in the house and he asks what Scott thinks happened. Scott has no answer and asks Sean to ensure Wolverine’s rewiring of the Danger Room control panel is okay. He’s heading out to the phone company. Banshee is happy to lend Logan a hand and tells Scott he’s earned his time off.
Colleen can see that something is still bothering Scott. He asks if it’s that obvious and Colleen replies that, to someone who cares about him, yes. Scott explains that he is thinking about Professor Xavier. He’s gone and so has Princess Lilandra. He has a feeling they’re not coming back.
(Imperial Center, Shi’ar galaxy)
The strange bug-like craft containing Charles Xavier and Lilandra Neramani, sweeps over the colorful city below; its majestic spires stretching skywards to greet them. Charles believes the X-Men slain and that loss broke his heart. When Lilandra won his love, she asked him to return with her. He accepted. This is her day of triumph. All the legal barriers to her assumption of the Shi’ar throne have been removed. Today, Lilandra is to be crowned empress of a galaxy-spanning empire that was old before man on Earth was born.
They are greeted by a flotilla, as Chancellor Araki welcomes them with open arms. Maelen has never seen such joyous crowds and Lilandra jokes that they well paid. Araki points out that, at a credit a head, the mob would bankrupt the imperial treasury. No, they rejoice because they truly love her. Lilandra explains that it was a joke and asks Charles if he is as truly bored with this as she. Charles tells her that pageantry has its place, preferably on the television where it can be turned off. Hah! Lilandra replies; unfortunately the ceremonies have only just begun. She wishes she’d stayed on Earth, where things were happier when it was just the two of them. She asks for his strength before departing to face her loyal subjects. Charles thinks that she’s had that since their minds first linked telepathically across the cosmos, but he fears it won‘t be enough.
(Stornoway, Outer Hebrides)
Jean Grey has been shopping and is carrying a pile of parcels past the Red Lion public house when she bumps into someone and drops the parcels. She’d had so much fun shopping, she wasn’t concentrating and had lost track of time. The gentleman bends down to help her pick them up and asks if she’s all right. She is and offers him her name. He introduces himself as Jason Wyngarde and asks if he can’t give her a hand with the parcels. Jean thanks him but knows that her powers are carrying most of the weight. Wyngarde bids her good evening and hopes they meet again. Jean replies that might be nice.
She continues to the harbor and apologizes to Moira for being late. She is there with Jamie Madrox, Havok and Polaris who are helping load supplies onto their boat. “Bought out the town didja?” enquires Alex. Jean says she did her best. Two locals knock at Angus MacWhirter’s door and call his name but he is nowhere to be found. Mr. Stuart mentions to his friend, Edward, that he hasn’t been seen since Christmas Day. Edward asks if he thinks anything’s happened to him but Mr. Stuart isn’t sure. He reckons they should notify the police just in case.
As they head into town, Moira’s motor launch pulls away from the quay and begins its journey up the coast, to Muir Island’s mutant research center. They are unaware that they are sailing into a nightmare. Jean sees Wyngarde watching them from the shore and gets a sense of déjà vu, as if they’d met before. Wyngarde smiles. She is attracted to him, and why not? In so many ways, he is the man of her dreams. Soon she will love him and then she will belong, mind, body and soul to the Hellfire Club. Behind him, his shadow is cast on the wall revealing his true identity; Mastermind!
Jean thinks he’s a handsome devil and keeps looking until he and the island are out of view. Moira tells her that she wishes to conduct some tests on her, tests that are long overdue. As Phoenix, she commands an awesome amount of power, and she wants to ensure she can handle it. Heaven help us if she can’t, Moira thinks.
Having sorted out the mansion’s phones, Scott leaves the phone company with Colleen on his arm. All he has to do now is contact Moira MacTaggert. They’re almost out of money and he’s running the mansion from his savings. She is the executor to Xavier’s estate. He apologizes for babbling about business when this is supposed to be his day off but Colleen replies that she hasn’t complained. He offers to buy her a late lunch and they head off to a café.
Scott wants to talk about them and, when they are seated, he asks if she thinks he is stuffy. “Like King Tut’s tomb, sport,” she answers. Scott explains that, recently, his whole life, his whole self has been turned topsy-turvy. All the things he thought were certain in his life aren’t. Colleen suggests he try smiling now and again; he might feel better. He tells her that he’s always had trouble relaxing, but Colleen has noticed that.
(New York City)
Wolverine, driving the Professor’s Rolls Royce, drops Storm off on the corner of 135th and Broadway. She has business there and must do it alone, without an escort. Logan tells her she’s acting crazy. This ain’t Africa, he explains; this is like nothing she’s known. She bids him farewell and says she’ll see him back at the mansion before waving him off. Logan will return if they hear nothing from her and he won’t be gentle with any buck dumb enough to get in his way.
With casual, practiced ease, Wolverine threads the vehicle through midtown Manhattan’s rush-hour traffic. He has a few errands to run, which take him cross-town to the east side and down Park Avenue. There’s a rodeo at Madison Square Garden. He intends to stash the Rolls, grab some eats and then check out the show. Suddenly, he spots a woman getting out of a car; a woman he recognizes instantly. She is Mariko Yashida and Wolverine wonders what she is doing in New York. He leaves the car where it is and dashes towards her, calling her name. By the time he reaches her, she has entered a building, where a gentleman politely informs him that she is not to be disturbed. He asks that she at least be informed that he called.
For hours now, Ororo has been walking the streets of Harlem, aware of the stir her presence creates, yet ignoring it. She contrasts the reality around her with the fragmented memories from her youth and infancy. In her father’s tales, this place was a magical place; wicked, yet joyous, poor and rough-edged, yet alive. He was happy to leave it, but also sad. She passes a man crouched beside a stairway leading to a dilapidated house with graffiti covering its walls. She feels the magic has gone now, if it was ever truly here.
She opens the door to the building and the stench hits her straight away. It makes the pits beneath the Sun God’s city smell sweet by comparison. She remembers so much about this place, yet so little. It was summer when they left and the neighborhood was full of music; jazz papa had said, played hot and loud. That hasn’t changed. She makes her way through the building and notices that the air smells of charred wood. There’s been a recent fire here. The radiators are ice cold and the building probably has no heat all winter. She questions her reasons for being here, and what she is looking for. Certainly, she was born here, but is it a part she wants? She grew up in the sun and open air. This city, any city, even the best parts of them are giant cages. To live in them would kill her.
She makes her way along the landing and remembers how it was here that her mother and father fell in love. They were happy here and, had they stayed, they might have lived. Her hands shake as she approaches their old apartment. She is apprehensive and knows it’s madness to think that they might be there waiting for her. She survived; why couldn’t they?
The door opens to her touch and, for a moment, all is stunned silence. Images scatter through Ororo’s mind. There are children everywhere, all young, all painfully thin and as filthy as the room itself. The place is a mess. The graffiti-covered walls reflect the carpet, which is covered in paper, broken bottles and drug paraphernalia. Some of the kids look up at Ororo; most don’t care, too far gone in their heroin-created fantasylands or desperately intent on getting there themselves. Over twenty years ago, this was Ororo’s home. Now, it’s a shooting gallery and its junkies are barely half her age.
One guy, Bluey, who appears to be quite sober, approaches her with a flick knife and Ororo assures him that she means no harm. As he reaches her, he informs her that she’s trespassing and, if she wants to leave, she has to pay plenty. Ororo grabs his wrist, forcing the knife to drop from his grasp. “Do not threaten me, child!” she replies, asserting her authority. Johnnie and Frankie are surprised that she took out Bluey without even trying, and Frankie wonders if she’s heat. Johnnie reckons, if she is, then they’re gonna waste themselves a lady cop. He calls for everyone to grab their knives and Ororo is suddenly in a situation, getting worse with every second.
She warns them to stay away, but they have turf to defend and Johnnie tells her that it’s too late. He calls for his friends to circle her and stay loose. Even if she’s packing a gun, she can’t drop them all before they gut her. He says that, if she’d listened to Bluey and coughed up some bucks so they could all get straight, everything would have been cool. But, she hurt him and, for that, she’s gonna die.
Ororo is well practiced in hand-to-hand combat but, with so many young people, whom she has no desire to hurt, she has a problem. If she retreats they’ll be all over her, so she tries to stand her ground. She warns them to come no closer, as she means no harm. Frankie replies that they ain’t gonna get hurt; she is. He lashes out with his knife and it slices straight across Ororo’s palm, blood dripping to the floor instantly. He was so fast, she never saw it coming, and he cut her to the bone.
With a sudden transformation and burst of energy, Ororo conjures up a strong wind, which forces the kids back. They chose the wrong victim this time, she cries. She has the will and the power to fight back. Their numbers, their weapons, mean nothing to her, for she controls the elemental forces of nature. The kids are knocked off their feet and they protect themselves from the debris swirling around their recently calm room. Storm knows she must be careful. The building is rotten and too much power could shatter it. For all their bravado and bluster, they are only children. If she keeps them off balance, there shouldn’t be any more problems.
Bluey looks at her whipping up a hurricane out of thin air. Luckily for him, she is concentrating on the others so much, she forgot about him. He collects his knife and tries to sneak up behind her. She’ll never know what hit her. As he raises his hand to strike, a much larger hand grabs his wrist and he is thrown against the wall, again knocking the knife free of his grasp. On the other end of the hand is Luke Cage, with Misty Knight by his side. She asks him to take it easy as he’s only a kid. Luke replies that, if he was an adult, he’d have slammed him through the wall, instead of into it.
Storm turns and recognizes the two new arrivals. Luke says hi, and asks, as the saying goes, what a righteous lady like her is doing in a dump like this. She tells him that she was looking for something, but asks why he is here. Misty tells her that she and Luke were cruising the neighborhood when they heard street-talk about a regal, white-haired sister making the rounds. They figured it was her. Luke adds that, as soon as they spotted lightning bolts popping out the top floor windows, they figured she might need some help. Ororo thanks them.
Luke looks around at the kids, none of whom remain standing. Misty says it isn’t a pretty sight. Luke points out that they’ve got no homes, no decent schooling, no money, no jobs and no hope. They shoot up skag and then shoot people to get bread to feed their habits. “They’re so young,” says Ororo, no longer angry, more concerned. Luke adds that they live in a society more concerned about caging thirteen-year olds for life than trying to give them a decent chance. Ororo asks if there’s nothing they can do. Luke points out that they’re super heroes, not God. They can save humanity from Doc Doom or Galactus, but not from itself. He tells her that they’ll get a doc to look at her hand and he’ll call the cops.
(Salem Center Station, early morning)
Colleen Wing is packed and ready to leave. Scott Summers sees her to the station and they say their goodbyes on the platform. She assures him that although he’s a little stuffy, deep down inside is a heckuva nice guy; very shy, very straight-arrow, but well worth knowing. He has potential and she thinks she is the one who can help him realize it. Scott wishes she could stay, but Colleen has to work. She hands him an envelope and asks him to open it after the train has pulled out.
As he waves her off, she looks back at him and asks herself what she thinks she’s getting herself into. Her head says she should keep things casual but her heart says go for broke. There’s a lot of risk that way and they could both get terribly hurt; but they could also be very happy and the prize is worth the risk. Scott opens the envelope and, inside, he finds a small note with a key attached. “Drop by any time,” it reads.
It’s a cool, clear night over London, as the privately-owned Boeing 747 takes off from Heathrow Airport and heads across Southern England towards the Atlantic. This particular Boeing is well-known in these parts and notorious to boot. It’s said to be a flying Xanadu; an airborne treasure trove that puts most palaces to shame. It is all that and more.
It is also the home of the finest and most expensive assassin in the world. Miss Locke introduces herself to her employer’s two guests; Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut. Her employer will join them directly when they reach cruising altitude. Cain doesn’t like this and feels they’re making a mistake. Tom asks him not to start that again. Cain replies that he’s the Juggernaut. If anyone can destroy the X-Men, if anyone has earned the right, it’s him, not some mincing pipsqueak, pea-brained wacko killer for hire. Black Tom responds, is that so? Six times he’s tried to kill the X-Men - old team and new, and six times he’s failed. Let someone else try for once. They’ve bigger and better fish to fry. If their man succeeds, then those cursed mutants will be dead, and they’ll be millionaires. If he fails, then they’ll still be millionaires, and he will be free to try whenever he likes. “Satisfied?” he asks.
Cain clenches his fists and shouts, “No!” Before they can continue their conversation, Miss Locke’s employer greets them and they turn to see Arcade standing before them in his traditional white suit. He twirls his hat around on his walking stick and assures them that, as of this moment, they have themselves a deal. Throwing six playing cards with the faces of the X-Men on them to the floor, he exclaims, “The X-Men are as good as dead!”