A minute ago, Banshee, Wolverine and Marvel Girl were smashing their way to freedom, Banshee’s sonic scream tearing Sentinels apart like they’d been built of tissue paper instead of steel. Stephen Lang, the mastermind behind Project Armageddon, had thought them helpless, but they proved him wrong. They were busting out of his prison and nothing between Heaven and Hell was going to stop them.
However, now, the three mutants are helplessly floating in outer space, realizing too late that they had been detained in an orbital station. Two Sentinels are alerted that the prisoners have breached primary hull of orbital platform and are now floating in deep space. It is imperative that rescue be affected before mutant life functions terminate. The robots use atom-spheres to provide the mutants with a temporary environment. Sentinel R-71 reports that the rescue operation was completed. Preliminary sensor scan of prisoners indicates life functions operational at minimum support levels – all are suffering from extreme exposure.
Shortly, inside the station, Lang reprimands his prisoners. They should consider themselves lucky to be alive. But he trusts they’ve learned their lesson. There is no escape from here – not now, not ever.
Back on Earth, Cyclops argues with Dr. Peter Corbeau on the issue of the missing X-Men. Corbeau says that Banshee, Wolverine and Jean aren’t on Earth – but how can he be sure? Corbeau clarifies he isn’t – that’s where Cerebro comes in. Corbeau hooked it into NORAD’s Valhalla Mountain main data bank. He never dreamed Xavier had that kind of clearance. Anyway, all that’s left to do is ask Valhalla the right questions. According to the X-Men’s records, Sentinels are composed of special alloys, unique circuit elements, strategic materials. NORAD will have a record of those. By asking specific questions, they can discover the origin of those elements, their destination. Even a negative response will tell them something.
Indeed, the search turns out a negative result. Corbeau gets the answer he expected and feared. Cyclops realizes the Sentinels are staging from an orbital platform – SHIELD’S orbital platform!
On television, the newscaster, a man named Roger, reports that a midnight launch is imminent in Cape Canaveral, where the Starcore Project shuttle – piloted by project director Dr. Peter Corbeau – is set to lift off as scheduled, despite unusually heavy – and hazardous – solar activity. Roger passes on to a reporter named Geraldo.
Geraldo reports that a widespread epidemic of anti-mutant hysteria has swept the country following the Christmas Eve reappearance of the notorious, mutant-hunting Sentinels. Over the weekend, the Long Island home of Federal Judge Robert Chalmers, noted jurist and outspoken foe of the anti-mutant movement, was fire-bombed. Fortunately, no one was home. However, in light of recent…
Roger interrupts Geraldo, as they have an update on the Starcore shuttle launch. The team of four men and a woman is broadcast live to board the launch vehicle. Roger remarks that they are to augment the Starcore’s international crew – international, interracial, intersexual. Something for everyone, he wittily adds. This launch was scheduled with unusual speed by Starcore – presumably to beat out the increasingly deadly solar radiation storms. Unfortunately, that speed has left them with no further information on the flight crew. In any event, they’ll be covering this launch in detail after this newscast.
The crew of course consists of Corbeau, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler. Fastening herself in her seat inside the shuttle, Storm takes her helmet off. By all the gods, it feels marvelous to do that. Marvelous? Is that really the word? she muses. Another second trapped inside this cursed suit and she’d have started screaming…
Nightcrawler asks Dr. Corbeau whether his crew will be really upset that they have taken their place. Corbeau clarifies that the X-Men are the real crew. This is all for show – a very elaborate and expensive deception. Which will get Corbeau into a great deal of trouble when it’s discovered, Kurt smiles. He tells him he’s a good friend. Turning to Pete, he asks him why he doesn’t remove his helmet. “Peter…?” he repeats, puzzled, seeing Colossus bathed in sweat, reeling with agony.
The launch is about to begin. “T minus ten minutes and counting… vent all primary fuel tanks…” the launch coordinator commands. Inside the shuttle, Colossus abruptly shifts into his steel form, tearing apart his space suit. “Mikhail!” he hollers. “Gods below!” Kurt gasps. He asks him what the matter is. Nothing, Colossus mutters. He apologizes. He didn’t mean to… He was afraid. He sits here, inside a rocket, and all he can think of is his brother Mikhail – a test pilot, one of Russia’s first cosmonauts. Mikhail… Dying… Burning to death on a Baikonur launch pad when his rocket exploded… They were so close, Mikhail and he… They were all they had… And ever since that day…
Corbeau assures him he understands. He remembers the Apollo 1 fire… The friends he lost that day… The coordinator’s voice is heard signaling the final minute before the launch: “T minus one minute and counting… all systems go…” In that final minute, each crew member makes their own thoughts.
Five seconds, Corbeau thinks, and here he goes again, from Mother Earth and into the deadliest environment known to man… so why does he feel like going home? Cyclops, on the other hand, thinks that they’ve come so far and he has come through much – oh Lord, he can’t lose Jean now! Storm urges herself to be calm, above else be calm and sure… Her friends have need of her. Colossus bleakly ponders that the “power” of Colossus here means nothing; he is helpless. He wonders if this was how Mikhail felt before… Nightcrawler ponders that poor Colossus looks terrified. He can’t see how magnificent an adventure this is. If Kurt’s comrades in Der Jahrmarkt could only see him now! That would show them!
Blinding, pure, white-on-white light flares from the base of the gantry like a foundling star, turning midnight to noon in an instant. Thunder whip-cracks across the cape, a million pounds of thrust hammering at the Earth, until finally the shuttle begins to move. Slowly at first, but gaining speed with every second, rising into the heavens.
Two minutes into its flight, the Starcore shuttle receives a report from Capcom – the controls from the Cape – that they are on track, on sked, all telemetry readings normal. In other words, a beautiful flight, Corbeau banters. The guy reporting from the Cape quips that he said that already.
In another solar orbit, the vast U.N.-sponsored research station known as Starcore One, one of the men working there, Colonel Kutuzov, alerts his superior, Hilary about the sunflare: their instruments are going off the scales! Hilary urges him to recalibrate then and fast! The way ol’ sol’s acting up, they’re working with no margin for error! Impatiently, he turns over to another colleague, Dmitri, and asks him what’s holding up those solar forecasts. Dmitri announces they’re coming through just now – and they are very bad. Worse than they anticipated. Peter Corbeau is flying straight into the worst solar storm in living memory!
In the Starcore shuttle, Kurt, seeing Colossus in a sorry mood, reminds him that they are in space and they’re still alive – is he disappointed? Piotr begs him: no jokes. He is not in the mood. He feels very strange. He almost wishes he was dead… Corbeau explains he’s going through a minor form of space-sickness. His body reacting and adapting to zero-gravity; nothing to worry about. Meantime, they should pipe down. He’s got a priority message coming through from Starcore.
Dal’roon, a half-hour drive out of central Dublin
This is a small village, off the beaten track, with the local farm holdings just now beginning to give way to industrial parks. It’s early in the morning and it’s raining. A man hurriedly enters the post office. The man behind the counter rather rudely shouts at him to shut the door; there’s a winter gale blowing; or hasn’t he noticed? The intruder apologizes. He introduces himself as Flaherty. He’s a solicitor. He hands over the employee a letter for a client of his in America. Its’ imperative it get to him without delay. The letter has the address of Sean Cassidy in Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters on it.
“Without delay, you understand…” Flaherty further emphasizes. The snappy, irritable clerk assures him he knows how to do his job; he’s been doing it nigh on forty years. “Now, fer the last time, close that flamin’ door!” he snarls.
Flaherty gets out in the rain again. His job is done… And he’s glad it is… But just then, a shadowy figure prowls from inside the rainstorm. Mr. Flaherty is a long way from County Mayo, isn’t he, the voice mockingly asks. “You!” Flaherty immediately recognizes him. He tells him he’s too late – his cousin’s been warned and he’ll stop his mad plans! Poor, foolish lawyer Flaherty, the mysterious man sneers – his cousin could sooner stop the sun from rising. A blast is discharged from a wooden stick and Flaherty drops dead to the road, his eyes wide open. “Aye cousin Sean, you’ll stop Black Tom, won’t ye…?” the murderer scoffs. At least, he’ll die trying!
1,347 miles above, in the space platform that was abandoned by SHIELD due to budget cuts and is currently utilized by Project Armageddon, Dr. Stephen Lang spots something on the vid-screen and wonders what that is. Just then, Dr. Peter Corbeau communicates with the platform from Starcore-Eagle-One. He explains that solar radiation levels are moving into the danger zone; they’re requesting sanctuary. Lang speaks to him. He sternly explains they are a top secret US government installation, and Corbeau has foreign personnel aboard: sanctuary denied.
One of Lang’s men informs him that the mutant detector is going crazy; that ship out there must be crammed with muties! Lang suggests he orders out the Sentinels then; he’s sure they’ll give their crafty guests the welcome they deserve.
Not before long, three Sentinels are dispatched from the platform, coursed against the Starcore. Heads up, Corbeau alerts the X-Men – they’ve been rumbled! Bogies at twelve o’clock high and coming fast! Everyone into full pressure suits – on the double! But what about Colossus? Nightcrawler wonders. He has no pressure suit. If they’re hit, he doesn’t stand a chance! Corbeau suggests they just better pray then they don’t get hit!
Unfortunately, though, the ship does get hit by the Sentinels. After the damage is done, Storm alerts his teammates that the ship’s hull is open to space! Nightcrawler tells her to look out; her lifeline’s gone! Kurt desperately asks the others to help him, as he sees the explosive decompression pulling Storm out of the ship; he can’t get to her in time!
Simultaneously, Cyclops realizes that Colossus is suffocating! He tells Corbeau they’ve no time for subtlety. He instructs him to get them inside that station – and get them inside now! Corbeau agrees without protest, but tells Cyclops to bear one thing in mind: if they smash this baby up, they don’t go home. “So here goes nothing… Geronimo!” he yammers and drives the shuttle right inside the space platform, crashing through it. The Sentinels immediately alert the base that the target vehicle is making unauthorized entry into Armageddon command base; they are unable to prevent mutant incursion into main mission security zone.
The unit known as L-1 continues on its main mission, in pursuit of Storm. As per its latest programming, its mission is to seek the mutant out and destroy her. Floating in space, Storm sees the Sentinel coming straight for her. And she’s stuck here, as helpless as an antelope in a lion snare. Unless… she’s mistress of the wind and storm. What if her power includes the cosmic storm as well? A slim hope, but if she could only fly on the solar winds… “I can!” she cries out in unmitigated enthusiasm, as she discovers she can achieve that. With renewed determination and fury, she turns to the Sentinel again. It thought her an easy target. It would have slain her without mercy. Therefore, she gives it what it would have given her – and more!
As she attacks the robot, the Sentinel realizes it’s being buffeted by unknown energy matrices. Its memory banks have no data of this phenomenon. Faced with a Force 12 gale in deepest space, a gale backed by the full power of sun itself, the Sentinel is repelled with a terrible scream.
Ororo is bewildered by the robot’s scream… the fear in it… it sounded almost human. Is this how she honors her parents’ memory? By breaking the oath she swore so long ago that she would never take another life? And yet, sooner or later, her duty as an X-Man may require her to do just that. Perhaps, then, she contemplates, it would be better if she ceased being an X-Man…
Inside the platform, the battle rages, with the X-Men pitted against the Sentinels and Lang’s agents. “Curse you, monster!” Colossus snarls at one of the robots and attacks it. Were it not for its kind, Storm would be safe now! Nightcrawler observes that Colossus is fighting like a man berserk, like a man fighting for a woman he loves. He decides to pay attention to the job at hand, though, as he sees that a Sentinel has captured Cyclops.
Having seized Cyclops, the Sentinel emits a gas from its palm. This anesthetic gas will soon render him unconscious and their prisoner. Tearing off a metallic tube, Kurt argues he will be prisoner for this instant, but he has his pledge, that it will not hold Cyclops for long – and then bats the Sentinel on the head with the tube.
Cyclops thanks Kurt for his assist. He couldn’t have held his breath much longer. But he rigidly reminds Kurt that he’s not in a circus anymore. That kind of flamboyance can cost them if Kurt’s not careful. Kurt excuses himself: he’s been a showman all his life. As another Sentinel makes to attack them, Kurt tells him to watch out for this one, too. Elaborating on what he saying previously while also fighting this Sentinel, Kurt insists that being showman is in his blood, and he’s not about to change – not for Cyclops, not for anyone!
After succeeding a combo of strikes against the robot, Kurt is urged by Colossus to do that move they worked out in the Danger Room. Excellent, Kurt enthusiastically agrees. If their fearless leader thoughts his last move was flamboyant, he should wait to see this one! The two mutants position themselves so as to be at opposite ends of a makeshift seesaw. Kurt jumps on it in just the perfect way, sending Colossus flying right against the Sentinel beside Nightcrawler. “Eat your heart out, Olga Korbut!” Kurt squeals. Decapitating the Sentinel thoroughly by way of his speed, trajectory and steel body, Colossus nonetheless berates Kurt. Comrade Korbut is a dedicated and conscientious artist of the Soviet people; he should not make fun of her so.
Cyclops zaps the last Sentinel standing. Over a dozen Sentinels were scragged in half as many minutes. This is insane. The Danger Room gives them more trouble than these steel dummies have. It’s all a bit too easy, he adds warily. Corbeau is at a loss: he calls this… easy? Cyclops insists that compared to the Trask Sentinels, this model’s a walking joke. Which beggars the question: what’s the real threat in all of this? He has a feeling that the sooner they find Jean and the others, the sooner they know.
“What about Storm?” Colossus exasperates. She is adrift out there; she could be hurt. Scott advises him to back off; he knows how he feels. Piotr protests that he knows nothing! Storm is their friend, their comrade in battle… she could be dead! And Cyclops acts as if he does not even care! Well, Piotr does!
He suddenly hears Ororo’s voice behind him: he does her great favor and she is grateful. Piotr revels in seeing her alive: she’s here and she’s alive! So it would appear, Ororo banters. Holding her in the air as easily as with a ragdoll, he beams with joy. He can’t believe it; this is too wonderful to be true! When he saw her blown out of the spaceship, he thought she was truly doomed. Storm glibly replies that she’s always been very hard to kill – but she must admit, she finds the Sentinels easier to survive than Piotr’s bear hugs! Piotr apologizes. It’s just that he’s so glad to see her. They all are, eh? he insists, turning to Cyclops.
Scott, however, is otherwise occupied. Jean telepathically visits his mind. She tells him to help them. Time is running out for the Professor and her… she can barely hold contact… Banshee and Wolverine are in the “B” deck detention cells, she and Professor X are in Main Mission. She urges him to hurry, though. Stephen Lang is coming… he means to murder Jean and the Professor!
Without wasting a second, Cyclops tells Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler to follow the route signs down to “B” deck; they’ll find Wolverine and Banshee there. He instructs them to break them free and then join him in the Main Mission. He tells them to move it – they’ve no time to waste! Storm has reservations: that will leave Scott on his own. Suppose there are more Sentinels? Cyclops reassures her he’ll handle them. Right now he’s given them an order – they should obey it. As for Mr. Stephen Lang, so-called honcho of this ball of wax – he’s all his! For the last time, he repeats they get out of here!
Addressing Dr. Corbeau, he tells him to come with him. He can’t have Corbeau running with a stray Sentinel in the dark. Of course, Corbeau agrees. He tentatively suggests that maybe Cyclops was a little rough on the X-Men… but he supposes he’s got more important things in his mind, hasn’t he? Cyclops doesn’t answer; he doesn’t really have to.
Elsewhere, Lang faces the tubes where Marvel Girl and Professor X are kept in stasis, with a gun in his hand. It seems the Trask notes he used to reconstruct the Sentinels were incomplete… the Sentinels were second-rate… not that it matters. He has all the data he needs from mutants. Which makes Professor X and Marvel Girl expendable. Miss Grey’s friends may have taken this station, but he’s afraid she won’t be alive to share in their “victory”…
Just then, Cyclops and Corbeau storm inside the room and Cyke blasts Lang, assuring him that Jean will be a lot more alive than Lang! He tells Lang to free Jean and the Professor, while he’ll deal with Mr. Lang personally! Scott proceeds to beat him relentlessly, without restraint. How does it feel facing someone one-on-one, someone who can fight back?! “Answer me, Lang… answer me!” he howls. The freed Marvel Girl approaches Scott and begs him to stop. For pity’s sake; he’s killing Lang!
Suddenly, Jean psionically detects someone behind Scott; someone in the next room! Scott asks her if it’s another Sentinel. Just then, he is stunned by a blast and plunges to the floor. Recognizing his attacker, an astonished Marvel Girl mumbles that it can’t be him – please let it not be him. The bruised Lang maliciously cackles that it is. The ultimate irony; the ultimate, undefeatable enemy. This is the heart of Project Armageddon, not those rather pathetic Sentinels – though he admits he had hopes for them. Resistance, as they say, is futile. Jean’s mental powers are neutralized by a mind not unlike hers. Which means, of course, that she won’t be able to warn her fellow X-Men until it’s too late. He orders his “pets” to take her away and prepare her. Their final act is about to begin.
Colossus, Banshee, Storm, Wolverine and Nightcrawler rush to the Main Mission. “Banshee… all of you… look!” Colossus is the first to gasp. Banshee mutters that he’s looking, but he’s a far, far piece from believing! Nightcrawler grunts that this must be a joke, or a nightmare.
In front of them stands the entire original team of the X-Men, together with Professor X, all looking menacing and willing to fight them. Cyclops replies that if it’s a joke, then it’s on them – and it’s the kind of joke the X-Men can do without, just like they can do without imposters. Imposters? Storm exclaims. She assures Scott they are the X-Men. “Like heck you are, lady!” Iceman snaps. Professor X agrees – and these imposters are the deadliest foes he’s ever fought. He urges the X-Men to attack and show the same mercy they would show them. Attack these imposters and kill them all!