Inside the Xavier Institute med-lab, Dr Hank McCoy a.k.a. the Beast stands over the motionless body of Professor Charles Xavier, strapped to all sorts of equipment. ‘He’s not getting any better, I’m afraid to say. Not even the Mansion’s alien Shi’ar medical equipment is making a dent in his condition’ the Beast announces. ‘Ye have t’believe we can make a difference!’ Dr Moira MacTaggert, world-renowned scientist exclaims over a monitor. Hank replies that he is not the defeatist type, but that he is open to suggestions, because if they don’t do something soon, then Charles Xavier is going to die!
Watching from an observation booth, Dr Valerie Cooper - the government’s leading expert on mutants, and liaison to X-Factor - asks if they could bring in any outside help - Reed Richards or Hank Pym. ‘Not t’be sounding ungrateful, Valerie -’ Moira begins, but Ororo “Storm” Munroe of the X-Men points out that if Moira and the Beast cannot handle Charles’ spreading illness, then no one can. Standing with Val and Storm is Alex “Havok” Summers, leader of X-Factor. The Beast thanks Storm for her vote of confidence, and thanks Moira for calling when she heard about the accident. ‘I know how hard this has been for you’ he tells her, before announcing that this is getting them nowhere.
Moira asks Hank if the techno virus bears any similarities to those he has encountered before with Magus and Apocalypse. ‘Yes. And no’ Hank replies, telling Moira that it appears to be self-terminating and self-replicatory. ‘For every probe which finds a way to slow its spread, the virus finds a way to reroute itself to a new cell cluster’ Hank adds. Storm, Havok and Valerie turn and leave. ‘So what do we tell the others?’ Alex asks. ‘Tell them the truth, Alex’ Hank replies. ‘Tell them, at best, Professor X is still alive. And that we’d better find a cure quickly!’
Elsewhere in the Mansion, the Children of the Atom stand grimly, yet with pride as they await to hear the news on their mentor’s condition. They represent the dream of Charles Xavier. Past, present and future. The X-Men: Wolverine a.k.a. Logan, Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock, Rogue, Jubilation Lee a.k.a. Jubilee, Remy “Gambit” LeBeau, Bishop, and the government-sponsored X-Factor: Lorna “Polaris” Dane, Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff, Guido “Strong Guy” Carosella, Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff and Rahne Sinclair a.k.a. Wolfsbane.
‘Well?’ Bishop asks, as everyone stares at Valerie, Storm and Havok. ‘He is stable - I am afraid that is all we can expect for now’ Storm announces. Havok tells everyone that they have to find a way to save Xavier, which means finding Cable. Colossus points out that Cyclops and Jean Grey are missing as well, to which Iceman suggests they divide into two groups. The Beast arrives, and announcers that as he anticipates a division along the pre-established Gold and Blue team parameters, he would prefer joining the Gold Team in searching out the Horseman. ‘If Apocalypse is involved, Warren, Bobby and I have the most experience dealing with him’.
Storm agrees to this and announces that the Gold Team will also include Quicksilver. ‘Not that it matters a whit to me, but may I ask why, Ororo?’ Quicksilver exclaims. Havok points out that if it comes down to it, Apocalypse’s last base was on the moon. ‘The current residents of the ol’ Luna are your relatives, the Inhumans, right?’. Taking command of the situation, Storm tells everyone else that they will search for Cable and X-Force.
Bishop declares that he will remain at the Mansion, to which Storm tells him she does not think that necessary, but Bishop raises one of his massive weapons and points out that whoever attempted to murder Charles may try to do so again. ‘I will not fail in protecting him - protecting his dream - a second time!’ Bishop exclaims. Storm allows him to stay. ‘We know what we have to do, people. Let’s do it!’ Storm exclaims, and moments later, two of the X-Men’s Blackbirds depart in opposite directions.
Meanwhile, in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Forearm and Reaper of the Mutant Liberation Front stand outside a run-down building. ‘What an absolute dump! You sure this is where we’re supposed to meet the guy?’ Reaper asks. ‘Positive’ Forearm replies, before telling his teammate to quit wiping his forehead, as he is sweating all over him. ‘Well, excuse me! I hate this heat! Deep hatred!’ Reaper declares, explaining that when he was a kid he decided he would rid the world of humidity. ‘You were a pretty stupid kid’ Forearm tells him. ‘No kidding’ Reaper mutters, before asking ‘Where the heck is this feeb’.
At that moment, someone reaches out from behind and grabs Reaper and Forearm and pulls them back. ‘The feeb, as you so charmingly call him…has been here longer than you suspect!’ booms the deadly Mr Sinister as he stands over Reaper. ‘Eep. Mr Sinister, I presume?’ Reaper asks, rubbing the back of his neck. Sinister asks where is his package, to which Forearm replies ‘Where are the bodies?’. ‘Why, they have been here all along as well…Jean Grey and Scott Summers!’ Sinister announces as he reveals Jean and Cyclops, held unconscious in stasis tubes. ‘They are yours’ Sinister tells the Mutant Liberation Front, ‘In exchange for the materials your employer guaranteed I would receive’.
‘Special delivery for Mr Sinister!’ Reaper exclaims, as a teleportation portal opens, signalling the arrival of Zero. The mute being holds a large capsule. ‘Zero-express, when it absolutely has to be there!’ Reaper jokes. ‘The genetix matrix is contained inside that canister? Sinister asks. ‘If the boss agrees to a trade, he comes through on his end’ Forearm assures Sinister, who takes the capsule. ‘You are free to go, then. With your lives - and those of Scott Summers and Jean Grey as well’ Sinister declares. The Mutant Liberation Front depart through Zero’s portal, as Sinister exclaims ‘Good riddance to you all…for I have received the better end of this bargain by far!’ Sinister grins wickedly as he clutches the canister, boasting that he now has a piece of the future, and with it, he shall shake the ever-shifting foundations of mutant kind forevermore!
Meanwhile, high above the night-time skies over Texas, a stolen SHIELD personnel carrier rattles its way to a painfully obvious conclusion. The crafts occupants are the young renegade mutants called X-Force, who accept the situation with their usual discipline. ‘Folks, we are going down!’ Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie announces. ‘I knew this stupid bucket wouldn’t make it back to Arizona!’ Tabitha Smith a.k.a. Boom-Boom complains. Sam tells Tab that they should feel blessed that the IPAC unit and all of them were able to walk away from their fight with X-Factor.
Shatterstar remains silent while Cannonball exclaims that the IPAC has taken too many hits and that they are going to land hard unless they do something now. ‘Ric -’ he calls out to Julio “Rictor” Richter. Julio tells Sam that he follows, and pokes his body through the hatch, as Sam tells him to angle his vibratory wave along the lines of their descent. ‘Sure, Sam. No problem. Ask me to work on that world peace thing while you’re at it’ Rictor mutters as the IPAC plummets to the ground below. ‘Okay, let’s make this work - let ol’ Rictor rock the clock tonight!’ Rictor shouts as he unleashes his power. ‘Its working! Ric’s vibes are slowing down our tumble!’ Sam exclaims, telling his teammates to hang on, as this is still going to hurt.
They land, a massive amount of steam pours from the blazing vessel. Sam asks Boom-Boom for a status report. ‘I’m just peachy, Sam’ Tabitha replies. ‘Ah meant the ship’ Cannonball tells her. ‘Do the words “junk heap” mean anything?’ Boom-Boom asks. ‘Communications?’ Sam asks, rubbing his head. Tabitha announces that they are online and that she is calling the others. ‘But how can they get here before the x-posse does?’ she asks. Sam narrows his eyes, and replies that he doesn’t know, but if the rest of X-Force don’t find a way, then they are fried.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, specifically, twenty-five miles northwest of Bani-Manza. Millennia ago, the ancients came to this place to worship, beseeching distant gods for guidance and succor to east their troubled lives. But those ancients are long dead, their gods dust…and for centuries, all has been silent in Bani-Manza…until now…. Inside a hidden tomb, a figure slowly rises, as nine supplicants of a new religion - nine mutants called the Dark Riders - witness the rebirth of their God! ‘Welcome back, milord!’ exclaims Psynapse, sitting on the shoulder of Tusk, who stands behind Foxbat, Gauntlet, Barrage, Harddrive and the Underlings.
‘It is too soon…’ a mighty voice booms. ‘Why has Apocalypse been awakened in an unfinished state of organic coherence?’ the uber-mutant demands to know as he rises from his regenerative pod. Foxbat informs his master that they had to bring him out of his healing stage early as there is big trouble brewing. ‘My powers are not complete! I am not yet fit to be revived!’ Apocalypse exclaims, grabbing Foxbat by the throat. Gauntlet tells his master that machinations are being performed against the children of the X. ‘Summers and Grey have been kidnapped - the deed was performed by your vassals - and in your name!’ Gauntlet reveals, which causes Apocalypse to frown.
The irony is not lost on the X-Men as their Blackbird craft flies over the skies of the Midwest towards a confrontation with X-Force. Hasn’t the area of the United States below them always been called the “heartland” of the country? A place the politicians laud for its “higher values” and greater moral integrity? Ironic then, that the fight they face is, in many ways, one of values - one of morals…a fight against the next generation of mutants - to determine whether the methods they are choosing in the pursuit of Xavier’s dream - are right or wrong. It is a fight no one on this sleek bird of prey ever wanted to be a part of.
Havok asks Psylocke what the scanners are revealing, to which Betsy replies that Cerebro has picked X-Fore up, somewhere in west Texas. ‘Why can it detect them now, when it couldn’t for the last eight months?’ the unshaven Alex asks. Rogue explains that the Professor suspect that wherever X-Force has been holed up Cable had some kind of sensory screens which blocked Cerebro’s scanning wavelengths. Alex wonders what has happened to force X-Force out of their hiding place, and asks ‘Why do I get the feeling the kids in X-Force have nothing to do with the agenda Cable has established?
In the back of the Blackbird, Guido stares out a window. ‘The Greal Plains. They’re not kidding. Geez. Plain as dry, white toast’. Polaris remains silent, while Wolfsbane tells Gambit that she cannot agree with what he is saying. ‘The ends never justify the means - if the methods taken to get to that place are unethical’ Rahne tells him. Gambit puffs on a cigarette as he replies ‘Hard times, Wolfsbane - require hard methods, neh?’. ‘That’s easier said than done’ Rahne tells him. Gambit asks her what exactly has X-Force done in the time they have been together that is so different to what the X-Men or X-Force do.
‘We don’t go around assassinating people, for one thing, my friend’ Lorna declares. ‘There’s that, sure’ Guido mumbles. Wolfsbane stands up and exclaims to Gambit: ‘Cable took it upon himself to shoot the Professor - and you defend him? How can you be so indifferent?’ she asks him. ‘Merely separating the soldiers from the generals is all’ Remy replies, blowing smoke out of his mouth. ‘I wonder how the soldiers could let the general turn them this cold…this hard…’ Lorna asks, to which Wolverine, leaning nearby and lighting a cigarette suggests that perhaps it isn’t Cable that turned them this way.
‘Maybe it’s just the way of the world that did it. Maybe the dream is dead. Maybe we should all stop pretending it ain’t and accept the fact we’re living in a nightmare’. Everyone stares at Wolverine, before Alex tells them to saddle up. ‘We have them. Their ship went down near the Texas/New Mexico border. They’re sitting ducks’. Polaris drops her head into her hands, while Guido and Wolfsbane look worried. Gambit frowns, and Wolverine blows smoke from his mouth.
Meanwhile, somewhere above mankind…comes a man who has, in may ways, chosen to place himself in this high place. The irony being, that in order to save his people, he has abandoned him. There is a “whirrrr” and a “shink”, as a computer voice states ‘Temporal displacement activated. On line. Temporal displacement processing: Welcome back to Graymalkin, Nathan’. ‘Professor. Why does the trip here. Take so much more out of me - than the trip there?’ Nathan Dayspring Summers a.k.a. Cable asks. ‘That is a redundant question, Nathan. I have -’ the computer begins, but Cable, gathering himself, tells Professor that he knows that it is all physics. ‘Talk lower, will you - I have a hangover’.
‘You were only gone a short time, Nathan’ Professor tells him. ‘Twenty six days your time, Professor - eleven months mine!’ Cable shouts. ‘You have no idea how hard it’s gotten to survive - tomorrow…’. Professor points out that Cable does not often need to leave this temporal zone in order to effect repairs. ‘Maybe not for the body, Professor - but sometimes I need to go - to effect repairs of the mind’ Cable explains. Professor replies that he understands. ‘Perspective. Reflection’ he states, before Cable asks Professor to fill him in on what has been going on.
Images appear on a monitor as the Professor states that current events are proving quite fascinating, informing Cable that Jean Grey and Cyclops have been apprehended by agents seemingly loyal to Apocalypse, and an assassination has been attempted on Charles Xavier, who lies in a catatonic state. ‘This never happened…Professor, who did this? Who shot Xavier?’ Cable asks, surprised. ‘Well, regardless of the illogical nature of the evidence presented, Nathan, it would appear - that you did’ Professor replies, as an image of Cable apparently shooting Xavier appears on the monitor. Cable goes wide-eyed.
Back at the Xavier Institute, a new day’s sun creases the horizon behind the Mansion in Westchester, New York. A new day dawning - on what could be Charles Xavier’s last day on Earth. Bishop is outside, guns ready. ‘Coffee - stale muffin. Yum-yum’ Jubilee remarks as she approaches him. ‘Not while I am on duty’ Bishop tells her. Jubilee tells Bishop that she doesn’t see this side of the sunrise too often, so he could at least humor her a little and relax. ‘I apologize, child, but Professor Xavier was attacked and I failed to prevent it. You have no idea who hard that is for me to accept!’ Bishop exclaims.
‘Listen, you been sulking around all night long - catch some winks, let the Mansion’s security do the work for a while. You could use some shut-eye’ Jubilee tells Bishop, who frowns at her and declares that he will not rest until he is certain Xavier is safe. ‘And that occurrence will not be a certainty until his assassin is dead and buried!’ Bishop adds. Jubilee hands Bishop the cup of coffee, and tells him that now she can see why it would be most truly heinous if he gave himself a break to have a cup of coffee. ‘Party on, Bishop’ Jubilee declares. Bishop thanks Jubilee for the coffee, telling her that it is good. Jubilee turns back: ‘Ummm…sure, dude - no problem’ Jubilee replies, when suddenly, the Mansion alarm sounds.
‘A perimeter breach! How can this be?’ Bishop asks as he drops the cup of coffee and races towards the Mansion, shouting ‘Someone is inside the Mansion!’. The door to the Mansion slams open, and following the alarm signal shouts that he does not have time to suffer the amenities of hallways. ‘Do I make myself clear?’ he asks as he blasts through a wall. ‘Good morning, Mr Bishop!’ a voice exclaims. Bishop is shocked to see Mr Sinister standing before him - holding Valerie Cooper and Stevie Hunter, physical therapist and dance tutor ally of the X-Men. ‘As I have already explained to Ms Cooper and Ms Hunter - I have come not to praise Charles Xavier - but to bury him!’ Sinister announces. ‘Bury him for the sins of his failures! Would you care to be among those sins? Would you care to DIE for them?’ Sinister asks.
At that moment, somewhere in west Texas, the Blackbird lands by a downed IPAC. Wolverine, Havok, Rogue, Polaris, Psylocke, Madrox, Gambit, Wolfsbane and Guido emerge from it. ‘This is it, people. Two groups split up - Rogue and I have the Cerebro detectors, so follow us - maneuver along the IPAC unit from either side - if they’re here - we’ll pinch them off and pin them down’ Havok declares. Wolverine tells Rogue to ditch the scanner, boasting that he will pick up X-Force’s scent. ‘Tough choice, Wolvie, you tense as a rock, or my scanner doing a samba with funny read-outs!’ Rogue replies. Wolverine narrows his eyes and exclaims that he can smell them, but that something is not right.
Psylocke asks Wolverine what it is, to which Logan replies that he is not sure. ‘I know most of their scents - but they’re muted - like they’re ready for us’ Logan explains. ‘Are you saying these children plan to ambush us?’ Psylocke asks. Wolverine tells her to stop thinking of them as kids. ‘We’re up against soldiers here!’ he exclaims. Alex announces that there is nothing on the starboard side, and that he thinks Wolverine is right, so he absorbs solar energy to charge up, just in case. Rogue announces that her scanner is picking up movement, but that it is garbled. ‘They’re all around us!’ Wolverine exclaims, adding that he can’t tell where, and that they are either masking their scents or standing down-wind on purpose. Suddenly, Psylocke is knocked backwards - the attack begins!
‘Wasn’t that Sunspot’s energy signature?’ Havok asks. ‘How did he -?’ he begins, while Rogue tells him to worry less about who and how, and to worry more about why. ‘Because the answer is everywhere!’ she exclaims, looking at her scanner. Gambit helps Psylocke up, while Cannonball, Boom-Boom, Rictor, Shatterstar and the rest of their team - Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta, Theresa “Siryn” Rourke, James “Warpath” Proudstar and Maria “Feral” Callasantos appear. ‘We don’t want a fight, folks…but as you can see…if that’s the choice you want to make - X-Force is more than ready to give you one!’ Cannonball announces, as X-Force stands ready to battle!