Hidden behind the veneer of reason in man - are dark passions in search of release. Hidden within the veneer of civility in many of today’s mutants - are flaming angers which are all too often stoked. Hidden beneath the façade of normality in a small Arkansas town - is a Mutant Liberation Front operations base. Hidden alongside the dismantling of this base by the X-squadron is a little victory for the mutant terrorist named Reaper! The scythe-wielding mutant stands over the unmoving bodies of Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff and Remy “Gambit” LeBeau, his scythe glistening above them.
‘Eenie-meenie, miney-moe! Which feebs’ head is the first to go?’ Reaper sings to himself. ‘Quicksilver, not so fast on your feet right now? Or Gambit, cocky rassum-frassum gumbo jackass? Henry the Eight’s got nothing on Reaper the First!’ Reaper declares. Reaper raises his scythe above his body, and with Pietro and Remy’s bodies aligned, Reaper decides to go for a double-play - but as he brings his scythe down, Alex “Havok” Summers shouts ‘How about not!’ and blasts Reaper’s scythe with a solar energy burst. ‘Uh-oh. Plasma smell. Scythe’s a waste. Not even Bob Villa could save it’ Reaper exclaims, before suggesting to Havok that they discuss this - only for Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock to shove a psi-knife through Reaper’s head.
‘I’m sure Alex would say what is on all our minds right now, Reaper - that the time for talk is long over!’ Psylocke exclaims. Tabitha “Boom-Boom” Smith approaches Psylocke and remarks ‘Yeah, well, nice pose and all, Psylocke - but after psi-blading him - there ain’t much on Reap’s mind at all, ‘kay? And won’t be on your’s either unless you duck!’ Boom-Boom exclaims, as she throws several plasma time-bombs over Psylocke’s head, directing them at Forearm, who is knocked backwards. Betsy thanks Tabitha, remarking that she had not seen Forearm approaching.
‘No prob, Psylocke. I know how tough it is - for all that ninja training - to spot those sneaky four-armed guys’ Tabitha declares. ‘The sarcasm is duly noted, child’ Betsy replies as she kicks Forearm in the face, explaining to Boom-Boom that part of a warrior’s training is learning to work in concert with their comrades. ‘Therefore, your plasma bombs render Forearm - open to this!’ she declares as she takes Forearm down. Betsy turns to Alex and asks him how their airborne comrades are faring. ‘Let’s just worry about the MLF’s ground forces for now, Betsy…because I think we’ve got our topside covered pretty well’ Alex declares as he watches Ororo “Storm” Munroe, Lorna “Polaris” Dane and Rogue in pursuit of the deadly Dragoness.
‘Ororo, you’re closest!’ Lorna calls out as she and Rogue follow Storm. ‘Nail her!’ Rogue calls out. Storm tells Rogue not to be concerned, remarking that Dragoness has not place to run, and attacks the sultry Dragoness with a contained lightning assault. The lightning strikes Dragoness, causing her to spasm in mid-air. ‘Surprise, surprise! Her wings aren’t organic - they’re mechanical!’ Polaris exclaims, before using her magnetic powers to steady Dragoness. ‘Thanks for the set-up!’ Rogue exclaims as she flies towards Dragoness. Rogue remarks that Dragoness’ only mutant powers are her bio-stings. ‘Must have felt insecure thinking they weren’t enough. Poor thing she was right’ Rogue declares as she punches Dragoness - hard.
‘Let’s bat her right outta her “bat-wings”!’ Rogue exclaims as Dragoness’ wings come loose, and she falls to the ground - right in front of Thumbelina and the MLF’s ally, Slab, her brother. ‘Geez! That X-Man’s got a mean punch!’ Slab declares. ‘She was my only friend in the MLF!’ Thumbelina exclaims, reaching out for Dragoness. ‘She still is, sis - she’s just your unconscious friend’ Slab tells his pink-haired sister, pulling her away from Dragoness, telling her that they need to get out of here. ‘Mom hates it when I don’t keep an eye on you’ Slab tells Thumbelina - but as they spin around, they are confronted by a wall of ice, courtesy of Bobby “Iceman” Drake, who encases them in ice. Iceman announces that Slab and Thumbelina are in the freezer, for without Stryfe to co-ordinate them or Zero to teleport them, they are pretty easy pickings.
Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie tells Iceman not to underestimate them, as they will surprise him. ‘No more surprise than you n’ me going after Rusty and Skids, huh, Sam?’ Boom-Boom remarks as she and Cannonball race after their fellow former New mutants Sally “Skids” Blevins and Rusty Collins. Boom-Boom throws some time-bombs at her former friends, remarking that she doesn’t want to do this, as they used to be buds. Skids and Rusty stop in their tracks, enabling Cannonball to speed up to them. Sam congratulates Tabby, before grabbing Rusty: ’It’s me - it’s Sam! You gotta lot of explaining to do!’ Sam exclaims.
‘Skids - we’ll help you -’ Boom-Boom begins - only for Sally to kick Boom-Boom in the face, knocking her shades back, and causing something to go KRAKT. Boom-Boom grabs her face, ‘Owww - you broke my jaw’ she manages to utter, while asking Sally if her force field can stop time-bombs at point blank, raising her hand towards Skids. ‘Incredible. Even with a broken haw she can’t shut up’ Cannonball remarks as he lifts Rusty off the ground. ‘What a gal’ Sam decides, before telling Rusty, who has released some fire power, though Sam is protected thanks to his force field, to give it up, asking him why he is with the MLF anyway. ‘Stryfe is our master! His is the way of tomorrow!’ Rusty shouts. ‘Only though pain and fire, hardship and death, will order one day come!’ he exclaims, to which Sam asks Boom-Boom if she thinks Rusty is brainwashed. ‘Washed, rinsed and conditioned’ Tabitha replies with her broken jaw as she stands next to Skids. ‘Sorry, pal - but I gotta knock some sense into you!’ Sam exclaims as he punches Rusty in the face.
Nearby, Rogue flies above the MLF foot soldiers, dodging their weapons-fire and remarking that it looks like there is not much more to clean up than the cannon fodder. ‘And ya’ll just know how much I love keeping things tidy!’ Rogue exclaims as she flies down and knocks them over - when suddenly, the sultry Strobe appears. ‘Good, X-Man! Because the feeling is mutual! How d’you feel about a concentrated light blast?’ she asks, unleashing her power, slamming Rogue into a wall. Polaris appears behind Strobe: ‘Very sneaky, Strobe, blinding Rogue that way - very witty repartee, too’ Lorna adds, before asking Strobe how much walking or talking she can do if she binds her costume to her - and with that, Lorna causes Strobe’s metallic costume to tie her up. Strobe mumbles something, unable to speak. ‘That’s what I thought’ Polaris exclaims.
Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel soars beside Iceman and asks him how he is doing. Bobby replies that he is fine, before exclaiming ‘The question, after the accident you had with Kamikaze is - how are you doing?’. ‘Like you said - it was an accident. I’ll deal with it’ Warren replies. ‘Only because we’re in the middle of a fight will I let you drop the subject that easily’ Bobby tells his friend, assuring him that they will talk about it later.
Havok, Storm and Cannonball all regroup: ‘All done?’ Alex asks. ‘Finished. The Mutant Liberation Front can no longer be considered a threat’ Storm declares, to which Cannonball remarks that they should have done this months ago. ‘You should have asked’ Havok tells him, before asking Storm what they do now. ‘Now, we will talk to these terrorists and we will listen to their words - and for their sakes, as well as ours, what they have to say - had best help us find Stryfe!’
Meanwhile, in the windswept Canadian province of New Foundland - five miles north of St John’s - the coastline hard, timeless, unforgiving - plays host to a trio of men who - except for their current situation - would fit quite well into the landscape. ‘Wolverine, I thought you said they would not have sufficient pursuit capabilities?’ Bishop asks Wolverine a.k.a. Logan as they and Nathan “Cable” Summers flee from a squad of Department K soldiers. ‘That’s exactly what I said, Bishop’ Logan replies. ‘What do you think now?’ Bishop asks. ‘I think I was wrong’ Logan smirks, to which Cable declares that, obviously, Department K’s increased their financing since they began hunting him down.
‘Well, thanks for nothing, Cable’ Wolverine remarks as several Department K soldiers in small hover-craft catch up to them. ‘We could take them out’ Bishop suggests, boasting that his surface-to-air training is quite comprehensive. ‘No. They’re just doing their jobs’ Wolverine replies. ‘What, then?’ Bishop asks. ‘Professor, body slide by three -’ Graymalkin bound!’ Cable exclaims. ‘Son of a - what’re you -?’ Wolverine begins, as he, Cable and Bishop are teleported to safety.
Meanwhile, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, in Salem Center, Westchester, New York. The sun sets on the grounds of this venerable estate where the hopes and dreams of the X-Men converge. Night is coming and hope, like the daylight, is fading - before the inevitable darkness to come…. ‘Mikhail. Why did you do it, my brother? Why did you take your own life?’ Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin thinks to himself as he leans against a large piece of scrap metal down by the lake on the Xavier Estate.
‘How can I go back to our parents - to the little sister you never even met - and tell them that I found you - only to lose you again? And now, the Professor hovers near death. I begin to wonder if life is supposed…’ his thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of X-Factor’s Guido Carosella a.k.a. Strong Guy, who asks Colossus how the landscaping is going and if he wants some coffee. Colossus accepts the coffee and Guido tells him that it is a fine blend - Hawaiian Hazelnut mocha-crème Jack Daniels. ‘Do you have good news to tell me?’ colossus asks. ‘Yup. I put too much JD in here’ Guido replies as he takes a sip, adding that as far as Chuck’s operation went, there is no change - he is no worse than before.
Inside the lab, the motionless body of Professor Charles Xavier lies in stasis, while Dr Hank McCoy a.k.a. the Beast informs Dr Moira MacTaggert via the monitor that unfortunately Charles is no better, either. ‘I know, Hank, but ye canna be blaming yourself for that, now’ Moira remarks, telling Hank that it was more important he joined his friends in looking for Scott and Jean than banging his head here. ‘I wonder if it was, Moira. I wonder if there wasn’t more I could do for Charles…for the whole world if I may be so bold’ Hank remarks, suggesting he should concentrate more on his talents in biogenetics and less on gallivanting around as an X-Man.
‘Look at this - this thing Charles has been infected with!’ Hank exclaims, monitoring the virus on one of the computers. He points out that every antigen contagion they introduce into Charles’ body is immediately co-opted into this techno-organic mesh covering his body. ‘I’ve never seen a pathogen work this way! Never! How are we supposed to fight it?’ Hank remarks. Moira frowns as she tells Hank that perhaps they cannot fight it, and that they are all hoping for a blessed miracle. Hank asks Moira if she is saying they should just give up and that the fight is over. ‘I’m saying that maybe, Heaven help us, the fight was over - the second Charles as shot’ Moira replies.
Meanwhile, somewhere, the enigmatic man called Stryfe watches the game being played. Monitors show him the current going-ons of the X-Men and their companions. And though the pieces slide across the board in a fashion exceeding his expectations, the chessman takes little satisfaction in the proceedings. ‘It unfolds before us, Zero. the stage is set. the curtain of revenge opens - only to reveal the theater of the absurd behind it. Maintain our vigil, my silent knight’ Stryfe tells his android companion. Stryfe gets up from his throne and walks away, remarking that he has more personal matters to attend to. ‘but what could be more personal than revenge, you ask? Redemption, perhaps. Synth-prep: warm milk - substantiative infant supplement. By two’ Stryfe tells his computer.
A door swirls open, revealing Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean Grey, held prisoner. ‘Mr Summers. Ms Grey. I have neglected to feed you since your visit began. Please - rise - it is time to feast’ Stryfe announces, holding the tray of food. Scott jumps to his feet: ‘Enough, Stryfe. We’re not playing your games!’ he booms. ‘I will not abide by such tantrums!’ Stryfe exclaims, releasing a blast of energy, which knocks Cyclops back. Jean calls out to her lover, while Stryfe remarks that it is time to eat, and scoops up some gruel-like food in his hand. ‘Can’t move - even my - optic beams -’ Scott remarks, held in place, while Stryfe tells him to open wide. ‘There’s a boy. There’s a GOOD boy!’ Stryfe exclaims as he shoves the slop into Scott’s mouth.
‘Little boy enjoy his dinner? did I do it right?’ Stryfe asks, throwing the tray of food to the floor. ‘Is that how it’s done? Is that how you nurse a child? Is it? IS IT?’ he asks furiously, before knocking Cyclops over. ‘Scott - our powers - gone!’ Jean exclaims, to which Scott suggests that there is a dampening field or something. ‘If I can easily understand what it requires to wean a child - so should YOU. Until next time…’ Stryfe remarks cryptically as he leaves Jean and Cyclops.
Stryfe approaches Zero, telling him that the time has come. ‘I must confront the forever killer directly - before he has the opportunity to piece this puzzle together’. Stryfe asks Zero to take him to the land of the Pharaohs, and Zero opens a portal, to which Stryfe thanks him. ‘I will summon you when you are needed’ Stryfe tells the android.
There was a time when these desert stands ran red with rivers of blood. The ancient temple at Bani Maza has not seen the sights nor heard the sounds of war for hundreds of years. That is about to change - as the side of the temple is blown open by Stryfe’s arrival - though Stryfe is greeted by…’the Dark Riders, I presume?’ The Dark Riders stand ready to battle Stryfe, who exclaims ‘Protecting your feeble Master’s failing health? Riders, ponder this. if a power as eternal as his requires protecting - perhaps he is not a power at all!’.
Stryfe remarks that Foxbat is already downed, due to the explosion, before knocking back Psynapse and Tusk easily with a brush stroke. ‘Gauntlet, for all his displays of machismo, is equally ineffective’. Stryfe takes down the Underlings by throwing rubble at them and remarks that they are hardly even worthy of the slightest attention. ‘All of you - useless!’ Stryfe exclaims, before turning to Harddrive - the last line of defense - the one chosen to guard and control the masters instruments of salvation. ‘If you are as unworthy as your master, what does that say for him?’ Stryfe asks as he takes down Harddrive down with ease. ‘What indeed?’ he asks, walking towards a chamber.
‘Come out, time-walker! Come to me now!’ Stryfe exclaims, causing mayhem to erupt in the chamber. ‘Uncertain…unknowing…weak…child-like…come to me as I came to you - a babe with need for succor! Come to me…Apocalypse!’ Stryfe booms as Apocalypse rises from his rejuvenation chamber. ‘Who are you…?’ Apocalypse asks, very unhappy. Stryfe stands staunch over Apocalypse as the uber-mutant rises, while Stryfe declares ‘As you are the devil of yesterday who haunts my tomorrows - I am the demon of tomorrow who has come for cold retribution! I am STRYFE! Remember it. For that is the name of the man who is going to kill you…’.