The sun shines over the golden fields of the Ust-Ordynski Farming Collective on Lake Baikal, Siberia. A young girl runs with glee across the fields, innocent, free, sweetly unaware of the fact that her father’s crop is going to die on the stalk - Russia’s collapsed economy unable to purchase the food to sell to the people in this strange, new capitalistic society. The girl is Illyana Rasputin, and she cares nothing for that. Her pure world is dominated by one single thought…’Piotr is coming!’ she shouts with glee in her native Russian. Her brother is coming home to see her. That is all she knows, that is all she cares about. But the knowledge also interests others who consider the notion with less innocence than Illyana - such as the burly man smoking a cigarette who watches Illyana from nearby through a strange binocular-like device.
‘Poppa – poppa, is he here yet?’ Illyana calls out as she rushes to meet her father, Nicolai Rasputin. ‘At ease, little snowflake’ Nicolai tells his daughter, explaining that her brother will not be here for days still. Nicolai lifts his daughter into the air as Illyana exclaims ‘He is coming all the way from America, isn’t he?’. ‘Yes, Illyana, he is’ Nicolai replies, before putting his daughter down and holding her hand as they walk back towards their home, telling her that they need to help her mother prepare the house for Piotr and his friends, as there is much to do, and they want everything to be just right. ‘It has been a long time since he has seen his loving family’ Nicolai remarks.
‘Yes it has. Hasn’t it?’ the mysterious man remarks to himself as he listens to Nicolai Rasputin’s conversation with his daughter from inside a building, recorded on a device.
A thousand miles to the north, the Siberian oil-rig town of Neftelensk, off the Lena River is host to two strange visitors. Which seems appropriate, since Neftelensk has become a strange town. Father Alexi Garnoff a.k.a. Blind Faith and Laynia “Darkstar” Petrovna walk through the snow-covered street - while civilians stand motionless around them. ‘Odd’ Father Garnoff remarks. ‘But not surprising, is it, Alexi?’ Darkstar replies, a long glamorous coat over her costume, scarf flowing in the wind. ‘No, Laynia, not surprising at all - considering I sensed the systematic erasing of this town’s population for days’ Blind Faith reminds his fellow Exile. ‘They seem - turned off - somehow. It is most unsettling’ Laynia remarks.
Blind Faith tells Laynia that he is standing in the middle of a crowded street, but other than she, he cannot sense the presence of a living soul for miles. Laynia tells her friend that there is only one way to solve this mystery, and removes her coat, telling Blind Faith to continue his investigation on the ground, while she takes to the air to explore from above. Darkstar finds comfort in the solitude the cold early evening air brings her. She has had problems of her own of late, feeling very ill at ease with her powers - as if something were twisting her Darkforce energies inside her like a corkscrew - she doesn’t know how or why, but it is a violation she does not like.
‘Because you feel as if you have always been tugged and pulled about, don’t you, Laynia?’ a voice suddenly exclaims. ‘Eh?’ Darkstar remarks, before turning mid-flight: ‘FATHER?!’ she screams, as her father, the diabolical Presence hovers before her. ‘My presence is felt, is it not, daughter?’ the madman asks. Darkstar flies towards her father and asks him if he is responsible for what has happened here. ‘That would be too easy, black-heart child. That would mean I was responsible for something in your life’ the Presence replies. ‘Other than abandoning you’ he adds, before suddenly, his body breaks apart - and Darkstar watches in horror as she is left holding her father’s head.
‘Father - what -?’ Laynia gasps, before the head tells her to stop begging for attention. ‘Your father will never be a part of you. No matter where you look for him - least of all in your own cold, dark heart!’ he exclaims. Darkstar drops the robotic impostor of her father as the soul-charred energies of the Darkforce suddenly swirl out of her - uncontrolled - imbalanced - calling in ways she’s never felt - but something - someone else - fights against this compelling rapture. Someone who reaches into the base of her spine and rushes through her nervous system - digging into her mind like a muck-encrusted rusty shovel - opening doors - opening coffins - memories sealed in the darkest recesses of her past - a progression of mental tortures which rip out of her into the ether - and dissipate into the air as quickly as her free well - and as easily as her consciousness.
Writhing mid-air, Laynia loses control, and plummets to the snow-covered ground below. ‘LAYNIA!’ Father Garnoff calls out, while wondering what happened to her, as he lost their mental contact, as if someone had wiped a blackboard slate clean - not even leaving a spiritual resonance in its wake. Blind Faith wonders who could have enough psychic power to do all of this, and still remain masked to a telepath of his abilitites. ‘I could, Alexi Garnoff’ a voice booms inside Blind Faith’s head. ‘Who -?’ Alexi exclaims. ‘Show me your layers of pain, my little mutant fool’ the voice calls out. Garnoff stands, before clutching his head and keeling to the ground. ‘So much of it inside your kind, isn’t’ there?’ the voice calls out. ‘Would that I had sooner played with all of you’ the voice adds, while Blind Faith cries out ‘Stop! Stop!’. ‘Your father did that? For shame. Show me your pains, priest - confess your sins. And maybe, if you’re lucky, I will give you absolution - I will give you the cold comfort of death!’
Three days later, at the Red Square, Moscow. ‘Are you sure about that, Fydor? Colonel Alexi Vazhin asks. ‘Absolutely’ Fydor replies. ‘The entire town has been co-opted’ he declares Colonel-General Shatalov, hands in pockets, leans against a desk as he announces that initial reports indicate two of the mutie renegade Exiles went in to find out what happened. ‘Which “muties” were they?’ Vazhin asks, annoyed. ‘Who knows? They’re all the same to me’ Shatalov replies. ‘Fydor, you know how I feel about this bigot’ Alexi tells Fydor, who points out that Shatalov is in charge of the Remont Program.
‘Yes, I know! And you of the People’s Protectorate!’ Vazhin declares, asking Shatalov and Fydor if either are prepared to mobilize their forces to handle the situation in Neftelensk. ‘Hardly. Remont is not permited to work internal matters’ Fydor points out, while adding that he doesn’t feel like losing his own group. ‘So you want someone eminently expendable - who would go into a danger-zone for self-serving reasons, right?’ Colonel Vazhin remarks. ‘It will require some convincing…but I will get Omega Red for you!’ he announces.
Three more days pass, and the Blackbird cuts low through the Russian skies, undetected by military sensors. And aboard the sleek craft, the X-Men feel the cold and quiet outside the bird of prey, mirrored by the mood inside as well. Scott “Cyclops” Summers informs Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin that they are less than an hour away, adding that their encounter at Tyuratam nearly cost them an entire day. ‘Next time we’ll let Wolvie walk home, okay?’ Jubilation Lee, better known simply as Jubilee exclaims as she stands next to Wolverine a.k.a. Logan. Scott tells Jubilee that he meant no offense, pointing out that they had no way of contacting Colossus’ family to tell them why they were running late.
Arms folded across his chest, Colossus replies ‘They are family. They will understand’. ‘Right. Family’ Scott mutters. Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock is acting as Scott’s co-pilot, and taking one of his hands, she asks him that after everything he has been through, was it really necessary for him to come on this journey. ‘Perhaps you’re pushing yourself too hard’ Betsy suggests. Scott tells Betsy that he just needed to get away from the Mansion for a few days. ‘With X-Force still there and all the questions churning inside me about Cable and Stryfe - I think I needed some space. I needed some time to think’ Scott declares.
‘I can imagine. It must be difficult to maintain any privacy - when the person you love is a telepath’ Psylocke remarks. ‘Hmmm - what?’ Scott replies, his thoughts lost as he dreams of kissing Psylocke. He rubs his head, before apologizing to Betsy. ‘I was just - thinking -’ he remarks, while Psylocke tells him that he thinks to much. ‘You should try doing once in a while’ she tells him. Scott clears his throat, and turns to his teammates, telling them to change into their civvies, as they are arriving now.
Bobby “Iceman” Drake turns to Colossus: ‘I guess this is it, huh, Pete? No more agonizing about telling your parents what happened to Mikhail - time to just do it, right? You okay about this?’ Bobby asks. Frowning, Colossus replies that, in many ways, it will be a relief to do so. ‘To unburden myself of the guilt and frustration - that have been burning my soul since my brother’s suicide’. He adds that all of which compounds guilt even more, for he will be relieving himself of such thoughts by foisting them on his family instead.
Soon, Nicolai, his wife Alexandra, and Illyana stand on the porch of their home. ‘They are here’ Nicolai announces as a vehicle arrives. ‘Alexandra, look at that car! It must have cost ten years’ salary!’ Nicolai exclaims. Alexandra tells her husband to hush, and not to concern himself with such matters. ‘Our son is back, for Heavens sake!’ Illyana runs from the porch: ‘Piotr! Piotr!’ she calls out. ‘Little snowflake!’ Colossus exclaims as he embraces his sister. ‘It is good to see you again! You’ve grown so much, haven’t you!’ he tells her. ‘Don’t let go, Piotr! Never let go!’ Illyana tells him. ‘Never, Illyana, never!’ Piotr replies, carrying her over to their parents, he embraces them also. ‘Papa - Mama - I have been gone too long’ Colossus declares.
Nicolai tells his son that they thought he had forgotten all about them. ‘You sounded so upset on the phone. Is everything all right?’ he asks. ‘I have - things I must tell you. But now is not yet the time. Come, let me introduce you to my friends…my American family’ Colossus suggests, unaware that he is being monitored by the same man who was monitoring his family several days ago. ‘American “family” - indeed!’ the man remarks. ‘Mutant fomenters of dissent more likely. Let me get a visual’ he remarks and taps something into his computer. A moment later, an image of the X-Men appears. ‘Interesting’ he remarks, before picking up the telephone. ‘This is Flag watch #133...I need to speak with Colonel Vazhin immediately!’
Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, in Westchester, New York, Rogue stands on the diving board over the swimming pool. ‘You actually expect me to trust you?’ she asks. ‘Yup’ Remy “Gambit” LeBeau replies. ‘The Beast said it’s still goin’ take you a week or two before you can see clearly again…’ Gambit adds, telling Rogue that he thinks she is going to have to learn to depend on the people who care about her to help her through this. ‘Okay, okay. But walking on the diving board until you tell me to stop, Remy - ain’t mah idea of helping me learn ta cope!’ Rogue replies.
‘Rule number one: Trust the people you care for. Now keep walking - you got another foot or two…’ Gambit tells her. ‘Okay, okay…’ Rogue replies, before crying out as she walks off the edge of the diving board - but Gambit grabs her. ‘Gotcha, cherie’ he tells her, pulling her back up, before giving her rule number two: ‘You’re very vulnerable right now, so don’t trust anyone’. Rogue looks at Gambit, before walking away from him.
From his office Professor Charles Xavier watches Rogue and Gambit, and thinks to himself that Gambit plays a very dangerous game. ‘but that seems your speciality doesn’t it? Of all my X-Men, you are the most unknown to me…you want Rogue’s love, but you don’t want to fall in love with her, do you? You want her to declare herself yours, but you will not commit to her. Why? A dangerous game for her, but even more so, I fear, for you’ Charles thinks to himself. At that moment, Dr Hank McCoy a.k.a. the Beast enters Charles’ office, asking him if he has a moment. ‘If it’s about my rehabilitation, I promise you I am following your -’ Charles begins.
But Hank tells him it is not about that. ‘It’s personal, actually. It’s about me, I -’ he begins, before Ororo “Storm” Munroe strides past him, into Xavier’s office. ‘Hank, Professor, please excuse our interruption’ she declares, motioning to Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie and James “Warpath” Proudstar, both of X-Force, and explaining that there are matters they all must discuss. ‘Ororo? What is it? Hank and I were -’ Xavier begins, but Hank tells the Professor that it can wait, and leaves the office.
‘Sam and James have asked if they can -’ Storm begins, before Cannonball tells her that he can speak for himself, and informs the Professor that they have just fond out about the death of the Hellions, and the White Queen’s coma. A former Hellion himself, James declares that they must put the Hellions to rest, that he and Cannonball need to travel to Nova Roma and tell Magma and Empath what has happened. ‘Charles, they have asked to take a Blackbird to accomplish this task’ Storm announces. Cannonball adds that they contacted Firestar, who is with the New Warriors now, and she wants to join them as well.
Xavier tells Sam that he understands his pain, as the death of the Hellions was a tragic loss. ‘But your request puts me in a difficult position’ he announces. ‘Thanks to Val Cooper’s insistence, you are to remain here until legal matters concerning X-Force’s actions are resolved’ the Professor reveals. Charles informs his former New Mutant that he can turn a blind eye to his temporary departure, but a loan of the Blackbird would, he fears, negate the agreement with Valerie. Charles points out that Firestar is, as he understands, not a woman without means. ‘Perhaps if her organization provided the transport to Brazil?’ Xavier suggests.
Elsewhere, specifically the neon-splash of the Ginza District in Tokyo. It makes Broadway look like it has been lit by candlelight. It also surpasses the action along the back streets of Broadway in other ways as well. ‘Fight! Fight!’ someone shouts. ‘But what kind of a fight is it - where one woman wades through a gang of men?’ another asks as they watch a woman clad in skin-tight purple kick, slice and poke her way through a group of ninjas. ‘It is done. I am ready!’ she announces. The spectators leave quickly - and if any of the young street thugs lying in the alleyway had been left conscious, maybe they would question the sound of their native tongue, spoken by the mysterious woman with such an odd accent.
The woman slowly removes her mask, revealing long light-purple hair. As it is though, the noise and lights of the Ginza District are as unto silence and darkness when compared to the passion and anger which burns within this strange young woman. ‘I am ready. The time for revenge has come. I am finally prepared to find the X-Men!’
Back in Siberia, the sun rises hard on the farming collective. Even as the night cold clings to the morning, unwilling to surrender its hold. Even so, a sheen of sweat on Piotr clings to the skin of his straining muscles like a thin layer of ice as he uses tools to remove a large tree stump from the ground. Logan appears, and lights a cigarette, asking Colossus why he is out here so early busting his hump. Colossus thanks Logan for not smoking in the house, explaining that it took his mother a long time to convince his father to stop. ‘Though she suspects he still sneaks a cigar with his friends’ Piotr adds. ‘She suspects right. Though not too often from the scent of it’ Wolverine replies.
Wolverine points out that Colossus could turn to metal and have the tree stump out of the ground in a second. ‘Not everything can be settled with mutant powers, my friend’ Colossus replies, adding that sometimes it is best to work through a problem in small steps, but taking a human approach. ‘No argument here’ Wolverine replies, before pointing out that if colossus wanted to think things through, he could just as easily have brought out a pad and paper and sketched. ‘You haven’t drawn in a long time, have you, Peter, not since Mikhail’ Logan remarks. Colossus strains as he lifts the stump above his head. ‘Did you ever think that after everything we have done - everything we have been through - that our accomplishments as X-Men - haven’t nearly justified our pain and loss?’ Colossus asks.
Wolverine replies that just because they have saved the world a dozen times over, it does not mean the world is responsible for saving them. ‘Sometimes I wonder…if leaving here to follow another man’s dream, no matter how noble, was not the single worst choice of my life’ Colossus declares.
Inside the guest room, Cyclops is experiencing a troubled dream about Cable and Stryfe. ‘Stryfe - who were you -?’. ‘Cable - don’t go - don’t leave me alone -’ he shouts, before screaming ‘NOOO!’. Scott sits up in bed, then walks towards the bathroom in his briefs, thinking that he hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. ‘These dreams never stop. Need a shower - maybe that’ll clear my - head’ Scott thinks, but as he reaches the bathroom, he finds Psylocke wearing nothing but a skimpy towel as she dries her hair. ‘Good morning, Scott. Is everything all right?’ Betsy asks.
Scott can’t take his eyes off Betsy, and replies ‘I’m sorry - I - had a nightmare - woke up - ummm - I should shut up and leave now’. He quickly turns and shuts the bathroom door behind him. ‘Someone please shoot me now’ he mutters to himself, while back inside the bathroom, Psylocke smiles. And outside, Scott looks rather happy.
In the kitchen, Alexandra pours Bobby a cup of coffee. ‘Uh - spay-see-ba -?’ Bobby remarks, to which Alexandra tells him he is welcome. ‘Yeah, right, regular United Nations there, Drake’ Jubilee laughs, while brushing Illyana’s long blonde hair. Illyana looks at herself in a compact and applies some make-up, while Jubilee remarks that it is hard to believe that Colossus’ little sister was actually a teenager a year ago. ‘I mean, glom the neural fireworks going on in my head here - if this is what happened to her - what in heck are chicken mcnuggets gonna do to me?’ Jubilee asks.
‘Jubilee, she’s a kid again - what’s so bad about that?’ Bobby asks. ‘Nothing that a few hormones and the dude from that MTV sports show couldn’t cure in an hour or two, I guess’ Jubilee replies.
Back in Moscow, ‘We are not ready for this, Fydor’ Colonel Vazhin remarks as he looks at a photo of Illyana. ‘She is not ready for this’ he adds. Fydor asks Alexi what choice they have at this point. ‘Omega Red has been missing for over forty-eight hours! Whether we like it or not - and believe me, I look at her face and I see my own daughter - we have no choice!’ Fydor exclaims. Puffing on a cigar, Fydor adds that Red Flag #133 is the last hope to stop the Neftelenski incursion.
But Vazhin informs Fydor that they still have one option, as Flag watch #133 has reported something of great interest - that the Illyana’s brother has returned, and has brought friends with him. ‘You don’t mean -’ Fydor exclaims. ‘My flight to the Ust-Ordynski Collective leaves in one hour. We are going to find out what happened in Neftelensk - what happened to Darkstar and Garnoff and to Omega Red - we are just going to use the X-Men to do it!’ Vazhin declares.