Neftelensk, Russia, where the deadly Omega Red is engaged in battle with a mysterious green-skinned, long-haired being. ‘You can peel as many layers of anguish you’d like - but when you get to the core of my being - you will not like what you find there!’ the techno-horror Omega Red exclaims. The mysterious green-skinned being replies ‘And upon tasting that sweet nectar of despair, Vasyliev Arcady - I will dig even deeper! For as painful a path as you choose to make this journey - rest assured every single step will be pure pleasure for the Skinner of Souls!’
‘NYETTT! I am OMEGA RED!’ the deadly living weapon booms, his tendrils flailing about as he lashes out. ‘And I will not turn my memories over to a psychic vampire such as you!’ Omega Red exclaims. As he looks around, he finds his foe has vanished. ‘Where have you gone, mind-raper?’ Omega Red calls out. ‘After all the pain you have caused here in the town of Neftelensk? Am I to believe you can be so easily defeated?’ Omega Red asks, before the Soul Skinner materializes in front of him. ‘By all means, battle ever onwards. The greater your effort, the greater my reward!’
‘You speak in riddles, dog! Perhaps a taste of carbonadium coils will shut you up!’ Omega Red exclaims as he lashes out once more with his tendrils. But the Soul Skinner dodges Omega Red’s attack: ‘Or perhaps not!’ he exclaims. ‘But my thanks - for providing me such a visceral pathway into the gray folds of your shattered mind!’ the Soul Skinner declares, before Omega Red smacks him in the face with his coil.
Suddenly, leeches appear all over Omega Red’s body, causing the villain to cry out. ‘I look inside you and see nothing but a shattering mirror, Arkady. The jagged taste of broken glass is like sweet candy on my tongue…but it does not make for a filling meal!’ he declares, shoving Omega Red backwards and exclaiming that Omega Red is undone. ‘Such physicality, bordering as unto a primal force of nature, you might be in body - but in mind, you are as unto a gentle summer rain’.
‘And as such, I let you wash over me - your tattered memories - your arrogant presumptions of coming here and controlling me - and though mutant born and warrior bred - I leave you like the rest of this impoverished village - an empty shell, a carapace of skin holding nothing but memories of pain and ambush’ the Soul Skinner declares, as Omega Red falls to the snow-covered ground, and the Soul Skinner takes on more human form. ‘So much pain and anguish inside us all, no? How do we survive it all? Simple…we don’t’ he declares, standing over Omega Red, the motionless townspeople behind them.
As the Soul Skinner laments on a life gone terrible wrong, a new crop comes to harvest - a feast for the table - for aboard the incoming Blackbird jet are the X-Men - a family of mutants who strive to co-exist with humanity in peace and prosperity - a dream - a mission with a heavy price to pay. Inside the jet are six members of the team - Logan a.k.a. Wolverine, Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock, Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman, Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin, and Jubilation Lee, better known as Jubilee. Accompanying them is Colonel Alexi Vhazin.
‘Are you certain there is mutant activity in Neftelensk’ Colossus asks Vazhin. ‘Positive’ the Colonel replies, adding that the target was the subject of an ongoing Flagwatch. ‘Flagwatch? What does that mean?’ Cyclops asks as he pilots the jet. ‘Trade talk, Cyke’ Wolverine announces, cigarette smoke escaping from his mouth. Logan continues, explaining that it is a long-term civilian plant - a mole sent to watch for any potential threats to the stability of the government. Psylocke glances back at Vazhin, who stands in a suit of armor, holding the helmet in his hand, and exclaims ‘Colonel, you said this mutant has been under review for over fourteen years?’. ‘That is correct, Ms Braddock’ Alexi replies, explaining that they lost contact a month ago, and they don’t know why or how.
Cyclops declares that there is another mystery: ‘If this individual is a mutant - why isn’t he registering on our Cerebro scanners?’. ‘For the same reason our mutant operatives Alexi Garnoff and Laynia Petrovna, both of whom have been in Neftelensk for days, do not’ Vazhin replies. Alexi explains that this target-mutant appears to generate an electromagnetic mask, imperceptible to any of their methods of detection. Iceman moves forward and exclaims ‘Wait a sex - did you say Laynia? And Father Garnoff? We know them both!’. ‘I know, Mr Drake’ Vazhin replies. ‘Just as you knew we would forsake a peaceful visit with my family to do as you asked, Vazhin?’ Colossus asks.
‘We are what we are’ Vazhin replies, not looking at Colossus. ‘Indeed. And what are we but pawns in an endless game - between those who have the power and those who crave it?’ Colossus asks. Cyclops tells his teammate that there is no more time for philosophy, as they have arrived. Cyclops tells Colossus, Iceman and Psylocke to clear a safe landing zone for them. The three X-Men are on th5e ground moments later, and clear some space for the Blackbird to land. ‘I would imagine that a safe entry way into the town should prove to be the least of our problems’ Betsy remarks, motioning to the townspeople who aren’t moving.
Bobby exclaims that this is really weird, and tells Betsy to contact Cyclops telepathically. Psylocke does as suggested, informing Scott that the citizens of the town appear to be in some sort of vegetative state. Cyclops asks Psylocke if she can scan their minds, to which Betsy replies that there is nothing to scan, as their minds all read as blank states. Cyclops informs the trio to scout ahead while he and the others follow. ‘Be careful!’ he exclaims.
Soon, Wolverine, Cyclops, Jubilee and Colonel Vazhin are making their way through the silent town. ‘Remarkable! It is as if the minds of everyone in this entire town had been simply erased! It’s indicative of a telepath of monumental abilities!’ Vazhin exclaims. ‘Between your psyche-shielded armor, Vazhin, and the mental disciplines Professor Xavier instilled in us, we should be all right’ Cyclops announces. Wolverine points out that it didn’t help Garnoff though, and that he was a heavy-hitting telepath. Always breaking the good news, eh, Wolvie?’ Jubilee remarks, to which Wolverine tells her to be quiet.
Nearby, Betsy tells Colossus that Scott and the others are coming, that she can sense them. Colossus remarks that Bobby has gone on ahead in search of Darkstar. ‘It would appear at one point, he had very strong feelings towards her. Perhaps we should join him?’. Moments later, Piotr and Betsy run towards Bobby, who is standing next to Laynia “Darkstar” Petrovna and Father Alexi Garnoff, sometimes known as Blind Faith. ‘Iceman…Bobby, are you all right?’ Colossus calls out. ‘What is it? Are they the ones you know?’ Betsy asks him.
‘Yeah, it’s Garnoff and Laynia…as blanked out as everyone else in this place!’ Bobby exclaims as he looks at Darkstar, concerned. ‘At least they’re still alive - sort of’ Bobby remarks, before Scott, Logan, Jubilee and Vazhin arrive. ‘This isn’t good, people!’ Cyclops exclaims. ‘Between the fact that Garnoff is a very powerful telepath - and that we’re completely scanner-blind right now, whoever is behind all this could be standing right in front of us and we wouldn’t know it!’ Scott adds.
‘How perceptive, Cyclops’ a voice exclaims. ‘No! Not now!’ Vazhin exclaims, recognizing the voice, as he and Jubilee both find themselves ensnared by carbonadium coils. ‘Uh-oh - these coils? Wolvie!’ Jubilee shouts. Logan, Cyclops, Betsy and Colossus all turn to see Omega Red pulling Jubilee and Vazhin towards him. ‘Wha -? Arkady! Let her go, Russkie - now!’ Wolverine exclaims, releasing his adamantium claws. ‘I would if I were not but shards of the man you once knew, Logan!’ Omega Red replies. ‘Torn asunder in mind and spirit - who challenges you now to do the same to flesh and bone - as I will reciprocate in kind!’
At that moment, in Red Square, Moscow, where desperate games of chance are played. The prize? The soul of a far-off village in distant Siberia - Neftelensk. Several people are gathered in a room - one standing in the shadows, while Colonel-General Fydor Shelkov exclaims ‘That is the situation as it now stands - which, as we all agree, is unacceptable’. A bald man asks Shelkovv if he is certain that this is the last remaining course of action left to them. ‘I would not propose it, were it not, Gevhersky’ Shelkov replies. ‘In theory, the process should work. But we have never tried it on a human subject’ Gevhersky points out.
‘As uncomfortable as the thought is, we have little choice, don’t we?’ Shelkov exclaims. ‘You realize that in application, Redflag #133 might be killed’ Shelkov replies that he is not inhuman, but if sacrificing the Redflag is their only hope of stopping the Neftelensk incident from expanding - to which he declares it will expand if unchecked - then so be it. The mysterious man standing in the shadows steps forward: ‘Even if it costs me the service of Omega Red?, Fydor?’ he asks. ‘Fydor smirks as he lights another cigar: ‘Especially if it costs you that, my dear Matsu’o…’ he replies.
Meanwhile, at the garden entranceway to the Nyoirin ancestral home in the suburban prefecture of Kanagawa, outside of Tokyo. Bodies lay strewn around the garden, while two figures stand amongst them - one, a man in a suit with a long jacket, the other a scantily-clad woman with thigh-high purple boots. ‘A very unnecessary display, Kwannon’ the man tells the woman in his native Japanese. ‘So many lives wasted, and all for the sake of proving your point’. ‘How else was I to show you I am prepared to regain my rightful place as your elite assassin, my lord - than by eliminating your honor guard?’ Kwannon replies. ‘Very well, Kwannon. Fight against the spirit of your namesake, as you always have - show no mercy to any and all’ the man exclaims, adding that Kwannon knows the one act she must perform in order to truly regain her former place. ‘Do you not?’ he asks. ‘Indeed, Lord Nyoirin - I must eliminate my other self. The X-Man called Psylocke must die!’ Kwannon exclaims.
Back in Neftelensk, cold winds from all directions buffet this small Siberian town - a cold wind that cuts to the bone, to the very soul - as two men linked by fate - and more - by hatred - find themselves once more in battle. ’You’re going down, Arkady!’ Wolverine exclaims as he and Omega Red battle. Psylocke approaches Omega Red from behind, while Cyclops shouts ‘Wolverine, stop!’, explaining that is not Omega Red, that he is being controlled by whatever force has co-opted this town. ‘For Janice - for everything you’ve done to me and mine - you’re gonna die!’ Logan snarls. ‘Agreed, Scott’ Betsy declares. ‘Which only means we have to take him out as quickly as possible’ - and with that, Psylocke shoves a psi-knife through Omega Red’s brain.
Omega Red turns around and wraps Psylocke in his carbonadium coils: ‘No. How can this be?’ Betsy whispers. ‘What’s this? Surprised your psychic-knife found nothing to cut?’ the possessed Omega Red asks. ‘Or are you disappointed there’s no mind left to slice open?’ he asks, knocking her to the ground, before Iceman slides down on an ice-sled and grabs Betsy. ‘I got you!’ he exclaims. ‘And I have you, man of ice! Within my sites, within range of my death-spore virus!’ Omega Red exclaims as he lashes out at Iceman and Psylocke. ‘Die slowly, mutants. Let me revel in your lingering agony - to offset the suffering I endured watch the loss of what was once mine!’ Bobby and Betsy fall to the ground.
Cyclops tells Wolverine that they must stay out of range of Omega Red’s pheromone release, but Wolverine exclaims that Omega Red has got Jubilee. ‘And I still got my healing factor to counter-act his virus - and that’s all I’ll need to take him down!’ Logan exclaims as he lunges towards Omega Red. Cyclops calls out to him, telling him get back and think this through. ‘I can take him out with an optic blast. Just -’ Scott begins. ‘No, Americaner’ the Soul Skinner declares as he appears behind Cyclops. ‘That would be counter-productive’ he exclaims. Scott keels over: ‘Mo - stay out of my MIND!’ he exclaims.
The Soul Skinner grins as images flash through his mind. ‘Oh, and I can see why you would want me out, Scott Summers!’ the villain grins. ‘You’re a veritable treasure chest of anguish! Show me your pain, Scott - let me see if it matches mine!’ the Soul Skinner exclaims as he watches a young Scott Summers and his brother Alex plummet to the ground with only one parachute between them. ‘You are a mutant, Scott - gifted with incredible powers - and I will show you how to use these abilities for the benefit of mankind!’ the Soul Skinner declares. ‘But what about me? When do I do something for the benefit of myself?’
An image of Scott’s son, Nathan Christopher Summers appears - then one of a baby with Stryfe’s helmet on. ‘Nathan Christopher - my child - there was so much I wanted to say - before I lost you!’. ‘Daddy! Daddy - why did you leave me? Because YOUR daddy left you? To succeed as a mutant - does a Summers have to fail as a human? NO! A child? A baby - you lost - like me!’ the Soul Skinner declares, while Cyclops falls to the ground. ‘This one - hurt me!’ the Soul Skinner declares. ‘I didn’t think it possible. His mind - so guarded - so tortured - how does he live with the guilt?’. ‘We all live with guilt’ Omega Red replies.
‘Hmmph. The others?’ the Soul Skinner asks. ‘Here’ Omega Red tells him, holding Wolverine and Jubilee. ‘What about the one from State Security and the metallic one?’ the Soul Skinner asks. Omega Red drops Wolverine and Jubilee to the ground as he replies that his spores could not affect either. ‘They retreated when they say the battle was futile’. But the Soul Skinner exclaims that after “skinning” Cyclops, he now knows their kind. ‘They will not abandon hope so easily - certainly not as easily as I’ he declares. The Soul Skinner tells Omega Red that they must find the others before they discover a way to destroy the refuge that he has sought to craft here. ‘Before they find my only weakness…’.
Nearby, Colossus tells Colonel Vazhin that running away is not in his nature. ‘Survival is mine Vazhin replies, pointing out that they were not going to win there, so at least this gives them gain a respite to plan a strategy. ‘Hold -’ he suddenly, exclaims, both men coming to a stop. ‘What is it?’ Piotr asks. Vazhin replies that his heat-imaging sensors just spiked, and pointing to a wooden building declares that there is a large cluster of people inside. ‘Then let us see who else would pose a threat to our safety and that of this town!’ Colossus exclaims as he smashes through the building - only to discover children huddled inside.
Colossus powers-down from his armoured form and tells Vazhin that the children are frightened, which can only mean they are not under the madman’s control. Colossus hopes they will be less frightened of him in his human form, and suggests that Vazhin remove his helmet at least. ‘Your attitude towards me is unwarranted’ Alexi replies. ‘Is it? For years your kind have manipulated me and my loved ones. If not for pathetic games of power such as this, my brother might still be alive’ Colossus replies. ‘Is that reason enough for my “attitude”?’ he asks. Vazhin sighs, ‘Very well’ he mutters, before removing his helmet, before lighting a cigarette and remarking that it is odd, and disturbing, that only these children, of everyone in the town, seem to be immune towards the Skinner’s mutagenic abilities.
Colossus stands by the children and asks Vazhin why he finds that disturbing. ‘This can only mean the Soul Skinner’s power is not absolute!’ Piotr declares. ‘You don’t understand, X-Man! This means the Redflag will not be affected, either’ Vazhin replies. He adds that the scenario is quite specific. ‘If we were to fail, then the Neftelensk incursion is to be destroyed’. ‘Destroyed? But how do you accomplish that without destroying the entire village?’ Colossus asks. ‘We use Red Flag #133...forgive me, Piotr Nikoleivitch. God forgive me’ Vazhin exclaims, hanging his head.
At that moment, the hush of the night over the Ust-Ordynski farm collective is disrupted by something even quieter than the night - the stillness of impending doom! A shuttlecraft lands, and several armored men emerge - and bust into the house nearby, where Nicolai Anderson - Colossus’ father - is sitting on a sofa reading. He looks up. ‘Eh- who is -’ he begins, before the armored figures open fire. ‘Nicolai? Did you drop some - oh no…’ Alexandra Rasputin calls out to her husband - but as she sees the men with their massive weapons, she turns and runs: ‘Please - no -’ she whispers, before screaming out to her daughter: ‘ILLYANA -!’ but the men ignore her cries and unleash fire on Colossus’ mother.
The men - wearing the same armor as Colonel Vazhin - enter Illyana’s bedroom, where she is huddled under blankets. ‘Illyana, child - it is best you come with us!’ one of them exclaims, grabbing her. ‘Best for you. Best for the pour souls of Neftelensk. Best for humanity!’
Back in Neftelensk, Colossus asks Vazhin what he means. ‘You mentioned a red flag - a mutant you have kept watch over for a long period of time, correct?’ Piotr asks, adding ‘Short of a thermo-nuclear detonation - what kind of a mutant do you plan to use against this mind-raper? Tell me, Vazhin!’ The Colonel tells Colossus that he will tell him everything, and reveals that their scientists have been experimenting with teleportation and warp technologies. ‘Since your brother Mikhail first manifested his warp abilities years ago. It was decided then to keep a close watch on his siblings, should similar powers develop’ he explains, revealing that such powers did manifest in Red Flag #133 - in an odd way - when she was older than she is now.
‘My sister? You plan to use Illyana? But she is a child - her powers will not manifest themselves again for years!’ Colossus exclaims, grabbing Vazhin. ‘I - I know - but there is a genetic acceleration process we have been developing - it could successfully evolve her towards adolescence again - enabling the child to access her warping powers -’ Vazhin begins. ’OR?’ Colossus demands. ’Or it could very well kill her!’ Vazhin reveals….