Three minutes until three in the morning in Our Mother of Mercy Hospital. The locals in New York City’s South Bronx call it “No Mercy” due to the fact it resides in one of New York’s most impoverished areas, where crime and violence run rampant.
The hospital’s receptionist, together with Dr. Cecilia Reyes, a male and a female nurse and a patient in wheelchair are watching the news. The newscaster recaps what might be the top story of the year: the outlaw mutants known as the X-Men have been apprehended by the multinational task force named Operation: Zero Tolerance. It was only hours ago, at approximately 7 P.M., EST, that CBNC broadcast exclusive live footage of the dramatic capture. These events have been in a celebratory mood, for the threat of Homo superior has in recent years come to be symbolized by the X-Men, who until this day have remained outside the reach of normal peacekeeping authorities. Still, with a paramilitary organization operating within United States borders, some are beginning to wonder: are their worst fears being put to rest or is this the beginning of a crisis far worse? The anchorman urges the audience to stay tuned for reactions on these and other late-breaking stories.
“I got a reaction for you, right here!” the patient in the wheelchair exclaims. The male nurse agrees on that with a grin. The receptionist raises her cup and proposes a toast: to Operation: Zero Tolerance, making the streets safe from these super-powered freaks. The female nurse, Lilly, mumbles that – finally – they get to see some of their tax dollars at work. Cheers, Cecilia responds to that, with a disgruntled face. Lilly remarks she doesn’t seem very happy. “I don’t, Lilly?” Cecilia mutters and assures her she is – it’s about time the X-Men, all mutants, got what they deserve. “And may God help us all,” she adds in a lower voice.
Suddenly, three male nurses enter the reception, carrying a wounded, unconscious man on a stretcher. Furious, Cecilia asks them why they didn’t radio this en route. The nurses insist they did; d-didn’t she get the…? “Later!” Cecilia replies brusquely. As she puts an oxygen mask on the patient’s face, she asks the men what they are looking at. One of them provides all the necessary details: the patient is a male in his mid-twenties; he has multiple stab wounds, severed femoral artery and pneumothorax. His pulse is weak and his blood pressure is dropping.
As Cecilia and the nurses carry the man in the operating room, the former exclaims that she lost the pulse. “Defibrillator, stat!” She tells them to prepare the O.R. “So much for safer streets,” Lilly remarks. She ironically admits there’s something comforting about knowing plain old humans can still inflict this kind of damage on their own.
Cecilia retorts she doesn’t care who caused this damage – or how, why or where. Her goal is to keep the patient alive. Now holding the defibrillator, she asks Lilly to give her 200 joules. “Clear!” the doctor shouts as the electrical energy is released on the patient’s heart. Lilly informs her he’s still in D-Fib. Cecilia asks her to give her 360. As more energy is released on the man’s heart, Cecilia urges him to live: no one dies in her shift! However, after a three-year residency at the hospital that often seems to be no more than a way station between the here and the hereafter, she can recognize a loss when she sees it.
Cecilia asks for the time: it’s 3:02 a.m. She asks if anyone knows the man’s name. One of the men informs her it’s “Gwynn, Lance C.” It’s official, then: Gwynn, Lance C. died at 3:02 a.m. and Cecilia couldn’t do a thing about it. Lilly tells her she’s being too hard on herself, as usual, and informs her she’ll start the paperwork.
As they are all about to exit the operating theater, they hear a voice behind them: “Just like that…?” Astounded, they all turn around only to see the dead man rising from the surgery table, his eyes now bearing an inhuman glow. “He… he’s alive?” Cecilia gasps. Gwynn explains he’s much more than “alive.” He is one of the many Sentinel Prime units programmed to accomplish the goals set forth by Operation: Zero Tolerance. He and others like him have been equipped with the technology to make them more than equal to the task of ridding the world of Homo superior once and for all.
Aghast, Lilly exclaims he’s flesh and blood. She took his pulse herself. She asks him what he is. The Prime Sentinel replies he is their salvation… their last hope… against the mutant that walks among them! Saying this, he unleashes energy blasts from his hands, aimed specifically at Dr. Reyes. Lilly screams at her to watch out. Cecilia dives to the floor, sheltered behind the door of the operating room, urging Lilly to get everyone out of here… now!
For years, Cecilia’s lived in fear of this moment, when her deepest, darkest secret would be cast into the open. When everything she’s worked for, sacrificed for and suffered for would be lost. Lying on the floor next to the door, with her eyes closed, she starts thinking “Please, God, please… don’t let this be happening!” Unfortunately for her, it is, as the Prime Sentinel rips the operating room door apart as if it were a sheet of paper and informs Cecilia that she has been identified as a genetic anomaly and as such, she is officially declared a threat to the continued existence of the human race: she must be eliminated. In despair, Cecilia mumbles she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Prime Sentinel insists she doesn’t need to know – she only needs to die! With its hand in front of her face, the Sentinel is about to release the deathblow. Cecilia knew that one day her entire life would come to an end…
…but it is not this day. As the Prime Sentinel blasts her, it finds itself repelled by some sort of protective shield manifesting around Cecilia’s body. The technical term for this shield is “a psioplasmic bio-field.” Extending six inches from any point of her body, it is triggered by the impact of any outside force, be it tactile, projectile, energy-based or psionic. But the field comes with a cost: whenever her power manifests, Cecilia can feel it burning in her guts as much as it did the first time it manifested.
Suddenly, one of the nurses that brought Gwynn to the hospital is also revealed as a Prime Sentinel. Grabbing Lilly from behind, he states that the mutant has secreted herself among these humans for some time, apparently. It is time to see if she’s developed any emotions for those she’s deceived! Lilly is shocked to hear Dr. Reyes is a mutant and swears she didn’t know!
Another nurse is revealed as a Sentinel and advises Cecilia to avert any further violence. It will be only a matter of time before their internal circuitry calibrates a countermeasure to her force field. All she needs do is to give up. Cecilia replies that she can’t give up. “Very well, then,” the Sentinel pronounces and initiates its assault against Cecilia. As Cecilia finds herself under a cataclysm of blasts – her bio-field manifesting automatically at whichever point she is struck – she realizes that the Sentinel took what she said wrong. She didn’t mean she won’t give up. She meant she couldn’t turn off her power even if she wanted to. She can feel each blast anyway and it’s getting worse by the moment. She can feel it giving…
Suddenly though, the Sentinels are inexplicably ensnared in towering columns of ice. Cecilia can’t understand where they came from. “From me, actually,” a voice behind her is heard. It’s Bobby Drake! Bobby tells her she can call him Iceman; he’s one of the X-Men and he’s here to rescue her. Furious, Cecilia grabs the medical tray from the floor and hits him in the face with it. Rescue her, he says? He’s ruined her! He’s ruined her whole life! She asks him what he’s doing here. He promised her he’d keep her secret. He promised! As Cecilia is about to punch Bobby, he assures her he’s unclear on exactly who “he” is and what he promised but… Cecilia cuts him short, clarifying she refers to his leader, the one who created the X-Men. About three years ago, he approached her and asked to join his little school for mutants. She told him “no” and he promised her he’d keep her out of this kind of insanity!
One of the Sentinels remarks this insanity is of her own creation and again unleashes its blasts against Dr. Reyes. Cecilia screams and confesses that this pain is getting worse. Astounded, Bobby asks her if she can actually feel the blasts through her force field. Cecilia confirms that; can’t all mutants? “How should I know?” Bobby replies. It’s not like they all belong to the same club!
The Sentinels retort they all belong to the same aberrant species: Homo superior. Over the past several decades, more and more of their kind have corrupted the gene pool but that ends here… tonight! As the three Sentinels initiate a relentless barrage of blasts against Iceman and Cecilia, the former cheerfully remarks that one would think that after their boss Bastion spent all this money on overhauling Sentinels, he would have shelled out a few extra bucks to pay for some new dialogue! As Bobby generates an ice shield, he advises Cecilia to stay behind it. Cecilia, however, notes it’s pretty much useless. Indeed, the Sentinels’ blasts break through the shield, shattering it.
The Sentinels approach even closer, one of them remarking that the mutants are now without defenses. Bobby wonders how that could have happened. Cecilia realizes he’s being sarcastic… right? Very, Iceman’s reply is. He explains he needed time to clear the room of innocent people so he could do this! In an instant, he encases everything but themselves in a block of ice!
Now safe from their assailants, Iceman asks Cecilia what’s going to be – is she going to trust him or no? No, Cecilia replies. “Well, too bad!” Iceman exclaims as he grabs her and starts generating an ice-tramp. He explains his job is keeping her alive. As a doctor, he’s sure she can appreciate that. She can thank him later – right now, they’re headed to the sub-basement! Cecilia exclaims that this hospital doesn’t have a sub-basement. Bobby, however, directs his ice-tramp through a huge, ice-covered crater-like hole on the hospital’s floor.
As Bobby directs his tramp downwards through the crater, Cecilia pulls away from him and finds herself in freefall. In the past, whenever her life was in “freefall,” the only way she succeeded was by staying calm, centered, focused – and this time is no different. As she keeps freefalling, she finally grabs onto a column of ice – courtesy of Bobby – and slides downwards. Cecilia tells him he did that on purpose. “You asking me?” Iceman replies. Her response is negative. Bobby admits he did it on purpose. He had to know her capabilities. He wouldn’t have let her fall.
Moments later, standing in some tunnels underneath the hospital, Cecilia just pronounces “six”. “Six what?” Bobby asks. Cecilia explains she was six years old, holding her father in her arms as he bled to death on the sidewalk. There was nothing she could do. But she promised herself – and him – that the day would come that she could do something.
That same night, she fell asleep reading her brother’s science textbook. Maybe it was just a devastated child’s way of dealing with a tragedy she couldn’t understand but from that day on, she knew she wanted to become a doctor and help people. She’s spent every waking moment of her life since then working to become a doctor – or rather, working to become the best doctor she was capable of becoming. Nineteen years of her life – everything she ever wanted, every sacrifice she ever made – are gone in one night! Gone because Bobby and his holier-than-thou friends had to play their self-fulfilling war games with other people’s lives! Bobby assures her he knows what it’s like to lose a dream. Cecilia retorts that dreams are for people that sleep! This wasn’t a “dream” she was living – it was her life. And now it’s gone.
Bobby reminds her she’s seen the news about Operation: Zero Tolerance, about what they’re doing to mutants – innocent bystanders like her and the other people in the E.R. –, how they have support in a number of countries around the world. Cecilia insists that their founder, Professor Xavier, promised her she wouldn’t have to get involved with this. Bobby is sure he meant that promise at the time. He explains to her that what’s here today is bigger than Xavier or the X-Men. It’s bigger even than just mutants. If this madness isn’t stopped soon, it’ll spread until the whole planet’s engaged in a full-scale genetic war. The only way they’re going to get through this is by standing together. He’s not saying he can give her today back. But working together, they can make it until tomorrow; then figure things out when they get there.
Cecilia replies that, if he wants her to trust him, she wants full disclosure. “Deal,” Bobby accepts. “Who are you?” she asks him. “Icema…” Cecilia interrupts him, repeating the same question: “Who are you?” Iceman reveals his name as Bobby Drake, one of the first X-Men ever; still the cutest! When she asks him how he knew where to find her, Bobby explains that, in the event particular files were compromised, he was assigned the job of protecting her life. Cecilia remarks that, from where she’s standing, he’s failed… miserably. Bobby reminds her she’s alive… isn’t she?
As they start walking in the tunnels, Bobby confides in her that he’s not really the leader type. “Gosh, who would have guessed?” Cecilia replies. Bobby realizes she’s being sarcastic, right? Very, she assures him and asks him where in the blazes they are. These tunnels must be hundreds of feet underground and they look like they could go on for miles. Iceman assures her they do. The Morlocks used to live there. “Morlocks?” Cecilia says. Bobby assures her it’s a long story.
At that moment, in an installation in New Mexico…
Some years ago, this United States military installation was known as the Hulkbuster Base, a technological marvel dedicated to the task of capturing and studying the most destructive being on the planet. A monster easily discernible from normal humans… the Hulk. Currently, the site is on loan to Operation: Zero Tolerance, an organization that claims to be combating far more insidious “monsters” disguised as men. For months, it has been prison to one such “monster” – a man renowned as the world’s foremost expert on genetic mutation, who has long guarded the secret that he himself is a mutant: Professor Charles Xavier.
A guard leads Xavier into a penumbral room. Xavier asks him why he brought him there. The attendant offers no answer as he departs. For several moments, Charles sits – not quite alone. “What do you want, Bastion?” he suddenly asks aloud. Bastion, the leader of the Operation: Zero Tolerance, appears, asking Xavier if he sensed he was here. Was it intuition or could it be that Xavier’s telepathic powers are returning after his encounter with Onslaught? Charles retorts that Bastion knows he can’t access his telepathic abilities; otherwise, he would never have allowed Bastion to strike down his former students the way he has. Perhaps, Bastion replies – but what does Charles say to a final, fatal test?
Bastion presents him with a holographic image of the five captive X-Men: Storm, Cannonball, Cyclops, Wolverine and Phoenix, their powers negated thanks to special devices. It is a sight that breaks Xavier’s heart. Horrified, he asks Bastion what he has done. Bastion explains he’s learned his most tightly held secrets – and he is far from done. Charles thinks that they are all captive here this day because of him. Because they believed in him and what the X-Men stood for – namely, that human and mutantkind could one day live side by side. It is a belief that may just kill them yet.