Ruth Bat-Seraph has a vague recollection of meeting the X-Men once… a very long time ago. But to say she knows them – to say she genuinely cares about them – would be a lie. So why is she risking everything in order to help the outlaw mutants who have been targeted by the multinational pro-human task force known as Operation: Zero Tolerance? Because the truth of the matter is she lost everything that mattered to her several years ago in a terrorist bombing. Since that day, everything else has been little more than a distraction to keep her mind off the memory of her dead son, Jacob.
Still, bitter memories alone were not enough to bring Special Agent Bat-Seraph to her desk here at the headquarters of Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks: the Mossad. The information, the classified data she is desperately trying to hoax from her government’s files is the type of secret that men and women die for. Not that she has any attention of dying. Not tonight. Not if she has any say on the matter.
It has never ceased to amaze her how quickly a person’s entire world changes. The moment her son died, it was as if the sun stopped shining, the world stopped spinning and every hope, every dream she’d ever had was hurled into the empty void of an uncaring, unyielding universe. Something similar happened only hours ago. Similar but different. When world came from the United States – that the X-Men had been shot down and remanded into the custody of the man only known as Bastion and his Operation: Zero Tolerance – she, and a lot of other people, realized that the international landscape was on the verge of being altered forever.
Up until that moment, the so-called “war” between Homo sapiens and Homo superior had been only a shadow on the horizon – one, which admittedly, would occasionally erupt into a violent storm. But Bastion changed all that. In essence, he drew a line in the sand. A line which might very well cast the world into an all-out genetic war.
Sitting in front of the computer of her office desk, Ruth – also known as Sabra – watches as the download of the files progresses. Much to her nervousness, the download will be complete in two minutes: that’s two more minutes than she has. “Curse you, Charles Xavier… What have you gotten us all into this time?” she thinks.
Suddenly, two men knock on the door. “Sochenet Bat-Seraph?” one of them asks aloud. Ruth tells them to enter just as the download is complete and she quickly gets the disc out. The men open the door and inform her she’s wanted down at security operations – immediately. Sabra leaves with them right away: they don’t want to keep the M’phakelet waiting. As they walk in the corridor, Sabra notices that these two are working late. “Yes,” one of them simply says. She asks them whether they know if this has to do with what’s happening in the States, to which one of the agents responds negatively. Sabra and the men enter the elevator.
A car waits for them outside the building. A woman is sitting on the driver’s seat. She tells Sabra it’s an honor to meet her: she never thought she’d meet one of their rumored “super-agents.” Sabra is about to thank her, but one of the male agents cuts her in mid-sentence and brusquely orders his female colleague to drive. Ruth sits in the back seat, sandwiched between the two male agents.
As the car starts driving, one of the men grabs Sabra’s wrist and asks her to give them the disc. Sabra defiantly states that’s not going to happen. The man advises her not to attempt to deny she has stolen classified information. Sabra corrects him: she did not deny it. She only said she will not be turning the disc over to him. The other male agent pulls out a gun and points it at her, telling her they have long suspected she has had contact with an underground network of mutant sympathizers. The recent situation in America has at last allowed them the opportunity to deal with her conflicted loyalties regarding the human race and its genetically divergent cousins.
The woman on the driver’s seat suddenly turns to face them: she has been transformed into a Prime Sentinel, her eyes sporting an unnatural glow. She orders the men to stop “yutzing” around back there and kill her! They’ve been authorized to correct this crisis with extreme prejudice. With a smile, Sabra remarks that, if that is how they wish to handle the situation, it will not be a problem for her to accommodate them! Without warning, Sabra delivers a superhuman kick against the female Sentinel, sending her crashing out of the windscreen!
The two male agents undergo the same transformation with their female colleague. As Sabra starts fighting them, she realizes they’re Sentinels: she has read all the intelligence reports concerning these synthetic mutant-hunting atrocities but she never dreamed she’d encounter one – especially not in a country many of them see as a haven against intolerance. “Prime Unit One, reporting,” one of the Sentinels pronounces. It goes on to report that mutant designate: “Sabra” is engaging in self-defense mode. The Sentinel perceives the threat she poses to the remaining units to be negligible: they can compensate for her super-human strength. Compliance is strongly suggested, as flight is not an option – Sabra doesn’t wear her anti-gravity cape.
“Who said anything about flying?” Sabra exclaims. Instead, she finds another way to escape: with her superhuman strength, she pummels through the floor of the car and grabs hold of the ground below by thrusting her nails deep on the tarmac. The driverless car, still going, is almost ripped in two halves around her invulnerable, immovable body that is persistently fixed to the ground. The car is hurled on the air, Sabra now being free. She watches as the car crashes down nearby… and explodes.
Ruth always feared this day would come. What she has too often seen in her native land is now spreading like a global cancer. She lost her Jacob to the mindless bigotry of others and when that happened, she swore she’d do everything in her power to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. She must make certain this information gleaned from her government’s files gets to those who call themselves the X-Men!
Half a world away…
It is nighttime in the streets of Soho, in lower Manhattan. There was a time, not long ago, that this eight block area was nothing but long-derelict warehouses. It has changed in recent years. No matter what time of day or night is, the sidewalks are filled to overflowing with artists and buyers, partygoers and bargain-hunters, local residents and – occasionally – mutants. In this case, the two mutants walking in the streets of Soho are Dr. Cecilia Reyes and Bobby Drake, the X-Man known as Iceman.
In a low voice, Cecilia mumbles this is crazy. The Sentinels that attacked her can alter their forms. They could be anyone… anywhere. She doesn’t see how dressing up as a couple of yuppies spending a night on the town is going to help. Still, there they are, standing in a crowd. She asks Bobby how often he has done this. Once, Bobby replies. “Once before this?” Cecilia asks. No, Bobby clarifies: once as in now. He suddenly grabs Cecilia’s arm and asks her to kiss him! “Excuse me?” she exclaims in surprise. Still, she complies. It has been three years since her last date… four and a half since her last kiss. That is only part of the price she’s paid for her single-minded pursuit of a lifelong dream to become a doctor. Under different circumstances, she might even enjoy this. But she is on the run for her life – what’s left of it.
“Y’m not mookin’at me… ar’ you?” Cecilia mumbles while still kissing Iceman. Bobby breaks their kiss and thanks her: she did good work. He then asks her to repeat what she said. Cecilia explains what she said “you’re not looking at me, are you?” Bobby replies that he wasn’t. He was checking out the penthouse loft across the street. They kissed precisely because he was trying not to call attention to it. A friend of his lives there – someone who can help them. Cecilia is surprised that Bobby’s friend lives here in Soho. Bobby sarcastically asks her if she thought all mutants live in one big closet somewhere. “Just the smart ones,” Cecilia’s venomous response is. Bobby asks her what that’s supposed to mean. Cecilia clarifies that it’s supposed to mean she was never asked to be born with freakish abilities. She spent her entire life not wanting to get involved in all of this mutant freedom-fighter garbage and now, here she is – knee deep and the water is rising.
Unbeknownst to both of them, hidden in the sewers, the mutant terrorist known as Marrow observes them. Hearing Cecilia’s remark, she tells herself that sometimes life doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.
Meanwhile, Bobby mumbles that this alleyway is dark enough that they should be able to… Cecilia interrupts him, asking him if he’s even listening to her. No, Bobby replies. Cecilia advises him not to bother starting: she’s leaving. Bobby appreciates her being upset after those Sentinels trashed her emergency room but she needs to think like the brilliant person she is. Right now, they need a place that’s safe until they can figure out what to do. With their headquarters at the Xavier Institute co-opted by Bastion, their only local option is his bud’s place – and even that’s risky, because they don’t know who or what Operation: Zero Tolerance is or how much they know about all of them. Cecilia replies that’s exactly why she is not going with him. Bobby tells her he can respect that, so she’s welcome to leave any time she’d like. As he says this, though, he uses his powers to create an ice-lift that rises several feet in the air!
Surprised, Cecilia asks him if there is a reason for doing this. Iceman will explain if she promises not to tell anyone. “Who am I going to tell?” Cecilia exclaims. With a smile, Bobby admits he can never remember where Warren keeps his spare keys! With his impromptu “lift” stopped just outside Warren’s apartment, Bobby opens the window to enter his friend’s place, while ironically telling Cecilia to watch her step when she leaves. Cecilia admits she doesn’t like Bobby very much. “Me and the rest of the human race, apparently,” Bobby comments on her misanthropy.
“Yo… Warren? Betts? Anybody here?” Bobby starts yelling after entering the apartment through the window. “Warren?” Cecilia exclaims. Bobby clarifies he refers to Warren Worthington the Third… the mutant known as Archangel… high-profile… public figure… wealthy family. Cecilia wonders why it is so hard for him to understand there are some people not interested in all things mutant. Some people actually have real lives! Bobby tells her to shush. “Who’re you telling to sshushh?” a furious Cecilia exclaims. She’s a doctor, not some wide-eyed school girl! Bobby agrees and tells her to shut up or duck! She just has to get out of the way! Bobby had paused as soon as he heard a suspicious rustle in the apartment and now uses his powers to attack the mysterious person hiding in the shadows.
A frightened young woman appears, carrying a lamp as a self-defense weapon, her hands now covered in ice due to Iceman’s attack. The woman admits she’s c-c-cold! Cecilia tells Iceman to chill! She tends to the woman and ironically applauds Bobby’s “nice work.” Another moment and the woman would have hypothermia in both arms. Confused, Bobby asks the woman who she is. She introduces herself as Angie Quail. She’s house-sitting for Warren. She’s Candy Southern’s old roommate. They are not going to kill her, are they? Cecilia reassures the frightened woman she’s not.
At a military installation once called the Hulkbuster Base, which has since become the nerve center for Operation: Zero Tolerance, Professor Xavier, a man who has dedicated his life to fighting for peace between the species wonders for the thousandth time how his dreams have come to this. However, his meditations are interrupted by Bastion’s entrance in his cell. Bastion hopes he’s not intruding. If Xavier is otherwise occupied, he could return at a more convenient time.
Furious, Xavier asks him where his students are; what has he done with them? Bastion teases him to find out for himself; utilize the secret he’s hidden from the world and use his telepathic power to reach into his mind; annihilate his consciousness as he did to his friend, Erik! As Xavier can see, all the mysteries concealed at his precious institute are slowly being laid bare for Bastion. He knows what Charles was forced to do to the butcher Magneto. And what of his Xavier Protocols – a rather overzealous contingency plan for dealing with mutants out of control? They haven’t decrypted them yet – Bastion admits that the code is nearly unfathomable – but they will. And when that occurs… well, he will have won. So why not Xavier deal with Bastion now?
Charles knows that’s what Bastion wants. Bastion asks him what he’s talking about. Charles knows he’s baiting him so that he might reveal to his that he’s lying; that he never actually lost his mutant abilities after Onslaught. But Xavier’s been watching Bastion. The villain is curious to know what brilliant observations he’s made. Xavier explains that he’s come to the conclusion Bastion wants him to get his powers back because he wants Xavier to stop him. There’s part of his that knows that what he’s doing is wrong. Bastion wants to be stopped… because he can’t stop himself.
Xavier insists that, since Bastion’s managed to retrieve much of the data contained at his school, he probably knows what the X-Men know about him; namely, that he’s invisible to psi-scans. To Charles, that means one thing: he’s not quite human. “How… dare… you?” an exasperated Bastion exclaims. He’s far more human than Xavier! He lives to protect humanity! Bastion admits Xavier sickens him; obviously, his months of solitude have unhinged him. Charles insists he’s sane enough to know this, though: in a war between man and mutantkind, no one wins.
New York City, Archangel’s apartment
Bobby is on the phone, calling Muir Island; there’s no answer; even the answering machine is off. He then calls 411, asking them if they have a listing for a Nate Grey. Meanwhile, Cecilia and Angie are sitting nearby, having some coffee. Angie asks Cecilia not to take this in the wrong way – it’s not like Angie knows her at all – but she thinks Dr. Reyes looks pretty bad, like she just lost her best friend. Cecilia corrects her: just her life. Angie asks her if she wants to talk about it. Cecilia believes that talking about it won’t change things. “You’d be surprised,” Angie insists. One doesn’t stay friends with Warren without learning to cope with a little weirdness in their life! Cecilia thinks that “weirdness” is a good word.
Bobby suddenly admits he doesn’t feel very well and Cecilia asks him what it is. Angie is surprised: is he supposed to be melting like that? Bobby corrects her: he’s not melting. He’s reverting to human form. Cecilia asks him what’s happening to him. Bobby can’t say for sure. He feels as if someone just turned off his mutant power. This can only mean something bad.
“More than you can imagine, mutant!” Angie suddenly exclaims, now transformed into a Prime Sentinel! She informs them that Prime Sentinels are programmed with technology to counter genetically-given abilities; still, Dr. Reyes’ bioplasmic armor has yet to be negated. Iceman turns to Cecilia and tells her he’s of no use to her like this. She has to get out of here – now! The ever-stubborn Cecilia, though, gets in front of him and protects him from the Sentinel’s blasts with her bio-field; if he gets hurt right now, this only means she’s got to stitch him later! Bobby realizes that Cecilia can feel every blast; this has to got to hurt. Angie asks them why they continue to struggle. It is an estimated five seconds before she has affected the countermeasures to Dr. Reyes’ abhorrent natural defenses! She starts counting… and then some gunshots are heard and Angie collapses to the floor.
Detective Charlotte Jones appears, gun in hand. Charlotte hopes this wasn’t a friend of theirs. Iceman assures her that none of his friends try to kill him. He introduces Charlotte to Cecilia and explains that Charlotte is a friend of the family. Charlotte advises them to be quick. There’s no telling how long bullets will keep the Sentinel down. Cecilia admits she never thought she’d be happy to see a cop.
Soon, several blocks away, Iceman and Cecilia are hiding in an interrogation room at the precinct house Charlotte works. Cecilia understands Angie’s not dead. Charlotte’s bullets only stunned her but, Sentinel or not, she feels bad about leaving Angie in a heap on the floor. First and foremost, she’s a doctor. Being a mutant doesn’t change that. Plus, she’s nervous. Bobby reminds her that Charlotte’s an old friend – a former love of Warren’s. She can use her contacts here at the precinct to get them in touch with some other of their friends; maybe get them a lead on where the X-Men are being kept or X-Factor or even hook them with what’s left of the mutant underground.
Cecilia admits that Bobby’s a sweet guy in a totally-out-of-his-element kind of way but doesn’t he think it was convenient? What was that cop, Charlotte, doing right there, right then? Bobby reminds her that the X-Men live dangerous lives. Part of the risk is occasionally trusting others with their secret. He’s known Charlotte for a long time and no force on Earth could make her betray her friends.
One flight above, Agent Mathers, a man in suit and sunglasses, urges his partner, Agent Boyd, to come with him and finish this. Boyd tells him to give him one moment. He wants to make sure Detective Jones understands she did the right thing by bringing those two mutants there. Even though they’ve agreed to devote themselves to O.Z.T., Jones has to understand they’re all on the same team here. Charlotte retorts that they should understand: she only did this because she wants her son back. Boyd suggests that perhaps she should have considered that before she became a mutant sympathizer. The Agents tells Charlotte to go home – she’ll be contacted as to her son’s whereabouts – and exit the room.
Downstairs, Bobby looks at the one-way observation glass. “Then again,” he mumbles. “Then again what?” Cecilia asks. He explains there’s something… unkosher about this. Like he’s being in the Danger Room… waiting. When Cecilia then asks him if there’s an English translation to the “Danger Room,” Bobby admits it’s a long story. Cecilia finds that everything’s a long story with these people.
On the other side of the observation glass, five policemen-turned-Prime Sentinels are about to attack. One of them realizes that Iceman’s on to them. Another Sentinel replies he’s supposed to be. “On my signal…” he tells the others. Suddenly, though, the entire precinct house goes dark. Another policeman, unaware of the transformation of his colleagues, shows up, exclaims that the electrical fuse has blown and announces he will look into the problem.
In the interrogation room, Cecilia asks Iceman how likely it is that this could be some sort of coincidence. Bobby replies that it’s about the same likelihood that he’ll sprout a huge set of ice wings and fly them out of there. Cecilia asks him how likely that is. “Not very. As in, at all,” he replies.
Below, on the basement level, Marrow hides in the shadows after damaging the fuse box. The policeman enters the basement, carrying a flashlight and asking if anyone’s down here. “Come, gene joke,” Marrow thinks. One cop or one thousand makes no difference to her. Humans have started this and Marrow is going to finish it!