Salem Center, New York
Having just stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped up in a towel, Rogue inspects herself in her bedroom dressing mirror. Holding a black dress in front of her, trying to see whether it is a good fit, she suddenly ponders this is stupid! Tossing the dress on her bed next to other outfits, she realizes she’s acting like a schoolgirl, about to go on her first date. However, she also knows she’s every bit as scared, deep down. “You’d think life was complicated enough without me making it worse,” she muses. Holding a framed photo of Gambit in her hands, she reminds herself that she loves Remy; he loves her; so what’s the problem? She suddenly urges herself to pull herself together. Remy’s due home any second now…
Meanwhile, thousands of feet over the Atlantic Ocean, the mobile fortress known as the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier is currently winging its way due east. Aboard the helicarrier, a demonstration is about to occur. Major Remington Sole, project coordinator, in command of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the absence of current director Nicholas Fury, makes a dramatic announcement to his audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure… Deathlok reborn! All-new, all-different… and all-ours.” Overlooking from a control room high above, protected behind glass, the spectators watch Deathlok making short work of all the robot units attacking him.
A S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist informs the audience that Deathlok is a killing machine that can react and adjust to any situation, yet remains completely under their control. Sole proudly informs them that test results have been phenomenal so far. Deathlok’s reaction times are off the chart and his hit/miss radio is exceeding all expectations. “Everything’s come together quite well, if I do say so myself,” he boasts, adding that they’re looking at the perfect fusion of cybernetics and biological organism.
Sole goes on to explain that Deathlok is a combination of the brain of one very special field agent, wiped clean of personal baggage and history but maintaining his razor-sharp instincts and reflexes and of a computer containing a fantastically sophisticated artificial intelligence program, similarly purged of flawed character traits. This precludes the danger of the unit initiating independent action and makes it immune to psychic or psionic manipulation. With the right hardware, S.H.I.E.L.D. will finally possess a weapon capable of taking on any and all mutant or non-human threats.
Enthused by the demonstration, the crowds begins clapping, applauding Sole’s work and urging him to proceed with the project: “fine work,” “endless possibilities,” “excellent job, Major,” “money well spent,” “expand production without delay,” “how soon can we have an army, then?”
In his office, Director Nick Fury uses his computer to access the system files. He can’t help but think this is sick. “Sick as it gets, if y’ask me,” he ponders in disgust. However, nobody is asking, so there’s nothing Fury can do about it. Nothing yet.
Muir Island, off the coast of Scotland
Shadowcat, Colossus and Nightcrawler carry on with their search for Douglock. Kitty discovers residual remains of Douglock’s techno-organic conversion process. She is confident this is his work. “All the more reason to proceed with caution, Kitty,” Kurt exclaims. He reminds her that the viral nature of their hybrid friend is unpredictable, at best… and highly contagious at worst. Piotr argues that there is little indication that Douglock has any degree of control over himself. If Douglock is once again mutating, as Kurt fears, the human spirit of Doug Ramsey may well be gone now, overwhelmed by his alien Phalanx nature within.
Suddenly, overhead they spot the S.H.I.E.L.D. scout craft they saw earlier taking off from the island. Piotr recalls they had assumed S.H.I.E.L.D. passed over earlier, without landing. “Wishful thinking, Peter,” Kurt remarks. Kitty is confident they’ve definitely been seen. Colossus is puzzled, though: for a top level spy organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. is not exactly subtle, are they? Nightcrawler surmises that perhaps they were in a hurry here, more concerned with time than deniability.
As they rush to the spot where the craft had been stationed, Kurt examines the ground where he finds evidence of a struggle… and also discovers a tracking device. Kitty identifies it as a single tracker, standard field issue. However, she is well aware that it’s beyond careless to leave something like that behind, even for a rookie. “Especially while it’s still registering an energy signature,” Kurt adds. Stunned, Kitty realizes that it’s the same wave-frequency as the Techno-Virus! It is actively transmitting from the direction of the scout craft. They all now deduce that S.H.I.E.L.D. has taken Douglock – by force, apparently. Colossus argues that they are his only hope now, since Professor Xavier and the others copped the last ride home.
Back at Salem Center, Rogue is about to welcome the team, after their recent absence from Earth. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” Rogue reproaches herself. The whole time she has been back from Genosha, she has just been trying to figure out some way to apologize to Remy, to let him know he was right, that she was wrong to go chasing after the Magneto she remembered, the Magneto she couldn’t find a single trace of, even when she looked him right in the eyes. But the X-Men have returned from deep space – and from the sound of their message, something terrible happened out there. They’ll be hungry and homesick, in serious need of rest and time to decompress… so what was she thinking with this outfit she wore to welcome them, a sexy black/ purple dress?
The X-Men’s craft lands and Xavier, Storm and Wolverine are the first ones to emerge and approach her. Embarrassed, Rogue struggles to come off as enthusiastic. She fervently exclaims that it’s good to have them all back. Bemused with Rogue’s appearance and manners, Storm wonders: is everything… all right? “Absolutely, Ororo, couldn’t be better…” Rogue hurriedly replies. Noticing her outfit, Xavier wonders whether they interrupted her plans for the evening. Rogue assures him it was nothing like that… she was just… just…
Marrow is the next to greet her, walking arm in arm with Gambit. “Marrow?!” Rogue exclaims in shock, astonished by Sarah’s new looks. Rejoicing in Rogue’s reaction, Marrow realizes Rogue didn’t even recognize her, did she? “Can’t blame ya… don’t I look amazing?!” she asserts with a huge smile plastered all over her face. Next to her, Gambit also greets his cherie. Rogue simply pronounces his name, her eyes fixed on him. Marrow keeps bubbling with enthusiasm. She swears it was so cool! She should have died out there… up there… wherever… but her favorite Remy risked everything to save her! Gambit argues that Sarah still needs medical testing, of course, but it looks like everything’s fine. Her bone growth is just more controlled now, less random, and without the pain.
Rogue, her mind still absorbed with Gambit and other matters, exclaims that’s great. “How ‘bout you, cherie?” Remy asks her. He notices she is dressed… for a night out, maybe? Rogue replies that when she knew they were all coming back she thought that maybe they should talk. Storm wonders: is there something wrong? “Quite a lot, Storm” Rogue admits. Ororo realizes they have been away so long she had almost forgotten about the crisis left behind here. She asks Rogue if there have been any developments in Genosha… or with Magneto himself.
Rogue assures them it’s nothing that can’t wait. She planned to brief them all tomorrow but… Xavier cuts her off and exclaims that it’s tomorrow, then. He tells Ororo to take charge and announces that, if they need him, he’ll be in his study. However, he also firmly states that he doesn’t want to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary.
Storm instructs Wolverine to get their vehicle to the hangar. She then asks Marrow and Gambit to rush to the infirmary. She tells Rogue that she could be of help as well, if she truly does not have any other plans. “Sure. Ah got plenty o’ time,” Rogue hesitantly complies.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier
Scout craft Delta-Nine returns from Muir Island. After recognition codes are verified, the craft is cleared for docking in Bay Four of the helicarrier. The central computer voice instructs the pilots to report to Major Sole for immediate debriefing. “Oh joy, another couple o’ pumped-up pilots, back from their island cruising,” an agent quips as he sees the scout craft docking. He hopes they didn’t find anything out on that freak island. This time of night, there’s barely enough of them on shift to…
He suddenly gasps in horror, as he sees the two pilots disembarking… only the pilots are now infected with the Techno-Virus, their faces hideously altered! “Holy…?! Who… Wh-what are you?!” the agent screams. “We… are… his,” the infected pilots reply in robotic voices, grasping every agent in the vicinity. “As you will be,” one of them adds. ‘N-no… please… no,” the man begs, frozen with fear.
At the same moment, another agent in the monitor room realizes that something’s gone terribly wrong, as all monitors lose their signal at once. “Bay Four security to command!” he shouts in his radio. He informs them that monitors are down across the board just after the arrival of scoutship D-Nine landed by two confirmed agents.
Suddenly, though, he screams as he is entangled by techno-organic tentacles belonging to none other than… Douglock! “They belong to the master,” Douglock hisses. “Enslave him, boy,” a mysterious man standing in the shadows, his face concealed, orders Douglock. “I… am… Douglock. I… am…” the young Phalanx struggles to recover his identity. The man in the shadows – his arms metallic, his eyes glowing menacingly – commands Douglock to enslave the man and make him cancel the security-alert… now! “I… am… yours,” Douglock succumbs.
The X-Men examine Marrow’s bio-scans. Storm tells Logan that the bio-scans are encouraging but still… “But nothing,” Wolverine interjects. He agrees that the alien healing pod changed Marrow – it doesn’t take super-science and comparative X-rays to see that. The kid’s better for it, outside and inside, now that she doesn’t have random bone-shards punching through her guts all day. Ororo admits that Marrow’s basic biological functions do seem to be in order, as far as they know. Hearing this, Gambit tells Sarah that the prognosis sounds good. Real good. Apparently, she’s as healthy as she looks.
Ororo retorts they are not doctors. A more thorough and reliable diagnosis will have to wait until Hank McCoy and Cecilia Reyes can be reached. No hurry, Sarah replies with a smile. She quips that this isn’t exactly the worst thing that ever happened to her. She’s not the one worried here and she can’t even think of a reason she should be. She feels sharper than ever. She feels that her newfound bone-growth has real possibilities. To demonstrate this, she elongates one of her fingernails, makes it spiky and uses it as a comb of sorts to mess Remy’s hair!
“I knew it was a mistake t’save her life,” Remy banters and everyone bursts into hearty laughter – everyone, save for the pensive Rogue. Storm admits it is wonderful to see Marrow enjoying herself like this. And how ironic, after all Logan and she did to try to tame her. “Wonderful,” Rogue repeats in a bland, colorless voice. Noticing Rogue’s vexation, Ororo recalls that Rogue mentioned something to report about Magneto and Genosha. Rogue insists it’ll keep till morning. “Anythin’ you got on Magneto I wanna hear yesterday,” Wolverine vehemently insists and urges her to spit it out already. “Ah said it’d keep, short-stuff,” an uncharacteristically rude Rogue scores him off and leaves by announcing “’till morning.”
Baffled, Wolverine wonders what’s going on. What’d he say to set Rogue off like that? Ororo makes a hypothesis: perhaps Rogue fears that Logan is still intent on assassinating Magneto. “Is she correct?” Ororo boldly asks him. “You know me, ‘Ro,” Logan simpers – capable of pretty much everything, right? Ororo urges him not to be flippant. She assures him she understands his rage. Magneto made him suffer beyond any measure. More than any of them, Logan has cause to hate him. She pleads him, though: even if he is prepared to sacrifice his life in such a suicidal attack, he must think of the X-Men first. Now more than ever.
“I know,” Logan replies. For a while, he’d been thinking that Chuck was starting to break down on them. That maybe the Center – Xavier’s Institute for Higher Learning – wouldn’t hold for much longer. However, he admits seeing a different side of the man while they were away. The way he handled Juggernaut and also trying to save the Skrulls from Galactus when he knew he never had the chance: it’s made Logan think again. Maybe Charles is more of a man than he’ll ever be.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier
Fixed in front of a monitor, Fury listens carefully as G. W. Bridge reveals the information he has gathered. Bridge tells Fury that Sole’s people are in lockdown all of a sudden, clammed up tight. He has also found out that Sole’s personal politicos are unavailable for the moment. Fury retorts that’s not good enough. He admits that Bridge is the only man outside this crate he can trust just now. “With full access to S.H.I.E.L.D. Project: Deathlok files, you mean,” Bridge brazenly ‘corrects’ him. “But give me a few more hours, and I’ll find out who – SKRRK – who for that money…” Bridge boasts, as his image on the monitor is suddenly lost, due to interference.
“No such luck, G. W…. afraid we’re fresh outta hours up here,” Furt exclaims. He angrily wonders what in the blazes is happening to his ship. The computer responds that the source of this upheaval is unidentified so far. It reveals, however, that an outside influence has taken command of the central computer.
Exiting his study, Fury watches as some of his men flee in panic. He realizes they’re out of control – completely out of control from the looks of it. He thinks this doesn’t make any sense. The crew is trained for every possibility; Fury drilled them himself. Even if the helicarrier’s going down – which is not, yet – there’s procedure to be followed, evacuation routes and lifecraft-launch schedules.
Concealed in the shadows, Fury watches as some other agents are menacingly approaching their colleagues. They all walk steadily, repeating in an atonal voice: “Hold. Be… his… or… be… dead.” Fury thinks this is insane! His men are being corralled by coordinated pincer-movements from their fellow agents. He vows this is going to change, as soon as he cleans up this little mess. However, he’s also aware he’s seriously outnumbered here and those are his men down there, clearly under the control of someone or something else. He won’t fire on them if there’s any other way. He just has to root out the real enemy here, wherever he, she or it is hiding, before this baby goes down for the count!
Meanwhile, Colossus, Shadowcat and Nightcrawler are still tracking down Douglock’s signal. Using an old airship, piloted by Kurt, the trio quickly approaches the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. “Is that right, Kitty…?” Piotr suddenly exclaims. He asks Kitty: is her famed S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarier supposed to wobble like that? “Define right,” Kitty quips. She remarks that it is right that they set out for a hearty Scots supper and a visit with friends, but end up crammed into the cockpit of this creepy antique, which they confiscated from Excalibur’s old enemy, the Vixen. She mumbles that if the fuel tanks got half as many leaks as the pressure-gauges and brake-feeds… She pauses and goes on to remark that anything that slows down the carrier is all right by her and informs the others that they’re finally closing in on Douglock’s signal.
Colossus believes they should contact the school and inform the other X-Men of their situation here. Kitty reminds him that the others are exhausted and hungry, same as them, and they’re not even sure there’s a problem here yet. After all, it’s possible that Douglock went with S.H.I.E.L.D. voluntarily. However, she promises to call the cavalry at the first sight of trouble.
“Define trouble,” Kurt’s timely interjection comes just as the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier suddenly moves against the nearby islands, in collision course. “Calling the cavalry,” a shocked Kitty gasps. Colossus surmises it will likely be too late for the helicarrier by the time help arrives: impact with the main islands appears imminent! Kitty adds to the already dismal news by informing them she can’t reach anyone, X-Men or otherwise. The carrier is broadcasting a disruption frequency, effectively cutting off all communications within field range! What they’re watching is no accident!
“That is a fact,” Kurt agrees as he watches. He suddenly alerts Kitty: the helicarrier has begun to recover its equilibrium. He observes that it’s regaining altitude clumsily but steadily, as if the entire scenario has been staged, simply to force an evacuation. He realizes that whoever is responsible was willing to risk the complete destruction of the carrier. With increasing anxiety, Kitty also reminds them that whatever’s going on, their pal Douglock – or some other source of the Techno-Virus energy-signature – is still on-board. “The Phalanx?!” Peter speculates. Kurt thinks there is only one sure way to find out. He retorts it will not be easy, though – not without brake-feeds. Kitty asks him to just get them close enough and she will take care of Peter and herself.
Using her mutant power to phase through solid objects, Kitty allows Colossus and herself to leap through the ship’s wall to the relative safety of the helicarrier deck. Nightcrawler escapes the ship through his own ability to teleport, just as the Vixen ship crashes onto the helicarrier and then away. Reunited with his teammates on the helicarrier deck, Kurt confesses that this was as close as he ever wants to take it! “Fair enough,” Kitty remarks. She reminds them they’re not done yet, though. Not until they get inside this hunk of junk and get some answers.
Inside the helicarrier, Douglock’s captor – finally revealed as the Red Skull – demands that Douglock looks at him! He accuses him he was careless – dare he even say it, disobedient – and chastises Douglock by kicking him in the face. He flew too close to the cliffs back there, endangering Red Skull’s life in the process. Red Skull vows he will not tolerate such resistance! He reminds Douglock that his full concentration is required to maintain command of this flying fortress, so that Red Skull can manipulate each and every system in his name. He informs Douglock that the strain on him is obvious; Douglock is stretched to the breaking point and beyond, so it is time to abandon such pathetic attempts to oppose his captor’s will… once and for all! With sadistic pleasure, he reminds Douglock that none are left to hinder his plans now; none remain to rescue Douglock. “You are mine to control, ‘Douglock’,” he hisses. Through him, through the unstoppable power of his extraterrestrial techno-organic virus, the world will finally bow to the Red Skull!