A team of costumed agents is about to initiate their attack against their target. They’re trained professionals and considered to be among the very best. They set their ambush with care. Unfortunately, when they close their trap, they discover they’d caught far, far more than they’d bargained for… Sabretooth!
They know the mutant by name and by reputation; both are fearsome. Sabretooth is considered by many to be the ultimate predator, with a healing factor that makes him virtually unkillable, and the recent acquisition of an adamantium-laced skeletal structure that renders his bones unbreakable. Normally, the agents would give him a wide berth. But now that the battle has been joined, honor demands they give their all. The battle is so fierce, so fast-paced, none of the agents has time to consider why Sabretooth hasn’t used his claws. After all, these claws can cut through armor plate as if it were air.
Then, just like that, Sabretooth grasps one of the agents and seizes his gun. Within moments, he fires at every single of his assailants… and as suddenly as it began, the battle is over. “Too close for comfort,” Sabretooth ponders, inspecting the senseless men crowning his feet. It is his good fortune they came looking to capture Mystique and not to kill her. The question is – why? Stealthsuits and tasers – their technology is cutting edge – and their technique marks them as ninjas. However, Sabretooth doesn’t recognize their uniform. It could be government or a private sector or Yakuza – Mystique has certainly made her share of enemies among all three.
Staggering, he realizes one of the agents clipped him with his stunner. That whole side of his feels like it’s on fire. The pain’s making it hard to concentrate; too much effort to sustain this form. He decides to revert to himself…. or rather to herself, as Mystique finally shakes off her Sabretooth guise and assumes her true, default form!
Raven knows that morphing into Sabretooth threw the ninjas just enough off-balance that she was able to take them down. She knows they won’t make the same mistake again. It’s a pity she can’t assume other people’s powers along with their faces; that would her make her life so much easier. Rubbing her injuries, she realizes she has to keep moving. They found her before, stands to reason they will again. All she’s done is buy herself a little time. She has to use it to find herself some answers and more importantly, some allies!
Manhattan, 1 a.m.
Rogue and Shadowcat exit a restaurant, both of them dressed for a night out, escorted by an equally ravishing Nightcrawler, disguised as a handsome man thanks to his image inducer. “… Can you believe our waiter?” Kitty tells Rogue. Every time Rogue licked her lips, Carlo refilled her glass! “One simple little smile, and we’re up to our eyebrows in free desserts, free espresso, you name it!” Kitty teases her. Rogue swears on a stock of Bibles: she did nothing to encourage the man! Maybe not, Kitty remarks… but she sure loved every minute. A girl likes to be admired, Rogue admits. She advises Kitty not to worry her pretty little head none: her turn will come. Kitty warns her that when it does, she should watch out! Seeing Kurt looking at a shop window, she asks him if everything is okay: he seems a trifle distracted.
Kurt apologizes. It’s been so long since he used the image inducer to disguise his true appearance, he still has to look twice to remind himself that reflection is truly himself. “I’m sorry,” Kitty mutters. After all that’s happened, she thought a night out would be fun. Kurt admits that his problem is he can’t stop thinking about what’s happened. The X-Men has been the center of their lives for so long; now it’s gone. And Kurt finds himself asking over and over, why?!
“Short version, Nightcrawler?” Rogue huffs, somewhat vexed. Charles Xavier founds the X-Men – a team composed of mutants, folks born with powers and abilities that set them apart from the general run of humanity. Their purpose is to build bridges between these two branches of their species so they maybe don’t all kill each other… and to protect the world at large from those mutants who’d do it harm. They’ve had their good times and bad times and they all figured the team would go on forever.
Kitty picks up from where Rogue stopped: unfortunately, for reasons he prefers to keep wholly to himself, Professor X wakes up one morning and decides to call it quits. The X-Men take him to his word, it’s adios muchachos, finito, end of story! Does he mean it? Kitty doesn’t know and, to be honest, for tonight she doesn’t want to care!
Rogue urges Kurt to look at them. How many times have they risked everything to save the world? She asks him to think about that: they say “save the world” as casually as someone saying “bless you” after a sneeze. They produce miracles so often even they take them for granted. And for what? To make the world better. She reminds Kurt, though, that they are part of this world and maybe it’s time they started living in it, too.
Kitty sides with Rogue and reminds Kurt that Charley’s a grown up: they should let him take responsibility for his decisions. “If they are indeed his decisions,” Kurt retorts. However, he admits Rogue is quite right; Shadowcat, too. They’ve all earned this night off, and many more. He then asks the two lovely ladies to excuse him: he’s afraid he is not very good company. He tells them they’ll catch up later where they agreed and then takes leave.
Meanwhile, three miles down in the Laurentian abyss, off the coast of North America, lies a submarine. No sound marks the passage of this man-made Leviathan. Though it passes through an array of the most sophisticated submarine detection systems ever created, as far as those monitors are concerned, it doesn’t even exist – which is as it should be for the Yakiba, literally the “cutting edge” of Japan’s military.
Inside the submarine, one of the Yakiba agents, a man called Tsuba-Kuo, informs his superior that they are still processing the downloads from the remote telemetry modules carried by their operatives… but they apparently encountered the mutant known as Sabretooth. His superior, however, reckons this is highly doubtful since they all survived. He asks Tsuba-Kuo to run a comparative analysis with the capabilities of their target and look for a pattern match. He suspects they’ll discover they were deceived – quite ingeniously – by the shape-shifter.
Unable to contain his temper anymore, he suddenly bursts out that this taking too long. While they chase Mystique, they remain ignorant of the true threat against their homeland. No clue to its nature, its ultimate purpose. Not even a name: only whispers from the shadows, vague hints, tantalizing suspicions…
Just then, an agent notifies him of an alert from Tokyo: the operative he requested will be on-site within the hour. “No more mistakes. No more failures,” the Yakiba officer demands. He tells Tsuba-Kuo he wants the target found. And he wants her taken.
Manhattan, 1:30 a.m.
Rogue and Shadowcat are partying in the Ground Zero nightclub. Rogue shouldn’t be here. For her, crowds are dangerous. What makes her a mutant is the power to absorb the talents and psyche of another simply by a touch. But tonight, she doesn’t seem to care. There’s a wilderness to her, a need to dance right on the edge of disaster that Kitty hasn’t seen in a long, long time. The really scary thing is, though, that Kitty herself feels pretty much the same.
A masculine hand suddenly grabs Rogue’s arm, startling her and cutting her frenzied dance short. The flirtatious man wonders: is this a private moment or would she appreciate some company? “Get away from me!” Rogue hysterically screams and violently tosses him off herself, sending him flying across the dancehall, much to everyone’s shock. A distressed Kitty asks her to chill: that wasn’t any attack… it was just a guy! All around them, the stunned crowd whispers in both admiration and disbelief: “Did you see,” “Like a ragdoll!” “How could she?”
Distraught, Rogue rebukes herself: what has she done? After all this time, she’d think she’d know better. She ought to have her head examined; she ought to be shot, taking these kinds of chances! When is she going to learn? She’s not normal; she’ll never be normal. Like it or not, she’s got to live her life by a set of rules. As much as she’d love to break them – whenever she does – she’s not the one who pays for it.
Feeling embarrassed, she approaches the man she repelled and apologizes. She stammers that when he came out of nowhere and grabbed her… Assisted by others, the man gets back to his feet and interrupts her, apologizing in turn: “My own bad manners, my own fault. No harm, no foul.” Rubbing his aching head, he admits, however, that it’s nice to see she hasn’t completely lost her edge.
“Excuse me? Do we know you, sir?” a puzzled Kitty remarks upon hearing this. Rogue tells her that face changes… but she’ll always recognize the soul. “Been awhile, Mystique,” she welcomes her foster mother. “Too long, darling,” Mystique agrees, adding that they need to talk. Much as she hates to admit it… she needs their help. “Must I beg, Pryde?” she mocks Shadowcat. “I bet you will,” Kitty nonchalantly replies. Rogue urges Mystique to lead the way while she will watch her back.
Manhattan, 2 a.m.
Kurt is praying in a church. Tonight, it seems, he is not the only one in need of it: there is also a woman in the church, her back turned to him, as she’s lighting a candle. She’s been here as long as he has. He finds there’s such sadness to her body language. She must have suffered a terrible loss, he thinks…
Suddenly, he has an epiphany. The way she moves – he knows that woman! And her green hair confirms it! Gently touching her back, he enthusiastically exclaims “How’s that for a minor miracle?” and greets Lorna Dane! “No!” Lorna gasps and struggles to convince him he’s got the wrong girl! “Leave me alone!” she screams and strikes him with an electromagnetic bolt, as she makes for the front door.
“Lorna, wait!” Kurt shouts in vain. “Wagner… you idiot!” he admonishes himself. Wearing the image-inducer’s false face as he has, why should she recognize him as teammate or friend? A flick of a switch and Kurt “becomes” Nightcrawler once more. A flick of a mental switch and his own mutant power teleports him instantly from church to street, where he appears before the panicked Lorna.
Kurt begs her not to be frightened: “Lorna, it’s me!” Polaris instantly recognizes him and falls into his arms, crying his name; that was him inside? She apologizes; she didn’t mean… It’s all right, Kurt reassures her. However, he wonders: what’s the matter? She’s literally jumping at shadows! Lorna explains that’s because they’re jumping out at her! She’s being followed!
Brooklyn, 2:30 a.m.
In a warehouse by the dock, two men are discussing. They are both physically identical to the mutant villains known as Mesmero and Mastermind, but the shadows they cast on the floor say otherwise – they are Skrulls! The Mesmero impostor informs his companion that Intelligence confirms that Mystique has eluded the Yakiba. That would indicate she is far more resourceful – and formidable – than they previously assumed. All the better for us, the fake Mastermind grunts. So long as she continues to serve as an unwitting stalking horse, drawing the attention of the Yakiba exclusively to her, she serves their purpose.
The counterfeit Mesmero retorts that the master wants her eliminated. “All in good time,” the Mastermind simulacrum remarks and reminds his interlocutor that he commands here and the decision are his to take. He finds Mystique’s morphing abilities are rudimentary, restricted to basic cosmetic physiognomy. No viable threat to this installation or the plan. “She was observing us,” the Mesmero look-alike reminds him. His superior stresses she is presently unaffiliated; who will she tell? “You forget her links with the X-Men,” the fake Mesmero insists.
The faux Mastermind coldly assures him he forgets nothing. The X-Men have been neutralized. Their own mentor has disbanded the team and its members have dispersed. ‘Mesmero’ insists: but if she should contact them…?! Inspecting a team of workers at work, ‘Mastermind’ stresses that their orders are to keep the lowest of profiles. To his mind, the direct intervention ‘Mesmero’ proposes represents an unacceptable risk. It’s better to let the Yakiba do their work for them. After all, ‘Mesmero’s’ fears are formless, because Mystique knows nothing. ‘Mesmero’ angrily tells him he’s making a mistake! ‘Mastermind’ invites him to challenge his command, if he feels so adamant; otherwise, he should hold his tongue and do as he’s told. He repeats this woman, Mystique, is irrelevant and suggests he forgets about her.
Manhattan, 2:30 a.m.
Rogue is flying in the air, carrying her foster mother, while Kitty grabs tightly onto her. “What a night! What a way to travel,” Shadowcat muses. Good thing she can make herself partially intangible. The way she can hold onto Rogue and be carried along here, without any real risk of touching her. A thousand meters up is not where she’d like to lose her powers and drop like the proverbial stone.
Rogue wonders how Mystique found her. Raven reminds her she’s been a hunter since before she was born; she’ll always know where to look. Rogue asks her what this is all about; who’s after her? Mystique gives the same answer to both questions: she wishes she knew.
As they approach the wall of Mystique’s hideaway and Kitty is about to phase all three of them through it, she senses a shudder from both Rogue and Mystique; that makes her smile. For her, it’s second-nature to phase through solid matter as easily as others move through air. For everyone else, right to the moment of contact, there’s the primal instinctive fear they’re about to crash.
Once they are all safely inside, Kitty allows a “Wow!” to escape her lips, in spite of herself. Mystique bids them both welcome to her humble abode. “Wow!” Kitty again exclaims, astounded by the lushness and vastness of Mystique’s apartment, which even sports a fountain at the heart of the living room. Mystique quips: will wonders never cease? She’s rendered ghost-girl speechless! She introduces them to the New York residence of B. Byron Biggs. “The world’s famous recluse? The billionaire financier who hates cameras that nobody ever sees?” Shadowcat gulps. “Guilty as charged,” Raven replies.
As she rests on a couch, Rogue asks her if Biggs is really her. Raven explains it’s her most private identity, one of the first – and finest – she’s ever created. This is her sanctum, the closest thing she has to home, where she keeps all that she most cherishes.
Kitty spots a framed family portrait that depicts Mystique, Destiny and Rogue as a little girl. She contemplates it’s no small thing, Mystique letting her in on the secret. Mystique isn’t the trusting sort, so whatever’s on her case, must have her seriously spooked. Kitty then notices Rogue looks so young in this picture – and Mystique actually looks happy. Raven explains this photo was taken soon after she and Destiny found Rogue. Barely a handful of years ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime. She then asks Shadowcat to scout the perimeter. They should be secure here but prudence mandates that they make certain. Kitty quips that since she asked so nicely, how can she refuse? Rogue thanks her. Phasing through the floor, Kitty tells her she’s her pal and Mystique is her mom, so it’s her pleasure.
After Kitty departs, Mystique playfully confesses she’s shocked – shocked! The girl doesn’t trust her! Rogue recalls that, first time she and Kitty met, Mystique was running the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. How many times since then has she tried to kill her? Point taken, Raven agrees. However, that wasn’t the first time they met. The first time, they were actually allies. “Say what?” Rogue frowns. Mystique promises she’ll tell later. Now, there are more pressing matters. “The ninjas,” Rogue mutters.
Mystique admits she’s been wracking her brain for answers. As near as she can determine, it began on vacation. She was tired of her old lives, her traditional roles. She wanted to have some fun. She should have been careful, what she wished for, because in next to no time, she was on the cover of Vogue – an agent spotted her while she was sunbathing at the beach in the guise of an extraordinarily beautiful woman and offered her a job as a model!
Seeing the Vogue cover on Mystique’s table, Rogue realizes she’s Ronnie Lake! The model of the millennium! An uncharacteristically poetic Mystique explains she was like a butterfly who’d just cast off her chrysalis. For the first time since Destiny was killed, she felt truly alive. Then, a week ago, on a shoot in Milan, the ninjas stormed into her room. She’s been on the run ever since.
Rogue asks her how they tracked her. Probably a genetic scanner, Mystique deduces. Rogue is concerned: won’t that compromise this place? Mystique reminds her that, as Raven Darkholme, she was deputy head of the Defense Applied Research Planning Agency, with oversight over the most advanced military hardware in American’s arsenal. That same technology protects this building. From the ninjas, they’re quite safe.
“You sayin’ there are other players involved?” Rogue asks her. Raven admits she doesn’t like puzzles or mysteries. She always feels compelled to find a solution. That’s how Destiny and she first met. She was the damsel in distress and Raven was her consulting detective. Afterwards, they became… partners. Always useful, she quips, working with someone who can foretell the future. Too bad she couldn’t see her own death, Rogue broods. “Don’t be absurd, child,” Mystique scolds her – of course she did. Why does she think Mystique’s been so angry since? Destiny saw what was coming, yet gave none of them the chance to save her. No reason, no explanation, not even a chance to say goodbye. After all they’d been through, how could she have been so cruel? It was like she had cut out Raven’s heart. She though she would never forgive her… but time does heal wounds. She found it easier to remember the love than continue to hold onto the hate.
“You never told me,” Rogue sighs. Mystique reminds her she’s an X-Man. “An’ that makes us enemies?” Rogue snaps back. Mystique admits it makes them adversaries, more often than not. Either way, she couldn’t afford to make herself vulnerable. “So what’s changed?” Rogue asks her. Mystique admits she has nowhere else to turn. Taking off her jacket, Rogue tells Mystique that she needs some working clothes. Raven instructs her: guest room, closet, fourth door on the left should provide something suitable. Rogue promises that soon as she’s changed, Mystique will tell her everything; Rogue herself will handle things from there.
Manhattan, 2:30 a.m.
Nightcrawler teleports Polaris and himself on a rooftop. He asks Lorna if she’s all right: jaunting isn’t always a comfortable experience for his passengers. Lorna jests that once Kurt goes back and collects her stomach, she’ll be just fine! Monitoring the area from this vantage point, Kurt announces that coast is clear. There is no sign of anything or anyone suspicious. She asks her if she has a description of her pursuers or a sense of how many. Hesitantly, Lorna admits she’s never really seen them, actually; it’s more of a feeling. She nervously stammers she must sound crazy. Kurt reassures her he trusts her instincts; so should she. He decides they’ll stay put a while longer and keep watch, just to be sure.
Kurt seizes the opportunity to tell her how sorry he is about Alex. Lorna appreciates that. “If I’m not intruding – what happened?” he asks her. Lorna stresses she loved Alex but Kurt was his friend, too, and he deserves to know. She recounts how a lunatic named Greystone had constructed some kind of time machine. It had the capability of fatally disrupting the structural balance of the space-time continuum. “Not a good thing?” Kurt asks in awe. Lorna nods and informs him that Greystone set his gizmo in motion and Alex tried to stop him. They’re all still here and the universe looks pretty much intact, so she guesses Alex succeeded. But the price…! Greystone’s ship was vaporized, right down to the molecular level. There was no conceivable way anyone aboard could have survived.
Lorna whimpers that every rational element of her being tells her the man she loves is dead. Past time to close the book, finish grieving, get on with her life. There’s just this one little problem: in her heart and in her soul… she knows he’s alive. Disconsolate, she buries her head in Nightcrawler’s chest.
Brooklyn Heights, 3 a.m.
Outside “Ronnie’s” New York apartment, Rogue spots a broken window: clear evidence of a fight. She discerns no evidence of cops: so they’re talking serious juice to keep the local precinct from getting involved and to keep the neighbors quiet. Not Yakuza style, she thinks – and private sector cops wouldn’t be so sloppy, she contemplates, as she enters the apartment through the broken window and discovers all the furniture upside down. This is government-issue mayhem, she deduces.
As she walks into the trashed apartment, she thinks that “Ronnie Blake” is the paparazzi “body-du-jour.” She steps out in public, there are a score of cameras waiting – which makes it really easy to track her movements. These past months, for her, what they see is what she is: a world-class supermodel cruising the fashionista circuit. Looking through several photos of “Ronnie” or magazines gracing their covers with her face, she ponders there’s nothing in her current actions, nothing in the recent past, to justify this level of response.
She suddenly recalls that, when she was growing up, she thought Raven was magic. She could be anyone she wanted. In a way, so can Rogue. Only what she takes is the substance of people’s lives; she steals their very souls. And if she’s not careful, sometimes they don’t get them back. That’s why Raven sent her to Xavier, to build some measure of control over her powers. She’d tried and failed: now it was Xavier’s turn.
“Plus ce change, plus ce meme chose,” she thinks – “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. All the work, all the effort, all the training, all the sacrifice and, as far as her powers are concerned, she’s still standing pretty much where she started. On the other hand, she’s made friends among the X-Men who’ll last a lifetime. They’re as much her family as Mystique and Destiny and with them, she’s made a difference; they’ve done some real, tangible good. Not bad for a Bayou-born Louisiana river rat!
Admiring the view from the huge window, Rogue wonders: why’s this telescope pointed at the old pier’s beneath the promenade? She notices the mount hasn’t been disturbed and the barrel’s locked in place: Mystique was looking for something specific. She suddenly notices a blinking. “Pretty sophisticated hardware; full-spectrum analysis array,” she thinks and decides she’d better pop the datapacks and…
Suddenly, a proximity intruder alarm is sounded! A handful of ninjas appear and lunge at Rogue, firing at her, convinced that the shaper is trying to deceive them again by masquerading as the X-Man Rogue! They decide to show her no mercy! “My eyes!” Rogue screams: they released some kind of shockstrobe, meant to dazzle and incapacitate their targets! She realizes it’s pretty darn effective, too. She asks them to back off: they’re all making a major mistake here! “Don’t listen to her, brethren,” one of them tells his companions and fiercely pummels her. “Take her hard down!” another agent kicks at her.
Rogue retorts she doesn’t think so. She asked them all nice; the one warning is all they get! As she begins taking them all out, she gloats their toys can’t hurt her, because she’s pretty much invulnerable. And as for the rest, she thinks her strength pretty near speaks for itself. She then tells them the deal: she’s got questions, they all give her answers – or she guarantees things here are going to turn downright nasty.
As the ninjas flee, a voice behind her informs her that, regrettably, matters have reached that unpleasant state already. Rogue turns around only to confront Sunfire! She confesses she doesn’t know what’s going on but if he’s hooked up with these ninjas, maybe the two of them can talk things out… Sunfire coldly retorts that the time for words is past! If she would ally herself with a wanton murderess, then she will suffer her fate! Saying this, he unleashes his plasma blasts against her.