Salem Center, Westchester, New York
Recently, the X-Men believed one of their number, Wolverine, to be slain. Subsequent examinations, however, have revealed the body to be something altogether different: a Skrull. Examining the dead body of the Skrull together with Professor X and Beast, Dr. Moira McTaggert notices, in admiration, that the mimicry is extraordinary. Wolverine was duplicated right down to the micro-cellular level. She tells Charles that if she hadn’t seen it in her own eyes, she wouldn’t have believed it.
Xavier replies that such is the physical nature of the Skrulls: they are the most accomplished and sophisticated metamorphs in known space. “But what would aliens want with the X-Men?” Moira wonders. Charles admits it’s one of far too many questions whose answers are far too few. “Who knows – perhaps vengeance for failing to save their planet from Galactus?” he ventures a guess. What matters is that Wolverine is their prisoner. Easy enough to say they must find and rescue him – which they do, which they must. But the problem is, how? Given the nature and identity of his captors, he could be anywhere. Anywhere in the entire universe.
Somewhere else, what appears to be a berserk Wolverine confronts swarms of Skrull warriors. Watching from another room, a Skrull remarks this is most impressive: a supremely efficient killer. He invites his commander to imagine a cadre composed of the like. He suggests he places an order and he’ll have it. Achieving an accurate psychological simulacrum merely involved a standard morphosis. The difficulty was in programming a viable psychological template, encompassing his instinct, his skills, his fundamental “human” nature. However, now that they have a complete record of the subject’s psyche – thanks to their ally – taken directly from the prime Wolverine, they have been able to establish a comprehensive personality matrix. His oldest friends and oldest enemies will be unable to tell the original from the forgery. He will survive genetic testing and even a telepathic examination.
The Skrull commander walks into the room where the test fight occurs. He reprimands the scientist, telling him his matrix is proving too comprehensible; it makes the host unpredictable. They question orders and act independently. They start to believe they truly are the host. The Skrull scientist retorts that’s easily dealt with, of minor concern. “And the creature’s ‘mutant’ ability?” the commander enquires. The scientist boasts they’re quite proud of that. This iteration they see possesses the regenerative ‘healing factor’…
“Does it, indeed?” the Skrull commander questions and, without hesitation, aims his gun at the Wolverine impostor and shoots him dead! The commander derisively remarks that the prime would have survived such a pulse blast. A flawed copy is of no use to the cause. As he exits the room, the scientist follows him. He asks him to forgive his asking but, if the first infiltrator was slain, won’t the X-Men look with suspicion on a second? All the more reason for the duplication to be absolutely perfect, the commander argues. He tells him that, as chief scientist, his task is to provide his commander with weapons. He, as military commander of the expeditionary force, will determine how they may be best used.
As he and his commander pass over swarms of Skrulls, kept behind bars, to be utilized as guinea pigs, the scientist stresses that all Skrulls can shape-change. The Super-Skrull required technological enhancement to mimic the abilities and strength-levels of the Fantastic Four. However, the Warskrulls – the cadre employed in their attempt to destabilize the Shi’ar Empire – could naturally duplicate not only the appearance of their archetype but the full range of their abilities; that was what made them utterly invaluable.
When the Warskrulls were defeated by these selfsame, accursed X-Men, they feared that genetic strain was lost. All their efforts since have been devoted to reestablishing that trait. But the primal genetic coding itself is exceedingly rare and the resequencing – as his commander can see – can have unforeseen and undependable consequences. The Skrull commander, however, clarifies he’s not interested in excuses, only results. The scientist can rest assured that the consequences of failure are as dependable as they will prove final. He trusts they understand one another.
Fiz, one of the Skrulls to be used as guinea pigs, remarks that old Granok, the chief scientist, is looking like he’s thinking hard again. Not a good sign: it means for sure somebody’s for getting dumped in the genepool. His companion, Jaq, reminds him it’s an honor to sacrifice themselves for the race. That’s why they were all summoned in the first place: because they’re so special. Fiz, however, alerts him that so they always tell them. But there’s a story he’s been hearing, about the last days of homeworld. When the great destroyer – Galactus – came, it weren’t the Skrulls that led the charge against him… but humans: these X-Men that they’ve been trying to subvert – and they were led by Xavier!
Shocked, Jaq explains he’s been talking treason! Fiz assuages his fears: just thoughts, is all. Just trying to understand the why and way of things. Those thoughts are dangerous, Jaq cautions him. “’Cause maybe we’re fighting against the forms we should be fighting for?” Fiz scores him off. If Xavier risked his life to save their world, why’s their enemy? And if the form they’re allied with is so powerful, where was he when they needed help the most?
Jaq insists they’re not command. It isn’t their place to question policy. They do just as they’re told. That’s the way of things. Fiz asks him if he’s ever considered the way may be wrong. Jaq advises him to shut his mouth. Fiz is talking crazy and Jaq will hear no more… else he makes him crazy, too! Fiz argues there’s nothing wrong with talking a little crazy when they’re talking about a dream – of a better destiny for them all and the form who might lead them there.
Back at the mansion, Storm tells Charles they’ve employed every means available to them, both natural and technological, physical and psionic, to locate Wolverine. If he is on Earth, he is most effectively hidden. Xavier stresses they must redouble their efforts then. “How eminently sensible,” Storm remarks, without caring to hide her vexation. She mockingly suggests they should drive themselves past the brink of exhaustion so that when their next enemy strikes, they will be utterly incapable of effectively combating him.
Xavier is surprised: that’s a tone he has not heard from her in quite a while. Storm stresses that Wolverine being lost is a sad thing. However, he is but a piece of the puzzle. By focusing on this single thread, they lose any opportunity to comprehend the pattern of the tapestry. Charles admits he cannot help but feel responsible. Ororo reminds him that Wolverine’s abduction could not be foreseen. Their task is to divine what comes next. “Fail in that, Charles, and you will be responsible,” she alerts him, in a half-joking, half-intimidating tone.
“Thus does the teacher become the pupil,” Charles observes. Ororo thinks it’s more of a case of a foe who believes he knows precisely how to manipulate them. She advises Charles to rest awhile and gather his strength. Before long he – they – are sure to need it. And in the meanwhile, she suggests he trusts the X-Men to look after themselves; over the years, they have gotten good at that. Xavier thanks her and promises he’ll try.
Below the mansion, the X-Men are training in the Danger Room. Their session has just finished and the team find themselves among ruined buildings. From the control room, Cyclops congratulates them on their workout. He suggests they grab themselves some slack time: they deserve it. “Bless my Southern soul, Cyclops giving us a break? Will wonders never cease?” Rogue quips.
As the other X-Men take their leave, Nightcrawler teleports from the exercise floor to the control room. He apologizes to Cyclops and Phoenix for the sulfur and brimstone stench that accompanies his jaunts. Scott assures him they got used to that ages go and asks him what’s up. Kurt explains he’s concerned about Polaris. When he encountered her a few nights ago, she believed she was being followed. But when neither of them could find any evidence to substantiate her apprehensions, they both laughed off her feelings as urban paranoia. A delayed reaction perhaps to the death of her sweetheart, Alex. In light of what’s happened since Kurt is not so sure.
Scott admits it’s funny. After all this time, he still has a hard time accepting that his brother is gone. He wonders what the connection is, though. Jean retorts that just because they can’t see it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Lorna is a mutant and an X-Man. That alone may make her a target.
Somewhere else, a team of Skrulls is having a table meeting, discussing their espionage of Polaris. The Skrull commander reminds them they have been tasked by their ally to secure the device in such a manner that the resident female remains unaware of their presence or activities. She has been marked by the ally as one of the Twelve, and as such may not be harmed in any manner. The device in question must be acquired: failure is not an option. The ally is generous beyond measure to those who serve him well. For those who fail him, there is no mercy.
One of the other Skrulls informs his companions that the domicile may appear innocuous, but the mutant female herself – cognomen, Lorna Dane, codex cognomen, Polaris – possesses an ability to manipulate magnetic fields second only to the creature known as Magneto. Whether in residence or not, the female seals the domicile with a barrier field of such strength that breaching it would cause an unacceptable level of destruction.
One of his auditors retorts that he thinks like a Kree, solely in terms of brute force. He stresses that the reasons Skrulls were once feared throughout the galaxy was not because of their strength, but their guile. He refers them all to these most recent surveillance records, which he presents them at once on monitor. He informs them that Polaris’ relationships with the X-Men are long-standing. They are friends and in many ways the closest thing she possesses to a true family. Despite her paranoia, she welcomes them without hesitation or suspicion.
Her visitors shown at the monitor are identified as cognomen Scott Summers, codex cognomen Cyclops – the field leader of the team – his lifemate, cognomen Jean Grey, codex cognomen ‘The Name That Must Not Be Uttered’ lest the creature itself be reborn and a previous visitor, cognomen Kurt Wagner, codex cognomen Nightcrawler. The Skrull clarifies that using the form of a teammate is not considered a practicable means of gaining entry. They may employ passwords or some means of recognition they are unaware. Fortunately, there is one form she would never deny.
In Polaris’ apartment, Lorna is reading a book, even though it’s late. It’s been ages since she properly slept or ate, or did much of anything resembling a normal life. She draws her sustenance directly from the magnetic fields of the planet itself. As a consequence, physically anyway, she’s never felt better. She claims not to miss her sleep, because all she sees in her mind’s eye are what may have been the last moments of Alex Summers’ life. She knows it’s nuts. That she may well be nuts. But she also figures that her body, like the world, will heal itself in its own good time.
Suddenly, she hears a knock on the door and cautiously opens it, only to confront… Alex himself! Havok tells her it’s him; he’s home! Lorna backs off and gasps she’s seeing things! Alex asks her to take his hand and he’ll prove different. Lorna cries that she saw him die! Havok tells her to give him a break: he’s an X-Man! That trick never works! Lorna admits he sounds so right: can it possibly be true?
“Sadly, no!” the Havok impostor gleefully notes and places an inhibitor module around her neck that will ensure she causes no trouble about it! In desperation, Lorna realizes she wasn’t paying attention! She should have realized the magnetic field of his body was all wrong! Too late, however, as she instantly passes out. The fake Havok is intrigued to hear she can sense such organic fields and possibly manipulate them. Their database must be updated. In some ways, Polaris may prove to be potentially more formidable than Magneto himself!
The impostor knows the procedure mandates he secures the objective and withdraw using the mnemonic scrambler incorporated in the inhibitor to eliminate the female’s short-term memory of his presence. But why waste such an opportunity? She is one of the Twelve; that makes her a prize beyond all price. At the very least, the ally should reward their initiative in taking her captive. Alternately, she might prove useful as a bargaining chip.
In Egypt, within a pyramid built long before the rise of the Pharaohs, the Skrulls gather around the High Priest and one of them informs him that word has been received: the desired artifact has been acquired. “Splendid,” the Priest remarks. The master’s blessings be upon those responsible for this enterprise, as will his wrath scourge any and all who are found wanting, he declares. He realizes the plan proceeds and all that was foretold at the beginning shall come to pass. The artifact of the catalyst that will ring the ritual of resurrection to its fruition. When that which lies within the sarcophagus shall at last be reborn, a new age will dawn and with the turning of the year, a new epoch will begin to be written in blood and fire. First across the face of this world and then across the very stars!
In the Skrull headquarters, half a world away, the commander’s ship lands down. Three Skrulls are anticipating him. One of them remarks they should trust the commander to go hunting and return with a live trophy. He’s surprised he still has room on his wall. Another hopes this one lasts longer than usual; the clean-up…
The Skrull pauses, as he discerns the physical configuration of the captive their commander – the Havok impostor – carries. “But this human…!” the terrified Skrull protests to his superior. The commander retorts it’s none of his concern. He orders them to maintain duty status and speak of this to no one, on pain of ultimate punishment. For cycles beyond count, they have had to endure stories of how formidable the humans were, of how only their ally is fit to conquer this world. Yet, he, alone and unaided, using only the skills and talents that are the birthright of every true Skrull, has captured one of his precious Twelve – Polaris! Now, he thinks, they shall be allies in more than mere name – and be deserving of a reward commensurate with their deeds!
As the Skrull commander notices yet a new Wolverine impostor, he tells his underlings to give the chief scientist credit for his tenacity. Once his prizes are secure, perhaps he shall return and see how easily this facsimile can be killed. He is unaware, however, that Polaris, whom he still carries, suddenly opens her eyes.
One of the Skrulls addresses his commander and angrily asks him whether he’s demented: by what right does he claim that female as his captive?! By his arrogance and foolhardiness, he may have condemned them all! The Skrull commander retorts that it is a commander’s privilege to exercise initiative. She has not been harmed in the slightest and her mutant abilities have been neutralized. She presents no danger to this installation or the precious plan.
One of the commander’s men, however, suddenly alerts him: they are detecting a cloaking device on her. Polaris was wondering when anyone would notice! Startled, the commander realizes she’s conscious! For quite a while, Polaris reveals. The ride wasn’t very comfortable… but the view was enlightening. No matter, the undeterred commander remarks. She cannot escape and thanks to the inhibitor she wears, she is no match for even the weakest among them! “This old thing?” Lorna scoffs. One drawback to using a target-specific device, she tells him. It might have worked against the magnetic powers of Polaris… but it’s absolutely useless against his optic blasts!
Cyclops zaps the Skrulls and shakes off his disguise, revealing his true form. Cyclops notes that, given the commander’s antipathy to technological ‘crutches’, there’s a delicious irony in the fact that his comeuppance is courtesy of one of their image inducers. Lorna spotted the magnetic fields of his spy the first time he scanned the apartment. Nightcrawler uncovered his location, and when the commander showed up and Phoenix picked his thoughts for his intentions, it seemed only fair to beat the Skrulls in their own game! One of the Skrulls shrieks that for this transgression, the commander’s fate is as sealed as the X-Men’s. He reminds his comrades that Cyclops is one of the Twelve: they are to seize him… but he is not to be killed!
Just then, the X-Men storm into the base. Phoenix asks them to forgive her if she takes a little exception to their last order, but Cyclops is the only husband she’s got and she’d like to keep him around for a good long while! Colossus notes that the rapport Jean shares with Cyclops led them right to him like a beacon. Jean reminds him he’s her man: there’s nowhere in creation she can’t find him. Nightcrawler suggests they try to do the same for Wolverine!
As the X-Men’s fight against the Skrulls begins, Rogue admits there’s nothing she loves more than putting bad guys out of business and taking apart their home base all at the same time! Kurt remarks that, as the saying goes, it is far better to give than to receive. Cyclops grabs the Skrull commander and demands to know where Wolverine is. The Skrull insists he doesn’t know! “Don’t give me that! You’re in charge here!” Scott growls. He demands he starts talking before he… Jean, however, assures Scott the Skrull is telling the truth: he really doesn’t know.
Unbeknownst to the high-flying Jean, one of the Skrulls identifies her as an easy target and asks his companion to cut her down! His interlocutor wonders if his companion would doom them all: she is one of the Twelve! “This is the insanity!” the other Skrull rages. How can they properly defend themselves when they are forbidden to do their foes the slightest harm?
“Beats me, bub!” Shadowcat quips and begins fighting them, assuring it’s an advantage she means to enjoy! She suddenly speaks in the language of the Skrull, surprising the aliens and boasting she can also phase through solid objects: she represents the Wolverine Save Squad! She demands they tell her about the Twelve. One of the Skrulls vows he will die first! Kitty corrects him: he’ll die last… and it won’t be pleasant. Another Skrull, however, beats her from behind, knowing she is not one of the Twelve, which means the one to die here is she!
“Guess again, comrade,” Colossus intervenes and effortlessly tosses the man aside, sending him flying across the room. He realizes Kitty was still solid when he struck; against such a powerhouse, it is a wonder she is still breathing. But as for what she said at the end – the threat… he knows Shadowcat as he does himself. She was not bluffing! She meant every word!
The Skrull that Colossus flung away crashes against a wall, causing it to break open. The mutant Skrulls contained behind the wall realize there’s some kind of big fight; they’ve been summoned to battle, to augment the defenders! As they exit through the opening, Fiz points at Rogue, who’s fighting a Skrull. She tells Jaq she’s one of the X-Men, the one called Rogue! Jaq, however, urges his men to remember their orders and attack! Fiz realizes such blind obedience will get Jaq nothing but a certain grave. As he flees in the commotion, he feels certain there must a better way to help their people and find them a new home. Nearby, Gambit also participates in the fight, all the while narrating a traditional Cajun funny story about the character of Thibodeaux!
Amidst the banter and the chaos of battle, nobody notices a portion of space itself suddenly unfold. Silent as the air, a figure emerges… the new Death. In his own way, his purpose is as singular as the X-Men’s. He ambushes the Skrull commander from behind… and then, without hesitation, pierces his scimitar right through the Skrull’s chest, killing him instantly. He then skirts the fringes of the battle toward his final destination: a power conduit.
Marrow suddenly darts at him, realizing that he carries a bomb and is placing it by the primary power conduit! She figures he isn’t on the side of the angels; that makes him fair game for her! However, Death cuts her attack short and repels her by using just one of his arms. Sarah admits she was looking for a shot but never saw that one coming. Death knew where and how to hit her. Her skeleton’s in full combat mode, covering her better than armor, yet Death found a way through without even getting himself scratched. It’s like they’ve fought before… Death suggests she doesn’t fret herself. This isn’t a test. Finding the answer won’t save her. “For I am become Death…” he begins telling her…
“…the Shatterer of Worlds!” Rogue completes his phrase as she intervenes and kicks him away, thus saving Sarah’s life. Rogue mocks him: like he’s the only who ever stole that quote from the Bhagavhad-Gita. She asks Cyclops if this is the clown he told them about. Scott explains he’s the Horseman of Apocalypse who killed the Skrull masquerading as Wolverine. Jean advises the team not to be subtle and not to hold back. It’ll require all their power to take him. As she strikes him with her telekinesis, Death retorts that and more won’t even come close. Besides, she’s too late: his work here is done… and then the bomb he planted explodes.
The initial blast triggers a chain reaction that quickly engulfs the entire installation and virtually all its garrison. Phoenix uses her telekinesis to deflect the force of the explosions and the fires that result, while Storm’s control of the weather is turning to dampening the conflagration long enough for the survivors to escape.
Marrow’s attack prompted Death to drop the case he’d come for. As Death attempts to retrieve it, he finds Colossus waiting: the Russian mutant pummels him with such a force that he sends him flying across the room, before Death collapses to the ground. Yet, while Death reels from the titanic impact, he regains his feet without a moment’s pause or any apparent ill-effect from the blow.
At this very moment, though, for the X-Men, it is as though their adversary’s sword has pierced them all through their very heart and soul. They all remain shocked and benumbed, as Kitty gasps that Peter shattered Death’s mask and they now can see his face: it’s… Wolverine! Wolverine retorts that the name she speaks, the man it belongs to, are no more! All that remains, for as long as his master Apocalypse lives, is Death! Kitty vows that whoever’s responsible for this, she’ll see they pay!
Colossus suddenly wonders what is happening to the air around Wolverine. Kitty realizes it’s some kind of transmat field – he’s being teleported! Colossus hopes they can stop him! They all extend their hands towards him, hoping to snatch him until Gambit declares “Too late, mes breves! He’s gone!”
Storm argues they should profit from his example if they hope to live to fight another day! At once, the team blasts their way through the ruins of the installation. Finally outside the building, Marrow remarks that at least they know for sure the “canucklehead” is alive. But enslaved by one of their greatest foes, Jean adds. Cyclops argues they’re agreed, then: that’s the real Wolverine. Or another Skrull playing with their heads, Kurt suggests. Kitty realizes the pieces are falling into place, just as Destiny’s Diary foretold: “Death kills the one who is become Death.” Jean fears that, if Apocalypse is truly behind this, then the stakes could well be life as they know it!