X-Men (5th series) #19

Issue Date: 
May 2021
Story Title: 
Inside the Vault

Jonathan Hickman (writer), Mahmud Asrar (artist), Sunny Gho (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom Muller (designer), Lenil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho (cover artists), Jen Bartel (Women's History Month variant cover artist), Jonathan Hickman (Head of X), Nick Russell (production), Annalise Bissa (assistant editor), Jordan D White (editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief)

X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Brief Description: 

Inside the Vault, Synch, Darwin and Laura Kinney have survived the Children's attack against them. They spend years – decades – exploring the Vault and the City within it, adapting and growing, learning everything they can. They make attempts at breaching the Vault but are not successful. They learn about the cycles of the Children, how they grow and are reborn. They are eventually detected again, but fake their deaths. This enables them to discover new knowledge, including that Children of the Vault are entering a third and final version, who plan to take the Earth as their own. With this information, the mutants attempt to leave the Vault and return to Krakoa – unfortunately Darwin and Laura are both captured, leaving Synch alone. More decades follow, where Synch plans his revenge. He builds a device which he is able to use against the Children. He rescues Laura and they grow close. They then locate Darwin some time later, he is held prisoner by the Children, who use his adaptative powers to their benefit. Synch and Laura discover a fourth host of Children is being developed, and plan their escape, without Darwin. Laura however remains behind so that Synch can escape. Laura is killed protecting Synch, who leaves the Vault, and as he runs through the jungle in South America, he thinks he is free – until Ajuga strikes him down yet again. Synch's dying thoughts reach out to Professor X, while Ajuga tells him that the Children will wipe his kind from the face of the planet – the Children are the future. Later, Synch, Laura and Darwin are resurrected on Krakoa. Synch deals with some personal demons he developed during the decades he spent alone – and his feelings for Laura remain.

Full Summary: 

The Past:

South America, inside the Vault. You can measure in hours – maybe minutes – how quickly Everett Thomas a.k.a. Synch realized life in the Vault would be an exercise in sacrifice and pain. It was all too much. He notices that the City was too big, and the Vault itself even larger. The enormity of it is paralyzing, and the scale inconceivable. Before they run, before they heal, they watch the destroyed section of the City begin to rebuild itself. Mutants don't come from a naturally self-healing world, but the Children of the Vault do. So Synch knows why he, Laura Kinney a.k.a Wolverine and Armando Munoz a.k.a. Darwin were chosen – because in combination, the trio could survive anything – that they could somehow survive the raw creation found in this genesis tomb. But Synch has no idea what “survive” means until entering the City. Wolverine uses her healing power to restore Synch after they  were both scorched with energy, while Darwin's body begins to regenerate itself. The trio look at each other and smile, before running away deeper into the City.

The first fifty years were the longest. A makeshift command or control area is established in quadrant one of the Vault's outer ring. All attempts to send a message from inside the Vault  to the outside world are, as expected, unsuccessful. Attempts to breach a temporal bubble to synchronize the time difference is also unsuccessful. Darwin's adaptations imply that internal/external time passage is not consistent or proportional. A time debt inversion occurs, and later, the Child known as Hordar is encountered by recon team, which gives Synch the ability to teleport the team, and the Hordar DNA is preserved in stasis pod for future use. A successful mapping of quadrant one of the Vault is undertaken, and food processors, equipment and power nodes are identified. Quadrants two and three are mapped, and quadrant four is bypassed so the trio can proceed into the inner ring. The location of the City brain is identified, and the Child replication/generation center is discovered – and later, the mutant incursion is detected.

Synch supposes that the Children must have assumed the three of them were dead – vaporized and atomized or something – because they didn't try to find them. They lay low and set up inside the outer ring to avoid the builders that were engaged in edge creation. Darwin figures out pretty quickly that there are also genetic sniffers built into much of the architecture of the City. His body adapts to shed a field of Child gene replica to mask their comings and goings. They learn to either recognize and avoid them, or disable them and fool them. They have time, so they watch and learn. They become aware of the City pulsing and breathing as it undergoes the ebb and flow of evolutionary leaps. The trio acclimate themselves to the cycles of the Vault and time their reconnaissance missions for when the City sleeps and the Children grow. Two months of dormancy for every two of growth. So, during the season of night, the trio hunt the dreams of sleeping Children, and by the end of the sixth of these cycles, they had gained a surface understanding of the Vault – City mapping of power nodes, hatching chambers and the brain of the City itself.

More time passes. There is a successful misdirection/evasion by the mutant recon team, but later Darwin's DNA is recovered and preserved by ther City. A second command/control area is established in quadrant three of the Vault's outer ring. A tactical assault by the mutant recon team takes place, and then there Child classes and evolutionary plan is discovered, followed by an attempt to escape from the Vault. Later still, the Vault shield is discovered, which was erected after the mutants entered. Attempts to pass through the shield results in physical damage from the shield burners and loss of mutant ability due to dampers – but the duration of this is unknown. Multiple breach attempts fail, and the mutant reconnaissance team is trapped inside the Vault. The team then fractures, as Wolverine starts to hunt alone. Synch finishes construction of stasis system to preserve the accumulated Child DNA (including samples from Fuego, Horadar, Diamante and Madre). Darwin evolves again, adapting for isolation, and the mutant recon team reforms. The City assault is planned – and fails.

It was enough time for fear to have disappeared and the mutants' thin layer of knowledge to hide an ocean of ignorance. The mutants learn that the Child called Madre exists inverted from the rest of the Children, and while they sleep, Madre works – while the Children live and grow, Madre rests. The mutants make a pass through the Creche, where, like in the mutant Arbor Magna, the bodies of reborn Child classes wait for rebirth and upgrade, they avoid Madre by chance. But with their second visit, luck runs out. The mutants make a mistake. 'Are we sure that -' Synch begins as he, Darwin and Laura hide in a tunnel. Their costumes are torn and they look exhausted. 'Do it!' Darwin calls out – and Laura and Synch hold Darwin as he places his arm through an energy beam, severing it. Synch covers Darwin's mouth to muffle his scream. There is an explosion, and the mutants escape through a shaft. Synch decides that their mistake isn't in getting caught – it's their plan of how to deal with this happening.

The mutants have established a safe house of sorts as close to the inner ring of the Vault as possible. They prepare an exit strategy, which includes leaving behind evidence of their second death in the Vault. But their error is believing in the idea that if you give the Children a win, it would be enough. That the mutants' defeat – and the Children’s victory – would satisfy them, that they would treasure the trophy. The mutants don't understand that these Children don't celebrate victory – they take their trophy and use it for other means. Primarily, beating one to death with it. In this instance, two Children, one large male with four arms and a smaller Child with a green and red costume, locate Darwin's severed arm in amongst the rubble of the explosion.

By now, Synch decides that the mutants have taken their game of little discoveries and survival as far as they could, and decide to change the rules. Darwin's arm regrows, and the mutants sneak up on Madre and take her out. They seize fire from the source, and accumulate real knowledge, exploring the chamber full of stasis tanks where the Children of the Vault grow. Synch stands before the tank where the Child called Diamante is placed and discovers that Diamante is a living repository of Vault history. Diamante's power was memory – he knows the City – and everything that the mutants know.

Synch knows that years ago, the X-Men had an encounter with the Children of the Vault – they were first-generation Children. From their defeat at the hands of mutantdom, Earth's first post-humans learned that they too had to evolve – and the second generation of Children were produced and let loose on the world. These children were captured, dissected and repurposed by Orchis as potential weapons at the creation of Krakoa. Serafina escaped and when the City learned of their fate, it was decided that another evolutionary leap was needed – this was to be the third and final generation of Children before they were released from the Vault to claim the Earth as their own – and with this, Synch, Darwin and Wolverine had learned what they needed – and that it was time to return home.

But they can't. Even after one hundred years, they cannot find a way through the Vault shield trapping them inside. In their temporal prison, they have one option – continue to study, to learn, until they find a way to escape and make their way home. They change, physically, growing older. Eventually, at the apex of a dormant cycle, they gamble and infiltrate the heart of the Vault, the City itself. They gamble – and lose – as they are overwhelmed by Children, who have laid the perfect trap, waiting patiently for decades for the mutants to walk right into it. Synch realizes that it is obvious the Children are after Darwin. Synch and Laura are simply an afterthought. Darwin is captured, placed in some energy bubble by the Children, and Laura is dragged away by several Children. Synch is devastated – he knows he should have held on, done more to save her.

The years that follow are made worse in isolation, but it is the regret that makes Everett feel old. He attempts to rescue his teammates, but all attempts fail due to Child alertness and enhanced security. Darwin and Wolverine remain prisoners, and unable to rescue his friends, and as a result of being unable to regenerate/restore/extend his life, Synch is forced to escape the Vault timeline. So, he ambushes and steals the power of the Child called Terramoto, and collects necessary supplies for dormant periods. Using Terramoto's earth-moving abilities, Synch confirms his belief that the shield does not extend directly beneath the Vault. He tunnels beyond the Vault's temporal bubble, and waits one-week – then re-enters the Vault over a century later. Synch then frees Wolverine, but Darwin cannot be located. They search for Darwin, refusing to leave him behind. They endure, and the child Serafina is captured. Her powers are copied, the City datacore and location of Darwin are now accessible.

Synch has decades – longer – alone with his thoughts. Survival and observation can only fill so many hours, or weeks, or years. He lives at the whim of post-humanity, which stirs memories of the past. Death looms, demanding an audience with the ghosts of Synch's childhood. He can't help but remember when he was  younger, still posing as human with his human mother and human father – a few years before he became something more. He remembers his dad catching him looking at him as he was looking at her, and he said to Everett “Son, most people don't know how to explain it... but I sure do, so listen closely...Do you know the difference between caring for someone and loving them? If you love them... then you're willing to die for them. That's the difference. That's how you know it's real”.

Synch builds a weapon, like a staff of sorts, and confronts several Children of the Vault – he shoves the staff into the ground, and the resulting wave of energy opens a strange box where Laura has been imprisoned. Laura emerges from the box and she and Synch embrace. More Children of the Vault rush towards them. Later, under the cover of night, they cuddle, resting against the side of a wall. Synch thinks his father was wise on that day. He thought he would carry that truth with him forever.

Synch and Laura go on to attack Serafina, and soon, they locate Darwin as they find themselves surrounded by dozens of Children, seated in some sort of arena, with Synch and Laura as the spectacles in the center of the arena. 'There he is. Oh my god...I think I know what this is...I think I know what they're doing to him...' Synch utters as he looks at Darwin, suspended above them in some sort of energy beam – which then explodes, and energy radiates out throughout the City. Synch knows that most people have no idea what forever means. But he does – and so does Laura. Holding hands, they turn and run through the City, as dozens of Children stare at them.

Afterthe location of Darwin is discovered, the revelations of the Diamante/City datacore are aligned, and Synch learns that prior to Krakoa-era mutantdom, the projections for mutant displacement required the creation of the third-generation children. Post-establishment of Krakoan-era mutantdom, this third-generation of Children were no longer projected to be successful in the displacement protocol, so fourth-generation Children were required, and were created beyond the current capabilities of the City. Examination of the mutant Darwin's acquired genetic material revealed highly adaptable evolutionary structure. So Darwin was acquired, and subjected to atomization and reconfiguration on a loop count of 10.278. Genome integration was achieved and harmonic convergance was made possible. Darwin's final atomization and biomass seeding was complete, and the fourth-generation Children were made possible. Child evolution began. And soon after, the mutant recon team attempts Vault escape using stasis DNA of Merbavon, a Child disruptor.

'I can disrupt it... but going through the shield is still going to hurt' Synch remarks as he and Wolverine rush towards the shield. 'Gotta do it though, right?' Wolverine replies. 'The Professor has to know' Synch tells her – before they both scream as they pass through the shield. Their clothes are scorched, and the emerge naked on the other side of the shield. 'We... we... I can't believe how bad this hurts... we just have to get clear. We...' Synch utters, curled over on the ground. 'We've got company' Laura reports, as she turns and sees Aguja and several other Children on the other side of the shield. 'I have had enough of you mutants!' Aguja calls out. Laura looks at Everett and tells him that he has to go, that one of them has to make it – and he doesn't have his powers. 'You don't have your powers' Everett replies. He puts a hand on Laura's neck and they bring their faces closer to each other, as Laura admits that she might not be able to stop them, but she knows she can slow them down. 'Listen, Everett...you saved me once... now let me save you' Laura utters. She pops her claws, as Synch runs down the corridor, and the Children of the Vault attack Laura, who fights back, drawing blood.

Eventually, Synch escapes the Vault – he's outside. But then he screams, as a powerful blast of energy strikes him down. He lays naked on the ground. 'Professor' his voice calls out, while smoke rises from his body. 'Professor can you hear me?' Synch asks. Aguja and the other Children gather around Synch: 'I can hear you, mutant. Just fine. Now before you die. I want you to hear me' Aguja declares. She boasts that they are going to wipe mutantkind from the face of this planet. 'Understand? We're the future' she exclaims. 'Not you'. She readies another blast of energy, and everything goes dark for Synch.

Everett Thomas emerges from an egg in the Hatchery. 'He was listening. The Professor heard me in time. So I made it out. I made it back'. Professor X and Cyclops stand near Synch as he gets to his feet, and Xavier welcomes Everett home. 'You were missed' he adds. Synch realizes that he was resurrected with all the secrets of the Vault – what the Children had become – what they were becoming – and some ideas of how to stop them. But he knows that is just information, data – what he really learned: 'Friend, confidant, partner, lover... those are human words to describe a human relationship measured in human years. I can still hear him... my father saying that he loved my mother so much he was willing to die for her. Human words. Useless words. Love is not dying for someone – it's living for them'.

Everett turns as Xavier stands over Laura and Darwin as they emerge from their eggs. Synch looks at Laura and thinks of the lifetimes he has spent with her, that he knows her better than anyone else on the planet – maybe more than anyone ever will, and he has to wonder: 'How do you explain such a thing? How do you even start the conversation?' Laura frowns at Everett, and pops her claws: 'What are you looking at?' she asks. Synch smiles, 'Yeah, okay... that'll work'.

Characters Involved: 

Darwin, Synch, Wolverine/Laura Kinney
Cyclops, Professor X

Aguja, Diamante, Fuego, Madre, Perro, Sangre, Serafina and other Children of the Vault

Story Notes: 

Five pages of this issue are devoted to depicting an extensive and detailed timeline of events that occur once Laura Kinney, Synch and Darwin enter the Vault. They entered the Vault in X-Men (5th series) #5.

The X-Men previously encountered the Children of the Vault in X-Men (2nd series) #188-193 and X-Men Legacy (1st series) #238-241.

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