Westchester, some 7,000 miles east of Doomgard. Were you to look upon this locality mere moments before, your gaze would've been met with images of war and strife, but not this day. Today, what stands before you is a community in the midst of rebuilding. A place of peace. But as always, peace is a fragile concept.
Right now, inside Lazer Hut 2000, Westchester's EXTREME Laser Tag! Seven members of the X-Men stand ready. 'On your toes. This is life or death!' Cyclops, who fires powerful solar charged force beams from his eyes exclaims. Jean Grey, who has telekinetic and telepathic abilities reminds Scott that there hasn't been an evil mutant attack in months, and suggests he try enjoying himself a little. 'Yeah, boss – take a chill pill!' Jubilee, who creates pyrotechnic plasmoids of colorful light from her hands, laughs.
But Storm, who controls the forces of nature declares 'No, child! Cyclops is correct. Though I've mastered my own ability to control the forces of nature, it is in all our best interests to continue to hone our mutant-born abilities!' Rogue, whose mutant power is absorption, super-strength, flight and invulnerability tells Storm to call up all the rain clouds she wants, ain't none of them going to stand a chance against her this round. 'Maybe the winner get a kiss, eh?' Gambit grins. His power is to charge objects with explosive kinetic energy – and he possesses psychic charm. 'Maybe the loser gets a clue, bub' Wolverine suggests. He is possessed of healing factor, enhanced senses, nigh-indestructible adamantium skeleton and razor- sharp claws.
There is a countdown, before the laser fight begins, and the mutant heroes called the X-Men race into the game. They are born with incredible abilities, and gathered together by Professor Charles Xavier, they are dedicated to protecting a corner of Battleworld that once hated and feared them. Not so long ago, they risked their very lives for both the mutants and humans of Westchester. These days, however, their time is spent in preparation for a battle they may have already won. Nevertheless, this afternoon has brought them to the New Salem Mall for an animated outing full of strategy, exercise... and laser tag!
Cyclops tells Storm and Rogue to keep their powers to a minimum. 'You know the rules. If you're gonna use them, stay low – don't give our positions away to the gold team!' Storm assures him that they won't be airborne long, and instructs Rogue to reconnoiter and report back, while she covers the forward flank. 'I'll be as quiet as a church mouse!' Rogue replies as she flies past the bright lights that flash in the area. Gambit holds his laser gun at the ready, it doesn't matter none to him – he never has a hard time finding a lady, or so he boasts. 'Take Rogue's advice for once, Gumbo! I could hear you clear across the arena!' someone calls out as they shoot at Gambit, zapping his tag with the laser gun. 'And Cyclops is right – you are an easy target!' they tell Storm as they shoot at her. 'By the Goddess!' Storm gasps.
Cyclops is the next to get shot at as he instructs the blue team to fall back into position alpha. 'Too late, leader-man!' the shooter declares. 'Sorry, Jean – nothing personal!' they add as they shoot Jean. 'Oh, good shot!' Jean smiles.
Nearby, Wolverine and Rogue start shooting at each other. 'Down to you and me! Nice job on taking out the others, but I ain't so easy!' Wolverine warns her. 'Me? Shoot, I thought it was you who -' Rogue begins, before her tag is shot at. 'Aw, dang it!' Rogue mutters. 'What in blazes -' Wolverine begins, before a voice calls out 'Did you forget, Logan? You're in my Battleworld now!' It's Jubilee, who grins and shouts 'BANG, YOU'RE DEAD!' as she shoots Wolverine's tag. And almost as swiftly as it began, the battle ends. 'Right on, kid!' Wolverine tells her.
The team gathers, and Jubilee declares 'So that's what? Jubilee six, X-Men zero! Now can I go on more missions, Cyclops?' But Cyclops tells Jubilee that being skilled in simulation is one thing, but surviving in the field's a different story altogether. Storm agrees, but tells Cyclops they must all admit, the child has done well.
Gambit points out that they have this place rented out all day. 'And you should know this: Gambit always wins... eventually. He looks at Rogue and suggests that his name will look real good with the high scores. 'Only if they spelled it C-R-E-E-P!' Rogue retorts. Jubilee tells Gambit to keep dreaming, as before she joined the X-Men, she was here, like, twenty-four seven. While other kids were wasting quarters on bag dudes, she was taggin' lasers! Jubilee adds that if Baron Kelly really wants to keep Westchester safe, he oughta put her in charge of taking down evil mutants. 'You guys could, like, retire tomorrow!' she boasts. Storm tells Jubilee to mind her words, as Kelly may be sympathetic to the mutant cause now, but she is sure his friends at the newly formed Bureau of Super-Powers would like nothing more than to put a target on all mutants, regardless of their intentions. 'Don't know, Storm. A nice big target might improve this ensemble' Wolverine suggests. 'Ey!' Gambit exclaims, before Cyclops tells them all to settle down. He assures them that he has nothing against having a little fun, but this isn't a game.
Cyclops continues, reminding the others that they are only training here while Beast and the Professor repair the Danger Room. 'Thanks to somebody' he adds, looking at Wolverine. 'Don't cut your eye at me, Bub. It's the “Danger Room”. You don't want me breaking stuff, name it something else' Wolverine retorts. 'Wolverine! Scott! Please -' Jean begins, to which Wolverine turns around and removes his laser tag gear, he tells Jean that he doesn't need heightened senses to know when he is not wanted. 'Have fun or don't – who gives a rip? I got shopping to do'.
Annoyed, Scott orders Wolverine not to walk away from him, as they are not done training. Jean tells Scott to let Wolverine go, and Scott admits that she is right, adding that they will get more done without him. 'Back to work, X-Men! And this time, the target's off!'
Suddenly, as the X-Men engage in another training session, several Sentinels appear and tear the roof of the Lazer Hut 2000 off. 'Destroy!' one of the Sentinels declares. 'Sentinels! Evasive maneuvers!' Cyclops instructs the X-Men.
Wolverine enters a clothing store and picks up a checkered shirt. 'Welcome to Rugged. You're one of them, aren't you? “The Wolverine” right?' the shop assistant asks. 'Just Wolverine, darling' Wolverine tells her. The woman tells Wolverine that she wants to thank him, for all he did. She adds that he saved her sister's life once, and she talks about him all the time. The woman pauses, and Wolverine asks her if something is wrong. 'I thought you'd be taller' she tells him. 'Yeah, so did I. Listen, you got this in another -' Wolverine begins, before picking up a scent. He pulls his mask back over his face and tells the shop assistant to get somewhere safe. 'What is it?' she asks him. 'I smell – trouble!' Wolverine declares as a Sentinel brings its hand into the store and wraps it around Wolverine, knocking the rack of shirts aside.
Back in the Lazer Hut 2000, Jubilee is tangled in some cables that the Sentinel wraps around her. 'Hey! Take it easy! No fair!' she exclaims while trying to blast the Sentinel with some fireworks. 'Not quite laser tag, is it, Jubilee?' Cyclops asks as he fires an optic blast, freeing the young mutant. 'Not the time, boss!' Jubilee calls out.
'By the power of nature, you shall fall!' Storm declares as she blasts one of the Sentinels with a surge of lightning. 'Request denied, mutant!' the Sentinel responds as it blasts an energy beam from the palm of its hand. 'Goddess!' Storm gasps as she is struck. Jean has moved out into the mall and asks the panicking civilians to try and exit in an orderly manner. 'Giant robots... again?' a man exclaims. Jean tells Gambit that they are panicked, she can't calm them. 'It's all I can do to get them out of harm's way!' she exclaims as she tries to use her telepathy on the civilians. 'Can you blame 'em?' Gambit asks, when suddenly, a Sentinel almost stands on her and she is knocked aside.
'Maybe she shoulda said “please”!' Rogue declares as she slams her fist into one of the Sentinels. 'It's going to crush Cyclops!' Jubilee calls out as another Sentinel grabs Cyclops in its hand. Storm tries to get to her feet, declaring that she must recover and take back control of the winds. Cyclops is blasting optic beams at the Sentinel, but he can't get a clear shot. 'Don't worry, Sugah. Help's on the -' Rogue calls out, before she is struck by another Sentinel. 'Prepare to be neutralized, mutant. Permanently!' the Sentinel holding Cyclops warns him. 'Must – get – free -' Cyclops utters, when suddenly: 'Something in your eye, Bub?' Wolverine asks as he bursts through the Sentinel's head.
With that, all of the Sentinels are defeated. Storm reports that the authorities are arriving, and Jubilee blasts some more fireworks at one of the fallen Sentinels. 'Not so tough now, are you, dweeb?' she tells it. Cyclops tells Jean that he realizes Wolverine saved his life, but his attack was reckless, and she knows it. 'Ah, another successful shopping trip!' Gambit jokes as he stands on one of the fallen Sentinels. 'Honey, they oughta see us go out t'dinner!' Rogue exclaims.
Suddenly, men in brown uniforms with green helmets appear. 'The Westchester Guard. About time you showed up. Care to explain why we were just attacked by Sentinels, Mister?' Cyclops asks one of them. 'Afraid that's above my pay grade, Sir' one of the Guard replies. 'But not mine!' a voice calls out. 'Baron Kelly!' Gambit exclaims as Baron Robert Kelly, the duly appointed Lord of Westchester arrives on a chariot drawn by Warwolves. 'Captain Summers!' Kelly greets Cyclops, asking him if he and his men are all right. 'I'm not Captain Summers, Baron... not anymore. The Westchester Wars are over, Sir. And these aren't “my men”, they're my friends' Cyclops adds. “Friends`?' Wolverine asks. Baron Kelly announces that he is sorry about this, and explains that free-range Sentinels were programmed for evasion, impossible to track, and unfortunately, not all of them received the shutdown order after the war. Baron Kelly assures Cyclops that his people are working on it, and now that they have these to dismantle and evaluate, they are one step closer to ending the Age of the Sentinel.
Baron Kelly asks if any civilians were injured, but Cyclops tells him that none were this time. 'Thank Doom' Kelly utters. Wolverine points a finger at Baron Kelly and suggests that he might like to thank them, as Doom had nothing to do with this. 'Can you say the same, “Your Highness”?' Wolverine adds.
One of the Westchester Guard steps forward: 'Watch yourself, runt. Or maybe you wanna take a trip to Clear Mountain -' he begins, but Baron Kelly tells the soldier to stand down. “Clear Mountain”? Wolverine asks. 'What the hell's he talking about?' 'Very well...' Baron Kelly begins. He reminds the X-Men that they were all there when the conflict between human and mutantkind reached a tipping point – the day Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants declared war on humanity, and thanks to the heroic actions of the X-Men, they discovered not all mutants were a threat, and realized that a peaceful co-existence between Homo Sapiens and Homo Superior was indeed possible. Baron Kelly continues, explaining that a coalition between mutant and man was more than the deranged Magneto could stand, and as his anger grew, so did his Brotherhood, until total chaos erupted in Westchester and nearly destroyed everyone. Sadly, it took Magneto's death to end the years of fighting, and his demise left Westchester with an abundance of mutants who knew nothing but violence as a way of life. Baron Kelly reveals that with those poor souls in mind, the Bureau of Super-Powers established the Clear Mountain Institute – a haven for wayward mutants with a desire to find a new path in life – a place where those who are tired of lashing out at the world and forget about being evil mutants....
“...and learn to become civilized members of society” Cyclops exclaims to Professor Charles Xavier back in the X-Mansion, home of the X-Men. 'Curious. And the good Baron actually used that word? “Civilized”?' Hank McCoy a.k.a. The Beast asks as he hangs from the ceiling, repairing some equipment. He is possessed of enhanced strength and agility and superhuman intellect, while Professor X is Westchester's most powerful telepath – for now. 'He may have a point, though, Cyclops' the Professor states. The Professor remarks that years of conflict against the evil mutants left many without hope that they would ever be able to find a place in a Westchester that was finally at peace. He reminds the others that he opened his doors to many of them, but alas...not everyone wants to be an X-Man. Xavier declares that if Baron Kelly truly means what he says, then this “Clear Mountain” could be a benefit to all of mutantkind. But he points out that they have seen how similar “benefits” have hidden traps before, and he is not sure how much he trusts this new “Bureau of Super-Powers”. He suggests that perhaps the X-men should pay a visit to the facility – it is the civilized thing to do.
'But Professor, what if it's not a cover for something more sinister? What if it's exactly what they say -' Cyclops begins, to which the Professor interrupts him, stating that if there is even a small chance they are harming mutants, then they must investigate. 'Don't you agree?' he asks. 'I'm not sure I do' Cyclops tells him. The Beast suggests to Gambit and Jubilee that they take their leave now, to which Jubilee calls out 'Okay, but can I go on the next field mission? Cyclops?' and her response from the Professor and Cyclops is a unanimous 'Later, Jubilee!' The Professor asks Cyclops if he has something on his mind. 'Are you asking, Sir? Or do you already know?' Cyclops responds, clenching his fists. 'Scott, that was out of line. I would never read your -' the Professor begins. Cyclops apologizes to him, admitting that he was wrong, and pointing out that it has been a long day. 'About Clear Mountain...' he begins, stating that they have been suspicious of the government for so long – and they have had every right to be – but each time they have met with Baron Kelly he has been completely honest. He adds that after all they have been through together, he would like to believe that Baron Kelly is one of the good guys, and if Clear Mountain really is a program designed to help mutants re-enter society, then – then maybe Westchester won't need the X-Men anymore?
'And maybe the X-Men won't need Cyclops' Scott adds. 'Scott, are you saying -' the Professor begins. Cyclops turns away from the Professor and reminds him that he has lived here since he was a teenager, his whole life he has fought to protect mutants from a world that hates and fears them. 'I know how to be an X-Man, Sir – I've gotten pretty good at it. But I know nothing of what it means to be Scott Summers'. Cyclops tells the Professor that he is like a father to him, and if not for him, he would probably be in that institute himself. 'You saved my life, but I'm sorry...I'll go to Clear Mountain. Make sure it checks out. But after this mission, I'm leaving the X-Men!' Cyclops announces.
The next morning, the gleaming shape of the X-Men's modified SR-70 aircraft, the Blackbird, streaks across the sky. Its destination: Clear Mountain Institute. But whether they will find friends there, or foes, remains unknown. Beast and Cyclops sit at the Blackbird controls, while Jean Grey stands behind Cyclops, and Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit and Jubilee are seated up the back. The Beast announces that they have touchdown in five minutes, and Cyclops declares that they are right on schedule. 'I wouldn't dare deviate from your itinerary, oh fearless leader! After all, this little excursion into the unknown is the closest thing we've had to a vacation in years, and I wouldn't want to be the one to ruin it!' the Beast exclaims. Jean remarks that a vacation sounds nice. Cyclops tells her that he is glad she thinks so, and asks her if when this is over, they go up north for a little while, maybe do a little whale watching. Jean tells Scott that sounds so romantic. 'Whale watching with Cyclops? Hmph. Watch out, whales' Logan mutters as he keeps a watch on Jean and Cyclops.
The Blackbird descends over a high-tech facility built into the side of a snow-covered mountain, an announcement from Clear Mountain gives the X-Men permission to land, and informs them that the Director is waiting for them on the ground. The jet lands and the X-Men emerge from it, and Rogue asks the others what they know about this “Director” they are supposed to meet? 'Not that much. Just that she's some pioneer in mutant psychology' Cyclops announces. 'Sure is chilly up here' Jubilee remarks as she examines her surroundings. A figure arrives on the steps leading up to the facility, flanked by what appears to be several robots. 'Good morning, X-Men. I'm Director Cassandra Nova. Welcome to Clear Mountain' declares the skinny, bald woman who stands before the mutant heroes.
Cassandra Nova doesn't dream. She takes great pride in knowing her every thought is grounded in reality; that the whole of her identity is based solely on direct interaction with the environment in which she exists. In her mind, dreams aren't even suitable for children. Especially Children of the Atom! The X-Men listen to Cassandra as she asks them to forgive the pomp and circumstance, as they don't get many visitors, and when they heard the X-Men were coming, the Guard Command insisted on giving them the full Clear Mountain experience. 'Thanks. But in the future, you might consider not greeting guests with a battalion of uniformed soldiers. Gives the wrong impression' Cyclops suggests to her. 'Noted' Cassandra replies. 'Now I believe you're here to see the Facility. If you'll allow me the honor...' she begins. 'Lead the way' Cyclops replies.
The Beast walks up front alongside Cassandra, followed closely by Cyclops and Jubilee, then Rogue and Storm, Jean, Gambit and Wolverine bring up the rear. Cassandra states that it is a shame Professor Xavier isn't with them, as his work in the field of mutant sociology influenced much of what they do here. 'I was looking forward to meeting him. Still... I'm delighted the rest of you chose to come. I've often wondered when the Battleworld-famous X-Men would pay us a visit!'
The Beast tells Cassandra that they would have stopped by sooner, but to his knowledge, they never received their invitation. 'Perhaps it was lost in the mail' he remarks. 'Haha! When has not being invited ever stopped a strapping Beast like yourself from going where he wants!' Cassandra is wanting to say, but decides that is inappropriate, so replaces that sentence with: 'What's important is that you're here now' as she strokes the Beast's cheek. 'Um...Director Nova? The tour?' the Beast reminds her. 'Of course, Dr McCoy' Cassandra replies as she leads the way along a platform within the facility. 'Look around. Clear Mountain is a safe refuge for wayward mutants in need of change. Here, we remove those extreme tendencies that make them societal rejects, and prepare them for a brighter tomorrow' Cassandra explains.
The X-Men enter an area where over a dozen mutants are seated ot standing around in a garden area, talking in small groups. 'Welcome to Phase One: Mentoring' Cassandra reports. 'What is this?' Cyclops asks. Cassandra reveals that it is the Courtyard, a judgment-free zone where disciplined role models equip so-called “evil mutants” with the skills necessary to be human first, and mutant second. She adds that this stage of the treatment is essential to a patient's future success, as it's where they learn to trust again – instead of fear. She adds that she likes to think of it as their version of the Danger Room – with less danger, of course. Many dupes of Multiple Man stand around the perimiter, while a shirtless Iceman talks to Frenzy. Boom-Boom sits with Fabian Cortez, and Cannonball and Polaris (who resembles Malice) stand at a table where Havok, Firestar and Warpath sit. Shatterstar and Vertigo have their arms around each other, while Destiny hangs back from the group. Strong Guy and Unuscione stand together, while Avalanche and Pyro sit at a table and Dazzler stands behind them.
'And here we have -' Cassandra begins, motioning to a basketball court, 'Toad and the Blob playing ball? What do you call this one? “The Lily Pad”?' Rogue exclaims. 'We call it a basketball court, dear' Cassandra replies, adding that she would ask them all to refrain from calling the patients by their codenames, as Mortimer and Fred are in the second phase of treatment – nonviolent one-on-one interaction with another former reprobate. The goal here isn't to win, but to accept the loss. The Toad – Mortimer – leaps into the air and flips over the Blob – Fred – slamming the ball into the hoop, laughing as he does so. 'Gotta be the shoes' Fred mutters as the Toad bounces onto his head, then to the court. Logan sniffs the air, and the Beast notices him doing so. 'Logan?' he asks his friend. 'That scent...' Logan begins, while Cassandra suggests that they move inside. 'Scott!' Jean gasps, keeling backwards and clutching her head. 'Jean, what's wrong?' Scott asks. 'Psychic...blackout...' Jean begins. 'Allow me -' Cassandra offers as she steps towards Jean. 'Back off!' the defensive Cyclops warns her, before asking what is wrong with Jean. Cassandra claims that it is a psionic suppressor, which keeps telepaths from getting ahead of the treatment. 'I should've warned her, I'm sorry' Cassandra adds, while Jean assures Scott that she is fine.
Wind rises around Storm, who declares that whatever the technology, it seems to affect Jean alone, as her control over the winds remains unhindered. 'I still don't like it. Turn it off, Nova' Cyclops exclaims, but a somewhat stunned Jean tells Scott that they are her guests, and they should keep going. 'I want to see -' Jean begins, when suddenly, 'I knew I smelled a rat!' Wolverine growls, popping his claws, he lunges forward, 'SABRETOOTH!' he snarls. The X-Men look on in shock, while Storm shouts 'By the Goddess! I call upon the winds to -' but before she can conjure the winds, 'A moment, Storm' Cassandra calls out, raising a hand. 'But -' Jubilee begins. 'Observe, child' Cassandra tells her. 'Logan, wait -' Sabretooth exclaims as Wolverine tackles him. For what, you egg-sucking dog? Christmas?' Logan asks. Wolverine waves his claws toward Sabretooth, who falls backwards, 'Don't worry. Got yer presents right here, Bub! Bad news, though. Somebody unwrapped 'em already!' Logan adds. But Sabretooth asks him to put away the claws, as he doesn't want to fight. 'That's a load of bunk!' Wolverine retorts.
'Is it?' Cassandra asks as she stands behind Sabretooth. She tells Logan to forget what he knew. 'Your senses don't lie. What do they tell you now?' she enquires. Sabretooth announces that Doc Nova's treatment cured him – all the rage and hatred – she helped him get rid of it. 'Y'gotta believe me, kid...I've changed!' Sabretooth explains. 'Yeah! Right! As -' Jubilee begins, but Jean tells her not to, and goes over to Wolverine, taking his arm. 'Logan, let the man -' Jean begins. “Man?” Wolverine asks. 'He ain't nothing but a rabid animal'. Sabretooth gets to his feet, while Wolverine warns Cassandra Nova that if she keeps him off his leash for long enough, and she will be cleaning up the leftovers. 'Please, Logan... all I want is for us to be friends! Honest!' Sabretooth pleads. 'How about a hug?' he asks as he wraps his arms around the surprised Wolverine. 'By the Bright Lady!' gasps Storm. 'Now this is a grand change!' Gambit remarks. 'Y'can say that again, Swamp Rat. They went and turned Sabretooth into a pussycat!' Rogue declares. Cassandra suggests to Rogue that “Pussycat” is not acceptable, and that he should always be called Victor. 'My dear. His name is Victor. But I'm glad you're impressed' Cassandra smiles, adding that it is too bad Professor Xavier isn't here to see that.
Meanwhile, the address is 407 Graymalkin Lane, the X-Mansion, where an increasingly concerned Charles Xavier prepares to use the mutant-detecting supercomputer known as Cerebro to ease his mind. In the communications room, Charles places the helmet of Cerebro over his head and thinks to himself that the X-Men aren't scheduled to check in for another few hours, but he is suddenly uneasy about their excursion to Clear Mountain, and by using Cerebro, he should be able to look in on them. But, it is as Charles feared, nothing but darkness, as if a cloud were casting a shadow over the Clear Mountain Project. But there is no sign of the X-Men, nor any other mutants for that matter. He must know what is happening up there, and decides he may find answers on the Astral Plane. But as Charles' astral form searches this psychic realm, he senses another presence. Suddenly, “Presence?” Cassandra Nova asks, as a gigantic version of her appears, looming ominously over Charles. 'I'm hurt, Charles. Don't you recognize me?' she asks. 'Who -?' Charles begins, to which Cassandra tells him that she is the other side of the mirror, the answer to the question “Is God a woman?”. She introduces herself, and informs Charles that he is the relic that needs to be put away. 'You're controlling the Astral Plane?' Charles asks. Cassandra announces that she has done some redecorating. 'Welcome to the Mind Field, Charles' she tells him, before her appearances transforms somewhat, a huge mouth with razor sharp teeth opens, 'Watch your step!' she screams. 'Noooo!' Charles calls out.
Back at Clear Mountain, Cassandra has led the X-Men inside, where they observe Rusty and Siryn playing a game of cards with Forearm and Marco Delgado. Cassandra explains that Phase Three is Intergration, and here, the patients apply what they have learned so far, interacting with the people around them instead of lashing out at them. 'Those mutants were one hated enemies. I confess I scarcely imagined seeing them as friends' the Beast remarks. Cyclops agrees that the results are appealing, but asks the Director how. 'It took years for us to find peace' he adds. 'Ah, but that's the flaw in pre-war thinking, isn't it? You were trained to fight in the name of peace. That contradiction has held you back, perpetuating a viscious cycle' Cassandra tells them, adding that at Clear Mountain, they know violence is never the answer.
And on the Astral Plane:
'All your work, Charles, and what have you accomplished? Nothing. Yours is a legacy of endless conflict wearing the mask of progress' Cassandra declares as she smacks Charles' astral form. Charles' astral armor materializes around his astral form, and tells Cassandra that powerful she may be, she is no “God”, for if she were, she wouldn't make the mistake of attacking him here. 'Oh, Charles. So sure of yourself. It's been a long time since anyone's asked you to dance, hasn't it?' Cassandra asks. 'You're a mutant?' Charles exclaims. 'Perhaps. Once upon a time, I may have been. But now, I'm neither mutant nor human. Now... I'm whatever I wish to be!' Cassandra boasts, as energy swirls around her and she pushes Charles backwards. Charles readies some psychic power on the Astral Plane to fight back, 'Whatever you are, whatever your intentions with my students, you will not harm them!' Charles warns her. Cassandra's energy strikes Charles' as Charles announces that he is in control here, and he will stop her. 'Oh, are you? I hadn't noticed!' Cassandra exclaims as she smacks Charles backwards. 'Same old “Professor”. Always so keen to teach, but you never learn, do you?' Cassandra remarks, adding that she, on the other hand, has grown a great deal since their previous encounter. 'Previous? Who – what are you?' Charles asks. Cassandra pulls some of the Astral Plane aside, revealing a scene from the past. She tells Charles that she was different then, fragmented, more he than she in some ways, but lost without form in another.
'Whoa! This old lady's heinous!' a man with glasses wearing a jacket with “Shadow Kings” on the back exclaims as he and two others walk amongst some ruins, where they come across a series of tanks, with beings held in suspended animation inside. One of them is marked “Professor X-23”. A man with short hair remarks 'Oh, I disagree, John... she's perfect!' A body worthy of me. A new vessel for my revenge!' a shadowy figure declares as it – he – moves from the man with the short hair, seeping into the woman in the tank. 'And for Westchester's salvation' he adds. The man with short hair falls to the ground, 'Ralph, man this isn't funny' the third man of the group calls out. 'Ralph? Wake up, man!' John declares as he tries to pull Ralph up. 'That lady! She did something to him! Who the hell is she?' the third man asks, when suddenly, the bald woman bursts through the tank, fiery energy radiating around her, she exclaims 'Profanity is the last refuge of a weak mind, child – and I am no weak mind!'
'My God!' Charles utters from behind his astral armor. 'Now you're getting it' Cassandra snarls. 'Apocalypse's cloning project. You're... me, somehow. Twisted – changed!' Charles gasps. 'I was you. Now I'm something better' Cassandra replies. An image of the Shadow King can be seen, then Cassandra's costume changes from the brown clothing she was wearing to a revealing latex black outfit. 'Shadow Queen, Professor!' she re-introduces herself, armed with two fiery psionic swords. 'I've defeated you before. I shall do so again!' Charles reminds his foe as he releases energy towards her. 'Fall!' he calls out. 'You've never defeated me, Charles. Not this me' Cassandra calls back, releasing energy which transforms the Professor's body into many bubbles. 'How...?' the Professor calls out. Cassandra declares that her former self merely exploited the Astral Plane for his own selfish desires, and now she embodies it. 'It's as much me as I am you. And we are all together!' Cassandra exclaims, holding up Charles' head amongst the bubbles. 'Why are you doing this? What do you want?' Charles calls out. Cassandra shushes him, and tells him to open his mind so she can help him. She then tears open Charles' head, and pushes her way inside him. 'Phase One: Mentoring. Recognizing when you need to learn from your betters' she tells him. She looks around at the images inside Charles' head. Cyclops, Wolverine and Jean Grey can all be seen. 'Phase Two... Treating Aggression!' Cassandra grins, eyes glowing with the evil of the Shadow King.
'Outmoded ideas must be torn down so that we can build something new!' laughs Cassandra as she releases energy inside Charles' brain, fracturing it further. She stands over Charles' motionless body, 'Phase Three: Integration. The realization of just how pointless it is to continue fighting' Cassandra declares. In the real world, Charles has fallen out of his yellow hover-chair, and Cerebro hangs over him as he lay, contorted on the ground, wide-eyed, he utters 'To...me...my...X...X-Men...'.
Back at Clear Mountain: 'And finally, Phase Four of our treatment: the Mind Field!' Cassandra anounces. Cyclops tells her that it sounds dangerous, to which Cassandra replies 'To some, perhaps, but only if they're afraid of examining themselves!' she adds that here, they simply analyze the mind to identify those antisocial urges caused by the X-gene and quiet them. 'The X-gene as the cause of aggressive behavior? I'd be curious to see your research' the Beast tells her. Cassandra asks him why he would seettle for reading a paper, when he could experience it, as she has prepared the room if they would like to see it. 'What say you, Captain Summers?' Cassandra asks. Cyclops asks for a moment, to which Cassandra enquires 'Getting cold feet?' Cyclops walks away from her and declares that he just needs to consult with his team. Cassandra tells him to take his time. The X-Men gather together, and Wolverine declares that something stinks to high heaven around here. 'For once we agree, Logan' Cyclops admits. Wolverine tells him not to worry, as he isn't planning on making it a habit. The Beast tells Wolverine that while he is inclined to trust his instincts in these situations, the change in Sabretooth alone merits further investigation, on his part at least. 'As the bard would say, “The friendship makes ups fresh”!' the Beast quotes. 'You always saying somebody need to teach Gambit some manners' Gambit points out. 'Man's got a point. Be nice to see how he cleans up!' Rogue remarks.
'If but one of Nova's techniques can aid us in our efforts to protect mutantkind, how can we say no?' Storm asks. 'She helped Sabretooth, Logan...maybe she can -' Jean begins. 'That what you think, Red? That I'm like him?' Wolverine asks, before pushing Gambit out of the way and shouting 'I'm nothing like that maniac! And I'll prove it. Out of my way, Gumbo! I'm first in line!' Gambit then frowns and decides that maybe on second thought he should sit out. 'No way! We all go or none of us do!' Jubilee exclaims. 'Afraid not, young lady. Children aren't allowed in the Mind Field' Cassandra informs her. 'I look like a kid to you, lady? C'mon, I just want to know my team's gonna be okay in there' Jubilee exclaims, throwing her hands in the air. 'She's an X-Man, Director' Cyclops tells Cassandra, who explains that it is for her own safety, as the adolescent mutant's physiology is a cauldron of chemicals – a work in progress. 'Our system's adaptability network, while impressive, is no match for the teenager' Cassandra adds. Storm assures Jubilee that no harm will befall them. 'Yeah, 'swhat they keep me around for' Wolverine reminds Jubilee. 'Fine, whatever. Just come back in one piece' Jubilee tells them, before asking Cassandra if she has an arcade around here or something. Cassandra calls out to two associates, Rachel and Miles, and asks them to show their young friend to the lounge. 'The rest of you, right this way' Cassandra announces.
A concerned Jean approaches Logan, 'What I said before... I didn't mean -' she begins, but Wolverine interrupts her and tells her to forget it. 'Let's just get this over with' he adds. Cassandra leads the way to a room where several while domes with seats under them are waiting. Cassandra tells the X-Men that entering the Mind Field before completing the other phases of the treatment is a bit unorthodox, but from what she hears, the X-Men have played enough basketball already. 'Take a seat' she instructs them. 'I usually prefer Baroque furniture, but these certainly make an impression' the Beast remarks. Jean adds that she thinks it will be nice to work out their frustrations without having to trash a giant robot for once. 'Hope you ain't looking for repressed memories, Nova. We'll be here all flamin' week' Wolverine tells her. Cassandra asks if the X-Men are all seated comfortable, and grins. 'Good... let's begin. Activate the Xavier Protocols' she announces as restraints cover the X-Men's chest, and shackles appear around their ankles and wrists. 'The what? It's a trap! I knew it!' Cyclops exclaims. 'Lady, you got no idea the kinda hurtin' coming to you soon as I pop my claws -' Wolverine begins, while Storm tells Nova that whatever she is about to do, don't.
'You'll thank me later, Ms Munroe. But calm yourselves. I promised no harm would come to you, and I meant it' Cassandra assures them. She sits a a control panel in front of the pods, and tells the X-Men that standing against their own kind won them the hearts and minds of every normal citizen in Westchester, and for tht, she can't thank them enough, as they paved the way for everything she has done here. 'But I'm afraid the era of the extreme is over. The world that's coming deserves a better class of mutant. One that isn't burdened by all those pouches filled with aggression and inner turmoil' She tells Captain Summers that he is wrong – this isn't a trap...it's therapy!