The Hellfire Club, New York. The young woman, Benazir, lazily moves a King across the chessboard taking her opponent’s Queen. Check, she announces and adds that she’s finally found a chink in her foe’s resolute armor. He must be losing his touch to place himself in such jeopardy. Her optimism does her credit, Shinobi Shaw, current Black King of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle retorts with a smile as he sips his breakfast coffee, but alas, it’s completely unfounded. A player’s true skill lies in a capacity for patience and sacrifice, the ability to lose a prized piece in the short term and achieve a greater long-term goal. A maxim for life, if ever there was one…
Benazir scoffs that he spare her the lecture and get it over with. Grinning, Shinobi takes her Bishop with his Knight, resulting in Checkmate. So much for chess, Benazir admits. How fares that other game of his? As well? Shinobi rises and inhales the fragrance of a rose. It’s coming along, he explains. In fact, it should be blossoming any time now.
High above Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in Westchester, Storm flies through the morning air. This isn’t part of her daily exercise regime. It’s pleasure, pure and simple. Flying amongst the clouds means she’s no longer Ororo Munroe… no longer the X-Man who can control the elements at will. She is a force of nature, a leaf buoyed on the wind of creation, but one who must inevitably fall to earth.
Cloudwalking is part of her primitive meditative ritual, a physical mantra centering her body and mind, attuning it to the demands of the day ahead. As she steps inside the mansion, she notices the news on a TV set someone left on. The news talks about a civil war in an African country. Refugees are already fleeing into neighboring countries. Sources fear outbreak of typhoid are likely. Sad, she considers all this.
That moment, her teammate Warren Worthington enters, asking if she is ready for a pleasant surprise. Not really. Her mood has just taken a nose-dive, she sighs. Anything he can help with? Warren asks, concerned. Not unless he can set the world right over night. Tall order, he replies, as he hands her a lovely bouquet of roses. Will these do for now?
They are beautiful! Ororo exclaims and stammers that he shouldn’t have. He didn’t, Warren admits. They were just delivered. She must have a secret admirer. Could it be from Forge? Afraid not, Storm replies with a smirk as she studies the card accompanying the flowers. It’s from Shinobi Shaw. The lad must be mellowing. He is turning into a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
An unexpected crackle of excitement courses through her as she reads the dinner invitation accompanying the flowers, a prospect of dark delight harking back to past experiences, leaving her feeling both guilty and curious.
She’s not seriously going, is she? Warren asks, worried, recalling a past confrontation with Shaw. Shinobi’s nuts. He pulled a similar stunt on him and Betsy. Let’s just say it wasn’t the check they ended up fighting over. Annoyed, Ororo reminds him she isn’t a child. Suddenly she shouts out in pain as she cut herself on a stray thorn. She excuses herself, claiming to look for some antiseptic.
Walking upstairs, she reminds herself that Shinobi is dangerous. His time with the Upstarts, his taking the reins of the Hellfire Club, the murder of his father… all indicate he is a force to be feared. Logic dictates she give him a wide berth, but she is also intrigued at the prospect of meeting him.
She admits to herself that the young refugee boy on the news also touched a nerve. He was like herself at that age, frightened, alone. Trying to make sense of a senseless word. After all the battles the X-Men have fought, it has changed nothing. Poverty, famine… all still remain.
Her thoughts return to the cut that is starting to sting. She is passing Jubilee who is impatiently knocking on the bathroom door. Annoyed, the girl shouts at Hank to hurry up in there. She turns to Storm, asking if she has any idea how to get Hank out of there short of dynamite? Haughtily, Storm orders her not to bother her.
Twelve hours later, Storm enters the den, dressed in a tight black leather mini dress. With fake coyness, she asks if the dress is too much for a dinner engagement. Is it hot in here or is it just him? Warren mutters. He, Hank and Bishop agree that she looks stunning. That’s a new look for her, isn’t it? Hank asks. A new everything, Ororo replies with a smile.
Somewhat worried, Xavier admits he is concerned about her meeting Shinobi. Storm reminds him it is her risk to take and she doubts Shinobi will pull the same stunt again that he pulled with Warren and Betsy. Or does Xavier still expect her to stay home playing big sister to this overgrown boys club?
Is she all right? he wonders. She seems changed somehow, her demeanor, her dress… It’s not quite… Like the old Storm he’s become accustomed to? she cuts him off. Would he prefer she remain the “humble daughter?” She can make decisions about her own life!
Startled, he assures her that’s not what he meant. Wasn’t it? she asks. He may be one of the most brilliant minds on the planet. But he knows blessed little about women! With a “good-night,” she leaves.
Outside, Gambit is waiting with a motorbike, offering her a ride. He advises her to hold on though. Things could get rough… How delightful, Ororo purrs as she takes her seat behind him. He mentions that she’s different tonight. He likes the fire in her eyes. It’s not a new her, Ororo stresses. Just an old one reasserting herself after too long a slumber. And off they drive to Manhattan.
Later, after a delicious dinner, Shinobi takes Storm through his home, a serene, spacious place of flowers and statues. She admires its beauty and serenity. It’s not something she would have associated with the Shinobi Shaw she has heard so much about. And all of it bad, he bets.
As she smells some roses, he refers to her comrades’ conceit that allows them to imagine they truly know him. Then she would be interested to hear him explain his behavior with Warren and Betsy. And more she is intrigued to discover. What surprises does he have in store for her?
It was … a regrettable incident, Shinobi replies, recalling those events. However, it proved to be a pivotal event in his life. When Psylocke’s psychic knife seared into his subconscious, opening years of painfully suppressed memories the bitter truth dawned that his life up to that moment was a sham. He realized he will never be up to his role as Sebastian Shaw’s son and heir. Instead, he is his own man. He’s free from his father’s expectations. Even the Upstarts were but a distraction. Those days are over. He’s now set his life on a shining path to lead human and mutantkind together in peace toward the new millennium and he wants her at his right hand.
She thanks him for the flattery, but is he serious? The transition from renegade to messiah is hard to accept. He asks her to hear him out. The old Hellfire Club covertly endeavored to dominate over humanity and those mutants who stood against them – But times have changed. Who wants to rule a world that’s dying on its feet? Mankind fears them. Heroes villains. It’s irrelevant. They’re Homo superior, the others aren’t. End of the story. Ultimately, their enmity will become manifest, possibly resulting in genocide for both species. What’s needed is a radical shift in perspective, a secret pro-active mandate to improve mankind’s lot, socially, economically, political, elevating them to mutants’ quality of life.
She might call this benevolent tyranny but consider the alternatives: war, poverty, famine. He asks her to join him. Her special gifts will prove he is on the level.
An unexpected twist, Ororo admits. The Hellfire Club as a global benefactor. Why not? he insists. The X-Men haven’t succeeded in stopping any of the planet’s wars or global catastrophes. Isn’t she sick of fighting battle after battle, but doing nothing to stop the endless cycle of human despair?
As he gets closer she sends him into the air with her winds as a warning. He reminds her of the potential. Can’t she see it? If they pooled their skills, they could literally change the world. Why should a leopard such as he change his spots? Storm demands. She’ll have to trust her instincts, he purrs seductively.
She admits that he is quite persuasive, but she is not open to suggestions just now. She leaves, promising that she will sleep on it. He tells her goodbye and smirks.
Candra appears from the shadows, remarking he seems to be taking an unhealthy interest in his work or was that vice versa? She’s merely a means to an end, he calms her, one that requires a little playacting on his part. Of course, she knows he always puts business before pleasure, except where Candra is concerned, of course.
She grabs him by the throat and tells him she is glad to hear it. She’d hate to have to remove that pretty face of his otherwise. Did Storm take the bait? She literally swallowed it whole, Shinobi assures her. The neuro-toxins in her meal will boost the primary dose she received from the flowers. They’re re-engineering her cerebral chemistry, suppressing her moral will and firing subconscious primal triggers unleashing her darker nature. The fact that she didn’t reject his offer out of hand proves she’s becoming easer to manipulate. Soon she’ll belong to the Hellfire Club body and soul. No, Candra purrs, Storm will belong to her, just as he does, just as they all will eventually!
Night at Xavier’s. Charles Xavier sits in his office unable to concentrate on his reading. He keeps seeing Ororo’s face when she’d seen he’d waited up for her. He wanted to be sure she was as all right. To discuss what she felt was wrong between them. Instead she stared at him with cold stranger’s eyes. He tells himself his thoughts are absurd and yet…
Storm tosses and turns, caught in a nightmare.
She finds herself in a dirty operating theatre tied to a table, surgeons around her. What are they doing to her? she cries. Must she really ask such a ridiculous question? one of the surgeons replies. Ignorance of her crime is no excuse.
What crimes? she asks. She has done nothing wrong. She’s only wasted her potential to change the world, the doctor replies. Misusing her ability on costume dramas while the world crumbles around her.
He reaches for her head with bloody surgeons gloves. He reminds her that she could have brought rain to parched lands. Turned back marauding armies with hurricanes, but she didn’t. And thousands died because of it. Her condition is beyond treatment. She’s had her chance. Her much abused ability will be transplanted into a more worthy host. One who truly knows the torments of the world.
Storm sees the hungry boy from the news report. Donor recovery rate however is nil, the surgeon remarks. He’s sure a hero like her knows the concept of sacrifice… Storm screams.
Lightning crackles in her bedroom and the others are woken up. Bishop, of course, instantly has a very large gun in his hands. None of the security countermeasures have been tripped, he notes, no unauthorized presence registered. Does he sleep with his gun? Jubilee wonders. It came from Storm’s room Beast notes.
Seeing the chaos in her room, Hank remarks there’s either a problem or she’s doing some radical redecorating. Jubilee wants to inform the professor, but he already knows.
Words fail Ororo. Thoughts are random, chaotic, she drives herself on instinct alone. Tormented by visions, struck by guilt, she flies to Shinobi Shaw, finding him with his associates. Unsurprised to see her, he quickly introduces them as Benedict Kine, Benazir Naur and Reeva Payge. She clearly isn’t interested and asks to speak to him privately. He assures her she can speak freely in front of them.
Ororo confides hat she had a nightmarish vision. Her mutant ability was torn out, transplanted into a refugee child. They took everything she was. She didn’t know what to do and who to turn to. So she came to him, Shinobi states. He’s touched. As for her dream, it’s simply a transitional effect of the neuro-microtoxin he’s administered, wearing off her synaptic pathways.
What? she asks astonished. Furious, she grabs him by the lapels, asking what he has done to her. Freed her from the shackles of conscience and morality, he retorts, giving rein to those deep-seated feelings she’d bury deep inside her, such as her growing sense of alienation from the other X-Men.
He is lying, Ororo insists. Is he? Shinobi smirks. He merely held a mirror for her true self. Is it his fault if she dislikes what she sees? After her prior association with the Hellfire Club, he was confident she’d come around. Downloading the drug into her biochemical matrix simply tipped her hand.
Is this another drug-induced manipulation? Ororo inquires. No, he shouts. The cold truth! The X-Men’s time is over! The Hellfire Club will establish a new world order. They must seize their superior birthright to rule before humanity comes baying for their blood!
His benevolence was a sham, she realizes. He is far worse than his father and she will die before joining his delusion of grandeur. She flies up. Shinobi replies that is no longer her choice to make. He addresses Benedict who takes off his glasses.
Suddenly, Ororo moans in pain and loses control as Benedict plays her nervous system, sending her agony. He reminds her she came of her own free will because there is a need in her that draws her to him.
Ororo refuses and Benedict Kine attacks her again. Taking her face in his hands, Shinobi explains that the drug temporarily inhibits most of her powers. Leaving him enough time to convince her of the error of her ways.
Some of the X-Men and Xavier are in the Blackbird, searching the city below for Storm. Bishop informs Xavier that Beast’s analysis has confirmed his suspicions: the flowers were saturated in a powerful bio-hallucinogenic neuro-toxin. Xavier dons the Cerebro helmet and continues scanning for Ororo. He makes contact with her, reminding her of their love for her, and to be strong. She isn’t alone.
Ororo awakes, tied to a chair. Shinobi explains he hasn’t the patience to repeat his previous attempt of indoctrination. An injection of neuro-toxin behind the orbit of the eye directly to the brain will suffice, then Benedict and Reeva will psionically reprogram her at cranial ground zero.
Ororo calls him a fool. Xavier telepathically urges her to stay calm. He’s counteracting the chemical influence on her mind. But she must work with him. Now! he tells her.
Ororo’s mind clears up. Lightning is hers again to free her. She flies up and threatens Shaw who calls her a hypocrite. He chose her because she delights in the dark side of mutant nature. A base primal aspect she loathes in herself, so she overcompensates, burying her passion beneath loyalty and duty. He knows the true Ororo!
No, he doesn’t! she retorts. What he thinks he saw is merely a part of her. Nothing he can offer interests her. She has chosen her destiny and it does not include him! So it would seem, Shaw says quietly. Unfortunately, if he cannot have her, then neither will Xavier!
Kine! he cries out and Storm falls down in agony. The pain Kine inflicts on her almost swallows her whole. Dying here would be easy, too easy. With a gust of wind she sweeps Kine against a wall. She is no one’s pawn! Ororo announces. Lightning surround her as she tells Shinobi his twisted concepts of people is based on his own selfish world view. She pities him. Under that designer suit, he is still a frightened little boy who has to buy or bully others into liking him. Lies!! Lies!! Lies! Shaw shouts, seemingly out of control.
Uh, mes amis, comes a voice from behind as Gambit and Bishop have entered. Didn’t his momma eve tell him not to fight with girls? They never fight fair anyway, Bishop adds.
No! Shinobi screams. She’s his! They can’t have her! Bishop tries to bring him down but Shinobi phases through his concussion round.
Storm warns Bishop not to let Shaw touch him, but too late. Shaw reaches for Bishop’s heart. Gambit interferes, drawing them apart. Storm reaches for Shinobi. Gambit tries to help up Bishop, but Benazir uses his smoking habit to have boils appear on him. Bishop quickly kayos her and tells Gambit they are even now.
Reeva Payge begins to sing. She can hit notes beyond a human’s ability to detect sound, notes which instead act directly on the brain’s neuro chemistry, as Bishop and Gambit find out as they realize she’s messing with their minds’ somehow. Gambit tosses a kinetically charged coin at her and releases its energy explosively.
Bishop sees Storm seemingly about to execute Shinobi and warns her not to do it. Her hand glows with lightning as she asks Shinobi: he will never own her, so he will have to kill her, is that it? Go ahead, she tells him. Phase his hand into her heart, but be warned. They are immersed in an electromagnetic field. All that separates them from electrocution is her. If she dies, he dies. She is willing to sacrifice herself for her beliefs How about him?
He drops his hand, defeated. Just as she thought, Storm observes, as she gets up. A boy, playing a man’s game. He was wrong about her, she announces as she leaves with her friends, he was wrong about everything. And Shinobi Shaw wordlessly stares outside, perhaps after her.
The next day at Xavier’s school. In Xavier’s study, Ororo asks how Remy and Bishop are. Recovering, he tells her. The trauma was more psychological than physical. How does she feel? Guilty and ashamed, Ororo admits, about the way she treated him and the others, angry that it was so easy for Shinobi to gain control. She knows it was the drug’s influence, but there must have been something within her for it to latch onto.
Xavier tells her not to punish herself. Such aspects exist in everyone, with the reins of reason and rationality removed, who can say how any of them would react? Her will is stronger than she thinks. After managing to free her from the effect of the neurotoxin he withdrew his psychic link. When she spared Shaw’s life, he knew she wasn’t lost to them. He doesn’t know what he would have done, if it had been otherwise. The thought of losing her… Relieved, they hug each other.
In England there is a tunnel that leads from the world of the living, the realm of lights, into a dark world of secrets.… the International Police Agency. Interpol.
He jumps down into the tunnel. He didn’t want to come back. He steps towards an elevator. Even his walk testifies to his defiance. Now, he just prays he isn’t too late. He shoves a card into a slot and is addresses as Agent #215-66 and told that his pass has expired.
Nearby, two agents walk by, the man asking the woman, Miss Pierce, if she has brought along the file on #452-90.
There is a screeching noise and a sonic wrecking ball takes the wind out of the steel-reinforced office door of Brigadier McBride. It’s a voice McBride though he tried could never forget. The voice of Sean Cassidy, once one of McBride’s most ambitious inspectors, now a member of the uncanny X-Men, known to the world as Banshee. At least he hasn’t forgotten how to make an entrance, McBride remarks wryly.
Armed guards follow Banshee, who demands to know where the old man is. Regardless of what he has become, he saved Sean’s life. McBride knows where he is.
Calmly, McBride offers him the file, adding Sean was expected. Lipton’s in Ireland, a HYDRA base. Very well guarded. They’re not going to let Sean see him, he hardly thinks.
He never thought! Sean shouts. That was the problem! He never thought to tell him his wife had died! No, the mission was always too important. He never thought to tell him the old man was still alive! Never thought to rescue him! That might have proved awkward. There’s still bad blood between the two of them. Someday, he and the rest of Interpol will be hearin’ from the Banshee. And he knows what this means.
Is that it? McBride asks with a smirk. Is Sean going to talk him to death? In response, Sean screams, stunning them all as makes his getaway. He could if he wanted to.
A castle somewhere else. Patrick Lipton will die in the place he’s lived for many, many years. At first it was his prison but, after the terrorist organization HYDRA finished with his mind, it was the only home Lipton had ever known. Some think of death as a light at the end of a long tunnel, for others a trumpet call is heard from the heavens. Many expect to see their life flash in front of their eyes, like butterflies finally free of the gravity of pain. But one thing is certain: death comes on the air.
The doctors decide to leave the dying man alone.
As Sean closes in on the island, his mind races back to the only time he saw Patrick Lipton…
It was a time of secrets, of secret weapons. Of secret journeys and secret empires. A promising new agent of Interpol had a secret all his own. His mutant power. Sean’s mission was to safeguard weapons specialist Patrick Lipton and his newest invention to Rome. They wouldn’t make it.
Their train was leaving the tunnel, when it suddenly stopped. HYDRA agents entered the train, announcing all of them now belonged to HYDRA. Lipton became frightened, asking Sean to get him out of there. What of the people on this train? came the reply. What about them? He and Lipton don’t have much choice, they chose this kind of life. But they’re not going to be sacrificed because of the two of them.!
They’ll never escape, Lipton exclaimed. Cassidy told him to come on. They have no choice. At least their way the other passengers are out of harm’s way.
They managed to leave the train. Sean ordered Lipton to hurry up. He’s signaled the engineer. He’s waiting for them to clear up the track.
Sean didn’t think about what he was doing or the risk he was taking. He simply started to move the tree that was blocking the track away. He asked Lipton to watch his back. A moment later, Lipton almost felt the shot as Sean’s body reeled from the blast of the HYDRA agent’s attack. He froze in shocked amazement as Sean screamed a sonic protest to the heavens.
It was like the voice of God, he muttered. The train, now free to move, continued on, less two passengers. Lipton cradled the fallen man before him, praying he wouldn’t next face the devil himself.
Years later, Banshee haunts the old castle in search of a man he thought long dead. His scream in his throat tastes of needles. His mouth opens and the sonic scream clasps like thunder. To an old man almost dead it sounds like a trumpet call.
Banshee’s scream immediately takes out three HYDRA guards. He laughs as three more take their place. Sean easily disarms them and demands to know where Lipton is. With his answer he enters the infirmary, expecting to see medicines and machines to save lives. But once again Banshee must deal with those who would administer death and dementia to an unsuspecting world.
Lipton lies defenseless, a life he no longer remembers flickers in slow motion between the fitful bleeps of his EKG monitor.
In this other life though, Lipton was not so defenseless. He opened his briefcase, took out his experimental device, the Morrison-Einstein grenade and took out the HYDRA agents attacking them. With only one last grenade, left he looked at the unconscious Sean.
The door opens.
He cradled Sean, telling him he’s got no more weapon. Sean managed to get them off the train. He’ll do what he must.
When more HYDRA agents came, Lipton told them he’d tell them anything they wanted to know. Just let the boy wake up in a better place.
Sean stands at Lipton’s bedside, comforting the man. A man who once sacrificed his life for Sean’s, a man who believed he was doing the best thing for his world by keeping HYDRA from acquiring a force greater than any weapon Lipton would or could ever invent. A young and powerful mutant named Sean Cassidy.
Lipton passes away peacefully and, in the quiet, Banshee begins to cry.