Kavita Rao is about to die. It’s an annoying prospect. She’s been in the X-Club just about one year, R&Ding for the X-Men. Doing some good; saving the world without recourse to costume or codename. Seems downright premature to quit right now. Still, hell of a ride for a gene-jockey from Calcutta. Re-floating asteroids, daytrips to the 1900’s, fundamentalist freaks and a whole heap of eyestrain. All to reboot a dying breed. Ambitious, exhilarating, important – a dream job. Up until the oil rigs arrived. Weird-tech in need of inspection. The science team’s stock in trade. (not that anyone asked her).
So she and her fellow members of the X-club, Dr. Nemesis and Madison Jeffries, examined one of the rigs. When they discovered something… and the countdown began.
“Oh nonono!” Kavita mutters, while Nemesis addresses Jeffries as Neurotic-Machine-Canuck and orders him: “Trap. Unspring.”
Nothing’s working, Jeffries replies. “So help me, redneck,” Nemesis threatens, if they die here, he will see to it that his terminal consideration is Nemesis’ boot up his coon. Try! More! Stuff!
She decides he boys have the gallows-banter covered and gets back to her life flashing before her eyes. It’s pitifully quick.
India, England, America. A passion for knowledge. A talent for hypothesis and the youthful certainty that she’d change the world. All of it numbed, tranquilized by too many years of protein and Petris and paychecks until… Until…
…until the thing she’d rather not remember. So she distracts herself instead, wondering which triumphant memories her colleagues will pick for their own final moments.
Something’s blocking him, Jeffries announces. “Some typa nullfield…” “Save it for the balding thesp, LaForge!” Nemesis shouts back. “Press everything!”
Madison Jeffries. A mechanical telekine. Sort of Rain Man with added diodes, lingering, she figures, on some tech-head moment of cyber success—just one among many.
What Jeffries recalls is a moment of failure – one of many.
And Doctor Nemesis, biologically and intellectually super-evolved. Pausing no doubt to recall some bygone instant of cerebral brilliance, devoid of all self doubt.
(What Nemesis does remember is being captured by Nazi sharks.)
No such prides for her – and no hiding from the shame either. Her lifetime’s one defining act, forcing its way to the fore.
The Hope serum …changing the world just like she wanted. Well-intentioned, sure, but bitter all the same. Misused, ill-conceived… ugly. Designed to heal what was never broken…
And since then? The hunt for redemption. An attempt to atone, to save the race she’d once considered a disease. Too much unfinished business.
“Oh crap,” Jeffries mutters. He warned him! Nemesis shouts and gets ready to kick him.
Energy flashes. Everything turns white and the three of them find themselves somewhere else, in a field of rubble.
An insane-looking man with a wild beard and mane laughs. He knew it! He knew it would be them! But they must act fast -they must wear these, hurry! He throws mechanical collars at them. Is… he God? Jeffries asks. Calling him Box, Nemesis announces he will handle this. Harumphing, he announces they are scientists. Perhaps he’d be so kind as to explain, preferably using logic and sense, precisely what the &%$& is going onhere? No time! the stranger announce nervously. The Hub will already know they are here. It can taste their minds. The drones will be coming, they must put the collar on!
Jeffries tries to scan the collar but his powers seems different. He should be able to sense the metals all around but it’s like he can only feel it close up. It’s the hub, the stranger repeats it’s trying to get into his brain. It craves mutant psyches. Please! he begs.
His back turned to the others, Nemesis snaps his fingers. He has it - they’ve been teleported to the land of excitable cretins! He’s often theorized such a dimension exists. He simply thought he was already in it. Now he knows. Too late, the stranger sighs.
The enemies that have caught up to them seem to be energy forms more than anything else, held together by certain devices, one consists of ruby-red energy, another of mercury, one of ice and another of black solar energy.
The stranger switches the collars onto the three scientists. They are now psychically invisible to them, he explains. Right, good, Nemesis remarks. Just the minor matter of all the regular senses then. Sharp as ever, the stranger agrees and tells them to run, which they do. He is going to draw them off, he announces and tells the two men to protect Dr. Rao at any cost. She’s here to save the world! As he draws their fire, Jeffries mutters that he swears he recognizes the guy. Wouldn’t surprise him, Nemesis remarks. He imagines he’s mentally ill, too.
The next moment, an optic blast of the red energy being almost hits them. Any suggestions, oh, savior of the world? Nemesis asks Kavita who is out of ideas. Remarkable, Nemesis mocks. The planet’s in safe hands. Jeffries? he asks and is told to hold still. Jeffries concentrates, metal rises around them and suddenly the energy being is hit with something and withdraws. Nano-oscillators invert the ambient vibrations, Jeffries explains. Sorta anti-noise. Totally disorienting. Nemesis for once is impressed.
That moment, the stranger shows up again, only to be dragged back, imprisoned by the Mercury being. “Oh… muh… my s-stars and… garters” he mumbles. The three scientists think the same thing. Ridiculous! Nemesis breaks the silence as they walk through the ruins. That deranged old lunatic was not Hank McCoy! But that was his catchphrase, Kavita points out nervously. Phht, by that logic he could grow those sideburns he’s always wanted, by calling people “bub” and shouting “snikt” a lot, Nemesis scoffs. Surely it doesn’t matter who he was, Kavita continues. They have to help him. He could be the last person alive here…
That same moment, they come across a crowd of bedraggled and ragged people. “Any other genius hypotheses, No-Power-Girl?” Nemesis asks. Fed up, Kavita tells him to spare her the mutant-snob crap. That old man was waiting for them. He knows why they are here and how they can get back. He does remember? The minor matter of a war to fight. The one where they are all on the same &/%$ing side?
Jeffries agrees. And if they do rescue him, he can totally explain how Kavita’s supposed to save the world. His points exactly! Nemesis insists. The man’s deranged. Then perhaps he could explain how else they are going to get some answers, Kavita shoots back. They are scientists, madam, she is told. They deduce.
The find a plate in what used to be the Golden Gate Park. Now it is defaced with the writing Hub feeds Hub grows Hub knows. There, he tells them. Still in San Francisco.
They talk to a local who tries to remember the year. Twenny-thirty? Twenny-forty? Whassa difference? Nearby they see the energy beings gathering helpless prisoners. Another stranger offers to sell them a kittensnack. Live or on the grill – best price!
The three scientists stumble through the wasteland finding a crowd gathered around a mad prophet. Finding a headstone, Kavita remarks that this started a few days after they left. Jeffries wonders who won the war between the X-Men and Bastion. Nemesis interrupts that this is painfully obvious. Whatever malign force has overcome this world, there are no X-Men left to oppose this. This is a future without mutants. Now… he proposes they rescue that old man. Perhaps he can elaborate further. He ignores Kavita’s withering glare, considering he ridiculed that idea when it came from her.
They find him at Pier 39, guarded by two of the energy beings. In the meantime, the three scientists have bought a kitten. This doesn’t seem very ethical, Kavita sighs, looking at the cat. Oh please, Nemesis scoffs, if cats had thumbs they’ have done far worse to humans by now. And at least this way the critter has a fighting chance, Jeffries points out. That feller was selling them with ketchup!
Nemesis asks Jeffries for a mirror. He looks into it as he presses a syringe to his brain, seeing his face without any skin. Having extracted psychically active cerebral fluid containing a viable X-gene from his brain, he injects the kitten with it. Behold: the world’s first truly evil pretend-mutant, and an irresistible treat for any psychic predator, he announces. Let’s just hope the little bastard can run! And run the poor kitten does, chased by the two guards.
The three scientists take the opportunity. Jeffries disables the prison and the prisoners flee. Nemesis grabs the old McCoy. “Science ho!” he announces as the four of them run for it.
Finally, the old man has gotten them to his hideout His name is Dr. Henry Phillip McCoy, he begins his tale. Thirty years ago he looked like the illegitimate offspring of Aslan and the Cookie Monster. Today he is an old man. Only an old man.
Dr. Nemesis doesn’t buy it. You can’t demutate! McCoy tells Dr. Rao that’s her cue. It’s not impossible, she explains and finally tells them about the Cure she invented, how it was destroyed and how, when she truly understood what she had made she was glad to see it burn. But there was one sample left. McCoy kept it. Defensively she adds that she should have stopped him but she supposes she was sort of proud that someone like him would be fascinated by her creation. Nemesis scoffs. Why would he want something like that? Just in case, McCoy replies and continues his tale.
Thirty years ago, the tech-villain Bastion tried to annihilate the remnants of the mutant race and they beat him. Lord help them, they beat him!
It was a hard-won victory. There were deaths and disasters… collateral damage. They discovered too late he’d corrupted and cloned the X-Men’s own tech. The island’s defenses, the power-grid, even Danger’s hard light systems…. But they won, in spite of it all. Mutantkind rallied behind the savior-child Hope, and they faced a brighter future united.
And… and then she changed changed, and kept changing. Every year another mutation, another energy level. It began to physically affect the mutants around her. Exaggerating their power sets, swelling their strengths. And then it got into their brains. A psychic signal, eating their minds. She meant no harm, just couldn’t control it. They became drones, obsessed with feeding her, keeping her safe.
End of the narration
The mutant race has become a single, self-serving, psychic entity. Its limbs are the creatures they met before – all that remains of the X-Men. And its belly, the great unthinking hub, is the child they thought would save them all. She’s too strong. The world is already cracking up around her and the latest reconfiguration is already under way. He doubts the planet can take it.
They look at the dark sky and thunderstorms. Welcome to the future of the mutant race, McCoy continues darkly. He injected that serum the same day his friends became monsters.
Of course it wasn’t until later he realized how foolish he had been. That sample… it’s the only thing that might have saved them all and he wasted it on himself. Hope’s too powerful to kill… but a cure? It would spread through the psychic network like a cleansing flame, purging every linked cell and end the horror forever! He spent years trying to recreate Dr. Rao’s masterstroke all without success but then he remembered Bastion’s last words: McCoy, … May 4th…2039…conservatory of flowers… Golden Gate Park… help her…
End of the narration.
All three men look at Kavita Rao. Then it’s settled, Nemesis announces. Bastion sent them here as a contingency against his failure in the past. Kavita can re-synthesize the serum, and— What? she asks She can’t believe him accepting this so lightly. Intellectual pragmatism, he tells her condescendingly, Unpalatable or not, Bastion’s plan works! Unpalatable? she repeats enraged. It’s the death of a species! It’s abhorrent! No! he shouts, pointing at the darkened sky. That is abhorrent! Curing the planet of a sickness is a virtue, not a crime…
Defensively, Rao replies that someone else tried to excuse genocide that way once. He died in a bunker under Berlin and the whole world cheered! Flabbergasted and furious, Nemesis actually draws his weapon. How dare she compare him to— “That’ll do, James,” McCoy tells him gently and pushes the gun aside. This is nothing like that, he tells Kavita. Nobody need die. An entire race will die, she replies, tears in her eyes. Whether the bodies it lived in keep breathing or not.
What does she care anyway? the still-insulted Nemesis mumbles. It’s not even her race. Jeffries isn’t paying attention. In another corner of the room McCoy still tries to convince Kavita. Mutantkind was a dream. A beautiful beguiling dream but… If he says “it turned into a nightmare,” she’ll set fire to his face, Kavita warns him. Just because it’s corny doesn’t make it wrong, McCoy points out. Some experiments just don’t turn out the way they want them to. Ever scientist knows that. You’ve still got to clean up the lab afterwards.
And so she does it. Heavyhearted, blinking through tears, avoiding the others’ eyes. She slips off her Mala bracelet and begins to decode the formula she encrypted there long ago. She wonders why she kept it all this time. Fascination, maybe. The same reason Hank kept that fateful sample. Or maybe just to remind herself, Well-intentioned or not, naïve or not: she came close to causing an extinction and now she’s supposed to do it again. But then what choice is here?
And so, after some time, she announces it is done, holding a sample in her hand. However, she adds that she left several components out. She doesn’t want it active until they are sure it’s needed. He understands, McCoy replies and praises her. He’s been planning the final stage a long time. He’s afraid it might become rather unpleasant. Nemesis translates: “thanks for the poison, princess, but leave the running and jumping to the pros.”
Hank holds out his hand, but Kavita refuses to hand it over. It’s her responsibility. Her burden. He heard her, Nemesis orders. Frodo wants to come to Mordor.
And so they make their way to the hub through tunnels. She recognizes it of course, Utopia. A corrupted sanctuary. All these places she knows, the community she helped design. Soured, warped, a twisted version of something noble. She knows exactly how that feels. Are these really the X-Men? she wonders. The champions of a new humanity who taught her so much and forgave her sins? Now too busy prepping psychic munchies to notice intruders. Has the dream truly become a disease? Is there really no final tiny trace… no lingering morsel of hope?
They finally reach the Hub, where Hope hangs suspended, glowing with energy. Surrounding the dais beneath her are the victims she is fed with.
All right, Nemesis tells his group cringing in a corner, they stick to the plan. No-power-girl and Not-a-cat-man: they cut round the perimeter. Insane-tech-guy will be running interference with him. Insane-tech-guy? he repeats. But Jeffries shouts that she is in his head. The collar came off! He screams in pain. Run? Kavita asks. Run, McCoy replies. Run! Nemesis shouts as Jeffries finds himself overwhelmed and the energy beings come to attack.
However, soon they find themselves surrounded. Nemesis fires his weapon at them, ordering Kavita and McCoy to go. He calls after Kavita. In the name of progress, justice and not being haunted by the pissed-off ghost of an aging genius, she will finish what they started. Do. Not. Flake! Ha, invisible, is it? he shouts at one attacker. Science-gaze sees all, brainfail! There will be crotch-punching! However, another energy being has snuck up on him and Dr. Nemesis disappears.
McCoy and Kavita climb up the dais. McCoy orders her to mix the serum. They can deploy it from here. There must be another way, she insists. “Oh my stars and garters,” McCoy mumbles as Hope reaches out for them, begging Kavita to help, It hurts and she can’t stop it! The next reconfiguration is about to begin.
Kavita decides and acts. “No more mutants!” she stammers and points the device at Hope, then lowers it. She can’t! She’s done enough, McCoy assures her and takes the device, from it he takes the sample and then laughs nastily as an artificial voice announces it is analyzing the artifact.
Light engulfs them and suddenly there is just an empty room and the X-Club and a smirking man and goons of the Sapien League who have trained their weapons on them. The man orders them not to move. Is he God? Jeffries asks. Nemesis recognizes him as Graydon Creed though. He’s dead, he announces accusingly. Beats being a gullible moron, comes the reply. Meaning he believes he has his first test subject. “Enjoy those eyes while you still can, old man.”
The artificial voice announces that the analysis is complete. Jeffries doesn’t get it. Nemesis does. It was all there! he shouts. Jeffries’ senses being on the fritz. His eyes not working right. Hank “literati” McCoy using a Godawful cliché about dreams and nightmares. They even told them Bastion cloned Danger’s hard light tech. Jeffries still doesn’t get it. It was a simulation! Nemesis shouts impatiently. The whole damn thing! They’ve been &%$/ing holo-decked! He means, the kitten didn’t die? Jeffries inquires. This is all his fault, Nemesis rants. If only he’d realizes sooner!
She did, Kavita replies quietly It’s all pretty obvious when you think about it. These scoundrels want the serum formula for themselves. A lot easier to medicate mutants than kill them all. They simply tricked the science team into giving the formula away.
Top of the class, Creed agrees, clapping his hands. Thanks to her, Lord Bastion’s slaughter of the X-Men is a moot point. Synthesis complete! the artificial voice announces. Actually, it’s not, Kavita insists. The synthesized serum begins to glow. Kavita explains she had no intention of recreating the serum; she synthesized an unstable pyrovirus instead. X-Club, run! she orders, and they do, running outside and jumping off the platform into the water, shortly before the platform explodes.
Nemesis is at a loss for words, finally announcing that when it comes to science the ties that bind collaborators are built on respect and results and he wants her to know that from here on in, he… uh… It’s all right, she interrupts, she understands and thanks him. Now what say they quit destroying things and get back to saving them? She takes off her bracelet and tosses it behind her but it bounces back, bounces off a giant red energy dome surrounding San Francisco. Oh crap! one of them mutters.