They came to the Andean Highlands for a whole host of reasons: they're X-Men, there's trouble, people need help—and many have already died, among them a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. That's why Nick Fury's there. One of the slain agents is a relative to Junior Juniper, the first of Fury's famed Howling Commandos to be killed in action. He can't help feeling responsible—again. As for the X-Men, this mission's a chance to take their collective minds off recent events. By ignoring what's happened, they all hope maybe it'll go away. With the appearance of an old adversary, however, all that tumult suddenly doesn't seem quite so bad.
As the Sentinel Master Mold locks its sights on the X-Men and announces their impending termination, Beast looks up into its beaming eyes and informs the rest of the X-Men of its presence. His telepathic teammate Jean Grey takes a moment to calm everyone's nerves. They've all fought these monsters before, she says. They know what to do. She telepathically instructs Shadowcat to grab hold of Colonel Fury and get him to safety.
Kitty eagerly complies with the order, but would like to know where she can even take Fury where he would be safe. Forcibly, she grabs Fury, shoves him out of the way of the Sentinel's blasts and phases him to safety. Meanwhile, Nightcrawler teleports out of the way of the giant's continuing attacks. Rogue, aching for a fight in which she doesn’t have to hold back her strength, eagerly takes to the skies to challenge the machine at its level. Jean echoes her teammate's sentiment. Instead of attacking, however, Jean puts up a telekinetic shield to defend both her and Beast from the Sentinel's blasts. She asks Hank how he's doing behind her. Hank admits he's just admiring the view. What can he say; she puts on quite a show!
Elsewhere, Nightcrawler teleports over to Shadowcat and Fury in an attempt to bring Fury to safety. The colonel insists he can help, but Kitty calls him stubborn and entrusts him into Kurt's custody. They need Fury to figure out the X-Men's next move, she says amidst the mayhem. Fury grunts at her; sounds like she inherited way more than a claw from the runt, he says.
As Kitty phases beneath the surface, she ponders Fury's parting words. Not only does she agree, but she wonders how much of her actually remains. The question scares her. Instead of contemplating it further, she takes refuge in action.
Meanwhile, Jean continues keeping the Sentinel's energy attacks at bay. She tells Hank they need a game-plan. He's working on it, he tells her. As he picks up a pair of S.H.I.E.L.D.-issued swords off the ground from the slain agents, he asks Jean to relay his tactical instructions to the rest of the X-Men. They need to strike simultaneously, he says. Rogue is to attack hot on Beast's heels and hit the Sentinel high. Kitty, he wants to assault the Sentinel from beneath the ground.
Hank doesn't realize that Kitty is already in position, acting by her own will. She's seen The Empire Strikes Back enough to know to always aim for the feet of giant offensive robots. She sneaks up underneath the Sentinel's enormous foot, phases inside—disrupting its electronic systems as she goes—and lets her adamantium claw do the rest. The ease with which her claw slices through the robot surprises her. Although she doesn't feel any stronger, the blade moves through obstructions as if they were nothing more than air. In fact, the edge of her claw is so sharp, she doesn't even feel it when it bursts through her skin. She worries what may happen if she is to ever to react to someone without thinking.
Having done as much damage as she can do, Shadowcat makes her exit from the base of the Sentinel. Meanwhile, Beast, possibly with a telekinetic assist from Jean Grey, leaps off the ground with his two acquired blades in his hands and barrels toward the Sentinel's head. Machetes may be a little rudimentary for his tastes, but nothing works better when trying to blind a Sentinel. He cuts a swath across the Sentinel's eyes, leaving it temporarily defenseless. Rogue arrives and delivers the coup de grace—a powerhouse punch to the side of the machine's head. The Sentinel Master Mold topples to the ground and collapses in the dense canopy of the Andean jungle.
"That felt—good!" Rogue says as she lowers herself to the surface. Kurt, in awe of her power, smiles. Fury, too, acknowledges that the lady certainly packs a punch. Despite the jubilation of most of the X-Men, however, Beast remains in a dour mood—which does not go unnoticed by Jean. When she asks him about it, he explains that he cannot help but think their respite is only temporary. He’s never been happy to see a Sentinel.
Fury makes a call in to Cyclops to get an update on the situation. Did he get a full telemetry reading on the encounter? Cyclops explains that so far, it's looking good—but mentions a growing pattern of interference. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agent manning the computer informs Cyclops that another storm front is moving into the site in the mountains, meaning they will probably soon lose communications for about 30 minutes. Cyclops has to talk fast. He tells Fury they are detecting a strong energy signature about a dozen klicks northwest of their position in the Andes. Because the massive interference in the area restricts them from investigating remotely, Cyclops asks Fury's team to check it out firsthand. Be careful, though, he advises; S.H.I.E.L.D. says they can't get back-up to Fury's team for at least a few hours. Until then, Fury and the X-Men are on their own.
The Consortium monitors the unfolding events in the Andes through a wall of television monitors. On the main screen, the defeated Sentinel lays dormant and smoking in the trees. One of the Consortium members asks how such a defeat is possible; they were told the new Sentinels would easily withstand any force. "And so they shall," his female colleague answers. The man does not understand what she means, as the screen clearly suggests otherwise. She explains to him the Sentinels are not just tanks with legs, but finely tuned instruments. "They are works of art, and as such, should not be judged until after their final act," she states. In the meantime, though, they must shut down their operations and destroy all the evidence.
A figure on one of the monitors addresses the members of the Consortium, but the weak signal garbles his message. Responding instead to his blonde, female colleague, one male Consortium member states they have the resources to start up the program again. Ensuring no one else gets their hands on the research stands as their top priority at the moment, though. Again, the man on the screen sends a garbled transmission that makes clear his intent to intercept the targets he sees. However, the female Consortium member advises against it. Moments after she gives those orders, the link dies; the Consortium has lost contact all with the site. "Then may God help us all," the woman mutters.
Nightcrawler ‘ports alongside Beast as he swings through the trees of the jungle, using its lush vines as transport. He comments on the impressive country, which Nightcrawler agrees is pristine. It's a rare gift these days, he adds. Changing subjects a bit, Hank informs him that, according to local legend, these highlands are supposedly haunted. Kurt assumes he's still bothered by the Sentinel. He's right; Hank is still brooding over the fact he didn't have enough time to examine the body. Kurt reminds him they have been over this already, but Hank insists he missed the opportunity to gather valuable information. However, he respects Nightcrawler's decision. He does ask, though, for a bit of time alone so he can think and puzzle through their situation. Kurt agrees and teleports away, leaving Beast with his thoughts.
Elsewhere, Shadowcat, Jean Grey and Nick Fury blaze a trial through the dense jungle foliage while Rogue keeps on eye on things overhead. Kitty leads the crew, slicing a path through the shrubbery with her adamantium claw. Fury cannot help but comment on how eagerly she seems to use her new toy. Jean, meanwhile, asks Rogue to monitor Hank; she doesn't want him out in the woods alone. When Rogue asks if she senses anything specific, Jean assures her she is only practicing caution. She refuses to lose anyone else.
Fury sends out a thought he hopes Jean detects psionically. He asks if her telepathy is getting anything from Pryde. She's trying not to pry, Jean politely informs him. Fury suggests she do so—at least in this situation. After all, Kitty has taken a brutal hit. Jean can deny the truth all she wants, but the kid still needs to be monitored. Plus, as both a telepath and the kid's friend, Jean can reach her on a level others cannot. Jean admits the X-Men helped bring Kitty into their crazy world. It was her, Logan and Storm who did so, actually, she realizes. She would do anything to protect Kitty—but at the same time, she worries her interference might make things worse.
Now switching to oral communication, Fury asks Shadowcat to ease off her pace a little bit. This is a marathon, he says—not a sprint. Kitty claims she can take it. That's not Fury's concern. Can she show some sympathy for an old man? What makes her think Fury can handle the frantic pace? "So long as I'm moving, I don't have time to think," Kitty says. Fury sighs; she's exhausted and stupid, and good to absolutely no one. Great. "That's mean. You taking lessons from Sabretooth?" Shadowcat asks. Sabretooth's not in his league, Fury says in his defense. However, he takes the opportunity to speak frankly to Kitty for a moment. She got a lousy break, and for that, he's sorry. However, she needs to remember she's alive. Does she want to run away—or deal with it?
Kitty begins to joke that she intends to run away, but the sudden appearance out of thin air of Nightcrawler—accompanied by his usual puff of brimstone smoke—cuts her quip short. Instead, she screams and bares her claw. He knows how much she hates it when he does that, Kitty shouts! Kurt, eyeing her extended claw suspiciously, tells her the point is taken. However, Hank sent him back to ask the rest of them to hurry, because he's found something.
Up ahead, the X-Men reach a clearing and what they see in the raises a few questions. Sitting right in the middle of the jungle is a large industrial facility that towers over the canopy of the trees. While Rogue informs Nightcrawler she scouted the facility's perimeter, Beast speculates that based on the substantial solar power and the full-spectrum satellite comm.-links, someone has gone through a great deal of trouble to keep this place self-sufficient and self-contained. The myriad satellite dishes and helicopter landing zones on the roof only fuel that suspicion. The sheer size of the place suggests a significant complement of staff, Hank adds. How would the rest of the X-Men feel about dropping in and seeing if they're up for hosting guests?
The Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters—Salem Center, New York...
What was once Xavier's School is now a temporary S.H.I.E.L.D. base assessing a global conspiracy that threatens the mutant race. Within its walls, Lil' 'Ro has been reading the files, watching the vids and basically trying to learn all she can about the older version of herself who used to live there. Except for age, she and Storm are identical—a perfect genetic match. Both of them are real, both—each in their own way—possibly a lie. Has Storm been lying to them from the very beginning, pulling the cruelest, most perfect of deceptions? Or has 'Ro lost her whole life, cast into this younger incarnation like someone reborn?
Just asking the questions makes her head hurt. Dressed in a yellow T-shirt adorned with a large, blue X and wearing a pair of casual, khaki-colored pants, 'Ro wanders into the S.H.I.E.L.D. control room with Kitty's pet dragon Lockheed at her side. The dragon coos at her. 'Ro asks which he’s worried about: Kitty or herself? "Prupp!" Lockheed replies.
Not knowing quite what to make of Lockheed’s response, ‘Ro turns her head and ponders her situation a bit more. She likes who she is and the friends she's made. She has her whole to life to look forward to, with untold choices waiting to be made. To her, it's the most exciting of adventures. She's grown up to like it here, even amidst the chaos of secret missions and malfunctioning Danger Rooms. To give any of it up would break her heart—as well as Lockheed's judging by the solemn expression on his face.
She was so happy when she saw Remy on that bridge, 'Ro admits. She finally believed she was safe. Now, she just doesn't know. "I like you, dragon," she tells Lockheed. "I really like Kitty—though I'm not sure how she feels about me. I wish I had wings like yours," she tells the dragon, "—or I could use my stupid powers to fly away."
She'll be using her powers soon enough, says a man sporting a thick, Cajun accent. 'Ro squeals in delight at the sight of her friend Remy. He stands in the doorway, dressed in his workout clothes with earphones dangling off the sides of his head and a smile plastered across his sweaty face. Remy asks 'Ro if she plans on wandering the halls all day. She asks how else she would find her way around the facility. "Always with the smart answer," Gambit says. “Why so désolée?” 'Ro admits she still doesn't know if she belongs. When Gambit asks her to give it some more time, she asks how much time she's supposed to give it. As much time as it takes, he tells her. The X-Men mean well, even if they don't seem that way all the time. Besides, where else would she get to hang out with a dragon? As he gently rests his hand on 'Ro's shoulder, she yields a smile. He's right about that much, she says.
"That's a good girl, cher," Gambit assures her. "You see, everything will be all right."
Having infiltrated the mysterious facility in the middle of the jungle, Nick Fury reports back to the X-Men the complex pretty much looks dead. He sees no signs of life—or of any bodies. He does, however, see clear evidence of some kind of brutal firefight. The damage looks fresh, as if it all happened within the last twenty-four hours. On top of that, huge chucks of the complex appear to have been strip-mined. He presumes the facility exists for manufacturing, yet everything missing all relates to construction. He uses extreme caution as he navigates the dark corridors.
Elsewhere within the facility, Jean reports that the memory cores of the computers have been similarly stripped. About all that's left of anything are scraps, she observes. Rogue asks if Sentinels did this too. Beast assumes it's possible. Kurt agrees; thoroughness is their hallmark. Not only do Sentinels take the components they need, but also the food and medical supplies that would otherwise prime their adversaries—in this case, the X-Men. However, Kurt remembers they left behind the bodies of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at the crash site. Why, then, did they take everyone from this place?
"Not everyone, Kurt," Shadowcat says as she stumbles upon an unconscious scientist. "Looks like I've found a live one!" She phases through the door and approaches the dormant, blonde woman in the white lab coat.
Shortly thereafter, when the woman regains consciousness, the X-Men and Nick Fury regroup and question the survivor. As she speaks, Jean notes an interesting fact: she cannot pick up anything from the woman telepathically. She asks the scientist how she feels, having passed out and all. Claiming to feel fine, the woman thanks them for their help, only to realize as she speaks that they are the infamous X-Men! She didn't think anyone would come, considering the relative isolation of the establishment. She's lucky, Jean tells her; they happened to be in the neighborhood. However, the place is unknown to local authorities and is well hidden in other ways too. After asking her to forgive her bluntness, Jean asks the woman who she is and what, exactly, she is doing there.
"I'm Zigfried," the scientist says, introducing herself. She works as a genetic anthropologist, known by most as a DNA scientist. Her work centers around remote detection of anomalous nucleotides: basically, telling what species an animal is without testing its blood. This place looks like more than just a genetic research facility, Jean counters. Zigfried claims her project comprised but a small portion of the work done at this facility. That other work, however, was kept tightly under wraps. Things were going smoothly until just a few hours earlier, she claims, when she heard an explosion followed by some screaming. Before she knew it, people were running—and the next thing she remembers is waking up to the sight of the X-Men.
Fury asks if she has any idea at all what the others were building. Zigfried claims to have not had a clue. Next, he asks if her employer was government or private. Zigfried says she came on a private grant; research dollars are so tight that she didn't dare look her gift horse closely in the mouth.
Elsewhere in the facility, Beast wanders alone, still in search of clues. Something on a busted control panel catches his attention, however, raising an alarm in his head. He immediately gets in contact with Jean and asks her to bring the team down right away.
Up above, Jean reports to the X-Men, Fury and Zigfried that Hank found something. She advises everyone to stay on their toes; she shares Hank's concern that the place could spell trouble.
The group moves to Hank's position, where he directs their attention to the logo on the wall: a blue circle overlaid with four parallel, red lines. It's the same logo they say on the guys they fought in New York, he explains—the same goons who were working with Storm. Fury understands the implications. In his mind, the situation just got a whole lot bigger. As soon as they reestablish contact with the mansion, he wants the image cross-referenced with known terrorist organizations.
During this conversation, Rogue reaches out to Jean mentally and raises a concern of her own. The woman Zigfried is setting off all sorts of alarms in her head, Rogue says. She doesn't trust her; did Jean get a reading on her yet? Regrettably, Jean has not yet detected anything. While she can't tell if the woman is lying, she can't tell if she's telling the truth, either. That in and of itself is suspicious. Via telepathy, Jean asks Hank to do her a favor and ask the blunt question of why Zigfried possesses such formidable psychic defenses.
"Ziggy, is it?" Hank begins. After introducing himself as the Beast, he claims to have a feeling she isn't telling them something, a feeling that stems from the suspicious fact that their telepath can't read her at all.
Zigfried lowers her glasses. "A valid question, Dr. McCoy," she begins, somehow conjuring Beast's real name. She explains that she recognizes him, as his research in theoretical geneticist is paramount for any aspiring scientist: that is, any scientist who doesn't blindly subscribe to the current dogmatic principles in the field.
Beast is at a loss for words. Nightcrawler speaks up for him, basically explaining that the good Dr. McCoy is flattered. He leaps onto the table adjacent to Zigfried and hands her a rag to wipe off her glasses. Jean, by way of telepathy, asks what he is doing. ‘This woman is no more a threat than Lockheed’s toenail clippings,’ Kurt tells Jean.
Turning his attention back to Zigfried, he asks if there is anything else she can tell them about the facility. Ziggy says she just kept her head low and stayed out of everyone else’s way. They were a strange group of people, she adds, explaining that they implanted a chip in her head to prevent telepathic sabotage—hence Jean’s inability to read her telepathically.
Over in the corner of the room, Fury confides in Beast and Jean that he doesn’t trust Zigfried; he doesn’t like the way she smells. Although Beast reiterates his belief that she’s harmless, Jean asks if he is that susceptible to blatant flattery. “We can’t see demons behind every door,” Beast replies. “We’ll never end up leaving the room.”
Kurt, meanwhile, continues his conversation with Zigfried. Her work sounds interesting, he says. Ziggy claims it was, up until her present circumstances happened. Now, everything just seems creepy to her.
Sabretooth, blind and nearly naked, gets out of his bed and greets his visitors, Cyclops and Professor X. He tells them the bed and the space are nice, but he does take issue with the ankle bracelet he must wear; it makes him think there’s not much trust happening. Cyclops assures him there isn’t; if it were up to him, Sabretooth would still be down in the brig. Xavier reminds Cyke it isn’t up to him. Keeping a blind man in isolation would be inhuman, the professor says.
After taking issue with Xavier’s definition of ‘human’, Cyclops reminds Sabretooth he is a guest at the mansion, but because they cannot watch him every second of every day, they at least want the ability to find him at a moment’s notice. Sabretooth asks if they really think this will help them keep an eye on him. He bets he could take off anytime he wanted. Interrupting him, Professor X tells Victor the only reason he gets to stay at the house is through an act of charity; he is not to mistake it for a gesture of affection. If he gets out of line, Xavier himself will see to it his sight is not the only thing he loses on the grounds of the mansion. “Heh. Nice to see I’m not the only one with claws here,” Sabretooth says.
Suddenly, an incoming alert from the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents diverts the attention of Cyclops and Xavier. It seems the storm around the Andes has passed, allowing them to gather data on the team. The S.H.I.E.L.D. agent asks them to hurry to the control room; he’s picking up a disturbance only a few klicks from the team’s current position. They’ll be right there, Cyclops says. However, in his mind, he realizes their presence in the control room will do the X-Men in the field no good. By the time backup arrived, the fight will have surely ended. He has no choice but to trust in the team’s raw power and brains—and hope for the best.
Moments later, in the Andes…
Fury, communicating with the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents back in Westchester, receives their incoming warning. The have another attack in a nearby village, he tells the X-Men. Immediately, Beast suggests Kitty Pryde remain behind while the rest of the X-Men go to investigate. She takes issue with this, naturally. So does Fury, who tells Beast to stop thinking like a scientist and start thinking like an agent on a combat mission, which he is. Shadowcat’s a key member of their team, Fury reminds him. They’ll need both her phasing ability and her adamantium claw to take down the Sentinels. Fury suggests the X-Men head out to deal with the threat while he remain behind and guard over the civilian, Zigfried—and see if Jean and Rogue’s suspicions about her are correct.
Kitty, meanwhile, unsheathes her claw and tells Beast to stop acting so protective over her. Logan used to do that, she says. She reminds everyone she is an X-Man and can take care of herself.
As the team heads for the exit, Beast says he stands corrected. Jean calls him a chauvinist; he tells her not to start. She will if he stops playing the butthead, Jean says. To this, Hank’s only response is a growl.
While Rogue flies alongside and Nightcrawler keeps up by porting repeatedly in succession, Jean carries the non-flying members of the team to the battle in her telekinetic bubble. En route, she admits to Beast she doesn’t feel quite right about this. However, Beast assures her Fury can take care of himself. They’d better hope that’s true, Rogue adds; she doesn’t want to have to tell the professor they let the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. get killed.
Back at the base, Fury makes chit-chit with Zigfried. How long has she been working at this site? Two years next month, she answers. Fury notes she doesn’t seem too broken up about her missing friends. The way they were restricted from talking to others about their jobs made it difficult to get to know anyone, Ziggy answers. It was a lonely job. Fury admits he doesn’t think they’re all dead. He supposes something went wrong and they took off, but not before taking all the information with them on what was really happening at the facility.
Zigfried reaches out to Fury from behind and lays a hand on his shoulder. He addresses her as ‘miss’, but as she spins him around to face her, she informs him her correct title is ‘doctor’—as in, Dr. Zigfried Trask! With a handgun leveled at Nick Fury’s face, Dr. Trask admits to her lineage as the daughter of Bolivar and the granddaughter of Dietrich, making her the heiress to the legacy of the Sentinels. “And you, Colonel Fury, hold a very special place in my heart,” Zigfried adds. “You and a certain Canadian soldier raided a lab back in World War II and killed my grandfather.”
His surprise settled, Fury calmly gazes at Zigfried over the barrel of her gun and acknowledges they have arrived full-circle. It was her grandfather’s research led to the technology needed to build something that could detect people who were different, he says. With that technology, they can now hunt and kill those who are different—and start a whole new holocaust.
Zigfried highly doubts that. They’re mutants, she explains. Humans weren’t meant to have wings, read minds or teleport. They’re monstrosities—warped, sick, twisted versions of the human race made from an imperfect god. Mutants have a limited life span and may burn out eventually, but Dr. Zigfried Trask asserts it is her responsibility to make sure that process is sped up.
Elsewhere, Jean Grey, Beast, Rogue, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat arrive at the disturbance site at the village and find themselves in a confrontation with several towering Sentinels.