The dead of the night, ‘Wait. Aren’t you the guy who…’ begins an assassin, flanked by others, he is interrupted as Remy “Gambit” LeBeau kicks him in the face, telling him to keep his questions for the end so they can get through this a lot more quickly and painlessly. One of the assassins cries out in pain, ‘Well, quickly, anyway’ Gambit jokes. Standing outside the motel building, Gambit finds himself slightly overwhelmed, after taking down several of the assassins, there are still more standing. One of them orders him to throw his gun, which he swiped from one of the assassins, down on the ground. ‘You’ll be dead before you can aim it!’ he warns him, before shoving his gun into Remy’s neck.
‘Probably right’ Gambit replies, smirking as he remarks it is a pity, as he hears these things are very useful in a fight. ‘I said - on the ground! The assassin shouts. ‘You got it, homme!’ Remy replies as he uses his power to kinetically charge the firearm, confusing everyone with the flashing light, before he drops it down on to the assassin’s foot, where it explodes. Gambit leaps out of the way, joking that it saves him from having to say “Pick a card”. Remy returns to the assassins and picks one of them up by the collar, exclaiming ‘Now, let’s talk about who sent you and what you want with -’ Remy is interrupted by a crashing sound from behind, where an assassin was about to knife him in the back, until they get struck over the head by Professor Charles Xavier.
Gambit thanks Xavier for the save and tells him that it is good to see that the rumors of his death were exaggerated. ‘Do I know you?’ Xavier replies blankly, ‘You don’t look -’ he begins, as he uses his powers to enter Gambit’s mind. ‘Don’t look what? What was I going to say?’ Xavier asks himself, before deciding that it doesn’t matter anymore, as Gambit‘s mind unfolds on first psi-contact, spilling out images and moments. ‘And with an instinct that‘s becoming stronger each time - I home in on myself‘ Xavier decides, as images of Gambit’s past flash through his mind - battling Sabretooth, then of Gambit a pawn of Apocalypse, transformed into Death.
(Flashback - takes place during the “Shattering” storyline)
The X-Men - Wolverine, Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Shadowcat - are assembled before Professor X, as Cyclops remarks that, even in light of the way the Professor has been acting lately, sending them away doesn’t make any sense. ‘I don’t need to explain myself to you, Scott. Under your leadership the X-Men have consistently disappointed me. It’s time to end this farce!’ Xavier shouts. ‘We need more than that. We’re owed more than that!’ Cyclops exclaims.
The dirty sunlight barely beams into Xavier’s dark office, shimmering upon the X-Men as Xavier tells the X-Men that they are owed nothing, as long as he owns this mansion, adding that he is answerable to no one’s will but his own. ‘I’m asking - no, I’m ordering you to leave!’. Cyclops is annoyed, ‘After all you’ve done to shape us, to define us -’ he begins, but Xavier tells him that persisting in a mistake makes it worse, not better. ‘Define yourself. It’s what grown-ups do!’ he bellows. ‘That’s it! I’m done trying to reason with you, Professor. You’re not God. And the X-Men don’t stop existing when you close your eyes!’ Cyclops tells him before he follows the rest of the team out of Xavier’s office.
All but one, however, leave - ‘Gambit, you’re still here. You’re unusually slow at taking a hint’ Xavier remarks. ‘No. I just don’t buy it’ Gambit replies, before telling Xavier that Cajuns can spot a liar, and they even applied a big lie - if it is well told. ‘This one -I’d give it a slow hand-clap’. Xavier asks Gambit if he doesn’t think he is being serious, to which Remy replies ‘Serious? You ca fool an honest man like Scott, Professor. But you can’t fool a thief’.
Gambit remarks that it is like that trick where you shuffle the ace of spades into a deck and it keeps finding its way back to the top. ‘You keep coming back here. To this place. To these people. You asked Cyclops to define himself without the X-Men, Professor - you want to take that test yourself?’ Remy asks Xavier, holding up the ace of spades card.
Checking one of the assassins, Xavier remarks that, luckily for him, Gambit is a long way from Louisiana, adding that Gambit didn’t seem too surprised to see him alive. Holding his staff behind his neck, Remy replies that someone was paying to have Xavier killed - which is usually a good indication that one is not already dead. Gambit reveals that the New Orleans Assassins’ Guild was offered the job. Remy explains that he still has his ear to the ground in New Orleans, so he hard about the offer, and decided to come along to see how it played out.
‘Damn. Too much to hope for this. This man knows nothing, not even who he’s working for!’ Xavier reveals after attempting to read the mind of one of the assassins. Gambit replies that he cannot help, as the Guild works double-blind. Pulling a list from his trench coat, Remy tells Xavier that he is part of a “bulk order”, and remarks that he is in strange company. Xavier looks at the list, only one name on it surprises him. He sans it with a sick sense of inevitability, stopping at the third - Sebastian Shaw; Cain Marko; Carter Ryking; Charles Xavier. Xavier puts the list in his pocket and walks away as Gambit remarks ‘Juggernaut, Shaw. If there’s a link, I don’t -’ Xavier interrupts him, declaring that there is no time for speculation, as one of the men on this list is powerless. ‘If these killers come for him, he won’t stand a chance’.
Soon, at the Ryking Facility, a senior doctor tells Xavier that he is sincerely sorry, and informs him that he has wasted his time coming here, as Carter Ryking passed away last night. Somewhat surprised, Xavier asks how Carter died, to which the doctor reveals it was from a brain hemorrhage. ‘Unfortunately I’m not allowed to show you the -’ he begins, cut off when he was about to say “file” as Xavier messes with his mind. ‘I - I mean - here, take a look at the medical notes. I know you have some training in the area’. The doctor says.
Xavier flips through the file, ‘A spontaneous rupturing of every blood cell in the brain?’ he asks. The doctor replies that it is unique in his experience, and tells Xavier again that he is sorry for his loss. ‘If there’s anything else I can do…’.
Soon, Xavier and Gambit make their way through the corridor. ‘You disapprove of my methods?’ Xavier asks. But Remy replies ‘Not my call’, before adding that he remembers a time when Xavier would have handled the situation differently. Xavier replies that, somehow, he feels a terrible sense of urgency about this. ‘I failed to save Carter. But I believe other lives - many other lives - are also at stake!’.
As they make their way through the main reception area, Xavier and Gambit do not see the man talking on his cell phone - Sebastian Shaw, who tells whomever he is talking to that he will not hold. ‘You can tell Da Costa I’m a Las Cruces!’ he snaps, adding that he is making progress and may even be close to the source. ‘That’s for his ears alone!’ he remarks, before asking the person he is talking to, to tell Da Costa that the energy field that passed through the Hellfire Club has spiked twice since. Shaw explains that it is a regular cycle, peaking every twenty-three hours, and this time, coinciding with the death of a - Shaw is interrupted as he sees Xavier and Gambit walk past him.
Shaw looks concerned, and tells the person he is speaking to that he will call them back. ‘There’s just been a very interesting development’. Shaw gets up to follow Xavier, just as a woman approaches him and lets him know that the doctor will see him now. ‘No need. I’ll pay my respects to the dead another day’. Shaw tells the woman as he puts his phone in his pocket.
Later, driving along a narrow stretch of road, a dusty red glow emanating from the ground and sky, Gambit asks Xavier why it is they are heading out into the desert. ‘Because of the names, Gambit. The names on your list!’ Xavier explains. Xavier informs Gambit that Carter Ryking, Cain Marko and he all had one thing in common, the only person who doesn’t is Sebastian Shaw. ‘Our fathers worked at the nuclear research facility at Alamogordo - so it makes sense to look for answers there!’ Xavier declares. Gambit replies that he is happy to play chauffeur.
Gambit suggests they see if the mess they left behind them at La Cruces has made the news yet, and switches on the radio, where a song is currently playing, and the lyrics strike a chord with Xavier: Remember the breakwaters down by the waves? I first found my courage knowing Daddy would save… And Xavier’s mind flashes back to the past:
‘Keep your mouth shut you stupid sow! Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I? You don’t understand anything!’ shouts Kurt Marko as he looms over Sharon Xavier who has fallen to the floor. A bottle of alcohol sits on a nearby table as Kurt stomps around the lounge. Sharon holds a hand up defensively, ‘Kurt, please! I only said - for the children’s sake, we should leave here!’ she pleads. ‘You want me to start on you again, woman?’ Kurt bellows as he tells Sharon that Milbury is not going to let anyone leave. ‘That’s why you’re Sharon Marko now instead of Sharon Xavier!’
The abusive drunk pours himself another drink and mumbles ‘You know what he calls the project now? Cronus, after some Greek God who used to eat his own kids’. He asks Sharon if she thinks that is funny. ‘He thinks it’s funny, can’t stop smiling every time he says it!’. Sharon pulls herself up from the floor, telling Kurt that she will not let Milbury do it, not to her Charlie. But Kurt replies that it is out of their hands now.
‘Anyhow, it might not be Charlie or Cain. It could be any of them’ he declares, before striding over to Sharon and telling her that, whoever it is, she is not getting in the way of this. ‘If it works for him, it’ll work for all of us. And the dying is something that happens to other shmucks!’ he booms as he raises a fist to Sharon - unaware that Charles and Cain are watching from nearby….
Gambit remarks that he may need to take a creak at some point, if only to get his bearings, as the desert is hard driving in the dark. ‘The - what?’ Xavier replies, confused. ‘Never mind, Professor. Go back to sleep’ Gambit tells him, to which Xavier apologizes and remarks that he has a lot on his mind. ‘Or what’s left of it’.
Watching Xavier and Gambit from up on a ledge, looking down on the road is a beefy, muscular figure with a hood on, covering his eyes. He carries a massive weapon, and speaks into a communicator on his wrist, announcing that the target is acquired. ‘He’s heading East along 82’. ‘Like a homing pigeon’ the voice on the other end of the communicator replies. The muscular, hooded man asks if they should intercede, but the wrinkled face on the communicator tells him not to, telling him to wait until they stop and get out of the car. ‘There’s another four hours before the next wave-peak. Plenty of time - so let’s make absolutely sure they’ve got nowhere to run to!’.
After some time, Gambit pulls the car over to the side of the road, and noticing something wrong with the Professor, he calls out to him, but Xavier assures him that it is a headache, though admits that it is getting worse. ‘It’s like - static inside my brain. I’ve never felt anything like it’. Helping Xavier to the dusty desert, Gambit places Xavier on a large rock and tells him to sit here while he makes a fire and brews some coffee. Xavier thanks Remy and remarks that he is sure it will pass in a moment or two. Unbeknownst to Xavier and Gambit, the muscular man watching them quietly orders some of his assassins into their places, ready for an attack. ‘Move up on the left!’ he tells one. ‘I want you behind that ridge until I give you the word. Then take out the car!’ he tells another.
Soon, the fire is flickering away as night falls upon them. Huddled in a blanket, Xavier sips his drink and asks Gambit what it is he makes the coffee from out here in the desert. Gambit replies that he has to have his secrets, and suggests to the Professor that he doesn’t drink the bottom inch or so. ‘They destroyed everything. Everything they touched’ Xavier declares. ‘Who did?’ Remy asks. Xavier apologizes and explains that he was thinking out loud. ‘I meant my parent’s generation’ he reveals. ‘Whatever they thought they were doing at Alamogordo, they left us nothing but pain. Cain becoming Juggernaut, and whatever happened to Carter - it was all because of them!’.
‘What about you? You think you still carry anything with you away from that time?’ Gambit asks. Xavier replies that he thinks it is hard for anyone to see his own beginnings. Gambit agrees, remarking that he never even got close to finding out what his were. Xavier reveals to Gambit that it is possible - more than possible - that the Alamogordo facility was run by Mister Sinister using the name Nathan Milbury. This shocks Gambit, who exclaims ‘My God! You’re sure? But back then - you wouldn’t even have been a mutant. Why would he have -?’
Xavier interrupts, explaining that Milbury was a geneticist, and believes that he may have assembled people who carried the x-gene - to see what would happen when they had children. Xavier admits that he has known some of this for a long time, but that he put off coming back here, year after year. ‘There was always something more urgent for me - and the X-Men - to do. Now I have - no excuses left’ Xavier exclaims, pressing his fingers to his head. Gambit asks if it still hurts, to which Xavier replies ‘Worse than ever. I need a moment or two to - to - collect - my - thought…’.
(In Xavier’s Mind)
Xavier finds himself in a war-torn wasteland. ‘Impossible. This feels - so real. Every texture. Every smell, even. But it can’t -’ he tells himself, when, suddenly, a voice calls out ‘Squaaaad atten-hut! When the siren sounds, you will advance in a platoon order. Do not wait for a signal. There will be no signal!’ Xavier turns and peers around a boulder, where he sees himself, dressed in an army uniform and sitting in a wheelchair, with several figures standing in front of him. The other Xavier exclaims ‘Some of you are conscripts. Some volunteers. The war does not distinguish! The war loves you all alike. But it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to me!’.
‘Soldiers - move out!’ the wheelchair-bound Xavier orders, and his soldiers, naturally, are revealed to be members of the X-Men - Cyclops, Wolverine, Phoenix, Storm, Colossus, Archangel, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Thunderbird and others. As the X-Men follow their orders, Xavier sees this and calls out to Scott, running to catch up with him as Cyclops shouts ‘Come on, X-Men! Do you want to live forever!?’
The heroes move towards the opposing army, tankers fire at them and guns blaze. Cyclops unleashes his powerful optic beam, Wolverine unsheathes his claws, Banshee forces his powerful sonic scream into the airwaves. But the first casualty is struck - Jean Grey. Shot from behind by a coward. ‘Scott!’ she screams. ‘JEAN!’ Scott cries. More X-Men fall by a mass-fire from a tanker. Banshee. Thunderbird. The embers dart across their bodies.
Xavier watches this, and exclaims that it is not real, that these are not his memories. But his other-self in the uniform explains that they are not memories at all. ‘They’re metaphors’ he explains. ‘This was how it all seemed to me, Charles, as I watched you. Your strategy. Your achievement. You sacrificed the young, as old men always do. For what it’s worth. I approve’. Xavier frowns and looks at his doppelganger, ‘Who are you?’ he asks. ‘At the moment I’m nobody. An echo. A seed’. Comes the reply. ‘I potentiality…but soon I’ll be so much more!’
(Present / Reality)
‘Professor…you need to wake up. Now!’ exclaims Gambit, just in time, as the assassins move in on them, unleashing gunfire. Gambit lunges at Xavier, forcing him to the ground, to protect him from the ambush. ‘Go for the old man! The other one doesn’t matter! shouts the muscular hooded assassin. The assassins lunge at Xavier and Gambit, ‘You wounded my feelings. That was stupid!’ Remy jokes as he fends off the attackers, kicking one o them in the neck he remarks ‘Always go for a vital organ first!’ before tossing several kinetically charged playing cards into the group of attackers, knocking several of them backwards.
Suddenly though, one of the attackers grabs Remy from behind, ‘Got him!’ he shouts, before knocking Gambit’s playing cards out of his hands. ‘No you don’t, Cajun. We’ve seen your lousy card tricks already!’ he declares. At this time, Xavier has managed to stumble across some sand dunes, but falls over. When he looks up though…he is no longer in this realty:
(In Xavier‘s Mind)
A young Charles Xavier looks wide-eyed, as the powerful Mr. Sinister looms over him, scalpel in hand, Sinister exclaims ‘Good boy. We’re almost done…’.