X-Men: Red (2nd series) #8

Issue Date: 
January 2023
Story Title: 
Mission to the Unknown

Al Ewing(writer), Madibek Musibekov (artist), Federico Blee (color), VC’s Ariana Maher (letterer and production), Tom Muller (design), Russell Dautermann (cover artist), Netease (variant cover), VC’s Clayton Cowles (production), Laure Amara (associate editor), Jordan D. White (editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
X-Men created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Brief Description: 

Cable hires Weaponless Zsen for his team to bring down Abigail Brand. The group includes Thunderbird, Manifold Wiz-Kid and Khora of the Burning Heart, Zsen’s sister. By tracking a sample of Cable unique variant of the technorganic virus, Manifold teleports them to the World Farm, home of the mysterious and troublesome arms dealer Orbis Stellaris. They find three Progenitors sleeping in caskets and a holo-file showing how the three found and manipulated Vulcan, turning him into the perfect sleeper agent. Then Orbis Stellaris confronts them. In the Diplomatic Zone, Paibok the Power Skrull comes with grave accusations toward the Shi’ar. During the Kree/Skrull War decades ago, false intelligence caused the Kree to massacre a Skrull colony, whose populace they believed to do genetic weapon research. As it turned out, the intel was false and it was a home for Skrulls who had lost their powers. The false intel was fed to them by the Shi’ar. When Xandra arrives, she admits her people’s guilt. Paibok, however, sees no way reparations will be enough. The delicate situation goes from bad to worse, when Vulcan arrives, pronouncing himself the returned king of the Shi’ar. Brand watches all this gleefully, as her plan comes together.

Full Summary: 

Gosnell’s Bar on Dolo-Ayan, where the galaxy’s elite mercenaries drink away their battles:
The Arakkii warrior Weaponless Zsen studies the two mercs opposite her – Blackjack O’Hare, a cybernetic bunny, and the Prince of Power, a blond himbo. They are not what she pictured, she remarks.

How so? Blackjack wonders. She muses, it was a mistake leaving Arakko. She left a planet at peace, and now it plunged into war, a war she could have found purpose in. The only thing she found out here are treaties and talking animals. Blackjack explains, the Guardians of the Galaxy are doing all the hero stuff for free. Merc jobs are few right now. He and the Prince of power here mostly do repo work and have wacky adventures. But patience and time are his motto: if you can’t find any trouble here, it is probably busy finding you.

That’s the cue for Cable and Khora of the Burning Heart – Zsen’s siter – to enter. Zsen asks if their father sent Khora. She knows he returned from his shadows. But she won’t speak to him again – not after what he did. Khora retorts that he feels the same. She sent herself. She introduces Cable and adds, he’s got a job.

Blackjack is interested and offers their help. Cable tells him not to call them. They’ll call him. But Khora says Zsen has an ability that might be useful. In the Morrowlands perhaps, Zsen scoffs. With the artists and dreamers, but art wasn’t what she dreamt of in the prisons. Cable tells her this is about a military application of her talent and it’s his understanding she has other weapons, such as an almost unbreakable blade. Nice tech, Cable remarks when he sees it. She paid dearly for it, she replies primly.

So, what will she be using it for? She hears little Khora performed assassinations for Abigail Brand. Is that what he has planned for her? Who is her target? Abigail Brand, of course, Cable replies with a mirthless grin, but they are taking the long way round.

On Arakko, Lake Hellas, there is an emergency diplomatic meeting regarding the Kree-Skrull Alliance and the Shi’ar. Paibok the Power-Skrull announces his emperor considers this a highly delicate matter. As in all things, he wishes to avoid war.

Is that why the Kree/Skrull Empire sent their second-most-important envoy to meet with his empress, to avoid an insult? Gladiator asks sharply. Nova warns him to play nice. Paibok considers it a fair question. Normally, the Super-Skrull would be present for this meeting, but he swore an oath not to commit murder in the emperor’s service. And he doesn’t quite trust himself to keep it…

Gladiator scoffs, noting that the old saying is true then: A Skrull’s mask will always slip. And no Ororo either. Again, the voice of Sol has no time to speak to them…

A prior conflict, Frenzy explains. Auditions for the empty seats on the Great Ring, she suspects. But they will find her a fair mediator in whatever this conflict is. Like the man said, play nice, she tells Paibok who assures her he always does.

On SWORD Station One, Brand with Mentallo are eavesdropping. Are they flirting? Mentallo comments. He thought Frenzy only had eyes for Scott Summers. He wonders if Paibok changes into Scott Summer for her. Brand cuts him off. Insulted, he asks if the grand plan isn’t going to plan. She hopes it is. But Xandra is running late and Paibok doesn’t seem to be in a mood to wait for her. But if this doesn’t lure her to Arakko, she doesn’t know what will. And then there’s Storm. It’s fine if she doesn’t show up, as long as she is where Brand can see her, but she is not on Krakoa or Arakko, at least nowhere they have eyes on.

The Diplomatic Zone:
Grimly, Paibok announces, he’d like to tell Gladiator a story. Roughly three standard decades ago, there was a lull in the Kree / Skrull war. Peace talks were in progress. At which point, the Kree received word of a breach of the Pan-Worlds Arms Treaty. The Skrulls were allegedly conducting forbidden genetic weapon research at a secret facility codenamed Shapeless Ridge.

The Kree sent a small group of stealth warriors to destroy the facility. The experimental Kree super soldier Major Glory led the force, succeeding admirably – by massacring every soul there. In fact, they barely put up a fight, because Shapeless Ridge didn’t make weapons but was a treatment facility for wounded Skrulls no longer able to shapeshift. Civilians! The intelligence was wrong. The Kree refused to admit an error, so the war flared up again, more bitter than ever.

New information has now come to light: the Kree were fed false reports goading them to commit a war atrocity. Who would do such a thing he asks a confused Gladiator. “We would,” comes a new voice, that of Empress Xandra, who has arrived with her aunt Deathbird. The Shi’ar spread those lies for their own benefit, to lengthen the war. It is one of the ten shames their Kin Crimson tried to bury - the crimes of previous Shi’ar regimes that they must pay for now. She sits down on the throne.

Showtime! Brand grins.

One parsec from Doyo-Malan:
Showtime! the pilot Wiz-Kid announces and welcomes them to the ship. He is still torn between naming it Bebop II or Brett Anderson. At this point, he hasn’t decided yet. Cable remarks it is whatever he wants it to be. That is literally his power. Anything from a sleek fighter to an exploratory vessel.

Also aboard are Khora, Zsen, Thunderbird and Manifold. Cable continues, when it comes to long distance, he refers to their everywhere man. He asks Manifold if he is ready to get them where they need to be. Manifold admits he is still fuzzy on some details. Cable summarizes the situation: recently Brand was resurrected, but a resurrection via Cerebro only goes so far. That means when she came out of the egg, the first thing she did was check her files to see what she was missing.

Wiz-Kid adds that he and Cable were checking too, and they saw everything. Which isn’t everything, Cable corrects, just the most recent file. Still pretty damning stuff. Brand is working with Orchis, or playing them at least. To her, Krakoa and Arakko are a temporary situation that can be leveraged to advance more important goals.

Manifold interrupts, that is not the part he is fuzzy on. He needs a destination! He can take them anywhere in the universe, but he still needs a starting point and an end point.

Cable shows them a hologram and explains Brand is also partnered with a Rimworld diplomat named Orbis Stellaris. He is a gene tech entrepreneur of unknown origin. Rumor has it that he also runs a profitable sideline in bioweapons, including militarized cloning. Quite a well-rounded individual. Brand isn’t just cultivating him for his diplomatic clout. She partnered with him to steal a sample of Cable’s techno-organic virus.

He demonstrates it by creating Wolverine-like claws from his T.O.-arm. Zsen is impressed. Cable admits it has its uses or he’d have ditched it with his first resurrection. He figures Brand sent a sample to Orchis, but he thinks she has bigger plans. So does he.

He reaches out to Manifold with a T.O. tentacle and explains, his virus is based on the more common Technarch strain, but it was altered by Apocalypse. It is unique to him.

He gives Manifold the sample. So whatever sample Orbis has, is unique to him, too. There are only two places where this particular viral load can be found. One is in the palm of his hand, and he can find the other one.

Manifold focuses and senses it. Far out beyond everything. The gulf between galaxies… he can get them there, but getting them back…. Taki points out that Manifold caught a space station. He has faith. Eden opens the gate and Taki steers the ship through it.

The face an artificial-looking globe. It’s called the World Farm. Home of the Progenitors, Cable explains. Ancient alien super-scientists. The ones who attacked Arakko to steal his T.O. virus. He assumed Stellaris was using Progenitor clones though. If he’s got access to the real ones…

They’ll take him down! Thunderbird interrupts and draws his blade. Just the same! They are here to find out how deep Brand’s plans go. That means they don’t quit until they get to the bottom, no matter what they face!

Zsen muses, she likes this one. She would! Khora scoffs.

Taki agrees with John, but Cable asks him to stay behind on the ship. He’s lucky he still owes Cable for the brain thing, Taki mutters.

Cable asks Manifold to get them closer. Manifold teleports the group.

Once they are inside, Taki is blocked. Manifold warns that without windows he cannot see the outside, which he needs to form a portal. They’ll cross that Einstein-Rosen-bridge when they get to it, Cable quips. He got them to the right place though.

He sees several large tubes with T.O.-virus. Looks like they’ve been breeding Cable’s sample. He wonders what the Progenitors get out of working with Orbis Stellaris and vice versa. And what is Brand’s plan?

Before them in the three caskets, they see the sleeping Progenitors. Zsen nervously remarks something is hidden in them. If she painted their truth, none could see it and remain sane!

Cable accesses the datafiles connected to their caskets. They see a holo-file of the three Progenitors talking to someone claiming he has a little amount of good in him that could grow into more. It is a cancer. And that is unacceptable for the work they have set in front of him. So, they have separated the two.

Inside, under a layer of that good is the beautiful broken creature he is. They are going to release him back into his universe. Others will see him as changed… reborn healthy and whole… but that is just a shell. Underneath it buried in a shallow grave is the real him.

The angle changes, showing they are talking to Vulcan.

Cable realizes that Vulcan’s mysterious return from the Fault at the start of the Krakoan age was orchestrated. The Progenitors knew they’d take him in. They all wanted this to be true. The perfect sleeper agent.

Manifold asks if Abby is behind this too? Why not? Cable retorts. She is playing Krakoa. She is playing Orchis. Why not play the Progenitors?

So little imagination, come another voice. Cable keeps saying the Progenitors, when what he really means is his Progenitors, Orbis Stellaris atop a giant battle suit announces.

The Diplomatic Zone:
Paibok addresses Xandra. She is speaking of payment in full measure. He wonders if she knows what that means. He fears the price is already set in stone - he fears it is total war.

Over his dead body! Nova swears. Hell, over Hulkling’s dead body!

Then so it will be, Paibok vows. The revenge must be taken. It is out of their hands. Only Xandra can prevent it, so he asks again: What will the Shi’ar offer to take the place of their own blood?

He offers fire, comes a new voice. It is Vulcan, surrounded by fire. His fire that will burn their pathetic alliance if they dare stand against their betters. “Rejoice, bold men of the Shi’ar! Raise your swords, your hosannas! Your king has returned!”

Watching all this, Brand grins and announces that’s check and mate.

Characters Involved: 

Cable, Khora of the Burning Heart, Manifold, Thunderbird, Weaponless Zsen, Wiz Kid

“Xandra,” Deathbird

Commander Abigail Brand

Orbis Stellaris
Blackjack O’Hare
Prince of Power

In holofile:

Story Notes: 
  • A Member list of the emergency meeting.
  • Brand’s secret plan: A complicated plan to cement the role of SWORD and Sol on the galactic stage by manipulating the other galactic powers into war.

Further notes:

Weaponless Zsen was introduced in Legion of X #1.

The Kin Crimson and the Ten Shames are a plot point from Marauders (2nd series).

The Progenitors and the World Farm were introduced in Royals #9-11 also written by Al Ewing.

Manifold caught a space station in SWORD (2nd series) #11.

The issue reveals that, after the events of War of Kings, the Progenitors had found Vulcan in the Fault and reprogrammed him.

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