Chicago, the morning of the mayoral election. At this point, even veteran political analysts have no idea whether the winner will be independent mutant candidate Kitty Pryde or her old adversary, Alice Tremaine. Tension is high, as proven by the unfortunate fate of one teenager working for Kitty’s campaign who has been beaten to death by mutant haters.
While Alice Tremaine is quick deplore the attack, she also points out that this incident highlights the danger of mixing the two species. Kitty, in the meantime, is clearly shaken as she looks at the dead boy in the body bag.
A little later, she gives an interview. She describes the life of 17-year-old Jake deLillo, how he volunteered for her campaign and how he was beaten to death by thugs for whom freedom is just another dirty word. She deplores them and the fear that inspired them. Are they so afraid of the future now, of their children that they must crush them? Life is a gift, an expression of hope to build a better tomorrow. Jake will never have that chance, so it falls upon them to embrace the hope for him, to dedicate in his memory a city and a world that he can be proud of.
A Blackbird near Earthspace. Bobby Drake complains to Storm at the steering wheel (along with Psylocke) that this plan B is totally nuts. Given their collective history, what else is new? Bishop quips. Psylocke advises Bobby to be bold. There are old mutants and bold mutants, Robert points out, but how many of them live to be old, bold mutants? He remarks that they have reached their ride, one of the marvelous spacewhales called the Acanti. It opens its maw and swallows the plane with them aboard whole. A little later, it disappears into a stargate.
On Chandilar, throne world of the Shi’ar, all hell has broken loose, as Shi’ar Superguardians and X-Men brutally fight each other, in the wake of Superguardian Plutonia’s slaughter of Polaris and mortal wounding of Magneto. In his own way, the master of magnetism is thriving though, as he is now transformed into pure energy. He uses the advantages this gives him to create a barrier to protect the X-Men from the Guardians’ energy casters. The harder they try to breach his barrier, the stronger they make him.
Dust is quick to point out to Cyclops that, without her two companions, Spike cannot screen out the psychic static from all the violence. On Cyclops’ orders, X-23, Karima Shapindar and Captain Britain begin to take out the opposition’s muscle.
One of the Guardians advises the Lord Chancellor to withdraw before he is taken prisoner. Victory against the X-Men means nothing if the ultimate prize escapes. He leaves and Gambit decides to follow. Of his two companions, Rachel intends to accompany him, whereas Cable protests, unwilling to leave his father, Cyclops. Rachel hugs her brother and tells him to stand beside the dad he has got. She will fight for the mom she lost.
The battle brutally continues. Captain Britain is finally about to fall before Red Shift before X-23 viciously slices the Guardian apart. Cap is shocked by her display of brutality. She merely states that while Wolverine learned the “life,” she was bred to it.
Cyclops, in the meantime, has managed to somewhat calm the telepathic Spike and asks her to connect him with the airborne Archangel. Magneto asks why Cyclops didn’t bring every X-Man with him, to which Cyclops – watched by the Guardians’ master strategist Mentor – simply replies that it didn’t work out that way.
In the throne room, Cassandra Nova – in Lilandra’s body – flanked by Brood, informs Xavier that his precious X-Men and he are dead in all but name. He attacks telepathically, informing her that they won’t go without a fight. She commends his willingness to use lethal force. How unexpected, Xavier retorts with a very physical attack. He asks Lilandra to forgive him as her body succumbs, to be revealed to be that of the former shapeshifting Superguardian Stuff, who gathers Xavier’s psyche.
(inside Stuff’s mind)
Xavier finds himself in the mental prison he and Phoenix once left Cassandra Nova in to re-educate her. He finds himself helpless and drooling in a classroom with Cassandra Nova as teacher and an image of Phoenix as her assistant, the letter X drawn on the blackboard. Cassandra reminds him of how in their mother’s womb they fought for supremacy. That day’s victory was Charles’. Turnabout is fair play.
Gambit and Rachel follow the Lord Chancellor. Gambit demands to know why he is in such a hurry. The chancellor replies that moments like this one are rare and a great strategist takes advantage of every opportunity. He is impressed the chancellor trusts them, Gambit presses. A matter of expediency, the other man replies curtly. Keep your friends close, your enemies closer? Gambit asks.
The chancellor smirks, commenting that the two of them are very much alike. This is a smart move. He is by far the more enlightened ruler. He torched the X-Men, Gambit states. Military necessity, the other man states. He eliminates his most significant potential adversaries or provokes them into a response that will eliminate Lilandra’s foremost defenders. Either way, he wins, as the victorious side will be weakened and fall to him.
He sounds rather sure, Gambit states. Has he done this before? Often, the Cancellor replies. In how many dimensions? Gambit asks, his lips pressed together. Not the geneticist, after all, the Lord Chancellor realizes, but the thief, come to steal away his secrets. He can keep his secrets, Gambit announces, as he lights up some cards. He wants his life!
Khan, for that is who he truly is, isn’t impressed as Gambit attacks and needles him that there is a striking family resemblance between him and Sinister. How does it feel to discover his father is a monster? What matters, Gambit shoots back, is that his kids know that their daddy isn’t.
Gambit lies on the ground, reaching for some cards as he states that Khan could have left well enough alone. This dimension is big enough to share. He doesn’t share, Khan announces, as he intends to move in for the kill. He conquers!
Gambit tosses a last batch of energized cards at him, even as he falls under Khan’s energy blast. He has laid claim to scores of dimension and, in due course, he will have them all, Khan shouts. Why should this one be different? He breaks off. One of the cards is embedded in his chestplace. With a smile Gambit snaps his fingers as he announces that one should always beware the fella who saves his best for last. The card begins to glow. “This is for my Anna,” the dying hero announces with a smirk. Khan barely has time to shout out in protest and denial before the card blows him up.
Back at the battle site, Cyclops telepathically transmits his orders to the others, once again displaying his uncanny grasp of battlefield tactics. Letting the flying Monet and Archangel carry shards of glass, he uses his optic blast in tandem with them to unexpectedly take out another Super-Guardian, their strategist Mentor.
The heroes barely have time to rejoice, for in retaliation another Guardian kills Archangel with her energy blasts. Cyclops is horrified at seeing his oldest friend go down, so much that he doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and to the Guardian Scintilla moving in for the kill. Dust grabs the alien woman and simply snaps her neck. Afterwards, she admonishes Cyclops, reminding him that they can’t afford to lose him.
In Lilandra’a throne room, Rachel takes a look at the destruction and at Xavier’s form being imprisoned in the shape of the Superguardian Stuff. She realizes this can’t be good. The Phoenix symbol above her eye begins to glow as she forges a telepathic contact between her and Xavier.
(the astral plane)
Rachel finds herself standing in front of the Xavier Institute in its classic form. In front of it, two cars are parked, a Pontiac Firebird and a Chevy Nova, the sensible girl’s cue to run away. But she figures she is as stubborn as her mother.
Once inside, things get worse. She sees a classroom, an unresponsive Lilandra sitting at the teacher’s desk and Xavier sitting at a student desk, his intellect and memories literally pouring out of him. Addressing Rachel as Jean Xavier, barely able to formulate the words, asks her to save herself.
Nevertheless, Rachel, now appearing as her younger Marvel Girl self, enters the room, telling him everything will be fine. Behind her, Cassandra Nova slams the door shut, calling her a fool. With an evil smirk, she asks if she is surprised to see her after all those years. She mocks that she was hiding in plain sight all of the time and no one suspected.
Cassandra is actually rather glad she destroyed her other self on Earth. She pushes Rachel towards the blackboard, where the letter X serves as a tie to keep her bound. Rachel realizes that Cassandra too mistakes her for her mother, as Jean was the one who destroyed her. Cassandra reaches into Rachel’s head as she announces that this is more delicious. Because she is inhabiting Charles’ son, he now loses not only his present, but also his future.
Surprised, she announces that she can’t find Rachel’s brain. Too much to hope for that she simply doesn’t have one. But there’s no rush. She reaches into the fluid of memories coming from Xavier and brings her finger to her lips. Xavier moans that his X-Men will stop her. Of course they will, Cassandra replies. Her hands turn into claws as she reaches for Rachel’s head with one claw and Lilandra’s with the other. Last words, anyone? <>
Lilandra begins to tell Xavier she loves him before being cut off by a bored Cassandra. No need to hear from the other woman, she figures. Taunting Charles that this is merely the beginning, she kills one of the women, telling him to guess who’s next.