Aboard the Starjammer, somewhere within Shi’ar space, Aliyah Bishop is making her way through some of the lesser-known parts of the ship. Her mind wanders back.
(flashback to Aliyah’s childhood):
She recalls growing up on some planet with her mother, Deathbird, how her mother told her goodbye and finally, months later, the planet being attacked by spaceship and half-human mutant Heather Cameron aka Lifeguard trying to fly her to safety. The still young Aliyah is crying for her mother. This world and the child who lived there were Deathbird’s greatest secret. No matter what happened to her in her bid for the Shi’ar throne, she prayed both would remain safe.
Heather flies Aliyah to a space capsule and puts the child in it. Aliyah begs her to come with her, already guessing that Heather intends to sacrifice herself. The older woman explains that she has made Aliyah’s mother a promise and starts the pod. Heather calls after her that she owes it to Aliyah’s father too and that, with a little luck, she might get to see him. Heather begins to fire and, moments later, the world is destroyed. Aliyah’s pod is gathered in by the Starjammer, a ship as alone as lost as Aliyah.
Carol Danvers, the ship’s mind, informs Aliyah via com-link that she has barely any contact with the girl. The link is unstable as well. Aliyah is about to enter a sector where Carol has no internal sensors. Aliyah reminds her that that is the point. She intends to repair the busted systems. Carol reminds her of the scope of that task. They are talking about a volume of roughly a cubic kilometer. Aliyah jokes that Carol should have taken better care of the ship when she had a chance. Carol tells her to be careful and adds that the sector has been “dark” since before she merged with the ship. She doesn’t know what is out there.
Aliyah gets to work, repairing a critical junction. Suddenly, a device detects an intruder. Aliyah asks whether it is Kurt. Nobody replies. Suddenly, there is an explosion and Aliyah wildly fires at whatever caused it.
Elsewhere on the ship, Jean Grey gazes into space. Is she enjoying the view? Nightcrawler asks. Jean replies that this is where she belongs. It is home. Before he can ask, she tells him to not. She is his daughter, Kurt replies simply, and Jean is Phoenix. And that means she can do anything? Jean asks mockingly. Can’t she? Kurt retorts. Phoenix insists that she is Jean and always will be. That’s what makes her unique in history and special. The Phoenix is great for jumpstarting creation but they are talking about micro-surgery on the soul. That requires a human touch. That makes her vulnerable. Is she afraid? Kurt asks and takes her hand.
Jean admits her fear and explains that she was captured by the slavers. The good news is that she knows their protocols. The bad though… It can happen again, Nightcrawler finishes his friend’s sentence. Part of her loves the leather, Jean admits. And the life it presents. Having no free will means total absolution from responsibility. She manifests the trappings of Dark Phoenix. He can’t imagine how tempting… She trails off and turns to Nocturne still comatose on a slab. For Talia Josephine she is her only hope.
Kurt tries to hold back, mentioning the risk. Jean laughs. She is an X-Man, she stresses. She doesn’t weasel. She hugs him, telling him he is family. All of them are. If she cannot fight for their freedom and future, why even exist? She asks him to hold their hands for when things get rough and gets to work.
(Nocturne’s memories / astral plane):
Jean’s astral body leaves her body, as she adds that another advantage of physical contact is that her experiences are his. She warns him that this is going to be nasty.
They see Talia’s childhood memories from before she became a hound. Talia’s memories of her parents – Nightcrawler and the Scarlet Witch are clear – but her own face is blurred out, because the slavers have subsumed her identity beneath their conditioning. Jean explains that her spirit has been enchained and they see a Talia, enchained by barbs. The barbs and spikes cut Jean and suddenly Jean begins to manifest them both on the astral plane and in the real world.
Elsewhere on the ship, Aliyah is running for her life and trying to shoot whatever is behind her and shouting for Carol. She reminds herself that she is on her own and has to save herself. For all she knows, the being chasing her isn’t hostile at all. But her instincts tell her differently. She tries to open a lock when one of her scanners warns her of a proximity alert.
She enters the derelict hangar to find another ship there, one of the old imperial corsairs. She hasn’t seen one of them since she was a kid and from the look of things that could have been when this one crashed here. As she enters the ship, she reminds herself that they were stealth infiltrators, which could explain why the sector is off Carol’s grid.
Internals are stone cold; the ship is dead. Aliyah realizes that the ship triaged all its systems to sustain one single life. When energy ran out, the creature woke up. She sees the open pod and swears.
She gets to work, trying to connect the Corsair’s systems to the Starjammers, hoping to re-energize the entire section. Suddenly, she hears a loud booming noise. She looks up to see in horror that the blast doors of the hangar have been breached by something.
Elsewhere, Kurt urges Jean to fight the slavers’ influence, but she doesn’t want to. Taking her face into his hands, he bluntly tells her that then his child will die. As will hers. Her friends, her family. All she loves will be destroyed. Displaying the air of Dark Phoenix, she snarls that she doesn’t care. Kurt does the unexpected and kisses her, reminding her that she is fire and life. Their strength flows from her… and to her in return Jean replies as she kisses him back.
(Astral plane / Nocturne’s memories)
Jean takes Kurt on another trip there. She still displays the spikes but acts normally. She warns him that the scary part comes now. He explains that actually that’s Talia’s band, the “Butt monkeys.” Jean remarks that this band represents the essence of her being. The spikes surrounding the memory point outward, preventing anything from reaching T.J. She is protecting herself. Like “Sleeping Beauty” Kurt remarks. She loved fairy takes. She loved to hear him read them to her at bedtime. Jean promises he will again. Kurt points toward another set of memories, asking what they are. Everything since she became a hound, Jean replies. They take a closer look.
Nocturne is at the feet of one of the slavers, who is discussing things with a business partner they cannot see. The slaver explains that they are merchants, selling everything between dimensions, as long as profit is made. He continues that they like their market free of interference from governments, which is why they oppose Khan. They don’t need some pandimensional empire making rules. The past few years, Khan has been trapped in the customer’s dimension. Great for the slavers. The last thing they want is him regaining his throne or another one.
The customer can be seen. It is Empress Lilandra who agrees with the slaver. She doesn’t want Khan to gain her throne either. The Slaver explains that she needs an equalizer. Her own incorruptible clandestine praetorian guard. He points towards a globe that is being transported inside by several of his Hounds. Within it is a Brood.
Lilanrda points out that the Brood are extinct. Wiped out by those infernal X-Men. In her dimension, perhaps, the slaver retorts. But this is a pure strain from a dimension where the X-Men were beaten. Of course, quality like that doesn’t come cheap. Lilandra shrugs this off. If she bankrupts the Shi’ar for it, she’ll simply conquer the empire next door and bleed them dry. However, the slaver points out a problem. She will need a host to transport he Brood Queen undetected through the dimensional curtainwalls. Lilandra grins evilly, as guards carry Deathbird inside. Will her sister do?
Aliyah grabs a gun pointing it at whatever is after her. Suddenly, somebody calls her name. How could it know that? Aliyah wonders. Dust settles as the shape assures her that she means no harm. She hadn’t intended for them to be apart so long but, as Aliyah can see, she had a small accident. It is Deathbird.
Aliyah lowers her gun in disbelief. She had been told her mother was dead. Overcome by emotion, she hugs her mother, babbling that she cannot believe she’d been trapped her under their noses all this time. Deatbird hugs her back telling her it is all right. Aliyah suddenly cries out in pain. Something has poked her in the stomach and drawn blood. She assumes it was her mother’s armor. Deathbird assures her the pain will pass.
A moment later, she turns into a Brood Queen and informs Aliyah that her Aunt Lilandra brought them into this dimension to serve her purposes. But the Brood are nobody’s puppet. As Deathbird’s life paved their way to freedom, so shall Aliyah’s grant them dominion over the Empire. Horrified, Aliyah presses her remote and lasers beams apparently destroy the Brood.
Elsewhere on the ship, Jean and Kurt draw are still shaken. Jean realizes that the spikes are gone now. She is herself again. When Kurt asks how she reminds him that she reacts to passion for better or worse. His feelings are so honest, they couldn’t help but point her in the right direction. She is a little unsettled, as she senses a psychic residue. Like an outcry of pain and rage. Something happened while they were working with Nocturne. They turn to Talia, who is waking up, finally herself again.
A little bit later, Carol has scanned Talia and confirms Jean’s scan. The Hound conditioning has been purged. Aliyah joins them joking that she seems to have missed all the fun. Carol asks if she is okay. Couldn’t be better Aliyah replies and welcomes T.J. Carol points out that she is reading elevated adrenaline levels on Aliyah. The girl tells her off explaining she has been busy. However, she hasn’t been successful. The sector is still dark. There is no power, no internal sensor. Apart from that, everything is fine. She doesn’t mention what happened with the Brood.
In Chicago, Kitty Pryde and Xi’an Coy Manh have arrived in Kitty’s home. Kitty is on the phone, discussing the latest developments in the electoral campaign with her campaign manger, Marie d’Acanto, after telling Shan good-bye.
Marie informs Kitty that the attacks on the X-Men have radicalized public opinion, making things harder for Kitty. Her opponent, Alice Tremain, is making the election solely about mutants. Kitty ask her to give her an hour. She then wants a meeting with the senior staff at the Belles of Hell to discuss options. Kitty settles for a bath to wash off the grime, also examining the volumes of Destiny’s diaries, which she owns. The result leaves her in tears.
Phoenix’s fall shall be the X-Men’s bane
Phoenix reborn shall herald their doom!