The dislocated shoulder is mercifully numb. Three fractured ribs remind him he’s alive. Internal bleeding notwithstanding, it should be several hours before his collapsed right lung becomes life-threatening. In all likelihood, however, Cyclops, the first X-Man, will be dead long before that.
Standing in an Antarctic blizzard, with his ruby quarz visor shattered, Scott Summers dare not open his eyes as he calls out for the other two people who were with him when the Blackbird crashed, Professor Xavier and Storm. He realizes that his situation is grim. He can’t even hear his own voice over the roar of the wind. For all he knows Storm or the professor could be dying five feet in front of him and he has no way of reaching them.
He admonishes himself to keep it together. If the professor were around to pick up on his feeling of helplessness… That’s it! he realizes. Xavier’s the most powerful telepath on Earth. If Cyclops concentrates hard enough…
The raw unfocused thought strikes at Charles Xavier’s mind like a bolt from on high and he is shaken awake. He recalls the ambush, the plane’s impact and that it is a miracle they survived at all. Mentally he addresses Scott and allows him to see though his eyes which in turn allows Scott to pinpoint Xavier’s position.
As he walks towards his mentor, he notices that Xavier’s thoughts are weak, fading. A concussion perhaps, Xavier suggests as Scott has finally reached him. He picks Xavier up, but before he can get him into the plane wreck, Xavier tells him he can sense Storm’s thoughts but she is too far away to make contact. She’s in pain. Somewhere out there.
The two men begin a search for their fallen comrade, unaware she is less wounded by the crash itself than by what she has learned in its aftermath. Cyclops finally sees her through Xavier’s eyes. Huddled on the ground, hugging herself in a state of shock. Xavier mentally addresses her, asking what’s wrong. She replies that whatever caused the blast tore and shred at the very womb of Mother Earth. She shares a bond with the Earth and she feels her pain … as if it is her own.
Elsewhere, a young blonde woman in a bright costume slowly gets up from the snowy ground. Nothing she’ll get used to any time soon, she moans. She tells herself that the E.M. scar stretches about a hundred yards in every direction. Not too shabby, considering this is only the third time n her life she used her mutant power. Here’s hoping it was worth it.
She gets up and stumbles to an small isolated building. Inside, several scientists greet her effusively as Miss Blaze, yet seem clearly frightened by her presence. She curtly thanks them and asks them if she won. They don’t quite understand the question. Xavier, Cyclops, Storm… did she kill them? she specifies.
They admit hat truthfully they don’t know. The elecro-magnetic nature of her power has produced an unexpected effect in their sensors. By their estimate it may take weeks before the E.M. bands return to normal. Until then, they have no way of telling if her quarry is alive or dead.
Another voice points out they could ask him. The scientists gasp. Who is he and how did he get in here? Only Siena Blaze is unsurprised as she states that there are very few places that are off-limits to the Gamesmaster.
The mental projection of the Omnipath informs her that no, she did not win. The leaders of the X-Men still live. Energy crackles around her fists as Siena states that she’s sure she speaks on behalf of everyone here when she says she’s sorry to hear that. Surely she does not hold them responsible, one of the scientists protests. It is the last thing any of them says as again Siena uses her power. Blaming others for her own shortcomings is probably her biggest character flaw. Coming in a close second, is her total disregard for all human life, including evidently her own.
Temper, temper, the Gamesmaster admonishes her as she stands in the ruins of the building. “Every time you use your mutant ability to disrupt the E.M. spectrum you run the risk of destroying the most delicate layer of Earth’s eco-system.”
Her father told her that, Siena recalls. Three weeks after the initial manifestation of her power, the Gamesmaster completes her sentence. He knows. He knows everything. There is not a single thought on all the planet that escapes his attention. For this reason he is the perfect arbitrator in the competition between Siena and her fellow Upstarts. It’s why he can tell that despite her best efforts four of the world’s most powerful mutants are alive out in that Antarctic wasteland.
Siena boasts that this is about to change before realizing that the Gamesmaster said “four.” She thought there were only three aboard that plane, but the Gamesmaster has already gone.
At Xavier’s School, Psylocke informs the newest X-Man Bishop that they lost radio contact with Scott and the others twenty-six minutes ago, the exact moment their electromagnetic sensors indicated a rupture in the Earth’s E.M. field directly along their flight route. Before Cerebro’s circuit-breakers automatically engaged, it identified the source of the disturbance as biogenetic. An “evil” mutant then? Bishop asks. So it would appear, Psylocke agrees, although “evil” is a subjective term. She is saying they were ambushed, Bishop continues. If they somehow survived, Betsy replies, they were downed in the Middle of the Antarctic, no doubt wounded with little or no shelter. She would not use the word ambushed. She would say they were slaughtered.
In the meantime, the three X-Men have gathered in what little shelter the plane wreck provides. Cyclops ties part of his belt in front of his eyes to not inadvertently open them. Xavier finds that any attempt to repair their comm-board is futile. Scott suggests they examine the events leading up to this situation. Xavier agrees and asks the two X-Men to open their minds. They can create a psi-composite, starting with the afternoon festivities in the Savage Land:
The X-Men were there to gather Vibranium needed to fuel the ship’s cloaking device. Storm was admiring Shanna and Ka-Zar’s baby son, while Ka-zar jokingly asked when Scott was going to make Jean an honest woman and start raising little mutants of their own. Jean is an honest woman, Scott deadpanned. Has he ever heard her lie?
Their departure was without incident. A pre-liftoff check indicated the Blackbird was functioning well within safety parameters. Scott contacted Psylocke to confirm their arrival time and confirmed their flight plan would lead them out of the hidden land. They had reached mach 4, one hundred and fifty miles due north when the disaster happened.
To their unspoken horror, the three realize their separate impressions were wrong. It was not a malfunction which caused the explosion nor was it the result of some natural phenomenon a “white twister” unique to the frozen wastelands. The energy signature is unmistakably biogenetic – similar in effect, if not origin, to the power of the Phoenix.
Within seconds the plane fell. Nav-system gone, propulsion gone, comm gone. Cyclops ordered Storm to get the professor out. He pointed out that even if they survived the impact, they’d be dead from exposure within moments if they lost the shelter of the ship.
Storm flew outside to do her best. Storm’s first impression was that the natural weather patterns were somehow askew. She saw the point of origin of the assault, though she could not focus on it with concentrating on the Blackbird’s rapid descent and the more immediate danger of the flames igniting the fuel tanks.
Xavier noted the immense psionic interference and told Scott that Storm could not maneuver a ship this size. Then they’d have to see about making it smaller, Cyclops replied and ordered Xavier to strap in and grab hold of his arm. What is he planning? Xavier asked. He’d rather not say, Scott replied, because Xavier would try to talk him out of it. Cyclops sheared off the rear of the aircraft even as his visor flew away. Storm immediately realized his intent that he was trying to make it easier for her to land the Blackbird. As it was, between the wind, the rate of descent and the damage of the initial blast, it was nothing short of a miracle that they managed to survive at all.
What’s the old saying, Storm muses. “Any landing you can walk away from”… “Is a good one,” Scott finishes. Whoever said that, probably didn’t get to psionically relive the experience after the fact. Xavier agrees and glumly states that, until the after effects of the blast subside, it won’t be possible for him to mentally contact the others over such a great distance. If only he could see the extent of the damage, Scott groans. He would be as frustrated as them, Ororo remarks.
Suddenly, they hear a screeching nose as a section of the wing lands just this moment. Fed up, Storm tries to control the local weather. Xavier orders Cyclops to stop her and explains that the Antarctic is an entire continent, three thousand square miles of torrential blizzard. For all her power, Storm cannot hope to alter that much of the planet’s eco-system. She’d have better luck trying to recalibrate the Earth’s orbit around the sun.
Though Storm outside doesn’t hear the words she understands as much in her heart. And it makes Ororo Munroe angry. Uncharacteristically so. Storm flies wildly. When her powers developed, she gained a second sight, a broader perspective, one capable of seeing the weather patterns that envelop the planet as a series of different colors dancing across a palette and she was the artist. In this moment, it is as though someone has scarred the canvas. Where there once was beauty, there is only chaos, a world she cannot hope to control. She screams silently and the weather around her goes wild.
In her jet, Siena Blaze sees the electrical storm about fifty miles away and now has a pinpoint on her quarry.
Ororo falls down exhausted. Xavier orders Cyclops to act. If she falls from this height… Xavier orders him to open his eyes as wide as he can: Scott pulverizes the snow ahead of him, thus cushioning Storm’s fall.
Cyclops touches the unconscious Ororo to find her skin is hot. He can barely hold her as he takes her back inside the plane with Xavier playing his eyes. He places her on the chair next to Xavier. Xavier explains he can control her biorhythm by entering her mind and psionically lowering her body temperature. Won’t that affect him in his weakened state, Scott asks worried. Profoundly, comes the reply.
He thought Storm’s body was immune to the effects of weather, Scott asks. Straining, Xavier replies that this may be the most foolish thing he has ever heard. What could immunity to the weather possibly mean? That she doesn’t get wet in the rain, won’t get bruised by hail?
Scott asks his name questioningly as Storm screams. Xavier explains that her body changes temperature in accordance with her environment. The colder the air gets, the warmer Ororo becomes. In the center of a raging blizzard, she nearly fried her system, until he psionically lowered her body temperature.
With Storm recovering, Scott remarks that Xavier nearly lost his own life while saving hers. His point? Xavier asks curtly. Scott replies that since the day he created the X-Men Xavier’s entire life has been a sacrifice for his students. He even left Lilandra to be with them. What about him? When does he get to live his own life?
Xavier retorts he could ask the same question of Scott. The difference being, Scott replies, he didn’t have a life, before they met. There wasn’t a single night at the orphanage that he didn’t lay awake for hours, staring at the ceiling, wondering why his brother Alex got to leave and he had to stay and be passed up by every potential parent in the state of Nebraska. One day Xavier arrived. He knew about his secret, his optic blast and told him it was okay. He was destined for something special, he entrusted Scott with his dream. He never had anything to sacrifice, because his life began with the X-Men.
Then he is wrong, Xavier remarks. Their motives are not so different as he might think. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for any of his students. Now he’d like Scott to do something for him. Stop calling him “professor.”
Scott tries to change the subject and Xavier calls him on it. Every student of his first graduating class has reconciled themselves with addressing him as a person rather than their instructor. Henry, Jean, Bobby, Warren, they all have called him “Charles.” If they are to die here in the middle of nowhere, he would very much like it to be as equals, rather than as student and teacher.
He is being ridiculous, Scott remarks. He could call him Chh… by his first name. He is bluffing, Xavier goads. Scott has to attend to some debris first. He is stalling, Xavier challenges him. Scott still can’t do it as he binds his eyes closed with his belt. Say it with him, Charles goads him. Scott decides that he could do it if he wanted to, he just chooses not to. He applauds his self-control, Xavier remarks ironically.
Several hundreds miles away and approaching at Mach 4 is the X-Men’s other Blackbird, piloted by Psylocke and Bishop. The newest X-Man expresses some confusion. This Antarctic storm seems more violent than he would have imagined. Psylocke agrees. This is evidently a manifestation of the attack on the X-Men. Suddenly, she shouts at him to fly the plane hard about, then orders a full stop. She explains that according to her reading that wall of electro-magnetic flux may abort their rescue efforts completely. Along with the rest of the ship, if they had collided with it. She’s saying they have to wait until it dissipates? he demands. How long will that take? Far longer, she replies glumly, than it looks like they have.
Elsewhere, within the broken Blackbird, Ororo awakes without a sound. Her lips too parched to speak then name of the man she was dreaming about. In the darkened cabin, in the fanciful moment between sleep and being awake, she thinks she sees her former lover Forge and reaches out for him for protection against the cold, a cold that has gripped her heart from the moment that he left. She wants to explain to him all the reasons why they shouldn’t be together. But more importantly why none of those reasons matter.
She reaches out to the man working in the semi-dark, only to find out it’s Scott. The Professor found a piece of ruby quartz in the wreckage, allowing Cyclops to now have a makeshift visor. But she shouldn’t be up. She’s fine, she assures him, only to sink into his arms the next moment. She asks why she’s so cold and he promises her it’ll pass. Ororo whispers, asking Scott if he thinks he knew? Forge. Does he think he knew how much she loved him? If he didn’t, Scott comforts her, he will when she tells him.
The night passes and, in the morning, Scott and Ororo have a suggestion for the professor, only to find he is no longer in his seat. One frantic search later they realize he’s taken the only ATV that was in the remnants of the Cargo hold. Even with Forge’s finagling its range is nowhere near enough to puncture the E.M. interference range, Scott fears. What could he possibly have hoped to accomplish striking out on his own?
Ororo points out that Charles isn’t given to impulsive behavior. It is possible he sensed a life out amidst the hostile terrain and chose to confront it on his own. The question is what can they do to assist him? That one in a millions suicide run they planned? Scott remarks. It just became their only chance.
Twenty minutes away, Xavier is driving on the ATV through the snowstorm. They would have stopped him, he tells himself. He would have stopped him if he’d thought this through. But the psionic imprint he was picking up was so vague, so jumbled through the interference from the blast.
In front of him he notices a citadel. This can’t be the origin of the assault he tells himself, because Storm noted a charring at ground zero. Whosoever resides in his tower, might be their only hope.
But that moment, the cold causes the engine to seize. He tries to calm down, reminding himself that Forge equipped the ATV with a self-lubricating anti-freeze pump which… is empty. The initial crash damaged his vehicle as well. He abandons the ATV and tries to crawl towards the citadel, until he passes out.
Within the hour, Storm and Cyclops are on their way through the snowstorm. Cyclops is within an escape pod while Storm maneuvers it from the outside. No sign of the professor though. She’s all but blinded, Ororo complains. He knows that feeling, Scott mutters. Fortunately, the jury-rigged sensors are holding. A miracle if you consider he used half the comm-badges.
Perfect! he exclaims as he sees a ping, and orders Storm to take the pod down. They see a still body lying in the now, still alive according to the sensors. Cyclops touches the body, announcing they’ve come to bring him home. Suddenly, the body turns around, revealing the leering face of Sienna Blaze. Without so much as a “what’s your sign?” she asks. Really, what kind of woman does Cyclops take her for?
As if sharing a single mind, both team leaders of the X-Men act simultaneously. Without a word between them, Storm and Cyclops come to the same conclusion. This young woman is the mutant responsible for the ambush. More importantly, any amount of damage she caused to the Blackbird was nominal compared to the injuries she could inflict on them. Together, they avoid her most recent assault as Sienna begins using her power while shouting that while they won’t be alive to send a gift, but if anyone in the hereafter asks, Siena Blaze is a Capricorn.
The two X-Men immediately instinctively attack and return the favor, causing Siena to bitch why they are still alive. Don’t they know when to give up? That will not happen while there are still many questions unanswered, Storm retorts, the first being why she is so determined to kill the X-Men. And right behind that… how is it she is shrugging off the combined effect of his optic blast and Storm’s compact hurricane, Cyclops adds.
Firing another blast at Storm, Siena explains that: a) she thought it would be a fun way to kill a weekend and b) the two of them are about to drop dead from exhaustion whereas she hasn’t even used a fraction of her powers. Which is just as well for the rest of the planet, considering every time she tears the E.M. field, she runs the risk of splitting the Earth like a ripe melon. But where’s the joy of living if you don’t take chances?
Cyclops is disgusted by that blasé attitude. Siena shrugs his contempt off. Growing up a mutant, they should know that most people don’t go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. No one watched out for her, why should she care for the rest of the planet? Sinking down in exhaustion, Cyclops mutters “maybe to be better than them.”
Siena laughs. She isn’t better. She’s the worst. “They” made her who she is today. Now they have to deal with it.
She tries to step on Cyclops’ face but finds her foot passes though his head. She turns around to find Cyclops being held upright by Storm and Professor X next to them. It was he who created the illusion, giving Storm and Cyclops an opportunity to recover. Cyclops offers Siena the chance to surrender.
Siena mocks them. What are they going to do, land on her when they drop dead? This was fun at first, but it has gone on long enough. Xavier agrees. Siena tries to use her power, and finds that she can’t She believes that he cut her off from her power. Not at all, Cyclops explains. All Xavier did was manage to keep her body from registering the effects of her electro-magnetic bio-blast. That was stupid, Siena points out. Her body’s building up a charge but her mind isn’t going to be able to control it.
Cyclops fires at her. They’ve got it covered, he assures her. His blast buries her in a glacier of ice to absorb the brunt of the blast. Siena isn’t impressed. Xavier orders them to act as they planned.
Storm creates an electrically charged and wind-generated tunnel directing Siena’s power upwards and Cyclops’ optic blast prevents any excess energy from harming the trio. Their goal is to at least temporarily burn out the young mutant’s power and live through the experience.
It seems they got half of what they wanted, as Siena asks them if they are finished. She can’t possibly possess more energy than it’s taking her to stand, Cyclops believes. Maybe not, she admits. They may have weakened her, but she doesn’t need to fire off another blast. She only has to leave, she cackles. She can ride the Earth’s electro-magnetic field not unlike their Nightcrawler. The difference is that she’s part of that field. The instant she’s gone, she won’t be here anymore.
Xavier believes she’s rambling and offers help. They don’t get it, Siena laughs. She leaves, she takes a chunk of the EM field with her. And nature abhors a vacuum. Cyclops understands. E.M rushes in to fill the void created by her absence. A variation of the bamf created by Nightcrawler’s ‘port.
Siena raises her arms, dramatically, enjoying the moment. Before she leaves, she feels she should let them know if they thought her first potshot she took at their ship was impressive, the aftermath is worse.
They realize they can do nothing but make it back to the life pod and hope she is exaggerating. Storm disagrees. To stay in one place and hope amounts only to waiting to die. She intends to use Siena’s power to their advantage. Just as the electro-magnetic field swirls and coalesces about the remains of their ship Storm reaches out for what may be a final embrace with her goddess and pulls, tugs, shoves and pushes at the weather patterns. She lets the wind bring them to the cusp of the explosion, hoping the force of the blast will carry them past the boundaries of oblivion somewhere to the outer fringes of survival.
Elsewhere, the Blackbird is still trying to breach the E.M storm. Psylocke insists they can’t accomplish anything else here, unless Bishop’s intent is they die here as well. They aren’t dead, Bishop insists. Fine, she agrees sarcastically. Then they should at least spare them the sight of escaping from that EM web only to discover their charred bodies in the wreckage of this ship. If they don’t return to the mansion to refuel immediately, they won’t be of any use to anybody because they will be dead!
Bishop reluctantly agrees, but only to refuel. Suddenly he sees something and orders her to stay the course. Something just punctured that web. Psylocke tells him to use the tractor beam They can’t waste another moment. Bishop complies and the tractor beam pulls the lifepod aboard.
Xavier, Storm and Cyclops share some hot drinks and Ororo asks how Xavier managed to survive the blizzard alone. Xavier admits he doesn’t really know. The last thing he recalls before passing out was lying face down in the snow. Comforted on some level, by the knowledge he’d be reunited with all the X-Men who went before them.
As fate would have it, he woke somewhere inside the tower he had glimpsed from the distance in a bed. A quick psionic probe failed to identify the person responsible for saving his life. His host wanted to remain anonymous. Equipped with a hover-disk which responded to his mental commands, Xavier returned to the two of them in hopes they could return to the tower together. But thanks to the battle it would be impossible to locate the complex.
Psylocke interferes over the comm., not having found any trace of Sienna. Xavier asks her to take them home and mentally sends his thanks to his mysterious benefactor.
Somewhere in the icy water, a lone cloaked figure watches the Blackbird disappear, knowing full well he and the man he saved, Charles Xavier, will soon meet once more. Silently, he returns to his citadel to make ready for that day.
The rest of the X-Men’s journey is made in silence. Not because these three have nothing to say to each other, rather because their actions that day, motivated by honor, respect and love, have spoken more eloquently than any words available to them.