Professor Charles Xavier, in a moment of weakness, allowed himself to begin the self-transformation that eventually led to the creation of the near-omnipotent being called Onslaught. The consequences led to the sacrifice of the Fantastic Four and most of the Avengers. His acts were so monstrous that Charles felt that humanity was owed the assurance that this would never happen again, even if it meant sacrificing his freedom. What he endures today, however, is not the penance he was expecting.
Charles lies on the floor, scowling as he looks upwards at his jailer. A psi-shield surrounds him that effectively cancels out any remaining telepathic abilities. Watching him on a large monitor are Bastion and Henry Peter Gyrich. Gyrich feels that Bastion’s treatment of Charles is a little harsh. After all, Charles, now known as Prisoner M-13, voluntarily handed himself over to government custody. Bastion isn’t feeling quite so generous. He informs Gyrich that his government has granted extraordinary power to his multi-national task force. This abandoned Hulkbuster base was modified at their expense to confine dangerous… individuals. He was appointed director of the installation and, as such, he has the power to exercise extreme sanctions. Also, he has dedicated the base and all its personnel to one task; finding a way to protect Homo sapiens from homo superior.
Around them, scientists, guards and other personnel mill around the complex, as the two men continue their conversation. Gyrich enquires exactly how prisoner M-13 constitutes a ‘dangerous individual.’ Granted, he’s the world foremost authority on genetic mutation, but that doesn’t make him a mutant. He’s confined to a wheelchair, for God’s sake, he adds, and asks if the psi-shields are really necessary. Bastion replies that there are factors beyond his ken, which he cannot begin to comprehend. For reasons of national security, all he can tell Gyrich is that his so-called harmless scholar is in possession of vital information concerning the entity known as Onslaught. Gyrich clicks a remote control and says he has seen no evidence of that. A tape begins to play, showing Bastion’s earlier interrogation of Charles Xavier in his maximum security cell.
Bastion and Charles are sitting opposite one another across a table. Bastion has a file in front of him and he informs Charles (Prisoner M-13) that they are not pleased with his level of cooperation. Charles replies that it really is an obvious ploy at dehumanizing a man: reducing him to a number. Bastion thinks it’s curious that someone as concerned with mutants as he should bandy the word around so freely. Mutants aren’t really human, are they? he asks. Charles responds by suggesting that there have been others who have used that line of reasoning for their own twisted purposes. A certain Austrian paper-hanger comes to mind.
Bastion is furious at the comparison to Hitler, simply because he knows the danger the mutant race poses to humanity. Need he remind Charles that it was Homo superior which unleashed Onslaught upon the world? It was a being of such malevolence that he sought to end life as they know it on this planet. He shows Charles photographs of the carnage wreaked by Onslaught. “Look at the price of meddling with nature,” he says. Charles argues that mutants didn’t ask to be born the way they are. They are a result of nature, simply the markers at the cusp of change. He throws the photographs away, telling Bastion that everything changes. If it doesn’t, then it stagnates and dies.
Bastion lunges at the unnaturally calm Professor, and warns him not to spout his rhetoric at him, calling him an unrepentant mutant sympathizer. Charles backs off a little, but responds by assuring Bastion that he is certainly not unrepentant. He will carry the horrors of Onslaught’s depredations with him to the grave - unlike Bastion and his monomaniacs, who would exterminate all those who are unlike themselves in the name of a perverted mission called Zero Tolerance.
This infuriates Bastion beyond his degree of self-control. He raises his arms before striking Charles, knocking him and his wheelchair backwards with some force. He tells Charles that he simplifies and belittles mankind’s justifiable fears, but asks him why he turned himself in to Val Cooper. Was it simply to aid the government in its research into the Onslaught phenomenon, or does he perceive himself to be a danger?
Gyrich thinks his technique was a little excessive. He also doesn’t understand all these psi-shield precautions and blast doors for a man who is well respected in the world community. What does Bastion know, he wonders, that the rest of them don’t? Bastion removes the remote control from Gyrich’s hand and asks him to watch his tone. They simply guard against a telepath trying to contact him from the outside.
Bastion now wants to check on the status of prisoner M-9. Gyrich sees that the prisoner, who appears to be a young girl, is still sleeping. On the monitors, Rainbow Bears appear singing a nursery rhyme. It’s all that ever appears, says Bastion. He tells Gyrich that M-9 was just re-evaluated and categorized as an alpha class. “There were indications that she is capable of fooling the sensors and registering false readings,” Gyrich points out, upon reading her profile. Bastion replies vehemently by saying M-9 is an it, not a she. At least some of M-13’s friends have a tenuous claim to partial humanity, unlike that abomination that was created in the Manite Project.
An armored guard rushes down the staircase to inform Bastion that a helicopter is coming in and he is needed topside. He and Gyrich head outside as Dr. Ingrid Thysson’s helicopter makes its approach. She is a clinical psychologist; tops in her field. Bastion tells Gyrich that she will be doing a complete psych evaluation on M-13. If one is to be effective in extracting information from a particularly reticent subject, it pays to know all the dark corners of that subject’s psyche.
Thysson exits the chopper, followed by a large bodyguard. Gyrich welcomes her to Nevada and introduces himself. She asks Bastion if the subject is ready for interview, to which he replies that M-13 is indisposed at present. He adds that it would be preferable to run an extensive brief before she actually meets him. He fails to mention that Xavier is actually incapacitated due to being struck by him. Behind them, three guards whiz by on a small craft carrying a body bag with the letters, DX, printed on the tag. They toss the bag into the helicopter, which then takes off. Thysson asks if that was actually a body being so unceremoniously disposed of. “What is this place?” As they head inside, Bastion replies that it’s a place that does not exist as far as the rest of the world is concerned. She should remember that.
The group enter the complex. Bastion explains that this installation was once dedicated to the sole purpose of stopping, incarcerating and eventually destroying the Hulk. The government shut it down several years ago, but they refurbished it and delved deep into its twenty levels beneath the desert floor. Bastion shows Dr. Thysson a screen with Charles on it, lying on the floor, unconscious. The Manite appears on the other screens, asleep.
Bastion simply lies, and informs Thysson that M-13 became violent a short time ago and had to be… restrained. Thysson folds her arms and asks just what is going on here. She was told that Professor Xavier was cooperating with Val Cooper in the investigation of Onslaught. Her bodyguard turns to her and says that there investigations, and there are investigations. It appears this one was the old fashioned kind that hadn’t even progressed to rubber hoses yet.
Bastion snarls angrily at him, telling Dr. Thysson that her bodyguard speaks out of turn. The man replies that he’s not her bodyguard, so Bastion enquires just who on Earth he is, then. He holds up his badge, Mutant Hunter 1527, and says he is Special Operative Daryll Smith. He was the agency’s top mutant hunter, but he’s been out of the loop for a while. Now he’s reporting back for duty. Bastion leans towards him, and warns him that, if he values his freedom, he will restrain himself from questioning his authority. Smith gets his drift.
Bastion gets back to business. He informs Dr. Thysson that Professor Xavier volunteered his expertise to Val Cooper, the chairwoman of the Committee on Mutant Affairs. In turn, under orders from the very top, Xavier was remanded into his custody. The United States… the world… must know how Onslaught happened. Was it an anomaly, he asks, or a genetic portent of things to come? Xavier will help discover the truth. As they look at the monitors, Xavier’s screen begins to blur and his image quickly becomes replaced by Rainbow Bears. Thysson wonders if it could be a glitch in their system.
Bastion feels that Xavier is somehow bypassing the psi-suppressors. Impossible, thinks Gyrich. Bastion replies that it’s far from impossible. That’s part of a kid-vid satellite feed they pipe into M-9’s cell. It’s probably nothing more than a crossed wire, but he wants diagnostics to confirm it.
Inside Charles Xavier’s cell, he is finally awake and struggling to return to his wheelchair. Suddenly, the wall begins to shimmer and, slowly but surely, a shape appears and through the wall appears the Manite prisoner M-9, clutching her toy bunny rabbit. Charles looks up in shock, but the child asks him not to be afraid. She says he’s hurting, and she holds out her hand. She can tell. Charles asks who she is.
Back in the control center, Bastion is growing impatient. An employee tells him that the malfunction is some kind of override. It seems to be generated out of a cell, somewhere in the confinement facility on the security level. Bastion calls for a full alert and troops gather behind him to make their way to Xavier’s cell. “There’s a reason we’re being prevented from seeing Xavier’s cell,” says Bastion.
The Manite tells Charles she is called M-9, but he can call her Nina, just like Tuesday did. “But, how…?” asks Charles. She tells him she slides through the wall, but asks him not to tell them she has done it. With just a touch, Nina raises Charles from the floor with no effort and brings his wheelchair to him. “You’re a telekinetic as well?” he asks. She replies that she can move stuff real good. Now in his seat, Charles asks how she came to be here. Nina says she’s always been there. Tuesday said they got found under cabbage leaves by the Project Elf. “Funny, huh?”
Charles asks if Bastion knows she can moves things with her mind, but she says he doesn’t. Tuesday told her never to tell anyone. She taught her how to slide too. Charles strokes her hair and asks why she’s telling him this. She answers by saying he isn’t like them. They hurt people. “I hurt people too, Nina,” replies Charles. She leans on his lap, and adds, “But they’re not sorry.” She introduces her friend, Harry the rabbit, and asks if he will tell them a story sometime.
Bastion approaches the blast doors and orders them opened. One of the guards reminds him that there are three layers of them, and a poly-steel iris… Bastion wants them open, now! They clang open and the group move down the corridor to Xavier’s cell. Bastion throws open the doors, but finds Charles sitting alone, reading a book. “Yes; can I help you?” he asks. Bastion delivers a punishing kick at Charles, telling him that he’s somehow defeating the psi-shields and sensors. Charles doesn’t react, only questioning why Bastion just doesn’t come out and tell them what he knows about him. Why the game? Bastion replies that there are no games in his life. He has only one care: the survival of the human race
Bastion’s tirade forces Agent Smith to intervene, and he warns Bastion to cool it. Bastion immediately orders his guards to disarm Smith and confine him to a cell. As he is led away, Smith tells Bastion that he’s real good at cooling his heels; real good at some other things too. Bastion turns to Dr. Thysson, telling her she’s up to bat. He wants a full psych-profile on Xavier by the end of the week.
Bastion departs, followed by Henry Gyrich. He tries telling Bastion that it might not be M-13. M-9 is apparently capable of bypassing the psi-shields, as well as fooling the sensors. They are still evaluating the data on her. Bastion replies that he is not unaware of the Manite’s abilities. This base exists, in part, to study its evolution, so it can eventually fulfil its purpose. He tells Gyrich that he wants the latest assessment report on M-9 tomorrow.
(The next day)
Thysson has Charles Xavier strapped into a gyro-scanner. He is upside down, with his arms and legs strapped to spherical loops that rotate inside each other. The doctor wears an unusual outfit for a psychologist, controlling the gyro-scanner remotely and wearing a hi-tech helmet, which contains a screen displaying all kinds of information on her subject. Their banter is friendly. Charles tells her that he’s not sure he approves of her taste in couches. Thysson replies that the device monitors respiration, heartbeat, temperature, blood sugar, brain waves and seventeen other functions. She wants to begin the tests with some simple word associations.
First, she asks his name and occupation, for the record. He replies that he is Professor Charles Xavier and he is, he was, a teacher. She asks whom he taught, and he tells her he taught gifted youngsters. She then asks in what manner were these youngsters gifted, but Charles says that he thought it was a word association test, asking if they can proceed with the test proper.
Dr. Thysson removes her helmet and tells Charles that she realizes it’s against his pedantic nature to be the testee rather than the testor, but she has to do her job. Charles is indeed, pedantic. He asks if she knows the real purpose for this installation, and what Bastion intends to do with the evaluation report on him. Does she know why he is a prisoner here, although he has never been charged or indicted? Thysson says he voluntarily gave himself into government custody. Charles, hovering within the gyro-scanner, corrects her. He volunteered his cooperation to someone he trusts, someone who probably doesn’t even know where he is right now. By no means did he ask to help a man whose personal agenda is the eradication of everything he holds dear.
Dr. Thysson presses a switch on her remote control, and the clasps holding Charles in place click open. She helps him out of the scanner, asking what he hoped to achieve by giving himself up. Charles tells her he wanted to help. He wanted… redemption. She asks for what? What did he do that needs redemption? As he clambers from the scanner, he warns her that this is information that would prove dangerous to her. These are not the people he expected to do research with. He fears for Dr. Thysson’s safety if she were to learn more than Bastion wants her to know. Thysson accidentally stands on the toy bunny rabbit left behind by Nina. She picks it up and asks what it is. Charles angrily snatches it from her grasp and clutches it to his chest. “That’s Harry.”
That night, Gyrich is still following Bastion around. He’s been monitoring Thysson’s sessions with Xavier and thinks Bastion should maybe take a look at the tapes; especially the one with the rabbit. As they stroll purposely from the base’s entrance, Bastion informs Gyrich that he brought him out of the base for a reason. They need to be out of psi range. The assessment on prisoner M-13 is conclusive. The little Manite is too dangerous to be allowed to reach puberty and it will have to be a DX Protocol. The problem, he continues, lies in executing the protocol without the target becoming aware. He and Gyrich will have to remain above ground until the matter is resolved.
Gyrich already has a solution. He opens up a small device, which shows a holographic image of Agent Daryll Smith. Gyrich pulled Smith’s dossier and found out why he is such a hotshot mutant hunter. It’s because he is a psi-anomaly himself. He’s got some kind of natural psi-shield that can’t be penetrated by any known telepath. He adds, “This is a grey area. If he’s immune to psi probes, does that make him a…” Bastion breaks him off mid question and replies that it most certainly does not. He orders Smith released and given the DX order. He must carry out the task before dawn when the next transport comes in.
Charles Xavier is alone, still holding Harry, when Nina slides through the wall again and says hello. She thought Harry had wandered off again. Charles says he told her to be careful about these visits, but Nina says that she was so sad. The red man keeps thinking bad things about her. “The red man?” queries Charles. Nina describes the red man as being the one with all the red and angry thoughts in his head. ‘Course, she adds, she can’t see his thoughts, but she can see Gyrich’s, and Gyrich is so upset. It makes her sad.
Charles hugs Nina to comfort her. He thinks about Bastion being unable to have his mind read and tells her that Bastion is an angry person, but they should never let other people’s anger make them mad. Nina knows that, but thinks that if everybody could see thoughts like they can, they would never want to hurt nobody. It makes her upset when she sees hurt inside a person; that’s why she came to see him last night.
Charles looks down at her young face, and asks what she means by that, about both of them being able to see thoughts. She looks up and smiles at him. “Oh, you silly! You think the power went away?” Charles tentatively asks if it didn’t. “Of course not,” Nina replies; “It’s just turned off. Do ya want me to turn it back on?” Horror sweeps across Charles’s face at the prospect, and he tells her he isn’t ready. He doesn’t know if the… darkness, is still there, inside, waiting. He wonders what he’s going to do about her. If only he could get to a phone, then he could contact someone who could help her. Nina points to the table and says she has a phone. Surely enough, a telephone materializes on the table; a telephone in the shape of a Rainbow Bear. Charles smiles and says he meant a real phone, before turning to the phone in a sudden realization that the young girl could probably create just that.
A car phone rings in a Jeep heading through a forest clearing. Renee Majcomb answers and hears the surprising voice of Charles Xavier on the other end. He asks her to listen to what he has to say. Back at the Hulkbuster base, Dr. Thysson notices that all the monitors are once again filled with Rainbow Bears. She wonders if something has gone awry in Xavier’s cell again, but can’t get hold of either Bastion or Gyrich. This is her chance to get to the bottom of this, so she mounts a speeder and heads off towards the cells. Agent Smith watches her fly away down the corridor and, cocking his weapon, reckons it’s time to earn his paycheck.
Dr. Thysson reaches Xavier’s cell and dashes inside. His phone conversation has ended, but she notices the Rainbow Bear phone on the table and asks how on Earth that got there. Nina suddenly slides through the wall, clutching Harry, and tells Thysson that it’s hers. Charles tells her she should have stayed hidden, but Nina sidles up to Dr. Thysson and tells him she didn’t have any scary thoughts in her head. Thysson is surprised to learn that Nina is a telepath and she can defeat the psi-shields. Charles informs her that she can do more than that and she’s still many years away from achieving her full potential. He explains that he’s given her a crash course on how to handle her power, and the awesome responsibility she has because of it. He tells Ingrid that Nina went into his mind to access much of that information, and he got a glimpse of the true nature of her mind.
Ingrid kneels besides Nina and asks where she came from. Nina politely replies that she came from nowhere. She was born here. Charles explains that she came to him because she sensed he was in pain and wanted to take it from him. He asks if she believes in the purity of empathy, because she sees before her a little person filled with compassion, totally devoid of prevarication. Anger, aggression, jealousy, spite, avarice and pride are all totally alien to her. He continues to tell the doctor that, obviously, she was created there most likely as part of a government project that has no benevolent objective. The question is, what purpose was she meant to fulfil, and what is their responsibility toward her?
Nina turns to Charles and tells him that Ingrid isn’t a mean person. She doesn’t think bad things like ‘Basschun.’ She doesn’t want to DX her like they did to Tuesday. Dr. Thysson is mortified that they plan to kill Nina.
As Bastion and Henry Gyrich wait above ground with a group of guards, a security alert rings out over the compound. Prisoner M-13 is out of his cell and the surveillance system has been compromised. Bastion orders them to deal with it, as they’re not coming below ground. He tells them to quarantine all sub-surface levels, adding that M-13 is a danger to himself and others. Charles, meanwhile, is on the flying craft Dr. Thysson arrived on. He rockets his way through the facility, knowing that the chances of this gambit actually succeeding are slim at best. The consequences for himself and for Thysson will most likely be severe, but, if it offers Nina even the smallest hope of freedom, they must chance it.
Guards chase Charles along the corridors, setting their weapons to stun. Charles has succeeded in drawing their attention away from Ingrid and Nina. They sprint away from the cells, as Charles wonders what his X-Men would think if they could see him now. Ingrid asks Nina if she can slide to the surface if they get caught, but Nina has never seen the surface and doesn’t know what it is. Suddenly, behind them, Agent Smith appears and grins nefariously at Dr. Thysson. “She can’t teleport to a place she can’t even comprehend… isn’t that right sweetie?”
Charles is taken down by the guards, who cripple his craft. He’s stunned, but alive. As he comes to, more guards arrive dragging Ingrid, who is bleeding. Charles tries to ask what happened to Nina, but the cell doors slam shut, leaving him to rue his decision to attempt this escape.
Outside, Agent Smith carries a DX bag and informs Bastion that his dirty little DX Protocol is a done deal. No complications? he asks. Smith holds the bag up and tells Bastion that the little brat was thought controlling the shrink and the other prisoner. She tried the same trick with him, but no dice. He decked the shrink but she’s all right, and he broke the brat’s neck. “Why waste a bullet, right?” he shows Nina to Bastion and asks him to check it out. Her little face looks out lifelessly from the bag. Smith tells him that, if he were a telepath, he could go inside her head and see how dark and dead it is.
Bastion looks up at Agent Smith and replies that, despite what he may think, he takes no pleasure in this. Smith zips up the bag and hurls it into the waiting chopper. As it takes off, Bastion admits that he had doubts about Smith, but he knew his duty and executed it well. Smith says that if there’s one thing he knows, it’s his duty.
Later, one of the soldiers in the chopper informs the pilot that something’s wrong with the bag. It’s way too light. He unzips it and discovers it empty. He could have sworn it was full when Smith dumped it in there. The pilot replies that it’s not their problem. They just pick up the bag and get rid. Their orders are to ask no questions. Nothing happens down there without the man’s say-so.
(two days later)
Dr. Ingrid Thysson visits Charles in his cell, having to come to say goodbye. She’s being shipped out today, to where she can only guess. She supposes they really were in the mental thrall of the child. She reveals a black eye - the result of Agent Smith’s punch. Charles says that if that’s what she wishes to believe, okay. Tell me, he asks, she didn’t suffer did she?
Ingrid replies that it was strange, but Nina had looked into Smith’s eyes and she asked him, “You’re one of us aren’t you?” Smith smiled. “That’s right honey, and I’m sorry to have to do this to your pal, but it’s the only way.” He then punched her in the face, knocking her out. That’s all she remembers.
“One of us?” asks Charles, wondering what this means. Suddenly, the Rainbow Bear phone rings. Charles says hello and, on the other end of the line, is Renee Majcomb. She tells Charles that she drove all the way out there, like he asked, and she ran into somebody who was very hungry and thirsty. She wants to speak to him. Nina takes her phone.
Nina: Hullo Charlie! Oh, it’s so wonderful up here! There’s wind and there’s the hot sun and at night the sky is full of stars.
Charles: Nina, you’re all right. Is it safe to talk?
Nina: The Bears are on the TV Charlie.
Charles: What happened, Nina? What did the big man do?
Nina: Daryll said he was sorry he had to hit Ingrid. Then, he told me to stop breathin’, and ta make my mind go dark, and he went inside my head and showed me how! He told me to wait until I felt the flyin’ thing go up in the air, and then I should slide down to the ground and hide until somebody came for me. Daryll’s nice, huh? Charlie? Are ya cryin’ Charlie?
Charles tells her that there may be others out there like her. She must seek them out, and help them if she can. Nina promises that she will, but she has to go. She can’t keep the Bears on TV for this long. She says goodbye. Nina then asks Renee why Charlie couldn’t come with them. Renee tells her that it was the only way he could help. Some people care so much about others; they’re willing to sacrifice themselves. Charlie is a good man, she adds, and a wonderful teacher. They should learn from him. Nina says that she’ll never forget Charlie. She wants to be just like him when she grows up. “Someday, me and Harry are gonna turn him back on, “Ain’t that right?” You bet, kiddo, replies Harry.
The end… for now.