For over an hour, Cyclops and Storm – past and current leaders of the X-Men, have been playing their own unique version of handball in the gym of the X-Men’s headquarters. The rules are simple: Cyclops propels and maneuvers the ball using only his optic blasts while Storm, who must remain airborne during the game, manipulates it with the winds she controls.
Storm hits a point and lands triumphantly. One more and she wins the game, she warns him. He believes that when he sees it, Scott retorts as he sinks down exhausted. So far, neither of them has ever been more than a point ahead of the other. Both are exhausted but she warns him she still has more than enough strength to beat him. They begin again.
Storm remarks that, while this method of honing their powers may be cruder than the Danger Room, it is also more fun. Thank Wolverine for the idea, Scott replies as he maneuvers the ball, though he and Nightcrawler usually play for beer. He thinks at last count Kurt owes him a truckload.
He realizes his last volley threw Storm a fraction off-balance, giving him the opening he was looking for. A split-second apart Cyclops fires a pair of optic blasts in seemingly random patterns around the room. One flashes right in front of Storm, easily missing the ball, momentarily disorienting her. Before she can recover, the second beam ricochets off a wall behind her to deflect the ball on the floor. His point, she admits as she lands. They’re tied once more. That was a very nice – and nasty – maneuver. Wolverine would have been proud of him.
Both sink down exhausted. She can consider that his swansong, he concedes. He’s beat. So is Ororo and she suggests a draw. The latest in a series, Scott muses. The games he wins with experience are balanced by the ones she wins with skill and vice versa. Wiping her brow, she remarks that he sounds surprised. Scoot admits that he likes being the best. It’s not easy getting used to having a rival, much less an equal. He suggests they hit the showers.
Interlude: A billion and a half kilometers out-system from Earth a tiny tough magnificent spacecraft rushes towards interstellar space. This is Voyager 2, an unmanned NASA probe that together with is companion craft Voyager 1 has astounded layman and scientist alike with its breathtaking views of the outer planets. Its on-board systems have been quiescent since Voyager departed Saturn orbit to conserve power for the Uranus flyby in1986. Had its scanners been active this day, Voyager’s creators would have learned far more about the universe, than they ever bargained for as a starship passes the probe by.
The ship is indisputably alien, its pilot is not. After twenty years, Major Christopher Summers, United States Airforce, is returning home to a planet and a son he barely remembers. Corsair muses that he barely thought he’d make it and wishes for different circumstances. But if they were, he probably wouldn’t be here.
Suddenly, his musings are interrupted by the alarm klaxon. A Shi’ar dreadnought is nearby. They’ve found him.
Interlude: In the heart of the legendary Bermuda triangle lays an island raised from the ocean floor by Magneto, to be used as his base. Recently it was the site of a fight between him and the X-Men. After his defeat, they appropriated the island for their own use.
Colossus lifts several crates from Doctor Corbeau’s ship. Xavier asks him to bring those computer elements to the laboratory and his little sister, Illyana, excitedly tells him she knows the way. She will show him. As the siblings leave, Nightcrawler materializes. Taking a sip of water, Kurt worries that they know nothing about this island. He wonders if it is a safe haven for Illyana or the X-Men.
Considering how often the security of the mansion has been breached of late, he doubts it would have been safer to remain at home, Xavier replies telepathically. Nightcrawler reproachfully remarks that Xavier read his thoughts. The professor apologizes, but they were so obvious and strong he couldn’t help it. He reminds Kurt of the growing anti-mutant sentiment in the States. He fears that it may have official sanction. For the moment, it is simply too dangerous to remain in Westchester. Also this island was one of Magneto’s primary installations. Most of his records are intact. It is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about their arch-foe. The benefits outweigh the risks. Kurt hopes so, but the place gives him the creeps.
Elsewhere, atop the tower that serves as the X-Men’s living quarters stands Carol Danvers. As Ms. Marvel, she was a mainstay of the Avengers, the world’s mightiest superhero team, but that was before she lost her powers, her memory and nearly her life at the hands of Rogue and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. She broods that perhaps she should have died. She feels so cut off from everything, everyone. The more she learns and remembers, the more she realizes how much she’s truly lost that can never be regained.
Major? comes a voice from behind. Startled, she turns around to see Wolverine. Unsure, she asks if they didn’t meet a few years ago. When she was Air Force intelligence and he was Canadian Secret Service, he informs her. She, her partner Colonel Mike Rossi and he ran some pretty hairy capers together. Those were good times.
Furious, she clenches her fists. She doesn’t remember. Not him, not the missions, not even Rossi. She loved him, yet she can’t picture his face, hear his voice and when she thinks of him, she feels nothing. She apologizes for the outburst.
That moment Kitty phases in, telling Wolverine the professor sent her to find him. He tells her to scram. He’s busy. Carol tells him to go. She’s fine, she says, lying through her teeth.
400,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface, Corsair prays his ship will hold together. He believes he has ditched the ship in the asteroid belt like he figured. Suddenly, plasma torpedoes are firing at him. The Shi’ar cut off his way. He realizes his ship won’t stand that kind of fire power.
While he runs a virtually impassable gauntlet of nuclear missiles and energy beams at Xavier’s School, Scott has just prepared dinner while Ororo rushes in with the mail. Among the usual fare, there’s a postcard from Kitty. Ororo reads that Kitty tried for a tan and got sunburned instead. She’s practicing her dancing and is determined to be in the piece her teacher Stevie Hunter is choreographing. Everyone is well, though Carol seems quite depressed.
Some post card, Scott replies. Kitty writes very small. She asks what Scott is reading. A letter from Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy, officially revoking Kitty’s admission. The White Queen was as good as her word. It’s too late in the term for Kitty’s parents to transfer her anywhere else, so Xavier’s school has her for one more year at least.
Ororo praises his cooking, before recalling that Scott referred to her a “rival” earlier. Is she? Does he wish to reclaim his position as team leader? Does she wish to give up? he retorts. Ororo admits that she isn’t certain. She took it reluctantly. The responsibility frightened her. But over the months she has grown to accept it. She’s good at it, though she concedes he’s the best. He thanks her, but he isn’t sure he wants the job back. So much has changed and is changing in his life. He feels like he is at a crossroads…
Suddenly, there is a roaring sound from outside. They rush out to see a burning spacecraft above them crashing in their lake. In a matter of seconds, they have donned breathing gear and are in the water looking for survivors. Scott zaps the ship open and they drag out the unconscious pilot. Instantly, they recognize him as the Starjammers’ leader, Corsair, and Storm already worries, for she knows Corsair’s secret. They have barely made it to the surface when the remnants of the ship explode.
Corsair dreams and in his dream remembers:
His plane was burning. Anne gave Scott the only parachute, wrapped Alex in his big brother’s arms and shoved the two boys out the escape hatch. Then, she returned to her husband’s side and both of them were swept across the universe where she paid for her love and loyalty with her life, at the hands of the depraved Sh’iar empreror, D’ken.
More recent memories scattershot across his mind’s eyes. The Starjammers were ambushed days ago. The four of them against a battalion of imperial combat troopers. The odds were hopeless. Regardless, one of them had to get away, to reach Earth, to alert the X-Men. Corsair was the obvious choice. So while Ch’od, Raza and Ms. Hepzibah held off the Imperials Christopher Summer fled into the night. And for the second time in his life feels his heart break as he awakes.
With a smile he tries to excuse his dropping in unannounced. Furious, Cyclops orders him to can the snappy patter. He asks him to explain the locket and the air force dogtags. The woman’s face is familiar to Scott and the two boys are he and his brother Alex.
Corsair retorts that the tags are his. The woman is his wife, the children his sons. Scott accuses him of lying. Ororo carefully interjects that he is not. How does she know that, he demands.
Ororo cannot reply, for that moment a black spiderlike being breaks through their window with as screeching sound. Corsair identifies it as a Sidrian gunner. They’re after him. They’ll have to wait their turn, Scott announces and blasts it. Until he gets some answers, Corsair is his. Suits him, Corsair replies as he reaches for his blaster, but they can’t stay there. They need room to maneuver.
Cyclops leads them downstairs, but more Sidri break into the mansion through all the windows. How do they fight them? Scott asks. Their primary weakness is intense heat, Corsair replies. His blaster slows them down. A good-sized fusion bomb would rupture the entire matrix. They wouldn’t have to have one handy, would they? Ororo uses her winds to blast them away, while aware that despite his joking tone Corsair is deathly serious. What kind of man is he?
To buy them time, she summons a wind and sends it spinning in the parlor. In seconds, Storm generates an incredible irresistible vortex that reaches throughout the house, gathering in everything that isn’t fastened down. The furniture does not survive. The three heroes, protected by Storm from her creation do. Regrettably, so do their foes.
As Corsair fires at the Sidri, he figures that the Imperial Shi’ar would never hire those mercs, so it’s unlikely they came from the dreadnought. That leaves the opposition – the traitors who kidnapped Lilandra.
Also busy fighting, Cyclops’s mind is elsewhere. His father still lives. As a kid he dreamed of this meeting, prayed for it. Now that it happened, he feels angry, almost numb. He doesn’t know what to say, to do.
An exhausted Storm notices how Scott’s emotions are tearing him apart inside. And it is partly her fault. She kept silent about Corsair to spare him pain and may have caused him greater pain instead.
What next? she asks. You tell me, Scott retorts. Fight or run? Run, she decides. More businesslike, she explains that they need the other X-Men and they must draw these monsters away before innocent civilians become involved. They’ll use the Blackbird Scoot replies. He’ll call her over their micro-transceivers when they’re ready to take off. And she shall come, she replies, if she’s able, she thinks.
What’s she talking about? Corsair asks. Cyclops explains that Storm is acting as their rearguard to buy them the time they need to reach the plane. He begins running. One woman against the Sidri? Corsair asks as the two of them reach the mono car that is to take them to the hangar a mile away. They can’t just leave her, Corsair insists. They’ll tear her apart! They have to help! She’s Scott’s friend! Doesn’t he care? Yes! Cyclops shouts as he slugs Corsair. But he’ll leave her just the same, just as he’d expect her to leave him.
Upstairs Storm realizes that the Sidri are generating additional armor, making themselves more resistant to her lightning bolts and the strain is beginning to wear her down. She cannot maintain this effort much longer.
With Corsair strapped in Cyclops starts the Blackbird and informs Storm it’s time to go. Hearing this, Storm conjures a monsoon, creating a flashflood in the narrow tunnels which she hurls at he alien, yet she still finds strength enough to streak down the transit tunnel to the hangar at full speed. Seconds later, thunder ripples across the town of Salem Center, scaring everyone awakened by the crash of Corsair’s starship, as the ultra-high-performance jet engines punch 77,000 kilograms of sleek ebony aircraft into the air. The plane makes a low pass over the mansion to see it utterly destroyed and Sidri crawling from it.
Scott thinks of Charles, this house was his only true home too. It’ll break his heart to see it. All business he tells the others to keep an eye out for the Sidri’s ship. Grimly, Corsair commands him to take another look. The Sidri don’t need a ship. They are the ship. Before their eyes, the Sidri combine into a huge Sidri ship as huge as a skyscraper. Cyclops tries to steer the Blackbird away from the city but the Sidri cut him off, forcing him into a lower level game of cat and mouse that begins at Manhattan’s Triborough Bridge and continues down the East River with the Sidri always firing.
Corsair remarks that this is hardly the way to safeguard innocent lives. Thanks “pop,” he needed that, Scott replies sarcastically as he keeps on evading the Sidri. Testing the Blackbird’s experimental windshield, Cyke fires his optic blast through it, the windshield focuses and amplifies it and hits the Sidri. It is an impressive effort… and insofar as their foe is concerned, totally inconsequential.
Corsair explains that when the Sidri merge into their ship matrix, the bond that links them is almost impossible to break. Cyclops suggests disrupting the matrix. What would that do? Corsair replies that a violent dissolution will act like a giant short circuit. It’ll stun them – long enough for them to escape or perhaps even destroy them. But shattering the matrix requires a phenomenal amount of energy. Flying past the Skyscrapers of New York, Scott suggests they give it a shot, but when it’s down they run.
Calling him son, Corsair praises his flying skills. Scott sharply retorts that the name is Cyclops. He hasn’t the right to call him anything else. Storm remarks that the forces of nature are often fat greater than the woman who summons them. She keeps hammering away at the Sidri while she creates a gale… It’s worth a try, Scott decides, but they are both pretty tired. Can she maintain total control over her storm? She shall have to, shan’t she? Ororo replies.
She flies outside, realizing she must warp weather patterns through the New York metroplex. The effects will be severe. Yet if she does nothing, the three of them are doomed. Are their lives worth endangering the city? While she struggles with this dilemma, she attacks the Sidri ship with lightning to draw its attention and fire. In that, she is successful. Now she must manage to stay alive.
That moment, a NYPD helicopter comes too close to the action and is mistaken by the Sidri for one of the combatants. A stray beam hits them. Storm dives down to save the falling men, while Cyclops in the Blackbird draws the Sidri’s attention back on the Blackbird.
Seconds later, after completing her mission of mercy, she has formed a cyclone around the Sidri and intensifies it. She wonders whether her questions and doubts make her the wrong person to lead the X-Men and if Scott is free of such doubts.
Suddenly, it’s the Sidri matrix which is on the defensive as Storm’s cyclone follows it wherever it goes while Cyclops blasts it again and again with his enhanced eyebeams. It isn’t too long before the two-pronged attack gets results and the matrix loses cohesiveness. Using his optic blast like a battering ram, Cyclops smashes the Blackbird at full throttle through the heart of the alien. With an eerie almost human shriek of agony, it shatters, its thousands of lesser selves toppling to the ground like living snow to a petroleum storage facility.
Corsair congratulates Cyclops on that move and suggests he blast the tank farm. The oil explosion will be sure to kill the Sidri for good. At the word Kill Cyclops listens up. He thought the Sidri matrix was a mechanism. It’s a colony creature Corsair explains, living and sentient. So what?
Cyclops refuses to kill. Corsair shouts there is no time for scruples and calls him a sanctimonious fool. Storm enters the craft, asking what’s going on. Corsair manifests his blaster from his glove and fires down at the oil tank. He has fought these things before. They haven’t. This is the only way. The tanks explode.
Cyclops furiously asks him if he thought about the refinery workers, the firemen who will risk their lives to extinguish that blaze. The cost of pollution to the environment. Did he consider that? Did he care? Callous as it sounds, all of that is expendable, comes the reply. Scott worries about a few score lives. Corsair is trying to save the world! This world. Storm coolly agrees. It is callous. And cruel. And inhuman. Then so is he, Corsair replies. Cyclops orders him to explain himself. What does Earth need saving from?
Ten standard days ago, the meeting of the Shi’ar grand council was raided by a terrorist commando force. Most of the ministers were slaughtered in the attack. Lilandra was kidnapped. The Starjammers were implicated and a trail left by the terrorists led straight to Earth. A fast battleforce led by chancellor Araki and Admiral Samedar set off immediately to rescue her. Lead elements of the force have already arrived in local Earth space.
They’re prepared to go to any lengths to liberate their empress or avenge her. And if in the process, they have to reduce Earth to a lifeless burned-out cinder, so be it!