With their Blackbird jet disintegrated, the X-Men find themselves freefalling, on collision course towards the ground.
Impact minus 100 seconds…
X-Men leader Cyclops urges himself to think; he can’t give up now! Memories flash across his mind as he falls – memories of how the Beast had contacted the X-Men to tell them that Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men had taken over NORAD headquarters and gained control over America’s nuclear arsenal; that Nefaria was holding the world for ransom. The X-Men flew to stop him. And Nefaria shot them out of the sky – twice. Now the X-Men are falling to their deaths, their mission a total washout.
Impact minus 90 seconds…
Memories give way to actions. Still falling to his death, Cyclops asks his equally doomed teammates Storm and Banshee to listen up. Each of them are to grab a pair of X-Men and head for the ground. He tells Nightcrawler to teleport. Kurt protests he cannot – not from here. Scott is surprised. Nightcrawler explains that, yes, he can teleport but, if he teleports from this height, the law of conservation of energy demands that he materializes with the same velocity he started with… he will be killed regardless. Storm tells him not to worry. She can carry him and Colossus easily.
Piotr protests he can get down on his own and urges her to take Wolverine instead. Storm implores him not to be a fool… Cyke asks her not to argue. There isn’t time. He urges both of them to get out of here… now! Ororo indeed grabs Kurt and Wolverine, leaving Colossus to his fate. Banshee snatches Thunderbird. He apologizes to Cyclops: he hasn’t had enough lift to carry two grown men. He is sorry, but he’ll have to come back for him. Scott nervously replies that he’ll see him around. “Just don’t be too long, huh?” he tells him before Sean flies off, leaving Scott alone.
Impact minus 63 seconds…
Colossus is the first to land – if one truly can call his devastating crash in armored form a landing. For a moment, the force of his impact is whipcracking down the mountain. When the sound fades and the fury dies, Colossus is nowhere to be seen. Flying overhead, Banshee laments that the lad killed himself! And the nut had the nerve to call him a crazy man, Wolverine remarks. Ororo flies down with Wolverine and Kurt and approaches the area razed from the impact. She asks aloud is Peter is here, if he’s all right. Peter pops out of the crater, a smile in his face. He wonders why she’s yelling. Of course he’s all right. Why shouldn’t he be? But what kept all of them? he wonders.
Impact minus 37 seconds…
Still plunging to his death below, Scott wishes that Banshee got the lead out already. If he’s not up here soon, he’s going to be scraping Scott off the mountain with a very thin spatula.
Impact minus 12 seconds…
Scott is sweating. It looks like this it, he tells himself.
Impact minus 5 seconds…
Scott is about to be impaled on a tree below. Funny, he always figured his number would be up someday, but he never thought it’d end up like…
“…Thiiiis!” he howls, just as Banshee suddenly cuts in and finally carries him away to safety. Reclaiming his breath, Scott reprimands Sean: he sure took his time picking him up. Banshee jests: did Scott really think he’d let a foine broth of a boy such as him get splattered all over that cold, cold mountain? Scott admits the thought crossed his mind. “Oh ye of little faith…” Banshee quips. Cyclops tells him to cut the comedy; they’ve got work to do.
Sean takes him to the ground. Scott debriefs the team. According to General Fredericks, they’ve got less than an hour to deactivate the Doomsmith system before it automatically fires every ICBM in the US strategic arsenal. So their first step is to get inside Valhalla base. Addressing him as “One-Eye,” Thunderbird contemptuously wonders how is he going to do that – has he got a key that will crack open a mountain? Scott replies that, as a matter of fact, he does. He also reminds him his name is Cyclops, not One-Eyed, does he understand that?
Scott tells Nightcrawler to teleport inside. Those same missiles that shot them down came from around here. This means there’s got to be a surface access hatch. It is as good as done, Kurt assures him. There is a crack of flame and a gusting stench of brimstone, and Nightcrawler is suddenly gone. He reappears a split-instant later deep within Valhalla base. At least I think it’s as good as done, he tells himself as an afterthought. He is inside Valhalla at any rate, in some sort of maintenance tunnel. But how is he to find this missile bay Cyclops spoke of?
Just then, he hears a voice behind him. “I wouldn’t worry about that, if I were you, mutie… I’d worry about stayin’ alive!!” Kurt is instantly blasted from behind by Croaker, the Frog-Man. A moment later, though, Croaker is astounded to see his opponent is still conscious. He hit him hard enough to flatten a dozen men! Perhaps, Kurt replies – but like Croaker, he is not precisely a man. Croaker makes for bludgeoning him with his strong legs, but Kurt’s acrobatic skills ensure his effortless leaping high above. Croaker retorts it doesn’t matter what this mutie is – Nefaria wants him dead!
Addressing him as “Herr Frosch,” Kurt rejoins that Nefaria’s agents then will have to do a far better job than Frog is doing! He warns “Herr Frog” that he does not wish to hurt him. Croaker goes practically hysterical at the sound of this: “Don’t call me that!” He insists he is no frog… he is no freaking mutant like Nightcrawler… he is a man! And he needs no help stomping Nightcrawler into the ground, no help at all…
Kurt suddenly vanishes. Croaker, at loss, wonders where he went. Kurt reappears behind him and pats his back. “Nowhere, Herr Frosch… nowhere at all!” he replies and then knocks his adversary out with a punch. Dragging the unconscious villain’s body along the floor, Kurt decides to go and find his friends now – and then, the Frog-Man will tell them all they need to know about Nefaria and his plans…
However, Nefaria has just watched this latest development on a monitor. “Croaker, you unmitigated idiot!” he snarls and slams his fist on the screen. Nefaria is furious with Croaker: he had to try and defeat the X-Man on his own… like he couldn’t have summoned aid… Cat-Man wonders what the hassle is. The rest of them can go after the mutie and take him easily. Nefaria decides they let Kurt go. He’s got other… surprises in store for the X-Men…
Doomsmith minus 43 minutes
It doesn’t take Nightcrawler long to find the missile bay. Putting aside the senseless Croaker, he tells his prisoner not to go away… he should be only a moment. All he has to do is find the manual override control. He quickly finds it, oblivious to Croaker coming around and soundlessly stepping out of the room. Turning around, Kurt realizes his prisoner is gone!
Nevertheless, Kurt opens the hatch. With barely a sound, the heavy blast door lifts high into the afternoon sunlight. “All right people, we’ve got our door… let’s get inside,” Cyclops urges the team upon seeing this. Kurt reunites with them. Embarrassed, he tells Scott they have a problem. He had a prisoner, a talking frog-man, but he… escaped. Scott replies it can’t be helped. They all make mistakes… but the sooner they are in the command post, the better. He suggests they move it then – and they enter through the hatch and make their way inside the base.
All goes well, at first – almost too well. After a while, though, they all begin sweating. Banshee wonders if it’s his imagination, or is it getting a bit stuffy in here? Thunderbird thinks Banshee has a point. He feels kind of woozy himself… and he’s felt this way before… “There’s your answer, Banshee – gas!” Cyclops shouts, seeing a gas cloud in the vicinity. Before the X-Men can react, the cloud is at them, choking, blistering, blinding, tearing at their skin like acid, tearing at their minds. Cyclops shouts that they’ve got to get out of here. He urges them all to smash through that wall into the next tunnel. Cyclops’ optic blasts, Colossus and Thunderbird’s fists and Wolverine’s claws do the trick and they all smash through the tunnel next to them.
Doomsmith minus 35 minutes
Colossus sees a squad of American soldiers ahead… and they do not look at all friendly. Indeed, one of them tells his peers to get those muties and kill them all! The soldiers open fire accordingly. Piotr tells his teammates to get behind him; his armored body will shield them from the bullets. As Colossus indeed covers them, Storm points out to Cyclops that they cannot stay here. If they do, the gas will overwhelm them. Scott knows that, but retorts they cannot hurt those soldiers. They’re not responsible for their attack. He tells her to look at them: they’ve been hypnotized!
Very well, Ororo concedes – if Scott doesn’t want these soldiers hurt, they will not be hurt… but she vows they will be stopped! Raw energy crackles in the still air, lightning flaring bright around them, as a wind springs up from nowhere. With the wind comes the sound of running water… the sound of a flood! Storm’s merciless flood gathers the soldiers in like a living thing, gently sweeping them down the long corridors, until they are no longer a threat to the X-Men. Then, the flood sets them down and fades away, as quickly, as quietly as it had come. Smirking, Ororo thinks they can proceed now; the soldiers will not bother them anymore.
The team proceeds along the corridors. A bit further ahead, two of the Ani-Men, carefully hidden, watch them coming. Cat-Man points them to Gort. Gort replies he sees them… and promises to kill them! Jumping down, he ambushes Thunderbird, landing on his shoulders. The gorilla-like being swirls Thunderbird around like a ragdoll. John warns Banshee to look out: Gort is going to throw him against him! Too late, though: John is hurled on Banshee, knocking him out. Both X-Men are out of the count, even though the fight has barely begun.
The rest of the Ani-Men are about to make their move. Nightcrawler notices this “man-frog” he fought. Scott observes that this man-frog also has the rest of Nefaria’s Ani-Men with him. He tells his team they haven’t time to be gentle and instructs them to take the Ani-Men down – hard!
The battle begins with both sides being numerically equal: Nightcrawler tackles Croaker, Storm quarrels with Dragonfly, Cyclops engages Bird-Man, Colossus fights with Gort, Wolverine battles Cat-Man. But the Ani-Men are fresh, ungassed, eager for the kill – the X-Men are not. Thus, in the beginning, weakness, fatigue, the surprise and ferocity of the ambush, all take their toll, and the battle quickly goes against the X-Men.
Cat-Man hurls Wolverine hard against a wall. Cat-Man sneers at him: does Wolverine thinks he’s some hotshot with these metal claws he has? Well, his own claws aren’t fake, Cat-Man gloats. They’re real and they can kill! Jumping at the dazed Wolverine, Cat-Man is bent on delivering the coup de grace. “Not while Colossus lives!” Piotr retorts and clenches Cat-Man’s right wrist with an iron grip. Cat-Man is at loss, not yet facing his opponent: who grabbed his arm?! Colossus introduces himself and assures him that, while he lives, Wolverine will not be harmed! He then manages a fierce punch on him.
Meanwhile, Croaker leaps around, easily avoiding Nightcrawler’s attacks on him. He commends Kurt on the try, but he isn’t dumping him so easily this time! Yet, Cyclops intervenes and zaps Croaker with his optic beams. Kurt thanks Scott for his assistance. “My pleasure, mist…” Cyclops replies but his phrase remains incomplete, as Bird-Man lunges down at him and incapacitates him. Kurt watches as Bird-Man takes Cyclops prisoner and proceeds to fly away. He realizes Cyclops is lost, unless Kurt can return the favor Scott did him… and indeed, maneuvers himself into position and attacks Bird-Man from above, stunning him with a careful strike.
Seeing three of his teammates down, Gort is indignant: the X-Men hurt him and his friends! For that, he will kill them all! Having come around, Wolverine warns his teammates that Gort is about to attack again: Heads up! Here comes that road company hulk and he looks loaded for bear! “I think not!” Storm cuts in and electrocutes Gort with her lightning bolts. However, as Wolverine notices with surprise, Gort is still on his feet. He turns to Kurt: “What say we…?” “As you wish, my friend…” Kurt replies. Together with Wolverine, they double-team Gort and send him flying with a punch. Gort is out.
Dragonfly, the last Ani-Man standing, realizes her team is defeated. She must flee to warn Count Nefaria. Cyclops, though, blocks her exit. Dragonfly tells him to hear her; her will is his will. He cannot resist her hypnotic powers. Scott realizes she’s in his mind! He can’t keep her out…
In a moment, Dragonfly’s spell is complete and, behind Cyclops’ ruby quarts visor, his eyes go blank and open wide. His eyes motion automatically raising the quartz crystal shield, freeing his eyebeams from their cage. The results are predictable: no longer restrained, his optic beams set loose and blast Dragonfly to unconsciousness.
Doomsmith minus 18 minutes…
Now free from Dragonfly’s spell, Cyclops gathers his teammates. They’ve beaten the mountain, and they’ve beaten the Ani-Men. All that’s left now is the good Count himself and they’re home free. He suddenly wonders where Banshee and Thunderbird are, though. Wolverine motions at them: they’re both out cold. That gorilla wasted them pretty good. Cyclops decides to leave them here. They haven’t time to wake them up. They’ve got to get to Nefaria and the Doomsmith system.
The X-Men press on. But Valhalla’s a huge complex, three cubic miles of corridors and cubicles. By the time they reach the Doomsmith system… it is too late. “No!” Cyclops shouts in frustration. Observing the Doomsmith system, he realizes Nefaria has locked into the self-destruct circuit. It’s armed and counting and there’s no way on Earth they can shut it off in time! Indeed, the screen reads “Self-destruct engaged T-0.09 min.”
Elsewhere, Banshee and Thunderbird finally wake up. Sean complains about his aching back. He’s thinking he’s getting a mite too old for this sort of roughhouse. John tells him to speak for himself. Sean looks around and is astounded by all the mess. It must have been a grand and glorious fight. Seeing the unconscious Ani-Men all around them, John concurs that it looks like they didn’t need their help for anything… it figures.
Meanwhile, Nefaria makes his way to one of Valhalla’s hanger levels. “The fools!” he sneers. They think he’s beaten, that they’ve won… but the very moment of their victory will be the moment of their death… the moment of his greatest triumph! He embarks a plane, all the while thinking what will happen now. The self-destruct system will blow this mountain – and all on it – to the deepest pits of hell. When that happens, he will be long gone…
Suddenly, he sees Thunderbird and Banshee enter the hangar level and rush to his direction. He recognizes them from the monitor screens – they’re two of the X-Men! Thunderbird cautions his teammate: it looks like that Nefaria dude is bugging out on his comrades. The Count gloats: they’re too late; they’ll never stop him now! Seeing him take off, John realizes that once he gets airborne in that harrier, there’s not a crate in this mountain that can stop him! He makes a quick decision and goes for it: maybe not a plane but a man can do what a plane can’t… and he is just that man! Accordingly, he jumps ahead and grabs onto the departing plane’s exterior!
Banshee pleads him not to, but John is already crawling along the plane’s ceiling. He promises to Nefaria he’s coming to get him… and he’s a man who doesn’t give up! Banshee flies in the air and follows the plane, wondering if Thunderbird is crazy. He begs John to get off the plane. He tells John he can stop Nefaria with a sonic blast, but Thunderbird has got to get off first!
Back in the Valhalla base, Wolverine warns Cyclops they’re running out of time… they’ve got to go. Struggling to deactivate the Doomsmith system, Scott asks him how far he thinks they’d get in five minutes… because that’s all the time they’ve got. Their only chance – the world’s only chance – is to try and shut the system down.
Xavier’s astral form appears and angrily asks Cyclops what he’s doing. Scott stammers about the Doomsmith, only to have Charles inform him that the system is totally out of commission. Xavier has mentally scanned the system. The X-Men’s battle with the Ani-Men destroyed the command relays and the back-ups. But enough of that – they must get outside and quickly. An X-Man is in mortal danger! “You heard the man, people… move it!” Cyclops shouts and everybody follows suit.
In Nefaria’s hijacked plane, Thunderbird slams his fist through the pilot’s glass window. “You madman!” Nefaria shrieks – he’ll kill them both! Xavier’s psi-form intervenes and demands that John get off this airplane, before it’s too late! Thunderbird tells him to butt out – he’s through taking orders! He’s been a loner all his life… an outcast dumped on by everybody he met… but he’s a man, a warrior of the Apache… and today he’s going to prove it! “For God’s sake, laddie… GET OFF THE PLANE!” Banshee desperately tries to deter him, in vain.
John’s hands rip deep into the harrier’s cockpit, ravaging control systems, computers, electronic hardware, ripping the technic nervous system out of the aircraft. It’s a pounding that no plane was designed to take. Sooner or later something has to give…
The X-Men exit the base. Cyclops discerns the plane in the horizon: “There they are!” He asks Storm to go after them and give Banshee a hand.
Sooner or later, something gives way in the plane.
Cyclops watches as the plane explodes: “Oh my god.” In his study in Westchester, Professor X telepathically pleads Thunderbird to get out! In Valhalla, Cyclops stammers that the aircraft… is… Numb with shock, Cyclops mumbles that he can see it. The remains of the plane spiral downwards, amidst smoke and flames.
But Xavier has seen everything, more clearly than anybody. He has seen everything through Thunderbird’s eyes. “NNNNOOOOOO!!” he screams as he experiences Thunderbird’s final moments. It all ends with the breaking of Charles Xavier’s heart – and the twisting of his soul. For, in the end, he could not desert his pupil – and all John Proudstar felt, Charles Xavier felt as well, with only one difference: Charles is still alive. Devastated, Charles buries his face in his hands and mourns.
In the Valhalla Mountain, the X-Men reach the aircraft wreckage. A shocked Banshee mumbles to Cyclops that he begged the laddie… he pleaded with him… But he wouldn’t get off the plane! He wouldn’t get off! Scott allays him he knows – it wasn’t Sean’s fault. He supposes it had to happen sometime. Hell, sooner or later it happens to all of them in this business… it comes with the uniform. They all turn their backs to the wreckage and recede from it. Behind them, the wreckage burns.