Sunday mornings are normally quiet in the small town of Salem Center. Today, however, the appearance of Bobby “Iceman” Drake and the man called Joseph, who is also known as Magneto, has incited a crowd into a riotous frenzy - and turned the calm of the crisp spring morning into pure pandemonium. ‘They’re gaining on us, Joseph! Run!’ Bobby calls out as the two X-Men dodge cars and try to escape the pursuing crowd. ‘Why won’t they leave us alone?’ Joseph asks as he follows Bobby down an alleyway. ‘It’s because of who we are’ Iceman replies. Glancing back, Joseph suggests that they should try and reason with them, but Bobby just asks him if he is crazy. ‘They’d rip us apart!’ he declares.
The crowd moves in closer, and Joseph suggests that they could use their mutant powers, but Bobby tells Joseph that he is so naïve. ‘That’s exactly what they want us to do. Believe me, I’ve had more experience with this kind of mob’ Bobby declares as he and Joseph arrive on the other side of the alleyway. Joseph suggests that if their path is blocked, the crowd will lose interest, and uses his magnetic powers to move a large dumpster to block the alleyway. Bobby replies that it will slow them down, but that it won’t stop them. ‘Lucky for us, this is where we parked’ Bobby points out as both men leap into their car. ‘We’re free and clear!’ Iceman shouts. Joseph remarks that he thinks Bobby is enjoying this.
Bobby smiles and admits that it is kind of exciting. Joseph replies that he could use a little less excitement in his life, before pointing out that the mob has found them. Indeed - as a dozen young women clamber onto the car. ‘Bobby!’ one of them shouts. ‘I love you!’ another declares. ‘Bobby!’ ‘Iceman!’ ‘He’s so cute!’ ‘I think I’m gonna faint!’ another shouts. Bobby just smiles and tells the ladies that he gives up, that he is all theirs. ‘Make it snow!’ one of them shouts as Bobby sits up onto the back of the convertible. ‘Who’s your friend?’ one of the women enquires. ‘Sign my shirt!’ another asks. ‘Will you go to the prom with me?’ one asks, while another tells Bobby that she wants to have his baby.
‘Whoa! Let’s be realistic here’ Bobby replies, before telling the women that he will perform a little mutant magic for them, if they then let him get back to the mansion. He adds that he is only visiting some ex-buddies of his for a few days, and then it is back home for him. ‘Ooooh, the mansion…’ one of the women gushes, while another asks Bobby to promise that he will come back. ‘Drumroll, please…and now, courtesy of the Incredible Iceman…one light fall of snowflakes - no two alike!’ Bobby calls out as he points an ice-covered finger upwards, and creates a light fall of snow. The women enjoy the show, and Bobby suggests to Joseph that the women are satisfied, so they should go before the women want something else.
‘You dealt with that better than I would have’ Joseph replies. Bobby explains he was just being polite, that it was nothing. ‘At the Video Shack the other night, three girls almost tore my clothes off’ Iceman reveals. Joseph remarks that he thinks Bobby enjoys the attention. ‘It’s the price of fame’ Bobby replies casually as they drive off, leaving the content women sighing in the snow fall.
Years ago, Professor Charles Xavier turned his family estate into an exclusive school - where he trained a most unique group of students to use their singular gifts for the greater good. Since then, this house has been home to the mutants who proudly call themselves X-Men. Among the current roster is Remy “Gambit” LeBeau, a former international thief, and the superhuman heartbreaker known only as Rogue. ‘What you think, ma petite?’ Gambit asks as he and Rogue are in the kitchen, preparing a meal. Rogue sips some broth from a spoon and tells Remy that there is too much cayenne. Peeling a potato, Remy replies ‘Not in the quarter of New Orleans where I was raised’, adding that you can’t make good gumbo without plenty of pepper.
Suddenly, the doors to the kitchen swing open, and Bobby and Joseph enter the kitchen. ‘We’re back! Miss us?’ Bobby asks. Remy turns to the men and points out that they were supposed to be back an hour ago. Bobby smiles and explains that they ran into a little interference in town. Joseph elaborates, explaining that they were attacked by a mob of adolescent girls screaming for Bobby. ‘The hysteria Bobby engenders these days is most confusing’ Joseph adds Rogue throws her head back and puts a hand to her head, mockingly declaring that ever since Bobby made the cover of “Teenthrob Magazine” he has been giving the teenage girls of America palpitations. ‘Oh, Bobby, you’re absolutely dreamy’ Rogue mocks.
‘Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ Bobby smiles, to which Gambit tells Bobby that he can keep all those high school girls, and touching Rogue on the face, Gambit declares that he has all the woman he needs right here. ‘Don’t you go thinking otherwise, Shugah!’ Rogue replies. Gambit assures Rogue that his heart belongs only to her, and pulls her back and kisses her passionately on the lips. ‘Remy…’ Rogue begins. ‘Oui, mon coeur?’ Remy utters between kisses. Rogue glances sideways to where the large pot on the stovetop is bubbling over. ‘The gumbo…’ Remy mutters. Bobby tells the lovebirds that he will see them later, and walks out of the kitchen, adding that it is not that he doesn’t trust them in combat, but the kitchen, well, he is probably safer with leftover pizza. Rogue asks Joseph if he will join them for lunch, but Joseph thanks Rogue and tells her he won’t, as he would just be a third wheel, while thinking to himself that is disturbs him to see Rogue and Gambit so physically intimate. ‘Surely I can’t be jealous?’ he wonders.
Elsewhere in the mansion, Dr Henry “Hank” McCoy’s research has his climbing the walls - literally - for the brilliant biologist and geneticist is also the X-Men’s gymnastically adept Beast. Clinging to the wall as he examines large holographic representations of DNA strands, the Beast remarks that something is amiss, and that the results may be erroneous. Hank hypothesizes that his lack of sleep these past few days has predicated a lapse in the normal exactitude of his laboratory procedure. A computer screen depicts the words “Test Subject 410 Result: Negative”. Hank tells himself that he must be overlooking an obvious error, before deciding that is negative, and wishes he could allow himself to believe that were true. He orders the computer to recalculate test four-ten, but the same negative result is depicted on the screen. Oh my stars and garters. I did it’ Hank utters.
Meantime, in one of the living rooms, Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie, lounges back on a sofa. Though he has experienced great hardship in his short life, the youngest X-Man still retains an unflappable capacity for wonder. Sam calls out to Joseph and tells him that he has to come and see this. ‘Another Jackie Chan film?’ Joseph asks as he enters the living room. ‘No, but this is almost as good’ Sam replies, as on the large television screen, the X-Men’s ally Trish Tilby is reporting. ‘In a surprise pre-dawn raid, federal agents shut down the headquarters of the hate group calling itself “The Friends of Humanity” - concluding a year-long undercover operation orchestrated by the FBI’ Trish reveals, adding that the raid coincided with yesterday’s arrest of the anti-mutant activist Bastion, who will be arraigned in federal court on numerous counts of terrorism.
Sam drinks a can of soda and remarks that he is so glad the feds are on the side of the X-Men, adding that he would hate to wake up one morning and find them knocking at his door. Joseph looks puzzled and announces that he is confused. ‘Since when did the US government adopt a pro-mutant policy?’ he asks. Suddenly, Scott Summers, the first of Xavier’s students who now, as Cyclops, leads the X-Men, enters the room, and declares that ever since the President invited the Professor to Washington, and after the Onslaught incident, the administration decided to rethink their mutant agenda. Scott adds that, thankfully, congress listened to the Professor’s recommendations, before pointing out that the government is still uncomfortable with Joseph’s presence here.
Scott points out that even though the crash of the Avalon space station left Joseph twenty years younger, and without memory of his life as Magneto, technically he is still guilty of the crimes he committed back then. Cyclops tells Joseph not to worry, as the Professor is still working on his pardon. Suddenly, Joseph realizes that Cyclops is not wearing his glasses. His eyes glow red as he asks ‘Glasses? Why would I need glasses?’ Scott asks. Joseph rubs his head and explains that he had this image of Scott in his mind with - ‘Never mind. I’m afraid I’ve been feeling out of sorts today’ Joseph replies. Reclining on the sofa, Sam declares that there is nothing wrong with their leader’s eyes that some industrial strength eye drops couldn’t fix. ‘You know what they say, takes the red out’ Sam jokes.
‘Some some respect for your elders, Sam’ Cyclops smiles as he releases a small optic blast at Cannonball, which sends him leaping into the air. ‘Yeesh! And you accuse me of being childish!’ Sam complains, rubbing his butt as he stands up. Suddenly, ‘Congratulate me, boys!’ the Beast shouts as he bounds down the stairs - on the handrail, of course. ‘Mrs McCoy’s bouncing blue baby boy is indeed the genius he believed himself to be!’ Hank calls out. Sam dodges the Beast and asks if there is a speed limit on the stairs. Hank lands next to Sam and Scott and explains that he is simply overcome by such prodigious elation and relief that he didn’t even see them.
Scott asks Hank why he is in such a good mood, to which Hank replies ‘Because, my old and optically enhanced friend - after a year of frustration and fruition - I’ve found the antidote for the Legacy Virus!’ Scott and Sam congratulate Hank, with Sam declaring that Hank is a miracle-worker, and Scott asking him if he is sure. Hank adds that the Blake Clinic verified his results. Joseph stands back from the others, and tells himself that he should share their joy, but that he finds himself sceptical. He wonders if he is the only one who thinks something is terribly wrong here - that everything seems far too good to be true.
Outside, sitting in a Japanese garden, ‘You can’t hide from me. Your breathing gave you away twenty minutes away’ Wolverine a.k.a. Logan announces. Standing near a small bridge, a few feet away from where Wolverine is sitting, Joseph explains that he didn’t want to disturb him. ‘Something troubling you, bub?’ Logan asks. Hands in his pockets, Joseph replies that it is nothing. But, it is difficult to conceal anything from the man named Logan - heightened senses and an animal’s instinct give him an edge few possess. Wolverine asks Joseph why he isn’t celebrating with the others, pointing out that he is one of the X-Men now.
But, Joseph replies that he is not sure he can ever be one of the team, reminding Wolverine that he was once the X-Men’s sworn enemy, and has caused them great pain. ‘Especially you, Logan’ Joseph reminds him. Wolverine tells Joseph that he has not forgotten how Magneto ripped every ounce of adamantium from his body. ‘I ain’t never hurt like that - but the way I figure it, Erik Magnus Lehnsherr did that to me - not you, Joseph’. Logan points out that the man before him may be Magneto in body, but that his spirit is different. ‘I don’t know if I could be so forgiving’ Joseph points out, to which Wolverine declares that they all need a shot at redemption, and that being part of the X-Men is his.
Wolverine tells Joseph not to blow it, as not everybody gets a second chance. Joseph tells Wolverine that he is right, that something is troubling him: ‘Do you get the feeling that our recent good fortune is somehow…unnatural?’ Joseph asks. Wolverine simply replies that sometimes soldiers who’ve spent their whole lives on the battlefield have a hard time adjusting once the battle ends. ‘Relax. Everything’s fine. You can trust the ol’ Canuckle Head’ Wolverine declares. Joseph tells Wolverine that he envies his peace of mind, before turning and walking away, he does not see Wolverine suddenly clutch his head, and whisper ‘No…come…back…not…what…wanted…to…tell…you…’. Wolverine clutches his head, in agony, as if someone were inside his mind, before keeling over.
Soon, in the library, Joseph stands amongst the shelves of books and looks at some photographs, while telling himself that Wolverine did little to dispel his unease. He knows that something is not right, but only he seems to be aware of that, and wishes he could find some solid piece of evidence to support his claim. Joseph looks at once photo in particular, of himself, and Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller, many years ago. ‘We look happy then. I wish I could remember that moment’. Joseph realizes that his memory loss spares him the pain of his past, it also denies him the joyful moments. Joseph tells himself that things may have been different if tragedy hadn’t separated the three of them. Looking at a photo of Charles and his original X-Men - Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, Beast and Marvel Girl - and tells himself that he might have actually been in the picture, standing with the X-Men.
Suddenly, Joseph looks at the photo again - only Marvel Girl has vanished from it. ‘Of course…that’s it! Jean Grey is missing!’ Joseph tells himself, and with her image vanished from the photo, he decides that it is as if someone was trying to erase Jean Grey’s very existence.
Moments later, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Gambit, Rogue and Cannonball are outside relaxing with Bishop, Ororo “Storm” Munro and Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel. ‘Watching the sun set with the people I love most in the world…who could ask for anything more?’ Rogue remarks. ‘You said it, sweetheart’ Gambit agrees, as does the Beast. Suddenly, ‘SUMMERS!’ Joseph shouts as he flies towards his teammates. Scott turns to Joseph and tells him that it is about time he joined them. ‘We were worried you were becoming as anti-social as Logan’ Scott adds. Joseph ignores the comment and asks what happened to Jean Grey. ‘If everything is so perfect, why isn’t she with us?’ Joseph asks.
‘Jean who?’ Cyclops asks, blankly. ‘Marvel Girl. Phoenix. Your wife!’ Joseph declares as he drops down beside Cyclops, adding that Jean’s absence explains the nagging dread he has felt all day, and states that they are being manipulated by some unseen force. ‘The reason everything seems too good to be true is because it isn’t’ Joseph declares. Bishop smiles and announces that as the X-Man from the future, he can assure them all that mutant-kind’s golden age begins here. ‘You’re as deluded as the rest, Bishop’ Joseph remarks. Cyclops stands up and declares that Joseph is the one whose grasp on reality is in question. ‘I’m not married. I mean, if I was, I’d know’ Scott declares, asking Warren to back him up.
Warren steps forward and remarks that he cannot convince their fearless leader to let him fix Scott up on a date, so he can’t imagine him walking down the aisle. ‘You don’t remember Jean Grey - the woman you all love?’ Joseph asks, before declaring that this is worse than he imagined, and announces that someone has made them believe that all their fondest hopes and desires have come true, but that to do that, they had to eliminate Jean Grey, whose telepathy would recognize the deception. Joseph reminds himself that Charles Xavier trained others to ward off any telepathic attackers, and wonders how this can be happening.
Joseph clutches his head in agony, while the X-Men gather around him. ‘It appears or silver haired companion’s elevator no longer reaches the top floor’ Hank declares, while Cyclops states that Joseph is acting irrationally, and suggests they take him to the medlab for observation. ‘It’ll be for your own good’ Warren tells him. ‘Keep away from me!’ Joseph shouts as he suddenly flies away from the others and places a magnetic shield around them. Rogue suggests to the others that she tries to talk some sense into him, to which Gambit tells her to be careful, and reminds her that by any name, he is still one of the most powerful mutants on the planet.
‘Stay back, Rogue!’ Joseph calls out as Rogue flies after him. Rogue continues to pursue him, stating that she knows he is freaked out, but that she is his friend and wants to help him. She asks if they can talk about this, just the two of them and nobody else. Joseph takes Rogue’s hand and they drop down to the ground, beside some trees and rocks. ‘You think I’m crazy, don’t you?’ Joseph asks, but Rogue just tells him that they all get crazy now and then. Rogue puts her hands on Joseph’s arms and remarks that she think he has had more than enough heartache and misery in his life, and part of her thinks that he deserves to be happy. ‘So you’ve convinced yourself that all the good things in your life are nothing but an illusion’ Rogue states.
Joseph grabs Rogue’s wrist and tells her that deep down, she knows that none of this is right, that none of it is real. ‘The X-Men aren’t celebrities who have to outrun their adoring public. Scott can’t control his optic beams without his ruby quartz visor. Wolverine’s still half animal. And you can’t touch anyone else for fear of absorbing their mind’ Joseph declares. Rogue goes wide-eyed and tells Joseph that he is scaring her, when, suddenly, ‘Get away from her, Lehnsherr!’ a voice exclaims, as playing cards supercharged with kinetic energy slice through the air around Joseph, who turns to find Gambit standing nearby. ‘I wasn’t trying to hurt her!’ Joseph explains, but Gambit tells him that he doesn’t believe that. ‘You may be younger, but at heart, you’re still Magneto!’ Gambit booms.
Gambit throws another card and states that Magneto cannot stand that the X-Men made the dream a reality. Joseph throws a shield around himself and replies that Gambit is wrong, adding that he has no wish to harm the X-Men, as they have shown him more kindness than he can ever repay. ‘Yeah, then why you trying to make everybody doubt themselves?’ Gambit asks as he throws several cards into the air, after Joseph takes flight. Gambit asks Joseph why he is so intent on poisoning Rogue with his lies, to which Joseph tells him that he wishes that he was wrong, but knows he is not.
Rogue goes over and puts a hand on Gambit’s shoulder and tells him to stop, as he is only making things worse. Charging some additional cards, Gambit tells Rogue to stay out of this as she has a good heart and cannot see that Joseph is nothing but the big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing. Joseph retaliates and casts forth a blast towards Gambit, telling him that if he is so intent on fighting, he will oblige. ‘As you keep reminding me, I am the Master of Magnetism. I can turn the Earth against you by using the iron in the soil. ‘Can’t see!’ Gambit exclaims as he falls backwards, blinded by the dirt.
Joseph drops down beside Gambit and wraps his arms around him, pointing out that if he wanted, he could manipulate the iron in Gambit’s blood to make his veins explode. ‘That is what the old Magneto would have done - but as someone else reminded me - that’s not who I am’ Joseph declares as he drops Gambit down beside Rogue. Joseph tells them to be clear about this - he does not wish to fight - he just wants someone to listen to him.
Soon, in the heart of the X-Men’s mansion lies Cerebro, a complex computer tracking system designed to identify, locate and catalogue mutants around the world. ‘I’m sorry, Joseph. There’s no Jean Grey listed in Cerebro’s files’ Rogue announces as she searches through the database. Joseph replies that he has faith Cerebro will prove that Jean Grey is more than a figment of his imagination. Observing Joseph in the main seat, Remy tells him that he will not get anything but a headache sitting there, as you have to be a telepath to work Cerebro. ‘For a blind search, yes. That’s why Xavier can use it like a divining rod’ Joseph replies, explaining that by entering everything he knows about Jean and the nature of her mutant abilities, Cerebro will search out anyone matching that criteria.
A red light signal appears on a map, and Rogue tells Joseph that it looks like he has hit the jackpot. Rogue is surprised when the signal reveals an alpha level telepath located in Salem Center. ‘Satisfied?’ Joseph asks. ‘Not yet - but now I’m officially intrigued’ Gambit announces.
Somewhere else, a beautiful woman stirs, waking in an exotic looking room, seemingly floating in space. ‘Where am I?’ she asks. Sitting up in the bed, Jean “Phoenix” Grey tries to reach out to Scott telepathically, but she can’t focus, her head hurts. Jean realizes someone must have drugged her or something. Jean reaches for the door in an attempt to get out, but the handle doesn’t turn - the door is locked. Jean realizes that this is no hotel room, that it is some sort of telepathic construct - and it is her mind, not her body - that is trapped here. Jean tells herself that she has to try to reconnect with her body, but at the moment is too weak to break through this psionic barrier. Suddenly, a telepathic voice booms: ‘Escape is pointless, Jean Grey. You are my prisoner’. Wide-eyed, Jean wonders what has happened to her, before the voice reveals that she is the bait to lure another to him!
Soon, dressed in their costumes, Joseph, Rogue and Gambit arrive outside a Bullseye store. ‘You kidding, Joseph? This is where we gonna find a woman with power that matches that of Professor X? Which department do you think she works in? Cosmetics? Automotive?’ Gambit asks as he sits on his motor cycle. Dropping down from the air, Rogue asks Joseph why he didn’t ask the rest of the team to come with them. Joseph explains that if someone has the power to erase Jean Grey from the minds of her closest friends, then he suspects that person could manipulate them to an even greater degree. The trio enter the department store, and Gambit puts his hands to his face, remarking that it means there is only the three of them to deal with if things go bad. ‘Oh no, Joe, it’s a trap! They waiting for us!’ Gambit mocks. Rogue just smiles, when suddenly, the X-Men are greeted by a dozen staff members.
‘Welcome to Bullseye, America’s friendliest one-stop shopping emporium!’ a woman remarks. ‘How may we help you?’ a man asks. ‘At Bullseye, service is our middle name’ a man tells them, while another woman informs them that everything is on sale in the garden department. Gambit mutters that he always did want a weed whacker, before Rogue asks Joseph if he sees his friend. Walking straight past the shop assistants, Joseph replies that he doesn’t and suggests they check the back rooms. But, the shop assistants quickly move to block the mutants’ path. ‘Don’t think that’s gonna be so easy. These folks seem a mite too helpful’ Rogue declares. Joseph tells his companions to ignore the clerks, while Gambit remarks that it looks like there is nobody home inside, as if they were zombies - only they don’t smell as bad.
Gambit asks Rogue if he ever told her about Miss Ruby DuPris, the Voodoo Queen, who, back in New Orleans, turned all her ex-boyfriends into the living dead. ‘Save it, Remy’ Joseph declares, interrupting, announcing that the staff seems intent on keeping them from the store’s back room, as an elderly, stern-faced woman stands in front of the door to the store room, arms folded across her chest. ‘Pardon me, Sir, this area is for employees only’ she mutters. Joseph tells Rogue and Gambit that if the employees are being mind controlled they are not responsible for their actions. ‘We must not harm them’ he announces as Rogue flies Gambit above the crowd. ‘Apparently they don’t feel the same way about us’ Rogue remarks, while Remy asks if they don’t know you should never shoot the customer before you make a sale. ‘It’s just plain bad for business’ he adds as some of the clerks raise guns and fire at the mutants.
However, Joseph magnetically rips the guns from the clerks, ‘They’re harmless without weapons’ he points out. Gambit agrees, and adds that he doesn’t even need a new deck of cards for these Stepford Clerks, when he can create his own kinetically-charged full court press. Gambit opens a crate of basket balls, and charges each of them, tossing them towards the clerks, who fall backwards. ‘Tire special on aisle three!’ Rogue calls out as she throws some tires around some of the clerks. Joseph corrals most of the other clerks, trapping them in amongst some shopping carts, he declares that he doesn’t think they will cause much more trouble.
As the X-Men make their way to the store room, Gambit tells Joseph that he does owe him an apology, as there is something awfully strange going on here. ‘But who outside of Professor X could control this many people?’ Remy wonders. Rogue points out that Mastermind and the Shadow King are both dead, and that Emma Frost is on their side now. She adds that Selene once turned all of New York into her version of a Conan movie, but that this doesn’t seem her style. ‘We’ll find out who’s behind this when we find - JEAN!’ Joseph shouts as he pushes the doors open, and they find Jean strapped to a large contraption, her body hanging lifeless.
‘I don’t think she can hear you’ Rogue remarks, looking up at the imprisoned Jean. ‘So that’s here? The Grey woman?’ Remy enquires. Joseph states that Jean is one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet, one of the original X-Men. ‘And sill you don’t remember her?’ Joseph asks. Rogue admits that Jean looks awfully familiar, but is still drawing a blank. ‘I know what you mean. She looks like someone I should know…’ Gambit begins, while Rogue flies up to the machine and states that whether Jean Grey is their best friend or a stranger, no one deserves to be tied up like that. ‘Don’t you fret, Shugah, Rogue’s gonna get you outta that nasty contraption’ Rogue boasts - but as she tries to pull Jean free, Rogue screams out in pain, and falls to the ground.
Gambit runs over to her and asks her what is wrong, while a short bald man stands over them, and announces that he turned off her mind telepathically, as he could not let Rogue free Ms Grey. The man tells Gambit not to worry, and explains that Rogue is only unconscious. ‘Who are you?’ Gambit asks, to which the man replies that his badge says that he is Harold Smith, the store manager. A green ring of energy radiates around Mr Smith’s head, while Gambit warns him that he is going to pay for hurting his girl. Joseph goes over to Gambit and tells him not to. ‘He’s toying with you’ Joseph adds. ‘If you think I’m gonna let this creep get away with any of this you’re -’ Gambit begins, before he is knocked backwards by a surge of energy. ‘So predictable. Now, you’re the last one standing, Magneto. As I planned’ a voice calls out.
Meantime, the voice radiates around Jean as she walks through her strange surroundings. ‘Your friends have come to your rescue, Miss Grey. They’ve failed’ the voice tells her. Rubbing her head, Jean asks ‘Tell me…please…how did I get here?’ Jean utters, remarking that the last thing she remembered, she was in the supermarket. An image of Jean in the supermarket, examining some fruit, appears. An elderly woman can be seen standing nearby. The voice tells Jean that her need to engage in the rituals of normal human beings made her oblivious to his presence, and adds that he hardly expected her to view a seventy year-old woman in the produce section as a threat.
‘It wasn’t until you felt the sting of the hypodermic that you realized you were in danger’ the voice remarks. Leaning against a chair, Jean realizes that she is being held prisoner on the Psychic Plane, which is why she cannot return to her body. ‘Personally, I find dependence on only one body terribly restrictive’ the voice calls out. ‘And all this for one of your little games?’ Jean asks, sweat pouring down her face. ‘Ag, good. You know who I am’ the voice declares, telling Jean that she should understand how futile her attempts at resistance are. ‘But why go to all this trouble for Joseph?’ Jean asks.
‘At last we meet. I’ve been waiting’ Mr Smith tells Joseph, although his voice sounds like that of the one radiating around Jean on the Psychic Plane. ‘I’m here. Now tell me what you want’ Joseph demands. ‘First let me dispense with the illusion’ Mr Smith declares, before his image is replaced by that of the Gamesmaster! ‘You think manipulating the thoughts and lives of an entire town is a game?’ Joseph asks. The Gamesmaster reveals that he is an omnipath, and declares that in order that humanity’s constant torrent of thought and emotion doesn’t overwhelm me - I play games to keep my mind sharp and focused’.
The Gamesmaster announces that with his players, he has started wars, ended love affairs and squandered fortunes. The Gamesmaster reveals that he monitored Shinobi Shaw and his fellow Upstarts “Mutant Hunt”, and adds that he precipitates crises to see who survives and who succumbs. ‘All that power and you waste it engineering the suffering of others? You’re nothing but a sadistic and petty tyrant’ Joseph declares. The Gamesmaster replies that he has considered that possibility, and explains that as he tired of the games of death and deception he played with the Upstarts, it occurred to him that the X-Men give of themselves constantly and receive so little in return.
The Gamesmaster continues, explaining that he wondered how the X-Men would respond if he gave them everything for which they have struggled so valiantly. ‘And to that end, I altered the perceptions of Salem Center’s citizens as well as the X-Men. Reality is always subjective’ the Gamesmaster declares. Motioning to the fallen Rogue and Gambit, Joseph tells the Gamesmaster that he saw them kissing, and that was no illusion. The Gamesmaster explains that he kept Rogue’s power in check. ‘How powerful are you?’ Joseph enquires. The Gamesmaster reveals that he is powerful enough to make these changes permanent. ‘Imagine a world that fears mutants no more’ the Gamesmaster states.
Joseph replies that as he understands it, it is the reason the X-Men were formed - before asking why Jean needed to be erased from this perfect world. Motioning to Jean, the Gamesmaster explains that everything has a price, and that Jean Grey is his price, explaining that with Xavier powerless and imprisoned, Jean Grey remains the only telepath among the X-Men who could possibly challenge him. ‘You mean your so-called paradise only exists if Jean Grey doesn’t. ‘You can’t buy a better world with blood!’ Joseph shouts, grabbing the Gamesmaster by his shirt and pointing at Phoenix. The Gamesmaster exit’s the body of Mr Smith, and a large astral projection of his body appears overhead, leaving Joseph holding Mr Smith.
The Gamesmaster declares that the old Magneto would have no qualms about sacrificing one soldier to win the war. ‘If it’s a sacrifice you want, allow me to volunteer’ Joseph declares. But the Gamesmaster replies that he has plans for Magneto. ‘You see, older or younger, you’ve always been immune to my psychic manipulations - and that makes you a challenge to me’ the Gamesmaster reveals. He boasts that he offers the world and asks so little in return. ‘Refuse, and this rose-tinted reality disappears like a dream’ the Gamesmaster warns Joseph.
Rogue and Gambit stir, with Rogue telling Remy not to touch her. ‘It’s like it was before - it ain’t fair, darling’ Gambit replies as they stand up and go over to Joseph. The Gamesmaster announces that no one will remember what happened - not the townspeople, not the X-Men just the three of them. ‘You’ll always know what you lost’ he tells them. Rogue exclaims that she doesn’t care about herself: ‘What about Henry’s cure for the Legacy Virus?’ she enquires. The Gamesmaster explains that he prompted Dr McCoy to enter false data that would produce the desired results, and that he will discover his error soon enough. The Gamesmaster reveals that the government has buried research that McCoy would find invaluable. ‘I could give that and more to you. All I ask is visceral proof of your commitment’ the Gamesmaster announces.
‘If you won’t sacrifice Jean Grey’s life, what about Remy LeBeau’s? Would the world truly mourn the loss of a thief and a cheat such as he?’ the Gamesmaster asks. ‘Hey!’ Gambit exclaims. The Gamesmaster declares that without Gambit, Rogue and Magneto could explore their unspoken attraction. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Gambit enquires. ‘Don’t listen to him. He’s lying’ Rogue quickly declares. But the Gamesmaster states that he speaks the truth that they try to ignore. He places a hand on Joseph’s head and tells him that he needs to understand that the world he clings to on principle is a world without mercy. ‘Though I cannot control your mind, I can speak directly to it - and remind you of the violent reality mutants face day after day’.
Images flash through Joseph’s mind of mutants hunted by the Police and Sentinels, of mutants hung in public, and imprisoned. The Gamesmaster declares that across the world, mutants are branded criminals and persecuted for no other reason than their genetic singularity. ‘Street mobs drunk with fear and hatred carry out death sentences with impunity - while government’s perform their own lynchings with more advanced instruments of genocide. The Gamesmaster adds that those few mutants who survive will be locked away, given a lifetime sentence for the unspeakable crime of being different. ‘This is the world you seek to protect’ the Gamesmaster states.
‘NO!’ Joseph booms, pulling away from the Gamesmaster. ‘You can stop all this madness now. Gambit’s life for a better tomorrow’ the Gamesmaster declares. Gambit steps forward and tells Joseph that the Gamesmaster is playing Three Card Monte with him. ‘There ain’t no better tomorrow, just like there ain’t no Red Queen on the Monte table’ he declares. Joseph tells Gambit that he is sorry, to which Gambit utters ‘You gonna do it? Why, you son of a -’, but Gambit is knocked back by a surge of energy from Joseph. Rogue asks him what he thinks he is doing, so Joseph explains that he is using the iron in Gambit’s bloodstream to stop the flow of blood to his brain. ‘It’s for the greater good’ Joseph adds.
Back on the Psychic Plane, Jean realizes that something has happened, as she no longer feels heavy and lethargic like before. The fog has lifted and she can think clearly now. Phoenix smiles as she approaches a door floating on the Plane, and tells herself that she can sense Joseph’s hand in this, deciding that the Gamesmaster has underestimated him. Jean knows that she only has a few minutes before the Gamesmaster realizes his mistake, but that is still enough time for her to gather her strength. Jean dons some psychic blue and gold armor, ready to meet the Gamesmaster on her terms.
Jean recalls that Professor X taught her the importance of psionically armoring herself when facing another telepath, as battle waged in mindscape can prove just as deadly as that fought in the real world. If Jean is correct, then the Gamesmaster has taxed the limits of his power, holding on to Salem Center and the X-Men, so he is tired and vulnerable, which gives her an advantage against him. Jean then destroys the door floating on the Psychic Plane.
‘She’s free…?’ the Gamesmaster gasps, as he spins around, and a sudden burst of magnetic force pulls apart the machine restraining and drugging Jean. ‘Magneto!’ You’re responsible for this!’ the Gamesmaster booms, turning to Joseph. ‘You said you couldn’t read me’ Joseph reminds the villain, explaining that he took a chance that the Gamesmaster would believe he had actually given Gambit a stroke, instead of just knocking the wind out of him. Gasping on the floor, Gambit mutters that when he gets his breath back, he will thank Joseph properly, while Rogue states that she knew Joseph couldn’t kill Gambit. The Gamesmaster asks the mutants if they realize what they have thrown away, before announcing that his offer is rescinded and that the game is over. ‘You lose’ he tells the X-Men, before he vanishes -
- only to materialize on the Psychic Plane. Jean is waiting for him, and tells him that he may be able to retreat from the real world, but that in the mind-stream, there is nowhere to run. ‘Grey’ the Gamesmaster declares. ‘You caught me unaware once. How do you like it when someone takes the offensive?’ Jean asks, before surrounding the Gamesmaster in psychic restraints. Jean hovers over the Gamesmaster and tells him that he has played cat and mouse with her friends for too long, and suggests that he should have stayed in the shadows, for now that he is out in the open, he is hers.
The Gamesmaster admits that Jean Grey’s telepathic avatar is quite formidable, but that she would never have found him had Onslaught not damaged the psychic plane during his rampage. ‘Then you never had the power to change the world as you claimed’ Jean states. The Gamesmaster replies that he only wanted to sabotage the reborn Magneto’s newfound heroism. ‘Perhaps I needed a man of his power to be indebted to me. My motivations are my own’ the Gamesmaster states. Jean holds a hand up to the Gamesmaster and tells him that in one moment, she will know everything about him. The Gamesmaster tells Phoenix that she has gotten closer than anyone ever has, but that he is like Churchill’s riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Jean releases the psychic bonds around the Gamesmaster and holds her hand out to him - but his body begins to crumble - before shattering completely. ‘No!’ Jean exclaims, while the Gamesmaster’s final words to her are that she will never understand him.
Joseph helps Jean down from the machine, and Jean tells her teammates that she thought she had him, but that he vanished. Joseph assures her that she did what she could, and points out that she did what she could, and that at least everyone is back to normal. ‘Except my body aches from that magnetic sucker punch’ Gambit remarks, while Rogue helps him up. Joseph tells Phoenix that he must know one thing, and asks ‘The Gamesmaster couldn’t really do what he claimed, could he?’ Jean replies that even with his omnipathic powers, the Gamesmaster could not wipe out the fear and hatred of mutants, as keeping Salem Center and the X-Men in check taxed his powers to the limit. ‘It was a con’ Jean adds.
Joseph wishes they knew more about the Gamesmaster, and Jean reveals that when she reached into his mind, the Gamesmaster pulled away before she could go deep enough to find out who he really is. ‘But I think I discovered where he lives’ Jean announces.
Westchester County, later that night, ‘Here?’ Joseph asks as he, Jean and Rogue carrying Gambit, fly towards a large mansion, sitting secluded on a property shrouded by trees. Jean points out that this place is practically a stone’s throw from their mansion. The X-Men enter the building and search around with Rogue pointing out that this place is empty, that it doesn’t look like anyone has lived here in years. Joseph wonders why someone as powerful as the Gamesmaster would chose to live here, and Jean suggests that he may have found the idea of living so close to the X-Men without their knowledge exciting, before remarking that she doesn’t think he lived here at all.
Phoenix continues, explaining that the Gamesmaster projected this place into her mind, and that he is just toying with them one more time, trying to unnerve them, leading her to believe that lived here. ‘Now that we are in this house I can sense his true motive. He’s led us on a wild goose chase’ Jean adds. Gambit opens a door and looks in another room, declaring that he wouldn’t put it past the Gamesmaster, as he is one sick puppy. In the other room, Gambit discovers a television that has been left on, and once again, the X-Men’s ally Trish Tilby is reporting.
Trish announces that anti-mutant hysteria turned violent yet again today, as a hospital in Norfolk was firebombed after it was revealed that doctors there were treating mutants afflicted with the Legacy Virus there, and sources say at least three were killed in the blast. ‘No more!’ Joseph booms as he destroys the television with a surge of energy. ‘You couldn’t have stopped it’ Jean tells him. Joseph hangs his head and replies that he wishes he knew that for certain. Gambit lights a cigarette and remarks that there is a whole mess of people who regret not killing him when they had the chance, and adds that if the Gamesmaster had offered him the same deal, he can’t say he would have said “no”.
‘Then I’m lucky you didn’t have to make that choice’ Joseph tells him. The four X-Men exit the house and walk into the night, with Rogue telling Joseph and Gambit that she thinks both of them would have done the right thing under any circumstance. She adds that nobody can make them better people - that is something everybody has to do for themselves. As the four X-Men prepare to take off into the night, one of them declares: ‘Look at us. We all got a past we’re working to put behind us - and if a motley band of misfits like us can overcome the darkness that once defined our lives - maybe there’s hope for the whole human race’.