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Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #360

Issue Date: October 1998

Story Title: Children Of The Atom

Staff: Steve Seagle and Chris Bachalo (story and art), Tim Townsend, Jordi Ensign and Peter Palmiotti (inkers), Shannon Blanchard and Mike Rockwitz (colors), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (editor in chief)

Brief Description:
The impending launch of a rocket from Cape Citadel, Florida – the location where the original X-Men had their first battle against Magneto – stirs public controversy, especially in light of the classified payload of the rocket. In actuality, the rocket serves a secret project which aims at tracking and terminating all mutants worldwide. The X-Men’s old ally, Dr. Peter Corbeau, is also involved the project, but suddenly goes missing. Corbeau is actually abducted and held captive by a team of strangely familiar but unknown mutants, who have all being banded together by none other than the long missing Professor X. At his behest, these mutants, who proclaim themselves the new X-Men, also attack a cruise ship and kidnap former X-Man Shadowcat. The bogus X-Men bring Kitty to Xavier’s hideout in an abandoned bunker in Florida. There, an uncharacteristically cold Xavier reveals he needs Kitty’s help. During the time he was held captive by Bastion, he was somehow connected with a computer program infected with a virus and is now dying. Kitty manages to shut down the computer virus but, before she can extract any answers, she is placed in storage, at Xavier’s command, who now confesses to feeling “whole.” Elsewhere, the genuine X-Men, their numbers thinned down to Storm, Wolverine, Rogue and Marrow, investigate Corbeau’s disappearance. While the government considers the X-Men the culprits behind his kidnapping, the team has a secret rendezvous with their old ally, Val Cooper. Val indicates that Corbeau’s kidnapping may be somehow connected with the impending launch. Meanwhile, Colossus and Nightcrawler, desperate to enlist the X-Men’s help in finding Kitty, travel to the mansion in Westchester. There, they meet Cecilia Reyes, who tips them off to the current location of the X-Men and hands them over the old Blackbird to use. Elsewhere, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue and Marrow fly towards the Cape Citadel on a jet arranged for them by Val, intent on tracking down the missing Corbeau. However, in mid-air their plane is shot down by the counterfeit X-Men and a fight ensues. Thankfully, the team is rescued by the intervention of Colossus and Nightcrawler, who pick them up with the Blackbird. However, one of the evil “X-Men” damages the Blackbird and causes it to crash.

Full Synopsis:
A reporter begins her live cover of a protest. “… Thanks, Jack and Stan,” a reporter she says as she starts. She’s live at Cape Citadel, Florida, in the heart of the storm. They at Newsminute America were the first to bring to the viewers word of this controversial launch, and now, less than one day away, civil resistance to the classified mission is growing to a fever pitch. Dubbed the “Benassi rocket” after Marco Benassi, the tight-lipped project spokesman who will not divulge the nature of the rocket’s classified payload, some speculate this launch may herald a new era of “Star Wars” military technology, aimed specifically at mutantkind. But it’s actually the rocket’s propulsion system that has these protesters up in arms: a plutonium-powered nuclear engine that many feel could spell disaster for millions should a system failure the magnitude of Challenger disaster occur during tomorrow’s launch.

Adding fuel to the fire is the significance of the launch date. It was here on this day, that the world first became aware of the existence of Homo sapiens superior, or mutants, those humans born with extraordinary powers, when the terrorist they only known as “Magneto” attempted to commandeer this base. Though he was stopped by the outlaws called the X-Men, it was only the beginning of an escalating global crisis. With that in mind, Newsminute America now takes on an in-depth examination of the mutant problem, and asks the hard question: how far mankind is prepared to go in order to control this threat? A graphic title cuts in the screen in big letters: “MUTANTS: THE DEADLY LEGACY.”

“Problem?” Why they must always call it problem? Nightcrawler sighs in frustration, as he watches this report at TV.

(Elsewhere)
Program implement: memory chip: Falk, Addison. Play. In his memories, Addison Falk knows himself to be a telepath of the highest order, able to psychically dampen the natural abilities of those around him. More, he recalls many displays of his formidable intellect such as winning four games of chess simultaneously.

Indeed, the man known as Addison Falk wins four simultaneous open-air games of chess with hardly any difficulty. But his fifth opponent proves different, as he surprisingly defeats Addison. Addison recognizes the victor: him? Professor X? After all this time? Xavier requires Addison’s assistance. Addison asks him if he needs him at his school, the Institute. Does he need him to teach mutants to control their powers? Charles clarifies that, unfortunately, he is no longer able to operate from the school. Addison stresses he is a graduate assistant, a teacher. If not education, then what would he need him for? Charles explains he wants him to lead his new team – lead the X-Men. “Check,” Addison simply says, making no face, as he wins the opponent sitting next to Xavier.

Elsewhere, the reporter continues her story. One of America’s most outspoken critics on mutant affairs, Senator Robert Kelly, had this to say: “As the American public is aware, I lost my own dear wife, Sharon, to the mutant conflict. The mutant problem is the new Cold War, a lingering, growing threat. Each day that we don’t address the issue is a day we take another step towards genetic Armageddon.”

Program implement: memory chip: Dash, Daniel. As long as he can remember, Dan Dash has been out of touch with his world, unaware of it. Only in these moments, watching his brother Dwayne fly, does he recall being the least bit… connected. Dan is autistic and were he any other man, he would be seconds away from losing the only thing in the world that makes his spirit fly. The first manifestations of a mutant’s powers are always triggered by emotional flashpoints. In many cases, it establishes a lifelong pattern of behavior. Dan is his unpredictable element, a mutant capable of unleashing a psycho-plasmic forceblast his brother has named the “chaos burst.” A force which saved Dwayne’s life on a too-perfect-too-be-real summer day, and just as quickly left Dan hated and feared by those around him.

Dan watches his brother on one of his “plane flying” shows, along with a crowd. The autistic Dan spells out several seemingly disparate, incongruent words. With their breath taken away, the audience watches as the plane goes too low; he’s going to crash! Dan instinctively clears out the trees below the plane with a burst, averting the plane crashing on them. Seeing him use his powers, the crowd panics; he’s a mutie! “Keep ‘im away from my kids!” a man screams. People start evacuating the area, leaving Dan all alone, at a standstill.

Professor X approaches him. Dan may not understand his words, but he should know that he is no longer safe here. He must leave this place if he is to survive, and he has a most remarkable destiny in store for him. “Unification…” Dan mumbles.

Meanwhile, the reporter continues her story. She reports that a number of mutant solutions have been attempted over the years. These cybernetic “Sentinels,” constructed by the US military, displayed some limited success in curtailing mutant activities, but also left extensive damage in their wake…

Program implement: memory chip: Mercury. In his mind’s eye, he remembers the sights and smells of Aqaba, Jordan.

Mercury dines in an expensive hotel with a man of Arab origin, Fasich. Fasich tells him that the profit will cover his expenses nicely and leave him a very nice profit. Mercury counters only if was going to accept the job, which he’s not. Turning his hand into a metal, with his pointer becoming very long and sharp, he snatches Fasich’s cigar for himself. He explains he’s a mercenary, not a terrorist. He won’t assassinate a man in the name of some “holy” war. Furthermore, if anyone else accepts this “job,” he will hold Fasich accountable. He wishes him good day; may they never meet again. Fasich rages; he cannot speak to him that…

Suddenly, Fasich pauses in mid-sentence, remaining completely still. From the table next to them, Professor X trusts that Mercury would be willing to sign on for a more noble war, a conflict he was created to join. “You!” Mercury exclaims, recognizing him.

Elsewhere, the reporter reveals that many argue that the damage inflicted by a Sentinel pales in comparison to the after-effects of a parahuman’s rage. A hard fact learned by the entire world in the recent rampage of the mysterious phenomenon known as Onslaught.

Program implement: memory chip: Sister Joy. For nearly two decades, the sisters of the abbey have made the healing of injured birds their most sacred project. The sisters believe they were sent a sign from God himself to make this task their own. Sister Joy recalls being told she was the sign.

Inside the abbey, dressed in a nun’s outfit, Sister Joy heals a pigeon. The bird goes and rests on a man’s hand – Professor Xavier. Sister Joy is startled to see him. Xavier tells her not to be afraid; he has come to ensure that she continues to do her Lord’s will. Sister Joy retorts she’s not the woman she was. She abandoned that life. She wishes to serve her days with the sisters who raised her. Xavier points out that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. He needs her. He asks her again, will she join him? Sister Joy finally gives in: yes… yes, she will.

Elsewhere, the report informs the audience that recently the government responded with a unilateral assault on mutants, Operation: Zero Tolerance. Documents obtained by Newsminute America through the Freedom of Information act showed that this initiative was apparently successful in collecting and imprisoning a number of dangerous mutant threats.

Program implement: memory chip: Lemieux, Cristal. Cristal’s natural ability is jumping, but on the day that stands out beyond all others in her memory, that ability is faltering, in response to having to share practice with her most lauded American rival. But Cristal has other natural abilities, as well: explosive elemental blasts of hot and cold force. She is confident to the point of arrogance – a surprisingly valuable personality trait in a team atmosphere.

Slipping and falling down during practice, Cristal gets angry – and wishes to vent her anger to her famous American rival, who’s also currently practicing. She cunningly sends an elemental blast on her rival’s way, making her falter. Professor X approaches Cristal. She should see use her abilities for the good of the world rather than petty personal gain – and the time to start training for this evolution is now.

Elsewhere, the reporter conjectures that in a world of dangerous mutants and the good men and women set against them, one question remains to be asked –

Program implement: memory chip: Broder, Lee.
In a diner called Rib Room, a fight has broken between a vexed client – Lee – and the owner. Lee is almost swamped in a huge pile of ribs. The sign says “all you can eat” and he said he wants more! The owner refuses – he is running him out of business as it is! Lee snaps that nobody can tell him what he can and can’t have! The fretful man lashes out at the owner. Terrified, the owner whimpers that he can have all he wants!

Xavier again appears unexpectedly, keeping the ribs suspended in the air with his psionic abilities. He advises Lee that he must learn how to control his temper and his powers. Hearing the stranger calling him by his first name, Lee warns him that only folks that call him “Lee” are people that want to get beaten. Around here he’s called Landslide. Charles calmly replies that the time has come for him to enlist his services in the undying dream he calls the X-Men.

Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, Nightcrawler watches the news report on TV. The reporter closes up her story by telling her audience that they’ll bring them further insights from Cape Citadel as events warrant. For Newsminute America, she’s…

Kurt turns off the TV. He grizzles that it all begins again. So many years of struggle and where can they say they have arrived on the eve of their homecoming? The beginning once more. Assuming a ‘normal’ human appearance with his image inducer, Kurt decides to make his way to the carnival deck and tell his travelling companions about this.

On the deck of the cruise ship, Kurt’s companions, Shadowcat and Colossus, are resting in chairs by the pool. They are enjoying their first days away from the recently-disbanded Excalibur in style. Aboard the fantasy cruise ship Titania, they feel, for the first time in ages, like ordinary people. Kitty cannot believe this is the favor Moira MacTaggert called in for them. Peter agrees. After so long in the gray light of Scotland, cruising aboard the Titania is a welcome surprise.

“So long as we don’t hit any icebergs!” Kurt playfully screeches and empties a bucket full of ice-cubes on Colossus! Studying the visage Kurt has assumed via his image inducer, Kitty remarks that the look may be “Leo” but she’d know that attitude anywhere – it’s Kurt, of course. “You have found me out, my beautiful Rose…” Kurt quips, alluding to the movie Titanic. However, as this image inducer is all that keeps him from appearing as the equally dashing, but far more noticeable Nightcrawler, she should keep that to herself!

Colossus asks him what brings him here. He thought Kurt was resting from his escapades of last night. Kurt explains that, as corny as it may sound, he saw a news report that made him want to come up and be with them. It seems that today is the day Magneto first appeared and fought with the X-Men. Today is the anniversary of the day that all their lives – though they didn’t know it at the time – changed forever.

Kitty wonders if they ever thought what their lives would be like had they not become X-Men. Only ever day, Colossus replies with a smile. In his dreams, he is a simple artist, who spends each day not battling madmen, but honing his craft. And Kitty? A renowned ballet dancer, perhaps? Shadowcats admits she’s not sure. She used to want that when she was younger. Now, she just doesn’t know. Most kids her age get to figure out that kind of stuff in college, but she’s yet to have the opportunity. That’s something she’d like to explore when they get back to the States. She asks Kurt the same question.

Nightcrawler replies he doesn’t know. He wonders where he would be, if it weren’t for Professor Xavier. It was he who rescued him from a murderous throng, and took him away from the life of a circus performer. He gave his existence meaning. With his appearance, would he truly be able to fit in?

Just then, Kurt is startled to sense fire and ice all around him. Addison Falk is now on board, along with all the other strangers recruited by Professor X, all dressed in superhero outfits. Their explosive incoming has ruined parts of the ship. Addison demands they all hear them. They are power and might, sent to collect the one who can save the founder. Those set against their mission will perish in fire or water! “Or ice!” Cristal Lemieux adds. The six gatecrashers introduce themselves. They are: Grey King (Addison Falk), Cristal Lemieux (Crux), Landslide (Broder Lee), Chaos (Daniel Dash), Rapture (Sister Joy) and Mercury. They are… the X-Men!

“What?!” Kitty shouts in surprise upon hearing this proclamation. Nightcrawler immediately assumes his true form, Peter’s skin gives way to the steel-hard flesh of Colossus and Kitty’s molecules phase into an intangible state. Kurt warns his teammates there’s no time to ask; they have damaged the ship! Everyone is at risk! Shadowcat realizes he’s right. They have to save these…

“Children? Passengers of the plane?” Colossus finishes her phrase. As always one of the above, Kitty quips as she grabs a kid. “Up and over little one!” Piotr tells another frightened child, urging the kid to jump on him. Sensing someone else over him, Piotr wonders: “Who…?” Rapture makes her presence known and attacks Nightcrawler with a sword. She tells him to ask his questions to God, upon meeting him. Kurt banters he can’t wait that long!

Colossus notes these people are very bold to call themselves X-Men! Mercury admits they are who they are. He explains it is the founder who named them this way. And he named them X-Men as surely as he is named Mercury. “Care to test my metal?” he suggests and makes to claw Piotr. Colossus retorts they will quickly find that “X-Men” is a name which cannot be given, only earned. “Peach… toad…” the autistic Chaos mumbles and unleashes his bursts on Peter. The attack forms a huge fissure on the deck, through which Colossus falls. Watching him fall, Mercury tells him to consider this the day they earned a name already theirs.

Meanwhile, Shadowcat phases toward the interior of the ship, carrying some children to safety. She thinks this is crazy. There can’t be completely new X-Men. They’d have been briefed fully about it, not to mention the fact if they were X-Men they wouldn’t be doing this! Turning her attention to one of the kids, she tells him to hold on tight; they’ll find his mommy!

The captain of the ship rushes to them and demands to know why they’re destroying his ship! Kitty hands him over the children and explains they’re not with those others. She asks him to get those kids to safety – she’ll explain everything else lately! Once I’ve figured it out, Kitty admits to herself, as the captain flees with the children. In response to Kitty’s last comment, Crux retorts that she can’t explain if she isn’t here – and she is not long for this vessel! “No!” Shadowcat wails, faced with both Crux and Landslide.

Elsewhere, Nightcrawler bamfs in the lower deck, carrying a child with him. This level is overflowing with water, as two members of the crew struggle to shut the door tight. The little girl complains for the smell of the brimstone: stinky! Kurt explains it’s the price of escaping alive. He likes to call it “teleporting,” which means he can move from place to place just by concentrating. Cool, no?

Seeing him, one of the crew members freaks out: Some sort of demon! Nightcrawler alerts them to never judge a man by his appearance and assures them he’s here to help. Charlie, the other crewman snaps that even the power of the devil himself isn’t going to push this door shut with the leak pouring in!

Colossus shows up and argued they will have to pull it shut, instead. Charlie is shocked when he first sees him: he’s made of metal! Uninterested in the man’s remark, Piotr invites Kurt to join him; the situation inside is most dire. Hearing him, Nightcrawler tells the girl he rescued to stay here. He promises everything will be fine. He teleports right by Colossus’ side. Piotr explains that this point where water floods in is where entry was made by the one calling himself Grey King. He will do what he can to repair to repair the hole, but Kurt must get an unconscious lying on the floor out of here before the water level reaches him. One emergency situation coming right up, Kurt quips as he teleports away with the senseless man. Before he goes, he asks Piotr not to leave him needing to perform a second one.

Meanwhile, on the above deck, three of the “X-Men” pick on Shadowcat. Landslide makes to touch her, but his hand goes through her, as Crux amusedly observes. Grey King explains she’s phasing – aligning her molecules with Landslide’s so they pass one another. Landslide informs Kitty that their founder told them all about her intangibility powers. But she’s got to go solid sooner or later, so she might as well come along peacefully. Kitty retorts she’s not going anywhere, and she’s certainly not going to let some two-bit impostor get the drop on her! Grey King solemnly replies that they can. A single thought, and the Grey King’s mind reaches out, dampening the powers of Kitty.

Teleporting close nearby, Nightcrawler sees Landslide grappling Kitty. Landslide is enthused to see her power is all gone; how about a kiss? Grey King reminds his teammate that they are here to procure the savior. He should set his bestial impulses aside. Kurt decides he just needs a moment to recover and he can… can… Chaos intervenes and attacks Kurt with his powers, leaving him groggy.

Colossus pops up from a hole on the floor. He announces to Kurt that he’s sealed the hull breach. Nightcrawler, in despair, replies that they took Kitty! Exasperated, Colossus shouts that they must… Nightcrawler cuts him off: they must help the injured and then get to the school as quickly as possibly to enlist the aid of the real X-Men!

At that moment, far beneath the halls of power in Washington, D.C., the four active “real” X-Men – Marrow, Wolverine, Rogue and Storm – move through a series of tunnels, destroying several defensive mechanisms and other traps along the way – mostly machines. Wolverine jokingly asks if anyone else feels their life’s gone into the toilet. Marrow very visibly fakes a laugh to mock him: Wolverine, half psycho, half comedian; he’s good. Wolverine snaps that maybe she’s used to the sewers, but warns her to put a sock in it, or he’ll be tempted to pull all of her bones out of her! Rogue notes that it looks awfully suspicious that the Pentagon didn’t close off these access tunnels a long time ago. They should’ve known they were walking into a trap! Perhaps, Storm agrees, but what choice did they have? Wolverine tells Rogue that he and Storm go back a long way with Peter Corbeau – long before Rogue happened on the scene. Time was, he helped save their lives. He was willing to risk his own hide by meeting with them because he thought something really bad was going down, and that only the X-Men could stop it. He wouldn’t betray them; he’d stake his life on it. Storm assures him they have all done that, but Corbeau’s attempt to aid them may have been uncovered, so they should make short work of these temporary obstacles. As short as possible before these walls close in around her, the claustrophobic Storm mentally adds to herself. She needs light and air once more!

“Set up or not, he still marked the spot,” Marrow remarks upon seeing a wooden door marked with an “X.” Still, she suspects something’s not right when the Pentagon is smart enough to install lasers, but too cocky to install anything other than a rusty lock she can break with a bone shard. She promptly breaks the lock. They’re sure to find bad news behind this door. She hopes no one’s having second thoughts!

Shortly, several hundred meters above, officers of the Pentagon are investigating a hole on the floor – a hole through which Peter Corbeau disappeared. The major officer mumbles that he received a call saying Dr. Corbeau is… “Gone, sir,” one of his men informs him. The officer is surprised: what does he mean “gone?” This is the Pentagon, for pity’s sake! He demands details.

Another soldier, kneeling above the hole, informs him that what they’re looking at is the way they found it. Near as they can tell, this happened within the last day or so. “Day?” the officer exclaims. What kind of specificity is that? Corbeau was overseeing a highly sensitive project. He vanishes without a trace, by force, in the most secure facility in the world, and all they can say is it happened in the last day or so? He asks them who is responsible. A soldier replies that the security monitors revealed nothing. The only thing they’ve found was his memo recorder. Whoever took him was either very sloppy or very clever. He turns on the recorder so they can all hear Corbeau’s last phrase: “The X-Men?! No! You can’t b—” Hidden in the air ducts, Rogue, Marrow, Storm and Wolverine overhear this in utter surprise.

Meanwhile, the female reporter in Florida has breaking news for the public. A briefing concerning the Benassi rocket has been scheduled for later today. No word on exactly what will be discussed yet, but Newsminute America promises to bring that coverage live.

A central Florida swamp, 62 miles northwest of Cape Citadel…
Years ago, this hidden bunker was home to a secret government pharmacology think tank, but budget cutbacks have left it abandoned and silent. Withstanding hurricanes and neglect, it has remained unoccupied since, thought about only the government computer files that record its existence.

Shadowcat has been brought here by the self-appointed “X-Men” and is currently strapped on a device. Kitty angrily repeats that she won’t just take their word for it and “cooperate.” She wants answers! They kidnap her, tell her “the founder” needs her to save him, but they won’t tell her who he is! They ask her to believe they’re the new X-Men, but they give her no proof while behaving like a bunch of ruthless villains! As far as she’s concerned, they’re not only not the X-Men, they probably couldn’t even tell her who the original X-Men were!

Grey King nonchalantly replies that the original five consisted of Scott Summers or Cyclops; Jean Grey, designated Marvel Girl and later Phoenix; Henry McCoy, codenamed Beast; Bobby Drake, Iceman; and Warren Worthington III, the Angel. Kitty is surprised: they know their real names? But how? Mercury clarifies that they know all that is known about the forebears – including Kitty herself. They possess all the founder’s vast knowledge of the X-Men. They are what they claim to be.

Trying to swallow this, Shadowcat deduces that if they are the X-Men, they know she’s one, too. She demands they untie her. Landslide retorts they can do nothing until the founder gets in here and clears it. Shadowcat groans that she’s losing patience. She asks to let her go or she’ll… Grey King gleefully replies that his psychic siphoning power ensures that she will stay exactly where she is until their mentor arrives. Shadowcat snaps that they tell “the founder” to get his fanny in here, and she means right now, unless…

“Such rage and hostility,” Xavier disapprovingly notes as he joins them. Kitty was always precocious, but in the time they have been apart, she has developed new traits… and not altogether desirable ones. Now… if she thinks she can control her temper, he requires her assistance…

In Washington, D.C., Dr. Valerie Cooper – until recently connected as liaison to government-registered mutants under the auspices of X-Factor – walks the steps up to the Lincoln Memorial. She rendezvous with the X-Men there. Rogue admits they were starting to think she wasn’t. Val reminds her they called; she told them she’d be here; she’s here. Logan notices this is a pretty high profile spot she chose for a secret rendezvous. Val explains the memorial’s closed for cleaning, and the guards are on her payroll. They couldn’t be more alone. Which is lucky for them, as it seems the entire executive branch of the US government is looking for the X-Men.

Storm assumes it must be the message on Dr. Corbeau’s recorder naming them. Val explains the computerized security systems in Corbeau’s wing were fed a digitized video loop that showed everything to be normal, so no one saw anything. However, the lab evidence indicates parahuman intrusion, and Corbeau’s recorder all but seals their warrant. It’s weak, but when the seat of power is penetrated so brazenly, panic sets in.

Marrow wonders how they know Val Cooper won’t be the one to hand them over. She thought the X-Men said she’s the one who snatched their beloved Professor X. She suggests they gut her, but Rogue asks her to hold her tongue. Val deserves a chance to explain herself. Doesn’t she?

Val tells her not to worry. She’s dealt up with Sabretooth up close and personal. A teenage girl with bad piercings doesn’t scare her. As for Xavier – as the world’s foremost expert on genetic mutation, he went into custody voluntarily to study the Onslaught phenomenon. She didn’t know he was missing until recently when she was contacted by Robert Kelly. As for them, for some reason the people who would most want their hides are interested in something called the “Benassi Rocket” set for a Cape Citadel launch tomorrow.

Wolverine asks if this means it’s got something to do with mutants. Apparently, Val replies. What exactly, she couldn’t find out. It’s as black as black projects get. She asks them to guess, though, which top secret payload the missing Dr. Corbeau was project leader on before he requested and received a transfer recently. Rogue wonders what it could be. Wolverine assumes it’s something Corbeau wanted to warn them about. They’ve got to get down to the Cape… see what’s in the payload. Isn’t it bad mojo that this is all going down on the anniversary of Magneto’s first strike?

Val doesn’t want to doubt the X-Men’s abilities, it’s always quality over quantity… but there don’t seem to be very many of them for an all-out assault. Wolverine replies this is all the X-Men there is, so it’ll have to be enough. Of course, they’re little short on long-range transportation these days, what with Bastion stripping their place clean. Most everything’s up and running, but not their wings. In response, Val hands Ororo an encrypted cell-phone. She’ll pull some strings for some kind of transport and contact them with the details. Marrow skeptically wonders why she would do that. Because when it comes to humans and mutants, there aren’t two sides, there’s one, Val replies and throws her the cell-phone: “Catch.”

The cell-phone hits Marrow on the head. “Watch it, bleach head!” she grumps. Val alerts them they might want to monitor the cell for special reports. The situation brewing at the Cape is volatile, lots of civilians upset over the rocket’s nuclear propulsion system. Riots are imminent. Whatever Corbeau wanted them for, it almost certainly had something to do with this launch. If someone kidnapped him, that did, too. Something rotten’s afoot. She knows they’re innocent, but she’s a definite minority. She wishes them well. She’ll call them once she’s arranged for a plane.

After Val leaves, Marrow snarls that she doesn’t want to watch this and throws the cell-phone to Rogue. Rogue points out that as X-Men, they’ve all got to do stuff they don’t want to now and again for the greater good. Sarah sometimes wonders why she even left the tunnels. Makes two of us, Logan quips. He recapitulates: they’ve got rogue X-Men, rockets with mysterious mutant payloads, and four of them to handle it all. What’s their next…

Marrow inappropriately remarks that “this guy is ugly,” after briefly studying Abraham Lincoln’s bust. Logan reminds her that none of them are Mister or Miss District of Columbia. Good news is that with great men and women it isn’t what they look like. It’s what they do. Rogue asks what they are going to do. For the moment, Ororo decides they will give Valerie some time to fulfill her promise. Then, they will follow the trail. She wonders what is happening, though. Why does she feel to the depths of her soul, more than ever before, that they are utterly alone in their struggle? Logan assures her they aren’t alone. They’ve got each other. It may not seem like much, but it’s always been enough in the past, and it’ll be enough now. What he’s worried about right now is Cecilia…

Meanwhile, Colossus and Nightcrawler have reached the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, in Salem Center, New York, some forty minutes outside Manhattan. Studying the mansion as he gets out of the car, Kurt that Professor X certainly knew a good façade when he saw it. In Kurt’s mind, this will always look like home, no matter where else he may be. Colossus agrees it’s impressive, but until they have retrieved Kitty, he can call no place home.

Kurt agrees. However, he secretly wonders if Peter’s tone of his voice suggests more than mere concern for Kitty. It wasn’t so long ago that the two shared something deeper than friendship. Do any of those feelings remain? Focusing back to the situation at hand, he realizes he sees no trace of the X-Men – or of anyone. Should he teleport in for a quick reconnaissance? Piotr disagrees. They have been away a long time. They do not know what security measures are in place, nor who or what will be awaiting them inside. Kurt agrees. They hesitantly enter through the front door.

Inside, Piotr remarks that the mansion looks so empty. Kurt points out it was emptier. The last time he spoke with Logan, he said they’d gotten everything more or less to speed. They should be cautious. If those false X-Men could track them to the cruise ship, there is every reason to believe they could find them here. Piotr observes that, after so long, it is like a haunted house. Nightcrawler banters that they are the zeitgeists, the time spirits. He thinks they should continue their homecoming a bit more strategically. He suggests Peter takes the high road, while he takes the low. Kurt instantly departs for the lower levels. Watching from the shadows, a figure wonders: False X-Men?

Kurt teleports to the basement. Was it ages ago, or only yesterday he last made the jump to the basement’s Danger Room? Halting before the door to his old room, he reads a message carved on it: This way to a dark ride. He wonders if this is a challenge. He feels like the fairy tale bear who returns home to find someone has been sleeping in his room. Inside, he finds the room filled with stacks of bones and dead rats. He deduces this must be the abode of the one they call Marrow.

Meanwhile, Colossus knocks the door of Storm’s attic room – the last in the room, and if empty, confirmation that they have no assistance for Kitty. Receiving no response, he enters. Seeing the room overflowing with uncontrollable vegetation, he ponders it is as if the densest jungles of the Savage Land have grown here. Beautiful… but out of control. Are the X-Men away on a mission or did some sinister fate similarly befallen them?

Kurt teleports next to him. He reports there’s nothing below and asks if there’s anyone up here. Peter informs him it’s completely empty, which is not so odd, as the fact that it has been left so unsecured. Something is definitely out of place here…

“And I’d say that something is you!” they both hear a woman’s voice. Hands up, she commands them – she’s not joking!

In Florida, Kitty is astonished to see Professor Xavier. Enthused, she hugs him tightly. It is him! They heard he hadn’t been seen or heard from in months! She can’t tell him what a relief this is – not just seeing him again, but finally getting to the bottom of this! Just what’s going on? Who in the blazes are these people? They endangered the lives of thousands of innocents when they grabbed her!

Seeing Xavier cold, dispassionate and unblinking, Kitty realizes something is very wrong here. This can’t be the Charles Xavier she knows. “Professor?” she again addresses him, trying to stir up his interest. Xavier replies he’s sorry but he is not presently able to access his emotional responses in the way she might like. But he is confident that she is the person who can help him overcome his current problems. “Come,” he urges her and moves away on his wheelchair. Flustered, Kitty asks the new “X-Men” if any of them know what’s wrong with him. Xavier, however, orders her again to come.

Kitty follows Xavier further inside the base. Seeing several chambers, she asks him what they are for. Professor X explains they are storage of those who are no longer viable. The identification and collection of mutant DNA is his primary function. No codes must go to waste. Shadowcat is perplexed: collection? Viable? What is he talking about? What is this place? What is wrong with him?

Xavier reveals that, during Operation: Zero Tolerance, he was taken by the entity Bastion and altered. He severely affected him and now, his systems are failing. She could say… he is dying. Eyes wide with surprise, Kitty asks if he means his immune system. Grey King steps forward and stresses they do not want the founder to perish. Shadowcat assures him that neither does her, but they didn’t have to harm innocent people, or destroy a ship to get her help! They could have asked and she would have come. Charles explains he had to be certain. Without her, he will not survive. His thought process grows more strained with each passing second.

Kitty insists she’s not a doctor. How…? Xavier explains that Bastion sought to bind his functions to his own super computer. Now a complex virus in the system threatens his existence. He knows Kitty’s abilities. He knows she is ideal for the task. Even more confused now, Kitty promises she’ll do her best. Without blinking, Xavier replies he is certain that she will.

In the Xavier Institute, Dr. Cecilia Reyes confronts the two “gatecrashers” with a gun in hand – Colossus and Nightcrawler. She’s not saying it, hands up where she can… where she… “Uh-oh,” she gasps, as Colossus and Nightcrawler immediately prepare for battle. An electrical pulse of bio-organic energy pops around the skin of Colossus transmuting flesh to metal. Meanwhile, a sickly stench of brimstone and a blue-black flash move Nightcrawler closer to his would-be assailant.

Colossus demands to know who she is and what she’s doing here. “I… I…” Cecilia struggles to speak. Kurt hisses that it is not polite to point weapons at people… even for one as beautiful as her. Teleporting next to her, he manages to snatch her gun. Cecilia is confused by Kurt’s powers: how…? Colossus assures her there will be no need for violence if she explains her presence here and…

As he makes to grasp her, Cecilia’s force-field is automatically activated, keeping her out of reach. Cecilia indignantly replies she was asked to check up on the mansion; they are the intruders! Seeing her generate her force-field, Kurt realizes this must be Cecilia Reyes, one of the new X-Men. “X-Men?” Cecilia puffs at the sound of this. She was one for about five minutes. But it’s not for her. Not right now. She’s a doctor. She decided to set up a small practice in Salem Center, so she could help the team but still follow her own dream. Storm asked her to keep an eye on things here while the team is off on a mission. She warned her some bogus new X-Men could conceivably show up, so when Cecilia saw the two of them, she freaked. She guesses they must be Nightcrawler and Colossus, right?

In the flesh and in desperate need of their former teammates, Nightcrawler replies. She said they are on a mission? Cecilia explains they had to go to Cape Citadel, Florida to… Suddenly, she halts herself: how does she know they aren’t bad guys trying to hoax the X-Men’s location from her? The sweet-tongued Kurt argues that were they “bad guys” they would be torturing her rather than admiring her innate and undeniable beauty.

Piotr wonders how they will to Florida fast enough. Kurt stresses that their former home seems to be a bit empty. Does Cecilia know if it still houses to any type of flying craft? The story Cecilia got was that everything was taken in some kind of raid before she got here. There was something they dredged up out of the pond, but it’s a wreck.

Kurt and Peter follow her, only to come face to face with the original Blackbird. Colossus is excited to see it; he had thought it long lost. Cecilia explains that Beast was working on it, but she doesn’t think he even got it up to Yugo level before he left. She’d say it’s a lot more “prayer” than “given” at this point. Piotr recalls that Kurt was once its chief mechanic; can he get it running? “Do my hands have two fingers?” Kurt playfully banters.

Elsewhere, the official X-Men team flies on their borrowed jet. Storm pilots the crate, with Wolverine acting as the co-pilot. Logan asks her if he’s jaded. In a number of ways, Ororo confirms – which way does he mean? Logan knows this is a lear jet, but it feels like they’re crawling. Ororo only hopes it is fast enough. Hearing this, Rogue coolly argues that they’ve all just gotten used to the super sleek jets and interstellar craft they’ve had as X-Men. This one is still major fast. “Beats being carried somewhere by a flying teammate,” Marrow posits. All those bugs that get in your teeth – disgusting! Just then, Rogue notifies them that Val’s portable TV is coming into range of a local station. There’s more of their intended destination – the Cape.

The reporter announces that the live press conference is about to begin. The director of the US satellite deployment, Dr. Eric Koppisch, has just taken the podium. They go now to his live address…

From the stand, Dr. Koppisch announces he has a prepared statement and then he will take questions. While the United States government appreciates their concern surrounding this launch, those concerns are, at best, ill-founded. The mathematical probability of engine failure is almost zero. He has also been authorized to announce that the nature of the payload on this launch vehicle is…

Suddenly, a shot is fired at Koppisch and he collapses. The reporter screeches that a shot has just been fired – did her cameraman, Andy, get this? They are live at Cape Citadel, where Dr. Eric Koppisch has just been shot at an apparent assassination!

At the launch command in Cape Citadel, Florida, one of the men notifies his superior that Koppisch is down. The other man orders him to tell security to get him out of there before the media gets to him. Agent Barnsley remarks that looked real! Are they sure…? The general coordinator of the project, Marco Benassi, reminds him it’s television; it had to look real. They either had to create a bigger diversion or actually announce to the world that they’re launching a device to track and terminate mutants globally… and they can’t exactly do that, can they? One of the generals agrees. Peter Corbeau may have lost his nerve for the project, but they haven’t. Benassi assures them this will be a great day for humanity. They’ve just ensured that. He tells them to get Koppisch to his relocation team and get him Senator Kelly on the phone.

A little later, in central Florida, Shadowcat examines a code in a computer, struggling to save Xavier’s life. What a weird coincidence, she notes: this code looks like something she’s seen before, but the architecture of this program is… ugly. It’s like someone hacked two or three other programs on top of the clean one: a destruct virus waiting for some kind of transitory A.I. program that’s causing interrupt problems in the main architecture.

Charles asks her if she can rectify the problem. He could not isolate or reproduce it. Kitty confirms it’s tricky that way. The artificial intelligence program is a heuristic algorithm – a self-modifying program that learns from its mistakes. It’s “moving” to avoid the kill virus, and that’s what’s causing the module crashes. It’s not the kind of thing you can mathematically predict. She’s written a simple capture code, but the hard part is trying to think intuitively: leap her code to where it’s going to move next. What they need is a computerized psychic. But in lieu of that, she’ll just keep guessing… and buy herself some time to figure out what in the world is going on here! Of course, she adds out loud, it’s like in a needle in a hay…

But just then, against all odds, she succeeds in shutting down the virus! VIRAL PROGRAM ABORTED, a box reads. Hesitantly, she turns back to the Professor. Is he…? “I am whole again!” Xavier relishes. Shadowcat wonders how that can be. All she did was fix a computer problem. He never told her how Bastion linked this program to him. What was…?

Landslide suddenly grabs her. Kitty demands to be let down; what is this? Xavier assures her the answers she desires will come in time. But for now a clear program must be laid in place to ensure the proper future for mankind. He asks his subjects to place her in storage – in the chamber next to Peter Corbeau. “Storage?” Kitty exasperates. She just saved his life! Xavier observes that, having fulfilled her potential, she is no longer needed in active service. He asks his “children” to complete the task he gave them quickly. His cleared senses detect that others are near.

62 miles northeast of Xavier’s hideout, Wolverine notifies Storm he’s got the Cape on visual. Any idea how the heck they’re supposed to set down unnoticed? Storm remembers that Valerie said she would make arrangements. Wolverine just hopes they’re better than Corbeau’s were, or they’re dead meat. Marrow complains he doesn’t talk like that, or he’ll jinx them…

As if to confirm her superstitions, the ship suddenly undergoes a terrible turbulence. Wolverine shouts to everyone to hold on; the ship is being pulled apart, nut by bolt! Before he even finishes his phrase, the ship is entirely dismantled, and the four mutants find themselves in freefall! “Hold on to what, hairy?!” Marrow protests after Wolverine yells for them to do so – she’s falling! Ororo urges Rogue to fly to Marrow’s aid; they’re set upon! And such an assault can only be the work of one man, she conjectures as she grabs Wolverine. Logan is with her. They sure aren’t ready for him, but this has to be M…

The “new X-Men” suddenly make their entrance, all telekinetically afloat, courtesy of the Grey King. Grey King, the de facto leader of the group, remarks that Mercury has done his part. Now it is up to them to fulfill the will of the found. He asks them to take them! “As you command, Grey King,” Rapture complies. She orders the X-Men to surrender and survive, or persist and perish! “So says us!” Landslide grunts. “The X-Men!” Crux adds.

You the X-Men?!” Wolverine amazes. Funny, he thought he and his companions were the X-Men… which would make these jokers imposters! He instructs his teammates to split and take them; six to four’s his kind of odds. He asks Storm to drop him on the back of the “harpy” – Rapture. Ororo complies. Rapture snaps that Wolverine’s cut is a vulgar gash, whereas the cleave of her sword will be a holy rending of the soul, leaving it to ascend or descend depending on the type of man he is. Logan retorts he’s the type of man she’s going to find it impossible to hit with this thing.

“Beach…” the autistic Chaos mumbles as he prepares to attack Wolverine from afar. “Concussion…” Marrow mocks him as she knocks him out with a bone, while riding on the high-flying Rogue. “Good shot, sugah!” Rogue congratulates her. She asks Sarah to shift her thigh bone, though: it’s jabbing her someplace she can’t mention! Marrow wonders if Rogue can control where her bones grown in! Neither can she! She asks her to loop around so she can yank a fresh one and pound some…

Suddenly, she lets out a terrible scream of pain. Rogue asks her what it is. Marrow reveals that a bone is stuck in her face! It hurts! She can’t… Grey King approaches and finishes the phrase for her: she can’t make use of her mutant abilities once he’s psychically dampened them. Rogue asks Marrow to hold on! She’ll get to…

However, Marrow has already slipped away and is freefalling again. Thankfully, Storm grabs her and asks the aching teen to stay still. Sarah weakly mumbles that it hurts… hurts so bad… Ororo allays her she will help her, just… “Before or after your own death, mademoiselle?” Crux interjects and attacks her with ice blasts. Ororo, however, retorts that Crux’s elemental play means little one to one who controls the very weather itself! She decides to see if an assault of hailstones leaves Crux room to assault the injured!

Watching from below, Rogue thinks she’s got to get herself back up there and stop them. There’s something about these X-Men… something almost familiar in their powers and appearances… Landslide violently interrupts her thoughts, as he punches her in the face. She’s got a right pretty face – too bad he’s got to break it!

Below, Rapture bellows at Wolverine: he shouldn’t seek to remain airborne on her wings! “Who said I was?” Logan grunts and then howls, as Rapture slashes him with her sword. She believes his strategy was transparent. It is evident he cannot fly, and his teammates are unable make provisions for him, as the Grey King can for them. Logan replies that they may be a bit short-handed these days, but… “Ah, forget it,” he grunts. As he freefalls, without anyone tending to his aid, he realizes this is going to hurt. 32 feet per second from a few hundred feet, even with a mutant healing ability, might finally be the end of…

Thankfully, like a deus ex machina, Nightcrawler teleports there and grabs him. He complains that Logan’s lost weight, but not enough! Surprised, Logan doesn’t know where Kurt came from, but he’s glad to see him! “As am I!” Rapture hisses as she raises her sword behind Kurt. “Who…?” Kurt exclaims and turns around to see. “Your angel of mercy… or damnation!” Rapture growls and strikes with her sword. Kurt, however, is already gone.

Storm finds herself clustered far and wide by the evil “X-Men.” Marrow still clings on her, telling Ororo it hurts so much and begging her to make the Grey King stop. Grey King signals to his teammates that the one called Storm is the last one; from both sides! But just then, Storm spots the original Blackbird in the horizon. Quizzed but still heartened by the Blackbird’s appearance, Storm manages to power through all her attackers and escapes their clutches. As long as there is but one of them, none of them shall ever be called X-Men! She quickly flies to Rogue’s aid, who’s psionically suspended mid-air, her powers dampened by the Grey King. Ororo grabs her, just as a voice from the Blackbird radio tells her to get to the plane.

Storm, Rogue and Marrow get aboard. Ororo has recognized the voice: Peter? Is it truly him? Colossus greets her from the pilot’s seat: yes, and he’s not alone. Kurt also greets them from the seat next to Piotr’s. Shall they…

Storm suddenly screams: her mind! Grey King has approached the ship and is psychically assaulting Ororo. Piotr tells Kurt to teleport back and seal the hatch! They must get…

But then, something else catches their attention: another plane gets in collision course with their ship. Peter asks Kurt what that is. From the hostile plane, its pilot, Mercury explains via radio that it’s an Aurora – and they’re dead! Maneuvering the ship, he manages to damage the Blackbird, which starts to go down.

Elsewhere, the reporter concludes her story. A protest, a picket, a press conference, a political killing. These are the end result of humanity’s fears and trepidations over the threat posed by mutantkind. Despite these shocking developments, however, the launch of the Benassi rocket is still scheduled for just a few short hours from now. The countdown continues, but is it toward a better safer tomorrow? For Newsminute America, she’s Paula Reinman.

Characters:
Marrow, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine (all X-Men)
Cecilia Reyes, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat (former X-Men)
Dr. Valerie Cooper (former X-Factor liaison)

“Professor X”/ Cerebro
Chaos/ Daniel Dash, Crux/ Cristal Lemieux, Grey King/ Addison Falk, Landslide/ Broder Lee, Mercury, Rapture/ Sister Joy (all Cerebro’s “X-Men”)

Senator Robert Kelly

Paula Reinman (reporter for Newsminute America)

Agent Barnsley, Marco Benassi, Dr. Eric Koppisch and other men from military and government involved in the Benassi project

Charlie and unnamed passengers and crew aboard Fantasia
Fasich and various unnamed people in several locations

Notes:
This is a double-sized issue, marking the anniversary of thirty-five years of publication life for the title, which debuted in September 1963. Magneto’s historical first battle with the X-Men took place in the very first issue of the title.

This story is concluded in X-Men (2nd series) #80.

The reporter’s name, Paula Reinman, is a tribute to Paul Reinman, the original inker of Uncanny X-Men/ X-Men (1st series). Her reference to “Jack and Stan” pays homage to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the original penciler and writer respectively of the title.

The Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart a few seconds into its flight, killing all seven members on board. The crew famously included a teacher, as part of the Teachers in Space Project. The launch and subsequent disaster was broadcast live.

Robert Kelly’s wife, Sharon, was killed by Nimrod in Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #246.

Excalibur disbanded in Excalibur (1st series) #125.

Professor X rescued Nightcrawler from an angry mob and recruited him to the X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1.

“Leo” alludes to Leonardo Di Caprio, the star of the incredibly popular 1997 film Titanic, at the time the highest-grossing film of all times. “Rose” refers to the character played by actress Kate Winslet in the film and love interest to Di Caprio’s character. The “icebergs” joke is another allusion to the story of the film, a romance that unfolds aboard the legendary ship Titanic, which was sunk in 1912 after hitting on an iceberg, causing the death of 1,517 passengers.

Between X-Men (2nd series) #79 and this issue, several X-Men seem to have departed from the team off-panel. Those include Archangel, Beast, Iceman and newcomers Maggott and Cecilia Reyes.

Dr. Peter Corbeau helped the X-Men throughout X-Men (1st series) #98-101.

Professor X was detained by the government in X-Men (2nd series) #57. He was later in the custody of Bastion, starting with Onslaught: Epilogue. Of course, as revealed in X-Men (2nd series) #80, the “Xavier” in the present issue is not the true one.

Bastion stripped the X-Men’s mansion of its equipment during Operation: Zero Tolerance.

The X-Men re-discovered the original Blackbird at the bottom of a pond in their grounds in Uncanny X-Men (1st series) #353.

When the X-Men’s borrowed ship is being magnetically torn apart, the X-Men, although not explicitly naming him, no doubt momentarily assume they are being under attack by Magneto.

“Grey King” is not to be confused with the original Grey King, the title once held by Magneto in the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club.

X-Men (2nd series) #80 and later issues will explain why these “new X-Men” look so familiar. Their appearances, power sets and personalities are based on templates from Cerebro’s entries on various mutants. More specifically, each of them is constructed on the following mixes of traits from known mutants:
Chaos – Cyclops & Havok
Crux – Iceman, Jubilee & Sunfire
Grey King – Phoenix, Magneto & Leech
Landslide – Beast & Sabretooth
Mercury – Colossus & Wolverine
Rapture – Angel, Mystique & Morlock Healer

Issue Summary written by: Mesmerizer


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