Eat your heart out, Red Baron! The X-Men take to the skies to in a dogfight against their newest foes, the Children! It's non-stop action and suspense in this penultimate issue to Mike Carey's first arc on X-Men. Plus, discover the secret the Children are still hiding that will turn the X-Men's world upside down!
'Hard or easy, Creed…you’re going to have to take your medicine…’ Dr. Henry McCoy a.k.a. the Beast, one of the senior X-Men, tells the brutish Victor “Sabretooth” Creed as he stands before him holding a needle full of a glowing green substance. Chained, Creed warns the Beast that if he brings that anywhere near him there is going to be blood – and hair – on the walls, before suddenly roaring loudly and leaping up, now free from his shackles.
X-Men squad-leader Rogue warns Hank to look out, as Creed is free. The Beast pulls back and thanks Rogue, joking that it would have been his observation also, but that it is always good to have a second opinion. Karima Shapandar, the super-Sentinel remarks that embedding adamantium chains in a brick wall doesn’t work because any restraint device is only as strong as its weakest link. ‘Sounds like your X-Men, don’t it, darlin’?’ Creed asks Rogue as he throws his chains around her and drags her over to him.
Creed smiles wickedly as he asks Rogue who her weakest link is, as there seems to be plenty of choice around here. Suddenly, the room is lit up as Samuel “Cannonball” Guthrie blasts straight at the long-time X-Men nemesis. When Creed collapses to the floor, Sam remarks that a brick wall makes a neat restraint device all on its own sometimes. Rogue congratulates her teammate on a good job, to which Sam asks ‘Was it?’ and informs her that he isn’t feeling all that good about it, so he thinks they should just finish it.
The Beast holds the needle and reminds Rogue that he has his own misgivings, all of which are on record. Rogue declares that this is Sabretooth, so if they can put him on a tight rein forever they could be saving countless lives. ‘”Could”?’ That eases my conscience by the width of a toothpick!’ Hank replies as he injects the needle into Creed’s bare shoulder before taking his leave. As he departs, Rogue exclaims that there is more at stake here than Creed’s civil rights, to which Hank replies ‘There always is’ and informing Rogue that he will be in the infirmary if he is needed. ‘Someone else can clear up this mess!’ he adds, motioning to all the rubble in the room.
Out in the corridor, Hang hangs his head in shame, before noticing three of the X-Men students down the hall. Mercury exclaims ‘Oh wow! I’ve seen her in the X-Men mission logs!’ ‘Yeah? Not looking like this you haven’t!’ Rockslide exclaims grinning, while anole covers his eyes. Hank goes over to them and asks the students what it is he is missing – what new wonder has arisen to enchant and divert them. ‘Oh’. Is all Hank mutters when he sees what the students are looking (or not looking) at – Lady Mastermind!
The sultry blonde is out of her medical bed and carries her intravenous with her, her outfit not covering much of her body as she greets the Beast and tells him that she has got some questions, adding that he had better answer or else she is dropping the “Lady”.
Elsewhere at the Xavier Institute: ‘The verdict of history? What do you mean by that, exactly?’ asks Nathan Dayspring Summers a.k.a. Cable. ‘Precisely what I say, Cable – how does the future remember us?’ asks the diabolical Raven “Mystique” Darkholme, before asking, specifically, how the future judges the part they play here and now in protecting the remnants of mutantkind? The man from the future examines some diagrams and replies that history is short on specifics, but that it remembers broad movements, not individuals.
Mystique disagrees, exclaiming that an individual whose actions are pivotal will always be remembered, like Hitler, or Ghandi. ‘And you’d like to know which you are?’ Cable asks. ‘Hardly’ Raven mutters in reply. Cable turns to Mystique and reveals that her name does survive in the databases of his time, ‘It’s a generic term for a traitor – as Judas is now’. Cable asks if that helps her, to which Raven asks ‘A traitor? To who?’ .
Cable informs Mystique that it was two thousand years in his past, so it is just a folk legend, before telling her that she is distracting him from the task at hand, as he is trying to locate the Conquistador so they can – ‘Damn. Found it!’ he exclaims, announcing that is where the good news ends.
Meanwhile, aboard the ship in question, the Conquistador, the Children of the Vault have gathered. ‘Is it this easy to penetrate U.S. airspace?’ Perro asks. One of the others informs Perro that they are cloaked, invisible to radar and telemetry. Perro remarks that the people of the streets will seem them as the Conquistador flies over their city while the military will not. He remarks that they should make this easier for them and orders Serafina to drop the cloak. Serafina points out that they are still more two thousand miles from – Sangre interrupts, ‘I know. We tried to hide, but that option is now closed to us’ he states.
Sangre exclaims that they come now as executioners – of the mutants then the humans – whose world they need for their own expansion. ‘So lets announces ourselves with due solemnity!’
Back at the Xavier Institute, the Beast tells Regan Wyngarde a.k.a. Lady Mastermind, that if she makes any sudden or hostile moves he may have to forget his Hippocratic oath. ‘If I move at all, McCoy, this sheet is gonna slip – and your Hippocratic oath’s gonna take a real hit to the head – or parts south. Regan snaps back. Beast tells the original Mastermind’s daughter that she flatters herself, but she is not his type.
An image appears before the Beast and Regan tells him that this is the last thing she remembers, back when the Hellfire Club was still paying her bills. ‘So how come I woke up on a slab in Doctor Frankenstein’s lab? And why is my head full of that Southern-fried fool, Guthrie?’ Beast helps Regan along, holding up her sheet and tells her that he will explain inside. Regan declares that she wants to know what is going on here – is she a prisoner? Beast states that he will explain inside again. ‘Can we come too?’ Rockslide asks. ‘That would be a no’ the Beast replies. ‘Aww, man!’ Rockslide complains.
Anole asks if Lady Mastermind was the woman they found in a coma and points out that she seems a lot better all of a sudden. Rockslide mutters that Professor McCoy has got healing hands. Mercury tells Rockslide not to be so gross and, referring to Anole, to remember that some people are a little more delicate than he is.
‘What? No way. Just – no way! That’s not possible!’ Regan exclaims as the Beast reveals to her that she has been unconscious for more than a year. Hank informs her that the X-Men discovered her in a private hospital where apparently she was being held incognito by a person or organization named Pan, but that is all they know for now. Hank adds that as far as her memories of Cannonball go, a woman who calls herself Serafina hacked into Regan’s nervous system and used her illusion powers to get into Sam’s mind. ‘That may even have been what caused you to wake up’ Hank adds.
‘I’ve been on my feet five minutes and already I’ve got a hit list!’ Regan exclaims. ‘Life is good. Where’s this chick at now? Bring her to me!’ Before Beast can reply, Emma “the White Queen” Frost telepathically informs Hank that some O*N*E* soldiers have turned up with a corpse, so they want to commandeer his freezer. Hank tells Emma to send them down, and asks her to tell Rogue that there is someone in the lab she might like to talk to.
Back on the Conquistador, the fiery Fuego and the blonde Aguja watch the military planes close in on them. ‘A show of force!’ Fuego remarks. ‘No…their hands are empty!’ Aguja declares as she raises her hands and uses her powers to implode the aircraft. Fuego begins sending out bursts of flame, destroying more jets and asks his teammate if they should keep score. ‘Why bother? We both know I’ll win!’ Ajuga replies boldly.
In the hangar bay at the Xavier Institute, Scott Summers a.k.a. Cyclops rushes in and orders Rogue to stand down. ‘You got a problem, Scott?’ Rogue asks. ‘Several!’ Scott replies. ‘Starting with the fact that you’re taking Creed out of our custody!’ Rogue explains that Creed has been neutralized as the Beast injected him with Nano-Sentinels. ‘You know, those little critters Cassandra Nova used on you?’ Rogue explains that they are inert now, but that Cable or Karima can activate them in a heartbeat.
‘And that’s my second problem. Those things –‘ Scott begins before seeing Cannonball about to open the hangar door and tells him not too ‘- Those things are lethal. I didn’t even realize they were still in existence!’ Rogue points out that Beast keeps tissue samples from all of the X-Men, so they just had to go through the samples until the found one from that time period. Rogue adds that Creed trailed this trouble across their path, so it seems only fair that he takes his share of it. ‘Plus there’s no one better at staying alive than he is. He’s proved that!’
Cyclops tells Rogue that if Creed is taken dead or alive by the enemy then she has delivered a mutant weapon of mass destruction right into their hands. ‘Does that strike you as a viable strategy?’ he asks. ‘Does it even strike you as sane?’ Scott’s future-son Cable interrupts, informing him that the Conquistador is airborne and in U.S. airspace, adding that a combat situation is no time to start overruling his own squad leaders.
‘Nathan, please. This is X-Men business!’ Scott exclaims. Pulling up her hood, Rogue tells Scott that, right now, Cable is an X-Man and reminds Scott that he told her she could pick her own team – an independent strike force that could handle stuff in the field while the others guard the mansion. ‘No arguments. No limits’. Rogue stands by her squad of X-Men – Iceman! Cable! Mystique! Cannonball! Sabretooth! Lady Mastermind! Karima! And tells Scott that she has chosen them, so he needs to live with it.
Outside the mansion, Lexington is in his Sentinel and sees the X-Jet take off. Lex informs James “Rhodey” Rhodes and asks him if he wants him to take this one. The former Avenger known as War Machine tells Lex to stay put, to which Lex asks him if he is following the comms chatter from the Midwest through. James replies that it sounds like a nasty situation but that they cannot do anything until they are called in for – and until then it is the usual game of “follow the X-Men!”
Cannonball is piloting the X-Jet and announces that they have a lock – ‘They’re four hundred miles and closing fast – very fast. They’re heading straight for us!’ Mystique approaches Rogue, and addressing her as “Anna” declares that she wanted to thank her for the faith she has showed in her, adding that she knows she had her doubts at first. ‘But to go into battle at your side means a lot to me’. Rogue asks her “mother” if she think she chose her because she has faith in her. ‘I think on some level you still care about what we –‘ Raven begins to say, until Rogue interrupts and tells her that the truth of the matter is it’s the opposite.
Rogue informs Mystique that she chose her because she doesn’t trust her an inch. ‘Someone’s got to watch you and never take their eyes off you. Guess it comes down to me’. ‘Maybe that’s what you tell yourself’ Mystique remarks, to which Rogue declares that it is the gospel truth. ‘Then look me in the eye as you say it!’ Mystique exclaims. ‘Say what? You killed Moira. You passed a death sentence onto Sean when you cut his throat!’
Rogue adds that it doesn’t seem like too long ago that Mystique was trying to kill her either, before telling Mystique that if it makes her happy to share risks then she can have a blast, but that is all they are going to share. ‘And on mission time, you call me Rogue same as everyone else!’ Rogue leaves Mystique, who stands silent. No one says anything until Cable tells the others they should find something to hold onto as the Conquistador is on visual – straight ahead and not slowing down! On the Conquistador, Aguja exclaims to Sangre that this is a collision course, to which Sangre simply replies ‘Yes. It is!’
Back in the X-jet, Rogue asks Cannonball if he is ready. ‘Ready!’ the former New Mutant replies. Rogue turns to Lady Mastermind and asks her if she is also ready. Now dressed in a Hellfire Club style outfit, Regan is concentrating hard and mutters ‘It’s what you brought me for, right?’ before declaring that she is ready.
At that moment, the X-Jet collides with the Conquistador – but it is only one of Lady Mastermind’s illusions. Aguja is surprised, but Serafina suggests to her blonde teammate that she adjust her eyes beyond the visible spectrum. Serafina then remarks that the X-Men are already aboard, believing that they have the element of surprise on their side.
Indeed, Rogue and her squad are on the deck of the Conquistador, and Rogue asks Karima Shapandar what it is they are seeing. Karima announces that there are lots of life signs, lots of movement, but most of it below them and to the stern. Rogue asks Creed where they came from last time. Creed points to a panel in the deck. ‘There. It still smells of them!’ he snarls. Rogue tells Creed to step out of the way before telling Cannonball that it is all his.
‘Big door or a small door, Rogue?’ Sam asks. ‘Whatever you’re in the mood for!’ Rogue replies. Sam begins blasting towards the hatch, when suddenly he collides with one of the Children of the Vault! ‘They call me Perro, X-Man – “The Dog”!’ the bulky super being reveals, adding that gravity is his dog and it does tricks for him when he whistles.
Suddenly the other Children of the Vault appear and Fuego unleashes a blast of fire, which Iceman blocks with a wall of ice. ‘Bring them down!’ Fuego exclaims, adding that they can discuss the finer details of each kill later. ‘Is that how you spend your evenings? Mostly I end up watching reruns of Friends’ Bobby “Iceman” Drake remarks, when Rogue shouts ‘X-Men – engage!’.
As Iceman and Fuego face off, Fuego declares that it looks like this is a stalemate, ice against fire, before revealing that he draws energy from around him to fuel his fires. ‘You understand? I feed on you. Until there’s nothing left!’ he exclaims, when suddenly Bobby screams as his body shatters.
Rogue approaches Sangre who tells her that she cannot take his powers because they are based on technologies she couldn’t even comprehend. He suggests she surrender and earn a quick death. ‘Always wanted a loud one, myself’ Rogue replies, before remarking that if the five here are all of them then she has seen better. Sabretooth battles Perro while Cable and Lady Mastermind team up to fight Aguja.
Rogue begins blasting Sangre with her flame powers while Sangre apologizes for giving her the impression that this is all of them. ‘Five people do not constitute a race. We are, as you might say, the tip of the iceberg. Karima finds herself at the mercy of Serafina before Sangre points out that they have arrived at their destination, meaning the battle is over. ‘Or the skirmish, I should say’. Sangre tells Rogue that if her precious new X-Men represent the future of her species.
The X-Men see that the Conquistador has arrived at the Xavier Institute and Sangre exclaims ‘Watch them die, now – watch the future obliterated at a stroke – and then you can meet the rest of my family!’