Cooperstown, Alaska, Now
Rachel Grey breathed out a puff of condensed air as she let blue flame envelop her, soaring below the clouds as flecks of snow fell all around. A beacon of cobalt fire, she lit up the night, or at least she would have if the town’s inhabitants had been aware of her presence.
This was the town the Purifiers had turned into a graveyard, where they had clashed with the Marauders over the fate of a child who had ended up dead. Not here, or by their hand, but at the hand of one of the X-Men’s own. Bishop, the X-Man who had come back in time to stop a traitor, had become one in turn.
And Rachel knew in her heart that she should have stopped him. How many times had she been inside his mind? How easy would it have been to find the murderous intentions lying in wait beneath that calm and composed exterior? But however much she disagreed with him, she had resisted the temptation to dig deeper. Bishop was an X-Man, a man who had come from a future where mutants had been rounded up in concentration camps and guarded by Sentinels. The same was true of Rachel.
Bishop had been willing to kill a child that was barely a few days old, to prevent his future from coming to pass. Would Rachel have been willing to do the same?
That was a question she was willing to leave unanswered.
Rachel touched down on the town’s main street, and it was clear to see Cooperstown still bore the scars of six months ago. A dusting of ice and snow couldn’t hide the remnants of rubble, the holes and indentations left in the buildings and roads by bullets and energy blasts. The storefronts were closed and a half-finished stone pillar stood behind Rachel, a monument to the children the town had lost to the massacre. It was barely dark, but already the town was quiet. Wary and weary. Rachel knew the feeling.
Under the cover of the darkening sky, Rachel put an end to her telepathic cloak as the last faint embers of her Phoenix echo faded. She concentrated as she stepped into an alleyway, closed her eyes and let her mind drift backward again, backward through time …
The Tomorrow Institute, 3 Months Ago.
Rachel rose to her feet, brushing her dirty unkempt red hair back even before Logan entered the shadowy confines of the room, which reminded Rachel far too much of a Shi’ar spaceship for her to be comfortable with it.
She, Lorna and Alex had only been back on Earth for a few hours, and Rachel was in dire need of a shower, clean clothes and a meal that consisted of more than recycled space sludge. But more importantly, Rachel needed answers.
“You’re not going to interrogate me, are you Logan?” Rachel asked as the door opened. “Whatever the others said, I can vouch for.”
Logan stepped in, dressed simply in a t-shirt and jeans. He looked up at Rachel, tired and grim. For a moment, Rachel picked up a memory and Logan was in costume.
“It’s a headshot, Scott,” Beast’s voice said, echoing from Logan’s mind. “It was a through-and-through, he doesn’t have much-“
Rachel’s eyes widened and she took a step back, recoiling from Logan’s thoughts. She brought a hand to her lips.
“Who did we lose?” she asked when she finally looked up at Logan again. The Canadian mutant remained stoic. “Is Dad okay? Peter? Kitty?”
“Rach,” he began, closing the door behind him. “A lot happened while you guys were gone.”
“Kitty?” Rachel said in disbelief. “But how? Why isn’t there a grave?”
“We lost her,” Logan replied quietly. “She might still be alive but…” He trailed off, letting out a breath through his nose. “We lost Caliban. And we lost the Professor.”
The breath escaped from Rachel’s lungs, but the worst thing, the worst thing about what she was hearing, was that all she could think was, not again. She began to shake involuntarily, she felt her emotions take hold and struggled not to let her powers run rampant.
Rachel could feel the lump rising in her throat, the sudden sense of dizziness and nausea threatening to overwhelm her, but she wouldn’t let the tears out. She was fire and fury and vengeance. She wouldn’t cry. But Logan wasn’t finished.
“Who else, Logan?” she asked pointedly, biting her lip and letting her long nails draw blood as she dug them into her hands. She relished the sting.
The silence was palpable. Logan kept his distance. Rachel saw him swallow.
“Cable. We lost Cable.”
The tight feeling in Rachel’s chest grew.
“W-Where’s Dad, Logan?” She asked. “Where’s Scott?”
Logan looked at her apprehensively.
“Don’t you dare lie to me,” Rachel threatened. “He’s my father. Where is he?”
“We don’t know.”
Rachel let loose. A telekinetic wave flew off her body, tearing off panels of circuitry and wiring, and slamming Logan into an indigo-violet wall. Her flaming Phoenix emblem formed over her left eye as a psychic cry came next, bringing Logan to his knees as he clutched at his head. He staggered up again.
But Rachel was already gone.
The Tomorrow Institute was lost behind her as a flaming azure raptor unfurled its wings above the Atlantic Ocean, before diving down and streaking across the water, brighter than the moon above.
She was fire and fury and vengeance, but three more slivers of ice had just entered her soul.
Cooperstown, Alaska, 6 Months Ago
Rachel shook her head as if that would shake loose her losses, the guilt, and the regret. Nevertheless, Rachel could feel her chronoskimming power at work, the currents of time shifting in their most unnatural direction. By sheer force of will, Rachel’s spirit was skimming along the timestream, until the past was the present and her astral form was free to roam again.
Cooperstown was burning.
Rachel instantly shielded her eyes. All she could see was smoke and dust and bright orange pyres until she caught sight of a familiar cloud of purple brimstone, followed by an angelic figure swooping through the air. Above her was the Blackbird, which soon landed. Rachel flew over Cooperstown as her father and Emma Frost emerged from the craft. She watched as the X-Men rescued as many survivors as they could. Soon, she saw the Angel heading for the town’s hospital, the rest of the X-Men following in his wake. Rachel dove after them.
Her astral body glided effortlessly through the hospital walls, and into its hallways filled with flickering lights, rubble, metal trollies and charred corpses freshly abandoned. Rachel followed the path of destruction carved by the Purifiers until she reached the hushed tones of the X-Men. She joined them as burning rage splayed across the faces of Angel, Emma and her father, as newborns smouldered in nearby cribs. Nightcrawler crossed himself as he began a prayer.
“It’s not here.” Emma said, an icy tone to her voice that did little to mask her anger. “It’s not one of these.”
“How do you know?” asked Rachel’s father, Cyclops, his expression largely hidden behind his ruby quartz visor.
“Birth records,” Emma told him. “Three babies were born here last night. But there are only two newborns here.”
“How sure are you this baby was the mutant Cerebra picked up?” Cyclops questioned.
“Sure,” Emma replied, and she glanced around and for a moment, she seemed to stare right at Rachel. “This is why they collided…”
Emma paused, and again it seemed as if her blue eyes had met Rachel’s green ones. And Rachel wondered…she possessed a fraction of infinity, of creation itself. Was it possible she could reach out and touch Emma’s mind, possible to prevent the tragedies that were about to occur? Possible to stop what little hope they had from dying?
A sock to the jaw put an end to Rachel’s plan. She roared in unbridled frustration as six months ago slipped back into now, and her mind was forcibly yanked back into her body. The heat and fury of the Phoenix burst back into existence too late, as Rachel felt the tranquiliser darts imbed themselves in her back. She caught one glimpse of the dull emotionless eyes of her Sentinel captor, as an ice cold feeling spread through her body.
Rachel fell to the ground as the flames around her flickered away.