Tuesday, 13 March 2012

UXM #166: "Live Free Or Die!"

(Beneath, within, and beyond.)


Out at the very edge of the Brood's home system, an otherwise irrelevant rock has been colonised to serve as a whaling station, Madrizar, from which hunting parties are launched in their search for more Acanti to enslave and hollow out.  There's no way to know how long this monument to blood-thirsty solipsism has stood, orbiting a star too distant to shed light on the horrors that go on there, but it hardly matters.  Binary, fresh from declaring herself so outraged at the X-Men's fate that she accidentally almost killed them all, has arrived.

The base itself is reduced to debris within moments.  Dealing with its legacy will be harder.  Indeed, the only Acanti there at the time, already riddled with the Brood "slaver virus" that gorges itself on higher brain functions, begs to be put out of its misery.  Binary agrees immediately.  What's one more death on her conscience, after all?

Her grizzly work complete, Binary flies back into the gulf between worlds, only to run into another projection of Storm.  This one, though, is a bit more free with the details than the last one, and guides Binary to another, much younger Acanti, explaining that she and it have somehow become the same being.

Note to self: space is so weird.

The Z'Ree Shar is within the bowels of the prepubescent space-whale, and its passengers prove very forgiving of Binary's explosive exit.  Of course, they may simply have other things on their mind, like what they plan to do with their last hours in the universe.  Wolverine, unsurprisingly, hasn't moved from his previous position: best to mount a suicidal attack on the Brood Queen, and at least make sure that they are her last victims.

Storm suggests an alternative: rather than hoping they can destroy the Brood, why not guarantee that they save the Acanti?  The previous last hope of that race is dead, and the Brood have raised their capital within its corpse.  But now, there is a new saviour: a new "Prophet-Singer", the very Acanti that Storm is now bonded to.  With the previous Prophet-Singer both dead and unable to reincarnate - the Brood having denied it the necessary self-immolation ritual - this immature specimen is all that stands between the Acanti and extinction.  That, indeed, is how Storm came to her present state; she was bound to the Prophet-Singer by her school, in order to ensure it could be guided by a more seasoned mind.  In return, the vacuum-blasted body of Ororo herself lies cradled within the Acanti's mouth, slowly being healed.

All that's needed to ensure the future of the Acanti is to destroy the previous Prophet-Singer's brain, and allow its soul to pass on to their current conveyance.  Acceptance of the goal is unanimous, but there's a further wrinkle: Logan doesn't trust anyone but Binary and Storm, since only the three of them are free of Brood implants, and thus their influence.  Cyclops challenges him to kill them all now, if he has so little trust left, and I'm damn glad that I don't have to decide who's in the right here.  Eventually, Sprite breaks them up for the sake of team spirit, and because as far as she's concerned, the most important thing about the word "inevitable" is that it doesn't mean the same thing as "now".  I guess that will have to do for the moment.  What other choice is there?

It's worth noting that there's some fairly major ethical considerations that are being skipped over here.  I don't blame Claremont for not lingering on them, since this is the (kind of) finale to a long-running plot-line, and he has a lot of explosions and punches to get through, but one of the advantages (well, arguable advantages) of this blog is that we can pause the action to wax philosophical should we feel the need.  The important question here is what would do the most good: saving the Acanti, or exterminating the Brood?

Actually, that's only partly right, since a fairer framing would be whether it's better to do something that will save the Acanti, or might exterminate (though certainly profoundly damage and delay) the Brood?   We can put that to one side, though - either the Acanti are definitely the better choice, or they only become the preferred option for some level of uncertainty regarding the effect of slaying the Brood queen.

So let's imagine that taking out Broody Queenie will definitely take her race with her.  Wouldn't that save the Acanti anyway?  Couldn't they just wait for the Brood to die out and then rescue the last Prophet-Singer's soul themselves?  Or would that take too long?  How many more Acanti would be enslaved by that point?  On the other hand, every single Brood in the universe only exists because it tore its way through another living creature, and if sentience isn't necessary for the process, it's clearly the overwhelming preference.   Choosing to let the Brood live might be good news for the Acanti, but it's a total disaster for an awful lot of other species.  And that's before you consider that the Brood might just follow the Acanti when the latter migrate.  For all of Storm's fretting over killing, the Brood as a race are pretty much just talking smallpox that's gotten hold of starships.

Like I said, there's a lot to consider here.  I'm glad I don't have to make the decision.

Anyway.  A day later, and the juvenile Prophet-Singer appears above "Sleaze-World".  Its incursion causes the Broods' interceptors to respond en masse, and whilst they're busy chasing their prey, the X-Men have a comparatively clear run at what might be the most important skeleton in the galaxy.  Most of the gang are happy about their plan working, but Cyclops responds by becoming even more of an intolerable hard-ass, in a way that positively screams "Already a Brood!" to anyone with ears to listen.  Unless it's a double bluff, which would be cool.

If it is, though, it raises the question of exactly which of the X-Men has fallen prey to their lethal cargo.  Clearly, one of them has, because it's using its psychic powers to alert the queen as to the plan of its "friends".

There's only so much one traitor can affect though.  The ground team have beamed down whilst entirely unaware that they've been compromised, but the fight in space seems to be going unquestionably well, with Storm knocking out those few Brood ships Binary lacks the time to incinerate.  That said, our heroes are horribly outnumbered, and the sheer size of the Brood fleet starts to take its toll.  Binary finds herself snared, and Storm/Acanti finds themselves wounded, with no end to the oncoming swarm of enemies in sight.

It's at that moment that the Starjammers arrive.


The ground war seems to be spiralling downwards into a meat-grinder.  Nightcrawler and Shadowcat can't do much more than evade incoming fire, and Cyclops seems to have become almost entirely untethered from reality, blasting away with berserk rage rather than applying his trademark sang-froid to the proceedings.  Indeed, he's so mad, he's missing all his targets, which is what finally allows Logan to pick up on what's been obvious for a little while.  Grabbing Cyclops' visor and tearing it off, Wolverine confirms his suspicion - Scott has begun the transformation.  Between Cyclops' forced heel-turn, and the elite Brood hunter cadre, our heroes are swiftly defeated.  Only Kitty escapes, by the unusual method of accidentally phasing into another tunnel system altogether.

It would be too much to hope for that these side tunnels be clear of Brood, of course.  Mind you, it would also be too much to hope for that Kitty would be rescued by a fire-breathing dragon with a murderous hatred of invertebrates, but that's what happens.  And it would definitely certainly be too much to hope for that both Kitty and her new pal be saved from the last hunter by the accidental opening of a hole into a glowing hypnotic chamber that kills Brood but, uh, yeah.  That too.  If there's one thing superhero comics have taught me, it's that just because you're winning, it doesn't mean you have the slightest idea what the Hell is going on.

Take Scotty Broodface, for example.  On the verge of total victory over the X-Men, he suddenly finds there's a part of him that isn't too keen on the "subtract spine, add evil" plan and, now that his eyelids have been chucked away as he transforms, he doesn't have too much control on his eyebeams any more.  His first mistake: shooting his own queen in the face.  His second: letting Wolverine jump into his field of fire, smashing apart Logan's restraints.  Moments later, Wolvie has Scott in one hand and the stunned queen in the other, his claws ready to pop, and it's all over.

All that's left is to find Sprite.  Of course, it would be too much to hope for that an entrance to the glowing chamber suddenly open up in front of them and Kitty come out and... well, you get the picture.  Our heroes - and the queen, unwilling to abandon her still-growing young - follow Kitty back into the glowing chamber, to find it carved from elegant crystal (as is the Brood who followed Kitty in there).  The cavern radiates love and tolerance, like a mirror-filled Hacienda at two a.m., but the queen and her influence on the X-Men has a corrupting effect on the surrounding formations, like a fly in milk.  Momentarily distracted, Logan gets himself stabbed by the queen's stinger, and he collapses.  The other X-Men aren't doing any better - the transformations have reached their final phases.  Indeed, everything's turned out perfectly for the queen - not only is she about to gain five new queenlets (four of them super-powered), but the resulting damage to the surrounding structure - which she recognises as housing the very soul the team came to release - will corrupt the Prophet-Singer, and force its fellow Acanti to sign up willingly for lobotomy ops and infestation prep.

If ever it was time for the cavalry to show up, it's now.  Which is handy, because with the 'Jammers arrival the war in space has been won, and Binary has shown up down below, having already taken advantage in a telepathic crash course in Acanti soul-retrieval, courtesy of Storm.  It takes but a moment to transfer the soul to Storm's charge; a process which has the rather unlikely but convenient side-effects of eliminating both the Brood embryos (thank God the Prophet-Singer wasn't from Kansas) and the queen herself, as well as releasing Storm from the bowels of her beast.

Oh, also: the planet blows up.

With the X-Men safely teleported to the Starjammer (though Kitty fears for the fate of the friendly dragon), it seems that all the loose ends have been neatly tied together.  All, that is, save one.  During the traditional final villainous tirade, the Brood Queen let slip to Wolverine that she had six irons in the fire, offspring wise, and that the last one was back on Earth.  And there's only one person who's a plausible suspect for implantation: Charles Xavier himself.


This story takes place over two days.


Friday 10th to Saturday 11th of June, 1983.


X+5Y+85 to X+5Y+86.

Compression Constant

1 Marvel year = 3.71 standard years.

(Colossus is 26 years old.)

"If I am to die, I prefer to do it
fighting for something..."
 Contemporary Events

A total solar eclipse is visible from the Southern Hemisphere.

Standout Line

"Energize, Scotty!  Beam us down!"
"Huh?" - Sprite and Cyclops.

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