Aran Islands, Ireland
The cliff was a nearly vertical slope, and was, as usual, deserted, cut off from the nearest town by the pounding surf and salt - coated ocean winds which cut at the face and choked off breathing. The freezing rain, carried along by the blasts of air, was accompanied by thunder which trembled across the sky, moving in tempo with the bursts of lightning glowing above the clouds. For years, the consensus among the locals had been that only an idiot or a madman would live on that coast.
However, someone did live there. They were still trying to figure out just what category he fit into. They were starting to think that he was a category all to himself.
He had shown up about three years ago, and had paid a ridiculous amount of money for the land. When he had applied to the local zoning board to build a house on the cliff, they had been shocked that anyone would even consider living there. His plan was approved, but it was rumored that some money had exchanged hands before that happened. When someone from the local historical society pointed out to him that an old pre-Christian burial site was nearby, he asked if his plans would cause any disruption of the site. When told no, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "At least I'll have quiet neighbors."
He had built the house himself, by hand, and moved right in. Beyond his weekly walks into town to pick up his food and mail, no one saw or spoke with the man. He had no utility bills to pay, since he bought bottled water in town, and a windmill that he had erected generated all of his power. In point of fact, he used very little power, since the only electricity that he used, beyond lighting, powered a small laptop computer and satellite dish.
That night, however, it wasn't on. He simply sat in front of the hearth, gazing into the flames of his peat-and-driftwood fire.
"Well," he said to the fire, "I think I'm finally ready. Where should I start?"
The fire didn't respond. It hardly ever did.
"With them, eh? Yes," he said reflectively. "Yes, I think we will be able to help each other out. Thanks for the advice." He did some mental calculation in his head, got up, walked over to the computer, and switched it on. He quickly logged onto his online service, and composed a message:
Contact X as per our previous discussion. Awaiting your reply.
He sent the message, logged off, and turned off the computer. Getting up, he walked back to the fire.
"It's done. Now we wait." He banked the fire and went to bed.
Salem Center, New York
Six months later
It was a pleasant spring day, and Ororo Munroe was making the most of it, working on her outdoor garden with the satisfaction of one who is totally content with her task. The tulips were doing very well, she decided, but the crocuses were looking a little limp. Perhaps some more mulch, she thought...
"Morning, 'Roro," she heard behind her.
"Good morning, Warren," she replied, looking up. Warren Worthington III, a.k.a. Archangel, walked up beside her.
"How's the garden?" he asked.
"It's coming along very nicely, thank you."
"Betsy and I are going into town. Want to come along?"
She considered it. "Yes. Can you wait fifteen minutes so I can clean up and change?"
"No problem. Here, I'll get that," he said, picking up the basket of garden tools.
"Thank you again," she said as they walked back towards the mansion.
"You know, I wonder sometimes why you bother," Warren said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you have complete control over the weather, right? So why do you bother to put all that sweat into your garden, when your powers could make it so much easier?"
"Firstly, I may control the elements, but I can't control other variables such as soil condition, weeds, or insect damage"
"That's true," he conceded.
"Secondly, I keep that garden going for personal reasons."
"I don't get it."
She sighed. "It's more to teach myself humility than anything else. I was once worshipped as a goddess, remember. Those flowers, no matter how much work I put into them, will do whatever they please, and won't apologize if things don't go the way I want them to. That tends to negate any chance that my ego will get too big for my own good."
Warren chuckled. "You want these in their usual place in the garage?"
Ororo went up to her room, created a small rain cloud, and took a brief but delicious shower. When she was done, she got dressed and met Warren and Elizabeth Braddock down in the foyer.
"All set?" Betsy asked.
"Yes," she replied. "Where were you planning on..."
"I'm afraid I'll have to interrupt your trip, my friends."
Ororo looked behind her. Charles Xavier was coming out of his study, his "wheelchair" floating about two feet above the floor.
"Is there an emergency, Charles?" she asked.
"It's not an emergency, but it is worrisome, and I think I'll need a response from all of the X-Men before I know how best to proceed. If we could all meet in the briefing room in fifteen minutes, I'll explain in more detail."
Fifteen minutes later, all of the X-Men were sitting at the large table in the briefing room, with Xavier at the head.
"I received a call earlier this morning from Valerie Cooper. She has an individual who wishes to join the X-Men."
"So what's the problem, Chuck?" Wolverine asked. "New admissions are decided on by the senior team members, aren't they? That's not our department."
"There are several problems, Logan. One: This individual contacted Val through her private e-mail address nine months ago. Two: He knows far more about us than I am comfortable with. Three: He'll be here in fifteen minutes."
The room exploded at that. "How did he know where we are?" Cyclops exclaimed. "That's a major breach of security!"
"It gets worse, Scott. He won't be at the gate in fifteen minutes, he'll be at the front door in fifteen - no, sorry - fourteen minutes."
"What about all our security?" asked Jean.
"Val asked that herself. She was told, and I quote: 'It won't make any difference.'"
"So who is our impending visitor, Charles?" asked Henry McCoy. "Do we know anything about him?"
"Val said that he's bringing the information that we'll need with him. All we have right now is a name."
"And what's that?"
The team members were placed in strategic locations throughout the mansion, leaving Xavier, Jean, and Cyclops standing in the foyer.
"Is Hank monitoring the school grounds?" Scott asked tensely.
Jean concentrated for a moment. "Yes. No sign of anything."
"How long do we have?"
"Three minutes," replied Xavier.
"It would take longer than that just to walk here from the gate," Scott mused, "and that's assuming that the security is off. Could he be a flier?"
"I have no idea, Scott."
"You're putting an awful lot of faith in Val Cooper, Charles," Jean said. "Are you sure that you can trust her in this case? Remember that incident last year with X-Factor."
"I don't think Val had much choice in this matter, Jean. She never said anything outright, but I got the sense that whoever this person is, he's a resource that we have to make sure is on our side. Besides, you're forgetting something. If he can get past our security to pay us a visit, then he can attack us just as easily. The fact that he's telling us in advance what he's going to do makes it unlikely that he's a threat."
"Either that or he's extremely cocky," Scott grumbled. "This is too cloak-and-dagger for me."
At the one-minute mark, Scott activated his wrist communicator. "Anything, Hank?"
"No sign of anyone," was his reply.
Three seconds later, there was a knock at the door. They all looked at it sharply.
"Jean, would you get that from here, please?" Xavier requested calmly.
Jean telekenitically took hold of the knob, and opened the door.
A man stood on the front steps, dressed in a grey overcoat with black gloves.
"Good afternoon," he said with a slightly Irish accent. "Professor Charles Xavier, I presume?"
"Yes," Xavier replied. "You're early."
"Am I?" he said, raising an eyebrow. "My watch read 1100 hours and five seconds."
"You're running seven seconds fast."
"Really? I'll have to do something about that...later. May I come in, or shall we conduct our business on the front porch?"
"Open the coat," Scott said, "and then walk in. Slowly."
"Very well." He unbuttoned the coat, and opened it. Underneath, he was dressed in grey trousers and jacket, with a white dress shirt, a black tie, and a black vest, with a chain hanging between the pockets. He walked in carefully, keeping eye contact with Xavier. Once he was past the door, Jean manually closed it
"Shall I remove the coat?" he asked.
"Yes, please," Xavier replied. The man removed his coat and held it.
"Just drop it," Jean told him. When he did so, Jean caught it with her power and hung it on the rack. "Thank you," he told her.
"Any weapons?" Scott asked her.
"No," she replied. After a moment she replied, "None on him either."
"Now that we've determined that I'm not out to destroy all of you..."
"We haven't come to that conclusion yet, Mister..." Scott snapped.
"For now, you may call me Archetype."
"Right. Jean, do you sense anything from him?"
Jean frowned. "Scott, I can't make heads or tails of his thoughts. They're going all over the place."
"I can explain that," Archetype replied.
"Later," Xavier interrupted. "For now, I want the information that Ms. Cooper said that you would bring with you."
"Of course." He slowly reached into one of the suit pockets, taking out a CD case. "All of the information that you will need is here. Val said that you would have the access code. I insisted on that, mind you. I wanted to eliminate any suspicion that I doctored the disc." He handed the disc to Xavier.
"Jean, call the others in, would you? I want the senior staff in my study. Mr... Archetype will wait in the ante room, under watch, while we review this."
Archetype pulled a paperback book out of his other suit pocket. "What do you think you're doing?" Bishop questioned him.
"Reading," Archetype replied. "If I have to sit in judgment, I may as well get something done in the meantime."
"What's the book?" asked Rogue.
"Expanded Universe, by Robert A. Heinlein."
"Yes. Quite good, in fact."
Rogue studied the man carefully. He was about her height, and had a slim but wiry build. He
appeared to be in his mid to late twenties, but the silver shot throughout his brown hair made him look a bit older. His eyes were grey, and the glasses that he had put on when he took out his book made him look like he belonged in a classroom, rather than among the X-Men. All in all, he wasn't bad-looking.
He glanced up from his book, and caught her watching him. "Is something wrong, Miss?"
"Uh, no," Rogue said, somewhat embarrassed.
Bishop cut in. "Rogue, I suggest that, until we are given further information by the Professor, we treat this man as an enemy, and not make small talk with him."
"Permission to treat the witness as hostile, Your Honor," Archetype said, smiling slightly. "A good policy, sir. However, I must point out that you just made a tactical error."
"Really?" Bishop said icily. "And what might that have been?"
"There was no guarantee that I knew her name before now, but you just gave it to me. Now I have a name to match her face." He looked at Rogue again. "Not that a face like yours could be forgotten, Miss Rogue." He returned to his book. Rogue had to smile, both to hide her embarrassment at the compliment and her amusement to Bishop's look of chagrin.
A few minutes later, Xavier, Jean, Scott, Warren, Ororo, and Henry entered the room. "We have a few questions for you, sir," Xavier said.
"Of course," Archetype said, putting the book back in his pocket. "But I think that after viewing that disk, you have far more than a few questions. I assure you, my responses will be as truthful as I can make them. There are some answers that I don't have myself."
"Understood. I'd like to test the big question first. Rogue, Bishop, would you both please come over here?"
As they came over to the other side of the room, Logan entered, with a box in his hands. "I'll take care of this part, Chuck. If he's lying, it won't bother me as much."
"If I am lying sir," Archetype said, "these documents will allow you to make sure that when I leave, a satisfactory explanation will be available for my condition." He removed an envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket, placing it on the end table. He then removed his jacket and placed it on the couch.
"I appreciate it," Logan said dryly.
"Seven plus one?" he asked.
"Right." With that, Logan opened the box, pulling out a .44 Magnum.
"What is this, a test to see if he's invulnerable?" Bishop asked.
Archetype's response was a chill smile.
Wolverine emptied the clip in less than two seconds. All of the bullets hit Archetype in the heart, going through him, and hitting the wall behind him.
Archetype looked at the holes in his chest for a moment, swaying unsteadily. He looked up at Logan, and gasped two words:
Then he fell to the floor, dead.
"Well," said Logan, "that was interesting."
Henry walked over to the fallen body, felt for a pulse. "He is as the proverbial doornail."
"How long did Val, say, Hank?"
"About five minutes."
Rogue and Bishop gaped at the corpse, looked at each other for a moment, then turned to the professor. "Professor," Rogue asked, "just what the hell did you do that for?"
Xavier glanced at Rogue for a moment. "To prove a point."
"What point? That we can kill unarmed civilians?"
"Just wait, Rogue. Wait and see."
Rogue sat down, shocked at the callous attitude shown by the others. She wondered if it was possible that Xavier had finally snapped. Jean walked over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "This isn't exactly how it looks, Rogue... hopefully," she said.
"Have you all gone crazy, Jean? How could that have been anything but cold-blooded..." Her voice trailed off. The corpse had moved.
Archetype gasped, moved about jerkingly for a moment, then slowly got up from the floor. He staggered to a chair and sat down.
He looked at Xavier. "Satisfied?" he gasped.
"Yes," Xavier replied quietly. "Hank, take care of him."
"That... won't be necessary," Archetype gasped, ripping open his shirt.
The holes left by the bullets were quite large. As they watched, each wound closed slowly, finally coalescing into healthy, unblemished flesh.
Archetype looked sympathetically at Rogue and Bishop, then at Xavier. "You should have warned them, you know."
"I couldn't think of any way to tell them."
"I can believe that." He got up, made a slight bow. "My name is William Riley."
"And, as far as I can tell, I cannot die."