The Phoenix, Marvel Girl, Havok, Polaris, Shadowcat.
Five mutants condemned to space. Are they alive?

Some of the X-Men are going to find out...

X-MEN: STAR SEARCH

chapter two: fortitude


Storm descended the aircraft gracefully, T'Challa watching each step she took in awe. His Queen had come home.

"My love," she smiled warmly.

The Black Panther ran to her, pulling her into his arms, clutching her tightly. He spun her tenderly and didn't have to turn around to know she wasn't alone.

"You brought... guests," T'Challa said hesitantly.

"We have much to speak of," Ororo replied as her husband turned to meet Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler.

"Panther," Logan nodded.

T'Challa stiffened. "Wolverine."

"Hello again, comrade," Colossus extended his hand, the King of Wakanda extending his own and shaking it firmly.

"Your majesty," Kurt Wagner smiled.

The King returned Nightcrawler's gesture, turning back to Storm. "If there is much to discuss, my Queen, then we should do it indoors."

"The air is a little thick in these parts," Wolverine chimed in.

"I must admit," T'Challa smiled again, "it is much harder to breathe in Wakandan air with Ororo away."

Nightcrawler grinned at Colossus as Logan rolled his eyes, then the three followed Wakanda's King and Queen inside.


It had been only an hour since Munroe had arrived back in Wakanda, and already she'd informed T'Challa that she'd be leaving.

With the other X-Men entertaining themselves in the courtyard, Ororo sat with her husband in their bedroom.

"Cyclops did not approve either, I take it."

"I do not answer to Cyclops," Storm looked through the open window, gazing down at her friends. She felt their impatience, acknowledged their understanding and felt a swell of frustration from within her.

Storm had never liked explaining herself. She'd come here for Wakanda's resources, not an interrogation. Not even from her husband.

She felt claustrophobic; she couldn't breathe...

"Ororo," T'Challa placed his hand atop hers, "my love. Talk to me."

"The X-Men's resources are null and void next to Wakanda's," Storm turned, pulling her hand back. "This is something I must do, T'Challa."

"The council, Ororo," The Panther sighed. "They are beginning to pressure me. You are here less and less... and Wakanda needs her Queen. I need her Queen."

"I did not marry the council, T'Challa," Storm stood defiantly. "I married you. I am Wakanda's Queen; I am yours. But I am Ororo Munroe, I am an X-Man, and there are those very dear to me in dire need."

"Then perhaps I should go with you."

"No," Munroe returned to her seat on their bed. "It is... a private matter. You are needed here."

"As are you."

"T'Challa, I will not be--"

"--I understand, Ororo. You do not need my permission to use Wakanda's technologies. You are Queen and owe me no explanation. I will deal with the council. I will deal with Wakanda."

Munroe's heart sank. Her duties here weighed on her soul -- and while she had a great love for her country, she had a greater love for herself. She had a greater love for Kitty Pryde, for Jean...

If Jean were out there...

"My love?"

"I am... troubled," Storm ran her hand across her brow. "These are difficult times."

"Then let us make them less difficult," T'Challa pulled her close. Munroe felt his warm breath on her cheek.

She brought her hand to his face. It had known war, it had known so much pain... but she had never felt anything so soft. So perfect.

The world stopped spinning for just a moment as he kissed her.


"Do you think he objects?" Piotr Rasputin sat along the edge of a fountain.

"Do you think she'll care?" Wolverine ran his claws through the grass and looked up at his old friend.

"Have more respect, Logan," Nightcrawler paced. "He is her husband. Ororo is here for her resources, for her love of T'Challa."

"And what d'you know about love, Elf?"

"I know enough to stay away from another man's girl, mein freund," Nightcrawler glared at him.

"Are you talkin' about Jean?"

"Already we fight," Colossus sighed. "We are not yet even holed up in a spacecraft."

"Yer right, Pete," Wolverine stood. "I'm sorry."

"Really?" Kurt arched an eyebrow.

"I'm just thinkin' we got a lotta work cut out for us. Kitty, maybe we can find her. Alex, Lorna, Rachel... Kurt, you'd know more about findin' them than us... but if Jeannie's up there..."

Colossus looked to Nightcrawler again, speaking less freely than before. "If Jean is alive, she will come to us. We have always known this."

"I dunno, Pete. I got a feelin'... a feelin' that all'a these X-Men trapped in space are more connected then we ever took the time t'figure."

"We shall see," Nightcrawler nodded.

"...'sides," Logan grinned. "Jean ain't another man's girl no more."


SHI'AR SPACE

"Rachel?"

Marvel Girl turned, the former Empress of the Shi'Ar Lilandra standing before her in full armor.

"I was a thousand miles away," Rachel scoffed. "I'm sorry."

"You were absent from dinner. I was worried."

"I'm just preoccupied, Lilandra. There is a war going on, you know."

"Vulcan will fall," Lilandra nodded, walking closer to the window Grey was staring out of and placing her fingers over some of the stars. "We will find Havok and Polaris."

"I know," Grey smiled. "I just... something's coming. Something we weren't expecting. I can feel it."

"What could it be, child?"

"Help."


"We would have said goodbye to him," Nightcrawler strapped himself into his seat firmly.

"T'Challa extended his farewell. There is much he must attend to." Ororo spoke from her seat in front of Kurt. Logan was to her right, Peter directly behind her.

"It's no wonder he doesn't like any of the X-Men, Ororo," Kurt continued to play with the straps across his seat.

"He does not dislike the X-Men, Kurt."

"How are you feeling, Ororo?" Peter spoke up. The craft was rather small.

"It is a bit cramped in here, Ja?"

"Wakandan herbs and remedies have eased my... plight," Storm readied the craft for takeoff.

"She got some," Logan added.

"Logan!" Ororo glared at him.

Colossus cleared his throat. "I am happy you are comfortable, Ororo."

"I'm trying to focus, Peter," the craft lifted into the sky, "and honestly, the remedies hardly do the trick."

"You married him," Logan looked away.

Nightcrawler sighed. "This is going to be a long flight."

The craft soon left Wakandan air -- and within minutes, courtesy of not only Wakanda's own technological breakthroughs (including thermal and molecular shielding and internal gravity and oxygen supply) but of Storm's time as acting Fantastic Four member, the craft left the atmosphere.

Munroe switched some of the controls to autopilot.

"Who knew you'd end up with all this, 'Ro."

"It is an impressive craft," Storm nodded. She could feel the sweat roll down the bridge of her nose. "A modified version of the Fantastic Four's -- a gift from Reed."

"Richards?" Peter leaned forward. "Forgive me, Ororo, but did they not receive their powers from a space flight gone horribly wrong?"

"Quit'cher bellyachin'," Wolverine answered for her. "You know damn well that brain's fixed any kinks since then. And I wouldn't put myself in any situation where I'd end up lookin' like Ben Grimm."

Storm smiled.


THE DEAD OF SPACE

There is only silence.

Silence from within the giant, speeding bullet which went through the earth so long ago now -- and silence all around it.

It had missed Earth; the Breakworld's dream of destruction thwarted. Space was empty and space was vast -- but it was bound to strike something eventually.

Its sole passenger had known that.


"This is the disk Hank gave us," Nightcrawler tensely undid his safety harness and moved forward. He placed it into a small computer between Ororo and Logan, a monitor buzzing to life before the X-Men's eyes.

McCoy's face filled the screen:

"It's almost like I'm there, isn't it?"

"Almost doesn't count, McCoy," Wolverine glared.

Hank stared ahead blankly, finally continuing. "Now... if you're quite finished, Logan. I've programmed Kitty's genetic sequence onto this disk. Ororo, I'm assuming you had T'Challa's experts hardwire the tracking device -- a type of Cerebro, if you will -- into your ship..."

Munroe nodded.

"...and as such, upon activation, coordinates will be laid out for you. From what little I know of the technology -- and from my studies of Mr. Fantastic's -- the coordinates will plot themselves, leading you directly to her. We had no sample of Jean's, nothing viable at this point... (though I believe that to be Emma's doing) ... but Alex's, Rachel's and Lorna's respective sequences have all been programmed in as well."

"I'll have my cell phone on if you need anything, Ororo. Just be sure to call after nine pm -- the rates from outer space are unbelievable."

McCoy paused and Logan grunted. "Always the funny man."

"...I'll miss you too, Logan," the Beast smiled into the camera. "Best of luck, my friends. Bring them home."

The screen went black, Nightcrawler took his seat again and Ororo turned to her friends. "Once I activate this, there's no going back. The ship will head for Kitty first... the last we heard from Alex, they were alive. We do not know our dear Kitten's fate."

Colossus kept his eyes on the floor.

"Perhaps you should have said 'there's no going back' before we were in the thick of space, Ororo," Kurt grinned. "You heard Hank... let's bring them home."

Storm nodded, accessed a few controls and a tiny device flashed K. PRYDE. The ship turned sharply, Logan's eyes going wide, and their quest began.

They would bring them home.


NEXT: PRYDE BEFORE THE FALL OF THE SHI'AR EMPIRE. Thanks for reading -- let me know what you think... it keeps it comin'!