ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

A Tale of Blackstar

By Doc Nebula

 

There wasn't much left of the Xavier mansion's luxurious exterior facade. The stone and plaster outer shell had been pretty much reduced to rubble and dust by repeated assaults over the course of the past several hours. Until just ten minutes ago, the Southern antebellum style western wing of guest bedrooms had somehow remained stubbornly intact, rising out of the slumped, smashed piles of dirty, smoking debris as if representing the world's last hope of peace and sanity.

But then an offensive led by Thor, Iron Man, and Guardian of the Avengers had blasted through a platoon of Magneto's remote controlled Mandroids, and the shockwave and high velocity shrapnel resulting from the combined strikes of mystic uru hammer, high intensity repulsor barrage, and accelerated emerald particle beams had blown the surviving structure apart like a house of cards in a sudden hurricane.

Now all that could be seen other than rubble was the low, gleaming, force field reinforced dome of secondary admantium that projected above ground; the upper hemisphere of the notorious X-Men's blast-bunker. Built with cutting edge Stark defensive weaponry and Richards computer systems, with fully integrated Xavier-designed psionic-screens and supplemented in key places with "borrowed" Shi'ar technology, that bunker was, to date, resisting every effort at frontal assault by the united superheroes of Earth.

In a chamber near the center of the bunker, a miserable Blackstar watched the various fronts of the epic battle on several different high density projection screens. In the southwest quadrant, a platoon of SHIELD assault troops in non-metallic battlesuits swarmed in over the terrain cleared by Thor and the two armored Avengers.

As Blackstar watched, the Norse God of Thunder began smashing his uru hammer into one particular spot on the dome's outer surface, as both Iron Man and Guardian focused their own most potent offensive weaponry on the same spot. Blackstar's hopes rose; even force-field reinforced secondary adamantium couldn't stand up to that kind of damage for long...

Abruptly, rectangular segments of soil rolled back to reveal hidden bunkers beneath what had once been Xavier's side yard. Blackstar had only a vague idea what those bunkers had originally contained, but now he groaned as he saw a dozen miniature Sentinels, fully loaded with weaponry and optimized with Trask/Genoshan Mark XIII adaptive circuitry, roar up out of the sundered yard and direct a hellish barrage of missiles and focused energy beams at the assault group.

A huge circular shield of glowing green energy immediately leapt from Guardian's extended fist to protect the SHIELD assault troops, as Thor and Iron Man turned their attentions to the Sentinels. While the two most powerful Avengers held off the squadron of marauding robots for vital seconds, Guardian kept an emerald energy bubble over the SHIELD troops as they all fell back reluctantly away from the X-bunker.

Blackstar restrained an urge to curse.

 

From the other side of the room he was in, Nate heard a low murmur of satisfaction. The words were in some obscure Central European dialect that Nate didn't understand. When Magneto was concentrating hard on something, he tended to lapse into his native tongue.

Right now, as the master mutant's eyes scanned restlessly from one viewscreen to another, his concentration was total. Through the electromagnetic lines of force emanating from his body, he deftly controlled the legions of robots, androids, and cyborgs that surrounded and defended the captured bunker. Even if every mechanical thrall under his control were to be somehow rendered nonfunctional, Magneto's mighty abilities could still animate the powerless hulks and hurl them against his enemies.

Nate had thought of somehow cutting off the power to the viewscreens, but while loss of visual contact would annoy Magneto, it wouldn't sever the connections he had developed to the myriad metal marauders he controlled outside the bunker.

And as long as Magneto controlled the defending armies of robots and could reinforce the bunker's mutant defenders, a breakthrough by the united heroes was unlikely in the extreme... at least, a timely breakthrough was.

Which put it all squarely on Nate.

Nate groaned. The world was SO fucked.

Through an archway to Blackstar's left, he could see Mystique and two other figures, hunched over a metal tabletop in the adjoining room containing the central computer banks. As he watched, one of the figures, a diminutive, rather silly looking mutant known as the Toad, reached out to gently trace his finger over the oddly curved base of a streamlined, futuristic device of seemingly inexplicable purpose.

"Yes," Nate heard the ugly little mutant mutter in a barely audible tone that was, nonetheless, very reminiscent of Peter Lorre. "These different shadings in the metal... they're embedded ceramic streams meant to insulate different energy waves flowing through the device. They come together here, here, and here... so if we touch these nodes in this sequence..."

The Toad and Mystique looked up at the third figure, a slim female form whose features were hidden behind a gold metal mask, as her head was hidden in a blue bulbous helmet. She was still for several seconds.

Then, in an eerie, breathless voice, she whispered "We are surrounded by black, airless space... it is cold... so cold... the stars glitter in the distance... I can feel my skin beginning to crack like dry parchment... to my left, Mystique is swelling like a cooked sausage..."

I should be so lucky, Nate thought to himself.

"Geh!" the Toad snorted, yanking his stubby little fingers away from the device. "It must be broken!"

"Perhaps," Destiny said in a voice with more intonation, "that setting would take us so far into the past or the future that Earth doesn't exist in that time-frame."

Mystique shook her head impatiently. "More likely, that sequence of activators simply moves one through time, but not through space. One emerges in at the same spatial point one is at now... but Earth has rotated onward."

The Toad squinted one eye, making his other one bulge comically. "Yesssss," he hissed. "Yes, I was just about to say that. Very clever, Mystique."

Nate shook his head. When the closest thing your team had to a genius like Reed Richards or Tony Stark was the Toad, it was time to find a new team. And Mystique wondered why he and Rogue had defected to the X-Men.

Of course, the longer it took for Mystique to figure out how to work the damned thing, the longer Nate had to try to figure out how to stop her.

Blackstar's eyes turned to another viewscreen. On this one, a mixed squadron composed of Wonder Man, the Beast, the She-Hulk, Archangel, the Invisible Woman, Rage, Speedball, and Nova were being held at bay by what seemed to be little more than a greenish humanoid blur, flying back and forth at astonishing velocities, hurling energy beams and knocking encroaching superhumans flying through the air with a punches and kicks that moved too fast for the naked eye to see.

"I can't BELIEVE those idiots were stupid enough to send Quicksilver in on that recon mission," Nate muttered under his breath.

Of course, they'd had no reason to think Rogue would fight on Mystique's side...

Damn it, this wasn't how things were supposed to be working out!

When Mystique had approached him in shapeshifted guise as his girlfriend Rogue, he'd been sitting at the X-Men's central monitor console, taking his designated turn watching over the various security devices that kept the most hated and feared superhero team on Earth relatively secure from their legions of enemies. The fact that Nate had been trusted enough to be assigned a watch shift had meant a great deal to him, and he was determined not to screw up.

That determination, and his long experience with Mystique's twisted schemes, had been enough to make him very wary when his supposed lover had walked up to him without saying a word or even smiling. Normally, you couldn't get Rogue to shut up; it was her way of overcompensating for the fact that she couldn't safely touch anyone.

And when she had abruptly drawn a gun on him and told him to surrender, he had recognized Mystique's voice and known instantly what was going on. Relying on his mutant sense of spatial relationships to let him dodge any bullets his former boss fired at him, Blackstar had lunged to his feet -

Of course, he should have figured that Mystique would know his powers as well as he knew hers, and come prepared. The high pressure jet of greenish gas from the muzzle of the pistol took him completely by surprise. An attack he couldn't dodge -- ! BITCH!

Even as unconsciousness swirled up over Blackstar, though, his determination not to let the X-Men down surged through him. His last conscious act was lashing out with a flawless kick, aimed not at Mystique, but at the emergency all-frequency alarm button.

When he'd awakened, he'd had a terrible headache, and a thick chemical smell had still hung in his nose like smog. He'd pushed himself up from the metal floor, bleary eyed, and for a moment, he had nearly panicked.

 

He had felt disoriented... blind... nauseated. Then he'd realized what had been done to him. His hand had come up to his neck, and he had felt the mutant inhibitor collar.

Mystique had laughed her unmistakeably cold laugh. Nate had turned, awkward and logy, feeling deaf and blind and clumsy without his mutant proximity sense. Mystique had been standing across the room from him, hands on her hips, watching him with contempt. Her compartmented metal belt was buckled with a stylized silver skull; hanging from it were two different holsters. In one Nate could see the bulky gas pistol that had felled him previously; from the other protruded the ugly butt of a Glock automatic pistol.

Then Nate's eyes had moved on, and he'd seen the reason why the ever paranoid Mystique was carrying the plastic gun. Standing just behind her, mad eyes gazing around the room from beneath his stylized helmet, was Magneto, Master of the Evil Mutants. Blackstar shuddered. If Mystique were allied with Magneto, things were bleak indeed for the good guys.

"It's not that you're particularly dangerous, Clark," Mystique had stated calmly in her cold, flat voice. "I'd simply prefer to minimize the nuisance you can be, while we're keeping you as a guest." Which would explain, Nate miserably assumed, why his battle-harness of specially gimmicked throwing stars had also been removed from him.

Through his headache, Nate had finally realized where they were... the innermost chamber of the X-Men's subterranean blast bunker. He'd peered around into the shadows. As he did, Magneto had waved a hand experimentally, and all around them, dozens of high density viewscreens had hummed into life.

"Yes," the Master of Magnetism had said in rich, satisfied tones. Another gesture had brought a metal framed leather chair rolling out of an adjoining room to his side like a well trained pet. "I will monitor from here. The captured Sentinels are installing themselves in Xavier's lawn security hatches now. They'll make a lovely surprise for some enterprising heroic sort."

Nate had taken a step forward, slowly, testing his balance. Without his mutant ability to sense exact spatial relationships, he felt doughy and sluggish. "Where are the other..."

"X-Men?" Mystique finished for him, her voice bored. "I gassed my daughter the same way I did you, idiot. I must admit, at least you penetrated my guise, albeit far too late. Rogue was ever too trusting for her own good. Once I got inside, I used Xavier's own internal defenses to immobilize the rest of the noble mutants in the mansion."

Nate had frowned; the X-Mansion had many such defenses built in to its interior and exterior walls; meant to repel an attacking enemy, or defeat a successful invader. Sonic stunners built into the walls, anaesthetic tipped darts, knock out gas. There had only been a few people inside the mansion, and none of them would have been invulnerable to such a surprise attack.

"Then I killed them all, of course," Mystique had gone on, casually. "Except my darling daughter, whom I love dearly, and you, whom I will take great pleasure in killing as soon as I no longer need you to enforce Rogue's... hmmm... bad behavior, as it were." She had given another one of her ice cold little chuckles.

Blackstar's head had spun. Everyone in the mansion dead but him? There hadn't been that many people here, but still... Longshot, dead? Shadowcat? Dazzler and Bishop and even Captain Britain? Syren? How could they all be dead?

"Don't feel too bad," Mystique had gone on, her voice taking on cruel tones of mock solicitiousness. "Yes, you were on watch and yes, your miserable failure did directly cause the deaths of your teammates. But on the other hand, you did succeed in sounding the alarm. I had no idea you absurd little mutant heroes had so many friends."

Here Mystique gestured with what seemed like very real disgust at the viewscreens, and Nate had realized for the first time that Xavier's mansion was under active attack by dozens of powerful superheroes.

"Don't get your hopes up," Mystique said, reading the dawning hope in Nate's eyes with chilling accuracy. "Opening Xavier's vault was child's play for Magnus and I. We have the time machine you helped him steal from me, Blackstar. With Magnus controlling all the mechanicals I stole the override codes to, and the United Brotherhood of..." here she smiled evilly, "...Enlightened... Mutants... including my dear foster daughter... to defend this place, I should have all the time I need to carry out my plans."

With that, she had reached behind her and seized another leather chair, shoving it with a rumble of casters across the smooth tile floor at Blackstar. "You may as well sit and watch, you poor pathetic little traitor. Watch... as I undo your entire history."

And Nate had watched. He'd quickly seen that Magneto's powers, and the secret security codes Mystique had stolen and used to override the controls on the various government robot forces like the Mandroids and the Sentinels, were only supplemental defenses for the bunker. The main forces holding the heroes back outside were the Evil... er... Enlightened Mutants themselves.

Mystique and Magneto had planned this coup immaculately. Mystique had infiltrated, while Magneto waited outside with an army of stolen high tech battle mechs and carefully recruited amoral mutants. Now that they had successfully taken the X-bunker and gotten hold of the contents of Xavier's vault, it would take days for them to be flushed out. And the world didn't have days...

Nate rubbed his temples in anguish. The idiots! They really should have known better than to send Quicksilver in on a recon mission. Once Rogue had grabbed hold of him, it had been child's play for her to fly at superspeed through the rest of the heroes' assembled ranks, absorbing powers with slight taps on the shoulder and cheek as she blew by, until now, and until those powers started wearing off again in a day or so, she was probably the most powerful superhuman entity that had walked the Earth since Galactus' last visit. No one was getting past her any time soon. And Nate was deeply afraid that there was very little time left.

There was a veritable legion of superheroes out there. Somewhere, some one or group of them must be having more success. If he kept looking...

No such luck. In the northeast quadrant, Captain America, Spider-Man, the Human Torch, Namor, Iceman, Storm, and Colossus were engaged in all out battle with a small cadre of Enlightened Mutants. Although the Blob, Pyro, Earthquake, Unus and Mastermind were all clearly visible on the viewscreen, Nate was certain that to the various heroes out there, the enemy mutants were cloaked in disorienting and deceptive illusion, increasing the tactical effectiveness of their various offensive powers by a factor of ten. Even Captain America's brilliant combat leadership and Spider-man's uncanny danger sense were barely equal to the task of keeping the heroic squadron alive and actively engaged with the Enlightened Mutant team. There was no hope of a breakthrough on that front at any time in the near future.

Nate glanced back over at the three mutants sitting around the strange device in the next room. "Perhaps..." the Toad muttered, his fingers running over the upjutting flange of metal that ended in a fist sized egg of polished red crystal. "These nodes remind me of the control surfaces in one of the warp-sleds Magneto and I stole from the Stranger. If we synchronize these settings with this set over here..."

Once again, Destiny went very still for a moment. "We are surrounded by jungle," she whispered tonelessly. "A strange jungle... as if made up of giant fronds and mushrooms, rather than trees or undergrowth. Now the ground is trembling. Something huge is crashing through the brush towards us. Something with huge teeth... and... feathers...?"

"An alien world?" the Toad wondered aloud. "Bah! This is impossible! We'll never figure it out!"

Mystique made a gesture as if to cuff the obnoxious little sycophant. "Current theories in paleontology indicate that many dinosaurs may have had feathers," she said. "Apparently we've learned how to move into the past and remain on the surface of the Earth. Now we just need finer control."

Nate shook his head. Mystique had been seeking such a device for nearly eight years, ever since she had first mused to herself, in a fit of exasperation after the botched Kennedy assassination attempt, that the world would be a far, far better place if Charles Xavier had never been born. That idea had acted as malevolent inspiration, driving her to use her Evil Mutants and her own government contacts to infiltrate and ransack every secret technological storehouse in the world. Nate himself, a few years before, had snuck into Avengers Mansion for her on an entirely separate mission, but while he'd been there, he'd placed a tap in the Avengers databanks that Mystique could access later, at any time. It had been hints in the Avengers logs she had later downloaded that had finally led Mystique to Rama Tut's tomb, where she had found the device she , the Toad, and Destiny were now desperately trying to figure out, before the united heroes outside could break in and take it away from her once more.

Of course, the reason Mystique hated Blackstar so much was that he and Rogue's first mission with the X-Men had been to foil what they knew of her plan to recover the device. After an adventure in which various X-Men and Evil Mutants had wound up being hurled through time and space to the distant past, future, and the ends of the universe itself, the X-Men, with the aid of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, had emerged triumphant and brought the newly confiscated time machine back to Xavier's mansion for safekeeping.

A move which, as it now turned out, had doomed at least six members of the team to later certain death, and which might well cause the entire timeline to be destroyed, if Mystique had her way.

Although her attention seemed totally focused on the weird machine, Blackstar was very aware that Mystique was keeping a part of her perceptions focused on him. Although Mystique was normally no match for him in combat, with his powers negated, Blackstar would be an easy target for the Glock automatic Mystique kept ever ready on the table near her right hand. The plastic-ceramic pistol was mostly there as paranoid insurance against betrayal by her ally,

Magneto, but its fifteen round clip held more than enough bullets to blow Nate's head into big ugly chunks... assuming he didn't have his innate spatial relationship sense active to let him dodge out of their way. Even if Nate could somehow kill or incapacitate Mystique, Magneto would frag him instantly, and if he somehow killed Magneto, Mystique would exterminate him just as quickly. Nothing would be accomplished. Even the death of either master mutant would be meaningless if the survivor simply altered history... which they both had every intention of doing. The original plan may have been Mystique's, but Magneto thought it was the greatest idea since the electro-magnetically guided missile.

Now all that remained was for Mystique to figure out exactly how to program the device, and then... with one pistol shot, she would plunge an entire world into a nightmarish alternate reality where homo sapiens was a hunted animal, trapped between factions of ruthless mutant warlords vying for control of a near-ruined Earth. Nate had seen that alternate reality in comic book form in his native timeline, and he had no desire to experience it for real.

Somewhere out there, Nate mused, the combined heroic geniuses of the Marvel Universe... people like Hank Pym, discoverer of the Pym Particle, Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four and explorer of outer space and the unbelievably dangerous Negative Zone, Mike Norton, whose computerized mind was as brilliant and quick thinking as his living metal body was powerful, maybe Bruce Banner (Blackstar hadn't seen the Hulk anywhere, so it was possible) and Tony Stark (Nate knew Tony Stark was Iron Man, but others had worn the armor at various times, and for all he knew, the Iron Man currently fighting Sentinels might have been a Life Model Decoy), and probably Professor Xavier himself... were hunkered down, working desperately on some way to penetrate the bunker's defenses before Magneto and Mystique managed to carry out their plan. Xavier would know what Mystique wanted to do. If this were a comic book, of course, they'd come up with some brilliant plan and save the day at the last possible second.

Unfortunately, Nate was very aware of the fact that this wasn't a comic book, this was real life. The cavalry might not come. And besides, this whole mess was his fault, anyway.

But what could he do, without his powers?

Oh, sure, even without his mutant powers, Blackstar was still a dangerous person. His innate sense of spatial relationships allowed him to be an acrobat and martial artist of superhuman expertise, giving him the capacity to aim, dodge, move, and react far faster and with much greater precision than any normal human, no matter how talented or well trained. Even without them, though, he still knew dozens of ways to kill or incapacitate with a sudden kick, punch, or chop.

But the problem remained, there were TWO of them to take out, discounting the Toad and Destiny. Magneto's powers worked as fast as thought itself, and the costume Magneto wore was far more than decorative. The metallic helmet and chestpiece protected the Master Mutant's vital organs from casual assault. And so powerful were Magneto's electromagnetic powers that if Nate couldn't kill him in one blow, at such close range Magneto could use the very iron in Nate's blood supply to rupture his brain cells.

And of course, Mystique had that damned gun.

If he could just get this collar off... somehow... Nate felt he might be fast and accurate enough to take out both of them. He'd try, anyway. But... how to do it?

Time was slipping away. If he couldn't figure a way to get the collar off, he'd have to try for them both anyway. There was nothing else to do. And, anyway, if they changed time, he might still be alive in the new timeline... cold comfort, there...

Abruptly, an alarm bell began to ring.

Mystique leapt up and ran into the monitor room with Nate and Magnus. "No," she snapped as Destiny and the Toad started to follow her, "you two figure that thing out!" She moved over to Magneto's side and bent over the monitoring central control bank.

For a moment, both their backs were turned to Nate. He stared around the room frantically for something to use as a weapon. If he could draw Mystique's plastic pistol -

The moment passed. Mystique turned casually, in such a way as to include Blackstar in her peripheral vision. Nate slumped back in his chair, depression washing over him. He might never get another chance...!

Magneto grunted. "There's nothing on any of the internal cameras, but that is a motion sensor alarm going off. Something is moving around in here with us."

Mystique worked a control and the visual on one screen panned right, then left. The colors dimmed and reddened. Suddenly, a vague, fuzzy, humanoid outline appeared.

"Infrared," Mystique crowed. "It's that bitch Sue Storm. Xavier must have given her a backdoor security code and she's trying to infiltrate us."

Abruptly the screen filled with static, then went black. Magnus swore in Serbo-Croatian. "She must have seen the camera move when you tracked her," he went on in English. "She took it out with a force projection." He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "Not that she is my equal in any way, of course, but for a human, she can be quite formidable. She has become very experienced with that damned force field of hers."

Mystique flicked a switch. The open archways leading out into the hallways surrounding the bunker's central chamber abruptly seemed to fill with a translucent blue glow. "She isn't the only one who has force fields," Mystique stated flatly. "Xavier has Shi'ar technology in this place. Those screens will keep her out long enough for us to finish figuring out the time device, and after that, nothing will matter."

Magneto had turned his attention back to the exterior viewscreen on which the Invisible Woman could still be clearly seen, along with the rest of her squadron, gamely battling the bunker's defenders. "Ahhhhh," he said, suddenly smiling. "I see now. They decoy us with one of Tony Stark's excellent Life Model Decoys!" On the screen, abruptly, the Sue Storm figure began to shake itself to pieces. As Nate watched, the metal fragments danced through the air, beginning to chase the other heroes.

Mystique hurried back to the table. "Well? Are we getting anywhere yet?"

The Toad replied something that sounded affirmative, but Nate didn't hear it. He'd just seen a shadowy form move up to the outside of the doorway into the chamber. Narrowing his eyes, he could make out the blond, movie starlet beauty of the superhero world's leading lady outside, her voluptuous figure filling out her skintight blue and black bodysuit without a trace of sag. She was looking back at him, pressing her hands measuringly up against the surface of the field.

Behind Blackstar, he heard Mystique say in triumph "So that's the combination that controls how far you go forward or back! We need to set it for... sixty years in the past..."

Outside the room, Sue Storm spread her hands helplessly and mouthed a question at Blackstar. Despair washed over Nate. She was locked out. He had to make a move. Slow and clumsy though he was...

Inspiration washed over him like the glare of a supernova. Holding the Invisible Woman's gaze, Nate reached up... and gestured to his collar.

For a second he thought she hadn't understood. Then he felt something come into being around his neck, between his skin and the collar. It was incredibly tight... choking him...

With an effort of will that brought sweat to her forehead, Sue Storm expanded the band of invisible force she'd placed under the inhibitor collar... and the metal ring shattered.

"Hrrrmm?" Mouth puckered in concentration, Magneto started to turn to see what the sudden noise had been. As he did -- and Master Mutant though he was, he moved no more quickly than any normal homo sapien -- Blackstar deftly scooped up a handful of pencils from the small tray table next to his chair and with an arm movement almost too fast to be seen, whipped them through the air at Magneto's head.

Magneto finished swiveling his leather chair around, and doubtless got a glimpse of the deadly barrage hurtling at his face. At the speed of thought he reflexively projected a magnetic bolt to shield himself, a smug, self satisfied smile beginning to curl his lips, as he began to contemplate just how he would punish this impertinent flea of an X-Man for his foolish and futile act of rebellion...

The wooden pencils passed through the Master Mutant's electromagnetic defensive field without a tremor and unerringly buried themselves to the eraser nubs in the sockets of his eyes.

Nate was turning in the air, ignoring Magneto; either the Master of Magnetism was dead, or Nate was, either way, Nate had already forgotten him.

Mystique was rising from the table, yanking up the Glock pistol, but to Nate she seemed to be moving in slow motion.

The Toad, on the other hand, with a shriek like an enraged wolverine, was hurtling at him like a midget berserker.

"Oh, just DIE, wouldya," Nate muttered in his throat. Without breaking stride Blackstar lashed out with a spinning snap kick that took the little mutant full in the chest. Had the Toad been standing still, Nate's foot would have come out through his spine; as it was, the kick drove the shattered fragments of the Toad's rib cage into his lungs and heart and sent his dead body hurtling into a viewscreen across the room with a crash of imploding circuitry.

Mystique was firing. Nate twisted to the side, letting the bullet pass harmlessly between his arm and torso. Before she could pull the trigger again, he was across the room to her and lunging into a perfect flying kick. The ball of his foot struck her like a sledgehammer at the hinge of her jaw. Nate just had time to register Destiny screaming "NO!" before the impact of his kick knocked Mystique back into the time machine.

That she, the Toad, and Destiny had only half a second before finished activating.

In a cascade of indescribable sensations, the world around Blackstar utterly vanished.

Brief physics lesson:

Most quantum physicists today, and since Einstein's time, believe that time and space are actually simply two different facets of the same quantum event. To put it another way, time and space are, to all intents and purposes, the same thing. Humans simply perceive them differently.

If time and space are the same thing, what happens to the man who has perfect perception of space... when he finds himself hurtling through time?

Blackstar was perfectly still.

Blackstar rushed towards the dawn of creation/the heat death of the universe at unreal velocities.

Nate Clark felt he should have been confused. Instead, he felt, for the first time in his life... 

...perfect enlightenment.

He saw everything. He understood everything. The nature of reality, time and space, history, the future, Earth, other timelines, other worlds. His own life...

He had always had this power. On his native world, the rules of reality had never allowed it to do more than slightly manifest... and so, subconsciously, he had moved himself to a world in which it could manifest more fully.

From there, the progression to this single point in his lifeline had been certain. Everything in his existence had led up to this point. Joining Mystique. Leading her to the time machine. Leaving her for another allegiance, causing her to do exactly what she had done.

Everything had fallen exactly into place.

Now, he was outside time. Now, he understood. Now, he could fulfill... his destiny...

There was so much chaos in the world... so much evil. From outside the timestream, he could see it all. He could see all the knots that could be smoothed out, the eddies that could be calmed, and he could look from the beginning of time to the present day and see... himself... getting rid of Evil with a capital E... getting rid of all the dangerous, powerful forces that threatened the existence of life on a daily basis... making reality a safer place for humanity...

He saw the Marvel Universe melting away. He saw... the timeline he had been born in... shimmering into existence -- !

No

time

PASSED

Blackstar started, suddenly. Something was wrong. Rogue was walking down the hall towards where he sat at the mansion's main security console -

A flick of his black glove and a throwing star appeared between his fingers. The edges were coated with a thin dark fluid. Another flick, and a thunk -- "Rogue" gasped -- staggered -- and sagged to the floor, paralyzed by the venom on the shuriken.

Her body shimmered, and became that of Mystique, one of the X-Men's, and Blackstar's, most bitter enemies.

Nate leapt to his feet and hit the alarm button. The outer doors and windows vanished beneath shutters of titanium. A klaxon began wailing in the mansion's halls. On the security screens, Nate could see Captain Britain, Shadowcat, Syren, Longshot, Dazzler, and Bishop all tumbling out of whatever rooms they'd been in, to rush towards the room he was sitting in.

On the console, one of the dark screens flared into life. Scott Summers' face formed on the screen at the same time a three dimensional projection of Professor Xavier's head formed in the air above it. "Blackstar!" both of them snapped out at once. "What's going on?"

The other X-Men rushed into the room, and stopped dead, staring at Mystique.

Blackstar rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. "Um... um... guys... I think... something just happened..."

Why couldn't he remember? Something about some destiny... and a huge battle... and himself being caught in some terrible endless time-loop... and having to give up some huge opportunity to break out of it.

Nate shook his head. Back to business. "Mystique just tried to get to the security console disguised as Rogue. So Rogue is probably stuck in a closet somewhere unconscious. And... I don't know how I know... but I think Magneto and the rest of the Evil Mutants are involved, too."

The next few minutes passed in a blur of action. Xavier ordered the X-Men in the mansion to battle stations, while Cyclops initiated a full recall of all the active X-Men on missions outside. As Blackstar stayed on duty at the main console, one thing Cyclops had said kept echoing in his mind.

"I'll get everyone there ASAP, Professor! We may not have much time!"

Somehow, Nate knew... they had all the time they needed.

All the time in the world....