A Test of Power
Men of war have long known that warriors
must often abandon
those verities they defend: peace, human kindness, love...
for they hold no meaning to the enemy. And so to win, do we
become what we despise, and despise what we become?
The blustery and frigid winter day could only partially dispel the
fetid odor that emanated from the Bethpage landfill. Neither the smell
nor the landfill itself were remarkable for Long Island. Even though
environmental politics and recycling were in vogue, a few operating
facilities still remained. Their eventual promised closing
would make a wonderful political platform for a savvy local politician
seeking office. In an otherwise completely flat landscape, these manmade
mountains were actually the highest points on the island and, if one
were so inclined, offered an excellent view of both the Atlantic Ocean
and Manhattan. What distinguished this waste facility from all the
others was not discernable from ground level but was located approximately
two hundred and fifty feet below the surface.
Eight-hundred thousand years ago, a vast alien underground complex
was left here by the Celestials, a space-fairing race of giants as
old and mysterious as the universe itself. This enormous complex contained
a virtual treasure trove of seemingly abandoned technology -- technology
that was so beyond the current standard it might be confused with
During the thousands of years that the complex had been on Earth,
only two of its natives had physically ever set foot inside the structure.
At first glance, to say these individuals were aliens might be closer
to the truth than to classify them as human. Although both were born
of this earth, they in no way resembled what would be considered the
norm for human beings, but were of a superior breed of human: namely,
mutants. But to classify one of the occupants of this complex as simply
a mutant would be a grievous error.
The irony of a base located under tons of human
garbage and refuse was not lost on the present owner and operator
of this stronghold. When he had first found this abandoned Celestial
monitoring station over four hundred years ago and converted it for
his own personal use, even he could not have forecasted that the acres
of land above the base would be used to bury the waste of hundreds
of thousands of human beings. But he soon came to realize that layer
upon layer of waste composed of every conceivable material, all covered
by layers of specialized sand, was the best and most maintenance-free
camouflage possible. In addition, with the methane gas byproduct burned
off by the decaying garbage, even advanced thermal imaging satellites
would see nothing out of the ordinary. He considered this his most
important and secure facility.
Amidst a room littered with other worldly machines and advanced technology,
the immense stone throne that occupied the corner of the dimly lit
room was strangely out of place. The throne itself was the only human
comfort, if one considered a cold, granular stone chair thousands
of years old a comfort. It was more of a personal item and had nothing
to do with physical comfort at all. Apocalypse had placed and positioned
the 20-ton rock-hewn throne in this very room himself.
The origin of this throne and the identity of its fabricators would
have solved a centuries-old archeological enigma. One of the most
ancient tombs, if not the most ancient, the Temple of Hatsheput was
found by Howard Carter in 1902 completely intact and undisturbed.
Carter fully expected to find Amenhotep I and his two sons inside
the gigantic structure. But the sealed tomb and sarcophagi were empty
and no record was ever found to account for this mystery. Their bodies
were never mummified and prepared to facilitate their journey into
the afterlife befitting their position. Instead, if the truth were
known, they were left to rot out in the open sands, food for the desert
In 1353 BC, Apocalypse had chosen three individuals to carve his
throne, not for their skill in stone cutting, but as punishment. Amenhotep,
one of the first pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, and his two children
had been given this honor. Amenhotep and his sons had labored at the
base of the Theban Peak, called el-Qurna by the natives, for over
a year. Upon completion of this task and without a single word, Apocalypse
easily lifted the ponderous rock and brought it crashing down on his
royal slaves. Their emaciated bodies were crushed, mercifully
ending their year of hellish servitude.
The pharaoh and his sons had also been told to carve their names
into the base of the stone. What they were mercifully unaware of was
that after their death, Apocalypse had pulverized some of their remains
by grinding their skulls into each of the respective hieroglyphics
that represented their names. This was all done in the presence of
Apocalypse's millennium-old slave Ozymandias. Whether it was meant
to serve as an example or just a cruel whim of Apocalypse, Ozymandias
did not know. But his present position of servitude after thousands
of years was a testament to Apocalypse's intense dislike of men born
into power or wealth, as well as the complete obedience he managed
Apocalypse's booming voice suddenly issued from
the shadows reverberating off the walls. He leaned forward on the
throne scanning his surroundings, his cold luminous eyes matching
the unearthly glow that emanated from the alien machines. "I will
no longer permit you to observe me clandestinely Watcher. Show
yourself, Uatu, or I will expel you from my home."
The twenty-foot form of Uatu materialized just to the right of Apocalypse,
suspended ten feet above the floor. A large bulbous head completely
out of proportion with an extremely slight body, the Watcher resembled
more of a caricature of a human being than an alien. Clothed in flowing
white robes reminiscent of members of the ancient Roman Senate, the
Watcher spoke in a quiet voice that was almost effeminate. His docile
temperament and gentle mannerisms belied a being of enormous cosmic
might and resources. "You were able to detect my presence before I
allowed it ... impressive. Have you recently discovered a new piece
of pilfered Celestial technology or has your unique mutant physiology
manifested a new ability?"
"I am a newborn babe in comparison to you and your venerable race
of observers." Apocalypse emphasized the word observers,
his voice thick with disgust. "Use your great powers of observation
and tell me."
Uatu ignored the sarcasm. Apocalypse had made it very clear during
one of their many past encounters that he despised apathy and inaction.
To Apocalypse, the entire race of Watchers represented everything
that he loathed and considered weak. "You believe that you now have
the means to not only bar me from observing you, but to forcibly remove
"You have always been a source of interest to me, Uatu. That, and
only that is why I tolerate your presence. Rest assured, should my
tolerance waver, you will have an answer to your question," Apocalypse
said, eyes narrowing. "You are here to impart some information and
observe my reaction no doubt," Apocalypse said brusquely.
"Impart? No. I only wish to observe your reaction to information
that you are already in possession of. Sinister has begun in earnest
to move against you."
Apocalypse smiled. "Of course."
"And this brings you some measure of pleasure?" Uatu had an open
look of curiosity on his normally expressionless face. "I have been
witness to some of the most devious and conspiratorial minds in human
history. Sinister should not be underestimated. His exposure to Celestial
science has allowed him to leap so far ahead of even the most brilliant
minds on your planet. There is no telling what he may yet achieve.
His brilliance may prove to be your undoing."
"He is precisely what I expect him to be. I freed his mind and body
from the shackles of convention and time. He was chosen for his genius
and strength of will. His exposure to Celestial technology was carefully
orchestrated and achieved the results I desired. And should he usurp
me, so be it. That is the natural order of things."
"Exactly what are the results you desire?" The Watcher asked
his question in an unusually pointed manner, revealing that he had
devoted a great deal of thought to the subject. "There are mysteries
that surround you that even I have been unable to discern ... and
that should be impossible, which in itself is another mystery. Your
barbaric and primitive nature defined by your predilection for public
violence is all that you have allowed your enemies to see. Your ideas
and goals are regarded as simplistic, no different than the countless
tyrants that your world seems to produce in abundance. I contend that
they are anything but simplistic. Your objectives while hardly benign,
are not as desultory as they seem to be."
Apocalypse regarded Uatu for several moments before responding, his
voice sounding like the rumbling of a dormant volcano that was slowly
coming to life. "What other questions about me plague you, Watcher?"
Uatu also paused for several moments before responding, choosing his
words carefully. Apocalypse rarely spoke a length about his plans, let
alone entertained questions. "At any time during the course of human
history you could have easily subjugated the entire world's populace
without any effort, yet you have not. Even to someone who is not native
to this world and based on your martial philosophy, this has always
seemed incongruous. It is, unfortunately, not the way of your kind.
And to now struggle for dominance in the present when there are vastly
greater forces that can be brought to bear against you is sheer insanity.
What better way to control the survival of the fittest philosophy that
you profess to adhere to with you as humanity's sole ruler? Why let
history unfold the way it has? Why allow people and resources to be
wasted on imaginary border disputes, provincialism, or petty squabbles?
Why allow scientific pursuits and ideas to be squelched by ruthless
dictators, religious zealots and ideological fools?
"One could argue that the conditions of war, want, conflict and strife
are necessary ingredients for the maturation of most successful species.
While this is sadly true, you, Apocalypse, were uniquely in a position
and have the power to create this state yet improve upon it a thousand
"For the physical traits that you so value, you could have forcibly
bred the strong as you deemed appropriate; primitive genetic
manipulation by ensuring that only the most fit bred with the most
fit. You could have easily created the fighting and the accompanying
harsh environments that you hold are the forge of the mighty, all
the while maintaining enough control to eliminate the waste of open
warfare. Think of how throughout your history scientists and visionaries
were imprisoned or killed because of religious or political beliefs.
Throughout your lifetime you witnessed weak and cowardly men by any
standards, in positions of power actively stunting the growth of your
race. Yet you chose to sit idly and observe what transpired.
Where were you, Apocalypse, and why did you not see fit to 'cull the
weak from the strong'?" Actual emotion had crept into the Uatu's voice.
"You have clear knowledge of future realities where you have attained
complete power in the manner you currently advocate. In all those
realities your world is on the brink of complete collapse, your race
on the precipice of total extinction. This is the condition that you
believe will allow humanity to compete with other more technologically
advanced races and spread among the stars?"
Uatu continued, not even pausing to allow Apocalypse, if he were
so inclined, to answer any of his questions. "The Celestial technology
that you possess and have jealously hoarded for centuries could have
been shared with the greatest minds throughout your history. Think
of where mankind would be today, technologically, if you had gathered
these minds together, allowing them to study and share in the utilization
of these future marvels. The S'hiar and the Skrulls would be technological
children in comparison. Yet you have done nothing to protect against
the very aliens that you claim are a threat."
Apocalypse's face was like granite, expressionless. Yet Uatu could
somehow tell that he had Apocalypse's attention and that he was listening
"Another mystery that has perplexed me is how you were first able to
gain entrance to a sentient Celestial device. (1)
I am the only individual on this planet, perhaps even within a thousand
light-years, who possesses any knowledge pertaining to automated Celestial
tools. Are you aware that it is impossible for any species other
than the Celestials to access and operate any of their devices? Certainly
a prudent precaution because the results could be catastrophic. My own
race has similar safeguards against any of our technology falling into
the hands of any of the more primitive races. Failure to have adequate
safeguards in place would be an equivalent transgression to direct interference
with an alien culture. The Celestials are even more judicious concerning
their technology. Even I would be unable to utilize their technology,
forcibly or otherwise. Accidental possession or operation of any their
equipment would bring about an immediate response from the Celestials
themselves. Yet here you sit in an abandoned Celestial monitoring station
using technology that is forbidden to any race other than the Celestials.
You operated 'Ship' for centuries completely unhampered. And even more
puzzling: your ability to operate devices well beyond even the most
learned individuals in you scientific community ... devices constructed
to respond only to the mental signature of a Celestial ... devices
suited to aliens thousands of feet tall. Yet some of the devices
I see before me have some how been tailored to suit your needs.
What you have accomplished is categorically impossible. Despite your
impressive prowess in several areas, you have absolutely no aptitude
for any of the scientific disciplines. That is why you chose Sinister
to aid you due to your own extremely limited capability in that area."
Uatu expected an invective. He hoped for one, which spoke of his
desperation. He knew that Apocalypse would not answer any questions
directly but thought if he could trigger an uncontrolled emotional
response, it might reveal something.
Apocalypse's eyes glowed like molten ingots of white-hot steel. "You
seek to uncover a conspiracy where none exists." His voice remained
low but contained a menacing intensity like the sound of distant rolling
thunder of an impending storm. "My contempt for your ilk is readily
apparent. I have concealed nothing about my agenda. You and the rest
of the alien filth pervade this planet like a disease. Skrulls, S'hiar,
Kree, even your lifeless race seek to control or dominate humanity
in one form or another. They are inferiors ... you are inferior and
will fail. I would reduce this planet to a smoldering cinder before
I allow you or anyone else dictate its future. My goal is an evolutionary
necessity, to elevate the natural inhabitants of this world
... to put humanity on an equal ground with the myriad of older races
of this galaxy. Only through superior strength will we be allowed
to dictate and govern our ultimate destiny. If it is at the expense
of another individual, a thousand, or an entire race, so be it. You
well know that without my intervention, this world would have fallen
prey to invaders several times. I simply seek to insure that my race
survives, no more, no less. I will guide its ascendance as I always
have. And should I have discovered a means to aid me in this endeavor,
only a fool would choose to ignore it ... or share it.
"Over time, I have come to understand you and your fellow Watchers.
You are now acting outside the bounds of your code of beliefs. Have
you not sworn a pledge of noninterference? Is this not the
credo that governs every individual of your race?" Apocalypse's
tone was both mocking and threatening.
"Tyrants are usually quite adept at putting forth specious arguments,
but you have not provided any answers to my questions," Uatu said
calmly. "Although there is a ring of truth in much of what you say,
I believe it is part of a much grander conspiracy whose scope I am
only now beginning to discern. I also recognize your considerate reminder
of my sworn oath as nothing more couched threat. You may think of
me as weak Apocalypse, but I no longer fear exposure to the fellow
members of my race. To a small extent, any of the interlocutions you
and I have had over the course of many centuries has been a violation
of that oath. But this transgression among many is necessary due to
the gravity of the threat I believe you pose. I could never convince
my close-minded brethren that a single human is as dangerous as I
believe ... nor convince them to even consider any action." Uatu's
expression was strangely one of regret and sadness.
With that, Uatu withdrew to his base on the moon. He had only revealed
a small measure of what he knew to Apocalypse in order to first gauge
his response. Uatu had often wondered what Apocalypse would say if
he knew that he had dedicated many years and an entire laboratory
to the study of him. Not only did he study Apocalypse's agenda and
machinations to determine his objective, but his mutation as well.
Uatu had observed humanity for countless generations. Mutants were
possibly the next step in mankind's evolution but had only recently
come into being. They were of great interest to him, complex almost
beyond understanding and unique in the entire known universe.
Humanity's knowledge of mutantkind was limited and tainted with prejudices
and misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, all of Earth's
mutants were able to tap into psionic energy to varying degrees. Not
only telepaths, but energy manipulators, shapechangers, -- all mutants
utilized psionic energy. Some mutants were able to store this mutant
energy, for want of a better term, more proficiently or in greater
quantities. Others were able to access it faster and deliver it in
greater quantities. The reasons varied and could be attributed to
many factors: skill, willpower, physiology or psychology. Human beings
were such a complex amalgam of feedback systems: neurochemical responses
driven by genes switched on in their brains determining behavior,
and vice versa. Even Uatu had been unable to completely categorize
all the different reasons behind the manifestation of various abilities.
But psionic energy was always present and used directly or employed
as means to control other energy. Scott Summers's absorption of solar
energy and its safe use could only be accomplished and facilitated
by the presence of psionic energy. The mutant Storm controlled an
enormous amount of psionic energy in order to change complex factors
and dynamics to bring about almost instantaneous weather changes.
Yet none of these mutants registered as traditional psions because
psionic energy had many forms, the differences too subtle for humanity
to yet recognize. The source of the energy was also extremely difficult
to identify. Uatu himself had only been able to determine the source
about half a century ago.
Even among mutants, Apocalypse was an extraordinary being. His mutation,
to Uatu, was a thing of wonder. Apocalypse had repeatedly stated to
his enemies that he had the ability to control every molecule
in his body. While this was true, his basic mutant ability went far
beyond just the control of his molecular structure and extended to
his own atomic and even sub-atomic structure. This single facet of
his numerous abilities, gave Apocalypse both tremendous offensive
and defensive capabilities and access to enormous energies. Precise
control of every atom that made up his being allowed Apocalypse to
increase his bodies density to unparalleled levels. Strengthening
and weakening molecular bonds, bonds between atoms, even bonds between
sub-atomic particles; Apocalypse could make himself completely invulnerable
to any weapon. His seemingly metallic outer shell was nothing
more than a reflection of this ability. He could change his own bodies
material properties in seconds ... transmutation of elements, adopting
any substances atomic structure ... substances so unyielding and dense
that they could never exist naturally.
Apocalypse also used his control over his own sub-atomic structure
to release incomparable energies and could direct it wherever he chose.
Apocalypse could literally create a controlled fission or fusion reaction
just by utilizing and forfeiting a small portion of his own mass.
Earth's scientists had only relatively recently uncovered the hidden
power of the atom. They had discovered this first through physics
and mathematics, and then through dangerous experimentation.
Nuclear fission occurs when the nuclei of certain isotopes of very
heavy elements, isotopes of Earth elements such as uranium and plutonium
capture neutrons. The nuclei of these isotopes are just barely stable
and the addition of a small amount of energy to one by an outside
neutron will cause it to split promptly into two roughly equal pieces,
with the release of a great deal of energy and several new neutrons.
With Apocalypse's ability, he was able to do just that and produce
a brief self-sustained reaction ... an energy beam of devastating
Uatu was quite certain that Apocalypse didn't even possess the most
rudimentary knowledge concerning nuclear fission. But just as primitive
man or even an animal need not understand electrochemical responses
and nerve synapses in order to move -- Apocalypse didn't need to understand
how he could break bonds between sub-atomic particles to generate
and control great energies.
Uatu had observed Apocalypse closely, utilizing the most sophisticated
devices available to his race's science. No known device could mimic
Apocalypse's control of sub-atomic particles or attain the level of
efficiency with which he was able to deliver the energy. Apocalypse's
control concerning the strength of the beam was uncanny. He could
vary the intensity and never came close to utilizing the upper limits
of this ability. He normally chose to stun or incapacitate any foe,
many times tempering his blows. Uatu knew that this had nothing to
do with any concern for humans or mutants. He believed that Apocalypse
did not wish to exhibit the level of power and control that he had
The full extent and monstrous consequences of another of Apocalypse's
mutant abilities was only known to Uatu. During the X-Men's recent
encounter with another delusional mutant bent on world domination,
a small portion of Apocalypse's heinous acts were revealed to a certain
few, the enormity of the atrocity almost too incredible for the mutant
team to believe. Through a series of seemingly unrelated events, Genesis,
the adopted son of Nathan Dayspring, had stumbled across a revival
crèche of Apocalypse. There he found hundreds of thousands
of human beings in Celestial stasis containers that were inexplicably
modified to channel their life forces into Apocalypse. (2)
Some of the humans had been in stasis for centuries, in a state of
non-life, slowly being leeched of everything that gave them life.
The life-energy he absorbed had little to do with Apocalypse's immortality.
It served only one purpose: to grant him more power.
This life-energy or cosmic energy was part of the fundamental make-up
of every living creature in the universe. Humanity's theologians called
it the soul, while mathematicians decribed it with a fledgling theory
called Quantum Chromodynamics. This theory proported to explain the
relationship of strong nuclear forces. But to humanity's present level
of understanding, the theory was mathematically intractable and makes
few predictions that can be compared to experimental evidence. This
was again due to the fact that humanity was incapable of measuring
the existence of very short-lived particles with certain resonances,
But only very few beings contained this energy in significant quantities
to allow them to manipulate matter and energy as easily as any simple
creature of flesh and blood could manipulate an appendage. Both his
race and the Celestials had this ability. The "World Devourer" Galactus
also had this ability but existed at at even higher plane of reality,
requiring him to continuously replenish his life-energy. But all these
beings were ancient even by Apocalypse's standards, and had evolved
as a race over millions of years, or in the case of Galactus had preexisted
this universe. Somehow Apocalypse had discovered that he could somehow
absorb and store this life-energy in his body ... and utilize it when
required. (3) Over many centuries and
at the expense of countless living beings, Apocalypse had greatly
added to his own considerable power.
Over centuries, perhaps millions of individuals had fallen to this
horrific fate because of Apocalypse's discovery. Not one, but several
of these crèches existed in different locations around the
globe where Apocalypse could go to replenish or supplement his own
energies. Over the last few centuries, Apocalypse's power had grown
to such proportions that not even several of the most powerful of
Earth's mutants could hope to stand against him. His ability to absorb
and store life-energy gave him his greatest advantage against any
potential foe. It was this energy coupled with his mutant energy,
and the energy he could liberate by breaking the atomic bonds of his
own physical body, that made him unique even among mutants.
It was Uatu's belief that Apocalypse learned of his ability to absorb
life-energy from other living beings on Ship. Uatu's monitoring equipment
had been unable to actually view what had transpired while Apocalypse
was on the Celestial ship. While this was not unusual due to the myriad
of screening and defensive devices any Celestial ship contained, Ship
had been damaged and most all of its primary systems shut down. Uatu
should have been able to observe Apocalypse on Ship but could not.
Another mystery. In addition, a distress signal that was immediately
activated when Ship had crash-landed went unheeded by the Celestials
and ceased to operate shortly after its activation.
It had always struck Uatu as odd that in many ways he understood
Apocalypse better than Apocalypse's mutant enemies. He certainly had
an advantage because of his technology to observe Apocalypse for many
years, but Uatu was still an alien. While human beings knew relatively
little about Apocalypse's mutation, it was common belief that everything
'mechanical' was taken from the Celestials. It was believed that Apocalypse
encased himself in some form of bio-organic armor -- Celestial armor
fashioned by Ship. Nothing could be further from the truth. There
was one thing that Uatu was certain of after observing Apocalypse
for countless centuries: Apocalypse truly believed that in a personal
challenge of strength or power, there was no nobility in an unfair
contest. To defeat an enemy with anything other than his own natural
mutant ability or strength would be dishonorable. The use of any type
of weapon, let alone armor to protect himself would be an anathema
He had exhausted all but one possibility that might assuage Apocalypse
from his course of action. He had already done enough to irrevocably
damn him in the eyes of his brethren. He would be executed should
he be found out. Uatu would be the first and only member of his race
ever to suffer this fate. Although it was not shame or his death he
feared ... but failure.
Uatu represented a considerable threat to his ultimate plans. He
had known that any exposure to Uatu over the centuries while dangerous,
had also been of inestimable value. Uatu had concluded what any fool
would once they had determined he was not insane. Over many centuries,
he had carefully buried lies within truths to conceal his primary
objective. Uatu might have outlived his usefulness. Could he kill
a Watcher? Certainly a worthy challenge of his might, or a foolhardy
one. Although a part of him relished the thought of an open confrontation,
guile was a more appropriate course of action.
He smiled. I might even impress you with my cunning, Nathaniel,
Apocalypse thought. And Uatu was correct ... Sinister was indeed a
formidable adversary. Over the last two centuries Sinister had attempted
to kill him several times and had come rather close to succeeding.
He had almost chosen too well, he mused. Even now an apparatus that
was attuned to Sinister's bio-signature indicated that he had just
"You see Highborn, Sinister seeks to recruit Magneto
to his cause," Apocalypse rumbled. "No doubt he will be successful.
Magnus has great power but is weak in other ways. Sinister will have
found a way to make him do his bidding.
"Together, they could present a formidable opposition, Master." The
deference was always clear and distinct whenever Ozymandias addressed
"Indeed. Sinister's attempt to rally mutant opposition against me
is no more than a feint. Even Xavier's brood is not foolish enough
to blindly trust Sinister. They have no idea of his true plans ...
but neither do I," Apocalypse said sounding mildly pleased. "He is
the first true test of my fitness to survive in many centuries. He
believes our goals conflict and will not rest until I am dead."
"Would my death please you, Ozymandias?" Apocalypse asked, looking
down at Ozymandias.
"I..." Even after thousands of years, Ozymandias wilted under the
direct gaze of his master.
"You need not contemplate such an occurrence ... ever," Apocalypse
Wolverine #100 - Did anyone but me wonder where
these people came from and why the X-Men did nothing to help them?
X-Factor #67 - Apocalypse's ability to drain life
essences first revealed.
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