The academy students are in Dining Room #38 of the infinite mansion. Reptil is a little upset, not because Finesse woke him up, but because she didn’t knock. He tells her he could have been in a ‘compromising position.’ What if he’d had a girl in his room? Finesse tells him that is unlikely, as the report on his escape from Norman Osborn’s facility indicated that he’s never kissed a girl. Mettle’s jaw drops. “Oh no she didn’t,” he gasps. Striker says it’s not like anyone’s surprised. Finesse doesn’t understand the problem. Statistically, it’s not unusual for a sixteen-year-old. Veil tells her that maybe true, but no sixteen-year-old boy wants anyone to know that. She’s humiliated him.
Finesse realizes her mistake and offers to make it up to Reptil. He replies that she can’t. She should put some food in her mouth so he doesn’t have to hear her talk. She then tells him that she is attractive. She’ll kiss him, right there where his peer group will see it. Reptil thinks she’s kidding but Mettle tells him that, if he doesn’t kiss her, he will. Reptil stands up, pointing out that he doesn’t even know Finesse’s real name. She informs him that it’s Jeanne… Jeanne Foucault. Can they get on with it as she’s getting hungry? Reptil leans in for the kiss but, with amazingly bad timing, Arsenal comes crashing through the wall.
Finesse thinks it’s a cliché that young people think they know everything. Well, she does. Almost. She is eidetic and so recognizes her foe immediately. She updates the others on Arsenal’s history, informing them that it is a doomsday robot built by Iron Man’s dad to keep fighting wars even after total Armageddon. It can analyze and react to any foe and almost killed all the Avengers… twice.
Striker says it’s up against the next-gen model now. He asks the others to make themselves useful. He needs a battle cry. Arsenal watches him, absorbs his electrical blast and counters by swiping Striker with its huge left hand into Reptil. Finesse knew that wouldn’t work, but she has a theory she wishes to test. Veil wonders if she can blind the robot but, as she unravels, it activates a vacuum which begins to suck her inside it. Mettle attempts to punch it, but Arsenal uses a chest repulsor to blast him. This confirms Finesse’s theory.
Watching on their monitors, Hank Pym realizes that it’s Arsenal who is attacking, but it was in pieces when he stored it. Tigra wants to get down there but Quicksilver sits with his arms behind his head, asking calmly what the rush is. Why not give their little know-it-all’s a chance to show what they’ve learned?
In the dining room, Finesse has learned all she needs from this. She hurls a billy club at Arsenal’s chest plate and jams it open. She asks Hazmat to attack it with a full-spectrum burst, now! Crying out that she hates this place, Hazmat does as she is asked and thrusts her hand inside the robot’s chest plate. This does the trick and Arsenal falls as its internal workings explode.
Finesse appears to be impressed by Hazmat’s passion. A moment ago, she was terrified. She herself had solved the mysteries of the electromagnetic spectrum before she bought her first training bra. She mastered robotics by the time she got her learner’s permit. People, though, they are like a foreign language that she cannot understand. She is an expert at everything other that what she needs to get through the rest of her life!
With the robot down, the three teachers appear and Hank asks them if they’re okay. Finesse replies that of course they are. They were never in any real danger. Arsenal was programmed to use non-lethal force. “I’m sorry, what?” asks Striker. Jeanne informs him that, according to Avengers files, Arsenal’s chest cannon has knocked out Wonder Man, but not Mettle. None of them were truly injured. This was a test. Hank admits that it was, but Tigra adds that it was one which they strongly disapproved.
Pietro responds by asking how they are to learn if they only face situations where they know they won’t be hurt. When he was a boy, Magneto would hire assassins to attack him and Wanda in their sleep. Tigra replies that Magneto is a terrorist. They are Avengers. How could he guarantee they wouldn’t be hurt? And, since when was he an A.I. wizard? Pietro motions to Jocasta and explains that he’s not. He had Jocasta rebuild and program Arsenal.
Jocasta admits that she did, though she believed the matter was approved by all instructors. Had she known, she wouldn’t have complied. Hank tells her it’s not her fault. If they all talked more, this kind of thing might be avoided. Jocasta says she is always available for professional discussions but, until Hank accepts that their romantic relationship is over, she thinks it best that they keep a respectable distance.
As Jocasta walks away, Tigra quips that, if he liked it he should have put a ring on it. Hank asks that they keep his private life private. Tigra reckons he should be grateful. ‘Single mom who sheds’ is not a profile that gets a lot of hits on Match.com. Hank apologizes to the students. This shouldn’t have happened, right, Pietro? Pietro replies with sarcasm that he is evil… misguided… but Hank has shown him the light. Hank tells them that besides that, they did well. They displayed bravery and teamwork. If they think this kind of impromptu exercise is valuable they could have others. Reptil reckons they’ll pass. They don’t like being attacked in the middle of breakfast. Hazmat says that they also don’t like being treated like idiots who need to be tricked into learning things. “Or,” adds Veil, “Y’know, lied to.” Hank takes her point and gives them the rest of the morning as a free period. They’ve earned it. Finesse realizes that this is why she is there. There is so much that they can teach her.
(Combat simulation room, later that afternoon)
As the students battle solid-light constructs of old Avengers villains such as the Grim Reaper, Ultron and Whirlwind, Hazmat complains vociferously about why they are still there after what they found out that morning. All the teachers have done is lie to them. They told them they were there to be trained because they were the best young superhumans in the world, whereas they’re just the most screwed up and the ones they’re most afraid of. Veil shushes her, but Hazmat asks her to relax. She’s giving off E.M. energy that will interfere with monitoring devices. Anyway, she adds. What does she care if they can hear them? She says they walk. Striker asks where to. Back to her stuffed animals and Twilight posters. She should wise up. She’s radioactive. Her own parents will bury her under a gravel pit.
Hazmat pauses, not believing that they would, but Striker tells her that he knows this is supposed to be some new ‘heroic age’ with the original Captain America making everything all Norman Rockwell and apple pie again, but she should read between the lines. That means there is no place for rejects like them. They have to play along with their program to rehabilitate them or they’ll lock them up with Norman Osborn; the guy who messed them up in the first place and the guy they’re afraid they will end up like.
Reptil says they wouldn’t do that. They’re heroes. Striker reckons they’re just deciding whether they’re villains or not. Mettle asks them to pay attention to the training program as he grabs Ultron’s head. He almost smoked them. They go back into action once again, with Mettle pointing out to Hazmat that whether Striker’s right or not, he doesn’t see that they have any other choice. They both need the teachers to try figure out how to change them back to normal.
The training session is finally shut down, and Hazmat asks Finesse what she thinks. She pauses a moment before replying that she thinks knowledge is power. She thinks they should learn whatever they can teach them and then they can make their own decisions. No one will be able to stand in their way.
Finesse hits the showers and wonders why she hesitated when asked her opinion. She knew what the best strategy was. Was it because they were all looking at her? She finds it ridiculous. She understands the mechanisms of psychology, her fellow students’ self-hate and the tension between their instructors. It’s all so obvious. Yet, every day they surprise her with their behavior. She even surprises herself and that shouldn’t happen. Not to her.
Finesse recalls growing up with her parents. She never had difficulty understanding math, science or engineering. When she got older, she played pool and mastered how to play in minutes. The human body and anything it can do is an open book to her. Her parents were too, at first. Anything she did that brought them money, status or acclaim was rewarded. Why, then, were they so reluctant about her coming to the academy. Sure it meant giving up her Olympic training, but her rivals were already trying to get her banned for having superhuman abilities. Never mind that she tested negative for the mutant gene or any other known indicators of paranormal powers.
Her fellow students are no less confounding. She supposes she understands Veil’s crush on Justice in the abstract, but it seems so pointless. He’s older and a teacher. She’s opening herself up to humiliation and disappointment, yet she persists. Why would anyone do that to themselves? She thinks about how people on the autistic spectrum are prone to alexithymia - a deficiency in understanding, processing or describing emotions. Does she have Asperger’s, she wonders? She doesn’t display most of the other signs.
She looks at herself in the mirror and thinks about how psychopaths mimic normal human emotion without truly understanding it. But, she never started fires and cannot tolerate cruelty to animals. That seems as pointless as fantasizing about marrying a teacher… or marriage in general, frankly. She knows that the instructors watch her and know that she’s different. They fear her the most.
She feels that she meant what she said when they learned the truth about Avengers Academy. They have good reason to be afraid of them. Most of them were damaged in some way by Norman Osborn, but she thinks the teachers fear her because she wasn’t. He didn’t have to coerce her, torture her or experiment on her. All he had to do was offer her the chance to learn more - to learn the things she can’t just absorb from books or archival footage such as knife throwing. The Avengers afford her similar opportunities, yet they regard her with suspicion because she embraced those same opportunities when Osborn offered them. That puts her at a disadvantage and she finds it disquieting. However, she reckons she can fix it. It’ll mean leaving her comfort zone but that’s okay. She can do this. She can do anything.
Finesse goes to meet Hank Pym in his lab and asks if he’s busy. He asks what he can do for her. She tells him that she’s having trouble fitting in with the other cadets. Hank replies that they’d noticed. He’s glad to hear she wants something to change. He offers to get Tigra, but Finesse replies that she’s more comfortable talking to him. Pym feels too old to relate to ‘teenage matters,’ and admits that he wasn’t very good at it when he was a teenager.
Finesse says that is her point. He skipped grades the same way she did, so he knows what it’s like. They have a great deal in common. Hank supposes that makes sense. Finesse adds that his late wife, when she became his partner, was around the same age as her, wasn’t she? Uncertain where this conversation is heading, he replies that Janet was older, whilst he was much younger. Finesse finds his reaction interesting. She went too far taking cues from Veil in her interaction with Hank. She could have sworn Justice found her schoolgirl infatuation flattering, but clearly Pym considers it inappropriate to smooth things over.
She apologizes to him for saying that and tells him she just thought he might help her understand. She feels as though she doesn’t know who she is anymore. She’s not even sure her parents are really her parents. Hank replies that it’s a common feeling, but flawed. He’s certain they love her deeply. Jeanne tells him he doesn’t understand. She’s not some wallflower fantasizing that she’s really a princess. Look at her abilities. She can duplicate any action by seeing it performed once. She has a natural aptitude for everything. Doesn’t that sound familiar… like someone the Avengers know?
Hank brings up an image of Taskmaster on screen and admits it occurred to them, too. She tells him that her parents have checkered pasts. Taskmaster ran schools for criminals. “It’s within the realms of possibility that my mother…” Hank interrupts her and asks what it matters. Who she is is defined by her, not by genetics. She replies that he doesn’t really believe that. He’s a scientist and genetics matter a lot. She needs to know the truth. Pym tells her he can’t give her the truth. Taskmaster’s DNA was in government databases at one time but, when he joined Osborn’s administration, he had all the data wiped.
But, he asks her what difference would it make if it was true. The man’s a criminal, a sociopath. Would she want to meet him or want him in her life at all? Finesse admits she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what it would mean. Finesse thinks to herself that she was trying to elicit sympathy from Pym but he’s even more suspicious than ever. She wonders why this is so hard. Hank presses another switch on the console and tells her does understand something about what it’s like to be young and have power. The possibilities seem endless. And, it’s only natural to be drawn to people who seem strong or confident. In control. Especially when, in spite of her power, she may not feel in control. He’d like her to watch something.
Finesse takes a seat as Quicksilver’s face appears on the video screen. Hank hopes she’ll find it illuminating and if she’d like to, they can talk afterwards. He’ll be around.
The video is a program called Marvels Spotlight and it examines the turbulent life of Pietro Maximoff, better known as Quicksilver. It begins with Pietro and his sister being recruited by a mutant terrorist Magneto, not knowing that he was their biological father. It then moves on to when he joined the Avengers and, in the words of Leonard Samson, ‘Imagine what it took to break from Magneto who held an influence over him comparable to that of a cult leader and reach out to the Avengers, the embodiment of a human power structure Magneto had taught him to fear and hate. This in my opinion was an act of heroism.’
The video then moves on to his relationship with Crystal and the Inhuman Royal Family. Pietro finally seemed to have found a home amongst them; an entire race of outsiders. But, even there he wasn’t one of them and, ultimately, his marriage couldn’t survive the strain. It moves on to a dark period where Quicksilver struggled with mental illness – his increasing paranoia and megalomania eventually bringing him to blows with his former teammates.
As part of his rehabilitation, he joined X-Factor, which was at the time a government-sponsored team of mutants. Psychotherapy was a required condition of membership. It was then that Dr. Samson attained special insight into what it’s like to be the fastest man on Earth. He said, ‘Imagine there’s a long line at the post office, so you go to use their automated machine, but the person in front of you can’t figure out how it works. They’re pressing the wrong buttons, reading the instructions out loud to themselves, hitting cancel and starting all over again, while you could complete both their transactions in under thirty seconds. That’s what every moment of every day is like for Quicksilver. It’s to his credit that he makes any effort to put up with us at all.’
Finesse watches with interest, having not really understood what Pietro has gone through in his short life. The video continues to a more recent time when it was revealed that it was Quicksilver who instigated the war between the Inhumans and Earth, only for it to be revealed that it was actually a shape-changing Skrull, one of many who replaced victims worldwide to pave the way for their invasion. Parental abuse, mental breakdowns, divorce, alien abduction - any one of these would break most people, but Quicksilver has picked himself up and dusted himself off, embarking on a campaign of redemption with the mighty Avengers.
The video moves on to an exclusive interview held with Pietro where he summed up his views. He said it was hard, of course, asking himself every day how he can get better, admitting that he needs the help and support of his friends. That’s difficult, he added. The easy thing would be to run away - something he knows a great deal about, but the bottom line is that the lesson he’s learned through harsh experience is that even for the fastest man on Earth, life does not offer short cuts.
The video ends and Finesse thinks about what she’s seen. Hank appears and asks what she thought. She replies that she found it quite revealing. Hank asks if she’d like to discuss it but she says no. She understood everything she needed to.
Finesse makes her way straight to Quicksilver and she tells him that she watched the video. He trusts she found it educational. “Very,” she replies, “But I never thought of you as the type to care what others think of you.” Pietro says he finds life easier when the townsfolk aren’t trying to burn you at the stake. He adds that he was in the middle of something. Finesse informs him that she’s good with computers. She could help him find his sister. “My sister?” he replies. She thinks that’s what he’s doing, right? Looking for the Scarlet Witch? She wonders if he’s thought about what happens after he finds her. She went crazy and killed several Avengers. She doubts she will be welcomed back with open arms.
Pietro replies that his family is none of her concern. She should say what she came to say while he still has a sliver of patience left to listen to it. She says it’s about the Skrull who took his place and did all those awful things. “I’m aware of what the creature did,” he replies. “Your point?” She turns to him and says, “There was no Skrull, was there?” Pietro refutes the accusation, but Jeanne explains that she’s reviewed the reports of all the Avengers who were taken by the Skrulls and none of them mentioned ever seeing him among the captives. This supposed ‘Skrull’ regained his lost mutant powers by exposing himself to the Terrigen Mists, but they don’t affect Skrulls that way. She has more.
Pietro turns and tells her she’s making a fool of herself, spewing accusations without proof. Jeanne tells him she doesn’t need proof. The charge alone would be enough to make the others suspicious and make them look into it. Is that something he wants? Pietro replies that Pym already knows. Jeanne reckons he keeps quiet because he’s made mistakes himself. He believes in second chances, but what about the others? What if Tigra found out, or Justice or the media? She thinks Pietro is so desperate to disassociate himself from his father, but he’s just like him.
Pietro turns angrily. “Enough!” he barks. “Are you trying to blackmail me, girl. Me! Do you have any idea who I am?” Jeanne moves her face towards his and closes her eyes, saying she’d like to learn. She wants him to give her private lessons. She then opens her eyes and informs him that unless he wants the world to know his secrets, he will teach her what Magneto taught him in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.