Shrouded though they are on the video screen, three individuals of authority address Alan Quartermain in the bowels of the Gamma Base. The leader of the trio informs Quartermain that the SHIELD council isn’t pleased. Not pleased at all. Did he think he could indefinitely cover up the debacle that this entire project has deteriorated into? He had two simple assignments – keep tabs on Bruce Banner, and get rid of the Hulk. That was all.
Raising his hands in defense, Quartermain asks if he can remind them that the Rick Jones Hulk is gone. He may, one replies, if he may remind him that the Rick Jones Hulk didn’t even exist before the entire mess began. His creation, he continues, came from his plunge into a nutrient bath which Quertermain assured them would terminate the Bruce Banner Hulk, budid not. Another failure on his part.
Before Quartermain can respond, however, the man continues, explaining that they of the council will be reassessing the situation. It is becoming clear, however, that Bruce Banner is, at this point, becoming expendable. He trusts that Quartermain understands their meaning. As the SHIELD council signs off, Quartermain can only think to himself that they can’t be serious. Expendable?
Elsewhere, a gray monster rampages, swinging blindly at the world around him - he is the Hulk. At the moment, he stands in an alley between two buildings and, in his fury over his imminent change back to Bruce Banner with the sunrise, he strikes one of them. As a result, in seventeen second, the building will collapse. I should be the Hulk all the time , he shouts. I’m the strong one. The seconds continue to pass and, during them, the Hulk’s gray skin turns pink and his prodigious size diminished. Seven seconds later, only Bruce Banner remains.
Taking in his surroundings, Banner exclaims that he’s not abandoned on a mountaintop or in a desert! His luck’s finally changing! Three seconds later, a piece of brick from the damage wall lands upon his head, knocking him out. Fortunately, his situation is witnessed by one of the inhabitants of the building across the alley. Moving quickly, the man races to Banner’s side, thinking that this is his chance. His big chance! And he’s not screwing it up.
With seconds to spare, the man drags Banner out of the alley and into his home in the adjoining building through the open window. Half a moment later, the seventeen seconds since the Hulk’s blow on the building’s wall is up – and the whole building collapses. Well, one of the building’s inhabitants thinks, there goes he neighborhood.
After placing Banner on his bed, the man continues to grin. Seeing that Banner is still breathing, he surmises that the rubble must have just creased his skull. He won’t be worth a cent dead, he bets. Not he, the man corrects himself. It. It has to be a mutant. Nothing else could just change from being a gray monster to a 90-pound weakling. And he just knows those mutant hunters in New York, X-Factor, will want it. He’s seen all their commercials. And they must pay some sort of finder’s fee. Five, ten thou. He bets they’re loaded. And, man, does he need the bucks. The man takes a moment to consider whether he should call the cops first. However, he thinks against it. They’ll just grab the credit for catching him… it. Picking up the phone, he asks the operator for the number for X-Factor.
Deep inside X-Factor’s HQ, Iceman stands in the training room, facing Cyclops and Marvel Girl. He tells his teammates that he’s ready. Marvel Girl is unsure, thinking it’s a little soon. However, Cyclops replies that Bobby’s the best judge of his own readiness. Confirming it, Iceman states that Scott’s got it. If he can’t get his ice power under control, he’ll be as reliable as Ivan Boesky. With this, he tells Jean to get ready.
Trying to send a nice, simple iceball, Iceman instead generates a giant sphere of ice the size of a Buick. Marvel Girl, however, tells him not to worry. It’s his first try… and it’s nothing her telekinesis can’t handle. With a quick thought, Marvel Girl sends the iceball toward Cyclops, who raises his visor and allows his force beam to do the rest, obliterating into particulates. Echoing Jean’s statement, Cyclops tells Bobby that Jean is right. All he needs is time to get his powers under control.
From the door to the training room, Skids peeks her head around the corner. She tells them that she knows that the ready-light’s still blinking out there, but this is kinda important. Is it safe? She’s told that it is, though they have some falling moisture. Otherwise it’s okay. Entering, Skids smiles as the snowy-rain slides off of her forcefield. She jokes that she hadn’t heard any predictions about rain indoors. But her forcefield is better than an umbrella.
Turning to her earlier urgent subject, Cyclops asks what was so important. Skids replies that she checked out that call, like Cyke asked. The one from Dick Terrance out in Sparta, Illinois. Wire services reported that a building really did collapse out there, just like Terance said. No reason was given and there was no mention of a gray monster… at least in official reports. That doesn’t mean anything, though, Marvel Gil counters.
His decision made, Cyclops announces that he and Jean will check it out. Iceman protests, stating that he’s coming too. When Jean replies that he doesn’t have to prove anything to them, Bobby rejoins that it’s not for the. He’s doing it for himself. He’s got to get hold of his ice power. It’s his responsibility, and no one else’s. And he’s not gong to do it hiding out there at their HQ when X-Factor is needed. Relenting, Jean says that he can, if he’s sure. Though his thoughts are the exact opposite, Bobby informs her that of course he’s sure.
Meanwhile, Bruce Banner thanks his host, Dick Terrance, telling him that it was extraordinarily kind of him, pulling him in from the alley like that. Most people would have just left him there. He’s been around, and very few have showed him the sort of kindness he has. Fixing some coffee at the stove, Dick thinks that he wishes he’d stop saying things like that. It makes him feel like a first class creep. Mutants are supposed to be inhuman monsters. This guy’s about as threatening as Woody Allen.
Ignoring Banner’s compliments, Dick tells his guest that there’s some clothes on the chair for him and offers coffee. When Banner asks for de-caf, that being all he drinks, Dick replies that it’s the same for him. He hates stuff that makes him nervous. Same here, Banner replies. Old habit.
Taking two steaming cups of coffee to Bruce, Dick asks what his last name is. Pausing a moment, Bruce responds that it’s Ross. Bruce Ross. Quickly changing the subject, Bruce notices that one of the mugs has a Cubs logo on it and asks Dick if he is a fan. A friend of his, Rick, is a big Cubs fan too. A little taken aback, Dick asks Bruce if he has a lot of friends. Repeating the words as he holds his mug, Bruce closes his eyes. Friends. A wife. But… things keep coming up. Keeping them apart. Geez, Dick says... a wife. Any, uh, kids? No, Bruce replies. No children.
A knock at the door causes Dick to leap to his feet and bolt to the door. It’s X-Factor, he thinks. He knows it! And he feeling like a Judas. He knows what he turned into but, for pity’s sake, he’s got a wife. Who is he to… Opening the door, Dick finds not X-Factor, but a woman, whom he recognizes. Saying her name in surprise, Melanie, he then quickly changes it to “honey.” Immediately, he tries to introduce Bruce as a cousin of his, but Melanie cuts him off, immediately telling his that it’s nice, but they have to talk. Privately.
Sensing a sensitive subject, Bruce offers to leave but Dick emphatically tells him no. He should stay put. They’ll walk around town for a little, and then he’ll be back. Bruce should get some rest. Leaning back on the couch, Bruce replies that he will, if Dick is sure. By the way, he then asks, what town is this, anyway. Receiving the name of Sparta, Illinois, Bruce thinks that it accounts for the Spartan living conditions of the apartment.
Once outside, Melanie asks Dick about his cousin not knowing what town he’s in. Offering only a weak reply, Dick says that he’s… very confused. He’s not the only one, Melanie rejoins. Pausing a moment, she tells him that there’s not good way to say this, but, uh… The test came back positive, Dick finishes. Replying that he’s right, she asks what they do know. They get married is what, Dick answers. It’s his kid, too. It’s his responsibility... right?
Pausing in their stroll, Melanie turns to Dick and tells him that he’s so sweet, but… how are they going to live? Their jobs at Sears don’t pay near enough to support a family. Smiling slightly, Dick replies tells her that he’s got a few irons in the fire. Believe him, money won’t be a problem at all. With this, he asks the future “Mrs. Terrance” to give him a hug. As they embrace, however, Dick is unsure. Now, he’s really committed to turning Bruce in. It’s more than just him now. He’s got a responsibility to Mel and the baby. But he feels like a grade-A creep. He’s turning in somebody for money. What does that make him? Probably exactly what it feel like.
Back at Dick’s apartment, Bruce speaks to Clay on the telephone, telling him that it’s good to hear his voice too. On the other end, Quartermain tells Bruce that they were getting a bit concerned about him. After all, he went into town close to two weeks ago, and they haven’t heard from him since. But, hey, no big deal. Where is he? They’ll come get him. Hearing Bruce asks about Rick, Clay replies that, yeah, he’s around. He’ll get him if he wants. Anything for him, he tells Bruce.
Back in Sparta, Bruce is concerned. Something’s wrong. Nothing he can put his finer on, but Clay sounds… strained. Almost as if… Hearing Rick’s voice on the other end of the line now, Bruce tells him hello. On the other end, Rick give Bruce a jovial hey, hey! If it isn’t Robert Bruce Banner. “How are you doing, Bob?” Asked by Bruce how things are, he replies that everything’s fine there in beautiful New Mexico. They want him back, he tells Bruce. No questions asked. Asked if he’s sure, Rick again tells “Bob” that he is. It’s not like he’s got five scowling SHIELD agents surrounding him or nothin’.
Hovering around Rick, who is reclining in a chair, five SHIELD agents scowl at his statement.
Taking a moment to digest this, Bruce thinks of how Rick’s never calls him Bob. Always “Bruce” or “Doc.” He’s trying to warn him, tell him something’s wrong. He’s trying to tell him not to come back. But how can he not come back?
Returning to the line, Clay tells Bruce that he must have missed his earlier question. Just where is he? Replying that he’s not quite sure, Bruce says that if best guess is… Seattle, Washington.
At the St. Louis airport, an airport worker marvels at the enormous plane, asking what’s in it – a bowling alley? A fellow worker calls him a doofus that it’s X-Factor, the mutant hunters. They’re going to kick some mutant tail, he bets.
Nearby, unloading their equipment from the plane, Bobby asks Scott if he heard that. It really burns him up. It’s all part of the cover, Scott replies. They knew that going in. Finished loading their van, the trio drives off. Yeah, Bobby continues, as they drive, now that they’re in, it’s really starting to get to him. The whole X-Factor gig. They come on like Nazis. Like mutants are the disease and they’re the cure, to quote the sly. He thinks the harm they’re doing far outweighs the good.
Speaking up, Jean tells Scott that she’s has to kind of agree with Bobby. Sure, they’ve helped kids like Skids and Boom-Boom… But at what cost, Scott finishes. He hears what she’s saying. He hates to admit it, but he’s been thinking about it himself. But how can they change now? Easy, Jean replies. By coming across as a helpful organization, rather than a bunch of tough guys. Yeah, Bobby agrees. Make it clear that mutants are not threats. Just… misguided.
Right, exactly, Jean replies. And they’re going to guide them. As it is, people must think any mutants they find are immediately executed. It’ll work, she tells Scott. They should try a softer, more easygoing approach. Ditch the whole stormtrooper attitude. All right, people, Scott says, as they pass the sign welcoming them to Sparta, Illinois, they’ll give it a try. How bad could it be?
Walking in his front door, Dick carries two bags of groceries from the local “Shop Easy.” At first, he yells a playful, Honey, I’m home, until he finds the apartment empty. Frightened by the implication, he drops the groceries in shock.
Meanwhile, Bruce strolls through the neighborhood, thinking that this was just what he needed to clear his head. Nice, brisk walk… just like an ordinary person. Of course, an ordinary person doesn’t have such problems as whether or not to return to Gamma Base. If Rick’s in trouble, how can he not help him. And Betty… He’s most concerned about her. He has a vague recollection of being with her and then turning into the Hulk. He prays she’s all right. She has to be. He couldn’t live with himself if he hurt his wife. Then again, it’s not himself he’s worried about living with. It’s the Hulk.
Suddenly, Bruce is brought from his thoughts by a basketball hitting his foot. He bends down and picks it up, returning it to the two boys who had accidentally tossed it his way. Here you go, boys, he says with a smile.
Returning to his thoughts, Bruce thinks that it’s been almost two weeks since he was last at Gamma. The moon is full; that means that his personality is at its most dominant, and that the Hulk is weak. At least, weak for him. That’s why he was actually able to force him to leave him somewhere he wouldn’t be out of commission all day. He was furious. He’s glad.
Speaking of day, he remarks to himself, there’s not much left. He’d better get back to Dick; thank him for his trouble, and then find an open field somewhere to change, so there won’t be anyone or anything around for him… it to destroy. But, he also thinks, he’d better decide about Gamma Base. Soon.
At his apartment, Dick is putting his groceries in his freezer when a knock at the door causes his heart to race. He’s back! he exclaims. Running to the door, he opens it with a grin, telling Bruce that he have him a real scare. Unfortunately, it’s not Bruce… but it’s X-Factor. His arms crossed and looking stern, Scott Summers asks if they did… and then offers apologies.
Chiming in, Bobby introduces the group and tells Dick that they were hoping they could chat with him and the fellow he believes is a mutant. Stammering a minute, Dick agrees. But first, they should talk price. Jean doesn’t understand, so Dick explains – his price… his finder’s fee. His cut. As Bobby rolls his eyes at this, wondering why they can’t be ditch diggers or something, Jean is vocally incredulous. They’re talking about people, here. He can’t barter for someone’s life. If there’s a mutant there, he’s probably scared, frightened. They want to help him, not “buy” him. He should have some compassion, Jean tells Mr. Terrance.
In a weak defense, Dick Terrance replies that he’s got compassion. But, uh, there’s something he doesn’t have… And what would that be, Jean asks.
A few minutes later, Jean is once more irate. Pointing her finger in Dick’s chest, Jean tells him she doesn’t believe this. He just let him wander off! They man needs their help. Think. Where could he be? Defensive against Jean’s tone, Dick replies that he doesn’t know. Anywhere. He’s sorry he started this.
Outside, having found the need for fresh air from the situation, Bobby silently rants. All this distance for nothing. Still, he hates to admit it, but part of him is relieved. Despite what he said to Jean earlier, the thought of using his ice power give him… well… the chills.
Suddenly, Bobby notices a man walking down the street. Immediately recognizing him, he calls out to him. Hey! Doctor Banner! Banner, however, is less than pleased. Thought he doesn’t recognize the X-Factor uniform, he nonetheless assumes that it has to be SHIELD. They traced the call somehow! Turning around, Bruce runs down the street, adamant that he can’t let them take him back. Not until he gets this all straightened out in his mind.
Meanwhile, Bobby calls out for Bruce to wait and come back. Hearing the commotion, Scott runs around the corner, asking Bobby what it is. When Bobby answers that it was Bruce Banner, Dick announces that that’s him. It has to be the same guy!
Jean is confused, however. Dick had said that he was gray. The Hulk is green. Look, Bobby interrupts. They’ve gotta get this sorted out. And the only way to do it is to catch up with Banner. Quickly, the trio jumps into their van to speed off, though Jean makes sure to use her TK powers to keep Dick Terrance off of their backs.
Still running, Bruce looks over his shoulder, immediately noticing the passenger van following him. It has to be them, he thinks. Still, he’s lucky. If they came out in full force, they’d have had him. As it is, he’s hardly in the clear. Noticing a train approaching his position, Bruce has a plan, dangerous though it is. Bolting toward the tracks, Bruce manages to clear them before the train races by. Though ecstatic at making it, he can’t help but feel the deafening pounding in his head. However, he quickly realizes that it’s not the train. Good Lord, he lost track of time. It’s…
The X-Factor van has come to a halt on the other side of the tracks, having to wait until the train passes by. While they wait, Jean chides Scott that this is ridiculous. If the man is that desperate to avoid them, they should let him be… After all, they’ve been hounded enough in their life not to do it to someone else. She also read that he was separated from the Hulk, so Banner isn’t a threat to anyone.
Still unsure, Scott replies that he still thinks there’s something seriously wrong, but if she’s certain… Never been more so, Jean rejoins. Besides, they probably couldn’t even find him. Their mutant tracking equipment won’t pick him up, and visually they’ll never spot him. The sun just set.
Suddenly, Bobby notices something, pointing out to Jean and Scott that the something has just pulled the train off the tracks. Jean suddenly understands. It’s can’t be, she mutters. It’s… Trouble, Scott thinks. Before them, a train car is being held by a massive, gray creature that walks like a man. Preparing to toss the massive car effortlessly, the incredible Hulk tells Scott that he is trouble. Big trouble. The biggest.
So, the Hulk continues, they’re from SHIELD, huh? Well, they can shield themselves from this! With that, the Hulk tosses the train car at the van, which the trio have already begun to exit from. The team’s bolt is aided by Jean’s telekinesis, which carries them a safe distance away, even as the van is flattened. Grateful, Bobby takes a moment to thank Jean for the telekinetic hustle, then adding that the rental car people will be ticked.
Rather than press his advantage, the Hulk decides to depart. One warning, SHIELD, he tells them first. They’re lucky. Usually, he doesn’t give any warnings. But he’s in a good mood. With this, he leaps away, into the night. Trying to take this in, Jean asks they others is that was really the Hulk. Scott replies that he’s not sure but, whatever he is, they have to stop him. No further words needed, Scott removes his visor, emitting an optic blast, which throws the Hulk off of his trajectory arc, knocking him to the ground and into a printing factory.
As the trio begins to shed their X-Factor jumpsuits for their X-Terminator costumes beneath, Iceman laments their situation. They tried going in as a laid-back X-Factor and wind up in their costumes. No choice, Cyclops replies. They have to get him out of that building before he hurts someone. A few moments later, the three telekinetically hover above the hole through which the Hulk entered. Grinning mischievously, the Hulk states that he was wrong. They’re not SHIELD. They’re the X-Men. They’re not the X-Men anymore, Cyclops replies. They’re X-Terminators. They all change, don’t they, Hulk? X-Men… X-Terminators… it doesn’t matter, the Hulk states. ‘Cause now they’ll be… X-Tinct!
With this, the Hulk grabs a piece of machinery and prepares to throw it at the mutants. However, a quick optic blast from Cyclops knocks the Hulk off of his feet and into another piece of machinery. Quickly, Cyclops moves into action, ordering Marvel Girl and Iceman to keep the Hulk off balance. They have to contain him. Hearing this, the Hulk emerges from the wreckage he fell into. Contain… me. Hah!
Grabbing the wreckage around him, the Hulk proceeds to toss them all like missiles, causing the trio to fall back. Trying to regain control, Cyclops orders Iceman to buy them some time, which he tries to do, creating an icewall. To his astonishment, the icewall is twice as thick as usual. When’ll he get it under control, he wonders. Cyclops tells him not to knock it, but Iceman is unsure. He is even more unsure when he feels the ground trembling. Wh…
Suddenly, a roller from the printing press crashes through crashes through the icewall. Immediately, Marvel Girl tries to slow it down with her telekinesis, but knows that she can’t stop it. Seeing Jean struggle at the feat, Cyclops asks her if she’s okay, while buying time with an optic blast to the Hulk’s chest, knocking him off of his feet again. Just a nosebleed, she reports. It happens when she pushes herself. No problem.
Regrouping, the trio move to find the Hulk, who has disappeared in the darkened printing factory. Not seeing him, Iceman warns Cyke not to order them to split up and look for him – he’s not ready for that. Suddenly, the Hulk leaps in from of Iceman, asking if he’s ready for this. He offers the mutant a free shot, but then backhands him off of his feet when he doesn’t react. Should’ve figured he’d freeze, the Hulk quips.
Turning to Marvel Girl, the Hulk tells her that she’s different. She’s the dangerous one. She’s got power he can’t see. He doesn’t know how strong she is, so they should find out. Approaching her menacingly, even ask she uses all her telekinetic might to stop him, he scoffs at her reaction. That’s all she can do, he mocks, wave her hands and scrunch her face? I don’t “wish” away, useless.
Realizing that she cannot stop him, Marvel Girl calls out to Cyclops. Cool and calm, Cyclops realizes that he can’t fire right at the Hulk without hitting Jean. Instead, he turns his head, firing an optic blast elsewhere. With geometric precision, the blast ricochets off of three walls, finally landing in the Hulk’s side and knocking him into a stack of rolls of paper, which collapse on him.
The entire collapse takes thirty seconds, during which time the frantic employees of the print plant scatter. The continuing impact shakes the building like an earthquake and, when the dust settles, they all know that nothing could have survived. Nothing except…
The Hulk! Cyclops exclaims, seeing him emerge from the pile of rolls. While unleashing another blast, Cyclops asks him to listen. None of this is necessary. He should calm down – they’re his friends. Undeterred, the Hulk replies, even as he inches forward against the onslaught of Cyclops’ blasts, that he still doesn’t get it, does he? He has no idea what he’s facing. No idea what he’s messing with. He still thinks he’s that cuddly monster who loved baked beans and puppy dogs. Still trodding forward, the Hulk tells Cyclops he’s dead. He’s here now! And his eye beams are getting’ weak! And he almost has his hands on him.
Nearby, Iceman struggles. What does he do? He hesitated before, didn’t use his power because he doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust himself. He might freeze the whole town. But he can’t let him hurt Scott. He can’t! Angered into action, Iceman lets loose his powers, stopping the Hulk in his tracks with a glacier of ice. Thrown off his feet and into the air, the Hulk finds himself floating in a column of ice.
Though impressed with his actions, Iceman yells out for everyone to clear out. When the Hulk breaks out of there… Cyclops interrupts his partner, telling him that he doesn’t think so. The Hulk was really straining there at he end. He really has changed. He’s not as strong as he was. But, what he lacks in strength – he makes up in savagery. They were lucky.
Meanwhile, in the column of ice, the Hulk seethes. Got to break out, get angry, he thinks. But.. so cold. Colder than ice should be. How? Can’t… can’t think. Can’t…
Outside, Marvel Girl remarks that her whole body’s getting numb. This cold he made is incredible. Suddenly, she notices that Iceman has defrosted and asks why. Barely able stand on his own feet, he replies that he’s scared that, if he doesn’t, he’ll be stuck iced over for good.
Now without his ice “mask,” Bobby finds he has to cover his face, as two people come to the group. The first introduces himself as the, Bob Craig, and his associate, Phyllis. He thanks the team for saving their lives. Bobby thanks the man, though with his back to him, turning his attention to Cyclops. When he asks their leader what they do next, Cyclops replies that they contact Banner’s last known base of operations – Gamma in New Mexico. To this, Bobby disagrees. He was running from SHIELD for some reason. They can’t…
Despite Bobby’s protests, the team still contacts SHIELD. Speaking with Clay Quartermain, Cyclops voices his reservations. Although it is clear that Gamma is the only place capable of holding the Hulk, it’s equally clear than Banner was running from it. In response, Clay tells Cyke that he is a personal friend of Bruce’s. He has no reason to fear them. But, as they have witnessed, the Hulk is more of a menace than ever.. and he has to be place in custody. They’ll be there in two hours.
The connection broken, Cyclops considers his choice. He knows that Jean and Bobby aren’t thrilled with him – and right now he can’t say that he blames them. But they can’t handle the Hulk on their own. Still… he doesn’t like the sound of Quartermain’s voice. He sounded as if he was hiding something… like the truth. Why should a government agent bother telling a “mutie” like him the truth? Cyclops hopes he’s doing the right thing.
Back at Gamma Base, Clay Quartermain briefs the SHIELD Council. Excellent, leader replies. He then orders Quartermain to send as many people as it takes. This is his chance to finally end the menace of the Hulk. He trusts they are of one mind on this matter? Speaking up to the giant screen and the shadowed figures appearing thereon, Clay Quartermain replies absolutely. He knows where his responsibilities lie.