Leaning against the wall of the hospital room, Ramon leans against the open window and remarks at the nice breeze today. Through the cigarette hanging form his lip, he asks Betty to come on. Let’s not have this take forever, huh? Besides, it’s not like they’re checking her out of the hospital. They’re sneaking out. The longer they stay there… Still packing her bag, Betty Banner tells Ramon that, if he’s nervous, she can wear a disguise. Regarding Betty’s appearance – sporting her left arm in a sling, a bandaged head and check – Ramon tells her nah. She looks fine.
Finished packing, Betty pauses as a thought occurs to her. She asks Ramon to hold on; she wants to leave Bruce a note. A note?! Ramon laments, as he looks out the door and scoping the hall. Looking out for hospital staff, he tells Betty that she doesn’t owe Banner anything. After what he did to her, he doesn’t deserve a note… he deserves a knife in the ribs.
Finished with the note, Betty folds it and places in on a table. Her task finished, she turns to leave with Ramon, reminding him that Bruce is her husband. Besides, he didn’t mean to hurt her. He… Interrupting Betty, Ramon tells her that he knows. She keeps telling him… he wasn’t himself. But, he asks her… if Bruce Banner wasn’t himself… then who was he?
As the two leave the room, the note, addressed to “My Dearest Bruce,” catches a gust of wind from the open window. Lifted slightly, the note drops down to the floor and finally comes to rest beneath the rolling table, hidden from sight.
In the printing plant, the Hulk remains immobile, trapped in a column of ice and suspended in mid-leap. Standing before him, Cyclops of X-Factor is deep in concentration. Making his force beam as narrow as possible, he punctures a thin hole through the ice, ending it at the Hulk’s nose and creates an air hole. Successful, he thinks that, though Bobby’s super-cold ice may have completely numbed the Hulk, he still needs to breathe.
His task completed, Cyclops takes a minutes to think about what led him and his team to this moment. In heir guise as X-Factor, they were called to Sparta, IL by local Terrance, thinking that he’d found a mutant. Instead, they found Bruce Banner, who ran as soon as he saw them in their X-
Factor disguises. Then, as they sun set, Banner turned into the Hulk, who is gray… but also weaker. Iceman managed to stop him, though. For now. That’s why he called…
Shield, Marvel Girl asks. When did those hot-shot spy types say they’d be there? He’s not sure, Cyclops replies. They are coming from New Mexico, after all. He’s certain they’ll get there as quickly as they can.
Elsewhere, inside one of several aircraft speeding from New Mexico to Illinois, Clay Quartermain explains to Laroquette to keep his chair on; they’re moving as fast as they can. Sitting in his floating wheelchair, Laroquette asks Clay if he can blame him. He and Saunders are anxious. They want to get to Sparta before SHIELD wusses out on them. Again.
There’s little danger of that, Quartermain replies. His instructions were quite specific. Kill the Hulk. Period. Asked about his human half, Bruce Banner, Quartermain replies that he’s expendable. Expendable. Excellent, Laroquette replies. Saunders was hospitalized for two weeks and he’s still in this chair. Thanks to Banner and his gamma ray creatures. He has no sympathy at all.
Digesting this, Clay lowers his head in thought. He wonders, as the rest think this is so great, why he feels so dirty inside. He knows what the SHIELD council expects. He knows where his duties lie. But part of him keeps screaming, “This is wrong! How can you do this to Bruce?” And Betty… what would Betty say if she knew what his orders were?
Miles away, Betty’s note lies undisturbed beneath the rolling table in a lonely hospital room.
In the printing plant, Cyclops and the rest of X-Terminators are still waiting for SHIELD to show up. However, they are not alone, as the employees of the plant have returned, taking a look at the frozen Hulk.
Nearby, out of their way, Jean is annoyed. Telling Scott that this is ridiculous, she reminds him that they’ve been waiting there for two hours now. SHIELD should be there. They should just go. And if the Hulk breaks free after they leave, he asks her. They can’t chance it. Maybe so, she retorts. But she feels like they’re waiting around for the lion to show up so they can stick their heads in his mouth.
Regarding a snack machine along the wall, Jean changes the subject, saying that she’s getting some food and asks Bobby if he wants anything. Bobby declines, so Jean telekinetically moves only one set of coins to the machine. The coins find their way into the slot. Another second later, one of the levers on the machine is pulled out, again by Jean, and the package of Hostess Twinkies which emerges floats back to Jean, all to the astonishment of the assembled crowd.
Continuing her conversation, even as she does all of this, Jean reminds Cyclops that they’re all taking a real risk. They’re not there as X-Factor, the mutant hunters. They’re there as the X-Terminators. As far as the government’s concerned, they’re as popular a topic as Contra funding. As SHIELD’s a government agency. She knows that they’re trying to bolster popular acceptance for mutants, but isn’t this asking for trouble? Perhaps, Cyclops replies, but their “Gestapo tactics” as X-Factor helped foster that anti-mutant attitude. It’s their… Responsibility, Jean interrupts, as she munches on a Twinkie. She knows.
Nearby, Iceman strolls to a soda machine, and get a Coke. Seeing that it’s warm, he wonders if he can rectify it. Unfortunately, his attempt at using his power to lower its temperature causes it to freeze instantly. The increased volume of the soda as a result of the quick freeze causes the top and bottom to burst, instantly forming a frozen fountain of Coca-Cola. Regarding this sight with dissatisfaction, Iceman laments that he’ll never get his ice power under control at this rate. Noticing a cadre of SHIELD operates arriving, Cyclops tells Iceman to toss the soda. Company’s here.
Introducing himself, Cyclops offers his hand - Cyclops. X-Terminators. Quartermain responds in kind - Clay Quartermain. SHIELD. Jesting at this exchange, Jean introduces herself as well - Marvel Girl. Pisces.
Nearby, Agent Saunders examines frozen Hulk. Calling out to Rocky, he informs him that they’ve got an air hole cut for “it.” Then lifting his prodigious rifle at the Hulks mid-section, he announces that he’ll give it a hole, in the gut! Before Saunders can act, however, Quartermain pushes Saunders to the side. He tells him that the let him take the laser cannon from ordinance over his better judgment. If he waves it around again, he’ll eat it. Saunders objects, asking Quartermain what his problem is. Aren’t they going to kill it?
Before Quartermain can reply, Cyclops calls out to him, asking what the talk is about killing the Hulk. They can’t be a party to that. Mocking them, Saunders asks the “X-terminators’” name – can’t they live up to it? Telling the group to ignore Saunders, Clay explains that they are civilian advisors, which means the can ignore their advice. He then informs them that they’re like to debrief them. And Colonel Fury would probably like to thank them as well. Taking his cue from their leader, Cyclops, Iceman is reminded of the old saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”
Hearing this, Clay asks Cyclops if they would help chisel the Hulk out of there; they want to airlift him to Gamma Base. They’d also like them to accompany them…
Some time later, at the St. Louis airport, the sphere of ice containing the still immobile Hulk rides on an immense mobile platform, which is being pulled into one of the SHIELD aircraft. After loaded, the craft lifts into the night sky. Inside, Saunders asks Quartermain about what will happen if the ice should thaw and the Hulk breaks out, but Clay calms their nerves, explaining that Iceman is still in the cargo hold, making sure that doesn’t happen.
Meanwhile, in the cargo hold, Iceman sits before the ice sphere, talking to the unconscious Hulk. He opines that he has a bad feeling about this. He knows that Scott’s doing what he thinks is right, but this whole setup seems fishy. He’s gotta talk to Nick Fury when they get there. He’s the head of SHIELD and a straight shooter. But how does he know Fury will be there, he then asks himself. And how does he know they really won’t kill him? Bruce Banner’s buried somewhere inside him. They can’t let them pull anything over on them. They have to go into this with their eyes wide open.
As his own eyes are downcast, lost in thought, Iceman does not notice the Hulk’s eyes, as they open with narrowed concentration.
Miles away, Betty’s note remains undisturbed.
Later, at the Gamma Base in New Mexico, Rick Jones is melancholic. As he looks out a window, someone calls his name, telling him that he looks depressed. But he’s also fortunate, the man continues. He has a genuine psychiatrist on hand to shrink his brain. Recognizing the “shrink,” Rick greets Doc Samson with an unenthusiastic “hi.”
Asking if that is it, Samson wonders why Rick didn’t use his usual “What’s up, Doc.” Still staring out the window, Rick replies that he’s just worried about all the typical stuff someone his age is worried about. Like what’s going to happen to his best friend, now that everyone knows he’s the Hulk again. Continuing, Rick laments that he guesses it had to come out. With Bruce’s long absence and the Hulk’s recent reappearances, you didn’t have to be Einstein to tumble to it.
Asked by Rick what’s going to happen to him, Samson replies that, if he could see the future, he wouldn’t be a psychiatrist. He’d be a stockbroker. Or a bookie. He knows that Rick blames himself for much of what’s happened, but he can’t eat himself up over the past. Just be concerned about the present. And let the future take care of itself. Suddenly, Rick spies something on the grounds outside – the wheeled platform carrying a sphere of ice, with a tarp chained over it. Pointing it out to Samson, Rick announces that they’ve got him!
On the grounds, Saunders asks Quartermain if he hears anything. Asked by Quartermain what it is, Saunders replies cracking. A moment later, the small amount of cracking on the ice sphere turns into a cacophony and the top of it explodes as the Hulk emerges. All right, he exclaims, who gets smashed first!?
A moment later, the SHIELD agents move into action, bringing their ordinance to bear on the Hulk, which does little good. Lifting the mobile platform easily, the Hulk trashes it and lifts it above his head. If they all want a piece of him, they shouldn’t worry. There’s plenty to go around. Rushing to the scene, Cyclops calls out to Iceman, telling him he thought he was reinforcing the ice on the trip. Hearing his teammate reply that he forgot, Cyclops yells it back incredulously.
After throwing the truck, the Hulk realizes his condition is grave. Though his tossed machinery scattered them, he still feels groggy from the ice. He needs to get some distance. Taking one of his leaps, the Hulk impact into Doc Samson, who has arrived on the scene. Samson asks the Hulk if he remembers him, Leonard Samson, the Hulk replies that he does. He’s the one who says he’s almost as strong as the Hulk. Now using his massive hands to pummel Samson into the concrete, the Hulk asks if he knows what “almost” means - Nothin’!
Watching this but not yet in the fray, Jean tells Scott that this is wrong. They can’t match him, pound for pound. They need something subtle. Asked what kind of subtlety they can use against the Hulk, Marvel Girl demonstrates, using her telekinesis to keep the Hulk’s eyelids closed. Blinded, the Hulk calls out with rage, telling whoever is holding his eyelids shut to knock it off. He lashes out with pounding fists, but Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to lift herself clear of his arms.
Taking advantage of this, Cyclops coordinates a second assault with Doc Samson. On his signal, Samson lets fly right cross against the Hulk’s chin, after which Cyclops lets loose an optic blast against the Hulk’s skull. As the group gathers around the KO’ed Hulk, Cyclops admonishes Iceman’s actions.
Addressing Clay Quartermain via the giant screen, one of the SHIELD council congratulates Quartermain on his good work… even if he did need the help of those mutants. He hopes they’re now prepared to dispose of him once and for all. When Quartermain begins to raise the subject of Banner, the councilman interrupts, reminding Clay that at this point Banner’s no longer needed. It’s taken a number of years, but the gamma bomb is finally perfected. Banner existed as their back-up in the event they needed his expertise on the bomb. He’s outlived his usefulness. The Hulk never gad any usefulness to begin with.
Speaking up, another member of the council tells Quartermain that they hope they can count on him to do what needs to be done. Friendships, such as his with Banner, cannot get in the way of duty. Lowering his head, Quartermain agrees. He knows what he has to do. He has to…
Get me outta here! the Hulk yells. Trying to use his strength to break free of his bonds, the Hulk yells in pain. Standing right below him, Iceman informs the Hulk that the might as well stop struggling. The SHIELD people said that those are kinetic bonds. The more pull against them, the more pressure he applies, strengthens them. He’s fighting himself. Yeah, the Hulk asks. Well, at least that’s an enemy he can respect. Not like them, bending over backwards to get in good with SHIELD.
Remarking to two scientists standing nearby, Martel and Hideko, the Hulk remarks that, despite their brains and those of Samson, he’s the only one who knows what’s going on. Marvel Girl tries to reply that SHIELD only wants to help him, but the Hulk just laughs. SHIELD’s totally corrupt, he tells them. They’re gonna wait until he changes back to Banner and then kill him.
In reply, Samson tells Hulk that that’s paranoia. SHIELD, Gamma Base… the government… they all want to help gamma-exposure cases like his. To this, he Hulk tells Samson to wake up and smell the coffee. If they’re so concerned about gamma exposure… why are they still testing gamma bombs, like the one that created a guy he met named Half-Life?
Taken a little aback at this, Samson replies that he doesn’t know about this. Even if SHIELD is corrupt, even if the government is making gamma bombs… which he doubts… why does he assume they’d stoop to killing Bruce Banner? Smiling widely, the Hulk replies that that’s easy. Because he’s totally corrupt. And that’s what he’d do.
Meanwhile, a shadowy figure makes his way through the bowels of Gamma Base, carrying a rectangular case. Finding his location, he places the case on floor and presses a button.
Elsewhere in the base, Laroquette sands before the desk of Agent Trump, Quartermain’s second in command, preparing to introduce himself. Before he can do so, however, Agent Trump states that he already knows him. Laroquette, Sammuel J. Hulkbuster leader… he’s been expecting him. Continuing, Trump tells Laroquette that he knows he wants to know when they’re killing the Hulk.
Good question, he continues, answering his own question. Quartermain’s supposed to be arranging it. Now he’s vanished. Poof. No Quartermain and now they’ve got a bunch of mutants running around. He should’ve expected that but he didn’t. He wishes he could make all the mutants disappear. Poof.
Continuing, Agent Trump says that, as expected, he’s been ordered to keep and eye on Quartermain… and assume command if there’s sufficient provocation.
Trump’s thoughts are interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Answering it, Trump becomes incredulous. The mutants are demanding to talk to someone in authority? And they’ve got Samson backing them up? Giving his orders, Agent Trump orders that they all report to C-Deck, station 3. They are to be told that he’ll make everything clear to them there. Hanging up the phone, Agent Trump returns to Laroquette and tells him that this certainly seems like provocation to him. But then, it’s nothing less than he expected.
Elsewhere, the shadowy figure presses another button on another metal case.
Entering C-Deck, section 3, Samson, Rick Jones and the X-Terminators find a squadron of SHIELD soldiers waiting for them, all armed. The leader of the soldiers immediately instructs Samson and the rest of the “Hulkbusters” to stand over in one corner. Then turning to the X-Terminators, he informs them that they shouldn’t really be asking questions regarding their plans for the Hulk. It makes them doubt their loyalty. He’s afraid that they might have to take care of that… permanently.
Suddenly, the officer notices Samson walking to two metallic support struts and asks him what he’s doing. Immediately realizing Samson’s intentions, he yells out, “No,” which is followed by an, “Oh, yes” from Samson. Positioning himself between the two columns, Samson informs the SHIELD leader that he may have been as blind as his namesake, but he can still smite with the best of them. With this, Samson uses his strength to push the columns aside, eliminating their support of they weight above. As the structure collapses, he tells everyone to run, as the place is about to tumble down.
As Marvel Girl and Cyclops use their powers to deflect the falling debris, they instruct the Hulkbusters and Rick to get out of there. Rather than doing so, Laroquette uses his hover-chair to attack Samson, letting loose laser blasts. Samson seems unconcerned until a piece of larger debris falls on him, burying him. Laroquette chuckles at this, telling “Sigmund Freud” to dig his way out of that.
Nearby, the regrouped SHIELD agents finally find he X-Terminators down a hallway and follow. Trying to escape, along with the two scientists and Rick Jones, Cyclops asks Iceman for a little help, which he gladly provides. A iceblast later causes the SHIIELD agents to stop in their tracks.
Meanwhile, the shadowy figure presses another button on yet another metal case.
As the SHIELD agents regroup once again, Cyclops asks Iceman if he has enough of a handle on his power to free the Hulk. Replying that he hopes so, Iceman moves to the manacled Hulk. As Cyclops and Marvel Girl try to hold off the SHIELD agents, he uses his powers to instantly freeze the manacles and instructs the Hulk to try again. Without the manacles able to use his strength against him, the Hulk breaks free easily.
Rather than grateful, the Hulk chastises Iceman as making a stupid move. Did he think he forgot he got him into this? It’s time for some crushed ice. Before the Hulk an strike, however, he sees the arriving SHIELD agents, who promptly change their attack against the him. Recognizing Saunders’ voice, the Hulk tells him that he was the guy who wanted to put a hole in his gut back in Sparta.
Seeing that the Hulk only has a handful of ice, Saunders mocks back, asking if he’s threatening him with icicles. Throwing one with frightening accuracy, which impales Saunders in the check, the Hulk rejoins that he doesn’t threaten. Jumping to Saunders side, Hideko pulls the ice shard out of Saunders’ shoulder. Telling him that it’s out, she suggests to him that he do the same. In agreement, Saunders leaves the scene.
Rather than pursuing, the Hulk uses his strength to open a hole in the building. When he calls back to them that this is the way out, Cyclops replies that there are no arguments here.
Before he can leave, however, the Hulk hears Rick call out to him. Surrounded by SHIELD agents, Rick calls out to “Bruce,” asking for help. In reply, the Hulk apologizes, stating that there’s no “Bruce” there. To this, Rick changes his request to “Hulk” and asks if he’s happy now. Grinning maliciously as he closes in on the SHIELD agents, the Hulk replies simply. Ecstatic. After the Hulk’s work is completed, Rick stands over the pile of unconscious SHIELD agents, telling them that there’s more where that came from.
Seconds later, the Hulk and X-Terminators break through the wall into the outside, followed by Rick, Martel & Hideko. Exclaiming that they’ve broken through, the Hulk announces that now he can ditch the rest of the losers and… The Hulk’s glee turns to horror as he sees the sun rising over the facility. Yelling out now now, the Hulk cries that Banner’s going to screw it up. Get them killed. Seconds later, the transformation is complete… and the Hulk has been replaced by Bruce Banner.
Returned to the world, Banner find that he and those escaping with him are cut off by dozens of SHIELD soldiers, each with their weapons trained on them. The lead agent, Trump, smiles wryly, telling the group good morning and that it is a nice day for an execution. He then announces that they have orders to kill the Hulk… the “muties” will be unfortunate victims who got in the way. Regrettable.
Before the agents can fire, however, an explosion rocks the base, followed by an equally booming voice. Calling out to Trump, the voice tells him that this is Clay Quartermain… and that he won’t be a party to this. He’s just blown up an unoccupied section of Gamma Base… and he has three minutes to get everyone clear before he blows up the rest of the base. As the rest of the agents scatter, Clay pulls up besides Banner and the X-Terminators with a large battlevan. Opening the side hatch, Clay takes a moment from mocking Trump to tell the group to get in. Cyclops quickly takes the passenger seat in the front and thanks his rescuer for the assist. His name’s Clay, right? Clay replies that it’s not anymore. “Now it’s mud.”
As he continues to flip switches in the van, causing more spectacular explosions, Clay Quartermain snarls triumphantly. Noticing this, Cyclops calls him on it, remarking that he looks like he’s enjoying his action. Just glad to see those bombs he planted are working, Clay replies. Good old American know-how.
Suddenly, Banner erupts into the cockpit of the van, in complete disbelief. Barely coherent in his exasperation, he asks Clay what is happening. All the work they were doing there! The equipment! He mustn’t… Interrupting Bruce with a smile, Rick tells him not to sweat it. Clay’s just putting a scare into them. A bluff.
Replying with a stark “no,” Clay rejoins that, if Gamma is still standing, with its armaments and vehicles, they’ll be caught inside 24 hours. Telling Bruce he’s sorry, Clay detonates the last of the bombs, destroying Gamma Base. Good thing Trump listened to him, he tells the group. Clay Quartermain doesn’t bluff!
Some time later, at the Avis car rental, Cyclops once again thanks Clay for the Gamma Base uniforms. And, now that they’ve got their rental car, they’ll be on their way. Before he and the other two members of X-Factor can depart, Hideko asks Cyclops if he has room for a passenger. Taken a little aback, Bruce asks her if she’s not coming with them. Replying that she doesn’t think so, she tells Bruce that the death… the destruction… she’s had her fill for this lifetime.
Agreeing, Martel adds that he has to admit he’s developed a certain fondness for Hideko… not to mention keeping his own skin intact. It’s time to say au revoir. Bruce replies that he should he be hurt, he supposes… but he certainly understands. Giving the two his good-byes, he wishes Martel and Hideko Godspeed. Martel returns the sentiment, adding a warning for Bruce to watch his back.
As the group drive away, Iceman asks Cyclops where to now? New York? St. Louis, he replies. They have to retrieve their plane from the St. Louis airport. The only problem is, how do they fill the time driving from New Mexico to St. Louis? Replying that that’s easy, Iceman asks if everyone is ready… and breaking into song. A million bottles of beer on the wall… a million bottles of beer…
Meanwhile, Bruce resigns himself to his, Rick and Clay’s next task. SHIELD’s going to be after them. They have to find the gamma bombs and stop production of them… they should have a full day. Suddenly, a thought occurs to him: Betty! They have to get her. He assumes she wasn’t on Gamma Base. Where is she? Wracking his brain on how to respond, Clay tries to choose his response carefully as he pulls the van out onto the road. Uh… yeah… About Betty…
Miles away, Betty’s note lies undisturbed beneath the rolling table in a hospital room, which has just becomes less lonely. Entering the room, pushing her cleaning cart, a custodian is in a foul mood. Hmphing to herself, she declares this a wasted job. As she mops the floor, she bemoans a wasted life. Then, noticing the note beneath the rolling table, she picks it up and tosses it into her trash. Hmphing once again, she declares it wasted paper.
And, at Gamma Base, a pile of rubble stirs. After a few moments, the debris parts and a lone hand emerges, followed by another. Grunting, Dr. Leonard Samson extricates himself from the rubble and pushes the last of the debris that had buried him off of his back. At first, Samson is ecstatic at the fresh air… until he sees the remains of the base. Stuttering in disbelief, he sees that all of it is gone. What a waste, he mutters.