Crouched on as rooftop, Rahne – still in her half-wolf phase – calls out to Jamie over her radio. Hearing nothing, she calls again, asking if she just heard gunfire. Jaime! Speak t’me! Crouching himself, however behind the desk and under the window through which the shot was just fired, Jamie clutches the phone receiver to his ear, even as he timidly peers through the shattered glass. He tells her that he’s there, then adding that it’s nice to hear she was so worried – since he is a “mere” duplicate and not the original Jamie Madrox.
Dismissing his sarcasm, Rahne replies by thanking God and then telling him that that’s good enough. What happened, she then asks. Did someone shoot…? Yeah, he interrupts. Fortunately, the new glass he installed worked. It’s refractive – makes him look like he’s two inches to the left of where he is. As he reaches for his pistol, taped underneath the desk, he then adds that, ‘cause of his lousy luck, the shooter’s aim was off, so he got grazed. Still trying to digest this information, Rahne asks about the refractive glass, asking who uses such a thing. To her incredulity, he tells her Doc Savage.
Still worried, despite the craziness of the dupe’s statement, Rahne tells him that he’s coming back. The Madrox dupe interrupts, telling he to not. She’s got her own job and it’s under control there. Considering this, Rahne asks if the original will Jamie sense that he has been attacked, even though they’re in New York and he’s in Chicago. Probably, the dupe replies, loading the clip into the pistol. He’ll probably feel dizziness, maybe even black out briefly. But no major problem… unless, y’know, he falls into a pool or something.
Miles away, in Chicago, the original Jamie Madrox – now unconscious – continues to sink in the swimming pool, having just been suddenly rendered unconscious. This is the swimming pool of Sheila Desoto, a woman engaged to major criminal-type Edward Vance. She had been on the mind of a dupe of Madrox’s, who was stabbed nearly to death until he reabsorbed him. He came all the way there to Chicago to learn why he was so preoccupied with her. He found her swimming naked. A quick search had revealed no concealed weapons. She had then thrown herself at him, kissing him and called him James. Felt nice… felt adult. Felt “noir.” Then something had hit him, like a blackjack inside his head – and now he’s there. Floating in the womb, except without the promise of life.
Madrox wakes up when he hits the bottom of the pool, or at least that’s what he thinks it is. It’s hard to be sure, as he doesn’t know which way is up or down… and that’s even when he’s not at the bottom of a pool. Regaining his senses, thoughts flash through his mind. Lately, he’s had this constant sense of disorientation. Like he’s splitting in all directions. What’s that Groucho song? “Hello, I must be going.” He thinks for a moment how it’d be so easy to just… just rest there. Just… not go. For a few minutes. Just… rest… just…
No, thinks. Can’t rest. Gotta go. Up, down, no difference. Just go in some freakin’ direction. Swimming upward, Madrox comes across someone else in the pool – himself. A dupe? A fiction of his own mind? Madrox only considers that he’s there, now getting in his own way. The cold stare of his mirror tells Madrox what he thinks: he should just stay the hell down. However, Madrox rejoins silently, he’ll die if he does that. The dupe’s stare replies right back that it’s the least he deserves. Getting involved with some guy’s fiancé. It’s not right. It’s immoral and indecent and he should be punished. Maybe… maybe he’s right, the original Madrox considers. Or maybe not. Hard to say. Apparently he’s of two minds on the subject
Then he pictures Sheila… and relives his poor dupe’s last moments… and suddenly he makes up at least one of his minds, which is all he needs. Might be… too late. Lungs burning… world, if there is a world, spinning away. How can anyone… who’s learned as much as he has… about so many things… die… in such ignorance…? Or is true knowledge… knowing… how ignorant you really… are…?
Having thrust his opposite aside, Madrox ascends to the surface, taking in the night air with a Ahhh huchhhhhhh, half a cough, half a breath. A moment’s respite against the pool’s wall, however, is all he has, before a hand submerses. A moment passes with a flash, as Madrox considers his situation. Fingers… holding him… A dupe, he remembers, audited anatomy classes for six months… what’d he learn… about fingers…?
The bow-tied professor smiles before his class, while standing before a diagram of the bones of the human hand. The human hand, he explains, is comprised of twenty-seven bones… fourteen phalangeal bones become the fingers, three bones in each finger, two in the thumb… most easily broken are the little and ring finger…
Bingo… The hand holding Madrox’s head recoils in pain, as the little and ring fingers have been broken. Madrox, however, does not move, now floating unconscious in the pool. He is saved by the reach of a suited man, whom Sheila calls Eddie, thanking him for not letting him drown. Her thanks are cut short by Eddie, who tells her to shut up. As one of his two associates – not counting the one examining his now-broken fingers – checks on the unconscious Madrox, Eddie tell Sheila that the only reason she’s still sucking oxygen is because even he hasn’t figured out how much trouble she’s in.
Calling back to the man checking Madrox, Eddie instructs him to take and secure him in a supply closet or something. Then turning his attention to the injured subordinate, he tells him to get that hand fixed up, and then they’ll talk. That done, he returns his attention to Sheila, commanding her to tell him what was going on out there. When she replies with a nervous “nothing,” then adding that he surprised her, that’s all, Eddie calls her bluff, pointing out that she didn’t yell for help. She then adds that he had said he had a gun, but Eddie just turns away. Nothing happened, she swears unconvincingly. Sheila’s worries quickly turn to fear, as Eddie takes out from his jacket a small device –a switchblade. The fear turns to a smile, however, as the blade turns out to be a comb. As he uses it to fix his hair, Eddie replies that that’s good to know. That nothing happened.
In the supply closet, the two men argue. The first tells the other to not drop him. Impact causes him to duplicate. Receiving an incredulous “you’re kissing,” he confirms. Freakin’ mutants, the second bemoans. It’s always something. Considering this as he puts on the handcuffs, the second asks the first if the “duplicates” have powers. No, the first states. He’s just a guy who can turn into a bunch of guys. Whoooa, the second rejoins, as they leave the room. He’s sooo scared.
(Mutant Town, New York City)
On a rooftop, Guido scans a building a block away. In the same building, looking back – though his attention is aimed at a different locale – is the sniper, Clay. He is speaking to his accomplice, reporting that he can see “him” on the floor, moving slightly… He thinks he hit him… but it’s hard to be sure. His eyes still peeled on the window of XXX Investigations, Clay doesn’t see Guido bounding across the way, getting ready to jump from one building to the next.
Still reporting, Clay worries that, if he goes over there and he’s playing possum, he could be walking straight into a trap. Might be best to wait for a time… Clay’s words trail, as he sees a hulking shadow move near the window, almost as if caught in mid-jump. Clay looks up from his binoculars, immediately seeing the parabolic Guido, approaching his window. Time’s up, he quips.
Guido breaks through the window – as well as the brick surrounding it – without injury. Name’s Guido, he announces. Guido Carosella. Folks hereabouts, though… they call him “Strong Guy.” Asked to guess why, Clay quips back with shots from two revolvers, adding along the theory that his deodorant doesn’t hold up. Just a thought, he says.
The bullets bounce off of Guido, though not without stinging. Okay, he snipes, now you’re just tickin’ me off. To both Clay and Guido’s distraction, a voice comes from the other side of the wall, asking who is shooting over there. When told to calm down by Guido, that everything’s under control, she yells back that bullets are coming through her wall! More than a little flustered, Guido returns that they’re ricochets! And will she shut up so he can stop a bad guy…? Incensed, the woman yells back shut up?! just before firing a weapon of her own, the force of which rockets Guido out of the apartment and into the night sky. Clay looks at the ample-sized woman, as well as the giant cannon she has for a right arm, and does not move. While her husband rubs his temples and her son looks on in amazement, the woman calls out to the departed Guido, telling him that this is Mutant Town. They don’t shut up there.
Guido is propelled all the way back the XXX Investigations building, which he promptly bounces off of, eventually coming to rest on the pavement three stories below. The Madrox dupe is already there, barely missing being hit. He crouches down to the recovering Guido, asking him if he’s okay. Receiving a sarcastically toned whattayou think?, he supposes not. Guido rubs his head at this, snarking back that, yeah, he’s got the whole detective thing down. A new arrival changes their demeanor, as Guido groans that Agent Bishop is there. Greeting the two with an “evening gentlemen,” he succinctly notes that they have a bit if a situation there.
Back in the supply closet, Madrox is awake and very much still handcuffed. Taking in his surroundings, he remarks to no one in particular that he lives a life of anticipation. Expect nothing, anticipate everything. He sends his dupes helter-skelter, everywhere. No rhyme, no reason. Studying horticulture, or the effects of fluoride, or being a circus clown. Y’never know. Now, in this case, he thinks, that summer he spent in Vegas with Penn & Teller and Ricky Jay… that was useful.
So, he thinks, analyzing the situation. Whatta they got? A Peerless model 700 cuffs… and Peerless model 703 leg iron. Pretty common type. Looking around, he thinks that he could produce a dupe to help out, but he’d show up with cuffs on him. Not much help there. Seeing something that will help, he uses his feet to knock over a shelf, dropping its content on the floor. From a box of paperclips, whose contents are now scattered on the floor, Madrox goes to work.
As he picks, he reassessed what’s going on. He’s got a bad guy. A damsel in distress. Am intrepid detective. Considering this, Madrox notes that he’s living the film noir, just as he wanted. Is he happy? Couldn’t say. Sometimes he thinks that, with all the complicated stuff he’s worked on learning… he’s totally lost touch with the simple stuff.
When Sheila was kissing him… this gorgeous naked girl… it’s not that he felt nothing. He felt excited by the moment… by the fact that she was attracted to him. But emotionally he was… he doesn’t know… disconnected. Because he kept thinking, well, he could be turned on by her. Or not be. Or love her. Or just fool around… And since he could go in all those directions… no single one seemed more important than the other. After a bit of work, the lock to the handcuff unlatches. A minute or so later, the other cuff then the leg irons follow, leaving him to approach the next obstacle: the door.
Door’s locked, he thinks, examining it. And the lock’s on the other side of the door. Okay. A problem. But not an insurmountable one. Sticking one finger underneath the door, through the crack between it and the floor, he tells himself that he’s gotta focus on the dupe showing up outside instead of in there. A single punch to the floor with his other hand, a duplicated of Madrox appears on the other side of the door, his finger likewise sticking underneath the crack of the door. Outstanding, Madrox congratulates himself.
Now calling to the dupe, Madrox tells him to hurry, open the door and let him out. Not receiving a reply, he asks if he’s there and if everything’s okay. Why isn’t he letting him out? Through the door, Madrox hears his dupe ask what the point is in letting him out. What’s the point of anything? Madrox runs his fingers along his temple, quietly swearing to himself.
You were thinking it yourself, the dupe explains. Exasperated, Madrox tells the duplicate to stay out of his head. He’s kidding, right, the dupe rejoins. He was thinking about how nothing matters. He was thinking about how nothing matters. He was right. So really why let him out of there? It doesn’t make any difference. Okay, okay, Madrox concedes. He was thinking that, but it was mixed in with all kinds of other stuff in his head. But then he pops out, and his luck he’s just one aspect of what’s on his mind. And all he can think is that nothing matters. He’s just “distilled downside.” He doesn’t have any mitigating factors I his head.
Asked by the dupe what “mitigating” factors, Madrox explains that, well, such as that the longer he’s stuck in there, the more danger he’s in. But, the dupe counters, if nothing matters, why does even his living make a difference? For that matter, how could they not have been ecstatic that Sheila was kissing them? Are they gay? Right, Madrox sighs. He’s not even mildly jovial.
Meanwhile, further down the hall, a card game is disturbed. Sitting at the table are both of Eddie’s muscle men. Hey, Max, one asks the other, you hear voices in the hallway?
Seriously, Madrox tells his duplicate, he’s not gay. Why not, the dupe asks. If nothing makes any difference… He never said that, the original interrupts. But he thought it, the dupe counters. They’re shadings, for crying out loud! Madrox replies emphatically. There’s… Uh-oh, the dupe cuts off. Taken aback, Madrox wonders what “uh-oh” might mean. Outside, the dupe raises his hands to the two henchmen, one of whom is still holding his card hand.
Asked by one how he got out, the dupe replies that it doesn’t matter. They’re going to make it matter in a minute, freak, the other states. Trying to appeal to their logic, the dupe gives them a heads up, pointing out that, if they hit him, they’ll make more of him. Asked by the first if they strangle him, the dupe admits that that’ll work. Following all of this from the confines of the still-locked supply closet, the original Madrox yells at his dupe to shut up, which draws the attention of the first thug. Reaching for the handle and opening the door, he tells his partner that he thought they left him in there, hogtied! So who’s in there now?!?
As soon as the door is cracked open, the real Madrox rolls along the floor like a bowling ball, bursting through the door and knocking down the thug like a tenpin. Cards fly everywhere. As the other man, Max, reaches for his gun, the swift Madrox begins to rise to his feet, grabbing a playing card from the air as it falls. A swift flick of the wrist later causes the card to fly the short distance between Madrox’s hand to Max’s throat, slitting it like a sharp knife. Max looks on in astonishment, clutching his throat for a brief eternity, before collapsing to the floor in a pool of his own blood.
Even Madrox is stunned at the action, his mind racing at what just happened. He was just, he thinks, it was instinct… His composure restored, Madrox asks his dupe if he wants to see when nothing matters. That, he says, referring to Max, is when nothing matters. When you’re dead. And not a second before. Okay, he asks. As the dupe returns an unenthusiastic “okay,” Madrox pulls him close, reabsorbing the duplicate.
As she has been for hours, Rahne – still in her half-wolf phase – continues her vigil. She holds her binoculars to her eyes, peering into a window across the street, even as she continues talking on her phone headset. You’re under arrest, now, she asks. Not officially, the Madrox duplicate replies. Just being questioned.
When Madrox then asks about their client, Rahne, reiterating the apparent lunacy of the case, rhetorically asks if he’s talking about the wife who thinks her quadriplegic husband is cheating on her via astral projection. Rather than deigning to answer, she tells him that the woman has issues. It’s the most spectacular waste of time she… Mo chreach! she suddenly shouts.
When Madrox bewilderedly asks “who?” Rahne tells him nobody – she means… He’s doing it, she reports. He’s leaving his body! Through the open window of the bedroom, a luminescent humanoid form rises from the sleeping form of the husband. Asked by Madrox if she can see him, Rahne confirms. It’s hazy and indistinct, but it’s there. Oblivious of being observed, the wraith begins to fly into the night sky, away from home. An inquisitive request from Madrox for an update elicits an annoyed response from Rhane. Telling him that she loves him like a brother, she says she needs him to shut up. Now focused completely on her quarry, Rhane goes bounding over rooftops into the night.
Silently, Madrox makes his way down the hallway, trying not to alarm anyone else in the house that he has been freed, or the fate of his watchmen. Through an open door, he hears Eddie tells Sheila to shut up. When she does not, he repeats, adding that he has to take this call. Listening to this interchange, he thinks that it’s interesting that she calls him “Eddie” and his “James.” Considering this again, Madrox changes his mind. Not so interesting.
What is interesting is the language Eddie begins to speak. Plokho! Ochen plokho! Russian, Madrox finally decides. It’s Russian. Thinking back, Madrox remembers how his dupe hated that year and a half in Moscow. He wanted to know why he couldn’t be the one who went to learn Hawaiian. Focusing back on the present, as well as the conversation, Madrox tries not to think about having shoved that guy’s body in the closet or knocking his friend cold and tossing him in along too. He tries not to think about the blood or that he’s probably going to hell now. Just hear the words, he tells himself.
The conversation begins to come together, as Madrox interprets that he’s talking about… the plan? And… mutants? “The mutant problem has to be attended to. We can’t put it off any longer. It’s getting out of control.” So intent on the conversation is Madrox that he doesn’t detect the approach of Clay until his revolver is cocked at his head. Now very much aware, he hears Clay assume aloud that he’s the one responsible for the pool of blood in the hallway. Make a dupe…, he warns, trailing. Make the slightest move… and he’s dead.
Clay calls out to Eddie, addressing him as “Mr. Vance,” and then proceeds to lead Madrox into the spacious living room. Placing down the phone, Eddie is incredulous, asking what this is – amateur hour? When he asks Clay how he got out, the assassin replies that he couldn’t tell him. This leading to the next question on Eddie’s mind is what did he hear. Eddie posits the question directly to Madrox, asking what he heard. To this, Jamie replies “you talking in some foreign language.” Then asked if he knew what language it was, Madrox asks back how should he know? Does he look like a U.N. translator?
A voice from across the room warns Eddie not to believe him. He knows it was Russian, and he understood every word he said. When asked by Eddie how he knows, the Madrox duplicate – sporting two bandaged broken fingers – replies, because I understood every word you said.