Two men, aboard a small boat heading for Madripoor, pass the time playing poker in the ship’s cabin. We’re not arriving too soon for you, are we? asks the larger of the two men. He wears a trench coat and his face is completely obscured by shadows. Not with the way I’ve been winning, the other man responds with enthusiasm. The dark man acknowledges his opponents luck that night, but the other man, Oritz, insists it is all skill. Oritz calls the hand. The dark man shows his cards: full house, kings over queens. Oritz trumps even this formidable hand. “Four aces, amigo. I win again,” Oritz says, grinning smugly.
The dark man says nothing. He removes his gloves, revealing metallic flesh overlaid with tattered fragments of stretched skin. He lunges across the table and grabs Oritz by the shirt. “Tell me, Oritz… what card is up your sleeve?” he asks as a playing card slips out of Oritz’s shirtsleeve. Oritz utters an “oops,” and chuckles nervously in the dark man’s face. No hard feelings? The dark man smiles deviously. “None at all…amigo,” he says.
Meanwhile, in the darkened woods outside Madripoor, a deer drinks from a pond. It does not detect its approaching predator, a snarling wolf that licks its chop in anticipation of its kill. The wolf, however, doesn’t know it too is being followed, but by a different kind of predator: a man, walking naked through the woods, named Wolverine.
The wolf springs from hiding and quickly overtakes its prey. Wolverine does the same, silently sneaking up on the wolf and tagging it on the back. It turns and growls at him. He talks the beast down. He is not interested in the wolf’s kill; he just wanted to touch the wolf without it realizing he was near. “You hunt in your way. I hunt in mine,” he says.
Wolverine notices the wolf is old, and was likely driven from its pack. It must have to prey on smaller deer because it no longer has sharp teeth or the quickness of its youth. Wolverine can relate; the only difference is his age just doesn’t make itself evident. He decides to do the aging beast a favor. After unsheathing his claws, he carves the deer carcass up into bite-sized portions and tosses them at the bewildered wolf. “See? My carving’s easier than your having to start tearing it off,” he says. The wolf stares at him for a few moments before picking up a piece of meat in its mouth and dropping it at Wolverine’s feet. While not particularly hungry, Wolverine refuses to offend his host. He sits down and shares a meal with his new lupine friend.
After finishing their food, the Wolverine and the wolf fall asleep on the cold forest floor. A wayward scent, however, rouses Logan out of his sleep, and he sits up, sniffing the air. Something is wrong. He just doesn’t know what it is. He heads to a nearby cliff that overlooks the sprawling city of Madripoor. The city is a cesspool with style, he thinks to himself, and somewhere in that cesspool, something seems horribly wrong.
That night, Jessan Hoan, also known as the crimelord Tyger Tiger, is stirred from her sleep by an intruder. In one swift motion, she turns over, springs out of bed, and hurls a throwing knife she keeps under her pillow. The intruder catches it in his hand before it hits his face. Lose this, Wolverine asks? Tyger Tiger calls him a wise guy, but Wolverine rebuffs her; tonight, he feels completely ignorant. Something smells wrong in Madripoor. The wind is blowing from the west, Jessan says; it’s probably just the Charnel House. No, not that, Logan says. A new scent just entered the air, one he can almost taste. One that lies just beyond his memory. “I thought you always remembered a scent,” Tyger Tiger asks.
“Not if I want to forget it.” Logan asks her if she knows of any new activity in town. She tells him General Coy plans on meeting some new contacts for his drug trade within the next few days. Wolverine figures he will have to pay him a visit, then. As he gets up to leave, Jessan puts her hand on his shoulder and asks if he can spare a little bit of time. He turns to her, and the two embrace. She gently strokes his face. The deer’s blood from earlier sticks to her fingers. Ketchup on your sideburns, she asks? “Yeah,” Logan says. I gotta be tidier when I eat.”
Meanwhile, at the port, the boat finally docks. The dark man emerges and is greeted by a representative of General Coy. “You are the gentleman called Cyber?” he asks.
“The name is correct. The description is questionable,” Cyber says.
Coy’s representative welcomes his future business partner to Madripoor and shakes his hand. “You have a very strong grip, monsieur, and…what’s this red substance on your hand? Ketchup?” he asks. Cyber apologizes with a malevolent grin on his face. He must learn to be tidier when he plays cards.
Angelica Jones has failed at just about every goal she made since her mutant powers manifested. She failed to build a new life with her father, she failed to secure lasting friendships, and although she managed to build a wall between her personal life and her life as the mutant hero Firestar, that wall has just come crashing down, thanks to Freedom Force. Now, the team of government-sponsored mutants has her backed up against that wall, both figuratively and literally.
In the alley outside a hospital, Freedom Force’s leader Mystique orders Firestar to surrender. Blob slaps Firestar across the face to emphasize his boss’s order, only he does not take into account the immense heat radiating from Angelica’s body. The mere touch scorches his hand. While Blob screams in pain, Angelica, hunched over on the floor, notices how little control Mystique has over her minions. She begins to wonder if maybe Mystique really can help her, but quickly brushes the thought out of her head; she gave up trusting known villains after her experience with the White Queen. Besides, it was Mystique who attacked Angelica and critically injured her father. Now, her father needs a new lung, and the only way to get it is through the black-market organ dealers, the Arms of Salvation. Their asking price: Mystique! Firestar considers her dilemma; turning Mystique in to have her organs harvested is clearly wrong and harkens back to her days as Emma Frost’s personal assassin, but doing so may save her father’s life. But does that make it right?
Elsewhere, henchmen from the Arms of Salvation arrive at the Fallon family home. Inside are two targets, one of whom is for Firestar’s contract.
Back at the hospital, Firestar decides to finish her job as quickly as possible. She destroys the ground beneath the Blob and pushes him into a septic tank. With him out of the way, she searches for Mystique. Pyro stops her in mid-flight by scorching her leg with a precision bolt of fire. “My control of flames is more’n a match for your little matchbox power,” he boasts.
Elsewhere, the Arms of Salvation soldiers force their way into the Fallon home and disrupt the family’s peaceful dinner. What do you people want, screams Mrs. Fallon? One of the henchmen tells her to calm down; if they cooperate, no one will get hurt…much. He grabs her and hurls her into the sofa. One of his subordinates drugs Mrs. Fallon, wiping her memory clean of this incident. Now, they can get down to business.
Firestar, still outside the hospital, focuses on defeating Pyro, but he proves a more formidable foe than expected. He sculpts his flames into the form of porcupine and uses this fiery beast to hem her in. If she tries to fly away, he threatens to fry her to a crisp! “So give it up, Red – you’re hopelessly outclassed,” Pyro says. She counterattacks with microwaves of her own, but Pyro psionically diverts even these. The Blob, meanwhile, struggles to climb out of his pit. He slides back down whenever he reaches the top.
Mystique reappears on the sidewalk and reminds Pyro not to toy with his targets. She’ll tire out soon, Pyro says. Firestar takes advantage of his overconfidence and fires a condensed, concussive microwave at a nearby fire hydrant. The water gushes forth and dislodges the hydrant, sending it flying into the air. While the water completely douses Pyro’s flames, the hydrant falls back to earth and hits the Blob square in the head as he reaches the top of his pit. He falls once more. “Maybe you’re right, Mystique,” Pyro says. “It is time to quit foolin’ around.” Firestar may have quenched his current flame, but he has plenty in reserve.
Mr. Fallon, meanwhile, valiantly stands against the intruders in his home. Unfortunately, he is no match for their strength and numbers. One of the men raises his hand in preparation to knock Mr. Fallon out, but another stops him. They need Mr. Fallon’s body perfectly intact; after all, they need to harvest his lung. He has permission to hit him in the face, though. Mr. Fallon’s jaw drops. Without his lung, he will surely die!
Firestar circles behind the murderous Pyro and obliterates his flamethrower. He falls forward into the gaping septic hole and lands right on top of Blob. With them out of the way, Firestar turns her back attention to Mystique, but as she turns around, she sees only her father, hunched over in his hospital gown. He begs for her to stop this violence. He knows people who can help her through whatever is troubling her!
Back at the Fallon home, Howard Fallon pleads for the soldiers to let his family go. The mercenaries merely laugh in his face. They have no interest in his family! It is him, and his daughter Meg, for whom they have come. They would have snagged Meg earlier, had Firestar not intervened. The henchmen knock the rest of the family members unconscious and wipe their memories. They will wake up with pounding headaches, but at least they will wake up. Mr. Fallon and his daughter, however, will not have that luxury.
Angelica’s father, still reeling from his injuries, continues to reason with his daughter. “Freedom Force is on your side,” he says. “They want you to register – maybe become one of them.” Angelica cannot believe her father is saying this to her! How can she turn it down, he asks? With Freedom Force, she has a chance at freedom, and a chance at a new life. She has the opportunity to be everything the White Queen knew she could be!
Angelica screams in protest and hits her father with a right hook. The White Queen only pretended to care about her, she says, and betrayed her when she refused to do her evil deeds. Of course, her father knows that, but the man before her is not her father; it’s Mystique! “You ought to get your facts straight before you get into something, Mystique,” she says, flattening the shapeshifting villainess with a concussive microwave, “or it can get you into a lot of trouble!”
At the Arms of Salvation headquarters, Fitch and Cross, the two men in charge, stand over their most recent captives. Soon, they will also tap the limitless potential of Mystique’s organs, once as Firestar apprehends her. The girl may prove to be a useful tool, as long as she remains ignorant of the Arm’s true motives, Fitch says. And if she gets too curious, asks Cross? “Long before that happens,” Fitch says, “she’ll be a fond, bloody memory!”
It would be judicious to say I was…perturbed, Beast says as he recounts a story from when he first joined the X-Men. Enrolled for less than an hour, and I was already trying to strangle my teacher.
Hank McCoy’s new teammates struggle to restrain him from clobbering Professor X, but the burly mutant overcomes them with ease. He tells the other X-Men to get out of the way; this is between him and the Professor. Cyclops tries to intimidate him with a low-power optic blast, but Beast’s fury is not easily abated. A telepathic intervention by Professor X finally puts an end to the conflict. They are to stop fighting immediately, and Hank is to report to his office in five minutes.“Wrong – I’ll see you now!” Hank shouts. While Hank will later look back on his defiance with disbelief, at the moment he is too angry to restrain himself.
Later, in Xavier’s office, Hank perches on top of the filing cabinet across from the Professor while he reveals the source of his anger. “Gone! My whole life is gone,” Hank says. “I just called…a friend…from home. She had no idea who I was!” Professor X tells him wiping her mind was necessary, as she knew too much about Hank. “She knew everything about me,” Hank counters. “You had no right to--”
Professor X silences his student right there. How dare he question his teacher! He knew sacrifices would have to be made before joining the X-Men. Hank refuses to give it up. It wasn’t Xavier’s sacrifice to make, he says. He took away everyone’s choice in the matter! “I was willing to leave my home and come here to ‘save the world,’ but please – give her back to me,” Hank says, beginning to cry. “She was my life!” Xavier reiterates the circumstances are desperate. Soon, they may be engaged in a civil war between mutants, and Hank would better serve his friends and family as an X-Man. The choice, however, is Hank’s. He may leave the X-Men if he so desires.
“Obviously, I stayed,” Beast, currently a member of X-Factor, tells Ship. “But, I guess, on some level, I’ve always hated him for taking away Jennifer.” Who is Jennifer, the sentient computer asks? Hank’s personal file has no information on her at all. Hank doesn’t answer the question. Instead, his mind wanders, until Ship yells at him to get his attention; it wants to hear the rest of his life story. Hank tells it his life is no longer his. “Not anymore,” he adds.
Ship asks for clarification, and Hank asks a question in response: have you ever wondered if you made the wrong decisions in life? No, Ship responds coldly. Hank calls Ship a cold, unfeeling computer, and leaves his session early. Ship reminds him he is the only member of X-Factor who has not entered his life story into Ship’s logs, but Hank calls Ship a nag and goes to take a shower.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, it’s a stormy night in Brussels, Belgium. Working on a new homicide case in the pouring rain is not anyone’s idea of a good time, and to make the situation even drearier, this murder is the seventh in a string of identical killers. Brussels has a serial killer on its hands.
Captain Mascelein arrives in his car and asks to speak with the investigation’s leader, Lieutenant Commander Courage. The lieutenant nervously joins his captain in the car, totally unprepared for the thrashing he is about to receive. The killer left unexplainable claw marks on his victim, a vagrant. What the killer did not leave were any clues. Unacceptable, the captain barks at Lieutenant Courage. In less than 24 hours, Brussels is hosting the first ever World Symposium on Mutant Research! They cannot afford to have a serial killer roaming the streets! Yes, sir, the lieutenant says in compliance. He tries to add a qualifier, but the captain silences him and drives away.
Lieutenant Commander Courage turns around and shouts at his officers. Didn’t they hear the captain, he asks? Get to work, and find a clue! If they cannot find one, then make something up!
Later, in the waters beneath Ship, a grumbling mailwoman in an inflatable raft paddles her way toward the hovering vessel, while onboard, Hank sings to himself in the bathroom. “Why do I sound so much better in the shower?” he asks, rhetorically. Ship begins to provide a technical answer, forcing Hank to interrupt. “Ship, please… a man’s bathroom is his kingdom.” The sentient computer reminds Hank he must finish telling his life story. Hank promises to do it once he finishes shaving. To his surprise, the security alarm begins to sound. Without even asking for his consent, Ship teleports Hank, wearing only a towel around his waist, outside the ship directly above an inflatable raft.
Unfortunately, Ship teleports Hank a little too high in the air. As he plummets toward the water, he sees a mailwoman battling an armored man aboard her raft. Ship notices the armored man seems to be stealing the woman’s mailbag, a federal offense! Hank swims to the edge of the raft and grabs the armored man by the legs. “No fair attacking a woman,” Hank says. “Even if she’s a mail-woman! ‘Male’-woman! Get it?” No one finds this pun funny, save for Hank. No matter; Hank pulls the armored man into the water and beats him senseless. Ship urges him to stop; its sensors indicate the man is about to explode! Before Hank swims away, he rips off the man’s helmet to get a look at his face. “Oh my stars and garters,” he says upon viewing a hairy, animal-like face not dissimilar to his own.
The mailwoman, still aboard the raft, asks aloud if Willie Lumpkin ever has days like this. Beast soon splashes up to the inflatable boat. The first thing he asks if he can use her mailbag to cover up his sensitive regions; he seems to have lost his towel in the teleportation process. Once aboard, he and Ship ask the woman why she was attacked. She has no idea; this letter, a delivery from Belgium to Dr. Hank McCoy, was her last one of the day. “For me? It must be the two-thousand Sea Monkeys I ordered!” Hank jokes. After reading the letter, however, his disposition changes into one of utter anger.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in Brussels, a messenger at the museum bears bad news for his boss: their agent failed to intercept the letter to Dr. McCoy. No matter, the man in charge says while looking at the bustling city through his window. This only means Dr. McCoy will come all the way to Belgium…to die!