A lone voice fills X-23’s mind. He speaks directly to her, telling a tale that is accompanied by surreal representations of the both of them. “You, listen” he begins as he describes how once upon a time, a prince found a lovely but wicked girl amongst the bones of the dead. The girl had “murder in her heart” but the prince was lonely and his desperate heart inspired him to play games. He took the girl and continued to do so repeatedly in an effort to make her his.
New York City:
X-23 stands on a high rooftop. She responds to the voice in her head. She tells him that she was born to a woman who should have killed her, that she should never have lived. “They wanted a boy.” Or rather a man they could turn into a weapon. They got her instead. She pops her claws and leaps from the rooftop. She plummets down and as she falls through the night sky she adds “And I did fine.”
Earlier that evening:
Logan stands in an alleyway, clad in his standard civilian garb – jeans, a white tank top and his signature cowboy hat. X-23 is kneeling on the ground near him. She thinks to herself that the city is a cage like the one in which “the enemy” lives. She looks at Wolverine and realizes that he is the closest thing she will ever have to a father were it not for the fact that she was his clone.
Jubilee arrives as Logan announces that the scent of their quarry is still strong. Logan tells Jubilee that she shouldn’t be there to which she replies with typical sarcasm “You need to get a new line.” Wolverine asks Jubilee if she thinks he needs her help. She smiles and replies casually “Always.” Laura watches this exchange and notes how close Logan and Jubilee are. She realizes that they are not related but are friends in ways that she and Logan will never be. She slices into her arm with her claws and tells herself “It does not matter.”
Jubilee and Logan review a packet of photos of former mutants who have recently been killed or disappeared. Jubilee notes that they were all regulars at the outreach center for depowered mutants that she helps to run. She explains to Logan that the police haven’t been much help and admits that she hasn’t found much on her own which is why she’s asking for his help. As he looks at the pictures, he asks if they’ve come after her. Jubilee asks if it matters and Wolvie just glares at her. She tells him that they did and that they got away. X-23 stands up and says bluntly “You were stupid.” Jubilee says boldly: “Say that again” and Laura does. She says that all of these former mutants should have known better than to frequent a place that would identify them as such.
Jubilee scowls and turns the conversation back to the scent they’ve tracked. Logan notes that they were on some fliers but they might not be the bad guys Jubilee is after. He asks X if she’s found anything and she catches an unexpected scent. She reacts with a startled “Oh” and falls silent. Logan begins to reach out to her and she pulls away. As she stalks off silently, Jubilee remarks that she “really is your clone”. Logan chooses not to follow and tells Jubilee that X-23 has her own demons to deal with and he’ll handle helping her tracking down hers.
As X-23 leaves, she assures herself that she knows what she’s doing. She recalls all that she learned in the labs where she was raised, the cold, sterile environment marked by the fear and control of her masters and those charged with grooming her for the dark work she was created for. Their fear became a game to her in her solitary and controlled existence. They treated her as a pet or a specimen in a zoo, locked safely in her cage. But she was no pet or even a tool. She was a shark, a tiger, a monster in a child’s body. They were right to fear her. Eventually, she rebelled and killed her masters. What happened after this is a blur to her. She recalls losing herself in this city. Working the streets, she sold her body to those who enjoyed pain. She traded her life as a paid assassin for another form of servitude. Only this time, it was her body she sold and a pimp she answered to.
She passes a pimp and one of his girls. She watches as he pushes her to the ground. Before the woman knows what has happened, X-23 has beheaded him with her claws. She remembers that when she was a prostitute, someone helped her and she woke a bit from the blurry daze she existed in. Despite this, she is still being used. Even the X-Men use her to kill and she wonders if that is her only worth to them.
She climbs a ladder to a rooftop and tells herself that she has a choice. She knows that she has some freedom now and could leave, even if she has no one else. From the rooftop, she spots them. They were the first she could call her friends. They are huddled around a fire, fighting to survive. X-23 tells herself that she should walk away, that she’s not a safe person to be in their lives.
On the rooftop, Laura’s friends debate their current circumstances. Kiden chides them for being lame about the whole thing. Tatiana reminds her that they are once again homeless and still wanted by the police. Plus, their one adult friend hates them. Bobby Soul adds that they’re broke as well. Kiden calls them “Whiners” and points out that they at least have some food. Tatiana retorts “Which you stole” and Kiden shoots back at her “Which you ate.” Bobby tells her that they can’t go on like this and suggests they leave the city. Kiden asks if he’s talking about Vegas again. Bobby argues that it’s big there and there will be jobs for them. Kiden teases that he’ll make a great showgirl with his legs. The others tell her to be serious and Bobby makes it clear that he wants a better life for his brother and that they all deserve that. Kiden argues that New York is their home. Bobby argues that his brother and their little group are his home and they all need more than to just survive from day to day.
At that moment, they all notice a trail of psionic images streaming from L’il Bro to a nearby rooftop. Bobby states that “Someone’s here” and before he can say the words, Kiden has frozen time and stalks off to investigate. She grumbles under her breath about Vegas. She expects to find an evil overlord or peeping tom and is surprised when she finds X-23 huddled on the adjacent rooftop surrounded by L’il Bro’s psychic projections. Kiden unfreezes time and calls out to Laura before rushing to give her a hug. At first, Laura doesn’t respond and Kiden asks if she remembers her. Laura falls against Kiden’s chest and says weakly “I remember.”
X-23 joins the others around the fire. She remembers what it felt like when she was one of them. She felt safe with them for the first time in her life. They expected nothing in return. Kiden is thrilled to have Laura with them again but Bobby is clearly not as keen on her return. He points out that they haven’t seen her in over a year and that she left without saying good-bye. Tatiana adds that they looked all over for her. Kiden says that they were worried about her. X-23 is in a daze. She simply repeats what they are saying and it’s unclear if she is at all moved by their expression of concern. Kiden watches as X-23 slices into her arms. She says to her “Because you’re our friend” and reaches out to her. X-23 can’t help but feel how effortlessly Kiden offers both friendship and understanding.
In the Mindscape:
Gamesmaster comments on how alone X-23 is, even when she’s with them. He understands her loneliness because he is always alone, even though he can hear the thoughts of everyone. He longs for quiet. He looks upon X-23, his “wicked, lovely girl” and is in awe of how quiet she is inside. He wonders what comfort she will offer him.
In New York:
Laura awakes on the rooftop. Kiden asks her tentatively if she is back on the streets. X-23 replies that she no longer has sex for money. Bobby’s questioning is sterner. He wants to know how she’s been living and where she’s been, as well as why she came back. X-23 replies “You do not trust me” and Bobby simply states “It’s been a while.” Tatiana adds that a lot has happened, bad things. X-23 asks for an explanation but they simply tell her that they’re alive and she agrees that this is all that matters. Tatiana tells Laura that she looks sick and she cannot help but agree that something is very wrong.
Gamesmaster draws her back into his mind and welcomes her home. She confronts him and tells him that this is not real. He tells her that dreams are real enough and that they keep a man’s soul alive. He compliments her on having such a “clean mind”, free of pretense. She tells him to stop talking and he commands her to “Make me.” She asks what he wants and he counters by asking if she wants to know who he is. She tells him that he’s the same as the rest, a user and manipulator. He replies “Not me. Not yet.” She relents and asks his name and he reveals that he is called the Gamesmaster. She asks him what he calls himself and he reveals that he has forgotten it somewhere. He expects that she understands how easy it can be to misplace pieces of yourself. He explains that he can hear every thought on the planet but that it helps to focus on just one. He implores Laura to be the one he focuses on exclusively. He notes that he’s already been following her life and offers her a “whole world” if she consents. She tells him “No” and he urges her to do so again because he knows that no matter how much and to whom she says it, she will never truly “own” herself. He tells her there will always be someone there trying to control her and she’ll let them because that’s all she knows. “Born a slave, always a slave” he tells her, and that even after a taste of freedom she will put the chains of servitude back on every time. He tells her that she has always exchanged one “cage” for another – her creators, her pimp, the X-Men and now, him.
She asks why he is telling her this and he replies that he is in a cage as well. She suggests he just end it then but he claims to believe in life, despite how it pains him unlike her. Laura challenges this statement and insists that she believes in life too. She tells him that she now fights so that others may live. He asks if she truly feels this or if she was just programmed to believe this to be true. He asks her bluntly if she even knows what’s real. He offers to give her anything she desires. But she refuses, saying all she wants is to be free. He refuses and cages her, telling her that of all those he has psionically chosen over the years, her mind and her pain are unique. He tells her that he will be watching and will not let her go. She asks what the price will be for this “freedom” and he tells her “Not yet.” But assures her that until then she will never truly be alone since he will be watching.
Back on the rooftop, Kiden tries to pull Laura out of the blank stare she’s slipped into. She practically begs Laura “Please, please don’t be sick.” Laura rises and pulls away from Kiden, warning her to stay away. Kiden calls to her to wait but Bobby tells her to let her go. Kiden refuses to and Tatiana adds that Laura “needs help.” They call after X-23 as she leaps from the rooftop and flees. As she leaves her friends behind, she thinks that everything in her life always falls apart. She sees the city around her and at first, looks at it as a cage. But then she changes her perspective. She is determined not to be a prisoner or treat herself as an enemy. “Nothing can hold me.” she declares to herself. She lands on another rooftop and vomits. She decides that she is strong enough to make her own choices, even if they end up breaking her heart. She is willing to endure that pain in order to be free. Kiden has chased after her and calls out “No!” as she dives from the roof. She lands hard on the pavement before, her body shattered. Seconds later, Kiden is beside her apologizing that she couldn’t stop time quickly enough to cushion her fall. Laura speaks weakly, thanking her for trying. She starts to get up and Kiden urges her not to. Laura assures her that she will be fine. Kiden looks her in the eyes and says “I know.”
The others catch up to Kiden and Laura and ask what happened. Kiden tries to convince the others that Laura just ran until she got tired but Bobby Soul is quick to point out that she’s bleeding too. Kiden ignores this and tells Laura that she doesn’t need to run anymore and that’s coming with them and they’ll take care of her.
Laura says “I know” At that moment, Logan arrives and simply says Laura’s name. Kiden assumes he is X-23’s new pimp and tells him he can’t have her back and that they’ll fight for her if they have to. Laura explains that he’s just a friend and that she needs to go with him. Kiden tries to convince her to stay and X-23 thanks her for being her friend. Kiden tells her “You ever need to run again… run to us.”
As the gang leaves, Logan says that he thinks he likes Kiden and tells Laura she should have mentioned that she had friends in the city. Laura seems surprised that Logan found her. He tells her he was worried and asks if she feels better. She asks Logan if he saw what happened and he says he did. He tells her that pain isn’t the way to deal with her feelings. She tells him it helps. He asks what he’s gotten her into and takes her hand. They walk hand in hand as they leave the streets of New York.
Laura remembers the book her mother read to her. Pinocchio- the story of a wooden puppet who strived to become a real boy. Laura acknowledges that she is not “real” yet. She realizes that Wolverine didn’t make her this way but that she does have the power to change, learn, and get what she wants out of life. She challenges the Gamesmaster: “Watch me.”