She had a mother once. She thinks about that sometimes. She had a mother and she may have loved her. She told her so, once. In a letter. She made her from her own body, carried her in her womb. Read her books. But she also obeyed the men in white and let them hurt X-23, let them turn her into a killer! She asked her to kill and, in the end, X-23 killed her.
Maybe that is love. She doesn’t know. Stranded in hell, X-23 begins fighting the demon wolves that attack her. One last is left, speaking to her, addressing her. Look at her! What big eyes. What sharp teeth. The wolf changes into a naked Scott Summers. How cold, her touch. Did she really think he would let her go? He smirks. The first time he saw her kill, it was beautiful! She was perfect and then she was his.
No! she refuses. “His,” he repeats, stalking towards her. He owned her. He still does. She would do anything for him. He reaches for her, leering. She has become such a lovely young woman.
With a scream of rage, she slugs him. That tickled, he mocks and asks her to do it again. Don’t pretend she doesn’t want to. She was made to please, to obey… Laura runs away as he calls after her to stop resisting the truth. She is a thing. A machine. She has no soul!
What is a soul? Laura wonders as she runs through an apocalyptic landscape full of skeletons and cages. She passes a ruined Pinocchio doll. What does it feel like? What does it matter? She was made. A construct of men in white coats. But she was born, too. That must count for something.
A glowing figure tells he she was a dream. And then she was more than a dream. It matters. She lands before Laura. But even if she were a machine she would still be with Laura. She is her. Her true self. The self that lives in a place deeper than her heart, deeper than her silence. She is the part of Laura the scientists never touched. They are not in true hell. They are in Laura’s mind. The demon is here with her. She can defeat him. She can push him away forever. All she needs to do is remember who she is. Know herself. Know who she could be.
The wolves attack the being and Laura tries to drag them off. Only a small glowing light is left, which tells her not to be afraid. It will never leave her. It asks her to take it up. It’s her light and there are things she must see again.
Younger Laura as a prisoner of the Facility. They force her to witness scenes of violence again and again. The scientists are dissatisfied with the results… her empathy scores are still too high. She resists the conditioning. It will take something extreme to break her. They ask Doctor Kinney what she recommends and warn her not to get soft. The girl is not her daughter but property of the state!
Later, the young girl cuddles up with a puppy. The scientists enter, angry that she hasn’t killed the pet. One of them tells her she’s taken too long. She was supposed to kill it hours ago. The task was so simple even an idiot could have performed it but she hasn’t which means it’s time for a lesson. He takes the puppy away and tells her because of her failure the dog is going to suffer horribly. And she’s going to watch and listen! Fortunately for her, he believes in second chances. If she cares about this dog, she won’t let anyone else hurt it. She’ll follow orders. She’ll kill the dog now and put it out of its misery. Obediently, X-23 reaches for the dog, which trustingly licks her cheek.
Another time: In a berserk rage, X-23 kills everyone in the facility and finally even her mother.
“Laura!” a voice calls. Why did it show her this? she demands. She knows what was done to her, what she has done! Why make her live through it again? The voice replies that she needed to be reminded. She needed to see what was done to her. She was not born empty. It took effort to make her that way. It took many hands and minds. It took years! She fought them every step but they outnumbered her and she was so young. She had no choice. But she has a choice now!
What choice? she asks. How does she know what is right? What does she believe? the voice asks. She does not know. Then believe in herself! Choice is her weapon. Belief is her weapon. No one can hurt her, if she remembers that. She has been through the worst and she was not broken. She will never be broken! Never, Laura agrees, looking at the tiny light over her right hand.
Giving up already? Hellverine asks grinning. Poor Laura, she thought she could beat him. How exactly he has no idea. She is nothing but a vessel, her mind still the same wasteland, full of death and scorched memories. Nothing has changed. Her defiance has only postponed the inevitable. He tells her to look at all the people she killed – corpses of the X-Men hanging in the vines. All the people she will kill if she doesn’t make the right choice. Of course, maybe she wants those people dead! All those simpering idiots who want to change or pity her. None of them understand her. None of them appreciate her for what she is. Not even him, he points at Hellion’s corpse. Laura almost touches him. Does she still want to save him? “Then choose me. Choose what I can offer you. Power. Destiny.”
Laura turns around and asks where Logan is. Busy fighting his own demons, comes the reply, but never mind him. It’s time for her to worry about herself. And him? she asks, looking at the figure in the cage. He thinks she knows who that is, Hellverine tells her. Her stowaway Gamemaster. The poor deluded man whom he found trying to break into her mind. A different kind of pedophile. He caught him for her. He’ll let her kill him… If she’s ready to join him. She knows it’s what she wants, he urges. Death is her drug. It’s the only time she feels normal.
There was a third choice, she replies. They had a deal. Stupid girl, he scoffs. How many times does she need to learn her lesson? She’s lucky he even gave her a choice! Lucky? she asks and touches his chest with her right palm. It was not luck. Then what? he asks And what is that? Me, Laura replies as the light coming from her hand engulfs him, causing him agony.
Laura awakes, muttering “I choose me.” Storm holds her and asks what happened and whose blood this is. Laura asks about Julian who is all right but remembers nothing of what happened. Gambit, who helps Julian up, asks “You okay, petite?” He’s okay, Hellion replies. He wasn’t talking to him. Laura stares at her hand, seeing a star-shaped scar. Is she hurt? Storm asks. No, Laura replies.
Later, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Storm and Gambit have gathered to discuss X-23 and what happened. Scott summarizes that there are obvious signs of violence, but Hellion says he can’t remember what happened which Emma confirms. X-23 on the other hand knows something, Emma interjects that she just isn’t talking. Nor will she let Emma into her mind to see what happened. She hardly blames her, Ororo comments wryly. What did Logan say? They can’t find him, it turns out.
Forget Logan, Emma insists impatiently. They need to figure out what to do with X-23. Do with her? Storm repeats. What right do they have to make any decision for Laura? Let the child find her own way. Their job is to be there for her as the X-Men have been there for them when they were finding their way.
Scott disagrees. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. X-23 needs structure. That’s what she understands. If they are going to break through to her, that’s the language they need to speak. Emma agrees. She would, Ororo retorts.
Ahem, Gambit speaks up for the first time and tells them they are all wrong if they think Laura is gonna stick around long enough to be… helped. The X-Men have become a prison to her She’s not a person here. Just a thing to be fixed. She knows that’s how she’s seen and she’s not a child to let adults make the decision for her. The only way she’s gonna get better is to get gone. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already left.
Almost. Laura sneaks into the sleeping Hellion’s room. She reaches out to Julian but withdraws the hand and leaves quietly. Julian is awake but says nothing.
Laura steps out. Storm finds her and lands in front of her. She asks Laura to stay. It is time, the girl replies. She doesn’t belong here. Ororo insists it’s her home. It was and might be again, Laura concedes, but she cannot be where everyone knows her or thinks they know her better than she knows herself. Because maybe they do know her better. And she does not want that, she wants to make her own life. Before someone else makes it for her again. Ororo touches her face. She is her own person. “Go. Make your life. But know that you are not alone.”
Walking through the streets of San Francisco, Laura tells herself she is not alone. She is not empty. There is a light inside her. She caught a glimpse of it. She held it and will find it again, she vows, unaware of the pale young woman watching her intently. Miss Sinister presses the red diamond mark on her head…