In a highly restricted part of the Pentagon, a shackled woman who appears to be Storm screams in pain, begging to make it stop. As Storm’s features shift and turn to those of the shapeshifting Mystique, Forge coldly tells her that she could have avoided this. She was warned about what would happen if she exceeded the thirty second mark.
hy doesn’t he drive a spike through her head, Mystique snarls. It’ll have the same effect as the inhibitor he planted in her skull. Or maybe he enjoys watching her writhe in agony. Coolly, he tells her that she can’t hold a candle to Storm, so she needn’t try. He doesn’t enjoy this in the least.
The implant is a necessary evil to ensure her cooperation. Val Cooper, who makes no secret out of the fact that she appears to be enjoying this, reminds Mystique that she has betrayed them too often. This time they are not taking any chances.
Watching the proceedings, former Alphan Wild Child mutters that they are both playing with fire. Of course, nobody’s asking him. Actually, Val addresses his concerns, explaining that it took a lot of convincing on her part before the federal government would approve of this arrangement. Studying the implant on a screen, Forge continues that, after bringing Mystique back from Wyoming, they placed a nanotechnic inhibitor at the base of her cerebellum in order to alert them when she changed forms and to prevent her from taking certain identities, such as the members of X-Factor and the X-Men for longer than 30 seconds. And this test shows the implant to be in full working order.
He asks Mystique to step down. Sarcastically, Raven states that she understands the rules, before adding that he just won’t admit that the idea of her playing his little Storm Queen excites Forge. Oh, the fun they could have… That conversation is old, he scoffs. What if she turns into people not yet on the roster? she challenges him, while turning into Wild Child and growling at the real thing. Not at all perturbed, he suggests that the growl needs to be an octave lower. At least she can change back, she smirks. He will always be ugly as sin.
Forge informs them that Wild Child’s genetic profile will be downloaded into the implant’s database soon enough. So if she is through playing games… Games? They can’t even compete on her level, she scoffs. She’s older, wiser and more experienced than any of them. The only reason she is there is because she was ambushed at the Belle Fourche dam. They got lucky, Val admits, but so did Raven. If they hadn’t shown up, her mystery assailant might have killed her. Her gratitude knows no bounds, Mystique states ironically. Whatever happened to showing her the error of her wicked ways? Has she given up on rehabilitating her old gal pal, Raven Darkholme?
That road is a dead end, Val replies. Forge adds that they are the only thing keeping her out of prison. The country is in no mood to be lenient with terrorists who plant bombs or murder top tanking army generals like Armond Gaudier. Her hand slithering up to his chest, Mystique points out that they can’t prove she had anything to do with his death. And, after all they’ve shared, how can he doubt her innocence? Shaking her hand off, he brusquely tells her she was born guilty. So her choice is simple, Val announces. Work for X-Factor or got to jail. Then they have made her an offer she can’t refuse, Mystique admits.
Elsewhere, Fatale looks at the amorphous mass that once was Random held in a tank. Addressing someone as “doctor,” she admits her failure. She was unable to capture Alex Summers. Yet she prevented his old friend in Genosha from getting his stickysweet hands on the younger Summers, the doctor admits. For the time being, that’s sufficient. He is back in the US. She could be in Washington in two hours. He has another in mind for that purpose, the doctor states. This one, Fatale asks, looking at the Random mass. X-Factor will not suspect him, the doctor explains. Even he will be oblivious to his true mission. And if the Genoshan tries again, he will fail once more. The final victory will be his, as is she.
Back in X-Factor’s Georgetown complex, Polaris is packing up things, while Havok complains about feeling like a prisoner confined in this containment suit. It’s like he’s 21 again with no control over the cosmic energy that surges through him. Lorna tries to comfort him. She reminds him that his metabolic imbalance made him delusional in Tokyo. If they hadn’t reached him in time, he could have killed someone. And the suit is only a temporary measure. Forge has Xavier and Moira MacTaggert working on his case. Soon, they’ll be able to help him. He can’t even hold her, he rages. He feels like the boy in the plastic bubble, cut off… trapped.
Forge enters the room, surprised that they are still there. He figured everybody had cleared out of the brownstone by now. Noticing the tension, he asks if anything is wrong. No, everything’s great, Havok replies sarcastically. He loses control of his powers, nearly drowns and while he’s comatose Forge drafts Wild Child and Mystique. Wild Child he can understand with Rahne gone, but Mystique? Does Forge know how many crimes she committed?
Forge replies that he knows Mystique is dangerous, but he and Val decided to take the risk. He should have been consulted, Havok shouts furiously and Lorna nervously points out that he is beginning to radiate. Forge points out that Alex was incapacitated. He is not trying to usurp Alex’s authority. He touches his shoulder and asks him to calm down.
Alex literally explodes, firing an energy blast at Forge. He reminds him that he swore to him he was only going to act as X-Factor’s government liaison. He realizes he is losing control and shouts at Forge to get back. Polaris intervenes, encasing Alex in a forcefield. She manipulates the iron in his blood causing him to temporarily pass out.
Forge gets up to explain this is exactly why he had to take a more active role. Mutant-human relations are at a volatile crossroads now and Alex is in no shape to represent the team in public. Havok admits he is right and stares at his hands, What if the suit isn’t enough to regulate his metabolic shift? What if no one is safe around him? He leaves.
Lorna wants to run after him but Forge asks her to let him go. He has to come to grips with his current disability alone. Lorna doesn’t quite buy that. Forge knows what Alex needs more than she does? He reminds her how he lost his hand and leg in the war. He felt like his world had ended. He was certain there was no chance he’d ever live a normal life again. It took him a long time to realize he was wrong. He calls this normal? Lorna asks. As normal as it gets for him, Forge replies Every day a part of him wishes to be back the way he was, but he is learning to accept things the way they are more and more each day. Then he could have a little more sympathy for what Alex is going through, Lorna retorts. He needs them all to know he is not alone.
Watching the argument over a security camera is Mystique, who is already wondering if there is dissention in the ranks. Val Cooper and Wild Child enter and Val sternly tells her to put the monitor off. This is so like her. Val leaves her alone for a minute and she hacks into the security system. She can’t blame her for wanting to explore X-Factor’s resources, can she? Mystique asks with a smirk. Especially when it has been made painfully clear, she is part of the team.
Wild Child warns Val that Mystique is a viper. Does he follow Val everywhere? Mystique mocks. Wouldn’t a dog be less trouble? Ohh, he’s hurt, Wild Child quips and Val admonishes them both to act like adults. Val warns Mystique not to cross her anymore or she can kiss what little freedom she still has good-bye.
Enraged, Raven grabs Val by the shirt, shouting she won’t accept being kept on a leash. Wild Child attacks her and shoves her away, assuring Val that Mystique won’t hurt her while he is around. Val explain that Mystique knows better. She is simply angry that someone other than her is holding the cards. Raven compliments Val on the new tougher and more manipulative personality. She’ll play her game, but Val shouldn’t fool herself into thinking she’ll ever truly change her. Smugly she tells herself that she has also found out Wild Child’s weakness - a pretty face.
The Hildago research institute, Washington D.C. where Alex has come to visit the comatose Strong Guy who is being kept in an amniotic environment, so his heart will have time to heal free of any external pressures. Alex reminisces about what happened to Guido, reminding himself that his friend is worse off than he. He tells Guido that outside everything is falling apart.
Ever since Jamie died, it seems like X-Factor only had bad luck. Guido suffered a heart attack in Madripoor. Alex lost control of his powers at the Belle Foruche Dam. Val and Forge decided Mystique belonged with them. Rahne has gone back to Muir Isle to be with Moira MacTaggert. And Alex awoke from his own little coma in Japan, kidnapped by Scarlett McKenzie, a woman he thought had died years ago in Russia. Sometimes, he thinks the world must have been shattered into tiny little pieces and, when it was finally reassembled, not all the pieces fit anymore. He thinks he is one of those pieces.
A doctor enters, informing Alex that nobody is supposed to be here. He only wants to talk with his friend, Alex replies, beginning to radiate. The doctor threatens to call security. Alex blusters first, but then stops and apologizes. He asks the doctor to take good care of Guido. He has a way of making people laugh even in the worst situation. And the doctor doesn’t know how badly Alex needs a laugh now.
Back in Georgetown, Wild Child remarks to Val that she has been very businesslike ever since he arrived in Washington. Doesn’t he deserve better than that? Still businesslike, Val thanks him for helping them in Tokyo. Her assistant will arrange for his flight back to Ontario. He’s not going back, Kyle announces. There’s is nothing there for him now. He needs to talk with her about Alpha Flight.
Shaking him off, Val promises they’ll talk later. But it is going to be a long day tomorrow. Thanks to the current anti mutant hysteria in Washington, they are relocating to Forge’s Virginia complex. So she needs some sleep now. Shouting after her, Kyle states that she thinks he is a coward. That he is running away from his problems. She is wrong! Val slams the door in his face. She wants to help him but can’t get involved right now, she tells herself.
Down the hall, behind the doors of Forge’s inner sanctum, the Maker relives his time in the war. His holograms show a younger Forge and his troop on a gunboat fighting off Vietcong. While the holograms of the young men joke, the present Forge reminds himself how this will end: in a nightmare of blood and anguish. So why does he always return to this place? He lists down the names of his men. They trusted him to keep them alive. And he failed all of them…
Hard to believe he was ever that young, Mystique suddenly announces. Forge orders the computer to end the simulation and Mystique mocks that some things never change. He never tires of playing with his holographic environments, does he? What a clever way to see the world without leaving the comfort and safety of home. It is as if he is going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. So typical of him.
Impatiently, he asks her what she wants. Mystique replies that she is concerned about him. Why the jungleboat cruise down memory lane? Is he feeling morbidly nostalgic? Without meeting her eyes, he replies that this is his business. Refusing to be brushed off, Mystique insists something is wrong. Forge denies it. She retorts that he can’t lie to her. Her masquerades are successful because she sees things other people miss. She catches the nuances and subtleties that define character. Forge’s voice is strained, his movement slightly stiffer than usual… Something is bothering him, something beyond X-Factor, something he hasn’t even told Ororo. Pressing herself against him she assure him he can tell her.
Forge seems tempted to kiss her, then moves away. He doesn’t have time for her nonsense, he tells her brusquely. Mystique refuses to be dissuaded. He wanted her there. Sooner or later, she will find out what he is hiding, she assures him.