All is not as it appears….
‘It was not supposed to be like this, Val’ X-Factor’s leader, the Forge a.k.a. the Maker remarks to X-Factor’s Government Liaison, who acts more as team member as of late, donning her own spandex costume and arming herself with a powerful weapon. Forge declares that when he ran the program earlier, this is not what he saw. Looking at her surroundings - half-broken skyscrapers, rubble and rubbish littering the streets, the glamorous Doctor Valerie Cooper asks Forge what he wants to do. ‘Cancel the scenario? It’s your call’ she points out, while Lorna “Polaris” Dane flies overhead, and Kyle “Wild Child” Gibney walks some feet ahead of the senior X-Factor members, telling them to chill out, ‘This is way too cool!’
Wild Child adds that this is just New York City. ‘How bad could it be?’ he asks, to which Forge replies that he doesn’t know, but that they are about to find out. ‘Like I said, it’s your call…’Valerie reminds Forge, who exclaims ‘Computer…proceed with SHIELD program DFP:2013’.
This is not the future - nor is it the past. This is here and now, inside the Hazard Chamber at X-Factor’s home and headquarters, Falls Edge, Virginia, a place where state-of-the-art meets future technology not yet imagined - except in the genetically gifted mind of Forge. Years ago, the former member of the X-Men created a version of this virtual reality hardware as an experimental combat simulation chamber for SHIELD. Now, through Valerie Cooper, X-Factor’s sponsors have decided to use the advanced technology to test the effectiveness of their own mutant super team.
But, this post-apocalyptic landscape was not supposed to be part of the program that the four heroes walk, in a virtual reality. For in truth, they stand in the Hazard Chamber with head-sets on that make them feel they are elsewhere. Wild Child lifts the visor off his face and grins, holding up a cd-rom he asks Forge if he can borrow it for his arcade station later on. ‘Between the goggles and the sensors, it’s just like we’re there!’ Kyle exclaims.
Valerie tells the others that if they are ready, it is time to see how the latest addition to the team works with them, not to mention test the effectiveness of his restraining collar. Valerie reminds X-Factor that Sabretooth is a killer, pure and simple, which is why they have had to take special precautions to insure their safety. Valerie announces that the entire simulation is being broadcasted for the boys back in Washington, so she is hoping that if they give Sabretooth enough rope, he will hang himself and be out of Falls Edge before dark. Wild Child asks if they are going in without Mystique, to which Valerie replies that Raven is still recovering from the injuries she received from Sabretooth’s attack last week, and that she and Forge didn’t see any reason to push Raven’s recovery.
‘On your mark, Forge!’ Val declares, to which Forge orders the computer to open bay door twelve. The door slides open, and Sabretooth a.k.a. Victor Creed stands there, menacing as ever even with the cuffs on his arms and legs, which Forge then orders the computer to release Creed’s hand and leg restraints and to feed the virtual reality link directly into Creed’s restraining collar neuro-transmitters. Looking around at the virtual reality before him, Creed mocks that it is like having television signals pumped straight into his brain. ‘A holographic backdrop, a bunch of virtual reality teammates? So…you ready to party?’ he exclaims, grinning.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, below the streets of New York, unknown to few who walk in the light of day, exists a network of tunnel once inhabited by the outcast mutants known as the Morlocks. And even further down into the subterranean depths there is a place of rank evil inhabited by those who follow a being of dark and malevolent calling. In this place of shadows and death, the mutant bounty hunter known as Random moves with a sense of urgency, uncommon to his temperament.
Looking a lot smaller than he usually does, X-Factor’s enemy/ally sees the room up ahead in the underground complex where McCoy - the Dark Beast - is holding Havok. It’s the same lab where McCoy kept Random prisoner when he experimented on his genetic make-up. Entering the lab, Random sees Alex “Havok” Summers in a tank of fluid, naked and unconscious. Random mutters to himself that even Havok’s mutant ability to emit concussive bursts of cosmic energy wasn’t enough to keep him from McCoy’s clutches. Random tells himself that McCoy has something big in the works and is ready to move Havok on to the next step. ‘It’s only gonna get ugly…but he’ll live. I did’ Random thinks to himself.
Random begins speaking out loud now, and tells the unconscious Havok that there is something he has been wanting to tell him. ‘About what happened between us…about my dragging you back here’. Random remarks that he cannot explain why, but that he had no choice. ‘Anyway…listen…no matter what happens…I promise I’m going to look after Polaris - as long as I’m around, nothing’s gonna happen to her!’ Random boasts. Suddenly, a voice exclaims ‘Now isn’t that just the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard!’
Random spins around and sees McCoy’s associate, Fatale, who tells Havok that he may as well be talking to a head of lettuce for all the good it will do him. ‘The lights are on, but nobody’s home!’ she exclaims referring to Havok. Fatale tells Random to get over it, ‘You were a big boy when you signed on with McCoy. You knew exactly what you were getting into and exactly what would be expected of you!’ she reminds him, adding that Summers and X-Factor are all just part of the price Random had to pay. ‘So stop the whining!’ she tells him, before informing him that McCoy wants him in Virginia an hour ago. ‘And I’m not going to be the one to explain why we’re not there!’ Fatale adds.
‘I’m coming! Don’t push me!’ Random retorts as he walks over to his demanding associate. ‘Yeah, sure, but why don’t you start thinking of morphing back into the big bad bounty hunter!’ Fatale suggests, pointing out that his buddies down in Virginia would be a little suspicious of he suddenly showed up in his true kiddie form. Fatale declares that McCoy wants Random to be his eyes and ears to find out what X-Factor is up to. ‘You have an in, they know you!’ she exclaims. ‘At least, they think they know you!’ she smirks as she opens a teleport sphere, telling Random to cheer up. ‘It’s not like he’s asking you to kill someone…yet’.
Back in the virtual reality New York City, Polaris still flies above her teammates, and informs Forge that she is not seeing anything from up here, so she is going to fly up ahead and see what they are up against. Sabretooth tells Lorna to keep her magnetic batteries charged for the fight. ‘That’s why you got me and the dog-faced boy’ he points out, referring to Wild Child, before telling Kyle that they should show the others how useful the two of them can be at sniffing out the bad guys.
‘Yeah…like I can’t smell you a mile away!’ Wild Child retorts, to which Creed remarks that the old Sabretooth would have thought about feeding Kyle a handful of his own steaming guts for a comment like that. ‘But not me - I’m a genuine Government agent now! Working on the side of law and order!’ Creed mocks, asking the others if he sounds convincing, before taking a big sniff as he senses something up ahead. ‘Head’s up, X-Factor buddies…we’ve got company!’. Motioning to the virtual reality Wolverine, Storm, Iceman, Archangel and Blob that suddenly surround X-Factor, Creed exclaims ‘And, boy, ain’t they looking’ familiar now! This is going to be more fun than I had counted!’.
Forge tells Valerie that none of this is right, that they should end the program so he can run a systems diagnostic test. But Valerie suggests they let this play out a little further. ‘Aren’t you a little curious to see where it all goes?’ she asks. Glancing at Sabretooth, Forge admits that he is curious, ‘But I’m, also afraid of what we might find’ he adds, asking ‘Like exactly what are we being groomed for?’ as he blasts a hole through the Blob hologram, who leaps at him. Forge is shocked, announcing that he had all the virtual reality weapons systems set in the non-lethal range. ‘Hologram or not…that never should have happened!’ Forge declares, while Sabretooth slices the Wolverine hologram, telling Forge that he has to relax and go with the flow. ‘Remember…this ain’t real!’. Creed declares that it is all fun, games and holograms, but remarks that the feel of warm flesh and blood beneath his claws feels real enough to him.
‘I guess we got our answer regarding Sabretooth. Even against holo-programs, he’s ready for the kill!’ Wild Child remarks as he battles the holographic Iceman. ‘Yeah! Like you have what it takes to do something about it, fur face’ Creed snaps back. ‘Get with the program! Let loose! Chomp and stomp!’ he tells Wild Child. Valerie tells Forge that she is glad they are recording Sabretooth’s actions, to which Forge asks the good Doctor if he thinks that will really help their case against Creed, remarking that Washington knows what Sabretooth is capable of, what he is, ‘They want him with us for a reason, Val. Just like they wanted Mystique and Wild Child’, Forge points out.
Forge tells Val that the real question the two of them have to ask themselves is what is the reason the Government wants Sabretooth on the team, and what they are doing to do about it. ‘I know! I’m not blind to all that’s going on. I see what they’re turning us into. I just haven’t figured out what we can do about it yet’ Valerie replies, asking Forge to give her time. Forge replies that he is concerned that they may not have time.
Suddenly, the mysterious Shard materializes in the virtual reality New York. ‘Whoa…where am I?’ Shard asks. Sabretooth sees her and asks ‘What’s this? Aren’t you the sweetest little thing! Tasty too, I’ll bet!’ as he approaches her. Wild Child sees this and calls out ‘Shard? Get mw out of this thing! Shard is back! Game over!’ Wild Child exclaims as he rips off his virtual reality visor.
At that moment, a rift in the fabric of space-time opens in the center of the Falls Edge Compound, and Random appears at the edge of Fatale’s teleport sphere, telling her that she has got him close enough to avoid most of the initial security perimeter, and that he thinks he can get through the rest by himself. ‘What a big boy you are!’ Fatale mocks, before telling Random to lose the baby face right now. ‘You know what you’re supposed to do’ she adds, before informing him that she will be back to pick him up at his signal. Random morphs into his beefed-up form and declares that he knows what he is supposed to do. ‘Just got to get close enough to the only people that ever treated me decently…and continue to lie to them. Morph into the gun-slinging, muscle-bound Random and betray them…again and again!’
Inside, Wild Child lunges at Sabretooth, ‘You keep away from her!’ he growls, to which Creed tells Wild Child that if he wants to play with him then ask Forge to turn off his restraining collar. Valerie and Forge take off their visors too as Val asks Forge why he fed Shard’s holomatrix imprint into the virtual reality software. Forge replies that he didn’t, and explains to Val that Shard disappeared after their confrontation with the Adversary, and that no one had seen her since. ‘The real question is why is Wild Child trying to protect a hologram?’ Forge asks, while Polaris places Forge and Val in a magnetic field and lifts them out of harms way as Forge remarks that Sabretooth cannot hurt Shard anymore than the rest of their virtual reality counterparts, but now Wild Child’s impetuous behavior has put them all in danger.
Polaris blasts Sabretooth with a magnetic pulse as Forge orders the computer to end the program. X-Factor’s virtual reality selves vanish, and they remain in their true forms, but the holographic landscape of the destroyed New York remains. ‘There must be a glitch in the system!’ Forge exclaims. Valerie walks over to Creed and tells him that it is over. ‘I want you back in your quarters now’ she orders. ‘You mean my cell’ Creed retorts. ‘Whatever, move it!’ Valerie snaps back, annoyed. Shard greets Wild Child, who, smitten, asks ‘It’s really you?’. ‘In the flesh…er…well…yeah…it’s me’ Shard exclaims. Creed stares Valerie down, angrily telling her that whether she or the rest of the boy scouts like it or not, he is part of this team. ‘And I ain’t going to be treated like no stinking animal!’ he shouts, remarking that he had his fill of that when he was staying back with Xavier and the X-Men.
‘Forge…please?’ Valerie asks, not backing down from Creed. Forge orders the computer to put Creed’s restraints on, and instantly large clamps appear on his hands and feet. ‘Good-bye, Creed!’ Valerie exclaims, before asking Forge if they can please find out what is happening here. ‘Washington is expecting a full report on this training session’ she reminds him. Lorna tells Forge that she needs to talk to him, but Forge asks if it can wait, explaining that he has to take this place apart and see if he can figure out where the glitch occurred, what Shard has to do with it, what Wild Child’s problem is, and all before Valerie makes her report back to Washington. ‘So…can our talk please wait?’ he asks his long-time teammate.
Lorna replies that she doesn’t think it can. ‘This…all of this…what I see the team turning into…it’s wrong!’ she declares. ‘Mystique? Sabretooth? They’re both criminals. He’s a serial killer!’ she exclaims referring to Creed. Polaris announces that she doesn’t know if she can go on like this. ‘If I can believe in what we’re supposed to be doing anymore’. Lorna takes flight to the exit, telling Forge that she is sorry, but she cannot be here right now. Forge and Valerie just watch her go.
A short while later, in Forge’s laboratory Forge runs some tests on Shard while Wild Child sits near by. Shard explains that one minute she was with X-Factor fighting against the Adversary, and the next thing she knows, she is fending off some creeps who were trying to tap into Forge’s data banks and download his files. ‘boy were they surprised to find me here!’ she exclaims. Forge replies that is impossible, for if any unauthorized personnel had enters the Compound, he would have been alerted. ‘Who says they were unauthorized? They seemed to know their way around’ Shard explains.
Forge asks Shard if she is sure about this, remarking that, according to Wild Child, her holomatrix programming has been fritzing out a lot lately. ‘Look, Forge, I know what I saw!’ Shard exclaims. Forge apologizes to Shard and assures her that he will ask Valerie about them. ‘Maybe she’ll know who they were’. Forge announces that he has finished with the tests and that the diagnostics show that Shard is just as stable - or rather, unstable - as she was before she disappeared.
‘Finally! Come on, Shard, let’s get out of here!’ Wild Child suggests. Shard smiles and remarks that Kyle must have really missed her, pointing out that he seems anxious to play catch-up. Wild Child asks Shard if she can blame him for wanting to have some fun, what with the Adversary, the Hound and the monster that is Sabretooth, who locked him down in the basement. ‘Uh, yeah, no problem’ Shard replies before telling Kyle that she will be back in a minute. ‘I’ll be waiting’ Kyle assures her, while thinking to himself that he cannot believe this. ‘I actually have a crush on a hologram! I don’t know whether I should talk to a psychologist or an electrician!’. Shard taps Forge on the back and tells him that they need to talk. ‘I think I know what’s going on around here!’ she exclaims.
Meanwhile, outside the Compound, Lorna flies through across Falls Edge’s vast landscape, telling herself that this is ridiculous. ‘I say I’ve got to get away and all I’ve done is mope around in my room for the past few hours’. Lorna tells herself that she has got to clear her head and figure things out, when suddenly, there is a small explosion. Lorna flies over to see what happened, and is greeted by Random, holding his massive weapons up in the air. ‘Yeah, babe, you miss me?!’ Random asks, grinning as he tells Polaris that he sure missed her.
Polaris smiles and tells Random that it is good to see a friendly face around here for a change. ‘Hey! Not so loud! You’re gonna spoil my image as a no-good, bounty-hunting, sonnuva -’ Random exclaims as Lorna drops down to the ground before him, ‘Yes, but I know better!’ she tells him, before asking what he is doing here and how long he can stay. Random replies that he was in the area and figured he would look up his favorite green-haired former mark. Lorna tells Random that she is glad he did, because she could use a shoulder right now. ‘I got two of them…no waiting’ Random replies.
A short time later, Polaris and Random have walked some distance from the headquarters, and Random asks ‘So you’re telling me Alex just up and left?’. Lorna adds that Alex left a note, assuring her that he loved her and all that. Random doesn’t look at Lorna as he tells her he is sorry. ‘It’s got to be rough’ he adds. ‘For me?’ Lorna asks, replying that she is a self-sufficient, independent woman, but that it still hurts when she thinks about it. ‘So I just don’t think about it’.
Random asks Lorna if she is sticking around here or not, as from the sounds of things, he doesn’t think she is too happy with the direction that this little band of mutants is taking. ‘Maybe you want to follow Alex’s lead and take to the road?’ Random suggests. Lorna replies that she is currently trying to figure that out. ‘Maybe Alex saw all this coming and couldn’t deal with what X-Factor was turning into. Maybe that’s why he left?’ Lorna wonders, before declaring that might be exactly why she shouldn’t leave.
Polaris declares that she doesn’t want to run away from a difficult situation, remarking that she has spent most of her life doing that. ‘Maybe I should stick it out and try to change things from inside’. Lorna glances to the ground, remarking that she doesn’t know. ‘What do you think?’ she asks Random. Random calmly replies that he thinks Lorna should tell him everything she can think of and see if they can figure out where X-Factor is headed. Lorna thanks Random and tells him that she feels like he is the only one that she can really trust. ‘That’s good to hear, kiddo’ Random replies.
Inside Val’s Falls Edge office, Valerie sits at her desk going over a document when Forge enters, telling her that they have to talk and that he thinks they have a serious problem. Valerie tells Forge to come in, and that she received his message about not transmitting this morning’s training session date to Washington, and that he figured out the glitch in the software was caused by Shard. Forge explains that it is more than that, and informs Val that Shard told him they had an attempted break-in while they were all up North. ‘Whoever they were…they were good!’ Forge remarks.
Forge tells Val that after Shard pointed him in the right direction, he found evidence that his files were tampered with, and remarks that the intruders knew what they were looking for. Forge tells Valerie that he doesn’t want anyone to know about Shard just yet, especially after she disrupted the holo-program. Forge remarks that if there is a connection between Shard’s future and their own present, it is safer that they are the only ones who know about it for now. ‘Excuse me? Do you hear what you’re asking me to do, Forge?’ Valerie replies. ‘Withhold information to my Government superiors based on what?’ she asks, answering her own question: ‘Unfounded speculations of conspiracy based on information collected from a mutant hologram from the future? I can’t do that, Forge’.
‘Can’t, or won’t?’ Forge asks. ‘It’s all the same!’ Valerie replies. ‘Not to me it’s not!’ Forge tells her as he storms out of her office. Val tells him that they don’t have time for this, calling after him as he leaves. ‘Forge?’ she asks, but he doesn’t turn back. Valerie’s monitor rings, so she switches it on, where she is greeted coldly by her superior, hidden in the shadows. ‘Dr. Cooper, we’re awaiting transmissions of today’s scheduled combat session. I assume all went well?’ he asks. ‘Oh, yes, quite well. But…’ Valerie begins, telling him that they are having a problem with some of their hardware and that they cannot decode the data for transmission.
Valerie assures her boss that she has Forge working on it and that it shouldn’t take too long. ‘It seems we had a bit of a break-in last week and there was some damage’ Val declares. ‘I heard about that. I also heard there was a young girl involved. Who was she?’ Valerie’s boss asks. Val smiles and replies that it was probably Mystique. ‘She’s always shape-shifting to one for or another’ Val lies, before assuring him that they will transmit all available info as soon as possible. ‘Please see that you do, Doctor Cooper. We’re counting on you to follow procedures’ he replies. ‘You always do’ Val mutters.
As night falls on X-Factor’s Compound, Sabretooth is content to sit in his dark and isolated cell. He takes a sadistic pleasure in the unrest his very presence has stirred amongst the inhabitants of Falls Edge. Questions have been raised within the minds of each of those who dwell above him. Questions of loyalty tap on Forge’s mind, while Valerie contemplates where he true duty lies. Wild Child ponders what the future will bring, while Polaris wonders is a past friendship can be trusted.
The newest amongst the team prays for answers to questions. Shard has lived in a bleak future and can recognize the events which have already been set in motion. In her heart she must ask if there is anything she can do to change the future from the past. For Shard knows that Hounds are amongst them already…and she is afraid.