(Macon County, Georgia)
A hunt has begun. A bunch of locals are pursuing a group of masked fugitives through the woods. They’re leaving a trail that is fairly easy to follow. One of the guys informs their leader, Beau, that their prey is just ahead of them. He figures they should bring the dogs up now. They’ll run the killers into the ground before they can rabbit up into the hills.
The four fugitives take a breather. One of them wishes to keep moving, but another reckons they should stand and fight. The first guy replies that fighting will just make it easy for the hunters. It’ll give them an excuse to ‘accidentally’ kill them. It would make it too clean and simple for everyone. The second guy says they can handle themselves; they have before. His friend suggests they keep moving and find the others. Suddenly, a bright light passes overhead. It disappears as quickly as it arrived, but they realize that this hunt just got a whole lot more serious.
The hunters think that Beau’s dogs are a little too quiet. A howl from deep within the woods scares them a little, and one of the hunters asks Beau to check on his dogs to see what’s gotten into ‘em. He has a bad feeling about this. The fugitives also hear the howl, and a paralysing fear hits each an every one of them. They know that ain’t no dog.
Deep within the woods, Wildchild asks Sabretooth to quit with the howling. Sabretooth replies that it clears his sinuses. He suggests Kyle try it sometime; it might improve his ability to pick up the scent of his prey. Besides, he adds, didn’t he see how it scared the dogs? He warns Kyle to stay outta his face, and he won’t get hurt. Creed knows that there is another group headed their way. They’re probably locals, and he thinks he should scare them off before they mess with the scent. Kyle reckons they should wait for Forge to make the official introductions.
The hunters approach them, lit only by the bright moonlight. The sheriff asks his boys to keep him covered until he’s discovered who exactly is joining his party. He finds not only Sabretooth and Wildchild, but also their fellow members of the government sanctioned X-Factor: Mystique, Forge, Shard and Polaris. Forge takes lead, and informs the sheriff that as of this moment, they are relieving him of all responsibilities in the apprehension of all the alleged suspects. He suggests the sheriff call the governor’s office for clearance. Kyle tells Sabretooth he was right; they are locals. Shard thinks they look like they’re playing for keeps.
Polaris is glad that they are on hand to at least prevent any bloodshed, but Forge asks, with a hint of sarcasm, if she trusts Mystique and Sabretooth that much already? Mystique points out that she never asked him to trust them; just accept them. They don’t like acting as the government’s militia any more than he does, but at least Forge had a choice in the matter.
Sabretooth tells them to quit their yapping, and points out a piece of clothing the hunters found. It’s a genuine article of clothing from their targets. He gives Wildchild a whiff, and tells him that things are about to get exciting. Both of them are off in a flash, quickly on the trail of their targets. They’re moving east, and Kyle knows that there’s a town about two miles in that direction where they may be heading.
Forge asks Mystique and Shard to stick with those two, and make sure that Creed doesn’t get carried away. Although it’s dark, he asks Polaris to see if she can see anything from above. He’ll bring up the rear. One of the hunters asks him to hold it right there. He’s not sure he likes Forge running the show, and wonders whether X-Factor might just be there to ‘help them mutie killers escape.’ Mystique informs him that mutants are no different from the rest of them. “If you cut us, we bleed,” she says. “If you kiss us… we only bite… sometimes.” She transforms her face into that of a hideous monster, just for the hell of it, frightening one hapless hunter half to death.
Forge asks her to quit fooling around. Polaris is asked if she’s feeling up to this. She replies by asking if Forge means is she up to hunting one of their own kind, so that these ignorant rednecks, who would just as soon lynch them, can sleep better at night? Or, is he asking if she’s up to the task following Havok’s attack? She tells him not to worry about her. She’s fine. It’s the rest of the team she’s worried about. She wonders what’s happening to them. Since when did they answer to the government without challenging their directives? She says that things have got to change around here.
Forge knows she’s right. The mutants they’re hunting have been accused of murder and their government contact wants X-Factor to apprehend them before the locals can lynch them. What it boils down to, though, is mutants hunting mutants, for the sole purpose of protecting humans. He wonders what happened to Xavier’s ideas of peaceful co-existence between the two races. Polaris is right, he thinks; things are going to change.
(New York City)
Graydon Creed is at a press conference, and holds aloft the arm of his new running mate: Senator Miles Brickman. As they step off the platform, an aide (Sam Guthrie, planted there by the X-Men) tells him his car is waiting. It wouldn’t do to have the future president of the United States hitchhiking home. Creed slides inside a long white limo, but is surprised by the sinister-looking guy already sitting inside.
He recognizes Harper, and Creed points out that neither he, nor Harper’s employer, can afford for them to be seen together. Harper is well aware of the need for discretion, and reminds Creed of Mystique’s run-in with some of his Friends of Humanity thugs the previous week. Creed explains that they were acting on their own, and he has distanced himself from the organization as Bastion recommended, ever since he started the campaign. Creed adds that the real problem is Mystique. He’d rather have eliminated her from the off.
In the blink of an eye, Harper has moved from the seat opposite, to having his face pressed up against the side of Graydon’s. He tells Creed that they do not listen to him; he listens to them. They eliminate who they want, when they want; when they are no longer of any use to them. He asks Creed if he understands. Creed says yes, but is still a little surprised at how Harper got to his current position so quickly. Harper replies that his powers are none of his concern; he need only know they exist.
With a blade to Creed’s throat, he warns the potential future president that he is to have no further contact with the Friends of Humanity. He should forget Mystique exists, and continue with his presidential campaign with no deviation. Again, he asks if Creed understands, and he replies that he does. In another blink of an eye, Harper is back sitting opposite him, with a glass in his hand. Harper is happy, and asks for his driver to drop him off at the next corner. Creed sweats the sweat of a man under serious pressure.
(one mile east)
In the moonlit shadow of a sprawling industrial complex, the fugitives are still running. They wonder who their pursuers can be, and one of them has a feeling they’re mutants. Whoever they are, they’re good, and gaining fast. One of them suggests they split up. They have no choice. One of them must make it out of there alive, and find him. The others quickly agree, and they head their separate ways.
A few minutes later, X-Factor, led in this operation by Sabretooth and Wildchild, who have the best tracking abilities, are at the point the mutants split up. Kyle says they’re running scared. Sabretooth replies, “Can you blame them?” Kyle replies, “With you around? No.” Creed is slavering like a rabid Alsatian, and tells the rest of the team that this is where they part company. Mystique knows he’s right, and says they can’t keep playing chaperone and hunt down the others. She asks Shard (or Miss Future Cop as she refers to her) what she wants to do. Shard agrees that the criminals on the run should be their number one priority, as opposed to the criminals on the team. “I heard that,” replies Mystique. “You were supposed to,” adds Shard.
Forge looks at his team. Not one of them trusts the other, yet they’re working together to hunt down these fugitive mutants. They’re looking to him for guidance, either because they want to believe in him, or in the case of Sabretooth and Mystique, because they have to. As they leap, hop and sprint away in all directions, Forge reminds himself that he controls the restraining devices, which give them freedom of movement that, as convicted felons, they wouldn’t otherwise have. But, he thinks, they all assume he’ll do the right thing. Yet, as he stands there, watching as X-Factor is being turned into the government’s hounds, he knows this is not the right thing.
Shard is by herself, and wandering around the unfamiliar territory. It is unfamiliar, not only because she’s not been there before, but because she’s not even from this time. She wonders what she’s doing there. She’s the one with X.S.E tracking experience, which makes her the only one trained to track down and apprehend criminals. Her brother, Bishop, is doing his thing in the X-Men, and she wonders if choosing this life with X-Factor is the closest thing she has to be living the life she had in the future. She’s no longer a hologram, and isn’t sure what she’s become since the matrix projector got scrambled.
Shard is lost in thought. She’s no longer a hologram. Now she’s become something different: a photon-based lifeform. Not really a mutant, but something else; something with physical memories of her mutant powers. Not even Forge could figure out this one. She continues her hunt. She ran ops like this all the time in the future, and every time the perps thought they could outrun or outmaneuver her, they were wrong.
In a heartbeat, a force blast erupts from the hand of Shard, pinpointing an unseen target, enveloped in the shadows of the night. As the target falls unconscious, she crouches, anticipating a counter attack that will never come. ‘I’ve still got it,’ she thinks.
As one of the fugitives falls before Shard, another races through a passageway. Yet another races in the opposite direction, and the pair of them clash heads as they collide. Unfortunately for the fugitive, this isn’t his friend, and the shape-shifting Mystique takes him out with ease. As she brings in her prey, another fugitive sits waiting on a park bench. He is tired of running. It’s useless, he feels; they’re going to catch them anyway. And, he knows who it is who’s after them. They all know; they just don’t want to believe it.
He hopes that, whoever it is that comes for him, is one of the killers, not the trackers. He looks skywards and sees the familiar green trails of Polaris approaching him. He is pleased. He tells her that she, more than anyone, will be willing to what he has to say. Polaris looks at him, suspiciously. “Sorry,” she says, as she uses her powers to slow the iron in her blood, causing him to black out, "because I don’t feel like listening right now.”
Forge sprints down the sidewalk. He’s got a tag on the last two using a small portable infrared sensor. It shows that they’re moving toward the middle of town. Wildchild and Sabretooth are moving straight for them. He knows this is going to be tricky. He wants this operation to go down without any bloodshed. He can trust Kyle to pull back; but Sabretooth? He notices a frightened man, peeking out from behind his curtains. He can see that he fears them, as most humans do. All they want to do is protect them, and make sure no mutant lives are lost in the process.
He sees the two trackers rounding on one of the fugitives. They are laying on the animal act, but their prey stands his ground, bravely. They’ve managed to catch the other one, and Kyle resists Sabretooth trying to goad him into sinking his teeth into the guy. Their victim holds a flaming torch to ward them off. Forge arrives in the nick of time, and tells him to stand down, and the two trackers to back off, adding to their prey that Wildchild and Sabretooth won’t hurt him.
The guy replies with a hint of sarcasm, that it isn’t red paint that’s flowing from his wound. “No, Forge, I have no reason to believe or trust in you. Not if this is what X-Factor has become. We’ll take care of things ourselves.” Forge looks at him inquisitively. “Who? Do I know you?” The guy replies that he does, but the thing is, Forge has changed so much, he’s not sure if he knows him.
The guy slams his fists together, and Forge sees his body splitting. He can’t believe it. “It can’t be…” Before him are three identical looking masked fugitives. “Oh it is, Forge! Trust me,” he says. The real question he has is: what is Forge going to do about it?
Forge calls for everybody to stop what they’re doing. He tells the man that he saw him die. He had the Legacy Virus. Haven tried to cure him, but he didn’t survive the transformation. He remembers attending the funeral as the masks of the other fugitives are pulled off. It’s Jamie Madrox; the Multiple Man, and they’ve been hunting him. “What have we done?” Forge asks, “What have we become?”