(fifty miles west of Washington D.C.)
In an emergency care facility, staff members are relaxing as a newsreader informs the nation about Operation: Zero Tolerance. He explains that it is a joint-task force of operatives from several countries, whose stated purpose is to contain the perceived ‘mutant menace’ once and for all. Reports about pro and anti-mutant rights organizations clashing have been coming in from San Francisco and New York. As a major storm rages outside, the facility’s peace is suddenly shattered.
Two uniformed troopers kick open the doors, and the severely wounded members of X-Factor are carried in. They’re in bad shape after the beating Sabretooth gave them. A doctor calls for Carol to call the police, but Val Cooper appears and asks him not to do that. With her is Major Edmond Atkinson, who explains to the doctor that his facility has been officially commandeered by forces under the authority of the United States Defense Department. He suggests the doctor close his mouth, and get to work.
The four remaining members of the team are already bandaged, but Forge and Polaris are out cold. Shard is nowhere to be seen. Forge wakes up, and asks Val why Shard isn’t with them. She informs him that she searched everywhere, but had to get them moved before someone else showed up. She has to assume the worst. Forge tells her to promise the doctors will take care of the others before working on him but, as he speaks, he goes into cardiac arrest. The staff rush over to him, and the doctor orders a crash cart.
Edmond assures Val that they’re gonna be fine. She’s making this too personal. What happened to them isn’t her fault. As a matter of fact, he adds, they’d be dead if she hadn’t called when she did. Val knows that if she hadn’t blindly obeyed orders months ago, none of this would have happened. She knew better. Sabretooth was an animal, and she begins to wonder how he got free. She thought that she and Forge had everything covered.
Edmond tells her she’s beating herself up over something she had no control over. She followed orders - but they were bad orders. Val agrees, but adds that they both played the good little soldiers, always putting their orders and their jobs before everything. It’s why their marriage never stood a chance. She asks him if he knows how much trouble they’re in. X-Factor are wanted fugitives, and he’s putting his military career on the line, all because she called him. Edmond replies that he’s glad she did. His men are all volunteers. They came on this operation knowing the risks, but there was no way he’s going to let her people fall before the insanity that Operation: Zero Tolerance is causing. She did the right thing.
Edmond explains that the storm should buy them some time. He couldn’t get any birds into the air, so there’s no reason to think anyone else can. However, he knows that there’s no way news of X-Factor’s being alive isn’t going to reach Washington. Val knows that too. Ed says that he trusts his men, but they’re talking hours at most. Val thinks that hopefully they’ll be in better shape to be moved to a safer place by then. She also knows that either OZT or the hounds will come for them. Right now, X-Factor is considered very dangerous, and very disposable. Too many want them dead. Ed says his men won’t let that happen. He adds that there was nothing wrong with their marriage, either. They just had different career tracks.
(on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland)
Scampering through the storm, Sabretooth is enjoying his newfound freedom, and arrives at his destination. As he watches the house, he thinks how Mystique couldn’t hide them deep enough to keep him from picking up the kid’s scent, especially now he has his new friends helping out. He hopes she lives through the beating he gave her. It would take all the fun out of what he’s about to do if she went ahead and died. The place is peaceful, cozy… secluded. Inside, young Trevor Chase is oblivious of the beast outside.
(back at the E.R.)
Wildchild’s wounds aren’t as bad as the others, but there’s something going on with his metabolism. As the staff work on him, he cries Shard’s name. Ed asks Val who Shard is. She replies that Shard is another member of the team. There was no trace of her at the compound. Suddenly, all the metal equipment in the room starts moving, seemingly of its own volition. The doctor explains to his staff that the person they’re working on is called Polaris, and she has magnetic powers. He gives her a shot to calm her down.
Ed and Val wander through to where Forge and Mystique are laid out. They’re out of danger, but the doctor insists they shouldn’t be moved. They’ve got a problem to solve. Val’s says she’s thinking, and knows she’ll come up with something. Mystique is awake and isn’t going to let Val off the hook this easily. She tells her she never cared about the others in X-Factor, but she blames Val for putting a psycho like Victor Creed in with them. She accuses her of being a paltry bureaucrat, who follows orders and cares even less for the rest of mutantkind than she does. Val says she’s wrong. She’s not going to let anything happen to X-Factor for one reason, and one reason only. They’re her friends, and that’s a concept she doesn’t expect Mystique to grasp at all.
Edmond’s captain reports that they have a situation. Rooftop sentries spotted an unmarked government-issue strike helicopter running field recon. The weather is breaking up earlier than expected. They’re now picking up plenty of radio transmissions on government-secured bandwidths. They’ve been spotted. The situation is about to get hot, and this facility is completely indefensible.
Val calls for Ed to withdraw his men. He decline, and tells her they can offer all the resistance they can, and protect X-Factor at all costs. She thanks him for the offer, but she won’t have him put her men in the line of fire. They have no idea what kind of firepower is going to be thrown at them. She’ll find another way. Ed asks who she thinks is going to help her. She repeats her request for him to withdraw, so he turns and calls for his men to move out.
As they prepare to leave, the disgruntled Mystique isn’t going to let it end this way. She doesn’t want to the soldiers to leave, just so Val can drop a dime and turn her back over to Bastion’s boys in an attempt to save the rest of X-Factor’s hide. “You were the one that let Sabretooth hurt me again,” she cries. “Now he’s going to go after Trevor. He told me as much as I was lying there in my own blood.” She leaps at Val, and tells her she’s going to pay. Fortunately, Ed is still there, and he smacks Mystique across the face with his pistol. She goes down hard. He asks Val to give him the word, and Mystique’s out of her life forever. Val replies that she can handle it. She’s not gonna hurt her. She moves his gun away from Mystique, and asks him to withdraw his men. She’s just given her an idea on how to handle this situation.
Bowser and his men are at the compound, and looking over Sabretooth’s handiwork. He thinks Creed may work out in the hound program after all. One of his men informs him that there’s plenty of blood, but no bodies. “Doctor Cooper!” remarks Bowser. He knows this is one last-ditch effort to save her mutant friends. He wants them before Bastion and his people can get their hands on them.
The soldier informs him that, actually, they’ve just picked up an unusual transmission on an unsecured line into the compound. It was Doctor Cooper and she’s called in her location before hanging up. She wants to turn herself in. He asks if the call was traced, and it was. They can be there in fifteen minutes. Excellent, replies Bowser. He also wants Sabretooth. The soldier says that Stone has tracked him to the designated pick-up. The boy is as good as theirs.
(the Chase family residence)
A howl is heard from outside and, when Cole opens the front door, he is slashed by Sabretooth, mercilessly. He falls and Justine cradles her dead husband in her arms, calling for Trevor to run. Sabretooth confronts Trevor, and says the boy knows it won’t do any good. He just wanted him to know, before he joins mommy and daddy in heaven, that his Auntie Mystique sends her love. He slashes at Trevor but, surprisingly, the wall behind Trevor collapses and a pair of huge grey arms pull Trevor to safety. Sabretooth looks up and sees a huge figure, with Trevor slung over its shoulders.
Creed asks who he is and what he thinks he’s doing. The man replies that he’s Stone, and he is Creed’s contact with the hounds. What he’s doing is saving him from a world of hurt. He reminds Creed that his mission was to rendezvous with him and take the boy. It looks to Stone as if Creed had other things on his mind. Creed replies that he never was much of a team player. He does what suits him and, right now, what suits him is this! He swings a right arm at Stone, but finds his claws simply scrape off his impenetrable skin. “Now you know why they call me Stone," says the big guy.
As he wanders into the darkness with Trevor, Stone informs Creed that he has a simple choice - one even he might be able to understand. Join the hounds, or be hunted by them. Creed turns and looks at the Chases. He’d love to meet the top man but, first, he wants to leave a message for Mystique. “Thinking of you Raven,” he says, before Justine joins her husband.
The doctor informs Val that her friends are out of danger, but they still need further medical supervision. Val appreciates his help, but tells him he should get his people out of there. The place is about to become an extremely unhealthy place to be. They’ve risked enough tonight, and she won’t ask them to risk any more.
Mystique, back in bed, warns Val that she’s dead. She’s going to enjoy making her pay for every indignity she’s forced upon her. Val tells her it give it a rest. She’s working on a way to save her life. “That would be a mistake,” replies Mystique; she doesn’t want her alive when this is all over. What Val wants is for one of the doctors to perform a tonguectomy on her.
She turns and, to her surprise, she finds Ed walking back in. She asks what he’s doing back there. Ed tells her his men have withdrawn. They can’t be held culpable for anything that has happened. However, he’s staying with her. “You’ve got a plan, don’t you? Back-up?” Val says she’s got a long shot at best. She’s no idea if they got her message, or whether they’ll even come if they did.
Ed assumes that, if her backup doesn’t arrive, she’ll try and talk her way out of this. That was the plan, she replies. Ed tells her that he’s there in case negotiations fail. “Let’s get these beds moved to a back room for a little more chance at defensibility.” Val salutes him. “Yes, sir! Major sir!” Ed wishes that could have worked when they were married.
Val turns to see that Mystique has vanished from her bed. She presumes she must have snuck out with the crowd of doctors and nurses, and bets the fool is going after Sabretooth.
(a short time later)
Ed asks Val if she’s ready. Val hopes so. These people trusted her with their lives. In a world that hates and fears them, she’s supposed to be their representative; their liaison to the government. Now look at them. She’s failed too many times, and will not do it again. She tells Ed that, if her people show, she needs to talk to whoever it is. She doesn’t want him doing anything foolish and heroic. Ed grins. “The only foolish thing I ever did was…” Val cuts in. “Yeah, yeah! Marry me?” Ed places his hand on her shoulder and replies, “No. Letting you out of my life.”
Suddenly, there is a loud noise. Val pulls her pistol out and asks Ed to leave. He’s got to let people know what happened here today. Ed isn’t leaving her alone. He asks her to stand back. He wants them to think twice before coming through this door. He unloads his weapon through it, but a laser beam shoots through the door and goes straight through the major’s chest. Val tells him to hold on. This isn’t over yet. She blasts away, but stops as she realizes the door is heating up.
The air becomes superheated with concentrated waves of plasma energy. In a split second, it explodes outwards on the unseen attackers. Val Cooper instantly knows that help has arrived - but at what price? “I didn’t think you’d come… Havok!”
Havok and Fatale suddenly appear in a blinding flash of light. Sure she did, he replies, just like she knew he and the Brotherhood were keeping Fall’s Edge monitored ever since he left, and that he’d intercept the message she left for Bowser. He asks Val why she puts X-Factor’s fate in his hands. He’s the Judas; the fallen member who went over to the dark side… isn’t he? Val doesn’t believe that. She thinks he’s just temporarily misguided. Alex replies that he’s not going to wake up tomorrow morning, tap his head and ask himself, “What have I done?” He knows exactly what he’s doing.
He continues to point out that the methods of the Brotherhood will never fall in line with X-Factor, or Xavier’s dream. Mutants and humans are always going to be at each other’s throats. The only way to deal with either side is quick, decisive action. No matter what X-Factor think of him, he’s not a killer, and would never let them die.
He finds himself explaining himself again; something, along with apologizing, that he spends a lot of time doing. He orders Fatale to get the show on the road, and asks her to create a teleportation portal large enough to carry the whole team. She can do that, can’t she? She asks him to stand back, and watch her work some mutant magic. Alex asks Val if she’s coming, but she’s staying with the injured Ed. Someone’s got to try and stop this insanity before it goes any further. She works best from the inside. Alex thinks she’s too late, but Val says she has to try.
Alex joins Fatale and they vanish, leaving Val to face the consequences. She figures whoever is outside their door isn’t going to be interested in a couple of humans. They wanted X-Factor - and they lost.