Faith dies hard. Whether it is a simple hope, such as the commuters on this Washington D.C. bus believing that the rain that pours down outside will turn to snow on this chilly Christmas Eve, or a more desperate wish - such as Kyle Gibney, a.k.a. Wild Child, a mutant, praying that the storm raging within his own body has passed. Wearing a wide-brimmed had and large coat to mask his appearance, a tear falls down his face, and looking at his hands, he realizes that he is changing again. The bus comes to a halt, and he darts out into the pouring rain. ‘See his hands? His face?’ one of the commuters whispers to another. ‘He’s a mutie! A mutie!’ someone else exclaims.
Someone is watching Wild Child from their viewpoint on the rooftop of a nearby building, not bothered by the down pour. Faith is a tenacious, but ultimately fragile creature…and it’s death is an ugly thing - like Wild Child’s “fan” - Victor Creed, better known as the murdering Sabretooth, who grins wickedly as he hangs over the side of the building. ‘This is going to be sweet!’ he snarls to himself.
However, faith does not belong exclusively to the naïve. Cynics and pragmatists cling secretly to it with callused fingertips - even those like Doctor Valerie Cooper and Major Edmond Atkinson - who claim to have nether the time nor the room for it in their lives. ‘What do I think X-Factor is doing tonight? Probably not sitting at home eating bad take out with their ex-husbands’ Major Atkinson remarks, indeed, takeout food strewn around him, and files of the X-Factor team lying on the floor and coffee table nearby.
Atkinson looks at his ex-wife, the glamorous Doctor Valerie Cooper, long-time friend and Government liaison to X-Factor, as well as the Government’s expert on mutant affairs, and he apologizes, before telling Val that even a fellow workaholic like herself deserves a little “peace on Earth”. He adds that since Valerie probably hasn’t been following Martha Stewart’s helpful holiday hints, ‘Feliz navidad, babe’, and from the looks of this place, she could use a little Christmas cheer.
Valerie replies that it is tough to get into the spirit when a Presidential candidate was turned into a pile of ash on her watch. Val apologizes and tells Ed that she really appreciates the Christmas tree, as he passes a small Christmas tree to her. Valerie declares that what she really wants for Christmas is to figure out what Sabretooth or Mystique had to do with the assassination of Graydon Creed. ‘I don’t care if they were members of X-Factor at the time of the murder. They’re pieces to the puzzle that just don’t fit!’ Valerie exclaims, as she looks at a photo of Sabretooth, she adds that Mystique knew an assassination was in progress before it even happened. ‘That alone makes her my top subject!’ Val adds.
Suddenly, there is a rustling at the fireplace, followed by a thump, and some soot falls down. ‘Expecting someone?’ Atkinson asks. ‘Not unless Santa decided I wasn’t too naughty this year’ Valerie replies as she and the Major both get to their feet and aim their weapons at the fireplace - when suddenly, Wild Child comes tumbling out, covered in soot. ‘Kyle!?’ Valerie gasps. ‘Did you save me some eggnog?’ Kyle asks.
Valerie grabs Kyle by his jacket collar and asks him if he is crazy. ‘There’re Government Hounds sniffing through my trash and the C.I.A. is sorting my mail! They know it’s only a matter of time before X-Factor resurfaces!’ Val declares. ‘Relax! They weren’t guarding the chimney. Guess they don’t believe in Santa’ Kyle mumbles as he walks away from Valerie, who tells Kyle that is not the point, as he could have gotten himself killed in coming to her.
Wild Child replies that he had to risk it, as things have changed. ‘I had to see you before I leave. You’ve done so much for me in the past!’ Kyle exclaims, before informing Val that it was not working out with Forge and the others, and he has some stuff to take care of. ‘I wanted to settle things with us before I head off’ he announces. Clutching his head, Kyle declares that he is not feeling so well and asks if he can crash on her couch. Val leads Kyle to her bedroom and tells him he can rest in there, but that he must fill her in on the others when he wakes up. ‘Deal’ Kyle replies, before telling the Major that he is sorry for intruding.
Once inside Val’s bedroom, Kyle sits down on a chair and asks ‘So, you and the ex under the mistletoe again?’. Valerie folds her arms and replies ‘That’s classified information’. A few awkward moments later, Kyle falls asleep on the sofa in Val’s room, and Val puts a blanket over him while telling the Major that it looks like Kyle caught a cold out there. Edmond asks Val if she is going to tell him about her and the dog boy. ‘It’s obvious he’s not just a mutant government agent to you’.
‘You know me so well’ Valerie replies as she leads the Major back into the living area. Val adds that there is not much to tell, ‘It was during the beginning of the Canadian Paranormal Registration Act. We were studying the plan for possible application in the States, and…’ Val begins, until the Major interrupts, ‘Val. Trying to lie to a former polygraph expert? That’s just so sad’. Valerie rubs the back of her neck, ‘Oh, all right. You’ve earned the truth’ she tells her ex-husband, unaware that Sabretooth is outside, looking at her through her balcony window.
(Flashback, narrated by Valerie, takes place prior to Alpha Flight (1st series) #1)
Valerie Cooper, fresh out of school. Young, hungry, and easily misled. Val was recruited by what she thought was a United Nations sanctioned agency, who told her they were developing international policy on handling what they called “the emerging trend of the world’s expanding mutant population”. At the time, Valerie had no interest in mutants per se, but she figured it was a good start as any into the Government bureaucracy, and the pay was good. ‘I can’t tell you how excited I am to get started, Mr Farrell!’ Valerie told her boss as she followed him down a corridor. ‘Excitement is good, Miss Cooper. Just remember to temper that enthusiasm with caution’ Farrell warned her.
Farrell told Val that caution will help her with her a young man, and holds up a photo of a teenage boy, informing Val that this is her first case. ‘Meet Kyle Gibney. Mutant. Pathological liar and violent offender’ is how Farrell explained Kyle to Val. Farrell explained to Val that Kyle’s parents heard of their organization and asked them to help him. ‘They brought him in for treatment last night’ Farrell lied, for, in truth, Kyle was wandering the streets one night, alone, when he was whacked in the head from behind, and hauled into a black van by two agents.
Farrell claimed that he didn’t want to lie to Valerie, and told her that Kyle has a thick skull, so it is her job to get past his defenses and to have him open up. Farrell told Valerie that she must get Kyle in touch with his emotions, as at his age, these emotions that seem to be tied to mutants’ oft-uncontrollable abilities. ‘Help us unlock his potential!’ Farrell said to Valerie.
And so, Val began her work on Kyle, but, as the weeks went by, she made little progress. Val sat in a room with Kyle, one-way glass around it so that they could be observed. Val asks asked Kyle to talk about why his parents brought him here. ‘What do you think they want you to learn?’ she asked Kyle. Feet resting on the table, Kyle told Val once again that his parents didn’t bring him here. ‘I haven’t seen them in a year. They kicked me out and I was living on the streets. That is, until I woke up in this prison!’ Kyle exclaimed. ‘Come on Kyle, we’ve talked about this “kidnap” story of yours. We need to get beyond this if we’re going to help you!’ Valerie told Kyle, as she held up some cards.
‘NO!’ Kyle screamed as he slapped the cards out of Valerie’s hand. ‘I’m sick of this! I told you I don’t need anybody’s help!’ he declared, while Farrell and another man watched. Farrell remarked that Kyle is responding well to the gene therapy, and asks ‘What about young Miss Cooper? Can she be trusted?’. The other man replied ‘Not yet’ and pointed out that this is Cooper’s trial run, but if she works out well, then they can fit her in. ‘Trust me, she’s a career woman. A real team player…give her a year and she’ll be giving us pointers on how to engineer a more vicious killer!’ the other man remarked as they watched Val and Kyle.
Valerie thought to herself that her first Government job would turn out to be her last, as three months passed with little progress. Even Kyle couldn’t keep up his walls forever, Val thought, knowing that it wasn’t her that Kyle hated, but the idea of authority, the rigidity of the agency. Val decided that if playing by the agencies rules wasn’t working, then she would change them. One day, she opened the door to Kyle’s cell. Kyle was lying on his bunk, and Val tossed him a set of keys which land on his stomach. ‘Bought myself a car, Kyle. My first’ Valerie told him. Val pointed out that as this job paid for the car, and considering Kyle is her number one case, she figured he owns part of it too. ‘So I have a deal for you. You trust me, you work with me, and I’ll see if I can’t pull a few strings and get you a day pass out of here’ Val told Kyle.
‘You can come over to my place and teach me how to drive a stick’ Val offered to Kyle, who went gape-jawed, ‘You can’t drive a stick?’ he asked, astonished. ‘I can analyze mutant behavior patters, but I can’t get the hang of a manual transmission. Funny, huh?’ Val replied, before asking ‘I help you and you help me. What do you say?’. ‘Okay, Ms. Cooper. For a Government…person…you’re all right’ Kyle replied as he shook Valerie’s hand.
The agency gave Valerie the green light to take Kyle out, so she kept her word, and so did Kyle. At the time, Valerie thought she had made a break-through. Valerie drove around an empty parking lot, while Kyle laughed, and told her to use more clutch. The car screeched to a halt, ‘Whoa!’ Val exclaimed, when suddenly, Kyle leaned over and banged on the dashboard, ‘I said more clutch, you freaking idiot!’ he screams at Val, who didn’t flinch, she continued to look at Kyle, as Kyle suddenly backed down, head in his hands, he exclaimed ‘Jeez, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I…’ he began, before asking Val why she put him up to this, tears in his eyes.
Val put her arms around Kyle, telling him that she believes in him. ‘I’m your friend, Kyle’, before telling him that he doesn’t have to call her “Ms. Cooper”, as her friends call her Val. However, it wasn’t Valerie who made the real breakthrough at that moment, it was the agency’s scientists, who were spying on them from some bushes nearby. ‘Affirmative. He’s using unstable fluctuations of behavior. He’s primed for advanced treatments. She did her job, now it’s time to isolate the subject’ one of the scientists reported back to base.
Later, like Valerie believed, the agency told her that they were a United Nations sanctioned organization. They lied to her. For, in reality, the agency was a subversive group called the Secret Empire. The project’s goal was to develop conscienceless killers through drug treatments and DNA manipulations - living weapons they would then sell to the highest bidders.
One day, Valerie was walking down a corridor, when suddenly, a few feet behind her, a chair is thrown through a window into the corridor. Val turned at the sound of the commotion, and dropped her files as she raced towards the room, as she knew it was Kyle’s room. As she looked into Kyle’s room, Val became horror-stricken, as Kyle had mutated into a ferocious, deadly, lupine-like man. The Secret Empire’s experiment was a success. Val felt that she had made a horrible mistake, while Kyle let out a mighty scream.
‘Don’t move, freak!’ a security officer exclaimed as he and several others entered Kyle’s quarters. ‘Agent Cooper, exit this room, immediately’ another ordered Val, before the officers went about beating Kyle with batons. ‘HOLD HIM!’ one of them ordered as Kyle was pushed to the floor, then dragged away, kicking and screaming, while he screamed out for Val, who could only stand and watch. And although Valerie made a horrible mistake, it was Kyle who paid the price.
Finishing off her meal, Val tells Edmond that she never saw Kyle again, until earlier this year. She explains that the agency told her Kyle was shipped up to the Canadian branch for “intensive psychotherapy”, and she eventually moved on to another job without ever being privy to their dirty little secret, which she then discovered years later on her own. ‘I think I can take the story from here’ Edmond remarks, waving his chopsticks around: ‘Looking for something positive in your life, you meet and marry me, and then rededicate yourself to working with mutants…perhaps in part driven to compensate for your perceived “failure” with Kyle’ the Major suggests.
Edmond goes on to say that he began to spend too many hours at the office finding out who lies and who lies about lying, ‘And then we drift apart, go our separate ways’ Val concludes, adding that years after she moved on from the Empire, she found out what eventually happened to Kyle. Handing the Major a file, Valerie tells Edmond that the whole set-up eventually came crashing down, as it seems the Empire were using the DNA of a mutant named Wyre to transform their little army. Wyre was not happy about that and he returned to tell them so, marching into the Canadian headquarters and killing just about everyone there. Department H came in to clean up and in the wreckage, they found Kyle. ‘He was badly wounded, but the little scrapper refused to die’ Val declares.
The Major begins to read through Kyle’s file, and realizes that Department H saw Kyle as a possible addition to their superhuman program and took him in. ‘A little hypnotherapy, the proper mix of drugs…and voila, the bestial personality that the Empire developed was submerged!’ Edmond exclaims. ‘Not quite’ Val replies, explaining that Kyle battled with his damaged psyche for years, and that, after some time battling against Alpha Flight, Kyle mutated into a less feral state and actually joined the team as the masked fighter called Weapon Omega, before, in an attempt to reject the influence of the Secret Empire and Department H, he took on the heroic persona of Wild Heart, and even began a relationship with Aurora.
However, as Val explains, unfortunately for Kyle, both his physical status and his relationship didn’t last very long, as he mutated back into his Wild Child identity and continued to struggle with his dark side. ‘Looks like he’s still struggling’ the Major remarks as he stands in the doorway of Val’s bedroom and looks at Kyle, sleeping on the sofa, when, suddenly, there is a crashing noise, and Valerie screams. ‘Mind if I cut in?’ Sabretooth snarls as he stands over Valerie, holding her down by her hair, while his other hand is raised above her. The balcony doors swing open, and the wind blows the curtains around, while the rain beats down still. Victor Creed is a man with faith in nothing.
Sabretooth pulls Valerie to her feet, while the Major draws a gun and aims it at Creed, and Wild Child, waken by the commotion, stands behind Edmond. ‘Uh-uh, boys! Another step and Val gets an instant tracheotomy!’ Creed warns them, before calling Wild Child “pup” and telling him that it was nice of him to wake up and join them. ‘Drop her, Creed!’ the Major demands. Sabretooth puts on of his deadly claws to Valerie’s neck, ‘Oh, I will. Right after Val fills in the gaps of the sappy story we were listening to!’ Creed exclaims, asking Val how she could lie to her former pupil and loving ex-husband.
‘D-don’t do this…’ Val says to Creed, tears falling from her eyes. Creed just opens his deadly mouth wide, grinning, he replies ‘Oh, but Val, you left out the best part! And if you don’t have the guts to tell the truth…then it looks like Uncle Victor has to finish this twisted little bedtime story!’.
(Flashback, narrated by Sabretooth, takes place during previous flashback)
It was a year or so after the Empire took “the pup” away, as in after Val said she didn’t see him again. Val somehow heard that the agency had brought Kyle back to show him to some “interested parties”. Valerie managed to sneak into an observation booth, and looked down to a man she no longer recognized. Kyle was naked, looked feral as he crouched in a corner. Suddenly, a homeless man who had been snatched off the streets was thrown in. ’What’s…what’s that smell?’ the homeless man asked, before “the pup”, drugged out of his mind and hungry, lunged at the homeless man, growling, drool spraying everywhere, while the homeless man screamed. A horrified Valerie then threw up.
‘Why? Why tell them?’ Valerie asks, crying, while Creed still holds on to her. ‘Why? Maybe because you wrapped a restraining collar around my neck! Or maybe because the pup deserves to hear the truth!’ Sabretooth retorts, declaring that Wild Child needs to know that his darling “friend” knew what the Empire had turned him into. ‘But did you go to the authorities and blow the whistle? No! You just moved on and protected your little corporate-ladder-climbing butt!’ Creed snarls, before calling Wild Child a runt and asking him if it is time to thank good ol’ Val. ‘To pay her back for abandoning you all alone while those quacks turned you into a slice-o-matic?’ Wild Child edges forward, and Creed tells him to let it all out. ‘I’ll even save you the killing blow’ Creed promises.
Suddenly, Wild Child lunges past Atkinson, growling ferociously, he grabs Valerie, ripping her out of Creed’s hands, Kyle pushes her into a corner, before warning the Major to hit the deck. ‘What’re you -’ Creed begins, stunned, only for several armed officers to enter Val’s apartment, ‘Everybody freeze!’ one of them orders. ‘Don’t move!’ another shouts as they all aim their weapons. Valerie looks up at Kyle who just saved her life and tells him that she is so sorry. ‘It’s okay. Read my note. It’s all there’ Kyle replies. ‘Note?’ Valerie asks, confused. Kyle doesn’t respond, instead he leaps through a window and out into open space. ‘He’s bolting!’ one of the officers shouts. ‘Kyle! NO!’ Val calls after him.
Creed snarls at Valerie, telling her that it looks like there is another loose cannon to worry about now. ‘The pup’s slipped his leash!’. Edmond wraps his arms around Valerie and holds her close, while Val tells Creed to get lost. ‘You couldn’t get to Kyle. You didn’t add another notch to your body count’. Sabretooth grins wickedly, ‘But, Val, I wasn’t here to kill. Now when wounding can be so much fun!’. Creed suddenly tosses the coffee table up in the air, blocking him from the officers’ view as he shouts ‘Merry Christmas! And I can feel it’s going to be a Happy New Year…at least for me!’.
‘Take him down!’ one of the officers orders, but it’s too late, as the table lands, half broken, on the lounge floor. ‘Elvis has left the building’ another officer remarks as he looks out the balcony door. Valerie turns to the security agents, ‘Let me get this straight: you keep me under surveillance…you invade my home on a national holiday, destroy my furniture…and still manage to lose two wanted me. I’m only going to say this once: Get out. NOW!’ an annoyed Valerie orders, before walking into her bedroom, deciding that Kyle must have left the note he mentioned in here while she and Ed were eating in the living room. Val sees it on a table and picks it up, she begins to read:
I need to leave for a while, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.
Since we never got the chance to talk about the past, I figure a letter was the best I could do.
I just wanted to thank you. And I want you to know that I understand.
The Empire was bigger than you, bigger than any one person.
You had to think about your career and decide if a messed up kid was worth the risk.
You made the right choice.
You couldn’t face what they did to me, no one could. That’s why you left. And that’s why I’m leaving now. I have a feeling things are going to get weird for me again.
Change can hurt.
But this time, I’m ready.
Because you didn’t just give me keys to your car.
You gave me the keys to finding myself.
So don’t worry, I’m going to be just fine.
Val drops to the sofa in her room as she reads the letter, head in her hands.
Meanwhile, outside, the rain continues to pour down, and Wild Child suddenly finds his body transforming - fur begins to sprout on his arms and legs, his hands and feet mutate into a lupine state - and Wild Child begins to howl. Despite the uncaring gaze of faith…fate endures…and Heaven can’t bear to watch….