X-Factor (1st series) #210

Issue Date: 
December 2010
Story Title: 

Peter David (writer), Valentine de Landro (art), Jeremy Cox (colors) VC’s Cory Petit (letterer), David Yardin with Frank D’Armata (cover), Jody LeHeup (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

Having stayed behind in New York while most of the rest of the team has gone to Las Vegas on a case, Rictor accompanies Rahne to her first obstetrician appointment. On the cab ride over and in the waiting room, their conversation drifts to Rictor’s relationship with Shatterstar, as well as Rahne’s misguided belief that her lack of sexual experience during their time together turned Rictor gay. They have reached a resolution of sorts when they are called by Doctor Callisto, who has become well known in super-powered circles due to her expertise in their special medical needs. However, even Dr. Castillo is stumped when her ultrasound fails to return a picture, causing her to surmise that perhaps it is a defense system of a mystical, rather than biological, nature. Suspicious, Rictor questions Rahne as to what’s going on. Meanwhile, also staying behind due to her recovery, Monet interviews a new prospective client, one former Corporal Noelle Blanc, who is suffering from PTSD. Pleading for help, she asks Monet to use her mental powers to help remove a horrific memory from her tour as a soldier in Iraq. Though reluctant at first, Monet eventually agrees and enters the Iraq of Noelle’s memory. There she helps Noelle confront her guilt over calling in an airstrike which inadvertently killed civilians. The breakthrough made, Monet and Noelle both return to the here and now of the present, with Noelle declaring that her mind feels clear for the first time in ages. Leaving X-Factor HQ truly a new woman, Noelle goes to a cemetery, where she meets a man whom she addresses as General Ryan, who in turn calls Noelle by the name of Ballistique. Informing the general that the fake personalities he implanted in her head are gone, she fires a projectile from her index finger, killing him.

Full Summary: 

In a cemetery, a white-haired man gently brushes away the fallen foliage off of a grave plaque, making once again visible the name of its occupant: Mary Ryan. This done, he places a bouquet of flowers at its side and then stands in contemplative silent. After a few moments, he departs.

(meanwhile, elsewhere)
A fiery explosion erupts from a building along a Middle Eastern street. Through the resulting smoke that follows, a small squad of heavily armed US soldiers make their way through the rubble, searching. One of the soldiers, a woman, spies the immobile form of a young boy, half buried by debris. Involuntarily, the hand not grasping her rifle comes to her mouth, as if to hold back a retch.

A moment later, however, the previously immobile boy opens his eyes, gazing upon the soldier. Raising his right arm, he fashions the fingers of his hand into the mock formation of a handgun and points it at her. Continuing to do so, he rises to his feet and is soon joined by others, all of whom, like him, silently point their gun-like fingers at the female soldier. As they approach, the soldier feels she has no alternative and raises her rifle and opens fire.

In a cold sweat, the female soldier returns to the world of the awake with a scream. No longer in the Middle East or clad in her uniform, she is alone in a bedroom and naked. Slowly, her hyperventilation calms down and she takes stock of her surroundings and reality. After wiping the sweat from her brow, she whispers to no one in particular. “No more… no… no more…”

(meanwhile, in New York)
As they ride within, Rahne thanks Rictor for springing for the cab. Smiling in returns, Rictor replies that it beats having strangers elbowing her in the gut. Grasping his arm in affection, Rahne retorts that she can take it. She’s pretty sturdy these days. Almost impenetrable. Glancing back to Rahne’s mid-section via his rear view mirror, the driver quips that “almost” being the key word, from the look of things.

His demeanor immediately turning sour, Rictor demands to know if he asked the driver. Did anyone ask him? In opposition to Rictor, Rahne smiles that it was king of funny actually. When Rictor replies that it’s not to him, Rahne asks back when was the last time anything was funny to him. When Rictor replies that he laughs at stuff, Rahne’s smile grows wider. Like what? What makes him laugh?

When Rictor seems to stumble for a response, Rahne intuits the reason. He makes Rictor laugh, doesn’t he? When Rictor tries to play dumb, Rahne presses, noting that that’s what he was thinking, wasn’t it? About him. Looking away, Rictor tells Rahne not to be that way. Looking away in the opposite direction, Rahne replies that she’s not being any way except th’ way she’s always been. He could stand to learn from…

Interjecting again, the cab driver asks Rictor what his problem is. He have a boyfriend on the side? At first, the driver chuckles at his own joke, until he sees the silent stare from Rictor. Realizing he’s inadvertently guessed, the driver back-peddles, noting that it could be worse. They could be mutants. Grinning slightly, Rahne jests that, thank God, they dodged that bullet. Still not amused, Rictor informs the driver that he’ll double his tip if he shuts up for the rest of the ride. “You got it, chief,” the driver rejoins.

A short while later, they have arrived and now it is the driver who is not amused. When the driver berates him for giving him ten bucks on a $9.80 fare, Rictor informs him that he was originally going to tip him a dime, so… Still irate, the driver yells back that he’d say he hopes the kid looks like Rictor, but he wouldn’t wish that on any kid. As the cab drives off, the two men exchange further pleasantries, including “up yours” and “bite me.”

Rictor turns to asks Rahne if she can believe that guy, only to discover her in a laughing fit. Asked what’s so funny, Rahne replies that she’s missed New York. And him, she tells Rictor. She missed him. Taking her hand into his, Rahne begins to apologize, but Rictor tells her not to worry about it. To this, Rahne replies that she does worry about everything. Force o’habit. Well, don’t, Rictor replies. She’s got all of them watching her back now. Opening the door to the obstetrician, Rictor suggests that they go take a look at their baby.

Sitting behind the desk, Monet berates Guido over her mobile phone, assuring him that she’s fine, for God’s sake. Further, she tells him to stop calling in every hour and to focus on what they’re doing out there… whatever the hell it is. She then tells him not to bother explaining, as she’s not that interested. No, she then tells him, he did the right thing going with them. She’s all rested now and doesn’t need a babysitter. Yes, she’s sure and no, she’s not just trying to be str… Stopping in mid-sentence, she tells Guido that she’s hanging up… and then does so.

Turning her attention to the blonde woman, the former soldier, who sits across from the desk, Monet apologizes about the phone call. Actually, the woman replies, it’s kind of sweet. Her boyfriend caring about her that much. Furrowing her brow, Monet informs her prospective client that he’s not he boyfriend. To this, the woman asks Monet if she’s sure, because from what she could hear…

Interrupting, Monet informs the woman that she’s sure and then asks her not to try to get into her head. Taken aback, the woman is clearly upset at the inference and notes that she didn’t mean to. Noting the reaction, Monet tells “Ms. Blanc” not to worry about it. To this, the woman asks to be called “Noelle,” to which Monet consents with a “fine.”

Changing the subject, Monet asks Noelle where she picked up the scar. Told in the line of duty, Monet asks if she’s a cop, but is then corrected infantry. Then guessing “drunken brawl,” Monet is told “Iraq,” which she immediately declares the same thing. Monet is then corrected yet again when she guesses Noelle’s rank of private (it’s corporal) and with an exasperated whatever asks what X-Factor can do for her. Much to Monet’s surprise, Noelle replies that it’s not X-Factor so much as her. She wants Monet to get into her head.

Sitting in the waiting room, Rictor informs Rahne that Doctor Castillo’s the best when it comes to handling super-types, so she shouldn’t worry about a thing. Replying that she’s not, Rahne asks what the rest of the crew is doing in Vegas. Replying that he’s not sure, Rictor quips that some dwarf got in over his head… which he guesses isn’t that tough when you’re a dwarf, right? Told by Rahne that that’s a terrible thing to say, Rictor rejoins that he’s a terrible guy.

Growing serious once again, Rahne replies that, no, he’s not. And she knows, because she’s seen some terrible guys fought them. Killed them. Returning to her feet, Rahne turns her back and walks a short distance away. Almost sheepishly, she asks if it was her. When Rictor clearly does not understand, she clarifies. “Was ah that… lousy? Did… ah turn ye gay.”

Rictor silently considers Rahne’s words for a moment before beginning to laugh uproariously. When Rahne playfully asks him not to laugh at her, Rictor complies. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he apologizes. He swears, he tells her, it had nothing to do with her. Then asked if it was that Shatterstar, Rictor replies that it wasn’t him either. Or her. It was he, himself. Stepping away from him and toward the aquarium, Rahne replies that she doesn’t believe him. She means, if he was any further in the closet, he’d have been in bloody Narnia.

As she gazes through the glass of the aquarium, Rahne’s composure changes slightly. Her expression grows into a snarl, accompanied by bared teeth. Sensing this change, all of the fish within the tank turn and swim away.

The next moment, however, Rahne’s demeanor returns when a voice calls her name and Rahne turns to regard Doctor Castillo. Standing in the doorway, the doctor tells Rahne that it’s been awhile. With a smile, she notes that she’d ask what he’s been up to, but that’s fairly obvious. Turning to Rictor, Castillo asks if he’s… what? There for emotional support? Informed by Rictor that he’s the father, Castillo glances over her glasses and asks “really?” When he confirms, the doctor then asks Rahne the same question, to which she responds that she thinks she would know who her baby’s father is. The doctor takes a moment to digest this and finally accepts it. With a wave of her hand to show the way into the office, she suggests that they take a look at their baby.

Her face buried in her hands, Noelle tells Monet that she just can’t take it anymore. To this, Monet points out that there are plenty of options for soldiers suffering from shellshock or stress disorder or whatever it’s called. Unconvinced, Noelle rejoins that it’s not enough. She head Monet can do things. With her mind. Asked where she heard that, Noelle replies that word gets around.

Rising to her feet, Monet states that she imagines so. She then adds that she has certain abilities, yes. But there’s always risks involved with this sort of thing. Manipulating someone’s mind… it’s unpredictable. She does it if there’s no other choice. If lives are on the line. Not for something optional…

Interrupting, Noelle tells responds that she’s not asking for a nose job here. There is a life on the line. Her life. She saw terrible things there, and she just… When Monet speaks again about erasing memories, Noelle suggests that she not erase them. Just… take the edge off. Turn the voices in her head down to a dull roar. Make it so she can sleep without having dead children pointing at her! All that… that pointing.

Having moved around the desk, Monet reiterates that she cannot emphasize the risk enough. To this, Noelle rejoins that she had people shooting at her for two years. Buildings blowing up, vehicles shot out from under her. She’s used to the risk. Not like this, Monet counters. See that thread, she asks, pointing to one hanging from Noelle’s sleeve. If she pulls on it, and keeps pulling, it could cause the whole thing to unravel. A person’s mind is the same way. The things that happened to her, she tells Noelle, it’s part of who she is. They’re all who they are. You can’t run from that.

Without a pause to consider, Noelle deftly grasps the stray thread with two fingers and, with a quick yank, removes it. Presenting it with a “ta da,” Noelle asks Monet not to make her beg. It’s not that she won’t… she just really sucks at it. Monet takes a moment to silently consider Noelle and the thread she continues to hold out in demonstration. Her decision made, Monet takes Noelle’s hands into hers and instructs her to clear her mind. Closing her own eyes, Monet lifts her chin and concentrates.

In a place different from X-Factor headquarters, Monet St. Croix opens her eyes and a moment later finds herself blown off of her feet by a powerful explosion. Though unharmed by the force of the blast, Monet nevertheless is unhappy. To her surprise, she finds Noelle there, back in the streets of Iraq, this time clad in her military gear. Without any word of how they came to be where they are, Noelle explains that it was her fault. She called in an air strike. She thought there were enemy combatants. Still frowning her disapproval, Monet asks Noelle if a corporal can call in an air strike. When Noelle replies that she guesses, Monet balks. It was war, Monet, Noelle explains. Everything gets muddled and screwed up and… it’s just so hard to…

Noelle’s voice trails as she spies something and raises her rifle to confront. “Oh, God, here they come.” Turning to regard who she means, Monet sees a small crowd of locals, all pointing their forefinger at Noelle, with their thumbs upright in the mock presentation of a handgun. Taking this in, Monet tells Noelle that she needs to let this go. When the corporal replies that she can’t, that it’s clawed into her brain, Monet becomes more forceful. Pulling Noelle’s face toward her, she informs her that she’s got this… this vision of herself lodged in her mind… like an endless loop replaying, and she can’t change the channel. It’s… well, it’s embedded really. Asked why, Monet replies that she doesn’t know; guilt, she guesses, is the obvious choice. She’s got to let it go. Get past it. Stop being the guilt-ridden soldier stuck in the past.

As the throngs of people begin to converge on the two from all sides, Corporal Blanc says that she doesn’t know how. Ignoring the silent accusers, Monet continues. Smiling caringly, Monet tells Noelle that it wasn’t her fault. She did what she had to do. And she’s not going to feel guilty about it anymore. Asked that she’s not, Monet reassures her that, no, she’s not.

A short distance away, the young boy continues to point his gun-shaped finger. A moment later, however, he is gone, as well as all of the others. Noelle and Monet only have a moment to reconcile that the crowd is indeed gone before they too have returned to X-Factor HQ.

For a moment, Noelle attempts to take stock of herself mentally, but she quickly regains her composure. Rifling through her handbag, she asks Monet how much she owes her. Still recovering herself, Monet replies for her not to worry. Rubbing her own head, Monet asks Noelle if she’s all right. The contact broke off so quickly, as it…

Interrupting with a wide smile, Noelle replies that she’s better than fine. Her mind’s clear for the first time in ages. And she was right, Noelle then tells Monet. They can’t run from who they are, and they shouldn’t. God bless her. “Yeah, you too,” a confused Monet mutters as the former Corporal Blanc walks out.

Hearing a “hunh” from Doctor Castillo as she moves the ultrasound device over her belly, Rahne asks what she means by that. When a non-committal reply is forthcoming, Rictor tries a different tact and asks if she can tell if it’s a boy or a girl. Glancing back to Rictor, the doctor suggests that he look for himself, rather than have her spoil the fun. As he and Rahne stare at the screen, he notes aloud that it’s black. Totally, black, Rahne interjects. Asked if the screen is not on, Castillo replies that it’s on, all right. But the ultrasound isn’t giving them an image of any sort. Just blackness.

Handing a rag to Rictor, the Castillo tells him to make himself useful and clean off her stomach. When Rictor replies that he doesn’t understand, she explains that it’s a towel. She put some conductive gel on Rahne’s stomach for the sonogram. Do the math. Undeterred, Rictor presses but Castillo ultimate explains that she has no idea what’s going on. She’s hearing a heartbeat, she explains, so there’s someone in there. But her body isn’t letting anything in. Not even sound waves. She assumes it’s some sort of protective function, except such a thing would seem more mystical in nature than biological.

To this, Rahne notes that it has to be biological. The baby can’t be mystical. Countering this thought, Rictor points out that people don’t choose to be mystical. They’re born that way. Trust him, he adds. He knows people are what they are. “Rahne,” he asks her. “What’s going on?” Rahne finds herself unable to answer and glances away distantly.

At the cemetery, the white-haired man has returned to place a fresh bouquet of flowers at the grave of Mary Ryan, “beloved wife and mother.” Before he can return to his feet, however, a voice calls out to him, telling him “Hello, General Ryan.” His eyes going wide, the general turns to regard the stoic and resolute form of former Corporal Noelle Blanc. They’re gone, Noelle informs him. The fake personality… the fake life… all the memories he planted in her head… all gone. “I’m back.” With this, Noelle shapes her right hand into a mock form of a handgun.

Closing his eyes in resignation, General Ryan calls her Ballistique and thanks God that this is over. A moment later, his blood spatters on Mary Ryan’s grave marker. No, Ballistique replies to Ryan’s corpse. It’s just starting. Pausing only to blow the smoke rising from her extended finger, the woman formerly known as Noelle Blanc departs in silence.

Characters Involved: 

Monet, Rictor, Wolfsbane (all X-Factor)

Ballistique (“Cpl Noelle Blanc”)

Dr. Castillo

General Ryan

Cab driver
New Yorkers

(in Noelle’s mind & memories)
Corporal Noelle Blanc
Other soldiers

Undead Iraqis

In a photo
Multiple Man

Story Notes: 

The rest of X-Factor is in Las Vegas, tracking down their former client Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and her kidnapped… Pip.

Rahne irrationally worries that she turned Rictor gay after they slept together in X-Factor (3rd series) #21.

Rahne’s quip of if Rictor was any further in the closet, he’d have been in bloody Narnia refers both to the slang terminology referring to homosexuals who are secret about their orientation, as well the portal entrance to the magical world of Narnia in “the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first (not second) installment of the Chronicles of Narnia.

“Shellshock” (or “shell-shock”) is one of many medical terms (now defunct) used to describe the behavioral phenomenon which was noticed from soldiers returning from World War I. Over the intervening decades, other more medically accurate descriptions were offered. Today, “combat stress reaction” or “post traumatic stress disorder” are used, depending on the severity and length of the duration of the behavior.

On the wall of X-Factor’s office is a news clip from X-Factor’s press conference from months ago, when the team declared its opposition to the Registration Act. [X-Factor (1st series) #10]

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