(All Saints Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska)
Walking down the hallway, a doctor informs a nurse that she can discharge Mr. Tucker as soon as he’s about to produce a stream. He also tells her that he’s still waiting on the test for Mrs. Brahams, to which she replies that she’ll stick a firecracker up the lab’s side. “Light ‘em up cocoa,” he tells her and then waves goodbye as he walks off to lunch.
“Cocoa,” a voice mocks. Turning to its source, Cocoa sees a blonde woman, clad in a stylish long coat. Continuing her quip, the woman named Ballistique informs “Cocoa” that she tried calling her that once and she nearly took her head off. However, Ballistique’s demeanor turns from jovial to annoyed when the nurse apologizes, asking if they have met. She doesn’t remember, Ballistique grimaces. Dammit.
Growing impatient, the nurse crosses her arms and asks the blonde if she has any business there. Because if not, she’s going to have to ask her to leave. Shrugging her shoulders, Ballistique replies that it’s not her fault. She should have realized. When an ever growing stern Cocoa asks if she has to call security, Ballistique responds with a smile. Oh, honey, she tells her, she would dearly love to see her try. Turning to leave, the blonde tells the nurse not to sweat it. She’ll be on her way. But just so she knows: things are about to heat up for her… and she’s going to have to pick a side.
(New York, X-Factor HQ)
Moving her black queen to a space on the board, a bikini-clad Monet St. Croix tells Shatterstar check and mate. Cursing slightly, Shatterstar tells Monet that she’s good. No, she replies, he’s good. She’s just the best. Another round? Shatterstar suggests. Perhaps she plays white this time. Flipping her hair, Monet rejoins that she always plays black. She’d rather avoid the white queen.
Resetting the board, Shatterstar notes that he would have thought his strategic mind would give him the edge, but apparently not. Perhaps he was distracted by her breasts. Lifting her sunglasses, Monet smiles that Rictor would just love to hear him say that. What’s the deal with the two of them these days, anyway, she then asks. When Shatterstar replies that Rahne has been a… distraction, Monet begins to ask if they are… Intimate? he finishes. No, but they do have history and the emotions that stirs up have to be respected. Angered, Monet replies like hell they do. There’s no reason you can’t… stake out his territory. She means, Rahne’s a wolf in “she’s” clothing. She’d respect the concept. When a confused Shatterstar asks if she is suggested that he mark Rictor by urinating on him, Monet replies emphatically NO! What she meant was…
Monet’s stops in midsentence, as she hears something from the street below. Shattestar confirms he hears it too: cars pulling up. Big ones, Monet confirms, judging by the engine sounds. With that, Monet leaps to her feet, pulling her robe over herself and racing to the edge of the roof. They look like official cars, she reports to Shatterstar. Could be feds or maybe… Monet’s eyes go wide as she exclaims “I’ll be damned. Look who just got out.”
Down below, at the receptionist desk, Guido notes the grimace expression on Pip’s face as he scowls at his laptop screen. What’cha up to, he asks him. Looking for porn? Better, Pip replies. He’s on a website talkin’ about comic books. Right now, he’s givin’ a guy who writes ‘em a hard time, just for kicks. Grinning at this, Guido notes that he’s basically acting like a troll. To this, Pip mocks that yeah, that joke never gets old.
Suddenly, a third individual enters the room from the front. Via his earpiece, the newcomer, decked out in a black suit, reports that he’s checking the office. Everything seems clear. Then reporting it secured, he adds that they keep His Honor out of there until they have a chance to check the entire… Calling the man “Mulroney” and ordering him one side, a brown suited man pushes by. He knows he’s only doing his job, but he doesn’t have all day. A moment later, the man, Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, stands before the receptionist desk of X-Factor and orders that they get Madrox. Now.
Hardly impressed, Pip asks Jameson who he is, which only serves to exasperate him. When Jameson then asks if he doesn’t know who he is, Pip mocks again, telling Guido that it looks like an amnesia case. Guido, however, does not share the amusement and informs Pip that this is J. Jonah Jameson, the mayor of New York City. Turning back to Jameson, Pip tells him that that was a snap. Mystery solved. Does he want them to bill him or does he wanna settle up right now? Bordering on incensed, Jameson seethes.
Elsewhere in the building, Madrox, Rictor and Shatterstar gather around the kitchen table. Grimacing to her, Madrox asks Rahne if there’s anything else she’s not telling them. A ton, she replies, but nothing he needs t’know regarding her condition. Interjecting, Rictor tells Madrox that if he’s hoping to find out what the hell she was up to after she left them, good luck with that. She hasn’t told him squat and he’s the fake father of her baby. Seeming hurt by this, Rahne pauses from working on her sandwich and states that he’s just gonna keep throwin’ that in her face, isn’t he? That’s the plan for the time being, Rictor tells her.
Madrox chimes in, trying to bring the conversation back to point. He reminds Rahne that they’re her friends. If she can’t trust them… She does trust them, Rahne replies. But… there’s things she doesn’t remember. She figures she blocked them out for a reason. And if she dwells on the past too much… it’ll come back t’her. Asked by Madrox if that would be bad, Rahne replies, “Verruh bad, ah think.” Ooookay, he rejoins.
Suddenly, the three finds themselves joined by a fourth, when Layla appears in the doorway, informing Madrox that the mayor is waiting for him in his office. Stunned, Madrox asks if James is there, which Layla confirms. Noting Madrox’s tone, Rictor remarks that Madrox doesn’t seem to surprised, which Madrox confirms. Ever wonder why a super hero-hating guy like Jameson doesn’t make their lives miserable? When Rictor replies “kind of,” Madrox replies that he’s about to find out.
As the two depart, Rahne rises to follow. However, having stayed behind, Layla suggests that they chat instead. “Just, y’know… us girls.” Her face expressionless, Rahne looks up at Layla. “Sounds peachy,” she replies.
Back at the hospital, the nurse curses at the vending machine, which has just taken her money and asked for more. Through gritted teeth, she swears that there are days she just wants to take a flamethrower to this place. “I know exactly how you feel,” a voice states. The nurse’s demeanor turns from annoyed to shock as the blonde from earlier appears with an activated flamethrower in her hands. She knows what she’s thinking Ballistique tells “Cocoa.: How did she get that thing in there? Oddly, rooftop security isn’t as tight as one would hope.
This said, Ballistique tells the nurse that she may want to shield her pretty face. And trust her… she’ll thank her later. With a smile Ballistique points the flamethrower and fires a volley of fire at the nurse.
“Fight fire with fire, Rictor,” Madrox . “That’s my motto.” Incredulous, Rictor asks really. He thought his motto was “Dear Lord, please don’t force me to make a decision.” Quipping a reply, Madrox rejoins that that’s not a motto. That’s a lifestyle choice. Anyway, when he first moved back to New York, Jameson had just been installed as mayor. He figured they’d windup on his radar this time. So, rather than sit around and wait for Jameson to come after them… Madrox figured the simplest thing was to beard the lion in his den.
Intending not to take no for an answer, Madrox bursts into the mayor’s office and introduces himself to the receptionist. Nonchalantly, she notes that he’s the mayor’s three o’clock. She adds that the mayor is running late and asks if he wouldn’t mind sitting. Sure, Madrox replies. No problem.
He made an appointment, Rictor asks, then sat around? That’s pretty hardcore. Accepting the rebuke in jest, Madrox rejoins that in five more minutes he would’ve started kicking butt.
Madrox is informed that the mayor will seem him now and a moment later finds him within the office, being offered a seat. When Madrox replies that he’d rather stand, Jameson dismisses it with a “whatever.” Mayor Jameson then draws his attention to Madrox’s application to start a small business. Or, rather, to restart it. His previous endeavor resulted in an entire section of the city being blown up. When Madrox retorts that it wasn’t their fault, Jameson counters that it never is.
Look, Madrox interjects, X-Factor Investigations is going to be aboveboard. They’re not hiding behind masks. Their services are available for everyone. They’re a special business and there’s nothing illegal about their operation. To this, Jameson asks Madrox if they are not doing anything illegal, why come to him in the first place? Because frankly, Madrox begins, he doesn’t think Jameson is above using the power of this office to try and drive them out of business. And he wants to head that off. “Do you?” Jameson states, gazing upon Madrox with piercing eyes.
Maintaining his level of emotion, Madrox tells Jameson that he can’t predict that anyone is going to try and firebomb them. But there’s no reason for them to do it. They’re not about getting into huge battles with world destroyers. And they have ask much right to be there as anyone else… “Fine,” Jameson states. The words not registering with him, Madrox continues until Jameson reiterates “fine.” With Madrox finally quiet, stunned into silence, Jameson explains. Someday… and that day might never come, Jameson tells Madrox with a smile, he will call upon Madrox to do a service for him.
Taken aback, Rictor asks that Jameson quoted “the Godfather?” Seriously? Actually, as it turns out, Madrox notes as they pause at the door to the foyer, he’d never seen the film. Apparently, years ago, Puzo got the line from him. With that, Madrox opens the door. As Rictor follows him, he quips that if Jameson accuses him of treating him with disrespect, he’s out of there.
Within the reception area, Madrox finds Mayor Jameson waiting for him. When Madrox introduces Rictor, Jameson asks if he’s a mutant. Told “former,” Jameson replies that that’s the best kind. Ignoring this, Madrox sits behind the desk and asks Mayor Jameson what he can do for him. Told that he can solve a murder for him, Madrox replies that, if it’s something he’s accusing Spider-Man of doing, he can tell Jameson right now he’ll turn out to be innocent.
For once, Jameson replies, this has nothing to do with the wallcrawler. It has to do with this man. In demonstration, Jameson slides a photograph to Madrox, who asks if it’s the vic. Madrox then clarifies that “vic” means “victim,” to which the Jameson retorts that he knows. Does he think he never worked a crime beat?
Returning to the photo, Jameson explains that he’s General Samuel Ryan. An American patriot. Gunned down in a cemetery in Virginia last week. Examining the photo, Madrox notes that it seems to him that Jameson would be the first to say this is a police matter. That “so-called” heroes like them have no business sticking their noses in. To this, Jameson replies that the police have nothing. No leads. Can’t even find the bullet that killed him.
Madrox next asks what’s he to Jameson? This Ryan guy? Producing another photo from his briefcase, Jameson corrects that it’s General Ryan, not “this Ryan guy.” Show him some damned respect… for a real heroes who saved his life. Turning the photo over, Madrox sees a photo of a much younger J. Jonah Jameson, with a camera and a press pass, posing for the photo with a much young Samuel Ryan.
Still on the roof, Shatterstar suggests to Monet that they should be down there. No, they shouldn’t, Monet replies. They don’t know why they’re there. For all they know, those “guards” could be disguised Sentinels, or God-knows-what. Shatterstar questions that they’re hiding, to which Monet retorts that they’re not. They’re holing themselves in reserve that if they need them… They swoop in and save the day, Shatterstar finishes. She thinks of everything doesn’t she, he asks.
“Except” a voice notes, “for watching your back.” Twisting in surprise, Monet and Shatterstar find themselves joined by Spider-Man, who hangs upside down before them from a webline. Recovering quickly from her shock, Monet asks if he’s part of Jameson’s entourage now. Hardly, he explains, but he swung past his motorcade and was curious to see who he was on his way to cause trouble for. Putting aside your dubious grammar, Monet rejoins to Spider-Man, who drops to the roof, what makes him say Jameson’s there to cause trouble? Nearby, Shatterstar wonders realizes he is more interesting in what Spider-Man’s web line had been attached to and glances up for a likely candidate.
Dismissing Shatterstar’s question by replying “a passing cloud,” Spider-Man returns to the subject of Jameson. Causing trouble for people like them is what Jameson does, he replies. Being mayor is just a means to that end. To this, Monet replies that she has two problems with that. First, she refuses to dismiss the possibility that Jameson might have a problem he needs them to deal with. And second: she is nothing like him.
At that moment, a dark suited man opens the door to the roof, interrupting Spider-Man and Monet’s conversation and shaking Shatterstar from his skyward search. Oblivious to Spider-Man, who is clung to the other side of the door, he asks the two who they are. Playfully, Monet replies that she is Modesty Blaise and that Shatterstar is Willie Garvin. “Hi,” Shatterstar waves.
Watching them as he does, the security officer closes the door, reporting that there are two more people on the roof. Seems harmless, he adds, but they’ll want to post someone there. No, he continues, no sign of Spider-Man. The mayor needs to stop being paranoid. Once the door has closed, Spider-Man quips that it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
Asked by Monet if he is one of “they,” Spider-Man asks if he was would she blame him? The guy’s been making his life a living hell since he started this gig. To this, she asks a stunned Spider-Man why is he surprised. He showed up right after the FF. The obvious question was: what’s Spider-Man’s deal, that he’s hiding behind a mask, when the FF is out in the open. He has total anonymity to take responsibility for anything…
Interrupting with an accusatory finger, Spider-Man tells Monet that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She doesn’t know him. Undeterred, Monet asks whose fault is that? Look, Spider-Man continues, he tried to warn them. Just remember: if Jameson has a problem… chances are he brought it on himself. When Monet points out that that’s another thing the two of them have in common, Spider-Man mocks “Oooo. Toosh” and fires a webline. As Spider-Man swings away, Monet yells that that’s touché, you moron! “Whatever,” Spider-Man mutters.
Back in the kitchen, Rahne regards Layla, who is taking out a container of ice cream. So, Rahne begins, she was stuck in the future for five years. Told “yup,” Rahne then states that she returned to this time… but months before she left. “Yup,” Layla again replies. What kind of world do they live in, Rahne asks, where that actually makes sense.
Rahne begins to change the subject, but Layla takes control of the conversation. Telling her to look, Layla tells her no more lies. She stays on the up-and-up with Jamie, with Rictor… with all of them. And especially her. Rahne begins to reply defensively about Layla’s attitude, but Layla presses. Does Rahne think she doesn’t know about the wedding night? About their blood on her claws? She must have good reason for coming there with that hanging over her head. Keep them to herself if she wishes, Layla tells her, but don’t screw with her, or else…
Asked “or else what,” by Rahne, Layla becomes more resolute. Or else she’ll tell her all the things she doesn’t want to remember about her time with X-Force. Pick her poison: no more lies, or too much truth. Glancing away, Rahne states that truth hurts. “Mmm hmmm,” Layla agrees through a spoonful of ice cream.
In the hospital, Cocoa screams and writhes in pain as Ballistique continues to fire jets of flame on her. IT HUUUUUUURTS!!!! MAKE IT STOPPPPPPP!!!! No, it doesn’t, Ballistique replies, he demeanor a calm contrast to the nurse’s apparent agony. If it did, she continues, she wouldn’t be coherent enough to form sentences. She just thinks it does because that’s what she’s supposed to think.
As the sprinkler system activates, Ballistique spies a hotel security guard racing to her, ordering her to drop it. However, as soon as he gets within range, Ballistique connects a roundhouse kick to his jaw, knocking him out. Ballistique then returns her attention to the nurse, who is much more coherent, now that she is no longer aflame. When “Cocoa” asks what has she done to her, Ballistique smiles that that’s more like it. On the floor before her is a transformed woman, whose skin (with the exception of from the neck up) has been converted to seamless metal.
Just so she knows, Ballistique tells Cocoa, she didn’t do it to her. Other people did. Taking in her form, the former nurse also finds she is taking in other memories. Cursing slightly, she realizes that she remembers Ryan. And… and she is… A moment later, the former nurse has leapt to her metallic feet and hugs Ballistique, whom she calls by her name of Noelle. In turn, Ballistique calls her old friend by her true name, “Rococo.”
Breaking the embrace, Rococo tells Noelle that she looks like crap. They’ve both seen better days, Ballistique remarks. Rococo how the hell did she wind up as a nurse in… where is she? Omaha, Ballistique replies. She then tells Rococo to grab some fresh scrubs and they’ll get the hell out of there. Good idea, Rococo replies.
A few minutes later, Ballistique and Rococo exit the hotel’s front entrance unimpeded. As they do, Rococo asks where they hell are they going? The whole “Thelma and Louise” bit really isn’t her thing. They’re heading to New York, Ballistique answers. No detours for canyons, she swears. As they get into their waiting Mustang, Rococo asks what’s in New York. “Syl,” Ballistique replies. She’s waiting for them. “Outstanding,” Rococo replies. Any plans for what to do once they get there? Well, Ballistique replies as they speed away, she figures they’ll kill J. Jonah Jameson and maybe take in a show. “Sounds like a plan,” Rococo remarks.