(time in reverse)
Time runs in reverse for Layla Miller. Running backwards, she passes a woman whose spilled grocery bag reassembles, with its contents once again contained. She darts back past a group of thugs accosting a homeless woman until she eventually disappears into the front door of X-Factor’s HQ, with the door closing before she ever burst forth from it.
(time in progress)
Layla Miller sits on the couch of the rec room considering her life. She knows stuff. That’s her thing, but it comes with a price. It came with not being able to stop the things she didn’t like. Instead, she had to facilitate them. Free will is a joke. And finally, she fought back and did what she wanted, not what she had to. And she angered destiny. Now nothing is certain. Not even when it has to be. She doesn’t know what’s what. Lives are depending on her and she’s not sure where to look first. She supposes this is how other people exist. All the time.
At the moment, she’s supposed to go to her favorite bookstore to buy a gift for Jamie. It’s five minutes from there at X-Factor headquarters by cab, twenty minutes by foot. She has to be there in twenty-three minutes to save a teenage girl’s life.
So decided, Layla darts from the couch for the front door, deciding to leave now so that she has time to spare. Earlier than she’s supposed to, she muses, but you can’t be too careful. A cab will pass the end of the street in sixty seconds. Cab #4F 35. It will take her to…
Wait, Layla thinks as she spies a group of thugs beating a homeless woman. She can’t just leave her, but… she doesn’t have time to help her. She hopes she’s okay.
Layla continues on, racing passed the thugs and the woman. The woman suddenly fights back and grabs a gun from one of the thugs. She fires into the air, inadvertently shattering a streetlight overhead. A moment later, Manhattan goes dark in a city-wide blackout.
Layla breaks up the attack. However, the homeless woman notices that one of them has a gun. Her warning gives Layla enough time to erect a forcefield which deflects the bullet, which in turn shatters a streetlight overhead. A moment later, Manhattan goes dark in a city-wide blackout.
Near an electrical main switching station, Guido does battle with an immense mutant named Behemoth, whose head is shaped like an elephant’s. Guido, who is supposed to be dead now, took Monet out this evening. He winds up taking out Behemoth with a punch through the switching station. Through a million-to-one coincidence of relays going wrong and fail-safes dialing… the city goes dark.
Images collide in Layla’s mind, futures failing to cohere. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.
A girl falls to her death. A woman stands with a bouquet of flowers at a grave.
Different places, same result: the punks on the run. The woman is safe. Now the cab. The cab should be there. It’s not too… Oh, God. Oh, God, no, Layla thinks in wide-eyed horror as she comes across a traffic jam which shouldn’t be there. Traffic flow on Broadway should be fairly even, but the traffic lights are out. Everything’s snarled. Gridlock. Nothing’s moving. So she has to.
With that, Layla launches herself over the hood of a cab, much to the anger of the cabbie within. Continuing to do this, car after car, as she makes her way across the stopped traffic, Layla thinks how it was just one thread, saving Guido. She just pulled on one single thread. She couldn’t have known it would disrupt the entire tapestry. Except she did know, but chose not to care. And this is what happens. Gotta run. Can’t let anything stop her.
Suddenly, Layla runs into another woman running the opposite direction. Layla apologizes profusely but the woman with short red hair replies angrily in German and then continues on her way. As she does the same, Layla wonders what her problem is. No time to worry about it.
Continuing, on her way, Layla approaches a subway entrance.
Two men emerge from the subway, one of which complains that it figures – a perfect end to a perfect day. As Layla passes to the left, the second man bumps into the first, who quickly realizes that his wallet has been lifted. He follows the second man, only to receive a knife to the stomach. He collapses to the sidewalk as other walk by him without regard.
Two men emerge from the subway, one of which complains that it figures – a perfect end to a perfect day. As Layla passes to the right, the man remarks that at least he’s not stuck in a subway car. Suddenly, he is spied by another man who believes he recognizes him, but convinces himself it’s not who he thought. The first man wanders into an abandoned store and sits down, remarking that there’s no point in anything. He sits down on the floor in defeat, his back against the wall.
Two men emerge from the subway, one of which complains that it figures – a perfect end to a perfect day. As Layla tries to pass to the right, she knocks the man off his feet, apologizing as she does so. As tries searching for his glasses, a passerby stops to assist and realizes that he recognizes him. Recognizing him as Jack Flannagan, the passerby introduces himself as Bill Thrope from business school and asks how he’s doing. Downsized with no prospects, Jack replies. Taken aback, Billy helps up his friend and declares that unacceptable for a guy with his smarts. He then promptly informs Jack that he’s got a start-up in the hopper and he’d be perfect fit. Wanna grab a beer?
Layla remarks that they say anything’s possible. If that’s true, then everything is possible. And if everything is possible… why bother with anything? She guesses it’s because you never know. Except she does. Because she knows stuff. Too much stuff. In this case, it’d be bad enough if her saving Guido simply disrupted her sense of what was to come. But it gets worse. All the future knowledge she shoved in to the skull of her younger, past self was more than an info dump. It rewired her brain.
Tripping in her race, Layla skids to the street. A passerby stops to ask her if she’s okay. Layla lies that she’s fine and looks up to see someone offer her his hand. She sees reality but she also sees myriad other possibilities, myriad other people offering her a hand – all of them variations of the man before her.
Climbing back to her feet, Layla tells herself she has to run to keep up, knowing that they’ll escape otherwise. It’s why she’s so perfect for Jamie Madrox. He’s sometimes frozen by indecision. Since, as the Multiple Man, he can go many directions at once… he doesn’t really understand why he shouldn’t. The difference is, he’s trying to choose which road to travel… and she’s busy constructing it. In the dark. Half blind.
Across the city, his suit shredded by his battle, Guido chases after Monet, who is emphatically walking away in her pristine red evening gown. She hopes he’s happy, she tells him. When he yells that it ain’t his fault, she replies that they were supposed to be on a date. One that he rented a damned bus to convince her to go on. When Guido remarks that duty called, Monet counters that Behemoth wasn’t doing anything! He just ran by the restaurant! Does he know how it makes him feel that her company wasn’t sufficiently compelling? He had to go fight somebody?! Defending himself, Guido remarks that he couldn’t ignore him, but Monet is undeterred. If he had just done so, the city wouldn’t be blacked out!
Their argument continues to devolve until Guido tells her just to fergit it.
Guido storms away, declaring it a stupid idea anyways. Turning around, Monet calls out for him to wait. She touches his shoulder and then leaps up into his arms. No one’s ever blacked out a city of impress her, she tells him. It’s vaguely romantic in a bizarre way. As time progresses, Guido and Monet become lovers, enjoying each other’s intimate embraces in bed.
Guido storms away, declaring it a stupid idea anyways. Turning around, Monet watches in silence until she eventually turns back. Declaring him a jerk, she tells herself that that’ll teach her to go slumming. Storming off in anger, Guido kicks the top off of a fire hydrant. As time progresses, Guido and Monet become enemies, fighting each other in horrific battle.
Layla thinks to herself that, right now, it’s a coin flip.
Now almost out of time, Layla reaches her destination: an alley. Seeing it empty, she realizes that she’s not too late. Then looking up to the roof and seeing no one there, she notes that she’s not there yet. Maybe she won’t be at all. No, Layla corrects herself. She could be. She will. Her memory is her getting out of the cab, heading to the bookstore… spotting her… shouting up to her… talking her out if it… not knowing at the time she was saving her future… but that was the first time around. Her memory is of what was, but not necessarily what will be…
Jumping to the ladder of the fire escape, Layla pulls it down and climbs up to the roof. There she curses, as she indeed sees the woman for whom she was racing, albeit on the opposite side of the building as before. Layla calls out to the woman by name, Angeliquie Sasson. Turning around, the young woman is confused at the stranger who seems to know her name. Nevertheless, she warns Layla to get back. She swears to God, she’s gonna do it! She…
Suddenly, Angelique twists one foot over another, losing her balance. Yelling NO!!, Layla launches herself at Angelique, tacking her in mid-air. As they fall to the alley below, Layla silently notes that it’s not supposed to happen this way. She’s supposed to give her this whole great speech… about how she can’t let kids who are cyberbullying her get to her. About how she can’t let the cretins win. She talked her out of jumping.
This time, however, the two safely impact in the alley below, protected by Layla’s forcefield. As the sphere dissipates, Angelique is transformed. She… almost died! That… that was… oh my God, what was she thinking?! Who cares what those idiot kids say or do?! Screw ‘em! Hugging Layla, Angelique tells her that she doesn’t know how she did it, but thank you! Thank you!
Smiling as they embrace, Layla thinks that this words too. She can still see them… the two paths. Both still possible. But today, she managed one more step along the one she wants…
In the waiting room with her two sons, an older Layla Madrox is greeted by the doctor, who informs her that the operation was a complete success. Her husband’s prognosis is excellent. Embraced by her two sons, Layla thanks the doctor. However, the doctor remarks that she can thank the one who developed the techniques that saved his life… Doctor Angelique Sasson.
In a graveyard, very much alone, an older Layla Madrox lays a bouquet of flowers on the grave of Jamie Madrox, whose tombstone reads “Loving Husband” and “Taken Far Too Young.”
Destiny, Layla Miller tells herself, isn’t what’s handed to you. Destiny is what you try to seize with both hands… and never stop running towards.