In a darkened alley under a full moon, a man grabs a woman from behind. Angrily, he orders her to stop struggling. He’s not gonna hurt her if she doesn’t fight. This is just a robbery, okay? Don’t have to turn into nothing more than that unless she makes it that w… Suddenly, just as he places her up against a building, the would-be mugger finds his would-be victim’s teeth clamped on his hand. Angered, the mugger clenches his fist, telling them woman that she asked for it, but a voice calls out that it’s he who’s the one asking for it. And he’s just the one to give it to him.
Turning to the voice, the man sees the diminutive Pip the Troll, clad in a trench coat and matching mat. Having no idea to his identity but seeing his small stature, the mugger produces his knife, noting that he’d cut him down to size, but there wouldn’t be anything left. To this, Pip tosses off his hat and suggests the guy give it his best shot. The mugger’s first swing goes high, as Pip ducks. However, in a move all on his own, Pip lunges between the mugger’s legs and from behind punches him in the crotch. Even as the man reels, Pip jumps atop a garbage dumpster to provide the height necessary for a kick to his head, knocking the man out.
The mugger dealt with, Pip offers his hand to the woman, asking her name. When she sheepishly replies “Vera,” he suggests they go. Vera asks if they should wait for the police, but Pip only asks if she really wants to wait around a stinking alleyway for three hours for the cops. Told no, he replies that he didn’t think so. He then suggests a bar not far away, where he’ll buy her a drink. Smiling widely, Vera replies that would be nice, and then asks Pip if he’s the guy from “Game of Thrones.” Yes, yes he is, Pip replies. “Kewwwwwl,” Vera coos.
A short time later in Jim’s bar, Vera sits at the bar while Pip plays a round of darts. Speaking with the bartender, she asks if he really is the guy from “Game of Thrones” and is informed by Pip’s co-conspirator that yes, yes he is. When she then asks why everyone called him “Pip” when they walked in, the bartender explains that it’s a nickname. As in, “that Peter Dinklage is a real pip.” Get it? She begins to reply that she does, but then admits that she doesn’t. Yeah, the bartender replies, he can see why Pip likes her. Vera smiles at the compliment and then thanks him, but something outside the window catches her eye and causing her to leap to her feet.
Nearby, Pip’s darts opponent, Stew, compliments the “real beaut” he hooked this time and asks if he’s gonna seal the deal. Preparing his next toss, Pip replies that hooking ‘em is easy; reeling ‘em in takes finesse. He’s just letting her simmer for a few minutes. And then she’ll be ready. Suddenly, Vera appears by Pip’s side, throwing off his toss, which impacts a nearby party. Pip takes a moment to apologize to “Mickey,” but then turns his attention to Vera, who excitedly explains that she saw him peeking through the exit door into the back. When Pip asks who she’s talking about, she explains the “b-u-m-b” who attacked her! Tossing on his coat, Pip mumbles “terrific” and begins to head for the exit. Vera asks if she should call the police, but Pip tells her under no circumstances.
Opening the side door, Pip calls out into the alley, demanding that he show himself. From behind the open door, the mugger complies, startling Pip enough to tell “Wendell” that he almost gave him a heart attack. Wendell quickly apologizes, after which Pip asks if this is about the money he owes him. It’ll have to wait ‘til next month. And don’t ask him if he’s “a little short,” because he’ll have to hurt him fer real instead of fake punching. Wendell asks if it fooled the girl, to which Pip replies that it always fools the girls. Kinda the point of the whole thing. Asked if he can’t get girls t’notice him without foolin’ them in to thinking he’s a hero, Pip replies maybe, but this is quicker and more sure. Except when he’s interrupting him. So what’s so important? Growing more serious, Wendell replies that he thought he should tell him: he overheard these guys, and they said – and he quotes – “X-Factor will fall.” And he doesn’t think they were talking about the TV show.
Muttering sarcastically how great that is, Pip asks if they mentioned a time that “X-Factor will fall.” Tonight, he thinks, Wendell replies. Pretty sure they said… Of course, they said tonight, Pip interjects. Can’t even take one evening off. When Wendell quips that he thought he took most evenings off, Pip offers a “whatever” and a twenty dollar bill, which Wendell accepts with a thanks.
Returning to the bar, Pip broods as to what to do. He’s off the clock, so this shouldn’t be his problem. Inside, he finds Vera (who is still not sure whether to call him “Peter” or “Pip”) and asks if he got rid of that awful man. Pip confirms he did, after which Vera suggests they get out of there. There’s a cab stand right outside, and they can grab one to her place. Smiling, Pip tells her that sounds great.
As he leads her to the cab, Pip’s mind wanders to his youth, when he was tall, handsome… an artist. And then one major evening of partying with mutagenic hallucinogens and he became the poster boy of debauchery. No conscience. No morals. It was a nice way to live. What is it about this planet, he now wonders, that brings out the worst in him? The “worst” being what others would call “the best.” With that, Pip closes the door to the cab from the outside, much to the surprise of Vera. He then instructs the cabby to take her wherever she wants to go, and tosses several bills at him, saying that should cover it.
As the cab drives off and he gets in the next one, Pip can hear the string of curses coming from the departing Vera. He thinks that he can’t blame her. He has it coming. Hell, he’s had it coming for years. Maybe that’s why he’s been bouncing around the galaxy for so long. ‘Cause he’s trying to stay one step ahead of whatever’s gonna get him eventually. But wandering forever gets old after a while. So when circumstances dropped him into the middle of X-Factor, well… he wound up staying. People have gone. Others have stayed. It’s the closest he’s had to a family since the days he was traipsing around the galaxy with Adam and Gamora. Which pretty much ended when Thanos destroyed his mind. Fun times.
Pulling out his mobile phone, Pip tries to call X-Factor, but only gets their voicemail. Tossing the phone aside in disgust, Pip asks the cabby if he can make it go any faster. Eyeing his passenger through the rearview mirror, the cabby whimsically asks if he’s afraid that Willy Wonka’s gonna notice he’s gone AWOL. A few moments later, the cab goes into a spin, and a few moments after that the cabby finds himself tossed out of the car. As he drives off with greater speed, Pip thinks that everybody’s a comedian. Unable to see over the steering wheel, Pip can’t help but think that, as much of a sitting duck as X-Factor is… plus then keeping taking cases where there’s no money involved… they’d have closed up shop or been dead ages ago, if not for him.
Sitting at the front desk, Pip finds a portly lady informing him that she didn’t know who else to turn to. Ever since her poor Henry disappeared at sea while fishing, she’s felt so along, adrift… They never even found a body for her to bury. Asked by Pip why she came to them, the lady replies that she obviously wants them to contact him for her. If she could just talk to him, it would be so comforting…
Cocking his head, Pip reminds the lady that she said he’s dead. Told that she was hoping for a séance, Pip asks if she’s kidding. To the contrary, the lady replies that they’re psychics, right? She’d heart that they dealt with all manner of strange things, so she thought. She has money, she then adds, looking inside her pocketbook and producing five hundred dollars. Closing the lid to his laptop, Pip smiles slightly and replies that he thinks they can help her. He’ll need something personal of his. Replying that she thought he might, the lady produce’s Henry’s comb, explaining that she couldn’t bear to throw it out.
As Pip accepts the comb (along with its embedded loose hair), the lady asks if he’s going to bring this to the head psychic. He thinks he can handle it, Pip replies, as his eyes begin to glow green, startling the lady. A moment later, he asks if the name “Bayshore Paradise Hotel” means anything. Emphatically, the lady replies that that’s in the Bahamas, where they spent their honeymoon ten years ago. It must be his idea of bliss in the afterlife! Might be bliss, Pip rejoins, but not in the afterlife. He’s alive and well and eating cheeseburgers in paradise. And he’s pretty sure he’s got some female company. As Henry’s wife’s face contorts in anger, Pip explains that Henry faked his death. She wants to talk to him? Grab a plan. He hears it’s better in the Bahamas. As the lady angrily departs, Pip asks if she wants a receipt, but assumes the slamming door answers that question.
Still driving toward X-Factor HQ, Pip thinks to himself that missing person cases, the bread and butter of detective agencies of which they get five or six every week, never get past his front desk. His cosmic attunement lets him zero in on anyone who’s vanished. Bing boom, case solved. Handy way to keep the petty cash box filled so they can handle their day-to-day expenses. He knows that Madrox figures he’s the heart and soul of X-Factor, but he ain’t. Old Pip keeps the place running. He protects them. He is X-Factor. It’s just that nobody knows it. Hell, some of ‘em still don’t even trust him. Like Monet and Layla. If he told ‘em what went on practically under their noses, they wouldn’t believe it. Like just the other day, for instance. When company came to call.
the other day:
Atop X-Factor’s HQ, four armored, sword-wielding pseudo-ninjas make their way to the stairwell. Bypassing the lock with a little acid, the lead techno-ninja mocks that the idiots couldn’t even be bothered to put in an alarm system. He then orders another to signal unit two on the street to move in on his mark. Three… two… one… Mark!!!
Pip the Troll is sitting at the front desk, looking at his laptop’s screen, when unit two of the techno-ninjas burst through the front door. Against their expectations, Pip responds in a lackadaisy manner, informing them that he’s busy watching porn and suggests that they come back later. Or even better, not at all. Taken aback, the leader of unit two asks who the hell this is. When another replies that he’s their receptionist, “some kinda dwarf,” Pip replies that he’s a troll, actually, and way more than a receptionist. He’s the guardian of the gate. The keeper of the keys. This here is the bridge of Khazad-dum and they too shall not freakin’ pass.
Understanding the reference, one of the techno-ninjas calls him “Gimli” and adds that he has bad news. They’re from the Friends of Humanity, a second replies, and they’ll pass whenever they damned well please. In fact, a third interjects, their brothers are already upstairs… Interrupting, Pip replies that their brothers are dead. Or good as dead. If they wanna end up like them, just walk right in. Although, Pips adds, with a menacingly smile, if he were them, he’d run the other way.
As Pip expected, the squad of techno-ninjas rush forward at the encouragement. However, while they believe that as humans they’ve got the edge on science and technology, they’ve got no idea that out in the real universe, you can pick up a portable wormhole generator in the equivalent of a practical joke shop. If you place one in the front of each of the entrances… you monitor the upstairs with floor-based pressure pads to tip you if someone’s entering… and you make sure to keep the remote control real handy.
As the last of the techno-ninjas attempts to claw their way out of the wormhole his device has created, Pip repeats the name “Gimli” and notes that if the guy had called him Gandalf he might’ve given him a break. The last techno-ninja begins to protest, but Pip protests. Can’t wait. The internet beckons. When the rest of the team began to filer back in from an early dinner a half hour later, they had no idea what had gone on. Plus, again… They’d probably have thought he was lying. But sooner or later, they’ll figure it out. They’ll realize how much he means to the team… and how much they’d miss him if he were gone. How much he is X-Factor.
Arriving at X-Factor HQ, Pip darts out of the car and races to the front door. However, before he enters, Pip hears his name and finds Vera standing a short distance away. Rather than questioning why she’s there, he tells her this ain’t the best time. However, a moment later she produces a revolver from the inside of her jacket. Pointing it at him, she declares “X-Factor will fall.”
At point blank range, Vera fires a single shot into Pip’s head. She takes a moment to watch as the blood trickles from his head wound and finds its way to a nearby sewer grate before turning around and walking away.