Somewhere…a figure rises from a golden smoke, and exclaims ‘Three-fourths of the world will die p in flood and fire and plague. But from the ashes of the old - an age of perfection, unsustained by hatred - and greed - and violence. How do I know this? He shows me - and I see’.
Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC. A magnetic bubble with five extraordinary beings inside it is propelled downwards through rubble. ‘I - I can’t believe it [ the fire…the devastation!’ Lorna “Polaris” Dane exclaims as she uses her incredible power to move her X-Factor teammates downwards. Alex “Havok” Summers points out that there are still plenty of people trapped inside. ‘So bring the “bubble” down gently’ he tells his girlfriend. An instant later, they land - ‘And let’s get to work!’ Alex tells his friends.
From Alex Summers’ private journal:
We should have seen it coming after the mess at the World Trade Center. It was only a matter of time before the terrorist bombs would reach Washington. It was an evening of Mozart! Aside from a junior senator and a couple of first-term Congressmen - none of whom wild much power in this town - there was no one in the audience who could be considered viable targets.
Just a few thousand innocent people, who came looking for a little night music…and found death instead. At least my people did their best to make sure the body-count was kept to a minimum. It wasn’t easy for them, dealing with suffering on such a massive scale. Shutting off the voices inside demanding to weep or scream or turn away. But they did it. Pushed themselves to the wall - and then kept going.
I only half believed what I told Forge the other day, when he asked me to explain why he shouldn’t fire the whole team and start X-Factor from scratch. But that night I had all the proof I needed. We may have started out as relative strangers - nervous and uncertain - trying to hide our fear behind a barrage of jokes…but we’ve grown. Maybe we’re not the well-oiled machines that Xavier’s Blue and Gold Teams are - and maybe some people shrug us off as oddballs and eccentrics…but in all my time nurse-maiding this motley crew…I’ve never been more proud of them.
Upon landing, X-Factor leap into action, with several Multiple Man dupes ready to rescue the injured, while Polaris and Havok use their powers to clear debris. Strong Guy a.k.a. Guido Carosella lifts up large metal beams, while Rahne “Wolfsbane” Sinclair sniffs out the hidden injured. Several dupes find a blanket for people to jump onto from a balcony while fire spreads around them. Some dupes carry out the injured, while Havok blasts away at the debris, and Wolfsbane lunges past a fire with a girl clinging to her fur.
The rain beats down as an officer approaches Havok, telling him that the city is on alert, with the National Guard standing by. ‘Nobody seems to know whether this is an isolated incident - or the fist shot in a war’ the officer exclaims. Havok tells the officer that X-Factor is glad they could help. ‘You ‘n’ me both’ the officer replies. Havok remarks that it used to be this kind of thing only happened “someplace else”. ‘We were the United States of America - the impregnable fortress - no one would ever dare try a stunt like this. Didn’t take long for our illusions to get shattered, did it?’ Havok exclaims.
Suddenly, ‘You’re forgetting, Alex -- that we’ve got something those “someplace elses” don’t. We’ve got X-FACTOR!’ a figure in a cloak exclaims stepping through the rain. ‘Forge!’ Havok exclaims. Forge informs Alex that something has come up, and he needs the team at a briefing. ‘And we’ll be there, first thing in the morning’ Havok replies. ‘NOW’ Forge declares, sternly. Strong Guy steps forward with an umbrella and exclaims ‘Look, mister liaison…sir - I don’t know if you realize this, but we just spent three hours in an inferno…and we’re just the littlest bit exhausted’.
‘My heart bleeds for you, Carosella - but do you think I’d be out here in the pouring rain in the middle of the night if this wasn’t important?’ Forge replies, before telling his associates that he will see them in ten minutes. ‘Charming fellow’ Guido mutters. ‘Where would you like me to dump the body?’ he asks. Havok tells Guido to go back to the Brownstone with the rest of the team, while he deals with Forge.
Elsewhere in Washington, Random stands in a room, his cigar smoke filling the room quickly as he exclaims ‘So, you wanted t’ see me - I’m here. But make it quick - I wanna get back home t’ Albany as soon as I can’. A man sitting behind a desk in shadows exclaims ‘You’re rude and arrogant, Random - do you know that?’ Random replies that he knows, and mocks that he is worried sick about it. ‘Now are you gonna get to the point - or am I out of here?’ Random exclaims.
‘The point is - you’ve disappointed us’ the government agent exclaims. ‘What’re you talking about? You hired me t’do a job’ Random replies. ‘Correct. We hired you to kill Polaris’ the agent remarks. ‘Wrong’ Random tells him. ‘You hired me to try to kill Polaris. You wanted t’test her. See what she’s made of’ he reminds the agent, adding that he gave Polaris everything he had, but she beat him fair and square. ‘Thought that’d make you happy. You can use her now, right? You got the secret weapon you were looking for. What’s the problem?’
The agent declares that the problem is they think Random could have killed Polaris, but simply chose not to. ‘You held back, Random, and for the money, you’re being -’ he doesn’t get a chance to finish his sentence as Random exclaims ‘Oh, so that’s it, huh? Yer trying t’back out on the payment?’ and begins to call the agent names, before the agent throws an envelope at him, ‘Oh, please - Uncle Sam’s many things - but he’s not cheap’ he remarks, telling Random that he can count it if he is worried.
‘Nah - I don’t think even you’d be stupid enough to short change me’ Random replies, clutching the envelope. ‘Well if that’s all -’ Random begins as he turns to leave, but the agent exclaims ‘No, I’m afraid it’s not. Our offer of a longer-term contract wit the department has to be withdrawn. As I said, you’ve disappointed - us’ the agent declares, as Random spins around and aims a transformed arm, now a three-barrelled weapon, at the agent. ‘Bang’ Random jokes, before bursting into laughter. Random tells the agent that he would love to say it was a pleasure doing business, but it wasn’t.
The door slams, and the agent’s phone beeps. ‘Hello? It’s me. Yes, he’s gone. Mmm. I agree. He’s a loose cannon - and he knows far too much. Absolutely, Sir. Immediately. Consider Random - terminated!’
At the Pentagon, lightning crackles as the storm continues to rage outside, and inside, Havok slams a fist down onto Forge’s desk, creating some cracks in it. ‘Four days, Forge. Four days I’ve been trying to reach you!’ Havok shouts, adding that he doesn’t know how many messages he has left with Forge’s assistant, or how often he has come by, or been to Forge’s lab, where everyone has been giving him the same line of bull: “Forge can’t be reached right now. He’s in a meeting”.
Havok demands to know what meeting could be more important than the fact that somebody here in Washington, probably in this building, hired Random to assassinate Lorna. A book titled “Man, Mutant and the New Humanity” sits on Forge’s desk, while Alex continues to shout: ‘I want to know who they are - why they are - and I want them taken down - YESTERDAY!’ Forge announces ‘I think I can -’, but Alex either ignores him or doesn’t hear him as he exclaims ‘And another thing: What the devil do you think you’re doing ordering us to stay home while chaos is breaking out in Genosha? We should be there with the others - and you know it!’
Forge asks Alex if he is done now, or if he has a few more harangues left in him. Alex blushes and replies that he thinks he is done - for now. Forge picks up a paper clip and bends it back as he tells Alex that he thought he made it clear the other day how much he admires and respects him. ‘You’ve sure got an odd way of showing it’ Alex exclaims, to which Forge asks him to shut up and listen, and reveals that he would not have manipulated so many people and called in so many favors to get this job if he did not passionately believe in what X-Factor is doing.
‘That’s not the way -’ Havok begins, to which Forge once again asks him to shut up. ‘Do I know about what happened to Lorna? Of course I do. And I’ve been busting my hump to get to the bottom of it’ Forge announces. ‘What did y-’ Havok begins, but Forge tells him to let him finish. ‘Am I alarmed about the Genoshan situation? Believe me, I would have personally flown you over - if there weren’t more pressing matters to attend to here’ Forge replies. ‘You mean you -’ Alex begins, but Forge tells him to shush, declaring that what happened tonight at the Kennedy Center is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
‘It wasn’t a…excuse the expression…random incident. Something big is blowing in the wind p and it’s got global ramifications. For man and mutant alike’ Forge declares, revealing that is what those four days of meetings were about, and apologizes that he could not talk about it until now. ’You’re sorry?’ Havok smiles. ’There are too many questions hanging over our heads right now, Alex - Lorna…Genosha - it’s all going to have to wait. And I need you to help unravel them’ and throws Alex the creation he made from the paperclips - a question mark.
Elsewhere…somewhere, a woman lights a candle and exclaims that the Earth is near darkness. ‘The people wander - blind and frightened. All grope for answers - and find none. I have heard the voice their hearts are longing to hear. I have seen the glorious future that awaits us all. But before purity - sin. Before joy - suffering. And before the darkness ends, there must come the terrible fire - that will light the world’.
There is a blinding light, as lightning crackles through the storm once more, and in the Georgetown headquarters of Lorna sits at a table, stirring a hot drink, while Wolfsbane remarks ‘I thought ye told me eating in the middle of the night is bad for ye’. Polaris looks at Rahne and tells her that she couldn’t sleep, that it was hard to after all they saw tonight. ‘So I figured a cup of herb tea -’ she begins, ‘- and some double puffs?’ Rahne asks. ‘Whatever gets you through the night, right?’ Lorna replies. ‘What about yuir weight?’ Rahne asks. Polaris tells her that, lately, she has learned there are more important things to be obsessed about.
Wolfsbane goes over the refrigerator as Lorna asks her what she is up to. Rahne reaches for some cold meat wrapped in plastic wrap and replies ‘Same thing. every time I close muh eyes, I see all those people - all burned ‘n’ bloody - figured I’d just get up and grab a snack’ she explains. ‘Roast beef? At three in the morning?’ Lorna asks. ‘Whatever gets ye through the night!’ Rahne jokes. ‘Touché’ Lorna replies as Rahne takes a seat at the opposite end of the table. Somewhat awkwardly, Lorna asks Rahne how she is, pointing out that they have not had much of a chance to talk since she came back from Muir Island.
‘Came back?’ Rahne asks as she savagely begins tearing into the roast beef. ‘I was dragged back, Lorna - by a program implanted in muh brain by the Genegineer! By muh psychic bond t’Alex!’ Rahne declares that being away from Alex was actually painful to her, that her brain was on fire and her body was burning up. ‘I thought I was gonna die’ Wolfsbane claims, before chomping down on a hunk of beef, telling Lorna that she was so desperate to get back to Alex, that she actually managed to will her transformation into wolfen form - her voice begins to falter, as Rahne looks at the beef, and shoves her claws into it.
‘Look at me, Lorna! Look at what I’ve become!’ Wolfsbane shrieks, transforming into her savage form, blood drips from her savage mouth, and her claws are barred, ready to strike, she exclaims that she feels like her soul is being ripped apart, like she cannot control herself anymore. Wolfsbane exclaims that she needs her life back, that she needs to go back to Muir Island, but cannot do it unless Havok goes with her. ‘And he will go with you, sweetie - when he -’ Polaris begins, but Wolfsbane interrupts: ‘When he’s got the TIME?!?’ she snarls. ‘He’d have the time if it was ye, wouldn’t he?’ Rahne snaps as she knocks the beef across the table, covering Polaris in blood. ‘He’d sacrifice the universe for ye!’ Wolfsbane shrieks.
Meanwhile, in a living room, Strong Guy is channel surfing: ‘Channel 25 - nothing. Channel 26 - nada. Channel 27 - zilch. Channel 28 - aha! At last! A genuine comedy classic…a bit of gentle nostalgia from my “wonder” years, guaranteed to raise my…’ Guido exclaims as “Buds Bunny” appears on the television - which is suddenly destroyed as Multiple Man shoves a fist through it. ‘Oh, hi, Jamie. Feeling a little…tense, are we?’ Guido asks. ‘How can you watch this idiotic pap after all we’ve been through tonight?’ Jamie asks. ‘The blood…the burnt flesh…the suffering!’ he declares, asking Guido if he is dead inside. ‘No’ Guido replies.
‘Don’t you have a heart?’ Multiple Man asks, blood trickling from his knuckles after injuring himself shoving his fist through the television. ‘I did last time I looked’ Guido mumbles. ‘Or are you just trying to numb yourself with mindless garbage?’ Multiple Man demands. ‘Bingo!’ Guido jokes, when suddenly, ‘Stop it, Jamie!’ another dupe calls out from the doorway. ‘Another one?’ Guido asks. A Multiple Man dupe wearing a t-shirt which says “stop the hate” enters the room, and exclaims ‘I can’t stand it when you yell like that’, and points out that the Madrox is so angry. ‘Why are you always so angry? Don’t you know it hurts me when you do this? There’s enough pain in the world - without you making things worse with all your rage and bile’ he exclaims.
Madrox points a finger at the dupe and exclaims ‘And I suppose you’d rather I was like you? Keeping it all in? Suffering in noble silence?’ and tells the dupe that he makes him sick. ‘Um…fellas?’ Guido calls out, while Madrox declares that the dupe is a passive-aggressive who manipulates everyone by playing the martyr. ‘Jamie…?’ Guido calls out, while the dupe exclaims that is not true. ‘How can you say that about me?’ he asks. Suddenly, ‘Psst!’ a voice shouts from the doorway ‘Guidster! Over here!’ Guido turns and sees another dupe: ‘Please, Lord - all I wanted was to watch my cartoon in peace!’
The dupe approaches Guido and, referring to the other two, asks Guido what he is doing hanging around with those losers. ‘Let’s go out, hoist a few brew skis, pick up some babes -’ he suggests, while Madrox calls the other dupe a wimp and punches him. ‘Animal!’ the passive dupe cries out. ‘Pathetic!’ Madrox declares. ‘Brutal!’ the dupe retorts. ‘Limp-wristed’ Madrox exclaims as he shoves the dupe to the floor. ‘Over-bearing’ the dupe exclaims. Guido points out that it is late and suggests to Jamie, the dupe, that he - all of them - sleep it off. ‘Then, in the morning, we can give Doctor Samson a call. Get you guys in a little group therapy session’ Guido suggests. They leave the living room, closing the door on the squabbling Madroxes and the dupe exclaims ‘That might not be a bad idea…for them…I mean, just between you ‘n’ me, Guid-man’.
The dupe adds that those guys have been acting a little weird lately, before informing Guido that he knows a little bar over Maryland that will blow his mind. However, as they pass another room, inside, propped up in bed is the true Multiple Man - who sweats, with a panicked expression on his face as he feverishly reads “Man, Mutant and the New Humanity”.
Outside, Lorna takes a walk in the rain, telling herself that, after that encounter with Wolfsbane, nothing can cheer her up. She knows she needs to talk to Alex, but he is still with Forge. Polaris supposes that a walk in the rain is the best thing for her now, and might help clear her head a little, and admits that this whole week has been too much for her - the mess at “Donatello’s, Random’s attack, and the bombing at the Center, the worst of all. ‘So much cruelty, so much hate. I’ve got to process…make some sense of it all’.
Lorna stares down at a reflection of herself in a puddle of water and tells herself that she is sick of living in a world of meaningless divisions - ‘Human / mutant…black / white…gay / straight. You see someone lying in a pool of their own blood, eyes pleading for help…does it matter - could it ever possibly matter - what label society has put on her?’ Polaris decides that it is funny, the worse things get, the more prejudice and blind hatred I see…the more important…the more necessary…Professor Xavier’s dream seems to me. Without it, life just becomes…chaos’.
Lorna admits that things are pretty chaotic as they stand, like Rahne. ‘Something’s got to be done for her. It breaks my heart to see her so tormented. But Lorna tells herself that it is not just that, as she is ashamed to even admit that, as much as she loves Rahne, that she would do anything for her, Rahne is starting to scare her. Polaris hugs herself as she continues on through the rain, telling herself that the Genengineer’s program is starting to make Rahne more and more desperate for Alex, and more and more jealous of the love that Alex and Lorna share. ‘And that’s a recipe for disaster’ Lorna tells herself.
However, Polaris is unaware that she is being followed by armed and armored agents. ‘Target in sight’ one of them announces. ‘Remember: No permanent damage. The department wants their “weapon” in tact. Lorna hangs her had as she tells herself the other thing that has her really worried as Madrox, as since they got back from Camp Hayden he has been acting as bizarre as Rahne. ‘That nightmare with Mellancamp really -’ Lorna tells herself, before realizing that it actually started before Mellancamp, right after they got back from Genosha, when Jamie saved the mutate who was infected. ‘Oh my God! Why didn’t I think of this before? If he’s been exposed to -’ Lorna thinks to herself, when she suddenly sees several agents up ahead.
‘Initiate capture - NOW!’ one of them shouts, as they fire their weapons. ‘What the devil is going on here?’ Lorna exclaims as she coughs in the middle of the gas explosion. One of the agents announces that Polaris is magnetically levitating out of the gas range, and as Lorna flies along the pavement, ‘First Random - now this?’ she exclaims, while one of the agents orders ‘Initiate phase two!’ Lorna casts a magnetic bubble around herself and knocks the agents backwards as she exclaims ‘I don’t know who you people are - but you can tell whoever sent you p that it’s just not gonna work!’
Lorna flies higher, while two agents take fire at her. Polaris shouts that she has been a victim once too often in her lifetime. ‘And maybe it’s because I thought of myself as a victim - vulnerable…easily manipulated…dependent on other people to protect me: but those days are over! No one is ever going to victimize me again!’ she shouts. ‘Phase two! Blast it!’ one of the soldiers shouts. ‘What’s happening?’ Lorna wonders as weapons fire crackles around her. ‘Fire “imbalancers” now!’ an agent orders, and a new form of weapon is fired at her. Lorna clutches her head and realizes that there is something in their weapons, some kind of radiation waves which affect her magnetic flow and cause her to lose control over her power - as cars, trash cans, street lights and other metal objects suddenly fly up in the air around her.
‘Now - while she’s disorientated - take her out!’ an agent orders, as more energy is fired at her. Lorna clutches her head and tells herself that she is not going to let them do this, that she needs to concentrate and focus, so she can regain control and shove those radiation waves right down her attackers’ throats - and Lorna succeeds, as there is a massive display of power as she literally repels the energy at her attackers. ’But the effort was too much - I can’t -’ Lorna thinks to herself as she plunges to the rain-soaked ground below. ‘She’s down!’ one of the agents calls out. ‘Notify the department that the “weapon” has been secured’ he announces.
But, Lorna rises, ‘I wouldn’t notify them…just yet!’ Lorna exclaims. An agent stands over her and aims a weapon down at her, telling her that she hasn’t got a prayer, he suggests she surrenders. But magnetic energy crackles around Polaris as she continues to get up, telling them that it is not going to be that easy. ‘You want me…you’re gonna have to kill me. But I’ll tell you right now - that I’m gonna take as many of you with me as I - can?’ Lorna exclaims, as she suddenly finds herself in a glowing pink energy, and a voice exclaims ‘Despite the fierceness of your words, Lorna Dane - you are not a murderer. Yours is a soul too sensitive for this evil and corrupted age’. The agents look as confused as Polaris as she vanishes from sight.
Yellow smoke billows around Lorna, as a woman with long dark hair stands over her, power crackles around her, and she exclaims ‘Release it - and embrace the age to come. An age of hope for man, mutant…and the new humanity!’….