(Washington, DC, last Christmas)
When his daughter tells him that he really overdid it, the proud man replies that she’s his only granddaughter. It’s his right to spoil her rotten. To this, the mother asks back if she gets no say in the matter? That’s right, he replies. Because he, being her father – not to mention undersecretary of defense – outranks her on every level.
Putting his arm around her, the grandfather asks his daughter where that no-good, lazy husband of hers is. To this, she replies that he’s still asleep. Maybe he forgot, but it’s, like, six in the morning. Continuing to unwrap her presents, the little girl is ecstatic at receiving a walking Pretty Pony. Staying with her previous conversation, the mother tells her dad that her husband was up till two am wrapping presents. Acting incredulous at this, the grandfather asks is she means that Santa didn’t just drop everything off fully wrapped? The elves are slacking, he opines.
As grandfather and mother leave to start breakfast, the granddaughter in question considers her next, unopened present. Upon opening it, she rejoices at the baby elephant inside. Having just left the room, the grandfather is curious at the exclamation, not having remembered getting her a toy elephant. Returning to the room, he asks the little girl if he can see the toy, which she has already declared she will name “Peanuts.” Telling her that Charlie Brown will be flattered, he takes the toy and examines it more closely.
When his daughter returns, asking if everything is okay, the grandfather reiterates that he doesn’t remember buying the toy and then notices a tag affixed. He reads it aloud: “Warning: May present a choking hazard.” Declaring it weird, he remarks that it doesn’t seem to have any small parts that could be pried off and swallowed. He begins to wonder aloud how it could possibly present a choking hazard, when suddenly the plush toy comes alive, its long trunk wrapping around the undersecretary of defense’s neck, choking him.
The toy continues to choke the grandfather, even though the little girl chastises it with a “Bad peanuts! Don’t hurt grampa!” However, the toy persists until it shatters from the impact of the bullet fired from the handgun of the grandfather’s son-in-law, Steve. Calling his father-in-law by his nickname, “Hutch,” he asks if he is okay. Still holding his neck, Hutch spies a card which had been inside. On it is a message: “We want our powers back – the X-Cell.”
On a stoop across from a police station, a man in a long coat imbibes copiously from a bottle. When he is joined by another man, the first doesn’t even look up, telling the newcomer that he knew he’d be showing up. When the newcomer asks how he did, the first man remarks that it’s because he’s the world’s greatest detective. To this, the newcomer, Jamie Madrox, tells his dupe that he thought that was Batman. Nope, the dupe replies, him. He doesn’t get off on having some kid in green shorts following him around. What’s up with that?
Replying that he couldn’t say, Madrox quickly changes the subject, suggesting to his dupe that they go get some coffee. So he can sober him up? the dupe asks. He doesn’t want to absorb him while he’s drunk, because then he’ll be hammered. When Madrox replies that he’s right, the dupe rejoins that he’s always right. So declaring, he resolutely takes another drought from the bottle.
When the apparently homeless dupe offers him some, Madrox declines, remarking that bad things tend to happen when he drinks. Like sleeping with someone, or someones, he shouldn’t have? the dupe asks. Taken aback, Madrox drops his jaw and asks how he knew. Which word was unclear? the dupe asks. World’s? Greatest? Or Detective? That’s what he sent him out to becomes, after all. And he did. Crammed a lifetime’s worth of learning into a few years. And then he absorbs him and gets all the knowledge, he becomes, in reality, that which he’s only pretending to be: a detective.
When Madrox replies that that’s the plan, the dupe smiles slightly, rejoining that there’s one thing he didn’t count on: the knowledge? This is what it does to you, he says, referring to his disheveled condition. Regarding said condition, Madrox silently calls him a poor devil. Even if his “link” to his dupes hadn’t drawn him to the dupe, he could’ve smelled him a mile off. He wonders how…
Having finished the bottle, the dupe tosses it aside and finishes Madrox’s thought. He tells Madrox that he’s wondering how mastering the elegant art of investigation could possibly reduce him to this, huh? Think hard, he tells him. Put it together. He’ll wait. Doing so, Madrox tells his dupe that it’s not the techniques themselves. He found out something. Something so upsetting that he’s trying to drink himself into oblivion. “There y’go,” the dupe replies.
Continuing, he explains that he’s been chasing leads… seeing patterns where everyone else sees only chaos. He knows what’s coming. He knows about Uber. He even knows the true source of his powers. Taken aback, Madrox stutters over the name “Uber” and the connotations about his powers, but he is interrupted by the dupe, who reminds him that, when he absorbs his knowledge, he’ll know too. But, he doesn’t want to do that it him. Because he loves him so much, the thought of him knowing what he knows… He swears that he thought about killing himself so he would never find out.
To this, Madrox replies that it won’t work. A dupe died not long ago and he got his knowledge anyway. Considering this, the dupe guesses that it’s probably because he was a dupe he made since his powers started going wonky. Oh… and he knows why that happened too. When his progenitor asks why that is, the dupe replies that he’ll tell him later. Anyway, he didn’t kill himself, obviously. He hates the idea of dying pointlessly. Besides, he was still on the case. Still is.
No longer sitting on the stoop, the dupe points to the police station across the street, informing Madrox that the captain of this precinct is as dirty as they come. When a young uniformed cop found out about his mob connections and was about to go public… the captain had him killed… and smeared the young cop’s reputation to undercut any investigation. He smelled a rat. Went to the widow. Investigated. Know what he found? The captain had insulated himself too well. He knows he did it, the dupe says, but he can’t touch him. What kind of world is this, where evil triumphs and good looks on helplessly?
It’s the world they live in, Madrox replies. “What do you mean ‘we,’ paleface?” the dupe replies, approaching the group of officers exiting the precinct. Without another word, the dupe produces a revolver from his coat and opens fire at the man in the center of the group, making a clean headshot. “GUN!!” one of the uniformed officers shouts, reaching for his own service weapon.
Across the street, Jamie Madrox’s mind races. For half a second, his mind locks up at what he has just witnessed. He begins to stretch out his arm to absorb the dupe, drunk or no, and then hesitates, realizing that, if the dupe vanishes into him, the copes – not understanding what they’ve just seen – will think he’s the shooter. That split instant of indecision… is all it takes.
It’s a stupid joke, he then thinks, recalling his dupe’s last words. A kid’s joke. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are trapped in a valley, surrounded by hostile Apaches on all sides. Lone Rangers turns to Tonto and says, “Looks like we are in deep trouble now, old friend.” Tonto stares at him and says, “What do you mean ‘we,’ paleface?” His last words were a dumb joke, Madrox thinks, and he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so he compromises and screams. No one hears him over the fusillade, as the officers open fire on the dupe.
The officers all approach him carefully, funs leveled. He’s bleeding out of about two dozen holes, his brains are leaking onto the sidewalk… and the act like he’s still a threat. It’s ludicrous. He’d laugh if he wasn’t crying like a little girl. The dupe knew this would happen. He wanted it. If he’d just wanted to ice the captain, he was smart enough to do it without getting caught. Which means… what? That he didn’t want to live with being a murderer? Or, more likely, he just figured it was a chance to kill two birds with one stone: one bird being the dirt cop… the other being himself.
Madrox’s melancholic thoughts are interrupted by the chiming of his mobile phone. On the other end is Layla, back at X-Factor Investigations. Hearing his voice, she asks if he’s okay, remarking that he sounds like he’s crying. To this, Madrox asks back if she doesn’t already know. That’s her thing, right? She knows stuff. Confirming, she reiterates just stuff. Everybody knows stuff. She just knows stuff that other people don’t. But she doesn’t know everything. If she did, she’d be all, “Hi, I’m Layla Miller. I know everything.”
As she begins to elaborate, the growing annoyed Madrox instructs her to tell him why the hell she’s calling or he’s hanging up. Apologizing almost absent-mindedly, she tells him that he’s got to come back. He’s needed there. When Jamie asks if something happened, Layla replies that, by the time he gets there, yeah. Now more annoyed than before, he tells Layla that she’s really fraying his nerves, but she just replies that he’ll get used to it. A plane ticket home is waiting for him at the Detroit Metro Airport. When he quips back that she knows he’s in Detroit because she “knows stuff,” Layla corrects that it’s because she has a locator beacon in his com device. Calling him a doofus, she hangs up.
Chasing after her down the sidewalk, Rictor calls out to Rahne. Finally catching up, he asks if she was pretending he didn’t hear him, to which she answers bluntly that, even when she’s in human form, she still has wolf-level hearing. Surprised at this, he asks since when. Since recently she replies. And she “dinna wanna talk about it.”
Turning back over her shoulder, she coldly asks what he wants. Luckily, Rictor’s response is less so. He tells her she just seemed king of out of it lately and he thought she might like to talk. Continuing on her previous path, she asks him, if he happened to be in a chatty mood, why not go off with his best friend… Quicksilver? When he asks what that’s supposed to mean, she tells him that, in case he hasn’t noticed, Pietro is evil. To this, he reminds Rahne that there’s plenty of people who think they’re evil. Appearances can be deceiving. People say that a lot, she rejoins. Funny thing… ninety-nine percent of the time, things are exactly what they appear to be. Yeah, he replies back, eighty-five of all statistics are made up. So there.
Now crossing the street, Rahne tells the following Rictor that he’s impossible, to which he retorts that she’s dodging the questions. She’s not dodging anything, she replies. She’s telling him flat out it’s none of his business. Having had enough, Rictor grabs her by the arm to stop her, much to Rahne’s protests. To her glaring eyes, Rictor tells her that she can be honest with him. They have a history…
Cutting him off, she points out that history, by definition, is in the past, all right? Undeterred, he asks back if she’s really just upset because Madrox didn’t think she was good enough to sleep with? Seeing the look of shock in Rahne’s eyes, Rictor immediately realizes his mistake. He has unwittingly told a truth. Before he can begin to stammer through an apology, the two of them hear a voice calling for help. As Rahne takes off to help whoever is in trouble, Rictor thanks God for the interruption.
Turning the corner to an alley, Rahne finds two men accosting a third. While one has a pistol aimed, his partner has the victim on the ground, holding his hands up to protect against the next thrown fist. Before it can come, however, a roar fills the air as the lupine form of Wolfsbane launches itself through the air. The man with the pistol manages a single shot before being knocked back by a flying kick. Meanwhile, as the gunman’s partner begins to pull out his own gun, he is set upon by Rictor, who grabs his hands from behind and uses leverage to him from raising his arms. Rictor then follows up his maneuver by head-butting the man into unconsciousness.
Still in her lupine form, Rahne snarls to Rictor that she didn’t need his help. Ignoring her words, Rictor instead addresses her thoughts and begins to apologize about the crack from earlier. Rahne, however, will have none of it and tells him to save his sorry. Through canine teeth, she then changes subjects and asks where the wee boy went, the one they were mugging. Taking the opportunity to change subjects, Rictor replies that he lit out, running down the far end of the alley.
Suddenly, Rictor’s demeanor turns to frustration and he begins to curse. When Rahne asks what it is now, Rictor reminds her of how they kind of punched and kicked the two men while they were in mid-sentence, so they never had a chance to finish what they were saying? Well, they’re federal agents, he tells her, holding up the FBI badge from one. He’s thinking they might be worth a listen.
Checking the other’s ID, Rahne finds similar credentials. To this, Rictor continues his lamentations. Does she have any idea how bad they’ve stepped in it? When Rahne offers the possibility that they’re fake, Rictor asks why. So they could buy drinks at the local federal agent bar? To this, Rahne suggests that they just get out of there and be thankful they didn’t have anyone acting backup for…
Rahne’s words trail as she and Rictor are told to freeze by armed and armored cape-killer agents, who have surrounded the pair from both ends of the alley and from above. The lead agent informs the two that, if they so much as twitch, they’ll blow them to hell and gone. When Rictor reminds Rahne of the whole “appearances can be deceiving” thing, she just tells him to shut up.
In the kitchen of X-Factor Investigations, Guido tells Layla that it’s not bad. What flavor of ice cream is it? Reclined against the refrigerator, she replies that it’s called Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity. Glancing over his shoulder, Guido reminds her that he’s got an image to protect. He can’t be eating no ice cream with a name like that. When she then replies that it’s called Smelly Armpits, he tells her that it’s better. Not perfect, but better.
Smiling slightly, Layla tells hum that, if he likes it, she got more. It was on sale. There’s plenty in the freezer. When he asks how much “plenty” is, she opens the freezer to reveal carton upon carton. Taken aback, Guido asks if she’s expecting an army. A moment later, an army of Capekillers burst through the ceiling and wall of the kitchen.
Immediately, Guido raises his hands, dropping his spoon in the process. The leader of the squad, his rifle aimed at Guido, orders him not move. He’s under suspicion of working with terrorists to overthrow the government. A short distance away, Layla holds out a carton of Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity ice cream to another Capekiller and asks if he would care to try her Smelly Armpits. The rest of the squad is at a loss on how to reply.
Arriving at the outskirts of Mutant Town, Jamie Madrox stares in gaping confusion at the barbed wire fence surrounding his section of town. Speaking to no one in particular, he asks if he fell asleep and woken up as Snake Plissken. Emerging from the crowd of people also looking inward, a towering man places his hand on Madrox’s shoulder and tells him to come with him and his partner. When Madrox asks who he would be, the man replies that he’s the one instructing him to come with them. A lady wants to talk with him. Oh, well, Madrox quips, he always as time for a lady.
As the two escort him to a stretched limo, Madrox informs the two that, he just wants to warn them, if they’re about whisk him off to the Oscars, they need to stop and pick up his tux. Upon entering the vehicle, he quickly realizes this is not to be the case. Recognizing the other occupant, Val Cooper, he laments that they told him it was a lady! Crossing her arms in annoyance, Val tells Madrox that he’s a riot, to which Madrox quips back that it looks to him like the real riot is outside.
Getting to business, he asks what Val Cooper is doing mixed up in this? Things get to quiet over at the Office of National Emergency? Replying that she wishes, Val hands Madrox a folder. Edwin Hutchinson, she begins, the undersecretary of defense, was almost killed last Christmas by a toy. Considering this, Madrox suggest that she go nuke FAO Schwartz and call it a day. Why is she hassling mutant and, oh yes… him?
As Madrox begins flipping through the folder, Val explains. The attack was masterminded by a home-grown terrorist organization called the X-Cell. Apparently, they’re all former mutants. They’re attacking government agencies, representatives, mostly connected to the military. Their beef, she explains when Madrox asks, is that believe the government is behind the Decimation. When Madrox response incredulously, Val replies why not. When AIDS first hit, speculation was it was cooked up in a government warfare lab. Hell, some people still believe that.
Pulling out a photo from the folder, Jamie asks who it is. The ringleader, Val answers. Name’s Elijah Cross. When Madrox asks if the specs are a typo, his height being three foot six, she confirms. They’re searching for him. To this, Madrox suggests they try looking down.
Actually, Val continues, not rising to the quip, they had him. But two people helped him get away. They caught them, though. When Jamie suggests that they ask them where he went, she replies that they tried. But Mr. Rictor and Ms. Sinclair claimed ignorance. Turning away, now understanding his involvement, Madrox replies that this day’s just getting better and better.
Pressing her now apparent advantage, Val tells Madrox that he needs to do something for her. Does it involve saving a cheerleader? he asks. No, she replies. It involves finding Elijah and busting the X-Cell permanently. And since they believe they’re hiding in Mutant Town… he’s going to help them. Or else.
After a knock at this door, it occupant opens his to behold a youth, about three foot six. Addressing him as “mister,” the young man asks the occupant to help him. He may be the only one who can. Replying that he’s happy to be of service, the occupant asks the young man to not call him “mister.” Call him “Pietro.”