Jamie Madrox sits at a table in the local bar known as the Power Plant, drinking from a sloppily poured drink. As he downs the last of what remains in his glass, avoiding the three ice cubes within, he ponders the word “Lonely.” Mockingly, he muses that it’s the state of being alone, from the Middle English, combining the words “all” and “one.” Kinda sucks when “one” and “all”… are the same. Interrupting this thought, as well as punctuating it, the dupe who also sits at the table wonders aloud if they two of them – both Jamie Madroxes – had… he knows… with each other, would that constitute actual… you know…
Regarding the dupe with an incredulous stare, the Madrox prime folds his arms and turns his head the opposite direction. Then again, he thinks, there’s something to be said for being alone. It’s a powerful emotion, though… loneliness. It’s not mankind’s natural state of being. They’re used to huddling together in groups… for mutual protection… for a sense of community… for warmth. Sure, there are about who prefer their solitude… hermits and such. But you have to think that living that way for an extended period… it can make you nuts.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on a frozen, wind-swept terrain, there exists a cave. Deep within its structure sits a man on a throne of ice. He is clad in black, form fitting clothes, except for a buckled leather belt, two armored shoulder plates and wrappings which cover where his boots connect with his lower legs. Likewise wearing black gloves, his entire body is covered save for the area shrouded by the black hood covering his face. From beneath that hood, his right eye flares with a crimson hue. Reclining on his frozen throne, he pleads for someone to go away. All of them, he then adds. Just shut up… for a few minutes… Is that… too much to ask?
However, though in truth the hooded man is alone, the chamber before him is filled with phantoms of a host of people. Male, female, young, old – of all shapes, creeds and types of dress. Their thoughts echo in the chamber in brief snippets. One pleads for their life, another worries if someone will call them, another worries about their job. All of these and more, the man attempts to remove from his mind. Leaving his throne, he walks to a cluster of boxes, one of which is already open. Removing a bottle of pills from one, he opens it and pours more than half a dozen into his palm. A moment later, the man tosses them down his throat. Slowly, the sound of the voices decreases more and more, until the man is alone in the vast and now empty chamber of ice.
At X-Factor’s building, Nicole asks Layla what she meant by “waiting for.” She means, Layla explains, that Nicole is looking out the window like she’s waiting to see something. Her palm pressed against the glass, Nicole stares wide-eyed at the landscape of lights beyond. She replies that Layla that she’s just… taking in the city. It’s… so different from Pairs.
To this, Layla rejoins that it’s not that different. The buildings, sure, but people… People are more alike than you’d think. When Nicole then begins to leave, Layla asks where she’s going. When she replies the bathroom, Layla reminds her to be sure to hold the toilet handle down. Otherwise stuff comes back up. Thanking her as she leaves, Nicole adds that it’s nice to know she’s watching out for her. No problem, Layla replies with a slight smile that promptly disappears once Nicole does. “Little creep,” she mutters.
Downstairs, Jamie Madrox sheepishly says “hi,” to Theresa and Monet, interrupting their respective book and magazine. Bluntly, each returns his greeting and then returns to their reading. Taking a moment to consider what this means, Jamie bites the bullet and asks if they are okay. The look he receives shows him otherwise. Hardly the look of love, he thinks. Jamie’s mind races. He tries to remember that they’re the injured parties. Dupe or not, bottom line, he two-timed them. He needs to remain cool. Everyone is an adult there and if they can just handle matters on a mature level…
“What the hell do you want from me, huh?” he suddenly yells. “I’m sorry okay!? I’m sorry! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!” Entering the room, oblivious to what he has walked into, Guido smiles innocently, asking what’s happening. He was watching TV upstairs, but this seems far more interesting.
Ignoring Guido, Jamie sits down on the couch and addresses Theresa and Monet again, though this time with a calmer demeanor. Apologetically, Jamie admits that he knows he screwed things up big time. He gets that. He can’t undo it. But he… He’s just trying to be honest. He misses them. He misses being friends. He misses feeling like they can count on each other.
To this, Theresa tells Jamie not to be ridiculous. They can still count on each other. If someone were… she doesn’t know… trying to shove a knife in his back, she’d stop him. And she knows Monet feels the same way, right, Monet? When Monet does not reply immediately, Theresa repeats her name inquisitively. Finally speaking up, Monet asks Jamie bluntly which of them was better in bed. As an astounded Theresa reels at this, Guido leans in to Jamie. “Danger, Will Robinson,” he whispers. “No kidding,” Jamie silently muses. Resolute, Monet presses on. She reminds Jamie that he said he wanted to be honest. She’s testing that. If he’s honest with her, she’ll forgive him.
Jamie Madrox does not immediately answer, but his thoughts speak to him. He realizes that Rictor said something to her. Even if he didn’t, she’s a telepath. She’ll be able to sense it. And if he’s honest, then Theresa will never speak to him again. Lord, please somebody bail him out…
Answering Jamie prayers, Rahne yells to Monet, asking how dare she. She heard what she was saying and… echhh!!! To this, Monet counters to Rahne, mocking that she’s weighing in like she’s the expert on sex. “Don’t make me laugh.” Angered further, Rahne counters that she knows more than she thinks. “How?” Monet smiles. Watching “after school specials?” Yelling for Monet to shut up, Rahne adds that she thinks it’s demeaning that she’s put Jamie on the spot like that. God as her witness, sometimes she doesn’t understand any of them.
All right, all right! Monet yells, telling Rahne “down girl” like an animal. She’s got this dog-breath when she’s like that and it makes her… A sudden sensation of nausea coming over her, Monet’s hands begin to cover her mouth as she literally takes flight to the bathroom down the hall. Madrox, Guido, Rahne and Theresa, all dumfounded, peer down the hall from around the corner.
Elsewhere in Mutant Town, a door of light appears in the street, arcs of electricity emanating from its corners and sides. From within, the man clad in black appears, gusts of artic air wafting at his feet. However, the man’s random point of arrival is not one of good fortune, at least not for the driver of the tractor trailer that impacts upon him a moment later. Though unharmed himself, the man’s immovability crumbles the cab of the truck, causing its driver to fly through the windshield and impact on the pavement beyond. Taking a moment to regard the bleeding man, the man clad in black calls him an idiot… and then begins to shrink ever-so slightly. Nothing more to be said or done, he departs.
A short while later, the man finds himself standing outside X-Factor’s building, specifically in the alley beneath the bedroom in which Nicole is sleeping. Seemingly sensing his presence, she awakens and then looks out the window to find him staring up at her. Silently, they regard each other for a few moments, before a slight smile crosses her lips.
Elsewhere in the building, Rictor sits on his bed, his back against the wall and his arms crossed above his knees, which he has pulled close to his chest. He stares forward with eyes that do not seem to see. Entering the room, Rahne holds a tray with a plate and glass on it. She explains that the whole noise downstairs… turned out that Jamie, Theresa and Monet were having it out about… he knows… the whole sex thing.
When Rictor does not respond, she continues. Guess that’s the danger of relationships in the workplace, she opines. Believe her, she’ll never make that mistake. Again, no response. Anyway, she continues again, she thought she’d check back with him. Maybe get some food into him. He’s hardly had anything to eat today, so… And after what Quicksilver put him through… he needs to be building up his strength so she…
Finally responding, Rictor knocks aside the tray that Rahne was placing on the end of the bed, its contents, a BLT and glass of milk, onto the floor. Rather than becoming angry, Rahne becomes even more subdued, softly saying his name. When he tells her to leave him alone, his hands covering his eyes, she refuses. Looking up at her, Rictor’s eyes are filled with tears. He had it back! he tells her. Does she get that? His powers! In his grasp! He had hope! For the first time in… And it got trashed! There’s no hope for him! For any of them! It’s donoe! The whole mutant race, they’re finished. And he’s… He used to be a part of the Earth, and now he;s alone, and he can’t ever…
Sitting next to Rictor on the bed, Rahne places her hand on his shoulder and tells him it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. When he replies that it won’t, Rahne remains resolute, moving her arms around his shoulder and drawing closer. It will… she continues. She doesn’t know how but… he has to have faith. “Yer not alone, Ric… ye…” Her voice trailing, both of their lips meet in a slight kiss. When they part, Rahne and Rictor’s eyes meet briefly, their thoughts conveyed by expression. A moment later, they kiss again, this one more of passion than before. Again, they part, voicing their thoughts by their eyes.
Moving away, Rahne stands and walks to the door. She stands there a moment, her hand on the door… and then closes it. Walking back to the bed, she removes her shirt, wearing nothing but her sweat pants and a cross which dangles from her neck. Climbing atop him, Rahne begins to kiss Rictor passionately, which he returns in kind.
The next day, Guido meets Val Cooper at a local diner. He’s there, he says. What does she want? To this, Val mocks the bluntness. What, no swelling on old times? “Which old times?” he asks. The old times like the other day, when her people invaded Mutant Town? Or the older times when he was a government stooge and she was his boss? Hardly insulted, Val raises her eyebrows and asks back if that is how he sees the old days. She’s a little disappointed.
To this, Guido rejoins that, to tell the truth, he liked it better then. Asked what he means by “it,” he replies that “it” means that one could work as a superguy for the government and it was of your own free will… as opposed to be “licensed.” It’s only one short step from that to an enforced draft for superguys. When she replies that that would never happen, Guido replies that that’s how stuff that could never happen happens… ‘cause people are too busy saying it couldn’t.
Changing the mood of the conversation, a smiling waitress arrives at their table, asking with a “y’all” how the two are doing this morning. Replying that “we all” are fine, he asks the same back. “Terrific!” she replies. What can she get them to start. Val order a coffee, back, to which Guido follows with ordering a beer, whatever they have on tap. Asked by Val if it’s a little early in the morning to be drinking, Guido replies that he learned it from Jamie. He’s their noir expert, so he follows his lead.
Returning to their previous subject, Guido suggests that they cut to the chase. How much is she offering him? Taken aback, Val stammers for a moment before admitting that she’s impressed. How did he know? Arms crossed, Guido explains that she probably figured he’s the go-to guy for what she wants. When Val begins to admit he’s right, Guido adds that she also figures that since he’s done some skuzzy job in his time, he’d go for this. To this, Val replies that they are the O*N*E hadn’t thought of it as skuzzy but…
Interrupting, Guido angrily states that they want him to spy on X-Factor for them. What else would she call it? She figures he can be bought. Well, guess what, Ms. Cooper? It doesn’t matter how much money she’s got… Though Val tries to interrupt, Guido continues. ‘Cause there ain’t enough in the world t’make him spy on his pals, and if she thinks he’s just some blork who’d…
Finally getting a word in with a shout of his name, Val bluntly tells him that they want him to be sheriff! Still indignant, Guido continues his diatribe for another moment until Val’s words sink in. As his face contorts into confusion, so does his indignantly outstretched finger curl in uncertainty. Technically, Val continues, pressing her advantage, “sheriff” wouldn’t be his exact title. “Special deputy” is more accurate… Effectively, he’d be the head of law enforcement for the district. A moment later when the waitress returns with his beer, Guido sheepishly asks her to take it back and give him an OJ, would she? Thanks.
In his office at X-Factor HQ, Jamie is thanked by his guests for seeing them at short notice. To this, he tells Mr. and Mrs. Tyler than it’s no problem. When Mrs. Tyler then asks if it’s okay that they don’t have powers, Madrox replies of course. So many people were depowered that they shouldn’t feel…
Interrupting, Mr. Tyler explains that he and his wife, June… they never had powers. Charlie and her aren’t mutants, his wife adds. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a mutant, be then appends. Yes, she agrees. They know mutants don’t choose it. They’re just born that way. Smiling slightly incredulously, Theresa tells the couple that that’s… very broadminded of them.
Actually, folks, Madrox interjects, most of their clients have been just “regular” folks like them. Usually their cases have some connections to mutant concerns… Oh, their does, Mrs. Tyler interjects. It involves these two children, her husband adds, passing a photo of two children, a boy and a girl. Their grandkids. Molly and Wally… fraternal twins. On the other side of Madrox, Monet chimes in, guessing that they want them to beat up the parents for giving the kids rhyming names. Smiling slightly, Theresa asks her to knock it off.
Continuing their explanation, Mr. Tyler explains that they’re their girl Abby’s kids. They have to understand, Mrs. Tyler says. Abby wasn’t always this way. Things changed since she married Roy, Mr. Tyler then adds.
Confused, Theresa tells the couple that she’s not following… However, Madrox does slightly, announcing that he recognizes the kids. Where has he seen them…? Suddenly, remembering, he says that they are the “Purity Singers.” Taking another glance at the photo, Theresa asks if he means those kids who go around as part of the Purity Movement… Singing about the joy of a world without mutants, Madrox finishes. About how M-Day was God’s will and soon the last of them will be dead. Sounds charming, Monet quips. Do they perform show tunes as well?
To this, Mr. Tyler begins to beam, explaining that they actually have this wonderful Sondheim medley… When his wife then informs him that she thinks she was being sarcastic, Mr. Tyler looks away in embarrassment.
As she said, Mrs. Tyler says, rising from her chair. They didn’t raise their Abby to be so… so prejudiced, but then she married Roy and he brought her into this… this cult of hatred. There’s no other way to say it. They use the children for propaganda purposes… It’s terrible, and they told Abby so, so she cut them out of her life.
But… it’ their kids, Madrox reminds her. He’s not sure what they want them to do… Pulling a piece of paper from her purse, Mrs. Tyler explains that they sued for visitation rights, and the court granted them. But Abby and Roy just… just ignore the court order. And they move around the country so much, there’s not much that can be done to enforce it. In the end, it’s just paper and they… They need something for than paper, Mr. Tyler says. Someone to help them see their grandchildren. They need someone with some… muscle, he guesses he’d say. Maybe even undo some of the damage, Mrs. Tyler then adds. When she thinks of those beautiful children… alone in that… that cult… with no one to provide positive influence…
Accepting to papers, Madrox glances at them as he asks both “Ms. Cassidy” and “Ms. Saint-Croix” how they would like to get their hands dirty. After both reply affirmatively with a smile, he tells them to go to it. Laying hands on his shoulder, Theresa thanks her “boss,” followed by Monet telling him she appreciates it. Silently noting that that sounded sincere, Madrox wonders if there’s a chance of everything returning to normal – or at least as close to normal as anything ever is around there.
Elsewhere, Layla takes a bowl from the cabinet and fills it with cereal and fat free milk. She is joined by Nicole, who is holding a plastic bag containing something sealed within. Grasping the back with cleaning gloves, Nicole asks Layla if she remembers that thing she said about the toilet having trouble. When Layla replies between bites that she does, Nicole states that this morning she guesses someone else around there wasn’t paying attention, ‘cause something they flushed came back up. When Layla counter with a “so?” Nicole tells her that she put it in this plastic bag for her to look at. To this, Layla promptly drops her spoon into her bowl of cereal with a plop.
Turning to Nicole, Layla tells her she’s got to be kidding. Is being that gross a French thing? Why in God’s name would she want to look at… Seeing the object within the plastic bag, Layla’s demeanor changes as an “uh-oh” passes her lips. Holding it out, Nicole asks if it’s what she thinks it is. Told in turn that it depends on what she thinks it is, Nicole answers “a pregnancy test.” Yeah, that’s it, Layla replies. “And the little plus sign on it?” Nicole asks. It means, Layla rejoins, something happening that she doesn’t know about… and that’s never good.
Later, Jamie Madrox finds himself at the counter of a very empty Power Plant bar. Considering his bottle of beer, he notes that drinking early in the day… by himself… That’s probably not what would be considered good. But, hey… drinking alone is better than not drinking at all, right?
Suddenly, Madrox’s thoughts are interrupted by the voice of another, echoing his thoughts exactly. Immediately surmising the meaning, Madrox voices that the newcomer that read is mind, Mr.…? Huber, the man clad in back replies. Josef Huber. And they two of them, he then adds… they’re going to becomes great allies. They’re rather alike in a way. He’s always been… an isolationist. Being alone… it’s a terrible way to live… doesn’t he think?
The frozen wind sweeping through his course fur, the Beast tells the knight of Wundagore that he walked all the way up this mountain to see the High Evolutionary. He’s not turning around until they’ve talked.
Yes, he is, the knight, a anthropomorphized Bengal tiger, replies. Otherwise, he – and those who travel with him – will die. In reply, the Beast asks the knight, as well as the others who flank her, whether they have asked their lord and master if he’s prepared to talk to him. He is the creator, the knight replies. And they have standing orders. How long do they think they’ll stand, the Beast retorts, if the X-Men decide to pay them a call? Bring them, she replies. They’ll see.
As his guides behind him begin to quake in fear, the Beast turns to their leader, Stanis. He instructs him to tell his men to turn around and begin the descent. He’ll be right behind them. Returning his attention to the knight, the Beast asks her if White Tiger was a relative of her by any chance. Replying that she was her blood-sister, the knight asks why. Now speaking through bared teeth, the Beast replies that she would have bitten off her own tongue before she threatened unarmed men.
Reeling at this for a moment, the knight’s shock turns to rage and she leaps at the Beast with a savage roar. The knight manages to draw first blood, slashing the Beast’s shoulder with her claws, and then topples him onto his back. Perched atop him, the Beast at the edge of a crag of rock, the knight snarls that the Beast impugns her honor. She’ll write his epitaph with his own entrails. To this, the Beast suggests that she let him help her with that… He follows his quip with a right cross, followed by a left. “Big M, little C.
Before the startled knight can mount a counter attack, a voice rings out over the frozen terrain, calling “enough.” A moment later, the armored visage of the High Evolutionary appears bfore the Beast and the assembled knights. Addressing the knight as “Snow Queen,” he orders her to stop this now and to tell her knights to stand down. They are to let Doctor McCoy’s companions depart in peace. They’ll talk alone.
A short while later, the Beast is escorted into the laboratory of the High Evolutionary. Addressing him as Professor Wyndham, the Beast apologizes for his trespass on his privacy. However, the urgency of the situation has played all kinds of hell with his manners. Glancing back from his experiment which currently focuses his attention, the High Evolutionary asks the Beast if reminding him of his human name is part of a deliberate strategy. He is the Evolutionary now. Wyndham is a fading memory.
Changing subjects, the Evolutionary asks the McCoy to state his purpose, a request with which the Beast immediately complies. The mutant rate, he begins, his race, is about to become extinct. There are only two hundred of them left. If anyone knows how to remedy the situation, he tells the Evolutionary, he’d say it was him.
Assuming that were true, the Evolutionary replies, why would he wish to remedy it. Extinction has its place in the natural scheme of things. To this, McCoy asks if they are talking in cliché now. He thought he’d stick to English, if the Evolutionary doesn’t mind. Wanda Maximoff, he continues, reshaped reality by a single act of will. Using chaos magic – which isn’t exactly a natural process.
To this, the Evolutionary counters that it’s no tragedy. Nobody died, beyond a few unfortunate souls. No, the Beast admits, but lives were ripped out of their courses. Their futures were stolen from them. They’ve become an irrelevance. The cauterized stump of a species. And might not Wanda Maximoff, the Evolutionary couonters, still be the agent through which nature acts? Like the comet that destroyed the dinosaurs, like the great plague, or the sundering of continents?
Fangs bared in anger, the Beast retorts that she was a tortured woman who carried the burden of a terrible power. What spoke through her wasn’t nature, or fate, or God, or anything else. It was just her own suffering. Moving his hand forward in frustration, the Beast’s hand passes through the Evolutionary’s body. Cursing, he announces that he’s not even there, is he? That’s how little this means to him! He is elsewhere, the Evolutionary admits. And occupied with many things. But he’s monitored his research, he tells the Beast. And he cannot see it leading to success.
As the Evolutionary turns back to his project, the Beast’s demeanor turns more conciliatory. If he had the answers already, he admits, he wouldn’t have come. But he needs more than that. What is he doing wrong? Aiming at the flames perhaps, the Evolutionary replies. Treating the symptoms. Barking his reply, the Beast counters that he’s not interested in poetic metaphors. Tell him straight. What should he do? What should he be looking at? Where would he start?
His first though would be to go to the source, the Evolutionary replies. But that is impossible there. And, since magic created, the crisis, science may not avail to end it.
As the Snow Queen comes to lead the Beast away, he asks if that’s all the Evolutionary has to offer him. It’s better to stay where you are, he replies, than to embark on grand voyages to all the wrong destinations. That’s what he told his colleague, when he came there. But, like him, he found the truth unacceptable. Confused, the Beast asks what colleague. What is he talking about?
Ignoring him, the Evolutionary instructs Snow Queen to see Doctor McCoy to the outer gates. His business with him is concluded. As the image of the Evolutionary disappears, the Beast yells to him that he was a man once. And he’s not a god yet, even if he thinks he is. Help them! If he’s got anything at all that he can use… Interrupting, the knight accompanying Snow Queen pleads with Doctor McCoy, reminding him that his audience is over. The subsequent walk to the outer gates is in silence.
Once the Beast has passed through the force field of the outer gate and is once more in the frozen world beyond, the Snow Queen speaks again. She tells him that life is lent to them for as long as they’re fit to receive it. And those who can’t adapt, perish. When sarcastically asks back if that’s a fact, she replies that it is. It is a fact.
As he walks away, he final words cling to the Beast. “Wherever you go in the world, you walk on the bones of dead races… crumbled into dust.”