The neighborhood is in chaos, cars askew in the street, which is ringed by fire. Between the flames and cars, people run for safety. Among their number is Jamie Madrox, who has the arm of an elderly man slung over his shoulder. Reassuring him, he tells the “old fella” to hold on. He’ll get him someplace that’ll help him. When the guy replies to “old fella” that his name is Nathan Patrofsky, Madrox rejoins that he knew a guy named Nathan. Maybe they’re related, the present Nathan humorously suggests.
Changing subjects as they continue, Nathan tells Madrox that his Shirley… she wanted to move. Said there was nothing there for them. When Madrox asks if it’s his wife, Nathan corrects late wife. To this, Jamie apologizes, only to have Nathan dismiss him, pointing out that it wasn’t his fault. Glancing off to a storefront they are passing, Madrox calls to a group of people looting the shop. He asks for a little help, only to be emphatically told “Screw you!”
In despair, Nathan pleads with Madrox that he’s a burden – to leave him. Funny thing about burdens, Madrox replies. They can be shared. With a stamp of is foot, Madrox creates a dupe (albeit one depressed by the situation around them). Astonished that his benefactor is in fact a mutant, Nathan asks if the “M” on his face is a mutant pride tattoo. When Madrox rejoins that is was forced on him, Nathan replies with an “ah” and points out that so was his.
Instantly understanding, Madrox finally notices numbered tattoo on the old man’s right arm. Affirming Madrox’s question of a concentration camp, Nathan replies that that’s why he stayed there. Because if they don’t stay together… stay strong… they’ll be right back in the camps. Shirley, he continues, didn’t believe him. They can’t trust the people in charge. They have their own agendas. They can only trust each other. Never forget. If they forget, it will happen again. There’s no one else but them… no one…
Suddenly, Nathan collapses and Madrox moves to catch and lay the old man careful onto the street. Snarking to his last words, the dupe quips that it wasn’t too melodramatic. He forgot to say there is another Skywalk… Not even allowing the dupe finish, Madrox immediately reabsorbs the dupe and returns his attention to Nathan. However, before he can continue, a blinding light causes him to shield his eyes. A moment later, Jamie Madrox beholds the cavalry, having arrived in the form of an ambulances and fire truck, each accompanied by their staff.
As each of the first responders leap into action, through their number strides Val Cooper, director of O*N*E, her hands in her pockets and her hair perfectly coiffed. Noting nary a Sentinel in sight, Madrox silently guessed that he should be flattered. Or annoyed, he then reconsiders. Maybe she feels they just aren’t a big enough threat to warrant a big honkin’ robot.
In short order, Madrox explains to her in quick, broad strokes what happened, to which Val replies a simple “I figured it was something like that.” However, when Jamie excuses himself, informing her that he’s riding in the ambulance with Mr. Patrofsky, Val relies “not so much.” This said, Madrox quickly finds himself cut off by FBI agents, all armed and in armor. Though surrounded, Madrox asks Val if she thinks he can’t get around these guys, to which Val deftly sidesteps the question, noting that she doesn’t think he wants to add “fugitive” to his resume.
Pressing, Val asks Jamie where his team is. When he replies helping people – that’s what they do, Val asks with a scowl if he means when he’s not getting them killed. To this, Madrox replies that that’s not fair, but Val rejoins that, though she knows, he can’t tell her it’s not accurate.
After a moment of shocked silence, Val softens and apologizes. When Madrox then asks if she’s admitting she’s wrong, Val denies, replying that she knows she’s right. But she said it just to hurt his feelings and that was beneath her. She then waves for Madrox to follow her to his office, which seems to be one of the few buildings in the Middle East Side that’s still standing. At first, Madrox rebuffs the idea, pointing out that they still have people to help. However, Val just as quickly points out that rescue services is on it. They mere humans are getting good at handling emergencies. Lord knows they’ve had plenty of practice.
Now, again showing her soft side, placing her hand on Madrox’s shoulder, Val asks him please… for once… just for a change of place… Don’t be a jerk.
Considering this as Val leaves him, Madrox wonders to himself who the hell she thinks she is. Well, a voice replies to his unspoken question, she probably thinks she’s his old boss, from back in the days when X-Factor was a government sponsored team. And maybe she thinks that she has his best interests at heart.
In shock, Madrox reels for a moment at the sight of Layla Miller. No longer the girl he left in a concentration camp in the future, Layla is clad in her near-trademark odd ensemble. Pink shoes with striped stockings and a skirt. A butterfly necklace which hangs low to her stomach from her neck, which is framed by her blonde hair, pulled up behind her. Turning to the departing Val, ignoring the impossibility of Layla’s presence, Madrox asks back to his missing teammate how Val could possible know what his best interests are. She’s not one of them. “One of us. One of us,” Layla memes, quoting a movie. Receiving a sarcastic “that’s cute,” Layla quips that she can’t help it. She was born that way.
Still staring at Val, Madrox watches as his former employer turns around and calls out to him, asking with a “please” for him to follow. There’s lots to talk about. Placing his hands in his pockets, Madrox relents and follows with a “Fine. Whatever.” He does not even turn around as Layla bids him farewell with an enigmatic “later.”
In short order, Val and Madrox arrive at X-Factor’s building, which as Val noted has been left standing. Part of Madrox sees it as symbolic, as they super-types go from one crisis to another relatively unscathed, while the rest of the world pays the price. But it’s probably less thematic than that, as it is more likely the twisted sense of humor of Arcade, who planted the charges. Entering the building first, Val calls out if anyone is there. When she quickly finds a gun pointed at her temple, she decides to take that as a “yes.”
Moving in behind Val, Madrox calls for Rictor, the wielder of the firearm in question. However, Rictor remains resolute, informing Madrox that Val’s an android. Another one of Arcade’s androids. When Madrox tries to convince him otherwise, Rictor replies emphatically for Madrox to look at her. Check the hair: not a strand out of place. And the eyes. Soulless, dead inside. To this, Madrox reminds Rictor that Val works for the government. After a moment’s consideration, he lowers the weapon, admitting that that explains the eyes. Rubbing his own eyes in exasperation, Madrox asks where everyone else is. After replying the rec room, Rictor then decides to add that Val’s hair still creeps him out, though.
Already out of earshot, Val enters the rec room, only to find Guido, Money and Siryn all seemingly asleep on their couches and chairs. The only sound comes from the iPod stereo, which plays Daniel Powter’s song, “Bad Day.”
Actually not asleep at all, Guido sits up and turns off the stereo and asks Val what’s up. Is she there with another job offer that she’s gonna take back? Quipping back in turn, Val replies that, as a matter of fact, she does have an offer. Of a sort. Though keeping her eyes closed, Siryn asks what sort. The sort they can’t refuse? Something like that, Val rejoins.
Now joined by Madrox and Rictor, Val continues. They should face it: with the other teams scattered, X-Factor has become a huge target. “X Marks the Spot,” so to speak. They can’t keep functioning in public in the middle of the city. There’s too much risk. Too much danger.
Still reclining her head as if asleep, Monet replies that it’s nice to see the continued racism of the government in action. When Val replies that this isn’t racism, nor mutant bias, Monet acts incredulous. So when are the Fantastic Four or the Avengers getting this lecture? she asks. Her concern, Val defends, is with X-Factor, not the others. “Quelle surprise,” Monet rejoins.
Continuing, Val tells the group that the sad fact is that the FF and Avengers don’t have to deal with the sort of anti-mutant hostility that is part of your life. It’s all going to become focused on your, and the O*N*E is not in a position to protect them as they were with the X-Men. Scowling at this, Madrox chimes in that if she’s holding that fiasco as a plus on her resume, then she’s seriously lost it. Rolling her eyes, Val admits that there were glitches… Interrupting, Madrx repeats the word sarcastically. The school was annihilated on her watch! he reminds her.
Now sitting up, no longer feigning lack in interest, Siryn tells Val that she has one big frayed nerve right now. Why doesn’t she cut to the chase? Doing so, Val informs X-Factor that their presence in the Middle East Side constitutes a clear and present danger and that gives the government authority in this matter. They’ve got two options: she splits them up and enters them into a sort of witness protection program – they’d be given new identities and live the rest of their lives in peace and quiet…
Interrupting, Guido smirks at this, noting sarcastically the ease at which he would be able to fit in anywhere. To this, Rictor notes that Guido is kinda built like Mr. Incredible. If it worked for him…
Ignoring the two, Val begins to outline their second option, but is beaten to the idea by Madrox. They join the Initiative. Agreeing, Val adds that they could also work for the O*N*E, doing special jobs that only people with their talents could handle. Immediately grimacing at being a government stooge, Monet tells Val to color her not interested. Quipping back with a pointed finger, Val tells Monet to put this in her coloring book: her daddy isn’t going to bail her out of this. He won’t be greasing palms, smoothing things over like he did for her in France… or did she think they didn’t know about that?
Here’s the bottom line, Val continues, now addressing the whole group. What’s left of the Middle East Side is going to be razed and then rebuilt into high-priced condos. A generation from now, no one’s even going to remember that this area used to be called Mutant Town. It’ll be as extinct as, well… “Mutants?” Madrox inquires. She was going to say the dodo, Val replies.
At this moment the image of Layla Miller again appears to Madrox, still chanting “One of us. One of us.” Placing his hand over his face, Madrox asks “not now.” Taking this to be directed at her, Val replies fine and begins to leave, giving the group twenty-four hours. She hopes they make the right decision. A moment later, the group is in the rec center, left now alone, save their thoughts.
The next day, Jamie Madrox visits the local hospital, inquiring about Nathan Patrofsky, who would have been brought there. Perusing her paperwork, the woman at reception asks Madrox if he’s the next of kin. Replying that he’s not sure he had any, he presses that he just wants to know how he is. With a visibly sorrowful face, the nurse informs Madrox that he’s afraid he passed away. When pressed for more details, she informs him that he was DOA. His lungs collapsed in the ambulance. They weren’t able to resuscitate.
Physically shaken, Madrox almost collapses on the counter. Placing her hand over his own, the nurse asks his name. When told “Madrox,” she asks if that’s what the “M” stands for. However, when corrected that it stands for “mutant,” the nurse abruptly removes her hand, with an “oh.” Turning to leave, Madrox places his hands in his pocket. Yeah, he laments. “Oh.”
A few minutes later, Madrox finds himself sitting on a curb, though not alone. Sitting beside him, the visage of Layla tells Madrox that old man… wasn’t just an old man. It wasn’t who he was. It was what he went through. What Madrox went through. To this, Madrox glances at the non-present girl and adds what she’s still going through. She’s fine, Layla replies, turning her head away. Don’t worry about her.
Asked how can he not, Layla replies that it’s because she’s got stuff that isn’t in his imagination to worry about. Like Val? Madrox asks. Yeah, the non-Layla agrees. And like that Siryn’s pregnant with his kid. Startled, Madrox reels, asking how could she know… Because he knows, Layla replies. Deep down, and right now, that’s what she is – the stuff he knows deep down – there’s a dozen little physical indications that add up to her being pregnant, on some level he knew she was trying to tell him that the other day. And he ran to avoid dealing with it.
Collapsing his head into his hands, Madrox swears and realizes aloud that he thinks she’s right. Of course, she’s right, Layla rejoins. And when he’s born, he’ll be “One of us. One of us.” Turning back to the not-Layla, Madrox asks why she keeps quoting that. Because of the movie it’s from, she replies. He remembers doesn’t he? “Freaks.”
Madrox attention is suddenly diverted as he hears his name, spoken by Theresa, who is joined by the rest of the team and asks if he’s okay. In the same thought, Rictor asks how’s the old guy he came to visit. Died, Madrox replies. Last night. His name was Nathan. Now smiling a moment, Madrox then suggests to Siryn that maybe they can name the baby “Nathan.” Averting her eyes in thought, Siryn considers for a moment, until she suddenly realizes what this means. With wide eyes, she rhetorically asks that he knows she’s pregnant. When Rictor asks “with a baby?” Money rolls her eyes. “No, genius, with a sperm whale.”
Launching herself into his arms and clasping hers around his neck, Siryn smiles broadly, calling him a big doofus. How did he figure it out? He’s Jamie, Madrox replies. He knows stuff. From a short distance away, unseen by all, the vision of Layla replies that he does. But not the right stuff.
The walk back to the building is a happy one for Jamie Madrox, despite the smashed remains of Mutant Town that they pass. The talk as a team for the first time in a while… and as friends for the first time in an even longer time. Maybe ever. They talk about the past… and their future… and how the past has this funny habit of becoming the future if you’re not careful… if you forget. They talk about working for Val and fear what they will become if they’re absorbed into the system, plus the strong-arm tactics of the government of the USA – the United Stark Army – rub them the wrong way. Ultimately, it’s the government that pits them into camps. How are they supposed to put their faith in the organization that betrays them?
The next day, Val arrives at X-Factor HQ, accompanied by a team of armed soldiers. Entering the building first and alone, Val calls out to Madrox, only to find the place alone. When she radios the condition, the team moves in and searches the place, telling each other to remember what they’re dealing with. Still, Val tries to remind them that they’re dealing with a “who,” not a “what.”
While the team searches, Val finds something of her own – a laptop computer, sitting on a table… and on. Pressing a button, she finds the face of Madrox, his face with its prominent “M” tattoo dominating the screen. Madrox informs Val that this is prerecorded, so she needn’t bother answering back. He tells her he’s sorry they couldn’t do business. They took a vote and decided to pass on both of her generous offers. So that’s the way it goes.
Talking to herself, Val notes that now she’s going to have to hunt them down… Interrupting her, as if listening, Madrox instructs Val not to even think about hunting them down. He’ll be one step ahead of her the whole way. And now he suggests she get the hell out of there… because if she doesn’t… they’re going to mess you up. Very Badly.
A moment later, the number “30” appears on the screen, replacing Madrox’s face. It is followed ominously by a “29.” Without waiting further, Val turns and runs, yelling over her comm. System for everybody to get out. As everyone makes it out before the deadline, none witness the countdown reach 1, then followed by the phrase “never forget” before the explosion shatters t he inside of the building in flames.
(Detroit, five months later)
A girl walks through a snow-covered park, passing by two homeless men huddled around a barrel in which they have lit a fire. Wrapped in her coat, she next passes another homeless man, who is asleep on a park bench. In short order, she makes her way to a house and rings the doorbell. When a voice answers with an inquisitive “yes?” the girl states that she’s looking for XF Investigations. Told that she’s found it, the girl replies that she hears they handle unusual cases. Well, she thinks someone is trying to kill her. Then asked why would someone be trying to do that, the girl hesitantly replies that she used to be a mutant… and they… they…
Not making the girl finish, a very pregnant Theresa opens the door and tells the girl with a smile that it’s okay. She’s in the right place. She then invites the girl in, telling her they’ll take it from there. Once inside, Theresa calls to Guido, telling him to give Jamie a call and tell him to get back to the office. They have a client.
In short order, the call comes into a diner in which Jamie Madrox is sitting. Receiving the good news of a client, he asks if he can get the check. However, his answer comes in the form of Val Cooper, who appears from behind and grabs Madrox’s hand, pushing it against the joint and causing pain. With a wry smile, she suggests to Madrox that he let her pick it up. And, unless he shuts up and listens, he won’t be picking up anything again.
Continuing, she tells Madrox that she did some checking. He owned that building he blew up. Even got the demolition clearances. Technically, he broke no laws. But he figured by making a big demonstration, he’d show his team how tough he is, and scare her off besides. Now leaning in closely to his ear, Val tells Madrox that she will put this in a way that his film noir mind will understand: this is going to be the start of beautiful relationship.