Through the darkness, there comes a voice, which announces that vitals are solid. Suddenly, as the darkness begins to part, light piercing through the opening of an eyelid, the voice notes that he’s regaining consciousness. Returning to the world of the conscious, Darwin is greeted by a man with a wry grin, who addresses him by his given name of “Armando” and introduces himself as Maru. Leaning over Darwin, Maru apologizes for the circumstances under which they are meeting. It is certainly not what he would have wished. One never gets a second chance to make a good first impression. And if this first impression is lacking, well… he does sincerely apologize.
At this point, Darwin’s eyes have adjusted enough to his surroundings, such as they are, and he opens his mouth in mute horror. He is in actuality floating in a translucent, red sphere, filled with some type of liquid. As Maru stands atop the sphere, he is surrounded by various men, scientists and technicians, each of which ignore both Darwin and Maru as they work at their various tasks.
Continuing as he straightens up, only to rest on his cane, Maru tells Darwin to rest assured. Though as confusing as this may be for him… he is contributing to a great cause. The service he is going to provide is going to single-handedly turn around the way that the world views mutants. Granted, he may die in the endeavor, but in the final analysis… isn’t that a small price to pay?
As is his want to do, Madrox waxes melancholy. He broods that there are no such things as happy endings. Never. They’re totally manufactured by fiction writers who choose to end the story on a high point. Take Armando Munoz, aka Darwin, for instance. His father, Hector, asked them to track down his wayward son for him. They succeeded. The reunion was everything they could have hoped for. Teats were shed, thanks were extended. Checks were written. It was all good. Father and son, together again. For the first time. They live happily ever after. Fade to black, roll credits. Stay for the bit after the credits with surprising cameo appearance. Go home satisfied.
Here’s the problem with real life…
Arriving to a door in the hospital, Madrox, Monet and Rictor are met by a balding, overweight man with a gun, who asks them if they’re XF Investigations. Replying in turn with a question as to whether he’s Lieutenant Weiss, they are told the affirmative – and that they can go in. Inside, they find Hector Munoz lying in bed, surrounded by family seeing to him.
Noting this, Madrox continues to note silently that it’s not like the movies. It keeps going past the happy endings. The problem is that, sooner or later, everything turns to crap, and you just find yourself hoping that it’s later rather than sooner. In this case, far too soon.
As he waits his turn, Madrox is asked by Lt. Weiss if he knows him. In reply, Madrox explains that he was a client of theirs, and then asks back how they knew to call them. His checkbook, Weiss explains. There was a carbon imprint that had their agency’s name on it inside, made out the day he was found. Asked where that was, Lt. Weiss replies “Brightmoor”. Just off Schoolcraft Road. Next asked if he was alone, Weiss quips just he and God, apparently. Continuing, Weiss reports that Munoz received a bullet to the brain. Doctors have no idea how he’s still alive. Munoz won’t be providing any answers, so he hoped he might.
Internally, Madrox answers. Jamie Madrox. Famed mutant. He was in all the papers during the registration wars, speaking out against the government. Oh, and he helped blow up Mutant Town.
“John Maddox,” Madrox instead replies. Then asked what he did for Mr. Munoz, Madrox explains that they found his son. When Lt. Weiss notes that Munoz’s son wasn’t with him, Madrox quips that he guesses they did a lousy job.
Suddenly, noting Monet standing over the unconscious Munoz, her hand placed on his head, Lt. Weiss asks what she’s supposed to be. Some sort of psychic? Some sort, yeah, Madrox replies. Dismissing immediately, Weiss rejoins that they’ve had a few of her type show up when kids go missing. Headline seekers, mostly. Never turned up a tip worth a damn. That who they are? Headline seekers? Actually, Madrox replies, they’d just as soon keep a low profile.
Now turning to Monet, Madrox asks her what she’s got. Removing her hand, Money replies nothing… John, remembering to use his recently assumed name. Too much brain damage. It’s like trying to read a CD that someone pounded with a mallet. Nearby, Lt. Weiss rolls his eyes. The psychic has an excuse, he disparages. Isn’t that convenient. To this, Madrox scowls, rejoining that, actually, it’s damned inconvenient. If Monet had been able to scan his mind, it might have given them some sort of direction. As it is… they’re left hoping opportunity will come knocking.
At XF Investigations, a knock brings Guido to the door. To his wide-eyed surprise, he finds Longshot, draped under a towel to keep the rain off. However, before Longshot can explain himself, Guido draws back one fist and grabs a wide-eyed Longshot with the other. Ohhh, not good, Longshot yelps. Instead of a blow, however, Longshot is flung further into the building, cracking the wall with the impact. Asked by Guido how stupid does he think they are, Longshot honestly replies he doesn’t know. How stupid does he want him to think they are? He can try to be accommodating…
Entering the room to find the source of the commotion, the incredibly pregnant Theresa asks Guido what he’s doing. Hovering over the now-cowering Longshot, Guido exclaims that it’s that Skrull! Thinking he’ll make them believe he’s Longshot again! Holding up his hands in a vain attempt to ward off any coming blows, Longshot asks Guido if he believes he’s a Skrull because he ran into a Skrull who looked like him. Receiving a “’Zactly,” Longshot then points out that, of course, because a Skrull could look like anybody, if he were a Skrull… and could look like anybody… why would be choose to look like someone whom he knew to be a Skrull?
As Guido tries to process this cogent argument, Longshot continues. Why would he do so, when he could look like anyone else and avoid suspicion? He means… wouldn’t that be stupid? Granted, Longshot continues, playing the Devil’s Advocate, it could be a double-bluff, but it’s fairly unlikely, doesn’t he think? He means, why pretend to be Longshot to make him think he’s not Longshot when he’s actually…
Having had enough, Guido turns to Theresa, pleading with her to shut him up – he’s making his head heart! Grinning slightly, Theresa suggests that maybe if he lets him go… Once free, Longshot thanks Guido, who promptly asks Theresa is he’s sure about this. Depends on his answers, Theresa replies. Asked by Theresa why he’s there, Longshot produces a piece of paper from the inside of his coat and unfolds it. As luck would have it, he explains, (his luck, he then adds) the wire services picked this up. Referring to the newspaper article showing the incident between X-Factor and the Skrull from a few days before, Longshot adds that, while the story fails to identify anyone in the photo, he obviously recognizes himself – or at least someone posing as him. So, he thought he’d come to town, poke around… see if he could find out why he was there when he knows he wasn’t.
Asked by Theresa how he knew to come to them (because they’re mutants?), Longshot replies that he had no idea XF was mutant-run until he saw Strong Guy and her, Siryn. Referring now to her stomach, Longshot then quips that there’s a good deal more of her to see, which earns an insincere “very funny.” Asking who the father is, Longshot’s told Jamie Madrox, the head of their little agency. Returning to the previous subject, Longshot states that the word on the street is that XF Investigations is the go-to place for unusual cases. So, he decided to go-to.
Changing subjects, Longshot asks where Madrox is, anyway. He should extend his congratulations. To this, Theresa explains that he’s at the hospital. The police called – something involving one of their cases. To this, Longshot states that he should go. When Theresa then tries to convince him to stay, he explains he meant to the hospital. He should go there. Asked why, Longshot replies “just a hunch.” And he tends to trust his hunches. Chiming in with a sour “fine,” Guido tells Longshot that he’ll drive him. “Just promise not t’explain again why he aint’ a Skrull.”
Back in his spacious laboratory, Maru once again addresses Darwin, who continues to float submerged in the liquid sphere. Referring to a shirtless man being strapped into a chair, Maru introduces him to Darwin as Mr. Wenzel. He was serving a life sentence upstate, Maru explains, but he volunteered to be part of their program. He doubtless felt he had nothing to lose. You have to admire that sort of thinking, Maru adds. Some of the greatest advancements in man’s history have been achieved by those who had nothing to lose.
As the scientists begin to affix intravenous tubes into the smiling Mr. Wenzel, Maru explains that they will, of course, be observing Mr. Wenzel for the next forty-eight hours. However, it could be a week or more before they see any… Pausing for a moment as he sees their patient begin to convulse, Maru notes that that’s a bit sooner than expected.
As Mr. Wenzel’s face turns to one of pain and horror, doctors report that his pulse is through the roof – two hundred over ninety. Another announces that body temperature is spiking to 104! In seconds? a third asks. How is that possib…?
The round of astonished questions comes to an abrupt half when Mr. Wenzel suddenly cries out in pain. In short order, Wenzel’s body looses coherence, becoming a mass of blobs and boils, Wenzel crying every more in pain. A few moments later it is over and what was once Mr. Wenzel is now a blob of flesh, having poured out of the straps holding fastening him to the chair. Considering this, Maru announces contemplatively that they’re going to require far more test subjects that originally estimated if this keeps up.
Elsewhere, Guido drives Longshot down the streets of Detroit. Making small-talk, Guido notes to Longshot that he heard he and Dazzler were a couple. What happened there? Glancing away at the rain outside, Longshot rejoins that he was no longer the man she knew. Literally. His mind was wiped clean. The more they tried to re-create what they once gad, the more forced it seemed. It just became sad. Then, of course, there were the other women.
His attention peaked, Guido asks “the who, now?” Leaning back, his hands clasped behind his head, Longshot explains that women kept wanting his attention. They were rather insistent oftentimes. He didn’t accommodate them, but Allison found it rather onerous. He means… he didn’t ask to have it hardwired into his DNA that the opposite sex is drawn to him. Grinning slightly at this, Guido notes that he is so his new wingman at local bars.
Taking no note of Guido’s quip, Longshot continues that Allison said he was born to be a “slut.” When he then asks Guido what is a slut, Longshot’s told to ask She-Hulk. All right, Longshot replies. He’ll tell her that he told her. On second thought, Guido replies, his grin turning to a frown, he shouldn’t ask her. As he wishes, Longshot resolves.
Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Longshot quickly finds himself pushed against a wall, with someone – this time Rictor – announcing that he’s a Skrull. Stepping in, Monet tells Rictor not to be an idiot. Skrulls can disguise themselves as anyone. Why would he impersonate someone they already know to be a Skrull? Seeing Rictor clearly confused at this, Guido hands him a piece of paper, noting that it should help. Siryn wrote it down so he could keep it straight.
Smiling broadly and placing her hand on his broad shoulder, Monet playfully instructs Longshot to ignore Rictor. He thinks with his fists. She’s Monet St. Croix. When Longshot replies that, yes, he knows, Monet rejoins that she knows he knows. So… How long is he going to be in town? Well, he begins to reply, he could extend his stay if she’d like. Now grinning, Monet replies that she could show him some sights. Interrupting, Guido pulls Longshot away, mocking that he bets she could. When Longshot begins to defend that they were just… Guido interrupts. He knows what he was just.
As Guido leads Longshot inside, Rictor, still in the midst of studying Siryn’s note to Guido, asks Monet if she could walk him through… Interrupting, Monet snaps at him to drop dead. “Right,” Rictor replies, turning to walk away.
Inside the room of Mr. Munoz, Guido and Longshot are greeted by Madrox, who tells the latter of the pair that Terry called to tell him he was on his way. He made quite an impression on her, he then adds. To this, Guido replies that he does that sometimes. Turning to regarding the new arrivals, Lt. Weiss begins to go into his gruff personality. However, a glance at Longshot and Weiss begins to turn red and all-smiles, adoringly introducing himself and insisting that Longshot call him Leslie. Incredulous, Guido quips “Oh, holy crap.”
Getting to the business at hand, Longshot asks the detective if he has anything belonging to the poor man. Some object of his? Gleeful at his ability to proceed, Lt. Weiss produces a plastic bag, noting the checkbook within. Will that do? He hopes it does. Accepting it, Longshot then asks the detective if he would find stepping out, a request to which the smitten detective is more than happy to oblige. Told that Longshot will let him know if there’s anything else he can do, Lt. Weiss tells Longshot to call him. Wait, he then realizes. He should give him is home num…
Unfortunately, for Lt. Weiss, Guido slams the door with an “Aw, brother.” To this, he states that he’s amazed Dazzler let him go. Asked “really?” Guido adds that, if he were her, he’d probably have killed him first. This said, Guido announces that he will wait outside with his fan club.
Now along, save Madrox, with Mr. Munoz, Longshot removes the checkbook from the plastic bag and touches it. As Longshot’s left eye immediately begins to glow, Madrox notes that he’s heard that he gets psychic “reads” off objects, though he’s never actually seen it in action. He supposes, however, it’s no weirder than anything else he does.
Lost in the “read,” Longshot is unable to hear Madrox calling his name, asking for a status report. Instead, Longshot finds himself in Mr. Munoz’s past, where the man in question is using the checkbook to pay Madrox for his services. As father and son leave, Darwin promises to keep calling them, checking to. To this, Madrox promises that they’ll be putting feelers out for Xavier. If they turn anything up, they’ll tell them. Excellent, Darwin replies.
Proud of a good job done well, Madrox drapes his arm around Theresa, remarking that, every so often, they have a clean win. Feels good. It makes you. “Have to pee,” Theresa notes. When Madrox replies that it doesn’t to him, Theresa notes again that it does to her. Again. Thanks to his kid. With this, Theresa races to their house HQ, Madrox following leisurely behind.
Rather than following him in turn, the phantom Longshot instead follows the past selves of Darwin and his dad, Mr. Munoz. When Darwin asks where they are going – if he has a car around there, Mr. Munoz replies that, actually, he’s arranged for a ride. A moment later, a van pulls up alongside the two. In a swift motion, the side-door opens and two men in masks throw a sack over Darwin’s head and drag him inside. A third masked man approaches Mr. Munoz, who asks where his money is. Half a million if he delivered his son to them. That’s what they promised. Half a…
Interrupting, the masked man stands a short distance from Mr. Munoz, noting that he’ll have to settle for the thanks of the Karma Project. With this, the man produces a pistol and fires point-blank at Mr. Munoz’s head. Moving quickly, the phantom Longshot races behind the van, which has begun to peel out in a cloud of dust, and takes not of the license plate.
Having returned to the here-and-now, Longshot tells Madrox the license plate number – MKA-213. It was the last thing Mr. Munoz saw before his consciousness went. The license number on a van. And the man who shot him said something about the Karma Project before they made off with Darwin. Asked by an incredulous Madrox why someone would kidnap Darwin, Longshot replies that the does not know. But, whoever it is, they promised Mr. Munoz a half million dollars if he turned his son over to them.
Angered, Madrox curses and hits the wall, in the process creating a duplicate, which immediately chides his progenitor for his language. Ignoring his newly-born dupe, Madrox calls Theresa on his mobile phone, asking her to run the license tag Longshot saw. He also asks her to see if she can dig anything up on “the Karma Project.” As he continues, explaining that it’s not the thing from “Lost,” but Karma, like from the New Mutants, Madrox does not notice his dupe taking Mr. Munoz’s pillow and using it to suffocate him. By the time he notices, the dupe has replaced the pillow. Still, considering his dupe’s actions odd, he reabsorbs the dupe.
A moment later, he realizes too late what has happened and calls for a nurse, which has already arrived, responding to an alarm that Mr. Munoz is coding. Immediately ordered out of the room, Madrox and Longshot listen impotently as they hear the doctors’ attempts to resuscitate Mr. Munoz. Eventually, they hear one voice from within announcing that he’s back. Heart and blood pressure are stabilizing. Still Madrox is visibly shaken. Seeing this, Longshot tries to comfort him, noting that it would have been a small loss, if he asks him. The man sold out his son. Grimacing as he tells Longshot that he’s possibly right, Madrox knows in his heart that he doesn’t completely agree.