Once upon a time – forty years from now… there was a boy who lived in an orphanage, just as you do now. His parents were killed, and his home destroyed (he was off visiting his grandma that night) under “mysterious circumstances.” That’s what authorities always called it… when they thought mutants were involved. The boy’s name was Anthony Falcone, and he hated mutants. Hate them more than anybody ever had, maybe.”
Lying face down on the floor on his belly and propped up by his elbows, young Anthony Falcone plays with his Medieval war figurines. Stopping in the middle of play, however, he begins to cry. They said there were no more mutants, he sobs. They lied. Suddenly, a voice causes young Anthony to look up. Yes, yes they did, the voice tells him. Startled, the boy yelps and moves away, causing the source of the voice to ask if he terrified him. My, my, Damien Tryp Sr. states. The things they do to children.
Standing in shadows before the dumbstruck Anthony, Tryp continues. They lie to them. They paint a vision of the worlds that isn’t accurate. And they take their parents from them. That’s what happened to him, isn’t it, Anthony Falcone?
His name was Mr. Tryp. He was a man who lived in between times… stuck there like a piece of cork floating in a bottle. And he asked Anthony…
“Would you like to make all the mutants go away?” Told yes, very much, Typ replies that it will take some time, about four decades. But, if he listens to him, and does exactly as he says… he can arrange that.
(forty years later)
It’s happening now, Falcone, Damien Tryp tells the now-adult Anthony. Confused, Falcone asks Tryp what he’s talking about. What’s… Suddenly noticing a flashing light, Falcone recognizes its meaning and asks that Cortex is back in their time. So it would seem, Tryp replies. And in the midst of the Summers Camp. Emboldened by this meaning, Falcone reaches for him communication device, declaring that they have them. They finally have them. Placing the device upon his ear, Dr. Falcone addresses all squadrons, ordering them to converge on his signal. Implement operation clean sweep! Repeat…! Clean Sweep.
Just as he was four decades before, Anthony Falcone is moved to tears. Through his sobs, he states that finally… finally… it’s going to be a brand new day.
Still standing on the spot on which he arrived, Cortex has raised his hands and spread his fingers. From each of his digits erupts a purple ray of energy, which seers all in its path. As he does so, Cortex notes to Madrox that this isn’t his idea. It’s von Doom’s! There’s nothing elegant about this. Nothing clever. It’s not the slightest bit noir. Unfortunately, it is what it, and ultimately… Madrox brought this on himself.
Crouching next to a likewise crouching Madrox, Ruby sarcastically asks if the newcomer is a friend of his. Not realizing the question was rhetorical, Madrox tries to reply but is interrupted when she tells him to shut up. The next moment, she spies something of real horror, as she gazes upon the inert body of Trevor Fitzroy, his eyes having rolled back into his head and a light, purple flame wafting up from the hole which now exists in the middle of his forehead.
As Ruby exclaims in horror, Cortex smiles. In his defense, he grins, Fitz was directly in the path of where he was aiming. He can’t be held responsible for his lousy reflexes… Cortex’s words trail as ruby unleashes fury of her optic blasts, yelling that she’ll kill him. The power of the impact drives Cortex through the building and into the world outside. Landing with a thud, Cortex is unharmed, yet takes a moment to lie prone on his back with a smile. Woooo! he laughs. That girl’s got some sugar in her smacks! He must have a piece of that.
A voice instructing Cortex to leave them alone informs Cortex that he is not alone. Spying the source of the voice as Layla Miller, who had been waiting for his arrival on that spot, Cortex smiles that he’ll be damned. “Join the club,” she rejoins.
Back in the laboratory, Ruby cradles the corpse of Fitzroy in her lap and orders the nearby Madrox to go get Layla. When Madrox begins to reply that he doesn’t understand, Ruby replies that it’s not for him to understand, it’s for him to do. NOW!
As Madrox sprints out, Ruby returns to her feet and approaches Doom. Repeating his orders to “kill all mutants,” she begins to call him traitorous, but is interrupted by Doom himself. Still sitting contemplatively in his wheelchair, Doom counters that a traitor must have a cause to betray. His loyalty is to himself. Thus, he betrays no one. To this, Ruby replies that he won’t talk his out of this, but an optic blast from the shadows knocks her off of her feet before she can act. Talk is cheap, my dear, Doom replies, now flanked by his enthralled Cyclops.
Flanked by both Ruby’s father and his robot manservant, Doom continues that the price for talk, particularly when it is wholly inappropriate talk aimed at your betters… can be very, very steep. Especially when one such as he encounters a creature such as “Mr. Clops”… more cybernetic organism than man. He, Doom adds, has always had a knack for controlling such organisms. “Mr. Clops: kindly dispose of your offspring.”
Back at the beach, Layla tells the arriving Hecat’e and her fellow rebels, to stay back. She’ll handle this. Oh, Cortex quips, is that what she is going to do? And how is she planning to do that? Planning to position him so that something drops on him? Is a whale going to leap up and swallow him? Maybe he gets struck by lightning? With her, everything’s possible.
You’d think that, Layla replies, but no. Placing her hand on Cortex’s cheek, she adds that hardly anything is. That’s the hell of being her. Knowing that free will… it’s a joke. And she’s the punch line. Remarking that that’s his cue, Cortex prepares to throw a right cross… but is stopped by the voice of another, telling him simply “no.” The source of the voice is Cortex’s progenitor, Jamie Madrox, whose direction Cortex does not even bother to turn to look. Addressing Layla, he instructs her to go. Ruby wants her inside. This guy, he states, referring to Cortex, is his... in every sense of the word.
After Layla has left, Madrox and Cortex begin to walk in circles around each other. Speaking as he does so, Madrox notes that Cortex is the other dupe that Forge sent into the future. Yes, Cortex replies, in the same sense that Madrox was once a zygote. What he was isn’t much related to what he is. He is unique…
Still circling, Madrox tells Cortex that he knows better. He is, at the very least, the tenth dupe to go rogue on him. “Ironic,” Cortex rejoins, “considering Layla thinks so little of free will.” Ignoring Cortex, Madrox continues that the point is: they’re all gone and Madrox is still here.
So what’s the plan, then, Cortex asks. Try to reabsorb him? First of all, he can’t. He’s evolved too far. Second, even if he could, he wouldn’t dare. Cortex would be more likely to take Madrox over. Come on, Madrox, Cortex smiles. He fancies himself the hard-boiled detective. What would Sam Spade do? Or Philip Marlowe? Hell, what would Jake Gittes do? The answer to Cortex’s question come in the form of a left hook to his jaw.
“Seriously?” Cortex asks, beginning to return to his feet, having been knocked off them. He’s looking to throw down with him? Told that he wanted hard-boiled, Cortex quips that being hard-boiled doesn’t rule out being cracked. Having had enough, Madrox grits his teeth and kicks Cortex in the face, telling him to come on! Let’s go! Lowering his cracked glasses, Cortex informs his progenitor that he could kill him half a dozen ways… not that he needs more than one. A punch-out is just going to play to his strengths. Each impact will generate more dupes…
In reply, Madrox replies that it’s not automatic. He can stop himself from replicating. Come on, sonny boy, he then states, putting up his dukes. Show the old man what you’ve got. Back on his feet, sans sunglasses, Cortex smiles. Okay. Fine. For starters… he’s got this. Producing a handgun, Cortex fires three shots, each impacting their target, the torso of Jamie Madrox. As Madrox lies bleeding on the sand, a short distance from the surf, Cortex asks what else does he need really?
Okay, seriously, Cortex then states. Where’s Jamie Prime? He means, Madrox couldn’t be… wouldn’t be… that stupid as to send the genuine article against him. Barely able to speak, Madrox replies that Cortex is way too clever… for him… He’ll just lie there bleeding… grateful that… the real Madrox… is summering in the Hamptons…
A sudden blackout startles Cortex for a moment, but he realizes a moment later the origin of it. “Hecat’e,” he states. In an alternate reality right now, she never existed. Because in that reality, Longshot failed to stop an assassination attempt. Unfortunately, in this one… the one he’s trying to change… she’s still alive and kicking. He’ll just have to settle that directly. Seems a waste of resources, but… what can you do? With this, Cortex fires a bullet into the darkness. Though she is not hit, the proximity of the bullet is enough to throw Hecat’e off, including her sphere of darkness.
Nearby, the bleeding Madrox is on his feet, propping himself via Linquon, over whose shoulder his arm is draped. Helping him move down the boardwalk, she tells him that she’s gotta get him to Salve, before the only one who can help him is Butterfly. Taking this name to mean Layla, Madrox is confused, though too weak to ask. Still, he wonders what can she do?
Back in the laboratory, Layla shades her eyes with her hand, as she witnesses a battle of optic blasts between Ruby and Scott Summers. Speaking as her dark optic blasts meet and halt his scarlet ones, Ruby tells her dad to shake it off. She knows he can…Suddenly yelling “shock it,” Ruby changes her target away from her father’s blasts, at the same moment twisting her body so that she avoids his blasts, which she is no longer deflecting. As his blasts harmlessly misses her, Ruby’s optic blast ricochets against the wall and hits her dad in the back, knocking him out.
No longer in immediate danger, Ruby yells out for von Doom, telling him she’ll kill him for this. However, she quickly finds that he is gone. Nice trick with the ricochet, Layla states, returning her attention to her. Thanking her, Ruby tells Layla that her dad taught it to her.
Before Ruby can say another word, Layla tells her no. When Ruby then points out that she hadn’t said anything yet, Layla tells her to keep at it. Approaching Layla, who even now is crouched next to Fitzroy’s corpse, Ruby tells Layla that she can do it. She’s seen her do it. They all have. When Layla rejoins that she doesn’t know what she’s seen, Ruby answers. Butterflies… birds… fish… a beached seal that one ti…
Enraged, Layla yells that he’s not an insect or a seal, okay? Ruby doesn’t know what she’s asking! Told that they can save him, Layla asks why does she care so much? What’s the… “He’s my son,” Ruby replies, coldly.
Really? Layla asks, dumbstruck for once. Clasping her head in her hand, Ruby replies no, of course not. She just... Interrupting, Layla reminds Ruby that she knows what he can become. If they leave matters as they are… it never happens. To this, Ruby reminds Layla that he was a good man with tremendous potential. For once… for once… let them confound the fates.
If it goes wrong, Layla counters. She shuts him down. What she giveth, she can taketh away. And she won’t hear boo about it from her. Deal? At first, Ruby merely tells her to do it, but when Layla presses Ruby replies that it’s a deal, okay? Deal. Now do it. As Layla then cradles Fitzroy’s head, she states that she’s sorry. To this, Ruby replies that Layla doesn’t owe her an apology, at which point Layla rejoins that she knows. She was apologizing to him.
On the boardwalk, Madrox grits his teeth as he reels from the pain. His glowing hands clasped on Madrox’s, Salve apologizes that it is hurting. It will only hurt for another few moments. He’s right about that, Cortex interrupts, blasting Salve from behind. A moment later, the elderly healer has been reduced to ash. Smiling at his horrific act, Cortex notes to Madrox that he could have done that to him… to any of them… at any time. Does he understand the scope of his power, he asked. Does he?
Shut up!, Madrox yells, launching himself to his feet and delivering a left hook. Following it with a punch to the midsection, Madrox tells Cortex that if he’s gonna do it, then do it! He could have shot him in the head! Taken him out! Now delivering another left hook, Madrox demands what Cortex is waiting for. Why is he screwing around?
Fallen to his knee, Cortex rubs his chin and answers calmly. Because, James, he begins, if he were dead, he wouldn’t have a chance to see what’s coming. Falcone gave him a heads-up. He’s sweeping him away. And he wanted to make sure Madrox would be around for it. Now irate, Cortex spits that wanted Madrox to have a taste of what he went through. He tries to return to him… got trapped in a vortex… a hundred lifetimes passed for every minute he was there… And how much thought did Madrox, his “dad,” give him? How much? “None at all, Madrox admits with a scowl. “Happy?”
Suddenly, something catches Madrox sees something out of the corner of his eye. Looking up, he beholds five Sentinels of massive, massive size, kicking up clouds of smoke as they land. Within one of them sits Dr. Anthony Falcone. Over the radio, he is told by Damien Tryp Sr. that this is a mistake. He doesn’t need to be on-site like this. When Falcone replies that he does, Tryp points out the unnecessary risk, only to have Falcone interrupt. Mutants have taken everything from him, he tells Tryp. His family… his career… everything. What the worst that can happen? He dies? He’ll risk it. Ah. And here come more of them from the woodworks.
Doesn’t matter, Falcone tells Tryp, as he watches the troops of the Summers Rebellion race to him and his four Sentinels. Now speaking to the Sentinels, referring to them as components, he orders them to activate clean sweeps. “God’s will be done.”
Standing below, Jamie Madrox cannot believe his eyes. “Oh… you have got… to be kidding me.” High above his head, four of the Sentinels which arrived began to transform into limbs, two arms and two legs, which then affix themselves to the fifth Sentinel… morphing five individually immense Sentinels into one mega version. Great, Madrox thinks as he gazes upon the final product. We go from hard-boiled detective noir… to Voltron.”
As confusing as this is, Madrox becomes more baffled at the sphere of energy which begins to generate between the gigantic fists of the Sentinel. Seeing Madrox’s expression, the smug Cortex asks if that’s what he’s wondering, isn’t it? He knows of all those Sentinels his rebellion has been beating so “easily” the past months? Trojan Horse, my friend.
And Cortex explain then… because that’s what bad guys do, they just have to explain these things… All those Sentinels who had been destroyed had power cores loaded with specially-charged Hadron particles. Like subatomic snowflakes, the Hadron particles clung to any mutant nearby. They’d been getting them in low doses from Sentinels while in the camps; the loss of the camps force Falcone to saturate them. See, in history, Sentinels are usually guardians of fates, so Falcone… with the help of both Tryp and Doom… developed a gateway. And now they were opening that gateway… a gateway designed to draw in the exact type of Hadron particles attached to the mutants.
Suddenly, becomes attractive and Hecat’e passes by Madrox, on her way to the portal sphere. However, she is not alone, as a chain of Madroxes, each clasping a hold of a fellow dupe, form a chain which reaches next the portal, catching first Hecat’e and then all other mutants who were on the verge of being sucked into the vortex.
Falcone figured he would go around the country, open the gateway, and mutants would just be yanked in, leaving humans unharmed. Atlantic City was the perfect test case. The most troublesome of the mutants hauled away in one shot… to tumble around between dimensions. And maybe they’d wind up somewhere, maybe not. Either way, Falcone would be rid of them. But mutants see…we can be pretty damned stubborn.
Unaffected by the attraction of the portal, Cortex watches as his progenitor struggles to hold onto the pole which anchors him, and all those along the chain of dupes. Noting that he’s in some rather dire straits there, Cortex tells Madrox to worry not. He already said he’s not going to kill him. He’ll just blow apart his anchor. Igniting the energy in his hand, the devilish Cortex tells Madrox to enjoy his living hell. They won’t meet again.
“You got that right,” the living, breathing Trevor Fitzroy states, his hand bursting through the boardwalk and clasping onto the leg of Cortex. “Ooooooo,” Fitzroy mocks, as he absorbs the life force of Cortex via his leg. “Tasty.”
Fitzroy was sort of like a vampire, except he didn’t drain blood. Instead, he took their life energy. And he did it before they even knew what hit them. Of all the mutants there, Fitzroy was the only one Cortex was vulnerable to. That’s why he had killed him so quickly. Too bad for Cortex… killing him hadn’t stuck.
As Cortex, in visible pain, drops to his knees, Fitzroy yells out for Ruby. “Now!” A moment later, the obsidian optic blast of Ruby Summers erupts from beneath the boardwalk, impacting the center of the Sentinel.
It had taken Ruby a couple of minutes to get into position under the boardwalk, where she had minimal protection. She guessed at her target’s positioning. Luckily, she guessed right. It was enough to distract Falcone for just a moment. To stagger him. But most importantly… to distract him.
His hands glowing with the absorbed energy from Cortex, Fitzroy extends them toward the Sentinel. “You want a vortex? You got a vortex!” As he generates it, Fitzroy notes that he doesn’t know where it’ll take them, but he hopes they rot there!
Out of control, Falcone was dragged upward. And Ruby made darned sure… that he would that he would have company.
Above the mega-sized Sentinel, the portal leaps into existence. It is just wide enough to engulf the gigantic robot. Down below, Ruby grabs Cortex and with one arm hurls him, into the blinding vortex. A moment – or an eternity – later, Falcone regains consciousness. Activating a way out, the doctor crawls his way out of the robot and into the residential area outside. The area is a disaster, destruction everywhere and having been caused by the arrival of Falcone’s creation. In the distance, a hand which will never again move of its owners of volition lies on a pile of debris. Seeing this, Anthony Falcone screams.
Voltaire said that God is a comedian playing to an audience that’s too afraid to laugh. I doubt that Anthony Falcone was thinking about that when the universe stopped spinning. He wasn’t sure what had happened. He didn’t know where Cortex had vanished to. He didn’t know where Atlantic City had gone. But what he must have recognized… was his old neighborhood, as it had looked forty years earlier. And his old house, as it must have looked the night it was destroyed, and his parents killed. The comedy stylings of God, ladies and gentlemen. As for Madrox…
Entering the room, Madrox says Layla’s name inquisitively and asks if she’s okay. Before she can answer, he asks if it’s true what they said about Fitzroy? Did… did she really? Turning to him, her arms crossed over her stomach, Layla admits to Madrox that “knowing stuff” was never her power. She can return life to the dead. She did small stuff at first. Bigger as she got older. Clasping his hands on her shoulder from behind, Madrox begins to tell her that this is incredible, but she replies that it’s not. Undeterred, he points out that she could bring back Banshee, but an emphatic Layla interrupts.
She tells him he doesn’t understand. With a bug or a seal… no one notices! But with a person… with Fitzroy… Prompted by Madrox, she tells him, even as she pulls away from his arms. They don’t have souls. Fitzroy will have no soul. No conscience. No morality. She should have refused. She could have but didn’t, because her job is to keep reality on track. She…
Suddenly, a blinding yellow light erupts beneath the pair, quickly forming a luminous cage about them. A moment after that, Jamie Madrox finds himself no longer in the future, but back in his present, surrounded by the rest of X-Factor.
Apparently, Doom had left his time device rigged for one final trip. I know why, of course. And so will you soon enough. And Jamie will find out too in a couple of years. All Jamie knew at the moment was that one second we were in the future and then… Madrox was rematerializing back in X-Factor headquarters.
And I was nowhere to be seen, Layla explains. Sitting next to her on the top of the steps leading to the St. Joan’s orphanage, a many years younger Layla Miller considers her older self’s words. Asked by the younger Layla where was she, where did she go, the older Layla explains “here.” She wound up here and now. Asked why, she replies that it is where she needed to be. To this, the younger Layla replies that she’s still not sure she understands, to which the older Layla replies that time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. “Douglas Adams,” the younger Layla recognizes, earning her a compliment from her older self.
Speaking again, the older Layla explains that reality is also an illusion and so is free will, as she said. Sometimes they are who they are. But most of the time, they’re who others need them to be. She needs her, the older Layla tells her younger self, to be that person. Okay, the younger replies, let’s say she believes her, that’s she’s the older her. That all these things happened… “to us.” That she joins a mutant team. Get’s a fashion faux pas etched on her face. The thing is… “What now?” the older asks. Right, the younger states. What now?
In reply, the older Layla produces a small hand device, which the younger Layla recognizes as being similar in appearance to an ear thermometer, used to take the temperature of babies. Asked if that is the case, the older replies in the negative and asks her younger self to brush back her hair. When the younger self complies, Layla the elder places the device behind the younger’s ear and activates it. A shock of electricity goes through Layla’s head and her eyes go wide… and then roll backwards.
Though her past self does not hear her, having been rendered in immobile shock, the older Layla tells her past self that it’s okay. It’s going to be a lot to absorb. Gently propping her younger self against the railing of the steps for safety, the older Layla explains that everything that’s happened in her life, plus everything she found out that happens in the next eighty years. A ton of stuff. Too much to absorb, really, which is why they’ll have gaps in their knowledge.
Returning to her feet, Layla begins to walk down the steps, leaving her past self in shock. Continuing to explain, she states that their gaps in knowledge is okay. Not knowing everything means at least they get to pretend they have free will sometimes. She’ll come around in a minute or so. Now, if she’ll excuse her… she can’t just sit around talking to herself.
A moment later, the future Layla turns the corner, leaving her past self behind. As she does, she mutters to herself. “God… the things we do to children.”