(New York City)
In Alphabet City, an arsonist strikes a match that ignites a river of gasoline, which snakes its way into the basement of a tenement block. Within moments, an explosion rocks its foundations. Over the last few weeks, other cases have left these ‘abandoned’ tenement blocks charred husks. Abandoned they may be by the city, but they are still inhabited, by heroin addicts mostly. They’re junkies one and all, and this building is no exception. Some are too wasted to notice the smoke and noise, or to stop their shivering, despite the rising heat.
The floor beneath them suddenly collapses and the inhabitants begin to fall. This is their lucky day. Nate Grey swoops in and uses his telekinesis to pluck each and every one out of the air. He psi-scans the place and finds that he has everyone, but the blaze is spreading and the buildings on either side are evacuating too slowly. He has to wrap this up soon. He can’t wait for the local firefighters to bring the house down. With a mighty telekinetic shove, he implodes the building, dropping it to the ground as soon as everyone is clear of danger.
Firefighters notice the survivors descending through the smoke, as if on the breeze. From a shadowy alleyway, the arsonist watches with a satisfied grin. He thinks this is weird enough, but he got what he wanted as soon as he felt the burn when he sparked the dump. He never wanted to hurt anyone, no matter what the ‘freak’ tried to lay on him in the park the previous day. He just can’t resist the flame some nights.
Out of nowhere, a small child appears above him, held in place by Nate’s telekinesis. The arsonist is usually at a safe enough distance from his efforts to be shielded from the havoc he wreaks, but now he sees things, in the eyes of one lone victim, in a very different light. He actually lives it for the first time; a sudden blinding glare and thundering noise, stifling soot and blistering steam, searing and scalding his lungs from within. He now knows the fear and confusion and pain as if it were his own.
Nate Grey appears behind the child, having given the arsonist a taste of what it feels like direct from the child’s mind. Nate figures that the shock of the psi-link will wear off too soon for his own good, but at least he’s got it out of the child’s system at least. He had planted a telepathic tracer on the firebug when he first spied his plan. What a world, he thinks as he leaves the child with waiting firefighters.
(Washington Square Park)
It’s a busy place on any day of the week, and Threnody is surrounded by a bunch of people asking where Nate has gone. She asks for some space, and tells them they’re asking for their donations one at a time. Tithing early will facilitate his good works when ‘Nate the Great’ finally arrives. The crowd isn’t happy that they’ve been waiting over an hour for him. A little kid named Frankie asks Threnody while they’re waiting, what’s with all the stupid things on her face?
Threnody moves her face close to his and replies in a scary voice that she was abducted by a big bad monster who split her skull open to operate on her exposed brain, way before she met Nate. She asks him to take a good look. These ‘stupid things’ are all that are keeping her head together now. She grabs his baseball cap and places it on her own head. She’s about to ask him to stop asking nosy questions, when she clocks on to the fact that Frankie is bald. It’s clear to her that he has some form of cancer. “Lemme guess, Threnolady… y’ain’t never seen a kid like me before?”
Unfortunately, Threnody has seen plenty like him. Her mutant sensitivity to death and to cellular decay can pick them out a mile away, and usually does. However, she’s never felt like this before. Her power kicks in and is so strong and seductive that she actually touches Frankie. His mother steps in before she can do anything stupid, and takes her hand, asking if Nate can make a difference. Threnody is about to say she’s not sure, when Nate emerges from under the water in the fountain and shouts, “Yes!” The waiting admirers love his stylish entry.
Threnody whispers to Nate that she’ll kill him if he ever turns up this late again. She asks him how he did that, but he says it’s a trade secret. Frankie tells him it’s about time. His mom’s been waiting for him. Nate says hi, and then connects his mind with Frankie’s. He scans him, and informs his mother that Frankie spirit is strong and is afraid of nothing. He is well aware of the trials he faces ahead, and he faces them with courage. He turns to his mother and tells her that her son needs no help from him, thanks to her, but she needs to be strong as well. He places his hand on her forehead and gives her the inner strength she needs to face the long journey ahead of her.
Threnody seems happy with his work, but reminds him that they need some paying customers. Nate suddenly asks her to hold it. He can sense someone watching them; someone close and familiar, yet still out of sight somehow and hidden from his mind’s eye.
(Operation: Zero Tolerance)
Bastion, the head of OZT, is watching his monitors with interest. Among those featured are the members of L.A’s Hellfire Club and the Silver Surfer. His assistant, Daria, informs him that there’s no sign of any of the ruling elite – the so-called Inner Circle at the L.A. club, not for months now. Bastion replies that she won’t find them at the other chapter houses either. Mutants, like any other vermin, are always first to abandon a sinking ship. But, they all have to come up for air sooner or later, and Operation: Zero Tolerance will be there. For now, he asks Daria to show him more of this creature newly returned to Earth - this Silver Surfer.
(Washington Square Park)
Threnody notices the crowd going cold on them all of a sudden. Nate reveals this is due to him. He’s made them invisible to their eyes, just long enough for them to get clear of the park for a while. They need a few minutes to themselves to talk about them. Threnody says that they have something good going on, and asks why they should ruin it by trying to analyze what’s happening. Nate replies that he has some unresolved questions about her, and at some point he’ll need them answered.
She asks where to next? Nate tells her he feels like he’s been running non-stop since hitting this world; searching for the life and the people he left behind along the way. He grabs her hand and takes them into the air. But, he adds, he found her instead, and maybe a place to start for him, here, where he can be just one light among so many.
They head downtown, and Nate uses his power to try and appropriate a pair of boots from the other side of a shop window. Threnody gets him to stop before he grabs them, and turns to astonished passers by that it’s amazing what they can do with mirrors these days. She suggests they actually spend some of the money he earned today.
Aboard Sebastian Shaw’s luxury yacht, Tessa is speaking with her boss. He informs her that this Bastion already commands a multi-national task force, empowered to ‘handle’ mutants globally. The bureaucratic backlash over the lost heroes hasn’t waned yet, adding further to Graydon Creed’s local fire-and-brimstone act. If there’s any chance at all that his anti-mutant histrionics will get him into the Oval Office, they must be prepared for the worst.
Tessa isn’t keen on siding once again with Selene, but Shaw says it depends on what she brings to the circle, as always. If they are to survive the coming storm, it will take a united effort. Tessa knows it will not be easy, and Shaw replies that it was never meant to be.
A burst of energy blows out the candles on ship, and Selene appears, floating towards them with Trevor Fitzroy on her left and a cowled female on her right; the black and white rooks. Tessa asks if her newfound ability to defy gravity is a new power, perhaps absorbed in her recent slaughter of the Externals? Or is it just her usual charade? She asks Tessa to tell her. She’s the telepath. She informs them that their Black Queen has returned at the crowning hour, and feels introductions are in order.
She and Tessa have a little war of words, before Madelyne removes her cowl, revealing her fiery red hair and green eyes. “Name’s Madelyne,” she informs Shaw. Shaw is unimpressed, and if this unknown being is all Selene has to offer, he suggests her other candidate would make for a better candidate for the circle. At least Fitzroy’s knowledge of the future might open a few doors. Tessa asks him to look again; closer this time, past the façade of her flesh to the flame of her heart, real and raging - the slow smoldering fire in her eyes. Does he see what she sees? Shaw indeed looks at Madelyne once again, and he catches on fast. Fitzroy too notices it. Shaw bends and kisses Madelyne’s hand and tells Tessa that he sees no fire, except for the inferno itself.
Tessa contacts Selene telepathically, linking Sebastian Shaw in with her conversation but not Madelyne or Trevor. She warns Sebastian to beware. Every psi on the planet felt the passing of the self-proclaimed Goblyn Queen. She asks Selene if she realizes who Madelyne is and what she’s done here. Selene replies that she’s achieved nothing but the impossible. Aside from securing her position in the club’s ranks once more and forever, she’s just delivered them the X-Men!
Nate and Threnody have made their way into a clothes shop to try on some new threads. They then move all over town from one shop to another, as Nate struggles to find something appropriate. They end up at Ariviantioni’s in uptown, where Threnody finds something she likes. Nate emerges wearing blue jeans, a right-fitting shirt and a grey leather jacket. Threnody too has had a change of appearance, wearing tight purple pants, a small gold top and purple beret. She’s determined to find them something drier and warmer than their usual hole in the ground before he goes blowing the rest of their apartment budget. Nate counts the remaining cash. Thirty-two dollars and fourteen cents. Threnody guesses that leaves out the spacious SoHo loft.
They eventually choose, despite their meager savings, a top floor flat at twenty-six hundred a month. It’s semi-furnished, and looks like a converted warehouse space. A large clock on one wall offers plenty of light through its glass case. It’s a vacant property that the owner is having difficulty letting. Nate figures they won’t be disturbed for some time. He figures it’s just a temporary measure until they find something better; a place to start for them both. Time’s running out for him every minute of every day, and he wastes too much time talking about it. He wants to know about Threnody; some things he heard from her old friend, Sinister…