Peace is an illusion. A fragile fantasy, at best. The slightest ripple reveals the lie… disturbed, distorted. Just ask Jack. Peace escapes Jack. He currently sits on the edge of a fountain in Washington Square Park. Pieces alone remain. Pieces of his memory, his mind, his reason - his reasons. Hidden right out in the open, overlooked by these New Yorkers darking enough to brace the night of this bright city, all that is left of Jack is skin and bones. And blood. His withered body is hunched over, hidden under a long coat, his hands dripping in blood which pools into the fountain, while people just walk past him. His silent tears are heard by none - except, in a strangely colourful church nearly a half-mile north, by a young man named Nate Grey - X-Man. He is a young mutant from another world, another reality, gifted with psionic power and potential beyond belief and beyond control.
‘Sobbing, sounds like from… from… inside my head? So short… so sharp… sharper…’ Nate thinks to himself, before touching his head, struggling to stand up, until a woman with dark hair and shades over her eyes goes over to him, ‘Hang on, Vaquero… I gotcha’ she tells him, helping him to stand in the middle of a busy night club where Nate is on the middle of the dance floor with her and a redhead woman. ‘It’s only been a couple of weeks since we rest that shoulder, you know. And that was the least of your problems when we first found you’ she reminds him, adding that he was dehydrated, starving and exhausted. The woman adds that she gets the feeling that he hasn’t exactly laid low since cutting out on her and her girls since then. Nate calls the woman with dark hair Marita and tells her that he is fine, still a little tired, but that this is exactly what he was looking for tonight - a chance to recharge from ground level for a chance, maybe even figure out some way to thank the three of them for raking him in.
As other young people dance, Marita tells Nate that she knows a few more private places where he could start, but before she can continue, Nate interrupts her, telling Marita that he would love a drink. ‘No, I said -’ Marita begins, before Nate adds ‘Right over there at the bar…’ and calls out to the blonde member of the trio, Jam, as he, Marita and the redhead, Bux, make their way to the bar. ‘Is that…’ one of the people on the dance floor wonders as Nate walks past them. ‘You think…?’ another asks. ‘Three more, on the way’ Jam replies as she orders more drinks. Bux declares that she could hardly believe it when Nate showed up on their doorstep this afternoon, looking to make some real connections, no doubt. ‘I mean, because of what I do for a living and all, astral aura readings just now, but my tantric energies are due for a shift any day, I’m, told - Bux rambles on, declaring that she had been into Nate since he first showed up at the Park, building a reputation and talking to anyone who listened, and listening to everyone who talked.
Bux points out that they heard a lot more about Nate than they ever actually saw of him, especially with that loser he had running interference in the crowd. ‘Threnody’ Nate declares. ‘Whateva. Where is the trash these days, wonder boy?’ Bux asks. Nate replies that he doesn’t know, and adds that he could try to find out, and he hasn’t decided not to yet, but that he is afraid he already got the answer he asked for. The girls all look at Nate, their shades covering their eyes, while Bux announces that the buzz on the street had Nate and Threnody bunking together somewhere down in Soho. ‘Word was you and she were -’ Bux begins, before Nate interrupts, ‘Close’ he declares. ‘Closer than I knew. Closer than I knew I was capable of, for that matter…least until I laid out an ultimatum - demanded a trust I wasn’t willing or able to return yet myself - and Thren took me up on it’ he explains.
Solemnly, Nate reveals that the last he saw of Threnody was in the Bronx, in a graveyard where he picked up on Madelyn’s psi-echo, before he found Maddie power-tripping in Switzerland and watched her go ballistic on Jean. ‘Right, then… who’s a “Madelyne”?’ Jam asks, confused.
One of the bartenders hands Nate a drink, telling him that it is from the blonde down the end. ‘Something about you, her and a hot, hot breakfast’ the bar tender remarks. ‘How sweet’ Marita frowns, while Nate smiles and the blonde and raises his drink to her. ‘Why don’t I start carving up the bacon right here and -’ Marita begins as she storms towards the blonde, but Bux and Jam hold her back, ‘She’s yer parole officer!’ Bux points out. ‘So… you new around here?’ the bartender asks Nate.
Meanwhile, at Washington Square: ‘Heeey, Grey! You out dere somewhere, chumley, anywhere? Grey-di-lay-e-oo?’ the young boy called Roust calls out from where he has climbed a lamppost, to gain a better view. Some people walking past look up at him, puzzled, while Roust realizes that there is still nothing, nowhere. He wonders if perhaps he shouldn’t have taken off like he did after they saved those other kids from the Sentinels together, and all - until he was sure that Grey had heard his warning, and was absolutely convinced Nate understood the terrible threat that has followed him upground, from the last lair of the Abomination’s forgotten. ‘From the last place I ever saw my brother alive’ Roust reminds himself.
Roust decides that he is never going back to that weird loft of Grey’s in Soho, that’s for sure, what with the freaky sounds and shadows where he got ambushed by those Zero Tolerance robots in the first place. Roust tells himself that now that the witch hunt is over, according to all of the newspapers he has seen, he had to come out of hiding again, to force Grey to listen to him before it is too late. ‘Force the big guy to do something, if I have to. About the problem he started -’ Roust begins to tell himself, when suddenly, the lamp post begins to shake, and Roust looks down, to see a police officer who is banging his baton against the post and tells Roust to quit disturbing the peace and get down from there. ‘I’m just looking for -’ Roust begins, but the officer tells him that the local fortune-teller won’t be back on his beat, not after the warning he gave him last month. ‘Not if he knows what’s good for him, anyway’ the officer adds, while telling Roust that the same goes for him. ‘There was some trouble around here earlier tonight, a hot dog vendor found right near this spot. In pieces’ the officer reveals.
Roust drops to the ground, ‘That’s all I needed to hear, big blue…I’m outta here!’ he exclaims as he rushes off into the bushes. ‘Got that right’ the officer remarks, before carrying on down the path, spinning his baton as he goes. He smiles, pleased with himself, ‘Another problem successfully solved by Officer Quintin B Grimes, protector of the park’ he boasts. ‘Sergeant Quintin B Grimes, defender of all downtown, once I get my mitts on the son-of-a-butcher working my grounds’ he decides. Grimes knows that the public hasn’t connected the other bodies yet - the homeless couple that turned up on Sunday, or the firebug that jumped bail last week. ‘But Captain B Grimes, future Chief of Police for the entire metropolitan area, is on the case’ he thinks to himself.
‘Special advisor to law enforcement agencies across the nation, crusading network, consultant of tomorrow and…’ Grimes thinks to himself, when suddenly, he hears a rustling in the bushes. ‘He touched you’ a thin man in a cloak declares as he emerges from the bushes. Grimes reaches for his gun, but falls to his knees… ‘Yes’ he thinks to himself, as the figure looms over him, before he cries out. Shortly, a crowd of park-goers have gathered, ‘Oh my G-’ one of them begins. ‘Call the cops’ another suggests. ‘Ambulance’ someone else declares. ‘Was a cop’ another points out. ‘Too late’. ‘Another one’. ‘Another…?’
Back at the nightclub, the Limelight, a live band is playing on stage, including Jam, while Nate has returned to the dance floor with Marita and Bux. ‘How show, guys! Music’s pumping, club’s rocking…the band’s got this crowd eating out of the palms of their hands!’ Nate smiles. Bux explains that Jam has been gigging with the Shilohs for a couple of months now, just for shots like this to showcase her own material - all originals, written before she met up with she and Marita. ‘Catching up from behind just like the blind leading the blind’ the singer of the Shilohs. ‘Let the man dance, Bux’ Marita calls out, while telling Nate that he has got the moves down smooth, all right, all the tracks and grooves, but that he has to feet it, ride it, and trust it.
A look of concern comes over Nate’s face as he tells himself that trust is not what he does best. He can read the minds of everyone in this room, pluck all the latest dance steps straight out of their heads with just a thought - but it is another matter entirely to try and live them. Nate decides that sometimes he thinks the place he felt most comfortable was the circus troupe he travelled with back home. The singer continues to sing: ‘On a long road back to a home I never known finally, catching up from behind just like the blind leading the blind’, while Nate recalls that the troupe taught him more about being the center of attention than really relating one on one to people his own age. ‘The sobbing’s back. Nobody else hears it, obviously. Nobody else could hear anything over this volume, but it sounds louder than ever to -’ Nate thinks to himself, before Marita presses her back against Nate’s, ‘Feel the beat, Nino, trust the heat - trust me - you got dance in your pants!’ she grins.
The lead singer speaks to everyone in the night club now, telling them that they have a genuine celebrity out on the floor - a mystery man whose talking they have all been talking about - and a chance for their own, little taste of that sweet, silver tongue. ‘Hands up for local legend and rabble-rouser, Washington Square’s own golden boy…Nate Grey!’ he declares. The spotlight falls on the wide-eyed Nate, ‘Rabble-rouser?’ he asks. ‘Kick it, kid’ Marita smiles, pushing Nate towards the stage. ‘Okay, then…what the heck!’ Nate exclaims as he climbs onto the stage, and everyone chants his name. Nate sings along with the lead singer, ‘Started out as a dream, woke up all alone, on a long road back, to a home I never known, finally catching up from behind, just like the blind leading the blind, just like the blind leading the blind’.
They continue, ‘Stopped to wait and ee but you were way of me, around the bend, don’t know when I started running, never saw it coming, looked around to gind out, someone to remind you, where we’ve been, slowing to a crawl, so slow I tend to stall making time for you to come around again, finally catching up from behind just like the blind - leading the blind. Catching up from behind just like the blind leading the blind…’. ‘Rita?’ Bux calls out to Marita who is fixated on Nate as he sings and moves about on stage.
At the same time, outside, young Roust stands before the bouncers. ‘34’ he tells them. ‘Nope’ one of them replies. ‘22, with a pituitary problem, okay? But I don’t like to talk about it’ Roust declares. ‘Nope’ the bouncer tells him. ‘Medicine for my cousin’ Roust claims. ‘Nope’ the bounder replies again. ‘Oh, I’m with the band’ Roust exclaims. ‘Oh, if you’re with the band -’ the other bouncer begins to say, but the first declares ‘Nope’ once more. Roust turns and walks away, as the bouncer tells him to come back when his pituitary thing clears up though. ‘Bite me’ Roust calls back. He is annoyed that he finally gets a lead from some “hopper” across town, bragging about clubbing here with Grey, and now he can’t get to him because he is underage. ‘His precious park’s becoming a bloodbath…while it’s great whitening hope parties on inside’ Roust thinks to himself, walking past an alleyway, he doesn’t see the shadow of a hooded figure.
Back inside, Nate jumps off the stage, ‘Serious, serious rush!’ he tells Marita and Bux. ‘Been on stage once or twice before, I’m guessing’ Marita remarks. ‘Not singing like that’ Nate replies, adding that he isn’t sure what came over him up there, really, as it felt like he got swept up in the wave, until he tried riding it, like she was saying about the dancing and all - riding with it. ‘Fresh tune’ someone calls out. ‘Where’d I hear’ another begins. ‘Knew all the words’ someone points out. ‘Whole house did’ someone else remarks. ‘Just kept taking me higher an-’ another declares, while Marita’s parole officer walks over and wraps her arms around Nate’s shoulders, ‘You and I have a few things I common that just might shock your socks off, hotshot’ she declares. ‘I’ve heard that before’ Nate replies. The blonde woman tells him that she could buy him another soda water, if he doesn’t believe her, and tell him all about them right here. ‘Or take you home and show you exactly what I’m -’ she whispers into Nate’s ear, while Marita and Bux look on, unimpressed. ‘She’s your parole officer, she’s your parole officer, she’s your parole officer…’ Bux mutters over and over. Nate smiles as the blonde woman continues to whisper into his ear. Nate looks up at Jam who is still on the stage, then smiles at the blonde woman who tells him ‘If you think that might be the best way to prevent any hard feelings’. ‘I…’ Nate continues to smile.
Peace is a state of mind. ‘Magilla and his gorilla around front appear to have the ground floor covered from every which way - including the sewers I like to call home’ Roust thinks to himself as he climbs a fire-escape ladder up the side of the club, deciding that it is time to start broadening his horizons. He doesn’t see the strange figure lurking in the alleyway. Peace of mind is just a state of grace. Just ask Jack. He remembers something of the boy - of another orphan, too, a twin called Joust, and a friend named Cole, confused and scared, a victim of the voice in his head since late childhood.
Just pieces, really. ‘She’s your parole officer’ Bux tells Marita back inside the club. ‘He better not even be thinking what I think he’s thinking…’ Marita snaps. At the same time, Roust has made his way inside, and rests on a ledge near the ceiling, while Nate tells himself to not even think about it, when suddenly, he hearts the sobbing again, even louder now, internally and closer somehow - but he still can’t pinpoint the external source. Roust was able to get in through the roof next door which led to a ventilation shaft, now he just has to figure out a way for Grey to see him before those bouncers do. The cloaked figure appears behind Roust. It is Jack Knife. He suddenly recalls from the sharp jagged edges of his memory - pieces - and he knows that Roust has to die.
The memory appears in Jack’s mind, once, they fought to live, Roust, Joust, Cole and a girl named Watts, scavenging the garbage of the city’s back-alleys, taking meals and shelter where they found it. Cole heard more and more voices unfortunately, more and more often. ‘Wouldn’t wanna be one. Can’t fight City Hall, not from here’ Jack recalls saying, but his friends always took care of him. The voices spoke louder and louder, as well, each and every day. Jack Knife reaches out for Roust, he remembers the voices spoke in more and more languages about more and more things he understood less and less about. ‘Not if you don’t love her. How do I know without seeing how it fits. I told ya, told ya, told ya, write it down first. Don’t eat the fist’ he remembers saying. This drove young Jack further and further from the world he walked. But his friends took care of him, as Watts beckoned him to go underground.
They led him to the lair of the Forgotten, a haven of sorts for those without hope. The voices never stopped, true enough, but there was hot food to be hunted for, in abundance, underground, clean rags to wear and no weather to speak of. A dream of peace, if nothing else - until the Abomination brought her there, brought her back to the sanctuary they had shared once before. But he came after her - Nate Grey - came after Threnody. The loudest voice of all, echoing back from everything, everywhere, blowing it all to pieces. Jack Knife eyes go wider, and suddenly, one of the clubbers down below calls out ‘Look! Up on high! Is that the byrd?’ to which someone asks ‘Larry Byrd?’
And, before Jack Knife can grab Roust, Nate flies up and takes the boy, ‘Excuse me, pal. You looking for this?’ Nate calls out, while Roust sees Jack Knife and tells Grey to get outta here, as it is him, one that he has been trying to warn him about. ‘The psycho that slaughtered my brother and so many others down below - Jack Cole!’ Roust exclaims.
‘Jack Knife now, little Roust! Now and forever… thanks to the other mind in your very midst! The outcast of a world that never should have been, this Nate Grey is an insult to all realities!’ Jack Knife announces telepathically, while shards of energy dart about him. Jack Knife declares that Nate Grey is a danger to all of them, mutants and humans alike, and once he is finally dead at his feet, returned to the nether that spawned him, he will be able to do the same for every other lost soul he has already touched and tainted in this cursed hellhole. ‘Across the whole, cursed planet, if necessary…’ Jack Knife declares while Nate looks at him with concern, and Jam, Marita, Bux and the other night clubbers stare up in shock .
Meanwhile, in the lost lair, piles and piles of bodies lay on top of one another. A woman sitting in the shadows rests atop them. Her eyes glow in the darkness, ‘Hunger…’ she utters, as some of the bodies are not actually dead, and reach out to her, ‘Me! ME! Me! ME!’ they cry as they beg for her….