Cinder Fontaine is having a wonderful dream, apparently with Titanic’s Leonardo Di Caprio (“King o’ the World, Leo… King o’ the…”) before being rudely awoken by her alarm. “Overslept!” she realizes in panic looking at her watch. Scanlon’s going to skin her alive if she misses a minute of this morning’s pitch. She knew she’d regret staying out so late the previous night, sticking around for that third screening with the gang and all… but Ames just needs to see it four more times now to beat Brandy’s record. And Brandy’s such a witch, Cinder thinks and tosses the nerve-wracking alarm clock on the floor. “Worth it,” she yawns.
“Shower,” she gives the voice command as she enters the bathroom. Eating a slice of pizza as she showers, she gives the voice command “Journal on” and begins her spoken entry. She saw Rick and Matt at the movies last night. With Ginny and Jess – obviously. After getting the chance to see the way Rick acts around with his girlfriend, though, all goofy and throwing popcorn at Stooper’s Boys like that, she is so over like him. But Matt still… She doesn’t know what it is, really, maybe Matt sort of reminds her of… of… Grey. Target Grey, she mentally confesses to herself. “Journal off,” she utters and stops recording her entry.
“Open,” she gives a new command and the shutters open tight, offering a breathtaking view of the city. (Actually, it is a fake view; Cinder is inside the huge aircraft serving as headquarters for the Gauntlet) Another summer in San Fran, Cinder thinks She was born and raised in a suburb of Oakland, California, just a few miles west from here. She went all the way through junior high in this small community, only dreaming of attending Faraday Empire State University some day. Checking her computer, Cinder goes through her dressing options for today: lime leotards? “Nope, outta lime lipstick…” she grumps. Cut-offs? Baggies? Yellow sun dress? Yeah, right, she thinks. Best she goes with basic black, as usual. Accented by the very latest in electro-response conductor contacts of course. This is a work day, after all.
Cinder initiates an electronic program that gradually puts her into a huge high-tech armor. She’s barely nineteen, give or take the three years spent in a shock-induced coma, triggered by the spontaneous blossoming of her natural psi-abilities. But she’s just another soldier now, the newest and youngest of Strikeforce: Gauntlet.
A few minutes later, now into her armor, Cinder enters the conference room. Being late, she apologizes to Commander Scanlon. She really was trying not to… Scanlon tells her to save it for the Review Board. With a picture of Nate beside him on a giant monitor, Scanlon announces to all the agents present that everything’s changed. If and until they find out what happened to their psi-talents – how and why they all fritzed out during the anomalous E-M pulse picked up by their sensors nineteen days ago – they’re forced to rely on more… traditional means of warfare. More physical. Unfortunately, they’ve lost all trace of target-Grey now, thanks to the interference of a man nine days ago – the monitor proceeds to show Ness’s face. To complicate matters further, they know nothing more of the lone stranger, who or what he is.
In New York, Ness has met on a rooftop with his cousin, and fellow member of the Hellbent race, Slaine. Ness explains that he traced Nate backwards from the Arctic to here, in New York, the city where he appears to have spent the most time in the last few months… but Nate hasn’t returned. Ness has lost him completely. And there are others after Grey now, as well. Powerful beings. Slaine must convince his people to help Ness. Slaine promises he will try, he owes him that much and no more. Unveiling his wings and flying off, Slaine reminds Ness, though, that he stinks of them. No matter what, Ness will never be allowed to return to the nest.
In a girls’ dormitory room of Trinity University in Dublin, a murderous energy-based being taunts Nate by wearing his face. The murderer assures Nate and Madelyne Pryor that the fun has just begun! Because of him, eight are dead already in Dublin, the flesh stripped from their bodies, the marrow sucked from their bones. “Some kind of doppelganger… or… or…” Madelyne utters in disbelief, seeing how the murderer is wearing Nate’s face. “No… NO MORE!” Nate screams in rage and blasts the killer with bolts of telekinesis. Nate doesn’t care who he is… what he thinks he is… he’s not getting anywhere near these girls… not without going through Nate at first!
Seemingly withstanding Nate’s relentless assault of telekinetic blasts, the killer assures Nate that he can live with that… how about him? In an instant, he reveals his true, skeletal face beneath an enormous armor. Nate recognizes him at once: Nemesis?! He knew it – as soon as Maddie proved the killer wasn’t Nate and they ruled out the rest of the Age of Apocalypse run-off, Nate knew it had to be Nemesis.
“Bully for you,” Nemesis scoffs and throws a punch on Nate, sending him crashing against the wall. “B-but how…?” Nate wonders, at loss about Nemesis’s shapeshifting abilities. Nemesis explains that the shape-changing is an added perk, built into the armor all along, as he recently learned, but it requires… feeding. Organic materials scavenged from the living. And Nate just wasted a good month’s worth with his best shot.
Seeing how Nemesis is about to repeat his attack on Nate, Maddie interposes between the two. She demands he back off! “Oooh… real scary, babe,” Nemesis sneers at her. He effortlessly pummels her and sweeps her out of his way, mockingly asking Nate where he dug this one up. Hearing that, Madelyne realizes that Nemesis knows… he knows what she is… where she was when Nate found her… Nate assures her that Nemesis knows squat. He is nothing more than the idiot-spawn of Apocalypse, soured up with the Dark Beast’s lab-scraps, and that little reign of terror ended with their world. Lunging at Nemesis, Nate proclaims that their unholy dynasty is long dead and buried! With that, they both crash down through the floor, locked in a fighting embrace.
Almost instantly, a human hand – Nate’s hand – emerges from the huge rift on the floor. Madelyne grabs his hand and pulls him up. She tells him it’s time to go. People are starting to gather now, and she can hear sirens approaching already. A worn out Nate explains that the first telekinetic barrage didn’t even slow Nemesis down. Their only chance was a focused attack, up close and personal like that… to try and penetrate the armor, maybe even…
“Tickled like the devil. Make me laugh again, Grey,” Nemesis pokes fun at him, emerging from the gap on the floor and grabbing Nate’s leg. “No way,” Maddie snaps. Like she said – time to go. At an instant, she teleports Nate and herself somewhere in the nature, right by a lake, snowy mountains visible in the background. She explains they are at Colorado Rockies, Southern face of Pike’s Peak. She came here with Scott once, a long time ago, and she thought he might find it…
“What have you done?!” an exasperated Nate screams at her. Maddie asks him not to panic; she just teleported them to safety. She reminds Nate that Nemesis is the murderer. He’s the Age of Apocalypse refugee that’s been slaughtering Dubliners while Nate slept, not Nate, so their business is done.
Back at Dublin, Nemesis rages outside the now burning dorm house, while people flee in panic. A military tells his men to clear the campus and bring out the big guns!
At Colorado Rockies, Nate asks Madelyne if she’s out of her mind. He explains that Nemesis is an engine of destruction, straight and simple. One of the very same bloodthirsty butchers who enslaved Nate’s world before they destroyed it. Madelyne retorts that Nemesis is raw, raging power and… Nate cuts her short and reminds her they left him right at the height of a major mad-on and Nate is the only one with any chance of stopping him now!
In Dublin, even the army men flee in panic, faced with Nemesis’s wrath. People keep screaming that they can’t let him reach the streets; they should call for back-up! Nemesis gleefully blasts the army’s truck and blows it to smithereens.
At Colorado Rockies, Madelyne insists it’s not Nate’s problem – not anymore. It’s time he grows up already and realizes the whole world doesn’t revolve around him. Nate snaps back that yes, it is his problem. In a very real way, he’s responsible for every one of the Age of Apocalypse monsters that came through to this world, through the rift he tore open during the death-throes of his own planet. He has an idea that just may take care of Nemesis at least, once and for all – an idea he got from Maddie, in fact.
In Dublin, Nemesis begins to walk away from the dorm house, amidst flames and bodies of people, either dead or injured. Someone is heard screaming for ambulances.
At Colorado Rockies, Maddie tells Nate to save it. His teke-shields barely survived the first round, Nemesis’s first punch. He’ll kill Nate if they go back – kill them both – and she won’t… she can’t… Nate insists he’s not asking her this time. If she doesn’t want to do this… it’s a deal-breaker. And with this, Nate suits himself up in a psionic armor.
In Dublin, Nemesis realizes that those cowards just blew his cover and rabbited, leaving him for the locals. But he won’t be able to resume any kind of human form now till he replenishes all that juicy bio-mass he’d been stocking. And he’s got to start somewhere, he thinks, leering above a semi-conscious man laid on the ground. “Hail Mary, full of Grace…” the man prays in horror.
Nate’s voice is suddenly heard, with a proposition for Nemesis: how about they try this again – but this time they’ll even up the odds a bit. Nemesis finds himself surrounded far and wide by multiple identical versions of Nate, all donning his psionic armor. Nemesis is incredulous: Grey again, in some sort of psi-armor now?! More Greys to tear apart, he gleefully decides and makes to punch one of them… only his hand passes right through him. He then releases blast to a few other “Greys”; likewise, they remain impervious to his attack.
Seeing Nemesis at loss, Nate explains they’re more like psionic projections, shaped out of dust and dirt, with just a hint of brick-shavings for color. Materializing behind Nemesis, Nate announces “I’m the real sucker… mind over muscle!” and strikes at his opponent. “You wish, precious,” Nemesis snarls. That shiny little shell of Nate’s will never stand up to a direct shot from his bio-cannon. Nate retorts that Nemesis will never connect to it, not from this angle, not this close. His arms thrust deeply into Nemesis’s armors, Nate reveals he knew Nemesis would try anyway – in fact, he was waiting for it, so he could seal a teke-funnel round his open blast-fist, creating a vacuum that’ll continue sucking the energies out of his armor until Madelyne’s ready to…
Nate is suddenly in panic, seeing how Madelyne is nowhere to be found. He cries out her name. Struggling to break his lock with Nate, Nemesis commends him on the effort, but notices that the frail is nowhere in sight and Nate is nowhere man enough to contain all this power by his lonesome.
Floating above the two of them, Madelyne tells Nemesis that Nate doesn’t have to – not anymore. Not as long as she’s here to take it all away for him. Concentrating, she pulls out the vast amounts of the villain’s energy contained by Nate and teleports it away. A blinding explosion of red light, accompanied by a discreet “pop” sound ensues. An exhausted Madelyne lands on Nate’s arms, quipping that she was in the right time, at the right place, as always. Seeing how Nemesis is nowhere in sight, however, she wonders about him. Nate explains that his armor imploded with the last of his bio-energies. He’s not even sure there was ever much of a man inside.
The following morning, Conor MacAleer, the man Nate saved last night just as he was about be murdered by Nemesis, tells his wife how exactly the villain was beat the night before. Conor finishes his story by explaining that the energies Nate couldn’t contain, Madelyne teleported into outer space. Long and short of it is, the two of them saved his life last night. They saved his whole squadron. So the first month’s free, he told them, and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Pointing at Nate, who’s voraciously devouring his breakfast in the couple’s kitchen, Conor’s wife, Brenda, stresses that, just like Conor said, this one’s a mutant. A bit embarrassed, Conor reminds her that he’s sitting a yard away from her. Brenda tells him she can see that for herself. And her pantry’s the worse for it – three times over already – but young Natey and his friend are both welcome here, for as long as they need. Nate thanks her for everything. Conor believes it’s settled, then. Their other borders should be down for breakfast in a few – some real characters, the lot of them. Nate assures him he’s looking forward to meeting them all – later though, after a couple of week’s sleep.
Nate enters the bedroom he shares with Madelyne. She is fast asleep in the bed. They did good out there, the two of them. They headed off some serious suffering for a lot of innocent people, once they finally got involved. He still can’t help thinking about the others, though – that shepherd outside the town, the Feeneys, those poor kids who picked the wrong lovers’ lane, the families of all those equally innocent others… how little they did for them. How much difference they could have made, if they’d moved sooner – moved first.
Nate has decided Maddie’s right: it’s time to get proactive. Time to start cleaning up the mess Nate’s brought to the world, starting with his birthworld bullies. Nemesis is no threat anymore. They took care of that problem, at least, but Sugarman and Dark Beast have been spreading their slimy tentacles wider and deeper every since they arrived. Nate and Maddie can do something about that together, soon as they get their telepathy back from… Before he can complete his thoughts, Nate falls asleep right by Maddie’s side, protectively hugging her with one arm.
Meanwhile, hidden inside a ship’s hold about to sail off from a Dublin port, Nemesis keeps raging over something Nate mentioned after he defeated him. “Not sure there was ever a man inside,” the punk actually says about him, Nemesis the First! Only-born heir to the true living Apocalypse. He swears Grey will eat these words – he and his witch both. He’ll stuff them down their scrawny throats himself, once he hooks up with Dark Beast back in New York, and he’s restored to his full armor body. McDoc’s got something cooking for Nemesis already. So rest in peace, sucker… if you can, he thinks of Nate.
Back in Dublin, a homeless woman screams in horror as someone drains her organic properties to the limit, leaving behind a charred skeleton. The culprit quickly flees in an alley. And at the same time, Madelyne slumbers peacefully in her room. However, she is now alone in the room, the windows sewn wide open…
In the Gaunlet headquarters, Vise gets out of her armor and walks into her personal apartment. Sometimes she thinks she’s been a soldier all her life. Maybe it’s the wires in her head, the psi-augmenters that she alone the Strikesquad: Gauntlet must rely upon, playing tricks with her mind. Sometimes they do that, she thinks.
The hard-faced Vise turns on her terminal and initiates transmission-sequence-Delta-3, personal protocol, scrambled from point of origin. A mysterious shady figure appears on the monitor. Addressing the interlocutor as “doctor,” she tells this person that they’ve got a problem: Scanlon’s people have lost the boy completely. Her interlocutor swiftly revives her hopes: “Problem solved, my dear. Point them in the direction of Dublin, Ireland…”