Earth 998, months ago:
Thirty seconds ago, Nate Grey tore through reality, guided by a creature he thought he had created. For unknown reasons, he wound up on a world he didn’t know existed.
Mr. Scratch bows, asking Madelyne whether her mission was successful. As he can see, she replies, this one is perfect. No trouble in her absence, she hopes. Rumblings on the Asian frontier, he informs her. They’ll cease as soon as news of her return spreads, he predicts. Maddie, a nervous Nate interrupts, demanding to know what they are doing there. Addressing Nate as “young man,” Scratch tells him to speak only when the queen speaks to him, and speak meekly. He will find manners preferable to death.
Touching his shoulder, Madelyne commends Scratch for his gallantry. But poor Nate is ignorant, not profane, she explains. That excuses nothing, Scratch replies stiffly. With a smile Madelyne remarks that she has gone to considerable effort to domesticate their young guest. She asks Scratch not to antagonize him. As she wishes, he replies. Bowing slightly to Nate, Scratch calls him by his full name and bids him welcome. As they walk to a strange organic looking flying-machine Nate asks how Scratch knows who he is. For eight years, the queen has been fishing for Nate Greys, the other man replies. Who else would he be? He is the queen’s protector, adds Scratch and tells him to remember that. They enter the marvelous flying device.
Looking outside, Nate asks why they ride the machine and not just fly under their own power. He doesn’t fly, Scratch states curtly, and the less publicly ascertained of the Queen’s powers, the righter her grip on the throne. The Maker who made these ornithopters discovered the spiral of worlds and built a device to see them. At the queen’s request, he constructed a great engine to project her from parallel Earth to parallel Earth. A brilliant man, Scratch concedes, adding that there was probably nothing Mr. Forge couldn’t make.
The familiar name gets Nate’s attention and he asks what happened to him. He died, Scratch replies. Nate doesn’t see him smiling as he stares out of the window, asking what on Earth that is, that referring to a mechanical fortress or home as Scratch calls it – the palace.
Several hours later, Nate is attired in several robes by servants. Is this really necessary, he asks. Scratch informs him that he must be presentable. It is an exciting day for Nate. Is it? the boy asks. How old is he? Scratch inquires. Genetically, he is seventeen, the boy replies. That’s very young for a knight in the queen’s service, Scratch points out. Nate should be honored. Today, he will learn what he truly is. Nate doesn’t get any of it.
As they walk through the seemingly endless hall, Nate expresses his impatience. Scratch explains that the palace extends more than three kilometers to honor the resurrected Queen and house her retinue and knight elite. It is dwarfed by the magnitude of her majesty’s glory. Madelyne can’t be their queen, Nate points out. He created her. He is droll, Scratch remarks, before adding a warning. They are about to approach the throne. In there, Nate is to do whatever he is told without question, in silence. He is to keep his heresies to himself or it is Nate’s liver they will roasting at tomorrow’s brunch.
Walking towards the throne, they pass guards who look at Nate curiously. Nate inquires why. Scratch cryptically replies that he is the Nate Grey. It’s been some time since they’ve seen one. The more Scratch talks, the less sense he makes, Nate remarks derisively. Is he doing that on purpose?
Now what? he asks, as everybody around him bows deeply. Scratch’s expression turns dark. Furiously, he forces Nate to his knees. Nate tries to fight back, but Scratch informs him that his mindtricks won’t work on him. It would take no thought and less effort to grind Nate’s collarbone to powder and Nate could do nothing about it. Before Nate can test that theory, Scratch is ordered to stand down. Madelyne adds that, if Nate were fully aware of his potential, he could have ripped Scratch’s secrets from him the moment they met. Though Mr. Scratch can be… difficult.
Nate incredulously stares at Madelyne, now dressed in a regal scarlet robe, her hair done up in an elegant style. Scratch announces her presence, calling her Her Majesty Madelyne I, resurrected queen of Briton, High Protector of the unified commonwealth, sacred mistress of the order of the Black Knights and absolute empress of the north and breachlands. Madelyne orders him to shush. He is frightening Nate again. She welcomes the boy to her world. Earth 998. It’s time he was made aware of the nature of reality. She gestures for everybody to rise. This is a day of celebration, not formalities. Their victory over the Asian empire is now assured.
She walks to the throne and orders Nate to come with her and sit at her feet. He refuses. Maddie just points down, advising him not to fight her. He will only hurt himself. She can make him obliterate cities. She can make him sit. Against his will he sits. Sullenly Nate spits out that she isn’t his Maddie. Stroking his hair, she tells him she is. Did he honestly think he could make a Maddie Pror out of thin air on a whim? Did he never wonder where the whim came from? A Nate Grey does not create. A Nate Grey destroys.
From the beginning, she adds, she was there, sowing the idea of herself into his head. He made a dream and she stepped in to flesh it out. For a time, she was only what he dreamed she should be. A necessary risk to snare him. She has been many Maddie Pryors, on many Earths, all with a singular goal in mind. To find him. That doesn’t make sense, he protests. She has shown him the spiral, Madelyne reminds him. She tells him to open his mind as she touches his forehead. Nate begins to drool as she shows him the true nature of the spiral: so many Earths, all arranged in a double helix, infinite and beautiful, stretching from the darkness to the light. As above, so below. The genetic structure of reality.
Nate staggers and Scratch wryly observes that he babbles. Madelyne orders him to leave Nate be. He stares into the abyss and sees himself staring back.
Madelyne continues darkly that Nate knows now what he is, what all Nate Greys have been on every Earth. The ultimate telekinetic, designed with a doomsday weapon in mind. The climax of the evolution of weapons.
A Nate still struggles with the newly imparted knowledge, Madelyne adds cruelly that most Nate Greys are faulty and die young. Her own died horribly. Their creators load them with genetic timebombs, the ultimate defense against the ultimate weapon. She needed a Nate Grey that worked. Finally, after years of false starts and dead ends, she has found him. In the months that they’ve been together, she’s subtly wormed her way through his mind, placing her controls there. He is her weapon now… But this is a party. She claps into her hands, giving the order to bring “her.”
A voice from nowhere, unheard by the others, tells Nate to be brave. “She” is brought. A slender Asian prisoner, in rags, who is thrown before the queen. The young woman gets up and defiantly announces that she will not bow. Should he eviscerate the Asian spy, Mr. Scratch inquires. No, Madelyne decides. With a cruel smile she orders Nate to kill the prisoner.
The young woman’s face contorts in agony as, out of nowhere, she is engulfed in telekinetic fire. Moments later, all that remains of her is a pile of dust. I didn’t do that, Nate stammers in disbelief, repeating that line like a mantra, even though he knows the truth. Madelyne announces that she doesn’t need his cooperation. She aims him. She pulls the trigger. With a smirk, Madelyne explains that she rules half the world. She wants the other half. Tomorrow, he will exterminate Asia. Nate shouts that he is leaving and begins to fly, as the mysterious voice guides him.
Queen Madelyne orders her soldiers to find him. She will not have all her hard work ruined by a petulant boy.
Nate flies hard and long above the clouds and finally collapses on the ground in some forest. He is joined by a mysterious stranger who remarks that Nate must be very powerful. Most don’t make it. Who is he? Nate asks. The stranger, who is displaying an odd X-shaped tattoo on his chest, asks if Nate doesn’t know. He spoke to him in his mind. He is Nate Grey.