Detroit. Sixty years in the future...
They say some criminals are born. Lucas Bishop doesn't see it that way. A child of ten years, he wanders suspiciously through the crowded streets of Detroit, wearing a bomber jacket and a green baseball cap that, for the most part, conceals the "M" branded over his right eye. He thinks people only steal for one of two reasons—for food, or for fun. As a boy, he steals for food. On the other hand, for the guy who taught Lucas how to steal—the mutant who called himself the Witness—Lucas swears it is about the fun.
On this particular day, Lucas wanders into the path of an oncoming speeder, initiating the first step of his mentor's con. The speeder swerves to avoid him. Lucas dives out of the way, feigning terror. From the shadows of a nearby alleyway, the Witness watches. A nearby law enforcement officer rushes over to little Lucas's aid. Is he trying to get himself killed? Meanwhile, behind him, the Witness takes advantage of security's distraction and slips into the door of their van. Lucas's eyes follow the Witness as he slips into the vehicle.
He was a stone cold pro, Bishop will later recall. You had to be, in a world where no sane man would employ a mutant. The only way to get something—out of the camps, anyway—was to take it.
The guards suddenly see the mutant mark branded on the young kid's face. As they angrily hoist him off the ground to arrest him, the Witness turns on his new vehicle. Lucas's face remains expressionless, but he notes the flawlessness of this heist. With any heist, the timing has to be perfect—timed to the second. As the van starts up, the guards lose their grip on Lucas. He rips free from their arms and runs away into the crowd.
He and the Witness have pulled this job twice before: once in Pittsburgh, and another time in Toledo. At this particular moment, Lucas realizes he's at the crucial stage in which he has to nail the escape route he practiced hundreds of times in his head. A guard fires at him with a plasma rifle. Lucas dodges the attack, while the Witness brings the van around to the rendezvous point. Another plasma charge cuts Lucas across the shoulder, eliciting a gasp. Lucas, however, rebounds and rushes to latch onto the van’s bumper.
Lucas was not born a criminal. He quickly became one, however, thanks to his birth. After all, Lucas Bishop was unfortunate enough to be born a child of the atom. He and the Witness only target food trucks. They carry the only things they need: food and power cells. Anything else they obtain is worthless, as no fence would dare work with mutants.
In their hideout, Lucas and the Witness examine the spoils of their latest heist. Lucas solemnly reports that they lifted protein butter, again, and synthetic apples, again—two food items that Lucas Bishop will never be able to stomach as an adult because the abundance in which he consumed them as a child. The Witness notices his disappointment and asks if he was expecting Dom Pérignon and Beluga caviar. "Dom Perry what?" a confused Lucas asks. The Witness tells him to just load up the power cells so they can get moving.
They head west. According to rumors, mutants have an easier time slipping through the cracks out west. All they need along the way is power and food, even if it is the same food over and over again. The Witness doesn't seem to mind, however. By this leg of their time together, Lucas starts to wonder who needs whom more. After all, the Witness is an old man who needs a cane to walk, while Lucas is young, smart, and fast. Additionally, he has already learned everything the Witness has to teach. He thinks the Witness may have reached the same conclusion. He supposes that is why the Witness keeps enticing him with stories about the old days—specifically stories about the X-Men.
"The X-Men? Ah, dey was a buncha babies," the Witness tells him in the car one day. "Always fighting each other, plottin' this, plottin that. I swear there could be two damn mutants left on the face o' de Earth... and still dey'd be throwin' punches at each other." Lucas asks if he ever saw her. The Witness asks whom he means. Lucas says he already knows. Inferring he means the red-haired girl, the Witness reveals that he not only saw her, but even came close to snuffing her himself. Lucas glares at the Witness and asks why he didn't, then. She was just one mutant. Why didn't anyone kill her?
His mentor asks if he thinks he has what it takes to kill somebody. To save the world, Lucas thinks he could do it. "S'true," the Witness says. "But the only time you would've stood a chance was the moment that monster got born. And believe me, some brave souls tried." The Witness recalls how the Son of Askani Clan got to the baby first, and hid her away—until it was too late. Lucas will not realize to whom the “Son of Askani Clan” refers until many, many years later.
Casting his gaze aside, Lucas asks if that means the red-haired girl, Hope, had her powers from birth. No, the Witness tells him, but the trouble really started the moment Hope could access her powers. He pauses for a second and asks if Lucas truly wants to hear this story, but casts these doubts aside. Kids go through monster phases, during which they're fascinated by people like Hitler and the Marquis de Sade. “Marky the who?” Lucas asks. "Look, just tell me." The Witness tells him. By the time the girl came back, he says, it was all over. She was far too powerful to stop. He recalls the wailing and gnashing of the teeth that occurred when she returned; like he said before, the X-Men were a bunch of babies, right up until their bitter end.
Lucas listened to stories about Hope all the way across the country. He came to think of her as the mutant who damned them all. Funny that years later I'd be criss-crossing the same country trying to find her, Bishop later recalls. And I don't mean ha-ha funny. Sometimes, he thinks life twists people back around on the same road they traversed as children simply to teach them a lesson—that lesson being, "you didn't know #$%& then, and you don't know #$%& now."
Las Vegas, Nevada...
Midway through their trip, the Witness just vanishes. Lucas will later come to learn that this is what the Witness does; he pops in and out of time. With his mentor gone, Lucas sets out for what he had heard was the last mutant camp on Earth. Apparently, this camp had a loose agreement with the U.S. government. If they didn't bother the mutants, the mutants wouldn't bother them. After the Summers Rebellion, there had been a lot of public pressure, to which the government responded by throwing mutants some funding for lasting programs like schools and farms. This helped everyone rest easy thinking the government had handled the "mutant problem" once and for all.
At first, Lucas doesn't recognize anybody in the camp. That changes when he stumbles upon his grandmother and his sister. Like Bishop, they had escaped Sheepshead Bay. Lucas runs over to Shard and throws his arms around her neck.
For a while, their lives from the old days resume—days Lucas acknowledges were not great, but during which they at least had each other. Lucas now has so much to ask his grandma. He reminds her she once told him that if Hope had not come along, his parents would never have existed. "That's right," his grandma says. Even if that's the case, Lucas asks if the world wouldn't have been better off without her—even if it meant no mom or dad. Holding Lucas close to her chest, the elderly, white-haired woman tells her grandson there is no changing the past, and that it makes no sense to fill one's heart with hate for someone who is long gone. She implores him to think about what he has in the here and now. "Besides, I'd be awfully sorry if you didn't come along," his grandma says. "Because who else would I tickle?" She reaches down and wiggles her fingers over Lucas's ribs. Laughing hysterically, he pleads for her to stop.
Like everything else in his life, the good times do not last for long. A new government regime decides it doesn't want to spend any more money on mutant affairs. It calls this decision "emancipation, but it really means the mutants now have to fend for themselves and try to find jobs in a world that hates them.
You see homeless people in your time, and you think: they must have done something to deserve it, Lucas will later say. My grandma did nothing to deserve it. Her elderly body proves incapable of handing life on the streets; she is just too frail. In her final days, she implores Lucas to take care of his sister. This is his most important task. Lucas tries to tell his grandmother that they will get her medicine, but she snaps at him, once again urging him to take care of Shard. Lucas promises.
His grandmother dies later that night. Since she was a mutant, nobody takes her body for burial.
Several years later...
Lucas and Shard find a place to squat. It has no gas, power or water. It does have an abundance of bugs, though, that don't seem to mind the lack of utilities. Meanwhile, on the streets right outside their dingy walls, a war rages between humans and mutants. Worse, the mutants seem to do a good job taking swipes at each other as well, as gangs of radical mutants begin preying on other mutants.
To counter this, a mutant police squad called the X.S.E. starts beating down on the radicals. Lucas observes this happening, but takes no part in it. This is their war, not his. His only task is to take care of Shard, and he intends to do whatever is necessary to do so.
It turns out, Lucas and Shard's grandmother did not leave them completely alone. A mutant named Hancock, one of her friends from the Vegas camp, looks after them. As luck would have it, of course, Hancock is blind. Naturally, he becomes their lookout during robberies—the only way Lucas knows how to provide for his sister. They pull must of their jobs amidst the gang war between the radical mutants and the X.S.E.
As the years pass, it becomes much more difficult to stay under the radar. The gangs, it seems, don't just want some of the action; they want all of the action. They take offense to freelancers like Lucas. One night, during a routine robbery, a gang of mutants approaches Hancock outside the house and stab him through the side of his head with a butcher knife. They then come for Lucas and Shard. Without question, Lucas would sacrifice his life to these craven murderers to spare his Shard’s. However, Lucas doesn’t give them the chance. One of the mutants tackles Lucas while the other lunges at Shard. This triggers a surge of anger within Lucas Bishop, which in turn triggers the onset of his mutant power. His hands glowing with radiant energy, Lucas devastates the two mutant thugs. He stands in awe of himself afterward; he has mutant powers, just like an X-Man.
Within minutes, an X.S.E. squad arrives and picks them up. They lock Lucas in a room by himself for several hours. Finally, an X.S.E. officer enters. Lucas starts at him; he wants to see his sister! The officer casually pulls out a gun and fires a round into Lucas's shoulder. Lucas groans in pain; what is this man doing? The officer kneels down and stares at Lucas, who writhes in pain across the room. Interesting, he says. Lucas assumes the officer is crazy and tells him to stay away, but the man fires several more energy rounds into his body. Lucas doesn't initially realize what the man is doing to him. Regardless, he absorbs the kinetic energy from the rounds and rechannels it back at the officer, pummeling him senseless. The officer, Bishop later realizes, was testing him.
The X.S.E. officer picks himself up off the ground and approaches Lucas, who stands relatively unharmed. It isn't bullets, but other kinds of kinetic energy that he absorbs, the officer says aloud. Although Bishop still struggles to understand why this officer seemingly assaulted him with a deadly weapon, the X.S.E. obviously sees his potential and makes him an offer. Lucas Bishop accepts, but with one condition: his sister gets to join too.
A week later, Shard and Lucas Bishop begin training under a captain named Hecat'e, whom Lucas likens to a living nightmare—much like some of his fellow trainees. One recruit in particular stands out in this regard. His name is Trevor Fitzroy. “So… what’s your excuse for living?” Fitzroy asks Lucas upon their first meeting. Lucas stutters out a response, but before he can finish, Fitzroy interrupts and shakes his hand. The next moment, Fitzroy seemingly vanishes, while Lucas feels exhausted. As he soon learns, Trevor Fitzroy can drain mutant energy and use it to teleport.
I should have broken his neck then and there and saved myself a lot of grief later, Bishop later recounts.
Lucas and Shard work hard over the years to fit in with the team. Their adventures with the X.S.E. remind Lucas of the stories his grandmother told him about the X-Men. The X.S.E. feels more like a family to Lucas than anything he has felt in a long, long time.
One fateful day, a tip from Fitzroy about a mutant gang hideout leads Lucas and his X.S.E. squad into a system of caves. The cave appears to be a dead-end at first. One of Bishop's female teammate presumes Fitzroy just took them for a ride, and Bishop doesn't doubt it; Fitzroy got into some trouble recently, and this tip was his way of redeeming himself. He certainly had incentive to lie. "That son of a bitch," Bishop says. Shard disagrees with the assessment of her teammates; the Fitzroy she knows would not send them there for nothing. "Oh yeah? So why did your boyfriend send us here?" Lucas asks his sister.
While Shard turns to Bishop to remind him that X.S.E. officers are not allowed to have romantic relationships, a creature emerges from the shadows and reaches out to her. In the palm of its hand, it has a full mouth with monstrous teeth. Oh what I would give to be back in that moment now, Bishop later laments. I'd give anything to have turned around two seconds sooner. The hideout, they discover, is filled with Emplates—vampires who like to feed on mutant bone marrow through the mouths they have on their hands. The Emplates are everywhere—and Fitzroy knew it.
Bishop gasps as an Emplate tackles his sister. While the X.S.E. squad fights for its life, Bishop watches in horror as his sister transform into an Emplate. X.S.E. policy requires officers to destroy all Emplates on first contact; they are considered too dangerous to live. Bishop would sooner cut off his own arm than do this to his little sister. His grandma had told him to take care of her, after all.
Once they eliminate all the targets, they scoop up Shard's quickly transforming body and rush back to base. Bishop takes Shard with him and desperately searches for help. Because the X.S.E. keeps on all known mutants in the area, Lucas Bishop has no trouble finding the one on whom he keeps tabs: an old Cajun named LeBeau, whom Lucas knows as the Witness. He speeds to LeBeau's door with his ailing sister and asks for help. When LeBeau opens the door, he asks Bishop if he has come to arrest him. Right away, Lucas explains he comes not as an officer of the X.S.E., but as a man trying to help his sister. He claimed to have been around during the good old days. The bad old days. He claimed to have seen it all, Lucas later recalls. I prayed he'd seen this before.
Shard's eyes are already turning black. Lucas has fitted her with a respirator to keep her alive. He helps her through the door and into LeBeau's lab, where he lays her down on a chair to rest. He asks LeBeau if he can help her, if it isn't too late. LeBeau explains that Shard is in there somewhere, underneath all the toxic garbage flooding her blood. They simply need to pull her out of this infected body. He turns to Lucas. If he performs this operation, he expects something from Lucas in return. When Lucas asks what he wants, LeBeau demands he leave the X.S.E. for a year and work for him. Lucas Bishop hangs his head. He hesitates. What other option does he have, though? He can keep her attached to life support like a piece of rump roast with a battery attached, but even then, the moment he brings her back to X.S.E., they will put her down immediately. Lucas has no choice but to agree to the deal.
The Witness gets to work. Sometime later, he produces a piece of machinery in his hand and tells Bishop to say hello to his sister. The hand-held machine flickers to life and emits a band of green light. Slowly, the figure of Shard forms from the light. "... Lucas," she calls out. Bishop tells his sister he is right there with her. "... Lucas... I can hear you but I can't find you," the gasping, ephemeral hologram of Shard says. "... Oh Lucas, where are you, I'm so so afraid... please Lucas..."
Lucas can barely look at his sister. Grief-stricken, he turns away, walks out the door, and unleashes a devastating charge of kinetic energy into the ground. They say some criminals are born; Lucas Bishop swears to make Trevor Fitzroy wish he never had been.