The agency evolves
For the past few years, the alien Skrulls had been kidnapping and replacing key superheroes and villains with shapeshifting soldiers. Eventually, the time came for them to enact the final stage in their bid to take over Earth. Whilst a Skrull army attacked Earth, the various Skrull spies who had infiltrated the superhero teams created chaos within the ranks. [Secret Invasion crossover]
Darwin had been part of a secret team of X-Men that Charles Xavier had assembled in between his original team and his “all-new, all-different” group. Having believed them all dead, Xavier covered up their existence until M-Day, when one of the survivors, known as Vulcan, woke from his stasis. Darwin, whose ability to develop any power required to save his life, had resided as energy in Vulcan’s body and was also set free. Growing a new body, he soon joined the X-Men. [X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6]
X-Factor was visited by Hector Munoz, who was looking to track down his mutant son Darwin, whom he hadn’t seen in a number of years. They accepted the job but Val Cooper wanted Jamie to wrap it up quickly, as she had her own jobs for him. When he protested, she reminded him that the rest of his team, bar Strong Guy, had no idea that they were actually working for Val and her O*N*E squad. Only given twenty-four hours to wrap up the case, Jamie got lucky when one of his dupes spotted Darwin in downtown Detroit. The team headed there and discovered that he was travelling with former X-Man Longshot. However, X-Factor weren’t the only ones trailing the duo, as She-Hulk and her Skrull ally Jazinda were following them. When X-Factor approached Darwin, they were shocked when She-Hulk attacked in a bid to get to Longshot. During the fight, Longshot slipped away and revealed himself to be a Skrull imposter and it was he whom Jazinda and She-Hulk were after.
Monet, Strong Guy and Jamie had their work cut out trying to bring down She-Hulk. The Skrull reverted back to his Longshot disguise and tried to flee with Darwin, who was none-the-wiser about his friend. When Monet confronted them, Darwin’s reactive evolution powers caused him to forcibly reveal Skrull-Longshot’s identity. The Skrull was known as the Talisman, an important member of his race that was deemed to be the closest link to their gods. She-Hulk and Jazinda needed to take him out of the fight in a bid to demoralize and weaken the Skrull invasion forces. The Talisman tried to convince Darwin to help them by making him see that he and the Skrull race were very similar in their ability to alter their bodies. Ultimately, Darwin didn’t listen and it was the combined forces of X-Factor, She-Hulk and Darwin that finally subdued the Skrull. She-Hulk took the Skrull away with her and X-Factor managed to reunite Darwin with his father. [X-Factor (3rd series) #33-34, She-Hulk (1st series) #31]
- The real Longshot had been working with the reality hopping Exiles for a number of years until he settled back on Earth 616 after meeting up with his estranged wife Dazzler. [X-Men: Die by the Sword #1-5]
X-Factor was contacted by the police when Hector Munoz was found with a gunshot wound to the head. Darwin was nowhere to be found and M’s psychic probes couldn’t help the comatose Hector, due to his brain damage. Back at base, the real Longshot turned up, having seen a picture of his Skrull-imposter in a paper. He met with Siryn and Strong Guy but, when he heard that Jamie was at the hospital, his instinct told him to go there. He met with the rest of the team and proved invaluable in helping them piece together Hector’s recent movements. Using his psychometry powers, he saw that Hector had sold Darwin to a group called the Karma Project. He provided them with the registration number of a van that took Darwin away and the team began tracking the owner of the van. Meanwhile, one of Jamie’s dupes attempted to suffocate Hector as he lay in a hospital bed, but was stopped by Jamie Prime. Jamie was shocked to see the apparent reappearance of the dangerous dupe that had pushed Rictor off the roof many months before.
The team found the owner of the van but Monet knocked him unconscious before they could get any worthwhile information from him. Once again. Longshot’s psychometry saved the day when he used the man’s wallet to see a vision of the past and directed the team to where the van took Darwin. Just as Jamie, Strong Guy, Monet and Longshot entered the warehouse, the leader of the Karma Project set off a bomb. Longshot’s luck power saved them by causing them to fall into the basement, out of the blast range. Already down below, the team set off through the sewers until they happened upon a squad of soldiers sent to finish them off. X-Factor easily took the soldiers out but Jamie kept one conscious to interrogate. However, Jamie’s erratic dupe caused him to manifest another dupe in the soldier’s mouth, killing him instantly. The team was shocked but they didn’t have time to dwell, as the leader of the Karma Project arrived with an army in tow. He had used Darwin to study his instant-evolutionary ability and had attempted to mimic that in a group of volunteers. X-Factor fought against the constantly evolving army but seemed to be losing ground, until they noticed the experiments were struggling to keep going. The test subject’s molecular structure couldn’t handle the powers and they dissolved away, putting an end to the Project’s army. With the tide turning against him, the leader of the Karma Project told Jamie where Darwin was and then left. Darwin was freed from his confinement and left with the team.
Meanwhile, back at base, Rictor and Siryn received a visit from Val Cooper, who to their surprise informed them that Jamie and X-Factor had secretly been working for her for the past few months. She was also concerned about the imminent arrival of Siryn’s baby, as the last mutant baby had become a target by those who wanted to harm it. Just as Siryn told Val that she didn’t want help, her water broke. With armed O*N*E soldiers all around, Rictor foolishly decided to create a distraction to allow Siryn to fly to hospital. He started a gunfight with the soldiers that resulted in Val being shot in the crossfire. Siryn quickly grabbed her and flew off to hospital before Val died. [X-Factor (3rd series) #35-38]
Both Siryn and Val made it to the hospital in time and Val was saved, thanks to some emergency surgery. Further, it was revealed the gun that Rictor used had been a paintball gun, so charges against him were dropped. The rest of X-Factor gathered at the hospital, where Siryn was forced to have a caesarean section due to complications. She eventually gave birth to a baby boy, whom she decided to call Sean after her father. To everyone’s horror, the moment Madrox held his son for the first time he inadvertently absorbed the child into him. In that moment, he realized the baby had been nothing but an infant duplicate but it was too late. Siryn attacked Madrox, trying to claw her child back out of him but to no avail. Jamie freaked out and fled, returning a short while to apologize to Siryn. Still in shock, Siryn broke one of his fingers before banishing him from the team. [X-Factor (3rd series) #39]
- Layla Miller remained in the concentration camp for some time but she eventually escaped when a piece of debris from space crashed into it. She went to New York first and began sowing the seeds of discontent with a number of protesters. Many humans were now beginning to side with mutants and they disagreed with the atrocities that were being inflicted upon them. Layla then travelled to Atlantic City, where she met up with an aged Cyclops and his daughter Ruby. She convinced them to come out of hiding and take part in a revolution that was on the verge of happening. They travelled back to New York and took a formal stand against the president and his anti-mutant laws, thus beginning the fabled Summers Rebellion. [X-Factor: Layla Miller]
After being exiled from X-Factor, Jamie walked over 600 miles from Detroit to Vermont to meet with his dupe, Father John Maddox. After stopping a robbery at a convenience store, Jamie met with John in his church and explained everything that had happened recently. John revealed that he knew he was unable to father a child and that his young son wasn’t his. Jamie, in a state of severe depression, took out a gun and prepared to kill himself. John tried to talk him out of it but Jamie knocked him unconscious before he could grab the gun. Jamie bid everyone goodbye but, before he pulled the trigger, Layla Miller appeared at the church. Jamie was delighted to see her and was shocked to see that she was now a grown woman. Layla explained that she was appearing as a hologram and urged him to come with her to the future. After a little hesitation, Jamie agreed and the two disappeared in a flash of light, just as John regained consciousness.
As John stood up, a gunman burst in the church and shot at him. John dodged and shot at the man with the gun Jamie had tried to kill himself with. Faced with capture, the gunman took his own life, just after cryptically saying the name “Cortex.” A moment later from their perspective, Jamie and Layla arrived eighty years in the future but the base that Layla had been using was under attack by Sentinels. The two faced certain death but were saved by the timely arrival of Ruby Summers.
Meanwhile, M, Darwin and Strong Guy were on a mission for Val Cooper. They apprehended a ship that was illegally smuggling hi-tech guns from the Karma Project. Back at base, the rest of the team met with a woman called Lenore, who was sure someone was following her and that they had murdered her best friend. Despite the shaky premise, Longshot volunteered to watch over the woman in case her claims were true. [X-Factor (3rd series) #40-41]
In the future, Jamie, Layla and Ruby continued to fight the Sentinels and were joined by some more allies: Hecat’e and Daemon.
At the X-Factor headquarters, the team saw a news article about John Maddox’s attack and realized he was a duplicate of Jamie’s. With Jamie still gone, Rictor and Strong Guy decided to go see John, despite Siryn telling them not to. Arriving in Vermont, they spoke to John but their discussion was interrupted by a masked assailant, who tried to kill them. When his mask was ripped off during the battle, they discovered that it was Shatterstar.
Meanwhile, Longshot was still guarding Lenore and had to think fast when her mother came to the door, brandishing a gun. At the moment a shot was fired, the timeline itself became compromised, as Longshot both saved Lenore and failed to save her, creating a minor repercussion through the timeline in which her descendants both did and did not exist. Because of this, in the future, Hecat’e blinked out of existence for a few moments before returning as if nothing had happened. In the present, the timeline settled down again, with Lenore alive but in shock. Her mother fled but was stopped by Darwin, who had come to join Longshot. Lenore’s mother held Darwin at gunpoint before turning the gun on herself. However, Longshot’s luck powers caused the gun to backfire, injuring but saving the woman’s life.
Lonore’s mother was taken to a nearby hospital, where Siryn and M joined the group. M attempted to get inside Lenore’s mother’s mind but she went into a trance and attacked Longshot. She quickly snapped out of it and explained there was something else inside the woman’s mind controlling her, though it was now gone. What the rest of the team didn’t realize was that the thing that controlled the woman was now in M. M tried to get Lenore alone but was inadvertently stopped by the others and so was forced to play guard to Lenore alongside Darwin. M booked them into a posh hotel and then got Lenore so drunk she passed out. Darwin’s powers, however, stopped him from becoming intoxicated, so M tried to initiate sex with him to distract him. Doubting that M would really do this, Dawin became suspicious, so the presence controlling M was forced to reveal its nature. M’s body turned into purple cybernetics, an effect of the possession, and attacked Darwin.
In the future, Jamie met up with a very old Cyclops and the group headed back to their base to decide what to do next. Jamie took the opportunity to quiz Layla about why he was brought to the future. This led to heightened emotions which first manifested as a heated argument and then as a passionate kiss. Soon afterwards, Cyclops asked Jamie to find out why Hecat’e seemingly ceased to exist for a few moments during the previous fight. After sleeping on the situation, Jamie had the idea of tracking down someone with extensive knowledge on time travel. [X-Factor (3rd series) #42-44]
On a park bench, away from all the action, a man named Cortex mentally controlled Shatterstar in his fight against Rictor and Strong Guy. He was succeeding and was about to kill Strong Guy when Cortex’s boss mentally contacted him, momentarily distracting Cortex. As a result of the distraction, Shatterstar managed to break free of Cortex’s control and, upon seeing Rictor, kissed his former teammate. Together, the trio realized something strange was going on and decided to head back to New York to figure it out.
In New York, the still-possessed M attacked Darwin but found that she couldn’t hurt him, as his evolution powers constantly protected him. After losing control of Shatterstar, Cortex decided to concentrate on M and watched the fight from a nearby rooftop. M managed to throw Darwin away for long enough to turn her attention to Lenore in a bid to kill her. The timely arrival of Siryn saved Lenore’s life and M was forced to fight her teammate in a mid-air battle.
In the future, Jamie, Layla and Ruby went to meet with Victor von Doom, now an incredibly old man with dementia and confined to a wheelchair. Despite his muddled mind, he knew that they were after information on time travel. He explained that he had created a device called a Doomlock, which would allow someone to manipulate the timeline without creating new, divergent timelines instead. Before he could tell them where to find one, they were attacked by a squad of Sentinels sent by Cortex’s boss, Doctor Falcone. They were saved by Trevor Fitzroy, who had joined his rebellion teammates and created a portal to take the Sentinels away. Unbeknownst to him, the portal transported the Sentinels eighty-years into the past and they materialized in the middle of the fight between M and Siryn. The group decided it was best to take Doom with them back to their base so he could aid them from there.
The Sentinels immediately attacked the two women, despite the Cortex-controlled M telling them they were on the same side. The robots were eventually destroyed by the women but, before Cortex could turn his attention to Siryn again, he was distracted once more. In a stroke of good luck, Longshot happened to stumble upon Cortex and threw a knife into the back of the man’s neck. Whilst it didn’t kill him, it allowed M to break free of his control and she angrily confronted him, looking for blood. She stopped, however, when she discovered Cortex was actually a dupe of Jamie’s. [X-Factor (3rd series) #45-47]
The team soon discovered that Cortex was the other dupe Jamie had sent into the time stream months before when the messiah baby was born. Augmented with technology during his absence, Cortex was now too powerful for them and shrugged off their blows. M even punched a hole through his chest but Cortex’s cybernetic body immediately healed the damage and he teleported away so he could continue in his quest to kill Lenore. He caught up with her and Darwin but, before he could fire a shot at Lenore, his arm was chopped off by Shatterstar, who had used his teleportation power to transport himself, Rictor and Strong Guy to New York. Despite having numbers on their side, X-Factor struggled to slow Cortex down, let alone hurt him.
Eighty-years in the future, Doom got to work in the group’s makeshift lab, where he informed Jamie that he would be able to retrieve a Doomlock he built many years before. Activating a device, Doom ripped Cortex from his battle in the past and brought him to the future. Doom further revealed that his technology had over-written Cortex’s circuitry and the man was now under his command. This explained, he announced his betrayal of the mutants and ordered Cortex to kill them all.
Cortex attacked the group, instantly killing Trevor Fitzroy. However, he was blasted away by Ruby’s eye beams and landed at the feet of Layla. Before he could hurt her, however, Jamie caught up with his dupe and the two squared off until Cortex pulled a gun and shot his creator. Though gravely injured, Jamie managed to make it to the team’s healer before he bled out. Nearby, after a lot of begging by Ruby, Layla used her mutant powers on Fitzroy and brought him back to life.
Cortex continued his assault on the rebel mutants but stopped when a number of Sentinels controlled by Doctor Falcone landed around them. Falcone had wanted mutants wiped out ever since he was a child, as he blamed them for his parent’s death. What he didn’t tell anybody else was that the incorporeal Damian Tryp had been visiting him since he his parents’ deaths and it was he who was the mastermind behind the anti-mutant plot. Using his Sentinels, Falcone opened a portal and all the mutants were pulled towards it. Fortunately, Jamie created a human chain using his dupes and held on for dear life, saving those around him. Cortex attempted to attack him to finish the job but was injured by the resurrected Fitzroy, who drained Cortex’s life force. Ruby then blasted Falcone and his Sentinel through the portal and chucked in Cortex as well for good measure. In an ironic turn of events, the portal led to forty years in the past, killing the young Falcone’s parents upon arrival. The incorporeal Damian Tryp caused the youth to blame mutants for the tragedy, leading him on the path that would actually cause it.
In the aftermath, Jamie and Layla were sent back in time. Though Jamie appeared relative to his “present,” Layla arrived much earlier, before the events of the House of M warp. Layla met with her much younger self and informed the clueless girl on all the things she had been through. She then used a device to upload all the knowledge she had acquired into the young girl’s mind, putting her on the path she needed to be on. [X-Factor (3rd series) #48-50]