Half the members of X-Factor are in the capital on business. Forge, Polaris and Mystique wander through a quaint brownstone in the historic district; a building that is more than it seems. They approach a large wooden doorway, with two guards standing outside it. One radios to his boss that his ‘guests’ have arrived, and they usher the trio inside with a warning to keep their hands showing at all times.
Once inside, Val Cooper’s boss, Bowser, tells her that Mystique, standing with her hands planted firmly in her overcoat pockets, just won’t follow orders. Perhaps it’s time they did something about that. Val wonders what he means, but Bowser tells her she needn’t be concerned about it. They will get through this meeting as expeditiously as possible. He thanks Forge for conducting himself in a professional manner, and informs him that he and Polaris are no longer required as Mystique’s escort. His own agents can restrain her and take her into custody from here. Forge apologizes to him, but grabs the wrist of the agent standing next to him, and sends an electrical charge through his bionic arm, into the agent.
Forge then informs Bowser that there’s been a change of plan. They didn’t visit him to deliver Mystique into his hands. They came to deliver X-Factor’s new working terms. Bowser’s expression becomes a frown. “Excuse me?” He asks Val what is going on, but Forge tells him that Val has nothing to do with this. It’s between X-Factor and the United States government. Not to belabor the point, he adds, “We quit!”
(Arlington National Cemetery)
Standing in the snow, Jamie Madrox is thinking this is all too weird. He can’t believe he’s standing in his own grave. He doesn’t even want to think about what is just six feet below him. It’s bad enough he talks to himself when one of his other selves isn’t around to listen. No offense, he tells his deceased dupe, but he meant one of the other, living, breathing Madroxes. Things have changed; for him and for X-Factor. In the good old days, he had some good laughs with Quicksilver, Havok and Strong Guy as they saved the world. They managed it while drawing a government check, too. He wonders where it all went wrong.
Now, Quicksilver is on his own; Havok’s the bad guy, and his old pal Guido is lying in some government medical facility in a coma! He’s been on the run for six months. Now, everyone wants a piece of him, and all he can do is come and talk to his dead self. “Are you listening to me?” he asks his dead self.
These days, it’s rare for him to travel alone. Ever since the Legacy Virus took him out, he’s made it policy to travel with at least two others. It makes him feel more comfortable. Jamie bends down on one knee, and adds that if something happens to one; at least the other two would have a chance of surviving. This is the kind of stuff he spends his days thinking about. Too weird.
His attention is diverted by a voice behind him. It’s Shard, wearing a pink top and yellow scarf. She asks him what’s up. “Shard…” he answers. She replies that it’s her, in the flesh. Well, not exactly in the flesh. More like in the photon particle. “Just don’t call me a holograph,” she asks. Jamie stands, and thanks her for coming. He could use a friendly face right now. He remarks that it’s kinda tough, standing on your own grave. Shard doesn’t want to think about what happened to her remains when she died. But, since she won’t be born for about another sixty years… she has to let it go.
Shard asks him why he brought her out in this weather, wondering if he’s ready to come back to X-Factor and play nice. Jamie says there’s not a chance. He’s trying to figure out what the next step is for a mutant like him. Since Shard is the only one in X-Factor he trusts right now, he figures they could meet alone. As he speaks, out of the corner of his eye, he notices someone watching them. He hits the top of his own gravestone, and a couple of dupes appear.
Before Jamie can act, Shard floats off in the direction he was looking. She tells Jamie that in the X.S.E, they were trained not to talk about what they were going to do… but to just do it. She unleashes a blast of energy into a nearby tree, and out of it falls Wildchild. Nonchalantly, he says that he’s got a really good explanation for being there.
Forge has taken charge of the meeting. He informs Bowser that this has been a long time coming. He’s tried for too long to turn a blind eye to what was happening to X-Factor, but can do so no longer. His concerns first arose when they uncovered the hound program. The whole setup struck too close to home. He realized that if the hound was the next step; then they were the first. The trust he had in his superiors was broken from that moment on.
He stares at Bowser, and asks him not to insult him by denying that the break-in at Fall’s Edge a few months back was sponsored by his office; or that the periodic ‘debriefing sessions’ are nothing more that interrogations to determine how much X-Factor has uncovered. He also mentions that Sabretooth, little more than a killer, was put amongst them and Professor Xavier was arrested. A mutant has been blamed for the assassination of Graydon Creed - “and we are expected to help clean up this mess!?”
Forge tells Bowser that they are no longer willing to be the government’s pet mutants. He hands over a CD-Rom that contains a complete outline for the terms of their separation from the government’s employ - what they will and will not accept. Bowser replies by informing them that it doesn’t work this way. Forge insists it is non-negotiable. One more detail, he adds, is that both Mystique and Sabretooth will remain with X-Factor. He believes they are best suited to keeping an eye on them. They have both consented to remain with the team. Also, between the two of them, they have enough dirt on Bowser’s ugly government deals to cause quite an embarrassment to the current administration if anything were to accidentally happen to X-Factor.
Bowser asks if he’s finished, and Forge says he is… for now. Bowser snaps the CD-Rom into several pieces, reminding Forge that X-Factor is an employee of the United States government. Mystique is a criminal who has been placed in their custody. She is also wanted for questioning in the assassination of Graydon Creed. If he insists upon breaking their contract, then Mystique will be placed under arrest, and he will be subjected to intensive ‘debriefing.’
He orders his guards to take them into custody, adding that if they offer any resistance, they are sanctioned to shoot them. Both guards reach inside their jackets for their pistols, but Polaris is quick on the offensive. She magnetically bonds the weapons to their body’s magnetic fields. She warns them that if they pull too hard, they might lose some flesh. Forge tosses Bowser another copy of the CD, and the three former employees of the United States government depart; their job now done.
(a few minutes later)
Leaving the building, Forge asks Polaris to fly ahead to Fall’s Edge, adding that she’ll know what to do. Mystique can’t believe Forge actually went through with that. She thought he was bluffing. Forge replies that he never bluffs. Suddenly, Val bursts through the doorway and tells Forge to hold it. She wants an explanation, and asks why he didn’t talk to her about this. Forge coldly answers that it’s because this doesn’t concern her. It’s a mutant thing, and last time he checked and no matter how much she’d like to be, she isn’t one of them. He departs with Mystique into the cool evening, asking Val to tell her boss to read through the terms of separation, and not to try anything. Val looks to the ground like a rejected prom date. Watching on a large screen is Bowser, who is already on the phone to Bastion.
(Arlington National Cemetery)
Shard isn’t impressed that Kyle followed her. Her eyes light up green as she asks if he was sent to spy on her. She enquires as to who gave the order. She may be an artificial life-form; Forge’s little science experiment, but she’s not going to put up with an ugly frack like Kyle. Despite one of the Jamie’s making bunny ears behind his head, Kyle quietly replies that she’s real to him.
One of the Jamie’s tells Shard that maybe them meeting there wasn’t a great idea, and they decide to take off. Still infatuated with Shard, the Jamie’s take their leave, planting a kiss on her cheek as they depart. Once they’re out of earshot, Shard tells Kyle that it went exactly as planned. It was their idea to have Jamie leave all along. Kyle is a little wounded that she called him an ugly frack. Shard insists she didn’t mean it. Kyle wonders what a frack is, anyway.
(Washington D.C. - the outskirts of town)
Forge drives Mystique to the home of Cole and Justine Chase; young Trevor's parents. Mystique transforms into her Raven Darkholme image before arriving. Forge lets her know that he appreciates what she did in the Graydon Creed assassination. Mystique replies that he doesn’t have to thank her. She’s not losing sleep over it.
The Chase’s are huddled together inside their house. They’ve been crying, and Justine gives Raven a big hug when she recognizes her. Raven asks what’s wrong, and where Trevor is. Justine replies that they took him. Raven asks what she’s talking about. Who took him, and what happened here? Justine sobs, and informs Raven that she’d just gotten home from work. Trevor was in the living room playing his video game when the phone rang. She took it in the kitchen. Cole takes up the story. He says that Justine told her she heard Trevor’s voice call from the living room, and then she heard a scuffle. She ran into the living room but, by the time she got there, the door was open and Trevor was gone. Outside, a car was pulling away from the house. He got home himself a few minutes later, and then she showed up.
Justine continues to point out that the police say they can’t do anything for twenty-four hours, as Trevor could have left of his own free will. She knows someone took him. Cole begs Raven to help; help find their boy. Raven hugs them both, and promises she’ll take care of everything. Forge watches this display of affection with piqued interest.
(near Fall’s Edge)
Shard and Wildchild are riding a snow mobile to the compound, and Shard is still trying to heal Kyle’s hurt feelings. She tells him that she just wanted to come across convincingly to Madrox. Forge wants him to totally trust her. The best way for that was for Kyle to be an adversary. “Lucky me,” replies Kyle. He doesn’t understand what the fuss is over Madrox. Shard informs him that they need to establish a relationship with him on some level so that they can watch him closely and maybe get a line of Havok’s Brotherhood. Kyle pauses, and asks where that leaves them. Shard tells him she doesn’t know if there can ever be an ‘us.’ Aside from the obvious - that she hasn’t really been born yet; they’re approaching an uncertain time in their lives. Right now, Forge is planning on using her as a schematic on how to avoid the dark future that she was born into. Kyle gets the picture.
On a nearby hillside overlooking the compound, several costumed government agents, armed to the teeth, watch through the snow for any signs of activity. They have witnessed Shard and Kyle’s exchange.
Kyle reckons they should report in to Polaris as they’re late. They bring her up on a large screen, and she says it’s about time they showed. She informs them that she and Sabretooth will recon with them at the Training Center building. Kyle asks if they shouldn’t wait for Forge and Mystique to show, but Lorna replies that Forge wanted them to go ahead as scheduled; no matter what. With a knowing glance, she adds that everything’s set. The agents on the hillside get the impression that their targets are about to embark on a training session, and the leader prepares to set up a live video link to base.
Forge answers the phone at the Chase family home. It’s for Mystique. The guy on the other end tells her that he warned her she would be next. He adds that she should have stayed away from X-Factor, the boy… all of them. Because she didn’t, they’re all going to pay for ever knowing her. She asks what he wants. He replies that he wants her dead. She tells him to take a number, but asks him to say where and she’ll be there - but he lets the boy go now. The guy orders her to leave the house, now, or the boy dies. She does as she is told, and walks into the front garden. Forge senses something strange is going down and follows her. It’s a good thing too, as a blast from above almost gets her. Mystique is saved only by Forge’s timely intervention.
Forge asks what she’s trying to do, and she replies that she’s trying to help Trevor. “How? By killing yourself?” he adds. She tells Forge it’s none of his business. He covers her as another few blasts hit the ground, and replies that it is, before ordering her into the car. “We will find the boy! I promise.”
The government agents can see four people in the compound (Polaris, Sabretooth, Shard and Wildchild). They have a particular need for Shard as she holds information that could prove useful to them. They then see them enter an outbuilding. The leader asks for full spectrum energy readings, as well as an audio-visual link up with base. Before he can finish his request, a massive explosion vaporizes the building. “Holy-! Did you get that? It exploded,” cries the leader. “There is no way anyone could have survived that!” He asks command for further orders.
As Forge drives Mystique away in the off-roader, blasts continue to rain down all around them. They don’t know who’s doing it, and have no visual. Mystique says they can’t outrun them, and he should have let her stay. Forge replies not likely; not after he saw the first glimpse of real emotion in her. He knows she genuinely cared for the Chase’s. That wasn’t part of the plan. “You’re not still planning on going through with it? asks Mystique. Forge replies that they have no other choice. Evading the blasts, he veers the vehicle off the side of a tall bridge, and the car crashes many feet below, exploding in a ball of flame on impact.