From 5,000 feet up, New York City looks like the proverbial jungle of concrete and steel. But to the millions of inhabitants who call it home it is as familiar as the deli next door - most of the time. The Fantastic Four are returning in the Fantasti-car from a picnic. ‘Great picnic, sis! You make a mean egg salad sandwich!’ Johnny Storm a.k.a. the Human Torch calls out to his sister, Susan Richards a.k.a. the Invisible Woman, who remarks that they will have to get up to Bear Mountain Park more often. The Human Torch darts down alongside his teammates, ‘Holy - Reed, Look! Tell me I’m seeing things!’ Johnny exclaims. Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr Fantastic stretches upwards in amazement, while Sharon Ventura a.k.a. She-Thing, the former Ms Marvel, gasps that Four Freedoms Plaza is gone, as if it never existed.
Ben Grimm, once known as the Thing sits next to Sharon and remarks that it is the Baxter Building, right where it used to be before it got destroyed by Doctor Doom a few years ago. ‘It can’t be!’ he declares. ‘But it is, Ben’ Reed remarks, announcing that a quick spectrum scan shows no unusual energy configurations, no chrono-displacement patterns, that everything appears completely normal. ’Except that it’s there! And it’s no mirage!’ Sharon exclaims, suggesting they best be cautious. The others agree, and Reed lowers the Fantasti-car down into the nearby park, deciding that it would be best to approach from ground level.
Susan asks if this could be some ploy by one of their old enemies. ‘Dr Doom? The Mad Thinker?’ she suggests. Carrying her son, Franklin, Sue gets out of the car, followed by the others, and Johnny flames off, with Reed remarking that he doubts any of their enemies would be capable of this sort of thing. ’It’s a riddle…and we’re going to solve it!’ Reed leads his family and friends towards the apparent Baxter Building. Looking around at the nearby civilians, Susan wonders why nobody is doing anything. ’It’s as though they don’t see!’ she remarks. Ben tells Sue that she knows New Yorkers - stuff comes down and stuff goes up all the time, so nobody has probably even noticed.
‘Well, we have! And we aren’t happy about it!’ Sharon declares as the Fantastic Four race across the road, although people in their vehicles beep their horns at them. ’Hey! Where d’ya think yer going!’ someone yells at them. ’Crummy Sunday drivers! Yer mother wears boxer shorts!’ Ben shouts. Arriving out the front of the building, Reed remarks that it is incredible, as it appears to be a perfect replica, right down to the same weathering and water stains. Entering the building, Reed sees O’Hoolihan and asks him what he is doing here. O’Hoolihan remarks that he didn’t see them go out, while Ben is attempting to open the elector with his access card, but informs Reed that it doesn’t work.
Susan steps towards the elevator, revealing that she still wears the belt buckle light key from the old days. Ben teases his friend that she may be too sentimental for her own good someday, but Sharon points out that is not today, as the elevator door opens, and they all enter the lift, although O’Hoolihan decides that there is something fishy going on here, as the gentleman in the trenchcoat bore an uncanny resemblance to poor Mr Grimm. As the doors close, Sharon sees O’Hoolihan watching her. ‘Uh-oh’ she tells herself, while O’Hoolihan wonders why the Thing’s costume was changed, and that he looked almost womanly. ‘Hello? Dr Richards?’ O’Hoolihan exclaims as he picks up the phone.
In the elevator, Reed tells everyone to be on their guard, as O’Holihan retired years ago, and does not look as though he has aged a day. ‘This is no ordinary menace! This is something quite different!’ Johnny assures Reed that they are ready, and that whoever is behind this is going to learn what it means to tangle with the Fantastic Four. ‘Flame on!’ Johnny shouts as he departs the elector with the others - only they are attacked by metallic tentacles. ‘Good grief! It’s them metal arms we got from Doc Ock’s rummage sale! I thought we got rid of them years ago!’ Ben exclaims, before telling Susan to watch out as the tips are loaded with micro-burst pullets. ‘Mommy! Be careful!’ Franklin cries as a blast lands near her, though Susan throws a force field around herself and her son, protecting them both.
She-Thing grabs the tentacles and begins ripping them apart, ‘Don’t worry, Franklin, Aunty Sharry will see to it these arms don’t frighten you anymore!’ she promises, while nearby, Ben is knocked across the corridor after catching the brunt of one of the bursts. Reed extends his arm and catches his friend before he hits the wall, while the Human Torch announces that more arms are coming out of the panels behind them. Reed tells his teammates to keep still, declaring that it is time to put a stop to this farce. He explains that he suspects they might find this to be an exact replica of their original headquarters, so he brought from the Fantasti-car a pulse gun which should overload and burn out the arms’ sensors, disabling them. Reed fires, and the gun works. ‘You did it, Reed!’ Johnny exclaims, while Reed explains that it would not have worked on their present security devices, while Ben exclaims that this building is like a complete chapter out of their past.
Susan hugs her son, telling him not to cry, as she has him, before asking Reed what is going on. ‘I’m scared, mommy!’ Franklin whines. Susan tells him that it is all right, that she and Reed will not let anything happen to him. ‘No, you don’t understand! There’s something really, really bad here!’ Franklin announces. Susan tells him that they will see what they can do, and Reed suggests they examine the central control room, where perhaps they can come to grips with whatever is happening. Entering the control room, Reed exclaims ‘Incredible! Whoever or whatever is responsible must have nearly unlimited power! It’s exactly the way it was, it seems like years ago!’ he exclaims.
Sharon gasps, and declares ‘And that’s not all that’s exactly the way it was!’, as entering the room - the Human Torch, Invisible Girl, Mister Fantastic and the Thing - as they appeared in their early years! ‘Flame on!’ the early Human Torch shouts, while the early Reed looks at the Fantastic Four and exclaims ‘Intruders! And they’ve disabled our security devices!’ while the Invisible Girl wonders who they are, remarking that they look like an ersatz Fantastic Four. The Thing declares that he doesn’t care if they are Yancy Streeters who got lost masquerading, and announces ‘It’s clobbering time!’
The two versions of the Fantastic Four engage in battle, with Johnny discovering that his past counterpart is as fast as he is, as the past Human Torch dodges the present’s fire blasts, while the past Reed tangles She-Thing in his stretched form. ‘Caught me off balance!’ Sharon exclaims, while the past Thing lunges at Reed, who darts the attack.
Franklin suddenly runs away, despite his mother telling him to come back. But as Susan rushes after her son, the Invisible Girl warns ‘Wrong move, sister! If you’re going into a fight you shouldn’t bring your child along!’ and lashes out at the Invisible Woman with some force spheres, which knock the present Sue backwards. The past Thing approaches Ben and tells him that he has some nerve coming here, looking like him, and asks if he has no respect for a sensitive guy’s feelings. ‘I wuz about to say the same thing!’ Ben retorts. ‘Ben he sounds just like you!’ Sharon points out, before the past Thing holds her into the air, declaring that he does not sound like anybody except the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing. ‘And speaking of that, I’m just a mite offended by your get-up! Yer infringing on my trademark!’ The Thing throws Sharon across the room into some equipment.
Johnny sees that Sharon is having a hard time, and decides to nail the bogus Reed and help her. He manages to blast the past Reed away from him, but the past Human Torch flies up behind him and he blasts the present Johnny. The past Reed however is fine, and congratulates the Invisible Girl on capturing the last of the imposters - Mister Fantastic. ‘Good. Now we’ll find out what’s going on here’ the present Reed thinks to himself, while the past Reed announces’ Now we’ll get to the bottom of this business!’
The present versions of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben, as well as Sharon and Franklin are all strapped to a device, while the past Reed looks through a lens, and announces ‘I don’t believe it! Voice prints, finger-prints, even DNA sample analysis! They lead to one and only one inescapable conclusion. These…beings are identical to ourselves! They are the Fantastic Four!’ the past Reed declares. ‘In a pig’s eye’ the past Thing mutters, unimpressed.
The past Reed remarks that he didn’t mean that literally, and explains that the human male is a Ben Grimm replica, however, the strange Thing is a female and completely unknown to them. ‘Which leaves two possibilities. This is the FF of the future…or an FF from an alternate timeline!’ Suddenly, the present Reed suggests that there is a third possibility. ‘Yeah? How ‘bout yer some kinda Doom robot zombies from Planet X!’ the past Thing states. ‘No. This is our present and you, yourselves are shadows of our past’ Reed declares. ‘Impossible!’ the past Reed shouts. ‘Is it?’ the present asks.
The present Reed asks ‘Why is the Baxter Building still here when it was demolished? Where is Four Frredom’s Plaza? Why have you no son?’ The past Thing is annoyed: ‘That does it! Lemme at ‘em!’ he shouts, while the Invisible Girl asks ‘How can you say that? Of course we have a son! He’s our baby!’ and motions to a doorway where her son stands - in a purple jumpsuit. ‘Franklin! Reed, it’s Franklin! But he’s an adult!’ the present Sue calls out. The adult Franklin stares at them and asks them who they are and why they haunt him like this. ‘My parents are already here!’ he exclaims. ‘The building, the lab, my home, everything! It’s all just the way it’s supposed to be!’ he shouts.
Upside down on the strange contraption, Susan tells the adult Franklin to listen to her, explaining that in this time and place they are his parents. ‘Don’t you see? Them! This whole building! It is the dream! And you’re creating it! Why? Who are you really and why are you here?’ Susan calls out. The adult Franklin gets frustrated, and holds his hands to his face as he exclaims ‘No! That’s not the question! That’s death! Death! Rachel and I had love ! I won’t let it die!’ The young present-day Franklin gets scared, and calls out to his mother, ‘Help me! I’m scared, mommy. Why is that bad man here? He’s not your Franklin! I am! I AM!’
The adult Franklin goes into a rage, declaring that he remembers too much. ‘No! It’s becoming real! The child’s mind! Trapped forever!’ he shouts, before announcing that he cannot stand it anymore, and in a burst of energy, blasts through the wall of the building. An instant later, the present Fantastic Four find themselves free, and standing around. Reed exclaims that it is over. ‘The other FF, the lab, the Baxter Building…all gone!’ he announces, while Johnny points out that so has the adult Franklin. Reed explains that he tried to goad the adult Franklin into breaking the illusion, but he did not anticipate it happening so violently. Ben declares that whatever the adult Franklin was, he just had a short attention span. ‘At least stuff’s back to normal’ he points out. But Reed replies ‘I don’t think so, Ben’ and announces that they may still be in trouble. Rubbing her head, She-Thing asks if it isn’t time for things to dull down a little around the place, before announcing that it looks as if they are enveloped in some sort of force field. Johnny flies out of the building to do a quick reconnaissance, and when he returns confirms that the force field has cut them off from the outside world. ‘What the heck is going on?’ Ben asks.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast of Britain, ‘I love it when the sun shines here, Meggan. Nothing matters very much when it’s sunny’ Rachel “Phoenix” Summers tells her Excalibur teammate as they relax near Excalibur’s lighthouse. Meggan lies in a hammock and replies that she loves being part of Excalibur with Rachel and Nightcrawler and the others, but right now, she could just lie around here forever and wonder about all kinds of stuff. Changing the subject, Meggan asks Rachel what it is like in the future where she comes from. Rachel replies that she doesn’t know, at least not exactly, as her memories are scrambled. She explains that sometimes things seem so clear, and other times she can hardly remember who she is. ‘I guess it’s a little like jet-lag’ Rachel suggests.
‘You mean “time-lag” Meggan corrects her, before asking Rachel if she remembers having any boyfriends, or if she misses anyone. ‘Rachel?’ Meggan calls out when she gets no response. ‘I can’t imagine…imagine…’ Rachel begins, before there is a strange FTZACKKKK noise, followed by a loud KRAKKKK! ‘Rachel!’ Meggan exclaims, while Rachel screams ‘Ahhh! No! No! That’s impossible!’ Meggan asks her if she is all right, and Rachel replies that she has to go, as she felt something she didn’t think she would ever feel again. ‘I can’t explain it, but I’m being called’ Rachel tells Meggan, who asks Rachel to wait, as she will get the others and they will go with her. ‘No, Meggan! This is something I have to do…somewhere far away’ Rachel replies.
At that moment, in New York, X-Men Sean “Banshee” Cassidy and Forge are walking down a busy street, as Sean mocks that he loves New York. ‘Crime! Violence! Passion! The Hard Rock Café!’ Sean adds that it is just the place for a man of action like himself. ‘Cool it, Banshee. No point in attracting more attention than necessary’ Forge remarks, when suddenly, a blinding flash of energy appears in front of them. ‘You were saying?’ Sean asks. ‘Banshee! Forge! I felt your presence here and I found you!’ the adult Franklin smiles. ‘Who?’ Sean asks. ‘My old teachers! It’s wonderful to see you both again!’ Franklin exclaims, before realizing that they are too young, and not to mention they are both dead, as he saw Sentinels kill them both. Franklin departs in another burst of energy, exclaiming that at Four Freedom’s Plaza his mother was right, that this is a dream. ‘Uh…Forge?’ Banshee calls out. Forge replies that they had better get over to the FF Plaza, as whatever that thing was, it thought it was Franklin Richards.
Meanwhile, deep within a hidden crypt, somewhere between here and now…a man who appears to be part machine lies on a platform. A computer voice announces ‘Code red time emergency. Terminate stasis. Initiate recovery’. The man wakes, and asks for a status report. An image of Four Freedoms Plaza with the force field around it appears on a monitor, and the computer announces’ Code red, Sir. Franklin manifestation! Target isolated but verbal authority necessary for final action!’ The mysterious man exclaims ‘It’s finally happened!’ and tells the computer to prepare to launch Sentinel warp attack with no quarter.
Now, in an apartment building on the West Side, ‘Hey, everybody! I’m home!’ James Power calls out as he returns form from work. He turns to his children, Alex, Julie, Jack and Katie who are standing around. Hey! I said I’m home! Don’t I get hugs and kisses?’ he asks. Jack tells his father to forget it, as Franklin is over and they are playing hide and seek with Julie and Katie. ‘We’ve only got thirty seconds left to find him!’ Katie exclaims. Suddenly, ‘Here he is! Behind the chair! We beat the boys!’ Julie calls out as she finds the adult Franklin behind a chair. Julie exclaims that now Alex and Jack have to do the dishes. ‘That’s funny, Julie’ someone remarks, while James Power looks at Franklin. ‘Frank - Franklin?’ he exclaims, startled. The adult Franklin stares back: ‘What’s the matter, Dr Power?’ he asks. ‘You’re…you…for a second there, I had the strangest feeling, but …everything’s okay now’ James Power replies.
At Four Freedoms Plaza however, everything is anything but okay. ‘So, whaddya think, partner?’ Ben asks Reed, who replies that it is not good, and announces that the field defies every sort of analysis he and Sharon have run on it. He explains that they might be able to neutralize it given a great deal of time, but he has a feeling that is the one commodity they are running short of. In his mother’s arms, Franklin asks ‘Mommy, why did that bad man say he was me? I wouldn’t do bad things’. Susan tells her son to hush and that it is going to be all right. Sue tells Reed that Franklin is badly frightened, and declares that, for his sake, they must find that tortured young man and learn what this madness is all about. Reed replies that he agrees and points out that Franklin is the key to this mystery. ‘In order to protect our son, I’m going to have to remove the mind locks…and free his mutant power!’ Reed announces.
On the street below, Banshee and Forge are making their way to Four Freedoms Plaza, and notice the force field around it. ‘Would ye look at that!’ Sean exclaims. Forge points out that it seems like “Franklin” got here before them, and supposes that the Fantastic Four could use a helping hand. Banshee flies up alongside the Plaza and unleashes his sonic scream, while Forge blasts a photon rifle at the force field, remarking that they should break through the barrier in no time - ‘Then again, maybe not’ Forge mutters as both attacks prove unsuccessful. ‘Not a scratch. What kind of power could do that, Forge? Who could trap the Fantastic Four?’ Banshee asks.
Back inside, ‘Reed, I thought Franklin’s powers were inherently dangerous’ Sharon remarks. Reed replies that he has no choice, and that he doesn’t want to worry Sue, but he believes the young man who confronted them was indeed their son from the future. Before Reed can continue, the intruder alarm sounds. ‘Some sort of warp opening up through the barrier!’ Johnny calls out as turns his flame on. ‘What are they?’ Susan asks as small missiles launch. ‘Search me, Suzie, but this sure ain’t a friendly house call!’ Ben exclaims. One of the missiles scans the area: ‘Scan: four mutates, one human, mutant Richards located’ but when the scan reveals that the “Richards mutant” is a child, the scan declares that is a temporal anomaly and must be destroyed. ‘They want my son!’ Reed calls out.
‘DNA scan: mutate Susan Storm Richards. Producer of mutant offspring. Eliminate’ one of the missiles announces, as the Invisible Woman is attacked. ‘Sue!’ Sharon calls out, before declaring ‘You’re the ones who are going to be eliminated, my friends!’ as she begins crushing the missiles. The Human Torch congratulates Sharon as he darts about the room, while Reed remarks that the design on the missile drones is fascinating, that he has never seen anything like it. ‘A pity I won’t have time to study them…but no one threatens my wife and child!’ Reed declares as he stretches his form to keep the drones at bay. ‘No one!’ he exclaims, before crashing to the floor. ‘Thanks for the concern, darling, but I have matters well in hand’ Susan replies, surrounded by a force field, the missiles cannot penetrate. ‘Invisible force field defense. Initiate historical scan for proper offensive response’ one of the drones announces.
‘I think you’ve been offensive enough, robot!’ Susan declares, and she uses her force field to gather up all of the missiles, and tosses them outside of the Plaza. One of the drones reports that all unite have been captured, and states that capture and examination is against all programming. ‘Conclusion: Self destruct. Repat self des-’ the drone doesn’t finish its sentence as they all explode, sending a massive blast of energy through the force field. ‘Sis, you were fantastic!’ Johnny exclaims, while Reed points out that the advanced technology destroyed the barrier, indicating a common origin. Suddenly, Banshee and Forge arrive at the top of the tower, as Sean flew them both up after the force field was destroyed. ‘Look! We have more guests!’ Susan announces.
And soon, ‘He seemed delighted to see us, as if we’d known him fer years’ Sean explains, while Forge adds that Franklin said it was like a dream. Sharon crouches down beside the young Franklin and exclaims ‘Of course…what dopes a desperate man dream of except the times when he was truly happy? The memories of childhood’ She-Thing then asks Franklin if he could not be with them, where he would go. Franlin smiles and replies that is easy, he would be with his friends, the Powers. An instant later, the Fantastic Four depart, soaring uptown, where they arrive at the apartment of the Power family.
The doorbell rings, ‘Don’t answer that! Please!’ the adult Franklin calls out. Julie asks Franklin what is wrong, and tells him that there is nothing to be frightened of, while Dr Power opens the door. Reed apologizes to Jim for disturbing him, announcing that they have come to pick up Franklin. ‘He is here, isn’t he?’ Reed asks. Jim replies that the kids have been having a great time. ‘Yeah, I bet they have’ Ben mutters, while Jim soon sees that Johnny is holding Franklin in his arms. ‘What -? Reed, you have Franklin? Then who?’ he asks, while Franklin tells his uncle Johnny that he is scared. ‘Kiddo, no one is ever gonna hurt you. Not with your family here’ Johnny assures his nephew.
The Power children stand by the adult Franklin, and Katie asks ‘Frank, is that one of your dream selves?’ The adult Franklin replies ‘Of course, Katie. That’s what he has to be’, while Jack alerts his siblings to the fact that the kid they have been playing with is an adult. ‘He did something to our minds! Who is he?!’ Jack asks. Katie declares that it is Frank, of course, ‘Can’t you see? He hasn’t really changed at all? He’s just hurt and afraid, aren’t you, Frank?’ she asks. Franklin crouches beside Katie and exclaims ‘Oh, Katie, you aren’t a dream, are you?’ Susan tells the adult Franklin that it is time to go home, but he replies that he can’t, as so much doesn’t make sense. Susan takes his hand and replies that she knows. ‘Your father and I want to help you. We love you, baby’ she tells him. Franklin replies that he knows.
Soon, the adult Franklin is aboard the Fantasti-car with the others, while the Human Torch flies alongside, thinking to himself that this is weird, and that if that really is Franklin as an adult, then something terrible has happened to him. ‘Which means that someone, someday, is going to hurt my little nephew and it’s driving me nuts!’ Johnny tells himself, while wondering how you can save a child from the future. Franklin gazes out of the car, and sees X-Factor’s Ship. ‘That…structure…that isn’t right!’ he gasps, before vanishing. ‘Aw, no! Kid - whaddya doing now?’ Ben exclaims, before informing Reed that the kid has gone.
Shortly, on the wrecked roof of Four Freedom’s Plaza Ben tells the others that he has not seen Reed this obsessed in years, while Reed announces that he and Forge have finished the modifications on the Fantasti-cars, meaning they are now equipped with scanners calibrated to the adult Franklin’s particular energy readings. ‘Don’t worry, Big Brain. Anyone hurts my godson, they gotta answer to me!’ Ben exclaims. The group begins to split up, with Reed, Susan and Banshee taking little Franklin and searching towards the North, while the others search the downtown area. Sharon asks Ben if that tormented young man can really be Franklin, to which Ben replies that stranger things have happened, and remarks that he just keeps wondering who sent those pint-sized missiles after them, and why. He adds that if the young man is Franklin, how did he come back in time, and what sort of horrible thins is he running away from. Ben then adds ‘I got me a feeling before this is over, we’re gonna wish we never knew!’….