Layla Miller is in over her head, and her survival hinges on the one man who wants to see her dead. The plan of Josef Huber, the Isolationist, is revealed, but X-Factor may not be around to stop it. Monet and Siryn take an elevator.
Featuring "Endangered Species Chapter 11"
Guest starring Forge, Beast examines the effect that M-Day had on alternate futures via Forge’s technology. And the future looks bleak!
On a small, man-made lake, somewhere in the area known as Central Park, a young girl floats lifelessly. Her name is Layla Miller.
Approaching the immobile youth, a man emerges from the shadows and reaches out to her. Grasping her by the wrist, the man pulls until Layla is dragged from the water and onto the bank of the lake. Immediately, he begins to provide CPR, pushing down on her chest and telling her to come on. She doesn’t get away from him by dying that easily. Come on, dammit! Come…
With a gurgle, Layla returns to life, expelling the water that had settled in her lungs. Smiling, the man – in truth Pietro Maximoff – announces that he knew it. He knew she’d survive. Matters between them couldn’t be ended by having someone else do in his nemesis. God wouldn’t be that cruel. Though back among the land of the breathing, Layla struggles with consciousness, briefly recognizing Quicksilver before the world turns blurry and then dark.
At X-Factor HQ, being led in by Rictor and accompanied by the Beast, Cyclops tells Madrox that he won’t lie to him. He never thought he’d wind up setting foot in there again. After their little dustup during the Registration Act, he made it quite clear… He knows, Madrox replies. He should consider this a one-time thing. That’s “generous” of him, Cyclops rejoins sarcastically. The fact is, he wouldn’t be there at all if the Beast hadn’t convinced him to set aside their difference… work together for the greater good. He owes Hank McCoy a major debt of gratitude.
Almost changing the subject, Madrox bluntly asks Scott what he wants. When Cyclops replies that an apology would be a good start, Madrox replies that he shouldn’t let him stop him. Apologize away. It’s always about the jokes with him, isn’t it? Cyclops asks. To this, Madrox rejoins that he figures one of them needs a sense of humor, and since Cyclops’ not using his… Interrupting, the Beast tells the two that, if it would help, they can line up and he’ll get a ruler and they’ll settle this right now…
Entering this scene of escalating tensions arrives Josef Huber, who silently regards Cyclops with disdain. He is a man who thinks he understands how the world works and complains of being ill-used, yet having no idea why he’s there. Ironically, he thinks, now regarding X-Factor, who summoned Cyclops, they are as clueless as he. Only he, Josef Huber, understands what is truly going on.
Finally, speaking, Huber greets Cyclops as “Mr. Summers” and introduced himself. He is a man of vision, he then adds. Not so formidable a vision as his perhaps (you don’t see him knocking people over with a mere glance)… but ideas can knock people over as well… And idea, Mr. Summers, he has in abundance.
Picture this if he will, he continues, now holding captive the audience of the two X-Men and the assembled members of X-Factor – Madrox, Guido, Rahne and Rictor: everyone who was a mutant… everyone who hopes to be one again… a million mutant march if they will… advancing on the White House and demanding – through speeches, demonstrations and their Constitutional right to peacefully assemble… That mutantkind be accorded the same rights as any other endangered species.
Considering this, Cyclops repliers that he’s not sure about this (Mr. …Huber, was it?). The government has traditionally been less an ally of their race than a… well, an opponent. The notion of their going to them hat in hand, asking for help… Interrupting this, Huber asks Cyclops what’s wrong with citizens asking their government for aid?
Silently, Huber notes Cyclops attempt to dismiss the notion out of hand. However, the X-Man hesitates. And, as the saying goes, Huber notes to himself, he who hesitates… is lost. “Okay, you’ve got my attention,” Cyclops finally speaks. “Tell me more.”
Perfect, Huber thinks. He wants the X-Man to think that he determines what does and does not interest him… just as the fish believers he chooses whether or not to snap at the hook. Now… to reel him in.
Elsewhere, Layla Miller once again regains consciousness, only to find confusion awaiting her. Her initial attempts to make sense of her things deals with her last memory. Pietro? She… wasn’t dreaming… However, that last memory is quickly lessened in importance, as Layla takes in her surroundings, that of small, yet spacious wooden room with a single machine in its center. A belt runs through the machine’s continuously turning wheels. A short distance from the machine machinery is Quicksilver. Layla asks him what this place is… And what’s wrong with him?
Pietro, however, does not answer at first, instead possessed by inner thoughts. He notes that Layla looks so innocent – one would never know she’s a tool of Satan. She reminds him so much of his own child. How can he do it? How can he do what God expects of him? Now looking at his hands, Pietro notes that he can’t stop shaking… trembling over the prospect of what must be done. And he has to be the one to do it. Just as Abraham was expected to show his devotion by slaying his own son. His must be the hands to remove the devil from his sphere, her blood must be on his hands, no other’s. It’s the only way to balance the scales. To atone for his failure.
Finally speaking, he yells at Layla that fate draws them to each other… like twin stars, burning out of control. Ignoring the rant, I fact, taking another look around, Layla asks Pietro why he’s trembling. It’s not even cold in there. Replying that he doesn’t know, he can’t make it stop, he adds that he thinks he’s ill. He thinks… he’s dying. His panicked demeanor now giving way to small grin, he adds that he’s been found wanting, but he has a chance to redeem himself. To prove his worthiness and save his life. Asked by Layla “how,” Pietro lunges at her. “By taking yours!”
Much to Pietro’s surprise, however, Layla easily sidesteps him, avoiding his grasp. As he follows her, lunging again, he notes that, once upon a time, he could have moved like lightening, slain her before she ever knew what was happening. Now… now he has to lunge after her like an arthritic snail…
As his next swipe causes his jacket to be caught on the piece of machinery, Layla quips to Pietro that that was a mistake. As he begins to struggle to free himself, Layla darts for the door and a moment later finds herself in the world beyond, which is filled with daylight. The chamber, she quickly discovers, was the spoke of a carousel, which is currently in motion. Well, this makes a little more sense now, she quips as she continues her sprint to safety.
Finally emerging from the center room as well, Piestro notes to himself that he deserved that. He deserved that because his heart wasn’t it this. He can’t fail this test. He’s… he’s fallen so far, failed to create a world of safety for mutants… failed his sister… his daughter… all mutantkind. If he fails in this… then he’s no further to fall. He will have hit absolutely rock-bottom. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he hits…
However, Quicksilver’s line of thought ends with a warning from Layla, which he does not heed. Told by the fleeing youth no to look behind him, Pietro pauses from his pursuit long enough to do just that. He turns just in time to see the brass ring of the carousel, to line up perfectly with here his head currently is, the rotation of the ride bringing his head toward it at a speed too great to avoid. Pietro barely has time to say his sister’s name before the impact knocks him out. No longer pursued, Layla continues her way.
As he speaks to the two X-Men and X-Factor, their eyes and smiles showing their growing approval of his plan, Huber notes to himself that his mind control… his influence… isn’t perfect. If they could step out of their own heads, hear their responses, they would realize they sound incredulous, even out of character. Fortunately, they can’t. They only ones who could are the telepaths. What “luck” there are no telepaths around to be…
“Suspicious,” Rictor voices. Asked what he means, both by Huber and Rahne, Rictor apologizes. It’s just… the more that he hears about this… the more he’s… It just sounds too good to be true. Y’know? Too easy. He can appreciate that, Huber replies. He can. After everything all of them have been through, it’s natural that they would look a gift horse in the mouth. And he won’t lie to them: it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a very tough road. But really… what worthwhile achievement isn’t difficult? Indeed, it’s the difficulty that makes it worthwhile, wouldn’t he say?
Absolutely, Cyclops replies energetically. And he thinks this idea… it’s brilliant. Smiling as well, the Beast adds that if it were any more brilliant, he’d have come up with it himself. Jumping on this, Huber asks if that means they’ll take it to their people then. He’ll help spread the word, yes, Cyclops replies. Already thinking logistics, the Beast asks Huber how long does he think it will take to organize this “Million Mutant March?” A few weeks certainly, Huber answers. The sooner the better, don’t they all agree?
As the group begins to do so, Huber notes that Rictor is not among their number. He finds it odd that Rictor seems slow to come around. The fact that he has no powers shouldn’t give him any immunity to his influence. Perhaps if he doesn’t die, he’ll look into that, Huber considers.
Walking through a hotel in Las Vegas, young Molly asks her mother if this means no mutants will be able to kidnap them. Walking a short distance behind their bodyguard, a man known as Solo, Molly’s mother replies absolutely not. Mr. Solo and his partner, Mr. Clay, are making sure of that. When Molly’s brother, Wall, asks if he is related to Han Solo, the mercenary replies bluntly that he is not.
Reaching the elevator, Solo presses the button and explains to the family that it is an express elevator to the penthouse floor. Clay will be waiting for them there. Asked by the boy if he can hold his gun, Solo, again curtly, says no. Chided by father, Wally defends that he was just asking. God. For this, he is chastised again, this time to watch the swearing.
As the doors close, Solo radios to Clay, asking if he’s there. When Clay replies that they really should have radio code name, Solo relents, naming himself “Smart Guy” and asking Clay as “Moron” if he reads. On the other end, Clay sarcastically tells Solo that he’s hilarious. He then asks Solo if they are on the way up. When told that they are, Solo asks in turn if all is clear up there. Yup, he replies. No sign of Monet or Siryn. He guesses they took the hint. Wouldn’t bet the farm on it, Solo rejoins.
Inside the elevator, the family begins talking about business and what they plan to eat tonight. However, all topics quickly turn to horror as the elevator jostles, moving the foursome off of their feet. Wally immediately notes that the cables are breaking. They’re going to die!!!! They’re falling!!! However, taking stock of the sensations, Wally’s father notes something amiss. They’re falling… up?
On the penthouse level, Clay radios Solo that something is wrong. Something’s wrong with the elevator. Asked what it is, he tells Solo to hold on and moves to the doors to the elevator shaft. Opening it with his fingers, Clay finds the shaft empty and sunlight pouring from its ceiling. Back on the radio, Clay notes to Solo that it was a smart move there, not betting the farm. Asked what happened, Clay tells his partner that girls got the elevator… and they got the shaft.
High above the city of Las Vegas, Siryn and Monet are in flight, Monet towing the hotel’s elevator by its severed cables. Her lips pursed in a smile, Monet announces that she’s say that “Operation Wonkavator” is a success, wouldn’t she? Smiling herself, Theresa replies that the grandparents are already at the rendezvous point. Good, Monet rejoins. This should be interesting. As they continue onwards, Siryn asks Monet if she realizes that they’re adding kidnapping and destruction of private property to their rap sheet. Replying that she knows, Monet notes that it’s exciting, isn’t it?
Back at the hotel, Clay makes another call on his mobile phone. Using no names, he tells the person on the other end “It’s me” and then proceeds to inform them that they got the kids, just as expected. So that should keep them occupied for awhile longer. On the other end of the line, Josef Huber replies that that’s excellent. Good to hear. Telling Clay to keep him appraised, Huber hangs up. Sitting near Madrox’s desk, Rahne asks if it was good news. Replying that it is, Huber then adds that it’s nothing that need concern them.
So this is all going well, he thinks, Madrox smiles from behind his desk. A moment later, he asks them to hold on and answers his own mobile. “X-Factor Investigations.” The voice on the other end causes him to sit up straight at attention, calling out Layla’s name. Where the hell has she been? he asks. Trying to keep up with her responses, Madrox tells her to slow down. He doesn’t… She tried to what? “Oh, dear,” Huber silently curses.
At the edge of Central Park, Layla rants over a borrowed phone. Kill me! she reiterates. Nicole bashed her head in with a rock and tossed her in a river! She’d be dead if it weren’t for one of those whacked coincidences that pretty much sum up her life. Now listen, she then says, changing subjects. Nicole said a “Mr. Huber” wanted her dead. The name’s not ringing any bells with her, which is never a good sign. As soon as she get’s back, she’ll run the name through all their databases. See if she can find him.
Easily reading Madrox’s expression, Huber sighs inwardly. X-Factor served its purpose, he notes: to bring him face to face with more influential mutants, out of the range of telepaths who could sense his influence. It’s a shame, really. In a way, he’s become somewhat fond of them… despite the fact that they, and everyone like them, have made his life a living Hell.
Rising from his chair, Madrox tells Layla that he’ll have to call her back. Her immediate objection that this is not her phone goes unheard, as the clamshell phone is snapped shut. Knowing what’s to come next, Huber takes a moment to stand tall, his massive chest puffed out before him. The next moment, that chest is composed of organic steel and Huber’s eyes glow crimson red. His demeanor and posture have turned threatening, drawing the immediate, dumbfounded reactions of Guido and Rahne.
Ah well, Huber silently notes. Nothing to be done about ti now. Of course, the problem is that he can’t kill them. So he’s somewhat limited in his options. Fortunately, he then silently adds, they don’t know that. A moment later, Guido is propelled through the wall and into the world outside by a powerful, crimson-red optic blast.
Turning to her lupine form in an instant, Wolfsbane leaps at Huber, who is less than concerned. He notes aloud that it didn’t have to be this way. With that, he teleports out of Rahne’s destination in a cloud of dark purple brimstone smoke, accompanied by a loud BAMF. Appearing behind Madrox, he continues that, yes, they were all going to die… that much was a given. But it was going to be quick… merciful. And in the company of their fellow mutants. Not alone. Loneliness… It’s truly a terrible feeling.
With this, he propels Madrox out through the hole through which Guido had been shot moments before. The impact on the pavement outside immediately generates a dupe. Having already made his way back, Guido notes to Madrox that this day just ain’t turnin’ out the way he’d hoped. A moment later, Guido holds out his arms and catches Wolfsbane, whom Huber had just tossed, the same as Jamie.
The X-Factor HQ now empty save he, Huber makes his own departure, though one more of grace and poise. He simply rises in the air, floats outward and finally settles to the pavements before. As he does so, Huber notes that X-Factor does not understand. How could they? They don’t understand he’s been manipulating all the events of the past months. That he supplied the X-Cell with the weaponry to approximate their powers. That he arranged for Monet and Siryn to be elsewhere so their mind-based powers couldn’t threaten him. That he was a silent partner in Singularity Investigations. God may move in mysterious ways, but he has nothing on him. In fact, in a sense, he is their God, and this is simply them meeting their maker.
Huber having settled to the ground, Madrox asks why he is doing this. Why? his demeanor calm and reserved, Huber replies that it’s because… they’re driving him mad. And that’s the simple truth. In contrast to Huber’s calm, Madrox is incensed. Oh yeah? Well… He knows what they say about the truth!
With this, Madrox, Guido and Wolfsbane lunge toward Huber – but never make it to him, as an energy portal, built by Huber with skills borrowed from Forge, opens before them, their momentum carrying them through it. As they disappear and the portal closes behind them, Josef Huber notes that he does know what they say. The truth… hurts.
Somewhere in an arctic landscape, Madrox, accompanied by his dupe, Wolfsbane and Guido, himself far, far from home.
Endangered Species Chapter 11
In his headquarters in Eagle Plaza in Dallas, TX, mutant inventor Forge greets his guest, the Beast of the X-Men. Regarding the holograms of Bishop, Cable, Sugar Man, Marvel Girl and the Dark Beast, Hank remarks that he’s checked. It’s true for every last one of them. All came there from alternate timelines and all retained their powers on M-Day.
In fact, he continues, he can’t think of a single mutant from an alternate timeline who lost their powers. They were protected somehow… perhaps by temporal or extra-dimensional energy. If they can determine what saved them, perhaps they can reverse what happened to the others. But it’s really not his field, the Beast then sheepishly admits to Forge. He knows that he’s done research in this area…
Well, he’s right, Forge replies. He has. He’s already looked into this… and as far as he can tell, it’s just a coincidence. He knows something about chronal energy, and he knows something about magic. The one doesn’t offer protection from the other. … But it gets worse, he then admits to Hank. No so long ago, the mutant-hunting robot called Nimrod confronted him there. It wanted him to repair it, because he’d done so successfully… in the future. when he’ll have a family it can threaten to make him comply.
To prove this, Nimrod showed him images from its memory banks. Images of a future with mutants in it. After Nimrod was beaten, Forge continues, once he’d had time to think, he reached the same conclusion he did. There are countless possible futures. And they know mutant exist in many of them. They’ve seen it with their own eyes… or been told as much by people who came from them. So, he built this:
Pointing to a work station, which is hooked into a series of machines appearing to be mainframes, Forge explains that it combines their mutant-detecting Cerebra technology with the chronal machinery that powers Nimrod’s time travel. Asked what it does, he tells Hank that, using reading’s from artifacts that came from various futures as a baseline, it scans those timelines. Then asked if he can actually see the future, Forge replies that he can’t see… but scan. Specifically, search them for mutants. Regarding the console, which currently shows several lines including three labeled “AoA,” “Nimrod” and “XSE,” Hanks notes that they are all… Flatlined, yes, Forge replies. As of now… he’d guess ever since M-Day… either these futures no longer exist… or they do… and there are no more mutants in them.
Silence fills the lab, as the Beast’s head lowers in failure, his hands resting against the console. Finally, however, he raises his head, eying Forge with bared teeth. “No,” he says. He refuses to accept this. When Forge begins to defend, the Beast points to the machine and snarls that this isn’t science. This is astrology. More of his damned magic. To this, Forge begins to defends his work, offering to show his data, however the Beast replies with a shout of “NO!” and a back-handed blow, which tosses Forge across the lab.
Teeth still bared, Hank tells Forge that he’s studied mutant his entire life. He cured Legacy virus, not him. Yes, Forge replies, because biology is his field. As he said himself, this is his. He’s not saying it’s hopeless. Perhaps working together they can… Turning his back, the Beast rejects both Forge’s offer and his outstretched hand. No. You can’t help me. None of you can. With this, the Beast leaps upward, deftly propelling himself through the window and outside.
Later, at their motel room, the Dark Beast pours over his laptop, empty food containers strewn across his workstation. Not deigning to look up, he asks Hank if he had fun playing with his little friends. It was pointless, Hank replies, his arms crossed over his barreled chest. Looking to the future was nonsense. The future is fluid… shaped by what they do here. Now. Smiling maniacally at this, the Dark Beast rejoins “we?” Did he hear that correctly?
Having returned to his own station and begun work on his own computer, Hank replies that he’s realized no one else can help him. At least, no one who’s willing to. And he’s realized something else. They’ve been wasting their time. Asked if he means giving up, the Dark Beast tells him that that’s not like them.
He’s not giving up, Hank replies. Just changing course. They’ve been beating their heads against a brick wall examining mutants and de-powered mutants, when it’s clear that’s a dead end. But mutant come from human parents, whose DNA combines to create the X-gene in their offspring. The Scarlet Witch destroyed the X-gene, but he doubts even she could destroy its building blocks. If they can isolate chromosomes from normal humans that combine to create mutants… perhaps they can rebuild a viable X-gene from scratch, as it were.
Mutant, the Dark Beast replies in consideration, is a one-in-a-million occurrence. Identifying the right humans would be like finding a needle in a genetic haystack. Actually, no, Hank replies. He already knows where to look.