The stunning conclusion to THE ISOLATIONIST.
Josef Huber has been manipulating X-Factor in the hopes of gathering together all mutants. But post M-Day, with their numbers dwindling, amassing the world’s remaining mutants could reduce them to a single target. With Layla Miller lost and wandering the streets of New York, Siryn and Monet shepherding the twins Molly and Wally to safety, and the rest of the team still reeling from their confrontation with Quicksilver, can X-Factor Investigations uncover Huber’s plans before harm comes to the remnants of mutantkind?
Featuring "Endangered Species Chapter 15"
Guided by Doctor Strange, Beast explores the mystical corners of the Marvel Universe and discovers that M-Day has destroyed more lives than he thought possible.
“What the Hell…” Rictor says, eying the scene below through a massive hole in the side X-Factor’s HQ building. Below, Rictor catches the last sight of Madrox, Guido and Rahne racing through a teleportation portal, which closes behind them. Standing on the other side of it, the clear progenitor of the portal, is Josef Huber.
It didn’t have to be this way, Josef Huber thinks, oblivious to Rictor above. Picking off the mutants one-by-one. It’s time-consuming… inelegant… and borders on the needlessly cruel. And he;s not a cruel man. Merely a lonely and desperate one. But he still has a sense of morality. He shudders over his interfering with X-Factor’s free will, not to mention that of Cyclops and the Beast. No dominated then; just mentally “pushed” their feelings in the right direction. Still, one must survive however one c…
Interrupting Huber in mid-thought, Rictor leaps from above and onto the back of Huber, knocking him off center enough to drop the hand control for the portal. The device bounces on the concrete until it comes to a rest beneath a nearby car. Immediately, Huber transforms his skin back to organic steel and uses his new strength to lift Rictor off of his feet with one hand, while bristling his other with electrical energy.
The ironic thing, Huber thinks as he considers Rictor’s fate, is that if he were a mutant, he would have vast reservations about attacking him. Well, reservation is an understatement, as chances are he couldn’t directly dispatch hi, courtesy of his “mental block” on that score. At most, he could gently “suggest” to him that he dispatch himself, and even it might not suffice. However, since he is a mere human… all bets are off.
He could also have disposed of Layla Miller personally, if the need arose. Granted, she’s a child… and she isn’t a mutant… at least, he doesn’t believe so. But she remains a question mark… and a threat. That’s why he brought Nicole into the mix…
At the edge of Central Park, Layla Miller descends to the subway, looking behind her to see if she’s being followed. After she disappears, Nicole follows. Her eyes are cold and dead.
Elsewhere, also cold yet not dead are a small mound of men, or more specifically a mound of one man: Jamie Madrox. Over two dozen dupes of Jamie Madrox, arms linked around each other until they form a complete circle of three levels. The first level of dupes sits on the frozen ground, while the second stands. The third later of dupes sits on the shoulders of the third. Together, their bodies and body warmth form a shield against the raging elements. Sitting in center of this makeshift, human shelter, Guido announces that he quits.
Sitting next to Guido, whose massive arms are wrapped around him and Rahne, Madrox replies that Guido can’t quit. They’ll… they’ll find a way out of this. No, he responds. H means this is two week’s notice. Val Cooper offered him a new job: sheriff of Mutant Town. He’s taking it. Incredulous, Madrox asks if he really felt now would be the best time to share this? Well, he wasn’t sure there was gonna be a later time.
Turning to Rahne, who is sitting with her arms wrapped around her legs and her head buried in her knees, Madrox asks what about her. Anything she wants to say? Like why she’s not in her wolf form. The fur would… Raising her head, Rahne asks through frosty breath, “Would what?” Help her… outlive him? Does he think she wants that? To still be breathing while Guido and he have frozen to death?
Placing his hand on her bare shoulder, Jamie rejoins that they’re going to make it. She, of all people, should know about having faith. Brushing his hand aside, he replies that maybe she, of all people… knows that faith isn’t always enough. That bad things happen to good people, not because of God’s plan… but because the world is a cold and terrible place.
Elsewhere, over a rocky landscape, two pictures fly through the sky, one carrying an elevator car. Inside the small chamber, one of the children asks their father how much longer. Incredulous, he asks how the hell should he know. When their mother says the father, Ron, in astonishment at his language, he counters, “Screw language!” They’ve been taken prisoners by mutants! For all he knows, they’re… His words trail as they suddenly come to a complete stop. Immediately, the children are ecstatic, but their mother tells them to just stay calm.
Suddenly, a voice on the other side of the door calls inside, asking if anybody is leaning against the door. In response, the mother screams for them to let them out, to which Molly points out that maybe that’s why she was asking about leaning against the door. Thank God somebody inn there has brains. Finally answering the question, Molly tells the voice that they’re clear of the door, after which it is opened by Monet.
Regaining his composure, Ron points his finger accusatorily at Monet, telling her that this is kidnapping! He’s going to have her arrested! Standing out of the doorway, Monet tells Ron, by all means, do it. But he ignored court-ordered visitation. They’ll see whose hands are dirtier. Proclaiming that he doesn’t have to listen to this, Ron storms out, announcing that he’s taking his family… “Oh dear lord,” he says, upon seeing their position on a mesa atop a rock formation, rising hundreds of feet from the ground below.
Coming out into the sun, Wally and Molly hear their names called. The source of the voice is from their grandmother, who is emerging with their grandfather out of a tent. Immediately, they two grandchildren rush toward their grandparents, Wally proclaiming that they’ve missed them, much to the chagrin of their mother.
As the children become reacquainted with their grandparents, Ron again protrudes an accusatory finger to Monet, telling her that these children are now going to be drowning in mixed signals. He hopes she’s happy. Actually, Monet counters, her arms crossed across her chest, she believes she is. It’s an odd feeling. Being insufferably smug suits her far better, she thinks.
Nearby, Theresa points June Tyler to the tent, explaining that they have everything set up… chairs, tables, snacks. Told that she’s so thoughtful, Theresa dismisses it. Returning to the food, she recommends they start with the brie; no telling how long it’ll hold up.
Approaching her, Monet asks Theresa is she has a handle on things. When she says she does and asks why she asks, Monet replies that she just tries to check in with Madrox, to give him an update. No luck. Not Guido, not the fleabag, either. Even Rictor’s not picking up. Could be nothing or… Asked how fast she can get back, Monet says that, if she goes supersonic, she can do so pretty damned. ‘Course there’s no guarantee they’re at HQ, but… It’s a place to start, Theresa finishes. Do it, she recommends, but stay in touch.
A moment later, Monet takes to the sky, flying in a blur. As Abby quietly remarks to Ron that that doesn’t sound good. They’ve done their part, Ron replies. Done everything that Huber asked. She knows, she knows, Abby says. To this, a smiling Ron tells his wife that her parents played it beautifully, by the way. She’ll tell them he said so, she replies. They’ll be so pleased. He’s like a son to them, she then adds. Her dad always says so.
Outside X-Factor HQ, Josef Huber continues to hold Rictor aloft. As he does so, he announces that this is becoming increasingly curious. He’s trying to “convince” him to surrender… and he’s still fighting. Curious. To this, Rictor asks if that is what he did with the others. “Convinced” them to… to go along with him. More mentally “guided” them, actually, Huber explains. He prefers to trade in subtleties. Use his mind as a scalpel, not a… bludgeon? What the…
Huber’s voice trails as he suddenly finds his strength fading, as his skin returns from that of organic steel to flesh and bone. Once again vulnerable to a fist, Huber is given a left cross to the jaw by Rictor, causing Huber to drop him. Caught off guard, Huber drops to his knees, with Rictor standing over him, yelling for Huber to get up. Get up!!!
However, Huber hesitates, reeling at this impossibility. He possesses the power of every living mutant on Earth. Powers he never asked for. Never wanted. Powers that never leave him alone. Not for a second. Powers that only his medications allow him to control.
Twisting his head suddenly, Huber lets loose a powerful optic blast. Rictor recoils for a moment, but after the onslaught is over, finds himself unharmed. As astonished as Rictor is, Huber is more so. Reeling at his apparent immunity, Huber asks how can this be. Answer: it cannot be. This must be his… his mind working against him once more. The same damnable mental block that prevents him from using killing force upon mutants. That has to be it.
In experiment, Huber outstretches his hand and releases a mountain of ice, which encases the area around Rictor. Still not finished, Huber pours on the power, until he eventually encases him fully in a block of ice.
For years, Huber thinks as he works, he… isolated himself… remained hidden because the more mutants there were on Earth, the more power he had. The more it invaded every cell of his body, his mind. The abilities of every telepath on Earth… the voices howling in his head… His body, at war with itself, hundreds of different powers raging within… exploding, melting, freezing, frying… and healing, always healing… while millions of voices screamed in his mind. Hidden away in the frozen north, the distance afforded him some relief. Some… but not much. His family’s vast fortune enabled him to survive, but that’s all he was doing. M-Day… it was a godsend. The day that the endless howling… became a merely dull roar.
From that moment, the end was in sight. If he could eliminate the last of the mutants… then he would finally know peace. He simply needed to avoid telepaths, since being near them remained unbearable. And Layla Miller… her abilities were too unpredictable to plan around. That’s where Nicole came in. He needed her to dispose of Layla. Ideally, it would look like an accident.
Elsewhere, Layla stands at the edge of the subway platform, waiting for the next train. Silently, Nicole approaches from behind her, standing amongst a crowd of others, waiting for the same train. Though she has a large bruise on the side of her face, Layla manages a wry smile, as Nicole positions herself direct behind.
At just the right moment, Layla announces to no one in particular, “Ooo. A penny,” and bends down to pick it up, citing “See a penny, pick it up…” At just that moment, Nicole, already in a run, trips over the bent Layla and falls into the path of the oncoming subway car. Standing back up, Layla finishes her quote with a smile. “And all day you’ll have good luck.”
As Layla continues to regard her prize, the rest of the waiting crowd marvel in horror at the remains of Nicole, which now barely resembles a girl. Her arms severed and her head barely still affixed to her body, Nicole’s internal structure is reveled to be that of a machine. Wires, servo motors or bones of metal are splayed open for all to see.
Unaware of her current state, Huber fondly recalls how he crafted Nicole lovingly with his own hands, courtesy of the inventive prowess of Forge… ingenuity he’s put to far greater use than he himself. Processing a chaotic randomizing generator he designed, her mere presence near Layla was enough to thwart Miss Miller’s abilities for the short-term… and she’s disposed of Miss Miller herself for the long-term. And now he merely has to finish off Ric…
Huber’s thoughts of triumph turn to disbelief. Oh, this is ridiculous, he says, as he sees Rictor emerging from the block of ice, through which he has evidently melted. Asked how he’s doing this, Rictor incredulously asks back why Huber can’t just read his mind and figure it out for himself. Read his mind? Huber rejoins. He’d need special glasses to deal with the tiny print.
With this, Huber picks up a lamppost and wields it like a bat. He promptly confirms Rictor “uh, oh,” adding that if, for whatever reason, the direct application of mutant powers cannot injure him… he’ll settle for the indirect approach. However, even as he brings the makeshift weapon down in a deadly arc and a thudding KRAK, Rictor side steps it, though just as quickly finds himself skidding on the concrete some distance away, toward the car under which Huber’s device skidded minutes before.
Disgusted with his current situation, Huber silently notes that this is precisely what he wanted to avoid. This one-on-one pointlessness. IT would have been so perfect. All the remaining mutants and a contingent of once-and-future mutants, converging on Washington. All of them in one place. And one airborne virus or dirty bomb later… no more mutants. He’d be free. Free.
Meanwhile, Rictor has spied the device and is reaching for it when Huber pulls his back, ripping off a portion of Rictor’s shirt as he does so. The device goes flying out of Rictor’s hand. Having Told to let go, Josef Huber announces that he will so for… from this life… into the next. With this, Huber lifts the car from its front, intending to bring the whole vehicle down on Rictor’s head.
Back in the arctic, the igloo shield of Madrox dupes has collapsed, the dupes pleading with Jamie to reabsorb them. They don’t’ want to die like this. Succumbing to the cold himself, a near delirious Guido remarks that they’ve gotta try and find someplace. Haltingly, Madrox replies that there isn’t any place… He…
Interrupting, Rahne states that at least she won’t have to… Not understanding, Jamie asks she won’t have to do… what? Her head on his lap, she shivers that she killed… killed… “Killed who?” Jamie asks. Doesn’t matter anymore, Rahne says with a slight yet genuine smile. Turning away again, she tells Jamie that the Lord hasn’t abandoned them. He’s bringing them home… where they’ll know peace.
Back in New York, Rictor braces for the blow that does not come. Finally daring to open his eyes, he sees why Huber is unable to use the car as a weapon, as the airborne Monet is holding the other end. She tells him not to sweat it. She’ll take it from there. When he says that he is glad to see her, Monet rejoins that that’s good. He should remember that next time she wants him to make her breakfast.
Monet then begins to return her attention back to Huber, but he tells her to spare him. With this, he pushes to car toward her, moving her off balance and causing her to crash into what remains of the block of ice. As this happens, Rictor finds Huber’s device, trying to discern its workings as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Huber has become even more exasperated. Noting that this has become pointless, he laments that Rictor, for some reason, had the ability to resist his direct assault. He’s sure it’s some small detail he’s overlooked. And now the presence of the telepath, Monet, brings pain back to him in sweeping waves and his medication is starting to wear off. Too much has come undone. All that’s left to him is to lash out in calamitous slaughter. That’s so… uncivilized, he then thinks. When one is attempting genocide… what point is there in homicide ?
Another day then, he thinks, as he departs in a wisp of smoke. Another plan. Although… who knows? Perhaps another version of M-Day will arise to finish where the other left off. Or perhaps they’ll wind up killing each other off… and his curse will finally be lifted. Please, God… make it so.
Whether having noticed Huber’s departure or not, Rictor continues work on the device until a spark of energy materializes before him, eventually coalescing into the form of a doorway. Once this is done, the half-frozen forms of Madrox, Guido and Rahne race through, followed by ice and snow.
Yelling to them that it’s play, Rictor tells them that they’re going to be fine. They’ll warm them up. Though still freezing, Madrox asks about where Huber is. Gone, Rictor reports. Took off. Speaking haltingly through her shivering, Rahne asks why did he do all of this. Whoever… knows… Madrox replies, with guys like that. They’re villains. That’s all they ever need to know about their enemies. Just… bad guys… Aye, Rahne agrees. May they all rot alone in their separate hills.
Far away, in a cave of ice set in an arctic, wind-swept terrain, Josef Huber silently sits on his throne of ice, isolated and alone.
Endagered Species Chapter 15:
Clad in the robes of a bishop, the Beast kneels on one knee, his head bowed. Holding the staff upon which rests the cross of the church, the Beast intones that the Lord God has heard his prayers, and has shown him a vision.
Silently regarding the Beast in his act of humility the whole of the Inhuman royal court. Though his visage of their monarch shrouded behind his customary faceplate, the Black Bolt’s royal family are all grim. Medusa scowls beneath her flowing braided locks, at whose ends rest serrated knives. Addressing the monarch, the supplicating Beast addresses him by his title, King Blackagar and explains that the situation is dire. Mutantkind faces extinction. God willing, he believes salvation lies in the Terrigen mists.
Speaking for her majesty, Medusa tells the X-Man that their prophets foretold his coming. Their scientists are aware of the mutant crisis. Her husband offers his condolences… but the mists will only bring pain to his species. There are no answers for him within the Inhuman kingdom.
Watching this Beast’s abject sorrow via the astral plane, the Beast from the 616 reality tells Doctor Strange that he didn’t see that coming. He guesses all that Sunday school finally paid off. Leading their departure, floating away like ethereal phantoms, Strange explains that its another plane of reality. It’s not him. Trust him, Hank rejoins. He has plenty of experience with the concept of an “alternate” him. But he doesn’t think…
A thought occurring to him, the Beast asks Strange why is he showing him this. As they emerge to an alien structure on an alien sphere, the sorcerer replies that he has chosen this path, time and time again, in more worlds than one. But he needs to see… Ah, they are being watched. “Oh, my,” the Beast replies, taking in the sight of the Watcher, towering above them.
Recognizing him, Hank calls out his name, “Uatu,” and asks him to tell him if he has seen a way. In reply, Uatu brings his forefinger to his lips, making the gesture of silence. Before Hank can response to this, Strange tells him that it’s time and teleports the two of them away. Alone once again, Uatu the Watcher returns his gaze to the planet Earth, which spins high above.
As Strange returns him from where they came, the Beast’s mind races. He tries to take all the knowledge he’s amassed in his life, every scientific principle that’s ingrained in his being, and try to apply it to what is happening, but he fails. The journey they now take is a kaleidoscope of other realities. He sees other versions of himself. One is cyborg, while another a red-furred and dog-like rather than blue and cat-like. Another has energy powers, and still another is a chair-ridden professor like Xavier. He even witnesses one where he himself is the Sorcerer Supreme.
Arriving back at the mansion, Strange and the Beast are welcomes back by Wong. Reeling from the experience, Hank asks Strange about the return trip, asking if it was a scenic route. To this, Strange replies that he thought he needed to see. He needed to know, in order to accept. Asked how he feels, Hank replies simply. “Small.” As he walks to the door, Strange asks him what will he do now. “Now?” the Beast replies, almost as if thinking of the question for the first time. “I don’t know.”