Irene Merryweather’s apartment
It’s 4:00am and Irene is fast asleep in her bed, one hand tucked under her pillow the other wrapped around the edge of her blanket. She wakes suddenly when her alarm clock stops ticking. Being a light sleeper has its disadvantages. Irene takes a look at the clock and notes the second hand isn’t moving. It’s as if time itself has stopped, she imagines.
That’s when Irene spies a figure hovering at the foot of her bed, shrouded in a dark robe with bright, yellow glowing eyes coming from within the hood. She yells for Cable and Blaquesmith, but the figure tells her to stop, that nobody can hear her. She then assuages Irene’s fears explaining she’s not there to hurt her, only to talk. Talk about what, Irene stutters.
“You are the Chronicler?” the floating figure asks. Irene, huddled with her blankets wrapped around her, admits she’s been following Cable’s exploits, though doubts anyone’s ever going to read them.
The levitating, Lotus-positioned intruder assures Irene her works will be read by millions, and she’ll become known only as the Chronicler. She then refers to herself as the Second, and though she goes by many names, some forgotten over time, she tells Irene to call her Alecto. I have come to open your eyes to the truth, she clarifies.
“The truth? What are you talking about?” Irene asks. Despite Apocalypse’s defeat, Alecto explains, Cable still has a purpose in life. Irene doesn’t know what to think of this. All of Cable’s life seemed centered around defeating Apocalypse. Even he doesn’t know what to do next, Irene rebuts. Alecto suggests Cable’s struggles may have only signaled the beginning of his destiny, not the finish.
Continuing her vague line of questioning Alecto mentions Blaquesmith and asks Irene how much she knows about him. Not much, she admits, but knows he’s been with Nathan since his childhood and that Cable trusts him. Alecto fills her in on the details, more specifically Blaquesmith saving his life and bringing him to the Clan Askani, introducing him to his beloved Aliya.
Blaquesmith returned two thousand years into the past to help Cable battle Apocalypse, but under whose command, the witch asks. For Clan Askani, Irene would guess, but Alecto questions where Blaquesmith was all those years when Cable was alone, and why he only appeared after Mother Askani was no more.
Even Rachel’s appearance from the timestream during the time of Apocalypse is questionable, Alecto continues. Add to that, Blaquesmith was the first to meet her, the first to become her acolyte. “Was their meeting sheer coincidence or something planned?” Alecto poses.
“What are you saying?” Irene inquires, not sure where Alecto’s going with this. Instead of answering Alecto states she can stay no longer, that her sisters will notice she’s left. She wraps her robe about herself and promises to speak with Irene again. In the meantime pursue the hidden truth, Alecto urges. When Irene asks what she means the Second asks her to discover why Cable is called “the Chosen One.” She tells Irene it is her destiny to learn the truth and she needs to do so before it is too late.
New York City streets
Later that day Cable stops on the sidewalk not far from his safehouse after noticing a building he has no recollection of ever seeing. The sign outside reads “ARE YOU AS DANGEROUS AS YOU THINK? MARTIAL ARTS TRAINING FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS.” If that’s not weird enough nobody besides Nathan seems to notice the place. Taking it as a challenge Cable decides to tempt fate.
His backpack slung over his shoulder Cable steps inside. He tells himself he’ll only check it out for a few minutes to satisfy his curiosity and then it’s back to the safehouse. “Hello…? Anyone here?” he calls out, but nobody answers. The room is empty save for a desk with a chair and a phone. There are two open doorways draped with beads. Above each entrance is a sign. The one on the left reads “Those Without Fear Enter Here.” The one on the right reads “Know Your Enemy As Thyself.”
Cable makes his choice and enters into a room with no sound, no light except for some burners on the floor. In front of one of the burners is a woman dressed in martial arts gear meditating in the Lotus position. The woman introduces herself as Shin and states how pleased she is he chose the correct entrance. Cable guesses the other door led back to the street. Shin tells him he’s right, for a man who knows no fear is a fool and she doesn’t waste her time with fools.
Shin asks Cable if he’s come to see how dangerous he is. I’ve fought all my life, Cable tells her, and knows his strengths and weaknesses. I leave it up to my opponents to determine how dangerous I am, he declares. Shin is pleased with his response and wants to see if his techniques match his words.
Getting to her feet Shin tells Nathan to show her the full extent of his fighting prowess. Nate is taken aback that she knows his name. “I know many things,” she replies and tells Cable to begin. He does so and is totally unprepared for the butt-whooping he’s about to receive.
The master of the temple begins the assault. She drives her right fist into Cable’s shoulder and follows that up with a kick to the face, which Nathan is able to block it. However, Shin takes his blocking arm and extends it outward allowing her access to knee him in the ribs below said arm. She follows that with an elbow to Cable’s jaw. After keeping him off balance with a few low kicks Cable’s only able to get one move in, a sidekick that Shin easily avoids. She then grabs his extended foot and positions her leg around his other ankle and knocks him to the ground.
Cable’s fast, but it is obvious Shin is faster. The session ends when Cable blocks another of Shin’s kicks to the face only to have her do a flipping somersault backward into the wall, leap back in front of him and drive her fist an inch or so in front of his nose. Nathan merely stands there amazed. “Match over. Now it’s time for tea,” she says.
Over tea Shin tells Cable he has a good foundation and would make an adequate student with further training. Cable looks at her incredulously. He never said anything about being a student or taking any lessons. Shin calls him a man of honor, one who strives for perfection, and tells him to return in one week to start his apprenticeship. She and the dojo then disappear in a puff of smoke. What remains is the warehouse that originally stood there. The only evidence Cable has that it ever happened is the aches and bruises all across his body. He makes a promise to himself to return.
A large, muscular, bald man, wearing white, baggy pants and carrying a large sword stands at the top of a platform looking over a group of robed warriors. He alerts the Black Dawn that Shin has found a new apprentice and tells them to take to the hunt. He orders the extra-dimensional ninjas to scour a thousand realities if they have to, to find Shin’s student and bring him back. He instructs them not to return until their task is done.
Some time has passed since Cable’s martial arts exhibit. He’s now standing in the middle of a room armoring his body with some high-tech gear. Irene is with him and she is asking about Rachel, his alternate timeline sister. The reason Cable is getting geared up and the reason Irene is asking about Rachel is because Cable is preparing to journey to the future to rescue her.
Asked about her similar power set Nathan explains Rachel’s power level is much greater. Then he conveys the story of Rachel becoming the Mother Askani, how she entered the timestream to try and save Captain Britain and reappeared 2,000 years in the future and founded a group known as the Askani, or “Outsiders.” Cable describes the Askani as the only thing that stood between humanity and the end of life on Earth.
Now, with Apocalypse’s defeat, Cable’s unsure of the future. He reasons it was most likely altered or entirely erased. Placing a bicep cover over his arm he relates his lack of family to Irene. With Scott gone it leaves him with only Jean. Cable imparts how important Rachel is to him, no matter how odd the circumstances she is his sister, one who sacrificed herself for him when he was a baby. And now that he’s been having these visions of her at the end of all time at the mercy of some madman, he has to do what he can to try and save her.
With the back-story passed on and the finishing touches to Cable’s armor almost done Irene asks about Blaquesmith and where he was during Nathan’s teenage years. Cable shrugs it off saying he never gave it that much thought. It was a fractured world, he adds, and says what’s important is Blaquesmith’s with him now, when he needs him the most.
After grabbing a few protein bars for the trip Cable tells Irene how secretive he’s kept the mission. He hasn’t told anyone about it, not Jean or anyone from Rachel’s days in Excalibur. He puts the burden on her of telling everyone what happened if he doesn’t come back. She replies with a sarcastic response and asks if he has any other terrific assignments for her. Yes, Nathan replies, asking her to look up a young woman named Shin who runs a martial arts dojo on the next block. Irene argues the next block is a warehouse, which Cable admits he thought so too until today.
“So many questions. So few answers,” Irene mumbles under her breath. When Nathan, now wearing an oxygen-supporting helmet, asks what she said Irene plays it off like it was nothing. Ready to go Cable promises he won’t come back unless Rachel’s with him. She once gave up everything for the sake of others, he adds.
Arriving on the scene is Blaquesmith who tells his mentee his objective is near unattainable. He cautions Cable on the dangers of the journey, comparing time travel to a river with branches and tributaries and undertows all leading to possible futures, alternate realities. Not only that, he adds, but entering the timestream is nearly impossible.
As Blaquesmith punches some calculations into a portable datapad in his hand he explains he was able to scavenge some parts from Cable’s destroyed time travel device resulting in the chronogear he now wears. Navigation is the challenge, he continues, but adds that Cable’s telepathy will help in that regard. Rachel’s thoughts should act as a beacon for him to arrive at his destination, while Blaquesmith’s thoughts will be the anchor to draw them back.
A concerned Irene asks how fast this “undertow” goes. According to Blaquesmith’s calculations the current flows through time at ten thousand years a second. This amazes Irene and she asks how long until he reaches Rachel. Blaquesmith estimates about 55 hours, as two billion years is a very long time. Tired of the talk Cable says he’s ready. Blaquesmith activates the mechanism and the systems kick online. Irene asks why he’s so heavily armed. Blaquesmith tells her Nathan believes in being prepared.
Five seconds has passed, or fifty thousand years. The empty space around Cable is a swirly yellowish-orange. There’s nothing to really see as he floats through the amber haze, all possible realities zipping by instantaneously.
an hour later
An hour has passed. So has 36 million years. At this point man has moved to other galaxies and evolved past their wildest imaginings of the 21st century. The deepest secrets of life and death are discovered, lost, remembered, and then lost again.
Ten hour mark
Nathan checks the timer on his wrist, which is just past the ten hour mark. 360 million years into the future the river of time has noticeably narrowed as the number of alternate futures has lessened.
almost 30 hours
It’s been nearly 30 hours and the orange haze has given way to black. Nathan uses Askani mind techniques to keep him alert. The number of alternate realities has narrowed to just a few. He’s passed through a million years of darkness not sure of the reason or the cause.
Then out of nowhere a giant ship bursts through an opening in the blackness. Cable assumes they’re pirates of the timestream. Though as they were only visible for an instant he reasons they could have been figments of his imagination.
The undertow and timestream have merged into a single narrow river rushing into the far, far distant future. The planet in front of him, a desiccated husk, doesn’t change as a million years go by. Then he spies a large, two-story colonial house on the borderline… his destination.
Still, Cable is pulled forward, ten, twenty, thirty, fifty thousand years go by and the house remains the same. Down, down, down he swirls out of the timestream, a mental voice calling him back to the physical world, two billion years into the future.
When Cable finally touches down he’s greeted by a large, green-haired figure, wearing a long purple robe. Next to him, tied down to a chair, is Rachel. The tall, overbearing man named Gaunt invites Cable inside for some refreshment after his long journey. Cable ignores his courteous offer and demands his sister. “If I let her leave,” is all Gaunt replies.
Cable raises the energy weapon in his hand and points it at Rachel’s captor. He tells Nathan his mental powers will barely function and his weapons are useless, all part of a dampening field that keeps him stuck there.
An instant later the odd trio find themselves in a dining room located within Gaunt’s home. The vegetative Rachel sits at the head of the table, a half-filled glass of wine near her hand. She tells Cable it’s nice to see him and asks how he’s been, though her words seem a bit forced. Nathan demands to know what Gaunt’s done. She’s just slightly subdued, he replies, it was the only way he could use her to lure Cable, her objections being rather strenuous. Cable demands she be restored and Gaunt promises he will… in time.
A boar-like creature standing upright and wearing a fancy suit walks by with a platter. Cable ignores the odd character and, getting straight to the point, asks Gaunt what he wants. Gaunt says he’s merely interested in heroes and what drives them to great deeds of self-sacrifice, much like Rachel. He wants to study Cable, he continues, and maybe become a hero himself.
“I doubt that,” Rachel spits out, the effects of Gaunt’s conditioning beginning to thin. She goes on to call Gaunt the most evil man who ever lived, and says he’s only interested in “good” because it’s so alien to him.
Noticing his hold weakening Gaunt waves his hands and they’re instantly transported into another room. Rachel goes from being seated at the dining room table to being seated at a piano. Gaunt leans back in his tall, ebony throne and brags about Rachel’s playing skills. She threatens to make him pay, but Gaunt is not worried by her threats. He orders her to place her fingers on the keys and let the piano do the rest.
Nathan still doesn’t get it. Again he asks Gaunt what it is he wants, also hammering him with questions about this place and how it is he ended there. “Questions, questions…,” Gaunt begins a bit annoyed. He tells Cable he might not like the answers. Without a moment’s hesitation Cable says he doesn’t care. “Listen, then…,” Gaunt replies.
With a bitter look on his face Gaunt begins the tale of his exile to the end of all reality. The house they stand in was built by the boar-like, subhuman wretches, he explains. It took thousands of years to create. Gaunt states this last point just to make sure Cable realizes he has all the time in the world, nothing to do but amuse himself at the end of nowhere.
Delving into his past Gaunt reveals he was the great warlord in human history, his goal in life conquest of the entire universe. The war he waged lasted ten thousand years. No crime was too great, no sin too depraved for him to reach his ends. He turned families upon each other. Hate was his weapon, despair his envoy, death and destruction his tools. Trillions died in the war, planets were crushed and star systems perished. He never relented, he explains, in his determination to rule the universe.
In the end he lost, Gaunt admits, and he was tried for his crimes. Death was considered too kind so he was exiled to the borderline of reality, banished to live alone forever. This is the penultimate Earth, he clarifies, those that did not end with their destruction due to some terrible experiment or war have reached the same point. There are no multiple futures, no alternate timelines this far in time, Gaunt elucidates. “This is all that’s left of humanity.”
Gaunt refers to the place as the Borderline, a prison with no escape where he will remain until the Sun goes out. Or at least that’s how it should have been, that is until Rachel arrived one day. Her powers were subdued just like his so he was able to make her his slave. However, he was not satisfied. He wanted a warrior much like himself to join him. He still thirsts for battle, Gaunt continues, and after probing her tortured mind he discovered Cable and decided to lure him there.
For what reason, Cable asks, still not fully satisfied with the answers he’s been getting. To fight, Gaunt states matter-of-factly. The way he sees it Cable wants Rachel and Gaunt wants to be entertained so they’ll fight for what they desire most.
Now transported outside, Gaunt turns from his audience and stares out at the desolate wasteland he’s called home for thousands of years. Finally, a chance to alleviate the boredom is within his reach. He tells Cable he has a day to rest and recuperate and then they fight, hand to hand, no rules, no time limit. The fight will last until one of them is unable to rise and continue.
“And the prize?” Cable asks. The daunting figure turns to face Cable once more. Cable notes that Gaunt, more metal than man, is also infected with the t-o virus, but somehow seems to be in complete control of the process, making him a formidable foe. Answering his question, Gaunt says both he and Rachel are free to go if Cable wins. However, if he wins, both Cable and Rachel will remain there with him until the end of time.
Cable asks what will happen if he refuses. I’m a patient man, Gaunt responds, and will wait until he changes his mind. As if there was any doubt Cable accepts, not being one to back down from a fight. He advises Gaunt he doesn’t intend on losing. Gaunt replies with the same.