Cable (1st series) #86

Issue Date: 
December 2000
Story Title: 
Last Man Standing

Robert Weinberg (writer), Essad Ribic (pencils), Lary Stucker (inks),Hi Fi Design (colors), RS & Comicraft’s Saida Temofonte (letters), Pete Franco (assistant editor), Mark Powers (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

Vivid nightmares plague Cable the night before the big battle, nightmares that his t-o virus is spreading out of control. Rachel manages to infiltrate his dreams to let him know none of it is real, just Gaunt messing with his mind. The next morning a refreshed Cable heads down to breakfast with Rachel. There they meet up with Gaunt who goes more into his history and the torturous life he’s had as an exile. Soon after breakfast the fight begins and Cable is brutally beaten. However, he scores a hit to Gaunt’s face that draws blood. Cable’s blood mixes with Gaunt’s and that proves to be his undoing. It takes a few minutes, but Gaunt collapses to the ground, Cable’s version of the t-o virus messing up his body. With Cable the victor he and Rachel enter the timestream and head back to present day New York. Gaunt on the other hand is presumably killed by an unknown character having fulfilled his part of the bargain of reuniting Cable and Rachel. Meanwhile, Cable and Rachel find their way back to Cable’s safehouse where Blaquesmith and Irene are waiting. They fill Rachel in on recent events and she decides she wants to live a normal life and go to college. Cable makes everyone promise to keep her return a secret until Rachel’s ready to let others know.

Full Summary: 

Manhattan Safehouse, 5:47am

Irene Merryweather’s apartment

Less than a year ago Irene was a tabloid reporter desperate for her shot at the big time, the big stories, the events that make history. Now, she chronicles the secret history of a man who could be mankind’s savior-- Nathan Summers. Recently, she’s been warned by a stranger to search out the mysteries in Cable’s past. It was enough to intrigue Irene and now she’s investigating once again, this time for the truth. And based on her informant’s words, Irene trusts no one-- including Cable’s mentor, Blaquesmith.
Seated at her desk Irene finishes her journal entry and then files it away in one of the drawers. She then makes her way to the lab where Blaquesmith is busy toiling away at the computer terminal. It’s been twenty hours since Cable jumped through time and she asks if that’s something to worry about. Perhaps, Blaquesmith replies, but adds that time travel is not precise and cautions it could be hours or days until Dayspring returns.

The Three Witches are side by side next to a boiling cauldron of greenish goop. As the mist rises from the pot the Witches are able to look in on Nathan, the object of their most recent attention. They begin spouting their prophecies in rhyme, hinting at their involvement with Rachel’s predicament at the House on the Borderline, that this is another one of their tests. At the end of their ramblings they voice their true concern, for if Cable doesn’t defeat Gaunt thereby rescuing Rachel it will be the end of them.
House on the Borderline

Cable hovers about four feet above his bed, arms folded across his chest, in a meditative state. After being awake more than sixty hours he desperately needs to regain his vitality. This requires his full concentration, which leaves him vulnerable to other dangers.
With the mutagenic dampeners in Gaunt’s house holding back Nathan’s telekinesis it makes it hard for him to control the techno-organic virus that ravages his body. And it’s at this moment the virus chooses to spread. His t-o arm lights up with a blue, electric fury. The pain is immense and Cable does his best to clear his mind and focus his thoughts. Fear is destroying his concentration and he knows if the virus overwhelms him both he and Rachel are doomed to spend eternity with Gaunt, the worst mass murderer in history.
“Enough!” Rachel screams, costumed in her Phoenix outfit, her hair seemingly aflame. And so the agony that once gripped Cable ceases. He sits down on the floor across from Rachel now confused. Rachel explains he’s only dreaming, that the virus is under control, and it’s only Gaunt using his mind-control machines to try and weaken him before the fight tomorrow.
It seemed so real that Nathan has a hard time believing it. Rachel explains she tried to warn him, but with her mind “handcuffed” she could only approach him in his dreams. She calls Gaunt a maniac who will do anything to defeat him. Getting to his feet Cable figures the most vicious mass murderer in history would probably cheat to win a fight.
That still leaves one question for Cable; how is Rachel able to enter his dream? Citing her former connection to the Phoenix Force Rachel admits she has some unchecked power, but would prefer Gaunt kept in the dark for the time being. Cable can’t believe the Phoenix Force could be muzzled by Gaunt’s dampeners, but Rachel explains the Phoenix Force left her during her journey through time. Going into detail she explains that it left about halfway through the millions of years of darkness, as if curiosity over the meaning of the eternal night caused it to leave. For now, she finishes, she’s merely a telepath and a telekinetic.
Smiling, Cable picks up on her use of the word “merely” and tells her nobody in the Summers’ clan is merely anything. He tells Rachel he’s missed her and Rachel responds with the same sentiment, though doesn’t know why. She says they’ll talk about it later, but for now wants Cable to sleep and regain his energy.
end dream sequence

In the morning Cable wakes feeling fresh and alive, all traces of fatigue gone from his body. He’s ready for anything including a battle with a warrior a hundred centuries old.
Later, as the time for battle approaches Cable gets suited up. Just as he finishes latching his belt there’s a knock at his door. Enter, Cable responds, and in steps Rachel and though she’s back in her Phoenix costume her neck and wrists cuffed with psionic dampeners. She explains Gaunt released the controls on her mind, but not her powers. He wants her to be lucid when he punishes Cable on the battlefield, torment her for her part in luring Cable to the Borderline.
Cable tells her there’s no reason to feel guilty; he wasn’t tricked. He only came because of who Rachel is and what she did for him. Rachel doesn’t understand, they barely know each other. Their only connection is through Scott and Jean, she reminds Cable who said it himself back on Muir Island.
I’ll explain someday, Cable replies, and tells Rachel he owes her as does all humanity. He goes on to say that he knew her in another time and place and she had a heart as big as the world. She’s just a younger version of that and Cable feels as though he’s now helping pay back a debt that can never be fully repaid.
This tugs at Rachel’s heart-strings and she hesitantly asks if she can hug Nathan. Being her quasi-brother he doesn’t see anything wrong with it and so she wraps her arms around his neck and rests her head against his chest. She tells Cable it’s good to have someone to lean on after these months alone with Gaunt. Cable promises he will be the last man standing no matter how big and bad Gaunt is.
The two leave Cable’s room and head down the long staircase toward the dining hall. Cable asks Rachel what she knows about Gaunt as he’s clearly not entirely human. Rachel explains he’s techno-organic and she was told all soldiers of his time were injected with nanotech boosters in their bloodstreams and that when a body part wore out or wouldn’t regenerate it was replaced by living steel. Rachel thinks that’s why he wants to fight him; they’re so similar.
When Rachel and Cable arrive they find Gaunt sitting at the table already enjoying his meal. He beckons them to join him remarking on the touching brother and sister reunion. Cable does away with the niceties and asks when they fight. Without a hint of frustration in his voice Gaunt states there’s no rush, their battle will commence in a few hours. He describes how the Earth’s rotation has slowed considerably making the days and nights longer providing them plenty of time before the battle. He tells them again to enjoy themselves.
Cable and Rachel accept this time and take their seats. As if to explain the wonderful meal before them Gaunt rehashes his punishment, that he would ponder his crimes throughout eternity while provided with the necessities to remain alive doing so. The only thing he lacks is companionship, which the judges realized would make his punishment even worse than starving. Referencing the food, the luxurious house and the servants Cable remarks on Gaunt’s perceived lack of suffering. Try living a hundred thousand years without conversation, he counters.
As if to illustrate the level of suffering he faces Gaunt delves back into his past. He explains he once ruled a hundred million worlds, his name whispered and feared throughout the universe, species from a thousand galaxies paying tribute to him with their treasures. Now he’s being served by subhuman creatures, no women, no tribute, he continues.
Driving the point home Gaunt brings up the worst part of his punishment. He had always felt the joy of battle. Fighting was in his blood, his spirit, his soul and the judges knew this and knew peace would be his hell. He posits a question to Cable, “Survive for a thousand centuries without a good fight. Live for eons battling rocks and stones and phantoms. Then talk to me about suffering.”
After breakfast Gaunt leads his guests to his exercise room. He offers it up to Cable for some warm-ups. Gaunt even has some 21st century equipment available. Cable tells him there’s no point in hitting a punching bag that won’t hit back. Nothing duplicates the feeling of flesh on flesh contact, Gaunt remarks, pleased with Cable’s answer. He then asks how Nathan slept. Quite well, Cable replies and Gaunt is pleased because he hates excuses.
As they make their way outside Gaunt remarks on the similarities between he and Cable, strong, independent, masters of their own destiny. Nathan’s nothing like you, Rachel interjects, calling Gaunt a butcher, not a warrior. She says Cable would never murder millions to satisfy some sick blood lust. Gaunt points out Cable snuffed out billions of lives to reshape the future to his mood.
Gaunt’s comments fuel a rage inside Cable. He tells Gaunt beating him to a pulp will be a pleasure. Pulling out a short metal rod Gaunt bends it at the middle and reminds Cable the battle ends when there’s only one man standing, no rules otherwise. He then tosses the metal rod to Cable and exclaims, “Cry havoc…” Cable bends the rod straight again replying, “…and let slip the dogs of war!”
The pigmen in attendance pump their axes in the air yelling out Gaunt’s name. Their green-haired master disrobes and raises his arms in the air, basking in their praise. Cable, now also shirtless, looks over at his sister and again promises he won’t lose. The two opponents then face each other, Gaunt going over the statutes of the fight yet again. Cable tells him to shut up and get started.
Cable has no idea of Gaunt’s speed or strength and is not foolish enough to believe Gaunt would challenge him unless he planned on winning. Knowing it’s going to take more than brute strength to win Cable has a plan in place and hopes he has enough time to make it happen.
Gaunt waves Cable forward eager with a flick of his fingers. Bring it on, Cable replies. Gaunt does, delivering a right-handed kick to Cable’s face, but Nate has no problem blocking it. Cable responds with a right-handed fist to Gaunt’s solar plexus, but the impact on his fist is like hitting steel and Cable knows that’s not going to bode well for him. He then receives a punch to the face, blood flying from his splayed open lip. It’s like getting hit with a sledgehammer Cable thinks realizing he can’t match Gaunt in strength.
As Cable launches a volley of punches Gaunt merely stands there and takes it. Seemingly invulnerable thanks to his techno-organic body Gaunt then takes his time in punishing the timelost soldier, kneeing him in the face. Cable responds with a mighty uppercut that actually draws blood. Gaunt wipes some of the blood away calling it a lucky blow. He tells Cable he’s the first man to hurt him in ages.
Now angry Gaunt is relentless in his attack. He delivers punishing blow upon punishing blow driving Cable to his knees and then finally to his back. The bloody mess that is Cable can barely prop himself up off the ground. Gaunt knees him in the side and gloats on how he could kill him if he wanted to. Of course he’s not going to do that because he plans on fighting Cable again and again. He just wants Nathan to understand one thing: Gaunt never loses.
Not quite out of it yet Cable tells Gaunt he’ll never win. Gaunt rushes over wrapping his hands together into one giant fist. He whips his arms around and bashes Cable in the head with a powerful haymaker. Cable collapses and Gaunt proudly proclaims himself the last man standing. He raises his arms in victory as the pigmen begin chanting his name again.
Rachel contacts Cable via telepathy and offers up some of her energy so he can rise again. She urges him not to give up. Cable regains consciousness and struggles to sit up. Gaunt notices this and tells him he’s already lost. Rachel jumps up from her spot in the circle of audience and cracks Gaunt in the back of the head with the psychic dampeners on her wrist. No rules, no limits, Gaunt!” she cries during her attack.
“Aaargh!” Gaunt yells in agony, his flesh spiking out all over. He falls to the ground as his techno-organics begin protruding from his skin. He cries out for help confused by the turn of events.
Meanwhile, Rachel helps Cable to his feet. As Gaunt doesn’t look like he’ll be standing up anytime soon Cable’s declares himself the victor. He then asks Rachel if she’s ready to go home. Definitely, Rachel replies, but asks what Cable did to him. Cable explains Gaunt was injected with a mild-strain of the t-o virus so that he could control it. He, on the other hand, was infected with a powerful strain. When he punched Gaunt in the face and drew blood some of his blood was absorbed into Gaunt’s system and it was only a matter of time before he became infected as well.
As Rachel tends to Nathan’s wounds she asks what will happen to Gaunt. Cable figures it took him years using his mutant powers to gain some control and with Gaunt not being a mutant it should be a while. Cable guesses it’ll be a few hundred years before he can move and maybe twice as long until he’s back to normal. Rachel isn’t upset by this in the least. Cable offers no apology as there were no rules and he made a promise to Rachel to win.
Rachel then takes Cable’s hand in hers and tells him to close his eyes and link minds. Forget everything that surrounds you and empty your thoughts of all distractions, she says. She tells him to think of a huge river crashing through his mind, one with no beginning or end. I can hear it, a whisper, Cable responds. Good, Rachel exclaims, and tells him to mentally reach out and grab hold, that they’ll do it together.
Cable and Rachel find themselves being pulled upward into the undertow of the timestream. With panic in his voice Cable states they have to turn back, that they’re heading further into the future. Through the Phoenix Force, Rachel explains, she knows how to maneuver through the undertow, explaining it’s just like a multi-dimensional Klein bottle. “The quickest way home isn’t always a straight line,” she finishes.
Hours later

As they face each other, holding hands, the environment around Cable and Rachel changes from pitch black to an orange glow. Cable asks what’s happening and Rachel explains the Sun’s about to go supernova five billion years into the future. Her plan is to use the energy released to send them back to the present.
The flow of time passes even quicker with their slingshot approach. Soon Cable can hear the telepathic call of his mentor, Blaquesmith. Cable tells Rachel to try and focus on his thoughts to follow the beacon home. Rachel finds the name Blaquesmith curious, but familiar, and then warns Nathan to hold on as the arrival might be a bit jarring.

Gaunt lies motionless on the battle stage. A large sphere emerges next to him from the stage. A voice from within tells Gaunt he is owed a favor for reuniting the Summers family. It tells him they weren’t sure how they were going to find that accursed witch, the Mother Askani. “You promised me… my freedom” Gaunt struggles to get out. As a hatch begins to open on the sphere the voice inside tells him the truest freedom is death.
Manhattan Safehouse

Rachel and Cable appear amidst a swirl of yellow, electric energy in the middle of the control room. Blaquesmith and Irene are both there to witness their return, the former amazed at the Mother Askani’s youthful appearance. Irene welcomes them back, happy to see them both in one piece. Nathan asks how long he was gone. Five days, four hours and twenty-something minutes, Irene responds. She says Blaquesmith, who’s been sitting there the whole time, can give him a more accurate answer if he wants. Rachel can’t wait to see Scott and Jean and to see how Excalibur’s doing.

The bad news is broken to Rachel over some coffee. It’s all too much for her. She can’t believe Scott’s sacrifice, and Excalibur disbanding. Nathan sympathizes with her. They also told her of the Askani timeline and it’s hard for her to even come to grips with that. Irene asks if she has any memories of her erased future existence. I shouldn’t, Rachel admits, but says certain events and names trigger thoughts in her mind.
With a look of admiration Blaquesmith tells her so many believed in her, that she saved their world. That was another life, another time, Cable interjects. He then asks Rachel what she wants to do now that she’s back and headed for a different future.
Rachel says she just wants to live a normal life, to be able to go to sleep and not have to worry about saving the world. Irene admits that sounds like a good idea for someone who’s already sacrificed so much, suggesting a vacation or college for the young mutant. Rachel likes the idea of college, imagining a small town place where she can take a walk through the forest. It’s settled then, Cable states, and tells everyone not to speak of Rachel’s return, not even to Jean. Only when she’s ready do they tell anyone she’s returned, “Sound good?” he asks.

Characters Involved: 


Irene Merryweather

Rachel Summers
Three Witches


Unidentified mastermind

Story Notes: 

Irene’s visitor arrived in the previous issue. Her name is Alecto, the Second of the Three Witches.
The Three Witches first appeared to Cable in issue #79. As far as this issue is concerned they serve more as a recap of the previous issue than a plot point.
Originally when Rachel Summers was thrown through time to trade places with Captain Britain (Excalibur (1st series) #75) she arrived 2,000 years in the future and became the Mother Askani. With that future altered thanks to Apocalypse’s defeat Rachel became unhinged from time, which is how she ended up at the Borderline.
Nathan and Rachel’s conversation regarding their heritage which occurred on Muir Isle took place back in Excalibur (1st series) #71.
When Gaunt says Cable snuffed out billions of lives he’s referring to his altering of the future. When he defeated Apocalypse it changed everything. The same could be said for Bishop when he helped defeat Onslaught.
“cry havoc, and lets slip the dogs of war” is taken from the play Julius Caesar written by William Shakespeare. The character Antony states this following the titular Caesar’s assassination, he being positive war was going to break out.
In mathematics, the Klein bottle is a non-orientable surface, informally, a surface (a two-dimensional manifold) with no identifiable "inner" and "outer" sides. Uh… my brain hurts.
Story point problem:

Why would Gaunt try to mess with Cable through his dreams if he was supposed to lose to him anyway? He also fought pretty hard and was confident of his victory.
The fate of Gaunt is apparently death and he has not appeared since.
More information on Rachel’s origins as the Mother Askani can be found in the X-Men: Phoenix three issue limited series.
Information regarding this story from the author himself: “The House on the Borderline was a tribute to one of my favorite horror novels, The House on the Borderland. It deals with a very strange house that seems to exist in both the present and at the end of the world. And, there [are] pig-like monsters in it, thus the pig-men in my story. Gaunt's name comes from Captain Gaunt, another book by the author of The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson.”

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