Last stop: The Quebec City bus terminal, as recreated and relocated by master assassin, Arcade. It is the final stage in his murderous game that has torn mutant speedster Northstar across the globe - from Ibizia, Spain, to Paris, France, then to Zuyevo, and finally here, to New Orleans, in the USA. The handsome speedster, exhausted, looks up to find five strange beings surrounding him, and one of them holding a scalpel up to his face. Another of the group asks if he can do it, but the man holding the scalpel replies ‘No, Short Fuse, that pleasure is mine…all mine!’
The man, dressed in a tuxedo and wearing a trench-coat, explains to his cohorts that Arcade was quite clear on this. ‘”Mister Nice”, he said, “if Beaubier folds, cracks or refuses to fight…cut him”!’ Mister Nice excitedly shouts ‘Again! And again!’ when suddenly, Northstar grabs him, and tosses him over, before kicking him, and breaking his scalpel-holding arm. Mister Nice screams, while Northstar kicks an ape-like creature, and remarks that he can only guess Arcade’s sense of humor is more keenly developed than he imagined. ‘Why else would he have sent such a vaudevillian troupe of super-villain rejects to finish the job?’
Northstar grabs the ape-like creature, whom Short Fuse calls Link, and uses him as a human (or rather ape) shield as Short Fuse blasts Northstar with his powers. Jean-Paul then tosses Link into Short Fuse, knocking them both out. The dominatrix-looking woman holding two dogs by leads calls out to the reptilian-like being, and calling him Barb she orders him to finish the job. ‘A pleasure!’ the green Barb replies as tendrils extend from his body reaching out for Jean-Paul, who has long since used his super speed to move out of the way. Northstar admits that Arcade’s little backdrop rattled him, but not for as long as he led them to believe - and certainly not for reasons that they think.
Meanwhile, outside, the diabolically absurd Arcade sits in his mock ice-cream truck, watching Northstar’s battle from hidden cameras, he mutters that at least he got one thing right - ‘A motlier crew I couldn’t have hoped to assemble’ however Arcade wonders how the bus terminal scenario could have misfired. For combined with the sheer physical and mental stress of the past day, it should have been the straw that broke the camels back. ‘As well, I’ll just have to hope they’re not as inept as I first thought!’
‘REJECTS?’ Link bellows, as he and the others approach the woman, whom he addresses as Sadista, and seeing that she has caught Jean-Paul in one of her whips, he tells her to hold Northstar there, then telling Northstar that he got it wrong. ‘My specialty…is damaged goods!’ with that, Link smashes Jean-Paul across the mock bus terminal. Bloody and beaten, Northstar tries to gather himself, but limits that he thought were none existent have been reached - and exceeded. The founding member of Canada’s former premiere super heroes, Alpha Flight, knows that he is running on empty, for even his metabolism is slowing down, refusing to heal wounds that otherwise would be a memory - such as the nasty gash on his leg.
‘I smell blood!’ Sadista screams, ‘And so do they!’ she remarks, releasing her savages dogs. Short Fuse isn’t impressed that some dogs are going to get to have Northstar, and exclaims that they can have what is left when he is done, only for him to trip up in one of their leads, and stumbling to the ground, his powers knock a hole in the brick wall. Watching via cameras, Arcade is aghast, and wonders what he did to deserve this. Jean-Paul stands by the exit, knowing that if he can take this fight beyond the confines of Arcade’s little play ground, then the advantage may now be his. However, Jean-Paul finds himself savagely shoved out by Link.
The brute tells his cohorts to stay back, ‘He’s mine, you hear me, mine!’ Link raises his powerful fists high above his head, ready to strike the defenseless Jean-Paul, who is right now thinking that he couldn’t bear to think of anyone knowing that he lost to these clowns. Suddenly, Link is struck by a blast of electromagnetic energy, signaling the arrival of Canada’s greatest super hero, Heather McNeil Hudson a.k.a. Guardian, former leader of Alpha Flight, now relegated to a desk-job within Department H.
Guardian announces that she is here with absolutely no authorization whatsoever, and that she is already in violation of so many statutes and limitations, that a little over zealousness in the use of her battle suit’s armaments really wont make any difference. Jean-Paul is confused by the sudden appearance of Guardian, while Sadista remarks to Barb that it sounds like Guardian is making threats at them. ’Think she means it?’ Barb asks. ’Let’s find out!’ Sadista replies gleefully, only for both of them to be struck down by Heather’s trusty powers. ‘I meant it!’ Heather declares.
Jean-Paul gets to his feet and tells Heather that he doesn’t mean to sound ungrateful, ‘But what are you doing here?’ He points out that Alpha Flight is gone, suspended, and that just by wearing that battle suit she is risking everything. ‘You did this for me?’ he asks. Heather smiles and tells Jean-Paul that he has a lot to learn about families. ‘The ties don’t snap just like that, they’re always there’. She adds that Alpha Flight might not exist in the official paperwork, but where it counts - in the heart - they are all still together. Northstar smiles now, and tells admits that he has always found it difficult to express himself, to admit that he cares, ‘But I do’. Heather takes Jean-Paul by the hand as Jean-Paul explains that, if anything, this ordeal has taught him to treasure friendship, and embrace it, adding that he hopes when this is all over, they can start afresh.
Heather begins to reply that she would like that, when Short Fuse appears behind Northstar declaring ‘Time’s up!’ Jean-Paul shoves his elbow into Short Fuse’s ribcage, before repeatedly punching him in the face, then with one final uppercut, knocking him across the area. Jean-Paul tells the rejects that whatever fleeting momentary illusion of supremacy they may have entertained is now over. Suddenly, Jean-Paul collapses, but Heather grabs him. Seeing that he is in a bad shape, Heather suggests that the find somewhere for him to rest up, adding that she didn’t follow him all the way to and from Russia just to see him die of exhaustion.
Jean-Paul realizes now that it was Heather at the circus who bought him the time he needed to escape from Weapon P.R.I.M.E. ‘Trust me…the pleasure was all mine!’ Heather exclaims. Jean-Paul points out that he cannot rest yet, as there is still the “small” matter of a murder charge hanging over him. Jean-Paul remarks that it is the only thing that doesn’t really fit - why would Ritchie Ward be killed, then he be framed for his death when he was also marked for death. Heather wants to know who hired Arcade, as they know he only kills to order. Northstar declares that there has to be something more to this than a simple contract - a missing piece in the puzzle, vital for the finished picture.
Suddenly, sets of televisions in a store window burst to life, and Arcade appears on them, ‘Congratulations! Jean-Paul Beaubier, you’ve won tonight’s star prize!’ Arcade exclaims as if he was hosting a television game show. Arcade informs Jean-Paul that by surviving his 24-hour torment, running his global gauntlet, ‘You get to take a trip - to this luxury chateau in Vancouver’ Arcade motions to an image of the sprawling chateau, and exclaims that the prize also includes tickets to the video premiere of “Killing Ritchie Ward: Director’s Cut’ Arcade begins to fade off the screen, bidding Jean-Paul farewell, and smirking that he is looking forward to the sequel.
Heather turns to Northstar, ‘Oh no, no you don’t!’ she tells him, pointing out that it is obviously a trap, as nothing is that easy with Arcade. Jean-Paul asks who knows how Arcade’s twisted mind works, and figures ‘Maybe, in his eyes, I have won!’ Whatever the case, Northstar thinks that he has no choice, as he needs that evidence he will get from Vancouver, but even more, he needs to know why. Heather can see that there is no way she can talk Jean-Paul out of it, so she asks him to let her come along and back him up. Northstar turns his back on Heather, who quickly tells him that it is not a capital offense to need help, to fall back on someone else. She points out that he is hurting, close to exhaustion, and while his edge may be his speed, it is almost all gone now. ‘”My edge is my speed” How very true. Without it, what am I?’ Jean-Paul thinks, ‘A man’ is his answer.
He is about to tell Heather that she can accompany him, before reminding her that she said she followed him from Russia, and asking how. Heather explains that as he was slower than usual, she was able to lock onto him using her onboard tracking system, and asks why it matters. Jean-Paul reminds Heather that Tigerstryke’s battle suit is a version of hers, so if she could find him, then it follows that Tigerstryke could also. Jean-Paul explains to Heather that as far as Weapon P.R.I.M.E. and the Canadian government are concerned, he is a murderer, at very least an embarrassment they want removed for fear of adverse publicity, and tells Heather that if she really wants to help him, then there is something else she can do for him.
Nearby, atop the New Orleans World Trade Center. ‘There you are!’ Tigerstryke thinks, before radioing to his teammates and informing them that their target is airborne and locked in. He begins to move in to apprehend, when suddenly, Guardian appears behind him and blasts him with her electromagnetic powers, telling him that Northstar has some personal business to conclude, after which he will only be too happy to talk. Tigerstryke gathers himself while Heather tells him that if he wants to get to Northstar, then he is going to have to get through her first.
Angrily, Tigerstryke tells Heather not to think that he wouldn’t like to try, battle suit against battle suit, but after that business in Russia and how Northstar helped Weapon P.R.I.M.E., he doesn’t really feel inclined to. Heather smiles, and addressing Tigerstryke as Mitchell, she tells him not to look so pained, adding that if he and Weapon P.R.I.M.E. really mean to fill Alpha Flight’s shoes, then bending the rules is something he had better get used to.
It begins somewhere over Oklahoma, a rumbling chest pain that spreads rapidly body wide. Muscles start to scream for relief, lungs wheeze wretchedly for air through raw throat tissue - until finally, Jean-Paul cannot go on. He makes his way to a car rental facility, and handing the receptionist his credit card he mutters ‘The card…never leave home without it!’ In a moment, he is in a car, and again waves of sheer exhaustion threaten to drown him. More than once he finds himself adrift in the lanes, asleep at the wheel. But the questions drive him ever onward - Why? Who?
Soon, Jean-Paul arrives in at the luxurious estate in Vancouver. Making his way through the building, he thinks that Guardian was right, that this is way too easy, and recalls that the man at the gas station was fairly tripping over himself to give him directions to this place. Northstar assumes that from the butler’s unquestioning welcome he must be expected - but from whom? He wonders which villain has returned phoenix-like from the ashes of some previous defeat. - The Master? Llan? Loki? The butler opens the door to a large office, and calls to his employer, informing him that Monsieur Beaubier is here. Addressing his butler as Graham, the large man tells him he can go now.
Jean-Paul is alone in the room now, and the man turns and smiles, telling Jean-Paul that he is so pleased to finally meet him, and introducing himself as Carl Kerridge. ‘WHO? Do…I know you, sir?’ Jean-Paul asks. Kerridge adjusts his bowtie and replies ‘No…I, on the other hand, have made it my business to know you…perhaps better than you know yourself’. Kerridge reveals, explaining that it is one of the many advantages of wealth - there are no closed doors, no secret that cannot be unearthed and no one who cannot be bought. Jean-Paul slams his fists down on Kerridge’s desk, ‘You employed Arcade to kill me? Why? What I am to you?’ Jean-Paul asks.
‘What are you to me?’ Kerridge replies ‘You are change, you are disorder, you and your kind that typify the malaise that infects the modern world…the insidious progression towards a society lacking the most basic grasp of morality or responsibility!’ A shocked Jean-Paul shouts ‘My…KIND? How dare you pass -’ he is interrupted by Kerridge, who demands that he finishes his speech. ‘It’s true, I did employ Arcade. But not to kill you. That’s my privilege!’ he boasts, before smashing Jean-Paul across the face with his powerful fist.
Kerridge leaps over the desk and kicks Jean-Paul in the stomach, explaining that it was Arcade’s job to tire Northstar out, find out whatever limits he possesses and exceed them. Kerridge whacks Northstar in the back of the neck, declaring that he wants Northstar to know, before he dies, what it is like to be part of the human race, and to understand how the decent, clean-living backbone of society truly feel. Kerridge looms over Northstar, declaring that he has watched him flaunt his difference for the whole world to see, delighting in his genetic and emotional quirks. ‘And what I saw in every expression, every smug look, was the clear message…I am your superior, your future’. Kerridge kicks Jean-Paul while he is down and shouting, asks him how superior he feels right now.
Kerridge goes over to a mirror and adjusts his tie once more, declaring that it was time to say “enough” and to show by example that once you strip away the gaudy costumes and inflated egos, there was just flesh and blood. ‘no magic, no great white miracle…nothing to fear or revere. They could be exposed, their sordid pasts laid bare. They could be hunted, tormented and they could be killed!’ Kerridge explains that Northstar’s death will serve as a rallying cry, to all those who want to hold on to the hope, the dream, that this is and will be in the future a sane, habitable world.
Clutching his wounded body, Jean-Paul thinks to himself that this is no idle threat, that Kerridge means every word, but beyond the rage and posturing, Jean-Paul can see a frightened man, scared of change and progression, clinging on, no matter what, to the safe, insulated world he has constructed around himself. ‘Who, I wonder, does that remind me of?’ Jean-Paul adds to himself. Kerridge picks up a video cassette and remarks that you really have to admire Arcade for his attention to even the smallest detail. Kerridge declares that there is nothing, no facet of the whole illusion overlooked - even this videotape, the “prize” in the game. Kerridge puts the tape into a VCR and remarks that it is probably blank, or perhaps some trashy movie, as it is so hard to gauge the way Arcade’s mind works.
However, Kerridge is shocked to see a recording of himself giving a briefcase full of money to Arcade, then Ritchie Ward being murdered by one of Arcade’s robot mines. ‘No! That…idiot!’ Kerridge shouts angrily taking the video out of the VCR, wondering what Arcade was thinking, as he never meant for him to actually - ‘Pah, no matter, easily destroyed!’ Kerridge realizes, only for Jean-Paul to leap up, ‘NO!’ he shouts, taking Kerridge by surprise. Kerridge falls to the floor before knocking Jean-Paul aside, ‘So, a little fight left in you after all. Whatever little bit we missed in New Orleans’.
Both men get to their feet as Kerridge remarks that he is curious about that, as he dislikes loose ends. He remarks that he was sure of Jean-Paul’s part in the Quebec city bombing, certain that those deaths must be on his conscience. ‘Can it be that you have no remorse for those you killed?’ Kerridge asks. ‘You, the hero…the mighty Northstar?’ Both men struggle in hand to hand combat, until Kerridge shoves his elbow in Northstar’s face, causing Jean-Paul to fall against a wall, and thinks to himself that there it is, the biggest flaw - the biggest miscalculation in Kerridge’s scheme: The Quebec city bus terminal, so nearly Jean-Paul’s darkest hour, but in fact the single most important event in shaping the man he is today!
(Flashback, years ago before Northstar was involved with Alpha Flight)
A bus returning late to the station is laden with passengers - a bus that should not have been there. Destruction of property had suddenly, terrifyingly, escalated, become something it was never meant to be. Jean-Paul Martin (as he was known then) would not be party to murder. He had made that plain to his separatist colleagues from the very beginning. Racing towards a bus, he had seconds in which to turn terrorism…into heroism. Thanks to his super speed, he was able to take the bomb from the rubbish bin and toss it away from the innocents. Mercifully, no one died. But the nightmare of what so nearly came to pass would return to haunt him again and again. Fuelled by a government so eager to turn the incident into a propaganda weapon in its war against separatists, crafting a lie full of corpses.
As Kerridge holds Jean-Paul in the air by his spandex costume, Northstar thinks ‘It’s why I agreed to join Alpha Flight, why despite each petulant tantrum I came back again and again. And in the final analysis…it’s why…I will not just lie down and die!’ he shouts, dodging Kerridge’s fist, which gets stuck in the wall behind him. Northstar breaks free, knowing his words were bold, as he has neither the advantage of speed, not power, and despite his age, Kerridge is as strong as an ox. Kerridge shoves his elbow into Northstar again, once more knocking him across the room. Jean-Paul recalls that Wolverine’s legacy from his days at Department H was a combat regimen based on nerve clusters and impact points, and wishes now that he had paid it the attention is so evidently deserved, for the conceit he once had may turn out to be his death.
But Kerridge leaps at Northstar, Jean-Paul kicks him as he is in the air, and Kerridge slams hard face-first onto the solid floor. Jean-Paul knows that while the advantage is however tenuously his he must act, as he has only got one shot, meaning if this is the wrong spot, then he will no doubt be dead. With that, Jean-Paul slams his hand down at the back of Kerridge’s neck, and the wicked Kerridge is finally unconscious.
Taking the video recording, Northstar hurts all over, and tells himself that he might deserve the pain, for it will serve to remind him how close his arrogance brought him to the edge. Jean-Paul thinks that in his own way, Kerridge was right, he has been frivolous of late, courting notoriously to satisfy some itch he could not scratch, burying his true need for rigorous self-examination in a succession of mindless knee-jerk situations. Jean-Paul notices the butler looking at him through a hole in the wall, and suggests to him that he prepares for guests, as once the contents of this tape are made public, there will be plenty.
Leaving the estate with the video in his hand, Jean-Paul thinks to himself that Mariel summed it up, that our pasts make us what we are today and what we will be in the future. He thinks that Arcade’s murderous jaunt through his life has served to show him that by denying his past he was creating a person no one, not even himself, could like…or trust. Jean-Paul knows that all must change, for he is Northstar, and though he will never hide from who he truly is, what he wishes for the future is to be someone everyone can be proud of.