Thirteen years ago:
Young Shi’ar cadet Ava’dara Naganandini is shown a Rorschach test card and asked what she sees. She imagines a beautiful butterfly but replies she sees a Vanzzarian tusk hound with its skull split open.
The second card. She imagines a beautiful flower, but claims she sees two Shi’ar warriors disemboweling each other in an honorable fashion.
She is commended and asked what she most wants in life. To live in the Shi’ar way. To kill and die in service to the Imperium. To be the greatest Warbird who ever lived.
Warbird supports her Majestor Gladiator as he and Shi’ar troops attack the Phoenix Five on Utopia.
This is what it means to be Shi’ar, she tells herself and attacks a scoffing Emma Frost with a sword which explodes after being embedded in Emma’a chest.
Gladiator warns Warbird to disengage and remember the plan. She protests they must press the attack. They hit them with everything they have if they have a hope of… He reminds her why there are here.
A furious Emma demands Warbird, intending to turn her to pudding. Gladiator tells Warbird he will handle the X-Men. She must find his son! She reminds herself she was born to serve.
Months ago, the sky slums of Chandilar, where Ava’Dara grew up. Now a Warbird Delta, she is looking for targets. She breaks into a flat where she has found several illegal aliens. She fights the aliens, while musing she has been fighting and killing since she was born.
She came into the world 22 seasons ago in the breedmart warehouse. Her father was an automated seed sprinkler, her mother one of thousands of frozen eggs harvested each month from female factory workers as part of the government-mandated body tax. She gestated in a slave womb in the belly of an alien brought in chains from some conquered world or another, an alien whose body was not designed for birthing Shi’ar babies so when she was born, it was in a rush of blood and alien death screams. By the time she drew her first breath she’d already claimed her first kill for the imperium.
She was named for the munitions company that purchased her life rights. Once she was old enough to stand she was working day and night in their war factories. She learned to assemble an entire pulse cannon before she learned to talk. Her first word was “recoilless.”
While other kids were playing with their toy torture sets and alien evisceration figurines and dreamed of being soldiers, she was off by herself… doing terrible things.
As she stares at the alien corpse, she remembers the beauty of a butterfly. She as a deeply troubled child.
Warbird has sliced apart Iceman, who didn’t stand aside when she ordered him to. He complains a bit of a heads-up would have been nice. She commends his courage as she takes up his head and kisses him. If he is able to pull himself together, she informs him, she will still take him into her bed when this is over. But there is no time for love now. Well, that’s a relief, he mutters.
She addresses Prince Kubark, Gladiator’s son.
Outside, the X-Men fight the Shi’ar. As Gladiator and Cyclops blast at each other, Cyclops reminds him the X-Men have always been allies of the Shi’ar. Gladiator retorts the Phoenix has no allies except death and destruction. He orders Summers to renounce its power. Unimpressed, Scott steps up the power.
Warbird finds Kid Gladiator standing at the window and watching the battle. She tells him to come with him. She has orders from the emperor. She means his father, he corrects, and that is why they are not leaving. Not until they help him!
Warbird recalls finding more of the illegal aliens and helping to kill them. She never wanted to be a killer. She was a misguided youth with a very dark secret. She liked to draw. Pictures of birds and flowers, mostly. Sometimes pretty clouds. When she was feeling particularly depraved, a butterfly or two. She knew it was wrong, so she only ever did it in secret. And as soon as she finished each drawing she’d burn it and scatter the ashes to the wind.
That was her secret shame which she lived with for years. Until she scored high enough on the kill exams to be admitted to the academy. She hasn’t drawn since.
She enters another room to find an alien child frozen over his drawings. Over the commlink, her superior asks if all rooms have been cleared and all seditionists neutralized. She hesitates. The child tells her it’s okay. His mother told him this would happen someday. He’s not afraid.
Gladiator slams into Cyclops and hits him but his son is aware that he is going to lose. Unless they help him. If she is too much of a coward, don’t get into his way! She replies his father gave her an order and a Warbird always follows orders.
Warbird saved the child and left him outside. She tells him to go anywhere but here. What about his drawings? the child asks. There wasn’t time for that, is her reply but actually Warbird kept one of the drawings for herself.
Late that night, she confessed her sins to the magistrates. She told them about the child but would not reveal where she left him. They were furious, of course. She was very nearly executed for the offense. But in all things, the Shi’ar refuse to fail. They vowed to redouble her training. If she was being crippled by her sympathy for children, they would find a way to make her sufficiently hate them. That’s when they gave her her new assignment as bodyguard to Kid Gladiator.
Colossus and Namor beat Gladiator down. The other Shi’ar troops stare in fear.
Kid Gladiator orders Warbird out of the way. She warns him not to make her hurt him. He swears at her. Warbird kicks him and swiftly and skillfully takes him out.
The alien boy from the sky slums didn’t make it far. Three days after she left him in the garden, he was picked up for stealing food from a rich man’s dog. Last she heard, he’d been sent to work on a star mining station in a distant, dying galaxy. For all she knows, he’s dead by now. But in her mind, he is still surviving and sometimes still drawing. The day she saved the boy was the last time she ever gave in to her weakness. She eventually realized she had forgotten how to draw.
Gladiator has fallen. Hours later, Warbird and Kid Gladiator arrive at the Jean Grey School carrying the body of Gladiator. The X-Men immediately ready the medical bay for him.
Warbird muses that she knows the way of the Shi’ar. She knows how to kill, how to die, if need be. She just wishes she knew how to live.