Bitter River, California, cars are strewn about, fires rage, destruction is everywhere, and Major Valentina Rychenko staggers through the chaos. ‘That the best you’ve got?’ she thinks to herself, knowing that she is out of time, out of bullets and out of luck. ‘I’m dead - Warborgs’ she thinks to herself as the strange, hideous creatures loom over her. ‘Major Valentina Irena Rychenko…’ one of them begins, while Valentina recalls how she saw one Warborg butcher an entire Muhjadin rebel camp in Afghanistan, three hundred me and boys cut to pieces small enough to fit in a shot glass. ‘Someone must really want me stopped’ Valentina realizes. The Warborg continues, ‘…by sanction of the Dumas and the Executive Security Committee, you are sentenced to death by summary field execution, effectively immediately’ the Warborg announces, raising its weapon-arm to her face and close range. ‘Do it!’ Valentina exclaims.
Suddenly, ‘HEY!’ a voice calls out from above. ‘Pick on someone your own size!’ James Proudstar declares as he drops down, knocking the two Warborgs aside. Valentina looks up, surprised, her face covered in blood, ‘Hello, Major…we got your message. Sorry we’re late’ Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie announces as he, Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith and Jesse Bedlam stand before Valentina. The Major replies ‘Better late that never’, before telling X-Force to watch themselves, as those are Warborgs, part meat, part machine, all bad news and hard to kill. Valentina recalls how X-Force were recruited, tutored and mentored by her old friend, Pete Wisdom, a one-time British spy turned genetic freedom fighter for the mutant cause, and knows that with X-Force here, there is still a chance to turn this around.
‘SEE!’ Valentina declares as everyone dodges another series of blasts from the Warborgs, who have got to their feet. A voice is heard over the teams’ communicators, informing Jesse and Tabby that they are the “floor show”. ‘Copy that’ Meltdown replies, as she creates beams of plasma - “light blades” - blinding the warborgs and keeping them busy, while Bedlam uses an EMP burst to destroy the technology that the Warborgs are using. But their plan doesn’t work. Watching the battle on a series of monitors, Domino contacts X-Force, telling them that the Warborgs must be built to function in post-nuclear-conditions, that they are EMP shielded and packing photo receptive cells, meaning they are sucking up the energy from Meltdown’s assault like a sponge.
‘Understood’ Cannonball replies as he grabs the Major and blasts into the air, he orders Meltdown and Bedlam to pull back, as they will have to do this the old way and hit them with a big blunt object. Proudstar takes his cue, ‘Way ahead of you, boss’ he calls out to Cannonball as he slams into one of the Warborgs, taking hold of its weapon-arm, he directs the weapon at the other Warborg and fires, blasting a hole through its stomach. The Warborg shoves its arm backwards, sending some spikes into Proudstar’s shoulder. James cries out in agony, but recovers quickly, and tears the Warborg’s weapon-arm from it’s shoulder and shoves it against the Warborg, ‘Gonna make you eat it…gonna…’ he exclaims, before clutching his head, then keeling over.
Cannonball, Bedlam, Meltdown and the Major rush over to him, ‘What’s happening to him?’ someone asks. The Major explains that it is toxic shock, as those barbs are tipped with a neurotoxin, a close quarter defense mechanism. Valentina adds that, in a way, Proudstar is double lucky, for his mutant genome made him semi-resistant to the toxin, and if he were a human, he would be dead by now. ‘Gee, that’s a relief! For a nano-second there I thought he was in trouble!’ Meltdown mutters sarcastically, before asking Valentina what else James has to be grateful for. ‘Pete Wisdom’ the Major replies, revealing that along with all the other weird and obscure spook stuff he crammed into his head over his lifetime, is an encyclopedic knowledge of toxins and poisons. ‘If anyone can save him, Pete Wisdom can’ the Major declares. Sam, Jesse and Tab look shocked.
In La Jolla, California, two girls lie sprawled on the floor of an up-turned living room. ‘Who are they?’ a voice calls out. ‘Your children’ a mysterious bald man replies. ‘Children? How is that possible?’ asks a man, his body transformed, covered in screaming faces, while a giant insect stands beside him. ‘It isn’t’ the man remarks. ‘Shall we kill them?’ the insect asks. The bald man addresses the insect as “Captain” and tells her that isn’t necessary. The man with the screaming faces sits down and holds one of the girls, and exclaims ‘Comrade Doctor, I don’t understand. You told us we should not have been able to have children…the mutation process, it was a sacrifice we made…for the motherland’ he states, to which the doctor admits he was in error. ‘Is it war, Comrade Doctor?’ the insect asks. ‘Yes, it is’ the doctor replies, but the man with the screaming faces goes over to the window, and looking outside, sees children playing down the street, and declares that it doesn’t look like war.
‘Another error, Comrade Doctor?’ he enquires, but the insect-captain addresses the man with the screaming faces as Lieutenant and exclaims ‘You forget your place’. But the lieutenant asks how they would know if the doctor is not lying to them, that he has not turned traitor. ‘Because he is Racal. We vowed to serve him and the motherland for a cause greater than ourselves’ the captain points out. The lieutenant drops back down to the ground and holds both of his daughters, while calling the insect Katarina, he exclaims ‘Look at them, they’re teenagers! We were only supposed to be under for a few years, our personalities buried beneath the implants. We weren’t supposed to be able to have children. Now that we’re reactivated we have a family who we don’t even know. Can you remember their names? We had a life…a family…now we’re going to die!’ He gets back up and points at Racal, asking him ‘Why have you done this to us? What is it you want? Why couldn’t you have left us in peace?’
Rubbing his head and not looking overly impressed, Racal calls out to the captain, who raises an insect claw and slices off her husband’s head with ease. ‘Does the order still stand, sir?’ the captain asks. ‘Is the mission still viable?’ she enquires, looking at her children. ‘What? Oh, yes, captain. Go on and do your duty, the motherland expects you to die well. Have fun’ Racal replies. Outside the house, a car has pulled up in the driveway, ‘Progenitor! We’re too late!’ someone inside the car exclaims. ‘Racal! He has an anomaly, we should kill him now and take it!’ he exclaims, but the other person in the car decides that they will wait, for Racal has already acquired several others prior to these. ‘We’ll track him to where he’s holding them and seize them all’ he adds, watching as Racal loads the two girls into a car.
Meantime, ‘He’s dead?’ Valentina asks as X-Force are still amongst the destruction in Bitter River. Cannonball tells the Major that Wisdom was shot by a mad scientist named Niles Roman, and that they tried to contact her through the comm-channel that Pete left them, but there was no answer. Valentina explains that she had problems of her own around then, and reveals she has gone AWOL from her post. ‘There’s a kill order out on me’ she adds. ‘Yeah, we kinda noticed’ Meltdown mutters, watching as Bedlam touches Proudstar’s head with a small energy burst. Cannonball tells Valentina that they will help her for sure, but that they have to see to their own first, and asks her if there is anything she can do for James. Valentina replies ‘I think so’, while Cannonball asks Bedlam if he is okay.
Bedlam explains that he is using a trickle of bio-EMP energy to stabilize James’s condition, and that it is doing some good, but not much, and it will only buy a little time. ‘Go do what you gotta, I can handle this’ Bedlam tells Cannonball, while Meltdown exclaims ‘That is officially gross’ as she watches Valentina reach into the head of one of the Warborgs, explaining that they have data clusters implanted between the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, so they can still function even if they lose eighty percent of their organic components. ‘Organic?’ Cannonball enquires. The Major turns to him and explains that Russia lost a lot of men in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and that Russia doesn’t like to waste resources, even dead ones, so these men were reanimated with some kind of smart technology that she has never seen before. ‘You don’t say. We came across something like that no so long ago ourselves’ Meltdown declares, but Cannonball tells her that this isn’t the time.
‘There!’ Valentina declares as she holds up something, pulled from the Warborg’s head. Sam asks ‘What is it?’ to which the Major explains that it is a kind of hard drive, and with it, they can access the shared memory data of the other Warborg cells operating Stateside. ‘There’s a good chance they’ll give us a lead on Racal’ she points out. ‘Racal?’ Sam asks. Valentina explains that he is the man she is after, and so are the Warborgs, as they are based on his designs. ‘He’s the only one who can save James’ Valentina explains, before pointing out that they need a phone line and a terminal computer. ‘Out here? This place’s a war zone!’ Sam declares, but Meltdown reminds everyone that their headsets are state of the art satellite relays, better than a phone system. ‘We patch ‘em into the brain thing and whatever was on the dead guy’s mind gets relayed back to Domino, who processes the goods and gets ‘em back to us!’ Meltdown declares.
‘Outstanding!’ Cannonball exclaims, adding that all they need is a deck of cards, and asking Domino if she got all that. ‘Copy, Sam’ Domino replies as she states that she is installing a universal read-all database. ‘Ready for the download on your word. Oh, and tell Tabby, it’s official…I’m impressed’ Domino replies. ‘Damn straight’ Meltdown smirks, while Bedlam continues to try and save James, and tells him to hold on.
Meanwhile, aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier, Nick Fury lights a cigar and tells Ms Wentworth that he has a meeting with the United Nations Security Council in six minutes, so she only has three, and to make them count. Motioning to several monitors, the plump Ms Wentworth reports that in the last seventy-two hours, six military bases across the country have been attacked, with the loss of all hands. She explains that they were low priority installations, mostly document storage and warehousing, with little in common, until they backtracked their prior usage. She is about to reveal what this is, until Fury interrupts: ‘I know my history, Ms Wentworth. They’re decommissioned nuke silos and mothballed tactical command facilities’, before asking her if she has any leads on who did this.
Ms Wentworth clicks her remote control and the images on the monitors change, and she informs Fury that they have the perpetrators themselves. Images of the graphic, bloody mess of bodies appear on screen, and Ms Wentworth reports that autopsy codes them as baselines humans outfitted with serious mutagenic augmentations, and that the augmentation is dramatic and terminal, that their bodies couldn’t have lived beyond maybe nine hours in this state. ‘Marilyn’ Fury calls out as he presses the intercom on his desk. ‘Yes, Colonel?’ Marilyn’s voice calls out. Fury tells her to inform the Council representatives that he is running late, and if they bitch, to give them a doughnut. ‘Hold back a couple of strawberry for me’ he adds. ‘Yes, Colonel’ Marilyn responds, before Fury looks up at Ms Wentworth, and addressing her as Jennifer, announces that he is all ears.
The images change again, and Jennifer reports that Extechop says the augmentations are old soviet work, and dates them at twenty years plus, but aside from that, they are a mystery. ‘We’ve nothing else on them, or at least didn’t have until this morning’ she adds, as the images change again. ‘Warborgs!’ Fury exclaims, asking Ms Wentworth where they were located. Jennifer reports that they were located in San Diego, and reports that they did a cross match with the other mutates, and basically they are the same, only the Warborgs are this year’s model, updated versions. Jennifer informs Fury that their hard drives were corrupted, but that they restored some partial files, and the Warborgs were one of three excursion death squads sent Stateside to kill two high ranking cover service officers gone AWOL.
Two more images appear on the monitors, and Ms Wentworth reports that the female matches the profile of Major Valentina Rychenko, ex-spetnaz and former pilot and astronaut, later seconded to cover services. ‘Last we heard from her, she worked with Peter Wisdom and the mutant X-Force in containing a biological hazard in Science City 51’ Jennifer informs Fury, adding that the male is unknown, and is not on any database. Looking closely at the monitor, Fury declares ‘I know his name…’.
‘Constatin Racal’ Valentina begins as she and Meltdown cling to Cannonball as he blasts through the air. Valentina reveals that Racal was a genetic quartermaster for a deep cover bio-weapons initiative in the early 1980s. She explains that it was a paranoid time, with the threat of nuclear war hanging over them all, and it was decided they needed a first strike capability actually on US soil to destroy key weapon and command facilities. Valentina continues, stating that the KGB wanted to use conventional undercover agents, but Racal gave them a more unconventional alternative.
Flashback images, narrated by Valentina in the present:
Valentina reveals that Racal selected forty men and women culled from across the Armed Forces - Russia’s warrior elite - each ready to defend the motherland whatever the cost, whatever the personal sacrifice. The men and women were deep programmed with new lives, new personalities, they wouldn’t have to pretend they were Americans…they would genuinely believe that they truly were. But, that was just set dressing, for the real show was when Racal reconfigured and reprogrammed their DNA with a secondary mutagenic template to turn them into living weapons. The use of a verbal key - a word or phrase - would activate the template trigger in their subconscious and initiate a total psychological change - they would then attack and destroy their designated target.
It was a suicide mission, there was no way to turn themselves back, their enhanced, mutated chassis could only survive a few hours to complete their mission, and while twenty-eight survived the initial implantation procedure, another four made it but became psychotic. They were smuggled into the United States to start their lives as American citizens, genetic time bombs ticking away in suburbs across the country.
‘And the rest is history’ Valentina declares, but Meltdown points out that these things have a habit of coming back to bite you on the butt. Valentina replies that no one intended their being under deep cover for so long, as the Kremlin feared their personality programming would start to erode, triggering spontaneous mutation, and so, Warborg teams were sent to the US to “clean” the sleepers, but they found something unexpected. ‘Like what?’ Cannonball enquires. ‘Children’ Valentina replies, explaining that the sleepers were supposed to be sterile, a side effect of the genetic rewrite, but nineteen of them had children, and it was projected that they would eventually manifest powers of their own, purer and considerable more potent than their parents’, so the order was given to reacquire them.
Valentina reveals that Racal had fallen out of favor in recent years and was kept out of the loop, only when he found out, he went AWOL, came looking for the children before the Warborgs did, and so she went after him. Meltdown explains that she doesn’t understand why the Warborgs are after Valentina, as well, but before there is an answer, Cannonball tells everyone to have their eyes front, as it looks like the bunker from the Warborgs download. They land, and Cannonball states that this is where the other unit tracked Racal down to. Noting the damage, Cannonball remarks that there must have been one hell of a fight. ‘Scratch one bad guy’ Meltdown exclaims, looking at a destroyed Warborg. ‘Over here’ Cannonball calls out, as he sees another fallen Warborg. ‘Make that two. Someone plays rough’ Meltdown declares, and entering another part of the bunker, ‘Guess who?’ Meltdown mutters, as she sees the “comrade doctor” up ahead, standing in front of tanks holding the stolen children of the Russian mutates.
‘Constantin?’ Valentina calls out. Holding a large weapon, the doctor spins around, ‘Valentina? Is that you?’ he asks, before smiling and extending his arms, ‘It is! Hah! What’re you waiting for, baby? Come give your old man a hug!’ he exclaims. Valentina smiles as she and Constantin embrace. ‘Old man?’ Meltdown asks. Cannonball frowns, and mutters ‘Why do I get the feeling we’ve been had…?’