‘You lied to us!’ Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie frowns as he and Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith stand in a bunker-laboratory, surrounded by strange equipment, and teenagers inside tanks of fluid behind them. With her arms around mad scientist Constantin Racal, Major Valentina Rychenko replies ‘No, I…I didn’t deceive you, Sam. I just neglected to tell you certain facts, that’s all. The truth would have complicated matters at the time’ Valentina explains. ‘Ah’m sick and tired of this spook crap! Who’s your friend and who ain’t. We trusted you and you abused that trust!’ Sam tells Valentina, while Meltdown exclaims ‘That’s rich! You called for help, we came running and look where it got us! Our friend’s dying out there cause of you!’.
‘You can still -’ Valentina begins, but Meltdown interrupts, ‘Sure. Yeah. Right. Let’s kick her ass!’, but Racal raises an arm, with a large gun attached to it, and warns ‘You will not touch my daughter. I have a gun!’, to which Meltdown asks him if he has the number of a good proctologist, because if he points that thing at her again, he will need it.
Cannonball looks sternly at Valentina and tells her that this is how it is gonna be: ‘I don’t care that you lied. I don’t care about you, your father or what the hell’s going on here. My priority is James. I ain’t gonna let another member of this team die on my watch’. ‘Sam…’ Valentina begins, but Sam tells her to shut up, that she doesn’t talk, she listens. ‘Your father comes with me and fixes James. Refuse, we’ll break you and leave you to bleed. Choice is yours, make it fast’. Valentina and Racal just frown.
Shortly, Cannonball holds onto Constantin Racal and blasts skyward, leaving Meltdown at the bunker entrance with Valentina. ‘Good call’ Meltdown tells Valentina, who replies ‘You know James could already be dead?, to which Meltdown tells Valentina that she better hope he is not, for both of their sakes, and watches Cannonball blast across the sky.
At that moment, aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier, a SHIELD agent informs Colonel Nick Fury that satellite recon has locked onto Sam Guthrie’s Cannonball effect. Fury stands on a platform, flanked by various officers, and watches Cannonball and Racal on a large monitor. A SHIELD officer reports that Cannonball is nineteen clicks east of the Bitter River locale, en route to Aaronson and Proudstar. The officer adds that Cannonball’s “passenger” has been identified as Doctor Racal. Fury turns to his staff and orders the ground assault teams and air cavalry to scramble. ‘I don’t wanna turn this into a scrap, but if it comes shove, I wanna take ‘em down hard and fast!’
‘Light me, boy!’ Fury tells one of his staff, who raises a cigarette lighter, to light the cigar hanging from Fury’s mouth. Someone sitting in front of a monitor informs Colonel Fury that X-Force’s comm-units are still live, and asks if he should jam them. ‘Not yet’ Fury replies, explaining that X-Force will figure something is up. ‘Wait till our boys are on station then cut the comm traffic on my mark’ Fury orders. ‘Call me old fashioned, but fer all the guts and gizmos we got working fer us, nothing beats the element of surprise’ Fury declares. At that moment, dozens of sky-vehicles fly off the Helicarrier.
Back inside the bunker at Bitter River, Meltdown is examining some equipment, and Valentina approaches her, telling her that she has every right to be mad. ‘Gee, thanks, but guess what? I don’t need your permission’ Meltdown retorts. Valentina smiles and asks ‘Ok, so what do we do? Fight? Isn’t that what you spandex types do? Will it make you feel any better?’ Meltdown considers it. ‘Tempting…but nah. You probably wouldn’t play fair and end up beating the snot out of me’. ‘Probably’ Valentina replies. Looking at the children inside the tanks, Meltdown asks Valentina if she has any idea what her father is doing with them. ‘No’ Valentina responds. ‘But you hope it’s something good, right?’ Meltdown asks her. ‘I mean, you don’t want to have come all this way only to find good old Dad’s pulled the wool over his little girl’s eyes’ Meltdown adds.
‘Now who’s not playing fair!’ Valentina exclaims. ‘Truth hurts, don’t it’ Meltdown mocks. Head in her hands, Valentina asks what she could do, for regardless of his past, Racal is still her father, and he was going to die unless she did something. ‘You don’t know what it was like!’ Turning away from Valentina, Meltdown replies ‘Funnily enough, I do’, before cocking her head, and asking Valentina if she heard something. Outside the bunker, dozens of SHIELD vehicles descend from the sky, and SHIELD agents begin to surround the bunker, while Fury orders his team to commence jamming their comm traffic now.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, inside X-Force’s office HQ, ‘Sam, do you read me? Tab, Jesse, sound off, goldsmith!’ Domino exclaims as she sits at a desk, surrounded by monitors and communications equipment. Domino declares that someone is blocking transmissions on all wavelengths, that she can’t hear her teammates. ‘But if by some chance you’re getting this, don’t’ come back here…something’s going down, something big’, indeed, outside, civilians all start looking upwards, and a voice contacts Domino over the communications system: ‘Domino’ they call out. ‘Yeah? Who wants to know?’ Domino replies. The voice tells her to look out the window, and she does: ‘Aw, crap’ she mutters, as SHIELD vehicles surround the office tower where X-Force have made their headquarters. The SHIELD agent informs Domino that they have her comrades, and that she is to stand down and surrender her position. Domino stands at the window and one of the SHIELD vehicles aims a weapon at her, adding that they have sanction to use lethal force if required. ‘This is your only warning’.
Back at Bitter River, Cannonball and Racal have arrived where Jesse Aaronson a.k.a. Bedlam is keeping watch over James Proudstar. Racal kneels beside Proudstar and reports ‘That’s all I can do. The rest’s up to him’. Sam asks if James will make it, to which Racal replies that he stands a chance. ‘From what you’ve told me, his mutant genetic configuration renders him impervious to most things’. Bedlam continues to release a small EMP charge into Proudstar’s head, and states that the Warborg neurotoxin is something of a double-edged sword, as it is poisoning him, lowering his innate resistance, which is, ironically, enabling the anti-viral agent administered to take hold.
Racal tells Sam and Jesse that they have to pray the neurotoxin hasn’t compromised his system past the point of recovery. Proudstar moans, while Bedlam reports that his brainwave patterns are less erratic, that they are stabilizing. ‘So far so good’ Sam smiles, while Racal points out that Proudstar could still die. ‘If he does, so you still intend to make good your vow to kill me?’ Racal enquires. ‘Sam?’ Bedlam calls out when Sam doesn’t answer Racal, for Sam has turned his attention to where dozens of SHIELD sky-cars are dropping down around them. ‘I wouldn’t sweat it, doc…because right now, that’s the least of our worries’ Sam declares, when Nick Fury emerges from one of the vehicles. Fury assures Cannonball that he isn’t here to fight him, and points out that it looks like his friend needs a medic. ‘You and me, though, we need to talk. Big time’ Fury declares.
In the Ural Mountains, Russia, snow falls over a scientific facility, which is heavily guarded by Russian operatives. Inside, a laboratory is filled with strange equipment, and several small tanks, containing various youths. A scaly arm reaches out and rubs against one of the tanks, while unseen, utters ‘My beautiful, beautiful girls!’
Meantime, inside a SHIELD facility, Domino, Cannonball, Meltdown, Bedlam, a recovered Proudstar and Valentina sit around a meeting table. ‘So, tell me. Why exactly did we let ourselves be captured?’ someone asks. Cannonball explains that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and that going toe to toe with SHIELD air cavalry wasn’t going to get them any answers, just a world of hurt. Sam adds that Jimmy needed medical attention. ‘I owe you’ James smiles art Sam, who replies ‘You betcha’. Suddenly, a door opens and Fury and Racal enter the room. ‘Heads up, we’ve got company!’ Meltdown exclaims. Racal takes a seat beside his daughter, while Fury stands at the head of the table and tells X-Force that they must have million questions, but that will have to keep, as they are on the clock and don’t have much time.
Fury informs X-Force that he wants them to work on a job SHIELD can’t touch, but that as mutant loose cannons, X-Force can. Domino frowns and asks why they would want to do that, and Fury presses a remote which turns a monitor on, and tells them that it will give them the chance to catch up with Dr Niles Roman - the maggot who murdered their boss, Pete Wisdom. An image of the deformed Roman appears on the monitor, and X-Force turn and face it, scowling. ‘We’re listening’ Cannonball replies.
The monitor changes, and X-Force see themselves on it, as Fury reveals that ever since the old X-Force disbanded and reformed under Wisdom, SHIELD has been watching them. He adds that Wisdom was always a wild card, and recently, even more so. An image of Science City 51 appears on the monitor, as Fury tells X-Force that less than a year ago, they received a distress call from their buddy here, Valentina Rychenko, as Science City 51, a covert research facility was being overrun by a project that had gotten out of control - meatspore storm troopers. Fury announces that what Major Rychenko didn’t know was that her father built them using leaked specifications from Cuckoo, a nasty, corrupt corner of United States intel.
‘You knew?’ Valentina frowns at her father. ‘Valentina…’ Racal begins, while Meltdown grins and waves at Valentina: ‘Told you!’, and Racal explains that they had spent decades trying to make the Cuckoo data work before they brought him in. He claims that he warned them it was unstable, and finally managed to extrapolate portions of it, but even those, the storm troopers, proved unpredictable. As an image of Racal and his experiments appears on the monitor, Racal explains that the most success he had was in adapting some of the theory in creating the early Warborgs and later the sleeper agents. ‘It was an exciting time, we were pioneers breaking ground on a new genetic frontier’. Rubbing his head, Racal states that times change and he fell out of favor with the new regime, and was sidelined.
Racal states that he is a patriot, that he loves his country, but now it is run by gangsters and thugs playing at politics, so when he heard about the plan to kidnap the sleepers’ children, he had to act. Racal informs X-Force that as a man gets closer to death, he cherishes life all the more, and the sleepers were a lost cause, but the children were innocents, they deserved a chance. Proudstar frowns and Racal and asks if he tried to save their parents, the sleepers, but Racal replies that there was nothing he could do, as they were suffering psychological slippage, he had to activate them and let them complete their mission. ‘You did what? Why?’ Cannonball demands.
Racal explains that the sleepers had been deep-programmed, if he had given them orders contrary to their programming, they would have gone on to destroy their secondary targets - the nearest city to their locale. ‘Better a few hundred soldiers die than millions of civilians’ Racal remarks. Meltdown grits her teeth and asks Racal why he didn’t kill them. ‘What’s a handful of psychos against a few hundred soldiers?’ she enquires. Fury announces that what’s done is done, and that Racal has pledged to give his full cooperation, before explaining that he thinks it is Roman who is behind the abduction of the sleepers’ children. Fury motions to a screen showing a satellite recon taken of a covert military installation in the Ural Mountains, where there has been a lot of activity - men and technical equipment going in by the truckload, and two days ago, Roman arrived.
Fury reveals that SHIELD backtracked the intel on Cuckoo right back to the Sixties, and it seems Roman was playing both sides, and leaked the Cuckoo data to the Soviets as some kind of contingency plan. Fury states the Roman has switched sides for good, and is looking to play a whole new game. Cannonball points out that Roman activated a mutagenic device under San Francisco just to see what the numbers on a mutant / human ground war would look like. ‘What’s he gonna do for an encore?’ Sam asks. Fury replies that whatever it is, it won’t be good, which is why he wants X-Force to go in and stamp on it, hard. He explains that as SHIELD, they can’t be seen to act against what on paper at least is a friendly nation. But X-Force can, so he wants them to take out the facility and Roman. ‘How is your choice’ Fury adds.
Domino points out that Roman deserves what is coming, but asks about the kids. ‘I won’t hurt them. None of us will go that far’ she adds. Racal explains that if Roman is doing what he suspects, then that won’t be the problem, for all the abductees he has are girls. ‘So?’ Meltdown asks. Racal explains that human females are born with a lifetime’s supply of viable eggs, potential children, hundreds of them, and all of those potential children are female, it is only later, after fertilization, that hormones dictate their final gender. He points out that it stands to reason that the sleeper’s daughter’s eggs each possessed the enhanced genome of the original. So, using accelerated growth tanks and the sleepers conditioning process, Roman could exponentially grow and harvest eggs from each generation of female fetuses. Racal points out that in a matter of days, he could have an army of tens of thousands of immensely powerful beings ready to blindly follow his orders, and it may already be too late to stop him.
And, in the facility in the Ural Mountains, that is exactly what is taking place, as scientists go about their work, and Ford pushes the crazed Dr Niles Roman around in a wheelchair, as he examines the fetuses growing inside tanks that line the wall of a very, very large cavern. ‘Lovely…lovely little soldiers’ the mad doctor croons….