Two figures violently clash. One, wielding swords and clad in a billowy white uniform, collides with the other and slashes him across the mouth. This is all either of these two young men have ever wanted. The one who wields the blades is called Shatterstar: a mutant gladiator from another dimension, born and bred for the entertainment of the masses. The other is known only as “Adam X,” the X-Treme. He knows nothing of his past beyond the fact he was raised on another planet yet knew in his heart that Earth was his home in almost every sense.
Now, given no choice in the matter, they fight each other in a brutal and bloody encounter. Both fight as prisoners of the assassin-for-hire known as Arcade, and both have been promised personal survival only through the death of their opponent. It’s not what either of them wants. When they first met weeks ago, they both sensed a kindred spirit within the other… and perhaps because of these similarities, they continue to ferociously attack each other while simultaneously attempting to apologize for their actions.
As Shatterstar backflips into the air to put distance between his opponent and himself, Adam-X requests that Shatterstar not force him to chase him down before he kills him. As Shatterstar lands, Adam-X continues, explaining that it would be best for the both of them if he simply allowed the ridiculous situation to mercifully end. Shatterstar replies that he has little desire himself to fight Adam-X, but must also ask just what makes Adam-X think that their contest will end with him as the victor?
Dashing forward and landing a blow, Adam-X notes his reason: just the fact he’s faster, stronger and better than Shatterstar! Conceding that Adam-X’s attack was well-met, Shatterstar adds that it was not sufficient to force a Cadre Alliance warrior into submission. Kicking Shatterstar across the face, Adam-X makes it clear that he is not a soldier. He has fought against soldiers and armies his entire life, and he does not fight… he has never fought… because he wants to, but rather because he has to. Recovering, Shatterstar states that he empathizes with Adam-X’s emotional turmoil, but notes that Adam-X is not exactly talking to someone who is terribly excited to be in this situation either. Conceding that he knows this, Adam-X then adds - narrating his simultaneous action - that he’s not raking metal spikes across Shatterstar’s face because he enjoys it; he’s doing it because he has no choice in the matter.
Announcing that blood has been drawn, Adam-X informs Shatterstar that this means he is defeated. Muttering “burn,” Adam-X activates his mutant powers and ignites all the electrolytes in Shatterstar’s bloodstream. As Shatterstar collapses in a smoldering heap, Adam-X turns to the cameras and announces to Arcade that it’s over… and that he will not kill Shatterstar, if that’s what Arcade is expecting. He has soiled his hands enough for this lifeline… Arcade can stain his own conscience.
Watching from his control room, Arcade notes that his mysterious young friend is very noble… and protestations aside, he was just as efficient and deadly as he was advertised to be. Adam-X asks who hired Arcade to manipulate him in such a cowardly manner, but Arcade merely replies that that would be telling… he never divulges his client’s name unless it’s to his own advantage. Oh, adds Arcade (as Shatterstar silently rises up behind Adam-X), speaking of cowardly, he’d watch out if he were you…
Turning around too late, Adam-X can barely manage an “eh--?” before Shatterstar lands a brutal kick across his jaw. Explaining that he is well aware of how the dog Arcade manipulates his quarry, and that neither of them wants to fight, Shatterstar must still admit that (ask any of his troopmates) even in mock combat he has far too much stubborn pride to be defeated that easily! Looming over a stunned Adam-X, Shatterstar begs him to stay his hand and think… there must be a better way to extricate themselves from the situation, without the need for either of them to die. Frustrated, Adam-X curses and notes how very dense Shatterstar is: if he allows himself to be defeated, or if he fails Arcade’s demands, it’s not his life… or Shatterstar’s, for that matter… that he’s worried about.
With a vibrant flash, a holographic projection of Arcade appears on the scene and applauds how disgustingly noble Adam is. Shatterstar inquires as to whether Arcade is forcing Adam-X into combat in the same manner he forced Shatterstar earlier… threatening the lives of innocents if Adam-X doesn’t participate in the blood sport. Arcade enthusiastically supports Shatterstar’s hypothesis, but requests he change “innocents” to the singular. He finds that it provides a greater incentive for misguided men of honor such as them to fight… and Shatterstar shall understand why, in this particular case, there are some things in life worth fighting for!
A cage descends from the ceiling, containing a gaudily-dressed young brunette with two giant ponytails. Prominently visible upon her bright yellow leotard is the same symbol that lies emblazoned upon Shatterstar’s outfit. Stunned, Shatterstar mutters that it cannot be! Adam-X asks Shatterstar if he now sees why he had no choice… Arcade threatened to kill the girl unless he fought Shatterstar to the death.
Shatterstar shouts out the name “Windsong,” and asks how!? Confused, Adam-X enquires as to whether Shatterstar knows the girl. Shatterstar replies that he should hope so… she is his wife.
Elsewhere, at the Camp Verde reservation, the current makeshift base of X-Force, Cable crouches upon a rock outcropping and watches a Jeep approach from two miles way…one advantage to having a cybernetic eye. He is torn between what he thought his mission in life would be and what he’s learned he must do in order to accomplish it. He has realized that after having been away from the young soldiers of X-Force for so long, his return hasn’t gone as smoothly as he had hoped. Just as he has finally found his direction… he’s watching X-Force lose theirs.
Tempo flies down, interrupting Cable’s musings. Without turning, he states that she’s leaving… isn’t she? Tempo offers affirmation. She can’t live this life anymore; she wants to go back to college, get a job and have two point five kids… is that too much to ask? Cable tells her that it’s not, of course… and, of course, it is. Tempo changes the subject: she knows what she did was wrong, that she’s made her share of mistakes… but she just wants to thank Cable for not turning her over to the authorities. Cable tells her that she’s young. She can change. As Tempo takes to the air, he offers her a wish of good luck… and that if things don’t work out for her, she knows where to find them.
Cable had hoped she would stay, if only to balance the scales a bit in comparison to the losses that the battle with the new Mutant Liberation Front had brought X-Force. As Tempo disappears, the Jeep finishes its arrival, and Cable feels greatly reassured at the sight of its driver. He has a feeling that things will start falling back into place. Of course, this is partially because whenever Domino is around, things have a habit of doing that…
Cable tells her that he’s glad she could come. Domino’s response is to try to get something straight… Cable wants her to hang out with him-- there-- in these barracks? He merely replies that she never was one for silk lace and soft carpeting. She retorts that she’s starting to regret that… what does he expect out of her? He replies that he only expects her to be herself: the kids need that; they need her. Domino caustically replies that she gets it… and isn’t it rich? Be herself… even though the only Domino that the X-Force youth have ever known was the scheming Vanessa Carlysle impersonating her!
Cable brightly replies that he has impersonated a heartless soldier, and Stryfe has impersonated him, and… around there, they’re all used to that kind of thing. Domino can only note that she should have her head examined for this. Watching this transpire from a bluff near the X-Force communications bunker “57,” Warpath can see Cable’s awkwardness and imagine his hesitant words. He understands how Cable feels about Domino, just like Cable knew how Warpath felt about Siryn. If someone like Cable can confront his feelings, ponders Warpath, why can’t he?
Descending into the communications bunker, Warpath asks Siryn if she needs a hand. Siryn is on her knees, equipped with broom and dustpan, attempting to clean up the mess she made hours ago with her sonic scream. She apologizes to Warpath for what she did before… she didn’t mean to use her scream at him like that, but what he said… it scared her. Warpath replies that he told her he cared about her because he does, but he wants to help her because she needs it… not because of what he might get out of it. She’s his friend, he explains, and he wants to see her happy… and when she’s not, it just… tears him up inside.
Siryn replies that Warpath is a good man. He tells her he isn’t, not yet, but he’s trying to be. Leaning against him, Siryn says that she thinks she needs to go home for a few days; she needs to feel connected to a place again, and straighten up her head a bit. She then asks Warpath how he feels about taking a holiday: does he want to come with her? Ecstatic, Warpath can only ask, stumblingly, “with you?!” Home? Does Siryn mean… home home?
Speaking of Siryn’s home… far elsewhere, in County Mayo, Ireland, where Cassidy Keep lies, two silhouetted figures climb toward it in the moonlight. At the sound of knocking on the door, it’s answered by a small, balding man in suit and bowtie who ponders who could be calling at this hour… before realizing that, oh lord, it’s him?!
With a flash of plasma, the man is sent flying away from the door to lie in a sizzling heap. As the attack occurs, a greeting rings out, telling Michael that it’s so very good to see him again… but, the voice adds, it wishes that the man were as to glad to see it. Revealing himself in the moonlight, the assailant proves to be Black Tom Cassidy, backed up by the Juggernaut. Chiding the smoldering corpse, Black Tom notes that taking up residence in a home that should be his is a very tacky thing for the family lawyer to do. But the master is back, continues the attacker… Black Tom has come home.
Meanwhile, inside the control room of Murderworld, Arcade gesticulates with excitement over this phenomenal turn of events: Major Domo didn’t tell him about the girl’s relationship with Shatterstar! Back within the actual complex, Adam-X is still bewildered by Shatterstar’s revelation. Shatterstar warns him that on his homeworld, the connotation is quite different than on Earth. Windsong was predetermined to be his genetic bond-mate. When the time for reproduction came, their genetic material would have been combined to perpetuate the arena game warrior-stock. How romantic, mutters Adam-X, prompting Shatterstar to explain that romance was never the intent: improving the games was. He fails to see where emotions were needed. Never mind, mutters Adam-X, continuing that they still have the problem that in order for Shatterstar’s “wife” to survive, he has to kill him!
Nonsense, explains Shatterstar, flinging his sword through the air. Horrified, Adam-X asks him what he’s doing; Shatterstar replies that he is merely exposing Arcade’s ruse… the girl is not real. His sword slices through the facsimile and fragments it like broken glass. In the control room, Arcade muses that Shatterstar guessed it wasn’t real, did he? Arcade continues that he rather liked that crystalline-based laser holoimage that Major Domo provided him. He’s upset that he shattered it. … Then again, he mumbles, he shouldn’t be surprised, his name is Shatterstar, after all…
Inside the complex, Adam-X ponders in furious exasperation what he wouldn’t give to shut Arcade up. Shatterstar states that he will abide by the madness no longer -- if Arcade is holding Windsong prisoner somewhere in Murderworld, her release is the top priority. Bewildered, Adam-X states that Shatterstar doesn’t get it, does he? If they make a move, she’s as good as dead. No, retorts Shatterstar, Adam-X doesn’t “get it.” She is, he elaborates, a Cadre Alliance warrior. Freedom is everything to her, as it is to him… more vital, indeed, than life itself. Adam-X asks him if he’s sure, then answers himself: of course he’s sure. Stating that “here goes,” Adam-X flings blades into all the nearby cameras, eliciting a shower of sparks after each high-pitched flight.
Within the control room, Arcade stares at monitor after monitor displaying nothing but static. Noting that he’s not happy, he asks Ms. Locke what’s going on down in the complex. Ms. Locke offers that if she had to hazard a guess, sir, she’d say that they’re coming to slice and dice him into very little pieces. Frantic, Arcade orders her to call the clients: they’ve lost the control parameters! If those fruit-loops are willing to call his bluff about killing the girl, then they have nothing to hang over their heads!
Ms. Locke tells Arcade to calm down. They know that they doesn’t actually have physical access to Windsong, but Shatterstar and Adam-X don’t. Pepping up again, Arcade says that he likes it; he likes it! Asking Ms. Locke what she’s going to do, she replies that she’ll let him known as soon as she figures it out…
Inside the complex, Adam-X and Shatterstar rapidly press forward through corridors coated with confusing and mislabeled signs indicating directions to and away from the control room. Shatterstar asks Adam-X if he has even the slightest idea where they are going. Adam-X responds that he has not a clue, but he figures that eventually they’ll round one of those corners and run headlong into a squadron of guards… right?
Instead they come upon a massive set of steel doors with “IT’S NOT HERE!” written on them in bright orange paint. Adam-X mutters that he guesses not while Shatterstar notes that much of Arcade’s madness is reminiscent of the more extravagant games on his homeworld. They were devised in ways to test the combatants’ mettle in a psychological as well as a physical manner. So, adds Adam-X, since the signs are telling them that up is down and left is right… what does Shatterstar suggest?
Based on the duplicitous nature of games on his homeworld, replies Shatterstar, he suggests (infantile as it may sound) that they do the exact opposite of what the signs tell them to do! Adam-X only mutters that he was afraid Shatterstar was going to say that… As they attempt to open the two giant doors, Adam-X points out that there’s no access for the doorway. Wedging his blades between them, Shatterstar states that they will make their own… they’ve got it, it’s… opening:
With a svish the doors slide apart to reveal a brick wall. Taped to is it a handwritten note that reads “Ha ha! Ho ho! XXX OOO.” Adam-X grimly muses that if Arcade is watching, he’s getting a pretty good laugh about now. Shatterstar feebly replies that he only said that’s how they would do things on his world… The two are interrupted by the sounds of guns being cocked, and turn to see an enormous squadron of guards waiting behind them. Adam-X mumbles that he really hates that sound.
Back inside the control room, Arcade pounds the keys of his monitor station, asking where the two are and what’s going on with them. Flustered, he asks if SOMEbody will please get him a video feed so he can see what’s happening in his own complex. A nearby soldier tells Arcade to try it now, to which he replies that, if this doesn’t work, his little minimum-wage lackey, he will…
Arcade trails off with a “whoa momma,” as the video display returns to life, showing Adam-X and Shatterstar cutting a brutal swath through the horde of guards. Adam-X shouts “burn” and ignites his powers, prompting Shatterstar to complain that he has no byword to shout in battle. Adam-X suggests “bleed,” to which Shatterstar offers his approval. Pinning one of the lackeys to the wall, Shatterstar demands that the solider tell him where Windsong is being kept, or he will cut out his tongue! Adam-X mutters that that would do the trick…
Inside the control room, a hysterical Arcade notes that he is outta there, so long, sayonara, arrivederci, hasta luego... He orders his staff to call Mr. Milbury and tell him that he’ll be returning his cash deposit to his numbered account in Zurich. He orders his staff to contact Major Domo and tell him he can take his “I assure you Arcade, Shatterstar will not place his wife in jeopardy” and stick it up his--
Stick what up where? asks Adam-X as he and Shatterstar burst into the control room. Shatterstar, seemingly thoroughly unimpressed, says that he takes it this is Arcade. Adam-X confirms this supposition while Shatterstar orders them to turn Windsong over to him now or, he assures them, a horrible death is the nicest thing he could do for them. Ms. Locke taps a key at a nearby computer station and tells Shatterstar that since he asked so nicely… his wish is their command!
Windsong suddenly appears, calling Shatterstar her love and exclaiming how long she has missed him. She reinforces that her captors are going to kill her, and begs Shatterstar to slay the one called X-Treme so that the two of them can go free! Please love, she begs him, we can be together again! Ms. Locke raises a small remote and tells Shatterstar that the detonator is primed to trigger explosives built into Windsong’s manacles: if he makes one move to hurt any of the Murderworld staff, Windsong is dead!
Yeah! adds Arcade, what she said! Looking at his watchless wrist, he adds that he’s on a tight schedule here… kill or be killed! Turning to Adam-X, Shatterstar states that he cannot risk Windsong’s life any longer, and he does not wish to take Adam-X’s. Confused, Adam-X asks Shatterstar what he’s going to do. The only option left to him, replies Shatterstar, who proceeds to plunge his own sword into his chest in a spew of blood.
As Shatterstar collapses to the floor, Ms. Locke can only stand stunned and mutter that Shatterstar is crazy… absolutely insane! Adam-X shouts Shatterstar’s name and rushes over to his fallen friend, while Arcade stands nearby gleefully and shouts Hardee har har! Arcade continues that the joke’s on Shatterstar! His beloved wife was never there to begin with… Ms. Locke simply reprogrammed the hologram systems in order to trick the two of them!
Grabbing Shatterstar’s sword from his chest, Adam-X turns to Arcade and announces he’s going to die for this. As Arcade hops about the control room, Adam-X in comical chase with enormous sword, he tells Adam-X to wait… no… he’s not going to die for this… wait… Holding up a slip of paper, Arcade explains that upon it is the name of the man who hired him to kill Adam-X! Beginning to ingest the paper, Arcade continues: And unless he lets them walk out of there, he’ll never know who it is! And if he finds out who it is, then Adam-X founds out who he is! Swallowing, and unaware that Shatterstar is rising behind him, Arcade asks if he’s drooling. He then tells Adam-X that now that he has succeeded in eliminating one of his targets, their fight is over for now, and he shall simply save him for another day. Shatterstar announces that he doesn’t think so, stabbing Arcade through the chest.
Instead of blood, a shower of sparks explodes out, causing Shatterstar to glumly realize he has just killed a robot, not the real Arcade. Adam-X tells him not to be surprised: people like Arcade rarely have the courage to stand up to battle like a man. And speaking of standing… how is it that Shatterstar still is? Later, says Shatterstar, thrusting his sword toward Ms. Locke’s face and warning her that today both her employer and his clients made a very big mistake. He orders her to tell them both that they will not forget this…
An hour later, Arcade’s traveling Murderworld has been destroyed, and the police and local media are left to perplexedly wonder who was responsible for all the damage. In a back alley, Shatterstar asks Adam-X if it was their obligation to explain what happened to the local constabulary. Adam-X replies he can’t afford to fill out paperwork and have his pictures in the papers… and knowing some of the things that X-Force have been involved in, he hazards to guess that Shatterstar can’t, either. Shatterstar concedes that Adam-X is correct, and then asks him what he plans to do now. Adam-X replies that he is going to find out who the name on the piece of paper is… Milbury.
He then asks Shatterstar how he knew… not just about surviving his self-gutting, but about Windsong being a fake? Shatterstar replies that as far as the suicide ruse, he knows what his body’s restorative abilities are capable of, and he missed all his vital organs by quite a ways. As for Arcade’s desperate ploy regarding Windsong, it was rather easy to see it for the lie it was… considering that he has never had the opportunity to meet his wife. Nice marriage, quips Adam-X, before saying goodbye and disappearing quietly into the streets.
Just then, Rictor pulls up, telling Shatterstar that his timing was perfect. He asks how his day was, to which Shatterstar replies that it was “uneventful.” Oh, replies Rictor, disappointed… lots to talk about, huh? Gonna be a long ride home, he takes it? Actually, replies Shatterstar, it was rather… interesting… if he may tell him about it. And also tell him about… his wife.