Death. It comes to each of us. In youth, it seems so very far away. As an External - the rare mutant granted the gift of immortality - this man, Gideon, never gave death a thought. But here, lying gape-jawed and wide-eyed, horror-stricken, he is most certainly dead. ‘No pulse. No heartbeat. This cannot be happening!’ exclaims Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta, who, as a member of the young heroes X-Force, has seen death far too many times in his life - teammates and loved ones - his father, his first love Juliana Sandoval.
Perhaps that is why, despite the fact that Gideon was the cause of his father’s death, Bobby still strives to do everything in his power to save Gideon’s life, using his mutant powers to heat Gideon’s body up, until, Bobby’s teammate Caliban the Morlock approaches him in this deserted downtown street, telling him to stop, remarking that he may not know many things, but he knows that Gideon fell off a tall building and is now dead.
As Caliban pulls him off Gideon, Bobby tells his friend that he doesn’t understand, as Gideon was an External and supposed to life forever! Caliban replies that he is confused: ‘How come someone who lives forever…die?’. Although the simple-minded Caliban can track down any mutant on the planet, he has the unintentional ability of often stating what is too easily overlooked - the truth.
As Sunspot watches Gideon literally wither away before his eyes, he remarks that it is curious how, after knowing Gideon for so long, and there being no love lost between them, he doesn’t feel anything, despite the shockingness of it all. ‘Maybe friend Sunspot didn’t like Gideon very much’ Caliban states, but Bobby replies that he isn’t saying that, and remarks that it has to do with the Askani thinking in his mind, explaining to Caliban that it is the philosophy from the future Cable telepathically forced into his mind when he was being possessed by Reignfire, the belief that “what is…is”…can cut off any real emotion.
Sunspot wonders if that is why, perhaps, Cable is so distant some times, to which Caliban suddenly exclaims that what Bobby is saying is important, but that he senses mutants. Urgently, he shouts ‘Angry, powerful mutants!’. Indeed, leaping down towards Sunspot and Caliban from above are two, some would say deranged mutants, Absalom and Crule. Absalom grins, and addressing Sunspot and Caliban as murderers, tells them to look well upon this dawn, as it will be their last.
Even amongst the Externals, these two were always watched closely, for while the others traded in guile and concern, Absalom and Crule embraced the world of violence to achieve their goals. Crule warns the X-Force members that they will not find he and Absalom as easy to slay as they did Gideon. ‘Not that we’d give you half the chance!’ he boasts, before shouting ‘It’s killing time - DIE!’.
Sunspot flies up to meet Crule in the air, exclaiming that he and Caliban had nothing to do with Gideon’s death, but that doesn’t mean they will not defend themselves. But Sunspot’s words fall on deaf ears, for just as the young often act rashly and without thought, these Externals have already made up their minds. Bobby decides that the Externals must really mean business to attack him publicly, and knows that if the rest of X-Force doesn’t hurry up and get here, then this is going to end very badly.
Absalom declares that the Externals are not sheep to be slaughtered, nor fish that can be baited, and several dozen bones through his skin, exclaiming ’For the first, and perhaps, last time - we fight for our very lives!’. Several of these large extended bones strike Caliban, forcing the innocent mutant to the ground, pinning him next to Gideon’s withered body. Absalom admits that he didn’t not believe Crule when he told him that someone was hunting them down, and now, even with his body ravaged by the Legacy Virus, he welcomes this battle. ‘For if this External can die - it will be with the knowledge that others have been avenged!’ Crule shouts, while a pained Caliban whispers ‘Caliban…hurt nobody…’ as he struggles under Absalom’s extended bones.
Meanwhile, sixty miles North, at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning in Salem Center, New York, which is secretly, the home of the Uncanny X-Men and the irrepressible X-Force. Inside the hidden state-of-the-art hangar bay, the three femme fatale members of the team are just returning from a mission - Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith, whose attitude of late is to say the least, unnerving, Siryn a.k.a. Theresa Rourke Cassidy, the team’s deputy leader, and the enigmatic Domino, Cable’s confidant.
Tabitha grins and turns to her female companions, ’So I’ll say it for you: “Meltdown, you were awesome goin’ up against the Blob”. Anytime, ladies’. Meltdown tells everyone that if they need her, she has a hot date - with a warm bath. Siryn turns to Domino and quietly asks her if she is going to speak to Tabitha about her behavior, to which Domino replies that they will take it slow. She is about to say something else, when she is interrupted by James “Warpath” Proudstar and Shatterstar who rush into the hangar bay, ‘Saddle up, ladies - we’ve got trouble!’ Warpath announces.
Shatterstar informs the girls that they have a priority one distress signal, and explain that Sunspot and Caliban need their help. ‘Just what we need!’ Domino mumbles, asking where they are. Warpath replies that they are at Rockerfeller Center, and Shatterstar explains that Sunspot responded to a call for aid from the one known as Gideon, who is now apparently dead. ‘Now we’re in a full-blown battle with the Externals!’ Warpath exclaims as everyone gathers together. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ Domino remarks, before telling her companions to move, and they rush into the PACRAT with a fluidity that is almost instinctual, and Meltdown shouting ‘Time to make the blisters!’. Each of these young heroes knows that as they step into the gaping jaws of battle, they may not return.
It isn’t that they do not have a choice, but weighted against the jeopardy their teammates are in, the decision is given little, if any, consideration. For in their own way, they have found a family in X-Force, and as a family, they look after their own. Once seated, Siryn asks if they want to wait for Cable, to which Domino replies that he is not here, and tells everyone to shut up. Her tone is abrupt, for the last thing she wants is to invite conversation on the subject of Cable - who has been missing for some time now.
Even though Domino is more than capable of looking after this group, she knows, in her heart, that this is Cable’s squad. ‘Punch it, Shatterstar - I want to be in New York yesterday!’ Domino orders. ‘Yesterday?’ Shatterstar replies, confused. ‘I was not aware this vehicle was equipped for time-travel’. Domino just tells him to go, as the PACRAT (Personnel Assault Carrier Recon/Aquatic Terrain) blows out of Westchester County at almost a five g-force, cloaked from even the most sophisticated radar, the silence within the aircraft…is deafening.
Shatterstar thinks to himself that yet again they step into the breech of war - but with his actions of late, wonders if his concerns about the loss of the edge will enable him to perform as is expected of him. Meltdown gazes out the window, looking at her reflection, she recalls Shatterstar mentioning that Gideon is dead, and reminds herself that Cannonball is an External, or so is said. ‘Does that men he can die, too?’ she wonders. Tabitha tells herself not to think about that, as Sam can look after himself. ‘And I’ve got to look after me’.
While the PACRAT swoops downwards towards the city, at Rockerfeller Center Caliban has managed to break free Absalom and holds his bloody wounds together and calls out to Sunspot, informing him that he cannot stop the bleeding. Bobby tells Caliban to hold on, assuring him that help is on the way. ‘I pray’ he thinks to himself, masking his growing concern, while he continues to fire his powers upon Absalom. After all, Sunspot has given his all this day, but it has not proven to be enough. After all, the Externals fight for something which is almost indefensible - the honor of having died in battle.
Suddenly though, after Crule smacks Bobby in the back with the large spiked-skulls he has on chains stuck to his head, Crule finds the skulls suddenly cut off. ‘Who dares!’ he cries, clasping his head. ‘WE dare!’ shouts Shatterstar, holding his swords, the cause of Crule’s sudden loss of accessories. ‘In fact we double-dare ya!’ shouts Meltdown, getting a plasma bomb ready, while Domino tells X-Force that she wants this by the numbers, telling Shatterstar and Warpath to take on Crule, and the rest of them will focus on Absalom. Domino motions to Caliban and points out that he looks in rather bad shape, adding that she is not looking for a win here, just to get everyone home to safety.
Still rubbing his head, Crule angrily tells Shatterstar that he will suffer for this. ‘I welcome the challenge, External!’ Shatterstar replies, leaping into the air with swords outstretched. Even though it may seem as if Shatterstar’s swords are laced with false bravado, his actions speak otherwise, for if he is truly fighting a foe who cannot be killed, what better way to test his warrior skills and fortitude? In other words: Rage! And Shatterstar slams down on Crule, his swords flailing about, and blood splattering everywhere upon contact with those trusty swords.
Meltdown approaches Absalom, telling him that he was good in his day, not that she ever cared for him much, but that they have been doing this dance a long time and it is now time for him to sit this one out. Tabitha casts a large plasma time-bomb on Absalom, knocking him backwards. The arrogance of youth can make you feel invulnerable - and few no more about arrogance than Sunspot, who flies straight towards Absalom and pushes him even further away, while telling his teammates that it isn’t as if he doesn’t appreciate the help, but that he started this fracas and wants to finish it. Siryn swoops in, telling Bobby and Tabitha to concentrate, as they only want Absalom off the field, not in the ground, and she lets out a powerful scream, paralyzing Absalom.
Domino goes over to Caliban, who addresses her as “Patch-Eye” and asks if he is going to die. ‘Caliban is too young to die!’ he whispers. Domino assures Caliban that he is not going to die on her watch, remarking that she would never hear the end of it from Cable. ‘And don’t call me “Patch-Eye”!’ Domino adds.
Warpath meanwhile has spotted a part of the building which Gideon fell from with smoke pouring out of it. James knows he should get in and help in the battle, but knows also that something is going on up there, where Gideon fell from - ‘Or was he pushed?’ James wonders. Walking towards the building, he isn’t quite sure if this has anything to do with his heightened senses of late, but he would sweat that someone was watching them from up there. Feeling that the answer to this lies up on that floor, James begins scaling the building exterior. There was a time though when he would have needed one of his teammates help to get him to the penthouse, Siryn or Sunspot, gifted with flight, but now, James gets a certain amount of pleasure digging his bare fingers into the solid concrete as he climbs.
James looks down at the view below him and thinks that this is incredible, as he made it up here in no time at all. James thinks to himself that so much is happening to him physically, so quickly, and wonders what would happen if he fell from this height. ‘Would I survive?’ he wonders, before entering the penthouse through the gaping hole. He recognizes it as Gideon’s place from the descriptions that Sunspot once gave him. Suddenly, James sees another External nearby, the one known only as Saul, who, even by External standards, was one of the oldest. To their group, he brought a gentle wisdom that they all respected. But upon seeing his crucified body, drained of all it’s life force, Warpath is overwhelmed with the feeling that they are up against someone extremely dangerous, and he realizes that he can tell that whoever did this is still nearby!
Sunspot, Siryn and Meltdown continue their assault on Absalom, and Bobby wonders how much more punishment Absalom can actually take. But this battle rages is one that Absalom has lived over and over. For the choice of being an External is not one given to it’s bearer. Meltdown tosses some more plasma at Absalom, grinning as she decides that cutting loose like this makes her feel the juice flowing inside her and remarks that she should have pushed herself a long time ago.
The choice, like life itself, can become a burden. Through the years, everyone the Externals have ever known - held - loved - are all gone. Siryn screams continuously, thinking to herself that something is not right here, for these are the Externals. ‘Who or what could weaken them so that we could hole our own against them?’ she wonders. Gone. Absalom collapses.
Crule is not faring any better, Shatterstar stands over him, sword raised, he remarks that Cruel has no more weapons and his strength has fled him. ‘I will give you the honor of a warrior’s death - for even you could not survive with your head severed from your -’ Shatterstar is suddenly interrupted by Domino, who grabs his hand as he is about to strike Crule’s neck. ’Enough!’ Domino orders. Annoyed, Shatterstar angrily tells Domino not to assume that she can stay his hand. ’You made that mistake once already!’ he reminds her. ‘Try me!’ Domino snaps back.
Shatterstar lowers his weapon as Domino declares that something isn’t right, for as powerful as X-Force is, they should not be having such an easy time here. ‘I something - or someone - is stalking these Externals - we’d better find out who or what it is - because it can’t be very long before he, she or it comes after one of us!’.
Inside Gideon’s penthouse, Warpath moves quietly in the darkness, knowing that someone else is in here, moving in and out like a shadow. Suddenly, some mist rises from the floor, ‘Impressive, Warpath!’ a woman’s voice calls, before Warpath is mentally thrown backwards, and lands hard against the wall, headfirst, he cracks the wall and blood spills down everywhere as he lays slumped on the floor. His mysterious assailant steps forward and declares that through all the centuries, she has never had anyone track her when she didn’t want them to. ‘Unfortunately, you won’t be alive long enough to share what you’ve learned…’.