(dream sequence – off panel)
In her dream, Tabitha Smith runs through a dark forest, chased by an angry mob brandishing torches. She takes refuge in an abandoned castle only to realize that she has trapped herself for there are no apparent exits. As the mob sets fire to the castle, Tabitha screams: “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” As flames rise around her, she hears an old woman’s voice answering her: “Because you don’t belong here, mutant. Your kind has stolen our dreams, our hopes… you’ve taken away Graydon Creed.”
The young woman known as Meltdown awakens from her disturbing sleep and opens her eyes to an equally disquieting reality. Finding herself lying on the middle of a road, Tabitha wonders, “Where am I?” In an attempt to understand where she is, she tells herself that last thing she remembers she was with X-Force in… in… She is shocked to realize she doesn’t remember where. As impossible as it seems, somebody must have drugged and dumped her here – wherever “here” may be.
Indeed, Meltdown finds herself in a strangely deserted town. No person is in sight. Tabitha can see buildings – one of them sporting an American flag – several parked cars, the statue of a man and even an electricity tower with the name “Liddleville” on it – but no person. Tabitha confirms “Liddleville” as the name of this town by spotting a newspaper – a copy of Liddleville Gazette – on the road right next to where she lied whose headline reads “Liddleville Celebrates Century.” “Liddleville, huh? Never heard of it” Meltdown curiously comments. The one thing she does know is that this burg is the last place where she should be. She decides she should better contact the mansion and let somebody know where she is and that the rest of the X-Force may be in danger.
Spotting a “Liddlevile Drugs” sign, Tabitha walks into the drugstore, asking aloud if there is a phone in there. Again, though, she realizes nobody seems to be around. Being certain the owner wouldn’t mind if she made a call, she approaches a phone – a rotary dial which leaves her a bit amazed since she hasn’t seen one of these cheap old things since… “Since the last time I saw Daddy,” she thinks. She presses on, though, and tells herself to keep it together: there is no time to mourn.
Picking up the phone, she realizes the line’s dead – much like the town itself. Walking out of the drugstore, Tabitha wonders aloud where everybody is. As she walks past a store whose window reads “Ralph’s Pretty Good Groceries,” she is exhilarated to finally see a real human being: a police officer is standing on the pavement, his back facing her. Tabitha approaches him, telling him he wouldn’t believe how glad she is to see him. She was beginning to feel like she was trapped in an episode of The Twilight Zone – like the one where it turns out they are testing an astronaut to see if he can survive in space alone! She tells the officer that what she needs right now is to find a phone that works. However, the officer still hasn’t turned around to look at her or moved the slightest bit. Annoyed, Tabitha asks him if he’s even listening at her and violently pushes him, wondering what she has to do to get his attention.
The officer falls on the ground, face-first, and the young mutant finally realizes the officer is… a mannequin! Trying to realize what’s going on, Tabitha examines the mannequin. What’s even creepiest, though, is that the mannequin officer is coated with something that feels like real skin.
“I’m afraid they’re all Li…” a man’s voice is heard behind her. Before the man has the chance to finish his sentence, Tabitha turns around instantly and kicks him in the face. She doesn’t even think about executing the spin kick: she moves instinctually. The first rule of combat that Cable hammered into his students – Tabitha and her teammates, the mutants that comprise the strike team called X-Force – was “never let anyone take you by surprise.”
As the man falls to the ground, Tabitha stands ready to turn her defense into an offence, creating explosive spheres of energy that will detonate at her command, if necessary. She asks the man to step back: she is no mood to play games. Bleeding from his mouth and holding his aching jaw, the man assures her he didn’t mean to startle her. She is the first living person he’s seen in a week: he was beginning to lose his mind. Tabitha admits she may have overreacted and asks the man who he is. “Dimitri Fortunov” he replies. Judging by her accent and that light show, he realizes she must be one of the American mutants they’ve been talking so much about on CNN.
Tabitha tells him she’s Tabitha Smith, Meltdown to some people, and indeed, she’s a mutant. Rather defensively, she asks him if he’s got a problem with that. Dimitri assures her he has no problem with that and asks her whether he may call her “Tabitha.” After all, if he’s correct, they have a great deal in common. He asks her what she was doing in Castle Doom. “Castle Doom?!” Meltdown exclaims. Finally, it’s coming back to her: she was in Latveria on a mission with some friends of hers, a little group she likes to call X-Force!
Cable, Siryn, Rictor, Shatterstar and Meltdown are making their way through the greenery surrounding Castle Doom. Cable reminds his team they’re on foreign soil, so they should try to keep a low profile. Meltdown asks whether the secretary will disavow their presence, in case they’re caught. Rictor has a different question for Cable: why are Sunspot, Warpath and Caliban hanging so far back? Cable explains they are their backup in case they don’t make it out.
Siryn asks him whether he thinks the odds are against them succeeding. Cable assures her he has great faith in the team. However, one doesn’t break into Castle Doom without taking precautions. He warns his students not to let the medieval exterior of the Castle deceive them. Castle Doom is guarded by one of the most advanced defense systems on the planet. Doctor Doom didn’t exactly encourage visitors.
Tabitha makes a proposal to Cable: considering Doom disappeared with the Fantastic Four and Avengers, why don’t they just storm the front gate? “I mean nobody’s home, right?” she adds. Annoyed, Nathan asks her if she even bother reading the briefing. The Latverian provisional government did try to gain entry; half the team died in the attempt. That explains why Cable and the rest can’t do this without help. In retrospect, recalling this discussion, Tabitha explains to Dimitri their leader can be a little too grim sometimes and she likes to get under his skin by playing the bubble-headed blonde.
Tabitha recalls how suddenly this old guy, Nathaniel Richards materialized out of nowhere. She explains to Dimitri that Nathaniel is Mr. Fantastic’s father and a scientist equally brilliant to his son. In fact, according to Cable, Nathaniel has explored the farthest reaches of time and space.
Richards assures Cable it’s good to see him again. He remarks Cable looks healthier than the last time they met. He also hopes Cable’s children are ready. Richards explains to them that after Victor von Doom’s disappearance in New York, the Castle’s defense system sealed off every accessway and an ionic field prevents him from teleporting in. Once inside, Richards intends to use the Castle computer system to render the defenses inoperative. “If ye don’t mind me askin’ sir… how’re y’gonna manage that?” Siryn asks him in disbelief. She stresses the fact Doom’s computers will certainly be protected as well. Richards explains that during Doom’s previous absence, he took his place, convincing the entire world – including all the sensors in the Castle – that he was Victor von Doom.
Hearing this, a surprised Warpath asks Rictor in a low voice whether he also thinks that masquerading as your son’s greatest enemy is kind of twisted. Rictor assures James that not everyone’s relationship with their parents was as solid as his.
Cable explains to his team that, following Sinsear’s attempt to salvage the remains of the time displacement core, it has become clear that they need to keep a careful watch on any and all time traveling devices. Both Nathaniel Richards and himself agree that Doom’s time platform is number one on that list: if such technology were to fall into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic.
As the posse stands outside the laser-protected tunnels that lead to the interior of the Castle, Richards informs them that Castle Doom was originally known as Castle Sabbat. These tunnels were built so that, should these battlements fall to an enemy, the baron and his family could escape into the mountains. He explains that most of the passageways collapsed long before Doom overthrew the Latverian aristocracy and those that remain are now guarded by a laser grid, as everyone can see. Rictor asks what they are supposed to do now to get in – dig their own tunnel?
“Hardly,” Richards replies. He explains the grids power source is directly above them. “Smith, will you do the honors?” he asks Tabitha. “With extreme pleasure,” Meltdown replies; after all, it always makes her day a little brighter when she can blow something up. Indeed, at that moment, Tabitha sends her explosive spheres of energy upwards, effectively damaging the power source.
With the laser grid deactivated, the group finally enters the tunnels. Rictor teases Cable, asking him whether it ticks him off having to follow Richards’ lead. Cable angrily retorts he knows when to give orders and when to take them – a skill Julio has yet to learn. In retrospect, Tabitha explains to Dimitri that Rictor used to believe Cable was the man who murdered his father and, as a result, their relationship has always been rocky.
As the team advances into the tunnels, Tabitha comments on how Doom has been reported dead before; why are they so sure he is now? She wonders whether he just wanted the world to think he’s dead so he could hang around in the Castle watching TV in his underwear! Siryn retorts that Victor von Doom is perhaps the most dangerous man in the world and this is not a laughing matter.
Suddenly, the group realizes they’re having company as they can see a giant robot approaching them menacingly, uttering a single word: “Intruders.” Richards explains the robot is one of Doom’s servitors, his robotic guards. Doom didn’t marshall an army to take over Latveria; he simply built one.
Proving Richards’ point correct, five servitors surround them, one of them proclaiming, “If you resist, you will die.” Prepared to generate his seismic waves, Rictor jokes Doom must turn these things out on an assembly line. Meltdown comments that, if that’s the case, they must have stumbled into the factory showroom! Shatterstar points to the fact that they need not restrain themselves in their destruction since these are only mechanical constructs. Cable seconds that, urging Shatterstar to hit them hard and fast; the object is to get past them. Nathaniel Richards urges them to target the servitors’ bodies: their CPUs and generators are located in their upper torsos.
As Theresa releases her sonic scream on two of the servitors, she remarks it’s just like knocking down bowling pins. Meanwhile, Shatterstar decapitates one of the robots, recalling that in Mojo’s arenas, a clean decapitation won a standing ovation. Cable teases Shatterstar if he is getting nostalgic for his days as a gladiator slave. Nearby, Rictor’s seismic assaults dismantle another of the servitors whereas the last robot standing grasps Tabitha. “Okay, tin man, I know what you came for… a heart!” she tells the robot, releasing one of her plasma bombs at its chest. Tabitha escapes from its grasp moments before the bomb explodes, rendered to ashes. She jokes it’s too bad nobody warned the robot about the heartache that comes to it.
Getting a little overconfident and with her adrenaline pumping, Tabitha doesn’t feel like slowing down and starts running through the tunnels, looking for action. Seeing her advance on her own, Theresa asks her to stop. Meltdown assures her she shouldn’t worry about her since she can handle anything this Castle can throw at her. However, at that exact moment, something triggered under Tabitha’s feet and the floor is converted into a trapdoor. Tabitha starts sliding down a chute (in retrospect, she recalls how smooth its sides were, almost as they had been greased), praying that she ends up in the laundry room because she wants something soft to land on.
No such luck, however: Tabitha lands rather painfully on a hard floor. A servitor approaches her, ominously proclaiming “Intruder found – mutagenic bio-signature identified. Activating electro-neural restraint.” Recounting this, Tabitha deduces this servitor must have been a newer model than the ones they encountered earlier because this one hit her so fast she didn’t even have time for a witty report. Indeed, the servitor zaps her and then darkness ensues.
“And then I woke up here in beautiful, downtown Mayberry” Tabitha concludes her narration. She wonders why it took her so long to remember that. Dimitri reveals he experienced a similar loss of memory when he first found himself here. “And why exactly are you here, Dimitri?” she asks him. With a hard expression on his face, Dimitri explains that Castle Doom once belonged to his family. For centuries, it was the seat of power in Latveria. Dimitri’s grandfather was the Latverian Baron that Doom deposed of some two decades ago. “Well, who woulda thought I was socializing with royalty?” Meltdown jokes and asks Dimitri if that means she should call him “Your Highness.”
Dimitri retorts that she may joke but since Doom’s death in New York, Latveria has been in political chaos. The Latverians need a leader who can unite the opposing factions. Tabitha asks him if he intends to crown himself king. “No” Dimitri replies. The aristocracy was no better than Doom. Dimitri wants to offer his people a democratic government. In order to do so, however, he needs the means to keep the more violent political factions in check. Tabitha realizes that must the reason he broke into the Castle to liberate some of Doom’s toys.
Tabitha suddenly spots a parked car. “Hey, somebody left the keys in this big ol’ bomb,” she notices. Dimitri discourages her, however, explaining that a car will get her nowhere: there is an energy field surrounding the city’s borders.
Tabitha suddenly hears a voice inside her head, calling her name. Shocked, she realizes it’s Cable! Dimitri asks her to whom she’s talking to when he suddenly spots something and freezes in mid-sentence, exclaiming “Mother of…” Without paying attention to Dimitri, Tabitha hears Cable’s voice asking her if she’s all right. Tabitha replies she is; the real question is, where is he? “Look up,” Cable replies. As Tabitha and Dimitri look out of the window, they see a Cable of gigantic proportions standing above Liddleville!
Meanwhile, James Proudstar, Roberto DaCosta and Caliban await Cable’s signal, standing by some Gypsies’ houses. Roberto remarks they are not supposed to draw attention to themselves but instead they stand out like a sore thumb. Warpath explains that is the reason Cable parked them with the group of Gypsies known as Zefiro. Cable knows one of the Gypsy elders; thus, the Gypsies are cool with them. Caliban adds his own point of things, assuring them he likes it here: everything is pretty and smells nice.
“Wasn’t Doom born a Gypsy?” Sunspot comments. “Imagine taking over the country that once persecuted you.” James assures him that is a recurring dream for anyone who ever grew up on a reservation. Caliban remarks on how he wishes he’d grown up in the forest instead of the Morlock tunnels. The Morlocks had no trees underground.
A young woman holding a portable CD player and wearing a headset approaches them, informing them her name’s Sofia and asking for verification whether they are Esmeralda’s American guests. “I was so… pardon my English… psyched out when I heard you were here” she admits. She asks them if they have any American music with them. Doom forbade the import of Western popular culture when he was on the throne. Warpath tells her he has brought the new Lila Cheney and asks Sofia is she likes Lila’s music. Sofia replies she adores Lila Cheney. “Then you’ll love this one,” James remarks. As he hands her the CD, though, Sofia suddenly faints, uttering a low moan.
In the Castle Doom, Nathaniel Richards and X-Force stand above a miniature town – Liddleville – with the unconscious bodies of Tabitha and Dimitri and also a deceased man lying next to it. Richards informs the gang on Liddleville. It was another of Doom’s elaborate attempts to make the Fantastic Four pay for his many defeats in their hands. Together with the Puppet Master, he created a device that would transfer the psyches of his subjects into Liliputian synthe-clone doppelgangers. Cable deduces Doom must have programmed his servitors to detain intruders to Liddleville. Rictor realizes it’s a good thing he gave this particular servitor they found here a seismic showdown before they all ended up Smurf-sized.
Shatterstar is curious as to who the other two men lying next to Meltdown are. Pointing at the dead man, Siryn states the obvious: they’ll have to get that answer from someone other than him. It looks like this mechanism may have fried the man’s synapses.
Cable shuts down the neural-link with the synthe-clones; he believes Tabitha and her friend should be okay now. Indeed, Tabitha and Dimitri wake up, rather disoriented from their experience. Tabitha admits there’s no place like home whereas Dimitri feels his body quite stiff – only natural, after spending a week immobile.
Meltdown thanks Cable for the save and introduces Dimitri Fortunov to them as the heir apparent to the Latverian throne. Dimitri tells everybody he owes them a great debt. Richards is intrigued to hear the “Fortunov” surname: he was unaware the old baron had bred a son to carry on the bloodline. “Not with the baroness” Dimitri explains. His father was not exactly the baron’s legitimate son.
Cable asks him how he managed to get past the Castle’s defenses. Dimitri explains that his companion, Sergei, created a device that jammed the automated surveillance. Unfortunately, they failed to account for heat sensors and… Suddenly, Dimitri pauses, having spotted Sergei’s corpse in the room. “Sergei. I’m so sorry, my friend. This is my fault” he laments. Richards intervenes, informing everyone that security is no longer a problem as he just reprogrammed the computer to recognize him as Doom once again. Meltdown remarks it’s too bad for Sergei they didn’t get here sooner.
In the tunnels leading to the Castle, three shadowy figures advance hastily. “Status, Lieutenant?” one of them asks. The man addressed informs his superior they’ve pinpointed their location: five mutagenic and two norms. He promises his superior they won’t get away from them this time.
Meanwhile, Nathaniel Richards, Dimitri Fortunov and X-Force enter the room that contains the time platform. Nathaniel asks Cable whether he is certain he wants to dismantle the platform. Without his timesliding technology, Cable has no way of returning to the future. Cable retorts that if he does his job correctly in the here and now, the future from which he came won’t ever exist. Regardless of whether he wins or loses, he’s determined to fight this battle in the present.
Dimitri admits he had heard rumors that Doom was in possession of forbidden technology but had no idea he was capable of traveling through time. Richards points to the fact they can only guess the changes Doom may have wrought throughout the timestream and that makes it even more imperative to take the platform apart. Kneeling above the platform, Dimitri argues about all the good one could accomplish with it. “Or the damage… even with the best intentions,” Cable reminds him. He asks from Dimitri to trust him: it’s time to put this baby to rest.
All of a sudden, G.W. Bridge’s voice is heard behind them: “You aren’t going to do anything, Nate… except put your hands in the air and step back. Slowly” Bridge and two more agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Colin Muldowney and Theresa Petty walk into the room, all armed to teeth. “You heard the man! Now!” Agent Muldowney shouts while aiming them with his gun. With Bridge working for the international law agency S.H.I.E.L.D., his days of friendship with Cable are past him as the two former allies are now on the opposite sides of the fence.
Cable sarcastically notes it’s always nice to run into an old friend. “Save the sarcasm, Nate,” Bridge replies. He tells him the U.N. has claimed jurisdiction over this Castle and everything in it. If Cable tries to walk away with any of this ordnance, Bridge is authorized to take him out. “Come on, Bridge, you know what I’m doing is right,” Cable insists. He asks him if he would really trust any government with a time machine.
“Stop!” Dimitri suddenly shouts. Flaunting a grenade, he insists that nobody is touching that platform; not Cable or the U.N. He believes the platform rightly belongs to the people of Latveria. “Dimitri, are you nuts?! That’s a grenade” Meltdown exclaims. Agent Petty assures Commander Bridge she has a clear shot on Fortunov. Indeed, her blast sends the young Latverian into the Platform’s control console with destructive results. The grenade drops from the shrieking Dimitri as he falls and Cable rushes towards it and grabs it in time – however, a huge explosion of light and sound spreads all around the room, coming from the platform. “What’s happening?” Cable wonders. Richards realizes the time platform has been activated but the temporal field is expanding – something’s wrong! Indeed, everyone present at the room suddenly vanishes in a puddle of blinding light.
At the same moment, miles away, Warpath apologizes to Esmeralda but doesn’t understand what happened: he handed Sofia a CD and she fainted. “It was almost like an epileptic fit,” Sunspot adds. Esmeralda explains to them that Sofia has the Rosikon family gift of prescience. Esmeralda herself has it only a little and it is more instinct than sight but Sofia’s visions are clear and lucid. When she touched Warpath, she saw his future and the intensity of the vision was too much for her to bear. James asks if this means there’s something in his future that’s horrific. Sunspot can’t believe James is taking this seriously. “No offence, ma’am,” he tells Esmeralda, “but maybe you should take Sofia to a doctor.”
Esmeralda’s son, Oskar, rushes towards them, urging his mother to come quick as she must see this. Esmeralda asks him what is so important that he makes such noise. Oskar replies it’s the Castle; it’s vanished!