St. Louis, Missouri, Saturday 8.23pm, helicopters circle the Wakeman Oncological Research Center. Police are scattered out the front of the gates, a high-wire fence surrounds the large building. Two hours ago, an emergency call, placed by a Center employee was interrupted by an unidentified man - who claimed that any attempt by the police to storm the Center would result in the death of every staff member in the building. ‘Somebody get the Lieutenant a bullhorn on the double!’ a police officer orders, while another readies his rifle, remarking that if the terrorists inside refuse to talk then he is going to make sure they hear what he has to say. ‘They’re surrounded by St. Louis’s finest. They’ve got no way out’.
An officer suddenly alerts the Lieutenant to another problem, as a convoy of armored trucks arrive, ‘Lieutenant Genovese?’ a demanding voice shouts from the convoy. ‘That’s me’ the Lieutenant replies. ‘Who in the blazes are you?’ he asks a rather angry looking woman, dressed in black and dark pink. The woman introduces herself as Commander Ekatarina Gryaznova, and declares that this hostile crisis involves alpha-class mutants. ‘That means, from this moment on, Zero Tolerance has control of this operation!’
8.49pm, where, inside the facility, the luckless employees called into work this weekend are being held prisoners by the Mutant Liberation Front - a terrorist group of men and women born with extra-ordinary abilities. Disenfranchised by a society that hates then, the M.L.F. espouses a world in which mutant kind rules. Currently, they are led by the reality-warping Wildside a.k.a. Richard Gill.
‘Why are you doing this? We conduct cancer research here!’ a scientist exclaims as Wildside holds him up by his long hair. ‘LIAR!’ Wildside shouts, while his girlfriend Tamara “Dragoness” Kurtz backs him, ‘You tell him, honey!’. Wildside declares that the so-called cancer research is nothing but a sham that disguises the Center’s true purpose - the systematic extermination of every mutant on this planet. ‘You’re crazy!’ the scientist replies, to which Wildside angrily snaps back that he has been pushed, like every other mutant. ‘But guess what? Not anymore. Now, we push back!’ he exclaims.
Sitting nearby at a computer console, Heather Tucker a.k.a. Tempo, who once left the Mutant Liberation Front, has now returned due to the rising tide of intolerance toward her genetic brethren. Heather announces that all the records she has found so far appear to be genuine cancer studies, before suddenly revealing that they are some encrypted files she cannot open with a password. ‘You heard her, Doc’ Wildside exclaims as he slams the scientist hard against a wall. ‘And the password is…?’ Wildside asks, to which the wounded scientist replies ‘Francis Albert’.
‘A Sinatra fan, eh, Doc?’ Richard smirks, before remarking that he has always thought Dean Martin was smoother than “old Blue Eyes”. ‘dino never looked like he cared about anything or anyone. I can relate to that’ Wildside remarks, as he tosses the scientist to the ground alongside the other staff, most of who are bound. However, just around the corner, a member of the Center’s security staff holds his gun nervously, thinking that he tried to grab a few minutes sleep in the storage closet and now a bunch of super human freaks have taken over the Center. ‘Gotta play this cool, like Clint in “Magnum Force”, no, maybe I should be more like Bruce in the first “Die Hard”’ he wonders, referring to Bruce Willis.
Suddenly, ‘Uh…uh…alright you jokers - freeze!’ the security officer exclaims as he rounds the corner, pointing his gun at the M.L.F. Dragoness and Michael “Forearm” McCain just smile, while Wildside grins and extends his arms, ‘Oh, no, boys and girls, the six-dollar-an-hour cop’s got a gun! I’m sooo scared!’ he mocks. The security guard warns Wildside to step back or else he will shoot. ‘Go on, be a hero! I dare you. Give it your best shot, little man!’ Wildside taunts.
Suddenly though, from another part of the laboratory, an arrow unlike any other leaves a trail of energy as it slices through the air - and finds its target, the security officer, striking him hard in the back, he drops his weapon and screams. ‘Oh, my sweet Lord, they went and killed Stu!’ one of the Wakeman staff gasps. ‘You monsters!’ another shouts. ‘I wish you hadn’t done that’ mumbles Wildside, hands on hips as the bowman steps into view - Danielle “Dani” Moonstar! Moonstar, hair in braids and wearing some denim hot pants and a red vest tells everyone to quit whining, as the security guard is not dead, for her arrows are made of pure psionic energy and aren’t lethal unless she chooses to make them that way. ‘All the rent-a-cop experienced was a little shock to his nervous system!’ Dani adds.
At fifteen, Danielle Moonstar left her Colorado home to enroll at an exclusive school run by Professor Charles Xavier. There, she learned how to control her powers - and fought for Xavier’s dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutant as part of the New Mutants. Months after that group disbanded, she unexpectedly resurfaced with the renegade Mutant Liberation Front. Unbeknownst to the MLF though, Danielle is actually an undercover agent for the government agency known as SHIELD, but has gradually convinced them of her commitment to their cause.
Wildside kicks the security guard and tells Moonstar that she shouldn’t have spared him, ‘After all, what’s one less flat-scan except a good start?’ he adds, as Dragoness, who commands a bio-electrical sting, comes up behind him and strokes his neck, ‘Besides, a little blood will make the world understand we will not be ignored’ she remarks. ‘So true, my sweet Dragoness’ Wildside grins, to which Moonstar, addressing the lovers as “Sid and Nancy”, tells them that they are not going to kill anyone, reminding them that they came here to shut down a secret government laboratory allegedly developing its own version of the Legacy Virus.
Forearm - an apt codename though it does not reflect the intellect behind his strength, steps in between the squabbling Moonstar and Wildside, remarking that they all got scared when they heard that the Legacy Virus is a disease that is fatal for mutants, but that they have yet to find any evidence to suggest this place is involved in biological weaponry. ‘You always take her side, Forearm!’ Wildside complains, to which Dani tells Richard that he thinks his sources were wrong.
Wildside approaches the hostages, one of them stomach pleads not to be hurt, claiming that she is only a lab assistant. ‘I haven’t even finished my grad school applications!’ he exclaims. ‘I think you’re being paranoid’ another hostage, tied up and lying on his stomach remarks, but another tells him not to provoke them, and tells Wildside that he has to believe them that their research is designed to help people - not kill them.
‘My source in the Department of Defense says otherwise!’ Wildside retorts, remarking that this institution is secretly funded by the Military as part of its secret war against mutant kind. ‘Wait - your source is in the military? And you trust him?’ Danielle asks. ‘Oh, man, have we been set up or what?!’ Forearm mumbles as he sits beside Dani. ‘We haven’t been set-up you multi-limbed moron!’ Dragoness shouts at her teammates, and calling Danielle “Pocahontas” suggests that perhaps the two of them didn’t search hard enough for the bio-agents.
Michael tells Tamara to get out of his face, when, suddenly, the air in the room sparks with electricity, as the space-bending mutant known as Locus enters through the dimensional teleportation rift that she has created. ‘I hate to tell you this, people, but we are royally screwed!’ the powerful young mutant exclaims, explaining that the local police have just been handed their walking papers, and now the place is surrounded by Zero Tolerance troops. ‘Zero Tolerance? They need to worry about us!’ Wildside boasts, to which Locus, sporting a nice tan, asks her leader if he has been paying attention to the news at all.
Locus remarks that, after Graydon Creed was assassinated and mutants were blamed, the “Nazis” as she calls Zero Tolerance, have grabbed more and more power to hunt mutants. She adds that they even have sympathy in some government circles. Moonstar backs Locus up, announcing that she has heard Zero Tolerance has got heavier firepower than SHIELD. Locus suggests that they cut their losses and split, that she can teleport them out of here in an instant. ‘Since when are you in charge? Nobody leaves until I say they do!’ Wildside shouts back, smacking Locus across the face. Locus wipes the blood away from her face, ‘That’s it!’ she exclaims, telling Wildside that ever since he took over the group’s leadership he has been losing it. ‘You want to stay and get killed? Fine. Not me, I’m outta here! Permanently!’ she announces, before teleporting away as quickly as she teleported in.
But as Locus vanishes into flickering nothingness, none of the would-be-revolutionaries notice as three hostages move seditiously closer to one another. ‘See that?’ one of them remarks. ‘The teleporter quit!’. ‘Couldn’t miss it - what a pleasant surprise!’ another exclaims. ‘It makes our job so much easier!’ the third points out.
Dragoness comforts her lover, telling him not to let Locus bring him down. ‘We’re better off without her and that stupid ponytail’ she adds. Wildside just grumbles, admitting that Tamara is right, but that if he ever sees Locus again, then she is dead. But, unimpressed, Forearms asks Wildside and Dragoness if they are out of their minds, pointing out that Locus was their ticket out of her. ‘Now tell me how we’re gonna get past all those storm-troopers!?’ he asks.
Moonstar is watching the news coverage of the situation, and a reporter explains to viewers that the Wakeman hostage crisis enters its fourth hour, and that a steady stream of network and independent news crews have been arriving on the scene. ‘Talk about filler’ Moonstar remarks. ‘When these reporters can’t find any genuine news to cover, they feed on each other’. Suddenly though, Dani goes wide-eyed as, in the background of a camera shot, she sees a trio of familiar looking faces.
The reporter remarks that everyone is no doubt hoping to capture the Zero Tolerance strike team in action. Moonstar sees X-Force members Sunspot, Siryn and Domino, with her eye tattoo covered, disguised as media crew. Dani hopes that the rest of X-Force will be nearby too. Dani reminds herself that none of the other MLF know about her recent journey to Asgard with X-Force, and decides that that adventure she had with them made her realize how desperately she needs to leave the MLF. ‘I can’t pretend to be somebody I’m not any longer…no matter the cause’ she tells herself.
Forearm puts his arms - err, two of them - on Dani’s shoulders, and watches the news coverage also, while Dani tells herself that X-Force is their best chance to get these hostages out of here before any blood is spilled - provided she can get them inside first. Danielle knows though that if her teammates become suspicious of her actions that it could mean the deaths of the innocent hostages, not to mention her death also. Michael remarks that they are at the center of what must be called a “Media Circus”, to which Dani suggests to him that they use this to their advantage - that they should get a camera crew in here.
Moonstar adds that getting a camera crew in here will buy them time and also keep the Zero Tolerance troops at bay. Richard ponders this for a moment, and decides that with national coverage, they can show the world the ugly truth behind the Wakeman Center. ‘They’ll have no choice but to listen to us!’ Wildside exclaims, before excitedly asking Danielle to make the call.
10.15pm, ‘Hey, miss, you should put me on TV. My wife says I’m very photogenic’ a police officer remarks as Theresa “Siryn” Rourke walks past him, ‘We’ll see about that later’ she replies, explaining that right now they have chat up the super-soldiers. Disguised as a reporter for the World-Wide News Network, Siryn follows her “cameraman” Bobby DaCosta a.k.a. Sunspot, and the enigmatic Domino who is posing as their producer, all under assumed names of course.
Domino quietly asks Sunspot how he is holding up, remarking that they can not risk him getting “hot under the collar” in front of Zero Tolerance. Bobby replies that it has been so long since he has powered down, that maintaining a normal appearance feels unnatural to him. However, he adds that since it is night time, maintaining his solar energy form is a lot easier. Siryn asks the others if they think Danielle is all right in there. ‘Who would’ve guessed she’s working for SHIELD?’ she adds. ‘I’m her friend - she could’ve told me!’ Sunspot adds, to which Domino points out that when you go undercover, the fewer people who know, the safer you are.
Domino remarks that if the MLF found out about her, Dani would be in as much danger from them as from Zero Tolerance. ‘What? She thought I couldn’t keep a secret? We’ve been through so much together!’ Bobby remarks, disappointed in his fellow founding New Mutant. Siryn explains to Sunspot that it is not that simple, as there is more than just Moonstar’s neck on the line - there are innocent bystanders, like the scientists inside - but Sunspot declares that he is still not convinced.
Domino approaches the Zero Tolerance troops and introduces herself as Priscilla Sutherland of World-Wide News, and holding out identification announces that she would like to speak their superior, explaining that they have just received a call from the Mutant Liberation Front. One of the operatives radios to the Commander, informing her that there is a news crew here that claims to have made contact with the terrorists. In an instant, Ekatarina Gryaznova appears, ordering the camera to be put down, otherwise it will be destroyed. ‘Zero Tolerance isn’t here for publicity’ she declares.
‘Those black chrome transporters aren’t exactly stealth vehicles’ Domino replies. Gryaznova ignores that comment and asks “Ms. Sutherland” which member of the MLF it was that she spoke to. ‘A woman named Moonstar’ Domino replies, informing Gryaznova that the Front is willing to talk to her reporter and no one else. ‘I don’t negotiate with criminals’ the Commander replies. ‘Look, if those hostages die because you’re too proud to consider a non-violent alternative - how do you think that’s going to play with Mr. And Mrs. America?’ Domino asks.
‘Remember the Waco Crisis?’ Domino asks, pointing out that it doesn’t take much to turn public opinion, and the next thing you know, Zero Tolerance will have lost its support - ‘And you’re out of a holy crusade’. The Commander frowns as she checks the identification, before raising her hand and shouting ‘Very well’, to which her operatives open the gates, and she tells the trio that if they insist on entering that viper’s nest then they can. ‘Understand that I won’t be responsible for your crew’s safety’ she declares. ‘Not a problem, we’re professionals’ Domino replies, but as they enter, Ekatarina adds that she wants “Ms. Sutherland” to warn the MLF that their time is rapidly running out. ‘I’ll tell them’ Domino replies. ‘Nice going, “Pris,”’ Sunspot jokes as the trio approach the complex.
One of the Zero Tolerance operatives quietly informs his Commander that he crosschecked the credentials of those WNN reporters. ‘They’re not -’ he begins to say, when Gryaznova smirks, interrupting him, she tells the lieutenant that she knows exactly who they are. ‘This is our lucky day!’ she exclaims.
Meanwhile, in Salem Center, New York, 11.25pm, EST. The Xavier Institute, which has long been a haven and place of learning for young mutants, including X-Force. However, tonight it is remarkably empty, except for the presence of Cable, X-Force’s founder, and the mysteriously ailing mutant-tracker known only as Caliban. The Morlock is watching cartoons, stuffed animals cover his bed, and he soon turns the television off. Entering the room Nathan Summers a.k.a. Cable turns the light off, but Caliban asks if they can keep it on.
Cable replies that he thought Caliban was asleep, to which Caliban remarks that he doesn’t want to go to sleep. Speaking in the third-person, Caliban declares that he has been having nightmares ever since he got sick. ‘Will Caliban ever get better?’ he asks. Cable replies that he has talked to Dr. Moira MacTaggert on Muir Island and informs Caliban that she is working up some tests to determine what is causing the seizures he has been having recently. ‘Caliban doesn’t like tests!’ the Morlock replies. Cable assures him that nobody does, but that they have to find out what is making him sick before they can help him to get better.
‘Is Caliban going to die? The Morlocks did!’ he exclaims, pulling the blankets up around him, adding that he was a Morlock. Cable assures Caliban that just because the other Morlocks died it doesn’t mean he will anytime soon, and suggests he tries not to think about it. Caliban remarks that he wishes he could be as smart as Cable, that sometimes he even feels smart - like when he was playing piano, and then all of a sudden, the smart things he knows go away. ‘Why is Caliban like that?’ he asks. Cable replies that they are going to find out, and promises Caliban, before asking him to close his eyes and go to sleep.
12.04am, Cable walks onto a balcony, annoyed with himself for ever putting Caliban in the field, as he let his need to utilize Caliban’s tracking abilities blind him to the truth - despite Caliban’s physical age, he has regressed emotionally. Suddenly, a voice calls out ‘How’s he doing?’ Cable looks up and sees Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel, and replies that Caliban is scared, and he doesn’t blame him for that, as they simply don’t know what is going on.
Archangel reminds Cable that both he and Caliban were altered genetically by Apocalypse to serve as his Horseman. ‘After I lost my wings, that madman transformed me into the Archangel of Death, and Caliban was warped into Destruction personified’ Warren remarks. Cable points out that now Warren’s wings have mysteriously regenerated, at the same time Caliban is experiencing some sort of systemic trauma. Warren asks Cable if he thinks the two occurrences are related, to which Cable points out that Apocalypse has profoundly impacted all three of their lives. ‘And I think what you and Caliban have been enduring is only the start of something bad…’.
Back in St. Louis, 11.07pm EST, Domino strides ahead of Siryn, who speaks into the camera that Sunspot is holding. ‘Are we in focus?’ Theresa asks into the camera, which is being watched by the other three members of X-Force - Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith, Shatterstar and Julio “Rictor” Richter. Meltdown assures Siryn that they have crystal-clear picture, to which Domino tells the others that they need them to provide the fireworks that will cover their exit in exactly four minutes. ‘From my mark…five…four…three…two…’ but suddenly, the screen goes blank, and Rictor exclaims that they have lost the feed. ‘Nothing’s ever easy for us, is it?’ he mutters.
‘Time to move!’ Meltdown exclaims as she and her teammates exit the van, Shatterstar remarking that he looks forward to testing the mettle of the Zero Tolerance soldiers. Rictor agrees, but wishes Warpath was here with them instead of on some wild goose chase. ‘Hey, someone smashed our satellite dish!’ one of them remarks, to which Ekatarina, standing a few feet away, exclaims that she did, before telling the young heroes that they are under arrest, and advises them to come quietly. ‘Although you’re welcome to try to resist’ she smirks, a strange blue glow surrounding her.
Shatterstar points out to the Commander that she is outnumbered, while Meltdown tells her that she admires her never, but that she better step aside, as they have more important things to do. ‘You’ll do absolutely nothing, mutants. You belong to me now!’ the Commander retorts, before firing bolts of energy from her fingers, rendering the three X-Force members unconscious.
11.10pm, inside the Wakeman complex, Domino calls out to her teammates, none of whom respond, to which Siryn whispers that they have more pressing concerns now, motioning to the approaching MLF. ‘You’re the news crew? Who’s the producer?’ Wildside asks. ‘You could call me that’ the disguised Domino replies. ‘Flanked by Dragoness and Forearm, Wildside spouts off the rules, ‘You’ll interrupt every affiliate’s regularly scheduled programming. Everything I say will be broadcast live and unedited’.
Domino asks about the hostages, to which Wildside replies they will be fine so long as he sees himself on TV. Pensive, Dragoness suddenly remarks that the producer looks familiar. ‘I get that a lot’ “Priscilla” replies. Dragoness finds the accent interesting, and suddenly announces that these are not reporters, but X-Force! Forearm agrees, to which Dragoness reminds everyone that these are Moonstar’s friends, so she has set them up.
‘Have you sold out to the government now?’ Wildside asks, calling X-Force traitors to their race, before he puts his powers into use, ‘The room’s spinning!’ Sunspot exclaims, while Domino asks what the buzzing noise is, soon identified as a plague of insects. Siryn tries to use her sonic scream, but every time she opens her mouth, she gets a mouthful of flies. Sunspot powers up but finds that his solar power is doing nothing to stop the insects either, and wonders what Wildside has unleashed. Domino however, finds herself covered in maggots. She tells herself to chill out, as no matter how much it feels like there are maggots crawling over her body, Wildside only affects other people’s perceptions of reality.
Domino calls out to Bobby and Terry, telling them that this is not real, just an illusion. ‘My Lord! They’re all mutants and they’ve all gone crazy!’ gasps one of the hostages, while the trio of scientists who moved closer together whisper that they have waited long enough.
Forearm and Sunspot have a punch-up, with Forearm remarking that Sunspot should be on their side. ‘If you want to commit suicide, Forearm, I don’t care - but I’m not gonna let you drag a friend of mine down with you!’ Bobby replies, while Dragoness attacks Domino, asking where the traitorous Moonstar is. ‘Right here!’ Dani replies as she fires an arrow, warning everyone that if they don’t stop fighting then her next arrow will not be a warning shot. Danielle tells everyone that without Locus here they are running out of options, and explains that when she saw the forces surrounding them outside, she thought getting X-Force in here was the best way of getting out in one piece.
Domino wraps a hand around Tamara’s neck and exclaims that Moonstar is right. ‘Can’t you see this whole fiasco has been one big sting?’ she asks. Wildside disagrees, ‘My sources -’ he begins, looking at the hostages, but Sunspot tells him to get real, asking him how he thinks the Zero Tolerance troops arrived so quickly. ‘They knew you were coming! Capture the most wanted criminal organization in the country and pull off a public relations coup all at once!’ Sunspot remarks.
‘Then I suppose we’ll just have to start killing the hostages!’ Wildside grins, ‘Dibs on this one!’ he adds, picking an elderly man up. ‘No. The madness ends here and now!’ Danielle exclaims, firing an arrow which strikes Wildside hard. ‘You shot my baby! I’ll eviscerate you for that, Moonstar!’ Dragoness snarls, but before she can strike, Forearm grabs her and holds her down, telling her to shut up. Tempo declares that with Wildside out of commission, it would seem Dani is calling the shots, and asks her how they are getting out of here.
Moonstar replies that, first they must release the hostages, then she is going to place a call to SHIELD and they will surrender to them. ‘SHIELD? What makes you think we can trust them any more than we can trust Zero Tolerance?’ Forearm asks. Dani hesitantly replies that she doesn’t know how to tell him this, but that she was recruited by SHIELD to infiltrate the MLF, and apologizes to Forearm for lying to him.
Suddenly, the three hostages who were close together get to their feet, tearing their ropes off with ease, they begin removing their disguises, ‘An interesting story, but I’m afraid you won’t be contacting anyone, let alone any law-enforcement agencies’. ‘You’ll be subdued and imprisoned with the rest of the mutant garbage’. ‘You see, you’re not the only one working undercover!’. One of them explains that the MLF’s informant in the Department of Defense was discovered months ago, and he had no choice but to give the MLF information they instructed him to. ‘Information that brought you here - where we’ve been patiently waiting for the moment when we could take you muties down!’.
Clad now in black with purple trim outfits, one of them exclaims ‘We are the new generation of Sentinels, mutant’. ‘Lethal force has been fully authorized’. ‘We will end the mutant threat once and for all!’. X-Force and the MLF just look on as if things couldn’t get any worse. ‘Great’, mumbles Moonstar sarcastically.
2.45m, EST, back at the Xavier Institute, Caliban lies sleeping, while the enigmatic Ozymandias stands over him. ‘You were always a gentle soul, Caliban’ the stone-man remarks, adding that it is a bitter irony that his master transformed one with such a kind heart into a savage engine of destruction. Ozymandias remarks that he envies the friends of Caliban who liberated him from the Dark Lord’s servitude. ‘In the centuries since En-Sabah-Nur cursed me with immortality, I’ve known few as selfless as these mutants. However, mark the words of Ozymandias. Who has served Apocalypse for centuries…the Dark Lord does not relinquish his chosen so easily’.
Ozymandias touches Caliban on the forehead, remarking that when his pain becomes too great, he will have no choice but to return to Apocalypse. ‘I am sorry’. he declares, before vanishing…. This will be the last night Caliban sleeps in this mansion, for outside, a storm gathers - and no one is safe….