Oklahoma, where moments ago, a woman clad in blue spandex, her hair all shaved off, woke to find herself laying in the middle of the interstate - she cannot remember how she got here. All she knows, is that on this narrow stretch of highway, the oncoming truck has no room to swerve around her. She tells herself to run, but her body betrays her, responding sluggishly. ‘I’m going to die…’ she whispers, clutching herself.
The truck driver, Spencer Beaumont, honks his loud horn over and over again. In the past week his life has fallen apart. His wife Louise left him. His dog Earl died, and a sour-faced man from the IRS audited his tax returns. The last thing he needs is a charge of vehicular manslaughter to add to his troubles, or his conscience. ‘Get outta the road!’ he bellows.
But the confused and fragile woman is frozen in the headlights - her name - is Domino. Until yesterday, she considered herself one of the luckiest - and most dangerous - women in the world. She thought she was untouchable. She was wrong. Spencer slams on his brakes, talking to his truck, pleading with it to stop - the truck screeches to a halt about an inch from Domino. In these pre-dawn hours, it is not Domino’s onetime unbeatable combination of outrageous fortune and phenomenal combat skill that saves her life - it is sheer providence.
Spencer leaps out of his truck, ‘You stupid broad, what do you think you’re doing pulling a stunt like that?’ he demands, waving a crow bar in the air, ‘You wanna commit suicide? Fine, stick your head in an oven, hang yourself, I don’t care - just do it alone. I don’t need your death on my conscience!’ he bellows. Still clutching herself, Domino apologizes for the inconvenience and explains that she wasn’t trying to kill herself, but she thinks someone else was. ‘Looks like that somebody did a real number on you!’ Spencer remarks, ‘No offense, miss, but you look like you’ve been through the wringer’.
Domino suddenly exclaims that it is all coming back to her now - Gryaznova, the interrogation, the operating room…’They did something to my head!’ she exclaims. Spencer suggests that he should call an ambulance or the police, but Domino exclaims that she doesn’t want the authorities, that she will be fine. ‘All I need is a chance to collapse…’ she mumbles as she falls in to Spencer.
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a convoy of armed Operation Zero Tolerance transport vehicles move through the back roads of New Mexico, carrying prisoners of a war they have declared against the world’s mutant population. In Missouri, a Zero Tolerance action against the Mutant Liberation Front resulted in the capture of half a dozen wanted mutants - Meltdown, Rictor, Shatterstar, Dragoness, Tempo and Wildside. ‘Pop quiz, Gibson!’ an officer exclaims to his colleague. ‘Not again, Meyer!’ Gibson complains as the two of them stand watch over the three members of freedom fighters - X-Force.
Meyer points out that it will help pass the time while they babysit their cargo, and explains the dilemma: ‘Suppose you connect with this extremely hot babe…and then, after a couple of months of bliss, you find out she’s one of them - a mutie. What do you do?’ Gibson replies that he would never date a mutant, as it is grounds for dismissal. ‘Plus you might catch that disease, you know, the Legacy Virus!’. ‘But you didn’t know she was a mutant’ Meyer points out, grinning at the unmoving Meltdown, exclaiming that she looks perfectly human on the outside. ‘What a waste’ he mumbles.
‘Okay, my turn’ Gibson exclaims, asking Meyer if he thinks the Commander has a boyfriend and if she does, does he know what she is. ‘The ice queen? If he knew, she’d have to kill him!’ Meyer replies, when, suddenly, a cold voice exclaims ‘My transformation has improved my hearing dramatically!’ Gibson and Meyer both go tense. ‘Oh no…’ ‘We’re toast!’ they exclaim as Commander Ekatarina Gryaznova stands behind them, her powers ready, she declares that she wants to make one thing clear - she does not want her men gossiping like old women. ‘If you’re curious about my personal life, be man enough to ask me directly. So…any questions?’
Gryaznova is one of the highest ranking officers in the paramilitary organization that has gained support across the globe. She is also one of the Nimrod class Sentinel hybrids, a fusion of man and machine. ‘No, ma’am!’ Gibson and Meyer reply in unison. ‘Good. Then lets go back to work’ the Commander orders, before asking what the status of their mutant cargo is. One of the officers replies that each of the prisoners’ vital signs are holding steady in their suspended state. ‘Too bad all mutants aren’t this easy to handle, eh, Commander?’ the other remarks.
Motioning to the three members of X-Force, Gryaznova informs her officers that two of them were part of a commando raid on the SHIELD heli-carrier several months ago. ‘Do not underestimate the danger they pose…even in stasis’ she remarks. ‘Yes, Commander!’ the officers reply, before the Commander informs them that they will be making an unscheduled stop at 0500 hours. ‘Be prepared’ she warns them.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Missouri, an abounded granary factory houses three fugitives - three young people who, if not born with superhuman abilities, would probably spending this Saturday night as most others their age do - partying, going to the movies, enjoying life. Instead, they’re running for lives. They are Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta, Therese “Siryn” Rourke Cassidy, both of X-Force, and the original New Mutant Danielle Moonstar. ‘This is worse than we imagined!’ Sunspot exclaims as he paces around the factory, while Terry and Dani sit on some crates.
Sunspot reminds his friends that Zero Tolerance captured Domino, Meltdown, Rictor and Shatterstar at the Wakeman Center, and now they cannot reach Cable or Caliban at the Xavier Institute. He adds that since the fascists shot down the X-Men’s plane over Colorado, they have to assume every aspect of their life has been compromised. ‘How could we let this happen!?’ he shouts, slamming his super strong fists into a crate, splintering it.
Danielle tells her fellow founding New Mutant to take it easy, remarking that although Zero Tolerance may have made the first move, the fight is not over yet. Siryn agrees, but points out that it is unnerving to meet a foe who knows more about you than you do about them. Dani agrees, remarking that Zero Tolerance has done a good job of keeping a low profile until recently, ‘All we know is that their leader is a man named Bastion…who’s intent on eliminating every mutant on the planet’. She adds that based on those human-sentinel hybrid they encountered, Zero Tolerance would appear to have the technology to make that goal a reality.
Siryn declares that their first priority is to rescue their teammates, ‘Heaven only knows what Zero Tolerance intends for them’ she remarks, adding that, unfortunately, they have no way of knowing where they have been taken. Sunspot mutters that it is too bad they cannot access the Mansion’s computers, to which Danielle replies that they don’t need to. Siryn asks Dani what she means, to which the former co-leader of the New Mutants reminds the deputy leader of X-Force that she is an acting agent of SHIELD, at least until she resigns, and SHIELD has resources which they need.
Sunspot asks if law enforcement agencies aren’t cooperating with Zero Tolerance. Dani - formerly codenamed Mirage - replies that some are, unofficially, but that SHIELD resents being sidelined by an unknown agency. She explains that is why GW Bridge needed X-Force to get her out of her undercover assignment in the MLF, as officially, he couldn’t interfere in a Zero Tolerance operation. Sitting at a computer, Dani contacts GW Bridge, while Siryn calls Zero Tolerance Nazis and declares that it seems no one is willing to take a stand against them.
Bridge appears on the monitor, dressed in pajamas, he rubs his head and exclaims that this better be important, before seeing Dani. ‘Is that you?!’ he gasps. ‘Alive and kicking!’ Dani smirks, before telling Bridge that she needs him to put his surveillance satellites to work, and fast. ‘Forget about protocol. You owe me!’ she exclaims.
At the same time in upstate New York, the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, secretly home to the outlaw mutants known as the X-Men, and recently, to X-Force as well, is now under siege. Zero Tolerance troops swarm over the grounds, hunting for tow mutants who have resisted the occupation - Caliban, the monstrous mutant tracker with a child’s soul, and Cable, the enigmatic rebel from the future. At the moment, the duo are safe in the tunnels beneath the estate, where Caliban tells Cable that he will stay and help him. But Cable points out that Caliban is too weak from his seizures, and that one of them needs to stay alive to find X-Force. ‘But what if Caliban doesn’t see you again?’ the Morlock asks, clutching a stuffed toy.
‘That won’t happen’ Cable assures Caliban, before telling him that he better go, as he still has to set the explosions that will seal off this tunnel. Caliban waves goodbye to Cable, asking him if he will remember him. ‘Always’ Cable assures Caliban, who hangs his head while Cable continues down the tunnel. Caliban tells himself that he shouldn’t be afraid, but he is, as he fears he will not see his friends again. ‘But he has to be brave…just like his friend Kitty Pryde would want’ Caliban remarks as he pulls out a photograph of Shadowcat and looks at it.
Meanwhile, just outside of Detroit, there is an unusual junkyard that an equally unusual man named Sledge calls home. Inside the warehouse that serves as his workshop and garage, Sledge watches static broadcast from another dimension which lies through the closed portal in front him. At the same time, he monitors the vital signs of the young man he sent into that dimension, hoping that he will return. Suddenly a voice exclaims ‘Hey, Sledge, what’s going on?’. But Sledge cannot hear as he has large headphones on. ‘I said, what’s going on?’ the voice exclaims again, pulling the headphones off Sledge.
Sledge looks around, and sees Risque, he smiles at her, while Risque asks how James is and whether he asked after her. ‘Your ex has other things on his mind right now’ Sledge replies, before telling Risque that she should never have fallen for him, when, suddenly, there is a series of urgent beeps, and Sledge announces that the interdimensional signal has flatlined. Sledge begins shouting, ‘Proudstar! Can you hear me? James! I’ve lost him!’ Sledge gasps.
At that moment, across the dimensional divide, in a reality that parallels our own, James “Warpath” Proudstar floats through an unearthly ether, remarking that he isn’t sure if the transmitter is working, but that he is going to keep talking anyway. James remarks that Sledge was right, that this place is disorientating and overwhelming. ‘I feel like I’m trapped in a lava lamp!’ he exclaims, remarking that the atmosphere is so thick that he is not sure whether he’s lost in space or drowning in an ocean.
James continues, remarking that he is unsure as to how much distance he has covered as everything here is constantly shifting, but that so far there has been no sign of Sledge’s missing friend. ‘I mean, I assume he’s your friend since you’ve gone to all this trouble to find him!’ James remarks, adding that even with his superior senses, locating another person in this cast landscape is like looking for a needle in a haystack. ‘If I don’t find your lost pal, I still expect you to keep your end of the bargain’ James tells Sledge.
Warpath exclaims that he needs to find Michael Whitecloud, as he is hoping Whitecloud can explain why his tribe was massacred, when, suddenly, James exclaims that some kind of glove appears to be riding up to meet him, when he gets caught in its gravitational pull. ‘Can’t break free!’ James exclaims as he is sucked downwards, landing in a pile of pink goo. ‘I’m glad no one’s around to see me like this’ he mutters, when, suddenly, a strange voice exclaims ‘Hello, James…’.
Shortly, the Zero Tolerance convoy comes to a halt when the driver of the first truck announces to the Commander that the road ahead is blocked by unknown persons and asks if he should assume defensive maneuvers. Indeed, two men and a woman in black suits stand in the middle of the road, but Gryaznova tells the driver to stop the vehicle. ‘This isn’t standard procedure, Commander’ the officer replies, to which Ekatarina tells him his diligence is admirable, but unnecessary. ‘Maybe I should notify the base’ the officer suggests, but Gryaznova tells him that would not be wise, and places a device on his forehead, which the Commander reveals is a neural leech, that it affects the electrical impulses in his brain to erase memory of this incident, and render him catatonic until she removes it. ‘Be thankful. If it weren’t for the leech…I’d have to kill you!’ she exclaims.
A door opens and the three in suits enter, the Commander addresses them as Doctors and informs them that they have thirty minutes Dr Ogada replies that is not much time, and Joshua agrees, remarking that he hates running tests in such a time-constrained fashion. But Gryaznova tells them that she cannot risk Bastion discovering their arrangement, adding that she was already taking a great risk by giving them Domino. Each of the Doctors goes over to one of the containers holding Meltdown, Rictor and Shatterstar, and Dr Ogada tells the Commander that her personal vendetta against Domino made her bold.
The Commander notices some equipment that the female Dr, Dr Chandra, is holding and asks what they are. ‘Field medlabs’ Dr Chandra replies, remarking that Zero Tolerance’s technology is medieval by their standards. Dr Joshua begins working on Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith and remarks that he is disappointed that Sunspot is not among these captured mutants, exclaiming that Sunspot escaped from Gideon’s laboratory before he could complete the tests he had begun. He adds that Meltdown’s plasma generating mutation offers less avenue for experimentation.
Dr Chandra tells her colleague to stop complaining and reminds him that his time in Gideon’s employ yielded other vital data for their research. As she begins working on Julio “Rictor” Richter, she declares that they seek to understand the fundamental nature of human mutation, not merely the physical manifestation. Analyzing Shatterstar, Dr Ogada announces that he is getting abnormal readings, and declares that his DNA is not entirely human. ‘None of us are “entirely human” these days, Doctor!’ Gryaznova exclaims , remarking that she is no longer certain if she is a woman who has become a machine, or a machine that pretends to be a woman. ‘You three saw to that!’ she reminds them.
Dr Ogada reminds Ekatarina that if they had not brought her out of her coma, she would still be hooked up to life support in a military hospital. Dr Joshua agrees, and exclaims that they positioned Gryaznova so that Bastion would select her for his Prime Sentinel project, giving her the means by which she could repay Domino for her humiliation in El Salvador. ‘Everything you are today you owe to us!’ Dr Chandra states. Frowning, the Commander thinks to herself that Dr Chandra says that as if what she has been given is a gift. ‘One day, Doctors, I’m going to discover your secrets…and then we’ll renegotiate the terms of our relationship’.
Meanwhile, a reality away, ‘It sure took you long enough, pal. I’ve been waiting forever. And as you can see, there’s not a whole lot going on in this neighborhood’. Warpath looks shocked as he stares at the talking cat, and still continuing to radio to Sledge, he exclaims that he thinks he has lost his mind, ‘I could swear I’m looking at Coyote, the cat I had when I was a kid. And the really insane thing is - the cat’s talking to me!’. James remarks that this must be a hallucination and attempts to pick the cat up, but the car leaps onto his shoulders, telling him to take it easy as he is not his pet.
‘I just borrowed a non-threatening image from your psyche so that I wouldn’t frighten you. My true self would be overwhelming for someone with your limited perceptions’ the cat exclaims, while James asks it what it wants with him. ‘You’re looking for another one of your kind, right? I’m here to lead you to the nutcase’ the cat exclaims as it starts walking away. It then grins and tells Warpath that he doesn’t need the oxygen mask, as there is plenty of air for all the carbon based life forms. James leaves the mask and begins to follow the cat, ‘You’re going to take me to the man I was sent to find?’ James asks. ‘You’re so close, and you don’t even know it’ the cat replies.
Nearby, the object of Warpath’s interdimensional journey has transfixed an audience indigenous to this strange place. His name is the Vanisher, an international mutant thief with the power of teleportation, able to travel great distances in the blink of an eye by sidestepping through dimensions such as this one. Recently, for reasons unknown, he has been unable to leave this in-between reality. He sits, hovering over his captivated audience of prairie dogs, reading to them from a large book: ‘…and then the bothersome Professor told his gullible little mutant students “We must stop the Vanisher from making an honest living with his God-given talent”, and so, he sent those five meddling brats to spoil a simple theft of classified Defense Department secrets…’.
‘Teleport in, steal the documents, teleport out. What could be more simple?’ the Vanisher remarks, before noticing Warpath standing nearby, he remarks ‘Oh, I see we have guests!’. Warpath, with the cat on his shoulder, apologizes for interrupting, then explains that a man named Sledge has sent him here to bring him back to Earth. ‘Back to Earth?’ the Vanisher shouts. ‘As tempting as that sounds, I’m afraid that’s not going to happen!’ The Vanisher motions to the prairie dogs and exclaims that his little friends will not let him go anywhere, while the prairie dogs suddenly show their teeth and claws, deranged in their appearance, they stare at Warpath.
Meanwhile, over the New Mexico highway, X-Force’s stealth aircraft arcs towards its target, the Zero Tolerance transport whose location was provided courtesy of GW Bridge. Siryn flies alongside the chopper, and Dani informs her that she is reading only three mutant signatures below them, that Domino is now with the others. Theresa replies that they have no choice but to look for her later. ‘Hope her luck holds out till we find her’ Siryn remarks, before pointing out that they have work to do. ‘You both know the drill’ she tells them, ‘Gimme five seconds, then follow my lead!’.
Like her father, Banshee, Siryn possess a devastating vocal range, and she now lets out a scream that cuts through the armored transport like a sonic knife. Inside, the Doctors keel over in pain, ‘I can’t stand it!’ Dr Ogada exclaims. The Commander announces that they are under attack and tells the Doctors that she will handle it. With but a thought, Ekatarina begins her transformation into something more than human - a thing born and bred for hate. She exclaims that, considering their cargo, it is likely that there attacker is Siryn. ‘She won’t get away from me this time!’ the Commander boasts, while also noting that the atmospheric temperature is rising rapidly.
‘FIRE!’ the Commander screams as she opens the door to the truck, only to discover Sunfire has surrounded it with flame. ‘Give me back my friends, lady!’ Sunspot demands. The Commander suggests to Sunspot that he can join them, telling him that he is outclassed, so his defeat is inevitable. ‘I’ve faced Sentinels before!’ Sunspot exclaims. ‘None like me, boy!’ the Commander replies as her powers begin to emit from her form, boasting that she is designed to compensate for every possible mutant attack. ‘You may be a solar dynamo, but you’re still vulnerable to laser light’ the Commander remarks, boasting that the new breed of Sentinel is faster, smarter and more deadly than any mutant alive. ‘Yeow! That was close!’ Sunspot exclaims as he narrowly dodges a blast from the Commander.
Sunspot decides that he should try and lure the Commander away from the transport, enabling Siryn and Moonstar time to free the others. At this time, the three Doctors step out of the transport, and Dr Chandra reminds Dr Joshua how he was just complaining of Sunspot’s absence earlier. ‘Here’s your chance to catch up with your former patient!’ she points out. ‘I don’t need your sarcasm’ Dr Joshua tells Dr Chandra, exclaiming that they all know they cannot risk being recognized here. ‘Then it’s time we left!’ Dr Chandra decides as the trio leap through the ring of fire and make their way back to their car.
Dr Joshua points out that they have the data they need, ‘Another day then’ Dr Ogada adds. As they stand by their car, Dr Joshua admits that Sunspot was one of his most inspired experiments. ‘I’m sure he has no concept of the things I did for him!’ Dr Joshua boasts, while Dr Chandra just tells him to shut up and get in the car. Speeding away, Dr Joshua remarks that he wished he had time to monitor the metabolic shifts that accompanied DaCosta’s supposed transformation into Reignfire.
Sunspot however, noticed the speeding car and as he flies down towards Gryaznova, he tells her that her friends have left, which leaves just the two of them. ‘You want to tell me what happened to Domino?’ he asks. Gryaznova replies that Domino is no longer a threat to anyone, boasting that she has made certain of that, and tosses some sort of goo at Sunspot, ‘If you hurt her, you’re going to…ugh, what is this stuff?’ Bobby wonders, remarking that it is like he is being attacked by living silly putty. Gryaznova explains that it is nanotech organics, unable to maintain form cohesion under extreme heat, breaking down into a simpler defensive mode. ‘Nano-plasm will prevent you from absorbing any more solar radiation’ the Commander remarks.
Siryn sees what is going on and is worried that Sunspot will suffocate, she knows that she needs to distract Gryaznova, so unleashes her scream upon the Commander, which in turn breaks the nanotech’s hold on Sunspot, quite painfully for the Commander who is bombarded with the sonic rays. ‘Thanks for the save!’ Bobby gasps, while the Commander begins reformatting, before turning to Sunspot and Siryn and, calling them children, asks if they cannot see that they have no hope of winning here. The Commander boasts that Sentinels are humanity’s trump card against the mutant threat, and that they will be the last generation of Homo Superior. ‘Everything you’ve ever feared, huddling in your pathetic little refuges…is coming to pass!’.
‘You’d like us to believe that, Cruella de Vil. But for all your bluster, you’re not invulnerable, we hurt you!’ Sunspot exclaims, referencing the legendary villainess. ‘We’ll see how you fare against the both of us!’ Siryn exclaims, as she and Bobby begin their combined attack of solar energy and ultrasonic energy, which pummels the Prime Sentinel - however, Ekatarina extends a force field to counter the heat and sonic barrage, boasting that she can maintain shield integrity indefinitely. ‘Then it’s up to me to break this stalemate!’ Danielle exclaims as she stands on the edge of X-Force’s craft and fires a psionically-charged arrow towards Gryaznova, which pierces the Commander’s energy field, disrupting her nervous system with such intensity, that the Commander passes out.
‘She’s down!’ Moonstar announces, but, standing over the Commander, Siryn points out that there will surely be other Sentinels to take her place, so they had better move fast and free their friends before anymore of them arrive, not to mention they still need to find out what happened to Domino.
At that moment, in Oklahoma, ‘We’re sorry, the number you’ve dialed is no longer in service…’ a recorded message states after Domino tries calling a certain number on a payphone. ‘No!’ she exclaims, hanging the phone up, she tells herself that all the phone lines at the Xavier Institute have been disconnected and she cannot get through to anyone. ‘Were are you, Nate?’ she wonders, before returning to the diner, where the waitress is telling Spencer, the truck driver, that he is a fool for picking up strange woman. ‘Will you look at that hair and at that weird tattoo? I bet she’s a junkie…or an escaped mental patient’ the waitress declares.
Spencer replies that she is obviously in trouble, but he doesn’t think it is drugs, ‘And I wasn’t trying to pick her up!’ he assures the waitress. ‘Whatever you say’ the waitress mutters before pouring another cup of coffee. Domino sits down next to Spencer, who asks her if she had any luck reaching her friends. ‘Luck is one thing I don’t seem to have anymore’ Domino replies, to which Spencer asks her if she is thinking about doing anything foolish - like killing herself or something. ‘No, it’s not suicide that’s on my mind, cowboy…it’s revenge!’.