X-Force (1st series) #72

Issue Date: 
December 1997
Story Title: 
Lies and Deception

John Francis Moore (writer), Adam Pollina (penciler), Mark Morales (inker), Marie Javins (colorist), Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Emerson Miranda (letterers), Jason Liebig (assistant editor), Mark Powers (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

In Chicago, Moonstar, Sunspot and Meltdown are acting as bodyguards to their new ally Richie Alegria, who has a meeting with Jonas Blackshear - in which Blackshear reveals that Richie borrowed money from the mob and that his boss has not seen the supposed project that Richie has been working on. X-Force “persuade” Blackshear and his goons to leave, before telling Richie that they thought he was needing help because the mob were after his father, and tell him they aren’t going to help him simply because he was in trouble with the mob at his own doing, but Richie later reveals that he is a film maker and is doing all of this to finish his film. He explains his situation, and X-Force reluctantly agree to help him again. Meanwhile, en route to Nebraska, Warpath wakes from a dream in which X-Force were also killed at Camp Verde. He and Siryn discuss various things, before arriving at the run-down hotel where Sledge said Whitecloud could be found. Warpath finds him all right - a disorientated alcoholic. Eventually Whitecloud reveals his story - about how he met a man called Lucius DeWitt, who told him about Project: Stepladder who were doing various genetic experiments on convicts, runaways and pregnant women. Whitecloud let DeWitt hide out at his cabin on the reservation while he went to make copies of all the files - only when he returned, Project Stepladder had sent a death squad in to kill DeWitt and murder the entire Camp Verde population in case DeWitt had talked to any of them. This drove Whitecloud to contact the authorities, but each time his calls were intercepted, warning him to turn over the documents he had, which is how Whitecloud ended up where his is. Whitecloud gives Warpath the number to a locker in Topeka which has the files, while Warpath asks why the Hellfire Club were framed for the Camp Verde massacre. Whitecloud gets confused, and before he can answer, something explodes in his head, killing him. Siryn helps Warpath cope, and they flee to Topeka. However, Agent Martin Edwards investigates Whitecloud’s death and is pleased to learn Warpath was present. Meanwhile, Domino retrieves personal items from a safe box at a bank, only for the bank to be held up by thieves, and Domino is concerned to get involved given her current state, but when an old man is attacked, she knows she must intervene. Finally, the waitress from the diner where X-Force had a meal is confronted by a mysterious being who is following X-Force.

Full Summary: 

The Edgewood Hotel in downtown Chicago. Two bodyguards follow a rather short man in a trench coat through the hotel foyer. ‘All I’m saying is that I lost interest when Caruso left’, one of the bodyguards remarks to the others. ‘What are you, nuts? Bobby Simone’s way more interesting than John Kelly!’ the other bodyguard exclaims. ‘You are so wrong, Leonard. Face it, Caruso’s a better actor than Smits’ the first bodyguard declares. ‘Oh, please. I saw “Jade”!’ the second exclaims. ‘And I suppose you think Kim Delaney’s hotter than Amy Brenneman?’ Leonard asks the first bodyguard.

But before the first bodyguard can answer, the short man tells them to shut up. ‘Why is it that ever since that stupid Tarintino movie, every wise guy thinks he’s gotta have an opinion?’ ‘Sorry, Mister Blackshear’ Leonard replies, while whispering ‘Caruso’ to his colleague. ‘We’ll tone it down, Sir’ the first bodyguard replies, while whispering ‘Smits’. Blackshear tells his bodyguards to be cool. ‘No rough stuff unless I give the word’. He declares that he doesn’t want this going down like the Rosetti incident in Philadelphia. ‘The kid’s no good to me dead!’ Blackshear exclaims, before his guards knock on the door to a room. ‘It’s me, kid. Open up!’ Blackshear exclaims.

The door opens, and a young man named Richie Alegria smiles, ‘Hey, Mister Blackshear! Glad you could make it!’, before inviting him, and exclaiming he would like him to meet some friends. The door opens wide, revealing three young adults dressed in suits. ‘Jonas Blackshear, say hello to Danielle, Roberto and Tabitha. They’re here to insure that no one gets - well - bent out of shape during our meeting’ Richie explains, smiling. ‘Hello’ Danielle “Dani” Moonstar replies, slyly. ‘Hiya, boys!’ Tabitha Smith a.k.a. Meltdown’ grins. ‘Evening, gentlemen’ Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta remarks, rubbing his hands together.

Until a few nights ago, Richie Algeria was a man on the run from the mob. If, at the present moment, he appears overly confident for someone in his predicament, it is only because he knows that his newfound companions are mutants - human beings born with unique genetic traits that give them superhuman abilities.

‘Richie, you insult me’ Blackshear exclaims: ‘You dress a few of your college pals in off-the-rack Italian suits and think this will intimidate me?’ Blackshear asks, reminding Richie that he is already in a world of trouble. ‘Why make things harder for yourself?’. Richie addresses Blackshear as Jonas and tells him that all he wants is for their discussion here to remain civil. ‘I mean, you did send two of your boys to kidnap me’ Richie points out. ‘If not for my friends here, I’d still be stuffed in those goons’ trunk’. Blackshear asks if these are the kids that got the better of Oliver and Standell, and tells his bodyguards to frisk them.

‘The kid’s clean!’ Leonard exclaims as he frisks Sunspot. ‘Hah. Like I need a gun to deal with your type’ Bobby mutters, while the first bodyguard stands before Meltdown and declares that he is going to enjoy this, before asking her ‘What’s a cute little number like you doing with a loser like Richie?’ as he puts a hand to Meltdown’s chest. ‘Hey, watch the hands, pal!’ Tabby exclaims, kneeing the bodyguard in the stomach, she tells him to get it straight: ‘I’m not gonna be pawed by any Sonny Corleone wannabe!’. Suddenly, Leonard puts a gun to Meltdown’s head, telling her that was stupid. ‘Maybe your good friend Richie didn’t explain exactly who we are’.

Suddenly, Sunspot heats up Leonard’s gun: ‘Yeow! My gun! It’s on fire!’ he exclaims, while Bobby remarks ‘Maybe you don’t understand who we are’, while Meltdown smiles and tells Bobby that he didn’t have to do that, as she could have handled him. Bobby replies that he just wanted to make a point, and declares that it will be a lot easier for everyone if they do things like grown-ups. ‘But if you want to throw down with us, we can do it that way, too’ he tells Blackshear. It is difficult for Sunspot to remain cool under pressure, considering that his body is a solar furnace.

Leonard rubs his hand and exclaims that Standell wasn’t lying. ‘Richie really did hook up with some mutant muscle!’. The other bodyguard asks Leonard if he thinks the girls are mutants too, to which Leonard replies that he doesn’t want to know. ‘If ya ask me, they’re all a menace!’ Blackshear turns to Bobby and tells him that he is very impressed. ‘It must require a great deal of concentration to keep your clothes from igniting when you do that’. Blackshear remarks that he doesn’t think Richie informed Bobby and his companions as to why they have gone to such a great effort to find him. Blackshear reveals that he represents a businessman of great generosity and little forgiveness who invested in Richie, and yet Richie has given nothing in return.

‘Cut me some slack, Jonas. I ran into unforeseen expenses…’ Richie replies, to which Tabby asks ‘Wait a second, you borrowed money from the mob? Are you an idiot?’. Sunspot reminds Richie that he told them these guys were after him because they wanted to use him to get to his father, while Moonstar tells him that they would not have helped him if they thought this was about money. ‘If this is some kind of drug deal, I’m outta here!’ Meltdown exclaims. Blackshear remarks that it looks like Richie hasn’t been straight with his newfound friends wither. ‘But, I didn’t -’ Richie begins, to which Blackshear interrupts, reminding Richie that he came to his employer with a business proposal, and now he wants a return on his investment. ‘If he doesn’t see product in two weeks, you’re history!’.

Richie smiles and tells Blackshear that he can assure the big man that once he views the final product he will agree it was worth the wait. Blackshear tells his bodyguards to come along, while the first one remarks to Leonard that it is super powered freaks like these who are ruining their business. ‘Yeah. Too bad the feds shut down that Operation Zero Tolerance outfit’ Leonard adds, declaring that the only good mutant is a dead mutant, as they leave the room. ‘Neanderthals. I’ll show them!’ Meltdown exclaims as she creates a bio-electric sphere of plasma - a “time-bomb” as she calls them - and tosses it into the corridor behind Blackshear and his thugs. Never a shy girl, Tabitha is always willing to use her time-bombs for dramatic effect - in this case, aiming it towards the sprinkler system, which detects a fire, and releases water from the sprinklers, drenching Blackshear and his bodyguards.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles from Chicago, James “Warpath” Proudstar is desperately trying to find his bearings. Under most circumstances, this young Apache could find his way out of a maze in pitch blackness, because he is a mutant gifted with phenomenal strength, speed and heightened senses. At this moment however, his abilities have failed him. He is lost. Where am I?’ Warpath calls out, walking through a thick mist. Suddenly, a voice exclaims ‘You’re home, James. Welcome back to Camp Verde. We missed you’. James turns to the direction of the voice and see the skeletal remains of a body tied to a cross.

‘You? It’ can’t be. You’re -’ he begins, ‘Dead? Oh, yes, little brother, I’m very dead…just like everyone else on this reservation!’ the remains of John Proudstar, the original Thunderbird, exclaims. ‘Your friends…your family…even your teammates!’ he adds. James looks around himself and sees countless bodies at his feet, causing him to shout ‘No, this isn’t happening -! Not again…’. Suddenly, a voice from the bodies calls out to him, and James sees that it is Siryn. ‘Theresa…what happened…who did this?’ he asks. ‘Were were ye, Jimmy? Ye should’ve been here…ye should’ve died with the rest of us…’ Siryn replies.

‘NO!’ Warpath shouts, as he sits upright in the passenger seat of a red convertible, waking from his nightmare. Theresa “Siryn” Rourke Cassidy tells Warpath to take it easy, and informs him that he has been sleeping since they left the Field of Dreams Camp in Iowa. ‘That must’ve been some nightmare ye were having’ Siryn remarks. Siryn is a mutant possessed of an ultrasonic vocal range sufficient to level buildings. Even though Siryn’s relationship with Warpath has been clouded by feelings of attraction and jealousy, she remains his closest friend.

James tells Theresa that he dreamed he had returned to Camp Verde, but it wasn’t just his family and tribe he found dead this time - everyone in X-Force had been murdered as well. Theresa tells James that it is no wonder he is dreaming about that, given their destination. Warpath looks at his reflection in the side-mirror, telling Theresa that the thing is, it seems like everybody he has ever been close to ends up dead. ‘First my brother. Then the Hellions. Then my family and everyone else on the reservation. Sometimes I think I’m cursed…’. Theresa continues to drive the red convertible as she tells James not to ever believe that. ‘When me mother died in an explosion, I blamed myself’ she remarks, adding that the guilt was part of the reason she started drinking. ‘But me mum’s death was no more my fault than your family’s death was yours. Ye can’t let guilt fer something ye had no control over consume your life’ Siryn adds.

Warpath reminds Siryn that two hundred and thirty-three people were killed in the massacre, and declares that he has to know who is responsible. Passing the exit sign to Salvation, Nebraska, Siryn points out that they have arrived, and tells James that she hopes he finds the answers he is looking for here.

Shortly, Theresa and James pull up outside the residential hotel where Sledge told Warpath that Michael Whitecloud has been living for the past year. Siryn looks around and remarks that it cannot be much of a life. ‘Look at this town. Half the stores are boarded up, gone out of business’ she points out, before suggesting that Sledge might have been lying about Whitecloud just to get Warpath to rescue the Vanisher out of that other dimension. But James replies that he thinks Sledge was on the level. ‘That’s his business. The art of the deal’.

Siryn and Warpath pass some seemingly homless people lying in the street as they walk towards the entrance to the run-down building, and Terry asks James even if Michael Whitecloud is alive, why he thinks he will know who is behind the massacre. James replies that Whitecloud was an uncompromising investigative reporter who grew up with his brother, John, and Whitecloud blew the whistle on a lot of corrupt politicians and land developers. ‘If it wasn’t for him, this creepy doctor would have continued subjecting a lot of Native Americans to unnecessary radiation treatment’. Siryn unties her hair and tells James that she doesn’t want him to get his hopes up too high.

James tells Terry that he appreciates her support, and asks if she could give him a couple of minutes lead. ‘I want some time to talk to Michael alone’ he tells her. ‘All right, Jimmy, but be careful’ Siryn replies, rubbing Warpath’s face. ‘You know I will’ James replies as he enters the building. Siryn watches him go and thinks to herself ‘Ah, James, don’t shut me out. Ye and I are so much alike. We’ve tried so hard to be independent, we don’t know how to accept help. Well, ye stood by me when I hit rock bottom…and I’m gonna be there for ye now…whether ye like it or not’.

Making his way through the rundown hotel, Warpath walks past someone at the front desk and asks ‘Michael Whitecloud?’. The person behind the desk replies that Whitecloud is upstairs in room 4B. ‘And tell that bum he’s two weeks behind on the rent!’ the man calls out. Making his way up some stairs, James tells himself that this place is a dive, and that Whitecloud was a great writer. ‘My brother always said he should be working for the New York Times or Washington Post. ‘How’d he end up living in a transient hotel in the middle of nowhere?’ James wonders, before knocking on the door to 4B and calling out ‘Michael…? It’s James Proudstar - John’s brother. You in there?’. James realizes that the door is open, so enters the room, which is an absolute mess with rubbish strewn everywhere. James can smell Whitecloud’s cigarette though and realises that he was just here.

‘The window…’ James exclaims, running over to the open window, he sees Siryn on the other side, asking James if he is looking for someone. ‘I caught your friend making a mad dash down the fire escape!’ Terry exclaims. ‘Let me down!’ Whitecloud exclaims, clutching a bottle of liquor, while Siryn holds him by his jacket. James thanks Theresa for running interference and suggests they get Whitecloud back inside and hope that no one caught her aerial manuever. Dropping Whitecloud onto the fire escape, Siryn tells Warpath that his friend may not be in any shape to talk, to which Warpath realizes that Whitecloud reeks of alcohol. ‘What happened to you, Michael?’ James asks.

‘Please, please, don’t kill me!’ Michael Whitecloud exclaims. Warpath holds Whitecloud up and asks him to look at him. ‘I’m not here to hurt you. I’m James Proudstar. Don’t you remember?’ he asks. ‘James? Johnny’s little brother? Oh…I’m so relieved…I thought you and the girl were hit men’ Whitecloud exclaims, before asking how they found him. ‘It doesn’t matter. What’s important is how you survived the Camp Verde massacre. Before I buried everyone, I pulled a body from your house. I thought it was you’ Warpath declares. ‘It…it should’ve been me’ Whitecloud mumbles. Siryn, hovering outside still, asks James if he is still going to make her wait outside, to which James replies ‘No. Get in here’ and declares that Michael is going to tell them everything he knows. ‘I don’t know where to begin’ Whitecloud replies.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, inside the First Federated Savings and Loan Bank, the mutant mercenary named Domino opens a safe-deposit box that houses some of the many secrets of her mysterious life. The box contains five passports, each with a different name. Six drivers licenses (four issued in the US, one in Brazil and the other one in Canada). Two hundred thousand dollars in travellers checks. Twenty-five thousand in cash (unmarked and non-sequential). ‘Haven’t needed to be here in a while’ Domino thinks to herself. ‘Not since before I hooked up with X-Force, in fact. Still, it never hurts to keep one’s options open’ she tells herself, looking at the passports, she wonders ‘Who should I be this time?’, before coming across a passport and thinking ‘Here’s someone I haven’t been in a while!’

‘Always a pleasure to see you, Mrs Winters!’ a bank worker calls out as Domino walks away from his desk. ‘You’ve been very helpful, Mr Drysdale. Take care’ Domino replies, before noticing a trio of men walk towards the tellers and decides that there is something wrong about them. ‘On my count’ one of them whispers, while Domino tells herself that she has a bad feeling. ‘One. Two. Three’ the man exclaims, before the trio unleash gunfire into the air, and one of them shouts’ Guess what, folks? This is a robbery! Do what we say and nobody has to die!’

Domino stands with the rest of the bank customers, thinking to herself that a month ago she would have taken down these mooks without breaking a sweat, but ever since Commander Gryaznova attached the neural inhibitor to the base of her skull she cannot trust her reaction time anymore. ‘Maybe I should sit this one our, and hope these guys are pros - who know how to take the money and run without hurting anyone…nah’ Domino thinks to herself, before one of the criminals points a gun at her face and asks her what she is looking at. ‘Nothing. Nothing at all. Um…please, don’t hurt me’ Domino replies, hoping that sounded convincing.

Suddenly, an elderly man hits one of the criminals in the back with his cane. ‘You have no right taking these people’s hard earned money. If I wasn’t an old man -’ he begins, before getting smacked in the face and knocked to the ground by one of the criminals who asks ‘Are you senile, grampa? If you weren’t an old man, you’d be dead!’ he shouts as he puts his foot onto the old man’s back, preventing him from getting up. ‘Is that what you want, you feeb? C’mon, gramps, answer me!’ the crook asks. ‘Ach…my heart…no…please…’ the old man begins to plead. ‘Okay, that’s my cue…sometimes having a conscience can be a royal pain!’ Domino thinks to herself.

Back in Chicago, Richie opens a bottle of champagne, and tells his newfound friends that he hopes they like mini-bar champagne, because they are going to celebrate. Richie exclaims that running into them was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. ‘when Tabitha drenched Blackshear and his boys, I thought I was going to die laughing!’ he exclaims, adding that it was a Kodak moment. Sunspot grabs Richie by his throat and tells him that they need to talk. Holding Richie off the ground, Bobby reminds him that when they met him, he claimed Blackshear’s goons were after him to get to his wealthy father. ‘Now we find out you’re just another loser in debt to the mob. I really don’t appreciate being jerked around by some spoiled rich kid’, Bobby adds.

Moonstar tells Richie that she doesn’t know what his story is, and she doesn’t care, as they are done here. ‘You can let him down, Bobby. We’re leaving’ Dani adds. ‘Okay’ Bobby remarks, dropping Richie to the floor. As Dani, Bobby and Tabitha turn to leave, Richie tells them that he thought they had a mutually beneficial arrangement. ‘You said you needed the money. I needed protection!’ he exclaims. ‘You can keep the money and the suit’ Moonstar replies as she chucks wads of money back at Richie.

Outside the hotel, Sunspot tells Dani that he wishes she hadn’t given back the money. ‘We’re not exactly swimming in cash these days’ he reminds her. Meltdown tells Sunspot that he is still upset after being frozen out of his trust fund, and reminds her friends that she grew up poor, so pinching pennies is no big deal to her. Moonstar reminds her teammates that she still has a little of her SHIELD pay left. ‘We’re not so destitute that we have to become mercenaries’. Meltdown tells Moonstar that is her money, though, and she shouldn’t have to carry the rest of them. But Moonstar declares that she cannot believe she believed Richie’s story. ‘I should’ve known all that money he was carrying was dirty’.

Dani suggests that perhaps they should have done with James and Theresa instead of letting themselves get conned into this, but Sunspot reminds her that Warpath wanted to locate that reporter by himself, and Siryn practically forced him to let her go with him. ‘Anyway, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time’ Bobby points out. Suddenly, Richie runs out of the hotel, shouting after X-Force: ‘Hey, there you are! Wait up!’. Richie runs after X-Force, asking them to give him another chance. ‘I’m not the bad guy you think I am!’ he exclaims. Richie drops to his knees and wraps himself around Danielle’s legs, to which Sunspot tells him that he is pushing his luck. ‘Please…I’m sorry…Look…I’m down on my knees…’ Richie exclaims.

‘Richie, you lied to us. Why should we trust you?’ Dani asks, to which Richie exclaims that he is telling the truth now. ‘I’m no gangster. I’m a “film-maker”…and everything I’ve done, I did in order to finish my move’. Richie exclaims. ‘Your movie?’ Sunspot asks. ‘This I gotta hear!’ Meltdown exclaims, while Dani tells him to make it fast, as he has already wasted too much of their time. Richie gets off the ground as he explains that right after he dropped out of film school he went into production on his first independent feature, “Fever Dream”. Richie declares that it is the story of a performance artist with amnesia who may or may not be guilty of murder.

Richie explains that he ran out of money and needed new investors so he could finish the principal photography, which is when Blackshear approached him. ‘I thought you said your father was loaded. Why not hit him up for some spare change?’ Tabitha asks. Richie reveals that his father sort of disowned him, as he wanted him to go into the family business. ‘But I wanted to direct…’. Sunspot asks Richie about that briefcase full of cash that he showed them, and asks ‘Why not use that to pay back the mob instead of throwing it away on expensive hotels and clothes?’

Richie claims that he needs that money for a short-term investment. ‘A get-rich-quick scheme? Don’t you know any better?’ Moonstar asks. Richie boasts that he can triple that money if they help keep Blackshear and his goons off him for a week. ‘Then I can pay off my debts, finish my movie and book my tickets to Cannes!’ he exclaims. ‘This still sounds like a scam!’ Meltdown declares. ‘Everything’s totally legal. I promise! And if you leave me now, I’m toast!’ Richie exclaims, putting his arms around Moonstar, who, with an exasperated look, mutters ‘Why do I think I’m going to regret this…?’

Back in Nebraska, Whitecloud remarks ‘So you turned out to be a mutant just like your brother, huh, James? We always knew you two were special’, adding that, one time, he saw John bring down a buffalo with his bare hands. James tells Michael that he did not come here to talk about his brother. ‘Yeah. I know. You want the low-down on the massacre’ Michael replies, before asking Siryn if she wants a cigarette. ‘I’ll pass. Bad for me voice’ Siryn replies. Lighting one up for himself, Michael remarks ‘Hope you don’t mind. They help calm my nerves’, before launching into what he knows about the Camp Verde massacre….

(Flashback, narrated by Michael Whitecloud)

‘Almost two years ago, after I got fired from the Tacoma Register…I met Lucius DeWitt, a radiologist who helped me to something called Project: Stepladder…an experimental genetics program trying to introduce a mutagenic virus in its lab animals…and its human subjects: convicts, runaways, unsuspecting pregnant women’ Michael explains. Whitecloud tells Warpath and Siryn that DeWitt said he could give him solid evidence of the project’s illegal research, but that he would need a place to lie low because the project had a very powerful sponsor. ‘I thought he’d be safe at my place at Camp Verde’.

Whitecloud reveals that DeWitt brought one of the test subjects with him, a man named Gordon Thorpe, who, thanks to the project, had skin almost tough enough to stop bullets - an lungs that were riddled with cancer. Whitecloud examined photos and files taken from the project, which DeWitt and Thorpe brought with them, files which would be the backbone of his expose. Whitecloud reveals that he went to make copies of everything they had given him that night, only his car broke down, and he returned to the reservation on foot, taking a shortcut that probably saved his life, for when he returned, he found Camp Verde burning, the air choked with flame and toxic smoke - and all of the people he had grown up with were dead.

‘They’d been killed by a death squad courtesy of Project: Stepladder, who had killed the tribe to cover up the murders of DeWitt and Thorpe - and to make sure they hadn’t talked to anyone‘. Whitecloud declares that he owed his life to a lousy transmission, but he knew Project Stepladder would find out sooner or later that he wasn’t dead, so he escaped into the canyons and lived off the land for a couple of days. ‘When I finally surfaced, I learned that the official story said a truck hauling chemicals jack-knifed outside the res’. Whitecloud reveals that he tried to contact the few editors he trusted, but all of his calls were intercepted - a cold digitally masked voice told him that he was dead unless he turned over the documents in his possession.


Whitecloud concludes his story by explaining that he has been on the run ever since, living on the street, working as a day labour, always looking over his shoulder. ‘After a while…I started drinking to numb the pain. I don’t know which stereotype I became, the alcoholic reporter or the drunk Indian’. Michael tells Warpapth that it is all his fault. ‘Everybody on the res died because of me!’ he exclaims with tears in his eyes. ‘You don’t know how hard it’s been carrying this around all this time!’ Michael exclaims. Siryn exclaims that she cannot believe no one listened to him when he said that he had proof. ‘Nobody takes a drunk seriously…and I didn’t dare go back for the documents. They were my life insurance!’ Michael adds.

Siryn tells Michael that he can get help for his problem with alcohol. ‘I did’ she reveals to him, but Whitecloud replies that it is too late for him, as he is washed up. ‘It’s up to James now’ he exclaims as he picks up some papers. Handing the papers to James, Whitecloud tells him that this is the number of a locker in a bus station in Topeka. ‘I threw the key away somewhere in Montana, for fear the wrong person would find it. With your powers, you shouldn’t have a problem opening it without a key’. Warpath remarks that Michael hasn’t told him who exactly was funding Project: Stepladder, and remarks that he knows it wasn’t the Hellfire Club, even though someone tried to make it look like they were responsible.

Whitecloud replies that it is so hard to think now. ‘Ringing…in my head getting louder…’ he mutters, while Warpath grabs him by the shoulders and tells him to focus. ‘I need to know!’ James exclaims, lifting Whitecloud off the ground. ‘I want to tell - I - I’ Whitecloud stutters, while James asks him what Is wrong. Theresa points out that she thinks Michael needs a doctor, while Michael clutches at his head and screams. ‘Pressure’s too much!’ he manages to shout while he begins to bleed from his nose. Warpath grabs Whitecloud, preventing him from falling over and tells Siryn that there is a phone at the end of the hallway. ‘Call 911. Hurry!’ he tells his friend.

‘Hang on, Whitecloud, we’re going to get you some help, I pro -’ Warpath begins, but Whitecloud shouts that it feels like his head is about to explode - and at that moment, it does, splattering gray-matter all over the room. ‘Michael!’ James shouts. ‘Oh me dear Lord -’ Siryn gasps, not even out of the room when it happens. ‘No…’ James whispers, kneeling at Whitecloud’s body. Siryn walks cautiously over to James and asks him what happened. James replies that he doesn’t know how they did it, but that those monsters at Project: Stepladder somehow got to him and planted some kind of device in his head that went off before he could tell them anything more.

Siryn crouches beside James and wraps her arms around him, telling him not to look at Whitecloud. James replies ‘There goes the last connection I had to my family, then. I finally found another one of my tribe and this happens. For so long, I thought I was all alone in the world, Terry. I am cursed’. Siryn tells Warpath that he isn’t cursed, simply caught up in the aftermath of a hideous cover-up. ‘To do something as horrific and specific as this requires the kind of resources few people have’ Siryn points out, telling James that they must assume the people responsible will know Whitecloud is dead, and if their names show up on a Police report, then they will come looking for them. Theresa tells James that they have to get out of here and to that locker before Project: Stepladder is on to them. ‘Someone’s gonna pay for this. I swear, someone’s gonna pay!’ Warpath booms.

Later, a Police officer tells his superior officer that he has never seen anything like this, while zipping up the body bag containing Whitecloud’s body. ‘There are brain matter and bone fragments splattered three hundred and sixty degrees around this room. This guy swallow a grenade or what?’ he asks. The other officer looks towards a man in a suit and suggests that he, their new friend from the Bureau, might be able to help them. ‘You said this Indian was a fugitive, Agent -?’ the officer begins. ‘Edwards. Martin Edwards’ the Agent replies, informing the officers that Michael Whitecloud was wanted in connection with a prior drug investigation. ‘You think this is a drug-related killing?’ one of the officers asks.

‘Most likely’ Agent Edwards replies, before reminding the officer that he said the manager saw two young people entering the building just before the body was discovered. ‘We took this off the tape from the lobby surveillance camera’ the officer replies, handing Edwards a photograph, depicting James and Theresa. ‘Well, if it isn’t little Jimmy Proudstar all grown up’ Edwards thinks to himself, adding that Proudstar might have lived a long life if he knew what was good for him. ‘What a shame you’re going to have to join the rest of your tribe in Oblivion!’

Meanwhile, in Minerva, Ohio, outside a diner, ‘You sure you don’t want a ride, Brittany?’ someone inside a truck calls to a waitress standing outside the diner. ‘Nah, Vera. Cody’ll be here any minute now. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?’ Brittany replies. As Vera drives away, Brittany pulls out a cigarette and exclaims that she has been dying for one of these all day. ‘Enjoy the little pleasures while you can, Miss. Life is short’ a mysterious voice suddenly exclaims. Brittany turns, shocked, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you…you scared me!’ she gasps. ‘I have that effect on people’ the stranger replies, before asking ‘They’ve been here, haven’t they? DaCosta and the others’.

‘Mister, I don’t know what you want -’ Brittany begins, before the stranger interrupts her: ‘What do I want, Miss? Much. And then some. And if the members of X-Force try to stop me…so much the better!’. With that, Brittany the waitress falls to the sidewalk in the fetal position, an expression of horror across her face, while Reignfire walks away….

Characters Involved: 

Meltdown, Moonstar, Siryn, Sunspot, Warpath (all X-Force)

Domino (former member of X-Force)


Richie Alegria

Agent Martin Edwards

Jonas Blackshear

Leonard and another bodyguard

Michael Whitecloud

Various Civilians

Bank robbers

Bank customers and staff

Vera & Brittany

In Warpath’s Nightmare:

Siryn & Warpath

Body of Thunderbird I

Massacred bodies

In Flashback:

Michael Whitecloud

Lucius DeWitt

Gordon Thorpe

Apache on Camp Verde

Death Squad

Story Notes: 

The bodyguards are commenting on characters from the ABC television programme NYPB Blue (1993-2005). David Caruso played Detective John Kelly in season 1, but was replaced in season 2 by Jimmy Smits who played Detective Bobby Simone. Amy Brenneman played Janice Licalsi in season 1, while Kim Delaney spent many years on the show as Detective Diane Russell.

Jade is an erotic thriller from 1995 starring David Caruso and Linda Fiorentino.

X-Force rescued Richie in X-Force #71.

Sonny Corleone is a character from The Godfather novels and films.

Siryn and Warpath were at the Field of Dreams Camp in Dead pool (2nd series) #12, which took place between X-Force (1st series) #71 and #72.

Warpath’s brother, Thunderbird, died on his second mission as an X-Man, in Uncanny X-Men #95.

Most of the Hellions (Warpath’s original team), were murdered in Uncanny X-Men #281-282.

The massacre at Camp Verde occurred in New Mutants (1st series) #99-100.

Siryn shouldn’t really blame herself for her mother’s death as she was only a few weeks old when it happened.

Warpath ventured into another dimension to rescue the Vanisher, at the request of Sledge, who offered him information on Michael Whitecloud, in X-Force (1st series) #69-70.

The creepy doctor that subjected Native Americans to unnecessary radiation treatment was seen in X-Force #minus1.

The Hellfire Club was initially framed for the massacre at Camp Verde as a mask belonging to the Hellfire Club stooges was found at the reservation in New Mutants (1st series) #99.

X-Force were at the diner in Ohio in X-Force (1st series) #71.

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