James “Warpath” Proudstar and Theresa “Siryn” Rourke Cassidy have been driving the back roads of Nebraska all night. They did not want to be stopped on the interstate. After all, they had left a dead man two hundred miles behind them in a town laughingly called Salvation. They had crossed a line, and sooner or later someone was going to come after them. Ten miles north of the Kansas state border, the law found them first. Staring down the barrel of a Police-issue automatic is never a good way to begin the day. ‘Keep your hands in the air. You even think about putting them down and I’ll blow your brains out!’ a large blond Police officer exclaims. ‘That means you too, little lady!’ a smaller, dark-haired Police officer adds, pointing his gun at Siryn, who is backed up against X-Force’s red convertible, standing next to Warpath.
‘Something’s not right here, Jimmy’ Siryn whispers to Warpath, who replies that he agrees, and tells Theresa that the officers aren’t acting like they are on duty. James suggests that they play it cool until they figure out what the officers’ want. Siryn asks the larger officer what the problem is. ‘We weren’t speeding now, were we?’ she remarks. The officer tells Siryn that her innocent act doesn’t wash with him. ‘We’ve been on the lookout for a redhead and an Injun in an old El Dorado wanted in connection with a murder up north’. Warpath quickly replies ‘We “Injuns” prefer “Native American” these days’, to which the officer warns him not to get smart.
Siryn tells the Police officers that there is no need for the guns and assures them that they will go peaceably. ‘I’m sure we can clear things up at yuir station house’ she adds. The larger officer tells Siryn that they are not taking her to the station, ‘But a bright Irish lass like you probably figured that our already’ he remarks, before addressing the other officer as Stanton and suggests they get it over with. ‘I’m on it, Harl!’ the smaller officer exclaims, before producing a large rifle from the trunk of their Police car. ‘We were warned you two were dangerous. I mean, you two look like nice kids, but it pays to be cautious’ Stanton declares, adding that they usually only use these weapons for animal control. ‘Say good night, partner!’ he exclaims.
James Proudstar was the second mutant born in his family, and like his brother, John, he developed incredible strength during adolescence. In addition, his senses grew hyper-accurate and his reflexes accelerated to lightning speed. That is why, as Stanton fires the tranquilizer at him, James is able to catch the dart in mid-air, and return it whence it came. ‘Ungh…that isn’t possible…nobody can move like that…’ Stanton mutters as the dark lands in his chest, before falling backwards. ‘Judas Priest, they didn’t tell me you were some kind of freak!’ Harl exclaims, aiming his pistol at Siryn, he tells Warpath to stay right where he is. ‘I’m guessing your home girl here can’t dodge a bullet like you!’ he exclaims.
Siryn tells the officer that he is right. ‘I don’t have James’s strength or speed - but then he doesn’t have me sweet, lilting voice!’ Siryn exclaims as she unleashes her sonic scream. When she was a teenager in Ireland, Theresa learned that not only could she sing like an angel, but she could scream like an F-11 breaking the sound barrier. It was her powerful voice that earned her the sobriquet Siryn. Harl slams into the windscreen of his Police car, before Warpath picks him up and telling him that now they have established he is a dirty cop, it is time for the two of them to have a talk. ‘Who sent you after us?’ James demands.
‘I don’t know. Honest!’ Harl claims, sweat pouring down his face, he explains that some of the boys in the county make a few extra bucks taking freelance gigs, and that they got a call telling them somebody had put a bounty out for the two of them. ‘We figured it was our lucky day. It wasn’t personal’ Harl exclaims. ‘Then you won’t take it personally if I beat you to a pulp!’ Warpath exclaims, declaring that he watched a friend die last night, most likely courtesy of his employers. ‘I’m not in a good mood’ James adds, while Theresa calmly tells him to chill out as they need to stay focused. James replies that he keeps thinking about Michael Whitecloud, reminding Siryn that he finally found the one man who knew why his family and friends were slaughtered, only for when he tried to tell him, his head exploded because someone had implanted some device in his brain to keep him silent.
‘I know, James. But the fact that someone’s going to these lengths to stop us must mean we’re close to the truth’ Siryn replies as she takes Stanton’s keys, and tells Warpath to take the fat officer’s keys, suggesting that they cuff them to their patrol car and smash the radio. Moments later, Siryn and Warpath get back into their car, with Warpath remarking that this trip started out as away for all of them in X-Force to figure out together what they want to do with their lives - to learn if they could ever fit in with normal people. ‘Now we’re all separated and I’ve dragged you into my own personal wild goose chase!’. Siryn reminds Warpath that he didn’t have a choice, before they drive away, leaving the cops chained to their patrol car. ‘I guess we’re fugitives again’. ‘So what else is new?’
Meanwhile, in Washington DC, Detective Napoleon Sanders and Lieutenant Oliver Bantock review surveillance tapes taken yesterday during an attempted robbery of a Georgetown bank. ‘Have you seen this yet, Lieutenant?’ the Detective asks. Bantock replies that he hasn’t as he has been dealing with the Russian attaché’s murder. ‘God I hate diplomatic immunity’ he mutters, before asking Sanders to bring him up to speed.
(Flashback - shown as surveillance footage, narrated by the Detective)
‘Watch this. Our perps make their entrance, fire a few shots, scare the crowd’. The Detective adds that this is the same crew that pulled that Maryland job two months ago. As the scene plays out before them, the Detective points out that everything goes according to plan, until the gang leader, Terry Benton, goes off on an old man. The Detective tells the Lieutenant to pay attention to the left of the screen - where an unidentified white female moves into play, picking up the old man’s cane and slamming it into Terry Benton. ‘Ordinarily, a stunt like this would get someone killed - but this lady takes out the leader with a single shot to the temple’.
The Detective explains that by the time the other two gunmen - Walter Jones and Ricky Burke - have had time to react, the mysterious woman has already disarmed them by smacking their weapons from their hands with the cane. However, Burke opens fire with another weapon, and it looks like the lady’s dynamite luck has run out. ‘But she acts like she’s used to being fired at, and grabs Hones to use as a shield!’. The Detective points out that before Burke finishes unloading his clip, the mysterious woman has moved close enough to knock him out with a stiff-arm that breaks his nose. The Detective adds that, with the robbers down, everyone had rushed the exits, and by the time they got there, the mysterious woman had gone.
The Detective reveals that the bank manager ID’ed her as Tamara Winter, but the name and social security number match a dead woman from Atlanta. ‘No surprise. Washington’s full of intelligence operatives living under assumed names. She’s probably out of the country by now. My advice is don’t waste your time looking’ the Lieutenant replies. Bantock tells the Detective that they got the perps and the old man is recovering. ‘Let her go’ he suggests. But the Detective replies that he doesn’t think he can. ‘I don’t know if I’m going to thank her or arrest her for reckless endangerment. But I’m going to find her’.
Meanwhile, in Langley, Virginia, in a fifty-nine dollar a night hotel room, “Tamara Winter” attends to wounds sustained during the attempted bank robbery. Tamara is one of many aliases. These days, she prefers Domino. Sitting on the bed, Domino thinks to herself that she hates having to sew her own stitches, but she cannot go to a doctor with a gunshot wound, as there will be too many questions. ‘Of course playing “Captain America” in that bank was no way to keep a low profile. Not to mention, my reaction time was way to slow. The old me would have never let thank punk get off a shot’ Domino tells herself.
Reaching for the phone, Domino tells herself that she cannot move the way she used to thanks to the thing in her neck screwing with her nervous system. ‘Still, before I can find the woman who put it there and shove it down her throat - I’m gonna have to get back to speed. And the best training’s always been field work. Speaking into the phone, Domino exclaims ‘Hello. You know who this is. I’m available. The more dangerous the better’.
In Chicago, there is a bar called Hellhouse, which caters an exclusive clientel of mercenaries, professional assassins and one or two super-powered lunatics - like Wade “Deadpool” Wilson, who leans against the bar with a glass of beer, when the old man behind the counter exclaims ‘Hey Wade, you wouldn’t believe who just called looking for work!’. Deadpool turns to the old man and asks ‘Dick Clark? My Mom? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Elvis? Judge Crater? Stevie Wonder? Harry Houdini? Earl Sheib? The Artist Formerly Know…Sal Shallizzi?’
Back in Kansas, Agent Martin Edwards has come across Stanton and Harl, and explains to another officer over the phone that they stopped Proudstar and Rourke, but let them get away. ‘I thought you said your rent-a-cops were reliable‘. Agent Edwards exclaims, before remarking that Proudstar and Rourke are in Kansas by now. Agent Edwards tells the person he is speaking to that he wants his people to find them, but not to confront them. ‘I’ll handle that’ he declares, muttering that he always has to do things himself. He turns to Stanton and Harl, who exclaims ‘Hey, buddy, aren’t you going to uncuff us?’. Agent Edwards turns away from them, ‘Amateurs’ he mutters, while Harl asks him to at least call the station.
Meanwhile, at the Trailhound Bus Station in Topeka, Kansas, Warpath and Siryn walk through the busy bus station, while Siryn tells Warpath that she doesn’t mean to sound like a broken record, before asking him how he is holding up. James replies that he has a knot in his stomach the size of a fist. He adds that if Whitecloud’s notes on the Camp Verde massacre are in one of these lockers like he told them, then he will finally know the truth about his family’s killers. Warpath’s mind flashes back and tells Siryn that she cannot imagine the horror of finding everyone you ever knew dead - murdered. ‘To learn that everyone you cared for and relied on was taken away in an instant. And when I found that Hellfire Club mask I was certain they died because I quit the Hellions’.
Warpath remarks that even though he knows that is not true, he still blames himself. ‘If I’d been there, maybe things would be different. Maybe I would be alone’ he exclaims. Theresa takes James by the hand, and tells him that she knows he can never replace his family and friends, but that he is not alone. ‘No matter what happens, I’m right here with you’.
Moments later, Theresa and James stand in front of a row of lockers. ‘Whitecloud said locker three seventy-four’ James remarks, before locating it. ‘We’d be a lot less conspicuous if Whitecloud had held onto the key’ Siryn remarks, to which Warpath points out that Whitecloud did not want the key and his notes to fall into the wrong hands, before asking Siryn to cover him. Theresa looks around and tells him that no one is looking this way. ‘You’re clear’. At that moment, Warpath rips the metal locker door from its hinges with his incredible strength, and finds a satchel inside the locker. ‘This is it. Look at me. I’m shaking!’ James exclaims as he picks up the satchel.
Siryn tells Warpath that she hopes his answers are in there, as she would hate for him to be disappointed. ‘I never thought this day would come’ James remarks, when, suddenly, a voice exclaims ‘Disappointment’s the least of your worries now, Proudstar. I’m afraid I can’t let you leave with that envelope!’. James and Theresa turn and see someone In a suit walking towards them, arms outstretched, he exclaims that they suspected Whitecloud had hidden a second copy of his notes somewhere, ‘But for a drunk, he managed to resist our efforts to get it out of him. That’s why we let him live. He was bound to tell someone, someday!’.
‘Edwin Martynec?’ Warpath exclaims, to which the Agent replies that it is “Martin Edwards” now, as Martynec official died in the Arroyo Labs fire. ‘I remember you, Doctor - you poisoned my mother with radiation treatments she didn’t need -and you tried to kill my brother’ James exclaims, his mind flashing back. Martynec replies ‘That was ten years ago, Proudstar. You’ve changed a great deal since then - and so have I!’ as he transforms into a large wolf-like creature. ‘As you can see, I’ve continued my own program of self-improvement. Not everyone can rewrite their own genetic code - but the results are certainly worth the effort!’ Martynec exclaims.
Siryn takes to the air and tells Warpath to protect the notes while she deals to the dog-faced boy. But as Siryn flies towards Martynec, he lashes out at her with his claws. Siryn screams as he scratchers her, while Martynec remarks ‘Faster than you thought, eh, Ms Rourke? Oh, yes, I know about you and X-Force’. Siryn falls to the ground, unconscious. ’What did you do to her?’ Warpath demands as he slams Martynec up against the lockers. Martynec replies that his claws are laced with drugs. ‘I’m toxic, little Proudstar!’ Martynec exclaims, lashing out at Warpath and slashing him across the chest.
Warpath clutches his head while Martynec asks him if he is felling numb yet. ‘Feel dizzy…can’t give in…not going to let you…’ Warpath mumbles, ‘Too late. You’ve lost!’ Martynec exclaims as he smacks Warpath in the back, knocking him over. Martynec then picks Warpath and Siryn up by their necks, and exclaims ‘You and your girlfriend are in bad shape, Proudstar. But not to worry - I’m a doctor!’.
Meanwhile in Memphis, Tennessee, inside a restaurant, Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith sits at a table, a photo of Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie lays before her as she begins a letter to him:
(Shown with flashback images to X-Force (1st series) #70-72, narrated by Meltdown)
It seems like a millions years since we’ve seen each other. We never really even had a chance to say “goodbye”. How are you?
As you probably heard, we parted ways with Cable. I’m sure that has everyone back at the school in an uproar.
We’re zigzagging across the US, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves now that we’re on our own.
Bobby’s going crazy ‘cause his trust fund’s been frozen in some lawsuit.
Dani Moonstar’s hooked back up with us - but she hasn’t said whether she wants to stay part of the team yet.
Theresa and James are somewhere in Nebraska following a lead on the Camp Verde affair.
In Ohio, we met this rich kid named Richie Alegria - a film school dropout who borrowed money from the mob to finance his first feature film.
Not a smart move.
So Dani, Bobby and me dressed up like wise-guys to help get the mob enforcers off Richie’s back - until he can raise the cash he owes.
I wish you could have been there - I looked good in that suit.
We’re supposed to join up with James and Theresa in New Orleans. After that I’m trying to convince everyone to go to the Colossal Man Gathering in Texas.
It’s supposed to be a real freak-show. Sounds like fun, huh? If you want, I mean, if you’re not too busy with the X-Men, you could meet us there, too.
I would love so much to see you, even for a few days. I miss you, and think about you a lot.
‘You know, Richie, you don’t have to pick up the tab everywhere we go’ Danielle Moonstar tells Richie as they and Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta approach Meltdown. ‘You guys are doing me a big favor. It’s the least I can do!’ Richie replies. ‘Ah, Tabitha, another love letter to Sam?’ Bobby asks as he sits down next to Tabitha. ‘Yeah, I haven’t written him in a long time’ Tabitha replies, to which Richie exclaims that nothing is worse than doing the long distance thing with your significant other. Meltdown replies that she doesn’t know, and adds that maybe being apart is a good thing. ‘I’m not sure exactly what the current status of our relationship is. I mean, Sam’s a really nice guy. He deserves better than me’.
Bobby goes wide-eyed, and with a mouthful of food, exclaims ‘Get outta here, Tab. Sam’s lucky to have you as his girlfriend. You’re honest and down to earth - and considering his last girlfriend was Lila Cheney, that’s saying a lot!’. Meltdown smiles and wraps her arms around Bobby’s shoulders, thank him. ‘For a shallow, self-absorbed hothead, you can be surprisingly sweet sometimes’ she remarks. ‘Backhanded as it was, I’ll take that as a compliment’ Bobby grins.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, a mysterious fire engulfs the upper floors of downtown’s four star Edgemont Hotel. Fire-fighters rush through the flames, one of them exclaims that it is a shame to see an old beauty like this go up in flames. ‘Arson?’ another asks. ‘Maybe. I’ve never seen a fire burn as quickly as this’ the first replies, pointing out that it is as if someone is controlling the flames. Suddenly, he sees someone up ahead. ‘Don’t panic, mister! We’re here to get you out of this -’ the fire-fighter begins, but the mysterious being in the flames asks ‘Why should I want to leave…when I’m the one who started this blaze?’.
‘Why are you doing th -’ the fire-fighter begins, before he Is overcome by flames, and screams. ‘Why? Because I’m petty and vindictive. Because DaCosta and his friends stayed here last night - and I’m leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Soon they’ll realize they’re being hunted - but by then it will be far too late!’
Meanwhile, somewhere In Arkansas, Martynec has returned to his human form, ‘Good to see you both awake’ he tells Siryn and Warpath, who are clamped against a wall. ‘If you’re responsible for killing my people, Martynec, I’m going to kill you -’ Warpath exclaims, only to be interrupted by Martynec, who exclaims ‘You survived, Proudstar. You should be happy. You know, if you hadn’t been so curious, you wouldn’t be here’. Siryn cannot say anything for a change, as a meta clamp has been placed around her mouth. ‘Now, as it is you’re probably not going to live to see the New Year. However, you’ll be happy to know that you and the girl will donate your bodies to science’ Martynec exclaims.
‘Your instruments, sir’ a robotic voice exclaims as a peculiar being approaches Martynec, carrying a tray of instruments. ‘Wait a second - ! That’s one of the Zero series robots Stryfe always used! How did you get it?’ Warpath gasps as the seemingly damaged Zero stands before him. As he fills a syringe with some liquid from a vial, Martynec replies that it was a gift from the Chaos-Bringer. ‘I needed an assistant’ he adds, explaining that the Zero has served him well, and that he only wishes he could repair it. ‘I’ve never been good with machines’. ‘Are - are you saying that Stryfe is responsible for what happened at Camp Verde?’ James asks, shocked. ‘Yes’ Martynec replies.
(Shown with flashback illustrations, narrated by Martynec)
Martynec tells Warpath that, like his mentor Cable, Stryfe was not limited to training his own band of soldiers, and explains that Stryfe needed scientists who could genetically engineer his next generation of mutant disciples. Martynec reveals that he had been institutionalised by his previous employers who disapproved of his self-experimentation ‘Stryfe, aware of my research in mutagenic catalysts, offered me freedom’.
Martynec reveals that Stryfe had anonymously taken control of a project called Stepladder, whose goal it was to engineer the next step in man’s evolution. ‘Unfortunately, one of our researchers had a crisis of conscience and went to your friend, Whitecloud’ Martynec reveals, adding that they had engineered the escape of one of their test subjects and brought him to the Camp Verde Reservation. ‘To preserve the project’s secrecy, we wiped out the entire population’. Martynec adds that the media believed that the deaths were a result of an unfortunate chemical spill, before explaining that they found Michael Whitecloud some months later, and implanted the neuro-bomb in case he tried to go public.
‘And the Hellfire Club mask planted at the scene?’ Warpath demands to know, struggling in the clamps. ‘To throw you, Cable of Xavier’s brood off the trail. It worked’ Martynec claims. ‘But Stryfe is dead!’ Warpath exclaims, while Martynec holds up the syringe and explains that there are those who continue Stryfe’s work and await his resurrection. ‘What is death to one such as Stryfe? There are whispers he was more than just a man - that he was an alien, or even a time-traveller’.
Martynec tells Warpath that he is sorry he will not be here for Stryfe’s return, while a wide-eyed Siryn thinks to herself that Martynec assumes she cannot use her sonic scream with the metal gag keeping her jaw shut. ‘But I can create some low-frequency harmonics by resonating sound in my throat’ Siryn tells herself, knowing that it will take more control and more concentration than she has ever exerted before, but James is counting on her. ‘And he’s never let me down’ Siryn reminds herself, as the metal gag begins to crack - ‘FREE!’ Siryn screams as the metal gag shatters, and she proceeds to free James by using her sonic scream on his metal restraints also.
‘Thanks, Terry!’ James calls out, before lunging at Martynec and telling him that he caused him a lot of pain. ‘Some how, some way -’ James begins, as Martynec drops the syringes to the ground, while Siryn turns to Zero, not knowing if he is armed or not, she decides that there is no point in taking a chance, and unleashes her sonic scream on Zero, shattering him. Martynec has transformed into the lupine creature, and Warpath punches him, telling him that changing his form will not help him this time. James smashes Martynec to the ground, telling him that the only way he is leaving here is in a body bag, while Martynec thinks to himself that he doesn’t have the advantage of surprise like in their previous encounter, and admits that Warpath is a better trained fighter than he.
‘I need something to even the odds’ Martynec tells himself, before seeing one of the syringes lying on the floor. ‘Yes’ he tells himself, before grabbing it and telling Proudstar that his time is up. ‘Titanium needle. Helps get under the epidermis of some of my thicker-skinned subjects’ he remarks as he shoves the needle into James. James moans, and clutching his chest, he gasps ‘My heart!’, while Martynec tells him that he has been hit with an amphetamine compound that is making his heart beat ten times faster than normal. ‘Pretty soon it’s going to give out from the stress’.
James falls back onto the floor, while Martynec stands over him. ‘Too bad. I didn’t want to kill you…yet’ he remarks, adding that a living subject provides so much more information than a dead one. Martynec turns to Siryn, telling her to forget about her friend, as he is dead. But Theresa does not respond to Martynec’s taunts. All she thinks about is her best friend’s life slipping away because of the beast in front of her. Anger rises up through her in the form of a scream - a scream of pain and anguish that rips apart anything in its path with the force of a hurricane.
The scream of such Immense force imbeds Martynec in the concrete wall of the laboratory - shattering his bones, leaving his eardrums bursting and bleeding. Her fury abated, Siryn’s throat is raw from the savage outburst, and she drops to her knees, turning to her fallen friend. ‘Jimmy…’ she whispers, before placing her head to his chest, listening for a heartbeat. ‘Breathe! Y’cannae do this to me!’ Siryn exclaims as she begins to give Warpath mouth-to-mouth, then chest compressions. ‘Oh, not. Please, no…Lord, don’t let this be happening! There - there’s not pulse…Jimmy…Jimmy’s dead!’ Siryn whispers, while Warpath’s eyes roll back into his head.