This was X-Force - in the beginning - Cannonball! Boomer! Warpath! Siryn! Sunspot! Shatterstar! Feral! Seven very different young mutants united to counter the rising tide of racial oppression - by any means necessary. However, without the leadership and dedication of Sam Guthrie - Cannonball - X-Force might never have coalesced into a unit that believes not only in their cause, but also in each other. His commitment kept the team together through its stormy beginnings. Ironically, he was among the first to break away from the team….
Now though, Sam has returned, visiting the team he helped found, only to discover a very different X-Force. One that is seeking to define themselves, not only as super-powered soldiers, but as real people with real lives. Right at this moment, X-Force are at a bowling alley, and Sam is up next to bowl. ‘We’re tied, Sam. Be a shame if you folded in the final round’ Danielle Moonstar remarks while tying up a shoelace. ‘Don’t even try to psyche me out, Dani. I’m in the zone’ Sam replies as he concentrates on his aim. Resting her head on one of her hands, Theresa “Siryn” Rourke whispers to James “Warpath” Proudstar that this is boring, and asks if he has another quarter.
‘Sorry, Terry, I’m cutting you off’ James tells his dear friend, adding that he liked that Chumbawumba song until she started playing it every ten minutes. Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta and Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith round out the current X-Force roster, and they are busy staring at each other. ‘You’re going down, Moonstar!’ Cannonball exclaims as he throws the ball down the alley - missing the two outer pins. ‘Oops’ Sam mumbles. ‘Gee. A seven-ten split. Too bad, Sam. I expected better from a real, live member of the X-Men’ Dani remarks, before asking him if they are treating him right in the major league.
Sam replies that he thought being one of the X-Men was going to be a lot different, and explains that ever since their showdown with Bastion, things have been uncomfortable around the Mansion. Sam explains that Gambit left after they found out his part in the mutant massacre, while Cyclops and Phoenix have taken a leave of absence in Alaska. ‘And don’t get me started about the new X-Men - Cecilia Reyes, Maggott and Marrow’. Sam adds that his biggest problem is that he has fallen into old patterns - that he keeps acting like the same fresh-off-the-farm kid he was when he joined the New Mutants. ‘Of course, it’s hard not to feel intimidated around Wolverine’ Sam jokes.
Standing away from Sam, Bobby remarks to Tabitha that they should tell Sam. ‘I’ve been feeling awful since the Colossal Man festival’ he adds. ‘I’d rather tell the Blob I ate the last piece of cake in the refrigerator’ Meltdown replies, pointing out that Sam is only here for a little while, and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Sam throws the bowling ball down the alley once more - but only manages to hit one of the remaining pins down. ‘Like you had a chance, Kentucky’ Dani remarks, smiling. ‘Think you can do better?’ Sam asks. ‘Watch me!’ Dani exclaims.
Warpath asks Sam and Dani if they were always at each other’s throats like this. ‘Ever since we were co-leaders of the New Mutants’ Sam replies, before remarking that he never thought Dani would hook up with X-Force. ‘Your pal Cable didn’t invite me’ Dani smirks, before reminding Sam that she was kind of a wreck after Hela transformed her into her monstrous servant. ‘But it would’ve been nice to have been asked’. Moonstar throws the bowling ball down the alley - and gets a strike. ‘Cable’s mistake, Dani’ Sam smiles.
‘Why does everybody go misty-eyed when talking about the New Mutants?’ a forlorn Siryn asks. ‘If not for the New Mutants, I’d still be living on the streets…instead of living large in the sanitized-for-your-protection of America’s finest discount motels’ Meltdown mutters. Sunspot declares that what they need to do now is figure out what they are going to do as X-Force. ‘We can’t be on the road forever. Sooner or later we’re going to run out of money’ he tells everyone. ‘You could always come back to the Xavier Institute’ Cannonball suggests, sipping a drink, eyes downcast.
‘Forget that, Sam. That would be like moving back in with our parents’ Meltdown exclaims, before announcing that she realizes what is wrong with bowling: ‘There’s no excitement. The pins go down. They get back up. There’s no element of danger. Until now’. With that, Tabby sends a bowling ball sized plasma time bomb down the bowling alley, which detonates when it hits into the pins. ‘See what I mean’ Meltdown asks, while various other ten-pin bowlers all stare at her in awe. ‘Are you out of yuir bloody mind?’ Siryn asks angrily, marching over to Meltdown and grabbing her arm. ‘Ye can’t go using yuir powers in public like that!’ Theresa adds, reminding everyone that they cannot afford to draw the attention of the authorities - ‘Especially in Texas, fer Heaven’s sake!’
‘Sorry, Theresa. It was just a joke. Ha ha’ Meltdown replies, smiling, while everyone else just looks awkward. Tabitha tells everyone not to worry, ‘They’ll just think the machine malfunctioned’ she offers, while Moonstar suggests that they get out of here. ‘All these cowboys are giving us the eye. Guess this concludes this evening’s entertainment’ Sunspot adds.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, an oil tanker has dropped anchor somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico some twelve hours ago. It is registered to a Saudi Arabian corporation. Its cargo had been unloaded two days earlier in Cuba. Today, inside the expansive and empty hold, blood has been spilled and bones broken in a tournament of martial arts and mayhem. Right now in the hold, the former X-Force member known as Domino is battling with a mercenary named Snakeskin, while they are being watched on various monitors, by someone who explains to another man that the gentleman with the chains - Snakeskin - is a Malaysian mercenary whose unfortunate epidermal condition is the reason his professional name is Snakeskin. ‘He comes highly recommended by the Vancouver Tongs. His opponent has the disadvantage of having fought seven other opponents today. Such an extreme workout has to have taken a toll on her…though a few cuts and bruises have never slowed Domino down in the past’.
‘Blasted camera. Always moving in my peripheral vision. I hate playing to an audience’ Domino thinks to herself as the camera continues to hover around her. Still observing the battle, the first man asks the man sitting in a chair if he has any problem with the fact that Domino is a mutant. ‘I am how you say - an equal opportunity employer’ the second man replies, adding that he was pleased to learn that Domino was available and that her resume is tres formidable he adds in French. The first man, standing in the shadows, adds that, fortunately for everyone, Domino has apparently gone freelance after ending her affiliation with the self-righteous mutant soldier Cable. ‘She’s better off on her own’ he adds.
Snakeskin suddenly wraps one of his chains around Domino’s wrist. ‘Not fast enough. Snakeskin’s chains give him a longer reach’ Domino tells herself, while Snakeskin tugs on the chain, pulling Domino towards him. ‘Come to me, baby! I want to look into your eyes and watch as you lose consciousness’ he tells her. Yanked towards Snakeskin, Domino tells herself not to resist, to just go with him - then kicks him in the head. ‘You want me, you can have me!’ she exclaims, while Snakeskin suddenly finds himself tied up in his chains, which Domino quickly wraps around him, turning his weapon against him. ‘Problem with guys like you, Snakeskin, is you’re all talk and no action. You’re such a tease’.
Desperately, Snakeskin uses his powerful legs to propel Domino back into the hull, slamming her against a wall. Domino goes wide-eyed and thinks that she cracked a rib. ‘That’s the second one today’ she adds, but a little pain is not going to make her let go of Snakeskin, and she continues to hold his chain around his neck until he passes out from lack of oxygen. Moments later, Snakeskin collapses at Domino’s feet. Domino wipes her mouth, ‘Eight down. Time to send in the medics’ she exclaims, adding that she could really go for a cigarette right now. ‘Too bad I gave it up. Nothing like a smoke after a fight’ she remarks. ‘You know I don’t approve of smoking’ a voice announces.
‘Oh, right, I forgot, it’ll kill you’ Domino mutters as she leans against a wall, while four medics enter with a stretcher to take Snakeskin away on. ‘As if taking on a handful of the top hand-to-hand fighters in the world won’t’ Domino adds, while the voice over the intercom asks if she is tired. ‘Nah. Not me. In fact, after I mop up the next muscle-bound goon you send at me, I’m gonna go dancing’ Domino replies, while thinking to herself that she is tired, and that this is a lot harder than it was when her mutant powers heightened her reaction time. ‘But this is what I wanted - a chance to prove to myself that I still had my edge’ she adds, as her mind wanders backwards….
(Flashback, narrated by Domino, takes place prior to X-Force (1st series) #76)
That’s why Domino stopped by a place she hadn’t been in years - the Hellhouse, in Chicago, where Patch, the owner and bartender, had a freelance gig lined up for her. ‘Good t’see you back in action, Dom. I’d wish you luck, but you’re the last person who needs it’ Patch said to Domino. Little did Patch know though, as ever since some kind of neural inhibitor was implanted at the base of Domino’s skull, her reaction time has been halved. Domino knows that the smart thing to do would be to disappear, retire somewhere tropical, but she needs to know that she is still in the game.
‘Hey, Dom, now that you and Cable are splitsville, whaddya say you and me team up?’ Deadpool asks as he approached Domino at the bar. ‘All dressed up and no one to kill tonight, huh, Wade?’ Domino replied. ‘No matter what you may have heard from a certain Irish redhead…I am absolutely not a psychopath’ Deadpool exclaimed, referring to Siryn. He added that his psychiatrist assures him that he is only borderline psychopathic. ‘Then again, maybe I am crazy. I’m paying that shrink $125 an hour’.
After losing Deadpool, Domino learned her assignment was to get next to Etienne Rousseau, a reclusive European crime lord, who was weeding out candidates for his personal bodyguard, in a cage-match style competition held aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only after she had taken down half the fighters that Domino realized who was running the match for Rousseau….
‘Well, have I passed the audition, Arcade?’ Domino asks, staring at the camera. ‘It warms my heart to know you haven’t forgotten me, Domino, my darling’ the man in the shadows replies. ‘And no. The game’s not over yet. You have one more contestant to face. I’m sure you’ll recognize him’ Arcade declares, grinning.
‘Domino’ a voice from above exclaims. Domino looks up outside the hull and sees her fellow former X-Force teammate, Shatterstar! ‘You’re a sick, twisted man, Arcade!’ Domino exclaims to the camera. ‘So true, my dear. But what I lack in compassion, I make up in showmanship’ Arcade replies, before telling her that her break is over and this match has officially begun. ‘Have fun, kids!’ Arcade exclaims while Shatterstar leaps down towards Domino, sword in hand he tells her that he doesn’t want to fight her, but has no choice. ‘I promise to end this quickly’ he assures her. ‘One more thing, in case either of you has any reservation about taking on a former teammate, consider this - if either one of you tries to pull your punches or throw the fight, I’ll kill your mutual friend, Rictor!’ Arcade announces gleefully.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Mexico, Julio Esteban Richter - better known simply as “Rictor” - is not happy. He sits slumped over in a room with strange devices planted throughout it. He tells himself that it is bad enough Arcade is holding him hostage, surrounded by enough nitro-glycerine that he cannot use his seismic powers, but the sadistic clown wants him to watch his best friend and Domino beat each other to a pulp.
(Shown with flashback images)
Rictor tells himself that what bothers him the most is that Arcade knew exactly how to get to them - planting word that his cousin Ramon was picking up a shipment of guns at a nightclub in Oaxaca, Rictor and Shatterstar went to intercept - and were taken down by sleeping gas. ‘Should’ve known it was a trap’ Rictor tells himself, recalling how he asked Arcade why he was doing this. ‘Did my cousin Ramon pay you -’ Rictor asked Arcade, to which Arcade told him now to be silly, as his family squabbles mean nothing to him. ‘It’s your spaced-out friend Shatterstar I want’ he revealed.
Rictor gets to his feet, ‘I can’t stand feeling this helpless. I have to something - anything -’ he thinks to himself as he holds a small monitor in his hand, where Arcade suddenly appears, telling Rictor to have patience and he will walk out of here unless he doesn’t something stupid. ‘Enjoy the show’ Arcade smirks. ‘Aaargh….’ a frustrated Rictor mutters, standing in the middle of the room he is held captive.
Back in Texas, X-Force and Cannonball walk towards their car, with Siryn declaring that it is one thing for Meltdown and Sunspot to show off their powers at that freak festival, as everything was out of the ordinary there. ‘But now we’re in middle America. Where people are scared of what that don’t understand!’ Siryn exclaims, telling Tabitha that if she starts blowing up things for kicks, then she is going to bring the law down on them, or worse. ‘Not to mention someone could be hurt’ she adds. ‘I said I’m sorry, okay? I don’t need a lecture’ Tabitha exclaims, before telling Siryn that she should learn to relax once in a while. ‘Why can’t we have a little fun with our powers once in a while?’ Meltdown adds.
Cannonball puts his arm around Meltdown and tells her that he knows it was wrong, but has to admit that watching those pins fly everywhere made him laugh. ‘Boy, is it good to see you, Tab’ Sam remarks, while Bobby watches them closely. ‘I never thought we’d be apart this long’ Sam adds, before telling his friends that he should rejoin X-Force. ‘What d’ya think?’ he asks. ‘Rejoin X-Force? Um…that’d be…great. Right, Bobby?’ Meltdown replies, looking nervously at Sunspot, who replies ‘Yeah…great’. Siryn tells Sam that they would love to have him with them. ‘Yeah, who needs the X-Men?’ Warpath adds. Everyone gets into the car except for Sunspot and Meltdown, who stand back a bit as Bobby tells Tabitha that they need to tell Sam. ‘He’s our friend’ he reminds her. ‘Tell him what? It’s not like we’re going steady. We just got hot and bothered and kissed. That’s all!’ Tabitha exclaims, telling Bobby that it doesn’t go any further, and Sam never needs to know it happened.
Back aboard the freighter, two former allies circle each other cautiously, neither wishing to initiate the inevitable. ‘Know that I take no pleasure in this, Domino. Arcade has forced my hand’ Shatterstar tells Domino, who tells him not to sweat it. ‘Arcade loves pitting friend against friend. It’s one of his favorite. Do what you have to do. I won’t take it personally’ Domino replies, and as she lunges towards Shatterstar with Snakeskin’s chain, she tells him that neither should he. Shatterstar leaps into the air, causing Arcade to exclaim over the monitor ‘About time, kiddies! I was beginning to think you were going to dance around each other all night!’ Arcade exclaims, before declaring that first blood goes to Shatterstar. ‘You’re getting old, Dom!’
Blood drips from a cut on Domino’s arm, while Domino tells herself that her timing is off, and has to pull herself together and ignore the dull buzz in her brain. Domino thinks that with this thing in her head, she cannot fight recklessly, and has to make every move count. She knows that Shatterstar has the speed and power advantage, but she has fought alongside him, and knows his moves inside and out. Domino reminds herself that Shatterstar is an enigma - his past full of mystery and contradiction. ‘Is he truly a genetically engineered gladiator from another world…or an elaborate fantasy created by a young boy during a coma that lasted most of his childhood…or something else entirely?’
Domino decides that whatever the truth of Shatterstar’s origin, the fact remains he is dangerous opponent - one who, like Snakeskins, relies too much on his weapons. Domino decides to make Shatterstar think she is hesitating, and give him an opening he cannot resist. Shatterstar suddenly lunges towards Domino, who dodges just in time, causing Shatterstar to stab a barrel with his sword, enabling Domino to smack her elbow down onto Shatterstar’s arm. ’Should’ve seen that coming!’ Shatterstar complains, while Domino pulls the sword from the barrel. Domino tells her former teammates that she didn’t want to shatter his forearm, but that she knew he would never part with one of his swords voluntarily.
Taking the sword, Domino remarks it is weird and feels like it carries some sort of electric charge, as if it is fighting against her. Shatterstar informs Domino that the blades are charged with a bio-electric current to make them unwieldy to anyone but himself. ’Then I’ll make this fast!’ Domino exclaims as she lunges towards Shatterstar, who quickly spins around and effortlessly blocks her attack with his second sword. Domino tells herself that it is clear she cannot compete with Shatterstar’s sword fighting ability, so it is time to change tactics.
Domino grabs a hook hanging from above and uses it to swing over Shatterstar’s head. ‘There’s no honor in flight’ Shatterstar calls out, to which Domino replies that she wouldn’t dream of running away from a cute guy like Shatterstar, and swings back around, kicking one of the drums onto him. She is pleased that the drums are full, as that gives them weight to keep Shatterstar occupied as he tries to push the drum off him - distracting him from Domino who swings back around and kicks him in the face. Shatterstar is knocked backwards, unconscious, and Domino stands over him. ‘Okay, so I proved I an still take care of myself in a real fight…too bad I had to beat up a friend to find out’ she thinks to herself, before telling Shatterstar that she is sorry.
‘Oh, don’t apologize, Domino - you won, and that’s what really matters. Savor your victory!’ Arcade exclaims as he stands beside Etienne Rousseau, who congratulates Domino and tells her that she fought magnificently against all opponents. Arcade introduces Etienne Rousseau, and explains that he was once one of Interpol’s most wanted. ‘What about Rictor?’ Domino asks as she suddenly cuts Arcade’s head off - revealing him to be a robot! ‘Mon dieu!’ Rousseau exclaims as he catches the robot’s head. The robot Arcade continues to speak and tells Domino not to have a cow, revealing that his men released Rictor ten minutes ago, and he is unharmed, but humiliated.
Rousseau throws the head away, telling Arcade that his services are no longer required, before extending his hand to Domino, remarking that it is a pleasure to meet her at last. ‘I believe this is the beginning of a profitable relationship for both of us’ but Domino grabs his hand and pulls it behind his back, telling him that as much as she hates to turn down a paying gig, she has got to pass. Rousseau asks her what she is doing, to which Domino reveals that she is taking him in, explaining to him that the UN Security Council wants to talk to him about some deals he made with Hydra, and they hired her to bring him into protective custody.
Half a world away from the oil tanker, the real Arcade is still watching the events on the tanker, as Domino asks Shatterstar how his arm is. Shatterstar replies that it will heal, and tells Domino that next they fight he hopes it is as allies. ‘Ugh! This is so sick-making. She breaks his forearm like a twig and he writes it off!’ Arcade complains, asking whatever happened to blood feuds. ‘Doesn’t anybody hold a grudge anymore?’ he asks, when suddenly, a voice behind him boasts ‘In my arena, the loser would be dead!’. Arcade replies ‘You didn’t hire me to bag and toe your boy. That costs extra’ he remarks as Mojo steps into the light.
The hideous alien declares that he merely wanted to see how Shatterstar has fared since they last met. ‘I’m afraid your world has made him soft’ he remarks, before declaring that if Shatterstar is to fulfil his contract he will need a completely new image. ‘Way I hear it, you’re not the only one with a claim on the boy’ Arcade remarks, to which Mojo replies that no matter what the omni-pathetic Gamesmaster wishes to believe Shatterstar is still the copyrighted property of Mojoworld Interdimensional Entertainment Incorporated - ‘Which means he belongs body and soul to me!’
Back in Texas, Cannonball, Moonstar and Warpath are about to leave the Rio Grande Motel for a food run. ‘You guys want anything?’ someone calls back to Sunspot and Meltdown who are standing in the doorway. ‘I’m fine’ Sunspot replies, but Meltdown declares that she is dying for some frozen yogurt, before they close the door to their motel room. Sunspot remarks that he didn’t think they would ever leave, before asking Tabitha if she thinks Theresa can hear them. ‘Nah, once she starts singing in the shower, she’s tuned out to the rest of the world’ Meltdown replies.
Suddenly, the grab each others hand, and Bobby remarks that he knows they said they were not going to take this any further, but that he cannot stop thinking about her. ‘I know. Me, too’ Tabby replies. They turn and look at each other, faces close together, Bobby asks what they are going to do about Sam. ‘He thinks you two are still together’ he reminds Tab, who tells Bobby that she will talk to Sam later, before they embrace and kiss - just as the door opens and Sam enters, ‘Hey, guys, boy do I feel stupid. I left my wallet on the - Bobby? Tabitha? Wh-What’s going on…?’ Sam exclaims, eyes-wide.
‘Um…it’s not what you think’ Meltdown mumbles as she looks away from both guys. ‘Oh, man. I knew this was gonna happen!’ Sunspot mutters, slapping his hand against his forehead. ‘How could you DO this to me? Ya’ll are my two best friends - and now I come to find out you’ve been fooling around behind my back!’ Cannonball exclaims, before asking how long has this been going on. Sunspot puts his hands on his head as he replies ‘Since the festival…but it’s not like we planned for this to happen’. ‘Oh, that makes me feel so much better’ Sam replies sarcastically, frowning at Bobby and Tabby as he tells them that it is so nice to know their friendship meant that much.
Meltdown tells Cannonball that he cannot blame Sunspot, to which Sam begins to leave the motel room, replying that she needn’t worry, as he blames her plenty, before asking her why she even asked him to come out here. ‘Since you joined the X-Men, we’ve been in different places’ Meltdown declares, telling Sam that she wanted to know where they stood. ‘Y’don’t gotta be a rocket scientist to figure that one, Tabitha Smith. WE’RE THROUGH!’ Cannonball exclaims as he blasts out of the motel and into the air.
Meltdown sighs and mutters ‘Well that went well’, before asking Bobby what they do now. ‘I guess I go after him’ Sunspot replies, before taking flight. Bobby manages to intercept Sam, flying in front of him, he asks Sam not to go off mad, and suggests he comes back and talk. ‘I got nothing to say to you, Roberto DaCosta!’ Cannonball replies, ‘Except if you don’t get out of my way, I’m gonna break you in two!’ Sam adds angrily before continuing on past Bobby. ‘Whoa - Sam, wait!’ Bobby calls out, realizing that if he didn’t move backwards, Sam would have mowed over him. ‘And I thought I was the one with the explosive temper!’ Bobby tells himself. ‘Yeah, like he doesn’t have every reason to be mad’ Bobby admits.
‘What have I done?’ Bobby whispers as he hovers in the air, watching Sam blast away. Moments later, Bobby drops to the ground and tells Tabitha that Sam is gone, and probably half way to New York by now. ‘Do you feel as low as I do?’ Tabitha asks, arms folded, while Warpath and Moonstar get out of the car and walk towards her, while Siryn, dressed in a robe and with a towel around her hair, walks out of the motel. ‘What just happened? Why’d Sam take off like that?’ James asks. ‘We thought he was staying with us’ Danielle points out, while Bobby replies that it doesn’t look like that is going to happen now. ‘Then ye mean Sam’s not coming back to X-Force?’ Siryn asks.
‘Uh-huh. Bobby and I made sure of that’ a nervous Meltdown remarks. ‘I just firebombed my best friend. I need to find a nice hard wall to bang my head against’ Sunspot mumbles as the two of them look away from each other.