The rain beats down in the dead of night. In a farm shed, two children are hiding. ‘Are you gonna let me see it, Johnny?’ a girl asks. ‘Uh - yeah, Mary…um…’ Johnny replies nervously. ‘Come on, you show me your and I’ll show you mine…’ Mary urges him. ‘Ok…here goes’ Johnny replies, before snapping his fingers. Mary asks him what he is doing, to which Johnny replies that he is snapping his fingers. When Mary asks him why, he tells her that is how it works. Mary sighs while Johnny continues to snap his fingers. Suddenly, ‘There! Did you see that?’ Johnny asks. ‘See what?’ Mary replies. ‘That! I did it!’ Johnny exclaims. ‘Did what, Johnny?’ Mary asks. Johnny snaps his fingers again: ‘That’ he declares, wide-eyed as he and a wide-eyed Mary look at the flame surrounding Johnny’s hand.
Imagine a place where certain things happen a lot more often than other things. Imagine what it would be like if you started…changing…you’d feel it bubbling up, from the inside out…power. Maybe you could fly…or walk through walls…or race the speed of light! Imagine…who wouldn’t want to fly?.
The town of “Almost Reno”, New Mexico, one week later. A POLICE DO NOT CROSS barricade surrounds an area of desert, while Police officers and Medics stand over a body, covered by a sheet. One of them remarks that they are thinking the body has been here a day, maybe two. ‘Good thing the buzzards like it rare’ one of them jokes. ‘That ain’t funny’ another tells him. One of them suggests to the Sheriff that this one might be different. ‘It’s been almost, what? Two - three months since the last time?’ The Sheriff replies ‘You know it ain’t like that’, while another officer declares ‘Godless freaks. Like this town ain’t -’, before he is interrupted by two men in black suits.
‘We thank you and your men for your assistance, Sheriff Hollister’ the smaller man remarks. ‘SHIELD can handle this from here’ the larger man declares as they approach the body covered by the sheet - all except for one hand engulfed, still engulfed by flame.
Imagine a place where all this “changing” happens a lot more than other places. Imagine the feeling, if the power just started coursing through you. Now imagine if it didn’t stop.
In a nearby diner, ‘This place blows. I mean…of all the places she could’a made a wrong turn into…’ Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith complains, before she gets told that she is making a scene, by Danielle Moonstar, who is reading a newspaper, which includes an article about the newly discovered body of Johnny. An older man carrying a cane grumbles as he walks past the table where Tabitha, Danielle, James “Warpath” Proudstar and Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta are sitting, while others in the diner give them strange looks. Warpath tells Tabby that Theresa is doing the best she can. ‘Maybe if you weren’t being so difficult, she wouldn’t be having such a hard time’ he adds, sticking up for his best friend.
Sunspot asks Dani what she is reading, to which Danielle replies that it is a story in the paper: “Police aren’t commenting on the unexplained nature of the boy’s death, but the victim, recently identified as Jonathan McFee, was said to have run away from home three days ago…”. Meltdown declares that there is a lot of sickos in this town. ‘And trust me, nobody’s staring cause I’m talking loud’ she adds. Moonstar goes wide eyed as she announces that the boy burned. ‘Don’t you mean he was burned?’ James asks. While some men at the diner counter turn their heads to listen to the teenagers, Danielle exclaims that it isn’t clear, and she can’t tell.
DanI continues to tell her X-Force teammates about the newspaper article, revealing that “Almost Reno” Police are calling McFee’s death an isolated incident, despite being the fifth mysterious child death in three years. ‘That sounds like a cue to me!’ Tabitha declares. ‘Somebody ask why way’s Vegas so we can get out of here, okay?’. A local cop watches the teenagers intently, while an elderly woman approaches them, remarking that it is such a shame what happened to the poor boy. ‘So young…it just ain’t right’ she remarks, before the Police officer addresses her as Millie and interrupts her as he approaches the teens, telling them that this is a quiet town with good, hardworking folk, who like it that way.
He tells the teens that there are plenty of fine roads that run through here leading to all sorts of other places, most of which young people like they will find much more interesting. ‘Am I making myself clear?’ he asks. ’Uh…sure…’ Moonstar replies, before the cop remarks ’Good’ and bids them all a nice day. Sunspot tells his friends that he will meet them outside, and makes his way to the men’s room, remarking ’I’m gonna check out the “little wranglers” room. God help me…’ as he pushes the door open, seemingly unaware that the two gruff men at the diner counter are watching him as he enters the men’s room.
Around back, a fearless leader - Theresa “Siryn” Rourke Cassidy - contemplates her next move, sitting in the front of X-Force’s red car, with a map spread out across the front seats. ‘What have you done now?’ Theresa asks herself. ‘Back on the road, the team all together…waiting so patiently for a little leadership. And what do I give them? A bloody wrong turn!’ she thinks to herself, deciding that the army surplus map they brought is not any help. ‘Is this upside down?’ she wonders.
‘So, how’s it going out here?’ James asks his best friend as he gets into the front seat beside her. ‘Uh - great! Yeah…’ Theresa replies, claiming that she was just figuring out their next move, before asking him if he brought her anything to eat. James replies that Tabitha has it, and as Tabby gets into the front seat on the other side of Siryn, she repeats what the cop was saying: “This here’s a quiet town with hardworking folk who like it that way” she mutters. ‘Less talk, more driving…what do you say?’ she asks. Siryn reaches out from under the large map, ‘I say just give me a sec, ok? I’m starving’ Theresa exclaims, while James tells Meltdown to relax. ‘This is interesting…’ Dani remarks from the backseat, still reading the newspaper, while Tabitha tells Siryn not to stop looking at the map.
Inside the unclean men‘s room, Sunspot is ready to wash his hands, but finds the towel holder empty. ‘Figures. Why would these people need towels? They probably don’t even wash their hands!’ he exclaims, before telling himself that he is special, and ready for any situation. ‘If only my shoes could do the same for this puddle on the floor. Just think water…of course it’s water…’ he tells himself while he uses his powers to heat his hands up, drying them. Suddenly, the two gruff men enter the men’s room. ‘Excuse us, son…but we was just wondering how long you was gonna be in here? You see, Rodney here needs to use the facilities a bit. Ain’t that right, Rodney?’ the smaller man declares. ‘This is my bathroom’ the larger man, Rodney, remarks. ‘Madre de dios!’ Sunspot exclaims.
Back outside, John motions to something on the map and remarks that it looks like some sort of military restricted area. Siryn replies that it must have been some sort of cold war nuclear testing site or something, and adds that the map has to be fifty years old. ‘Did you just say “restricted area”?’ Dani asks, looking up from the newspaper. ‘Get me outta here!’ Sunspot exclaims as he makes his way towards the car. ‘I’m just in the bathroom, right? And these - these guys…they just barge in and start threatening me!’. While Dani asks how far off the restricted area is, James asks what the guys said, to which Bobby replies ‘The usual stuff. You know - this is their place. They don’t like my kind. I mean, which kind are they talking about? My Latino kind? Man, they don’t even know the half of -’.
Bobby gets interrupted by Moonstar, who puts a finger over Bobby’s mouth, and tells everyone to listen to her. ‘There’s something going on here. That kid was found out near those old test sites. I think we should check it out’ she declares. ‘Rev up the Mystery Machine’ Meltdown jokes, referencing the Scooby-Doo cartoons, while Theresa pulls a face and shakes a fist at Meltdown. ‘I can hear you, Tabitha’ she mutters as James drives his friends away. There comes a point after a while out on the road when the grind starts to get to you. For the young group of mutants known as X-Force, that point is getting closer and closer.
Elsewhere, in a doctor’s office, Mary sits in a room, hunched against a wall, she listens to her mother and the doctor conversing in the room next door. ‘She gets these - these headaches, sometimes…doctor, are you sure? There isn’t’ anything -’ Mary’s mother begins, but the doctor interrupts her, and addressing her as Kay, tells her that he doesn’t know the answers. ‘I told you, it’s like I’ve seen it before…in the others’ he adds. ‘NO! My little girl isn’t like the others!’ Kay gasps.
Imagine if you just started hearing things people didn’t mean for you to hear…if your mind was suddenly opened…and suddenly you knew everything they were thinking…about you. Mary looks sideways, while the doctor tells Kay that he didn’t say that, and assures her that they will keep an eye on her and everything will be just fine. ‘Oh my God…she’s just like the others! My little girl is going to die!’ Kay thinks to herself - which is picked up by the telepathic Mary, who goes wide eyed. Moments later, the doctor opens the door to the other room: ‘Now, let’s just see - er -’ he begins, but finds the room empty, and a window open, with instruments on the bench below the window knocked over, as if someone knocked them over while climbing out. ‘Mary?’ Kay calls out, but gets no answer.
Later, X-Force arrive at the cordoned off area of the desert, and Moonstar rips the DO NOT CROSS tape down so she can pass. ‘This is it, obviously’ Warpath remarks, while Siryn asks Dani what she is thinking. Dani replies that she isn’t sure yet, but that she has a feeling there is more to “Almost Reno” than quiet, hardworking folk. Siryn looks at Warpath, before the trio move onto the restricted area and begin to search the desert ground for clues.
‘Did they come for you? Were you scared? I can hear voices, now. In my mind…and it hurts a little, sometimes’ Mary thinks to herself as she watches the young heroes from behind some rocks. ‘Look at this!’ Danielle calls out as she finds something. ‘I can hear what they’re thinking. It’s so loud, sometimes’ Mary tells herself, while Dani announces that the earth is scorched. She points out that the newspaper made it sound like the kid was dumped here, but this is where he burned. ‘Something happened to this kid. The Police know it. They have to. But no one’s saying a word…’ Dani adds. Suddenly, James moans, and Dani asks him what it is. James replies that he doesn’t know, but it is like a tingling, ‘Don’t you feel it? It’s in my…’ he begins, before screaming and clutching his head. ‘I’m not going to let them take me, Johnny. I’m not…’ Mary thinks.
Meanwhile, in the Almost Reno public library, ‘This really blows’ Meltdown complains as she sits on a seat in the library, books strewn at her feet, she asks Sunspot how they are supposed to do this, as there are no computers and no microfilms. ‘With these’ Sunspot replies as he drops some more books in front of Meltdown. ‘Oh, man…’ Tabby complains, while Sunspot looks out at the library: ‘Newspapers, reports, public records…this town used to be some sort of big government installation’ he reveals, adding that all sorts of testing went on out in the desert, and it looks like they stopped in the sixties. ‘But then - oh, my God…’ Bobby mutters as he looks at the children in the library. ‘What is it?’ Tabby asks. ‘Mutants, Tab…the kids here…I think they’re all mutants!’ Sunspot exclaims. Sunspot puts his hand to Meltdown’s, who frowns and declares that this is no place to grow up a mutant. ‘Believe me…I know’ she declares, brushing Sunspot’s hand back.
Back at the restricted area, James, Theresa and Dani try to shake off the effects of the psychic attack. Warpath puts his hand on Theresa’s back to check on her, while Mary telepathically speaks to them, ‘Go away. Leave me alone. Please…’ she pleads. ‘Who said that?’ Theresa calls out. ‘Where are you? Why did you attack us? Nobody’s going to hurt you’ Moonstar announces. ‘I don’t believe you’ Mary calls back from behind the rocks. Siryn sits up and James asks her what she is doing. ‘I’ve got an idea’ Theresa replies.
Moments later, Mary lets out an ‘EEEK!’, while Moonstar calls out to Siryn, who is hovering in the air, carrying Mary by the scruff of her neck. ‘Look at what I found! Such a big noise from such a wee lass’ Theresa remarks, ‘Let me go, please!’ Mary exclaims. ‘Oh, sweetheart…ye attacked us!’ Siryn reminds her. Mary asks to be put down, and exclaims that they are going to take her away. ‘Who?’ Danielle asks after Siryn places Mary on the ground. ‘Who’s going to take you away?’ Dani asks. ‘THEM!’ Mary exclaims urgently as she points behind the young heroes.
Several men in dark suits, armed with machine guns stand not too far behind X-Force, and one of them exclaims ‘Danielle Moonstar, step away - we are here for the girl’s own good’. Danielle ducks down behind some rocks, with Mary crouched beside her. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about - but I will shoot you if you don’t back off!’ Dani warns the SHIELD agents as she readies a psionic arrow. ‘Oh, gee…’ Mary exclaims, wide-eyed. ‘You will move away - cease and desist from int -’ one of the SHIELD agents begins, before Dani gets to her feet ‘S said BACK OFF!’ she shouts, her psionic arrow ready. ‘Dani?’ Siryn asks as she hovers behind her, and James stands nearby. ‘ - from interfering in government business. As I recall, your SHIELD affiliation is still active, Miss Moonstar’ the SHIELD officer remarks. ‘Who are you?’ Dani demands, while Mary telepathically exclaims ‘Leave…’.
‘Why…don’t you know a sHIELD agent when you see one?’ the small agent asks. ‘What does a SHIELD agent want with a little g -’ Dani begins to reply, when suddenly, Mary telepathically finishes her sentence: ‘…me…ALONE’ - in a powerful burst that knocks Moonstar, Warpath, Siryn and the SHIELD agents backwards. Moments later, X-Force and the SHIELD agents wake. ‘Ohhh…is she gone?’ Siryn asks, while one of the SHIELD agents suggests that they should talk. ‘O…K…’ Dani agrees.
Soon, at the local Police station, the small SHIELD agent introduces himself as Special Operative Briggs in charge of the “Almost Reno” project. ‘I believe you’ve met Sheriff Hollister’ he adds, before asking the Sheriff to excuse them, and motioning to the door. ‘Son of a -’ the Sheriff mutters as he storms out of his own office. ‘So, she’s a mutant?’ Danielle remarks, shrugging her shoulders. Briggs sits down on the Sheriff’s chair and declares that the “Almost Reno Children” are the result of the town’s accidental atomic exposure a generation ago. He declares that it is a grievous situation, but one that is SHIELD’s to deal with. ’We’re here to look after children like Mary’. Danielle narrows her eyes as she exclaims ‘Agent Briggs…don’t you mean to “register” them?’
Outside the Police station, Meltdown sits on a bench, while Sunspot leans against the door. ‘The government makes a mess, exposing these people to nuclear testing - the kids grow up freaks because of it - most of them die - and SHIELD keeps it a secret?’ Meltdown exclaims, unimpressed. ‘So what do you want to do about it?’ Bobby asks her. ‘What do you mean?’ Tabby replies. Bobby tells her that she always does whatever she wants to - that an idea gets in her head and no one can change her mind. ‘So…what do you want to do about it…?’ he asks her again. Tabitha replies that when she was a little girl she used to pray for school to let our early. ‘The other kids, Bobby…they were -’ she stops herself, before remarking that she would go home and her father would be waiting for her. ‘And I’d pray for school to start again’. Meltdown hugs herself, before she starts to walk away, telling Bobby that she is sorry she is such a handful. ‘Tab…?’ Sunspot calls out. ‘You coming?’ Meltdown asks him.
At a nearby school playground, children go about playing on the equipment, while Mary sits on a swing, thinking to herself that she hates recess. ‘All the other kids like recess, but I hate it’. She tells herself that it used to be ok, when Johnny was still alive. Mary realizes that the other kids think she cannot hear them - making jokes - ‘Well, some of them do, but I don’t think they care very much that I can’. Mary hangs her head as she tells herself that there is something about the air here - and the dirt, and the water - that makes them - ‘Johnny and me - special. That’s what my mom says’.
Meltdown approaches Mary, who is still on the swing. Tabitha knows what it is like to grow up like Mary. A mutant, she remembers the loneliness and the teasing. She goes over what she plans to say a hundred times as she approaches the young girl. She only hopes - ‘I can hear you. In my head. I can hear a lot of things now’ Mary exclaims, without turning around. So much for Tabitha’s plan. Instead, Tabitha kneels on the swing next to Mary and remarks ‘Oh…yeah? So, uh… what am I thinking now?’ she asks. ‘Wha - what is that?’ Mary asks, confused.
Standing at the playground fence, Moonstar asks Siryn, Warpath and Sunspot if they see any goons coming. ‘I think we’re on borrowed time here’ she adds. ‘Nothing but Tabitha…’ Sunspot exclaims. Sitting on the swing now, Tabitha explains that she is thinking about things that make her happy. ‘My friends…shopping…boy stuff’ she remarks. ‘Ewwww…that’s gross’ Mary exclaims. ‘Um…forget I thought about that’ Meltdown tells her, which causes Sunspot to frown.
Tabitha tells Mary to believe it or not, but that mutant stuff gets pretty cool when you’re older. With that, she creates several plasma time-bombs and throws them into the air. ‘How - how do you do that?’ Mary exclaims. ‘How can you read my mind?’ Meltdown replies. ‘I miss my friend, Johnny’ Mary whispers. ‘I know you do…’ Tabby tells her. Siryn watches Meltdown deal to Mary, and tells Bobby that she is a pretty special girl.
Suddenly, ‘Oh, no…’ Moonstar exclaims as she motions to the dozen SHIELD agents who have entered the playground, now abandoned by the other children. ‘I really can’t take another headache’ Warpath mutters, while Meltdown suggests that she should get going. But Mary tells her not to worry, as she can handle this. Mary concentrates hard, and suddenly all of the SHIELD agents drop to the ground, moaning and groaning as they clutch their heads and blood streams from their nose. ‘Bloody noses…? Gross…’ Tabitha remarks, as she walks past them.
‘MARY!’ a woman exclaims as she rushes across the playground. ‘Mommy? My head hurts…’ Mary exclaims as she runs towards her mother. ‘I know, sweetie…I know it does…’ Kay replies as she embraces her daughter. Meltdown opens her mind to Mary, telling her that they are going to get out of here. ‘You cool now?’ she asks. Hugging her mother still, Mary winks at Meltdown. ‘My kinda girl’ Meltdown remarks as she joins her teammates, suggesting that someone should tell SHIELD they will skip the escort out of town.
Shortly, in their car, X-Force are on the road again, and Siryn asks Meltdown, who is examining the map, if Mary is all right now. Meltdown replies that she is getting a handle on it. ‘The telepathy, I mean - not the mutant thing’. ‘One never does, Tabitha. One never does…’.