Sam Guthrie was only fifteen when he said good-bye to Cumberland, Kentucky, the town in which he was born and raised. Since that day, he has travelled to places he never knew existed, and led a life of adventure he never imagined for himself. And yet, no matter where his journeys have taken him, he has always kept this place in his heart, for this is his home. Then why is it that tonight, as he stands at the house in which he grew up, he is filled with dread? The handsome young mutant also known as Cannonball enters the house. It is quiet, everyone is in bed but his mother, Lucinda. Sam thinks that his mother looks more tired than the last time he saw her.
’Sorry I’m late, mama. Ah woulda been here sooner, but my train was delayed in Chicago’ Sam announces, adding that she didn’t have to wait up for him. Lucinda puts her book down and tells Sam that even with he and his sister Paige out on their own she still has five kids that keep her busy all day. ‘The midnight hour’s the only time I have to unwind with a book in peace’ she exclaims. As Sam and Lucinda hug, Lucinda adds that she was not going to let her oldest sneak into the house without giving him a hug. Sam tells his mother that it is good to be home, before Lucinda informs him that the kids were so excited when they heard he was coming to visit. ‘We all missed you’ she adds.
‘Same here’ Sam tells his mother, adding that there isn’t a day that goes by where he doesn’t wonder how they are all doing. They make their way to the kitchen as Lucinda remarks that Sam must be famished after his long trip from New York, and tells him that she can heat up some of the stew they had earlier tonight. Sam tells his mother that if he wants something later he can get it himself, but Lucinda tells him not to be silly, as it is no bother. ‘And you could use some more meat on your bones’ she tells him, remarking that he is just like his father - as skinny as a rail. ‘Aw man’ Sam mutters, ‘Oh, don’t you roll your eyes at me, young man’ Lucinda tells him, instinctively knowing what he is doing. ‘Your mother still knows what’s best for you’ Lucinda adds while he readies the stew, before asking Sam how life in New York is going.
Images of his teammates - Wolverine, Storm, Marrow, Maggott and Cecilia Reyes - flash through Cannonball’s mind as he tells his mother that life in New York is mostly confusing. ‘Ah thought being one of the X-Men was what Ah wanted, but Ah’m no so sure anymore’ he reveals, adding that for a while he told himself it was because the new members - Maggott, Marrow and Dr Reyes - didn’t seem like real X-Men material. He admits that he realizes now it is him that doesn’t fit. ‘Ah feel like Ah’m just going through the motions being there’ he reveals, adding that he needs something more, but the problem is, he hasn’t figured out what that something might be.
Lucinda brings a bowl of stew over to the table for her eldest son and asks if this would have anything to do with the fact that he and Tabitha broke up. ‘Yeah, well…Ah don’t know what happened…Ah just can’t believe she and Bobby could do that to me…’ Sam replies. ‘Her loss’ Lucinda tells Sam, before assuring her son that he will find someone else. ‘I promise. Probably when you’re not even looking’ she adds. Sam hangs his head as he declares that he is definitely not looking right now, while thinking to himself that he cannot begin to explain what is going on between he and Marrow. ‘How on earth can I possibly be attracted to that psychopath?’ he wonders, before asking his mother if they can change the subject. ‘Ah didn’t come all this way to talk about my problems’ he exclaims, before telling his mother that he is worried about her, as Zak sent him a letter telling him things weren’t right at home.
‘And then when I called, you told me you didn’t want to talk about it over the phone’ Sam reminds his mother, asking her now that he is here if she will please tell him what is going on. Lucinda reveals that she has been having a lot of trouble holding on to things lately. ‘At first I thought it might be arthritis setting in - but the doctor diagnosed it is something called Infectious Polyradiculoneuritis, or Guillain-Barre Syndrome’ Lucinda reveals. She explains that it means she is suffering from a disease that shuts down the nervous system and eventually makes it near impossible to move. Lucinda tells Sam that it is not fatal, but that she is going to be hospitalized for treatments while the disease runs its course.
‘Mah God!’ a wide-eyed Sam exclaims, asking his mother why she didn’t tell him sooner and declares that he will move back in straight away so he can take care of the kids. ‘You always were the responsible one, Sam’ Lucinda tells her son, before telling him that she doesn’t want him giving up his life for her. Lucinda reveals that cousin Bonnie has agreed to let them move in with her while she receives treatment at the rehabilitation center in Lexington, and that after she is back on her feet, she is going to try and find work there. ‘Shouldn’t you be thinking about getting better before you think about moving?’ Sam asks his mother. ‘I mean, you can’t just up and leave Cumberland. Our roots are here!’ he exclaims.
Lucinda tells her son that she is trying to think of this as a blessing in disguise, as the move to Lexington will be good for everybody. She tells Sam that the schools are better and the job market is good. ‘There’s even a music conservatory that Josh applied to’ she reveals, telling Sam that they both know there is not much opportunity around here since the mines closed. Sam hangs his head as his mother gets up and he tells her that she wishes there was something he could do to help her. Lucinda suggests they talk about this in the morning, before bidding her son goodnight.
Later that night, Sam sits on a sofa in a darkened room, wearing just his jeans he asks himself who he is trying to kid, as he cannot sleep, he is too wound up. He keeps thinking about his mother in the hospital, and then remembers his father on his deathbed, dying of black lung when he was just thirty-six years old. ‘And just like then, I’m helpless to stop it’ Sam thinks to himself, before putting an unbuttoned shirt on, he thinks that his stomach is all tied up in knots, and that he should get out of here for some fresh air.
Moments later, the young man born with the rare x-factor gene that classifies him a mutant propels through the air like a rocket, with a burst of propulsive energy. Sam reminds himself of being younger and dreaming of being discovered by a baseball scout and being asked to pitch for the Yankees, but then his father died and he had to go work in the mines. ‘Ah thought Ah’d never leave Cumberland’ he tells himself, before deciding that now that he has been around the world and even to space, he realizes how much this place means to him.
Blasting through the night air, Sam wonders if that is why he felt so strange with the X-Men, for even though he lived at the Mansion while he was a New Mutant, but after coming back to the X-Men following his time with X-Force, he has been feeling like a guest in someone else’s house. ‘Maybe this is one way the good Lord’s telling me to get my priorities in order’ Sam wonders, before noticing something below in the mine area.
He blasts down for a closer look, and sees a girl, glowing, running through the mine area. ‘Of course, considering all I’ve seen since Professor X asked me to join the New Mutants, that’s nothing’ Sam decides, before thinking that wound these parts, he thought it was only the Guthries who held the monopoly on strange phenomena. Sam comes to a stop and lands, while seeing the girl running into the old Pierce-Consolidated Coal Mines. He tells himself that he hasn’t been to these mines in five years since he went to work after his father died, and remembers that the mines were closed not long after he left to join the New Mutants.
Sam tells herself that the glowing girl is running like the Devil is on her trail. ‘It can’t be that spooked her, can it?’ he wonders, before following her into the mine, for he knows that the mine shafts are an accident waiting to happen. Soon, Sam sees the glowing girl up ahead, and calls out to her: ‘Hey, come back! I don’t want to hurt you!’ he exclaims, before telling her that these tunnels are not safe. ‘I was caught in a cave-in once and I was lucky I got out alive!’ he tells her. But as Sam rounds a corner, he cannot see the girl. ‘Huh? Where’d she go? Ah hope she didn’t fall down a -’ Sam begins, before a large fists punches him in the face. A large green-skinned being stands over Sam’s fallen body, ‘You have a choice, hunter - surrender, or die!’ he shouts. The glowing girl stands behind him and addresses him as Ulysses as she exclaims ‘Make him hurt!’ A weary Sam manages to tell his attacker that he thinks he has been mistaken for someone else.
Meanwhile, on Sixteenth Street in the heart of San Francisco’s multicultural Mission District. Civilians queue up to get into the Velocity nightclub, where inside, a woman with short pink hair approaches Jesse Aaronson and asks ‘Hey, don’t I know you?’. Jesse replies that he just moved to the city, to which the pink-haired woman tells him that nobody is a native in this city. ‘Everybody comes to San Francisco trying to get away from something’ she adds before revealing that the minute she turned eighteen, she said good-bye to the confused parental units and got the heck out of Ohio. She introduces herself as Kat, short for Katrina, she explains, before asking ‘You got a name, fresh meat?’
Jesse smiles as he introduces himself, before Kat asks him what his story is. ‘You a musician, struggling artist or computer geek?’. ‘None of the -’ Jesse begins, before spitting his drink back into the glass when he notices two men wearing suits enter the club. ‘Ooh, nice spit-take. Was it something I said?’ Kat asks. ‘No. Remember what you said about getting away from something? Well, two of my reasons just showed up’ Jesse announces. ‘Are you certain Bedlam’s here?’ the handsome man in the suit asks his dark-skinned companion. ‘Jesse has a very unique energy signature. He’s definitely nearby’ the second man responds.
Jesse makes his way through the crowds of people, ‘I can’t believe these guys found me. I’ve gotta get out of here’ he tells himself, when suddenly the handsome man in the suit sees Jesse, ‘There he is!’ he exclaims, pushing a civilian to one side. ‘Hey! What’s your problem, dude?’ the civilian calls out. Jesse makes his way down to the back of the nightclub, passing a girl who says to someone else ‘…after the way that jerk treated me, he was lucky I used a water soluble glue’. Jesse looks around, hoping to see an exit, but there is none. He tells himself that he is going to have to create diversion, while a man on the phone remarks to the person that he is talking to that they have to get down here, while another girl claims that she used to date the bass player.
Jesse sees the fuse box and decides that it is exactly what the doctor ordered, before putting his hand to it and using his mutant ability, he generates a bio-electric field that plays havoc with the club’s electrical wiring - and instantly, the nightclub goes dark. ‘What’s with the lights?’ someone calls out. ‘Move that hand or lose it!’ someone warns someone else. The handsome man tells his colleague that this is Bedlam’s doing, while his colleague responds that they taught him well. ‘Does this mean it’s closing time?’ someone else asks. ‘I’m freaking out, man!’ another exclaims.
Jesse meanwhile has managed to start crawling through a window at the rear of the club, which leads into an alleyway. ‘In the darkness, nobody saw me slip into the ladies room’ he thinks to himself, deciding that with Wyndham and Parsons on his trail he is going to have to get out of the city for a while. ‘Too bad, I was really beginning to like it here’ he tells himself, when suddenly, ‘I figured you’d try something like this, Aaronson!’ someone calls out as they grab Jesse, who is only half-through the window. Jesse is pulled out of the window by a woman who tells him to give her one good reason why she shouldn’t kick his sorry butt all the way back to Montana. ‘Don’t you think I have better things to do than chase a stupid teenager halfway across the country?’ the woman asks.
‘Would it help if I said I’m sorry, Nicole?’ Jesse asks. ‘Don’t “Nicole” me. Your recklessness could have cost lives’ Nicole snaps back, before telling Jesse that he never thinks about anyone except himself. ‘That’s harsh’ Jesse replies, before his male trackers approach him. ‘But extremely deserved, Jesse. After all we‘ve done. I expected better from you’ the dark-skinned man remarks. The handsome man tells Jesse to understand that he is going to be held responsible for any damage his actions have caused. ‘You’ve had your fun, now it’s time to go home’ he tells him.
‘I’m not going back!’ Jesse exclaims, declaring that he doesn’t want to be part of the team anymore, that all he wants to do is lead his own life. Nicole slams Jesse up against a wall and calls him a selfish, ungrateful child. ‘If I had my way, I’d give you to the Void and let him do something about that attitude of yours!’. Suddenly, a voice exclaims ‘Excuse me, ma’am, but Jesse Aaronson’s a friend - and we don’t take kindly t’our friends being threatened!’. Standing before Jesse and the three in suits are X-Force! Theresa “Siryn” Rourke, Domino, James Proudstar, Dani Moonstar, Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta and Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith. Six young mutants brought together to take on a world that fears unusual abilities.
Dani readies a psionic arrow while remarking ‘These guys are coming on like feds’, while Meltdown declares that, actually, Jesse is more of an acquaintance but that Siryn’s statement still holds. Siryn remarks that none of the three in suits have flashed a badge, so she doubts they have any authority. ‘Take me advice. Walk away’ she tells them. ‘I’ve got all the authority I need!’ Nicole declares, grabbing a pistol, but the handsome man tells her to take it easy, as this is exactly the situation they are hoping to avoid. ‘You misunderstand us. We don’t want to hurt Jesse’ the other man claims.
‘Pardon me, if pulling a gun doesn’t exactly make me believe ye’ Siryn replies matter-of-factly, while Jesse goes over to X-Force and tells them that he really appreciates them backing him up like this. ‘And, Theresa, you have got that icy don’t-mess-with-me, I’m-in-charge voice down!’ he tells her, before announcing that Doctor Parsons is right. They’re not the bad guys. Domino approaches the handsome man, remarking that she didn’t recognise him at first, but that his is Lucas Wyndham, the astronaut. ‘You were part of the Athena shuttle mission with Peter Corbeau’ she adds. ‘And you’re the mysterious Domino’ Wyndham responds.
‘You know who I am?’ Domino asks, surprised. ‘I wouldn’t expect a former astronaut to be familiar with my career…when did NASA become interested in mutants?’ she asks. Wyndham replies that he doesn’t work for any government agency, and that neither do his colleagues. Dr Parsons or Ms Lomenzo. ‘Have you ever heard of MUSE?’ he asks, explaining that they are an organization dedicated to extracting mutants in crisis and relocating them to a more secure environment.
Moonstar declares that she has never heard of any such thing, while Meltdown asks her teammates if they think he is “jerking their chain”. Jesse tells his companions that Wyndham is on the level, and explains that he wouldn’t be here today if MUSE hadn’t rescued him. ‘It’s kind of like the underground railroad was before slavery was abolished’ he explains. Domino announces that she knew Xavier had discussed the creation of an underground, but that she was not aware it existed. Wyndham tells everyone that he will be happy to explain as much as he can, but not in public. He suggests they find someplace more private to speak. ‘Your warehouse, for example’.
Back in Kentucky, ‘What are you waiting for, Ulysses? Finish him off!’ the girl exclaims. ‘You know he’d kill you if he had the chance!’ she tells her companion. Ulysses addresses the girl as Arcadia and tells her that the bloodlust he hears in her voice concerns him. ‘Taking a life is not something I do lightly. Pray that you never have another’s blood on your hands’ he tells Arcadia, before looking at Cannonball and announcing that he does not recognize him. ‘He’s not on of the sword. Can I have made a mistake?’ Ulysses wonders. ‘You bet you have, mister!’ Cannonball exclaims as he focuses past the pain, and using his comet-like acceleration, propels Ulysses through a series of support beams in the mine.
The beams crumble, and rubble collapses onto Ulysses. Sam declares that for their information he does not appreciate being sucker-punched, adding that he is mad at himself for walking into an unknown situation like a rank amateur. Sam turns to Arcadia and declares that now the big bruiser is out of the way, he wants to know what is going on. ’Why’d you set me up?’ he asks her. ’If you harmed Ulysses, farm boy, I’m gonna make you wish you’d never been born!’ Arcadia snaps, ignoring Cannonball’s question as she warns him that he doesn’t know the ways she can make him hurt.
But suddenly, Ulysses emerges from the rubble, ’Arcadia, NO! Whatever you do, don’t use your power!’ he exclaims, assuring her that he will take care of the boy. Ulysses tells Sam that he is sorry to have to do this to him, but that he is a distraction they cannot afford right now, and slams into Cannonball too fast, Sam doesn’t have time to power up, before he is knocked clear across the mine. ’Is he dead?’ Arcadia asks as Sam lies motionless some feet away. ’No. Just unconscious’ Ulysses replies, before telling Arcadia that they need to find a more secure location, and quickly. He tells her that he hoped to lure the hunter into these caves, but they caught the mutant boy instead, which means that unfortunately the real threat is still nearby. ’I wish you’d let me take care of things, Uly. You never let me use my power’ Arcadia complains, boasting that she can take care of herself. ’Not today, girl’ Ulysses tells her.
Back in San Francisco, this time in the China Basin district, where X-Force currently call home, inside a warehouse leased to Sunspot cheap by his father’s company. X-Force, Jesse, Wyndham, Dr Parsons and Lomenzo are gathered in the living area, where Wyndham explains that MUSE is an acronym for the Mutant Underground Support Engine. He reveals that they are a network of concerned individuals trying to protect mutants from the rising anti-mutant sentiment in this country. Wyndham tells X-Force that they know his background, and informs them that Dr Parsons is a noted neurologist, while Ms Lomenzo is a former naval officer. ’Think of us as a search and rescue team for endangered mutants’ Nicole suggests, adding that they monitor mutant activity throughout North America.
Siryn remarks that Jesse found X-Force by using MUSE’s database, while Tabitha tells them that their files must be pretty thorough, as even her father doesn’t know she is in San Francisco yet. Wyndham explains that they draw their information from every news source available - newswires, internet postings, medical journals and tabloids, and that they also have friends in government agencies who risk a great deal by providing them with classified documents. Nicole reveals that Jesse was not only one of their rescues, but that he was also being groomed as a field agent, but without authorization he used his particular ability to access their sub rosa link to the SHIELD computer system.
Dr Parsons remarks that if they hadn’t learned of his entry in time to cover his tracks, their entire organisation might have been shut down. He adds that they tried to find him in New York, but by that time he was already on his way here. ‘I knew this guy couldn’t be trusted’ Sunspot exclaims, while Jesse declares that he was going to tell them the truth - sooner or later. ‘I think you like knowing more about us than we do about you’ Dani tells him, frowning. ‘You want to know the truth? Well, I’ll try not to bore you. My life by Jesse Aaronson, Nineteen. The short version:
Flashback Illustrations, narrated by Bedlam II:
Jesse reveals that when he was five his parents were killed in an accident, but he and his seven year old brother, Christopher, survived. His parents did not have any living relatives, so he and his brother were thrown into foster homes, but not together. For reasons Jesse has never been able to figure out, the people from social services separated he and Chris. Jesse admits that he was not exactly the poster child for emotional stability, as he had lost everyone he ever loved. After a parade of therapists, the now thirteen year old Jesse was committed to a psychiatric institution for observation, where his mutant powers kicked into gear, destroying every electronic monitoring device he was hooked up to.
Jesse’s less than saintly doctor saw his condition as his lottery ticket, subjecting him to every kind of test for the book he intended to write. Luckily, Jesse was liberated from his life as a lab rat, courtesy of Lucas Wyndham. Lucas then brought Jesse to Dr Parson’s ranch in Montana, a place where he felt like he was actually wanted, and where the power blackouts and equipment malfunctions he caused would not call undue attention to him.
James tells Jesse it sounds like he was lucky Wyndham found him, to which Tabitha asks him if everything was so peachy in Montana then why did he leave. ‘His brother. That’s the big hole in his life’ Domino remarks. ‘Exactly’ Jesse confirms. Jesse tells everyone that he knows Christopher is out there somewhere, but that he could not find him by himself, which is when he used the Underground’s database to find someone who could do the impossible - Domino. He adds that through Domino’s file he learned about X-Force. Wyndham assures X-Force that only a handful of people in the Underground have access to that information, while Siryn remarks that she had no idea their lives were so well documented, as they have gone to great lengths to keep their existence quiet.
‘Except for your public battle with the Externals in New York two summers ago, or your part in the strange goings-on at the Exploding Man Festival in Texas’ Dr Parsons reminds the heroes, adding that he doesn’t need to remind them of their recent escapades in Las Vegas. Wyndham tells X-Force that they may not be known by the general public, but that they have been flagged by every law enforcement agency in the country. ‘You need to keep a lower profile’ he tells them, while Nicole suggests that losing the bright costumes might help. ‘Thanks for the advice, but I think we know how to keep under the radar if necessary’ Domino declares, adding that Jesse helped her track down Ekatarina Gryaznova, so she is now going to help him find his brother.
‘Don’t waste your time, Domino. Jesse’s brother doesn’t exist’ Dr Parsons announces. ‘LIAR!’ Jesse exclaims, grabbing Dr Parsons by the collar. Sunspot remarks that he is confused, while Meltdown asks why Jesse would say he has a brother if he doesn’t. ‘Somebody struck a nerve’ Siryn remarks, while Domino suggests that they had better pull Jesse away from Dr Parsons. Wyndham remarks that it is all right, as Jesse would never harm Derek. ‘He’s practically Jesse’s second father’. Jesse puts his head against Dr Parson’s shoulder while Dr Parson tells him that he knows he is not saying this to hurt him. ‘You’re wrong. My brother’s out there. He’s out there’ Jesse replies.
Dr Parsons tells X-Force that when Jesse first came to them, he told them about the brother he lost, so naturally they tried to find Christopher Aaronson, but there was no evidence he ever existed - no birth certificate, no medial records, no adoption papers - absolutely nothing. Wyndham explains that they think Jesse invented an imaginary brother when everyone he loved had been taken from him.
Nicole asks if they are done with the psychodrama and points out that they came here to make sure Jesse didn’t compromise the Underground. ‘Now that we did, we can get back to business’ she exclaims, putting a hand on Jesse and telling him that it is time to come home. ‘I told you. I’m not going back!’ Jesse exclaims, brushing Nicole off, he exclaims that his brother is not a figment of his imagination, but that someone has gone to great lengths to keep them apart. ‘I’m going to find him, no matter what you think!’ he declares.
Back in Kentucky, Arcadia and Ulysses leave the mine shaft, with Ulysses telling Arcadia that they need to head South, as they need to leave this continent completely. Arcadia replies that she is tired of running, to which Ulysses asks her if she would rather the sword returned her to the keep. ‘But I have powers that can stop them once and for all!’ Arcadia exclaims. Neither Ulysses nor Arcadia notice a red-armored figure approaching them from above, while Ulysses asks Arcadia if she doesn’t remember what happened the last time she tried to stop them. ‘Not to mention that the moment that you use your powers, you become a beacon for our pursuers’ Ulysses adds, when suddenly the new arrival smacks him in the back with a large pole like weapon, ‘Too late, traitor. You know you couldn’t escape Argos the Hunter!’ he booms.
Ulysses screams, while Argos puts him in a headlock using the pole, asking ‘What happened to you, my old friend? What made you think you could ever betray the sword?’, before announcing that he will kill him quickly for old times’ sake. Suddenly, Cannonball arrives on scene, ‘Ah know this isn’t my fight…but nobody’s killing anybody when I’m around!’ he exclaims as he blasts into Argos. Sam tells himself that he could be making a mistake, as Argos could be one of the good guys, ‘But I’ve learned that the good guys don’t usually threaten to kill their opponents’ he tells himself.
Argos smacks Cannonball with his weapon, and Sam Is knocked backwards. ‘I gelt that even through the force field that surrounds me while I’m powered up’ Sam tells himself, while Argos asks Ulysses if he requires children to protect him now. ‘How the mighty have fallen’ he remarks, before telling Cannonball that he can die with Ulysses if he so wishes. Cannonball blasts towards Argos, and smashes through his weapon, cutting it in two as he exclaims ‘Ah’d rather not - and I think you won’t be half the threat with that glow-in-the-dark pig-sticker’ Sam adds. ‘NO!’ Argos shouts when the weapon snaps. Energy spreads around Argos, who exclaims that the staff’s containment unit has been shattered, and without it, the energy it channels cannot be controlled. He then screams as the energy engulfs him.
Cannonball drops down beside Ulysses and asks him where he thinks he is going. ‘Ah just saved your life. I figure the least you owe me is an explanation!’ Sam declares. Ulysses introduces himself and explains Arcadia is his charge. ‘You’re a man of few words’ Sam tells him, while Ulysses helps Arcadia up, asking her if she is hurt. Arcadia replies that she isn’t and apologizes for freezing when Argos attacked. Sam asks if they would mind telling him why Argos wanted to kill them, to which Ulysses explains that Arcadia possess a gift that Argos’ master wants to control, and that they have been dodging hunters for months now.
‘Why are we even talking to this hick?’ Arcadia asks. Sam tells her that he will ignore that comment, before remarking that if they need some help, he knows some people - but Ulysses interrupts, suggesting that Sam should leave now and forget they ever saw them. ‘Argos is only one of the sword. Others will follow…and if they believe you’re assisting us in any way, your life will be in grave danger’ Ulysses explains. ‘You don’t know my friends’ Sam replies, to which Arcadia declares that she hates to interrupt the farm report, but that the rest of the hunters have arrived. All three look up and see a jet overhead, shinning a spotlight on them. Ulysses tells Cannonball that it looks like he is in this whether he likes it or not. ‘So what do we do now?’ Sam asks. ‘RUN!’ Arcadia replies….