Flashback, “five years ago”,:
Inside the very exclusive Massachusetts Academy, in New England’s Berkshire Mountains, negotiations between that institution’s unusual and sultry Headmistress and a prospective student are coming to a close. Sitting behind her desk, Emma Frost a.k.a. the White Queen tells the young man sitting before her that he has seen what the Massachusetts Academy has to offer, it is time he made a decision. ’Are you ready to become part of the most elite student body in the world?’ she asks. ‘In a word, Ms Frost - no’ comes the reply. Emma presses her fingertips together as she tells him that she understands, before pointing out that he is remarkably self-reliant for someone of his age.
‘You believe that there’s nothing we can teach you about yourself that you don’t already know. You’re wrong. If you truly want to realize the full potential of your unique gift, you require guidance’ the White Queen exclaims. The young man smiles as he tells the White Queen that perhaps her other students need her to hold their hands, but he doesn’t. ‘I learned at a very young age to recognize when someone was trying to manipulate me’ he declares, adding that she should be honest: ‘Your interest in your students is hardly altruistic’ he adds. He tells her that her position as the Hellfire Club’s White Queen is fortified while she controls a retune of exceptionally “gifted” youth. ’While I respect that, I won’t be a part of it’ he announces.
‘You’re making a mistake’ Emma declares. ‘Then tell me, Ms Frost, if out situations were reversed, and you were sixteen again, would you accept?’ When the White Queen doesn’t answer, the young man remarks ‘No? I didn’t think so’. The White Queen narrows her eyes as she says ‘You are not going to walk out that door’. But, standing at the open door, the young man turns back, smiling, and exclaims ‘Your telepathy won’t work on me, Emma. My own special bio-chemistry thankfully disrupts any unwanted psychic intrusion’. He thanks the White Queen for her hospitality. ‘It’s been…enlightening’ he tells her. ‘GET OUT’ the White Queen snaps in a frosty manner.
Walking past two Hellfire Club attendants, ‘Later, gentlemen’ the young man remarks casually, before suggesting to them that they steer clear of the Headmistress for a few hours. ‘She doesn’t handle rejection well’. Suddenly, the young man hears a voice from around a corner: ‘I knew you would refuse Mademoiselle Frost’s offer - still, I hoped that - somehow - you would choose to stay’. The voice belongs to Marie-Ange Colbert a.k.a. Tarot. Standing in her Hellions costume, it has only been five months since the White Queen brought the sixteen year old to America from France. She knew that she was leaving France long before the White Queen’s arrival at the convent school in Lyons, just as she knew that she would become inextricably bound to this young American man. Tarot is prescient, gifted with the ability to see fragments of the future.
The young man approaches Marie-Ange and hugs her, ‘Sorry, baby, but I can’t be one of Frost’s Hellions any more than I could be one of Xavier’s boy scouts’ he tells her. He tells Marie-Ange that she should not waste her time here either. ‘Don’t be a pawn. Come away with me’ he asks her. Marie-Ange hangs her head and tells him that she is sorry, but she cannot, as fate brought her here, so she must remain, as it is her destiny. The young man touches Marie-Ange’s face, telling her that she does not have to look at her cards to be certain of this, ‘I will come back for you’ he assures her.
Tonight, San Francisco is blanketed by the thick, costal fog for which the city by the bay is renowned. In the Richmond District, the fog is so dense that the Irish pubs, Russian bakeries and Chinese restaurants of Clement Street are all but invisible. For the last five blocks, James Proudstar of the teenage mutant heroes X-Force, has been aware that someone is following him - someone whose breathing and footsteps are barely audible, even to his heightened mutant senses - which makes him momentarily wonder if his pursuer is some kind of apparition.
‘I’m tired of this game of cat and mouse…’ James thinks to himself, before spinning around and shouting ‘Who are you, and why are you following me?’. Suddenly, out of the fog steps…Marie-Ange Colbert - Tarot! ‘I didn’t mean to frighten you, James Proudstar. I was gathering the courage to speak to you’ she announces, dressed in black. ‘It has been such a very long time since we were students at the Academy - since we were Hellions!’. James goes wide-eyed, ‘TAROT? But you’re…you’re dead! How -?’ he gasps at his former teammates sudden appearance.
Tarot places her fingers on James’ mouth, telling him that some things she cannot explain, and asks him not to ask any more questions, but to listen. ‘The Emperor attempts to wake the sleeping giant, and the day of reckoning draws closer. You and your friends are in great peril, from without and within’ Tarot remarks cryptically. ‘One of your own will soon betray you’ she tells James, who replies ‘You’re not making any sense…’, but Tarot explains that she has taken a great risk by telling him anything. ‘To attempt to change one future, often insures that future’ she adds, before remarking that she has said too much already and must go, before bidding him au revoir. ‘Tarot…Marie…don’t go…if you’re in trouble…I can help you’ James tells her, but Tarot appears to vanish into the fog.
A perplexed James looks around, wondering how Marie-Ange could just vanish on him like that, as even in this fog he should be able to hear her footsteps or follow the barest scent of her perfume. Kneeling down, James picks up all that is left - one of her tarot cards. ‘Death, huh? That’s morbidly appropriate’ James tells himself, recalling that after he left the Hellions, half of the original team - Tarot, Catseye, Roulette and Jetstream - died at the hands of Trevor Fitzroy, a psychopathic mutant from the future. James remembers seeing photos of their bodies in the horrible aftermath. ‘Tarot was among them. She couldn’t have survived’ James tells himself.
Suddenly, ‘James…’ a voice calls out from within the fog. ‘Tarot…?’ James calls back, before Theresa “Siryn” Rourke, his teammate and best friend approaches him, telling him she is sorry for being late. ‘Ye wouldn’t believe how hard it was to hail a cab downtown in this soup’ she remarks, adding that she likes the fog, as it reminds her of her home in Ireland. Theresa tells James that she is famished and asks him what he is in the mood to eat, before seeing James cover his face with a hand and asks him what is wrong. ‘Ye look like ye’ve seen a ghost’ she remarks. ‘That’s a distinct possibility’ James replies, concerned.
Meanwhile, in the back room of a dive called the Ninth Circle, Jesse “Bedlam” Aaronson, newest member of X-Force has controlled the bar’s only pool table since early afternoon. Bedlam likes the geometry of the game, the mathematical calculation of angles and velocity and force necessary to bank a ball into a corner pocket. It keeps him from thinking about the things that are missing in his life - friends and family. Suddenly, his teammate Domino approaches him. ‘You up for a game? Have to warn you though. I’m good’ Jesse boasts. ‘And not bar room good, either - I’m talking ESPN good’. Domino ignores his usual banter, instead informing him that she thinks she has uncovered a lead in his case. ‘You’ve found my brother?’ Jesse asks.
‘No. However, I learned that your parents weren’t just civil servant grunts as you thought - turns out they were information analysts at the National Security Department’ Domino reveals. Jesse stops playing pool, ‘NSD? They were spies? Then you think their deaths weren’t an accident?’ Jesse asks. Domino replies that she came to no conclusions, but that what she did unearth is the name and address of the agent who supervised their department, and asks Jesse if he wants to go and talk to him with her. ‘Give me a minute and I’m there’ Jesse replies.
Jesse grabs his coat and heads to the men’s room, thinking to himself that he has spent the past decade trying to find his older brother, Christopher, coming up with dead end after dead end, and now this is the first real inroad he has made in the search. ‘I knew recruiting Domino was a good idea’ he tells himself, before telling himself to calm down, that he cannot get too excited. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a vial of pills. ‘Don’t want to lose it now…’ he tells himself.
Two hours later, at the Sacramento Delta Retirement Village, ‘You didn’t tell me our source has been condemned to an old folks home’ Jesse mutters as he and Domino make their way past the retirement home’s residents. Domino tells Aaronson to not get his hopes up, as this could turn our to be nothing. ‘I know. You can’t imagine how many dead ends I’ve run into trying to find my brother’ Aaronson tells Domino, who tells him that she hopes he finds him, as she has spent her life trying to get as far away as possible from her immediate family. The duo come across a staff member and inform him that they are searching for Dabney Saunders’ room. ‘Mr Saunders doesn’t get many visitors. Who are you?’ is the response. Aaronson tells him that they are friends of the family and asks if they can talk to him in private. ‘Sure. Knock yourself our. Only don’t expect much in the way of conversation’ they are told.
Soon, ‘Mr Saunders? My name’s Jesse Aaronson. Mt parents used to work for you. Kyle and Nina Aaronson. Do you remember them?’ Jesse asks as he enters the room. ‘Banana…fish…insulator.…whitebread…chesterfield…’ Mr Saunders mutters without looking at Aaronson, who tells himself that the old man is so senile that nothing he is saying makes sense.
However, in a nearby room, the staff member who was confronted by Domino and Jesse makes a phone call: ‘Yo, it’s me, Gunther…yeah…you asked me to let you know if anyone was ever asking about Mr Saunders…well there’s a weird chick with a tattoo on her eye and a black dude in dreads asking questions’ Gunther reveals. Suddenly, Domino appears behind him: ‘I thought we made you a little uncomfortable when we walked in, Gunther’ she declares, asking him if he wants to tell her who is on the other end of the line, or will she have to bear it out of him. ‘You gotta be kidding, lady’ the surprised Gunther replies. ‘Try me’ Domino warns him.
Back in San Francisco, the warehouse that X-Force calls home is falling apart - courtesy of two of its residents - Samuel “Cannonball” Guthrie, and Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta. ‘YEE-HAH!’ Sam exclaims as he uses his powers to blast through one of the concrete walls. ‘Leave some for me, Sam! This is a team effort!’ Bobby calls out as he uses his incredible strength to smash through some of the wall. Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith enters the area, ‘Mmmmmmmm’ she says to herself. ‘There’s nothing like a couple of hunks working up a real sweat to raise this girl’s temperature’ she exclaims, adding that it is nice to see Bobby and Sam playing together again.
Sam drops to the ground and remarks that he has realized it is pointless to hold a grudge against the two of them for getting together while he was out of the picture, especially now that they are all living under the same roof. ‘Plus, demolition work’s always good for working out pent-up hostilities’ Sam adds. ‘And we needed to take out this wall to create a bigger work-out space…it won’t be the Danger Room, but we’ll have enough weights and machines to keep us in shape’ Bobby explains. Sam asks Tabitha if she came down to help, or just to talk, to which Tabitha apologizes, ‘I got distracted by all the testosterone in the air’ she remarks, before handing Sam the phone, telling him that his sister is on it.
‘Paige or Elizabeth?’ Sam asks. ‘Paige’ Tabitha tells him. Sam tells Tabitha that Paige is taking care of their Ma while she undergoes treatment for Guillain-Barre Syndrome in Lexington. ‘Did she sound like anything’s wrong?’ Sam asks. ‘Don’t know. Ask yourself’ Tabitha tells him. ‘Hey, sis, is everything okay?’ Sam asks Paige, while Tabitha looks around at the half-demolished wall and all the rubble. ‘Oh, look at this mess. They should never leave boys to do a woman’s job’ she mutters. ‘One wall, coming down!’ Sunspot calls out, before Tabitha throws one of her plasma time-bombs at it.
BOOM echoes throughout the room, as Sam covers his free ear and yells ‘Ah said, is everything okay?’. Paige “Husk” Guthrie of Generation X tells her older brother to calm down, as everything is fine and their mother is sleeping. Husk tells Sam that the doctors say their mother is responding well to the treatment and her chances for a full recovery are looking real good. Sam tells Paige that he feels so guilty not being there to help out. But Paige reminds Sam that after their dad died, he had to drop out of school and work in the coalmines. ‘Give yourself a break’ she tells him. Paige remarks that Sam and their mother are so alike, thinking they have to take care of the family all by themselves. ‘I got things covered right now’ she assures him. ‘Okay, but if you need anything, anything at all, call. I can be in Kentucky in a heartbeat’ Sam tells Paige. ‘And tell Ma I love her when she wakes up, okay?’
Upstairs, Tabitha puts on a jacket, while thinking to herself that Sam doesn’t know how lucky he is to have brothers and sisters. She tells herself that she always thought her dysfunctional family would have been a whole lot easier to take if she had an older sister who looked out for her. ‘Then again, she might have run away before I did’ Tabitha realizes, wondering why it is that the people you’re supposed to be closes to make you the most crazy? Suddenly, Bobby, still shirtless, enters Tabitha’s room and asks her where she is going. ‘Um…nowhere. I…umm…just out for a little fresh air, okay?’ she replies. Bobby takes one of his girlfriend’s hands, and touches her face with his free hand, asking her if she is sure. ‘If you give me twenty minutes I can shave and shower, and then we can go out together’.
Bobby tells Tabby that he was thinking they could get some sushi at the Kabuki Center and then catch the new Jackie Chan film. ‘Y’know, a real date - like boyfriend and girlfriend’ he exclaims. But Tabitha looks down to the ground and tells Bobby not to night as she needs some time on her own. ‘But…’ Bobby begins, but Tabitha pulls away from him. ‘Just let it go…please…’ she tells him, before walking away. Bobby frowns and thinks to himself that he is getting awfully tired of the cold front Tabitha keeps sending his way. ‘Something’s going on with you, and I’m going to find out what it is. Whether you like it or not’.
Elsewhere, Tarot sits in a dark room, lit only be candles, as she consults her cards. Her earliest memories are of her aged Grand-mere, the one for whom she was named, showing her the ancient deck of cards. The old woman told Marie-Ange that the future could be seen in these cards. And when the young Marie-Ange looked at the pictures, she saw more than two-dimensional images - she saw the patterns and pathways that would define her life. The old woman called it a gift, but Marie-Ange new otherwise. It was a curse.
Suddenly, ‘Marie, my love. I looked for you earlier and you were nowhere to be found’ a voice exclaims, entering the room. Tarot replies that she went for a walk, to which the young man tells her that she knows he doesn’t like it when she leaves the house alone. ‘You haven’t been in good health since your...return’ he tells her, putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘Oui, he sais’ Marie-Ange replies, not looking at him. He begins to stroke Marie-Ange’s hair, asking her what the cards say about their future. ‘Expect visitors’ Tarot replies as she gazes at her cards.
Meanwhile, in North Beach, Sunspot is following Meltdown. He tells himself that he knows he shouldn’t be trailing her, but he is sick of her shutting him out. Watching Meltdown enter an Italian restaurant, Bobby wonders if she is seeing someone else. ‘Tabitha! Over here! Wow, baby, you look great!’ a voice exclaims. ‘Hi, Dad!’ Tabitha replies as she and her father, dressed in a suit, embrace. Lou Smith tells his daughter that he is glad she could make it, as there is someone he really wants her to meet: ‘Say hello to Wanda Jo Bialowsky, my new wife’ Lou announces, presenting his wife, who smiles as she exclaims ‘That’s Wanda Jo Bialowsky-Smith, Mister, and don’t you forget it!’, before telling Tabitha that she is so glad to meet her, as Lou as told her so much about her.
‘He sure kept you a secret’ Tabitha snaps back, before telling her father that she can’t believe he got married for a fourth time. ‘You’d think you’d know better after the last two. Long-term commitment has never been your strength’ she snaps. Lou frowns and tells Tabitha that he knows he was never the greatest father or husband, but that since he survived that explosion he has been re-evaluating his life. ‘It’s hard for an old leopard to change his spots, but I’m trying real hard to turn my life around’ he claims, before announcing that he owes it all to the Triune Understand, and taps the small broach on his jacket. ‘The Triune? Isn’t that some kinda crackpot new age cult?’ Tabitha asks, horrified.
Lou and Wanda Jo smile, as Lou tells Tabitha that it is not a cult, he swears, and that nobody is planning on hitching a ride on the back of a comet. He explains that the Understanding is a way of transcending the pain of the past and living more fully in the present. Wanda Jo tells Tabitha that lots of very important people are members of the understanding - like politicians and actors. ‘Even a super hero, Triathlon’. The trio sit down at their table as Lou tells Tabitha that the Triune teaches them to balance the three points of life - self, world and spirit, which is what he never had - balance. He tells Tabitha that it has done a world of good for him and he thinks it would really, really help her. ‘I know how difficult your life has been’ he remarks, before announcing that after dinner, he was hoping they could all go to a meeting.
Lou tells Tabitha that there is a family triad workshop coming up, but before he can say anything else, Tabitha leaps up, ‘Uh uh. No way. This is too weird’ she exclaims. ‘Just when I thought we were finally okay, you pull this trip on me’ she tells him. ‘Tabitha…please sit down…let’s talk about this like adults’ Lou exclaims. ‘Not a chance. I’m out of here!’ Meltdown shouts, before storming out of the restaurant. ‘Tabitha, wait up!’ Sunspot calls out to her as he approaches the restaurant door. ‘Bobby? Did you follow me, after I told you I just needed some time to myself? Unbelievable!’ Meltdown exclaims, before telling Bobby that this is turning out to be a really lousy night and she is ready to break something. ‘So if you value your health - get out of my face!’ she shouts.
Meanwhile, under the dual cover of night and fog, Danielle Moonstar unleashes the strange and unearthly energy that her body now channels, while Jennifer Kale, a gifted young sorceress, studies her newfound friend’s pyrotechnic display as pink energy lights up the sky. ‘This is why I called you, Jennifer. I have absolutely no idea why I’m able to do this!’ Dani exclaims, telling Jennifer that all she knows is that she gained this ability after Arcadia turned her reality-warping powers on her. Jennifer tells Dani that it is one spectacular trick. ‘Now the question is - what kind of control do you have over it?’ Jennifer asks.
‘Not much. Every time I use the power, it’s more difficult for me to shut it off’ Dani explains, adding that it is like she is caught in a riptide and being pulled further and further out to sea’. When the power ends, Dani rubs her head, while asking Jennifer, as a full-fledged mistress of the mystical arts, what her professional opinion is. Jennifer announces that she can definitely rule out the supernatural as the cause of this change, but points out Dani is still marked by the Asgardian magic that made her a Valkyrie a few years ago. Moonstar replies that if it is not magic then there must be a scientific explanation, and supposes she should call Hank McCoy. Jennifer tells Danielle that they are all conduits for the physical and spiritual energies of the universe. ‘My guess is that you’re tapping into some kind of cosmic force’ she explains. ‘Great. As if my life isn’t complicated enough as it is’ Dani smiles.
Meanwhile, in Santa Lucia, California, an affluent community in the heart of California’s wine country. ‘I can’t believe you made that thick-necked orderly break down and cry, Domino. Once you know the right button to push people will tell you anything you want to know’ Aaronson remarks as he and Domino sneak into a large house. Aaronson adds that it is too bad the orderly didn’t know anything about the people who paid him to keep tabs on Saunders’s visitors, except for this address. At Bedlam’s touch, the ranch house’s front door lock falls apart, and its security system goes off line. ‘Remind me to call you the next time I lose my keys’ Domino jokes, to which Jesse tells her locks have not been a problem for him since his powers kicked in when he was a teenager. ‘Neither have burglar alarms and surveillance equipment’ he adds.
‘Earlier, you said you and your family are estranged. Why’s that?’ Jesse remarks. ‘Slip of the tongue. Forget I even mentioned it’ Domino quickly retorts. ‘If I were you…’ Jesse begins, but Domino sternly tells him to drop it. Aaronson does, and asks Domino if he has told her he is having trouble remembering what his brother looks like. His mind flashes back to when he was five years old, and his parents died in that car accident. ‘All the family albums disappeared soon after’ he reveals, adding that the last time he saw his brother he was being led around from the flaming wreckage. ‘I called his name, but he didn’t turn around’ Aaronson tells Domino, who replies ‘That was fourteen years ago. If we find him, don’t expect him to be the little boy you remember’ she warns him. ‘Yeah, I know…’ Aaronson replies.
Suddenly, ‘Are you two always this chatty when you’re breaking and entering?’ a voice calls out from the darkness. ‘That kind of carelessness could get you killed’ the voice calls out, before Domino orders Jesse to get down, and just in time, as a blast of molten lava goes over their heads. ‘What the…?’ Jesse mutters, while Domino tells Jesse to get out of here while she deals with their attacker. Domino throws a wooden chair in the direction of her attacker, who responds ‘You’re terribly confident, Domino - for a woman who is completely outmatched’. The room lights up as Magma comes into view. The powerful former New Mutant and Hellion introduces herself, adding that she commands fire and molten earth. ‘Take my advice, love - RUN!’
With that, Magma, once known as Amara Aquilla, causes streams of lava to burst from the floor as Domino and Bedlam make their escape. ‘She used to be one of the New Mutants. She’s supposed to be one of the goody guys!’ Domino exclaims. ‘Maybe she got a better offer’ Bedlam suggests, when suddenly, they stumble across another: ‘Oh no…Domino…the volcano girl’s not the only thing we have to worry about’ Hesse adds as they stand before a figure in the darkness. ‘Um, how’s it going, big guy? We were just on our way out’. A technological voice replies ‘You will proceed no further’. ‘Out of our w - OW!’ Domino exclaims as she attempts to punch their new foe. ‘This goon’s armored!’ she tells Jesse. ‘Incorrect!’ the mysterious foe replies as he punches Domino across the room, a hint of yellow and black showing in the light as he does so.
‘Don’t worry, Dom…my power wreaks havoc on anything mechanical or electronic - and that should include whatever armor or exoskeleton this creep’s wearing…’ Bedlam exclaims as he unleashes his power on their foe. This causes the strange being, reminiscent of techno-organic to step into the light, its form flailing as it exclaims ‘Bio-electric interference. Malfunction. Malfunction’. Bedlam is knocked to the ground, ‘Wasn’t armor at all - that thing’s some kind of robot or android or Transformer - and he’s completely out of control!’. Part of the mysterious being knock Magma in the head, rendering her unconscious. ‘That thing took out Magma for us, but I doubt we’ll be that lucky again’ Domino tells Bedlam, adding that there may be others like them waiting.
‘Right. We can always come back - with an army’ Bedlam remarks, when suddenly, ‘I can’t believe you two are thinking of leaving so soon’ a voice calls out. Domino and Bedlam clutch their heads, ‘Ahhhh…my head…’ Domino exclaims, while Bedlam asks ‘What’s happening?’. ‘Think we’re under…train wreck…overpass…dog collar…’ Domino mutters. ‘Howling…monopoly…vivid…scene?’ Jesse exclaims, while someone moves down the staircase: ‘Why, the party hasn’t even begun!’ he exclaims, standing over Jesse, the shirtless man with a shaved head tells them that he knows their thoughts are in chaos, and that is his fault. ‘As Jesse here is able to disrupt machinery and electronics, I do the same to the higher functions of the brain. Discord runs in the family. Hello, little brother!’. Christopher Aaronson grins, while Jesse looks up at his brother in shock.
Christopher apologizes for the rough welcome, but claims that he had to be sure of their identity. ‘Domino has a reputation as a dangerous mercenary. I hardly expected my long lost brother to be travelling with her’ he explains, while Jesse tells his brother that this is not the reunion he had imagined. ‘What happened to you? It was like you vanished from the face of the Earth for fourteen years’ he remarks. Christopher reveals that he has been identified as a mutant by the NSD when he was six, and after their parents’ untimely death, he was taken to a Government research center by Dabney Saunders. ‘He saw to it that all the records of my birth and childhood were destroyed’ Christopher exclaims.
Christopher continues, revealing that when he turned thirteen he grew tired of being poked and prodded and treated like a lab rat, so he left. ‘Unfortunately, to do so, I had to destroy the minds of Saunders and the scientist who ran the project‘. Christopher reveals, before remarking that as they can see, he has done quite well for himself. ‘But why’d you never try to find me?’ Jesse asks. Christopher explains that Jesse was given the same genetic screenings as he was, but somehow his X-Factor gene went undetected. ‘I was unaware you were a mutant until you arrived tonight and disabled all of the compound’s security system’ Christopher replies. ‘Had I know, I would have asked you to join us a long time ago’.
‘And who exactly is “us”?’ Domino asks, concerned. Four figures appear behind Christopher, ‘Our British exile, Alison Crestmere…Magma’ he introduces first. ‘We’ve met’ Magma remarks, stern faced. ‘The enigmatic Paradigm’ Christopher introduces next. ‘Internal repair completed ‘Paradigm announces. ‘Marie-Ange Colbert, the beautiful Tarot’ he announces, but Tarot says nothing. ‘And Devon Alomar…who prefers to be called Switch’. ‘Is this really important?’ Switch asks. Christopher smiles as he motions at his companions, revealing that this assembly of Alpha Class mutants, along with one other, are the first of the coming mutant aristocracy. ‘They are the New Hellions…membership is open!’.