Dublin, Ireland, Breda and Conor MacAleer are inside the back of a taxi, as the driver honks his horn and waves his fist about ‘Tourists, the lot of ye! Could ye be moving any slower now?’ he shouts. Conor holds onto his wife, ‘Breda Virginia MacAleer, this is crazy, it is - sheer lunacy, wife - ye were wounded in a crossfire, less than an hour ago…’ he reminds her. Breda tells Conor that she was grazed by shrapnel, and patched up in the hospital before she could bleed more than a drop, thanks to the magical teleporting of herself. Glancing out the taxi window, Breda sees Liam and the Harrigans, their boarders, and is relieved that they are safe at least, before remarking that iti s the boarding house that concerns her now. ‘Aren’t I worried sick about what condition we’ll be finding our family home - our livelihood - not to mention that poor boy, Nate…?’ she asks herself, sticking her head out the taxi window.
However the driver comes to a screeching halt as police officers wave him down. ‘Far enough there’ one officer tells him, ordering everyone to leave the vehicle immediately and evacuate the area on foot. ‘We’ve got a situation here’ the officer points out, as up above, armored soldiers known as Strikesquad: Gauntlet hover in the air, firing their weapons down below. The MacAleers leave the cab and rush towards the ruins of the boarding house, ‘More of ‘em - even more of that Gauntlet gang now?!’ Breda exclaims. Conor runs after her, telling her to wait. ‘What in Heaven’s name are they doing to our house…?’ Breda gasps as she sees the ruins of the boarding house on fire, Scanlon and his Strikesquad troops surrounding their quarry - Nate Grey a.k.a. X-Man, Madelyne Pryor and Ness.
One of the Strikesquad members shouts ‘New orders Grey, straight from the top now. No surrender. No prisoners…’ ‘No problem!’ Nate declares, while one of the other operatives asks ‘Whose orders, Commander Scanlon… what’s Vise talking about? Who are all these other psi-ops?’ she asks. Scanlon tells Fontaine to just do her job, and he will do his. ‘After the way you and your freak-friends took down Barone, mutant, this is gonna be a real - blast?’ one of the operatives boasts, only to find two cars hurled telekinetically towards her. ‘You got her Nate - caught Vise totally off-guard’ Madelyne calls out, as she casts her own energies around the cars and Vise, trapping her as she manipulates the cars into a ball around Vise, and hurling it into the group of other operatives. ‘And I made sure she stayed got. Slam. Dunk’ Madelyne jokes.
Ness hove leaps away from an explosion and tells Madelyne that he doesn’t understand, as mere moments ago, the boy’s telekinesis seemed taxed to its very limit, and just to defeat one of these psi-shielded soldiers took everything he had. ‘And then some. Doesn’t always stop him though’ Madelyne replies, before Nate collapses in her arms, and Madelyne tells Ness that he doesn’t know Nate as well as he thinks. Madelyne then reminds Ness that they are outnumbered two hundred-to-one and counting, before deciding that she is getting Nate out of here, now. ‘To where? Until when?’ Ness replies, leaping onto another of the operatives, pointing out that they will find Nate again and hurt more innocents to do it, as he has seen them do before. ‘The Gauntlet’s mad vendetta to protect the world from the supposed danger of young Grey… has threatened too many people for too long’ he adds, announcing that tomorrow cannot be depended upon, that today is the best chance they have - always.
Ness forces the Gauntlet operative into another, while Nate utters’ He’s right…’ and Madelyne points out that Ness is a stranger, a total wild card who butted into their lives out of nowhere a few weeks ago, claiming to be something called a Hellbent, no less. ‘And Ness has done nothing since then but -’ Madelyne begins to say before Nate interrupts, ‘Talk straight to me, Maddie… like it or not… I can’t let anyone else… be hurt like this – not ever again’.
He turns and sees the MacAleers reaching out to him, before being led away by police officers. ‘Even if it kills you. In that case, I have no choice either’ Madelyne tells Nate, adding that she is almost tapped out herself, but that she always holds a little something back, just for him/ Madelyne drowns Nate in green glowing energy, and Nate cries out as the energy refuels his body. ‘All right!’ he shouts, before leaping back into action, ‘Let’s do it, Red!’ he tells Madelyne as he kicks one of the Gauntlet operatives in the face.
‘Maybe you weren’t listening, pal… but that pretty much did it for me’ Madelyne tells Nate, before quickly teleporting herself to safety. She sighs, and decides that it might be best to use the last of her energies to teleport out of the battle-zone completely, before she is flung into the air by the force of an explosion behind her. One of the Strikesquad: Gauntlet operatives stands over Madelyne’s now unmoving body, ‘The only one that might have penetrated our armor, already has fallen by my hands. And soon will be dead…’ the operative boasts. ‘NO!’ Nate screams as he flies above, and sees that Madelyne is unconscious and unable to defend herself, he alerts Ness to Maddie’s plight, pointing out that the operative, Vise, has psi-sheened armor, so he can’t touch her. Ness leaps over one of the operatives and tells Nate that if he can’t contain the threat, to contain the victim.
‘If you don’t want to bury Pryor’s corpse…’ Ness’s voice trails off, as Nate exclaims that he can bury her alive, instead, and uses his power to move dirt and the rubble of the boarding house to completely cover Madelyne, burying her under a small hill. ‘NOOO!’ Vice shouts in protest. ‘Done!’ Nate declares as he throws a psychic shield around himself and Ness, deflecting the energies fired by the Strikesquad: Gauntlet members. Ness points out that they can’t stay on the defensive like this, as they are chipping away at his psi-screens, slowly but surely. Nate tells Ness that he is open to more suggestions, before using his power to knock down several of the Strikesquad: Gauntlet operatives. They hit the ground hard in their amors, and more civilians start to flee. Nate tells Ness that as much as he enjoys watching these bozos bounce each other around with the ricochets, the last of the bystanders have not cleared the danger zone, and the earth-mound will not shield Maddie for long.
Scanlon is shouting into a portable communicator: ‘Scanlon to Overreach - come in - come in!’ he shouts. ‘Abort mission! Abort!’ he adds, explaining that the reinforcements are not under his command. ‘Where’d they come from?’ he asks. ‘Who’s ordered them in? What’s going on up there?’ he shouts, before suddenly, he looks up, to find the operative called Vise standing over him. ‘Afraid that’s need-to-know only, Commander’ Vise announces, before raising a weapon to Scanlon and declaring that he doesn’t need to know anything more. Scanlon instructs Vise to drop the attitude, and fast, and to link him through to Overreach. ‘Look again, “Sir”. No Fontaine or Barone here to back you up this time’ Vise points out. Wide-eyed, Scanlon orders Vise to put down the weapon.
Vise continues, telling Scanlon that the fact is, the Overreach committee has had many leaders, culled from the most powerful nations on the plane, as he knows. ‘But you were never really one of them’ she exclaims before firing her energy weapon, which strikes Scanlon in the head, and he falls back, screaming. At the same time though, Fontaine receives a psychic backlash. More gun shots are fired from the other Gauntlet operatives, while Fontaine notices that Scanlon is down, she rushes over to him, ‘Your murdered Commander Scanlon, Vise?’ she asks. Vise warns Fontaine that the frequency of this particular pulse-cannon will punch through Gauntlet armor just as easily. ‘Trust me’ she tells her. Vise continues, telling Fontaine that it is to bad the same can’t be said for her telepathy, her obviously reawakened telepathy.
‘Maybe it was the shock, psi-born…the feel of Scanlon’s death-scream battering against your skull, the echo rattling around in your head. Whatever it was that reawakened your formant abilities doesn’t really matter…’ Vise trails off, as Fontaine declares ‘Right. I don’t have to “punch through” your armor’s psi-shields, traitor…I’m already in!’, Fontaine explains that she made it through via their comm-link, and calls Vise a jerk. ‘Your mind is mine, Vise - and I want to hear your story now. A deep-access mole in our midst’ she remarks, while thinking to herself ‘Obviously’, as she realizes that Vise has been answering to a doctor of some sort, but there is no name or face, but she knows that it is a doctor who manipulated the Overreach committee through this entire project, actually used the self-appointed watchers of the watchmen to neutralize one lone kid.
Fontaine looks down at Nate, and realizes that what is worse is that Vise is nuke-heavy, same as the rest of them, and totally prepared to use them. Fontaine goes wide-eyed, as she discovers that there are other rogues amongst them, just like Vise - lots of others. ‘Now you’re catching on, G-3. Good for you…bad for your health!’ another Gauntlet calls out as he and several others turn their attention to Fontaine and start firing at her. Vise is freed by this surprise attack, as Fontaine is shunted out of Vise’s head. Vise then shuts down her comm-system to keep Fontaine from getting back in. However, the other rogues are still linked, and thus exposed to Fontaine’s mind-jumping. ‘Get away from me - get away!’ Fontaine calls out, tricking the rogues as she uses her power to manipulate them. Total chaos follows, but Fontaine manages to scavenge a couple of the rigged pulse-cannons out of the melee, however she had to jam the whole comm-system and cut off all communications completely, like Scanlon himself taught them.
Fontaine runs from the other Gauntlet operatives, and knows she has to figure some way to sort the white hats from the black, but she can’t imagine where to begin though, as all of a sudden, up is down, left is right, and the good guys are bad. The only thing she still recognizes for sure, still understands, is their target. She turns to see Nate and Ness fighting alongside each other at the bottom of the small hill where they have buried Madelyne. Fontaine tells herself that Grey is up against the wall, finally, all of them are all but spent now, herded with military precision, cornered, by renegades and loyal psi-ops both. ‘But I can’t tell the difference’ Fontaine thinks to herself, realizing that she doesn’t have the time, either. She uses one of the pulse cannons, knocking all of the other Gauntlet operatives into the air, she rushes forward, ‘I need help’ she calls out to Nate and Ness, who are confused to see her.
Fontaine tells them that she only bought them a minute, tops, while the others regroup and re-strategize. ‘So let’s just cut straight to the chase already…and open wide’ she declares, as she links her mind to theirs. They see images, scattered and fleeting, and thoughts and memories from Vise’s mind. They see her talking to someone on a screen, and realize that she is a turncoat of some sort. They see a nuclear explosion, and dozens of Strikesquad members. ‘By the ones who came before…!’ Ness gasps when the images end, asking how they can believe such a thing. ‘Why would we believe anything from one of the very same faceless, nameless -’ he begins, before Nate interrupts, pointing out that her name is Cinder Fontaine, and that he would know that mindset anywhere, as the first time he shook down with the Gauntlet, back in New York, Vise almost killed him.
Fontaine tells Nate and Ness that it doesn’t matter anymore, when suddenly, she is pulled backwards, but manages to toss the weapons to Nate, telling him that he needs her as much as she needs him now. ‘It’s us against them!’ she adds. ‘But…’ Nate starts, until Ness points out that Fontaine’s actions speak for themselves, as these weapons are certainly enough to carve out a little more breathing space. ‘But we can’t hope to rout the entire Gauntlet like this, one by one’. ‘No kidding’ Nate mutters, realizing that they need a way to cut them off at the source. Fontaine tells him to forget it, and reminds him that she is a telepath, an active one again, so she knows exactly what he is thinking. ‘And it’s not possible. I can’t…’ she starts to say, while Nate declares that he won’t, that he won’t leave Maddie behind here, alone with all these psycho psi-ops, he won’t abandon her. Ness assures Nate that Madelyne is best off in the earth-shield for now, and that she will teleport out when she has recovered, or he can blast her out when it is safer. ‘Until then, I’ll protect her with all I have - with my very life, Nate - I swear’ Ness assures Nate. The young hero tells Ness that he doesn’t doubt it for a second. ‘But protect yourself, as well’ he adds.
Ness tells Nate to go. ‘If there is any way at all to stop this madness…’ his voice trails off, as Nate shouts ‘I’m on it!’ and takes flight, with Fontaine following him. ‘We, Grey…we’re on it’ Fontaine calls out, and as they move higher into the air, she explains that using a command-override code she picked up in Scanlon’s last thoughts, she is ordering all units to break away from the target-combat, and secure a new defense permiter instead, expanded to three square miles. Nate points out that only the legitimate operatives are responding, effectively clearing the field for the others, eliminating the interference between them. But they start to close in fast. ‘We’re here, Grey. We’ve reached the command ship’ Fontaine reveals, as they dodge the energy blasts from the rogue operatives.
Down below, Ness notes that most of the troops took off after Nate and the girl, right on their tails - most of them, but not all, as he defends himself from another’s attack. Elsewhere, civilians continue to run for their lives, and Fontaine tells Nate that they are doing it, that the outer perimiter is being evacuated already. But, they just hit a dead end, as they are locked out of the command ship. Nate blasts the approaching Strikesquad members, and Fontaine tells him that the hull of the ship is even more heavily shielded than Gauntlet armor, impervious to psionic and artillery, impregnable for all intents and purposes. Nate’s weapon is out of ammunition, and tells Cinder Fontaine that they are out of choices. ‘One way or another - we’re going in!’ he declares, as he pulls a protesting Fontaine through the exhaust-grill. ‘Whoa…’ one of the Strikesquad: Gauntlet operatives calls out.
Back down below, Ness is on the run, down to one gun and already running out of ammunition, as the Gauntlet operatives follow him, firing as he evades them. Ness decides that the best he can do now is try and lure the psi-op shooters as far from Madelyne as possible, before they finally catch up to him - unaware that a woman is standing in the shadows nearby, watching him.
At the same moment, ‘YAAHOOO!’ Nate shouts as he and Fontaine pass through the exhaust filter in his psychic shied.
On the ground again, civilians are being rounded up by the Strikesquad members, marching them forward, one of them tells them to have no fear, as the designated zone is being swept for stragglers behind them.
On the mother ship above, Fontaine tells Nate that she can’t believe he just did that. ‘Why not, girl? Figured it as the fastest route to - the engine room!’ Nate explains, as they stand in the large room, but find it empty. Fontaine tells him that with the psi-ops out in the field, the engine room would be empty, as the entire ship is automated and completely dedicated to Gauntlet operations. ‘Completely dedicated?’ Nate asks, before smiling, and exclaiming ‘All this- all they’ve done - just to get to me…ME?’ as he releases powerful surges of energy that strike the engine room. ‘Fontaine telepathically contacts Ness, telling him to get out of there with the Pryor woman right now. Dodging some weapons fire, he replies that he is a little busy at the moment, surrounded and all, before declaring that he saved one last shot just for this, and fires a blast from the weapon, sending the Strikesquad members bouncing upwards.
Nate exclaims that the engine is cracking, bleeding raw energies now from the power-core. ‘Just one last shot, and…’, with that, explosions rattle the entire mother ship.
But, on the ground, ‘Pryor’s gone already’ Ness declares as he stands over the earth where she was buried under the small hill. ‘Burrowed away, no doubt, like the worm she is. I’ve been defending an empty mound of dirt all along, risking my life for nothing’ he mutters. ‘Correction, Ness…losing your life for nothing’ Vise calls out as she appears behind Ness and grabs him. Vise tells Ness to pay no attention to her beeping armor, while Ness asks her not to do this. ‘It’s just the sound of imminent nuclear detonation’ Vise announces. ‘WHAT?’ another of the Strikesquad members asks. ‘We’re in final countdown!’ one of them calls out. Vise tells Ness that as soon as she has used this thing to personally tear him in half, she will use the Doctor’s backdoor failsafe to teleport out of the armor and to safety - but before she can do so, the mother ship crashes to the ground on top of her, and several others.
When the dust clears, Ness is trapped under some rubble. A cloaked figure stands nearby - it’s Madelyne, but her body is withered, she looks old. Madelyne tells Ness that she teleported out of there a while ago, and knows she could have said something, maybe even pulled him out of danger and saved his life, the way he thought he was saving hers. But she had other things on her mind. ‘My plans for Nate have taken a sharp left turn, obviously. So I’m gone. Fast and far’. Madelyne then teleports away.
As the city burns from the weapons fire, people start to gather, and one person announces that someone is in serious trouble, while a reporter states that they are not expecting any civilian casualties thanks to proper procedure and orderly evacuation, but that Dublin will never be the same again, and there is no way to assess such devastation yet, to price the destruction yet, to price the destruction of so much priceless history, the damage to so much personal property. The MacAleers have gathered with the crowd, and Conor tells Breda that it is over. They embrace, while Strikesquad: Gauntlet operatives stand nearby with the crowd.
Suddenly, Nate returns, followed by Fontaine, he tells the Macs that he is sorry, and offers to help them rebuild, bigger and better than ever. He adds that he didn’t mean for this, for any of it. He never does. ‘I just couldn’t…there wasn’t any other way…’ he trails off, as the Macs look up at him angrily, and Conor starts waving his fists, ‘Except to bring yer curse down on our heads, Grey - our friends and families?’ he asks. While Breda adds ‘No more of it, mutant - ye hear us? No more! No more! No more!’ Energy starts to surge around Nate, who utters ‘No…no more please… NO MORE!’ before he seemingly explodes in a brilliant white light.
Shortly, one of the Strikesquad operatives announces that they are still awaiting a body, but there are multiple eyewitness confirmations, that Target-X is history, along with Fontaine, the Gauntlet who betrayed them, and that all other psi-ops besides Vise have been accounted for. As medics and police officers surround the scene, and a construction crew starts searching through the rubble, the Strikesquad member points out that considering the condition of the last survivor they pulled out of this mess, well over four hours ago, having personally seen the effect of the damaged armor’s cyber-interface on his nervous system, there is no doubt at all that G-2, Vise, is better off dead. But, amongst the rubble, a hand suddenly reaches up.
Finally, in New York, New York, ‘Dead?’ a quiet voice asks inside Nate’s loft, reading a cop of the “Daily Bugle” which is reporting on a mystery mutant, dead in Dublin. ‘Not quite, Natey’ Threnody declares as she tosses the paper to the ground. ‘Not yet…’ she adds with certainty, as she steps into the light, very pregnant!