‘What do you get if you drop a piano on an army base?’ Wade “Deadpool” Wilson asks as he crouches on a beam running across the top of a large open warehouse. ‘A flat major’ he states, answering his own question as he talks to Wolverine a.k.a. Logan over the communicator, and a few dozen people go about their business below - checking computers and transporting crates. ‘Great. Now, give with the report, ding-dong’ Wolverine replies. Wade replies that he told her Majesty Elizabeth Braddock the XII that he has zero idea what “mysterious psychic emissions” look like. ‘but whatever she thought was going down at this military base, it ain’t. Zero. Zilch. Nada’ Deadpool states.
‘So you’re just calling me to tell me nothing? That right? Do me a favor, Wade’ Wolverine remarks, as he sits at the communications computer, beer in hand. ‘I can’t kiss you through the monitor, hot lips’ Wade replies. ‘You keep wasting my time, I’ll give you something to kiss’ Logan declares, before telling Wade to find out what is going on and report back in an hour.
Elsewhere in X-Force’s base, Fantomex walks through a storage space, decorated with various X-Men artefacts - various X-Men costumes and even part of a Nimrod. Fantomex is accompanied by Deathlok, and the mercenary tells him that there is no maid service, but it is a fair pied-a-terre with certain warmth to it. ‘Though Worthington suffers from an elderly woman’s love for worthless nick-nacks’ Fantomex points out. But Deathlok suggests that remembering one’s past is a vital element of being. He adds that one’s history defines them, that memories should be revered and cherished.
“Cherished memories?” Fantomex asks, warning Deathlok that he is going to completely lose his psycho-killer-robot-from-the-future-anti-hero-charm if he keeps that talk up. Deathlok stops at the display containing the remains of the Nimrod and remarks that it is the super Sentinel version 32.1, which originated in an alterative time line, future of origin’s margin for potential 1.34%. Fantomex points out that the Nimrod has been decommissioned and frozen in time stasis. Deathlok tells him that they are all built from similar technology, and explains that can detect the Sentinel nanotech in Fantomex’s body, communicating in a cousin dialect to his own. ‘All products of the World’ Fantomex points out, before remarking that they have encountered quite a few cyborgs of late. ‘An indicator this automaton jihad is about to begin?’ he asks. Deathlok replies that it has already begun, that artificial intelligence surpassed the computing potential of the human brain long ago.
Looking at the Xorn helmet, Deathlok tells Fantomex that, inevitably, all life will be intermingled with robotics, just as they are. He adds that the nature of this merging is what he seeks to control, as free will must be maintained. ‘The odds of a future where we lose this valuable commodity to Weapon Infinity currently stands at…?’ Fantomex asks. Deathlok tells him that the percentage for probability is high, and announces that super human warfare will lead to environmental catastrophe.
They both look at the World, shrunk down, and encased in a protective field, as Deathlok declares that Weapon Infinity will rise as a response, and the only way to hold it back is to ensure the world remains closed to all. ‘However I strongly advise its immediate liquidation’ he declares. Fantomex tells Deathlok that he would rather he didn’t, and asks him to respect that. Deathlok subsequently asks Fantomex if he will allow him to stand guard, to ensure that it is never accessed again, before declaring ‘But let me be clear. I disagree with your choice. Dangerous things shouldn’t simply be locked away…they should be destroyed’.
Elsewhere, Betsy “Psylocke” Braddock and Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Angel are “walking” though one of Angel’s childhood memories. Warren tells Betsy that he used to volunteer at the soup kitchen during the holidays, as his dad wanted him to see the struggles of others up close. ‘To help - not by easy donations - but with my own two hands’ Warren explains. Betsy tells him that it is commendable. They enter the soup kitchen and observe young Warren handing out a bowl of soup to a homeless man, wishing him a Merry Christmas at the same time. ‘Aren’t you a pretty little dandy - fancy dress shirt and your golden hair’ the homeless man replies, before suddenly grabbing Warren by his shirt and exclaiming ‘A little angel made of money come to mingle with us low rabble!’
The young Warren asks him to stop, but the homeless man knocks the soup back in his face: ‘Here’s my gratitude, rich kid!’ the homeless man shouts. Suddenly, young Warren’s eyes flash red, and he looks very angry. ‘I’ve spent my life trying to help you hopeless, obsolete, gene trash - you’re an evolutionary failure, incapable of overcoming your primal need for conflict -’ he declares as he sprouts small metallic wings. An instant later, young Warren has transformed into an adult Archangel, metal wings that burst out and slice the homeless man with ease. ‘Humanity will receive the apocalypse it deserves!’ he shouts.
Archangel turns to Betsy and tells her that he is weary of her intrusions. ‘You will not take Warren’ Betsy retorts, while Warren explains ‘Not taking me, fixing me, Betsy, for my own good’. Betsy tells Warren that he has lost his perspective, and hands him some dice, telling him that they are his grounding cue, to focus on them, and leave. Warren then vanishes. Betsy turns back to Archangel and tells him that she asked Warren to recall the first time he felt rage to draw him out. ‘No need to draw me out. This is my home. I’m everywhere’ Archangel boasts. ‘Let’s limit that’ Betsy suggests as she surrounds Archangel in a psychic cage, telling him that she would prefer he stays in the one place, here, trapped in this memory. ‘What is this? You can’t contain me!’ Archangel exclaims. He is furious, and spit comes out of his mouth as he tells Betsy that she has no idea what he is, and warns Warren that Betsy cannot protect him. ‘Do you hear me, you coward? You’re dead already!’ Archangel declares.
‘Betsy? C’mon. Snap to. Game time’s over. We got real problems’ Wolverine tells Betsy as he breaks her link to the Astral Plane. Warren and Betsy are kneeling side-by-side on the floor as Betsy turns to Logan and tells him that these are real problems. ‘Yeah-yeah, I know. Still, Goldendrop’s therapy hour has to wait’ Wolverine replies, explaining that Deapdool has gone silent, so that have to go and find him. Logan asks Betsy if she has any idea what they are going to find at the military base, to which Betsy replies ‘Same thing we always find…trouble’.
Soon, EVA descends upon the Smoky Mountains, in Tennessee. Someone asks Betsy if she is able to get a read on this place, but as they step out of EVA, Betsy replies that to break the psychic shroud surrounding the area she will need to get closer. She adds that there is no question about it - a powerful telepath is involved. ‘A powerful telepath in a top-secret nuclear facility...decent hook. Stephen King meets Tom Clancy’ Fantomex remarks. Wolverine leads the way across the snow-covered terrain towards the facility and he reveals that the facility is cold war era and top secret. Wolverine announces that the intel he dug up indicates they were using the facility to make stealth nukes. ‘Someone else found out’ Betsy declares.
Arriving at the facility, they see some people standing outside it. ‘Seems fine’ Wolverine remarks. Angel asks him if he was expecting an evil Russian with an eye patch, chain-smoking while spouting on about his plot to bring down hated capitalism. ‘Making me miss the ‘80s’ Wolverine replies, before asking Wolverine to hit the men down below with some non-lethal neurotoxin blades. Archangel complies, and stretches his razor-sharp wings, releasing several deadly blades, taking the guards out with ease.
X-Force walk past the fallen guards, and Wolverine asks Betsy if they are close enough for her to let them know what they are up against. ‘If it’s who you think it is…’ Wolverine’s voice trails off, as Betsy replies ‘Pray it isn’t’, before dropping to the ground, she asks the men to stand around and look tough while she does an astral reconnaissance. Fantomex confesses to feeling inferior in the company of such a gifted telepath. ‘But for you, Warren, to be so…dependent. It must be emasculating’ Fantomex adds. ‘Oh, yeah. It’s a real hardship’ Warren mutters as Betsy’s astral form leaves her body. Warren turns to Fantomex and tells him that the worse part is all the sex leads to. ‘Terrible stuff to endure’ he mutters. Wolverine tells his teammates to stop it, and to get their heads in the game. ‘Something in Betsy’s voice before she left…get the feeling we’re in for a bad night’ Logan declares.
Betsy’s astral form soon materializes before her hated foe - the Shadow King! The villain is surrounded by women and body guards, and he greets her: ‘Ah, finally. Good evening to you, Elizabeth. Your mind has become such a muddy, splintered place…I feared you weren’t astute enough to follow the crumbs I left’ the Shadow King tells her. ‘I became quite familiar with your stench during the many years I imprisoned you within my muddy, splintered mind, Amahl’ Betsy replies. The Shadow King tells Betsy that she got lucky last time, and informs her that, unsurprisingly, repaying her has become something of an obsession. ‘If you are here to kill me, Amahl, then by all means - let us begin’ Betsy tells him. But the Shadow King grins, and replies ‘Kill you? No, Elizabeth…what I have planned is much better’.
Suddenly, Betsy’s physical body falls backwards. ‘Betsy!’ Warren calls out as the three men rush towards her. Suddenly, ‘Welcome to all of Braddock’s trifling companions…we’ve been eagerly expecting you. There is so much to get tonight - so many surprises’ the possessed Deadpool declares, flanked by several controlled soldiers. Before anyone can act, Wolverine and Archangel also fall to the possession: ‘We are so happy. I will fill Elizabeth with neurotoxin. She will sleep through it’ Archangel states. ‘She’ll have such a treat when she awakens’ Wolverine adds.
Fantomex holds up Betsy’s body, ‘Idiots…why am I the only one with telepathic dampening plates?’ Fantomex mutters. ‘His mind - it is guarded’ Archangel declares. ‘Then he will miss the party!’ Deadpool shouts as he lunges towards Fantomex - who swiftly kicks Deadpool in the face. ‘That doesn’t sound like me’ Fantomex exclaims. Wolverine lunges at Fantomex, who unleashes weapons fire on him - but Wolverine slices through Fantomex’s arms - severing them both! The surprised mercenary collapses near Betsy, while Wolverine orders Archangel to fill Psylocke’s body with the poison - but as Archangel attempts to do so, they realize that Betsy and Fantomex are gone. ’Damn, we’ve been misdirected!’ Archangel exclaims.
Wolverine announces that there is a change of plan and orders the others to smell out the illusionist, and kill Braddock’s body. Archangel states that they will ensure Psylocke’s astral form lives to witness the surprise. Deadpool tells Archangel to go with Sergeant Thompson and launch the nukes. ‘As for the rest of the soldiers…proceed to your quarters and hang yourselves’ the possessed Wolverine orders.
At that moment, Betsy’s astral form approaches the Shadow King: ‘Rise and face me, pig’ she tells the villain. The Shadow King detects Psylocke’s false confidence and tells her that she is hiding something. ‘You’ve come too close to conceal it’ he remarks. Betsy detects the Shadow King’s fingers running through her mind, seeking an entrance, hunting for fear. Amahl’s form shifts, as Betsy momentarily compensates, and the Shadow King notices. ‘There - a part of your mind more heavily guarded than the rest!’ the Shadow King declares. Betsy realizes that the Shadow King knows where she doesn’t want him, and knows he will focus his attack on it.
The Shadow King appears in his full extravagant astral armor, and warns Psylocke that he will strip her open, expose her secrets - ‘The Shadow King will feat on your terror!’ he booms. Betsy stands her ground: ‘You will do one thing, Amahl Farouk - you will die!’ she announces as she switches to her “Lady Mandarin” armor, and a psi-blade bursts from her first. The Shadow King lashes out: ‘On the contrary, Elizabeth! You will join me!’ the Shadow King booms. Betsy dodges his attack as the Shadow King lunges at her. The Shadow King tells Psylocke that she will be a disembodied memory imprisoned within his mind, helplessly watching as he destroys the lives of everyone she loves. Betsy knows that the Shadow King is leaning into his aggression, so his defenses are lowered, attacking X-Force on three fronts at once - keeping her astral form here, while Warren launches nukes at Utopia - and the rest of X-Force hunts her physical body.
Deadpool walks across a landing, searching for Fantomex and Psylocke. He suddenly sees Betsy’s body lying motionless. ‘Poor Elizabeth, your guardian has abandoned you to -’ Deadpool begins, before Fantomex shoves a knife against Wade’s throat. ‘For a telepath you do love to talk’ Fantomex remarks, speaking to the Shadow King.
Back on the Astral Plane, the Shadow King randomizes his attack, he strikes at different fear. Betsy cannot guard them all - she cannot stop him. ‘There we have it - the first dam falls!’ the Shadow King booms, announcing that he has uncovered within Betsy a flood of repressed fear - a family, long since abandoned! The Shadow King then exclaims ‘Once I’ve informed them that dear Elizabeth has become a blood-soaked killer - how will your brothers react?’
Illusions of Brian “Captain Britain” Braddock and the insane Jamie Braddock appear alongside Betsy’s astral form. ‘Is it true? You’ve been…murdering people? Murdering children? the Brian illusion asks. ‘So glad to see you finally bloody well get who you are, Bets - a killer like me!’ the Jamie illusion declares. The Brian illusion tells Betsy that this is not what their father wanted for her. But the Jamie illusion remarks that their father never thought much of Betsy, so he doesn’t know if their father would care how she spent her time. Betsy tells herself to go, to get free, before the Shadow King can dig any deeper, while the Brian illusion decides that Jamie is right, that Betsy never was very important to their father.
‘Not real - get out, get out of here -’ Betsy tells herself as she holds the dice in her hands, tears fall from her eyes. ‘There is a price for your crimes, Elizabeth!’ the Brian illusion declares as he knocks her back, causing Betsy to drop the dice. ‘A price you must pay!’ the Brian illusion adds.
Nearby, the possessed Deadpool shoves his own swords through his stomach, which then stab into Fantomex, while the possessed Wolverine approaches Betsy’s motionless body.
Back on the Astral Plane, the Brian and Jamie illusions continue to taunt their sister. ‘We know the truth - you’ll have to face us, lamb’ Jamie remarks. ‘Not my brothers - not real’ Betsy tells herself as she reaches for the dice. ‘This is not real!’ Betsy screams as she stands up, and knocks the illusions of her brothers away. The Shadow King looms towards her, ‘But it is real - or it would have no power over you!’ the Shadow King tells her. As Betsy reaches down for the dice - then takes hold of them, the Shadow King tells her that she cannot outrun what she has become.
Betsy’s eyes open - just as the possessed Wolverine’s claws loom over her. ‘Off me!’ Betsy exclaims as she kicks Wolverine off her. Deadpool and Fantomex are dueling as the possessed Deadpool tells Psylocke that he has discovered her secret. ‘Ah, the famous Braddock punctuality. Perhaps you could free our companions of their endangerment?’ Fantomex asks. Betsy attempts this, but discovers she cannot, and informs Fantomex that the Shadow King is too deeply rooted. She asks Fantomex to hold off Deadpool while she goes to stop the nuke. ‘Hurry! Run!’ the possessed Deadpool tells her. ‘But you’re already too late!’
‘Warren! Stop the door!’ Betsy calls out as she races towards Warren and the sergeant. ‘It’s not - up to him’ they reply as the door slides closed. Betsy has time to put Warren to sleep though, shutting down his mind, she gets inside it to protect him. In her Lady Mandarin armor once more, Betsy watches the scene with the young Warren at the soup kitchen for the homeless play out once more. ‘This man you love - what a mess. I see the knots you’ve tied in his mind’ the homeless person remarks - before turning around to face Betsy, revealing himself to be the Shadow King.
‘What danger could warrant such precautions? What has you so afraid?’ the Shadow King asks as he takes possession of the young Warren. Betsy realizes that she was careless, that she led her enemy right to Warren. The Shadow King pushes into another “room” and tells Betsy that she fears the demon she has locked away, and is right to. ‘He calls me to release him’ the villain exclaims. ‘My God. I never considered. I didn’t lead him here. Archangel did!’ Betsy tells herself as she follows the Shadow King into the next room, where Archangel is imprisoned.
‘I spent long years locked within one of your psionic jails. I know the flaws in its design’ the Shadow King states as he holds up a “key” and uses it on the psychic bars holding Archangel in place. ‘Stop! You can’t understand what you’re doing!’ Betsy calls out. ‘But I do’ the Shadow King tells her. ‘I am undoing your work, crushing your heart - exacting my revenge’ he exclaims as the psychic barriers surrounding Archangel vanish.
But, suddenly, Archangel’s razor-sharp wings move - and gut the Shadow King. Putrid bile flows from the villain. ‘Mindless fool I can aid you!’ the Shadow King claims. ‘You have no desire to aid me’ Archangel replies, as he decapitates the Shadow King. ‘Warren?’ Betsy calls out. ‘You won’t remember this. Go’ Archangel replies, and an instant later, Betsy vanishes from his mind.
In the storage room where the nuclear weapons are kept, the soldier is at the computer, readying the weapons. Warren lies on the floor, before both are freed from the Shadow King’s possession. ‘Where the hell?’ the soldier asks, confused. Warren gets up and tells him to step away from the launch button. ‘What?’ the soldier asks. ‘Step away from the launch button!’ Warren repeats himself. ‘Who are you?’ the soldier asks - but Warren doesn’t reply, instead he releases a barrage of deadly razor-sharp feathers, which slice through the soldier. ‘It’s a good question’ Warren replies as he stands over the motionless soldier.
Soon, Betsy enters the room, followed by Wolverine and Fantomex and Deadpool, helping each other along. Wolverine looks at Warren and remarks that he is sure it was the only option. Betsy glances nervously at Warren, neither saying anything, before Archangel walks away from his teammates, another mission over.