It's been nearly a week since X-Force's encounter with Magneto on Avalon. Cable lies unconscious on a medical table in their Camp Verde base, surrounded by various machinery and vital monitors. The medical computer notes he has undergone an extremely intensive physical and mechanical regeneration process for the last 83 hours, but still remains in critical condition.
The rest of X-Force surrounds his prone form, nervously watching his slow recovery. Feral butchers the solemn mood by quipping, "Does anyone know if he came with a warranty?" Sunspot counters that even he finds that cold, and he doesn't like Cable much. Feral, while sniffing and poking Cable's exposed arm (a mess of wire and machinery), explains she's just creeped out -- she's always hated the smell of hospitals, and this is even worse -- it smells like mixing "a dentist's office with a Midas muffler shop."
Warpath smacks Feral across the cheek and tells her to cut it out, to stop pretending she doesn't care about Cable. Cannonball intervenes and tells them both to cut it out. He then notes that it's hard to believe just how much of Cable's body is inorganic, and that it makes how hard he tries to be human even more impressive. Siryn agrees, and ponders how much Cable lived through to lose so much of his body in the wars he fought. Did it happen all at once, or was he picked apart little by little?
James says they're better off not thinking about it; that they need to concentrate on Cable living and healing, not his pain and dying. He continues: "Haven't we picked apart the pain of our own lives long enough?" Sam agrees, saying that Cable's fight for life should serve as inspiration for them, not defeat -- and that, corny as it sounds, Cable would want it that way.
Feral interrupts the noble rambling with "Whatever. Can we, like, put in a Slurpee dispenser in here or sumthin' cool like that?" This being the last straw, Sam, Theresa and James are about to put Feral in her place when Cable's mechanical arm rises, fist clenched, and he weakly says "It's-- all-- right... what-- flavor-- would-- you-- like...?"
Three days later:
Cable notes that it's been three days since he woke up. A voice within his mind corrects him: Three days, seven hours. Cable continues unfazed, adding that the Professor, the sentient computer program which had run the systems on Graymalkin, hasn't shut up yet. The Professor defensively notes that it's been a while since he was directly incorporated into Cable's neural network.
Sam interrupts their mental bickering by informing Cable that he and Bobby are ready to go. They're flying to Madripoor to deliver Xi'an Coy Manh, their former teammate, the news of Illyana Rasputin's death. Sam would prefer the entire team go, but Cable thinks it's better that only Sam and Bobby represent X-Force -- after all, they're the only members of X-Force who were actually part of the original New Mutants. Sam disagrees, but promptly leaves anyway, telling a computer to "prep the plane." Cable notes that Sam is upset. Sam cared for Illyana Rasputin, and her death has hit him hard. "When your peers pass on before you," thinks Cable, "it's just another sign you're growing older." "Funny," he continues. He's "seen so many come and go, young and old alike, that sometimes he forgets-- even one small death can have giant implications."
Meanwhile, in their rooms, Sam and Bobby pack for the trip. Sam is astonished by the amount of luggage Bobby is bringing, considering they'll only be gone a few days. Boomer quips that Bobby "packs like a girl!" Sam implores Tabitha to come along, but she retorts that she'd rather not go to some country she's never heard of to meet some old girlfriend of Sam's. Sam points out that Xi'an is not his old girlfriend.
Sam continues: He thinks Tabitha doesn't want to go because she always tries to avoid death. He asks her: if he died tomorrow, would she come to his funeral? Tabitha retorts that that's a stupid question -- Sam's not going to die, he's an immortal External, who's going to outlive them all... and watch her and the rest of the team grow old and drop dead around him. Sam, rather ignoring her most recent point, proposes a deal to her: he'll never die, and she never has to come to his funeral. He gently cradles her chin and leans in close to her as she says "Deal," but quickly backs away, awkward about his feelings and stumblingly explains he has to go.
As Sam leaves, Rictor notes it's "kind of strange, huh?" When Tabitha asks him what's kind of strange, Rictor elaborates: "Oh, a little girl like Illyana dyin', while Sam's gonna live forever." It must, he continues, weird Sam out and make it difficult for him to deal with the rest of his teammates. Tabitha quickly insists that Sam hasn't changed a bit since he learned he was immortal -- that, if anything, it's made him care more about them, about life and about how important they all are to him. "Really--?" begins Rictor, before Tabitha continues her monologue, explaining Sam thinks of them the same way he always did--
But she's interrupted by Rictor, asking "Then why couldn't he do... THIS!", grabbing Tabitha, and kissing her full on the mouth. She pulls away and tells him to cut it out. Rictor simply points out that she used to want him to do that. Tabitha explains that's not true now -- she's sorry, but she loves Sam. "Sure thing, mijita..." replies Rictor, as Tabitha storms away, "...but does he love YOU?"
Outside, Sam and Bobby's shuttlecraft rises into the sunset desert sky. Cable stands on a bluff and watches the team from a distance, noting how they much they remind him of his own youth... and wondering what kind of existence that is for them. Meanwhile, Rictor walks past Feral, who's picking at some broken chain-link fencing. "What's new, pussycat?" he asks, to which Feral distractedly replies "Nuthin'." Following her line of sight, Rictor sees what she's ogling: Shatterstar is leaping around on a makeshift balance beam, constructed from a wooden plank and two rocks that share a phenomenally convenient height similarity, performing gymnastic flips in one of his constant combat-training exercises.
Cable thinks that Shatterstar is, of the team, the most and least like Cable was in his youth. The most, in that Shatterstar is "driven by an obsessive compulsion to perfect himself in the arts of war-- all the while building the perfect body at the expense of heart and soul." The least, though, in that Cable fought for a cause, and Shatterstar doesn't. Cable wonders: when you end up looking back on your life, what good is the perfect body if the soul is scarred?
Meanwhile, Rictor tells Feral that if she wants something, she should go for it. Continuing to drool over Shatterstar, Feral mumbles she "don't want nuthin'. Leave her alone." Across the clearing, Shatterstar's workout is interrupted by clapping, prompting him to mutter "Fekt," presumably at the prospect of being annoyed. The clapping comes from Siryn, who is completely drunk and presenting Shatterstar with a beer from the remnants of a six-pack that she's dangling out, telling him he looks "absholutely adorable" and asking him if he's "thirsty now?"
While Cable wonders what the point is of having perfect fighting machines if they're all hollow and empty inside, Theresa presses herself against Shatterstar and hits on him. His only response is to point out that her words are slightly slurred and ask the mind-blowing naïve question, "Is this a result of that liquid she is consuming?" "Yup," explains Theresa, it's called "fun" -- does he want one or five? Shatterstar disdainfully explains he finds its results decidedly unpleasant, and, as he walks away, irritated, recommends that she attempt to pursue such activities with someone who might be more receptive.
Cable wonders what demons have driven Theresa to stay with X-Force. He then immediately answers his own rhetoric: a demon called the Shadow King, who forced her to see parts of herself that no one should be forced to see. As Theresa throws a beer into the air and destroys it with her sonic scream, Cable wonders why she's trying so hard to see these things inside her again?
Approaching her, Cable notes that that was a sonic scream -- and wants to know if the two of them can talk. Theresa asks him why talk when better, wordless things can be done -- and proceeds to grab Cable and kiss him. "Not bad ... for an old man..." she mumbles. The Professor notes her blood-alcohol level is 1.6 percent as James approaches, carrying a large piece of machinery on his shoulder, and curious if he's "interrupting anything." As Theresa laughs and falls on her butt, Cable announces that he thinks she's drunk.
"I know," says James, explaining she does that a lot, and that the rest of the team doesn't know. Cable knows how James feels about her and wants to know why he lets her do it to herself. James explains he's afraid Theresa will reject him completely if he tries to confront her about it, and that this way, he's at least able to help her a little bit-- better than not at all, should she cut people off completely.
James carries Theresa to her bunk bed, while Cable notes how alone James is... how James internalized all the pain and grief of having his entire people slaughtered. Will that loneliness and anger ever be released? What would be worse, letting it destroy him from the inside out, or unleashing his feelings? Cable ponders these thoughts and notes that it's no wonder James fell for Theresa -- they come from the same place, and they're going in the same direction: straight down. While James examines a photo of a toddler Theresa and her uncle, Tom Cassidy, the Professor interjects: couldn't Cable see this development earlier? Cable admits he's been blind-- no, worse, ignorant. He did see it all coming; in fact, in many ways he caused much of what's happened.
He recruited them on purpose: they were confused, emotionally scarred, wounded -- and thus perfect material for forging into a hard, ruthless fighting unit. He ignored their needs, their desires and their dreams, just like he ignored his own. The Professor elaborates: Cable strove to make X-Force like himself, even though he knew it would make them miserable. Cable sputters at this observation -- he's not sure what he wanted -- but he knows it's time to stop what he set in motion.
Meanwhile again, James has moved into the craggy vistas outside the base, sitting cross-legged, headphones-on, observing the picture he picked up in Theresa's room. Shatterstar finds him and questions why James continues to make himself miserable for Theresa's sake. James is surprised someone noticed. And, he doesn't know -- he assumes it's because all he really knows is unhappiness, and that it's the only thing that can make him... well, happy. He asks Shatterstar if it's the same for him. Shatterstar explains he never gave it much thought, and James asks what Shatterstar does give thought to. Things he can control, explains Shatterstar, like his body, his strength and his skills. James contends that if all Shatterstar has is himself, then, really, he doesn't have much at all. Shatterstar ends their debate by pointing out that it's better than wanting more than you can have, and having nothing as a result.
Shatterstar proceeds to enter the base and approach Rictor, who's watching cartoons on the large TV screen. He takes Rictor's unguarded remote and proceeds to change the channel... over and over again at an infuriatingly rapid pace, causing Rictor to slowly become enraged. During this, Cable notes to himself that Shatterstar couldn't really be accused of walling-off his emotions, since he likely never had any to begin with. The Professor contributes that they have almost no knowledge of Shatterstar's childhood or homeworld. Cable notes, however, that Shatterstar's aloof qualities don't prevent him from trying to draw attention to himself -- a fact readily demonstrated when Rictor finally snaps at Shatterstar for his inconsiderate actions regarding the remote control. Shatterstar, bemused, merely asks why anyone would watch one station when they can watch them ALL?
"Uno de estos dias... lo voy a matar!" grumbles Rictor, storming off. Shatterstar is genuinely confused as to why his friend is angry. As he exits the room, Rictor bumps into Cable, who is entering, and is less than thrilled, announcing it's a "two-for-one sale at Rictor's Little Shop of Horrors!" Cable, annoyed, insists once more to Rictor, calling him by his real name, Julio, that he did not kill his father. Rictor shoots back that he believes Cable -- but that doesn't mean there aren't a ton of other reasons to hate Cable's guts. And, he adds, as he exits, never call him Julio again - only his mother could do that.
Cable thinks to himself sardonically how great it is that the one X-Forcer whose problems aren't Cable's fault has to be Rictor -- the one who'll find a reason to hate him anyway. Yet, Cable is forced to admit, he's glad Rictor's back. He proceeds forward to the rec room, where Shatterstar is furiously flipping channels. Cable notes that the blur of images flashing across the television reminds him of his entire life, a ride on the timestream stopping here and there, knowing who people are but never getting to know anything about them. He thinks to himself: it has to stop, he has to put the brakes on... but can he do it? Can he be a soldier, a teacher, a father and a friend? Xavier couldn't, Magneto couldn't, and he doubts if he can, either.
"But," thinks Cable, as he approaches the TV controls, setting it to automatically change the channel every 3 seconds, just as Shatterstar likes it, "one thing I do know ... I know that I can start to try..."
The Whitman Maximum Security Federal Penitentiary, just outside Roanaoke, Virginia:
Guards are standing watch outside as clouds suddenly gather in the sky. A crackling noise fills the air above them, and one questions if it's thunder. The other guard notes that the weatherman didn't mention anything about thunder.
It begins to rain, turning the guard's mood even fouler at the unexpected inclement weather. But something's wrong with the rain: it burns what it touches and soon the guards are screaming in agony. Crackles of energy rain down from the sky, scattering everywhere across the prison grounds and incinerating or electrocuting guards left and right. A watchtower announces that the prison is under attack -- call a red alert! -- before it's exploded by the storm of energy.
Meanwhile, inside the prison, the guards are scrambling to move out and deal with the assault. Cries of "What's going on?" and "It's an attack!" ring through the halls of stone and steel amid alarm klaxons. Someone notes: "Clamp down on the super-human wing!!", where Forearm, Tempo, Reaper and Wildside are chained to the wall in cumbersome hi-tech manacles. A strange blue fire is burning up the mortar between the bricks of the chamber's walls.
"Why bother?" asks a voice, "We shipped just about everyone we had to the Vault last week." The other voice explains there's still a few in there -- "Just a buncha punk kid muties." "The ones from the MLF?" asks the other, "You think this is a Gee-Cee jailbreak?"
Suddenly, the wall explodes and, whilst the assault of energy still rips apart the prison elsewhere, the same energy breaks the prisoner's manacles. Forearm wants to know what's going on, who is doing this -- to which a voice crackling with energy addresses each ex-MLF member, one by one, with some very insightful observations:
"Michael McCain - known as Forearm -- your enormity of strength is matched only by your propensity for hooking up with the wrong people."
"Heather Tucker -- called Tempo -- your ability to warp time to suit your needs has not helped keep you from doing time, has it?"
"Pantu Hurageb -- the Reaper -- whose neural paralyzing scythe has most certainly reaped what you have sown."
"And finally, Richard Gill - Wildside -- whose inclination towards acts of savage lunacy are so very contradictory to your oh-so-proper upbringing."
Wildside then notes that this mystery figure has them psychoanalyzed pretty well... now when is he gonna tell them who the $%#@ he is?
Floating ominously in the sky above, eyes burning with energy, the figure announces he is the storm on the horizon -- the sweltering tempest waiting to erupt -- he is REIGNFIRE, and these four are going to become a part of his new Mutant Liberation Front! One of the four can only, rather anticlimactically, inquire, "That old gig again? That party was a bust the first time around."
Reignfire explains that his goals are very different than those of the previous MLF leader, Stryfe; that they will all work together toward mutually desirable goals and that they will be his soldiers, his front line against the humans who have oppressed mutants for so long. Forearm can only ask, "And we get--?", to which Reignfire replies they get to "become powerful and wealthy beyond their dreams!"
He then announces that this new MLF will prove they mean business, and the way they're going to do that... is by finding Henry Peter Gyrich, director of Project: Wideawake (the U.S. government's in-development mutant-eliminating program) -- and flaying him alive!