Various recordings of Shatterstar, from points in his distant past to recent events in the present, play out across a massive installation of monitor screens. Surrounded by complicated technology, a shadowy figure sits and muses that Shatterstar is a cute one: with red hair and freckles and a sword! He’s a regular Opie the Hun!
The figure observes that Shatterstar will be a fun one to play with, all right. Sighing, he corrects himself - he guesses Shatterstar will be fun to play with, but he’ll be so predictable. As the monitors all become components of one large image, the view shifts to Shatterstar climbing out of a car with Rictor in the driver’s seat. The figure asks one Ms. Locke for a position, to which she replies that the targets are in Phoenix, on the corner of McDowell and Delano.
Phoenix! exclaims the figure, blowing a raspberry with his tongue and then elaborating that he hates to perspire… and whose idea was it to take their show on the road? Ms. Locke readily explains that it was his idea, to which the figure offers that they should think of how thrilling it is to see the sights. Citing a trip to the Petrified Forest National Park, Ms. Locke offers a caustic “thanks.” The figure warns Ms. Locke that no one likes a weisenheimer before returning his attention to the monitor screens and requesting the addition of audio feed.
As Shatterstar walks away from the vehicle, the fragment sure you’ll be okay? becomes audible from Rictor. Shatterstar explains that he will be fine, and that he has been negligent in properly assimilating himself to Earth culture: a day spent among “Rictor’s” people will be beneficial. Rictor explains that he’ll be done picking up supplies around six o’clock, and then asks if Shatterstar remembers what time that is. He does: big hand pointing up, little hand pointing down. Rictor offers affirmation but is stymied when Shatterstar asks what to do if the clock has a digital readout. Noting that he liked him better when he didn’t have a sense of humor, Rictor begs Shatterstar to be careful and then drives away.
Back inside the hi-tech viewing area, the rambling figure is revealed to be Arcade, who notes that this situation will be simply ducky! His delightful little Shatterstar will provide him with hours of entertainment… and lordy knows, he deserves some, too! He continues, noting that he’s been out of circulation among the super-tights set for so long that he was starting to worry that maybe they’d all forgotten that another name for “murder” is “Arcade!” Gesturing to Ms. Locke, he asks her to be a dear and get the day’s other lucky participant into make-up and wardrobe… and, since he’s paying her scads of money just for being so darned cute, he’d also like her to contact their clients and tell them they have both of their rockets on the launch pad: all systems are GO!
Back outside, an out-of-place garbage truck sits in the background, while Shatterstar is stopped by a married couple and their children. The son asks if Shatterstar is a rock star or something, to which Shatterstar replies that he once was a star… but not any more. Watching this on his viewscreens, Arcade melodramatically clutches his chest and asks where a little violin is when he needs one. Then, having amused himself enough, he presses a red button and announces to Retrieval Unit Hazel that it’s time to pick up the trash…
Meanwhile, at the X-Force Camp Verde hideout, Cannonball taps a button and requests that the Professor prep the IPAC for dust-off. The Professor immediately responds that the Interpersonnel Assault Carrier is being prepared for transport… Samuel. Cannonball thanks the computer system, to which Professor replies de nada, prompting Cannonball to ask him if he and Rictor have been playing video games again. Professor concedes that they have, from time to time, and Cannonball asks if wonders will never cease. He then asks if the Professor might also contact Boomer and tell her that she “darn sure” better be ready.
Elsewhere within the base, Boomer stands with overstuffed luggage packed all about her person, as the Professor tersely responds that, yes, Tabitha, he is quite certain that Sam said “darn sure.” Boomer notes that Cannonball must be really steamed then, if he’s cussing up a blue streak like that… she may even have to wash his mouth out with soap. As Cannonball arrives in her room, she drops her largest bag in preparation for him to carry it for her. While trying to hoist it onto his shoulder, Cannonball inquires as to just how much she packed. Boomer defensively asks how she was supposed to know what to wear in Kentucky: you might as well be bringing her to Asgard, except there she’d actually know what to pack.
Cannonball reassures her that it’s just his mama and family… it isn’t that big a deal. If Boomer is just herself, his family will love her. Except maybe she should tuck her shirt in. And not crack her gum so much. And maybe she shouldn’t wear her sunglasses inside like she always does… Boomer mockingly repeats “just my mama and family” and then requests that he shoot her now and put her out of her misery.
As they stroll to the IPAC, Boomer reminds Cannonball that they don’t have to go… they can stay and keep looking for Sunspot. Cannonball replies that if Sunspot can be found, he will be… but nothing they’ve tried over the last three weeks has worked, and Boomer was the one who told Cannonball that he needed to get away, anyhow. They encounter Cable waiting near the prepped IPAC, who informs them that the ship is ready. Cannonball asks Cable if he wants to fly them there, to which Cable responds that he can’t: he has too much to do at Camp Verde. He then offers to give Cannonball a hand with Boomer’s bag, prompting Cannonball to reply with thanks… and that with Boomer’s packing, you need bionic strength just to lift it.
Cable asks if Cannonball is sure that this vacation is the smartest thing to do right now, and in reply Cannonball recollects the various adventures that X-Force has suffered through since the last time he had any sort of break. He ends with his summary of Sunspot’s disappearance while fighting the reformed MLF, and reaffirms that X-Force has found no traces of Sunspot since he was teleported away. Listening to Cannonball’s tale of woe, Cable agrees that he does need a vacation.
Boomer interrupts and notes, perturbed, that the vacation is only for a couple of weeks… and they should get real, how long do they think she could survive in Kentucky anyway? Cable quips to Cannonball that it’s not too late to ask Boomer to stay behind, but Cannonball is certain that his mother will get a kick out of her. As he boards the IPAC, Cable notes that Cannonball has gone through a lot, referencing Illyana’s death and the loss of Sunspot once more before insisting that they won’t stop looking for him. Cannonball replies that finding Sunspot is akin to a needle in a haystack, and he knows that… by being teleported away with Locus and the rest of the MLF, Sunspot could be anywhere from other dimensions to outer space. He knows in his gut that Sunspot is still alive, he adds, and tells Cable that if he does find anything, he shouldn’t hesitate to call. As the IPAC doors slide shut, Cannonball calls out one last time that he’ll see Cable in a few weeks. Amid the roaring whoosh of the IPAC’s takeoff, Cable tells Cannonball to have a safe trip.
With the IPAC gone, Cable looks around and… sees no one, oddly. Campe Verde has begun to feel empty and desolate. Rictor and Shatterstar are in town, looking for supplies. Sunspot is missing; Feral defected to the MLF. Cannonball and Boomer are on vacation while Warpath and Siryn are off in one of the underground bunkers. Cable muses that there isn’t much of a “rebel fighting force” to choose from anymore. As he passes a long-ruined structure, he considers asking her to join them… after all, she helped them against the MLF… but at the same time, she seems too unsure of where her commitments lie.
He is referencing Tempo, who sits upon a crumbling brick wall, as Cable inquires of her whether she has made a decision yet. Tempo isn’t sure what decisions he’s talking about, and asks if he means whether she’s going to stay at Camp Verde or not. He offers that she could try taking her costume off for a change… he’s sure Siryn and Boomer wouldn’t mind if she borrowed some of their--
Tempo cuts him off to caustically ask if they would have a slumber party next, before complaining that she doesn’t have a life any more… and noting that neither does any of X-Force. Before flying off, she asks him whether X-Force ever ask themselves just why they choose to live this way. Cable mutters that he does… every day.
Elsewhere on the reservation - inside communications bunker “57” - Siryn sits hunched in a chair, while watching a looping video feed of X-Force’s recent battle with the MLF, coincidentally asking herself the very question Tempo just posed. She throws an emptied beer bottle to the floor, noting that it makes three down… and three to go. With a hollow chnk klnk chnk klnk… it bounces its way into Warpath’s foot, as he approaches and asks her just what good it does to watch recordings of the fight with the MLF.
Carrying on, he tells her that, no matter how drunk she gets, the outcome won’t change… they lost Sunspot, and there’s nothing any of them could have done to prevent it. Siryn tries to explain, through slurred and stumbling speech, that she flew up first, and maybe if she had managed to avoid being tagged by Moonstar, she could have maybe… maybe…
Maybe what? asks Warpath, noting that she was unconscious when the disaster happened and that she tried her best: there’s nothing more to ask of herself. He asks her why she puts so much pressure on herself, why she punishes herself. Siryn asks him why he cares.
Smacking the bottle out of her hand, Warpath shouts that it’s because he likes her… a lot! Staring blankly at the floor as tears begin to form, Siryn tells him that his sentiment is all nice and fine… but it’s a dumb thing to be doing. Warpath asks her why that is, and she responds that it’s because you can’t like someone who hates themselves as much as she hates herself! Releasing an agonized sonic scream, Siryn busts the monitor screens inside the bunker and sends Warpath reeling into the wall. She then storms out, while Warpath is left only to rub his head in pain and mutter that she didn’t have to shout…
As Siryn steps outside, Cable is waiting at the entrance of the bunker to ask her if that was a sonic scream he just heard. He’s curious if everything is all right, and Siryn curtly responds that she’s fine. As she brusquely continues past him, Cable asks her if he should call Rictor on the car phone! and tell him to add a few monitor screens to the shopping list. Siryn curtly responds that he should. As Warpath emerges in her wake, Cable tells him that the advice he gave him in regards to confronting Siryn about her drinking, and telling her how he feels about her--
Warpath interrupts him to note that it was bad advice. Cable corrects him: it was just tough advice, for a tough problem. Proceeding later into another bunker, Cable mutters that it feels like it’s all falling apart… but he can’t let it. Not when he’s so close to getting his life back on track again. He asks the Professor to bring up Comm-Link Alpha One, and the Professor immediately informs Cable that the signal is going through. Cable thanks him, to which the Professor smartly asks what else a neo-sentient silicon-cycled multi-giga-hertz mega-parallel processing entity is for, before anticlimactically adding that the call is on-line.
Cable greets his call with a simple, “Hi,” to which she replies that he’s making a bad habit of this. He says he knows… but he needs her, addressing the woman known as Domino, who stands before him on the video screen. She replies that she understands, and that after everything he’s just went through, she can’t say no… then adds that she is in L.A., and will arrive at the base in a few hours.
Elsewhere, far from Camp Verde and within pitch darkness, a voice asks over an intercom if he is awake. As dim light begins to fill the darkness, another voice responds that he is not yet, chief. More light begins to filter in as the intercom commands someone to “prod him a bit” … and not to call him chief! Suddenly, Shatterstar’s eyes shoot fully open, and the darkness is replaced by a hi-tech firearm pointed directly in his face. Shatterstar quickly smacks the gun away from the purple-suited thug, knocks him to the floor, and catches the gun before it can hit the ground, whilst asking Arcade if he would prefer if he simply called him a hearse.
Arcade inquires over the loudspeaker that Shatterstar’s a comedian, is he? …and since when did he develop a sense of humor? Shatterstar replies that it is ever since he has been able to find so much on this world that amuses him… starting, quite obviously, with Arcade. Arcade, taken aback, asks for confirmation that he amuses Shatterstar… that Shatterstar stares death in the eye and laughs? Shatterstar glibly retorts that, no, he smirks, before pointedly asking where he is, who Arcade is, and what Arcade wants with him.
Noting that Shatterstar sure is a terse change of pace from the spandex types that he’s used to, Arcade dutifully explains that he is, well, Arcade: one of the world’s foremost and funderful assassins! Shatterstar is in his brand-spanking-new traveling edition of Murderworld (coming soon to a city near you), and he’s there because Arcade has been hired to make him jump through hoops… Arcade’s hoops! Shatterstar asks why he should do this, and Arcade notes that Shatterstar was born and bred to entertain the masses… and, around there, he is the masses! Shatterstar merely notes that the compensation he is used to receiving for his performance includes survival assurances, and he inquires as to whether Arcade offers any such assurances.
As a nearby wall slides away to reveal the family Shatterstar met earlier, Arcade jovially notes naaah… because Shatterstar isn’t really fighting for his own survival. That’d be too easy! No, he’s fighting for the lives of this nice little family that Arcade picked up along with him. Focusing upon the frowning little boy, Shatterstar notes that they are of no use to him. Arcade calmly replies that he thinks Shatterstar is lying… you know, the tough, indifferent attitude that’s supposed to make him doubt his master plan. As another wall slides away to reveal red-and-purple-clad soldiers, Arcade continues that it won’t work, bucko, because this adorable family is certainly of interest to these gentlemen: a fine group of guys who’ve come a long, long way from home for a chance to play with Shatterstar!
Raising his weapon, the lead soldier greets Shatterstar, calling him the dog-kisser of the Cadre Alliance. Shatterstar is bewildered by the presence of soldiers from Mojo’s Imperial Protectorate, and can only surmise that they have been transported from his own homeworld to battle him. The soldier with the raised weapon corrects Shatterstar, explaining that the way to victory in their impending contest is not through Shatterstar’s death…
Shatterstar quickly realizes the soldier is aiming at the daughter of the family, and races to outrun the shot as the soldier fires. Shatterstar screams at the girl to cover her eyes, but his instructions are met only by her asking why. Ever practical, Shatterstar accepts her disobedience, but asks her to at least roll with the fall as he kicks to the floor the column she is restrained upon, knocking her out of the way of the blast. Noting that she didn’t follow his instructions that time either, Shatterstar is left to muse aloud whether all children on this planet are so inefficient in the ways of survival. He then requests that she please stop crying, and give him a moment to pry her manacles apart. She replies that she’s only crying because she’s scared, so Shatterstar requests that she cease being scared.
As Shatterstar frees the girl, another soldier derisively notes that he’s coddling a “Terran simp,” and can’t believe that of all the dogs the Protectorate once fought, Shatterstar was once considered the pick of the litter. Firing a series of razor-sharp blades at Shatterstar and the girl, the soldier forces Shatterstar to shield the girl with his body. Asked by the son of the family whether he is okay, Shatterstar replies that he has been better, and then commands the girl to take one of the flechettes that are embedded in his arm and use it to pry her brother loose. The girl confirms her understanding with “gross,” then asks Shatterstar where he’s going.
Removing the remaining blades that are lodged in his flesh, Shatterstar announces that he feels they’ve all played around quite enough… so, he commands the soldiers, pull up the curtain-- because it’s show time! As Shatterstar dashes between the legs of one of the soldiers, the soldier asks whether Shatterstar still continues to flit about to and fro during battle like he did as a pup. Shatterstar replies that he does whatever works… and the crowds always found his style unique anyway; it made him a star. He drives this point home by popping up behind the soldier before he can react and viciously slashing him across the back of the neck with the borrowed blades. Noting that the soldier will be kept busy trying to reattach his neck to his shoulders, Shatterstar announces that he hopes the soldier won’t mind if he borrows his blaster to assist him in defeating the soldier’s teammates.
From a distance, one of the other soldiers points out that their game parameters involve only the successful termination of the human targets… so defeating them will not grant Shatterstar victory if the targets are still gainfully acquired. Dashing forward and opening fire upon the two soldiers, Shatterstar wonders aloud at how little his world has progressed since his absence from it. There is more to the battle, Shatterstar explains he has learned, than merely coming out victorious. What you fight for and how you fight are just as important. The soldier merely retorts that Shatterstar is clearly more of an idealistic fool than ever, whilst his remaining comrade tells him to mark his spot. Disappearing into the smoke curling about the battlefield, Shatterstar reappears on a catwalk above the soldiers while they try to figure out where their target has gone. Realizing the answer too late, Shatterstar descends, rounds firing repeatedly, and announces that the show is over… Mojo-kissing airwave riders!
While his comrade explodes, Shatterstar reminds the last soldier that he is the only one remaining… and if the soldier surrenders, he will allow him to live. The soldier merely replies that he does not think Shatterstar is in any position to be making demands, for, he notes while clutching the two children to him, he now has the humans. Shatterstar is left to wearily note that he grows very tired of being placed in these morally compromising situations, adding that for the benefit of the soldier’s continued capacity to breathe, he should release the innocents. The mother calls out to Shatterstar, begging him to not let harm come to her children. The soldier retorts to the “human cow” that Shatterstar wouldn’t risk it... he’s lost the foojkies to capture and enrapture an audience as he once did.
Shatterstar concedes that perhaps the soldier is correct. It appears his life has changed, since he no longer has the desire or the requirement of simply fighting for the entertainment of mindless masses. The soldier, bewildered, asks him what he does fight for. Shatterstar replies, squeezing the trigger of his pilfered weapon, that he fights for a cause he can believe in! …And once he discovers just what that is, he will tell him.
This proves to be slightly misleading, since he immediately follows this statement by blowing the soldier’s face off, effectively putting an end to ever being able to tell the soldier what he fights for. However, the children are still saved, and Arcade, watching all this transpire on his viewscreen, notes to “Mr. Star” that this was very dramatic! Narrating the predictable actions that Arcade predicted would occur, he tells Shatterstar to now free mommy and daddy… very good! Meanwhile, the father sternly tells Shatterstar that it was an awfully big risk he took with his children. Shatterstar curtly replies that, had he lowered his weapon, both children would be dead.
Arcade interrupts over the loudspeaker, asking the two of them to cut it out and leave well enough alone before he puts them through it all over again. He adds that the Brady Bunch is free to go, prompting Shatterstar to inquire what will become of him: he has succeeded in Arcade’s twisted game, so what is to prevent him from leaving as well?
Well, replies Arcade, the way he looks at it… two things! As he says this, a hole in the floor opens near Shatterstar and a facsimile of his classic brown-and-white uniform rises up. Bewildered, Shatterstar asks Arcade why he is offering him a version of the outfit he wore when he first came to Earth. Arcade tells him to just put it on, he’ll see. Turning to the family, Shatterstar commands all of them to go and announces he will stay. The family, acting rather disturbingly calm, cheerfully thanks Shatterstar for his assistance and asks if he’s sure he’ll be okay. The father announces he’s going to call the police, but Shatterstar explains that by the time the constabulary is informed, Arcade will be long gone. He tells them to fear not; he will be fine: after all, this is what he was born and bred to do.
Arcade notes that Shatterstar is exactly correct, which is why he wants him to face the next round of fun in a costume more benefiting of his origins! Shatterstar announces that the clothes he wears matter little to him at this point. Arcade responds that Shatterstar will understand why these clothes are more appropriate when he shows him reason numero uno as to why he’ll want to stay and play a little while longer. Shatterstar, growing impatient, announces that he is waiting. Arcade says he’d like to show Shatterstar the one who hired him to have Shatterstar assassinated, and brings up a holographic display of Major Domo, the master programmer responsible for running the oppressive rule of Mojo V on Shatterstar’s homeworld. Arcade explains that Major Domo is afraid that Shatterstar may come back and threaten his position of power. Shatterstar confirms that Domo has valid reason to be afraid, but he senses that there’s more to this…
Arcade, grinning ear-to-ear, announces that there is. That someone else hired him to test out another of Shatterstar’s peers, so Arcade, being the economically-minded guy that he is, figured he’d kill two birds with one stone. In fact, from what he understands, Shatterstar even knows the young man! A man who is fighting for the same things Shatterstar is… a cause to believe in, the truth about himself, a place in this world… and unfortunately, he’s going to have to fight Shatterstar in order to get any of those things… fight him to the death!
As familiar blades rain down around him, Shatterstar can only mutter “No…” as Adam-X, the X-Treme, offers his greetings and leaps down to do battle…