Cumberland County, Kentucky, at the Guthrie farm. Cable and his outlaw mutant band known as X-Force came to the Guthrie home in order to try to learn who had kidnapped their vacationing teammates, Cannonball and Boomer. What they have learned, due to the green-haired fellow standing before them in a suit of high-tech battle armor, is that a rich club of greed-mongers known as the Upstarts have chosen to continue their twisted competition of wealth and power by targeting all the surviving members of the New Mutants and the Hellions.
Weapons drawn, Cable informs Fitzroy that this is going to hurt him a lot more than it will them – a lot more. Fitzroy replies that he would rather not do battle against Cable and his crew. He only wants Rictor and Warpath. Surely Cable could sacrifice the few to spare the lives of the many? Narrowing his eyes, Cable ponders why they should bother doing that, when they can just sacrifice Fitzroy instead? Opening fire, Cable tells X-Force to make like can openers and just leave enough of the green-haired Spam inside the armor standing so that it can answer some questions afterwards!
Immediately, X-Force springs into battle against Fitzroy: Siryn unleashes a sonic scream and Rictor his vibratory blasts, Domino and Cable release “automatic strafing plasma charges,” and Shatterstar, as per his usual, takes a very direct approach. Amidst the unfolding chaos, a small, bald, yellow man in a purple suit scrambles to get out of the way of the conflict: his name is Bantam, he is Fitzroy’s mutant slave, and he soon finds himself running headlong into the mutant equivalent of solid rock as he collides with Warpath’s right leg!
As Warpath hefts Bantam into the air by his collar so as to better examine him, Bantam mumbles that this is probably going to hurt quite a bit, isn’t it? Only if you want it to, “Danny DeVito,” replies Warpath. Completely failing to catch Warpath’s culturally topical witticism, the small yellow man attempts to clarify that uhm, the name is Bantam, sir. Warpath replies that his name is Jimmy, Mr. Bantamsir, and then asks Bantamsir to tell him a little bit about the goofy green-haired guy in the armor. Then, thinking he’s on to something, Warpath asks if, by any chance, the green-haired guy is of any relation to a friend of X-Force’s named Gideon? Sweating profusely, Bantam replies that he believes any resemblance is purely coincidental. Sure, replies Warpath, because you know what a fashion trend that green hair is. Losing patience, he orders Bantam to talk, which Bantam proceeds to attempt to do whilst Warpath tucks him under one arm and gives him a noogie.
Master Fitzroy is a refugee from the future (another one? interrupts Warpath) trapped in this time and determined to make the most of it (by killing mutants? Good plan! interrupts Warpath again) explains Bantam. And what do you do, queries Warpath, finally interrupting Bantam completely, besides sweating a lot? Bantam replies that he is a chronal anchor, capable of identifying Master Fitzroy’s time-portals, which are spread throughout this temporal node. Of course you are, mumbles Warpath, before elucidating that Bantam is basically a glorified doorman, right? Putting all the pieces together, Warpath immediately shouts at the top of his lungs to Cable to stop wasting ammo and get over here!
Looking over his shoulder, Cable dryly replies that they’re kind of busy here, James. Warpath insists that he can end this stupid fight with one round of midget bowling. Hurm, mutters Cable, and then asks who Warpath is holding. Warpath explains that his name is Bantam, sir, and that he’s Fitzroy’s teleportation bloodhound: if they let him find one of Jolly Green Niblet’s portals, open it up, and then toss the little dude through and knock Fitzroy in after him, it’ll be the end of the fight. Cable inquires as to how Fitzroy opens up these portals – mechanical relays? Uhm, actually, clarifies Bantam, Fitzroy must drain the life force from someone in order to power the portals up. Yeah, mutters Cable, that was my second guess.
Okay, continues Cable, assuming that he’s still following all of this, Bantam can choose the portal he opens, right? So he can lead X-Force back to wherever Fitzroy and he were at right before they came here, so X-Force can backtrack their steps and start uncovering more of these Upstarts, right? Uhm, replies an increasingly soiled and sweating Bantam, right… but… uhm… the life force energy the Master needs to drain… Cable interrupts, telling Bantam not to worry about that part of the plan… but maybe Bantam should count on not having to call anyone “master” for that much longer…
Meanwhile, the rest of X-Force has continued to clash with Fitzroy in his robo-suit. Shatterstar announces with frustration that nothing seems capable of piercing the force field this dog’s armor emits, but Cable returns just in time to reply to Shatterstar that all energy transmits on one form of wavelength or another, so all they have to do is find out which one and disrupt it! Cable then orders Siryn and Rictor to keep modulating their power releases until they match the frequency Fitzroy’s armor operates from – and then we can split apart his force field like a ripe watermelon? Cool! finishes Rictor. No! screams Fitzroy, but it is obviously a “no” of anguish, not a “no” that they are incorrect in their logic, because in short order Fitzroy’s force field is indeed split apart!
Crouching amid his smoldering armor, Fitzroy releases a “gaak” and a “Well played,” but then continues that taking out his force field does not take him out of the fight! No, replies Cable, but it does mean he gets to do this! Cable’s metallic left arm then rapidly shifts and churns until it is coated in what appears to be flesh, at which point he leaps forward and punches Fitzroy. To this, Fitzroy replies that Cable has made the mistake of engaging him in hand-to-hand combat, a grave mistake when you take into account that his mutant ability to drain life forces requires him to touch flesh! With this, Fitzroy pounces forward and snatches Cable’s left arm, which Cable replies was actually kind of what he was counting on…
Fitzroy’s eyes begin to spark and his face develops a very consternated expression as he quietly asks what is happening. Cable notes that his arm is made of living matter, yes, but it’s not human flesh, it’s techno-organic fiber… something time-travelers from a measly hundred years in the future such as Fitzroy wouldn’t know about! Fitzroy releases an agonized scream and begins to spark quite a bit as Cable continues to lecture him, explaining that since he couldn’t drain Cable’s life force through the techno-organic mesh, Fitzroy’s body resorted to draining the next closest energy source available to it… his own!
As Fitzroy’s smoldering corpse drops to the ground, a glowing portal appears. Cable notes that the portal’s powered up and tells the team to reload and pack any gear they may need, and then informs Mrs. Guthrie and Paige that they’re going to try to save Sam. Paige insists that she wants to go with Cable, prompting her mother’s eyes to bug out as she insists that Paige has no idea what X-Force is about to get into! Paige, however, continues to insist, stating that Sam’s her brother and she has to try and help him, doesn’t she?
Nooo, she doesn’t, replies Cable, flinging Bantam into the portal, because she doesn’t have enough experience with her mutant powers to be coming with them. As the rest of X-Force files into the portal, Cable continues: they don’t have the luxury of spending their time worrying about protecting her. If Sam is alive, he promises they’ll get him back. And, Cable replies from halfway through the portal, he promises that these Upstarts won’t be setting foot on the Guthrie property and threatening their lives ever again!
As the portal begins closing, Paige inches toward it, prompting her mother to tell her daughter not to dare follow him! Paige states that she has to, momma, she has to start using these stupid powers to do some good! Part of having power is using it right, using it responsibly, she continues, her eyes flaring up; that’s what her mother always said to Sam, even when it meant he had to leave home! With a sickening, wet shredding sound, Paige activates her mutant powers and states that she’ll be okay, and she’ll make sure Sam is too! Her mother, aghast, can only quietly whisper Dear Lord in heaven as Paige leaps through the portal just before it closes. As the light disappears, Mrs. Guthrie wonders aloud of her daughter, What have you become?
The mindstream. Mrs. Guthrie’s question echoes out among the billions of other thoughts streaming through the Gamesmaster’s mind, prompting him to think that this is a good question, but it’s not one he can answer right now. The battle between X-Force and Fitzroy provided a brief respite, but now he returns to the thoughts of those mutants already captured in the Younghunt: Magma, Cannonball, Empath, Boomer, Karma, and Moonstar. No matter how much it pains him to probe their minds, no matter how hard it is to accept that their strengths are his weaknesses, that their ability to triumph over the adversity and tragedy they have faced is the very thing he was incapable of doing. That one, Danielle Moonstar, he notes, approaching her free-floating astral form, is a perfect example. How could she have survived what she endured on that world so far away? Yes, he senses, she was damaged, but still: she has shown such courage in the face of emotional tragedy.
Turning his thoughts to the others, the Gamesmaster notes that they all have. The thought-image of Justice is plucked from the swirling horde of minds and faces, as the Gamesmaster notes that perhaps this one, most of all, has endured. This one’s father beat him simply because he was a mutant, and thus Justice was a boy forced to become a man through a terrible rite of passage: by accidentally taking the life of his own father. Yes, they all have their stories to tell, their – Gamesmaster suddenly turns his attention to Karma’s form – secrets they try to keep hidden from even the most prying of eyes…
And abruptly, the Gamesmaster’s thoughts are interrupted by the presence of Justice’s physical person in the tangible world; he has arrived in the mysterious location where those captured in the Younghunt are deposited. Calling out a tentative Hello, he explains his name is Justice and that he’s here representing Shinobi Shaw… and he’s there to turn over one of the targets of the Younghunt. Gamesmaster? he calls out. Receiving no reply, he asks if anyone is there…? In a way, Vance, replies the Gamesmaster, if he may be coy… everyone is there. With these words, the Gamesmaster’s astral projection glows into being behind Justice.
Justice asks if this is Gamesmaster, and the Gamesmaster confirms it, then adds that he must say, Justice has played his part, as difficult as it’s been, to absolute perfection. Confused, Justice asks what part that is? to which the Gamesmaster replies the part of Judas, young man. Go ahead, he continues, and betray him the same way Justice plans to betray Shinobi. Smirking, the Gamesmaster continues: the two of them, thinking that any kind of telepathic shields around Shinobi’s penthouse could have kept the Gamesmaster from reading their minds… if he had any pride or ego left, he’d be insulted. Go ahead Vance, he goads Justice, if he wants to give it a try: try and take him down. Just be aware of one little thing.
All of the other captured targets in the Younghunt, he says, revealing a large chamber where the physical bodies of all those hunted down are lying on metal beds hooked into a central metallic spire, are inextricably linked to him. So if Justice hurts him, he continues, as Justice’s eyes go wide with fear, he’d also be responsible for killing all of them!
Manhattan, at the offices of GC Investment Bankers, the very legitimate business front of a very illegitimate man. Graydon Creed is the son of Sabretooth and Mystique, a reluctant member of the Upstarts, and the leader of the anti-mutant organization known as the Friends of Humanity. Additionally, though he is currently unaware of this fact, his decision to target the New Warrior Firestar for capture using his Tribunal armored mercenaries was a very big mistake.
Standing on the roof of the GC offices, Nova asks the other New Warriors if they should even bother being quiet about this. Night Thrasher replies that there is something to be said for downgrading Creed’s security system one step at a time. Rage merely replies with a yeah, right, then proceeds to rip an enormous air conditioning system off the roof with the help of Nova. As he flings it back down into the roof, creating an enormous hole, he adds that there’s also something to be said for knocking on Creed’s door the way he knocked on theirs! Peering in through the hole they created, Night Thrasher looks down on Graydon Creed at his desk and says that someone said he must have a hole in his head to get the New Warriors mad at him; guess they were right.
That was cute, replies Creed, thanks so much. Then, smirking, he says that he takes it his Tribune guards were less than successful? Leaping on to his desk, Kymaera states that Creed’s attacked two of their friends now and, stupid as that was, it’s not why they’re so angry: it’s his reasons for doing it that make them want to shove that smug grin of his down his throat! And what reasons would those be, Namorita, asks Creed… or should he call her Kymaera now? Is it that he simply refuses to accept the right of mutant genetic trash like her friends to dominate his kind? Or is it that his role in the Upstarts, which was simply a means to accomplish that task, has come into conflict with her own interests? Grabbing him by his necktie, Kymaera shouts that it’s both!
Stepping forward and slicing Creed’s tie off, Night Thrasher tells him to listen up, you bigoted piece of trash: his little Upstart friends are going down one at a time! Does he want to join them now, or would he rather they give him the chance to spread his sick views another day? Adjusting the remaining stub of his tie, Creed tells “Mr. Thrash” not to threaten him, because the truth is, they don’t have any evidence of his involvement in any of this.
Kymaera leans forward with a look of pure poison in her eyes: how sure of that is he? Does he know that their teammate, Justice, has been working as a plant with Shinobi Shaw for the last few weeks? How much did Shaw talk in one of his drunken stupors, she wonders? How much info could Vance have gotten out of Shaw’s computer systems in that time? Starts to make him sweat juuust a little, doesn’t it? In fact, how much support could he get from the Friends of Humanity if they found out he was actively associated with the very mutants he claims to hate… much less the fact that he’s the offspring of two such beings!
A pause. Consideration. Then Creed quietly tells them to name their terms. Night Thrasher wants the location of the people who have been captured in the Younghunt. Creed hands them a file folder and a pile of photographs, and explains that it’s there, in this Swiss chalet that Shaw recently had rebuilt.
Tokyo, inside Shinobi Shaw’s penthouse apartment. As Shinobi relaxes in his bath with a glass of champagne, a glowing portal suddenly slides open in midair and ejects a terrified and babbling Bantam, who mumbles that he does so hope that Shinobi is wearing bathing trunks. As Bantam crashes into his bath, Shinobi shouts out in confusion, requesting to know what the meaning of this is… then quiets down with an “oh” as X-Force emerges from the same portal. Why is it, he asks, that these X-groups seem so bent on breaking in to his home every time he is in the bath?
Lunging forward, Siryn says she guesses you could say that they’re always up for a little laugh! As she passes harmlessly through Shinobi, due to him phasing his form out, he replies that this was very funny, yes, ha, very funny. In response to Siryn’s confusion, Shaw tells her to do her homework, her father most certainly would. He explains he’s a mutant, just like his dearly departed daddy, and that his particular gift allows him to control his molecular density. Getting out of the bath and donning a robe, Shinobi continues that, as hard it may be for them to understand, none of them can hit what they can’t touch.
Hefting Bantam out of his bath, Shinobi chides him that he’s leaving a ring around the tub, and then asks what happened to his master, Fitzroy. Domino, wielding one of X-Force’s characteristically nebulous and futuristic guns, quietly notes to Cable that she has Shaw’s energy signature locked. Cable then explains that Fitzroy is gone, and that Shaw will be joining him if they don’t get what they came for. The lovely Domino, elaborates Cable, is now holding a wavelength scrambler, and Shaw doesn’t need an advanced PhD. in Physics to figure this one out, does he?
If he dematerializes, Domino presses a button, and he goes the way of eight-tracks and vinyl records, guesses Shaw. Exactly, replies Rictor, who then demands that Shaw tell them whether Cannonball and Boomer are still alive, and also which other friends of theirs the Upstarts have gone after. First, replies Shinobi, he is sorry to say that they are still alive. Second, they went after all of them; pick your favorite useless mutant here: Fenris captured Magma, Siena Blaze nabbed Cannonball and Boomer… then the little witch also got Empath, the mysterious Moonstar, and Karma, too... and all he got was a rock. And Firestar.
Cable asks where they’re being held. Shinobi replies that he may act like an idiot, but does he look like one? Some assurances please, he requests of Cable. Oooh, a grim nod, he continues after a short pause: he is spared Cable’s mighty wrath. Shinobi thus continues: they are being kept at the home he had rebuilt over his poor padre’s ashes. Cable immediately speaks the command of Bodyslide -- open portal by seven -- coordinates to come in transit and flings Bantam into the opening portal. Bantam demands to know why he’s being thrown in first and Shinobi supplies the answer: in case, moron, he’s sending them into a trap!
Well, continues Shinobi as they disappear, he was getting kind of bored with this whole Upstarts thing anyway. He guesses it’s time to concentrate a bit more on his other endeavors, of kings and queens, knights and… pawns… A flitting wasp abruptly interrupts Shinobi’s thoughts, prompting him to cringe back and exclaim in shock that there are bugs? In his apartment? He’ll have to remember to complain to his housekeeper! Dad was right, he mutters, good help is hard to find…
The Shaw chalet, in the Berner Alpen range. Strapped into the Gamesmaster’s technological construct along with her other captured friends, Xi’an Coy Manh looks through the eyes of her mind-locked puppet and sees that the coast is clear. The uncertainty and the tension which permeate through the Gamesmaster’s ambient thoughts in this house tell Karma that if they have any hope of surviving this, the time to make their move is now. She moves from captive to captive, freeing them from their confinements; the stasis chambers serve as mutagenic power dampeners, and though she never was quite comfortable with the technology that Charles Xavier introduced to her when she first agreed to follow him, that doesn’t mean she ignored the need to better understand it. Accordingly, she rapidly has everyone freed and active again.
As Cannonball wakes up to Xi’an’s smiling face, she tells him that it’s funny finding him here. Embracing her, Cannonball says that it’s good to see her again. You as well, Mr. Guthrie, she replies, but she would have preferred it had been under less trying circumstances. Then he never would have got to see her again, interjects Boomer, proceeding to mutter that this is the famous Karma… big deal. Finally, Boomer tells “Mason-Dixon” to take a look at who else joined the party, pointing Cannonball’s attention toward Moonstar.
Cannonball’s temper immediately flares, and, grabbing Moonstar’s wrist, he tells her she has a lot of explaining to do. He asks if she is Danielle Moonstar, and then adds that they never did quite get the chance to talk on that island in Bermuda, considering that her and her new pals with the Mutant Liberation Front were too busy trying to kill him! He begs Dani to talk to him; what she’s doing doesn’t make sense!
Sammy-boy, retorts Moonstar, she thinks that she preferred the old, shy, geeky version of Cannonball to this tough, buff macho-guy. Besides, she doesn’t have to answer any of his questions… yet. Karma interrupts, noting that she understands Sam’s concerns regarding Moonstar, but she’d also like to suggest that now is not really the time to address them. No, replies Cannonball, he guesses it isn’t. But, he says to Moonstar, she better believe that, after they get out of this mess, they’re going to have themselves a little chat. Are they indeed, Sam? Moonstar replies caustically, are they indeed? Ignoring her, Cannonball asks Karma what’s happening outside the room. Karma explains, struggling noticeably to keep control over her psychic thrall, that with all the telepathic energy being bandied about… inside … the house… it’s hard … to keep control of her target…
Siena Blaze suddenly bursts into the room, speaking both aloud and into their heads at the same time in the Gamesmaster’s ethereal, bored voice. Boomer exclaims that this is the girl who took her and Sam out! Moonstar replies that her name is Siena Blaze. Karma adds that Blaze has been under her mental control since she tried to attack her, Dani, and Manuel back in Madripoor. Their plan was to use Siena to infiltrate this Younghunt operation and dismantle it from the inside, but something about her has changed…
Indeed, speaks Siena, again with the Gamesmaster’s unsettling thought-and-speech combination, it was an interesting enough maneuver, Xi’an. Interesting enough, in fact, that he allowed her to play it through. And with that, the Gamesmaster unleashes one of Blaze’s deadly electromagnetic bursts, instantly defeating all of the just-freed captives and leaving them a smoldering, unconscious heap. And maybe, continues the Gamesmaster, it would even have worked, too, if they hadn’t neglected to take one little thing into account: the fact he would see through the ruse and subvert her control over this puppet.
Standing over their fallen bodies inside Siena’s triumphantly-grinning one, the Gamesmaster states that the subtle conceit and arrogance that all of these young mutants bring to the playing board never ceases to amaze him. Even through all their insecurities, there is an underlying abject confidence in their ability to wield these gifts of theirs.
Unfortunately, Siena/Gamesmaster continues, that very recklessness on their part, though very admirable, ultimately proved to be their undoing, for they never seemed to consider the possibility that someone might be able to wield his own powers better than any of them can theirs! The endgame draws near, he thought-shouts, while back inside the mindstream his astral form encloses inside his giant psionic hands the defeated, captured Younghunt victims.
But before you die, he telepathically screams, projecting images of Cable, Night Thrasher, and Paige Guthrie, I’ll need to use my powers on all of you one last time, so that in turn, you may use your powers again those who come to save you!