They are even more nervous watching the mysterious young woman slowly slip the mask from her face than they were during the entire life-and-death struggle involving the assassination game known as the Younghunt, which they barely survived only a few hours ago. They, collectively, are young mutants, all born with incredible powers and abilities; some have used those gifts as members of the outlaw band called X-Force, while other friends and former allies present here have removed themselves from the ongoing war between man and mutantkind. They all, however, stand tensely watching Danielle Moonstar, a friend they thought lost to them forever, who has now apparently returned as a potential enemy!
As Moonstar begins to peel the mask off her face, she asks what it is exactly that they’re all holding their breath waiting to see. Horrible, hideous scars etched across her face? Or maybe she’ll take the mask off and look like their pal, Cable. Rictor, Boomer, Cannonball and Karma say nothing as Moonstar finishes removing the mask: it is Danielle, she’s back. Moonstar is home again, returned from her stay on Asgard, the extra-dimensional home of the Norse gods.
Surprised? she asks. No tentacles coming out of her face or nothing! Their happiness, though, is tempered by the fact that she has chosen to estrange herself from her friends and, for some unknown and unknowable reason, taken up with the terrorist organization known as the Mutant Liberation Front! Not even, she carries on, one measly pimple to show for everything she’s gone through.
Dani, replies Rictor, to tell the truth, just speaking for himself: he would have been a lot more satisfied if she was scarred or something like that. At least that might have given them an explanation as to why she’s joined the MLF and attacked her friends! But, he continues, seeing her like this, she’s normal; it just doesn’t make any sense! Ric, replies Moonstar, pulling her mask back on, she hates to tell him, but none of them is “normal,” and she has her reasons for working with the MLF right now, just like they all their reasons for the choices they’ve made in the past. Yeah, retorts Boomer, but none of them has signed on with a bunch of borderline maniacs and murderers, either. Don’t, shoots back Moonstar, play holier-than-thou with her, Boom Boom. Uhm, explains Boomer, she’s called Boomer now.
Whatever, mutters Moonstar. The point is that each and every one of them has questioned, to some extent, the directions their lives have taken: Sam, he knows it’s true, he’s an immortal mutant now, an External, and he’s totally torn apart by that knowledge; Boom Boo… Boomer, she’s been looking for a place to call home since Moonstar first met her, and she still hasn’t found it. Rictor, he’s been hiding behind the tough-guy act for so long that he’s buried his insecurities and doubts so deep that they’re like a festering cancer now; and Karma, well, Xi’an, not to insult her or anything, but for years now her method of making decisions has been by completely avoiding them. So, concludes Moonstar, by using her own friends as a guide-post, how “wrong” is her decision not to contact or join them?
Dani, says Cannonball, listen, he’s not going to stand there preaching to her about the differences between their side of the coin and the MLF’s, because they’re fairly obvious, but she at least could have told them she came back, that she was safe. Doesn’t she owe her friends a little more consideration than sending that message out on the receiving end of a psychic arrow? Moonstar quips that, to be honest, it was X-Force who attacked the MLF, not the other way around. After the MLF kidnapped a government official! protests Cannonball, telling her not to play verbal games here.
Moonstar replies that she doesn’t play games, and she is still their friend; if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have come to help out when she learned the Upstarts were trying to hunt them down. She has her reasons for doing what she’s doing, and if their friendship ever meant anything, he’d trust her, and stay out of her way. She doesn’t want to be forced to fight them again. They’ve all changed, she continues; in some ways for the better, as in their ability to control their powers. She asks Cannonball to remember how awkward he was in the beginning, and to look at himself now! And look at her, her powers mutated further, manifesting psionic plasma bolts at her whim.
Life is change, she states. As mutants they’re physical evidence of that fact, but sometimes they change for the worse, too. And that, she concludes, is the price they pay for being adults now. As kids back at Xavier’s they could go to the Croton Falls Mall or a dance at Central High and pray that no one knew they were secretly “mutie freaks.” Things… life… has gotten just a bit more complicated, and she’s just doing what she has to do. They’re just going to have to accept that. Cannonball guesses that they don’t have much of a choice, do they? Of course they do, replies Moonstar: they can let her walk or they can force her to stay. Like he said, replies Cannonball as Moonstar strolls out of the room, not much of a choice at all.
As Moonstar exits the room, and possibly their lives forever, Shatterstar strides in. Approaching Rictor, he states that he does not mean to interrupt their conversation, but there is something he has to show him on the television. Shatty, replies a sullen Rictor, now is not exactly a good time to play some new video game he found in the cabinets, okay? Yo creo, amigo, que te vas a querer ver lo que yo tengo mostrarte… por que pertenece a tu familia replies Shatterstar. Startled, Rictor replies with a What? He has to show him something on TV, about his family? And how did he learn to speak Spanish? Shatterstar replies that it was by watching television, of course. He thought it would allow them to communicate, if necessary, in ways that others would not understand, be it their enemies in the midst of battle or their friends when the topics of conversation are of a highly personal nature. Finally, he suggests that Rictor come quickly; he may not like what he sees.
The kitchen of Shinobi Shaw’s Swiss chalet (say that ten times fast). Having seen the New Warriors leave, Cable and Domino now face some slightly difficult choices regarding a rather difficult young woman: Paige Guthrie, says Cable to the girl in question as he prepares a sandwich from the supplies in Shaw’s kitchen, the two of them need to talk. He knows how hard it is to make the right choice at her age –
Not to be rude, Mr. Cable, interjects Paige, but he’s as subtle as an anvil. After everything they all just went through – the Upstarts and the Gamesmaster and everything she just saw – he expects her to go back to the old Guthrie farm, pretty as he pleases? She doesn’t think so, sir. Perhaps, replies Domino, it’s because of everything that just happened that they’d prefer she did go home. Miss Domino, ma’am, retorts Paige as she pulls the lettuce out of the half of sandwich Cable made for her, she knows as well as Paige does that she has to start learning how to use these mutant powers she has! Or would they rather the proposition she made come true, and the Gamesmaster or Stryfe or any one of them were responsible for developing her into what they wanted?
Chewing a large bite of his sandwich, Cable notes that Paige’s point is well made, and her implications about as subtle as his. It’s just that, quite frankly, he doesn’t know if he has the equipment or the disposition to properly train her. Whoever said, Paige shoots back at him, anything about her wanting Cable to do it, sir? Uhm, no offense meant, she clarifies, but she was talking about Charles Xavier!
The mountainside chalet’s massive recreation room. Before a truly gargantuan home theatre system stand Rictor and Shatterstar, watching a news broadcast in Spanish: … en Guadalajara. Y todavia no tenemos informacion hasta la condicion del sospechado vendedor de municiones Gonzalo Richter… You recorded this off a Mexican channel? inquires Rictor to Shatterstar. Yes, he replies, because he believes in developing a world view. She’s saying, explains Rictor, that his uncle was injured in a gunfight with the police. They don’t have any information on his medical condition yet. There’s more, states Shatterstar, and Rictor tells him to show it.
…tambien implicado y herido en los disparos con la policia es el hijo de Gonzalo, Omar Domingo, veintidos años… Mi primo, responds Rictor, his cousin, Omar: he was hurt too? Can’t say he’s surprised, continues Rictor, seeing how Omar got into the family business. And that being the business of? inquires Shatterstar. Selling death, replies Rictor, selling guns. Turning off the television, Shatterstar asks if they are the only members of Rictor’s family still alive. Huh? replies Rictor, oh geez, no. He’s got enough cousins, aunts, and uncles to clog up El Palabero futbol stadium. His mom’s still living in ‘Jara too, he guesses; it’s been a few years since he left home.
Shatterstar is surprised that Rictor’s “maternal biological unit” is still alive. He had merely assumed, since he knew Rictor’s father was dead, that his mother was too deceased. Technically, Rictor clarifies, she’s his stepmother but, hey, he adds, how much do any of us really know about each other? Leaning against the huge TV screen, he adds that he doesn’t know jack about Shatterstar’s mother or father, and he only just told him a couple weeks ago that he has some “wife” waiting for him back on Mojoworld!
Shatterstar replies that he has no parents, save for a fertilization chamber. If Rictor wanted to know, all he had to do was ask. And maybe, adds Shatterstar, it is the facts regarding his birth which cause him not to judge Rictor, but merely to wonder how he himself would react at a time like this if he were in the same position. Then, confused, Shatterstar asks if what happened between Rictor and his family in Mexico was really so awful that he can be so callously dismissive of the turmoil they’re enduring. In a word? replies Rictor. Yeah, maybe it was…
Rictor’s thoughts then drift back to what should be a more innocent time in his life, but sadly was not. A very young Rictor and his father sit in a filthy, dilapidated jail cell. He asks his father if this is what he expected them to do to them when they came down to Costa Rica; his father responds that no, hijito, this is not what he was expecting, and Louis Alejandro Richter is not to be treated in such a disrespectful manner. Spitting, his father asks whom these people think they are dealing with, anyway? A bunch of lackeys is all they are. You’ll see, Julio, he tells Rictor, when these idiots report back to their boss and realize what a mistake they have made, they will let them out and smother them with apologies and wine. He assures the young Rictor that he’ll see what kind of weight his father’s name carries all over Latin America!
Later. Under a shimmering afternoon sun, a group of men stand around a crate, along with Rictor and his father, who is now dressed in a business suit. One of the men offers his sincerest apologies to Señor Richter for having detained his son and him for so many days. It was, he explains, an oversight of most accidental nature. He forgot to tell la policia that they were coming, and he was in Rio on… business… while they were being… so mistreated; but Richter did bring the merchandise with him, correct? Rictor’s father responds that he is a professional merchant, Señor Esteban: the goods are in the crate. Esteban responds that he expected no less of Richter as his men pry the crate open with a crowbar. Inside are several submachine guns, which the young Rictor kneels down to get a better look at.
Mira, Louis! exclaims Esteban, telling Rictor’s father to look at how curious his boy is about what Richter delivers to him! Picking up one of the guns, Esteban weighs it in his hand, noting it has a nice heft – and ammunition too, si? He is very pleased, he tells Louis Richter. Then, turning to Rictor, Esteban tells him to take a good look, niño. Pointing the gun at Rictor’s face, he asks him if he sees any light at the end of this tunnel? Hope so, smirks Esteban, since he’s staring down the barrel of his own future. Rictor, back in the present day, quickly pushes the memory away. It was bad, he says, if you were a little kid and all. Then, a look of grim determination crossing his face, he tells Shatterstar that he doesn’t want to go back home, but he knows he has to…
Just outside the chalet, in the snow-swept woods surrounding the retreat. X-Force’s Siryn and Warpath watch uneasily as a relationship crumbles before their eyes: Magma, fully aflame with the activation of her mutant powers, quarrels tersely with Empath, who is clad in a heavy jacket and equally upset. Empath exclaims that he can’t believe Alison would do this to him! Do what? shouts back Magma. All she’s doing is deciding to live her own life again! She has to know who or what she is: Amara Aquilla, daughter of a secret lost Roman city, or a volcanic mutant named Magma, or Alison Crestmere, a British child who was kidnapped several years ago and had her life destroyed by the sorceress Selene!
There’s nothing more, continues Magma, that can be done for her in the resettlement camp outside of Nova Roma. Cooling down her powers and returning to human form, Magma explains that she has to find her real parents and see if there is any way for her to find some kind of balance in her life again. But Alison, protests Empath, what they had together…!
Was a lie, finishes Magma in frustration. He used his mind-controlling abilities to make her, and everyone else in Nova Roma, continue to believe in a lie, which never should have existed! That life, like the lies between them, is over! Stepping forward, Warpath places a hand on Empath’s shoulder and tells him he’s sorry. He knows how hard that Empath tried to use his powers in the right way, to help the Nova Romans. Listen, offers Warpath, if he wants to hang with X-Force, maybe they can help him. Help him do what, Proudstar? shoots back Empath. Run around the world like fools, getting into pointless battles for the sake of their poor, pitiful fellow mutantkind? No, he thinks not. A de la Rocha is quite above such things! I leave you all, calls Empath over his shoulder as he trudges off aimlessly into the surrounding mountains. But know this, he adds: Magma was his last hope for redemption, and now that she has been lost, it makes him wonder why he even tried!
Siryn insists that they can’t just let him go like that, but Warpath asks if that’s really true. Can’t they? The man has a right to do what he pleases, and right now he’s got a lot of pain to deal with. Magma, watching Empath go, explains that she is sorry for him, they must know that. But she couldn’t – It’s okay, interrupts Warpath, they understand. If she wants, they’ll drop her off in England when they leave the chalet; maybe they can help her get started in her search for her family. Magma says that she would like that. She could use some support: to be honest, she is really quite frightened of going home again…
Guadalajara, Mexico, fourteen hours later. Rictor, Cable, and Domino stand in Rictor’s old neighborhood, with Cable and Domino dressed like tourists to try to remain inconspicuous (chalk-white skin or glowing yellow eye notwithstanding). This is it, speaks Rictor, this is his family’s house. He tells Cable and Domino that they can wait out there. He’s glad they came and all, but… Cable tells him he understands: Rictor’s family has a certain amount of history with Cable’s face. But they both know that it was his clone, Stryfe, who was responsible for the death of Rictor’s father, right? Rictor asks Cable how he could forget? Listen, he tells them, they better hang for a second; chances are his family’s going to see his face and kick him right back out on the street.
Rictor pauses, drawing in a quick breath. He’s nervous. He’s always tried to be so cocky, tried so hard to hide all the things he was so insecure about. As he knocks on the door, he hears the sound of his knuckles rapping out like the rumble of a distant earthquake. A pause. Then, the door begins to open to the sound of ¿Quien es –? Si es un periodista, puedes ir a… aya. Another pause, as the woman takes a moment to look at the face before her. Then, with shock, she quietly exclaims: ¿Julio? It’s not a reporter, replies Rictor, it’s only him, mommasita.
Repeating his name again, Rictor’s step-mother rushes forward to embrace him, and then shouts back toward the house for everyone to come out: Julio is home! Yes, momma, says Rictor quietly, he’s home again. Inside, relatives of all shapes, sizes, and ages, male and female, gather about in the living room. Rictor’s stomach twists into knots as he sees his family again: cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Some of them are thrilled to see him, others less so.
In the three years since he left them, though, very little has changed, and they are still his family, for good and for bad. Rictor’s stepmother asks him why he came back; did he hear about his uncle Gonzalo and his cousin Omar? He did, replies Rictor, and he thought, well, he thought he should try to be there, for her, and the family. It’s just, he ran away because he couldn’t be a part of what the family does. Lord knows he doesn’t want to see any of them hurt, but he… Rictor swallows. He doesn’t feel bad about what happened. In fact, he’s glad.
Later, outside, Domino notes that it’s been half an hour; it must be going pretty well. Cable’s response is a distracted Hmmm. Domino states that he always gets so distant when family matters come up. Well excuse me, retorts Cable, but he’s had a complicated family life; she knows that. Domino replies that she does, but you’d think that with what he’s learned, with Scott Summers and Jean Grey getting married, that he’d lighten up a bit. Cable mutters that he’s trying, but their conversation is interrupted by a shout of Aya, asesino! Cable mutters a displeased Hummm.
One of Rictor’s family, wielding a handgun, shouts to Cable that he’s got nerve coming there! He remembers that face! He tells Cable that he killed his Uncle Louis, man, and la familia Richter always pays back its debts! With this he fires upon Cable, who grimly retorts that from what he understands, pal, if that were the case Julio’s father would never have been killed in the first place. Either way, he wasn’t the one who did it. Cable then easily absorbs the bullet into the false-flesh over his left arm, and it drops harmlessly into his palm. And it won’t be this man’s little peashooter, continues Cable, that gets revenge! Holding the smoldering shell, Cable asks the man if he wants this bullet back.
Watching this transpire through a window in the residence alongside the rest of his family, Rictor mutters an aah, no. Someone asks if he has come back, cousin? Has the devil returned for more Richter blood? No! exclaims Rictor, it’s not what they think; this isn’t the man who killed his father… Rictor then remembers back to his youth again, looking out the same window, as he murmured Es un Tiburon…
A shark, he had called him. Outside, Stryfe, clad in civilian clothing and thus appearing identical to Cable, is surrounded by members of young Rictor’s family, who are all firing guns upon him uselessly. Rictor remembers that he had just seen the movie Jaws, and so a shark was the scariest thing he could think of. The animal was laughing as bullets bounced off of him. It was the most terrifying sight Rictor had ever seen. All the men in the front yard, shooting: maybe they were too stupid to be as frightened as Rictor was.
But then again, thinks Rictor, he was learning, as he got older, that there was as little a shortage of stupidity in the family as there were guns. A young Omar turns from the window, making a gun with his fingers, and says that they should be out there, Hooly, shooting away! Rictor replies that he doesn’t know, it looks like bullets ain’t gonnna settle this one. Rictor then remembers that outside, “the shark” moved forward, no longer laughing, just burning with anger, and brimming with bizarre powers that left him speechless with awe. Stryfe sends all the men flying away from him with one massive telekinetic push, then strides forward to Rictor’s father, who has been knocked to the ground.
Louis Alejandro Richter, bellows Stryfe, you have lied to me! No, Señor Stryfe! replies the desperate Richter, trying to crawl away. He explains he had no choice, la policia were poking around, he had to move the merchandise quickly; Stryfe was two weeks late and he could not reach him no matter how he tried, so he sold the materials to Hydra at a loss just to be rid of them. Stryfe, unmoved, states that Richter has reneged on their agreement. He does not wish to see harm befall Richter’s entire family for his own personal indiscretions, but someone must pay. As Stryfe gets closer, Richter whispers “no” and clutches his firearm, then tells Stryfe to stay back and aims the weapon. He fires, and the bullet ricochets off of Stryfe’s telekinetic shield and kills Richter cleanly through a hole in his forehead.
Rictor remembers his father’s death this way, and now the years melt away and he sees it happening all over again. Stupid, pathetic people, willing to risk their lives… over what? Misguided vengeance? Or worse still, a twisted, warped sense of family honor? Honor among thieves? Gun dealers, whose every ring of the cash register means something, man or animal, may die. Outside, while Rictor struggles with his own thoughts, Cable and Domino have been surrounded by gun-toting members of Rictor’s family. Cable notes that this could get ugly. For them, Domino corrects. Then Rictor steps out, screaming That is enough! and unleashing a massive seismic shockwave into the ground outside his family’s residence, flinging everyone about like rag dolls, thrusting up blocks of sidewalk, and shattering foundations and windows.
Domino asks if Rictor is okay, and Rictor says he will be once he gets away from here. Pero, Julio… somos familia! comes his stepmother’s hurt entreaty. Rictor tells her that he knows they’re family, mommasita, but he hates everything they all stand for. He hates Poppa for doing what he did, and maybe, just maybe, he hates the rest of them even more for following in his dad’s footsteps! But more, he continues, than all of that, he hates what she did to her own son, because look at him: he sold his soul to become everything he didn’t want to become. As this has all taken place in Spanish, Cable offers a tentative Ric? to try to understand what’s going on.
Rictor asks Cable if he knew that when he was a kid, all he wanted to do was read books and escape from this life his family led? He used to remake his father into one of the heroes he read about, because he wanted him to be better than he was, because maybe that would mean he was better, too. But look at him now, Rictor speaks of himself, is he really all that different from his father? Cable tells him he is, more than he knows. Maybe, replies Rictor, he hopes so. Then, as they leave his family and crying stepmother behind, he tells Cable and Domino that he’d like to make one last stop before they go home…
An hour later, at the Guadalajara Hospital. Lying in his hospital bed, Rictor’s cousin Omar expresses his surprise that Rictor came home just to see him. He asks if Rictor has heard anything about Omar’s father; la policia won’t tell him a thing. It’s not good, replies Rictor: they don’t think he’s going to make it. Ay, mi poppa… hijos de… says Omar quietly; he then tells Rictor to smuggle him in a gun or two: he’ll shoot his way out! Leaning in to speak to his cousin, Rictor negates this idea, and tells his cousin that he’s going to prison, where he belongs. Traitor! calls Omar, shaking his fist, as Rictor turns to leave the hospital room. Is he too good for his own family now? Is that it? No, Omar, that’s not it, replies Rictor. He’s not too good for all of them… but he’s trying to be.
Trying to be, thinks Rictor as he strolls into the hospital’s parking lot, but how does he do that? How does he do that as a young man, whose very thought could do more damage than every gun his family has ever sold combined? He can’t leave X-Force; they’re his family now, which is pretty sad, he knows; he can’t really change the way they operate, either: they’re fighting a war, and to win any war, you need weapons. But can’t he choose what kind of weapon he’s going to be?
Beside him, two young boys rush about play-fighting, their hands shaped into guns. Pow! Pow! Henrique estas muerto! shouts one of them. No, me pegaste! Pchoo! Pchoo! shouts the other. Rictor grabs this one’s wrist, terrifying the boy, and tells him No more of that. He tells the boy to take his hand shaped like a gun, put his chin on his thumb and his finger on his temple, and think about doing something else. He knows it sounds stupid, but the best weapon the kid has is the one between his ears. He tells him to start using it now, and it’ll end up helping him a lot more than a gun can. From now on, Rictor calls from the rental car as he, Cable, and Domino pull away, that’s gonna be his new weapon: his brain. Make it yours too, he tells the kid, then closes the car door.
Pchoo! shouts the boy, shooting his finger-gun at their receding vehicle.