New Mexico…there are those who say that each and every human being is born with at least one quality that makes him or her special, unique. A fiery personality, an ability to lead others…perhaps even a calm sense of self. Among the society of man, however, there is a small sub-species that has been gifted with something more - an x-factor gene that bestows upon them superhuman powers. Called mutants, they exist, for the most part in secret…because they are feared and despised by the rest of humanity. It is a fear that, in recent months, has risen to a fever pitch. Across the globe, Operation Zero Tolerance has declared all-out war on Homo Sapiens Superior…and unleashed a legion of human-android hybrids to wipe every last mutant from the face of the Earth.
Here in New Mexico, one such, Commander Ekatarina Gryaznova, tried to destroy three young mutants, but they bested her, and now she lies motionless before them. ‘Nice shooting, Dani!’ Roberto “Sunspot” DaCosta tells his fellow original New Mutant, Danielle Moonstar, who replies that she couldn’t have done it if he and Siryn hadn’t distracted Gryaznova. Theresa “Siryn” Rourke Cassidy, deputy leader of X-Force, stands nearby, as Sunspot asks what they can do with Gryaznova now.
Siryn points out that it was Moonstar’s psionic arrow which disrupted the Commander’s nervous system and asks her how long they can expect her to be out for. ‘Long enough for us to get the others out of the transport!’ Dani replies as she makes her way to the cargo van. Siryn declares that their first priority is getting their teammates to safety, and asks Bobby to watch over the Commander. ’If she starts to come to, don’t take any chances - blast her with everything you have!’ Siryn orders. ‘It’d be my pleasure, boss!’ Bobby replies.
Entering the cargo van, Danielle sees the three members of X-Force, two of whom are her fellow New Mutant teammates - Tabitha “Meltdown” Smith and Julio “Rictor” Richter, along with the enigmatic Shatterstar, in cylinders, each which has a potent tranquilizer pumped into it to keep the X-Force members sedated. ‘Look at them, vacuum packed and sealed for your protection!’ Moonstar exclaims, remarking that they were being shipped to the Zero Tolerance base two hundred miles west of here. ‘Three more “freaks” for those blood-thirsty bigots to interrogate and torture, before they bury them in a shallow desert grave!’.
Moonstar tells Siryn that sometimes, when she sees her friends treated like this - like animals, she thinks that the Mutant Liberation Front might not have been wrong - humans and mutants are never going to work things out. ‘I’d rather believe that someday people will rise above their hatred and fears…otherwise we might as well just go home and hide’ Siryn replies, telling Dani that she learned that a long time ago in places like Belfast after her own mother was killed in a terrorist bomb, before asking how they can get the tanks open without hurting their friends.
Danielle takes an ID card from a unconscious Zero Tolerance operative, ‘Someone was nice enough to knock them out before we even arrived!’ Dani jokes, wondering if this explains why that Sedan hightailed it out of here when they arrived. Danielle places the security card against a monitor, remarking that she has access to the system, she hopes that this will work. Pressing a button, Dani is relieved when the tanks holding the others open, and the captive members of X-Force emerge. ‘Ooh, my head’ mumbles Meltdown, while Rictor rubs his head and wonders where he is. ‘Have I been cancelled?’ Shatterstar asks, before exclaiming that he remembers now, and asks if he has been unconscious this whole time and missed the battle.
The five young heroes make their way out of the van and regroup with Sunspot, Siryn telling Shatterstar not to worry, as she is certain that this will not be the last time they face the new Sentinels, explaining that Zero Tolerance has been all over the news since they downed the X-Men’s plane over Colorado. ‘They’re like cockroaches, they’re everywhere!’ Theresa adds. Meltdown and Moonstar hug, and Tabby tells Dani that it is good to see her back with them, that it is about time, adding that she cannot believe she was working undercover for SHIELD. ‘It’s a long story’ Dani replies.
Shatterstar remarks that he has a vague recollection of being examined by some arcane device, to which Rictor exclaims that he does to, and wonders what happened to them while they were under. ‘Wish I could tell you’ Bobby tells his friends, remarking that all he knows is that this rig left the rest of the Zero Tolerance convoy to meet with an unidentified black Sedan. ‘Just what we need, one more unsolved mystery in our lives’ Bobby adds, while Meltdown asks him how they managed to find them. Dani explains that she called in a favor at SHIELD and had their satellites track the three of them here.
Meltdown motions to Gryaznova and asks if they are going to leave the monster here. Siryn points out that they are not equipped to hold prisoners, and adds that they need to be long gone before Zero Tolerance comes looking for their lost sheep. While the others make their way into X-Force’s chopper, Meltdown remains outside, and stands over the Commander’s motionless form. ‘Gee, Commander, I hate to walk away from you when you’re in this condition’ Tabby mutters sarcastically. ‘After all, you and your storm troopers have made it clear you’re never gonna leave us alone’.
‘And since there’s no point trying to reason with you…we’ll have to settle out accounts another way!’ Meltdown exclaims, readying two of her plasma time-bombs, but Siryn has returned from the chopper, ‘Tabitha! Stop! You have no right!’ Theresa exclaims, but Meltdown tells her to save the holier-than-thou leader act. ‘You’re not Cable!’ she snaps at Siryn, adding that, in the past twelve hours, she has been ambushed, battered and tranquilized all thanks to Gryaznova. ‘I have every right in the world to wanna rip her head off!’ Meltdown exclaims.
‘But I wont’ she declares, tossing her plasma towards the Zero Tolerance truck. Meltdown smirks when the explosion ensues, and remarks that Graydon Creed’s assassination already gave the anti-mutant camp a martyr. ‘Guess I just needed to blow something up. I feel better now’ Meltdown exclaims.
Meanwhile, at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, where, several days ago, Zero Tolerance troops began their occupation of the Estate. Now though, as quickly as the operatives arrived at the home of the Uncanny X-Men, they have retreated in silence. In the caverns beneath the Estate, the man responsible for Zero Tolerance’s withdrawal, Nathan “Cable” Summers, leader of X-Force, searches for a lost teammate with his telepathy, he calls out to Caliban. But Caliban calls out for Cable to go away. ‘You’re too late!’ he tells him. ‘No one can help Caliban now!’ the Morlock cries, cowering in a dark cavern corner.
Originally, Cable gave Caliban membership in X-Force to utilize the odd mutants tracking abilities, and to try and undo the emotional damage sustained during a painful physical transformation that Caliban sustained at the hands of Cable’s mortal enemy, the uber mutant Apocalypse. But at heart, Caliban is more child than man, and does not understand the chaos and violence around him. And at this particular moment, like a child, Caliban is frightened to the core of his being.
Cable kneels beside Caliban and tells him that it is over now, that Bastion and his troops are long gone, not to mention everything else for that matter, so they can go back now. But Caliban replies that he cannot go back. ‘He says Caliban can’t stay with his friends anymore’. Unaware that an ominous figure is approaching him from behind, Cable asks Caliban who he is talking about, remarking that there is no one here by the two of them. Suddenly though, the approaching figure makes his presence known to them.
Cable and Caliban turn to the figure as he exclaims that for over nearly five millennia of servitude to Apocalypse he has learned to walk this world as a ghost. Invisible even to one with telepathic awareness like Cable. ‘Who the -?’ begins Cable, while Caliban exclaims ‘Please don’t make Caliban leave -’ Cable assures him that he is not going to, until the new arrival - Ozymandias - touches Cable on the head, rendering him Nathan unconscious while remarking that his loyalty is touching. ‘You are to believe that you left Caliban safe in the care of a trusted friend. By the time this illusion fades, it will be too late. Such is the will of En Sabah Nur’. Cable falls to the floor while Ozymandias asks Caliban to give him his hand. ‘Your master calls you home’ he declares. ‘Caliban is scared…’ Caliban exclaims. ‘As you should be…’ Ozymandias replies.
Meanwhile, in another dimension, a reality that, incredibly, exists a sidestep from our own, James “Warpath” Proudstar has been overwhelmed by a stampede of bizarre prairie dog creatures who, only moments ago, appeared docile and non-threatening. ’Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a great idea…’ James thinks to himself as he fends off the sharp-toothed creatures. Hovering above the mêlée is the villain known as the Vanisher and the presence who has taken the form of Coyote, Warpath’s one-time cat.
As they sit on their floating rock, the Vanisher remarks that if he had known Warpath was here to rescue him then he would have warned him, as those freaky prairie dogs aren’t going to let him go anywhere. “Coyote” remarks that they aren’t prairie dogs, as prairie dogs only exist in his reality. ’Reality’s a subjective thing’ the Vanisher mumbles, while Warpath cries out for help. The Vanisher explains that he used to zip through this dimension when he teleported, until one day he thought “What’s the hurry? Why not check the place out?”.
The Vanisher points out that nobody wanted him around on Earth anyway, but then those critters found him and he became trapped. ‘Too bad about your pal. He seemed like a nice guy’ the Vanisher remarks, before pointing out that he could be wrong, as it is not like they have had any time to talk. ‘Look, pal, I don’t mean to be pushy, but he came here to rescue you. Why don’t you help him?’ “Coyote” asks. ‘Whoa, you’re a cat!’ the Vanisher exclaims, shocked. ‘Well, sort of’ Coyote replies, explaining that he took the form of Warpath’s childhood pet. ‘But can we save the explanations for later? We have to get those creatures off James before they suffocate or gnaw him to death!’ “Coyote” exclaims.
‘Oh, that’s easy. All the little furry guys want a story’ Vanisher complains. ‘You’re kidding!’ “Coyote” mutters. ‘Hey, this dimension is dullsville. They’re absolutely starved for entertainment!’ the Vanisher retorts, before explaining that is what he has been doing for so long, captivating them with the story of his life, and recounting old episodes of Taxi. ‘Man I loved that show!’ he adds, remarking that he would have liked to have had friends like that - somewhere where he really belonged. “Coyote” calls out to James, explaining to him that he must tell the prairie dogs a story.
‘A story? What is this place?’ James replies, muttering that it doesn’t make sense, but is worth a try. ‘Ummm…once upon a time…’ he begins, which causes the wild creatures to instantly sit down on the ground and look at him with big dippy eyes, giving him their absolute attention. ‘What do you know…it works!’ James gasps, while the Vanisher tells him not to stop now, as the prairie dogs are a tough crowd, and he is a hard act to follow!
Back on Earth, specifically Oklahoma, the mercenary mutant woman known only as Domino, after a career of impossible escapes and odds-defying missions, wonders if her luck has finally run out. For the first time in a long, long time, she feels vulnerable. ‘Hey, pretty lady, you ever get in touch with your friends?’ asks Domino’s truck driver friend. Domino, huddling into a large jacket, replies that she hasn’t, as every number she has tried has been disconnected. The truck driver, whose name is Spencer Beaumont, remarks that he doesn’t mean to pry, and points out the Domino is obviously in some sort of trouble. ‘And like my first wife, Angie, you’re too darned stubborn to ask for help’ Spencer remarks.
Domino replies that it is not that she doesn’t appreciate everything he has done for her, but that she thinks it is best he doesn’t get involved with her. ‘I’m nothing but bad luck these days’ she exclaims. Motioning to his truck, Spencer reminds Domino that he nearly ran her over this morning, ‘We’re already involved!’ he exclaims, before informing her that the nearest town is fifty miles away from here. ‘At least let me give you a lift’ he offers. Suddenly though, a mighty gust sweeps away Spencer’s cap, ‘What the -?’ he exclaims, while Domino looks upwards and remarks that she doesn’t think she will be needing that lift. ‘My ride just arrived!’ she exclaims.
Looking upwards, Spencer sees the odd air craft descend and nervously asks if that is some kind of stealth bomber. Domino replies that it is called the PACRAT, and explains that it stands for: Personnel Assault Carrier Reconnaissance Air Transport. Domino then kisses a wide-eyed Spencer on the lips as she tells him that is of course classified information. ‘Don’t tell anyone’ she whispers, before telling Spencer that he is a good guy and thanks him for not running her over.
As Domino climbs the ladder which just dropped down from the PACRAT for her, Spencer calls out to her, ‘Hey! I don’t even know your name!’. ‘Domino. Beatrice. Tamara. Pick one you like or make one up. I’m easy that way!’ Domino replies as the PACRAT takes off. Spencer collects his hat and watches Domino disappear into the distance, while the waitress from the diner exclaims ‘Spencer Beaumont, I told you that woman was up to no good!’ But Spencer just tells her to shut up.
Inside the PACRAT, Sunspot tells Domino that they are sorry they couldn’t find her sooner, but that were sort of occupied. ‘You know how it is when you run into Sentinels’ he jokes. ‘They never want to let you go!’. Bobby explains to Domino that they were able to find her when they got a lock on her bio-signature. ‘No problem’ Domino replies, remarking that she passed the time arguing the merits of Patsy Cline versus Loretta Lynn with some good old trucker boys. ‘That sounds scary’ Meltdown exclaims.
Siryn informs Domino that they were worried when she wasn’t with the others that Zero Tolerance had captured. ‘Not that worried though, you always come up smelling like roses’ Sunspot exclaims, but as she straps herself into a seat, Domino replies ‘Not this time. I got singled out for special treatment’. The rest of the team goes silent and look around at each other nervously, the silence only broken when Meltdown grins and exclaims ‘Well, if no one else is gonna ask, I will. What’s with the hair?’.
‘That’s what I like about you, Ms. Smith, you’re not afraid to get to the point’ Domino replies, before telling her teammates that Commander Gryaznova insisted on putting her through some non-elective surgery. ‘I didn’t know the big bad bleached blonde had been holding a grudge against me’. Domino explains, before remarking that it turns out she rained on Ekatarina’s parade a few years back, when she was head of security at a black-ops compound Domino sabotaged. ‘So the first round goes to her - but I’m looking forward to a rematch’ Domino adds.
Siryn informs Domino that they had a run-in with the Commander in her full Sentinel mode, that Ekatarina kept her and bobby on the ropes until Danielle’s arrow scrambled her cybernetic system. ‘Had we known what she’d done to you, maybe I’d have encouraged Meltdown to do some more damage’ Siryn adds. Domino remarks that there is no need to apologise, and turns to Moonstar, congratulating her on some good work, before asking her how it feels to be out from undercover. ‘Better than being on of America’s Most Wanted’ Dani replies, adding that she hated that all her friends thought she had turned against them.
‘Then maybe you should have told your friends the truth!’ Sunspot snaps at his fellow founding New Mutant, before remarking that it is a good thing they got Dani out when they did, for the trap Zero Tolerance laid for the MLF at the Wakeman Center was only part of their anti-mutant blitzkrieg, as they have also shot down the X-Men’s blackbird and he thinks they raided the Mansion. Domino begins to ask if anyone has heard from Cable, but she is interrupted half-way through her sentence by Rictor who, piloting the PACRAT, announces that they have company.
Staring out the window at the other aircraft hovering nearby, Rictor exclaims that they are running the radar and infrared cloaks that Cable installed. ‘How could that thing find us?’ he wonders. Siryn orders Julio to take defensive maneuvers, ‘We’re not going to be picked out of the sky like the Blackbird!’ she adds, while Rictor exclaims that he is trying to lose the other ship but that it keeps staying with him. ‘It’s like he knows everything I’m going to do before I do it!’ Rictor exclaims, when, suddenly, over the comm. system a voice exclaims ‘I ought to know those moves, Rictor - I’m the one who taught them to you!’. ‘Cable!’ Rictor exclaims. ‘Affirmative, PACRAT’ Cable replies, before telling his team to prepare to change course and follow his lead. ‘For once, I’m actually glad to hear your voice, lead on!’ Rictor exclaims, smiling at his friends.
Two hours later, in a secluded part of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains…both aircraft have landed, and Cable stands in front of X-Force. ‘Team’ he declares. Shatterstar quickly asks why they aren’t back at the Mansion, to which Cable replies that the Institute has been compromised by Bastion and his soldiers. He explains that the house behind them is one of the safe houses he maintains for emergencies, and suggests they all get cleaned up, then they can talk.
‘Great…another farm house in the middle of nowhere…I played this scene with the MLF in Montana’ Danielle mumbles as she and the other make their way to the house. Shatterstar asks the others if they think they should secure the area first, but Tabby grins and replies ‘Nah’ as she remarks that if Cable said the place is safe, then it will be. ‘I got dibs on the first shower!’ she announces, while Siryn warns her not to use all the hot water.
Cable turns around and asks Domino if she is coming, but Domino is just standing there, rubbing a hand across the back of her head, she replies ‘I don’t think so, Nathan’. Cable approaches her and asks her what is going on, ‘Nothing, I’m just having a bad hair day’ Domino jokes as she pushes Cable away when he puts his hands on her shoulders. ‘What did they do to you?’ Nathan asks, to which Domino angrily replies that she got captured and they played around with her head. She adds that the dumped her on the Interstate. ‘End of story’ she exclaims.
Cable asks Domino why she is so intent on pushing him away, to which Domino asks him if he ever wishes they could be two ordinary people with ordinary problems. ‘I know it’s silly because we’re not ordinary…and our lives are complicated by extraordinary circumstance’. Concerned, Cable asks Domino what she is saying. Holding herself, Domino exclaims ‘Look at me, I’m shaking’ and tells Cable that whatever Zero Tolerance did to her on that operating table has thrown her off-center. ‘Until I regain my sense of balance, I’m no good to anyone’ Domino declares. ‘Not in the field. Not in a relationship. ‘I hope you understand’ she adds.
Later, ‘Is everyone here? Good. Let’s begin’ Cable remarks, setting a briefcase down on a table inside his safe house, while X-Force and Moonstar spread out across the room. Cable announces that they have come to a critical point in the future of X-Force, to which Rictor asks Cable to hold up, pointing out that Warpath and Caliban should be here now too. Siryn announces that she called the number in Detroit that James gave them, and reveals that she doesn’t think he has been getting the messages she has been leaving for him. ‘I don’t trust that Sledge character he’s been helping out one bit’ Siryn tells her friends.
Rictor reminds Terry that James can take care of himself, and remarks that he is more concerned about Caliban. ‘Don’t tell me you left him alone after the seizures he’s had lately?’ Julio asks. Cable replies that Caliban is safe and in good hands, before Shatterstar, after hearing a noise and noticing Domino drive away outside, announces that Domino has left, and asks why she isn’t a part of this. ‘She…left. She needed some time alone’ Cable replies. Shocked, Siryn leaps to her feet, asking Nathan how he could let Domino go. ‘Can’t you see she’s in no shape to be by herself?’ Theresa asks, but Julio tells her to get real, ‘Not even Cable can keep Domino from doing what she wants’.
‘That’s for certain’ mumbles Cable as he opens the briefcase and remarking that it is time to get back to the matter at hand. He tells X-Force that they know Zero Tolerance gained access to many of the Xavier Institute’s computer files, most of which were encrypted in the Shi’ar language, but nevertheless, they cannot rule out the possibility that Bastion will crack them. Cable continues, remarking that this makes it a dangerous time to be operating as openly as X-Force has been, and therefore, he proposes they go underground. ‘You mean you want us to hide out like we’re in the Witness Protection Program?’ Sunspot asks.
Cable holds up several files as he remarks that he put this team together so that there would be a team of mutants prepared for the great conflict to come. ‘Right now, I can’t afford to have any of you taken’ he remarks, adding that what they all just went through emphasizes that. Nathan explains that when they resurface, they will have the element of surprise on their hands. ‘These are your new identities’ he announces as he passes around the files. ‘Get this, I’m supposed to be “Nancy Forrester”? Oh please!’ laughs Meltdown. “Antonio Delgado”? Sunspot exclaims.
Cable turns to Moonstar who is still seated and, holding a file, announces that he took the liberty of creating a new identity for her also. ‘That is, if you’re willing to join the team?’ he adds. ‘Under these circumstances? No thanks’ Dani replies assuredly. Dani continues, explaining that she has spent the past year living a lie, pretending to be someone she is not, and now that she finally has her own life back, she is not going to give it up.
Sunspot agrees and declares that Dani is right. He points out that already they have had to conceal the fact that they are mutants if they want to live any semblance of a normal life. ‘Now we can’t even use our real names? I can’t think of a scenario more…more demeaning!’ Bobby remarks, adding that this is exactly what Zero Tolerance and the Friends of Humanity want - to keep mutants on the outside of society. Meltdown taps her friend on the shoulder and exclaims that she agrees with Bobby. ‘X-Force is about taking the fight to them!’ she declares.
Tabby hands Cable her file, telling him that he can take “Nancy Forrester” back, that she doesn’t need her. Cable replies that he knows this is difficult, but that he can assure them it is a necessity. ‘That’s your problem, Cable. You think that just because your whole life is some Holy Way…and you can’t relate to other people - the rest of us are just going to be your faithful crusaders!’ exclaims, before reminding everyone that he just came back to see if Shatterstar was okay, and announces that it is time he returned to Mexico and end his family’s black market business.
Shatterstar then remarks that Rictor is his friend and would rather offer him his sword arm than have it atrophy from disuse. ‘That makes two more “no”s, Cable’ Rictor remarks as he rips up the folder with his new identity. Cable turns to Theresa, and remarks that as Deputy Leader, he can surely count on her. ‘I don’t know’ Terry replies, rubbing her hands through her thick wavy hair, she tells Cable that it seems to her that with all their training - the training Cable gave them - they can handle whatever comes their way.
‘You’re right, Theresa’ Cable replies. ‘Each drill and every filed mission I assigned you were designed to give you the skill and training - so that one day you could stand on your own, as individuals and as a team’. Cable remarks that it would appear that day has come sooner than he expected. Standing in the doorway now, Cable tells X-Force that they are free to go their own way. He remarks that he knows they possess the strength and character to weather any circumstances, but warns them that Zero Tolerance is merely the first sign of the coming storm. ‘Be careful’ he tells his former charges as he closes the door behind him.
‘Cable, wait - don’t take this personally!’ exclaims Meltdown, while Rictor remarks ‘That was dramatic’. Siryn tells Tabby that she doesn’t think Cable is coming back. ‘We made our choice and he made his’. The young heroes gather around each other and Tabby shrugs her shoulders as she exclaims ‘Okay, we just declares our independence - what do we do now?’