The glowing psionic form of the man known as the Gamesmaster floats through his swirling mindscape. He is a mutant omnipath, who for reasons of his own spends his time in the telepathic mindstream, which connects the subconscious thoughts of everyone on the planet. To maintain his sanity amidst the mental static, which perpetually courses through his mind, the Gamesmaster has chosen to concentrate on one particular group of people and their quest. These people are the Upstarts, an exclusive club that seeks to achieve power through the assassination of mutant targets: at the moment, the young survivors of the former New Mutants and Hellions groups. Already Cannonball, Boomer, and Magma have been captured, and thus the Younghunt is officially underway.
Rearing up, the massive psionic form of the Gamesmaster places the floating consciousnesses of Cannonball, Boomer, and Magma into his palm and commands them to awaken. Being that the three of them have had extensive experience in telepathic communication, he explains, it should take but a moment for them to acclimate themselves to the mindstream.
While Cannonball responds by asking who this assailant is and what’s going on here, Boomer instead ponders why their attacker has placed them at such an angle that they must stare up his nostrils. In response to Cannonball, the psionic form explains that he can be called the Gamesmaster, and in response to Boomer, he apologizes for the cheap theatrics. He explains that it is only in this realm where he can be as he truly wishes he were: dominant, controlling, and overpowering. It is really a rather exhilarating experience, he continues, and he tends to revel in it. But listen to his ramblings, he adds, stopping himself, it is rather presumptuous of him to be talking about such things when the three of them are in this unfortunate situation.
And what exactly is that situation, demands Cannonball, are they his prisoners? What sort of “game” is he the “master” of? Magma notes she was in the Brazilian rainforest re-learning her powers when she was attacked, and adds that she never even saw who did it. Boomer replies that she and Cannonball were in “Gomerville,” Kentucky, when everything just sort of exploded, then notes that instead of doing this to them, the Gamesmaster could have just had them all play Yahtzee. But, questions the Gamesmaster, would that have been as enjoyable as this has been? He continues, explaining that he is not directly responsible for her presence here, but he does arbitrate the game played by those who are.
Projecting their images as he speaks of them, the Gamesmaster names the Upstarts: Shinobi Shaw, Siena Blaze, Graydon Creed, Trevor Fitzroy, and the potential members Andrea and Andreas Strucker; they compete against themselves in the name of greed and conquest, he explains, by killing the targets of Gamesmaster’s choosing. And one guess who the targets are this time, interjects Cannonball wryly. Two guesses, replies the Gamesmaster, projecting the images of the former teams he then speaks of: any of the surviving members of the New Mutants or Hellions are quarry in this game. Then, addressing the three before him in the mindstream, he explains that they have already been captured as the first prizes in this treasure hunt, and so they shall remain until such time as they will be disposed of and the points for their deaths are appropriately disbursed among the Upstarts; taking into account, of course, that all of prospective rabbits can even be hunted down…
Manhattan, inside an abandoned factory: the New Warriors’ base of operations. The New Warriors are gathered in a meeting in front of a monitor screen displaying the images of both Justice and Shinobi Shaw. Night Thrasher says that he’s sorry, Angel, but they had no choice. Firestar, crossing her arms, retorts that they always have a choice, Dwayne. She understands why he and Vance decided not to tell her about his little scheme, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it! Night Thrasher continues: when he first found out that Shinobi Shaw was involved with the Friends of Humanity in the attempt to publicly ostracize Justice after he was paroled from prison, he knew that Shaw was going to try to use Justice as a pawn in the Upstarts game. So, replies Firestar curtly, he let them all think for the last week that Vance was leaving because he couldn’t deal with the pressure he’s been under?
Night Thrasher explains that he knows how she and Vance feel about each other, but he and Justice agreed that this was the way to go, especially because of the emotional toll it would take on all of them. Hey Red, adds Nova, explaining he was pretty peeved when he heard what happened up in Saugerties, too. But look at it this way, he continues: ain’t it great that Thrash and Marvel Boy – oops, sorry, Justice – are back and pulling stunts like this?
Kymaera, placing her hands on Firestar’s shoulders, notes that the last few months have been really hard on all of them, but then tells Firestar to think of how nice it’ll be to get mad at Justice when he comes back, and how much fun it’ll be to make up! Firestar just notes that, her own frustrations notwithstanding, if Vance’s information is correct, then the Upstarts are going after former New Mutants and Hellions. And if that’s true, then they may come after…
The ceiling of the warehouse abruptly explodes, raining debris down upon the meeting area, and a troop of lackeys in high-tech metal armor drop in amid the cloud of smoke and dust. Their leader announces that they want Firestar, they are the Tribunal, and their employer would like her to come with them. As to whether this is accomplished quietly or through bloodshed… that is up to the New Warriors. With a quiet crackle and a glowing flare in her eyes, Firestar notes that, like she said, you always have a choice… what does the Tribunal think the New Warriors’ is going to be?
Madripoor. Specifically, the “living-standard handicapped” region known as Lowtown. Past a deserted, garbage-strewn alleyway, a voice calls out that they went over this way! Pursuing their targets to the docks, a group of thugs corners Moonstar and Empath. Moonstar explains that the thugs’ options are to either back off or have their brains fried, which, she imagines, in their case wouldn’t take but a spit of grease and a match. Blithely ignoring the threats of a spandex-clad woman wielding a bow and a flaming psionic arrow, one of the thugs replies that they got rules on the docks, girl – and she crossed over the line!
Annoyed, Moonstar explains that all they did was ask where they could find Xi’an Coy Mahn! Releasing the psionic arrow from her bow with its characteristic shriek, she notes that all the pain this is going to cause the man is all because they’re trying to help an old friend. Empath, meanwhile, simply commands the thugs attacking him to unhand him, adding that they should be thankful he does not simply command them to jump into the bay and drown!
Suddenly, the sky above the docks crackles and rips open, prompting Empath to ask what it is and Moonstar to reply that it’s trouble. As every window in every warehouse across the docks explodes outward, Siena Blaze descends from the sky, explaining that it’s big trouble, “torks”! For the two of you, she clarifies, since she isn’t in a mood to tool around! Verifying that the two before her are Moonstar and Empath, Blaze adds that she didn’t expect to find them here, and they kinda look different than the old pictures she saw of them, but she can still smell these New Mutie and Hellion geeks a mile away. She then tells them to close their eyes: this is going to hurt a lot! Blaze, however, abruptly halts her attack…
… and Xi’an Coy Manh steps forward, clad in her New Mutants uniform. Dani, she says to Moonstar, if it is her under that mask, and Manuel: it has been a long time, has it not? Indeed it has, replies Empath, and under the circumstances he wishes it had been longer! Yes, well, replies Karma, she takes it that Blaze wanted to kill the two of them, or her, or all of them, but the question is: now that she has Siena Blaze under her mind-control… what do they do with her?
The mindstream. Here, the Gamesmaster plays his part, bouncing from one mind to the next, always living vicariously through the thoughts and actions of others, a part of him ignoring the reasons behind his avoidance of life while deep inside his heart he covers the truth inside a shroud of loneliness. He senses the thoughts of others, the youths, and in particular Vance Astrovik and Angelica Jones, who carry as great a burden of pain, of guilt, as he does. He smiles both in respect and regret that, while he chooses to hide from his own emotional injuries, they have the strength of will to strive so hard to carry on, and he thinks: what a shame that the very thing which makes them so noble… is the reason they must die!
The New Warriors’ headquarters. The two groups of combatants, New Warriors and Tribunal, are poised to face each other. Speedball tells Night Thrasher to give the word, and Night Thrasher explains he’s just waiting to gauge their measure. Taking flight into battle, Firestar tells him to let them try to gauge theirs! The Tribunal responds by announcing that weapons have been deployed, as their suits shift various parts into combat configurations. Then the two teams break the tension as all-out combat begins. The battle continues to rage on, as neither side appears to take the lead, but just as the Tribunal leader announces that they’re going to need to cut loose if – his thought is interrupted by the sudden ripping apart and shattering of every single Tribunal member’s armor, the force of which is sufficient to also knock the men inside out cold.
Kymaera notes that their armors looked like they were just forced apart at the seams, and Silhouette questions how that could… oh… as Firestar excitedly whispers Vance? As Justice descends through the hole the Tribunal originally ripped in the warehouse’s ceiling, Firestar exclaims his name again and rushes up to meet him. They embrace, and Justice stammers that he thought she’d be mad at him. Firestar replies that she is, she’s not, she… He mumbles that he’s sorry about tricking her like that, he didn’t want to hurt her… but, he continues, speaking up, it may get even worse for them all. They have problems, he informs the team.
Night Thrasher asks if the Upstarts’ plan is going like they expected, and Justice replies that it’s as if they wrote the script themselves. Firestar is their next target, and Justice himself is supposed to be taking her down for Shinobi Shaw! Nova, picking up some large chunks of rubble left over from the attack, notes that this is a pretty tough corner the two of them painted them all into, and asks what they’re gonna do to get out. Kymaera suggests they find out who sent the Tribunal and start taking down the Upstarts one player at a time; Justice replies that it’s not that simple: each of the Upstarts, on their own, whether they realize it or not, are just small fish in a big pond, swimming around behind a big shark. In this case, the shark is a man named Gamesmaster.
Night Thrasher explains that he’s the one they want to take down. Kymaera asks if what they’re saying is that the best way to do this is from the inside, and Firestar, startled, notes that that would mean… the only way to get closer than Vance already has… is by sacrificing her to the Younghunt! Stroking her hair, Justice explains that they have to, it’s what they do, it’s who they are. Even if, questions Firestar, the price she pays is her own life? Justice pauses, troubled, and then replies that her life, his life, all of their lives if necessary, if that’s what it takes for justice to be served. Firestar turns away and crosses her arms in defeat.
Shinobi Shaw’s penthouse apartment in Tokyo. Shaw sits down to a quiet dinner as his balcony window suddenly opens, seemingly of its own power. Justice flies in soon after, with the unconscious Firestar in tow, and explains that he has her. Excellent, Vance, exclaims Shinobi, noting that he keeps surprising him in the most pleasant of manners. Shaw then asks if Justice’s friends put up much of a stink. Justice replies that they care about her a lot, and so does he. Observing the subdued Firestar, Shaw replies that he knows Justice does. Then, phasing his way through the force field around her, he grabs her chin in his hand and notes that he can understand why: she’s really a babe. Turning back to Justice, Shaw states that he promises him that they’ll use Firestar just like they discussed: as bait to get them inside the assassination parlor, and from there to use the other captured young mutants to overthrow not only the Upstarts but the Gamesmaster himself!
And, continues Shaw, by eliminating the players in the game, as well as the one who arbitrates it, it will be he who wins the Younghunt and gains all of their combined power in turn! But, questions Justice, if the Gamesmaster is as powerful a psi as Shaw says, isn’t he already aware of their plans? Shinobi responds that he’s not an idiot, Vance. He recently had his apartment heavily screened against all forms of energy wavelength incursions, including telepathic ones! As the Gamesmaster’s psionic form listens in upon Shaw’s astral projection, Shinobi continues: so he guarantees him, the Gamesmaster has no idea what they have up their sleeves!
Child’s play, mutters the Gamesmaster, crushing the projection of Shaw in his fist. Akin to anticipating the actions of a mouse in a maze… this is all too easy! He needs more from this game! Trevor Fitzroy is prepared to confront X-Force, he notes, producing a projection of this event, and… Interrupting himself, the Gamesmaster notes that Siena Blaze seeks council with him. Her astral form pops into the mindstream as the Gamesmaster sighs out of bored irritation and bids her speak.
Hey, boss, beams a grinning Siena Blaze, take one guess who just pulled into the lead! Then, dropping the astral bodies of Empath, Karma, and Moonstar into the Gamesmaster’s open palm, Blaze announces eagerly that, added to the two she nabbed earlier, this gives her five kills!