The rebuilt chalet home of Shinobi Shaw, in the Berner Alpen mountain range of Switzerland. It serves as an occasional refuge for the young multi-billionaire industrialist… and as a permanent grave marker, for the house is built on the ashes of Shinobi’s murdered father, Sebastian! A murder for points. Points for power. Power for control. This is the game which is played by the Upstarts, the club of those who are rich and bored… and have currently chosen the surviving members of the New Mutants and the Hellions as their targets!
This “Younghunt” has led to the capture of mutants allied with the outlaw militant group known as X-Force, and this in turn has led to the retrieval of information from Shaw himself regarding the current status of those missing friends: namely that they are being held at this chalet by the Younghunt’s arbiter, the omnipath named Gamesmaster, pending their coming assassination at the conclusion of the game!
Near the chalet, a bodyslide portal swirls open and out flies a babbling Bantam, who mumbles of how he does prefer the temporal portals that dear, deceased Master Fitzroy used to open up. As Bantam tumbles into the snow below, the rest of X-Force appears from the portal. Cable shouts that they’re there and, since no one shot at their little decoy, that means they’re also clear. He then closes the bodyslide access. X-Force barely has time to blink when a familiar voice calls out Cable’s name, and Night Thrasher and the rest of the New Warriors approach them. You? responds Cable, surprised, then adds that he guesses they should’ve expected them.
For a change of pace, replies Night Thrasher, let them put ego aside and not turn this into a stupid brawl. Cable replies that he takes it that they have some friends here too, then? Well, he continues, since they all want the same thing, X-Force can do a better job of accomplishing their goals if they work with the New Warriors rather than against them. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, muses Speedball, two superhero teams actually decide they’ll work together without fighting first! Shatterstar humorlessly notes that they chose the other method the last time the two teams met. Yeah, replies Speedball, and now look at them! They’ve matured! And here he thought they had a certain image to uphold…
Cable informs Night Thrasher that information they pried out of Shinobi Shaw led them to believe that the Gamesmaster is keeping Cannonball, Boomer and several others prisoner inside the chalet. Night Thrasher confirms this, explaining the New Warriors got the same information from another one of the Upstarts, Graydon Creed. Silhouette notes that it would appear their opponents know when cowardice is the better part of stupidity.
As Rictor hits on Kymaera in the distance, drawing annoyance from Nova, Cable notes that these Upstarts seem to turn on each other pretty quickly as long as it serves their own skin, but this Gamesmaster seems to be a different kind of player all together. Night Thrasher agrees, noting that the Gamesmaster is a wild card they weren’t ready for. He continues: the New Warriors have been working on setting up the Upstarts for the last few weeks; Justice served as their plant and he even hand-delivered Firestar to the Gamesmaster, but they lost contact with those two over six hours ago.
Cable notes that Night Thrasher has mapped the area, and asks what his plan was going to be. He replies that they’ve identified three access points into the house; they were going to spread out and force Gamesmaster to stretch his defensive focus. Preparing his weapon with a shift and a click, Cable replies that this plan works for him: if this Gamesmaster really is the strongest telepath on Earth (and he has a feeling he knows a couple of people who might top him), then he knows what they’re planning anyway, right? So they may as well just take the direct approach and huff, puff, and blow the door down! Yup, replies Kymaera, that plan works for them. Nova states that it’s like MacArthur and Patton working together.
Cable begins splitting the two groups into assault teams: Shatterstar and Ric with Nova and Namorita… She interrupts him to correct him with Kymaera, prompting Cable to reply with Gesundheit. He then pairs James and Theresa with Super-ball and the big guy – prompting the eponymous correction of Speedball!, followed by Rage wryly repeating and the big guy. As all the groups rush toward the chalet, Cable shouts that Dom is with him and together they’re with Thrash and Silhouette. Night Thrasher shouts for everyone to move out – and subtlety’s out the window! Domino caustically replies that that’s a change of pace.
is the strongest telepath on Earth (and I have a feeling I know a couple of people who might top him), then he knows what we’re planning anyway, right? floats Cable’s voice into the mindstream of endless thoughts that the Gamesmaster exists through. Right, thinks the Gamesmaster, as he winds his way through the minds of everyone on the planet in this psionic stream, which is both his prison and salvation. The game has reached the point, he figures, where the time has come to take matters into his own hands. Figuratively speaking, of course, he adds; for the truth is, for the first time since he discovered the extent of his mutant powers, the Gamesmaster is finally manipulating his vast telepathic energies to do more than simply monitor the minds of others, but rather to try to control them!
Grinning over the astral projections of Boomer, Cannonball, Empath, Firestar, Justice, Karma, Magma, and Moonstar, he notes that it feels kind of fun, actually, and it can only help to make the game itself all the more distracting for him if he begins to move the players himself! Outside the chalet, the first attack team, consisting of Kymaera, Nova, Rictor, and Shatterstar, rushes toward the building. The Gamesmaster smiles to himself, thrilling in anticipation of actually feeling his mind-controlled puppets moving into action. No wonder, he thinks, they secretly revel in this activity; they are so young, so vital. They haven’t been hurt like he has, lost like he has, left alone to drift aimlessly without a cause to believe in or a passion for life.
Yes, he thinks, fighting them will be good, and killing them will be even better. And on that note, he reaches out with Karma and Empath’s powers, similar to his own – in the way that a Model-T is similar to a Ferrari – locates his targets, and locks their minds. Rictor and Shatterstar both stumble for a moment, and then Rictor blasts Nova out of the sky; they are the Gamesmaster’s tools now. Shatterstar then propels himself forward toward Kymaera, prompting her to ask what the $#@¢ these two are doing. The Gamesmaster quietly admires Shatterstar’s calculating and clinical grace of movement as Nova tells Kymaera to look at their eyes for the answer to her question; Kymaera offers a tentative mind-controlled?
Nova confirms this by mentioning what a bunch of simps these guys are: you’d never catch one of the New Warriors getting possessed like that. Except when Puppet Master took over Vance’s mind. And then there was all them Infinity things going on. And the Darkforce Dimension stuff too. Then he kind of got hit by that Novaforce power. Okay, okay, relents Nova, he’ll make sure he only uses a low-level gravimetric pulse to take them out! Following words with actions, Nova manages to snap Rictor and Shatterstar out of their controlled state. See, he adds, no problem: he even left them conscious. Is he a great guy or is he…
With a characteristic high-pitched squeal, Gamesmaster/Moonstar’s psychic arrows quickly subdue both Nova and Kymaera. The Gamesmaster then brings forth Magma as his next pawn to contort the ground and bury his four opponents under piles of snow and shifted earth. Gamesmaster quietly chalks round one up as a victory for himself.
Meanwhile, the second attack team, consisting of Rage, Siryn, Speedball, and Warpath, begins making their way toward the chalet. Gamesmaster wonders how he can combat this foursome’s sheer brute force, then decides that the way to do it is to send out a player who can strike from a safe distance. He picked up that strategy, he muses, from Captain America several months ago. And, he thinks, if Cap had a weapon like this one, he’d use it too…
Siena Blaze’s possessed body steps into the path of the assault team. Speedball notes that, whoever this is, she seems to be powering up. Warpath more specifically notes that she’s Siena Blaze, and she matches Paige Guthrie’s description of her. Warpath was going to say next that they have to reach her before she can unleash her energy, but the first syllable barely begins to escape his lips when Gamesmaster releases a full-force onslaught of Siena Blaze’s electromagnetic energies.
Blaze’s powers startle even the Gamesmaster: her abilities are overwhelming. They tear a scar across the Earth’s electromagnetic field and rupture the delicate balance of energy cascading throughout the upper atmosphere; at the same time, her powers flood this energy into anyone unfortunate enough to get in her way, and it easily places the entirety of the second squad into utter defeat.
The Gamesmaster smiles, using Siena’s lips, and then surveys with astonishment the fact that none of them are dead. They are powerful, yes, he notes, but no one short of the Hulk could have withstood an assault like that. He then notices the staggering Speedball, who sputters that that was good, but his kinetic field was better, before collapsing to the snow in exhausted defeat. The Gamesmaster is impressed that the one he took for a bouncing buffoon managed to save the other three and himself by extending his kinetic field and deflecting the brunt of Gamesmaster/Siena’s blast.
Gamesmaster chides himself for underestimating the boy. After all, he thinks, there are very few people on the planet whose mind he can’t read, and apparently Speedball is one of them. And, he notes amusedly, this man Cable would like to think he’s another; little does he realize that, for the most part, his thoughts stick out like a bureaucrat in an automotive repair shop. Cable, meanwhile, exclaims with frustration that he can’t get any kind of readings on any of his scanners at all. Whatever that pulse wave was that just hit the other side of the mountain, he surmises, it was powerful enough to scramble most of his electronics systems.
So, observes Domino, they have lost the mechanical edge they thought they had. They’ll deal with it. They have other talents at their disposal, and they have an ace up their sleeve, too. And, she concludes, it’s looking like they might need her! Switch to infrared sights, boys, shouts Domino: they’re coming from above the tree line!
She is referring to Gamesmaster’s newest set of incoming assault puppets, composed of Cannonball, Firestar, and Justice – and Boomer approaching from the ground. Cable concedes that maybe he was wrong about how powerful a telepath this Gamesmaster is; if he can take control of Sam’s mind, he must be pretty tough. Less talk, more rock! shouts the perpetually-perturbed Domino, who then instructs Silhouette to make her move. With that, Silhouette melts out of the shadows behind Boomer and takes her out with one taser-strike of her braces; she next proceeds to release smoke pellets into the area, completely obscuring the region in inky darkness and preventing the Gamesmaster from seeing through the eyes of his puppets.
Cable’s team, on the other hand, can see just fine in infrared mode; Night Thrasher quickly leaps upon the attacking Firestar. Sorry to do this to you, Angel, he says, but short of some stinging in her eyes and throat tomorrow, the cayenne spray he’s shooting into her face won’t be too bad. But, he mutters, if she happens to ask who did it to her, he’ll still blame Nova. Domino, meanwhile, announces that she’s planted a neurological scrambler on Justice, and without his telekinetic shield surrounding him, it’ll be a short piece of work to take him out. But how, asks Cable in confusion, did she manage to get the scrambler past his telekinetic shield in the first place – oh, he mutters, he forgot who he’s talking to. Never mind.
Cable then asks, as he grabs on to Cannonball’s collar, if Domino can rub some of her luck on to him, because it looks like Sam is about to take him for a bit of a ride! Unprepared for the effects of Cannonball’s blast field, Cable chatters to S-S-Sam to stop… he’s shaking him… to pieces! Cable fights his instincts; his first impulse is to eliminate any threat to him, and do it permanently, but he can’t: not when the threat is the closest thing he has to a son (and notwithstanding the fact he wouldn’t be able to penetrate Cannonball’s invulnerable blast field anyway). As the effects of Cannonball’s blast field intensify, Cable desperately screams out for him to STOP!
And he does, dropping to the ground in an unconscious heap and leaving Cable to grip his head, reeling. Night Thrasher asks what happened, and Cable replies that he just thought… he made him stop… by telling him to? Domino is as confused as Cable, noting that he’s always been telekinetic, at least so far as making tools float or zippers pull down, but telepathic? That’s a new one. Well Domino, quips Night Thrasher, she better help him get reeeal good at using this newfound power in a hurry…
… because the glowing astral form of the Gamesmaster has been projected to enormous proportions in the night sky, looming massively over the chalet and the surrounding mountains and extending his hand forward in an indication of his triumph over the combatants. He then tells Night Thrasher that he thinks no one could learn to master as difficult a new game as the telepathic one quickly enough to prevent him from playing this game out to its inevitable conclusion! The Younghunt is over! he bellows out across the land in his psi-speech, and all that is left to do is for him to determine what to do with the prizes.
Then his image abruptly disappears, and the entire area slips into eerie silence. As silent, thinks the lurking Paige Guthrie, as the day her daddy died. She shouldn’t have followed Cable and the others through their teleportation portals. She isn’t ready for this. What can she do, she thinks to herself, really, with her stupid, useless mutant powers, other than shed from one skin into another? Coming upon Cannonball’s unconscious body, she sheds back to her human form and crouches down next to him. What can she do, she thinks, ultimately, against someone as powerful as the Gamesmaster? The answer, she realizes, is that she can do nothing, and that means her brother is going to die.
At this realization, Paige screams out the Gamesmaster’s name, shouting out in frustration and anger and fear. She thought it was all so exciting, being a mutant; flying all over the world, fighting the bad guys – but it’s not. The life that Sam and all these people lead isn’t a game at all. Paige begins to shout that this isn’t over yet, there’s still one player…
“Left?” she finishes as a confused question, as she suddenly finds herself floating inside the Gamesmaster’s mindstream, dressed in a black-and-yellow New Mutants uniform. This, notes the Gamesmaster, is a bit of a pleasant surprise. He couldn’t scan her thoughts while she was in her transformed state, which he notes as odd, since he was perfectly able to after she first learned of her mutant abilities inside her Kentucky home. Maybe, he ponders, it’s because of the electromagnetic interference from his excessive use of Siena Blaze’s powers? Paige, completely beside herself, can only stammer an Ah don’t know in response to the Gamesmaster’s blithe ramblings.
She then plucks up her resolve and screws her face into a determined expression, insisting that all she knows is that she can’t just let him kill her brother! But the game, explains the Gamesmaster solemnly, is over, child. Samuel and his associates have lost. The rules say they have to die. A new game has to begin. Why? cries Paige in frustration. Who makes these rules? And why does he have to keep playing these stupid games? He make these rules, young lady, replies the Gamesmaster, and he has to abide by them… he has to keep playing the game, because… because… because he has to, that’s why.
Okay, replies Paige, trying desperately to out-think her opponent, okay, okay… listen… how about if he and she play a game. What, asks a piqued Gamesmaster, would the stakes be? You lose, replies Paige, and Sam and everyone else lives… And if he wins? asks the Gamesmaster. He gets her! replies Paige. Disappointed, the Gamesmaster questions what kind of entertainment a girl like her could provide him.
Paige, again desperately trying to think of an out to the grim situation, can only reply that, uhm, not much, she guesses... right now. But, she adds suddenly, what about tomorrow? Or a year from now? Or five years from now? Every day, she continues, all over the world, kids like her are discovering that they’re mutants, learning that they’ve got these incredible and scary powers, and all of them are asking themselves the same thing: what are they going to do with them? Who’s going to help them learn how to use them? What kind of people are they going to end up being?
Pretty cool, huh? she continues, sensing she’s on to something. Who’s going to find the next generation of mutants? Can he do it? Before Xavier, or the Acolytes, or anyone else does? She’d call that one heckuva game, wouldn’t he? The Gamesmaster pauses, and then grins from ear to ear. Paige, he announces, you win! And with that, Paige Guthrie abruptly blacks out.
When she awakens, her brother is looking down at her, asking if she’s okay. She mumbles Sam’s name, and he tells her that it was a mighty big risk she took there! Standing up, and finding herself wrapped in a cloth, Paige points out that it worked, didn’t it? Yeah, replies Cannonball, it did, and he’s proud of her for her guts and smarts. And because of that, he won’t be whupping her butt for not having told him about her mutant powers, or for sneaking along on this mission when he’s sure that Momma didn’t want her coming! Paige says with chagrin that she knows, but tells him to look at it this way: if she hadn’t come along, they’d all be toast! Well, darlin’, replies Cannonball, not to put a damper on her big moment, but maybe she should start looking at it this way: what price is she going to have to pay later in the war for having won this one battle?
Inside the chalet. Rictor is on the phone and surrounded by most of the others involved in the day’s events. He holds up his index finger for silence, and says it’s ringing. A voice offers a tentative Hullo? Rictor asks if this is Rahne Sinclair, and Rahne replies with delight asking if this is Rictor. Listen, continues Rictor, he’s calling to warn her that someone from the Upstarts might try to come after her. The only ones unaccounted for, he says, are… Fenris? finishes Rahne. Oh, absolutely, she assures him, she’ll make sure that X-Factor keeps their eyes out for the murderous siblings. As she finishes this sentence, Rahne looks over her shoulder at Strong Guy and Polaris, who have a dejected Andrea and Andreas von Strucker in handcuffs.
Elsewhere in the chalet, an excited Speedball exclaims that there are babes everywhere: he thinks he’s going to burst! Hellooo, he continues, why is everyone walking around with smelly-bathroom faces? They did just win, remember! Cable replies that it was a hollow victory if it means they just handed over tomorrow’s young mutants to a man as dangerous as the Gamesmaster.
Justice, reclining on a nearby couch with Firestar in his arms, notes that Cable’s view is a pretty defeatist way of looking at it. Maybe, adds Firestar, what they’ve really done is offer up a challenge – to Professor Xavier, to Cable, even to themselves – to make sure that they’re all there to help people like Paige, and to make sure that these young people aren’t fooled by the wrong side before they get to them. Cable concedes that Firestar makes a valid point; to them, this has always been a matter of survival for their own species. But, he adds, if it’s going to be a game to people like Gamesmaster, they need to make sure it’s a game that they play to win!
An island, somewhere, in some body of water. A small dock and a small cabin are the only signs of inhabitance. Okay then, Nathan, replies a bespectacled man in an orange plaid shirt as he watches the rain fall against his window: to Cable, and to Charlie, and to Dwayne Taylor… to Forge, and Exodus, and Mr. Sinister… to all of them out there…
Let the game begin!