X-Force Annual '99

Issue Date: 
November 1999
Story Title: 
Loose Ends

Fabian Nicieza (writer), Chris Renaud, Gus Vasquez & Ken Lashley (pencilers), Rod Ramos, Scott Elmer & Rich Perrotta (inkers), Kevin Somers (colorist), Sharpefront & Paul Tutrone (letterers), Jason Liebig (editor), Bob Harras (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

Rictor and Shatterstar are in Mexico continuing to take down Rictor's family's illegal gun selling business. They are approached by a man who is seeking fighters, and offer them money for their services. They accompany the man to a large mansion where he explains that Verschiagen Industries specializes in biochemicals to enhance physical performance, and one of their test subjects requires skilled competition. They are shown to their accommodation, where Shatterstar reflects on his mysterious past. Outside, someone sneaks into the facility, taking the guards out with his energy power. The next morning, Rictor and Shatterstar are introduced to the woman they are to fight. The battle is brief before the mysterious intruder joins the battle, firstly taking out the facility scientists. The woman does not respond to him, so he uses his power on her to knock her out. However Rictor discovers that she is dead. The intruder introduces himself as Hanransha and explains that the woman was his sister. The facility's guards close in on Rictor, Shatterstar and Hanransha, but they escape when Shatterstar uses his sword to create a sonic vibration, destroying part of the facility. In a car, the trio drive for safety and Hanransha explains that he is the product of a planned genetic breeding program, his sister and six others were all born of different fathers to the same mother, and he escaped from his mother's madhouse, the Verschiagen facility in Germany, so that he could track down his siblings, two of whom are with an American company called StrongHOLD. Rictor and Shatterstar know that this is Martin Henry Strong's companny, and they head for Colorado. There, Martin Henry Strong is showing off is new spider-like carapace that enables him to walk to Neurotap, who is still working for Strong despite his desire to rid the world of abnormalities plays against her own beliefs because he pays for the care of her injured parents. Rictor, Shatterstar and Hanransha break into StrongHOLD and battle Strong's men and Neurotap, until Cannonball, Moonstar and Proudstar arrive on scene, responding to an email from Neurotap, requesting their assistance. Strong takes Hanransha to see two more of his siblings, held in stasis tubes, explaining that their powers were breaking down and killing them. He also informs Hanransha that all of the Verschiagen subjects were born with a genetic tag through which Hana Verschiagen can control them, that their bodies are deteriorating because of increased enzyme requirements, and he placed them in stasis for their own protection. Strong reveals that Verschiagen has done all of this to jump-start her own latent mutant potential. Rictor levitates four poles through the air which he, Neurotap and Hanransha ride to Germany. Upon arrival at Verschiagen Industries, they are captured by the madwoman Hanna Verschiagen. She connects them to some cables, along with the remaining V-subjects, and steps into a capsule, which is linked to the mutants, and she uses their energies to give herself power. Cannonball, Moonstar and Proudstar burst into the facility, and Verschiagen attacks them. Rictor, Shatterstar and Neurotap are freed from the cables, while Hanransha urges Shatterstar and Rictor to sever the connection to Verschiagen, even though he knows it will kill him and the others. Shatterstar does so, and Verschaigen seemingly combusts. Hanransha dies in Rictor's arms, and Neurotap wonders what she should do about her parents. Cannonball gives her Xavier's card in case she needs assistance, and Shatterstar wraps Hanransha's t-shirt around his head to remember the fallen.

Full Summary: 


'Por favor – no me mates -' gasps Ernesto Gallegas as he kneels on the ground, pleading for his life, as a woman with blank eyes stands over him, spikes wrapped around her legs and arms. Ernesto's record includes assault, robbery and drug-trafficking. He was paroled two weeks ago. From an observation booth that looks down over the room Ernesto and the woman are in, two men look out, 'He begs for his life?' one of them asks. The second man explains that the woman is now physically capable of reducing even a hardened criminal to his knees. 'But will her conditioning outweigh her morals?' the first man asks. The woman glances up at the observation booth, and as if responding to the question, slams her spiked arm into Ernesto's face. The answer is yes.

Chapter One: Picking up the Pieces

Pochutia, Mexico, routine nigvhts for Shatterstar and Julio Richter a.k.a. Rictor as they track a gun shipment, find the exchange drop, kick some butt and move on to another town and do it all over again. Shatterstar leaps into the air and kicks a gun-runner backwards, while Rictor unleashes a small siemic wave, knocking his opponent back. The thugs open fire on the young heroes. Shatterstar blocks the bullets with his swords, while Rictor creates another quake to knock the gun-runners aside.

Rictor's family sells guns – illegally. He has promised to take down the family business. Shatterstar agreed to help him. For months since leaving the outlaw band of mutants known as X-Force, they have used the incredible abilities they were born with – Rictor's vibratory quakes and 'Star's genetically-enhanced martial skills – to cripple the Richters' black market operations. 'Done! Four more cousins and assorted low-lifes read for jail!' Rictor edxclaims proudly when they have taken the gun-runners out. He adds that his family will declare bankruptcy soon. Suddenly, someone claps, and the young men look up to see a man in a suit, face obscured by a wide-brimmed hat, walking towards them. The man announces that he was the buyer for this weapon consignment, but that he can dismiss his loss if it brings such wonderful specimens to his attention. 'I recruit fighters to... test... a very special individual. The pay is handsome. Interested?' he enquires.

A two-hour-drive later, a limo pulls up to the security-guarded gate of a large building, unaware that someone watches from the bushes outside. The man wearing the hat informs Shatterstar and Rictor that Verschiagen Industries is a German pharmaceutical company that specializes in biochemicals to enhance physical performance, and one of their test subjects requires more skilled competition. He adds that the pay is two thousand for every session that they remain standing. 'Five sessions, ten thousand total. Acceptable, senores -?' he asks. Shatterstar introduces himself as Benjamin Russell, before Rictor introduces himself and announces that it is acceptable. 'Cash, right?' he then enquires, while Shatterstar looks at him, a little confused. 'Si' the man in the hat confirms as they exit the limo. Making their way through the facility, Ric and 'Star decide that the place is low-rent but high-tech. They need the money, but is is a second priority, the first being to discover if the “test” subject is here against his will, and if so, free him.

A man in glasses approaches them, and the man in the hat introduces him as Zellig, explaining that he reviews the data from each of the combat simulations. Rictor informs the men that before they agree to this, they would like to know more about the test subject. Zellig explains that she is a volunteer, biogenetically engineered with dermal and subcutaneous extensions. The man in the  hat reveals that normal humans, even those with fighting prowess, have proven no match for her. 'But the two of you...' his voice trails off. Shatterstar announces that they need some rest if they are to display their peak efficiency in these combat sessions. 'Private quarters or can you share one accomodation?' the man in the hat asks as he leads them into a room with a sofa, chairs and television. 'Sharing's fine' Rictor confirms as he and 'Star examine their surroundings. Ric glances at 'Star, 'Nice digs' he remarks, before pointing out that they are probably bugged like a swamp. 'Switch to Cadre Alliance?' he suggests. 'Codlista' Shatterstar replies. That means affirmative in the language of Shatterstar's home world, an other-dimensional realm known as Mojoworld.

Rictor sits on the sofa, while 'Star sits at the table and polishes one of his swords, as they converse in Cadre Alliance, with Rictor remarking that he is surprised 'Star used the Russell name before. Shatterstar reminds Ric that his true identity is so shrouded in mystery that he would prefer to respect all the possibilities of who he might really be. He adds that his mind is filled with two different sets of memories, those of Gaveedra-7, a genetically bred warrior of the Cadre Alliance rebellion call-signal, Shatterstar, raised in the arena games of Mojoworld who came to Earth seeking freedom for himself and his people, and those of a Boston raised human named Benjamin Russell, whose mind was influenced while in a catatonic state to believe he was really Shatterstar, and whose body reawakened upon accepting the uemeuur, the soul, of Gaveedra-7. Shatterstar remembers being on Mojoworld, fighting in the arena which was lorded over by Mojo. 'All of a sudden, having a family selling guns doesn't sound so bad' Rictor jokes, before asking 'So which is it, Ben of Gaveedra? Human or Mojoworld?' Shatterstar puts his swords into their holder strapped to his back and replies 'For now... both... will have to do'.

Outside, the mysterious figure lurking in the bushes runs past the guards at the gate, carrying some darts in between his fingers. The guards are speaking to each other, 'So she says to me, come here with that big gun' the first boasts. 'The truth?' the second asks, when suddenly, the mysterious figure rushes past them, and throws two darts at them, which strike the guards in their necks. Red energy glows around the mystery man's hand, which extends out to the guards, taking them out with ease. He retrives the darts and takes one of their access cards, and sneaks into the Verschiagen grounds quick and silent as a cold breeze.

The next morning, an alarm clock sounds, and Rictor slowly opens his eyes 'Hey' he calls out, looking across the room, Shatterstar is only wearing some shorts and is upside down, lifting himself up by two fingers, he is already over one thousand push-ups. 'Hey' he calls back to Ric, who rubs his head and points out that they haven't seen this side of noon since Cable used to run them through drills at dawn. 'Using the term “we” to just mean me, of course...' Rictor adds. 'Of course' Shatterstar agrees in between counting more push ups.

An hour later, in the combat training room, Zellig is in the observation booth with some others, and Rictor calls out to him, asking him where Senor Blanco – the man with the hat – is. 'Gone to get more recruits' Zellig responds. 'You won't need 'em after you see us in action' Rictor calls back. 'Oh, I'm sure we will...' Zellig mutters as a door opens, and the female with spiked arms and legs appears. 'Height: five foot, two inches. Weight: approx ninety pounds' Shatterstar announces. 'Small' Ric points out. 'Doesn't account for heart and mettle' Shatterstar remarkss. Suddenly, the woman's arm transforms and extends upwards to some pipes running overhead, she swings towards the heroes. 'Or prehensile extensions of her epidermis' Shatterstar adds, as he prepares his swords. 'First pass is mine' Shatterstar declares as he slices his sword through the woman's extended arms. 'Benjamin Russell my butt' Rictor thinks to himself, but he admits that, walking warrior or not, his friend's personality has changed. 'Star is more relaxed, enjoying life more when he isn't fighting, even cracking a joke or two.

The woman's arm severed, she falls to the ground, she looks up at Shatterstar, her arm re-forms, the spikes re-appearing around them. Shatterstar still rocks most when he's fighting – but the same could be said for Rictor, too, who unleashes a seismic shock, ripping up the ground beneath the woman – who responds by extending her arm again and wrapping her tendrils around Rictor's neck. 'You are good. Making me look like a chatterbox' Shatterstar remarks as he lashes out at the woman again, cutting her arm to free Rictor, when suddenly, they all hear screams, and look around. 'They prob'ly can't believe you said “chatterbox”!' Ric jokes. Someone points out that it came from above, in the observation booth. Indeed, Zellig and the others have darts in their necks, and suddenly, are shocked by red energy. 'They are under attack. By whom?' Shatterstar wonders. 'First guess would be him!' Rictor declares as a man in a blue costume with a yellow vest that holds several more darts, breaks through the glass of the observation booth and throws three darts towards Ric, 'Star and the woman.

'You do not have to do this, V-2!' he calls out to the woman, who has grabbed the dart with one of her tendrils. 'He spoke in German?' Shatterstar realizes, holding the dart meant for him in his fingers, catching it before it stuck him. 'Julio – did you see gthe darts coming?' Shatterstar asks, 'Uhm... yup... saw one land, too. This is prob'ly gonna hurt, huh?' Ric remarks as he looks at the dart in his arm, before the new arrival releases the red energy, striking Rictor who falls to the ground. 'Some manner of synaptic pulse channeled through the darts?' Shatterstar wonders as he leaps towards the new arrival. 'I would have said that too...but I was too busy screaming like a girl...' Rictor replies, rubbing his head. Shatterstar takes a swipe at the new arrival with his sword and asks him if he has been recruited for the combat session. 'No' the new arrival replies, announcing that he is here to rescue V-2 from this madhouse. 'She does not have to be a puppet pulled by their twisted strings!' he exclaims. 'I am what I was meant to be' V-2 replies as she extends her tendrils, wrapping them around her would-be rescuer. Shatterstar realizes that she was speaking German, but notes that she looks half Hispanic, while the man she has wrapped her tendrils around looks half Asian. 'Regular United Nations of multicultural crossbreeding' Rictor thinks to himself as some darts are thrown into the woman's tendrils.

They all share the simplicity of the international language of war! 'I am sorry, V-2, but you leave me little choice!' He releases energy which surges around V-2 and he tells her that what he does is for her own good and that of the others. She screams, and then falls to the ground. 'Her agonized scream betrays the hypocrisy of your words!' Shatterstar exclaims as he lunges towards the other man, who readies more darts. 'ENOUGH!' Rictor souts, knocking the others off their feet, Rictor reports that he can't speak German, but if the new arrival understands English, then he needs to know that the woman is dead. 'Dead? That is... not possible – I only discharged enough energy to stun her!' the man exclaims. 'A convenient excuse' Shatterstar remarks as he places one of his swords to the man's neck. 'I could have killed your friend and I did not!' the man exclaims. 'Point to you'' Rictor mutters, while Shatterstar points out that the woman still lies dead.

Suddenly, Zellig and several guards appear in the combat room, and the guards all aim their guns at the intrduder. 'You must believe me' he pleads. He explains that his given name is Asahi, although he calls himself Hanransha, which means “The Rebel”. He reveals that he was the firs test subject and there are eight of them in total, while he escaped months ago, and he has been searching for the others since. 'He is lying!' Zellig exclaims. Hanransha asks why he would have placed himself at such risk then, and more importantly, why would he have wanted to kill his own sister? 'Sure coulda used that ten thou, too...' Rictor remarks. 'Priorities, Julio' Shatterstar replies, when suddenly, a strange noise fills the room. 'Is someone humming?' one of the guards asks. Whether genetically-bred alien warrior, or human child, one thing Shatterstar is for certain and that is a mutant with power seldom used because of how severely it exhausts him – the ability to channel a sonic vibration through his sword! That vibration is followed by an explosion, and 'Star, Ric and Hanransha run from the burning facility. 'I have a car over the hill!' Hanransha calls out as he leads the way. Rictor is next, and he asks 'Star if he needs a hand, but trailing behind the others, Shatterstar announces that he is fine.

They reach the jeep, and Rictor takes the wheel, deciding that Hanransha doesn't look old enough to be out of training wheels, much less have a license. 'License for what?' Hanransha asks. 'The life of a “test subject” is kinda secluded, I take it?' Ric replies as he starts the car and drives off across the rocky terrain. Hanransah explains that he was a product of a planned genetic breeding program whose successful goal was to give birth to mutants with specific powers. He continues, stating that he was Verscuct-1, the German word for experiment, and the girl who just died, she was V-2, his half sister – but he had never met her until today. 'Half sister?' Rictor asks as he drives the jeep. Hanransha reveals that they were all born of one mother, but eight different fathers. Hanransha adds that he never met his father, but first heard of him when he died trying to rescue him a year ago. Hanransha tells Ric and 'Star that he escaped from his mother's madhouse, the main Verschiagen facility in Germany, and he had two leads on where the other V-subjects were – Mexico being the first. 'And the other is?' Shatterrstar enquires. Hanransha announdces that Verschiagen Industries recently signed a research agreement with an American company called STRONGH.O.L.D. 'Strong? As in Martin Strong? Oh-oh' Rictor remarks. 'You are familiar with him?' Hanransha enquires. 'Yeah' Ric confirms, adding that they better find a way to spring for an airfare to Denver, Colorado.

Chapter Two: Strong Attractions

There, built into the side of a cliff is the secluded administrative main building of the STRONGH.O.L.D. Franchise. 'Engage carapace support' Martin Henry Strong announces as his body is lowered into a spider-like base which engables him to move about. He has no arms below the elbow, and no legs below the knee. He hates this part. The infuriating dependency. He is one of the most brilliant men on the planet, and one of the most tragic. His mutant power creates a sympathetic symbiosis with any weak-minded sentient form it encounters. He spent a decade genetically engineering an advanced human body so he could attach himself in order to walk. That perfect body was destroyed in battle with X-Force. It took him two years to find a suitable candidate for his mutant symbiotic engagement. His name was Freddy, born severely autistic, at pubery, Freddy's body began to mutate – bones jutted out, skin grew into umbrella-like flaps, his exterior collapsing into an interior shell, symbolic of his shattered mind, perhaps. Freddy gave Strong a chance to move and touch. Strong has given the boy a sensory awareness of the world he has never had before. Their relationship works, but it is a distateful reminder to Strong of his tragic state – and his abiding hatred of the very nature of human mutation.

Placed into Freddy, it is ironic that Strong's goal is to eliminate the existence of beings like Freddy. But without him, or his own mutation, Strong would be unable to fulfill that goal. 'What do you think?' Strong asks as he moves across the industrial room, where a woman in a black outfit with an orange vest replies 'I think it's disgusting'. She pulls no punches. Her name is Michelle Balters a.k.a. Neurotap. Her mutant ability is to make eye contact, send an energy surge though a target's optic nerves, releasing an internal surge of energy. Michelle's basic character conflict is that she allows herself to be Strong's lab rat so he will pay her family's enormous medical bills – bills charged on her soul, for when Michelle's powers first kicked in, she fried her parents into vegetative comas. Strong smirks and remarks that he imagines it is unsightly, but points out that beggars can't be choosers. One of his / Freddy's spindly extensions taps some keys on a monitor and he declares that, actually, it is an invigorating symbiosis, he can feel Frederick's happiness. The monitor sounds an incoming message, and Strong states that it is from his new associate. 'Guten tag, Hanna' he greets Hanna Verschiagen as she appears on the monitor. Hanna announces that they had an incident in her Mexican plant, and asks Strong how his security standards are.

Strong boasts that in his opinion, it is of the highest caliber, but just in case, to ensure the safety of Hanna's two subjects remanded into his care, so he has assigned an extra level of security. However, outside, a security vehicle is unmanned, and guards lay strewn about the facility.

Hours later:'You were saying?' Neurotap asks as she hears a noise coming from the other sider of the door. They enter the next room, to find 'Star, Ric and Hanransha battling some mutated beings. 'Well, I could hardly be faulted for not expecting a small army to attack!' Strong points out. 'Technically, you could' Shatterstar replies as he leaps towards Strong. Neurotap tells Shatterstar that this is all a bit more complicated than he thinks. 'Sorry, Neurotap, we've danced that dance with you before!' Rictor points out as he struggles against one of the muated beings. He notices Hanransha easily taking his opponents out and tels him to ease up on them. Shatterstar explains that most of them are merely innocent dupes – like Michelle here. 'I'd totally hate both of you for your arrogance... if you also weren't right!' Neurotap calls back. Rictor addresses Neurotap by her last name and as he knocks the mutated beings backwards with a seismic blast, he tells her that he understands she knows they don't have to hate each other. 'But do you get that whagt Strong is doing here has been and still is wrong?' he asks. 'What is the difference? She still works for a kidnapper!' Hanransha points out as he leaps towards Neurotap, who tells him that is not fair. 'I prefer to think of him as an all-encompassing madman!' Neurotap exclaims, adding that it is laugh or cry, 'Gotcha!' she tells Hanransha as her eyes meet his, and Hanransha cries out as energy is surged into him.

Suddenly, Martin Henry Strong cries out in pain, 'Did that hurt, Strong?' Shatterstar asks, jolding his swords as one of the legs of Strong's carapace has been severed. 'I didn't realize you're neurologically attuned to the carapace' Shatterstar remarks, adding that it makes it easier to whittle away at Strong. 'Fight's over, Michelle! Let us leave with the two kids Strong took from Verschiagen!' Rictor calls out as he knocks some machinery into Neurotap with a seismic shock. 'I – I can't...' Michelle responds. Shatterstar holds one of his blades to Neurotap's neck, he tells Michelle that they know he pays for her parents care, but he can make that a moot point. 'You wouldn't...' a wide-eyed Strong utters. 'Let's not wait to find out!' a voice calls out, and a surge of energy strikes 'Star in his shoulder, causing him to drop his sword. 'That looked like a psionic arrow?' Rictor remarks, surprised. 'Felt like one, too...' Shatterstar remarks as he drops to the ground. 'But that means -' Rictor begins, as Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie, Danielle Moonstar and James Proudstar bust into the chamber. 'Means you take on Strong, you also take on X-Force!' Cannonall shouts. 'Much as those words leave a sour taste in my mouth' Proudstar remarks. 'You do not want another one of these, guys' Dani tells 'Star and Ric as she readies another psionic arrow. They are former teammates of Rictor and Shatterstar, and their unvoiced thought: 'What the #$%&?'.

Rictor helps Shatterstar stand up, while Dani declares that they don't need Xavier to read their minds. Cannonball informs them that Michelle left an e-mail asking for help, she knew Strong had bitten off more than he could chew, but that just like last time they dealt with Strong, there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. Dani explains that when Neurotap saw the report on their Mexican shoot-out, she contacted X-Force asking for help. 'In keeping people trapped against their will? Is that what X-Force stands for?' Hanransha asks, slamming his hand against the wall. 'How much angrier are you since your escape, Hanransha?' Strong asks. 'What does that -?' Hanransha begins to ask. 'Angry enough to lose control over your powers?' Strong enquires. 'No!' Hanransha declares. 'Uhm...' Rictor begins. 'That might explain what happened to V-2 in Pochiuta?' Shatterstar suggests. Neurotap informs Hanransha that she knows what it is like to lose control like that, to feel responsible for it. 'Strong – tell them what you told us' she calls out. Strong reports that since escaping from the the Verschiagen Facility in Germany, Hanransha's mind and body has been systematically deteriorating.

Strong opens a panel behind him, revealing another chamber, where Hanransha sees V-3 and V-4 in stasis chambers, 'But – they appear lifeless?' he exclaims. 'Are they -?' he begins to ask. Strong explains that they are in an induced catatonic state, as their powers were breaking down and killing them. He adds that all of Verschiagen's test subjects were bred with a dependency to a neural cortical enzyme – a genetic tag through which Hanna could control them all. Strong informs Hanransha that his anger and power flux is due to not havin received the enzyme in months. Hanransha looks at V-3 and V-4 as Strong tells him that upon his escape, Hanna increased the dosage in the other V-subjects, but it backfired on her, and because of this greater need, like drug addicts, their bodies are deteriorating faster because of the increased enzyme requirements. Strong states that he has identified the enzyme, but he can not replicate it, so placing them in stasis was for their own protection. 'Are you suggesting I subject myself to this -?' Hanransha asks. 'Live on your feet or die on your knees?' Shatterstar asks him, suggesting that they to go this Hanna Verschiagen and taken what they need.

But Ric tells 'Star that it is not so simple, as they can't let themselves get caught by this lady. 'Why not?' Moonstar enquires. Strong reveals that Hanna has done all this to jump-start her own latent mutant potential, and she planned to use the eight V-subjects as biological batteries, with the congruence of their individual powers advancing her dominant powers, and when she could not find the necessary mutants for this process, she decided to breed them, using eight males who could confirm to her DNA structure. 'Her DNA? You're saying that she's...' Rictor begins. 'Hanna Verschiagen is our mother' Hanransha announces as he stares at his “brother” floating in the tank in front of him. 'Excuuuuuse me! But I'm tripping over the complications here!' Rictor exclaims. Neurotap steps forward and suggests that perhaps it is just as easy as Shatterstar said, and maybe she is tired of rationalizing all the times she has turned her back on doing the wrong thing. Strong tells Michelle that right and wrong is rather arbitrary here, and Moonstar adds that is the old X-Force way of doing things. 'We prefer being a bit more... cautious nowadays' Cannonball explains as he and Moonstar look at Rictor. '“We” do?' Rictor asks.

Four rolling vibe-quakes, four rising earth-pillars and one getaway later, Rictor, 'Star, Neurotap and Hanransha sit on the earth-pillars which are propelled through the air, high up, the stars glowing behind the young mutants. Neurotap comments that Rictor has gotten more creative with his powers, to which Ric points out that he has plenty of practice. Up even higher, Cannonball blasts after the others, 'Ric! C'mon, don't make me cannonball through those towers!' Sam calls out. Ric turns back to his old teammate and tells him 'You won't break my contact with the ground, 'cause we'd fall – and you know you can't catch all four of us, so...what say the last one to Germany's a rotten egg?!'

Chapter Three: X-P8

Neustrelitz, Germany, several hours later, 'The experimental parasit eprogram can wait no longer, Frau Verschiagen! Subject two is dead, three and four are unobtainable...' a scientist calls out. 'Then, Herr Frocht, we will proceed with the four subjects we housed here... and the four we just captured this evening!' Hanna Verschiagen exclaims as she stands in a laboratory, where scientists mill about at their stations, and a large machine is in the center of the room, with various cables and wires protruding from it, which tangle around the now captive Rictor, Shatterstar, Neurotap, Hanransha and the four other V subjects, five through eight.

For the young heroes, they are the ones who arrived first – and the rotten eggs. 'Okay, so maybe Guthrie was right...' Neurotap mutters, cables connected to her head. 'Well, if someone told me the V-subjects got more powerful the higher we went up the number chart...' Rictor mutters. 'Then you would not have wished for a V-8, Julio?' Shatterstar asks. 'Remind me not to like your sense of humor later' Ric replies. 'Children, please...you should be honored' Hanna Verschiagen tells her captives. Her voice, like the bad guys in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” filtered through Mary Poppins. She tells the her captives that this is not personal, but she has waited twenty years for this opportunity, the chance to fulfill her true potential – and it is glorious indeed. 'Tell that to the eight children whose lives you have ruined' Shatterstar snaps back. 'Well...eleven, counting you three... but who is counting?' Hanna replies, before bidding everyone auf widersehen as she steps into the machine and it closes behind her, activating the process.

Rictor thinks to himself that usually there is a little more time for expository villainous ranting. He hates bad guys that don't follow the rules. But the thought is lost as the pain rips through him, though the link that is connected to his mind, and the very life is siphoned from he, 'Star and the others and channeled into Hanna, who rapidly begins to undergo a remarkable metamorphosis. 'This... is... wonderful!' Hanna exclaims as energy glows around her in the machine. 'Some minor glitches due to the untested mutants involved, but it's proceeding as -' one of the scientists remarks, when suddenly, 'Did you just feel the floor... rumble?' another scientist asks, when suddenly, Cannonball, Moonstar and Proudstar burst up through the floor in spectacular display.

'Nice to know some things never change... so, co-bosses, what's the plan?' Proudstar asks. 'Old X-Force tactics!' Cannonball announces. 'Indiscriminate carange?' Proudstar enquires. 'Make it more focused – like this centrsl conduit doo-hickey!' Moonstar explains as she fires a blast of energy at the machine in the center of the room, much to the horror of one of the scientists. 'STOP!' Hanna Verschiagen booms as she appears out of the broken machine. 'I SAID STOP!' she shouts again.

X-Force stand before Hanna Verschiagen, and Cannonball suggests that the sever the link and it should cut her power flow. But the three heroes are buffeted by the combined power of all eight mutants that Hanna Verschiagen is connected to. James, Dani and Sam can't remember ever being hit this hard. Shatterstar is still connected to Verschiagen. He knows that the fight is unwinnable, for the witch channels more power than his friends can fight against. Their only chance is to break the link from within. Weakened, he summons the strength to pull the conduit lines from his body, and a shard of metallic debris becomes a a boomerang, slicing Rictor and Neurotap free. 'NO!' Verschiagen exclaims when she realizes what has happened. 'I was so close!' she shouts, before knocking Sam, Dani and James back with another powerful force. 'But even halved I still have power enough to defeat you!' she boasts. With Rictor, 'Star and Neurotap free, Cannonball goes over to Neurotap and asks her if she is okay. 'Different kind of insanity than I'm used to' Neurotap replies. 'Routine for us, unfortunately' Sam tells her, before Neurotap asks 'She's going to drain them, 'til they die, right? Like a vampire?' 'She figures to try' Cannonball tells her. Neurotap wonders if that is why Strong helped her – eight less mutants in the world is okay by him, especially if it makes one big one who will take down a bunch more – all one sick chess game, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

'You have no choice but to let this process continue!' Verschiagen announces. Shatterstar starts to cut some of the cables connecting Verschiagen to the V-subjects, but he is warned that even if his stops her, their bodies will be so depleted that they will die within minutes. She boasts that only she knows the enzyme formula and if she goes, they do, too. 'We'll all – die – anyway...mother!' Hanransha exclaims. 'You will, V-1...but you will die for the sake of a greater cause!' Verschiagen responds as she looms over X-Force, 'Star, Rictor and Neurotap. 'Not for your madness!' Hanransha exclaims, before turning to the other V-subjects, and telling them that though he doesn't know them, they are brothers and sisters, and they cannot let Verschiagen steal what little life they have left. 'If we are to die, let it be taking that from her which she has always craved...stealing back all she ever wanted from us – our power!' Hanransha exclaims. But Hanna Verschiagen tells her children not to listen to the rebel. 'I gave you life so that you could give me life!' she exclaims. 'How wrong is for a mother to ask for the lives she freely gave you?' Hanna asks as the intensity of the energy in the room begins to grow.

'They're speaking in German? What Are they saying?' Proudstar asks. Hanransha is almost consumed by energy, and he pleads with Rictor and Shatterstar. 'You understood what they were saying, right?' Rictor asks. 'Yes' Shatterstar replies. 'So, we only got one chance to make one choice?' Rictor asks. 'Yes' Shatterstar confirms, holding his swords at the ready. Rictor asks his friend what they should do, to which Shatterstar exclaims 'What we always do...whatever has to be done' and he throws his swords forward, they slice through the cables connecting Verschiagen to Hanransha and the other four V-subjects. Shatterstar's swords return to him, and with the conduit lines cut, and no energy to feed her, 'This is not fair...' Hanna Verschiagen utters as she is unable to maintain her energized state, and since the power cannot return to where it came from, it consumed itself – and her along with it, as the energy decreases in size until it, and Hanna Verschiagen, are no more. Moonstar, Cannonball and Proudstar look on in awe, while Rictor holds the withered body of Hanransha in his arms. 'Is she -?' Hanransha asks. 'Gone' Rictor tells him. 'Then... the sacrifice of our lives...' Hanransha begins, adding that the very reason they were created ultimately had meaning. 'Yeah' Rictor assures him as he passes away, and the others hang their heads.

'What you did -' Neurotap begins as she stands in front of Shatterstar, who tells her that it is what they wanted him to do – he gave them dignity. 'What about the rest of us? What about me?' Neurotap asks. 'Star reminds her that they all make their own choices, and then they live by them. 'Or die by them' Michelle points out. 'Sometimes' Shatterstar admits. Cannonball hands Michelle a card with Charles Xavier's number on it, so he can help her with her parents, if she dcides to make the choice that he thinks she will. With tears in her eyes, Neurotap thanks Sam and tells him that she will need it, because she already made her choice. Shatterstar takes Hanransha's t-shirt and wraps it around his head like a bandana. Proudstar queries this, and 'Star explains that on his world, you honor the fallen by wearing a symbol of their courage, to ensure that those who survive always remember why they continue to fight.


Characters Involved: 

Cannonball, Moonstar, Proudstar (all X-Force)

Rictor & Shatterstar (former members of X-Force)



Martin Henry Strong



Hanna Verschiagen


V-2, V-3, V-4, V-5, V-6, V-7, V-8



Ernesto Gallegas




Gang members


In Shatterstar's memory:



Story Notes: 

This issue takes place between X-Force (1st series) #95 and #96.

Rictor and Shatterstar were last seen in X-Force (1st series) #70, where they quit X-Force to dismantle Rictor's family's gun-running business and then in #76 where they battled Arcade.

Martin Henry Strong's body was destroyed in X-Force Annual #2, his first appearance.  He subsequently appeared in X-Force (1st series) #35.

Neurotap also first appeared in X-Force Annual #2. Her only other appearance is a mention in the Civil War: Battle Damage Report.

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