Horus IV, a planet far away, where once, its people traveled in silver vessels on fingers of flame to other worlds, disguising themselves as gods to bring awe to eager natives. Conflicts between Horusian nations were solved by combat among these messianic champions who used their engineered strengths to decide who had the right to rule. Recent planetwide economic and environmental collapse had eliminated empires and frivolous interstellar travel – but the Horusians still desire worship – they still desire conflict. Unfortunately, the old slam-bang mash-ups just aren't doing it anymore. As two warriors battle in the arena, the citizens watching from the sidelines are also busy on their computer screens that hover before them, one woman is looking at pictures of shoes. The thrill of violence has become meaningless without human stakes. One of the gladiators slams the other hard, and the other responds by kicking his opponent in the stomach. The blue-skinned cosmic being known as the Grandmaster watches. 'Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather.
The people here don't just want to have “fun”. One of the gladiators creates some sort of energy sword. 'Serious Sally sells seashells on the salty seashore' the Grandmaster mutters, while deciding that people don't want their heroes to be flawless and unchanging. He watches as the gladiator then shoves the energy sword through the chest of the other gladiator. '... we'll be together whatever the weather, whether we like it or not' the Grandmaster remarks, as the remaining Gladiator raises a fist, the Grandmaster knows that the audience want their entertainment to be about something – to mean something. It's for that reason that he has come to Horus IV, for he is an Elder of the Universe, an immortal gambler and the Grandmaster of all games. The audience looks bored as an announcement informs them that this has been their intermission and that they should stay tuned for feature programming coming up next.
The Grandmaster assures the people of Horus IV that he has heard their wish for the ultimate power over life and death, and claims that such is his to bestow. 'Welcome to Shatterstar – episode two!' he shouts, and the crowd goes wild, clapping and chanting his name. In the control booth, the Grandmaster is assisted by strange yellow-skinned aliens on spindly metal legs. The Grandmaster remarks that Shatterstar is an enhanced time-lost warrior and was known for his ability to turn thought into action quickly, whether that was bringing his double-bladed sword to bear upon an enemy's throat, or devising a plan to retrieve the kidnapped tenants of his refugee home. The Grandmaster informs the audience that in recent months, the gladiator turned landlord has preferred to work alone, but that he knew that perhaps the only way to avenge his tenants Tina, Karl, Goldon, Crimzor and the End Woman and find the aggrieved ex-lover who had taken them was to turn to another aggrieved ex-lover.
'The bar's closed, Ben' Julio Richter a.k.a. Rictor calls out to Shatterstar who now goes by the alias Ben Gaveedra. 'Julio. Rictor, I...' Shatterstar begins as he enters the nightclub that Rictor now runs. Rictor spins around behind the bar and slams his hands onto the bartop, causing a small vibration as he exclaims 'You keep coming around my club. I know. I saw you earlier tonight. And yesterday. And the day before that. You stop. You stare. You wave and then you walk away. But we've always been on the same wavelength. I understood you the first time' Rictor declares, his vibration knocking some artwork from the wall behind Shatterstar. 'I can't give you what you need' Rictor adds, stopping the vibrations as a glass topples over on the bar and shatters. Rictor rubs his wrists and complains that he has to now re-hang a bunch of posters and tells “Ben” that for a guy who knows he's not getting what he needs, he sure doesn't seem to know what he wants.
Long ago, in thje Wildways, 'Mojo knows what you want!' the diabolical Spineless One proclaims, dozens of monitors placed around him, he boasts that the fifth and most spectacular Mojo knows everyone is a flicker on the screen of the great Za's Vid, and remarks that on this screen, some of them will become bit players, some recurring characters – but the greatest of them will become leads, their images burned into the infinite black forever. He claims that he knows what his audience wants the greatest, they want blood, they want steel and they want to see the cutting edge in spiny humanoid champions. 'And that, my babies, means the reigning champions and most beloved breakout stars of the new season... Gringrave the Smiling Executioner and Shatterstar – sponsored by Mojomuch Chocolate BBQ – sweet release for the whole family. Shatterstar holds his double-edged blades at the ready, while Gringrave stands behind him, armed with several throwing blades, while two other gladiators prepare to face them down.
Later: 'If we keep bathing in the blood of all challengers like this, Mojo V is going to have to cover my wig budget' Gringrave remarks, holding up her pink weave which is soaked in blood. Shatterstar looks at some monitors depicting the adoring audience: 'They chant our names, Grin. Like prayers on the wind' he remarks, before smiling, as they survived and have lived again. Gringrave goes over to Shatterstar and uses a blade to tear off his shirt, asking him if he feels it, everything – all of it, distilled down tro the most basic either/or: 'The rush of knowing you could be nothing, but instead you are'. She tells Shatterstar to use the rush as fuel – to use every last drop and to live – live even more. They drop to the floor, 'Mmm. Za's Vid' Shatterstar remarks as he leans into Gringrave.
'The manor, Ric. My tenants. They're gone' Shatterstar explains. 'What? How?' Rictor asks, narrowing his eyes. Rictor isn't just a seismically powered former member of X-Force, X-Factor and the New Mutants, but he currently runs an underground railroad of sorts for runaway mutants from the basement of his club, the Shakedown. He believes he owes the X-Men for saving him all those years ago, and is, as he calls it, “paying it back with a hardcore soundtrack”. This has made him an expert in the various parts of trafficking human cargo throughout the sprawling metropolis. Shatterstar asks Rictor who would work with a former gladiator and a pack of mercenaries from Mojoworld for the right place, and whoo could shuttle them off world. 'You want a name and a place so you can run off alone?' Rictor asks, stepping around to the front of the bar, he stands a few feet away from Shatterstar, whol folds his arms and replies 'Yes'.
The men fall silent. Shatterstar himself was a mutant among his own kind, able to cut a hole in space and jump through it to virtually any location. He and Rictor had once joked that it had saved them thousands of dollars on airfares to their favorite vacation spot. But it was an exhausting power, and Shatterstar was only able to travel through space, not time, and open these doors to places he had already been – unless he had an “anchor” to guide him. Rictor informs Shatterstar that there is a guy he has been scoping out in case he needed to get some kids as far away as possible, and he knows the place. He tells Shatterstar to take his hand. 'Julio. No' Shatterstar replies. Rictor narrows his eyes and asks Shatterstar if he is going to waste time telling him that this is “his fight” and drop some macho gladiator $#%&, or if they are going to save some people before it is too late. Shatterstar doesn't answer. He narrows his eyes back at Rictor, then take his hand.
Meanwhile, at Hunts Point in the Bronx, night sweeps over a dock, where several armed guards wearing strange costumes stand over the five kidnapped tenants of Shatterstar's boarding house – Crimzor, Goldon, the End Woman, Tina Cooke and Pug-Smasher, who are all shackled and gagged. A man wearing a clue coat approaches Gringrave and the Death Sponsors, who stand nearby. His name is Dean Drukman and he was an engineer for both ARMOR and SWORD, designing new means to traverse the Multiverse. 'Just a quick customer survey, so I can serve you better. Might I ask how you guys got here from your chronally alternate parallel homespace?' he enquires. Gringrave explains that they had their own teleporter, he was pretty good, too, but he didn't make it. 'May he rest in eternal syndication' she adds. After Dean Drukman's health insurance had refused to pay for reatring a work-related infection, he decided to seek out a new path in the “alternative economy” where customer service and loyalty actually meant something – as long as he didn't ask too many questions. 'Okay, then. One-way ticket for ten. Five passengers...five cargo' Dean remarks, checking his clipboard and looking over at the captives, while standing before a strange doorway.
Dean smiles as a tablet tells him that the funds have cleared. 'Thank you and your deep pockets for doing business with Dockmaster and the Longshoremen' he remarks, as the doorway lights up with a strange energy before the captives. 'Sit back, relax and enjoy your trip. If this is your final destination...well, sorry about that' Dean tells them. The tenants of Manor Crossing watch the gate open with fear. Goldon tries to say something, but can't speak through the gag. Tina Cooke of Earth-1218 though has had less experience with such things and thinks the swirling point before her looks a little like what she's heard described as a near-death experience. 'What the -' Dean begins as he looks up and sees a portal open. 'I thought you said your teleporter didn't make it' he tellls Gringrave. Gringrave smiles and looks up. 'There's my boy. Always on time for his match'.
As he dives from the wound that his blades cut in the air, Shatterstar can't help but think of his and Rictor's trips to the small resort town in Michigan. How immediately upon dragging his sword through space the gash emitted the fresh smell of lake water and campfire into Manor Crossing. He thinks of the cooing of the loons, and the soft grass beneath his back and the release of concerns about bills, schedules and world-conquering mutant overlords. Shatterstar lands and quickly takes out some of the Dockmaster's henchmen with his blades, while Rictor releases a seismic wave before dropping onto a large container and telling the Dockmaster that he only let him keep this up as long as he did it clean. 'Muties! We've got muties!' the Dockmaster shouts. Shatterstar remembers how each trip Rictor joked was a near-life experience. 'Death Sponsors! Take the payload and go!' Gringrave shouts as the Death Sponsors shove the tenants of Manor Crossing through the portal.
Gringrave holds up several throwing blades and boasts that Shatterstar and his new toy are going to bleed for her. The Dockmaster tells her to hold up and explains that the Star Dock can only run so long before it burns out the electrical grid for three states, and that if she wants to go, she needs to go now – because there are no refunds. 'Wherever you go, Grin, wherever you take them, I'll find you!' Shatterstar calls out as he kicks one of the Longshoremen in the face, while Rictor blasts another with a wave of seismic energy. The Dockmaster smiles at Gringrave and tells her that Shatterstar sounded like he meant that. 'You paid for security, which includes raids by super heroes and time variance authorities, so it's the job of me and the Longshoremen to take care of this. Besides...my infection's starting to flare up' Dean exclaims as he suddenly begins to change, morphing into something alien.
Shatterstar and Rictor switch opponents, with Shatterstar's swords clanging against his foe's large hammer, and Rictor fighting hand to hand against the one in blue armor. Dean's body continues to change, while another of the Longshoremen lunges towards Shatterstar, glowing with energy. This is as it had always been – Shatterstar was a weapon waiting to be picked up, to defend, to attack. He spins around and his blades knock back the energy-engulfed member of the Longshoremen. Mojo V had used Shatterstar against legions of confident challengers in the pursuit of ratings. The Cadre Alliance had used him against Mojo, sending him into desperate battles alongside millions of others, shouting “revolution” and “freedom for all”. Cable had used Shatterstar in his war for the future of mutantkind, giving him a home in a far-off world in the distant past in exchange for his loyal savagery. No one had ever seen him as anything else – no one but Rictor.
The Longshoreman in blue continues to fight Rictor, slashing his chest with sharp claws, drawing blood. Rictor reaches out and grabs the soldier's helmet, and begins to release his vibrations on it, cracking the helmet, he falls backwwards. Shatterstar shoves the energy weapon of the other Longshoreman into the large opponent that he fights and remembers that Rictor had looked past the gritted teeth and flashing eyes. Rictor had seen him as a man – lost and confused. Afraid – bttu even more afraid to admit it. Shatterstar then shoves one of his double-bladed swords into his foe's chest, and looks over to the Star Dock, where the Death Sponsor called Deadair is pulling Pug-Smasher through the portal. 'Come on, you little pain in the ass' Deadair snarls. 'Yipes!' Pug-Smasher exclaims, while Shatterstar calls out to him by his true name, Karl.
As Shatterstar remembers how Rictor had shared his language, and hip-hop music, he also recalls how he gave him advice on how to read clocks and perceive time as something other than moments between matches. Rictor taught him how to make jokes and spicy food, how to laugh and how to cry. And, instead of extending his hand to pick up a weapon, Rictor simply offered his hand. Shatterstar wonders then, why he had been unable to hold on – why had he used his own hand to push Rictor away? Suddenly, Dean, transformed into an alien Brood, appears behind Shatterstar and grabs him, wrapping tentacles around him. The Brood pulls Shatterstar closer to him, prepares to bite down on him – when suddenly, Rictor releases a seismic wave that splits the Brood in two and shunts Shatterstar away to safety, as sweat glistens on Rictor's face.
'Grin' Shatterstar utters as he and Gringrave hold each other in bed. 'I... I love you' Shatterstar announces. Suddenly, Grin pulls away, frowning, she gets out of bed, sheet wrapped around her, she turns away from Shatterstar, who asks her what is wrong with that. Gringrave begins to get dressed and Shatterstar asks her where she is going, and what he did. She doesn't answer him, so Shatterstar grabs Gringrave by her arm and reminds her that she told him to live and to revel in the rush. Gringrave spins around and slams her fist on Shatterstar's chest: 'You stupid genejob. How could you misunderstand every Vid-damned thing I've taught you?' Gringrave asks, before clenching her fist and telling Shatterstar to never get attached to anyone, not with feelings – never beyond the physical. 'Don't give them something they can turn against you. Nothing they can use to hurt you' Gringrave declares, before sternly telling Shatterstar to never love anything.
The moon shines down on Shatterstar as he embraces Rictor, kissing him. Rictor kisses back, 'Whoa' he utters, before Shatterstar informs him that the Star Dock is powering down, and he needs to go. 'Not alone' Rictorremarks. He touches Shatterstar's arm and tells him that he doesn't care what is going on between them right now, he doesn't care what Shatterstar wants or needs – they can figure that out later. 'I'm going with you, Ben' Rictor declares. 'No, Ric...' Shatterstar replies as he suddenly opens a portal and hurls Rictor towards it. 'Wha -?' the surprised Rictor calls out. “Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand... blood and revenge are hammering in my head” Shatterstar quotes.
'What...' Rictor utters, opening his eyes he looks at his new surroundings. He smells the fresh scent of lake water and campfire. He hears the cooning of the loons and feels the soft grass beneath his back. 'Titus Andronicus?' Rictor gasps as he sits up. Shatterstar hadn't needed an anchor to send Ric here, as it is a place he had been many times before. 'DAMN IT, BEN!' Rictor screams, tensing his muscles he creates an earthquake that is only a minor display of his frustrations. But he knows that even if he shook the entire planet, Shatterstar wouldn't feel the rumble of his displeasure at being left behind – because Shatterstar was no longer on Earth. He was millions of light-years away – on Horus IV.
'Za's Vid!' Shatterstar utters as he gets to his feet and stumbles down a street, double-bladed swords in hand. Shatterstar is surprised that this alien city is not Mojoworld like he anticipated, but it is slightly familiar. He looks up at the brightly lit banners that are suspended above the streets – banners advertising the imminent death of Shatterstar's tennants in the gladiatorial ring – unless he could somehow retrieve them in the moments between matches.
'How's that for stakes?' the Grandmaster asks as he sits on his throne and smirks – and the citizens of Horus IV applaud and cheer with bloodlust....