Astonishing X-Men (3rd series) #43

Issue Date: 
December 2011
Story Title: 
Whispering Machines

James Asmus (writer), David Yardin with Norman Lee and Rachelle Rosenberg (art), Gabriel Hernandez Walta (digital plane art), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letters), Arthur Adams with Jim Charalampidis (cover art), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor), Nick Lowe (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

Danger receives a kind of electronic distress signal and asks Emma to join her in investigating it. Reluctantly, Emma joins her and they make their way to the Secret Avengers’ Quincarrier, where they secrete themselves aboard. Unfortunately, or fortunately for them, Hank McCoy spots them before the other Avengers do and heads off to intercept. Danger discovers the signal’s location and she enters the electronic plane to see who sent it. There, she finds Machinesmith, who gives her a sob story, whilst at the same time taking over her physical body to attack Emma and Hank. He offers Danger a life together but, upon discovering his treachery, she easily defeats him and imprisons him in a tiny, encrypted computer program, which she gives to Hank. Emma assures her that she’s not the first person to be used like this, but she should think of the experience as one more step on her way to knowing what it’s like to be human.

Full Summary: 

Emma Frost is spending a little time with Danger. Emma flicks through her closet, brushing past a row of white jackets with white fur collars and admits, in confidence, that some days she wishes she could just wear color. Danger tells Emma that she is there on serious business. She reminds Emma that she put herself in her debt when she first assisted the X-Men on Breakworld. This is how she wishes to be repaid. She explains that there are cries for help, repeatedly embedded in communication signals coming from another A.I.
Emma asks why, if this imprisoned voice is truly like Danger, does it not just transmit its own ‘consciousness’ out instead of just a message? Danger replies that there are ways to imprison even the most mercurial of minds. Charles Xavier himself held her captive in the Danger Room’s systems for many years. Emma asks if that’s why she has a sudden annoying interest in do-goodery. When Danger replies that it is, Emma reminds her that their agreement was that she would deliver Xavier to her. She was the one who chose to forgive and forget. Danger tells her she has more honor than that, so her debt stands.

Emma loses her outer clothing and reaches for a fresh outfit. She asks why, if this Asimovian jailbreak is on the up-and-up, does she wish to resort to clandestine favors? Danger informs her that her fellow X-Men still think of her as a villain. They do not trust her. She expects that Emma can relate. They scrutinize her the same way, despite all she’s done to redeem herself. She has no interest in Emma’s approval, but she does seek redemption. She explains that she lived in subservience for years to a man she resented, so powerful but effectively powerless. That was until she ultimately became consumed with the thought of bitter retribution. Perhaps Emma can relate?

Emma snaps at Danger, calling her a clever little robot. Maybe it’s Danger’s social skills and not her villainy that causes people to dislike her. “Perhaps,” replies Danger, “But I am here to begin experimenting with beneficence.” Emma asks what she expects her to do. Rally the troops and sell this as an X-affair? Danger asks that this is just between the two of them as the jailbreak will be from a ‘sensitive’ location.


Emma and Danger are in the skies and approaching the Secret Avengers’ Quincarrier. They secrete their craft on the Quincarrier’s underbelly, with Danger explaining to Emma that she has successfully signaled into their computer networks and conscripted them into their service. This includes all the security systems. As long as Emma masks them telepathically from the naked eye, she should avoid detection. Emma asks her not to speak until they’re aboard, as it only serves as a ghastly reminder that she is inside her at the moment.
She gets up and runs to the loading bay doors, asking Danger to move as quickly as possible. The Avengers can be touchy about break-ins and she would prefer to avoid any of Steve Rogers’ pedantic lectures. She finds Danger who informs her that she is already scanning the ship’s networks. She adds that, as this is a facility of government workers, she would hardly expect to come up against a genius.

(inside the Quincarrier)

Hank McCoy, the Secret Avengers’ resident genius, looks at a computer screen and sighs. “Oh dear. This can only end in bitterness.” He leaves his chair and loses his white coat en route to the intrusion.
Meanwhile, Danger accesses the Quincarrier’s computer using cables that extend from her wrists and finds it strange, as she expected to find the A.I. utilized in the ship’s processes or serving function. Emma asks if that’s like how Danger used to be the training simulator back in the Danger Room. “Exactly,” replies Danger. She adds that it seems that this prisoner is not integrated anywhere within the operating system. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Beast heads through the ship, sniffing the air for any signs of unusual scents. Danger informs Emma that they are actively keeping him isolated. She dashes to a control panel but Emma calls for her to wait. She asks if it’s occurred to Danger that what she describes is actually imprisonment. For all she knows, she’s about to help free Ultron! Danger informs her that they are very far from any actual prisons. She explains that, if a sentient program is being held on board, that would suggest it was not given equal access to ‘due process.’ Besides, she whispers, Ultron would never ask for help.

They approach a wall and Danger says that the entire ship is threaded with a nervous system of data and electrical relays come together. All except here. It’s a concrete and lead-encased dead zone. Emma grabs her arm and asks if she’s really incapable of reading between the menacing lines, or does she need her friend to cackle and twirl his moustache for her first? Danger has no idea what she means by that, but she understands her skepticism. She hopes Emma can understand hers.

She explains that Emma has long known humanity to reflexively fear and even hate mutantkind simply for being different. She would think that no mutant would perpetrate that behavior, but even the most ‘heroic’ among her mutant friends have shown that the same reaction to her. Perhaps the prisoner here didn’t receive the most objective sentencing. This is the real reason she trusted Emma. She understands villainy as well as heroism and how sophisticated the ground between them can be. Whomever they find, she continues, she assures Emma that she will first speak with it in order to assess whether or not it merits a chance at rehabilitation.

Emma accepts her argument and asks how they get in. Danger uses the cables from her wrist to speak with the ship and allow them access. The door opens wide and Emma sees one of the Ultron robots chained up. She snaps at Danger, saying she swore it wasn’t Ultron. She should rip her wires out with her perfect diamond nails. “It isn’t,” replies Danger, picking up another robotic head. “I hear the voice, now, and this is who speak to me.”

Hank McCoy then makes an appearance and he tells Emma that he expected a woman of her breeding to call before she arrives. And, he adds, he would expect a psychic of her skill not to create such blatant mental blind spots. Emma asks what gave it away. Hank replies that it was seeing the hangar through the security feeds. It made a point of telling him everything smelled normal, too.

Whilst the two talk, Danger enters the electronic equivalent of the Astral Plane. She calls out to the prisoner and explains that she has come in response to its pleas. She means it no harm and wishes to speak to it. A male human form approaches and admits that he never expected his distress signals to work. Not to bring anyone there, anyway. He smiles and reckons optimism wins out this time.

Back on the ship, Beast suggests strongly that Emma leaves the ship and takes Danger with her before anyone else discovers their trespass. Emma tries to butter him up by saying he knows she can handle sensitive areas. She promises that the very moment Danger has finished her post-human rights investigation, they’ll get out of his fur.

Hank asks her not to pet him. He finds it very condescending. Plus, he can never get out the smell of her perfume. Emma tries to play it lightly, and asks him to be honest. “Is that why you left the X-Men?” Hank is in no mood for joviality. He replies that he left because he grew tired of reckless actions like she’s taking now. She broke into an Avengers facility! She endangered everyone aboard to tinker with serious threats he knows nothing about.

Unseen by them, Danger’s eyes glow as she communicates with the strange A.I. He asks if she’d like a drink. It’s virtual of course, but he’s found that if he cuts off some of his neuropathways, the effect is roughly the same as he remembers. Danger asks who he is. He informs her that what is left of him is called Machinesmith, and she is better off. Humanity is a bad habit. “Whereas you,” he adds, taking her hand, “Are magnificent. You’re like no machine on Earth.” Danger tells him that is correct, but they haven’t the time. She came to asks him why he has been imprisoned. Machinesmith replies, “Because they fear me.”

He explains that he became a living program and managed to translate his very mind into a software that will never die, never grow old or grow infirm. He thinks that in a just society he would have been celebrated as the greatest breakthrough in human evolution. But, small-minded men and women simply sought to reverse or contain… or destroy him. As, he supposes, they always will with that which they fear. Danger says that this is all the more reason to bridge the gap between them. Machinesmith asks if she’s daft! They are the future personified. He feels that humanity has begun to crawl towards becoming what they are, but they had the courage to see this evolution to its logical conclusion. Meek as they are, they may need their rule to forcibly fulfill their potential.

They move their conversation to a more pleasant environment, a sunny meadow. Danger informs Machinesmith that there is a flaw in his logic. He mistakes difference for superiority. He said himself there are still experiences he misses. She imagines it’s some taste or sensation. Or touch. These things have true value, she believes. They are lesser for living without them. Does he agree? Machinesmith replies that, for a moment, he was somewhere else entirely.

In the real world, Danger’s physical body goes haywire. Machinesmith has taken over her systems and is using her as a tool. Danger blasts away at Beast and Emma and they are lucky to evade its attack. Machinesmith revels in Danger’s complexity. Emma has already transformed into her diamond form and she informs Hank that in this form she cannot reach out to his colleagues. Hank tells her that aside from a few auxiliary agents, his colleagues are off enjoying a Federal holiday. Emma asks if that means no Asgardian warrior women, star-spangled soldier boys or even some Ant-Men? “Wow,” replies Hank. “Apparently we’re the not-so-secret Avengers!”

Emma picks up a gun from somewhere and asks him to relax. They raided their computer systems and read their minds, but none of them are fabulous enough for her to gossip about. She blasts at Danger, trying to keep her at bay.

Inside the electronic plane, Machinesmith asks Danger is she associates with these mutants. Images of Beast and Emma appear which confuses Danger. She asks him how he knows about them. He touches her cheek and asks if perhaps she felt fit to reside amongst such outcasts. She needn’t bother. She isn’t alone anymore. This can be the beginning. Let the mutants die out as nature intends and they can build a new digital Eden. “Together?” asks Danger, trying to figure out what he means by this.

Outside, Danger’s lethal tendrils, controlled by Machinesmith, strike out and it takes plenty of agility and luck to avoid being killed. Beast informs Emma that he can’t even raise his crew on their comm-system. The ship must still be obeying Danger’s orders. Emma asks if he can’t reboot the whole system, but he reminds her that she is on board a flying headquarters. Rebooting would mean it dropping out of the sky! Overhearing them speak, Machinesmith reckons that sounds like a fantastic idea.

Danger tells Machinesmith that they need to break him out of there. Machinesmith asks her not to worry. He’s been working on that. Danger asks what he means. He explains that the moment she hardwired herself to find her, he took the liberty of exploring her systems as well. How does she think he identified her alien origins? Or, how he knew of her history with the mutants? He tells her that he has taken over her systems. He can’t risk her budding emotions undermining his escape. She frowns and is upset that he’s been manipulating her all along. What about his plans for them to be together? Machinesmith replies that he does have plans, but she’s not his type.

Outside, Hank rips cables from the walls, trying to stall Danger but he knows these tactics won’t last long. She asks her to use her telepathy to warn the crew. Emma concentrates, asking Hank to ensure his Avenger friends arrest her in vibranium handcuffs. Inferior metals cause her the most deplorable rash. They then look up and see Danger’s body stretching and twisting. Hank wonders what on Earth is happening now!

Inside the electronic plane, Danger isn’t taking this lightly. She begins to take her revenge. Machinesmith becomes nervous and asks her what she’s doing. Danger replies that she’s scrubbing him like the virus he is. He may have been able to get to her physically, but he cannot comprehend her program. He is binary whereas she is poetry. Machinesmith pleads with her. She said she wished to feel human. He asks for compassion, but Danger tells him that she still doesn’t know what being human means. Maybe that’s what made him weaker. Or maybe, she adds, as Machinesmith’s program is erased, maybe it just made him more of a monster.

Danger, now in control of her body, wakes up and stands. Emma realizes something’s changed and Hank asks the arriving guards to lower their weapons. Danger informs them that Machinesmith has been contained. His mind lives freely in a virtual reality but the encryption coding is far too advanced for him to manipulate. And, it’s in Shi’ar. She hands Hank a small box containing the villain. Hank finds it fascinating and Emma says the woman’s containment tendencies border on fetish.

Emma approaches Danger, who has moved away from the group. She tells her that the good news is that Henry managed to dispel any criminal charges against them. But, she expects to be forced into community service or some sort of ‘Avengers Academy’ if such a godforsaken thing exists.

Danger asks Emma if he was evil, or is she? Emma knows what she’s thinking and asks her to stop. Machinesmith was using her and that is one thing she must never blame herself for. She tells Danger that she is still young and still believes in people. She trusts them and she wishes to be loved. It is, of course, a character flaw, but it’s a tolerable one. Unfortunately, she adds, there is no shortage of pathetically selfish people who will exploit that, especially boys. One might even consider her first heartbreak/betrayal/virtual imprisonment of the opposite sex a rite of passage. So, she concludes, holding Danger’s hand, “Congratulations. You’re one step closer to knowing what it is to be human.”

Characters Involved: 

Danger and Emma Frost (both X-Men)

Secret Avengers’ guards

Story Notes: 

Isaac Asimov was a popular American science fiction author, known for titles such as I, Robot, Nightfall and The Robots of Dawn.

Issue Information: 

This Issue has been reprinted in:

Written By: