Imagine encountering an organism whose inner workings are totally foreign to you, and being forced to perform complex surgery on it…with your bare hands. Now imagine you can’t see what you’re doing, and that the operating room is being obliterated by a dozen explosions per second. It would be a difficult task in the best of times, but for the artificial life form called Zero, for his “surgeon“ Shadowcat and her teammates in the super hero group called Excalibur, what really matters is not “best“ or “worst“ but how precious little time they have left.
While the techno-organic being Douglock protects an innocent family and Meggan and Britanic of Excalibur under his body which he has turned into a shield, Kitty has plunged her hands into Zero’s body, as the former agent of Stryfe tells her to hurry, reminding her that if the base has switched to self-destruct mode then the destruct mechanism inside himself, placed there by his late master, Stryfe, will soon follow. Kitty points out that her phasing power disrupts electronics, which is why Zero’s systems are frying.
Zero states that he can endure it, and urges Kitty to move to the left, for she has located the device. Douglock offers his assistance to Kitty Pryde, but Zero tells him that he must protect the innocent family from the destruction around them. Brian „Britanic“ Braddock asks who then shall protect Shadowcat, as she risks her life for the machine. Brian’s lover and teammate, the empath Meggan corrects him, stating that the “machine“ is sentient, or else it would not sense the great pain that this procedure is causing him. As the family look on at the act, Meggan declares that both Kitty and Zero must survive this.
‘Got it!’ cries Kitty as she falls backwards from Zero, pulling a small device out with her. Zero clutches his chest and declares that his system’s integrity is restored, and informs Kitty that her phasing power can now render the destruct unit inert. Zero thanks Kitty, when Britanic suddenly comes up to him and tells Zero to save his gratitude, reminding him that he is the reason Excalibur were summoned across the ocean to these shores for some mysterious purpose, and the reason this family have become embroiled in one perilous situation after another, and who brought them to this dying base because he thought it would be safe.
Holding Zero up to his chest, Britanic reminds him how he claims to hold the secret of the deadly Legacy Virus, a disease that threatens to wipe out every mutant on the face of the Earth. Brian tells Zero that as they are doing their best to save his circuits from self-destruction, he would be best to tell them the secret now. Calmly, Zero states that while it is true, he does hold the key to the Legacy Virus, it is knowledge he was not even aware he possessed until minutes ago. Zero reveals that he cannot interpret the data, and points out that in his own time, Stryfe was the heir of Apocalypse, a man practiced in the arts of cruelty. So while Stryfe did enclose the secret of the virus in his data banks - but the file is totally inaccessible!
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the two remaining members of Excalibur, foster siblings Kurt Wagner and Amanda Sefton arrive home, at Excalibur’s Muir Island base. Kurt thanks Dr. Rory Campbell for the lift from the airport, and points out that Amanda would have teleported them back from Germany, but their struggle against D’Spayre has left them both somewhat drained. The comely Amanda tells her some-time lover to speak for himself, all she needs is a hot bath and she will be as good as new. ‘Only if there’s room for two!’ remarks Kurt, before asking if there is any word from Shadowcat.
Rory replies that there has been nothing since Britanic dragged her and Meggan stateside on that whim of his. Kurt thinks that Kitty should have checked in by now, but he knows Kitty is capable, and hopes that no news is good news. Suddenly Kurt falls to the ground, clutching his mind. Amanda asks Kurt what is wrong, to which Nightcrawler replies that he received a wave of intense telepathic emotion from Professor Xavier. Rory points out that Charles must need help, and Nightcrawler teleports off into the complex.
Arriving in a lab, Kurt informs Professor Charles Xavier that his despair was overriding his psychic defenses, so he thought he was in danger. The founder of the X-Men apologizes, and informs Kurt that he was so lost in thought, he didn’t realize he had returned to the Island. Staring at some DNA samples, Xavier adds that as he thought he was alone, he left his thoughts unguarded, and should have known better, as a telepathy has responsibilities.
Xavier begins muttering that he should have never let his guard down, he should have known better. Kurt asks Charles to tell him what the matter is, and motioning to the DNA samples, Charles tells him that it is such a small thing, a detail, a minor change at position 26 in the molecular configuration - except this molecule pertains to the Legacy Virus, and the change means the virus is now spreading to the human population.
Kurt suggests to the Professor that there must be some kind of mistake, but Charles cuts Kurt off, asking him how he does it. Charles elaborates by explaining that he is staring at the abyss and feels himself drowning, but points out that Kurt has lived his whole life at the edge of such darkness, facing hatred and fear simply because of his appearance. However, Charles feels that in all those years since the two of them first met and Kurt joined the X-Men, Charles has never seen him give into despair, or even a trace of bitterness. ‘No one better embodies the spirit the X-Men seek to inspire all mutant kind.
Nightcrawler thanks the Professor, and says that if what he just said was true, then it is in large part due to the many people he has met throughout his life and most recently a teacher he had the good fortune to know - a teacher who pushed him further, dared him to live life without limits and challenged him to fight the impossible fight, whether against decades of prejudice, or mutant hunting sentinels, or - Xavier cuts Kurt off and offers the next obstacle - an incurable disease. ‘Who’s the teacher now, Kurt?’
Nightcrawler tells Charles that he would never presume to teach him anything, it is just that he has a faith in him, and most of all, a faith in God. Charles tells Kurt that he hopes his faith is not misplaced, to which Kurt replies that it is not, and declares that they have come too far, fought for the dream too long to let a silent killer take it all away. Kurt boasts that together, they will all find a way to beat the virus, and he is praying they find the way soon.
Charles leaves Kurt, thanking him and telling him that whatever he does, he needs to keep praying. Travelling down a corridor towards Doctor Moira MacTaggert’s room, Xavier wishes that he shared Kurt’s faith, but for better or worse, Xavier long ago put his trust in science, confident that science and a determination to save the world would be enough. Entering the famous Doctor’s quarters, Charles sees Moira asleep and remembers how they both felt so sure of themselves, they were so young, so much in love, with their dream and each other. But now Moira lies exhausted, bone weary from the search for a cure that they are nowhere close to. Charles puts a hand on Moira’s face, remembering how he used to think he could save the world. Now he realizes that he should have known better.
Back in Stryfe’s underground base, Britanic removes a grate from an exhaust tunnel, which he believes should provide relative safety from the destruction for the family, while the others salvage what data they can from Stryfe’s computers. As Meggan helps the family into the tunnel, Kitty asks Zero what it is they are looking for. Zero informs her that they are looking for anything that might save them, or provide the key to the Legacy Virus data, and they have to do it before the system short circuits - which it does on cue, a blast thrusts from the computer console, hitting Zero right in his face.
Kitty tells Zero to hang on, that they will get him to the tunnel with the others, when suddenly a huge wave of lava comes crashing into the complex near the family. It was just a matter of time before the blasts elsewhere in the complex weakened the walls of the tunnels being used as makeshift hideaway’s. Until the molten lava that rages here, near the Earth’s core broke free, certain to claim its first victims, long before any hero could act to save them.
But as the lava begins to fall upon the innocent family, it stops in mid-air. ‘Because I told it to’ remarks Meggan as she hovers above the lava, adding that she is surprised it listened to her. Brian asks Meggan what she is saying and how she is doing this, to which Meggan guesses that not only the environment can affect her body, but in her present state she can affect the environment in turn.
Young Courtney finds her stuffed rabbit, Milo, and rushes over to it, seeing Zero she calls her mother and father, crying that the blank man needs help - Zero’s face is gone. Zero tells Courtney not to be frightened, as the damage is mostly superficial, but her father pulls her away, despite Courtney asking after her friend. However Zero sadly replies ‘I could never be your friend, child. I am only a machine. I understand that now’.
Back on Muir, Amanda Sefton enters Rory’s office, and says ‘Gorgeous, isn’t it?’ Staring out the window, Rory turns and asks Amanda what she means. ‘The sunset’ Amanda replies, adding that there is still some soot in the air from the oil rig explosion a few months back, which makes it bad for breathing, but it makes for a great sunset. Rory mutters that he hadn’t noticed, to which Amanda tells him she knows, as he didn’t even hear her come in.
Seemingly annoyed, Rory asks Daytripper if there is something he can help her with. Amanda tells Rory that she thought she could help him with something, adding that whether he believes it or not, she knows what he is going through. Rolling his eyes, Rory addresses Amanda as „Miss Sefton“ and points out that he barely knows her, but thinks it is safe to say that even in her sorcerous life she has never experienced what he is facing.
Amanda declares that she never said she had, what she said was that she knows what he is going through - namely, Rory is worried that sometime in the not-too-distant future, he will become the obsessed mutant-hunter called Ahab. Rory spins around and looks at the powerful sorceress asking her how she could know. Amanda reminds Rory that she was there, and while she was busy time-switching Rachel Summers and Captain Britain, she was not so busy that she didn’t see the same vision in the time stream that Rory saw.
Scared, Rory asks Amanda if she “knows“ so much, can he do anything about it? Rory exclaims that no man should know his own destiny, much less that he is fated to become a murderer on par with Hitler! Rory informs Amanda that he has always made his way through life by taking matters in to his own hands, only to discover that no matter what he does, those hands are already covered in blood.
Amanda agrees that Rory has seen more than he should have, but tells him that he is blind to a greater truth, when all he has to do is look outside. Amanda states that the two of them see a sunset, but at the same moment in another part of the world, it is sunrise. Amanda reveals that time is not absolute, and tells Rory that he might become Ahab, or he might not - she cannot say for sure, and neither can he. ‘All we can do is live one day at a time and savor every precious minute we are given’.
Back at Stryfe’s base, explosions occur all around those trapped in the base and Zero points out that their time grows short, they must leave before the base enters final self-destruct phase. Shadowcat exclaims that by the way Zero is talking, it implies that he is not coming. Zero exclaims that he must remain behind to redirect the blast sequences, least the final detonations obliterate the surface and all its inhabitants for a seven mile radius. Douglock points out that such a course of action is certain to permanently terminate his life functions. Zero states that he was never truly alive, he knows it now, it was just a clever imitation of life. ‘Just a machine’.
Britanic asks what will happen to the Legacy Virus data hidden inside him, but Zero reminds him that it is inaccessible and therefore useless anyway, before telling everyone to go as Meggan creates a tunnel through the lava. The family make their way through the tunnel, when suddenly Courtney turns around and runs back towards Zero, her mother calling after her to come back.
Courtney reaches Zero and asks him if he is not coming back, to which Zero replies he is not, and Courtney asks if she will ever see him again. Zero replies that she will not, so Courtney thanks him for helping them, and as she runs back to her family tells Zero that she loves him and hopes his face gets better - ‘Cause you’re a nice person’.
Within the tunnel, Britanic urges Douglock to move faster as they smash a path to the surface while Meggan stabilizes it ensuring their safety. Suddenly, the mother calls out, asking where her children are, to which someone replies ‘Taking a faster route’. Indeed, Kitty Pryde is phasing both Davey and Courtney to the surface, while Shadowcat thinks that phasing the whole family would have been the safest, she is pushing her power to the limit as it is. Suddenly the reach the top, but she wonders where the others are.
On cue, Meggan, Britanic, Douglock and the parents burst through the ground with a blast of lava behind them. The children and their parents are reunited as Kitty tells her teammates that they have come through in the middle of the Pentagon. Brian exclaims that Stryfe’s base must have been directly beneath the Pentagon as Meggan and Zero both said.
Douglock informs everyone that he has secured their safety, and that there may still be time to save Zero, as he is in grave danger. Douglock exclaims that he must return to the base to assist in Zero’s rescue. Kitty asks Douglock how he can think that way, as she thought he were programmed for self preservation - so how could he even think to act selflessly? This perplexes Douglock greatly.
Below, at that very moment, Zero has hooked himself up to the main computer, and is greeted by the voice of Stryfe - ‘Hello Zero, my faithful friend’. Zero declares that this is impossible, before exclaiming that it can’t happen like this. Stryfe then informs Zero that if he is hearing the message, then it means that Stryfe is dead and his Legacy is sweeping the world. Stryfe adds that Zero’s inevitable, pitiful attempt at self awareness has led him to a selfless act that in moments will destroy him. ‘So here’s a little going away present’.
Stryfe informs Zero that at this very moment he is removing the last programming blocks to Zero’s full sentience, granting him full awareness, plus full access to the data that might eventually have led to a cure for the virus - if he had more time. ‘Congratulations - you’re human - for the next eight seconds’. Zero exclaims that there must be someway to salvage the data, when Douglock comes up behind him, informing him that he has returned to assist as Zero exclaims that there is no time to explain and thrusts Douglocks’ fingers into his own face.
As data is transferred, Douglock asks what the purpose of this is, as the recording of Stryfe informs Zero that the desolation that he must be feeling now is what being human is all about. ‘Enjoy it’. But Zero just tells Stryfe that he is wrong. Douglock begins to query Zero, who just tells him to go, as he has so much to achieve. ‘Remember me’.
Douglock looks back as the base explodes, with the recording of Stryfe informing his former lackey that his life has been a waste, he has seen to it so that no one can change that. No one will bear witness as his circuits fuse and turn to slag. No one will mourn and no one will remember. No one. Except Douglock.
As Douglock emerges from the tunnel, Kitty asks him what happened to Zero, to which Douglock replies that Zero no longer functions. ‘Neither will any of you in about two seconds - freeze!’ cries a soldier, and as a large group of armed soldiers surround Excalibur and the others, they are informed that by the authority of the United States Federal Government, they are placed under arrest, and that if any of them so much as twitch… Meggan whispers to Kitty, telling her to do something. Hands above her head, Kitty steps forward greeting the soldiers and telling them that they must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque, before asking if Forge is home by any chance. ‘Smooth lady, why don’t you just try “Wabbit Season“ next?’ mutters Davey.
Night time now on Muir Island, Xavier thinks about how Kurt’s pep talk did him wonders, as he hasn’t felt this energized in weeks. He cannot think of anything that would stop Moira or himself now, they are in the fight to stay - they will beat this disease, if only because once Moira sets her mind on something, it is nearly impossible to deter her. Charles knocks on Moira’s door and asks her if she is awake, as he has been thinking that they could have designed a molecular mimic of the cell receptors that the virus targets, as in an infected person’s bloodstream it could act as an anti-Legacy sponge.
Moira cuts Charles off, staring out the window, her back turned to the door, Moira declares that she doesn’t know, and that it could have been her own fault. Charles enters Moira’s room and declares that he doesn’t understand. Moira exclaims that maybe because she gave birth to a mutant she is more susceptible, or it may have been the autopsy she performed on Illyana…her voice trails off.
Charles realizes what Moira is talking about, and wide-eyed he declares that he didn’t even think to ask - the cells from the infected human - hugging herself, eyes intense, Moira replies ‘Yes, Charles…they came from me’.