‘Self-soul-friend?’ Warlock asks Doug “Cypher” Ramsey, emptiness all around them. ‘W-Warlock?’ Doug calls out. ‘Does self-soul-friend understand what’s happened?’ Doug replies that he knows he was infected with the Ani-Mator’s virus, that he was sick, dying, and could barely think straight. ‘I…oh God…I could feel it. Un-making me. Cell from cell and -’ Doug remarks, before Warlock interrupts, asking his soul-friend if he understands what happened after that. ‘Yes. You merged with me. Your techno-organic self merged with my biological self. We became one entity. One body. One mind’ Doug adds. Warlock tells Cypher that is correct, explaining that it was the only way to arrest the progress of the virus-plague. ‘Right. You had to share your techno-organic anti-viral protection with me. I see that’ Doug replies, before asking Warlock why.
‘Because Warlock promised he would not let the Ani-Mator take self-soul-friend Doug’s Lifeglow again’ Warlock replies. Cypher points out that the Ani-Mator is dead, and yet he is still afraid of him. ‘He’s the only thing I’ve ever been truly afraid of’ the young mutant adds. Warlock explains that the Ani-Mator is trying to live again, to which Cypher mutters, ‘Ah. I came back from the dead. Why on Earth would I think that the thing that killed me couldn’t do that, too?’, before Warlock explains that the virus-plague is a back-up sentience designed to replicate the Ani-Mator in the event that his death - from any procurable genetic material.
‘Us, you mean? It was trying to make me into him?’ Cypher enquires. Warlock explains that he has stopped that from happening now, and adds that, more importantly, he has created a space for Doug to think without distraction. ‘You are smart, self-soul-friend. You are smarter than Warlock. You can figure a way to fight this virus-plague’ Warlock tells his best friend. Looking around at the nothingness, Doug asks if this isn’t real, the two of them talking. ‘We’re not actually sitting here doing this’. Warlock confirms that this is just happening in the imagination that the two of them now share. ‘What’s actually happening?’ Doug asks. Warlock grimaces and tells Doug to prepare himself, or there is a 95.6768% probability that what is actually happening will greatly distress him. ‘Okay’ Doug replies, as Warlock announces that what is actually happening is that they are Douglock, and they are battling the Ani-Mator.
‘BE ME!’ the diabolical Ani-Mator shrieks in his laboratory as he, in a hideous plant-like amalgam attacks “Douglock”. Bobby “Sunspot” DaCosta and Amara “Magma” Aquilla have already been absorbed into the Ani-Mator. Dani Moonstar a.k.a. Mirage and Nate Grey a.k.a. X-Man lie fused on the floor of the lab. ‘Douglock? Wait…Douglock?’ Mirage utters, looking at Cypher, surrounded by Warlock as armor, as they lunge towards the Ani-Mator. ‘Why won’t you be me?’ the Ani-Mator calls out as Douglock punches him. ‘Gosh. He is a monster! Actually, just seeing him terrifies me beyond the capacity for r-’ Doug begins, while Warlock interrupts, ‘Courage, self-soul-friend. Tra-la-la!’ Warlock calls out, adding that he knows it makes Doug scared, and that now they are sharing a common sentience, he can see how deeply the Ani-Mator has scarred Doug. ‘Self-friend should have told Self this’ Warlock tells Doug.
Douglock lands on the floor, and Doug tells Cypher that he didn’t want to bother Warlock with this, to which Warlock suggests Doug tell himself that this is not the Ani-Mator, that instead it is a biomass of genetic material that is trying to be the Ani-Mator, and failing at it. Doug tells Warlock that they need to target the Ani-Mator, to discourage its attack on Danielle and Nathan. Warlock points out that Sunspot and Magma have already been absorbed, so they must not cause any excess damage if they hope to recover their friends safely. ‘Oh. Okay. I see that would be important’ Doug remarks. ‘Be me!’ the Ani-Mator shouts as he fires a blast of energy at Mirage and X-Man, but Douglock extends his form, shielding from the impact.
Warlock states that the Ani-Mator mass exhibit’s the characteristics of the individuals it has absolved, and that includes their mutant powers. ‘In this case, Roberto’s powers. His solar reserves were exhausted, but it has repurposed his photonic genes as a weapon’ Cypher explains, before turning to Dani and Nate and asking them if they can withdraw to a safe hiding place. ‘Doug, what have you done? You’re Douglock again?’ Dani asks. ‘Please. This is a simple expediency’ Cypher replies, adding that it was the only way to arrest the virus long enough to devise a cure. ‘Can you reach cover?’ he asks. Holding up their fused hand, Danielle replies that they will try, but points out that there is nowhere to hide in the lab, while X-Man motions to the fused hands.
‘So noted. If Dani and Nathan cannot withdraw from the Ani-Mator -’ Doug begins, ‘- we will draw the Ani-Mator away’ Warlock concludes, as they block another burst of energy, before taking flight, and bursting through the laboratory wall, creating a exit. Warlock states that he estimates the Ani-Mator will consider them the primary opponent and pursue them without hesitation, with a probability of 93.673245%. ‘BE ME!’ the Ani-Mator booms as he emerges from the laboratory, shaking the quivering island as he does so. ‘Estimate that it will use Amara’s seismic powers to affect this pursuit. Probability 99.88888%’ Doug mutters.
Back down in the lab, Dani and Nate look up at the gaping hole, ‘They led it away from us…’ Dani remarks. ‘How…Dani, how are they one thing?’ Nate enquires. Dani explains that it has happened before, that they have merged. ‘Doug shared his life glow to save Warlock, and Warlock has revived Doug with his transmode machine virus’. ‘He’s living tech’ Mirage adds. Mirage hangs her head, declaring that this is such a mess. ‘I think it ate Bobby and Amara and -’ she begins, while X-Man assures her that it is okay - he reaches for her face with his free hand, but Mirage pulls away, telling Nate not to touch her. ‘We’re already fused! Don’t touch me anywhere else!’ she exclaims. ‘Okay! Sorry!’ Nate replies.
Outside, Douglock rushes through the trees and bushes, and Doug asks Warlock what he meant back there when he said that he can figure it out because he is smarter. ‘Self has noticed this increasingly in recent times. Self-soul-friend was always smart. But self-soul-friend is getting smarter’ Warlock remarks. ‘Really?’ Doug asks. ‘Again, now Self is sharing self-soul-friend’s mind, Self can see it. This is not the mind Self shared with self-soul-friend before’ Warlock states.
Back inside “Douglock’s” mind, Cypher and Warlock sit opposite each other, ‘How?’ Doug asks. Warlock explains that Doug’s mind has altered since they last conjoined, that it is bigger, more developed, that Doug has a greater technical grasp. Doug replies that his power has always been to understand, and that every day seems to understand more and more, so with each understanding, more understanding becomes possible. ‘I didn’t realize it was noticeable’ Doug adds, to which Warlock tells him that it is, and that Bobby says it is just Doug being odd, but that it is just Doug becoming clever-er. Doug remarks that he has certainly felt his horizons expanding, that he thinks seeing that pierce of extra-terrestrial debris that Diskhord was carrying around in a box kick-started it.
‘It was hurt and damaged, but in helping it…I glimpsed a cosmic scale. It was wonderful’ Doug declares. Warlock announces that he feels it, too, feels Doug’s memories of that, and assures him: ‘Self can feel that self-soul-friend is smart enough to solve this problem. That’s why Self bought self-soul-friend time enough to sit here and think’. Doug announces that he thinks he can, that he doesn’t know anything about virus morphology, but that he thinks he can. ‘The Ani-Mator virus was designed to rebuild the Ani-Mator from any convenient cellular material in the event of his death’ Doug remarks, adding that infected cells inherit Ani-Mator traits and replicate them. ‘It is a sentience back-up. But it is clearly corrupted’ Warlock declares. ‘Exactly. One thing we know, no matter how much genetic matter it absorbs, it is not replicating the Ani-Mator correctly’ Doug points out.
“Douglock” continues to run through the jungle, with Warlock asking ‘A sequence variance? Its genetic instructions? Imperfection?’, to which Cypher explains that suggests it is a mutant, that the virus has mutated beyond its original genetic remit. Warlock points out that the Ani-Mator is increasing its mass, that it is absorbing genetic material from the environment. ‘Vegetation. Insect forms. Bacteria. So noted’ Cypher replies, while Warlock states that the exponential mass increase means the Ani-Mator will eventually become too large and powerful to defeat, with probability of 99.99999%. ‘Self must turn and distract it now while self-soul-friend evaluates effective countermeasure’ Warlock announces.
Cypher thinks hard, ‘Premise: The transmode virus is keeping the Ani-Mator virus in ehck inside the Douglas Ramsey biological part of us. Therefore, the transmode virus may defeat the Ani-Mator virus on a non case-specific basis, with a probability of 56.76234%. Lunging towards the Ani-Mator with one of his arms transformed into a needle, Warlock points out that the probability is significantly reduced given the Ani-Mator mass versus the available transmode resource. ‘Agreed. Unless it’s targeted’ Doug adds, but the Ani-Mator knocks “Douglock” back as Cypher and Warlock attempt their first attack. ‘BE ME!’ the Ani-Mator shouts once more, while Cypher tells Warlock that he is designing and manufacturing a miniaturized duplicate delivery system.
“Douglock” recompose themselves, and grabbing the Ani-Mator, they shove the large needle into the creature, injecting him with the transmode virus. ‘Delivery begins!’ Warlock exclaims, adding that at viral scale, the appraisal of the problems supplies new data. ‘Postulation: Why is the Ani-Mator virus-plague not simply remaking the Ani-Mator as it was tailored to do?’ Warlock enquires. As they block a surge of energy thrown at them courtesy of the An-Mator, Warlock states that he originally presumed it was a failure of the Ani-Mator’s design, a flaw, deciding that was a reasonable assumption, only his microanalysis proves it wrong. Warlock announces that the virus-plague is a mutant and that it was originally benign, adding that it absorbs the memories of every animal, plant, person and creature it has infected.
As “Douglock” is knocked aside by one of the Ani-Mator’s extended arms, Cypher declares that the Ani-Mator recognized the virus-plague’s unusual attributes and reengineered it to be his living back-up. He states that its pathogenic effect has arisen from the antigenic shift the Ani-Mator made by recoding it to reproduce himself. ‘The Ani-Mator’s intent is artificially dominating the virus, making it an aggressive and malicious plague’. Warlock agrees and points out that this is simply an artificial condition of its recoded function. The Ani-Mator blasts them with another burst of energy, and Warlock declares that some urgency is now recommended. ‘Self is restraining Self’s attack so as not to harm the biological components of Roberto, Amara and absorbed Ani-Mates’ he announces.
As the Ani-Mator punches “Douglock” backwards, Cypher points out that the Ani-Mator mass has no such motive to exhibit restraint, and Warlock summarises that it is only absorbing and killing because it is driven by the Ani-Mator’s commands. ‘Yes. And it is constantly fighting against those commands: hence the imperfection of the replication process’ Cypher explains as “Douglock” is forced to the ground. Doug has a theory, and states that if it can be freed from those commands, it would return to its original passive and benign state. ‘The Ani-Mator made the virus think it was the Ani-Mator. We must remind it that it is not. We must remind it that it is a virus’ he declares.
Doug continues, pointing out that the virus must understand the basic notion that all X-Men are taught - all mutants - all offspring in nature. ‘You are not just what your parents say you are. You are what you choose to be’. Warlock announces that he is impressed, and tells Doug that he is re-scripting the language of genetics faster than he could, even with the finest applications of transmode. ‘Thank you. In the end, it seems…easy’ Doug tells Warlock, as the transmode virus reaches the Ani-Mator’s brain. ‘BE ME!’ the Ani-Mator screams, but Cypher replies ‘I rather think I will not’.
Doug and Warlock are no longer surrounded by whiteness, nothing. Instead, endless green encases them, as Cypher states that he has erased the Ani-Mator’s imposed commands, that the virus is no longer aggressive. Wiping his brow, he states that it is actually hard to imagine what he was ever afraid of. ‘Self-soul-friend?’ Warlock calls out. ‘Warlock?’ Doug replies, looking up, to which Warlock asks Doug if he understands what has happened. Looking around, Doug enquires as to whether this is another room in their mind. ‘No, Self-soul-friend…this is paradise’ Warlock reveals, and Cypher looks around, the island restored to its beautiful state, Mirage, Sunspot, Magma and X-Man standing nearby, free from their afflictions caused by the Ani-Mator and the virus-plague. Bird-Brain and the other Ani-Mates stand nearby.
Dani tells Doug that she doesn’t know quite what he did, to which Doug states that he first inverted the transposed hyperactive caposmeres - but as he continues to explain, Dani interrupts him, smiling ‘Again, I don’t know what you did. But you saved us. You saved everything on the island’ she declares. ‘Even the virus’ Doug smiles, announcing that it is right here with them, that he can hear it. He explains that the virus is entirely benign now, and, like him, it simply exists to share and exchange information. Mirage assures Doug that he does a little more than that, to which Doug smiles and announces that he will call it Genome. ‘Who? The virus?’ Dani asks. ‘Yes. It will look after the island, and all the Ani-Mates. Everyone’s okay, aren’t they? Everyone?’ Doug calls out, to which Dani tells him that they are.
San Francisco, later, Doug lies on a sofa while Gus Grimm sits nearby and talks to him. ‘A perfect entity. A life-form. Adapting to all the information in the world around it. Effectively running a closed system for the benefit of everything within. A benevolent godhead’ Doug declares. ‘You mean this…virus?’ Gus enquires. ‘Yes, Mr Grimm. It’s a very inventing idea, isn’t it? That of a benevolent omniscience?’ Cypher remarks. Gus frowns and replies ‘I guess’, before asking if that implies a lack of free will. ‘Inside a perfectly ordered closed system? Is that a bad thing?’ Doug points out. Gus tells Doug that he can’t say, as that is all hypothetical science fiction stuff. ‘I wanted to talk about you Your nightmares. Your issues concerning the Ani-Mator’ Gus remarks. Cypher sits up and announces that is all resolved. ‘I went to Paradise and faced down my irrational fear, and it turned out that there was something to be afraid of, actually. So I dealt with it’.
Gus points out that the team was quite shaken up. ‘It was a horrific experience, just the grotesque physical -’ he begins, but Doug stands up and states that he is very content, that his friends are safe, and he is well. ‘The fear is gone. The Ani-Mator is no longer my bogeyman’. Doug exclaims that he has found a resolution, and tells Gus that in his terms, he has dealt with his issues. Doug turns away from Gus, smiling, he heads for the door to leave. ‘Isn’t that good? Isn’t that happily ever after?’ Doug calls back, before leaving. ‘Well. Uh. Okay’ Gus remarks.