Dr. Valerie Cooper introduces the scenario to her visitors: the Hulk is on a rampage through a small, American town and the only thing standing between that bloodthirsty monstrosity and unimaginable devastation are three Sentinels.
A Senator is surprised Sentinels are being sent in to deal with the situation. He wants to know why the Avengers aren’t called in to help, or even the Fantastic Four, or any other super-group that usually deals with this sort of threat. Val explains they send in the Sentinels in case the Avengers are dead or disbanded, and the Fantastic Four are away on one of their excursions. She doesn’t see who else could be send in to deal with the Hulk, as the X-Men are not exactly heroes in the conventional sense. And, she adds, the government doesn’t really have control over any members of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers.
The Senator and his partners, standing in a room and observing the situation through a viewing screen, asks Val for confirmation that they are safe there. Valerie explains that they are more than a half-mile away from the operation site, and they wouldn’t bring the Senator or the others in this close if the exercise wasn’t under their complete control. She reminds the Senator that’s also why the Office of National Emergency was formed, and to give the American government some semblance of control within the superhuman community. They also wish to deal with these kinds of threats in case the heroes they’ve relied on for so long are dead, disbanded or otherwise missing in action.
The Hulk stops running away from the Sentinels, and instead throws a car at them. Unharmed by the car, a Sentinel knocks him down. Immediately getting back up, the Hulk jumps, in full rage, at the Sentinel hoping to hit him. But the Sentinel acts faster, and fires the blast from the palm of its hands! The Hulk is still alive, but something weird happens… robotic parts are shown?!
Valerie explains that’s because the Hulk the Sentinels are fighting isn’t actually the real one, but a simulacrum loaned to the base by Dr. Reed Richards for the express purpose of this demonstration.
The Senator gets confused though: he can see the Sentinels having the Hulk outnumbered and under ropes, but they aren’t finishing him off. He wants to know why. Val reveals that they’ve got tripped up the Sentinel’s logic boards with something to think about. They’ve just fed the Sentinels information that the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, is actually a brilliant scientist and on the verge of curing cancer, hence capable of saving millions of lives. And despite advances in artificial intelligence, the simple fact is that Sentinels are not human. They’ve continually proven to have difficulty weighing contradictory input, thereby making tough moral choices as a result. That probably used to be their fatal flaw.
The Hulk-bot realizes that the Sentinels are hesitating, so he decides to take advantage of the situation. He quickly rips off one of the Sentinel’s arms, and uses it to destroy all the others! With his adversaries out of the picture, the Hulk jumps away into safety.
Valerie believes that what Sentinels have always lacked is a human capacity for reason. She adds that what the O*N*E* would like to propose is a Sentinel that still has the raw power to stand up to Earth’s many superhuman threats, balanced with an intelligent being’s ability to juggle nuanced and sometimes opposing bits of information to make informed, logical and moral choices. The Senator listens to what Valerie has to say, but hears something and panics a bit.
On that very moment, the Hulk crashes through the roof! The Senator panics, as he thought Agent Cooper promised this situation was under control. Remaining calm while everyone else is afraid, Val explains that nobody has to worry about that. As she was saying, like currently, should a Sentinel find itself in a position of deciding between a hypothetical scientist who could theoretically save millions of lives, and three real-life Senators who head up the Armed Services Committee which oversees a military budget in the billions, it’s a no-brainer what the robot will chose to do: namely smash the Hulk.
A Sentinel outside the building has watched the whole thing happening. It smashes its arm through what used to be the roof, and knocks the Hulk down!
Val is proud to present the Sentinel for the twenty-first century. She reveals the Sentinel incorporates offensive and defensive improvements from SHIELD and multiple design up-grades from Stark Industries, among hundreds of other new features and notable enhancements. The Senator is impressed by the theatrics, but wonders what’s to stop this Sentinel model from going crazy like the old models used to do. Valerie tells the Senator to take a closer look to the Sentinel’s shoulder. She introduces him to the man controlling the Sentinel: James Rhodes.
Val would like to present the Senator and his partners with the following proposal for an entire squadron of Sentinels, which are now operated by human pilots, trained to follow a military command structure and supervised by the O*N*E agency. Plus, it’s exclusively serving America’s government agenda. She hands the Senator a file, which holds the money Val would like to have. The Senator can’t suspect that Val would ask him to sign something with this many zeroes. Val doesn’t like to put a price on saving the world. But another Senator is already impressed, and signs the folder.
5 months later…
Lots of Sentinels have already been built and are ready for action. The human controllers and soldiers are ready to use them. A bus with new recruits arrives. One of them is impressed by the beautiful workmanship and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of one of the Sentinels. Another recruit, Jennings, doesn’t understand that but his partner-recruit jokes that Jennings knows what he means.
Another recruit remembers that he spent two hours in the Gulf, had a stint in Panama and made it out of Latveria on foot after they shot down his F-16 plane over a no-fly zone. He doubts that the Sentinels are going to give him any trouble. Among the new recruits is also a mutant, who isn’t very pleased to see the Sentinels. But nobody bothers to talk to him.
A lone recruit steps out of the bus and takes out a cigarette. He thinks all of the other recruits are losers, wearing big smiles as they line up to get killed. Suddenly, someone takes out the cigarette out of his mouth and jokes that smoking isn’t allowed at this place, and that he might as well quit now. The recruit suspects he’s talking to the C.O. The man jokes that he isn’t yet, but hopes he will be in some time. He introduces himself as Nathaniel Briggs, mentioning that the guys in his unit used to call him “Bulletproof.” The recruit introduces himself as Alexander “Lex” Lexington.
Valerie overhears them and agrees with Briggs, defending that Lex’s smoking days are now officially over. She introduces herself as the deputy director of the Sentinel Squad. That means she’s heading up the Sentinel Squad Program, but isn’t directly in charge of the recruits. Lex wants to know to whom they are supposed to report. A Sentinel flies in, and Val smiles that the recruits can report to the man inside the Sentinel suit. He will be the recruit’s Direct Commander Officer and also their combat instructor. This guy knows just about everything there is to know about modern robotics, cybernetics and mech-tech and even spend an inordinate amount of his life punching people from inside a claustrophobic metal suit.
The Sentinel takes off his helmet, and the man inside introduces himself as James Rhodes, who welcomes all of the new recruits to the Sentinel Squad. James jokes that they better listen up, as this place isn’t exactly Club Med. He explains that, for some reason, the government decided that the recruits are all the kinds of people with the skills and know-how to operate some of the world’s most sophisticated hardware. James is here to make sure that every last one of the recruits is up to the task.
Jennings doesn’t like the idea of working alongside mutants. James notices that Jennings has a problem with mutants. Jennings defends that he has, like almost everybody has. James fires Jennings, as he won’t tolerate this sort of ignorance or attitude. Two security guards help Jennings out. James tells the group to say goodbye to Corporal Jennings, joking that at least he is leaving in one piece. But he knows that some of the others won’t be so lucky. He is aware that it’s his responsibility as combat instructor that none of the recruits go home in body bags. And there’s only one way that’s going to happen: they need to become a team. So, James doesn’t care what color the recruits are, where they come from, what god they worship, who they date, or what their DNA looks like under a scanner.
He adds that if the recruits want to make it to the Sentinel Squad, every last member of the team will be their brother. He asks Lex if he understand. Hesitant, he agrees. James wants to demonstrate what he means. He introduces cadet Skylark, who was among the Squad’s initial wave of recruits and has logged in enough hours that she’s now combat certified. She has been training on the Stealth Unit, but they thought that for the purpose of this demonstration they would give Skylark a different kind of Sentinel: the Brawler Unit.
The Brawler Unit is one of the several Sentinels designed by Tony Stark himself. He mentions that what’s more fortified than this standard unit is that this is built for close combat and to withstand a tremendous amount of punishment. The Brawler unit also got triple-plated armor and includes a protective adamantium chest plate, as well as reinforced hydraulics to give it extra strength. There’s no doubt about it that the Brawler packs a serious punch.
Skylark goes to stand on a panel, which flies up and helps her crawl into the back of the Sentinel, so she can control it from the inside. James orders Skylark to head over the hill she can see to start this exercise. Skylark asks Rhodey… er… Commander Rhodes, what the mission scenario is. James smiles that it couldn’t be more simpler: all Skylark has to do is stay alive.
Airplanes fly towards her at full speed, and open fire! Skylark asks about the status of these vehicles. James explains that they are fully radio-controlled with no living beings anywhere near the cadet, so she has the permission to pound the living crud out of them. That’s exactly what Skylark wanted to hear, so she grabs the planes and starts crushing them. However, the exercise isn’t quite over yet, as an entire brigade of battle tanks reveal themselves!
Lex panics. He doesn’t care how heavily modified that Sentinel is, he doesn’t think there’s going to be one way it will be able to take on that much firepower. But that’s exactly James’ point. As dust clouds merge from the heavy battle, James explains that against those kinds of odds, they don’t expect the Sentinel to survive, as it was never their intention to build the perfect Sentinel… but rather to build the perfect team. As the dust clears, an entire group of Sentinel controllers proudly step forward, happy that they are victorious.
Evening in the Mess Hall…
Everyone in the cafeteria is talking about the Sentinels, but also about James, whom some have heard used to be Iron Man and War Machine. Jake and Nixon are sitting together on a table, and notice that the mutant is sitting alone, staring at them. Jake looks back but doesn’t do anything about it. Nixon asks Jake if he likes Skylark. Jake doesn’t like her, as he likes his women to be more exotic. He notices Rajani entering alone and invites her to sit with them. She refuses. Nixon doesn’t know what her problem is.
Jake explains that Rajina is all about business, and also is some kind of computer-scenarios expert. He thinks she’s going to be the squad technician. Nixon isn’t surprised that they’ve got tech support from a woman from India. Rajina overhears that, and angrily punches him in the face! Ignoring him for the rest, she walks over to a table. Jake and Nixon walk back to their dorms. Jake explains to Nixon that was a stupid thing to do because, if Rhodes had seen that, he would have booted them both. Nixon ignores him.
As they continue to walk to their rooms, Lex fails to open the door of his room with his keycard, as it is apparently non-operational. With nobody in sight, he decides to use his mutant powers to open it instead! The other mutant, Meld, has seen it all happening and is startled at the discovery. Lex angrily shouts at Meld that, if he ever informs anyone about the fact that he’s a mutant, he’ll kill him. Frightened, Meld promises Lex’ secret is safe wit him.
Val sits alone in the computer room, looking through the files of the new recruits. She reads the file of Corporal Nathaniel “Bulletproof” Briggs. He is a war hero with a Congressional Medal of Honor for service in Afghanistan. He was awarded multiple commendations, including two silver stars, during his tour in Iraq. She also reads the file of Emil “the Professor” Winston. He’s a recipient of two major grants for his work with cybernetics and artificial intelligence, which helped him get on board for the Sentinel Squad.
General Lazer enters. He warns Val that she wouldn’t get too attached to the new recruits, as with the missions they have planned for these boys, he expects there are going to be many more recruits for Val to familiarize with. Val doesn’t understand. Lazer reveals that he is talking about casualties, and lots of them. He hands Val over a file, which reads “Operation: Savage Land.” He also shows her a picture of a mind-controlled T-Rex…