Special Agent Jack Kubrick is having a really bad day. He is standing in a scrap yard with his hands behind his neck as the rain lashes down around him. He looks especially nervous. He is in the middle of nowhere with a black market handgun pointing at his head. He thinks to himself how it had been stupid of him to go there, sheer suicide, a bad move and probably his last.
A dump truck emptied its cargo onto the scrap yard and the metallic skull of X-51, the Machine Man bounced to its sorry resting place.
The gun aimed at Jack’s head is revealed to be held by Mystique, standing behind Jack in her traditional white and blue costume with the gold skull belt. The imposing figure of Post stands to her right, Toad to her left and the Blob behind her with the Mimic airborne behind him. In the near distance are several military choppers with searchlights scouring the area for signs of activity. Mystique introduces herself, telling Agent Kubrick to do exactly as she says, or die. She asks him who he is but he can only stutter a response. She tells him to speak up as she can’t hear anything with the military choppers sweeping the area for them. He tells her he is Special Agent Jack Kubrick. She replies that he is indeed special, as he’s managed to be taken hostage by herself and her associates, wanted terrorists and introduces each one of them by name, calling them the Brotherhood of Mutants. Adding that they were all gifted at birth with genetic abilities far in advance of normal humans, she supposes that they could qualify as special too, before telling him to get moving.
The face of X-51 stopped rolled down the scrap yard and came to rest in a pool of water, with a harrowed expression on its disembodied head.
(flashback, forty-eight hours ago)
Jack Kubrick was in Washington, D.C., after just getting his assignment. One way or another, this was going to be his defining moment. He strode through the lobby of FBI headquarters with an unusual air of confidence. He had no living relatives, had never married and therefore had no ties whatsoever. That kind of life could never be his and the profound commitment to the task at hand outweighed everything else. He knew he wasn’t all that he could be and with any luck, that would soon change. His assignment wouldn’t involve endless hours spent listening to pre-recorded wire-taps or eavesdropping on overpaid fat-cat politicians; his mission was something different, something more important. His objective was to find everything possible about a synthetic super being called X-51. He had gone missing and although Jack didn’t know very much about the hero in question, he knew that the assignment was going to take him places.
(flashback, forty-three hours ago)
Roughly five hours and three time zones later, he arrived by air at Central City International Airport and quickly headed to his first port of call, a private research facility just off North Terra Vista Drive. It was the Broadhurst Center for the Advancement of Mechanized Research. His own research showed that this was where the Machine Man had been born. Once inside the facility, he met with a Doctor Haines. Looking down from an overhead platform into a testing area, a large arm was being worked on, the hand of which was larger than a man. Dr. Haines told Agent Kubrick that as he could see, since X-51’s incept date several years ago, they had made quite an effort to have their technologists move away from casting artificial entities in the image of man. When asked why, Dr. Haines replied that he thought they were getting ahead of themselves and invited him into his office.
Inside, he seated himself behind a large desk with a large photograph with three men in it behind him. He told Jack that when Dr. Broadhurst passed away, he had assumed the role of Chief Administrator and hired a brand new staff who had no knowledge of Project X (the project which made X-51). He added that he would prefer it remain that way. Jack stated that Project X was a highly classified contract given to his company by the United States government to which Dr. Haines replied that it was. Jack continued that he assumed that the two gentlemen in the photograph would be Dr. Broadhurst and himself. Again, Dr. Haines agreed. Agent Kubrick asked who the third person was.
Dr. Haines explained “That’s Dr. Abel Stack, may his soul rest in peace. He was a gifted computer programmer who specialized in the field of heuristic science, you know, problem-solving. It was Stack’s genius that initiated Project X, you see; he’d created a micro-chip unlike any other. The chip would enable a computer system to run a series of simultaneous programs designed to emulate human thought and behavior and the automatons were given human form. However, technical problems ensued almost from day one. The first fifty robots became violently psychotic after a fashion. The fifty-first model, raised in seclusion by Dr. Stack himself, suffered no such systems failure, no such breakdown. Stack regarded X-51 as we called it, in much the same way as a father regards his son - he even went so far as to call it Aaron and bestowed upon it the family name. X-51 truly believed itself to be human and it wasn’t until Dr. Broadhurst ordered the destruction of all the units at the government’s behest that the construct learned otherwise.” Agent Kubrick then asked how you would dispose of the so-called ‘units’ and Dr. Haines said they blew them up.
He continued, “Every model was built with an internal self-destruct mechanism. X-51 was spared the fate when Stack removed the device from its system only moments before detonation. That foolish action was the doctor’s last. The resulting explosion killed him instead of X-51 and for the life of me, I’ve never quite understood his rationale for doing so. I mean, why would Abel sacrifice his own life for a being that wasn’t even alive? It makes absolutely no sense whatso -,” His speech was interrupted by Agent Kubrick coughing badly. Dr. Haines apologized, saying the ventilation system should have dealt with his cigarette smoke.
Jack thinks back to the meeting as he remains Mystique’s captive. He thinks he should have realized that his coughing was some kind of omen, but at the time he thought he was simply having a reaction to Haines’ particular brand of cigarette. He is wrong, dead wrong. Mystique tells him to hold it right there and not to so much as flinch. She asks Mimic what he can see from his airborne position and he tells her that he’s spotted an entire battalion of tanks and they’re heading their way. Agent Kubrick wonders what exactly he’s gotten himself into as the tanks approach. The Blob though is his usual arrogant self, figuring that with Agent Kubrick as their hostage, the military aren’t going to try anything stupid. The Mimic looks scared and says the tanks are about to fire which is exactly what they do. The Blob’s massive frame is struck from behind by a shell which explodes upon impact, but although the rest of them are scattered like ten-pins, the Blob simply says that it tickled. Mystique raises her gun once again at Jacks head, telling her companions that she doesn’t think the military are going to wait patiently for them to find what they are seeking. She adds that it is obvious they think Jack is expendable, and so does she.
Sensing that Mystique won’t hesitate in pulling the trigger, Jack tells her to wait. He tells her that he knows why they are here and what it is they are trying to locate, adding that he can help her locate it because he’s looking for the exact same thing. Mystique says that if he helps them find what she’s searching form then she won’t kill him.
(flashback, twenty hours ago)
After leaving Central City, Agent Kubrick had flown back east to Albany, New York state to meet with a wealthy politician, the type who enjoyed a significant amount of power, privilege and status. The man, Jack suspected, had his eyes on the presidency and for some reason he had been anxious to meet Jack after learning of the nature of his enquiry. His name was Senator Miles Brickman. He greeted Jack and Jack told him it was a pleasure to finally meet him, telling him he appreciated his seeing him upon such short notice. The senator said he was more than happy to accommodate him as learning his unique history could only help with Agent Kubrick’s investigation. He then walked over to his television set and showed him a tape that one of his aides had made the previous year of a news broadcast.
On the screen, an image of Machine Man appeared, avoiding missiles fired at it. Senator Brickman said the footage was from a segment dealing mainly with the steady rise of artificial intelligence and its impact on the American people, not only as individuals but as a nation. He continued, saying “For example, did you know that it cost the U.S government over 2.5 billion dollars just to hunt down the Machine Man after -“. Jack interjected, saying “The death of his father?” Senator Brickman replied, “Actually, I was going to say after all others like it had been destroyed. You see Agent Kubrick, even though it was Abel Stack’s peculiar intellect that gave birth to that… thing, to call him its father simply implies that it’s a living creature the same as you or me. Just between us, I feel that one of the biggest blunders committed by the current presidential administration was pardoning X-51 after it engaged the Hulk in all-out war a few years back. Why, the millions in property damage alone should’ve sent a clear message to Washington.”
Jack replied that they ‘were’ talking about the Hulk. Weren’t there even several insurance agencies in the south-west that offered cover against his rampages? The senator said that he wasn’t going to excuse the actions of Dr. Banner’s gamma spawned demon, but from where he stood the Hulk was the lesser of two evils. He added that he wouldn’t take the robot’s association with the Avengers as a good sign either, after all, there had been plenty of other tech-based life forms on that team; mutants as well and some kind of world protectors they’d turned out to be. Jack told him that from what he’d been shown, X-51 appeared to be seeking to aid mankind, not harm it. The senator, disgruntled at the agent’s manner said that was only his opinion and it was his own that mattered back in Washington.
Agent Kubrick wonders what Senator Brickman would say if he could see him now, being threatened by Mystique. He figures it wouldn’t really matter as to him everything was all dollars and cents. He thinks his present situation needs a hero. Stepping off one of the military helicopters, dressed in a green overcoat for the rain that poured, Henry Peter Gyrich, a government agent and one-time government liaison to the Avengers asks a trooper, who is in charge. Saluting, he replies that it is Colonel Walsh and Gyrich says “Not anymore. Go tell him Gyrich is here.”
From behind him, another man steps out of the helicopter; Sebastian Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club’s Lords Cardinal. To Gyrich, Shaw is simply a rich businessman. He doesn’t know anything about Shaw being a mutant, and a dangerous one at that. “Coming on strong as ever eh, Henry old friend?” Shaw grinned. Gyrich turned to him and says, “Shaw, when it comes to mutants I like to come on even stronger.” Shaw asks why anyone, Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens superior would come out here as the place is nothing more than a glorified scrap pile. Gyrich replies “Mine is not to question why Sebastian and neither is yours. It doesn’t matter why the Brotherhood is here. They’ve broken into a restricted government area and that constitutes a serious breach of national security. It’s that simple.” From behind Gyrich, Colonel Avery Walsh appears and introduces himself, offering his services. Gyrich asks for a status report but before he can speak, one of his soldiers worryingly informs him that the mutants are staging a direct assault.
Surely enough, Post, the Blob and Toad are on the offensive. Blob picks up a tank while Post uses his weaponry to get the soldiers on the run. The Toad attacks the soldiers on a more personal level. His agility and strength is more than a match for the average human. The military appear unready for this kind of opposition. Agent Kubrick is left alone to become more acquainted with Mystique. Still with a gun to his head, he asks Mystique whether she ever considered that maybe one of the reasons that mutants are feared and loathed the entire world over is because of the actions of a handful who use their abilities to wreak havoc whenever possible. Mystique tells him to spare her the ‘few bad apples routine’ as she’s heard it before. She adds that truth be told; she’d be a mercenary if she were a normal human, though she admitted that her innate gifts granted her certain privileges she wouldn’t otherwise have possessed. Jack says he took it that threatening his life was one of them. Mystique tells him to quit stalling and if he doesn’t find the object soon, she’ll make good on her threat. Angrily, Jack turns on her and asks “And how would that work? Who would locate your precious quarry then? Blob? Post? I don’t think so. They’re hired muscle, pure and simple. To do what you’re asking requires someone special. Like it or not Mystique, you need me.”
(flashback, earlier that day)
Agent Kubrick’s final interview had taken him to Arlington, Virginia and the United States department of Defense. It was in a sub-basement of that edifice that he had found himself seated in a conference room with a man old enough to be his father. The room had on its walls a large map of the world with the North-West corner of the United States highlighted and several empty seats around the conference table where Jack was seated next to General Joseph Kragowski, who asked Jack to call him Kragg. He had a military crew cut, smoked cigars and had an eye patch. Jack began his questioning, asking the General, who had been at the forefront of an operation to seek and destroy X-51, why the mission had been aborted. The General replied that he had been dedicated to the mission, having being picked by Uncle Sam to spearhead it because he’d faced one of X-51’s precursors. It had gone off at the deep end and although he had walked away from the battle more or less intact, the construct had slaughtered his entire platoon. Although X-51 hadn’t been involved directly, he hated it before ever laying his eyes on it. Agent Kubrick said that naturally, his destruction would have served as a sort of compensation for the incredible loss he had suffered.
Kragg went on to add that that was how it had seemed at first. He hunted X-51 down but the longer the chase went on, the more he realized the robot had little in common with his psychotic predecessors. He behaved in a heroic manner, exhibiting a level of humanity that couldn’t be disputed, proving to General Kragg that they were both fighting on the same side, and for the same goals. His vendetta came to and end. The General stood up and picked up a file. He then said that X-51 was indeed a truly remarkable being, but even a good soldier could fall in the line of duty.
“Excuse me General,” replied Agent Kubrick, more than a little surprised. The General said, “Well that’s the reason for your visit, isn’t it? What this whole Q&A session is about? Doesn’t matter much. The information in this dossier will be declassified and filtered out to the national intelligence agencies within days. It details an incident a couple of weeks back involving the peace-keeping organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D and a nazi terrorist who should’ve met his maker sixty years ago - Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull.” Jack looked at the file’s cover which had a S.H.I.E.L.D emblem on the cover. General Kragowski continued, “As if that wasn’t enough, some of the outlaw mutants, the X-Men were on the scene as well. How X-51 became involved was still something of a mystery. Needless to say, with so many perilous factors thrown into the mix, the safety of hundreds of innocent men and women was compromised. X-51 saved as many as he possibly could, but ironically enough, he wasn’t able to save himself.” As the general wandered away, Jack said, “General Kragg. You’re not saying -?” to which the General replied, “That’s exactly what I’m saying son, I just assumed you already knew. X-51 is dead.”
(flashback, about an hour ago)
Jack found himself in Baltimore. Confusion had set in and he had spent days gathering facts on X-51, but now it seemed that there wasn’t anything left for him to find. He had reached an impasse, traveled down a road ultimately leading nowhere. It didn’t make much sense at all. It seemed pointless for Jack to continue with his mission so he had decided to return to Washington but he still couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling inside of him. The Machine Man had been killed in battle; that was clear as crystal, but somehow that wasn’t enough for Jack. He needed something more. He’d arrived At Area 88, a remote government dumping site where X-51’s remains had been sent for disposal. It looked like a twister had ripped a path through the entire installation. When he parked up he heard the blare of security alarms on the other side of the supply depot. With his pistol at the ready, Jack had rushed to investigate and upon rounding a corner, it became apparent who was responsible for the trail of destruction and worse still, they seemed intent on taking prisoners. Around that corner, Jack saw the Blob, Post, Toad and the Mimic rounding threateningly on a young blond woman. Feeling that he couldn’t simply stand there and do nothing, he leapt in front of the woman and aimed his pistol at her aggressors. He knew he was outclassed but tried not to look like he knew it. He turned to ask the woman if she was all right but was shocked to see Mystique pointing a gun at his.
Jack had been suckered and played right into their hands. Two hours later, his situation hadn’t improved. Standing on a precipice with Mystique telling him she is still waiting, Jack points downwards to the small, almost submerged head of X-51. Nearby, Colonel Walsh reports to Henry Gyrich that the Brotherhood has beaten back his troops and was advancing on the site. They were going to need reinforcements. Gyrich replied that he should see that it was done, and if those genetic freaks kept this up, they’d be forced to fight fire with fire. Sebastian Shaw asked him what he was talking about. “The Avengers, Sebastian. Though I hate to admit it, they may be our only hope of stopping these lunatics.”
Jack is sent down into the foot-deep puddle to recover the head. He can’t believe it. Seeing the scorched, decapitated head at the bottom of the scarp heap, it begins to sink in. Despite the convincing charade, he thinks that the robot could never have been like the rest of humanity. He was just a network of wires, filaments, electrodes and circuitry, only simulating life. But he didn’t deserve this. Didn’t his sacrifice count? Who knew what sights his eyes had seen or what he’d truly felt on the inside. As he held his head in his hands, he thought only the memories would remain, as the lightning now struck out at the night sky.
Standing behind Jack, Mystique looked pleased with herself. She told him, “Nice gopher work Jack. You’ve found X-51, or what’s left of him. Any final requests?” Jack looked shocked. He said, “You said you wouldn’t kill me!” but Mystique casually replied, “Oh, right, I’d almost forgotten about that. Then I suppose Post will have to do it.” The blue, muscular figure of Post approached Jack, telling him that he was activating his power rods and preparing to unleash concussive bursts in 2.05 seconds. Blob laughed and said, “Here’s the part I like best.” Agent Kubrick is petrified, understandably, realizing they weren’t joking. He tries thinking of anything he can say to make them spare him but nothing comes to mind. He has no living relatives, he has never married, he has no ties whatsoever. His head was blown off by Post, with X-51’s pink head falling into the water as Jack fell to the ground.
Mystique plays on one of Shakespeare’s quotations, saying “Alas, poor Kubrick, I guess we didn’t know him that well. Toad, fetch me the head.” The Toad bounds towards the body but before he reaches it, he is shocked to find the body move, as are the rest of the Brotherhood as Jack raises an arm, dripping with water but seemingly alive. “Impossible,” gasps Mystique as Agent Kubrick’s body grasps the head of X-51 and places it on the vacant slot where his own used to be. X-51’s eyes light up as an amazing transformation occurs. Where a dead agent had lain before the Brotherhood, now stood X-51, resplendent and looking extremely powerful, his body different to how it used to look. In his thoughts, he says he has finally found what he’s been searching for, the answer at last and his true identity to boot. He was not Jack Kubrick, never was. He was X-51, the Machine Man.