Agent Jack Kubrick’s surveys the town of Valhalla, New York, which lies in ruins. Three massive Sentinel’s lay in pieces around him, smouldering as buildings burn and helicopters hover overhead. Jack likens the scene to hell, a place on Earth which is like a restless nomad, choosing this day to set up camp in Valhalla. There is no way to fully understand the strange events into which he has been swept. It all began when his superiors in Washington had him assigned to a very unique case requiring immediate investigation.
(flashback, eleven hours earlier)
He had been given certain information about X-51, including two known contacts: Jill and Peter Spalding. Jack travelled to their home, knowing it would be no easy task to trace him. X-51 was a cybernetic super being who’d garnered a rep as one of the good guys. The problem was that X-51 had recently been operating a few megabytes short of a functional hard drive. The higher-ups at Washington had labelled him Public Enemy Number whatever they’re up to these days and deemed him a threat to any innocents unfortunate enough to come into contact with him.
He arrived at the Spalding’s home and shuddered when he saw the damaged exterior, wondering if the suburban couple could now be listed among the unfortunates his superiors had described. He drove a mile to Jill’s place of employment, Unitech Corporation, which was buzzing with activity. He met the town’s sheriff and the local law enforcement who had wondered when the feds would show up. He asked the sheriff if there were any eye witnesses and he pointed to the security guard, Hal, who was in a state of shock, sitting at the back of an ambulance sipping a drink.
Jack spoke to Hal, who told him that he guessed he could say it was a break in, but there was no way the company’s training-course could ever prepare him for something like this. He explained that a kind of giant robot ripped the roof off the building like it was opening a bag of pretzels. He figured he was a goner when there he was, someone not exactly human, not sure what exactly, but Hal knew that he was the only thing standing between himself and a fist the size of a Toyota. He had turned and hustled the Spaldings out of the building, all the while realizing that the situation was way bigger than anything he could handle. As suddenly as they’d all arrived, they were gone, the guy who saved his life and the Spaldings too, who drove off and hadn’t been seen since.
Jack followed the trail of destruction in search of the Spaldings and X-51, discovering that not all of the locals were as friendly as poor Hal. He continued into town and realized his fuel tank was nearly empty, but that didn’t matter. When he arrived at the nearest gas station, there was something far more important than super-unleaded waiting for him. Before him, the remains of a Sentinel, a government-manufactured robot designed to capture super-powered mutants, lay in ruins. Things didn’t seem to be adding up. The attendant, Otis, asked him if he was FBI. Jack replied that he was something like that and asked him what happened. Otis replied that he was working the graveyard shift when, boom!, the whole place blew. There wasn’t much time to think but he’d managed to save one of the customers. After that, things really shifted into high gear. He thought, ‘thirty-foot robots? No way,’ when suddenly the whole place was swarming with skin-tights. He told Jack they were different, really kind of freaky. They went right into attack mode and one of them (Shadowcat) yelled, “Let’s do this by the numbers, X-Men, and get these people to safety!”
Jack asked him to confirm that’s what she said and he replied, yes, to the letter. Anyway, he continued, he figured he was about to become another statistic when all of a sudden, his prayers were answered and he was carried away. He turned to see a man with wings and a blue face carrying him high into the air, only to get blasted. He dropped Otis but he was rescued by a blue demon, who appeared out of nowhere and delivered him safely to the ground, where he felt his head spinning like he’d been on some sort of bender. He told Jack that he never believed in angels or demons, but he saw them.
Jack made a note in his book; Teleportation - Nightcrawler, flight - Archangel. Otis asked him what he thought, angels or devils? Neither, thought Jack, they were Homo sapiens superior or, in plain old English, mutants. Sentinels hunt mutants, mutants fight back. It was the same old story, nothing new there. What he didn’t yet understand was how X-51 fitted into all of this.
Jack continued to wander the area and came across Nurse Coerbell, the woman Otis had rescued. He apologized for the intrusion, hating to bother her at such a difficult time, and asked how her husband was. She told him that Ray busted a leg making sure the girls were safe but the doc said he’d be okay. She knows however that Agent Kubrick didn’t come to ask about her husband, and tells him that he really wants to know what she saw.
She told him that the X-Men had arrived on the scene and Wolverine had told Psylocke to get her out of there. He then told Shadowcat that it was brass tacks from there on in. He didn’t even need to tell Kitty which Danger Room sequence they were going to use. “Gotcha, 6-A” said Shadowcat as they made a rush for the nearest Sentinel. Nurse Coerbell said that the girl didn’t look a day over sixteen but the determined young lady somehow passed right through the enormous creature’s leg, effortlessly bringing it to its knees. It was incredible, like nothing she’d ever witnessed. Still, she continued, it seemed to pale into comparison to what that vicious little man with those awful claws did next. Even though it was just a robot, she couldn’t bear to watch. Jack made another note; Wolverine - adamantium.
Nurse Coerbell told Jack that she didn’t mind telling him she was terrified at first but then it began to sink in, not only that these people were on her side, but also how deeply they cared for each other and suddenly they didn’t seem so strange. Angel had been hit and Psylocke ran to help him, only for him to assure her that he was okay. Nurse Coerbell’s thoughts had turned to her husband, Ray, and the girls at home but only for a moment, for that is when she saw it.
At first, she thought it was a man, but as it launched itself toward one of the robots, unaffected by the flames from the burning fuel tanks, she knew it was nothing human. X-51 ripped straight through the Sentinel, his force field protecting him as he passed through its armored torso. Nurse Coerbell said that the explosion shook the town to its very foundations and her life flashed before her eyes. She held her head as she told Agent Kubrick that she could hardly believe that she lived to tell the tale before her voice petered off. Jack asked her to take a deep breath and try to tell him what happened next. She told him that after that, there wasn’t much to tell; she just ran as fast as she could and didn’t stop until she got home.
Later, by the time the interview at Valhalla Memorial was over, it was early afternoon and fairly obvious that Washington had gotten wind of the situation as choppers moved in, converging on one area in particular from which a thick stream of smoke originated. Agent Kubrick walked toward the area, passing hummers on the way parked next to a telegraph pole which had been pulled from the ground. He knew it was only a matter of time before the military placed the area under lockdown so he followed the copters and that was when he found what he’d originally come there in search of. Sat in their red SUV were Jill and Peter Spalding, both recovering from the devastating events that had destroyed their town.
“Doctor Spalding and Doctor Spalding, I presume?” Jack voiced. They asked who he was but he replied that they were a tough pair to find, trail of destruction notwithstanding. Peter frowned and asked him to give them a break; he knew why people like Jack got paid, but didn’t he think it was a little early to start hassling them with questions about this sorry mess? Jack replied that this sorry mess wasn’t the reason he sought them out. He actually thought that they might provide him with some clues as to X-51’s whereabouts. However, he continued, it looked like he’d already found the lion’s share of them. He turned and once again looked at the carnage to which the robot had helped contribute.
Jill told him to back it up a second, telling him that he acted like Aaron was somehow responsible for all of this, but if anyone was a victim here, it was him. Agent Kubrick replied that the townsfolk weren’t saying that, and they weren’t his personal friends. Jill told him that was right; Aaron had come to them because they were his friends. He knew that his systems had been compromised to the point of malfunction and he knew they would do their best to help him. They did everything they could too but it was far too late. They just wouldn’t leave him in peace.
Jill continued to tell Agent Kubrick that Aaron had been targeted by Sentinels, the same sort of semi-humanoid robots whose programming had corrupted his systems. They were destroying him from the inside and she guessed that someone decided to have them finish the job from the outside. She and Peter were utterly powerless to do anything, but the X-Men; now they were an entirely different story. Aaron had helped them out recently and it seemed like they would have been more than willing to return the favor if they could. Nightcrawler and Shadowcat had seen the Sentinel place X-51 in its grip and knew they had to act at once. Unfortunately, continued Jill, somehow Aaron managed to take control of the Sentinel by directly interfacing with its robotic systems. He did this using the cables, which extended from his fingers to plug directly into the Sentinel.
Jill and Peter thought he had saved the day, believed the fight to be over, when in fact it had only just begun. X-51 had flown out of the Sentinel’s hand, firing powerful blasts toward the X-Men, who were lucky to avoid them. Nightcrawler managed to grab Jubilee and use his athleticism to evade the blasts. Angel took Psylocke to the air and Kitty phased Wolverine, which allowed the blast to pass right through them. Jack was surprised at this, saying, “X-51, Aaron, turned on the X-Men?” “No,” Jill replied, “Whatever it was that held the metal giant in its sway, it wasn’t Aaron anymore, it was something else entirely, and clearly its intent was to kill the threat it perceived by any means necessary.”
She had watched as the Sentinel fired rockets toward Psylocke and the Angel, forcing Warren to fly away at high speed. She told Jack that it wasn’t Aaron at all; the invasive Sentinel programs had taken over him completely. His opponents were well aware of that fact and that’s when they cut loose. Kitty managed to phase Wolverine underneath X-51 and unphased him just as Wolverine stuck his adamantium claws right though the robot’s back. He then switched his attack to X-51’s arm, slicing his left arm clean off at the shoulder. It didn’t do much good, as the arm reattached itself, almost as quickly as it had been severed. Wolverines said it was a pretty neat trick, adding that he’d just have to carve him up into smaller pieces. As he spoke, X-51 sent him flying with a right cross.
Kitty tried pleading with him, telling him that he had to regain control. Jubilee, pitching in with her fireworks, told her to forget it as metalhead’s brain had definitely left the building. Jill said she was right. Kitty’s attack had barely slowed him down, her phasing power being cancelled out by the super quick nanites repairing his damaged systems. It was obvious what Aaron intended to do next. His chest blaster lit up with a build up of energy, aiming directly at Jubilee. Jill said that even seeing it was hard to believe, but if not for the intervention of her teammate, Nightcrawler, who appeared out of nowhere, the poor girl would have been incinerated. However, Nightcrawler grabbed X-51’s neck and redirected the blast, destroying the Sentinel standing behind them, its head being separated from its body in a shock of flame.
Its massive frame had tumbled onto the pavement, which launched a truck straight into the air with the impact. Despite herself, Jill said she was actually rooting for the X-Men, hoping they would win the battle and it looked like they would, after Nightcrawler had teleported X-51’s left arm away, making it harder for him to replicate it quickly. The shock of this, she told Jack, must have triggered something because, just for a brief moment, Aaron was back. As he struggled to stand up, he told Shadowcat that they couldn’t hope to stand against him; he knew all the X-Men’s tactical weaknesses. Kitty said that it was he, then, who accessed and downloaded Cerebro’s mainframe system, as well as the Xavier Protocols. She asked him why and Aaron simply said that he had needed help. Kitty held her hand out and said, “Then let us give it.”
Jill continued to say that it was no use. Aaron had fought as long and as hard as he could. He had given his all but in the end it wasn’t enough. He had attacked Shadowcat again though she managed to phase in time to avoid him. Jill then knew that he had lost his battle with the Sentinels and she feared the X-Men would too. As they squared off for another fight, Jill screamed at them, telling them to stop as there was no way they could defeat Aaron; it was suicide. She then pleaded with Aaron, saying he couldn’t do this. “Please listen,” she screamed.
Aaron’s thoughts were now his own. In the darkness, he could hear his father’s voice. “D-Dad, you’re here?” he stuttered. In a flash of white light, the voice told Aaron to follow him. Aaron asked where they were going. Dr. Abel Stack’s face appeared through the light with his arms outstretched. “To a better place,” he replied. Aaron said that it would mean giving up the fight but his father told him that sometimes it was necessary to lose a single battle, to make such an extreme sacrifice, in order to succeed in the final conflict. Aaron asked about the Sentinels. Abel told him that while he remained, so too did their threat. There was only one solution. He asked his son if he understood and Aaron replied, “Yes, yes I think I do.”
Jill told Agent Kubrick that there was a sudden, violent outburst and then he was gone. They never even had a chance to say goodbye. Picking himself up after the explosion had knocked him down, Wolverine told his team-mates that it looked like the tin man had been blown to kingdom come. His animal senses could detect no trace of him and, if he didn’t know any better, he’d swear that he somehow did this to himself.
As Jill and Peter watched the X-Men depart into the sunset, she had thought that maybe the X-Men didn’t truly understand what had happened, but somehow she did. Rather than allowing himself to become a killer, Aaron had chosen to give up his own life. Jack asked her if that was it and Jill snapped back at him, asking if he was paying attention. Peter cut in, saying to Jack, “Don’t you get it? He’s dead. Mission accomplished. What more do you people want?” Jack could offer no reply and the couple drove off into the distance.
Jack still isn’t really sure how it all began; something to do with the robot impersonating him. That’s what got him the assignment in the first place, for his new position as an agent for the Commission on Superhuman Activities. Still, he’s not high enough up the ladder to get all the answers. A couple of military helicopters carrying storage containers arrive to pick up the pieces of evidence. Jack flashes his identity card at a soldier and tells him he has clearance. He is expected. Henry Gyrich greets him, asking him where the fugitive is. He tells Gyrich that X-51 is dead; the hunt is over. There’s not so much as a trace of him. X-51 is gone forever. Jack thinks that one thing is certain though; his life in this hell will go on. As for X-51, the Machine Man, his short troubled existence has finally come to and end. Rest in pieces. Close to where they are standing, hidden in the debris, a nanite remains, a soft glow coming from its microscopic head.