New York City is a city that, despite its crumbling infrastructure, still manages to support a population of some eight million people, who, amidst corporate spires of steel and glass, go about business of their lives as usual. One of these souls is none other than Tessa, personal aide to Sebastian Shaw. She makes her way through the corridors of the Hellfire Club, holding a laptop in her hand. She smiles as she reaches her destination and slowly opens the door to a special chamber, announcing her presence.
The large room has a lit fireplace and is filled with pieces of art, statues, paintings and other exhibits. In the middle, there is a huge desk, filled with computers, modems and other equipment. Across the room, above the entrance door, there are several man-sized view screens, currently displaying images of the Vision, Ultron, Douglock and Techno. Seated in an armchair behind the desk, Sebastian tells his aide that she is late. “Blame it on the rain,” Tessa answers. Shaw replies that he’ll consider doing that, depending on whether the news she brings are good or bad.
Still smiling, Tessa takes two glasses from a cabinet and mentions she always said that something positive might be learned from even the most unfortunate tidings. Sebastian agrees. He recalls her stating this more than once before, but now he wants to know what she has brought him this time. Tessa hands him her laptop and, as she fills the glasses with red wine, starts with her report. The special ops team they dispatched was able to pinpoint the source of Shaw’s misappropriated technology, but to their surprise, the electronic signature did not emanate from any of the cybernetic beings that he was suspecting. Instead, the trace signal was emitted by an automation of sorts and she thinks he’ll find the file she has brought on “him” to be of interest. Shaw opens the computer and reads X-51 on the screen. While he views the screen, Tessa continues with her information.
(partially computer file)
X-51 is a robotic construct designated with the serial code X-51, but to the media he is more commonly known as Machine Man. He was the last in a series of humanoid computer systems programmed to replicate human thought and behavior and the project responsible for his creation no longer exists. The images in the file show Machine Man battling the Hulk and the Thing of the Fantastic Four. Evidently, his creators had more in mind than simply replicating the average man. Machine Man’s original mission operations were short lived and, after an encounter with Alpha Flight, he dropped out of sight for a period of time, only to reappear as an ally of the Avengers. Recently, Machine Man was seen aiding the Thunderbolts against Graviton.
Slightly amused, Tessa concludes her report with the interesting trivia that Machine thinks of himself as human. Shaw thanks his assistant for her flawless work, though nothing in the file indicates how the construct came to be in possession of his hardware. Considering Machine Man’s abilities somewhat outdated, he decides that the only way to find out why the tracking signal of Shaw’s technology is emanating from X-51 is to dismantle him. He asks Tessa if they have retrieved the robot, which she denies. Sebastian is taken aback; why is this, he asks. Tessa says that it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying and places a disk in the computer system to back up her claim. The screen starts displaying a recent mission, recorded from a camera built into the mask of one of the Hellfire Club soldiers.
(digital files / flashback)
In the woods outside of Central City, California, four Hellfire Club soldiers by the names of Travis, McCord, Diaz and Richter are tracking down the signal provided by any technology that comes from Shaw Industries. They still have no idea what they are up against, and that bothers them as they suddenly reach a clearing. There is the ruin of some old burned out shack and, next to it, seems to be standing an ordinary guy, wearing a sweater and jogging pants. The four operatives are confused and wonder if their sensors are malfunctioning. However, when the guy turns around, showing his glowing red eyes, they know that they aren’t. Right before their eyes, the individual transforms into a metallic figure clad in purple, Machine Man.
Quickly, the four men seek cover, but the robot doesn’t want to attack them. Instead, it stretches it’s leg and is about to depart. Diaz sends a few hunter missiles after him, but Machine Man evades them easily. He questions the four men why they are attacking him, as this place was his home, though the Hellfire soldiers wonder how that can be, as he is only a robot. Machine Man angrily responds that his feelings are as real as anyone else’s and that he is as much a man as they. The men though are unimpressed and unpack more weapons. McCord plants a disruptor rod into the ground, while Richter blasts at him with a Plasma-Cannon, hitting Machine Man in the chest. It is only superficial damage though and the Hellfire Club operatives quickly use more of the synchronously working disruptor rods, creating a radial field that negates any technology coming from Shaw, expecting the robot’s systems to fully crash within minutes.
Machine Man screams in agony, as a burst of energy erupts from the hole in his chest. He sinks to the ground, saying “Why ... the ...ugh ...kid gloves?” One of the Hellfire operatives is surprised - a wisecracking robot - he wouldn’t have expected that from a machine. Hearing this, Machine Man gets angry and threatens to never call him that again. Newly energized, he stands up and the disruptor field’s circuits overload with power. McCord, who was still holding one of the rods, is knocked backwards. The other three watch as the hole in the robots chest closes, repairing itself.
Mad, Machine Man lunges forward, not caring for the laser weapon that Diaz fires at him. Within seconds, the soldier is disarmed and knocked out. The robot then turns to McCord, who is still hurting from the earlier power outlet. X-51 grabs him by the throat and then cables emerge from his wrist, connecting with McCord’s suit. Travis tries to help his colleague, but is taken out by a stun blast before he can even reach Machine Man. Richter watches Diaz coming around and pointing a weapon at X-51’s back. However, all of a sudden, his arm shifts and is pointed at Richter, who too feels his arm move without will, pointing his weapon own weapon at Diaz. Two shots are released, knocking both out. McCord, still in Machine Man’s grip, is the last one conscious to listen to the robot’s words.
Machine Man tells him that they shouldn’t have pushed him, but now that he has interfaced with the software in their battle-suits, it was pretty easy to override their systems and make them use their weapons on each other. However, one question remains – why did they attack him the first place? McCord answers it was never about him, they were after a mere technicality. Machine Man is not satisfied with this reply, but the soldier says it’s the only one he will get. The robot decides that he is finished then and the screen goes black.
Tessa explains what happened afterwards. The four operatives were a bit bruised but otherwise unharmed. All of their suits ceased recording after being automatically shut down and, by the time they came back on-line, X-51 had vanished without a trace. To make matters worse, they have also lost his signature. Shaw wonders how this is possible, after all when they field-tested the disruptor rods their efficiency was proven against all systems developed in Shaw Industries. Tessa carefully voices her analysis – while similar in capability to Shaw’s technology, it seems that X-51’s manifested capabilities were more advanced.
Shaw states that he doesn’t care what sort of upgrades were made to the equipment, it still belongs to him and he wants it back. He then recalls Machine Man mentioning something about the place being its home. Sipping her wine, Tessa responds that she already researched that the house belonged to an “A. Stack”. This might possibly be an alias used by X-51 to help conceal the truth about his synthetic nature. Also important is, she notes, that the robot manifested the new capabilities only after his system was close to shut-down and one of the men made the mistake of referring to him as a machine. Apparently, there is a connection to the way he simply lost control of his emotions.
Sebastian Shaw is rather annoyed by this. “Emotions?! What do you mean by ‘Emotions’? This thing isn’t even alive – in fact it is an absolute mockery of life!” Now that he is certain that the robot has what is rightfully his, he intends to fully reclaim it. Thus, he orders Tessa to find all she can on this “A. Stack.” His aide promptly complies and is about to leave. Behind her, Sebastian is still staring at the screen displaying the image of X-51, contemplating that it seems X-51’s capabilities have dramatically improved, making him probably the most powerful cybernetic construct on the planet. That means one thing – Sebastian Shaw alone must have complete control of its systems.