Cape Hayden, Kentucky: a base for covert military research and development. X-Force came here quietly, hoping to purge – with a minimum of attention – the development of an advanced and potentially deadly robotics technology. Cable and Domino are now the only members left standing. They have come to realize two flaws in their strategy: one, their team never seems to accomplish anything with any degree of subtlety, and two, the robotics technology they came to eliminate was more advanced than they expected!
As the reconstructed Nimrod Sentinel looms over them, Domino asks Cable if he’s holding up okay, to which he responds that he is, barely. Nimrod interjects to explain that he fully advises surrender as their only logical option. Cable and Domino instead opt to flee, scattering through the remnants of the laboratory area, which X-Force’s battle with Nimrod has so trashed. Nimrod responds by firing off a series of small metallic spheres, which home in on Cable. As Cable leaps through the air, announcing that he is in no kind of mood for this, the spheres reach him and detonate with a massive explosion, sending him to the floor in a defeated and smoldering heap.
Domino, enraged, informs Nimrod that it’s time he saw some mutants fight back, and fires off some potshots in his general direction. Meanwhile, Valerie Hawkins-Mailer, co-director of the Guardian Agenda research team that has recreated Nimrod, expresses her shock at what is occurring: they didn’t install the weapons systems that Nimrod is deploying! She demands Nimrod tell her how he is doing this; the programming core they created for him did not include instructions for him to give birth to himself or to process and actuate weaponry which they’ve never even heard of! Nimrod politely explains that he is not proceeding with the programming she installed into his matrix core; he simply stated he is proceeding with his programming.
In the background, the same type of spherical drones which took down Cable have attempted to home in on Domino. They fail and miss, exploding harmlessly behind her. Nimrod is shocked: this result is not logical. MIAD systems are designed to use a tracked target’s mutagenic signature against itself! Domino requests that Nimrod take a wild guess as to what happens when his target’s powers are to naturally have things fall into place for them? Nimrod protests, as he continues to uselessly fire weapon system after weapon system at Domino, that this is not a mutagenic ability for which actions and reactions can be logically anticipated.
Nimrod then determines that his inability to properly predict the actions of this mutant target may necessitate extreme actions to be undertaken in order for the target to be nullified. He releases a whirling blade from his wrist and then continues to pursue Domino. As Domino leaps clear of Nimrod’s fist, the blade that Nimrod released hits a nearby pipe and releases a burst of hot steam, which stuns Domino. She falls to the ground.
Nimrod advances toward her menacingly, explaining that a viable means of positive interdiction has been discovered. Domino’s mutagenic power enabled her to avoid his perceived initial assault, but it did not serve to successfully prevent Nimrod from accessing his true target: the steam pipes in front of her. Weakly crawling away, Domino mutters that Nimrod is such a sneaky robot, isn’t he?
In the distance, Cable, barely breathing, can only watch helplessly as Nimrod closes in on the weakened Domino. In a burst of desperation, he uses a flash of telekinetic power to twist the ruptured pipe toward Nimrod just as the robot releases a plasma burst. Nimrod is incinerated. And then continues walking forward, barely scratched. Domino announces to Cable, past the smoking and sizzling robot, her thanks: that bought her an extra three seconds of life! How will she ever use them all wisely?
move it! Nimrod gloomily replies that Shatterstar has simply provided him with another genetic miscreant to eliminate.
Across the lab, the recovering Dr. Walker explains that X-Force won’t hold out much longer, and brute force won’t be able to stop Nimrod. Dr. Hawkins-Mailer asks how else he proposes to stop an unstoppable killing machine? Back in the heat of battle, Shatterstar again manages to slash open Nimrod’s armor, this time at a knee joint. Announcing his success to Domino, she replies that she’s duly impressed, then tells him to clear out as she slaps an explosive into Nimrod’s open “wound.” The explosion is rather larger than she was expecting, and both Domino and Shatterstar – along with a fair deal of rubble – are tossed about violently.
Recovering, Shatterstar asks Domino if she is unhurt. She replies that, no, she is not unhurt! And from the looks of it, neither is Hopalong Cassidy. She is referring to Nimrod, who is now down a leg but still standing by propping himself against some wreckage. After explaining that he finds Domino’s cultural allusions confusing, he notes that the damage these two have caused to his system operations are not sufficient for them to elude him much longer. While this may be accurate, it proves irrelevant, as a full-force sonic scream tears into Nimrod and further decommissions him. The battered Rictor, Siryn, and Warpath stand behind the semi-destroyed robot; Rictor announces that this is about as much as the three of them are going to be able do, considering they’re a walking pile of broken bones.
At the still-functional computer terminals of the lab, Dr. Hawkins-Mailer announces to Cable that she estimates about ten minutes in their favor before Nimrod’s self-repair system is completed. She explains that Dr. Walker and she can try to access Nimrod’s database from their computer system. But, adds Dr. Walker, be warned: he may have evolved to such a degree as to prevent them from accomplishing that! Producing a strange protrusion from his techno-organic arm, Cable tells Walker to just find the “door” to their little “project,” and leave him to find the key. Cable then interfaces with the computer and announces that he’s going to try to use his very out-of-practice telepathy to take the three of them on a trip into the astral plane of Nimrod’s artificial intelligence.
For an instant, there is nothingness; then there is everything within nothingness; and then out of that all, the three minds reclaim their sense of self… inside Nimrod’s mind. Dr. Hawkins-Mailer finds it amazing; Nimrod has sentient awareness: it can think! But can it comprehend? In answer to this, Nimrod’s swirling psyche begins to take form before them, announcing that it was capable enough to have created itself: it comprehended the concept of self-preservation. During its first tenure in this temporal node, in its original body, it downloaded a self-awareness program into the military cybernet; a sleeper virus which awaited the opportunity to access a Sentinel development program which it could use to recreate itself.
Dr. Hawkins-Mailer exclaims that Nimrod shouldn’t even be there. They’re not ready to build something like him. That, interjects Cable, is exactly what brought X-Force here. How could a technology that won’t be developed for decades exist here and now without upsetting the balance of time? Cable then asks in confusion what Nimrod is doing to him, as his techno-organic arm begins to stretch and contort in a haphazard manner. Nimrod replies that he is doing nothing; Cable’s techno-organic mesh is interacting with Nimrod’s neural net. Cable is proving his point against himself: he, bearing technology from two thousand years in the future, has illogically involved himself in the proceedings of this time-node, as well.
Cable tells Nimrod to back off: Nimrod is denying his own programming, his own “destiny,” while Cable is fulfilling his. Nimrod requests that Cable declare his reasoning for this statement. Cable argues that Nimrod claims his programming is to save human beings from the threat of mutants. His own logic dictates that the most efficient way to accomplish that is to eliminate all mutants. But he’s not supposed to be doing that there! He was created in a world which had witnessed humans and mutants killing each other for over twenty-five years! Millions were already dead before his programming even came online!
Therefore, replies Nimrod, those millions can be saved by acting now, in anticipation of future strife. No! replies Cable. Millions more will die if Nimrod precipitates full-scale mutant warfare before it happened in his timeline. Dr. Hawkins-Mailer asks Nimrod to run the statistical data necessary to approximate what the casualty figures would be like if a Nimrod Hunter unit had existed sixty years earlier. Nimrod complies and begins to process the numbers, hacking into Project: Wideawake’s files on identified and suspected mutants, correlating locations and population census data…
[Sanctioning the targets X-Force would anticipate the loss of one hundred thirty seven non-combatants complemented by seventy-seven injuries.]
[New Delhi: Comcast, Exelite Organization: 75,655]
[Salem Center: X-Men: tactical warhead: 233,174]
[Novosibirsk: Darkstar, Blind Faith: 44,998]
[Russia: General Dispersal Program: 1.4 million]
[Westmorris: Firestar, New York vicinity extrapolation: 2.7 million]
[Muir Island: Excalibur: 2]
[Orbital parameters: Avalon: irreparable damage to atmosphere: anticipated casualties, incalculable]
Calculating the numbers, Nimrod begins to suspect the futility of its existence. It is unable to find a sense of purpose or reason for being in the face of data. Outside the astral plane, in the middle of combat with the still-standing members of X-Force, Nimrod abruptly shudders to a halt. Warpath exclaims in disbelief that it… just stopped? Tapping Nimrod’s armor, Shatterstar expresses his disappointment that it occurred just as they were getting a good workout. Domino suspects that they had very little to do with it, and Cable, reappearing with the scientists, explains that they all had a little discussion.
Pardon his reluctance to cheer this victory, begins Shatterstar, but are they saying that the machine shut itself down because they asked it? Not quite, replies Dr. Hawkins-Mailer. More, they showed it a better way to achieve its goals. And that would be? asks an incredulous Shatterstar. By letting humans and mutants work at succeeding in their need to coexist, rather than to foment further divisions between them, replies Dr. Hawkins-Mailer.
She then opens a panel on Nimrod and removes a rectangular, hard-drive-like device. Explaining that this is Nimrod’s central neural net, she says that without it the robot is a glorified Pentagon paperweight. She states that the scientists at Cape Hayden will keep the robot, study its alloys and defensive systems, but Cable and his crew get the network. Humans, she announces, deserve the chance to protect themselves, and mutants deserve the chance to defend themselves. Cable reluctantly agrees, being in little position to do otherwise. Domino suggests that X-Force exit, because the security guards will be waking up soon. Dr. Hawkins-Mailer agrees, and explains that she’ll tell security the truth: the Sentinel prototype went out of control and was stopped by the very people it was designed to eliminate.
Meanwhile: the Guthrie Farm in Cumberland County, Kentucky. Cannonball and Boomer sit among Cannonball’s family in the kitchen of the farmhouse, idly chatting over breakfast. Their banter is interrupted by a knock at the door. Josh Guthrie goes to answer it, only to find himself greeted by some very severe-looking men. Gideon announces his greetings to the human, and then tells him that, if he values his life, he will tell his brother that the Externals are here.