Late in the night, hot winds sweep across the Arizona desert and the Camp Verde Apache reservation within it. Hidden beneath the sands lies X-Force’s bunker headquarters and cautiously making her way through these tunnels is Domino. She has come to the realization that, according to her handheld scanner, whatever “was here” has since gone to the surface. She elects to pursue, emerging into the night air.
Domino has spent the last week scouting out potential locations for X-Force’s new headquarters, and returned an hour ago to find the bunker abandoned and completely drained of power, all internal systems off-line. Flashes of electrical fire had apparently charred the walls; something had come and just as quickly gone. The question in her mind, as she cautiously begins to navigate the maze of canyons and rocky corridors surrounding the Camp Verde base, is just who – or what – it was.
Domino receives her answer, however, when a voice calls out her name and begs for assistance. Glancing up in confusion, Domino witnesses a metallic, humanoid being descending upon her from above, announcing it is “seriously spazzing out” as it falls. Domino barely manages to dodge out of the way in time, prompting the humanoid-robot to claim this is odd: from his angle of descent he had anticipated he would have landed directly on top of her, causing substantial injuries. Domino flippantly notes that things tend to go her way, and then requests that the being explain who he is or she’ll begin doing some “plasma tracer dental work” on him – assuming he has teeth, that is.
Why Beatrice, replies the being, he has known the pleasure of her company for years, although she did not officially make his acquaintance until quite recently; and if the face isn’t familiar, he hopes the voice is! At this, Domino finally pieces the clues together, and steps back in shock: it’s Professor?! But, she continues, that’s not possible! Indeed it is, he corrects her, and he would prefer to be called Prosh. Before he can continue, however, he notes that he may require some physical assistance returning to the bunker, for it seems he has finally drained his storage cells completely dry of his remaining power. At this, Prosh falls unconscious.
Later, Prosh “wakes up,” immediately finding himself surrounded by X-Force, who have all returned to the bunker in the interim of his mechanical “sleep.” Cable asks Prosh to tell them just what is going on. Prosh expresses his pleasure at seeing all of them, and then assumes, from their presence, that things went well against the Phalanx. His own unexpected encounter with one of them there in the bunker complex, he explains, has left him in a rather interesting position. He then asks how long he has been inactive, and Warpath explains it has been about seventy-eight hours. Cannonball explains that Domino dragged Prosh back here and plugged him into the “secondary fusion generators,” and he’s been feeding off the bunker’s power supply ever since.
Boomer asks Prosh how he came to possess his body, and he replies that the exact details are a bit confusing to him. He can, however, activate the bunker security cameras to play back the Phalanx attack which led to his current condition. Prosh snaps his fingers, and a nearby projector activates, playing back the data he narrates: an agent of the Phalanx came to Camp Verde, assumedly looking to assimilate or destroy X-Force, but upon trying to break into their computer system encountered the Professor. The Phalanx’s form was completely disintegrated, lost to the overwhelming flow of information within the Professor’s neural network, and this somehow led to the utter destruction of that particular Phalanx and the Professor gaining a corporeal body.
Prosh suddenly found himself able to see from his own eyes, taste the air, smell the desert flowers, and run. He supposes he found that most enjoyable of all, because he ran too long and too far, losing power and nearly his newfound life as well, until Beatrice found him. Beatrice? asks Boomer. Not another word, glares Domino. She then questions whether they can really trust Prosh, considering all they just went through with the Phalanx. Cable tells her to stand down, because there’s as much a chance of Prosh being a threat to them as there is of him time-traveling. Cannonball confusedly notes that he thought Cable could do that. Prosh points out that that was before Graymalkin was lost and the time-displacement core taken off-line. He then floats toward Cable and steals his cup of coffee.
As Cable shoots him a sour look, Prosh asks him what he’s looking at: for years, Cable’s told Prosh that he makes coffee “worth killing for,” and now that he finally has a mouth, he wants to see what all the fuss is about. This leads to banter about coffee until Warpath interrupts to ask Shatterstar why he isn’t hanging out with the rest of them. Shatterstar replies that he does not wish to rain on anyone’s charade, but he has been monitoring Prosh’s energy intake. Cable invites Shatterstar, by all means, to “rain on their charade” and tell them what he’s found. Actually, replies Shatterstar, nothing. That’s what’s so strange about all this: the equipment should be registering the output drainage, but he’s getting a flatline reading. Perhaps, he ventures, Prosh’s presence is somehow interfering with the diagnostic equipment?
No, replies Cable tersely, that can’t be. Shatterstar must be reading it wrong. When did he become an expert in fusion energy systems? Prosh requests that Cable please not speak on subjects he knows nothing about. Five hours after he first taught Shatterstar to play chess, explains Prosh, he never won another game against the lad, so his intelligence should not be belittled. After some more chatter amongst the team, the mysterious energy issue is forgotten about and Cable states that, speaking for everyone present, it’s a pleasure to welcome Prosh to X-Force. Prosh clarifies that, though he has always considered himself a part of the family there, the pleasure is entirely his.
Several days pass and, for a chance of pace, it’s a relaxing time for X-Force. Prosh quickly becomes a focal point of warmth and friendship among the disparate members of the team. Early in the morning, Domino looks on from a distance while the rest of the team plays American football with Prosh. From the shadows, Cable notes that she doesn’t have to keep avoiding them because of him. Domino replies that she knows, but they were lied to enough by someone wearing her face when Vanessa impersonated her that she’d rather not give them any reasons to mistrust her now.
He doesn’t want her to lie for him, explains Cable, but he doesn’t want them to know yet, either. He wants them all, especially Prosh, to enjoy the fun they’ve been having. Even if it kills him? asks Domino. Well, replies Cable, at least until they find some hard evidence that Prosh’s new life really does have something to do with what’s happened to him. At this point, Cable steps forward into the light, revealing his techno-organic half to be mutating out of control, growing layers of strange, spiky distortions. Domino expresses her concern that this is going to tear Cable apart if it keeps up.
Later that evening, Rictor approaches Shatterstar, who is examining various pieces of X-Force’s technology, and asks why he skipped out on dinner. Rictor explains it was his turn to cook, but the temperature gauge on the oven was shot and he didn’t know it. He tells Shatterstar that he should have seen the look on Cannonball’s face when he bit into the chicken. Shatterstar replies that he imagines it was quite comical. When Rictor asks what Shatterstar is up to, he explains that the “remote selector” is not operating properly, and he has been trying to fix it for over an hour.
He then explains that he has performed a complete diagnostic on all of their communications systems, and he has not liked what he has uncovered. Rictor observes that, according to the readouts, something is broadcasting a frequency which is scrambling all of their electromagnetic systems. Shatterstar adds that a perpetual haze of static incursion has begun to affect everything in the bunkers, which runs on any kind of energy. And, he adds, he is afraid that he has also gone a long way toward identifying the source… and it confirms his initial suspicions from days ago.
The next morning, inside the hangar bay, Cannonball and Warpath are perplexed by the discovery that the IPAC is covered with distorted, spiky metal protrusions. Cannonball notes that they better find Cable and tell him that the IPAC is growing big metal zits; Warpath notes that this is a sound idea, if they can find him. No one has seen Cable since yesterday morning, and Domino only said that he was having a really bad hair day. Cannonball replies that, either way, they have to find out what, or who, is responsible for this.
Sometime later, a shocked Prosh, in private audience with Cable and Domino, is informed that it is him! Yes, explains Cable, it is him, as much as he didn’t want it to be true. The energy signatures that Prosh subsists on, the transmissions that run through him like blood, are disrupting everything in the bunker, including Cable’s techno-organic mesh. Prosh concludes that if his very existence has been doing this to Cable, then the solution, logically, is that he cease to exist. No! shouts a frustrated Cable; Prosh just found life, real life, for the first time, and he won’t be the reason for taking it from him. Prosh complains that he cannot live while Cable suffers, and asks what else can be done to stop this. Domino replies that she doesn’t know, but she thinks it’s time they got everyone in on this.
Later still, all of X-Force is gathered in the medical lab around the barely-conscious Cable. Prosh rants that this is all because of him; he has corrupted everything they’ve tried to build there. He comes to the conclusion that he has to disintegrate himself, try to purge the Phalanx’s form from his neural network, which is linked to all the systems in the bunker. Shatterstar points out that doing so would end Prosh’s physical life; that which he seeks to purge is also responsible for having given him this present form. Cable offers that there has to be a better solution than that, a way for Prosh to live and for all of them to live too. What’s killing Cable is keeping Prosh alive; so, offers Cable, what about saving him at the same time Prosh saves himself? Why not take everything here with him and leave?
Prosh objects that this would mean Cable losing all of his equipment and most of the data network, but Cable replies that these are just things; they used to matter to him, when that was all he had, but people matter more to him now. Prosh’s next objection is that if he leaves, he would never be able to see them again. Cannonball counters that Prosh would still be alive, out there somewhere among the stars. Prosh admits that it would be wonderful to be soaring through the cosmos again. He then informs Warpath that to do this would require him to severely disrupt the foundations of Camp Verde: not just the bunker complex, but many of the buildings above-ground would need to be co-opted into his mass to properly prepare his form for interstellar travel. Warpath explains that his people’s burial ground is a mile southeast of the bunkers, and that’s the only place he asks be left untouched.
Prosh begins to say his goodbyes, explaining that he will miss them all, especially Cable. He has watched over him since he was a lad, and he has seen him struggle through a life of such loss, sadness, and tragedy that a lesser man would have been crushed long ago. Cable informs Prosh that he is the best friend he has ever had.
Even later, as the twilight sun begins to set, X-Force stands a far distance away from Camp Verde, overlooking their base. The ground begins to tremble, and then fracture. Domino notes that it’s working. Cable’s techno-organic mesh is stabilizing. Cable remarks that, the further he gets from Prosh, the better he looks… but that doesn’t make him feel any better. Then the ground under the base explodes, and a fantastic starship, with Prosh anchored to the prow, ascends into the sky and then curves into the upper atmosphere. And then the sound and the flames are gone, and all that remains of Camp Verde is a patchwork of smoldering craters.
Domino asks Cable if he’s going to be okay, and he replies that he is. Cable internally reflects on the fact that the Professor’s hollow, computerized voice has been there for him throughout his entire life, and always helped him through his hardest decisions. Now, it has almost come full-circle, as in their final moments together they served to give each other hope.
Cable then announces aloud that Prosh helped teach him that he is, and always was, more than metal… he’s blood too, and he has blood again, a family of sorts, a life. He’d like them, X-Force, all of them, to start living that life. Surveying the smoldering wreckage of their old home, Cannonball and the rest are prompted to state that this philosophy is fine by them, but… where are they going to go to do it?
Funny they should ask, replies Domino…