Angel's Aerie. The Colorado Rocky Mountains...:
If someone had asked Wolverine two months ago if he had ever been to Colorado, he would have said no. Until recently, most of his past was a mystery to him. His memories were erased by a mad scientist who had a nasty bedside manner and twisted ideas about how weapons were made. Recently, Wolverine got his memories back. The feeling, he says, is like waking up from a long night of drinking: the stuff he remembers is pretty good. It's the parts of the night he would rather not remember that he has to learn from his friends the next day.
Before he got his memories back, Wolverine constantly searched for clues to his missing past. He wanted to know where he came from, what he had done, and what he had lost. I needed to know who I was and who I really am, he thinks. But as it turns out, I knew more about myself before I got my memories back. Ain't that a bitch.
Cyclops finds Logan standing on the balcony outside of Angel's Aerie, drinking a beer and staring at the Rocky Mountains. Logan turns around. His eyes instantly focus on Rahne Sinclair, who stands in the corner by the door. Logan asks what she is doing there; he thought Cyclops wanted to talk in private. He does want to talk in private, Cyclops says. The reason for Rahne's presence is complicated.
Changing subjects, Logan asks why Cyclops wants to see him. Cyclops explains how, seventeen hours earlier, a man turned himself in to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in North Dakota. This man—Reverand Matthew Risman, the leader of the Purifiers—marched into the base and told the agents he wanted to confess his sins. As it turns out, he only went there to commit more of them. Risman approached the armory in the company of one of his inside-men, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jeremy Latcham. After Latcham apologized to the armory guard Josh for what he was about to do, he executed him in cold blood. Less than an hour after Risman turned himself in, he and his men had killed sixteen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.
William Stryker and his Purifiers killed more students in a single night than the Xavier Institute lost in all the years since its doors opened, Cyclops says. However, the Purifiers have always targeted mutants, such as Professor Xavier, the X-Men, the students, and the baby. For them to suddenly attack baseline humans, at a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility no less, indicates an unprecedented escalation in their actions. Cyclops realizes that the Purifiers must have had several high-ranking members inside the government, hence S.H.I.E.L.D.'s non-involvement during the Purifier assault on the X-Mansion and the attack on the Cooperstown Hospital in Alaska. This attack, however, is one S.H.I.E.L.D. cannot ignore—no matter how many men Risman has within its ranks.
Wolverine asks why Risman did it. He was after something, Cyclops says; something so important, he risked everything to get it. The Purifiers made their way to the dangerous artifacts chamber in the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, cut their way through the vault door, and found the object they sought. Cyclops believes it is only a matter of time before the Purifiers use this object against the world's remaining mutants.
"Well," Wolverine says, leans against the banister, "if those nut-jobs are dumb enough to come after us again, we'll take 'em down. Hard." This time, Cyclops states, they do things differently. He refuses to wait until there are more dead mutants on their doorstep. He orders Logan to hunt down Risman and the Purifiers before they have a chance to carry out their plan, and put a stop to them—permanently. He will not go alone, however; Cyclops wants him to reassemble X-Force. Wolverine doesn't know if he should be impressed at Scott's assertiveness, or worry he has snapped. He asks what Emma has to say about all of this.
"Emma... doesn't need to know," Cyclops answers. That settles it for Logan: he's impressed. Regardless, he reminds Scott that it's a moot point, since X-Force doesn't exist anymore. After the Purifiers killed Caliban, James Proudstar went missing. "No, he didn't," Cyclops says. "I know where he is."
Outside Camp Verde, Arizona...
The sun sets over the desert, casting James Proudstar as a silhouette alongside several cacti and a funeral pyre. Kneeling before the pyre, James, the X-Man known as Warpath, speaks to his dead brother, John. Being an X-Man has taken so much from him, yet left him with an unfulfilled legacy. James says. It took John; James buried him here, along with the rest of their murdered tribe. Now, it's taken his friend Caliban, whose body James now lays beside the spirit his dead brother. "You could have saved him, Johnny," James says. "You could have saved them all. I need you here. I need you to teach me, to guide me on my quest." James cuts the palm of his hand with a hunting knife. He lets his blood fall over a photograph of his old teammates on X-Force: Cable, Meltdown, Cannonball, Caliban, and himself. "And if Caliban is with you," he tells his brother, "tell him I'm sorry. I'm sorry he died for me. But I can give his spirit vengeance."
"I swear this blood oath to you," Warpath says to the body of Caliban, which rests on a pyre within a large stone outline of the thunderbird, "...the Purifiers will die."
"With or without X-Force, Warpath is going after the Purifiers," Cyclops says to Wolverine. "And X-23 is—"
Logan stops him right there. If Jimmy wants to join X-Force, that's fine by Logan; it's his decision. Laura, on the other hand, does not know how to choose. Logan brought her to Xavier's so she could start a new life, and maybe learn how to be a real person. Even after everything that went down with the kids, Logan refuses to ask her to kill again. He tells Cyclops to forget it. "You don't have to ask her," Cyclops tells Wolverine. "I already did. She's inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility right now."
X-23 performs a full situational analysis as she enters the infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. armory. It has one entrance and one exits, she notes. It's missing seven weapons, all high-velocity rifles with explosive rounds. She smells the lingering death scent of one white male, age 28-30, who had high cholesterol.
She suddenly gets a whiff of a familiar scent: Purifiers. In her mind, Laura Kinney recreates their movements in the room, following the scents they left like ghosts. She identifies one of the infiltrators as Matthew Risman, a white male age 34-36, who, according to O*N*E and S.H.I.E.L.D. files, was previously an assassin-for-hire. Risman was present during the Purifier attack on the Institute, Laura notes, and was therefore personally responsible for the deaths of 42 students in a single rocket strike. Risman had an inside man named Jeremy Latcham, Laura concludes. A white male, age 32-34, with no family, Latcham identified as a Christian and followed the teachings of Reverend William Stryker.
Manning a computer, Laura notes that the Purifiers introduced a computer virus into the mainframe that deleted all the data regarding the object they stole. She suggests tracking Agent Latcham for more information, but then sees something on the monitor that changes her mind. It is a security recording from after the Purifiers completed their mission at the facility. It shows Matthew Risman congratulating Latcham on a job well done. Latcham then says his final prayers, turns his shotgun on himself, and pulls the trigger. X-23 cannot track Jeremy Latcham because he performed a self-termination to protect mission intelligence. Given the current data, she cannot identify the stolen item either. However, she has Risman's scent; she can track him. Via com-link, she asks Cyclops for her next assignment.
At Angel's Aerie, Cyclops tells X-23 to proceed with tracking Risman and report back once she finds his location. He commends her good work and signs off. Immediately, Logan punches him across the face. "Laura is my responsibility. You should have come to me first, Summers," Logan says. What kind of person has Cyclops become? He just uses people now? He's willing to set Warpath down the same road as his dead brother? He's willing to pull Rahne Sinclair into this twisted world? If he wants Risman dead, he was right to come to Wolverine. He was wrong to think Wolverine could not do it alone.
"This team is happening, Logan. You think I don't know the line I'm crossing? I do," Cyclops says, feeling his aching jaw. "This isn't X-Men work. This is X-Force. No one can know." He reminds Logan he is not asking for his permission; this team must happen. “And for the record,” Cyclops adds, “Rahne came to me.”
Logan marches inside. He walks right past Rahne, who stands coyly by the door. She attempts to speak to Logan as he walks by, but he refuses to acknowledge her. She doesn't want to do this, Logan tells her. Whatever personal baggage she has, she should just lose it and forget about it. After he leaves, Rahne stares ahead sternly. "I can't," she says. "I have to know." Something nearby catches her attention. She transforms into her werewolf form and growls.
Outside Fargo, North Dakota. A church of the Reverend William Stryker...
"Reverend Stryker was given a gift from the Lord," Matthew Risman says, "—a holy messenger called Nimrod that would tell the faithful of the future and light our way to the path of redemption." Nimrod showed Reverend Stryker many visions of many possible futures. The future seemed to change before his very eyes. He vowed to turn the tide against what he called the darkness. He believed he was returning Eden to humanity and driving back Satan's mutants. Then, Risman says, Stryker was taken from them. When they struck out against the "Children of Satan" they cut Stryker down, filling his body with black, cancerous tumors. Those that survived the battle returned to find their church destroyed, their brothers dead and their messenger stolen. Eventually, they recovered Nimrod from the wreckage of a mutant stronghold in Texas, but they did not find him in time; his connection to the future had already been severed, and they could not restore his power. "But you, brother Eli," Risman says, carrying a metallic jar labeled 070109, "you have given us new hope."
From a distance, X-23 watches this church through a rifle scope equipped with night vision. “He's here, with James Proudstar,” she says into her headset. Continuing, she states Risman and the stolen item are inside the church. Seven concealed Purifiers guard the church's exterior. Its layout is similar to the Washington, D.C. location, with the sub-level entrances most heavily guarded. The seven men guarding the church will have to be killed in order to gain entry without triggering any alarms, X-23 says aloud. They will have six minutes to complete this task before someone notices the radio silence.
Wolverine and Warpath stand behind her. "Well, hello to you, too," Warpath says. Without hesitation, Wolverine implores the two young mutants to walk away from this mission immediately. He doesn't care what promises Cyclops has made to tempt them. If they go through with this, they will not be X-Men anymore. They may remain on the team, they may stand right next to Beast and Angel and Iceman, but they will not be the same as those guys.
Addressing Laura, Wolverine tells her if she continues down this path, any shot she had at being human will slip even further away. If she does this, she will become X-23 again.
He turns to James. Now that he has no purpose in life, he decides to return to revenge? It didn't work for him before and it certainly will not work for him this time. "You're a big tough man, I know," Wolverine says. "But you do this, and you're something else. You're just a killer."
Wolverine gives them one last chance to walk away. X-23 shoulders her sniper rifle. Warpath stares straight ahead and says nothing. "Fine," Wolverine says as he pulls on his mask. "Your lives."
Inside the church, Risman continues praising Eli. He informs Eli he is the first of their brothers to seek them out. All the others, Reverend Stryker recruited himself. Stryker found each of them and put them on the path to salvation. Eli, on the other hand, sought out the Purifiers and directly led them to the device that can restore Nimrod, their visitor from the future. Nimrod's future is similar to their own. In its timeline, mutants were practically extinct. The machines of mankind had taken the world back from them. When Nimrod found Reverend Stryker, he connected to his timeline and showed him how the actions of the Purifiers could change the future. The obituaries Nimrod possessed in its database allowed Stryker to save the lives of those that should otherwise have died. Stryker recruited these people in the fight against his enemy.
While he speaks to Eli, the rest of the Purifiers work to attack a robotic head to the body of Nimrod, which hangs suspended from a steel cross in the laboratory. Risman continues. He explains that Nimrod is not just a messenger from the future, but a warrior designed solely to slay mutants, whom he terms "demons". With Nimrod's help, they can turn the tide against the mutant threat, just as Nimrod accomplished in its own timeline. Until Eli found them, the Purifiers believed this to be the only occasion in which Nimrod visited the past. Now, they understand that Nimrod had been there before—that while leaping back in time, this era was but its first stop. Nimrod continued moving further back in time and arrived on a second occasion, many years earlier. In that past time, it fought against mutants and eventually merged with a machine called Master Mold, and became something far greater than the being they see before them. It became Bastion. Now, with the pieces of their fallen oracle, they restore him to new greatness. "Today, we join the body of Nimrod to the head of Bastion, and give life to—"
The Bastion/Nimrod unit suddenly whirrs to life. Its eyes glow yellow and it addresses the Purifiers present. WARNING: MUTANTS DETECTED, it says.
Outside, Wolverine, Warpath and X-23 slash their way through the Purifiers. Armed with a pair of hunting knives, Warpath initially attacks using non-lethal force, leaving the heavy hacking and slashing to his blood-soaked, uninhibited teammates. When a Purifier pulls a gun on X-23's back, however, Warpath leaps to her aid, plunging one of his knives through the back of the man's head and out his mouth. "He was going to kill you," Warpath says to Laura. "So, I—I killed him." Yes he did, X-23 calmly states.
Suddenly, she gets a whiff of a familiar scent and realizes Matthew Risman has arrived—but is not alone. Wolverine concurs; he smells her too. Out of nowhere, Risman appears and orders the X-Men to stand down. In his right hand, he holds a dog-leash. In his left, he holds a gun, aimed at the head of his hostage, Rahne Sinclair. If they don't stand down, Rahne dies, he says. "She dies, you follow her one second later, Risman," Wolverine says. X-23, meanwhile, calls Risman's bluff; he doesn't want to kill Rahne. Despite Wolverine's pleas that she desist, X-23 lunges toward Risman, eviscerating the two Purifiers in her way.
She doesn't make it in time. With his battle-scarred face, Risman looks at X-23, tells her he doesn't bluff, and pulls the trigger of the gun aimed at Rahne Sinclair.