Chapter 8: Hard Choices
Secret Canadian Research Facility – Main Lab
Donald Pierce entered the main lab reading the latest progress report. So far everything was on schedule. The early steps of a bold plan were taking shape. Construction on what he hoped would be his grandest achievement was well underway and nobody was onto him. Nick Fury and SHIELD were perpetually a step behind. None of the other Hellfire affiliates knew. It was all working out so well for him. His situation was far more preferable to what he endured months ago.
After the Hellfire Club was defeated by the X-men, he was humiliated. The memory of being hauled away in a stretcher with his mechanical arms and limbs missing while he relentlessly cussed out Nick Fury hung strong. For a while it seemed as though he would not be able to escape imprisonment. Nick Fury was intent on locking him up and throwing away the key, but thankfully he still had his connections.
While Colonel Fury couldn’t be bought, there were other highly ranked men in the government that were not so honorable. A few of them needed money and resources for their own private wars and since Pierce was an all around mechanical guru, he had what they needed. It cost him a great deal, forcing him to liquidate most of his assets, but he managed to buy his freedom. When he was set for a prison transfer, a few bribed guards broke rank and let him go along the way. No doubt Nick Fury was furious about it, but that was his problem.
After getting his limbs back and making a few upgrades, he took his remaining assets focused all his efforts on his grandest vision. It was so grand he hadn’t even thought of a name for it yet. He was considering something along the lines of Mastermold. It seemed the most fitting since it would be through this machine that a new future will be molded. And this time it won’t be from the blood and sweat of flesh, but from the iron will of machine.
It wasn’t easy building something this grand. Nick Fury was constantly on his tail, looking to finish what he started. He was forced to carry out most of his operations in this rust bucket lair in Canada and ship most of his materials through an elaborate network of dummy corporations and false names. It slowed his progress, but it was necessary if he was to stay a step ahead. Because if Fury caught him again there was no way he would let him out this time. That’s why he had to make this project count. It was all or nothing and he had every intention of seeing this through to his last breath.
Pierce set the report aside and made his way to the central construction area. There a lone figure was hard at work manipulating mechanical arms to integrate the components of a large cybernetic parts while dozens of humanoid mini-sentinels, his preferred workforce, did more menial tasks like moving parts and stitching together the structure. Pierce took a moment to admire the machinery before addressing his partner.
“It’s coming together nicely, Bolivar,” said Pierce in an approving tone, “Were my parts to the right specifications?”
“Yes, Mr. Pierce,” said Trask, still focused on his work, “These circuits are more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen. Where on Earth did you get them?”
“Don’t trouble yourself with the trivial details,” said Pierce, giving Trask a pat on the back, “Just focus on the task at hand. The final shipment arrived this morning so let’s not waste time.”
“You mean those quantum circuits you told me about?” said Trask, stopping his work for a moment.
“Indeed. I’ve already started programming them. If you do your part and I do mine, we’ll be set to activate it right on schedule.”
“Good,” said Trask in approval, “This project has been delayed enough. I just hope that program you promised does everything you claim it’ll do.”
“Oh come now, old friend. You know I leave nothing to chance,” said Pierce with an ominous grin.
Trask took him at his word and went back to work. While Donald Pierce was a long-time partner and confidante, he never was all that fond him. He always seemed a little off. He knew he had some twisted obsession with machines. Anybody who underwent extensive surgery to make his body more machine than man had to have something wrong upstairs. But there was no getting around his brilliance or his wealth.
Trask’s work with sentinels wouldn’t have been possible without Pierce. For years he funded his research and provided him the necessary resources to create what he hoped would be humanity’s savior from the mutant menace. They made great strides even though they faced obstacles along the way. The first prototype was a bust which was not only destroyed by the X-men and Brotherhood, but it also did a lot of damage to innocent bystanders and ended up putting him in jail.
But in an ironic twist, Trask got his freedom again when Nick Fury came to his cell asking for his help against Apocalypse. He was desperate and managed to negotiate a pardon in exchange for his help. In many ways Apocalypse vindicated what he had believed all along. Mutants were a grave threat and his research was more important than ever. That’s why he came with Pierce to this facility and stepped up his efforts. Once this new generation of sentinels was completed, humanity would be safe again.
While Trask went on with his work, guided by the foolish delusion that he was saving humanity by fighting mutants, Pierce entered the primary construction area where the majority of his mini-sentinel work force did their job. Since this project was so grand in scale no ordinary facility could house it. That’s why he paid to expand this old Weapon X facility into a nearby mountain. Not only did it provide enough space, it kept their activities secret. Nobody, not the government, not Nick Fury, and not the X-men knew about it. And their ignorance would be his revenge.
Mastermold had already taken much of its final shape. The head, body, and limbs were all in place. It only lacked the more refined components and programming to make it run. To the ignorant eye it looked like a colossal behemoth, resembling a normal sentinel only much bigger. But this was no ordinary sentinel. If all went according to plan, this proud creation of his would usher in a new era.
“Mastermold…” he said in a dazed tone, “Soon…you’ll awaken to this world very soon.”
X-men and Magneto
Each team gathered outside to hear the plan. Now that they had knowledge of Donald Pierce, they could take the fight to him directly and potentially change the future. It was risky since Pierce was a product of the Hellfire Club and they never went down easily. But this was a mission too important to ignore. They had to proceed carefully or risk the end of not only mutants, but humanity as well.
They all listened as Cable laid out a plan. His emphasis was simple. They had to come together, fight Pierce, and hope they could stop him without damaging the time stream. But as with any plan, they had to prepare for the worst. And this is where Cable’s plan came up against some opposition.
“You want us to split up?” exclaimed Emma, “Are you high? We need every body we can throw at this guy!”
“Yeah, we’ve faced the Hellfire Club before. We need numbers on our side, especially since they’ll probably have surprises in store for us,” said Warren, who was also skeptical of Cable’s plan.
“That’s exactly why we need to do this,” said Cable strongly, “It’s how we prepare for the worst. Should any one of us fall in course of battle, there has to be others still alive to carry on the fight. It’s how we do things in my time and believe me it’s never easy, but it’s also necessary. Remember, we can’t do the future any good if we’re all dead.”
It sure sounded grim, but Cable made a point. If the unthinkable were to happen, some of them had to survive to continue the X-men.
“Okay dying…definitely something we want to avoid,” said Roberto.
“Yeah, talk about a rosy outlook,” muttered Bobby.
“Can it, popsicle,” grunted Logan, “Exactly how much confidence do you have in this plan of yours, bub?”
“About as much as any,” said Cable, “It’s not like I had time to work out the details.”
“Well it shows,” said Lance, “Seriously, who’s on board with this crazy plan anyways?”
“I am,” said Magneto firmly.
Pyro, Lance, and Exodus cast their leader a bewildered gaze. They thought he of all people would rather follow his own plan instead of one detailed by an X-man. But with both his kids already hurt and Cable’s story not painting a rosy picture for his dream, he didn’t have time for petty trust issues.
“Cable is right,” said Magneto, “We must split our ranks to ensure the continuity of our fight. That is why Exodus will stay behind and look after my children.”
“Me?!” exclaimed Exodus, “But my lord…”
“This is not a negotiation,” said Magneto sternly, “If you really want to show your loyalty you’ll do as I ask and continue the mutant liberation front should I fall in battle.”
Exodus was forced to hide his discontent. He was the most loyal of Magneto’s followers and he was keeping him out of this fight. He understood his concern for his children, but that was a job Pyro and Lance would be just as good at. Then again, if he did fall he didn’t see them being too enthusiastic about continuing the Mutant Liberation Front. For that reason, he accepted his lord’s wishes.
“Very well, Magneto. I shall do as you ask,” said Exodus solemnly.
“Good,” said the master of magnetism, “What about you, Charles?”
Professor Xavier needed a moment to consider his options. He agreed with the idea, but didn’t like the decisions involved. Every one of his students wanted to be a part of this fight. They didn’t want to see this future manifest any more than he did, but should the unthinkable happen they had to be ready.
“While I know all of you wish to help, we must take the necessary measures,” he said with a heavy heart, “Therefore Tabitha, Sam, Ray, Roberto, Jubilee, Amara, Jamie, and Rahne will stay behind along with Emma, Irene, and Sage. I’ll call Moira MacTaggart and arrange for you to stay at Muir Island for the duration of this mission. The rest of you will come with us on the mission.”
“Wait, why me?” argued Emma, “I’ve got more history with this guy than any one of you! I should be a part of any plan that takes them down.”
“Emma, think of Jack,” coaxed Vincent, “One of us has to stay behind for him.”
Emma looked down at her son. Her face contorted in a wave of mixed emotions, but her husband was right. She hated Pierce like the rest of the Hellfire Club, but one of them had to stay behind for the sake of their son. If something were to go wrong with this mission he needed at least one of his parents with him. But Emma didn’t even want to consider such a possibility.
“I know,” she said, cuddling her son, “But…”
“It’ll be fine,” said Vince strongly, “We’ll get through this. I promise.”
“That better mean you’re coming back,” she told him, “Because if you don’t…”
“You’ll do way worse to me than anything Pierce could muster, I know,” said Vincent with a half smile.
Emma smiled back and shared a brief hug with her family. She and Vince had just started building a life together. There was no way either of them was going to let any future get in the way of that. Their son deserved better.
“You know, that would be nauseatingly sappy if that girl wasn’t so hot,” commented Pyro.
“I’d keep your voice down if I were you,” said Jean, “You don’t want to offend a telepath who can make your brain leak out of your ears.”
Pyro scoffed, but a further look from Emma shut him up. He was okay to play with matches, but only to the extent of not getting burned.
For the others who were also staying behind, they had their own concerns. The New Mutants weren’t surprised by the Professor’s decision, but it put an ominous burden on their shoulders. If they didn’t succeed in stopping this future or something happened to the regulars, it would be up to them to make sure that there was still somebody to fight the coming battles. It had never been a big deal before, but since Cable revealed the future to them it carried a much greater load.
“Talk about pressure,” muttered Sam, “Ah’d feel a lot better about staying behind if Ah didn’t know how bad it could be if y’all failed.”
“Yeah, that puts us in a hell of a position,” said Tabitha.
“Well for all our sake I hope you guys can stop this thing,” said Roberto.
“We all do, Sam,” said the Professor, “But try not to worry about the future. Right now it’s the present that matters.”
They were wise words from a wise man that bore so much responsibility on his weary shoulders. Even Magneto couldn’t help but admire his resolve. He was intrinsically linked to this fight. There was no way around it. However, that was also a potential issue.
“What about you, Professor?” asked Betsy, “Shouldn’t you stay behind as well?”
“No, I cannot afford to endanger the lot of you,” said Xavier solemnly, “As long as I am one of Nimrod’s main targets I must go with the team.”
“That may be dangerous, Charles,” said Magneto, “Your mobility could be an issue.”
“I know,” he said, staring bitterly at his legs, “But we don’t have a choice, do we Cable?”
“I’m afraid not, Professor,” affirmed Cable, “Nimrod’s AI is a difference engine. If it senses one main target is more vulnerable than the other it’ll go after the one that’s vulnerable.”
“In other words, divide and conquer,” surmised Laura, her tactical knowledge from Hydra kicking in.
“Yes, which is why we must remain united,” said the Professor firmly, “Now if anyone has any issues with these arrangements, talk to me. Otherwise, get ready. We have a difficult road ahead of us.”
In complete darkness, the pieces of Nimrod struggled to reform in the confined space within the metal shell it had been trapped in. The main target known as Magneto had proven to be more determined than it had calculated. This mishap was a major delay in its mission and couldn’t afford to waste time while its targets regrouped. But first it had to get out of this tomb.
“System reboot successful. Activate escape plan omega.”
It was too tight a space for Nimrod to reform its body, but it had enough room to reform its head. It would be all that was necessary to break free from this confinement. All it had to do was orient itself enough so that it was facing up towards the surface. Once that was done, it charged the high powered lasers in its eyes and fired a highly focused, red hot beam into the top of the metal shell.
At first the metal was hard to pierce. Magneto made the shell extra thick, but it was only steel. Applying enough heat coupled with time and patience and it melted with ease. It took a while, but eventually Nimrod penetrated the shell. Now all it had to do was punch through thick layers of rock. And if it could punch a hole through steel, rock was just as easy.
Soon a red hot hole of superheated rock glowed on the surface. Thick shards of rock shattered and popped like they were nothing. When the top layer broke, the laser energy from Nimrod shot out in a column of brilliant light. It left a long, narrow path for it to escape and by shifting its metal body into a malleable form it squeezed through until it reached the surface.
Once all its pieces were out of the ground, Nimrod fully reformed. Everything was back online again. Much time had been lost because of this confinement. It still had to pursue its targets, except now it didn’t have any data to seek them out. Nimrod was going to have to formulate a new plan so it performed a quick system scan.
“Scanning…initiating preliminary assessment.”
The advanced robot humanoid continued to analyze its current data. Then suddenly, its scanners detected something.
“Error detected. Component piece missing from Nimrod system. Accessing memory.”
Images from its recent fight played over in its data banks. Nimrod soon identified the source of the error. It turned out in Magneto’s blind rage he didn’t realize that a small part from Nimrod’s internal circuits got caught on his boot. That one circuit was linked to Nimrod like the rest of its system. It could use it to track the whereabouts of the target and zero in on him without warning. And where the main target Magneto was, its other targets were sure to be close.
“Activate tracking program. Zero in on signal wave from rogue piece. Objective: seek, isolate, and destroy.”
Outside the X-jet and Velocity
Once the plan had been laid out the teams began to divide up in preparation for the coming battle. It was a difficult moment for many not only because it would leave part of the team with Magneto, but because of what was at stake. For once, everybody knew the consequences for the future if they failed. But they could not think in such terms. They had gone into tough battles before and once again it involved the Hellfire Club. They had beaten them before and they could beat them again, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
The New Mutants took time to wish their friends luck. Tabitha, Sam, Roberto, Ray, Rahne, Sam, Amara, and Jubilee hugged their friends and encouraged them for the coming battle.
“Be careful guys,” said Roberto, “Give Pierce Hell.”
“Don’t worry about that. When I get through with him he’ll wish he was a machine,” said Laura sternly.
“Easy Laura, save some for the rest of us, yes?” said Piotr.
“Speak for yourself,” said Tabitha bitterly, “I’m as sick of the Hellfire Club as anybody else. They’ve caused us a lot of pain and they deserve to be shut down for good.”
“Yeah, the sooner they’re gone the sooner we can go back home,” said Jamie.
“Hey, look on the bright side, Jamie. You’ll get to meet my mom,” said Rahne, giving her boyfriend an encouraging hug.
Jamie’s expression shifted. He hadn’t thought of that. While Rahne told her all about Moria and she seemed very nice, he never actually sat down and talked to her about dating her daughter. He planned to eventually, just not this soon.
“Ooh, that’s right!” said Ray, giving Jamie a pat on the back, “You’ll get to meet your girlfriend’s mom.”
“Yeah, that’s a big deal, Jamie,” said Sam, “Think you’re ready for it?”
“Will you guys knock it off?” groaned Jamie, “We’ve got enough to worry about.”
“Oh lighten up, Jamie. It’ll be fine. My mom will love ye. Trust me,” said Rahne, slipping her arms around him to help ease the tension.
That helped Jamie feel a little better. He managed a smile to show his girlfriend that he was ready to do this, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t have reservations. It would have been nicer if he met his girlfriend’s mother under different circumstances, but as was often the case the X-men had to take what they could get.
While the New Mutants said goodbye, Amara and August stepped away to have a private moment. With one of them going and one of them staying it was going to be nerve racking. Amara had protested at first, but she soon understood why Xavier chose August to go with them. She had more experience in these kinds of battles, not to mention this was somewhat personal. Her mother, Selene, belonged to the Hellfire Club and taking it down was a big deal.
“Take care of yourself out there,” said Amara as she hugged her girlfriend.
“You two, Amara,” said August, hugging back firmly, “I’ll burn Pierce a new one for you.”
“You’re sweet,” grinned the Nova Roman princess, “You do what you have to do. I’ll be waiting.”
“So will I.”
The two girls shared a loving kiss before they parted. With one of them being in danger and the other staying behind, it really showed how much they meant to each other. Their relationship was just starting to evolve and they had every intention of having it blossom even further.
Another couple that had to part under these difficult circumstances was Bobby and Jubilee. Ever since Bobby became more involved with the regulars, he and Jubilee had their share of uncertainties. But it didn’t change how they felt about each other and it didn’t stop them from worrying.
“Don’t do anything stupid out there,” said Jubilee as a hard lump formed in her throat.
“Hey, you know me. The Iceman stays cool even in the face of giant robots and future killing machines,” said Bobby with a reassuring smile.
“I know,” she said, returning his smile, “Just don’t be too cool. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”
Bobby’s expression shifted upon hearing such sentiment. His usually light-hearted persona shifted and he got serious for a moment, taking his girlfriend in his arms and caressing her worried face.
“I’ll be okay,” he told her softly.
“You better,” said Jubilee as she clung to him for a moment.
The young couple shared a soft kiss. It was a powerful moment for Bobby and Jubilee. Playful or not, Bobby cared about this girl and was determined to see her again. And she cared for him, her smile never waning as they parted and waved goodbye.
Over with Mystique, Irene, and Rogue it was a similar scene, only this was more a family affair. Irene knew full well she couldn’t do much good on this mission and could only wish the ones she cared about the best. She couldn’t say whether or not the future would unfold in their favor just yet, but she never said they were beyond hope.
She made sure she gave Rogue a warm hug. Having not been there during Rogue’s darkest hours, it meant a lot to the blind woman that she support this girl who was like a daughter to her. They hadn’t gotten the chance to really sit down and catch up, but after this was over they both vowed to share that moment.
“Remember Rogue, the future is not set. Nothing is inevitable except our uncertainties,” she told her, “The future is in your hands, but it is also fragile. Be careful and be smart about the paths you take.”
“Ah will, Irene,” said Rogue strongly, “Hellfire has hurt meh so much in the past. There ain’t no way Ah’m gonna let them rule mah future.”
“That’s my girl,” smiled Irene.
Then the blind woman turned to Remy, who she sensed was standing right next to her. He had become a very important part of Rogue’s life and she could tell he cared about her a great deal. Remy hadn’t really gotten to know Irene yet, but compared to Mystique she didn’t seem so bad.
“Take care of her, Gambit,” said Irene.
“Will do, cherè,” said Remy confidently.
“Hey, who’s the invulnerable one here?” said Rogue cynically.
“I know,” said Irene with a smile, “Just making sure so we can have something to go on when she sit and have a nice talk when all this is over.”
“Lookin’ forward to it,” he said, “Remy already survived that talk with Mystique. Shouldn’t be that big a deal.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” said Irene coyly, “Just because I’m not as intimidating doesn’t mean I’m just as tough. Raven will vouch for me on that.”
“Indeed I will,” said Mystique with a mischievous grin, “And if I were you, Remy, I’d be ready.”
The Cajun mutant rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. It seemed as though everybody close to Rogue was ganging up on him. It was a good thing he was so head-over-heels for this girl otherwise threats like this would give him plenty of doubt. Never-the-less, he took it in stride. Rogue couldn’t help but laugh at the position they put him in and leaned in close to help him feel better. As much as she loved the guy, sometimes it was good to keep his ego in check.
While Rogue and Remy walked off, Mystique shared a moment of their own. Irene never worried too much about Raven since she knew how to take care of herself. She also took comfort in the new warrior instinct she had in her courtesy of Slayer. She knew it would serve her well in the coming battle and they shared a brief kiss before they parted.
“Think you’ll ever get used to that?” commented Remy.
“One step at a time, sugah,” grinned Rogue.
Shortly after Mystique parted with Irene, she saw Magneto and Sage moving Wanda and Pietro out of the jet. They were both lying on stretchers. Pietro was still out cold, but Wanda looked as though she was partially conscious. Kurt was still with her, watching over her every step of the way. Even with her intimidating father looking over, he refused to leave her side.
“Sage, can I ask you to do something for me?” said Kurt, not taking his eyes off Wanda.
“Sure Kurt, what is it?”
“Tell zhe Professor…I’d like to stay behind vith, Vanda.”
Magneto cast a suspicious gaze towards Kurt, but he ignored it. Even though Kurt wasn’t mentioned in the group the Professor said would stay behind, he needed to be close to the woman he loved.
Sage looked at Magneto and then back at Kurt. Given how enraged Wanda became when her father first arrived, it might be for the better that she wake up to someone who could keep her calm. She was sure the Professor would understand. It was Magneto she was worried about.
“I’ll tell him,” she said, leaving him and Magneto to finish loading them onto the Velocity.
Kurt didn’t make eye contact with Magneto. Even though he felt his eyes on him constantly, his main concern was Wanda. Such dedication didn’t go unnoticed by the master of magnetism, who was beginning to see just how much this boy meant to his daughter.
For now, Magneto had to set aside such personal matters. Donald Pierce and his creations had hurt his children and he was not going to let that stand.
“I’ll make sure that madman pays. I promise,” vowed Magneto.
Wanda stirred at the sound of his voice, but she didn’t have the strength to scoff or lash out at him. All she had were his words and whether she believed him or not, she had no doubt he was going to carry them out. She may not be able to forgive him, but he could at least prove he still cared about her and her brother.
“Look after her, Nightcrawler,” he told the young man, “And when she wakes up, tell her I’m sorry. It probably won’t mean much to her, but just tell her.”
“I vill,” said Kurt.
“And just to be clear…I still don’t entirely approve of you being involved with my daughter,” he added, “But I’m glad she has someone who cares about her.”
Kurt simply nodded. He expected nothing less from Magneto. While at times he did show he was capable of some compassion, he was still the stern, overzealous man who the X-men had come to know so well. But that didn’t mean Kurt wouldn’t keep his word.
Sage went on to tell the Professor of Kurt’s decision. It came as no surprise. He figured Kurt would want to be by his girlfriend’s side, but he didn’t want to speak for him. And it would probably be better for Wanda if she arose next to someone she loved. That way dealing with Pietro would be a lot easier.
Before Sage returned to the Velocity, Hank caught up with her and they shared one last hug. Given the technical nature of their enemy, someone with advanced know-how had to go along. And since Hank was the more nimble of the two he got the call. But before they parted, they shared a deep kiss. Sage even showed a somewhat lighter side, teasing the fur on his face.
“For luck,” she said when they parted.
“Astute minds make their own luck,” quipped Beast.
“Then you’ll have plenty.”
The couple shared another smile. For all the brains between them, the simplest gestures said more than even their advanced vocabulary. They parted and prepared to play the roles of the responsible adults. But they couldn’t help but feel a little concern. Even if the future was bleak, it would always have some light if they could face it together.
The two teams loaded into their respective aircrafts. Exodus was plenty reluctant and earned plenty of suspicious looks. Thankfully, his loyalty to Magneto was strong enough to hold back his discontent. Sage manned the cockpit and started up the engines. The regulars waved goodbye and they waved back, wishing them luck on the mission.
Cable, however, was a bit more conflicted. It was not lost on Scott and Jean that he kept a close eye on Kurt and Wanda as they loaded her on. He had also acted strangely earlier when she first got hurt, but didn’t reveal why. Now Scott and Jean were intrigued and decided to push for answers. They were, after all, his parents technically.
“Something you want to tell us, son?” said Scott, breaking Cable from his daze.
“It’s nothing,” he said, turning away, “Let’s just go.”
But Jean grabbed his arm and stopped him. Usually Cable would have pulled away at such a gesture, but this was his mother.
“You’re lying and I know it,” said Jean with a touch of parental scolding.
“A little young to be playing mother, Jean,” quipped Cable.
“Don’t try to avoid it, Cable,” said Scott, “Trust me, we’re experts on avoiding pent up feelings. Now what is it? I take it has something to do with Wanda.”
Cable muttered a curse. His parents were every bit as concerned and involved as he remembered. That was good in some ways, but now hardly seemed like the time. So he just grunted to himself and said it.
“Fine, if you must know Kurt and Wanda are kind of important.”
“For the future?” asked Jean.
“No…for me,” he said, diverting his gaze, “Not long after I was born, they’ll have a daughter named Talia. And she’ll be a pretty big part of my life…a really big part.”
Scott and Jean knew that tone. It was the same tone they dwelled over their feelings for one another, especially before they started dating. Only Cable seemed saddened by it, at least to the extent he allowed himself to be.
“Oh…I see,” said Scott, “So she’ll be what? Your future girlfriend?”
“For a while at least,” he said solemnly, “She died during the early parts of the resistance along with her mother.”
Scott and Jean gasped. Now they understood why he kept it to himself.
“Oh God,” said Jean with tears in her eyes.
“It was a major blow for all of us. We were ambushed during a rescue and her mother got wounded. She ran after her and I tried to stop her. But she didn’t listen. In the end they both died and I lost my legs in the process.”
Cable tapped his cybernetic legs with bitterness. They were a constant reminder of his failure. It started him down the path he went, becoming the cold soldier that was so feared and respected.
“I’m so sorry, Nathan,” said Scott, putting a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Don’t be,” he said, “You two were already dead when it happened. Kurt was the one who suffered most. But somehow he never lost his faith and kept fighting.”
“Yeah, that’s Kurt for you,” said Jean, wiping a tear from her eye, “Did…did you ever find anybody else?”
Cable sighed again. This was something else he wanted to avoid. The last thing he needed right now was to start thinking of what he left behind, but again he found himself reminiscing.
“Eventually I did. In fact, she was at my side when I jumped in the time portal. Her name was Domino. She watched my back when I was too pig-headed to watch it myself.”
“I know how that feels,” said Scott, earning him a smile from Jean.
“It’s kind of strange,” he went on, “When we saw the portal she didn’t even try to stop me. She knew I wanted to go back and save you guys. Her last words to me were ‘do what you have to do.’ Not exactly the best way to say goodbye, but given the situation…”
Cable soon found himself trail off. He hadn’t thought much about Domino since he arrived and now that he remembered her it did hurt. And for someone with as many battle scars as him, that said a lot.
“I’m sure she knew,” said Jean with a comforting gesture.
“She probably did,” sighed Cable, “But for all the terrible things in the future, she’s still a good enough reason to want to go back.”
“Love does that,” said Scott, “Which is why it’s important you hold onto it. And I’m not saying that to be melodramatic. I can see that you’re a battle hardened fighter, Cable. You think of nothing but getting the job done. Believe me, I’ve been there too. But by forgetting what you left behind you can easily forget why you’re fighting in the first place.”
It sounded like a speech his father would have given to him years ago. If Cable hadn’t been jaded by years of battle he might have actually laughed at the irony. But it did make him think.
Looking off to his right, he saw Vince and Emma lingering together. The Velocity was ready to take off, but the young family was not quite ready to part. Emma wouldn’t let her husband go that easily and Vincent wanted to hold his son before he left for the fight. It brought another round of conflicting thoughts to Cable and this time he didn’t avoid them.
“You’re right,” he told them, “Excuse me, guys. I just remembered a promise I made to someone.”
Scott and Jean’s curiosity was peaked again. But this time they let Cable go. They had already learned a lot about what they were going to have to face in the future. Some parts might be best left unknown. Yet as they watched him, Scott and Jean couldn’t help but smile. Cable was clearly a strong fighter with a strong heart. Future or not, he was still their son and they were proud of him.
“What was that about?” asked Alex, who noticed their conversation from far.
“It’s nothing,” said Scott, purposely using the exact same words as his son, “Come on, let’s get on the X-jet. We’ve got a big fight ahead of us.”
Alex shrugged and followed his brother’s advice. Unlike him, there was only so much future knowledge he could take.
That left only Vincent and Emma as being the only ones not boarding their respective aircrafts. It was hard letting each other go. They were a family now and being apart from each other under these circumstances was heart-wrenching. Even baby Jack seemed to pick up on it and whined as Vince cuddled him.
“Shh…it’ll be okay, Jack,” he said softly, “Daddy will be back. I promise.”
“You better,” said Emma, holding back her tears, “Just don’t do anything too extreme, darling. I know you hate Hellfire as much as me, but you’ve got a family waiting for you back home.”
“All the more reason to pull through,” said Vincent, gently caressing his wife’s face, “I don’t want our son growing up in this future any more than you. That’s why I’ll fight with every ounce of strength to change it.”
“Don’t fight too hard,” she warned him, “Because no future would be worth living in if we can’t share it together.”
Vincent and Emma Freeman shared another smile. Then they met in a soft kiss, sending their feelings of love through their link. There was already a sense of longing even though they hadn’t left. Such a scene almost made Cable smile since he never envisioned such a scene.
“Never thought I’d see this again,” he commented, “Jack was right. You guys were pretty protective.”
The couple turned to face Cable, who seemed more distressed than usual. His eyes were solely on baby Jack. Seeing him had a strange effect on him and Emma and Vince were quick to take notice.
“What are you talking about?” said Emma, already tired of all the future revelations she had learned, “Is this another one of those ominous hints of the future.”
“No, this is me keeping a promise I made to a very good friend,” he said as he approached them, “I know he doesn’t look it now, but your son will one day be my second in command and most trusted comrade. But in addition…he’ll also be my brother in law.”
“Wow…brother in law?” said Vincent, “How…”
“He married my sister,” said Cable solemnly, “You remember Rachel? She and I were close, but she was a lot closer to Jack than anyone else. They really fell hard for each other and despite a full blown war going on, they got married.”
Vince and Emma exchanged looks. Their son was still in diapers and now they knew he was going to marry. It was a lot to take in, but at least it was the daughter of their friends.
“I guess that’s not so bad,” said Vince, “At least it’s someone we know.”
“It’s not quite that simple,” said Cable, his dark demeanor not changing, “They were married for only a few months. Then we went on a rescue mission and Rachel got captured.”
“Oh God,” gasped Emma, knowing that look all too well, “What happened?”
“Jack and I tried to rescue her,” he said in a grim tone, “But we were too late. She was dead by the time we got there. I was so angry. I don’t know how many sentinels I ripped apart. By the time it was over I didn’t just lose my sister, I also lost another limb and an eye.”
Cable tapped his metal arm, bitter at the memories it brought back. But he wasn’t done yet.
“We also found out she was pregnant. Jack took it the hardest and he was never the same after that.”
“My God, that’s awful,” said Vincent as he held his son closer, “Now we have to stop Pierce. There’s no way in hell my son is going to feel that kind of pain!”
“Yeah, that kind of brings me to my promise,” said Cable, “Before I left, Jack made me promise him I’d give you two a message. He made me memorize it on the spot and I swore I’d deliver it. So here goes…”
Cable took a deep breath. The Jack who told him these words was very different from the Jack that Vince and Emma were holding now. He had their full attention and he owed it to his future brother in law to keep his promise.
“He said ‘Thank you for everything you’ve taught me, mom and dad. Thank you for teaching me how to be a proud warrior. This war tore us apart and brought great suffering to everyone we care about. But I understand that if my brother in arms succeeds, it may all be undone. So let me just say to you what I never got a chance to say over the years…I love you, mom and Dad. Please fight for a future we can all share.’”
It was a message any parent would be proud to hear. Vince and Emma smiled and looked down at their son. There was a touch of Vincent’s sense of honor and Emma’s humility. Hearing it from Cable, it brought a lot of feelings to the already proud parents. Now they were even more determined to beat Hellfire. They owed it to their son.
“Thanks Cable,” said Emma with a warm smile, “And for what it’s worth, thanks for looking after my son in the future.”
“To be fair, he looked after me just as much,” said Cable.
“That still means a lot to us,” said Vincent, “And it’ll mean even more if we can stop Pierce and everything he and Mastermold will destroy.”
“Right,” said Cable, collecting himself again with the poise of a stern soldier, “So let’s not keep him waiting. I’ve got a few other promises to keep from the millions of people who suffered from this madman’s bloodlust.”
“I’ll help you keep it,” said Vince strongly, “I owe you that much.”
Cable nodded, feeling bolstered now that he kept his promise to his closest comrade. He watched as Vince and Emma shared one last embrace and Vince handed Jack over to Emma. It was hard parting from each other, but the future message from their son made them both determined to see it through. And as they each gathered in their respective aircrafts, they carried with them a new sense of hope.
This is where it would all change. This is where future history diverged. One path led to one of darkness. The other led to one of uncertainty. At the center of it all was a determined enemy who had a nasty grudge against them and an army of giant mutant-hating robots. But if that’s what they had to go through to build a better future for themselves and their future children, so be it.
Up next: The fight against Mastermold begins, but not without hitting a snag.