Chapter 13: Zero Hour
Sentinel Facility – Computer Mainframe
Professor Charles Xavier was staring down the barrel of a gun. Bolivar Trask had him right where he wanted him, defenseless and vulnerable. Hank was still out of it, having suffered a major blow to the head earlier from a metal pipe. He was hunched over the computer, groaning in pain. Now nothing stood in the way of Trask finishing what the Friends of Humanity set out to do in the first place.
“This is for all those days I spent rotting in jail because of you,” said Trask, his voice seething with anger.
“Trask, listen to me,” urged Xavier, “You have to stop this. You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“I know exactly what I’m doing!” spat Trask, “You think I don’t see what your kind is doing? I know how nature works. When a new species arises to compete with another, conflict always results. Like the Neanderthals before us, homo sapiens are under siege. And I won’t let history repeat itself! These sentinels are the only way to save humanity!”
“These sentinels will be the end of humanity!” exclaimed Xavier as he lay helpless on the floor, “Don’t you see what Pierce is doing? He doesn’t care about humans or mutants. He’s just using us both to start a war that’ll destroy us all!”
“Save it for your maker, Xavier,” scoffed Trask, “Why should I believe you anyways?”
“Answer me honestly, Bolivar…do you trust Donald Pierce?”
Professor Xavier was playing an unexpected card. He was using Trask’s own uncertainty against him. He didn’t need psychic powers to tell him that Trask didn’t trust this man. His hesitation in answering his question was proof enough of that.
Trask’s expression shifted. As much as he loathed mutants, Xavier made a clear point. He didn’t trust Pierce. Who could ever trust someone crazy enough to cut off his own limbs and replace them with cybernetics? But he had been willing to overlook such matters for the sake of his work. Now he was so close to completing his lifelong dream. But was it really his or Pierce’s?
Xavier watched anxiously, sensing the conflict within him. He also looked over at Hank, who was still reeling. But even with his hesitation, Trask kept the gun pointed at him.
“No! I won’t be fooled by your tricks!” he said, gripping the gun tighter.
“So it’s true,” said Xavier, trying to buy time, “You don’t trust him.”
“More than I trust you!” said Trask firmly, “All that matters is he’s giving me the resources to create the ultimate mutant killing machines.”
“Those resources are under his control,” argued Xavier, “Do you honestly think he’ll just let you use them unless he had his own agenda?”
“Shut up! I’m tired of your stalling!” yelled Trask with increasing frustration.
“You’re not a killer, Bolviar,” said Xavier calmly, “You’re a man of science. You don’t have to do this.”
“I do what I must to protect my kind. If I don’t, who will?”
“But don’t you see? You’re fighting conflict with more conflict. And if you don’t stop, people like Pierce will use you to their own ends.”
“I can’t stop! I won’t!”
“Would you if I told you that Pierce is going to use your greatest creation to destroy every living thing on the face of the planet so he can replace them with machines? Would you if I told you that he’ll kill you when he has no more use for you?”
They were bold claims. Trask still saw them as mutant tricks, but there was too much to overlook. Pierce was hardly stable. He always suspected he had his own agenda, but he assumed he could work around it. However, if what Xavier was saying was true, that was impossible.
“I…I don’t believe you!” shot Trask.
Xavier sighed in frustration. There was no getting through to this man. He was willing to place his trust in a madman just to carry out his war with mutants. That left only one option.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Bolivar,” said the Professor, “But if you don’t believe me, then maybe you’ll believe this…”
Placing his hands on his temples, the Professor unleashed a psychic probe upon Trask’s mind. He had some shielding. No doubt they were techniques Pierce taught him to avoid detection. But they were hardly strong enough to keep out the world’s greatest telepath. And once he was in, he sent waves of images through his mind.
What Trask saw next made him freeze in place. Images of the future that haunted Xavier’s nightmares after Apocalypse surged across his mind’s eye. He saw vivid images of a decimated world ruled by sentinels. Further images imparted from Cable showed how they were controlled by Mastermold, which Pierce had merged with. He saw every major city and population center destroyed and countless bodies littering the streets. And it was all because of his creations. His beloved sentinels were the ones killing innocent people, mutant and non-mutant alike. He watched as they stomped on houses, shot fleeting people, and destroyed anything that stood in its path. He then saw machines by the thousands prowling the world, all controlled by Mastermold, turning all that which he swore to protect into heartless, soulless metal.
It was terrible in ways he couldn’t describe. It was too vivid not to be real. There was no getting around the cold hard truth. Everything he dedicated his life to protecting was going to be destroyed. And it was all his fault.
“No…what is this?” he gasped.
“A taste of things to come,” said Xavier solemnly, “Your sentinels will be used to destroy the world. And if you don’t help me, many will die…human and mutant alike.”
His hands trembled and tears formed in his eyes. At this point, Hank finally came to. He had risen up from the console and saw Trask pointing a gun at Xavier. He was about to attack, but the Professor waved him down. They could get through this without fighting.
“That…that monster!” exclaimed Trask, “I swear Pierce will pay for this!”
“Then help us, Bolivar,” said Xavier, “Help us ensure that the future I showed you will never come to pass.”
“But how?” he said, his hands still trembling.
“By destroying Mastermold and all traces of its function,” said Xavier strongly, “I know it’s your life’s work, but it’s the only way. Please Trask…from one man of science to another, help us.”
Bolivar Trask was at an impasse. He had dedicated his life to creating machines that would preserve humanity. But all his hard work had done the opposite. His blood, sweat, and tears would end up being the destruction of everything he stood for. It was all because of his blind hatred for mutants. Pierce used that against him and now he was nothing but a pawn.
But he refused to be responsible for such atrocity. He refused to go down in history as the man who created humanity’s ultimate destruction. It was a hard, bitter pill to swallow. But it had to be done.
Finally, he lowered the gun and held his head low in defeat.
“The override password is Hellfire666,” he said, “Everything related to Mastermold and sentinel programming including the override codes are linked through a secure intranet called Master Cell. Delete that and you delete the core programming of Mastermold.”
“Hank…” said Xavier, turning towards his friend.
“I’m on it,” he said, shaking off his bodily pain, “Just give me a moment. I’m working with a splitting headache.”
Xavier let out a sigh of relief. In an ironic twist, the man responsible for creating the ultimate mutant killing machine would also be the one to destroy them. He watched as Trask stood conflicted as Hank went about destroying what he worked so hard to create. He was a truly broken man. He was used and betrayed, blinded by his own irrational fears. He had been willing to send humanity to its doom in his fight against something he didn’t understand. It was finally clear to him now.
“Thank you, Bolivar,” said Professor Xavier.
“No…don’t thank me,” he said solemnly, “I was a fool. And I’m ready to atone for it.”
“Then come with us,” urged Xavier, “Together we can help stop Pierce.”
“No, I’ve done all I can,” he went on, “The only thing left is to make sure nobody uses my knowledge for their own selfish gains ever again. And there’s only one way to do that.”
Then to Xavier’s horror, Trask took the gun and pointed it at his head.
“No wait!” exclaimed Xavier.
But it was too late. Trask closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. And with a deafening bang, his life ended with a burst of energy through the head. It was enough to startle Hank from his hacking. He turned around just in time to see Trask’s lifeless body fall to the floor. It was a terrible end to a man who sincerely believed he was protecting humanity.
“My God…” gasped Hank.
For a moment he and the Professor were speechless. He was serious about nobody using his secrets for their own gain. And with this act, nobody would ever exploit him again. It was a high price to pay, but one Trask was willing to go through with in order to save the future. The best they could do was honor his act.
“Hank…” said Xavier, snapping him out of his daze, “How much longer?”
“I uh…five minutes,” he said, regaining his composure, “I’ve already cancelled the upload. I just have to delete the rest of the files.”
Hank typed feverishly on the console while Xavier crawled over to Trask’s lifeless body and took the gun. They succeeded in one step, despite the loss of a life in the process. But they had to move on. Mastermold wasn’t destroyed yet. They still had to make sure what Trask and Pierce completed would never be active. For that, they hoped the rest of the team was okay.
Sentinel Facility – Main Bay
The tide had turned against the X-men. Nimrod’s sudden appearance left Magneto wounded and brought forth a new army of sentinels. These ones wouldn’t be as easy to take down as the mini-sentinels and with Nimrod leading them, there was little doubt that this was going to be a hard fought battle.
The only one happy about this sudden development was Donald Pierce. He had been fighting a losing battle after his initial plan to kill the X-men failed. Now he had some unexpected help. A machine that he could only describe as an advanced sentinel came in and saved him. It had all the makings of his handiwork, but it was far in advance of anything he had ever conceived before. And yet here it was, fully functional and ready to attack. He saw functions in it that he hadn’t even contemplated yet. There were only so many ways that could happen. But he cared little about the details. It was time to see his enemies tremble.
“It appears fate is on my side,” he grinned as he watched the sentinels surround the X-men, “You fools should have known better.”
The X-men and the Mutant Liberation Front were backed into the center of the area with over a dozen sentinels closing in on them. Lance and Pyro struggled to keep Magneto upright as he grunted in pain at the wound Nimrod left on his torso. It was so bad he couldn’t focus his power. Now he and the rest of his team were very vulnerable and Nimrod was poised to exploit it.
However, Cable would not have it.
“Any bright ideas, homme?” asked Gambit, taking out two decks of cards in preparation for the fight.
“Yeah…” he said, cocking his gun, “You take care of the sentinels. Leave Nimrod to me.”
“That’s not much of a plan,” commented Bobby.
“It’ll have to do!” growled Laura as she leapt into action.
There was no time to think about logistics. They were surrounded, overpowered, and under siege. Scott, Jean, Alex, Vincent, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, Warren, Kitty, Piotr, Logan, Ororo, August, Laura, Mystique, Pyro, Lance, and Magneto would have to band together with this one. The stakes were high and time was running out. The future would have to take a backseat to the present.
“Here we go again,” said Alex, as he prepared for another onslaught.
Alex teamed up with Laura to attack one sentinel, using his firepower to draw its attention while former weapon X-23 clawed her way up the leg and attacked the head. Scott teamed up with Jean, as was their custom, playing similar roles with Scott blasting one sentinel while Jean provided protection and a few bursts of her own. Remy did the same with Rogue and so did Warren and Betsy, Piotr and Kitty, and Bobby and August. Logan and Mystique went after Pierce, who was now more confident than ever. Nimrod was left to Cable, who had a grudge to settle with this thing.
“You want them, Nimrod? You gotta go through me!” yelled Cable as the attack began.
While these battles went on, Pyro and Lance were stuck in the central area trying to defend Magneto. He was out of the fight, his wound leaving him unable to fight with the fury he showed earlier. He couldn’t even get up because of the pain. He was forced to rip up his cape to cover the wound, but his old body was slow to recover. It didn’t help that three sentinels were trying to converge on them. Their sensors recognized Magneto as a dangerous mutant. Pyro and Lance did their best, using firestorms and tremors to get them to back off. But it wasn’t enough.
“Yeah right, gang up on us why don’t you!” grunted Lance in frustration.
“We could sure use some help here, boss!” said Pyro, keeping up a steady barrage of fireballs to hold the sentinels back.
“I…can’t…focus,” he groaned, still clutching his side.
The sentinels were getting closer. A couple were slowed down by Lance and Pyro, but one managed to slip through and get a clear shot at the master of magnetism. Magneto saw this and tried to use his powers. But his weary state rendered him defenseless. All he could do was brace for impact as the sentinel took aim.
But before it could fire a shot, a bolt of lighting shot out of nowhere and hit the sentinel right in the head. The resulting surge fried the main systems, causing the towering robot humanoid to spark and collapse. It would have fallen close to Magneto, but then Vincent came flying in and smashed the sentinel across the room.
“Looks like you could use some help,” said Storm as she flew over the wounded man.
“For now…” said Magneto, still in a world of pain.
“Your welcome,” said Vincent with a half-grin.
“It could be worse, mate,” shrugged Pyro.
“As if fighting giant robots could be any worse?” exclaimed Lance.
Lance and Pyro didn’t like being saved by an X-man any more than Magneto, but given the circumstances they took it. Hopefully they would be able to finish the job and stop this insanity. They had their hands full as it was.
The fight with the sentinels intensified. While some pairs were able to take down a sentinel, others weren’t so lucky. Warren was hit again in the wing, causing him to fall to the ground. Thankfully, Rogue caught him and Gambit helped Psylocke finish the sentinel off.
“That’ll teach you to mess with my boyfriend!” yelled Psylocke as she relentlessly stabbed the head with her psionic blades.
“Take it easy, cherè. We got plenty to go,” said Gambit.
“Bring them on! I’m sick of these things anyways!”
“Believe me, Bets, we all are,” said Rogue.
Bobby also had some bad luck. He tried to freeze a sentinel’s foot to the ground, but it proved stronger than he thought and it broke free. It then swiped at him, knocking him off an ice bridge and sending him falling to the ground. He landed awkwardly on his shoulder. His ice shell helped absorb the blow, but it still hurt.
“Ugh…not my best idea,” he groaned.
“You think?!” exclaimed August as she ran over to defend him, “I could use some help here!”
“You’ve got it,” said Piotr as tripped up a sentinel by the leg and ran to their aid.
While the sentinel was preoccupied with August, Piotr did a charging ram and hit it in the leg. The force was great enough to send it tumbling to the ground where Kitty ran by and finished the job by phasing through the head.
“Is it just me, or are these things getting tougher?” said Kitty as she phased through another blast.
“I vote getting tougher,” said Jean as she put up a telekinetic bubble to guard her and Scott, “But we have to keep at it! We need to give Beast and the Professor more time!”
The sentinel onslaught was relentless. Mangled machine parts soon littered the area and widespread damage was done to the facility. Boxes of parts were crushed, machines were toppled, and barrels of chemicals were spilled everywhere. A growing stench engulfed the area, but with the battle raging on there was little time to worry about that. The more destruction there was, the angrier Pierce became. They were ruining his facility.
“The destiny of machines will not be denied!” he proclaimed as he lunged towards Logan.
“Save it for the scrap heap, bub!” grunted the Wolverine as he fought back.
The fight intensified as Pierce swung relentlessly with his adamantium laced arms. Logan’s claws clashed with his limbs, causing sparks and clangs. It wasn’t as easy as severing his limbs. This time he was being more careful and his mechanical additions gave him an edge in strength and agility.
“You’re primitive metal claws are no match for my upgrades,” he boasted as he grabbed Logan by the wrists.
“Upgrade this!” grunted Logan as he kneed Pierce in the gut.
The move caused Pierce go gasp, leaving him vulnerable to another attack. Logan moved in to stab him with his claws, but Pierce avoided the blow by leaping up over his head and coming down on him with the full weight of his half-metal body.
“Ugh!” grunted Logan, now playing the part of the foolish one.
“Ha! Is that all you got?” laughed Pierce.
“How about this?” exclaimed Mystique as she came charging from the side.
The shape shifter then did a quick jump kick and knocked Pierce off Wolverine. He didn’t stay down long, flipping right back up and focusing his attention on his two adversaries.
“You freaks are starting to annoy me! Haven’t you realized it by now? You can’t stop the machines! We are destined to overrun the world!”
However, his bold words left little impact on the two X-men.
“And to think, you used to talk the same way, Mystique,” grinned Wolverine.
“Don’t remind me,” she muttered.
Wolverine and Mystique attacked together this time. Logan used his claws in a stabbing motion, going for the core area where Pierce was still flesh while Mystique went for that annoying face of his that had a mouth that wouldn’t shut up. Pierce was forced to fall back, blocking Logan’s stabs while dodging Mystique’s barrages. They were both nimble and determined, but then again so was he.
With the help of his mechanical legs, he managed to leap over and around them. He then countered with attacks of his own, landing a solid punch across Logan’s face and sweep-kicking Mystique to the floor. The shape shifter retaliated with a different tactic, shape shifting into a large bear and attacking with a hard claw swipe. But Pierce proved elusive, leaping around like the annoying pest he was. When he got some distance between them, he fired his left arm and hit the bear-formed Mystique right in the face. The blow was hard enough to knock her back and leave her plenty sore.
“Pathetic,” grunted Pierce, “I find it hard to believe you once bested my comrades at the Hellfire Club.”
“Allow me to remind you,” came a voice from above.
Pierce looked up to see Vincent flying in at high speeds heading straight for him. He tried to leap out of the way, but he wasn’t fast enough this time. Vince hit him right in the gut and forced him back hard until he hit large pile of metal scaffolding and concrete blocks. When Vince pulled back, the resulting pile buried the former Hellfire head in a heavy debris.
“Errrrrr! If you think this can hold me you’re sadly mistaken!” he exclaimed.
“Then how about this, bub?” grunted Logan as he joined the attack, “Mayhem, give me a boost!”
“On it, Wolverine.”
Before Pierce could pull himself out of the pile, Vincent made a leaping point with his hands and launched Logan high above the area. He had to be careful not to launch him too high. He only needed to go high enough to cut the chains that were holding up several heavy metal slabs that were mostly likely part of Mastermold’s armor. Upon seeing this, Pierce tried more frantically to crawl away from the falling slabs, but he wasn’t fast enough. One of them landed right on his legs, effectively immobilizing him.
“No! My legs!” he exclaimed, feeling that they were warped and useless.
“Like to see you leap around now,” grinned Wolverine, “Too bad I missed his head. That would have shut him up.”
“Better luck next time,” shrugged Vince, “So what do we do now?”
“What do you think we do?” said Logan, holding his claws up to Pierce’s head, “As long as this guy’s alive, nobody’s safe.”
“But we’re X-men, Logan. We don’t do that,” reminded Vince.
“I know, bub,” growled Logan, “But I’m considering making an exception. One way or another, I’m ending this right here!”
“Oh don’t be so sure,” grinned Pierce.
Logan and Vince exchanged glances. Then they looked behind them and saw one of the sentinels had come to Pierce’s aid. It had both arm cannons aimed right at them and was about to fire. As much as Logan wanted to send Pierce to Hell with Shaw and Selene, his instinct took over and he and Vincent had to scramble to get out of the way.
“Damn, how many of these things are there?” grunted Vincent as he took to the air.
“Too many,” said Logan as he went on the attack again, “I sure hope Chuck gets back soon. These things are getting on my nerves!”
“Likewise, Wolverine,” said Mystique as she joined the fight, “But don’t forget, we still have to find a way to destroy Mastermold.”
“One step at a time, Mystique,” said Vince, “We’ve got more pressing concerns at the moment.”
With Pierce trapped under a pile of rubble, the sentinels fought with a new level of determination. They must have had some emergency program to bump up their power levels when their creator was in danger. They all converged near Pierce and forced the X-men to concentrate their efforts. There were still plenty of sentinels to go around and there was no sign of the Professor. Exhaustion and injuries mounted. Bobby and Warren were already out of it and Lance and Pyro were already trying to get Magneto out. Time was starting to work against them.
“It’s official. I hate these things,” groaned August.
“Join the club,” said Rogue, “At least you know who to take it out on.”
“That’s not much consolation, Rogue,” said Alex, who was now short of breath.
“Suck it up, Havoc!” said Laura, “We can’t stop fighting now!”
It wasn’t getting any easier, especially with Alex not being a veteran X-man. But he stood with his brother and friends as they launched another round of attacks against the sentinels. He may not be a true X-man yet, but this was a major trial by fire. And they needed his firepower if they were to keep up their efforts.
While the X-men took care of the sentinels, Cable was fighting with all his might to hold back Nimrod. He knew full well that the second one of the X-men was distracted, Nimrod would take its shot and it would be lethal. Magneto had already been hit, but he was lucky. He wasn’t confident he would have the same luck again so he had to find a way to at least contain Nimrod. But that was proving to be very difficult.
“Hrrrrahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” yelled the future X-leader as she fired a relentless barrage with his gun.
Nimrod stayed in the air, using its flying capabilities to avoid the shots. Some landed, blowing off a chunk of its side and arm. But it quickly fixed itself and kept up with Cable. The targets were very close, but as long as this figure kept interfering it would not be able to complete the mission. It had to make a tactical decision.
“Cable threat upgraded. Status: obstructive. Solution: neutralize.”
Nimrod began responding with shots of its own, firing laser blasts from its eyes towards the future X-leader. Cable ducked to the side, rolling away from the blasts and keeping up with his barrage. But Nimrod was fighting back now. It wasn’t going to allow him to obstruct its mission forever. He had to stay a step ahead of it.
“Just try and get through me!” exclaimed Cable as he switched to a new tactic.
His eye flashed as he summoned his telekinetic powers. With Nimrod still in the air, he unleashed a blow that pounded him down to the ground like a hammer. Nimrod resisted valiantly at first, but it soon caved and fell to the floor. Now Cable has his chance. He could destroy this thing enough to give the Professor and Beast the time they needed.
“Say goodnight, Nimrod,” he said, switching his gun to its highest power setting.
Then Nimrod made an unexpected move. Taking a trick right out of Pierce’s tactics, it aimed its arm at the looming mutant and altered its internal mechanics slightly so it could launch it like as a blunt missile. It wasn’t as deadly as an eye laser, but it caught Cable off guard and when the arm hit him he fell back. Now it was Nimrod’s chance to make a move.
“Engage close range combat system.”
Taking to the air again, Nimrod launched itself at Cable before he could recover. Cable tried to shoot it, but Nimrod was too fast. It went on to deliver a solid uppercut that sent Cable back to the ground with a few teeth loosened. And without missing a beat, Nimrod flew around again and delivered another punch. This time Cable managed to block it with his cybernetic arm, but the force behind Nimrod’s blow was so hard it damaged some of the circuits.
“Ahhh! Damn it, not now!” he grunted, trying hard to get his arm moving again.
Then Nimrod went in for the finishing move. It landed next to Cable and shifted its arms into two sharp blades. When Cable saw this he ignored his arm and scrambled. Nimrod’s first few stabs missed, but it kept its enemy on the defensive. It forced him all the way back into the growing puddle of chemicals and gasoline that had been knocked down in the course of the sentinel battle. Then Nimrod went in for the kill.
Shifting its body structure to make itself thinner and more nimble, Nimrod delivered a sweeping kick that sent Cable falling face first into a puddle of oil. Then the future killing machine took aim with both arms and stabbed downward. Cable managed to roll away partially, but he wasn’t fast enough to avoid the two blades impaling his left leg.
“Augh!” he howled.
Sparks flew from his leg as circuits shorted out and systems failed. It was dangerous when they were surrounded by flammable chemicals and as expected, a few discharges ignited the substances. Cable was forced to use his good arm and good leg to crawl away as the fire spread quickly through the area. He didn’t get out fast enough to avoid being burned. His face was already lightly scorched and so was his hand.
“No…” he grunted through the pain, “Can’t…stop…now!”
Then he left leg gave out again and he fell to the ground with a hard thud. Two limbs had been struck and two limbs had officially turned against him. Now he was helpless. If he went down, Nimrod would turn on the rest of the X-men and they were already being worn down by the sentinels. It did not bode well for their chances. And this time, Nimrod wasn’t taking any chances. It was going to neutralize him so he couldn’t interfere anymore.
Nimrod fearlessly walked through the flames, its metal armor unaffected by the heat. It shifted back to its standard form, seeing that its enemy was disabled. All scans indicated the mechanical components of target Cable were damaged. He wouldn’t be able to avoid another lethal shot. Now it could deliver the final blow and nothing would stand in the way of defeating its targets.
“Obstruction Cable status: disabled. Logic assessment: still a threat. Objective: kill.”
Up next: The future and the present finally come to ahead.