It's the same place it always is, the same diner with the same shit coffee that they never seem to get right no matter what timeline they're in. The only difference is just that - time - as he walks through the door, grateful for the shielding from the New Canaan rain which always seems to fall as if physical representation of the overall mood of the city swathed with neon lights from 24/7 piss poor eateries and milk bars that might as well have curdled, never mind the assortment of strip clubs trying to pick up on the lonely losers and lowly who struck out and found themselves shit out of luck in this new age.
What would have happened if Apocalypse and the Canaanites had lost the Hundred-Year War? Would the clans have had any change - any improvement - on what was around him now, unifying the people and promoting prosperity among the New Canaanites now? Or would there still have been the Rowdies listening to the higher echelons so the very same didn't have to get their hands dirty when they weren't popping their brain cells on neural links for entertainment? Would there still be poverty and corruption in all strokes of life?
It was hard to say, just as it was hard to believe this technological trash gutter had once been Manhattan despite the clear and ever-present between the haves and the have nots; but that was neither here nor there as Nate took his seat, opting for that same shit coffee that they never seemed to get right, but he always seemed to order whenever he came back here. Maybe it was timeline bleed through providing a nostalgia or maybe it was just less shittier than the food, nothing on nearby plates proving to be appearing or appetizing as the grey mush that might have been a plate of scrambled eggs were slurped back down someone's throat.
No way you could find some other place for these meetings. I'm beginning to think you just want to see how many times it takes to watch me ralph. With a mental link established as soon as he had found the intended recipient of the message, the words flowed freely through the air to bypass anyone who didn't need to know the business at hand before they landed on a suit who barely stirred from his neural link. It left Nate to wait while the waitress brought him a mug and poured a "fresh" cup, and when nothing had been said from the other side, he could only prod a little more.
You download too much, it'll rot your brain. Not sure if you visit people much down here, but I figured you Commission goons would know that. For all his flippancy on the matter within his words and his tone of voice, it was true, seen in the slurred and incomplete speed of those who had pushed their temporal lobe a little too far, destroying whatever means of sound communication there would have been to come of their mouths; and it had happened to Dawnsilk when Tyler Dayspring, his own son, had linked his mind to her own and, in a decision that had saved them all from the manufacturer of such madness as killing his wife and kidnapping his son that led to such a moment, he saw to such undoing.
No wonder she was still pissed. Nate was sure he would be too if he had suddenly found himself with such a disability thanks to the enemy getting the jump on them - a bunch of trained clansmen simply trying to do the best for their people under such a totalitarian regime as New Canaan saw since the overthrow of Apocalypse.
So I've heard. The same can be said about the coffee. It isn't that good, so who knows what they might be putting in it. His contact responded, a mug raised as if to toast speeding up the process between both. A sip and it seemed business was underway as Nate listened to the case and mission presented to him, void of a specific target as his contact took care in detailing the time, the place, the objective, and everything but the intended person of interest: 2017, San Francisco, California, elimination of specific target that proved to be of danger to the time stream - arguably, that was always the case when they were bringing him in - but still no name, no filling of such a gap, not until the very end when it seemed there was no backing out or backing away from what needed to be done.
Not when he knew the target and knew the target very well, and knew well enough there was only one person for the job no matter the options that might have been available to the agency in that moment.
"Son of a bitch," he said as he got up in what was a supposed rush, action alight with urgency, the transfer of credits to the establishment a second thought as he rushed out of the door with the simple chime of a bell hooked upon it to signal his departure - not only of the diner, but New Canaan and the century itself.
He was no stranger to what loss could do, what it could drive men to become, whether that meant taking a high road and becoming a better person or falling into a web of despair that saw him at his worst, a shadow of what he had once been when his very heart, his very soul, was ripped away. There were many forms of it - fellow soldiers who fell in the line of combat who knew the risks going in; illness that took family when their journey was done on the mortal coil and accidents that took friends who were in the wrong place at the wrong time to ensure their survival rate - but Nate had found his worst in those he had willingly given his heart to, in the women he loved and the children they had, which had made the series of events he landed in all the more troubling.
What had made it worse was that there was no stopping it. This wasn't a pack of New Canaanite soldiers sent to stop them in their tracks, opposition soldiers to Clan Chosen that they could shoot down and force to self-detonate if it meant taking out more of their troops. This wasn't something to be stopped by plasma rifles or fragmentation grenades or a nuke, casually inserted into the arm of his future self to destroy a bunch of cyborgs made from brain transplantation. This wasn't an enemy he could track down to to perhaps not undo the wrongs that had been done, but make sure that enemy walked away with a few less pounds of flesh on account of it.
This wasn't a physical being no matter how the cells had metastasized in her body, and Nate couldn't very well shoot cancer out - not when he knew this was how the timeline was supposed to be. In any path, any which way it was cut apart and put together again, Hannah Sumner was would pass away, survived by a daughter with fiery red hair and a husband, sad and lonely, who would dump all of his being into making sure she was cared of even as his own life was turned upside down by a multi-verse he didn't know well enough to combat and, had what the C.S.A. told him proved to be true, wouldn't know well enough; and that had nothing to do with him.
Stopping it - that was what he had found himself in San Francisco to do, trekking back to a time that wasn't so plagued with the super powered troubles of Boston no matter what they might have seen on the news only to forget when life returned to normal. Nate, as he had been, old and haggard and drowning himself in his work, hadn't a worry in the world about whether or not the mutant Cable would be a welcome addition to his life or someone to admonish as a techno-organic virus took over his body with few reign, eating up every last organic cell while making sure they couldn't replicate themselves.
The only thing he had to worry about was his wife in those final moments, nothing but irony found in what were illnesses on opposing spectrum - one forming masses in slow deterioration of well-being thanks to the treatments required to attempt to save her while the other ate them away without such telekinetic bounds to make sure they didn't have the chance to spread - as Nate kept silent in quiet observation of a future self faced with a life without his wife.
He hadn't even noticed as his life had begun to unravel from that moment as certain plans were laid, certain accounts set up under certain corporate entities to ensure financial stability for family that would become the caregivers to a teenager in the coming years - not that they had known that - and certain minds were wiped, some out of requirement and some out of posterity in a set up that would be years in the making; and one wrong teleportation, one wrong slip through the time stream back to a particular moment in time from three years in the future, had seen all his carefully laid plans crescendo with the crunch of twisted metal and screech of it grinding against concrete on an open road with seemingly no name.
But as with all things, even a job well done to stop a madman from siding with an evil far too permanent in the world as the last remains of his humanity were stripped from him in exchange for apocalyptic power, perhaps even to bring back what was lost, it didn't promise anything would be rewarded and it didn't promise anything would change - just as it didn't promise there wasn't someone else pulling the strings to ensure someone, only ever a trouble, wouldn't be one for as long as he couldn't return to the future he called "home".
This wasn't the same diner with the same bell and the same shitty cup of coffee even though it might as well have been when the taste hit his tongue and nearly scalded it, but just like it had always been, this wasn't the same place in time as Nate found himself mind-to-mind with the suit again who this time, as if to stay with the times, kept his focus on his phone as he read the news. There was another place, another time in the same city, and another reason to lose himself to the time stream if only to stop those ripples made upon first action - not that he had much waiting for him back in New Canaan, explanation given as straight-forward as it typically was.
But at least the eggs were eggs, and Nate stopped the waitress as she attempted to refill his cup of coffee to place an order, settling in as he reached out telepathically once more to ask a question he knew he wasn't going to get an answer to.
How many versions of myself are you going to have me scrub?
It's the problem with going after time travelers: They can always show up when you least expect them, in one form or another that may or may not be familiar, and even if one expects to have taken them out in one time frame, there is another string - another timeline - they can exist on.
It makes May the most difficult month yet in the collapse of the multi-verse, spilling a number of doppelgangers and copy cats into San Francisco from the furthest reaches of the time stream. Some people exist on it, alive and living, while others, dead as a door nail or the formation of theorized and imagined worlds, don't; but all stand to twist it further than needed, stretching it to its limits with potentially disastrous effects on the far off horizons - not unlike the ones he had laid into his own. Where one Nathaniel Sumner had been, a new one now stayed, not a manipulation of the multi-verse as it had been in the case of so many others, but of his own hand in response to the lumbering behemoth he spots on the Presidio grounds - a future form of himself that, three years ago, he had thought he stemmed the existence of.
But Apocalypse had been a sneaky bastard as the previous months had gone to show, his clan infiltrating the agency with all intent to raise their leader, and the war between Sinister and the big blue cybernetic oaf hadn't changed despite the years - eons - that had seen them trying every trick in the book, every underhanded use of unwitting pawns cause up in their high ideals and false promises and creation of twisted mechanations that warped the very subjects of their experimentation; and while he hadn't been one of those Horsemen so chosen in the battle at Golden Gate Park, he was certainly one of them now, slipped into the time stream from ways and means unknown and the priority point of concern compared to the robotic Catwoman of the future, already en route to transport.
He could try to talk, reason with himself who had once been a very reasonable individual, but talking never gets rid of the problem known as the Apocalypse. Talking just buys time for his Horsemen to strategize, to make their moves, to eradicate any threat standing in their way and the way of their leader's mission: A world where mutants are powerful, where they're fear, where they're considered the apex species while homo sapiens fall to the slums.
It's New Canaan, perhaps not as he knew it, but as it starts with corruption and chaos to follow in the wars to segment them and the politics to drive them; and this world has enough of that. The world doesn't need any Horsemen, and it definitely doesn't need this one - the version of himself he had been sent to stop after all; the version of himself who had become of twisted form in hopes of power; the version of himself who had allowed the virus to take over his body under the false pretense of good intentions only to become a tool for Apocalypse's vestigial mission of superiority.
Perhaps the phrase applied: If you can't beat them, join them, eliciting a scoff from Nate even as he cuts across the Presidio Golf Course to put some space between him and a telepath he knows is far superior to him - perhaps in every way, but Nate is far too stubborn to believe that when what his doppelganger lacks, Nate has in folds.
Namely those that, programmed by the brightest minds at S.H.I.E.L.D. and the C.S.A. for the purposes of depowering all the super powered, troublesome or not, in the event they went out of control, he carried made sure to carry with him in the current situation. D.N.A. was D.N.A. and D.N.A. was the same, one universe or the next, as its core despite any modifications that might have been present; and who was the C.S.A. not to have security measures in place for those even under their own watch when they didn't need an Omega telepath gone rogue or an Asgardian raining down lightning and thunder on the city.
It is another spot of preparedness for a now-enemy that just doesn't seem to quit in one universe or another, this brick house of power that sends C.S.A. agents flying as they attempt to secure Catwoman with a simple telekinetic wave that seems intent on tracking him down.
Him - the younger version of himself brought from the timeline to kill him, who had taken his place because of it, and joined the C.S.A. in an attempt to ensure he only ever stood in the way of not only him, but his leader, that mechanized monster who had been the reason for his involuntary jettison to the future in the first place.
All it takes is a shot to bring the mass of techno-organic material down, carefully laid, into a pile of his own parts, seemingly liquid in form as metal and organic flesh mix with each other, and yet his thoughts aren't dissuaded as he reaches out to his younger, future self.
... this isn't the end.
There is no end.
It's life now: The lies, the secrets, the off-answers, and hiding bits and pieces of the truth from those who might have recognized him in some measure, but knew - at least thought they knew - that their loved one, their older brother, had long shuffled off this plane of existence. To where he had gone, be it exaltation to the pearly gates as elder and more religious members of the Sumner Family might have been inclined to believe or the deep and dark pits of Hell that none of them truly hoped for no matter their denomination of believe or somewhere else, some other otherworldly plane of existence that wasn't the logical response of "six feet underground in an urn"; but it definitely hadn't been to Oakland, to an one-bedroom apartment that he lived in by himself, a bevy of weapons and super powers to keep him company alongside a mouthy "tattoo" on his arm.
They didn't know that he was alive and well in one form, and in knowing, Nate was sure they would have seen it as a means of eschewing responsibility, passing it off on someone else, if their heads didn't outright explode from the notion that, yes, he was a super powered individual living in the city and, yes, he had come from the very far future to remove his older counterpart from the equation to take his place and, yes, he had lied to them all through such intrusion as mind wipes and implemented memories that, three years old by now and soon to be going on four, held no suspicion to believe they weren't true.
In fact, the only person who did know had been his brother and Nate couldn't be sure Nick's head had wrapped around the concept entirely with what limited information he had actually given him while journeying to the dark sides of the multi-verse - ironically enough to save his brother.
Not Nate, but the one who had caused temporal disturbances within the same time frame as the rest of the doppelgangers had; the one who had, thanks to the power found in a book of particular importance to not only the more magically-inclined at the C.S.A., but a number of low lying individuals in the city, forged a world out of his own fears; the one who had, because of such fears, swept San Francisco off the map in a torrential wave of dark water and wouldn't stop until...
Well, Nate wasn't quite sure when that would have stopped had the universe not imploded on itself.
That, at least, had taken center stage instead of Nate's own crimes against himself as they had been laid out in simplistic terms: He had come from the future to kill his other self because his other self would not have been prepared for the future that awaited him, all to do with the techno-organic virus in his body and everything that such a thing linked to. He hadn't suggested much more than that, hadn't explained it made a monster out of different versions of him throughout the time stream while, in others, it all but killed him. He hadn't implied that there was anything more to it than that, no government agencies in the background, no puppets behind the decision to send an agent into the past, no conspiracy to follow though Nate was sure there was one brewing away in the mind of his brother as what he knew and what others suggested, inducing confusion, ate away at every rational concept he could think up.
He could imagine it now, nights spent in the dark attempting to put together clues from any viable source - police records, service records, accident reports from the time of the crash, anything and everything that would have been public knowledge and perhaps some of which that wasn't - he could, and attempts to reach out to researchers, journalists and the like, who could get him new sources; but while there were steps taken, there were just as many erased when Nate had made the time to, pins moved and evidence removed, steps taken to ensure that everything was as he had laid it as one giant cover up of first degree murder.
Because that's what it was, wasn't it?
Time traveled be damned, Nate knew that was what it was and there would be very few who would listen to the full story behind a time traveler gone to the past to stop something much worse from happening in the future while trying to secure its safety through oft-pragmatic means; and there were always eggs that needed to be cracked to make an omelette, and if a few shells remained, they would have to be taken out the hard way in an effort to make something good. Sometimes even the best of people, good and well-intended no matter the hardship that came their way, needed to make an exit for something better. Sometimes all it took was one person to make a difference, intended sacrifice or not.
Sometimes it meant taking yourself out of the equation, even if that someone wasn't exactly this form for something Nate hoped would be better.
In this case, it had been the future - one that he supposed he wouldn't be seeing again as he thumbed through what boxes remained of his prior life, stored away in his apartment. They were pictures, report cards, a handful of drawings that Hope had put on the fridge with magnets collected from various spots in the city and a few from trips out of town, the result of heavy pushes at the police station to sell chocolate bars and cookie dough for fundraisers. He had lied to her too, but however well-intended it might have been to remove himself completely to keep her out of harm's way, that didn't mean he felt good about it; and he had to wonder if the future was actually worth it.
A question for Scott Summers, he supposed as he dropped everything back into the box it had come out of, securing it up by way of folding the flaps among each other before pushing it back underneath the bed that hid it. Had it been worth it to send him to the future? Had it been worth it to leave him alone for all those years? Had it been worth it to keep his identity and that of his would-be mother hidden behind the visage of Redd and Slym, able to see what sort of world they had sent him into? Had those years of temporary guidance done anything when his future was still as uncertain as it had been, especially now?
And he knew just as well his old man would have had one answer.
"Yes. It was."
They had saved him by doing that, sending him somewhere, to people, who could help him overcome the quick path to death his life had taken as an infant. They had brought hope to a people who only ever seemed to be struggling against a government that did little more than oppress them while soothsayers spread their fallacies in order to keep power. They had ensured the future of mutant-kind when, up against unfavorable odds through his travels beyond, through Brood-infested space and persistently chased by those who wanted nothing more than to stop him, he had returned to them with her - the little bundle of redheaded joy who was a promise to homo superior they hadn't met their end.
They had done all those things in that moment without knowing it.
So yeah, maybe it was worth it.