ACT II, Scene 1

 

Occasionally, a bright flash of light would burst out from one of the windows. That was the only visual information that could be gleaned about the Maverick battle. The MCP, or Mobile Command Post, had a plethora of other sensor readings infra-red, X-ray, light enhancement, heat, and sonic. With all this though, Cain still cursed his inability to see inside the fortress, to know what his soldiers were doing, who was dying and who was injured. Despite their pat manner in the strategizing room, the actual battle was anything but. These wars were heart-wrenching to watch. Several injured Mavericks and Maverick Hunters were crawling on hands and knees outside the plant, but they couldn't risk sending out either medics until they were close enough, or teleportation until they far enough away. So all he could do was watch their tattered bodies scuttling on the wasteland, still fighting with limbless torsos. It was reploid versus reploid down there. Cain felt like he was seeing his children get slaughtered.

"Lina, can you scan the ID tags?"

Lina, a human, was operating a complicated switchboard below Cain's elevated platform. "Not quite sir, there are at least thirteen hunters still active." She pressed the telecomm device in her ear to secure it as her head whipped back and forth. Her hands moved quickly and smoothly as she pressed buttons and adjusted monitors. "The rest are masked behind interference. We're essentially sitting here blind. And I wouldn't recommend moving forward."

"Just so." Cain commented. The Mobile Command Post was just that - mobile. The MHHQ rolling arsenal consisted of several of these. To someone on the outside they resembled widened lookout towers housed in metal, slotted with windows, and attached to tank treads. They acted as a portable base and comm center during territorial battles, when they had to coordinate attacks of large numbers of hunters.

There was a silence in the MCP as the two tried to make sense out of their sparse information. Quiet, muffled sounds of the skirmishes and bursts out there sporadically popped outside their windows.

Lina said, "They sure do like to take over power plants a lot, don't they, sir."

Cain chuckled. "Yes, I guess they do. Never thought about it before."

A support reploid climbed up the ladder to the command center room. He looked basically humanoid with a green and yellow armor suit and a matching helmet with a blue-tinted visor attached.

"I've got news. What's going on in here?" he said.

Lina said, "Hey, Tyro. We don't know much. The best info we've got is from the scope."

"The Mavericks have been cornered." Tyro, a green reploid took his place at Cain's right console symmetrical to Lina, "In the left tower."

Dr. Cain immediately turned his cameras to the tower, the tallest spire in the complex. It was capped with a cylinder with a radial antenna. There were no windows inside so they couldn't see in, and the sensors were just as unhelpful. Cain waited patiently for something significant to happen.

And something did. A gigantic fire-orange explosion enveloped the tower. Bright white light washed into the room and monitors. The three turned away from the sudden radiance. Dr. Cain brought his arms up to his face. "Holy Christ!" Tyro declared.

Cain brought his limbs down as the light faded. Black smoke billowed out from the broken tower. "Nobody could've survived that," he said.

"At least no normal reploid," Lina corrected as she suddenly remembered the Mavericks that had been resurrected. Lina turned up the definition on her scanners. Maybe now the interference would go away. "I can't make out anything. Dammit, this is so frustrating." Lina slammed her hand on the control panel.

"Wait, over there!" Tyro shouted.

"Where?"

"At the entrance to the plant. You see?"

Cain recalibrated the camera to the front entrance. The doors flew open and reploids began rushing out of double doors.

"There's our boys," Cain said excitedly. He hit the comm button. "Med-evac, get ready. Repair systems to full. Get our boys home."

Support staff rushed out of the MCP area, carrying boxes and repair supplies. The Maverick Hunters looked in pretty good condition overall. Cain was pleased.

"I don't see where X and Zero are though," Lina commented.

Cain looked again. "There he is. See, he's waving." Cain centered his camera on the blue-armored android. X made a victory sign with his two fingers when he noticed Cain's camera on him.

The doctor relaxed back in his seat. "Good old X, always seems to come out in one piece."

X walked through the pods of injured reploids, being unhurt himself, just exhausted from fighting. He took a moment to look at the fellow hunters around him, some struggling to escape the fiery power plant. Whoever said reploids had no emotions, that they felt no pain, had yet to see one of these Maverick battles up close, to see what really went on here. In this one, they were fortunate. No one had anything worse than a detached arm. All they had to do was clean out the Mavericks, prevent them from setting up shop in the plant, from gaining a foothold. It had been a small victory but a decisive one. Still, X had that nagging feeling that it all could've been avoided somehow. The feeling had found him in nearly every battle, so often that he expected it now, like a scheduled reminder.

X wandered in between the troops taking the field and grabbed hold of the rung of the ladder into the MCP. Typing some commands into the panel above his head, he undid the hatch and entered the sectioned-off part of the room in back. Fresh air puffed into the compartment.

"X!" Lina turned as X hoisted himself into the room, "Good to see you," she quick turned back to her monitor.

"Where's Zero?" Cain asked.

"I'm not entirely sure. Our strategy was to corner them all into the top tower. One of them caused a chain reaction, it ended up combusting the lot of them. It was a narrow escape, but we all survived." It was pretty nasty, as X recalled. One Maverick panicked and all the rest of them suffered the sacrifice.

"What a quick victory," Tyro commented.

"I'm pretty confident Zero is still in there, and he's okay. Probably finishing up the job." X climbed up next to Cain and looked over his shoulder at the monitors. He smelled of hot oil and gas.

"A saber? Was that a saber?" Tyro yelped and practically jumped out of his seat. "Through the window?"

"Maybe," Lina said.

"Don't send any hunters inside to get him," Cain said, "I don't want to risk soldiers in case there are any more explosions or being exposed to the virus."

X suddenly leaned down to Lina's station. "Lina, did you do a scan for the virus?"

"Nope." X's eyes widened. She corrected herself, "I mean, no, there was no evidence of freeborn Maverick virus that I could detect."

"Okay, good. Keep an eye on it. We still don't know how it's communicated." X thought maybe through constant scans they'd be able to tell how the Maverick virus traversed from reploid to reploid. There were so many precautions set up that were nothing but a smokescreen to assuage fear in the camp.

The entrance hatch flipped open and Janus and Duplex climbed into the MCP. X turned his attention to them for a moment as they stepped up to Cain's platform. "Report from Commander Zero, sir," Janus said and saluted. "Zero is still inside the power plant, in good condition. He's searching for any Mavericks that may have survived. The transporter scrambler is out of commission so he can teleport out at the first sign of trouble, or if the plant reaches critical."

"Good, acknowledged," X said.

"Well, it's good to be able to relax now," Dr. Cain said. "I thought this was going to be the beginning of another all-out war."

Lina typed into her control panel. "Systems are not yet reporting that the field is safe for teleportation... oh, wait, yes it is. Hee hee, oops."

"What 'oops'?" Cain asked.

"I just didn't switch my scan filters on. Sorry."

Janus peered over Lina's shoulder and put a hand on the back of her chair. "If the computer system is too difficult for you to understand, I suggest some training courses. Human error can be very costly in battle."

Lina looked back at the gray reploid without turning her head. Duplex stood behind him, idle as usual. "Thank you Janus, but I think I know the system better than you. Just go back to blasting things."

"Lina, behave yourself. Janus, mind your place," Cain disciplined.

Janus huffed and stepped away. "I am very mindful of my place, thank you very much. A low rung on the ladder of war. Thrust into any job that could have me, while she gets to sit here in the aerie and make mistakes."

"Oh, we'd let you sit here, but we're afraid you'd talk us all to sleep," Lina smirked. Janus just scowled.

Tyro laughed heartily at Lina's zinger. "What's the matter, Janus? Don't like hunting with humans? If I didn't know better, I'd say you'd gone Maverick. Cause if you have, you're not a very good one," he smirked.

"Not at all, sir, I just have a thing against inept humans."

Lina thought it best to keep her mouth shut and pay attention to her control panel.

X said, "Come on, Janus, you know we couldn't survive without humans in the post."

"No, of course not. I could never survive without typographically errored reports, broken down machinery, miscommunication, not to mention the budgetary allocations for food, clothing, shelter, first-aid-"

"Remind me not to have you write my obituary," Lina laughed. X did as well.

"Your obituary... hmm, how would that go?" Janus pondered sarcastically. "'Here lies Lina Rowe, her skill was always touch-and-go'."

"Pfft," Lina scoffed and rolled her eyes. Mega Man X snickered at, if nothing else, the wit of it.

"How about me?" Tyro asked as he leaned back in his chair to look at him.

"Oh, please. I'd really rather not," Janus said.

"Come on, we're waiting for Zero anyway. Do me! Do me!"

"Fine, let me put my gears to work here." Janus put his fingers to his head like he was concentrating hard on receiving a psychic vision. 'Below rests the earnest Tyro, experience in short supply though'."

"Ooh, burn," Lina laughed. "How about Dr. Cain?"

"'Cain lived in scholarly ways, but ended in a senile daze'."

Again, the small crowd laughed at Janus' rhyme.

"You have no shame, Janus," Lina said.

"How about X?" Tyro said.

"'Here lies the mighty X, Upon whom there was a mighty hex, Cursed with a cannon on his hand, And strife throughout the reploid land, Fighting Mavericks who would defy, And never really knowing why, He had to blast them all to dust, But fight he did cause fight he must, Until one day, he met his end, By the trait-'"

X waited for him to finish the line. "Well?"

"By the blast he could not defend."

The group stayed silent at Janus' long and eerily accurate foretelling. "Heh," X surmised, breaking the tension. "You can certainly talk well, but Mavericks don't really care if you can recite Keats in the middle of a firefight." X stepped down off the platform and up to the gray reploid. "And I'd watch what you say in public. Don't want to be accused of being Maverick, do you? We all know what happened last time... with Double."

As Janus watched him pass by and leave the common room into one of the side compartments a sly smile crept over his face. He brought a finger to his chin deep in thought.

"Zero's coming out!" Lina exclaimed.

"At last," Cain said.

Janus looked through the window at Lina's station. Down below, Zero was indeed walking out of the power plant, and looking ravaged. His red and white armor was burnt and scratched. The long blond hair under his helmet was clumped from oil and other fluids. His right arm had a severe tear in the protective covering, and he favored his right leg. But his face had that determined look on it, the look of a feral warrior, and his beam saber was still at the ready. After he surveyed the gray field outside the power plant, where the clean-up crew was still working, he retracted the green energy blade into the hilt and holstered it. All in the MCP tracked him as he managed his way through the debris and up into the tank.

Zero climbed in, passing by Janus and Duplex and approached the elevated doctor who spun around to talk face-to-face. "Commander Zero checking in, sir." Zero saluted. "Victory has been achieved. There's no more threat to the power plant."

"There's barely any power plant," Cain remarked. "What was that massive explosion?"

"That was the power transformer, unfortunately, sir. One of the lesser ranked Mavericks panicked, took it upon himself to sacrifice it in order to protect it."

"I see. All the Mavericks are accounted for?"

"There were twenty-four in total, twelve of them Docs."

Docs were a colloquialism for 'Doc Robots', named from the technology that allowed the 'cloning' of complex robots and reploids. It copied attack A.I. and physical construction, but little else, including personality. They were named for the Doc Robot technology invented a century ago.

"I see. And how about your injuries."

"Better than they look. I'll get all cleaned up after we leave."

"All right then, I'll order all non-essential personnel to pull out. We'll leave it at that."

Zero turned and walked down the steps. "Janus," he pointed, "You're in charge of clean-up." He passed by and climbed down the ladder out of the post. He was going to take one of the retreating mobile units back to get repaired and take it easy.

"Yes, sir," he muttered quietly.

Dr. Cain turned back to the console. "Janus, we're going to be moving the MCP pretty soon. Go out and oversee the clean-up." Lina and Tyro had their backs to him as well.

"Yes, sir," Janus made a little bow and gestured to Duplex to follow him as well. They went down the ladder and onto the pebbled valley, rocks crunching underneath their padded treads.

Janus kneeled down and rolled around an abandoned helmet, cracked open on the side. "First, Duplex, I must confess something to you. Should even ten men fall in the line of duty, you would not be promoted."

"Wh- what?" he stammered. "I don't get- what- ?"

"Keep your tongue and listen to my instructions." He started walking toward the power plant, passing by soldiers and medics getting their gear together and heading out. "There can be no doubt X and Zero are the finest Maverick Hunters ever. They're at the top of their game. Where one fails, the other succeeds. X's pacifism is replaced by Zero's heroics. Zero's ferocity is subdued by X's humanism. While they are together, they cannot be defeated." Janus turned back and waved the incoming reploids onto the field, coming in to repair the power plant and make general clean up of anything left over.

Janus continued, "However, strong they are, despite all they do to protect the humans, they can never win. Why? Because they fight against what they are. The reploids are their true enemy. Isn't that ironic?"

"I suppose."

"They know it just as well as we. Soon they'll get tired of fighting an endless war. The fight's already getting to him. Did you see how paranoid X behaved in the cockpit? His irrational fear of the spread of the Maverick virus among us?"

"I don't think he was that irrational."

Janus quickly turned to Duplex, stopping those thoughts before they could develop. "No one is so worried about something that can't be tracked and can't be identified. He was practically jumping at the thought of being infected. He's clearly nervous about having one of his own turned into a monster he must have to defeat. He must still be guilt-racked from before. Now he believes he can't trust anyone. Anyone could turn at anytime, the mystery of the virus." Janus picked up a broken chunk of metal, an unidentifiable piece of Maverick. "Irrational or no, X has reservations." He tossed it back on the ground.

"Soooo... what should we do?"

Janus smiled. "Here's what you'll do tomorrow night. X will be walking through the halls. Use your ability and strike him, tap him on the shoulder or such."

"You know my Star Cloak isn't exactly flawless. There is still a vague outline of me-"

"Oh, that's what I'm counting on. X will find you and try to apprehend you. Obviously, don't let him do it. Struggle, fight, whatever it takes."

"What if he destroys me?"

"He won't. X is a pacifist at heart. He won't kill you."

"What if I accidentally kill him?"

"Huh," Janus suppressed a chuckle. "You won't kill X, trust me."

"So how is this supposed to help me?"

"Can't you see? You will be found to obviously not be a Maverick. X's attack will be unprovoked and he'll be discredited, perhaps discommended for attacking a fellow officer."

"Ah, I see," Duplex nodded. "So instead of bringing me up, we'll be bringing them down. I like it. I'll make sure I have something special in your inbox at my first opportunity."

Janus nodded. "I must tend to my duties now. Go about your business and meet at the workroom at seven tonight."

Duplex's path bent around to the side of the power plant where he would join some other sweepers. The facilities' large double doors opened like a maw. The gray reploid led those behind him into the dark hole.

 


 

REC SYSTEM 1.2

Copyright 2105, 2109, 2114

 

Real Mem = 8192 TB

Avail Mem = 32768 TB

 

Primary Data Cache = 512 KB

Primary Inst Cache = 768 KB

Secondary Cache = 32768KB

 

Testing file system..........

Testing files.........

OK!

 

Login: janus221347

Pass: *********

 

Welcome!

 

Janus2214347> new log -nx

 

Created new logfile 6/29/21XX 184934

 

When the truth is finally seen, I wonder what sort of motives they'll attach to me. Surely they could not think that I harbor malice to those in a higher rank than me. I do not wish to be Zero's partner nor X's. Jealousy and lust for power are Duplex's department. Zero and X are fine leaders indeed. I love them to death... as the tools they play in my game. It cannot be that I am prejudiced against humans, for, despite my mocking earlier today, I find I can hardly blame them for their faults anymore than I could blame reploids for theirs, for our parts can be equally as faulty. Probably most will dub me Maverick and write it off as such, a glitch by design. Whoever tries to find my reason will discover a dead end indeed. By judgment I cannot care. My time is too short for such worries. I shall not rest until X is made a complete ass. Zero's decline won't be too far behind. Neither is a real target, yet by skewering one I shall impale the other, like ducks in a row.