Lina flipped to the next page in her book, stopping for a moment to stroke the smooth, delicate paper in her hand. Paper books were a vintage rarity, one hardly ever saw them anymore, and they were considered collector's items. No one had seen paper in any other form for decades, since trees had been labeled endangered. Lina got a headache from reading text on a computer screen, so she chose to read books while she worked her shift monitoring the diagnostic chambers. Sure, she endured a lot of ribbing from her workmates, but she took it in stride.
The light blue computer screen on the desk in front of her blipped open and an image of a scientist appeared. "Lina?"
Lina quickly put down her book abashedly, spine up, and assumed a commanding position. "Yes, sir?"
"Is Zero still in sleep?"
"Did he mention anything about where he put his funding report, by any chance?"
"Darn, okay, when he gets up can you tell him to bring down his space colony report, when he gets a chance?"
"Will do. I'll send him a message."
"Thanks." He cut the communication, returning the screen to a blue readout of the tests being performed.
Lina accessed Zero's chamber interface, and struck up a communication line to him. 'WHEN UP, NEED SPACE COLONY REPORT' she wrote in. She looked above her console at the diagnostic chamber holding Zero. He looked as if he was sleeping, to any other human, but those smart enough about the way MHHQ worked knew he had full consciousness at this point. He was simply operating in a low power mode so the tests could complete as quickly as possible. After absorbing the blast and getting repaired, he wanted to get back on his feet as soon as possible. The tests were the final stage in his mending, just to make sure everything had gone right.
Zero made no motion, though Lina was sure he had gotten the message. The computer had a direct line to his system, and she could communicate in simple text. As if telepathically, Zero wrote back on the screen 'REPORT'S IN MY ROOM'. And then, 'HOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO COMPLETE?'
Lina looked at the second monitoring screen. The overall percentage bar was nearly full. She wrote back '95% NO ERRORS.'
'I'LL JUST GET IT MYSELF. SEVERE CONNECTIONS.'
Lina arched her eyebrow. 'YOU MIGHT SUFFER A MEMORY FAULT.'
Lina entered the command to end the diagnostics prematurely. A pressurized hiss sounded as Zero's connections were severed and the glass capsule cover slid back. Zero blinked awake, and lifted his torso up. "I've broken early before, never had an error," he spoke in words, as if he had been communicating that way all along. He swung his legs over the edge of the capsule, hanging there for a moment as he re-oriented himself and stood up.
"Any dreams?" Lina asked, as she picked her book back up. "Log didn't show any."
Zero started taking plugs out of the various points and access panels on and under his armor. "Is that X who wanted the report.
"No, uh, Dr. Addison."
"Oh," Zero looked a little relieved at that. Lina looked worried when she realized this.
"X is still under house arrest."
"Have you talked to X since..."
"No," Zero said blandly. "What he did is unforgivable."
"Zero, it was just an accident, you should forgive him." She clutched her book in front of her chest, as if it were a comforting teddy bear. "I'm sure he feels terrible about it."
"Maybe. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't have done it." He unhooked the last cord and dropped it in the chamber seat. He walked up to Lina's desk. "I don't know how much you know about arm cannon design, but it doesn't go off just from a simple jostle."
"No, I know, but X didn't mean to fire it at you. Once its charged you have to let it diffuse or let off the blast, and it takes a lot more effort to diffuse it. X was surprised, that's all."
"That doesn't excuse his behavior."
"No, that's true. Do you know why he did it?"
"No idea. I just walked in on him."
"Well, maybe you should talk to him, try and find out why. It might help. You wouldn't want there to be a rift between you two. That would be bad for morale to say the least."
Zero nodded, understanding the importance of the two command leaders being in sync. "I just need some more time, I'm still pretty angry about it. I'll give it some time to let it cool down. How is morale?" Zero sometimes asked his troops this. Morale was vastly important in a battle situation, and he needed to know regularly, especially after an incident like this.
She shrugged one shoulder, "S'okay, I guess. A lot of people are confused, wondering what the deal with X is. You know how rumors are," she waved her hand dismissively, and returned her attention to the keyboard to run some programs. "They're all wondering the same thing as you, why X went so crazy."
Zero nodded, "He is usually more rational than that."
Lina said, "They can sort of understand why X thought the way he did, but they're wondering why, if he thought Duplex was a Maverick, why he didn't go through the proper channels."
"Maybe he thought he didn't have time," Zero added.
"Yeah, maybe, that's what someone said. And they understand why X thought what he did, after Double. Heck, I might have thought the same thing. And no one really likes Duplex anyway, so they weren't too sad about that," she smirked. "But X just didn't have the evidence and that's what everyone's confused about. X is always very particular about making sure no one is Maverick and that the virus doesn't spread. Personally, I think he feels partly responsible about it, because there was no Maverick virus before him, so he had to keep an eye on it." She scoured the screen curiously for a moment, distracted by having to think about a difficult command. She finshed and looked back at Zero, "And then everyone starts talking about what they know about X. You know, just the slightest suspiscious things that no one would have thought twice about. Like Tyro says that he transports out of here sometimes to a location in the antarctic. Not sure why, never says why, near an unmanned ice station. But I don't think anyone's worried about things like that."
She looked up at Zero, who was
obviously quite worried. His eyes were
skyward and he was biting his lip.
"Sure," she responded, listening to the clop-clop of his metal armor on the floor.
Janus unplugged the Personal Electronic Terminal from the mini-cannon. He switched down to the inventory list and made note of the condition and amount of ammunition left. He then updated the database remotely. With this final entry, his work was finished and he stood up off his knees on the fortification's parapet, a lonely perch overlooking the outside of the base.
"You there, Janus!" Duplex announced from across the walkway. Janus slowly turned around and looked up to see the yellow reploid waddling towards him. The gray reploid furrowed his brows.
"You're quite bold meeting me here, out in the open, if you've gotten what I think you have."
"You would not believe. My Star Cloak was this close to running out of power. This close!" Duplex held up his fingers to indicate the minuteness of his escape. "I had to run in behind Dr. Cain, find the damn thing, then-"
"Quiet! Quiet!" Janus nearly shouted. They were alone, but there was no sense in taking chances.
"You've wanted me to get it for forever and that's all you can say? Be quiet? Do you know how hard I had to work to get this thing?"
"I'm sure you've done well, I don't need a full report. I'd be remiss not to sing your praises, but now's not the time. Just give it to me."
Duplex barely had taken it out before Janus snatched it and hid it away.
"What are we gonna use it for anyway?" Duplex asked.
"You need not know that now. We'll find a use for it, believe me. Tonight, if possible. It's just another piece of the puzzle. You've done well, Duplex. Now be off with you, stay low-key, stay away from people and don't act suspicious."
Duplex nodded and turned around as Janus walked back to the door leading back to the interior of MHHQ and pressed the adjacent black panel.
"Where is Zero?"
'ZERO IS IN THE BETA ARENA'