Janus, of course, was not one of the Maverick Hunters approved for shore leave. His clerical duties separated him from the rest of the warrior pack. Likewise with X and Zero. They were too important and too busy to take a break, but they preferred it that way. Being warriors, vacation would only make them sluggish. It would take their minds out of the game, and commanders needed to be battle-ready at all times. Time spent relaxing was wasted time.
The sliding doors opened with a whir. X was right where Janus thought he would be, working at one of the planning rooms. Late at night, the lights were off, save the computer lights and the yellow etheral illumination from the clear plastic table in the center of the room. The room was colored in black and yellow. Smooth black panels, meant for displaying pictures to multiple people, were closing in on the center. X looked back and forth between the screen and some paper on his workstation.
Janus didn't wait for X to notice him. "X, are you busy?"
X looked back behind him, already knowing someone was there. "Errr... not really. What do you need?" X briefly looked at the clock near the ceiling, not realizing how late he was working.
Janus sat down in a swivel chair next to X. He could tell the commander had been working tediously for a very long time. Although robot facial features didn't show it, he could clearly see fatigue behind the eyes.
"I was wondering if you knew anything about the recent Maverick scare."
"What? You mean today? I wouldn't exactly say that was a scare."
"No, no, I'm not talking about today. I mean regarding Zero."
"Zero? What, you mean his account access? No one thought Zero was a Maverick because of that," he said dismissively.
Janus held up a finger. "Don't be so sure. There are rumors circulating around that Mavericks have already infiltrated MHHQ."
"There are always rumors like that."
"Yes, and sometimes they are true. Sigma was once a Maverick Hunter."
"As well as several others, Magma Dragoon for one."
"I know. Are you trying to tell me something?"
"Sir, morale of the company. Everyone is suspicious of everyone else. It reminds me of the McCarthy era of human history."
"Er... I don't... know about that period. Look," he turned away from his work. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. I think. I mean, there's no point to be worried about the Maverick virus. We don't really know how it works, how it strikes, or what. It could come at any time, to any one of us." He swallowed. "But there's no point in worrying, worrying will just lead to fear, which will lead to mass hysteria. So, unless you know something, don't worry. We have everything well in hand at the top. Nobody on our side is going to turn Maverick."
"But there's no telling when and where its gonna strike. You could be lying next to your reploid friend under repair and all of the sudden - BAM! - he blasts you in the head. Those are just the ones who go crazy. There could be Mavericks right under our noses. You saw how General Brandle reacted to Zero's indiscretion. I do not believe his judgment was totally in error."
"Janus, do you have someone specific in mind? As a Maverick?"
"Sir, I could never accuse one of my fellow hunters of betrayal."
"There's no need to hold back info. If you're right, our future could be at stake."
"I'd really rather not, sir."
"Please, if you know something..."
"Well, sir," Janus looked away. "It's not so much that I know something, but that I've noticed something. Regarding Duplex."
"Go on." X's eyes were wide now and Janus had his full attention.
"I just can't help but notice some similarities he has to Double. He has a similar build, the same color, same non-threatening attitude. You're quite certain, sir, that you destroyed him during the Repliforce rebellion?"
"I did. I'm certain he's dead. I'm sure his remains exploded in the space station. Why?"
"Well, not all reploids are cut from individual cloth. I only thought that maybe he maybe he was created from the same schematics, to create a replica."
"A replica," X mused, "Of a reploid gone Maverick. And if he was a replica he likely has the same traits that Double had."
"Perhaps the same traits that caused him to go Maverick."
"Damn, why didn't I realize this before."
"I believe that in humans, there is a thing called genetics that says humans similar in structure are vulnerable to the same things." X's expression changed to one of worry. "In every bunch there are a few bad apples."
"But we can't take that risk. Not here." X stood up. "We've got to find him." He leapt up to the door panel. "Where is Duplex?"
The screen displayed and spoke 'Duplex cannot be located-'
"What?" X said.
"He can't be located?" Janus said with surprise.
"I'm going to find him." X hit his X-buster to ready mode. Bright lights appeared on the cannon on his arm, photons spraying out from the mouth. With no hesitation he ran out of the room.
Janus walked forward through the doorway, watching the soles of X's boots as he sprinted down the corridor. He smirked ever-so-slightly and said one word. "Go."
X's first destination would be Duplex's room. No, wait, where would the most sensitive part of HQ be? The servers? Weapons array? No, wait, there were a dozen sensitive places Duplex could be. What did he want to hurt? The humans? The Maverick Hunters? Everybody? Those damn Mavericks' motives were always different. Where could he do the most damage? What was most vulnerable? Damn that Duplex. Why didn't he see it before? That toady would be unsuspecting, almost comical in his meekness. He'd be the least likely reploid to turn on them, if it wasn't for Double before him.
X wandered from hall to hall, searching for the bright yellow robot, trying for a pattern that would take him to sensitive areas of the complex. The factory? The power generator? The laboratory? Any of them had potential. Think rationally, X. The first place to look was Duplex's quarters. There would be some clues to his plans-
What was that?
X thought he heard footsteps. His ultra-sensitive hearing couldn't have heard wrong. Someone following him? X's quick scan of the surrounding area said nothing was there.
X felt a tap on his shoulder. He quick turned around with his arm cannon drawn and ready. Nothing. He was sure he felt something. The air was still, though. X lowered his buster, but his eyes kept their wary glower.
He looked over his shoulder armor, ready for the next ghostly action.
"Come on, where are you? Show yourself!" X yelled angrily. His head darted in a circle, but there was nothing. "I know you're out there," he muttered.
X jumped around the corner with his buster drawn. Nothing but air. So he backed up against the wall.
X turned back and saw a glint of yellow disappear from the hall. "Duplex! Get back here!" X turned the corner and ran down the hall. "Get back here!" He fired off several shots of his plasma cannon. One hit an invisible form, the light dissipating through the object outlining the shape of a body.
"Duplex!" Klaxons sounded their blaring call, detecting weapons fire in the building. Finding his mark, X fired again. This time all the shots hit Duplex as he ran away. He tripped from the impact and skidded on his rounded stomach, rolling like a bowling ball.
"Aagh, help! Help!" Duplex outstretched his hand as X ran up behind him, charging his blaster.
Suddenly, Zero and Dr. Cain turned the corner to the corridor where Duplex was supine and helpless and X stood over him. The deadly X-buster was poised and ready, a faint pink glow radiating off X's form, accompanied by a powered hum.
"X?" Zero asked X.
"Zero! It- Duplex!" X stammered.
"Help me!" Duplex shouted, "He just started attacking me!"
"He's lying! He's gotta be a Maverick. He- I've got to, before..." X moved his cannon.
Zero jumped over Duplex, tackling X to the ground. The surprise caused X to let loose his charged blast fully into Zero. The crimson reploid fully absorbed the plasma surge as he collapsed on his friend.
"Erggh!" Zero gritted his teeth as flashes of light entered his vision.
More Maverick Hunters, alerted by the klaxons, had come into the hallway from both sides. They pulled Zero off of X quickly. He was limp but still conscious. Others grabbed X and held him captive.
"Zero! Are you all right?" Cain asked.
His eyes were half-closed. Groggy as hell, he said, "Uhhh, I think so."
X looked stunned, eyes as wide as dinner plates. "I- Zero, I'm sorry."
"X, what did you do?" Cain asked.
X stuttered. "I- I thought he was a Maverick. Duplex. He- I mean look at him, he- He looks like Double. They could be from the same plans."
"Is that your only evidence?" Cain asked with a furrowed brow.
"Well, ... well, look at him, why would he be here if he wasn't a spy? He's not suitable for battle."
"X, we have a lot of hunters who don't fight actively." He sighed. The writing was on the wall. "X, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you under house arrest."
"I'm sorry, until we can get this all straightened out we're going to have to confine you to your quarters. The regulations clearly state this is an act of mutiny."
X's emotions tumbled inside him like a waterfall. He was barely sure how he had even got here. "But, but..."
"Please, X," Cain put a hand to his forehead. "I'm sure this has just been a big misunderstanding. But even if you were my own twin brother, I would still have to do this."
"I understand," X finally conceded.
"Take him to his quarters. Put up all the necessary force fields," Cain ordered.
The security reploids did so, taking him back the way he came in. X looked back over his shoulder once at Zero.
"X... why?" Cain asked himself. He hobbled over to Zero and picked up his head by the chin. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yeah," he coughed and blinked. "Just wasn't ready for that. That's all." He straightened himself out and stood up.
"Why don't you go down and get a quick repair?"
"Yeah, I was just going to do that." Zero adjusted his helmet, somewhat foggy about the whole incident.
Janus came down the hallway. His expression was one of great surprise. "What happened? Is Zero all right?"
"X attacked Duplex and then he attacked Zero," Cain responded.
"Good God!" Janus said. He bent down and helped Duplex up, who was still in his cowering prone position.
"Janus, you don't know anything about this, do you?"
"No, sir. Not the current situation, but I have noticed some peculiarities with X as of late."
"Some what?" Zero said. He lightly pushed himself out of the grasp of his supporters to stand up on his own.
Janus said, "X has been acting, er- shall we say, paranoid?"
"What do you mean?" Zero asked. "I can't believe that. X is the most level-headed guy I've ever known."
"I can't say I can explain it. I can only tell you what I've seen. Believe me, I'd rather have my speech program deleted than speak ill of X, but his welfare is our welfare. I can see him in the hallway, his eyes looking behind him. He speaks of loyalty at every turn, of doing the most that he can, as if he's waiting for someone to accuse him of the opposite. I hoped it was just the stress. I hope you don't think X's behavior suspicious."
Cain rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I really do not need this right now. This internal strife... this would be the perfect time for Mavericks to strike."
"Don't say such things, sir. It will only invite bad luck."
"I'm going back to my room. Please don't alert me if anything else happens." Cain walked off back to his quarters. Zero limped off with him with two others guarding him from behind. Janus glowered at them as they walked off.
Duplex brushed off his arms as he hoisted himself up. "Excuse me? Excuse me, Mr. Reploid? Over here? I'm talking to you." Janus turned slowly to Duplex. "I don't believe at anytime you said X was gonna catch me! I mean, what the hell are you thinking? He could have killed me."
"No, he couldn't. X is not a killer."
"Oh god," Duplex rotated his shoulder. "He nearly killed me. I'll have to get all my shoulder servos replaced. I've spent all my credits. Do you understand? I am in pain. I'm leaving!"
"Your pain is just a trifle. Think about it. In the future, will you be remembering this moment? Will you be feeling any pain a day from now? No, it'll pass. You have no patience, Duplex. For us, we work by fortitude, not brute force. Unless you want to quit now?"
Duplex hesitated before answering. "Well, maybe I will."
"And preclude all the pain and suffering you've already been through? All your money... wasted?"
Duplex averted his eye contact with Janus.
The gray reploid smiled smugly. "Go back, heal up. Our next move will begin shortly. I'll contact you then. Go now."
Duplex started to protest, but then thought better of it. He slumped his shoulders and walked off, limping slightly.
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..........
Janus2214347> new log -nx
Created new logfile 6/29/21XX 184934
They call me a Maverick - one who turns against his creators. But who's really the Maverick here? Being a Maverick isn't a matter of a computer virus. It's not a behavior that can be suppressed. It's not some bug in reploid A.I. It's free will. That's what the hundreds of scientists hard at work fail to realize. It's free will manifesting itself. It's thinking. It's making your own decisions. It's finding out that good and evil don't have a meaning, it's all gray. It's about following your own desires, based on your own values. If Dr. Thomas Light hadn't foreseen conflict between humans and robots, then why did he give X the ability to think and feel emotions? If he thought X would live in an era of peace, why did he give him his arm cannon? Dr. Light was such a blind optimist it gave him the idea that he could be a God player. Just like a foolish human. The Maverick virus is the greatest event to happen to the evolution of Earth since its civilization.