X glanced around the area as he reformed from the transport. Snow was bombarding the white landscape. X hadn't expected such a blizzard in the middle of the day. The lightness of the sun made it look less intense, but the storm was pretty severe. Not that he cared – he was waterproof and cold didn't affect him. X held his hand in front of his eyes to block out the snow searing at him and oriented himself. He looked for the rock cave he knew was close by.
X spotted it some hundred meters away, a black maw waiting for a meal. He started the long trudging path up to it, running in the powdery snow, jumping the crevasses in his way. He was eager to escape the storm bearing down on him and gladly slogged through the entrance. The blanket of chill lifted off as the shelter of the dimly illuminated cavern closed in. In a short time he met a cliff and started climbing up the jagged slope. Using his traction stabilization system made the climbing a lot easier, plus he had dug out the stones for handholds. He peeked his head over the top of the snow-covered bluff and saw the machine, strangely out of place in the dark rock tunnel.
It didn't strike X as odd for a console projector standing in the middle of a frozen cave because he had seen it so many times before. He hoisted himself above the rock face and approached the machine with a slight smile on his face. X's face lit up as the terminal control function turned on. Hitting some more buttons, X looked up at the circular platform attached to the terminal, waiting for action.
The capsule's circumference filled out in a teal holographic curtain. The blue color wiped away to reveal a hologram of a kind-faced short scientist with a thick white beard. X could only assume it was white due to the bluescale color of the image.
"Hello, Dr. Light," X smiled.
"Hello again, X. It's good to see you."
"It's good to see you too."
"X, this capsule is no longer capable of upgrading your system."
"I know, I know. I just... need someone to talk to right now."
"It's just... all my friends are acting so weird around me now. Everyone's suddenly become... Well, Zero. Zero just acted crazy around me. I mean, I know..." X took a deep breath. "Okay, here's what happened. I accidentally shot Zero and, granted, I would be somewhat angry with that too. And I would have apologized to him sooner, but I was under house arrest and couldn't see him. And he knows that it was an accident, but he just won't... get that. He just came in, he wanted to see my Z-saber, and I couldn't find it. And I still can't find it." X said that last line as an aside. "Why does he want to see my saber so bad? It's not like he needs it. It was a gift from him to me in the heat of battle. But it's not like his existence depended on it. It seemed so random for him to ask for it, just out of the blue like that. He just crazed out, like he had a personality error. Maybe he thinks I'm going against him by shooting him, but I apologized to him. He just doesn't understand that I didn't mean it. So is that just normal? Does he feel like I betrayed him?" X looked up to Dr. Light with innocent eyes.
"X, I'm only a holographic representation of Dr. Light. I don't have the cognitive functions to process these questions. I was only created to offer you upgrades."
"I know, I know, but... forget it." X turned around and sat in the cold snow, exasperated. "I just need some answers. I want some answers and I can't get them because you're dead." X tucked his chin into his body. "Why was I even created? You created me for a world of peace but my existence just seems to cause nothing but conflict."
The Dr. Light hologram watched X from his immovable stance, a seemingly sad expression on his face. "X, if I was capable of giving you advice, I would tell you that your friends, if they truly are your friends, will forgive you for any trespasses you may have committed."
"So what should I do?"
"I cannot process that question. But I think you know what you need to do."
"No, I don't, I really don't."
"I'm afraid I can't help you anymore than that X."
"I know. You weren't designed with cognitive functions, blah blah blah." X stepped up to the console again. "Goodbye, father."
"I'll see you again." X switched the emitter off and watched the form of Dr. Light wipe away to nothingness.
X turned away and stared out into the mouth of the tunnel, gazing at nothing. "Zero..." he muttered. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Is that what you think?"
"About this, the paranoia."
"I do not recall what the psychological term is, but there is something in humans that makes them scared of what they are. For example, a worker who watches others for stealing may be a kleptomaniac himself."
"So you're saying X is paranoid about Mavericks because he is a Maverick. That's just speculation. And you're using a human illustration. Reploids aren't humans."
"We are all more human than you realize. Reploid A.I. passes the Turing Test with flying colors. It's no wonder they are subject to human fallacies. X is the first of us, the prototype. Prototypes always have flaws in their systems. Likely, that's where the start of the Maverick virus lies, some flaw in his programming. The information is there, you just need to think about it."
"It's not. You- you need other evidence. Harder evidence, otherwise it's just conjecture."
"X being a Maverick is not so hard to think about. A Maverick may still be a Maverick even if it makes no harmful action against humans or Maverick Hunters."
"I guess that's true."
"And it is no crime if X hates humans yet still does his job."
"For example, X's weapon is his to do with as he wants, right? Off hours? It's not yours anymore, you gave it to him."
"Perhaps he wishes to write a manifesto denouncing the human race. He's not a Maverick then, is he?"
"Janus! Stop it!" Zero grabbed hold of Janus' shoulders and faced him toward himself. "If you know that X has become a Maverick then just tell me that. Don't give me a run around!"
Janus did not look fazed from being shook by Zero. "I do know one thing he said."
"What?" Zero's expression dropped.
"Or rather, bore witness to his confession of what he did."
"By all things held sacred, what did he say?"
Janus took a deep breath. "He told me that he had killed."
"Killed... a man?"
"Man, woman, who is to say?"
Zero let go of Janus' shoulders and held onto his own head. His eyes narrowed, almost crossing. "Man, woman, human. Killed. He killed a human. He's MA-A-A-AV-ERI-ICK!" Zero's voice faltered, jerking and vibrating like a stream delay. Janus stepped back in surprise.
Zero spun around and swung his fist into the nearby wall. The metal wrenched apart giving way to a fist. Zero dragged his arm through the wall, creating the horrendous screeching of cold metal tearing through metal. Even Janus winced for what surely had to be gut-wrenchingly painful, yet Zero's rage precluded any sort of physical feeling. Zero's eyes pallored ghostly white as he fell to all fours, trembling as if from a seizure.
Janus walked around Zero's shaking form. The crimson android had no consciousness around him, all thought processes had been hung. So Janus had no fear of anything he might do. He was as helpless as a baby. The gray reploid sneered. "That's right..."
"Zero!" Dr. Cain shouted from the other end of the hallway being escorted by several reploid soldiers.
"Help! Help! Over here! Zero!" Janus quickly called to them, frantically pointing to Zero.
"Get a repair kit. Save him," Cain demanded. The reploids deployed, one ran back out of the hall, the others flipped the seizing Zero onto his back, avoiding his flailing limbs. Janus stepped back to let them by. They held down his body to try and suppress his movements, but it took all their strength to stop him from bursting out.
Dr. Cain quickly hobbled over to the gray reploid. "Janus, what in blazes happened here?" His face was a mixture of rage and apprehension.
"A system error? I'm afraid I'm as clueless as you are."
"I've never seen anything like this in a reploid before." Cain leaned forward slightly over Zero's vibrating body. His eyes were shut now, as if in the chains of a nightmare. "Is it some sort of mechanical failure?"
A soldier reploid broke through the group, holding a portable computer. He flipped the box open and pulled out two retractable jacks. These he plugged into Zero's helmet. Cain looked over the reploid soldier's shoulder as the black and green monitor speedily scrolled through lines of code.
"System scan commencing," he said.
"A memory fault... there," Cain pointed.
"Zero!" X called out as he turned the corner. He ran down to the collected mass around Zero's fallen body. Janus sprang up and held him back.
"No, X, it's better if you give them room. They've already found the fault and they're fixing it."
"He started shaking uncontrollably and fell to the floor. It's best if the problem works itself out."
"No way. I'm not going to abandon him now."
"There's nothing you can do for him, X. Just stay out of the way. Go to my quarters. I'll meet you there and give you a report."
"It's the best thing you can do for him now, believe me."
X looked over Janus' head at Zero. The uniformed reploids were totally covering him. X couldn't even see his body now. He looked back to Janus, putting his trust him in, hoping the sincerity on his face was genuine. X reluctantly nodded and walked away.
As soon as he was out of viewing range Janus jogged back to the fray. "What's happen-"
Zero sat up like a spring, eyes wide open. He grunted in pain and held his hand up to the wires sticking out of his helmet. He yanked the jacks out of his head and threw them on the floor.
"Ow, what happened?"
"You had some sort of memory fault," Dr. Cain responded. "Apparently it's fixed itself. Didn't even have a chance to start diagnosing it."
"I don't remember anything. The last thing I remember is talking with Janus about something. Whatever it was, it must not have had time to save to my resolved memory."
"I've never seen anything like this before," Cain said. "Do you feel all right now?"
"Yeah, I feel like nothing ever happened."
"My word, this is odd." Cain put a finger to his lips. "Well, I don't know what else to do. Perhaps you should make a trip to the diagnostic chamber,"
"I will when I get a chance." Zero rubbed the back of his head.
"Well, all right then." Cain thought the situation demanded more of his time, but he really couldn't think of anything else to do. "Come along, men." Cain whisked his green and red cape. The soldier with the diagnostic computer snapped it shut and stood up and the reploids walked away behind their human commander.
"Are you really feeling fine, Zero?" Janus asked as Cain disappeared around a corner.
"I remember everything."
"Cain can't know about X. It would destroy him and his work. It would expel him from his job, and MHHQ would be undone without his guidance. He's already under constant fire for discovering X in the first place, possibly bringing the Maverick virus upon us. And he's the only one who would prevent the military from making us the humans' disposable soldiers. Now tell me, did he truly confess it."
"X? Sir, you've just had an episode of sorts. Are you sure you wouldn't lie down or something?" Janus began subserviently brushing off Zero's chest plate. Zero grabbed his hand sharply.
"Lying down is for humans. Answer me."
Janus looked down and sighed. "I can do better than that, sir. You can see it for yourself."
Janus pulled Zero into a nearby computer room. The lab was dark and abandoned of people. Janus used the nearest console to access his personal files, skimming through code and accessing programs. He quickly brought up a video feed of his living quarters.
"Stay here a moment, I will return."
Janus left the computer room, leaving Zero to his own devices. He could not stay staring at the computer screen for more than five seconds before he began wandering around the table in the middle of the room, idly punching his fist into his other hand. One couldn't begin to count all the thought processes in his head, but they were all subdued by anticipation.
Not long later, Janus' visage blipped onto the video screen, filling the monitor space. Zero practically dashed to the console.
"I sent X to my room so that I could draw the confession out for you to witness. I'll set up a video comm connection between him and me. I'm sending you an encrypted spectator stream so that you can listen in on what X is saying. You'll be able to see him, but he won't see you."
"All right," Zero looked upon the screen with emotionlessness.
"I will talk with him about his hatred of humans, watch for his returns."
The video player moved to a blank screen, the dim light casting a looming glow to Zero's furrowed features. He watched and waited, never moving at all, trapped in a state of patience.
Janus, from his position in the next room, hurriedly set up the system for a video connection down to his quarters, plus a second read-only stream on the client side. He did not want to waste a minute of time, lest Zero's anger start to fault. The programs connected and Janus was treated to a view of his room by way of his console.
"X? X, are you there?"
The hero with the blue helmet quickly made it to the screen. "Finally. What are you doing on the screen?"
Zero was taken aback, thinking that he was supposed to be just a spectator, that X wouldn't be able to see him. Then Janus piped through.
"Calm down, X. Zero just had a bit of a spill. They're still making some repairs, but he'll be fine. He had a memory fault, but it seems to be all fixed now."
"Fixed? A memory fault? How did that happen?"
Zero heard all of X's responses, but none of Janus'. It was like hearing half a conversation.
"Janus, I'm not getting anything from you," he said as if Janus could hear him. Zero cranked the volume on the monitor up, but only heard the hissing feedback.
X continued, "Why do they have to be so foolish? Can't they figure out what his problem is?"
"Alas, the humans could not find the problem before it disappeared. Do you think it could be the work of Mavericks?"
"Mavericks? Ergh," X rubbed his face with his head. "First, I'm arrested, then Zero falls under. What kind of weird world do I live in? Everything's falling apart."
"If not Mavericks, then could it be humans?"
"Humans? Why would they betray their protectors, especially their finest?"
"Well, General Brandle did
attempt to strip Zero of his rank."
"General Brandle isn't worth the ground he walks on. The humans made a mistake when they instated him."
Zero heard the words 'human' and 'mistake' as X's temper rose. The stoic reploid sat in the chair and watched the rest unfold.
"Are you saying that the humans should be removed?"
"No," X denied vehemently. "But the military presence should. They should all be eradicated from MHHQ. They have no place here."
Zero's brow furrowed further.
"Indeed, General Brandle certainly stabbed his own comrade in the back and received no discipline for it."
"Stabbed? More like gutted and sliced." X made a motion of plunging a knife into a person's back and slicing it out.
"It does make one desire to have the humans removed from HQ, doesn't it."
"I just want them out of my life. I wish things could go back to the way they were, without people breathing down my neck. When did this all start, Janus? My reputation, tarnished. Zero's furious with me."
"In truth, I cannot say. Such things have a way of snowballing."
X sighed. "Where's Zero now?"
"Ah, the doctor said that he should rest in the diagnostic chamber. He may be there now."
X waved his hand dismissedly. "I won't bother him then." X leaned back in the chair and sighed. "He needs his rest. Ah, Janus, you might be my only friend left in the world. At least you're the only one I can trust. "
"I strive to please you, sir."
"Good night, sir."
Mega Man X's face disappeared as the connection closed. Zero had his hands clasped in front of him, still watching the video feed, despite there being nothing more than a blank monitor. Zero's eyes coldly stared at the screen, not even watching it, seeing past it, never moving.
The doors parted open and Janus slowly stepped in, behind him was Duplex, casting his bright yellow sheen.
"Did you see it?" Janus asked.
"I saw it." Zero interrupted angrily.
"Did you see hear how he mocked humans. How he demanded they be eradicated?"
"I said, I saw it!" he screamed.
Janus bowed his head in deference.
"There is just one more piece of evidence you must see," Janus gestured to Duplex to come forward.
"I don't care. I don't want to see it." Zero shut his eyes and shook his head.
"You must, sir."
The gold reploid did his best to act as subordinate as possible and held up a metal rod, resting it lightly on his fingertips like it was sacred.
Zero opened his eyes and picked it up. He held it outward at eye level. It was caked in brown, dried blood.
"My saber... X's saber."
With his head still bowed, Janus said, "There is a log that states X transported out of here at 2300 hours. We found his saber then. You may have heard about the unsolved murder in the city. The blood tested pos-"
"Shut up!" Zero shouted. "I see it," he muttered. He lowered the saber slowly and looked directly into Janus' eyes. All the thought processes running in his head condensed down to one single declarative concept "X must be destroyed. And I'll be the one to do it."
"What?" Duplex yelped.
"Sir, please try to think this over. X has given years of loyal service-"
"And it's all meant nothing. When I became a Maverick Hunter I swore a duty to destroy all Mavericks wherever they are, no matter what. Now there's one in our midst and it must be destroyed."
"X will rust and rot. I will kill him nine times over. I will see to it."
"Try to think of how X might feel. What X might be going through. To be the first of us-"
"Mavericks don't feel. That's their exact flaw. Is there some reason you're trying to discourage me? Do you think Mavericks should not be destroyed? Are you siding with X?"
"Never, sir," Janus said astonishedly. "I would never side with X."
"Good, you will be my witness. I will have X's head. I'll gut him with the very weapon he betrayed me with." Zero turned the Z-saber on and a beam of green light extended out. He held it out in battle stance.
"Sir, please, control yourself." Janus pushed Zero's arms down. "Such a brutal death is not fitting for X, he's too decorated for that. Nor should the authorities handle him. There is no honor in a death brought by trials and laws. Let him die a gentle death. At least give him that."
Zero kept his arms upright, gripping tightly to the rod.
"For all those years of friendship?" Janus continued.
Zero looked down at his saber. "Fine, X deserves at least that."
"When X is next scheduled for diagnostics. You may do it then."
Zero doused his saber. The green beam shrunk and dissipated.
"What in bleeding hell is this?!" Zero practically jumped on the table where X and another hunter were sitting.
"Zero? Uh, what's wrong?" X said. The other hunter remained speechless and flabbergasted, mouth hung in a tight 'o'.
Zero yelled, "You know damn well what's wrong. You arranged this, didn't you? I know you did. Just admit it!"
"I'm being sent to
"I didn't say anything! No one said anything to me about it. This is the first I've heard of it."
Zero grabbed X by his chest armor and throttled him. "Bullshit. Don't lie to me. Would you betray me even further? You want me out of the picture. To take command for yourself?"
X locked eyes with Zero, not taking aggressive action, since that was his nature. "What is wrong with you? Maybe they are right in sending you there. This time here is making you stir-crazy. You need to get away from all this, it's killing you. You need to get a fresh perspective."
"You need to send me out to die, is that it? Christ, X, just pull the plug on me now."
"Zero, this is nothing you can't handle."
"Oh, I can't handle it? Can I? That's not even the bleeding point! The point is, you'll be made the sole commander when I'm gone!"
"So? What's the matter with that? I had control of the Maverick Hunters while you were missing, while you were recovering. I'm quite capable of leading them."
Zero grabbed X by his shoulder armor and pulled him to eye level. "We were a team, X. A team. Partners, me and you. Why are you trying to destroy that? Why?"
"I don't want to destroy it. I want to see you get better. Look at how mad you are?"
"I'm not mad, you're mad. You're walking a fine line, X. You have to be careful or you'll get hurt."
"What are you talking about? Now I'm glad I am taking command."
"You'll never have it. Never. I'll make sure of it."
"Let me go, goddammit. Have you gone mental?"
"Your little incident with attacking a fellow officer and you think the slate is wiped clean? Well, some of us don't forget so easily. You're not fit to be commander of the Maverick Hunters."
"You're not fit to command anything!" X retorted.
Zero dropped X's shoulders and punched him clean across the jaw. X collapsed under the table, flat on his stomach, eyes shut from the blast. Zero stood over him, holding his clenched fist like a hammer of judgment.
"What have you done?" X's copper reploid friend stood from his chair aghast.
"No one questions my authority. X is a cheap knock-off of what I am."
X stirred and turned on his back. He wiped his jaw and glared at Zero.
Zero continued, "Oh, I will follow orders. I will do as they say. Because that is my duty. And you will take my place, because that is your duty. We all have something to follow."
Zero turned on his heel and walked out of the lounge, his blond hair swishing back and forth like a pendulum.
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
Today, X told me he could not believe his eyes at Zero's outburst in the lounge. He told me Zero's programming seemed like it had been replaced, altered, deleted even. That Zero was once a self-controlled man. Level-headed. A leader. He asked me if he had gone mad, because there could be no other reason that he would strike him. I told him I could not answer, yet I did not think him mad. I told X that he would just have to watch and see.