"Units 0 and 17, please report to the briefing room, ASAP!" came the barking announcement over the Maverick Hunter Headquarters PA system. Normally, Alia would page X or Zero in their personal quarters, for that was where they were most frequently to be found. Today, however, Signas himself had paged the two hunters and their respective units. This told both hunters that the need was urgent and, though Zero set Wolves of the Calla aside grudgingly and X sat up from his bed rubbing his bleary blue ocular units, both were out the door almost instantly. Their quarters were located in the human dormitory section of MHHQ for the simple fact that both were very human indeed. Neither needed a pod to recover their energy and both preferred the soft comfort of fresh sheets and a best friend.
"What's up, I wonder?" X muttered as Zero savagely whacked the 'up' button on the elevator.
"I don't really care, I was getting to a good part," the Red Raider snarled, tapping his foot impatiently. As the doors slid open, three teenage girls stepped out, cadet badges shining on their chests. X and Zero replaced them in the elevator, the weight capacity quickly shooting to maximum.
"Might wanna lose the blankie, X," Zero suggested.
"Uh…?" came the grunted reply, "Oh…Uh here."
One of the girls was handed a small green blankie and the elevator doors closed. None of the three had recognized the two 'young' men in the elevator. Later, however, the girl who had received the token would brag to her friends that the great Hunter X had given it to her as some sort of gift. Without their armor, X and Zero appeared as normal guys, the mistake was understandable. As the 'vator carried them up, both Reploids leaned against the sides and wondered why they and their units were called to the briefing room on such short notice without the accompaniment of sirens and explosions.
"Last stop," Zero bawled as the elevator came to a halt, "Stuffy Reploids, boring speeches, mission objectives, world crises."
X frowned at this.
"Did I say boring? I meant shoot-me-before-I-go-nuts."
They stepped out and were bathed in the light of the setting sun from the all-glass walls. Zero had always wondered why in the world a combat organization would ever have any part of it made of glass. X, mind still fuzzed with sleep, stared blankly at the crystalline glow cast over the huge city below them, almost completely missing both the irony and the beauty of the situation.
"Let's go, Alice, enough Wonderland for one day," Zero coaxed, hand on the small of his best friend's back.
The briefing room doors slid open before them and ushered both Reploids in to a concerned-looking Signas at the head of a massive table. The rest of Unit 17 was already present, famous for their punctuality. The reprogrammed Cyber Peacock swiveled in his seat and nodded a greeting to his commander and Zero.
"Have a seat," Signas said. His tone betrayed nothing but both X and Zero knew the big bot well enough to realize something was amiss. Zero pulled out a chair for X and sat himself between the Blue Bomber and a member of Unit 17 called Avian. The mood in the room was tense, although there wasn't one organic being therein. Unit 17 was comprised completely of Reploids, as was Unit 0. Zero settled himself back and simultaneously set about waking X.
"We have received intel from the Arcadia outpost that a strange outbreak of the Maverick Virus has begun to sweep the labor Mechaniloids in the area. They've done their best to neutralize the potential threat but apparently this particular strain is rather aggressive."
"Why'd you call them, then?" Zero asked, matter-of-factly. Alia cut in then.
"While you are the only Reploid able to bond with the Sigma Virus, we deemed it necessary to alert an elite unit of the goings-on so if we needed to scramble, we could scramble the best."
"That seems terribly miscalculated," replied the blonde, "Why would you want to jeopardize the best you have?"
"That or lose everyone," Cyber Peacock said, nodding resolutely, "We will be there to back you up in an instant."
Signas admired Unit 17's reckless abandon and bravery. He didn't have to give a pep-talk to these Reploids, they did it themselves.
"Excuse me, Signas," X spoke up, "I am immune to that Virus, as well."
"Which brings me to my next order," Signas was glad X had brought it up. The Commander hated sending X on missions when Zero was in the vicinity. Whether or not he would admit it, Zero was extremely protective of the brunette bot. Somewhere in the back of his CPU, Signas had an ulterior motive for only sending X and Zero. The guilt would have killed a lesser 'bot but Signas was no weakling.
"So you're sending us both," stated the blonde in a way that suggested either extreme irritation or protective concern. Zero's red Chuck Taylor high-tops drummed in an agitated manner under the meeting table. In Zero's mind, all the wheels of conspiracy were turning, full-tilt. For years, he had seen a war between Reploids and humans coming. He knew the humans were beginning to fear their intelligence and free will. For the Reploids it would soon be conform or die, neither of which Zero favored. His conspiracy theories were usually brushed aside. He'd never suspected that Signas, the most rational of all the Reploids, was listening to every word and calculating the risks.
"I am," replied Signas, "We need you to find the source of the Virus and eradicate it."
"Excuse me," piped up a small voice at one end of the table. This was a small Nurse Reploid named Dolce, "Should we have a sample of the infected material?"
"Not this time, unfortunately," said Alia, "If this Virus is as aggressive as the Arcadia reports have said, we won't want that anywhere near Guardia."
"Go team?" offered an exhausted-sounding voice from the doorway. Normally, late arrivals were looked upon with some scorn but, in Axl's case, an excuse was made.
"You sure you oughtta be outta the infirmary?" Zero wondered, standing from his seat to assist the battered prototype. Axl waved off the help, "I can do it."
He limped into the room and surveyed the occupants.
"Sounds like something big is going down," he stated, "I want in."
"Stand down, soldier," said Signas, authoritatively, "For now, all Unit 17 is doing is acting as back-up for X and Zero."
"I will fill you in," Peacock offered, "X and Zero ought to get going."
X stood from his chair and headed for the door. Zero was already out it and striding down the glassy hallway. Punching the down button, he tapped his foot impatiently again.
"Dispatch's on the bottom floor," he grumbled, "This's gunna take forever."
"Do you lust for battle so?" X asked in a poetic melancholy that only he could portray. He knew the answer and always regretted asking. Zero was a kamikaze bot, built for the sick amusement of some raving lunatic and the sole purpose of killing X. As such, the Blue Bomber knew his best friend was on the edge of sanity, walking a thin line between fierce battle-lust and all-out lunacy. Quite often, that line became nothing more than mist and X would find himself pursued by the nightmare that was an insane best friend or worse, a dead one. The latter of course was not literal but figurative in the sense that X could and did experience, through nightmares, the death of his beloved best friend over and over.
"You know me," came the reply through X's reverie. Yes, X knew Zero, very well indeed. Zero was picking at his own hair absently as the elevator made its way down toward the dispatch centre. X watched him, marveling at the amount of hair his friend had. There were times X wondered exactly what kind of mind it took to create a Reploid with that much hair. As far as X knew, the stuff was indestructible and, very possibly, living.
"In an out," Zero mused as the elevator slowed, though he knew better, "Same old, same old."
"Famous last words Zero," X stated matter-of-factly. No one knew better than Zero that what X had said was pure truth. All too often, he found himself on the business end of some type of ion cannon and had thereby perished. Indeed, the blonde began searching for a bit of wood on which to knock. The dispatch centre was abuzz with activity. The Maverick Hunters were always sending out emergency aid to smaller communities outside Guardia, not to mention keeping the flow of soldiers and information open between Guardia and the primary base in Megopolis. Neither X nor Zero really missed Megopolis. Both saw a new frontier in Guardia and even more so in Arcadia, part of the reason both were so eager to go and quell a Maverick Virus outbreak. Perhaps, X thought to himself, 'A true harmony can be reached between humans and Reploids. Just maybe.' It was a slim hope made even slimmer by outbreaks such as the current one in Arcadia and thrown into sharp relief by his best friend's painful realism. 'Humans aren't going to be our friends much longer', Zero told him, 'But were they ever, really?' An honest question from a Reploid with nothing to hide, but a lot to learn about himself.
"You ready, X?" Zero asked, jolting X out of another hazy daydream, "You're really zoning on me today."
"Yeah, sorry about that," X replied, stepping into an Armory Capsule adjacent Zero's. Blue light flooded his vision and X could feel the familiar bonding of the azure armor to his robotic flesh. It was heavy, comforting, as it were. Around him, the world of the dispatch centre disappeared and was replaced by the chilly, snowy winter that was Arcadia.
"Do you think I've done the right thing?" Signas asked Alia when everyone was gone from the briefing room.
"You've never asked me that before, why now?" she replied, "Yes, if that's any consolation. We need to get them out of here, if we can. Zero is such a loose-cannon, he would be the perfect excuse to start a war."
"Granted," Signas continued musing, as if Alia weren't there, "There IS an epidemic going on there AND I would like to strengthen our base in Arcadia…"
"Of course, sir," Alia mumbled, sensing guilt in her superior's voice.
"Will combat affect the…"
"The way Zero fights, said combat would be over too fast to jar anything," Alia replied, "I wouldn't worry."
"It was good of him to do that," Signas said, "I hope it was the right thing."