MATHS

Madness Attacking The Head Slowly

By: LazerTH

Disclaimer: Whatever belongs to whoever belongs to that person or company. This is a mockery of X4 and its characters. I have played the game fifty-something times from beginning to end, and thought it was high time I made fun of it. There are characters from X5 because I refuse to believe they simply walked off the assembly line just for the sake of the fifth war. Anyway, go crazy, and have fun. '888' implies a change of scene, because HTML documents suck at formatting.

888

The bestial depths of Maverick HQ were situated underground of an extremely secret location which is so secret that your ears would bleed if you heard where it was. Forget your conceptions of what highly advanced HQ's should be. The place was a perfect replica of a crack addict's basement. It had futons, raunchy posters and all sorts of secret closets with secretive compartments holding secret stuff. The walls crawled with beetles and mice. There was also a 21-inch colour TV, stuffed sofas and tables strewn with items of questionable legality. The whole setup was poorly illuminated by a naked light bulb. When 32 different species of sentient animals have used the place as a crash pad, it can best be described as a Maverick sty.

Dragoon was flipping through his fan mail, one arm hooked over the head of the couch, a dirty pair of feet propped on the coffee table. He scissored another letter open between his claws and dumped the A4 paper onto his lap.

"Hannah Sears. Oy vay, another bubbly fangirl."

An eyebrow clicked upward as he read the letter.

"dragoon is haaaaard. i don't like hiiiiiiiiiiim. i have the biggest issues killing him even with the ride armor."

"Blasted video games!" Dragoon swore, crunching up the letter and pelting it across the room where it hit Split Mushroom. Startled, the little 'shroom rolled off the TV and landed on his head. He was able to balance quite nicely on its bowl shape. From this topsy-turvy position, he unraveled the little ball of hate and read it.

"You're hard? But the Enzyte you ordered hasn't come in!"

"NOTHING is sacred anymore!" Dragoon shouted, slamming both feet onto the floor, making the coffee table, the TV and Split jump, "I go through all the trouble of screwing with Sky Lagoon and X's head, and I'm STILL under appreciated!"

"You screwed with X?" Split asked in pristine innocence, "No wonder she said you're haaaaard."

Dragoon's eyes bulged for a moment (thankfully, no other part of his body did) and he folded his arms, muttering curses against wai-wai girls and tax increases on 'enhancement' drugs. Unfortunately, Peacock appeared on the TV at that moment, spreading his plumage, reminding Dragoon of his bitter failure in that department.

"Why the loooong face, Dragoon?" Peacock smirked, brushing a pair of lady's lingerie off his shoulder. Dragoon gave him a glare that would have turned Medusa to stone.

"Go suck a sock, Peacock."

"I would if you had anything to," he pronounced with a girlish lisp and flounced off screen. Split swiveled on his head to watch this drama and commented, "Cocaine is a hell of a drug."

Dragoon stood up, his eyes blazing with unmitigated rage. He lifted his arms, fists tightly clenched, and uttered, "I'm a potato and I'm okay, I peel my eyes and I grow all day. And I wear dirt for clothing, just like my dear pa-pa."

Split sighed and folded his arms, looking like a dwarfish break-dancer.

"Farmer Jack's little mantra won't help."

"Shh!" Dragoon shushed, running over to step on Split's bowl/head, "You'll reveal the secret location of our HQ!"

"To whom?" Split wondered, flinching away from Dragoon's funky feet, "There isn't a Hunter for miles."

"You may be bugged!"

"Bugged? I have spores, you idiot!"

"But the spores may contain a micro miniature tiny bug thing!"

"I don't have any tiny bugs things you fanatic!"

"You must be bugged!" Dragoon insisted, lifting up the mushroom by his tiny feet. This time, Split flinched away from Dragoon's funky dragon breath as he accused, "You're the dumbest one!"

"Am not!"

"Are too! What the hell kind of retort is 'Take a wild guess'?"

Split started to cry, big tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes, "But Siggy said…"

Dragoon sighed, wilting Split slightly as he did so.

"I know, I know. It's the anticipation of battle, and taking orders from a bald man with shiny red orbs for boobs."

"You know he stores antihistamines in those things?"

"Really?"

"Yes. He's allergic to me! That's why he gave me the crappy lines."

Dragoon suddenly turned around and tossed Split over his shoulder. The poor mushroom crashed into the TV, which, being more durable than his slight frame did not topple. Split slid slowly and pathetically down the cold glass screen while Dragoon scratched his chin.

"Hey, Split, know any good tunes?"

"What in the bloody Franciscan hell does that have to do with anything?" he groaned, bleeding from a non-existent nose.

"Theme music!" the dragon rumbled, his metallic wings stirring with a 'creak', "I will have my vengeance upon this wai-wai girl and sound damn cool while doing it!"

Split righted himself, stared at Dragoon as he said this, and muttered solemnly, "Cocaine is a hell of a drug" while the dragon searched for a return address.

"Hey, Split! Are there any volcanoes in Pennsylvania?"

888

"Tell me, baby, what's the word? Word up!"

"Get the slagging heck away from me, X!"

Alia jammed her headphones further into her ears while X gave his best impression of Eiffel 65.

"I'm blue, da-ba-dee, da-ba-die, da-ba-dee, da-ba-die…"

"ARGH!" she screamed after a few seconds. X was now dancing atop the command console in front her face.

"Like a boom-boom-boom-boom boomerang, I come rushing back to you again!"

Alia stood; teeth gritted, and tackled X right off all the shiny buttons and flashing lights that were her work. Sprawled with the communications expert on the floor, X giggled and imitated the famous drum roll, "Ba-dum, chhh!" while poking her nose. Signas chose this awkward time to enter the command centre. He let out a cry of protest at the tangled reploids and wind milled his arms.

"What is this? Alia, I thought that I was your daddy!"

"She sits in my lap from now on!" cried X, pulling down one eye and sticking out his tongue at the commander. Alia kicked X away from her with a ferocity that would have made Iris proud.

"I AM NO ONE'S BABY!" she screeched. Silence greeted her outburst. Alia, cowed that no one had contested her, slumped into her seat and messed around with satellite positions for awhile. X walked up to Signas and poked him in the broad chest.

"Nobody encroaches on my territory, y'hear? Fresh meat is my turf!"

"Oh, in that case, Zero gets first dibs on Iris."

X's eyes sparkled with glee as he rubbed his hands.

"Iris, eh? Sounds purdy."

"She's just out of training, which means you stay the hell away from her until I've had my way… er, I mean, broken her in."

"You make her sound like a horse," Alia snorted, feeling hurt at being left out of the conversation.

"Anyway," X said, sending more than a disgusted glance at the young reploid, "What's with all the new recruits all of a sudden? Not…"

"Not that you're complaining," Signas finished X's sentence, "But after Doppler screwed over an entire city of reploids, we're short on staff."

"Speaking of short," X grinned as he heard clumping footsteps outside the door. He rolled a ballpoint pen to the entrance. Double walked in, with God-knows-what piled in his arms above his head, and tripped on the stylus of doom.

"Wuh-whOOAAAHH!" CRASH! "Dude, that's not funny!"

X and Signas were cackling like witches over a brew… a brew of ale.

"Holy jawbreakers, batman!" said X, "He lost his helmet!"

Double was bald. There was also a glaring Maverick symbol tattooed to his forehead, but Signas and X were too busy hooting to notice. Alia was studiously watching her screen, refusing to participate in the festivities.

"Man, why does he walk around with those shoeboxes all day?"

"They're not shoeboxes!" Double whined, and, realizing his evil mark was showing, scrabbled for his helmet and clamped it over his ears. X was leaning against Signas and checking his fingernails.

"Anyway, get out of here, Double, you're not funny anymore. Oh my, is that dirt between my paw digits?"

"Oh no, not that again," Signas groaned, but it was too late. X pounced Double, waving his hands before the yellow reploid. Double tried to follow the blur of moving hands and succeeded in becoming cross-eyed.

"See!" X was shouting, "Kitty needs a bath!"

"Good lord, X," Signas sighed, hiding his Roman face with both hands, "You're not a kitty."

"Am too! Why can't I be an animal? Everyone else is a motherlovin' animal around here except meeee!" he whined, pawing at a shoebox whose contents lay scattered on the floor.

"Fine," Signas declared, and, snatching up 'kitty' by the scruff of his neck, walked out of the command centre with the hissing and spitting X. Alia had turned around now, her eyes resembling saucers.

"I… and all reploids… were designed after… him?"

"Makes you want to turn Maverick, huh?" Double replied, a slight edge of malice in his tone. Alia, inattentive as ever, had turned back to the command console. Double sat up to collect his shoeboxes, whispering evilly under his breath.

"I'll show 'em someday. I'll show 'em all that Double is Trouble!"

"Hey!"

A red light had begun flashing above Alia's head. Double stood up.

"What is it? Maverick uprising? Apocalypse? Bozo the clown?"

"No!" Alia said, "My pizza has arrived! Double, you go get it!"

Double stalked out the room, muttering in a very gothic fashion that he hated everyone. Alia almost did not notice the yellow light flashing beside the red one, which did mean that Mavericks were raising hell somewhere in town.

"Torak's teeth!" she cried, "The world's coming to an end, and I feel fine."

888

"Fifteen ways to know he's going to dump you!"

Zero was highly amused at women's magazines. He had been reading them for two months now, and more than a few of them knew what to do with his floor-length ponytail. At the moment, no less than sixty hairclips were nesting in his hair of spun gold. The frizzy style he had seen in issue #67 was rather fascinating.

"Zerooo!" a voice sang from outside his door. Panicking, the Red Ripper flung the magazine across the room where it hit the wall and fell into the wastebasket. He wasn't able to remove all the hairclips before X, dripping wet, sloshed into the room. The Blue Bomber tilted his head to one side and a fish popped out.

"Have we been playing with dollies again, Zero?"

"No," Zero mumbled, staring lamely at the fistful of hairclips in his hand. He couldn't help thinking, however, that biting sarcasm was telltale sign #4 to know that he's going to dump you.

"Ah, dun worry, Zero-kun!" X piped up brightly, his eyes turning into inverted V's, "We all have our little eccentricities."

"May I ask what a fish was doing in your ear?"

X blinked several times.

"Kitty doesn't like the water."

"God damn it, X, you're not a kitty!"

"Myahhh," X replied, sticking out his tongue. Zero cringed.

"Don't do that. It reminds me… of clowns…"

X squished onto Zero's bed and flung an arm around his pal.

"I'm here for you, brotha!"

"HEY!" Zero cried, standing up and causing X to fall over, "You got my hair wet!"

"And that is a problem, why?" X said from the floor, his feet still hooked over the side of the bed.

"It… it… oh, never mind!"

Zero hurried out of the room, muttering that insensitivity was telltale sign #7. X stood and scratched his head at the large blinking light just above the doorway.

"Hey, did you know that we have a Maverick attack underway? Zero, wait up!"

X skipped out the room, singing badly out of tune while HQ went nuts with activity.

"We all live in the yellow submarine, the yellow submarine…"

888

"Jump! Jump! Jump!"

Storm Owl preened his feathers while Slash danced to B4U on the pimpin' stereo system. They were on the pilot's deck of a stolen air force carrier, and since Storm hadn't thought of anything brilliant to do, the huge ship was merely circling the city.

"Slash, you're getting claw marks all over my main deck!"

"Everybody GET DOWN!" Slash roared, and promptly did a split, gouging the metallic floor with an earsplitting screech! Storm squawked in dismay, fluttered over and kicked the stereo system off.

"Heyyy little guy," Slash protested, "That's my DDR mix straight from the twenty-first century!"

"It's so retro. Your dancing is also hazardous to health. Aren't you supposed to be hijacking a train, or something?"

"Get on the train, kiddoes! Toot toot!"

Slash hopped out the window. Slightly alarmed, Storm peered out the port to watch Slash fall some thousand feet to the cargo cart of the military train.

"Ah, he'll be fine," Storm shrugged, and considered the ghastly marks Slash had left on his floor.

"Wax on, wax off," he sighed, and went to the janitor's closet.

888

"Keep rollin' rollin' rollin'!"

Zero kicked the sides of the Land Chaser as it sped alongside Jet Stingray. Refineries and cranes were blurs in the watery background.

"You have nothing on me, Red Ripper!" the Maverick shouted above the sound of the motor and rushing wind. Zero half turned in the seat to cross his legs, keeping one hand on the steering handles, and flipped Jet the bird.

"In your face, sucka!"

The Land Chaser reared back and performed a flawless speed dash, blasting through several crates that had somehow ended up in the water. Jet frowned at the show-off as he continued to fly in pursuit.

Zero was now leaning back in the seat, both feet braced against the handles of the bike. In this precarious position, he pulled hairclips out one by one.

"I'll get split ends in this horrid breeze!" he lamented. The clips were threatening to rip his hair if they didn't come out in the gale, so they took priority over his steering. His feet nudged the handles to the left and right ever so slightly to avoid sudden crashing death. Several Maverick Bike riders who came alongside the Crimson Wonder stared at his stunt with goggling eyes. Zero ignored them and continued to remove clips from his flowing locks.

"You'll remember me, as the west wind moves, upon the fields of barley…"

The bike bumped over a wave, flashing past the confounded Maverick riders.

"You'll forget the sun, in its jealous sky, among the fields of gold."

He ran both hands through his golden mane as he sang this. Returning to reality, the bike was approaching docks. Righting his position on the bike, Zero caused it to jump, and he hopped lightly off. Jet shot overhead, blowing a raspberry at Zero, as the bike ran forward and exploded against the purple-white doors Jet dove behind. The Red Ripper cracked his knuckles, cracked his neck from side to side, and flipped his ponytail over one shoulder.

"We've got stars directing our fate, and we're praying it's not too late, cuz we know we're fallen from grace…"

The doors parted, and he splashed down, his tresses trailing through the brine.

"Nooo!" he yelled, treading water, "The salt! The salt is in my hair!"

Out of the sand came Jet. Zero looked down at the S-Rank Maverick.

"It will take hours to clean this! I was in a good mood, but now, judgment day is inevitable!"

"I've got sand in my eyes!" Jet complained, "Bah! Let's settle this now!"

Jet emerged from the sea and struck his ass-kicking pose. Zero pointed a finger at him; "You played the tune, now it's time to pay the piper!"

Blue mini stingrays wriggled out of Jet's knee and plunked into the water, homing in on the Hunter like mini torpedoes. Zero allowed his body to drift to the sandy floor and out came the beam saber.

"I wonder how this thing works underwater without zapping the holy hell out of me? Anyway…"

Zero did a hop, skip and jump, picking off each stingray with a saber jab, moving closer to the big boss stingray.

"OW!" Jet howled, "MY ANKLE!"

Zero drifted to floor of the arena, the water tainted by spilt circulatory fluid.

"Drat! Even further hair ruination! Next time, it'll be your crotch!"

"You bastard!"

Jet dove underwater and up the opposite side of the arena, repeating the same move as before. Zero did a skip, jump and hop this time.

"OWW!" Jet screamed, "MY OTHER ANKLE!"

"Damn, I missed the sweet spot!" Zero said, snapping his fingers. Jet predictably swooped to the next side of the arena.

"Aren't you getting bored?"

Zero was hanging from the arena ceiling by a loose power cable.

"This strategy has never failed me before!" Jet claimed, "Why isn't it working against you?"

"Duh!" Zero cried, rolling his eyes upward, "You've only fought Irregulars before, not intelligent Hunters! Irregulars are incredibly predictable!"

"But… but…"

"Sheesh!" Zero exclaimed, slipping further down as the cable lost its grip, "So that's why all you dumb Mavericks have a cut-and-dried fighting method! Irregulars never change, so neither do you! It's all lather, rinse repeat (and I can say that with authority)!"

"I change from time to time! Look, I'm shooting out red stingrays now!"

Zero snorted with disgust and, bracing his legs and arms against the wall, ripped the power cable out of the ceiling.

"Guess what happens when you drop a toaster in a bathtub!"

"Well, that would be stupid! You'd get soggy toast!"

"Wrong answer!"

Zero let the cable fall, frying all the stingray drones to a premature death.

"My babies!" screeched Jet, "You killed them!"

"Yes, and they'll taste good with tartar sauce and a side of shrimp. Break out the chopsticks!"

Jet roared with fury and fired his thrusters, intending to tackle Zero into the deadly water. Zero kicked off the wall and slammed both boots hard into Jet's shoulders. The giant stingray lost control and spun into the water. The sound of the Maverick screeching, convulsing and frying at the same time was rather unpleasant to Zero, who maintained a grip on the wall.

"Ugh! Now it smells like a Chinese restaurant in here!"

"Zero!" came the blip from his arm, "You neutralized Jet! Now you can air dash!"

"Really? Just like that? Wow, I knew someday I'd fly, X! Heck, someday I'll soar!"

"The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round!"

X was tripping over met-alls and shooting angry turrets. The countryside and city whooshed by as the military train zoomed to destination unknown.

"The wheels on the bus go round and round, my fair lady!"

"Those aren't even the right words."

Above the jolts and roar of the train wheels, a rapid clicking sound reached X's ears. He looked over the side and there was Slash, keeping a furious pace.

"KITTY!" X shouted, flinging his arms upward in ecstatic joy. Quite unaccustomed to this unprecedented behaviour, Slash decided to board the train. His claws shredded a crate as he landed.

"Kitty has sharp claws! I want the kitty!"

Slash could swear that small pink hearts were floating and popping above X's head. Shaking his head to clear it of that illusion, he adopted his trademark ass-kicking pose. X yipped and clapped his hands.

"Kitty so cyuuute!"

Slash ran forward and swiped at the offending blue Hunter. X yelped and hopped backward.

"NAUGHTY kitty! Kitty must be taught a lesson!"

Reaching behind his back, X procured a long, thin shiny object. Slash blinked, and then roared with laughter.

"A screwdriver! Is this what the mighty Hunter X uses against such a formidable foe as I?"

There was an insane gleam in X's eyes and an equally insane grin tugging at his mouth while he slowly walked forward.

"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty…"

Not taking chances with his weird opponent, Slash performed a mighty leap above the Hunter, intending to crush the little reploid beneath his mighty paws. X dashed to one side and, before Slash could turn around, jammed the screwdriver into the small of Slash's back.

"Ack! What are…"

X gave the tool a fierce twist and Slash yowled in agony. He fell forward on all fours. X came from behind and tore the implement out of the lion's vertebrae, eliciting another agonizing howl

"You can no longer stand erect."

X tapped the debilitated Maverick's rump.

"I think we both know what happens now."

Absolute horror froze on Slash's face.

"No! NOOOOO!!!"

888

"Good grief, what's X doing to Slash?"

Douglas was piloting the helicopter. Peering over his shoulder, he replied, "Looks randy."

Zero sighed a very deep sigh. X had crossed the boundary this time.

"Put me down there. I have to stop this before humans notice."

The chopper descended alongside the train. Zero hopped off, and Slash bounded past him, with X riding on his back like a demented cowboy.

"Hiyo Silver! Awayyy!"

All the bucking, prancing and kicking in the world did not budge X, who was hanging onto Slash's mane with only one hand.

"Woo! Now ain't this a party!"

"Get off of him, X!"

"No! He's my kitty! I won't share!"

Zero tapped a button on his arm cannon and it began to hum.

"Don't make me do this, X!"

"Kitty wants to playyy!" he whined, while Slash described in fifteen different languages how X might sexually please himself.

"Kitty needs a time out!" barked Zero, who aimed and fired. X slapped his neck and pulled away a small, black dart. His eyes rolled up into his head and, to Slash's immense relief, X fell off the kitty ride.

"Show da guezzt to da badzzz…" X gurgled before passing out. Zero stood over his friend with hands on hips.

"That should keep him out long enough for me to…"

"KILL!"

Slash was airborne, about to rip into the prone X, but Zero merely pointed his beam saber upward and Slash impaled his own stupid self. Life left the lion with a whispering groan.

"I… hate…"

"Chickens? Yeah, I can't stand them either."

Zero dumped the body off the train where it bounced into an adjacent field, startling a herd of cows that stampeded and destroyed a nearby farmhouse.

"Whoops," Zero said, scratching his head. The chopper was whirring next to Zero, whose hair was already lashing in four different directions due to the train's velocity.

"Is anybody driving that thing?" Douglas asked, referring to the locomotive. Zero shrugged.

"Who cares? The worst it can do is crash."

"Isn't that a bad thing?"

"Nah. I think humans have something called 'insurance' for just such an event."

Zero knelt and slung X over one shoulder. They entered the chopper, and were gone.

Sixteen minutes later, the train ran off its tracks and destroyed two hundred million yen's worth of civilian highway and buildings. Unconfirmed reports claim that Dr. Cain was seen waving his walking stick beside his wrecked car, angrily shouting that his insurance couldn't cover this.

888

"So, what do you think, the white with silver trim or the black with gold trim?"

"How about a mix of the two?"

"Brilliant."

Colonel swept the zebra kilt across his waist and spread his arms.

"Well?"

"Too imposing. You don't want to look presumptuous."

"Pre… pre what?"

General sighed and crossed his arms. The stained glass window of the church cast a mosaic of coloured light across his breakfast table.

"Assuming something before it happens."

"Ah, I see. Assuming makes an ass out of u and me."

"Precisely."

"The black with gold trim it is. I wouldn't have changed the whole costume, anyway."

While Colonel went behind the screen, General idly scratched his steel moustache and said, "Zero has killed Slash and Jet already. What are you going to do about it?"

"Kick his arse," Colonel replied in characteristic Scottish, "And then ship his spare parts back to Hunter HQ."

General's eyebrow clicked upward. His speech was neutral and ponderous.

"You seem rather wrathful."

"After the bleedin' fool rescued Iris and insulted Repliforce, I knew we'd fight sooner or later. I dinna like the way he eyed her bodice, anyway."

"You mean body."

"Nah, I mean bodice. Cripes, his blue partner is even worse. Zero keeps him on a short leash."

"You mean Zero has to reprimand X? I thought X was the pacifist."

"Look, General, fighting in three wars does things to a reploid."

"This is our first coup, much less war. How do you know of such things?"

"I watched Braveheart. It's bloody brilliant."

888

"You're holding the gun as if it's about to explode."

Iris gritted her teeth and succeeded in squeezing off a premature shot, that ricocheted off the edge of the target and formed a neat, round hole in the floor at Zero's feet.

"What's all this noise?" Douglas asked by way of greeting. He was polishing a Met-all hat as he sauntered into the training grounds.

"Iris has a gun."

"I can see that, Clairol-man. I also see we have run out of targets."

Zero nodded as he considered Double, who was bound and gagged at the moment and tied to a stout metal girder in the middle of the field.

"X got trigger happy one day and caused several recruits to cry."

"By flawlessly destroying every target here and making them feel worthless?"

"No, they were the targets. The recruits who survived went on strike and burnt all our lawn ornaments."

"I miss those pink penguins," Douglas mourned as he sauntered out another door. Iris cried out as her gun exploded. She fell backward onto Zero's shoulder, slightly singed.

"Hmm. So it was about to explode."

"Zero! That's not funny!" she moaned in her singsong British accent.

"So cute when you're angry."

He propped her up and dusted soot out of her dark brown bangs. She adjusted her blue beret and looked at Double, who was struggling mightily to get out of his bondage.

"Isn't it unethical to use reploids as target practice?"

Zero grinned, showing his canines.

"Don't worry. That look of abject terror means he's enjoying himself."

"Really?"

"Yes," he handed her a spare gun, "S&M freaks are so strange."

Iris fired without comment this time. The shot was happy to glance off Double's helmet and destroy a fluorescent ceiling light. The fat yellow reploid groaned.

"See how much he likes it? Do try again."

The shot hit him square in the chest, the force of it bending the girder backwards. His eyes turned dark as he passed out.

"Bull's-eye. Or should I say Double-eye? Doesn't matter. You're improving."

Iris blushed at the hand on her shoulder.

"Do you really…"

"Think so? Yes. It's a pity your brother's busy being a Maverick. He'd have been proud to see your skill."

Iris pouted and crossed her arms.

"Hey, come now, don't be like that!"

"He's not a Maverick, no matter what you or anyone say."

Zero's eyes narrowed.

"I think allowing eight other Mavericks to run amuck while neglecting your duty to protect humans is considered pretty screwy behaviour."

Iris rolled her eyes upward.

"Oh, honestly!" she exclaimed, "As if you're a paragon of morality!"

"Well, excuse me, Iris. I'm not the one sitting in my high chair and watching humans go 'splat' on the walls!"

"Colonel's going through a phase."

"When reploids go through 'phases' the world usually ends up on the brink of annihilation."

"Fine, be that way," Iris said and ran off, still carrying the gun. Zero tapped a button on his arm-mounted computer and spoke through it to all of HQ, "Be advised, a small, female and very British reploid has been seen running in the halls with lethal weaponry. Advise on-the-spot execution."

"Honestly!" Iris shrieked from somewhere outside the training grounds, "Zero's not being serious! He's just aaaaiieeee!!"

"Woops," Zero squeaked.

888

Iris joined X in the medical ward, though X was merely asleep and did not have a sizeable chunk missing from his left shoulder. Zero was fuming with Alia in the lobby outside.

"You stupid woman!"

"You issued a direct command to kill her! I'm new around here! How am I supposed to know when the highest-ranking Hunter is playing practical jokes?"

"Was 'Underwear Day' considered a direct command?"

Alia thought about it. She had rather liked wearing silk on her head until she realized half of HQ was laughing at her.

"Um… sorry?"

Zero almost withered her on the spot with his eyes, even as every reploid and human in the lobby fixed her with stares.

"Woman, get out of my sight."

Zero spun around with an angry gesture and into the ward. For that brief moment of utter humiliation, Alia sympathized with Mavericks. Most anyone would be driven to slaughter after such a spat. But she was made of sterner stuff. Ignoring the whispered comments being made by reploid and human alike, she marched stiffly to Central Command. She would have a rather stern talk with Signas about Zero's foolishness. Then again, Signas might ask her to sit on his lap again. She resigned herself to her private quarters for the remainder of the day.

888

Zero's words and actions were flaming with impotent anger as he burst into Central Command a few minutes later. Signas recommended the Ice Base and a certain Walrus to cool off with. Zero accepted gladly and flashed out in a streak of crimson. Signas sunk into his high backed chair and sighed relief.

"Last time I saw him that angry, X had to neutralize him."

"What happened?" asked an anonymous operative.

"He missed an episode of Charmed."

888

Deadening cold won over Zero's rage. After a therapeutic 'retiring' of snowmen and irregular skiers, he scaled and perched on the edge of a cliff. Between his hands he held an oblong purple tank with small white spheres of light revolving within.

"An 'Ex' Tank? Shouldn't they have named it Extrank?"

He stepped off the edge of a cliff, driving his saber into another skier below. He lost balance on the icy ground and slipped down into cave, while icicles crashed in his wake. The slide ended abruptly and he fell into a mound of powdery snow, at the heart of some forgotten cavern. He scrambled up several rocks, destroying several Irregulars on the way, and looked down into cavern below. Rows upon rows of ice were ascending, shattering against the roof as they came upward. Zero flipped out his notebook and added this phenomenon to his list of 'Thing that don't make sense' just under the entry marked 'Female reploids and how to annoy them'.

"I am everything you want, I am everything you need, and I mean nothing to you and I don't know why…"

He fell down from row to row of ascending ice and found the floor eventually. One of those infernal purple doors lay before him and, not wasting time, he scudded on over to it. The mechanism whirred, and he was greeted by a frozen statue of Chill Penguin in the windy room beyond. Chill lost centre stage as a curious little contraption floated into view, whirled around, and attracted a fearsome set of ice talons to its body. The Z-Saber came sizzling out.

"If you wish to remain regular, eat more fiber!"

He slashed the thing a few times until it lost the talons, spun again and formed spikes of ice.

"How unoriginal, and boring, yet oddly effective," he commented as the icy Irregular bounced around the room in imitation of Armoured Armadillo three wars past. A few angry attacks ended that annoyance, and the Red Ripper slid into the darkness beyond.

888

Dragoon was exercising his tongue by whistling. He sounded like a boiling kettle. Split was still giving head to the floor, as he rather liked that position.

"Honestly, Dragoon, you're going to make Flash Man spin in his grave the way you're mauling his theme song."

"I'm so bored!" he exploded, setting the sofa on fire, "Walrus just called and said Zero was on the way. I'm stuck at home with nothing to do!"

"Why don't you pay that effeminate Ripper a visit, then?"

"Feminine? That's what Peacock is. I really shouldn't have encoded that bong for him. He's stinking up the entire fragging Internet with it."

"So that's why it's been so slow nowadays," Split murmured, "A drug induced coma."

"Right!" Dragoon shouted, leaping up from the flaming couch, "I'm off to Pennsylvania! I'm not going to wait for a mountain to sprout near Lincoln University. I'll make my own!"

"Haven't we kept our little wars near home in Japan?"

"The smoking hell do I care? I want to be original."

"You and sixty three percent of America."

"And that's where I'm going! The land of opportunity!"

Dragoon crawled out of the den and headed for the airport, but forgot his passport and was handcuffed to a chair overnight by suspicious guards.

888

Zero had never liked the cold. Now he was in a room whose floor was lost in white mist. There was also a ten-foot walrus glowering at him, but Zero had seen the likes of him before.

"Are you some kind of fanboy? Why are Blizzard Buffalo, Chill Penguin and what suspiciously resembles the shell of Crystal Snail doing in your domain?"

Frost had expected a challenge, and was taken quite aback. He had practiced a retort for weeks now, but Zero had ruined things.

"I… er… they're memoirs?" he stuttered.

"So you ARE a fanboy! You and your minty fresh breath shall die!"

"…"

"That means I'm about to fight you, idiot."

"OH! Oh…" Walrus struggled to remember what he had practiced so hard remembering, "Uhh… uhh… What's that blonde kid up to?" he rumbled with false bravado. Zero rolled his eyes and threw back, "Just shut up and fight!"

Taken off guard again, Walrus said the first thing that came to his small mind.

"Oh, that does it! You're going down!"

The Ice Base shook for the next forty seconds, and was still. Zero strode on out of there with icicles hanging from his shoulders and hair.

"Oh, damn it! Now I'll have to dry my hair AGAIN! Why does Signas send me to these places? X is going to do the rest, I don't care what he says!"

888

X was floating on a purple ocean, sipping Piña Colada while yellow elephants danced around his head. He did not find this in the least strange, because all dreams are born from the sub-memory that is directly connected to the main memory, and thus they share a strange kind of symbiotic existence in the dream world. An avatar of Double hovered past his head, tapping him on the helmet.

"Commander X, please wake up!"

"Oh, hey, blimp. Care for some flavoured alcohol? It masks the taste wonderfully."

"Huh? Sir, you must wake up!"

"Must? That is too strong a word, my round friend. There is no 'must' in the land of dreams."

Double promptly dashed a bucket of ice water onto X, who spluttered and sat up in the infirmary bed. He swore proficiently for the next few minutes as he toweled off and gave Double a good smacking around. Zero stepped into the room and saw the yellow reploid with a bucket jammed firmly on top his head.

"I'm not even going to ask. X, take the rest of the missions, I have to dry off my hair."

"But I can't!"

"Why?"

"I have no learned abilities!" he explained, "You know I'm useless without them!"

"Oh, fine, then, stand still."

Zero pressed his thumb against the jewel of X's helmet. His own blue helmet jewel glowed in unison with X's red one.

"There. You now have the abilities of Frost, Stingray and Slash. Happy?"

"Good to go!"

X skipped out the infirmary. Zero shook his head, braced one boot against Double's shoulder and attempted to yank the helmet off.

"Hey, blimp, where did Iris go?"

"After she was repaired, she went to the military training area muttering under her breath," Double replied with muffled voice. A few moments later Zero freed him of the bucket prison.

"Did she mention me?"

Double stood up and glared at him.

"What is with men and their ego? The moment they break up with a girl, the only thing they want to know is if the girl's been talking about him!"

"Hold on, blimp, you said their ego? Have you been playing cross genders again?"

"No!" Double shouted, "It's just that men are jerks! They don't care about anyone except their own self image!"
With that, the yellow reploid stamped out of the infirmary, leaving a very puzzled Zero behind.

"But wait… we broke up? Hey, Double, who told you we broke up?"

Zero chased after him.

888

"Hah hah hah! Burn! BURN!!"

The plasma generated by X's arm cannon is ultra-heated. It is quite handy at setting things on fire. Capcom (who blatantly advertised their company in Sky Lagoon) did not want to offend environmentalists, and thus did not make every tree combustible in the game. In real life, with soot staining his armour, X scoffed at the flaming forest he left in his wake.

"Take that, you evil trees!"

He paused to think about that. Trees weren't the threat, but the Mavericks in them were. He shrugged, and left the EMA to worry about it and for Capcom to censor. He ran around happily singing Mother Nature's skirts for the better half of an hour before he came across the purple and white doors.

"Come into my lair…" came the mystical voice. X obliged, and walked underneath a leafy canopy.

"Why have you turned my calm forest into a parade of dancing lights, Hunter?"

"Because someone is making a weapon here, hello! Pre-emptive strike and all that! We get you before you get us!"

"Oh, well, I never really thought of it that way."

Web Spider descended into the chamber, munching a Twinkie.

"Hey! I want one!" cried X. Web Spider started violently, dropping a few of the precious snack cakes.

"You shall never have my Twinkies!"

X dived for the Twinkie pile. He and Spider spent the next few minutes wrestling Twinkies out of each other's hands until all the cakes were creamy messes.

"Look at what you made me do! You have ruined several perfectly good Twinkies, you stupid, stupid Hunter!"

"Poor baby. Will you go and write a poem about that?"

Their battle was not phenomenal. X didn't do much, other than a bit of jumping and dashing. He didn't have to use the walls all that much. The Twin Slashers had enough range to hit Spider wherever he was in the room. X made the happy discovery that Spider's web rope could be cut, and he did, laughing every time the fat insect splatted on the ground. Spider was irritated after several meetings with the floor and formed a sturdier web. X was more than happy to cut him and his children apart for the next few seconds, and Spider went down in ribbons. X poked through the carcass a bit, took the Lightning Web, and stole the Spider's horde of Twinkies.

"Jackpot," said the blue Hunter with a broad grin on his face and several armfuls of Twinkies as he teleported.

888

"Double, tell me! What'd you mean we've broken up?"

They were under the belly of a transport copter. Double was fueling it, keeping an eye on the gas metre.

"Just that! Did I stutter? She's over you! Your prank damn near killed her!"

Zero thought about that for a moment, and hit on the obvious solution: blaming someone else.

"The Colonel!"

Double was so surprised he forgot to laugh.

"What? What does red-beard have to do with anything!"

"Well, it's all very logical," Zero explained, "The Repliforce coup has everyone's nerves on edge, including mine. My nerves caused my bad judgment, so it's the Colonel's fault."

Double's eyes bulged.

"Your nerved weren't on edge!" he hollered, startling everyone in the cargo bay, "You were being a damned IDIOT!"

Zero felt he had shrunk several centimeters as everyone in the bay stared at him.

"Er, okay. How about this? The Colonel spread propaganda and now Iris hates me due to his lies."

"Idiot," Double spat, disconnecting the gas pump, "You were being stupid and everyone from here to Iceland knows it. Don't slap blame on other people."

"I'm sure it was the Colonel."

Zero spent the rest of the afternoon coming up with reason why the Colonel was to blame. When a lie has been repeated enough, it sounds like the truth, and Zero believed it. X was cheerfully putting away Twinkies in the lounge when Zero entered.

"Damn that Colonel! No good came of this coup! I told him that and he ignored me! He's to blame for everything!"

"Calm down, son. Have a Twinkie."

"I can't eat at a time like this. I have to manfully face Colonel and settle our differences. Then Iris will like me again!"

X burst out laughing, spraying crumbs all over Zero's boots.

"You idiot! Killing Colonel won't help anyone!"

"I'm not going to kill him! And I'm not an idiot! Why do people keep calling me that? Anyway, that's not the point! He's telling her bad things about me, I know it!"

X sniggered and put away another Twinkie. Zero would just have to figure this out alone.

"You're a teenage dirtbag, Zero."

"I know, but I'm a dirtbag with a sword. That makes a world of difference. I can actually get rid of people who annoy me!"

"You go ahead and think like that, buddy."

Zero walked out, feeling pleased with himself. He missed the incident a few moments later when X choked on a Twinkie, and his face became the colour of his armour.

888

"It's outrageous!"

Colonel slammed his fist onto the arm of his favourite chair. General paused from sipping tea long enough to discuss Colonel's latest gripe.

"What is it?"

"X and Zero! They're tearing up the place! Four of the Repliforce captains were retired yesterday!"

"Are you really that upset about the loss of soldiers?"

"NO!" Colonel shouted, turning his lap-top computer around so General could see, "Zero sent an insulting e-mail yesterday! I didn't ask to be made with this huge red beard! Do I really look like a rat hiding behind a bush?"

General stifled a chuckle, and sipped tea again. Colonel's eyes were narrow and beady behind that vast chin of hair.

"He shouldn't hide behind words!" Colonel yelled, "Face me as a man, you teenage dirtbag!"

"That's an interesting expression."

"That was his signature at the end of the e-mail!"

Colonel stood and started for the exit of the church. It was the only building large enough to hold the General, other than Memorial Hall, which was Colonel's turf.

"I'm issuing a challenge! And it's not going to be via video conferencing this time!"

888

"What's that racket? It can't be my Chinese takeout!"

Alia's reading had been disturbed by a series of very loud bangs. She looked out her second-story window and saw Colonel trying to bash in the double doors of HQ's entrance.

"Torak's toenails!" she swore, "What does he want?"

Nobody wanted to confront the angry Scot, so Alia went down herself and peeked through the keyhole.

"Yes?"

One large, bloodshot eye glared back at her. Alia flinched back.

"Tell that bugger, Zero, I'm here and I'm coming in to look for him!"

"What's the password?" she demanded.

"What?" the Colonel asked in befuddlement. Alia sighed.

"You and your Repliforce can't just barge into HQ. We have a password system now. What is it?"

"I don't know!"

"Correct. You can enter."

The doors slid aside and Alia stepped aside just as the raging Scot barged past and down the hallway.

"His room's the fourth one of the right."

"Thanks, lass," he called over his shoulder. He amused himself by making some nice, large dents in Zero's door until the Red Ripper opened it.

"What the hell do you… Colonel!"

Zero was soon being held above ground by the neck.

"You little blighter! Come to Memorial Hall if ye have the guts!"

Colonel dumped him on the floor and left the way he came. Zero practiced coughing several times until he was satisfied that his windpipe was working.

"Challenge accepted," he rasped with a wry grin.

888

Colonel was pacing around the central column of the hall, confident in his own invincibility and righteousness.

"Colonel!"

"What?"

"I'm disappointed in you, Colonel!"

Zero let out a cry as he hopped off the parapet and knocked Colonel back several paces with the Z-Saber.

"What d'you think you're doing?" the Scot stuttered.

"It's not too late," Zero said, boring into Colonel with dark emerald eyes, "Stop the coup now!"

Colonel could not face those eyes, and closed his own. His reply was very quiet and very final.

"Never."

"If that's your decision… prepare yourself!"

They entertained each other by trying to lop the other's head off with their beam sabers. Zero was the more expert Hunter, but the Colonel had immense strength. Neither was able to break the other's defense, as the sabers sizzled in the great, silent Hall. The conflict escalated to the point that Iris stepped in.

"No!"

"What?" the Colonel said again. The combatants stayed their weapons. Iris ran up to them, a metallic seal glistening from one shoulder.

"Stop it! Zero may be a bloody idiot but don't fight him!"

"Why is everyone calling me an idiot?" Zero protested. Colonel ignored that.

"But the idiot started it."

"I know, but I just can't bear watching you two fight. It's not right!"

Zero snorted and sheathed the Z-Saber.

"Right? He's the one spreading lies about me."

"I have done no such thing!"

"Yeah? Then why did Iris and I break up? You were lying to her about me!"

"Zero, what are you talking about?" she asked in that maddening British accent, "I was just angry with you for awhile, that's all! It's no reason to slaughter each other!"

"Very well then," Colonel sighed, and turned away, "But next time, there will be no mercy."

"Zero, don't fight with my brother," Iris pleaded as the latter walked away. Zero clenched both fists, forcibly putting aside his own pride and his own private squabbles.

"Someone must stop Repliforce!"

888

"X…"

"Oh, hi, Dad!"

"X, why are you wearing feline ears?"

"I'm a kitten, Dad!"

"What…? Well, take them off! I have something better to give you."

X was in the third zone of Cyberspace, somewhere in HQ's mainframe. In reality, he was wired to a console while Douglas watched over his inert body.

"Ooh! A new helmet!"

"Yes, it's very shiny, just the way you like it."

"Thanks, Dad! You always know what's best for me!"

X attempted to hug Dr. Light's hologram and succeeded in falling out the other side of the pod. The holographic genius sighed and turned to his son.

"That's the fourth time you've tried that, X, and I told you, it doesn't work."

"Dad, I have a question," X said, sitting cross-legged, "Can you move around outside these upgrade pods?"

"Yes, but so far it has not been necessary to do so. You can handle yourself, and I do not need to venture beyond my secret locations."

Dr. Light looked his son up and down, frowning.

"You passed through the jungle area, didn't you? Why haven't you found the Leg upgrade?"

X blinked. He knew he should have checked that mysterious-looking cave beside the waterfall!

"Kitty's afraid of the dark," he sighed.

"X, you are not a kitten."

"Am too!"

"Are not!"

"Look, will I have to take off this helmet and put the cat ears back on?"

"NO! No, that's quite all right. It must be a phase you teenagers go through. Oh, by the way, that helmet reduces your weapon energy requirements to near zero."

"Speaking of whom, have you met him yet?"

"The blonde kid? No. What's he like?"

"Macho. Independent. We watch each other's backs, though he's saved my hide before at the cost of his own."

"Hmm. Perhaps I can aid both of you by making armour for him."

X laughed at that, rocking back and forth.

"He'd refuse. He's happy with what he's got. He has less defense than I do, that is, when I'm wearing armour."

"I see. Perhaps an upgrade to his defense shield could be of use."

"Yeah. And if you do bump into him, can you give him a better saber? He's been swinging that green thing around for years."

"I'll do what I can. Farewell, X, the batteries in this pod only last for so long."

"You should have used Duracell. Well, bye!"

X placed the cat ears on top of his shiny new helmet and, thus attired, ran through the next Cyberspace portal. Dr. Light flickered slightly.

"It must be a phase. Who in their right mind goes around believing they are some sort of animal?"

888

"Peacock!"

"WARK!"
"AHHH! MY EYES!!"

X spent the next few seconds bawling while Peacock flung off the lingerie and Calvin Klein underwear. He blushed a very bright red all the way to his feathers.

"X! You weren't supposed to see that!"

"But I did!"

"Meep," was all Peacock could utter as the blush faded. X goggled at the perverse Maverick between his fingers.

"That's just wrong," he moaned, "Kill humans and destroy their cities, but please God, don't do that!"

"I'll just have to kill the witness," Peacock decided, arching his back to spread his plumage. X bent over and retched. Peacock had forgotten the brassiere.

"Take it off, or I refuse to retire you," X moaned.

After overcoming his sick stomach, X blasted the Maverick all over the room, easily avoiding the homing feathers by kicking off the walls.

"No!" Peacock cried, his lifebar in the yellow, "I can't die now! Not when so many magazines have offered me their centre page spread!"

"You model?" X asked in utter shock. Images swam before his eyes and he retched again. Peacock took this opportunity to slam X with blade-like feathers, knocking the little blue man against the wall.

"Not fair!" X complained, "You fight more than dirty! You fight perverted!"

"Whatever works, girlfriend!" Peacock lisped and sent a flurry of homing feathers flying. X gritted his teeth and fired a final buster blast. It connected with Peacock whose feathers, upon his destruction, disintegrated in mid-flight. X walked over to the smoldering remains of the sick bird and gave it a few hard kicks for good measure. He turned around and shredded Peacock's collection of unmentionables with Twin Slashers.

"I guess some people don't grow out of phases," he muttered while teleporting.

888

"I told you, I don't like heights!"

"But Zero is going after Split Mushroom!"

"Kitty hates heights! Kitty likes both paws on the ground!"

Signas groaned and beseeched the heavens, "Why me?"

"Looking up there won't help," Alia frowned at the reploid commander, "We'll have to convince him somehow."

Zero had set up a hair dryer in the lounge and was under it, reading a Machinist Illustrated magazine. He wanted to relax before facing the Colonel again. Signas and Alia carefully avoided sitting on the same couch (that remark earlier about being Alia's Daddy did not sit well with the communications expert) and thought of how to convince X to pay Storm Owl a visit. The blue man in question was chewing on his hood strings.

"X, where did you get that parka?" asked Zero over his magazine.

X looked down at his poofy vest, hood strings dangling from the corners of his mouth.

"Found it lying around Double's room. I'm sure he won't mind."

"No wonder it's too big for you. It's not nice to steal things."

X shrugged and continued gnawing the strings. Alia snapped her fingers and turned to Signas.

"X likes shiny things, right?"

"Yeah?"

"The whole air force is pretty much coated in chrome."

"Ah, good idea. X?"

X opened his mouth to reply but choked on the strings. He stood up, turning purple in the face, retching dryly and clutching his throat. It took several hard whacks to X's back, courtesy of Signas, for him to cough up the strings.

"You could have just pulled out the strings, X. I wasn't going to; you were eating Twinkies and the strings were icky with crumbs."

"When you're choking, it's hard to think at all," X gasped, pulling off the parka and tossing it aside. He began nibbling his fingers instead, though he had no nails or flesh to speak of.

"That's a filthy habit," Zero commented. X strode over to him and knocked the magazine out of Zero's hands. As it fell, the Metropolitan magazine hidden within the Machinist Illustrated was revealed. Alia and Signas collectively gasped while Zero's face turned the same colour as his armour.

"Filthy habit? You're lecturing me on filthy habits?" X demanded.

"I… I can explain!"

"Can you explain the curlers and barrettes, too?"

Zero ran out of the room in silence.

"That was mean, X!" Alia accused. X pulled the plug on the hair dryer and scowled at her.

"As if you're a shining example of morality, blasting Iris the other day!"

"That was Zero's fault!"

"Oh, sure it was, you probably had latent feelings of jealousy."

Alia's face was a thundercloud.

"Jealous? Of that hussy?"

X threw back his head and laughed. Signas restrained a feral Alia with both hands.

"It's impolite to bite."

"He's laughing at me!" she hollered, then turned and buried her face into Signas' shoulder, sobbing. X grinned and winked at Signas, who gave the thumbs up and winked back, mouthing the words, mission accomplished.

"See you couple later, then, I've got a chicken to fry," X announced, already halfway out the door.

888

"Smartass."

Zero was sitting on the limb of a tree on HQ's lawn. He enjoyed being concealed, where he could either launch a surprise attack or mutter about how stupid X was.

"Barrettes? He has cat ears!"

He snapped a twig in frustration. In response, leaves rustled beside him and a small, white hand found his.

"Oh! I thought you were a squirrel."

Zero barked one laugh and moved aside a leafy branch. It was Iris, sitting quite near on an adjacent limb.

"What are you doing up a tree? Did X chase you up here, too?"

"X? I never met him, though he was the first of us."

"You're lucky. He thinks he's a cat."

Iris blinked those huge blue eyes of hers.

"He must be really ancient. Neural networks tend to become corrupted after awhile."

Zero laughed to that, too. She was so innocent. He remembered that powerful protective instinct he felt while defending her from the King Dragon.

"X has his quirks, and I might have to kill him someday, but he's generally OK."

"Kill him?" Iris asked, those sapphire globes widening even further.

"Yeah. Just after the third war we realized that the world ain't big enough for two ancient reploids. We've been getting along fine but lately he just irritates me."

"You may be asserting territorial rights. You both seem to be the same age, hence the need for superiority of one over the other. I saw that on the Discovery Channel."

"He did call me a teenage dirtbag, though Douglas analyzed my armour and it dates back more than fifty years."

"Reploids didn't even exist then!"

"But idiocy did. That's why people made robots and reploids in the first place. At the time, didn't they have enough problems with kids and each other already?"

"And wars, and famine, and disease. Perhaps they needed helpers."

"Helpers?" Zero laughed, "I suppose you're right. Humans just don't agree with each other, so I suppose they needed someone who wouldn't question them."

"But we do, and the Mavericks…"

Her eyes became distant as she looked out over the smooth white walls of HQ.

"The Mavericks disagree even more. They want all humans to die. That's even worse than when humans waged wars."

"True. It's all very stupid. No matter what the humans do, they always make a mistake. And we're their latest, biggest mistake, aren't we?" he asked with a sardonic grin.

"Don't say that," Iris said with unexpected anger, "We're not a mistake. We have just as much right to be here as they do, because we're sentient."

"I don't see much use for sentience myself. The dumb animals seem a whole lot happier than the ones who can think."

"But it's more than just sentience!" Iris continued, "We're so much better equipped than humans, we work much harder, and more efficiently…"

Zero decided to nip that in the bud.

"What would a world without humans be like?"

"What?" It was as though she'd thought the same.

"Think about it: a world without humans. Kind of boring, don't you think? Reploids are much more easier to analyze than human folk. After a few hundred years of nothing but us, it would get pretty damn boring."

"But… but the humans got along without us!"

"Aha! That's because we were created. More than that, we can't reproduce or evolve without building spare parts. If the humans were so smart that they could make sentient life other than themselves, doesn't that give them even more right to be here than us?"

"No!" Iris shouted, "I won't believe it! Reploids and humans are equal!"

"Are they?" Zero wondered, "Some think reploids are better."

"We are!"

Zero looked at her in alarm. She had grabbed his hand, a wild look in her eyes.

"Don't you see? Humans want us to think we're equal, because they know we're better!"

"That's Maverick thinking, Iris. There will be no peace until everyone has equal rights."

"Then there shall be no peace! Not even the humans could work it out among themselves, and look at the Repliforce! They fight because their own brothers won't agree to reploid independence!"

"You sound like your brother," Zero sighed, pulling his hand, and his eyes, away from her.

"Don't you want to be free?" she whispered.

"I'm already free, Iris."

"I mean, free from humans."

Zero looked up, through the leaves and at the serene sky.

"To be rid of them… would be no kind of freedom at all."

"I don't understand."

"They make us free, Iris," Zero said quietly, "Without them, there would be no reason to better ourselves, no reason to continue living, no reason to be curious. We live for humans, Iris, not only because of them. Without them, all reploids would be slaves of their own desires."

"Then it's over."

"What's over?"

"Think, Zero, think."

He nodded. Iris slipped off the branch and to the lawn below, turning away from HQ.

"You could be great, Zero, but you just want to remain in bondage to lesser creatures."

"It seems, in the end, you are the one who does not understand."

"Perhaps, but at least I believe in something."

"So do I. Goodbye, Iris."

"Goodbye… Zero."

When she was gone, Zero gripped the branch so hard it snapped in his hand. Falling to the ground, he hit the tree and its bark came away in his hands.

"Damn you, Colonel! You made her a Maverick!"

888

"Oh, hey Dad! What're you doing all the way up there?"

Light blinked down at his son through the shaft of spikes.

"Can you get up here, X?"

"Sure thing. I got this web doohickey that acts like a wall."

X fired a Lightning Web just off the spiked walls, jumped and kicked off of it to land beside his creator's pod.

"Who's the idiot that designed this place? Isn't it silly to have a room full of spikes on a launch pad?"

"They want people to stay out, X," Light explained, "Especially you. Which is why I'm here. I make your job easier."

"Yes you do, Dad! Thank you!"
X attempted to hug Light, again, and fell through the pod and onto his face, again.

"You take no damage from doing that, but I wonder what happens to your brain?"

"Shouldn't you know that, Dad?"

"X, you spent thirty years under a diagnostic scan. If I know anything about reploid brains, is that their subroutines can be altered to accept new data. Who knows what you dreamed of during that time?"

X grimaced.

"It involved a skateboard and fourteen lawyers…"

Light coughed.

"Let's save that for later, shall we? You can choose between a quadruple buster or a single, very powerful plasma blast."

"Well, duh, I want the Quad Damage."

"It's not quadruple damage, but a quadruple shot."

"Huh? You never played Quake?"

"What?"

X sighed.

"Never mind. Old people just can't stay with the times, can they?"

Light smiled, "I was rather busy building you at the time, X."

"Huh, that's no excuse! You could have designed a Quad Damage Buster! That would have been awesome! Sigma would be blown to pieces in two shots!"

"Hmm, yes, but your fusion core would overload and explode."

X's face fell.

"Oh."

"Maybe when you're older. So, what will it be? Four shots, or plasma shot?"

"Eh, the four shots. Mavericks have oodles of time to slap me around while I'm recharging, so I might as well have that advantage."

"You should know, X, it takes longer to charge four shots than one plasma shot."

X threw up his hands.

"Then why the hell did you make two busters? Why couldn't you just choose?"

Light smiled again.

"I wanted you to choose, X."

"But you just gave me more reason to choose the plasma!"

Light's eyes twinkled.

"It's the choice that matters, X."

"The plasma."

"Very well, step into my lair," he said with a laugh, "I've always wanted to say that."

The hologram faded, X took his place and received a new set of polished black forearms with gold trim.

"Neat! This will make Zero so jealous!"

"Oh, I've been analyzing Zero from HQ's mainframe. I've developed a stronger armour and beam saber."

X's eyes bulged.

"Already? We barely talked three hours ago!"

"You and Zero are very similar inside, if not on the outside."

"Why is that, Dad? Also, why are both of us the same age?"

Light dismissed that at once.

"You already have a war on your hands; don't add any more confusion to your present situation. Now go, I have some reading to do."

"Reading? In that thing?"

"Why, yes. You can store libraries on one DVD disc, and my main memory is counted in terabytes."

"Okay. Well, thanks for the gun, Dad!"

"Don't go shooting it off just anywhere, X! It's pretty destructive!"

X hopped down the spike shaft and air-dashed to the lower platform (he had revisited the Jungle before embarking on the Air Force mission; armour upgrades were X's bread and butter). He had doubts about 'pretty destructive' but the first shot he unleashed astonished him. The cybernetic Wall Eye security system was decimated in three blasts!

"Whoa, Dad, and you call yourself a pacifist?"

Storm Owl was none too pleased with X's little adventure through the air force.

"You destroyed my whole fragging unit!" he squawked, wings trembling in rage, "And what's that cannon you installed? How did those upgrade pods get onto my ship?"

"Maybe the janitors put them there, I dunno. You should pay more attention to what goes on around here instead of playing with your toys."

"My warships are not toys! They are weapons of war!"

"Well, they're dust, so the war just has to end here, doesn't it?"

"Agreed," Owl said through gritted beak, and struck his ass-kicking pose, causing the floor to tremble. X made a mental note to avoid those talons. He had no problems with them, however. The targeting system of the Aiming Laser was perfect against the airborne Maverick. Storm Owl squealed as the laser tore holes through his armour.

"Damn that Cyber Peacock! I always hated him! Why did Sigma make two birds this time round? I'm the real master of the skies! He just hung around the Internet watching porn all day!"

"Ugh, and I'm glad to be rid of him," X said, squeezing off the last shot to finish the whining owl. A new slot clicked into place on his arm cannon labeled 'Double Tornado'. X snorted at the name.

"Double? Well, it has his name on it, I suppose I'll let him have it!"

X walked over to the command console of the fallen warship and scratched his head at the paraphernalia he saw there.

"What would a Maverick want with a stereo system and a dance mat?"

888

"I found the perfect theme song!"

"Where?"

"On the Internet!"

"I hope Peacock didn't make it. I don't want another virus that turns my icons to men's underpants."

"Just let me use your laptop," Dragoon grumbled, spinning Split aside like a top. The little mushroom man righted himself and started up the den's stairwell.

"I'm going to my Bio Lab. It's time to water the giant spiky plants again."

"Whatever," Dragoon growled as he clicked onto Homestar Runner's website. Split lifted the trap door and peered around outside.

"Whoa! The farm's been wrecked!"

"Huh?" muttered Dragoon without interest.

"There're some cows milling about. It looks like they stampeded and destroyed everything. I hope Farmer Jack's all right. This is his storm cellar, after all."

"I'm a potato and I'm okay…" Dragoon began to hum as Split closed the door. That limerick was rather relaxing to the Maverick.

"Whoa!" Split shouted from outside, "Is that Slash Beast? What's he doing dead like that?"

888

X kicked empty beer cans and party favours aside while ascending the spiral stairs of the Bio Lab.

"Either Split needs an internal decorator or he's been on crack again."

Shielded Mavericks approached X who, disdaining the inferior models, merely hopped over them and continued upward.

"I knew that boy wasn't right in the head. He goes around puffing that purple coloured coke of his all day long. Who knew ultra pure crack was purple?"

A groan came from a nearby pile of discarded paper cups. Curious, X sifted through the paper waste and grabbed a football helmet out of the mess.

"Double's headgear? You've got to be kidding…"

X yanked the round reploid out of the party trash and slapped him a few times.

"Wake up, blimp!"

"Guh… X?"

"What are you doing here? And, why is there a Maverick symbol painted on your forehead?"
Double sobered up really, really fast and did some even faster thinking.

"I was attacked, commander X! Mavericks jumped me while I was transporting materials out of HQ and brought me here!"
"Really? Then why does your breath smell like last year's cheese?"

"They… forced me… to drink. It was awful!"

He made a show of gagging and scrubbing out his tongue with both hands. X stood up and scratched his head.

"Wow, I knew Mavericks were sadistic, but intoxicating a minor? That's just wrong."

Double snickered and X looked at him sharply.

"Is there something you're not telling me?"

Double blinked and thought fast.

"It's just the Maverick symbol you mentioned," he said, rubbing at the spot on his forehead, "Why'd they do that? I work for you, commander, not them!"

"Huh. Maybe they were marking their territory? Most of them are animals."

Double sniffed.

"Which explains the other smell…"

"Ugh, yes. Return to HQ and find a hose. I'm still on my mission, so…"

"Understood, commander!" Double replied, saluting smartly despite his befuddled neural circuits, "I'll clean up and monitor your progress as agreed!"

When X had run off Double laughed softly.

"You're naïve, X, so very naïve."

He then bent over and hurled most of his stomach onto the staircase.

"I think I should go find that hose now…"

888

"Is there anything worse than a Maverick?" X asked aloud, "Why, yes, there is! A Maverick on crack!"

X coughed violently in the purple, hazy mist that hung heavily over the area. He activated the re-breather in his helmet and a slim transparent shield covered his face from the airborne cocaine.

"God damn, Split stank up the place with his junkie habits!"

Some of the red Maverick beetles were spinning around each other in circles. Invincible Mavericks with spiked heads were chewing on the floors. The plant life on the walls was not emitting deadly plasma but more of the fine violet fog.

"I'd better cordon off this area before humans find it and have a grand old drugged up time."

X passed several Spike Wheel Mavericks that were bumping into each other and hopping in place. Some shielded Mavericks were slowly tracing figure eights in mid air.

"Wait 'til I tell Zero about this. He would bring Iris here to soften her up," X laughed, "Not that either of them need any more softening in the head."

The elevator was also hopped up on drugs, having biomechanical components. Sometimes it ascended really, really slow, sometimes jerking up and down, sometimes going down instead of up, sometimes trying to move side to side and grating against the slimy walls.

"This is an amusement park ride or what?" X groaned, feeling the teeth rattle in his head as the elevator juddered violently. He was about to give up and try climbing the walls when the elevator blasted upward. He was slammed into the floor and held on for dear life as the platform shot upward at a terrific pace.

"Jane! Stop this crazy thing!!"

When the elevator decided to stop X was flung upward and smacked against the ceiling. He staggered about, slightly disoriented himself, and the elevator began to go down again.

"Oh, hell no!"

X jumped and grabbed onto the nearest ledge. He scrambled onto it just as the elevator went into a breathtaking dive into the depths of the Bio Lab, ending in a crunching crash far below. The walls shook with the impact and X nearly fell into the abyss.

"I'd better retire Split before my oxygen runs out and I begin to see fuzzy Winkerbeans crawling on the walls."

The boss door was set in the ceiling, and X head butted it open. Split was waiting, seated in a yoga position with both legs crossed behind his head.

"Isn't that painful?" X asked.

"Not when you're this high…" Split replied in a distantly dreamy voice, "I suppose it's time to fight, isn't it?"

"Um, yeah? I can only imagine what the EMA's going to say about this. What if your purple cloud of happiness floats down to the city?"

"Then the humans can join in on the fun. The fun fun fun. The funnest fun of funniness."

Split began laughing, rocking backward and forward like some demented children's toy. X sadly shook his head.

"A human killer, and a pothead."

"At least I'm happy, X, the question is, are you happy?"

"I'll be happy when I get out of this purple wonderland!"

"Let me show you the door," Split offered, and divided into seven images. X did a double take.

"You're only supposed to divide twice!"

"Cocaine is a hell of a drug," Split explained, puffing purple clouds into the atmosphere, "It's a stimulant. And boy, do I feel stimulated!"

X smirked. Split's seven faces fell.

"What's so funny honey?"

"There are more of you. But I wonder what else your little addiction did to you?"

X launched a fully charged Web Trap that snared all seven versions of Split in its electric threads. Split went into epileptic fits.

"You idiot, Split! The cocaine made you more susceptible to electricity!"

Split fell to the ground in a sad smoking pile, breathing his last cloud of happiness. X went over, knelt and touched the body. A slot clicked into place labeled 'Soul Body'.

"Great. I now have all the powers of a coke addict. Dad will be so proud."

888

Volcanic ash was settling into Zero's hair and did nothing to improve his bad temper.

"One more Maverick to go and then I can go on vacation," he muttered, "Though, of course, Colonel will stir up more hell and I'll just have to run around some more!"

"Why do you blame Colonel for everything?"

"X!"

The blue man was dangling his boots over the edge of a cliff suspended above molten magma.

"What are you doing up there?"

"Wondering what's behind this great rocky wall," X jerked his thumb at it, "It gives off blue sparks whenever I hit it, so that means it can be broken by something."

"Not necessarily. There were many Mavericks in the Bio Lab that did not respond to any weaponry I possessed."

"You're such a killjoy," X complained, and got to his feet, "There has to be something behind this! Who puts a wall here if it isn't to hide something?"

Zero hopped on up there.

"Oh, I dunno. Maybe it's holding back a gigantic lake of lava that will spill over and kill us the moment you break the wall."

X flinched at that possibility.

"Uh… you try."

"What?"

X hopped off the cliff and stood safely beneath its overhang.

"Go on, slash it or something!"

"Why me?"

"Why not?"

Zero flung his hands up in frustration, "Fine! But it's your fault if I get run over by a river of magma!"

"Suits me!" X cheerfully replied. Zero grunted in disgust and proceeded to hack away at the wall, which emitted blue sparks to each slash. Even the Giga Attack did no damage.

"Do you think the wall's vulnerable to fire? Maybe we have to beat Dragoon and get his weapon!"

"You idiot, X! The wall is inside of a fragging volcano! How the hell could it be vulnerable to more heat?"

"Oh," X lamely responded, "Maybe you're right."

"Sheesh," Zero murmured, "He's slower than molasses on a winter day."

The base of the wall shattered to the Hurricane Fang attack.

"Yay! We've broken through!" cheered X who made sure no lava burst forth before climbing up. Zero gave him a sullen look.

"What do you mean, we?"

"Ooh! Another one of Dad's pods!" X cried in distraction. Zero accompanied X to the softly glowing machine.

"Dr. Light, I presume?" the Red Ripper asked. Light inclined his head in curiosity.

"You're smaller than I thought you would be."

"I've been re-modeled once or twice," Zero said with a wry grin, "While looking out for your sonny boy. He just loves trouble, don't you, X?"

"Yep. I got all sorts of people who want me dead. Luckily, they got Zero first."

Zero smacked him upside the head for that. Light chuckled.

"I have a new body armour for you, X. It can store energy to execute the invincible Novastrike."

"Nova what?" Zero asked.

"Nova strike. It's even more powerful than your new plasma buster, X, but it can only be used once."

"Once ever?" X asked, startled, "Does it blow up the planet?"

"No! No, of course not. Your Gear Crush blew up the planet. This weapon causes you to fly and crash into things."

"Wow! I can fly even further than my air dash?"

"Precisely twice the distance of the air dash," Light replied. X needed no more convincing and hopped into the pod to receive the armour. Zero was impressed.

"Less than five seconds and your entire defense grid improved! Your Dad is cool."

"Yes he is!"

X posed, fist upward in victory. His white armour reflected the dull red glare of the volcano.

"Now, on to Dragoon! I'll do the fighting, Zero, you might get hurt with your obviously inferior armour."

X received another smack upside the head for that remark.

"Just like brothers," Light commented. The two androids looked at Light, at each other, and burst out laughing.

"Sure, Dad, whatever you say. Isn't it time for some more light reading?"

"Why, yes. I just finished the letter 'S' in the encyclopedia. Synergy is actually a word! And I thought it was only found on Dilbert strips."

X blinked, "You read the newspapers? Who delivers it to you?"

Zero slapped his forehead. Lord, X was stupid!

"Of course I do!" Light laughed, "What self respecting ghost of a former scientist doesn't have wireless Internet?"

"Cool. Just don't download Kazaa; it bugs the hell out of my CPU."

"You surf the Internet in your head?" Light asked, astonished.

"Of course I do!" X laughed, "What self respecting Maverick Hunter doesn't have Windows installed in his helmet?"

"We have to go, X," Zero said, dragging him away, "You can have more family reunions in the next war."

"Don't be so presumptuous, Zero," Light chided, "This may well be the last."

Zero returned an even stare to Dr. Light.

"Don't be so presumptuous, Dr. Light, this may well be the beginning."

888

Hannah Sears, the girl whom had inspired Dragoon's wrath, was puttering about the yard of her house nearby Lincoln University in the town of Oxford, Pennsylvania. She had watched the news for the past week with concern. Capcom, and the rest of Japan, was having a hard time dealing with the recent war. Capcom had funded the creation of reploids in the first place, though, and as a consequence had created video games from the little wars that followed. Humans had made innumerable video games of the first and second world wars; it was only natural that they made video games of recent reploid wars, although these wars were still in progress.

The endings of the video games were only a guess, though in recent years, Sigma had purchased copies of the Megaman X titles to get ideas. The writers at Capcom certainly made better plans than what Sigma had in mind at the time. Instead of a floating fortress in the sky in the first war, Sigma had, in reality, made a gigantic tank to run over things. He played Megaman X1 before the war ended, though, and gave the tank to Wheel Gator in the second war. Then, during the second war, the writers decided to have the final battle at Magna Centipede's "secret" lab, putting Sigma's plan to shame, which involved a roller coaster and a time bomb. Sigma waited for Megaman X3 to come out before launching into the third war, and followed suit. Hannah wondered if the Maverick Hunters knew about the pre-emptive value of video games, but a fairly large fireball that coloured the sky five miles away interrupted her thinking.

"Oh my GOD! Terrorists!"

She ran inside but was run over by her sibling, Sarah, who, although younger, was taller, and very nearly trampled Hannah underfoot.

"What was that? I was in the kitchen and… holy CRAP! Was that the University?"

It was fortunate that both their parents were still at work; they would have told the girls to stay indoors. Jacob, Hannah's twin, was taking a nap upstairs, and, if it were not obvious by now, he wouldn't awake even if the world were ending.

"We have to call the police!" Sarah cried.

"I think half of Oxford is doing that by now. Why don't we go see what's happening?"

"Are you MAD? Those are terrorists out there!"

"I don't think terrorists are so stupid as to hang around after blowing something up, do you? It should be fairly safe."

"Well…" Sarah said, as though she took her sister seriously. Hannah already had her bicycle out of the garage, and was wheeling it onto the road.

"Hey!" her sibling yelled, "You're not actually going?"

"It's not me; my bike wants to see, too."

Sarah made strangling noises while her sister rode off. After pondering the morals of the situation, she decided to let her parents deal with her errant sibling, and went online to feed her Neopet.

888

"Oh, hey, this is more fun than I thought it would be!"

Dragoon was happily setting the stone buildings of Lincoln University aflame. That bored him after a few minutes, and the cops were beginning to arrive. He hopped into his stolen Jet Cruiser (an airborne version of the Land Chaser), turned the CD player's volume to 'earsplitting' and blasted techno music that sent waves along the grass. Bobbing his head to the outrageous tune, he and his Cruiser made for the nearest educational institution. The music had inspired the twisted Maverick to set books on fire, and his own personal insanity contributed to that craze.

Hannah's bike skidded to a halt a few hundred yards short of the burning University, and, seeing no terrorists in sight or any reason to view the destruction of that much real estate, she decided to return home. The roads were becoming crowded with a little too many hysterical people for her taste, and the emergency services wouldn't improve the atmosphere, either.

888

"He did what?"

"Went to America. He's cheating! Mavericks aren't supposed to wage war outside Japan! It's outside the jurisdiction of Capcom!"

Dr. Cain was very irate on this legal point. Nobody would shut down Capcom so long as they kept their little Maverick uprisings within the coastline of Japan. Now, the United Nations would drag Capcom before an international court, and Dr. Cain's funding would evaporate the moment Capcom was disbanded on account of incompetence. How would he pay for his newly wrecked sports car, now that Dragoon had threatened the very source of his income?

X and Zero were watching the international news with some incredulity. There were very few elite Maverick Hunters outside Japan, but Dragoon had just changed all the rules. The top Hunters groaned as they realized what Dragoon had just done. He had announced the world was up for grabs, not just the oriental one! Every grubby Maverick on the face of the Earth would take this wanton disregard for civil disputes to extreme levels. There would be a fifth war, and it would be worldwide. X and Zero groaned again.

"Don't stand around moaning like wallflowers, you have jobs to do! Get over there before that idiot sets more buildings on fire. He's already sent my whole economic future up in flames!"

"Will do, Doc," X sighed and trudged out of the command centre. Zero loosened the Z-Saber in its sheath and followed. They didn't know much about international negotiations, other than the one they would momentarily be engaged in would be fraught with prejudice.

888

"Heh heh. BURN! Heh heh…"

Hannah's high school was not having a peaceful summer vacation. Jamming fingers into their ears to block out Dragoon's deafening techno, the resident security guards and janitors used the fire escapes. There were no casualties, other than several million dollars' worth of books, computers and construction. Dragoon was busy adding to the conflagration and did not notice the awestruck teenager watching from the curb.

"My school! My education!" she thought, as she could not hear herself speak over the cacophonous distortion, "Oh, wait, I wasn't too happy with either, anyway. Good job, you large red bastard, with whom I have issues defeating with the Ride Armour in Megaman X4."

While riding home amidst the techno and sirens of angry fire trucks, she wondered how Capcom was able to release corresponding video games around the exact same time the uprisings occurred. It all smelt very fishy, but Capcom was the foremost supplier of reploid technology on Earth. No government was able to question them, because until recent events, they had kept all uprisings in the vicinity of Japan. A disturbing thought came to Hannah, then. What if Capcom was starting the wars in order to make profits from the video games?

"It couldn't be. Sky Lagoon cost them billions! They advertised their logo all over that place."

Brushing that notion aside, she was a few blocks from her house when Dragoon and his Jet Cruiser flew overhead. He hovered over her house for a moment, techno music blasting, while he screeched,

"AND THE DRAGON COMES IN THE NIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!!!"

Then he noisily crashed through her roof. What the hell did a fire breathing, techno-loving Maverick want with her? At least the crash shut off that damnably loud music.

And then the memory of the hate mail she had sent all those months ago caused her to peddle faster. Dragoon might think Sarah was Hannah! Mavericks kill first and ask questions later. Hannah was sure that Dragoon wouldn't wait for Sarah to produce an ID card before incinerating the place.

"Damn it! I'm never sending anything by snail mail again!"

When she arrived, however, Dragoon wasn't setting things aflame as yet. His Cruiser was parked in their kitchen, and Sarah was energetically kicking the towering Maverick in the shin while holding a penguin plushie.

"I hate you! You smashed right through the computer! And I always liked Chill Penguin better!"

Dragoon snatched her penguin friend right out of Sarah's arms and the girl, tiny in comparison, squealed.

"Give him back! You're just jealous that penguins are better!"

"I'm a natural enemy of penguins, you know. Those flightless birds tend to catch fire in a hurry."

Sarah's eyes resembled saucers.

"You wouldn't!"

"Can, and am!"

The sisters watched in morbid terror as Sarah's defenseless little friend was reduced to cinders. Sarah began throwing what remained of the dishes at the cruel Maverick right about then.

"You bastard!" she shrieked as crockery took flight, "You heartless BASTARD!!"

Dragoon stood there laughing while Sarah broke all of the Sears family dishes against his hide. Hannah intervened at that point.

"It's not her you want! It's me! I sent the letter!"

"It seems you have a glimmer of intelligence after all, stupid girl," Dragoon said with a superior, albeit evil, grin, "You spared me the trouble of atomizing every human in your pathetic little town."

"Oxford's not pathetic! You are, you coward! You just burned a poor helpless plushie!"

Sarah had started on the saucepans and pots, which clanged against Dragoon and fell dented to the ruined kitchen floor. Dragoon grew fairly irritated at that point and knocked both sisters over by stamping the floor very hard.

"I've outstayed my welcome, it seems. I'll leave with a parting gift. Don't worry, there won't even be ashes left to bury."

Dragoon clenched both fists and worked up a turgid red glow about his body. Hannah and Sarah both practiced running for a while, quite forgetting their poor brother still napping upstairs. It takes more than a giant Maverick crashing through the roof to wake any teenaged male.

"Wait! Aiko!" Hannah shouted in horror, skidding to a halt and turning around to run back inside. Aiko was her favourite plushie whom she slept with every night. She would not leave her poor wolf behind! Sarah yelled for her to come back, but Hannah kept on running. She had to save her friend!

Luckily for Hannah, beams of crimson and azure light shot into the kitchen, distracting Dragoon from charging his atomic fire.

"X! Zero! Fancy meeting you here!" he laughed. The Hunters glowered at the traitor, and Dragoon cringed just a little. No one, not even Sigma, had ever confronted both elite Hunters in combat before.

"Why don't we settle this outside, Dragoon," Zero asked in a quiet voice, but his eyes were murderous. Silently, the three reploids left the house, and Hannah breathed a sigh of vast relief. The thought of losing her home did not appeal to her, at all. Then she blinked, gasped, and shouted, "ZERO-KUN!"

The Red Ripper had thought Dragoon was a problem until Hannah exploded outdoors and tackled him onto the lawn.

"Oh, no! Not another fangirl! X, help me!"

X pried Hannah's fingers off Zero… one by one… and firmly escorted the bubbling girl aside to explain a few things to her.

"Your name?"

"You can call me Hanny, X!" she chirped, and X rolled his eyes upward.

"I'm charmed. Uh, Zero's been going through some minor stuff, like breaking up with the love of his life and dealing with the current war. So, if you wouldn't mind, don't turn him into another Patriot," X said, and shuddered, "A rabid American with an axe is bad, but a rabid Hunter with a flaming sword is much, much worse."

Hannah's eyes were locked onto Zero. This was the first time she had seen him, of course. X, feeling ignored, grumbled, "I bet you didn't even see that movie."

"That's nice, X-kun," Hannah said absently, worshiping the crimson Hunter with her eyes, even as the latter squared off with Dragoon in the street. Neighbours were poking their heads out their windows, and just as quickly shut and barred the same windows. It was a modern remake of a Western showdown at High Noon. People who did not live on that block, however, were congregating in an almost religious manner around the combatants. Fights in the street have a kind of sacred significance with bored townsfolk.

"This planet ain't big enough for the two of us," Zero commented, his hand bent backward and resting easily on the hilt of the ready Z-Saber. Dragoon snorted.

"I think there's room for an extra traitor! You know you will do it sooner or later, don't you, Zero?"

Zero's sword hand came down.

"What did you say?"

"Clear the wax out of your audio sensors, Zero! You know you'll revert to your true nature sooner or later! Why else does X dog your heels?"

"Hey!" X protested from the curb, trying in vain to drag Hannah away from her idol, "I'm a kitten, not a dog!"

Zero and Dragoon rolled their eyes upward in unison at that less-than-intelligent retort.

"Well, Zero, it's been nice knowing you. I have a fangirl to burn, and if it amuses me I'll burn the rest of town. And maybe hop from state to state when I'm done, blazing my own path across this great nation!"

Police had barricaded the street by now, though the emergency services and the crowd of curious Oxfordians were not foremost in Hannah's thoughts at the moment. She did notice when several officers picked her and her sister bodily off the ground and carried them away for questioning, though.

"I'll see you later, Zero-kun! We'll talk!"

"Sure thing, Hanny," Zero called over his shoulder. Her face was beatific with bliss. He had spoken to her!

Back in the present, non-fangirl situation, Dragoon was tossing a lethal-looking fireball up and down. Zero couldn't keep the image of a pitcher on the windup out of his mind. He did watch sports occasionally, though HBO was more entertaining. Humans and their silly dramas…

"Hey! She's my prey! Don't walk off with her like that!"

Dragoon pitched the fireball at the officers carrying Hannah, but Zero's beam saber deflected it.

"No burning humans. That's a ground rule."

They got busy fighting, while X sat on the curb to watch. He didn't like cheating, and besides, Zero was the highest-ranking Hunter. One Maverick battle in the midst of thousands of gawking humans wouldn't bother the blonde Ripper. Dragoon would not cooperate, however. Being the inconsiderate Maverick that he was, Dragoon was spitting or throwing fire everywhere, and the police were trying to herd people out of the way. When a crowd views a fight, however, their general intelligence decreases, and running away from obvious danger is least on their minds. Zero was having a hard time jumping around to deflect the flames in order to save their collectively stupid hides.

"Get those people out of here!" he roared, attacking Dragoon in the hope of drawing his attention away from the hysterical crowd. People, no matter how stupid they are, don't like the idea of being burned. The mass stampede that followed was possibly worse had they stayed in one place. Many police cars were overturned and many bones were broken as people were trampled underfoot. X grunted his disgust as he viewed the drama.

"Humans! One by one they're the brightest creatures on the planet, but jam them together in crowds, and they suddenly forget common sense!"

With the street more or less cleared of frail humanity, the non-frail warriors got down to some serious hacking and slashing. X helpfully put out any stray fires Dragoon caused, either to a nearby telephone pole or someone's car. His X-Buster wasn't just used for blowing things up, you know. Somewhere in his twisted little soul, X yearned for a peaceful future.

"Don't worry, Zero, I'm covering all bases. Finish him off!"

"With pleasure, X."

Dragoon made a monumental error by resorting to a Street Fighter move about then. By warring outside the borders of Japan, Dragoon had effectively disowned himself from Capcom. However, because Capcom created him, using any of their trademarked words or slogans would have dire legal consequences. It was all very complicated and the documents spanned hundreds of pages, but let's not get into that. The moment Dragoon shouted, "Adukate!" and "Shoryuken!" to announce his moves, a shiny blue and yellow transport ship landed on the street behind Dragoon. Distracted by this, the red warriors turned to watch. A man wearing wraparound shades and a no-nonsense formal black suit and tie stepped off the ship, pointed a small gun at Dragoon, and shot a tiny blue and yellow dart at him. Dragoon caught it between his fingers, but upon contact, the dart zapped the Maverick with a surge of electric current. Dragoon, his elements based in fire and not electricity, immediately collapsed in a smoking heap, deactivated. The anonymous man tucked the long-range, ultra powerful taser into his jacket and waved to the ship. Four human soldiers with a stretcher marched out, picked up the inert dragon, and returned as quickly as they came.

"Who are you?" Zero asked. X was standing, or hiding, just behind Zero, intimidated by the instant 'retiring' of Dragoon.

"An agent of Capcom. Magma Dragoon will be dismantled for dishonouring section forty two, clause ninety seven of the Video Games Act."

"And what does that clause state? How do I know you're not just making this up?"

"If I were to recite the clause, it would take until sometime next year. It's all on the Internet; producing hardcopies would put a strain on the Earth's forests. Have a nice day, and only purchase legal copies of Capcom products."

He returned to the blue and yellow ship, and it sped off as suddenly as it had come. X was blinking rapidly.

"They must have been hiding in the clouds, just waiting for him to say those words!" X was still trembling at the efficient savagery of the agent, "My… my little catchphrases aren't in that clause… are they?"

Zero really hated explaining anything to X. It might give him white hairs, and white hairs would make him look even more like a bishounen, and the fangirls would never leave him at peace. If he saw another fanfiction comparing his long flowing locks to ocean waves, he would personally delete the Internet.

"It's not over yet," came Zero's terse response, and they teleported out.

888

Hannah was wringing her hands while she sat under the lampshade in the detaining room. It was one of those generic rooms, found in most police stations on Earth, with a one-way mirror dominating a wall. She could not see anyone, but she knew they were watching and listening to her, and that made her jumpy.

"I'm too young to be tried as an adult," she muttered over and over, but found no solace in the words. Kids were sent off to training camps, and that was much, much worse than being locked behind bars, she thought.

The door opened, and she held her breath.

She released it in a hurry when she saw who entered the blank gray room, though.

"ZERO-KUN!"

Zero was soon lying on his back in the corridor with Hannah squeezing him with all her might. Lord, this fangirl had a grip!

"Relax," he said, but she only hugged harder, nuzzling his precious hair. He got to his feet, with her dangling from his neck, and returned to the detaining room. Inside, he gently disengaged her affectionate death grip and managed to seat her by the table. She did not let go of his hair, though, and continued to run her hands through it.

"I have something for you," he announced, and produced her beloved wolf plushie Aiko from behind his back, "She's slightly squashed, though, after you knocked me down."

Hannah gave a veritable screech of ecstasy that made Zero's auditory sensors ring. She let go of his hair and concentrated her fierce affection on Aiko, who, had she been a live wolf, would by now have died of asphyxiation.

"Thank you!" Hannah repeated about ten times, turning Aiko over and over to verify her friend's well being.

"You're welcome, Hanny. Well, I have to go, now, I just received word that the Colonel is ticked off and is moving the Repliforce into space."

"Be careful when you fight him, and watch out for Iris!" Hannah advised. She did not know, however, that Zero had no knowledge of Megaman X4. The Red Ripper was a little more than startled.

"Fight him? And Iris? Am I… am I going to fight her, too?"

"Uh-huh!" she nodded vigorously, oblivious of the effect this was having on Zero, "You'll win, though, so don't worry!"

Zero had a blank, distant look on his face that implied his senses had gone on vacation. Hannah endured the silence for about ten minutes before she started to get bored and play with his hair again. That got his attention, and he carefully swatted her hands away. She giggled.

"I… have to go… right now," he murmured in a dead voice.

"Awww! I wanted you to stay and meet all my friends!"

But Zero had closed the door and gone.

"Send me an email! Okay bye!"

888

Here ends part one of MATHS. The sequel should be finished soon. Or not. Maybe I'll take my time. Maybe not.