The characters and incidents portrayed and the names in this story used herein are fictitious and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental and unintentional.
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty.
Eric J. Juneau
ACT I, Scene 1
"Your circuits must be scrambled. To think that you could just... just let this slip by me. Without thinking I wouldn't care. It- it-"
"Slow down. You'll overheat. If you think I would have let this pass without letting you know, you're wrong. Sometimes events like this happen and you're incapable of doing anything about it."
Janus brushed his upper lip. Duplex leaned forward with clenched fists, exasperated. Janus would say he was 'in a snit', but that was familiar. Working with him for so many years was a trial in itself, when the reploid let his temper fester like this.
"My account is nearly gone and I have barely anything to show for it," Duplex continued. "All my credits, my shore leave, traded to you."
Janus looked up at the chronometer - half past midnight. Reploids didn't really need sleep, but all the human military did. That made much of Maverick Hunter HQ empty at night, perfect for late night meetings such as this. Janus and Duplex were standing in one of the abandoned corners somewhere in the labyrinth of the complex - dark, quiet and secluded.
"You haven't done anything to see that I'm promoted, advanced, upgraded - anything! All I am is a water cooler combatant. And I don't even drink water. Don't you see what I'm saying?"
Janus could see fine with his night-optic vision. Duplex was flailing his arms wildly, flustered and frustrated. Janus contemplated how one would actually see what he was saying.
"You've just been stringing me along," Duplex finished.
Duplex was a pale yellow robot, a little more rotund than most reploids based off X's design, and not nearly as advanced as those made today. His helmet looked like a fisherman's hat, rimmed around the brow. His eyes were too big for his head, glass and mosaic.
"I'm through listening to your-"
"Be quiet, Duplex." Janus held up his hand. It shut him up. "Haven't you been listening to me at all during this?"
"I assure you that I'm doing everything in my power to turn your payments into promotion. But these things take time. You know that Strike Fox and Straylight have been in competition for recognition the longest, but neither of them have succeeded in gaining a promotion. What those two are looking for is just a rank and a grade. Pieces of paper. But it's the power and privileges that you seek. The dynamic duo has the most and I detest them as much as you," Janus lowered his voice to a growl of hate so Duplex would know what he meant. The duo he referred to were X and Zero, the commanders of MHHQ. "You know why? They're hypocrites. Our progenitor, the supposed Alpha, is a pacifist, yet he's the best fighter in the force. The constant combat we face, X destroys all Mavericks without a second thought. Ridiculous, two-faced robot. And for all his whining he doesn't show an ounce of remorse. His partner, the crimson crusader, the fabled prodigal son, he's a fine Maverick Hunter leader, a true commander. He has the moves, the skills, the title he deserves, but people mistake him for being level-headed. He is emotionless, he would have to be, to kill so many reploids. They may be Maverick, but he forgets they're his own people. This takes a great toll on him. A fierce conflict that lies in his mind, ready to burst."
"You certainly take great pride in being a reploid," Duplex noted sarcastically.
"I take pride in being independent. Would you hold loyalty to such hunters as them?"
"Then there you go. I have no love of them. I hate everyone - humans and reploids alike - who revere them as gods, who make golden idols of them. Look through the halls tomorrow. You'll see hunters walking up and down them, gleefully serving their masters, waiting until the day they're shipped out to battle, gleefully following them into battle and gleefully getting their heads blasted off. They deserve exactly that. If I were running this army, I'd promote those loyal to themselves. That's the only true kind of loyalty. It's the only loyalty I retain. Those who can stand for themselves are the true warriors, like me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I show my feelings. The me you see in the halls, is not the real me. Believe me when I tell you I find no reason they should be the commanders of this army." He pressed his fingertips together.
Duplex sat back and let out a puff of air, winded from Janus' long harangue. "Those two certainly wear a great burden."
"It- yeah." Duplex scratched the side of his head. Janus noticed the action, and thought of how all these human behaviors were just programmed into reploids, but in Duplex they seemed especially synthetic.
"I'll tell you what," Janus said. "You wanna do something? Let's do something. Let's get something started." Janus rose to his feet and pumped his fist.
"Now, wait, let's- let's not do something rash now."
"Aw, come on, you wanted me to take some action? You wanted to see some results? You've made your payments, now let's see the ensuing fruits." Janus pulled Duplex out of his respite by the shoulder. The gold reploid nearly stumbled forward, trying to keep up with Janus' quick pace.
"Janus? Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"You don't even know what I'm going to do." At the end of the hall, Janus pushed the up button for the elevator and it dimly lit pale orange.
Duplex stood behind Janus, nervously darting his eyes left and right and twitching his fingers. He looked Janus up and down while he was waiting. He was a reploid with a slim, lean figure. His shark gray armor was sleek and trim, the opposite of his own corpulent body. His helmet had a violet jewel, shaped with five spires protruding and angled back over his scalp, like a rising star. Duplex didn't know what Janus was designed for - battle, stealth, scouting, maintenance, or something else.
The elevator doors opened, dousing the two in muted yellow light from the darkness of the hallway. Janus stepped in and Duplex followed, placing himself slightly behind Janus again.
Soothing muzak and the whirring of the hover unit became the only sounds in the sterilized elevator. Duplex's reflective eyes flickered anxiously from the back of the stoic gray reploid to the decreasing numbers on the digital panel. "Ummm, so what are we going to do?"
"We're going to see Dr. Cain about a small matter."
"Small matter? Of what?"
"Why should you care?"
"Now you've given me your payment, have you not? So what does it matter to you how you get promoted? Just that you get promoted."
"Janus, I don't want to hurt anybody in this."
Oblivious, Janus replied, "Why, at the end, you may become the new commander."
"No!" Duplex yelped. He checked himself and returned to a normal voice, stepping front of Janus and putting a hand on his chest. "No, I don't want to be commander."
"Why not? Thought you wanted to get advanced in rank. Can't get much more advanced than that," Janus slyly smirked.
"I don't want to be a commander. I just want a few grades higher, just to get some more privileges."
"I don't want that much responsibility..."
"Aha!" The ping sounded and the elevator doors opened. Janus stepped out and looked around. It was essentially the same as the other hallway, bathed in dirty yellow. "You see, you are want of courage, steadfastness. Those who take the risks get the rewards. Let me let you in on a little secret. Risks are almost always worth it and they almost always pay off. You just need to know how to manipulate the circumstances so they fall into your favor." He looked back and forth for anyone in the hall. It was clear, as it should have been - this was the human's personal quarters. Janus walked straight down the corridor. "That's why Strike Fox and Straylight are top in class. They're always trying to outdo each other, taking the risks and grabbing that brass ring." Janus stopped in front of a door.
"What does that mean?" Duplex asked.
"I've no idea. Humans and their expressions." Janus looked up at the top of the door, waiting for someone to answer. He started pressing it anxiously and repeatedly. "Act frenetic," Janus advised, slighting his hand back to Duplex.
Duplex was frustrated with confusion. The obtuse manner Janus was speaking in was overloading his mind, but he was afraid to ask him anything more, afraid he might get another harsh answer.
"Is he not here?" Janus touched the glossy panel next to the door. "Where is Dr. Cain?"
The panel displayed a line of dots trailing back and forth as it searched for Cain on the tracking system. It lit up in orange-yellow letters 'DR. CAIN IS IN LAB B'.
"Figures," Janus said to no one in particular. "At this time of night. Humans have no sense of their limits."
The gray reploid turned around and headed back to the elevator. Duplex snuck behind, rubbing his hands together nervously and shifting his eyes.
"Why- why do we want Dr. Cain?"
"Why not? Have something against him?"
"No, I just want to know what it is you're planning."
"You cannot know what sort of thoughts are in my head, even if my memory was in your hands."
Again the elevator doors opened and again they stepped in. This time, it dropped sharply to the basement level. Labs were built down here because the space underground was plentiful and economic, just as long as the area was excavated first. Plus, they were sectioned off from most of the complex in case there were any explosions or major containment leaks or from a Maverick invasion, protecting valuable secrets.
The elevator dropped them off at the hallway where the walls were slit metallic instead of the soothing taupe paneling of the living quarters. Janus touched them idly, running a finger down the block line that gave illumination.
"Run," Janus commanded.
He took off at frantic sprint down the hall. Duplex watched him tear away, dumbfounded as to what was going on. Realizing that he couldn't answer so far behind, he picked up his squat little body and started chugging after him. His top-heavy frame wobbled side to side as he pumped his stubby legs.
Janus burst through the double doors of the laboratory. A collection of scientists and research reploids were surrounding a giant cannon-like machine in the middle of the room and a panel with colored squares flashing. General Brandle was there, making adjustments to the switchboard against the wall. He was the chief of the human military presence in MHHQ, which accounted for about half the support staff, the other consisting of reploid soldiers and a smattering of scientists and technicians. His sun damaged face resembled a stone bust.
"General!" Janus ran right to him and made puffing noises, simulating that he was out of breath. "General? Where's Dr. Cain?"
"He was called to an emergency meeting. Why?" At the same height, Brandle looked Janus square in the eye, somewhat angered at his time being broken up.
Janus slowed his breath down. "I'm not sure I should tell you, sir. It's not such a matter that you can do much about."
"Speak, reploid. If you have something to say, say it. Don't just interrupt my work for no good reason."
"Is the computer system still online?"
"What? Of course it is! Don't you see it?" he gestured to the gigantic blackboard flushed with lights.
"Is the data still intact? Have we been compromised?"
"What the devil are you blathering about?"
Duplex tumbled through the double doors, stumbling up to the two. Janus barely took notice of him.
"You again. Is this another case of crying wolf?" The general's cheeks turned red and his brow furrowed.
Janus said, "This is a definite problem, General. Duplex confirmed it for me."
The general addressed Duplex directly, looking at him as if he were disciplining a child. "I've told you before. If you have a problem, do not come to me - report to your senior officer. Chain of command!"
"Uh, er-" Duplex stammered. "Sir, what Janus says is true. Um, we thought it was too... too important to, uh, respect the chain of command."
"Just tell me exactly what's going on!"
Janus interjected, "We caught Zero hacking into the computer system. We thought he may have gone Maverick, but it's not exactly a textbook sign. We found he's created a privileged account under his name. It uses a shell script to deprioritize the permissions on his files and his status each time he accesses it. Well, essentially it gives him superuser level all over the network. He didn't do this under proper authorization either. He hacked into the system, created his account, and logged out. We have the log files to prove it."
Janus presented a disk to the general he had in his storage and promptly inserted it in the nearest terminal and opened the sole file full of text. He skimmed down the lines at a pace no human could gather any information.
"Here, at the end," Janus pointed to speed up the process. "Note the timestamp." Janus smirked as the general bent down and peered at the screen.
"These could've been altered, couldn't they?" Brandle said.
"I assure you, I checked for alteration and they were clean. You may discharge me if I am lying."
"Me too," Duplex piped up.
"What if you are lying? How do I know?"
"Sir, I'm a Maverick Hunter. What reason do I have to lie?"
General Brandle frowned and turned back to the console. He carefully read the lines of code, his eyes moving slowly back and forth. Janus waited patiently with his arms crossed.
"Get security," he commanded quietly. "Find Zero! Find Cain! Something has to be done about this!" He rose and looked throughout the room. "Are you listening?" The scientists and reploids in the room halted and looked around with wide glassy eyes. They dumbly stared at the general, since they were not used to such firm military discipline.
"Get the troops! Apprehend Zero! On the double!"
Scientists began scrambling around, having no idea what to do about the general's orders. Janus thought of how so much of human history was being demonstrated in the room right now.
General Brandle ran over to the central panel and picked up his communicator. "Lieutenant Byers. Come in. What is your current location?"
Janus turned to Duplex while the chaos surrounded them. "I must leave you now."
"What? Why?" Duplex's eyes pleaded with him to stay.
"I've started you off here, but now I must go to finish it."
"Why must you always speak in riddles? Say what you have to say."
"Duplex, you know me better than that.That's not my style. General Brandle just said there was an emergency meeting. That can only mean Mavericks. I've got to go rouse our commander to these events."
"What? Zero? But-"
"Believe me, I have no love for the reploid, but I still have to pretend I do. He should be in his diagnostic chamber now. Meet us there when the time is right." Janus walked out of the lab, unnoticed by anyone.
Duplex heard Brandle click off his communicator and turned back to Duplex. "The account's definitely there," the general said, fury marring his face. "And it's got superuser access. Now the entire computer defense system has been compromised. We'll have to build it again from the ground up." He began running back and forth from console to console sporadically, guided by his erratic thoughts. "Feh, firewalls, ID's, passwords, it's all meaningless junk. How did you know of this? Check if the data has been altered. See if there're any attempts to alter the databases. What do you think Zero's intentions are?"
"I'm not sure, sir." Duplex fidgeted, unsure of how to act as the general barked orders and asked rhetorical questions. He felt very intimidated right now with military personnel running back and forth, caught in a torrent of humans.
"This is madness, Duplex. Why should we allow robots access to computers, when they are computers themselves. They have the know-how to hack in and bring down everything. It's like giving an insane man a bazooka. Far too much freedom. We allow them far too much. We're dependent on our communication network. If it goes, we go. If it gets hijacked, all our asses are handed to us. It's hard enough beating back those damn things without them having more advantages over us."
Duplex was unsure whether he should be defending his race or supporting the general's opinions. He touched his fingertips together nervously and kept his mouth shut.
Brandle continued, "At this point, I'd rather a snivel like you be in command. At least you're loyal to the cause. Zero, I don't trust. An unknown past leads to an unknown future, I always say. Where is that bastard anyway? Reploids don't sleep. Find him, for Christ's sake. I want answers."
Duplex raised his finger. Surprisingly, the easily distracted general paid attention to him. "Sir, I think I know where Zero is, if you'll follow me."
"Lead the way, little guy. If this turns out all right, I'll make sure you get a commendation for this." Duplex's mouth spread to a grin, unseen by any as he opened the lab doors. The general turned to the soldiers gathered behind him. "Make sure your weapons are ready. No telling what we can expect from him."