By Erico


            "So, as you can see Dr. Cain, Zero was not infected. Hazil had simply taken a look at the readings from Fluid Ferret and mistaken them as Zero's." X announced. Wycost and Bastion winked at each other, for they knew that X had been on a comm channel with Hazil to put together the plausible lie. Zero stood at full attention, his shoulder bars missing and his saber being held by one of his men beside Cain.

            Cain scrutinized Zero, then X with his beady eyes. No longer were they bloodshot, for Hazil's sleepy potion had given him the rest he needed. X shifted uncomfortably, then continued.

            "And not only that, but Zero single-handedly destroyed every single maverick in the compound, including Sigma. And he used Fluid Ferret to get back to the lair, NOT to free him as a fellow maverick as was previously thought. I believe Zero's actions are a clear indication that he is not only a prime Hunter in our ranks, but also deserves the re-instatement of the rank of Unit Commander, and all privileges listed therewith." X finished his report with a flair, but he left Cain's office hanging with dead air.

            Nobody moved, nobody breathed, nobody blinked. The mood of this room depended solely upon Cain's response. Then with a heavy sigh and a weak smile, Cain nodded.

            "I agree. Zero, please approach me." Zero dropped from his attention and marched up to the front of Cain's desk. Cain reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled out two shoulder applets, one which held a jagged Z.

            "Zero, by the power invested in me as the prime authority of Maverick Hunter Headquarters, I hereby restore you to your rank of commander and reinstate you as the head of the Special Hunter Unit #00." Cain placed the two shoulder applets on Zero's shoulders, and then one of his troops handed him his saber. Everyone in the office clapped, and then Zero walked out of the room, with X beside him and Wycost and Bastion at their heels.

            "Zero, I never asked you. What happened to Fluid Ferret?" X questioned. Zero shook his head, but still held a smile.

            "The wily bugger escaped. But he's just one severely damaged maverick with restraints. What harm can he do?"

            Indeed, what can one maverick do? That was the question that raced through Fluid Ferret's mind as he examined the tattered remains of the maverick base. But then…a small voice called to him.

            "Ferret…over here…." Ferret raced over to where the voice emanated from, but what he saw shocked him. It was Sigma himself, badly wounded.

            "Sir! What happened?" Sigma grunted.

            "Zero…X destroyed…virus…"


            "Mission…not over with…"

            "It never is, Sigma."

            "You…break my crystal…" Ferret responded instantly to the command, smashing the red crystal in Sigma's head. Instantly, the maverick nanobots went to work, unplugging Sigma's control chip and dragging it along with them as they crawled up Fluid Ferret's arm and into the control chip port in his head. Fluid Ferret could feel the chip of his leader being connected into his power, and then…a new sense of awareness.

            He looked down at his bonds…then broke them as he swung his arms apart. A smile crossed his face, and he spoke very quietly.

            "We are one." A small laugh came from his throat, but then it grew louder and louder, until the entire chamber bellowed with laugher…

            The maverick threat lived. But wherever there was trouble, there would be Hunters to handle it.

            For life is a constant struggle, good and evil clashing against each other. Sometimes, losses are felt and the dead are mourned. The heavy toll that had been required this time around was Zero's suffering, X's horrifying discovery, and Cain's internal torment.

            Perhaps life is short. But life is also a beautiful thing, and that is what the Hunters would always defend…life.