So, here's another chapter long after I thought I would have it finished. It is mostly dialog again, which probably explains my tardiness (That and a few RL issues, but nothing noteworthy).

Truth be told, I'm not particularly happy with this chapter. I have enough trouble writing exposition chapters like this one, but lots of dialog is really hard for me. That's mostly due to my own lack of experience, since I'm not the most social person. I think I might re-write some of these chapters, but I'll wait until I've finished the story first.

In any case, this should be the last really detail-oriented chapter up until the epilogue, not to mention the last real chapter I didn't plan out in advance. Hopefully, this means I can get more chapters out faster, but I'm not holding my breath.

Anyways, enjoy.

-Ainrhyr

Disclaimer: See previous page.


Rise of the Chosen

Chapter Twenty Six

Successor


The air continued to fizzle, and even though Omega had been defeated, the broken shard of reality he had chosen as his battlefield persisted in existing. Natural law warped as fragments of reality and cyberspace continued to circle the area.

Why is this still going on? Leviathan murmured, glancing around. Wasn't Omega causing this?

Technically, this is part of a security mechanism. Zero responded, his eyes still on the reploid in question. It was designed to keep people away from a certain area. Omega was just the enabler. His power over Cyberspace makes him an integral part of the mechanism.

Aile merely listened to the conversation; her thoughts focused more on not moving her damaged arm.

Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, she had taken some serious injuries on the way here. And while Lateral's sub-tanks did help mitigate that, they were drained as a result. And they recharged slowly. She's used up three quarters of her first sub-tank during the battle with Pandora, and it had barely recovered any power by the time she'd fought Omega. She'd used the rest of her first tank and half of the second fixing her various wounds in-battle, and she'd used the last of it to fix the wound in her shoulder.

At the time, it had seemed like the right decision to accept Omega's stab to her shoulder in order to land the final blow. She didn't regret that. But it still hurt, and her sub-tank hadn't recharged enough to finish the job. It had only fixed enough damage so she wouldn't start bleeding to death from any sudden movement, but that wasn't saying much.

That, and she'd burned her arm blocking Omega's sword with it, and it had yet to be treated. Still, it was hardly the worst of her injuries, and she'd dealt with worse.

Explain to me why Omega is part of this mechanism at all? He isn't exactly the trustworthy type, and he's far too destructive and unpredictable to be left to his own devices.

"I resent that." Omega grumbled, causing Harpuia to twitch. The defeated reploid didn't move from his prone position, but his eyes focused on the green Biometal.

Zero ignored them. That's…complicated. I'll explain when we get there, but in short, Omega's mastery over Cyberspace means that Omega and only Omega can physically transmit matter to this particular location, and he can only do so from the point we started at in Area N. Basically, the only way you would be able to get there would be to beat Omega, and even then, Omega isn't obligated to move you there.

"Damn straight."

And where is this 'There' you continue to speak of Zero? X asked.

You can call it whatever you want. Area Zero…Area One…whatever you like. In the end, where we're going is where it all began in the first place. And for some of us, where it all ended.

Omega suddenly raised his head, almost unnoticed by Aile and the Biometals until he spoke.

"We're here."

The twisted, distorted slice of reality and cyberspace suddenly seemed to shriek, fragments falling away and disappearing into a brilliant white light that rapidly consumed the entire area.

In that instant, everything seemed to vanish.


After what felt like an eternity, Aile could finally see again. Blinking repeatedly to offset the glare, she glanced around at her surroundings.

The room they now occupied looked to be a ruined laboratory. Broken glass and steel pipes littered the area, and much of the room was covered by some greenish liquid she didn't care to identify.

In the center of the room was a circular array of steel and cables.

Just to the side of it was a small mishmash of metallic parts, seemingly wrapped around something.

Off to the side, in an area untouched by fluids were three misshapen fragments of metal placed in a line next to each other.

Aile paused as she took it in. She'd heard of it, but was this place really…?

This is…

Zero nodded. This is where I sealed myself away for a century or so. This is where Ciel found me during Neo-Arcadia's reign. And this is where Fefnir, Leviathan, and Harpuia died after we defeated Omega.

"Right, no hard feelings or anything." Omega muttered. "Aile, you've beaten me, which means the Succession Protocol will accept you, but the rest is up to you. Zero can explain it better. I'm tired, so I'm gonna call it a day."

And Omega simply vanished into a blur of cyberspace particles, which promptly migrated into the odd collection of metal next to the central platform.

Of course you would. Jerk. Zero grumbled. Well, I suppose I'd better get this ball rolling.

Zero drifted over to the area Omega had vanished to. The unusual arrangement of parts began to shift, as if awakened by his presence.

First of all, X. Sorry for borrowing this without asking.

The cocoon of metal split open, and a glowing blue orb rose into the air.

X started. That's…my Buster Core! How did you get it, Zero?

Well, in short, I took it from your corpse. Zero shook his head. When Elpizo destroyed your body, your buster was the only part of you I could find. I originally held it as a memento, but after I fought Omega and realized some things, I found a much better use for it.

The metal began to peel back, like a flower opening its petals. And from within the structure rose a shaft of white metal.

Every Biometal stared at it. Every single one of them recognized it.

The Z-Saber… X alternated his gaze between the sword and his long-lost buster core. You used my Buster Core to…seal…your saber…? Zero, I don't understand.

I'm not surprised. I didn't even understand it until after I had defeated Omega. Some things didn't seem right, and I did some digging until I found the truth.

Zero turned slowly, taking in everyone in the room. I think it's time you all knew exactly what I am.


"13 percent thrust on the bow thrusters! 5 degrees port! Make that 6 degrees port!"

They hadn't made it.

The remaining Slither Inc. airships had realized they were doomed once Hyperion began targeting them. But rather than continue fighting and hope to do some damage, the remaining ships had instead begun a suicide attack on the massive flagship.

Despite everything Hyperion's remaining gun crews could do to prevent it, two ships had still gotten through. And the two impacts had ripped Hyperion's guts out.

"We've lost another stabilizer! There's a 4 degree list to starboard and increasing!"

"Shut down whichever port stabilizer is the most damaged and maintain our current flight path."

They were down to three maneuvering thrusters and one secondary engine for propulsion. They only had five remaining anti-gravity modules online, and barely at that, when at minimum nine was necessary for sustained level flight.

Hyperion was going down. Nothing they did was going to change that.

All they could do was try to set it down gently.

"Ma'am, there's the best landing point. 2 degrees to port, 38 degrees down. Do you see it?"

"I see it." Prairie clung to her console as her eyes found the spot in question.

Part of the Area D highway had a large bend in it to accommodate a junction to Area B. The result was a space empty of anything important, but it had been cleared at one point in time. It was just a large, flat, empty area.

And it was just barely large enough to accommodate a large airship like Hyperion.

"Have we cleared out the lower levels?"

"Nuppie's team is making one last pass to make sure. Otherwise, yes." Tulip responded.

Gardenia grimaced. "That's assuming we manage to land this thing upright. Engineering is reporting another stabilizer is failing on the starboard side. That leaves us with four on the starboard side and seven to port. We lose any more and we're landing on our side."

Prairie tried not to curse at the situation and succeeded, albeit barely. "Just concentrate on getting us there. We'll worry about that when we get to it.


As I said, my suspicions were aroused while I was fighting Omega. You all know that story: Me, the original Zero but in a fake chassis vs. Omega, the fake Zero in the original body. In terms of absolute strength output, physical reaction timing, and so on, I was at quite the disadvantage. Even though I was the superior swordsman, Omega had the sheer strength and speed to offset that advantage. As far as absolute skill, we were perfectly matched. That battle should have lasted hours and hours.

And yet, Harpuia spoke up. You were able to match Omega and defeat him in approximately twelve minutes.

Zero nodded. Right. Not only that, I found myself matching Omega blade to blade and somehow holding him at bay despite the strength advantage. I found myself matching his moves and attacks despite his speed advantage. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but when I reviewed the footage later on, I decided to check on something. I asked Cerveau to do a full spec analysis, off the books.

Of Omega? X mused. I didn't think you'd recovered enough of him to…X trailed off as Zero shook his head.

No, not on Omega. I had a spec analysis done on me. And it confirmed what I suspected: My 'false' body was, in fact, equal in terms of strength and output compared to my original. Not close or within a fraction of the original; the match was perfect. Every replicated servo…every joint...every system was exactly equal in strength to my original frame.

There was a general pause as they all took that in.

X finally spoke. That's impossible Zero. You and I both know that only Dr. Light or Dr. Wily could fabricate and modify the components necessary to create us. Nobody else in this world, not even Ciel, has ever been able to match them. The techniques and technology used to create us have been lost to the ages. It should be impossible for anyone to upgrade your systems up to par against your original frame even if you let them, let alone without your knowledge.

Right on, X. Which is where the Z-Saber comes into play. Zero glanced at the blade in question before turning away.

Aile, you remember that story I told you? The one about my many brushes with death and how my nanomachines basically kept me alive?

Zero waited for her nod before he continued. Well, that was only most of the story, but certainly not all of it. Yes, my nanomachines are responsible for keeping me in one piece, but I left out some crucial pieces.

Remember that part where I mentioned that my nanomachines mounted miniaturized mass fabricators and produced their own power? That should have tipped you off that something was off with my explanation. There is a hard limit on just how small you can make a fusion cell, crystal generator, or mass fabricator before it becomes useless, and just about all our nanomachines both today and back when I was made were too small. That's the reason devices like Sub-Tanks are still around; the tank produces power and matter, which the nanomachines in the tank receive and utilize. Zero paused. I'm a bit surprised that you didn't call me out on that X. You should know a bit about this.

My repair systems use a different method, so my knowledge of nanotechnology is somewhat limited. X admitted. Still, I admit that something seemed off, but I always assumed you had your reasons for not mentioning it. So, like back in the Maverick Hunters, I declined to call attention to it.

Fair enough. Zero turned back to them. In any case, allow me to explain why my nanomachines are so much better than everyone else's.

Aile, what is the first thing you think of when I say 'nanomachine'?

"Eh? Well…" Aile paused. "They're small, I guess."

Exactly. The driving point of nanomachines is that they are small. And every year, scientists across the world embark on an ambitious campaign to make them even smaller than the previous year. Or to make the devices embedded on the nanomachines smaller and more efficient.

Is this relevant? Harpuia mused out loud.

It is, because my creator, Dr. Wily, said to himself one day, "These things are too small to mount anything worthwhile. Why don't I make them larger instead?"

There was a pause at that.

It was beautiful in its simplicity. Everyone was so focused on making both nanomachines and the devices on them smaller that they couldn't see the benefits of mounting the smaller devices on a larger machine. Dr. Wily kept them just small enough to be still called 'nanomachines', but made them large enough to mount actually useful things. Larger capacitors, more effective tools to maneuver particles, and so on. In terms of sheer repair capacity, they exceed that of nanomachines like in Aile's Sub-Tank by about 70 percent, and that's just the molecular repair aspect.

But even at that size, Leviathan interrupted, they're still not big enough to carry effective power generators. Or those mass fabricators you like to keep mentioning.

Correct Levi. Which is why Dr. Wily did something even more brilliant. Rather than pair them with a central device, such as a Sub-Tank, to provide power and materials, he instead made a small machine big enough to mount a fusion cell and mass fabricator. It's closer to a 'micromachine' rather than a nanomachine, but it can store several thousand of those more effective nanomachines and provides support for them. Kind of like a microscopic aircraft carrier. And I had hundreds of them.

"And each of them probably carries blueprints and such, right? So as long as one of those…nanomachine carriers survives, it can rebuild other carriers as well as you, right?"

Bingo Aile.

"Then…your fake body was…did your nanomachines recognize that your body was below par and upgraded it?"

Good instincts Aile, but you're skipping ahead a bit. Not only did those nanomachines have to recognize me as, well, me, but I still had to get them from somewhere. Remember, they were all in my original body, not the fake.

"Which is where the Z-Saber comes in?"

Which is where the Z-Saber comes in. There's a whole pool of nanomachines built into the Z-Saber. They're part of a program called the 'Succession Protocol'. Basically, only 'Zero', or someone capable of besting 'Zero', can use the Z-Saber to its full extent. When X gave me back the Z-Saber, it recognized my coding as belonging to 'Zero', and began implementing the protocol to bring my body up to its proper potential.

Is there any particular reason you keep emphasizing your name? Phantom asked.

Zero looked away for a moment.

X, you remember that argument we had with Dr. Weil when he revealed that Omega was using my original frame?

X nodded. Right. He insisted that Omega was the real Zero, not you.

Well, if you want to get really technical about it, he's right.

X stared at him. So did everyone else.

I'm going to catch so much hell for this. Zero groaned before continuing on. X already knows this, but the rest of you don't, so I'll just say it: I'm the original Maverick. The Maverick Virus, the cause of the entire damn Maverick War, was originally spread from me. It was Wily's last hurrah; his last attempt to show Dr. Light that his technology was superior once and for all.

But Dr. Wily decided to test my original frame out before he fully activated it. He activated my frame using a basic AI that was mistakenly corrupted with the Virus, and it killed him. It then killed hundreds of others before being beaten and sealed, but the damage was done. It caused so much chaos and confusion that several countries went to war because of it. Weapons were fired, missiles flew, and the world ended. I…I caused the Cataclysm.

Aile gasped, along with everyone else.

Despite occurring more than 300 years earlier, even Aile had heard of the Cataclysm. As destructive as the Elf Wars had been, they paled in sheer scale to that terrible event that ended the golden age of robotics in 20XX. More than half of the 7 trillion people on earth perished, and almost a third of the entire planet was rendered uninhabitable. To this day, most of it still was.

Earth had never recovered from the Cataclysm. It probably never would.

And Zero had, however indirectly, caused that horrific event.

I was stopped. Zero continued in the silence. I was stopped by Blues, commonly known as Protoman. He was the prototype; the original sentient robot. He was much older and much more skilled, and he'd been watching me battle for a while. He knew how my systems worked, so he went for a knockout blow instead. He overloaded his generator, which was already on the verge of failing by the way, knocked out my mobility systems, and shoved me into a stasis capsule before he collapsed.

Then the Cataclysm happened, and everyone who mattered died. Over time, the world forgot about robots like me, simply because it was more focused on surviving. Fast forward 100 years. Dr. Cain found X and created the original reploids. Minor faults in the early models caused the formation of the Irregular Hunters, the early form of the Maverick Hunters organization, to deal with the faulty reploids. One of Dr. Cain's latest and greatest reploids, Sigma, found me.

Remember, I was still running on basic AI at the time. And I was still on search-and-destroy mode, so I attacked Sigma the moment I woke up. Ultimately, he won. And in so doing, the Maverick Virus that had lain dormant in my frame transferred to Sigma, ultimately creating the evil chrome dome X and I are so acquainted with.

X and Zero both growled a bit at the mention of their old nemesis.

Sigma dragged my frame back to Dr. Cain, who went out of his way to reprogram the AI into something more living-being friendly. He even used a copy of some of X's personality software to do it. And when he was done, we had the red reploid that you all know best as Zero.

That should have been the end of it. Even when Sigma became the big bad Maverick, I should have stayed that way. But after I blew up myself the first time to save X's sorry ass against Vile, this idiot bunch called the X-Hunters recovered my parts and changed some things. They activated my Z-Saber, which Dr. Wily had never managed to activate before he died. And that. Changed. Everything.

Zero sighed and turned to X. Dr. Wily fooled us, X. He played you and me perfectly. All this time, we thought I housed the original virus, when it turns out I was just the Prime Carrier. The Z-Saberis its Source.

…What. X stated flatly.

It's very clever, too. Zero continued. It only spreads the virus using its host as a medium, so everyone would think that the host is the source.

"That's…pretty scary, but how does Omega tie into that? He was that big…armored thing that you and X dealt with, right?" Aile mused a bit. "How does that make him the original Zero?"

The Maverick Virus isn't just a virus; it's sentient. It may have originally had only program awareness, but it is capable of evolving much like I and X are. It eventually attained a personality of its own. One that is violent, hateful, and yearns to destroy anything it can get its hands on. Sound familiar?

X alternated between gaping at him and a really frightful glare.

Are you telling me that Omega is the sentient form of the Maverick Virus!?

Yea, pretty much, although he's mellowed out considerably. When I was removed from my original frame, that awareness was pulled through to fill the gap. And when you took my Z-Saber X, he was stuck there until Weil found him. Since all my legends refer to me as the God of Destruction, Weil thought he'd uncovered the original form of Zero, which…technically…he did.

As Zero paused, Aile took the opportunity to speak up. "So Omega is called the original Zero just because he evolved from the Maverick Virus, which was originally in charge of your body, right?"

Right.

Aile looked at him. "I…I'll be honest Zero. I'm interested in your story. Really, I am." She shook her head. "But Prairie and the rest are somewhere up on the surface fighting while we're going on about your past. I don't mind having a long discussion later, but I really want to help her out now. You said there was a weapon down here capable of killing Model W for good, and you mentioned there being a way back to the surface from here. Do you mind giving us the abbreviated version for now?"

That's fine Aile. In fact, that's perfect. I was just getting to the important part anyways. You remember X's story about Duo, right?

At her nod, he continued. Well, he didn't come here for sightseeing. Duo came to this world to deal with a very dangerous reploid containing a very dangerous power source; the opposite of the Light Energy he himself used. Dr. Wily tried using it once and even he decided it was too dangerous to use. But he did create the Maverick Virus using its data as a blueprint. That's why the virus is so tough to deal with, and it's also why X can no sell it since his Ash System core uses Light Energy.

Anyways, as I said, the virus is incorporated directly into the Z-Saber. But while it doesn't spread from there, the destructive aspect of the virus's source is manifested by the blade itself. The Z-Saber can ignore most types of defenses and negate nearly every type of autorepair system in existence for brief periods. I can count on one hand the number of things that can withstand the Z-Saber for any reasonable length of time. It's part of the reason I'm called the God of Destruction, after all. I didn't get that title without being very good at destroying things.

"So, it could have been used to kill Weil, right? Why didn't you hang onto it?"

I made a mistake. Zero admitted, looking away. Once X returned the sword to me, the memory buffers began restoring my memories. But I've done some pretty horrific things in my time. Lots of things I really don't want to remember. I sealed the Z-Saber away before things got worse, and used the imitation Z-Saber that Weil made for Omega instead.

But I didn't realize just how unkillable Weil had made himself. The fake Z-Saber, as powerful as it was, wasn't enough to keep him from regenerating. Had I known that, I would have held onto the original, traumatic memories be damned.

Zero shook his head dismissively before he continued on.

In any case, that's all water under the bridge now. Model W can be destroyed permanently by the Z-Saber's power. But it can only be wielded at full power by someone it recognizes as worthy of succeeding me. That's what the battle with Omega was for. Aile, since you've proven yourself to the Z-Saber, you have the right to wield it to its full destructive potential. And since you're not a reploid, it can't infect you with the Maverick Virus either. None of your cybernetics have the means of transmitting the virus to other reploids anyways, so there's no fear of reigniting the Maverick Wars. That is why I brought you down here…well, most of it anyways.

What other reason would there be? Harpuia asked.

Well… Zero gestured across the chamber, where the three misshapen fragments of metal Aile had spotted earlier were lined up. All of you guys have complained about not having your awesome custom systems and whatnot. I buried what I could find of Levi, Fefnir, and Harpuia over there. Maybe there's something you can use.


"Careful, careful…now! 42 percent thrust on all thrusters, hard to port!"

Hyperion's frame groaned under the stress as she whirled through the air. No forward thrusters had survived battle, so they had no choice but to swing around and use the rear maneuvering thrusters to kill their forward velocity.

"Easy on the forward stabilizers. Let her shift a bit. Save the stabilizers for when we land."

The massive airship wobbled in air ungainly as it was carefully guided into the narrow opening between the highway and the Area B junction.

"Hold it steady…hold…maximum power to lower thrusters!"

Hyperion slowed just barely before it smashed into the ground. The weight of the airship was too much for the keel, and it crumpled inwards. Reinforced deck armor bent and broke under the strain, but the rest of the superstructure held.

Part of the port armor sagged as the reinforcing frame gave way, and Hyperion settled into the landing point. She shifted a bit, but held upright, coming to rest at a mere 8 degree list to starboard.

"All Guardian units, this is Commander Prairie. Hyperion is down. I repeat, Hyperion is down. The controlled landing was a success; all vital ship functions remain operational. All crew, continue S&R and begin damage checks. Life support is priority, followed by functioning weapon systems."

She was broken and laid out on the ground, but against all odds, Hyperion lived.

But it was a shallow victory, for the battle wasn't over yet.

Prairie rubbed her forehead and grimaced a bit. "Tulip, try to raise Subcommander Colbor. Everyone else, let's figure out how many guns we have left."


As Harpuia, Leviathan, Fefnir, and Phantom dug through what was left of their original bodies, X and Zero joined Aile as she stood in front of the Z-Saber.

"Are you sure Zero?" Aile asked hesitantly, not quite yet reaching out to take the powerful blade. "You're sure it won't affect me?"

If you're asking if I'm 100 percent certain, the answer is no. It is extremely unlikely that the virus has evolved to the point of invading a person through their cybernetics, since they didn't even exist when it was sealed. But who knows? Even I don't know exactly how that thing works.

But thanks to your CCIDD, there's no direct conduit into your mind through your cybernetics. Meaning there are only two ways it could invade your mind Aile: the M.E.G.A. SYSTEM, or my artificial heart. The M.E.G.A. SYSTEM is utilized by the Biometals, which means it would have to go through us. More specifically, through X since he's the biolink controller. Not even the Maverick Virus can take him in a straight fight. And since the virus is deliberately designed not to cause undue changes directly to the original viral controller, aka me, it can't deliberately invade through my heart unless I let it. You'll be fine Aile. Worst case scenario is that you get a bit more aggressive. Which, let's be honest, you could probably use.

That, X spoke up, And Omega seems to have taken a shine to you. I don't know exactly what level of control he has over the virus, but I doubt he would do anything to harm you. Well, much.

"Right…" Aile looked over the blade again. "Besides, we can't beat Model W without it, right?"

Given the size of the original fragment, nothing short of a nuclear warhead would do. Several of them, in fact. Possibly even hundreds. Yes, unfortunately, it is likely that the Z-Saber is our only option.

"…If it does anything I don't like, I'm tossing it down the deepest hole I can find."

And without waiting for a reply, Aile grasped the white handle.

Her world was suddenly engulfed in light.


AN: I'd originally planned something more elaborate and game-breaking regarding the Z-Saber, but realized it would probably be too overpowered and unrealistic. Of course, it had to be decent enough to explain why Model W was unassailable until Aile gets it, so this is something of a happy medium. Depending on if I think of anything else, this may get revised, but I think it's okay for the time being.

Also, it's probably noticeable that I've taken a couple of creative liberties with Zero's backstory, since I'm sure it was noted somewhere that Zero was not responsible for causing the Cataclysm near the end of 20xx. I've somewhat skirted that line with Zero being just one link on the chain of events that does cause it.

Please let me know if you see anything I need to fix.

Other mention: Anyone notice how weird the spellchecker/grammar checker on FFN is? I have at least ten or more notes regarding my use of 'complex expressions'. Apparently, the words I use are too big for FFN to understand. Even when they are still appropriate (like speed versus velocity).