EVERYTHING WAS BLACK, THEN A LIGHT SHOWN FROM ABOVE.
The room illuminated gradually, revealing Zero's new surroundings:
There appeared a hexagon-shaped room with a hexagon pattern the tiles on the floor beneath him, with a low light emanating from in-between them.
Zero had no indication of awe or surprise. He knew that was where he was supposed to be. He hadn't moved a spot since before, or after, his last adventure.
No teleportation had taken place. This was the Troia base, stationed in a classified section of Europe.
This was the largest Hunter Training site the world, especially for the influx of Next-Generation Reploids joining their ranks.
The room he had been fighting in for the past several hours was one of the most advanced sensory-manipulation programs in the world, codenamed: Helios.
Zero was not the one being trained today; the simulation was too easy for someone such as he to be truly tested by it, though it was still entertaining enough for him to return at his leisure. The training exercise was for the navigator, Operator #1218.
"Commander Zero, how did I do?"
The window from the VR room to the navigation station was clearly visible after the simulation was over. #1218 had risen from her seat eager for Zero's seal of approval.
Zero, now that the action was over, would not mince words. He looked up and told her:
"Your correspondence was slow, obvious, and potentially lethal."
#1218 disappointingly recoiled back into her chair.
I'm sorry sir. I should have been more vigilant."
Zero continued his assessment.
"I had to deduce the nature of the final enemy myself. You had access to scans of the simulated area, power fluctuations, and the like. Assume nothing and tell of anything suspicious. It's the navigators job to run through scenarios, speculate and deduce things such as the forest devil that attacked me."
She kept her head down accepting every precise verbal lash. He was as sharp with his tongue as he was with his sword.
"You have to be the mind of the less experienced hunter. Without you, an amateur is likely to find himself in the clutches of an enemy he was ill-equipped to fight in the first place, leaving hunters like me picking up the slack for both of us."
"Oh, come on Zero. I was never that helpless."
The second voice shook the navigator in-training from her resignation. It was coming from directly behind her, advancing toward the microphone in the station that allowed them to speak to Zero from where they were.
Zero scoffed, "If only that were true, X."
"There was something I wanted to talk to about after this session."
Zero motioned his "okay" to X's suggestion. The two of them had been very busy, and had not the chance to converse for very long as of late.
"I'll be right up."
While Zero used an elevator to ascend to their level, while X used the opportunity to encourage the despondent student next to him.
"Zero's was right about me. Twice during first Maverick uprising he had to save my life twice… from the same guy."
"Yeah right. I'm sure you fought well enough for you to be considered worth saving. Maybe I'm not cut out for this."
"Listen, no one's really 'cut out' for Maverick Hunting. It's something we set out to do and make-work to the best of our ability. You cut yourself out for the role."
"Thanks, but I don't think my score will become an higher from your kind words."
"Commander Zero is hardest on the ones he sees potential in. He wants to see you do better. To be honest, I haven't seen hi like this in awhile…"
The door to the room slid open as Zero entered the station with terminals, computers, monitors and the like where his best friend and future navigator were waiting for him.
"X, I'll join you outside in a minute. I have a few more words with thisone."
The blue light of hope had left the building, leaving #1218 alone with the red demon. She held her breath in preparation for another round of critique as he moved in closer, but instead, he kneeled down and lightly laid his hands on her should is a congratulatory stance. His eyes, indicated pride and confidence.
"You did good, kid. You'll shape up to be a great navigator some day. Just follow my suggestions and you should move onto the next levels."
#1218 was relieved, and humbled.
"A-Are you serious? You'd let me move on?"
Zero knowingly smirked.
Your intel was invaluable, you just need to show a little more initiative, and creativity with your scans."
"I look forward to hearing your voice on the field sometime in the future."
He stood erect with formality, without a trace of irony as he said this, before walking out to join X for their talk, leaving her alone with reserved excitement. Hardly believing what just happened.
It's not every day two legends just pop in to say nice thing to her, especially not the one she so intensely admired.
She stood up from her seat, taller than X, but slightly shorter than Zero, sporting long purple hair that would put his own to shame in terms of garishness.
"Wow. I—" Her earpiece flared with a younger, more childish voice on the other end, interrupting the quiet moment of savoring.
"LAYER! IT'S ME! PALLETTE! DID YOU MAKE IT!"
Apparently, Operator #1218's name was Layer.
A chance to talk about her experience gave Layer a chance to further process her astonishment.
"Yeah… Can you believe I thought he hated me for a second? There's a really a nice man beneath the warrior."
"This is so like you to start falling in love like this. You can't keep your eyes off 'em, but I guess that's why you're cut out for this job to begin with, huh?"
Pallette had no internal conflict when it came to speaking up, but luckily for her peers, she usually had something important to say. This trait was helpful during her coinciding evaluation.
The irony of Pallette's word choice was not lost on Layer.
"But seriously, you get too invested."
Layer, for the first time in a long while, formed a knowing smile on her lips.
"But isn't that why I'm cut out for this job to begin with?"
Meanwhile, X and Zero where strolling about the grounds of the Troia base. The sun was rising in this area of the globe, with the sun peaking optimistically in the distant, mountainous landscape.
"Axl is becoming impatient."
X began, but Zero wryly retorted.
"I think he's been very patient. What's all this about?"
"Axl woke me from stasis sleep this morning demanding that I register him today. I told him I would have by now, but when the time came, I couldn't do it."
Zero considered X's sensitivity would occasionally interfere with his hunting on an emotional level, but interfering with standard activities such as this was surprisingly, but irritatingly appropriate for his blue friend.
"Axl's was ready to be a Hunter the day I met him."
Zero was the first Hunter to come across Axl after he deserted the vigilante organization known as The Red Alert Syndicate, sparking the biggest custody battle of all time. It was Axl's eagerness to face his former comrades at Zero's side that turned this would-be irritant scrappy into one of Zero's trusted friends. At the time, X was not acting as a field agent and redirected his efforts to more peaceful solutions. All the people Zero and Axl had rescued convinced him of the legitimacy of the job he left behind. Regretfully the opportunity for peaceful will sometimes expire, leaving us with a violent situation we can only try harder to avoid in the future.
The Red Hunter continued his analysis. "I think you're the one who's not ready."
The Blue Hunter wasn't one for self-delusion, he knew Zero was right about his unwillingness, but there was something else that made him uneasy.
"Zero… I fear he's too eager to jump into this -for the wrong reasons -like this is all some kind of game to him."
"His attitude about hunting... the jokes… it's all a coping mechanism. He doesn't have the same conflict about killing Mavericks as you do. I've fought with him longer than you have."
Zero did not like Axl at first but fighting with him for a significant period of time changed his mind.
"You might change your mind after some bonding time. You'll have to get used to it of Signas decides to supersede you. "
X was not happy with the idea of more internal bickering with his own authority figure.
"If this is a game to Axl, I guess this makes me the boss, doesn't it?"
"X, you're too unpredictable to be a boss. I'd know from fighting you."
They shared a signaling the end of their current line of discussion. They walked to the side of the mountain that was form the rising sun by the Troia base, literally in the dark about what was to come…
"X! Zero! Do you read me!"
They were being hailed by Alia from the Central Hunter HQ.
The hunter's internal ear pieces directly keyed them into a three-way discussion. They were glad to hear from her, but simultaneously anxious about the contagious urgency in her voice…