Several things: For some reason, this fic gives me a feeling of deja vu, that I've written something with the theme of Zero dreaming, and possibly even Lifesaver before.
This fic was supposed to be pure creepy, horror movie imagery and Lovecraft, that whole zombie thing that's all the rage nowadays, possibly ending on Zero's one actual word as a counterargument to that (or, really, proof that it wasn't even that simple and understandable, to quote ? from Mana Khemia, who gets fairly cosmic horrory himself), and then X just had to wake up. Why Ciel built Copy-X is very understandable, really, even if very stupid. Also why people didn't want to notice any of the discrepancies there must have been.
It was meant to be standalone, but ended up having themes in common with Wear and Tear, so I may even make that into a oneshot series.
Disclaimer: I don't own Megaman, X or otherwise, or anything referenced in this fic (Evil Dead franchise, for example). The rightful owners like Capcom do.
That isn't the thing that's unusual. Reploids are in some ways just as much replications of humans as they are of X. Humans dream for several reasons, and the reploid brain and the human brain are both computers. Both need to defragment, to put the day's events in perspective. To tell themselves stories in order to understand a very, very mad world.
A story that humans tell about dreams is that they come from two gates: one which sends false dreams, like going to school without the appropriate outerwear, and the other true dreams, of the future, present… and past.
In a sense, that's incorrect: all dreams are true, which is why a dreaming human will accept talking mushrooms as a perfectly normal thing instead of something that could never be real. It is real, or a reflection of reality. Some humans can become aware that this is a dream, and either watch the story unfold or change it to suit their liking.
Zero has nightmares.
Reploids don't. Reploids were created to be free from reprogramming, in control of their own minds. Most reploids will let the dreams their sleep-mode processor weaves proceed unhindered: it's something interesting to watch when they're too worried to shut off conscious function, and often newbuilts are afraid of being attacked and infected in their sleep capsules until they realize that there's such a thing as too paranoid. Often, they'll even allow scary things to happen in their dreams: there's something to be said for horror movies, after all, and it's a way to get past the fear of infection. To learn how to handle fear by experiencing it while they know they're safe. Which is why their mind creates those dreams in the first place.
Being trapped in a nightmare and watching a horror movie, even one starring yourself, are two very different things, however.
If Zero were a reploid, then he would know instantly that this dream isn't real. For one thing, the time on his internal clock doesn't match the timestamp in the dream. If he were a reploid, then he would know all these things happened years ago. It's over and done with. He wouldn't suffer the delusion that it's possible to change it, and it's just a waste of time to run through corridors, desperate to stop Final Weapon from being fired, or to fight his past self, facing a fanged smile dripping with blood, to kill him then and there and prevent Sigma from being taken, prevent all of this.
It makes his legs twitch in his sleep, and seeing that always made X think of a sleeping dog, legs moving as it chased tunnel rats in its dreams.
Lifesaver had never seen a dog (Maverick Hunter HQ handled its tunnel rats with the anti-infiltrator lasers in the air ducts), and to him, a doctor who is very familiar with how reploids work, seeing Zero move in his sleep is the stuff of nightmares. It's as unnatural as seeing a corpse start to move, and that's both an incredibly disturbing metaphor and a strangely good description.
Reploids don't move unless they have consciously decided to. Zero's body is moving on its own, outside his conscious control. Like a zombie, shambling along even though the mind is gone.
Lifesaver's aware of the origin of the zombie myths, and frankly, in some ways, it's all too good a metaphor for something else.
Zero even woke up hungry for the blood of the living. Watched their fluids drip out avidly, on what little footage there is.
It makes him want a goddamn buster, when he's here alone for the night shift. Of course it isn't possible to arm a medic and he completely understands why. Medics are obvious targets for infection, since they have access to dormant reploids and so many chances for sabotage. Someday, he'll go maverick. He wouldn't have taken this job if he hadn't come to terms with that. When that happens, he'll be dead and someone with his body, his face, his memories, will be walking around trying to bring harm to his patients.
He isn't going to object to any policy that will make it easier for them to put him out of his misery. What happened with Dr. Doppler during the third war indicates that sometimes, the original personality is still in there, somewhere, in some form. X mentioned once that he finds this hopeful, a sign they can be brought out and cured, someday. It's one of the reasons Lifesaver considers X absolutely insane sometimes, really. Every hunter would rather die than go maverick, but to be trapped in your body while it moves around on its own, deceiving your loved ones and killing those you swore to protect?
No. It would be much better if the virus killed them. Or rather, put them out of their misery.
A maverick is, legally, a walking corpse. It makes it easier on everybody, and the hunters who go out there want to be treated that way if it happens to them. Wants the others not to hesitate, because they'll already be dead or screaming for it inside their heads.
Some hunters can't stand the old movies about zombie apocalypses. Others go so far as to read books about them, either as a survival guide, black humor, or both. Perhaps there's a feeling of relief in seeing them get defeated, cured, whatever, in seeing the good guys win. Lifesaver's decidedly in the first camp. He couldn't even sit through twenty minutes of this one where some of the zombies pretended they were still living people, the protagonist's friends.
Zero makes a soft sound in his throat. Lifesaver wouldn't have heard it if he hadn't been paranoid enough to turn his hearing up to max, and he wishes he hadn't. He's a defenseless medic. If Zero gets up out of that capsule, it's even odds that he'd even live long enough to sound the alarm.
He doesn't know how his predecessors stood this job. Of course, average life expectancy for a hunter chief medic is three months. He's far past that, which theoretically he should be glad of, but, frankly, day after day of that sword hanging over his neck, wondering when it will fall? Night after night of this? Perhaps they're lucky, not to last long enough that the waiting could drive them insane before the virus did.
It should be more reassuring that X is in the next capsule over, but that just makes the contrast worse. X sleeps like a proper reploid, a beautiful, peaceful statue. Of a saint, or a Buddha. A perfect angel, timeless and kind.
Some reploids are religious. Lifesaver's thankful that he had the scientific education to know better.
It's a relief, really.
What makes X's presence very much not a relief is that while he may look like an immortal, unchanging, touchstone, Zero is in far better condition than he is. They're both here because they took damage nipping a potential base for the next uprising in the bud, and he's here to keep an eye on them in case something goes wrong while they're sleeping.
In training simulations, and fighting Repliforce, X and Zero are equally matched. When the virus is involved, Zero always comes back in better shape than X does. It's not battle damage, but wear and tear. X's systems sometimes have to strain themselves, fighting off the virus, although it takes a concentration that would kill a normal reploid for him to even notice it. Zero doesn't have that problem. If anything, it's the opposite.
X's systems are very different from a normal reploid's, since he is, after all, the great original, the only true android. He used to just stop by medical for energy refills, specific material formulas, and other things he needed to fix himself, but recently he's let Lifesaver assist with his repairs. Either he has some reason to think Lifesaver will be around longer than the others, so it's worth the time to teach him, or he's being a hopeful fool again.
Lifesaver would like to believe in him the way the rookies do, but he's been around too long. He's seen how many of the people X favors been maverick, how many times he's been betrayed. X is a trusting fool. He'd worry that X teaching him would make him a target if he weren't already a target.
X is incredibly powerful, incredibly designed, but he's only human, even if he is an android.
Sometimes, Lifesaver wonders if under the brave looks, under the kind smiles, this is wearing on X the way it is on him. Maybe he wasn't this dotty at the beginning, but night after night, war after war, would wear on anyone.
Hundreds of reploids have passed under Lifesaver's hands, and if X wasn't willfully blind, there's no way he could miss it.
X's systems are a masterwork, in the same way as the ancient stained glass window that had been in General's office. It is incredibly humbling to try to repair him, and realize that his clumsy efforts really couldn't do anything but detract from that elegant perfection. All he can do is try to convert the mess made by combat into one that can be repaired, and X heals fast. Incredibly fast.
This is what they should have been. The ideal. Dr. Light's ultimate creation, surpassing even the legendary Megaman.
Going from helping him, since X was the worse off, to checking over Zero?
Swirls of nanites, swarms large enough to be visible without magnification. They might not know everything about how X worked, that century of hibernation had caused his system to optimize, surpass even Dr. Light's plans, but he worked.
Sure, he hadn't, theoretically. Not until he'd been brought in (by Sigma!) and fixed up by Dr. Cain and X. A mindless killing machine. But a well-oiled machine. Despite the fact that it just didn't work like that. Who had bare wires? Capacitors that practically seemed designed to crackle ominously? Perhaps the creeping, crawling… Perhaps the repair nanites were necessary to repair the damage his own systems did to themselves.
Whoever designed him must have been mad. He shouldn't be able to operate, let alone operate at combat levels, for a full minute without something breaking down! Something that shouldn't work, something that shouldn't be, and when he'd looked up at X with confusion in his eyes, because surely he must see something wrong with this, the older medic just smiled fondly.
"You can see why the virus might have trouble. Zero's immunity is probably because it's just not compatible with him. Practically nothing is, which poses several challenges," X had begun to lecture, the first time he'd asked for a hand.
Perhaps X was just used to reploids being flawed things, next to him? Or perhaps seeing so many misbuilt irregulars made Zero stand out less?
Or perhaps he was just being too kind, too trusting, as everyone kept saying, hunter and maverick alike?
They should be trying to keep him gullible, were they taunting him with what was right in front of his face?
Lifesaver shook his head. That was really all immaterial. He had to stay professional if he wanted anyone to listen to him. It was possible for reploids to have nervous breakdowns, and Alia was keeping an eye on him as it was. He had to find proof, not be ordered to take a vacation he'd likely never come back from, outside the 'security' of HQ.
And he definitely, definitely, must not look at the table over there and its array of surgical tools. They all had safety settings, sure (medics were not supposed to be armed), but they could be gotten around. X had actually shown him how to hack a couple of them, because otherwise they didn't register Zero as a reploid, and they were meant for surgery, not carpentry. The kind of precision they needed meant they burnt out quickly, and there was no use in using them on someone already dead or for Douglas' armor work, no matter how much of a hurry the mechanic was in. Douglas did not leave his armory unless it was an emergency, and no one except X (for Dr. Light's armors) was allowed in unless it was an emergency.
Lifesaver wished he had the luxury of taking precautions like that.
He could possibly manage to kill Zero. Possibly. Zero snapped awake instantly when an alarm went off, he'd seen that. He didn't need the couple seconds most did to boot up fully.
Could you kill something that was already dead?
No, that was nonsense. It was impossible to make rounds without coming across someone watching one of those movies. The common areas, which he avoided, were almost as bad, but something about nearly dying tended to make hunters either especially morbid or in need of something to laugh at. Or both.
He was just being irrational. It was late, there was a betting pool on his life expectancy, and he wasn't the first to grasp at straws, hoping to find something out about the virus, hoping to find a cure. That was foolish. People got desperate, knowing their days were numbered, and then either they took one stupid risk too many in the hope they would find something and they would be saved, or Sigma took notice of them and took them out before they could get anywhere. Odd noises weren't going to help. At least there was no creaking in the eaves here, no windowpane for a branch to scratch at. Just the blinking of the screens full of various readouts, the occasional soft beep when something came up that he should take a look at but probably wasn't urgent, and Zero turning his head to the side, loose hair sliding down the side of the capsule.
Another murmur, unintelligible, and another, "Iris…"
This time, the soft sigh wasn't Zero's, as X managed to gracefully and silently get up and step out of his capsule. Most reploids couldn't do that without clanking against a side and waking up nearby people with hair-triggers, which was why the medic wing preferred that people signal an attendant (Lifesaver, at the moment) instead of getting up in the middle of the night if they wanted something.
Not that Lifesaver was going to quote medic regs at X: he'd probably helped write them, since he'd came here along with Dr. Cain.
He wondered if X had been awake all this time, or he'd set himself to wake up if Zero had a nightmare. It was the sort of thing X would do. His face was almost impassive as he looked down at his friend, concern showing in the tilt of his head and the way he was looking over Zero's body instead of the relative positions of his facial features, even though X had fine control over that as well. The air of a medic with a worrisome patient, and Lifesaver knew that X's eyes were on magnification, just checking to see if there were any outward signs.
Zero thrashed again, and this time X put his hand on Zero's head, to steady it, then picked up Zero's hair so that it wasn't falling outside the capsule. The sound X made wasn't a hum or a murmur, but it reminded him of the things human mothers did to soothe children. Zero moved one more time, and again, but just to end up in the normal sleeping position (getting comfortable?) before settling again.
"You probably shouldn't try that," X said quietly, stepping over to where Lifesaver sat. "It's better to wake him up from across the room if he has a nightmare. Or from behind some cover, when it's a bad one. He generally manages to realize that it wasn't real before he has the coordination to draw his beam saber, and he sleeps with his buster disabled, but he is the unarmed combat as well as beam saber instructor, after all. He managed to nearly take someone's arm off with a kicked chair once. Of course, we use flimsier furniture now."
'Back in my day…' those words brought that phrase to mind. "I can believe it." The Maverick/Irregular Zero hadn't used his buster unless someone tried to attack him from the air. "I've just been waiting it out when he gets like that." Maybe he should take the risk of being attacked, just to make it stop sooner.
"He does need his sleep. His pseudo-REM rate relative to total downtime is slightly higher than a humans, although not as high as mine, and he needs a certain number of hours in order to debug. Compatibility problems, between his systems and what Dr. Cain and I installed," X explained.
"You have a higher REM rate?" He would have thought X had a shorter, more efficient one.
"At first, human scientists asked themselves why living creatures slept. In the end, the better question turned out to be, why did they wake up?" The corner of X's mouth turned up. "Of course, I did spend a century dreaming in that capsule. Perhaps I'm simply fond of sleep, but I do most of my best thinking in dreams. I suppose it's a good thing that Zero has to sleep, otherwise he'd skimp on it, and he needs it. He won't let himself think of these things while he's awake, and he needs to work through them."
Random philosophy at this hour? Or whatever X was on about. "If you're awake, would you mind keeping an eye on him while I make my rounds?" An excuse to get out of this room for longer than strictly necessary. X and Zero couldn't be left unattended for too long, not when they were the only immune ones (or at least one of them was…), but if X was watching Zero then he could get out of here, away from these thoughts.
"I'll come with you." X stood up again. "They probably wouldn't be foolish enough to tip their hand this early, if so, but I looked over your notes on exposure. Zero's unit's readings looked natural – he tries to soak up the virus with his own systems to keep it away from others – but while I hope I'm wrong, odds are that someone in my unit got exposed to a high amount. I will say something for these clumps – they give fair warning, and it's easier for a hunter to fight off an infection if they know it's happening, and I try to train them well, but someone should have wandered into a booby trap. And if they're trying to hide that they got hit with a large amount of virus, that could mean they're afraid they'd be summarily killed, after Repliforce, but it could also mean that it won."
"Readings on your two units look the same."
"Yes. That's not natural. I have to admit that sometimes, if there's something that my unit likely can't avoid I take the risk, but I don't push it the way Zero does. It would be too easy to get incapacitated. Because of that, Zero's unit is Special Operations. If he takes point, they can handle missions that otherwise couldn't be done. All it takes is one infected hunter to sound the alarm."
"He deliberately absorbs the virus." And X didn't see anything wrong with this picture.
"His nanites are very, very skilled at breaking anything they don't like down into raw materials. He can convert virus into system repair nanites, boost nanites, and of course repair materials. Back when we were the Irregular Hunters, we tried to use nanites to incapacitate irregulars. That unfortunately gave Zero the same power boost the virus does, before he was brought in. What I have to burn up resources to destroy, he's able to recycle. He's a very unique design."
"And no one knows anything about who built him?"
"No, other than the fact he was illegally built for combat. It's likely that whoever built him was his first victim, but by the time the area was secured and bodies were recovered, the trail had already gone cold. It's in his file," X reminded Lifesaver. "Everyone asks those questions, since he is immune, after all."
"Are you really sure that you don't know anything else?" Because X had to, unless he really was just that, that…
"I had a few thoughts, but they're unlikely to be right. Sigma appears to regard Zero's immunity as a personal frustration. Part of the point of Repliforce was likely to… Well."
"Care to share those theories?" Holding back information.
"No." X said it without rancor, but normally X went out of his way to be helpful. It was often hard to get him to stop talking. The fact he refused to even talk about it said quite a lot. "I do need to keep a few secrets, given the virus. Don't you need to go on your rounds? Zero will keep."
"Shouldn't you stay here?"
"Zero can look after himself. That's often the problem, actually."
Lifesaver agreed, given what Zero's ability to deal with the virus like that implied. He gave up, standing up and heading towards the door with a nod to X.
X watched him go, noticing without real surprise that Lifesaver was almost hurrying out instead of making one last check of Zero's, his patient's, status, and followed, closing the door behind them.
For awhile, the room stayed peaceful, the only sounds the quiet, steady beeps of the status updates still being sent to Lifesaver's station. Then, a long, steady, but still quiet beep – the warning of something not right.
X was the only one in that wing who would have been able to make the comparison to a human patient flatlining.
The beginning of that sound did announce that someone had died, but it was when the sound ended, as X's charged shot took out the maverick's thought processor in order to vaporize the virus with it, that their body stopped moving.