There's actually a very powerful disincentive to train Maverick Hunters well: that means tougher mavericks. As Zero's a trainer in canon, I tend to see him not being very happy with the idea of viewing his unit as disposable, and working with a smaller unit, that he can monitor for infection more closely, as the trade-off for being able to train them. Of course, training takes time and the casualty rate in the wars is portrayed as insane, so there's likely a very high trainee-to-active-duty ratio there, even if they take people from other units who got skills and demonstrated them by surviving awhile. A special ops/special forces unit.

Given X's personality and his concern for individual life, Unit 17 would definitely end up specializing in evacuations under fire and/or defending refugee camps before very long. Hence 'urban warfare defense and extraction' specialists.

This is AU of Command Mission in the sense that I make it more realistic and hence people a little smarter. X and Zero are veterans. They have seen these plot points before. X may miss obvious signs of treachery due to being X, but Zero? The maverick hunters are used to people turning traitor, they're a military organization, meaning they must have outright formalized policies for dealing with suspicion, and Lumine and Repliforce turned traitor without the excuse of the virus. If Signas was taken out, his replacement would be watched. Spider they might not catch, despite the name, but Redips?

Watching a friend play Command Mission was my first experience with MMX, and while that game's dub… has much to answer for (does anyone know a decent translation of the game? Playing it is making me wince the way Grandia III did.), the casual way Axl had gone AWOL in an environment like that made a big impression on me. Annoying in X7, yes, but you've got to admit he has big metaphorical brass ones from the moment he's introduced.

I've kind of been wanting to do a semi-novelization of Command Mission, AU in that 'they're all reasonably intelligent and there are not plotholes' way for awhile, but the bunny merged with my thoughts on X's unit vs. Zero's (although the 17th doesn't get to do much here). I like my in-head version of the 17th. You wouldn't associate X with advising people to wreck cities, but the fact remains that if a building has been blown up, a maverick can't hide in it to attack and infect refugees. Buildings can be rebuilt. People are harder.

Names for random Maverick Hunters stolen from Final Fantasy VII's Turks.

Disclaimer: I don't own Megaman X, FFVII, or anything associated with them, Capcom, Squaresoft, and other rightful rights-holders do.

If the word 'bullshit' meant anything more to Axl than one of the random words in his dictionary with absolutely no relevance to the world in which he lived, then his reaction to Colonel Redips' orders would have been, "Bullshit!"

If this was half a decade ago, before he'd had rudimentary people survival skills banged and blasted into his head by X and Zero, he would have started by saying that the guy couldn't be serious and ended by accusing him of being a maverick, because he was seriously starting to act like one.

However, Axl was fairly certain that Redips wasn't infected with the virus, and while accusing people of being mavericks when they acted like mavericks resulted in fewer dead bodies in the long run, Zero had issues with it after what had happened to his girlfriend back before Axl was built.

It would have made things simpler if Redips was just a maverick. The Maverick Hunters knew how to deal with mavericks. That was why they were called that.

"So," Redips said, winding up, "Unit Zero will remain here on high alert, and under no circumstances make any attempt to retrieve the hunters dispatched to Giga City. Is that understood?"

Vice-Commander Axl Red of Unit Zero saluted smartly. "Yes, sir!"

Unit Zero might have a fanatical focus on training, but it still had one of the shortest active duty life expectancies. Hunters in that unit went into areas where the virus was still active. Zero and Axl might be able to clear some of it out for them, but while the two people who had accompanied Axl were the unit's most senior members, aside from him and Zero, they were both younger than Axl was.

Older than Redips, though.

Due to that training, Unit Zero still had a great deal of camaderie, discipline, and, unique among the hunters aside from one other unit, institutional memory. One of the things that they knew that Redips didn't was that there were two reasons that Zero rarely saluted people.

One was that he was the senior commander among the Maverick Hunters. While he was acting in the course of his duty, no one but Redips ranked him, by international law. Therefore, the most people normally got from him was a nod of acknowledgement, for doing their duty as best they could and being worthy of his respect.

When Zero did salute someone, he was therefore giving them a signal of respect which they did not deserve. Unit Zero had a shorthand of nonverbal, coded signals. Most of the battlefield ones were changed around very often, as members went maverick, but a salute from the commander (or acting commander, in Axl's case), had a meaning that had remained constant over many years:

Treat this person as a potential maverick.

When your mission was securing the survival of the world's free population, someone who wasn't supporting you basically meant enemy. Sometimes local reploid officials were encountered. Since mavericks tried to infect those in positions of power, often those local officials were maverick and tried to make things more difficult for the hunters without revealing themselves. Sometimes local human officials were also obstructionist, due to prejudice or just being idiots. Sometimes, especially after Lumine's rhetoric, local reploid officials were also obstructionist idiots (or otherwise…) whose decisions got people killed (no one had been allowed to forget Repliforce in Zero's unit).

When Zero saluted someone, that basically was a signal that he wanted them watched, and that if anyone ever found themselves forced to shoot them or knock them unconscious to get them out of the glitchin' way, he'd make sure they were cleared of all charges, or even got a commendation for it.

"Dismissed," Redips told Axl, and the reploid to Axl's right couldn't keep from frowning slightly at that. Fortunately, the High Commander turned back to the window pompously and didn't notice.

When they were out the door the Master Sergeant asked, "Sir?"

"Would you mind seeing what you can reschedule?" There were cameras about. "Since Zero's going to be gone for awhile."

"Of course, sir," the Unit's Chief Spotter replied. "Will you be covering for him?"

"Why don't you see what Reno can cover? Zero said that he needed more command experience."

When they got back to their sector of the base, Axl dropped the act. "Elena, mind packing up all my stuff? I'm heading out to Giga City."

"What? Sir…" Maverick Hunters didn't go AWOL. They just didn't. Since a hunter would have to be crazy to do anything that would put them under suspicion of being a maverick, it was safe to assume that any hunter who went AWOL had gone to join the maverick forces.

So any hunter who went AWOL was normally declared maverick immediately.

Axl shrugged. "I'm immune. I can do whatever I want."

"Not according to Redips," Tseng muttered.

"Ok, show of hands. Am I the only guy who sees something wrong with that?"


He wasn't.

Axl flopped down on a chair. "X and Zero are, like, heroes. They might be dead, and sure, there's still me, but why isn't he treating this like the worst disaster since Eurasia fell?" And X and Zero had both been thought dead for a few, terrifying hours. Alia, before she'd gotten infected and had to be taken down, had told him what the panic had done to the people on the base and in throughout the world. It had not been pretty.

"Sure, if he said that I had to stay on base because I might be the only immune person left and if I die we're all screwed, I might buy it – I might buy it, even if I wouldn't listen to it – but he's acting like this is some routine mission. He can say how it's unfair that people make such a big deal out of us, and how it's great that there are people who are resistant to the virus like him around now, and the value of reploid life all he likes, but that's just way too stupid for a High Commander. He should know better. If they're dead, a lot of bad stuff is going to happen really fast. And you know what Zero thought of this program to get other people trained up to S class before being deployed."

Not only was it a huge waste of money and resources, but it was basically as good as saying 'free new maverick leader here!' Unit Zero watched itself for infection closely and would occasionally ask people to demonstrate that they weren't by taking suicide missions because when they did have a near S-class go maverick, like Valentine, they were a titanium-clad bitch to kill. (If you weren't okay with sacrificing your life the sake of the world, then you didn't join Unit Zero, which had taken its institutional philosophy on kamikazeing from Zero. Enough said.) A non-immune person with that sort of skill level was going to be the highest priority target for infection on the planet.

Besides, well, Redips. Which was why he was in his office being scanned practically 24/7.

"All of the ones so far that got deployed have done two or three missions before going off the radar, and this is Shadow's third mission. Seriously, who gave him a name like that? That's just begging for it," Reno agreed, rolling his eyes. "A thousand zenny says he'll try to shoot them in the back as soon as they land."

"The most recent pair, too?" Tseng's eyes narrowed. Since Unit Zero had the training specialists, he'd been forced by Redips to waste far too much of his time on those two. "Shame. Rude seemed to have some potential." A strong enough personality to take Reno in stride: Tseng had thought he'd be fairly resistant, and possibly someone to grab for Unit Zero if he was still alive when Redips got off his high horse. "They haven't been announced as mavericks."

"I'll spread the word." Ciss started sending the message to the unit's other spotters.

"Yeah. High-powered mavericks or rogues who don't even have the virus as an excuse out there, and Redips isn't spreading the word the way he should be. Not when it's his pet project." Axl could copy blowing a bubble, and did so. "He's been treating Zero and X like ordinary hunters he can just send out whenever, and with a third person that isn't me." Any mission that required X and Zero at the same time was by definition a high-risk one that a non-immune person should not be allowed anywhere near, for their own protection as well as the world's. "List Shadow as a potential maverick too."

"Just a potential?" Tseng tilted his head, since his helmet had shades instead of eyebrows to raise.

"Yeah. About that. You know how everyone got really mad about how Redips was undermining Zero and X's authority when he came in and Zero told us to shut it? Since Redips kind of had to do that to establish his own authority, so people would take him seriously? Signas had really big boots to replace, and Zero and X backing down when he gave orders made other people willing to take orders from him." Chain of command stuff. "I get that he had to do it when he came in, but Zero's been getting kind of annoyed that he hasn't stopped. You know how Zero's been acting like it's all a big joke lately? That's how he gets when he's angry and he can't just kill the guy. Redips is all… it's all about him being right. He says that the people with resistant systems and ordinary hunters should get some credit, but who's a guy with a resistant system? He is. Even X thinks he's being a little… And that's X." Axl waved off the fact that X hadn't made an issue of it. "Redips is giving me Lumine vibes." Someone who had helped the virus willingly.

Everyone stilled. "Should I start making assault plans, Vice-Commander?" Tseng asked, all business.

"No. If he really is like Lumine, he won't have the virus. With the people where it's ideology," like the nutcase that had killed Signas, "we have to prove stuff, and I don't know if we can prove anything. Yet. Zero wanted me to keep an eye on him, and now I'm telling you guys." They would all have been scanned for the virus that morning, but Zero had spent years fighting before that had been perfected. He still didn't like to tell non-immune people anything because back in the day, that had been as good as hanging Sigma the information on a silver platter. "Anyway, I've been wanting to go to Giga City for ages since there's stuff that might have something to do with who built me an' Lumine there, and Redips said I couldn't go." Axl stuck out his tongue in the direction of the command tower. "Anybody want me to pick them up anything?"

"Welcome back, Commander." Elena and Ciss bowed in tandem as Zero came through the door after finishing debriefing.

Zero scanned the room, noting Tseng's absence and the board with the Unit's rookie, in-training, active duty and casualty stats. Redips' own attempt to go AWOL and escape headquarters unnoticed had met with some resistance from Unit Zero, and if it weren't for the intervention of Unit 17, the other units would have been convinced they'd gone maverick and managed to wipe them out before the situation was clarified.

There had still been heavy casualties in the confusion, but then there always were. "It's good to be back. I went all the way to Giga City and all I got were two armor units. Axl got himself a harem."

"Hey!" One of the female models who had just followed him in objected.

Zero grinned. "Sorry, my mistake. I mean the great thief Marino got herself a harem."

"That's much better."

Zero introduced the other one: "This is Cinnamon, our new field medic."

The other female model reploid, a blonde with wings (and kitty gloves for some reason) bowed a very polite hello.

"Where's Vice-Commander Axl?" Elena wondered.

"X is lecturing him about going AWOL. Not that it'll do anything. If it produces results like this, the kid should go AWOL more often." Zero swung himself into the command chair. "Alright. Now which of the rookies think they're ready to move past simulations?"

Yes, I ship Axl/Marino/Cinnamon, why do you ask?

The stuff about Shadow, 'Rude,' and so on touches on my explanation for Spider. Given Lumine's ability to replace the personality of copies of himself, if Redips were built by whatever secret project built Axl and Lumine to be immune, I could see him, as he became a Bad Guy, having duplicates of himself (remember, they wouldn't have to look like him) being built and given the best gear and training. Combines personal immortality with giving him operatives that would be completely loyal to him because, after awhile, they would be him. That would explain why Shadow 'went maverick' so conveniently for his plans.

Spider, what with his name, might even be the original 'duplicate,' turned loose initially instead of going through hunter training.

Because the head of the hunters being able to sneak off to Giga City to pose as Spider makes basically no sense whatsoever. If he'd gone AWOL, there should have been a big fuss about it and he should have been declared maverick.