MEGA MAN X: THE ZENITH INTERLUDES
By Eric "Erico" Lawson
"It is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself." –Spock
New Tokyo, Japan
September 6th, 2131 C.E.
As Wycost had said, he'd had some business to attend to in New Tokyo. Rather urgent business, given the Zenith's current and ongoing mission.
As a former member of New York's MSWAT, and one of their most experienced members until his subsequent switcharound that led him into the Maverick Hunters, Wycost's skill set was geared towards investigation and urban warfare. He'd scouted out New Tokyo not long after landing there, and kept his finger on the pulse of the underworld. He doubted even Mega Man X and Zero knew as much about it as he did…then again, they always had bigger fish to fry than lowlife miscreants and chop shop runners.
Under the watchful gaze of the Bronx Bomber, a crew of reploid goons carried crates of reploid repair kits, EAS/Dash parts, and a host of other materials…both legal and highly circumspect. The military grade weapons systems, in particular, would have meant an extensive jail sentence for humans, and mindwiping or outright destruction for the reploids involved. Thankfully, the truck that his supplier was loading up belonged to a shipping magnate which doubled in smuggling…far off the radar, of course. Wycost had called in his last marker with the owner, Dullain Shaulfren, to make sure nothing would go awry with the shipment, and that it would be stored in the rent-a-space Wycost kept under a false name with no contact information back in New York.
The black market merchant scratched at the back of his neck as he walked up to Wycost. "Well, there you are. Everything on the manifest. I assume you've got the money?"
"Don't I always?" Wycost snorted. He was traveling in the less threatening garb of blue jeans and his favorite black leather jacket, and his omnipresent sunglasses were nestled up in his spiky black hair. "You got the wire transfer ready, Cargo?"
'Cargo', as the reploid supplier was known in the underground business, slipped Wycost a datapad. "I just need you to put in your account number and hit the send button, and we're all good."
"Yeah." Wycost punched in a routing number that led to a bank account out of the Cayman Islands…not even a century of turmoil and governmental change had altered the worth of that small region's anonymity. After a few moments, the Electrosphere sent a reply signal to the datapad confirming the money transfer. He handed it back to Cargo. "Done. You make sure your boys don't drop anything, Cargo. Just because you have the money doesn't mean you don't get to screw me over."
"What, and risk my cushy desk job?" The reploid pretended to take offense. "You wound me, Ballistas. Haven't seen you around in a while, though. What you been up to lately?"
"Same shit, different day." Wycost lied. Cargo knew him under an assumed personality he'd created from scratch. Ballistas, supposedly manufactured in 2128 in Beijing, was a "runner" in the underground for unnamed clients. He had similar false identities in New York…several there, as a matter of fact. Ballistas was more of a rush job, but it was unknown to government agencies. It was enough to get through the background check Cargo had run a year back on their first deal.
"Always playing it close to the vest, that's Ballistas for you." Cargo chuckled. "Well, whoever you're representing these days must be looking to start a war. An order this size, I had to be extra careful rounding up the gear. Anything happens, you don't know me from Adam, hear me?"
"Cargo, we've had a good thing going for us. You lie, I lie, and we leave the truth out of it. Don't go screwing things up now with paranoia." Wycost smiled and patted the reploid roughly on the cheek. "It doesn't suit you."
"Yeah, yeah." The merchant reploid brushed his hand away and glanced back to the truck. His men loaded up the last box, then closed the rear door and latched it shut. They thumped the back of the ride for the driver's sake, and the transport roared to life, rolling out of the dark corner between the warehouse and slums.
"Well, that's it, then. Your gear's off, and it's in your client's hands now." Cargo said. He pulled a slip transparency from the datapad's printer port and handed it to Wycost. "Your receipt, Ballistas."
"Thanks." Wycost tucked it in the inner pocket of his leather coat and slipped his sunglasses back down. "Time for me to get out of here. Until next time, Cargo."
"Yeah, call first!" The dealer complained. Wycost smirked at him one more time, then disappeared from New Tokyo's dim streets for points unknown.
The beam of warplight made only a small diversion, globally. His next destination wasn't that far off.
Zenith Command (Sub-Sub Basement)
"All right, you've got me down here." Bristol sighed. She flopped into the empty chair beside Willow, giving the red-headed reploid who was her oldest and dearest friend in the world a tired look. "What did you want to show me?"
"This." Willow brought up a command prompt, then routed through the private database that the Zenith had set up. "I got Horn to help me out a bit. It's a search program."
"A search program?" Bristol blinked. She leaned forward and stared more closely at the command code. "What does it look for?"
"Communications related to MI9 and their activities. They've been avoiding the frequencies and channels that they used when we were still with them, lass, so we've had to be a little more thorough. Thanks to Horn, this wee stuffin' is also self-replicating."
"…You created a Trojan."
"Aye, in a manner o' speaking." Willow nodded laconically. "The way I figure it, the boys in charge of MI9 have their own sniffers. We go about this the wrong way, they'll backtrace the searches to us. This way, it's just another piece o' malicious programming in the Electrosphere."
"You do realize that this won't last very long, right?" Bristol pointed out. "The Electrosphere's policed quite heavily by various cooperating agencies."
"And that is why, my dears, you don't just have a random program." The two women of the Zenith turned to the visitor who trudged into the room, leaning on a walking stick he didn't need for anything save appearance. The elderly-seeming J.K. Horn, the retired reploid philanthropist and engineer, was still dressed for a Caribbean summer day in his shorts and Hawaiian shirt. He lifted his oversized sunglasses up and winked at them. "You hide it in the latest browser updates."
Bristol flinched. "You're kidding."
"I kid you not, my dear." Horn reassured her. "As far as the Electrosphere watchdogs are concerned, there's nothing out of the ordinary. To the users of Jovian, Bordersoft Lake, and Walkabout are concerned, the addition doesn't exist. It's designed to activate only during downtime, when their users leave their machines on idle, and the searches are erased from the hard drive after a compiled packet is sent off to an untraceable account operated by…yours truly." He took a deep bow. "Yes, yes. Hold the applause."
"Reploids seem to have rather inflated opinions of themselves." A fourth voice observed. Pharaoh Man marched into the makeshift command center of the Scion's Zenith, looking as regal as ever in his headdress. "Or perhaps it's merely the ones I have taken the opportunity to know."
"In our defense, Pharaoh Man, Horn doesn't exactly count." Bristol mentioned.
"Aye, he's daffy." Willow added with a wink.
"I think Hazil would beg to differ on that account. He just gave me my physical yesterday." Horn scoffed. "Not a loose screw rattling around in this head, I tell you."
Pharaoh Man gave his head a shake and dismissed the ridiculous moment. "Where is everyone else?" He asked. "I was hoping to go over the latest Citadel updates with the entire team."
"Last I saw of m'dear darling husband, he was upstairs helping Miss Cossack hang some new curtains in the living quarters." Bristol offered.
"And Allegro's…well, still in the training room. The lad works himself to death trying to improve his technique." Willow said.
"And Wycost?" The enhanced robot master asked.
Bristol frowned as if thinking. "Oh, right. New Tokyo. He was going to pick up a few more things. That's the planner in him, really. Always trying to be prepared."
"Aah, yes. I remember that now. He did make that note on his itinerary." Phare blinked once. "Of course, he should have been back by now."
"New Tokyo was his home for a good while." Willow suggested. "Maybe he decided to stick around, take in the sights."
"Most likely, yes." Bristol said quickly. A hair too quick, Pharaoh Man thought in the back of his head.
Not willing to voice his suspicions, the robot master nodded and turned about. "When he returns, please congregate for the briefing."
"We'll let him know." Bristol promised, waving at the departing Cossack robot.
Quietly, Pharaoh Man opened up a private connection to the Citadel's mainframe and queried a new search in the Electrosphere network. Wycost had come and gone enough times that his teleporter signal marker was well known within the old stone walls.
He ran a search for that signal in the region of Japan through an interlink that X had given him to the MHHQ scanners, knowing that it would trace the last inbound or outbound warp that Wycost had taken.
The return made him stop dead in his tracks down the corridor and thin his optics to squints.
The Sacred Plains
On October 15th, 2087, Mount Fuji had reawakened with terrible power and set the earth on fire. In the plumes of fiery ash and blistering magma, Tokyo city had been lost to the world, never to be reclaimed. Unlike other historical tragedies like Pompeii, there had been enough warning for the population to evacuate before Tokyo was engulfed and entombed.
Afterwards, the Japanese people didn't have enough heart left in them to reclaim their city, and instead focused on creating a new one. Three years later, the War of 2090 had wiped out large swaths of the historical record…which included old Toyko's location.
"Great, now I'm talking like Willow." Wycost criticized himself. He stomped about some more over the wild and untouched plains of Japan. Ground made fertile from the volcanic soil made grass into an ocean of greens and golds. "Her and her damn history lessons."
Only one detail in all of her spiels was important to him. After Doctor James Cain had dug up Mega Man X from the long-gone Dr. Light's laboratory, the Japanese government had quickly placed a moratorium on any further excavations. The result of that political will was the Sacred Plains, little more than a massive nature preserve and unmarked memorial for a city lost to time. The rest of the world had been more than happy to let it be, as they became too concerned with the threat of Mavericks soon after to worry about old, buried ruins.
Wycost would have put it out of mind himself, had Bristol not asked him to look into the mysterious E-Mail. And in a sense, it was his own fault for recognizing the broadcast address.
No. Doan's, for teaching it to him. Yeah.
Wycost stomped around a little more over the grasslands before he gave up just staring at things. "You wanna find answers, you're gonna have to look harder." He told himself.
A quiet command to his warp generator sent him temporarily into the state of phased matter known as "Faintwarp." A quarter second's manipulation was all it took to send his civilian clothing into storage in his pattern buffer and draw out his usual equipment; full green and white body armor, a TitaniTefloAlloy bracer on his left arm, and his personalized Mark 18 Buster on the right. His sunglasses took on their true purpose, sliding down from underneath the fore of his helmet to mask his eyes from any attack or incredible glare.
All of it unnecessary, save for the Interdiction gear attached to the side of his helmet. Wycost brought it to life with a few taps, then scrolled through the options on his black visor's HUD.
"All right, let's see who's broadcasting." A quick sweep of the electromagnetic spectrum turned up…
Nothing. Wycost pursed his lips. "Huh. That can't be right." Dead spots in the Electrosphere were rare. Not unheard of, but incredibly rare. There was one in Vietnam that was pretty sizable, but there residual radiation from fallout was at play. Here, in the Sacred Plains?
"Great, so now I'm on a wild goose chase." Wycost stamped his boot angrily into the ground, leaving an imprint of his dash thruster exhaust ports against the grass. "She's got me chasing ghosts here." In more than one respect, really. The death toll from the Fuji eruption had been smaller than one would assume, but people had still died in Tokyo. Wycost had been around long enough that, while he didn't buy into the superstition many humans clung to, he'd experienced enough to trust his instincts and listen to the eerie sensations that plagued him.
There was something about this place he'd found himself in he couldn't put a finger on. All the evidence pointed to nothing.
His hunch said there was something here.
"Well, you ain't in Tokyo, Wycost. You're above it. You wanna find some answers? You're gonna have to dig for 'em." He summoned his Buster to the forefront with a calm thought and pointed it at the ground five meters ahead of him at a shallow angle. One of the crystal datanodes along the widest point of his trusty weapon lit up, and the option selected ran across his visor.
Narwhal Striker active.
Wycost allowed himself a grin and prepared to fire his homing missiles. "And I only know one way to dig."
An insistent beep halted the first pull of the trigger, and a warning in the corner of his visor's HUD made him look up into the sky. "What the?"
A beam of warplight that his Interdiction software had picked up on overhead came crashing down to earth, silver and orange fire. Out of the concussive blast of displaced air rose Pharaoh Man, looking particularly livid.
Wycost raised his visor back up into the groove inside of his helmet and waved at the robot master. "Hey, buddy. Whatcha doing out here?" The question belied the sudden knot in his gut.
Pharaoh Man lifted a hand up and pointed it at Wycost. "What do you think you're doing out here?"
"Aah, I don't know." Wycost lied. "I think I just wanted to get out alone and do some thinking. Meaning of life'n all that."
"You can do that elsewhere." Phare responded softly. "Leave. Now."
"What, I just got here!" Wycost protested.
Pharaoh Man's eyes went to the Bronx Bomber's Buster. "And either you were dressed in combat gear for the Hell of it, or you were planning on blowing a few square kilometers of protected nature preserve into glass. I repeat. Leave."
Wycost stood a little straighter. "Just what are you trying to stop me from finding out?" He posed darkly. "What's the big secret here?"
Pharaoh Man's glare turned to ice. "Leave, or die."
Wycost had to laugh. "Oh, wait. You? You're gonna take me on? I think you've got some screws loose. You just remember who you're talking to. I had me 12 years on the force, and one year in the Hunters. I didn't live that long just being my cheery self, y'know?"
"You're here because Kalinka didn't listen to me." Pharaoh Man said. "She enlisted your help, and I suspect Bristol's as well. I'm going to tell you this only once, so listen. You do not belong here. You. Must. Go."
"And if I stay, the two of us duke it out, huh?" Wycost scratched at his chin. "The two of us. Pals. Comrades. We can't afford to be doing that. If we go down, MI9 wins. You know what happens then."
Pharaoh Man began to glow, and the aura intensified around his extended hand. The robot master shook his head.
"Your little war is less important than you know. Last warning, Wycost."
The former Maverick Hunter and the most advanced robot master ever made by Dr. Mikhail "Sergei" Cossack stared off. Wycost set his warp jump, but refused to activate it. He only did with wide eyes once Pharaoh Man hurled a ball of condensed plasmic energy right for him.
The orb crashed into the ground and left a smoking crater, and Wycost's warp signature screamed up and off into the sky. Pharaoh Man watched his Zenith ally depart, then let out a very long, and very human, sigh.
He felt the presence behind him, which had finally made itself known in Wycost's absence. The robot master turned, a grave look on his face.
"I'll take care of it." Pharaoh Man said. The figure gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, and Phare hardened his resolve. "It's my problem. Not yours."
Not waiting around for an angry response, Pharaoh Man warped away from the Sacred Plains. His warp signature chased after Wycost, bound for Siberia…
And a confrontation that had only just begun.
"Jesus Christ!" Wycost swore, as soon as he reformed out of his warp beam. "He shot at me!"
He'd landed in a side conference room where Kalinka, Bristol, and Bastion had all been talking about something. His sudden appearance broke them out of what had looked like an otherwise pleasant conversation.
"Who shot at you?" Bastion demanded.
"Who do ya think?" Wycost snapped, glaring daggers at Bristol. "Pharaoh Man. That little friggin' bastard shot at me!"
"Phare?" Kalinka was shocked. "Why would he do that?"
"Gee, I don't know." Wycost tore his helmet off and tossed it onto the table, letting it roll to a stop between the old woman and Bristol. "Why don't you two tell me?"
Kalinka seemed to finally catch on, and looked to Bristol. "What did you do?" She asked, suddenly hushed. Bristol didn't get a chance to reply, as Pharaoh Man's warp signature crashed into the room as well, reforming beside the seething Wycost.
The green-armored ex-Hunter grabbed Pharaoh Man by the back of his Nemes headdress and lifted him up into the air. "What the frig is your problem, you little gremlin? Where do you get off shooting at me?"
Pharaoh Man glared back at him, not backing down at all. "You're lucky I made you leave when I did. Do you have any idea how much trouble you got yourself into?"
"From what?" The Bronx Bomber snarled. "Damn it, you'd better make some sense!"
"I don't have to explain anything to you. To any of you." Phare added, looking around the room to the others. "But I will give you this warning. Stay away from the Sacred Plains. Don't go near old Tokyo. I interceded once. Next time, you risk your own lives."
He slapped at Wycost's hand and dropped down on the ground. He pointed to Kalinka. "I told you to leave it alone. But you couldn't. You nearly ruined everything today."
"Ruined what?" Kalinka shook her head. "Phare, you're not making any sense! What is out there that you're so afraid of? What are you keeping from us?"
"You could just ask him." Bastion suggested. "Second Law prerogative."
Pharaoh Man closed his eyes. "Even if my Core Module still functioned correctly, I couldn't tell you, Kalinka. There's too much at risk." He gave his head a shake. "There are promises I made to your father that I'm sworn to silence about. For your own sakes, leave it alone. Never go back there."
He stormed out of the room, and Kalinka ashamedly bowed her head.
"I'm sorry. All of you." She apologized. "This was…it was my problem. I shouldn't have got you involved."
"He's hurt, but I think he was more scared than anything else." Bastion offered. His discerning eye had gleaned that much from the robot master's shaky speech.
"Scared? For us?"
"He was protecting us, or protecting whatever's there." Bristol added. "Maybe both, I don't know."
Wycost warped out of his armor and tucked his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. "Maybe. But he said something to me before we left the Plains. He said, 'your little war is less important than you know.' And he meant it, too."
"We're fighting to destroy MI9, to ensure a peaceful future for all reploids." Bastion exclaimed. "What's more important than that?"
Wycost scratched at the stubble on his chin again. "What's worse than a Maverick. We got MI9 as an answer." Worriedly, he looked at Kalinka. "My gut's telling me I don't wanna know what's worse than MI9."