Yes, I know the 'what if Zero was female' premise has been done. Of course, keep in mind that Zero is an android, not a human, so he's not male in the games and she won't technically be female in this fic. It's just a question of appearances, and that is how this will treat it.
Being referred to by a different pronoun isn't going to change who a person is. It will, however, change how they're perceived and the kind of peer pressure they get hit with.
In other words, what effect will Zero being referred to as female have on the wars? Zip, zero, nada, nothing. It's not something that will change whether or not she wins or loses any battles. A pronoun is not going to alter her power level.
It will, however, change the 'human' side of the wars. The barracks gossip. Public opinion of why Sigma is trying so hard to get Zero to join him. For instance, in the Day of Sigma OVA, it's pretty clear that Zero admires Sigma and believes in him, enough to try to justify early questionable behavior by spending tons of time in shooting simulations to prove him right. If Zero were female, people would assume that was a crush, the Rescue Romance trope in action. Or gossips would, anyway. And say female!Zero is hanging out with Iris and Colonel a lot and sparring with Colonel. Which one would people assume she'd fallen for?
Then there's the fact that gender roles do affect how humans think, culturally and otherwise. Dr. Wily would have had to have at least a slightly different concept of Zero in order to build it as a female model. (The virus works well with the Hive Queen trope.)
The ripple effects of all this interested me, when I was scheming it all out in my head, and what really interested me was how many of those ripples cancelled each other out. I was planning to write a serious fic, and wrote a series of scenes, but they ended up somewhat random and the Zero clone from X2 wandered in... So this is not a serious examination of the concept, but it's not a crack fic, either. Or a happy fic. Or X/Zero. It's a weird little thing. You have been warned.
There was a large cracked area here: the materials composing the armor had failed, clearly, most likely due to some internal flaw in the alloy. They needed to develop a better method of scanning for those: this reploid had been built by a factory that was very solidly committed to reploid safety, which was why they donated to the Hunters. X knew their material check protocols, they would have caught anything obvious.
Of course, Irregular Hunter armor had to have some scan resistance, it was a side effect of energy and energy weapon resistance in general. It was possible that they wouldn't be able to do anything about this problem with current technology.
Well, at least they knew that it existed, that hidden subtle flaws could exist in this alloy. It could be added to the huge to-do list of things that needed something done about them.
Of flaws X didn't have that killed reploids.
He needed to figure out exactly how much force had been applied to crack the armor, that would give them some idea of what was getting through quality checks undetected and how dangerous it was…
His train of thought was interrupted by someone shaking his shoulder, albeit gently. "What?"
"Sorry, Dr. Light. I tried saying your name, but you didn't respond," the orderly said.
"That was my fault, I had my auditory systems offline so I could concentrate." And to conserve power.
It was going to be a long night.
"You asked us to tell you if either of them regained consciousness."
"Yes, that's right." He started to reset his optics from magnification and spectroscopic analysis back to normal vision so that he could focus on the orderly's expression. "Which one?"
"I'll be right there." He started to put his tools down on the tray and pull the sheet over the body of the hunter he'd been autopsying.
"Please hurry, Dr. It escaped from its restraints…"
X took off running, pulling the orderly along long enough for him to start running himself. "Did anyone attack it?"
"No, Dr. Cain left standing orders not to provoke either of them, and so far it hasn't even tried to escape from the sealed room." The room with very, very thick armored walls that they used to imprison irregulars whose mental problems they hadn't been able to fix yet, the kind that might flip out and start shooting, or try to run through a wall during panic attack, or any of a large number of things. "It just woke up, got out of the restraints, we aren't sure how, went over to check on the other one and then curled up next to her."
"That's promising. At least it wasn't insane enough to attack her." If only they'd had a second secure room… They'd never needed more than one before, though, and this was anything but a normal case. "That might help narrow down which of them malfunctioned. Unless the problem was in the merge software or hardware. Or the friend/foe recognition system, in which case it might still attack any reploid that isn't its owner. Did it react to the people beyond the viewing window?"
"No, it looked at us, but it didn't seem interested." Thank goodness.
He sighed with relief. "Very promising."
"Why would you say that, Dr. Light?"
"We've had rogue mechanaloids, but since they can't be reprogrammed," no reploid-derived technology could be, not on the quasi-personality level (upgrades and new functions aside), "or repaired and reasoned with so they can change their own programming, then if they have a mental bug there's no option but destroying them. She's going to be upset enough when she wakes up and remembers what happened without finding out that we had to put down her support unit."
"Well, what else would you call a non-sentient unit that merges with a sentient one?" Thank goodness, they were finally here.
"Wouldn't it be better if we could tell her that it wasn't her fault?"
X sighed as he sat down and entered his password into the main console. "It doesn't matter where the glitch was. It wasn't her fault, it was the glitch's, but it was still her body that was out there. If she blames herself for the deaths, trying to pin the blame on her support unit won't stop her." And she was going to need emotional support. Wait. "Sigma?" He blinked at the figure in the corner of the dimly lit observation room. "Are you still up?"
"Dr. Cain patched me up." Sigma waved aside his concern.
"You need to get some sleep."
"I recharged while I was in surgery."
"That's not the same thing," X repeated for the umpteenth time. Sigma never would learn not to push himself when he was worried about other people, but that was just how he was.
"At the end, she hesitated to finish me off. I want to be here so that she can see I'm alright, or if there's anything else I can do." Sigma shrugged, looking to the side.
"…Good thinking," X had to admit. There had been enough death: the rooms full of bodies waiting for autopsy were proof of that. Being shown that at least she'd managed to spare someone might make the difference between life and death.
The ability reploids had to control their personalities meant that guilt-induced suicide was a very valid fear in any case where a newbuilt injured someone while they weren't in their right minds, let alone this case. Self-loathing itself could be fatal, since they could wipe the personality they hated and just die.
"In that case, you can stay, but at least go into sleep mode? I'll wake you if she starts to wake up."
"I'll be fine."
X sighed. "Please, Sigma?" The general had just failed to save two units of hunters and hundreds of innocents. Was he trying to avoid sleep to avoid nightmares? Nevertheless, he had to sleep to begin to deal with all of this.
"…Alright, if it will keep you from throwing me out. And I don't want anyone to go in there unless I'm awake." That was an order. As head of the Irregular Hunters, he might not be able to overrule doctor's orders, but safety concerns were his department.
"Well, you might as well stay awake for a few more minutes, then. I want to see if the mechanaloid is aggressive when there are people present in the room with it, instead of behind a buster-proof window, and see if I can get it to move. We're lucky it didn't pull out any of the sensor wires." That they were using to get readings from the irregular's systems, or trying to, at least. "If it's docile, then I want to see if I can get it into surgery and examine it. Its anti-scan defenses might be weaker than hers are, and we need to crack them so we can get some information on her systems."
"They might actually be stronger. It's the armor unit, after all."
"Meaning it may run additional self-defense systems, meant to link into hers, since my armor contains many of mine." X grimaced. "I know, but it's worth a try. I'd like to be able to fix this before she wakes up." Her system was currently in some form of hibernation, but her anti-hacking defenses were too powerful for her to be sedated, and the last thing they wanted to do was scramble her self-repair protocols, in hopes they fixed whatever glitch this was on their own. "If your description of the fight was correct, then the glitch might have been in the merge system, since it was when you smashed that crystal that they de-merged and were knocked out. I didn't think that it was possible for reploids to use support units, with our mental defenses."
"So if she never merges again, she'll be fine?"
"The one thing we do know for certain is that there's extensive mental damage." Since scans didn't work, they'd had to manually insert a camera probe into her central processor. "Dr. Cain installed an additional regulation chip: that should take some of the load off of her systems, once they configure it to her settings," how soon would she be able to do that? If she'd been designed to merge with and control another system? "The central processor chaos might clear up on its own, it might have been the problem in the first place…" X shrugged.
"And then there's the shock of what happened. Will she remember it?"
"Her memory center is completely scrambled – Didn't Dr. Cain go over this with you?"
"I wanted a second opinion."
Oh? It was like Sigma to be concerned for the poor irregulars, even one that had killed his people, but was that more concern than usual?
"Don't tell me you're thinking what Cain was. She's a poor, traumatized newbuilt, and she's not out of the woods yet. Of course I'm concerned."
"If you say so." She was rather pretty… wouldn't it be nice if something happy came out of all this?
Sigma growled under his breath. "Not you too."
"I didn't say anything."
"I know what you're thinking. You're the one who read those fairy tales, Mother." Despite the reminiscence and joke, Sigma sounded genuinely… not quite angry or disgusted with X, but somewhere around there.
Right, after so many deaths, Sigma would not be in the mood for comments about noble knights and damsels in distress. "Let's just focus on getting her better," X said, making a mental note to tell Dr. Cain to knock it off.
"That should be obvious, Sleeping Beauty." The fact that X even had to say what should be the obvious priority? Sigma didn't stomp off, but it was clear that he was angry now. Well, he needed someone to be angry at, irrational as it was, after all those people had died. Better X than Sigma himself or the poor irregular.
Dr. Cain might have encouraged that by needling him a bit, since Sigma obviously needed to let it out, but X wasn't like that, so he just kept working and gave Sigma some time to cool down. Obviously it had been foolish for Dr. Cain to tease him when he was so upset, and Dr. Cain must have for him to react so quickly and strongly to X's thoughts. Unless Dr. Cain had just struck a nerve?
The female irregular was quite well-designed, aesthetically. The proponents of a new, reploid standard of beauty wouldn't have approved, of course. Due to the larger sizes of modern parts, and the additional parts reploids needed to try to mimic some of X's functions, trying to appear realistically human wasn't always practical. Forget adding in better armor and weapon systems. They looked too big and bulky: Sigma after his upgrades was a prime example of the problems with that design philosophy, which was why most of the commanders were opting for animal-based forms. It wasn't like they needed to look like humans in order to be regarded as equals by them.
She was larger than X, but not built to Sigma's scale. The female form might have been chosen for practical reasons as well as aesthetic ones, actually, given the proportions of certain areas. Of course she was only anatomically accurate in broad strokes: they would have had to worry that she'd been sexually abused and attacked her builder because of it if she'd had actual pseudo-organs. No, she could pass for a human female while she was wearing clothing, if X was any judge, but the lack of hair and flaws, not to mention a belly button or… other things related to human reproduction and childcare made it fairly obvious that she wasn't human. Even looking closely at her face revealed there were no pores or other such things. She was almost like one of those art deco statuettes, really. Except for the fact that she was an illegal deadly weapon, and the fact she'd clearly been built to be able to go stealth just made it worse.
Mingle with the crowd in a populated area, teleport on her armor when it was time to attack… theoretically, X could do that, but it wasn't like he'd been designed for warfare. Dr. Light had just been, well, a little paranoid, between Dr. Wily and the state of the robot rights movement in 20XX. X hadn't been designed for combat, but he had an amount of self-defense capability that was a little scary when he thought about it.
Though if it weren't for the fact that he was X Light, brother of Megaman, and everyone knew why Dr. Light would have built him that way, other people might have had a problem with it. As it was, reploids with built-in firearms had to have them registered, just like humans with firearms did. Someone custom-building this powerful (and expensive, couldn't forget that) a reploid without telling anyone? Had she been intended for assassination, bank robberies, or both? Have the stealth gear in the humanoid form, build in such powerful anti-scan defenses so that she could fool metal detectors, and all she would have had to do was get out of sight, demerge from her armor unit, and summon it later. Maybe have it lead them on a wild goose chase until she was clear.
Frankly, they'd almost been lucky she'd been utterly insane during the rampage, and Sigma must know this if X did. She could have done a lot more damage if she'd been intelligent enough to use her true capabilities, at least until they figured out how she kept suddenly going off their radar until she turned up in a new area that hadn't been evacuated yet.
"I'm going in," X told the orderly, after he had set everything up, both in the building's systems and his own systems.
"Good luck, Dr. Light."
Sigma looked like he would prefer to be the one to go in, but the sad truth was that even after he'd been upgraded into that bulky (X was too nice to call it ogre-like) body, he still didn't have armor as good as X's. Not to mention that it would have been a little hard for him to dodge, in that small a room, or use a beam saber effectively. X's copy buster allowed him to use a stun setting.
The vaguely catlike support unit turned its head to the door when he slid it open, but didn't react aggressively. He opened it only as far as he needed to and closed it again quickly, but it didn't show any signs of wanting to leave the side of its… owner? Partner? Much less escape. X stepped closer slowly, not making any sudden movements, and held a hand out to it, just a few inches in front of its muzzle, palm down and fingers curled in a bit below the level of its muzzle. That was how you introduced yourself to dogs and cats, since it was a bad idea to look like you were going to try to grab a skittish animal.
The mechanaloid leaned forward a bit to sniff his hand – wow, the builder really had put a great deal of work into this project – then licked, and looked up at him thoughtfully.
Before, X had thought it might be something of a dumb animal/primitive AI, from the way it didn't react to things it might not have been programmed to care about or know how to handle, but when their eyes met it was clear that there was some kind of intelligence there, even if not a human-level one. One that was capable of making friend/foe judgments, at the very minimum.
That sharpness disappeared after a few seconds, and then it lowered its head to lick again at his hand, purring. "Good boy," X said, because of how low the rumbling sound was. "What's your name?" There were what could be stylized Zs on the shoulderpads of the armor that had become the shoulders of the animal mechanaloid. "You're definitely not a zebra…"
The snort of disdain was another hint this might actually be fairly intelligent. "Can you understand what I'm saying?"
The big cat merely yawned and lay back down, curling up again.
"Your…" Master might be insulting, "Your friend is sick. We're trying to fix her. Is there anything that you know that might help her get better?"
Apparently not. Or it wasn't going to tell him.
Well, it was worth a try. They'd examined the support unit as well: it had a fairly large total of processor space, spread throughout its body/her armor in smallish nodes, so its intelligence level was anyone's guess. The armor and merge systems might have used up almost all that processing capacity on their own.
He pet it carefully, and when it allowed that liberty tried to get a look at a paw. They still needed to figure out how it had gotten loose from the restraints.
Sadly, the cat was as inscrutable as the legendary sphinx.