Chapter 15: "Maverick Hunter X"
Reconstruction filled the air across the city surrounding Maverick Hunter headquarters. Though it was only a couple of weeks after Sigma's defeat, a statue had been lovingly raised at the public entrance to the massive facility in Zero's honor. He stood tall, buster out, hair frozen lashing in the wind.
A public memorial had been held, and seeing so many humans and Reploids together, united in honor of the fallen hero, was a moment long-remembered. The human-led government that had ordered the Maverick Hunters be founded softened its outlook on all Reploids because of it. A very public martyr shifted opinion like few things could.
Things were just starting to quiet down at last. Enough to address some simpler loose ends. Dr. Cain sat in his large office inside headquarters, his eyes tightened up at X, who stood across the large table from him.
"And you don't challenge the findings?" Dr. Cain asked quietly.
X shook his head. "I think it was wholly appropriate, Dr. Cain. I'm also not here for honors or rank. I… My brashness cost him his life. I see so many ways to save him now."
As X bowed his head, Dr. Cain sadly glanced off to the right, where an armored vault waited. Inside were Zero's core components. Do I tell him of my own plans? His heart is broken for Zero's loss… Yet this was a lesson he had to learn. Perhaps… yes, it's too soon anyway, it would only be cruelty to give him false hope if it proves too difficult. To X, he said aloud, "Truthfully, I agree. I trust, as we continue to protect the public from Mavericks that you will…" he hesitated fractionally, stuttering the word a bit, "fall more in line?"
X nodded. "Of course, sir."
A lower officer obeying a superior. That was the fate of their once-close relationship. Dr. Cain was mourning it in the silence behind his eyes, but couldn't speak to it. "Go get ready, then. Everyone's been waiting for this."
X bowed, and quickly walked out of the office. Dr. Cain was left alone, looking down into nothing.
The human never saw X touch his audio receptor after he stepped out of the office, walking down the hall. /Any progress?/
Deepfreeze's encrypted signal replied, /Yes, X! I think he's ready. Overload and Inferno have been working overtime, and we think the recovery should be complete. You saved him, X! The best hunter we ever had might still be able to help!/
X lowered his hand, /Let's hope so. Going silent. And make sure Shimmer shows his manners around Alia and Dex, they're friends./
Deepfreeze chuckled, /Roger that./
[With Alia and Dex…]
"Dex, come on! We'll miss it!" Alia pleaded with a bit of humor as she stood up, quickly shutting down her console as she hopped from one foot to the other.
Dex's optics shrank sidelong with his version of a smirk. "You're awfully excited."
Alia stopped, and gave him a look over her shoulder. "Just what are you implying?"
Both Reploids jerked and held their fronts with instant relief when the air distorted between them and revealed a gangly Reploid with blue-green armor and optics crafted like large goggles that constantly focused and twisted in different directions. "That you like X, of course," the newly appeared Reploid declared with a big grin. It was wider than anything, and his lips actually segmented to allow it.
Alia set her hands on her hips. "Shimmer, how many times do we have to tell you about just popping out of thin air like that?"
He shrugged. "Not my fault your optics are archaic. Hmph!" He started to march around her. "So come on. We don't want to miss your boyfriend's official induction."
Alia's face turned pink as she gawked. Dex controlled his laughter for her sake as she blustered, "I-wha-that's not! SHIMMER!"
Shimmer cackled, and ran before she could dash after him, all three running out of the lab to finally ease into mutual laughter. Alia did shove Shimmer's shoulder as a playful punishment, however.
/Hey, Sting,/ Deepfreeze's voice came over Shimmer's internal channel.
His optics twitching, Shimmer pretended he was just distracted by the wall. /You're going to slip with my old name if you keep using it on this channel, Chill./
/Eh, takes a bit of getting used to. X says to be nice to his friends over in logistics, mind you./
/Oh I only terrify them a few times a day…/
/Oh whatever. Shimmer out./
[In the mess…]
The mess-hall of headquarters had been temporarily converted to a ceremonial chamber. Hundreds of chairs, filled with Hunters of very squad and department, spanned the large space, with a raised stage at the back arrayed with beautiful gold and red curtains and sculptures.
Alia, Dex, and Shimmer quickly filed into a middle-row. Airstrike, Barrel, Inferno, Deepfreeze, Quickman, Overload, and Depthcharge were all scattered through the crowd as well, many smiling quietly.
Though they had only worked directly with X for a short time, each and every one of them was taken by his dedication and the charisma of his idealism. The original Reploid wasn't afraid of battle, but desperately wanted to avoid it. After their pain and torment, nothing could seem like a purer goal.
All optics focused on the stage as Dr. Cain stood up at the podium. He cleared his throat faintly, and addressed the crowd. "Thank you all for coming to this vital moment. A great tragedy has befallen all of us, but so has great heroism. It is in recognition of that heroism that we take this chance to officially welcome one of our bravest and most capable number into the Hunters."
Cheers and applause already sounded through the hall. Dr. Cain didn't bother trying to quiet them. He simply turned to his left, and gestured quietly to someone off to the side.
X finally appeared, gently stepping up onto the platform. He was blushing a bit, clearly anxious as the cheers and applause intensified. He gave a couple of anxious waves as he walked up to Dr. Cain.
At last, the crowd calmed down, though Alia was one of the last, smiling happily for her friend. And he looked so adorable embarrassed as he was.
Dr. Cain gestured for X to stand at his side, and then turned back to the podium as X stood at ease, facing the crowd. The observant members of the crowd, including Alia and the X-Hunters, saw the grave set to X's face in that moment.
Dr. Cain began to speak again. "We all know this Reploid's accomplishments. There is no question we would be struggling to prevent terrible losses of life beyond the already high tolls without his aid. It is, however, also true that his decisions and actions took great risks, and some had great costs of their own."
Now the crowd was confused, Alia focusing from Dr. Cain to X.
"It is because of all of this that we induct Megaman X into our number, and directly promote him to B-class Hunter."
The room was strangely silent as X and Dr. Cain faced each other, shaking hands as Dr. Cain placed the magnetic medal on X's chest.
Alia's shoulder sank as she whispered, "…Zero…"
X then stepped forward to the podium himself, Dr. Cain drawing back.
"It's true that I helped stop a mad tyrant. It's also true that I cost us one of our brightest and best. You've all seen the fighting, you've all been at it longer than me. From this day forward, I will fight with you… until the day when we don't have to fight any more."
It was Inferno who started to salute first this time. Haunted by his memories of the factory, his guilt and urge to help rising up in him, he felt compelled by X's voice and words. Though few in the crowd understood X's full meaning, every word of it was true.
Alia stood straight and saluted next.
The X-Hunters joined them, Dex, and even Dr. Cain from behind the latest B-class Hunter. X eased back gently, watching as the crowd slowly and steadily fell into salutes.
X stood straight, and raised his hand to salute back. "In memory of Zero. So that no one is afraid to live."
Down in the hideout as last, X pulled the medal off his chest, and placed it on the work-desk to one side of the data-chamber. Without a second glance, he sat down at the holographic interface where he'd spoken with every redeemed Maverick.
This time, the face that formed was Sigma's own. His optics were downcast at first, but active in the transparent, ghostly display.
"…Welcome back, Commander Sigma," X began sincerely.
Sigma slowly raised his eyes, and started to smile. "I owe you more than you know, X." His voice caught, and he managed, "…How… can you forgive what I've… done?"
"I've never been infected with the Maverick virus, Sigma. I can't understand its power. I do know that the others I've freed of its influence have proven to be the best allies I could ask for."
X looked down, but nodded.
"You were wise to spare me as much as merciful, X. You must understand more about the virus. None of the others were shown what I was shown."
X leaned closer, eager as a newborn for the knowledge Sigma offered. "Go on?"
"Do you know how I was infected?" Sigma started carefully, optics tightened.
X shook his head.
"…Some months before my rebellion, I fought a Maverick unlike any other. He was mad and ferocious, but undeniably powerful. We couldn't even identify how his power systems functioned. I nearly died myself, but I managed to best him. I know now it was a lucky blow, nothing more."
X's brow creased. "Was he the carrier?"
Sigma nodded. "I know now that he was the original Maverick, and that the Maverick problem was engineered specifically in response to one thing."
"You, X," Sigma clearly stated, his head easing back for the gravity of the statement. "It's greatest goal and uniform focus is to consume or corrupt you."
X's optics were wide. "…Why?"
Sigma had to smile faintly. "It's terribly simple really. You know your… father's history?"
X nodded slowly.
"That Maverick I fought, the original Maverick, was designed to be your match. Your opposite. Tell me, X… what do you know of how Zero came to be on our side?"
X's eyes flared, and he stood up, staring at the screen. "…He wasn't another Reploid? I thought he was built with you…"
Sigma shook his head. "He was the Maverick I fought, X. A vicious and terrible creature… but still not as powerful as you. I struck his head during the battle, and his core system purged… downloading the virus carrier into my system. It was a back-up if the original plan failed. If the body could be defeated, then the intent and drive would still survive, no matter how many bodies it took."
X looked down, his fists clenching. "…Who made him?"
"I think you know now, X."
Sigma's image nodded. "The Maverick virus is Dr. Wily's revenge on your father… on you. And I'm afraid I wasn't the primary host, X. Not anymore. I knew one thing that none of the others knew during the infection. That I downloaded the virus into a secure network that broadcast it out to other secret hubs. This war isn't over yet, X. I'm afraid it may just be starting… and it's my fault."
X shook his head slowly. "No, Sigma. …It's mine. Zero… he was sincerely with us. I have no doubt of that."
"Yes, very much so. Before the infection fully corrupted me, even I admired him. He overcame my own distrust, being one of the few who understood what he had been. I think Dr. Cain's work on him, modeling repairs after you like the other Reploids and my supposed counter-measures to corruption, helped give Zero a chance to be his own Reploid. And he showed himself to be a hero. The virus is Wily's true child."
X wiped his hands down his face, and then leaned onto the desk heavily. "…The fear and chaos this information could spread…"
"Yes, it would be a disaster. An enemy with a face is easy to manage, but a network-hopping super-virus? Capable of controlling Reploids? At best, the human authorities would have us all shut down."
X's jaw clenched. "…Sigma, it has to be stopped. Truly and fully, but… in secret."
"I understand. I am forever grateful for this chance to help. Anything to try to undo what I've caused… I deserve to be disconnected."
X shook his head. "I can't kill you, Sigma. You're one of us. No… I need to tell you about a plan of mine. I need to tell you about the X-Hunters."
[Down in the deep, once more…]
As the world began to recover, the waters hiding the wreckage of Sigma's fortress were churning quietly. They were disturbed from deep below. Down through the darkness and water, deep inside the jagged tomb of metal and rock, three shadows lingered in their malefic intent.
A small figure crouched down, his metal body able to act almost normally in the water. His white hand scraped through the sand, revealing a small shard of red metal. "And here we are," his muffled voice rippled through the water to his two comrades.
The tall, thin member of the trio had to fold nearly in half to view the shard, sharp angular edges protruding into the shadows around his frame. "Very well, Serges, you win. We've found what the master called for."
The bulky mass to their left stomped forward once, and drove his hand into the muck, pulled a chunk of Zero's lower body out of the wreckage. "Then stop wasting time, Agile. We have work to do."
Serges stood up straight, one red optics glowing ominously in the darkness. "Violin, with your mucking about, you'll destroy the very thing the master seeks. Let Agile tend to the extraction. You, my unsubtle friend, are going top-side. Megaman X is ripe for the hunt. Sigma's X-Hunters have much to prepare, don't we?"
Violin chuckled, and started to move away. "So we do, Serges. So we do."
A week later, in the hideout, X and his secret team were united for a rare meeting. They all stood just off from a large mechanical door, loosely gathered, X simply the closest to the door.
"I have to admit, it'll be nice to have him back. No offense, X," Shimmer chose to say, glancing to the original Reploid at his left.
X smirked at the reborn chameleon. "None taken. I'm feel the same."
And then the doors hits apart, hydraulics pressing them open in three parts. One rose high, the lower parts spread to either side.
As the mist trailed off, a powerfully built Reploid was revealed, his frame primarily black with an armor support mask around his jaw, and pale blue coloration for his upper arms and legs. Strong blue eyes opened up at the group, and he smiled. Stepping out into the open, he stretched a bit, and rubbed his neck. "Not a bad fit!"
X chuckled, and let the others rush closer, clapping Sigma on the back or shoulders. Airstrike even gave him a brotherly hug, muttering, "Welcome back, sir."
X offered his hand, and as Sigma shook it, X said, "Welcome back, indeed, Sigma."
Sigma waved it down casually. "No, no. From now on… Call me Signas."
The group chuckled with him, and X tipped his head. "Signas it is."
Deepfreeze tipped his head back. "Welcome to the X-Hunters, old friend."
Signas actually bowed. "The honor is mine, brothers. And now," he began again with idle humor, "to become a green recruit all over again."
The others chuckled, Inferno clapping his back again. X shrugged, "We can bring you in higher, you know? Your aptitude will look a little strange from a totally green Reploid."
Signas shook his head. "Don't worry, I can hide it properly. And it's important to me. I need to work back up properly. It's… a matter of honor."
X tipped his head. "Fair enough. I'm glad you're with us."
"None more so than me, X. Let's end this war."
They shook hands again.
X sat in his office one afternoon, going through data on his console. Signas had gotten through basic training with almost flawlessly average numbers. X had to hand it to Sigma, the Reploid was almost frightening in his skill.
His door chimed, and X looked up. "Come in?"
Alia appeared, datapad in arm. She offered a gentle smile, and eased closer to his desk. "I wanted to let you know how things were progressing in the other sectors, but that's actually not my real reason for coming."
X blinked. "…I see."
Alia set the datapad down, and looked into his eyes directly. "Can we please talk?"
She caught it. The momentary wince in his eyes. It was guilt, pain, and frustration all at once, gone in the blink of an eye.
"…Of course," he gestured to a chair.
Alia took one, and pulled it closer before she sat. "I'm worried about you, X. I know… I know you must miss him terribly."
X nodded, glancing down.
"…It wasn't your fault, X."
"Enough of it was," X chose to answer, looking up at her with his stoic mask. It was the same mask Mavericks had seen before falling at his hands. His real focus, his duty.
Alia glanced down, a hand still resting on his desk. "Making you B-Class is a bad joke, X. You're the best hunter we have."
"And I cost us one of the best hunters we had as well, Alia," X replied, his head tilting to one side, his eyes softening with his tone. "I am content with my rank and classification, Alia. I promise you that."
Alia looked up again, tears watering her eyes. "X… your disobedience is what saved us from Sigma's insanity. If they put a collar on you like this, you…"
X slowly stood up, and walked around, going to one knee in front of her. Alia blinked, blushing a bit, and let him take one of her hands with both of his. "Alia… I admire you so much. I pushed things too far, and it had too high a price. I do promise you, however, that I will never let an order cause innocent people to die from inaction."
Alia looked into his eyes, soaking in his sincerity, seeing how much he cared for her, how much he sympathized with her pain. "I can see…" she swallowed the weight in her throat, "how much you care, X. I admire that in you so much, too. I also… see… secrets. Something is weighing you down. I hope that some day, maybe… you can share that weight with me… before it pulls you down into a pit you can't climb out of."
X smiled gently, both masking his alarm at her perception, and sincerely grateful for her kindness. He pulled one hand out, and offered it to her as a shake. "May we be able to support each other in dark times, Alia."
She managed a meek smile, and shook his hand. "…You'll be alright?"
X nodded. "Will you?"
She brightened her smile, and used her free hand to wipe away some of the dampness. "…About the new recruits… I noticed something."
X blinked, relaxing his hand down from hers, but staying knelt. "Oh?"
"The one new kid. Signas, I think? His scores are… perfectly average. Down to the decimal point."
X raised his eyebrows. "That is odd."
"I think he's just trying not to stand out for some reason, but to get it that perfect—he must be an analytical genius. I'm thinking of trying to push him toward officer and leadership training."
X smiled. "I think your judgment is solid on that, Alia."
She laughed finally, and stood up with him. "…Sorry for barging in and… melting down."
X shook his head. "I'm always happy to see you, Alia. And—honestly—thank you for the concern."
Alia smiled at him. Their eyes lingered for a moment, but she finally eased away with her datapad. "Just take care of yourself, sir."
"You, too, lieutenant."
She winked at him before vanishing behind the closed door.
X looked down, sadness eking over his frame. "…I can't make you choose between me and your duty, Alia. This secret has to stay with me. I'm sorry."
So concludes X Chronicles 1: The Rise of Sigma. Some readers may dislike the choice to have Sigma become Signas. Signas is a strong character in his own right, and in my research into him (I only briefly met him during X5, where I stopped playing), I found he was quite an interesting character. Too interesting for the small parts he plays in the games. I realized the secret authority of the real Sigma, the maverick-hunter leader, would give Signas an edge when it came to wrangling X if needed, and also make the character more intriguing. That's my view, anyway.
Alia and X is a story intertwined in the heart of my overarching story plan. It is only just beginning here. Originally, Alia wasn't even going to join the story until the fourth Chronicle, but I realized she would be too wonderful an element to exclude until that far.
Hopefully, this story is satisfactory as a beginning and self-contained story. My true plan would involve 5 full length stories in total. The first four would be primarily recognizable as the games' plot, while the fifth would take a stronger divergent course.
I fully intend to write it all out, but I need to take a break from this story. As delayed as it was, it was still written at the expense of other projects near and dear to my heart, which I now must return to. I do hope to begin X Chronicles 2 some time soon, but please don't wait up at night for it *chuckle*.
Thanks again, everyone. I really appreciate the reviews, feedback, and pointers. You helped get this story done, and never let anyone tell you different. Fair well, friends, and keep writing.
Cyrex: signing off, for now.