They hadn't recognized him when he returned. Security had escorted the strange reploid in the white armor into Maverick Hunter HQ. The on-duty navigator staunchly denied that he was who he claimed. His signal had been lost long ago, back in the airport. Obviously, the navigator said, that meant that he was, in fact, lying in pieces somewhere. There was no way he could be standing in front of her right now. He was supposed to have met the same fate as all the others who had gone after Sigma and his army of Mavericks.
He protested. Wasn't he standing in front of them? Weren't they talking with him?
They were still skeptical. Where did he get the armor? How had he managed to increase his power capacity so much? His creator had given him the armor, he told them. Hadn't his creator been dead for decades, though? Maybe the stress of combat had gotten to him, someone said. Maybe it had all been too much for the ancient robot and he had finally snapped.
The whole situation seemed crazy. He was a low-ranked hunter, barely out of his rookie training. He hadn't even gone up against Mavericks before, and yet here he was, claiming he had defeated eight of the deadliest Mavericks and that Sigma himself had been destroyed at his hands. The navigator spoke again, pointing out that he hadn't been tracked anywhere near five of the Mavericks, much less Sigma himself. If anyone had defeated Sigma, she said, it would have been Zero, whose last signal had been from deep within Sigma's stronghold.
Everyone nodded. Of course Zero could have done it. Rumor had it that the blond reploid had come closer to defeating Sigma than anyone else in mock battles. They turned to the reploid in the white armor. Zero was with you, they said. Where is he? If Zero had also received some armor enhancement that was blocking his GPS signal, then certainly he would be arriving at any moment.
The answer didn't come immediately, and some started to mutter ominously. Maybe he hadn't just snapped from the stress. Maybe he had gone Maverick and killed Zero. Erratic behavior was a symptom of Mavericks, and what was claiming to have talked to a long-dead creator but erratic?
The reply was curt. Zero was gone. He had been defeated by Vile and sacrificed himself so that the only other remaining Hunter could go on to defeat Sigma. An investigative party was sent out to see if he was telling the truth.
He could feel that his energy levels were dangerously low after the long trek back to HQ and was grateful when an unfamiliar reploid escorted him to a recharge pod. He set it for the full eight hour regeneration cycle and sank into unconsciousness.
A summons to Dr. Cain's office awaited him the next morning. The furtive glances and whispering as he passed through the hallways were not encouraging. Apparently the rumors that he was a Maverick had spread. He could only hope that Dr. Cain was sensible enough to not believe them.
The elderly scientist seemed anxious about something. He paced back and forth, looking as though he was trying to psyche himself up for something. Finally, he spoke. The investigative team had returned, and everything had been verified. Sigma's fortress had sunk into the sea, and the leaders of the Maverick rebellion were little more than scrap metal. They had even found one of the capsules left behind by his creator. They would have to return with the proper equipment to retrieve Zero's parts, but that part of his story, too, had been corroborated. There was a good chance that the red-armored reploid could be rebuilt. Until then, however, the Maverick Hunters would need a new leader. The field of candidates was small. In fact, there was only one remaining reploid who had seen combat against the Mavericks and only one reploid whom they wanted for the position.
He protested. He couldn't take this on, he was too inexperienced, surely there was someone else. No, there wasn't. So he became commander. Decades later, he would be regarded as a legend, a hero among reploids and men alike. Few would recall the rookie who no one ever thought would make it back alive.