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2250 CE

 

For a split, insane moment, Zero thought he was dead.

An impossible notion because he was designed to last forever – to be infinite - but X did have a tendency to achieve the impossible. Nothing is predictable with X.

But Zero hasn’t expired. Instead his processor has blanked out momentarily; all the thoughts, the voices, the emotions that crowded his mind have simply vanished.

It’s like being tucked in a recharge tube along a valley river, feeling the occasional bump of each clack against the cliffs, nothing too harsh to call attention to it – and then being dumped out straight off a waterfall. The world is suddenly too real and too much: the smell of acrid metal is a punch in the olfactory sensors and Zero turns them off automatically. He blinks, twice, readjusting visuals, and realizes that he’s not seeing the desolate, red tinted slopes through the Omega armor’s visual feed; he’s standing in the center of a blood-soaked crater matching an equally crimson sky with more black smoke than fire-kissed clouds. The breeze is dry and hot and it burns than rakes through Zero’s hair.

It’s a full sensation he hasn’t felt for a long time. The Omega armor is airtight and secure unless he manually opens it (or receives a plying blow). But he hasn’t done such a thing since he crash-landed from space years ago.

It’s open now.

Zero finally registers that his arms are released from suit’s control sockets and that he’s…holding something?

Slowly, he pushes whatever is in his arms away, just enough to see what it is.

The body is still.

It’s so quiet and so eerie in its silence because Zero knows this face and has always associated it with anything and everything else but absolute silence.

If it weren’t for threat assessment confirming that the body in his arms is indeed X, Zero wouldn’t believe that the blasted Lightbot is finally dead.

He still doesn’t wholly accept it, his body statue still as he watches X’s transformation break apart like a crumbling tower. The ruler of Neo Arcadia’s mechanical wings shed metal blades for feathers one by one. X’s angelic form disintegrates without the power to keep it together, leaving behind his main body that appears deceptively untouched, as if it never participated a battle. Completely unlike the way Harpuia ended up when Zero shot that particular green robot out from the sky.

X looks like he’s sleeping. Calm and at peace.

Zero, on the other hand, is not.

You…

Rage floods in the gaping, hollow space left behind. Violence so powerful it crashes down in a bloody haze that has every part of Zero screaming to break something apart. The warbot grits his teeth and he claws deeper into the arms of X’s corpse. The robotic skin gives out until wires and cables and fluids spill like hair – and there’s no resistance, no nanites rushing to heal the wounds because –

“You…”

It takes a moment for Zero to realize that there’s a growl and it’s coming from him. He releases it into an infuriated howl that shudders through the entire wasteland. The air rattles like bones. 

“Kill him! My enemy! My rival! My reason for living! Destroy him!”

“How dare you!” Zero roars to deaf aural cones. “Your death was supposed to be mine!”

That was his directive, that was his reason to exist - killing X was supposed to be the point and everything up to it was the ceremony.

Zero summons a quick diagnostics check over his systems. He has various injuries but it’s nothing self-repair can handle.

He boggles when he sees what else diagnostics reports.

This is why he can’t feel his network. Zero’s access to Cyberspace is gone. All the reploids under his control are gone.

Whatever X just did, he managed to take away Zero’s Virus.

Impossible. Even the Mother Elf, who was born out of reverse engineering from his schematics, didn’t last long when confronted with Zero’s will.

Zero’s eyes blank out as he replays his most recent visual logs despite retaining flawless memory in the past hour. He split his army into two and waited with the first half behind the Hills of Erebus. The second half took strategic positions around the wastelands, cornering and converting the scattered rogue mechs to increase his numbers before storming the Eden Dome.

But X caught on. In a rare move that Zero initially pegged to be from either desperation or arrogance, Neo Arcadia’s emperor personally flew out to the battlefield all by himself.

Not that the Mega Man needed anyone; the so-called Azure Angel must have taken that obnoxious title seriously because he took on a literal form with great bladed wings. In retrospect, the form was perfect for occupying Zero’s attention because of how uncharacteristically flashy it was. X was conducting sufficient crowd control upon Zero’s army, but was hovering in the same position like a cannon that refused to move. 

X never did any of that before. He never left himself so horribly exposed like that. X was always so careful and so clever – which is why when he was vulnerable Zero automatically honed onto the weakness to seize the opportunity.

And when Zero rushed towards X to get him into his personal range…

It's just like that time when X baited him to get close to that blasted space ark year ago - X tricked him again! Snatched the conqueror’s command away from Zero and now X’s body is a shell and Zero doesn’t have the Virus anymore and this isn’t how it’s supposed to happen.

In pure rage, Zero rips X’s arms from their shoulder joints. He releases his legs from his powered exoskeleton so he can personally slam the metal corpse down onto the scorched earth himself. He begins slashing it apart, clawing into X’s stomach, pummeling through the compact tank, subtanks, dying his hands in dark fluids. Zero grips the sides of the Mega Man’s helmet and tugs the emperor of Neo Arcadia’s head so hard it separates from his shoulders in a nauseating wrench. Tiny metallic scraps of blue and white fly into the air and Zero doesn’t cease his onslaught until mid-rampage his hand catches onto something thin and white.

Zero recognizes it immediately.

His Z-Saber. So that’s where it was the entire time? And all this time he assumed that prostrating idiot Weil stole it for the human’s personal study. How and when did X take this from him?

When he killed me, Zero concludes as a red haze of anger crashes down his processor again.

The Lightbot must have lifted his valuable weapon off of his person when they fought that time...the year 2126, over a hundred years ago (it's already been another century since he reawakened? Time flies.).

Except instead of using it, the Blue Bomber simply carried it around like some sort of trophy? How conceited. If he could, Zero would kill X’s peers all over again to punish the Mega Man for the insult.

At least the sword is finally back to Zero’s side where it belongs.

It’s the combination of the burning air, the whip-like winds of the battle wasteland, and his heated fury that his body drives up his ventilation systems. Coated in X’s robot blood, Zero pants heavily over the pathetic remains of the Blue Bomber. The only thing that looks even remotely intact is X’s head and even that’s ruined; half of the pseudoskin has been torn off, revealing the mechanical skull beneath.

The face is tilted upwards. From this angle, X looks like he’s softly smiling. Disgustingly self-satisfied in death for castrating Zero.

The Wilybot sneers. “I won’t deny it. What you did was inconvenient. But I’ll seize back command again.”

With the Mega Man’s skull in hand, Zero climbs back into the Omega armor and the exoskeleton’s chassis closes back over him.

Zero locates and picks up the fallen O-Saber nearby. He briskly stomps away and out from the gaping crater that used to be his and X’s final stage, following the setting sun.

Neo Arcadia lies somewhere this way; X’s quaint little kingdom where he gathered all those useless organic wastes and sheltered them like helpless cattle after the Elf Wars.

And now that X and his Guardians are out of the way, Zero can finally massacre them all. Return them back to the dirt where they belong.

X took his death away from Zero. Took away his Virus and his people too. Zero no longer has mass control anymore.

That’s fine. With or without the Virus, Zero is still the ultimate robot and it’s not like this is the first time he lost access to Cyberspace and the Virus. Doesn’t it speak volumes that even a century ago when he was filled with corrupted data and didn’t know his true identity, that he was still winning against the Lightbot back then? That his hosts were carrying out his duty on his behalf during his time of oblivion?

Zero was fated to win. It was only a matter of time. And now the moment has come to cleanse the world of the undeserving and return it back to zero. A new world, a new order.

Because everything of Light is dead and there’s no one standing in Zero’s way anymore.

 


 

The repercussions are worse than Zero first estimated.

He treks through kilometers of rubble and sprawling robot corpses until the sun touches the horizon. The world is dark with no stars and moon, the sky still bathing in layers of blackness thick enough to blot out the rest of the galaxy. The ground is so covered with bodies that Zero’s steps of crushing metal are the only sounds asides from the mournful wind in the air. There's probably more metal than sand out here in the wasteland. 

Such waste of innocent robot life.

All of these robots used to be his. Zero could have brought them to utopia. To a perfect world where only the pure functioned. But now they’re all empty husks of what they used to be; they had to rely on the Virus network to continue once energen became too scarce.

By taking away Zero’s connection, X basically switched all the nanites off and, by extension, turned all of the reploids off.

His goal was to destroy the old world to pave way for a new one. Kill all humans and heretics. Possess, protect, and preserve the rest. Lead them to create the perfect kingdom where only the deserving functioned. 

Without the virus he cannot fulfill that vision. If all he can do is destroy, there’s not going to be much of a world to make anything out of after it. No, after all the wars both he and X waged against each other, the world has already passed the point of no return. 

And it's all X's fault for slaughtering Zero's adopted. Damn him. 

Sheer hatred bubbles up through Zero’s throat again. He peers down at the decapitated head on his lap and it takes all of his self-control not to reach down and crush it right then and there. Not only the action wouldn't be as satisfying as crushing it with the hum of X's gears grinding beneath his touch, it would also be unproductive. Maybe he’ll indulge himself after he dissects it.

Because somewhere within X’s archival databanks must be the process to reverse-engineer what he did to Zero. Just because Zero can technically carry out his directive without the Virus, doesn’t mean he wants to. It’s way too arduous without the Virus' convenient abilities. It's only smart that he acquires the best tools.

However, that’s a project he can conduct another time. Looking at the endless piles of robot corpses, there probably aren’t enough able reploids to convert. If Zero remembers correctly, X had halted intelligent robot production since the warbot returned, cutting the android population further.

Honestly, death is too good for X. He deserves a century of torture and hell. 

 


 

By the time Zero arrives to the Forest of Anatre, people are abandoning Neo Arcadia. He sees the trailing river of humans hurrying into trucks and caravans from the distance. They’re streaming off into separate directions through the surrounding forests and yet Zero doesn’t raise his sword.

He’s staring at the obvious lack of the Eden Dome that once housed the entire metropolis together.

Zero knew that X made an empire and was aware how large it was; he spotted it passingly from space when the ark came crashing back down through the stratosphere six years ago. But it’s different seeing the spiraling skyscrapers and ivory towers over the twenty-five-meter wall. He can see the winding, seemingly floating highways that curl around the buildings like sculpted clouds, disappearing below into the cluster of smaller buildings like a metal sea.

And now it’s all vulnerable to the bleak environmental conditions and threats like everywhere else. No more protection.

If Zero let the humans go, they’re going to scatter and multiply. Desperately feed off of the meager resources they don’t deserve. But he doesn’t need to hurry. Under X’s rule, they’ve evolved from pests into pets. Spoiled until they became weak and complacent and useless. Zero doesn’t need to put in much effort picking them off - the horrendous outside conditions will ruthlessly do it for him eventually.

All Zero needs to do is focus on the ones that insist on remaining within the city’s perimeters.

Retrospectively, it’s generous of X to round up the humans in one location. It makes Zero’s job easier.

The White Warmonger unsheathes the giant sword on his back and stalks forward.

It's time to lay waste on the infestation. 

 


 

Neo Arcadia may be humongous, but it’s also compact. The buildings, the roads - everything is literally connected to each other.

It takes so little from Zero’s part to knock the structures down. Entire sectors fall like dominos. By strategically ruining the wall’s exits and toppling the buildings in certain directions, no one can escape through the ground. Every drop of flammable fluid Zero sees, he sets fire. If a human hasn’t already died by Zero’s other numerous methods, they can either burn or suffocate alive. If Fefnir and his highly insulated armor couldn’t survive being smelted in Zero’s blasts, these civilians have no chance.

Genocide has become laughably easy.

The center of the empire has more security. It’s a tower so tall it pierces through the sky. It's sitting on a circular island, separated by the rest of the metropolis, surrounded by a humongous, artificial lake acting as its moat. Clearly it’s the capital and must be where X and the Guardians once ruled. Zero won’t be taking that area down recklessly. He needs to pillage it first.

When Zero marches closer, he sees the four highway bridges that lead to the island gradually collapsing one by one. The ones taking shelter at the tower must be bombing the paths to halt Zero’s progress. In the distance, armies of flying mechaniloids are swarming towards Zero. A final, all-out attempt to fight him like cornered animals.

Zero swats a mech out of the air like a bug with a smirk.

The humans are only delaying the inevitable.

If only humans were like the other organic lives that know their place and stay confined to it then Zero would be able to tolerate them. They’re cowardly, cruel, self-serving, and will slaughter each other to get to the top of their petty hierarchies. For their so-called “higher intelligence” that supposedly separates them from animals, animals have never been as happily self-destructive as they are.

They hog too much space.

Why did X care about these things so much? The only hallmark they’ve done was made robots, a whole new people who can be better people than humanity can ever hope to be. After that, they should have been wiped away.

X was so smart. The Lightbot constantly had Zero on guard, always switching up strategies and pushing the warbot’s potential to the limit. Why did someone like him bothered going so far to keep these irrational, lesser beings around? What was he thinking?

He didn’t need to choose their side.

He really didn’t.

Neo Arcadians, humans and tainted robots both, cry for their so-called Blue Messiah.

“Whoever you are, you’re not going to get away with this!” a redheaded woman cries out defiantly on Zero’s way to the center, a coherent voice in a sea of screams. She struggles to lift from the ground but she can only support herself with one elbow.

Confident in his defensive capabilities, Zero opens up the Omega Armor so the woman can see her emperor’s skull tossed in the air playfully in the warbot’s hand. Whatever color she has on her face drains away.

Carrying X’s head by his side, Zero steps out and bends down to the woman. He snatches the recording device secured on her belt and she jolts at the casual theft.

Zero examines the camera. He plays with the settings and smirks when he finds what he needs.

Ignoring the downed journalist, he asks to X’s head. “I’m unwinding your century’s worth of progress within minutes. How fast do you think Neo Arcadia will descend into chaos and despair when I show them you?”

X doesn’t reply.

 


 

Without the Eden Dome, without the military, without the Guardians, without X, the answer is less than a day.

Neo Arcadia erupts into chorus when X’s decapitated head is on every single functioning screen connected to the broadcasting network.

There’s that utterly predictable initial wave of disbelief and denial to deal with, but Zero takes care of that very quickly.

The city is a herd of sheep on a silver platter served up for slaughter, and when the Azure Angel doesn’t come sweeping in for the rescue, the people has given up any sense of propriety. Literally stampeding through each other for their individual safeties. Zero doesn't need to work so hard. Panic and desperation will eat them all alive.

Zero freely dances through lives with their sobs as his melody.

Within the next few days, the capital falls along with the empire that surrounds it.

 


 

“P-please I’ll do anything,” the man pleads, arms outreaching for the scrawny child that Zero is holding in his claw. The flaps of the father’s once-white lab coat are dark and dripping with the blood of the wife Zero stomped when he didn’t comply earlier.

Human scientists are the exceptions to Zero’s directive. They’re useful to a certain extent and thus their expiration dates are allowed to be temporarily suspended.

Zero deliberately isolated this one out since not only is it a scientist, but also it’s a bit sharper than the other ones. Instead of trying to fight back like the others attempted, it tried to hide and sneak itself and its family around Zero when the massacre began in the lower levels of the tower. Even the Wilybot has a modicum of respect for the not-entirely-stupid.

The child is sobbing. For something so small, its voice is impressively loud. An incessant grating noise. Zero squeezes with the barest pressure that her cries are interrupted with a pained yelp.

“Please, haven’t you done enough?” the scientist begs. “Please…please…”

“You will give me everything inside Neo Arcadia’s databanks,” orders the conqueror again calmly.

After lashing his post-X’s death rage upon the Neo Arcadians, he’s feeling good. Without the Blue Bomber laying pressure on Zero’s movements, the Wilybot can afford to take his time.

He’s allowed to fill in some information blanks.

Zero never had to keep all of his data on his person. One benefit of having free run of Cyberspace was easily storing and accessing his archives without them to plague down his hard drive.

That was one problem with the Virus: it was too much.

Too many minds, too many voices, too many emotions. Millions of despairing and lonely cries stampeding through their threads to him. Calling back to them wasn’t enough; it took more than a hard nudge to herd them towards the right direction. Took nearly everything Zero had in himself to navigate his forces and keep his individuality – just enough so he could direct when and where to strike X. Being the Messiah was difficult and so was carrying the accumulated weight of all those souls. Even when he was cut off from them in the space ark, there were also all those blasted cyber elves X had left with him in order to keep him chained down. Zero hasn’t been truly alone for at least a century.

Without the burden of his first directive and the Virus, Zero is free. He’s not restricted to be filled with solely combat data – most of which surrounded a specific Lightbot - and war stratagems.

“I-I can give you up to Level Four. If there are any levels beyond that, I d-didn’t have higher clearance – “

Zero squeezes slowly until the child is coughing out short breaths. She can’t breathe.

Desperate, the scientist shrills,” I’m not lying, I’ll do everything I can do so please just let her go. Let her go!”

Inside the Omega armor, Zero glances down at X’s head again.

“Let her go! She’s not part of our war anymore!”

What a fond memory. That was the third time since Zero returned back on Earth that he heard the Mega Man screamed on radio. Every moment Zero tore out anything likened to genuine emotion from Neo Arcadia’s indifferent emperor was an achievement.

“Try anything and I’ll make her final moments painful,” Zero says aloud with uncharacteristic kindness.

Because the last time he was told to “let her go,” Zero didn’t hesitate fishing Leviathan out of the ocean and tearing her legs apart.

The human lays bare all of Neo Arcadia’s secrets onto every single one of the twenty screens in the lab and gives Zero the encryption keys – to a certain extent anyway. It’s not everything but it’ll do for now.

Familial sentiment is such an excellent leverage. Even Weil, who went off the deep end, wasn’t above it in the beginning though the sad child made a valiant effort to act as if it didn’t.

The warbot steps out of the giant white armor and the scientist doesn’t fully turn around when Zero stabs it from the back. He lets the saber linger for a second to cauterize the wound before withdrawing it out. He doesn’t want it to bleed over the computers. It’s extremely gratifying that he can use his real saber after all these years and it brings a smile to his face.

“DADDY!” the child screams.

Annoyed, Zero idly transmits a signal to the Omega armor. She falls silent in a rolling crunch followed by a wet and soft plop when her red mess of a body splatters on the tiled floor.

Zero approaches to one console and dives into the archives himself.

It takes a moment to filter through Neo Arcadia’s abundance of information that he doesn’t need though Zero finds himself reluctantly impressed by the sheer scale of the internal workings of the empire. At a shallow glance, he sees the barest surfaces on Neo Arcadia’s agriculture, infrastructure, human genetic modification, administration, health, education, maintenance, reploid production and management, communications, robot engineering and development, environmental and weather control services, terraforming and expansion – the list is endless.

Every centimeter of this fifteen thousand kilometer square city was micromanaged. Zero has to give credit where it’s due. X actually made a genuine civilization after the Elf Wars.

The Wilybot scours through the files for anything related to X’s internal schematics but he finds himself stopping at unrelated subjects. Since X is gone, there’s neither rush nor pressure to be hasty. Zero can afford to be lenient and so he looks into anything that captures his fleeting interest. Mostly it takes him to history; there are gaps in his chronometer timeline that he’d like to fill.

It ends up being a disappointing venture. Project Elpizo, the Dark Elf, the Elf Wars of 2137-2141 – none of this is new information. Zero functioned through them after all. There’s a tidbit on the banishing of the “Devil Reploid, Omega,” and the combatdroid huffs at the given title. “Reploid?” X of all people knows - knew exactly what Zero is.

How petty of X to offhandedly insult Zero like this. Unless this was an attempt to assert power over Zero by making “Omega” seem like another one of X’s legacy?

…But this is supposedly highly classified information. Why would any information this far deep into Neo Arcadia be incorrect?

Was X keeping secrets from his inner circles?

Zero pauses. He clicks on more archives.

X was over two centuries old. A literal walking history book. Yet there’s barely anything on the Maverick Wars of 2122 – 2135, all of which X had definitely lived through. All that’s recorded is a pathetic gloss-over of the events, which is honestly a shame. That’s the time the Wilybot would like to know the most. Some of his time logs indicate activity as early as 2120, but he only has specks of data in the year 2126, which states that’s when his systems began rapidly repairing his previously broken connection to Cyberspace.

…Which was lost again at the end of the same year when he woke up fighting that Lightbot and technically “died,” to Zero’s chagrin. It was an annoying yet temporary setback; the Virus wouldn’t let him stay down too long after all, and in the end it was good for him. He had so many corrupted files that it literally interfered him from executing his directive. Resetting back to baseline was supremely necessary.

Anyways, if X was withholding information this far deep then there’s nothing for Zero to gain here. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise Zero. X had his own stealth unit who spied on enemies and allies alike. Not that his primary recon agent pulled any tricks that Zero wasn’t already aware of; the Wilybot personally snapped Phantom’s neck like a public execution.

He needs to go further. The emperor of Neo Arcadia must have had personal rooms or labs where he kept his secrets. If Zero poked around long enough maybe he can find what he needs.

Zero clicks his tongue. It’s so like X to keep standing in Zero’s way after he died. It’s almost as if he never left.

After going through Neo Arcadia’s blueprints to get a gist of the layout, Zero leaves behind the Omega armor to personally climb to the top of the tower.

He finds what can only be described as the throne room. The rounded room is completely made out of glass. From the sheer height, it’s almost as Zero is literally in the sky, walking amongst the clouds and overlooking the rest of the dying empire. Above is a rounded ceiling raining moonlight onto smooth tiles and a lone, majestic chair with the back support shaped in a golden X.

Zero examines the throne, ghosting his hands against the armrests. There’s a few obscure buttons but all they do is summon up a series of holographic camera screens giving status reports of different parts of Neo Arcadia. They all blare red to Zero’s amusement. They’re too far gone for help.

He then probes the back of the seat to find any hidden buttons. When he finds none, Zero slices through the bottom of the throne neatly and lifts the monolithic thing up, hoping to find any wires to indicate that it’s connected to some other device.

He doesn’t find any. It’s nothing more than an obnoxious chair. Perhaps it’s a bit misplaced to expect secret rooms from anyone from the Light family; it is more of a Wily aesthetic after all.

Speaking of which, Zero should check on the doctor’s labs. Personally he’s not confident that it’s functioning after two centuries let alone still physically intact considering how much destruction the world has undergone, but it wouldn’t hurt to check on the coordinates.

Dr. Wily was a genius…

Zero can check them later; each one is quite some distance away so it’s only pragmatic Zero turns this place inside out first.

Since there’s nothing more for the red warbot at the top of the tower, he goes to the other extreme. He descends down to Sub-Arcadia where the empire’s power plant lies – not before thrashing down the series of heavily guarded monoliths for metal doors on the way.

The plant is a humongous energen core deeply tangled in a thick trunk composed of billions of cables, cogs, and machinery that branch beyond the walls. It’s shut down though - with something this large, a controlled shutdown would take maybe seven to twelve hours.

The escaping Neo Arcadians and the days-long destruction…since Sub-Arcadia didn’t blow up, the shutdown must have occurred before Zero arrived.

X was ending Neo Arcadia before he met Zero at the battlefield.

Zero frowns. It doesn’t make sense to him. It’s not like X to give up like that. The Lightbot’s entire directive was…

Wait. What was X’s directive? What was X’s reason to exist?

Most likely to rule the world and keep it that way. That’s why he fought against me so hard. He had to keep everyone under his thumb and he wouldn’t let up an inch of his own territory.

Except…except that doesn’t feel right. Because that’s warbot processing, and while X was indeed a battle robot through and through, it doesn’t add up for some reason.

Without thinking, Zero combs through his CPU – a subroutine gesture that surprises him for how easy it is now – and discovers more memory gaps. Just as well. Technically they’re unimportant. The past is in the past.

But this is also the clearest his processor has felt for a century and yet something feels strange. Like there’s some component inside of him that’s knocked out of place and it’s more than missing his saber. Like he’s missing more than a memory.

Something…important.

Zero fingers the hilt of the Z-Saber and stops. He frowns. It’s not like him to exert energy into making unnecessary gestures. Why does he have such gestures encoded in his subroutines?

“Are they really unnecessary? Isn’t the fact that you can express a wide range of emotions prove that you’re meant to be more than a weapon?”

Soft words and a flash of a smile as bright as a sun. Zero raises a hand to his helmet and clenches down on it hard. There’s nothing wrong with his memory unit and yet it’s acting up.

Fritz, what if Zero is missing something critical and his diagnostics can’t detect it? What if his diagnostics feature is damaged as well? How much did X injure him?

Stop being foolish. Even if X did more than take away the Virus web, he’s dead and no one else will ever amount to half the threat he was. You’re untouchable.

It must be the Virus’ absence. Zero is so used to being connected and surrounded to so many smaller minds that he would get lost in his own web. He just needs to restore his original settings again by reversing what X did to him. That’s all.

X is dead and Zero is fine.

 


 

With the power plant shut down, it’s not easy for Zero to track the energy lines hidden away from his vision. So it’s honestly pure dumb luck that before he makes way to leave Sub-Arcadia, he notices a strange line on the floor in a shadowed corner. Then he notices that there’s a couple thin and innocuous power lines slithering their way through the floor.

The roots go deeper apparently.

Zero forces open the entrance. It’s just dirt.

…Which makes no sense considering the sheer scale of this tower’s architecture. Someone deliberately poured landfill here.

The Wilybot raises his buster and hones the blast into a highly focused shot that liquefies the rubble. The immense heat transforms the dirt into amber slag that flows downward like a rolling ramp with rhythmic bumps. So there was a staircase here.

After the slag cools enough to harden, Zero makes his way down. A long, long way down.

At the end of a journey is a sterile and humbly sized lab chamber.

There’s a smaller generator core than the one he saw before sits at the center acting almost as a back support to an empty recharge capsule. There are two workstations on both sides of the capsule, which has an unconventional design that doubles it as an examination bed with how flat it is. Various tools and scattered datapads litter across stations’ surfaces, crowding at the feet of wireless monitors. There are hanging cords from the ceiling that indicated automata that once hung from above the capsule and were taken apart for a purpose elsewhere. Against a far wall is a computer of an old design; boxy with a thick casing that can handle time and damage. It’s so old it operates with a mouse and a buckling spring keyboard.

Subtle power lines pulse teal blue amongst the dark grey walls. There’s energy flowing through here.

The data pads are filled with corrupted data. Zero can make out bits and pieces of various reploid designs and lose interest. He tosses them to the side. He starts up the ancient computer and it drones a pitiful beep like an exhausted sigh. The Wilybot blinks when he’s taken straight to the desktop without being asked for a password. He moves the cursor over to a lone executable file – the only thing that’s on the computer – and clicks on it twice.

A video window pops out and Zero isn’t surprised to see X’s face appears onscreen, a pair of blank, dark eyes staring back at him.

“I’m speaking to you because you’re my back-up plan.”

Zero surges, about to respond back but the X on the screen keeps talking, leaving him irked. It’s only a recording. Of course X isn’t alive anymore, but a part of Zero wouldn’t put it past the Azure Angel to have some bloated plan and the blue robot is hanging around somewhere like a ghost…

“If you’ve gone through the trouble to come down here past all the personnel and the security, that means you’ve looked through Neo Arcadia and found it lacking. You’re searching for secrets that don’t belong to you. Whether it’s a mission, desperation, or a wild curiosity that drives you to come this far deep frankly doesn’t matter to me. I have one request. It’s your choice to bear the burden or not.

“If I’m still functioning and have become Maverick, you have to take care of me.”

X quirks a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

“I don’t know what year it’ll be when you see this so allow me to briefly explain for clarity’s sake. The original definition of the word ‘maverick’ is an independent-minded person. An individualist if you will. Now the term Maverick refers to any rogue robot. It can be a malfunctioning mechaniloid, a serial killing reploid…or someone who refuses to obey higher authority. As someone who used to be a Maverick Hunter, I have hunted down so many of such Mavericks.”

“I’ve discovered that I’ve come to the point where I no longer cared about fighting enemies. I have fought for so long that the notion of violence does not repel me as it once did. I’d say I fear of a time when I would stop caring of how much further my hands will be stained red…but I can’t feel normal emotions anymore. Perhaps I’ve already fallen too deep.”

X pauses, more for his intended audience’s sake than his own.

“That’s why I’m asking you to kill me if I become a Maverick in all definitions. If I’ve become rogue, if I’ve become an unapologetic murderer, if I’ve become someone who doesn’t obey to higher authority – or maybe, if I’ve become that higher authority…you have to keep me in check.”

Four more windows pop out and take home at the corners of the screen. At the surface it looks like four different turnarounds of X except there’s information scrolling on the sides indicating different properties and elemental specialties. They’re familiar.

X’s Guardians. So they were originally four androids who looked just like X before they took on different colors and builds.

“I have split myself with an unprecedented operation and have yet fully observed the results. I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps as intended, I’ll simply have four more different versions of me to help run Neo Arcadia more effectively. Perhaps I can trust me to stop me. If not, then we’re all doomed on a narrow course. My limitless potential has compounded my strength to the point that I have few natural enemies so if I can’t stop myself...then I can hope it can be you.”

For a split second, something that looks like insurmountable sadness passes through X’s features.

“I used to have a best friend who I could trust to take care of me if I go too far,” whispers X, eyes bowed as if he’s looking at something below. “But he’s been gone for a long time now and…and I’m starting to accept that no matter what I do, I’ll never have him back. So now I’m passing his duty to you.”

The Lightbot raises his gaze back to the camera directly along with his hands, gripping the Z-Saber tightly to his chest.

“I guess in the loosest sense, you’re Zero’s legacy now.” The Mega Man smiles softly. “I’ve broken my heart. When the time comes, please break it for real.”

The computer shuts off. The Wilybot sees his own shock reflected on the black mirror.

Zero stands in the Guardians’ birth room in the lingering silence of an irony of cosmic proportions.