"Patients in beds 10 to 25, please line up in the red zone for your medications."
"Patients in beds 10 to 25, please line up in the white zone for your medications."
"...Patients in beds 10 to 25, please line up in the red zone for your medications!"
"...Patients in beds 10 to 25, please line up in the white zone for your medications!"
"Damn it Lifesaver, don't start up with this 'white zone' shit again!"
"Genesis, the red zone has not been properly sterilized to receive--"
"Blah blah, friggin' blah. Any more of your nonsensical twaddle and I'll sterilize the red zone upside the back of ye'er head."
The lineup of human patients in the Medical Unit, their hunting garb traded in for blue cotton robes that let their arses wag in the wind, stared at each other bemusedly. Lying in bed was certainly more interesting, now that Lifesaver was here to overthrow Genesis, the formally undisputed Lord of the Bactine Swabs. After awhile, the patients got tired of the bickering and crumpled the wee pill-cups in their palms before going back to their beds for a lie-down. No sedatives today, which meant smuggled beer and dirty-joke swapping tonight, which meant bleary hangovers in the morning.
The fight would've gone on for hours, with Genesis spitting like a cat and Lifesaver thoughtfully stroking his bracebit (As if he were a canny professor with a beard to prove it--it was a gesture that irritated Genesis thoroughly, and Lifesaver performed it frequently for that reason), had not Tess started howling for her supper.
Genesis' face sagged. There may be fights over who's king around here, he thought, but there's no question as to who's the queen.
Tess' belly was abundant, swollen with fertile bounty. Her little clone was ready to be born at any second. Genesis had warned her to take it easy until the day came. She had ignored him, of course, so now she was confined to strict supervision. On top of all the cheese-whiz that was going on with Lifesaver, Genesis didn't need to be stuck babysitting a human who was too spoiled to use the common sense God gave her. The girl made insane demands at insane times of the night. And more than once, she'd screamed that she was going into labour, then said she was "just kidding" after everyone had come running to her service like firemen to a firebell. As the day of "joy" came closer, Tess became as restless and crazy as any pregnant human did, but she would disappear if allowed out for exercise, so she was confined to her bed for longer hours, which caused her to go crazier. She was a vicious she-wolf chasing her tail. Genesis idly recalled from some recess that wolves sometimes ate their young, and he made a mental note to keep an eye on Tess after the birth as well.
To Genesis' combined relief and frustration, Lifesaver attended to Tess' meal for the night. Lifesaver and Tess got along just fine. They probably had lovely tales to swap about poor mangy Genesis. Yes indeed. Well, both of them could explode, for all he cared.
Yet, in that deep-down squishy place that was rank with emotions decomposing from underuse, something in Genesis stirred and cried like a hungry little bird. It was sadness, with a lemon-twist of resentment. Genesis had rarely failed to get along with any human, and when he did fail, such as in Tess' case, he always felt a little ashamed of himself, no matter how feral that particular human was. Yet that prim newcomer, Lifesaver, had won Tess over. Damn Lifesaver.
Only I'M allowed to befriend the humans in here, something in Genesis shrilled like a child throwing a tantrum in reaction to a change in his comfortable existence. This is MY domain!
And yet, things were changing. The patients received Lifesaver warmly.
Was Genesis losing his touch...?
Oh, Lordy no! Never! Who the hell does Lifesaver think he is, walking in here as if he were the Highlord of Gangrene Town? If Monroe thinks he's going to replace me, he's got another think coming.
"Beds 10 to 25!" the fox bellowed. "Who the feck gave you permission to walk away from me? I call the shots here, not Professor Boxface. You will line up in the red zone and Lifesaver will bloody well like it. If he doesn't, I invite him to get down on his knees, coat his tongue with rubbing alcohol, and sterilize the zone himself, after I make him bark like a dog and play dead."
The humans murmured their approval as they got up for their medicine. Lifesaver's face was it's usual expressionless fare, but his eyes shimmered with amusement as he removed his headpiece and scratched at the brown nest it protected.
"Very well Genesis," he said, "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll see to some duties in the Reploid repair lab."
"Sure, after you've gone crying to Monroe, right? Take a hike."
"Oh really now Genesis. Do I strike you as a tattletale?"
Genesis bared his teeth slightly, but he turned away.
"Genesis! Take off those godforsaken Bono Raybans and look at me! Then answer my question!"
Lifesaver's voice was as sharp as a fox's bark. Genesis was startled into looking at his tormentor who stood placidly, with his hands linked behind his back.
Well? Lifesaver's semicircle eyes told him. Things are falling apart around us, but we can be friends. We can hold up the foundations as they sag. You're scared of change, but you have no reason to be scared of me. But you must be able to look me in the eyes and trust me.
Genesis' paws moved of their own will as they snatched the visor off his snout. Unseen archers shot bolts of pure light into his unprotected eyes, which flew easily into the back of his head and set cymbals crashing and bells ringing. A long-sleeping dragon in Genesis' awoke to the noise, irritated, and immediately set to engulfing his brain with invisible fire.
Sheer agony. But Genesis didn't flinch. He turned his eyes up to meet Lifesaver's own.
Lifesaver's face actually twitched as he locked optics with what Genesis had kept hidden for so many years. But he, too, didn't flinch.
An old, old fox and a young eagle. Good things could indeed come of such a union. A silent pact was made. Genesis sighed through his nose as he replaced his shades and put the rampaging dragon back to sleep.
"We can be friends," Lifesaver repeated in a low voice. "Perhaps Monroe put me here with the intent of taking over. He certainly seems to think that constant change is the path to renewal. But I don't agree. You have a good thing here, Genesis. I would never take it from you. These humans love you. Even Tess. She'll never admit it to you, but she told me. Monroe's young and impatient. His fevered changes will tear the Hunters apart. But let's let one good thing come of his reign."
A smile oozed, warm and fertile, across Genesis' face. That was all Lifesaver needed. He smiled back (it was painful--his mouth wasn' t used to such strenuous excercise).
"Yes. We are going to be good friends."
"Yes?" Phoenix was digging in a damp box of stuff. "Speak up, Neon."
"Overdrive is sobbing uncontrollably in the other room."
"Overdrive." Neon added as an afterthought; "Ostrich."
"Oh, yeah." Phoenix started to sit back on her heels and stopped herself just in time, unconsciously recalling the dangerous barbs there that would've loved to bury themselves in her arse. "Yeah, I'd expect that. I sent him to make technical lists and see what he can do with those mangled Mavericks in the front foyer."
"Aw, but miss, you know how much Overdrive hates machinery! He'll wither and die."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take."
"Has it..." Neon swallowed boldly. "Has it occoured to you that maybe...you would benefit...if you let him do what he loves? Biology?"
Phoenix started pawing around the rat-eaten cardboard again. "Has it occoured to you, dear tiger, that it would benefit you if you left this room before I turned you into the posterboy for Hell's Frosted Flakes? You leave the big thinking up to me. I know what I'm doing. Overdrive needs discipline."
Neon padded out, shaking his head. No good would come of this.
Hot tears of rage and frustration numbed Overdrive's throat and tapped insistantly at his eyeballs. But he wouldn't let them spill. Oh no. He was tired of crying. He would do his bloody job and show Phoenix that she wouldn't have to sell him to Christine McGee for bed-stuffing after all.
Gently, Overdrive drummed his fingers across the skull and snout of what appeared to be the remains of Spark Mandrill, dragging trails in the fine feather coat that dusted the monkey. Were there any parts that could be used to make new Mavericks? That was the question Overdrive had been assigned to answer. But his heart took a walk away from his head and his thoughts wandered as he gazed down at the cold maw of his friend. Alas, poor Sparky. I knew him, Horatio--
Mandrill's dead jaws reflexively clamped their needle-sharp teeth down on Overdrive's paw.
"Oh, ffffffFFFFF--!" Overdrive started to scream, but he instead ripped the gnawing skull off the meat of his hand and hurled it against the far wall. Mandrill's meal ended with a loud PING! as he struck and fell, where he gazed at his tormenter with hungry, accusing eyes.
The spindly animal's fondness for his old friend soured, and he kicked the noggin across the room. The room recieved the metallic din gleefully after so many years of silence. An ostrich's kick was a powerful thing.
"Eat THAT, Sparky," he spat. "You can continue rotting in whatever hell bad reploids get sent to. Go play some class of tea party with Vile while you're down there, and splash the bitter stuff in his face for leaving us here, alone and broken, with that oul' bitch Phoenix as our matron."
Tantrum thrown, Overdrive sat down hard, his fanny imprinting in the dust. Phoenix was back on her feet, so there was no room in her band anymore for bunglers, not even the ones who'd stuck with her on the worst days. Overdrive realized that the flaming avian would likely keep him chained to these damnable bits of reploid, in this dusty old room, until he was driven insane. Overdrive was loathe to work with cold, sterile machinery, what with its clanking and noise and dripping, stinking oil. He wanted bones, skin, bile and bodily fluids, genetics. And you couldn't ask the sun to rise while the moon was still high in the sky.
"I'll leave," he said aloud, and squawked faintly at the power with which he declared his intentions.
Good one. Where you gonna go?
"I'll show Phoenix. I'll show her I can serve her without messing up. I'll create a creature for her, a being of power and beauty that God Himself could not concieve--"
Overdrive blanked out.
"...I'll make her a pony!"
Overdrive's big idea went only so far. He didn't know what he'd make for Phoenix, and there were no materials here, besides. So he'd have to go away to give birth to his masterpiece, like a cow crawling into the thicket.
Why, to someone who shared his passions, of course. Someone who would take him on as an apprentice.
The bird dropped his hand down to a disguised panel hidden in his chest armour. The hinges cried slightly as he opened it and removed a folded piece of paper, swiped with pencil crayon and magic marker, from the compartment.
The picture on the paper resembled a child's idea of a sea-serpent.
Even Mavericks have heros.
Overdrive Ostrich had been born shortly before the second Maverick War. He never got a chance to meet Torrent Leviathan, but he knew everything about the big Mechadrake. Torrent lived in the sewers during the first Maverick War, his veteran friends said, and he was probably still there today. He supposedly declared himself on the side of the Mavericks, but anyone with half a meatloaf in their oven knew that Torrent didn't care a set of bongos for Hunters or Mavericks. If the sky should tumble and fall, or if the mountain should crumble into the sea, or if the Maverick Army exploded spontaneously one yummy sunny day, Torrent wouldn't shed a tear.
But Torrent did grand work with genetics and biochemistry. Very grand. And maybe, just maybe, he'd want an apprentice.
And maybe Torrent would give him an idea that would win back Phoenix's praise.
Yes, that would be nice.
It was time to prepare.
“No. That doesn’t strike me as too unusual,” Genesis said as he rubbed behind one of his furry ears.
Celeste looked up, surprised.
“No. Not too unusual at all. Mindspeak, eh? Sounds like something I could do without. I wouldn‘t need my worst enemy--say, Tess--hollering for me 24-7. Although, it might work if we came to an agreement of sorts. ‘Stay out of my thoughts between 2 and 4! That‘s Genesis‘ time!’ Ha ha. Enough. I‘ll be serious now. Who did you say tormented you during the first Maverick War?”
“Torrent Leviathan.” Celeste’s voice was sour.
The two friends were in the Medical Unit, tucked away in one of the less occupied corners so no one else would hear Celeste’s private lamentations. It was certainly interesting, Genesis decided silently. Better she gets it off her mind, even if I do have to put it down in the report.
“Do you hear from him anymore?” asked Genesis, who watched absently as a rookie assistant, who apparently assumed he wasn’t currently under the gaze of his fox master, dumped a wastebucket full of gauze and paper towel in the nearby washroom’s toilet and flushed. The toilet made a sick, strangling sound.
“No, I haven’t,” Celeste said. “Well, not directly. But honestly, Mindspeak isn’t directly responsible for my state of mind right now. I just haven’t been able to sleep. Weird dreams and such.”
“Lord above, what’ll it take to bleed that out of you?”
Celeste shrugged. “I guess my ‘narcolepsy’ mostly consists of plain old tiredness.”
“Or botched up Mindspeak signals,” Genesis suggested. “Someone’s trying to tell you something somewhere, or maybe someone else with Mindspeak is sending a message to a friend that’s not quite your business, and it got to you instead somehow. But your mind couldn’t decipher it because it wasn’t yours. I don’t know. Don’t give me that look, I’m sure you aren’t the only one in the world who has the ability to catch mind currents.”
Celeste swung her legs from the side of the bed she sat on, subconsciously trying to rid herself of the trapped feeling that breathed down on her. “No, I can tell you right off that my father had it.”
“Which is why he was always different and strange.”
“And which is why he got himself killed.”
“Because Torrent was tormenting him, and there was only one way to be freed.”
“Hmmm.” Genesis sucked on his teeth, deep in thought, ignoring the rookie who wailed from the washroom, “Genesis! Somebody broke the toilet!”
Finally, the fox tossed his shoulders again. “I don’t know what to tell you, but it’s good you talked to me, though. If it still keeps up, maybe I can give you something to help sleep, if you don’t think it’s narcolepsy. But I’m still marking the affliction down in the report, and I‘m keeping an eye on you.”
“And if Cain sees it, I’m out on my ass.”
“He won’t bother.” Genesis pulled up some secure files on the Unit’s computer screen and added mentally, don’t we hope.
Overdrive was in the fortress’ dusty old kitchen, fixing some peanut butter and birdseed sandwiches for the trip to Torrent‘s hell. Violen entered, his piggy snout wrinkling a mile a minute as it detected some promise of glorious food. The huge reploid’s head poked around Overdrive’s shoulder and gazed longingly at the stack of bland bread and paste.
“Ooo! Can I have one?”
Thoroughly annoyed at the interruption, Overdrive didn’t miss a beat. “Sure. Here.” He smashed the open-end sandwich he was preparing into Violen’s face, who, much to Overdrive’s disgust, peeled what he could off his mug and started to munch away with a look of bliss. The ostrich shook his head and reached for another two slices of bread.
“You’re makin’ a lot of sandwiches, Overdrive,” Violen said, spraying his friend with a vile shower of mushy yeast.
“My stars! Your powers of deduction astound me! You shouldn’t be wasting your time hanging around here! Go! Go! For the good of the city!”
“Loser.” Violen turned to leave when a sudden thought actually succeeded in sinking its huge hooks into his tiny brain.
“Oh! I almost forgot to show you!”
Still chewing, Violen threw an old ledger, slimy and yellow with mildew, down on the counter beside Overdrive’s Tower of Sandwich. Overdrive winced as the diseased book made contact with his food. “What manner of rubbish is this?”
“Miss Phoenix found it,” Violen said, “hidden away in Doppler’s main chamber. Apparently, Sigma even found it before him. Do you remember when we used to live here? Before we caught Zero and you screwed it up? Phoenix found Wily’s old journal describing that Zero belonged to him. And when Zero was here (before you skrood it up), he confessed that Wily was his daddy. “
“Yeah, so? What’s this?”
Violen shrugged. “Read it. You might say it’s the prequel.”
“Aha?” Overdrive stopped building his sandwich.
“Yeah, reveals a few more tidbits about the Crimson Wanker that we didn’t know. Could actually ruin him Hunter-wise if they knew what was written there.” Violen tapped the book as if in taunt.
“So? Bring it to Maverick Hunter HQ!”
“Yeah, want me to knock on the door? ‘Ding Dong, Avon calling! Read this book we found and try not to mind that it’s covered in anthrax.’ They wouldn’t take anything from a Maverick. And if they did take it, they’d accuse it of being a forgery or something.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?!”
“Like I said, read it. If nothing else, it’s extremely interesting. It might help us in the future, so don’t spill anything on it. Thanks for the sandwich. See ya.”
Finally alone, Overdrive cocked his head at the Book of Secrets. Such a rat-eaten thing was probably a nest to a family of fleas, and yet it could ruin Zero? Although Phoenix could go piss up a tree as far as Overdrive was concerned, he was enormously curious about this new find. He opened the notebook with hands as tender as a mother’s with an infant. He didn’t want to rip or crack any pages.
Sure enough, mites slithered out of the spine. Overdrive brushed them away and looked at the first page.
He dropped the book on the counter with a squawk. It landed with a dusty slap.
Overdrive was gazing on the journal of one of Wily’s most lethal robots, Bass. Through whatever means, Sigma had gotten a hold of Bass’ thoughts, immortalized on this yellowed paper.
The idea sent electricity thrilling through his system. Reading the first few paragraphs, the brilliant bird knew that he’d stumbled across something much, much bigger than anything that old hooer Phoenix and her dimwitted cohorts could ever understand.
The journal was his, now.
Overdrive continued reading.
Unlike Wily’s prose, which had been sucked dry and brittle from years of relentless scientific study, Bass apparently had a flair for dynamics and creativity. Wily’s creation, who had been a very mere step down from the social order of the Reploid race, also had a message for the future.
I write this for the generation that was born today, the generation that had the honour of being born alongside my baby brother, who was brought to life this day. He was birthed, bloodlessly, painlessly, by my father, Wily.
You new infants who today drink your exhausted mothers’ milk, know that you will witness Armageddon. Your kind will die, and our kind will rise to fill the void. If your children survive the coming wars, the name of their undisputed Lord will lace their whispered conversations with terror as they cringe together in grey ditches like the dogs of humankind: Zero.
The delicious mental repast went on, far better than any peanut butter and birdseed sandwich. Through the journal, Overdrive witnessed Zero’s creation and lethal infancy under Bass’ toutorship. With the vivid words of Wily’s robot, the enthralled ostrich’s fertile mind played Zero’s story like a movie screen. Overdrive watched as Zero effortlessly wasted legions of robots. Overdrive watched and listend as Bass described to him the time Zero entered Slash Man’s “Robosaur Park”--and the ferocious, foul-tempered velociraptor pack ran away from him, chirring to each other in stark terror, smelling primal death on this newcomer‘s bones. Zero ran alongside them, a raptor himself, bits of bloody crimson light flying off him as your eye struggled to catch up. He leaped on the back of the alpha male with the ease of a boy zipping down a slide and lopped the leader’s head off his sinewy shoulders. More bits of red flew off the warrior as the animal’s blood mingled with his curdling howl of hell’s laughter.
And then Overdrive read about the noose that would forever hang around Zero’s neck.
Smelling blood one Godless winter day, Zero stumbled on a quaint mining settlement, hidden on the Skeleton Grasslands. The reploid informed his big brother, who’d accompanied him on the walk, that he was surprised humans would settle out on land that was reportedly streaked with veins of radiation left over from old wars. Bass asked if that mattered. Zero said of course not, and picked up a little girl who stumbled past him while trying to run for her mother. The little girl’s screams of terror took on a shriller, more urgent note as Zero swung her by her arms, and, like a child angry with his Christmas present, smashed her legs to pieces on the iron-like soil. The light dusting of snow on the ground flew up in a rage upon impact.
That was the signal. Zero and Bass reared, devil and midnight stallions alike, and charged through the town, ripping up whatever was rooted down, killing anything that pumped blood. Their hands gulped down whatever evidence of life and creation they could grasp and digested it into death and destruction. Splinters of charred wood, blood, scattered tools and uprooted winter gardens were the only company of the dead, and the only sustenance of those whose life steamed away on the stinging carpet of snow below them.
That was all very nice, but Overdrive’s eye turned back near something written at the beginning of the journal.
Apparently, Wily didn’t have the materials that were needed to make up the biological and psychological elements of a reploid. So he’d converted a human to a reploid instead of building it from the ground up.
Turned a human into a reploid...
Overdrive stroked the chin he didn’t have.
Turned a human into a reploid!
Indeed, it was time to find Torrent Leviathan. Overdrive slammed the journal closed, jammed it in his armour, and sprinted out of the kitchen, leaving his sandwiches to the army of rats that crawled out of their holes to participate in the grand feast the nice bird had obviously prepared for them.