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Tue Mar 25, 2014 12:23am

Axel placed several calls to anyone he could think of that might either owe a favor, or be willing to be owed one. He bypassed the FR's front desk outright, instead appealing to the mercs directly. He couldn't afford to hire his former employer, as he'd just watched his life savings explode on national television. And he knew better than to ask for a pro bono mission, or the FR would find themselves inundated with similar requests. No, it was better to do this on a personal level.

That said, he had a hell of a time getting anyone on the comm. He left messages for Maq, Damien, Zeo, Arin, Sonmura, Kaze, Shinsei, Dan, Demios, Liska, and even Kail. The rest of the mercs he had in his contacts list had apparently changed their numbers. He couldn't be sure that anyone would respond, but he left the same request to them all. In truth, Cylecks was his Plan B, even though he'd called him first. His onboard digital assistants Visa and Asiv would undoubtedly start making calls of their own.

A pounding on his door drew his attention. "Mr. Cossack, please open the door. This is Javoc of the 24th Maverick Hunter Infantry. we need to bring you in for questioning."

Axel frowned. He expected reporters, not Maverick Hunters. "I have no answers for you, Hunter. Only questions of my own."

The door blew off the hinges, and Axel instinctively covered his face with his forearm as shrapnel pinged off his armor and helmet. He'd forgotten how well protected he was, in that armor... Three Hunters burst into his one-room apartment and leveled arm cannons at him.

"Disarm and disperse your defenses! You are under arrest!" The Hunter named Javoc ordered. Axel eyed him evenly, then cast his gaze over the other two Reploids.

"What exactly are you doing? Why are you trying to arrest me? If you haven't noticed, it was my goddamn project that was destroyed! My employees that are dead and dying! Who the hell do you think you are to barge in here and arrest me?!" Axel's tone grew in volume and intensity as he spoke, and at the end he was screaming at the three.

"Sir, please comply. We don't want to use--"

Axel cut him off with a kick to the stomach. Two plasma blasts singed his back as they glanced off his armor. Lashing out with each arm, he gripped the two sidekicks by their respective necks, and brought them in to slam their heads together. He thrust them back out, delivered another kick into Javoc's stomach, then slammed the two sidekicks together again. Letting them drop unconscious to the ground, he thrust his foot a third time into Javoc's stomach, felt something crack inside the Hunter, and bolted past him as he slumped incapacitated to the ground.

Axel was bowled over backwards by the unexpected charge shot that caught him full in the chest. He rolled three times, coming up in a crouch with his Stasis Shield braced in front of him to deflect the stream of rapid-fire shots. A Hunter was at the end of the hall, dressed in two shades of blue. No way....

"Axel, please stop your aggression! I don't want to hurt you any more!" The Reploid who spoke those words was recognized worldwide.

"X, long time no see. The years haven't been kind, have they?"

X grinned tensely, keeping his arm cannon trained on Axel, though knowing he couldn't penetrate the shield. "Aw, you don't look so bad Axel. But please, I have to take you in. This isn't a negotiation. You're suspected of turning Maverick, and the way you took out my squad, it's not looking good."

Axel grimaced. He knew X was right of course. Everything he did now...would be all over the evening news. But he knew in his heart that he had been deliberately sabotaged. He knew that the most likely culprit was Ixshaim, who had eluded his search for years. And he knew that his best chance to catch her and end her once and for all was to act quickly. "X... I respect you, warrior to warrior. This is fair warning, I am going to attack. Are you prepared?"

"...yes," X spoke after a moment's hesitation. Axel gave him the time to brace himself, then shifted his arm to the side.

X opened fire, but Axel had feinted. Axel's arm cannon materialized and aimed at X for a split second, then shifted away as he brought his shield back in line. X's charged shot blasted Axel's shield and dispersed, while Axel opened fire on the ground beneath his feet. He dropped through the destroyed floor and fired downward once more, dropping down yet again. With a couple seconds lead, he turned tail and bolted down the hall, building a charge in his arm cannon. He heard a thump behind him as X dropped to his level, and he released his blast at the wall. He felt several shots pound against his aft armor as he ran towards the opening his shot had created. He leaped out, freefalling several stories as his armor shifted modes. Once the Stratos armor had formed, he ignited a full six-jet burn and shot off into the distance.

"I hope you're right," X muttered as he reached the opening and watched Axel rocket out of weapons range. "The whole world's going to be after you now."

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