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Dark Hunter:
a Tale of Maverick Hunters after X
by Ben Roberts

Chapter 1
End of an Era

Maverick Hunter Headquarters have varied reputations across the globe and, indeed, across the Solar System. In Tokyo, the MHHQ is a towering, monolithic edifice that presides over the city like an older brother. In Chicago, the Headquarters of Maverick Hunter is a long, low structure built like an army barracks. Like most law-enforcement organizations in Chicago, it is regarded as little more than a nuisance to the local crime lords, human and Maverick alike.

In London, Maverick Hunter Headquarters is a dark, squarish building adorned with stone gargoyles and massive, gothic pillars. Among the other massive buildings of 22nd Century London, Maverick Hunter Headquarters looks markedly anachronistic. Still, below the perpetually overcast skies of London, the dark building never looks quite out of place.

It was here that Morghwyn arrived every morning at 9:00. He liked the building, despite--or maybe because of--its intimidating appearance. Although not the Captain of this base, he was no rookie--the carbon scoring on his sable and crimson armor attested to that. Usually, Morghwyn felt relieved to enter into the inner sanctum of the Headquarters. Therefore, it troubled him that he should arrive today in such dismal spirits. Wondering why he felt any more dismal today than he normally did, Morghwyn stepped through the arched door to the Captain's office.

"Maverick Hunter #13 reporting, Sir."

Hunched over a toppling sheaf of wild paperwork, a large reploid that resembled a ceratoptian dinosaur ceased his angry scribbling and turned his head towards the dark Maverick Hunter.

Once a Maverick of lethal power, Captain Mahnsed had been cured nearly eight years ago with the Doppler Anti-Sigma Vaccine. Since then, the dinosaur-shaped robot had risen through the ranks of the 235th MH Squadron to become the commanding Captain.

Sanguine eyes rotated slowly upwards to gaze at Morghwyn. Almost hidden behind the heavy armored ridges that made up his eyebrows, the saurian reploid regarded the Maverick Hunter through crystalline photoreceptive lenses. The shark-like, pointy quality of head enhanced the narrow eyes, creating a wholly sinister face.

God, I hate those eyes. Morghwyn knew it was a petty thing to think, but it was the first thing he always thought when he reported to the dinsosaur-reploid.

"You destroyed the Kuwanger?"

"Yes, sir." Morghwyn shook his head. "There was no way to save him."

"Understood." Captain Mahnsed's massive head bobbed once. He raised his hand in the usual gesture to dismiss Hunters, but stopped midway. Morghwyn stood uncomfortably, waiting. After a moment, Mahnsed stood from his chair and turned to face out the window.

Not knowing what to think, Morghwyn ran a quick self-diagnostic while he waited.

After nearly a full minute, Mahnsed sighed heavily and turned to regard Morghwyn. "Do you ever wonder if we're still needed?"

The question caught Morghwyn off-guard. A blurted "Sir?" was all he could manage.

"Its been less than a decade since the creation of Maverick Hunters," Mahnsed answered. "Yet at times, it seems that we're already obsolete." Armored brows knitted together in a fierce frown. "More of our Maverick Hunters spend their time as hired cops at reploid factories than hunting Mavericks these days. Do you ever wonder if we're no longer needed?"

Morghwyn stood silent, seriously pondering the question. After a few moments, he nodded slowly. "I think so, Sir. Just as there will always be insanity in humans, there will always be the tendency to go Maverick in reploids. I don't think that all Maverick activity can ever be fully subdued--even with the Neuro Computer."

Mahnsed blinked large, blood-red eyes. "Go on."

Morghwyn found himself painted into a corner. "Well, I just mean . . ." he fumbled foolishly with his Hyper-Cannon. "That was it, Sir. I just meant that with the creation of reploids came the creation of Mavericks, and you can't completely destroy one without destroying the other."

"I see." Captain Mahnsed's low, heavy voice weighed on Morghwyn like evening fog in the autumn streets. After a few more moments' thought, he said, "Do you have any idea why I'm speaking to you of this?" No, Morghwyn wanted to say. I haven't ever spoken this much to you. I don't even particularly like you!

"I'm afraid not, Sir."

Mahnsed sighed again. "I'm resigning this next month. Maverick Hunting doesn't seem to be the answer to my questions any more." His eyes burned into Morghwyn. "I'm recommending you for my replacement."

Morghwyn's jaw dropped. "Me? But surely Mac or one of the other senior--"

"No!" Mahnsed's sudden snap cut Morghwyn short. After a few moments of awkward silence, Mahnsed sat down heavily, nearly splintering the chair beneath him. "Listen, Morghwyn. You have three very special qualities that have led me to recommend you as my successor. Three qualities that none of the other senior officers have."

"Firstly, you don't like Maverick Hunting. I don't know what in hell possessed you to become a Hunter if you hate it, but for some reason, you do."

Nettled, Morghwyn frowned. Tightly controlled, he asked, "What has that got to do with anything?"

"You aren't in it for the glory, the thrills, the money, or any of the other reasons that half these hot-shot punks right off the assembly line enlist these days." Mahnsed made a fist. "You have some motivation that's kept you going for years, and it makes you a damn good Hunter."

"Thank you, Sir." Morghwyn knew when to shut up and take a compliment.

"Secondly, you're the only one of the senior officers who hasn't gone Maverick at one point or another." Holding up a stalling hand at Morghwyn's half-uttered protest, the saurian reploid continued. "I know, we're all vaccinated with the Sigma Anti-Virus now, but I'd still trust you more than Mac or Jem or Ysold."

Morghwyn shook his head. "Sir, I don't see that that has any relevance. Mac has been totally reconstructed since his Maverick days, and Ysold--she wouldn't hurt a fly . . . unless it was a Maverick. As for Jem, he's as good a friend and Hunter as anybody--"

Mahnsed shook his head. "Their personalities are not under scrutiny here--their past tendency to go Maverick is. You are the only senior officer with no previous record of having gone Maverick, and that is a consideration for the job."

"But I don't want to be the leader!" Morghwyn's hands involuntarily clenched in frustration.

Mahnsed grinned, an unpleasant sight at best. "That's the third quality: 'the best leaders hate being leaders, but know when to accept the responsibility.' "

Morghwyn recognized the quote: it was from a speech by the world-renowned Dr. Alan Cain, founder of the Maverick Hunters. Half bowing his head in submission, Morghwyn answered, "I'll need a few days to think about it."

"I've given you the next week off," Mahnsed replied. "When you come to a decision, tell me."

Morghwyn nodded and removed his helmet. Just before he stepped out of the door, he stopped and turned. "Sir, about the motivation for hunting . . ."

"Yes?"

Gray-blue eyes locked onto the dinosaur-reploid's red ones. "What was yours?"

Captain Mahnsed looked down at his own massive fist, converted into a permanent hyper-cannon. His voice sounding distant, he answered.

"Atonement."

When Mahnsed looked back up, Morghwyn was gone.

* * * * *

The black-armored hunter was met in the hallway by his best friend and partner, Jem.

Still half-armored, the reploid grinned irrepressibly and thumped Morghwyn heartily on the back. In doing so, he loosed one of his emerald-colored bracers, which clattered noisily to the floor. Grinning ruefully, the red-haired reploid hastily retrieved the offending piece of armor.

"So," he said in a light tenor voice. "I hear that you have a promotion coming your way."

Morghwyn shook his head imperceptibly. "You know what they say about gossip and bad news: it spreads like wildfire."

"Bad news?" Confusion played over Jem's fair features. "What are you talking about? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! You're gonna be the Captain!" He rubbed his head. "Jeez, it'll be sort of like the end of an era without Captain Mahnsed, won't it?"

Morghwyn, finding his partner's light attitude infectious, felt some of the disquiet slip away from him. Allowing himself a sparing grin, he said, "I guess that means you'll want all sorts of special treatment now that your partner is on the list of potential future Captains."

"Of course!" Jem grinned even wider. "If I don't get a hover-limo to work every day, I'm gonna raise hell!"

Morghwyn shook his head and chuckled. "So, how was your day?"

"You mean since lunch?" Jem shrugged and scratched his nose. "Ah, not much. I got a few leads on that stolen ride-armor case, but other than that, the day was pretty dull. Oh, except my comlink cut out for about ten minutes. Heck if I know why. How about you?"

"I caught the Kuwanger Maverick that was terrorizing the South Quarter," Morghwyn answered.

"And you didn't call me? You realize that you're five ahead now, right?" Jem frowned. "If you keep this up, people will get the idea that you're a better Hunter than me!"

Now it was Morghwyn's turn to frown. He didn't like the idea of keeping a tally of how many Mavericks he and Jem had deactivated since they had become partners. Still, it was rather impossible to forget with a perfect memory, so the tradition had stuck for five years now.

As the pair left the hallway and entered the armory complex, Jem muttered. "I don't see why you think you should always have all the fun."

"Yeah," Morghwyn agreed weakly. "All the fun."

The armory complex of the London Maverick Hunter HQ was a huge hangar with roof access and several repair and changing rooms for armor. Morghwyn made a quick check of the hangar. Only three ride armors remained, the rest being in use at the moment. As usual, Morghwyn made a quick detour to check on his own ride armor. Jem sighed and followed.

At the end of the hangar stood Morghwyn's own silver and blue Rabbit-Class ride armor. Although there were far more recent models available for purchase by Maverick Hunters these days, Morghwyn still preferred his older model. Circling around the back to check on the hover-jet assembly, and then back around front to inspect the spiked forelimbs, the dark Hunter grunted his satisfaction.

Jem shook his head, bemused. "I don't see why you keep that old hunk of junk," he said. "I'd go crazy trying to remember all the modifications you've made to that poor thing. It's totally outdated by now anyway!"

Morghwyn glanced over at Jem's old DRA-00 Kangaroo-Class ride armor. "And I suppose yours isn't?"

"Hey!" Jem nudged Morghwyn in the ribs. "The Kangaroo could still hold its own against your beaten-up old Rabbit any day! They're still useful, even if they're not top-of-the-line!"

"Sure they are," Morghwyn grinned. "At least my Rabbit can fly! Face it: with all the new ride armor now, we're just a couple of antiquated old fogies!"

"I heard that X still prefers his old Chimera mech," Jem frowned in mock-hurt.

As Morghwyn was about to make a rejoinder, a tearing treble roar pealed through the hangar. As the hangar door opened, a hovercycle sped towards the pair of Maverick Hunters, stopping only inches from them.

"Hi, Ysold."

Morghwyn allowed himself to be hugged by his friend Ysold, another of the senior officers. Still fully armored, the female reploid gazed through a yellow-tinted visor at her friend. Clasped head to toe in gleaming gold armor, Ysold was one of the top Hunters in the country.

"Morg, I just heard the good news! Is it true that you're going to be Captain?" Sparkling blue eyes danced, partly concealed by a wild shock of yellow hair.

"It's a nasty rumor, Goldy." Morghwyn shook his head. "I don't know where you heard it."

"Don't listen to this liar," Jem elbowed Morghwyn. "What he means is that he'll be promoted as soon as his vacation's over."

"Now just a damn--"

"Great!" Ysold flung her arms around Morghwyn again. "This deserves a celebration! I'll go get out of this armor and then we'll call Mac and Kim!"

"This is ludicrous." Morghwyn shook his head again. "I can't believe you all think that this is so great!"

"Lighten up, dark one," Ysold teased. "Don't you think you're entitled to some sort of celebration in recognition of your work?"

"Of course he does!" Jem gleefully clapped a hand across Morghwyn's mouth, eager to have an excuse to party. "You get in contact with Mac and Kim, and we'll meet at your house at 7:30!"

"Sounds good!" Ysold grinned and pulled off her helmet, spilling long, golden hair. With a mock-pout and a glance at Morghwyn, she added, "And don't you go getting grumpy at my party."

Morghwyn rolled his eyes and nodded.

"Good. See you both at 7:30!"

After the gold-armored Hunter had left, Morghwyn turned on his partner. Half-jokingly, he snapped, "Remind me to get a new partner once I'm in charge."

Continue to Chapter 2--Storm and Revel

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