"What," was what Zero said flatly, hair starting to flare in a nonexistent wind. Tendrils that, from X's report, were capable of stabbing through a fully armored hunter and delivering what amounted to a neurotoxin. Or was it anything as specialized as that, when it could just be the zombie virus itself?

Lifesaver had wanted it cut, less than twelve hours ago, but not enough to do it himself. Not even with a drone. They were remote platforms, but they were still linked to him: he and Signas were both attempts to give reploids something like the legendary capabilities of robot masters, but they were still both reploids who didn't work that way.

Dr. Cain's notes said that he and X had discussed the possibility like sane people, except they'd wanted to see if there was some way to get pure samples of the stuff out of it somehow. Attempts had involved hairbrushes and a mettaur, to see if Zero pretending it was prey would help, but despite wanting to cooperate Zero also really, really hadn't wanted to do something that reminded him of what a freak he was, so they'd made remarkably little headway getting him to reveal his capabilities in controlled circumstances, as opposed to when someone upset him by revealing that he'd killed quite a lot more people and he wanted to curl up and die. That was when the wings showed themselves.

Or, Lifesaver admitted in fairness, when he wanted to save X.

Dr. Wily's creation didn't seem to want to do his creator's bidding.

There was a projector set up: Lifesaver pulled up a clip of Sigma's broadcast of Vile's report, the caged Lightbot.

Eyes suddenly bright red. Wings materializing (or teleporting in) and flaring out hard enough to smash one of the thin metal shelves flat against a wall.

A sudden absence of Case Zero.

Mission accomplished. Mistress Alia would be pleased.

"Why are these metal?" X wondered, wiping his fingers against the wall in order to get rid of the melted chain that had stuck to them when he pinched off the cuffs. Metal with such a low melting point, at that. "Did he take these from a warehouse door?" It wasn't as though Sigma hadn't known that X had developed the capability to channel plasma through his fingers. There were far better ways of restraining reploids, and these were Irregular Hunters: they'd seen what X and Cain had in the lab. Not to mention the effort to develop restraints that could imprison Case Zero. It wasn't like it would have been hard for them to abscond with a few hundred sets of something that it would take X more than a few seconds to get out of: it was the job of the Irregular Hunters to bring reploids in alive for repairs, of course they had field restraints from the beginning.

That cage: was it meant for animals? And then bringing him to Sigma in chains, of all the… This was 21XX! They should at least have been some kind of ceramic alloy.

True, the cage and chains were supposed to be just an afterthought, purely ornamental: of course Vile had bitten him after the ride armor kicked him around a bit. So two reasons for him to be down for the count, but really. Sigma should have known better than this, which was why X hadn't 'waited for the right moment' after being brought to him. Too much chance that the virus hadn't destroyed Sigma's mind enough to make him forget his own standard procedures for the transport and containment of reploids who were currently a little 'confused' and might hurt people.

"I wonder where I can find decent restraints." The Nova Strike might have burned the virus out of their systems… hopefully, anyway, but that wasn't the same thing as undoing how it had hacked their systems.

Or he might have just killed them, and he really, really hoped such an odd kind of EMP hadn't scrambled them too badly to be retrieved from the backup Vile had boasted about intact.

Eyes alighting on Sigma's cape, X wandered over and gave it an experimental tug. No good, at least not for restraining anyone. He should have known that Sigma wouldn't wear anything that wouldn't tear easily so he could get loose if it got caught on something, for instance. They'd watched that movie with Dr. Cain. Of course Sigma was going to be interested in heroes, when his uncle was one.

Tugging the cape away revealed other clothing on Sigma's armrest. X held it up and sighed. "I know it's a fairly normal thing for children to do, but maybe we shouldn't have let him watch the Star Wars movies thirty times," he reflected as he dropped a certain iconic outfit that was very much not in Sigma's size and drew Sigma's beam saber. Well, he supposed that outfit explained why Sigma had wanted X chained, specifically. "Field surgery it is."

First, relieving them of their built-in weaponry (they all had enough nanites left even with the virus fried that the stumps healed over, he was glad to see), and then he'd call up their design files and see exactly how much he could remove without too much risk of sending them into shock and fatal shut-down. The more volume he removed, the lower the chances that some part might serve as a virus reservoir.

In theory, the thing to do might be clearing the building or something military like that, but Vile had dumped X's armor and there was a teleport shield around this place, so X couldn't just summon it. If someone survived the energy his generator was putting out long enough to hit him with more than a single shot, he was out of luck, so a large room like this with only three entrances and without much in the way of cover might be as good as he was going to get.

Honestly, he was better off without the armor: it was easier to get the fiberoptics he was using to channel this energy without a buster or having to burn his fingers off through his body's fluid and nanite channels and fake skin than through alloy.

"What I really should be doing is calling for help," he knew, removing another limb, "but that protocol in the virus for valuable assets…" Signas was aware that Sigma must have left people behind in the hunters who were loyal to him, but there was a difference between loyalty and love. That was why sending X with any backup would have been asking for it: it wasn't just a matter of 'can we find two loyal hunters' as a matter of 'can we make sure that those involved in the selection process aren't doing anything they can think of to make sure we fail?'

A loved one in danger focused the mind incredibly, X thought, looking at Sigma. Reploids were supposed to be unhackable, so how were they going to hack them to unbrainwash them? Sigma knew tactics: of course there were other carriers of the vampire version out there, in addition to the people they'd fed from. Exactly what kind of infection rate were they looking at? Theoretically exponential, of course, but if they could at least make it harder somehow…

Well, one part of that nightmare was real already, X though, looking down at his hands, all covered in blood. Perhaps he should get Sigma's cape and wrap it around his waist or something, he must look like something out of a horror film. Possibly science fiction, given that he was blood-splattered and glowing. The trouble was that this light was his infinite potential system's answer to how to deal with the virus, and he wasn't sure it was as simple as the specific frequency issue (microwaves worked because that frequency excited water molecules). On top of that, without armor? This would work on the people who were actually infected, but if there was anyone kept around for feeding, they wouldn't be as vulnerable, and he needed to incapacitate them before they could blow him up, too.

Still, he thought, Sigma wasn't in any condition to give orders, and hopefully people brainwashed to love him would be more concerned with that than helping the operations of the other mavericks. They still needed to be dealt with, but that should be easier in the confusion of their high command going down.

"And you say-" Dad can't plot, X started to say to Sigma, but he fell silent at the sight of him there on that throne, with that ridiculous face paint. Missing his arms, legs and lower torso: X knew Sigma's design the best, he knew how to take him apart. He knew how to put him back together again, he might have said, but this time? "I will fix you," he promised, and hoped to anything that he could keep it.

Teleportation in a confined space produced a pressure differential, and teleportation produced fairly distinctive energy readings, the materialization blur effect relative to centers of gravity, which led some to believe that teleportation was related to gravity. No one really knew: this was Dr. Wily, who had also invented the cold fusion reaction.

Among a lot of other things, like the roboenza virus, which was starting to look almost like a trial run for, well, this.

Thank goodness it was Zero, he thought when he turned and saw gold hair. Well, no, X realized. He should not be relaxing because it was Zero, not when the last time he checked Zero was back at HQ, among an unknown number of saboteurs, who might have activated the failsafes and blown him up in order to release Case Zero and hope that helped Sigma somehow.

No armor, though: wings, but no armor. Case Zero had always reappeared wearing armor, and he'd never summoned the wings in combat, just when he wanted to hide himself or his prey. He might have figured out how to summon them even if he still couldn't use his buster as Case Zero, but that didn't explain the absence of his armor.

The black on his legs: underarmor or the sweatpants X had brought for him since no one deserved to be stuck with the flimsy hospital gowns for weeks at a time?

Red eyes. Whether or not Zero still had the chip, this couldn't be a good sign, not when Sigma and the other vampires' eyes were red. X started to amp up his generator, charging up the new technique.

Sweatpants, definitely sweatpants. That became apparent when Zero jumped over the plasma shot X had thrown from his right hand (still almost burnt off his fingers) in order to slow him down when he started to lunge towards X and tackled him against the wall. Pressed against him like this, ordinary fabric wasn't going to be any defense against a point-blank EMP, so X wasn't worried until the nervous system woven into the surface of his skin recovered from the EMP and he realized that Zero was licking his neck.

This kind of energy specifically acted on the virus. The effect should be worse the more virus someone had in their system, and Zero generated it. If even X, adapted to handle this kind of power by the infinite potential system, was knocked partially offline, then Zero should have been… that was a stronger blast than X had just used to take out a whole room, and hopefully some of the nearby ones!

Maybe someone else would have panicked over how they were going to die as the fangs slid in, but a part of X was happy he hadn't killed Zero and a lot of him was very worried, because his one hope for curing Sigma and the others, or at least making them non-infectious so it would be possible to have them confined until their sanity returned instead of killing them… Well, now he didn't feel very hopeful. If Zero was already unaffected, and he was the source of the virus, and he had the infinite potential system, then if X was the one who programmed Zero, he would have made sure that any adaptations like that made it into the virus.

If Case Zero returned, if there was another outbreak, then even if they stopped this one…

X prodded Zero's chest, hoping he'd move away willingly, noticing almost glumly that he'd found a way to break out of the loop first Zero's feeding and then Sigma's had trapped him in. Well, he'd certainly been very motivated. Clearly Zero's systems were motivated too, to be able to feed from X without getting burned. Infinite potential system versus infinite potential system: that could create a feedback loop that would allow the virus to get stronger ad infinitum, if X didn't watch it.

Zero wrapped his arms around X, pulled him away from the wall so he could get his wings around him, and X wished he'd gotten Sigma's cape. He didn't care about being naked: he was built to chose who he wanted to become, and just because he'd decided on male pronouns to honor his father and older brother (well, when he spoke a language that had gendered pronouns, anyway) didn't mean he'd seen any need to make physical changes. If he was being captured now, though, he'd rather not be naked. That was demeaning, although not as demeaning as the Star Wars slave Leia outfit would have been.

It seemed as though Zero was just happy to see him (and maybe a little peckish, but X would like to think that Zero was learning to recognize him even when he was like this) since that hair wasn't stabbing him, so after a few seconds X was worried about someone walking in more than anything.

Given all the blood, they'd probably think that Zero was murdering him, come to think of it…

The fangs slid out after Zero got a taste, but when X said "Zero?" hopefully there was no response, other than Zero turning around, spreading his wings and looking over X's shoulder at the room around them.

The only proper response to being flung over Zero's shoulder was demanding to be put down, and when that didn't work, grabbing a wing and twisting it, hopefully uncomfortably. Not all that hard, because there was a difference between using pain to discipline someone who was a little animalistic at the moment (beating animals was not okay) and conveying X's feelings about someone twisting him about in a way that Zero would hopefully understand.

X still had the beam saber he'd taken from Sigma, but he was fairly sure that if he drew it to Zero's attention, Zero would try to take it away from him. Zero liked beam sabers.

Finally set down next to the throne, X's eyes widened and he was the one to grab Zero after Zero threw what was left of Sigma out of the throne where X had set him carefully, wrapped in the cape to protect his components. It felt a little hypocritical to want to yell at Zero for throwing Sigma around when X had just dismembered him, but even so!

That was when Zero sat down, on the throne, looking unusually regal for a… state of Zero's mind that wouldn't be able to access an internal database to know what a king was, and X started to wonder if he should be worried.

When the wings flapped once and then exploded outwards, solid matter turning into a haze of black fog shot with lightning, a stormcloud filling the room (was this what the lighting on Zero's wings was meant to represent?), X covered his eyes and took a step back, starting to glow again to keep it from landing on his skin and crawling inside his systems.

Rock would have had to damage his siblings to bring them home. The Light family is very protective of their children and younger siblings, and I like the idea that X is a medic first, so he knows what kind of damage he can safely do and how, even if the Nova Strike isn't known technology to him yet. Still, he needs to subdue the mavericks before they can be transported to a lab and he can try to fix them.

Also a reference to Blues dismembering Lightbots to keep them out of trouble in Megamix.

I like the idea that the Irregular Hunters were major Star Wars fans before the virus hit.

This was going to be the last chapter, but I'm still not happy with the ending, and then the Time Travel fic exploded on me and I've been working on that instead of brainstorming for this. Didn't want to leave you without an update, but hopefully posting this will give me time to come up with something better.