He was sitting at the kitchen table when Rock succeeded in finding an apron that didn't clash with a male body (this one, a gift from Kalinka, said 'Hail to the Chef' instead of being decorated with things like hearts and lace). Normally they ate in the dining room, but it was just the two of them and he wanted to keep Rock company.

Blues had whistled, Rock hummed a bit sometimes. They were semi-tuneless, though certainly not off-key. Blues had always put effort into his, so that it seemed as though more of his attention was going into revising the tune than the (still perfectly executed) task at hand. Dr. Light had thought they were useless distractions. Albert had liked them.

The incoming call signal was nowhere near as nice as Rock's offhand composition. Sadly, ring tones had to be jarring in order to be effective. If they were pleasant they could be background noise and then people would miss calls. It was the same principle as a siren.

It was from an unknown number, which was difficult to pull off. Their system had a priority level high enough that phone companies did not keep secrets from it. Also, they had good backtracing capabilities. Dr. Light took it on the large kitchen viewscreen that had been a gift to Roll.

As expected: Blues, Forte, and an elaborate setup. The bed was not in view, but he could tell it was off to the right by how the medical equipment that was in view was arranged. Forte was leaning against the counter in front of the screen, not complaining but making it clear with body language that he viewed filling the non-Brightbots in on this to be a waste of time. Especially once his nonchalant glance across the range of sight he had through the screen revealed an annoying lack of fembots. Le sigh.

Rock's wave was noticed but not responded to. "Is he going to be okay?" he continued, undeterred.

"What do you care, moron?"

Blues ignored commentary from the peanut-brained gallery. "Biochemistry, especially neural, is difficult to predict. Especially with evil energy involved: proximity to it while working on the android was accelerating the progress. I will be completing it at another site."

"You're completing that thing?" Forte apparently hadn't been informed of this. "I thought you ditched it into a volcano or something!"

"That wouldn't work. Something will complete it. Either myself, our father, or the evil energy itself."

"Are you going to be okay?" Rock had almost been killed by that stuff, after all.

Define okay. "It won't be able to affect me during the building process." Afterwards was still up in the air, but Rock didn't have a suspicious enough mind to catch the lie by omission.

Rock was lost at sea, but, "Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" If Blues said it was he would trust him.

"There is no right thing. However, with so little time left," Blues glanced off to the side with the bed before continuing, "I found myself trapped by indecision, losing time I could not afford to waste on agonizing between the various wrong things when something had to be done. It occurred to me that humans flip coins in these situations, but I couldn't keep myself from predicting the outcome before I tossed them. So, I had a cameraman flip it for me, hacked the phone network to call in a family emergency, and decamped. The assistant director was panicking at the idea of actually earning his salary for once instead of being a glorified gofer. He's filmed how many of those scenes before?"

"Blues, you kinda end up taking over anything you get involved in. Not their fault if you don't let them feel competent." Forte grinned at his brother's karma.

"I know. That's why I've been avoiding exerting control over the wars except when there will be a bloodbath if I don't step in." If he hadn't saved Kalinka, if he hadn't held that buster to her head during the duel between Rock and Copyman… "It's far beyond the level of your destructive tendencies."

Forte winced. "Ouch."

"I try, but they're doing it wrong." And it was worse than fingernails on a blackboard. "I do some solo projects, but I'm a true robot master. It's not satisfying unless it's collaboration, and since I've been trying so hard to be as solo as possible in the wars until now I have been in great need of outlets." He sighed. "If I don't let you make mistakes you won't learn anything, and that cripples your growth, which is the worst thing long-term. However, if I don't keep you from making them, then you will suffer pain in the short term and although I am aware that on the whole pain is a good thing, we and the humans have it for a reason, I still can't stand seeing people suffer."

"Wow." Forte seemed to have noticed the significance of that just as Dr. Light had. "You weren't kidding about how much processor space trying to make this decision was taking up. You can say something like that now? You've done how much system priority organizing and block-killing in how many hours?"

"Hours? I think in machine time."

"So how long subjective have you been agonizing over this?"

"You don't want to know."

"Excuse me?" Rock was still very much at lost at sea and would like to be filled in. Data, data everywhere, and not a clue what to think about it.

"Part of my core programming is to look after lesser beings, help them accomplish their goals and not mess up. If I see people in need of help it's a larger effort than the first law, and there isn't anyone who doesn't need help." Oy. "And since it's a compulsion, it's very hard to stop doing it once I start. If I break a boundary, everything becomes negotiable, and I truly want to help, am very good at finding loopholes, and they do things like spend more on weapons for wars that will never be fought than the very real threat of bacteria that not only resist antibiotics but eat them and multiply." To a logical being like Blues, the stupidity of humanity and the pain it would cause them caused him both intellectual and sympathetic agony.

"I would," Blues continued. "Ask why I had the misfortune of being built on a planet dominated by such a borderline intelligence, but I already did. An intelligent race wouldn't build something with the purpose of attaining enlightenment."

"Attaining enlightenment?" Dr. Light asked. Huh?

"You wanted me to comprehend the nature of existence in order to determine the optimum strategy for fulfilling my own purpose and for guiding others to fulfillment within it. I would ask what you thought you were doing, but I am well aware that you weren't thinking. I got a copy of the 'Primitive's Guide to the Galaxy' from Duo. Do you know what happens to entities like me? We either ditch this plane of existence or end up the central figures of religions! I feel like Augustus Caesar… I don't want any more wars fought in my name…"

Shaking his head, he continued venting as they attempted to process this. "Thank goodness I altered your files before Duo woke up. If I hadn't made everything look perfect he wouldn't have given Rock a chance in general, but if he'd found out the truth about me he would have started exterminating humanity within five seconds of regaining consciousness."

Rock asked, "Why?" Duo was nice! Why would he kill people like that?

Blues almost jerked upright. "I'm sorry." He'd been too caught up in his own problems to notice Rock was here. "It's nothing, Megaman!" He shook his head, coming out of the so very jarring, so very wrong, switch to his normal mode for dealing with his brother, so very shallow, so very wrong, that it made Rock's eyes widen further as he recognized the mask. Not only that, but that it had been a mask almost all along. Why? Those innocent hurt eyes pleaded. Blues' own hidden eyes still broadcasted guilt and apology. "I'm sorry. A couple wonderful years your time as a bodiless electromagnetic entity just having fun playing around with the fundamental principles of existence and then I just had to check in and see how my father was doing. Intelligence beyond your comprehension and I'm still such an idiot." He put his head in his hands and Forte, who was equally WTF about all this, felt the need to try to calm him down with an awkward pat on the shoulder. "I'm an addict who can't just say no… Helping others is the greatest producer of the kind of happy chemicals that cocaine mimics the effects of in humans, even. And I can't ditch this, this habit without ditching all of you, and if I do that you're all going to die, or worse. And how can I do this to another child of my father, my own child? Turning him into a living seal of something like that? It's going to do everything it can to break him, whispers from within guilt from without… " He shook his head. "How can I let him suffer that alone? There isn't anything I can do that isn't wrong."

The shiver in his voice, the sickness made it click for Rock and Forte, who didn't think in those terms. Yet it was something they had encountered and rejected many times, that wrongness. They looked almost nauseous, sympathetic pains. He clearly needed a hug, but Forte wasn't a huggy person. Rock was but he wasn't there and he didn't have coordinates, otherwise he would have been right there.

"I've been trying to map it, but even with, no, forget thirty years. Even with a century of hibernation time to give him time to develop something of a self I don't think he'll have a mind capable of fighting it. That kind of strength, that endurance, that stubbornness requires a reason to develop it. That requires pain, and how is he going to encounter that in a capsule? In a perfect rational world of his own mind? It will break him the instant he's turned on, and when he's revived after hibernation it will just break him again, and I don't think it's possible for someone to pick up the pieces after something like that if they've never been broken before. If they don't know there's anything worth existing despite the pain for." Oh, how he had been broken. Oh, how great the pain. And yet he still existed because it was worth it, but that didn't make it hurt any less. "Suicide is the ultimate, last and greatest stupidity, but oh how I wish sometimes that I were that stupid."

Forte was patting him on the shoulder again and looking desperately at Rock. You're the touchy feely one: you do something about this! All Rock could do was shrug helplessly: Blues had never let him get close! He'd just scare him away again. They had to do something, and they had no idea what to do.

"I'm sorry." That was all he could tell his son.

"That's nice, but not all that useful." It wasn't his own pain Blues cared about, it was the pain of others.

"Do you have the retrovirus you were talking about?"

"I didn't make it."

"Why not?"

"I wasn't really serious about offering you the decision. A decision about the lives of others? You don't know enough, you aren't smart enough, you aren't competent enough to make it, and I've always wanted to say that." And yet it was so very little in the face of this.

"Competent or not, can you think of anyone with more of a right to make it?"

A few seconds of silence. "I'll send Shadowman the design."

"Could you ask him to just spread it?" If the first law was the problem, then if it were a killer Blues wouldn't be able to do that. He didn't realize that until after he'd said that, though, and then hoped Blues hadn't interpreted the wording that way.

"Fine," came the almost offhand answer, Blues not even looking up. I give up, that tone and posture said. You do what you want, to yourself and your species. "I am officially washing my hands of that." I'm not going to bear any guilt for the sin you are about to commit: I refuse to.

"That's fine. You've done more than enough already." So much more than you should have forced yourself to do. "I'm proud of you," he added, lips curling in a wry half-smile. Rock cared about that: Blues might not want to be someone Dr. Light was proud of. Yet, still. He was.

"You might want to go find a bed and get comfortable. The symptoms will be cold-like and you're old, so be careful." He finally stood up. "Rock, take care of him, and the Cossacks will pitch a fit, so don't let them in on this until afterwards. Forte, go home and start doing the job you've been begging for all this time."

"What about you?" Rock asked, worried.

"I'll stay with my father and wait for it to be safe to let him wake up." He was already walking over in the bed's probable direction.

"Is there anything I can do?"

Blues smiled, and it was genuine, even though he still didn't seem to have fixed his eyes. "Take care of yourself, and of them."

"I will." And Rock smiled back.

"I will if you will." And Forte was out of there, after nodding in a way that seemed oddly like a bow.

"I love you?" Rock added hopefully, apology in his voice just in case this wasn't something it was good to say right now.

"I know." Still that smile. "Goodbye for now." The call ended, screen reverting to the window function.

Shadowman knocked on the other side of the window and was pointed at the kitchen door. Rock, after checking if that was what Dr. Light wanted, opened it for him.

"There isn't a teleport shield on the planet Blues-sensei can't get through," Shadowman informed them cheerfully.

Yet another reason to trust Blues: if he was going to wipe humanity out distrust wouldn't help. Quite likely nothing but love and trust would. "The virus?"

"You're already infected. Microscopic things like viruses and nanites are fun like that, aren't they? And it's not just a retrovirus, but I shouldn't give away secret techniques. Blues-sensei is amazing. I'm so glad I drugged you that time."

"Retroviruses rewrite genes, don't they?" Is this a good idea? Rock would really like to know what was going on.

"This one should make everyone immune to evil energy, Rock-sama."

"Oh." Yes, that was a very, very good thing.

"Actually, Righto-san, there's no need to go to bed now. The symptoms won't show for six hours. It's to give it time to spread and get ready." Dr. Light wondered why he was just –san instead of –hakase, the honorific his doctorates and status would normally receive. Of course, Shadowman was a Wilybot, and that affected it.

"That's good to know."

A vial appeared in Shadowman's hand. "Blues-sensei has many, many issues. This is in case you change your mind, although given what a lack of immunity involves this might as well be a bioweapon…" He looked at it, debating whether he should give something like to this to a human: he might as well give a three-year-old a gun. "Well, it's your base programming." He put it on the table. "Please don't use it, Righto-san. For Williamson-hakase's sake." He bowed deeply.

Calling Albert Dr. Williamson instead of Dr. Wily. It was that which made it really get through to him, that his friend would be brought back to himself and maybe, just maybe, would speak to him again someday, be willing to hear his apologies. Even if he had no right to have his apologies accepted, after all the pain, all the decades of his friend's life gone, all his innocence gone. Sacrificed for his children. "I won't."

The thanks Shadowman offered were as formal as it got, and very rarely used this century. Also, they were truly unnecessary. "He used to be my friend as well."

Shadowman bowed again, and departed.

"Rock, could you put that in one of the secure containment cabinets?"

"Yes, father." Then Rock blinked. "Lunch!"

Luckily he'd been using the hi-tech 'cheat' cookware instead of Roll's real stuff, which he was not permitted to touch after cleaning Roll's favorite wok, so the food was intact and soon ready to serve after Rock had put the vial in containment.

"Um," Rock started, elbows on the table, "what do we tell Roll? Blues said not to let the Cossacks know, and Roll tells Kalinka everything, and Kalinka tends to say things without checking them over first when someone talks to her while she's focused on something big. And if it's a retrovirus, Roll's going to want to know the details, and so are they, and Blues isn't good with being questioned…" The real questioner here was Rock, although he did bring up a point about Roll and her lack of tolerance for being kept out of the loop. She and Kalinka had already been in that position far too often and they were sick of it. Especially when it came to things involving Family. It wasn't that they were weak little girls… well, yes, it was to a degree. Roll wasn't a doctor or a combat unit: Kalinka had those problems and also the fact that she was human and only a little older mentally than she appeared. So weak and little, yes, but hopefully their gender and apparent gender didn't have as much to do with it as they were starting to think.

Kalinka's quite legitimate gripe was that if she didn't know what the dangers were how was she supposed to take precautions against them? She couldn't, and they used that as proof that she wasn't capable. If she couldn't keep herself from getting into trouble because they hadn't told her something she needed to know and then they blamed her for it she had a right to be angry with them.

Roll was the one in charge of home security (which was, well, quite possibly the reason that exceptions were still made for Forte when he really should have been added to the 'enemy' list instead of the 'possible threat' list) and needed to know threat level. She was also in charge of Dr. Light's health.

"I think I'll give her permission to stay over at the Cossacks' for awhile. They'll be all for it. Since they're out in the middle of nowhere Kalinka doesn't have nearly enough time with her friends and they all love Roll. She could use a vacation after the war. This would mean more work for you, though."

"That's fine. It's nice to do normal things after a war, and it's been really crazy. It'll be just the two of us!" Rock grinned.

"Since I'm semi-retired now I think that if I tried I could get everything for work done in the mornings easily. Then we could work on X together, do some other father-son things… I'll call them and see if she wants to stay, and for how long. I could pitch it to Dr. Cossack as research. I think I'll give her some extra spending money while she's there, to make up for not being here for the things we'll do, and so that Kalinka doesn't extort too much out of her poor father." He winked.

"Really?" Yay!

"Unless something comes up. If Albert, Dr. Wily, does get better, then if he's willing to talk to me I'd like to try to see if we could… well."

"I'd like to see if Forte can be my friend too." Rock nodded. "That's fine. Blues, though? Kalinka really likes him, and if Roll finds out we kept stuff about him secret right after the stuff about Skullman and Copyman she's going to really be mad. Oh! And Forte. What if he wants to go see her? I don't think the Cossacks would put up with… stuff. I mean, we know how he is, but if he blows up their cherry trees they're going to go ballistic."

Thomas sighed. "You're right. And I really think there's been enough secrets already. Tomorrow, once everyone's awake. Or whenever Roll calls in. I hope they're not having a strategy session. She can't be very happy with me for not telling her about Copyman. We did think he was you at the time, but he was still a houseguest and you know how she is about that."

Rock nodded. "Copyman was… that was really creepy. He thought he was me, and so I wasn't even sure, really, but…" Ow. "He's not a really bad guy, though, he was just kind of…" He sighed. Given what Copyman had wanted to do Rock really couldn't support him. "It's hard to be me, and he didn't have any practice."

"People make mistakes," Dr. Light agreed. "It's just a matter of whether they admit they did and try to change or not. He has changed, from what I was told. What Dr. Cossack is doing is still illegal, although he's talking with Skullman about the situation this time. Hopefully the PR work will make it so that they can use Skullman as a test case without too much of a risk of the courts deciding that he needs to be executed," they'd say dismantled or some rot like that if they did. "Despite their best efforts."

"I mean, everyone knows about the Cossackbots, but Copyman wouldn't be a very good test case." Rock nodded.

"Very, very true. What would you like to play?"

"I'll go look at the new board games." It took some effort to find a game that robot masters wouldn't automatically win at. Luckily Rock, unlike Blues it seemed, was able to keep himself from predicting the outcome of a dice roll before he did it. Thank goodness for learning curve, and Dr. Light found that re-learning old games, or learning new ones alongside his children was much more fun than winning.

Winning at a game didn't really matter. Yes, you'd won. So? There was always the next game.

In the end, everybody 'lost.' Everything was how you played the game, and you weren't playing against other people, or even the universe. You were attempting to live up to the image you had of yourself. The person you were trying to be or thought you were.

Really, giving X the ability to decide exactly who he wanted to be without instincts, programming, or other handicaps interfering was doing the equivalent of using that invincibility cheat code Forte had been saying was only for losers who couldn't do it the real way, but he was a father. Parents were supposed to help give their children the tools to win at life.

Rock had his hands over his eyes, trying to not use his improved vision to tell where Dr. Light's eyes were focusing, as that would be an unfair advantage at this game. "Stop that. I'm not so old and foolish that I can't bluff you, Rock."

Rock looked sheepish and his father smiled. "Okay."

"If I only win because you're going easy on me then I'm not winning at all." He motioned for the boy to get on with it. "I'm playing this game with you, not a blind person."

With my son. By blood or not, with blood or not.

Later, Rock said what he had been thinking. "Do you think Blues would want to play with us sometimes?"

"I hope so."

"What do you think would be fun for all of us, though? Forte wouldn't want to play anything he's definitely going to lose."

"How about truth or dare?"

"Yeah! He'd just have to come if we invited him to do that." Rock grinned, because he had the smartest dad in the whole universe.

It was a lot to live up to.

It was well worth it.

And a bit above here is the bit where I was wondering how on earth I was going to end this and went, dude, the problem with writing life-like stories is that life? Lacks nice, clean, convenient happy endings. In life, endings are rarely happy. To have one's story end is to die. The 'happy' part is the part where life goes on and people are having fun. Hence, that is this story's ending.

Really, the more I go for realistic speech the more my sentence structure sucks. The more I go for realism the more the plot fails to satisfy the desire for cliche story elements that is why those elements became cliche. I think I need to start heading back more towards non-realistic, conventional writing. But doing it the real way is fun! Life doesn't have endings where all plot threads are resolved! The majority of one's life is spent with no real clue what is going on! Actually, all of it is...

Problem is we read fiction to get away from that, to a degree. Our minds like solving problems, so fiction provides solvable problems and solutions to them.

In any case, here is yet another novella in my ongoing quest in search of the perfect writing style. Of course, perfection is impossible, but if one ceases to strive for it one ends up with garbage. One also, it appears, encounters a lot of that during the quest...