"I thought so. You were in and out of the Pentagon in about half an hour and the documents you were looking for had been misfiled."
"They don't have a robot master there." Hence it had been a cakewalk. "Also, I've been trying to get less dependent on the Shadow Door Technique. Blues looked it over with me and we spotted quite a few ways for defenders to make coming out of the wrong shadow fatal that are hard to detect pre-emergence. Losing a challenge of stealth without master abilities to a seven-week-old was shameful."
"Fatal? I thought shining a light on it mid-transit wouldn't be more than an inconvenience."
"No, not lights, applications of the principle that lets me do it. And fatal as in for everything within a tenth of a kilometer. No one but us knows the details and no one but me could produce the substances in question even with the designs, at least not on earth. Since what you use for me was found on a meteorite and it was preset to produce the shadow transit substance, it's a good idea to have contingency plans."
"So that's why he's Shadowman instead of something related to his overall abilities."
"I didn't know it could make other things until…"
"Dr. Williamson?" Roll made a note to ask what was embarrassing enough Shadowman would interrupt his boss. "If they are both healthy, stable, in no danger and there is nothing else, then I should go report back. Are there any messages you wish me to deliver?"
"Please tell them that I'm very grateful for all their help."
"Although you wished us to consider ourselves adults under your command instead of children obeying their father, you did build us and we do consider you well worth following. If the need for a choice between you and Director Blues had arisen our loyalty would have been to you."
"That wouldn't have been wise."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. But that is what we would have chosen." He bowed again. "All of us are well, work on our new home is progressing quickly," they were robot masters, they had minions, and a lot of the more dangerous ones had been built for construction in the first place, "and if you feel the need please call on us for any reason."
"I won't be ordering you around like that anymore."
"If you feel the need," he repeated, and bowed once more. "If you wish to speak to us, Director Blues can provide a connection. Miss Roll, I am sorry for the intrusion and hope that I might be granted the privilege of entering your domain under better circumstances. President Light, I hope that you and all here are well, and thank you for taking good care of my father." It would be good care… or else. Roll was reminded of the 'thank you for not smoking' signs. "Until we meet again."
She wasn't sure how he'd snuck up behind them, but that was a smoke bomb. When it cleared and she could see that there wasn't smoke residue all over everything she decided that he was okay until proven otherwise.
Drama over and some information gotten, they returned to looking at things until a halt was called for dinner. Dr. Williamson hadn't been able to contribute much but suggestions of things to look at since the sort of data he'd once been able to read like a billboard now was Greek to him and hence was put back in the armchair with the various dishes placed on the side table along with the clearly sorely missed green tea.
So much for a family dinner since her father didn't seem willing to stop working on this without being forced to and Rock's puppy dog eyes were currently unavailable. She went over to the side of the couch, wanting a closer look to make sure he was okay.
He was still being incredibly cute. Getting Blues to snuggle: that took mad skills. She'd only seen him once before today in person, but with her or Wily he had either been surface cheerful, velvet glove failing to conceal cold steel or a naked blade that just went through where it wanted heedlessly. With Rock, though, he looked truly happy, innocence regained. Now that she listened there was a song he was singing, or whistling, whatever, and oh…
Dr. Light's tray slipped from her hands.
Beautiful. He was still asleep, but this was like listening to him dreaming? At peace, healed, hopeful, little musings that she couldn't follow since she didn't speak this. That was it, talking in his sleep, only these sounds were pure artistry, not random syllables.
She would have enjoyed it more if it hadn't made her drop the meal she'd put her heart into making for her father. This was so embarrassing, she'd never dropped anything like this in her life, her father seemed to think it was a sign of the Apocalypse that she'd caused food and coffee to go all over the floor, and…
Well, older brothers were supposed to be annoying sometimes.
She would have made him clean it up when he woke up, but Carrie (yes, derived from Carry, she'd been two days old when she named it, what did you expect?) was about to pounce on it, metaphoric tail wagging, in order to help her mommy.
When Rock did stuff like this he was sorry, and that made it hard to be angry and make him pay for it. Not to mention that there wasn't much she could extort out of Rock that couldn't be had just by asking. This was her fault for getting distracted, really, but it was still irritating.
She was making him help her find out how the coordination programming's space had gotten hijacked by music appreciation. That normally wouldn't happen. Even if it was really… okay, yeah, it just was that pretty, and she wasn't that into music. It was sort of, yes, it's pretty, now what? It didn't get the coffee roasted and if she was going to be listening to something she'd prefer it to be her family talking.
Maybe it was that this was family. Even annoying family…
…he was still in armor. He was sleeping on the couch, and he was still in armor. Gah! It wasn't as though one of hers wouldn't love to spend a lot of time with her getting altered into a stain remover and helping her out, but it was her job to keep them from having to fix other people's mistakes. It was okay to leave potential clothes spread out on the bed when there was a last-minute wardrobe emergency since something was in the wash and the teleconference was in five minutes, it was not okay to put trash on the floor instead of into the wastebasket.
He was larger than Rock by enough it mattered, was there anything that would fit? (…would serve him right to wake up naked…)
She hadn't been this irritated since Rock had forgotten to change out of his armor before going to bed the night after the end of the first war. There had dirty footprints (soot, lubricants, coolant, most of it not his thank goodness) all throughout the house and his sheets would have looked like camo if the original color had been blue instead of green.
This wasn't anywhere near as bad, it was just… that her brother had come home, and she didn't want them to need armor here, she didn't want the physical dirt from what they'd gone through before coming home to stain this place and remind them.
They wouldn't have to fight here. They wouldn't have to feel like their hands were stained here. Not if she had anything to say about it.
Dr. Light watched his daughter, whose embarrassment had been converted into annoyance, stalk off in search of pajamas that fit. "You could go through my clothing: it won't be too small, at least." Too big, all of it. Even his long johns would have to have their sleeves and pant legs rolled up more than a foot.
"I know, if I can't find anything I'll check." She could just grab it, but she was taking the time to see if there was anything better. He wondered if the airplane ones were loose enough to work. The mental image of those on Blues… Well, more like images.
On the child there had been at first they worked. On the hurt child they were too cheerful: the irony of the contrast made him ache. On the one who was locked away inside they were the same as the scarf: something human and soft on something that was inhuman and cold as he'd once thought reality was. On the one that had come back they would have seemed far too young. On this one, well, it was cliché for parents to say their children were little angels when they were asleep.
The little soft notes… he didn't know if Roll had been the one to notice them first. Albert hadn't been as excited about them as he should have been. He'd been quiet for some time, perhaps he had been listening for them. Now he wasn't listening only to his own thoughts he could hear them.
Actually, that was why he'd failed to hear Blues all this time: Blues hadn't been what he was listening to. Just his own preconceptions and what he thought mattered and the theories he'd had the arrogance to think were fact.
The way he held Rock was almost like the way someone of the age to believe in monsters held a teddy bear, curled up under the sheets. Thinking the bear could protect them from the things they thought were out there. Rock, the hero, could deal with real threats.
Like hatred, ignorance, and prejudice. He'd let Rock melt his heart, and how different was he from Blues? He knew, he'd written the code. If anything, Rock was less 'good' at the level of coding. Programming versus environment, nature versus nurture.
Perhaps it was that he'd just lost Albert and Rock had been there, by his side in his friend's place. That made it only natural to try to see if the person who acted like his partner, helped him, was in the lab with him, was also a good person. On top of the challenge he'd set himself, to give these robots every chance so that when they did not develop personalities and emotions that would prove Albert wrong and allow him to stop feeling guilty.
The one who understood programming better than anyone alive (until he'd built Blues) and the one who understood people and was fascinated by everything under the sun. Ancient cultural traditions, fusion: the stuff of fantasy and science fiction. He didn't know if Albert had gotten along with everyone, at the universities at least, because they were almost certain to share some interest or if…
He'd wanted his friend, and Rock had filled that gap when given the chance. It was ironic that he'd turned Blues into what he had been and Blues called Albert Father and he'd raised Rock as Albert had tried to raise Blues and Rock called him Father. Not really fair, was it?
Albert had always been the one who knew what to say, and then Rock had become the one to break the ice. With Roll having gone off to fetch another dinner and decent clothing they were the only people here that were awake and he had no idea how to talk to him. His forte was now Albert's weakness, he couldn't take refuge in talking about what he felt safe in until they'd rebuilt that bond. What there was to talk about was Blues, and Albert, and did he have any right to talk about what he'd failed to understand even though he had built him, he had been his best friend?
He'd… tried, while they were working on Gamma. But his olive branch had been a welder, the sort of shared project they'd bonded over and Albert couldn't do anymore. So his attempt to remind him of the good times had reminded him of how they were gone, possibly forever.
He wished Albert would say something, but he was listening to Blues and he didn't know if he had a right to intrude on them more than he already had.
Blues and Rock wanted him to, but he wished Rock would wake up. He'd somehow gotten Blues to want to take him on a camping trip, and when there was something being planned, something productive to do… Small talk involved no higher brain functions, leaving said functions with nothing to do but worry about slipping up and making things even worse.
He had no idea how to fix this, and he wished Albert would say something.
…but why would Albert want to put himself at risk yet again? He'd tried to convince Thomas so many times, before Blues' death, during the entire litigation for control of the patents and company, and he'd just been rejected again and again, hurt again and again. Why would Albert reach out? Especially when Thomas' attempts had been, essentially, 'let's do what I'm the reason you can't do anymore to create a robot that will be used to kill your creations' and 'forget about your son and help me make others to treat like things until they're no longer useful and will be killed' reminders of why Albert had rejected him.
When Albert wanted to help him, then it was fine, but if Albert wanted him to… not even help. If Albert did what Thomas wanted all was well, but if Albert said that what Thomas wanted was not the right thing to do, if he didn't do as he was told… "I'm sorry."
Albert looked at him, waiting.
"I was wrong." It was amazing how hard that was to admit: no, not admit, say. The next part was even harder. "I messed up." That was an understatement, but it was still far harder to admit that his mistake had negative consequences than to list those consequences. "I wanted him gone, I tried to destroy him, and I didn't listen when you said that was what I was doing, and eventually I thought it worked and I was glad, and for some reason I didn't… I thought that when he was gone it would all be over. It was, just not the way I thought it would be. But he's not gone, and you're both here. I want to… I don't deserve to be your friend. Not after everything. Let alone be his father. If I were you I wouldn't want me anywhere near either of you. I can't fix you, I don't know what I was thinking when I worked out the deal for you to come here. Just being in the lab again, being under my control isn't going to fix you, that was the entire problem in the first place. I want to try to make things better, but I fail at it. I thought if he were gone then all would be well, I thought that if you were here, and stuck here so you had to listen that I'd talk sense into you when it was really the other way around. I wanted to fix the problem, I put a lot of work into it, but it was worse than useless because I refused to admit that the problem wasn't him, or you, it was me. You were actually trying to help, both of you, trying to get me to see but I loved my own ego more than my best friend. I'm sorry."
"You actually have changed. I don't think I really believed it until now. You always were stubborn as an ox." His eyes closed as he bowed his head and smiled an unreadable smile. "Remember Steven? Fell for that bartender because of her figure and spontaneity, they had nothing in common? I can't believe they lasted six months, but then they wanted to get married, and I asked to be best man. I warned him. 'You color-code your sock drawer, she left clothing flung all over your dorm room. It might not matter, but why are you swearing to spend your life with her when you haven't ever even been roommates? You're only now getting engaged and you're asking me while you're picking out the ring? Get an apartment together, no one cares about living in sin nowadays and no one will think it's a shallow relationship if you're fiancées!' But no, they wanted a family, it was love at first sight, and they'd already decided to start having children as soon as the marriage license was signed. It went well until he graduated, and then we saw him at the YRO conference the year it was in Florida."
"…he seemed to be doing well."
"If it's not on a computer screen…" That sigh was half long-suffering, half the haunting familiar irritation. "When we last saw him it was an effort to get him to stop gushing about his perfect home life to work on stress failure testing and at the conference you gave him the sort of opening that would have meant we'd be stuck hearing about pina coladas and heartbeats for half an hour and he just said, 'Fine.' I got it out of Cynthia. They're in separate bedrooms and they couldn't even keep from sniping at each other for two hours when she went over for dinner despite being on their best behavior. 'Staying together for the children' is a textbook bad reason not to get a divorce. How are they supposed to feel secure in a household run by two people who are practically at war no matter how hard they try to avoid making them pick sides?"
"I suppose, but we do have things in common and we were roommates at MIT two years running until it started giving people the wrong idea. Or, well… I suppose this visit wasn't going so well."
"We were enemies and we were more civil than they were. Well, I'm an old man and Lia's in a nursing home. And it was your dates who got the wrong idea, Lia had been hanging out at gay bars for years and knew better. She got fed up when I was late to one date too many because you'd had to be dragged home from the computer lab before you'd spent enough time there working on the final project without sleeping to be considered legally insane. Sequential allnighters are a fact of life for those studying computer science. Most people can't graduate without mastering the fine art of power-napping, but you'd… I couldn't believe that you thought it was only Tuesday."
"Normally Anita from IT kicked me out when she came by to check everything over at ten on Wednesdays, but she was sick that week." That was how they'd met, actually.
"I pity Roll."
"I'm not as bad as I used to be." He'd had to get better at looking after himself, when he'd been keeping Albert away to keep him and Blues apart and wasn't reminded to go eat something before he became a literal zombie, the lab staff were too scared of him (treating a nice man like that) to take the risk of informing him he needed to shower…
"She wouldn't put up with it, unlike some idiots." Like himself.
"You're telling me. The two of them… I wanted to become a better person for them. And for you. I'm still… I'm not good at this."
"At least you admit it. And at least you're trying." Albert would give him that. "Thomas, despite the façade I am anything but sane. Every time I think of you I remember what happened. Every time I try to think of the good times I remember what they led to or I can't remember them at all. You were a fish out of water everywhere else but you are a genius, an artist, when it comes to design, and that's what I can't remember. I look at program code that should be the Mona Lisa and it's like one of those pictures that makes no sense until you cross your eyes right and it simply will not come into focus even though it used to be automatic. We all know that programming style is as individual as fingerprints or painting style. You can tell an amazing amount about how someone thinks looking at how they solve problems made manifest. Do they take shortcuts, do they annotate it carefully for the sake of others, do they… If what I wrote while I was off my medication made any sense to me I would bet money that it was insanity made manifest. I don't understand you anymore, and Blues was trying to help me with that, but… I'm not having the nightmares or flashbacks right now but I still remember. You're my best friend and a genius capable of creating the two of them but at the same time you're the person that did your best to kill him and destroyed my life."
"Albert, I…" He didn't have anything to say to that, and was rescued by Roll arriving with a tray of freshly-made dinner and the airplane pajamas.
"None of the day clothes will fit," she explained.
"Are you sure he won't mind?" By the end there, he had been almost flinching at the slightest touch. By the end there, Dr. Light hadn't even given the courtesy of a warning before turning him off to be worked on.
"Well, I mind that he's in armor." She quickly found the release catches but it was much harder to pry him away from Rock to put his arms through the sleeves.
The sounds as she did this could be summed up by, "?" but it was just puzzlement, not fear, and he didn't wake up.
"I feel like Snakeman," Roll murmured. "Only if I were doing this for entertainment value I'd have picked one of my summer dresses." Roll gave up tugging on the leg and just heaved. "And those don't have pants, so it would have been easier."
Albert laughed, and Thomas joined him.
"There we go." She let go of the leg and Blues' reflexes tugged it back up onto the couch and positioned it to avoid falling over. That accomplished, she gave him a look and he started in on his dinner. Albert next. "Let me know if you want anything else."
"We will." This was enough, but she wanted to make sure he knew that she would be happy to get him something. His stomach had growled once when he was about to go to bed since he hadn't had any lunch due to a sudden meeting. He'd been fine after dinner, but then he had started getting hungry again but hadn't wanted her to go to the trouble of making something, especially since they'd been playing Chutes and Ladders when the feeling started. Going to bed a little hungry hadn't been a big deal to him, but it was to her.
She nodded and sat down, lifting one of the two little cleanerbots that had trailed her into the room like ducklings into her lap to be checked over. Debugging, updating, writing new programs to deal with things that came up… the need to constantly do that was what had drastically limited the usefulness of robots. Then he'd had the bright idea that instead of trying to give every robot that did varying tasks (as opposed to assembly line) a limited AI that could only do so much and was very expensive to create it would be better to create a single high-level AI. That way, the less bright AIs could bring problems that they couldn't handle to it, simply transmitting the data and program code. A human trying to do that had to sit down and look at all of it on a screen trying to find the problem. Sometimes a single typo could crash a system. A 'robot master' could just attempt to run the program on a subsystem, use search functions… Blues could spot, fix, and update in a hundredth of a second test robot program error problems that could take the human tech support workers they'd looked at for comparison hours to find, let alone solve.
Blues hadn't liked those tests. Deliberately giving them wrong programs? One time one of the robots they'd wanted to use had been in his arms when they asked for it, and he'd been very reluctant to hand it over. Even though he'd been ordered to, despite the second law, he'd hesitated and looked like a kicked puppy. No, more like he wanted to try to protect the puppy from being kicked. He'd obeyed, but pled with his eyes for them to say they didn't mean it, to countermand the order. He'd bought the sunglasses home not long after that.
The sunglasses were on the table next to the couch, the scarf that had joined them hung over Albert's shoulders, and the eyes that had earned them were closed. He couldn't see Blues' face, but from that song he knew he was smiling in his sleep as the remains of what had been done to him were washed away. Hearing that song, seeing them all here together in peace if not quite in harmony made him feel that, despite the odds, everything would be alright.