The retirement of reploids in Neo Arcadia as an incredibly stupid way to handle an energy crisis, and I use the word incredibly in the accurate sense of 'not believable.' Recycling takes energy. This is one reason why recycling paper is an incredibly bad idea, on top of the facts it means less trees and produces incredibly toxic waste. There are also the problems with the Prius, and actually most of them would be far far worse in Neo Arcadian times than the modern day.

The only realistic reason to scrap reploids when they need a workforce and therefore have to keep building more is to keep reploid average age down, preventing rebellion. Of course, this lowers the standard of living of humans too due to the waste of energy, on top of meaning they don't have skilled workers. They'd have to be aware that the means of controlling the populace they're using the energy crisis to justify just makes it worse.

Pantheon-type drones might burn less power if they think less, but the trouble is that things that don't think die easily, meaning new ones have to be built, and there are other things that require thinking, like inventing decent power sources or ways to conserve energy.

A Neo Arcadia that didn't have that policy would be vastly better off.

I also tend to start from the assumption that Copy-X was not created evil. He was built by Ciel to help people. He was just an infant and shoved into the pressure cooker that was the straw that broke X's back.

As soon as Ciel had been ushered off by Phantom (there was only so much protesting she could legitimately do: she had no place at a family reunion) and the door closed behind them, Harpuia put his head in his hands. "That little idiot."

She was a human female. A fertile human female, product of all the latest genetic research into ensuring health (despite the radiation and chronic food problems), sanity (despite the quite reasonable reasons for a human go to irregular) and intelligence (despite the rarity of meat products with the proteins the brains of gestating children needed).

And apparently the researchers had screwed up majorly somewhere, because the girl was a completely insane brain-damaged moron. For the sake of humanity she clearly had to be removed from the gene pool, one way or another.

"No, this could turn out for the best," Leviathan said, glaring at their 'guest.' "Everyone's saying that the courts are biased towards humans. It'll help PR when she gets executed for high treason."

"What are you talking about?" Their… 'guest' tried to seem like he didn't know what they were talking about.

This failed utterly, along with the rest of his attempts at acting. Ciel had spent how long building her fake (and this explained the thefts of certain materials), and she hadn't bothered to get the eye color right (Master X would never wear the eyes of a maverick) or give him any acting lessons? Of course, perhaps she had been a bit rushed at the end. Things were getting a little… difficult.

But this wasn't going to help.

"You know what we're talking about, you fake!" Fefnir growled.

"A fake X, constructed by a human? She's dead as a doornail. Was she trying to remind everyone of Dr. Weil?"

"I'm not a fake?"

"Ooooh?" Leviathan asked, folding her arms. "If you're my father, then what was his nickname for me? And there's no way he wouldn't have hugged us first thing, after so long, cameras or no cameras."

Harpuia sighed. "You just had to remind me of the media circus Ciel ensured on the way in."

"Well, that's…"

"You've got a built-in mode conversion taking up valuable space," Fefnir chimed in next. "X would never do that, if he needed extra combat features that's what armor was for. It's obviously just there so you could pretend you were getting armors from Grandfather still."

"How did you…"

"You were scanned on the way in. Master X would have known this building's security features." Phantom was the one who spoke next, from behind the fake. "Not to mention that this is not how he would react if accused of not being himself. Not after experiencing all that he has. You are obviously just an innocent newbuilt, and Ciel already confirmed it." Well, no, not even he worked that fast, even if as the stealth unit he, like Harpuia, knew quite a lot about human medicine, but Master X would have known that. The copy obviously didn't. "You shouldn't be held responsible for her crimes."

"Well, if we're executing her, he'll be tarred with the same brush," Harpuia pointed out. "And complete remodels are expensive. His testimony at her trial or other services would have to be enough to justify both letting him live and the expense." Normally, the good cop/bad cop positions were reversed, but all Phantom had to worry about were security and the potential for riots.

The rough division of resources after X had disappeared (leaving a note saying that he had vanished for good reason and a long time, and would not be returning to take charge of the city - a note they hadn't made public and the fake hadn't mentioned) had ended up with Fefnir in charge of the city's boarder guard and keeping down the population of rogue mechanaloids in the outskirts, Leviathan guarding the various plants outside the city's borders (where the more dangerous generators and various other things were kept hidden away in ruins at a safe distance), Phantom handling policing actions and Harpuia trying to handle the council and public opinion and so on.

He hated it, but he'd drawn the short stick, even though Leviathan would have been a better figurehead entirely-temporary not-ruler by virtue of being blue. Not that kept repeatedly bringing this fact up, especially not when she was asking for more resources that he couldn't give her because of the crisis and the need to keep neo Arcadia under control. He was too mature for that. He limited himself to glaring at her occasionally, on every other really frustrating day.

"I'm not a fake and she didn't build me. She found me in…"

"Look, you're just digging yourself in deeper. If you can't even give us one sign that confirms you're our father, then just give up," Leviathan said, stepping and then leaning forward into his personal space, holding her weapon in a way that would have made X tell her to stop that, not made him back up.

"I look like him?"

"Not really. Sure, you're physically close-ish, I guess, but your eye color is just the most outrageous screw-up." Fefnir was not impressed.

"You don't carry yourself the way he did, and that would have been the easiest to mimic." There were outrageous amounts of footage of X in the archives. "The fact your copy of X's face is so accurate means that it's as expressive as his. That just makes it painfully clear there's an entirely different person behind those red optics. You might have his general energy signature, but an unauthorized copy was made of our best version of his plans and sold on the black market years ago. We've been waiting for something like you to show up." Phantom circled him. "Leviathan's actual birthday, what research project he was working on when he had a moment, the contents of the time capsule that was buried about a year and a half before Dr. Weil's announcement," during those precious, long-past years of peace, "the names of those he considered his niece and nephews," Dr. Cain's personal creations: Sigma, Colonel, Iris and Signas, "the name of our older step-brother, X's favorite human food: care to give us any of those as evidence?"

The copy was only able to look away.

"Good, because they wouldn't have worked. Of course, this really demonstrates how little research other than reploid design Ciel put into this. All of those are matters of public knowledge, and X would have known that." Well, they were in the public record, even if there probably wasn't anyone but the four of them and a few reporters and historians that knew all of them.

"Don't even think of trying to fight your way out of here and rescue your builder," Fefnir warned him, watching the newbuilt try to think of what to do. "Humans are squishy, after all, and we couldn't allow either of you to escape."

"Don't make us shoot at a human," Harpuia warned him. "No one would convict us, but she should have a trial." Although he doubted the fake was maneuverable enough in midair to keep Harpuia from snatching her out of his arms, altform or no altform.

"…Is Ciel really going to be executed?" the newbuilt asked pitifully, and they knew they had him. "Because I'm not good enough?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Leviathan scolded him. "How old are you?"

"Six days," he said, voice small and quiet.

"That's barely enough for system tests, and she probably just installed you with a file of everyone's names and faces." Ridiculous, Phantom's expression said clearly. "You're a newbuilt, you can't blame yourself for your builder being too incompetent to let you do your job right. If she dies, it will be because she's defective, not you."

"If?" Harpuia asked, outraged. "Phantom, that's low." Giving the newbuilt hope that his maker might survive if he cooperated with them well enough? Playing on his misplaced feelings like that?

"Well, think about it." Phantom looked at the newbuilt meaningfully.


"Everyone's panicking and things are so difficult because Master X is gone. And now he's back."

"Are you suggesting we go along with Ciel's charade and deceive the people of Neo Arcadia?"

Harpuia looked at Leviathan and Fefnir for support and saw that their responses could be summed up by, 'Hell yes!'

"That's an incredibly foolish idea, if the charade is discovered it will destroy public trust in us and as Master X's children we are the only ones with any kind of public legitimacy." They could vote in a new council all they wanted: it wouldn't help. After Weil, after all the evidence of how difficult it was to survive and that they needed strong leadership that everyone could trust? Without X, without even the legacy of X, Neo Arcadia would fall apart. All the different groups and factions would believe that without X to look after them, they would have to look out for number one. Seeing their faces, Harpuia's attempt to be calm and argue rationally failed him. "You can't be serious! Are you the six-day-olds?"

"He doesn't actually have to do much. We can coach him in how to stand there and look competent," Leviathan said thoughtfully, looking the newbuilt up and down like an outfit she was considering buying, back in the days when they'd done those things. "Everyone would understand that X is busy catching up, and we could say that he's still working on the project he went away to concentrate on and came back just to reassure people. Most people don't know X as well as we do, and when people do meet him, they're generally too busy trying to avoid worshipping the ground he walks on too embarrassingly to ask thoughtful questions."

"Reporters," Harpuia countered.

"Manageable." That was Phantom's assessment. "With some tutoring and proper incentive. Provided she didn't implant any obedience programming into him that we can't remove."

"She didn't," the newbuilt said, trying to stick up for her.

Fefnir snorted. "Right. What kind of idiot would let a newbuilt run Neo Arcadia? This job's impossible. You've got to do two thousand things with twenty kilowatthours. The place would fall apart around you no matter how hard you worked."

"She didn't. She said she trusted me." To make sure that things would be okay for her and the other humans who were having so much trouble surviving with so little food.

The four of them just stared.

"I don't know if that makes me want to have someone dig up an old electric chair more or less," Fefnir said finally, after sitting down.

"Don't be ridiculous, that would waste valuable energy," Leviathan told him. "We'll just hang her."

"While leaving out obedience programming is theoretically very nice, if she didn't just lie and say that she hadn't, this is…" Harpuia put his head in his hand again. Putting the fate of Neo Arcadia in the hands of a newbuilt who didn't have a clue what they were doing and would blame themselves for every little thing that went wrong, and countless things went wrong, or were wrong to start with, every day? "She really did think that you were going to turn out like Master X. That little idiot." That was the perception everyone had of X, after all. That he could magically handle everything because he was Dr. Light's creation. That he could, that he should just take anything and carry on, despite everyone and everything he'd lost. "This job would have chewed you up and spat you out." An idealistic little child trying his hardest? Trying to do something that had worn their father down until he finally disappeared?

"Fortunately," Leviathan said, clapping the newbuilt on the shoulder hard enough it tipped him forward a bit. "You have us to tell you what to do. Just let big sis Levi and the rest of us take care of everything." Or else.

The door to Ciel's room (theoretically it was a very nice guest room, but Phantom had audibly locked the door behind her and Ciel's attempt to access the outside world with her datapad to see how things were going had caused it to burn out) opened and Ciel walked in.

As the prisoner sat on the edge of a very nice bed with a sage-green comforter (this had been Harpuia's room before he moved full-time into a room in his unit's barracks: Harpuia was the most serious of them all about not giving himself any extra space, energy or privileges his soldiers or the common people didn't have) and stared, her twin, looking thoughtfully into space instead of at her, thought aloud.

"Well, the next thing to do is to attend the press conference. The grateful city is going to force the Guardians to give me something, so I'll accept a grant to work on developing a new type of generators. Copy-X's internal power source was really well made, if I do say so myself. That grant will let me set up a workshop somewhere. Outside Neo Arcadia, obviously, in case anything goes boom, the way it will if I make any more stupid mistakes."

Ciel's face paled.

"I wasn't going to contact Copy-X anyway, in case I gave it away, so I'm certainly not going to ask for visitation rights. Obviously I'm not going to reveal that he's a fake, either. That would defeat the purpose and who would the city believe: the Guardians or me? Of course X's children would know their own father. No one would seriously believe that they'd be fooled by a child's fake, and there are all sorts of things that only they and X would know. I'm lucky that everyone wants X back so much that they're not going to ask too many questions and the Guardians are willing to let me get away with no punishment besides exile as long as I don't cause any trouble, aren't I?" Now the Copy-Ciel looked at her mirror image. "Aren't I?" It was strange to see her own eyes soften with gentle but stern disappointment. "Aren't you, Ciel?" Please, those eyes asked. They didn't want to have to kill her, but they would if that was what it took to keep everyone safe.

"Who are you?"

Eyes that looked too old and wise to be hers examined her, then smiled, almost sadly. "I suppose that since you're going into exile, it won't hurt." There was the distinctive light distortion of a cloaking system disengaging.

Ciel stared, eyes wide. "…X?" Really? No, of course this was really him. Of course he wouldn't have abandoned them, but, "Why?"

He sighed, looking disappointed and sad. "During the Elf Wars, Weil corrupted human leaders or tricked them into supporting him: he even had humans in his armies." Acting more as human shields than effective soldiers, although elf-enhanced ride armors were formidable. "He killed or used the dark elf to control and then kill all the effective reploid leaders as well, except for Zero and I. Then Zero had to seal himself away after the war due to compatibility problems with his replacement body. That left me."

He sat down on the bed next to her. "Neo Arcadia hasn't been falling apart because I'm gone. The generators, the fields, the factories: everything is still there." And X was still here. "It's been falling apart because everyone thinks that I'm gone. They think that no one can lead them except me. You and the other people of Neo Arcadia aren't helpless. You don't feel like you can't look after yourselves and shape your own destiny because it's true, you feel that way because you're afraid. I hoped that if I disappeared for awhile people would pull themselves together. Buckle down and start trying to build their own futures, the way they were before Weil. We're at peace. There's no need for everyone to be so afraid. I hoped that this would teach everyone to believe in themselves again, instead of me."

"I'm sorry," she whispered, bowing her head, unable to look at him. She'd failed him, hadn't she. "I was just like everyone else. I thought that you were the most important thing, and I could have been working on a generator and…" She'd entirely missed the point, everyone had.

"It's alright, Ciel. You're young. Most people though," he said, shaking his head. "Don't have that excuse. I should have waited a few more decades, I think. For your generation and the next to grow up, to have time to forget about Weil, about being betrayed by everyone around them." The savior elves turned to bringers of madness, humans fighting alongside… humans worse than mavericks, the birth of something worse than the virus: there had been no one to trust.

Except X.

"Look at me, Ciel." He tilted her chin up. "You could have done other, more productive things, but at least you did something. Instead of blaming everyone else for things going wrong you made a plan to fix them. You used your own two hands to build what you thought would make the world a better place. And, actually, I think that you were right. It really was too soon. Neo Arcadia still needs me. But it also needs better power sources, a weather control system so radioactive dust doesn't get blown everywhere and more decontaminated arable land. There are projects that I need to work on, and you really do have some very good ideas for power generation. Copy-X is a good child, and it will be useful to have a body double to sit in meetings for me. Most of my time was taken up by public appearances and reassuring people by being there for every battle. Since he can reassure people that I've come back, everyone will calm down and things will go back to normal. Except that Neo Arcadia will have survived my 'absence,' and maybe people will have a little more confidence in themselves." Everything had turned out for the best. "Come on, cheer up. You did 'find me,' after all."

He smiled encouragingly and she tried not to blush or cry, just nod.

"Can you manage the rest of today, or do you need me to stand in for you? It's no trouble, I'm going to stay here for a few days helping your creation learn how to be a little more convincing."

She shook her head. "You shouldn't… I'll take care of it."

"Thank you, Ciel."

"You're welcome." After everything X had done for them, doing what she'd planned to already was nothing. He deserved so much more.

He nodded and stood up. Heading for the door, he paused. "Ciel? There's actually one more favor you could do me. I really am impressed with your work, especially for someone so young, but in future, please keep in mind that you need to pay attention to the little details. Harpuia wouldn't have called me back just for an imposter, he's fully capable of taking care of things like that himself, but he was a little worried because your copy had red eyes. Levi's fixing that now, but we're all very lucky that no one picked up on that. Can you imagine what would have happened if your oversight had convinced people that I'd gone maverick?"

She could.

It was one of those times she wished she didn't have such a vivid imagination. Neo Arcadia would have torn itself apart in panic.

And it would have been all her fault.

"Just pay more attention in future, alright? Don't worry, nothing happened. We're lucky that it's been so long since the virus was a threat. The world is at peace now. The only enemy left is fear, Ciel. Everything will be alright." He left, closing the door behind him.

"Well?" Harpuia asked when his proximity sensors went off.

Behind him, X turned back into Phantom. "Mission successful," he reported. If Phantom had been a less disciplined person, he might have gone into detail about how Ciel had swallowed his X impersonation hook, line and sinker, or tacked a 'Bwahahaha!' on the end there. The slight trace of smugness in his voice was Phantom's equivalent of doing an annoying touchdown dance. "It didn't even occur to her that her appearance wasn't generated by a cloaking device. Sitting down on the bed and several other details would have proved that X's appearance, on the other hand, wasn't a projection. I'll install listening devices in her new lab, but we shouldn't have any difficulties. She wanted to believe that I was X. The possibility of a newtype is unlikely to occur to her."

"And newtypes wouldn't have been able to use reploid copy chips to imitate humans or X." Actually, a scan of the appearance of a human or reploid couldbe loaded onto a chip. Merely mimicking the outward appearance wouldn't fool sensors or allow a newtype reploid to use their weaponry, so that had limited utility and wasn't common knowledge. It had been highly classified knowledge, in fact, since that ability had allowed Commander Axl to assume X's form and trick Weil into thinking he knew what X was up to while X was working on finding a way to revive Zero to fight Omega.

After Zero was revived and Axl was… no longer available, Phantom had been the one to act as X's body double, when X needed to be in two places at once. The Guardians hadn't so much considered that classified as a secret they would tell others over their dead bodies, because theoretically newtype reploids were extinct and building them was illegal, after Lumine and Redips. They weren't going to give away such a valuable capability or betray their brother.

"I need to get back to coordinating how we're going to play this. Since Fefnir's monitoring the net," how people were reacting to this, "instead of you, go help Leviathan get him ready for his appearance." Phantom was the expert on pretending to be X, after all. "We can only justify keeping him incommunicado by 'reporting to him' for so long."

Phantom nodded. Of course.

"Just keep Leviathan from putting too much fear of the four of us into him, the last thing we need is for Master X to appear nervous or frightened." Because that certainly wouldn't help public morale.

Copy-X was a hard worker, dedicated to doing his best and helping the people of Neo Arcadia. He could solve, just by listening, smiling and nodding, problems that had made Harpuia want to tear his hair out because he'd been approaching them like actual problems that he had to solve when all that was really necessary was for people to feel like their hands were being held. Harpuia was actually able to get enough sleep to limit his use of recharge capsules to one per week if he slept in the sunlight, and the construction of more shelters and workers allowed reploids to work in shifts and take time off for full sleep cycles, which improved the bottom line and morale.

Harpuia was the one who had to take the newbuilt in hand, obviously, lest he take after any of the others too much. Not that Leviathan was actually serious about trying to convince him to be her little sister instead of brother, it was an old joke that Harpuia had never found funny and Phantom occasionally had.

Several years later, after Ciel had perfected her new energy source, they were finally able to have a real training exercise: week-long, full power & all maneuvers, squads against other squads with actual tactics instead of trying to find some desert monsters whose destruction justified the buster use but hopefully wouldn't kill rookies when they got panicked and froze. Obviously Copy-X needed to learn how to lead, since he was the theoretical supreme commander of the military forces and what if he got put on the spot? Harpuia got assigned as his assistant, supposedly, because it would look bad if Master X's force actually lost, training exercise or not.

That was when he noticed that Copy-X had actually gotten fairly good with that unwieldy flight mode of his over the years. That by this point he was really more of a family member than a figurehead. They'd missed X, and it had been natural to slot into place around him, each of them fulfilling their usual roles (strategist/fighter/tactician/bodyguard) and arguing their usual viewpoints, using the innocent newbuilt who still believed in happy endings to balance out their more cynical viewpoints and more vicious tactics.

That was something that X had lost over the years, and they'd had to watch him fall, grow more and more worn out, beaten down and reforged into a sword instead of what he had been, what he had been built to be.

This newbuilt, no, he couldn't call him that anymore, couldn't really be considered just a fake. Not anymore. Not when green eyes grew fierce with determination and his wings shone brightly in the sun as he dove down to assist one of their units, his men, the instant he saw that they were in trouble.