So, it's too short, and it took too damn long, and it's not quite what I had in mind, but it's an epilogue.

"You know, they're out of sight, you can go ahead and switch weapons now."

Ignoring the disembodied voice, the courier dashed behind another piece of ancient rubble before turning to fire again, eyes closed in order to focus on sonar.

"The only valid tactical reason to use an energy pistol like this when you're going for lethal shots is if you're worried about infection. They're good for that: melee weapons take you too close for comfort and buster shots could set off a chain reaction with their power source that showers the area with the virus. Since these so-called mavericks," the coldness of that tone showed what this warrior thought of anyone who would willingly call themselves a maverick. It was an insult to all those who would much rather have died rather than be taken, if they'd had any choice at all. "Aren't infected, the only reason you're using what, your third best weapon is to set a good example for those two. Trust me, they're out of sight."

"I don't trust them not to double back." Even with the package - Ah, there, got it. Giroette smiled as the unit that had to be this group's commander finally started squealing to its boss. "And I'm worried about more Model W contamination."

"These drones? They're not carriers."

"What?" The agent scowled, even said, "Damn!" Weeks of following up leads, this entire sting operation, wasted! Not that making progress towards shutting down a raider organization this good wasn't a good thing, but if they weren't the ones tied to whoever was using Model W, that put the investigation right back at square one!

"Tsk tsk," the voice in the reploid's head said, chuckling, as Giro finally triggered the merge. If 'the courier' didn't need to worry about 'the kids learning the family business'getting additional contamination, or about keeping these goons alive long enough to send enough signals for HQ to get a start on decryption and tracing, that was when it was a good idea to take them down fast, in order to make sure Vent and Aile were okay. "Those who don't learn from basic…"

"Are you going to tell me what you mean?" Because a lot of the time all the biometals did was drop hints. Models F and P were notorious for it.

"Don't get your hair in a bunch, there's no way Prairie won't figure this out as soon as you make the report, so I'll tell you. You made this little sting of yours too good to pass up. Oh, there's nothing suspicious about having only one guard, and theoretically you don't know those kids are infected, so no reason not to take them along. It's not like Model X needs protection, but even if you weren't supposed to have any Chosen here, this is still Model X we're talking about. Only an idiot wouldn't expect casualties."

"So you're saying they sent uninfected units so that the autopsies wouldn't reveal their connection to whoever's using Model W?"

"Either that, or they're more worried about the kids than about you."

Because Model W infection automatically made someone a candidate to be Chosen by one of the biometals? "So you do think we've got a leak."

"No, I think that no one's going to go around killing everyone but small humans, infecting them with Model W and letting them end up in the general population instead of a lab somewhere without having a good reason to do something so calculated to get the Guardian Force after their asses the instant you realized something was up with the sudden demographic shift."

Since their creation, the biometals carrying the imprints of the heroes had been fairly evenly split around reploids and humans. The Chosen obviously felt a duty to be at the forefront of civilizations' defense, since they had the power now, and the biometals weren't going to pick anyone who didn't already feel that way. Normally someone who hadn't already chosen this lifestyle, someone who hadn't already proved that they could bear a burden like this wouldn't even be in the running. Being Chosen was supposed to be a badge of honor, the crown of a lifetime of service, a sign you were considered a worthy heir to the legacy left behind by the Guardians and Master X.

Now Giro was the only veteran biometal holder left, and the courier had more than a small suspicion that was because of Model Z. The unusually talkative biometal. Especially since the Guardians had donated copies of their tactical banks to the project before vanishing, while Model Z was supposed to only be a partial recovery from the hero's empty body. According to Dr. Ciel. Who tended to smile a lot when the subject of any of her babies came up, forget the most advanced products of her work to erase the boundaries between human and reploid, not to mention gather data on the special abilities of the heroes until they could be fully analyzed and ordinary humans and reploids could be given those upgrades. It wasn't as though they could ask people who had given so much to the world to become lab rats, after all, no matter how much it would advance mechanical science.

For all four of the original Guardian biometals to suddenly bid farewell to their previous chosen, one after another, and choose underage, impressionable humans who, from what Thetis especially had gotten up to so far, had no idea what it meant to have power like that? No idea that just because he could do something didn't mean he should?

Eventually he'd exhausted the patience of Guardian Leviathan's echo. Defending the seas, yes. Breaking other people's things like a brat who refused to grow up and learn why people made the hard choices like building heavy metal extraction facilities despite the short-term damage to sea life? Hell no. After they fished the ice cube out of the water and brought him and the biometal to Dr. Ciel's lab…

Oh, right, Dr. Ciel.

Calling up internal com, confident that whoever this was couldn't detect portal-based transmissions (yet) got an instant response. "Samples?"

"No samples."

"Aww." Giro could hear the pout. "Why not?"

"Biometal Z thinks it's probably a misinformation attempt. Why have I suddenly gotten the feeling that you had a hidden motive in approving this op?"

"Because you're my daughter after all, Piroette."

"It's Giroette."

Ciel sighed. "I said Giroette: why did you have to change your name to something that sounds exactly the same if you're going to be so cranky about it? And, I mean, Giro? I gave you a name that advertises your grace," after all the work she'd put into Piroette's experimental balance and agility systems, the one that made the reploid such a perfect match for Biometal Z, "And then you change it to something that makes you sound like a sandwich."

"I blame the pink," was Giro's response, although she laughed a moment later.

As Ciel sighed again. "Well, if I keep building myself children, eventually one of you inherit my favorite color. Speaking of which, how are my-"

"You're hoping Model X will pick one of them during the attack." So that was why she'd let them go into even… especially minimal danger. So far, none of the infected had suffered any negative effects from carrying Model W nanites as well as the standard Model 1 human life-support and augmentation set, but Dr. Ciel's theory was that the other biometals had chosen infected humans to protect the hosts. It was possible that Thetis' bioterrorism was due to Model W tilting him towards nihilistic megalomania, but Ciel's assessment as a mother was that he was just a self-righteous brat who needed a good dose of reality. "For Harpuia's sake, I already have enough trouble keeping the two of them from 'helping' by getting themselves into trouble every fi-" She whirled as she heard the noise in the distance, the sound of an oversized mech tearing through the mechanical forest. "I'll call you back later."

"Moooom" Giro drawled, because someone had better give someone else an explanation or else they were in so much trouble, and it wasn't her this time. Being a Special Investigator did in fact rock sometimes.

"Yes, dear?"

"Since when can biometals divide?"

"Well, since I did base all of them on Model 1 and if that living metal didn't make more of itself under the proper circumstances, I wouldn't have been able to use it as the basis for the standard symbiote system, now could I? There wouldn't have been enough."

"So this isn't a sign that Model W is corrupting the other biometals?" And why did Giro think her mother was lying through her pearly white ceramic alloy teeth?

"I shouldn't think so. …Is it Model X or Model Z?"

"Model X."

"Should be fine, then."

"Is there a reason Model Z might not be fine, then?"

"I'm sorry, I'll call you back later."


"Really, Giroette, you and Prairie were the ones who asked me to take time out of my lab to visit this city and be kidnapping attempt bait. I'm not going to make the first possible assassin I've detected in all this time come back later because I'm on the phone."

"How come he gets the one that can fly!"

"And it sounds like you're a little busy over there. Say hello to my grandchildren for me."

Of course Ciel would say that she loves all her children, reploid and human, equally. However, despite totally rejecting the original pink armor design, Giro is currently kind of in the lead due to A) having a job that makes the world a better place (even if it's not science), B) getting married and C) bringing home grandbabies.

When one thinks of how many kids Dr. Wily built...