I don't know why some people prefer to say that aliens did things instead of admitting that sometimes, we can't figure out how our ancestors did certain things. Geniuses have been born throughout human history, before the scientific method, remember. The idea that Native Americans needed to get the idea of a basic geometric shape from the Egyptians, or the same source as the Egyptians, is frankly ridiculous. Was there cultural contact? Did the Egyptians have South American gardening/terraforming tech? No. If they had, we'd be calling it the Sahara Rainforest. Did the Amazonians have Egyptian organic battery tech? No, or the world would probably be equally different.
The scientific basis for magic really does interest me. The fact that a placebo has a 30% chance of curing anything, even things we don't have medicines for or our best ones are much less effective? No wonder they were screwed without double-blind experiments. People who had abracadabra chanted over them really were more likely to recover than people who didn't!
Then there's the fact that ancient astrology really did work for a lot of really important things like childbirth and farming. Because of this, there were self-fulfilling prophecies and they didn't have modern statistics to weed those out of the data pool.
Then there's why Pythagoras was right about math and music. He freaked out about irrational numbers? The brain freaks out over musical dissonance. Then there's why a lot of products have orange packaging. And why tarot cards help people answer their own questions and voodoo dolls really can kill people (despite having very little to do with the real religion).
The golden ratio, ever-present symbols…
In any case: this website now has a policy against replying to reviewers in the author's notes. I hope this chapter answers the question of a certain anonymous reviewer (since I did different technobabble in this chapter...), and would like to point out some of how the virus acts in X5&6. While the fact the virus warps reality makes it kind of impossible to say 'the virus has blank property, and that requires blank other property,' going from current tech/laws of physics (and Megamanverse physics definitely have something else going on, since mass-conversion teleportation has been proven to require more energy than actually exists in the unvierse), but before I read up on Zero series the virus always did get treated more like a physical thing than a pure transmission, and organic viruses are very simple molecules in the way nanites are very tiny and simple machines. While EXEverse viruses are computer viruses, in a world where robotic life was metaphorically akin to human life (androids), it made sense that a virus that affected them would be more akin to a human virus.
This is the final chapter of a fic that was supposed to be cheerful crack and got derailed by angst and magical realism-style spec & technobabble. I hope it was interesting despite the fact I was forced to give up trying to get some control over it. Since I promised to never leave a fic unfinished, I will be picking up Definition of a Reploid and How Does Your Garden Grow? again as soon as I get enough of the incomplete fics currently in-progress finished off. Realistically, that means sometime around the beginning of June, since that's when Falling ends and I'm going to try to finish off Lazy Sunday first, since that's only got one chapter left. I'm publishing this chapter early as part of my personal pledge to get all this done.
Since he'd chosen to go into sleep mode and not wake up until either he had enough nanites or someone was trying to wake him up, it took him only a fraction of a second to come online, even though it must have taken much more time for his system to build up a reasonable amount of nanites this time then when he'd woken up to Cerveau feeding him or X giving him a large amount instead of a trickle.
X was under him, asleep, with a small incision on his neck. Zero's mouth had been pressed to it, even in his sleep. He must have been slowly accumulating nanites for awhile. Was he also sensing ambient virus? Someone, a human from the sound of breathing, was sitting near the bed.
"Ciel?" Zero asked.
"You're awake?" She touched his back, mostly to let him know that she was here and, "I'm okay."
"We found out that I had Weil's nanites in my body, and one thing led to another until X used the dark elf to get rid of all the virus in Neo Arcadia."
"I know that much. How many people died?"
"It could have been a lot worse." She hesitated. "Can you really bring dead reploids back to life?" She'd lost so many resistance soldiers, been helpless to prevent so many innocent deaths.
"Only if they were infected at the time of death. How bad was it?"
"Bad. It's not X's fault. I agreed to it. You infected me with Weil's nanites. Without asking." Weil's.
"If I hadn't, you might have bled to death even after we won. You may have enhancements, but do you know what it was like to have you come with me? When everything I half-remembered said you were fragile and everything would be shooting at you first, and those memories were right?"
"I had to go with you on those!"
"You were only sixteen!"
"And the oldest combat capable resistance member was eight!"
"Time spent learning how to read and write doesn't count!"
"I'll have you know I was reading by the time I was three!"
"And I was reading from the moment I was turned on. Not the same thing! I had to sit in on discussions about the trade-offs, you know. We would have killed for more immune hunters: we would have accepted cyborg volunteers if it would have been anything but a slaughter! If those Pantheons weren't pieces of scrap you wouldn't have lasted five seconds! No, you are nowhere near as durable as a reploid, and everything you did to yourself to make yourself better able to take a hit lowered your agility, and then you put in dash boots even though you knew what those do to your… Yes, great, humans have more spatial awareness, movement control, balance, and that's wonderful, but the price of that system is that it's optimized for what you evolved with!"
Ciel replied in a small voice, "I'm sorry I threw up on you." Those times.
"That's not the issue." He had repaired himself enough to sit up earlier, so he did. "You're lucky that energy barrier was the first time you gave yourself a concussion! You should have cracked your head open about five times in the first week with those stunts! And I didn't know what to tell you not to do, do you know what that looks like in hindsight!"
Before Zero could wave at her, X grabbed his arm. "Yes. She was trying to get herself killed. You should remember what that's like, Zero. That was why I did as many missions with you as I could." It took Ciel or X, in the energy form he'd learned from the mother elf, to gather information, since Zero hadn't remembered anything about how to use computers or hack. "She was your commander, Zero. She was in charge and you didn't know. If she had killed herself, it wouldn't have been your responsibility."
"I took responsibility for the resistance when I joined."
"No, I asked Ciel to take responsibility for you. She was the one who asked you to risk your life for her, not the other way around." No, that argument wasn't going to get anywhere. Once Zero decided to fight for someone, once he decided they were worth it, he wasn't going to let chains of command, the other person refusing his help, or unalterable reality excuse him if anything happened to them. Sigma, Iris… "But I understand why you were worried. I was worried. You still should have told us."
"I was going to tell you once everything was stable."
"So we would have proof that the virus wasn't hurting anything? Everything has been calm," although they were still swamped with work, "for how many weeks now?" X sighed. "I should have realized that you wouldn't tell us, even if I know you must have thought about the consequences of us discovering it on our own." That it would not look good.
"You were so relieved. You were so happy, when you knew I was your Zero again. I didn't want to risk that." I didn't want you to be afraid.
"Well, since the honeymoon is already over, is there anything else you aren't telling me?"
"…I think I hit the high points back then. After Eurasia." That Zero had been the source of the virus… Wait, had X figured out that he was responsible for the Cataclysm? "There might be something else you don't know, but… not right now." He could tell X. He couldn't tell Ciel. At least not both at once.
Both the people he fought for, part of him whispered. At least until he could bring Iris back, and… he couldn't bring Sigma back. Sigma was the hero Zero never had been, the hero he'd tried to be, but Sigma wasn't X. He wouldn't be able to bear the memories, and he wasn't stupid, he'd look up what had happened and blame himself even if Zero erased his memories. He was a strategist; he'd know what the wars had done. The virus had used his mind to do that planning; he'd be able to understand all the ramifications of the wars.
He should delete him from the virus, but… No, maybe eventually.
Maybe X could help him? X had raised him, along with Dr. Cain.
Not now, though. Not when he needed to convince them to let him use the virus to help.
"Is it relevant to what's happening right now?" X asked.
"No." Hell no. The idea was horrifying. He wasn't going to destroy the world again. There was barely any of it left.
So it was bad, very, very bad, but not an emergency? When there were actual emergencies happening right now? "…Alright." But Zero was going to tell him.
"How are the patients doing?" X asked Ciel.
"They're almost all… we should probably pick a word other than infected. If we tell people we were deliberately infecting them with a relative of the maverick virus, there will be panic." Ciel knew she had freaked. She'd thought she was used to the worst, but this had actually sent her into hysterics, a panic attack, wanting to claw at her skin to get it out. X had been the one to slap her, since he knew ancient remedies like that and how much force you could apply without snapping a human's neck.
Except she would probably survive breaking her neck.
"What did you tell them?" Zero asked morbidly.
"Repair nanites. Experimental, but better than dying," was Ciel's summation.
Zero closed his eyes to check on the web. There were a lot of small energy nodes throughout the city that weren't hooked up to the web yet. How fast the virus took over (although it wasn't taking over these days) did depend on the initial dose, and right now most of the energy it drew from Cyberspace was taken up by the repair work. Performing repairs, creating sugar for the humans who needed their energy in that form, and there were also a lot of vitamins that could be built out of stuff in the human body. If they were low on minerals, though, they were out of luck. It would be awhile before a lot of them were able to create spare virus.
"Only a few people are infectious. It'll be awhile before the rest of them are. You were giving a lot of them really low doses, weren't you?" Another point winked out. "My virus is still a virus: a successful infection starting from just one strand or nanite is ridiculous. Nanites wear out, and if there isn't enough to get a foothold, somewhere they can work and create more of themselves without the immune system going after them? Did you try to infect any humans multiple times with a low dose?"
"I tried blood transfusions at one point, but it didn't work."
For a moment, Zero wondered how Ciel could possibly be that stupid before remembering that this was Ciel, not Dr. Wily. She might know robotics and reploid medicine, but he couldn't really expect her to know even the basics about how human diseases worked. She'd gotten so good at her specialty in such a short time by specializing.
"Ciel, in order for the virus to work to heal you, it has to make more virus to do those repairs. It can't even stay in your body unless there's at least enough virus to replace itself before it all wears out. There is virus in your bloodstream, some, but it focuses on vital systems first. And the virus creates specialized sub-nanites, anyway. Nanites are small. They don't all do ten thousand things. The nanites the virus produces to fix human cells don't have the ability to create more virus. Do you know what an allergy is?"
X did. "Can you work around it if they get one?"
"Of course, the virus is good at adapting. But if the body keeps destroying nanites before the nanites can adapt to look harmless that'll make it tough to infect, and allergies, as opposed to just identifying something as a disease and building antibodies to rip it apart, develop over time. If they decide to become allergic to my virus after it's already colonized their bone marrow, the virus would have to… Are there any patients in your hospital with diseases that aren't injuries or obviously caused by the virus?"
"There's been a rash of flu and other cases, probably because the notification that that the water treatment system had become unreliable didn't get out fast enough." Everyone in public works had assumed someone else had done it, since it was an obvious measure and they were swamped.
Zero cursed, pushing X aside so he could get to the edge of the bed and stand up. "Where are you keeping them?"
"Why?" X wondered, but didn't stop him.
"The human immune system makes your anti hacking defenses look like a 'thank you for not infecting me' sign. I will say one thing for Weil: he knew his stuff. Of course, he cared about himself more than anyone else and it wasn't like he had anything else to do up in outer space more important than trying not to die. Most of the time, fevers, coughing, and other stray fluids," runny noses, throwing up, "aren't caused by diseases. They're caused by what human bodies are doing to kill the disease. There's this old quote that your unit used to use a lot, 'we had to destroy the village in order to save it,' remember?" The seventeenth had believed that buildings could be replaced: people were harder, and people were safer when mavericks couldn't sneak up on them.
"The pulse would have fried the virus nanites. Ruining their camouflage and leaving nanite particles floating around everywhere. Most of your flu patients are probably trying to kill something that's already dead. Only their immune systems probably won't figure that out until a few vital organs have been destroyed by friendly fire, since my virus doesn't act like a biological one so they won't know quite what to do with it. As for what will happen if they decide to treat one of the metals in the nanites as an allergen? Forget the people whose immune systems were in the process of being upgraded by the virus or shut down while something tricky happened."
Ciel winced. "Because of the pulse?"
"Because of secondary infections." X was already moving. "Neo Arcadia is still a public health nightmare. It's too easy for disease to spread when bathwater is rationed, and easy disease transmission breeds deadlier diseases, since there's no incentive to keep the host alive so that they can infect the next host. They would have gone to one of the temporary hospital sites, meaning they would have been around sick people…"
"X? It's been three days. Anyone whose immune system was shut down when the pulse went off is dead already. That's why I said to forget them. Humans wouldn't have evolved immune systems that were such two-edged swords if they didn't need them."
X was staring at him even as he put his extra comm gear on and shouldered the medical pack.
"It's… you. Discussing medical issues. Instead of just…" Saying the minimum, like injury reports and that he needed more of 'that.' Zero had hated thinking about medical things, not just because of the way thinking about the virus made everyone shudder but because of his personal shame.
"You need to know this so you'll let me do what I need to in order to save the ones that can be saved."
"You want to save them. Humans."
"…I'm not going to just sit back and let people die." What was X getting at? Zero would have been hurt by the implication if he hadn't had the feeling that X was getting at something.
"Humans are people to you now." X smiled for a moment, finally relaxing. "Back then, you said that you never wanted to kill people." And that was Omega. If Zero saw humans as people now, then they really didn't have to fight any longer. "I'm glad." He met Zero's eyes for a moment, his own eyes soft, before getting back to business. "We have to hurry." They could reconcile and celebrate when people weren't dying.
Zero nodded, focusing. "Dr. Wily's later generators drew energy from Cyberspace: I can use them to summon the type of energy we need for this. If the dark elf can broadcast it over the city, that would give the virus the energy it needs to reproduce, repair, and spread."
"I'll modify the diagram I used for the antivirus. Can you check my work?"
"There's a difference between knowing how to move my arm and knowing how to program that movement. Just create a low ambient level, I can take it from there."
"Something like the airborne virus during the Eurasia incident? You said that you could monitor the entire area: could you use that to repair the infrastructure?"
"One thing at a time. If you're giving me carte blanche, then I could just set the virus to produce fats, sugars and the rest of that stuff for humans. Like plants, only using that kind of energy instead of sunlight. Reploids I can just have it recharge directly."
"Is that why Dr. Weil didn't starve to death on that shuttle?" Ciel asked, having to walk quickly to keep up.
"Exactly. All it takes is energy and raw materials. Dr. Weil's a special case, though. Vulnerability to sunlight, inability to produce the things he needed to live… If you hadn't launched his Nightmare up there with him, he'd have starved himself until he shut down before long." Instead of staying conscious the whole time.
X's eyes widened. "…Your symptoms? Really?"
"You're the one that said the symbols had been around a long time. People evil enough to count as demons, evil enough that even hell won't take them? Dr. Weil was like me, and apparently things that humans had to fight things like that work on me. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…"
Ciel frowned. "Vampirism? That's ridiculous. Weil actually let someone put a stake through his heart once." He'd let them get that close, just to dash all hope. Practically dared them to come attack him. If they killed them, they'd live and their families would be freed. If not…
"If you look it up, it wasn't that easy, Ciel. How did you keep him from coming back?"
"I had to absorb the nanites and energy that contained his personality." Let them think Zero had vaporized them instead of eaten them.
"They might have had energy manipulation, or a specific form of energy, at least, but they didn't have nanites," X countered. On the other hand, the Romans had used steam engines as children's toys. The Egyptians had been able to make batteries from recyclable, organic components, too, and the modern world could really use that technology. Europe had been dismissive of pre-scientific method technology because it was science that had allowed Europe to pull itself out of the dark ages, which had set its tech level much further back than the Cataclysm had Earth's, since there had been several concerted efforts to destroy all knowledge that didn't fit with their religion: burning the library at Alexandria, burning all the decent medical practitioners…
It had given them a very inaccurate view of human intelligence and ingenuity (which was frankly insulting to humanity as a species), since they'd assumed all the other cultures they encountered were as benighted as their own ancestors.
It had gotten to the point, X had seen when he'd studied the era of his family and wanted to learn about the alien Duo, that some had said that anything their ancestors had done that they couldn't figure out how to accomplish simply must have been done by aliens. Did they think that the original, true Damascus steel had been made by aliens instead foreign craftsmen that had been persecuted into oblivion? They'd eventually managed to create an extremely high-tech means of mimicking Damascus steel, but hadn't been able to figure out the original method. X still had no idea how to start doing something like the original craftsmen had, and it would be incredibly helpful to be able to do materials work that normally required rare and hard to make precision equipment without said precision tools.
No, the lack of nanites didn't necessarily mean anything. And while Dr. Wily's sample of that energy had originated from outer space and there had been aliens involved, that didn't necessarily mean that this wasn't a naturally occurring substance that humans had been forced to find a way to deal with on their own, before Duo showed up. Humans, and anyone influenced by human culture (i.e. everyone) incorporated vast amounts of symbols, ratios, geometric shapes into anything they designed. It was just… traditional. How it was done. People might scoff at the idea that certain things were good luck, but they still used the golden ratio, circles, and a plethora of other shapes. Buildings that didn't were ugly… how much of it was simply that symbols had subconscious effects and computers preferred order (both reploid processors and human brains were computers) and how much was energy manipulation?
"Weil just used nanites because he was deriving everything from my virus' nanites. They were the source of… that energy he had access to. It's capable of interfacing with human cells just fine on its own. It just tends to cause mental disorders and weird mutations." From Dr. Wily's data.
"Hearing voices, paranoid delusions… This really was the cause of some cases of so-called demonic possession. What exactly is this substance?"
"Evil energy." They waited for him to elaborate. "No, that's actually the technical term. And a very good description. Weil had so much power to draw on because of all the people he'd killed and driven mad. He still never would have stood a chance against me, though. Not enough victims," he said, wry instead of boasting.
"…Awhile longer, and he would have killed more than the virus did."
"There are what, twenty million people left, human and reploid? There just aren't enough people to come anywhere near my kill count. It would have taken centuries of decent treatment for there to be enough, and of course he wasn't going to do that."
Ciel and Cerveau still thought he was talking about the virus. X knew better. "There won't be any ill effects from having something like that in their brains." There had better not be.
"No." I promise.
"Alright. I trust you." Despite the deaths, despite the lies, despite the even more terrible truths, he truly did.
"Do you want to get married after this is over?" Zero found himself blurting out when X said that.
"Zero, this is not the time." They had more pressing things to think about. X's lips still curved upward. "The answer's yes, by the way. Just so that wondering doesn't distract you."