It's probably best to read this either as it's posted or if Definition is already complete when you get here, after The Definition of a Reploid.

This is a prequel/sidestory to Definition, that came about because as I write this the characters are heading into the final battle. I was going to alternate between action chapters and chapters explaining who these characters got here and who they are, not to mention pointing out the world around them and what they're fighting for, that their fight is worth it, but I've decided I don't want to slow down the action any more than necessary. There's a lot of stuff in Definition that's been hinted and still needs to be explained for the Jigsaw Puzzle Plot to be understandable, but there are also things like what happened to Alouette before the game that happened or didn't happen to her in this universe to make her who she is that need to be written for the sake of the character's arc, but aren't really relevant to the final boss fight.

So I'll use this to post chapters that clear up dangling plot threads or just establish this place, these people and their history. I also may post some alternate universe chapters: There's a conversation that I really wanted X and Copy-X to have that I just couldn't work into the fic, since X was too determined not to hang around the group and Copy-X has been kept too busy on the station for idle talk with a cyber-elf.

The chapters will be posted as I write them: I may sort them into chronological order after I'm done writing them.

Yeah, young, less-angsty Arciel's getting the Girl Genius references. Heterodyning fits in quite well with AT physics.

The first time Aurora touched him he burned her. He still felt sorry about that. She was just a child, even if she was made from the virus. She clearly wasn't maverick, not if she could tolerate the presence of Weil and Arciel without killing them. Not when she actively sought them out, wanted company and didn't care if they were human or reploid.

Such a child.

Zero's daughter. The Elpis project. This world's hope. The dawn of a new age, just like X's awakening. And Zero's. He hoped it would be better for her, and the world.

Unlike the nightmares that had given her creators the knowledge that something like her was possible her light was bright, and pure. Yet the only thing that had ever tried to touch his mind like that, even though Aurora Elpis hadn't tried to tamper with it, was the virus. So he'd reacted.

She'd fled behind Arciel. Now she peeked out at him from behind mommy's leg.

No, she was nothing like the virus.

She was adorable.

X had to smile, as he knelt down and held out his hand. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you. I was startled, and I reacted without thinking." There, it was better to put it that way than 'you startled me,' when she was this nervous. He didn't want her to think this was her fault. "Are you alright, Aurora?"

X heard Alia talking quietly to Weil, the two of them with their heads bent over the monitors. "He drew on his energy reserves for something…" It was very hard to make head or tail of X's systems, when he'd evolved so much in the capsule. He'd been in there so long that he'd disassembled and reassembled every part of his body a few times over, evolving based on the results of the simulations. Then he'd woken up. Real world experience, becoming a hunter, feeling the virus: his original plans weren't much help when it came to understanding X's body and what he could do.

Dr. Light had meant for him to become his own person, and that was what he had done. A little too well, he sometimes thought, although his father thought it was foolish to blame himself for the fact they couldn't find or copy what made him immune.

That was what Weil and Alia were trying to find now; what part of his systems was responding to Aurora? If they found activity in certain areas, that would at least tell them where to look.

"Come up here, Aurora," Arciel told her while Aurora was still trying to think of what to say, pointing towards the scanner.

"Yes, Mommy." It just took a single beam of light to signal Aurora to send the scanner her data: so much simpler than analyzing X or Zero. But then, these two knew how difficult to read the two of them were, and had deliberately tried to prevent that from happening with their creation.

"Same amount of energy drain." Alia sounded surprised and a little hopeful: something made sense!

Weil wasn't as excited, but Weil hadn't spent decades banging his head against X's compatibility problems. "Not quite, but that's within the error bounds, or the system itself might need additional energy to work." Even though X's systems had spent decades evolving to efficiently combat the virus.

"Why wasn't there a flash of light?" Alia wondered now, fidding with her headset as she thought. "The energy must have gone somewhere."

Arciel looked at them, brown eyes puzzled. "Cyberspace." Wasn't that obvious? Why was someone as experienced as Alia even asking that question? Had she observed something Arciel had missed that indicated otherwise?

X was a little relieved that Arciel thought that other people were as smart as she and Weil were, instead of realizing that her intelligence was so superior that even Alia was scrambling to keep up. Well, Arciel hadn't had much contact with people. Now that he thought about it, X doubted that she'd ever had a conversation with anyone whose IQ was under 150 or so. She knew she was intelligent: that was why she'd been born, what she was for, but X wondered how she'd react when she came to understand how different she was from the rest of the world.

Perhaps that was part of why Dr. Wily had come to hate humanity: perhaps he'd mistaken simple ignorance or inability to figure something 'obvious' out and act accordingly for malice too many times.

"Of course, the law of conservation of matter and energy doesn't really apply on this level," Arciel said with a half-shrug that made some of her brown hair fall in front of her white-coated shoulder. "Newtonian Physics, Einsteinian Physics, this. I'm thinking of calling it Harmonic Physics." Because letting it be Arcielian Physics was just too arrogant, and forget calling it after its probably true originator. "It's a little like String Theory, except actually observable. It's possible to do different things on different levels. Like how chemistry can't turn lead into gold, but a nuclear reaction can."

Aurora rose a few more feet above the floor while this was going on, back to what X thought was her normal altitude. People talking Science meant that things were normal. She was still staring at X, though.

"I wouldn't have risked this test if I hadn't proven that the energy wouldn't vent itself on the physical level, either as some form of radiation or as something similar to a matter-antimatter reaction." Alright, well, that wasn't reassuring to anyone except Aurora, who didn't understand what all those words meant in that combination. "I'm not Marie Curie." Arciel wasn't going to expose herself unknowingly to something potentially fatal, not when she'd been told not to let herself die, not when they needed a cure.

"The virus contains energy, is energy. Zero disposes of it by absorbing it. X seems to dispose of it by canceling it out," or that was what Weil thought. "The amount of energy it uses to try to alter him: that's how much X has to use to block the assault?" He pushed his hands together to demonstrate: if he didn't push as hard with one hand as the other, the hand with less force behind it would be pushed back.

"Unstoppable force and immovable object is just a frame-of-reference problem," Arciel said, nodding as thought that settled it. X, Alia and Weil all decided not to ask her to explain.

"So curing the mavericks would take as much energy as the virus used to alter their minds?"

"Energy and will." Arciel frowned, thinking. "But the virus does use a force multiplier… Uncracking an egg can only be done with reality alteration… We're going to need a lever. Aurora just can't channel enough power to do it the hard way. Also, while I do have an idea of where we could find that much energy, it's not safe to do it now, not when the virus would absorb some of whatever we drew on. So I'll need to incorporate finding a key point into the program."

"Destroying the virus is relatively easy, as long as we don't have to affect Zero," Weil translated.

Arciel interrupted him to add, "We won't have to specifically leave him out: he'll shield himself naturally. Not a problem." Unless you wanted Zero to be able to wake up before a hundred years had passed.

Weil didn't seem bothered by the interruption. It reminded X of how patient Dr. Cain had been with him. "Curing the mavericks is hard. It's anti-entropic, just for a start."

"The virus had to half-destroy their wills in order to break in, so at least that's something. There won't be as much initial resistance, the real trouble is restoring their wills… But can't they do that themselves, over time?" Arciel wondered, then nodded. "That'll save power. "

"What happens if they're cured and their will's damaged?" That sounded worrying to X.

"They'll have to figure out who they are," Arciel told him. "They have the programming, even if it's watered-down. It's not the infinite potential system, but I'm impressed with Dr. Light's ability to write self-configuration programs…" Suddenly, she slapped herself on the forehead, not hard but the sound started X. Hitting herself when she messed up, even when it was more shock than pain? Was that how they'd been disciplined, that she'd do that to herself, think that was how it was done? "I'm going off on tangents again," she said in a way that was probably meant to be an apology. Then, she blinked. "A long enough lever and a solid enough place to stand." Looking at X thoughtfully, she asked them to, "Try that again. Interfacing and analyzing." A smile slowly spread across her face, and X saw the resemblance to Zero somehow, even though there was no genetic relationship. Of course, there wasn't one between X and Dr. Light either, yet X still felt akin to him, that there was something in common there, beneath the skin.

"Okay, Mommy." Aurora crept forward obediently. X tried to calm his systems: what he'd perceived as an attack had put him on alert.

"Aurora, would you mind if I touched you? That way I'll know it's you the instant I reach you," or so X hoped.

She bobbed up and down a bit for a nod.

X reached out slowly, carefully, feeling the slight amount of heat Aurora gave off as well as light. Closer still, and he began to feel something like static electricity. Aurora was an energy being, but technically so was everyone else. It was the electrons of atoms repelling each other that made atoms and molecules seem solid. Aurora already could control what frequencies she emitted, or else she'd have been emitting cosmic radiation as well as heat and light. If she attained enough control, she could pass for a reploid someday, X was sure. Axl could, after all.

X could absorb power from sources other than the virus: if he couldn't, he wouldn't be able to use e-tanks and recharge, he'd be limited to what his reactor produced. If he could think of her as safe energy… Yes, that worked, although before his systems had tried to bite her, and now they saw her as something to consume, which wasn't much of an improvement. To let something that wasn't a part of him enter his systems without making it a part of him? His body's unwillingness to compromise its integrity like that was why it was so hard to make armors or replacement parts for him.

This was a child, he told himself. Just curious, just exploring. X wanted to understand her as well, this child of Zero. Zero was more than a reploid, more than an android: this was also an aspect of him, a part of his nature. So this was not something he could turn his back on or reject anymore than Zero was.

Zero was a danger, to X and to the world, but Zero was also the most important person to him. He couldn't fail him. Not because of simple fear.

"Oh?" Weil spotted something.

"Infinite Potential System," Arciel said in a sing-song way, making them almost a tune, bouncy and eager, conveying her excitement. "Let me see, let me see," she said, moving over to the console and leaning over Weil's shoulder.

"No unusual system activity detected," Alia said, disappointed. Where was the power X was drawing on going?

"Well, of course not. This is only looking at what's here." Damn, Arciel's expression said. "I was hoping he'd shift in that part while he was actively using it. Schrodinger's cat: it's not shifting while it's being looked at." How annoying.

Alia stared. "What?"

"That's why you get contradictory readings when you scan him," Arciel said, almost offhand. "When he takes his armor off in the lab or during peacetime, there's false skin underneath. But, after he fought Sigma during the fifth war, his torso was cut through, and there wasn't any false skin or padding at all, just machine parts. It's the same principle as the Weapon Copy system: if the weapon needs to spray oil, there'll be a supply of it in his buster, taking up space. Change it back, and there's a plasma barrel. It's troublesome to have two solid objects in the same space at the same time. So, he must put them elsewhere. They exist in potential, if you don't mind puns."

"So he's shapeshifting, like Axl?" They'd thought something like that was going on with his buster, although on a smaller scale, but throughout his body?

"Maybe I shouldn't have used the word shifting. It's not teleporting the parts in, either. Manifesting? That works. Manifesting different aspects or pieces of himself, his systems." Same thing. "All of it's simultaneously there, in potential. It's a matter of what he's evolved or decided to express. Plus what he understands." She shook her head. "Still not putting it the right way. I'll try this: he is who he decides to be. The virus works by changing what the fabric of reality says someone is. If X couldn't override that, he couldn't fight off the virus, see? But if he can overrule the changes the virus makes to reality when it comes to his own self, that means he has to possess the capability to override reality. At least his own reality."

"So I can do what Aurora does, even if it's limited to myself and my own body?" X said, and by classifying her as something, someone like him he was finally willing to trust himself to touch her.

"Infinite Potential System," she said, as though it was self-explanatory. "Of course, there are different sizes of infinites. Zero's is much larger than yours."

"I suppose that's to be expected," he said, because he really didn't mind and Zero's creator had done good work. As well as hateful, spiteful, evil work, but that wasn't all he'd done, and Arciel wasn't doomed to it.

X wouldn't let her be. The world did not need another Wily, and the two of them were so happy together. Looking at Weil was seeing his old friend again, young, healthy and in love. Not the desperate, starstruck kind of love, but a partnership. The two of them had been there for each other even when no one else was.

Perhaps now he was seeing himself and Zero, looking at them.

"That's because Zero is a many." Not just one person's potential, but the potential for a future, the potential to become someone that would change the world the virus had stolen from every reploid it took over. "All the mavericks have to be cured, even the dead ones, or they'll will the virus back into existence, if there's enough of them. That's how Sigma created the altered versions: he had enough mavericks backing him that he could use their combined wills."

"You're saying that Zero is…"

"Zero is the virus," Arciel told Alia, as though it was no big deal. As though she was saying that Zero was blond, some minor but relevant physical trait, instead of saying that he was a mindraping parasite that absorbed others into itself and used them as hosts. She shrugged, since Alia was still staring, trying to digest this. She'd known Zero was the source, but this? "That's why I said he'd need to be kept sealed away for about a century, to be on the safe side. During that time, he should be able to alter himself into who he decides to be, what he wants to be. So he'll end up something completely different. If he wanted to be the virus, he wouldn't have cut himself off from it. Kind of like severing someone's spinal cord. Not that I've done that," she added.

"No one said that you had," X said calmingly, cupping Aurora in his palm. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." He felt her press down into his hand a bit, shifting about experimentally. She didn't actually feel furry or soft to begin with, but the static feel reminded him of clothes out of the dryer, and small, affectionate living things really should be furry. She reminded him of the teddy bear one of the men on the dig that had found him with Dr. Cain gave X after he woke up. He wondered if it was her power or his own mind that changed things so that she felt the way she should. "You're pretty."

"Thank you?" Although he didn't think she meant the physical.

For some reason, she decided to dart back to Mommy after that. Did she realize she'd said something odd?

"Data, data, lots of lovely data, so many ideas, I'll have to think up a new story," Arciel sang.

"Aurora can focus better on putting force behind a program if there's a story in the annotations. Empathizing with the characters helps her feel the right emotions at the right times," Weil explained, aware that it wasn't scientific, but it really did work, like most things Arciel came up with.

She went on: "One immovable object plus one lever equals the capability to move an entire world. One person with integrity and the right tool can change it."

Calling Aurora a tool? X scolded himself. Arciel was just extending the metaphor. He shouldn't be so suspicious of her. It wasn't as though Zero was evil just because he was a Wilybot, so why should she be, even if they'd based her on what had to be Dr. Wily's DNA?

Zero thinks of himself as a sword, a tool, and he fights for someone else's ideals, using their nobility and dreams as a reason to fight, to make the world a place they can come true, to change the world into what X and Ciel hoped for. It was X and the Mother Elf that cured the Maverick Virus: It was Zero and the Dark Elf that cured those changed by Weil and the Baby Elves. I think X had Zero do it both to try to prove to Zero that he could, and so Zero could have some time with his daughter.

In Mega Man Gigamix, Rock says that he didn't want to assume someone was evil just because they were a Wilybot.