"Omega!"

In his haste, X only made sure to keep his strength in check at the last minute; otherwise, the bedroom door would have flown off its hinges. As it was, it slammed against the wall with a dull crack, and he felt the hints of splinters pepper his face as he clumsily stomped inside. With a far softer kick (that nearly missed, due in no small part to his disorientation) with the back of his foot, he closed it behind him.

Omega could communicate. Silent Omega, who only used facial expressions with which to express his thoughts, could communicate.

How?

What was the secret? What changed from a few minutes ago to then? Wireless connections weren't magic, nor was it probable that he'd been hiding his signal, as even they could be pinpointed with the right tools (the Maverick Hunters were experts in this, so X heard).

Within moments of setting foot inside and assuring privacy, X glanced up towards the pod where Omega stood-

-only to find his eyes still closed, though that didn't stop the raised lip and bare of teeth as he gave an annoyed scowl.

Oh.

X had barely any time to consider the disappointment that pooled in the depths of his core before he felt the ping of an incoming message.

He couldn't have stumbled to his bed, flopped stomach-first on the mattress, and faded to periphery fast enough.

I hear you. Omega sent. You didn't have to yell.

X would have scratched his head if he wasn't so exhausted, opting to chuckle instead.

Sorry, I just...how? I'd been trying to send you messages of some kind, any kind, for years, but it never seemed to take. When did your wireless channel open up?

Moments passed; Omega sent nothing. Was it not going through? Just as X was about to resend the message, Omega's ping allowed his muscles to relax.

Omega: I wasn't trying to do it.

X: Wait, so you sent a message without realizing it?

Omega: Yes.

X bit his lip, but sent nothing.

There were some cases of Reploids sending messages without them realizing it in moments of intense emotional distress, but these were rare, and always involved subjects early (one to three weeks) after activation. Their cognitive functions were fully-developed, but at the same time, they were trying to feel comfortable within their own skin, so to speak. Learning basic etiquette, an understanding of their own internal programming, and initiation into Reploid and Human culture (among other things) took place during this stage.

Omega had been giving physical responses for well over a year, and his AI was active ever since they found him. Did his functional lockdown run that deep? While X was ecstatic that it was starting to lift, what caused it to lift in the first place? Was it on a time lock? If so, why? Why was he locked down in the first place?

When was he going to be able to see? Move? Step out of his pod and open himself to the world?

A tiny, but insistent part of X hoped that it was soon.

That doesn't happen very often. X's words were careful. It's not unheard of, of course, but it's, uh...pretty unusual.

...Clearly. Omega replied, It seems to have surprised you.

X: Well, of course it did! You'd been in lockdown for so long that I wasn't sure when you were going to start talking to us! Regardless of the circumstances, though, I'm glad.

Omega: ...Why?

X: Because we're able to talk to each other.

You talk to me already, Omega said. Actually, you never seem to stop talking.

X felt a spark of guilt at that.

Sorry. Does it bother you?

Omega's response was instantaneous: No. And you don't have to send me messages. We're in the same room, aren't we?

"We are." X's response was more like a murmur, but audible enough. He rubbed his face against his pillow, but made sure to at least keep his mouth away from it.

Then use your voice when you speak to me, Omega said. Unless we're apart, or there are others who could listen in to our conversation.

An odd request, and possibly a bit more curtly delivered than X would have liked, but he held his tongue. Their first time having something akin to a real, human conversation didn't need to be marred with annoyance at someone's demanding irritability.

Besides, X thought, He's probably still on edge after what happened.

"All right." X sighed...well, the closest thing he could do to a 'sigh', in any case. "But anyway, that's not what I meant."

Then what did you mean? Omega asked.

"We never had any real conversation. it was always just me talking all the time."

X was met with silence. Was Omega considering a response, or was he simply trailing off in thought? The wait was enough to make his mind drift to other things, like his own current situation.

What exactly happened during his diagnostic? His insides felt like something was corroding them within, or maybe splashing flammable muck inside and then lighting a match and setting it on fire. His body didn't feel like anything was wrong with it, and he'd felt fine prior to the process. Something had to have gone wrong on Dr. Cain's end, possibly with the diagnostic itself.

Ugh, X's synthetic muscles were still thrumming. The sick feeling had been long gone, though...

Whatever it was, it's long gone now.

It was one of the many benefits of being a sentient computer, X found: if a Reploid's body was infected with a virus, they reacted similarly to how a human did when they contracted an illness, or at the very least felt 'off' upon infection. Similarly, if something was wrong with parts of their hardware, their bodies reacted with physical cues such as headaches, stomachaches, aching feet, and the like, depending on what was damaged and how. This wasn't the same as typical humanesque 'pain' (from things like stubbing one's toe or running into a wall face-first), though; most Reploids could turn these responses off at will. Originally this wasn't the case, but many found it cumbersome to deal with, especially those who served in the Maverick Hunters or performed other physical tasks, so a widespread patch was given out allowing them to toggle it on and off at their leisure. X, however (and Commander Zero, if rumors were to be believed), was unable to do this, even with the patch installed.

It was just another one of those mysteries surrounding his body, X supposed. Even with all the research, all the picking that he'd received by various scientists, there were still some things that nobody seemed to understand, not even X himself.

Omega: We won't have to worry about that any more.

...Well, that was sudden. So sudden, in fact, that it was jarring, knocking X back to himself with nearly a gasp.

"Worry? About what?" X asked. "You mean conversation?"

Yes. Omega replied, Because we can talk to each other now.

X rolled on his back, staring up at the ceiling. His optics started to blur, possibly due to frame exhaustion. His battery was running at a good 65% (and rising), but his body... "You can talk to Dr. Cain, too."

Omega: ...No.

He didn't tear his gaze to Omega's face, but he blinked anyway. "Why?"

Omega: Because I want to talk to you.

"But…"

X paused, even made an attempt to respond, but nothing came out. His mouth opened, words were intended, but the sound was empty, hanging on dead air. It was as though his speech drivers were giving a 'do not read' error.

Huh…?

His body felt heavy, his senses...he couldn't describe it in any other way than 'thick'. Or perhaps 'insulated' was a better word; it was like his entire body was wrapped in cotton balls, and he was floating in some sort of liquid, even when he was certain that he was on the solid, pillowy mass that served as his recharge bed.

All he wanted to do was close his eyes and rest his head against the pillow.

...Which was appropriate, as it was the same feeling one had when they were about to fall into the black mass of sleep mode.

"Omega..." His voice came out as an exhausted slur. "I think we're going to have to cut this short. I'm starting to fall into a forced sleep mode."

You should have done that to begin with. If Omega could move, X could have imagined him shaking his head. Rest, X. Sleep.

Without any further prompting, X wrapped the blanket around himself, holding a thick bunch of it as though it was a stuffed animal. He closed his eyes, finally letting the blackness take him.


Sleep was ridiculous, if one had the means to avoid it. Who needed to take up unnecessary time with it when there were other things that could be done? Books were there to be read, work was there to be done, and when things got busy, there wasn't any time to say things like: "But I need to get a good night's sleep!" or "I'm sorry, I didn't get enough sleep last night."

Humans slept. Reploids with low charge and those who simply wished they were human, slept.

Lifesaver's optics adjusted for the tenth time in as many minutes as he stared unflinchingly at the flickering workstation. It was nothing that the nurses couldn't have done: unfiled patient records, appointment emails, and the like, but he still found himself poring into it anyway as the hours seemed to tick away. Most of the human staff had already gone home, and the more humanesque Reploids found themselves acting similarly, even going so far as to say they were 'tired' or 'in need of rest'.

As this was a clinic, and not a hospital, it wasn't as though he could push them to stay. Even if they accepted patients at all hours, the night staff was piecemeal, only filling to daytime levels when there were late-night emergencies or influxes of patients.

It was another slow night: perfect for finishing the leftover work that rarely got done during the busier hours. All he had to do was finish this, then he could do his rounds with the rest of the staff and check up on them...

...was what he would have been thinking if that all-too-familiar blip wasn't felt pinging in the back of his head.

An incoming message.

Lifesaver sighed and leaned back in his seat before fading into his Periphery, opening up the blinking window that sat at the bottom of his 'vision':

I know you're there. I have to talk to you.

...

It was from Dr. Cain. Even in Periphery, Lifesaver found it in himself to quirk an eyebrow, regardless of whether the messager could see it or not. He leaned back in his seat and physically closed his eyes.

I thought you'd be drinking your tea and getting to bed right about now. he sent.

Dr. Cain: Don't start with that 'old man' talk with me tonight. I'm not in the mood.

Lifesaver: ...Well, something must have happened. What is it?

A pause. The typing indicator was flashing for quite a while, three minutes at the very least. It stopped. Then started. Stopped. Then started again...

You're damn right something happened! Ten minutes later, and that was the only response he got? Odd. Something's wrong with X. I need someone to take a look at him. And by 'someone', I mean you. As soon as you can get your creaky behind off that chair and get here would be great.

...ah, it was about X. Of course. Why else would he have given him a personal call, instead of showing up in his office...?

Lifesaver: Something's wrong? Like what?

Dr. Cain: I tried doing the blasted Diagnostic on him, but all of a sudden, he started screaming in pain. He was fine once I stopped the scan and turned the machine off, though.

Screaming in pain...?

It was no secret to anyone who looked after X's health that he was uncomfortable with diagnostics, or anything that involved looking into his internal systems; it wasn't abnormal for him to squirm or even scrunch up his face during the procedure, but screaming?

...that was more than a little alarming.

Lifesaver stood up and shut off the terminal.

Lifesaver: ...And since I have more extensive portable equipment, and can see for sure that everything's fine, you want me to see him to make sure. Where is he now?

Dr. Cain: Heard him shuffle to his bedroom less than a minute ago. He should be resting.

Lifesaver: Good. I don't want him accidentally putting up his firewalls while I'm checking him over.

The last time that happened, it had been X's first 'checkup' with him, and the nurse (Lifesaver forgot her name; she quit soon afterwards, anyway) had sat by his side, direct-connecting to him as per procedure to get his basic vitals. Bulky Diagnostic machines, much like the ones Dr. Cain used, were often used in other locations, but Lifesaver had found them to be too inconvenient for his liking due to their size and upkeep expenses. A direct-connection with a trained professional assured immediate results with no inaccuracies...

In most cases.

The moment she connected, however, X threw up his firewalls in a panic, and she crashed within seconds. It was a wonder she was able to function at all after that. With that incident in mind, Lifesaver opted to study more portable diagnostic machines that could do the same job as the bulkier ones in case of similar incidents, with mixed results. While he managed to design portable machines for house calls or cases like X's, he had to use multiple devices to get the same results as a single direct-connect or a full-body diagnostic scan from the larger and more sophisticated ones.

He still apologizes about that, Dr. Cain sent after a moment. Sometimes I think he searches for her in the crowds when we go out.

Lifesaver: ...That wouldn't surprise me. Just keep him there, and keep him calm for when I get there.

Dr. Cain: You don't have to tell me twice! Just hurry and get over here!

Lifesaver: I'll leave as soon as I can. Don't worry.

It looked like Glenda, the night shift Head Nurse, was taking care of things for a while. With X, who knew if it would take an hour or five, and with this matter in particular...

Treating this lightly was the last thing he wanted to do.

With a shake of his head, Lifesaver was up and searching for his personal bag of portable equipment, all the while typing a quick email explaining the situation to Glenda's workstation.


Mere minutes seemed to pass since X fell asleep. Or maybe it was more than that. He couldn't tell. X's 'wall-clock' (whatever that was; all that appeared in Omega's head was a series of lines in a circular pattern when he tried to associate some sort of blurry visual with the term) let out a high-pitched click every time the 'hour' passed, and it had done that once, but Omega hadn't kept track of the time.

He could, of course. He merely never bothered: it was far more interesting to count X's gentle 'breaths' as the time ticked by.

Muffled voices and loud walking filtered into his hearing, rendered unintelligible through the walls.

Omega recognized both voices, of course; he kept a close eye on everyone who came in and out of this place, even if he couldn't move or do anything other than observe. It was two men, but only one of them was welcome: The old man. The other (the deep, rich baritone that not only screamed intelligence, but bludgeoned him with condescension and self-assured arrogance), however, never failed to put him on edge. X described him as a doctor (mechanic, Omega always wanted to say, but something told him that even if he could express it, X would have insisted otherwise), 'the best in town', charged with keeping Reploids healthy and running smoothly.

He may have been a Reploid designed for upkeep and repair, but without fail, every time he came in the room or was mentioned, X's voice changed.

Uneasiness?

Omega didn't like that tone in X's voice.

...He wasn't the one causing it, after all.

"...Should be in here, since he isn't in the-"

They were right outside the door. From the tone of their voices, they seemed pleasant enough to one another.

"-the door open, then. We...time."

And so it would begin. X was at least asleep. Physical checks didn't require the subject to be fully booted, so long as they were functional to enough of a degree to connect. Omega knew little of X's own diagnostic routines, of course, but he listened to X's prattling enough to glean that from it.

Somehow, he felt a wash of relief at the thought of X not being conscious for this.

Why?

Omega brushed it off.

There was a dull crack as the door was...pried open? It took much longer for it to open up and allow the entrants inside, that was for sure, and Dr. Cain's grumbling upon the usual tapping of wood against the wall was enough to signify difficulty.

"First thing tomorrow morning," Dr. Cain groaned, "I'm buying a new door."

"I would be inclined to agree." The Mechanic (It had to be him; Dr. Cain's footsteps were never that heavy) moved closer to where X's voice usually originated – his 'bed', he called it – and set something down on a flat surface with a soft plop. Mettalic objects clanged and plastic clacked together, and more, heavier, things seemed to be set down, as well.

This was one of the many times Omega wished he could see.

"It's fortunate that he's unconscious." Omega heard the light click of buttons being pushed, and the soft whirring of processors as the Mechanic started his work. "It makes this much easier."

"After that fiasco with the door, I'm surprised he's sleeping at all! Poor kid must be exhausted."

"It's his OS's Auto-repair program trying to fix whatever damage has been done. Nothing more."

"Yeah, yeah…"

If Omega could snort, he would have. X never referred to his internal functions by their actual names, preferring instead to discuss them in human terms, as though he was one himself. Strange, and perhaps a little pathetic, but...

Discussing him in such terms as the mechanic dared utter felt...off. Omega was uncertain as of how. Perhaps it was tone, or the dismissive manner in which he addressed him, oozing with some self-assured understanding that he most certainly didn't have.

He was infuriating.

Unwilling to communicate directly, Omega stayed silent, and listened.

"Plug his ear cords into this."

The soft click of metal clinking against something said that the doctor acquiesced with the mechanic's request. A diagnostic device, undoubtedly. Though the one X spoke of was described as...large, barely able to be carried into a room, even by himself. It was unlikely that it was the same one that X so maligned.

More buttons were pressed. More fans hummed to life.

What were they running first? An Antivirus? No; probably a hardware check. With his condition that seemed to make the most sense. After all, that was what Omega himself-

Wait.

He did? When was the last time he was put under a scan? Other than the Old Man and X's occasional scans of his prison, he couldn't remember the last time…

Yet another thing that he couldn't remember, though vestiges of it remained.

Why? What reason did they have to seal his memories, his functions? If he found the person who dared to do this, he'd tear them limb from limb, drink their blood, and force their innards down their throat before they were crushed under his foot, over and over and over again until their squeals were finally snuffed out.

Yes. That was a good choice.

"...Dr. Cain."

Was the Mechanic still talking? Did something change in X's condition-

"What?"

"You're still holding onto that thing?"

'That thing'? What was he referring to?

"You mean 'Omega'." Dr. Cain said. "Ever since X found him, he's been kept here. He talks to him every day."

"Does he ever talk back?" The Mechanic asked.

"He can't send messages or speak, but he seems to be able to communicate. He seems to respond to smells and sounds, and I've seen his expression change sometimes. Scared the daylights out of me, let me tell you!"

Even before he could directly communicate, he was physically expressing himself? How was that possible? Omega couldn't feel anything, not really, and his motor functions were locked everytime he tried to access them. His verbal functions were unusable, only SAR and IP search being available if he wanted to 'talk'.

But there were the times when X would suddenly react to an emotion he hadn't expressed, as though he sensed it. If Omega was displeased, he would cease his actions, and if he was pleased or indifferent he would continue. Or, if he did not cease his prattling, his conversation would shift to his mood.

So he did express himself. So they knew how he was feeling.

...In theory.

"Well, it was really just me talking all the time." X had said.

Or so he seemed to think. In that sense, perhaps they were communicating already, moreso than X even realized.

Why did he feel calm at the thought?

"Nonverbal communication, but unable to speak...have you tried to get a secondary opinion on this?"

"I asked the same thing when he first came, but X kept tellin' me that Omega wouldn't like it-"

Of course he wouldn't like it. Untrained hands, touching him and prodding him for information...he tolerated X and the old man, but none others would touch him. Their hands, their wires, their eyes were not to feast on him, his insides, or anything pertaining to him. Even if he couldn't move, he'd find a way to destroy each and every one of their computers and means of research.

They could try

"-and from the looks of it, I'd say that he's right."

"He's...scowling."

"Never used to." Dr. Cain said, "Used to be that he was like a rock, but then one day he just started doin' this."

"Fascinating…"

"Who knows? One day he might really start talkin' to us, or that pod of his might finally open up."

"Perhaps."

It would.

At least, that was what X kept saying, over and over to him, day after day. It was silly and optimistic, but perhaps there was some truth in it. After all, he could speak with X now.

"...Dr. Cain, this will take a short while. You should sleep."

"I'll be fine; I'll just sit here."

"If you insist."

Little more was spoken after that. Small clicks, the tiny hum of machines, and the rhythmic melody of both X's soft 'breaths' and Dr. Cain's even but ragged breathing punctuated the silence that hung in the air.


It was that uncomfortable feeling of being invaded again, but as was expected. Waves of data crashed against every corner of his internals, coating and cleansing but undeniably unpleasant. Still, it was gentle, almost comfortable.

There wasn't any pain.

No fire burning through his insides and wiring.

It was just as it was meant to be.

Wait...what?!

"X, calm down! If you panic, you'll cause the device to short circuit!"

Lifesaver? What…?

X's fuzzed eyes (they were open? When did he open them?) grew into focus, and his eyes met the comfortable surroundings of his bedroom. The overhead light was on, bright enough for X's optics to squint and take a moment to adjust before taking everything in. From what he could see, nothing seemed out of place: navy and white furnishings with robin's egg walls, and the alarm clock on his dresser.

And...

That was most definitely Lifesaver leaning over the bed, peering down at him while he held some sort of device in his hand. The switch to the diagnostic machine? After that incident with the nurse, he used handheld models with him to save costs and make home visits more convenient. With the way the machines were designed, a humanoid Reploid didn't even need to strip down, though from the unkempt nature of his pajamas (the buttons were buttoned out of order, among other things), Lifesaver probably did just that while he was asleep.

X's cheeks could only burn at the thought.

He rested his head back down against the pillow and gave Lifesaver an uneasy smile.

"Sorry about that."

Lifesaver shook his head. "It's fine, X. How do you feel?"

"Okay," he said. "Drained."

The doctor knit his brow, but little else. "You don't feel any pain? Nothing out of the ordinary?"

"None at all."

Lifesaver glanced over at a screen next to X's bed, before nodding to himself. He moved away from X, instead choosing to fiddle with it and scroll through what was likely pages of his scan reports.

"Lifesaver?" X moved to sit up, but thought better of it. "Where's Dr. Cain?"

"He's in the lab," he clicked the small monitor once, twice. "I asked him to look into something for me relating to what happened to you."

"Did you find out what it was?" X asked. "What was wrong with me, I mean."

Lifesaver said nothing. For what reason, X was unsure, but he continued to glance over his materials before taking a seat at X's desk and grabbing what looked to be a series of printouts, glancing over them.

Scan results?

"Lifesaver?"

"Whatever it was that happened to you didn't cause any lasting damage," he said. "All traces we could find of the problem seem to be eliminated. Unfortunately, I was unable to track a definite source."

"So you don't know how it happened."

Lifesaver shook his head. "No. We know how it happened. We simply don't know the precise identity of who caused it. Or why."

"Who?"

X's innards couldn't freeze like humans' could, nor could they churn with uncertainty and apprehension, though somehow they managed a decent facsimile of the act, if of course he knew what it was that human stomach discomfort felt like.

After all, 'who' could only mean one thing…

"You don't mean that I was-"

"Yes, I mean exactly that." He set the scan results down on the desktop and scooted the chair forward, setting it next to X's bed before sitting back down. "It seems that whoever it was planted a stealth rootkit into your registry by utilizing the diagnostics tool."

Rootkits: a Reploid's constant worry, the thing that sent some in for constant health scans, and others into anxiety-bred lockdown. Harmless by themselves, rootkits attached to a Reploid's registry and was used as a conduit by others to insert viruses into their systems. Even though, due to their unique makeup, Reploids were able to tell when viruses were present, rootkits themselves were difficult to trace, and by extension, remove. Years ago, humans were concerned about them transferring onto their hard drives and affecting their data, and it wasn't until they developed anti-rootkit software and registry cleaners that they became far less of a problem. The diagnostics program acted similarly, having an anti-rootkit subroutine work within the process.

But for a rootkit to be transferred through the process…

It was not only unheard of, but alarming.

"What about the other machines? Were they infected, too? Is Dr. Cain's research and files okay?" Maybe if he was infected, whoever it was was essentially trying to shut down the entire laboratory. And the fact that the lab had been repeatedly attacked by hackers recently didn't help matters.

Lifesaver grunted. "They're all fine, X. We did a check of every machine in the lab; outside of the diagnostic machine, you were the only one who was actually infected. And you are the only Reploid who uses that machine, correct?"

Wait...he wasn't insinuating what X thought he was insinuating? "Yeah...that's right."

"We have reason to believe that whoever planted this was aiming for you specifically."

X stared dumbly forward, even sitting up slightly on his hands before thinking better of it. Boneless, he slid back down on the mattress with a light thump.

"But that can't be right," he shook his head. "I'm just a research assistant. What would they possibly gain by doing that?"

"We're not sure. But unfortunately, it seems to be the only credible explanation for now, considering the circumstances."

X said nothing.

Someone tried to hack him.

Never in his entire life had someone managed - or tried - to do that.

This probably should have been more shocking than he felt. How did someone normally react in this situation? Terror, most likely. Maybe the tiniest tinges of paranoia as one's brain scanned over possible suspects.

X, though, didn't feel any of these things. His body was a lead weight, his mind was fuzzy, and...sick. Someone tried to hack him. No, they did manage to, at the very least dropping a rootkit in his system without him noticing. Some person he couldn't see was able to not only place a stealth file in his body, but also able to send another malicious file that, if his body and the scan hadn't reacted so violently, could have done something.

It wasn't just that, either: someone was targeting him specifically. Maybe it was a different person from who tried to hack into Dr. Cain's computers, but it was most definitely someone.

But why bother trying to infect X? He was an old model, without the bells and whistles of the newer, more powerful model Reploids. It made sense to install a keylogger on Dr. Cain's computers, or try to steal pertinent files from his hard drive: as the premier scientist of Reploid technology, and the founder of the Maverick Hunters to boot, he had plenty of valuable information pertaining to both lurking among his disorganized mess of documents.

For that matter, it made sense to do the same to Commander Sigma, or Commander Zero. Both of them were high-ranking Maverick Hunter officials, and had just as much information…

Then again, they also probably had far more advanced antivirus systems than X or Dr. Cain, and it would be a hard get to plant anything into their programming. If they wanted to get the information, they had to syphon it from the more vulnerable sources.

But if that was the reason, that was ridiculous. X wasn't even a hunter! And whatever research he assisted with was saved on Dr. Cain's hard drives rather than his own; he never uploaded research files to go over, preferring to peruse through hard copies instead. This was common knowledge, even! Enough so that other scientists teased him that he was more human than they were.

True, he sometimes didn't get along with others, but there wasn't any reason someone would try to hack him maliciously, either.

Or maybe it was. Maybe whoever it was simply wanted to test their own virus out, and opted to use X as a guinea pig? Was it possible that maybe they sought him out because of his older design, and wanted to run a test before they unleashed it on an unwitting public?

Regardless of the reason, they had to be stopped immediately. If they wanted to make a virus that could infect a Reploid by infiltrating through scanners…

Or maybe this was already a type of virus that infiltrated scanner systems, and the hacker simply wanted to target all Reploids they could find?

X (somehow) managed to thwart the attack, but that didn't mean that others could. If this person - or Reploid - was willing to go this far just to infect one single Reploid…

Who knew how far they would go to infect others? Or humans' computers, stealing their precious information?

"We should report this. Maybe the hacker tried infecting someone else the same way, too."

Lifesaver shook his head and let out a soft 'harrumph'. "I sent a memo to the other clinics in the area concerning the possibility of a rootkit being transferred through their scanning equipment. Without a suspect or any real result of the infection, it's difficult to file a report that the authorities would pay attention to."

X opened his mouth to protest, but shut it again. Lifesaver was right: without any valid information beyond the means of attack, there was little for anyone to go on. Without evidence, the case might as well have been nonexistent.

But...

"Regardless," Lifesaver continued on, "until we find out who planted it and why, you should be careful what you connect yourself to, and where."

"No kidding." Ugh, his head hurt. It must have been all the scans. "But, Lifesaver, how is it possible that it worked through the scanning process? Wouldn't it have picked up on that?"

"Not necessarily," Lifesaver said. "When it checked your systems, the file was set to transfer onto your hard drive, and since it was coded to blend in with the scanning software, your system thought it was a nonmalicious file and didn't react."

"How long did I have this file?" X asked.

"Around a week. You get scanned by Dr. Cain weekly, don't you?"

X nodded. With all this information in mind, he almost forgot the intrusive bubbly sensation of the scans running through his systems and internal files, but only barely.

Though, it did seem to be fading gradually. The process must have been close to finished.

Perhaps it was inappropriate to think, considering the circumstances, but…

Oh, good.

Lifesaver glanced over at a screen near X's head before leaning back in his seat just a little bit. For a Reploid so large, he didn't seem uncomfortable in a chair that small; wasn't it awkward to sit there like that? "What probably happened was that the rootkit dropped some kind of file that reacted with both your antivirus and the diagnostics program when you ran through it this time…"

"And the effect was so intense that it caused me physical pain, likely getting rid of the file, right?"

Was that the tiniest hint of a smile on his lips? If it was, it went away as quickly as it came.

"Exactly," he said. "All we could find was proof that there was, in fact, a transferred file. Everything else is unknown."

The bubbling sensation faded further, barely a wisp inside his systems now. Without realizing that he was tense to begin with, X's body started to relax on the bed.

...And then that wisp stretched to nothing.

X moved to sit up.

"No, X. Stay down; I'll remove the connections myself."

"Okay."

Not that there were many connections to remove. With a soft hiss and a click, X's ear connectors were removed from the console, and the wires snapped quickly in place inside his ear canals.

Finally, he could rest easier.

Minutes passed? Or was it just moments? X closed his eyes and faded into that familiar landscape of his periphery.

...No messages.

Was Omega sleeping? Or was he opting to keep silent until they were alone, staying as the eternally silent observer to the world around him?

Just like it always had been, before tonight.

"X." Still in his Periphery, X heard Lifesaver speak, alongside the shuffling clanks of moving equipment. Even with his 'portable' equipment, due to the screens and displays required for a few of the scanners, Lifesaver's carry-case was still heavier than X was (though at less than two-hundred pounds even with his armor on, X wasn't what one would call 'buff' or 'heavy'). How did he fit everything?

"Yeah?"

"Your scans are all clean, and you're in perfect shape. If something like this happens again, call me immediately. Don't hesitate for any reason."

X nodded. "I'll call you; don't worry."

"I'll be taking my leave now. I need to get back to the clinic in time for the early staffers to arrive."

"Okay. Good night, and be careful on the way back, Lifesaver."

The only response X received was silence, as his bedroom door was shut and Lifesaver made his exit.


...A virus.

A rootkit not only infected the scanning device, but blended with the code, allowing access for it to come inside X's body...only for X to react so violently that the file itself was eradicated.

How much of it was the scanning equipment that discovered it as the virus was transferred? How much of it was X's own immune system? X himself was often told by other Reploids that he was an old model, borderline obsolete by modern standards who couldn't keep up with the growing changes of modern robotics.

And yet somehow, he kept moving on. Seemingly rickety and old, and yet he was always in top shape, catching up with other models with a relentless determination and near-perfect maintenance record. He required no firmware updates, was compatible with every piece of software he installed, and had yet to reject any hardware drivers that were installed into him from time to time.

Obsolete...how foolish. How could one assess that when X was clearly the opposite? If there was anything he knew, it was this.

Omega lived with X. He saw X everyday.

He knew him better than anyone else.

X breathed softly, a gentle soothing rhythm against the thick stillness and the ticking of X's 'clock'. After everything, he fell back into sleep mode not even a few minutes after the Mechanic's departure. Dr. Cain sauntered in after a time, complaining about leaving the light on before clicking a switch near the door and walking out.

Things seemed to fall back into the routine.

Dr. Cain, after some cursing and crashing around in the lab, and his visit to X, went to sleep. X was unconscious on his bed.

X's breaths counted the seconds through the night.

And someone dared to try to threaten that. For what reason, Omega didn't know. He didn't care. If he had the means, he would cut the skin slowly off the maggot's fingers, force them to code an immunization until there was nothing but bloody stubs left, and as they sobbed in agony, tear and cut and cut at their skin until there was nothing left but torn sinew and piles of blood.

He needed to get out of this prison. If only he could move. Could shift. Could do anything.

He would find them. He would kill them.

But he could do nothing but stand, helpless. Helpless and as little more than a decoration inside a room. X's room.

...

Only he had the right to ruin, cause tumult, and end such lives, and none were to take that right away from him.

Nobody.

He would die first.