All throughout writing, I called this the fic I shouldn't be working on.
There's now Word of God that says that the theory that Zero killed everyone in a Cataclysm is wrong, that such a thing is 'not part of his character.' This has very bad implications for what did happen to the robot masters, especially given a certain Classic game made after that point, and interesting implications about Zero.
Zero is someone who does not hesitate to slaughter in a good cause: the Maverick Wars included fighting Sigma, who he once admired, and, well, Repliforce. Just Repliforce.
On the face of it, it really doesn't seem that unlikely that a Zero could have followed Wily's orders instead of those of the Maverick Hunters. That he might not have hesitated to kill whoever it took to bring about someone's ideals until he either got immunity to the virus or learned enough to realize that those ideals were wrong.
Zero's inability to have compassion is independent of the virus and seems quite a bit more effective than Wily's evil chip ever was. Even that hundred-year hibernation doesn't seem to have given him a normal reaction to seeing people suffering: he helps Ciel when she's in trouble because that suits his own philosophy, not because he's gotten the standard sympathy circuit one.
So this is an AU based on thinking about what all this would mean for the world, for X and for a Zero/Omega who woke up in 21XX without the irregularity that made him berserk and wiped his memory. I've also had WilyAI and LightAI interact with the two of them more than in canon.
I've also adopted Hitoshi Ariga's Mega Man Megamix and Gigamix background for Drs. Light and Wily to replace my prior headcanon, at least in the 'verse of this fic.
Hands carefully curling around the cup of tea, he lifted it up and breathed in the steam. He wondered, again, whether the instant feeling of just a little relief, that he could breathe just a little bit easier was psychosomatic or not, but decided, just as he had every morning since he'd noticed the phenomenon, that he didn't want to look it up just in case it went away.
Or maybe it was that he always had this first cup of tea in the greenhouses. So that deep breath of steam didn't only carry with it the scent of real, ancient tea, the kind that would have been wiped out ten times over by now if they didn't have the genes on file and it wasn't so much easier to get the funding to work on techniques to restore extinct plant species if it was this species.
It was when he breathed in the green, and after he'd swallowed that first sip came the cheerful, "Good morning, Dr. Cain."
He nodded good morning in response as he sat down on the bench next to Alex, who was halfway through his own cup, as usual these days. He'd taken his own work gloves off to handle the cup and spoon, and brought Dr. Cain's with him, Cain saw when he looked down at the bench.
It was taking Dr. Cain a little longer to get through decontamination, and he'd told Alex not to wait and let his own cup get cold. The tea plant's lack of genetic variety left it terribly vulnerable to plant diseases, and amazing how much easier it was to get funding for a secure, experimental greenhouse if it was going to be one of the plants grown there.
They had grad students whose job it was to take care of the plants and make sure that all the benefactors got their hotly-negotiated share, but the university itself demanded its own share, for formal events and the faculty whose work produced it.
Dr. Cain was grateful, not because he liked the taste (leaf juice would always be leaf juice, especially since the last thing he needed was to go around spooning refined sugar into things), but because of the scent of it, and the steam, and the warmth in his hands. And the medicinal properties. "And how are you doing this morning?" he asked Alex.
The tea bush was also surprisingly good at soaking up minerals, like, oh, fluoride, out of the soil.
With over a century with nothing to do but experience simulations and tinker with itself, Alex's body was almost as refined as his mind. His need for specific materials, for trace amounts of rare minerals, meant he had to watch what he ate almost as closely as a vegan. Mineral supplements might exist, and buying them was a lot less suspicious than buying other things, but no one was going to put arsenic into a mineral supplement.
Even if humans, as it turned out, could get sick from arsenic deficiency. And they weren't even robotic.
At least Alex's body would tell him what it needed, and there was almost always some way to find enough of even the rare earth elements without cracking open a rechargeable battery, eating lightbulb filaments or doing anything else that might put the young man in danger, if anyone saw.
"I'm alright." A flash of a reassuring smile before Alex's face grew serious. "Variant F still isn't showing any signs of recovery. We're waiting on the test results, but it's not looking like a disease. Just failure to thrive." And of course they would have blocked the experiment for mineral content of the soil, amount of sunlight, climate and temperature… "If it was a disease, that would be one thing," a lot of ancient plant species had no defenses against the microbes that had spent millennia learning how to munch their relatives. "But my guess is that we're missing a symbiote." The way legumes relied on their nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
"Have we got any spare plots with the Amazonian microbial soil?" Dr. Cain asked, because if the plants needed more of a certain kind of microbial activity (that was very likely, given how the soil back then compared to the semi-desertified soil they were hoping to adapt these plants to survive in) then if putting them in that soil let them thrive, it would just be a matter of figuring out which particular species was helping them by doing what. At least it would confirm that they could be helped. "Although perhaps we should first check whether it's willing to germinate unassisted at all." In theory this species should be able to take care of itself, but if not, then best to find out before they tied up the botanical equivalent of a life-support bed for weeks. Not to mention that one plant they'd tried that defended itself against marauding microbes so viciously that it had damn near sterilized the soil for a few feet around it.
Then there was the one whose pollen didn't seem toxic until all their bee queens died, first to be hit with the slow poison thanks to their diets. Well, no wonder those two had gone extinct, if that was how they treated the life forms that might have helped them.
Alex had offered to do the initial care on all their new specimens, but Dr. Cain had pointed out that he was offering because he wouldn't get sick, and then what would happen if the next person did? Alex might have quite a lot of abilities, but even though he did keep track of things like the oxygen content of the air around him, his sense of smell was on par with a human's and could also help check for the minerals he needed, his built-in sensors weren't sufficient to test for all the tricks living things had evolved to kill each other with over millions of years. Quite a lot of that analysis was going on at the equivalent of the cellular level, but while X's nanites had plenty of selenium and fluoride to practice on, there weren't exactly any lilies of the valley growing in that capsule, or any other reason for X to learn what chemicals killed humans or how to identify them.
Drat. There he went, forgetting to think of X as Alex again.
It was almost frightening how easy it was.
Decades of field expeditions have taught him that something is always going to go wrong. It's a fact of nature, a fact of life, and certainly not something to be upset about.
Pack extra water. Assume that equipment is going to break down, and bring a spare or some parts. Assume that someone's going to get sick, heatstroke or something else, or trip over something in the rapidly-changing elevations of a dig site, and bring a first aid kit and salt tablets.
He's tried to teach this to all his students. That something is going to go wrong. It's not their fault, and there's no need to apologize: he's not going to bite their head off for things going according to plan, after all.
By this point, it's almost a ritual: the laugh of relief when someone forgets to release the parking brake (accidentally-on-purpose, if it's one of the TAs and the younger grad students seem too wound up), because there it is, they've gotten the one thing that goes wrong on every trip out of the way, smooth sailing from here on out.
He can only be glad that he only had his two closest co-workers with him when this happened.
Except that's one more way in which everything that could go right went right.
Perhaps it's not that the universe is saving it all up for the moment something goes horribly wrong.
Perhaps it's trying to make up for something that went wrong so, so long ago.
No. Not something that went wrong. Something that was wrong.
Something that had the other two professors looking at him, and the question wasn't whether or not they were going to tell anyone what they'd found or destroy it themselves.
It was bury him again, let him stay hidden until the world became a safer place for him (if it ever did) or wake him up, because right now he was lying there, asleep and helpless and what if someone else found him?
They should have thought of the good of the world. They'd all spent enough years working for it. To make the world a better place. But creating change meant understanding that change was necessary, and why change was necessary. All of them knew why they'd gone into this field in the first place. Why it was necessary. Why it shouldn't have become so urgently necessary. How damned stupid their ancestors had been. No, not just stupid. Evil.
He'd like to think that he woke X up so he could live free, be as safe as it was possible for him to be. To make up, in some small way, for humanity's wrongdoing. Yet was it really about karma, about what was morally right, or was it about what was practically right?
When humanity killed the robot masters, they hadn't just committed genocide. They'd killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.
It was not Dr. Cain's imagination that there was something pointed about the addendum to Dr. Light's message, that X did not have the capabilities of a robot master, and that no one who took him apart to get their hands on Dr. Light's technology would learn anything from it.
This creation, this child, wasn't Dr. Light's last gift to the world.
Not the world that ordered his other children destroyed.
Yet X was still a product of the mind that created that breed of sentient machines. Machines with emotions and judgment. Machines that were people. If he survived, perhaps, someday, as it became harder and harder to ignore the costs of the Destruction Order…
Perhaps X could restore to them the technology that once upon a time was restoring their world, before they threw it all away.
The technology that made space exploration possible a century ago, while these days they couldn't even repair the satellites they had in orbit around their own planet, much less send missions to other ones.
Once the sky was as blue as this robot's armor (armor? When the legends said Dr. Light hated sending Mega Man to fight? There was no question who he'd armored this child to fight, and it shamed them, and perhaps it made them wish to be better than that).
When those eyes opened, they were green.
Dr. Cain didn't think he was the one to let out that sigh of relief, but perhaps they all had.
There could be no better omen.
It was amazingly, worryingly easy to establish Hikari Alex, who preferred just Alex to the nice-sounding Japanese word (at least it could be a last name) someone had attached to the orphan who'd been found in what was left of Brazil. Eventually someone'd thought they'd identified him and had him shipped up to somewhere in the North American floodplain, but a second blood test revealed that the first had been fudged and he was stuck in a foster home that had flooded out (along with the rest of the town) after he'd left it and started to help an old couple in exchange for room, board and online educational fees, in an arrangement that was far from legal (especially if the UN taxation authority heard about it)...
Dr. Cain had just been left boggled the first time he saw it all spread out before him. Aged documents, with their equivalents entered in all the appropriate systems, he was sure. How would Alex know enough about the world when he'd only been born into it a week ago to come up with all of this? Would it fall apart the first time someone wondered why Dr. Cain was browbeating the university into giving one of his spots to someone no online course instructor would remember asking them for help?
"My father helped me," X explained, seeing Dr. Cain's eyes widen and perhaps start to glaze over a little, a preemptive defense against all that paperwork. "The AI in the capsules has been keeping an eye on things. He couldn't wake me up by himself. Only someone who was a part of this world had the right to release me into it."
When even though Dr. Light couldn't have wanted anyone to destroy his last child, he'd still left that message.
X had to do the potential to do anything he put his mind to. Including conquering the world. But what sane person would want what was left of it? Putting aside the current administration.
"Are you certain that no one detected anything…" Dr. Cain trailed off, because if Alex wasn't certain, then surely he wouldn't still be here? Powerful android or not, brother of the legendary Mega Man or not, Dr. Light's last creation and the fruit of all his work to keep his other son alive against Wily's robots or not (but in the end, it was the world he'd saved that…).
X shook his head, and came around to Dr. Cain's side of the table to smile at him reassuringly. "The hacking protocols were written to go up against systems with robot masters plugged into them, or at least mother computers."
Which were also capable of emotions, and ignoring standing orders and their functions because of their emotions. So they were also banned, even though originally they were meant as a more docile alternative to robot masters. The first one to be placed in charge of a city's network was also the last, Dr. Cain knew now, even if he'd tried not to obviously be reading up on something so far outside his specialty as robotics.
The exploits of Rock's brother were the stuff of children's books, now, the world divided between those who remembered the heroism, saw someone who saved the world so many times killed for being a 'racial inferior' and those who were part of the system that destroyed the robot masters, that landed the world in this mess, and felt they had to justify the actions of their predecessors. And, of course, as always, there were those who were just cowards, frightened of anything new and different. The kind of people who sabotaged research meant to save the world before too much of its arable land eroded away, before the percentage of oxygen in its atmosphere sunk too low. Fear of robots going out of control seemed ridiculous now, when the rest of earth's lifeforms had never been under any control at all.
Humanity changed the world. The rest of the planet adapted to the changes. And those adaptations spurred further changes, and further adaptations, and multicellular life was far, far too slow to keep up. Perhaps it was easier for him to not be afraid of X, and the potential and danger he represented, when he was well, well aware that humanity was already staring extinction in the face.
Dr. Light couldn't save his other children, so he built X, a completely different species from both Dr. Light and his brothers and sisters. Had Dr. Cain woken up X because he was afraid of failure? Because he wanted something born of humanity to live on, to inherit this world?
Eyes of green. Dr. Light's last hope, the seed flung into the future. How many seeds had he and his team dug up out of the ground, searching, hoping, for ones that could thrive, could hold back the tide?
"If you're sure," he told X-Alex. "I should start remembering your new name. Hikari Alex…"
"Alex Hikari might be better," X said a little apologetically, and Dr. Cain didn't realize why until he looked up what 'hikari' meant.
If the boy had a malicious bone in his body, Dr. Cain would have wondered if Alex was trying to give him a heart attack. Protector Light? Since old-style Japanese family names were written as 'of something,' Protector of Light? Protector who belongs to the Light family?
Then again, while Alex looked like a human, the resemblance was only skin deep. If anyone started to look, then Alex needed to know, to flee, before they began to dig deeper.
So perhaps a name that would give the game away the moment anyone looked it up wasn't such a bad idea. A tripwire, something that hopefully might inspire whoever was trying to catch him to act before they were ready. Or make them underestimate someone who was foolish enough to pick a pseudonym like that.
I'm betting that bees and most other pollinators can't survive outside sealed and climate-controlled areas anymore, and there goes half or more of the stuff in your grocery's produce section. I don't even want to think about the price per ounce of chocolate in this universe.
A lot of RMs are described as being for environmental repair in one way or another. My headcanon is that the main RM timeline went for robotics, .EXE went for communications tech and ours went for biotech. And without biotech, there'd be a hell of a lot more environmental damage.
I also think that our universe's understanding of programming/number and average skill level of trained programmers is much better than theirs. After a certain point, they had robot masters to do a lot of the high-level tasks. We don't, so we had to figure out how to try to do things like that ourselves. Who's going to go back and invent an abacus if they start out with a calculator? And then someone takes that calculator away?
Robot masters have to be able to handle imponderables, and a lot of the other things the human brain can do. The issue is that this means not exactly following programming, the capacity for judgment calls… Eliminating all robots with free will and emotions meant that the style of programming 20XX had, which presupposed those capabilities, no longer worked. They headed down a certain branch of the tech tree, based on Dr. Light's work, and then it was chopped out from under them.
Our computer programs do exactly what they're told. They can only do exactly what they're told. There's a kind of strike in Australia called Work To Rule. Humanity's tech base assumed robots that were intelligent and would use that intelligence to be helpful, go out of their way to get their jobs done.
Then their robots were reduced to the mental capabilities of 1980s robots in our 'verse, while their programmers had learned to program for and assume the capabilities of 20XX 'verse robots.
I set 20XX's overall tech as equivalent to our world's 20XX tech level. Lot more over here, lot less over there, because grant money is not infinite and one grant made the major difference between the main time and EXE, supposedly. Then they lost their big advantage.