Some thoughts on reploids vs. X. They had a copy of the plans of what was stuck in a capsule. For beta testing. They couldn't analyze the X that came out of the capsule. In other words, they were building reploids based on the beta test version, not the final build/release version. Making all the buggy Irregulars unfortunately inevitable until they found the issues that caused them.

Since X was not in Dr. Cain's field, the assumption is that Dr. Cain was probably very, very good in his field. And the aspects of it that would be applicable enough to give him the right mindset to figure out reploids.

"Did you sleep well?" Dr. Cain asked when Alex sat up in the other twin bed. The young man slept right through room service bringing in a selection of the complimentary breakfast as a courtesy to the recovering guest. Dr. Cain wouldn't have called down to request something like that normally: he didn't want to put them to the trouble, but he needed some food to take the medications with and Alex did look tired.

He hadn't wanted to leave him alone, even long enough to go down to the lobby and come back up with a few things.

"I'm alright," was Alex's response, answering the real question as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. All those little human gestures: Dr. Light really was a genius. It made Dr. Cain worry when he saw them, but he was grateful that the bags under Alex's eyes were there, so he knew to be worried.

"There's food," he told him, although he didn't know if any of it would be very nutritious to Alex, "and I've already taken my medications."

"And showered, too," Alex said, looking up at him with a little amusement.

"I'm not totally infirm, you know." Not yet, anyway.

"I know. I heard the water." And hadn't gotten up. The walls here were thick enough that the sound couldn't have come from another room. This was a much nicer hotel than Dr. Cain usually stayed out on digs, although he wasn't going to trust the privacy enough to discuss anything that might put Alex in danger if overheard. "You don't need to sneak around me to avoid too much supervision, no matter what the nurse said. We both know that you're in much better shape than most of the people your age they deal with." Thanks to years of going on digs. Even Dr. Cain's office work involved a lot of gardening and walking around the lab to get various things: he preferred to work on his feet. Studies showed it kept the blood pumping and improved alertness. At his age, he needed all the help he could get.

"And you noticed that there was a bar in the shower." At the right height for someone to hold onto, if their balance wasn't what it used to be.

"…And I noticed that there was a bar in the shower," Alex admitted. "Sorry." He didn't want to insult Dr. Cain by acting like he was more infirm than he was, even if stress and grief weren't good for someone trying to recover from surgery. This sort of emotional upset had nasty effects on the immune system, and Dr. Cain needed his right about now. "I think I've got enough time to shower before we head to the morning session?" he asked, glancing at the clock. A good habit for someone with an internal clock to have.

"Aren't you going to eat anything?" Dr. Cain asked. The tea packets were as fake as the coffee packets, but he'd set up the hot water heater because he'd hoped having something hot to drink might make things feel normal, even a little, even if the only plant in the room was a hardy little thing. Dr. Cain approved of it on principle because of that hardiness, but it had no scent to it at all.

"I ate a lot last night," Alex told him as he sat up, "and they have refreshments at the sessions," since they were working sessions.

Dr. Cain had noticed Alex eating a lot last night. It was a buffet: Alex had taken small portions of about seven things that must have looked either unfamiliar or promising to him, and then spent the rest of the night getting additional servings of two of them while meandering around the room making nice with various people. Dr. Cain thought he'd done a pretty good job keeping anyone else from noticing just how much he'd put away. Even if it wasn't an especially ungodly amount, and Alex was a young man in very good shape, which came with a high metabolism, gluttony was a sin. Muscle wasn't just heavier than fat, it was firmer: while Alex certainly wasn't bulky, if people didn't expect him to be very well-padded when they touched him, that made it less likely that they'd realize that the padding was a relatively thin layer over very firm metal and other components.

Alex's original design was much simpler than the final design Dr. Light had developed, or mostly programmed the capsule to help Alex develop. Alex's body made a lot of use of the variable tool system that was more commonly known as the weapon copy system his brother used as Mega Man, his nanites optimizing the use of the limited space in Alex's frame by taking apart and replacing entire sections, if not teleporting parts in and out as necessary.

It would be fairly close to impossible to build a duplicate of Alex's systems just by examining those systems, even if there weren't failsafes to prevent someone taking him apart in order to do just that.

Alex's weight probably varied over a good four kilograms throughout the day, even without bringing his armor into it, but then so did many people's, depending on food intake and whether they remembered to drink enough water. All those expeditions made Dr. Cain very aware of the need to stay hydrated and how much better it was to eat several small meals instead of a couple big meals at lunch and dinner, so he was probably more stable than other people, especially those young enough that their bodies could compensate for them doing dumb things more easily so they hadn't yet needed to learn good habits.

Honestly, a biologist would probably have an easier time studying X than a modern roboticist. Biologists knew to assume that they would be looking at incredibly complex systems that relied on trillions of complex processes going on at the microscopic level.

As someone who had done more than a little work with genetics, he truly, truly did admire Dr. Light's work. As well as the man himself. It was one thing for someone to build servants, to give orders.

The saying 'lead, follow or get out of the way' did spring to mind. That Dr. Light had the confidence in his own work, in X… No, in the universe, to leave so much of X's design up to X…

That very philosophy was probably the only thing that would make it possible to build more units based on X. That the basic structure of the android was set up not to be a certain way, but to be a base from which to enable customization. A replica of X wouldn't have to be an exact duplicate in order to function, not like how movement programming for one robot design would fail absolutely if another design tried to use it. Yes, there would probably be bugs, but most of them would come from failures in the additional programming, the attempts to provide useful, temporary constraints to make up for the lack of the capsule. Locking someone up for thirty years might have kept X safe, but Dr. Cain just didn't like the idea of it. Some modifications would have to be made in order to allow the new androids to walk around freely as soon as they were turned on instead of having to spend time in a virtual reality playpen doing their own beta testing, even if getting copies of a lot of the programs and toolkits X had worked out would help make that unnecessary…

But Alex was already stretching and getting up out of bed, and when Alex was having such a hard time of it out there, then trying to build him some help would do anything but help. Sending children out onto a battlefield? Poor things, and Alex would try to protect them when Alex must already blame himself for the people he couldn't protect.

There really was nothing that Dr. Cain could do to help him, was there? The thought made him feel even older than the surgery had, as Alex vanished into the bathroom and Dr. Cain looked back down at the laptop and his correspondence.

All of the congressmembers wanted to make it look like they were doing something useful, and biology was unfortunately considered less important than military research, especially under the circumstances. Normally Dr. Cain would have lamented that, but fewer eyes focused on them meant lower odds that someone would care enough to check Alex's background, consider him for anything that required a security clearance. Despite all the traits that made him an admirable assistant.

He was very good at pretending that he wasn't hovering, for instance, just trailing along behind his department chair and one of the world leaders in the field out of perfectly ordinary respect for Dr. Cain and unfamiliarity with the halls of government. "This will be your first time meeting a grant committee in person, won't it?" Dr. Cain asked. "Nervous?"

Hmm? "I think at the moment there's too much else going on for me to get that nervous about making a good impression," Alex said. "It's not like they're going to remember me." Not someone so relatively unimportant.

"They have staffers for that," their driver said, more than a little amused by Alex's combination of realism and naiveté. Yes, politicians were like that, but them being like that towards the little guy was such a given that the system had to compensate for it.

"…Oh." Oh well. Alex sighed, but went on as their driver opened the door. "Thanks for the warning."

Since he was such an authority, Dr. Cain had his turn to give a report yesterday morning, and today involved a lot of people giving their reports while the rest of them took notes. Since there weren't enough plugs built into the rows of desks in the observation area (there never were), most of them couldn't use their laptops and brought paper notebooks instead, except for the ones who were old enough hands at this to know there'd be a transcription available later and were using the time to compare notes by whispering in the back rows instead of taking them. Dr. Cain would have liked to do that himself, but unfortunately his position meant he'd been given one of the positions of honor, front and center. As an underling, Alex didn't have to sit with Dr. Cain, but the language gap was a problem.

On paper, Alex had Japanese, English, the remnants of childhood Portuguese and the biologist's working knowledge of Latin and Greek, but he didn't speak Networking. Dr. Cain had introduced him around at the dinner last night, but Alex was simply too junior for them to trust that he had a good enough understanding of what Dr. Cain was going to need (or what he had the right to ask for) without Dr. Cain standing behind him nodding.

Fortunately, they had that covered. Ah, he thought happily, seeing an old student get up from four delegations down and walk over, those other, lesser scientists pushing their chairs in to make way unasked.

"Chris says they can have three greenhouses for you by next week, provided the greenhouses are still there next week." Dr. Eaton pushed back grey hair, looking a little tired: she'd never handled jet lag well, and having to put a call in to Arizona and wait for the response would have kept her up. If it was only UA-C's New Riverside campus that she'd called, instead of hedging her bets by hitting up a few other facilities for her old mentor.

"Are they certain?" Dr. Cain asked quietly.

"We don't even have a robotics department, just computer science." Angela Eaton answered, equally quietly. "You know what CNAS is like about that discipline." Angela was right to whisper: if Zero's target switched from robotics to the research that was trying to allow plants and insects to survive so the world could stay fed, UACNR's fields, orchards and greenhouses were the next target, with Todai eliminated.

In the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences' institutional opinion, computer science just wasn't worth wasting money on, at least not once people learned how to use computers for the important things like storing data and doing statistical analysis. Everyone knew that before the deliberate creation of the myth of the male programmer with no social skills, recruitment ads for programmers were addressed to women, and pointed out how programming a computer was just like planning a meal! Nothing but basic logic, organizational skill and a little (shudder) artistry.

These days, the classes in writing new software were generally at least jointly taught by English departments in most universities, since writing software was just like writing poetry: the right word in the right placement for the right effect, within the restrictions of rhyme, meter and programming language. It certainly wasn't something that a prestigious science college like CNAS should devote a significant share of its budget to, not when it was the natural domain of the humanities people. How creative writing had ever gotten treated as a science…

According to Dr. Light's AI, half of the real reason was that the original, non-New Riverside had very close historical ties to the Native American community and the campus had raised considerable hell over Tomahawk Man being America's entry into the WRO's gladiatorial games, enough to force the current administration to reject funding for a robotics department.

Dr. Cain really did pity that robot master. What it said about their creator, that they built a sentient being they considered a member of an inferior race in the form of a caricature of a race also considered inferior by horrible people like that…

Of course, the dickering over such things meant that in exchange for giving up funding like that to another school in the system, they'd been able to secure even more funding for the agricultural and entomology programs that were doing vital research with trillions of zenny of food production at stake even in 20XX, and plant and insect survival had only grown more absolutely vital to human survival with the loss of robotics and what followed. There was no New Berkeley.

Of course, Angela was saying that as though she wasn't one of the two powers in CNAS. Her department and Dr. Chris Slusser's Entomology ruled that university the way legend had it sports programs ruled other schools, back in the day. "Not about that, about the insects." With Dr. Cain's current experiments ruined, creating enough of a functional ecology for agriculture (plants could not grow in a vacuum: no multicellular lifeform, especially not one like humanity that had the extra calorie expenditure of thinking, could survive without a functional ecosystem) to function was going to rest even more on the shoulders of entomology for the next few years.

"They were reproducing someone else's experiment." Science wasn't science unless the results could be reproduced. "There'll be some reshuffling, but Statistics says they can block for the effect it'll have on the experiments." She saw Alex's relieved and grateful expression over Dr. Cain's shoulder. "It pays to train half your field, doesn't it?"

"Not half my field," Dr. Cain said with joking modesty.

"Or their teachers, or their teacher's teachers… You'd better appreciate this opportunity," Angela told Alex, and then winced as she processed the implications of what she'd just said. Alex had the priceless opportunity to be Dr. Cain's current protégée. Because of what happened to all the others.

"Well, thank you," Dr. Cain told her, to distract her from the self-recrimination and because she had pulled off a miracle. There was a joke about Angela's name in there, but that joke had been made more than enough times, only generally not as an angel of mercy. Quite the opposite. Dr. Cain's department, UA-CNR and all their colleagues tried to keep the world's food supply a few steps ahead of all the things working to destroy it, and the media being the media, most of the time Angela appeared on television was issuing a warning that someone somewhere had cut their safety margin too close and there was going to be a crop failure, generally quickly followed by a government announcement that maximum purchase limits were going into effect again somewhere or on some specific foodstuff to prevent hoarding.

"Don't mention it," she said, recovering with a polite smile, and as he watched her go back to her own delegation he wondered again if she was eating enough. Perhaps he should have kept an eye on her instead of Alex at last night's dinner.

When they broke for lunch, Dr. Cain put a hand on Alex's arm and let him know that he was going to get caught up with a few people. Alex nodded, glad that Dr. Cain was going off on his own. As much as Alex would have liked to meet more of the people who were doing so much to save lives, social interaction was processing-intensive (it was what humans evolved all that processing capacity for to begin with) and he had a lot of problems to work on.

Among them that he'd forgotten to specify a time or place for Zero to meet him for that sparring match X had promised. So far, there'd been about a week between attacks, probably to allow time for upgrading and to observe the world's reaction: X did not want Zero attacking another city ahead of schedule because of X.

If it hadn't been enjoying combat against the military anymore, that might have lessened the incentive to slaughter more people. X didn't want to become the new incentive for someone to commit mass murder.

This was a secure, EMP-hardened building. It didn't have a teleport shield, but X still didn't want to take the risk of contacting his father's AI to ask if there was some way to get in touch with Wilybots without taking over the television channels the way Zero had to announce the second and third attacks or something ridiculous like that.

Not that this wasn't inherently ridiculous. I am scheduling a playdate with a mass murderer.

He knew why he was doing this: he had to get stronger, he had to try to keep down the body count, if he could set some kind of limits…

This was not training a puppy, he thought, trying to hold back a laugh that was a little more despairing than he would have liked. He let himself put his forehead down on the desk instead. More like a man-eating tiger. That he needed to learn how to fight. Without getting eaten himself. And…

What if Zero tried to contact him on its own? Would it ruin his secret identity accidentally or on purpose?

I really have no idea what I'm doing, X knew. And it was going to get other people killed, before it finally killed him.

Scientist names from UCRiverside's Eaton Collection, a research archive of science fiction, fantasy, fanzines and other material. The names Angela and Chris are just referring to them coming to Dr. Cain's aid, but George Slusser was the curator of the Eaton Collection when I went there. The university itself also grew out of a citrus experiment station, and takes responsibility for keeping one of the first two orange trees brought to the US alive.

The bit about how most programmers used to be women is absolutely true. Google the article "Computer Programming Used To Be Women's Work." The very first computer programmer ever was a woman, and it was also a female military officer who invented the first working compiler when everyone else hadn't made the connection that if you could program a computer to do several steps, then those steps didn't have to just be crunching numbers.

Seriously, creative writing is very good practice for learning to program. Creative writing is trying to move a thought, an image, from your head into someone else's intact, in order to cause them to do something, like become a better person or just be happy. That is much easier with computers, since they're nowhere near as complicated as people.