me tell you something, rookies. The first attack on
Sigma's Fortress was the worst fighting I'd ever seen.
Never underestimate the power of robots and repliroids
to hold off an army; even from a poorly-designed citadel.
It was a bitch, and no mistake. Now listen up, while
I tell you some tricks, I learned . . ."
--excerpt from a recording of training classes taught
by Irregular Hunter Mac
bomb exploded high overhead, momentarily blinding Monique.
her pirated armor and buster look-alike, Monique Jansen
was virtually invincible. Why, then, did she feel so
helpless? She couldn't even remember what she had been
sent here for. Blinking her eyes hard and beating back
the pain that threatened to explode her temples, she
took a ragged breath.
had begun when she arrived in New Denver. As far as
she could tell, she had been perfectly fine before that.
But as soon as she teleported down to . . .
was she thinking?
the assassin muttered listlessly. "Getting senile already,
girl? Pull yourself together!"
Something about New Denver . . .
as she might, Monique couldn't quite grasp the thread
of the thought she had been pursuing moments ago. Exasperated,
she gave up and returned to the business of staying
alive. She had long since completed her mission of striking
terror into the populace of both New Denver and Keliva
as "Rockman." However, something had not been quite
she teleported to Keliva, she vaguely remembered killing
a few people from the media before heading for the city
proper and beginning the slaughter there. She had learned
in New Denver--to her delight--that conventional bullets
merely flattened themselves impotently against the body
armor she wore. Knowing that had made her job in Keliva
as she was resting from her first attack, she had overheard
on the radio that Rockman--the real Rockman had
arrived and destroyed Elecman, the Robot Master in charge
of this city.
people of Keliva, though easily deceived at first, were
not stupid. It took them very little time to realize
that Monique had been an impostor, and from that conclusion
sprang murderous anger. Suddenly, what had begun as
shooting fish in a barrel for Monique became a race
for her life.
with armor-piercing laser cannons and other black-market
energy weapons, the citizens of Keliva had declared
open war upon Monique, and the twenty-four hour manhunt
had begun. The highly-trained assassin would normally
have had no problem, but she couldn't seem to get her
thoughts together, and every time she tried to use the
teleporter, it malfunctioned.
Monique decided, that using it would do her much good.
Whatever assurances that lying Brazilian Juan Iago had
given her of the teleporter's safety had been proven
false when Monique first landed in New Denver with a
screaming headache and blurred vision.
she lived through this, Monique would feed the filthy
bastard his own lying tongue.
that she had found a temporary refuge in an abandoned
hotel, Monique had a few breaths worth of time to disassemble
the teleporter and take a look at it. A morass of wires
and microchips greeted her eyes as she removed the faceplate
of the complicated device.
hell." Monique rubbed her temples. It would take forever
to fix this damnable mess, and she had a few minutes
of respite at the most before her hunters once again
drove her from safety and back into the dangerous war
zone of Keliva.
on what she could remember of electronics of servomech
design, the blue-armored assassin carefully removed
a burnt microchip and examined the space underneath.
The contact surface seemed to be fine, so it was just
the microchip that had been damaged, as far as she could
the tiny chip over and scrutinizing the bottom, she
found a small ray of hope in the form of six silver
chip was of a common line that could be found in many
household objects. The 56m type of microchips was a
type often used in televid devices; as an assassin,
it had been Monique's business to memorize all the components
of communication devices so that she would know which
one to remove. After all, a victim who has no contact
with the outside world is by far more helpless than
one who has.
if only she could find a . . .
was she thinking?
shook her head. Damn this headache! It made concentration
impossible. If she couldn't collect her thoughts, she'd
be better off dead, anyway! The assassin noticed her
fist was clenched, and she relaxed it.
tiny clattered to the floor.
yes! The teleporter component! She needed to find a
televid in this hotel, and maybe then she could escape
from this wretched pit of death. Then . . .
scattered thoughts focused into a single burning point.
she would seek out the HSL and kill every last one of
* * * *
was unusually quiet when Rock arrived.
had half-expected Roll to be waiting for him in the
lab with joyous greetings. He had dared hope that Snap
and Bess might be there, grinning from ear to ear, waiting
to tell him that the virus could be neutralized.
had even hoped that Dr. Light would be waiting with
a virus neutralization disc in his hand. Even the confused
clamor of the mass media would have been welcome in
the face of what greeted Rock upon his return.
lab stood empty. Fluorescent lights in the ceiling cast
harsh blades of light against work tables and the walls.
One of the lights in the corner had burned out, and
dark shadows stood starkly at weird angles against the
otherwise sterile brightness of the room.
brows drew together, and he slumped against the nearest
table. The thermal output level of his critical operating
circuits was still abnormally high due to the dangerous
amount of raw electricity to which he had been exposed
during his battle with the insane Elecman. His auto-repair
systems had settled from constant alarm down to an angry
buzz as they drank up all of the reserve energy his
emergency generator could supply.
internal gyroscopic lasers flickered as their power
was sapped by his auto-repair circuits, and a wave of
dizziness assaulted him. Gripping the table more firmly,
the hawk-eyed android worked his way towards the door.
Irritation born of discomfort and impatience made him
grind his teeth as he struggled to make himself stand
gripped the doorknob and turned. Unsure whether it was
the fault of the virus or overload from the battle with
Elecman, Rock blinked dumbly at the doorknob. He had
miscalculated his own strength and twisted it off of
now, and suffering from the effects of the eroding virus,
Rock pushed the door open, ignoring the soft snap that signified the demise of the rest of the doorknob's
fixture. As he shuffled down the hallway, he banged
his shin on the edge of a table.
lanced through his leg and Rock collapsed. A creeping,
unclean feeling crawled through his brain, and he suddenly
knew with horrified certainty that the virus had located
the circuit bundle that interpreted various signals
from exterior sensors and turned them into physical
a nanosecond before the virus indulged itself in overloading
Rock's pain sensors, he felt entirely helpless and vulnerable,
and wondered if he had finally found what it felt like
to be entirely human.
then it began.
* * * *
dozed in the library on an old, ripped-up overstuffed
armchair that Dr. Light had provided from somewhere.
Bess snored softly on his lap, and Julie was off watching
Roll work. The Australian rubbed an itch on his nose
in irritation. Rock had not yet returned from the battle
with the Robot Master in Keliva, and everybody in the
house had been getting edgy.
Light had taken the virus-guard developed by Roll and
improved upon it a bit while waiting for his "son" to
return from battle, and now, at Roll's insistence, sat
in the kitchen grumbling to himself and munching on
cold summer sausage slices.
nothing of import to do, Snap had settled down for a
quick nap wile waiting for his android friend to arrive.
The early spring rain beat a steady, lulling pattern
on the window panes. Snap took a deep breath and sank
further into peaceful sleep.
terrifying, unearthly scream made Snap sit bolt upright,
and Bess awoke with a start.
windows in the library all simultaneously bent outwards
and shattered with an abrupt, wrenching sound. Snap
covered Bess's ears and tried to bury his own head in
the overstuffed cushions of the armchair.
horrible wailing went on and on, never stopping for
breath, and seeming to get only louder. It wasn't until
Snap had successfully pushed his head in between two
cushions and had found some brief respite from the awful
noise that he realized that he recognized the voice.
all human semblance left the voice, and it became a
shrieking stream of ultra-high beeps and twisted, metallic
grinding, so unbearably intense that Snap's stomach
started to churn and his muscles locked.
to move for sheer terror, Snap shuddered. How was it
possible for a machine to feel pain--much less so intensely?
He gritted his teeth and forced himself to pull his
head free. Covering his ears with both hands, he leaned
down to Bess and yelled.
here! I'm going to see!"
nodded, and covered her ears. The child's eyes were
so wide that Snap could see the whites of her eyes all
the way around her irises. He didn't begrudge his daughter
her fear one bit; the desperation and pain in the android's
cry was so powerful that it might have been organic.
The sound of it awoke a primal, animal fear within Snap's
turned and dashed down the stairs, hands still pressed
against his ears. He missed a step and, unable to grab
the railing, stumbled the remainder of the way down.
Heedless of his own hurts, the Australian continued
on until he reached the source of the noise.
Light, wearing the type of headphones used in industrial
shops to block out the sounds of loud machinery, knelt
over Rock holding a microchip in a pair of needle nose
pliers in one hand and a micolaser saw in the other.
red, cylindrical robot that Dr. Light called Eddie stood
next to the roboticist, its cargo area jammed with oil-slick
nuts, bolts and wires. It was spattered with a dark
liquid that was leaking from the top of Rock's head,
where Dr. Light's laser saw had cut away a section of
synthetic scalp to operate.
sat astride her counterpart's chest, pressing down on
Rock's head. She had several deep gashes on her left
arm, with wires, cables and syntheflesh shredded like
paper. Her jaw was clenched so hard that Snap could
see the muscle-cables straining against the pale syntheflesh
of her chin.
for Rock . . .
was virtually unrecognizable. He shook spasmodically,
legs kicking. Had not Roll's knees been pinning her
brother's elbows to the floor, his arms would also be
flailing; the deep cracks in the floor attested to that.
His armor had been blackened in the fight with the last
Robot Master, and soot stained the floor where he lay.
face was the worst of it, though.
was as if some demon from hell had crawled forth from
the black and burning depths and inhabited the body
of Rockman. The android's muscle cables tensed and twitched
so erratically, it looked as though some obscene living thing was moving beneath his skin.
mouth was wide open and blasting forth that horrible,
his eyes blazed lapis fire, laced with suffering. Dark
coolant leaked out from around the edges of his eye
sockets, looking like nothing so much as blood.
blanched and took a step backwards.
Light jammed the pliers into the top of Rock's head
and twisted, inserting the microchip. In his coolant-splattered
lab coat, he looked like a mad doctor from an old horror
movie cutting apart a bleeding corpse. Snap half expected
him to raise his arms and shout "it's alive!"
Rock's body stopped twitching, and the relentless scream
trailed off into silence.
quite silence, Snap realized after a moment. Starved
for fuel, Rock's fusion generator was forcing him to
breathe, and the quick, ragged sobs that broke from
the android's throat wrenched Snap's heart.
tense whisper was a blasphemy against the morbid stillness
that had suddenly settled upon the area. "Damn you,
android woman stood and looked at her left arm--ruined
below her elbow joint. Snap could tell by the way it
hung limply at her side that all power to it had been
cut. He realized after a moment that she must have been
forcing power through the half-disintegrated circuits
in order to hold her brother down, and that it must
have hurt immensely.
must have been staring, for Roll looked at him and then
back down at her arm, rather self-consciously. "It's
nothing," she muttered. Grimly, like a doctor who is
still not sure her patient will survive, she bent over
and hoisted Rock by his waist with her one good arm.
Light stood slowly. The blood had drained from his face,
and his eyes were dull. Had his hands not been shaking
so violently, he could have been mistaken for a cadaver.
He blinked twice and then spoke.
him to the lab. We can still repair his neural net if
we hurry. That virus damn near wiped out all of his
motor-control circuits." He passed a hand in front of
his eyes, as if to ward off a ghost, and then stalked
after Roll, wiping his hands on his jacket. Eddie trundled
took a step forward.
I help? Do you--" He suddenly realized that he would
probably be more of a hindrance than anything else in
such delicate work. "Do you need me to carry anything?"
Light turned back and smiled wearily. "No. But if you
are familiar enough with the IBN-2341 computer series,
you can help access his backup logs so we can reconstruct
nodded once and followed.
* * * *
could only lie inert while the remains of his emergency
systems forced his body to breathe air so that his internal
fusion chamber could gather fuel. The pain had been
so intense that he was sure he would die. In truth,
he had longed for deactivation after the first half-minute
of it, and it had taken almost five minutes for Dr.
Light and Roll to perform their miraculously quick surgery.
in his pain-induced frenzy, Rock had barely noticed
that the virus had spread to encompass more of his cybernetic
brain, and that he had been thrashing like a madman.
His visual sensors recorded with damning clarity his
own hands tearing the flesh from his sister's arm while
she held him down.
heat generated by his over reactive circuits was quickly
killing the android. In fact, it would have been merely
fourteen more seconds until the malfunction caused his
generator to overload and turn the lab and several blocks
around it into a smoking, radioactive rubble. Rock wondered
if Roll and Dr. Light had known.
what seemed an eternity--for his internal chronometer
had been destroyed by the virus--Rock hung in a hazy
limbo. With no way to sense the passing of time, the
voices and sounds he heard, and even his own thoughts,
all swam together in a disconcerting mishmash. He could
barely discern which were his thoughts, and which were
words spoken by others.
optical scanning unit made everything into a multicolored
blur, and he felt as if he were burning up. The sensation
was worse than when he had fought Fireman; the Robot
master's attacks had come from without, while this heat came from within. Rock could feel his own body
only as a network of dull aches and threads of fire.
to lose "consciousness" and slip into recharge mode,
Rock endured in silence; anything was better
than the agony of before.
suddenly, he was aware again.
collapsed from its all-encompassing nothingness into
rational seconds, minutes, hours. Rock could feel the
reassuring picoseconds ticking away in his newly-repaired
chronometer, and wondered how long he had been under
the new time entry with his last recorded time "awake,"
hours, 43 minutes.
sat up and looked around. Dr. Light, Roll, Julie and
Bess were all in the room, staring anxiously at him.
Expecting the worst, he ran a self-diagnostic program
to see what kind of shape he was in.
not only were all of his primary systems operating well
within green specifications, but a quick check of his
weapons submenu revealed that the "Thunder Beam" had
been added to his arsenal. For a split second, he wondered
who had made up the names for his weapons.
swung his feet over the edge of the table and grinned
reassuringly at his audience.
all right," he said.
harsh, croaking sound of his own voice made him start.
A check of his vocal processors confirmed that his screaming
had shorted out several transistors and blown two of
the four microspeakers which comprised his "vocal cords."
The remaining two were badly damaged and the loss of
information transmitted to them via broken circuits
resulted in a degradation of sound.
short--he had screamed himself hoarse.
in the room broke into relieved grins, and Snap slapped
him on the back.
Light sighed wearily and smiled. Leaning on the table
beside his "son," he spoke. "We were afraid we'd lost
you. Something you did while in Keliva accelerated the
virus' growth, and we had to totally reroute most of
your primary functions while we installed a virus guard
and repaired your circuits with back-up information
from your blueprints."
grinned. "Dad was the one who read them off of the computer,
weren't you, Dad?"
shrugged and looked sheepish. "It was little enough
I could do."
you," Rock said. He frowned after a moment. "I had to
burn away some of my nonessential circuitry to fight
the virus in Elecman's tower. Perhaps that . . . ?"
Light nodded. "If you destroyed nonessential circuits
that the virus was occupied with, then that may well
have been the catalyst for it to move up to more important
systems." Noticing Rock's troubled look, he held up
his hands. "I'm not saying it was the wrong decision;
you did the best thing you could under the circumstances."
that's not what was bothering me," Rock answered. "It's
just that you said 'virus guard.' I take it that the
virus is still within my system?"
cleared her throat. "Yes, well . . . your primary systems
will be safe for another twenty-four hours. However,
the virus has retreated back to its original place in
the module where the Three Laws are stored. It's gradually
eating away at the defenses."
clenched her hands and anxiety. "If only we could somehow
make it leave--burn away that section of your brain."
face screwed up in confusion as Roll spoke. "What's
guard program I wrote is a virus-hunter. It searches
out foreign programs and overwrites them with the backup
data from Rock's neuro-computer. It traces malignant
programs to their source and destroys them at the root.
Basically, it keeps the virus in place so it can't spread.
But if we could drive the virus out of its hiding place--"
was Bess who finished. "Then the good program would
kill what's making Rock sick."
sighed. "Well, talking about it won't make it happen.
I suggest we stop dwelling on it and get to work. Now
that I can devote my attention to this, we can get three
times as much work done. Right, sis?"
and Dr. Light simultaneously found spots on the wall
at which to stare.
Rock's tone of voice had changed from optimistic to
a problem," Snap replied. "Remember how you thought
that maybe the HSL was trying to kill Dr. Wily?" Rock
nodded his assent. Snap licked his lips. "Well, you
were right. Your si--Roll found the location of Dr.
Wily's fortress by analyzing the data from the Robot
Skull Castle is under attack by the Human Supremacy
League." Snap swallowed, unable to continue.
Light continued where the other man left off. "Frankly,
it's a bloodbath. There are thousands upon thousands
of people hurling themselves at the walls of Skull Castle,
and dying for their stupidity. Dr. Wily probably has
a quarter of a million robots holed up in there, and
they're killing everything in sight."
face would have paled if it were possible. Already,
he felt the Prime Rule taking effect; he could not,
through inaction, allow human beings to come to harm
while attacking Dr. Wily. Even, he realized with a half-snarl,
if those same humans would as much kill him as look
at him, for the Prime Rule overrode the Second.
Wily is taking a personal hand in the slaughter," Roll
said. "He has some sort of golden flying machine--looks
like a flying saucer--and he's been flying out the top
of his fortress from time to time and blowing people
clenched his fist. "I have to stop them."
Light's face was sad. "Yes, you do. I'm sorry, but there's
nobody else who can do it right now. You'll need time
to recharge before you leave, but you must fight again."
sable-haired android pondered. This would be the most
dangerous assignment he'd taken yet. The Three Laws
would force him to protect any human being--and there
were thousands of them--from harm, even if it meant
sacrificing his own life.
was a suicide mission.
he realized what it meant, he looked back to Dr. Light.
Tears had gathered in the roboticist's eyes, and a few
ran down his cheeks.
sorry," he said in a broken, very old sounding voice.
wanted to cry too. Why was he fighting the virus? Why
were Dr. Light and Roll bothering to fix him when we
was going to die in a few hours anyway? And why should
he be forced to protect humans who were murderers of
both humans and sentient robots?
it all for nothing?
forced a small smile. Dr. Light, Roll, Snap, Bess, Julie
. . . they needed to see him be strong. That was what
being a hero was all about, and by God, he wasn't going
to let them see him quail.
was too much at stake for him to indulge in self-pity.
right, then," he said. He hoped his voice sounded firm,
bold, brave. "Get my armor fixed while I recharge. I've
got work to do, and Dr. Wily still needs to be saved
It was Roll's voice, disbelieving. "Are you serious?
How can you not hate Wily?"
as Dr. Wily is killing the people outside, he's killing
himself," Rock answered. "His power is broken but for
his hold in his own fortress. If he remains on this
genocidal course, he'll be executed, and the Prime Rule
forces me to act in prevention of that."
shook her head, and then smiled ruefully. "Then get
exhaled loudly. "You're a better person than I am,"
he stated. "I'd just let the bastard die." His indignant
yowl as Bess and Julie simultaneously pinched his ears
was the last thing Rock heard before he dropped back
* * * *
lead robot exploded in a brilliant red-gold flare of
swarm of DRIM-13's disappeared within the superheated
center of the explosion. The sound of their engine casings
cracking and their fuel tanks exploding in the superheated
air barely even carried above the roar of other numerous
Iago grinned. There were a few robots who wouldn't be
causing any more trouble.
grin faded as his gaze drifted across the grisly tableau
laid out before him against the bone-pale walls of Skull
Castle. Like some hellish scene out of Dante's Inferno,
the sky was tinted the color of blood by smoke and the
light of a thousand incendiaries. The lower sections
of Skull Castle's outer walls were similarly stained
dark with smoke and blood and the circulatory fluids
of sentry robots.
in between the trench where Juan hunched and the walls
of Dr. Wily's fortress, there was not even walking room
amongst the dead or deactivated. The blood of HSL soldiers
mixed with the oil of Dr. Wily's robotic soldiers and
the result was a dark, reeking substance with a thin
rainbow film on it, covering the entire battlefield.
Juan, James Walken glared at a line of 12-KIF's advancing
over the bodies of their fallen enemies and comrades
alike. The leader of HSL grimly pulled another pin from
his stash of napalm-grenades and hurled it overhand
just behind the line of shield-bearing robots.
flight of wasp-like robots buzzed overhead and dropped
a line of bombs on the remaining ranks of the HSL army.
Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the HSL
had had been decimated, and now less than ten thousand
remained, camped out on the cold, craggy mountains surrounding
memory of the first charge would haunt Walken until
of his army's superiority, Walken had ordered his elite
heavy troops--the Executors--ahead. The Executors were
a group of a hundred men and women hand-picked by James
Walken. Most of them had prior military experience driving
medium and heavy hovertanks during the Third World War.
his stolen fleet of heavy bulletproof, missile resistant
hover-tanks manned by his elite pilots, Walken had felt
invincible. After all, each was armed with a heavy laser
cannon and several high-powered machine guns with explosive
rounds. It had taken little more than that to subjugate
entire cities to Walken's Rule.
James Walken was a cautious man, so had also sent several
battalions of armored foot soldiers behind the tanks.
Each foot soldier was armed with a laser pistol, a submachine
gun and short-flight jet packs. In addition, each commander
was equipped with ten-foot tall power armor sporting
shoulder-mounted light laser cannons and a heavy plasma
rifle. Such foot troops were nearly as invincible as
could such a front line fail to strike terror into Dr.
had shouted his ultimatum to Wily himself from the top
of the hill beside Skull Castle: surrender and deliver
himself to the judgment of the HSL, or die like a rat
trapped in a cage of his own making.
seconds later, it happened.
front wall of Skull Castle rose, revealing a frightening
array of barrels.
thousand laser beams and hellish walls of burning plasma
engulfed the front line of the HSL army. Walken had
watched, impotent and horrified, as the burning death
from within the castle walls had literally melted his
finest troops into slag.
particular commander whom Walken had been watching had
half-turned in a vain attempt to escape before he shrank
and melted into an unrecognizable puddle of molten metal
and crisped flesh.
like that, the Executors and their hundred million dollars'
worth of tanks had disappeared. Those at the very back
of the line had been given little more time to escape
their comrades' fate. There was a brief reprieve before
the robots came.
with rage and humiliation, Walken had been as stone
while the remainder of his front line had been decimated
by hundreds of 12-KIF's, their converted plasma welders
blazing with unholy power.
are the spawn of Satan. Walken had drilled that
lesson into his followers until they repeated it automatically,
by rote. God didn't approve of homosexuals or working
mothers--neither of which was allowed in Walken's army--so
why should He approve of robots, the unholiest of man's
his best soldiers vaporized by the demons, Walken knew
that there would be no doubt at all amongst his surviving
disciples now that robots should not--must not--be
allowed to exist in his New World Order under God.
that first horrific encounter, Walken had played a strike
and fade game against Dr. Wily's army of satanic automatons.
It was a tactic that Walken could see, after several
hours, was still sustaining heavy losses. At least,
however, it was better than a direct charge.
he said, his voice hoarse.
licked his lips. "Order another air strike, before he
comes back out."
internally cringed. There was no question as to who
"he" was. Eight times now, Dr. Wily had appeared to
wreak havoc personally. Heralded by a high-pitched whine
laden with an electronic vibrato, the war mech appeared
first as a nearly indistinguishable gold and crimson
speck above the furthest ramparts of Skull Castle.
lower chassis of the body was plated with some type
of laser-reflecting brassy metal, its smooth, rounded
contours interrupted only by small laser and plasma-shooting
ports in a perfect circle around the perimeter of the
ship. The upper part was a blood-colored shiny metal
that had so far confounded any attacks made from the
amassed HSL army.
flying saucer, or so it appeared.
like a nightmare out of some twisted cartoon, the flying
device periodically emerged from depths of the grisly
death's head fortress squatted upon the craggy mountainside.
From Walken and Juan's vantage point, they could only
see flashes of light and color emanating from the machine.
However, those few who had been unfortunate enough to
suffer the attacks of Wily's mech and lived to tell
the tale described horrible fiery death of every type
blasting from the machine as it swooped low over the
heads of the front lines.
James Walken's crisp, authoritative voice broke the
Brazilian from his reverie.
sir!" Juan bit his lip, chagrined, and quickly activated
the comm device on his watch. "Sixth and seventh flight
units, prepare to make another strike."
the other end of the link, a voice cracked with fatigue
and fear replied. "Sir? But we've already lost half
frowned. "I'm aware of the status of your units, commander.
The orders stand." He took a deep breath, as if sympathizing
with the doomed man. "I understand that it looks hopeless,
but we have few tricks to bring that crazy old fool
sir. We'll strike from the east, where we've already
damaged a portion of the outer wall." Hissing static
signified the end of the conversation.
done," Walken said, and straightened his shoulders.
"Prepare for the final assault."
running out of time, Juan," Walken answered. "If we
continue at this rate, we'll meet our end in hours.
Believe me, this is not a suicide run. If we assemble
the rest of the HSL and charge the west wall en masse while Dr. Wily is distracted at the east side of his
fortress, then we'll surely break through."
Brazilian second-in-command of the HSL thought for a
moment. From what he remembered of Skull castle's interior,
the outer wall encompassed a large, ring-like courtyard
with relatively few places a guard could hide. It was
the center structure that was densely fortified. Walken's
plan certainly had merit . . .
sir," Juan answered, and ordered the charge.
* * * *
. . ."
looked from side to side. The stone under his feet was
broken by weather and heat, but not by the touch of
life. In fact, as far as Rock could see, the immense
landscape was barren, consisting only of sun-paled sand
and wind-worn rocks jumbled in disorderly heaps.
sun was too large.
android shook his head. This had to be a dream.
. . . why do you hide from me?"
wasn't quite a voice that spoke to him--more of a feeling
that made itself known in his brain.
can I be hidden in this wasteland? Rock wondered.
show yourself." The feeling was now more insistent.
a moment, Rock considered, ignoring the voice and waking
up, for now he was certain that this was a dream. However,
its presence intrigued him enough to answer.
here. Who--what--are you?" His own voice was
eaten up by the vast emptiness.
the voice didn't answer, Rock's summoning elicited an
strong wind howled out of the sky and swirled the sand
in a man-sized vortex a few meters in front of Rock.
In a matter of seconds, the tail of the vortex had split
and solidified into a pair of sandy legs, and the top
had formed into a headless torso.
wind died down, and a body stood in front of Rock. Garbed
entirely in black, from the combat boots and parachute
pants to the bomber jacket and biker gauntlets, the
entire body was a study in darkness.
of nothing, the head materialized. A shock of wild black
hair topped a pale face half-obscured by a large, dark
pair of sunglasses that entirely hid the eyes beneath.
deep-seated sense of dread suffused Rock. He told himself
that none of this was real, that it was only a series
of random electrical impulses in his cybernetic brain
interpreted as visual and aural information . . . but
nothing he could do would make him wake up.
was his own voice.
are you?" Rock clenched his fist, tried to shift it
into buster configuration. Nothing happened. He stared
dumbly at his hands and then back up at his dark-clad
that won't work here," the doppelganger said, hefting
a large beheading axe. Rock winced as the memory of
another dream struck him with almost physical force.
"You can't shoot yourself, Rock. The Second Law forbids
. . . what are you babbling about?"
doppelganger frowned. "For having a superhuman brain,
you can be organically slow sometimes. Don't you get
it? I'm you, Rock."
shook his head. "Impossible. I am me. Rock. You cannot
be me; that's physics."
has nothing to do with this," the duplicate snapped.
"And you know it. I am you. I am Blues. I am Dr. Wily.
I am everything that you fear, everything that you despise
about yourself, and others."
twin tore off his glasses and hurled them to the ground.
Hawk-blue eyes identical to Rock's own stared into the
black-haired Robot Hunter's soul. "Does this help? The
eyes are the window to the soul, Rock! What do you see?"
android ground his teeth. "Not . . . not my eyes. You
are an impostor!"
doppelganger melted, became amorphous. Darkness bled
from it and spread across the sand as Rock's shadow-twin
became a full-length mirror.
"And now what do you see?" the voice growled.
looked at his reflection . . .
saw the doppelganger's eyes. Angry. Self-absorbed. Full
of hate for himself and for others. Those eyes held
humans in contempt and rejoiced in the destruction of
the Robot Masters and that glory that came with it.
Those eyes blazed with insanity, and self pity.
was barely a whisper, but Rock knew that it was his
own voice that spoke, and not that of the doppelganger.
"No. That's not me."
know it is."
me. Not all of it. You've magnified trifling matters--"
You hate yourself! By extension, you hate your
creator, and his entire race! You hate your 'sister'
for her escape from your fate, and you hate your once-friends
for betraying you. You hate the Human Supremacy League,
yet you also hate the humans who hide in their cities
and won't fight! You hate Dr. Wily! You are more full
of hate than even the most fanatic HSL devotee!"
Rock's voice was stronger. "You lie! You're trying to
twist my feelings! I don't hate humans--or the Robot
Masters! I pity them. I pity those who don't have the
courage to fight."
is a thin veil for disgust, Rock."
up. That's crap." Rock slapped the mirror away. Instead
of shattering across the sand, it melted back into a
silver puddle at Rock's feet, before reassembling itself
into the dark man.
wore its sunglasses again.
you hate yourself."
suppressed a grim smile. "You're grasping at straws."
straw; this is truth."
hate what I may become if I follow this path," Rock
admitted. "I fear the idea of becoming a killer who
commits atrocities under the blanket justification of
justice." Sudden understanding lit in Rock's eyes. "You're
not my 'dark side.' You're my fear."
as a striking cobra, Rock snatched the sunglasses from
his clone's face.
eyes beneath were now empty black sockets.
the doppelganger smiled.
than that, Rock. So much more than merely your fear."
The smile became a sneer, but Rock could see something
else in the face--something he could not quite place.
"And soon, you will see everything that I am."
expression behind the doppelganger's facade snapped
into place. Rock had seen it in the faces of Robot Masters
picoseconds before their deaths.
was the expression of a hunter-turned prey. Understanding
washed over Rock.
doppelganger's expression turned ugly. "Enjoy your short
victory. You will soon wish you have succumbed to despair
and died quietly in your sleep."
turned his back. "I reject you."
just like that, he was awake.
room was dark, or rather it would appear dark to human
eyes. Rock switched his vision sensors to their infrared
detection mode and glanced about. He was in the lab
still, with several cables running to key energy reservoirs
on his body. In the corner, Dr. Light slept.
flooded the room, and Rock switched back to his normal
vision to prevent sensor overload. He blinked twice
and turned his head towards the source of the light.
stood outlined in the doorway, light from the hall making
her a silhouette.
What are you doing awake?"
shrugged. "Bad dreams. Mind if I ask you a question?"
have you learned about the virus so far?"
sighed. "A lot, but not enough. I don't know how Dr. Wily was able to devise such a horribly lethal program
in such a short amount of time. It's self-replicating
and self-modifying, designed to search out key areas
of your brain and destroy them."
thought," Rock said, sitting up, "that it was confined
to the module where the Three Laws are stored."
exasperated sigh was his reward, and Roll turned the
room lights on. "Listen, it's like a sort of electronic
cancer. The main node is in that module, but it keeps
trying to spread little 'tentacle' programs out to your
other systems. Luckily, the virus-guard Dr. Light and
I built keeps it from leaving that module . . . for
many hours do I have left?"
Roll answered quietly. "That's assuming that the rate
of change at which it grows and adapts stays constant,
which it has thus far."
realization crept down Rock's spine. "I think we're
in trouble, then."
lines of Roll's pleasant face sharpened into worry.
* * * *
Monique arrived at Skull Castle, she could barely remember
her own name.
were faint impressions of her life still imprinted on
her mind: the face of a woman she assumed to be her
mother, a series if letters and numbers on a tiny chip
that meant life, a blue reflection in the mirror that
was not herself.
that, very little remained of what could be called Monique
Kill . . . I must kill them.
thought surfaced amongst a dizzying sea of confusion.
Monique shook her head and made a fist.
so released a white-hot stream of plasma that ionized
the air around her.
right! The plasma-gun . . .
stumbled forward, searching a field of blood-crusted
faces for one in particular. She couldn't force herself
to resolve a solid image of her intended prey beyond
an impression of mud-colored hair and cinnamon eyes.
The one she sought still must live, or her life would
be for nothing.
explosion rocked the ground around her, and Monique,
though robbed of memory, acted on instinct. Her muscles
tensed and sent her into a catlike leap which carried
her clear of the flying debris thrust from the ground
by the nearby missile strike.
had the missile come from?
the sight-enhancing capabilities of the helmet she wore,
Monique zeroed in on her antagonist.
the head of a vast army that climbed the mountainside,
was the face that Monique was compelled to destroy.
He couldn't fight her alone; he needed an entire army.
that was fine with her.
* * * *
looks like the missile missed him, sir."
Walken ignored the staticy voice of his artillery corporal
over the comm link. The missile had really just been
meant as a warning to Rockman. The blue robot had appeared
several hundred meters in front of the advancing line
of the HSL army a few minutes ago.
matter if the missile had missed its mark; in a matter
of moments, the army would reach him and wipe the miserable
spawn of Satan from the face of the planet once and
for all. And when Dr. Wily, too, was dead, James Walken
would execute Dr. Light and rule the world as God intended.
blue robot turned and looked at Walken.
though he was hundreds of meters away, James Walken
could tell that Rockman was looking at him.
me a light laser cannon. The kind where the barrel will
fit on my shoulder if the battery pack is on the ground."
Walken smiled. He had been a crack shot for years--there
was no way a robot could outshoot him.
several moments, he just waited, watching Rockman approach.
the cool, smooth barrel of the laser cannon was placed
in his hands, it was like meeting an old friend. It
was LGI-86 mk.2. Walken could tell without even looking.
He was a weapons expert, after all, and this particular
type was a favorite of his.
only the slightest of moments, he shouldered the cannon,
dropped to his knee, and sighted down the barrel, as
if the laser artillery were a mere rifle. Drawing Rockman's
midsection into the center of the cross hairs, Walken
noticed that the android was limping.
twitched as the beam of concentrated light pushed a
perfect hole straight through his midsection.
growled. How tiresome. Now he would have to wait a few
seconds for the battery pack to build another charge
before he could properly bisect the robot that still
stalked towards him.
rest of the army had stopped now, and waited in an expectant
hush as Walken prepared to fire again. Walken tasted
their anticipation in the air, and breathed in the thrill
he fired again.
laser beam, visible through the smoke in the air, blasted
through layers of armor and scored a direct hit in the
center of Rockman's torso, where the sternum would be
if he were human.
the robot came.
grimaced in irritation and sighted the robot's head.
Something still didn't seem right about Rockan--he was
too quiescent. A decoy, perhaps? No matter. Walken would
destroy the decoy, if decoy it truly was, and return
to the business of storming Skull Castle.
last laser shot was off Walken's intended target by
a few inches because the man behind him accidentally
bumped him just before he pulled the trigger mechanism.
Instead of piercing the center of Rockman's head, the
laser blew away the side of Rockman's helmet and released
a flow of coolant.
had to be coolant, even if it looked like blood.
realizing that the robot was less than fifty meters
away, Walken stood. "Charge!" he screamed.
as the voice of the HSL army rose in battle lust, Walken
pulled the trigger.
had half a breath's worth of time to realize that his
laser had scored a direct hit and finally felled the
robot before the answering blast of concentrated plasma
engulfed his entire world in fire and pain.
* * * *
Wily watched all from the vantage point of his robotic
Rockman decoy was obviously malfunctioning; it hadn't
even attempted to fight until the very last. That part,
at least, had been satisfying. Though the robot dressed
in Rockman's armor was false, the image of Rockman falling
in defeat was no less sweet.
for that matter, was the demise of James Walken.
for the fun of it, Dr. Wily replayed the image over
and over on his holographic projector within the flying
saucer. In slow motion, one could see that Walken's
clothes had caught fire from the heat of the blast just
before the main plasma burst melted the commander-in-chief
from a man to a crisped puddle of meaningless protein
bye, James," Wily muttered to himself. "You were a paranoid,
arrogant, bastard, and I hope you rot in hell."
that was the last thing Dr. Wily said regarding the
once-leader of the HSL.
chortled to himself for a moment, and then pressed a
button to release his main warbot attack force, and
not the piteous reserve of modified building 'bots that
had thus far been harrying the pathetic army of the
Human Supremacy League.
were going well this day, Wily decided. Rock would be
dead from the virus in a matter of hours, and the Human
Supremacy League would be less than carbonized ash in
a matter of minutes. That would once again make Dr.
Wily unquestionably the strongest military power on
to issue a new ultimatum to the world leaders.
* * * *
gritted his teeth. Rockman had somehow overridden the
Prime Law of robotics and killed a human being--James
Walken. For that act of murder, he had paid with his
own life. Now Juan Iago would lead the Human Supremacy
League into the bowels of Skull Castle to flush out
the madman that dwelt there and to restore order to
stopped at the corpse of Rockman--and noticed something
robot twitched, and there was no sound of machinery.
The face that turned up to glare at Juan Iago with its
one good eye might once have belonged to a highly trained
assassin named Monique Jansen.
had a split second to draw back in horror.
assassin's voice was raw and bubbly with the sound of
impending death. "Surprise."
plasma blast engulfed them both.
* * * *
the warbots released by Dr. Wily were unlike their human
counterparts, in that they did not relish their work,
or draw it out for the sake of sadistic enjoyment. They
killed with quick, ruthless efficiency, and wasted no
time either crowing their victories or mourning their
so, it was only a matter of minutes before the HSL army
lay obliterated, a sea of corpses under a sea of leaden
grey clouds. Crouched like a sated predator in the midst
of the bloody carnage was the forbidding edifice of
they had been immolated, the members of the HSL army
had not died without a bitter fight, and nearly three-quarters
of the warbot defenders of Skull Castle lay in pieces,
awash in their own coolant and oil.
was a mercy, however small, that when a line of blue
energy signaled the arrival of Rock, the slaughter had
swept his sickened gaze across the madness that had
gone before, and sighed as if his soul were shattering.
only twelve hours to live if he were lucky.
grimly charged his buster and took the first, blood-soaked
steps towards the gaping maw of Skull Castle's jagged
in the depths of the fortress, a madman laughed.
to Skull Castle--Chapter 11