the history of warfare, the role of castles and fortresses
has been a mighty presence. From medieval castles like
Beaumaris and Caerphilly to the spring-mounted, mountain
encased installation at Cheyenne Mountain in America,
fortresses have always been a symbol of man's strength
during war. One fortress, however, deserves special
mention. Skull Castle, the stronghold of the megalomniac
Dr. William Wily--has been built and re-built so many
times as to be the stuff of legend. Though each location
and incarnation of Skull Castle has been formidable,
few were as lethal as the original, perched in the highlands
of Chile and guarded by ten thousand robotic warriors
and Robot Masters . . . "
--excerpt from the official training guide of Warfare
and Irregular-Hunting Tactics of the 17th Unit,
edited by Dr. Alan Cain, historian and archaeologist
thousand pounds of stone, steel, free-floating hover-engines
and armor shifted.
single, blazing crystal sent a shaft of ruby-colored
light across the room as the guardian glanced back and
forth, searching for any difference in the room's mathematically
perfect shape. The chamber was a giant, uninterrupted
cube, with a single entrance and a single exit.
entrance was in the form of a large, rectangular door
that could be opened by means of a switch on either
side of the wall. On the outside was the maze-like first
ring of Skull Castle that could be reached through the
courtyard. If the door were opened, it would retract
into the ceiling, opening a clear avenue of fire for
the guardian was a tiny fire escape, much too small
for the robot's own massive frame to fit through. One
would have to be human sized to fit through such a small
hole. That led to the chasm-like second ring. The guardian
had only ever seen the second ring once, on his way
out to the first ring. It was a vaguely-recalled collection
of images--mostly of ladders, sheer walls and deep pits
into the bowels of the earth.
small fire escape behind the guardian was the only way,
unless one could fly, to reach the second ring.
to reach that fire escape, one would have to destroy
Yellow Devil, the cyclops.
Wily had named him after the greatest of the cyclops
because he was Dr. Wily's greatest creation. At least,
that was what Dr. Wily had told him. Yellow Devil had
intelligence of a type, though it could be compared
to that of a small bird--little attention span, single
minded with only a short-term memory. Also, Yellow Devil
liked to watch things move.
knew that if he tripped a certain circuit path, then
something very bright would come out of his single eye,
and whatever he was looking at would be destroyed. That
was his secondary mode of defense. His primary mode
was to smash things with his giant, rock-hard fists.
Devil liked smashing things. It made a loud sound, and
when he was done smashing, he had fun counting the pieces
of his target. The last one had been a small, yellow
thing that scurried back and forth.
Yellow Devil possessed a greater understanding of his
surroundings, he might have known that the scurrying
yellow thing was a metool that had suffered a circuit
overload, and wandered away from its assigned area.
Yellow Devil only knew that it was a little moving thing,
and that he liked to smash little moving things. It
had broken into seventy-eight pieces.
one exception to his limited intellectual capacity was
Dr. Wily's standing order: guard the first ring. The
directive had been hard-coded into Yellow Devil's brain
so that it was a constant burning reminder of his duty
to his creator. Even while recharging, the order was
foremost in his thoughts.
Yellow Devil would guard this entrance until he was
told to do otherwise.
the meantime, to amuse himself, he divided into a hundred
pieces and sent each piece jetting across the room until
he had re-formed as a stone, one-eyed giant several
meters away. It was his favorite diversion.
away, something rumbled, and Yellow Devil felt an unfamiliar
circuit path in his brain begin to coarse with electrons.
Another message had been coded into him at his creation,
but he had been unaware of its existence; it had never
been relayed before.
message, as Yellow Devil understood it, was more or
less: First ring has been breached. Switch to Guardian
mode, as Yellow Devil knew, meant that he would be required
to keep a constant vigil, watching for any sort of attacker.
He would not be allowed to recharge or make contact
with his creator, for fear of giving his position away
to an enemy.
sound of distant explosions underscored the unthinkable:
Skull Fortress had indeed been invaded, and now Yellow
Devil would need to fight those who wished his master
* * * *
a courier for the HSL, she had memorized the passageways
of Skull Castle fairly early on. He she drawn on paper
her knowledge of Skull Castle's layout, the result would
have been a nightmarish tangle of passages, switch-backs,
dead-ends and secret tunnels. It was in one of the secret
tunnels that Kelly now ran.
Nothing but horrible, overbearing darkness in this world
of machines. Kelly would give anything for a flashlight
right now. Why had all the lights gone out? What the
hell was going on?
had never received word from the HSL high command to
evacuate Skull Castle, and so it was a complete surprise
to Kelly when she had awakened from her napping place
this morning and found after a brief search that she
was apparently the only human being left in the entire
had been sounds of fighting outside for nearly the entire
day; surely it was between the madman Dr. Wily and the
army of the HSL. Kelly had been sick with fear and worry.
What was she doing still inside Skull Castle? If the
fight was going on out there, why hadn't she
been recalled to her unit? And if Dr. Wily had declared
war upon the HSL, how long would it be before she herself
was hunted down by guardbots and eliminated?
pounding with each panicked step, Kelly continued down
the passageway. She had to find her way out.
She had to! Every echo of her footsteps made
her jump; visions of sentry robots spattered with human
blood raced through her mind.
A light at the end of the passageway! Had it been a
glint of sunlight, or the operating lights of one of
Skull Castle's many robotic guardians? Damn this place!
Kelly was sure she had memorized the fortress's
layout as far as the Second Ring. How could she be getting
just my nerves, she told herself, and kept running.
Any moment now, she would catch another glimpse of the
light at the end of the tunnel, and then she would be
deafening roar that suffused the entire corridor made
Kelly shriek and cover her ears. As if some angry beast
from the bowels of the earth had opened its gaping maw
and let loose a cry that echoed the wails of hell's
tortured souls, the very foundation of the castle shook
with the intense, piercing sound.
was, Kelly realized after a moment, the sound of all
of Skull Castle's guns and laser ports firing simultaneously.
So that was why all the lights had gone off!
Dr. Wily must have been saving power for this strike
for hours now.
within the heart of the chaos, Kelly pressed her hands
as hard as she could over her ears and made herself
Just get away from that damned noise!
suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. After several
minutes, Kelly slowly lowered her hands from her ears
and took a deep breath. After a moment, she realized
that she had unconsciously squeezed her eyes shut during
the noisy outburst. Relaxing her furrowed brow and opening
her eyes, she gasped.
in front of her, was hope. It appeared as if a small
hole had been blasted in the wall of the passageway,
and sunlight pooled on the ground before it. Allowing
herself a smile, she dashed towards her salvation.
the light was blocked out by the silhouette of a human
pulled up short. That wasn't any kind of armor
she'd seen on soldiers of the HSL. Had Skull Castle
been discovered by U.N. troops? That was all she needed.
The HSL had been denounced for hate crimes and war crimes;
any member of the HSL caught by the U.N. would face
grave charges and probably life in prison.
figure spoke, but it wasn't in English. Kelly flinched
back at the sound of the strange words.
anata! Daijoubu desu ka?"
don't understand," Kelly answered, hoping that the strange
man was more interested in killing robots than arresting
an American." The man spoke English with little noticeable
accent. "I said, are you okay? You've got to get out
of here as fast as you can."
sighed with relief and began to move towards the exit
once more. "Oh, good, you speak English! Listen, I need
help. I've been trapped in here for hours, and there's
been no light or any way to get out. I think there was
a battle outside--"
is more like it," the man answered. Was that sorrow
in his voice? "If you knew anybody in the HSL, I would
advise you try to keep your eyes up as you leave."
icy spear lanced through Kelly's chest. "What do you
mean? Did they lose?"
The only living human beings here now are you and, I
imagine, Dr. Wily." The man shook his head. "This is
madness." The man stepped out of the way so that Kelly
could exit the tunnel.
glinted off the burnished midnight blue helmet and armor
the man wore. Splashed with pale blue on his arms, legs
and torso, the man was a study in sky tones. Kelly eyed
him curiously. "Where are you from? The U.N.?"
quite," the man answered. Unsure of what to make of
the cryptic response, Kelly turned her attention to
her surroundings. She had apparently been wandering
in one of the secret passages in the outer wall of Skull
Castle. To her left lay the massive courtyard and then
the fortress proper. The skull-shaped edifice was half
obscured by smoke hazed red with the early sunset.
her right was the rest of the outer wall. Several meters
before her was the main gate, through which lay escape.
Kelly looked back to her rescuer. "I have to escape.
Are there any vehicles left back there?"
don't know," the man answered. He suddenly gasped and
pressed a hand to his forehead. "Oh, not now!" he growled.
After a few moments or heavy breathing, his pain seemed
to subside. He turned to Kelly. "Listen. Just concentrate
on escape. I'll be keeping the defense forces around
Skull Castle busy, okay?"
snorted. "By yourself? Do you want to die?"
man looked like he would cry. "No. No, I don't want to die. Now please, just get out of here while
you still can."
man shook his head. "Haven't you guessed? I'm you're
sworn enemy--the symbol of everything the HSL hates.
Now get going!"
stumbled a step backwards. "Y-you're . . . Rockman?!"
to make your acquaintance, too," he muttered. "Please,
leave this place--it's nothing but a slaughter house."
between feelings of confusion, anger, and fear, Kelly
turned and ran.
* * * *
gritted his teeth. "I have twelve hours to live--if
I'm exceptionally lucky. And I have to spend it here
in this madman's fortress."
you're not exceptionally lucky today, Rock. Rock
recognized the cold edge to the inner voice that told
him that the virus was speaking to him directly.
up. I didn't ask your opinion." The ugly sensation of
the virus' brutal intentions was his only reply. Rock
shook his head in disgust and began his approach; no
sense in wasting time talking to the virus if he had
less than half a day to live and defeat Dr. Wily.
courtyard was a large circular shape, with the center
dominated by the cancerous shape of Skull Castle. Between
himself and the closest noticeable entrance were several
large bunkers and other protrusions from the earth with
less immediately obvious purpose.
to get to work," the android muttered.
he approached the first bunker, he was faced with his
first adversary: a LighTech trash compacting robot.
Leaping forward on its single "foot," the robot had
obviously spotted Rock, and intended to make a quick
finish of the robot-hunter.
rolled sideways as the robot drew closer and loosed
a spray of several plasma bursts that, while they had
no immediate effect upon the robot's operating abilities,
wee able to overload its photoreceptor long enough for
Rock to run past it and make his escape behind the bunker.
there stood another one.
did you expect that this would be easy? the virus
ground his teeth and charged the second robot. Sudden
inspiration struck him, and he switched his buster's
weapon to Ice Slasher. A second before he fired, he
shifted the components of the buster inside so that,
instead of a lance of ice blasting out, a sub-arctic
cloud sprayed out of his plasma buster and surrounded
armored plating of the robot rimed over with frost and
turned pale beneath a thin sheet of ice. It held still
for a moment before beginning to lower its body in preparation
for its next bound--the one that would inevitably crush
a moment, Rock was afraid his gamble hadn't paid off.
as the body of the robot lifted back up off the hydraulic
leg, a piercing snap resounded through the courtyard.
Brittled by the intense cold, the servomotors inside
the robot's motion mechanism had been shattered by their
own movement. Rock dashed to the side as the top of
the trash compacting robot snapped off its supports
and fell to the ground with a gargantuan crash, leaving
only the frozen hydraulic leg standing upright..
next trash compacting 'bot was almost as easily dealt
with, and Rock began smiled grimly. He could only hope
that the rest of the citadel was as easily cleared of
resistance. As the last of the trash compacting robots
thundered to the ground, Rock turned towards the entrance.
a huge block of stone, easily twice Rock's height, fell
from within the ceiling of the fortress to block the
entrance. Rock swore and switched his Ice Slasher off.
The particular circuit group that supplied power to
the matter synth module for the Ice Slasher was almost
way around it, I suppose," he sighed.
studied the obstacle. There was barely enough space
around the edges of the block for him to fit his fingers
behind. As for weight, a quick calculation revealed
that it had a 98% probability of weighing at last 1,500
raven-haired android shook his head. Although Dr. Light
and Roll had modified his basic skeletal structure to
give him for strength after his fight with Gutsman,
he couldn't be sure of moving this boulder with no help.
he fitted his fingers into the slots on the sides of
the rock and gripped. So far, so good. Gritting his
teeth, he set his feet and lifted.
boulder move a few inches. Rock shook his head in disgust
and routed more power to his main arm and leg motor
modules. He had to get this thing out of the
way. Now operating at 10% above his normally specified
parameters for engine strength, Rock tried again.
boulder moved a few feet, but not nearly enough for
Rock to squeeze by yet.
you bastard!" Heedless of the consequences, Rock pushed
his operating power to 155% percent and dug his fingers
into the rock. With a metallic grunt, he hefted the
boulder and hurled it several meters to the side.
he was sorry he'd done it. Not only was his main spinal
spring sending a slew of warning messages to him, but
he also had to deal with what lay inside.
of fire roared up from the ground, obscuring his view
of the rest of the entrance. As soon as one blazing
curtain of flame guttered and died down, anther blasted
up to take its place. Rock frowned and contemplated.
It would be a fairly simple matter to switch to infrared
vision and locate the power source for each wall of
flame. From there, he could use his Ice Slasher to overload
the heat sinks from which the fire walls sprang--at
make matters more difficult, the fire walls were each
situated on a large stair-step, meaning Rock would have
to worry about leaping up and steadying himself each
time he had completed the process.
no other course of action, Rock activated his Ice Slasher
and located the first of the fire-walls' energy sources.
Rock hissed. This was going to be more complicated than
he'd thought. The flame-throwers that made up the wall
were linked on one circuit so that they'd all fire at
the same time. However, they each had a separate circuit
to their power source, so that if one were to burn out,
the rest could still go.
he could use his Ice Slasher to spray a cloud of sub-freezing
material over all of the release valves, then the fire
wall would be temporarily disabled. However, it would
require perfect timing. Since his Ice Slasher used liquid
nitrogen, it was extremely cold. Such cold would almost
certainly damage the flame throwers. However, since
liquid nitrogen was extremely flammable, he'd need to
spray the cloud when the flames had all died down--if
he erred by a picosecond, he would risk obliterating
that would be a shame, the virus said nastily.
felt doubt grip him. Could the virus manage to disrupt
his operation for even that tiny amount of time? If
so, then his plan would be not only risky, but openly
suicidal. Rock's brow furrowed. No. The virus couldn't
have gotten free so quickly, or Rock himself would already
be dead. The virus-hunter installed by Roll and Dr.
Light would continue to do its job for at least a few
be sure, the virus laughed.
you shut up!" Rock snapped.
chose to observe the pattern of the fire-wall's diminishing
and renewal for caution's sake. Thankfully, they seemed
to work on a "dumb" circuit that merely activated itself
every few seconds. If the timer had been set on a random
cycle, that could have caused real problems.
two, three . . .
nitrogen blasted across the flame throwers' release
valves in an icy wave. Rock leaped across the line of
quiescent tubes and repeated the process for the next
two flame curtains. Just as he had crossed the third
and final one, the first roared back to life. Rock hastily
grabbed hold of the ladder situated in front of him
and climbed to the second level and--he hoped--to a
less dangerous environment than this.
* * * *
hours ago, Dr. Wily had ordered him to the Second Ring,
where Docman now stood as Guardian. He understood that
his was the last real position of defense against any
intruders. After all, any who could somehow penetrate
Skull Castle and defeat the one-eyed Guardian of the
First Ring would also have to cross the chasm-like Second
Ring, fighting a swarm of sentry 'bots and at least
two Robot Masters in order to reach Docman's position.
Docman lay the Third Ring, or, more precisely, a small
drainage tunnel barely large enough for Docman to fit
through in a pinch. The hatch led to the extensive coolant-drainage
system that lay beneath Skull Castle. Though not from
experience, Docman knew that if one were to follow the
maze-like drainage system, he would either find himself
back outside, or in the reservoir where lay the half-completed
robot assigned to guard it.
below that was Dr. Wily's inner sanctum, where Docman
himself had been built, and Dr. Wily now waited inside
his lethal war mech.
shifted. It was the waiting that truly bothered him.
Lacking the creativity to entertain himself, but unable
to just switch to recharge mode now that his Guardian
Mode had been activated, he had nothing to do except
pace his chamber and wait. Either he would fight the
intruders, or he would be taken off of Guardian Mode.
clasped his hands and began to contemplate which holographic
shield he should project when the HSL finally reached
him. Searching his memory banks to determine what shape
would strike the most fear into their hearts, he finally
settled upon a choice.
the door opened and his adversaries dropped into his
chamber, Docman would wear the guise of the robot they
hated more than any other: Rockman.
* * * *
took a deep breath and glared for the fifth time at
reaching the second story of Skull Castle, Rock had
been confronted with a few light surveillance robots
and a seemingly endless supply of Sharksfang missiles
before being forced to climb a ladder back down to the
first floor of the interior of Skull Castle.
had been easily as difficult as deactivating the flame-walls.
The first floor was entirely lined with razor-sharp
titanium spikes, each of which coursed with lethal electrical
current. Rock had sworn in frustration when he had realized
that the only way to cross the vast field of spikes
was to ride on the erratic cargo-transport robots which
intermittently hovered between one side and the other.
had thought that the worst of it was over after jumping
from robot to robot, desperately trying to avoid death
by electrocution on the spikes below. However, after
finally crossing the giant room of spikes and climbing
the long ladder up to the second floor again, he had
been confronted with this damned shaft.
was a tubular shaft at least two stories tall with walls
that were composed of perfectly smooth, solid steel.
As Rock had found, to his bitter frustration, there
was no way to get a grip of any kind on the walls for
course, he would have to use his Magnet Beam to try
to build some sort of platform on which he could climb.
However, the sheer amount of energy and time he would
need to expend in order to climb the shaft would be
ridiculous. So far, he had already spent an hour just
trying to get this far. The prospect of another hour
merely climbing the shaft galled him.
no help for it. He activated his Magnet Beam and
created a shimmering half-translucent platform for himself
in the air at about eye level. Leaping to that, he calculated
how far he could easily jump with the half-existent
platform as his base and produced another.
was slow going, and for the better part of an hour,
Rock made his way in a spiral pattern up the shaft,
nearly exhausting his special weapons' energy reservoir
in his repeated use of the Magnet Beam. However, he
finally climbed out the top of the shaft and found himself
in a long corridor.
here, he could see that there was a large push button
to open the door at the end of the corridor. It seemed
to be the same type double-reinforced steel door that
descended from the ceiling that he had seen before while
fighting Robot Masters.
gritted his teeth. Prior experience had taught him that
anything behind such a door was never good news. Opting
to recharge for a few moments, Rock sat cross-legged
and closed his eyes.
had only a moment to clench his jaw tighter before the
virus began its attack.
time was different from prior attacks. Rock felt first
one finger twitch, and then another. Soon, his hands
were clasping and relaxing by themselves, without his
command. He tried to make them stop, but the circuitry
didn't respond to his commands.
Now this is fun.
suppressed the urge to growl. Instead, he cut off all
power to his limbs and then re-routed the power through
his auxiliary power core--where the virus hunter program
was stored--before sending it to its sundry destinations.
So, it's to be a game of logic, is it? Rock could
almost hear a voice in his head giggling. Very well,
began half an hour of nightmarish logic problems for
Rock. Just as soon as he'd found a new way to re-route
power through his system, the virus would send out a
tentacle program that would corrupt another circuit
it stopped. Rock took a deep breath, unsure of what
had caused the attack to subside. Had he beaten the
virus back for now? Certainly, there were no taunts
for the moment. Deciding not to press his luck, Rock
had lost a precious half an hour to the virus this time.
Now he would have to hurry through the rest of the castle. As if I've been dragging my feet until now, he
thought grimly. His thoughts drifted to the woman he'd
saved as he entered Skull Castle.
you want to die?" Her words echoed in his mind
as he approached the door.
no. I don't want to die. Why does it have to be this
way? He reached forward to press the button that
would open the door. What's the meaning of my existence
if all I'm destined for is suffering and death, or to
inflict the same upon others?
stopped his hand and stared at it for a moment.
many robots have I destroyed with this hand? A hundred?
A thousand? I've killed six of my friends and countless
robots I didn't even know. How many more will I have
to destroy today before I, too, die? Sadness welled
up behind his hawk-blue eyes.
pressed the button.
hissed from the edges of the door as it receded into
the ceiling. Rock took a step into the room, buster
ready. Immediately, the door slammed down behind him.
Unsurprised, Rock searched for his enemy.
room seemed to be empty. Several stone protrusions stuck
out from the otherwise mathematically perfect shaped
of the cube-room. Rock walked to the center of the room
and looked to the ceiling. Perhaps this room wasn't
heart in the idea, Rock began to look for another exit.
of nowhere, something large bashed him in the back of
the head. Rock felt himself slammed to the floor, sensors
screaming with pain signals. Rock could feel coolant
seeping down the back of his neck from under his helmet.
He raised his head in time to see a child-sized boulder
fly at him.
to the side, Rock fired a few short bursts of plasma
at the boulder--with no effect.
boulder flew at him, and another. Hard-pressed to avoid
the sideways bombardment, it took Rock a moment to realize
that all the rocks were flying to the same place. He
twisted his torso to get a view of the boulders' landing
place, and gasped.
the corner of the huge room was a giant made of stone,
easily four times Rock's own size. Though it had no
head on its huge torso, there was a large red focus
crystal "eye" near the top of its rounded torso. Rock
ducked as another boulder flew from the wall behind
him and secured itself to a hole in the giant's leg.
Wily," Rock breathed. This was unlike anything he'd
ever seen before. "This is--this is genius!"
mad genius, he reminded himself. Then, all other
thoughts were brushed aside as he charged his buster
again and prepared to fight once more for his life.
giant rumbled a step towards Rock and smashed down with
frighteningly fast, massive fists. Rock dodged to the
side and peppered the giant stone body with plasma bursts.
Although small sections of stone broke away from the
massive armored structure, Rock noted with dismay that
his attacks seemed to have little effect.
giant turned its single eye towards Rock and squinted.
his infrared scale of vision, Rock could see the blazing
laser beam a nanosecond before it hit home. Circuitry
melted away and armor peeled aside like wax under the
intense beam of light. Rock bit back a cry of pain.
His emergency energy was building up at an alarming
rate. Desperate to burn it off before he overloaded,
he switched to Thunder Beam.
"Take this!" he hissed, and blasted a searing white
bolt of energy straight at the giant's eye.
giant seemed to drink it up. The twisting, coruscating
twine of light melted without a trace into the red eye.
Rock batted down despair. Could nothing harm
this monster? With his free hand, he covered his laser
wound. If dust got into the gash, it would contaminate
the circuits as his auto-repair systems struggled to
giant stopped moving for a moment.
advantage of the situation, Rock fired off another blast
of electricity at the robot's crystalline eye. He was
rewarded by a roar so deep it was almost subsonic. The
walls of the room rumbled with the vibrations. So it was working!
to loose another round, Rock was nearly crushed against
the wall as a large piece of the cyclopean robot detached
itself and came hurtling across the room towards him.
Rock ducked and rolled, only to be bashed full in the
chest by another piece of the robot as it sped across
the floor and joined its counterpart.
sable-haired robot hunter gnashed his teeth in frustration
as the giant decomposed itself piecemeal and regenerated
on the opposite side of the room. How was he
supposed to destroy a robot that could apparently operate
in several pieces with no clear core? Perhaps the eye was the core. After all, it had fired the laser, and
for such a powerful laser beam to be generated, there must have been a powerful energy source.
enough to go on, but it was worth a shot.
soon as the cyclops had fully re-formed itself on the
other side of the room, Rock blasted off another pair
of lightning bolts. The first hit the target dead-on,
while the next impacted just to the side of the titan's
eye, blasting away blackened chunks of stone. The giant
roared again and took a quick step towards Rock. Once
again, the massive fists swung at the robot hunter.
leaped up and loosed three quick blasts at the crimson
three blasted home, and Rock noted with grim satisfaction
that the last one had shattered the crystalline structure.
The shards of red and black spewing away from the titan's
rocky armored torso reminded Rock of a volcano in miniature.
the giant was not defeated. Once again, it split into
a myriad of dangerous, floating boulders. This time,
they swirled around the room in a chaotic vortex. Rock
was hard pressed to keep himself from being beheaded
by the airborne stones. A high-flying piece smashed
out the large light fixture in the ceiling, plunging
the room into darkness. Rock realized with a mounting
sense of panic that his infrared vision circuits had
been damaged by the cyclops' laser.
that Rock could not describe as anything other than
a gut instinct told him to dodge. He tucked and rolled
straight forward. As he did, he could feel the wind
of something huge moving very quickly above him. He
realized with sudden elation that if he had claimed
the thing's sight by destroying its single eye, then
it would be guessing his position just as much as he
would be guessing its. He stood in the inky darkness
and fired a round of plasma bursts where he assumed
the giant was.
enough, bathed in the harsh light of burning plasma,
the giant stood facing Rock. Rock switched back to Thunder
Beam and leaped in the air, the ghost of the image still
burned into his memory.
no time on words, Rock loosed as many Thunder Beams
as he could into the eye socket of the titan. He could
feel the giant shudder. Just as he landed, his infrared
vision returned. Static running across his line of vision,
Rock could see lines of light forming across the robot,
as if it were a puzzle and somebody was shining a light
behind the pieces.
almost in slow motion, the giant slid into its constituent
pieces. A single small explosion signified the overload
of its power core. Rock heaved a sigh and took stock
of himself. His auxiliary weapons energy was down by
25%, and his own operating energy had been decreased
done. I do hope you put up such a fight when it is time
for us to duel.
out of my head, you bastard," Rock growled, and began
his search for an exit that would lead him further into
the depths of hell.
* * * *
jolted. He had settled into a lulling pattern of almost-recharge,
calculating a chain of natural logarithms, when the
impossible happened. A previously dormant circuit pathway
in his brain coursed with electrons. A new subroutine
was being written into his programming.
message he received was: Second ring has been breached.
Switch from Guardian mode to Enforcer mode.
had made it past the Cyclops guardian, and now Docman
would have to fight to protect his master's life.
* * * *
second ring was breathtaking.
shook his head in amazement. The sight of the vista
laid out before him deepened his conviction that Dr.
Wily was a genius--although utterly mad. Like something
out of a demented M.C. Escher sketch, the second ring
was a study in impossibility.
chasms reached for hundreds of meters, bridged only
by platforms that either levitated by use of antigrav
packs, or held aloft by small supports that disappeared
into the seemingly infinite darkness below. Once in
a while, the platforms would lead to a tower that poked
out of the chasm--a mechanized spike of bone.
to design something like this that worked was
both genius and insanity. Rock shook his head again.
If the first ring had been a glimpse into hell, this
was hardly heaven. However, the huge airiness of it
he reminded himself, it won't be too refreshing to
fall to your death in the chasms.
hours, twenty-three minutes, if he was lucky.
re-estimate that as six hours, he thought grimly.
around the man-made canyon were hundreds of DRIM-3's.
Rock readied himself and took a deep breath. Well,
that's not so bad. At least I know how to destroy these.
what kind of person only thinks about how to destroy? the virus taunted. I believe that would be the definition
grimaced. Until a short while ago, he would have agreed.
Now, he wasn't so sure. Was he really that different
from Dr. Wily? They each had different motivations,
but Rock had surely destroyed enough robots now that
he would labeled a mass-murderer had his victims been
philosophizing, you fool," he berated himself.
quick jumps and some judicious buster fire took him
to the first tower in a matter of minutes. The entrance
to the tower was a low-ceilinged corridor that led .
. . to a dead end? Stymied, Rock took a few steps forward
. . .
fell headlong through the holographic floor.
Idiot! the virus shouted gleefully.
had to agree. He was getting careless if he wasn't even
going to check for an infrared holo-signature before
he started walking. However, now was not the time to
dwell on that. Rock threw his weight into his legs and
twisted in mid-air so that he would land on his feet.
he crashed to the ground of a large chamber, Rock immediately
noticed three things.
first was that the room was another giant cube, even
larger than the one in which he had just defeated the
giant stone robot. His second observation was that in
the corner of the room, there was an infrared holo-signature
betraying the false floor.
third thing was a Jason model.
wasted no time on speech. Instead, he loosed several
searing blasts of plasma at the androbot's chest. Although
the first two scored direct hits, the androbot had jumped
out of the way and hurled its Rolling Cutters.
raven-haired android smiled darkly. Two can play
at that game.
a Rolling Cutter into his own hand, he leaped at the
Jason model and met it in mid-air. He noted that the
androbot's eyes had widened in surprise at sight of
another pair of Rolling Cutters. He plunged his cutters
into the androbot's chest and loosed several plasma
bursts into it as they separated.
landed with his back to his enemy, and spun around.
Jason model held a hand to its wounded chest. Its other
hand gripped its own Rolling Cutters. "How?" it asked.
"I can't be beaten by you!" It's voice was already
starting to rise in pitch as its repair circuits tried
to compensate for its mortal wound.
gritted his teeth. I will not become a heartless
out of here. Now." Rock curtly motioned with his head.
"Teleport away, if you can. I won't pursue you. However,
if you stay here, I'll kill you."
Jason model made no answer for a long moment. Then it
shuddered. Meeting Rock's eyes, it growled, "Prime Law,"
and leaped for him.
was already destroyed and smoking before it had covered
half the ground between itself and Rock. The robot hunter
shook his head. "Idiot. I'm not going to hurt Dr. Wily.
You could have escaped."
walked to the corner of the room and poked his head
down through the false floor.
was an opening to a place further down in the chasm.
Another spiral of platforms led to another entrance
in the tower several stories down. Rock sighed and swung
himself down onto the platform.
time, there were no DRIMs. However, on each platform
was mounted a rotating plasma cannon. Rock frowned at
the prospect of dodging and destroying each one. However,
the task of descending on the spiral of platforms and
destroying the cannons kept him from brooding. As he
landed at the entrance to the tower's middle section,
Rock scanned for another holographic floor.
enough, there was another one. And, Rock suspected,
another Robot Master lay in wait in the room below.
He poked his head down a fraction of a millimeter--just
far enough so that he could see into the room below.
An Edward model. Rock summoned a Rolling Cutter and
leaped down, hoping for the best.
first strike severed the Edward's model left arm. The
Robot master stumbled back screaming invective and hurling
electric death. Once more, Rock hurled his Rolling Cutter,
and the androbot's energy bolts turned back upon him,
overloading his circuits.
plasma bursts finished off the Elecman copy, and Rock
searched for an exit.
my. Haven't we become the efficient little assassin?
up. Shut the hell up!" Rock snapped.
spotted another concealed exit and dropped down though
it. As he had guessed, it was another spiral of platforms,
this one leading to the lowest visible entrance to the
tower. However, something was wrong.
were no cannons, no robots. Nothing.
held back, wary. It didn't make sense--where were the
guards? All along the spiral of platforms, it seemed
as if they had been abandoned. Rock frowned and took
a step forward cautiously.
he had expected, a bomb popped out of the chasm and
exploded over his head. Had he been moving a bit faster,
he would have been either thrown off the edge of the
platform or maimed past mobility by the explosion.
carefully picked his way down the spiral of platforms,
avoiding bombs and shrapnel as he went. The entrance
to the tower's lowest level was once again a low-ceilinged
corridor. This time, however, it led to a ladder.
hesitated a moment, and then swung down the ladder,
descending rung by rung.
am I going? he asked himself, irritated. This
damn fortress is a maze of hidden passages. How many
have I already missed? And what are the odds that I'm
going to find Dr. Wily within the next five and a half
answered the virus.
wasn't asking you," Rock bit.
descent was quick if dangerous. On the way down, a veritable
army of EyeBots scooted back and forth, waiting for
intruders. They would have been simple for Rock to dispose
of if he hadn't also been dodging the fire of the wall-mounted
when he finally reached the bottom of the tower, he
was still operating at 75% of his full operational power.
Rock retracted his helmet for just a moment, letting
the cool breeze of the Andes ruffle through his synthetic
a wonderful, cooling wind. Rock allowed himself a moment
to enjoy it. How many times had he stood outside of
Dr. Light's house and gazed at the clouds, letting the
wind run its ethereal fingers through his hair? Once,
only a few days after his "birth," he had sat on top
of the lab and listened to the sound the wind made in
his ears, enjoying the chaotic but soothing modulations
of tone and pitch.
this is the last time I'll ever feel it, Rock thought
ugly, creeping sensation told him that the virus was
at work again. A chill ran down his spine, and he tried
to push the feeling back. Rather than dwell on it, he
kicked open the hatch that led down and charged his
android activated his helmet and looked around him.
landed hard and recoiled into a fighting stance, buster
in front of him. However, the room seemed empty. Quickly
scanning the walls, Rock noted an absence of rocky protrusions.
There, at least, was one thing to be thankful for.
soft hum of a levitation platform descending made Rock
the opposite site of the room, a disc-shaped platform
lowered itself to the ground. Upon it stood--
screwing with my mind!" Rock shouted at the virus. "I
don't need your damn hallucinations right now!"
voice in his head seemed amused. Not this time, my
friend. I'm not doing it; the nightmare has come true
on its own.
Rock was his exact twin.
of the virus-spawned nightmare rushed through Rock's
head, and he stepped back in panic. His fear circuits
were running rampant, and the virus was feeding more
energy into them. Rock felt like scrabbling up the wall
and hiding in a hole until he died.
the matter, Rockman?" asked his clone. "Don't you recognize
not real." Rock gulped. He looked down at his hand for
reassurance and found that it was still in buster formation.
"You're just an illusion."
other Rockman smiled chillingly. "Oh, I don't know about
that." He shifted his right hand into a plasma buster
and aimed it at Rock. "Let's see how illusionary this is."
screamed as the plasma hit him dead in the chest. Angrily,
he returned fire, but it seemed that most of his shots
were totally ineffective. He accessed the Thunder Beam
on his weapons submenu and fired off another round of
his amazement, the Rockman copy shimmered. Then its
armor changed to mirror Rock's own. What had once been
midnight blue was now a steely grey, and the frost-blue
color had been replaced by a pale, almost white, gold.
more alarming, the false Rockman returned fire with
a Thunder Beam of its own!
ducked the bolt of electricity by a millimeter.
was wrong. The readouts for that had been entirely different
than when he had fought Edward and the Elecman model
in this tower. It was almost as if . . .
switched to infrared vision. Although he could discern
no discrepancy in the Rockman copy, the second electrical
bolt which it now shot at Rockman was revealed to be
nothing more than a plasma burst accompanied by a simultaneously
projected hologram of a lightning bolt.
an impostor! Rock almost grinned at the thought.
trick!" he shouted, and charged his enemy.
room shook with the force of their battle, and brilliant
light blazed through the cracks in the door and the
drainage system access panel. Smoke filled the room,
as a terrible, awful silence spread across the area.
* * * *
in the labyrinthine coolant-drainage system of Skull
Castle was a robot in a cube-like reservoir. It was
little more than a high-power energy cannon mounted
on a cybernetic brain and equipped with a short-range
teleporter, suspended within a disposable bubble-lead
had been a discovery of a Vietnamese scientist during
the Third World War. It was a seemingly impossible chemical
alloy that, while in air, was heavy as lead. However,
when immersed in water, it expanded and its weight dropped
by 90%. It had been highly useful in the field of underwater
exploration and marine biology research.
this case, eight duplicate bubble-lead spheres surrounded
the reservoir. If the robot's own sphere were to be
punctured, it could teleport to one of its spares and
continue its patrol of the drainage system and reservoir
for the past several hours--since it had been switched
to Guardian mode--it had been restricted to patrolling
only the closest tunnels to the reservoir. And for the
past half hour--since it had been set on Enforcer mode--it
had been restricted to only the reservoir.
its final dormant circuit path flared to life.
ring has been breached. Switch from Enforcer mode to
to Chapter 12--Last Encounter!