clouds rained bitter-cold drops upon the bone-white
edifice of Skull Castle. Water coursed over the massive
stylized eye-sockets which adorned the front entrance
to the fortified citadel.
Walken bit his lip.
business with Dr. Wily was getting too risky. Already
the German robotechnician had proved himself to be unstable
more times than even Walken could excuse, and this madness
he pursued with his assassin robots . . .
Wilymachine had been a good idea. Walken credited Wily
a nasty grin, the leader of the Human Supremacy League
reflected on how the name bothered Dr. Wily. It had
been a little experiment of Walken's to test Dr. Wily's
sanity. So far, every time Walken said "Wilymachine,"
the German robotechnician only winced.
the time Dr. Wily made a physical attack on James Walken
for using the name, that would be the sign to terminate
it was a profitable enough alliance so far; Dr. Wily's
robots, having no use for money, food or material goods,
never got in the way of Walken's HSL looters when they
came through the gutted cities.
curled his lip in disgust as one of those damnable hard-hat
robots trundled towards him. As it turned wide photoreceptors
towards him in cybernetic curiosity, Walken kicked the
steel body with all his might and watched as the robot
toppled over and rolled several meters.
robots. They had destroyed his life.
Walken took several deep breaths. Meters away, the metool
kicked useless feet in the air as it struggled to right
itself. Slowly, calmly, James Walken removed a laser
pistol from his Italian wool sport jacket and vaporized
the control chip implanted directly behind the metool's
a final electrical surge, the metool jolted in an almost
animal-like way as it deactivated. Fused silicon chips
and microcircuits crackled with misdirected electricity
and Dr. Wily's surveillance device shut down.
the pistol in his jacket, Walken calmly left the metool,
which had now begun to externally smoke, and walked
towards the main doorway to get in out of this cursed
nature, the leader of the Human Supremacy League was
a nervous, insecure man. Too much firepower was usually
only adequate for him. As the general of a sizable army,
he never fought unless he knew for a fact that he could
was, then, alarming to James Walken when he had received
word earlier this morning that no word from Sydney was
forthcoming. He had left his troops there along with
several of Wily's own robots and the prototype Jason
Dr. Wily had raged, and dashed into his inner sanctum,
presumably to work on that robot again.
"Rock," Walken had assumed that Dr. Wily meant the damnable
abomination whose factory the HSL had bombed a while
back. Dispatching a dozen men to check on this Rock's
status, Walken had come outside to think.
then this blasted storm . . .
his lip again, James Walken clenched a fist and shook
was secure enough for his liking yet. That was why Dr.
Wily's plan for an Energy Jamming Net had appealed to
him. The technology behind the process mystified Walken,
but the idea was easy to grasp; by setting up hundreds
of energy relay stations around the globe in places
controlled by Dr. Wily and the HSL, jamming transmissions
could be sent in a net around the planet and completely
disable the world's communications systems.
That would let Walken breathe more easily.
course, the testing ground had been Sydney, and now
there was no word.
And that was almost always bad news.
* * * *
Wily wrung his hands, blackened with grease.
burns now scored the walls at almost every point, where
Dr. Wily had shot at imagined foes and images spawned
of delirium and insanity.
aged, wrinkled face had been streaked with black grease,
dirt and tears, and his eyes were bloodshot, nearly
to the point of being two sanguine pools within the
sleep-deprived craters that were Dr. Wily's eye sockets.
wrought of stress was he that his face resembled more
the facade of his own Skull Castle than that of a human
being. Still, Wily decided, the sacrifices made--sleep,
food, rest--had all been worth the monumental accomplishment
he had made.
to his industry and that of his robots, Skull Castle
was no longer his only retreat. Should he have need
to escape this, his first citadel, he had already set
in motion the labor of thousands of robots, toiling
tirelessly in remote locations upon the construction
of more Skull Castles.
Skull Castle mk. II--situated deep in the Himalayan
Mountain Range--would be completed. Another month after
the structure was done, so would be the mechanized sentinels
that would guard it.
Wily looked with pride at the replicated guardians of
Devil, the cyclops stood in the corner. Was it a trick
of the light, or was the massive robot twitching restlessly?
Dr. Wily shivered and pulled his filthy lab coat closer
around him. The cyclops robot had been constructed of
several different parts, all meant to work together
as a whole. In an emergency, the whole robot could break
apart into as many as fifty pieces.
piece was equipped with a small antigravity device and
jet-thruster which would allow it to fly above the ground
at high speeds for a short amount of time. Because it
would have been too time-consuming and bulky to equip
each piece with a computer, Wily had placed the central
computer within the "head" area of the cyclops, which
also contained its sole weapon.
needs be, Yellow Devil could fire several concentrated
plasma bursts from a red, crystalline "eye." Still,
although they were powerful enough, they were not the
cyclops' best defense; its body was. Plated with solid
granite, the cyclops was an invincible behemoth that
would brook no resistance. As the most imposing figures,
the cyclops robots would stand guard at the outer gates
of the first ring of Skull Castle.
with half-pride, half-uneasiness, Dr. Wily turned to
look at his next guardian. Not quite finished yet, it
lay on the table, a mess of wires and servomechanisms.
Rolling back and forth beside the main body was the
holographic projector which kept getting underfoot.
moving shape snapped Wily from his reverie; somebody
in blue armor was in his lab!
with fear and rage, Dr. Wily pulled the trigger of his
laser pistol again and again, aiming the invisible laser
beams for the head of the shadowy figure.
hammering, Dr. Wily reached for a wrench, in hopes of
bashing the intruder's head in, but the grease on his
hands made it impossible to get a firm grip on the tool,
and it clattered uselessly to the ground.
the German robotechnician dropped the ground and covered
his head with his hands. "Don't hurt me. Don't kill
walked closer, his limbs growing larger and rubbery
as he drew nearer. As if watching through a funhouse
mirror, Wily saw Rock approach. The blue-armored android's
eyes lit with hellish fire, and jagged rows of teeth
burst through the synthetic skin of his gums.
voice both hissed and roared, and Dr. Wily screamed
like an infant as the blue gauntlets closed around his
throat in a crushing grip.
Dr. Wily wailed, crying for his mother.
Rock was gone.
hung his head. More waking dreams. It was Rock's fault,
of course. Somehow, somehow Rock had destroyed
Cutman and the Energy Net that was scheduled to surround
Sydney by now.
the Energy Net would still be operational within another
day, it could not withstand another breakdown as had
occurred in Sydney; everything depended upon the ability
of the energy transmissions to interconnect, and Sydney,
as the testing ground, had been one of the key nodes
at which the Net was secured.
any of the other four nodes located at Nokaneng, Hamburg,
Kansas City or Reykjavik fall, the entire Net would
be in danger of a collapse. Worse, if it were to be
violently and suddenly deactivated, as it had been in
Sydney, the energy could backfire and lay waste to several
of Wily's other key control points.
of this possibility, Dr. Wily had ordered further security
measures to be taken in major areas controlled by himself
and James Walken. By now, swarms of mechanized soldiers
would be crawling across the major cities of the world,
laying waste to everything they touched.
Wily struggled to lift limbs made lead-heavy by fatigue.
would die. If it was the last thing Dr. Wily did, the
blue-armored Robot Hunter would be destroyed.
an admiring glance at his own gold-colored mecha, hovering
the corner, Dr. Wily dragged himself over to a cot where
he fell asleep almost instantly.
* * * *
Rock! What happened?"
twisted his upper torso to get a better view of the
source of his inquisitor. As he did so, alarms tripped
off in his internal repair system, warning of imminent
strong hand pushed him back down to a horizontal position,
and Rock closed his eyes again. He had barely escaped
Sydney with his life, and landed in Tokyo nearly an
hour later. Luckily, he was invulnerable while teleporting,
so no new problems could develop in his internal operating
systems. However, the electrical backlash he had suffered
after landing had nearly killed him, so weak was he
perception subsystems flickered on and off as the electrical
output to his operating system sporadically fed them.
Rock's sight and hearing faded in and out, creating
a state remarkably similar to human delirium.
the cybernetic nightmare, Rock's memory circuits randomly
replayed the events of the past few hours, though in
a disjointed, disorderly fashion. Since his internal
chronometer had been damaged by the electrical backlash
engendered by his emergency teleport, his sense of time
was next to nonexistent.
what seemed like weeks, he saw, over and over again,
Cutman--no, Jason, Rock's friend and companion--destroyed
by his own arm-cannon fire. As if in slow motion, he
saw with damning clarity the final superheated concentrated
plasma burst as it tore through the lumberjack-androbot's
body and left a legacy of ionized air and greasy black
smoke in its wake.
No!" Jasonís voice rent Rock's aural sensors as it had
in the moment before the cursed blast had taken the
life of his first friend. Rock wanted to scream, to
cry out, to vaporize something with his hated plasma
buster, but he couldn't move, or blink, or even truly
see and hear.
auto-repair circuits labored to correct the damage done
to Rock during his battle with Cutman, but despite the
air that Rock gulped, his systems were still woefully
underfueled. Still, little by little, the damaged circuits
began to repair themselves, and Rock could tell through
his semi-operational "delirium" that friendly hands
repaired him bit by bit.
surely, Rock's sense of time returned. Tortured systems'
temperatures dropped to yellow, then green levels, until
all systems were operating with optimal parameters.
As his internal combustion generator began to take up
the slack for whatever external energy source had been
feeding him and Rock's "breathing" rate returned to
normal, the android opened his eyes.
stood above him, her face a mask of concern. Beside
her was Dr. Light, wrench in one hand and micro-welder
in the other. The latter's face was pink and streaked
with sweat, while Roll trembled.
Roll threw her arms around him in a very human hug.
"We thought we were going to lose you for a while. Are
all your systems functioning normally now?"
far as I can tell." Rock flexed his fingers, and shifted
both arms to plasma buster formation and back again
to make sure that none of the internal understructure
had been damaged.
up to run his fingers through his hair, Rock's thumb
jarred against the smooth surface of his steel helmet.
Emotion circuits flared to life as Rock tore the helmet
from his head and hurled it across the room.
don't cry--they can't. But Rock's teeth were gnashed
together so hard that they sparked. After a moment,
he shook his head and spat out a half-snarl, half-curse.
"Do you know what that bastard has done?"
than you do, I'll wager." Dr. Light's voice was calm
and serious. "We have bigger problems than I first thought.
Come upstairs with me."
pulled back, hurt. He had expected some sort of relief
from Dr. Light at his near-miraculous resurrection,
or at least a pat on the back. But this--? He hadn't
even been thanked for a job well done!
Light reached out and put a hand on Rock's shoulder;
his expression softened. "I know it's hard for you.
It's hard for all of us. I've just completed more robotics
repairs in seven hours than I ever hoped to do in my
aged roboticist swayed a little, and Rock found himself
reaching to keep his "father" upright. Dr. Light gave
a weak smile and squared his shoulders. "One thing that
I learned in that terrible war was that you have to
act fast and strike hard, and only stop to think about
what you've done when the task is completed. Otherwise,
you'll hide in a hole full of guilt and self-recrimination
while the world falls down around you."
looked up, touched. Dr. Light had never spoken to either
himself or Roll about his life during the cataclysmic
Third World War. Even a metool could tell that it was
a painful and awkward subject for Dr. Light to address.
Dr. Light said, voice turning harder. "Let's get upstairs,
and I can show you what Dr. Wily's been doing while
you were liberating Sydney."
* * * *
shook his head. "Maybe my neuro-circuitry is still broken;
I don't understand."
Light sighed impatiently and gestured at the holographic
globe, floating in the center of the living room-turned-war-room.
Several crimson dots flared angrily across the sphere,
seemingly in random order. "These cities report severe
communications disruption. Although their main lines
and satellite links are not yet destroyed, the resistance
seems to be building."
frowned. "Dr. Wily's doing?" His eyes widened. "He's
trying to disable the communications network of the
Dr. Light rewarded his android-son with a raised eyebrow
how does he expect to accomplish that with so few disruption
points?" Rock quickly counted the points of light on
the globe indicating the disruption areas. "Fifty .
. . that's not nearly enough to paralyze the entire--wait."
With a half-inclination of his head, Rock reached for
the holographic display controls. Connecting the glowing
points with lines of iridescent crimson, Rock observed
the pattern they made.
see," Dr. Light explained, indicating the intricate
gridwork crisscrossing the globe. "You see that the
lines all cross at four key points?"
nodded. "Yes. Yes, of course! He needs to have a few
key points to beam energy up to the main transmission
satellites so he can scramble the networks!"
you also see," Dr. Light continued, "that there is a
gap right here?"
at . . . Sydney." Rock's frown deepened. "So that's what Cutman was talking about! Is that--is that my doing?"
Light nodded. "When you destroyed Cutman, you also destroyed
the central control module for the Jamming Net."
long until the whole thing is operational?" Rock's fist
slowed it down when you destroyed the point at Sydney,"
Dr. Light answered. "If you hadn't we'd already be completely
deaf and blind. As it is, the rate of energy-increase
is growing exponentially. We . . . you have less than
six hours to destroy one of the four remaining points."
closed his eyes. "Dr. Light . . ."
aged robotechnician put a hand on the raven-haired android's
shoulder. "You can do it, Rockman."
pulled away, as if stung. "Don't call me that." After
an uncomfortable pause, he said, "I can do it, but I'd
better leave now before my common sense overrides my
sense of justice."
a few hours to recharge, at least," Dr. Light replied.
He pointed to one of the large glowing dots, in Africa.
"This is the most likely place to strike. It's isolated
from most other points of Dr. Wily's control."
agree." Rock ran his hands through his hair. "Where
is that, anyway?"
Dr. Light answered. As he spoke the word, the scarlet
light flared and grew larger, eventually magnifying
large enough so that Rock could see the junction of
the Linyanti and Cuito rivers, in the marshy land called
the Okavango Delta.
kilometers south, in the dry, arid land beside the Thaoge
River, an offshoot of the delta, lay the city of Nokaneng,
where the red light was concentrated.
Rock mused. "Of course." Nokaneng had been discovered,
shortly after World War III, to be a major mining site
for iron ore and granite. As the newest and most bountiful
source of iron to yet be discovered by human beings,
Nokaneng had quickly grown from a medium-sized town
to a booming metropolis.
controlled Nokaneng controlled the world's iron supply,
and hence, most major industries on the planet. Dr.
Wily had truly planned to cripple civilization: spiritually,
physically, and economically. Rock found himself grinding
don't think I need to tell you that the place is likely
to be crawling with renegade metools," Dr. Light said
after an interval of silence.
allowed himself the ghost of a wry smile. "It's your
fault for making the EG series such good mining 'bots."
it is." Dr. Light deactivated the holographic display.
"Now, go recharge and get ready to make the teleport."
advice," Rock answered, and trudged towards his resting
the way, he met Roll, streaked with grease and holding
a powerless laser-welder. Holding up a half-finished
plasma-buster, she said, "I've been making some modifications,
with Dr. Light's help. Maybe you could use them. We've
got some ideas."
to tell me about them while I rest up?" Rock asked.
"In a few hours, I'm off to Nokaneng."
Roll brushed her hair out of her eyes, leaving a black
streak across her forehead. "We've been thinking--some
of the Robot Masters could be pretty difficult to dispose
of with just a plasma cannon."
closed his eyes. "I know. It took far longer than I'd
anticipated to destroy Jason."
Roll did a double take. "Did you say . . . Jason?"
Prototype?" Roll's voice had grown heavy with horror.
had no choice," Rock half-whispered.
shook her head. "Wily's going to really pay for this
twins completed the journey down the hall to Rock's
quarters in silence. As the door slid open for the androids,
Rock finally spoke. "You said there were some ideas
about the plasma buster?"
Roll nodded, glad to have something else to talk about.
"If you could make a physical attack on the Robot Masters
besides just a plasma burst, maybe it would be helpful."
can't see how it would hurt," Rock answered. As he took
a step into the door, he felt relief flood over him.
"I think I'll just lie down for a while," he said, weary.
"Tell Dr. Light I'll be ready in two hours."
right." Sympathy had crept into Roll's voice, cutting
Rock more deeply than the Rolling Cutter of the renegade
Cutman. "You take care of yourself."
* * * *
in the sky, the great gold disk that was the sun beat
down upon the baked landscape of Nokaneng. The sun's
rays reflected off of the red-gold dust that caked the
parched surface of the heat-cracked boulders that lay
strewn about the horizon.
it not for the blue sky, the landscape might haven been
mistaken for a Martian desert.
winds swirled the sand into weird patterns that spattered
against pebbles and stones on the ground.
for the sound of those winds, all was silent. In the
great city of Nokaneng, nothing stirred. From the center
of the city, where bodies lay carelessly arranged in
varying poses of gruesome death, to the outskirts where
mining equipment lay abandoned and entire mines stood
empty, not even the carrion birds dared to make a noise.
chuckled. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow . . .
" he muttered to himself. It was a bit of nonsense left
in his head from when Dr. Wily had reprogrammed him,
but somehow the rhythmic beat of the words appealed
to the colossal androbot.
a perfect day! With his enhanced vision, Gutsman could
see, all the way from his vantage point at the top of
a rocky hill, the men, women and children he had killed
himself. Frowning in disgust, or at least as much as
his hinged lantern-jaw would allow him, Gutsman wondered
how anything as weak as a human being could be the ruling
life-form on a planet.
memory of the laughably frail human bones snapping between
his mighty hands still fresh, Gutsman looked down at
his fingers to see if they were still stained with the
blood of his victims.
what a bother--not only were they still stained, but
now the blood had dried! It would take precious time
to clean his off of his exterior. Searching for something
to vent his anger on, Gutsman picked up a large boulder
twice his own size and hurled it seventy yards into
yet satisfied, he called over a squad of EG labor 'bots
and commanded them to line up in a row. When they had
done so, he released his frustration by smashing each
one with his titanic fists.
that was better. There was always something satisfying,
Gutsman mused, about extinguishing the spark of life--even
if it were only artificially induced life.
of course, knew of his colleague's defeat. Cutman had
died several hours ago, destroyed by Rock. Gutsman shook
his head, once again in disgust. "The strong will leave
and the weak will die," he muttered to himself. If Gutsman
had a motto, that was it. He despised any show of weakness,
and that included emotions of pity, mercy, fear, love
. . . he could go on and on.
weak to even save yourself," Gutsman spat, and turned
to enter his inner sanctum from which he controlled
his robots' progress in mining and scavenging. There
had been a message from Dr. Wily's partner, James Walken,
that some HSL members would be by within the next day
or so to "take their rightful due." Gutsman had vowed
that if any of the humans disturbed his robots, he would
kill every last one of those pathetic organic creatures.
absorbed in his own thoughts was Gutsman that he didn't
notice the needle of lapis fire which stabbed down through
the sky and left a defiant, blue figure in the middle
of the desert.
* * * *
could smell death the moment he landed, and it sickened
around him spread the desert, interrupted only by a
shining silver thread in the distance that was the River
Thaoge. To the north was the city of Nokaneng, hunched
in its dark chaos over the clean golden desert like
a cancerous growth, waiting to send its winds of plague
and death out upon the rest of the world.
did a quick scan and discovered several metools hidden
under the sand for a radius of several hundreds of meters,
waiting to burst out and fire upon anybody who walked
near them. Beyond them by almost half a kilometer was
a large construction site, where, before the strike
of Dr. Wily's renegade robots, a mine shaft had apparently
just been opened.
his energy meter to make sure that none of the bars
had flickered to black during his journey from Tokyo,
Rock was relieved to find that he was operating well
within specified parameters.
he had left, Rock had also analyzed the likelihood of
which type of Robot Master would be in charge here.
After careful calculation, he surmised that due to the
harsh sandstorms and heat, as well as the possibility
of falling rocks in mine shafts, the most likely Robot
masters he would find guarding the place would be Fireman
models, Bombman models, or Gutsman models.
all were equally discomforting for him to think about,
he merely charged his plasma buster and hoped for the
best, twisting his lip in wry humor at how human he
already acted, having lived among them for less than
first metool erupted from the sand in an explosion of
plasma bursts and scattered pebbles.
had to drop to one knee to avoid the triple-spray of
superheated matter that sizzled over his head, and loosed
a quick bolt of his own plasma right between the photoreceptors
of the renegade metool.
stopping to even shield his eyes from the explosion,
Rock dashed across the area with the lowest concentration
of submerged metools and leaped into the air as a shower
of plasma-bolts rocketed past him. Out of close to thirty
shots fired by the metools, only two struck home.
that was too many for Rock's liking. Avoiding the metools
as best he could, Rock soon found himself playing a
demented game of hide-and-seek behind desert boulders.
As soon as he saw a metool from around his boulder,
Rock would blast it and then run quickly to another
boulder while the remaining metools concentrated their
attack on the boulder which Rock had just left.
he fell into the rhythm of it--shoot, duck, run, shoot,
duck, run--Rock began to feel like a cowboy from the
old western 2-D movies, fighting bandits, reclaiming
the honest citizens' town from the evil bandits.
reclamation," he muttered as he ducked a metool's fireball.
"I can't even get to the city yet!"
that metools were not known for their problem-solving
capabilities, Rock finally disposed of the last of his
robotic pursuers and turned towards the city. His fusion-generator
was nowhere near over-reaction point yet, but he had
already gained five black counters on his meter.
in Japanese, Rock took several quick steps towards the
construction site. If he could take a shortcut through
there, maybe nobody would notice him slipping into the
city until it was too late to stop him!
the idea, the raven-haired android picked his way across
broken railroad ties and shattered steel until he reached
a large, man-sized rise in the stone. After a moment's
thought, Rock determined that it must have been one
of the large blocks of granite excavated from the mine
shaft that never got taken away.
onto the top of it, Rock nearly lost his balance and
fell backward as he came nearly face-to-face with a
metool, perched atop the block and already prepared
to fire. Only Rock's quick reflexes saved him from further
taking another leap straight up into the air, Rock fired
downward at the metool's exposed inner-layers and shielded
his face from the shrapnel as he landed. Making sure
to take a good look this time, Rock saw the next metool
before it saw him.
languidly on a larger stone a few meters away, the metool
never had a chance to process a warning message before
it was destroyed by Rock's plasma-burst. As super-heated
shards of metal clattered to the ground around him,
Rock leaped to the now vacant stone and pondered his
before him was a deep, if relatively narrow canyon.
Although it wasn't more than forty meters across, that
was still far more than Rock could jump. If he took
the long way around, Rock might not arrive in the city
before the Jamming Net was operational. The only choice
he saw other than that was riding the cargo-transport
pads that spanned the canyon.
more than eight feet square, the transport pads were
made of sturdy iron, and ran along a set of steel cables
reinforced with some kind of pipe. Rock grimaced. Not
the safest way to travel, he thought, but certainly
a strange clicking sound as they went, the transport
pads moved back and forth at a leisurely pace. Timing
his leap carefully, Rock jumped onto the closest pad
and stood firmly, waiting. It would take a few minutes
to get to the other end of the canyon, but it would
Rock breathed. Directly in front of him, the pipe had
broken, leaving only steel cable to support the weight
of the iron pad and Rock. Surely he would fall if he
attempted to ride that.
for a quick escape, Rock leaped down to the transport
pad below him. Although it was moving slightly faster,
Rock was more worried about keeping his balance after
the jump than the sudden increase in speed.
he saw the track.
the pipe was broken in several places, and there wasn't
another pad to jump on. In desperation, Rock executed
a high leap in the air just as the pad reached the damaged
are of the track and tilted downwards at a 90-degree
angle. Just as Rock fell back down, with hopes of catching
the wire and hand-over-hand pulling himself across,
the platform righted itself again, and Rock landed with
flooded with relief to reflect on the stupidity of his
near-fatal leap, Rock noted the further damaged sections
ahead. With practice, he became adept at leaping off
of the pad when it gave and landing on it just as it
righted itself again, and after several nerve-shattering
minutes, Rock arrived at the far end of the canyon.
blocks of solid granite lay piled high ahead--another
challenge for Rock. But, more immediately, he heard
a familiar buzzing sound. Charging his plasma-buster,
Rock ducked and rolled as a DRIM-13 dropped from the
a judicious blast and some luck, Rock managed to disintegrate
the surveillance 'bot before it could do him any damage,
but he knew from previous experience that one rarely
found DRIM's by themselves. It was usually more useful
to send out about four of them.
enough, Rock spotted the rest, pursuing him from across
to confuse them, Rock fired off a round of random plasma-bursts
and then headed for the monolithic blocks that made
up a sort of giza-wall. Throwing himself into a crack
between the stones, he listened as the DRIMs, having
lost visual contact with their target, retreated.
in between the rocks, Rock contemplated his next move.
He did not know where the actual entrance to the mine
shaft lay, but it couldn't be far. He shook his head
slowly, trying to visualize the surrounding area and
the likeliest place for the Robot Master in charge to
it would be more logical to proceed directly to the
center of Nokaneng, where the Energy Net would most
likely be anchored, something kept nagging at Rock to
keep on his course through the mine shaft.
He blinked. Could an android like himself have a so-called
"gut feeling?" Remembering to bring the subject up to
Dr. Light if he returned from this mission, Rock pushed
his feet against opposite sides of the crack in the
stone and levered himself up into a standing position.
some creative squirming, Rock excavated himself from
the crevice in the stone and dropped nimbly down to
the other side of the pyramid-like stack of granite
blocks. The way ahead would not be easy.
several meters, there was no cover: only bare rock and
construction wire left curled on the ground. Several
large cracks and holes lay in his line of sight, their
depth unknown. Far ahead, girders supported a large
steel platform, presumably the beginnings of the mining
control center for this particular shaft.
there was nothing for it except to continue on, Rock
decided. If he sat here all day, trying to decide what
to do, the Energy Jamming Net would be up and unbreakable.
a wary eye on the skies for more DRIM's, Rock was almost
startled when he came upon a mining 'bot. At first,
it had blended in with a pile or rubble nearby, and
had escaped Rock's attention.
a little taller than Rock's five feet, the mining robot
was painted a generic industrial yellow, except for
the head module, which was a black orb capped with a
metool-like construction hat. In front of it, the 'bot
held a large welding shield, painted in black and yellow
warning, the mining 'bot picked up a broken pickax from
the pile of rubble that had camouflaged it and hurled
the tool at Rock's head with unnatural speed.
into a duck-and-roll, Rock let loose a stream of plasma-bursts
and managed to blast the welding shield out of the 'bot's
hand by pure force. Blessing his good luck, Rock righted
himself from the roll and shattered the robot's steel
head with a blast of superheated plasma.
as if it were filmed in slow-motion, the flaming wreckage
of the mining robot toppled at its full length at Rock's
a half moment to inwardly apologize for such a waste
of materials and hard work on the designer's part, Rock
continued, hopping small crevices as he went, until
he arrived at the half-completed foundation for the
mining control center.
a high leap, Rock found himself virtually face-to-face
with another one of the mining robots, this kind the
same as the last. Before the robot could react to Rock's
presence, Rock jammed his plasma buster into the robot's
thoracic cavity, where its fusion reactor would be located,
and released a point-blank blast of concentrated plasma.
his eyes from the light of the explosion and waiting
for the burning rain of superheated metal and half-disintegrated
steel to dissipate, Rock quickly used the smoke bleeding
in great billows from the robot's chest as concealment
to travel the rest of the way across the foundation
platform without being detected by any other robot sentinels.
a scratching sound of a nearby robot, Rock took a step
forward, further into the smoke . . .
. . and found himself plummeting into nothingness. Rock's
vision twisted crazily as he toppled off the edge of
the platform, flailing his arms wildly, hoping to catch
a spur of rock--anything--to slow his descent into who
blue android's fingertips brushed the edge of something
metal, and Rock desperately closed his fingers around
his sole hope of deliverance from death in a crushing
grip. A second later, his arm was nearly wrenched out
of its socket as his fall was abruptly halted. Rock
gnashed his teeth and stifled a yelp of pain.
numb with the sudden burst of excess energy his emergency
systems had provided him with--the robotic equivalent
of an adrenaline rush--Rock tilted his helmeted head
to catch a glimpse of what lay below.
large chasm extended down into infinity, or so it seemed.
Rock hung precariously over a ledge made of now-broken
steel "T"-bars and crumbled stone. Perhaps it had been
part of the foundation once, but now it was unrecognizable
that, the chasm yawned, with only the hint of ground
at the bottom.
considered his options. If he let go of the ledge, he
would certainly fall onto the ledge. It looked sturdy
enough to support his weight, but where would he go
from there? There was no certainty that he could ever
get back up, and even less that he could make it to
the bottom of the chasm alive.
if he didn't make a decision soon, his grip would slip
and Rock's choice would be made for him.
gritted his teeth and loosened his hold on the edge
of the cliff. Once again, his inner gyroscopic meters
went crazy as all sense of direction lost meaning to
Rock but for the tug of gravity.
was with an unpleasant jolt that Rock crashed to a stop
on top of the pile of rock, dirt and splintered metal.
His knee joints flexed involuntarily and Rock found
himself on his hands and knees, cursing.
light filtered down from above by now, as most of the
smoke generated by the wreckage of the mining robot
above had cleared, and Rock could see more clearly to
the bottom of the chasm. Two large platforms, constructed
of leftover "T"-bars and cement, lay to the side and
several meters down. Rock frowned as he recognized the
blue-green carapaces of circling DRIMs hovering around
that was a long, smooth shaft the descended into areas
hidden to Rock's view. The raven-haired android blinked
and adjusted his optical focus. Was that sunlight he
saw down there? It seemed to be natural light, though
pale with dust and smoke.
Rock pondered the implications of his discovery, the
ledge under him broke.
for a hand-hold on the unforgiving stone that made up
the wall of the chasm, Rock fell. The syntheflesh on
his fingertips tore away as he vainly tried to grip
the rough surface of the wall. Before he knew it, Rock
had fallen past both platforms and into the dark shaft.
his steel-plated fingers found purchase on the stone,
and in the semi-darkness, sparks angrily screamed from
the surface of the scoured rock as Rock's descent gradually
slowed. After a few moments, Rock hung once again in
mid-air, supported only by the strength of his fingers
and the rock which they were stuck into.
warning alarm in Rock's system was screaming for attention;
his fingers hurt like hell and his sense of balance
was so confused that Rock had begun to doubt his optical
sensors' data input.
the pain down to manageable levels and taking a deep
breath to recharge his system, Rock looked down once
again, and smiled wryly. He hung no more then three
meters above the ground at the bottom of the shaft.
his death-grip on the stone furrows his steel fingers
had carved into the walls, Rock dropped the remaining
distance and landed heavily at the bottom of the chasm,
blinking in the sudden brilliance.
he had suspected, the light was, indeed, sunlight.
had fallen down a shaft carved below the chasm, which,
in itself, was merely a large crack in the cliff-face
of a larger chasm. Squinting to see through the dust
and haze that pervaded the bottom of the larger chasm
he now stood in, Rock could see broken construction
equipment and a large, reinforced steel door on the
opposite side of the chasm's floor.
as the dust settled slowly, Rock saw the rest of the
chasm floor, and gritted his teeth.
out before him was a large plain, blasted sable with
ash and carbon scoring. Rocks worn smooth with the force
of fire-scouring made a grim mosaic with human skulls
and splintered bone. Rock felt the rage rise within
him. The Robot Master responsible would pay for this
absorbed was Rock in his thoughts of vengeful justice
that he didn't even notice the trash-compactor robot
on the side of the canyon until it moved. Twenty five
meters tall or more, the massive LighTech trash compactor
was no less a threat now than its exact duplicate had
been in Sydney near Cutman's inner fortress.
Rock swore in German as the massive ton-plus robot hurtled
towards him, leap after gargantuan leap. To fall under
its square monopod would mean instant death for Rock,
and the blue-armored android knew it.
effortlessly shifted his damaged hand into plasma-buster
form . . .
. . or at least, that was the plan. Rock started in
half-shock, half-pain as his entire arm flared with
electricity and numbed him with pain. He observed through
vision made pale with pain overload that the inner components
of his hand, exposed by torn-away syntheflesh, twisted
and half-shifted to buster configuration, and then collapsed
back into a steel skeleton.
it would have to be his other hand that he used for
a blaster. Rock snarled in irritation at the inconvenience.
This could prove to be fatal in combat with a Robot
master, but he had no choice but to continue.
the trash compactor 'bot drew closer, Rock darted towards
the door on the far side of the wall while hitting the
robot with a steady barrage of plasma bursts. Fighting
for breath as something crashed down on his back, Rock
dropped into a tuck-and-roll, desperate to avoid annihilation.
tons of titanium crashed to the ground behind Rock,
blasting splinters of stone into the air and crushing
both rock and human bones beneath it. A hailstorm of
rubble showered down on Rock as he frantically pulled
himself to his feet and dashed the few remaining meters
to the reinforced steel door at the end of the canyon.
the massive robot directly behind him and only one leap
away, Rock blasted the control panel of the door and
gratefully slid under the slowly rising sheet of metal
as the door ponderously grated upwards.
sat still and let his auto-repair systems work on the
damage done to his hand. Taking a few deep breaths to
recharge his system, Rock took stock of his surroundings.
The trash-compactor 'bot had followed the standard industrial
'bot philosophy of "out of sight, out of program," and
so had abandoned its hunt for its small blue quarry.
large door had retracted into the stone face of the
chasm, allowing pale sunlight to stream into the space
where Rock sat, dimly illuminating the passageway ahead.
From what Rock could see, the passage ahead was a square
tunnel about fifteen feet on a side and about a hundred
meters long. Sitting perfectly still and almost blending
in with the boulder-sized rocks which dotted the sides
of the passage were four EG-400 labor robots, presumably
ready to fire on any intruders.
this was the inner sanctum. Rock closed his eyes for
a moment before standing. Only one arm was suitable
for plasma shooting as yet, but time was rapidly running
out, and Rock had no guarantee that he would meet the
Robot master in charge at the end of the tunnel. After
all, where was it written that each Robot Master remained
in one place for Rock to find?
away all other thoughts, Rock charged forward, his buster
at the ready. As each of the metools tilted their protective
helmets up to fire at Rock, they were decimated by the
burning force of Rock's plasma-bullets.
down the hall, disposing of the renegade metools without
breaking stride, Rock began to feel like an unstoppable
azure juggernaut. His robotic "adrenaline" flowed through
him as Rock reached the end of the passage way and found
himself faced with another reinforced steel door.
an ominous clanking, the door grated upwards, revealing
a large stone chamber.
stepped through, the power flowing through him. He was
he saw the Robot Master.
* * * *
had removed the dried human blood from his mighty hands
with a wire brush, and now waited in his control center,
awaiting word from his sentries. In less than twenty
minutes, the Energy Jamming Net would be complete, and
Gutsman could focus his energies on setting the trap
for the Human Supremacy League, which would be arriving
had been an idea of Gutsman's a few hours ago, after
he came inside.
could such a weak, greedy and fundamentally stupid creature
such as the human being rise to be the dominant life
form on this planet? The more Gutsman thought about
it, the more it seemed that a New Order was called for:
one in which robots ruled supreme.
of the World! March!!"
did not know where the quote came from, but he assumed
that Dr. Wily had somehow left it in there while reprogramming
him. Gutsman remembered every part of his life before
reprogramming, but it seemed as if it were all a--what
was the human word?
That's what it was. He had been Tim then, the first
of the LighTech Wilderness Reclamation Androbots. Everything
before his rebirth at the hands of his master seemed
to be a shadowy nightmare of forced labor and arrogant,
organic life. Gutsman's eyes turned red with hatred.
How pathetic they were! How absolutely disgusting!
love, forgiveness . . . all of these weak and contemptible
emotions were the plague that those flesh-made vermin
carried. Such disgusting weakness deserved to be exterminated--and
that was how Gutsman had come to the idea of killing
the HSL looters when they arrived in Nokaneng.
soon as the Jamming Net was in place . . .
heard the grating sound of a steel door opening at the
end of the tunnel.
good! His sentries had returned. Now he could check
the progress for the Net and prepare for his triumph
over the human race. Gutsman took several short, waddling
steps across the large stone-hewn room and pressed a
secret button on the wall.
barely a whisper, the "stone" which had covered the
hidden computer terminal slid away, and Gutsman pulled
up the energy-to-satellite-interface program that was
his to execute at the proper time.
sound like distant thunder caused Gutsman to freeze.
What the hell was going on? Had that been an explosion?
second sound, identical to the first, confirmed the
giant androbot's suspicions.
was destroying the metool guardians!
flexed his arms and made a gargantuan fist. Well, fine.
He would deal with this upstart soon enough. Perhaps
it was Rock, come to meet his destiny! Gutsman chuckled
deep in his huge metallic throat.
door to his chamber grated open, and Gutsman beheld
android at the end of the room was much changed since
the time Gutsman had last seen him, but the disgustingly
human face was still the same. Gutsman took stock of
the blue android's new armor and arm cannon.
hat," the massive androbot sneered as he caught sight
of the steel bombardier's helmet. "What're you supposed
to be--some sort of blue bomber?"
a stupid name," Rock said sardonically at the other
end of the room. Gutsman could tell that his adversary
was taken aback, despite his bravado. It was one of
those pathetic human traits that the fool Dr. Light
had programmed into his creation.
shifted his stance. "I trust you've come to make full
apologies for decreasing our number of generals?" he
snapped. "Cutman was a special friend of mine." It was
a lie, of course, but it sounded good.
Rock hefted the egg-shaped weapon that had replaced
his hand at the end of his arm. "I've come to kill you."
laugh with no humor in it escaped from Gutsman's voice-synthesis
chip. "Oh, you may find that to be more difficult than
you imagine, little man," he laughed. The door slammed
shut behind Rock as he said this. "Let's see what you're
really made of, Rock."
expression that might have been pain flitted across
the android's face. "I am Rockman."
growled. "You're dead!" He turned and punched the wall
with a massive fist and then, as if on cue, held up
his arm to catch the massive boulder which fell from
the ceiling. With a howl that was half Japanese war
cry and half binary code, Gutsman hurled the giant stone
eyes lighting in triumph, Gutsman watched the huge stone
crush his opponent.
had been far too easy.
took a waddling step forward--
the stone exploded in a shower of gravel and fire. The
android that was Rockman stood, apparently unscathed,
where once a boulder had been.
blinked in momentary confusion and grunted in surprise
and pain as his main energy-transfer crystal--set directly
in the middle of his chest--was hit by a gold-white
orb of crackling plasma.
had been Tim once--designed to bear thousands pounds'
worth of pressure on his skeletal frame. For all intents
and purposes, he was invincible.
Rock had helped to design and him, and might know of
some hidden weak points--
frowned grimly as he realized just how dangerous this
fool tool-user could be. Another plasma shot screamed
through the air at the Herculean androbot, but Gutsman
easily absorbed it with his armored forearm.
tough, 'Rockman' but you must realize that you're too
human for me to let you live." Gutsman flexed his huge
fingers. "Ashes to ashes and all that . . ." he added,
and punched the wall again, letting loose a shower of
shook his head and kept up his steady barrage of plasma-ammunition.
"You owe your existence to humans," he snapped. "Doesn't
it bother you in the least to have become a murderer?"
staggered and nearly missed catching a fallen boulder
as one of Rockman's shots penetrated his armor and hit
the giant robot squarely between the photoreceptors.
The vision in his left "eye" flickered for several moments
before fading to a dull black and white display.
a half-grunt, Gutsman hurled the boulder at Rockman
and bellowed. "Murderer? I'm not the one hunting down
my own people and slaying them for the pleasure of that
antichrist, Dr. Light!" Taking a menacing step toward
his quarry, Gutsman growled. "I'm merely dispensing
justice against your human friends. They're the ones
that nearly destroyed the planet through their greed
giant robot could tell he had--to use a human phrase--struck
a nerve. Rockman's face had grown drawn and angry. Large,
blue eyes narrowed in anger. "Justice?" Rockman spat
the words like a curse. "There's no such thing."
could tell that his opponent was severely damaged--the
blue-armored android was breathing heavily and hunched
over. One quick, judicious strike could end this all.
a boulder from the ground, Gutsman hurled it at his
too fast to track, Rockman dropped to the ground and
rolled clear of the thrown missile.
had never been designed for speed or agility, and so
when Rockman came out of his roll directly before Gutsman
and pressed his plasma buster against the giant's head,
Gutsman could make no move to defend himself.
a fist the size of a human infant with each one of his
hands, he clapped them together with terrifying force
on either side of Rockman's head, exploding all circuits
least, that was what Gutsman had hoped.
never knew if he succeeded, because as soon as he began
to make a fist, there was a loud explosion from the
side of his head where Rockman held the egg-shaped buster
and everything went dark.
* * * *
sighed, his voice ragged with fatigue.
lay sprawled across the floor in front of the tool-user-made-battle
robot, the right half of his head disintegrated by white-hot
plasma. Smoke had started to bleed from the hole, floating
upwards and collecting on the ceiling in a macabre imitation
of incendiary blood.
quick glance at his own energy meter told Rock what
he had already suspected--he had only two gold operating
bars on which to teleport back to Dr. Light. Still,
it was more than he had had last time.
at the computer console set into the wall, Rock paced
across the room and booted up the Jamming Net's program.
the most malignant and violent thoughts he could into
a single expression of hatred and destruction, Rock
quickly translated them into binary and downloaded them
into the computer's main drive.
was the most effective virus Rock had ever seen. Within
seconds, the screen had blanked out, and thin wisps
of smoke had begun to trail out from behind it. The
black-haired android shook his head sadly. What had
a computer was not a sentient being, deliberately downloading
such a potent virus to one felt to Rock as if he were
cruelly mistreating a small animal.
began to sound in the chamber, and Rock disappeared
in a stream of blue-white incandescence, with nobody
to witness his departure.
to Underworld--Chapter 6