best way to neutralize these Irregulars is to freeze
'em up. I'll tell you what; I haven't met one of those
cross-wired bastards yet that didn't run from a blast
of my Ice Shotgun. If there's a robot made that likes
being frozen into a block, I haven't met 'im."
--Irregular Hunter Arctus, before his infection with
the Irregular virus and subsequent transformation into
Icy Penguigo (Chill Penguin).
heat radiated from the sun-baked stones littering the
rubble in Nokaneng.
sole metool wandered aimlessly between ruined buildings
and the gutted frameworks that had once made up tall
skyscrapers. Smoke and yellow dust floated in front
of its photoreceptors, making its view down the street
little difficulty, the metool negotiated its way over
piles of rubble, its photoreceptors gathering information
as it went. Here and there, it would stop to seemingly
examine something more closely.
almost human actions, the metool turned around and around
repeatedly, as if hoping to get a glimpse of something
just out of its line of sight. Finally, it stopped and
lowered itself to the ground, in imitation of a human
inspiration struck whatever intelligence inhabited the
metool, and it headed towards a nearby building, once
a large skyscraper.
intensely all the way, the metool made its way up the
stairs of the ruined edifice. After nearly two hours
had passed, the knee-high, domed robot finished its
monumental journey; it had reached the roof of the building.
no time to recharge its severely-taxed energy system,
the metool began a ponderous sweep with its photoreceptors,
scrutinizing every square centimeter of the ground that
it could see from its vantage point up on high.
times, the metool would twitch as it looked back at
a spot it had already inspected, as if expecting to
see a hidden intruder come crawling out of the shadows,
thinking that the coast was clear.
low rumble began to the south, growing louder and shaking
the buildings of the city, until the metool could no
longer ignore it.
to the other side of the roof, the metool optically
pinpointed the location from which the noise had originated--Gutsman's
massive ball of fire rose into the air, roaring like
a tortured beast, until it disintegrated over the city.
Flame fell in lurid streaks, limning the wasted city
in shades of vermilion, crimson, scarlet and gold.
the metool turned a few seconds before, it would have
seen the tell-tale line of blue fire that spoke of a
the depths of the aptly-named Skull Castle, William
Albert Wily slammed his fists against the computer console
in rage and frustration. Utilizing metools as long-distance
spy 'bots was useful but frustrating. It would take
him too long to personally teleport himself to Nokaneng
now, though there was little enough that he could do.
had fallen, and with him, the Energy Jamming Net.
Wily slammed his hands down again and screamed an unintelligible
German curse. How could that pathetic blue robot keep
defeating Dr. Wily's generals? How? It made no
sense! Dr. Wily had re-programmed those androbots to
be masters of death! How could a simple laboratory
assistant keep killing them?
Wily snarled. "Damn you, how do you do it? How!!"
the right of Dr. Wily, his creation stirred, disturbed
by the noise.
Wily allowed his furious scowl to soften somewhat. His
creation was truly a work of art. An assassin robot,
it was the most advanced piece of work that Dr. Wily
had ever completed.
with a holographic projector, the robot was designed
to study and emulate anything Dr. Wily wished. It could
project thermal fields to match its exterior appearance,
so that even an infrared scan of it would reveal nothing
but what it appeared to be. It was even equipped with
a small matter-synthesis unit so that it could form
a sort of "skin" to that matched its appearance.
course, without its disguise on, the robot didn't look
too impressive. Its head looked vaguely human, but the
resemblance pretty much stopped there. Its shoulders
were hunched and wide, bristling with wires. Two large
cable-bunches ran from its back to its head, making
the shoulders seem even bigger, as did the flared epaulet-structures
which served as armor.
body was slightly cone-shaped, with the narrow part
at the waist, and was covered with lights, indicators
and various projection modules. Eventually, all that
delicate equipment would be covered by heat-resistant
armor that allowed only the projection lenses to show
legs were strong, but thin, making the robot appear
highly unstable. Only a madman would dream up something
as structurally twisted as this; somehow, against all
expectation, it was stable and quite functional.
course, its purpose was simple. All it had to do was
emulate Dr. Light, sneak into Light's laboratory, and
kill Light, Rock and Roll. That would put an end to
this nuisance. If the robot survived, Dr. Wily would,
of course, employ it to kill the leaders of the world's
most powerful nations.
Dr. Wily had named it. That idiot James Walken had called
it "Doc Robot," but the name didn't really bother Wily
shook his head, amazed by his own genius. The German
roboticist picked up a piece of armor and motioned for
Docman to step forward. Obediently, the robot took a
few lumbering steps forward and stopped in front of
bolted the armor plate to Docman's torso and stood back
to admire his work.
space around Docman seemed to shimmer and twist for
a fraction of a second. Then, with a brief flash of
light, a perfect duplicate of Rockman stood where Docman
had once been. Dr. Wily nodded in approval.
that," he ordered, pointing at a small metool at the
edge of the laboratory.
arm snapped up, metamorphisised into a an egg-shaped
arm cannon, and blasted the metool dead between its
photoreceptors, scattering flaming debris and ash.
Light," Wily commanded.
the air surrounding Docman twisted, and suddenly, where
"Rockman" had once stood, now there was a perfect clone
of Dr. Thomas Light.
Dr. Wily grinned and set down his wrench. He was about
to make another comment, but searing pain flashed behind
his eyes, and the wild-haired man fell to the floor,
shaking. Tears burned at the corners of Dr. Wily's eyes
as the pain in his head became almost unbearable.
much pain . . . when will it stop?
Wily was dimly aware of his own voice screaming German
curses, and dull flares of pain as he rolled on the
floor, over tools and into table legs. Finally, mercifully,
the pain faded, and Dr. Wily was left lying prostrate
and sweat-drenched on the floor, low whimpers escaping
had he been doing?
grappled with the question for a moment before giving
up in disgust and dismay. Slowly, he stood, ignoring
the cramps in his legs. What had happened to him? He
recalled sitting at the computer, looking at something
. . .
of fire and a sun-baked city skyline briefly flashed
through his consciousness, but Dr. Wily had only a fleeting
half-second to catch them.
. . .
about Docman . . .
turned and scanned his laboratory. Soot blackened the
walls, lined with mechanized guardians. Here was a cyclops,
constructed of stone and steel. There was a huge, mechanized
dragon, its plasma-breath array not yet fully operational.
He would probably transport that to another Skull Castle,
Dr. Wily decided. After all, who could possibly storm
his fortress and defeat his Yellow Devil and Docman?
one person alive possessed the abilities to complete
such a herculean task.
for maybe . . .
pain grew in Dr. Wily's head again, and he desperately
shook it, as if to somehow shake the intense throbbing
out of his skull.
a single object to focus on, Dr. Wily's eyes fell on
Docman, still projecting his hologram of Dr. Light.
flared in Dr. Wily's pain-crazed mind, and in an instant,
he had pulled a laser pistol and fired at the hated
preternaturally quick reflexes, Doctor Light dodged
the shot and hid behind a table.
. . and the madness passed. Dr. Wily stared angrily
at the laser pistol, appalled at what he had almost
done. Weeks of work had almost been destroyed in a single
moment of stupidity.
soft whining noise emanated from behind the table.
Dr. Wily vaguely recalled programming emotional responses,
or at least starting to . . . Had he scared his robot?
a few cautious steps forward, Dr. Wily peeked behind
the table, where "Dr. Light" crouched, his hands over
his head and whimpering piteously.
sorry," Dr. Wily said. "I'm sorry, my son . . ."
seconds passed in silence before a snake-like smile
found its way to Dr. Wily's features.
* * * *
his arrival in Tokyo, Rock was met with twin feelings
of relief and alarm.
had survived his encounter with the twisted Gutsman;
that was good, and no small feat. Rock had been seriously
doubtful of his chances of survival during the battle.
He had planned to take a few hours--possibly even a
day or two--to recuperate and recharge. Perhaps then
Dr. Light and Roll could make the modifications to his
armor and weapons.
android had anticipated congratulations from Dr. Light,
or maybe Roll telling him "Welcome back!" Perhaps he
would teleport into an empty room during a break in
the pair's work schedule, or maybe Eddie would be there
to greet him with his binary language.
one thing, in fact, that Rock had not expected, was
what greeted him.
lights glared down on the android, momentarily blinding
him with their halogen brilliance. The world was abuzz
with loud voices, each vying to be heard over the last,
and each more intense in volume.
lowered his hand from his face and relaized that he
had unwittingly dropped into a crouch, ready for battle.
was then that he saw the reporters.
room exploded with questions, all piled one on top of
the other. Rock could barely distinguish individual
voices in the clamor.
. . . savior of the human race . . ."
. . . here in Tokyo, live with the phenomenal man responsible
for the liberation of both Nokaneng and Sydney . . ."
. . reporting live from Tokyo, home of the super-robot
Rockman . . ."
. . drove off a horde of homicidal robots--a true modern-day
superhero . . ."
. . maybe we can get a comment . . ."
. . if I can just get close for a moment . . ."
lowered his arm the rest of the way and blinked slowly,
stupidly. After a moment, it occurred to him that he
was still stained with dust, circulatory fluids (his
own and Gutsman's) and wearing armor that had been virtually
crushed beneath his enemy's onlsaught.
crept over the android. He was drained, emotionally
and physically, and in no shape to deal with the media.
How had they gotten here, anyway?
zeroed in on the familiar voice and saw Roll wading
impatiently through the sea of bristling video equipment,
antennae, microphones, and electrical cables, accompanied
by the reporters, technicians and cameramen that went
along with it all. The android-girl pushed through it
all, apologizing and reaching for Rock's hand.
some room!" That was Dr. Light's voice, at the back
of the room. "Let's have some space--he's damaged!"
heaved himself up and gratefully took Roll's arm for
support. His "sister" guided him through the herd of
media spokespeople, all of whom were delivering some
sort of monologue about the emotional poignancy of the
him to the lab!" Dr. Light instructed, "I'll handle
nodded curtly and continued to help Rock in keeping
his balance. He noted, with no small amount of humiliation,
that one of his circulatory hoses had torn again, and
he was "bleeding" on the carpet through his stomach.
He pressed his hand against the wound in an attempt
to staunch the flow of green-black liquid.
occurred to Rock that Dr. Light might have invited the
press to give some hope to the rest of the world; if
everybody saw that Rockman had twice battled and defeated
Wily's minions, then maybe that would inspire resistance
think much about how I'd feel, Rock thought bitterly
to himself, but then that's what this whole "hero
business" is about, isn't it--putting up a brave front?
slowly stopped and straightened, ignoring Roll's protests.
As he turned to face the room full of faces, he noticed
a correspondent from almost every major country on the
planet--which meant that Dr. Light had called them before
Rock had even returned from battling Cutman. Rock's
hush fell over the room, as everybody waited for words
from this hero who had delivered humanity from evil
twice, against impossible odds.
the ghost of a grin to his face and ignoring how hoarse
and cracked his voice sounded (his voice-synthesis module
must have gotten partially fried in the explosion of
Gutsman's lair), Rock spoke.
down. Four to go," he rasped, hating himself for the
cliché, but knowing that it would give the media something
to chew on.
he collapsed completely.
* * * *
answer, human," snapped the parka-clad androbot.
man in front of him was swathed in a similar parka,
but dark blue instead of the pale frost-colored azure
of Iceman's own. His eyebrows and moustaches were, rimed
with frozen vapor, twitched nervously.
can't get away with it," he rasped, the Antarctic air
hurting his lungs as he breathed in the intense cold.
"Rockman will save us. I'll never surrender the key
will have control of this plant, with or without your
help," Iceman said sardonically. Behind him was a pile
of dead bodies, all in one frozen condition or another.
Each was horribly skewered by icicles fired at superhuman
speed. Frozen blood stained the perfect transparency
of the icicles a sick vermilion hue.
man, director of the Water Purification Plant, allowed
himself a bitter grin. After all, what did he have to
lose? "If you think that threatening me will ensure
my cooperation, you're sadly mistaken." He bit each
syllable off, and the frozen atmosphere painted his
breath before him in frosty shades of silver and white.
formed an icicle from the moisture in the air and hurled
it with impossible speed at the man, pinning the human
to the wall by his now-skewered arm. The man screamed
as muscle fiber tore and blood froze on the tip of the
is the key?" Iceman demanded. "If you do not tell me,
I will kill you."
will come," the man gasped, his vision dimming. "Rockman
will stop you."
felt his fury rising. With one swift motion he created
a razor-sharp icicle, lunged forward, and impaled the
human being through his chest cavity.
the human twitched out its last on the ground, Iceman
curled his lip. "Idiot. As if I could be defeated
by a pathetic tool user robot." Iceman shook his head.
Cutman and Gutsman had both fallen at the hands of this
upstart, but he could not possibly be defeated by such
a fool. Rock was an idealistic idiot who didn't know
the first thing about war.
Gutsman had been a worthy opponent . . .
by this sudden wave of doubt, Iceman brutally kicked
the dead human again and again until he knew he had
shattered every rib. Then, as an afterthought, he opened
his mouth and blew moisturized air into the room, freezing
it with his matter-synthesis module.
he left the control room of the World Water Purification
Plant, Iceman knew that nobody would guess that the
large mound of ice and snow behind him was really a
pile of over fifteen human bodies that had once belonged
to the core research team.
Rockman would come. Iceman was sure of that.
that the Antarctic exploration androbot was afraid of
the tool-user; far from it. If any idea was laughable,
it was that a simple laboratory assistant could defeat
a warrior such as Iceman. Still, Iceman found doubt
gnawing at the back of his mind. Angry at himself for
such weak and foolish thoughts, Iceman stormed out of
the plant and looked over his realm.
he easily controlled all of Antarctica with his robots,
Iceman's central stronghold was here in New Shirewick,
almost at the South Pole. Here was the World Water Purification
Plant--vital to human survival on this planet. Iceman
would enjoy destroying it.
course, he was forbidden to do such until the command
from Dr. Wily. Iceman frowned again, the haughty lines
of his face almost human. Dr. Wily was surely taking
his time in giving the last command, wasn't he? First,
he had delayed in ordering the attack, and now he was
waiting to give Iceman his final order.
Iceman had any say in the matter, the Plant would have
been long destroyed. However, he was firmly programmed
against destroying the Plant until he received orders
to do so. He had even tried once to defy his orders,
but his body, damn its weakness, had buckled under the
waves of pain that accompanied the ultimatum.
he would wait until his master had told him to do otherwise.
the meantime, it would probably behoove him to check
his defenses--not that Rockman posed any threat to the
mighty Iceman . . .
* * * *
James Walken's fist smashed down upon the desk.
man who stood before the leader of the Human Supremacy
League shifted his weight uncomfortably from foot to
foot, and resisted the urge to wipe his forehead with
his sleeve. Despite the fact that he was a full head
taller than the cinnamon-eyed Walken, the man was sweating.
don't know the details, sir, but Nokaneng has fallen,
and with it, the Energy Jamming Net." The man squirmed
uncomfortably under the fiery glare of his superior.
"The news stations are all saying that it's this 'Rockman'
Walken snarled, his knuckles whitening as his fist clenched
even tighter. "So, the little robot boy wants to play
in the Big League? Let's see what we can do for him?"
man, whose name was Juan, ran his hands through coal-black
hair. "Sir, I'm not sure if that's such a good idea--he's
already destroyed two of our--"
found himself a second later sprawled on the floor at
the feet of a livid James Walken, laser pistol aimed
at his head.
I wrong?" Walken said, tightly controlled, "or did you
just imply that a robot is superior to our human
sir," Juan stuttered. "I'm sorry, sir. I wasn't thinking."
pay you to think," Walken snapped, his grip on the trigger
mechanism of the laser pistol never loosening, "It's
your job to think, right Juan?"
Walken said in almost light, conversational tone, "tell
me why you said something without thinking. Are you
trying to cheat me out of the honest money that I pay
to bomb factories and level cities?"
swallowed. This was bad. "No, sir. It just slipped out."
see." Walken took a deep breath. "Juan, explain to me
why our mission is important. Explain to me why I bother
to pay people like you millions of dollars per month
to keep this pathetic planet in my palm of my hand."
swallowed again, mainly because that was all he could
do in his position that he was reasonably sure wouldn't
get him killed. "Robots are inferior to us," Juan recited.
"They are lower than humans in every way, and need to
be obliterated from the face of this world because they
are Satan's creatures."
right. Good boy," Walken allowed Juan an expression
of relief. "You destroy robots and the people who make
them because it's God's will. I am only a tool of the
Almighty. If He had not chosen me to do His work, the
earth would suffer from a plague of robots and sin.
Do you understand?"
sir," Juan answered.
may stand," Walken said. "Now, I will allow you to express
your educated opinion on how we should handle the situation
with this so-called hero who wishes to keep mankind
enslaved to his own inventions. And remember that honesty,
Juan, is always the best policy."
say we roast 'em," Juan said.
Walken smiled. "There. That was easy, wasn't it? Now,
I'm putting you in charge of the task force that will
hunt down and destroy this Rockman. If you fail, God
himself will condemn you. If you succeed, your place
in heaven is assured."
you, sir," said Juan, and left the room, badly shaken.
Walken sat back in his leather recliner behind his polished
oak desk and took a sip of coffee. It was God's will
that robots be obliterated from this Earth, and thus
it was James Walken's holy mission to carry out that
Wily was a strange companion in this undertaking, but
a necessary one. Sometimes, Walken reflected, it was
necessary to deal with the devil in order to carry out
God's will. Not that Walken enjoyed it; in the contrary.
Dr. Wily was the Enemy, in strictly logical terms; he
was one of the world leaders in robot manufacture. Still,
he was working towards a goal which Walken admired--the
liberation of man from machine.
of late, Dr. Wily had stayed hidden in his laboratory,
which made James Walken suspicious. Still, as long as
Wily was on Walken's side, then the leader of the HSL
had nothing to worry about.
as an enemy . . . that was something that Walken did
not envy this Rockman.
Dr. Light . . . he would pay for this with his
life. He was more the Enemy than Wily, and it had been
he who bore the responsibility for the tragedy which
had opened up this path in Walken's life.
another gulp of coffee, Walken stood and left his office,
nearly stepping on a small roach on his way out.
he been more observant, he would have seen that the
roach's antennae were made of copper wire . . .
* * * *
awoke in the "operating room," as he had come to think
damaged hand had been fixed with speed and care, and
all sensations of pain had left him for the moment.
Banishing unwanted images of Jason and Tim both exploding
by his hand, Rock's eyes lit on Roll.
down, four to go?" Roll looked at him with a mixture
of amusement and annoyance. "Did that Robot Master hit
you in the head or something? What a stupid, cliché
thing to say!"
grimaced as he sat up. "Nice to see you, too."
I had a week to sit down and calculate all the moronic,
overused expressions you possibly could have
utilized, that would've been at the top of the list!"
Roll tossed her hair over her shoulder. "What on earth
possessed you to say such a dumb thing?"
stood and tested his balance. "The reporters loved it,
snorted. "Take a look at the Holovid." So saying, she
led Rock into the living room, where the Holovid was
running, showing eighteen different channels. Each channel
was broadcasting some reporter who blathered on about
Rock's bravery in the face of impossible odds and his
think they're overstating it," Rock muttered after one
particular station--CNN--gave an exceptionally flattering
account of his battle with both Robot Masters.
Superman," said the anchor, "we've got a new superhero
for a new age--let's hear it for Megaman."
think I've heard that pun enough," Roll snapped. "It's
getting just a bit tiresome."
like Rockman better," Rock said by way of response.
Of course, he hated both names--they made him out to
be some sort of hero, and all he cold see himself as
was a murderer.
my own kind, Rock bitterly thought, remembering
to talk about it?" Roll's voice intruded on Rock's brooding.
was Tim," Rock answered. "Wily's got our prototypes
doing the dirty work. He was so completely different
. . . there were bodies everywhere . . . Roll, I don't
know if I can keep doing this."
have to." Roll's statement was flat. "Wily's escalated
his attack since you defeated Gutsman. Now there are
renegade robots attacking everywhere. And if you don't
go to New Shirewick within the next day, Earth will
be completely at Wily's mercy; the humans can't hold
out much longer on the reserves of water that aren't
controlled by Wily's Army down in Antarctica.
sighed. "You're right, of course. I suppose I'll be
dealing with an Gary model down there. Probably Gary
himself, although he'll have renamed himself something
like Frostman or Freezeman or Iceman."
put a hand on his shoulder. "Rock, you're doing the
right thing. Besides, Gary was always so holier-than-thou
anyway. It'll be good to take care of that, right?"
glared witheringly at his sister. "That wasn't funny.
There's nothing funny about any of this."
Roll pulled back. "I'm trying," she said stiffly. "It's
not easy for any of us, especially you and me. I'm nearly
halfway done with my armor now, and I have just as much
to look forward to, you know. It doesn't do anybody
any good to have you moping around and being depressed
all the time!"
threw his helmet to the floor and clenched his fist.
know!" he exploded. "I'm supposed to be the big hero
who puts on a brave face while I fall apart inside,
right?! I'm supposed to just ignore the fact that I'm killing my friends! I'm supposed to go on with
a smile on my face and say 'It's easy, folks! Be like
Rockman and eat your whole wheat bread every day!' If
Dr. Light didn't want this kind of reaction from me,
he should've made me without emotions!"
bit her lip and looked down at Rock's fist.
. . ."
Rock looked down at his fists and realized that he'd
shifted both of them to plamsa-buster configuration
great chagrin, he let his arms go limp and shifted his
hands back into human hands. Without looking up, he
sorry. I don't know what's gotten into me . . . Maybe
I'm having a breakdown like Blues."
say that," Roll said, a little too sharply. After a
few moments of uncomfortable silence, she added, "Come
on. Let's get you into the enhancement chamber and upgrade
your plasma buster."
they walked across the room, Rock heard Roll make a
soft noise of distress.
shrugged. "I guess I'm losing it. Maybe I should recharge
more often. It's just that the log for the enhancement
chamber says that it's been used twice, and we've only
ever used it once."
looked up in alarm.
right. What the hell . . . ?"
just a malfunction," Roll answered as Rock took a step
into the chamber. Then she flipped the switch.
again, Rock was enveloped in pain, but this time, it
didn't seem nearly as intense. Of course, it was localized
to only his plasma busters, but it also just didn't
seem like much after the fight with Cutman and Gutsman.
stepped from the chamber and took a look at himself.
Everything was the same, with the exception of his plasma
buster. Now, instead of being merely a blue egg shape
with a gold meter on it, it had a gold meter on one
side and a red meter on the other.
this?" he asked.
matter-synthesis module," Roll answered. "Dr. Light
and I had an idea that if you can replicate some of
the attacks of the Robot Masters, then maybe it'll be
easier to defeat the remaining ones."
nodded. "Good idea. How does it work?"
Roll answered, "we've only actually completed two of
the weapons. It was very difficult to integrate the
abilities of only one Robot Master into your weapon
chip, and we were thinking that if you could take the
control chips of the remaining Robot Masters, we could
use those as a model for the version you'd use. We still
have all the work on my armor to do, you know."
it. So what can I do?" Rock looked at his plasma buster
with some apprehension.
got the Rolling Cutter and enhanced muscle power," Roll
said. Maybe you didn't notice, but your hydraulics and
joints should be noticeably enhanced now. Dr. Light
did all he could to replicate the strength of a Tim
model, and the Rolling Cutter works on a matter-synthesis
still haven't told me how it works," Rock noted.
was getting to that. If you access your main program,
you should find a subdirectory called 'Weapons.' Look
in that for the 'Rolling Cutter' option and choose it."
followed her directions. Of course, it was all virtual--he
didn't really see any of the things Roll had said, but
he could compute them instantly with his neural net.
. . . oh, my." Roll began to giggle.
so funny?" Rock demanded. Then he saw.
color-shift chip had originally been installed by Dr.
Light in Rock's helmet as a means of possibly camouflaging
himself later on, when Dr. Light had the time to work
on the design. It seemed now that the aged robotechnician
had found a more . . . humorous application for the
was silver and grey from his head to his toes. Everything
that had been pale blue now glittered a pale silver,
and everything that had once been darker blue was now
a deep grey.
funny," Rock snapped. Wasn't Dr. Light carrying this
superhero thing a little too far? It was enough that
Rock was being hounded by the media already, but now
every time he chose to use a new weapon, his "costume"
would change to fit the occasion.
Roll said, stifling a giggle, "all you need now is a
cape and a big 'R' emblazoned on your chest. I'm sure
Dr. Light could arrange that."
switched back to his normal plasma buster, and with
it his normal colors. "Don't you dare," he half-teased,
allowing himself a small grin. "Now get out of here.
I'm going to recharge before I go to the Underworld."
* * * *
soon as he landed, Rock knew that, unlike the previous
two Robot Masters, this one expected trouble. For one
thing, the plateau he had landed on was swarming with
multidirectional surface-scanning U.S. Army 'bots.
would only be a matter of seconds before he was discovered,
Rock calculated, whether he destroyed the robots or
it was better to keep Gary as blind as he possibly could,
Rock raised his arm-cannon . . .
they haven't done anything to me.
cursed himself for allowing the thought to creep in.
Still, after downloading the virus that was formed of
his hatred and anger into Gutsman's computer, Rock had
developed a feeling of guilt towards destroying a robot--even
an enemy robot--if there was no immediate cause.
late now," he muttered. Several meters in front of him,
higher on the stair-step form of the frozen plateau,
was a humanoid robot, painted a pale green. It was familiar
to Rock, but he didn't bother trying to remember the
name of it; he had more important things to do.
behind the frozen form of a palm treeborg, Rock watched
the military spybot walk past him.
far, so good. As long as he kept hiding behind the trees
that dotted the lower portion of this plateau, he wouldn't
have any trouble hiding himself from the less sophisticated
spy robots that roved the area.
he stepped out from behind the tree, an alarm blared
on a frequency that Rock knew a human being wouldn't
be able to hear. Ultrasonic and highly noticeable to
Rock's aural sensors, the alarm was a sure sign that
he'd been seen.
enough, he came face-to-face with another military spybot.
alarm, this one loud and quite within the rang of human
hearing, blared as Rock dropped and blasted the spybot's
legs out from under it.
to the side and dodging the falling debris, Rock was
alarmed to notice that only the lower half had fallen;
the upper half of the robot still hovered in midair,
its razor-taloned hands sweeping down at Rock.
That was why these had looked familiar; they were the
special kind of spybot--called the Hydra because of
its ability to function even when its "head" was separated
from its lower body. Rock had seen the designs and schematics
for this type of robot while working in the factory
in Gladstonbury, and knew that the only way to permanently
disable one was to destroy the head unit.
the upper portion of the Hydra swooped down, Rock released
a plasma blast and rolled out of the way, quickly regaining
his feet and leaping up onto the next level of the frozen
plateau. As soon as he had landed on the next step,
he was confronted with another Hydra.
less time to act, Rock fired quickly at the head, but
not before the robot had taken a quick swipe at his
stomach, leaving a thin opening and a trail of circulatory
fluids behind. Rock grimaced and leaped up to the next
level, hoping to outdistance the many spybots which
had begun to pass the alarm that there was an intruder.
the top of the plateau, Rock beheld the grand vista
of New Shirewick below him.
and white with snow and ice, New Shirewick was the city
that had grown up around the thriving industry that
was the World Water Purification Plant. Although Rock
suspected that no living human resided there now, it
had once been an active center.
was back the way Rock had just come. Directly in front
of him was a small lake, which was heated from the bottom.
Although the top layer was thin ice, the water lower
was still liquid, because of the heating system. This
had once been a reservoir for those who had lived down
in new Shirewick; the waster was kept in liquid form
and pumped though specially heated, insulated and reinforced
pipes to the city below, after filtering and purifying.
use the people would have for it now, Rock reflected
thought he detected motion at the bottom of the lake,
about five yards below, but the ice and reflection of
the pale, green-hazed sun made it difficult to tell.
behind him alerted him to the presence of more robots.
Rather than fight and draw more attention to himself,
Rock opted to leap into the lake. Of course, he wouldn't
be able to swim; he was too heavy for that. Still, it
would provide some cover from the sensory devices above.
a quick check to make sure that the hole from the Hydra's
attack had sealed itself up, Rock plunged into the near-freezing
shock would have killed a human being.
it was actually warmer underwater than it had been up
above, the intense cold still pressed around Rock on
every side. At just above freezing, the water was thick
and turgid, especially for Rock, who had not been designed
with underwater travel in mind.
he took his first step underwater, Rock's optical feedback
indicated that he was not alone. Between a couple of
cracks in the ice, there were more multidirectional
sensor 'bots, scanning for intruders.
Rock decided, somebody had definitely been expected.
in the water altered Rock to a quickly approaching enemy.
Several meters in front of him but approaching rapidly
was a propellor-driven missile. Rock almost laughed;
it had been painted as a penguin.
no matter how comical its appearance, it was still a
missle, and it would still damage Rock if it exploded
in his vicinity.
careful aim, Rock fired a burst of concentrated plasma.
the plasma was far more visible. Carrying with it its
own bubble of air, the plasma left a trail of bubbles
and boiling water behind it. It hit the missile head-on,
exploding it in a spherical orb of golden fire that
was extinguished so quickly, it left only a ghost of
light behind in the water.
this was going well. Rock had been here for almost five
minutes, and he had only been damaged once by an enemy
robot. This was a good sign.
get too cocky, he warned himself. This was still
a dangerous and possibly suicidal mission; no Robot
Master under Dr. Wily's control was to be scoffed at.
his way through the underwater area posed little difficulty
for Rock. As long as he kept a sharp eye out for any
of the penguin-missiles and the liberally scattered
multidirection sensor 'bots, he encountered little resistance.
a few encounters with more missile 'bots, Rock's thermal
sensors indicated a slight increase in the water temperature.
For a moment, Rock wondered if he had been detected,
but then realized that the temperature increase was
his own doing; superheated plasma would certainly warm
the water up!
of altering any other sensor probes to his presence,
Rock switched to the newly acquired Rolling Cutter.
Although he had no idea how effective the replicated
lumber-cutting blade would be under water, he was sure
that it would attract less attention than several unaccountable
temperature increases in the water.
was a test subject; on a tier before him, a place where
Rock would need to climb in order to get back out of
the water, was a sensor probe, scooting back and forth
and sending radio signals.
the virtual Weapons subdirectory, he powered up his
plasma buster. Instead of watching his left hand metamorphisize
into a now-familiar egg shape, Rock observed five small
whirlpools forming at the tips of his fingers--the matter
synthesis unit drawing matter so that it could replicate
a handful of microseconds, Rock held a duplicate of
Jason’s Rolling Cutter.
sorrow swept over Rock. There must have been another
way to neutralize Jason without destroying him utterly.
If only . . .
batted the thoughts away. Either he was getting better
at handling these negative emotions, or his circuits
were getting worn down. Either way, he had no time for
maudlin reminiscence; Gary had seized the world's last
source of clean water, and there was no telling what
he would do if Rock didn't stop him.
wondering of Roll had tested the Rolling Cutter before,
Rock calculated the trajectory needed to hit the sensor
probe with the Rolling Cutter, took aim, and hurled
the pair of circular scissors-blades towards the unwitting
robot's armor had been designed to withstand laser beams
and sudden bursts of plasma on the battlefield (it was
an Army 'bot, after all). It had not, however, been
designed to withstand several hundred pounds of pressure
between two diamond-hard, razor-edged Rolling Cutter
weapon seemed to pass directly through the sensor 'bot,
leaving only a thin white line on the exterior armor
as it cut through all the internal circuitry.
as if in slow motion, the two halves of the robot slid
apart from one another, shooting sparks into the water
and leaving bubbles where the liquid boiled from the
intense heat of the electrical discharge.
Rock spat. That would draw attention fairly quickly.
quick leaps onto the tiers that led to the water level
brought Rock safely out of the nearly-frozen liquid
and back onto dry, if slippery land.
he landed, Rock slipped and fell in an undignified heap
on his rear, cursing. So much for maintaining that invincible
superhero image. Half-grinning in self-mockery, Rock
pulled himself to his feet and took a few slow, careful
steps forward. Despite the fact that he moved with care
and precision, even the negligible amount of momentum
generated by that motion was enough to carry him forward
several inches after he had stopped walking.
would be interesting.
a deep breath to make sure that his internal fusion
reactor was fully charged, Rock surveyed the area once
again. Now that he had safely navigated his way through
the reservoir, Rock stood before a large wall of ice
and rock, thrust up in primordial days from the earth
by an earthquake long forgotten. Beyond that, there
was no telling what lay. However, Rock calculated that
if the fault line followed normal behavior, there would
be a large chasm on the other side . . .
brought him to a more immediate problem; several meters
ahead of him, as wide across as several tanker trucks,
a large hole gaped. It would be easy enough to walk
around it, but Rock suspected that it had once been
a cargo-unloading area for the Purification Plant. If
so, it would probably have a ladder or moving platform
or elevator that would convey him safely to the bottom
of the chasm from which the Purification Plant drew
several steps forward, Rock failed to compensate for
the slick surface of the ice he trod upon and toppled,
arms windmilling, into the cool blueness of the hole.
he realized that any ladder or lift that had once been
here had long since been obliterated by Gary’s robots.
Burn marks stained the stone under the ice, and frayed
electrical cables spat sparks into the air as Rock fell,
fingers clawing the impossibly smooth surface in a vain
attempt to slow his lethally quick descent.
ran in Rock's brain, calculating his chances of survival
if he landed on the ground, nearly 50 meters below.
Although his calculations provided for the slowing effect
of the water that had puddled on the floor below to
almost Rock's height, his chances of survival were still
dictated that any actions of Rock's would be futile,
that his end would still be the same. However, Rock's
emotion circuits flared to life and produced a sudden,
last minute decision out of desperation.
a Rolling Cutter into existence, Rock jammed the diamond-hard
blades into the wall with all the force he could muster
and felt himself jerk to a wrenching stop as the blades
found purchase and bit deep into the ice and rock that
made up the edifice.
took several deep breaths to recharge his system; it
had been providing emergency power--robotic adrenaline--in
vast excess for the past several seconds, and left him
in an exhausted state.
almost a full minute of hanging from the wall, recharging
his systems, Rock took a look around.
where he hung had once been the ground; he could tell
because several meters away stood the last vestiges
of the foundations of this part of the center. Below
him yawned several meters of empty space that finally
terminated in the water-covered floor of what had once
been a basement storage facility. Rock could dimly make
out a sensor 'bot patrolling the area below.
he calculated several possibilities, Rock felt a tingling
sensation before him.
rushed towards a spot a few meters below and to the
left of Rock, as if some eldritch force had suddenly
conspired to draw the winds towards the center of the
room. Through his infrared and ultraviolet vision modes,
Rock could detect streams of energy spiraling around
the point at which the air seemed to be headed.
with a sound the was halfway in between a gust of wind
and a low growl that was almost subsonic for its deep
bass quality, a large cube of matter formed in the air
and floated in place.
chemical and molecular analysis module tied itself into
virtual knots as it attempted to discern the physical
structure of the thing. To a large extent, it seemed
to be made up of glass and quartzite. Laced through
its structure in intricate threads were microscopic
strings of titanium-alloyed steel and other substances
which Rock's sensors couldn't decipher.
several seconds, this anomaly hung in mid-air, within
jumping distance of the dumbfounded android. Then, as
suddenly as it had appeared, but with far less prelude,
Rock been human, he would have shaken his head and dismissed
at as lack of sleep, stress-induced hallucination or
a number of other things. However, he merely worked
furiously in his positronic brain to unravel the riddle.
it Dr. Wily's creation? Certainly, it had the tell-tale
genius mixed with something not quite definable that
was the hallmark of the German roboticist's work. Of
course, it could also be a government test substance
of some sort; since Antarctic settlements were isolated
from the rest of the world, they were often used a guinea
pigs by other governments to test technological experiments
why would any government create blocks that appeared
and disappeared with no particular purpose, and why
would they put them smack in the middle of where the
foundation for the floor had once lain?
it was something of Dr. Light's, sent as an aid to Rock
in this time of--
If Dr. Light had been able to teleport anything this
close to the center, then Rock himself would have already
started out his journey that much closer to Gary’s lair.
Wily, then? But why? Rock's musing was cut short as
his Rolling Cutter began to slip. Solid as its grip
was on the ice, it was only replicated matter, and not
meant to exist forever in this configuration.
down panic, Rock searched for a way to save himself.
The fall from this distance would assuredly not kill
him, now that he had stopped himself. However, there
was no assurance that he could get out of the walled-in
chasm that had once been the basement if he fell.
only . . .
block appeared again, in a rush of air and noise.
no time, Rock leaped to the block and flexed his fingers,
their joints made weak by the undue stress forced upon
them for the last few minutes.
internal chronometer told him that the block had only
existed for roughly seconds last time; there was no
reason to believe it would be longer this time.
a momentary reprieve, Rock cast about quickly for some
means to reach the floor-level foundation that still
stuck out from the furthest wall. Certainly, a jump
from this distance would only result in a glorious fall.
quandary was solved as another block materialized before
him, only a few meters away.
a leap without hesitation, Rock heard a nearly imperceptible whoosh as the block he had been standing on moments
before vanished into the air as if it had never existed.
meters below him, a dizzying height away, the sensor
'bot scooted around on the floor. Rock idly watched
it trace random patterns in the frost-rimed water as
he waited for another block to appear.
enough, a deep bass groan accompanied by a rush of air
that rose octaves heralded the appearance of another
block in the sequence. Rock had already established
the blocks' exact timing pattern and had projected a
possible course for the strange blocks to follow based
upon their already-monitered progress.
his next leap, Rock found that he had miscalculated
by several inches, causing him to slip and teeter dangerously
on the edge of the block. Barely had he regained his
balance before he was forced to make the next jump--this
time on to the ruins of the foundation.
quick thanks to Dr. Light for programming him so well,
Rock took stock of his position once again. He was stranded
on an outcropping of steel beams and mortar, all encased
in solid ice, which did nothing to help his footing.
all four sides, he was surrounded by a lethal drop.
Behind him and on both his left and right stretched
the pit he had just spanned on the mysterious blocks.
Before him was a dark shaft that dropped apparently
to the base of the glacier.
way to go except forward, Rock decided.
equipped to use the Rolling Cutter, Rock summoned another
silver slice of steel into his left hand. He paused.
Even though it would be foolish to the point of possible
fatality to charge both arms at once, he hadn't considered
using both for matter synthesis. The strain would be
far less on his systems . . .
sudden impulse, Rock replicated a second Rolling Cutter--this
one in his right hand.
ill effects, so--
lowered himself off the edge of the gaping pit before
him and gripped the wall with both Rolling Cutters.
his descent wasn't nearly as fast as it would have been
in a free fall, Rock still felt the wind of his passage
as he sped down, leaving twin sets of double trails
on the ice above, looking nothing so much like quartzite
scars on the face of the otherwise perfect ice.
he finally reached the bottom, Rock found himself in
much the same situation as before; a huge room--once
a possible storage area--with a sensor 'bot at its water-covered
floor. At one end of the room was a huge wall, leading
up to an exit from the innards of the glacier. Sunlight,
although pale and sickly here, seemed a slice of bright
unreality after the mottled dimness of the ice caverns.
Rock had suspected there would be, another set of disappearing
blocks spanned the distance from where he stood--on
a dais near the bottom of the room--to the exit. The
android wondered briefly as he jumped from block to
block what their purpose was. Certainly, it seemed that
they were intended for the use to which he was putting
them. But why would anybody devise such a dangerous
system? If it was a tactic to slow down an invading
force, what not just deny them any means of passage
. . .
. . unless you wanted them to arrive?
nearly missed his next jump as the revelation hit him
like a plasma burst; no human could make the jumps Rock
wanted him to arrive! It was Gary’s plan to meet Rock!
it bespoke arrogance or foolishness on Gary’s part,
Rock couldn't be certain, but it had been the exploration
'droid's plan to defeat Rock from the beginning.
much for taking the renegade exploration androbot by
surprise, Rock mused grimly.
he landed once again on solid ground, Rock noted with
irritation that his situation had not improved. Although
he had reached the exit from the ice caverns within
the glacier that housed the main part of the World Water
Purification Plant, he had nowhere else to go. Before
him stretched the massive canyon whose existence he
had surmised already. However, his goal lay across the
chasm, with no hope of getting there.
could see it plainly using telescopic vision; across
the chasm was a short drop which was visible through
the semi-transparent wall of ice. From there, Rock thought
he could make out a long passageway with some sort of
large robot in it.
in frustration, Rock almost didn't hear the buzz of
the motor below him.
a near jump of surprise, Rock looked down off the edge
of the chasm to see a group of transport robots hovering
in midair. Their flat tops were usually meant to carry
ton-plus loads of equipment across short distances,
but Rock was sure that it would hold him for a considerably
to his plasma buster in the weapons subdirectory, Rock
took a leap of faith from the cliff's edge, hoping that
none of the transports would move.
barely caught the edge of the nearest one as it moved
away from him, nearly upending the whole thing and hurling
the pair of them into the canyon below. As the transport
robot's gyroscopic system compensated for the sudden
increase in pressure on its left side, Rock had to swing
his feet out to avoid having his legs cut off the by
the whirling blades of the helicopter-like transport.
transports had scattered across the canyon now, hovering
in seemingly random patterns the length of the canyon
from where Rock now stood atop one transport to the
gap in the ice that he knew he must reach.
Gary was controlling them via remote . . .
thought would have made Rock shiver, had he been human.
Of course, he reflected wryly as he prepared to leap
to the next transport, if he were human, he'd already
be shivering in the Arctic cold.
journey across the canyon was fairly short and uneventful
for Rock, besides the nasty surprise that each of the
transports had been modified to include a plasma cannon
on each of its four cardinal compass points. That shock
had cost Rock several units of operating power.
reached the long passageway he had seen, and sure enough,
it was occupied by a massive, though not unfamiliar
robot. Rock had just recently encounter one of the exact
same kind--albiet painted a different color.
LighTech trash compactor 'bot took a massive leap forward,
and this time, Rock knew he would have no chance of
braced himself and fired a blast of white-hot plasma
. . .
* * * *
stood in half shock.
are you?" he demanded. "And what do you think you're
doing with that key?"
key?" The dark figure at the end of the room whistled
a jaunty tune that was apparently tailored to get on
one's nerves. "I just found it lying around. Want it?"
took another step forward, somehow unable to distinguish
the appearance of the person at the end of the room.
human, if you think--" The Antarctic exploration androbot
cut himself short as his optical scanners realized the
impossible. "Y-you're a robot!"
figure took a step forward, the golden gleam of something
long and fluttery flashing in the artificial gloom that
surrounded it. "I think I'll just take it back to Dr.
Wily," the figure said.
the shield?" Iceman laughed. "You must be one of Dr.
Light's pets--nothing else could be so--"
robot disappeared in a flash of crimson, teleporting through the shield that surrounded the city.
stood in silence for several minutes before loosing
invective to the Antarctic wind.
* * * *
handful of seconds slipped by in silence while the android
and the androbot sized one another up.
was the first to speak. The scorn that had always tempered
his voice now seemed terribly amplified to Rock. It
was the same as the others; a warped reflection of the
androbot he had once known and called friend.
armor," Iceman snapped. "You'll need it."
it," Rock spat. "I saw those piles of frozen bodies
out there." The memory was too fresh to dismiss; Rock's
teeth ground as he thought of the slaughter that must
have ensued when Gary arrived. There had been children
in those piles . . .
gave all of the pathetic creatures their equal chance
to tell me where the key was," Iceman answered. "That's
the price of defying Iceman."
original," Rock said acerbically. "I liked Gary better."
dead," Iceman offered. "Only I remain. Gary never would
have had the courage to wipe the planet clean of the
filthy, verminous, organic life that manifests
itself like a plague."
charged his plasma buster. "Fancy language won't excuse
genocide," he snarled. "You must know I killed Gutsman
and Cutman. You don't hope to fare any better do you?"
The sound of such harsh words, spoken so lightly over
such a sore subject made Rock hate himself.
fools," Iceman said in vituperative disgust. "As are
that was all the warning he gave. Rock found himself
ducking, rolling and jumping for his life as massive
icicles, no less razor-sharp on their tips for the size,
rushed at him with the inhuman speed of a freight train.
he was touched, Rock managed to score three hits on
Iceman, leaving ugly black scorch marks on the light
blue parka that the androbot still wore. However, the
exploration androbot-turned-renegade seemed to take
no mind of the damage dealt him as he skated back and
forth on the ice with sharpened blades affixed to his
Rock was hit, however, he knew that he could not withstand
many more hits like this. The razor-sharp ice tore through
bullet-proof armor and laid bare circuits and hydraulics
on Rock's arm that bled dark fluid mixed with hissing
quick, panic-stricken glance at his energy meter told
Rock that he had lost nearly a third of his operating
power to his repair-systems with just that single strike.
Two more shots from Iceman would overload Rock's systems
and cause him to explode.
cannot defeat Iceman," Iceman chuckled as he hurled
wave after of wave of slashing ice blades. "You are
weak. Pathetic. I spit on you!"
through all his dodging and rolling had managed to score
only another three hits on Iceman, who showed no sign
of fatigue or even damage beyond the dark scars on his
parka. The intense cold and the quickly-freezing moisture
in the air was beginning to inhibit Rock's movement,
and the android knew that a false step could be fatal.
damn ice that lined the floor wasn't helping any either.
roll, jump. Duck, roll, jump. Rock was falling into
the pattern of it now, and both opponents knew that
whoever missed their part in the intricate pattern first
would suffer disastrous consequences.
took a slashing icicle square in the chest and screamed
aloud for the agony; it hadn't killed him, but the delay
the circulatory-fluid-stained icicle back at its creator,
Rock did something no logic could explain; he charged
aback for a half second, Iceman had no chance to save
himself as Rock tucked, rolled and leaped, landing atop
the exploration androbot.
obvious on his disgustingly human face, Rock suddenly
changed colors. Iceman had no time to process this before
he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a flash of silver.
He dimly had a few microseconds to recognize Cutman's
Rolling Cutter and realize his own peril.
Bastard, Iceman thought in his last seconds, using our own
weapons against us!
with one viscous swipe, Rockman beheaded his adversary.
head described a lazy arc as it flew across the room
and landed with a metallic clank on the floor.
blasted several blasts into the main body of his decapitated
adversary as a safeguard against any mishap, then stood
and took several deep breaths.
the horror of his brutality overwhelmed him, Rock knelt
and removed the matter-synthesis chip from Iceman's
a signal to Dr. Light to send in a crew to clean up
and get the Plant back into working order again, Rock
felt dizzy. His sensors performed a quick sweep to affirm
what he had already suspected; with Iceman's death,
the shield had dropped. Apparently, its generator had
been linked to Iceman via remote.
felt sorrow and self-loathing threaten to debilitate
him, and quickly activated his teleport mechanism.
the corner, a metallic roach watched with robotic fascination
as the last swirls of powdered ice upset by Rock's departure
settled to the ground and soaked up the black-green
circulatory fluids that bled from the stump of the headless
body that had once been Gary.
to Gound Zero--Chapter 7