|Mega Man Recut: Season 1
Author: BlackRussian PM
Fighting Dr. Wily while watching your tomboy sister is tough for anyone, even a robot. Add an evil brother who'll kill you unless you switch sides, things get ugly. Retcon of the Ruby-Spears Mega Man cartoon. Episode 12: "The Mega Man in the Moon"Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Crime - Rock & Proto Man - Chapters: 38 - Words: 300,590 - Reviews: 258 - Favs: 33 - Follows: 27 - Updated: 05-14-13 - Published: 05-18-11 - id: 7003050
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
If this was a nightmare, Proto Man would have show up to kill Mega Man by now, or there would be polk-a-dot energy cans tap-dancing on city corners, or he'd look down and realize that he wasn't wearing anything.
I'm...in the future?
Mega Man took a step backward, then almost tripped as the sidewalk beneath suddenly began moving, carrying him forward along the empty street. The city was ominously silent. No wails of sirens. No honking gridlocked cars or sounds of jackhammers on concrete. No wind even, just the humming and whirling of millions of machines, almost as though the ground beneath the moving sidewalk was a machine that stretched all the way to the planet's core. Everything was gray, black, or purple, the lights a dirty yellow.
It was the year 2025, and Dr. Wily had taken over. The millions of Dr. Wily photos and likenesses that smothered the city like a plague were testimony to this. One question burned in Mega Man's mind. How could this have happened?
No one was about to give him answers. The few humans Mega Man passed along the lonely streets were either unfriendly like the teenager or fled like the crowd. Those who mistook him for human cast him dark looks, and those who recognized him as a robot—well, no one seemed to like robots. What do I do? Mega Man thought. There was only one thing he wanted to do: escape this bizarro, Wily-ruled future and return to 1995. But how do I go back? He didn't even understand how he got here. The explosion created by the chronitons had some how caused him to jump thirty years forward in time. If they had the power to do this, then they were very dangerous…but the chronitons were gone now.
The moving sidewalk was taking him through a residential district. A group of boys played in the street with what looked like hover-boards. "Robo-security! Let's beat it!" A boy squealed, his eyes popping in terror as he spotted Mega Man. The boys scampered away into the adjoining buildings like frightened rabbits.
They think I'm one of Wily's robots, Mega Man thought incredulously. Didn't anyone remember who he was?
Through the gaps in buildings, Mega Man caught snatches of other gray robbed people riding moving sidewalks in adjacent streets, each looking ahead with the same blank face, purple bands around their wrists. There was something off about them, something familiar about this expression… Mega Man shivered and decided not to approach these people.
He couldn't escape the foreboding that he was in great danger. In a Wily-ruled world, he'd be at the top of the 'most wanted' list. The only thing saving his skin now was that no one knew he was here. But it wouldn't be long. Small robots with propellers buzzing through the sky which Mega Man instinctively avoided, and every now and then Mega Man's sharp hearing picked up a squeak that sounded horribly like a batonton. Usually in situations where the whole world had turned against him, Mega Man would hide out an empty dumpster until he could figure out his next move. But none of the narrow alleys contained dumpsters. The streets of the empire were clean, but there was a certain grimness to it. Perhaps it was all the skeletal decor.
A hushed voice called out from behind him. "Pst, Mega Man!"
Mega Man turned to face the voice, half surprised to hear someone call him by name. A man with broad shoulders was leaning out of a alley behind him. It was another robed figure, but this man's face was shrouded by a hood. He was looking surreptitiously up and down the street, as though anxious of being watched, but he turned back to Mega Man and beckoned fervently. "Come with me, quickly!"
"Who are you?" Mega Man whispered back. He stepped off the moving sidewalk and cautiously stepped closer.
"No time, we gotta get outta here before they see you!"
That got Mega Man's full attention. Finally, someone with sense!
Mega Man followed the hooded figure into the alley. The man lead him deeper into the subdivision, between black, windowless buildings with purple Wily banners. He paused at intersections, on the look out for unwelcome followers, occasionally doubling back to reroute them around robot patrols hovering above. Mega Man saw little more of his guide, other than his eyes, which were constantly sweeping darkened windows and into alley ways.
Finally, the man stopped next to the side door of one of the buildings, which looked no different than the others, and threw back his hood. He looked in his forties, but his features were freckly and he wore a red baseball cap. One of his ears was pierced with a golden hoop. "It's good to see you again, man."
"Bobby!" Mega Man uttered with a jolt of recognition. Bobby smiled. It was weird to see the teenager Mega Man did community service with in his middle ages. "But, what are you doing in Sacramento?"
"I'll explain later. You gotta come see the rest."
"The rest?" Mega Man questioned.
Bobby grinned toothily at him. "We've been waiting for something like this to happen. Can't believe I found you, of all the luck!" He leaned next to the door and began keying a combination into the lock.
Mega Man heard a faint conversation on the other side of the door. "Uncle Jett, did you bring it?" squeaked a shrill voice.
"Of course, anything for my sugar," answered a second voice, deeper and more mature.
"Zowie! Too cool! The Adventures of Mega Man and his Wonder Dog Rush, issue six!" exclaimed the first voice. Mega Man's brows furrowed. No one had ever written a comic about him. What kind of place was this?
"I don't see why you're so excited over that imaginary tin hero," the second voice said exasperatedly. "Everyone knows there's no such thing as a 'good' robot. They're all programmed by Wily to hate humans."
"He's not imaginary! There really is a Mega Man, and he'll come save us, one of these days," the first replied stubbornly.
Bobby had finished keying in the sequence. With a click, the door swung open, revealing what looked like a hostel. A group of humans crowded the rows of metal bunks, conversing in rough voices and dressed in familiar styles of clothing such as jeans and leather jackets. Not one wore Dr. Wily's insignia. They looked in peak physical condition with toned muscles, unlike the doughy citizens in robes. A woman at the back of the room ladled brown broth from a large cooking pot into cups, which were being passed around.
Bobby shut the door behind them and pealed off his robe, revealing that he wore cargo pants and a denim jacket underneath. "Hey fellas, you'll never guess who I ran into on the streets!" he crowed triumphantly.
Heads turned towards Mega Man, and the room went silent, the humans stiffening still as statues. A man with dark red hair and mustache was the first to react. He stood up from a bunk, his eyes blazing. "Bob, what did you bring a robot here for…?" he demanded. Mega Man recognized his deep voice as the one he had heard outside.
"Chill Jett, he's cool—!" Bobby began.
"It's Mega Man!" screeched the small voice, and a second later a lanky nine-year-old girl with pigtails the same color as Jett's hair came pelting towards Mega Man. "He's here, he's here! He's really here!"
"Annie, get away from him!" Jett shouted, an arm shooting forward to grab his niece's wrist.
Annie squirmed and fought back. "It is him, Uncle Jett! He's wearing his blue titanium armor, just like in the comics!"
"Annie, there's no such thing, that's a Wily-bot!" Jett shot Bobby a furious, betrayed look. Some of the others were rising to their feet, drawing what looked like laser pistol from their belts. A woman with braided hair was holding two small children tightly to her chest. "I've told you, good robots aren't real! They're all against humans!"
"Hold on, I'm not one of Wily's robots, and I'm not against humans," Mega Man said quickly. The humans looked like they were about to open fire. He raised his hands slowly pulled off his helmet. "I'm Mega Man, just as Annie said."
Everyone stared at him, including Bobby who had never seen Mega Man without his helmet. "You look...human," Jett said, slightly stunned. His grip on Annie's arm slackened.
"Told you!" Annie shouted, wriggling free.
Mega Man nodded. "That's how my creator designed me. I'm an advanced android; I look, act, and feel like a human."
The humans began murmuring amongst themselves. "I knew it was you all along, Mega!" Bobby said stoutly. "You didn't have to prove anything to me. I still remember when you turned my life around, man. Wily told everyone you'd been destroyed, but I knew better!" He turned towards Jett with narrowed eyes. "Don't you see? He's a super fighting robot, use to be the world's first defense against Wily, and now he's back and he's on our side, right Mega?"
"Any enemy of Wily is a friend of mine," Mega Man answered easily. "But who are all of you?"
"We're the Underground Alliance, a group resisting Wily's control," Jett said slowly. He looked slightly defensive. "Sorry I accused you of being one of Wily's robots, but I never met you like Bob has, I was only a kid when you were dest—I mean, disappeared."
"It's okay, I understand!" Mega Man said earnestly, replacing his helmet. After what he had seen of the city, he couldn't take Jett's initial distrust personally. The life of the Underground Alliance looked grim, the stress of concealing an illegal organization taking its toll. Some of the other humans still watched Mega Man as though expecting him to do something tricky, but laser pistols had returned to their holsters.
"Why would you help us humans?" Jett asked uncertainly. He no longer sounded skeptical, but simply amazed. "You're a robot, and robots rule the world."
"Robot's don't rule the world, they're under Wily's control too. I want a world where we can all live peacefully," said Mega Man. "But right now, I'm lost. I'm looking for my creator, Dr. Light."
"Dr. Light the scientist?" Annie piped in.
"You've heard of him? Is he here?" Mega Man asked eagerly.
"It's not easy for me to say this, but we haven't heard from Dr. Light in twenty years," Bobby said gravely, taking a seat on a crate next to the door.
A cold weight sank in Mega Man's chest. "Roll?"
Bobby shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't know."
"Hey everyone, Umlauf's back!" announced a man with a scruffy beard who had been spying through a gap in a window's blinds.
A moment later, the door opened. A tall man in a charcoal trench coat and wide brimmed fedora stepped inside. He carried a large, lethal looking raygun, which he leaned next to the door, two laser pistols holstered to a black leather belt.
"Dr. Umlauf!" Mega Man cried happily, recognizing the man's face.
"Dr. Umlauf hasn't been alive for years," the gunslinger said in a slow, cold voice. "Died in a car accident on his way to a network producer's award ceremony."
Mega Man felt the words like a blow. He looked again at the man with dark brown hair and a long, beaky nose who looked strikingly like Dr. Umlauf, but Mega Man noticed that this man was much too young, and had only a stubbly beard. "Percival," he guessed.
The man grunted, eyeing him warily. "Mega Man?"
"Yeah, its him. He's back," Bobby answered promptly, grinning at Mega Man.
Percival didn't move, his hand creeping towards one of his laser pistols. "There have been copies, duplicates built to lure Wily's old enemies out of hiding..."
"I wasn't built by Dr. Wily," Mega Man said, patiently but urgently. "I don't know if you remember, but we met once when you were very young. You, uh, shot me in the eye with a toy dart gun." Mega Man didn't add that the last time he had seen Dr. Umlauf's youngest son, he had been wearing a department store Darkwing Duck costume.
Percival scrutinized him for a moment. Then he burst into a grin. "Yeah, I remember doing that." He strutted over to the woman with the cooking pot while keeping a hawklike gaze on Mega Man, though he no longer seemed distrustful.
"Where are Jack and Roger?" Mega Man asked.
Percival's grin vanished instantly. "Connards," he cursed. "Don't speak of those traitors." His mood became surly, and he glowered into the steaming cup of broth that had just handed him.
"Traitors?" Mega Man asked in surprise.
"People who willingly work for Wily, they're traitors to us," a stocky man with curly blond hair answered from Percival's right. "Too cowardly to do anything but kiss up to Wily, they act as though this is the way the world is suppose to work!"
"It's like some of them don't even remember what it use to be like before he took over," Bobby said sadly.
"You guys aren't like that though," Mega Man said hopefully. "There must be others too."
"Yeah, but we're scattered," answered Jett. "Many are too scared to show their true colors, especially with all the human spies. A traitor will shamelessly report a disobedient citizens if it'll make them look better." Jett spat angrily onto the cracked floor. The woman from the cooking pot clucked disapprovingly in his direction.
"What about Janet and Ramón?" Mega Man asked Bobby.
"I don't know. That's the thing about Wily's empire, we don't know who's alive, who's captured, and who's…" Bobby trailed off. "You can't keep contact with anyone. No phones, mail, or anything. We have to do everything by word of mouth."
"How about the California State Police?" Mega Man asked. Surely Yuuta wouldn't want any part of Dr. Wily's empire, though none of the faces in the room looked like him.
Percival gave a harsh laugh. "The who? Nothing like that exists anymore. The police are all robots programmed by Wily, we're on our own."
"No matter," said Jett, his hands balling into fists. "We do the best that we can, quietly resisting Wily's control until we can orchestrate something big."
"We can't fight Wily's robots alone. We need a robot on our side." Bobby wiped a sleeve across his nose. "With Dr. Umlauf gone and Dr. Light missing, we began looking for other robot scientists who could help us. It's been impossible though, most are in hiding. Wily has a witch hunt out for all of them; admitting to be a scientist is the most jeopardizing thing you can do to yourself. The closest we've come to finding a roboticist is Professor Henson. Though it's far from his specialty, Professor Henson agreed to create schematics for a fighting robot...but that was before he got decognitized."
Many of the humans shuddered at Bobby's last word. "Decognitized?" Mega Man repeated. "What does that mean?
"That's what Wily does to you when he decides you're too much trouble, his ultimate punishment," said Bobby. "Remember that mind control stunt he pulled with Cold Steel?"
"Like it was last month," Mega Man said wryly.
"It's like that. He keeps your mind numbed permanently, turning you into a warm-blooded zombie who'll obey his every command. Professor Henson, like may of the other scientists Wily had rounded up, work for him as mind controlled slaves."
Mega Man remembered the humans with purple wrist bands, and suddenly realized what they were. "What brought you to California?" he prompted, wanting to get off the subject of deconitization. This question was especially directed at Percival, who had grown up in Switzerland.
"Citadel Labs," said Percival, dropping his spoon into the empty soup cup. "Many great scientists worked here once. The founder of Citadel was also the designer of Duo. That use to be classified information, but I knew about him since my father was the prime candidate to take his position at R.I.P after he resigned. We thought if we found this secretive roboticist he could build another super robot to fight Wily." He scratched his stubbly chin. "We were going to offer him our assistance, persuade him to join the Alliance. If he was too scared to fight back against Wily alone, we'd protect him from discovery. If he needed supplies and building material, we'd steal for him, whatever he wanted."
Mega Man sensed before it had been said that this mission had also fallen through. "Did Wily decognitize him too?"
"Worse." Percival said gravely. "We're not sure what happened back in those days, except that he died sometime during the fourth robot war, way before Wily even got to him."
Another dead roboticist. Mega Man didn't like the odds for Dr. Light, but he tried not to think about it.
"But we don't have to worry now that Mega Man is here!" Bobby said. Murmurs of agreement spread around him like waves.
Mega Man was confused by what Bobby meant, then it hit him. The Underground Alliance wanted him to lead an uprising. He, who had only just gotten his bearings in this bleak future.
"What's your plan to fight Wily, man?" Bobby asked.
Mega Man wasn't sure how to answer this. The whole room was looking at him expectantly. "Uh…"
"You can blast Wily's Bad-bots and make the world safe for humans again!" Annie shouted, jumping up and down in excitement next to her uncle.
"No, Annie. I wish I could," Mega Man said gently. It was hard to turn down people who were so desperate for help, especially the small girl who's shining eyes were fixed steadily on him. Mega Man looked at everyone in the room. "The truth is, I'm not the great robo-hero you've all been hoping for, I'm just a lab-bot dressed in blue titanium who's gotten lucky. I don't know how to fight back against Wily's empire, I never even witnessed its creation. The day you talk about me disappearing, that was only an hour ago for me. It's like I time traveled thirty years."
The room fell silent for the second time since Mega Man's arrival. "Time travel?" Jett spoke, his eyebrows soaring upward.
"Yes. There was an accident in one of Citadel's labs. One moment I was fighting off Wily's robots, the next I was on my back in the middle of street with a bunch of gray robed loons with fake accents."
"Traitors…" someone muttered darkly.
Bobby looked as though he didn't understand, and he wasn't the only one acting doubtful. "You've been gone all these years?" asked Jett.
Mega Man nodded. "I came from the past. There's a scientist from Citadel who could help me too, Dr. Goss or Dr. Stinson. Do you know if they are still alive?"
The humans exchanged glances. "I haven't even heard of them," Jett said, scratching his head.
"I think they might know the answers to why I am here," Mega Man said. "I'm positive an explosion from one of their top secret research specimen is responsible for my absence during the last thirty years. Is there anything left of Citadel at all?"
"We don't know what became of anything that existed back then," answered Jett. "Wily purged all the records of what happened before he took control."
Mega Man took in this news grimly, realizing the Underground Alliance knew little more about this foreign world than he did. He took a seat on the crate next to Bobby. Annie climbed into his lap.
"Annie, don't crowd him," Jett protested.
"It's fine, I don't mind," Mega Man said.
Annie was clutching a tattered copy of The Adventures of Mega Man in her hands, which she thrust towards Mega Man with a look of reverence. Mega Man looked glumly down at it. All that's left of my life is summed into a comic book, he thought as he flickered through the pages. The comic itself was a satire, Dr. Wily starring as the butt of every joke. At the end, the illustrator had signed his name: Jude Heys. Mega Man stared at the name. He had just met a man named Jude, and wondered if this could possibly be the same person. But that couldn't be the artist's real name, he reasoned, it would be awfully incriminating for him if the book ever fell into the wrong hands.
"Where's Rush?" Annie asked. "I want to see him!"
"I wish I could show him to you, he loves attention, but he didn't come with me." Mega Man stopped flipping pages at an image of Dr. Wily holding what looked like an atari joystick and commanding a battalion of blenders to attack New York City.
"Wily's a bozo," Annie giggled.
"Yes he is." Mega Man smiled at Annie. He wondered what happened to her parents. She reminded him of Roll and felt a pang of anxiety thinking. Where was his own family in all of this?
Mega Man picked Annie off his lap and set her on the floor, then stood up. "I know what I want to do. I'm going to find Dr. Light and bring him back!—If he's still alive."
The Underground Alliance, who had been watching him closely, stared at him with consideration. "But, Mega—it's too dangerous!" Bobby warned. "If Dr. Light is still alive, then Wily's holding him prisoner and he'll be heavily guarded."
"I have to find him," Mega Man answered simply. "I'm not prepared to fight against Wily now, but with Dr. Light's help maybe I will be."
"Dr. Light would be a great ally," spoke up Percival. "He used to be one of the world's biggest envoys for peace and nonviolence, as well as a brilliant robotist."
Most of the room was murmuring in approval and nodding at Percival's words. Mega Man hadn't expected for them to agree so quickly, but it seemed the Underground Alliance was itching to jump on any chance to undermine Dr. Wily, no matter its danger.
"Alright. We can take you to our secret hangar," Jett offered slowly. "You won't get far searching on foot, especially being who you are."
"I know where it is! I can lead him there!" Annie offered instantly.
"We'll all go," Jett said firmly. "We need to get moving anyway, it's not safe for us all to be gathered here, it looks too suspicious."
The Underground Alliance departed in groups of seven, leaving only the woman with the cooking pot and a few families. Mega Man, Percival, Bobby, Jett, Annie, and two men named Finn and Jonas left together. They cloaked Mega Man in a spare gray robe, then quietly crept along the darkened streets.
"If we get stopped by a patrol, tell them we're reporting to the hospital for a routine physical," instructed Bobby. "I doubt they'll buy it so be ready to fight."
They had just reached the end of the residential block when suddenly a distant bang rang through the skies, like a cannon firing. Everyone jumped.
"Merde!" Percival swore. "Mega Man, get down!"
As a pack, they all swarmed for cover in an alley. They craned their heads towards the sky where something like a black dart streaked miles above, barely distinguishable against the nighttime clouds.
"That's Proto Man's jet," Percival whispered, his bony face hardening.
"How do you know its him?" Mega Man asked. Though his robotic vision could tell that the object in question was definitely one of Dr. Wily's aircraft, he did not know how the humans knew who piloted it.
"He's not in formation like the rest," Jett answered. "We've all seen him while out flying, I'd bet my freedom it's him."
They all lay still, staring at the jet apprehensively. Mega Man held his breath as it passed directly above them even though he knew it was impossible for Proto Man to hear them from this distance. The moment passed, and the jet disappeared across the opposite horizon. So Proto Man was here, alive, and probably at the top of his game. Why wouldn't he be? "Has he ever attacked you?" Mega Man whispered.
"He's tailed us a few times, but never shot anyone out of the sky. Mostly likes to flat hat," Jet said distastefully. "Show off," he clarified at Mega Man's quizzical look.
"Before Wily had total control, Proto Man was the most powerful and cunning of his robots. They say he's unbeatable," said Finn.
"No one sees him in person anymore, but he's always flying around in one of Wily's special-class jets, lookin' for something or someone," murmured Jett.
"Wily's spy," said Bobby.
"His best gun," said Percival.
"And his second-in-command," Mega Man finished. Some things never changed.
"He's a really bad robot, isn't he?" Annie whispered to Mega Man. He nodded.
"I hope he didn't see us," Percival said quietly. "I don't like this. C'mon, let's keep moving."
But they had scarcely entered the next city block when they ran smack dab into patrol of cop-bots. "Fils de salope!" Percival mouthed angrily.
"Freeze, humans!" The captain ordered. The cop-bots were each eight feet tall, had small, red visored heads, thick armor, and white claw-like hands. Golden stars glittered at their chest plates, each embossed with Dr. Wily's insignia.
"Not good," Jett whispered. "Annie, get behind me."
"Keep your cool, guys," Bobby hissed. "Evening officers, what seems to be the trouble?" he asked in a louder, jovial voice, addressing the captain of the patrol.
"Humans are not allowed to roam the streets at this time, and must remain in your living quarters or work assignments until curfew has ended," the captain answered in a flat monotone. "You are in violation of section 3-2-2-b: civil disobedience, and will be detained for questioning. Your compliance is mandatory, place your hands above your head."
"And if we don't?" Bobby asked defiantly. Out of the corner of his eye, Mega Man saw Percival draw a laser pistol from underneath his coat.
"Then you are in violation of section 3-2-3-a-f: interfering with a robo-officer of the law. Punishment: three years detention at Robo-Island Prison."
Mega Man realized he missed Fictus. He tore off the gray robe, drawing his plasma cannon, and fired at the nearest cop-bot. But his plasma fire left only a blackened scorch on its cobalt armor. The cop-bot paused in confusion. The heads of the other's swiveled around to look at Mega Man. "Presence of a renegade robot detected. All cop-bots are treat target as hostile and assume offensive formation," said the captain.
"Why isn't my plasma power working?" Mega Man shouted, ducking as nine streams of laser fire streaked above him.
"Their armor is reinforced with super steel," answered Percival. "Aim for their joints." He demonstrated by shooting out the knee cap of an advancing cop-bot, which fell down sideways with a loud clang.
"You are in violation of section 3-4-3-d-e: attacking a robo-officer of the law. Punishment: Decognition!" the captain droned on, his words becoming clipped as he hurried to rattle them out. A silvery net sprayed from his hand, which wrapped tightly around Percival like a cocoon, sending him to the ground.
Seeing their ally fall, Bobby, Jett, Finn, and Jonas ran forward with a battle cry, pistols drawn.
"You are all guilty of the treasonous act of disrupting the peace that Wily has created, and will be arrested by force," the captain announced, sending a row of cop-bots upon them.
Mega Man blasted the shoulder joint of another cop-bot that was closing in, severing blaster arm. Meanwhile, the other cop-bots were busy shooting nets back at them. Jett fell to the floor, also entrapped in a police net. Mega Man glanced in concern towards Annie, but she was hoping up and down, shouting encouragements at him. When he looked back, Finn and Jonas had been netted too. That just left Bobby and Mega Man, and more cop-bots were joining in from down the street.
"You have all shown the deepest disrespect towards Lord Wily, after he has welcomed you into his empire of robots open handed." The captain was rebuking them. "Your privileges of cognition will henceforth be suspended, and you will serve Lord Wily as faithful—" he suddenly stopped talking, his attention diverted.
"Look!" Jonas shouted, a finger poking through the net to point at the sky.
The cop-bots had suddenly straightened stiff as board, feet together, their arms raised in salute, head tilted skyward. A jet fighter sleek and black as night was descending smoothly between the buildings. Delicate undercarriage unfolded underneath it and it landed in the intersection as lightly as a fallen leaf with only the sudden whoosh of air betraying its true size and mass. The convex cockpit window popped upwards, and out leapt Proto Man to the concrete in front of them.
Dread paralyzed every circuit of Mega Man's body as he looked at Proto Man. His red armor was scratched and battle worn. His scarf was a bit faded, but still intact, and draped loosely around his shoulders. And he was probably the first being outside the Underground Alliance without Dr. Wily's insignia on his chest. In short, Proto Man didn't look much different from how Mega Man had seen him in the room with the chronitons. He completely ignored the police squadron that stood at a ridged attention before him, his face turned to Mega Man. Proto Man frowned, his expression unreadable behind the visor, but Mega Man knew what he was thinking—Proto Man was trying to discern if Mega Man was the real thing. A moment passed, then he smiled and strode closer.
The cop-bots shrunk away from Proto Man as he approached. A few were quivering.
"Sir, enemy has been sighted. We were in the process of apprehending a renegade robot and an unruly crowd to be brought forth to the mercy of Lord Wily's judgement," the captain informed Proto Man. His monotone had risen a few pitches.
"You guys can beat it, I got this," Proto Man said airily.
"Sir, we have the situation under control. With all due respect, in order to minimize collateral damage to Lord Wily's empire your assistance is unnecessary—"
But the captain was unable to finish as his head exploded in a flash of crackling blue light. Proto Man lowered his blaster. The remaining cop-bots hastily retreated, apparently not wanting to suffer the same fate as their captain. "Well if it isn't my long lost brother," Proto Man said in a low voice.
"Don't worry Mega, I'm right behind you!" growled Bobby.
Jett, with some assistance from Annie and a pocket knife, had wriggled free of his net. "So am I!" he called.
"Stand down, guys. I can't let any humans get hurt on my behalf," Mega Man said, not taking his eyes off Proto Man.
"No way man," said Bobby stubbornly.
"You gotta leave me," Mega Man said, his voice growing louder and more forceful. "I'll take care of this by myself."
"But Mega, he's gunna kill you!" Bobby hissed back in aggravation.
"Don't do this, you're the first bit of hope we had in years," Jett pleaded.
Proto Man seemed to be watching Mega Man with interest, his smile spreading more as he watched this exchange. He gave a nod, as though confirming something to himself.
"I'll be alight!" Mega Man lied. "Untie the others and save yourselves!"
"You're surrendering?" Proto Man asked skeptically.
"Let them go," Mega Man answered with a flare of courage. "Then it'll just be you and me."
"Mega, stop it!" Percival barked from the ground. "Just leave us! The worst they'll do is decognitize us, it's more important that you go on to fight Wily!"
Mega Man ignored Percival, his eyes locked on Proto Man's visor.
Proto Man shrugged. "Fine by me."
Without warning, Proto Man punched Mega Man in the stomach, doubling him over. He then grabbed Mega Man by the blaster arm, twisted it behind his back, and shoved him to the ground. Mega Man winced in pain, shutting his eyes as he prepared himself for the finishing blow—
But it never came. Instead, he felt something snap around his wrists, and Proto Man was dragging him back to his feet.
"Too easy...I thought after all this time you'd learn new tricks," Proto Man whispered ruefully.
Mega Man didn't like the feeling of the super steel handcuffs. He tugged at them but they wouldn't budge, meanwhile Proto Man had just as strong of a grip on his elbow. There was a muted gasp of despair from the netted humans, Jett and Bobby had both taken a step forward.
"Don't help me!" Mega Man said desperately. "Just get out of here before more of Wily's cop-bots show up!"
"Mega Man…" Bobby groaned. He looked like he was about to be sick.
Annie was beginning to cry. "You can't be the real Mega Man! He always blasts Bad-bots when they put him into danger! Just do what you did in issue 3, The Adventures of Mega Man!" she shouted as Uncle Jett picked her up and swung her over his shoulder. "You lured him into a trap, then blasted him to bits!"
"Don't think you'll get away with this!" Bobby yelled, his eyes flashing furiously toward Proto Man. "The world doesn't belong to robots. The Underground Alliance will rise and take back this world from your creator!"
"Whatever, I'm not on duty," Proto Man replied disinterestedly. He was already pulling Mega Man back towards his jet.
The interior of the cockpit was filthy, littered with empty energy cans, a miss-assortment of screws and rivets, batteries, orange cartons of engine oil, bottles of degreasers and sealants, gaskets, and frayed bits of wire. "You'll have to excuse the mess, I don't usually take prisoners," Proto Man said as he pitched a toolbox into the back of the jet, which landed with a clink of metal.
"I'm honored you made an exception on my behalf," Mega Man said coldly as Proto Man pushed him into the passenger seat. After the door had closed behind him, an automatic seven-point seat belt clipped itself around Mega Man, binding him securely to the leather chair. He looked back out the cockpit window. He could see the black nose of the jet ahead of him, and two long, razor wings stretched into the street on each side. Mega Man did his best to look brave, but he felt apprehensive—not of Proto Man, but of wherever Proto Man was taking him. Proto Man had thirty years to grow colder and nastier. Maybe he planned to drop Mega Man into an endless pit or an active volcano, to sink helplessly into the fiery depth until his titanium skin melted away, or directly into the clutches of Dr. Wily...
Proto Man had hopped into the pilot's side, his own seatbelt automatically clipping around him. The flight panel was alight with dials, gauges, and HUDs, a control stick at his knees. Proto Man took a moment to lift the wing flaps, then started the engines, the ground falling away as the jet rose straight upwards between the buildings before soaring into the sky.
"So, uh...long time no see, Mega," Proto Man said in a low voice as the city disappeared behind them.
Mega Man didn't answer.
"Where'd you take your thirty-year vacation? Mars? Pluto? Planet Phaelon?" Proto Man prodded.
Mega Man ignored the question. He wouldn't give into any taunting or goading, no matter how long Proto Man dragged this out.
In the silence, Proto Man drummed his fingers against the control stick, whistling softly to himself, his mood seemingly at ease. "That sound never gets old," he commented after a few moments. "The hum of the engines, the growl of the turbines, the wind under the wings. Of course, she's a bit old, not as good as the other fighters, but I still like to take her out and chase the sunset."
It took Mega Man a minute to realize Proto Man was talking about the jet.
"Do you like flying?" Proto Man asked him seriously, his head turning from the gray horizon to look in Mega Man's direction.
Mega Man didn't quite fathom Proto Man's question. It seemed non sequitur given their current situation. "Where are you taking me?" he inquired, losing his patience.
Proto Man shrugged. "Just cruisin'."
"Doesn't the second-in-command to the world's dictator have better things to do?"
"If you're gunna complain, I can eject you."
Mega Man opened his mouth, then closed it, not sure how to retort. Instead, he pulled at his seatbelt, but it held him tight, and with his arms bound behind his back he had no way to release it. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he could break lose anyway, he couldn't fire in the cockpit, but he felt useless for not attempting escape. Proto Man could kill him easily. But why hadn't he yet? Was this a sick idea of Proto Man's to torture him through suspense? To ensure Mega Man's last moments were pain filled? Then it hit him.
"What are you stalling for, Proto Man? Trying one last time to get me to switch sides before you do me in?" Mega Man asked acidly.
"Switch sides?" Proto Man smirked. "There's only one side now. But...I'd like to catch up. Know where you've been and all."
Mega Man scowled. Of course. Proto Man wanted information, perhaps thinking Mega Man had been hiding with the Underground Alliance. But Mega Man would never betray the Underground Alliance to Proto Man. Mega Man also didn't know how he ended up in the future and saw no advantage in telling Proto Man this, especially if the explanation was the only thing Proto Man was waiting for before he killed him, so he made no reply.
They flew past a giant statue of Dr. Wily, its marble face grinning down at them with arms raised, like a grotesque version of the Statue of Liberty. Proto Man gave the statue a quick nod. "He got that for winning the 'Best Overlord of the Year' award again, 'course he's the only candidate and judge…" His mouth twitched into an ironic smile.
"Wily doesn't deserve a statue!" Mega Man couldn't help but burst out. "He's out of his mind! A tyrant! An evil maniac!"
"Why are you so upset about it now? You didn't do anything to stop it," Proto Man pointed out mildly.
"I couldn't! I wasn't even here, I was—" Mega Man cut himself off. Proto Man's face had tilted toward him attentively. Instead, he turned his gaze to the window, glaring over the jet's nose at the dark and dismal landscape below.
His silence didn't seem to irritate Proto Man, who was letting the jet bank lazily to the left. "I gotta be honest, I'm not sure you're real. I always knew you'd come back someday, but I expected it to be different, thought I might not even recognize you at first. But you haven't changed one bit."
"Sorry I didn't match your expectations."
"No, I'm glad you haven't changed," Proto Man said quickly. "You're about the only thing that hasn't."
Mega Man didn't know what to make of that statement. Proto Man's lack of aggression was puzzling, and he couldn't help but feel distrustful. But if Proto Man really was putting off killing him, then there was something he could tell him. Mega Man looked out the window, to the miles of gray landscape and black buildings. "What happened to the world? How'd it get like this?"
"How did Wily take over? What happened after I...after I..." Mega Man faltered.
"After you disappeared? Don't you know?" Proto Man asked, sounding slightly surprised.
Mega Man didn't reply.
Proto Man was looking him over quizzically, but after a moment he gave a slight shrug. "That was a long time ago. A lot of things happened. Wily's trick with the protocol-disruptor really shook things up in California. It took awhile for the authorities to find the amplifier in the baseball stadium, and by that time the damage was done, most of the robo-police were on our side."
"That's how Wily took over?" Mega Man asked, incredulously.
Proto Man shook his head. "We had an army, but it wasn't particularly powerful and the humans weren't ready to surrender yet. There was a lot of back and forth for control, and most of the robo-drones we had reprogrammed were destroyed during the stalemate. But it got things rolling."
Proto Man banked to the right, reversing the jet's tilt. "Wily cycled through a lot of different schemes over the next few years, but the Y2K bug helped him out the most, wiping out some of the human's computers and the cheaper robo-drones. Then he revolutionized teleportation. Wily had the right idea with those transport chambers; we could teleport Robot Masters directly into specific targets, like triconium mines and government archives. Once secured, the Robot Masters holed up there with robo-drones, sending resources back to Skull Fortress. There was still a lot of resistance, but you know Wily...he never gives up, kept building up his army and constructing crazier inventions. And eventually, things began to crumble. Schemes turned into invasions, invasions turned into sieges, sieges turned into surrender, and surrender turned into martial law...sure, the humans said they'd never take orders from a lunatic like Wily, but as soon as he took governmental leaders prisoner, blew up their capitals, and took complete control over all robots, the humans gave up."
"And you were at Wily's side during all of it, carrying out his orders," Mega Man broke in, his hands balling into fists behind him.
"Yup," Proto Man acknowledged without remorse. "But I don't want to make it sound like it was easy, 'cause it wasn't." His voice lowered. "There were a lot of close calls, some very powerful machines in the world...things got messy. War broke out between Robot Masters. It's been a chaotic start to the new millennium, but things are peaceful now. Wily finally built the empire of his dreams." Proto Man made a lazy gesture with his hand toward the window. "There. You can't even see the end of it, it goes on for miles and miles. No slums, but no manors or mansions. No poverty or starvation, but you gotta wear a Wily badge and follow your mandatory schedule or he'll decognitize you. Worst of all, sometimes Guts Man gets ahold of the communications grid and sings Wily's anthem of allegiance over the loud speakers in the morning."
"I suppose this is all very nice for you, you're free to do everything you want," Mega Man said angrily.
Proto Man gave a weak, noncommittal chuckle.
"At least you still had the heart to let the humans go," Mega Man added dully.
"Heart had nothing to do with it. I don't care what they do," Proto Man said bluntly. "Humans slow me down. Capturing them, I mean. Wily spends all his time obsessing over it, worried about being overthrown by a human uprising. I say, 'Big deal, let them start an uprising! It's not like it changes things." Proto Man tapped a finger against his armrest. "The Underground use to be a whole different thing that it is now," he added, almost with a note of resentment.
"Hasn't anyone else stood up against you?"
"What about the Robot International Police?"
"Duo was destroyed during the eighth robot war, and Wily reprogramed the rest of them. They work for us now."
The terrible reality of it all clenched Mega Man iron clad, every hope for help blotted out. "I can't believe this," he said weakly. "The world I know is gone…"
Proto Man shrugged. "Yeah, well…shit happens."
Mega Man blinked. "Shit happens?" he repeated, his teeth gnashing. "All you have to say is 'shit happens'?!" Mega Man jolted upright in anger, but the seat belt snagged around his shoulders, forcing him back down.
Proto Man started laughing. "Calm down, don't loose a circuit."
"Of all the delusional, careless things you could say about this—!"
"C'mon, you should be happy! I'm a law-abiding citizen now."
Mega Man found nothing funny about Proto Man's response. He was through speaking to him, and gave Proto Man the cold shoulder by glaring pointedly at the smoggy sky.
Proto Man's laughter died away. He frowned thoughtfully. "Hey, I know something that will lift your spirits," he said brightly. He began flipping switches on the cockpit, pushing the throttle forward. Outside, the wings of the jet were angling backward like the lines of a 'V.'
Mega Man grew suspicious. "What are you doing?"
"You'll see," Proto Man said casually as he leaned back in his chair, pressing a small red button to the left of the air speed indicator.
A rocket engine on the back of the jet burst into brilliant blue flames. Mega Man was suddenly thrown to the back of his seat as they broke the sound barrier, the cockpit falling completely silent. Proto Man pulled the control stick back, and the jet blasted straight up. They were briefly blanketed in white before they broke through a curtain of clouds. Up above, Mega Man could see the winking of millions of satellites, a sinister surveillance grid of Dr. Wily's. Mega Man had only a split second to take in this spectacle before the sky slid beneath the belly of the aircraft. Proto Man had rolled the jet over, its nose dipping into a deep dive. G-forces piled against Mega Man as they spiraled downward, the ashen earth stretched before them, growing closer and closer. Too close.
Mega Man's eyes darted over to Proto Man. Sure, robots could survive long falls, but they were earthbound at the speed of a falling comet. The impact would kill them. Mega Man looked back out the cockpit, and could make out the dry cracks of a barren plain below them. He shut his eyes, expecting to feel the jet crush in all around him, but nothing happened. He reopened his eyes, but almost wished he hadn't. Proto Man had pulled up at what must have been the very last possible second, for they were just grazing over a jagged, lifeless landscape.
"You're going mach 3 at an altitude of thirty feet," Mega Man informed Proto Man through gritted his teeth, his feet hooked tightly around the base of his seat. The cockpit had grown warm from air-friction surrounding the craft.
"Relax," Proto Man said, weaving the jet through a cluster of sharp rock formations, each breakneck turn jostling Mega Man uncomfortably.
"Famous last words?"
"I never crash."
"You also never tell the truth," Mega Man retorted. He was shaking very hard.
"I do this every day. I'm the best pilot in the world," Proto Man replied patiently. "Look, it's one of your pals from the Alliance."
To Mega Man's relief, Proto Man had pitched the jet skyward and they were climbing away from the earth once more. But this was short-lived as Mega Man saw the aircraft Proto Man was talking about. A grubby freighter, which must have been pirated for use by the Underground Alliance, was hovering directly in Proto Man's sights. Mega Man tensed, but he remembered what Jett had said about Proto Man not shooting anyone. Proto Man slowed to glide alongside the freighter, the wings of the two aircraft nearly touching. Then Proto Man spun playfully away, leaving it alone.
"So this is how you spend your time? Aerobatics and reckless flying?" Mega Man asked, a little annoyed. If Proto Man was ever put in charge for designing a roller-coaster at Fun World, Mega Man was certain it would go down as the most terrifying thrill ride in history.
"Yeah. But it's more fun when there's someone to fight."
Someone to fight? Mega Man wondered with a tremor of anxiety. Proto Man was flying steadily now, and seemed to be heading toward a looming shadow directly in front of them, something larger than Dr. Wily's statue. The silhouette looked like Guts Man if he had been built as tall as a mountain and with cruel spikes all over his armor and helmet. "What is that thing?"
"One of Wily's supermechs, a rams horn city destroyer, used them to knock down the old buildings. Afterwards he stationed them around the new cities his robots built as a warning to the humans. Let's get a closer look, shall we?"
Mega Man recognized the mischievous grin on Proto Man's face. "What are you—" he began.
But Proto Man had already opened fire, twin sprays of bullets shooting from the jet's wing tips across the back of the city destroyer. Its head slowly rotating, two luminous eyes fixing on them. It lifted a hand to snatch the jet, but Proto Man had tilted to slide between its fingers and into the sky behind. Then left wing dipped downward as Proto Man pulled them back around for another strike. The mouth of the city destroyer was dropping open to reveal a cannon with the radius of a baseball stadium, a blinding blast of light shooting in their direction. Proto Man directed the jet to glide above it.
"Proto, this thing doesn't have armor."
"Armor slows me down, too much wind drag."
They would be blasted to smithereens. Even if they survived the jet's explosion and the three thousand foot fall, they'd have an angry supermech to contend with. Mega Man winced at every sharp turn, every near miss of a super charged blast—he couldn't help it. Proto Man was cutting it too close, even for a robot's sharp reflexes. He became certain of two things: Future Proto Man was crazy, and neither were leaving the jet alive.
He found no comfort in the clever strategy of Proto Man's attack as he was much more daring than Mega Man ever would have been. The city destroyer was built to be strong enough that only another city destroyer would be its match, not a tiny jet, yet Proto Man found ways to exploit its weaknesses. It was apparent that the city destroyer wasn't very intelligent, and attacked in a pattern. By zooming around it in tight circles, Proto Man tricked the city destroyer into swiveling around its axis until it couldn't turn anymore. Then he launched missiles as it unwound until angry orange flames leapt from its belly. The city destroyer let out a distressed groan, its battleship-sized arms clawing at its chest, the light vanishing from its eyes. Proto Man was already flying away.
Mega Man craned his neck out the convex window to look back the smoldering giant, hardly believing his eyes. "You just destroyed Wily's supermech!"
"They just don't fight back like they use to," Proto Man said, shaking his head sadly. "Wily has them programmed to recognize my jet. I use to be able to cloak it so they'd attack me like an enemy aircraft."
Mega Man started, his head wrenching back towards Proto Man in further disbelief. "Why would you want that? Are you psycho?" he demanded, flabbergasted. If that had been a toned down attack, how did city destroyers normally treat enemy aircraft?
"There's no one else left to fight," Proto Man said carelessly.
While Mega Man tried to work out what he had witnessed, Proto Man leveled the jet out and was climbing towards a flying tanker painted with Dr. Wily's face. He coupled his jet with one of the fueling hoses. "A-1-3-6 red, B-2-5, D-3, F-5," Proto Man muttered, punching a password into a small computer keyboard on his left side.
Mega Man snapped back to attention. "Wily lets you refuel and restock your weapons at his tankers, even though you're just going to turn around and blow up his supermechs?"
"It's either that or I'd steal from him," Proto Man replied matter-of-factly.
Incredible. Thirty years later and Dr. Wily had just as little control over Proto Man as he did when the two first met. Mega Man was confident now that he didn't know what to expect from the future's Proto Man. He definitely wasn't Dr. Wily's loyal little toady.
But then again, was he ever?
"You almost killed us three times over in the last ten minutes," Mega Man said shakily.
"Yeah, but it was fun, right?"
Mega Man found nothing about unnecessarily flying into hazardous situations fun. "I'm beginning to realize people should fear you most when you're bored."
"Well, you always kept things interesting," Proto Man said, giving Mega Man a small smile.
Finished fueling, Proto Man dropped lower to circle around the empire. They were flying so low and so close to the buildings, Mega Man could see brief flashes of the jet's reflection in glass windows. "Wily owns Casinos now too?" Mega Man asked, catching sight of a tacky grape colored building with brilliant yellow neon lights.
"Got the idea from a mob that use to bother him. Ended up being a nice revenue opportunity for him too...not that he needs it. Being a dictator and all he controls all resources." Proto Man frowned. "Wily's getting old though. Don't know what's going to happen when he finally kicks the bucket."
"I bet you'll inherent everything in his will," Mega Man said sardonically.
"That's what I'm afraid of." Proto Man's mood grew uncharacteristically pensive. "I never thought I'd live to be thirty," he remarked.
Mega Man looked over at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"Just never thought that far ahead."
"Oh. But you're not thirty...you're thirty-one."
Proto Man groaned. "Well, we're both in our thirties now. So what do you think, were those thirty years well spent?"
Proto Man seemed genuinely curious about Mega Man's reappearance, and Mega Man had to remind himself that though it had only been hours for himself, it had been much longer for Proto Man. "If I had a choice, I would have spent them differently," Mega Man said tersely. "What about you?"
"It's been alright. I like flying. There are things I'm glad I wasn't doing," Proto Man answered in a quick, would-be-offhand voice. He was evading the question.
"So seeing the world at the mercy of Wily doesn't bother you."
"Hey bro, I'm not going to argue whether this is right or wrong, but if we polled the humans, I think you'd find that the majority has gotten use to Wily's regime and wouldn't go back to the way things were."
Mega Man knew Proto Man was right. He thought of the traitors the Underground Alliance had spoken so scathingly of, and more distantly remembered a speech Proto Man himself had given about the everyman: He doesn't care about anyone around him or the balance in the universe, he's just looking after himself. "Well, at least I know this is all wrong," he grumbled. "Even if the humans don't care."
Proto Man gave a laugh. "You're still a self-righteous dweeb. Did you even have any friends?"
"Do you?" Mega Man retorted hotly.
"Notta," Proto Man admitted without embarrassment.
Proto Man's flashes of honesty were taking Mega Man by surprise. He began to think Proto Man wasn't planning on killing him after all. There was something Mega Man needed to know, the one thing he was afraid to ask but Proto Man must know the answer. "Dr. Light…is he…?" he began haltingly.
"Yeah, he's still around," Proto Man answered easily.
Mega Man felt for the first time a surge of relief. "What about Roll?"
Proto Man frowned a little. "Roll and I haven't been getting along. Had a bad argument right after you disappeared. But she did follow my footsteps, in the end. When Wily took over, our positions were slowly reversed. She became an outlaw, and I'm suppose to enforce the law." Proto Man laughed half-heartedly.
"What about you and Dr. Light?" Mega Man asked cautiously.
"Same as always."
"Where are they?"
"They're both safe, that's all I can tell you."
There was a harsh tone in Proto Man's voice that reminded Mega Man that he was still Dr. Wily's second-in-command, so he didn't press further. Mega Man looked back outside the cockpit, then involuntarily flinched as Proto Man shot under the narrow gap of a skeletal bridge. "Proto Man, will you slow down before you pulverize us?" he snapped.
Proto Man laughed. He did not slow down, but he did pull away from the ground a bit. "You know, seeing you again reminds me of the good ol' days, just before you were activated," he said brightly.
"Gee, thanks," Mega Man said peevishly.
"Though back then I never thought Wily'd get this far," Proto Man continued. He hesitated, but then opened up, plunging into conversation as though getting something off his chest. "I never really cared one way or the other...I just liked being on the wrong side of the law...the danger and the action, of answering to no one but myself, me against everyone. This empire of his...it's boring. Not much for me to do. Guess I was always more of an anarchist than a dictator."
Words began pouring from Proto Man without cues or prompts. Mega Man was getting the impression Proto Man hadn't confided to anyone in a long time, maybe ever, and Mega Man had no choice but to listen. Yet, he felt oddly fascinated. This wasn't the Proto Man he knew from the past, or at least he was seeing a different side.
"I never regretted joining Wily," Proto Man stated with unquestionable frankness. A bitter tone crept into his voice. "When I first put on the bomber suit it fit like a glove, like it was meant for me." Mega Man noticed that their speed was climbing again. "I didn't want any drama or fuss, I just wanted to disappear, for good. I had time to figure it all out, and when I became a fighting robot, it was my decision, no one else's. I understood the consequences, and didn't care. I was happy for once. I didn't want it to end." Proto Man paused, then with renewed determination, said, "And I don't care about what I did to Light either. But...I'm sorry that you got dragged into all this."
"You're...sorry?" Mega Man said blankly, eager to hear more.
"Yeah. Dr. Light felt personally responsible for my actions," Proto Man explained. "Because he created me he knew he was the only one who could build a robot of my equal, so he converted you into the blue bomber." Proto Man had tilted the jet so it began to do a series of barrel rolls. "You had no choice but to fight me, I've known that since the first time you showed up in blue titanium. But even with the same armor and abilities, you couldn't keep up with me. You never had time to figure it out like I did. I could tell you were unsure of yourself, confused, forced into something you didn't understand out of duty or some other bullshit." Proto Man stopped rolling the jet over, righting the wings. "But I wasn't going to let you win either."
Gray clouds were swirling in the reflection of Proto Man's visor. "That night at Citadel, I thought you'd ran away, figured out your own way to disappear. You had no control over your life, so you had it ingrained in you that no one else should either. But that's screwed up, and that's why you're so messed up. It's not human."
Mega Man thought back to every moment of anger he had, from his fear of losing Roll during the earthquake, the truth Dr. Light had concealed about Proto, the mistrust that lead him to betray Dr. Light, to even his recent doubts of being a robot hero, to the frustration he had when he realized it really came down between him and Proto Man. Brother against brother. Was he being manipulated, or had he made the choice to do this? Did it really even matter anymore? "You're right," Mega Man acknowledged quietly. "I didn't have control over my life, and I didn't know what I was doing, I just did what I was told. But Dr. Light's always been real supportive," he added guiltily. "He never wanted to hurt me."
Proto Man's voice became quiet and serious, sounding less and less like the heartless fighter Mega Man thought he knew, and more like someone else, someone familiar—his brother. "I know what you mean. I wasn't going through the same thing you were, but Dr. Light was there for me too, once."
"But it doesn't make a difference," Mega Man said hollowly, answering for both of their situations.
Proto gave a small nod. "Sometimes you gotta figure things out for yourself."
They were sharing a sense of empathy for one another, something Mega Man had never thought possible. "So you snapped," he concluded. It wasn't an accusation; after all, hadn't Mega Man almost joined Dr. Wily after he himself been pushed to the brink?
"No, I got away before I snapped," Proto countered firmly.
"Some people might argue that joining Wily is snapping."
"Yeah, well 'some people' don't know me very well," Proto answered icily.
Mega Man wouldn't argue that. What thoughts went on behind the visor? Mega Man felt he knew, yet at the same time was as mystified as ever. He couldn't really judge someone he didn't know. But he has tried to kill me, he reminded himself wryly.
"I use to think if I could persuade you to join Wily, it would be different. You could just be you, not anyone's tool to protect the human race," said Proto.
"I never would have joined Wily or any other criminal."
"I know that now. You're not cut out for crime either."
Mega Man shook his head. "I can't even imagine it."
Proto smiled. "Worked for me."
He sounded so confident. Mega Man fumbled for a criticism. "How do you live with yourself?" he said finally.
Proto grinned. "That's easy. I had something you never had: freedom." The jet was banking steeply to it's left, flipping over on its wing midair. "Do you believe in freedom?"
"Of course I believe in freedom," Mega Man said earnestly. They were flying upside down. Mega Man found the sensation of hanging by his seatbelt extremely uncomfortable and wished Proto would finish the barrel roll so they would be riding right side up again, his head was starting to hurt.
"Then why'd you start playing along with the robo-hero stuff, and why'd you want to turn me in so bad?" Proto asked, his face turning away from the cockpit window to look at Mega Man.
"I…" Mega Man trailed off lamely. He wasn't so sure of anything anymore. He wanted to say because Proto was Dr. Wily's right hand man, because of all the crimes he had committed, but he knew Proto was asking much more then that. Mega Man's reasoning was beyond justice at this point, it was personal. He was angry at Proto for all the reasons Proto had said, and he wanted revenge.
"You don't have to answer that." Proto said crisply, easing the jet back onto its belly with the ground beneath them. Mega Man wondered if Proto was hurt, but he went on to say, "I know we never really understood each other, but I kinda wish I did. You are always trying to rationalize why you were built, your place in the cosmos, wondering if you had free will or not, questioning everything. Drove me nuts. You had such clearly defined ideals of good and evil. Not me. I never seriously think about anything, I just do what I feel like." Proto shook his head. "You and I are opposites. We have nothing in common, and that's important for family to get along."
Mega Man couldn't help but refute this statement. "No it's not. Roll and I don't agree on anything, but we're still very close…Proto, the only thing I don't like about you is your allegiance with Wily. And your lies. And your conceit, your carelessness, your attitude..." Proto chuckled. "Okay, that's a lot of things," Mega Man admitted, smiling too, "But you're still my brother. And family is more important than any of those differences. I wish you could see it my way."
Proto was quiet for a few moments. "I was really mad back then, and scared of you. But then everything worked out."
Mega Man remembered the strange look on Proto's face back on Mount Shasta. Had that been it? Fear? "You were scared of me? Why?"
"I know, it's stupid, right?" Proto laughed self-abashedly. "You have to understand one thing about me. Lying is how I've always gotten by, had control over everything. If something bad happened, I would lie about it, and everything would go on as normal. You were the only one ever to see through my lies. I hated it, hated you sometimes, but its funny, after all these years it's a relief to talk to someone who sees me for who I really am."
Mega Man was speechless, stricken dumb by Proto's declaration. Proto just smiled shyly. "Where'd you go anyway? You've been gone a long time. Not that I was looking for you," Proto added hastily. Then he hesitated, and amended in a deliberate voice: "No, I did look for you, every inch of this rusting globe and I still couldn't find a trace of you. It really was like you vanished, even I couldn't pull off a ninja move like that."
Mega Man shook himself, knowing now that he owed Proto an explanation. "When the chronitons exploded in the Discovery Lab—" he began.
"There wasn't an explosion."
"There wasn't?" Mega Man asked in astonishment.
"No. There was just a weird humming noise, then everything went quiet. When the high security lab was opened again, you were gone."
"Oh." Mega Man was confused, certain that he recalled an explosion. "You're going to think my processors are fried, but I think I time traveled. The chronitons forced me out of the present and into the future."
Proto went quiet.
"I remember flashing lights and spinning through space. Then it was all over. I got up in a middle of a street, right where the security vault use to be. I didn't know what happened at first, I thought I had been knocked unconscious for a few minutes...turns out, I've been gone much longer then that."
"You're telling me you skipped thirty years?"
"Well that SUCKS." Proto began laughing. "So you just warped from 1995 to here."
"You believe me?"
"I've heard weirder, I work for Wily." He was still chuckling. "Thirty years...that's a long time. Nothing's the same anymore. Hell, even the robo-drones are super resistant to plasma fire now."
As Proto spoke, it seemed reality had finally crashed down on Mega Man. The world had fallen, everything familiar to him destroyed, and he was stuck here, trapped. He'd missed every one of those last thirty years… "Proto…" he whispered, shaking with despair.
Proto stopped laughing. "C'mon, don't fall apart on me now." He sounded stern, but worried.
"Is there a way I can go back?" Mega Man asked in a trembling voice.
"You're asking about time travel? I don't know what to tell ya," Proto said bracingly, "I don't think that's possible, even with Wily's mad science."
"It's my fault the future turned out so bad! If I hadn't been so stupid—"
"Don't be so harsh on yourself," Proto interrupted, loud enough to startle Mega Man out of his self-abusement. "Even if you could go back, I don't think you could prevent this from happening. You weren't the best fighter."
"But I would have tried," Mega Man said dismally.
"You wouldn't have survived," Proto said roughly. "Not this long."
"You survived this long," Mega Man argued, trying not to sound petulant. He hated when Proto pointed out how weak he thought Mega Man was.
"I'm a helluva fighter," Proto replied without a trace of his usual arrogance.
Mega Man frowned. Life for Proto was like flying. He had freedom, but he was so high up he neither knew nor cared about the people bound on the earth. Something was beginning to click with Mega Man. "You've always lived in the fast lane."
"You know this life style of yours isn't realistic. I think behind that visor, you're unhappy." Mega Man knew this was a risky observation to make out loud. Last time he had gotten this close to Proto, Proto hadn't reacted well. "You've always been unhappy, you've just found things to distract you from that fact."
"Mega, don't psycho-analyze me—I hate when Wily does that," Proto said in annoyance.
"Wily psycho-analyzes you?" Mega Man's eyes had widened to their fullest extent. "Wily, the man behind Cold Steel?"
"Yeah. He has a doctorate in psychology."
Mega Man stared at him. Then it happened. They both burst into laughter. Neither could quit for several minutes. Mega Man felt his mood lifting. He didn't want to think about the past or future anymore, he was just glad to be with Proto, glad they weren't fighting or even mad at each other. Why couldn't it have been like this always? Well, it had almost been like this, when Mega Man had temporarily joined Dr. Wily...
Mega Man stopped laughing, and noticed Proto had too. He began to think more seriously. Proto sincerely wanted him as a brother, just as he probably would like Roll as his sister. Though he had no mental image of what Proto looked like without armor, he tried anyway to picture what it would have been like to grow up with him. Neither of them would be bombers, they'd just be lab assistants. But there was something wrong with this picture too. Proto liked flying fighter jets, thrill seeking, and hated rules and constrains, which contrasted drastically with the quiet life of working in Dr. Light's laboratory. "There isn't an easy answer to everything, like reprogramming," he said aloud, almost absently.
Proto looked over at him with a rueful grin. "I'm proud of you, bro, you're growing up."
Mega Man smiled despite himself. "Hey, is that the same scarf you use to wear?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Can't believe it lasted."
"It's a good scarf." Proto had lapsed into a look of concentration, like he was mulling something over. Mega Man was dying to ask what was on his mind, anything to keep Proto talking, to go back to laughing, but could tell by the sudden sobriety to Proto's manner that he didn't want to be bothered.
They were flying over a stormy ocean, lightening forking all around them, water splashing against the cockpit window. Mega Man could see tiny white peaks on waves below. All he could hear was the muted whine of the jet engine, their pitch dwindling. Proto Man was slowing down, the wings of the jet returning to their normal position. They were making a b-line to what looked like a gigantic nest of black thorns in the middle of the slate gray waves.
"What's that?" Mega Man asked, gazing at the forbidding looking island.
"Oh," Mega Man replied, understanding. Proto Man was jailing him.
Neither of them talked as Proto Man landed on a flattened precipice in front of the prison. Proto Man lead Mega Man by the elbow through the mouth of a skull-shaped entrance and into a holding room adjacent to the warden's office.
"Hey, rounded up a prisoner for ya," Proto Man informed a robo-jailer on duty, smirking.
The robo-jailer performed a double take. "Is that Mega Man?"
"In the metal. Put him in cell block L."
"But sir, that's where—" the robo-jailer began to protest.
"He needs maximum security," Proto Man said firmly. "He's the blue bomber, they don't make robots like him anymore. And don't call me 'sir.'"
"Yes sir," the robo-jailer said with a short salute.
Proto Man sighed. "I gotta report to Wily. Take good care of my little brother for me."
"Alright you, come with me, and no funny buisness," the jailer growled, taking Mega Man roughly by the arm.
"Be good, Mega…'Big Brother' is watching you," Proto Man called quietly after him as Mega Man was marched down the hall. When they reached the door to the cell blocks, Mega Man stole one last glance over his shoulder one at Proto Man, but he was already gone.
Mega Man was dragged roughly into the heart of Robo-Prison Island. It contained row after row of cells occupied by humans, some pleading with prison guards for a second chance. Most seemed to have been incarcerated for trivial infractions, such as taking unauthorized bathroom breaks during work shifts or calling Dr. Wily a dingbat. The prison-guards were all robots, and nearly identical to the robot jailer, with golden Wily insignias on their chest plates and blank white faces devoid of any features save for a red glass slit where a human's eyes would be.
Cell block L was sealed by double super steel doors that the prison guard had to authorize by keypad before they'd open. A small sign above the door warned that this block contained dangerous criminals serving life sentences, and to be approached with extreme caution. Mega Man wondered who these dangerous prisoners could be, but to his surprise, this block appeared to be unoccupied. The robo-jailer lead him past several empty cells before shoving him into one. "You'll stay in there until Lord Wily hears of this," the robo-jailer growled, slamming the bars closed behind him. It was as if a tomb door had been shut. Mega Man watched the jailer leave, wondering what on earth he was to do now, when he heard a harsh shout on the other side of the corridor.
"I dare you to open this cell you big robo-goon!"
Mega Man's head perked up. I know that voice...
"C'mon! I'll bust your chips, buster!"
Mega Man crept to the prison bars, looking into the cell diagonal from his. His circuits did a summersault. Roll, shackled head to foot, was at the bars of another cell, her face twisted in a snarl as she taunted one a patrolling prison guards. Underneath her chains was a suit of armor made of thin, titanium sheets. What appeared to be tattoos ran down her arms, zig-zags, barbed wire, and the names of bands she liked during the nineties. Her ears sported many new piercings, and there was a black spiked band in her hair, which looked messier than usual. Her eyes and lips were both painted black.
"Quiet in there or I'll report you to the warden!" the prison guard said, jabbing a robotic figure warningly at her before passing on.
"Go ahead you tin creep! I'm not afraid of you!" Roll taunted at the prison guard's back.
Mega Man waited for the prison guard to move a great distance down the corridor. "Pst! Roll!"
Roll turned at Mega Man's voice, but didn't look happy to see him. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Mega? It can't be you. Just another Wily trick." She glared at him malevolently, as though willing her eyes to shoot lasers to blast Mega Man to bits.
"Really, it is me! I'll prove it. You favorite video game is Sky Blasters and your favorite rock band is Captain Fallout and the Atom Smashers!"
The malevolent look in Roll's eyes faded, her face untwisting from a snarl. "Rock…but I thought you were dead," she said in a haunted voice.
"No, I'm alive and better than ever, all things considered," Mega Man said with a smile. His eyes lingered disgustedly at the shackles imprisoning Roll. "I can't believe they locked you up like that."
"Those sick bastards," Roll spat, rattling her chains in fury. Her movements were so restricted that she could barely do more than wriggle in place. "I'm surprised they haven't done the same to you yet!" She paused, staring at Mega Man with annoyance. "But, where have you been?" she demanded angrily. "You've got a lot of explaining to do!"
"I'm sorry I haven't been here," Mega Man said regretfully. "You have to believe me, I had no control over my disappearance. That night in Citadel's lab, the chronitons caused some sort of temporal anomaly which displaced me in time."
"Temporal anomaly?" One of Roll's eyebrows arched.
"Yes. Like a tear in the space-time continuum, sucking me out of the present and spitting me out in the future. I must have collided with a black hole or cosmic string—"
"Okay, okay, don't annoy me with all that sci-fi bullshit," she cut him off irritably. "Let's just stick with 'you time traveled thirty years.'"
"Roll, where's Dr. Light?"
"At the end of the hall, solitary confinement."
Mega Man glanced down the hall, which ended in a gray door with a small window. "Is there a way to get to him?"
"Oh, breaking out's a cinch," Roll said, winking. She took a looked down the hall, where the prison guard was just about to turn around in his patrol. "Okay, when he gets back, tell him I've escaped!"
"Just do it!" Roll said. With a swift tinkling of chains, Roll had climbed up the bars of her cell using only the strength of her fingertips. She flipped her body upwards like a gymnast on the uneven bars and wedged herself against the ceiling, completely concealed from view from the hallway.
Mega Man gaped in amazement, then quickly wiped his face of emotion as the prison guard strode back, halting at Roll's cell. "Hey, where's Blondey?" he asked, his smooth metal face turning towards Mega Man.
"I dunno, maybe she escaped," Mega Man answered innocently.
The prison guard sighed. "Not again," he muttered, taking a golden keyring from his belt and opening the door to Roll's cell.
Roll pounced. She was on the back of the prison guard, her shackled arms in front of his head, the chain straining backward against his neck—until with a snap, his head popped off. The keyring slipped from his lifeless hands to the floor with a soft jingle.
"Alright you lousy jailbird, get your hands behind your head," the prison guard's head ordered as it rolled underneath Roll's cot.
"Shut up, bolt brain!" Roll snapped. She kicked the keyring across the floor into Mega Man's cell. He fumbled for a moment with the keys on the floor, but finally his handcuffs popped open. Wasting no time, he unlocked his door, hurried to Roll's cell, and began to undo her shackles.
"So what'd you get busted for?" she asked, massaging her wrists as the chains slid to the floor.
"Assaulting a robo-officer of the law."
"Does Wily know you're here?"
"I...don't think so," Mega Man answered uncertainly. "I was captured by Proto Man. He brought me straight here."
"Proto Man brought you here? That was stupid of him!"
Mega Man frowned thoughtfully. Stupid, or planned…? "Roll...do you know about Proto...?"
Roll turned on him so sharply that it made Mega Man take an unconscious step back. The sudden transformation in his sister's face was frightening. Her light blue irises seemed to shrink, looking like wild sparks against her dark lashes. "What, that you and Dr. Light lied to me about my own brother? Kept stringing me along with the story that he was built by Wily? Thought it was for my own good? That I needed to stay as far away as possible from him, because you were afraid we might become friends?!"
Each word was hissed with acidic venom. Roll had backed Mega Man into a cell corner, pinning him underneath the most livid glare he had ever seen in a human face. He was half convinced that she was about to draw a titanium cleaver and take off his head like she had the prison guard's.
Roll took a step backward, releasing him from her gaze, but her eyes were still smoldering. "But I don't care, I wish he was dead," she muttered. "I'll kill him myself."
Mega Man was completely horrified by Roll's behavior. She had said similar things in the past, especially when it came to Proto Man, but now every word was backed with passionate, soul-consuming hatred. "Why would you want to kill him?" he asked quietly.
"It doesn't matter," she said quickly. "Gimme the keys. This place will be swarming with robo-guards any second."
Mega Man watched Roll dart through the door, disturbed. The Roll he knew had always been cheeky and spirited, but she also had a gentle side. That side was gone now; she had become completely hardboiled, the robot he had always feared she might turn into.
Mega Man jogged to catch up with Roll. Outside the cell, Roll had dropped another prison guard so fast she made the past Proto Man look like an amateur. He now understood the security precautions the jailers had taken with her. Mega Man's appearance at her side must have started Roll, for she had whirled around, a whirling buzz-saw held under his chin.
"Sorry, reflex," she muttered, switching her utility arm back into a hand.
"I, uh, miss your yellow jumpsuit," Mega Man said tentatively.
Roll continued running down the hall towards Dr. Light's cell, but stopped to open another cell. Inside was Rush, who had been collared and chained to a cot. His head rested forlornly on his paws, but he sat up when as Roll and Mega Man entered to unchain him. Rust had settled around Rush's hinges. His tail wagged furiously but it wasn't with the same puppyish enthusiasm as he trotted over to lick Mega Man's face.
"His jetmode doesn't work anymore," Roll told Mega Man regretfully. She hurried to the next cell. Met's chipped helmet sat motionless in the middle of the floor. Roll bent over to knock on it softly, and Met's eyes suddenly appeared at its base, blinking sleepily. "C'mon Met, we're bustin' out."
At this pronouncement, Met merely looked exasperated at being woken up, and Mega Man wondered how many times Roll had unsuccessfully attempted prison break. But then Met spotted Mega Man and gave an excited beep, rising to her yellow feet, which Roll quickly unshackled.
Roll stopped to release the prisoners of two more cells. Eddie broke down into squeals of ecstatic joy at the sight of Mega Man, and Roll had to threaten to lock him back up to shut him up. Pipi gave a startled peep before settling on Roll's shoulder, looking frightened and the least thrilled at the prospect of breaking out. Though all of Dr. Light's robots looked unquestionably worse for wear, Mega Man was still extremely heartened to see them all alive. Everyone, except for—"Where's Doris?"
Roll's face screwed up distastefully. "Ran off years ago with some sleeze-bot we never met. Haven't heard from her since." She walked over to the end of the hallway. "This is Dr. Light's cell," she announced, digging a key through the lock.
Mega Man's eyes flickered from Roll to the semi-opaque window of Dr. Light's cell. So, Dr. Light's alive...but, had he been decognitized? Would the door open to show a lobotomized version Dr. Light, staring vacantly at them, unable to recognize his own children? But this fear was alleviated as the door swung open, revealing a brightly lit cell. Dr. Light had been allowed a ball point pen, and his back was to them as he scribbled against the super steel walls. Equations and mathematic formulas covered every last inch of his cell, even the white sheets on his bed. "Oh let's see now...x over y divided by the coefficient of a square root of a cube...or is that the cube root of a square? Hmmm." Dr. Light seemed a tad batty, but was definitely still himself.
"Father!" Mega Man called, overjoyed.
Dr. Light turned around, the light revealing his face. "Rock! Is it really you?" he cried, tears beginning to well in his eyes.
Mega Man suddenly grew uncomfortable as Dr. Light pulled him into a tight embrace. He knew this was an emotional moment for Dr. Light, who hadn't seen him in over thirty years, but Mega Man hadn't prepared himself for the shock of seeing his father as an elderly man. He was shorter, frailer, and looked as though he had lost weight. Deep lines creased his forehead and face, his white hair was thin and wispy, and his left hand seemed to shake uncontrollably.
Dr. Light seemed to notice the look in Mega Man's eyes, and with and understanding smile, pulled away. Mega Man felt ashamed in himself. Roll was watching him with a grim yet pitied expression on her face, reading exactly what was going on between them. "But, how did you get here? And where have you been?" Dr. Light asked.
"I'll explain everything later," Mega Man promised.
"C'mon, Dad! We're busting out!" Roll said, beckoning him to the door.
"Roll, I've explained this so many times," Dr. Light said wearily, the wrinkles along his forehead growing deeper. "Even if we could escape, we'd just be brought right back—"
"He can't stay here!" Roll interrupted, her eyes flashing towards Mega Man. "Once Wily finds out he's still alive, he'll order his execution!"
This seemed to shake Dr. Light. The clock on Mega Man's life had been ticking ever since he time traveled, and now they were all in danger. "I didn't think of that—oh Rock, we must get you out of here, and quickly!"
They all hurried out of Dr. Light's cell, back down the corridor, over the body of the second prison guard, and to the locked door, which Roll busted open using a grinder. As the door fell from its frame, an alarm blared through the prison. "Halt, who goes there? Identify yourself," a prison guard growled as they stepped out of cell block L.
"None of your business, buster!" Roll shouted, smashing a frying pan against the prison guard's head. They were in trouble now, the alarm would signal the rest of the guards that they were breaking out. Dr. Light seemed healthy enough, but age had definitely slowed him and their progress back through the prison was slow. On either side of them prisoners were pressed against the bars of their cells, staring at them with wide, shocked eyes. A few of them cheered after them. But at the end of the next corridor they were met with twenty armed prison guards.
"Met, you know what to do," Roll whispered, setting Met down on the ground.
Met screwed up her face in determination, then scuttled between the prison guards legs, her robotic arms lashing out like whips at their shins. When they began to fire, Met stopped moving, hiding underneath her super steel hat which deflected laser fire. While the guards were distracted, Roll and Mega Man snuck around from behind to dispatch them. Once the last prison guard had fallen, Met stood up and began to stumble around, her eyes unfocused. "Thanks Met," Roll whispered, scooping a dazed Met into her arms.
They hurried down the next corridor. Behind them they could hear booming barks echoing down the prison block. "Look out, robo-canines!" Roll warned. The next moment a massive robotic dog with a spiked collar and razor-sharp titanium teeth came bounding into the corridor. With one powerful leap it was bearing down on Mega Man, but Rush lunged for its throat and dragged it off his master. Three more robo-canines burst into the corridor, all of them growling angrily like rabid rottweilers. Mega Man instinctively shielded Dr. Light, his plasma cannon blazing as he shot the robo-canines back.
"C'mon, this way!" Roll called. Pipi's yellow talons were digging into her crimson spaulders, and he was twittering with hysterics. Mega Man grabbed Dr. Light by the collar and Eddie by the leg and dove with them through the next door, which Roll slammed behind them. They could hear muffled thudding, scratching, and growling from the other side. Rush stared at the door with bared teeth, a nasty claw mark gouged across his muzzle. Mega Man looked around, realizing they had returned to the holding room Proto Man had dropped him off at earlier.
"Hang on a sec, I gotta do something!" Mega Man called. He broke down the door of the warden's office. The warden himself was not there, presumably trying to restore order to his prison. Mega Man scanned his desk frantically until he found a lever that controlled the prison's cell doors. He swung it up. Deeper in the prison, he began to hear loud bang after bang as each of the prison cells sprang open to whoops of joy.
"Mega, you're doing them no good, they're just going to get captured again," Roll hissed angrily from the door frame.
"We can't just leave them there! I'm giving them a shot," Mega Man said. Roll just shook her head in exasperation. They took off for the exit. At their backs the prison was breaking into chaos, the mixed shouting of prisoners, jailers, and robo-canines echoing through the halls. In front of them lay the flat expanse of rock used as a landing pad, and beyond that a sharp cliff dropped steeply into the ocean. The wind howled around them like a wounded animal, rain sloshing against the prison in heavy sheets. "Now, where to?" Mega Man asked.
"I dunno, I've never gotten this far," Roll said, biting her lip. "Robo-Prison Island is in the middle of the ocean, the nearest landmass hundreds of miles away. I think the only way on or off is by air!"
That wasn't good news. Dr. Light wouldn't survive a swim like that, even with Roll and Mega Man's help, and Rush's jet's were out of commission. "There must be some other way off," Mega Man said with determination, not because he actually believed in it, but because they couldn't afford to loose hope now.
Meanwhile, robo-jailers were pouring from the prison, their guns raised threateningly. "Oh I must say, Mega. We are at a distinct disadvantage," Dr. Light murmured as they were backed against the cliff edge.
"Surrender! You cannot escape!" the robo-warden ordered over a bullhorn.
The rain was pounding against them like falling icicles. Mega Man looked over at Dr. Light in concern as his lab coat became drenched. He shouldn't have tried this at all. He was endangering Dr. Light too much; he was in no condition for this. Mega Man then caught Roll's eye, and they nodded at each other, understanding. They slowly began to raise their hands—
—When suddenly they heard the beat of a dozen propellers. Three Underground Alliance freighters had appeared in the sky. The doors of the freighters slid open, and live rounds of ammo rained upon the prison guards, driving them back as the freighters hovered closer.
"Hurry, hop in!" Jett's voice called from the cockpit of one of the freighters. The open door loomed invitingly ahead of them as he eased nearer to the cliff. Mega Man and Roll didn't hesitate. Roll climbed in first, helped Mega Man hoist Dr. Light behind her, then the rest hopped in behind them, slamming the door shut. Machine fire pounded against the freighter's thick hull, but the bullets bounced off as the freighter gained height, leaving Robo-Prison Island behind them.
"How did you find us?" Mega Man asked Jett. They were flying back over the ocean, the storm acting as convenient camouflage. Percival, Bobby, Finn, and Jonas were all aboard the freighter too, Jonas in the cockpit with Jett while Annie hovering excitedly over Mega Man. Bobby handed them each a thick blanket, and they gathered around a radiator to warm up.
"After you'd been abducted, we regrouped at the hangar and decided to come looking for you," Jett called back. He was wearing a flight helmet, its bluish visor pulled down to his mustache."Proto Man's jet is too fast to be followed, but we got a tip off from another freighter, they said it looked like he was heading to Robo-Prison Island."
"And when we got there, we found the whole prison rioting!" Annie crowed. "Now that's the Mega Man I know!"
"It's all thanks to you," Mega Man said, smiling at the humans. "If it weren't for you guys, I would have cashed my chips in for sure." He knew he needed to repay the Underground Alliance somehow. They were all fugitives now.
But first, he wanted to talk to Dr. Light alone. "Annie, why don't you go play with Rush? He's been locked up for a long time, and could use some company." Annie's eyes lit up, and she eagerly hurried to the tail of the freighter to scrounge for a piece of rope to play tug-a-war with, Rush trotting after her. Mega Man bent closer to the radiator, peering over at Dr. Light. "How come Wily didn't decognitize you like he's done with the rest of the scientists?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't seen much of Albert since he crowned himself supreme overlord," Dr. Light answered miserably. "Perhaps he wanted me to live on knowing what he had done to the world." He fell silent, his old, tired eyes lost in melancholy reflection.
"Dr. Light, do you think there's a way for me to return to the past?" Mega Man asked after a moment, lowering his voice so the other humans wouldn't overhear.
"I'm sorry, Rock, I don't know," Dr. Light answered gently, shaking his head. "I'm not sure your theory about temporal anomalies is entirely correct. As you know, time is not like a movie we can rewind and fast-forward, no matter how much we'd like to. Time is a relative concept, based on speed and perception. It's more likely that you experienced a phenomenon called 'time dilation.' The chronitons caused a reaction that accelerated your speed to a rate at which you became suspended while everything else transversed as normal, and when you finally slowed down, many years had passed. But as to how you survived such an incredible journey without burning up, your guess is as good as mine."
"So...I can't go back," Mega Man said slowly, keeping his voice steady.
"In theory, if traveling forward in time is possible, so should the reverse," said Dr. Light, the lines around his mouth drawing into a frown. "But I don't know how to put that theory into practice, it would take years of study, even if I still had access to my best lab equipment."
Mega Man nodded somberly. Without it being said, they both knew Dr. Light didn't have many years left to give.
Percival and Bobby strided over to join them. "I can't believe you rescued Dr. Light!" Bobby grinned, slapping Mega Man on the back. "And you said you weren't a great robo-hero. What a load!" He chuckled good naturally.
Percival looked equally impressed. "What's your next move, Mega?" he asked, clearly eager to offer his assistance.
"Well, I'm not about to stay in hiding when the world's like this. I'll to do whatever I can against Wily, but…" Mega Man looked at Dr. Light. "Where do I start?"
Dr. Light's hand was stroking his beard, deep in thought. "I have an idea, but it will be very dangerous..." he looked worried.
"We're already in a lot of danger," Roll quipped from where she leaned against the fuselage wall, a knife twirling between her fingers. Percival and Finn chuckled darkly.
Dr. Light's dark eyes roved piercingly at all of their faces, finally coming to rest on Mega Man. "Right. Time is of the essence, I must get to work on Rush straight away."
To be continued...