Several hours later, Rush, who had gone on patrol that evening to look for anything suspicious, was reporting in to Megaman. The dog barked frantically into the comlink that connected him with Dr. Light's laboratory, wanting Megaman's immediate attention to the problem he was witnessing. This was bad, very bad, and Rush really hadn't expected at all to find what he had. He knew Megaman wouldn't be happy at all, but he needed to know about this. He needed to know so that he could come and correct it before anyone else was hurt!
Megaman started as the barking came over the intercom. "Rush," he realized, hurrying over and turning on the small screen. He was certain he knew what the dog wanted to tell him. Most likely Rush had found some of the wayward robots causing trouble. "Rush! Where are you?" he asked as the screen's image became clear. He could see Rush and he could hear screaming coupled with the sounds of blasters going off, but he wasn't certain of the location. Behind Rush was only darkness.
Rush barked again, sounding desperate. You have to get down here, Megaman! Quickly he ran forward, attempting to show more of the surrounding area on the transmitter.
"Hey," Roll remarked as she came in and saw what was happening, "isn't that the edge of the forest, where the energy plant is?" It was dull at times, being only a housekeeper robot, and Roll sometimes found herself watching the news and taking walks and learning the locations of many different places. She prided herself on helping Megaman any way she could.
Megaman had decided it was the energy plant as well and he smiled at Roll as he hurried out. He never could have guessed what he would encounter. Treble, having the suspicion that he would want to be involved in what was going to happen, followed silently. Perhaps, if he could corner a zombie robot and then follow it, it would lead him to whoever had Bass. But instead of that, he would find something quite different.
When Megaman arrived at the plant, it was obvious that it was under attack. People were scattered everywhere in various states of injury and panic, the robots standing over them with blasters and swords raised. One robot stayed back from the rest, his dark armor gleaming in the moonlight as he stood on a flat rock directly at the forest's edge, surveying the damage that was being caused. He turned to face Megaman with the same cold eyes as all his apparent cronies, prepared to shoot if he felt it would be necessary.
"Hey!" Megaman cried, looking at the dark silhouette firmly. He was certain that these robots weren't responsible for what they were doing, but that wouldn't make any difference to the authorities. If these robots were caught, they would all be destroyed for the violation of the first rule in the robot code---even if some of them hadn't directly hurt anyone. "Call them off!" the blue robot pleaded, not wanting these hapless robots to be destroyed for what wasn't directly their fault. "Please! All of you will be killed if you're caught!"
He didn't receive so much as a growl in response. Slowly he heard a click as the blaster locked onto its new possible target. The red eyes gleamed emotionlessly as the Egyptian headdress-crested shadow shifted position on the rock, preparing to fire.
Then Megaman had to gasp. He recognized that helmet. . . . Never had he thought he would see its owner alive again. But was this truly Bass . . . or had someone stolen his helmet? The blue robot could only stare in growing horror. Bass hated to be controlled! If this was him . . . he'd been reduced to . . . to the kind of subservient robot he despised the most---only he wasn't able to control himself. "Bass," Megaman managed to voice, "is . . . is this really you?" He had to admit, he'd rather Bass had remained dead instead of being brought back to life as this, if that was what had happened. And he knew Bass would have preferred that himself.
Time seemed to stop as Megaman waited for a response. Then the other robot stepped forward into the light, revealing the familiar black-and-yellow armor and the purple markings under his eyes. But this was definitely not the Bass that Megaman had known. Indeed, his body was merely a vacant pawn in a malicious plan. All his memories and independent programming were erased and lost to the dark. Only with Cain's chip could he function now. And though he himself hadn't injured any of the people (yet), Megaman knew that it would be very bad for Bass if he was caught.
"You've been repaired," Megaman realized softly and in a bit of awe. It hadn't been supposed to be possible. How was Bass standing before him now? And how was it that his former enemy and rival was now a stranger? Megaman felt horror eclipsing him as he saw that this truly was Bass . . . and yet it was not. "But what else happened to you, Bass?" he asked shakily. "Are you . . . are you really someone's cruel slave now?" He didn't want to believe this. Bass's fate couldn't be so treacherous, not after what he had done before to rescue Megaman! And the cobalt robot didn't want to fight Bass again. Not like this. . . .
Bass responded by shooting at Megaman. The blue robot barely managed to get out of the way in time. "No, Bass," he whispered sadly. "You don't want to do this." But Bass didn't know what he was doing. He could only obey the orders Cain was giving him. Cain, watching the events on a screen in his laboratory, was both intrigued and irritated by Megaman's appearance. This boy robot obviously knew Bass from before. But Bass knew him no longer.
"Destroy him," Cain ordered. "He's the enemy. Get rid of our enemies, Bass."
As Bass moved forward, ready to attack again, Rush ran forward, knocking him down from behind. He would have come sooner, only he had been delayed trying to elude one of the other robots. Now the dog growled, pinning Bass harshly to the ground. Then, with one mighty shove, the zombie robot threw the canine unit backwards, causing him to skid across the gravel. Rush cried out in shock, though he wasn't actually hurt.
Megaman narrowed his eyes, looking at Bass with a steely glare. "I don't want to believe it about you, but it looks like you're just the same as every other robot here." His shoulders slumped as his gaze became sad, reflecting his true feelings. "I'll fight you, Bass, but I don't want you to get captured. You'll be destroyed for sure if they think you've hurt these people." What's more, he knew that, in Bass's condition, he very well could attack humans. "If there's any part of the old you that still exists, I wish he'd break free." This was added in almost a whisper.
The only answer he got was another round of blaster fire. Megaman knew it was hopeless to try to break through whatever power was doing this.
"Okay, then," he sighed, powering up his own blaster.
Go on and attack, Megaman. Don't hold back.
There was Bass talking to him again. Or perhaps Megaman was just thinking of something that Bass was likely to say. He had said similar things during their previous battles. But still, Megaman relaxed slightly and smiled. He would consider that he had the real Bass's blessing. That made him feel a bit better. With that, both robots ran forward, meeting each other with firing weapons. The artillery from their blasters lit up the night sky with the lights and sounds of battle.
It was upon this scene that Treble stumbled. The wolfdog stopped and stared, seeing Bass's emotionless, eerily glowing eyes and cold expression. Treble dug his claws into the ground, his mind racing. Bass had become one of those mindless slaves that Treble had encountered upon first arriving here. This wasn't the master and friend he had known and loved for years. He had feared that something like this might happen after Bass's body had been taken---and he was furious. Bass would be outraged that he had been repaired for this.
For a long time the fight ensued, with Megaman and Bass each battling to the best of their ability. It almost would have been like old times, save for the fact that Megaman could not forget the current circumstances nor that Bass wasn't in control of himself. Of course, Megaman had never really enjoyed their battles at all. He had hated that Bass continued to be obsessed with who was the strongest. Megaman had merely wanted them to be friends. But they fought on, at one point both being blasted back simultaneously when they fired at the same time. Bass was the first to rise and he quickly advanced on Megaman with the cold gaze of a robot assassin, but Megaman swiftly got up as well, firing first. Things continued on in this vein until it seemed that Megaman would once again win. Bass was now on the ground, momentarily stunned from Megaman's latest blast. Megaman swallowed hard, standing over Bass with the blaster pointed at his chest. Bass glared back at him, almost as if daring him to strike again.
But Megaman struggled with his decision. He knew that he needed to deliver the final blow, but on the other hand he wanted to find another way. He had thought he had caught a glimpse of a flickering red chip attached to Bass's neck. Maybe, if he could possibly remove the chip, it would deactivate Bass and Megaman wouldn't have to destroy him in order to stop him.
While he was hesitating, Bass struck out again, blasting Megaman backwards. The black-and-yellow robot immediately got up then, looking around for the sight of any other challengers. When Treble came running toward him, barking wildly, Bass raised his blaster cannon arm, ready to shoot. Megaman, who was getting up with Rush's help, cried out in protest.
"No, Bass!" the blue robot yelled. He could take Bass blasting at him. That was normal, no matter what condition the other robot was in. But Megaman couldn't bear the thought of Bass striking the wolfdog down. Treble was so loyal and good to his master. He didn't deserve to be viciously attacked, though Megaman knew Bass wouldn't do it if he were in control, which he was not.
Of course Bass paid no attention to Megaman's yells. He shot off a round of fire, but at the last minute he moved his arm and shot the blasts at a tree instead, sparing Treble. He looked at the dog standing in front of him, then back at Megaman, and then he teleported out, leaving Megaman and the dogs in stunned confusion. What had just happened? Why had Bass suddenly decided not to shoot at Treble? Megaman knew Bass wouldn't have been listening to his words. It had to be something else. What if . . . what if it was just possible . . . slightly possible . . . that the real Bass did still exist?
Cain glared as Bass teleported back in. "You failed to destroy that blue robot!" he scolded. And yet, he remembered hearing of their legendary battles before. That could have only been Megaman. Bass never had been able to win against him. And suddenly Cain recalled one of the other robots that had been brought along with Bass several weeks before. It had looked almost like a Megaman prototype. If it had even half the power that the real Megaman did, it could be very useful. Cain hadn't done anything with that robot yet, as he had been busy repairing Bass. But he made a mental note to examine it as soon as he could.
Bass looked at Cain vacantly. He was still capable of speaking, but the chip kept him from doing so now. Silently he retracted his blaster, bringing his right hand forth again. Was this merely a vacant shell inside, as would seem only likely? With no independent programming, Bass was a stranger to all who had known him. And yet, why had he refrained from shooting his loyal dog? Was it solely an extreme malfunction? Or was it something else? Did Bass's eyes truly flicker for a split second or was it only the lighting?
Cain turned to look at him, brows knit in confusion. But upon seeing the glowing eyes and submissive expression, the man growled. "You didn't attack that wolf, either," he reprimanded, mulling over that strange mystery in his mind. There wasn't a logical reason for the failure. It obviously hadn't been a misfire. "Maybe I was wrong about your helpfulness. You're not supposed to go soft. I didn't think even Wily's Bass was capable of that." In frustration he reached up, slapping Bass harshly across the face. If Bass cared about this demeaning action, he gave no heed. His eyes remained blank and he didn't even attempt to make a sound.
"Bah!" Cain growled then, turning away. "Never mind. Go off and . . . eradicate something while I tinker with another robot."
Megaman, meanwhile, was confused as well about everything that had happened. He looked from Treble to Rush and back again. "Bass didn't hurt you," he said softly to Treble as he petted Rush. "I don't understand it! He . . . he was obviously reprogrammed. So . . . so how could he show any restraint? The other robots didn't." He looked over at the robots' remains sadly. He had been forced to fight them all after Bass had left. Now they were destroyed, just as Megaman had feared would be Bass's fate---and still might be. With the problem at the energy plant taken care of (though the victory was bittersweet), Megaman now had time to reflect better on the strange events of the battle he had fought with his old rival. Never once had he really thought that Bass could ever become part of this army of robots that was terrorizing everyone. How had Bass even been able to be repaired? The scientist who had done this would have to be extremely brilliant, yet devious and cunning . . . like Wily.
Treble barked firmly. Bass, the Bass he knew, was still alive. He knew it. If Bass was dead, he wouldn't have suddenly blasted the tree instead. Treble wasn't sure how he would, but he was going to make sure he got Bass free.
Megaman sighed sadly, watching as the last person was loaded into an ambulance. "You wouldn't hurt humans, Bass," he said softly. "No matter how much you hate me, you wouldn't go after people! You wouldn't break the robot code." He clenched his fists tightly in outrage at the situation. "But . . . someone's making your body do it!" He actually didn't know whether Bass had personally attacked any of the people here at the energy plant, but he couldn't imagine the fighter robot just standing by and not doing anything while his "minions" went about wrecking havoc. No, it was likely Bass had delivered much of the damage. And Megaman felt sick about it.
I told you not to hold back. Why didn't you destroy me?
The blue robot immediately looked up, staring into the heavens and then around him, wondering where on earth Bass's voice always came from. Was he always imagining it? Or was it possible, conceivable, that somehow he was communicating with the real Bass and that, indeed, he existed somewhere still, in some form? He wanted to believe that. "I . . . I couldn't!" he screamed then, causing both Rush and Treble to look at him questioningly. "I COULDN'T DESTROY YOU!"
Why not? He who hesitates is lost.
Megaman gritted his teeth. "I want to believe you're still here," he replied. It didn't seem strange, having a conversation with the presence of a robot he had known. Bass had replied to Megaman, as he had done the last time Megaman had idly tried to talk to him. "No one deserves a fate like yours, Bass, being reprogrammed and controlled against their will!" He wanted to ask him about Treble and about who was behind all of this, but Bass interrupted him before he could.
I'm gone, Megaman. You're talking to a memory. You should have destroyed me.
But that wasn't good enough to discourage the optomistic blue robot. "Are you saying I'm crazy, then?" he asked quietly. "Is this all a malfunction of my mind?"
What do you think? Megaman imagined Bass watching him with one closed eye and crossed arms, looking irritated.
"I think. . . ." Megaman paused, searching for the right words. "I think that I can still save you. You didn't shoot at Treble. At the last minute, you changed your mind and had your laser fire hit that tree. You wouldn't do that, not with your new programming, unless . . . unless whoever did this to you couldn't erase your original programming and memories!"
Bass laughed bitterly. Ever hear of malfunctioning, Megaman?
Megaman frowned. "I'm not giving up!" he vowed. "I don't think it was a malfunction. Bass, can you tell me who did this to you and to all these other robots?" This time there was silence. The blue robot clenched his fists, concentrating on hearing an answer that wouldn't come. "WHO WAS IT?!" he cried in desperation. But there was still no reply, leaving Megaman to wonder if the entire conversation had been in his mind. If that had really been Bass he was talking to, why wouldn't Bass tell him who was responsible for this outrage? Maybe it had all only been his imagination, as he had come to decide after the last time Bass had spoken to him in this way.
With a resigned sigh he looked down at the city below him. He had to find out who was doing this before the entire population was injured (or worse) by this cruel plan. And he had to stop the madman from ressurecting robots only to have them do his every bidding. He was going to save Bass. Even if he couldn't get the old Bass back, he could at least deactivate him before he could cause any more trouble. Then Bass could rest in peace.