Disclaimer: This story is based on the Mega Man cartoons, which belong to Capcom, ADV, and a bunch of people who are not me. Some liberties were taken with certain facts, but for the most part, I've tried to stay true to the canon.

This story is a sequel to "End Program," so if you have not already read that story, you might want to go do that before reading this one.

Illegal Operation

Chapter One: Abort/Retry/Fail

"Protoman! Why did you disobey me?"

"Because your orders were stupid! I could have been in and out of that bank in no time if you hadn't sent Gutsman and Cutman with me."

"I sent them with you as back-up in case that meddlesome blue dweeb showed up - which he did!"

"He wouldn't have if those two junk bots hadn't tripped the alarms! I knew they'd do something stupid - that's why I ditched them in the first place!"

"The point is that you disobeyed me, Protoman!"

"I did it to help you, doc!"

"And just look at how much 'help' you were. What did you bring back to me? Nothing!"

"Everything was going just fine until they showed up..."

"Meow?"

Protoman blinked, disturbed from his memories when something bumped insistently against his leg. He looked down to see what it was and saw a small robotic cat staring patiently back up at him. "Go away," he said irritably, kicking the thing aside. "I don't have time to play with a robo-pest like you. Go back to your owner."

The cat meowed plaintively at him, as though deploring the abuse, then turned and sauntered back down the alley it had come from, practically oozing arrogance and disdain from its entire being. Protoman scowled at it, sorely tempted to blast the thing to smithereens, but managed to resist the urge long enough for the creature to disappear around a corner. He'd been trying to keep a low profile for a week now. It would hardly do to blow his cover over something as trivial as a stupid cat.

To be honest, he really didn't have anything better to do, he'd just lashed out at the cat out of habit and frustration. Living the life of a rogue was nowhere near as interesting as some might think, especially when he was trying to avoid attention. Back when he'd worked for Dr. Wily there had always been things to do. Missions to go on, banks to rob, crazy schemes to help out with... Even during the intermittent lulls of activity, there were still plenty of discarded inventions and broken machinery that he could poke through, salvaging whatever parts he might find useful for his own amusement. He had none of that now that he was on his own.

At first Proto had spent his time looking for someplace to hide out in, a place where he could recharge at night without worrying about anyone disturbing him. He'd finally found an old abandoned warehouse that suited his purposes nicely. There had been locks on the door, of course, but they hadn't stood a chance against the strength of a robot. The warehouse itself was in a part of the city that Wily had never targeted, so Protoman highly doubted his brother would think to look for him here.

Not that Mega Man would be looking for him at all. At least, not him specifically.

"Twerp probably doesn't even know I'm not with Wily anymore," Protoman muttered to himself. His hands clenched in anger as he thought back to the last encounter he'd had with the famous blue bomber. Their fight had been beyond disastrous. Protoman had not held back at all, and yet he had still lost to his brother - had been injured so much, in fact, that Mega Man had had no trouble kidnapping him and taking him to Dr. Light for repairs. As soon as he'd woken up, the red robot had promptly escaped, but the damage to his pride had already been dealt. A week later, his ego was still stinging, and if he saw his brother anytime soon, Protoman wasn't certain he would be able to resist opening fire then and there.

Actually, the reason he hadn't gone after his brother and demanded a rematch, the reason he'd been keeping an especially low profile the past week, was the same reason he was prowling down this alley in the first place. He couldn't afford to get into any fights until he had the means to repair himself afterwards, and this building promised to hold the equipment he needed. After he'd found a place to lay low, Protoman had donned a disguise to go to the local library to look for relatively nearby robotics laboratories. None would be as good as Dr. Light's or Dr. Wily's laboratories, but neither of those were good choices for a variety of reasons.

So, here he was, trying to find a way to break into the personal laboratory of a rising Russian scientist whose work was almost on par with his American counterparts'. Protoman had no idea what the guy was doing in the United States, nor did he particularly care. It was enough that he was good at what he did and he was here - or, rather, that his laboratory was here. Protoman didn't care one whit whether the scientist himself was around or not.

Now how am I going to bust into this place? he mused to himself.

-o-

"Whatcha doin', doc?"

"I would think it would be obvious! I am attempting to salvage the computer that that future robot smashed."

"Give it up, Dr. Wily. The thing's busted. The electrical discharge caused by the damage probably fried every circuit in there."

"Perhaps. However, there is still the possibility that some of the data Vile loaded onto the machine is intact. Just think, Proto. Think what I could do with even a glimpse at the technology of the future! I could build a new robot, one more powerful than anything I have ever created before. Not even Mega Man would be able to stand up to it!"

"Hmph."

"You don't think I can do it?"

"I think you'd have to actually find a working memory chip in that hunk of junk first. Then you'd have to be lucky enough that the thing held something useful on it, and not just worthless old data you already have backed up somewhere else."

"Where do you think you're going?"

"Out. If you want to waste your time looking for something that isn't there, go right ahead. Just don't expect me to help."

"Don't you take that tone with me, Protoman! I could always order you to help."

"...whatever."

-o-

"I'm sorry, sir, but if you want an interview with the doctor, I'm afraid I must insist on seeing some identification."

Protoman barely refrained from growling. "Look, lady. I've got the notebook, video recorder, and microphone. I even gave you the Chronicle's business card. How much more proof do you want before you're convinced that I'm a reporter?"

"I still need to see a photo I.D., sir," the chief of security said blandly. "Preferably something that proves you work for the Chronicle. Oh, and you will need to remove the hat and sunglasses."

"I..." Damn. He couldn't see a way to argue around that one. "I forgot my I.D. at home," the robot muttered through clenched teeth. Oh, how he wanted to just blast his way in. But he couldn't afford to do that. If he did, it'd be next to impossible to get the equipment he wanted without any of it getting damaged.

"Right." The woman smiled insincerely, obviously not falling for Protoman's story. "Well, as soon as you retrieve your I.D., come back and I'll run a check on it. Have a nice day!"

Have a nice day indeed! Protoman glared at the woman for a moment before stalking away from the security check point. He would have stomped his feet the whole time, too, but the loud clang of metal boots on cement would have been a dead giveaway. I'll give her a 'nice day' - as soon as I get the equipment I need out of that lab. Let's see how she likes it when she loses her job!

Grumbling fierce invectives under his breath, the disguised ex-Wily bot started across the street without even bothering to wait for the crossing signal to light up. He hardly even noticed when several cars had to screech to a halt to avoid hitting him, nor did he care about the insults and curses being hurled at him from the angry drivers. He was too wrapped up in his own anger and frustration to care.

Probably what irritated him the most was the fact that his disguise had failed to gain him entry. Lacking the resources that Dr. Wily had at his disposal, Protoman had had to make do with what he could find on his own. A dark brown trench coat long enough to hide the majority of his armored body had been as easy as finding the nearest bar and waiting for an appropriately clad drunkard to stumble out. Same went for the hat, although that had come from a different victim, and the sunglasses had been pure luck. Protoman made a mental note to go to the park more often, as it seemed to be a common occurrence for people to lose things there.

Unfortunately, without one of Dr. Wily's special masks, there had been no way to disguise his helmet. The only option Protoman had was to remove it entirely, and he hated leaving himself that vulnerable. He could hardly understand how humans could stand to go around with their heads bare, completely defenseless to a well placed jab or a stray plasma blast. And they didn't even have the advantage of being made out of metal! Their lives were so fragile, and yet they persisted in taking no thought about protecting their own bodies.

Idiots, he thought with disgust. All of them. He paused in front a set of darkened windows belonging to some shop that had gone out of business and examined his reflection for a moment. The sunglasses did little to hide the fact that he looked like a teenager - a fact that probably hadn't earned any points with the security guard - and a few locks of dark brown hair stubbornly fluffed out from under the fedora. His face twisted into a grimace and he turned away. I look like my brother.

"Hey, you moron! Get off the street!"

Protoman cursed as he jumped back onto the curb just in time to avoid being run over by a truck. The truck sped down the street, its driver either not noticing or not caring how close he'd come slamming into the red raider.

"Geez, kids these days," the man who'd yelled at Proto muttered in disgust. "Don't even have the sense to look both ways before crossing the street."

"Mind your own business, old man," Protoman snapped, not at all grateful for the other's warning. "I didn't ask for your help!"

The man bristled. "Well, excuse me for saving your sorry butt from being turned into road pizza!"

Protoman opened his mouth to shoot off a snarky retort, but stopped before the first word left his lips. He couldn't explain that he'd never been in any real danger, that in a crash involving him and an old beat up truck like the one that had nearly hit him the truck would have definitely come out the loser. He might have gotten dinged up a bit, depending on how well made the truck was, but certainly not on the order of 'road pizza.' But he couldn't say that to this man because that would blow his cover, something he wasn't ready for just yet. So instead Protoman simply glared at his would-be savior, then spun around and stepped off the curb.

-o-

"One of these days, someone's luck is going to run out. I would hate for it to be yours, Protoman."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means exactly what I said."

"Yeah, well, you don't have to worry about my luck running out, doc. Mega Man, now... His luck is due to run out, and I bet it'll happen at five o'clock tomorrow. Heh. My brother won't know what hit him."

"Hmph. I won't believe it until I see his body lying in pieces at my feet. It wouldn't be the first time you've failed to destroy that little blue dweeb."

"Hey, you should have more confidence in me, doc. Besides, it's a brilliant plan - best of all being that I'll get to blast Mega Man sky high!"

"True, true. I am a genius. Well, let's get started!"

-o-

Afternoon sunlight filtered in through the broken windows of the warehouse, providing just enough light for Protoman, no longer wearing his disguise, to see his reflection in the dark shades of the helmet he held in his hands. The trench coat had been flung carelessly over the edge of an old crate and the hat and sun glasses had joined the collection of debris littering the floor. Maybe if he stayed here long enough he'd get around to cleaning up the place a bit. Maybe.

I look like my brother.

Sitting atop a dusty old old barrel, the red robot scowled at his reflection, imagining that it was his brother. Of course, his brother would never wear an expression like the one Protoman was wearing now, but lacking the actual blue bomber himself, this reflection would have to do.

Why did Dr. Light have to build you to look like me? This is supposed to be my reflection, not yours.

Granted, there were a few minor differences, things that Dr. Light couldn't have copied without actually seeing Protoman first. He had darker hair than his brother, for one thing, his skin a little more dusky, and his eyes were a greyer shade of blue than Mega Man's. Still, for all intents and purposes, Protoman and Mega Man could pass for twins - twins 'born' three months apart.

Yeah, that's right. They rant about Dr. Wily copying other people's inventions, but Dr. Light copied me first!

A copy. That's what Mega Man really was. Just a copy with a different helmet and a different coat of paint. A copy who could never be as good as the-

"Wait a minute," Protoman cut himself off, eyes widening as he stared at his reflection. "That's it! That's how I can get into the lab!" He hopped down from the barrel and set his helmet aside, then picked up the pieces of his disguise and put them back on. He paused as he slipped the sun glasses into place, giving his helmet one last glance. "Better watch out, little brother," he taunted his reflection, grinning. "You're not gonna like this one bit."

-o-

"How could you miss! You were practically shooting point blank!"

"You try shooting someone when you have a stupid robo-mutt attached to your buster arm!"

"Do not give me excuses, Protoman!"

"Well, what the hell do you want, then?"

"I want you to destroy Mega Man!"

"Do you think I'm not trying!"

"I think you're not trying hard enough! I'm beginning to think I ought to have you replaced."

"You're out of your mind, doc. Who're you gonna replace me with? Gutsman?"

"I could build a new robot-"

"Who will be just as good as all the other bots around here - except me. Face it, Dr. Wily. I'm your best bet at getting rid of my brother. Nothing you or Dr. Light can build can top me. I will destroy Mega Man."

"Well, I wish you would hurry up and do it."

"I will, doc. I will."

-o-

"What is it?" Chief of Security Lynn Bergher said into her walkie talkie, responding to her co-worker's call within moments of hearing his voice.

"Chief, Mega Man's here at the front gate. Says he's uncovered a plot of Dr. Wily's to break into the lab."

"I'll be right there." She holstered the walkie talkie in her belt, then immediately broke into a jog. Anything concerning Dr. Wily was taken very seriously ever since he'd gotten his hands on some of Dr. Cossack's designs. If Mega Man himself had come here to deliver the warning, that only made it doubly important to get there as soon as possible.

The blue bomber was waiting for her in the lobby, arms folded and looking very grim. Ian Cotswold, the guard who had radioed her when Mega Man had shown up, immediately noticed when Lynn stepped through the door and nodded in greeting.

"Lynn Bergher," she introduced herself. "Chief of Security."

"Mega Man," the robot responded, the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile. He held out his hand and the two exchanged a brief handshake before getting down to business.

"Now, what exactly is Dr. Wily planning?"

Mega Man glanced at Ian pointedly. Ian, taking the obvious hint, coughed lightly and excused himself to continue his rounds. Mega Man waited until Ian had left the room before he turned his attention back to Lynn and answered her question. "Earlier today, I overheard some of Wily's bots talking about breaking into Cossack Labs and stealing some equipment. I didn't catch much of the conversation, but from what I did hear I'm pretty sure they're planning to attack tonight at ten o' clock. I was thinking that we could work together to give them a 'warm welcome.'"

"What did you have in mind?" Lynn asked, relieved. As far as she was concerned, having Mega Man on site during the attack could only improve their chances of thwarting the attack. Granted, it would also probably increase the amount of property damage, but anything that Dr. Wily might be interested in stealing was likely worth more than the cost to reconstruct the entire building.

"Here, I'll show you." Mega Man pointed at something behind Lynn's back. "If you'll just look through that window..."

The Chief of Security turned around and did as Mega Man asked, taking in the details of the busy street that the window overlooked. She heard the clank of the blue bomber's feet as he walked across the tiled floor to join her. He stopped, and from his faint reflection in the glass window, Lynn could tell that he was standing right behind her.

Then she knew no more.

-o-

"What am I going to do with you, Proto, my boy?"

"I dunno. Send me off to kill Mega Man?"

"Bah! That is not what I meant and you know it!"

"Actually, no, I don't know what you meant. Care to elaborate?"

"No, no. Never mind. If you do not understand, I'm not going to explain - it'd no doubt only make things worse."

"Right..."

"Besides, I am hoping it is just a phase. Mein Gott, you're as bad as a human teenager..."

"What was that?"

"Nothing. I said nothing. Don't you have something better to do? Go pester Gutsman or Cutman or one of the other robots and let me work in peace!"

-o-

As Lynn Bergher's unconscious form crumpled to the floor, Protoman sighed with relief. He'd only had to imitate his little brother's whiny voice once before, back when Dr. Wily had created that dream machine of his, but that didn't make it any less irritating. Hopefully, he wouldn't run into anyone else while he was here. If he did, he may well decide to keep his mouth shut just to avoid having to mimic Mega Man's voice again.

Right, then. Time to get what I came here for.

Having acquired and studied a set of blueprints for the building, it didn't take much time at all for temporarily blue raider to make his way to Dr. Cossack's laboratory. In fact, the only unexpected delay he had was when he ran into the other guard from earlier. The look on his face had almost been comical as 'Mega Man' pointed a buster in his face and shoved him into a supply closet. Protoman smirked at the memory, then refocused on the task at hand. He pushed open the door - and was promptly hit by a screaming ball of spikes and claws.

"Argh! What the hell!" Protoman swore and swung at his assailant with his non-buster arm. The blow connected, the bulky armor on his forearm protecting him from the spikes, and the whatever-it-was flew across the room with a loud yowl. Undaunted, it seemed to bounce right back off the wall and straight for Protoman. "Oh, no you don't!" Protoman dove to the side, but he didn't dare open fire. It'd be just his luck if he missed his attacker and managed to blow up the equipment he'd come here for in the first place.

The spinning ball of spikes landed on the floor and in the blink of an eye the spikes had retracted and the ball uncurled to reveal a hissing green robo-cat. Said cat arched its back and gave Protoman a glare that should have come equipped with lasers, and though it didn't seem capable of human speech, its message was clear. Get out of my lab.

Protoman picked himself up off the floor, scowling. "So you want to play rough, huh? Let's see what you've got!" He watched the cat warily for a moment, then took a step to the left. Just as he'd expected the cat launched itself at him again, and he quickly jerked back to the right. "What? Not gonna try your imitation of a pincushion again?" he taunted. "And here I thought I was about to be a shishke-bot! Come on, you can do better than that!"

The cat's ears laid back against its head and it hissed at Protoman again, obviously taking offense to his insults. It bounded up onto one of the counters, knocking a few tools off in the process, then leaped off again. It curled up in mid-air, and once more it unsheathed the razor sharp spikes hidden all over its body. This time, however, Proto was ready. He grabbed hold of a chair with both hands and, as the spinning ball of death flew towards him, he swung it like a baseball bat. The two met with a resounding clang and the screech of tearing metal. For a moment, Protoman though the cat would actually stick to the chair, as several of its spikes were now firmly embedded in the metal seat, but then the thing's spikes receded and the cat - once more in cat form - fell limply to the floor. Protoman nudged it with the toe of his boot before crouching down for a closer look.

"Didn't see that coming, did you?" he commented. "Thought so. Probably can't see very well when you're spinning that fast." His guess was that the cat relied on its ears when it used that particular method of attack, but he could be wrong. Still, he'd succeeded in knocking the thing out, and that was all that mattered. He rubbed the cat's metal head almost affectionately, smirking. "You fought well, kitty. Too bad you picked the wrong bot to mess with."

He stood up, fully intent on collecting the equipment he needed and then getting out of there before he was discovered, then hesitated. He looked down at the cat. The cat lay still. He looked around the lab, then back at the cat. "Oh, what the hell," he muttered, stooping over to pick the thing up. "Maybe I can make you good for something."

A few minutes later, Protoman emerged from the lab, cheerfully pushing a cart full of equipment with a green and white robo-kitty draped across the top.

-o-

"...and that is how I intend to get rid of Mega Man once and for all!"

"Great plan, doc. Only one problem."

"What is that, pray tell?"

"The part where you kill Mega Man. Mega Man is mine. I will be the one to kill him. Not you, not Gutsman or Cutman, or any of your other stupid robots."

"Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, Protoman! If you will remember, I am the one who built you. I am the one who gives the orders around here!"

"Mega Man is my brother. His life belongs to me."

"And what will you do if someone else manages to kill him first?"

"I..."

"I thought as much. Now get to work. We have much to do and very little time to do it if we want to catch that meddlesome pest off guard."

-o-

"You, my spiky little friend, are a girl," Protoman declared. The cat didn't respond, of course, as she was still off-line while Protoman worked on repairing her. Protoman - once again sporting his customary colors, scarf, and helmet - inserted the tip of a laser tuner into her open chest panel and carefully adjusted some of her internal circuitry. "Girl cats are supposed to be the territorial ones, right? That's you to a 't.' Hmm... now what am I going to call you?"

He paused what he was doing thought about possible names for a moment, eyes wandering across the room for inspiration. With the equipment he'd stolen from Dr. Cossack's lab all set up, some of it sitting on the floor, some of it on top of a crate, the place was actually starting to look like someone lived there. He'd want to get a few more things, like a radio or television to keep up on the news, some extra supplies, and maybe a mattress for when he needed to recharge, but those things could wait. Right now he wanted to finish repairing his new cat and wiping her memory. After all, he didn't want to have to beat her over the head with another chair if she decided she didn't like being kidnapped.

"It'll just be the two of us here, you know," he mused, as though the cat could hear him. "No one else. But you know what they say about that, right? 'It takes two to tango.'" He was about to resume his work on the cat, but stopped again as what he'd said sparked an idea. "That's it, I'll call you Tango! What do you think about that, huh?" Pleased with the name he'd picked out, Protoman whistled a cheerful tune and went back to work.

-o-

"This is Brie Ricotta, reporting to you live from the laboratory of the famous Dr. Mikhail Sergeyevich Cossack. Here with me is Ian Cotswold, one of two witnesses to the shocking crime that has just been committed here. Mr. Cotswold, tell us what happened."

"It was Mega Man! He told us that Dr. Wily was going to break into the lab last night, but then he knocked out the chief and locked me in a closet. He's the one who stole Dr. Cossack's equipment!"

"Those are some pretty serious charges, Mr. Cotswold. Do you have any proof to back up these accusations?"

"You bet we do! We caught it all on the security cameras!"

"So, there you have it, folks. Mega Man, who we thought was our hero, is actually a criminal! His creator, Dr. Thomas Light, has not been available for comment, but one must wonder if a robot, even one such as Mega Man, can commit such crimes without any influence from its creator. Is there perhaps a darker, more sinister side to the man hailed as one of the most brilliant scientists of our time? We'll find out when he and Mega Man are brought to court. This is Brie Ricotta, signing out."

-To be continued-

Author Note: Yes, I am fully aware that Dr. Cossack did not make Tango in the games. However, it's also a known fact that the Mega Man cartoons don't always follow the game canon, and since Dr. Light made Beat - er, I mean 'Pippi' - in the cartoons, I figured I was justified in taking a little creative license with who made Tango.

Hope you enjoyed the story!

Many thanks to Syvia and Atreyu for beta reading.