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.
Chapter Two: Exception Error
"I didn't do it, Dr. Light. You have to believe me!" Mega Man searched his creator's face desperately for some sign that the aging scientist didn't believe the accusations that had been leveled against him. The two were standing in Dr. Light's lab in front of the computer currently showing the local news report. The theft from Dr. Cossack's laboratory and Mega Man's supposed involvement was, of course, the top story, and had been ever since this morning.
"I do, Mega, I do," Dr. Light said soothingly. He reached out and laid a hand on his son's armored shoulder. "I know full well that you could never do something like that - not unless it was a dire emergency - but unless we can come up with some sort of proof to say otherwise, the court will have no reason to take our word for it."
"Couldn't we just give them a copy of my memory logs?"
Dr. Light shook his head. "We can, but I'm afraid that won't be good enough. They can't be certain that neither you nor I will have tampered with those logs before turning them in. As for having someone present to act as a witness while I make a copy, again, there isn't anything to say that I haven't already altered your memory. After all, Mega," he said wryly, "I am your creator, so my word is just as suspect. Whether or not you can remember your actions, I will still be held responsible for them, especially if they think I deliberately destroyed evidence of what you did."
"But I didn't do it," the bewildered blue bomber repeated. "I wasn't anywhere near Dr. Cossack's lab yesterday. I was out investigating that report of a Wily bot at the old drill factory."
"Where you would have no witnesses, no one to provide you with an alibi." Dr. Light turned off the news and began pacing. "It all seems entirely too convenient to be a coincidence."
"I bet Dr. Wily has something to do with this," Mega Man said darkly. "It wouldn't be the first time he's had someone pretend to be me."
Dr. Light lifted an eyebrow at that. "That's a good point, Mega. In fact, you're not the only person he's tried to impersonate. However, I don't think we should try to rely on that as our sole defense. The prosecution will be quick to point out that Dr. Wily has never actually built a double of you. In the first case, he merely switched your circuits with Snakeman's, and in the second case, all he had to do was modify someone's dream so that one of his other robots appeared to be you."
"What we need to do," Roll announced, walking into the lab with a disk in her hand, "is figure out who that bot in the security tape really is. The good news is that I managed to get a copy of the tape from Dr. Cossack. The bad news is that I looked through it once already and there aren't any obvious clues. I'm not giving up yet, though. In fact, I wanted to use your computer to play through it again, since it has the biggest screen in the house. It'll be easier to see all the details."
"Play it in slow motion," Dr. Light urged. "And pay close attention to any reflective surfaces. Sometimes they reveal things that people assumed would not be seen by the camera."
Roll nodded and gave her creator an optimistic smile. "Don't worry, Dr. Light, I will. I'll nail that Mega-fraud if it's the last thing I do!"-o-
"Do you, Mega Man, swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"
"Please be seated."
"Mega Man, you are accused of assaulting Lynn Bergher and Ian Cotswold and stealing equipment from the laboratory of Dr. Mikhail Sergeyevich Cossack. How do you plead?"
"Mega Man, where were you on the evening of March 8?"
"I was at the Williams Drill Factory."
"And what were you doing there?"
"I'd gotten a report that one of Dr. Wily's robots had been spotted there, so I went to check it out."
"Did you discover anything?"
"No, sir. I'm not even certain it was a Wily bot the caller saw. The description didn't match any of his robots who I've ever seen or heard of."
"Mega Man, was there anyone at this drill factory who could verify that you were there?"
"No, sir. The place has been abandoned for years."
"So let me get this straight. You received an anonymous phone call from someone who just happened to be hanging around an abandoned drill factory at just the right time to spot a robot who might or might not even belong to Dr. Wily. This oh so conveniently happened at the exact same time as the crime you are accused of committing. You have no witnesses and no proof beyond the memory files you submitted to the court. Am I right?"
"No further questions."
As much as Protoman kept from interacting with people, even he heard about the trial of the century. How could he not, when it was plastered on every television, newspaper, and magazine, and nearly every conversation he overheard was about his brother? Protoman grinned. He never tired of hearing about how much hot water his little stunt had landed Mega Man in.
"Serves him right, huh, Tango?" he chortled, rubbing the green robo-cat's head affectionately. "That's what he gets for being such a gullible little goody goody."
Tango gave Protoman a look that could have meant any number of things, then slipped out from under the robot's red-gloved hand and jumped up on top of a crate. Without so much as a second glance at her companion, the green and white cat curled up and went to sleep. 'Recharging' probably would have been a more accurate term to describe the state of low energy consumption, where a robot's body consumed less energy than it produced, but in Protoman's mind that cat didn't recharge - she slept.
"Yeah, yeah," Protoman grumbled good-naturedly. "What do you care about my idiot brother?" Still, Tango was the only here that he could gloat to, and considering that it had been his phone call that had gotten Mega Man out of the way, he figured he had plenty to gloat about. Of course, he'd only made the false report of a Robot Master sighting to eliminate any chance of his brother showing up during the robbery. He hadn't guessed that the city would make this big a deal over his impersonation of his brother, or that this would conveniently leave Mega Man without a legitimate alibi. Protoman grinned again. It's his own fault for not taking anyone with him.-o-
"Dr. Light, to what extent do your robots have free will?"
"Are you asking about my commercial robots, or about Mega Man and his sister, Roll?"
"You mean to say that Mega Man does not have the same restrictions as the average robot?"
"It would be ridiculous to do otherwise. Mega Man's flexibility, ingenuity, and self-determination are exactly what allow him to combat Dr. Wily so effectively."
"But you built and programmed Mega Man before Dr. Wily surfaced as a threat."
"I also built both Mega Man and his sister before there were any regulations on how to program robots."
"So what you're saying is that because they were built before the laws existed, that means that the laws do not apply to them?"
"If you are suggesting that I should reprogram them-!"
"Why shouldn't you? When the laws for something as simple as a driver's license changes, everyone must follow the new laws. The same applies to regulations on our factories, our cars, on our very behavior in society."
"But it is not that simple. Robots are very complex beings-"
"Robots aren't people, Dr. Light. They're only robots, and as robots, they need - no, they must conform to the laws set in place to keep such machines under control. Unless you are trying to claim that you and your creations are exempt from the law?"
"Mega Man and Roll have never shown any signs that they needed to be reprogrammed. They followed the law well enough on their own without modifying their programming. There is a general rule in mechanics, sir, that if something is not broken, you don't fix it."
"And that is exactly what went wrong. I believe it was Mega Man's out of date programming that allowed him to break the law in the first place. It also doesn't surprise me in the slightest that you would wish to believe in his innocence, because if he is indeed guilty, it means that you failed to program him correctly. Isn't that right, Dr. Light?"
"Hmm..." Dr. Wily stroked one of his mustaches thoughtfully as he read the newspaper that one of his Batontons had brought him. "So. Mega Man is on trial. Truly, the world is filled with imbeciles if they believe this rubbish! But... it does present quite an opportunity." He cackled with glee and folded the newspaper up.
"With Mega Man out of the picture, we can do anything we want!" Cutman agreed excitedly.
"Let's rob a bank!" Gutsman suggested. "We can smash our way in!"
"Fools!" Dr. Wily roared. "That is not the kind of opportunity I was talking about! You are thinking - no! You are not thinking! You do not have the ability to think! If we draw attention to ourselves now with petty crimes such as you suggest, the people will release Mega Man to fight us and he will redeem himself in their eyes. No, I mean to be rid of Mega Man once and for all. Cutman, go and get Bass. It is time to send him on his first mission."-o-
"Mega Man, this isn't the first time you've been held responsible for something that wasn't your fault, is it?"
"Would you say that it's possible that someone made that phone call with the very intent to make sure you were not there during the robbery and would have no alibi?"
"Yes, sir, I think it's possible."
"Is there any way that someone could have created some way to impersonate you?"
"Dr. Wily's made robot clones of other people, so I wouldn't be surprised if he's done the same thing with me. It might have been someone else, but I doubt it."
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I agree with the prosecution. There has been entirely too much coincidence in this case for it to be a coincidence. However, I disagree with the interpretation of the events. I propose that someone is trying to frame Mega Man."-o-
"Hey, Roll," Mega Man said, giving his sister a wan smile as he and Dr. Light sat down at the kitchen table. The court had adjourned for the day, allowing everyone to go home, eat, and get some sleep. Of course, being a robot, these things didn't really affect him, but he still felt drained. Probably a side effect of watching all his defenses get torn to pieces by some of the very people he'd been fighting to protect for years. "How's the search going?"
Roll shook her head sadly. "Not good, I'm afraid. Whoever this guy is, he's good. He looks exactly like you, Mega. He even sounds like you, and that's supposed to be impossible!"
"Indeed," Dr. Light remarked. "You would have to have the blueprints of almost every piece of a robot's body to ensure a perfect match. Voices are controlled by the robot's programming, thus no robot's voice can be matched perfectly unless you copy everything from their processor to their memory chips. If even one chip differs slightly from the robot you're trying to copy, the voice will almost certainly be affected. To copy Mega Man's voice, considering that I used materials from many different companies, would be next to impossible."
"It's too bad the prosecution didn't miss that fact." Mega Man dropped his head into his hands and groaned. "That's one of their best pieces of evidence against me. I know I've never said the words that were on the tape, so it couldn't be a recording, either."
"Don't worry, Mega. We'll figure something out." Roll leaned over and patted the blue bomber's shoulder, an impish grin flashing across her face. "What you need is a can of energy and a good polishing, to remind everyone that you're our knight in shining armor."
A grateful smile and a chuckle were Roll's reward. Mega Man nodded and stood up. "Thanks, sis." He meant the words for more than just the favor she'd offered. Roll never failed to cheer him up.-o-
"Of all the robots in existence, Protoman would be the easiest to blame for this crime. Because he and Mega Man were built from the same plans, they look a great deal alike in terms of basic body structure and capabilities. However, not even he has the same voice pattern as Mega Man. Yes, Dr. Wily has copied the voices of humans before, but copying the voice of a human is a completely different matter from copying the voice of a robot. Humans do not have voices that are controlled and regulated by machinery and computers. Their voices are constantly in flux, changing as their bodies grow older, influenced by the individual circumstances the human in question is speaking under, so any minute inconsistencies in the copy are almost impossible to spot when compared to the original.
"Robots, on the other hand, have voices that never change outside of their original parameters. Robot voices cannot be copied perfectly without copying the robot perfectly, a concept that is patently absurd when we are talking about a robot as complex and old as Mega Man. Here we have a recording of a robot's voice that matches, exactly, the voice of the defendant. Can there be any dispute that it was Mega Man who spoke these words?"-o-
Night time probably would have made it easier for Bass to approach Dr. Light's lab unnoticed. Unfortunately, it would have also made it much more difficult to break in, as people expected crimes to be committed under the cover of darkness. Night time was when security was highest. That was why Bass had chosen to carry out his plans during the day, timing it for when Mega Man and Dr. Light would be busy with the trial and not at home. With luck, Mega Man's sister and his dog would also go to the trial, but if they didn't, Bass would make do. His lip curled in a sneer. He had no fear of them.
Still, the actual trip from Skull Castle to Dr. Light's lab was easy enough. No one took any note of one more car on the streets, even one with windows tinted to hide the fact that the driver was wearing a rather unique helmet. Dr. Light lived on a large plot of land in the suburbs, so finding an out of the way parking place where none of the neighbors would see him get out of the car was a relatively simple matter. There was still some risk involved, but no one knew who the black and gold robot was or who he worked for. Anyone who noticed the wolf at his side would likely be too far away to realize that it was both purple and robotic. And if they did? So what? Robotic animals were not uncommon. Assuming things went according to plan, people would have no reason to remember either of them at all.
Now he and the wolf stood in front of the house, eyeing it critically for any obvious signs of weakness. From the information Dr. Wily had given him, there were sensors everywhere, many of which would be linked to non-lethal traps. A human wouldn't set them off, but he, a robot, would trigger all sorts of alarms with just one wrong step. The doors would be titanium reinforced and password protected. Windows, chimney, pipes, iris portals - all were well protected and had been ever since Dr. Wily had broken in that first time all those years ago. There had been one break-in since then, but Bass had strong suspicions that Dr. Light and Mega Man had wanted Ice man to get in.
A devilish grin spread across Bass' face as he realized that one of the windows in the lab dome had been broken recently and was in the middle of being repaired. He hadn't expected to find such an easy entrance as this, but who was he to complain? As for the sensors...
"Treble," he whispered. "Fuse!"-o-
"Just because a thing has never been done before does not mean that it cannot be done at all. Despite the apparent evidence to the contrary, we cannot rule out the possibility that Mega Man has been framed. We all acknowledge the fact that it is possible - unlikely, but possible - for a perfect copy of a robot to be made, one who would have the same voice pattern as the original. With people like Dr. Light and Dr. Wily accomplishing the seemingly impossible on a daily basis, how do we know that this is not exactly what has happened?"-o-
Protoman had to chuckle at the defense lawyer for that. Oh, the man had a point, but the idea of copying Mega Man perfectly was ludicrous, especially since the supposed copy had broken the law, thus proving that his programming, at least, was not a perfect match. What no one seemed to consider was the fact that Mega Man's unchanging voice was exactly what had made it so easy for Protoman to mimic it. Of course, it helped that he and Mega Man had been made from the same plans, so his vocal programming and voice synthesizer were already a fair match for his brother's.
No other robot in the world can do what I've done, Protoman thought smugly as he turned away from the display TV and continued his shopping. Well, shoplifting would be a more accurate term, but the principle was still the same. He just didn't intend to pay for the products he was picking up. No other robot can control their voice as well as I can. I may be the oldest robot alive, but I'm the best there is. Better than you, Mega Man. Better than you.-o-
"The world is full of 'mights' and 'what ifs.' If every trial took into account every possibility under the sun, no one would ever be convicted. I'm willing to bet that every criminal currently under arrest fervently wishes they could place all the blame conveniently on the shoulders of an evil twin who might exist. The simple fact of the matter is that a perfect copy of a complex robot has never been made, no one has ever reproduced a complex robot's voice patterns, and the possibility of either of these happening is so remote that we may as well not consider them possible at all. If Mega Man was a human, the evidence we have is enough that he would already be convicted. It is only because he is a robot and because of his reputation that this trial has dragged on as long as it has."-o-
Nobody was home. That much was obvious as Bass flew into the lab, his purple wings just barely brushing the edges of the broken window. The house was too still, too quiet, for there to be anyone present but him. Roll was a robot who was not built to be inactive, and from what he had heard of Rush, 'quiet' did not seem to be part of the dog's programming. If either one were present, Bass would have heard something. The broad fins on his helmet weren't there for decoration, after all.
Still, he would be cautious. He landed as softly as he could, with only a faint thump as rubber soled titanium connected with tile. He paused. He listened. Nothing. Good, he thought with satisfaction. On any other day, he would have preferred to meet with some resistance, would have loved to blast something to pieces, but that wasn't the purpose of his mission today.
Not wanting to take any more chances than necessary, Bass opted to stay fused with Treble for the moment, even though it meant he had to sit at the computer awkwardly because of his wings. He trusted Treble, but the robotic wolf was newly built. He might have undetected bugs, or he might simply display too much curiosity and poke his nose into the wrong place at the wrong time. Either would unnecessarily complicate things. Besides, staying fused would cut down on the amount of time it would take to get out of here.
Now, let's see if your programming's as good as you say it is, doc. The computer was password protected, of course, but that didn't keep Bass from slipping in a small silvery disk. Within moments, the computer's dark screen sprang to life as the program on the disk began its work. Windows popped up and disappeared in the blink of an eye, old files were overwritten or altered, and new files appeared where there had been none before. One of the first things to be edited was the video feed from the camera that was watching the interior of the lab right now. Bass relaxed a little after that. One less possible piece of evidence that someone had broken into this place.
Time passed slowly. The program had a lot of work to do, after all, not only altering the files that needed to be changed, but covering up its tracks, too. Everything it did left footprints that could be detected by an expert, and no matter what else Dr. Light might be, he was an expert. It would be interesting to see if Dr. Wily's hacking skills were up to the challenge.
Bass watched and waited while the program ran, glancing at the door every once in a while to make sure it stayed closed. If he was caught now, he would have no choice but to kill whoever entered and hide their body somewhere where no one would ever find it. His eyebrow twitched at the thought of having to haul someone's useless carcass all the way back to Skull Castle. Not something he wanted to deal with while trying to escape unseen.
A soft ding from the computer interrupted his thoughts. The black and purple robot exhaled softly in relief as the disk was spit back out at him. It was done - and without having to hide any bodies. He grabbed the disk and activated the jets in his wings, giving himself just enough of a boost to make it back through the window. As he glided through the air, a triumphant smirk spread across his face. He had done what only his predecessor, Protoman, had done. He had broken into the lab of Dr. Light when the old man had not wanted uninvited guests. The only difference was that he hadn't been caught. Now all he had to do was make one little phone call and his success would be complete.
"You're all obsolete," he said, laughing as he landed near his parked car. A flash of purple light enveloped him, and when it faded he was back in his normal gold trimmed black armor with Treble at his side. There was no sign that he had ever had purple wings. "I am the most advanced robot in existence, and I'll prove it if I have to scrap every one of you!"-o-
"...and in a startling turn of events, an anonymous tip led investigators to run a thorough search of Dr. Light's computer. Among the files that were turned up were some that apparently indicated that Mega Man's memory has been modified! Although there were no copies of the original memories, the time stamp on the modifications show that they were made shortly after the March 8th crime was committed. Prosecutors say this is just the evidence they need to prove that it was Mega Man who broke into Dr. Cossack's laboratory. If convicted, Mega Man may face a complete wipe of his memory and personality programming. Because of Mega Man's past heroic activities, it seems unlikely that prosecutors will seek the ultimate penalty for a robot who has attacked humans..."-o-
"What?" Protoman stared at the newspaper in stark disbelief, then with growing rage. "Oh hell no!" he snarled, crushing the newspaper with his hands. "No one destroys Mega Man but me!" He tossed the newspaper to one side and stood up, eyes smoldering with determination. He had work to do.-o-
"Mega Man, you have been found guilty of all the charges brought against you."
Roll felt numb, hearing neither the sentencing phase of the trial or Rush's pathetic whimpers. She had failed. The one time Mega Man had needed her most, she hadn't been able to find any evidence that would prove that it hadn't been him. Now her brother was going to be killed. Even if the court only ordered a mind wipe, he wouldn't be Mega anymore. He'd be a stranger wearing her brother's face. And Dr. Light...
Unwillingly, Roll's eyes traveled to where her father was sitting. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, but she thought her father's hair had become much whiter in just the last few minutes. There was no doubt that he was in shock. His eyes glistened with unshed tears and his gaze was firmly fixed on the blue armored bot sitting still as a statue at the defense table. Roll was willing to bet there wasn't a thought in Dr. Light's head about his own fate. Nothing the court could do to him would be worse than taking his son away from him.
Mega Man, on the other hand, wasn't looking at anyone. His shoulders were slumped in resignation and defeat. After all these years of fighting Dr. Wily, it hadn't been one of Wily's creations who finally brought him down, but the very people he'd been trying to defend. The irony would kill him. Literally.
Mega didn't do it. The thought echoed in Roll's mind for what must have been the thousandth time that day. And Dr. Light would never erase something from his mind! Not even something like this. There has to be a mistake. Someone's trying to frame them. But whoever had hacked into Dr. Light's computer had done a good job of removing any evidence of tampering. The experts who had examined the data had declared that it was one hundred percent genuine. Roll had tried to point out that someone could have come in through the broken window, but a forensics team hadn't been able to find so much as a footprint on Dr. Light's property, let alone fingerprints or any other mark on the new metal framing that had just been installed. Her protest that maybe they flew in had sounded feeble even to her, especially when coupled with the lab's video surveillance that showed no one entering or leaving the lab in the past two weeks who shouldn't have.
What the tapes had shown was Mega Man lying on Dr. Light's lab table with wires connecting him to the computer. Roll would dearly love to know how the intruder had managed that. Her first thought had be that it was recycled footage from one of the times Dr. Light had had to repair something particularly sensitive, but no one could find any evidence of repetition when compared to any of the earlier videos. That had been the end of the story.
"Oh Mega," she whispered as the court broke into recess. "I'm sorry."-o-
"The news of Mega Man's guilt has stunned the world. The fact that a hero such as the famous blue bomber could also be a criminal has rocked the very foundations of our faith. If we cannot even trust our heroes, who can we trust?"
"Letter for you, miss."
Roll blinked in surprise at the teenage boy who was holding out an envelope to her. She was certain she'd never seen him before, but something about him struck her as... familiar. Maybe she could pin down who he reminded her of if he took off his sunglasses and that ball cap so she could get a good look at him. She wouldn't ask him to do that, though. That would be rude. Instead, she asked, "Do I know you?"
"Nope." Now he looked like he was trying not to smile. "I'm just a delivery boy. You gonna take the letter or not?"
She took the letter. "Thanks."
"Just doing my job," the boy replied. He turned around and walked away before Roll could ask him anything else.
Puzzled - who would be sending her a letter? - the blond robot opened the envelope. There was no letter. Just a picture. It was a still shot from the video surveillance of Dr. Cossack's lab when 'Mega Man' had encountered the robotic cat that had belonged to Dr. Cossack's daughter. Someone had used a bright red marker to draw a circle around the intruder's forearm and there was caption at the bottom, written in unfamiliar handwriting. Missed a spot, it said. Roll frowned and looked at the circled area more closely - and nearly dropped the picture in shock.
There was a scratch on the armor. A small red scratch. The cat's spikes must have scratched off-
"A layer of paint!" Roll gasped. Then she broke into a run. There was still hope!-o-
"It is the decision of this court that Mega Man be confiscated and reprogrammed by government experts-"
"Wait! I can prove that Mega Man's innocent!"
The photo turned out to be genuine, rather than a doctored image. Every copy of the original video showed the same thing. Whoever the intruder had been, he was most certainly not Mega Man. Not only were there no scratches on his armor anywhere, but even if he had been scratched, the scratch would have appeared either blue or gray, depending on how deep it cut. There was no red on him anywhere except his helmet.
In light of this evidence, a harder look was taken at the data pulled from Dr. Light's computer. Again, nothing could be found to indicate that the incriminating files had been faked, but there was a missing segment of video from an earlier date. Other files that corresponded with the missing segment showed that Mega Man had indeed undergone repairs at that time. Investigators concluded that the scene had been removed from the earlier video and spliced into the more recent records to 'prove' that Dr. Light had altered Mega Man's memories.
Of course, this didn't solve the question of who the real criminal was, but that hardly mattered at this point. Mega Man was free to go. In the mean time, people were cautioned to be on the lookout for an illegal copy of the hero who might try to commit more crimes in his name. If anyone spotted 'Mega Man' doing anything questionable, they were to report it to the police immediately. Police and government officials worked out a way for Mega Man to identify himself to them, should they ever doubt that he was the real Mega Man, and everyone was happy - unless you counted Dr. Wily and Bass.
As Dr. Wily ranted and railed about how Mega Man had foiled his plans yet again, Bass watched the news report with narrowed eyed. It didn't matter much to him that his creator's plans had failed. It just meant that he would likely end up meeting his enemy on the field of battle, which was a good thing as far as Bass was concerned. His lips curled into a feral grin at the thought of crushing Mega Man with his bare hands. You won't escape so easily when I have my hands around your neck.
As for Protoman...
The real culprit of the Dr. Cossack break-in smirked in satisfaction as he put the newspaper down. "Mega Man is mine," he declared, although no one was there to hear him but the cat. He didn't know who had hacked into Dr. Light's computer and planted the false evidence, but he had a pretty good idea. "Not yours, doc. Mine."
Author Note: Once again, thanks to Syvia and Atreyu for beta reading this story.
Thanks for reading!