Several moments passed in silence.
Starlight filtered through the half-open bays doors. A bitter wind swept through the room, twisting dark ash into insubstantial pillars and sending it to scatter into skirling patterns on the flame-blasted floor.
Outside, the low hum of an approaching hovership threaded its way through the howling noise of the cold mountain wind. Debris rattled with something more than wind, and a smoke-darkened metal plate slowly slid to the side, clattering to the floor. A grimy, pale hand reached out of a shattered glass bubble and pulled a twisted manual release lever.
Dr. Wily tumbled to the ground from his battered war mech and glared around him.
Rock stood stock still before him, his eyes staring off into space.
Immediately, the German roboticist prostrated himself and whimpered. The words that came from his mouth were barely a whisper, laden with humiliation and fear.
For several minutes he bowed down submissively. The bitter taste of defeat accompanied the bile that rose in his throat. He blinked back tears of rage and pressed his forehead to the floor. How? How had he been defeated? His plans of a New World Order had shattered like glass, leaving Dr. Wily bloodying his hands on the shards as he tried to press them back together.
His dreams slipped away on the wind, along with a portion of his madness.
He looked back at the events of the past few weeks and forced down shame. How could he have possibly committed such atrocities? How many deaths lay on his conscience? How could he have turned against his own cousin?
It was necessary.
The shame hardened into bitterness. If he had not acted as he had, then the world would have inflicted a greater catastrophe upon itself. Perhaps now people would finally wake up and realize that robots were not the solution to the world's problems, but just another symptom of a deeper dilemma.
For a fleeting, terrible moment, a huge, fanged monster leaped at him from the shadows, and the scientist cringed, expecting the worst. However, it too, like his dreams and ambitions, turned to dust and blew away on the howling wind. Dr. Wily turned and looked out the bay doors, at the sea of stars.
Only after a moment's mournful contemplation did he realize that Rock still hadn't moved.
* * * * *
In the center of the inky blackness, a thought surfaced.
The expression of existence broadened, took on ego.
A light flashed into existence. A name, nearly forgotten and elusive as a moth.
Blue eyes topped with dark eyebrows and a cloud of snow-white hair.
Emerald-green leaves of a beautiful chrome and wood treeborg, veined with silicon and rustling slightly in the early autumn breeze.
A globe of golden fire setting over a huge metropolis, painting the city in shades of metallic red and yellow, turning the windows of sundry buildings into breathtaking lamps of cold fire.
Something shiny and circular and painful, severing motion cables and slashing through pale syntheflesh.
A huge monster of brass and fire, bathed in the blood of innocents and raining ruby-colored death onto the unfortunate blue figure below . . .
I am Rock.
With the realization came a surge of joy and wild exultation. Something unexpected and wonderful had happened, and he was alive! A feeling of freedom, of a heavy, oppressive weight disappearing suffused him.
Rock blinked and realized that he had been staring straight ahead for several minutes.
Why was he alive? His mind swam with questions and probability matrices. The virus? Where was it? Had the virus hunter somehow destroyed it?
Understanding lit Rock's youthful face.
By defying the Second Rule, where the virus had been contained, the module short-circuited and drove the virus into the waiting jaws of the virus-hunter program written by Roll and Dr. Light. Somehow, he had survived!
He ran a quick diagnostic on himself. Why had he survived using both plasma busters--especially when the left one had been forced into operation only through sheer force of will? He should have overloaded and deactivated all circuits--including his memory banks--by committing such an act.
Not surprisingly, his operating energy was down to less than 1%. He blinked and ran a quick energy-trace history program. What he found amazed him; somehow, the remaining energy stores reserved for weapons operation had spontaneously shifted amperage to match the required amount for his second buster shot!
Rock started in surprise and immediately wished he hadn't as every warning alarm and alert message he could possibly generate screamed for attention. He slowly turned his head and scanned the room for Dr. Wily.
There stood the German madman, silhouetted against the night sky revealed by the half-open bay doors. His wild white hair blew wispy in the cold breeze that twisted through the room like an ethereal serpent and twined its way about the half-melted remains of the golden war mech.
He turned a stared at Rock for a moment, his face displaying a gamut of expressions from hatred to frustration to sorrow. After a few seconds, seeming to sense that Rock had awoken, he took a half step backwards.
"A robot must never harm a human being," he said, voice tremorous with fear.
Rock felt his anger circuits once again begin to heat, but he tempered his anger with his exultation at being alive. The mixed emotions made his voice sound strange to his ears. "Hearing that from you is the ultimate irony. Stay right where you are, Wily. I won't warn you twice." An idle threat, of course, but Dr. Wily would now have little way to know that, having seen Rock break the first two Rules of Robotics. The raven-haired android stood still, waiting to see his adversary's reaction.
Amazingly, Dr. Wily knelt on the rubble-strewn floor. His weathered features chiseled by bitterness and humiliation, he bowed down in the ancient Japanese style of a peasant paying respect to his lord. The wrinkled brow touched the ground and with the palms pressed down on either side.
Too hurt to even move closer, Rock stood absolutely still and let his auto-repair systems do what little they could for the next several minutes.
When the U.N.'s elite strike force arrived, that was how they found the two enemies.
* * * * *
General Mears brushed ash from his too-tight uniform and glared out the window of the hovership. Dr. Wily had been taken into custody by his troops, to stand trial for war crimes and a hundred other, less monumental offenses. The so-called hero Rockman now sat opposite General Mears in the hovership's officers' lounge.
Certainly, he looked more or less human. The slash across his face that ran from his upper right temple to just above the bridge of his nose might have been leaking a dark fluid that smelled of oil rather than blood, and the thing a the end of his left arm was certainly not organic. However, if Mears had seen Rockman in civilian clothing, he might have mistaken him for human.
Rockman had not spoken more than a few words since his rescue a few hours before. When Mears and his troops had arrived, Rock had merely guided Dr. Wily to the two troops that had taken custody of him, muttered "Thank you," and limped into the hovership. Mears felt that it was his duty to invite the android to the officers' lounge.
The comm unit beeped. Mears sat up straight. "Yes?"
"Sir, we're about to launch the warheads."
Mearns took a deep breath. The warheads were nuclear, though not even so destructive as the type that had ended the second World War nearly three-quarters of a century ago. Although there was very little risk of any human settlements being contaminated, the areas surrounded Skull Castle would not host life for decades.
"Fire," he said.
The hovership shook the slightest bit as two missiles' worth of weight detached themselves from the hull and rocketed towards Dr. Wily's fortress. A moment passed, and the sky lit with a man-made sun. Waves of destruction spread out around the place where Skull Castle had been only seconds before, blasting mountain tops into rubble. A large mushroom cloud slowly rose over the blackened bones of the mountainside, and Mears could have sworn that he saw a macabre death's head image in the cloud.
Rockman sighed with something that might have been sorrow, or relief.
Mears turned to him. "Well, that's done with." He cleared his throat and awkwardly continued. "So, how do you feel?"
It was several moments before the blue-armored figure before him answered. However, when he did, the expression on the android's face was so radiant, so full of joy, that Mears almost believed the word that Rockman said.
Rockman sat straighter in the officer's seat and spoke once more to General Mears.
"Thank you very much, Sir, for rescuing me. Now that Dr. Wily is safe in your custody, I believe I'd like to return home."
The large man shrugged. "I'm sure you would, but this ship is touching down in Argentina. I'm sure you can make arrangements from there."
Rockman half-smiled. "Oh, that won't be necessary." And before the General's astonished eyes, the blue-armored robot hunter disappeared in a line of sapphire flame and light.
* * * * *
Deep below the ruins of Skull Castle, unaffected by the nuclear hell above, something stirred.
It might have been a robot. Perhaps it had dragged itself, always on the brink of death, through a coolant-system access panel. Perhaps it had, bereft of sight and hearing and all but the feeble spark of life, laboriously dragged itself ever deeper into the comforting darkness.
Whatever the case, its overworked auto-repair systems had finally begun to catch up with nearly endless list of demands that assailed it, and sight returned to the mangled, legless thing that existed in the lowest depths of what had once been Skull Castle.
For days it sat, letting itself recharge and grow more powerful.
Had one looked at this thing that may once have been called Docman, the only thing visible in the otherwise complete blackness of the now-empty drainage systems would have been a single crimson eye, burning with hatred like a small portal to hell.
Two thoughts drove the thing to keep its all-but-worthless existence.
It would destroy the one who had abandoned it to horrible, lightless undeath.
And it would utterly destroy the one who had maimed it nearly beyond repair.
Far above, slightly luminescent mist inflicted death and sterility on the soil and mountains.
And in the depths of the earth, a half-living robot dreamed its dreams of madness and revenge.
* * * * *
Rock landed at the outskirts of Tokyo, right around sunset.
Behind the mountains to the west, the sun was a red-gold disk whose ruby-colored rays touched Rock's face with warm, invisible fingers. The evening breeze provided a cool, pleasant contrast as it wafted up from the sea.
In no hurry, Rock began to walk. He intended to enjoy his journey home--every precious second of it. What a precious gift his life had become! He retracted his helmet into his skull and let the breeze play with his hair as the shades of the sky deepened from dark crimson to violet to indigo and finally to nearly black.
The stars had emerged from their daily sleep and now blazed with unearthly beauty down on the city. Rock gazed fondly at his home. Neo Tokyo was alight with a thousand different colors as people celebrated the downfall of Dr. Wily and the restoration of peace to the world. Rock's brow creased slightly as he thought of Dr. Wily, but he brushed the thoughts aside; they could wait until another day.
The sea of lights that was the city was a distorted reflection of the sea of stars above, and Rock marveled at their twin beauty. The moon had already risen when he finally began to approach Dr. Light's house.
There, waiting for him, were the familiar faces: Dr. Light, and Roll. Snap and his daughters, Bess and Julie. Many of the workers from the LighTech lab were in attendance too, and Rock immediately spotted Akira Yamatsu with his mismatched eyes. Even Dr. Light's storage robot Eddie stood in expectation.
Ad the crowd spotted him a deafening cheer broke out, and Rock felt his face muscles almost involuntarily stretch into a grin. Finally, it was over, and he was among family and friends: those who cared for him. He leaped to embrace Roll and Dr. Light, and felt something roll down his cheek as he crushed his "sister" in a bear hug.
As the moon rose even further above the megatropolis of Neo Tokyo, it illuminated a group of celebrants clustered around a figure in battered blue armor and wild, sable-hued hair. Laughter echoed through the surrounding area and a wave of happiness and relief seemed to spread throughout the world.
And Rock was, finally, fully happy and content.
* * * * *
The Robot War has drawn to a close, with humanity as the victor and Rockman as its ironic savior.
The chaotic domination of Dr. Wily has been ended, and the world has been restored to peace once more. Pockets of resistance amongst HSL fanatics still hold out, and the never-ending battle between order and chaos, between peace and the forces of destruction, always continues.
However, humanity has found new champion that stands tall against the winds of misfortune.
Fight, Rockman! For everlasting peace!