Title: Infinite Gravity
Characters/Pairings: Rockman & Blues, Netto & Enzan
Notes: Set a good five years after canon. This is slightly AU in that I've played fast and loose with canon versions and background details - it's mostly based on the anime timeline, but there are some game and manga details in here too. Please be warned that this fic contains shameless fanon cliches, because they are relevant to the plot.
"Upgrades, upgrades!" Netto cheered, punching the air as he skidded to a stop in front of the Sci-Labs building. A laugh floated up from the PET at his hip as he waved his pass-key over the scanner and the doors hissed open for him.
"Netto-kun, you're too excited about this. It's only security updates for the PET."
"Papa didn't say that's all it is," Netto argued, unclipping his skates as he entered the building. "Last time you said 'just security updates' and we ended up with extra chip slots and a whole new buster subroutine. Hi, Umino-san," he added, waving to the young woman at the reception desk as he passed, as usual completely oblivious to her blush. Rockman rolled his eyes, shaking his head tolerantly. It had been like that all through their internship here last summer, and Netto hadn't noticed at all.
"Netto-kun, you know Papa's been busy working on the DA project recently," Rockman admonished fondly. "He can't have had time to design any serious upgrades – you shouldn't get your hopes up."
"Well, upgrades are always cool anyway." Netto linked his hands behind his head, waiting impatiently for the elevator. "Anything that's good for you is cool, right?" None of the passers-by gave him a second glance; this was Sci-Labs, after all, where it was considered entirely usual to hold conversations with one's Navi in public. There was no need to use their link to speak, although Rockman could still 'feel' Netto's presence like a warm shadow at the back of his mind.
"Yeah." Rockman tapped into the local network briefly, examining the daily bulletins."Netto-kun, they're doing preliminary tests on the new model Dimension Area generators today; you could take a look while you're waiting."
"Really?" The elevator doors hissed open, and Netto wandered inside, waving his pass-card at the sensor again and pushing the button for their father's floor. "Maybe."
Rockman sighed; this was an old argument. "You really don't need to stay with me while I'm offline. Papa will take good care of me."
"I know that," Netto protested, pulling the PET out of its holster to speak to him directly; Rockman blinked in surprise as the viewing window opened abruptly. "I just don't like leaving you alone like that – it's weird when you're offline, I can't feel you at all."
"You can't?" Rockman thought back to the last time Netto had been knocked unconscious – they had been fighting a particularly nasty virus in a Dimensional Area, and it had been pure bad luck that it had caught them wrong-footed, and pure good luck that Blues and Enzan had been there too. At the time, Rockman had put his disorientation down to being thrown out of Cross Fusion so violently, but it was true that he'd barely been able to feel Netto's presence in the link at all. It must be that much worse for Netto, with him completely offline.
"Okay, maybe we can go check out the experiment afterwards," Rockman conceded, smiling reassuringly as Netto exited the lift. "Promise me you won't get in Papa and the technicians' way, though, Netto-kun."
"Hey!" Netto objected to that, glaring indignantly down at the PET screen. "I wouldn't do that, Rockman."
"Sorry, sorry." Rockman waved a hand with a conciliatory smile. They were approaching the door to Dr Hikari's section of the labs, so he beamed their security ID directly to the sensor as a gesture of apology; Netto blinked as the double doors whooshed open in front of him.
Strangely enough, the Net Development labs were almost empty when they entered, only a single Navi looking up from her holo-display as they passed and pinging a polite greeting to Rockman.
"Man, it's like the dead in here," Netto complained, peering into empty labs and offices as they passed, the usual hum of conversation and machinery almost entirely absent. "Where'd everyone go?"
"They're all downstairs setting up the DA experiment." Dr Hikari stepped out of his office at the sound of Netto's voice, smiling as he typed something into the holo-screen of his own PET. "That's why I picked today to do these upgrades. Good morning Netto-kun, Rock-kun."
"Good morning, Papa." Rockman beamed, waving hello.
"Morning, Papa," Netto contributed, pushing the projector button on the side of the PET so that Rockman's 3D hologram appeared above it, where he could more easily interact with them both. "What upgrades are we getting? Rockman says it's just security."
"Wait and see." Dr Hikari led the way into his lab, flipping the main terminal out of standby mode. "Rockman, you know the procedure, right? Plug in and power down, please."
"Yes, Papa." Rockman turned off the projector as Netto set the PET down on the charge pad, connecting the device into the mainframe and beginning shutdown procedures. He had time for one last smile at his nervous-looking Operator before everything went dark.
Netto watched Rockman dissolve into pixels, wincing despite himself as the link went dead and empty. Dr Hikari patted his shoulder sympathetically, moving him gently aside to tap a command into the terminal. Netto recognised the program that flashed up on the screen as some kind of diagnostic before his father turned back to him.
"We'll let that run for a while. It's time for your contribution, Netto."
"Huh?" Netto blinked at him, startled out of his nerves. "My what?"
Dr Hikari smiled wryly. "You probably noticed, Netto-kun, but you've grown a bit since I first designed Rockman." He held out a hand, measuring Netto's height with an amused shake of his head before beckoning him to follow, leading the way to another section of the lab where some tall equipment, including what looked like one of the holotubes from the original Cross Fusion experiments, was set up.
Netto trailed in his wake, thoroughly puzzled and not really liking the feeling. "I know that," he protested, because surely it was kind of obvious that he wasn't a little kid any more, even if he wasn't yet – quite – as tall as his father. "What's it got to do with Rockman's upgrades?"
"Because Rockman hasn't grown, at least not in the same way, it's been putting some extra strain on your systems in Cross Fusion – that is, your organic and Rockman's digital systems. So," Dr Hikari gestured at the holotube, "We're going to fix that."
"We are?" Netto scratched his head, possibilities whirling in his mind. "How?"
"Jump in there," Dr Hikari indicated the tube, "and you'll see."
"You always have to be so mysterious, Papa," Netto grumbled, but he shrugged off his backpack and climbed into the tube anyway, glancing around at the arrays of equipment warily. His first thought had been that their father wanted to tweak their Cross Fusion, but he was pretty sure Rockman would have to be awake for that. "What now?"
"Now, you stand still and let me take these readings," his father instructed, typing some commands into his PET and connecting it to the machine's console. Almost immediately, a light flickered on inside the tube, making Netto jump, and a humming noise emanated from the floor beneath him.
"Stand still, Netto," Dr Hikari admonished without looking up from the screen, then, as Netto opened his mouth to apologise, "That means no talking, too."
It seemed to take forever, with the light flickering and the humming setting his teeth on edge, and his Papa bent over the console, typing frantically. By the time Dr Hikari sighed and straightened, the light flicking off, Netto had worked out that he was being scanned; he just wasn't quite sure of why.
"Okay, done." His father smiled as Netto sighed in relief, hastily jumping out of the cramped tube and stretching out his arms. "Netto-kun, could you monitor Rockman's AI and personality functions for me while I install the upgrades? The PET should be done defragmenting and compiling the new security functions by now."
"Sure!" Netto puffed up a bit, wheeling a chair over to the secondary terminal and bringing Rockman's personality base and AI source files up onto the screen. These were the programs that in a standard Navi would have been so much less complex – essentially, the algorithmic data that made Rockman who he was. Netto could see a few tiny changes as his father worked to update the source code, some values changing by a few fractional percentage points as interconnected systems were modified, but nothing strayed outside of its normal working parameters.
"How does it look?" Dr Hikari asked at length, pausing to look over at Netto's screen.
"All green from here," Netto reported cheerfully – it really did make Rockman's absence easier to bear if he had an active role in the proceedings.
"Good – we just need to let this compile, then." Dr Hikari unplugged his yellow PET from the terminal leaning back in his chair and smiling at Netto. "So, Netto-kun, have you thought about what you'd like for your birthday?"
"Huh?" Netto blinked, thrown by the non-sequitur. "Not really – that's ages away, Papa."
"Ah, maybe so." Dr Hikari shook his head, starting a little as his PET beeped a message tone. "Excuse me a moment – Yes, what is it?"
"Professor, the preliminary infrastructure testing is complete. Results are positive, with only minor initial power fluctuations that settled out over time." It was Ueda-san, Netto realised, one of the technicians in his father's section. His own summer job here had been with the programming team, so he hadn't seen much of the Net Development team, except when they wanted him and Rockman to test things out for them, but Ueda-san always seemed to be glaring down his nose at them.
"Excellent; please send the results up and begin Phase Two. I'll prepare Phase Three." His father signed off and returned to the terminal just as a chime signalled the end of the compilation process. Netto bounced upright in his chair, eager to see Rockman awake again. His father laughed, putting a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"Patience, Netto-kun. The PET needs to restart, and then he'll boot up on his own..."
Awareness returned before sensation or solid form. Automatically, Rockman ran a check on his source files before allowing start-up to proceed further; while he found no errors, he was aware that changes had been made, although just what was still fuzzy. Curious now, Rockman brought first audio and then visual online, not at all surprised to find Netto peering over the terminal worriedly. Everything seemed to be as it should be – the link snapping back into place between them as if it had never left – so Rockman allowed himself to pixelate into solid form.
Almost immediately, he realised what had changed. "I'm bigger?" Perplexed, Rockman stared down at himself – he was definitely taller than he had been, and a little broader through the shoulders. In fact, he realised as he looked up at his Operator's startled face, he would probably be of a size with Netto now, if he projected at human size.
"Hi, Netto-kun." His voice was a little deeper too, he realised with surprise – just enough that no one could mistake him for a 'child' model Navi.
"Whoa." Netto was staring at him like he couldn't quite believe it. "You really did grow, Nii-san."
"Ah..." Rockman rubbed the back of his helmet, a little embarrassed. "Is it bad?"
"No!" Netto protested, plugging the PET out of the console. "It's just new, you know? It'll take me a while to get used to."
"Okay." Rockman ran a quick system check on the PET, pleased with the speed of its response. "Thank you, Papa."
"Yeah, thanks," Netto echoed, and for an instant Rockman felt them falling further into sync, matching smiles crinkling their eyes. Then the moment was gone as Dr Hikari laughed and ruffled Netto's carefully disordered hair.
"You're welcome. Now come on, let's go and check on the DA experiment. If you're lucky, you might even get to try the new generator out..."
"Really? Awesome!" Netto bounded out of the door, suddenly re-energised; Rockman grinned to himself. Netto-kun would always be Netto-kun, no matter what happened.
It's weird, you know? Netto 'said' silently as they rode the elevator down to the basement testing labs. Seeing you – do you think growing up will mean we have to lose all the fun stuff?
Netto-kun? Rockman craned his neck to try and see his Operator's face, but the PET screen was at the wrong angle. What's this about? It's not like you.
We really have grown a lot, haven't we? There was something almost wistful in Netto's tone. Not for the first time, Rockman wished he could just hug him or something.
Don't you think it's a good thing? He asked instead. Besides, I know you, Netto-kun. Net-Battling's the only thing you call fun anyway.
Yeah. Netto laughed silently in his head. Like anyone could stop us!
Heh. Good, that had cheered him up. There was something just wrong about a melancholy Netto, like snow in summer. I don't know, Gutsman's getting pretty good these days...
Netto's outraged, indignant response to that didn't even need words. Rockman laughed out loud as they stepped out of the elevator into the observation room, waving a placatory hand at Netto. It went without saying that they both knew who their true rivals were, after all.
Dr Hikari crossed immediately to the main computer bank, speaking in a low tone to Ueda-san, who looked suspiciously over at Netto through his thick glasses. Ignoring him for the moment, Netto wandered over to the viewing window, lifting the PET to give Rockman a better view. Instead of the usual array of cylindrical generators, the object of scrutiny today appeared to be a simple blue hemisphere, about the size of a laptop and mounted into a metal cabinet. A convoluted nest of wiring trailed across the floor; Rockman could see why the technicians were working from the viewing gallery.
"Wow – that looks way too small to generate a Dimensional Area," Netto opined doubtfully. "Maybe a really small one..."
"It's only a prototype, remember," Rockman pointed out. "It makes sense to test it on a smaller scale."
"I guess." Netto peered down with curiosity in his eyes as lights flashed on the cabinet. An automated voice came over the loudspeaker, accompanied by a warning beep.
"Commencing Phase Two of live testing. Please secure all non-essential systems."
"Disconnecting from local area networks," Rockman reported before Netto could speak up to remind him, closing down his connections with a thought. It was such second nature that he caught himself trying to close off their link.
Hey! Netto protested, giving him an indignant mental poke.
Sorry, sorry, Rockman apologised, a little embarrassed. Force of habit. This looks like it could be interesting, huh?
"Yeah," Netto answered aloud, pressing one hand against the viewing window as if he were still the little kid he'd been talking about leaving behind. "It's got to at least work, if they're at Phase Two – I wonder what'll happen?"
"Hopefully nothing untoward." Dr Hikari joined them at the window, his own PET in hand. "Well, let's see." He entered a command, and immediately lights began to flicker on the equipment in the test area. The blue sphere began to glow, brighter and brighter until it was incandescent, almost painful to look at until Rockman applied a filter to his visual feed. Then, with a soundless explosion, everything went white.
"Whoa!" Netto exclaimed; it took Rockman a moment to replay events in slow motion and realise that what had seemed like a wave of light had actually been the Dimensional Area expanding outwards from the sphere even as it formed. This conclusion was backed up by the fact that they undeniably inside the Dimensional Area right now, and the scientists were in uproar.
"Papa?" Rockman asked tentatively; Dr Hikari looked astonished, which probably wasn't a good sign. "Was that supposed to happen?"
"Ah, not in so many words." Their father visibly collected himself, turning to shout at the technicians. "Calm down! Yanagi, broadcast an explanation to the rest of the building. Mizuno, check the firewalls! Ueda, make sure you're recording every bit of data! We need to look at ways of reducing the power output..."
Netto left them to it, wandering out of the way and bringing the PET up to easy conversational level. "There's no enemy activity, right, Rockman?"
"The firewalls are holding." Rockman reconnected to the Sci-Labs network, looking around curiously. The program that must be powering the DA generator was a whirl of colour in the cyber-sky, like a prismed image of its material form. Several Navis he recognised as part of the science team seemed to be working on it. "It's all quiet on this side."
"Huh." Strangely, Netto sounded almost disappointed. He was quiet for a moment, frowning as if in thought. "You know, Papa said your upgrades would make Cross Fusion easier..."
"Really?" Rockman asked, intrigued, but he could see that gleam in Netto's eye. "That's not an excuse to test it, Netto-kun."
"It's not an excuse," Netto protested. "It's practically our duty – I don't know how big this DA is, but it's bound to attract bad stuff. We totally have to be ready!"
Rockman had opened his mouth, about to argue this, when there was a sharp cracking sound, like splintering glass, and the Dimensional Area vanished as if it had never been, the blue sphere going blank and dull.
"Aw man, too late," Netto sighed, drooping despondently. Rockman wasn't really listening, however, because above the startled cries of the scientists he could hear the pained shrieks of wounded and terrified Navis.
"Netto-kun!" He formed his buster, charging it as he sprinted toward the generator program and the large creature that had materialised seemingly out of nowhere to attack it. "Virus attack!"
"What?!" Dr Hikari exclaimed, rushing to look into the main monitor. "Netto! Rockman! Stop that thing before it destroys the generator!"
"Leave it to us!" Netto's confidence was infective as always. Rockman raised his buster, firing off a few shots at the virus – it was a huge and spindly thing, long mismatched limbs in varying shades of brownish-green that looked as if they'd been cobbled together from junk data. Even as Rockman watched, one of his shots tore right through an elbow – or was it a knee? - with a fizzle of staticky data that just reformed itself, the limb twisting and flexing as it resettled.
"Netto! That's a revenant!" Formed from an accidental mixing of not-quite-dead scrap data, it was unlikely to have much controlling intelligence beyond the instinctive level. Which would make it easier to out-think, but much harder to kill, if it could just reform itself into a new configuration every time it was damaged.
"Got it. Battle chip, Wide Sword, Hi-Cannon, slot in! Go for the body, Rock!"
Seeing exactly what Netto was thinking, Rockman kicked off the ground, slicing his way past the spidery thing's multiple arms as they struck at him. The fraction of time it took for them to rejoin themselves was enough for him to get a clear shot at its spindly body. "Hi-Cannon!"
The blast, as Rockman knew well, was powerful enough to at least stagger even the most well-defended Navi. So how the virus managed to avoid – no, to absorb it, was a question that was going to be plaguing him for a while.
"No good!" Rockman somersaulted desperately out of the way of a spiky, clawed limb that came at him, retreating to a safe distance. "Energy weapons won't work on the core!"
"Son of a – fine, try this!" Netto yelled. "Program Advance – Elemental Sword!"
Balancing himself carefully to accept the extra energy, Rockman swung in a wide arc, slashing through multiple flailing and jagged-edged limbs. It seemed to take the thing a little longer to rejoin itself this time, but eventually there was the virus again, hissing and chittering as it moved in to attack.
"Ack!" Rockman just barely dodged a knifelike slice, tumbling clumsily to one side and finding the virus hot on his heels as soon as he managed to get them under him. "Netto-kun, it's too fast! Full Synchro!"
You got it, Nii-san. A moment of concentration, and the link opened wide, Netto's added strength flooding into him. Let's power up and take this bastard out!
"Wide Sword, Fumikomizan, double slot-in!" If they could cut too fast for it to regenerate, maybe...
Go! They burst forward, using the speed advantage to carry their blades through swift, vicious arcs, crashing past the outer limbs to shred the body – which reformed itself before their eyes, data plaiting and weaving itself back into shape even as the virus shrieked.
"Damn!" Netto swore; Rockman had to stop his own mouth echoing it. "It just won't quit! Where's Enzan when you need him, anyway?"
"You called?" The familiar voice echoed around the cyberscape, and Rockman felt his and Netto's eyes go wide as a reddish form streaked past him and attacked the virus full-force, twin swords moving lightning-fast.
"Blues!" Rockman exclaimed in astonishment, echoing Netto's cry of "Enzan!"
"What are you standing around for, Hikari?" Enzan demanded, making Netto jump. "Hit it from the back before it can reform enough to absorb it!"
"Yes sir," Netto grumbled, but he was already feeding chips into the PET. "Rockman, give it everything you've got!"
"Yes!" Rockman watched as Blues moved in, slicing frantically at the torso even as the arms reformed, one of them slicing him across the shoulder. Under the repeated attacks, the virus data began to pixelate out as it tried desperately to reconfigure itself.
"Now!" Four voices in unison, then two: "Program Advance! Zeta Cannon!"
The force of the blast threw him backwards, and Rockman plainly head the virus' last bubbling scream as it finally disintegrated under the onslaught. All he saw, though, was white – and, when his vision cleared, the blurry, shadowed, unmistakeable form of Blues walking toward him out of the fading light.