Now for the final chapter! Another bit of anime seems to have snuck in though... but honestly, those hologram PETs are cool enough to get away with it, right?
"That was so good!" Ulrich groaned, dropping his fork to the plate and rubbing his overstuffed stomach. Across from him Netto was in a similar state, while next to his brother Rockman was polishing off another bowl of rice. The Navi had taken one bite of Mrs. Hikari's famous curry and made such a comical face that the other three at the table had cracked up laughing. After that he'd stuck safely to the steamed rice and vegetables that Mrs. Hikari had made alongside the curry.
"Mama's curry is the best," Netto agreed. "What did you think of it, Rockman?"
"It was spicy," the Navi noted a bit hesitantly. "It was too strong, I think. The rice and vegetables were tasty though."
Ulrich chuckled. "This is his first time ever eating, give him a break. We should have started with something easier on the taste buds, huh?"
Mrs. Hikari looked a bit embarrassed. "I hadn't even thought of that. I'm so sorry, Rockman. I can make something else for you if you want."
"It's okay, Mama, it was really good," Rockman quickly assured her. Right after that he yawned, something that seemed to take him by surprise.
"It's getting late, Mama, so we're going to go to bed." Netto stood, gathered his and Rockman's dishes, and dropped them in the sink. Ulrich followed suit, then followed the boys upstairs. Getting ready for bed was done with little fanfare.
A few hours later Netto and Rockman were snoring softly while Ulrich was still wide awake. His body was still a few hours behind and he wasn't tired in the slightest.
Sighing, he got up and woke Netto long enough to get the password for his computer. The Japanese teen was asleep again within minutes and Ulrich doubted he'd even remember waking up when morning came. Logged on, it didn't take him too long to load up a chat. There was an earpiece lying around that Ulrich commandeered for himself and soon he was connected.
"Jeremie?" he asked softly. "You there?"
A moment of silence greeted him before he heard rustling. "Yeah, I'm here. What do you want?" Jeremie's voice was still a bit chilly but it wasn't downright hostile. Ulrich was grateful that the computer's speakers were off so the only sound came through to his ear.
"I just wanted to plead my case. I'm sorry I kept it a secret, I should have asked you guys first. But really, what could it hurt to have help?" Ulrich made sure to keep his voice down. He knew Netto slept like a rock but he wasn't sure about Rockman.
"Did you even think this through? Let me break it down for you: if we can't destroy that Replica, we can never defeat XANA. That means that we'll all still be in danger." There was some rustling before Jeremie spoke again. "Plus, Rockman's just one Navi. What can he do all alone over there when you come back home?"
"Well, we did come up with a wicked way to travel," Ulrich admitted. "I mean, I'm in Japan! This is so cool! We should get Yumi to come here too, Mrs. Hikari makes some awesome curry."
"We're getting off topic here. What if Rockman gets deleted? What if XANA takes over Netto, or Doctor Hikari, or anyone who could do some real damage? It's just not safe."
Ulrich heard a sleeping bag rustle before Rockman was leaning against the desk next to him, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Ulrich? What's going on?"
"I couldn't sleep so I called home," Ulrich replied, turning on the speakers and setting the volume low so Rockman could hear Jeremie too. "We're talking about what to do now that you're in the real world and we can't destroy the XANA replica. It's dangerous now that you're making yourself a threat to XANA. It might go after your friends and family. It might be best to destroy the scanner and shut down your computer now that you're here," he admitted.
"We'll figure that out soon enough," Rockman said. "For now, you're here and can help us, right? And when you leave I won't be alone. I'm the only one that can come to the real world but on the Net I have Roll and Gutsman and Blues to help me. It'll be all right, Jeremie, you'll see."
"And how will you protect Netto? What happens if something happens that needs a Return to the Past?" Jeremie pointed out.
"Then we'll call you," Rockman said. "Our computer can't launch that program, that's true, but if we asked for one you'd do it, right?"
There was a rustle from Jeremie's end and Ulrich could imagine the blonde tech scratching behind his head. "Well, that's true, but what about Netto? XANA could launch an attack and target him. Plus, he's vulnerable to XANA's possession right now. It's just not safe."
"If we scanned Netto into the computer he'd be safe," Ulrich mused. "And Doctor Hikari. If we scan them both into the computer then not only will they both be safe from XANA, but they'll be immune to the returns in time."
Jeremie sighed. "I'll take a vote and see. I'm beginning to see your point but if everyone else votes to destroy the Replica then there won't be much I can do. There's still the problem that XANA will exist so long as that Replica does."
Rockman scratched his head, then yawned loudly. "Um, can this wait until morning? This sleeping thing is strange but it looks like I still need some."
"Yeah, it's late over there. Get some sleep and I'll call you in the morning," Jeremie agreed. "I'll let you know what the others say then, too."
"Goodnight, Jeremie." Ulrich closed the chat and shut the computer down. He was finally feeling tired enough to sleep.
Rockman burrowed back under the covers with a contented sigh. "Night, Ulrich."
"The vote's been postponed," Jeremie's voice came over Ulrich's cell phone. Back at the Science Labs, Netto, Rockman, Ulrich, and Doctor Hikari were seated around the device listening intently.
"What's wrong?" Ulrich asked worriedly.
"Nothing really," Aelita assured. "Jeremie told us about the call last night and we see your point. Until we can free William and destroy the Replicas it won't matter much anyway."
"Right! And come on, a Navi in the real world? That's so cool!" Odd cheered. "I want to visit next, that has to be awesome. How's Japan, Ulrich?"
"I think Yumi would really like it," the brunette in question admitted. "Mrs. Hikari's really nice."
"And I think I can get our Replica out of XANA's hands," Doctor Hikari mused, his French accented but passable. "I've already reverse engineered a lot of the code. I just need to change the encryption and strengthen the antivirus protocols. If I make it so XANA can't get in, there should be no problem keeping the Replica, right?"
"Right," Jeremie nodded. "If you can manage that then the Replica won't be providing XANA with any power. If you do that, though, then the configuration of the Keys of Lyoko are going to change."
"That's the idea," Doctor Hikari nodded. "XANA has so much power because of those keys. If we render them invalid, then once we change the firewall it shouldn't be able to access the system."
"Right. It also means that Aelita won't be able to deactivate any of your towers." Jeremie was thoughtful. "If you give Rockman those keys instead, then he'll be the only one with power over your Replica."
"That's a bit crazy," Yumi's voice cut in. "That would mean that your Replica wouldn't be Lyoko anymore. It'd be an entirely different system."
"And there wouldn't be any harm in keeping it," Theo added. "I'm all for it."
"What're you all saying?" Netto muttered under his breath. "Not all of us speak French you know."
Rockman sidled over and whispered in his ear.
"Then it's settled. Ulrich, I can explain away your absence for the next few days, I'll call you when we're ready to come get you," Jeremie said. "Just be careful over there. Doctor Hikari, I would recommend scanning both yourself and Netto into the Internet at least once. That'll protect you from possession by XANA."
"All right. We'll take care of things on this end, don't worry about it. I'll call you if we run into trouble." Doctor Hikari pressed a few buttons on his keyboard. "Incidentally, if you could transfer the schematics for your Skidbladnir, I could work on designing a vehicle of my own for Rockman to traverse the Digital Sea. That way we could provide backup for you as well."
Jeremie seemed to hesitate for a moment. "All right," he said at last. "Transferring the data now."
"See you later, Jeremie." Ulrich reclaimed his phone and poised his finger over the "end" button.
"Later, Ulrich." "Bye Ulrich!" "Bring me some sushi!" "Bye."
Shaking his head with a chuckle Ulrich ended the call.
"All right, data received. I'll get to work on our vehicle right away. Until then, let's do what Jeremie suggested. Rockman, ready to go back to the Internet? It'll be up to you to protect Netto while he's there."
"Yes, Papa." Rockman didn't hesitate in stepping into the tall cylindrical shape of the scanner, the doors sliding shut around him. Ulrich noticed one big design difference between Doctor Hikari's scanner and the ones under the factory in France.
"Um, there's only one scanner," he noted. "Will that be a problem?"
Doctor Hikari shook his head. "If Rockman loses all his hit points then he'll be transported back to his PET, whereas Netto will be devirtualized. I'm not so sure about you, though. If you lose all of your hit points I'm not sure if you'll end up back in France or here. I don't think you'll be deleted for good, though."
"If it's France then it's not so bad," Ulrich shrugged. "Same with here. But what if me and Netto get devirtualized at the same time?"
Doctor Hikari paused, thinking. "Anyway, Rockman's on the Net now." The scanner doors slid open, empty once again. "Netto, you're next."
Netto nodded and stepped into the scanner.
Ulrich groaned, falling out of the scanner as the doors opened. "William isn't happy with us," he quipped weakly.
Doctor Hikari was there to help him up and out of the way. "Rockman's handling him on the Internet. You feeling okay?"
"Like I just got stomped on by a steamroller," Ulrich grinned, sitting against the wall gratefully. "And what about Netto?"
"He's holding his own," Doctor Hikari reported. "He won't tell me what he looks like, though. Is it that bad?"
Ulrich shook his head. "It's actually kind of cool. I think Rockman's jealous."
The scanner whirred and the doors opened, Netto toppling out with a moan. Ulrich was quick enough to catch him before he hit the ground, supporting the other brunette until he'd recovered from the forced devirtualization.
"That wasn't what I thought it'd be," Netto said at last, pushing himself upright with a wince. "I think I'll stick to operating, thanks."
"Aw, but you were so cool, Netto-kun," Rockman's voice teased, though he sounded a bit out of breath. "If both of you are okay I'm going to return to the PET. I'll come back later for the materialization."
"That might be best, Rockman. Plug out!" Doctor Hikari pushed a button on Rockman's PET and the Navi himself appeared in as a hologram on the older man's shoulder. "And it looks like William's retreating for right now. Good job you guys."
Rockman rubbed the back of his head. "It wasn't so hard. I can't wait to get back to the real world, though."
Doctor Hikari scanned himself a few hours later, when Rockman was back in the forest waiting for him. Not very much time was spent there, just enough time to destroy a few monsters before Ulrich brought both of them back in.
"It looks like we're good," Doctor Hikari nodded, checking all of the data. "According to Jeremie, XANA can't take control of either of us in the event of an attack now that we've been to Lyoko. He sent me the program to scan for activated towers too. There's no need to worry."
Rockman was in the process of watching Netto tie his shoelaces and attempting to imitate him with the other foot. "I shouldn't go very far from the lab," he said thoughtfully. "If Aelita can't get from France very quickly then I have to be nearby in order to stop XANA's attack."
Doctor Hikari nodded. "I agree. I'll call Mama and ask her to make some lunches for us. There are some bunks in a spare office that the researchers use. I'm sure they won't mind lending them to you, too."
The three brunette teens nodded.
"I'll work on the security protocols for the Replica. If we can get it under our control then we won't have to worry about a XANA attack," the Doctor continued. "That would leave Rockman free to come and go as he pleases."
"I wouldn't mind that!" the Navi cheered. "Want me to help, Papa?"
The elder Hikari waved him away. "Go spend time with your brother, Rockman. I'll get Ulrich to help me instead."
Hoping for XANA to ignore his new opponents, Ulrich found that very evening, was too much to hope for. He, Netto, and Rockman were hanging out in Doctor Hikari's lab playing the game system Mrs. Hikari brought for the three of them when Netto's PET rang.
"There's an activated tower on the Replica," Doctor Hikari's voice reported. "William is there as well. I've tried to contact Jeremie but there was no answer."
A quick glance at his wristwatch, which was still set to French time, told Ulrich why. "He's still in class. We're on our way."
Netto and Rockman were up before he'd finished speaking, racing out of the room. Ulrich volunteered to be virtualized first, arriving on the Replica very close to the activated tower. He'd hardly touched the ground before lasers were firing at him and he was forced to dodge. Saber drawn, he settled into the familiar pattern of deflecting the bolts.
"There's no sign of William," he reported. "Hikari-hakase, can you get a fix on his position?"
Rockman landed on the ground next to him lightly, buster out and firing. After a moment he spun around, crying "Aqua Tower!" before slapping his hand against the ground. From where his hand impacted a tower of water erupted, zooming towards the monsters. Those few that didn't dodge were swept over the side.
"William appears to be in the tower. Be careful, Rockman."
Ulrich leapt forward, destroying a monster with ridiculous ease before racing back to cover the blue Navi. "How can we get him out?"
There was silence, during which Ulrich and Rockman cleared out the rest of the monsters. "Netto? How's everything going over there?"
"XANA must have launched its attack on the Science Labs. We're on our own," Rockman guessed. "Let's both go into the tower. Maybe you can distract him long enough for me to deactivate it."
William was waiting for them, sword slicing the area where Ulrich's head would have been had the brunette not rolled into the tower instead of walking. Ulrich thrust with his drawn saber and was rewarded with the dark-haired teen roaring in pain.
"Now, Rockman!" Ulrich yelled, taking advantage of William's distraction and whirling a kick into the other boy's midsection. The possessed teen lost his balance and toppled into the darkness that was the tower's innards.
Not one second later Rockman was in the tower, skidding to a stop in the center and letting the invisible force lift him to the upper platform.
"All done!" the Navi called while Ulrich watched all of the myriad windows coating the inner walls of the tower fade away. "Papa, the tower's deactivated. Are you okay?"
There was still no answer. Ulrich used Area Steal to join Rockman on the upper platform, trading a worried glance with the Navi.
"I should see what's going on," the brunette said. "But without Hikari-hakase to devirtualize us, there's only one other way."
"What's that?" Rockman asked curiously.
Ulrich winced. "You'll have to devirtualize me."
The Navi looked suitably horrified. "What? Why?"
"That's the only other way back to the real world. I'll be fine, honest." Ulrich grinned at him. "Just make it quick."
"I don't know about this," Rockman said uncertainly, hand changing to his 'buster. He took careful aim. "You're sure?"
Ulrich nodded and closed his eyes.
He was winded when he fell out of the scanner, clutching his midsection with a soundless groan. It took a worrying minute for him to convince his lungs to start working again, but once he was able to breathe it wasn't long before he dragged himself out of the scanner.
"Hikari-hakase!" he called, glancing around and not seeing the older man. "Netto! You guys okay?"
There was a thud from outside the door. Curious, the brunette walked over to it, finding that it was jammed shut after an unsuccessful attempt to open it. "Netto! Is that you out there?"
"Ulrich!" Netto sounded relieved. "XANA electrified the whole room, we had to get out. Is it over?"
"Yeah. Rockman's really worried, though, you might want to get back in here." Ulrich found himself suddenly able to open the door, looking out at a slightly singed but otherwise okay father and son.
Ulrich materialized in the Factory's scanner with a groan, pitching forward and into the waiting arms of someone that deep down he hoped was Yumi. "I'm beginning to hate this," he moaned, regaining his footing after a moment and opening his eyes. As he'd hoped Yumi was right in front of him and he couldn't quite help his blush before he pulled away with a cough. "Er, thanks Yumi. You guys still aren't mad at me about the Forest Replica, are you?"
"We are, but we understand why you did it," she said. "Rockman helped you when you were on the network and you wanted to repay the favor."
Ulrich sighed in relief. "Thanks. Rockman's really happy to be in the real world, you know. He and Netto had their first sibling fight while I was there."
Yumi giggled. "You made it back in time for dinner. It's beef stroganoff!"
Ulrich groaned. "I miss Mrs. Hikari's curry already."
And like that time passed. It wasn't a boring sort of time, Ulrich once again swept up into the routine of XANA attacks and going to destroy some of XANA's Replicas. Rockman sent them nightly status reports and conferred with Jeremie on points he wasn't so sure about, slowly but steadily working to free his Replica from XANA's control. Aelita, in her spare time, had decided to try and change the security codes of Lyoko too. If they couldn't stop XANA yet, she reasoned, they could at least keep it from using Lyoko to attack the real world.
Ulrich thought that maybe this stuff was getting too complicated for him. First there were two different Lyokos trying to separate themselves from XANA, then there was William still possessed by XANA, and his polymorphic clone was making life at school all sorts of interesting. All of this was on top of infrequent trips back to Japan to help Rockman when the need called for it.
Sometimes he missed being trapped on the Internet, he thought as he faceplanted into bed at the end of his very long days. There was no chance of dying of exhaustion back then.
"William's in the real world!" was the first thing Ulrich heard when he ran into the Science Labs, Yumi and Odd on his tail. The two had decided to join him on his now-regular visit to Densan, which was looking like a good stroke of fortune.
"What? How?" the brunette demanded as the three of them crowded around the one scanner. "Where is he now?"
"He's still in the lower levels, Rockman's in the security system and is managing to slow him down. You three should get to Lyoko and back him up. Ulrich, you remember enough about our systems to swap with Rockman, right?" Doctor Hikari was at the keyboard typing furiously, Netto next to him. The younger Hikari was staring intently at the PET's holographic display, upon which Rockman was defending himself against a few minor viruses.
Ulrich nodded. "Leave it to me!"
He was the first into the scanner, materializing on Lyoko with little fanfare. "You're near the exit to the Internet," Doctor Hikari reported. "Get to the Science Labs as fast as you can."
A vehicle materialized next to Ulrich as the doctor spoke, though it wasn't the one Ulrich was expecting. "You sent me the Overboard!" the brunette reported, eyeing the purple floating skateboard.
"Sorry, my mistake. I'll send you the Overbike."
Ulrich hopped onto the skateboard with a shrug. "There's no time! Tell Odd sorry for me, though."
On the Overboard it took half the time to get through Internet City, since he could simply fly over the heads of the crowds of Navis. Once he reached the Science Lab's public access he didn't waste any time. It was easy to find Rockman on the network; he just followed the sounds of the Rockbuster and the Navi's cries of challenge.
"Tag!" Ulrich yelled, saber out and decapitating a few hapless viruses. He hopped off the Overboard and next to Rockman. "Hope you can skateboard, Rockman!"
"I'll figure it out!" the Navi grinned, folding his 'buster away and hopping on the board. "Be careful!"
Ulrich cleared out the viruses and turned his attention to the security system, where he could see William charging through police officers and innocent bystanders like crazy. Luckily they had enough sense to run away, and once the room was cleared of everyone but William Ulrich activated the security programs and sealed him inside.
"Ulrich, when I tell you to, unseal the door," Doctor Hikari warned. "Jeremie just sent me the program to translate Odd and Yumi into the real world."
"All right." All Ulrich could do now was wait.
"Ulrich!" a familiar voice yelled. The brunette turned to see a pink Navi with golden loops hanging from her helmet running up to him. "Rockman sent me to help you. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Roll," Ulrich said, recognizing the Navi as belonging to Meiru. "You should go help Rockman instead."
Roll busied herself with applying healing programs to Ulrich. "He's in that forest with a soccer-playing Navi. I was just worried about you, since you're independent and all." Netto and Rockman had made up some excuse for the reason that Ulrich kept vanishing from the 'net. So far as the rest of their friends were concerned, Ulrich was still just an independent Navi. They were quite interested in the human him, though; it was only a matter of time before the full story was out.
"I'm fine." Ulrich was grateful for the healing though.
"All right, Ulrich, open the door now!"
The brunette did as Doctor Hikari instructed and watched the ensuing battle on the screen. After a moment William's figure flickered and vanished.
"Tower deactivated," Jeremie's voice proclaimed. "Sorry I'm late, I was at the school. Need a return to the past?"
"What about that data we collected from the tower?" Doctor Hikari's voice asked. He sounded incredibly worried, though about what was a mystery.
"It'll still be in the supercomputer." Jeremie's voice had that distracted quality that Ulrich knew meant the blonde was either studying some code or looking at Aelita.
"Then yes, a return to the past would be nice."
The data that the good Doctor mentioned, Ulrich found out after gathering at the factory with his friends the next (previous) day, was the data needed to materialize William.
"It turns out that his data is being stored on a Replica in Siberia," Jeremie reported, the rest of the so-called Lyoko Warriors gathered around him and the supercomputer's monitor. On the screen, Rockman and Netto were sharing twin looks of confusion.
"Isn't that the place you guys went to last week?" Ulrich asked. He'd been catching up on some much-needed homework and hadn't gone with them.
"Right. Thanks to the data, I've devised a program that can materialize William and free him from XANA's control. It'll require pinpoint timing, though."
"What do you mean?" Rockman asked.
"Well, the program will need to be run from Siberia's supercomputer at the same instant that we devirtualize William," Jeremie explained. "I'll send you the coordinates for the Replica, think you'll be able to make it? We can use all the help we can get."
"Sure, I can come." Doctor Hikari had put the finishing touches on his own vehicle to traverse the Digital Sea just a few days before. "Just let me and Netto know when."
Ulrich deflected a laser blast from a Hornet that had decided to take a potshot at him, backing up until he met Odd coming from the other side. They glanced over their shoulders at each other and ginned.
"How many are you up to?" Ulrich asked.
"You first!" Odd fired a few arrows at the hornets and whistled when they all connected, four monsters disintegrating. "Whoo hoo!"
"I'm glad you're having fun, guys. Keep in mind what we're here to do." Jeremie's voice was amused.
"Are they always like this?" Doctor Hikari asked.
"Pretty much," Ulrich grinned, jumping up and batting a hornet out of the air.
"I've got a read on William, he's on his way. Remember, we have to wait to devirtualize him until Aelita and Rockman are in place," Jeremie cautioned.
"Roger," Odd replied, snapping off a salute between blasts. "Me and Ulrich will keep him occupied, just give us the word."
Then William was on them and there was no time for talking. Theo was with them on the replica, keeping monsters off of their backs while Ulrich and Odd danced around the possessed teen. William ignored Odd, for the most part, focusing instead on Ulrich. The two locked swords repeatedly, the brunette forced to use his greater speed to avoid the majority of damage. Odd got in a few shots here and there but was brushed off.
"Seems like you've got a grudge against me, XANA," Ulrich noted dryly. He'd retreated a few feet and was catching his breath. "Sore after all those beatings I gave you on the 'net?"
The other teen bared his teeth. "You'd have been nothing if not for that pest, Rockman."
"Oh, I don't know." Ulrich leaped over William's head and slashed downwards, expecting the other's sword to come up and block. He wasn't disappointed, launching himself off the blade and landing a few feet away. "I seemed to do a pretty good job on my own. Remember?"
He did remember, Ulrich saw. "I'll raze your world to the ground!"
And that was all for the witty banter, William's renewed assaults forcing him to stay on his toes. He was making an effort not to do much damage, mindful of what was at stake, but it was difficult with William determined to slice him half.
"Aelita and Rockman are in position!" Jeremie reported. "Wait for my signal and then devirtualize Willam!"
Ulrich grunted from the force of a deflected blow. "Easier said than done, Einstein."
Theo cried out, a monster successfully getting under his guard, and Ulrich flinched, glancing at the soccer player. That instant of inattention was enough. Not a second later the brunette was staring at the sword in his chest, knowing that he should be feeling some pain and wondering when he'd stopped feeling pain on the 'net. He was grateful for it, though – he'd rather not have felt being stabbed in the chest.
William sneered. "Nothing witty to say?"
Ulrich could feel his limbs dematerializing, but he still heard Jeremie's signal. He grinned. "Gotcha."
His last sight was of an arrow piercing William's shoulder, Odd crying out in victory.
William's reintroduction to the real world was a lot less complicated than Ulrich's. The black-haired boy had few memories of his times under XANA's control and so it was a simple matter for him to pick up his life where it left off. Ulrich felt a bit jealous, though by this time he'd gotten back into the rhythms of life offline.
The group was reluctant to let William back into the fight. It had been his arrogance that had led to his capture by XANA and there was no guarantee that it wouldn't happen again. There was no shortage of help, either; Rockman was able to venture to Lyoko to help with a particularly nasty problem should one crop up.
Ulrich, after watching William for a few weeks after the attack, was the one to bring the subject up.
"He's changed," the brunette argued. "You've seen him around campus. He's not as much of a jerk and he thinks before he does things. Why not keep him as a backup member?"
"There's no telling what prolonged exposure to XANA might have done to him," Jeremie pointed out. "The minute he steps foot on Lyoko he might be possessed again. I haven't even been able to analyze his virtual form, it's so bugged up."
"Then delete it," Ulrich said. It was a simple solution, to him; programs had been deleted on the net all the time. It was usually done while feeling like you were putting down a favored pet, but when it came down to that one program and the integrity of the network the choice had been clear. "You can do that, right? Delete William's old Lyoko information, then scan him again. There shouldn't be anything wrong with him physically."
Jeremie had thought long and hard about that, then consulted with Doctor Hikari. It was a few days before the whole group, William included, was once again assembled in the factory.
"I've deleted your profile from the supercomputer," Jeremie told William bluntly. "As far as it's concerned, you didn't exist. Returns to the past will once again affect you, though there's nothing we can do about your knowledge of Lyoko."
William winced. "So why am I here?"
"Given everything that XANA's done to you, you deserve a chance to fight against it," the blonde said. "Not for revenge, but to ensure that it can't do the same thing to one of us. That's why we've decided to call a vote."
The dark-haired boy nodded. "And what did you decide?"
"We need all the help we can get," Yumi told him. "Plus, you've learned from your mistakes, right?"
"No more charging towards the giant jellyfish," William agreed. "Or any other monster. I've learned my lesson."
Ulrich was standing off to the side, leaning against the wall and observing. He'd been the first to cast his vote in favor of inviting William back. He wasn't entirely sure why, though; he had plenty of memories of William's face sneering at him as the black-haired boy had tried his hardest to tear him to pieces. He supposed it was because he felt a sort of kinship with the boy. Not to mention that any help against XANA was welcome.
"Then get downstairs. Let's get you scanned in again." Jeremie cracked his knuckles and turned to the keyboard.
Ulrich pushed off from his position on the wall. "I'll go to Lyoko with him," he volunteered. "Just in case XANA decides to try something." Plus he felt responsible for William; if the teen somehow went bad again he wanted to be there to put him out of his misery.
"Get on down to the scanners, then."
The trip was uneventful, a bit peaceful even. William's Lyoko outfit was a bit different now. It had reverted to its original silver bodysuit, but the giant cleaver was gone. In its place was two short swords sheathed on his waist.
Ulrich privately thought that the dual swords were a manifestation of William's personality changes. Lacking monsters, he invited William to spar. The other still favored heavy attacks, but the second sword allowed for more versatility. William was able to counter some of Ulrich's quicker strikes, countering with the second blade. After devirtualizing him, Ulrich replayed the duel in his head and grinned.
XANA wouldn't know what hit him.
"Go on, move!" Ulrich yelled, shoving Netto and Meiru ahead of him out a door before whirling to block the laser intended for Netto's head. He glared at the monster XANA had materialized onto the real world just as he was, a digital ghost. Across the room Rockman was guarding another door, 'buster firing rapidly but doing no damage to the Krab that was trying its best to turn his dad into paste.
"Aelita, can you get to the tower and deactivate it?" Jeremie's voice asked. Ulrich ignored it, sprinting towards the Krab and leaping above it. His sword sliced into the eye and with a roar the monster vanished. He used his momentum to bounce off the wall of Doctor Hikari's lab, careening towards the other Krab. It also vanished with a roar, leaving Ulrich and Rockman in a room full of normal humans.
"I'm there, Jeremie. It's deactivated."
"Should I launch a return to the past?" Jeremie asked. Ulrich traded a look with Rockman and Doctor Hikari, the latter of which emerged from his room cautiously.
"It's up to you, Hikari-hakase," Ulrich informed him. "Return to the past or not?"
"Meiru is very good at keeping secrets," the older man said dryly, dusting off his white lab coat. "I think we'll be okay for now. Rockman, go back to the Lyoko Replica and wait for me to enter the codes."
"Yes, Papa." Rockman stowed his 'buster. "Jeremie? Can you return me to the Replica?"
There was no answer. "Jeremie?" Ulrich asked cautiously.
Still nothing. The two digitized beings traded looks with each other before Rockman sighed. "There's only one other way to get back."
"I know." Ulrich spun his saber around so it pointed at the Navi. "I'll have to wait I guess."
Netto winced as Rockman impaled himself on the blade and vanished. Ulrich couldn't blame him for it. Having to essentially kill one of his friends was not one of his favorite moments; the knowledge that they were safe on Lyoko or Earth didn't do anything to assuage his guilt. "He's not dead, right?"
"He'll be disoriented but fine," Ulrich assured him. "He'll reappear on the Replica."
"Um, Netto, what's going on?" Meiru asked a bit timidly. "Why is Ulrich dressed as that Navi with the same name?"
"It's a long story," the Japanese brunette said awkwardly. They went to a corner and Netto started speaking quickly while Ulrich turned his attention to Doctor Hikari.
"You're about to change the Replica's security codes now, right?" he asked.
"Yes. Once done, XANA won't be able to send any more monsters. I've given Aelita a copy of what the new security passcodes are so you will still be able to visit at your leisure." Doctor Hikari was typing furiously. "Once you all return to France Jeremie says that he's ready to do the same for Lyoko. It will keep XANA from activating the towers there, too, and you all will be one step closer to deleting him."
"And we'll be able to go to school in peace," Ulrich agreed. "Way to go, Hikari-hakase!"
"Ulrich, can you hear me?" Odd's voice asked. "Jeremie's in trouble, XANA managed to activate a tower back here on Lyoko. I don't know how to get you back, either. I don't know what to do!"
"Protect Jeremie! I'll see if I can't off myself here somehow to get back," Ulrich snapped, looking around for likely causes of devirtualization. He spotted an electrical cable that had been ripped out by one of the pointed claws of a Krab. "This is going to hurt," he winced.
A few minutes later he awoke inside the Skid. It had moved while he'd been unconscious, the submarine now traversing the Digital Sea when the last he'd seen it, it had been tethered to a tower on the Forest Replica.
"That wasn't my idea of a fun time," he groaned, rubbing his sore head. The rest of him didn't ache, exactly, but he felt just a bit more tingly than usual.
"We're almost back to Lyoko. Get ready to fight." Aelita's voice was grim over the comm and Ulrich nodded, hand gripping his sword.
With both Lyoko and the Forest Replica cut off from XANA's control, the fight was over almost before Ulrich realized it. Jeremie and Doctor Hikari worked together on a modified version of the former's ill-fated Marabounta program, and with a little help from Franz Hopper the fight was suddenly over. All of the rest of the Replicas all over the world, save the one Doctor Hikari had made his own, were destroyed along with XANA.
That left only a few pieces of unfinished business, as far as Ulrich was concerned.
He watched the two scanners open, two identical brunettes falling out with a shared groan. Odd and Yumi were there to catch them before they totally faceplanted, supporting them into the elevator that linked the scanner room, control room, and upper level of the abandoned factory.
They recovered in time for the door to open, revealing the rest of their little group. Jeremie was at his console as usual, fingers poised above the keys and face split into a grin. Aelita was standing behind him, hands clasped behind her back, while next to her Theo and William each shared a small grin.
"Welcome to France, Netto, Rockman," Jeremie greeted them. "How was the trip?"
The green-eyed brunette held up his finger. "Saito," he corrected with a grin. "Since I've been living on Earth I've been going by my human name. Plus it keeps people from guessing that I'm Rockman."
"It was fun until that last part," Netto groaned, rubbing his stomach. "I still prefer being on the operator side of things."
"I have permission from my parents for two Japanese pen pals to stay over at our house," Yumi grinned. "And we have permission from the principal of our school to let you attend classes for a week or so. Ready to immerse yourself in French?"
Netto grinned. "Papa installed a translation program into me just before we left. There shouldn't be any problems! Although it's weird, having something just installed." He made a face. "I don't think I'm ever getting anything else installed again."
"It's easier than learning it, right, Netto-kun?" Saito teased.
Netto huffed, causing everyone in the room to laugh.
As they exited the factory, the source of so much heartache and pain and happy memories, Ulrich wondered just if he'd get a good night's sleep for once.