Revised May 10th, 2002


"Machines aren't capable of evil... Humans make them that way."
-Lucca Ashtear, Chrono Trigger



"Well, come on then! Come and get me, you big fat coward!" Rock taunted.

The humans had long since fled screaming from the park, just as soon as Guts Man began tossing around uprooted trees. The bulky robot gave no reaction to Rock's taunt, instead looking back and forth across the area as if expectant. "C'mon, I know you're out there somewhere...!" he called.

Suddenly his gaze focused on something behind Rock. "Hey!" he shouted, rushing forward--Rock leaped to one side and fired the super shot he'd been charging. Guts Man was thrown violently against another tree and slid to the ground, still.

Rock turned to see what had caught the Robot Master's attention. The only thing between him and the end of the park was a bench...and the boy who was crouching behind it.

He smiled, waving to the boy. "Hey, it's all right, the danger's gone," Rock said soothingly. "You can come out now."

The boy did not move. He watched Rock nervously, hands clutching at the top of the bench, his face half-concealed behind it--only his eyes were visible. And in the dim light of just-after-sunset, it was hard to tell, but those eyes seemed to be...

"...Red?" he murmured.

Human or robot, he only knew one with red eyes.

Pursing his lips, he quickly swung his arm cannon back up to bear, aiming it at his opponent. "I can't believe I almost made such a stupid mistake," he growled. "Forte! Stand up where I can see you!"

Obediently, Forte rose without a word, putting up his hands. Without his armor, he looked almost like any normal boy: short lavender hair with bangs that fell down into his face, a baggy black long-sleeved shirt that made him look overthin and even a bit waifish, underneath which were grey khaki jeans and a pair of black sneakers. But the illusion of humanity was shattered by his eyes--ruby red pupils, still with the striking violet stripes reaching down each cheek.

"I--I'm not here to fight you, okay?" he announced quietly after a moment. "So if you'll just let me go, I'll get outta your hair."

Rock snorted. "And then the moment I turn my back, you'll blast me. Don't think I'm going to act stupid just because you're in civilian clothes."

Forte frowned. "You don't understand...."

Maybe he didn't. The thought nagged at Rock's mind. He's not acting anything like the Forte I remember. And it's been so long...

It had been almost a year since their last battle. For once, Rock had nearly been able to finish Forte; a solid shot to the head had rendered him unconscious, and several robots had quickly arrived to spirit him back to Dr. Wily's fortress. For several months afterwards, Robot Masters had been the only Wily 'bots to be found in the city.

And now here was Forte, who had not been seen in a year, saying he didn't want a fight.

Rock let his arm relax at his side. "All right, I won't harm you. But I think you've got some explaining to do."

* * *

It took a bit of persuasion to get Forte to come back to Dr. Light's lab with him, but finally he agreed. Rock teleported them both inside, glad that he wouldn't have to worry about the potential of more marauding Robot Masters while he got his requested explanation.

Forte hefted himself up onto one of the examination tables in the main laboratory, legs idly dangling off one side as he waited for Rock. "Well...um... this place is looking better," he murmured, sounding a bit embarrassed.

Rock nodded, coming over to sit down beside Forte. "Dr. Light's had to rebuild it more than once since the time you trashed it," he informed the other robot academically, taking off his helmet and laying it down beside him on the table.

Forte visibly winced at the words 'you trashed it'. "I...uh, I see."

There was a short moment of silence. Rock watched Forte expectantly, but the other robot continued to look around the room, not meeting his eyes.

"Well?"

Forte blinked. "Er, sorry." He crossed his arms over his chest, looking toward Rock with a sigh. "Let's see... where should I start..." he murmured.

"I'd suggest starting at the beginning."

"Well, it's kind of a long explanation--"

"That's all right. We've got time." Rock's expression was determined. "I wanna hear exactly what happened to make you disappear for a year and then turn up acting like some kind of pacifist."

Forte was silent again for a long moment, looking out one of the lab's windows. Just as Rock decided to prompt him again, he began to speak quietly.

"I'm sure you remember that back when Dr. Wily built me I was supposed to be counterpart to you in everything. Speed, strength, endurance, support..." He shrugged. "If you had it I had to have it too. And that included...free will, the ability to make choices of your own... he decided that even though he didn't like it, it was part of the formula. So he gave me that too."

"You mean..." Rock's voice was incredulous. "You mean you're a living machine too!? But how did he...?"

The other robot shook his head. "I don't know how. All I know is that he did it. But... this is Dr. Wily we're talking about. He didn't want a robot that was absolutely free...he decided I needed a weakness, a flaw he could use to manipulate me." Forte's expression grew very tired.

"So he created the Soprano Program, custom fit for my operating system. It overrided a lot of my so-called free will... The program is designed to make a machine act...well, erratically..." He shook his head. "I can't think how to describe it except to say...it's a sort of robotic psychosis. So, in a pretty literal sense, he drove me nuts." Forte smiled humorlessly.

Rock stared at him, incredulous. He'd thought it impossible before, but it seemed Wily had sunk to an even more disgusting low. "...Go on," he murmured.

Forte looked out the window again as he continued. "You and I... we had that battle all those months ago, and between your shot and my landing on that steel plating, part of my CPU got damaged--I guess it was just enough to knock me offline, and it also killed some files that were essential to running a few programs. Dr. Wily repaired me later, but didn't bother to replace what was missing from the ROM, because there was so little gone. Except...I guess he didn't realize one of the messed-up programs was Soprano." He paused, looking down at his hands for a moment, expression unreadable.

"It was like waking from a bad dream," he whispered after a moment. "Except that, y'know...everything had...actually happened. All the people I'd killed... I felt sick just thinking about that. I think if I were human, I'd've thrown up around then." He smiled without humor again. "But I suppose that would've given me away to Wily."

Looking back over at Rock, he sighed. "Anyway, after that I knew I had to leave... me and Gospel snuck out of the fortress, and I've just been lying low around the city for the last few months. Wily's been sending Robot Masters out to look for me, but I've been able to avoid 'em. Although tonight was a close call," he added with a grimace.

"Speaking of Gospel, where is he?"

"Probably waiting around outside somewhere." Forte grinned, looking almost like his old confident self. Morphing one arm into its cannon-gauntlet, he pressed a button and then morphed it back. After a moment, Gospel teleported into the room. The robotic wolfhound ran over to its master with a loud bark.

"What was that noise?" Forte froze as Roll's voice filtered through the doors of the laboratory. Rock's face brightened.

"Hey, Dr. Light and Roll must've come home."

"Aww, crap," Forte whispered, looking around frantically. "I should get outta here before they see me...!"

He started to rise, but Rock put a steadying hand on his arm. "Don't go. They'll understand... we can explain this to them..."

Forte struggled against Rock's grip until Gospel finally leaped up onto the lab table and laid down across his lap, effectively stranding him. He sighed resignedly. "All right, already, I get the idea."

"Rock? Are you in here?" The doors of the lab slid open to reveal Doctor Light and Roll on the other side.

"Ah, there you are, Rockm--" Light froze, eyes wide, staring at Forte.

The robot in question gave a weak smile and a wave. "Uh...hi."

"Forte!" Roll shouted. "What're you doing in here!? How'd you get in!? Rock, quick, shoot him or something!"

Rock shook his head. "Calm down, Roll. Forte is here because I invited him."

Dr. Light raised a curious eyebrow, walking slowly toward the lab table so as not to startle anyone. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand, Rock," he replied reasonably. "Would one of you care to explain what's going on?"

Rock quickly outlined Forte's situation, while the other robot fidgeted nervously in his seat, staring out the window. When Rock finished, Dr. Light looked toward Forte, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"So, you are indeed a living machine?"

Looking toward the doctor, Forte nodded.

Dr. Light sighed. "Which means you might not be telling the whole truth. And that complicates things for us." He stuck his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. "Is there anything you could do to show that your testimony can be trusted...?"

Silence filled the room for a long moment.

"Well," Forte finally volunteered quietly, "I guess you could look at what's left of the Soprano source code, if you wanted to."

Light nodded. "That will do. Shall we set up a visual feed?"

A few minutes later, cables strung from Forte's interface jacks were hooked up to Dr. Light's central computer, feeding his actions onto the screen. Forte searched through his files, and within moments, code filled the display. Dr. Light reached for his mouse and began to scroll through it.

His face seemed to grow paler with every line. After several minutes he stopped, not even halfway through the document, and sat down hard in the nearest chair.

"I never thought," he whispered after a moment, "that even Dr. Wily could create something so abominable."

Rising, he walked over to Forte and extended a hand. The robot reached out hesitantly to shake it.

"I believe you, Forte. And I thank whatever gods there may be that that program malfunctioned."

Forte blinked as the handshake was completed, expression unreadable. After a moment he said simply, "Thank you."

Gospel leaped off the table and Forte stood, looking around with an awkward expression. "Well...um, guess I'll get outta here, if we're done."

"Where are you staying?" Roll asked.

"Er..." He scratched his head embarrassedly. "Um, not anywhere in particular. Random warehouses and stuff... we move around a lot so nobody'll find us and bring us in for trespassing..."

Light raised an eyebrow. Seeing his expression, Roll giggled. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Dr. Light?"

"I'd say I am." Light smiled. "How would you like to stay here with us, Forte?"

The young robot's eyes widened in disbelief. "You'd really have me...?"

"Absolutely!" Roll exclaimed. "You can be part of the family!"

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Forte turned to find Rock smiling encouragingly.

Finally he looked down toward his companion. "Well, Gospel... what d'you think?"

The wolf 'bot barked once, tongue lolling out from between its teeth in a canine grin.

"I guess that settles it, then." Forte smiled. "Sure."

"Great!" said Rock.

"Yes, indeed," Dr. Light agreed, grinning. "Although I think this may give Blues a bit of a shock the next time he shows up..."

"Oh, don't worry, Doc, I think I'm pretty prepared."

The group whirled around to find Blues leaning against the lab doors. He was not smiling.

A tense silence filled the room as the red and grey bot rose from his perch and walked slowly toward Forte. The other robot stood silently as Blues looked him over, expression hidden behind his black visor.

Suddenly, Blues thrust out a hand. Forte took it with a slightly startled, but nevertheless grateful, expression as he gave it a weak shake.

The older bot's lips quirked in amusement. "'Bout damn time. Welcome to the family, little brother." Without further words, he turned and gave the rest of the group a wave before departing.

Forte breathed a sigh of relief. "I wonder how long he'd been standing there?"

"Long enough, I guess." Rock laughed. He rose from the table, grabbing his helmet, and gestured toward the doors where Blues had walked out. "C'mon, I'll show you around the house. We've got two empty guest rooms right now, so you can pick from one of those to belong to you, except I think one of them has a bunch of junk in it--but anyway..."

* * *

"Forte, could you hand me another dev 3 bolt?"

"Just a second, Doc." He rummaged through Dr. Light's component bins to see if there were any more.

A month and a half since his acceptance by the Light household, he was finally getting used to the way things worked around here. Dr. Wily had always been erratic about scheduling, and of course he'd had to stay alert nearly 24/7 when he was living on the streets, but the Light family had a set routine that they liked to keep similar from day to day. Out of bed at 7:00 for breakfast with Dr. Light, then some lab work until lunchtime or so, and then the three robots were free for the afternoon--dinner at 6:00, bedtime at 10:00 unless there was some special occasion, in which case curfew was midnight. Dr. Light always let everyone know exactly what he expected of them.

Forte returned to the main lab empty-handed. "Sorry, Dr. Light," he said with a shrug. "I think we're out."

"Really?" Light looked up from the machine he was working on to glance over at his main computer, and at the robot typing away on it. "Rock, what time is it?"

"10:34 in the morning. And 51 seconds," he added with a grin.

"Oh, don't do that, you know it annoys me," Light berated his creation good-humoredly. "Well, I could use a short break... how about the three of us head downtown and pick up some more of those bolts?"

"All right," Rock agreed, saving his work and exiting the program. "I'll go start the van." He walked out the door.

"Hey, Roll!" Forte called down the hallway. "Could you upload the tech components shopping list to the van? We're headed downtown!"

There was a moment of silence. "Okay, it's all done!" Roll's reply came after a moment.

Dr. Light laughed. "Well, if we're going after the entire list, this may prove to be a longer break than I thought."

"I didn't think we were missing that much." Forte shrugged. "Oh well, let's head out."

A few minutes later, the Light family van was parked in front of Yukito's High-Quality Robotics Parts. Dr. Light waited outside while Rock and Forte went in to retrieve the needed bolts, plus all the items on Roll's shopping list. Half an hour later the pair emerged, each toting a large cardboard box full of items.

"I think Roll's list mighta had a glitch," Forte growled, carrying his box toward the van.

"I think if I were human my arms would've gone numb by now," Rock muttered as he followed.

"Let go of me!"

The pair froze. "Dr. Light!" Rock exclaimed, dropping his box to the concrete and running out into the street. After a moment of indecision, Forte followed suit.

Further down the street, the road was blocked by a large flying saucer parked on the middle line. Ice Man and Shade Man stood to one side of Slash Man, who held a struggling Dr. Light, and standing behind the group was Dr. Wily, who looked toward the approaching robots with a sinister smile.

"Rockman and...Forte. How nice of you to join us."

"Let him go, Wily!" Rock demanded, pointing his arm cannon at the evil scientist.

Wily's smile widened. "Now why would I do a silly thing like that? Come now, Rockman," he said reasonably, "we must make a trade. I have something you want, and you...you have something I want." His eyes narrowed as he focused on Forte. The robot shuddered.

"And...what if I don't want to go back?" Forte asked tensely, though he already knew the answer.

"You have no choice." Wily shook his head. "Either you return to me, your rightful master, or my good colleague Doctor Light shall suffer a rather untimely...accident." Looking toward the mad doctor, Slash Man placed his claws over Dr. Light's throat with a vicious grin.

After a long moment, Forte stepped forward.

"No! Forte, you can't!" Rock tried to grab the other robot's arm, but Forte brushed his hand aside.

"It's the only way..." he murmured. "After everything you guys have done for me, I can't just let him die..."

Dr. Wily threw his head back and started laughing. He kept laughing as Forte walked forward, as the Robot Masters moved to each side, as the young robot knelt before him, as Dr. Light was released to run toward Rock--

--as the edge of Forte's arm cannon suddenly pressed against his chest.

He slowly looked down at his creation with wide, terrified eyes.

Forte stared right into those eyes, expression grim. "Did you think I wouldn't attack you?" he asked softly. "That Light had messed with my programming, turned me into a weakling? I'm my own person now. Your damn Soprano Program is long gone. And you know what?"

Wily mutely shook his head.

"I hate you," Forte snarled. "All the horrible things you made me do, all the people I killed, and the fact that because of you I ENJOYED IT ALL!" With his free hand he reached up and grabbed Wily's collar, hauling his face forward until they were nose to nose. "And you know what?" he said again softly. "If I were the same Forte you created, you'd already be dead by now."

He let go and Wily fell to the ground. "But I'm not. I'm different. And that's why I'm going to let you go, and if you know what's good for you, Wily, you're going to turn tail and run away right now before I change my mind."

Without another word, Dr. Wily turned and scrambled into his saucer, the three Robot Masters quickly throwing themselves in. He took off and flew away.

Forte turned as well, walking a few hesitant steps toward Dr. Light. "...you okay...?"

Light looked off silently toward the point where Wily's craft had disappeared. After a moment he sighed.

"I'm fine. Let's go home."

* * *

"AAAAAAAARRRRGGGH!"

Dr. Wily shoved Cut Man out of the way; the Robot Master slammed into a nearby bank of computers as his creator stormed through the lab in a rage, sending tables of test tubes and mechanical components clattering to the floor with a swipe of his arm. He came to the computer terminal at the far end of the room and slammed one fist into the keyboard.

"THAT STUPID ROBOT! I'LL MAKE HIM WISH HE NEVER BETRAYED ME...!!"

"But Dr. Wily, I thought he just had a program malfunc--"

Wily whirled on Cut Man. "SHUT UP!!"

Cut Man shrunk back against the wall. "Yes, sir."

Muttering under his breath, the evil scientist turned back to his computer. He booted it up and began typing.

"Forte is mine," he growled. "I will find a way to get him back..."

* * *

some time later

"Man, this place is noisy!"

Forte fought the urge to plug his ears as he, Rock, and Roll followed Dr. Light through the huge but crowded building.

"Yes, I suppose it is a bit loud," Dr. Light replied with a chuckle. He had to raise his own voice to be heard above the clamor. "That's just the nature of a convention, though."

The 21st annual Tokyo Roboticist Convention had, for the 5th year in a row, invited Dr. Light to be part of its panel of guest speakers. The trio of robots had not come to the convention on its first three days, but on the fourth day of the weeklong gathering, they had decided to tag along as moral support for Dr. Light during his lecture.

"Dr. Light! Hello there!" A heavyset scientist rushed over to the doctor, stopping him in his tracks.

"Oh, hello, Dr. Ookido," Light greeted the other man. "Is there something I can do for you?"

Dr. Ookido nodded. "Would you mind coming with me for just a moment? We've gotten into a rather heated debate over bioroid theory, and I think you could help us with some of the finer points..."

Light nodded in return. "Certainly, I'd be glad to. If you'll give me just a second..."

He turned to the three robots. "This will probably take forever," he murmured quietly. "You three can come along if you like, but..."

"Oh, could we look around the convention floor?" Roll asked excitedly.

"Certainly. I was just about to suggest it." Dr. Light smiled. "Be careful, and I'll see you in the auditorium at one o'clock, all right?"

With that, the group separated. Dr. Light was led off by the other scientist, while Rock and Roll hurried away to look at some exhibit, which left Forte all by his lonesome in a place which did not particularly interest him. Trying his best to dodge the many humans and robots headed one way or another, he wandered aimlessly through the convention building.

"Excuse me, sir!" A tall robot in a tan hat and trenchcoat beckoned to him from near the entrance to a meeting room. "Excuse me!"

Forte walked over to the robot, running a hand through his hair and raising one eyebrow curiously. "Somethin' I can do for you?"

"Yes, thank you." The 'bot bowed graciously. "May I assume by your unusual eye color and face markings that you are a robot of some kind?"

Forte pursed his lips warily. "You may."

"Wonderful!" The robot gestured toward the door of the meeting room next to him. "If you don't mind, we are conducting an opinion survey on behalf of Roiters, Inc., among the general robotic population."

"An...opinion survey?" This sounded fishy. Most robots didn't _have_ opinions...

The tall 'bot looked almost apologetic. "Yes. I'm told by my employer that we are surveying robots as an easier way of determining the true opinions of their owners."

Forte had no owner, but he could always claim Dr. Light if need be, and he certainly didn't mind giving out his opinion. "All right, sure," he said with a shrug, walking into the meeting room. The tall robot followed after him.

The room was filled not with survey-taking robots, as he'd expected, but with electronic equipment--and one old man. The door locked behind him with an audible 'click', and Forte's eyes widened in horror. "N-no...!"

Dr. Wily smiled.

"Oh, yes."

* * *

"That was a total waste of three whole hours. I can't believe it was so boring," Roll remarked with a sigh as she and Rock walked toward the auditorium where Dr. Light would be giving his speech.

"Considering how many conventions you've been to, I don't know why you thought this one would be any more interesting," Rock replied, rolling his eyes.

"Well, at last year's convention they had this really cool linguist bot... I thought they might've brought it back, but I didn't see it. Man, that's not fair," she whined.

"Oh well. Here we are," Rock announced as they reached the wide-open doors of the auditorium. The crowds nearby had thinned out considerably, as many people had already seated themselves to listen to the guest speaker. The pair of robots walked inside, and after waving at Dr. Light, who was already standing at the podium, they began to look around for a good place to sit.

"I wonder where Forte is?" Roll said, craning her neck to look out around the audience. "I bet he's sitting down somewhere already..."

"ROCKMAN!"

A shout from the entrance drew the attention of many people in the audience. Rock turned around to see who was calling for him. "What the...!?"

Sillhouetted in the doorway was an all-too-familiar set of black and gold armor.

Forte walked slowly and purposefully down the aisle toward Rock, blasting playfully near the feet of people sitting at the aisle's edge until he came up next to the blue robot. Crimson eyes bored into his own and an insane grin twisted the boyish features as Forte pointed an arm cannon at his opponent.

"Did you miss me?"

Reluctantly, Rock raised his own arm, aiming the cannon at Forte. "What's going on? You're on our side now, aren't you?"

A plasma blast answered him. "Don't talk, FIGHT!" Forte screamed as he sent a rapid-fire burst of shots toward Rock and Roll. Pushing his sister out of the way, the blue robot ducked and rolled down the aisle farther away from Forte, nearly caught off guard by the unprovoked attack. Quickly he rose into a crouch, firing a couple times at Forte, who merely dodged to one side. People screamed and shouted and the auditorium began to empty itself very quickly.

"Hah!" Forte tilted his head back and laughed. "You've gotten weak without me to test your skills, Rockman! You were bad before, but now you're just pathetic!"

Rising slowly, Rock looked down at his arm cannon, then back up at Forte. He let it morph back and dropped his hand to his side, effectively disarmed. "Rock, what are you doing!?" Roll shouted, horrified.

Forte grinned as he stepped closer, weapon still trained on his opponent. "Finally ready to give up, are ya? Admit I'm the better bot? But it's no fun if you die quickly." His eyes gleamed feverishly. "Guess this calls for a spot of torture, huh!?"

"I don't know what's happened to you, Forte," Rock said calmly, "but I know that you don't really want to do this."

"Like hell I don't!" Forte laughed again. "I've been waiting for this moment since the day I was created!"

"Have you forgotten everything that's happened in the past few months?" Rock's voice was thick with emotions that he could no longer hold back. "I'm your friend, Forte! Not an enemy...!"

Forte raised an eyebrow, looking at him oddly. "Rockman, you've got a screw loose." He grinned again, stepping forward and preparing to fire. "Lemme help you with that--"

A loud bark resounded through the auditorium.

Forte gave a start as Gospel bounded up from the center of the auditorium, turning and halting directly in front of Rock. The robotic wolfhound raised itself to its full height.

"Gospel, what're you doing!?" Forte growled frustratedly. "Move so I can get on with this!"

Gospel stayed.

"Move it already! I'm giving you an order!" the black robot shouted.

Gospel just barked at him.

"What the...!?" Forte stared at his partner, arm cannon falling limply to his side. "I don't understand...!"

"Gospel knows his real orders," Rock said quietly. "He knows that the real Forte would never want me, or anyone else in here, to get hurt. You're not yourself..." With a worried smile he slowly reached out a hand toward the other robot. "Please, let me help you."

Forte looked down at the proffered hand, anger fading quickly to be replaced by confusion. "I...I don't understand..." he repeated in a whisper, voice scared and horrified. The black robot suddenly seemed very lost. "What's going on... why am I doing this...?"

Gospel walked over to his side as Rock moved closer. "I don't know, but we can figure it out together."

He sunk slowly to his knees. When Rock crouched down and swept him into a hug, he did not protest, but only buried his face in the blue robot's shoulder and silently sobbed.

From the podium, Dr. Light watched quietly.

"I always wondered if they could cry," the scientist mused with a small, sad smile.