Their Caesar's message was tense and to the point.
"If anyone's still alive to hear me, then hold on. I'm getting help. I will continue to broadcast every two minutes until my personal disruptors' capacitors have finished charging. Just keep waiting until then, and everything will be fine. I repeat-if anyone's still alive..."
The didn't have to wait long at all. Six and Rex took up positions on either side of the door while Caesar stood by a vent at the back of the room, holding a flashlight. Slow, precise footsteps approached all too soon, hesitated outside the door. The knob jiggled. There was just enough time for a silver barrel to poke around the door, for Caesar to cry out in surprise, and for Six to lunge forward before total chaos erupted. The door was swatted aside like a crumpled candy wrapper by a whirling fun-chuck, the flashlight swerved aimlessly toward a wall and plunged the room into half-darkness, and Six was a blur of blades and darkness, planting a kick that brought him and their attacker through the door the latter had come in through. Rex took that as his cue to rush forward with a shout, but Six abruptly sprang back from his target, halting Rex with an outstretched arm. Taking the sword held in that same hand, he thrust it roughly through their opponent's chest. Sparks danced over both sword and figure, and Rex's choked cry of dismay was frozen in its tracks.
"A robot?!" Rex sputtered. The robot, which had been their opponent all along, fell to its knees. Six yanked the sword from its temporary home, and they both surveyed the wreckage for a moment.
"Something's not right," Six muttered. Then he snapped his head up, whirling around. "Decoy! He's behind us!"
Rex had one wild moment to wonder if Six had changed his mind about the Caesar they'd been using as bait, when Six dove back into the room they'd left, and Rex tore after him.
It turned out he hadn't needed to rush. Six had stopped almost as soon as he'd started, standing by the door with a grim scowl. Caesar-goggles-free-stood where he'd been before, struggling to keep the arm around his throat from cutting off his air supply. There was a handgun pressed against the side of his head. Another Caesar, this one wearing goggles, was holding it.
"You!" Rex burst out furiously. A slight pause: "How'd you even get in here?! We were standing guard the whole time!"
"Airvents-" his Caesar wheezed, and the arm at his throat tightened until his eyes bulged. He stopped talking. The air vent beside them that Rex had only noticed in passing before was now open, and Rex was surprised he'd missed it.
"Give it up, Caesar," Six growled. "Don't do anything stupid."
Caesar 81 smirked. "Drop your swords and back out of here, Six."
"Drop the gun first."
"You think you're in any position to give the orders, here?!" Caesar 81 snarled, face twisting with hate that took Rex by surprise. The man took the gun away from Caesar's head, pressing it parallel with his hostage's leg. He pulled the trigger, and Caesar's strangled shout of pain was lost in the guns rapport. An ugly fat hole had appeared in the side of the man's boot, and dark blood immediately oozed out of it.
"Caesar!" Rex shouted. His brother twisted to press the injury against the other leg's ankle, and gave him a tight grin in spite of it. He also mouthed something airlessly, and Rex only just make out, 'it's nothing'.
Caesar 81 replaced the gun at his doppelganger head. "I'll only say it once more: Drop the swords."
Silence was thick enough to cut with a knife. Rex, face twisted unhappily, risked a glance at his mentor.
"We don't have a choice, Six."
The look he got in return said that Six disagreed, but a beat later the swords hit the ground. They weren't his only weapons, but it was enough for Caesar 81.
"Now... All of you are going to listen very carefully to what I tell you, or your dear old brother's brains are going to turn to huevos rancheros in his skull. Six-get out of here."
"If you really think-" Six started.
"Six!" Rex hissed.
"Rex," Six snapped back. Rex gave him a look, and Six glared furiously back. When Rex made a shoo-ing motion with his hand, Six clenched his hands into fists, before backing up until he was standing in the doorway.
"Close the door, Rex."
Rex closed it noisily, and was unsurprised to see it slide silently open again right after.
Caesar 81 smiled, though the expression was twisted, as though he could smell something rotting at the same time.
"You and this Caesar really are something," the man murmured. "This one treated you like garbage back in your world, and here you are, standing up for him."
"My problems with Caesar are between me and him," Rex shot back, wondering vaguely how he knew their history. "He may be a jerk, but he doesn't deserve to get shot by some crazy psycho version of himself!"
"And I deserve to die with a sword through my skull?"
"That's different," Rex protested, feeling his gut clench. "You're trying to kill the people I care about, and kidnap me. This is self defense."
"Self defense?" Caesar 81 repeated, visibly shocked. It looked sincere. "Rex-no. I'm trying to help you. Haven't you figured it out, yet? If you come with me, there won't be anything that can hurt you. You'll be invulnerable! Most of all, you'll be safe."
"Not safe from you," the Caesar under the gun ground out. Caesar 81's face tightened, and he stomped on the hole in the other Caesar's boot. Suddenly his chokehold was the only thing keeping Caesar upright, and Caesar gaped like a fish, utterly unable to take in air.
Rex raked a hand through his hair anxiously. "Let him go, Eighty-one-you're suffocating him!"
"When this version of me hits the ground, he'll be a corpse," Caesar 81 replied in a low tone. The grip on his alternate self's throat lessened slightly, though, and Caesar was able to force air in and out of his lungs in tiny, painful gasps.
Caesar 81 inched away from the vent-door he'd kicked open, jerking his head towards it. "Go on, Rex. You first."
"Where's it supposed to go?" Rex demanded, not moving an inch towards the opening.
Caesar 81's smile glinted again, like a malevolent Cheshire cat's grin. "The faster we get there, the sooner you'll find out. Plus, the less likely it is he'll be to bleed out before then," he added, unperturbed.
Rex glared venomously at him, before stomping past him towards the door. It was too narrow for both him and his fun-chucks, so he detransformed them, plunging himself into pitch darkness. It was like standing in a void, with walls pressing in from all sides.
"Just keep going," Caesar 81 said gently behind him. "I'll let you know when it's time to turn."
"Goody," Rex mumbled. He could hear Caesar 81 dragging his brother after him, with some uncoordianted thumps he thought might've been his brother trying to stand on his own.
There was nothing for it. Rex put a hand along the wall, felt the ground in front of him with his shoe, and started the long trek through the dark.
The going was slow, and at first Rex took every step as though the next one might drop him into a bottomless chasm without warning. The novelty wore off as they went on, and Rex checked less and less often for a pit that never appeared. Eventually he was striding through the darkness, impatient to get wherever they were going and do something for his brothers' injuries. Sounds of movement from the injured man's direction had been going weaker as they went, until all he could hear was the sound of Caesar 81 dragging him with them. Rex preferred to think that Caesar was simply saving his strength. The alternatives didn't bear thinking about.
Finally, Caesar 81 called a halt to their progress, and Rex had to press himself against the wall to let the man and hostage slither past. He could hear the scientist shift his burden around and fiddle with some kind of lock, before some flimsy kind of door opened-maybe another vent cover-and the two Caesars scraped through the opening into the room beyond. Rex followed, hands held out to feel for obstacles on the way.
They'd walked into a large room with floors that tapped metalically underfoot. Rex wandered until he bumped into some sort of table, and groped his way around it.
There was a heavy thud not far from him, like a corpse hitting a surface. "Bro?" Rex asked, snapping his head to try and pinpoint its source. "Eighty-one?"
"Your brother's fine," Caesar 81 said. Rex heard him fiddle with something else, and a dim light flared in the darkness. Rex put a hand up to protect his eyes until they adjusted, squinting in his brother's direction. Both Caesars were at another table a few feet away from his, where one Caesar had heaved the limp form of the other into the surface. Caesar 81 turned to face him, lifting his gun. "Safe and sound, for now." The gun planted itself on Caesar's chest and didn't leave.
"He doesn't look so good," Rex said quietly. Caesar's face was grey, and slicked with sweat. Even in unconsciousness his face twisted in pain.
"He'll live," Caesar 81 dismissed. He waved his free hand in Rex's direction. "Lie down on the table, Rex. There's some machinery that should engage, and I promise it won't hurt you."
"What'll it try to do?" Rex asked suspiciously. Nonetheless, he perched himself gingerly on the table, staying near the edge as though he were sitting on a sharp fence instead of a wide flat surface.
"Nothing painful," Caesar 81 assured him. "It's only the next phase in the plan, designed to make you happier when you come back with me to our world."
"What does it do, Caesar?" Rex pressed, feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach.
"Lie down, Rex." Caesar 81 had moved the gun to press right over Caesar's heart, waiting.
Rex made a sound of strangled frustration, before he threw himself back on the table, folding his arms and kicking his feet out. "Let him go, already! You have what you wanted, you don't need him anymore!"
"Engage primary restraints," Caesar 81 enunciated clearly, by way of reply.
Rex froze in horror, and by the time he'd thrown himself to the side it was too late. Thick, heavy-duty straps flew out from the sides of the table, zipping across his chest and legs. Rex heard a click as they locked into place, and he forced his arms through a speed transformation into smack-hands. The straps simply stretched with them, keeping both him and the metal arms snugly against the table.
"Let me go, Eighty-one!" Rex shouted, struggling to no avail.
Finally Caesar 81 tucked his gun into the back of his belt, going to Rex's table. "No, Rex. I promised Mamá y Papá I'd look after you, and this time I'm going to do it."
"Mom and Dad are dead, Caesar!" Rex snarled. "Taking me back to your world won't change the fact that they'd be horrified at what you're becoming! Just listen yourself, you're crazy!"
"No, I'm not!" Caesar 81 burst out, forcing Rex's head back against the table. "I'm taking responsibility, Rex! I'm the older brother, and you're all I have!" A large, smothering hand muffled Rex's next response, and Caesar 81 strapped something across Rex's forehead by feel. He didn't stop talking; it was as though a dam had burst, and couldn't stop the words that were pouring out.
"You don't even remember what that's like, do you? To have had something, and then have it taken away? All you know is waking up, and boom! Six is there! Holidays' there! They'll look after you! They're always there, they don't care what you do, you're their family, now! It just fell into your lap without you even having to look, didn't it?"
Caesar 81 grabbed Rex by his hair with a shaking hand, talking directly into his face. "I didn't get that. You think I had time for people with Providence? People were dying-my work was more important than you, or me, or anyone! 'Saving humanity always comes first'!" He laughed with a slightly hysterical edge, letting go. "At least, that's what our parents thought. Those were easy decisions then."
"But I understand, now," Caesar 81 went on, pressing something on the strap across Rex's forehead. Rex realized there was a control pad built there, and he snapped at Caesar with his teeth, until Caesar forced his jaws shut again.
"Family comes first," the man whispered. "It took losing everything to realize it, but we really aren't anything without it. I couldn't go on. There was nothing. The world could burn at this point, and I wouldn't care. I'd needed you."
He slowly smiled, face relaxing into the awed and trembling gesture.
"And now I'm bringing you back."
Caesar 81 let go of Rex's jaw and touched his own goggles, before pushing them gently up. There were deep rings where the rings had pressed against his face for so long, and familiar brown eyes roved back and forth fruitlessly, searching without seeing. There were no obvious signs of blindness beyond the fact that his eyes were out of focus, clearly not registering anything at all.
His eyes filled unexpectedly with tears. Caesar blinked, and then scrubbed his face with an abashed, but achingly happy smile. He huffed a small laugh at himself. "Look at me... It's good that you won't remember this. This isn't how big brothers are supposed to act. We're supposed to be strong."
"Won't remember?!" Rex blurted out. Rex's eyes flew wide until they were perfect circles.
"Of course," said Caesar, nodding as though it were obvious. "You wouldn't be happy if you remembered any of this." He waved, indicating himself and the table. "You wouldn't trust me, and that would defeat the entire point of everything that's just happened. Don't worry-I've set this up so that it should accurately replicate the aftereffects of your regular amnesia. No one, not even you, should know the difference."
"CAESAR, LET ME GO!" Rex bellowed, and he realized he was trembling violently. Terror was like a living thing inside of his chest, clawing around at his ribcadge and struggling to escape. Every limb felt like ice and jello. Caesar pressed his other hand against the side of his head, making a soothing 'shh'ing sound.
"It's okay, Rex-you're already starting to forget. Just give it time, it'll all just slip away..."
Rex wildly searched his memories, trying to figure out what 'he was already forgetting. He could still remember Six, and Bobo, and Holiday. Meatloaf Fridays, breaking out for joyriding, getting scolded by White Knight, basketball with Noah-
Noah? He couldn't remember what Noah looked like. He could remember an outline, and basketball, and his voice, but no face. No favorite jacket. Rex's brain stalled on this thought for a second, before he searched furiously for another gap like that. He found one: he remembered disliking White Knight. He couldn't remember why.
Rex couldn't stop a horrible, broken sound from tearing itself from his throat at the realization, twisting his head away from his brother's copy. It was his worst nightmare come true: his memories were slipping through his fingers like water, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He couldn't break free. Every second that passed, every second he stayed in that machine, he was losing more, and soon, he'd lose his family, and everything he'd else he'd tried to build for himself. He'd be no one, there'd be nothing left but a blank husk left-
Something heavy and fast hit someone that cried out, and Caesar's hands were ripped from Rex's face. Rex turned to look, and calloused, scrabbling hands filled his vision, snatching the strap from across his head and flinging it away.
"Rex!" It was Six. "I'm getting you out of here. Hold on."
Rex squeezed his eyes shut miserably when Six left his sight, hearing his swords get drawn when the straps had no buckle. The blades were rammed through the ports feeding the straps out, and the restraints contracted spasmodically, before going limp. Six sawed through one after another, and soon Rex was pushing himself up on rubbery limbs, feeling all of eight years old and desperately afraid.
"Six," Rex tried hoarsely. Six was right there beside him almost immediately, and Rex gave him no warning before he threw his arms around him, shaking like a leaf in a gale. Six jumped in shock, but arranged his arms awkwardly around him, clearly unfamiliar with the situation. The gesture was so unmistakably Six that Rex crushed his face into the man's vest, wanting to surround himself with the support that was so unpracticed but completely unwavering and never, ever leave.
Rex heard stirring on the ground behind him, and shuddered in remembered horror of the last few minutes. Six tightened his grip on him, before freeing one arm and drawing a gun. He'd disarmed Caesar 81 at some point: it was the handgun the scientist had used to threaten his hostage.
"Don't move," Six commanded. Rex could hear the hardness in his tone, and knew with a horrible certainty that Caesar 81 was one wrong word from being shot.
Caesar 81, apparently, could hear the same. The scientist choked on a little sob, and tried miserably to strangle his own words. One name tore itself free as though against his will.
Rex froze, heart jackhammering in his chest. This Caesar had wanted to take him away, had tried to take away everything he'd ever known and loved, memory by memory, thought by thought-"Rex, please, don't do this..." Caesar 81 moaned in agony, and began to stir again. The sound of Six undoing the gun's safety wasn't enough to dissuade him, and the man rose to his feet, teetering precariously. Rex turned his head only enough to look, watching as though in a sort of horrified trance.
"Rex-please, listen..." The blind man swayed, and tilted, and then pitched forward in an uncontrolled, shambling rush, long arms snaking forward to grasp anything they could.
"Rex-" He cried, and a gun's blast cut off anything further.
Rex watched the man crumple, stopped by the blooming of a perfect red dot over his heart. Six stowed the gun somewhere and pushed Rex's face towards the opposite direction, forcing him to look away from Caesar 81's unmoving form.
Everything was still in the ringing silence. Rex felt numb, as though the problem of not knowing what to collapse into a gibbering heap over first was so much that his mind had taken a vacation with a note to call back when a decision had been made. He wanted to laugh at that image, but it came out a hysterical sob, and he realized his eyes were leaking without his knowledge.
"H-he... He tried to take away my memory," Rex hiccoughed, mashing his forehead back against Six's chest when he stuttered. His voice fell to a mumble. "He w-wanted me... w-wanted his f-family back..."
Six said nothing, and it didn't seem as though he needed to explain anything more. They stayed the way they were without moving, until finally Rex realized he was holding Six's sleeves in a death-grip tight enough that he couldn't feel his own hands. Rex uncurled his fists stiffly, stumbling back a step, and wiping his face gruffly on his own sleeve.
"Thanks," he muttered. "S-sorry about-"
"Don't worry about it," Six interrupted. After a moment, he put a deliberate hand on his shoulder, as though having seen the gesture somewhere else and trying it out for the first or second time. "What matters now is that you're okay."
Rex tried to smile, though the gesture came out more of a grimace. "Thanks," he said again, and scrubbed his nose on the back of his sleeve, looking around. He carefully didn't look at the corpse by their feet.
His eyes fell on the table not so far away, and took on a far off quality. "Caesar..." He murmured.
Six turned in the same direction. Caesar, their world's Caesar, laid still on the table, deathly pale and unmoving. Six left Rex's side and took the man's vitals, and Rex's breath hitched unevenly at the sight. A hand at his brother's jaw, different from how Caesar 81 had silenced Rex earlier. A hand over his heart, where Caesar 81 had held the gun to keep his hostage in danger.
Six turned back to him. "He's alive, but he's lot a lot of blood. Do you have any idea how to control the dimensional disruptor he brought?"
"No, but my nanites probably do," Rex replied.
Six had brought the disruptor with him when he'd followed their dwindling trail of blood through the darkened vent-passages, and now he fetched it from where he'd dropped it upon entering.
Rex put his hands on it and closed his eyes, praying that Caesar had thought to write an automatic program beforehand that might help them get home. Glowing blue lines traced their way from his hands and into cracks in the casing-
There was a program. Rex activated it with a shaky sigh of relief, and a huge blazing circle of light appeared before them.
"Let's go!" he yelled, striding towards it. Six slung one of Caesar's arms over his shoulders and dragged him with them. All three of them went through at the same time, leaving the empty, lifeless facility behind.