The madness never loosed its grip for a second.
Dr. Wily had long since learned not to fight it; it was far easier to cooperate with the fires which consumed his sanity to spawn new robotic horrors. The only exception to that rule had been Forte, created over a period of time when Dr. Wily had been blissfully, if unexpectedly free of the insanity which held him like an overprotective mother.
That same insanity rampaged through his tortured neurons now, as he sat at the computer terminal; old age and infirmity had denied him his ability to create more robots, but he could still type, and he was still a genius in his own way.
Atop the desk at which the German robotechnician worked sat a large jar. Inside the jar, something dark stirred.
Subjected to a sensor sweep of even the most sophisticated Terran computers, the dark something would never be identified as anything other than some form of energy. However, one look at it, one glance at the way in which it almost seemed to slither within its prison, and the observer would know that whatever his sensors told him, this "energy" was alive.
"Alive," in fact, would fail to accurately describe the impression left by this entity. Its mere presence seemed to make the air thicker, to turn the room colder. The swirling, twisting energy in the jar seemed to pulse with a kind of evil aura that had, on planets circling stars far distant from Sol, made alien children sick, incited riots on global scales and stricken lesser beings dead in their tracks.
Upon walking into the room where Dr. Wily worked, one would, if one were human be stricken with a sudden sense of mixed loss and hatred on a magnitude that dwarfed any other emotions. One's eyes would be irrevocably drawn to the thick glass jar where the dark something lurked.
For his part, Dr. Wily merely shrugged off the feeling. He had long since become acclimated to the queasiness in his stomach engendered by his proximity to the Dark Energy. It was second nature to him now to ignore it.
Still, there was a nerve-pinching quality to the feeling that came with being close to the dark Energy that even Dr. Wily--after several years of getting used to it--could not entirely dismiss. It was the feeling that you were small and insignificant, and that, if the Dark Energy were to manifest itself in human form, it could destroy you with a flick of its wrist.
It was that feeling that had led Dr. Wily to his greatest experiment over which he now toiled.
Dr. Wily cast his dark gaze up to the jar. Although age had weathered his features and his eyes were now nearly lost to site amidst a sea of seamed wrinkles, the glare which stabbed forth from within was, if anything, sharper than it had been in his youth.
The Dark Energy, sensing its observation by Wily, coiled into a skull-shaped mist that Dr. Wily knew so well. It had been that form which had first drawn the German roboticist's attention so many years ago on a remote island.
A soft knock sounded at the door, to which Dr. Wily spat a curse.
The door slowly creaked open on tarnished brass hinges, revealing a black-armored robot with coal-black eyes and wild brown hair. Brass-colored trim edged the bulkier portions of the perfect sable armor that gleamed like a massive, chitonous exoskeleton, while the body glove underneath was a pale, ghostly white. In the center of the strong chest, a deep blue focus crystal was set, splashing errant light shards across the room as it was touched by the dim rays of the Dark Energy's luminescence.
"Dinner," the robot said quietly.
Dr. Wily growled and turned back to his work. Forte had been designed to be a ruthless killer. He was, if anything, more than a match for Rockman physically. His adaptability was comparable to the blue android's, too. It was only his brain that kept Forte from utterly destroying the hated Rockman.
Although he was frighteningly intelligent and inquisitive, Forte still seemed to be just a hair's breadth less mentally competent than Rockman. The truth of it drove Dr. Wily to fits of screaming rage with frustration, that his greatest creation was still less than Rockman.
Having been defeated repeatedly by the azure Robot Hunter, Forte had been forbidden by his creator to fight again. And, although his hatred for Rockman burned like a nova, Forte was enslaved by his programming to obey.
So now he was little more than a domestic servant to Dr. Wily.
Forte hated himself for being forced into the role of housekeeper when every line of programming in him raged for human blood and the destruction of Rockman. He hated himself for the conflicting urges to protect Wily and to burn him to dust for the humiliating orders he had given. But most of all, he hated Rockman for the humiliation of repeated defeats and for being the cause of the whole situation.
"Master," Forte pleaded. "You haven't eaten for days. If you continue like this, you will surely die."
Wily didn't even answer, but kept typing.
"If you die now," Forte snapped, his temper rising, "you'll never complete that damned project, and Rockman will live while you die forgotten!"
The German roboticist froze. Forte allowed himself a bitter smile of triumph.
Finally, Dr. Wily stood and walked towards Forte, his gait little more than a shuffle. When he reached his prized creation, he looked into the black eyes.
"Forte. My son." He put a hand on Forte's armored shoulder.
Forte started at this sudden show of apparent affection. Was this another attack of madness? The sable robot eyed his creator warily.
"You are right, my son," Wily said, his breath a feeble rasping. "I need to eat to survive. You do well to remind me." He looked harder at Forte. "How long has it been since you were allowed to kill?"
"Too many months to count," Forte answered tightly, although he knew exactly how long it had been, down to the nanosecond. "But your will is mine."
"It is not," Wily chuckled. "That much is obvious. I built you well enough to have a mind of your own. You wish to destroy, my son, and I know it too well."
"What are you driving at?" Forte demanded. This was getting old.
"I'm almost finished with my greatest creation. Greater, even, than you!" Dr. Wily smiled slightly as Forte's shoulders stiffened with wounded pride, but he continued without comment on that. "I think it's time that you were allowed to kill again," he said finally.
Forte guarded against being too hopeful. "You are serious?"
Wily nodded. "It is my command. Go destroy to your heart's content. But be back here within a day; I have plans for you."
Forte's heart gave a wild leap of exhilaration. His youthful face ablaze with joy, he activated his helmet synthesis module. A slight tingling sensation along his scalp alerted Forte to the fact that his double-crested helmet had materialized over his wild hair.
"One more thing," Dr. Wily said in a warning tone of voice.
Forte's heart sank. "What?"
"Do not go into Tokyo. If you do, you will surely meet Rockman again, and the time isn't right for that yet." Dr. Wily paused. "And don't do anything that will attract his attention, either."
Forte nodded eagerly. It was obvious that Dr. Wily intended him to fight Rockman again one day. That alone was enough to give Forte a reason to live again.
"Gospel!" he called joyously. All thoughts of dinner were forgotten.
Dr. Wily smiled in fatherly pride as Gospel appeared at his master's side.
Nearly forty inches high at the shoulder, the mechanized wolf retained nothing of its previous life but for its wild ferocity and a desire to kill. Dr. Wily had sent Forte into the wilderness long ago to find a wolf with a fear of humans, and Forte had returned with a small wolf pup that had been shot by human hunters but not killed.
Copying his cousin Dr. Light's technique, Dr. Wily transferred the brain of the wolf pup into a massive robotic body, and given him to Forte to train. The result was a fierce, vicious wolf with a robotic body larger than any true wolf, capable of transforming itself into a myriad of shapes. Gospel was loyal to Forte, and would follow any command the black-armored robot gave him. The only command he could not obey was one to kill Dr. Wily.
Gospel sat on his haunches and licked Forte's hand.
"That's right, boy," Forte grinned evilly. "It's time to play. Attach!"
Gospel launched himself at Forte with a mad howl of glee. Forte spread his arms as if to embrace the murderous hound in mid-flight.
Dr. Wily shielded his eyes as a blinding white light flooded the entire room.
When he looked again, Forte and Gospel had merged into a single entity. Through an electronic link, Gospel, who now bore the form of protective armor around Forte's chest and a pair of massive bat-like, jet-powered wings, could read Forte's thoughts and respond to his commands instantly.
With a howl of joy that was half-human sounding and half canine, Forte raised his fist and disappeared in a streak of violent black-and-violet fire.
"Play, my son," Dr. Wily grinned. Then he headed off in search of the dinner that his robot servants had prepared for him.
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