Rock eyed the computer readout critically.
No abnormalities in the robot, so he let it pass. He adjusted his leather jacket--an indulgence he had taken after the press conference six months ago--and entered the information on his electronic notebook.
Since the press conference in September, Rock had taken a job as Dr. Light's representative to the LighTech factory in England. Had he wanted, he could have lived his life as a normal human being here in Gladstonbury. However, he felt an obligation to stay with Dr. Light. Therefore, he lived in Tokyo with his creator/mentor and teleported to England each day to work.
Teleportation was another brainchild of Dr. Light's and Dr. Wily's. Apparently, they had been working together on the concept since before Rock's activation. Due to an unfortunate accident, of which Rock could never get either doctor to disclose any information, the pair had let the project lie. Shortly after the invention of the matter synthesizer however, the cousins had finally perfected a system which would transport large groups of particles back and forth. Although they didn't want to risk trying it on organic matter yet, Rock had assured them that he would volunteer for experimentation.
So now he had a teleportation chip in his brain that allowed him to move across the world and back within a matter of minutes. It was quite handy. Rock frowned and bit his lip to keep his mind from wandering. That was the trouble with having a brain that adapted like a human's; it wandered like a human's from time to time.
Get back on task, Rock. He forced himself to review the statistics about the factory for what seemed like the thousandth time that day.
This factory produced four main types of robots. One, a recent upgrade from the EG-400 series, was the EG-500 series, which resembled nothing so much as a large hard-hat when it was in its off mode. Underneath, it had two feet and photoreceptors--eyes--as well as plasma welders and small arms that could handle tools. Although not good for any complex chores, the EG-500 "metools" were very versatile.
The next was a welding robot invented after the press conference. It was humanoid, but had no face; it was just a large green or orange metal-clad humanoid with an all-obscuring welding helmet and shield, which could go on its back when it used its powerful plasma welder. The current model was the 12-KIF series. Absently, Rock wondered if there was any rhyme or reason in the numbers, or of they were just arbitrarily picked out of a hat.
The other two robots were military 'bots. Rock frowned. Dr. Light and most of the rest of the robotechnics community thought that military robots--which were often programmed without the first two rules of robotics--were immoral and unlawful.
In fact, in most countries, the warbots--as they were known--had been banned. The middle-east and some of Europe, including Great Britain--were the only holdouts. Rock disapproved of warbot manufacture, but it was his job to make sure that they were produced smoothly.
The WAR6 (terribly clever, Rock thought with a half-snarl) was a small, domed robot, often red or blue, with a retractable spring-leg on its underside. It was equipped with three photoreceptors, spaced evenly along the circumference of the dome. An explosive charge could be mounted inside for sabotage missions.
The last item, Rock decided, couldn't really be called a robot. It was shaped like a football, but several times larger and silver. Although it had some programmed directives, it was mostly remote controlled. Mostly, it was a small bomb, used to kill a few people in a concentrated space, but not good for wide-scale bombing. Its designers, Arab weapons-specialists, called it by a name that translated roughly to "the fist."
Rock cheered up. This factory, however, was presently also one of the few that was privileged to be manufacturing the Heracles line. The wilderness reclamation robots had been the most popular by far, although multiple copies of all six robots had been manufactured and distributed all over the world.
The sight of Heracles' face was always slightly comical to Rock, who looked now on a row of twelve of them, fresh from the factory. It had taken less than a week for the factory to make them, and even then, they were being bought up faster than they could be put together.
None of these were aware yet; they were merely finished in the physical sense. Back in Tokyo was where the brain-chips were mass-produced. It was merely Rock's job to make sure that the bodies were in good condition. Roll, back in Tokyo right now, would be supervising the chip production.
Rock nodded curtly and turned to the foreman. "You're clear. Good job, John."
John Brewers smiled and shook the android's hand as if both had been human. "Thanks, Rock. I'll see you next week."
Rock grinned and nodded. It was Friday, and since the British didn't subscribe to the Japanese tradition of working for six and often seven days during the week, Rock was free for two days.
He activated his teleport circuitry and watched as the world disappeared in flash of luminescent blue, almost like lightning. Rock lost all sensation, and in an eyeblink, he was in the lab in Tokyo. Of course, it had taken longer than that, but as he had discovered, a being in teleport-state is not aware of itself or its surroundings.
Rock looked at the clock on the wall. It had taken him maybe twenty minutes to get this far. Dr. Light stood, back turned, fiddling with something. Rock quietly walked behind him into the welding room and took off his jacket. He was working on modifying Eddie with the teleport system as well. Perhaps he'd finish it over the weekend.
Rock took down the gray jumpsuit that was shielded for heat and put it on, followed by the ridiculous red boots (who had made them that color?) and welding gauntlets. Then he fitted the helmet with its dark visor over his head and picked up the plasma welder and lead shield.
After about half an hour of fiddling with Eddie's circuitry, Rock stood and stretched, tired. He paced around the room for a few moments and decided that in a few minutes, he would go upstairs and relax.
He walked out of the welding room to find Dr. Light still working on something. Curious, he stepped forward and looked over the doctor's shoulder. What lay on the table was obscured by a sheaf of papers.
Tilting his head to the side, Rock asked in a silly voice, "Whatchya workin' on, doc?"
Dr. Light spun around and his eyes grew wide. "Blues! Jesus, where have you been? What happened? The explosion--"
Rock lifted the visors and looked at Dr. Light. "Blues? Hey, I'm Rock, remember?"
Dr. Light's eyes seemed to grow wider, but then he said, "Of course." It didn't sound as if he were acknowledging Rock, but rather realizing something amazing. He looked at the floor, and then back at Rock for a moment. "You'd better change. You're probably roasting in that getup."
Rock shrugged. "I'm fine. What's the matter with you. though? Who's Blues?"
Dr. Light seemed to sag. After a moment of thought, he said, "Go take that stuff off and come upstairs. I'll tell you."
Rock, feeling disturbed, went into the welding room and hung the welding equipment and suit back on the wall. Taking his brown leather jacket and folding it over one arm, he walked to the lift and asked for floor 2.
There was a violent shake as the lift reached the midpoint between the sub-basement and the basement. Rock was thrown to the side and landed on his rear with a curse. Balefully, he watched the doors of the lift; their internal circuitry was automatically programmed to open up the doors in case of emergency. Sadly, they had not been built as well as many other things in Dr. Light's lab.
Rock muttered another curse, sounding more human all the time, and stood slowly. The lift seemed stable enough after the first jolt; he could be relatively sure that the cable wouldn't snap and drop him four stories to his death. Still, he frowned.
What had caused the jolt? An earthquake? An explosion?
Rock replayed the aural and optical data he had received at the moment of the elevator's malfunction, and discovered indeed that there had been a loud boom in the distance (possibly as high as two or three floors up), which he had not heard while preoccupied with staying upright.
An explosion, then. But why?
Rock paced back and forth in the confines of the elevator, frustrated. What had happened? Who--or what--had engendered the explosion? Rock stopped short. Who or what? Perhaps it had been a robot malfunction. While such imperfections were usually detected and corrected in LighTech 'bots before they were sold, it was not unheard of for one to go haywire from time to time . . .
To keep himself from panicking, Rock reviewed the information he would need to know when he returned to work on Monday. It was an exercise in absurdity: of course, he would know the information, his brain was perfect. Still, it would fill up a few microseconds of time that he might otherwise use to extrapolate upon the possible reasons for the elevator's halt.
Next week . . .
Next week, LighTech's main competitor, Sennet Robotics, was scheduled to unveil its line of three revolutionary industrial robots. Since the advent of faster-than-light space travel a few years ago, the mining of other planets' moons had become a huge industry. The demand for rare metals found in space was greater than the human workforce could handle. Naturally, robot labor had been the obvious choice.
It had been only a matter of time before Sennet Robotics released its own line of Robot Masters to compete with LighTech's. Of course, there were two major things that Sennet Robotics was lacking in comparison to LighTech: Dr. Light and Dr. Wily. The main robotechnician for Sennet Robotics--Sergei Cossack--had resigned in protest to their manufacture of warbots. Since then, their competition had been less than impressive.
Still, the new Robot Masters would be something to look out for in the competitive market of robotics; some of the technology sounded quite impressive to Rock. Most impressive was the Gemini model, which could actually synthesize a doppelganger of itself. Although the original would absorb the molecules of the second after a few minutes, the workload that could be accomplished by such a robot would be amazing. In addition to its laser-cutter, specially designed to cut the types of rock found on Saturn's moons, the Gemini model was equipped with enhanced leg springs, in case it needed to leap out of the way of falling mining equipment or rock.
As a response to LighTech's Achilles model lumberjack, Sennet had announced the release of its new Ripwood model. Rock smiled when he replayed the optical data he had obtained from the latest Popular Technology. The Ripwood model looked more like a ninja than anything else: to poke fun at the Japan based LighTech, Rock suspected. It was mostly dressed in red with a large metal circular-saw blade attached to its forehead. Rock had read that it employed the same technology used by the bomb-weilding Hephestas model to synthesize metal blades from the air.
The last model intrigued Rock the most. It was an iron-mining robot equipped with a magnetic field generator. Although Rock did not know much about the robot itself, it was rumored that the field surrounding the robot would be strong enough to rip iron up from as far as twenty feet underground.
Of course, LighTech was still busy and had begun the construction of six other mining robots, to be released early next year. Rock's factory was to begin restructuring for the arrival of the new Robot Masters when he arrived back on Monday.
Robot Masters. That had been a term coined by Wily. Rock shook his head. Although everybody had expected the Lightech industrial robots to do well in their work, nobody, including Roll or Rock, had anticipated the ease with which they could deputize and command other robots. Within weeks, all Achilles models had tripled their output by commanding metools. Many Heracles models found that they could also easily command metools, as well as the humanoid PickAxe model produced by Yamusho Industries.
When Wily had seen how well the industrial robots commanded and deputized others, often doubling and even tripling efficiency on the worksite, he had dubbed them "die Meisteren der Roboteren," and the name had stuck throughout the world--in whichever language was convenient for the populace to use.
Rock glared at the elevator wall and checked his internal chronometer. What was taking so long? He had waited for almost five minutes, and still nothing. He considered wrenching the doors open and climbing out, ignoring any damage to the elevator. Just as he calculated the risk of hurting himself to be only 15%, the elevator moved to the first floor and opened with a nerve-torturing grate, sending small sparks flying..
For the first time in his existence, Rock knew horror.
"Verdamt noch mahl!" Rock whispered; a German curse he had picked up from Dr. Wily.
LighTech's main lab had been destroyed. Blackened rubble, strewn carelessly like a child's playthings, littered the ground. The blasted remains of the building belched smoke, gray and noxious, which blocked out the stars. Rock immediately stopped breathing; he didn't require oxygen as much as human beings did, and there was no telling what superheated smoke might do to his internal circuitry.
Swearing fluently in every language he knew, and even translating some invective into binary, Rock kicked broken pieces of the wall out of the way. One overriding thought dominated him: he must, at any cost, find and rescue Dr. Light.
Emotion circuits in Rock that had been dormant since his activation awoke with alarming alacrity. In less than a picosecond, Rock knew the full force of despair, anger, helplessness and rage. He violently kicked another piece of rubble and began tearing up iron bars from the destroyed walls, searching for any sign of Dr. Light.
A burst of ultra-high audible binary intruded on Rock's private storm of emotion. He turned with wrath upon the source, and saw eight EG-400 metools moving towards him. Rock rolled his eyes. It seemed as if these labor 'bots always sought out the aid of a Robot Master when things went wrong.
Much to his surprise, the metools did not slow down when they approached him. Instead, three converged on his legs in a clumsy attempt to topple him. Vaguely annoyed, Rock kicked them away. He turned to one 'bot--the red "t" on its helmet designated it as the preset task force leader--and looked at it.
In rapid binary, Rock demanded to know what had happened.
The metools regarded him with wide photoreceptors. Rock felt unease give way to alarm. He took a step back and frowned. Repeating the question in binary, Rock took another step back. Scenes of Radius' revolt in R.U.R. played themselves over in his mind.
The lead metool extended its plasma welder.
Rock sighed with relief. How ridiculous! Robots couldn't revolt; they weren't programmed to. He felt himself start to grin wryly at his own overactive imagination. "Getting more human all the time, eh?" he asked nobody in particular.
Then the metool opened fire.
Rock could barely believe his eyes when the metool, of its own accord, released a concentrated burst of ignited plasma from its welder. Superhuman and quick as he was, Rock could not dodge laser-ignited plasma fired at the speed of sound. Before he could cry out, the plasma had struck him in the left leg, blistering his synthetic skin away on contact, melting down steel cables and destroying circuit pathways.
As he fell, he could already feel his auto-repair systems begin to compensate for the damage. He landed solidly on one metool, crushing its internal circuitry beneath its super-strong titanium-alloy helmet.
The Age of Robots has begun! March! Radius' prophetic line echoed over and over through Rock's brain. Soon, that was supplanted by an image of Dr. Light, crushed and mangled under the blasted remains of his own lab, destroyed by the robots he had slaved his whole life to develop.
"Nooo!" Rock leaped up on his good leg and kicked the lead metool between its photoreceptors, crushing crucial circuitry and destroying it. Without pausing, he grabbed the nearest of the quickly scattering metools and ripped its helmet off, exposing a nest of wires and chips.
With one vindictive punch, he smashed the metool's internal circuitry into unrecognizable trash. Rock looked on with blazing eyes as the rest of the metools fled. Slowly at first, the rage went out of him, to be replaced by fear and disgust.
What had he done?
Robots don't kill, he had said to Wily. He looked with disturbingly blue eyes at the mangled metool in his arms. Dropping it, as if it were too hot for even him to hold, Rock fell to his knees. His damaged leg would not hold up for much longer.
Battered, lab coat torn and bloodstained, Dr. Light pulled himself out from under a heavy synthetic-oaken table which had shielded him from falling debris. Rock turned listless eyes towards his creator who, stared at Rock with a mixture of horror and wonder. Though bruised and more than a little scorched, Dr. Light stood and walked slowly to Rock.
"My God, Rock! What on earth--?"
Rock looked away dully. After a moment, he asked. "What happened?"
Dr. Light passed a hand across his eyes and took several deep breaths before kneeling down next to Rock. "I have no idea. The metools went crazy. I was trying to get a handle on them when the whole building shook. I ran outside, thinking it was maybe a bomb threat that the HSL had actually carried out."
Rock growled. Founded in the late 1990's, the Human Supremacy League was a hate group which focused on taking jobs from robots and giving them back to human beings. Usually, this meant late-night bombings of areas where robots were stored, or destruction of nearby robotics manufacturing plants.
Light's lab alone had received over a dozen bomb threats in the past week; activity by the HSL had tripled since the unveiling of the eight Robot Masters last September. The factory at Gladstonbury for which Rock was responsible had received almost as many threats as Light personally had. Three of his workers had been beaten severely by HSL fanatics, and an entire team of metools had been sabotaged last week, setting production back almost four hours.
Quite simply, the Human Supremacy League was responsible for more damage to LighTech and all other robotics industries than anything else. Rock was an android, and knew that it was illogical to waste neural energy on the emotion of hatred. Still, the HSL and all it stood for aroused what came close to hatred in a robot in Rock. Even more, it aroused his sense of justice. At times, Rock would sit and diagnose himself, to be certain that his senses of anger and justice hadn't melded together. After all, it was so easy for humans to let that happen . . . and the result were groups like the HSL.
"But the HSL couldn't reprogram metools," Rock said. Then, with less sureness in his voice, "Could it?"
Dr. Light shrugged and winced at the motion. Rock noticed that Dr. Light's shoulder was bleeding, and so tore a strip of his own blasted jeans to bind the wound. Dr. Light smiled appreciation and answered more thoroughly. "The metools are some of our simpler robots, true. But it's unlikely that anybody in the HSL would bother to take the training needed to reprogram them."
Rock looked dejectedly at the three metool "corpses."
Noticing his creation's emotional state (amazing, Light thought to himself,) Dr. Light put a hand on Rock's shoulder. "Don't feel bad. You had no choice, Rock. Remember the Second Rule. You're bound to preserve your own existence whenever possible."
Logic circuits in Rock's brain digested the information and calculated a 95% chance that it provided grounds for dismissing approximately 63% of his guilt. He allowed himself a bitter smile. "Thanks for the programming," he managed weakly.
Dr. Light stood slowly and fumbled in his pockets.
"What are you doing?" Rock asked.
"Calling for help," Dr. Light answered. "There are still fires and injured here. I just hope that there aren't many more crazed EG's."
Rock remained sitting while his auto-repair systems feverishly worked to restore the muscle cables in his leg; the synthetic flesh was cosmetic, and could easily be replaced later. After a moment, he heard Roll's voice--tinny over the holo-link--shrill with anger and panic.
"They've hit here, too! I don't know who it was, but they did a good job."
"What happened?" Dr. Light demanded, face growing waxy pale under his frost-white beard.
Roll took a deep breath before answering. "About twenty minutes ago, all our robots just stopped working. Some stopped in the middle of jobs and dropped their materials, and some just finished up and then sat motionless."
Rock shivered as the last of the overworked auto-repair systems cut out to recharge. His leg would work for standing, but running would not be a good idea at the moment. Slowly, so as not to put sudden pressure on the damaged limb, Rock stood behind Light and listened to Roll.
"Then, seven minutes and six seconds ago, one of the metools attacked somebody. A worker." Roll's voice nearly broke as she said, "A human worker!"
There was a moment of numb silence between Rock and Dr. Light. Roll clenched her fists in anger and frustration. "Do you understand? The robots have broken the Prime Law!"
"Calm down," Dr. Light said, sounding strangely detached. "Are you okay?"
"I got a little scorched in the arms fighting a 12-KIF, but I'm okay. The renegade robots headed south a few minutes before you called. I think they're acting on some sort of signal." Roll rubbed her arms as if she were cold, despite the flames in the background. "I just called for an ambulance for the humans injured."
"Good," Dr. Light answered. "Just stay logical and get home as soon as you can."
The three-dimensional image of Roll faded into millions of tiny phosphorescent sparkles and dissipated into nothing. Rock and Light stood silently for several moments before Rock finally spoke.
"We'd better call an ambulance for our injured, too. Maybe we could call Orpheus up from New Shirewick to help put out these fires. Helios might help, too." Rock clenched his fist. "Then we'll find the plentyn--" he used a Welsh curse learned from one of the factory workers in Great Britain, "--who did this to us."
"Good idea," Dr. Light agreed with a grimace. He punched up the number for the hospital and the fire department, and within moments, sirens could be heard approaching. That accomplished, Rock saw Dr. Light hit the number code to reach Orpheus in New Shirewick, Antarctica.
A disturbing keening sound pervaded the air, and the image of the South Pole materialized in front of the pair. A pale blue sky lit by a pale, hazy sun shone over a landscape of sterile white. The bent forms of palm trees covered in ice and snow dotted the landscape. Rock noted wryly that just a decade ago, nobody would have thought palm trees could grow in Antarctica. treeborgs were a wonderful invention.
A few mutlidirectional surface scanning robots--U.S. Army issue, Rock noticed--skimmed back and forth across the ice, taking readings. Here and there, a helicopter-like equipment-transport robot dropped without warning onto the ice, to collect samples or deliver tools to an unknown destination below the horizon.
Orpheus was nowhere in sight.
Dr. Light frowned. "The vid-chip is supposed to be attached to him at all times. Where is he?" After a moment, he said, "And what are we looking at? This isn't the World Water Purification Plant in New Shirewick!"
Rock hypothesized several alarming theories, but decided, for Dr. Light's benefit, to voice the least alarming. "Perhaps the chips was torn off by wind . . . or something," he finished lamely.
Dr. Light shook his head and sighed. Rock knew that the doctor's body had aged 53 years, 6 months, 8 days and 14 minutes since its birth. He had always known that Dr. Light was middle-aged, if not old, by human standards.
Still, it seemed to the android as he watched his master now that he appeared far older and frailer. It saddened Rock to see his creator so dejected. Logic circuits balanced with compassion programs to produce a decision.
"Let's get back home," Rock said. "There's nothing more we can do here."
* * * * *
It was close to two hours later when the cleanup crews excavated Eddie and some of Rock's tools from the damaged laboratory. Eddie was activated a placed on duty immediately after Dr. Light and Roll had confirmed that he was free of any bugs.
Rock, for his part, spent much of the time brooding. When they had arrived home, Dr. Light found a plethora of messages awaiting him and went to his study to take them while Rock and Roll repaired themselves in the spacious living room.
Roll pushed the last flap of syntheflesh into place.
"Those are some bad cuts there," Rock observed as she winced. "Are you sure your systems are functioning within green specs?"
Roll shot Rock a withering glare. "My systems are fine. Don't you think I've run a self-diagnostic several times since the attack?"
Rock shrugged. "I merely suggest that the damage looks as if it could be bad enough to have affected your diagnosis system as well."
Roll activated a small heating welder on her index finger and erased the seam between the two pieces of syntheflesh. "Well I'm fine. Don't let your anxiety circuits get overloaded."
Not eager to continue arguing, but not willing either to let his sister win the debate, he asked. "What were you doing fighting against a 12-KIF anyway? You know that if one went berserk it could easily destroy both of us; it has that high powered plasma welder. If that's not enough, it also has the shield. Your logic circuits must be faulty if--"
"It was attacking a human being," Roll snapped. "I had no choice. Prime Law overrides all. At least," she amended darkly, "for us."
Rock fell to silence as he fixed the rest of his own leg.
"Besides," Roll said, "you showed about as much logic when you attacked a nest of crazed metools. I'd rather face one high-powered 12-KIF welder than eight metools--all with welders."
Rock beeped a few rapid lines of invective in binary and hexadecimal before standing and testing his new leg assembly. He was lucky; his systems were already nearly back to normal. Roll's would take weeks to repair if she let her own auto-repair systems tackle the job. Manually, it would still take a few days to complete such repairs.
Dr. Light walked slowly into the room and sat on the couch, opposite of Rock and his sister.
"Well," he sighed, "the good news is that nobody was killed, and that LighTech is covered under insurance for bombings."
Rock calculated a 97% probability that the next words out of Light's mouth would be--
"The bad news is," Dr. Light continued, proving Rock right, "that it's not just LighTech."
"What?" Rock and Roll's simultaneous exclamation rang eerily in the large living room.
"Sennet Robotics has been bombed in at least nineteen different factories," Light answered.
"But Sennet is based in the United States!" Rock exclaimed. "What--" He interrupted himself as probability matrices expanded and collapsed in his mind. Calculating possibilities at the speed of light, Rock quickly came to an alarming conclusion. "Is this worldwide?"
"I don't know," Light admitted. He picked up the remote to the holovid and clicked it on. "I was hoping that there would be some news on it." Clicking through hundreds of channels, Light finally arrived at International 157, better known to most English speakers as CNN.
After a few stories about mounting tension between revolutionary groups in Chile, a young boy dashed onto the set with a sheaf of papers in his hand. The anchorwoman took them quickly and scanned the words.
"This just in," she announced. "According to major robotics corporations LighTech, Sennet, IRM, and numerous smaller companies, the industrial robots of the world seem to have been infected with some sort of virus. Current information lists seven hundred as dead and thousands as injured." Her eyes widened as she read more. "The virus apparently induces robots to go berserk after a short period of inactivity. Experts are not sure as to the cause of this outbreak of violence, and urge all robot owners to deactivate their property until the threat is ended."
"My God," Light whispered, his voice hoarse. "Oh, my God!"
"Citizens of all countries are also urge to stay away from--"
The image fizzled out.
Rock leaped to his feet. "What?! What happened?" Before he could start to curse the holovid, an image flickered and reappeared on the screen.
"That's better," Roll was about to say. Instead, she and every other person in the world watching CNN was silent as they stared at the strange emblem holographically floating above the projection disks on the floor.
In the upper-left hand corner of the square emblem were the letters "Dr." Superimposed over a large ring was a white "W." Rock and Roll both looked with horror, attempting to postulate another theory for the occurrence.
"Jesus," Dr. Light whispered, and quickly punched in a set of numbers on his televid.
The image dissolved and reintegrated into the features of Dr. William Albert Wily.
Rock mouthed the word no, but was speechless.
Wily raised his eyebrows. "Citizens of the world," he announced. "I am Dr. William Albert Wily. Many of you might recognize me for my work with my famous cousin, Dr. Light of LighTech."
Rock slowly sat, not knowing what to compute.
"This world had become increasingly dependent on robots," Dr. Wily continued. "For its food, for its water, even for its air. The occurrence of an event such as this strike by the industrial robots of the world could destroy the human race."
"You have dug your own grave," Dr. Wily said quietly. "Under my command, the industrial robots of this planet have been reprogrammed. They will destroy everything in their path until I tell them to stop."
Rock turned his face away. This was insane!
The televid rang, just off screen. Wily smiled and picked it up. "It looks as if we're in for caller #1," he announced. "Why don't we put him on the air?"
"Wily!" Light shouted into the televid. "Will, you're crazy! What are your thinking?"
Dr. Wily's smile never wavered. "I told you, cousin Tom. We're far too dependent on robots. If the human race doesn't throw off its self-forged yoke of slavery to its own robots, then it is doomed. I'm doing this for the good of humanity."
"You sound like one of those damn Human League activists!" Rock snapped, loud enough to be heard over the televid.
"Who is that? Rock?" Wily's smile grew, if anything, broader. "Funny you should mention my good friends. I trust you received our mutual message?"
"Message?" Roll yelled. "What are you talking about?"
"Roll, too? Oh, splendid, the whole family is there!" Wily clapped his hands together once. "As for the message, I trust your labs were both bombed?"
"That was your doing? You bast--"
"Not on the air," Wily admonished, waggling his index finger. "Be a good little mädchen and don't embarrass yourself in front of billions of viewers." Wily motioned to the side, off screen. "Besides, you might offend my friend's sensibilities."
The screen panned over to take in the image of a totally unremarkable man with muddy brown hair and cinnamon-colored eyes. "Meet James Walken, commander-in-chief of the Human Supremacy League." Wily seemed ecstatic. "He and his upstanding friends will be helping me to prove a point. As of now, I declare world domination. If I do not receive calls of unconditional surrender from the political leaders of the following countries by 6:00 Pacific Time tomorrow morning, the Human Supremacy League and the Army of Wily will punish this world until it has learned its lesson."
As Wily listed off the countries he expected to surrender, Rock turned to Roll and Light.
"Can we get a trace on his signal?" he asked.
Light shook his head. "He's too smart for that. He's probably relaying the signal through fifty different satellites and shielding it on top of that. There's no way to find out where he is."
Rock sighed and closed his eyes. "The Robot Masters, at least, should be of some help. Once they get control of the smaller robots again, we can organize some sort of defense against Wily's onslaught."
Dr. Light nodded slowly. "They should be safe from tampering. Wily doesn't have the original codes to erase their programming; they're with Eddie."
"Eddie!" Roll called. Looking to Light and Rock she explained, "we should keep them near us at all times. If Wily gets a hold of those, he'll be virtually invincible. Especially if he still has the backing of a bunch of fanatics like the HSL."
Eddie trundled into view, large eyes blinking with curiosity at the image of Wily, who still alphabetically listed countries.
"He's gotten to the 'R's'," Rock noted.
"Open," Light commanded absently. Eddie dutifully cranked his top open and waited patiently for Light to remove his materials.
Everybody in the room looked with blank horror at the contents of Eddie's storage compartment.
Inside was a single scrap of paper with four German words on it. Ich habe euch jetzt.
"I have you now," Rock translated.
"In case you're wondering how I plan to control you," Dr. Wily continued, "Perhaps I should introduce you to my six generals in my New Order." He swept his arm grandly and the camera panned with his motion to an image of six humanoid figures.
Rock knew that, had he been human, his heart would have stopped.
Six Robot Masters stood at attention, each looking straight forward. Each line of industrial robots created by Lightech was represented within the group. Rock swore.
"Each of these Robot Masters," Wily said, "Is in charge of a vital source of the world's supplies. The Water Purification Plant in New Shirewick is now under my domination, as are countless other facilities like it. I have gained access to the codes which allow to reprogram the robots at will, assigning them to whatever task I see fit."
"Not the prototypes," Light pleaded in a whisper.
Whether because of extremely sharp hearing or just coincidence, Wily grinned nastily. "I have stolen the six prototypes for the Orpheus, Achilles, Hephestas, Heracles, Helios and Icarus lines. With these robots in control of their 'children' I can easily destroy any facility I choose."
Light put his head in his hands. Finally, he picked up the televid again. "Will, you have a hell of a way of winning an argument," he said wearily. "You've made your point, all right? Just stop this insanity."
"I'm afraid it's a bit too late for that, cousin," Wily answered. Turning to James Walken, he said, "Jim and I have plans for this planet, and until you are made to see the truth of our cause, you cannot be allowed to interfere."
"I have commanded my men to destroy Rock and Roll on sight," Walken said in a cold voice, less human sounding than Rock or Roll. "After that, Dr. Thomas Xavier Light will stand trial for his crimes against the human race and be judged."
"You dare--!" Rock leaped from his seat, as if to pummel Walken through the holographic image. Already he could feel his restraining program reinforcing the Prime Law.
You must not harm a human being in any manner.
Rock sank down, defeated by his own programming.
"To the New Order!" Wily cried. "Die Neue Ordnung!"
Walken and the six Robot Master repeated his cry, fists in the air.
The screen dissolved into images of the takeover by Wily's robots. Deprived of the Laws of Robotics, the robots ran rampant through human civilization, destroying and murdering. It made Rock sick to see welding robots turned to murderers with enhanced plasma welders. Cameras mounted on leaping WAR6's recorded the destruction of entire cities.
Rock felt his circuits heat with anger as he watched holographic images of flying robots dropping from the skies and bombing men, women and children indiscriminately. Fire raged through the streets, ignited by the renegade robots.
Worse still were the images of the Robot Masters.
Achilles models dashed through human settlements, severing limbs, collapsing buildings and maiming innocents. Armies of Hephestas models rampaged through cities, leaving only blackened craters and the smell of ozone in their wake. Orpheus models left blasts of arctic, impossible cold to freeze the air and brittle structures for the oncoming Helios models which blasted everything into cinders.
Worst of all were the images of Heracles and Icarus models. Faces that Rock had only seen in joy or joking now looked on, cruelly calculating as they electrocuted humans to death and smashed entire city blocks with a few well-thrown boulders. Rock felt his sense of justice begin to override everything except the Prime Laws.
The final blow came when the holographic sphere went dark and the "Dr. W" sign floated in the center. Wily's voice, deliberately menacing and heavily accented, announced the deadline for all countries again.
* * * * *
Rock was the first to speak.
"We've got to stop him."
Roll leaped up. "Are you crazy? You'll get yourself deactivated for sure! Dead!"
Dr. Light was still holding the scrap of paper which read, in German, "I've got you now."
"It's the just thing to do," Rock said, voice shaking. "I have to do something to stop him."
Dr. Light slowly stood. "Yes, of course. We must start immediately."
"Start what?" Roll had her fists both clenched. "You're going to get us all killed!"
"What would you suggest?" Rock demanded, whirling on her, "Stand by and do nothing?"
"Of course not!" Roll's eyes blazed. "But we can't harm Wily. It's impossible. I wouldn't change that even if I could. How are we supposed to do anything? Let the humans handle it, and we'll offer technical assistance or something."
"You have the right idea, Roll," Light said slowly. "You cannot harm Wily. I, too, would not have that change. However, human beings cannot take the punishing that robots would deal to them. Only other robots can weaken Wily's strength until he is sufficiently weak to be dealt with by human beings."
Rock turned towards the stairs that would lead to Dr. Light's private lab. "Then we have to get started on it right away."
"It?" Dr. Light seemed flustered.
"The new robot!" Rock replied. "The one that'll serve as a prototype of the others to defeat Wily. We need to start now!"
"I agree," Roll said. "Now is the time to act. Anything else will come too late."
Dr. Light shook his head. "I'm afraid neither of you understands. We're not making a new robot."
"But you said--"
"We're going to modify one of you to be the champion." Dr. Light's eyes looked at once sad but triumphant. "I had hoped you could both live peaceful lives, as I never did during World War Three. That is now only a dream."
Roll put her hands on her hips. "Both of us can go."
"No," Dr. Light protested. "There's not enough time for that. Only one."
"I volunteer," Rock and Roll said simultaneously.
"Roll," Dr. Light answered, "the damage dealt to you will take far too long to repair without worrying about upgrading you as well. I'm afraid Rock is the only choice I can make."
Roll fumed. "You're just saying that because he's a boy and I'm--"
"--a robot," finished Light. "I'm not being sexist. You both are equal in physical capabilities under ideal circumstances. However, these are hardly ideal circumstances. Rock simply has less damage to his frame and systems than you."
Roll kept her fists clenched, but eventually lowered her eyes. "I see the logic in your statement. It makes sense for Rock to take the role of defender at this point." She frowned. "But after we are finished with his upgrades, I demand that we give me the same capabilities in case Rock is damaged."
Dr. Light nodded. With a wry twist of his lip, he answered, "I see the logic in your statement. We will proceed with construction and design immediately." Turning to Rock, he said, "Though your sister may envy you, I do not. You are already superhuman in your abilities. To be given more power is to be given more responsibility. In making you more than superhuman--mega-human perhaps--you will gain more responsibility than perhaps any other person on this world."
Rock sighed. "And to have such responsibilities is to have hardly any choice in what you do."
"You understand," Dr. Light said approvingly. "From this day forth, you will no longer be merely Rock. Rock is your superhuman name. Rockman is the name you were created with, and as you reach you full mega-human potential you shall be called Rockman."
"I prefer Rock," Rock said.
Dr. Light chuckled. "We'll see. Now let's get to work."
* * * * *
Over the next few days, Rock learned to hate the name of Rockman.
To him, it symbolized everything wrong about being the champion against Wily. Wily was Rock's friend--or had been at one time. Rock just couldn't force himself to believe that he was totally evil. There must have been something that happened . . .
Then there were always the Robot Masters. They, too had been Rock's friends at one point. He had helped to build them! It was a crime against his conscience and everything just; to have to kill his own best friends was wrong.
Since the bombing at Lightech's main lab, Rock had encountered seven more renegade robots, and had been forced to destroy each one. After each "death," Rock vowed he would never get used to it. It was a crime to end life--even unintelligent cybernetic life--and Rock hated himself for it, and hated Dr. Wily for forcing him into this situation.
Rock glared out the window from the schematics he was working on.
Above the battered, scorched and smoking Tokyo, the sky was midnight blue.
Then there was James Walken and his damn Human Supremacy League. Rock had calculated for days now on a way to find a loophole in his programming that would allow him to kill--directly or indirectly--this abominable man who preached hatred and intolerance, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of factory workers and deactivation of thousands of industrial robots.
The last bloodstained shreds of light vanished as night swallowed a sporadically glittering Tokyo.
Rock held up the outer shell for a half-completed plasma weapon--to work on the same principal as a plasma welder--and sighed as if his heart would shatter.
Nobody who saw would have guessed that Rock was other than a deeply troubled young man with black hair and large, sad blue eyes.
Continue to Hunter--Chapter 3
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