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Chapter Three


Rock looked balefully at the helmet.

It was truly a work of art, as every other invention of Dr. Light's. Midnight blue burnished titanium-alloy steel made up the body--a metal copy of a World War II leather bomber's helmet. The pale blue crest along the top was made of a different metal, containing the communications module, a newly enhanced teleport-chip, and several damage-system control chips.

The inside of the helmet was lined with a sort of "neuro-electric sponge" as Dr. Light had explained. It was a substance that would bond the helmet to Rock's titanium skull and directly interpret his calculations. In human terms, it could read his thoughts.

An added brainstorm of Dr. Light's had placed a matter-transfer chip in the crest as well, so that when the helmet was not in use, it would retract itself into Rock's skull structure. It could still be taken on and off like any normal helmet, but in emergency, it could instantaneously materialize and save Rock's internal circuitry from severe damage if needs be.

Truly, it was a work of art, from the weapon-control and color-shifter chip to the pale blue aural enhancement disks, decorated with a gold foil center and placed directly over his ears.

Still, Rock hated it.

"Brooding again?" Roll asked as she sauntered into the room.

"I hate killing," Rock spat. "I hate everything about it. Thanks to this--" he gestured at the helmet, "--it's going to be my destiny from now on. I have to destroy my friends that I helped create." He turned smoldering eyes on his sister-android. "Because of this helmet and everything it means, I'll never know peace again! I'm doomed to kill my own kind. Now, tell me again why I shouldn't brood!"

Roll clapped her hands slowly, sarcastically. "Very dramatic. Not to mention unnecessary. You should be thankful that you were chosen to be our champion against chaos. If not for you and that helmet you despise so much, that madman Wily would--"

"He's not mad!" Rock snapped, smashing his fist down on the table and crushing its steel surface as if it had been no more than tinfoil. "He's just misled! If I can just talk to him, reason with him--"

Roll grabbed his arm forcefully. "Listen, Rock. I know you're upset; we all are! But you can't let this get in the way. Justice demands--"

"Justice," Rock spat, full of contempt. "There's no such thing. Just a myth perpetuated by fools and poets."

Roll stepped back, her face a mixture of hurt and shock. "Rock, you have to keep hope." Without further conversation, she picked up a fallen component for the half-finished plasma-buster and left the room.

Rock turned on a blinking Eddie. "What are you looking at?" he snarled.

Eddie blinked large photoreceptors and trundled away in search of safer territory to patrol.

"Rock?" Dr. Light cautiously opened the door.

Rock turned slowly. Had he been human, his body would have evidenced clearly his lack of sleep. As humans viewed it, Rock did not need to sleep; still, he required approximately four hours out of every seventy two-hours to cease activity and let himself recharge. After that period of time, his circuits began to wear down and his motions became lethargic.

"Rock, you haven't--" Dr. Light caught himself from using the word 'slept.' "You haven't stopped to recharge in over five days now. You need to slow down and let up some."

"Not yet," Rock said, his voice chip slurring the speech.

"In another hour or so, you'll shut down entirely," Light protested. "Get some rest. I'll work on the plasma buster design."

Rock inwardly acknowledged the logic of the suggestion. Still, a part of him would not admit defeat. He must keep up his work. Dr. Wily must be saved from himself, before he did something that could not be repaired.

An errant thought fluttered through Rock's electro-neural pathways.

"Who is Blues?" he asked.

Dr. Light started guiltily at the question. "Blues?"

"You called me Blues while I was welding Eddie the other day, just before the attack." Rock heard his own words running together, like ink in the rain. He was surprised at his own stubbornness, but refused to recharge. "Why?"

Dr. Light sat slowly. "That is something you would be better off not knowing until the situation with Will is resolved."

Slowly, Rock calculated the probability that Dr. Light's use of Dr. Wily's first name indicated a subconscious desire to once again be friends and partners. After seven microseconds (extremely slowly for an android), he decided that it was just as likely to be habit as anything else.

"I will not rest until I know," Rock said. Technically, Dr. Light had not given any commands yet, so he was not in violation of the Third Rule. Of course, he realized, he would not physically be able to resist a direct command by any human being. Dimly, he wondered what he would do if Dr. Wily ordered him to kill another human being.

"Rock, I order you to get some rest and forget about this thing with Blues." Dr. Light looked sorry, even deeply sad as he gave the command. Rock would have to obey. His automatic circuitry would force him to.


Several moments of stunned silence followed Rock's refusal. He wasn't sure if he was more surprised, or Dr. Light was.

"No?" Dr. Light shook his head. "Oh, no. Not again."

Rock looked up. "How . . . ? How did I--?"

Dr. Light held his head in his hands. After a few moments, he looked up, his eyes damp. "You are experiencing a condition--I'm not sure if it's a malfunction or not--that I was sure I had corrected."

"What?" Rock felt his panic circuits heat, even in his fatigue. "Dr. Light, how could I possibly override my own programming?"

Dr. Light made no answer for several moments. In the background, upstairs, the holovid could be heard, reporting yet more robot violence, but still no action from Dr. Wily himself on this, the fifth day of the world's refusal to surrender.

Flickering shadows from a slowly failing light bulb limned the room in eerie, weird shades of violet and gray. Rock looked intently into Dr. Light's blue eyes and realized, for the first time, that they were identical to his own.

"Your brain," Dr. Light answered slowly, "is one of three that I created in such a manner. In its own right, it is far more sophisticated than any of the other robots' brains. Roll has the other brain like it."

"I don't compute," Rock said. Had his language abilities not deteriorated with lack of rest, he would have remembered to use the term 'understand.'

"Your brain is different from the other Robot Masters' in that it can learn and adapt to new situations." Dr. Light held up a hand at Rock's beginning protest. "The other Robot Masters can receive information, store it away, and dredge it up again for future reference. However, they are only robots."

"So am I," Rock answered.

"No. You are somehow . . . more than a robot." Dr. Light wrung his hands. "You can learn, and predict complicated projections according to your newly acquired knowledge. You can be lost in self-reflection for hours! Rock, you're far more of a philosopher than many humans. You can think."

"I am a robot." Rock stated the one truth he knew.

Dr. Light shook his head. "You are an android. There is a difference."

Semi-flexible crystalline lenses in Rock's eyes lost definition and slipped into an unfocused position. "And Helios? Icarus? The others?"

Dr. Light shrugged. "Also more than mere robots. Dr. Wily and I knew that you were far more advanced than them, even before your own brain started to modify itself." He folded aged hands. "I suppose the correct technical term for the six Robot Masters would be 'androbots.' More than robots, less than androids. You and Roll are unique amongst them."

Rock sat back, stunned. "Roll and I . . . and the third is Blues?"

"Blues," Dr. Light repeated, as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. "Blues was the experiment. He was the prototype for you and Roll. Originally, there were to be hundreds of robots just like you and Roll. Blues changed my mind about that. He damn near made me change my mind about you. I was too far along in developing you and Roll to quit, though."

"Request more data," Rock slurred. His optical feedback was becoming less and less reliable: blurry and out of proportion.

"I made you to look exactly like Blues," Dr. Light answered. "You and Blues are brothers. When he disappeared, I thought I would go mad. I never quite got over that loss. And so, when I saw you that day, thinking about Blues, I thought he had returned."

Rock's eyes shut to save power. He could feel his muscle cable involuntarily relaxing. "How did he . . ."

Rock fell asleep.

Dr. Light shook his head sadly. "I wanted to spare you from this. Both of you."

"Both of us?"

Dr. Light spun around to see Roll standing silently in the doorway, arms folded.

"Damnation!" Dr. Light snapped. "Do you always listen in on private conversations?"

"I think you could use some sleep, too," Roll said wryly. "You're getting irritable."

"How much did you hear?" Dr. Light asked.

"Everything. Is it true, then? I can hardly believe that we can defy our programming." Roll cocked her head. "Can we?"

"Only the first two rules," Dr. Light answered. "I didn't want a repeat of Blues, so I installed a chip that would destroy either of you if you should try to harm a human being."

"I see." Roll's face was serious. "And what did happen with Blues?"

Dr. Light frowned more deeply. "He wasn't stable. His brain adapted itself very quickly to new situations, and soon overrode its original programming. He disobeyed me from time to time, even against direct commands, when he was absorbed in a project. He broke the Second Rule numerous times, acting irrationally and often dangerously."

"He whistled incessantly," Dr. Light continued with a sad smile. "Drove me crazy. I haven't been able to master whistling in over fifty years, and my creation had it licked in the first day of his life!" Blue eyes misted over as the doctor recalled the minor-key, jaunty whistling which had pervaded the lab's halls for months on end. "Finally, he went insane."

"Insane?!" Roll's eyes grew wide. "Can a robot go insane?"

"No," Dr. Light answered. "But an android can, apparently. The emotions chip I inserted in Blues was evidently too potent. That, coupled with his constantly shifting brain structure, caused the nearest thing I've ever seen to insanity in an android."

"But you haven't told me what happened," Roll reminded him.

"True." Dr. Light stretched and yawned from fatigue. "There was a lab accident one day. Blues was wearing the same type of welding suit that I still keep in the lab."

"That gray one," Roll nodded.

"Yes. We--Dr. Wily and I--were testing his new welding shield." Memories of the an impossibly bright light and the roar of chain-reacting plasma explosions flooded into Dr. Light's anguished mind. "Blues was showing signs of getting better, and Dr. Wily and I had high hopes for him. That day, he held the prototype for a new plasma-burst-proof shield--we now use the shields for the 12-KIF line--and Dr. Wily and I operated a high-intensity plasma-burst welder."

"A malfunction occurred." It was Roll who stated this.

"Yes." Dr. Light closed his eyes. "The plasma didn't travel in a concentrated stream as it was meant to. Instead, a leak in the transfer pipes caused it to flood the room. If Dr. Wily and I hadn't been wearing our environment suits for the test, we would have died instantly from the heat. When the laser-ignition system kicked in, the room went up in flames."

"Neither of us ever saw Blues again."

Silence dropped, heavy and oppressive, over the room.

Finally, Roll turned to the sleeping Rock. "Is he in danger of such a condition infecting his systems?"

"His circuits are more stable than Blues' were," Dr. Light answered. "Still, this situation with Dr. Wily is aggravating his emotions center more than was meant to be dealt with by a single chip. We must watch him very carefully."

Roll shook her head sadly. "It's a crime."

"In more than one respect," Dr. Light agreed. "I need some rest. Are you still charged?"

"Yes." Roll folded her arms. "Unlike others, at least I know when to get sleep when I need it."

"Good. Work on the multi-phase matter-sysnthesis adapter chip for the plasma buster. Get a working schematic for me by morning. And see what you can do about microsprings in the left boot." Dr. Light waved a tired farewell. "I'll be down in the morning."

"Sleep well," Roll said, sitting down at a drawing table.

* * * * *

Twelve time zones and a hemisphere away, the sun rose on Skull Castle.

A monument to five days' unceasing labor by thousands of robots and almost as many enslaved human beings, Skull castle squatted like a cancerous growth, nestled in the peaks of the majestic Andes Mountains in Chile.

Dr. Wily--robotlike himself after as many days' labor in an underground laboratory--stood on the ramparts of the fortress. Built in concentric rings, at first glance the castle looked orderly, sterile . . . robotic. However, on closer inspection, an observer would observe a madman's nightmare of twists and turns that led sometimes nowhere and other times to clever--if not openly fiendish--booby traps.

Consisting of four rings in all, each to be guarded by a sentinel of terrifying abilities, Skull Castle would be virtually impregnable, even by a Robot Master! Laser and plasma cannons bristled from the steel and granite walls, aimed in every imaginable direction. Energy fields and steel protected each ring from intrusion from above; the only way through each ring was first through a heavily guarded tunnel, then into a command center where each sentinel was station, and finally through hidden, triple-reinforced titanium doors.

From anybody else, such measures would have been considered paranoid.

For Dr. Wily, whose enemy was an entire planet, it was barely adequate.

Finally, giving the fortress its name, a massive, white-painted titanium shield protected the front entrance-shaped like a gargantuan human skull.

Dr. Wily laughed into the cold mountain wind. Thousands of human workers had perished in forced labor to build this castle, but what concern of his was that? Robot Masters and that distasteful Human Supremacy League--with which Dr. Wily only consorted because of his need for human beings in some operations--had been responsible for the deaths of other humans.

Wily, for his part, had stayed locked up in his laboratory, which had been the first room built, in a record fifteen minutes. His first few tasks were complete; now he only needed to concentrate on building more robots, which was an easy task for him.

Wily looked down from the ramparts to the central ring--enclosed completely in steel and concrete. The only way to his private laboratory was through that heavily shielded center ring, through several teleport devices and a huge array of defensive robots and energy weapons, and finally into the bowels of the earth, where Dr. Wily's latest creation lay.

Specifically, in the depths of the armored fortress lay two vehicles. One, the core control vehicle, was a disc about twenty feet in diameter. In layman's terms, it was a flying saucer, in the simplest definition. The bottom was painted gold and the top a metallic crimson. Still, it was much more than a mere antigravity transport device.

From within his saucer, Wily could control the actions of each Robot Master if he chose. A myriad of display screens could be programmed to show him every square inch of Skull Castle via remote holographic cameras positioned periodically throughout the fortress.

The second vehicle was a heavily shielded war machine, bulbous and ungainly. The cockpit space was a large socket, into which his flying saucer was meant to fit. Despite its mass and bulk, it was equipped with an antigravity hover system which would allow it to float as if it weighed no more than a feather.

Although it was only equipped with four heavy plasma cannons, the machine was virtually indestructible for all its plasma-proof and laser-reflective armor. Nothing short of an atomic reaction would destroy the ship.

That blasted ignoramus James Walken had dubbed Wily's prize--a creation of amazing power and limitless abilities--the "Wilymachine." Wily hated the name, and had privately vowed to feed Walken to his robots when the time was right.

Now, six days after Wily had given his ultimatum to the world, it was time to strike.

He reached into his lab coat-pocket and removed a small remote-control. With the flick of a small, gray switch on this remote, Wily would command all robots under his control to destroy everything in their path.

Taking a few seconds to savor the poetic justice of it all, Wily flipped the switch.

Miles away, chaos erupted.

Still, here in the remotest parts of the Andes, all was silent but for the clanking of construction equipment and the howling of the wind.

Wily placed the remote in his pocket again, and removed his personal teleport device. It only worked to take him back to his lab, but it was still something. Dr. Light had been a fool to fear the effects of the teleporter on human matter! If anything, Dr. Wily felt that he understood things more quickly and easily since using the teleporter.

With a high cackle that rang with insanity, Dr. Wily vanished in a stream of white energy.

On the ground level, James Walken watched warily.

"That teleport machine is screwing with his mind," he muttered to a scarred and red-haired lieutenant. "If he keeps that up, his brain will be permanently scrambled for sure." He rubbed his chin. "Alert all human personnel to keep an eye out for him. I don't trust that German bastard any farther than I could throw him."

"You could throw him pretty far, sir," the lieutenant chuckled. "He's just a crazy old man."

Walken laughed and the lieutenant left to spread the word amongst the troops of the Human Supremacy League.

Twenty feet away, hidden under rubble, a surveillance 'bot recorded the conversation with damning clarity and relayed it to a seething Dr. Wily.

* * * * *

Roll poked her head into the lab.

"It's started," she said. "Whatever Wily was busy with before, he's apparently done now."

Rock, fully recharged after eight hours of sleep, dropped the small laser welder. "Oh no. Does Dr. Light know?"

"He's upstairs watching CNN right now," Roll answered. "Do you want to see?"

Rock picked up the completed helmet, and grimaced. "Better not. It'll just get me angrier, and I don't think I need that right now."

"Good thinking," Roll answered. "I'll bring Dr. Light back down with me after we've watched to see if there's anything new."

Rock declined to answer as Roll ascended back upstairs. After a six days of nonstop work on the new battle armor he would soon don, Rock knew every facet of the suit. The only unfinished component of the armor was the "plasma-buster"--an amazing variation on the standard military plasma-cannon utilized by most armies around the world.

Plasma--a form of matter with less order than gas--was highly unstable as matter, and therefore easily induced to carry massive amounts of kinetic energy. When ignited by a strong energy source--in the buster's case, a corundum pulse-laser--moving plasma became a stream (or sphere, depending on how tightly you focused its output) of concentrated destruction.

By far more powerful than all but the most massive laser-cannon, plasma weapons were still very much an experimental field. Equipping himself with a miniature plasma cannon was, Rock realized--a near suicidal risk.

The raven-haired android lifted the half-completed plasma-buster from the work table.

Although the atom-stream "laser"--invented in early 1997--had been installed it was still not hooked up to the cables that would graft themselves to Rock's internal fusion generator. A corundum rod--in this case, ruby--made up the main body of the ignition pulse laser. In front of the ruby rod was a crystalline lens for focusing the laser beam and thus determining the spread factor of the ignited plasma.

This was just the prototype, of course. Rock carefully set it down. It would have to be thoroughly--even exhaustively--scanned by a molecular synthesizer, so that its understructure could be duplicated and implanted via matter-transfer chamber into each of his arms.

In comparison, the rest of the battle armor was extremely simple.

Titanium-alloy "diamond-web" material had been used to construct--not at little cost--the flexible armor which Rock would wear on his torso, arms and thighs. Steel boots would fit over his lower legs, covering up to his knees. Ballooning out like an Achilles model's feet, the boots were meant to help Rock in leaping high and landing safely. Microsprings in the sole aided in both running and jumping.

Of course, there was the helmet which Rock loathed, and the pair of gauntlets. The gauntlets served a double purpose. First, they provided the raw metals and materials that would be needed for the matter-transfer system of the shape-shifting plasma-busters to operate. Second, they would protect Rock's hands--by far the most delicate piece of hardware he possessed--from injury.

Rock wrinkled his nose. By far, the most ridiculous piece of armor he would wear was what appeared to be a pair of steel underwear. Although he and Dr. Light had both agreed that such a design would help protect his abdomen and leg joints while still allowing for optimum movement, Rock still shuddered at thought of actually wearing it.

Still, if giving up some of his dignity was the cost of bringing Dr. Wily back to his senses and saving the world from conquest by those damnable Human Supremacy Leaguers, Rock had no real objections.

All the components were stained a metallic midnight-blue, with the exception of the outer thermal protection suit. Nearly skin-tight over the flexible titanium armor Rock would wear, the pale, frost-blue thermal suit was intended to keep him from overheating in hot climates or freezing in cold ones.

"Mega-human," Rock mused aloud, repeating the phrase which Dr. Light had used to describe Rock's abilities once he donned the armor and accepted the necessary upgrades to become a fighting super-robot. With a wry twist of his lip, he muttered, "So much for Superman."

"How about Mega Man?" Dr. Light had entered the room so quietly that Rock hadn't noticed. Lined eyes crinkling as he smiled tiredly, the old doctor sat on the work table. "We're nearly finished, Rock. A few more modifications to that plasma buster, another ten hours of molecular scanning, and we'll be ready to put you in the matter-transfer capsule.

"Yeah." Rock ran hands through a mane of unruly black hair. "Yeah, almost done. Then what?"

"You put that training to work!" Dr. Light answered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

And perhaps it was. In addition to working on his weapons and armor, Rock had been taking instruction from as many martial arts instructors he could find. Because of his perfect memory and his ability to mimic moves perfectly within only a couple tries, Rock had virtually mastered every fighting technique taught in Tokyo.

He and Dr. Light had even formulated a plan.

Exhaustively analyzing the design for every line of androbot stolen by Dr. Wily, Roll, Rock and Dr. Light had finally discovered certain weaknesses within each Robot Master. Although it would not be easy to defeat such powerful enemies, Rock remained optimistic.

At least, as optimistic as was possible in such a situation.

Dr. Light fiddled with the plasma buster in silence for several minutes before looking up and announcing in a deadpan voice, "Finished." Without wasting time, he placed the plasma-buster inside the wire-wrapped, circuit-encrusted molecular scanner. The massive supercomputer, with calculating abilities even greater than Rock's or Roll's, immediately began its calculations.

"There's nothing more we can do now," Dr. Light said. "Let's take a break."

Rock nodded wearily. Of course, Roll would soon badger them all into beginning work on her armor, but that could wait for a few hours. For now, Rock could afford the leisure of siting back and relaxing his circuits.

He allowed himself a wry grin. It was amazing how human he'd grown; next he'd be wanting to eat!

* * * * *

Rock looked up.

A flicker of motion caused him to stop his work and scan the lab quickly. He as sure that he had heard a sound . . .

Dismissing it as overworked circuits, Rock leaned back. He had been working on Roll's armor for close to eight hours now. In fact, the plasma-buster scan should be finished. After he finished his work on this piece of armor, he would go to the next room and test the finished results.

Another sound made Rock spring to his feet. Maybe he as being paranoid, but this whole thing with Dr. Wily had made him very nervous; every time he heard a bolt fall to the floor, he was sure it would be one of the renegade Robot Masters, here to seal his doom.

"Who's there?" Rock snapped, switching to infrared sight.

His sensors detected a human form behind a stack of empty crates which had contained the titanium-alloy "diamond-web" needed for the flexible body armor. The human being was hunched over, and holding several metallic objects.

"You remember me, don't you Rock?"

Rock froze. The voice was Dr. Wily's.

"Wily?" he asked, taking a step forward. Forcing his emotion circuits to remain passive, he said, "How did you get in here?"

Wily stepped out from behind the crates, and Rock switched to normal vision again. He stared, wide-eyed and silent at the German doctor.

Dr. Wily held a wicked looking laser-pistol, aimed straight for Rock's head. In his other hand, he held a strange device which flickered with a myriad of colored lights, which twinkled like distant stars.

"Teleport device," Dr. Wily explained. "It's only good for one trip here and back, but it'll be worth it. You're coming with me." Rock noticed that Dr. Wily spoke in German, rather than his customary habit of speaking Japanese when he spoke to Rock and Roll.

"Teleport? Dr. Wily, you know that's not reliable for organic matter transfer. You could be--"

"Killed?" Dr. Wily waved his pistol menacingly. "I seem to have survived so far."

Rock narrowed his eyes. The overtones to Dr. Wily's voice were abnormal, and suggested mental instability. However, he calculated a 97% chance that voicing such a hypothesis would cause Wily to act irrationally.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" Dr. Wily snapped. "Just like that damn James Walken!"

"I never said that," Rock protested.

"Good." Wily's gaze lit upon the unfinished armor. His voice filling with rage, he screamed, "What's this?! Armor? Weapons? You thought to defy me?"

Had Rock been human, he would have felt the need to swallow as his heart beat sped up. Instead, he gestured helplessly. "What would you have us do? Your demands are irrational."

"Irrational?" Dr. Wily released the safety on the laser gun. "You mean 'crazy.' That's the word you're searching for, right? Get over here. When I'm done with you, you'll be the greatest general of all!"

Rock felt a shiver run through his body. Wily intended to kidnap him and turn him against Dr. Light and the rest of the world! He stood stock still. He could not attack Wily, but he was afraid that if he raised any alarm, Wily would start shooting.

"I see your programming is starting to fail; I gave you a direct order. Get over here." Dr. Wily gritted his teeth.


"What do you mean, no?" Dr. Wily's finger tightened on the trigger. "If you come over here, I will not hurt you. You will not be violating the Second Law by obeying me."

"I know," Rock answered. "My answer stands."

Wily's face turned ashen. "You--you have to obey me! You're a robot!"

Rock turned his fierce blue eyes directly on Wily's hard brown ones. "I am more than a robot."

"Not for long."

Only Rock's superhuman reflexes saved him from the beam of laser energy invisible to all modes of sight except for infrared. He threw himself under the work table and cringed as superheated bits of molten plastic and steel burst from the wall as Wily's bolt struck.

"Bastard!" Wily screamed hoarsely. "I'll take care of you! You and Tom and your stinking sister!"

With a half-snarl, Wily activated his teleporter and vanished back to Skull Castle in a beam of white energy.

The lab door burst open and Roll jumped into the room holding a conventional "slugthrower" automatic pistol. After a few moments, Dr. Light arrived as well. Both looked at Rock.

"What happened?" Roll demanded. "We heard a commotion and the auto-alarms reported laser-weapon fire."

Rock sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall.

"Wily," he answered. "Wily was here. We have to hurry; he knows about the armor now."

Dr. Light shook his head sadly. "Tell us more as we prepare for the matter transfer."

* * * * *

Incandescent light enveloped Rock.

Rock stood rigidly in the matter-transfer/synthesis chamber. Stripped down to gym shorts, he held his wrists and feet against the necessary contact points in the sensor-studded cylindrical chamber.

A tingling sensation crept into the back of his cranial circuits.

Warmth flooded into his arms and legs, accompanied shortly by stabbing pain. Rock gasped aloud at the sudden assault on his neuro-circuits. This was an unexpected side-effect of the matter-transfer!

Tears did not spring to Rock's eyes; he had no tears glands. Still, he closed his eyes and grimaced. It was better to keep his eyes closed, anyway. That throbbing light could eventually overload his optical sensors, and Rock was worried enough about the load that was being dumped on his neuro-sensors.

Contrary to popular opinion, robots felt pain; it was a useful tool in the workplace. After all, if a robot got its limb stuck in a piece of rotating machinery, pain would not only warn the robot of the great danger posed to its system, but also activate the Second Rule of Robotics.

Another involuntary gasp escaped from Rock's lips as he felt the new and totally alien understructure of the twin plasma-busters graft themselves to each of his arms. He could literally feel the reorganization of his neuro-circuits to accommodate the structure of the plasma weapon.

To distract himself from the pain, Rock wondered if Dr. Light had known what kind of pain would be involved in a matter transfer/synthesis operation. If he had, Rock understood why the doctor had elected not to tell him beforehand. Although Rock knew that he himself could break the Third Rule of Robotics (though only with great difficulty) he did not know about the second, and had no wish to find out. It frightened him enough to discover that one of three unshakable truths in his life had just been proven false.

A the moment, Rock wished that robots did not feel pain, despite the logic of its utilization. "Mega human" he might be, he thought with a twitch at the corners of his mouth, but not totally invincible. Prolonged exposure to this kind of pain could wear down his neuro-circuits. A man under such pressure would have passed out; Rock just kept feeling greater and more intense pain as time passed.

Strangely, he began to think of Blues. Roll had relayed to him what Dr. Light had told her of Rock's mysterious brother, presumed deceased. It was obvious to Rock that Blues had suffered a circuit overload which shorted out his logic circuits, and generated the irrational and unpredictable behavior which humans referred to as insanity. The question Rock asked himself every 2.5 picoseconds was "how?"

A number of alarming possibilities formed in his mind. Once he calculated them, he began to wonder if all the data he would need to absorb for his upcoming task would be too much for his microprocessors to handle. What if he went insane like Blues?

A bolt of energy coursed through Rock, leaving him bereft of strength for several full seconds.

It was over. Rock blinked and took several deep, ragged breaths. He had not realized until now that for several minutes he had been depriving his system of the oxygen/nitrogen mixture upon which his internal fusion reactor depended for fuel.

Taking a few ginger steps from the matter-transfer cylinder, Rock marveled at the novel feeling that the hew leg hydraulics induced. It felt to Rock as if he were walking on springs. Although that was essentially what he was doing, he reminded himself, it still felt foreign.

Inside the matter transfer chamber, the temperature had been close to 40 degrees Centigrade. Rock's coolant systems had been working constantly to keep him from overheating in such heat. Now, as the slowly adjusted, Rock shivered.

Roll handed him his faded orange robe which he had elected to wear today. It seemed fitting to him that he wear the clothes he had been born in, since he was, in effect, being reborn as something more.

He nodded silent thanks and shrugged the robe on over his shoulders.

Experimenting, he concentrated on the plasma-buster schematics and flipped a microscopic switch inside his right arm with a thought. A chill ran up his arm as the plasma-buster structure shivered. With a faint sound like rushing water, the skin of his forearm stretched and re-formed into the steel outside of the plasma buster. The internal components of the buster clicked swiftly into place, and a small crimson light flickered, indicating full arming status.

Dr. Light, over to the right, took a swift intake of breath. Despite all his theoretical work and diligence, it was still wonderful and something of a nice surprise to see one of his inventions brought to life. Even, he reminded himself sourly, if it was something as odious as a weapon of war.

Still silent, Rock looked grimly from hand to hand. His left hand still looked human, though he could feel the arm-cannon understructure in its skeletal frame. One his right arm was the new and foreign plasma-buster, as much a symbol of everything he hated as the helmet.

From the outside, the egg-shaped plasma buster didn't look like much. The only visible features on it were the golden energy meter--a display of the damage Rock could sustain before the compensation by his internal fusion reactor overheated his system and exploded him--and the small crystal-lens barrel, which was maybe two inches in diameter.

"Test it," Dr. Light urged. His voice sounded too loud, almost indecent, after the silence which Rock and Roll had maintained.

"All right," Rock answered. Sighing, he turned to the deactivated renegade metool. shell. Although the program had been deactivated and the body of the metool to badly damaged to repair, Rock still felt like a murderer blasting the empty hunk of steel.

Activating the microcircuits which would have moved his right index finger, Rock was rewarded by a sudden surge of energy.

The plasma-buster bucked on his arm like a living thing, and a hurtling sphere of ignited plasma blasted the metool's hard-hat . . .

. . . and bounced right off. Rock's eyes widened as the plasma blasted ricocheted right off the metool's "helmet" at an angle and tore a huge chunk of the lab wall away, setting of a brazen choir of off-key klaxon alarms.

Dr. Light swore. "I forgot about that. Remember that certain robots are built to withstand a plasma blast in case their plasma welder overloads. I don't know what Wily has done to the Robot Masters he's reprogrammed, but you'll have to watch out for it."

Rock nodded agreement. Taking aim and this time bracing his right arm with his left, he fired the destructive plasma bolt right between the deactivated metool's unblinking photoreceptors.

In a shower of melted steel and superheated metal, the metool exploded, flames reaching for nearly a foot in radius around it. The rubble generated by its destruction landed all over the lab, some striking Rock in the legs.

"Seems to work," Roll commented wryly.

"Yeah," Rock agreed. After a moment's dark reflection on the situation, he continued, "I guess I'd better put the rest of the armor on and get busy, before Dr. Wily pulls anything else."

Immediately, the lab became a flurry of activity. Dr. Light dashed back and forth, retrieving items and preparing pieces of armor as if he were the lab assistant to Rock, and not the other way around. Roll was likewise busy, getting everything in order. Eddie even trundled into view and cranked his top open so Rock could remove the battle plans.

"Remember," Dr. Light said, as Rock removed his robe once again and donned the flexible torso armor. "See how many you can simply deactivate without destroying. Don't kill those damn Human Supremacy Leaguers, and be careful." Rock smiled bitterly. As if he was capable of forgetting what he had already been told thirteen times.

Rock pulled the gray leg armor onto himself, followed by the similar arm-armor. Having switched off his plasma buster, it disappeared back into his arm, leaving on an innocuous human hand in its place.

"And try not to overload," Roll said with a half-serious wink. She handed him the pale blue thermal suit which would protect him from extreme temperatures on both ends of the scale. "Remember, I still have to finish my armor and help you out. What fun would it be if you got yourself killed while I was busy waiting to join the party?"

"Yeah," Rock said quietly as he got into the thermal suit. "The party."

Slipping on the "steel blue underwear," as Rock had named it, Rock felt the armor magnetically seal itself to his body through the thermal suit. Briefly wondering if that would affect the suit's performance, Rock sat down and pulled on the massive boots.

As they similarly clamped down around the space just below his knees, Rock stood and tested himself. With the boots and his new leg modifications, it felt to him as if he were--what was he human expression? "Walking on air."

He tried a practice jump and amazed himself by leaping nearly four feet high.

"Wow," he murmured as Dr. Light handed him the dark blue gauntlets. "And I wasn't even trying to jump that high."

"You won't have the leaping abilities of an Achilles or Hephestas model, but you should get about fifteen feet to a full-powered jump." Dr. Light watched as Rock fitted the gauntlets onto his hands. Like the boots, they too sealed themselves on.

Rock picked up the helmet. Loath to put it on, he held it under his arm. Ignoring the raised eyebrow of Dr. Light, he asked, "Where's the map?"

"You're holding it," Dr. Light answered.

Rock looked into his hands, embarrassed. He had just taken the map from Eddie few minutes ago! What was wrong with him? Hoping that this wasn't a signal of a deteriorating brain, Rock looked intently at the map.

On it, indicated in red, were the six most crucial areas occupied by Dr. Wily's robots. If he could break control at each of these points, destroying Wily's power should be comparatively easy. After calculating the importance of each area, coupled with the cities nearest to it, Dr. Light, Roll and Rock had agreed that power must first be broken at the world's largest Treeborg supply and processing plant in Sydney, Australia.

Rock took a deep breath. "I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Wish me luck."

Dr. Light nodded approvingly. "Spoken like a true hunter. Good luck, Rockman."

Rock looked at his helmet one last time, and then quickly placed it over his head, concealing his entire mane of black hair. Sadness swept over him as the full impact of what he was about to do hit him.

With a half growl, he swore to end this madness.

"Good luck, Rock," Roll said. "Take care of yourself."

Rock nodded quickly. With one last look at his surroundings--home--Rock activated the teleport chip in his helmet and the world vanished in a blaze of bright blue light.

Roll looked away for a moment, overcome by emotion. When she turned back to Dr. Light, she said, "Come on. Let's get to work on my upgrades so I can join him. Another week and our chances will be doubled."

Dr. Light stayed behind for several minutes after Roll had left for the other room, to begin work on her own armor again.

Into the ionized air before him, Dr. Light whispered, "Farewell . . . my son."

Continue to First Encounter--Chapter Four
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