Orchestrated By C.M. Rich (Magnetman)
December 1st, 20XX
After quick patch ups were administered at the repair bay of the RPD office, the ‘Maniacs regrouped to the last place they thought anyone would look … the ruins of the team’s very first headquarters; a warehouse in the city’s old district. They needed time to think, and that was growing short, as the Shutdown Code loomed over their heads like an axe about to fall.
“We got to fight this thing!” screamed Topman, rabid at the thought of being threatened by both his old “friends” on the force and by General Cutman.
“Which thin'?” asked Hardman bitterly. “Th' General 'r th' Code?”
“Well, we can’ figh' both, can we?” countered Hardman. Hadrian gritted his teeth knowing what he had to say. He hated it all the same. “We hafta side wi' th’ Police on this.”
“Hey, kid, ya may be free ta bolt whenever ya like, but I've ma life ta think about! I've Cassandra n' Gag ta consider! Ya mighta been some wacky satellite wi' delusions a' grandeur, but I’ve gone through some hard times n' I’ve jus' made somethin' fer myself! I can' affor'ta go renegade on this!”
“This is bullshit! Hey, fearless leader…Say something!”
Shadowman grunted. “It’s stupid to just let someone install something that shuts us off on some politician’s whim. I can’t see why we’re even discussing it.”
“THANK YOU!”, Topman exasperated.
“Well, stupid is as stupid does. I gotta stay with th’ RPD.”, Hardman stated as stone-etched fact.
“I think I will too.” said Snakeman. All eyes were on him now. “I may not like it, but ... After joining the Force, I’ve gotten a new respect for the rules. Let’s face it- there’s a lot of dangerous robots out there… I might not like getting the code myself, but ….”
Shadowman’s face lit up in sudden realization. “Then we can cheat!”
Topman sputtered. “WHAT!? You think you can make some sort of crack for the code?”
Shadowman sat down and leaned against some rubble.
“Why not? We’ve defied the odds before.”
Topman rolled his eyes, obviously unconvinced. Inwardly, Shadowman agreed with him. He didn’t know if he could crack the code. And he didn’t want to find out, really. Hell, Hard, Gem, and Snake could be their eyes-and-ears in the RPD. He, Needle, Sparks, and Top could –
“I’m glad you said that! I’m with the RPD too!” said NeedleGal.
“What was that?” asked Shadowman in surprise.
“We’ve been hated all this time because people are afraid of us. With this code we might have less people screaming at us ... I’m tired of being made to look like some sort of weapon ….”
Topman stared in disbelief. Was this the same team who overcame all odds to save another dimension?
“And besides,” continued Needle, “We could use our position in the RPD to help the rebels. We could give you the inside scoop, Top. And we could help you free Megaman from the inside. Maybe we’ll even discover the cure in the RPD itself!”
Snakeman chimed in agreement. “Hell yeah! That’s the way to get it done. Fix the system from the inside.”
Shadowman was becoming nervous. He spoke too quickly and now he wanted to take it all back. As he opened his mouth, another bombshell hit them. This time, it came from a previously silent Maniac.
”I’m not going with you. Any of you. I just can’t stand it anymore, these people. We spend so much time trying to help them and … for what?” Spark Chan was angry. In fact, she was downright furious.
“No, forget it, Len! I’m just sick of fighting for nothing. I don’t want to be controlled by some uppity congressman who’ll shut me down as soon as look at me. And I’m not joining a mission that has me protect some ingrates who want to install that sort of code in me! And you all …. You’re all menaces! You all killed people! Kenta … I thought I knew him…But I don’t know what was reality and what wasn’t anymore. Maybe you all think you should get the code, but that’s not for me.”
The ‘Maniacs looked uncomfortable.
“Tha' was war, Class.”, Hardman appealed.
“That was one battle, Hard on one very long day. Nobody had to die.”, she spat back bitterly. She could distinctly remember the sight of human blood splashed on his hands a few months ago. It never left her.
This was debatable. The team had obviously misjudged Classi’s state of mind, as she had remained very quiet about her feelings regarding what happened in LA. How long had she been holding this all in?
Shadowman had to do something. Fast. “Okay, let’s just keep our heads, people. If you want to leave, Class, it’s okay. We’re still a team, and I don’t want any more of us lost here. Remember: we have to rescue Kenta. He's obviously being controlled by the General and Mesmer. I can’t believe he'd willingly join those sociopaths.”Spark Chan looked doubtful. It seemed she did think Magnet would join the General “like that” having been haunted by some of his more inhuman traits for the past few months.
“…I’m going to find Light.”, Topman stated solemnly. “I need to figure things out for myself, and Dr Light sounds like the only sane man left in this world.”
Shadowman continued, “Topman wants to join Light. That’s good. We’ll pass news and information to them using our own status in the RPD.”
“As for us, we’ll just pretend to install the code. I’ll put a fake program onto the disk in the ‘Drome and we’ll be all set. Barring that, I’ll come up with something. This is no time for us to lose our heads. The Scissor Army is priority number one. The Shutdown Code, although creepy and invasive, is second banana to this fight.
The ‘Maniacs lowered their heads.
“I guess this is goodbye for now.” Spark Chan said softly. She teleported away to parts unknown. Topman walked some distance before turning back to his friends.
"I know what it's like to be under someone's control, to be deprived of all choice in your own actions. I'm sorry, I just... can't let it happen again."
"We won't let it happen, Tops," said Shadowman confidently.
Topman hung his head and teleported away.
Shadowman, NeedleGal, Snakeman, Hardman, and a very quiet Geminiman left for the Technodrome.
December 1st, 20XX
Upon their arrival they were greeted by the supercomputer Crorq and five Special Forces robots.
“Greetings,” called Crorq.
“What the Hell is this!?”
“I just wanted to make sure you guys were with the winning team!” said Crorq. The robot crunched down on a taco, spilling its contents all over itself and the floor.
“Where’s the rest of you INNNNFIDELS? There’s only ….. (one, two, three….) FIVE of you here! There’s word of a threat against humanity itself. THAT’S priority number one. So…where's the rest of you?”
The team looked at each other. It seemed there was no faking their way out of it. If they didn’t install the Shutdown Code Crorq would order the Special Forces to pummel them into the ground. Snake felt a stab of betrayal as he was always the most outspoken advocate for the Special Forces.
Snakeman glared angrily. Although he wasn’t looking at them, his teammates did the same. “We’re all that’s coming. And we’re with you.”
December 1st, 20XX
“I don't like this....”Geminiman sat in his office chair at the basement of the Megalopolis Police Department, his desk was covered in unsorted files and on top was a newspaper with the front page marked “Shutdown Code to be implemented on all Robots” His beloved was gone, fed up with how the people had treated her she went up and left the team to parts unknown.
“I didn't even get to say goodbye.” he sulked, while tending to a rather lukewarm cup of tea.
“She'll be fine, Master Geminiman” Sohee said, trying to cheer up the twin terror, “She's a strong girl, despite appearances, the poor thing has been through so much. She certainly needs a break from all of this.” Munak chimed in.
“Thank you, Sohee, Munak.” Gemini spoke in a heavy tone, “Unfortunately, there is also another matter that has been concerning me.”
“This shutdown code they are implementing to keep you on a short leash? I must say, the nerve of those surface dwellers. With this war going on, this is the last thing you and your teammates need.” said the undead prince, Bongun, in an unusual instance of agreement with his master's thoughts.
“It's not just that, Gauntlet has naturally found a way to cheat the system, and so the department only thinks I have the code installed in my system. However, if they do find out, I'm afraid if they can't do something nasty to me, they'll turn to you in order to get back at me by association, and I would hate to think about what would happen to you guys. Which is why....”
Geminiman was choking on his words, he had been through so much with his undead employees... no, his undead friends. He didn't want to finish his sentence but he felt that there was no other choice.
“Which is why, I'd like the three of you to leave, find where ever Master Light is hiding and support him for me. That way, you will all be safe. At the moment all the human police are in a meeting so you should be able to sneak out unnoticed.”
“Hmph, do you really expect us to just up and leave like that? We can help you, you do know that. We are not dead weight!” Bongun argued but he was then stopped by his fiance.
“Silence, Bongun. I think Master Geminiman has enough on his mind, so it would be in is best interests as well as ours to keep a low profile. I don't want him to worry about us while he is helping out in this war.” Munak turned to Geminiman and then made a bow. “We will be on our way Master Geminiman, I hope that you will come back from this ordeal safely.”
Bongun simply grunted and turned to leave alongside Munak.
“Um.... Goodbye, Master Geminiman, please keep yourself healthy in my absence.” Sohee sobbed with a tear in her eye before she too, bowed and floated on her way to catch up with her two companions.
Now, the twin terror sat alone in his office by himself...
“I don't like this... I don't like it one bit. But, it's all for the best I suppose...”
December 1st, 20XX
“We've had a report on another Sniper Joe attack.” Shadowman blankly informed, tired. “Snake, come with me to help repel them and keep the people from harms way. We’ve got to keep quiet, since we’re not supposed to dispatch without direct orders.”
“Why aren't you taking me onto the field?” Lennon asked, obviously disappointed with his leader's decision.
“You're... too mentally unstable at the moment Gem. With Spark and Top leaving us and you having to relieve your investigation team of duty and put them into hiding, I don't think you should be on the field for a while. I don't want a repeat of SparkChan’s departure from this team, as we've already lost 3 of our members.”
“I'm still just as capable on the field as I've always been. I can prove it to you!” the Twin Terror pleaded his case, but his request fell upon deaf ears.
“I think you should listen to G, lately I think you've been acting kinda...” Needle started to say but the bishounen robot interrupted her.
“No! I don't want to be left all alone here, I want to be on the battlefield. I want to…help the people! They need to understand that we are not simply monsters bred for destruction! I want to prove to them that we can protect them without causing collateral damage.”
Shadowman pondered for a while and then finally relented.
“Fine then, you can come on the field too. I just want you to be careful out there. That goes for everyone, understood? We’ve got way too much to lose at this point if we’re caught by a Watcher.”
Shadowman walked towards the teleporter room with Snake and Gemini in tow.
December 1st, 20XX
It wasn't like her to disappear away from her friends without telling them. She was the type to address the group about leaving the room for even a moment... so this uncalled absence was out of nature. But other things struck her as important too.
Magnet... She ran off, her heart in a frantic and hopeless chase. Not even being directionless did it phase her not to follow. Eventually her inner strain calmed... her heels lightly tapping as she walked an empty city block. There wasn't a human nor robot in sight. Only the debris of fighting, pocket fires, and smoke filled the air.
No. Though her heart cried out to him as he left their side, she was searching for another area. Her feet brought her to someplace familiar. What was this place? Her soft violet eyes squinted as they came upon the mangled shadow of her old home. This tree nearby the S6's old head quarters. It was but another part of the world torn asunder because of needless war. She knelt down at the roots... touching the singed wood with her fingertips. Just upon touching it... her body could feel the pain and suffering of it.
”You held up just fine...”, Spark remarked.
Clear droplets ran down her soot covered cheeks. So what was to become of the populace? Why was it always one extreme to the next? The destruction everywhere broke her fragile heart... over and over. Sometimes she felt even more useless than before... because what was one female bot to do against an army? The more obvious choice hit her as letting the RPD take over and fight in a good name, but then robots were nothing but puppets.
Rockman... the people's hero. Someone whom she found in as a friend, who saved her and others for a living. He was taken down without a trial... without a care. To a world who owed him their very lives... they repaid him with death. It wasn't fair. Just then... a small voice cracked and squeaked under one of the wooden planks of the old tree house. The womanly android quickly ran to it and picked it up... finding her daughter. She was baffled at the discovery since she thought Shoryu had gone to Dr. Light's like she told her to.
I thought I told you to...!”, Classi scolded.
The tiny mechanical spider's eyes flickered on and off... barely able to move what limbs she had still attached, some lying on the ground, some dangling from wires on her abdomen.
“Momma... I was too-- too scared to.... ...leave you.”
The mother brought her damaged daughter to her breasts, feeling deep regret. How could she let this happen to her?
Spark-Chan's eyes widened slightly, this was... on purpose? No... She placed her fingers on her daughter's head.
“Sweety, don't talk. Mommy's going to fix you.”
A crackle came from the spider, so weak and fragile. She was lucky she got away from the humans there to destroy the Mech member's home. But unfortunately the fire and collapse ripped her up something bad. Though her mother was filled with hope on such occasions... the spider's 'heart' was less forgiving. Her red eyes flickered off as she turned herself into a power saving mode, quiet as her mother worked.
Spark-Chan worked into the late evening, repairing her daughter's damages. As a Flimsy Prototype she became well acquainted with mechanical repairs as she herself broke a lot. Her daughter was specially made from her own designs... but that didn't mean her system was easy. There was actually some irreplaceable components that were available only in the future. Shoryu wasn't built with a preprogrammed mind/personality after all. She was given a blankset brain that instead collected and learned much like a human. Hard to believe it was inside a simple spider designed bot.
Figuring that the tree was no longer safe, Spark decided that she would take her daughter back with her and to the other Mech's. Her daughter lay asleep in her arms as she walked back the way she came. She went quite a ways to get here... probably the thoughts of finding the General and Magnet keeping her mind from calculating the distance traveled.
Though she stayed on the outskirts, the damage was there too, but it seemed settled this way. She could sense no life in the smoldering buildings. At least until there was a sudden cry, her censors flashing that she wasn't alone. Knowing that there were humans in trouble nearby she had to run into action. Taking Shoryu into a ditch she gently laid her down and ran off.
“Stay away!!!”, a young woman shouted.
A woman who had been hiding in her home's cellar made the mistake of coming back up to the surface. Armed with nothing and holding a small boy, she ran for their lives as a revamped Sniper Joe chased and shot at them. They had only just turned into a dead end alley way when the woman bot hopped into the scene.
“Leave her alone!!”, Classi demanded.
Extending her wrist's conductors... she charged up an electrical blast and shot it at the sniper, the bolt rendering the bot unresponsive. Her current still charging from the tab at the top of her head. Both women greeted each other with relief... Spark letting out a sigh and extending her kind hand.
“Please come with me, Miss. I won't allow any harm to come to you or your child.”, SparkChan offered
The woman was thankful as her son wept on her stomach. She nodded to Spark-Chan... beginning to walk over to take a hold of her hand. But just as she reached Spark... the woman stopped and backed up again.
“...Hum? What's the matter...? “ a confused electric lady inquired. Her censors rang off a little late as she was suddenly showered with blasts from several dozen Sniper Joes. Apparently the one she destroyed let out a distress signal upon falling. She grabbed the both of them in her arms. Though she was a woman... she was built with super strength like a robot should be. There was nowhere to go but towards the dead end. She'd have to blast her way through to save them. Wincing in pain she shielded them as she ran... getting torn up in the process. These blasts weren't like normal Snipers at all.
With a running kick she began to pummel the brick wall down from in front of her. The boy crying louder as he couldn't hold onto his mother from Spark's other arm. As soon as she kicked her way through she found herself in another predicament. She ran right into the middle of a sniper wall marching in the streets. They immediately turned to her and began to shoot as well. Hitting her in the chest she flew back... dropping the mother and crushing the boy under her with her weight.
Why... why like this!?
The mother was thrown so far from Spark that she hadn't a chance to save her, a rain of bullets claiming the woman's life so fast that not a noise came from her lips. She fell to a lifeless pile of clothing and flesh as they still shot at her corpse and Spark's hunched over body. She blocked as much as she could though the boy's arm had been shot, whimpering to him... sorry that she couldn't save them after all.
“Tch! I find this pathetic! If you want a real fight... then try me on for size!”
The black and purple robot descended from the air... landing in front of Spark and the boy. He was fused with his mechanical canine companion Gospel... his ebony wings spread like an angel of death... He took all the shots head on... too arrogant to even acknowledge the slow damage coming to him. Forte wasn't just any bot, he was Rockman's rival... and speculated twin since there weren't many robots who stood up to him minus the Blue Bomber.
“Kyyyaaaaaa!!!”, he screamed savagely.
He flew into the crowd on a rampage. He planned to play Rambo and take them in groups, no holds barred, and nothing would stop him until each last one of these Sniper Joes were torn to shreds. He hadn't just now been this way... ever since Rockman's unjustly death... Forte found himself without much meaning. Unable to surpass the unsurpassable... he wanted to destroy and keep his mind busy.
Just as he blasted the last Sniper in the vicinity down... he looked over his shoulder to the recognizable green-haired bot. Her energy emitted was similar to his own... knowing exactly who he 'saved'.
“...Classi-Cal...”The words falling from his mouth without any emotion. She was one of his other goals. He was to destroy her since he was her finished formed. The failed prototype... His fusion ended, Gospel appearing beside him now as his armor glinted gold and black now. This one wouldn't be taken from him. He'd kill Classi-Cal unlike he failed to do many times before. Slowly he stepped up behind her... his red eyes glaring down to her huddled form, the sobbing and grieving boy underneath her, pinned. He could feel her energy was low... and she seemed unresponsive now. He could kill her... but as he looked around... he didn't quite understand what he'd gain out of it just yet. Slowly he lifted his finger and pointed at her head.
Satisfied with his mockery... he leaned over and tried to pry her off the boy, only to find her arms were deadlocked. He couldn't free the boy of her grasp no matter what he did. Making an annoyed grunt he scooped her and the boy up into his arms as he hopped onto Gospel.
“Shut up kid! I would let you stay here if she'd let go!”A small present for Dr. Wily. The 4 hovered away and up into the dark sky... the equally dark robot hard to trace in the smog of this night. With Classi out cold... maybe they could finally reprogram her... something more useful to the Fortress. Unknowingly... he left behind a piece of her. Shoryu still laid asleep in the ditch undisturbed. It wouldn't be long before she'd awaken and a Sniper might happen upon her.
December 1st, 20XX
Shadowman blew the heads of two more of General Cutman’s Sniper Joes. It was late, and he was tired …. But this was too much. Gemini was missing in action and precious time was being wasted on these stupid trivialities!
Shadowman dodged the Joes’ rapid firing weapons. These guys were definitely tougher than usual. How did these guys survive the nightly patrols, anyway? This area was cleared hours ago! Shadowman supposed they just lay low until someone interesting came around. After he dispatched the last one with his sword, he felt no satisfaction. He was just tired.
“Is there any sign of him?”, he asked of an approaching green friend.
“No,” replied Snakeman, looking worried. “There’s just bits of broken armor, but nothing that would suggest he was gunned down and not enough to suggest he was destroyed completely. It looks like the forensics told us everything.”
Shadowman could hardly believe it. Nor could Snake. When Gemini didn’t report in they thought he was destroyed. Their “beloved” chief wouldn’t let them investigate themselves and they’d been kept busy throughout the day defending the city, fighting off the seemingly countless waves of Joes.
Shadowman tried calling Gemini again, but received no response. Perhaps he was unconscious? Or maybe he was jerking Shadowman around … Gemini was acting very aggressive and hostile lately. It really bothered Shadowman … he’d known Topman, Geminiman, and SparkChan for years! And yet they all just left. None were returning his calls either. Didn’t they realize how serious a situation this is?
As the leader of the ‘Maniacs, Shadowman was being kept busy at all times. However, he strongly suspected his superiors felt they had to give him no time to rethink his position. Good job, guys. I can hardly stand up. He hadn’t even had much time with the rest of his team. Obviously, he was being isolated from them. Shadow knew it and resented it! He hated the idea that someone else could shut him down on a whim, and he hated that his superiors could use such an obvious ploy to keep him so damned busy!
It was almost like they were using the outbreak of war to their advantage… “We’d better scram. I’d hate to think what would happen if we were caught outside of the ‘Drome,” said Snakeman.
“Right.” Shadowman deeply resented this sneaking around. He had to leave and enter his own home like some sort of thief! It was done easily enough, though. After all, Shadowman was a ninja and Snakeman was a snake. Both were made to sneak around places with ease. With Shadowman’s holograms, their tracks were easily covered.
But what would they do if they were caught? The thought made Shadowman shudder. These thoughts must have been racing through Snakeman’s head too because both were caught off guard by Expressman’s sudden approach.
Snakeman leapt backwards to assume a strategically sound approach behind a brick wall to use as cover. Only natural for a sniper. Shadowman leapt into the air and tossed his standard attack of three Shadow Blades at the enemy Robot Master.
Damnation! If they could be caught by Expressman, they could be caught by Crorq!
Expressman easily dodged the attack and he … was surrendering?
“Whoa! Easy guys! I come in peace.”
”Say that again? I must be going deaf because it seemed like you were gunning for a fight.” Snakeman was his usual sarcastic self. He took aim at Expressman, but didn’t fire.
“It’s legit. I’m here to make you guys an offer.”, the quick-witted Expressman informed.
“An offer!? “
“You bet. From the big W himself.”
The two ‘Maniacs looked at each other. An offer from Wily? Shadowman shook his head.
“There’s no way. We’ve been fighting you people for years. Your Doc Robot even lobotomized my sister. I hate you people.”
Expressman …. Was that a shrug? Did he shrug Shadowman off?
“You guys took us apart only a few weeks ago. You stopped Wily at every turn. If it weren’t for you, Wily might have taken over the world by now. But what can we do? The past’s the past.”
Snakeman was taken aback. “That sounds really odd coming from you!”
Expressman just looked at him. “We were on opposite sides. You did your job, I did mine. Me and my crew … we’re not like those PC people. We’re not obsessed about you. As far as we’re concerned, bygones can be bygones.”
“Dudes, Wily respects your abilities!”
Snakeman snorted. Wily respected their abilities?
“We chose our side, Expressman. There’s no going back. Not for us,” said the ninja. Expressman seemed to stare at him intently.
“Yeah, but is it the right side? You’ve been fighting for these meatballs for … how long has it been now? How many guys did you beat? And what did they do to you? They put a damned chip in yer head! Do you think I got a chip inside of my head?”
Shadowman considered. They were robots- they all had chips in their heads. But Expressman touched on a valid point.
“I don’t know about you, but it’d gall me. To play the hero for so long and to have my big ‘thank you’ be some chip in my head. You’re a dog on a leash.”
Shadowman looked at Expressman. For the first time, he asked himself if he had some sort of mind-reading ability. Or were they really on the same wavelength? Well, it didn’t much matter. What was done was done.
“Even if we did agree, we already have the code installed in us.”
Expressman seemed to grin.
“Not a problem for the Doc. Reprogramming robots is what he does! This is just another side project for him. Once he breaks this code – and he will – you’ll be totally free.”
Totally free? Now there’s the delusion of the year! Maybe he disliked the Shutdown Code, but it didn’t interfere with Shadowman’s thoughts! Wily was a madman and the thought of him poking around inside of his head made Shadowman cringe. Expressman was obviously programmed with a very biased point of view.
But he was making some sense. The Shutdown Code did defy Shadowman’s (admittedly limited) hacking abilities, but reprogramming robots is what Wily did. Expressman was right. Wily could break the code. Perhaps he already had.
Expressman was waiting for their answer. He really wasn’t like the PC robots or the Evil Eight. He really didn’t hate the ‘Maniacs. He wasn’t obsessed with anything. He just worked for Wily. It was just his job. And he was good at it.
Still, despite a newfound respect for Expressman, Shadowman decided to decline Wily’s offer.
“Sorry, I have to decline. I don’t want Wily poking around inside my head.”
Snakeman leapt to Shadowman’s side.
“I agree with Shadow.”
Expressman seemed to consider them.
“I really don’t get you guys. I’d never work for someone who forced some Shutdown Code on me after all the heard work in helping ‘em out. Suit yourself.”
Expressman ran off. Shadowman reconsidered- Had he been wrong? No. His logic was sound. Besides, Dr. Light was his ally and going to Wily would be a direct betrayal of his trust. Moreover, they could work easier from the inside.
“Expressman’s programmed by Wily you know,” observed Snakeman. “Wily abandoned the Evil Eight. And his goal is world domination. In the end, we’d have to take him down.”
“Yeah. But that Expressman …. He just made too much sense.”
Shadowman and Snakeman took greater pains to avoid detection on their way back to the base. It was humiliating enough to be discovered by Expressman, but it really would be disaster if they were caught by the RPD.
It wasn’t good enough. A few feet from the Technodrome a loud shot destroyed something directly behind them.
“What the freakin’ Hell was that!?”
“It came from over there!” Snakeman yelled as he aimed his Search Snakes and fired! It was dark, but he could find anyone!
“Call off yer dogs,” laughed a familiar voice, “I’m right here.”
Artilleryman walked out with a Search Snake in hand. It was struggling violently, but Artillery seemed to take pains not to damage it.
“You’ve heard one offer. Want the counter proposal?”
Shadowman stayed where he was.
“Proposal!? You shot at us!”
“I killed the Joe behind you. They’re everywhere nowadays! Would you come down? I may hate yer guts, but I’m not here to hurt you.”
Shadowman looked at the area where Artillery had shot. Sure enough, what remained of a Joe was there. How did they get so deep into the city? Shadowman looked at Snake, who was unreadable at this distance. But he wasn’t shooting at Artillery. Shadowman made his way down.
Artilleryman put down the snake. It slithered close by. Obviously, Snakeman did not trust their old enemy.
“Expressman already made a bid for Wily. If you think you can threaten us – “
Artillery waved his hand in dismissal.
“No, no, no, I don’t work for Wily anymore.”
Snakeman was unconvinced. “Since when do the Evil Eight not work for Wily?”
Artillery laughed. “Since the last time you saw us. And it’s more like the Evil ONE in this case, green jeans. We broke up. Right now I’m working for Cossack.”
“The Ruski has munski. Who knew, right? I’m working for him until the retainer runs out. Which,” laughed Artillery, “is pretty damned soon!”
Shadowman’s head was spinning. “Cossack? What he got to do with anything?”
Artillery gave Shadowman a rude look. “What? The genius leader of the Mechs doesn’t watch the news? Cossack’s rebelling! It’s his robot rebellion all over again!”
Shadowman was shocked. Dr. Cossack hasn’t been doing anything lately! He heard thought he grapevine that the Comrades saw him as a sort of joke. He looked at Snakeman. Good. Snakeman also looked shocked.
Artilleryman sneered. “Oh, this is rich. You idiots didn’t know?”
“We’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, right. You’re almost as bad as Golem was!”
Shadowman was beginning to lose his patience.
“Exactly what is Cossack’s offer, Artillery? I really don’t have time to waste on you.”
“The feeling’s mutual, Mech, but I have a job to do. Cossack’s against the Shutdown Code. He’s working on a way to reverse it. He’s willing to take you…People …In. He seems to think you’d be valuable. I told him you weren’t needed, but he’s the boss, so here I am.”
This was rich. Expressman made Wily’s offer to help him in world domination sound tempting while Shadowman found himself resenting Cossack’s much more reasonable offer to help stop the Shutdown Code!
“We already have the code installed on us.”
“Yeah, I know. You people are tools. But Cossack tells me to tell you that it’s actually what he needs.”
Snakeman’s interest was perked by that. “How’s that?”
“We don’t actually have a sample of the code to work with. We tried using some of your standard cop-bots, but they tend to shut down whenever Cossack tries to hack the code. Isn’t that a bitch?” Artillery laughed. He might work for Cossack, but it was all for the money.
Still, this was something. A chance to strike back at those bastards who thought they could use him like some stupid tool! Shadowman pulled out a CD from his coat.
“We can’t join Cossack. It’s too much of a risk. We’re under strict surveillance and I’m sure they’ll deactivate us if we just disappear,” Shadowman thought of Gemini then and wondered if this happened to his old friend. “But you can give Cossack this.”
Shadowman handed the CD to his old enemy. Artillery looked curious and disappointed. Did he think the same thing Shadowman did? That his old enemies would be immediately shut down when they didn’t show up for work tomorrow? Cossack must be very desperate to hire someone like Artilleryman.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“The Shutdown Code is pretty accessible to members of the RPD.”
Artilleryman grunted. With no business left to discuss, Artillery turned his back on his new allies and left. Shadowman was clouded in doubt. Did he do the right thing? Would Artillery rat them out to his “friends” on the force? Was there a way that disk could be tracked back to him?
Snakeman shared his thoughts.
“What was that? Why did you give that to him?”
“I’m nobody’s lapdog, Snake.”
“We’re officers of the law now. We decided to go with the RPD on this one! They’re the law in this town.”
“The plan was to cheat our way out of the code, remember? This is just an extension of that plan. I can’t hack it, but maybe Cossack can. I’d have given it to Light, but nobody’s been able to find him.”
Snake looked annoyed. “It’s not professional to go rogue like this.”
“Focus, Snake. We have the General to worry about. This just frees us up a little. Don’t give me that look. I know you’re hoping to get around the code yourself.”
Snakeman coughed. He thought his little contingency plan was a secret. He had it in place since before the Shutdown Code was even announced. Was Shadowman just guessing? It hit unnervingly close to home for Snake's comfort.
“My loyalty to the RPD … No, to the government in general died after they made us America’s most wanted. Right now, the General is our priority, so we’re with the RPD. But if there’s a way to screw that senator who made the code, well…” Shadowman grinned, “That’s something to take advantage of.”
December 1st, 20XX
“Damn it, I need backup NOW!”Silence... There was no response coming in from the comm. line. Geminiman was stranded in the field of battle and was under heavy gunfire.
One moment he was fighting alongside the rest of the team, but then he chased after a lone Sniper Joe. Unable to hear the cries from his teammates, he failed to notice a nearby building collapse behind him, effectively closing him off from the rest of the teams and surrounded by a new batch of Sniper Joes, with no time to launch an offensive, the robots opened fire forcing him to seek cover under some rubble while he called for backup. He thought surely if he called for backup one of his teammates would come rushing by or even a Special Forces robot would appear to save him. But there was nothing, no response, no rescue. He was all alone, once again.
That was hours ago. Since then, Geminiman had drifted further into the city, responding to gunfire and hoping to be reunited with his teammates.
“Why is there no backup?” the Twin Terror screamed to himself as he fired a couple of Gemini Lasers at angles to knock out a few Sniper Joes, but the hail of gunfire just wouldn't cease.
“No... the real question was why did Gauntlet allow me to come on the field so easily.”
Geminiman paused for a moment while the Sniper Joes continued to fire shots at his hiding spot and began to ponder.
“If Gauntlet knew I was unstable and a liability in the battlefield, then why did he give in so easily?”
The gunfire seemed to become more intense and Gemini's barricade was beginning to give in as the Maniac found himself taking damage. Was this all intended? Was this Gauntlet's way of getting rid of such a liability in his team?
No, that can't be right…He and Gauntlet have been working together for years. There wasn't any other person alive or dead that he respected and could rely on more, and yet, there was still no response.
But…Again, he felt it. A tinge. A feeling that he was in the wrong position. A gut feeling that, as a natural leader, he wouldn’t have made such a careless mistake.
If it even was a mistake.“That's simply what you want to believe isn't it?” a voice sounded in Geminiman's head.
No, Gauntlet was his leader, his friend. He wouldn't throw away me like this, just because I might be a burden. He believed that I could control myself, that I could handle my own on the battlefield, despite all that has happened. They may have butted heads often in the past, but would Shadowman really go out of his way to…
To…Lennon finally confessed to himself, “He was right... I was wrong, I was too overeager, too desperate to forget all the people I've lost and because of that, I'm in this situation. This is all my fault. I AM too rattled to be out here! I’m allowing doubt to enter my thoughts.”
“Then why hasn't any backup come?” the voice argued.
He didn't have an answer for that. Sure, there was collapsed building behind him, but Hardman could have simply broken through it and his communicator was working fine. So why wasn't there a response?
“The answer is simple; you have been abandoned. You tried to prove your worth in the field and you failed, so now you are paying the price. There is no other reason! You have been left all alone. No one will help you because no one cares about you.
More than that, even! Gauntlet…Sees you as a threat to his leadership, doesn’t he?”
He didn't want to believe it, but he just couldn't think of any other possibility. However, he still had one thought, one driving force.
“Regardless of that, I still need to protect the people, I have worked so hard to make a decent world for them, to prove that robots and humans aren't all that different!”
The voice inside his head just laughed maniacally at the statement.
“You think they appreciate any of your work? They hate you! No matter what you do, you'll never meet up to their expectations. Do you know why? It's because you're nothing but a monster to them.
You are subject to the Shutdown Code! A weapon of the humans pulling or strings! And you followed Gauntlet right into their waiting maw like a mindless guppy. Would YOU have made the same decision in his place?”
“It’s NOT like that!” Lennon screamed in response. “I am just as human as they are, I have a SOUL! They’re…The humans are just trying to protect themselves! I…trust Gauntlet.”
“A soul? What foolishness, your 'soul' is nothing but an artificial entity that your programming as tricked you into believing you have. You are nothing but an empty shell of a man who threw away his humanity to become an immortal beast.” the voice continued his verbal assault. “How can you continue to trust that robot? It is YOU who should be making the decisions!”
“I am…a man.” Lennon affirmed, albeit weakly.
“Nonsense. Any ‘man’ as recognized by your supposed peers wouldn’t feel so threatened by you. No man has been forced to abide by such a form of slavery in this day and age…And yet you’ve cheerily signed up for it!”
By now, Geminiman had realized what was going on outside of his mind.
He lay, battered and shot amongst the burning car wreck he had sought shelter behind by instinct at one point. He felt impossibly weak, unable to move more than a few fingers as a squadron of Sniper Joes swept through the area, glancing over him as if he were a street fixture. As if he were dead to him.
“You know where you belong. You know your natural role…”, the voice continued to coax, even more loudly.
“But... if I do that, then I'd be fighting against my friends.... against her.... against my beloved...”
“They aren't your friends. If they were, you'd be saved by now, and if she is really your beloved, then why did she not give you a chance to say goodbye? Do you want to know a secret? She is actually in league with Dr Wily, and do you know why? It's because she was originally his wife! No matter how hard you try to obtain her, you will not overcome her core programming that will draw her closer to him.” the voice laughed once again as Geminiman laid a broken man in the midst of the combat. “Face it, you have nothing! But we can give you something…WE can offer you everything.”
“I... I don't want power... I've been there before, and I don't like it.” Lennon replied, still trying to resist.
“Power? I never said anything about power, I can give you something better, I can give you a purpose! A place in a new world! One where the people can appreciate your efforts and one where you will have her by your side. You…Are the REAL leader, Lennon. Not that pretender! ”
An epiphany. A sense of clarity.
It was true. He always knew where he really belonged in the world, and yet he had been held back all of these years. Held back by HIM.
“Gauntlet...” Geminiman struggled to his feet at last. “…The next time we meet, I will prove my worth to you, and if you cannot accept my superiority…then I will destroy you!
I…At long last…KNOW my home! Where a man of my caliber truly belongs!
On this day, I am Geminiman…A leader amongst leaders! I am…Going to usher in the new era! I am fighting for Elysium! I am fighting….For the Scissor Army!”
Something was in his vision, but he couldn’t make it out. Something white, and dark at the same time. Something…He knew.
It grinned at him, and looked into his face with a single eye.
“Welcome home, Geminiman. Welcome home.”