Series 9 Issue #17 - Starcrossed Part 1

(Many years ago, a certain Ameropean power plant was coming back online after a nine hour outage.)

Technician: Alriiight...finally! I got bars! Network's back. Just need to run internal diagnostic. Jack in!

(The technician's navi enters the power plant's system to make sure everything is running properly.)

Tech Navi: Well...no bugs, no viruses, production levels are beyond optimal...what's with the trippy new sky wallpaper though?

Technician: Give me video. (Looking at the cyberworld sky through his PET screen) Aurora Borealis!? At this time of year? At this time of day? In this part of the country? Localized entirely within our network!?

Tech Navi: Does this have something to do with the blackout? Wasn't everyone seeing the northern lights just before it happened?

Technician: It was a big magnetic storm. That causes the northern lights in the real world. Why would it do something to the wallpaper in...know what? Don't care. Diagnostic says everything's fine. That's probably just residual electromagnetic something something, let's just go. I probably have spoiled food in the fridge at home that needs to be thrown out.

Tech Navi: It sure looks nice though. Hard to believe something so beautiful could be a portent to disaster...

* * *

(Present day, in a Monsteropolis IT lab employed by the Galactic Council, three Council members are present to check in on a project in development.)

Holzenbein: I'm afraid I just don't see the benefit of retooling this "Cyberworld" tech after all these years. It provided some novel amusement for a time, but there's a reason it went obsolete.

Terra: Well, I wasn't around during its heyday. I regret missing out on seeing what a gorgeous navi form I would make. Besides, from what I've researched, there's more potential here than anyone recognized at the time. It's not just some VR simulation representing the internet. The fact navi forms were once a physical manifestation proves we have the ability to tap into another reality and access all the resources that implies.

Trio: The idea that these "Cyber Gates" you're developing could allow us to mine infinite energy from a virtual world is absurd...

Terra: I think the theories are worth testing. Compared to some of the Council's other projects, this one is relatively low cost and low risk.

Trio: Agreed, actually. I have no confidence or interest in the official goals of the project, but I have some ideas of my own how to apply it if successful.

Holzenbein: Oh? Do enlighten us.

Trio: We would be able to produce a physical manifestation of digital programming. That is essentially what the so-called "Evil" Energy is. To artificially recreate that organic entity provides the potential for us to make an control our own free-floating invasive programming.

Terra: You're talking about airborne computer viruses? How vulgar.

Trio: We could infect and control every machine in the galaxy. I see it as a much more direct, more effective, not to mention more likely outcome than your ridiculous energy plan. If you have a problem with that, we can argue about it once the project is complete and we see its true potential. Until then, by all means let it continue.

(Trio walks out.)

Holzenbein: I think you're both overestimating what this toy can do, but I'm certainly willing to support any toys you want to play with, my dear. Though I am a bit curious what made you take this sudden interest in the exploration of inner space.

Terra: Outer space is fine, but this is what intrigues me at the moment. I can't quite explain it, but it's as if something's been calling me...

* * *

(Deep below, in the Mechanical Maniacs' apartment in the Wily Underground, Snakeman spends his free time as per usual, crouched alone in a dark room while his mind scans the network through an illegally decoded signal.)

Snakeman: ...ugh, can you download any slower?...oof, that stock dropped pretty fast...heh, cats are adorable...what, again with the Terra thing?...get outta here, spam...aww, cat videos...wait, Terra's tied into that too?...huh, this could be serious...

(Snake disconnects and sprints out into what passes for the living room, where Shadowman is watching TV.)

Snakeman: Hey, is anybody else around?

Shadowman: I think everyone else is out running errands for Doc Robot. What's up?

Snakeman: I've been...uh...investigating on the internet. I think I've come across a secret plot by the Council. Something they want to keep hidden.

Shadowman: Yes! Something to use against Crorq! What is it?

Snakeman: I don't actually know yet. I've found their footprints going in and out of the Undernet, but I can't tell what they're doing there. I know what we have to do to follow the trail though!

Shadowman: (Expression suddenly dropping) Don't tell me you want us to use na-

Snakeman: We gotta use our navi forms and dive into the cyberworld!

Shadowman: (Rolling his eyes) Damn it, Snake! That's your answer to everything. Nobody uses navi forms any more. Let it go.

Snakeman: Look, I think Terra is, at least. I keep seeing the signature 'Terra.exe' popping up in the logs for servers that used to be dedicated to navi form operation.

Shadowman: Why are you even reading those?

Snakeman: I'm investigating!

Shadowman: ...

Snakeman: ...I...occasionally stake out those lines in case navi forms ever make a revival. They totally are this time though!

Shadowman: Can't you just scan that data to get all the answers you need? That's why navi forms went away. Nobody liked having to run for fifteen minutes to get from one website to another.

Snakeman: It's too abstract! It's like a thousand words to describe a picture. If navis are doing something in there, the best way to understand it is to see it in person. Being defunct just makes it a good plane to hide illicit activities for someone with the communications infrastructure to tap into it. Someone like the Council.

Shadowman: Sure it is. Alright, let's say this is an actual mission and not just an excuse for you to play Skullman.exe again, how do you propose getting our navi forms back? They're gone. They straight-up don't exist any more. Neither does the hardware we used to upload ourselves.

Snakeman: Oh I prepared for this, it's all up here. (Taps his helmet.) I'll get Spark to whip up some crude transfer devices based on my notes.

Shadowman: What if we don't have the time or materials for that?

Snakeman: I'm pretty sure it won't take that much to make one for st-

Shadowman: Fine. One. You can do all the cyber-sleuthing yourself, anyway.

Snakeman: -arters...um, yeah...okay. I guess it doesn't have to be a full-team mission. Though it could be fun as one, don't you think?

(Shadowman has gone back to watching TV. He ignores Snakeman.)

Snakeman: (grumble) wellithinkitsfun'snotlikesittingaroundinstupidrealworldisfun (grumble)

* * *

(Elsewhere, very elsewhere...)

Megaman.exe: We can't let you destroy DenTower! Mega Buster!

Life Virus: I can destroy anything I want with my new weapon! Napalmman! Show him what we think of his pathetic toy!

Napalmman.exe: Hrrghh! Photon Bomb!

Megaman.exe: Eeagh!

Lan: Megaman! Hold on! I'm sending some healing chips!

Jet.exe: You should be sending some backup! What makes you think you can take on the WWW by yourselves? (shoots at Megaman)

Megaman.exe: (Dodging) Wouldn't be the first time...

Lan: You're WWW? Is Wily back again?

Life Virus: Forget Wily! I have my own plans for this world! Now, Napalmman! While Jet keeps the do-gooder busy, destroy the last regulator program!

Napalmman.exe: Destroy! DESTROY! (Launches a cluster of bombs that blow up an important-looking device on the corner of the platform.)

Life Virus: AluminumStage! (The ground becomes smooth and metallic.) Now it's only a matter of time before the electricity surging through this structure overloads and fries the city's entire network and power grid. Evacuate to the satellite!

Lan: Yeah, right! PanelReturn! (The ground reverts to its safer default state.)

Life Virus: Very well. Napalmman, we have one thing left to destroy before we can leave. Delete Megaman!

Napalmman.exe: Buuurrrnnn!

Megaman.exe: I've come too far to lose to some corrupted clones! Hyaahhhh!! (Megaman is unexpectedly enveloped in a white light.)

Napalmman.exe: !?

Lan: Megaman is transforming!?

Megaman.exe?: Uh...Electric Shock! (Electricity from the tower is channeled through him into a beam that deletes Napalmman instantly.

Life Virus: What!?

Jet.exe: I got him, boss! (Flies above Megaman launching missiles.)

Megaman.exe?: Flight mode! (Takes to the sky, shooting electric bolts at Jet. He easily outmaneuvers his opponent.)

Jet.exe: !! So fast!

Life Virus: Such power...WWW, retreat! (The terrorists teleport away.)

Lan: Amazing, Megaman! What is that, a new Style Change?

Megaman.exe?: It reminds me of the Navi Cross, but I don't know which navi I'm crossing with...no, wait...a name is on the tip of my tongue...J-...Jupiter?

Lan: Jupiter Cross, huh? How mysterious. We didn't get you any upgrades that would cause this. Oh well, can't complain with power like that. Let's ask dad about it next time he's in town.

Jupiter X Megaman: That could be a while. I feel like there's something important that can't wait though...

(Back at WWW HQ...)

Life Virus: Where is Napalmman? His deletion couldn't have been that severe!

Jet.exe: Uhh, bad news, boss. The server shows no record of his data recovery even starting.

Life Virus: NO!! We haven't been able to replicate the results of the experiment that spawned him like that! Where did he go!?

(Elsewhere, in a system with no visible ground and a wallpaper like a starry sky...)

Napalmman.exe: W-where am I? Where is the enemy?

Gate.exe: Don't think of Megaman as your enemy. Not any more.

Napalmman.exe: You! Do I...know you?

Gate.exe: In a way, it seems so. Come. You will soon have a new enemy to focus on. We will unlock the enigma of our newfound fates together.

(Meanwhile, in the real world...or rather a real world...The Official Net Battler response team known as the Alpha-Level Threat Assessment and Extermination Experts (or somehow, 'AXE' for short) are meeting at their local ONBA Headquarters to assess a threat.)

Tricia: We got another report of a navi gaining sudden inexplicable super powers and naming themselves after a planet. This one was on the verge of deletion in a net-battle and was reborn as a "Pluto Cross".

Lyric: Pluto isn't a planet.

Tricia: Well, close enough. I doubt this one is part of some unrelated dwarf-planet-themed phenomenon.

Overdrive.exe: (Through Tricia's PET) Should we be even remotley worried about these powerups? Mine has suited me just fine.

Moe: True, they've been nothing but beneficial so far, but with the seemingly random nature of their distribution it's only a matter of time before a criminal navi gets one and can use it to...wait, yours!?

Drillman.exe: (Through Moe's PET) Since when did you get one of these makeovers, OD?

Overdrive.exe: Since back in the big archive fight against the CoV, at least.* I've only just started to realize it's the same thing as what's happening to these other navis.

(*Annihilation Season 2, Part 6, Page 3)

Tricia: It was just her sword that started looking different, but ever since then, it's had draining powers. Thinking about the planetary theme also helped when I realized the new design on the hilt is a lot like a Caduceus, a symbol of the god, Mercury.

Overdrive.exe: It's great that I've kept my powers so long since everyone else's goes away after a day or two. On the other had, they could develop a little faster. It's like I'm getting this thing in installments. The archive is where I first got a bit of visual change, but I think it really started a couple days earlier when my speed suddenly went off the charts to get me away from Desertman.*

(*Part 3, Page 2)

Hoshiko: Whatever's responsible for the change, it sounds like we owe it twice over. Maybe we don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Tricia: We don't have to treat it as a threat, but it won't hurt to investigate and try to understand it better. We might figure out how to control the transformations.

Lyric: That sounds more like a SciLab job. Our job is to treat things like threats.

Tricia: Well, as long as my navi is affected, she and I have to be available for tests. I also want the rest of you on hand in case something does go wrong.

Moe: I think we can manage that.

Lyric: Fine. Any progress on tracking the cases?

Tricia: Not really. Though someone on the boards made the observation that there seems to be only one of each type at any given time. The second navi to become "Uranus Cross" reportedly transformed at the exact moment the first one went back to normal, though the two cases were nowhere near each other.

Hoshiko: That means some kind of transmission is occurring. How hard could it be to trace it the next time it happens?

Overdrive.exe: What sucks is that we're basically waiting for that to happen to me. Can't we get some other guinea pigs in here?

Lyric: Maybe. We'd need to catch up with the reported cases before their powers transferred to someone else.

Moe: That has me wondering about the cases that aren't getting reported. Weren't there a Venus and a Saturn that went back to normal? Haven't heard about their replacements.

Tricia: That would be a problem. Maybe we should contact the operator of this Pluto now, before -- (Tricia is cut off by an urgent buzzing from her PET that's simultaneously echoed by the other three PETs in the room.)

Metalman.exe: (Through Lyric's PET) Alert coming in from La Grande Power Plant, Canasian network, QC sector. Multiple high-powered navi assailants staging a takeover, no demands issued. Backup required.

Drillman.exe: Five of them. Descriptions match the Getsumen Corps.

Tricia: Ah, old enemies of the Net Guardians, right? I guess you can take the lead on this one.

Moe: Er...actually, Drill and I never fought them ourselves. They mostly bothered Yamatoman. I'd call him, but I lost touch ages ago.

Tricia: Oh. Well, you know more than the rest of us. Any intel would help before we dive in.

Moe: Okay, let me think... Yeah, four of them are elemental specialists. They cover their own weaknesses well though. I think first we should focus on the wood-elemental, the green lady with the bigass sword. Flamechick would deliver the heavy hits while the rest of us cover for any anti-fire measures she has in place. If we can delete one of them fast, the others should fall like dominoes, and like Yamato's op always said, "no one can stop Mr. Domino!"

Flamechick: (Through Hoshiko's PET) I can manage that.

Hoshiko: Good enough for me!

Tricia: Alright, the less urgent agenda items will have to wait. Time for action! Jack in, AXE!

(Meanwhile, back in more familiar territory...)

Sparkman: Okay...cerebral transponder...do we got any of those?

Snakeman: Um...(produces a Search Snake, whispers to it) Sorry about this, buddy, but you probably would have been launched at an enemy to blow yourself up anyway, so... (rips open the snake's head, pulls out a small device and hands it to Spark.) Here.

Sparkman: Perfect, but could you produce a few dozen more of those? The processing power required is a little more than one little drone.

Snakeman: *sigh* Sure, it's just...kinda macabre. (Births more Search Snakes only to cannibalize them for parts.)

Sparkman: Hey, building this thing was your idea.

Snakeman: I know. I just hoped we had more useful materials laying around.

Sparkman: What are you talking about? We're doing great! Pass me that other parabolic neuropulse receiver.

Snakeman: ...The colander?

Sparkman: Yeah. We just hook this to that, then begin the power transfer... (Attaches jumper cables to an old car battery.) And we're in business!

Snakeman: Cool. Thanks for doing this with me.

Sparkman: No problem! I've been curious what becoming a navi is like. How come nobody else is interested?

Snakeman: I think the older members never got over their distrust of navi forms since they first encountered their users as terrifying brainwashed zombies.* As for Mags, I was explaining the same thing to him, but he checked out before I even finished that sentence.

(*In Sinister Six.EXE, Executable Execution and Return of a Maniac)

Sparkman: Gotta say, they're probably right? Just going by the track record? But hey, it's a chance to take a new body for a ride and because it's the internet made manifest, I expect it to be wall-to-wall porn in there. Don't spoil it for me though.

Snakeman: I'm not saying anything.

(Spark and Snake sit down and put the colanders on their heads. Electricity arcs noisily from the machine and the lights dim. Within moments, their consciousnesses are on another plain of reality.)

Snakeman.exe: Ahh. I'm home.

Sparkman.exe: (Looking around) Oh. Okay. It's a lot more geometric shapes and neon colors than I expected ...

Snakeman.exe: Look at it, though! Complex floating islands in the infinite vastness of our accumulated knowledge. We may be stuck in an underground slum in reality, but here it's all bright open skies and the world as our oyster.

Sparkman.exe: Sure, I'm not knocking it... Did someone at least think of using this for seedy VR fantasies, though? It just seems like the obvious route and I can't imagine this tech would have fallen out of use if they had at least considered --

Snakeman.exe: So Terra's footprints have been leading to the server at a particular IP address. It doesn't officially exist as anything, so there are no direct links, but I mapped out a path through adjacent systems that should let us slip in. Follow me.

Sparkman.exe: ...Alright, off we go.

(The Maniacs follow the cybernetic pathways of the Monsteropolis internet. They pass through the domains of local businesses and government resources encountering nothing but abstract data flowing through the environment. However, after jumping off the path to head through portals into sketchier domains not connected to the main network, they start to run into wild viruses.)

Mettaur: Met, met! (Hammers Shockwaves at Sparkman, but he uses a Sparkwave to delete it and several others)

Biri: Biriririri! (Shoots Thunder balls, but Snakeman summons Snake Arrows to absorb them and delete the electric enemies)

Roboenza: Enza! Enza! Haha, just kidding. You came to the wrong neighborhood, MFers!

Sparkman.exe: Whew! I guess we have proof these areas aren't entirely abandoned!

Snakeman.exe: I was expecting some viruses left over from years ago, but they sure seem to get more concentrated as we head this way. I wonder...

(They continue to fight through viruses, following Snakeman's map until it leads them over the edge of one platform and they transition into the system indicated by the address.)

Sparkman.exe: Oof. I almost wasn't expecting ground to appear. Good thing it did. (Looking up) And hey, lookit that. That's the prettiest sky effect they've had yet.

Snakeman.exe: Looks just like the northern lights. Never saw a wallpaper like it before.

Sparkman.exe: Wallpaper? That's seriously what they call it?

Snakeman.exe: Yeah, it's basically an animated background image made specifically to give navi forms something nice to look up at instead of a featureless void. Never seen one that pops out so much, though.

(The sound of nearby explosions quickly grabs their attention.)

Sparkman.exe: Whoa, so this is where Terra has been naving it up, right? What's he up to?

Snakeman.exe: I guess we're about to find out. You turn invisible while I ... hide in my jar, I guess.

(The Mechs stealthily follow the noise, eventually rounding a corner to find more navi forms than they were prepared for. Five colorful figures are engaged in battle with four others.)

Flamechick.exe: Heat Spread!

Gekkoman.exe: (Leaps in front of the blast meant for Gaia) Hrgh!

Poseidonman.exe: BigWave! (Forces Flamechick back) Sir! I had her covered! There was no need to endanger yourself!

Gaia.exe: Can you blame the dear? He's feeling indestructible since his upgrade. Don't worry about protecting us, just focus on deleting that girl, please.

Metalman.exe: Voltz3! (Sends Poseidon running with an electric attack)

Infernoman.exe: I'll melt you to slag! Hrahhh!

Drillman.exe: Wait yer turn! StoneCube! (Blocks the incoming fire attack)

Bitman.exe: Much obliged! Lightning! (An electric bolt strikes the cube, shocking Drill and Metal.)

Snakeman.exe: Metalman...Drillman, and...Bitman? And Metal and Drill are on the same side? Wha?

Sparkman.exe: Who are those other clowns? Waveman? Magmaman?

Snakeman.exe: I'm not sure. Somehow, I don't think any of them are people we know...

Overdrive.exe: What are you goons after, anyway? You can't hold this power station forever, and cutting off the power on this grid won't inconvenience the public enough to give in to your demands!

Bitman.exe: Nobody's inconvenienced. We have the system running normally.

Drillman.exe: Then what are you doing here besides deleting its security?

Metalman.exe: They must be hijacking power for some kind of insidious device nearby!

Poseidonman.exe: Perhaps! That was my guess, at least.

Infernoman.exe: I didn't know we were buildin' anything, though.

Overdrive.exe: Wait, you don't even know!?

Bitman.exe: We just follow the boss's orders!

Gekkoman.exe: Hurrghhh!

Bitman.exe: ...What was that, boss?

Gaia.exe: He says to stop yammering and get back to disposing of the interlopers.

Overdrive.exe: (Clashing her sword against Poseidonman's trident) Is your boss normally this untalkative?

Poseidonman.exe: He has been blessed with the Star Cross! His mind has opened up to secrets beyond your primitive ken. As such, his ability to communicate has progressed beyond mere mortal understanding.

Gekkoman.exe: Mrrr...Kill! (Swipes wildly at Flamechick, whose protective flame aura does more damage to him than she takes in return.)

Flamechick.exe: Expanded consciousness is oddly similar to berserker rage...

Sparkman.exe: You sure we're even in the right place? They called it a power station, but you said it didn't exist as anything.

Snakeman.exe: This is weird. Maybe if I can access the logs from here, it will clear things up.

Sparkman.exe: Maybe we should just ask one of these guys what's going on. It might be faster.

Snakeman.exe: If they're associated with the Council, that's too risky. Besides, they seem kinda busy.

(Hoping to blend in with the scenery, Snakeman's jar moves slowly towards an access terminal on one side of the platform where the other navis are fighting.)

Snakeman.exe: ...These are the same logs. This IS the right place, but the function is all wrong. Suddenly it's part of a big, public network? Navis are in and out all the time? It doesn't fit whup-!

(A bunch of vines ensnare the jar and pull it away from the terminal.)

Gaia: Hmm, now this is odd decor for a utility installation, isn't it?

Bitman.exe: Smash it. Maybe zenny will pop out.

Sparkman.exe: Welp, that's my cue. (Decloaks as he fires a SparkWave that shocks everyone and forces the vines to let Snakeman go.)

Snakeman.exe: Damn it! Uh...hi.

Gaia.exe: As I thought. Didn't you believe us about keeping the system running smoothly? Distracting us while your friends sneak around to tamper with the settings will only create problems for everyone.

Metalman.exe: They're not ours. Never met them.

Drillman.exe: Well, I know that guy. Hi, Spark.

Sparkman.exe: Uh...hi?

Snakeman.exe: Oh, that IS you, Drillman? What the hell is going on?

Sparkman.exe: What happened to asking them directly being too risky?

Snakeman.exe: It's a little late to worry about it.

Drillman.exe: (Do I know that guy? Must be a DLM member I forgot. Whoops.) We're Officials now. We're fighting terrorists. What were you two hired to be here for?

Snakeman.exe: Hired?

Sparkman.exe: Um, Drillman's RPD, right? Should we be trusting these guys if they're RPD?

Drillman.exe: Er...the acronym is AXE, not RPD.

Snakeman.exe: Wait, wait, wait. Are you Drillman of Cossack's Comrades, or not?

Drillman.exe: Cossack's Comrades? Is that supposed to be a nickname for the Net Guardians? Nnnno, I am Drillman, but I haven't worked for Cossack for a couple years now.

Snakeman.exe: Sssso...have you even heard of the Mechanical Maniacs?

(Collective shrug.)

Snakeman.exe: Then I think we may be mixing each other up with alternate versions of ourselves.

Overdrive.exe: Oh, this again.

Sparkman.exe: And time travel isn't even involved this time...is it?

Snakeman.exe: I dunno. I'm just waiting for Quint to show up at this point.

Gaia.exe: Good. Now that that's settled, back to deleting the lot of you. S

Snakeman.exe: Wait! I don't suppose any of you have seen a man named Terra around here?

Gaia.exe: ...Where did you learn that name?

Snakeman.exe: Aha!

Sparkman.exe: Didn't we just establish that there are alternates around?

Snakeman.exe: ...Oh. Yeah.

Gaia.exe: No matter. I won't let any of you interfere. (Lunges at Spark and Snake with her sword.)

Sparkman.exe: (Tries to deflect the attack with his electrode, but it cuts easily through him) Yeeouch! Hey, babe, be gentle! It's my first time with this body!

Snakeman.exe: (Shoots Gaia with his machinegun, but she doesn't flinch) Um...maybe we should log out now.

Flamechick.exe: (Leaps in and grabs Gaia, engulfing each other in flames) You're clearly the one directing this outfit, and you've lasted long enough! Burn!

Gaia.exe: No, dear. I need to stay. You're the one that needs to leave to make way for your true self.

Gekkoman.exe: DIE. (Stabs Flamechick through the back, causing her to let go of Gaia, but she fights back setting fire to him instead.)

Gaia.exe: That would have been enough to incinerate me...before I became dual-elemental.

(Gaia thrusts her sword into the ground in front of the control terminal, covering it in vines. In a flash of light, her armor morphs and she shoots Flamechick and Gekkoman with a bolt that surrounds them in an electric field.)

Poseidonman.exe: What is this!?

Infernoman.exe: Gaia, when did YOU get a Star Cross?

Terra X Gaia: Never mind just yet! Just keep the others busy! (Approaches and puts her hand on Flamechick's mask.) It's about time you woke up, sister. (Pumps energy directly into her paralyzed opponent's face, causing the normally stoic navi to scream in pain.)

Metalman.exe: Hey! Stop! (Flame's teammates scramble to her rescue, but the other Getsumen hold them back with waves of elemental attacks.)

Snakeman.exe: Damnit, it's not our fight, but we're the only ones close enough to do something! (Coils back and springs at Gaia, clamping down with his fangs, and attempts to pull her away.)

Gekkoman.exe: Gr..rangh! (Ignorant of the massive amounts of damage he's taken, he lurches up and begins hacking at Snakeman's body.)

Sparkman.exe: What haven't I tried yet? Uhh, here, eat this! (Generates a bright flash that makes everyone's shadows appear behind them and slash at them with a sword, including the friendlies.) Whoops! Sorry about that! I don't know what I expected to happen, but bringing shadows to life was not one of the powers I expected to have.

(Gaia finally lets go of Flamechick, letting her body crumple to the ground. The mask has been shattered.)

Hoshiko: What's going on in there? The PET registered Flamechick as deleted, but she's still there! The controls aren't working!

Flamechick.exe: Unhh...What...happened? Kurisu?

Hoshiko: That voice...Ice Chan?

(Flamechick glows and reforms with a new mask and new colors.)

Pluto X Flamechick: Yes...I remember everything.

Terra X Gaia: The one returned from death, Pluto the Renewer! Welcome to the fold. We are close to fulfilling our purpose.

Hoshiko: Is that still you, Flame? ...Ice?

Pluto X Flamechick: Yes, yes! Hoshiko, it's me! I have my memories back! I remember being Ice Chan, I remember being Flamechick...I even remember being Flameman and Dark Flameman. It's like a fog has been lifted. It was like ... dying just then opened the gates of the afterlife and my past selves were able to rush out, and now I'm always connected to it.

Drillman.exe: Oh! Well, Gaia, if your ploy was to tip the scales in your favor, I think you screwed up. Let's clean up!

Pluto X Flamechick: No, hold on! She's right, we need to be here. I can't explain how I know, but this place is important. We won't cause any damage.

Overdrive.exe: Hell no! They got into your head! Look at what her vines are doing to the control panel!

Terra X Gaia: Nothing except preserving this system from further tampering. Anyway, you should be on board with this already. What's taking your transition so long? You're the Messenger for God's sake!

Overdrive.exe: Hey, I'd drop this upgrade in a second if it messed with my mind like yours...or his!

Gekkoman.exe: Hrrr...

Terra X Gaia: Don't worry about him, he's not one of us. He's just a puppet.

Infernoman.exe: Wait, WHAT!?

Terra X Gaia: I needed you three to help claim this site, but I didn't need you asking a lot of questions. You were all much more loyal to the boss than to me, so I took his soul and made it up to look like he was still the one leading you. I'd say that move was justified. We're here, aren't we?

Poseidonman.exe: How DARE you! Restore Gekkoman at once and explain what this is all about!

Bitman.exe: Yeah, just 'cause we took you this far doesn't mean we can't still leave you hanging with the Officials. I don't like being played for a chump.

Terra X Gaia: There's no need. There's no stopping what's been set in motion. Can you feel it, sisters?

Pluto X Flamechick: Yeah, like the room is expanding. The voices are getting clearer.

Sparkman.exe: Whoa, feels like some weird fededback.

Metalman.exe: Oh no. They're up to something. Shields up!

(Everyone buckles as the cyberspace around them begins to tremble and blink in and out of existence. The area is filled with strange, colorful lights. There is a deafening sound of the fabric of reality ripping open, and when the effects suddenly stop, a mysterious rectangular doorway with white light shining through stands a few panels away from Gaia's sword. The vines quickly creep up the frame of the doorway as if to protect it.)

Terra X Gaia: Wonderful! Our friends pulled through. Well then, shall we go greet them? (Gaia steps towards the doorway without hesitation. Flamechick instinctively follows.

Hoshiko: Wait! Ice Chan! That can't be a good idea. Please, think about what you're doing!

Pluto X Flamechick: It'll be all right. Don't worry, I'm still on your side, but I have to see what's beyond that door. It's calling to me...

Drillman.exe: There's something really unsettling about that door, guys. It's not like any link or teleporter I've ever seen.

Lyric: Hoshiko, can't you force Flame to jack out?

Hoshiko: None of the manual navi controls are working! All I can do is watch...

Moe: M-maybe we should trust them? It's just a door, it can't hurt to see what's on the other side, can it?

Overdrive.exe: I'm pretty curious too. God, I hope that's not the Star Cross brainwashing me...

Sparkman.exe: Pfft, everybody should chill out. You don't freak out over a lame old door...

(Before anyone can reach it, another figure appears from the light in the doorway.)

Terra: Ahh, so this is the cyberworld. Beautiful! Splendid!

Sparkman.exe: ...You freak out about what comes out of it. Shit.

Snakeman.exe: Ah...ha?

Terra X Gaia: Welcome, resonant one! I see you heard my call.

Terra: Oh! Oh...when I thought I heard a voice like my own inspiring me through my dreams to build the CyberGate, I thought it was a manifestation of my own creative genius. I suppose it's just as good that it came from a psychic rapport with a virtual doppelganger. I must say it stings a bit to meet someone even more me than I am.

Holzenbein: (Peeking through the door) Ohh my...they're like sisters. This IS promising...

Terra X Gaia: Infinite power is your reward for bridging the gap from this realm of information with your corporeal existence. Let us step through and show you the possibilities.

Holzenbein: Yes, please! I have a few things in mind that I would like you to show m-- us as soon as possible.

Terra: This project is turning out better than I'd hoped!

Snakeman.exe: Nnoooo! Don't give them anything!

Terra X Gaia: Of course, we aren't just giving them anything.

Terra: Oh?

Terra X Gaia: We will discuss a fair trade.

Pluto X Flamechick: There's something we need from your world. We'll do what me must for it.

Holzenbein: I have what you ladies need, I guarantee you that.

Overdrive.exe: We'll see. Let's go, already.

Metalman.exe: Wh- Overdrive! Snap out of it!

Overdrive.exe: No, I get it now! This is what we wanted. The answer to the Star Cross question is out there. I'm being drawn to it too. They'll all be gathering here soon. This is for the best.

Snakeman.exe: But...Look, I don't know what crazy stuff you're going through, but I do know you can't trust those guys. They're megalomaniacal assholes! They would make the galaxy a living hell with the kind of power you're offering them!

Holzenbein: Hold on...Snakeman? Well, well, fancy meeting you here.

Sparkman.exe: Okay, negotiations are over. Let's just blast the Council and the door. (Releases a Sparkwave.)

Snakeman.exe: Good idea. (Starts firing away with his machine gun.)

Terras: Spark Chaser! (They fire twin bolts back at the Maniacs.)

Pluto X Flamechick: The doorway stays! (Creates a wall of cold white flame in front of it.)

Holzenbein: Don't bother. It's being projected from our machine in the real world. They can't do anything to it from here. If you want to bring something to the bargaining table, why don't you capture those two for us? They're fugitives in our world.

Terra X Gaia: No sooner said than done. (Snags Snakeman's jar with vines again.) Get that one, my Dark Moon!

Gekkoman.exe: GET! (Hooks Sparkman around the neck.)

(The Councilmen and the Crossed pass through the doorway with the struggling Maniacs in tow.)

Tricia: PET signal completely cuts off past the door. I've got nothing!

Hoshiko: Same here!

Lyric: Damn it. Metal, Drill, it's up to you. We'll load you with the best chips we can. Get over there and bring the girls back.

Moe: Yeah, I'm not so sure we should trust them after all. When one of them starts talking about 'infinite power', they really veer into 'Alpha-Level Threat' in my books.

Bitman.exe: Uhh...what about us?

Drillman.exe: If you want your teammates back, you'll cooperate for now.

Poseidonman.exe: I believe that's wise.

(The remaining navis rush through the gate. Everyone finds themselves in the Council's engineering lab on a loading platform before the large CyberGate-generating machine. Terra is helping Gekkoman grapple with Sparkman.)

Terra: Well, this is a puzzle. He's not a robot, so I'm not sure how to incapacitate him. All damage seems to manifest as him shedding glowing particles that quickly dissipate.

Sparkman.exe: Yow! That really hurts! Quit it! ...Hey, if I'm back in the real world, why am I still in my navi form?

Snakeman.exe: Our bodies are still back at home! We didn't come out the way we came in!

Drillman.exe: Don't delete anybody! We have no PET connections here. If our data loses cohesion, there's nowhere for it to go.

Sparkman.exe: Snake? W-what happens if WE'RE deleted?

Snakeman.exe: I don't want to find out!

Holzenbein: Neither of you will be so lucky. We have a lot of information to extract from you. Just hold them still for a few minutes while I run to my room to grab some restraining devices. (Exits.)

Sparkman.exe: Why does he have --

Snakeman.exe: I don't want to find that out either!

Drillman.exe: Enough of this! Over, Flame, think hard about what's going on now. You say you're still on our side, then you have to realize something's wrong.

Mercury X Overdrive: No. Everything's alright. We're right where we should be and we have every reason to believe Snakeman and Sparkman really are just fugitives that deserve what's coming to them.

Metalman.exe: You can't be this compliant with outside manipulation! You're rationalizing the situation as something good because someone is controlling you to feel that way! Can you really trust your own judgment right now?

Pluto X Flamechick: None of you understand. I wish I could make you hear what I hear, but...I mean, I don't want to worry Hoshiko, but...are...are we really doing the right thing?

Infernoman.exe: Come on, Gaia! Don't let this thing break up the Getsumen Corps!

Terra X Gaia: I have absolutely no concern for any of you. I'll step over as many of you as necessary to complete my newfound purpose.

Pluto X Flamechick: ...I...can't...Hyah! (Swipes at Gaia with her claws.) I'm sorry, it feels entirely wrong, but I think I need to stop you!

Terra X Gaia: Don't think! Your old life doesn't matter. Trust only in the Star Cross! (Points her Spark Chaser at Flame.)

Mercury X Overdrive: Urgh...no! There must be another way to solve the mystery. (Stabs Gaia in the back with her sword and begins draining energy.) We should return to the Cyberworld and re-establish communication with base! This place is starting to give me the creeps.

Terra X Gaia: NO! Grr...Terra! Close the CyberGate before anyone escapes!

Terra: Hmph. Holzenbein had better be bringing a lot of restraining devices. (Lets go of Sparkman to go operate the machine.)

Metalman.exe: Do your thing, bright boy! (Throws a Metal Blade that arcs around and slices into Gekkoman's back, forcing him to let go of Sparkman as well.)

Sparkman.exe: Finally! You mean this? (Turns around and batters Gekko with Spark Bombs.)

Drillman.exe: (Having released Snakeman by drilling through Gaia's vines.) I think he meant the thing where you paralyze the bad guys so they can't trap us here! We'll deal with the zombie!

Gekkoman.exe: GRAAGHHH!! (Slashes wildly at Drillman and Metalman as they close in and pummel him with fists and drills. The accumulated damage finally catches up with him and he quickly explodes into dusty black pixels that vanish into the ether.)

Bitman.exe: Boss! No!

Poseidonman.exe: Curses! We were too late... Grab Gaia and let's get out of here!

Terra X Gaia: (Too weakened by Overdrive's sword to resist getting scooped up by Infernoman) Nooo! We have to stay here!

Terra: That you can, as soon as I--

Sparkman.exe: Nope! (Stuns Terra with a Spark Shot, allowing the Getsumen Corps to escape through the doorway.)

Metalman.exe: Ready to go?

Mercury X Overdrive: Um...Having second...or third thoughts...

Sparkman.exe: Nope! (Shocks Overdrive and Flamechick for good measure) Toss 'em through!

(The AXE members take their teammates back through the portal.)

Snakeman.exe: Okay, I wish I could dig up more dirt on the Council while we're here, but right now nothing's more important than smashing this lab and keeping 'infinite power' out of their hands.

Sparkman.exe: If we break this machine now, won't we be stuck in these forms?

Snakeman.exe: Yeah, probably!

Sparkman.exe: Won't we also be stuck here in the heart of enemy territory with slim chance of escape?

Snakeman.exe: Hm, point. Okay, those bombs you got have a delayed burst, right? We can get through the portal just before they fry this thing.

(Just then, the door to the room opens and Holzenbein, along with Trio and a cadre of security bots carrying assorted ropes, chains, and leather straps begin to pile in.)

Holzenbein: Hey, where did the girls go?!

Trio: Mechanical Maniacs. You will not escape this time!

Sparkman.exe: Aaaaaaa!! Will you all just chill out for five seconds! (Slams his electrodes together. creating a blinding, paralyzing SparkWave that leaves everyone else in the room twitching on the floor...Snakeman included.)

Sparkman.exe: Gotta work on on the friendly fire with this form! Uhh...Okay. They're all gonna recover in seconds and I don't have time to recharge and set up those bombs, so... (Boots Snakeman's jar through the portal.) Let the bards sing of my heroism for ages to come! (Haphazardly stabs the machine with his electrodes, frying the internal components with whatever energy he can muster.) Longform heavy metal if at all possible! (The recovering security bots overwhelm him just as the machine explodes.)

(Back in the Cyberworld, the doorway disappears.)

Snakeman.exe: Hnnh...Spark? Oh, crap.

Terra X Gaia: This isn't over, you fools! The gathering WILL commence!

Mercury X Overdrive: Damn it, she's right... I want it to happen, too...whatever it is...

Metalman.exe: Half our team is compromised. We're going to need backup.

Snakeman.exe: Yeah...me too...

To be continued...

Cast:

Leon as .....
Sparkman
Raijin as .....
Snakeman
Psycho Magnet as .....
Needlegal
Ben as .....
Hardman
    Nightmare as .....
Topman
Lennon as .....
Geminiman
Sheriff (Kassidy) Mags as .....
Magnetman
Gauntlet as .....
Shadowman

Affiliates

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E-Can Factory
MMAyla
MM BN Chrono X
MM PC Website
Protodude's RM Corner
Reploid Research Lavatory
RM AMV Station
RM EXE Online
RM EXE Zone
RM:Perfect Memories
Sinister Six
Sprites INC