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Chapter 5


The Test


The meteor shower only lasted for a few second, but it seemed like hours to the robots under the cars. They crawled out from under the wreckage and gasped, almost simultaneously. The entire block was totaled: the cars they used as cover were now unrecognizable pieces of scrap metal, the street was pockmarked with craters, and--lying in the middle of it all--was Zero, still as death. "Zero!" X and Iris cried at the same time as they ran to their fallen friend. They knelt beside him and examined his wounds. His chest, back, and helmet all were scorched severely, and he bled circulatory fluids openly. He was alive, however and was beginning to stir. He managed to get up to his knees, and took his helmet off to rub the back of his head. "Oooh," he groaned. "What hit me?...Felt like a semi truck!"

"The Astro Crush," Mega Man said casually. "Hurts like heck."

"Sure does," Zero agreed as he stumbled to his feet. Then he leaned against the building for support.

"Hey! Don't strain yourself too much!" X cried.

"X!!" Zero said in warning. Then he put on his helmet and activated the communicator. "Hey, Doc! We're done here; how're things over there?"

Dr. Cain's voice came over the miniature speakers in Zero's helmet. "We managed to drive them off, but we're keeping the teleportation-proof energy shield up, just in case."

"Sounds good to me," Zero agreed. "We're commin' on our bikes, then--and you won't believe what we're bringin' with us!" Zero then limped over to the hover cycles (They hadn't even suffered so much as a dent).

Protoman noticed that the 'cycles were still in top condition and asked, "How'd they survive Somethin' like THAT?"

Colonel grinned. "The shells of all the 'cycles are made of Triranium--maybe you heard of it?"

The name sounded slightly familiar to Protoman, but Mega Man knew that Triranium was a plasma resistant, ultra strong metal that Wily liked to use for armor plating on all of his major creations around all his various Skull Fortresses as well as the Forts themselves.

"Here's a problem," Zero said, atop his 'cycle. "We've got six robots and only four 'Cycles. What're we gonna do?"

Mega Man grinned. "That's no problem!" He turned to Rush and commanded, "Rush Cycle." Immediately Rush transformed into a motorcycle, of sorts, and Mega Man climbed aboard. "Now, all that leaves is Protoman..." he said.

"No problem," Iris exclaimed. "Prot can have my bike!" She then climbed on Zero's bike and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I wanted to ride like this on the way here, anyway." Mega Man and Protoman could tell by the silly grin on Zero's face that was what he wanted, too... Soon, the small band of robots was flying down the road to MHHQ.

***********

"How could you do something so STUPID?!?!" Wily was the one to say it, and it was directed at Sigma. "If we teamed up together and destroyed one enemy at a time, we would have been able to beat them! But, not only do you bring Mega Man and his infernal brother to this time period, but you also dropped them off right with your enemies. WHY!!???"

Sigma listened through it all patiently and when Wily was through, he answered, "So we can wipe out both of our enemies with one blow."

"Well, that last attempt didn't go very far!" Wily retorted.

"Wily, Wily, Wily," Sigma said as if lecturing a lovable, but stupid child, "That wasn't an attempt to destroy them, but rather a test of Mega Man's and Protoman's abilities and how well they might work with X and Zero. Now that I got a look at their particular styles, we can dispose of them any way we want--and with our very valuable captives' lives at stake, they wouldn't dream of attacking us, even if they did find the new Maverick base."

Sigma took a glance over to the far wall of the lab. Built into that wall was a large cage. Bass was leaning against the wall to the right of the cage, watching the argument with interest, and Treble seemed to sleep right in front of the cage. Inside the cage were the two captives Sigma was referring to--Dr. Light and Roll.

Bass noticed Vile on the opposite wall. Though he couldn't see his face through his helmet, Bass got the impression that he something was wrong with him. "This argument is over," Sigma finalized, "Come Vile...Doppler."

Vile glared at his commander-in-chief. "Not this time, pal. I need a little time to myself."

Sigma waved Vile off with a dismissive gesture. "Whatever. Come on Doppler!"

Sigma and Doppler were almost out one of the doors when Wily started yelling again. "Don't leave me! This isn't over yet, YOU HEAR ME? THIS IS NOT OVER!"

Sigma grinned at him. "I don't believe it is. But, I have more pressing business to attend to. Good bye." With that Sigma let the automatic door close behind him. Wily fumed for a moment before storming out the opposite door.

Bass grinned. "What a jerk! I love it when someone gets ol' Wily riled up," he muttered under his breath.

Roll put her hands against the bars of the cage and said, sarcastically, "If you hate 'im so much, why do you work with him?"

"Don't get any ideas, sister!" Bass replied. "I may hate the guy, but I hate your brother a lot worse! Got it?"

Bass was going to go on, but as he spun to look Roll in the face, something passed between them and stunned them both to silence. Finally Bass managed to turn his gaze away from Roll and mutter, "Oh, never mind!"

Then he noticed Vile exit the lab. "What's his problem?" Bass wondered silently. "Treble, keep an eye on these two for a while," he ordered. Treble just gave a growl that seemed to say, "I have been," before seeming to go back to sleep.

Roll scuffled to the back of the cell and sat next to Dr. Light. "What're you lookin' at?" she asked in response to the silly grin on his face.

"You like him, don't you?" he replied.

"What?! That creep?! C'mon Doc Light..."

Dr. Light grinned. "Roll, I know you and Rock better than some fathers know their human sons and daughters. There's not much you can hide from me."

Roll grew sheepish. "Yeah, I guess he is sorta cute..." she admitted.

Dr. Light's good mood seemed to darken instantly. "And I think he likes you, too," he sighed.

"How can you stand that...human?!" Doppler asked once they were away from the lab.

"Because he is a useful human..." Sigma answered. "At least for now."

"How is he useful?" Doppler went on. "He already finished your body!"

Sigma gave Doppler a look that seemed to bore a hole right through him. "That is none of your concern, Doppler. In any case, I have an assignment for you. I want you to develop a new Maverick Virus. One that can be caught as easily as the common cold. Just as incurable but far more permanent, got it?"

"Yes sir," Doppler mumbled dejectedly as Sigma stormed into his personal living quarters.

Sigma was greeted by Verangarde, his Reploid dog. "Down, boy," he commented. Sigma sat down at his personal surveillance equipment and flipped a switch. The central monitor flared to live and showed a large room with a large, half completed, headless robot body standing in the center. Sigma watched as Wily stormed in, sat at a set of computer equipment, and activated the immobile "arms" attached to the wall. These arms began working on the new body. "Once you are finished Wily," Sigma thought to himself, "You truly WILL BE finished."

Bass followed Vile out of the room and into a grungy sewer tunnel. "Hey, Vile what's up?" he asked when he finally caught up to him.

"Nothin'," Vile replied. "Now leave me alone!" Then he stormed off, leaving Bass staring down the hallway after him.

"He must be takin' Double's death harder than he's lettin' on," Bass thought. After a few seconds, he decided, "Aw, forget it! It's his problem..." Bass stopped suddenly when he heard a faint tugging at the back of his mind. Sure, it seemed to say, Whatever. Just admit it. You feel sorry for him! "You've got to be kiddin'!" Bass said aloud. "I'm Bass! I don't have feelin's of any kind for anybody!" The voice just patiently replied, And Roll? Bass stopped instantly.

Bass had fought this mental battle before; and he thought he won. That persistent little voice first made itself known way back to when he pulled his first con on Mega Man. Bass managed to push it away instantly and it never showed up again. Until recently. For some reason--ever since Bass became a Bioroid--the voice came back, more persistent than ever. Fighting this battle always put him in the mood to beat up the first thing that moved. Then, he saw Slash Beast and Neon Tiger strolling down the passageway. Bass grinned. "Perfect..."

********************

"Woah," Mega Man gasped.

X rode up next to him and asked, "Pretty cool, huh?"

The small band of robots were within sight of the Maverick Hunter Headquarters--better known as the "Hunter Tower." It was among the tallest skyscrapers in the city, with "Maverick Hunters" written across the top several floors in huge golden letters.

"Eat my dust!" Zero cried as he and Iris flew past the others on their bike.

X grinned. "Is that some kind of challenge?" he asked as he punched up the speed on his bike.

` Zero glanced back at his friend. "There's more than one kind of challenge?" he asked in reply.

"You're on!" Protoman cried as he flew after the Reploids, followed by Mega Man on Rush.

A short time later, the small group of robots were seated in Dr. Cain's den. In the center of the room was a small, rectangular table. Dr. Cain was sitting on a cushioned rocking chair at the head of the table. Lounging on an old, worn couch, were Protoman, Rock, and X. Rock and X were now wearing their street cloths, though Protoman was in his battle armor and appeared to be sleeping. Across the table the three robots, on a luv seat, were Zero and Iris. Both were wearing red tee-shirts and worn blue jeans and Iris was wearing an old Chicago Bulls baseball cap. Colonel wasn't there at all. He'd decided to help run the security systems.

"...And that's what happened." Rock concluded. "And when Prot and I arrived on the other end, Dr. Light and Roll weren't there anymore."

"That is strange," Dr. Cain replied. "I would guess that they were sent to another time or place. What makes me curious, though, is how can it be that three of the most influential people in history can be brought to the future without changing the time line."

"Wha'd'ya mean, Doc?" Zero asked.

"What I mean, Zero, is that if they came here, to our present, then there isn't any way they could have stayed behind, in their present, so history should have changed drastically, but it didn't. Assuming of course, that time travel were even supposed to be possible!"

"Don't look at me, Doc," Rock spoke up. "As far as I know, we came here by accident."

"Not by accident," Protoman suddenly said, surprising everyone except Rock. Nothing his brother did surprised him any more. Protoman then sat up and went on: "Rock, remember how much time he left for us to jump in? The only reason we're IN this time period is because Bass wanted us to be."

"But why would our enemies want us at a place where we could make allies with other people who could put them away?" Rock asked.

"It's just Sigma's way," Zero answered.

"Yeah," X spoke up, "Ever hear of the 'King's Gambit?'"

"The what?" Protoman asked.

"The King's Gambit," X answered. "In Chess. It's a strategy where one player seems to give his opponent the advantage, when in actuality he's settin' 'em up for the big fall."

Zero went on for X. "It's the way Sigma thinks. He's th' king, his top Mavericks are his Queen, Bishops, Knights, and Rooks, and everyone else in his army are Pawns."

Protoman sneered. "So what's that make us, Pogs?"

Rock rolled his eyes. "Alright, X, we told you our story, now it's your turn. I've noticed you get depressed every time I've mentioned Dr. Light's name. Now what's up with that?"

X gave him a sad smile. "Yeah, I guess I do owe you that much. I was created by Dr. Light."

"Huh?" Protoman and Rock asked together.

X grinned. "A long time ago. I don't remember everything, so I often wonder what kind of questions he could answer for me if I got to meet him just once. 'Why did he create me?' 'What happened to the original Mega Man?' and 'Did he make any other Reploids?' Of course you came here from several years before he created me, so he couldn't know. But still..." X grew silent.

After several seconds, Protoman addressed Zero. "Alright, pal. Now it's your turn."

"Huh," Zero gave Protoman a look of complete incomprehension.

"I saw somethin' in you ev'ry time Rocky here mentioned Bass and Dr. Wily. So c'mon, fess up!"

Zero was silent for a second. "Okay, okay, I'll tell ya. I...was created by Dr. Wily."

"WHAAAT?!?!?!" X cried. Everyone else stared at him in surprise. "Why didn't you tell me," X asked, hurt.

Zero caught the feeling in his voice and grew even more sober. "I didn't find out myself until last year, and even I don't know much about my past. Sigma seems to, though. Anyway, I do feel as if Bass is my big brother."

Silence.

After a moment, Dr. Cain spoke up. "Wily and Sigma. What a strange pairing."

Zero grinned. "Not necessarily, Doc. Sigma probably offered to help Wily to help him take over his time period in return for a new body, when, in reality, he'll be planning to kill Wily as his first victim before goin' for the entire human race."

Rock grinned himself. "While Wily is planning on double crossing Sigma when he gets what he wants."

"That's villains for ya," Protoman had to laugh.

Dr. Cain got up and started for the door with a yawn. "It's been a long day. I'm turning in." On his way out, he marveled again at how similar X and Mega Man looked. "One of the greatest heroes the world has ever known." he thought as he gazed at Rock. Then, leaning heavily on his cane, Dr. Cain started for his room.

Zero stood and stretched. "Well, I'm ready for some shut-eye myself," he said. Then he turned to Iris. "May I escort you to your room, my lady?"

Iris giggled and said, "You certainly may. Lead on." Then they strolled out.

"I'm off ta see if there's anything cool ta do around here," Protoman said as he stood up. "See ya Rocky." Then he too was gone.

Rock and X stood at approximately the same time. Rock spoke first. "Ya off ta bed?"

"Nah, I think I'll go on a quick patrol first. How 'bout you?"

"I dunno. I think I'll explore this place fer a while."

"Well, See ya."

Rock waved at X as they separated. "Yeah, see ya." Then he waited for a second before following his aperient "Older Self" out.

**************

X was fully armored once again as he flew down the street on his hover bike. He was so deep in thought he almost didn't wave at the two teens who were on standing at the corner.

One of the teens, a tall blond kid with glasses, turned to his companion. "Wow, did you see that?!"

The other teen, one with brown hair, replied, "Yeah, that was awesome!"

Then another robot in blue armor flew by on a red motorcycle that appeared to be a dog. The boys did a double take. The robot that flew by was supposed to have been destroyed for a good fifty years. "D,d,d,did you see that?" the blond boy said in shock.

"Yeah, let get outta here!"

Mega Man found himself sneaking around a building that looked like all it needed was a good push and it would collapse. Mega Man snuck as quietly as he could around one corner of the building with Rush right behind him. As he peered around the corner, he saw X at the boarded up door. As he watched in amazement, X flipped open a small panel in the wall and typed in some sort of entrance code. Within seconds, the rotting boards simply vanished and a shiny metal door slid open. "Well," Mega Man thought to himself, "maybe this place isn't so deserted, after all."

X went inside and Mega Man dashed toward the door and slid under it just before it closed. "Rush, are ya here?" he asked in the darkness and got a lick in response. "Good! Let's see what ol' X is up to, shall we?"

When Mega Man got to the end of the dark tunnel, he found himself in a large, high tech room, filled with glass cases containing robots. "Hey!" he cried in surprise. "This is the Robot Museum!"