Finally…it really did take too long for Rockman to return to Earth. But finally, after two years spent away retrieving the Andromeda’s controller, and mastering the power absorbed from the FM King, the planet was finally in sight. He could end its suffering, like he’d planned for so long.
Except…what was this pain he was feeling? It felt like his body was being rendered numb. If it wasn’t for the sheer power of the Andromeda Key, Rockman was sure he wouldn’t have been able to move. But even then, it was putting the key under a lot of stress trying to repel those effects, and he found himself drifting away from the Earth. Opening the Transer on his arm, he spoke, his voice coming out in a harsh crack.
“War-Rock…what is this? Can you tell?”
War-Rock didn’t talk much these days, not ever since the destruction of Planet FM. It was if he didn’t really want to register or feel what he was doing, resigning himself to just doing whatever Rockman wanted. Good for him. Holding onto emotions like that, well, didn’t it only lead to pain?
“It’s…that meteor, over there. That red substance it’s made of…it’s emitting crazy radiation. I don’t know what it is, but it definitely messes with denpa beings. And it looks like the meteor is also being attracted to Earth by something on it. Perhaps there’s something on Earth that’s controlling it...”
“Che. War-Rock…you’re not trying to postpone the destruction of Earth that we’ve been working towards for so long, aren’t you? Saying things like that…”
“No. I haven’t been able to stop you doing anything else, have I…? That’s just what I’m sensing. But if that thing’s even affecting the Andromeda Key, I doubt you can destroy Earth with that thing in the way. You’ll have to find some way of dealing with it, and the closest place to find hints is Earth.”
“Tch. Fine. Back down to Earth, it is…”
It looked like the planet would have to suffer for just a little longer. No matter.
The end would come soon enough.
King was not pleased that an intruder had managed to slip inside his secret base so easily. Such flaws in his security system could not be tolerated, especially not with that other organization vying for control of the world, that…Neo Mu Empire. What nonsense, relying on the past to rule the future! Obviously, if the Mu was destroyed, despite their supposed super-technology, then their legacy held mistakes that shouldn’t be repeated!
Then again, they did have some…useful technology. It made for excellent Crimson control, even if it did draw the ire of their people, especially that Solo child. Really, if he wasn’t so hellbent on vengeance on his organization, he’d have tried to draw away the boy himself. His alliance with the Neo Mu Empire was so shaky and could easily be broken, after all. Perhaps it was him that managed to get in? The ace of the Neo Mu Empire was one of the few he could expect to break in, after all.
When King arrived to check up on the security breach personally, as all proper leaders should (after all, he needed to be aware of any possible flaws in his personal hideout!), he found himself observing a heated battle between his own personal ace and…a young boy in blue?
“Ha! Do you think an imperfect Denpa-Henkan like yours can stand up to a real fight?! Are you that desperate? Battle Card: Radar Missile!”
King watched in shock as Acid Ace, one of his strongest children, was blasted away into one of the Crimson machine’s controls. His astonishment was only increased watching his child struggle to get up. An attack like that shouldn’t have caused that much damage. This meant that he was already struggling with previous injuries. How strong was this young boy? He couldn’t be any older than little Jack…
“Throwing yourself into an outmatched battle unnecessarily? I told you, I only wanted to look at it…” the opponent whined as he approached the fallen ace. “Honestly, that attachment of yours, look at what it got you. Unnecessary pain, trouble…that’s it.”
When King saw the blue child grab Acid Ace by the neck, he’d seen enough. He activated the Crimson Machine’s defense system. However, the intruder’s reaction forced his hand as well, as he had simply thrown Acid Ace up into the air and kicked him away, using his beaten body as a shield for the rapid fire that the machine was sending at him.
King couldn’t help but muse at how brutal and ruthless the child was as he shut off the defense system to save his own boy. Really, he’d have been the perfect soldier for him, if he wasn’t apparently an enemy. Time to activate the special defense measure, it seemed. With a snap of his fingers, the machine fired a beam of highly concentrated Crimson right at the boy. Whatever transformation he had on, the sheer amount of Crimson would surely destabilize him. Only Acid (when he wasn’t fused with Shidou) and Joker could stand up to that much and it was only due to their natural programming, made specifically to control and use Noise and Crimson. And indeed, it seemed to be working, with the way the boy was screaming in pain as he was rooted to the spot.
Then suddenly, it changed. His screams of pain started to become a roar of determination. His body began to move, the boy began to curl in on himself. Then, with a loud crack, the boy flung out his arms and dispelled the Crimson surrounding him with what looked to be a good deal of effort. If he hadn’t managed to call Joker to him in time to block the backlash, King, as well as Heartless behind him, would have had to deal with a severe case of Noise poisoning.
“Sir!” Speaking of Heartless, it looked like she had managed to finally procure a reading on him. “This child, the density of his Denpa…it’s not normal, sir! There shouldn’t be any way that so much could be packed into his small body. And he seems to exhibit a great deal of Noise resistance, as well!”
How? How had this child managed to throw off such a great deal of Noise? Did he have some means of controlling it as well? King was lucky to have such a deep well of fortitude and resolve, because only that would have been able to mask the panic he was feeling due to both those thoughts and the rather unsettling smirk that the intruder was now aiming at him.
“Heh. Impressive, I suppose. But that was nothing compared to that red meteor…”
Immediately, King returned the boy’s words with a sharp glare and a scowl.
“What do you know of Meteor G?”
“Oh! You named it! How cute.” And the child had the nerve to start giggling. “I guess that proves that you really are attached to it. I really did wonder, after all with all this strange substance collected, it seemed natural to assume it was connected to that meteor somehow. This place has the highest concentration of it in the whole world! Ahh, this really is the best place to find information on it, isn’t it?”
Immediately King was angry at the clear disrespect the intruder was showing him, but it was soon replaced with confusion.
“You mean to tell me you are able to repel and resist grievous amounts of Crimson, and yet you don’t even know what it is?”
“Crimson? That’s a simple name.”
“Foolish child…” King massaged his temples. Now that he wasn’t fighting, it was apparent that the boy wasn’t an actual enemy, per se, but merely curious and inquisitive…and had the power to find out what he wanted. Perhaps he could prove to be a valuable ally yet...
“Yes. Crimson is what Meteor G is made up of. Crimson itself is made up of Noise, which is waste product from our Denpa technology. However, paradoxically enough, if one breaks up a crystal of Crimson, it releases much more Noise than what was used to make it. This strange quality of Crimson actually makes it as a viable, yet dangerous, tool to control Noise with. This is why I have collected so much of it. I plan to take control of Meteor G, you see.”
“Aahh, so that’s how it is. Really…” The boy looked up, one side of his mouth quirked into an odd smile. “I do have a bit of a grudge against that red meteor…Meteor G, it was?” And then he scowled, still looking upwards. “I will never forget that sensation of numbness I felt when I passed near it. Making me feel powerless like that, being unable to achieve my goals…” The boy looked directly at King, his face relaxing into that same crooked smile from before.
“But you really don’t have nearly enough of this Crimson stuff, do you? I can tell, even with my small exposure to Meteor G…it really is massive, isn’t it? I would feel better, though, if it was under control…so if you want, I could help you.”
That was far too easy. He really was just a curious, inquisitive child, despite the obvious power he held and the malicious air around him. But, just to make sure the boy really was sincere…a little reluctance, make the child press his offer.
“I do not really see what assistance you could give, considering how little you know…”
“Oh, I’m a fast learner, trust me.”
“So you claim. If you really do wish to help me, however, you must swear loyalty to me and my own goals. My operations are…delicate. I will not have some interloper expose them.”
“Ah, you had plans for Meteor G?”
“Of course. One does not wish to control such a thing without a plan for it, hm?” This time, King merely raised an eyebrow at the child’s amused giggling. “Meteor G’s power and potential is vast, child. The human race as a whole is too stupid and foolish to realize it, instead they plot ways to destroy it or flee from it like scared animals. The people, no, this world…it needs a new ruler. One that will be able to brandish that power of the red shooting star, and claim it as their own to herald a new era.”
“And that leader would be you, is it?” The boy giggled yet again.
“How astute of you, child. Will you aid me in my endeavors, or will you prove to be yet another obstacle?”
“Hmm…” The boy seemed lost in thought. “Well, I actually do agree with you on that point, sir. Humans fixate on the wrong things, and the world really could use the…change…” The boy smirked. “After all, I did have my reasons for choosing to leave Earth for so long…I guess that settles it, hm?”
The boy put a hand to his chest and bowed.
“My name is Rockman. I think we’ll get along just fine, sir.”
Heartless sighed to herself as she continued her own personal investigations. This new arrival into Dealer could have potentially put her plans into jeopardy. Before, it would have been easy to betray King when the time came. Joker was his only truly loyal pawn, after all, and he could easily be overpowered if Jack, Ace, and Tia put their minds to it. She was fairly sure she could have convinced them to, in time.
But now, a new piece had come into play. This Rockman character…did he also have ulterior motives? Or would he end up being truly loyal to King? If he did, there would be no escape. She knew that much.
She needed to know his motives. So she came to check up on him personally.
At the moment, the boy was settling in his new quarters. He was apparently recovering from the upgrade from a Transer to a Hunter VG. How long had he been away from the Earth, she wondered, if he had completely missed out on the Star Carrier upgrade in between? It was apparent that he had been human at one point, if he had possession of something like that. But he hadn’t introduced himself with a human identity, and when he had been told that upgrading to a new terminal was necessary if he really did want to study Noise, and to be able to access Earth’s Wave World without having to self-power his now defunct and outdated Transer (what power! To be able to self-power such a device without significantly draining his fighting skills, what sort of denpa stores did he have?), he expressed disgust at having to reverse his transformation, and requested privacy to do so. Had the boy truly spent all that time up in space, and never having undone his Denpa-Henkan once? Was he really truly human, now? She braced herself as she knocked politely on the door.
“Rockman-sama?” Her voice was demure and quiet, the perfect tone for addressing a superior. The tone that she had perfected, working for King all this time. The tone that she would use to get the information she wanted.
He sounded tired.
“Do you mind if I come in?”
“Mmm. Do what you want.” And so she opened the door.
“Pardon my intrusion.” Rockman certainly looked different now, what with the Transer on his arm having been changed for a Hunter VG, and his armor changed slightly to match. It was a sleeker, more efficient design.
“No, it’s fine. No need to be so formal.” She felt a little guilty for coming in once she spotted the bags under his eyes. When he wasn’t in the midst of battle and flashing insane grins at her leader, he actually did look like a small child, and he certainly acted polite enough. “It’s a little too tiring at the moment, to keep up appearances like this.” There was a weak chuckle at that.
“I assume the upgrade has worn you out, Rockman-sama?”
“Mm, a little. Who knew that not eating proper food for so long would make you feel so tired, ah?” The boy giggled, apparently oblivious to Heartless’ alarm.
“Not eating? Then, how-“
“Ah. Denpa beings, and that includes Denpa-humans too, can feed of other Denpa sources for nourishment. I’ve been absorbing the ambient energy from stars as I pass by them while travelling. You could say I’ve been eating stardust this whole time, ahahaha…”
“How is that filling or nourishing at all? You’re still part human…”
“I’m not really sure. I guess my body’s just kind of…adapted to it? I don’t think I could eat normal food again now anyways, my body’s not used to it…smelling it makes me a little sick, actually. Denpa isn’t half bad, once you get used to it!”
Heartless felt somewhat terrible for those feelings of apprehension she had entertained previously. With those words, and the way he was swinging his legs back and forth, it really looked like he was just a young child with too much power in his hands and was changed for the worse because of it. What was he doing here, of all places?
“But really, you don’t need to be so formal, like I told you. You can drop the pretenses.”
“…I don’t understand, Rockman-sama.”
“Don’t you?” And the boy grinned. It was a childish one to be sure, but she felt her apprehension return tenfold regardless.
“You like being here about as much as I do.”
Her eyes widened. How-
“Ah, sorry, did I scare you? It’s just…it’s pretty obvious, you know? When you looked at Mr. King, called him ‘sir,’ I felt waves of disgust coming off you. You really don’t like him, do you?”
“H…how can you…” For the first time in what felt like forever, Heartless felt her disguise slipping. She was one of the finest agents the world had to offer. She could slip into shady organizations in the blink of an eye, fit in as if she was always there. Her emotional control was the finest a human could make it. No one, not even the ever-loyal Joker, had suspected her. So how had she been found out by a young child, of all people?
“Oh, when you’re in denpa form for as long as I have, you learn to sense things, you know? I’ve been a denpa being for so long that it feels like I’m more…attuned to the waves around me, I guess? So I could sense the distressed waves your body was giving off. Don’t worry though! I don’t think Mr. King knows! So it can be our little secret, if you want!”
Heartless could do nothing but nod at first. So, at the very least, Rockman was not loyal to Mr. King, and didn’t seem like he would become so in the future. It took her a few moments to compose herself before she could ask her next question.
“So, if you don’t like Mr. King, then why…?”
“Oh, he’s useful. I really didn’t like passing by Meteor G, you know? It hurt! And I want to go around the universe…I want to see it, you see, and I can’t do that if there’s more of this Noise stuff out there hurting me…so I really need to learn how to control it, or at least how to resist it better. That’s why I’m doing this.”
“So…do you truly not…”
“Mmm, well I don’t completely agree with Mr. King. The man’s obviously insane, if I might say so. He keeps talking about himself like he’s above other people when he’s surrounded by people infinitely more powerful than him. Does he really think he can control something like Meteor G without somebody else trying to kill him? But he’s a good resource, so I’ll learn all I can from him.”
“…I see. So, if theoretically, someone else did end up attempting to…unseat…him…”
“He’s asking for it, really. I don’t think he has anything protecting him except emotionally controlling his people and that can be broken or faked. You’re proof enough, aren’t you?”
Heartless couldn’t help but chuckle.
“This is my codename for a reason, child.”
“It fits. Anyways, I can’t say I’ll help you if you ever do try something. But I definitely won’t be going against you. That’s okay, right?”
“Better than I dared to hope for.” Heartless bowed to him.
“Thank you for your time, Rockman-sama.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. And I told you, no need to be formal!”
Joker really never had anyone look up to him before.
It was always him either being feared due to his power, or being regarded as a tool. He just wanted to use his power freely…that was all he wanted. But his creators at WAZA sealed that away. If Mr. King had not removed the locks on his Finalization, he would never have been able to live under such a suffocating presence. He was eternally grateful to Mr. King, ever since the man had given him and his brother, Acid, a purpose again. His purpose was to use that power whenever he could. To access that eternal power of Meteor G’s server, and to allow Mr. King to unleash Meteor G’s power on the undeserving world. But even then, Mr. King had always had a distant, working relationship with him. Oh, he doted on him, like he did the rest of his people, but there was always an implicit understanding between them that, as a Wizard, he should not expect more than the purpose he was given. And while he was grateful, he sometimes resented that he could not be allowed to feel more.
Then little Rockman came around, and Joker found himself assaulted with all sorts of questions. Meteor G had powers? How could Joker access them? Why was he made to access the meteor like that, and then discarded, he could have been a huge help! Was it something Rockman could learn? Could Joker tell him things about Noise and Crimson that the others couldn’t, since Acid was still damaged (sorry about that, but it was self defense, honest!), and he and Acid must have had some special understanding of it since they used it so much?
It was strange, being looked up to as a sort of mentor. But Rockman did have a lot of potential in him, and teaching him the ways of Noise was a way for him to exercise his power, so Joker didn’t mind too much. Over time, Joker even found Rockman’s curiosity and willingness to learn somewhat gratifying. It was almost like another purpose.
Rockman could only do so much on his own, however, and King would only permit Rockman brief glimpses of the Noise Program, as he was still new to the group and trust would take time to earn. So over time, their sessions became less about actually using Noise and more trying to deconstruct the Noise Program on their own in an attempt to learn as much as possible. While the sessions were no less gratifying, it ended up being somewhat depressing seeing the program that made up his existence in the middle of being taken apart, even if it was only theoretically. It made having a purpose less meaningful if he thought about his entire being made up of being nothing but programming.
“So the main core components of this program were done by specified coding by WAZA scientists, and yet it was able to integrate super ancient technology from the Murian continent…amazing, that’s really flexible! Or perhaps we’ve only just started rediscovering old theories and principles…”
“Mmn, that’s correct.”
“You haven’t talked much these days. Is something wrong?”
“Are you sure?” And Rockman put down his notes, looking up at the big Wizard. “Because ever since we started talking about the Noise program instead of fighting with it, you don’t have much to say…I thought you’d know lots, Joker-san.”
“Ah…I do. It’s just…disconcerting to talk about it, boy.” Why was he saying this? He didn’t even admit this sort of thing to King…
“Discon…it makes you feel bad talking about it? Why…?” And then Rockman’s eyes widened. “Ah! You’re made up of the Noise Program, aren’t you? Talking about it is like talking about your body all the time…sorry, I guess that was kind of insensitive of me, asking you to help take yourself apart like that…”
“No, it’s no problem.” And Joker found himself patting the young boy on the head. “Using this program gives me a purpose, so I don’t mind figuring out more about myself. I’ll get used to it, eventually.”
Rockman laughed a little as he found his hair being ruffled by the much larger hand, but then he looked up at Joker with a completely serious expression.
“Mm. I just don’t want to exist for the sake of existing, child. I want a purpose. I want my life to mean something…”
“Can’t you just do what you want, Joker-san?”
“It’s not that simple, boy. Humans put so much value into what they do, every day. Everything to them is important. I have nothing like that, I only have this ability to control Noise and little else. So I want this to be important, hence why I serve Mr. King…”
“…Stupid! That’s really stupid!” Rockman’s voice was uncharacteristically angry, and Joker found himself surprised by the sudden vehement exclamation. His face retained its stoic expression, however, and Joker only raised an eyebrow.
“What did you say, child?”
“I said, that’s stupid, Joker-san! Why do you want to be a human?”
“I never said…”
“Yeah, but you meant it! Everything you just said: Humans do this, they do that, I want to do that, I don’t have that…it’s really stupid, Joker-san. Humans put so much meaning into things, but in the end all it does is bring them pain. They give their lives meaning when they don’t need to. By making everything important, when they lose it…it really hurts, Joker-san.”
Rockman looked away, and then down, his face contorting into an almost ugly scowl.
“I turned back into a human when I upgraded my Transer…it really hurt, Joker-san. My body wanted food, it wanted water, it wanted sleep, it put all this meaning on something that wouldn’t even get rid of it permanently, put meaning on something that I would have needed constantly if I was still a full human. Upgrading only took a few minutes, but those few minutes were the most painful…the worst pain I ever had to experience. Your body and mind constantly screaming at you `it’s wrong, it’s wrong, go fix it now,’ and it’ll do that even when you can’t…I don’t like it.”
There were tears glinting at the edges of Rockman’s eyes. Joker had never seen the little one lose his composure like this.
“T-the emotions are even worse, Joker-san. They keep coming back at the worst times, and they make everything feel even worse…even when I don’t want to feel them, even when they would just hurt me, they’re here, see?” He sniffed, and wiped at the corners of his eyes, but that only let the tears escape. “Humans always feel things like this in the end…it’s not worth it, Joker-san, being a human. You want all the most worthless things, and insist on getting them, and you hurt yourself doing all this work to get them, and then they’re inevitably gone, and you’re sad.”
Rockman gave up the pretense of hiding his tears, and looked up at Joker with an almost angry, despairing expression.
“You’re so lucky, Joker-san! You don’t have to feel these kinds of things, because you’re not a human! I don’t want to be a human anymore! I don’t want to feel these kinds of things! They only bring pain and suffering! I don’t want to turn back, never! I want to be like you!”
Joker was speechless as Rockman began crying again, his hands fruitlessly attempting to wipe his own tears away. He did nothing but place his hand on top of the child’s head, wordlessly supporting him even though he was thinking. Rockman’s words…they had some truth to them. How much anguish had his own search for a purpose brought him? The anger he felt at the WAZA scientists…it only made him burn inside. The working relationship he had with King…unfulfilling, left him feeling empty.
Perhaps this search for a purpose wasn’t worth it. Perhaps it would be better to just use his abilities because he could, not because he wanted to. It would certainly make things much easier.
“S…sorry…t-this isn’t like me…”
“…It’s alright, child.”
They didn’t get any more work done that day.
Rockman was his normal self by the next day, obnoxiously sardonic and clearly disrespectful to everyone he met other than King, Joker, and Heartless, and Joker couldn’t help but wonder how much of the emotions he had seen displayed before yesterday were faked. How much had this child suppressed or eliminated his emotions in order to not be human anymore. How much being a human had hurt him up to this point.
And he wondered if what he witnessed yesterday was the last shred of Rockman’s humanity finally breaking.
Tia and Jack’s association with Rockman was…strained, at best. He had broken into their secret lair with little to no trouble, and had grievously injured Shidou, who was still recovering from their battle even now, a few weeks later. Tia hated seeing her secret lover in pain every time she came to visit him, and she knew that the battle had seemed to trigger some sort of painful revelation in his heart…and for the life of her, she couldn’t figure it out! She hated that he was hurting and she didn’t know how to help him.
And yet, instead of being given orders to take him out, Rockman was instead accepted into their group! Granted, despite his strength he was still lowest on the pecking order, but with the blatant disrespect he was allowed to get away with, and the freedom he was allowed…it was maddening! Why did King trust such a guy? Was he that desperate for strength that he would take on such a vicious child? Did he really want to one-up the Neo Mu Empire so badly?
Tia made sure to confront Rockman the very next day with her feelings on the matter. Jack came along as well, if only because it was rare to see his sister so immediately hostile with another person to the point that she’d lose control of her emotions in such a way. Then again, since that Shidou guy was involved…
His response to her outburst didn’t help the situation, either.
“Oi, he attacked me first. I just wanted to take a closer look at the machine! It was just self-defense, honest!”
“Went a little far for self-defense, didn’t you?”
“Well, he kept escalating it! Jeez…” Rockman rolled his eyes, muttering pointedly under his breath. “Ridiculous…letting your emotions cloud your judgment like that….”
“What was that?”
“Sis, he does have a point. This isn’t like you…”
“And since when did you try to be the reasonable one, eh, Jack?”
“Oi, Tia, I think we’ve got something else to worry about here.”
“Virgo’s right, Jack. Lookit what that kiddy’s got!”
“What is it, Corvus?” Jack snapped as the orange and black crow-like alien materialized himself next to him. Tia resumed her normal cold and emotionless manner as the woman-like alien materialized next to her.
“That’s it, isn’t it, in your chest? The FM-ian’s ultimate weapon, the Andromeda Key?” Virgo demanded, anger in her voice.
While Tia and Jack both showed some degree of shock at the revelation, Rockman merely raised an eyebrow.
“You recognize it?”
“Of course we do! What do you take us for, idiots?! There’s no way we wouldn’t recognize something from back home!” Corvus growled.
“Home?” Rockman narrowed his eyes. He had a suspicion, but War-Rock’s tired voice pinging from the Hunter confirmed it.
“Those two are Virgo and Corvus, kid. The most wanted criminals from Planet FM. They had already fled the planet some time before FM started its attack on Earth in order to escape charges. Guess this is where they were hiding out.”
“Ah…so there were survivors. Pity.”
“Survivors?! You mean to say-those rumors we heard as we traveled to this planet-was it really-” Virgo spluttered.
“Aah. I destroyed Planet FM.” Rockman chuckled softly, even as both Virgo and Corvus started shouting various expletives at him. “Maa, maa, why are you so bothered about it? You couldn’t go back there anyways, not without experiencing more misery. You didn’t need to worry about a connection with that planet anymore. It shouldn’t bother you at all. Best to cut off all ties with it, eh?”
“Why?!” Virgo shouted at him, and both Tia and Jack were both shocked and unsettled at how little the younger boy seemed to regard their anger. Instead, Rockman merely shrugged.
“I had the Andromeda Key, so I might as well have gone after the controller, right? Cepheus was a weak-willed fool…he wasn’t using the power properly.”
“Damn straight he was,” Corvus couldn’t help but chuckle against his will. He stopped when Virgo glared at him, and Rockman took it as an opportunity to continue talking.
“Besides, War-Rock had his own grudge against the FM King…I might as well oblige my partner, right?” Rockman chuckled, even as Virgo and Corvus reeled back in shock at the name.
“War-Rock…Rockman…I knew it! You really are fused with that traitor, aren’t you?” Virgo demanded, to which Rockman only responded with a shrug and a smirk.
“He-ey, Lil’ Rocky!” Corvus chuckled. “Remember those old days? Never could beat us, could you? Why ain’t ya getting out here and showing yourself, huh? Scared?”
“Maa, maa, don’t bully him, you two. War-Rock’s always tired these days…ne,” And here, Rockman looked down at his Hunter. “Do you really not want to talk to old friends?”
War-Rock materialized himself at those words. The Hunter’s upgrades had affected him as well, making his posture much more upright. But he did look tired, even faded, somehow. His denpa waves were not that vibrant neon green they had used to be, instead they had paled to a much lighter shade, as well as the rest of his blue armored body. Bright green glowing rings adorned his wrists and neck, and Virgo and Corvus wondered what this change in their partner meant.
“There was a time when I’d retaliate to your words with anger, try to fight you, maybe.” And War-Rock shook his head.
“But now, I’ll just say one thing and one thing only. Tread carefully around us. Please.” And with that, he dematerialized without another word.
Virgo and Corvus were left to ponder the strange changes in that wimpy yet plucky alien they had come to enjoy picking on back home while Rockman spoke.
“Well, you heard him. You see, I’m not afraid to do what I need to do to achieve my goals. Whether it’s fighting you, working with you, or listening to that fool of a man’s commands…I’ll do it. Understood?”
“I’m surprised you would admit that you think of Mr. King as a fool so easily,” Tia responded, raising an eyebrow. His resolve was something to admire, at least.
“Yeah, you should be careful what you say around here, newbie!” Jack sneered, only to have Rockman return the gesture.
“Oh, and am I to assume you don’t feel the same? What a shame. I thought you two were intelligent.”
“What was that?!” Jack roared, ready to charge at Rockman. He was only stopped by his sister’s hand on his shoulder.
“If you don’t think highly of Mr. King, why do you remain here?”
“He’s useful. He’s got something that I need, and I plan on getting it. I assume you two feel the same way, or surely you would have tried to attack me by now.”
That got a smirk out from both Tia and Jack.
“Well, what do you know,” Jack grinned.
“Indeed. It does seem like we all have similar viewpoints on our situation.”
“Mmhm. So, there’s no need to be hostile, eh? We can get along!” Rockman chuckled.
“That really depends,” Jack smirked. “So, Rockman. You say you’re willing to do whatever it takes to reach your goal, eh?”
“So then…how do you feel about mass destruction?” Tia widened her eyes at how blunt Jack was being, if not about their exact plans, then the ideas behind them. She was even more shocked when Rockman responded with a twisted smirk that rivaled Jack’s own.
“Oh, Jack…that’s one of my favorite words.”
Shidou had never felt so helpless before. He thought that his current situation was bad enough. Being stuck in Dealer, with no hope for the future...what could he do? Dealer was currently still underground, which meant that the Satella Police and WAZA were unaware and unprepared for the threat they posed. And there didn’t seem to be any force that could stand up to them, so long as they held the threat of Crimson...other than the Neo Mu Empire, who was just as bad.
At one point, he had fancied himself a hero. At first, working with Mr. King, doing everything the man told him to…it was liberating. He was working for his father, his savior, and doing anything for him would have been fine…
But growing up now, seeing him for what he really was…he felt trapped. He had seen firsthand the things his father had done, the threat he now posed. He had been with them for too long. But there wasn’t anywhere else he could go. If only the world had a hero who the forces could rally around.
He had thought he could be that hero once. Snatch away Tia and Jack and free them as well, then call everyone under his name and lead them against Dealer. But his Denpa-Henkan with Acid was imperfect, and he could never convince Tia and Jack to leave. If he couldn’t do that, how could he even…
And now, this new person had come. Rockman. Even though he was a more skilled fighter, Rockman had the sheer power necessary to throw off and resist his attacks long enough to outlast him. Only Joker had that sort of power, as Acid’s ‘brother’ of sorts, the only other denpa being made to fully draw on Meteor G’s power. Having another fighter on par with him and Joker on their side…it really made Shidou feel helpless. It didn’t help that the boy’s emotional state was…questionable, at best, judging by what he had seen during the fight.
Rockman had been constantly laughing at Acid Ace’s efforts, took emotional potshots, and struck at vulnerabilities whenever possible. The boy was a ruthless fighter, and seemed to lack a moral compass as well. The fact that he had somehow managed to work his way into Dealer despite having attacked him and blatantly intruded the base was even more worrisome. What did he have planned, how could he have so effectively convinced King to spare his wrath?
Well, speak of the devil. Rockman was poking his head into Shidou’s room right now. “P-pardon my intrusion…”
“No…come in.” Perhaps this was a good time to finally get a lock on where Rockman stood.
“Ah…I just really wanted to apologize. For, um, earlier. I just really get into the fight, so I kind of got…um, carried away…”
He really did look like a bashful little kid.
“Nah, it’s fine. We’re all on the same side now, aren’t we? Come in. We can start over, no biggie.”
“U…un!” And Rockman came to sit in a chair next to Shidou’s bed, constantly swinging his legs back and forth once he was seated. “So, you’re Shidou-san, right?”
“Aah, that’s it. And you’re Rockman.”
“So, Rockman, what made you really want to stay, then? Not many people would take up on King’s…generous offers.” No one ever accused Shidou of beating around the bush.
“Surprising, isn’t it?” And Rockman giggled. “I’m just really interested in Noise and Crimson, Shidou-san. It hurts being around it, you know? I want to be able to travel around the universe safely, and I can’t do that with Noise being around…”
What an innocent reason for getting involved in such a terrible gang.
“…Rockman. Do you really have to come here to do such a thing? There have to be other places that you could learn of Noise, and Crimson, isn’t there?”
“Mmm, I guess. It’s all over the world. But this place is where there’s the most of it. And King wants to take control of Meteor G, which is what is giving me trouble. So this is the best place for me to achieve my goals, even if I don’t really like King all that much…”
There it was. He admitted it. So easily as well…so perhaps, just maybe…
“What do you think about being able to leave?”
“You have that strength, Rockman. You don’t need to tie yourself down here. You can leave whenever you want. You should get out of here, before it’s too late. Before you tie yourself down. You, me, Tia, and Jack…we could all get out of here, together.”
“Is this some sort of joke, Shidou-san?”
“No…no, it really isn’t. This is something I’ve wanted to do for so long…but I can’t do it. I can’t leave. I’m not strong enough, not on my own.”
“And Tia and Jack don’t want to go either, Shidou-san.”
“Mmhm. I don’t really want to leave, Shidou-san. Like you said, I can leave whenever I want. I’m not so weak as to let myself be…tied down by anything.” The boy smiled at that, and while it was a gentle expression, it left Shidou feeling unsettled.
“…Do you really believe that?”
“Of course! You’re free to try on your own, though, Shidou-san. Of course, if you do…”
“If I do?”
“Well, you see, it’s really all to my advantage that Dealer keeps being underground. If you get away, you’re a security risk.” And then Rockman giggled, as if he was telling a rather interesting joke.
“If you run away, I’m going to have to kill you, Shidou-san! Of course, I don’t really want to do that, ‘cause that would make Tia sad. It looks like she’s attached to you, anyway. Dunno why, but that’s how it is!”
Shidou could only stare as Rockman continued to giggle like a young child. How could he talk about things so easily, while keeping up such an innocent face? It wasn’t natural. It wasn’t human.
Rockman was a legitimate threat. He had waited too long to run. He should have tried, instead of waiting for a hero that would have never come. Now he really was trapped.
The laughing fit eventually ended, and Rockman stood up and stretched, sighing happily.
“Well, I’m glad we could clear the air between us, Shidou-san. No hard feelings for earlier? We’re on good terms now, right?”
“…A…aah. We are.”
“Great!” Rockman clapped his hands together and smiled. “Well, I hope we can talk again soon! This was a nice chat!”
Rockman chuckled silently to himself as he worked on his own blueprints for a Noise Program based on the notes he had cobbled together with Joker. Dealer was full of nothing but traitors and fools. It would be easy to get what he needed, and keep the group apart so that they wouldn’t be a threat. When everyone had their own agenda, it was easy to please all of them.
Oh, he didn’t lie to them at all. He did think the world could use a bit of destruction and chaos. He really did want to see the rest of the universe. And he really did want to learn how to control Noise. He just didn’t tell them why. They didn’t care to ask. They simply assumed he felt the same as they did, saw what they wanted to see. Stupid people and their foolish expectations…what pain it would bring them in the future.
It was a shame, though, that it was taking longer than he hoped to master Crimson. He was missing a vital piece of the puzzle. They only had a few samples of Murian technology, too few to even think about tinkering with without worrying about the risk of losing them. Only King was permitted to even handle them. It was a shame, too, as it really seemed like they would need it, if they were going to control something as vast as Meteor G. If only more Murian relics would surface…but even if they did, the Neo Mu Empire would have likely gotten to them first.
The Neo Mu Empire…they were the real hitch in his plans. King had often lamented that they had no real means on knowing what they were up to, as they were just as secretive as Dealer and so were just as difficult to find.
Still…now that he thought about it, perhaps he could come up with an idea to deal with that pesky group as well…it could only be to his advantage, right? Maybe he could find something to further his own studies while dealing with the obstacles they presented.
It was something to think about for the future, Rockman supposed.
[A/N]: Blugh, unexpected feels EVERYWHERE. Also my reasoning for Ace never leaving Dealer in this verse is that there is no heroic actions by Rockman to inspire him. After all, due to the second game's events, Rockman becomes world-famous as a hero. In this verse, without that extra inspiration, Shidou doesn't leave Dealer and stays on out of helplessness and an inability to really get over his attachment to his father figure. Or, I assume that King was a father figure to Ace, anyway, the same as he was to Tia and Jack via his secret orphanages-to-raise-children-soldiers-