“Boy! What on Earth have you been doing with Joker this whole time?”
Ah. It seemed that King had finally stumbled onto some of his notes on the Noise Program that Rockman had…accidentally…left lying around.
“A-ano, since you wouldn’t let me look at the Noise Program, I wanted to see what I could do on my own…”
“Don’t try that cute act with me, child. I know how vicious you can be. What are you planning?!”
King sighed as Rockman only started giggling. The boy really did have no sense of respect. Then again, he apparently treated Heartless, Joker, and himself with more respect than the rest of Dealer. The biting remarks that he and Jack were heard to exchange, in particular, left him wondering where either of them learned such language. And it wasn’t as if the boy wouldn’t answer. He would, eventually. King just had to be patient.
“I’m not really planning anything, King. I’m just too curious for my own good. That Crimson Machine’s room really unsettles me, you know? My head buzzes whenever I’m in there, there’s just so much Crimson there! And that got me thinking that it would be nice if we didn’t have to use so much Crimson just to control more Crimson, you know? It’s wasteful, and dangerous, and it could easily go wrong in lots of ways! We need something that’s more…you know, efficient, I guess? I mean, theoretically, if one crystal of Crimson ends up releasing much more Noise than was used to create it, then doesn’t that mean Crimson itself generates more Noise? Couldn’t we use that somehow as a power source? Or at least, find a way to get Crimson to make more than it does? Then we wouldn’t have to keep so much around, and you could control Meteor G more efficiently…it’s not impossible, is it?”
“No, child, you have a good idea there. It’s something I’ve been trying to tackle for a while. Your notes in particular are actually quite insightful for someone who does not have the whole picture. But…”
“There’s a piece missing, isn’t it?” Rockman sulked. “I just can’t get my theories to work on paper, King! It’s like whatever the Murian technology did to fill in the missing gap wasn’t…normal! Like it breaks the very laws of physics! Or it uses some sort of principle that we haven’t discovered yet! Geez…I want to see some of these supposedly powerful relics…” The boy sighed, and if King didn’t know better, he’d have been taken in by Rockman’s antics. As it was…
“Child, you know very well that you are not allowed to touch what little we have, even if you are proving yourself to be quite the young scientist.”
“Aw…” Rockman turned to leave.
“Wait.” When had Joker arrived? King looked at him, and so did the young boy.
“If you will not allow him to see the Murian relics…will you at least let him attempt to use the incomplete copy of the Noise Program?”
King was shocked. So was Rockman too, apparently. It was the first time that King had seen an expression cross the boy’s face that was not either purely childish or something twisted.
“Joker, you are the last one that I would think of saying such a thing. You’d best have a good reason for suggesting something like this.”
“I have worked with the boy nearly almost as soon as he arrived here, sir. He displays a great deal of potential for not only simply resisting Noise, but being able to control it as well. His understanding of denpa is practically innate, and due to this he actually seems to be able to understand the Noise on a more intimate level than most, King.”
King raised an eyebrow. Joker was not one to dish out praise, even when it was obviously deserved. What sort of potential did the child truly display, if it prompted this sort of response from his normally stoic Wizard?
“To say he understands it on an intimate level…you would rate him with the same potential as yourself, and Acid.”
“Does that mean…?”
“Yes. I believe the boy may be able to Finalize.”
“F…final…ize?” said aforementioned boy murmured. For once, it actually sounded somewhat natural. “But I don’t naturally have that kind of ability…”
“Your body has proven to be exceptional at adapting to new denpa, Rockman. That combined with your high resistance to Noise, as well as your unnaturally dense and seemingly endless reservoirs of denpa, may just allow you to force your body into learning how to do such a thing.”
While Rockman was looking up at Joker with something almost akin to awe, King pondered the possibility he had before him.
“So you truly think that Rockman can draw on the meteor’s power? Would you risk losing the imperfect copy we have constructed? It only has the barest of Murian technology in it, unlike yours and Acid’s, but it should be functional. However, it took much effort to reconstruct that much without losing you two. I do hope you realize how much work will be lost if we give this to the boy and things do not work out as you expect.”
“I believe the investment will be worth it, sir.”
“…Very well. Then we shall run a trial period. Rockman, you will report to me any defects you can detect with the processing programs, understood?”
Underneath his startled expression, Rockman was internally cackling with glee.
“Waah, this power…!” Rockman was looking over himself with an amazed expression, even as Joker and King looked on with surprise. Joker had calculated that Rockman would be able to draw on the meteor’s power…but not to this extent. To have two separate forms to finalize into! Granted, it was likely influenced by the fact that the program had been used by extracting data from both Joker and Acid, but the fact that the boy could access both of them spoke volumes of his strength.
Still, there were limitations. While the boy did have access to two very powerful attacks, overall his capabilities in these forms were actually weaker than what Joker and Ace specialized in. This was remedied with him still being able to access Battle Cards in these forms, but Rockman complained that the Meteor Server completely overwrote his normal folder, which got strange at times and was awkward to work with. And he could never expect the same folder, either, apparently it would change depending on how much Noise he used to finalize, which was inefficient and unpredictable. It was good for a surprise finisher, maybe, but Finalization would never become the mainstay for Rockman that it was for Joker and Acid.
However, the newly discovered ability to Noise Change was a surprising twist. Rockman claimed that he heard a voice speaking to him, pulling out his memories of previous opponents and using them to change his body. He thought it could have been Meteor G’s voice, which Joker confirmed to be true. This sparked another wave of ideas in Rockman, making him wonder if Noise was sentient in and of itself, or was Meteor G itself a large living Noise cluster, like a large Noism? He really wanted to be able to answer these questions, how Noise could affect him this way, but without the Murian technology that seemed to have a more intimate, visceral understanding of Noise working within its systems, they had soon hit a block.
“Jeez! I wish we could find some way to find out what they know…” Rockman sulked. It looked stranger than normal, since he was still finalized in the form they had dubbed ‘Red Joker’ for the time being. He apparently preferred it since it made him look more like the Wizard that he had dubbed his mentor. “Don’t you at least have a spy, or some kind of informant, or something?”
“Such a person would be invaluable, child. But just as we know of all the current members of the Neo Mu Empire, they know of all of ours. With them being just as secretive as we are, we know little else about them, same as us. The only reason we know of each other at all is because our goals clash with each other. They cannot get close to us because our extensive use of Noise Waves to move around silently makes our movements hard to trace, and we cannot get close to them because they have somehow sequestered themselves in the depths of the Bermuda Maze, which scrambles all tracking equipment and is near impossible to navigate if you do not know the path. We are effectively at a stalemate.”
“Ah…are you sure they know about all of us, King?”
“What are you implying, child?”
“Well, I’m really new, right? And I haven’t really run missions for you yet, since I’ve been studying Noise with Joker this whole time. So maybe they don’t know about me?”
“…They likely do not. But what makes you think you could find them, if we cannot?”
“Well, I found your base, right?” Rockman giggled at the irritated expression King made in return. “I could use the Noise Waves to sneak around, and maybe sense something in the Bermuda Maze…with this incomplete Noise Program installed in me, and my unknown status, I could look like some sort of secret escaped experiment, or a higher up in Dealer that betrayed you. If I feed them minor, unimportant real information mixed up with fake important-sounding information, then wouldn’t it throw them off, make things easier? And then I might be able to bring back analysis on all the different things, and maybe even sneak away some…it’s worth a shot, isn’t it? You can’t say I wouldn’t be able to defend myself if something went wrong, now.”
Rockman looked up at King with the expectant expression of a five year old waiting for candy. It looked even stranger than his normal childish faces, due to the irises of his eyes glowing bright red with the Crimson running through his body. The expression actually managed to amuse the old man somewhat, even if it was only due to the fact that he knew how much the child loved to adapt such facial expressions when he was around.
“If I didn’t know any better, child, I would think that you’ve been planning this for a long time.”
The boy was utterly shameless. No wonder he seemed to fit into Dealer so well.
“If you think you can pull it off, I’d be very impressed. You need some sort of side project; after all, our scientists are starting to get annoyed by how often you keep showing them up. And you constantly taking time away from Joker’s schedule to work with him, while beneficial and insightful, is starting to become a problem as well. Besides, children like you do become fidgety without being able to get out and do something…” King sighed. He couldn’t believe he was doing this, assigning such a delicate mission to a potentially unstable child he had barely welcomed into his ranks.
“Your first mission, then, is to discover the Neo Mu Empire’s hideout. Infiltrate them if you can, if you cannot, try to get away with as much as you can. Understood?”
This could either go extremely well, or utterly blow up in his face.
Rockman smirked as he wandered about the Bermuda Maze. He couldn’t believe how easy it was to convince King to let him go. The man really was a self-important fool. And this new power he received…perhaps he could figure out a way to integrate it into Andromeda as well. It would certainly make it easier than to personally convert everything into denpa so that Andromeda could eat it.
Well, he couldn’t do any of that, not until he could find out more about Mu. He could feel a deep well of power from inside this maze, but it was hard to distinguish its location. It was if as it had spread its power out everywhere into the maze itself. And the place kept leading him around in circles. Perhaps he should start over in a different path.
Rockman tore open a Noise Wave and leapt inside. The Noise Waves were another thing he intended to study. They were a place where logic came to be broken. How could one travel such a short distance in this world, and yet pop up so far away in the real world? It boggled the mind. But if he could figure out how to utilize them perfectly…it would make travelling the universe so much easier, wouldn’t it?
He leapt out of the Noise Wave…and ended up on top of a mechanical floating base that had been sequestered in the deepest depths of the Bermuda Maze. Well. This certainly didn’t look like anything he had seen so far. And it looked modern. Perhaps this was the Neo Mu Empire’s base. Rockman didn’t waste any time slipping in through the Denpa airspace once he found a suitable portal.
He found himself in a circular room, filled with screens showing various places around the world. The room itself felt as if it just radiated power. Something important was being kept here.
“Empty!” So there was someone here. He should have known. It sounded like a woman’s voice. “Deal with this intruder!”
Well. So that’s how they were going to play, was it? That only made infiltration that much easier. Let them see what he was capable of.
Doctor Orihime had been absolute in her confidence that she was virtually unstoppable. She had the three OOParts in her possession. She had both Empty and Solo working with her to revive Mu. All that was left was to find it.
But now, she was shocked to find Empty being overwhelmed by this intruder. With his ability to command viruses, and his own powerful electric attacks, he could face a variety of enemies and destabilize many denpa beings with merely the strength of his electricity. On the few times that they had clashed, Empty had been able to stand on par with several of Dealer’s warriors.
This child, however…his denpa was too dense, too powerful to be destabilized so easily. And he was able to meet the onslaught of viruses by constantly transforming to match, apparently using an ability called a ‘Noise Change.’
But when the boy pulled out a Finalization, she was convinced. That was the same thing that Joker and Acid Ace would do. This boy was a member of Dealer, and immediately a high-priority threat that must be eliminated. With his strength and abilities, perhaps he was sent as a tool to weaken the Neo Mu Empire! That must not be allowed!
She stood, letting the curtain around her fall back and reveal herself. Around her floated the three OOParts of the Beserk, Shinobi, and Dinosaur tribes, shielding her from stray attacks. She had the OOParts focus their power, then fire it all in a single concentrated beam aimed at Rockman.
As she had hoped, it broke him away from landing a finishing blow on Empty. What she didn’t expect was for him to pull a second Finalization in order to do so, changing from a form that resembled Joker to one that resembled Acid Ace in order to fly away from the attack. This gave him an aerial position of strength while fleeing. Surprisingly clever for what appeared to be a specifically crafted weapon.
“You! You’re one of them, aren’t you, Dealer scum!”
“Oh? Found me out quickly, haven’t you?” The boy giggled, seemingly unconcerned with the display of power from the OOParts. This was worrying. If he really was sent to destroy them, then…
“But, I guess that means you don’t have to worry, ne?” At that, the child landed and undid the Finalization, apparently not in the mood to finish Empty off.
“I fail to see how a member of an enemy faction managing to break into my base means that I should not be worried.”
“Well, Dealer’s full of nothing but traitors and fools, isn’t it?” The boy grinned, and it was a twisted expression that someone his age shouldn’t have ever made. “That means I’m one or the other as well, and either one can only be a benefit to you, can it not?”
Doctor Orihime raised an eyebrow, even as she walked over to Empty in order to restore him. The fact that Rockman didn’t even so much as flinch in retaliation made her wonder what he was here for.
“If you would be a fool?”
“Then you could easily outsmart me, Doctor.”
What biting wit. Clearly, the child was not one of the foolish masses, despite following an idiotic man like King. Relying on something so fickle as a meteor to control the Earth! Something steady, permanent, like a god…all knowing and all powerful, now that was the way to gain power.
“And if you would be a traitor?”
“Then I would have no problem assisting you over them, for the right price, of course.”
“You have quite the audacity, boy, to speak to me that way.”
“I may be forgiven for my arrogance by pointing out that while you hold such artifacts of power, whatever they may be, they are not part of you and so you are still a human, Doctor. I could easily kill you, considering that I am not.”
“And yet you don’t.” This child…he really did have a knack for bargaining. He knew how to press for any advantages he had.
“No, I don’t. Because you have information about Noise technology that I want. And I, as a member of Dealer, have information on its inner workings that you want.”
“And why should I give any sensitive information to a member of Dealer?”
“Because, like I said, Dealer is full of traitors and fools. A fool would not be able to use the information properly. And a traitor would not allow the information to benefit Dealer in any way possible.”
Rockman giggled yet again. “Of course, I could just kill you here. But I don’t want to, because then I’d be limited to whatever information you’ve collected as opposed to the potential information you could collect. And that would be a shame. Besides, you’re the only ones stopping King from going through with his idiotic plans. Honestly, trying to control a meteor with brute force…ridiculous! A meteor is a one shot sort of thing, and it’s a threat he can’t really pull through with, not without destroying the people he wants to rule over! And the methods he’s using…they’re inefficient and dangerous. Trying to control the world simply because he thinks he can command a rock in space…tchah! Really, all it would take is someone calling him out on his bluff and then taking him out when he’s too busy spluttering. He’s just too distant from the source of power he’s controlling.”
She heard the clear disgust in his voice. He hated King, that much was certain. But still.
“Your friend King and I have similar goals. How do I know you won’t regard me as a disposable fool as well?”
“Oh, I don’t know myself. But do you think I would be so…open…if I regarded you as someone I could fool? What’s your reasoning, eh? Not many people decide one day that they’re simply just going to rule the world, you know. I really do hope you’re not cut from the same cloth as King…”
“Of course I wouldn’t be. After all, my method doesn’t rely on fools. As a matter of fact, it relies on making sure that the foolish are ruled by the intelligent.”
“Well, the human race as a whole really is foolish. They fixate on all the most ridiculous things and merely end up hurting themselves and each other doing so…so in that respect, I can agree with you, Doctor.”
“Well, of course. Granted, I don’t have that much of an attachment to the human race as a whole. I’m just here to learn about Noise, so that I can continue on with my travels safely…so really, I don’t care what you do with them. But King’s really an idiot, and I can’t stand idiots. And I’ve gotten pretty much all I need from him.”
“So why not just do away with him completely?”
“I wouldn’t have him as a bargaining chip with you.” Rockman smiled that twisted smirk of his again. “Besides, he may be a fool, but some of the ideas he has actually work quite well with what little Murian technology he’s stolen from you. If you could reconstruct those, it would only amplify your power, would it not? He’s really using your legacy to fulfill his own personal dreams after all.”
“Hmmph. At least you’re honest about your own goals.”
“Why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’d be getting in your way, anyways. I just want to be rid of Earth and go travelling.” Rockman shrugged. “So, how about it? I was told to act as a double agent anyway, so I might as well use it as an opportunity to legitimately get away from the man. So, I feed you the information he doesn’t want me to feed you, maybe find some way to retrieve the Murian artifacts he stole from you, you help me feed him false information, you are able to beat him and I gain the Noise mastery necessary for me to leave Earth. We both win here.”
“You really are an odd one. How blunt you are! Then again, I expect that you can afford to be that way.” At that moment, her repairs on Empty were complete, and he rose again. “What do you think, Empty?”
“My sensors detect no distress in his waves, my lady. He is not lying to you.”
“Hmm. I see. And the information you can secure for me will be worth this risky endeavor?”
“What, my offer isn’t enough for you? You really are a hard bargainer…” Rockman laughed. “But really, King values me enough to not only keep my identity hidden from you, but to equip me with his only reconstructed Noise Program, despite it being incomplete. Trust me, I can get quite some valuable information for you…and you’ll want to use it now. The group has never been more fractured. Everyone has their own goals and motivations, and they can all easily be turned against each other, except possibly Joker…I’m still working on him, really. The man will be left with little to no support once you are ready to make your move, Doctor.”
Doctor Orihime raised an eyebrow.
“You have prepared quite some time for this, haven’t you?”
“I like to think ahead, Doctor.” Orihime laughed at that.
“It is a shame that you plan on leaving Earth so soon, child. You are a person of talent, one who should rule over the foolish.”
“I’m afraid that I really don’t have interest in that sort of thing.”
Hyde couldn’t believe it. All these years, he had been working endlessly to make himself useful to Doctor Orihime. Yet, despite all his successes, he had yet to be welcomed into her inner circle. He had been allowed to see her true face, to be sure, but yet he was no closer to being allowed to form a BrotherBand with her, nor was he allowed on the more private and exclusive missions run by either Solo or Empty. Did she truly not believe in his strength?
And then, a tiny little boy was accepted into their group. A young child! And instead of being sent around on grunt work, like him, he seemed to be accepted right away into the inner circle. He conferred with Doctor Orihime about new theories on Murian artifacts and information he had managed to steal away from Dealer. He went with Empty on Murian artifact retrievals. And he even occasionally went looking for the seal of Mu itself! This was Solo’s work and Solo’s alone. Nobody went with Solo, ever! And yet this boy had managed to somehow get in on the most important job, without apparently aggravating Solo at all, if the teenager even knew that there was another member researching the Bermuda Maze.
How? How could a young boy-and a traitor at that-earn so much prestige within such a small window of time? It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t right! The boy was clearly using some sort of trickery. Doctor Orihime would be in danger if she continued to let him in any closer!
He became Phantom Black, and confronted Rockman just outside the inner chamber.
“Ah! Hello! Sorry, I don’t remember your name, I don’t see you all too often, you know, ehehehe…”
Those words only served to fuel Phantom Black’s resentment and anger.
“Eh? Well, I guess it’s because I’m always being sent out to do things, it’s either me being at Dealer, or with Empty-san, or-”
“Not that!!!” Phantom Black got some small satisfaction at seeing the little boy jump at his sudden interruption. “You…how have you managed to gain so much of Doctor Orihime’s approval?”
“Oh?” And here, Rockman suddenly gave him a vicious, mocking smirk that was at complete opposites with his cheerful, almost innocent words just a few moments before. “I suppose it’s because I actually bring in results.”
“I…I have brought in results as well! I…”
“But you’re not bringing them in now, are you? Or at least, not at a satisfactory magnitude. Why would we pay attention to your past records? Whatever you did cannot be changed. It’s in the past. There’s no need to be attached to previous achievements. Glory will not aid you in your present endeavors. And results right here and now is what the Doctor wants. You, wallowing around in your self-pity and your previous accomplishments…the way you are now; you are no use to her.”
“You-!” Phantom Black snarled angrily, even more so when he saw that the only reaction that garnered from Rockman was amused laughter.
“Why does the truth hurt so much? Are you really that attached to your image of success, your lies and your self-delusion? Why would you do such a thing? That only leaves you open for more pain and misery when the truth eventually comes out…I thought Doctor Orihime didn’t tolerate fools.”
That was the final straw. To be called a fool was the worst insult, as it was the one thing that Doctor Orihime hated. He was no fool! He wouldn’t be, if he still served her! That devil child…he would not see the light of day again!
“Stick Sword!” The child would never see it coming. He had attacked too soon for him to react, surely, and without warning…
“Illegal Card: Break Saber.” With a single slice, and without the slightest bit of effort, Rockman had somehow reacted and was not only able to slice clean through Phantom Black’s sword-like cane, but even gouge a deep wound in his chest…how?!
“Hah. People like you are all the same. You would rather lash out than listen to the truth, than feel more pain. You struggle against the inevitable. Why?”
Rockman chuckled, and brought the sword up. He smiled that innocent cherubic grin he had used before, the smile that looked absolutely devilish now that the glowing, spiraling sword was held up against his own cheek.
“I think you need to learn the futility of your actions…”
The fight that happened afterwards was short and brutal. Phantom Black had not gotten in a single blow. Rockman had not outright attacked him. He had merely countered all of his attacks with minimal effort. The end result was Phantom Black lying face up on the floor, his body numb and unfeeling, and Rockman standing over him, that same eerie, unsettling smile on his face.
Phantom Black could only watch and let out a weak choking noise when the boy gently placed a foot on his neck.
“Look at how worthless your struggles are. Compared to the rest of us, you’re weak. And yet you dare to cling onto some semblance of belonging, trying to work your way into fitting in…what do these trials get you? A pat on the back? Some words of recognition? Tch. Pointless. Best to just roll over and accept your lot in life, isn’t it?”
Phantom Black wanted to retort, to scream out denials. To prove that his efforts weren’t worth nothing. But he couldn’t bring up the energy to speak. Just trying to breathe made Rockman only add pressure to his neck, ever so slowly. He let out more choking noises, feeling them slowly weaken and fade away as Rockman continued to press his foot down…
“Having fun, aren’t you, Rockman?”
That voice…to see him like this…
“D-do-cto-r…O-ori-hi…me…” His voice was nothing more than a weak croaking…
“Ah, Doctor.” Why was the boy so calm? He was caught attacking his own side! Why didn’t Doctor Orihime say anything?!
“What are you doing?” Finally…
“Ah, he attacked me, Doctor. I thought you’d appreciate me taking the opportunity to be rid of this useless parasite.”
Parasite? No. He wasn’t just a parasite…Phantom Black strained his neck, trying to see Doctor Orihime’s expression. She wasn’t looking at Rockman. She was looking down at him, her expression completely blank and uncaring…
“Yes, that seems like a good idea.”
At that moment, Phantom Black felt his world shatter.
“I only took him on because he had managed to work together with a Murian denpa body and was sympathetic to my ideals, but overall he’s proven to be more of a nuisance than a help…I just haven’t bothered to be rid of him myself. I won’t have my perfect Neo Mu Empire populated by useless sycophants like him. That would only lead to more foolish people taking the reins.” She sniffed, turning to enter the inner chamber.
“Once you are finished disposing of him, Rockman, we have new developments with Dealer to discuss.”
Phantom Black was speechless as he watched her turn her back on him, leave him behind to die as a useless wretch. He tried to call out for her one last time before she vanished through the portal, but instead he found himself choking as Rockman started applying pressure with his foot yet again.
“Look at what your pointless struggles have gotten you. Your hopes crushed, yourself left alone…why did you bother living, hm? Why did you cling onto some semblance of power, begging for scraps like some mangy dog, when you could have avoided all this? Even if something good happened to come from this-” and here Rockman put even more pressure on his neck, “-all good things come to an end. That is the way of the universe.”
The only response Rockman received was more choking noises, and he chuckled.
“Now…you’ll die right here, unwanted and worthless to everyone. Your body will be dropped in the Bermuda Triangle, where it will never be found. You will have no legacy left behind. You will have no power to your name. Your name will not bring any remembrances except to the few who knew you, and even then they will simply murmur you as being ‘that one man,’ never anything to set you apart. Not even the small part you played in the resurrection of Mu will be remembered. That is your end. That is what you’ve struggled so much for. A perfectly anonymous death. How lucky…you won’t have any reason to return to this suffering world, won’t you?”
Phantom Black weakly grabbed onto Rockman’s leg with one hand. It was the strongest resistance he could put up in his state. Even when it was completely hopeless, he had to try something. He couldn’t die like this! Not like this…
Rockman merely chuckled, gently prying his foot away from those weak hands, before kicking Phantom Black in the face. The blow completely subdued him, making him dizzy and barely able to process what he saw. He didn’t see the twisted grin that crossed Rockman’s face, could only barely see the outlines of the glowing sword as it materialized.
“What an appropriate death. After all, the only way to be completely rid of a parasite is to cut it off completely, is it not?”
Solo growled when he was told that he would be having a partner on this assignment.
“You know well that I work alone. I have not needed assistance yet.”
“I know that. Even so, it is mandatory that you take him along with you.”
“He will not be there to assist you. I have full belief in your abilities. But he has his own research to do in the Bermuda Maze, and I feel it would be more efficient if the two of you would go together. You may be able to assist him, even.”
“So you would throw me together with a useless handicap?”
“I did not say he was useless. He can take care of himself extremely well, actually. I have the feeling you would find him interesting.”
“If it would make you feel better about him, he is the one who managed to retrieve the Crimson Compressor back from Dealer…”
Solo stiffened. Doctor Orihime knew that talking about any sort of Murian artifact would reel him in. He tried to not show the effects, but in the end, despite being a hardened warrior he was still a young teen. His emotions were easy for an older adult to read.
“So you’re putting me together with the new recruit.”
“I don’t trust him.”
“You don’t trust anyone, Solo. I’m surprised I’ve managed to put up with you for this long. But, our goals are the same, hm?”
With that, Solo Denpa-Henkaned and left through the portal. He found Rockman waiting for him at one of the many entrances to the Bermuda Maze.
“Hoh, you’re here already? I thought you’d be complaining longer about the sudden partnership, Loner.”
“The name is Burai, and time spent complaining is time wasted on more important matters.”
“So it is. Shall we be off, then?”
“Very well.” They both rocketed off inside the maze, unconsciously racing with each other, testing each other’s strength. “Don’t expect any help from me, even if Orihime seems to think that I’d want to help others.”
“Why should I? Relying completely on another’s goodwill to help is a fickle thing. Relying on any sort of bond, really, only leads to disappointment eventually. I think the Doctor merely wants us both out of her hair for the time being. You know she really only trusts Empty, for whatever reason. Wise of her, but still, leaving herself open to a single being is still one too many.”
“Hmph.” Burai smirked despite himself. At least this…associate…was tolerable. He didn’t seem like he would force himself and his authority on him, the way Orihime and Empty did. He definitely wasn’t the type to force some sort of companionship nonsense down his throat, either.
Indeed, they kept their distance from each other until they reached the designated point in the maze. Burai immediately started searching for clues, hints to the next path to take, but he was soon distracted by what Rockman was doing. The boy had simply stood still in the middle of the maze, holding both hands up to his ears. He closed his eyes, and then simply started chanting words out of nowhere.
They had a dull, almost lifeless tone to them, as if the words he were speaking were not his own. As if he was merely translating, or transcribing. But it couldn’t have been translating. He wasn’t speaking any language that Solo knew at all. In fact, it sounded like he kept switching abruptly through various languages, stopping in the middle of one sentence, one set of emotions and moving onto another language with a different tone. It was jarring.
“Kath, Fon, Wir…”
That wasn’t modern language at all! That was…the runes of the Murian people! And not just any words…those were keystones. Keystones that were used to place locks, or seals…how did he know them?! He had been told that Rockman was apparently a visitor from outer space…never mind that Solo was the last Murian and should have been the only one to know the sacred runes, how did someone not apparently from this world know them?!
The angry words brought Rockman out of his trance, and he focused enough in time to find Burai walking towards him.
“What? What do you want, Loner?”
Burai was too angry to even correct the annoying nickname that Rockman had apparently bestowed on him.
“How do you know the sealing runes of Mu?!”
“Wait, that was Murian I was speaking? Finally! Why did you interrupt me?! Who knows how long it’ll take to find that again…”
At that, Burai backed away somewhat.
“Geez, I thought the Doctor sent you over to be a help, not a hindrance…” Burai couldn’t help growling at that, before Rockman’s next question sent him back into confusion. “Can’t you hear it?”
“…You’re a Murian descendant and you can’t hear anything!?” Rockman’s incredulous expression only made Burai feel ashamed of himself…then he felt nothing but fury. Nothing should shame him, the last descendant of Mu.
“…What. Are. You. Talking. About?” The words were ground out with the air of barely restrained patience.
“…I hear voices in the maze, Burai.” At that, Burai was rendered silent. Normally, he would have called the boy mad, but he had been speaking Murian dialect earlier without apparently knowing it, so he was silent, waiting for more. “If you’re quiet, and you listen closely, you can hear voices. Try it.”
Burai felt like a fool, but he did what he was told. It took him a few moments to completely still himself, then another few to reach out with his senses, to spread his Denpa to sense what he could with it.
And he heard it. There was the faintest of whisperings just at the very horizon of his senses. It was like a cloud, there were many words, many voices all tangled into each other in one big swirling mess. It was almost maddening, trying to follow one voice, only to hear another interrupt, with a completely different tone and idea and possibly even a different language.
“Just…barely…what is it? What are they?” Burai asked. He looked down at the younger boy with something almost akin to wonder. Rockman only looked back up at him, then out into the misty cloudiness that made up the majority of the maze.
“They’re all the people who have died here. All the plane crashes, all the shipwrecks…the denpa here is so strange that it seems to have…recorded or preserved the voices somehow. Maybe it’s ghosts, maybe it’s just the strange quality of this denpa, but…it’s there, too. Mu is here. And its voices are getting out. But whatever happened to the Mu…it was a long time ago. Their voice waves are weak compared to the more recent deaths on top of them. The only reason they’re still around is because of Mu’s power. It’s what’s fueling the strange qualities behind this maze, I’m sure of it. Can’t you feel it? Its power is so evenly spread out…it’s like this maze is a part of Mu.”
Burai nodded. The last part, he knew for sure. Just being in the Bermuda Maze itself made him feel like he was home. Perhaps it had been some sort of defense mechanism, back in the day. But the voices…
“How…how can you hear them? I can barely hear them myself…” It hurt, admitting that he was weaker in some aspect than somebody else. But he had to know. Was this why Orihime wanted Burai to go with Rockman? Because the younger boy was an actual lead?
“…I’ve been a Denpa-human for a long time. It’s made me be able to sense things, be more in tune with the Wave World itself. That, and my own personal source of power…” and here, Rockman touched his chest, where that odd glowing gem was set in a key-like emblem, “it amplifies my own sensing abilities. I can sense things that most denpa-beings can’t. You could say it’s my own unique power…it makes travelling in space much easier, I can tell you that. Travelling through long stretches of nothing makes it hard to pinpoint your exact location without this kind of ability, you know!”
And at that, Rockman started chuckling, before looking subdued. “The OOParts talk to me as well. I thought you should know that.”
Burai’s eyes widened.
“Mmm. It sounds like the three tribes-Beserk, Shinobi, Dinosaur…they were destroyed because the OOParts overwhelmed them somehow. But they didn’t want to be destroyed, so instead they allowed the OOParts to absorb their souls even as it went out of control, destroying their tribes. Their spirits have been trapped in those relics for all this time, losing their separate identities and merging into a single entity that represents the entire tribe, and their resentment over being trapped is what continues to fuel the OOParts’ power.” There was a small smile on Rockman’s face now, somewhere between a sad and an amused expression. “Isn’t it sad? That their desire to keep on living would lead them to such a terrible fate? And Doctor Orihime wants to use this sort of sad power for her own…I haven’t told her this yet, of course. But you’re a Murian, so I feel that you need to know this.”
“…Why?” This felt so sudden, so out of left field. To know that his people were not completely dead, to know that they were around this entire time, entrapped in the OOParts. His mind still felt numb.
“Why? Because it’s your responsibility, as the last Murian, to end their suffering! You have to release their souls, even if that means depriving the OOParts of their power! Leaving them like this to suffer needlessly…you would do that?!”
“Suffer? Suffer?! But you say they want to live! That they didn’t want to be destroyed! If I revive Mu…then…then I could…”
“Release them?! Bring them back? Why? I told you, they’ve lost their individual personalities! Every single tribe has just been merged into a single being! By this time, they’ve all lost themselves in nothing but vengeance and anger! I’ve felt it! They are vicious, unfeeling spirits that have tried to coerce me into giving up my body to them, so that they could tread this Earth once more! You would unleash vengeful spirits simply for the sake of granting a deluded wish!? Unleashing them will do them no good! They will not be satisfied until everything is destroyed to sate an anger that will never be calmed!”
“And how do you know that?! You underestimate the tenacity of the people of Mu?! Do you think we would bow to the power of ridiculous Matter Wave stones that we ourselves made? Are we that weak?!”
“No, you all are fools! Letting your desire to see your city rise again, your legacy walk the earth once more rule your judgement…you sicken me! I thought you held no bonds close!”
“And I don’t!”
“Yes, you DO! Look at how attached you are to Mu, your ancestors, your people! You would condemn then to an eternity of vengeance and anger, merely because you wouldn’t have to be the only one continuing on the legacy of a failed people?”
“Failed?! You would call us-”
“YOU DESTROYED YOURSELVES THROUGH YOUR OWN ACTIONS!” Rockman glared up at the older boy, his cold, blank expression at odds with the almost emotional words he had just shouted.
“The Murian people desired too much, and suffered for it. Now you would repeat that cycle.”
“I would break it, and begin anew.”
“I fail to see how reviving the exact same civilization with the exact same traditions and the exact same people would be beginning anew.”
“You are naive.” And Burai slipped into a battle ready stance. Rockman did the same.
“And you are arrogant.”
The battle had begun.
The battle between the two had been fierce. Rockman had not dared to tip his hand so early and reveal Andromeda now, and Burai had been fused with the Indie Darkness for some time now, which gave him a formidable defense to match his offense. They both fought without remorse, with the intent to kill. And yet, neither of them did kill the other, in the end. They just simply looked at each other, panting heavily on opposite sides of the battlefield, Burai leaning heavily on his sword and Rockman barely standing, his body surrounded by Crimson that seemed intent on influencing him, somehow. It looked as if he was involuntarily in the middle of another Noise Change.
Burai’s assumption proved to be correct, as suddenly Rockman’s form began to change and shift. When the static-like mass cleared away, it revealed Rockman in a form very similar to himself…Burai Noise. The air was silent, heavy…and somehow, the change signaled the end of the fight.
Their eyes met, and they nodded. They would never see eye to eye on the Mu issue. But they both agreed on the futility of bonds, had both proven to be strong, independent, and capable warriors. Besides, as much as Burai hated to admit it, he needed Rockman to listen to the voices of Mu in order to find a path to Mu’s seal. And Rockman had really only been allowed to get away with killing Dark Phantom because the man was a useless grunt. Killing another member of the Neo Mu Empire so soon, and one so valuable as the last Murian, would not work well for him.
They could respect each other, maybe, or so Burai thought. But they would definitely fight again. And the next time, one or both of them would not leave the battlefield alive.
Rockman scowled as he continued assembling replicas of all the artifacts and programs he had received from Dealer and the Neo Mu Empire. He was not so foolish as to let those idiots have the original, perfect devices if it was ever possible. If there were multiple types of the same artifact found during the excavations, Rockman made sure to hide one away in a Noise Wave before Hollow spotted it. If not, he took the time to analyze it thoroughly before constructing a replica to replace it with later. He really was lucky that the sheer power of the Andromeda Key made him that much more aware of other denpa within its range, or he wouldn’t have been able to fine-tune the replicas so easily. That they were good enough to fool Solo himself spoke of how much detail the Andromeda Key allowed him to sense.
The fakes were given to the Neo Mu Empire. From the Neo Mu Empire, he was allowed into Doctor Orihime’s private chambers along with Hollow to better understand and study it, as well as make a replica right in front of them to ‘give’ to Dealer. From Dealer, he was finally allowed to spot the few relics that King had collected in order to give his own observations on them, and immediately snatch them away and replace them with copies. He allowed King to use the “new discoveries” to alter his own Noise Program, and test their effects on him, since-in King’s own words even-he was “quite receptive of various waves and would be a good indicator of their strength.” And indeed, the upgrades really did strengthen him, enough that he had started on his own copy of the Noise Program for Andromeda. The key really was quite receptive, wasn’t it?
Soon. Soon both he and Andromeda would be able to resist that terrible Crimson, and would be able to use its power for their own. And perhaps, if it was discovered soon, they would be able to absorb the power of Mu as well. Thanks to Solo deciphering all that nonsense he was repeating from the miserable voices of Mu (another element of this terrible, vicious world!), they had closed in on the seal. Orihime was preparing to unseal it, as they were very close to finding its exact location. And King had nearly collected enough Crimson to control Meteor G. If the timing was right, Orihime and King might end up being too busy fighting each other to notice his own plans…not that they had noticed so far. None of them did.
They were all fools. Their suffering would end soon enough. He would make sure of it.
[A/N]: Aaaah, I originally intended for Rockman and Solo to actually be on somewhat friendly terms. But they refused to write themselves that way. They really are stubborn. But they do respect each other for their views, so I can't say it's completely hostile. But they're still embroiled in a rivalry to the death, just like in canon. Oh well. Also, I wanted to write something for Hollow, but I couldn't really think of anything. The guy's completely devoted to Orihime, after all, and Rockman trying to turn the guy against her would only set off alarm bells. Shame too, because I can totally think of how Rockman would completely belittle him if he knew his backstory. Maybe next chapter...