Rock blinks — his optical sensors readjusting to what lies ahead. His blue, dome-shaped helmet is cracked just above his right eye. The fingers of his right hand twitch, tiny servos whirring while gripping the left hand — currently in buster mode, formed into a cannon. Emitting a red light from the cannon’s maw, Rock charges as much energy as possible into the next blast… but as he blinks again, one thought occurs to him:
This must be what real fear is like.
It is a fear he has carried with him for too long, beginning with an event he never thought possible. Vanishing without a trace in the night, the man who truly gave Rock a purpose in this world — his adoptive father — is gone. He has been gone for some time, and in his absence, Rock himself ceased to exist. He powered down like the good little helper-bot he once was, waiting for his Father’s return; a call to action…
…But none came.
Dust gathered atop his outer shell and synthetic skin, but the outside world refused to halt. It didn’t have that luxury. With no great protector to watch over things, the nefarious Dr. Wily regained command of an army of ‘bots. Mechanical tools with which he could conquer the world, spitting in the face of everything Rock’s Father sought to build.
“Megaman!” Roll shouts, her youthful voice transmitting through Rock’s inner communications system. “Megaman, it’s too dangerous! You have to retreat!”
Megaman. Even Rock admits this nickname never suited him, no matter his sister’s insistence otherwise. Dr. Light likely dreamed up such a moniker for irony’s sake, because his cherubic appearance always failed to match up. Rock looks like a child to the untrained eye, not the powerful little robot he has proven to be. Even so, as he gazes upon a horde of enemies, he reaches deep down within himself to summon his inner man.
A battalion of Mets — tiny, unassuming little robots with bulbous helmets — fall to Rock’s released beam. It cuts through them before they can retreat beneath their oversized helmets, sending bolts and molten scrap trickling toward the platforms below. Rock pauses briefly, disturbed to see the electric discharge surging from their spinning, rattling remains. Robots may not have souls, but such sights of fading life always remind him of how easily he could have been one of Wily’s tools. Regardless, two of the flying Met variants remain, hesitating as the propellers mounted to their domes leave them hovering in place.
Just leave, Rock urges them silently, his mouth pursed. Don’t make me finish you too!
This was a fool’s hope, as only Wily’s most elite creations have ever shown some semblance of personality. As they both let loose a rapid-fire series of orb-like blasts, Rock’s choice is made for him. Leaping over every projectile, Rock’s buster pivots toward them as his signature blue hue fades to an orangish brown. No sooner than a single scissor-like missile exits his cannon, the Mets fall to pieces and scatter underfoot.
Note to self — thank Cutman sometime.
Such a weapon was not built into Rock’s function. No, it was procured from one of Wily’s rogue ‘bots after battle. Dr. Light always removed these repurposed tools whenever peace was restored, locking them away in his vault. “No single creation should have so much power,” he often warned.
In the absence of guidance, Rock knew he had no choice but to raid the good doctor’s stash. Whether by programming or learned behavior, such actions left Rock feeling hollow, as if he betrayed his Father’s trust. Though it disappoints him to resort to theft, he could no longer afford to waste time, not on this mission. Even Roll agreed, finding the will to surrender the vault combination in spite of her own basic programming. This is, perhaps, the only reason he has made it this far.
Wily has truly outdone himself on this one, assembling a massive flying fortress with cloaking technology. Deploying untold numbers of robotic minions into every country with some modicum of power, he began a war with only one inevitable end. By gaining footholds in enough territories, lesser governments surrendered to his superior technology and fell behind his singular banner. The worldwide message became clear: kneel before Dr. Wily, or be terminated by his armies.
Even locating the fortress took months of searching. Beginning in the East, Rock moved West across the world, dismantling the opposition until he made progress at last. Safeguards were in place to prevent immediate discovery, but each of Wily’s creations carried a secret. Hidden programs meant to call them home if ever the fortress were attacked, beckoning them to his hypothetical aid. Entire armies carried a digital map home, but it was broken into pieces spread amongst each individual robot. Countless E-Tanks were emptied in pursuit of that data…
…all leading up to this moment, here in the underbelly of the flying fortress. For the first time in his 30 year existence, Rock truly feels tired. Exhausted, more like. His optic display flickers from age and constant exposure to bright flashes, while every articulating joint grinds with rust. Even so, his determination keeps him going in the face of endless opposing mobs.
Leaping from platform to platform, Rock maneuvers through the usual traps: pits of spikes, disappearing footholds, and ceiling-mounted mashers. It would almost be disappointing, were it not for the dire state of Rock’s mission. For a genius with only one real peer, Wily’s tactics have shown little imagination since the beginning. This attempt at world domination even lacks more powerful robot masters, like Cutman or Gutsman. Only the mindless drones carry out his orders now, albeit in greater droves… but why? When at last Rock reaches the highest spire, every nagging question fades from his mind.
Blowing open the triple-thick steel door, he rushes into Wily’s inner sanctum to find a lone figure sitting idle in a throne of mangled metal. His neck pivots, recognizing the size and shape of a unique helmet resting on a nearby table: its candy apple red sheen still shimmering brightly, slick visor reflecting Rock’s perplexed expression.
“Protoman?!” Rock gasps, eyeing the frayed yellow scarf dangling to the side, just at the edge of shadows. His optics raise toward the ceiling, noting the busted lights just above it. “But why?!”
The shadowed figure shifts, fingers gripping both armrests. “You assume I had a choice in the matter.”
“Of course you do! I don’t understand, why would you–”
“I tried to resist!” the figure shouts, bolting forward — and though it proves to be the real Protoman, his condition has clearly deteriorated.
Rock looks upon his older brother and sees a pained grimace worn across his face. Blinking, his optics refocus and finally process the image of exposed circuitry, visible through panels missing across his mechanized skull.
“Wily had the last laugh. Made sure I would have no choice but to carry out his deranged programming in the event of his passing. I only ever wanted to live of my own free will… and maybe I did, for just a little while… but in the end, he tricked me. Made me a pawn. His puppet once more.”
Rock’s endoskeleton shudders, coolant running along his spine. If he had known sooner, perhaps this could all have been avoided.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” says Protoman, managing some semblance of his signature sly grin. “You have always been good at that. Nobody saw this coming… well, almost nobody. Father seemed to know.”
“What? Have you seen him?!” Rock erupts with excitement, leaping toward his brother.
“He’s gone, Rock. But…but not forgotten,” urges Protoman, gesturing beyond the throne to a massive machine. “Wily’s programming kept me from directly disobeying his directives, but Father had a secret too. He departed, Rock. Left for a whole new world, one where his good will could thrive without interference. A place where he could simply create again, and shape things just the way he always intended.”
“But I… I don’t understand, what are you–”
“He’s waiting, Rock. For you. Gave me the means to build a device capable of getting you there. He always intended to take you with him. His greatest achievement, untainted by this cruel world. He was prevented from doing so, but that’s my job. My salvation. One final purpose.”
Standing silently, Rock’s inner processes buzz with looping feedback. He says nothing, even as Protoman guides him to the gargantuan machine, explaining its function. A portal, one built to feed off the very same energy that gives himself, as well as his siblings, life. An increasingly rare commodity in a world without Light.
“What about you?” He finally asks, heatedly. “And Roll? Why am I the only one who can follow him?”
“Because I must power the portal.” Replies Protoman, serenely.
“You’ll sacrifice yourself?!”
“Don’t think of it as a sacrifice. More like… an exchange. My existence, for the well being of the world. If my functions cease, the armies power down all at once. This way… this way we both get what we want. You get to be by Father’s side, and my existence finally means something.”
“But that’s– NO! Besides, Roll wishes to see him just as much as I do! It wouldn’t be fair to her!”
“It’s okay, Megaman…” her voice whispers happily into his ear, “someone has to watch over this world when you’re gone. Don’t you trust me?”
“O-of course I do!”
Roll giggles. “Then it’s time, Megaman. Brother. Find him… and say goodbye for me, okay? Don’t you forget!”
“Okay,” he replies hesitantly, looking to Protoman.
Protoman immediately moves to power on the machine, flipping all manner of switches and turning dials. “This is the way it should be. When you get there… I can’t promise that you’ll remember everything. Your body isn’t taking the trip, only your data. You may take on a different form… you may not even remember me. But everything unique about you, your spirit, will remain.”
“Whatever it takes.” Rock nods, and marvels with wide-eyed astonishment as a swirling vortex of green matter appears at the machine’s core.
Glancing over, he sees Protoman linked to the device via a series of cables, each one siphoning his remaining energy… yet, he seems content.
“Farewell, Rock,” whispers Protoman, the lights of his eyes fading quickly.
Looking into the portal’s center, the vision of a technologically advanced city appears as if through a window. Zooming in, its architecture seems somehow familiar — comfortingly so, as Rock soon recognizes key features of his Father’s style. As it reaches its peak size and finally stabilizes, Rock offers one last thoughtful glance to his brother.
“Your existence always meant something to me.” Rock says with a gleaming smile.
“That’s… Thank you, Megaman.” whispers Protoman, happily.
Staring into the portal, every lifelike muscle in Rock’s body tenses. “I’ll miss you, Roll…”
“Not as much as I’ll miss you.”
“Goodbye!” He shouts, and steps into the portal — everything disappearing in a brilliant flash of white light.