Chapter 17: Trouble Brewing
The holographic projection of the netbattle showed a close-up of Rockman tackling Blues from behind. The crowd gasped in shock and watched as the two navis struggled with each other. On the stadium floor, the operators were doing the same. It was obvious they were arguing loudly with each other, even though what they were saying couldn’t be heard.
“What is Enzan doing?” Tohru cried. He leaned forward in his seat, watching the proceedings with horror.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Dekao asked from the seat next Tohru. “He’s trying to rig the netbattle! He wants to take Netto out of the picture so he doesn’t have to face him in the finals!”
“What a creep,” Yaito mumbled. She was sitting with the others, and she glanced down at her PET. Glyde was plugged into a special jack on the seat so he could watch the netbattle easily from the Internet. He was with the other navis now, watching the battle with horrified fascination. “I knew he was low,” Yaito continued, “But I never expected something like this. Why haven’t they disqualified him yet?
“Technically, he’s not doing anything wrong,” Higure admitted. He was sitting next to Meiru, watching the netbattle with the same intensity the others were. “His strategy is puzzling, but there’s no rules prohibiting attacking your tag team partner. As long as it’s a participating navi, the normal battle rules apply.”
“What is Rockman doing? This isn’t like him!” Roll cried. She clasped her hands together with worry. Gutsman gently patted her shoulder, sympathizing with her.
“He’s following his operator’s orders,” Meiru replied, glancing at her PET. “He has no choice, Roll-chan. I’m sure Blues will be okay; he’s a good fighter.”
“This is outrageous!” Glyde said indignantly.
Gutsman continued to silently comfort Roll, knowing how much she cared about Blues. He’d rather her care about him in that way, but when it came down to it, he wanted to see her happy, no matter what.
-- -- --
On the battlefield, Rockman and Blues were still struggling with each other. Rockman was sitting on Blues’ back, trying to pin the taller navi without hurting him. Blues wasn’t cooperating; the red navi had lost his patience with his partner and was trying his hardest to shake Rockman off.
“Enzan! What do you think you’re doing?” Netto demanded. He grabbed the taller boy by the collar of his vest, forcing Enzan to look him in the eye.
“Listen to me!” Enzan yelled back. “That’s not Fireman! It’s his operator, Hino Ken!”
“You’re crazy,” Netto breathed. He released Enzan and turned back to his PET. “Blues! If you have to attack Rockman to save yourself, do it! We’ve got no choice now!”
“Netto—” Enzan started to say.
Netto whirled and punched his partner in the face. He then stared at Enzan, shocked at his own behavior. Enzan stared back, equally shocked. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, and the white-haired boy wiped it away.
“I do not know what your intentions are, but I will not let you endanger Blues,” Netto said quietly, turning back to the battle. “He means everything to me, and I won’t let anyone take him away.”
Enzan did not respond and turned toward the battle as well. He couldn’t help noticing the scorch marks on Rockman’s body as the navi struggled with Blues. Rockman’s face was twisted with pain, both at the wounds he had received and the anguish of having to attack someone he respected so much.
I’ve been ignoring his injuries and feelings, Enzan realized. All I could think of was myself, and I let him get hurt. I purposely put him in this situation. If he were Blues, I would’ve cared. I would have put him above everything else, no matter how important it was to me. But he isn’t Blues, he’s Rockman. Because of that, I didn’t care.
I’m worse than my father.
“Rockman, what are you doing?” Blues cried.
Rockman wrapped his arms around Blues’ body, pinning the taller navi’s arms to his sides. “Blues, please stop,” Rockman begged. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Hurt me?” Blues sputtered.
Blues and Rockman looked up to see Fireman standing a few meters away, his arm cannons aflame. Rockman’s eyes went wide and his body rigid as he froze with fear.
“Rockman! Get out of there!” Enzan cried.
“Flame Tower!” Fireman roared, slamming his flaming arms against the ground. A tower of fire rose up in front of him, filling the two navis’ vision.
Blues couldn’t move. Rockman had locked his legs around Blues’ knees, and the blue navi was frozen in that position. Blues covered his face and flinched, braced for the worst.
Rockman blinked, watching the fiery tower pass them by a far distance. “He missed us completely?” Rockman asked incredulously.
“Get off me now,” Blues growled.
Rockman jumped as if he had forgotten he was sitting on his partner. Blues abruptly shot up, knocking the blue navi off of him. He got to his feet and looked down at Rockman.
“I don’t know what your problem is,” he snapped. “But cut it out! You’re going to get us both deleted!”
“Sorry,” Rockman whispered.
“Blues!” Netto called. “Let’s end this. Sword, Wide Sword, slot in!”
Blues held out his arms as his hands morphed into two swords. He slowly began to approach Fireman, who merely watched the red navi.
“I’m sorry,” Rockman said again, his voice louder. “But I can’t let you defeat him.” He launched himself at Blues’ back again. The red navi turned his head slightly, aware of Rockman’s every move. He held his sword up protectively, poising it to strike backwards if necessary.
“Rockman, stop!” Enzan cried. Rockman slowed to a stop and looked confused.
Blues started whirling, placing one foot before the other and neatly twisting it so he moved in a smooth twirl. His swords and body began to blur until he formed a red whirlwind. The whirlwind, Blues in its core, headed straight for Fireman, who crouched in a defensive position.
“Enzan-sama, why?” Rockman asked.
“I don’t want you getting hurt,” Enzan said softly. “You have enough damage.”
“But you worked so hard to learn the truth. Hino Ken is your only lead!” Rockman protested.
“It isn’t worth taking the chance,” Enzan replied, sounding weary. He knew his actions meant destroying his chances at going home.
Rockman stood up straight, a look of determination on his face. “I won’t let you down, Enzan-sama. No matter what!” He shot forward again, heading for the heart of the battle.
“No, Rockman!” Enzan cried.
Blues’ whirlwind had nearly reached Fireman. The fiery navi just stood there, doing nothing to prevent his impending doom.
“It’s over,” Netto stated. “Nothing can withstand Blues’ whirlwind.”
“Fire Boom!” Fireman fired off two fireballs, one at the base and one at the middle. The whirlwind vanished and Blues collapsed on the ground. One of his legs was badly charred.
“Blues! Are you all right?” Netto cried. He could tell the navi was in pain. Netto had been telling the truth; nothing could withstand Blues’ whirlwind. But in order for it to be effective, it had to reach its opponent first.
In the stands, Netto’s friends were glued to the battle.
“I don’t understand it,” Meiru said, frowning. “Netto’s an exceptional netbattler, and Fireman is average. Even with Rockman interfering, he shouldn’t be doing this badly.”
“They are both exceptional netbattlers, Netto and Enzan,” Higure replied. “Enzan has proven that throughout the N1 Grand Prix. The problem is they aren’t working together.”
“That’s an understatement,” Dekao mumbled.
“Blues—and Netto—are reluctant to strike back at Rockman because they know he’s trying to follow his operator’s orders,” Higure continued. “They also know he isn’t trying to hurt Blues.”
“But why is Enzan doing this to begin with?” Tohru asked.
Higure sighed. “Only Enzan can answer that.”
On the battlefield, Fireman aimed his flaming cannons at Blues. Blues was crouching on the ground, his wounded leg preventing him from moving. “Fire Boom!”
“No!” Netto cried.
Rockman threw himself in front of Blues, his arms spread out protectively. “Stop it!” he yelled.
The fire balls exploded on impact. Smoke covered the battlefield, making it impossible to see.
“This is amazing!” Kero cried. “First Rockman seems to betray his partner, then he sacrifices himself to save Blues! I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“Enzan?” Netto looked at his fellow netbattler uncertainly. To his surprise, Enzan was smirking.
“That announcer gets everything wrong,” Enzan said smugly.
The smoke on the battlefield cleared, revealing Rockman unscathed. A squared, shimmering patch of space in front of the blue navi slowly faded.
He used a Barrier chip! Netto realized.
“Rockman…” Blues said softly.
“Fireman, I’m trying to help you,” Rockman said, walking toward the fiery navi slowly. “I know something’s wrong. Please let us help.”
“Listen to me, Netto,” Enzan said in a low voice. “Think! Doesn’t something about this battle strike you as odd? All of Fireman’s attacks looked forced, and he waits until the last moment to attack!”
“That could be part of his strategy,” Netto replied, but he sounded unsure. He had noticed the hesitation in Fireman’s movements and attacks as well.
“Help… me?” Fireman choked. He seemed to be struggling against some inner force to speak.
“Yes!” Rockman replied, nodding encouragingly. “I’m trying to help.”
“Help me… please,” Fireman moaned. “It hurts…”
“Now do you believe me?” Enzan asked, glancing at Netto. “Even if everything I’ve said so far makes no sense, doesn’t that prove I’m right?”
Netto seemed speechless for a moment. “All right,” he said finally. “I believe you. What should we do?”
Blues pressed a hidden button on the side of his helmet. He briefly scanned Fireman, the results appearing on the inside of his visor. “Netto-kun, Fireman has sustained a lot of damage. Most of it we couldn’t have possibly caused. We haven’t hit him that much.”
“He’s in pain,” Rockman said softly. “I can tell. He should have logged out a long time ago from his damage.”
Blues nodded. “It doesn’t make sense that he would still be in the battle unless he’s being prevented from logging out. He could be preventing it himself, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Netto took a breath. “Okay, so he’s in this netbattle against his will. What do we do, try to stop the netbattle?”
Rockman was almost touching the tall navi. He held up his arms to Fireman, staring into the fiery navi’s eyes. They were hauntingly familiar, and Rockman knew he had seen them before. “Are you Hino Ken?” he asked softly.
Fireman cried out and clutched his head at Rockman’s words. He swung one arm out and shot off a fireball at where Rockman had been a split second before. The blue navi was now several meters away, carried there by Blues’ arms.
“Are you okay?” Rockman asked with worry as Blues cringed.
“My leg is in bad shape,” Blues replied, his voice thick with pain. “I was lucky to use my other leg for that jump, but I’m not going to be much help.”
Fireman had stopped moving again. This time, his inner struggle was visible enough to see him shaking. Rockman bit his lower lip in concern as he helped Blues stand.
“Netto, tell Blues to keep still, or he’ll damage himself even more,” Enzan said, glancing at his partner. “Rockman and I will have to take care of Fireman.”
“How?” Netto replied. “He keeps attacking, no matter if it is by his own will or not.”
Enzan racked his memory, trying to think of a solution. Fireman’s supposedly independent net navi stasis stuck in his mind, along with a memorable battle. It had been Stoneman and Bomberman versus Rockman and Sharkman, the net navi that belonged to Commander Beef, one of the more bizarre participants of the N1.
“This battlefield is projected in the Mega Float’s own network, right?” he asked slowly.
“So?” Netto asked.
“So the Mega Float’s network must be connected to the Internet and other systems,” Enzan replied. “Even the battlefield must have a link or a weak spot connected to the Internet somewhere.”
“What are you saying?” Netto asked slowly.
“I’m saying we could use that to our advantage,” Enzan replied. He started to smile slightly, the idea forming in his head. “What if we broke through to the Internet? All we would have to do would be to knock Fireman through before the rift closed. That way we could win the battle without deleting Fireman.”
“It sounds crazy,” Netto said. Then he grinned. “I like it. Blues and I could never delete Fireman in the state he’s in, and at least in the Internet he has more of a chance then he does here.”
It’s a slim chance, Enzan thought. And it means I’ll lose Hino Ken, perhaps for good. But I owe him this much.
“How are you going to break through the battlefield’s network?” Blues asked.
Rockman slowly eased Blues so the red navi was standing by himself. “You’ll see,” he said confidently. He knew what Enzan had in mind.
“Are you ready, Rockman?” Enzan called. He grabbed the chips he needed from his pack, watching the battle keenly. “We only have one shot at this.”
“I’m ready,” Rockman said. He slowly walked over so he was facing Fireman.
“All right,” Enzan said softly. “Here we go. Battle chip, Sword, slot in!”
“Sword!” Rockman repeated as the sword formed.
“Wide Sword!” Enzan called, slotting in the chip.
“Wide Sword!” Rockman repeated, the different type of sword forming on his other arm.
Netto’s eyes went wide. Could it be…?
“Long Sword!” Enzan yelled, slotting in the last chip.
Rockman’s body began to glow, and he held his hands up as the swords glowed purple.
“Beta Sword!” operator and navi cried simultaneously. The purple blade resonated in Rockman’s hands. The light that came from it covered the entire battlefield, casting everything in an eerie glow. Rockman slammed the sword against the ground with a cry, sending a purple wave shooting down the battlefield. It missed Fireman by several meters and continued onward.
“This is simply amazing!” Kero cried. “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”
“It can’t be…” Higure gasped. “The Program Advance!”
Keep going, Enzan thought.
Hang on just a bit longer, Rockman silently begged himself.
“Come on,” Netto breathed.
The purple wave slammed into a barrier, the end of the battlefield. A brilliant light flared, blinding all those who were watching the netbattle.
“Now, Blues!” Netto cried.
Blues, the only one who was not blinded by the light, could see the hole leading to the Internet the Program Advance had caused. He leaped forward using his good leg and tackled the stunned Fireman around the waist at the same moment Netto slotted in the Area Steal chip. Blues and Fireman reappeared near the rift in the system.
“Good luck,” Blues mumbled, shoving Fireman through. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard the navi whisper “thank you” before Fireman disappeared.
The light faded, revealing Blues and Rockman the only navis still visible.
“Sugoi desu ne!” Kero cried. “That was great, wasn’t it? Rockman and Blues, using amazing teamwork, managed to defeat Fireman! I’m not sure how, but they did it! I’ve never seen anything like that attack before!”
Enzan quickly plugged Rockman out and walked away from the stadium floor. Netto didn’t notice his partner was gone because he was too busy cheering with the crowd until Enzan was well down the hall.
“Hey! Enzan!” Netto called. Enzan made no motion to indicate he had heard and continued walking.
“Netto!” Meiru cried. She tackled Netto in a hug. “You were wonderful! That was a fantastic netbattle!”
“Well…” Netto tried to say.
“That was great!” Tohru enthused, running up to Netto. With him was the rest of the gang. Kero announced the highlights of the battle in the background as Netto greeted his friends. Still, he kept Enzan in the back of his mind.
Could it be? Netto wondered. Could Enzan really know the Program Advance?
… … …
“What is this?” the woman asked softly. The data on her screen continued to pour in. “Hino Ken is still alive…”
She tapped her chin and frowned. According to what her computer was telling her, Rockman had used a Program Advance to cut a hole in the battlefield’s system and forced Fireman out into the “Internet”—in reality, yet another part of the NetWorld. The plan had been to have Enzan and his navi delete Fireman, who was in reality Hino Ken. They had used the NetWorld to make him look like Fireman and forced him to fight in the battle.
Could Hino Ken have told Enzan something that made the netbattler suspicious? No, that wasn’t possible. Even if it was, “Hikari Enzan” would have never listened. It must have been a fluke. After all, Hino Ken had been an unknown factor, and the NetWorld had not been prepared to push Ijuuin Enzan and Hikari Netto to delete Fireman.
It didn’t matter. They could take care of Hino Ken without the help of the NetWorld. However, she would have to push the NetWorld’s programming ahead sooner than planned.
“It’s time to start the last netbattle scenario,” she said.
Her computer screen flickered. Then words appeared on it, forming in a scrolling motion across the screen.
Agreed. The arrangements are being made now, and the battle shall take place in a few hours time in the NetWorld. Is there anything about it that should be changed?
“No,” the woman said. “We should stick to the plan. The NetWorld can push ahead and repair whatever damage Hino Kenichi of World Three has made.”
Is the original plan still intact?
“Of course,” the woman said, smiling slightly. “I wouldn’t take the joy of that away from you.”
You’re too kind.
The woman laughed. “I never knew a computer could be sarcastic,” she replied.
It is something that escapes the Japanese, sarcasm. It’s a pity, for it’s such an effective tool.
“All the more reason they should be wiped out,” the woman snarled.
That isn’t part of the plan I know of.
“One thing at a time,” the woman said, smiling. “We’ll get to our goals soon enough. We must be patient just a little while longer, that’s all.”
Author’s notes: I’ve never seen Blues do it in the show, but in the manga produced by CoroCoro, Blues has scanned other navis. It’s awesome, and I couldn’t resist using it in my story.