Chapter 18: The Final Battle, Roles Reversed
“I’m sorry,” Enzan said softly.
“For what, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked. He winced as Enzan applied the repair program on his arm.
Rockman, despite his injuries, had insisted they look for Fireman after the match. Enzan had reluctantly plugged the navi in, and the blue navi had searched all over the Mega Float system. They found no sign of Fireman, and the white-haired boy had convinced the reluctant Rockman to give it a break. Enzan had been touched at Rockman’s insistence to help him. It was a kindness he would pay back, the netbattler silently vowed.
“I was selfish,” Enzan replied. He looked away from the PET. “I didn’t think about the damages you were receiving. I was so concerned with myself… I could have gotten you hurt badly.”
Enzan was sitting on a large grassy patch outside the Mega Float. He was applying the repairs to Rockman’s burns and wounds. He was also slowly recharging the navi’s hitpoints. The hitpoints of a navi were there for two reasons. One was for netbattling. When a navi lost enough hitpoints, it was logged out. The point of the netbattle was to take out those hitpoints to win. However, the other purpose of the hitpoints was to protect the navi. If the navi got too damaged doing a friendly netbattle, virus busting, or a dangerous job, it would be logged out for protection. If the logout wasn’t possible, the navi would lose consciousness, its programming shutting down to a stasis mode for protection. However, the more the damage and loss of hitpoints, the greater the danger of an attack wiping out all the hitpoints and extending the damage beyond them. That usually resulted in the deletion of the navi, or severe damage of the navi’s data.
Rockman was silent for a moment. “Enzan-sama, you were worried about me, weren’t you?”
“I was, but only… only after I realized how hurt you were,” Enzan admitted. “I should have noticed that right away. I owe you my apologies.”
“My old operator,” Rockman said hesitantly. “He never cared about what happened to me. I had to apply my own repair programs after losing hitpoints. He yelled at me when I did something to displease him and punished me for my mistakes. Compared to that, Enzan-sama…” Rockman smiled widely. “You’re an angel.”
“An angel?” Enzan repeated. He stared at Rockman for a second. Then he laughed, clutching his stomach.
“What?” Rockman asked. “You are!”
Enzan continued to laugh, shaking his head. He hadn’t laughed in so long; he had forgotten how good it felt. He finally managed to get it under control, but his shoulders still shook with mirth. “An angel?” he repeated again, chuckling. “No one has ever called me that before.”
“You’re my angel,” Rockman said shyly. “You saved me.”
Enzan stopped laughing and studied Rockman. The navi was blushing slightly and looking at his feet. He meant the innocent words, Enzan realized. Just like a child blurting out the first thing that came to mind, Rockman was eager to share his feelings most of the time. He had been forced to keep them bottled up inside until when finally given the chance, he let them spill out in fragmented, abstract words and thoughts.
“Now why would you say that?” Enzan asked softly.
“I had no hope until I met you,” Rockman replied. “You showed me that I could be something more than just useless. You risked your life to protect me, and you try to cheer me up when I’m upset. If that’s not angelic behavior, then what is?”
Enzan laughed again. “Rockman,” he said. “You’re the only person who would think that. You seem to see something special in me that no one else does.”
“I don’t think so,” Rockman replied quietly. “You’re good at hiding it, but I bet others have seen it. I’m probably not the only one to think you’re an angel either.”
“Who else would?” Enzan asked, making a sweeping gesture. “I’m either Enzan, son of the company president, or Enzan, that jerk of a netbattler where I come from.”
“Your mother would,” Rockman whispered.
Enzan went rigid. “She died when I was born,” he stated flatly. “Why would she call the one who killed her an angel?”
“No,” Rockman whispered, shaking his head. “How could you say that? You didn’t kill your mother!”
“Then why did she die, Rockman?” Enzan replied bitterly. “Giving birth to me killed her.”
“Did your father tell you that?” Rockman demanded sharply.
“My father never speaks about my mother,” Enzan said softly. “I don’t even know her name. My father didn’t want my—my status ruining his reputation. He bought off the doctors to give him the documents of my birth, and he keeps them in his safe.”
“Did your father tell you that you killed your mother?” Rockman repeated.
“Once,” Enzan admitted softly. “He was upset and he didn’t know what he was saying… I don’t even think he remembers he said it.”
“He lied,” Rockman said firmly. “He lied to you, Enzan. Your mother loved you enough to take the risk of giving birth to you. She had to love you.”
“I don’t know,” Enzan replied softly. “I… I try not to think about it most of the time. When I created Blues, he helped me get through everything I had to deal with.”
“I’m sorry,” Rockman said softly. “I’m making you upset again.”
“No, Rockman,” Enzan replied. “You were just saying what was on your mind. It isn’t your fault that I have such a miserable past. Now I just have a crazy navi to deal with.”
“I’m not crazy!” Rockman protested.
“An angel? Me?” Enzan smiled as he pointed to his face. “You are out of your mind.”
A button beeped on the PET, and Rockman examined himself. “The repairs are done, Enzan-sama,” he said, sounding surprised. “I didn’t even feel them.”
“Well, good,” Enzan replied, standing up. “Let’s go back to the Mega Float. I’d like to find out what’s happening next.”
“Enzan-sama, about Hino Ken…” Rockman drifted off. “What happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” Enzan said softly. “I can’t explain Fireman either. I just hope they both will be okay.”
“Yeah,” Rockman replied softly.
-- -- --
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Kero yelled, her voice blaring over the sound system. “Netbattlers and navis alike! I have important news for all of you!”
“She was fired and they’re getting someone who isn’t annoying,” Enzan said, taking a bite out of his curry.
“I don’t think we’re that lucky, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. It was noontime, and Enzan was gulping down his food as fast as he could. He knew something was going to happen; he could feel it in the air. All of the netbattles that had been scheduled were canceled for the morning, and the afternoon had been listed as “To Be Announced.”
“After difficulty with our scheduled netbattles for today, the judges have disqualified the participants!” Kero announced.
“Disqualified?” Enzan repeated, frowning.
“That leads us to the final battle much sooner than we thought!” Kero cried. “In two hours, it will take place in the main dome! Reserve your seat now for the battle of the century! I am getting word now about the participants…” She paused and ruffled through a few papers on her desk. “And it appears to be Hikari Enzan’s Rockman versus Ijuuin Netto’s Blues!”
“So…” Enzan said softly. “It’s down to that after all.”
“Enzan-sama, can we really take on Blues and Netto?” Rockman asked with worry.
“We’re going to have to,” Enzan replied. And with Hino Ken gone, this battle may be my only chance to discover more about my situation.
“I don’t think I can do it,” Rockman admitted softly.
Enzan smirked. “That you don’t have to worry about. I’ve lived this whole tournament through once before, and I can guarantee a victory for us. You’ll see.”
“I’ll take your word for it, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied, sounding more cheerful.
Enzan got up from the table and headed for the practice room. It was nice to know Rockman believed in him wholeheartedly. He was confident in his skills and Rockman’s talent, but a little extra practice never hurt.
-- -- --
The cheers in the main dome were nearly deafening. Yaito had her hands clamped over her ears, even though she was cheering with the rest of them. It was five minutes before the netbattle, and the anticipation and excitement of the crowd was increasing with each second that passed by.
“And now our netbattlers!” Kero announced. “Ijuuin Netto has achieved many things in his life, including being the vice president of his father’s company and a fantastic netbattling record. Give him a loud welcome!”
Netto walked calmly up to the terminal. He smiled sheepishly at the roaring of the crowd, slightly embarrassed at the attention, but more pleased than anything else.
“And for his opponent we have Hikari Enzan!” Kero cried. “Coming from Akihara Elementary School, he has had an impressive record in the tournament so far. He is the son of Hikari—”
She fell silent, cutting herself off. The crowd’s roaring died down until it almost sounded like an angry mumbling. Enzan walked toward his terminal, sighing. Stupid woman, why did she have to mention that?
“Let’s get this over with, Rockman,” he said calmly, ignoring what was taking place in the stands.
“Get stuffed, Hikari!” someone shouted. More jeers followed and within in instant, the crowd had turned from cheering in jubilance to booing and heckling.
“Down with that loser!” Dekao shouted.
“Dekao!” Yaito said sharply. “He may not be likable, but this isn’t fair.”
“Yaito-chan has a point,” Tohru said. “They aren’t booing him because of who he is. They’re booing him because of his father.”
“Poor Enzan,” Meiru said sadly. “To be judged for something he didn’t even do.”
Dekao gave Meiru an odd look. “Did I just hear you express sympathy for Enzan?”
“And it looks like the crowd has picked their favorite,” Kero said, the tone of her voice giving away how surprised she was. “With this much pressure from the crowd, can Hikari Enzan overcome it and still win the netbattle?”
Enzan blinked, unable to believe the way things were going. “Oh, come on,” he said incredulously. “I haven’t done anything to deserve this much ridicule.”
“Enzan-sama, they aren’t being fair!” Rockman protested loudly.
“This isn’t right,” Netto said softly, shaking his head. “They shouldn’t be doing this to him.”
“Netto-kun, should we try to stop it somehow?” Blues asked.
From across the stadium’s field, Enzan’s shoulders were visibly shaking and his head was bowed. Netto felt sorry for the older boy—the treatment he was receiving was outrageous.
Enzan brought his head up suddenly, revealing he was laughing. Netto nearly tripped over his feet in shock, and the crowd grew silent again, unsure of how to react.
“Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked, worried.
“Someone’s trying too hard to drag me down,” Enzan replied, plugging Rockman in. “Hino Ken was right, I guess. Don’t worry about me, Rockman. Just concentrate on the battle.”
“Un!” Rockman replied, focusing on his opponent. “Right!”
“Well, at least he’s got a good attitude about it,” Netto said, a little unnerved at Enzan’s behavior.
“It’s time for the big moment!” Kero yelled. “Netbattlers, prepare yourselves! Battle start!”
The words Battle Start flashed overhead of Blues and Rockman, and before it had faded Rockman launched into his first attack using his Rockbuster. Blues dodged the shots with ease.
“Aqua Sword!” Netto called, slotting in the chip. Blues used the water element sword to block more of Rockman’s buster shots. He swung his sword in front of him rapidly, creating a cutting wave of air pressure. Rockman dodged it and watched grimly as the rock formation that had been behind him split in two.
“He’s fast,” Rockman commented.
“So are we,” Enzan replied. “Mini Bomb!”
Rockman began to lodge the bombs that appeared in his hands at Blues. The navi couldn’t not block the attack with his sword and cringed away from the blasts instead, the smoke resulting from the attack concealing him.
“Watch yourself, Rockman!” Enzan ordered.
Rockman stood still, straining to see or hear his opponent. Suddenly Blues appeared meters behind him. The red navi used his sword’s shockwave to create a whirlwind of cutting force. The whirlwind dug into the ground and headed straight for Rockman.
“Area Steal!” Enzan called, slotting the chip in. Rockman vanished from the place he was and the whirlwind passed by harmlessly. Rockman reappeared far to the left and Blues turned to face him.
“Battle chip, Elec Sword! Slot in!” Enzan called. Rockman watched the sword form on his arm and held it in front of his chest defensively.
“Looks like he wants to fight fire with fire,” Netto commented. “Battle chip, Flame Sword! Slot in!”
Blues replaced the Aqua Sword on his right arm for the Flame Sword and surged forward. Rockman was waiting for him and brought his own sword to block Blues’ slashing blow.
“This is incredible!” Kero cried. “It’s sword against sword, strength against strength! Who will win?”
“Interesting…” Higure said, frowning. “They seem to have realized they’re equally matched strategy-wise, and have chosen to pit the navis’ skills against each other.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Meiru asked.
“Only if one is better than the other,” Higure replied.
Enzan watched the sword battle commence, feeling edgy. Something was nagging him at the back of his mind again, and he knew it was important. This battle was so hauntingly familiar; it was like history repeating itself. And there was something wrong with that. But what? For some reason, Enzan couldn’t remember.
Blues slashed at Rockman. The smaller navi dodged out of the way, but Blues managed to clip him on the cheek. Rockman swung the sword at Blues’ midsection, but the red navi kicked the Elec Sword away.
“This is getting us nowhere,” Netto said. “Blues. Pull back! It’s time for the Program Advance!”
Program Advance, huh? Enzan smiled grimly. Figures he would know about it. “Rockman! Program Advance!”
“Sword!” the four called simultaneously. On opposite sides of the field, both navis formed the weapon.
The other sword formed, its design different than the plain sword.
The swords glowed purple, and the two navis held them above their heads. They merged as one large blade, the light from the twin Program Advances filling the battlefield. It lit up the entire Mega Float and nearly blinded the spectators.
“What’s happening?” Yaito cried.
“The power of the Program Advance…” Higure breathed. “Amazing.”
I will win for Enzan-sama, Rockman told himself. I have to win for him. This is what he’s been working so hard for.
Blues smirked. I won’t disappoint Netto-kun. He’s worked too hard and gone too far to be stopped now.
The two were fighting with the Beta Sword. Light and wind generated by the power of the Program Advance swirled around them. The swordplay mirrored the fighting earlier, but there was much more at stake. Any mistake now would decide the battle.
Pharaohman! Enzan’s eyes went wide. I remember now! Pharaohman appeared after the battle. He sank the Mega Float and he… and he…
“Rockman!” Enzan cried out. He yanked on the plug, but it wouldn’t come out. I have to save Rockman!
Suddenly the light faded. The stadium grew dark again, revealing Blues and Rockman standing in the middle of the battleground. They stood still for a second, as if frozen on time.
And then Rockman fell.
“Rockman!” Enzan breathed. A timer appeared above Rockman’s body, counting down from ten.
“I don’t believe it…” Higure said softly.
“Let’s get down there!” Dekao hissed, scrambling out of his seat. The others tore away from the scene in front of them and followed, but Higure stayed rooted in his seat.
Enzan pulled on the plug. It still wouldn’t come out of the jack.
“Blues is the winner!” Kero yelled. She was nearly drowned out by the cheering.
Enzan finally managed to plug Rockman out, nearly falling backwards from overextension. He watched as Netto was tackled by his friends, and Blues receiving the same treatment from the gang’s net navis. Then he turned away.
~ ~ ~
“Enzan-sama, I’m so sorry,” Rockman whispered. He hugged his knees and tried to hide the tears on his face. “This is all my fault.”
“No, Rockman,” Enzan replied softly. He touched the PET’s screen with one finger. “If anything, I was the one who failed you. You have the potential to do anything, I know you do. It was my failure that caused our loss.”
“Don’t say that, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied softly. “Without you, I couldn’t have done anything.”
Without me, you would have had a happy life with a kind operator, Enzan thought bitterly. “Let’s go home, Rockman,” he said. He headed for the bus stop, leaving the Mega Float and the loud celebrations taking place. “Haruka must be worried about us.”
I’ve just proven my father right, Enzan thought bitterly. Without him, I’m nothing. Without Blues, I’m nothing. Without me… this world would be a better place.
-- -- --
Netto blushed at his friends’ enthusiasm. Meiru had her arms around his neck, and Dekao and Tohru were taking turns ruffling his hair. Somehow they had come up with a cake that had the words Netto, Grand Champion written on it.
“Thanks, guys,” Netto said sheepishly. “You really didn’t have to go through all this trouble.”
“Are you kidding?” Higure cried. He had been messily eating a piece of cake and it was all over his face. “You deserve it. You won a hard netbattle!”
Yaito was sitting next to him, poking at her own piece of cake.
“What’s a matter, Yaito?” Tohru asked, his voice teasing. “Is it not rich enough for your tastes?”
“I was just thinking about Enzan,” she said softly. “Did anyone see him leave?”
“No, and I’m glad,” Dekao said loudly. “I would hate to see that bitter look he wears when he doesn’t get his way.”
“Did you see him leave, Yaito-chan?” Netto asked softly.
“Yeah,” Yaito replied. “He looked like he was in shock. I think he was really disappointed.”
“So? He knew he could lose,” Tohru said, stealing a bite of cake from Yaito’s plate.
“But remember what happened before the match?” Meiru replied. “The crowd was really horrible to him just because of his father.”
“Maybe we should visit him tomorrow,” Netto suggested. “Just to show we have no hard feelings, and to try and cheer him up. He’s really had a hard time during this tournament. No matter what, he didn’t deserve any of that.”
“That’s true,” Dekao reluctantly agreed.
“I don’t think—” Higure started to say.
“Then it’s decided. We’ll visit him tomorrow,” Netto announced.
“He won’t like—” Higure tried again.
“Yeah!” the others agreed.
Higure sighed. Enzan doesn’t want your pity. He didn’t say it out loud, knowing it would be pointless to try.
Author’s notes: I didn’t follow the battle between Blues and Rockman exactly as it played out in the show, but it’s close. With different operators, the battle should be varied from how it went.