Chapter 27: An Angel Without Wings
“Rockman!” Enzan yelled.
The blade swung down, but the only thing it pierced was the grid-like ground. A second later, the wind was knocked out of Enzan as a strong arm encircled his waist and lifted him off the ground. The world whirled before his eyes, making him see spots, and it took him a few minutes to figure out he was being held by Blues. He looked around frantically and, to his relief, spotted Copy Rockman being carried over Blues’ shoulder.
A second later the world stopped spinning, but it took Enzan awhile to focus on anything. He could see Netto being carried in Rockman’s arms, and as Blues gently set his operator down on his knees, he noticed the area they were in looked different—although it sported the same patterned ground, making it hard to tell.
“Are you all right, Enzan-sama?” Blues asked, kneeling down next to him to set Copy Rockman on the ground. The copy navi moved sluggishly, like he was in shock.
“I’m fine, thanks to you,” Enzan replied. He nodded his head toward Copy Rockman. “Thank you for saving him.”
“You obviously think highly of him,” Blues replied, standing up. “I didn’t want you to be sad.”
At those words, the red-toned navi couldn’t help but glance at Netto. Enzan, pity and sorrow forming within him, watched the tears stream down Netto’s face, even though the younger netbattler did not cry out. Rockman was crouched next to him with his arm around his operator’s shoulders.
“Copy Rockman, are you all right?” Enzan asked, turning his attention to the Copy Navi.
Copy Rockman was sitting on the ground, his head bowed. He looked up, tears spilling out of his eyes. “Blues took care of me, like an older brother,” he whispered. “No matter what, he always tried to be there. What am I going to do without him?”
“I’m so sorry,” Enzan replied softly, unable to think of something better to say. He leaned forward and placed his hands on the shaking navi’s shoulders. “I know it hurts, but we have to keep going. I don’t want to lose you too.”
Nodding, Copy Rockman got to his feet and helped Enzan up. The Copy Navi looked at Blues through his visor, and nodded once, silently thanking the tall, red-toned navi. Blues did not acknowledge it, instead turning his attention to Rockman and Netto.
“Without Copy Blues,” Blues said heavily. “We don’t know the way. We’re lost.”
Rockman helped Netto to his feet and stared at Blues. “Isn’t there anyway we can find it on our own?”
Enzan turned in surprise to see Copy Rockman watching them, his gaze steady and unwavering. There was something wrong with his eyes; a look that Enzan didn’t recognize.
“Daijoubu?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
Copy Rockman looked at him, and Enzan noticed for the first time that the symbol on the Copy Navi’s chest seemed to be glowing slightly. “I know the way,” he said. “You can follow me.”
“How?” Blues asked skeptically. “How do you know?”
“I’m not sure,” Copy Rockman cocked his head, and Enzan noticed that his eyes seemed to be glowing slightly. “I think he told me somehow, before he was deleted.”
“We might as well,” Rockman admitted. Blues reluctantly nodded, and they began moving again, Copy Rockman in the lead.
“Is he all right?” Enzan asked quietly, mostly to himself.
“He’s received a data transfer,” Blues replied from his position behind Enzan. “Copy Blues must have tried to transfer the information before he was deleted, but I think Copy Rockman got a lot more data than just the location of our exit. That usually requires additional equipment and an operator programming it, but it’s the only explanation.”
“How much data did he get?” Enzan stared at the copy navi’s back with apprehension, wondering what the result would be.
“Hard to tell,” Blues said. “He could have anything from parts of Copy Blues’ personality to half of his frame, stored compactly somewhere within him.”
“Will he be okay?” Enzan asked, worried.
“He should be fine, with time,” Blues replied. He looked at Enzan silently for a moment. “There is a way he can come with us. He could easily use either me or Rockman as an anchor to transfer his data from the NetWorld to another system.”
“You would do that?” Enzan stared at Blues.
His navi nodded. “If it’s what you want.”
Behind them, Netto wiped his eyes, keeping his head down to disguise the motion.
“Netto-kun, I…” Rockman trailed off, unable to comfort his operator.
“Rockman, I know you mean well, and I know you care about me,” Netto said softly. “But could you stop calling me that for a while? Blues used to call me that…”
“I understand,” Rockman said sadly.
Copy Rockman stopped. “This is it,” he said. “The shortcut is hidden here. It was a way out in case of emergencies.”
Blues looked around, but his scanner could pick up nothing. “Where?”
Suddenly the grid pattern of the ground began to grow darker, the lines fading into a spreading blackness. The light around and above them faded and died, leaving them in a dim, black space.
You won’t get out. I won’t let you leave!
“You’ve lost,” Copy Rockman replied calmly. “Let them go. Keeping them here to die will do you nothing now.”
I won’t! I won’t let them go! If I have to die, so do they! It won’t be long now…
A rumbling sound was heard, and the ground began to quake slightly.
“It’s destroying the data that holds this place together!” Blues yelled.
“So it comes to this,” Copy Rockman whispered. “He was always protecting me, even in the end.”
Enzan looked at him. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
Copy Rockman smiled at him sadly, and Enzan realized the navi had begun to glow. “I’m sorry, Enzan-sama,” he said. “I really wanted to stay with you. You mean so much to me, and I’m glad that I met you.” He held out his arm to thin air. Slowly, to Enzan’s astonishment, it began to stretch and thin, glowing brighter with every passing moment. Copy Rockman held his other arm up, and it went through the same process. His arms lost their shape and form and became bright columns of swirling light, moving smoothly to form a large circle. It glowed and flickered with a soft, white light, like a mythical gate created by ancient gods.
“What the…” Netto couldn’t find words as his awe overcame him.
“That’s the way out?” Blues asked. Even his voice contained a hushed tone.
“This opening will lead you to wherever you belong,” Copy Rockman said. “For Netto and Enzan, it will cause the NetWorld to retreat from their minds and allow them to wake up, back in their real bodies. For you, it will either transport you to your PETs or a safe, unrelated system. Maybe to some place in the Internet that Immersion hates so much. But you have to move quickly! There’s no time left.”
Rockman nodded. “Thank you,” he said fervently. He turned to Netto and gestured, and the young netbattler approached the glowing portal cautiously. His fingers reached out to brush the light, and in that instant he vanished. Rockman confidently strode toward it, but he vanished in a similar way the second his toe touched the gate.
“You’re not coming with us,” Enzan realized.
“I can’t do that and maintain the gate at the same time,” Copy Rockman explained softly. “Bl—Copy Blues had that planned all along, but he never made it far enough to fulfill it.”
“He knew this would be the death of him, and he walked willingly toward it anyway,” Blues said softly, placing a hand on Enzan’s shoulder. “This small area is crumbling fast, Enzan-sama. We have to leave.”
Enzan walked silently toward the gate, Blues’ hand still resting on his shoulder. “Blues,” he said suddenly, stopping before he touched the glowing mass. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Blues asked.
Enzan grabbed Blues’ hand and shoved it at the portal before the navi could react. “For everything,” he said to thin air. “Rockman,” he whispered, turning toward the copy navi. “There has to be some other way.”
“Enzan-sama, my data is a part of the NetWorld,” Copy Rockman said, smiling. A tear slid down his cheek. “I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.”
“No…” Enzan reached out to the navi. “Please… there has to be a way.”
Copy Rockman pulled one arm out of the gate, watching it solidify into his normal arm. He reached out and pressed his hand against Enzan’s, sliding his fingers around to create a firm grasp on Enzan’s hand.
“You’re my friend,” Enzan said desperately. “I can’t leave you to die.”
“And you’re my angel without wings, Enzan-sama,” Rockman replied. “I can’t let you die for me.” His hand began to glow.
“No!” Enzan cried. He watched as Rockman’s fingers blurred. It was the last thing he saw.
… … …
When Netto opened his eyes, it was very bright and confusing. There were a lot of people standing around, most of whom he didn’t know. They all seemed very glad to see him, which was strange, because he didn’t know him.
“You’re alive!” a pink-haired woman exclaimed. She pointed a finger at a blonde man standing next to her. “You owe me 1000 yen!”
“Are you feeling all right?” another man approached him. He was wearing a mask that oddly resembled a fish. Netto could only stare at him in confusion.
“Does he look dead?” another masculine voice chimed in. “No? Then he’s alive and kicking. Elec, you owe me 1000 yen too.”
Netto sat up, feeling weak. His muscles acted like they were made of jelly, and the fish-head man had to support him. “Hino Ken?” he said weakly, spotting the owner of the voice. “You’re alive!”
Hino Ken crossed his arms. “I’m not so easy to defeat, Hikari Netto.”
Netto blinked very slowly. “So it’s true,” he replied softly.
“Your real memories should return within a few hours,” fish-head man assured him. “You’re pretty weak, though, like the rest of them. We’re going to move you to a hospital so you can fully recover. Oh, and by the way,” he added, digging through his pocket. “I think this belongs to you.”
“Netto-k—Netto, are you feeling all right?” Rockman asked worriedly, staring at Netto through the confines of the PET.
Netto smiled. “I will be, they’re telling me.”
“Commander Beef!” another woman, this one green-haired, ran into the room, a red PET in her hand. “The NetWorld has crashed!”
“Any effects to the Internet?” the fish man asked.
Netto wondered how anyone could get the name Beef from a man in a fish costume, but the woman’s next words distracted him.
“None so far, but that’s not the problem,” the woman said grimly. She held out the PET to Commander Beef almost hesitantly. “We’re not sure… if Ijuuin Enzan made it out.”
“What?” Netto cried. “But he was right behind me!”
Beef looked at the PET, panic and fear forming a cold ball in his stomach. The navi it contained was nowhere in sight, and Beef heaved a sigh. He couldn’t blame Blues for not wanting to face anyone.
Across the room, another man was panicking. Ijuuin stroked his son’s face, pushing aside wires and tubes. “He’s not waking up!” he said in a trembling voice. “Why isn’t my son waking up?”
Miyuki came up silently behind Ijuuin and examined the machinery attached to the young boy closely. “According to this, he was separated from the NetWorld before the crash. However, it was very close.”
“That doesn’t explain why my son isn’t waking up!” Ijuuin snapped.
Beef walked over and stared down at Enzan for a long moment. “Unhook him from the machines,” he said sharply. “And someone call an ambulance now.”
… … …
The NetWorld collapsed and crumbled, self-destructing under its own power. Soon nothing was left but darkness. The machines that ran it had all shut down, some overloading and exploding.
The small navi sobbed, terrified by the dark. He hated being alone, especially in this dark. His personality wasn’t programmed to deal with this kind of thing, and his fear overwhelmed him. He curled up into a ball, trying desperately to comfort himself. His operator had to come soon, or else he would truly be lost.
A figure appeared in the distance, limping slightly. Its arms were gone, only stubby ends ending in pixels remaining. Its face was in bad shape too, but somehow, it could still walk. It approached the sobbing navi and crouched down, careful not to lose its balance.
“What’s wrong?” it asked.
“I-I’m lost!” the small navi cried. “I d-don’t know w-where I am and I-I can’t find Yuuhi-chan, m-my operator. I’m s-scared, really, r-really scared.”
“It’s okay, it’ll be over soon,” the figured said gently. “What’s your name?”
The small navi looked up, his eyes black and empty. “Copy,” he said. “Copy.EXE.”