They were there.
He knew they were there, but there was nothing he could do about it.
Nothing at all.
But it had begun many hours earlier…
Silver walked down the corridor leading away from X’s office, holding a folder in her hands. She hadn’t had many missions lately, but X had been adamant about her being the best choice for this mission. After reading through the description, she couldn’t do much else but agree. So now she had to put together her squad for it.
“Composing a team based off of vague data. My favourite.”
She hadn’t moved much further until her thoughts were interrupted by someone calling to her.
Silver looked up, spotting the familiar purple-skinned female. She was wearing a deep blue and white variation of the clothes she usually wore.
“Oh, Shiva. Fancy seeing you here.”
“Just followed Pallette to work. You?”
Silver looked up, remembering they were indeed close to the Navigator central. She held up the folder.
“Got a mission. Need to go put together a team for it.”
“A mission, huh? Something fun?”
“Fun, I don’t know…” She opened the folder and flipped through some pages. “Listen to this: ‘…and if facility is found at proposed location, comprehensive extraction of data and other material that could be beneficial’. And here: ‘…chances of resistance unknown, yet preparation for still functional security systems recommended’. They’ve put the threat level at low to medium.”
“If facility is found? What are they looking for?”
“Well, it’s not actually a mission directly from above… it was a requisition for assistance from a doctor James Cash.”
“Cash? Wasn’t that the guy who-”
“Related to Wily, yeah. Last time he asked us for help, he directly put Snex, Metro and Triple in danger.”
“And X accepted this one?”
“It’s been over a year since, and he’s worked with us before… obviously, none of those three want anything to do with him. But X decided that this mission was worth putting resources into, since James wants to share whatever we find with the hunters. Not sure if it’s supposed to be a peace offering, or something…”
“So what are we looking for?”
“He says that he’s gotten a solid lead on the Wily Archives. He thinks he knows where they are.”
“Which is… what, exactly?”
“Going from the writeup, it’s supposed to be a large storehouse containing a large portion of material Wily used for constructing his so-called robot masters, and perhaps more importantly, a large database with blueprints, programming and other data used for them. I can see why X thinks it’s something we want… and with my knowledge of weapons and weapon systems, X really wanted me to do this.”
“So, where would we find this magical place?”
“According to this, it’s on an island to the southwest. About a three-hour flight. A fairly uninteresting region in general, so it would make sense to hide something like that there. A lot of similar islands clustered fairly close together, too. But James says he’s certain he’s pinpointed the place.”
“Three hours… long mission?”
“No, it’s been calculated to take about 18 to 24 hours. And six of that is transport.”
“Hmm… can I tag along?”
“You want to go on a data retrieval mission?”
“Hey, it’s a short mission, and I don’t have anything better to do today. Besides, we haven’t done anything together for a while.” Shiva chuckled and gave Silver’s arm a light bump with her fist as they left the building.
Silver smiled. “Well, sure. Standard rate okay?”
“Huh? Oh, sure.”
“Alright, we leave in two hours from landing pad 3A. Meet me there.”
“Gotcha. See you later!”
Silver watched as Shiva started moving towards the apartment complex. In a way, it was beneficial for her to have Shiva join, as it meant she had to bring less personell for protection, especially as they might not even run into any dangers at all. She hadn’t even asked about the pay, despite still being a mercenary for the hunters. 666 would still emphasize that he was in for the money, but Shiva had pretty much dropped that pretense entirely ever since she got together with Pallette. But her still being a mercenary was a good thing, as the hunters had to admit it was advantageous to have someone they could ask to do things that they couldn’t ask of their regular employees.
“Well, then… time to put that team together.” Silver went off to peruse the roster. If they were less than twenty people, then even with the equipment they would bring with them and could potentially bring back, they’d wouldn’t have to use a large transport. “At least three techs…”
It was shameful that he couldn’t do anything.
It was, after all, supposed to be his task to stop them.
“…and then he says ‘Yes, but I wasn’t going to marry it!'”
Silver started laughing together with the rest of the cabin. “Oh, seriously… where do you get all of these from?” Shiva had spent most of the flight entertaining the passengers of the transport with a torrent of stories and jokes of varying degrees of quality and raunchiness.
Shiva shrugged. “Pick them up here and there. Did I tell you the one about the hunter and the vending machine?”
“Two hours ago.”
“Attention, this is the pilot speaking. Approaching destination, landing in ten minutes. Strap yourselves in.”
“Well, then, about time.” Everyone in the transport secured themselves in their seats as the landing sequence begun. About ten minutes later, they started stepping out.
The island didn’t look like there had been any people there for a long time, and there probably hadn’t either. The island’s landscape was mostly forest on uneven ground, with multiple cliffs and inconvenient terrain. It was small enough to not be very exciting, but large enough for a manual search of the whole place to be too time-consuming. They had landed in a clearing a kilometer from the coast, it being one of the few places where they could actually set down. Most of the other ones were at the other end of the island, but this had been suggested as the closest one.
Silver turned to James, who had been riding with the pilot. “Well, here we are. Where do we look?”
James picked up a data pad and a scanner. “According to the topographical data, and what I could find in the data about the archives I found… there should be a cavern in the cliff that’s a bit into the forest right here. Should be a bit of an upwards climb, but walkable.” He pointed into the forest in front of them. “If I have it correct, this was the closest we could land.”
“Well, then…” Silver turned to the rest of the team that had unloaded from the carrier together with all of their equipment. A team of four light infantry, two heavy infantry, four techs and a field medic. And Shiva, of course. “Alright, we’re heading in. Follow me, and stay alert. We don’t know if there’s any of Wily’s old security systems still active. Shiva, I’m putting you on special duty of guarding James and the tech team.”
Following a chorus of ten “Yes, sir” with a single “Sure thing” mixed in, they set off into the forest, one of the techs staying behind to maintain a relay so that the thickness of the forest would not impede communications, with the other techs setting up transmitters on the way for the same reason. For the first ten minutes, there wasn’t anything that indicated at all that there had ever been anything but forest here. A short while later, one of the light infantry that walked in front stopped, kneeled down and picked up something.
“What’s that, soldier?” Silver walked up to him as he stood up and brushed the moss off of it.
“No mistake. It’s a met helmet.” He held it up so the whole group could see it.
“That’s good news. Proves that something of Wily’s has been here.” James grabbed the helmet and studied it closer. “Amazing construction, these helmets. Almost impenetrable.” He handed the helmet off to one of the hunters and held up the scanner. “We’re close. I think the trees are thinning up a bit ahead.”
As they continued, the forest indeed started thinning. And so did the ground, when they found themselves staring down a hundred meter drop. For as much as they could stare down, at least – many trees had grown to almost the same height, but there was no easy way down here. Not with the equipment they had, at any rate. Trying to get the transport down there would have been an exercise in futility.
“So, what now?” Silver turned to James.
“Well, the entrance has to be around here… search for something that looks like it could have been an entrance to something. Remember that it’s probably overgrown with a lot of stuff.”
After ten minutes of coming up with absolutely nothing, James looked out over the sea of trees below them. “That leaves only one option… should probably have been obvious. The entrance is somewhere on the face of the cliff.”
“Oh. Lovely.” Silver turned to the group. “Okay, what do we have in terms of mountain climbing gear?” As the group started fishing out hooks and ropes from their packs, Shiva walked up to the edge.
“Okay, I think that’s my cue.”
“What are you-” Before Silver could finish her sentence, Shiva had already taken a leap off the cliff and into the trees. “Shiva!” She didn’t get any reply, but from the rustling of the trees below it was clear Shiva wasn’t in any real danger. She shouldn’t have expected it, either. She knew Shiva had tremendous physical capability and a penchant for pulling stunts like that, and anything that would help… she turned back to her team. “Okay, while Shiva’s looking for the entrance… set up a transmission relay here. We need to maintain contact. We still have contact, right?”
One of the techs who had started setting up a transmitter brought a hand up to his headset. “Headquarters, this is a communications test. Please respond. Out.”
“Hearing you loud and clear. Headquarters out.”
The tech turned to Silver and gave a thumbs up. “Communications are clear. Signal delay is negligible.”
“Good. Will we be able to maintain good communications even when inside the cliff?”
“Should not be a problem. While we have equipment that should be able to amplify and transmit the signal through the surface to this relay with only minor signal deprecation, and we will extend a wire into the cavern as well. The strength of the wireless communications field inside the cavern will depend on how much power we can give it. We have a generator, but as we likely need that to power the system to pull the data from as well, it would be optimal if there was a power grid accessible.”
“Sounds good. Don’t count on anything being functional as it is, though…”
Silver walked up to the edge of the cliff and looked down. Still not really seeing anything, though. “Shiva? Did you find something?” She shouted down.
“There’s something here, all right! It’s well hidden, but there’s definitely been some sort of entrance here! Can’t find any way to get in, though… hold on, I’m coming up!” Shiva scaled the trees, her purple figure soon appearing on top of the green mass. “I think we need to blow it up.”
“Is there anywhere to stand or so around the entrance?”
“No, not really, unless you want to stand on the tree branches.”
“Won’t do with our equipment…” Silver turned to the others. They had secured points to climb down from with hooks and cables, and had a total of four harnesses for people to use. She spoke up to the heavily armed hunters. “Okay, we need some explosives. The two of you go down first, Shiva will show you what she found.”
“Yes, sir.” The two of them put on the harnesses and started rappelling down the cliff towards Shiva. She guided them through the mass of trees, soon reaching what she had found – a roughly circular area, about five meters in diameter, becoming more flat towards the bottom.
“See? This isn’t a natural formation.”
The two hunters checked along the edge of the area and turned to each other. “She’s right. There’s something through here. What do you think? Collapse the whole thing, or just try to make a hole?”
“From what I can tell, it’s too thick to make blasting through a good idea. I’m thinking remotes at key points, since it’s clearly been placed here to cover a natural entrance.”
“What do we got, three each?”
“I believe so.” One of them turned to Shiva. “Miss, can you give us some assistance here?”
“Oh, sure.” Shiva grabbed onto the edge of the covering stone slab, helping the hunters with placing the remote explosives in what they gathered to be the best locations to attempt to dislodge it from the opening in the cliff face. If this didn’t work… the two hunters ascended back up to the top of the cliff where the rest of the squad was waiting, while Shiva placed herself a little further into the trees, far enough so that the explosion or any shrapnel shouldn’t touch her but still with full view of the area.
“Alright, we’ve placed explosives along the rim. It should be enough to open it.”
Silver nodded. “Good. Proceed.”
Standing close to the edge of the cliff, they set off the remote explosives. A loud crack was heard, followed by the cracking of tree branches and then a muted thud as something large and heavy landed on the ground below the cliff.
Shiva watched as the dust settled. There it was. The big stone cover was gone, and… in the opening was…
She climbed back up to the top of the trees, looking up at the group above. “Well, the explosions worked, and there’s room for all of you to come down now. Which you probably should, because you need to see this.”
The two hunters who were still in the climbing harnesses were the first down, followed by Silver and a tech. As the harnesses were reeled back up on the cables to the group still waiting above, the five of them surveyed the situation.
A few meters into the cavern opening that had now been revealed was a second barrier, a metal gate. Silver went up to it and knocked.
“Great. Why can’t anything ever be as simple as you hope it will be?”
“Because then you’d miss out on all the fun.” Shiva had walked up next to her and started looking around. “Any way to open it?”
Silver walked to the edge of the gate and checked the walls, finding something embedded in the rock. “Well, there might have been once…”
Shiva and the tech walked over to Silver, looking at what she had found. The rusted and decidedly non-functional remains of some sort of panel, presumably the controls for the gate. It looked like it had been shot with something. She turned her head to the tech. “Any hope for this one?”
He started investigating it as the rest of the squad made their way down, including all equipment. One tech and one of the light infantry stayed at the top of the cliff, to ensure there would be nothing to impede communications. James was the last to step into the cavern opening.
“Well. At least we found it.”
Silver sighed. “This is my fault. I should have anticipated that this place wouldn’t be easy to access. Snex should have been here, he would have blown up the gate by now.”
“While you could have anticipated that there would be two locks on the front door, I wouldn’t have expected both to be this solid either. I would have figured the strongest barriers to be inside.” James went over to the tech who was looking at the panel. “How does it look?”
“No go. We’d need access to the system on the other side of the gate as well if we wanted to even attempt to get this working again.”
“So we’ll just have to bust through.” Shiva turned to Silver. “Don’t you have swords?”
“Yeah, but…” She fingered the hilt of Deepwave hanging from her belt. “Triple might have been able to slice this gate up. I’m not so sure I can do it. I don’t even know how thick it is, or what exactly it’s made of…”
“Can’t hurt to try, right?” Shiva grinned at her. Silver sighed.
“Alright, I’ll give it a shot. No promises.” She walked up to the center of the gate, unhooking Deepwave from her belt. Lifting it up above her head and turning it on, she closed her eyes and tried to remember a technique that 666 had tried to teach her. “Feel the blade… feel the target…” She took a deep breath. “Haaaah!” Striking downwards, she deactivated the saber as the blade hit the ground. Opening her eyes again, she saw that there was at least a cut in the gate, but it was much to shallow to account for much. She put the hilt back in her belt and turned to face Shiva. “Any other bright ideas?”
Shiva looked at the ground below the gate and started fingering her spear. “Not at this point in time.”
Then one of the lightly armed hunters walked over to them and turned to Silver. “Excuse me, General, I think I have an idea.”
“Hm? What would that be?”
The hunter motioned out over the trees behind them. “How about we make a battering ram? If we get a tree trunk of the right size and weight, and use the climbing equipment to hang it from the cliff, we could hoist it up and swing it into the gate. With enough force, we could be able to buckle the gate so that there could be an opening made somewhere along the edge of it. We did something similar on a mission I was on a while ago.”
Silver looked at him and then at the gate. “That’s…”
Before she could finish her sentence, Shiva spoke up. “That’s just about crazy enough to work.”
Silver looked up to the ceiling of the opening they were in. “We don’t have a lot of space to work with here, but it could work. Alright, we’ll try it. It’s better than anything else we have at the moment.” Silver saw that Shiva had extended her hand towards her, with her palm open. “…what?”
“Since you’re the engineer and sniper with all the knowledge about distances and stuff that will be needed to set up the contraption, I assume I’ll be on timber-felling duty. So lend me a sword or two, unless we have any other good equipment for felling and carving.”
Silver touched the swords hanging from her belt. “…alright. Here you go.” She handed over Longinus and Deepwave to Shiva, who unfastened her spear and held it out. “Be careful with them.”
“You might need this for something. I sure won’t.” She secured Deepwave in her clothes and gripped Longinus tightly before starting to ascend the cliff face, not bothering with the climbing gear. She soon made her way up above the edge and turned to the duo still up there, pointing at them. “Okay, one of you help me to get a tree felled. Orders from the general.” A minor lie, but they didn’t need to know that. They looked at each other before the light hunter shrugged and took a step forwards.
“Acknowledged. But what do we need a tree for?”
“We’re going to take it for a swing.”
“Just come on.”
With that, Shiva and the hunter walked back into the woods, looking for a tree to suit their needs.
He had heard them trying to enter.
He had heard when they entered.
He heard them now.
Constructing a battering ram using a tree and some mountain climbing gear turned out to be quite a time-consuming task. Silver and James made the necessary calculations to figure out where they had to fasten the spikes and hooks in the cliff, but getting everything in place wasn’t the easiest thing. Shiva returned with her tree after thirty minutes, but the first attempt at lowering it into position ended in massive failure when one of the harnesses disagreed with the weight, sending both the tree and the gear plummeting down to the bottom of the cliff. As they couldn’t afford losing the equipment, Shiva did another dive to find them, which took another twenty minutes, but getting the tree up to the cavern from below would have been impossible. So she had to take a second go at being a lumberjack, while a better plan to getting the trunk in position was devised. But eventually, after nearly two hours of work, they finally had their battering ram all ready to plunge into the gate. James, being the physically weakest, remained at the gate to see how much progress each hit would make, while the rest of the squad was on top of the cliff to pull the ram upwards and outwards for the swing. Heavy as it was, they pulled it as far as they could, and let go for the first hit.
A loud bang sounded as tree met metal.
Silver walked up to the edge. “How does it look?”
It was silent for a few seconds before James yelled his answer back up. “It definitely did something, that’s for sure! The gate took some damage, so give it a few more swings!”
“Alright, let’s do that again.”
Two smashes of the ram into the gate later, it was an exhausted group of hunters that sat on the ground. Even for a team of reploids trained for combat, repeatedly pulling the weight of a tree trunk heavy enough to dent a huge metal gate wasn’t an easy task. James confirmed that the gate kept getting damaged, and Shiva joined him to assess their progress while the others took a break. They were definitely hurting the gate, but there was no telling how much more they’d have to pound it to give them something to work with. If they just got a small opening, they’d have something, but at the moment the gate was firmly secured to the walls of the cavern. But the gate wasn’t the only thing taking damage – looking at the front of the trunk, the place where it impacted the metal gate wasn’t looking all that well either after only three strikes. If they could reinforce that… they didn’t have anything sturdy enough among the equipment they had brought with them, and their transport didn’t really have anything they could use for it either. If there only was… she suddenly came to a realization and quickly made her way back up the cliff.
“Shiva?” Silver looked at her as she strode past them, into the forest.
“I got an idea that might make this a little faster. Though I have to admit that I have no idea if it’s going to work or if I’m even going to find enough of what I’m thinking of.” With those words, she went into the forest, back the way they had come. She returned just shy of fifteen minutes later, carrying something in her arms. She saw that while she were gone they had started hoisting up the ram for another go at the door, so she waited until they had released it before she joined the group and tapped Silver on the shoulder.
“Huh? Oh, welcome back.” She looked down at what Shiva was carrying. “What’s that?”
“Sturdy material. I figured we could do more damage to the gate if we put these at the head of the ram.”
Silver picked one up. Met helmets. “That would be a good idea, but how do you suggest we make a workable head out of them?”
“I was thinking we make some circular cuts at the front so we could more or less embed them in there. It’s worth a try, right?”
“It is. Okay, let’s go down there.” She turned to the others. “Okay, another break while me and Shiva upgrade the ram.” She put on their one remaining harness that wasn’t being used for the ram and started climbing down towards the opening. Shiva, having put the helmets in a bag, got down ahead of her with a few well-placed jumps, landing on the hanging tree trunk. Silver lowered herself to the front of the trunk and got a small plasma cutter out of her pocket. Primarily for cutting wires, it wouldn’t have done anything to the gate but would work well for making a few cuts into wood. Measuring the size of a helmet, she started cutting a round hole, enough to start wedging in the helmet. She had to make sure the helmet was stuck inside the trunk so it wouldn’t fall off when they pulled it up. With some assistance from Shiva, the front of their ram was soon adorned with a collection of met helmets, which they were hoping would be stronger than the metal gate. Maybe it could save them a ram or two.
“Alright. Let’s get at it again, shall we?” Silver put the cutter back in her pocket and starting pulling herself up again. Shiva got up right after her, and they all got ready to continue their pounding of the door. This time the bang was mixed with a more metallic clang as the helmets impacted the metal gate with full force, which at least told them that the helmets were still there.
“Well?” Silver called down to James.
“Not sure it did any more damage, but the gate is looking more and more warped. I think we’ll have an opening soon!”
“Alright, once again…”
They gave it another two hits. A few helmets flew off, but…
“Okay, someone should come down here and see this. We might have something to work with now.” James gave his latest report from below. Obviously, Shiva was the one to make her way down and take another look at the gate. Sure enough, in the lower left corner of it, she could just about see that there was a small space opened between the cliff and the gate. Inside, she could see nothing but darkness, but they were clearly on track. Looking at where the ram was impacting the gate, she got an idea and climbed back up to Silver.
“You’re going up and down like an I don’t know what.”
“Hey, I like climbing. We have a very small opening in the gate, now. Is it possible to lower the ram a bit? I think that would bend it more where we need it to bend.”
“Maybe. I’d need to climb down to reach the part to adjust anyway, so I might as well go down to see if your idea has merit.” So once again, Silver strapped into the harness and joined James at the gate. Shiva had stayed at the top this time, but the opening, while small, was easy to find. She looked at how the gate had been warped by the hits from the ram, and the position of it. She came to the same conclusion that lowering it might indeed help, so she called for Shiva to join her and help. As getting the trunk in position had already been a very careful job, changing the placement of it would also require some coordination and care if they didn’t want to lose a second trunk the same way as the first. They slowly lowered the trunk about half a meter, not daring to extend the cables any further. It would also mean they’d have to pull on it even more to get the force they wanted, so it had better help.
So fifteen minutes later, they got ready for the next hit. Everyone was pretty tired, but they managed to pull it as far as was possible.
They let go, hearing the sound of the ram impacting the gate… followed by the sound of a cable snapping, a spike getting forcibly ejected from rock and something large falling down and hitting the ground below the cliff.
The lowering had been too much for the cables. Some of the hunters grunted, some of them just looked down over the cliff. Among them, Silver and Shiva.
“James, you all right?” Silver hoped the falling trunk hadn’t put him in any danger.
“I’m fine, and I think there’s good news! Come here and see!” As usual, Shiva was the first down. As the rest of the team only had one harness among them, getting all of them plus equipment down would take a while. She waited for Silver, one of the techs and one of the light hunters to come down before the five of them walked over to the gate to inspect what that last hit had actually done. It had gotten more bent in a beneficial location, and the opening had grown. Maybe someone small could get through now. Someone like…
“Already on it.” She dropped her spear on the ground and crouched in front of the opening. “Looks like it’ll be a tight fit… but I’ve done worse.” She started trying to squeeze through the opening, being thankful for her strong skin. Pushing with her legs, her torso was the hardest part to get in… but eventually, she managed to get her whole body into the cavern. She stood up, dusted herself off and started to look around. As much as she could, anyway. She turned back towards the opening. “Can someone get me a flashlight?”
“Oh, uh, sure.” Silver turned to the others. “I need a lantern over here!”
“Roger.” One of the techs got one out of a pack and handed it over to Shiva. She turned it on, flooding the inside of the cavern with light.
“What do you see?”
“Not much here, mostly cave…”
“Anything that could help to get the rest of us in?”
“I’ll have a look. Give me a few minutes.” She raised the lantern to see what the gate had on this side. It had to have been put there some way, and there had to be some way to open it… given how the lower left corner had given way, it was probably opening upwards or to the right. She inspected the edges, but didn’t find much. Sighing, she was just about ready to admit they might have to rebuild the battering ram again when she found a panel on one of the cavern walls. The gate controls, no doubt about that… but that probably didn’t help them much. She put a hand on it.
And felt something.
“…huh?” Going even closer to the wall, she put her ear to the panel. It was faint, but somewhere in there, she could hear a spark. Maybe there was something to be done here… this panel didn’t look anywhere near as damaged as the one on the outside, maybe it could still do one last service… she went back to the opening, crouching down and putting her head outside. “We might have something here.”
Silver looked down at her and crouched herself. “It sounds like there’s a catch.”
“Maybe. There’s a panel here that I’m hoping has some ghost left in it.”
“There’s something faint in it, but I have no idea how these things actually work. It needs power, either way.”
Silver pondered it. “Let’s try something. Keep an eye on the panel, I’m going to try something.”
“Right.” She pulled her head back in and went back to the panel.
On the outside, Silver had walked up to the completely dead panel and removed the front of it, uncovering the wiring. She charged up electricity in her hands and gave the wiring a jolt. They sparked for a moment before going dead again, and Shiva’s head was back out as Silver came back to the opening.
“Did something happen?”
“I think there was a small blink, but it was for less than a second. Whatever you did, it wasn’t enough.”
Silver sighed. “Okay, you’re going to have to remove the panel and see if we can do something in there…” She looked up at the rest of the group. “I need a toolkit!”
“Yes, sir!” She was soon handed one, and passed it over to Shiva.
“First you’ll need to just get the panel loose from the wall, then tell me what you see. I’ll walk you through the process as best as I can.”
“Got it.” Shiva returned to the panel. Just removing it would have been the easiest thing for her, but removing it while still keeping it functional was another kind of animal. She removed the screws, and carefully lifted the panel off, not wanting to apply too much force as to not break anything. Underneath was what seemed like a fairly simple series of connections, but these things were rarely as simple as they appeared to be. She studied it for a few moments, then went back to report to Silver. She made the following process sound easy, but it took Shiva ten minutes to do what she were told, working more carefully than she had worked on anything in her entire life. She wasn’t sure exactly what she had done, but Silver was the electricity expert here. She went back to the opening, seeing Silver holding a wire.
“Alright, now take this and coil it around the wire next to what seemed to be the controls on the front… then knock on the gate when you’re done, and let’s pray this works. If it does, when you notice something happening with the panel, apply some pressure to that thing you thought were a switch. If this doesn’t work, I’m going to scream.”
“You’re not the only one, Sparks.” Shiva grabbed the wire and coiled it around the part she had been told to. She knocked on the gate. “Alright, all ready!” She didn’t know how well Silver could hear her, but she heard the faint sound of her charging up on the outside, so she quickly went back to the panel. She held up a hand next to it, and soon she felt a surge of electricity in two spots, and realized what Silver had done – she was sending electricity into it from both the outside panel and the wire. Shiva quickly hit the supposed switch, and the sound of something large moving was heard.
The gate was raising.
Shiva gave off a happy sigh as she watched it move, creating an opening between the bottom of the gate and the rock.
And then the gate promptly stopped. She looked back up to the panel, and nothing. It was completely dead, not even the initial spark was there anymore.
“So much for that.”
“What do you mean? It worked.” She turned to the gate, seeing Silver having crawled in under it. “We have enough room to get everything in now. See?” She motioned towards the opening at the other side of the cavern, and a half-crouching James walked in. The rest of the team and their equipment, including Shiva’s spear, followed. They had conquered the second barrier. “Right, then. We need some more lights.”
Two of the hunters switched on their own lanterns, Shiva handing hers over to Silver as she fastened her spear at her back. James looked at his data pad again, looking towards the interior of the cave.
“Alright, we should just have to follow this cave now. But be on your guard, if that panel still had some life left in it, maybe some other systems still do as well… like defenses.”
While a valid concern, there wasn’t much to worry about. A few wall-mounted cannons made small movements, but none of them managed to fire anything at all. The cavern was getting more and more narrow the further they went, and eventually it was only two meters from the bottom to the top. The cavern was longer than they had thought, and they had walked nearly a kilometer inwards at a slightly downwards angle before they ran across anything at all, and it wasn’t something they liked seeing.
The passage had caved in.
“Awesome.” Shiva picked up a rock.
“You think we did this?” One of the hunters turned to James.
“With the ram? Unlikely. We’re too far in. If the cliff was so unstable that this would be a result of that, we would have seen more caved in areas on the way. I would guess this was done on purpose… I guess Wily really didn’t want anyone to get in here.”
“So what do we do now?” Silver gave off a sigh. “Can we dig past this?”
James grabbed one of the lanterns and focused the light at the top of the cave in. “I don’t know. It could go on for a while, and there might be more stuff ready to drop…”
Shiva sat down at the cavern wall, and was soon joined by Silver. “Great day we’re having, don’t you think?”
James turned back to the group. “I’m sorry, everyone. I’m not sure we can get through this with our current equipment. I’m starting to think we should have returned already when we saw the first barrier, and came back another day with more powerful gear to get through things like that. If anyone even trusts my missions anymore…”
Shiva looked up at him. “Hey, we found something, didn’t we?” She knocked on the wall behind her. “The archives are here, we just can’t- huh?” She turned her head back towards the wall and knocked again. Silver noticed how she put her head at the rock wall and started knocking more.
“What are you doing?”
“Ssh. Listen, Sparks.” Shiva guided Silver’s head down to where she had just been and gave some hard knocks. “Hear that?”
Silver drew her head back up and turned to James. “She’s right. The wall seems oddly thin here, and there’s something hollow behind it.” She stood up, turning to the heavily armed hunters. “Try blasting it with the strongest we have. Once we’ve gotten out of the way.” Shiva stood up as well, walking back a bit as the hunters lifted their weapons and fired. After a few powerful shots, the wall crumbled, water dripping on the other side of it. James walked up to the opening, shining the lantern into it. It was a huge cavern, but there were constructions along the walls.
They had found the archives.
He couldn’t even figure out how they got there.
There wasn’t even a physically connected entrance.
The only way in should have been through a warp gate. Through him.
But there was no telling what a few decades of erosion had done…
The drop they were facing was something not even Shiva wanted to attempt to clear without equipment. As they had decided to retrieve the equipment from the fallen battering ram later, they still had only one harness, and wasn’t entirely sure it would be enough. Shiva volunteered to be the first down either way, not the least because she could use her spear to tell how far it would be left when having been lowered as far as was possible. As trying to shout up to the others might not work all that well with the amount of echoes the cavern would produce, and later conversations inside the cave would have the same problem, she was fitted with an earpiece and microphone. So with Coper in one hand and a lantern in the other, she was lowered down. And down. When they had no more to give her, she turned the lantern downwards. Didn’t look all that bad… with a firm grip on the spear, she loosened herself from the harness and dropped down. She swiftly landed in a small puddle of water, and using her spear to measure how far up the harness was, she saw that it was a drop of just above two meters.
“How does it look, Shiva?” Her earpiece crackled as Silver’s voice came through.
“It’s just a short jump from the bottom of the cable, but it’s not going to be possible for all of us to come down here… not until we’ve confirmed if there’s another way out or found something to better climb up with in here, at any rate.”
“Check.” Silver relayed the news to the group. One of the light and one of the heavy hunters were decided to stay behind, so it was a team of two techs, one medic, two light infantry, one heavy infantry, one James and one Silver that slowly but surely entered the archives, with help from the ones who had already made it down. James looked out over the cavern. It was huge, and on one of the short ends, a computer system with an amount of cylinders behind it…
“Ah, there it is. The heart of the facility.” James and the techs started heading over to it, as the others looked around a little more. In here was supposedly materials for all the weapons that one madman had used in desperate bids for power, so many years ago. Having a storehouse of this size with reserves for all those robots would explain a thing or two about the Wily Wars…
“Everyone come over here, we have information.” One of the techs called out to them, and everyone gathered around the computer. “We’re going to try to activate the system, and then set up a communications field inside the cave. We need to adjust everyone’s earpiece frequency, and if all goes well you will also have contact with HQ, but we need to run a communication test first.” He turned around towards the computer again. James and the other tech had set up the energy generator they had brought with them, and also started setting up the radio equipment. “Ready?”
The other tech responded. “All ready over here. Activating generator.”
With a hum, the generator powered up. James had opened a panel at the side of the computer and connected a few wires from the generator.
There was a spark, and the computer started lighting up almost instantly.
“What? That was faster than it should have been. Can it really be…” They quickly noticed that a few of the lamps that had been fitted at the top of the cavern had started blinking as well.
“A still functioning power grid? Then the power from the generator through the computer gave it a kickstart, so…”
“That does add up with that there seemed to be some spark of power in the gate panel. Makes everything easier for us, and will allow us to have better communications.” He handed out earpieces and microphones to those in the team that did not have built-in communication equipment in their helmets, and gave one of the light hunters two antennas. “Set these up on the other side of the cave, one at the floor, and the other higher up, if you can.”
“Roger.” He started walking towards the other end as James started pushing some buttons on the computer. Suddenly, a screen higher up on the system lit up, showing the image of a red and yellow figure with a disc on its head for a moment. Silver turned to him.
“What did you-”
“Nothing! I just started it! My only guess is that it was an action the system was in the process of taking when it was shut down, and now it’s completing it!”
The image of the figure was being replaced with lines of text.
>> EXECUTING PROGRAM METAL.MAN
>> METAL.PRG FOUND
>> METAL.ARM FOUND
>> METAL.BDY NOT FOUND
>> DOC.BDY NOT FOUND
>> POD.BDY FOUND
From one of the cylinders at the back of the system, a spinning orange cylinder with a large spike on the top and bottom appeared. It spun for about a second before launching two spinning blades in Silver’s direction.
“Whoa, what the-” She jumped out of the way and sent a jolt of electricity towards it, which seemed to slow it down before the heavy infantry destroyed it with a well-placed shot. Silver walked up to the computer, next to James. “What was THAT?”
“A weapon pod… must have been.”
“I’ve found references to them in old files I’ve uncovered before, but I didn’t know what they looked like. A generic weapon system, that can load any data and be armed with any weapon. Useful, but as you could see… not very strong.” James looked down at the destroyed pod. “But I’m amazed… I didn’t think the system would be working this well. It makes our job easier, though.” He looked back to the computer, starting to push a few buttons and navigate the systems. “Well then, let’s see if we can start pulling a data dump. There should be a lot in here, so it’ll probably take a while. The rest of you can-” He looked up at Silver again. “Where did that other girl go?”
“Hey, check this!” The yell came from just above them. Shiva was standing at the end of one of the shelves along the walls. She was holding out something that resembled a large glove.
“…yeah, the rest of you can do that – search through the shelves for everything possible. There must be a lot of materials still left here. We’re not going to be able to bring everything back with us, but at least we can find out what’s not of any use. So let’s get to work.”
And to work they got. Shiva was like an excited child as she went through the shelves, gathering lots of weaponry she thought looked cool. Silver, on the other hand, carefully studied almost everything she came across, and made mental notes of what she could use to construct some new weapons when they got back. The other hunters took inventory of the archives as well, and all in all, they found that most weapon systems that involved solid, physical objects were still up to shape with the exception of some rust, there were still cells with juice left in them for a number of the energy weapon systems, but almost all weapons that depended on some sort of fluid was long gone. They started collecting samples of most weapons that were still in a workable state to bring back with them, to decide on what could eventually be worth going back to collect more of now that they had almost free access to the place. Most important, according to James, would be any intact weapon pods they could find. Blueprints for them would hopefully be in the database, but having some to work with would make it even easier to produce more of them, or at least some other kind of generic body that could be used to test the weaponry they found with the programs designed to use them.
Silver was in the middle of examining some crystal orbs at the lowest shelf when she heard Shiva’s voice in her earpiece.
“What’s this stuff?” As Silver went to the edge, she saw Shiva was poking at something at the ground with her spear. “Looks like some goo…”
Suddenly, something flew through the air from behind her, hitting her in the back and sending her flying a short bit.
“What the…” She regained her footing and turned around, towards the direction she had been hit from. The object that had hit her, or something identical, started flying towards her once again. She noticed it was something spherical. She held out her right hand, sending a stasis field towards it. As the flying object reached it, it didn’t stop, but seemed to break apart, and Shiva was splashed with whatever it was. “Oh, ew.” She started wiping it off herself and looked at the puddle of it that had formed on the floor.
Silver was still looking at her… and at what was happening behind her. Something was gathering, a form was growing… but it didn’t make much of a sound when it did so. Two legs were built… then… a spherical… “Sh- Sh- Shiva…? Why don’t you… turn around, slowly…”
“What?” Shiva turned her head around, only to see what was starting to take shape behind her. “Holy…” Awestruck, she only took a few slow steps backwards as the slightly grotesque display continued. Eventually, it had formed itself into a body, spherical with two arms and legs. Something red blinked for an instant in the middle of its body, and it made a sound.
It wasn’t a word. It was just a sound, a terrible sound from a giant, yellow… thing. Shiva was once again paying attention and started running towards Silver as the giant raised one of its hands, sending it crashing down towards Shiva. She rolled out of the way and continued her sprint, bringing a hand up to her microphone.
“James! What the hell is that thing?”
There was a moment of silence before any reply came. “I… I don’t know! I’ve never seen anything like it before!”
Two shots were heard. Silver had landed two rounds from her sniper rifle in the body of the giant, but they didn’t seem to do anything. She started climbing upwards to get a better position to try a thunder attack instead, but didn’t get far until a few smaller yellow pieces were sent flying full force in her direction. She had to take a leap downwards to avoid them, and soon joined Shiva at the ground floor.
“Okay, so bullets just make it mad. Any other bright ideas?”
“Not yet, no…”
They split up, running in different directions to try to confuse it by circling to the other side of it. The other hunters was moving towards them to join the fight, however much that would help. But the giant didn’t even turn around – instead, its body parts just morphed to the other direction. But they caught a glance of a hole opening in its body, and in there, again, something red…
One of the lightly armed hunters started firing, first with a small machinegun and then trying a light laser rifle. None of the attacks did much, but caused the giant to move one of its arms towards him. He got out of the way, and the heavy infantry started blasting the arm with his buster cannon. It didn’t do much either, but at least he wasn’t being attacked… yet. He decided to do a strategic retreat before he was.
Silver had grabbed both her swords and was on her way towards one of the giant’s feet. Maybe they could get it off balance, at least… as the giant was not attacking her she was hoping it had not noticed her, and so she took a powerful swing with both blades towards the right foot of it.
Before any of the blades connected, the mass that made up the foot flew out of the way. Silver looked upwards, seeing a hole opening in the body of the giant – and within, something pink glowing. Before Silver could throw an attack towards it, a thick pink laser beam emerged and nearly hit Silver, but the giant had started to wobble. Shiva had targeted the other foot, a stasis field making it disappear – but the giant didn’t fall. Instead, the entire yellow mass started moving itself in pieces a few meters away, and soon reformed all its parts. It was now close to the other end of the room, where the light hunter had just finished setting up the antennas. He started firing at the giant as he spoke into his headset.
“Antennas… field set up! I-”
Before he could finish his sentence, the giant struck him with a large yellow palm, sending him flying into the stone wall. Groans of pain was heard as the giant turned its eye towards the hunter.
“Medic!” Silver yelled into the headset and turned to Shiva. “Can you distract him?”
“I’ll try!” Shiva charged up Coper with a stasis field and with a leap did a vertical swing towards the giant. It didn’t connect as the giant split its body to avoid the hit, but it was enough to cause the laser to not hit the hunter. Silver ran up to him, supporting his body as they moved back towards where the medic had prepared a stretcher – getting the medic over there would just end in disaster. Shiva did a good job of causing a distraction with a little help from the other hunters, the giant not even sparing a second thought for Silver before the hunter was lying down and getting a checkup. She went back into the fray, relentlessly throwing attacks towards the giant, none of which actually seemed to do much of anything. Shiva was up on on one of the shelves together with the more heavily armed hunter, in her hands holding something that looked like drills. She hurled them with as much force as she could towards the giant, but without much spin they didn’t make any big holes in the giant’s body before they exploded, which somehow managed to do even less than the drill heads.
“Does ANYTHING work against this thing?”
“Weren’t you able to make it disperse?” The hunter continued to fire with the buster cannon, even though it didn’t seem to do a lot. But attacks from every direction was their current plan, to if nothing else not allow the giant to attack everyone at the same time.
“Partly, but that doesn’t seem to actually do any damage… and if I try to do it to its body, it just moves out of the way.” Shiva climbed up another level and jumped off the shelf with a stasis charge in one of her hands, sending it in the direction of the giant’s body. But it merely dislodged a piece of itself, sending it flying towards Shiva who managed to barely dodge it… instead sending it into the shelf where the hunter was, who in his attempt to get out of the way lost balance and fell downwards. Shiva looked back to see him fall, and while he managed to break the fall fairly well, he did not manage to get out of the way of the approaching pink shots. Shiva heard the scream of pain from behind as she landed, and quickly did a sweep with Coper towards the closest leg of the giant as she ran towards the fallen hunter. The giant started firing a few shots towards her instead, closely trailing her as she swept up the hunter in her arms right before a laser beam struck the ground where he had been lying. “Are you okay?”
The only answer she got was a squeal of pain.
“I’ll get you to the medic, hold on…” Tossing another stasis field towards the giant’s body, she made her way towards the medic to provide him with a second patient.
Silver had seen the whole turn of events, and started getting worried. Two hunters down already, and nothing they did seemed to do much of anything. Explosions did nothing at all, sharp weapons couldn’t even hope to cut into the large mass, energy weapons were just dodged, and whenever the eye opened, anyone trying to take aim at it and shoot would be met by a large pink energy beam before they could actually hit anything. Even so, they couldn’t give up. There was no way of escape they knew of that wouldn’t take significant time to perform, it couldn’t be detained, and this was not a battle they could win by attrition. They had to find a way to destroy it… or die trying.
The unmistakeable sound of destruction was especially shameful.
He was here to prevent that sort of thing.
How much had been destroyed, he did not want to imagine…
Shiva had started going up the shelves again, when suddenly it hit her. She brought her hand up to her microphone and started speaking. “Connect me to HQ, Navigator central, immediately!”
“Affirmative!” One of the techs over at the central communications unit they had brought with them started pushing a few buttons. “All done.”
“HQ, can you read me?” Shiva had expected some random Navigator to respond. With some luck, someone in the right area of expertise she needed. She had not expected her girlfriend to be the one to pick up the call, and she did really not enjoy what she had to do next.
“This is Pallette speak-”
“Get me Layer, immediately! We’re having a bit of an emergency here! Love you.”
“Oh… right! Transferring call!”
“This is Layer speaking, how can I be of assistance?”
“Layer, you’re the expert at-” Shiva leaped off the shelf she had reached, throwing some weapon she had picked up on the way. “-weapons and enemies and stuff… I was hoping that maybe you could identify whatever it is we’ve ran across here!”
“I’ll do my best… is it some unknown type of maverick?”
“Nothing like it! It’s big, it’s yellow, and it’s made out of some kind of goo!”
It was silent for a second.
“And it’s throwing bits of itself at us!”
“…sounds to me like you’re dealing with a devil-type.”
“A what, now?”
“A devil-type… in essence, a nanobot-infused mass of a semi-solid substance, controlled by a central unit, usually protected inside the body of it. This central unit sometimes also holds the main weapon of the devil.”
“Yes! That’s it exactly! Something was blinking in the middle of it and I think that’s what shot at us!”
“Alright, then, what you have to do is destroy the main unit…”
“I think we figured out that that was what we have to attack already, but that doesn’t help if we can’t get to it! How do we fight this thing?”
“Hold on, I’m looking for some data on it… devil-types are rare, only one has ever been put in use after the maverick wars… there’s no telling what might happen if one got infected by the virus. X destroyed that one, I think it was a black devil… I don’t know a lot about them, so I’m going to have to consult data even further back. Please hold on.”
“Easy for you to say!” Shiva jumped off her ledge and threw some kind of red and orange cylinder down at the devil. It exploded as it hit the body, but didn’t appear to have any effect.
“Two green devils, deployed in one of the last incidents before the wars…”
“This one’s yellow!”
“I know! Let’s see… here we go. Yellow devil. The original type of devil. A total of three were deployed during the Wily Wars, only two of them confirmed destroyed by Dr. Light’s robots… third one defeated by Blues but unaccounted for. Guess that’s what you’ve ran across here.”
“How-do-we-FIGHT IT!?” Without even looking at what it was she grabbed, Shiva hurled something from the shelf she had reached towards the devil again. It turned out to be a purple blade that split into three smaller blades in the air, the tips of them embedding themselves into the body of the devil but they were quickly forced back out again.
“What hunters are there with you?”
“Apart from some normal hunters, only me and Spa- General Silver!” Shiva dodged a beam from the middle of the body, but the hole that it had fired from closed up before she could get any good look at it.
“I think you might be in luck. From what I’m finding here, the primary vulnerability of the yellow devils were attacks of an electrical nature. General Silver should-”
“We tried that already! It did nothing to its body! And it just moved its body away from the electricity!”
“There’s not much that will hurt the body of a devil-type, and it will expel any foreign objects that enters its mass… but destroying the central unit will cause it to stop moving, and the nanobots won’t be able to hold it together. The central unit of a yellow devil is vulnerable to electricity, so if you can hit that…”
“That’d be fine if we could reach the core of it, but it’s only opening to fire and won’t give any opportunity to attack it!”
“You”ll have to create an opportunity… what does your stasis fields do to it?”
“Not much… it makes the mass lose shape, but only for a second.”
“Hmm… sounds to me like it stuns the nanobots, causing their bonds to separate so the mass breaks apart, but they collect themselves quickly. You can’t maintain a stasis field against it?”
“No, since it doesn’t stay in it!”
“You’re going to have to find an opportunity… often, the central unit will be exposed after a devil has moved by sending itself in parts to another location.”
“It doesn’t exactly do that, though… it can cross this cavern in like three steps if it wants to!”
“Devils might usually form legs, but they don’t tend to walk around much.”
“Now that you mention it, it’s not been moving much… but it doesn’t have to because we don’t have anywhere to run.”
“If it’s not going to give us an opportunity… we’ll have to create one.”
“Sparks? You were listening?”
“Of course. And I think I have a plan… but we’re going to have to get up high to pull it off, and I don’t think that thing is going to let us. We need a diversion.”
“A diversion, you say? You’ve got one!” This time, it was James that had joined the conversation.
“Are everyone listening in to my phonecalls now?”
“Alright, I don’t know what he’s going to do, but Shiva, get over here.”
Shiva started moving towards Silver’s position as something happened over at where James and the techs was. Two weapon pods had appeared, moving in the direction of the devil. One of them was shooting what appeared to be a series of small, electrical pulses towards the devil, the other was launching something vertically spinning and metallic. Some of the pulses hit the other type of projectiles, charging them up with electricity. The devil started shuffling parts to avoid these, still not revealing its core, but diverting its attention away from Silver and Shiva for a second or two.
Which was all they needed. By the time the devil had destroyed the two weapon pods with a laser blast, they had made their way up to the top shelf, one of the rare places in the room that put them above the devil.
“…and that’s the plan. Can you do that while carrying me on your back?”
Shiva glanced downwards. “Should be doable. Just be careful to not hit me.” Shiva gripped her spear tightly with one hand as she used her other hand to support Silver as she held on to Shiva’s shoulders.
“We probably only have one shot, so make it count…”
“I’m aware…” Shiva built up speed and jumped off the shelf, building up a stasis charge in her hand. Being careful to not strike Silver, she spun Coper around before pointing it straight downwards towards the ‘head’ of the devil. With her palm at the butt of the spear, she unloaded the stasis charge through it, causing it to start embedding itself inside the devil’s body, Shiva still balancing at the top of it. But the mass soon closed up around the spear, starting to force it out. “Now!”
Silver jumped off of Shiva’s back as Shiva thrust herself away from the spear. “Haaah!” Silver shot a powerful electrical charge towards Coper, and it quickly spread through the spear – through the devil’s body. It started moving large chunks of itself around, and in the process, uncovered its core. “One shot…” Silver took careful aim with Ares towards the central unit of the devil and fired.
A sound was heard as the bullet impacted the outer casing of it… and another as it exited on the other side, carrying an electrical trail after it. All the yellow mass that had been moving around started losing speed, landing on the ground, but soon started moving again, towards the central unit.
“Concentrate your fire! Shoot the core!” Silver fired another round from her sniper rifle herself as she fell through the air, towards the unit. Shiva, who had landed herself with a roll onto a lower shelf, jumped down to collect her spear and ran towards it, while the other two hunters were unloading everything they had at it. The yellow mass was now moving very erratically, but a few pieces started zooming at dangerous speeds. Then Silver landed.
Right on top of the central unit.
With Longinus in her hands and charged up, stabbing it down square in the middle.
The devil’s core started trembling, and Silver retrieved Longinus and jumped off right before it started blowing up. First a few small explosions, then one larger, sending shrapnel flying in various directions, but nothing dangerous. All the yellow goo stopped, half-splashing down at the ground, now existing only as large puddles here and there.
Silver took a deep breath. “We did it…”
Shiva looked around at the yellow goo that now was everywhere. “Well. That’s going to be fun to clean up.”
It was quiet.
Had they won, or had they been conquered?
The sound that had closed the conflict did not tell.
“Yes, sweetie, I’m fine now. We destroyed it. Don’t you have a job to do? Oh. Well, I do. Alright, I’ll see you tonight. I love you too.” Shiva closed communications with HQ and walked over to thee others.
“You figured out how to control those things already?” Silver was talking to James, looking down at the destroyed weapon pods.
“Control, I don’t know, but I figured out how to point them in a certain direction, and that target was pretty hard to miss. So to speak.” James was tapping away at the computer. “These two pods were ready to be loaded with combat data already, so I fed them some weapons I knew were easily available. I would have liked to recover them intact, but…”
“We’ve found six other intact ones, and about eighteen that are in various states of broken. There’s a lack of individual parts of pods, however.” One of the techs was reading from a data pad. “But we should be able to get a few of them working again by picking out the good parts.”
“Right, then.” James stood up and turned to Silver. “The data is still being pulled, and we’ve gone through a lot of the equipment. So, shall we go meet the guardian of the archives?”
Shiva spoke up before Silver could say anything. “Wait, guardian? What about the thing we just destroyed?”
James raised an eyebrow. “You really thought that was guarding this place? Think about what it did.”
“He’s right.” Silver looked over Shiva’s shoulder. “It was too violent for that. It could easily have destroyed a lot of things here, including the computer. Anything appointed to guard this must have been expected to be able to battle in here without needlessly destroying anything…”
“Exactly. I found something interesting in the computer, so I think I have an idea of just who it might be… follow me, ladies.” James started walking towards the other end of the cavern, with Silver and Shiva following. He placed himself in front of what looked to be an ordinary rock wall at the far side of the right wall.
“Patience.” He put his hand up to the wall, and a hidden gate opened. Inside was a nondescript, semi-circular corridor, no taller than two meters, and about ten long. On the walls were some lights… lights that still were functioning. At the end of the corridor was another gate.
“How did you know this was here?” Shiva stared down the corridor.
James smiled and held up a data pad. “Floor plans.”
The trio reached the other gate, and it, too, opened as James merely touched it. They came into a brightly lit square room, with blank walls. In front of them was another wall, but it did not block off the whole room, as it was open on the left and right end. And in the middle of the wall, half sitting, half lying on the floor… a body. A body of a robot, mainly golden, yellow and blue. Some kind of lance or spear was embedded in its chest, piercing not only its entire body but also the wall behind it. Its eyes did not move, not blink, and while James appeared unfazed, both Silver and Shiva were taken by complete surprise as it started to speak.
It spoke in a somewhat creepy monosyllabic monotone, with unnatural breaks between each word.
“References… notes… things left behind from my ancestor.”
Silver walked up beside James. “How is… how can he still be alive?”
“He was part of a special line of robots that Wily created… the Rockman Killers. There were three of them, each specialized in their own way. All of them were powerful fighters, and all of them had one quality in common…”
“They were made to be extraordinarily hard to kill. Enker here was the first of them, and he was destroyed by Rockman… but that didn’t mean he died. The other two, Punk and Ballade, were eventually confirmed to have been completely erased… but Enker was apparently reassigned to guard the archives. A fitting choice.”
“How do you mean?”
James pointed at the thing piercing Enker’s torso. “His weapon, the Mirror Buster. It would draw weapon fire to itself, absorb it, amplify it and eject it in a specific direction. And that is how he’s still alive.”
“Behind this wall is the central power generator for this facility. Someone battled Enker, impaling him on his own weapon… going through the wall and striking the power generator in such a way that it did not destroy it, but the power goes through the lance. Through Enker. On the way, it must be touching his power cell, constantly routing energy through him, energy that keeps him alive but leaves his body inoperable. He can see, hear, talk and probably feel, but not move.” James turned his head to Silver. “You want to study that weapon, don’t you, General?”
“If we pull that out of him…”
“I thought so. If it’s connected to the generator, I wouldn’t want to upset the power grid in here any more, anyway.”
“So, what’s beyond here, anyway?” Shiva was looking down the corridor to the right of Enker.
“As far as I can tell, the warp gates. The REAL main entrance. I’m hoping we can use it as an easier exit from here when we’re done.” James looked down at Enker again. “If the guardian allows.”
“I assure you, we wish no harm upon the archives… we simply came here in pursuit of knowledge.”
“I know Wily didn’t like leaving his toys behind for someone else to play with… but you were to guard this place, and you failed to stop us. We have claimed our prize.”
“And so you will continue to be until that spear is taken from your chest.” James turned back. “I have some more work to do with the system. Why don’t the two of you take a look at the warp gates?”
James went back into the cavern as Silver and Shiva walked further into the room, out on the other side. In this part of the room was five rectangular compartments, three on floor level and two higher up on the wall, of varying sizes. The smallest wouldn’t even hold a normal-sized person, whereas the largest would hold two ride armours and still have capacity for a chaser. Next to the middle one on the floor level, which looked enough to fit three people, there was a panel with a keypad and a small screen. Silver went up to it and hit one of the buttons.
“Teleporter gates… offline, all of them.”
“Can we activate them?”
“Since we have power, I hope so…” Silver tapped a few of the buttons. Teleporter one, offline… exit point, castle… not found… oh, I think it’s offline because it’s currently connected to an exit point that doesn’t exist. Not surprisingly, the old grid isn’t even working…” Silver continued working with the panel. “Here we go. Exit point, archive cave. Found. Teleporter, send…” There was a small flash in the smallest compartment. “Okay, something’s working. If I’m correct, we can teleport up to the cave… to the other side of the cave-in, most likely.”
“How does that help us?”
“I’m not sure. But there might be something on that side that could help us, or an alternate exit. We’ll have to try.” She turned her head towards Shiva. “So…”
“Okay, I get it.” Shiva walked towards the middle one as Silver pushed some buttons.
“Since we don’t know if there’s any controls up there, if they’re working, or how the gate activates, I’ll do a receive one minute after you’ve teleported. Sound good?”
“Works for me.” Shiva placed herself in the middle of the teleporter as Silver hit send.
It could as well have been an elevator. Shiva found herself in a similar-looking room with only one door and not much more. There was a panel on this side too, but it seemed to be deactivated, and Shiva didn’t know how to work it anyway. She opened the door, and there was the cave. There was the cave-in. And there was the completely unmoving bodies of some robots with shields and a few met helmets.
“Right…” If this was the other side of the same cave-in, and the teleporter was at the same place, just a few levels higher, and the cave-in covered the whole way… there was nothing here that could be used to get past it, and removing it would take far too much time. She turned back towards the teleporter room and put a hand up to her headset. “Sparks, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“We’re not getting past here, that’s for sure. I’m stepping into the teleporter now, let’s see how it-” No sooner had Shiva set foot in the middle of the teleporter before she was back with Silver again. “-works. Okay, I guess it doesn’t need to be entirely manually operated, at least.”
“No way to get past there…” Silver sighed as she kept tapping the buttons on the panel. “Teleporter one, online… teleporter two, online… three, offline, four, offline, five, offline, six… wait a second.” Silver looked up. “There’s only five teleporters here, right?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“And there were only five where you were?”
“The room was nearly identical.”
“There’s six teleporters listed here. Teleporter six, exit point… hangar? And… found. Huh.” She pressed some buttons. “Online, active, and send. If there’s another one here, and it leads somewhere else… we might just have found our way out.”
“So, if those are numbered in size order, and the exit point was a hangar…”
“The sixth one must have been for really large stuff. It must be somewhere in the main cavern.”
“So, shall we?” Shiva turned around.
They made their way back into the cavern, through the corridor. They couldn’t see anything that had changed, so they walked over to James.
“Welcome back, ladies. Any progress?”
“Maybe. Did something just happen here?”
“Just for an instant, there was a sound… like a surge.”
“Must have been it, then… where was it heard?”
“I’m not entirely sure, but it wasn’t on this side. Why?”
“We might have found a way out of here. Does the floor plan show anything else connected to this room?”
James picked up his data pad and tapped at it a bit. “No. Why?”
“Guess it’s hidden… well, we’ll get to work on figuring this out. How’s your job going?”
“We got a few more things to pull from the database, but we’ve collected most of the weaponry we’re bringing back. I’d say give it another hour, and we’ll be ready to leave if we can.”
“Excellent.” While Shiva made her way to the back of the cave, Silver walked over to check up on the medic and his patients first. “So, how are they doing?”
“They’ll be fine. Just blunt trauma, and second degree energy burns. Could have been much worse, but they’re both going to sickbay when we get back to HQ.” The medic extended his arms to the sides. “I’ve done essentially all I can for them now.”
“Alright, good work. I’m glad it wasn’t more serious.”
“The energy burns could have been if he had had been wearing less armour. He was lucky.”
“Even so… I’ll check back with you later, I have an exit to find.”
Silver strolled over to the back of the cavern, where Shiva was inspecting the far wall. “Find anything?”
“Not sure. Do you have anything that can pierce rock?”
“I don’t think so. Why?”
Shiva pointed Coper at the wall. “Hold your ear at the wall. Listen very carefully.” She hit the wall with the spear a few times. “Hear that?”
“Very faintly. It’s not rock all the way through.” Silver held her palm towards the wall. “A rock cover on a metal gate, most likely.”
“That’s what I thought too. I don’t think we’re getting past here unless we can open the gate.” She folded Coper and put it back in its holder. “Or blow it up.”
“I’d rather not try that. We’re not entirely sure how the explosives we can find here works, and we don’t want to damage the teleporter.”
“Hmm…” Silver held her microphone to her mouth. “James, is there anything in that computer about controlling any systems in here?”
It was silent for a few seconds.
“I’m not sure. There’s some part of the system that’s either encrypted or corrupted or both, and none of us here have managed to access it. Why?”
“We think there’s a gate to a large teleporter back here that we need to open. So…”
“Would it be possible to allow someone to remotely access the system?” Shiva spoke up before James had the opportunity to respond. “Say… from HQ?”
The techs looked at each other. This was more their domain. “What do you think? Can we set up a data stream?”
“It could be possible. Why?”
“Well, if it’s encrypted… Pallette could probably take a whack at it, she’s an expert on those things.”
“Navigator Pallette… true, she might be able to gain access. And if we’re not sending much data, it should be stable enough.”
“Let’s give it a shot.” One of the techs started setting up a terminal unit as the other pushed a few buttons on the communications module. “Headquarters, this is tech team twelve. Requesting assistance from head navigator Pallette.”
A voice soon spoke up on the other end. “Speaking.”
“Navigator Pallette, we are attempting to decrypt part of a data system. We are initiating a data stream to you in three… two… one…”
It was silent for a few moments. “I see…”
“What is your verdict?”
“This is old. Really old. And I don’t think all of this data is intact.”
“Do you believe it’s possible to gain access to this part of the system?”
“No system is impossible. As long as enough of it is still working to some degree, I can probably… what is it that I’m looking for?”
“Primarily, controls for some gate or similar.”
“Alright then… we’re going to have to…” Sounds of keys being pressed in was heard on the other side of the line. First slowly, then increasing in speed. “I need you to isolate the first ten sectors for me.”
“Affirmative.” The tech input some commands on his own unit, watching the data scroll by.
“The first bit is corrupted badly… hopefully that’s just the system header…”
“She’s sure something, isn’t she?” Shiva turned to Silver. She was listening to the conversation, but had deactivated her microphone as she didn’t want to interrupt her.
“There’s a reason she’s a head navigator.”
“Oh, I can think of-”
Silver pointed a finger at Shiva’s face. “Okay, you can stop right there.”
Shiva started laughing. “Just saying.” She looked up for a few seconds before turning back to Silver. “Why would the controls for the gate be in here when the controls for the teleporter was in there, by the way?”
“Could be that the gate was here first and the teleporters installed later. Or they just didn’t want people doing what we’re doing. The room we’re trying to get into didn’t appear on the floor plans, after all.”
“As if we’d let that stop us.” Shiva leaned her head back against the wall. Indeed, if they had let things like that stop them, they wouldn’t have been anywhere near here…
Perhaps they would leave soon.
They were taking everything… leaving nothing for him to guard anymore.
He remembered his last visitor…
“Now… run the algorithm I sent you.”
“If that segment of code can get repaired, and if my decryption was correct, we should be almost done. Is segment 6F still displaying 0x0301?”
“Good, that means it’s not important and we probably don’t have to try to reconstruct it. Copy the template over there and… hm.”
“Did it work?”
“It should be working… but I think I’m looking at a password prompt. How did you access the system in the first place if you didn’t have a password?”
“We believe the system was running in a dormant state when we reached it, and we have not tried to access any part of the system outside what was already available to us.”
“Could explain why that wasn’t corrupted… but hacking an old password on a system where I only have some sort of jury-rigged remote pseudo-shell access. Lovely.”
“Is it going to be a problem?”
“No, but it’s going to take some time. Hold on, I’m gonna need some extra tools for this… deprecated systems should be less secure, but when they’re also decomposing it’s also a matter of making sure how much of it actually is what you’re looking for.” Over on her end, Pallette brought up another screen with the code. “I assume we have no more information about it?”
“None. Unless doctor Cash has any.”
James had listened to the entire exchange, but not joined the conversation until now. “I don’t think so. I haven’t actually interacted with any of Wily’s systems before.”
“No hints to any password, no backdoors, no anything?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Oh, well… it’s been a slow day anyway. Let’s do this thing.” Pallette scrolled through the code, trying to pinpoint the fragments that were likely to be parts of a password system. On a newer system it would have been easier, but this code didn’t conform to any of the hundreds of standards that Pallette were familiar with. From working with the code now, she had found patterns and had a general idea of how the code had been written, but she’d need to study it for at least another couple of hours to really figure out all the angles. Since they most likely weren’t willing to wait for that, she had to work with what she had. She could just pray for that none of what she needed now was in a sector that had been completely ruined, as she wouldn’t be looking forwards to trying to reconstruct one. It wasn’t hard, as such, just tedious and tended to be time-consuming.
Another twenty minutes passed as Pallette carefully combed through the code, searching for possible things to help in bypassing the password prompt. Cracking the actual password wouldn’t be much of an option, but those things were rarely as much of a roadblock as they wanted to be. Instead, she was going to try to build a bridge, as they called it. She wouldn’t be able to log in, but if it worked, she’d be able to uncover what was beyond the password screen, and then manipulating it would be the easy part. But to actually create such a bridge, you had to find a part of the code where you could, it was called, anchor it. In essence, it was a way of tricking the code to think that the stuff that was supposed to be accessible only behind a security system was as open as the code you could already access.
“I’m gonna send you a series of commands. Run them if you see the header in any of the core sectors changing.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The techs had been helping Pallette as much as they could, and as they were at the location there were a few things only they could do, due to the nature of the access. They knew she was the best hacker at the HQ, but were nevertheless impressed with what they were witnessing her do. They had been instructed to keep watch on certain pieces of code as they were likely to be the ones that would change if what Pallette was correct in how the system worked, and that meant possibilities.
“Alright, keep a close eye on it now, I’m about to try a thing…” Pallette had just finished copying a segment of code onto another sector, hoping for the system to not choke on the redundancy. She had seen that happening, and it was usually not pretty.
“Headers are staying as they are.”
“That means that worked… here comes the fun part.” She started making edits to the code in the smallest increments possible, essentially byte for byte. She didn’t dare to do anything else, as if the system started acting up, backtracking would be more likely to work if it was only tiny parts rather than a full block. But if this didn’t crash anything, and the commands she had written worked as they were supposed to, this would be her anchor point. One edit, two edits, three edits…
“Headers are starting to shift. Running commands.”
“Alright… come on now, let me in…” Pallette took a deep breath as she made the final edits to the segment. She looked on in silence as the commands she had given the techs worked the magic they were supposed to. They finished, and Pallette waited. Five seconds. Ten. Nothing happened. Pallette leaned back in her chair and gave off a relieved sigh. “It worked…” Indeed, nothing was exactly what she wanted to happen. She now had the groundwork for her bridge. It should be a walk in the park from here. Smiling, she went back to work, telling the techs exactly what they needed to do. Not even ten minutes later, she was looking at an entirely new screen. “Well then, gentlemen… I’m in.”
“Amazing work, ma’am.”
“Thanks. Yeah, there’s definitely switches for things in here… looks like simple one-byte triggers.”
“Anything that looks like it’s for opening something?”
“Maybe. Let’s try this one.” Pallette changed a few zeroes to ones, and something opened at the other end of the cave. Namely, the door into the corridor leading to the teleporter room. “Anything happen?”
“A door opened, but not the one we had in mind.”
“Alright, next one…” This time, the sound of something moving around close to the main computer was heard, followed by the sound of air being emptied from something. “Well?”
“Something happened, but it wasn’t the gate…”
“I have a guess.” James was looking at the back of the computer. “It tried to load weapon pods into the machine, but since we’ve moved them, it didn’t find any.”
“Alright, not many things left to try… gotta be one of these. Probably… this one.”
Silver and Shiva got up as they heard the sound of something starting to work right behind them. As they stepped away from the wall, it slowly started moving outwards and upwards. Soon, the whole thing had lifted, revealing the room behind. A single, plain room, looking very much like the other room they had been in, with the entire far wall being the entrance to a compartment of the same kind as the others. This one looked large enough to hold a few jeeps. Silver and Shiva stepped in towards it.
“So, what happened?” Pallette was still not aware of what she had actually done.
“That was what we wanted. Thanks for your assistance.”
“No problem. I can look over the program more carefully if you bring a good sample back.”
“We’re doing a dump of the entire system. We’ll contact you when we return.”
“Great. Alright, then, glad I could help. Pallette out.” With that, she closed communications. In the cavern, everyone who was still standing except for the medic moved to check out what they had just uncovered. Silver and Shiva stood right in front of the big teleporter. There was no control panel here, but if it had been activated…
“Let me guess. I’m the test subject again.”
“If you don’t mind.”
Shiva just shrugged and walked towards the end of the room. No sooner had she gotten her whole body past the divider in the floor before she was gone. A few seconds later, her voice crackled in Silver’s headset. “And that’s a success.”
“Where are you now?”
“Not entirely sure, but I’m in a cave and I see the ocean. It would have been impossible for us to get in through here, but I have no doubt that we can use it as an exit. I’m going to scope out the area, check back with you in ten.”
“Sounds good. See you.” As Shiva went off to find their route out of here, Silver went back into the cavern to start making sure that everything was ready for them to leave. It seemed that everything but the database dump was done, but they had two damaged soldiers to deal with too. All in all, it had been a successful mission. On the one hand, Shiva had made herself useful in a lot of ways, but on the other hand, if she hadn’t been them, she’d have composed her team in a different way so it would have probably balanced out either way. She’d still have to thank her for all she had done, and she had enjoyed spending time with her too, as it wasn’t all too often she did things with her friends, even if this was work. The weapons and data they had collected would no doubt be useful, and though she’d have a lot of work ahead of her going through a lot of it, she kind of looked forwards to it as there was so much new stuff here… even if it was old. Only two injuries, and no casualties. James had proven himself to be trustworthy, and everyone had done their share of the work. She’d have to put in a good word for the hunter who had suggested the battering ram, perhaps suggest a promotion… such quick thinking and creativity was definitely needed among the hunters. And even though she wouldn’t admit it as it had put them all in danger, she had found the battle with the yellow devil somewhat exciting. But right now, she could relax. There was nothing more for her to do until they were back at HQ. She smiled, climbed up to a shelf and sat down at the edge. This had indeed been her kind of mission from beginning to end.
They had found it.
The hidden exit, the one that not even the last visitor had had any knowledge about.
And that was, he knew, the only piece they had been missing so far.
Silver snapped back to attention. But… the voice hadn’t come from her headset. It came from… with the echo created by the cavern, it wasn’t the easiest thing to pinpoint, but… above? She looked up towards the hole they had come in from. There, indeed, was someone waving in her direction. Rather than try to communicate by yelling, she spoke into her microphone. “Shiva? How did you get there?”
Shiva, too, switched to the digital way of communicating before continuing the conversation. “I walked here. That cave I ended up in? Yeah, when I climbed up from there, I was at the edge of the forest. It was pretty much a straight line through to the cliff with the entrance. The exit cave was pretty cleverly hidden, it would have been hard to see from the outside. There should be enough room to land the transport on the ground there, so…”
“Excellent work, Shiva.”
“And I got our climbing gear back, too.”
“Oh, splendid. Well, then, take everyone who didn’t come down into the cavern and return to the transport, including all the equipment, and have it land where it would be the easiest for us to reach it from the new teleporter. I’ll get everything ready in here, so since communications will be weaker the best thing would probably be for you to just come back through it when you’re there.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll see you.” With that, Shiva looked at the hunters that were with her at the hole. They retrieved the cable that had been used to lower everyone else down into the cave, and started marching back out. With the climbing gear all returned, only one of them having been damaged to the point of not being usable anymore, they scaled the cliff to the tech and hunter waiting above. Once again, the situation was explained, and the tech started dismantling the relay. They returned through the forest on the same path they had come, taking the transmitters with them as they went, eventually reaching the transport again. Shiva sat next to the pilot as they took to the skies again and flew over the island, soon reaching the other end. It was tighter than Shiva had thought, but the transport managed to land between the forest and the end of the island, only a few hundred meters away from the hidden entrance off the side. And so, about thirty minutes after they had last spoken, Shiva reunited with Silver in the archives. Everything had been packed up, all the data had been recovered, the damaged hunters had been put on stretchers and the archive system had once again been put to sleep. To ensure nothing would go wrong with the teleporting, Silver had deactivated it and waited until everyone else – except for Shiva, who wasn’t going to leave Silver alone down here – was standing in it before going to activate it. As the two of them walked back towards the cavern, Shiva threw a final glance at Enker.
“So, Sparks… now that we’ve gotten everything we needed from the computers, why don’t you get that spear if you want it?”
“No, remember… it’s channeling energy through the power generator for this place. What if it would short out the teleporters if I pulled it out?” Silver turned to Enker herself. “The archives still need their guardian.”
Silver turned back and started walking again. Shiva stood still, looking at Enker. Specifically, his face. She knew he could hardly move his mouth… when he talked, it was hardly even vibrating. But she could swear that when Silver had said that, said that he still served a function… she could swear that she had, if even for an instant, seen his facial expression change.
“Oh… coming!” She turned back and followed after Silver. She might have been wrong… but for that one moment, she was certain she had for the first time seen the guardian show any sort of emotion.
She was certain that she had seen Enker smile.
They were gone.
He had not been able to do anything at all to stop them.
Nothing at all… all because of his own weapon, embedded in his chest.
His Mirror Buster.
Story is © Magnus von Göes Karlström 2012
All characters are coyright respective owners.