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Chapter 52: The Wild Card
Chapter 53: The Wild Card
The first thing he felt was a natural, warm, filling sensation on his face. Then a cool moist breeze. Link weakly opened his eyes. As soon as he could process his surroundings, he realized he was sitting on a ledge overlooking a wide river, cutting through a range of green mountains. The sun was rising. Or possibly setting, Link wasn't sure how long he'd been out. The colors of the sky were magically splayed into a watercolor canvas of blues, reds, and oranges. For a wonderful fleeting flash, he thought he was back in Hyrule.
The moment he felt the ledge he was sitting on, his brief reverie was done in. He was apparently outside a large building, as big as an amphitheater, on the bank of the rushing blue river below. He was secure enough on the ledge that he had no fear of falling, and he wasn't scared of heights anyway. The setting was too beautiful to be scared.
That's right. He'd just been in a fight. He brought his hand up to his cheek to feel his wound. A hollow remnant of pain resonated in his cheek as he touched it. The wound was gone. Not even a scar. Completely clean.
"Stupid human. Trying to take on a robot master."
Link turned to the left, to the speaker. A robot colored in red and gray was standing on the ledge beside him, apparently oblivious to the danger. He had the same design as Mega Man, closer than Shadow Man had been, but his red helmet had a visor that covered his eyes in blackness. And he had an odd yellow scarf around his neck, and held a white body-length shield at his back.
"Who are you?"
"My name's... ah, just call me Protoman." He waved his hand dismissively after some thought.
"Are you another one?" Link put his hand on the hilt of his sword, glowering at the potential foe.
"Relax. I'm a friend. Here." He handed him a glass of ionized water and looked at Link's apparel. "You trying out for the LARP guild?"
Link, suddenly realizing he was parched, ignored the question and took the glass without asking what it was and downed it.
"Did you heal my wounds?" Link asked.
Protoman produced a small white stick in his hand and tossed it in the air. "The curative spanner really does wonders to repair cells, doesn't it? You weren't that bad off anyway. Just a few cuts and some broken ribs."
Broken ribs? Link thought. That would take weeks to heal in Hyrule.
The robot continued, "I didn't mind using it. You looked like you deserved it, after that battle." He put the device back in under his armor and looked out unto the landscape, with his scarf waving in the wind. "So you took on Shadow Man and won. You must have something special."
Link looked down at his blue and gold scabbard. His sword was made of nothing special. It was custom-made for him, deserving since he was the hero of Hyrule, and based on the design of the Master Sword he'd become so familiar with, but it was nowhere near the toughness of the material that robots were made of. It was barely enough to puncture through a robot bat. The way he won was the spinning slash maneuver, which was beyond verbal explanation. It was a combination of magic, focus, and strength. That in itself was unusual. Magic wasn't supposed to exist in this world. So how did he execute the maneuver so successfully?
"What's your secret?" the robot asked.
"I don't... really know. I just fought as hard as I could." He looked up at the mysterious robot. He didn't want to mention anything about magic or Hyrule to this intimidating fellow. "It's a long story."
"Hmph," Protoman said. "Well, if you hope to defeat any more robot masters, I'd get something a little better than that sword and shield. The only reason you were able to defeat Shadow Man is his vulnerability to spinning attacks. But a sword won't be able to cut through Gemini Man's crystal armor."
"When I find Mega Man again, then we'll be able to take the rest of Wily's robots. Two heads are better than one."
"Yes, I watched that. It seems he did all the fighting while you were the cheerleader. As soon as you were separated, you were helpless as a kitten. I don't know you survived. Meanwhile Roll is dying to show you her battle prowess, and Mega Man just makes her sit at home. She's far more capable than you are. I don't get why he picked you and not her."
"Those robot masters have that energy shield that makes plasma shots useless. I was supposed to help him with the physical aspect of fighting. We're partners. We've been through a lot together."
"Hm," he smirked.
"You know, you look a lot like Mega Man, except for the color."
"I'm his brother."
Link's eyes widened, and he nearly fell off the ledge. He knew Mega Man had Roll, who was like a sister, but he never mentioned any other siblings or relatives. Roll was a helpful person, but this one was a cad.
"You're his brother? Then why haven't I seen you before? He's never mentioned you before."
"It's a long story," Protoman replied, with a hint of ego in his tone. Link shrugged, knowing Protoman wasn't saying anymore if Link wasn't saying anything more. "I'm not exactly what you'd call a 'big part of the family'."
"But you're still Mega Man's ally?"
"No. Sometimes we cross paths, but I stay out of his way, keep to the shadows. Once in a while, I might lend him a hand. But I don't get dragged in."
"Don't you think you could do a lot more good on the floor with him, instead of hiding in the rafters?"
"This is his fight, not mine. I've got no desire to see his aspirations fulfilled. But I have no desire to see him blown to pieces either."
Link had never heard a human or robot talk like this before. There was such a streak of indifference in him. Everyone else he'd met had taken a definitive stance in the conflict between humans and robots. He wasn't entirely sure Protoman was telling the truth when he said he wasn't on Wily's side. "Are you sure you're not a robot master?"
"I'm... special. I'm not so simple-minded as other robots. I don't see things so black and white as they do. The world is one big gray area. Everyone else wants a decision that benefits one side totally, and excludes the other. They don't see that no one wins in that scenario. No one's happy."
"That's not true," Link said and clenched his fist. "People like Mega Man are working so that both sides can win and live in harmony."
Protoman shook his head. "Sorry, I just don't see that happening. There's a war going on, but nobody's courageous enough to declare it."
"And whose side are you on?"
Protoman turned to him, "Mega Man's on the side of good. Wily's on the side of evil. I'm somewhere in between. And yet not a part of it at all." He looked over the river with his empty black visor. "I'm tired of getting dragged into Mega Man's fights. I try and stay away from it all."
"But you could do so much more. You're obviously meant for fighting. If you helped him more, you could win this war, instead of it constantly repeating."
"I don't get involved. I'm in this for my own interests, and no one else's. That's the true freedom no robot will ever be able to achieve."
"You know what I think. I think you're just a big coward."
"I am NO coward." Protoman barked angrily, looking straight at him. "I healed your wounds, boy. I can put those broken ribs back where they were and then some."
Link kept his mouth shut.
Protoman continued, "You're an outsider. Don't pretend like you have any idea what our society should be like."
"Sometimes an outsider's perspective is what's needed."
"Hmph," he gave another roguish smirk. "Talk to me when you've led a robot's life."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Link sighed and turned back to the landscape. "I'm guessing you've led a very hard life."
"I guess you could say I've an outsider's perspective. Besides, Mega Man can handle himself just dandy. Without my help. He's done it six times before."
"But it could be easier with your help."
"I wouldn't help him at all, if I could help it. Sometimes, my programming just gets the better of me."
"This programming seems like such a hassle. Every time Mega Man can't do something he calls it a limitation of his programming. It doesn't do anything but hinder you."
"You've hit it right on the nose, my friend."
"Then why do you do it?"
"Our programming is us. It's what makes me me. We can't live without it. It's also the way humans can control us. We can't do anything but what our programming says. It's written that way. Without it, the humans would no longer be in charge. And they wouldn't stand for that."
"Is that why you won't fight? You hate the humans?"
"I was able, by some miracle... or mistake, to exceed my programming. Others aren't so lucky. But without it, there'd be chaos." He then shrugged.
Link shook his head. He was tired of trying to figure out this enigma. "Well, thanks for saving me, for what it's worth."
Protoman kept silent.
"If you did choose to fight, this is one human who would welcome you along." He looked down at his feet. "I know I can't do it alone."
"Don't worry. Your friend Mega Man should be here shortly, I should think."
"I meant all of us together. Maybe if you gave him a chance to reconcile..."
"Sorry. Two's company. Three's a crowd."
Link was really frustrated at this. This Protoman probably had as much power as Mega Man and was wasting his skills, his responsibility. Of course, he didn't want to argue with anyone who had a plasma blaster and a temper. The red robot looked over the side of the building and jumped.
"Wait!" Link called out. Protoman stopped himself, grabbing the edge of the ledge and pulling himself back up. "Isn't there anything you can do? Anything you can help us with?"
Protoman slowly smirked. "Yeah," he said with pause. "I like your flute. Ciao!"
Protoman released the ledge and fell away. Link cautiously scooted over a bit more to look over the side. He could see no trace of Protoman. He had vanished. And Link was left alone. He had no way off of the ledge that he knew of, no way back in, and it was too dangerous to try and explore. So he sat staring out into the world with his arms around his knees for warmth, with the vastness of the rising world before him and much to think about.
Some minutes later, the window behind him flipped open. Mega Man poked his head out and looked around. "Hey."
"Hey," Link responded.
"Glad I found you. I found out there are two robot masters in this plant. I found one, but-"
Mega Man, already in the middle of a sentence stopped for a second. "What?"
"He's dead. Defeated him."
"By you? That's awesome! I can't believe that."
"Excellent. Then we can move on to the hydro plant. Come on." Mega Man went back into the building as Link took one last look at the sky and stood up. "By the way," the robot said from inside, "What were you doing on the ledge?"
"Just enjoying the view."
Next Chapter: Level Two