Grapple leaned against the port side wing of his jet, the Dark Sun, and gazed out across the sea. Kattelox was there, he thought. About 600 miles out--he reasoned he could make that in just over two hours. His watch beeped on the hour, reminding him he'd been waiting for some time now.
"What's keeping her?" he mumbled.
"Right here, Jack!" a voice from behind him called. Jack was his birth name, and even though he'd only gone by "Grapple" for about a month now, it was already becoming unfamiliar to him.
"Need a hand, Lydia?" he asked as he turned to face the voice. Lydia came hobbling in on her crutches, answering Grapple's offer with an indignant shake of her head.
"No! I'll never get my strength back if I have everyone do my work for me!" she said, probably a bit sharper than was intended.
"Now just sit down, shut up, and let me pack my gear!" Lydia finished jokingly.
Grapple grinned and threw up his hands in mock-defeat, then turned to give the Dark Sun a pre-flight check. He examined the wings, checked the pulse guns, and tested the com array. Then he moved around the other side, checking the engine intakes, the ailerons, Lydia's butt, the rear landing gears, the -- *smek*
Lydia lightly smacked his cheek, though not hard enough to hurt.
"Hey! No peeking!"
"I--um…I mean.." Grapple floundered, starting to turn a few shades of red.
"After all, you can't open your present before Christmas," Lydia finished grinning seductively.
Grapple fought back the urge to pant, and instead replied with "What are ya gonna do? Spank me some more?"
"Oh, you'd like it too much!" she replied with a laugh, then returned to packing.
"Woah!" Grapple mouthed silently, then figured he'd better occupy himself with something else, lest he dent his armor from the inside. (If you don't get that one, give up and keep reading--I'm not gonna explain it.)
"All done!" she called a few minutes later.
"Ok, I've just got a few more tests to run then we'll be ready."
"All right. I sure hope this trip to Kattelox is worth it!" Lydia commented.
"Oh, it is. Some guy named Mega Man plunked down a wad of cash for a new machine at that hospital there, I heard. Some girl had severe arthritis and bone deformities in her legs, and this machine was able to completely restore them!" Grapple said while he worked.
"I don't know if I can afford the bills, though!" Lydia said worriedly.
"Oh, cool it! Let's just focus on getting your legs back 100%, ok? You let me worry about the zenny." Lydia smiled. "Thanks."
Grapple finished running the tests, and all lights were green. They closed the rear exit, secured the storage lockers, then boarded the Dark Sun via the front cockpit. Grapple brought the engines online and pressurized the cockpit and cabin.
"Ok! Here we go!"
The hoverjets lifted the Dark Sun off the g round, stopping it ten feet up, then the main drive kicked in. Grapple and Lydia rocketed off towards Kattelox Island--ETA 2 hours.
From Grapple's vantage point high above the surface, Kattelox Island looked like an old warzone. There was now a thriving metropolis planted squarely in the center of the island, but it appeared it was ground zero for a massive war hundreds of years ago. The island was pockmarked by crater holes, and although they were now essentially nothing more than round beaches, they spoke of ancient weapons capable of demolishing cities with each blast. Grapple shuddered when he thought of the fate that must have befallen the island's previous inhabitants, and wondered what could have triggered such a catastrophe.
"Hey, we can set down in that clearing!" Lydia's melodic voice called from behind him. Shaking himself back to the present, he scanned the ground.
"Over there, see?" He followed her finger, finally spotting a deep gouge in the earth where something had recently crash-landed.
Grapple chuckled. "Looks like we weren't the first ones with that idea, either!" He initiated the landing procedure, and before long, had the Dark Sun set down squarely in the clearing's center.
They clambered out of the jet, feeling slightly numb now that the engine's drone and slight vibration was no longer present, and set about getting their bearings.
"Hey, Jack. Um…I forgot which way the town is from here!" Lydia said sheepishly.
"Uh…how about that sign over there that says "to town"?"
Lydia crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out. "Ok, fine, so I act like my hair color. Sue me."
The narrow path wound through a forest that was teeming with birds and other wildlife. Grapple and Lydia were so immersed in the scenery they barely noticed when they had emerged! From their vantage point at the trail's end, they could see a massively walled city a few hundred feet ahead. Stationed outside it like an unmoving statue was a single police officer. Grapple turned to Lydia, and they both shrugged, deciding to take the direct approach.
"Hi!" Grapple called out as he approached the officer.
"Can I help you?"
"Who knows? We're actually just wondering why this town needs armed guards," Grapple said.
"Well, I don't know how far the news has spread yet, but we're recently recovering from a rather startling series of events," the officer explained. "First it was pirates, then it was Reaverbot cities popping up in the town square, and it was topped off with a giant monument of some sort hovering over the city for a few minutes!"
"So I'm sure you can understand our need for a little extra security!" the officer finished.
"Yeah, I guess so, " Grapple said, somewhat confused.
"Does this affect my chances of getting to the hospital?" Lydia asked suddenly.
That seemed to take the officer aback, mostly since he hadn't noticed Lydia's crutches until she spoke! "Oh, I'm sorry, do you require medical assistance? I don't know what came over me--I didn't put two and two together!" the officer said quickly, plucking his radio from his belt.
"Well, yes, but it's not an emergency. We were hoping to make use of the new equipment your hospital received," Grapple said, motioning to Lydia's legs.
"Well…oh, fine. Here," the officer said, handing Grapple and Lydia a pair of keycards. "These are visitor passes. They will grant you access to the city for three hours--long enough to get to city hall, and apply for a citizen's card."
The two pocketed their cards, thanked the officer, and entered the city.
"Hey Jack," Lydia whispered, "I think he was checking out my butt!"
Grapple and Lydia, after two excruciatingly boring hours, acquired their citizen's cards. Now at Kattelox hospital, Lydia was lying in a hospital bed being prepared for some tests.
"Jack, I've really got to thank you for seeing me here safely," Lydia said softly.
"Hey, not a problem!" Grapple said. "Hey, you know what? The doctors said, just from the preliminary examination, they expect the procedures should completely restore your legs!'
Lydia smiled. "Yeah, that's what they told me, too. But…it's a 6 month procedure. And I'll have to remain in inpatient therapy the entire time." Her smile fell as finished her sentence.
"Well I think it's worth it," Grapple said decisively.
"Yeah. What are you going to do in the meantime?"
"Well…I'll go on some digs, I guess. Gotta get the cash somehow!"
"You'll come back, right?"
Grapple grinned. "What, you think I'd just ditch you like that?" "No, of course not. Just making sure!"
"Besides, I've got to track down that pirate that did this to you! I can't let him get away!" Grapple said, rising to his feet. "Don't worry, Lydia. I'll be back before you know it!"
Grapple strolled through the downtown area of Kattelox City, not entirely sure where to begin. Spotting a park bench, he figured that'd be a good place to start. Grabbing a soda and a newspaper from nearby vending machines, he sat down to take a much-needed break. Jeez, my head is spinning, he thought to himself. It seemed as if events hadn't slowed down one bit since he first entered the ruins on Kimanis Island one month ago. Glad for the reprieve, temporary though it may be, he took a swig of soda and flipped open the newspaper.
Pirates Finally Give Up was the headline for today. The article went into detail on how a group of pirates attempted to force their way into the Kattelox ruins without authorization by holding the city hostage. It recapped the numerous exploits of Mega Man as he not only beat back each offensive, but also managed to completely clear the ruins, avert a genocidal catastrophe, and end the "legendary disaster" once and for all.
"I wonder if this guy gives lessons," Grapple muttered to himself.
The article closed in saying the pirates had finally left the island since every last attack vehicle they had brought with them was destroyed. The "body count" totaled dozens of tanks and mortar launchers, three urban assault vehicles, a spider-like mech, a 96-ton bulldozer robot, an aquatic attack mech, two-dozen or so combat boats, another two dozen or so attack aircraft, a five-story-tall heavy assault mech, and finally, the pirates own mothership.
That caught Grapple's interest. The style…it seemed to fit what he knew about Victor Blackheart! That had to be why they attacked the farming community, he thought to himself. They needed to restock from the ground up, so to speak! But if the total of downed machinery was around 100, there had to be some scrap left lying around the island…some of it would likely provide a clue as to where they went!
Grapple hopped to his feet, gulped the rest of his soda down, and ran off to the library.
Two hours later, Grapple was again walking the streets. Armed with incident reports and maps on each pirate encounter, he was confident he'd be able to find at least some clue to point him in the right direction. Grapple's first stop was a massive pit that had been gouged into the ground around what was once the entrance to a ruin. He made a brief scouting of the area, but judging from the numerous criss-crossing tire tracks, this place had already been cleaned up. No luck here. His next stop was the slum area, where the battle versus the heavy assault mech took place. The area was pretty much leveled! Nearly every building was a pile of bashed rubble, and none of the buildings escaped total harm. Grapple sifted through some of the debris, finding mostly broken glass, concrete, and pipes. He did manage to find an old bomb with a strange white skull-looking thing on it, which he took. Finding nothing else, he left the area.
"Only one place left to look," he mumbled to himself. He flipped open the map--the only major combat site he hadn't scouted yet (aside from the city center, which would have long since been cleaned up) was on Lake Jyun. He'd need a boat for that, though. Recalling an old billboard he'd seen earlier for "Wily's Rent-a-Boat", he walked back downtown and caught the next bus to the uptown area.
"Sorry. All of my boats were stolen, and I haven't gotten the business up again quite yet," the balding, white-haired store owner said.
"Stolen? What about that boat I saw out back? The one with the three fish painted on the side?" Grapple asked.
"Well I suppose you could use that one, but there isn't much to see out there. Megaman already cleared the ruins in the center of the lake."
Figures. Is there anything that kid didn't do? "Actually I'm looking for clues as to where those pirates went. I'm trying to bring them in, so I'm pretty much willing to try anything!"
"Very well then. It's good to finally have some business!" Wily said in his eternally calm voice.
Grapple signed the rental agreement, paid the 100-zenny fee, and boarded the small boat. The thing had seen some combat, obviously. Although it was still seaworthy, it was riddled with numerous bullet holes, and had a few scorch marks from some type of explosive weapon. Must have been a hell of a fight!
Grapple started the engine, and took the boat out a quarter-speed ahead, making a slight starboard turn when he had cleared the dock. The lake was nearly a perfect circle, he realized, covering an area just shy one square mile. That's a hell of a search area! He tapped a few buttons on the display console, bringing the sonar online. Fish, aquatic plantlife, mud, rocks, more fish, more mud, more rocks, more fish….. Grapple kept that up for a good hour and a half before his patience gave out. Nothing! He picked up the pace then, zipping across the surface and not really even bothering to do an in-depth scan anymore. The only thing his sonar would pick up was the usual stuff you'd find in a lake!
"What is this? A couple dozen boats get sunk out here and I can't find a single piece of scrap?!" Grapple screamed at the blank screen. He turned sharp to port, piloting the boat through a narrow winding channel. The channel ended in a small pond, and from the looks of the surrounding area, this is where the massive fight came to an end. Grapple brought the boat to a full stop, dropped anchor, and got off at the beach.
"Looks like someone had fun," he commented, eyeing the blasted remains of a rock. He scouted the small area around the pond, eyes on the ground the whole time, but could find nothing so much as a fleck of shrapnel!
"Either Vic uses biodegradable robots, or this Island has a hell of a cleanup crew!"
Disgusted that his last search still turned up nothing, he returned to his boat, and made his way back to town.
"Find anything?" Wily asked as a very irate Grapple plodded through the store.
"No. Nothing. Period--not even any wreckage at the bottom! I gotta hand it to ya, your city's clean-up crew sure does a hell of a job," Grapple said ruefully.
"But they haven't recovered the wreckages yet," Wily said in his almost-monotone. Damn, couldn't this guy show some emotion, Grapple thought.
"Well someone sure has! All I found was fish!"
"It would seem that in finding nothing, you have in fact found your answer." Wily said while rubbing his chin.
"No wreckage, correct? Were you to salvage all the robots on the lake bottom, what's the first thing you'd think to build?"
"Probably a bigger boat," Grapple said immediately, then stopped. A bigger boat! If the pirates did indeed recover their own destroyed equipment, they probably used it to make an escape boat!
"It makes perfect sense!" Grapple blurted, then dashed out the door. He had to hurry--he had a lot of islands to check, and the pirates already had a head start!
Grapple fired his engines, not even waiting for the Dark Sun to reach its 10-foot hover before blasting away from Kattelox! According to his maps, there were three islands within a 20 miles radius of Kattelox, and two of them were no larger than a house. The third, though currently uninhabited, could possibly be used as a temporary base to regroup. Grapple plotted a course for the third island, hoping and praying it was the right choice. He highly doubted he'd succeed in finding them if they'd chosen to keep on going. A single square-mile island is easier to search than an entire ocean!
Grapple pushed his throttle up to the maximum, shortening his ETA to no more than 3 minutes.
Tron Bonne glared at the yellow-faced servbot that dared to interrupt her at the drafting table. Not even waiting for it to speak, Tron began at it in her traditional wide-mouthed shout.
"What is it, #24? This better be important or you're in a lot of trouble!" "M-m-m-miss Tron! There's something flying towards us! We picked it up on radar a few seconds ago!" the little servbot warbled in its eternally fearful voice.
"Flying towards us? A jet of some kind…how long before it gets here?" Tron asked, suddenly worried.
"It'll be here in 2 to 3 minutes!"
"WHAT?! 2-3 minutes?! What are you standing around for, man your battle stations!" Tron screamed, sending the servbot toddling away, arms flapping wildly.
Tron turned her head and called over her shoulder. "Hey Tiesel, we've got trouble!"
Tiesel's stuffed face popped up from behind a crate. "Waw if ib Won? Waf wuh wubbo?"
"Tiesel, I don't know what you said, but we've got some kind of aircraft approaching, and fast!"
"WHAT?!" Tiesel screamed, spewing his half-chewed banana all over a passing servbot. "It must be those police from Kattelox! They've found us!"
Two servbots looked at each other then back at Tiesel, for no real reason.
"Man the cannons, everybody! We've got to make a stand here!" Tiesel ordered, clenching a fist tightly in front of himself.
"Right, Tiesel!" Tron agreed, then to the servbots, "MOVE OUT!"
"We'll teach those police not to mess with us or my name's not Tiesel Bonne!"
Grapple jerked the control stick sharply to the left, executing a sharp bank to the left! The incoming stream of plasma pulses sailed on harmlessly by.
"Jackpot!" he growled. "They want to fight, huh? Well come and get it!"
Bring the Dark Sun around for another pass, he quickly surveyed the ground. He spotted two machine guns partially hidden in the trees, and a missile launcher slowly tracking his position.
"Ok, not good…but I built this thing well, it should hold up against a few hits…."
Grapple swooped in low, releasing a quick barrage of his own plasma pulses from the Dark Sun's twin wing mounted guns. The bursts slammed into one of the cannons, sending sparks and small particles of rubble flying! He brought the nose up, flying nearly vertically away from the cannons before they could retaliate. "DAMMIT!" Grapple shouted as the "lock-on" buzzer went off! They'd latched a missile onto his tail! He glanced over his shoulder and saw the sleek package of death zooming ever closer to his tail! He snapped the stick to the left, then to the right, trying to shake the rapidly locking missile--but the thing stayed with him!
"I forgot to build chaff bombs! DAMN I'M AN IDIOT!" without countermeasures to confuse a missile's tracking system, a jet was practically at the mercy of any homing missile fired. But he wasn't about to give up that easily! He dove sharply at the ground, banking slightly to the left, and executing an inverted Himmelman maneuver that brought him in line with the island and slightly above sea level. As expected, the missile followed suit, now no more than 200 feet behind him! Grapple cut the power to his weapons, channeling it into the engines instead, and boosted himself forward as fast as h is little jet could take him.
"Miss Tron, that jet doesn’t look like a police officer's," a servbot commented.
"I know, and it doesn't look like anything Megaman would fly either. And it certainly doesn't belong to Glyde or Loath, because they're still in prison. Who could it be?" Tron thought aloud.
"Oh, no! Miss Tron! He's flying straight toward cannon #2! He's going to crash!"
"Huh? Wait…" Tron began, then screamed into the walkie talkie, "#15, GET OUT OF YOUR CANNON, NOW!!"
Grapple simultaneously activated his hover jets and jerked the control stick far back, nearly crushing himself to death from the impossibly intense G-force of snapping to a sudden vertical climb! The Dark Sun shuddered in protest as it streaked in a hyperbolic turn straight up, away from the surface! As he anticipated, the tracking system of the missile couldn't compensate for the rapid loss of its target, so it simply continued straight.
Into the cannon.
Tron Bonne closed her eyes tightly as the cannon exploded! The sound was so deafening she could actually feel the force of the vibrating air like a slap in the face! She stared in horror at the demolished cannon, looking away only after she saw #15 crawling out from some rubble.
"Well at least he's ok. Ok, that's it! YOU'RE GONNA GET IT NOW!"
"Ahh!" Grapple shouted in surprise as the Dark Sun shook and tossed about violently! A warning buzzer drew his attention to the display console.
"Dammit, engines are down to 80%!" He swooped left and right, evading the remainder of the incoming fire, then turned a wide 180. He cursed as he saw another missile coming his way. Gripping his control stick tightly, he prepared for another nerve-wracking series of evasive maneuvers.
Tron quickly aimed at the missile, gunning it out of the air.
"Miss Tron, why did you do that?" #7 in the missile launcher asked over the radio.
"Because I don't want him doing to me the same thing he did to #15!"
Grapple's eyes went wide with confusion as he saw the missile get shot down by friendly fire, and was so preoccupied that he didn't think to dodge as the cannon riddled the Dark Sun's fuselage with plasma fire! The craft shook hard from the abuse, but held together with no critical systems damaged. He snapped the jet in a hard right turn, weaving up and down to evade the shots. When the cannon ceased fire he rose back into the sky, programming its location into his navcomp. He flew a few lazy circles up there, giving himself a chance to calm his nerves. Grapple loaded the location of the cannon into his targeting computer, bringing up a wire frame image of it on his cockpit window. Since neither he nor the cannon's occupants could see each other, knowing their exact location even through the cloud cover gave him a distinct advantage. He went into a steady ascent, leveling off at 8000 feet, then cut the engines. Relying entire on his ailerons, he guided himself into a steady nosedive, completely silent since the engines were off. He felt his stomach rising into his throat as he reached zero gravity from his fall, but kept his wits about him. He quickly typed in a flight algorithm and assigning it to an unprogrammed button on his autopilot keypad. When he had reached 1500 feet, he channeled all the power allocated to his engines through his plasma cannons, and opened fire!
"Miss Tron, we've lost him!" the servbot next to her said, nearly in tears. "Please don't be angry, we did our best!" "You WHAT?! HOW DO YOU LOSE AN ENTIRE JET?! YOU'D BETTER FIND HIM OR YOU'LL BE EATING YOUR DINNER IN THE TORTURE ROOM!"
"Miss Tron, we don't have a torture room anymore!" another servbot commented.
"SHUT UP! I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE OF YOUR S-" Tron began, but was cut off.
"Miss Tron! We found him! He's right above us!"
"Above us?! But…these cannons don't point straight up!" Tron cried.
Their entire world went haywire then as the cannon was bashed and clobbered by a seemingly endless barrage of weapons-fire coming from the sky! Tron realized through her fear that she had no way of defending herself from vertical attacks, and her stomach did another flop when she realized the cannon was doomed.
"ALL HANDS, ABANDON SHIP--err…CANNON!"
Grapple's teeth were clenched with enough force to bend steel as he kept his fingers glued to the triggers! When the jet was only 500 feet off the ground, he ceased fire and pressed his programmed button!
The power re-routed to the engines, and the entire ship creaked and groaned as the powerful thrusters fought the deadly free-fall! Grapple's face went white from the increased G-forces, and everything went black.
Tron dove clear of the cannon seconds before it exploded in a shower of metal and fire! She shielded her head until she was confident the firestorm had ceased, then jumped to her feet. Tron glanced skyward, seeing the jet suddenly level off and zip towards the sea. Pretty maneuverable, she thought to herself.
"#7, it's all up to you! Don't let him get away!"
Grapple shook his head, clearing his mind of the black burlap that seemed to envelop it, and regained consciousness. Why did I bring my alarm clock along, he thought to himself, frantically searching for the thing.
"What am I, stupid? That's not my alarm clock!" He turned off the "lock on" buzzer and looked over his shoulder. Four missiles. He remembered seeing six in the launcher, so at least if he survived this salvo he'd have eliminated their resistance. But how? How do you evade four missiles at once?! He brought up his power management system again and diverted all weapon power to his engines. Then he set his autopilot to constantly bank a wide circle around the island. A quick calculation regarding speed differentials told him he had less than 20 seconds!
He unbuckled himself and crawled into the back.
He fumbled through a storage area, producing the black bomb he found in the ruined slums of Kattelox.
He stuffed everything back in the compartment, then made sure every last compartment was latched shut.
He hooked his grapple to his reinforced pilot's seat.
He opened the rear exit and was immediately blasted outside from the difference in pressure! Without more than a second's glance, he hurled the bomb-thing at the incoming missiles, which were now no more than 100 feet away!
The bomb was carried back on the winds, careening towards the lead missile.
Grapple pulled himself back in the jet and closed the door a split second before four sky-shattering explosions wracked his abused jet! Grapple was thrown against the interior of his ship, bashed and tossed about like a human pinball, then found himself sprawled out on the deck. He slowly crawled to his feet, and back to the pilot's seat. He buckled himself up again, banked a 180, and returned to the island to finish what he'd started.
"Um…Miss Tron?" #7's voice came warbling over the walkie-talkie.
"Let me guess. You didn't get him," Tron said with a mix of exasperation and extreme boredom.
Unfortunately for Tron, she was already used to this sort of thing.
Grapple touched down on the beach, about 50 feet north of the weapons (now marked by three ominous smoke columns rising towards the sky). He slung his grapple arm across his back, equipping himself with both his Grenade Launcher and his Flare Buster, then Rambo-rushed the encampment.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted the little yellow-headed robot standing in his way.
"Umm…h-hello Mr. Pilot!" the little guy said in a high-pitched voice.
Grapple stared at it. This ain't right, he thought to himself. What's Victor doing with robots that are so…so…cute?!
"Master Tiesel says you're supposed to go away or you're in biiiiig trouble!" the robot continued in a singsong voice.
"Who…is…. Look little guy, I don't care who this 'Master Tiesel' of yours is. Just tell him to stay out of my way," Grapple warned.
Then the sound of branches snapping and trees cracking, accompanied by plodding metallic footfalls came up from Grapple's right side! "Why not tell me yourself?! Or are you afraid to face Tiesel Bonne like a man?" a voice called from the 12-foot tall mech armor that had bounded up.
"I don't care if you're name is 'late for dinner', I have no business with you! I'm only here for Victor. Now bring him out now or there'll be trouble!" Grapple shouted, bringing his Grenade Launcher to bear.
"Who?! Hey, you've got a major head case guy, you know that?! Nobody here by the name 'Victor'!"
Ordinarily Grapple wouldn't believe something like that, but under the circumstances, he was inclined to believe the mech's pilot was speaking the truth.
"If that's so, why'd you shoot at me?"
"Oh, get with it man! I mean, come on! You come barreling at us at a million miles an hour, armed to the teeth, no less--well what are we SUPPOSED to think?!" Tiesel said in a voice that seemed to change pitches every few seconds.
Grapple thought about the situation carefully--if he was really squaring off with someone from Victor's gang, it would have come to blows a long time ago. Then there's the…cute robot…definitely not Victor's style! He took a chance and turned his weapons' safeties back on.
"Look, it seems we're both mistaken about each other. If I apologize for destroying your cannons, will you apologize for attacking me?"
The mech's weapon arms remained where they were for a long time, and Grapple was about ready to re-arm himself! Finally, the arms lowered.
"Ohhhhh, all right. Listen, this Victor guy you mentioned…is he by any chance Victor Blackheart?" Tiesel said.
"Yes, actually. Why, do you know him?"
"I…Iiiiiii'd rather not talk about it. Anyway, follow me, you can help us rebuild as an act of good faith, ok?" Tiesel said.
Well, it can't hurt, Grapple thought to himself. "Sure."
And so, led by a plodding mech armor with the name "GUSTAFF II" stenciled across the shoulder, he and the yellow-faced robot walked back to the Bonne's camp.
Grapple spent two days in the company of the Bonnes. He got along quite well with Tron (after her initial shout-fest that is) since they were both inventor/engineers. She was like the little sister he never had, and he found himself teaching her quite a few tricks to improve her designs. The servbots also treated him like one of the family, although they were usually so absorbed in their tasks they ignored him. The big yellow robot Bon Bonne…Grapple didn't get that one. He just sort of steered clear of him. All he ever said was "babu!", over and over, annoying Grapple to no end! Still, annoying as he was, Bon was all right. Didn't get in anyone's way and kept to himself most of the time.
Tiesel, however, didn't trust Grapple, and was constantly eyeballing him. Grapple and Tiesel nearly came to blows on several occasions, but quick intervention by Tron and the servbots prevented any pugilism. Tron's acceptance, Grapple realized, was the only thing that kept him safe at night--Tiesel would likely have shot him in his sleep otherwise!
Regardless, they were able to set aside their differences long enough to put the final touches on the Gustaff II, repair the Dark Sun, and build a couple of flying machines the Bonnes called "Drache's". During the construction process, several servbots had been sent out on various scouting missions, and towards the end of the second day, one of the servbots returned with great news. He was scouting for supplies on a nearby island (one of the two small ones Grapple had passed up earlier, actually) and stumbled across a manhole in the ground. Near the manhole was a large entrance of some sort with a sliding door painted to look like sand from a distance. It didn't look like the ancient technology associated with the ruins--it appeared to be man-made! Tiesel and Grapple both agreed that even if this wasn't Victor's hiding place, it certainly deserved further investigation. So they left for the smaller island, Grapple the Dark Sun, Tron and Bon in one Drache and Tiesel in the Gustaff.
The Dark Sun was by far superior to the Draches. Not only was it faster and more maneuverable, it had much stronger weapons and could take far more punishment. The only category a Drache could beat the Dark Sun in was cargo--the Gustaff was hitching a ride on a Drache by hanging onto a handle underneath the thing. Grapple's Dark Sun would never get off the ground with that kind of weight! Still, the Bonnes in spite of their luggage managed to keep up with Grapple quite well as they closed the 15 mile distance to the remote island.
"There…THERE! That must be it!" Tiesel's overly emphatic voice came over the com.
"What, that dinky little thing?" Grapple asked.
"Just because something's small is no reason to ignore it!" a servbot replied innocently.
"SHUT UP! WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE ISLAND!" Came Tron's impetuous cry.
"It was still a good point, Miss Tron," The dejected servbot said quietly.
Good to see everything's normal on that end, Grapple thought to himself with a grin.
"Enough squabbling, you two. We've got work to do!" Grapple said, trying to return their concentration to the matters at hand.
"All right, ALL RIGHT ALREADY!" came Tiesel's gritty voice. "That island's pretty small, so we'd better be quick about this. Grapple, why don't you set down at these coordinates while we--" "TIESEL, THE HATCH IS OPENING!" Tron interrupted.
"DAMN, they're onto us already!" Grapple spat. "You two concentrate on getting inside--that mech of yours won't do us any good up here. I'll take out those fighters!" Grapple was referring to the six or so flying machines that were even now spewing forth from the opening like enraged hornets from a nest! "This isn't going to be easy…." Tiesel warned.
Grapple didn't reply, instead focusing his efforts on distracting the six fighters! The jets looked pretty formidable--twin engines that Grapple recognized as standard Type-3 Ion jets, each packing a double-barreled pulse weapon built into the nose that was probably equal in firepower to his own. The jets were all (appropriately enough) jet-black. Similar to his own, he realized, except his was short and wide, while they were long and narrow. Built for speed as opposed to maneuverability, he noted. That means he'd have to keep the fight in relatively close-quarters. They'd be able to latch onto his tail and blow him to smithereens if he got too far from them!
Grapple cut a sharp left, banking straight into their midst! Two were heading straight towards him, and he was forced to pitch left and right, moving his wings in an X pattern to evade them. He cut a sharp Himmelman turn, finishing it off with a barrel roll that left him squared up with the second fighter. He pumped a steady stream of fire into its engines, causing it to jerk and flop violently from the impacts! The thing banked sharply to the right, but what was sharp to these guys was a gentle turn for the Dark Sun! He kept behind the guy, pummeling it mercilessly with his pulse cannons until the engines finally burst like firecrackers. He pulled up sharply, evading a stream of fire from another jet coming in on his right, letting his previous target spin uncontrollably to the sea below.
The Dark Sun shuddered violently as he was struck from below! Grapple banked left, then right, finally shaking the enemy below him. He saw a jet streak skyward, and immediately cut a left ascending turn to keep up with it! It continued upward, and Grapple realized that with its greater speed and momentum pushing it along, he'd hit his ceiling long before his enemy. So he instead jerked his jet around violently, firing all the while. When he had saturated a large enough area of sky with weapons fire, he flipped over and began a rapid descent. A glance at his scanners told him he'd been at least partially successful--his enemy had been hit a few times as it tried to follow him, though not badly.
Three fighters were blazing at him, following their companion to the skies! Far below them, Grapple could barely make out the fifth jet attacking the Bonnes' Drache! These three could wait. Grapple kicked in his afterburners max-throttle and tore right past the incoming jets! With their slow turning, he'd have a few precious seconds to deal with the Bonnes' attacker. In a few heartbeats he was within weapons range, and he opened fire! The Drache saw him coming in, and focused its efforts on evasion rather than combat, but fortunately for Grapple the enemy jet wasn't so perceptive. His shots punched numerous holes in the thing's wings, engine, and fuselage, ruptured the refractor casing, and the jet exploded into a million fiery pieces!
"Look out, they're right on top of you!" Tiesel's wild scream came from the intercom.
Grapple pressed his preprogrammed autopilot button--the one that had worked so well against the Bonnes' cannon, and the Dark Sun jerked sharply into a horizontal flight path. He managed to resist falling unconscious from the G-forces this time, and looked over his shoulder. One of the jets anticipated his maneuver, and pulled out in time. One attempted to pull out, clipping a second as it rose, and both went crashing into the sea. The third was snatched out of mid-air by the Gustaff and hurled into the sea!
Grapple was laughing to himself at this sudden turn of events, and banked a sharp 180. He flew on a collision course with the only remaining jet, which was now attempting to tail him. The pilot panicked and dove, but was unable to pull up from his dodge in time and crashed his own jet right into the sea!
"Thanks for the assist, Tiesel," Grapple said over the intercom.
"Heh heh--couldn't let you have all the fun, now could I?"
Grapple piloted the Dark Sun gently over the island, and set her down on the beach. Moving his way into the back, he chose his weapons. Might as well go with a classic combo, he decided, and equipped his grapple on his left arm, his Flare Buster on his right. Hopping out the back exit, he made his way over to the Bonnes.
"Nice to see you're still in one piece," Tron said. "Those modifications you made to the Gustaff's reaction speed really helped!"
"Well Tron, like I said, switch the servomotors in the shoulders down to the elbows and use the same style motors in the shoulders you used in the hips, the arms will move 73% faster!" Grapple reiterated.
"You sure you don't want a job?" Tiesel asked. "We don't offer any benefits, but #24 makes great stew!"
"Thanks, but no. Anyway, let's go over our strategy."
"How's this for a strategy?" Tiesel began, slamming the Gustaff's weapon arm into its open palm. "We bust in, blow everything up, take what we can, and leave laughing!"
"Actually I'm only here for Victor. Once I take him out, I'm done as far as I'm concerned."
"Hey, Grapple! Doesn't it bother you that this guy is costing you so much MONEY?!" Tiesel shouted. "I mean we've both gone WAY out of our way to get here and you don't even want to line your pockets a little?"
Grapple honestly had to think that one over. Well…what the hell, right?
"Yeah, I guess you've got a point there Tiesel. All right then, since you've got the robot gorilla suit, you'll go in first to draw their fire and blast out any annoying doors. I'll slip in behind you, cover your back, and mop up. Then Tron, Bon, and the few servbots she brought in can bring up the rear and collect whatever goodies are left behind!"
"That's the spirit! What do you say, Tron? Feel like getting rich this afternoon?" Tiesel laughed.
"You bet, big brother! All right then, let's move out!"
"LET'S DO IT!" cheered Tiesel.
"YAAAY!" from the servbots.
"Gonna make him pay…hard," Grapple said cooly, flexing the sharpened claws of his grapple arm.
The Gustaff aimed its bazooka arm at the closed hatch, and with a single massive shot ripped the thing clean off its casing! The Gustaff heaved itself into the air with a jet-assisted leap, dropping down into the hole. Grapple ran up to edge, seeing the Gustaff just hitting bottom some 50 feet below in some kind of hangar.
"Tiesel, take out those fighters before they can take off!"
"I'm already on it!"
Grapple fixed his hook to the opening's rim and lowered himself to the ground. When he was 15 feet up, he released his cable, dropping the rest of the way down. He landed squarely on the Gustaff's back, and immediately added his firepower to the Gustaff's, taking out the jets that were starting to rise! Between Tiesel and Grapple, they downed the entire hangar full of jets in under 15 seconds!
"That's gotta be some kind of record!" Tiesel exclaimed.
"All right, looks like we may have to change our plan slightly. I'll take the garage door ahead of me. There's a personnel entrance over there that's more your size. If we split up, we can work quicker!" Tiesel said.
"Sounds good. If we get into trouble, we'll meet back here, ok? The Drache can fit in here easily and pick us up," Grapple suggested.
They were interrupted by the sound of the Drache descending into the hangar, and by Tron's voice on the intercom.
"Don't worry you two, I'm already here. Bon and I will stay here and blast anything that tries to escape!"
Tiesel (unseen in the Gustaff) and Grapple exchanged nods and dashed off to their corresponding doors.
Tiesel, in the Gustaff, raised a massive titanium fist and brought it forward like an out-of-control freight train, slamming through the garage door! The thin metal sheets buckled and soared inward as if it were made of aluminum foil. Once the obstacle was cleared, the Gustaff bounded through the opening. It led to a long and perfectly straight corridor that branched at the end, left and right at 45 degree angles to the main path. Choosing the path on the right side, Tiesel continued his advance. He had gone no farther than 20 feet when the walls exploded on either side, revealing short stubby black tanks!
"WOOAAAHH!! Gonna give me a heart attack!" Tiesel cried, leaping backwards with the Gustaff. The tanks slowly emerged into the hallway, rotating their cannons to face him. Tiesel bent down and picked up one of the huge pieces of broken wall with the Gustaff's arms and heaved it against one of the tanks. The thing flipped upward as if it were doing a wheelie, then slammed back down on its treads. It immediately stopped moving and started exploding, several small ones at first, then erupting in a huge fireball that filled the width of the corridor. The second tank blasted a shell at the Gustaff, catching it squarely in the chest. The Gustaff sailed backward a few feet, pitched backward in mid air, and landed on its head. Tiesel rubbed his cheek from where he had bumped the cockpit wall, and quickly brought the Gustaff back to its feet. He raised the Bonne Bazooka and delivered the tank a blast head-on. The thing didn't have a chance against the powerful explosive, and was immediately blasted into bits. Tiesel looked around quickly, saw no additional resistance, and proceeded down the corridor.
"YYAIIEEE!!" he cried as six tiny robots zipped out of nowhere and surrounded him! "What the?! Where the?! Huh?!"
While Tiesel was just sitting there, shocked and confused, he was immediately surrounded by dozens of brilliant flashes! Tiesel screamed, raising his hands over his eyes and expecting to be blown apart!
But nothing happened.
He slowly dropped his arms and looked around--the six robots were already fleeing down the tunnel.
"What the heck was that?!" Tiesel cried, then with a shrug of his shoulders again continued on his path.
Grapple kicked the door open and leaped in, Flare Buster at the ready!
"HIIYAAAHHH!! COME GET SOME, SUCKers…damn," his gusto was for nothing as the room was empty. Blushing behind his visor, he scouted the area quickly. He was in some kind of storage room. He popped open a few crates, finding nothing immediately useful (not unless he planned to change his clothes, go to the bathroom, and eat a quick meal of canned foods, which he didn't). He spent a second or two opening the remaining crates to make Tron's job a little easier, then proceeded to the next door. Not wasting a second, he leaped in mid air, kicking the door open with his entire weight focused on his foot! The door shattered into splinters, and Grapple landed on his feet.
This room was definitely not empty!
He looked around at the thirty or so small robots that filled the room he had just busted his way into. Thirty!! They were all small, maybe 3 to 4 feet high, and looked like nothing so much as shiny black spiders with cameras for an abodmen. Each spider had small plasma cannons mounted on the ends of their front two legs and sharp spikes on the ends of their back six. They all looked like they could rip a man apart in mere seconds. They also looked very pissed at Grapple.
So Grapple did the most sensible thing he could do--run! He whipped a quick about-face and hightailed it right on out of there! He heard hundreds of simultaneous clack clack clack sounds behind him as the horde of spiderbots rushed out the door after him! Grapple whipped around and fired his grapple arm into their midst, knocking a dozen or so off their feet. He swished his cord back and forth, trying to knock the rest over, but they simply fell on their bellies and got right back up! He retracted the grapple arm and opened fire with the Flare Buster. Spraying left and right, he tried to provide as many of them with as many new holes as possible! But even though he succeeded in destroying a few with this tactic, the majority of them had him surrounded. Something latched hard onto his back, and the sound of metal screeching against metal set Grapple's teeth on edge! Reaching over his back, he grabbed the offending spider and hurled it into the crowd. Grapple pumped a hefty amount of ammunition into a spiderbot that was crawling up his leg, blasting it into pieces, but couldn't recover in time to stop a third from jumping right onto his face! Grabbing that one with both hands, he slammed it to the ground, crushing it to scrap beneath his armored boot. Two more were already on his back, and in the time it took him to grab that one, six more had climbed up his legs! Grapple tried to back away from the horde, but overbalanced and toppled into the fray.
The hoard piled atop him and he disappeared beneath hundreds of razor-sharp spider legs.
Tiesel figured he must be somewhere near the heart of the compound by now. He'd faced off with about a dozen more tanks since that first ambush, and handled them in a manner similar the first. The Gustaff had taken many hits--too many to count, and some of them severe enough to knock it down. However, the Gustaff was built stronger than any tank, and could withstand a phenomenal amount of damage. Tiesel had managed to destroy the central computer room, as well as the main power generators (those refractors in there had to be worth a fortune!). He'd managed to take a wrong turn once, and ended up back in the hangar. This told him the entire area he'd been in was nothing but a giant circle, and would get him nowhere. The Gustaff was far too big to fit in the same door Grapple had used, and since blasting every wall he came to would likely bring the whole ceiling down on his head, he opted to see where those original two tanks had come from.
He proceeded back to the holes they'd blown in the wall. Tiesel was simply confused on one--one wall had apparently been built after the tank was placed there--there's no other way it could have gotten there! The other however, led to a rocky passage that appeared to have gone thus far unfinished. The Gustaff bounded down the tunnel, weapons at the ready.
Tiesel emerged into a large cave with a vaulted ceiling, lit with brilliant spotlights fixed into the rocky walls. And at the far end, Tiesel spotted another mech similar in proportions to the Gustaff.
It matched the description Grapple had given of the mech he fought on Liodalas Island a month earlier.
The mech that belonged to Victor Blackheart.
"So Tiesel Bonne. We meet again. How long has it been? Hm?" Victor's emotionless monotone droned from his mech's loudspeaker.
"V-v-v-victor?! B-b-b-but y-y-y-y-" Tiesel stammered hopelessly.
"You've caused me a lot of trouble--and after all I did for you." "D-did for me?! What do you think you're talking about?! You nearly KILLED me!" Tiesel screamed.
"Shut up, you little brat. You've proven to me that mercy is not only for the weak, it is for the terminally stupid. Had I killed you and your idiot sister the same time I killed your parents, you wouldn't be here to cause me any trouble, now would you?"
"Victor! I've never forgotten that day!" Tiesel growled.
"I had. Up until now, that is. Don't think I'll let you go this time. I tried to rob your parents, and they resisted. So they had to pay the price for causing me trouble. Imagine what torments I will inflict upon you for invading my home!" Victor said, his voice raising uncharacteristically. "You will DIE, Tiesel Bonne!"
"V-v-victor! Let's be reasonable!" Tiesel pleaded.
"THEN I'LL TAKE YOUR SISTER--"
"Now you leave Tron out of this!" "Oh...just IMAGINE the fun I can have with a nice young girl…I'll get many pleasures from her before I allow her to die…"Victor chuckled at this.
"Victor…." Tiesel was growing increasingly enraged.
"And those little yellow faced robots. I can melt them down and slowly drip the boiling metal onto Tron's body. That should provide for some fascinating screams!" Victor pondered.
"I'VE HAD ABOUT ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, YOU SICK PERVERT!! NOBODY MESSES WITH THE BONNES!!" Tiesel roared with near-insane rage, and charged Victor down!
A grapple claw burst from the midst of the writhing pile of spiderbots and crashed into the ceiling with enough force to knock some of the cement loose! The pile was blown in all directions as a scratched, beaten, and thoroughly pissed off Grapple flew up on the retracting cord.
"Why didn't I think of this sooner?" he grumbled.
From the ceiling, he had a fairly good view of his targets, and he began spraying the area immediately beneath him with Flare Buster rounds. Spiderbot after spiderbot disintegrated in a fiery explosion as Grapple unloaded his weapon into their midst! One, two, three…ten, eleven, twelve! A movement at the edge of his vision caught his eye--the spiderbots were scaling the walls! He released his grapple arm, dropping into a pile of scorched and broken spiderbots. The ones on the wall immediately reversed their direction and clambered back down to the ground. However, from their distance, they were more or less moving targets than actual threats. Expending the remainder of his Flare Buster's energy, he picked them off one by one until he was the last thing in one piece.
"Whew…that was fun," he commented to himself. Although his bionic armor had protected him from any real damage, his energy meter was pretty close to gone. He plucked a Hyper Cartridge and a Class-4 Energy Bottle from his utility belt and quickly drained them, restoring both his armor and his weapon to full power. Feeling much better, he trotted back through the door to the 'spider room', and continued on his path.
Victor's mech zipped forward, meeting the Gustaff mid dash. They collided with a crash that seemed to shake the entire compound, and they wrestled each other each trying to keep the other's weapon arm at bay! Vic's mech brought up an armored knee into the Gustaff's side, and Tiesel bounced around inside his cockpit! Stunned from his jarring, he lost his grip on Vic's weapon arm, and received a blast of green plasma for his error! The Gustaff toppled onto its back and went skidding across the floor. He hopped back to his feet and lobbed a bomb from the Bonne Bazooka at Vic's mech, who shot the projectile out of the air with his own cannon. Vic lowered his arm, leveling it with the Gustaff, and send another ball of green energy Tiesel's way. Tiesel lumbered to the side, barely evading the weapon. The Gustaff was built for durability and power, not for speed and agility. Unfortunately Vic's weapons were so strong that even the mighty Gustaff couldn't stand and take too many more hits like that! But a couple more won't kill me, Tiesel thought!
He charged Vic down again, taking two more blasts to the Gustaff's chest that caused sparks to fly from the circuits in Tiesel's cockpit! He reached Vic just in time to knock his arm aside, averting a third plasma shot! Reaching out, he grabbed the off-balance mech by the waist, heaved it over his head, and hurled it into a wall. The mech bounced off, leaving a massive dent in the concrete surface, and rolled to a stop. Without bothering to rise to its feet, it raised its weapon arm and plastered the Gustaff in the legs! The system was ionized for a brief moment, and the legs buckled, sending the Gustaff to the floor.
Cant' take much more of this, Tiesel thought grimly. Mirroring Victor's tactic, Tiesel pointed the Bonne Bazooka right at the other mech's "head" and clobbered it point blank! The mech flew into the air from the powerful blast, bounced off the wall again, and crumpled into a heap in the far corner. Apparently, although Victor's mech was slightly more maneuverable, the Gustaff's weapons outclassed anything Victor had. His mech was already smoking, and resisting his commands to rise.
Tiesel grinned sadistically, and moved slowly over to Victor, weapons at the ready.
"It seems we have company," Victor's voice called out, and Tiesel stopped in shock!
He was now aiming at…another Gustaff!
"You wouldn't hit yourself, would you Tiesel?" Tiesel's own voice came back to him from the "other Gustaff".
Grapple encountered a few more of the annoying spiderbots, but it seems that Victor had left the bulk of his contingent in that one room. With about 90% of his force decimated at once, Grapple faced minimal resistance. There wasn't much down this end of the tunnel--he found the personnel entrances to the computer room and refractor power generator, both of which Tiesel must have gotten to first. Aside from that, Grapple came upon a mess hall, sleeping quarters, and what could only have been Victor's private quarters. Who else would luxuriate himself with silk sheets, leather cushions, a personal climate control system, etc. while his troops (which were eliminated a month ago thanks to Grapple) slept on surplus military cots? Grapple made a mental note to claim dibs on Victor's stuff when they robbed him blind later.
Ignoring this half of the compound for now as there was nothing left to see, he made his way down Tiesel's half. Everything had been blasted apart by now--apparently bigger doors equal bigger enemies--these things could be salvaged and turned into some fantastic new additions to the Dark Sun, he thought to himself! He was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn't see the mech in front of him until he nearly ran into it!
"Help me, Grapple!" Tiesel's voice called from his downed Gustaff across the room!
But…the mech holding it at bay was also the Gustaff! Two Gustaffs?! "Don't listen to him, Grapple! He's got some kind of hologram up!"
Grapple decided he wasn't about to get caught up in one of those played-out schemes. Jeez, the "duplicate your enemy and confuse his allies" theme has been abused on cartoon shows all over the world!
"Who makes the best stew?" Grapple said.
"It's that one servbot!" One mech replied.
"What?! What's that got to do with anything!" The other said.
"There, problem solved!" And he opened fire!
"NOOO!!! Tiesel's voice shrieked, and the Gustaff shuddered and reeled from hundreds of Flare Buster rounds! Inside the cockpit, sparks flew and panels burst with flames! The entire robot erupted in a ball of flames, sending the pilot hurtling through the air and collapsing on the ground in a smoking heap.
The hologram dropped, and the wreckage turned from the Gustaff to Vic's mech.
"H…how…did you know…?" Vic coughed. "I…said it was….a servbot…"
"Yeah! How! When I stumbled over my words I thought I was done for sure!" Tiesel asked confusedly.
"No offense, Tiesel, but I knew you wouldn't think that quickly. Victor knows about the servbots--of course he'd say that," Grapple chuckled.
"Ahh…well done," Victor congratulated. "But…you see…I will have the last laugh!" Victor rose painfully to his feet, clutching a wound at his side.
"Oh? And why's that?!" Tiesel laughed wickedly.
"B--because. You're both…basically good…good guys. You'll bring me…..*cough* in…and I'll be out on parole in a few years!"
Tiesel raised the Bonne Bazooka and pointed it at Victor's head. "OH YEAH?!"
Victor looked straight into the Gustaff's optic sensors, knowing Tiesel could see him. "Do it, Tiesel. Be the man you say you are."
"GrrrrroooooOOOHHH JEEZ! I hate it when people do that! Ok, fine. Grapple tie him up with something, we've got to go," Tiesel conceded with annoyance.
Victor cackled his wickedly heartless cackle. "You see? Mercy really is for the weak!"
"Uh…Grap…you gonna tie him up or do I have to get out and do it myself?" Tiesel asked.
"You know, Tiesel…Victor's got a point. I'm going to show him the same mercy he'd show me!" Grapple growled. "HUH!?"
"The good guy catches the bad guy, the bad guy escapes, just in time for a sequel! Repeat a dozen times and you've got a series! Sounds like a billion video games I've played in the past! WELL I DON'T MAKE THOSE MISTAKES!" Grapple screamed!
"GRAPPLE, NO!" Tiesel cried.
"Wha-" Vic's eyes grew wide with fear--an emotion he hadn't experienced in over a decade.
Grapple opened fire, and Victor screamed in agony as Flare Buster rounds tore violently through his body.
Tiesel stared in shock. He couldn't believe what he'd just seen. He'd never seen someone shot before his eyes before! Sure, as a pirate, he'd injured a lot of people, but one thing he prided himself on was that nobody ever died as a result of his actions. Seeing someone--
"--wait, he's still alive!" Tiesel shrieked!
Grapple spun about, seeing the disembodied arm lying on the ground, and Victor ducking around a corner!
"What?! Impossible!! How could he survive that?!"
Grapple picked up the blasted arm and gagged in spite of himself. Yep, it was a real arm all right. Victor's definitely in as bad of a condition as Grapple suspected.
"He's got no emotions…no feelings. I guess a guy like that can shrug off even the most grievous of injuries!" Tiesel muttered.
"Now put that arm down, you're gonna make me sick."
"Sorry Tiesel," Grapple said, throwing the thing into the corner with a sickening 'thwup'.
"TIESEL! GRAPPLE! What was that?!" Tron's voice came over the com.
"Our…ally…here just tried to kill Victor! He got away," Tiesel said with disdain.
"HE WHAT?! HOW COULD YOU LET HIM GET AWAY?! WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST TIE HIM UP OR SOMETHING INSTEAD OF TRYING ALL THIS FANCY 'I'LL GET EVEN WITH YOU' REVENGE MACHO STUFF?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!" Tron screamed and hollered without even stopping for a breath.
"She's got a lot of practice at that sort of thing," Grapple commented.
"You don't know the half of it," Tiesel agreed.
"WHAT WAS THAT?! YOU BETTER NOT HAVE SAID WHAT I THINK YOU SAID?!"
"Calm down, Tron. Victor isn't getting too far, he's…missing an arm," Tiesel tried to explain.
"Not getting far?! Explain that to the jet that just flew past me! Nearly crashed into the Drache!"
"Great," Grapple moaned.
The Gustaff turned to face Grapple. "Look, Grap…with an injury like that, you can't exactly slap a bandage and some ointment on it and let it heal on its own, now can you?"
"And look at the mess he left--he's not going to last long with such extreme loss of blood, is he?" Tiesel continued.
"No…" Grapple said again, catching on. "So he must have gone to a hospital--and the closest one, too!" "Kattelox!" Tiesel, Grapple, and Tron all said simultaneously!
Grapple punched the Dark Sun up to maximum throttle, setting his course directly for Kattelox Island. The Bonnes had decided to return to their island--they'd caused quite a ruckus on Kattelox recently, and didn't want to risk being arrested. That was fine with Grapple--he preferred fighting alone. He reached Kattelox in record time, dropping the Dark Sun right in front of the southernmost gate. He hopped out of his jet via the rear entrance and dashed inside.
He was about to dash through the gate at the north end of Apple Market when the owner of the Lightning Parts Junk Store stopped him.
"Hey--you can't go in there!"
"Huh?!" Grapple skidded to a halt. "Why not?!"
"They've got the whole area blocked off! They're not letting anyone through!" he said, obviously very worked up over something.
"Why!? What's Victor done?!"
"Victor?! You know him?! Well…he's taken the city hostage in record time!"
"How?! That piece of…"
"He dropped a few robots into the library just as a group of preschoolers was about to leave. He forced all the adults outside, and he's threatening to kill one child for each minute his demands go unmet!" the man wailed.
Grapple's face paled. How anyone could do something so inhuman was beyond him. "What are his demands?!"
"Well everyone in town knows them since he voiced them over a loudspeaker. He demanded medical treatment, and that his arm be replaced. If his demands are not met the robots kill children! If he is captured, the robots kill all the children!"
Grapple disengaged the safety on his Flare Buster. "Looks like I've got work to do." But the junk store man got in his way again. "NO!" "WHAT NOW?!" Grapple screamed, growing extremely impatient.
"The robots are stationed at the windows and doors! One of his demands are that nobody gets within 50 feet! If they do, one child dies for every second the person is too close!"
"DAMMIT!" Grapple shouted. "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS GUY!!!"
Then he remembered reading an article in the newspaper shortly after he brought Lydia to the island. Part of it detailed on how the city needed to get $5000 zenny from the reconstruction fund to seal up a hole in the sewer system--a hole that led straight to the ruins. If he could find that hole and enter the sewer system, he could sneak into the library through the basement!
"Plan B!" Grapple shouted, dashing back out the Apple Market's southern gate, leaving the confused junk store owner scratching his head.
Grapple had seen the small ruin entrance the first time he came to Kattelox, and never ventured inside since Megaman had cleared them already. Now, however, he was glad Megaman had had all the fun first! He could move quickly without worrying about a Reaverbot attack. He scaled the ladder quickly, dropping into an octagonal room. A door was behind him, and a passage to his right. He chose the passage and dashed down the corridor, turning left as it went. He came out into a rectangular room with a ledge high on his left. He could hear running water from up there!
"Damn, that was easy…." He commented, firing his grapple into the ceiling far above and hoisting himself to the ledge. Dropping on his hands and knees, he saw a small crack in the wall, and far beyond, he could see a man-made grating. Not wanting to waste time crawling, he fired his grapple at the grating and retracted it when it had a firm grip. He zipped across the floor, through the hole, and --
"DAMN, IT'S STUCK!" The grapple arm was caught around a twist of metal and he couldn't make it let go! He continued on, past the hole in the wall, and slammed headfirst into the metal fence! His momentum combined with the fact that the fence was already heavily rusted caused it to crumble into dust! He fell up to his knees in the sewer current and was carried along by the flow! He sailed along, unable to stop himself, trying frantically to both keep himself afloat in his heavy armor and disentangle his grapple arm from the piece of fence that remained attached! Suddenly the earth flew away from him and he found himself sailing through midair! Looking far below, he saw…nothing. He had to act quick! With a forceful, desperate tug he tore the fence clear of his grapple arm, firing it immediately into the ceiling that he was rapidly dropping away from.
The cord was barely long enough, catching hold just as the cord snapped taut!
Grapple paused for a moment to catch his breath, then reeled himself slowly upward. His grapple arm had snagged a pipe that was, luckily, right next to a dry ledge, and he thankfully clambered onto it. Rising to his feet, he proceeded down the corridor away from the pit. After about two minutes of following the winding passage, he came to a ladder, and climbing the ladder brought him to a manhole.
Opening the manhole led him into the Library's basement.
Grapple moved slowly so as not do disturb the sentries standing guard. He followed the sobs and cries of the captured children, as they proved to be an excellent beacon. He quickly poked his head around a corner and spotted eight spiderbots, all of them facing a door or window. The children were all piled in the center of the room near the reading tables--within quick reach of three spiderbots. That had to be his first target--destroy the three spiderbots as quickly as possible, then hold off the remaining five until they could escape. Grapple took a deep breath, then burst from around the corner!
"STAY DOWN!!" He screamed in his most commanding voice, immediately drawing the attention of child and spiderbot alike! The children immediately flattened themselves against the floor. Grapple shot his grapple arm against one of the spiderbots, hurling it out the window. Not bothering to retract his cord, he sprayed the other two immediate threats with Flare Buster rounds until they exploded--neither had a chance to move. Next, he retracted his cord, bring the spider along with it. He fired a dozen quick rounds at the front doors, blowing them off their hinges!
"GET OUT, NOW!" He shouted, and the children obediently flocked out the shattered doors. Grapple was able to make short work of the five spiderbots attempting to reach him, finally obliterating the one held helpless in his claw when he finished with them.
He looked about the library briefly, relieved beyond words that not a single child had been hurt. He left the library and was totally unprepared for the tremendous amount of cheering that greeted him! It was as if the entire population had somehow congregated around the library, totally disregarding the police barricades! Grapple's ego screamed for the attention, trying to wrestle the rest of him into talking with the reporters or signing various autographs, but he (forcefully) swallowed his pride. However in spite of the fact he was ignoring the crowd, they pressed onward making it impossible for him to get away from them! Rather than force his way bodily through the mass he fired his grapple at a nearby streetlight, then swung clean over the crowd. Much to the crowd's disappointment, he ran off towards the north downtown gate without giving them a second glance.
Grapple gazed at the deserted streets, a sensation of dread working its way up from his gut. This was the uptown area, where all the rich and hoity-toity people made their living, and yet it was deserted. They had probably fled this area of town when they heard about the trouble at the hospital and library, so their absence was no mystery, but still….
Grapple spotted the hospital down a side street to his right, and made his way over there. The hospital didn't look any different than he remembered it--tall white building, ambulance dock, that same car parked in the lawn. Victor must have been in a hurry, Grapple thought, or he would have taken the time to leave a few dead physicians strewn about outside. Grapple walked right up to the front door, figuring he might as well go in blasting, but was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of a plate glass window shattering into pieces several stories up!
Grapple immediately backed away and saw a black-clad demon dropping out of the sky straight for him! Leaping backwards he avoided being crushed by the psychotic Victor, but seeing what had happened to him nearly knocked him out anyway. Victor had his arm replaced completely by a cybernetic equivalent. His right arm, though previously undamaged, was replaced as well by a plasma cannon. His legs were also replaced with cybernetic parts, the feet baring sharp thorns and spikes making them as deadly as his plasma cannon. The whole job looked like it was done as quickly as possible without any cosmetic fix-ups after the fact. Victor no longer looked human--he seemed to be a pale and mangled man with pieces of metal jutting out at various intervals in a haphazard fashion. Victor's outside finally matched the cold and twisted soul that resided within.
"Hey, buddy. Miss me?" Victor hissed with a sadistic grin.
"You look like hell," Grapple blurted without even really thinking.
"Yeah, well, let's not talk about me. Let's talk about the poor children that are going to suffer because of you."
"Oh, the kids in the library?" Grapple asked, breaking out in a grin that couldn't be seen behind his visor. "They're safe and sound, don't worry. Your little spider things sure make sucky guards."
Victor gritted his teeth. "How about I come over there and beat the ever-living crap out of you?"
"Who's stopping you?" Grapple replied calmly.
Victor blazed forward like a bolt of cybernetic lightning, clipping Grapple's shoulder as he tried to dodge, and sending him tumbling to the concrete sidewalk. Grapple hopped to his feet and immediately returned fire, pelting Victor's back with Flare Buster shots.
Victor turned around slowly, shrugging off the damage of the shots, and returned fire with a sphere of hot plasma that caught Grapple full in the chest, sending him flying into a mailbox. Grapple ignored the hit, and rose to his feet. He picked up the mailbox, now buckled in half from the force of his impact, and hurled it at the cybernetic abomination. Victor raised his mechanical arm and effortlessly caught the mailbox, tossing it harmlessly aside. Grapple fired his grapple arm, latching it onto Victor's leg and gave it a tug, trying to topple him. Grapple's efforts were in vain, however--Victor's mechanical enhancements made him far too heavy to move, even for Grapple's bionic arm. Victor reached down and snatched the grapple claw before it could be retracted and with a powerful jerk, sent Grapple sailing towards him! Victor snapped a powerful rearhand punch that caught the flying Grapple square in the face, shattering his visor, and digging deep bloody gouges into his face from the broken glass! Fortunately none of the glass got in his eyes, but Grapple was stunned enough to enable Victor to slam a foot down into his prostrate back hard enough to shatter the street beneath him!
Groaning with the pain, Grapple rolled out of the way of a second thundering foot that punched all the way through the asphalt, tar, and cement. He rose painfully to his feet a few feet away, thankful that Victor's last stomp had buried his foot, immobilizing him for a few moments. Grapple fired his Flare Buster with abandon, spewing forth shots and striking Victor wherever he could! Victor was under fire for nearly ten seconds as he struggled to free his buried foot, and when he was finally able to leap aside, every cybernetic joint on his body was sparking and spewing smoke.
Victor and Grapple squared off then, each having sustained massive amounts of damage, and each well aware that this evenly matched fight could go either way.
They acted simultaneously, then--Victor firing off a massive sphere of plasma that he had been charging up in his cannon, and Grapple dropping to his belly and firing his grapple arm off to one side! The plasma sphere soared over Grapple, demolishing a house behind him, and mildly singing his back. Grapple's claw clamped onto a fire hydrant across the street, and he extended the sharp claws! The small but powerful titanium teeth tore into an arm of the hydrant, ripping off the cover, and causing high-pressure water to fountain over the entire area! Grapple was fine, but Victor, his cybernetic circuits already damaged and exposed, fared far worse. The water leaked into his systems, causing him to jerk and gyrate spasmodically as his cybernetic limbs shorted out! Victor let out an agonized scream as his body revolted against him, bludgeoning himself with his own limbs as well as being electrocuted from the rampant energy! Victor's plasma cannon went critical, erupting in giant fireball that enveloped Victor, Grapple, and several nearby cars and one house!
When the brilliant flash had faded, Grapple and Victor were both down, each slumped against their own respective light posts.
"It…would seem…we have a draw," Victor gasped.
Grapple glanced at his Flare Buster. Empty…and his hyper cartridges were fried from the blast.
"It ain't…over till it's…over," Grapple said between gasps, raising his grapple arm and firing it at Victor's exposed head, razor claws extended!
It plopped to the ground at his feet. It must have sustained damage during the explosion as well.
Victor chuckled, obviously painfully. "It's…over…I guess…"
Grapple, in spite of the situation and his hatred of Victor, had to share in his laugh. "Yeah…good fight though."
The wounded enemies were interrupted by jet engines screaming in from the east! One of Victor's black jets swooped in from around a building, slowed down to latch onto him with a harness, then blasted away!
The entire thing happened so quickly that Grapple didn't even have time to utter a single syllable. He simply dropped his head back against the lamppost and groaned.
"Don't worry, he won't get far!" a voice behind him called. Grapple managed to summon the strength to look over his shoulder.
"Yep! I tagged his jet with a beacon bomb before it took off again!" she said, holding out a device that looked to be a cross between a shotgun and a fire extinguisher. "Now come on, you're the only one who can catch him!"
Grapple groaned for the third time in two minutes. Can't I ever take a break, he thought to himself? In spite of his multiple wounds and more pain that most people experience in any given year, he rose to his feet.
"All right, but give me a lift back to my ship, will ya?"
The Dark Sun blasted off, leaving a short trail of scorched grass the only evidence it had been there before. Grapple tapped a few keys into his navcomp, bringing up the signal of the beacon bomb. Fortunately, even though Victor's jets were faster, they handled loads even worse than his! Grapple banked slightly, adjusting his course, punched the throttle to its maximum, and waited.
Victor smirked. Who cares if his allies were gone? Who cares if all his robot guards were destroyed? He could even forgive the destruction of his mech and ransacking of his base. He had succeeded--he was now in control of a cybernetic body. It had always been Victor's dream to abandon the flesh for the metal. Ironically, all his planning, scheming, and tact had done nothing--it was Grapple's interference that set Victor on the right path. He looked down at his mechanical hand, and in spite of the damage it had sustained, it was a masterpiece in Victor's eyes.
"I am a masterpiece--the most magnificent thing this world has ever seen," he congratulated himself.
He wasn't far from his ransacked base. His plans were to drop in, salvage what gear he could, then escape to somewhere remote and isolated. Then he could refit and repair and be back in business!
But then his jet quaked, jarring his metal body against the inside of the cockpit! Victor glanced around frantically, his hulking cybernetic shoulders hindering his own view. He couldn't see behind him! Victor gripped the control stick and jerked it to the left, dropping his throttle to nil. The jet slowed, turning nearly on a dime, and when Victor got the jet spun the full 360 degrees, he saw…nothing.
"What?!" he spat. "Where'd they go?"
The jet bucked and jerked catastrophically as once again weapons fire riddled its fuselage and right wing! Warning buzzers went off everywhere, and Victor banked left and right, trying desperately to get a view of his enemy! Finally he tipped far enough left to catch a brief glimpse of his assailant.
"GRAPPLE!" he hissed, seeing another stream of weapons fire hurtling through the air, straight for him! His already damaged and over-weighted jet could do nothing, and the stream of energy tore into his engines and left wing! Then, everything was quiet. His engines had gone offline. Panicking, Victor jerked the control stick frantically, trying to guide his dying jet to safety on momentum alone, but the stick moved freely. The ailerons were shot. As a last-ditch effort, he prepared to eject the cockpit array, but his power was gone. His eyes darted left, then right, searching frantically for something that was not damaged, but every single system in the jet was offline. Glancing straight ahead, he realized he was now in a spinning nosedive, and that the ocean was rushing up to meet him.
Victor shut his eyes and gritted his teeth.
Grapple sneered as Victor's jet slammed into the surface of the ocean, vanishing beneath the waves in a splash that could probably be seen as far away as Kattelox. Seconds later, the ocean again erupted in a massive explosion-bubble, spewing black smoke, orange flames, clouds of steam, and a hellishly-loud crashing sound! The Dark Sun vibrated slightly as pieces of busted jet bounced off it, then was still.
It was over, Grapple realized. He had defeated the monster. He chuckled when he realized Victor probably hadn't even seen him coming! Grapple sighed, knowing there was still so much to do, when a buzz on his comm interrupted him. He brought the message over the radio.
"Hey! Nice work up there, you sure you don’t want a job?" Tiesel's grating voice came over the speaker.
"We saved you a seat in the mess hall, and have a plate of curry rice all ready for you!" a servbot said carefully, as of a 5-year-old trying not to miss a word.
"Quiet, you! I'm talking!" Tiesel muffled voice came. "Sorry about that. So, Grap. What do you say?"
Grapple chuckled, feeling again the pain from his probably fractured ribs coming back to taunt him. "Thanks but no. Your lifestyle doesn't exactly coincide with my interests."
"Ahh. Had a feeling you'd say that," Tiesel mumbled, then continued in a normal voice, "Still, it was good to have you on our side. If I was there I'd shake your hand!"
"Same here--tell Tron she's a hell of an engineer!"
"I will. By the way, we've got your share of the loot!" Tiesel said, much to Grapple's surprise.
"I'd forgotten about that, actually! For a pirate, you sure are honest!"
Tiesel chuckled, "Well we treat our friends well and our enemies TERRIBLE, isn't that right, Tron?"
"Yep! And I've got some ideas on parts for the Gustaff that those broken down jets should do wonders for! Hover parts! Let's see, if we take the ion thrusters and put them here, then insert the thermocouples nearby to absorb the energy and…" her voice trailed off.
"Uhhh…anyway, stop by the island you found us on--that's where we'll be," Tiesel said.
"I will, but I have some business to take care of first."
"All right. Good luck to you!"
"Same to you, Tiesel." And with that, Grapple cut the channel. He sat in his cockpit, flying at his normal cruising speed back to Kattelox. Let's see, what was there to do? First go to the Hospital and check on Lydia, then stop by the walk-in clinic and get his wounds patched up. Work on fixing up his armor and jet a bit, maybe--ahh the hell with it.
Grapple dropped the Dark Sun to minimum flying speed, set the autopilot, then leaned back for a nap. All those things can wait. For now, he was just going to turn off his brain, put his worries in a drawer, and catch some much needed shut-eye.
After all, he reasoned, gotta keep your priorities in check!