by Matt Slater
_Dawn,_ Riff noted. _It's the perfect time. Just right for a duel. A confrontation. The one that ends it all._ He sat just inches from the waters of California Games, gazing into the rising sun. _And the sooner it's over, the sooner I get to leave._
Deep inside himself, Riff knew the N Team was not for him. He didn't know why, but his gut instincts had served him well this far. He had placed the blame on his 'loner' personality, but he didn't believe his own lies. He was working to well with the team, but he simply regarded what he brought to the table.
_A way to stop Pak,_ he said to himself. _Who I wouldn't give two credits about if he didn't beat Rock within an inch of his life._ Riff had to admit his statement was true. The only reason he rushed to confront Pak was for his brother's safety. It wasn't that Riff hated Kevin Keene, but the bounty on Captain N was nothing recently issued, only recently accepted. There would probably be others coming after the Game Master sooner or later.
_But I won't be there,_ Riff almost smiled. _When Pak's gone, so am I. I'll be free. Free to discover the world for myself. Free to live how I want to live._ The robot sighed, his white metal hinted with the orange rays of the dawning sun. "Free."
"Actually, it's four-fifty."
Riff was startled and looked up to find Mike Vincent standing over him, chewing a hot dog. The young man sat down next to the newest Mega Man.
"These beach vendors love to rip you off." Mike said, swallowing.
"It's six thirty in the morning," Riff said, disgusted. "How can you eat a hot dog this early?"
"How can you drink barium at all?" Mike wondered.
"Touché." Riff credited. "So, what brings you by?"
"Oh I come out here to watch the sunrise as often as I can. It's a Zen, thing. Keeps me in focus."
"Huh." was Riff's emotionless reply. "I came out here for the drama."
"Where's Chord?" Mike asked.
Riff shrugged. "He's somewhere. I gave him a few hours to himself."
"Well, you might wanna head back. We're having an early meeting about what to do regarding Pak. Lana wants you there." Riff shot a worried glance at Mike, who waved it off. "Don't worry, I didn't tell her about your being arrested. She just wants to incorporate you into the plan."
"Fine," Riff sighed, climbing to his feet. "Let's go."
"Glad you could join us, Riff," Lana smiled, but with some distain. The princess was addressing the team within the conference room. "If you and mike would have a seat," she gestured to some empty chairs. "We'll get started." Lana waited for the two arrivals to get comfortable before beginning. "Now we all know Pak's glove has one weakness. It can block specific frequencies or objects, but nothing else. Unfortunately, we only have on thing that can get through the glove's defenses."
"Me," Riff groaned from his seat.
"Precisely. While your on the front lines, the rest of us are going to try to keep Pak busy. If we give Pak enough targets, maybe his computer will burn out, or at least use up so much memory that it can't do anything else."
"And how," Mike asked, "do we get Pak to show?"
"Simple," Kevin stood from the table. "I'll go for a walk."
"Kevin," Lana asked with a fair amount of worry. "Isn't that just a little too dangerous? You'll be out in the open. This is just an idea, we have no idea if it'll work."
"Relax Lana," Kevin smiled. "I've survived Mother Brain, the Mirror Warp, and Kristen's mom...." The young game master looked off into space. "..Man that sounds weird... Anyway," he returned to reality, "What could go wrong?"
"OW!" Kevin clutched the lower half of his face. "My jaw!"
Pak stood against the sun, pounding his fist into his gloved palm. "You don't have a weapon," he laughed, "You have a broken wrist, and you have absolutely no fighting skill whatsoever. Hmph. I'm surprised you're still alive."
Back peddling, Kevin spoke into a small communications device secured in his jacket's collar. "Guys? Lana? Mike? Simon? This is your cue!"
Kevin saw the bounty hunter smile. "You're a man who stands alone, Keene." Pak sneered. "You should have listened to your friends. I guess you didn't know about the bug I planted on your friend Mike the last time I came across him. Did you think I wouldn't know what you were planning? I always know. I knew when King Charles was abducted. I knew when you arrived. I know everything there is to know about Videoland. I know..."
"Did you know Riff was right?" Kevin asked, still holding his jaw. "You _do_ talk too much." There was one last resort left for Kevin. Reason. But deep inside him, he knew that would fail as well. "You don't need to do this," he said, observing as Pak rolled his eyes. "We've welcomed our enemies before, you can come with us." _I'm losing him,_ Kevin realized. _Time to pull out all the stops._ "Think of it, Pak. You'd be part of the best of the best..."
"I am the best, boy."
_That's right,_ Kevin grinned behind his worried face. _Keep talking, let the ego take over. Give my friends more time to do whatever they're gonna do._
"What are we gonna do?" Mike asked, pounding his fist against the hazy dome that covered most of Megaland's park. "We can't bust through this thing. I practically drained my zapper trying."
"Maybe Riff can make a crack--" Lana turned to the other N Team members. "Where the hell is Riff?"
"Maybe there's something I can do, your loveliness," Simon arrogantly smiled.
"Not unless you've got a howitzer in that backpack," Rick spat. He saw Simon's eyes light up, remove the pack in question, and begin to sort through it. "Oh my God, he does." Rick sighed.
"Not quite," Simon winked, holding up a thin item.
"A straw?" Stacey asked.
Romeo shook his head. "What good is a straw going to do against a force field?"
"What a moron," Julius ironically commented.
"Not just any straw," Simon brushed away the remarks.
"A bendy straw?" Mike asked.
"Better!" The vampire hunter continued. "This is the newest invention from Mini-weapons incorporated. It's from the Dapper-Gentlemen's series."
Simon inhaled deeply, and placed the straw to his lips. Gently he released the pressure built up within his lungs, and sent the force equivalent of fifteen hi-powered missiles towards the shield.
The explosion sent the N Team back into the trees, but surprisingly, the field was still intact.
Frustrated, Simon withdrew a cell phone from his backpack, and dialed. "Hello? Yes, this is Mister Simon Belmont, preferred customer number eight-six-seven-five-three-oh-nine. I have some complaints about one of your products. Yes, it's from the Gentlemen series --" he examined the straw. "--the micro-tube of destruction. What model? Ummm," he read some fine print. "The model number is 00-BYAA. Why yes, it did blow my ass away, but I wasn't the desired target!" Simon screamed into the phone. "You may cancel my order for the mortar belt buckle, but if I ever choose to commit suicide, you'll be the first I'll call, okay?" Simon smiled uneasily at the reply. "Okay, buh-bye." He tucked the phone away. "Don't worry guys, I should have a broad-sword toothpick somewhere---"
"Riff?" Doctor Right was shocked by his son's latest appearance in the privately owned laboratory. "What are you doing here? The news reports are broadcasting that Captain N is trapped in the park with that bounty hunter! Why aren't you helping the N Team?"
"No time, How's Rock?"
"Your brother's resting, I've got a majority of his systems except for his cooling mechanisms working. I can't seem to generate enough power with his existing batteries. If you're wondering if he can fight, he can, but not for too long before his circuits burn out."
"What's his window?"
Right shrugged. "Once he's awakened, I give him fifteen minutes before he suffers minor but lasting system failure."
"Wake him up." Riff ordered.
Doctor Right's brow wrinkled. "I will not allow you to sacrifice your older brother's life! I was not happy with his decision to play a game of full-contact tag with Pak! I know you have the defiant personality, but that is no reason to risk his well being---HEY!" Right followed after Riff, as the ivory robot entered into one of the smaller labs. "Riff, I order you to stop this minute!"
"Sorry Pop," Riff removed several wires from his cobalt brother. "But I _am_ the one with the defiant personality." He gently shook the original Mega Man. "Rock, wake up, man."
Rocky's eyes fluttered open. "What's going on?"
"Duty calls, little big-brother."
Rock slowly sat upright. "Pak? I remember Pak---"
"Yeah," Riff sighed. "And so far, he's got your friend, Captain N trapped in the park. We need to get going if he's gonna live."
Right pushed his oldest son back onto the table. "You're not going!"
"I'm afraid I am," Rock insisted, pushing his father's hand away.
"You go," Right called after the duo leaving the lab. "And you're batteries will run out before you get there! I might not be able to repair the damage."
"Is that all that's stopping you?" Riff asked. He gripped his chest plate, and opened the cavity to reveal an intricate matrix of wires and circuits. His hand retrieved a handful of fist-sized glass rods, all glowing a brilliant blue.
"Here," the younger brother generously offered. Without question, Rock took the collection, and absorbed them through his fist, much like his energy canisters. "Now," Riff said to his father with a small trace of disgust. "He's at full power."
"But what about you?" Rock asked. "You've just given up half of your power supply. If you use too much of it up---"
"You have it backwards, Keene."
"How do you figure?" Kevin asked his enemy. He had managed to avoid punishment. Apparently Pak enjoyed watching his prey squirm before he claimed their lives.
"Think about it. You have that power, but your limited on how you use it. They tell you what to do. They tell you how to live. You don't even try to realize your potential. You weren't the best of the best," Pak smiled. "You were the best of what's left. But you could be more."
"Get to the point!" Kevin ordered, growing intolerant for Pak's mind-warping psychology. "What are you getting at?"
"Simply put, I have the original Power Glove."
"So," The hunter's eyes shone with truth. "Didn't you even wonder what happened to the other one?"
Two figures, or rather four, streaked through the air in a trio of color. Two blazes of purest white, one of deep olive green, a bold red trail directly underneath.
"How are you holding up?" Riff asked his brother.
Rock shrugged, and adjusted his footing on his faithful robotic canine and sometimes weapon, Rush. "System's in the green," he responded, checking the power gauges on the underside of his forearm. "But I should be asking about you."
"Well," Riff commanded a small compartment near his beltline open, and retrieved a small vile of thick white chalky liquid. "Could be better." He chugged the contents, and wiped the little excess from his chin. "Things could definitely be worse, also. So basically, I'm walking the razor's edge."
"Hey," Rock pointed a stubby finger towards the park. "I guess that's it?"
"Yup." Riff acknowledge the hazy dome over most of the clearing. "You ready to bust that thing open?"
"Is my Mega-Buster going to do anything against that?"
"Don't use your Mega-Buster," Riff advised. "Try something a little more impressive. Remember what I told you?"
Rock nodded in agreement, and quickly dove, alongside his brother, for the dome. "Geronimo!" he cried, leaping off Rush only feet above the dome. "Rush!" He summoned, "Power Adapter!" Almost instantly, Rock found himself wearing a pair of powerful pneumatic mitts.
"One my word," Riff ordered, deboarding his airborne companion of the skies. Detaching the guitar from the magnetic plate on his back, he carefully aimed the weapon to roughly centimeters before Rock's feet. "Now!"
The same moment Riff's fingers began to pluck away at his guitar's strings, sending a barrage of miscellaneous but powerful weaponry effects towards the peak of the dome, Rock clamped his fists, and brought them down with a thunderous clap against the now giving surface.
"The other glove?" Kevin asked. Without himself knowing, he was beginning to see the appeal of Pak's offer. Sincerity on the bounty hunter's part however, was yet to be proven. "No," Kevin shook his head. "No, there was only the one." he insisted, for a moment. "Wasn't there?"
"Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies." was the rogue Game Master's reply. "You didn't bother to ask what Lana meant by 'original' did you. There was another. Different, but equal. If I were to obtain the other, my conquests would be all too simple. But, if you were to join _me_, Captain N, the two of us would go down in Videoland's history as their greatest men."
"Power doesn't make you great," Kevin responded. "It's what you do with that power that defines the man you become."
"Hmph," Was the simple word barely uttered, before Pak's glove was aimed at Kevin's face. "And the man you could become, may set your spirit free." Pak's fist opened, lowered, and soon it was no longer a threat, but an offering, a one-sided handshake. "What say you, my Captain?"
Before Kevin could respond, the dome around them shattered, and falling between one duo, was yet another. Not enemies, brothers.
"Are we late?" Rock smiled up to his leader, his powerful appendages gone, now simply aiming his Mega-Buster.
"Rock, get him out of here!" Riff ordered. Without comment, the older brother did as he was told. "I really don't like you," Riff bluntly commented. "Wanna run away again? Last chance."
"And miss finally taking you offline? A half-powered robot should be no difficulty to defeat. And out of pure respect, I'll grant the courtesy of letting you take first strike." Pak held his arms out wide, and turned his back to the robot.
_I know his glove can't stop my blasts, so he's got some sort of plan._ Riff searched his mind. _He can deflect physical and non-varied attacks, but how often has that stupid thing been hacked?_ Riff shut his eyes tightly. Soon, he saw within the glove, searching it's multitude of millions of wires and controls. Then, he found it.
[Excess power flow diverted to remote unit.]
"WHAT?" Pak turned at his glove's comment. "You lousy sonuva---"
"Careful," Riff aimed his weapon. "Watch the potty-mouth."
"Clever move, boy. But you realize, once the glove's destroyed, so are you."
"Duh," Riff remarked, firing his guitar.
Pak quickly dodged, barely missing what was most likely another of Riff's vertigo beams. "Computer, disengage remote power supply!"
[Error: Must disengage from remote unit.]
"Very clever," Pak frowned, still dodging several attacks from his enemy. _Another day,_ he told himself. _Yes, there will be another day. Another hunt. Why break my neck for a payment that will be spent on traction? In which vengeful souls will surely hunt me down and put me through the pain and agony I issued their friends. Another day..._ Pak glanced at the fleeing Kevin Keene. _...to convert. Or to destroy._
A flash of light.
Pak was gone.
It was over.
He was free.
"Are you sure you won't stay?" Lana asked Riff, who was packing up a few minor items from the N Team's home. Chord flapped eagerly for escape on a bookcase's shelf. "There's plenty of room."
"Not enough, I'm afraid." Riff admitted. "A loner with a bad attitude doesn't exactly fit with the N Team's motif, anyway."
"It's your decision," Kevin clapped a hand on Riff's shoulder. "But thank you. I couldn't have survived this if it wasn't for you."
Riff casually nodded, and suddenly, his eyes opened while brushing Kevin's hand away. "I almost forgot," he opened a duffle bag, retrieving an odd metal item. He clamped it over his left shoulder, leaving a metal protrusion that extended eight inches from himself. "Chord," he followed with a whistle. The bird happily left the bookcase, and took its place on the makeshift perch. "I never know if he'll have a place to sleep," Riff smiled. Others merely chuckled.
"What are you going to do now?" Mike asked. He hated to lose a good friend in such a short time. "A music career?"
Riff scoffed. "No. I have to go after Pak. I'm the only one who can. I'm the only one who will." he added in a dreadful tone, "I'm the only one who needs to. He needs to be stopped, but if that glove is ever damaged," he shook his head. "Well, I'm ready to go."
"You're not going to say goodbye to Doctor Right?" Rick asked.
"He's working on Rock right now. Besides, he was always Dad's favorite. If I stay any longer, I won't get out of here at all."
The door seemed to shut immediately behind the young man's exit, leaving the N Team in silence. No goodbyes. No 'I'll see you again'. No 'your welcome.' Was it even over?
Basking in the night sky, Kevin reclined out on the N Team's patio. He so loved the cold night air, it was so refreshing, especially after recent events. Memories came back to him. Feelings, notions... decisions.
_"What say you, my Captain?"_
The phrase stuck out in Kevin's mind. The more he blocked it, the more it snuck around. _What would I have said?_ Kevin asked himself. _Too much.. on either side. Power versus family. Strength versus love. Good versus evil._ Kevin dwelled on his last thought. The lines weren't as clear as they should be.
And it scared the life from him.
Would he ever have an answer?
Lana prepared to settle into bed for the night. She had just removed her crown and placed it on her dresser when she felt an overwhelming shudder.
She reached for an often admired painting of Faxanadu's lands. She carefully gripped one corner, and pulled, revealing the hinged frame, and more importantly, the safe behind it.
She entered the confirmation code, and the iron door slid open with a hiss. There it was, sitting before her. It's unfeeling black was replaced by a heart-felt red, and it's finger positioning was reversed, but any who saw it would be able to recognize it.
_The other prototype,_ Lana mentally sighed. She had considered granting his weapon to Kevin earlier, but he had broken the wrist of the hand required to support the glove. _For the better,_ Lana assumed. She saw Kevin those last few moments before Pak, wavering. _We almost lost him,_ she realized. No, giving him the glove would do more harm than good.
"Close," she demanded, as the safe slid shut. Lana moved the picture back into place, and lay herself down on her bed. It would be a long while before she would sleep. Feelings would prove that to her. _But what feelings?_ she asked herself. Joy of Kevin's survival? Sorrow of Riff's sudden departure? Disgust of Pak's traitorism? Fear? Fear of Kevin following in the original Game Master's footsteps.
She fell asleep hours later, her once fluffed pillows a concaved well of tears. There was no answer. Only a future to come. A future that would not be coming soon, and so it would remain a mystery.