"We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future." --John F. Kennedy, 1960 Nomination Acceptance Speech
When last we left off, everyone was gearing up to fight the Wily Walker to the finish. Of course, given how much more firepower the Maverick Hunters can bring to bear, the betting money (and timeline consistency) was on Sigma and the gang to finish the job. That's not to say that Pharaoh Man, Bright Man, and Meggy can't have some fun in the process.
The downside of Dr. Cossack's robots was that they weren't built for combat; it wasn't their focus. Try as they might, the Wily Walker just has them outclassed. In what's an uncharacteristic act of actual help, Wily talks Mega Man through a field upgrade on Bright Man's systems. Goodbye, arm cannon light... hello, not-a-ripoff-of-Tenshinhan's-Solar-Flare.
The new and improved "Flash Stopper" gives them just enough of an edge for Bright Man to land a system-freezing crash before it can squash Pharaoh Man. Mega Man takes the opportunity to hook up a circuit board delivered by Rush to the Wily Walker, which finally, mercifully, shuts down. And then it crashes through the floor, plummeting into the chasm where Dr. Cain will find the flogging thing in the next century.
Oh, rest assured, Dr. Light: Future generations will finish the job.
In a preview of the awesomeness we will come to expect from Zero, the Crimson Hunter literally "takes up his sword" when Sigma gets knocked for a loop by the Walker, then proceeds to hack off another of the thing's legs. While it takes several more poundings before the thing is finally laid low, one thing is made perfectly clear; Zero's good with a buster and he's good with a beam saber... he's good with everything. Must be why we like him so much. That and the hair. His pretty, pretty hair.
Afterwards, Sigma calls in a cleanup crew (with a shout-out to Toxic Seahorse), while Zero helps X back up to his feet after getting a leg-rod shoved into his chest.
What follows is the wind-down: Arcadia City is safe thanks to the Maverick Hunters, X got his first big taste of fieldwork, and Vile is still complaining about being read the riot act for his methods. But there's something more sinister lurking in the shadows of the results of their finished mission.
Good old Sigma. One day, he'll flip on us. He has time to chat up Cain for a bit while the others take off. It seems that Sigma gave Cain the full details of his previous encounter with Zero back when it happened, and they've been keeping a close eye on him ever since. With X and Zero, there are so many unknowns, and while Sigma worries, Cain is more at peace with Zero getting a second chance in life. Would that things be as rosy forever as they are in that moment in 21XX.
But, wait... we're forgetting someone, aren't we? That time-traveling galumph, Xander Payne. When we last saw him, he was in a police wagon being driven out of the combat zone in 21XX, and then the timestream had sucked him back up, dragging him elsewhere while he screamed that he would change the future, no matter what.
He ends up being dropped back at the Chronos Institute in 20XX less than a minute after his departure, intact, still handcuffed, but forever changed. After Agents Stern and Krantz (who, let's admit it, we're all rooting for that shipping pair) drag him back to prison, we find him a changed man. A very... possessed man.
Scraping the wall with a toothbrush he's filed down into a shiv, he marks the portents of all he has witnessed... and all he hopes to prevent. The difference between a prophet and a lunatic is razor thin.
Xander Payne's reappearance in the past, and thus his cemented role as a continued presence and plot-driver for the comic book narrows down the time-travel possibilities I discussed in the previous issue to the Gargoyles and Back to the Future frameworks. Either everything is going to happen as it's supposed to, and Xander Payne has no impact whatsoever on the future... or we're literally looking at a whole new ballgame. Divergent destiny, thy name is Xander Payne. If you go for the BTTF framework; I'll hold to the Gargoyles one for the time being.
One thing that is abundantly clear, regardless of which framework or perspective you endorse, is this: Xander Payne has graduated from part-time pain in the ass to a major player. With everything he's seen (including a certain blue hedgehog, and that must have sent him for a loop), Xander may not have a blow by blow picture of future events, but he has a general idea of the chaos that awaits. It gives him an edge, not in resources, but in motivation, and it's cemented his rather warped psychological outlook.
Before, he was just a radical anti-robot terrorist who lost an eye to Elec Man back in the First Robot Rebellion. Now? He's the savior of the human race, and if he has to kill a few humans, a few hundred, a few thousand to ensure that the robot ascendancy is prevented, then that's just what he's going to do. He's like Vile in that regard: Only the mission matters now. Collateral damage, acceptable losses... put the bad guy down and to Hell with the consequences.
He was bad before, but he's something worse now. Flynn and the rest of the crew over at Archie may dink around with the game canon all they like, but they continue to add plot hooks that they can use later to expand the continuity. Payne is their biggest triumph so far. How can Mega Man protect humanity... from a human? It's something he's wrestled against fighting Wily twice over, and he'll fight Wily plenty of times more, but Payne is a different animal.
Wily wants to prove himself the best. He's not above a little mayhem, but a mass murderer he isn't. Not so with our eyepatch-wearing goon. So long as he's alive, Payne's going to cause nothing but pain.
Mega Man's breaking point may not be a Robot Rebellion; it may be the Emerald Spears.
For the Blue Ink.
When he isn’t writing “The Blue Ink” reviews for The Mega Man Network, Erico (The Super Bard) spends his days keeping track of the “Legacy of Metal” fanon, dabbling in cooking and tea-brewing, and exploring the human condition from his Iowa stomping grounds.
The views expressed here reflect the views of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Mega Man Network.