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Legacy of Evermore
#1
Introduction:  I have always been a fan of the Mana series and when I saw Secret of Evermore back in the day, even though I knew it wasn’t quite a Mana game, I jumped at the opportunity to play it and the game clicked with me. Despite some gameplay similarities, Evermore sets itself apart with its setting and plot...Evermore itself is a dark, alluring world that’s easy to get lost in, and its hokey dialogue keeps its atmosphere from coming on too strongly. I, and many other fans of Secret of Evermore, have to deal with the fact that a sequel isn’t likely to ever happen. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t revisit Evermore on our own terms...
 
Summary: After the passing of Professor Ruffleberg, an adult Elizabeth (Fire Eyes) returns to Evermore with two teens and their cat in tow to find some startling changes and additions in her absence. Curiosity triggers the catapult that will send them hurtling towards the core of Evermore’s deepest, darkest secrets.
 
Disclaimer: Secret of Evermore and all related properties belong to Square Enix; I just whipped up some of the original characters solely for this story.
 
Legacy of Evermore
By ClaudeLv250
 
Prologue – Podunk, 2015
 
Heavy curtains snuffed out the sunlight that attempted to weasel its way through the aged windows of the classroom. The only light in the room was provided by a projector casting the image of a velociraptor lowered into a pouncing position. The class of high school students looked on as their teacher, a woman with fiery red hair and thick coke-bottle glasses, pointed towards the image.
 
“...Modern science now tells us of the close relationship between birds and dinosaurs. So what we once thought of as raptors...”
 
She pressed the clicker and the image switched to an identical picture of the raptor, adorned with tufts of feathers on its head and along its limbs.
 
“...May have looked a little more like this.”
 
Lame!” someone called out from the back of the class. The room filled with giggles.
 
The teacher shut off the projector and sent the curtains receding back to the top of the windows, allowing the sun to filter into the classroom. She glanced at the clock and made her way back to her desk.
 
“Class, I have a small announcement to make,” the teacher began softly.
 
“Surprise test on Monday,” Luke Durant murmured in despair from his desk.
 
“Miss R wouldn’t be that cruel,” his friend, Krista Plunkett, whispered from behind him.
 
Miss R, their teacher, gave a forlorn look to the binder sitting open before her until she closed it. “I have some...family business to take care of,” she continued, her lip quivering ever so slightly, “So you will have a substitute through all of next week. I expect you all to behave, all right?”
 
There were some silent expressions of victory and praise that were cut short by the ringing of the bell. School was over and the weekend was just beginning, and most of the class reacted in kind by attempting to vacate the premises as soon as possible.
 
“I told you she wasn’t that cruel,” Krista said, coming into view as Luke filled his backpack. Her ruby red hair was tied into a simple ponytail. A few bangs curled over a pale face and a smattering of freckles.
 
“Yeah, but...something seemed to be bothering her,” Luke admitted as he pushed his arms through the straps of the pack. Luke’s dark brown hair was cut short and gave full view of his tan face.
 
“I know. She’s been a little weird all day.”
 
“Man, don’t you guys watch the news or something?” their friend Mark interjected suddenly. He pushed his cellphone toward their faces as it displayed a news story. “Sidney Ruffleberg died last night. Of course she’s not herself!”
 
The pair traded shocked expressions before Krista uttered, “Wow, poor Miss R...”
 
“I had no idea.”
 
They left the classroom in a dark mood, but Krista thought she could salvage it.
 
“Do you want to go to the movies and see the Vexx reboot?” she asked.
 
Luke furrowed his brows, “Didn’t the last couple of Vexx movies suck?”
 
“It’s a reboot! They’re supposed to be fixing everything that went wrong in parts four, five and six.”
 
“Sorry but I can’t. I’m taking Domino to the vet tomorrow to get her shots.”
 
Krista sighed. “That shouldn’t take all day.”
 
“I didn’t say we couldn’t hang out. I just wouldn’t hold my breath for the movies.”
 
“Okay, but you know Podunk is boring as hell,” Krista complained. “There’s not a whole lot else to do!”
 
“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Luke found himself in agreement. “We’ll find something to do.”
 
---
 
Under the orange radiance of twilight, Luke navigated the worn sidewalks of downtown Podunk with Krista in tow.  The teens were dressed in casual wear for their Saturday outing: Krista wore a blue denim jacket over a green shirt and blue jeans, while Luke sported a white vest over a black shirt and black and white cargo pants. In Luke’s right hand was the handle to the simple beige carrying case that contained a white domestic short-haired cat. Two patches of black fur marked her forehead, giving her the namesake Domino.
 
As they rounded the corner, Krista stopped and gasped dramatically at the sight of the Bijou theater.
 
“I completely forgot we were heading in this direction!”
 
“What a coincidence!” Luke exclaimed with the rolling of his eyes.
 
Krista ran over to the ticket booth and read the times. “The next showing of Vexx 3D is in five minutes! We can get in before the previews start.”
 
Luke tapped the carrier in his hand and said, “Even if I really wanted to see that movie, I’ve still gotta take Domino home.”
 
Krista gave distressed glances between the cat and the ticket booth. The ticket taker shrugged at her plight. “But...but...they accept pets, right?”
 
“They dropped that policy when they upgraded to a multiplex,” said Luke, and the ticket taker nodded along.
 
Krista sighed, looking down to the cracked pavement and let her shoulders sag in defeat. “Alright, let’s do something else.”
 
“Maybe we can see it next time,” Luke murmured. He hated seeing Krista lose her fire.
 
When they reached the end of the block, the old Ruffleberg mansion loomed in the distance at the top of a hill. A wicked idea crossed Krista’s mind but she quickly dismissed it. She did spot a female figure walking across the premises and squinted to make out any recognizable features.
 
“Luke, look!” she pointed at the figure. “Is that Miss R?”
 
“Yeah, looks like it,” Luke confirmed.  He caught the grin Krista was giving him.
 
“Let’s go over there and cheer her up!”
 
“What if she wants to be alone to grieve?”
 
“In that big, lonely mansion?”
 
“Alright,” Luke caved. “I guess we can go over and see how she’s doing.”
[Image: MegaManSSB.gif]
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#2
Chapter I – Breadcrumbs
 
The teens stared through the open gates of the Ruffleberg mansion, waiting for the other to make the first move. An evening breeze brushed against them; Krista closed her jacket and held tightly to the fabric. Domino gave a very quiet meow.
 
“What are we waiting for?” Krista finally broke the silence. “She might need a shoulder to cry on right this moment.”
 
Luke had to actively fight a shiver. “This place is really creepy.”
 
The outdoor pillars of the mansion were lined with nondescript humanoid statues, each of their faces locked indefinitely into a solemn gaze, stone brows furrowed for eternity. The property exuded a sense of isolation, existing in its own vortex away from Podunk. The sights and sounds of the town were muffled in the distance accompanied by what must have been a temperature drop of thirty degrees.
 
Krista and Luke took the first step together.
 
“If you think it’s creepy now, imagine what it was like when it was abandoned for thirty years!” The distant look in Krista’s eyes suggested that the prospect seemed more exciting than frightening.
 
Luke gave her a suspicious onceover. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” he asked in a stern tone.
 
“Whatever do you mean?” Krista replied innocently.
 
“You want to fish for clues on the experiment!”
 
Who wouldn’t?” Krista exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. “It’s the mystery of Podunk! It actually put this backwater town on the map for a time. A group of people vanish in an experiment for thirty years and just reappear without aging a day?”
 
“So what are you going to do, grill Miss R in her condition? Or are you going to snoop around the mansion? It’s been twenty years since they came back and nobody in that group ever cracked, so what do you expect to find?”
 
“You can be really pessimistic sometimes, Luke,” Krista said, shaking her head. “This is our opportunity to find out the truth. This could put us on the map!”
 
Luke uttered a cynical chuckle. “That’s you Krista: always thinking big, never thinking about the consequences.”
 
“What consequences?”
 
“There has to be a good reason for them to keep it a secret this long.”
 
 “And you’d do well to remember that,” Elizabeth added, her arms crossed as she towered over them on the portico. The bottle glasses intensified her glare.
 
---
 
A deafening silence blanketed the mansion, save for the set of footsteps on the checkered floor. Krista and Luke followed Elizabeth after she beckoned for them. Neither dared utter a word for fear of their teacher’s reaction; even Domino had been so quiet that Luke had to check more than once to make sure she was still in the carrier.
 
“I don’t see that infernal butler anywhere,” Elizabeth suddenly hissed. She turned to her students, the frills of the black dress hugging her hips swinging in tune, and adjusted her glasses, “So you two really want to know what the experiment was?”
 
Luke was dumbfounded. “You’re not really going to tell us, are you?”
 
There was a short silence before Elizabeth said, “My grandpa’s sudden death took me back to a lost period of my life. I’m the sole inheritor of his estate, and I’ve been wondering how to go about keeping this secret...and how secret it should be. I guess I’m Evermore’s new gatekeeper.”
 
“Evermore? What...?” Krista made no attempts to mask her confusion.
 
“My grandpa created a machine that can take you to the world of your own dreams and design. I was trapped in that world for thirty years. That’s the secret of Evermore.” Elizabeth climbed the grand staircase of the foyer and gestured for her students to follow.
 
“That sounds awesome!” Krista squealed excitedly. Luke was in disbelief, but had a feeling that his teacher wouldn’t tell a tale like that without some proof.
 
The staircase split under a massive window.  They followed the right set of stairs to the top, where Elizabeth suddenly began feeling along the wooden walls.
 
“The machine was shut down for Evermore’s own good, but the reality is that Evermore is a living, breathing place that’s connected to Earth, whether we like it or not. Oh, come on! It’s got to be around here somewhere!”
 
A hidden panel under Elizabeth’s palm slid to the side. With the press of a button, part of the wall receded into itself and revealed another, smaller staircase that spiraled upward.
 
“This is like one of those movie mansions with secret passages everywhere,” Krista noted.
 
“Well this movie is about to get a lot more interesting,” Elizabeth added with a wink.
 
At the top of the stairs was Professor Ruffleberg’s secret laboratory. Despite appearing to have long been decommissioned, the place was spotless, and a couple of the human-sized test tubes lining one side of the wall were filled to the brim with a neon gelatinous substance.
 
Elizabeth kept a brisk pace through the lab with the teens in tow. At the end of the lab was an isolated section with a large machine over a platform.  Thick cables leading to and from the machine were strewn about the floor.
 
“This is it?” Luke inquired. In truth, he didn’t know what he expected.
 
“Does it look like a plasma drive to anybody else?” Krista pondered aloud, garnering strange glances from Luke and Elizabeth.
 
Elizabeth stopped in her tracks when she noticed the dongles hanging from the machine were brimming with life and power.
 
“Alright, change of plans: go home,” she ordered suddenly.
 
“Wait, what’s wrong?” Luke asked, clutching the carrier tightly.
 
“The transporter is active. Somebody’s been up to no good.”
 
A bolt of energy crackled from the machine and struck the ground in a flash of light. Once it receded, Miss R was nowhere to be found.
 
“What the heck was that?” Krista cried, pressed against a wall.
 
The carrier in Luke’s hand fell apart, revealing its empty contents.
 
“Domino!” Luke dropped to the ground and grabbed one of the large cables. “We’ve got to shut this thing down before we get sucked in too!”
 
“How will they get back?”
 
“How will we get back if we end up over there? We don’t know how anything on Evermore works! Maybe we can figure out how to reverse it if...!”
 
Luke’s vision went dark and he felt the weight pulled from under him. He hit the metal floor with his back and the distinct sound of another body landing beside him rattled his ears.
 
“Welcome to the other side,” his teacher’s voice lulled him back to reality.
[Image: MegaManSSB.gif]
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#3
I held off until this chapter to mention that Domino was a real cat...my cat Diamond gave birth to kittens last year. Domino was her spitting image but got really sick when she was around three months old and never recovered. I decided to immortalize her in this story.


Chapter II – A Whole New World

As Luke’s vision returned, he was quite aware of the distinct change of atmosphere. Though he was lying under the transporter, the lab had been replaced with a metallic room covered in thick plating and a fair share of ventilation. The stale air of the Ruffleberg lab gave way to crisper, filtered oxygen. Elizabeth was tapping away at the keyboard next to a control panel.

Krista sat up next to him and scanned the room. “This is Evermore?” she uttered incredulously and rubbed her head. “At least the teleportation was a lot smoother than I was expecting.”

“Technically, this is Omnitopia,” Elizabeth remarked without diverting her attention from the panel. “It’s the space station built by my grandpa to monitor Evermore. It hugs the planet like a ring.”

“Planet?” Luke repeated without realizing it.

“You didn’t think Evermore was a secret island, did you? When I said world, I meant it.”

Krista and Luke climbed off of the transporter’s platform and huddled around Elizabeth’s monitor as she typed off various commands.

“What are you doing?” Krista murmured inquisitively.

“I’ve been trying to send us back since I got here.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “It’s...not going well.”

Krista’s fingers wriggled in anticipation; she wanted to take a crack at the keyboard even though she knew she had no idea what she was doing. “What’s the problem?”

“Omnitopia was my grandpa’s jurisdiction, so I need to figure out if the command isn’t responding or if I’m doing this improperly...”

Luke had started to wander the room, peeking around corners and through ventilation fans. “Domino!” he called. The adjacent door composed of a spiral of metal slats receded into the wall and a metallic creature darted out.

What appeared to be a mash-up of a robotic cat and a waffle iron nudged against Luke’s pant leg. The wafflecat’s small metal paws lazily orbited beneath its body, keeping it hovering off of the floor. Two beady orbs represented its eyes, and the off-color spots on its forehead confirmed Luke’s fears.

“Domino...?” He murmured. His hand quivered as he reached down to touch his transformed pet.

Elizabeth finally pried herself from the control panel as she read the pained face of her student. “Come here kitty,” she cooed as she knelt down to greet Domino. The cat vibrated with a monotonous purr under Elizabeth’s touch. “You have nothing to worry about, Luke. I’ve seen this before. Evermore has a strange side effect that sometimes changes Earth animals to a form more suitable for their current environment, but the physical appearance is the only thing that changes.”

“Hiya Dom,” Luke said, finally rubbing his hand along the cat’s metal carapace. She was warm to the touch.

“I actually think she looks kinda cool,” Krista admitted. She fished through the loose change in her pockets and flicked a nickel across the room. “Domino, fetch!”

Luke snorted. “She’s not a dog, she doesn’t fetch!”

Domino’s waffle iron body split open and launched a small missile from within. The projectile whistled as it whizzed into the coin with startling accuracy and exploded into an indigo showed of fireworks.

“HOLY CRAP!” Krista shrieked, “You weren’t kidding!”

Luke lifted the cat and held her tightly against his chest. “Domino, no more weapons of mass destruction unless I give you the O.K., all right?”

Domino uttered a robotic meow in response.

“I assure you, there’s more to Evermore than weaponizing your pets,” Elizabeth said, “I can even show you. We should be able to see any land we want from here.”

She headed back over to the control panel and typed up a command that changed the image on the monitor to a live feed. The camera was focused intently on a dark patch of forest overgrown with briars. Elizabeth zoomed out and moved the camera north, where she came upon a settlement.

“Oh, this is Gothica. It’s a medieval world thought up by Miss Bluegarden. There are kings, castles, dragons...you name it and it’s probably here. This place in particular is Ebon Keep.”

Luke and Krista crowded around the monitor as the camera slowly panned from the castle to a village covered in maroon hues.

Krista leaned in for a closer look and asked, “Where are all the people?”

“Huh...” Elizabeth adjusted her glasses. “It’s the middle of the day; someone should be out and about...”

As the camera zoomed in further, she spotted movement along one of the roads. Waddling along the path was a reptilian creature with a slight hunch to its posture. Purple scales and spikes ran from the top of its head all the way down to its fat tail. Yellow scales coated its potbelly and ran up to its jawline.

Krista recoiled from the screen, “Please tell me that’s not what the people here look like.”

Elizabeth fell silent as she watched the screen. There was a stark change of mood in the air.

“Miss R?”

“Those are vipers,” Elizabeth whispered harshly. “I don’t understand why they’re on this continent.”

“It’s been twenty years, right?” Luke said, his eyes glued to the figure shuffling along the screen. “Things change, I guess.”

Elizabeth anxiously chewed her thumbnail, “This is bad. I wonder if the people are hiding. Perhaps they were run out of Ebon Keep. Or maybe they’ve all been...”

“These vipers would do something like that?” Luke asked.

“They don’t much like our kind,” Elizabeth responded, her mind wandering to her Prehistoria days.

“Is the space station equipped with weapons?” Krista pondered. “Maybe we can blast ‘em to bits from here!”

“Unfortunately not,” Elizabeth said. “Even if it did, opening fire in a town would be extremely reckless and foolish.”

Krista smiled sheepishly.

“I just hate that we’re dropped into this situation with nothing to go off of,” their teacher continued. “If only we could contact someone down there and get the full story.”

Krista was a bit hesitant after her last outburst, but offered a solution, “Maybe...we could go down there and find out?”

“Are you crazy!?” Luke blurted out before he could stop himself. “Miss R just told us that vipers hate humans and you want us to go down there for a meet and greet?”

“Whoa, hey!” Krista raised her hands in defense. “It’s not like I said we should go fight them or anything! It’s just...if we can’t do anything about it up here, then it’s only logical that we have to go down there. Right, it’s logic.”

Luke was horrified at the thought, but Elizabeth wasn’t so quick to dismiss the proposal. Returning to Evermore quelled a deep restlessness that haunted her for years, and she wasn’t about to let things fall apart now that she was back. She could probably handle things herself, but leaving her students on Omnitopia with no idea how to interface with the station or work on getting the transporter up and running again was out of the question. If they all went together, there would be no one working on the transporter problem. Sending the kids in themselves would be reckless...though, a certain someone she met all those years ago taught her that the possibility of them succeeding wasn’t unprecedented...

“You don’t look like you think this is as crazy as I do, Miss R,” said Luke, snapping Elizabeth back into reality.

“That’s because it may be our only choice,” Elizabeth admitted.
[Image: MegaManSSB.gif]
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#4
Okay...looks like the board update murdered all the fics posted here, and it may have something to do with the chapter title formatting. Don't know how that's going to get fixed...




Chapter III – Revolution for Your Cause

 
Luke sat against the wall with Domino in his lap. The resulting inactivity since the decision to investigate the Ebon Keep incident allowed the cat to catch a nap, proving to Luke that it was entirely possible for a machine like her to sleep. He found himself continually examining her new form in disbelief after she lulled into sleep mode. Maybe it wasn’t so outlandish after all.
 
Krista, on the other hand, decided to use much of her newfound free time pacing the room in a mixture of anxiousness and boredom.
 
“So are we doing this or what!?” Krista cried out. She felt the look her teacher cut her before she even saw it.
 
“There are a bevy of circumstances and setbacks I have to deal with, Miss Plunkett,” Elizabeth said sternly as she worked the control panel. Krista knew she had struck a nerve; Miss R only referred to students by surname when they were in trouble.
 
“Sorry Miss R...” Krista found a spot on the floor next to Luke.
 
“The shuttle hasn’t been used in two decades so I wanted the maintenance robots to look it over and make sure it was safe for use,” Elizabeth elaborated on the situation. “However, they haven’t been responding to my summons.”
 
“Maybe the panel is broken,” Luke thought aloud. “The transporter isn’t working and the robots don’t respond when called...it can’t be a coincidence, can it?”
 
“That wouldn’t explain why those two functions are the only ones that don’t work,” Elizabeth said. “But I’ve used the surveillance system and tracked a couple of robots to the marketplace. We may have to retrieve one manually and bring it back here. Do you think you can handle that?”
 
“You want us to go do it?” Luke asked in mild shock.
 
“Our situation may be dire, more so than any of us may have realized. How can I expect my students to rise to the challenge if I don’t test them every now and then?” Elizabeth offered with a smirk. “However, keep in mind that Evermore is real. Our situation is very real. That includes Omnitopia, so you will want to arm yourselves.”
 
A bronze, spherical containment unit rose from beneath the floor at Elizabeth’s command. Luke and Krista eagerly approached it as Elizabeth touched its smooth surface. The container split down its center and unfurled, revealing the contents within.
 
“Very nice,” Elizabeth commented as her eyes lay upon the weaponry, “A Bazooka and a Neutron Blade.”
 
Krista moved in a blur, hoisting the bazooka onto her back. Luke carefully picked up the Neutron Blade, the deep neon glow around the smooth blade piquing his curiosity. Luke eyed Krista as she examined her own weapon; though neither would profess to be weapon specialists of any kind, it was obvious that this bazooka wasn’t quite like the ones on Earth. This bazooka’s shaft was thicker, and the end opened like a trumpet.
 
Even so, the image of Krista holding a gun that big left Luke wary. “I don’t think I trust you with the gun,” he admitted.
 
Krista’s brows furrowed in defiance, “Your cat gets to pack heat but I can’t have the bazooka? Get real.”
 
“You think I want Domino to fart missiles? We’re gonna get dead with you swinging that around.”
 
“Children, children.” Elizabeth placed a hand on each teen’s shoulder, her tight grip loosening once she had their undivided attention.  “You’ll have to trust each other. I know you two are good friends, and you’ll need to remember that when you get into a sticky situation.”
 
“Sorry Miss R,” they replied in unison.
 
Elizabeth went back to the control panel and slid a small tablet computer out from under the keyboard. She presented it to the teens and explained, “One of the problems with Omnitopia’s surveillance systems is that you can’t communicate with the subject. Or maybe that was an intentional drawback from my grandpa. Anyway, this tablet is connected with the control room, so we’ll be able to keep contact wherever you are. It’s extremely important, so I don’t want to see you guys trying to play video games on this thing, okay?”
 
“We got it,” Luke said, taking the tablet and sliding it into the large inner pocket of his vest.
 
Elizabeth found herself attached to the keyboard once again. A pillar of light emerged on the far end of the room.
 
“That light is your way out. Keep in mind that it’s a maze up there. Your destination is room A2. Please...be careful.”
 
The teens surrounded the light and watched it cautiously. Luke was taken aback when it was Domino and not Krista that went first. The wafflecat was gently lifted into the air.
 
“So that’s how it works,” he murmured thoughtfully before jumping in.
 
---
 
“This is blowing my mind like you won’t believe,” Krista said, her forehead pressed against the glass tubing.
 
“I know what you mean,” Luke responded, sharing the sight. Their gaze fell on the brilliant blue planet known as Evermore. It was hard to believe that they were in outer space – even harder to believe that they weren’t looking at Earth, though the land formations were definitely a clue.
 
A wry grin played at Krista’s lips. “If we hurry, we can explore Evermore ourselves.”
 
“You make it sound like we could comb the planet in hours,” Luke said.
 
“It doesn’t look as big as Earth, don’t ya think?”
 
“Can’t really tell without a comparison but...yeah, it does feel a little smaller.” There was an odd reverberating sound in the distance; the repetition annoyed Luke and he tried to ignore it. “I can’t believe you’re not freaking out over this.”
 
“But I am!” Krista replied with a goofy grin.
 
“Not the right way! Krista, this is a planet. Professor Ruffleberg made this, and it’s got people and monsters like those vipers on it. How does somebody make something like this? It’s not possible.”
 
“We’re looking right at it, so it has to be,” was Krista’s simple deduction. “You were right about them having a good reason to keep this a secret. I don’t think anyone would really understand this.”
 
A sudden growl rumbled from Domino, catching the teens’ attention. That annoying sound Luke heard earlier had returned and they could see the spinning form of the rimsala hurtling towards them down the tunnels. Its metallic body balanced effortlessly on its bottom tip, with a sapphire eye at its center and metal protrusions on its sides that threatened to slice and dice anything foolish enough to get too close.
 
“What the heck is that thing?”
 
“Let’s not wait to find out!” Luke cried. “Shoot it! SHOOT IT!”
 
Krista hoisted the bazooka from her back and onto her shoulder, crouched, and fired a single thunderball. A loud crack resounded when she hit her mark, but the kickback from the shot sent her careening back into a wall. The rimsala slowed and wobbled a bit before righting itself and pursuing with more ferocity.
 
“Do something!” Krista called out, crumpled in a heap against the wall with the bazooka sitting atop her.
 
Luke gripped the neutron blade with both hands, narrowed his eyes, and made a wide swing at the rimsala as it descended upon him. There was a metallic clang as the rimsala ricocheted and came to a stop. From heartbeats to breaths, everything froze in anticipation...until the rimsala began to whirl itself back into a death twister.
 
Its second wind was brought to a startling close when a missile whizzed by and blew what was left of it to pieces. Domino released a satisfied meow.
 
“Good girl,” Luke rubbed her metal head.
 
Krista dusted herself off. “That was exciting!”
 
“The part where you spent most of the fight on the ground?”
 
“Who knew this bazooka had that much kick to it?”
 
“It’s a bazooka.”
 
“Whatever! Let’s just get to the market before another one of those spinny thingies show up!” Krista scurried down the glass tunnel with Luke and Domino on her heels.
 
---
 
The soft light slowed the trio’s descent into the shopping district. Climbing down the metal staircase onto the checkered floor, they found the shopping district devoid of activity – no people, no robots – but not devoid of life. Several healthy trees sprouted from metal contraptions that monitored and controlled their lifecycles. The northern walls were lined with consoles marked with glowing “Store” signs. All around them rumbled the omnipresent and oddly rhythmic humming of the massive machinery keeping Omnitopia running.
 
“There ain’t a soul in here,” Krista murmured. “Everything’s automated!”
 
“The place is pristine too,” Luke noted. “I think we’re the first humans to step foot in here in the last twenty years.”
 
Krista walked about, slowly and deliberately, turning here and there, stopping for a moment before taking another step.
 
“What are you doing?” Luke finally asked after a minute or two.
 
“Don’t you hear that? I think I can hear voices,” she replied in a hushed tone.
 
Together they listened through the hum of the machines, then Luke heard it too. Their heads turned towards the metal door nearby, its slats receding into the frame to welcome them once they approached. Down the hallway, they emerged in another part of the shopping district, this one cluttered with a mass of noisy, puttering maintenance robots.
 
All coated in red, the robots came in several shapes and sizes: some had duster bottoms as their mode of transportation, a few simply hovered on the floor. Appendages doubled as cleaning utensils, attached to cylindrical and triangular bodies. In common was a lens serving as a singular eye for each and every one of them.
 
A wave of murmurs and gasps flushed the room when they noticed the humans in their midst.
 
“Did...did a robot just gasp?” Luke pondered aloud.
 
“You’re not the Master!” shouted a robotic but expressive voice.
 
“Are they talking about Miss R’s grandpa?” Krista whispered.
 
“We’re...guests,” Luke said. “There’s a problem back in the lab, could one of you help us?”
 
“These were the knuckleheads signaling us!” a robot complained. “Not the Master!”
 
“They’re not the Master!”
 
“Who do they think they are?”
 
They were suddenly swarmed in a sea of red as the robots surrounded and chastised them. Domino’s growl s went unheard under the commotion.
 
“ENOUGH!” came Krista’s shrill declaration, shredding the chaos and silencing the protests. “We just need a maintenance robot to do a little maintenance, is that too much to ask?”
 
“What’s in it for us?” a robot asked, followed by a resounding chorus of “yeah!”
 
Luke and Krista traded nervous glances.
 
“You’re maintenance robots; you’re supposed to fix things around here. It’s your job.”
 
Jobs pay money, sister! How many credits are you willing to pay for our services? One hundred, perhaps?”
 
“Credits...? I have this,” Luke unfolded a five dollar bill from his pocket. A claw rose from the inside of the inquisitive robot, carefully grabbing the bill. The bot’s single eye clicked and whirred as it studied the money intently.
 
“Paper money!? Bah, that’s no good in Omnitopia!” it declared, flinging the money back at Luke.
 
Krista shrugged. “We don’t have any credits!”
 
“No time of day without pay!” the robot began, starting a marching circle. The rest of the robots joined in on the marching and chanting. “No time of day without pay!”
 
Krista covered her face and sighed. “Fantastic! The robots gain sentience and decide to go on strike the one time we need them!”
 
“That chant is pretty catchy though,” Luke admitted, nodding to the rhythm.
 
A robot with vacuum chutes for arms brushed against his leg in a deliberate stride. “Perhaps I could be of some assistance?” it asked.
 
“Really?”
 
“Yes. Please follow me.” The swirling dusters that comprised its method of movement had no trouble sliding up the metal staircase, leading them back to the first half of the shopping district and away from a few boos and declarations of betrayal. “This is a much better atmosphere.”
 
“We don’t have any credits for you,” Luke said.
 
“I am not seeking monetary compensation.”
 
Krista knelt down, inspecting the bot more closely and tapping one of its chutes. “Huh. Why are you helping us when the others wouldn’t?”
 
“Call it curiosity,” the bot replied, its voice deep and artificial. “For years we have awaited the return of the Master. Those years turned into monotony and predictability as we debated what we were to do with ourselves without truly exploring what it meant to have those freedoms. You are not the Master, but you are something new. I will help you if it brings me a new experience. I want to...know more...”
 
This was obviously more than just a robot following orders to them. Luke couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend how the robot’s thought process evolved to this point, but he wanted to show it respect as something that could think for itself, and choose to help them.
 
“Thanks for your help in advance. I’m Luke Durant, the one poking you Is Krista Plunkett, and the deadly waffle contraption is my cat Domino.”
 
“I am Mechaduster Unit 344, series V-100.”
 
Krista shook her head. “That’s no good. Why don’t we call you...Vermillion?”
 
Luke chuckled. “How’d you come up with that?”
 
“Well he is red, and he did say he was a V series thingy...it just fit, ya know? How do you feel about that name, Vermy?”
 
“I have no opinion on this name,” the bot responded flatly.
 
Krista stood and dusted off her hands in triumph. “I think he likes it!”
 
“He’s ecstatic.”
[Image: MegaManSSB.gif]
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