In stasis, you are not supposed to dream. Adric didn’t know that at the time, but years later, near the end of it all, he remembered, and chose to ask. The med workers told him then that stasis was like a pause in time for the subject, a localized phenomenon where the passage of time is shut off, so to speak, so that the subject doesn’t age while he or she is in stasis. That was the whole reason that Adric and Naomi had been placed in stasis, so that their wounds would not grow worse while they awaited mechanization. No, the med workers told him, he couldn’t have dreamed, because the minute the stasis field was activated and the minute that it was deactivated were one and the same, at least for him–though in truth, it was more than a week between the two. There was simply no time for it.
Adric knew better.
The dreams had come anyway, no matter what the med workers said, and twisted dreams they had been. In one, Adric stood on a hillside above his hometown on Calbania, watching time race by at lightning speed below, until centuries had passed and only a few broken ruins remained overlooking the sea. Another showed massive ships in the air, battling over the open water, then crashing and burning. There was an island of sand, with flames rolling over its surface…a tower of steel rising above the water, with a massive gate in its pinnacle, radiating danger…Naomi, a thousand times over, dying, each death more agonizing than the last. Worst of all, and for no reason Adric could identify, was the last dream he remembered. He found himself kneeling on a cold steel floor, head down, nearly shaking with weariness and anger and pain. He reached up to his cheek, and felt a scratch there; his fingers came away with blood on them. Somehow, that small streak of blood was worse than everything he had seen combined; it seemed to take in all the others, encompass them, and bring all the death and tragedy together into one horrible purpose. Before he could grasp it, he could feel himself shutting down; it was more than he could handle. After that, he dreamed no more.
Awakening was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It was not like rising from unconsciousness, as it had been all his life–nothing gradual, no rising from slumber to perception, then comprehension. No, this time, it was instantaneous. One moment, Adric was sleeping; the next, he was on his feet, wide–awake and ready for action.
The next instant, he was writhing on the floor, not in pain but in shock, as knowledge poured into his head. The stream was so sudden, and so overwhelming, that his body simply fell from control, and he hit the floor.
Dimly he could hear a calm, even voice telling him…something…Adric couldn’t make it out. The data streaming into him seemed to wash out the senses, demanding place in his head. Status checks, body monitoring, processor self–checks, sensor sweeps, strength diagnosis, armor node logs, system uplink data…off somewhere nearby, it seemed someone was screaming, but Adric couldn’t be sure—that is, until a helpful little power consumption meter popped up in his sight and told him that it was his vocal cords making that output. It was enough to make him scream again.
Finally, after what seemed like forever (though an internal clock supplied that it had only been 3.357 minutes), the flow trickled off, and then died completely. Adric sat up then, still breathing heavily, and opened his eyes.
The room he found himself in was white and silver, lit so brightly that he at first couldn’t see anything. His eyes adjusted after a moment (“VISUAL COMPENSATION ACTIVATED”), however, and shapes materialized–a bed like the one he had been in, stasis–box panels lowered; three silvery figures off in one corner; a doorway in the wall, opening onto a silver corridor. He leaned back against the frame of his own bed, and took a deep breath.
“Overseer!” a voice called from behind him. “This unit has awakened fully. Please inspect.”
“Acknowledged,” a feminine voice answered, and Adric heard the soft click of footsteps. A woman stepped into his view, a woman with tanned skin and close–cropped black hair, dressed in a short, gray tunic with an instrument belt. Before he could say anything, she was kneeling beside him, passing a small, humming device over his body. “Basic scan appears to be in order,” she announced. “All body systems check out for primary activation.” She made adjustments on the device, and then slowly moved it over Adric’s head, watching its small screen carefully. “The neuroprocessing unit has meshed adequately with the cranial tissue and cortex. Final development will proceed in connection with lower functions over a twenty–four hour period, as per design. All mental–physiological capacities have been reached.” Standing up, she straightened her tunic, put the device back on her belt, and looked down at him. “This unit is now fully active. Formal designation is Megaman Tracer, Purifier Unit First Class Alpha, activation code 013573692–A. I, Megaman Ceres, Medical Unit Third Class, declare this unit to be active and ready for training.” Then she walked away.
Adric was too stunned by the whole display to do anything. He was spared, however, when the owner of the other voice—another woman, this one shorter than the first, and with pale skin—stepped around the table. His brain had instantly thought “doctor” when looking at the first woman; this one he identified as “nurse”. “Welcome to the System, Tracer,” she said smoothly, her voice warmer than the other. “Allow me to assist you.” She offered a hand, and a smile.
Adric took the hand, and rose to his feet—but in her willowy grip, he felt an amazing strength. He suddenly had the feeling that this small girl could probably have lifted an automobile without much trouble. The thought brought back Bridge’s words from that day—it seemed so near, and yet so long ago—when he had told them about the System. “Probably an android,” Adric thought to himself.
She was motioning him toward the bed he had vacated. “Wait here,” she instructed as he hoisted himself back onto it. As he did so, he got his first look at his own clothing—the same gray tunic, sleeveless and long enough to reach his ankles; more of a robe than a tunic, really, and banded with red at each hem. Of his injuries, there was no sign. “The trainers will be here soon to accompany you. Until then, I suggest you rest, and look over your internal reports. It will seem strange to you, at first. I will be here if you need me. My designation is Megaman Vitala, Medical Assistance Unit Third Class.” With another smile, she turned and glided off after the doctor.
Adric sat back, thinking. To say it seemed strange…well, that was an understatement! Confusion seemed to be the order of the day. Briefly he wondered if a real Gamma would have been given some kind of introductory training before the procedure, to make the process more understandable. At the least, it would have helped to know what to expect. It was too late for that now, though; he would just have to play it by ear.
Internal Reports—what did that mean? It could only mean one thing, really: that massive influx of data from the various parts of his new body. Now that it was past, his curiosity returned, and his fear began to subside. Already, he thought he understood a little of what he would find there; Bridge had referred to them as cyborgs, man fused with machine, and it only made sense that the machine would include some kind of diagnostic programming. So, taking another deep breath, he thought the words “INTERNAL REPORTS,” making them bold, a command.
A window popped up in his mind, glowing green and blue. Words flashed across it: “CATEGORY?” and, below that, “1. INTERNAL SYSTEMS 2. SYSTEM UPLINK 3. ARMOR AND WEAPONS 4. REGULATION AND SELF–REPAIR 5. MEMORY LOGS”. Adric frowned; then, reaching out in some way that he couldn’t explain, he “pointed” to selection 1, internal systems. What followed was a bizarre combination of images, sensations, and text, some written, some voiced directly into his mind—and when he was finished, Adric understood far more about his new body and new life than he had ever imagined.
The body of a Megaman cyborg was approximately eighty—five percent organic, and fifteen percent mechanical when at rest. Adric could feel each enhanced part and system individually as he became aware of the changes that had been wrought on him, could feel each system waking up within him—could, in fact, “see” the changes in his mind’s eye. What he saw was amazing.
His bones were now almost unbreakable. Every bone was laced with a network of nanofilaments that were a thousand times or more stronger than steel, and fashioned so that if one broke, the others would adjust to redouble the support on that spot while the broken strand was fixed. The net result was that it would have taken a pressure of many tons per square inch to so much as fracture a bone.
His muscles and tendons were also shot through with filaments, but in such a way that they had maximum flexibility as well as maximum tensile strength. Overall, his strength was so vastly increased that without assistance, he could have lifted several tons in each hand without sweating. As well, leg strength was enhanced; if he couldn’t have lifted a building, he could likely jump onto it. Or over it.
Internal organs had been enhanced as well, to improve efficiency. Stranger, though, was a modification that allowed him to suspend organic function for a time if need be—essentially, if he had to, he could go without breathing, without blood flow, without eating. During that time, the power plant of his mechanical components would provide energy directly to his organic components by way of the filament network, and would convert waste products directly to energy.
Most remarkable of all was the system that controlled it all. Examining a view of his skull, he discovered that his brain had shrunk; or, more to the point, condensed, so that the same amount of cortical matter occupied a smaller space. The extra space, located mostly over the upper left hemisphere, was filled with an asymmetrical device, about half the size of his fist, which merged with his upper brain, and was slowly forming connections to his lower brain as well. His new memories told him that it was a neuroprocessor, and that it was ultimately responsible for controlling every part of him now, both organic and inorganic. He still thought with his brain, but the processor took those thought—commands and made them reality; and, in a few hours, he would be able to regulate and control all his lower body functions as well. That would include healing, as he discovered in the self—repair and weapons section.
Internal Systems told him about what he was; when he moved to Armor and Weapons, he discovered who he was. The section first gave him a brief explanatory unit; here he learned that Purifiers were unique among all Megamen. Every other unit of third class or higher, android or cyborg, no matter what its basic purpose, had at least two forms between which it could transform—one for basic function, and one for combat, should the need arise. Some units had three or more forms, depending on the jobs they were created to perform. Purifiers, however, had only their basic form, which was always that of a human—later he would find that this was so they could move unnoticed among the Betas—and without any of the specialized features that adorned the bodies of many units; instead, they were gifted with highly specialized battle armor. This armor was strong enough to withstand a great deal of punishment; as well, it had transformational capabilities of its own, meaning that it could be programmed to produce a variety of weapons.
The armor was not a part of him; it had to be worn, and he obviously had not received it yet. He learned, though, that once he received it, it would be attached to his systems—“grafted” was the word the tutorial used—so that he could control its systems with his neuroprocessor. As well, he found that he carried a system that could compress the molecular structure of the armor, in the same way that his brain had been compressed, but on a much greater scale; combined with this was a feature of the armor itself that allowed its materials to convert to a liquid. In liquid form, the materials contained memory properties that would allow it to “remember” its solid form; in fact, that was the method it used to produce its weapons, as new memory modules were installed. The total effect of all of this was that the armor could be drawn into a small receptacle within his body at will, and then released at his convenience. This would allow him to quickly don and remove his armor, without ever actually removing it. The lowest layer of the armor consisted of a thin, durable jumpsuit, which could be left behind when the armor was retracted, so that he would not be left naked. Moreover, if he did actually remove the armor, it would remain keyed to him, so that no one else could use it; as well, he could control it remotely, in a very limited way.
It was that succinct summary that drove home to Adric—no, to Tracer—that he was no longer the man he had been. He realized that he would always carry Adric Tharen inside, but it would have to be as an observer, hidden away from prying eyes. In this new world, he was Megaman Tracer; he would have to be, if he wanted to survive even one day, let alone to complete the mission Bridge had placed on them. Blending in would require armor of the mind, and of the heart, as well as of the body.
So, with a conscious act of will, he buried himself. Thought by thought, he erected walls around his true self, his personhood, until it was invisible even to his own mind—walls constructed of redirections and deflections for his thoughts. Cautiously, in moments that seemed to stretch for days, he fashioned a shell—the Fortress, he would later come to call it—for Adric Tharen to occupy, and then he taught himself to shy away from it whenever it came near. Then, he painstakingly constructed a personality for Megaman Tracer, thinking through what it must have been like for an Alpha unit, coming as they did from the Gammas. The end result was enough like his own personality as Adric that it felt comfortable and familiar, but alien enough to make him think about his words and actions before he made them, to ensure that they fit in.
When he finished, he was exhausted in mind, if not in body—but he forced himself to continue. “Memory Logs” struck a little too close to home, so he only glanced into that report; he saw that it was an empty file in which memories, at his choosing, could be stored. His memories would still reside in his organic brain, but anything he stored here would also be copied into his neuroprocessor so that it could be examined later, especially in the event of his destruction. With a shudder, he closed the file, and returned to “Regulation and Self—Repair”.
The tutorials in this section shed more light on his involuntary systems—or rather, those systems that had previously been involuntary. When his neuroprocessor was fully interfaced with his brain, he would be able to control his metabolism, his endocrine system, his circulation, his respiration…if left alone, they would function as normal, but at will he could speed them up, slow them down, or even temporarily stop them, allowing his non–organic systems to take up the responsibility. He could examine any part of himself, right down to the submolecular level, and do what was necessary to ensure proper function. In other words, he could heal himself at will—in fact, there was ordinarily no need to will it, because his body’s automatic repair systems would do it for him. A bruise or a cut would heal practically instantaneously; a fracture or internal damage would take a minute or two, but still faster than he would ever have dreamed.
He neared the end of the file quickly, as most of the functions listed had yet to establish themselves. To Adric, it was all very surreal, but to Tracer, it was merely a pleasant surprise—until he reached the concluding summary, which stunned him to his very core, man and Megaman alike.
With these enhancements, barring unforeseen circumstances, he would never die.