– Check it out everybody! The space cowboy has finally decided to grace us with his presence! –
Rob’s fingers strummed along to an old tune that echoed his youth.
The park was quiet otherwise; still far too cold for crickets to be chirping at this time of night.
– Rob…Prototype, huh? I like the sound of that. Play me some Bootsy Collins. Let’s see what you got. –
Rob’s cap continued to guard his gaze, as his ears picked up the steps of approaching people.
– Hey man, I trust you more than I trust myself. If things go south, I want you to take care of this place. And you keep an eye on my sister. You got that? –
The steps stopped. Rob looked forward, and spotted over half a dozen plain clothes men and women.
They all looked to be in their mid-twenties, white headphones in their ears and clearly anxious looks on their faces.
There were no doubt others hidden among the trees and bushes all around. Realizing the threat he has so easily baited had arrived, Rob stood up slowly, bass in hand.
He pushed away the voices of his past. Now was not the time to dwell on the failings of the past.
Now was time to distract, deflect, and most importantly: waste Zero Beat’s energy and resources as best he could.
“Looks like everyone’s come out to play tonight.” Rob said out loud, to the assembled First Beats who had still yet to make a first move.
At this close of a range, there would be no easy way to simply ambush him.
Anyone hiding beyond would no doubt have their songs off, lest they alert him to their presence.
From what Rob could see of the few First Beats before him, they were far from brave and ready to die. Barring the fear already in their eyes, some of them looked just about ready to faint.
That was something to take advantage of, of course.
He looked to either side, smiling under his cap. “No Pop 5 though? I gotta say, I’m a bit insulted. All I see is a bunch of no-names.”
The foremost First Beat, a young man with brown hair, seemed particularly perturbed at the sound of that.
Without thinking, he charged, eager to prove himself among his peers and the higher echelons of Zero Beat that waited beyond.
He manifested a pop song that was lost to Rob’s ears.
All that mattered was the array of fists that came rushing towards him, each of them coated in fire and ice and striking with violent intent.
Rob dodged to one side, before raising his guitar and viciously slamming it into the side of said First Beat’s head.
One of his headphones cracked loudly in response, and he crumpled to the ground as his song effect vanished.
The others surrounding Rob were instantly taken aback.
As he’d predicted, their collective bravery was sapped away in that instant.
Rob said nothing further. He simply strummed on his bass, channelling Travelling Without Moving in an instant.
Now was the definitely time to test the waters. Because for the likes of Zero Beat, this force was sorely lacking.
Like some sort of musical phantom, Rob popped in and out of reality, slamming his the end of his guitar into stomachs, jaws, knees and backs alike.
First Beats yelped for help, but no aid came for them, and within the span of five minutes, they were all soon down for the count.
The bass warrior took a long glance at the beaten First Beats. There were exactly six of them, all knocked out but not so much worse for the wear.
He’d gone very easy on them, all things considered.
Satisfied, Rob fixed his cap, walking back forward into the light of the lamppost.
After some time, they would wake, but not without bruises and headaches that had been handed out so liberally.
Rob’s stance never faltered, however, as his ears picked up a final challenger in the darkness of the bushes just beyond.
He turned, expecting Ollie of the Pop 5 or perhaps even their whole assembled group.
Fingers poised over his bass guitar, Rob’s normally stoic expression broke the moment he observed the figure that stepped out of the brush.
With dyed hair as black as night, and clothes more fitting on a two-bit harlot, Aeris Fairfield stared Rob down with mascara-drowned eyes.
She had headphones on, and the familiar sound of This Fragile Breath played in the air around them. Small blue sparks danced around her fingertips.
Rob’s lips twisted into a frown. That gnawing fear was visible right before him now.
“I knew something was up with you, but I’ll tell you, I really didn’t want to believe it. Please tell me this is just some undercover job.”
Aeris gave him no reply.
From what Rob could tell from her expression, she was clearly distressed, but that didn’t stop her from taking a few more steps forward, arms spread with dangerous intent.
“Always watch out for the nice girls.” Rob said out loud. “You know, I never wanted to think Lex actually had a point.”
It was at the sound of those words that Aeris now stopped in place.
Still, Aeris kept her lightning at low power, as if anticipating Rob’s next movement as best she could.
Rob’s callused fingers stayed above the shining strings of his bass.
Many thoughts flew through his mind, foremost among them being the reason why Aeris had seemingly betrayed them all in the first place.
He cursed himself for assuming the worst about Calvin, in the same fashion as Kim, when Aeris presented herself like this so brazenly before him.
His gut feeling had served him well in the past. He was a fool to have ignored it even when the signs were so clearly there.
Perhaps he’d known since the day Calvin had first spoke about his troubles. Maybe the hardest truth to accept was the fact that Rob didn’t want to believe Aeris was capable of any treachery.
It was a depressing thought. At this point, he’d dealt with enough traitors to last a lifetime.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Mr. Kay.” Aeris finally said to him, her voice like a delicate light in the dark. “Please just put your bass down, and come with me. It’ll be easier for the both of us.”
Rob’s tone turned hostile.
There was no way that was happening.
“Jesus, will you listen to yourself? You’re just a kid. You really think I’m going to bend over for you, just like that?”
Rob caught himself quickly. He was losing composure fast.
Managing his thoughts, patience flooded back into him as he tried to control the situation. “Look, Aeris, just tell me what’s going on. Who has leverage over you? If you’re honest with me, I can dig you out of this hole. I won’t see Zero Beat destroy you.”
Aeris shook her head slowly. She held back every urge to weep like a baby.
“There’s nothing you can do for me. Either you come with me willing, or I take you.”
Rob sighed. It was unusually loud and served to crack the mood of the encroaching night.
No one was around to interrupt them, it seemed.
With that in mind, Rob just pulled his cap down, finally accepting the grim reality of Aeris before him.
“I’m guessing that even if I go with you, Zero Beat won’t just leave Mike and your friends alone, will they?”
No answer from Aeris. Instead, the lightning on Aeris’s fingers sparked with greater intensity.
Rob made a small nod. “Hm. Okay. Let’s get to it.”
Finished talking, Rob proceeded to strum a different tune.
His music permeated the air; the sci-fi stylings of Bass of Space giving birth to the tall, jaguar-esque robot that had served Rob in his original bout against Nagataki X.
It stood stalwart against Aeris for no more than a second, before gliding forward with a sharp, metal hand outstretched and ready to crush her headphones in its grip.
Falling back, Aeris just barely avoided the attempt to declaw her, reacting with two straight shots of lightning that hit home directly into the Sentonal’s chest.
In response, the robotic Sentonal fidgeted and faltered, its movements erratic as Aeris pulsed more lightning into it.
Smoke began to emerge from its joints, and she could see melting bits of metal coming off of it as she channeled every bit of her blue lightning into its very core.
With a pained shriek, Aeris pushed herself to send another powerful strike into it, only to find herself zapping air as the Sentonal vanished before her.
Aeris’s eyes widened, confused through the mascara, until she heard the familiar bassline of Travelling Without Moving in the air, and realized exactly what Rob Prototype had done.
She had no time to turn around as the mahogany end of his bass guitar hit her hard in the stomach, knocking Aeris clean off her feet.
She gasped for air as she went airborne, before tumbling on the ground and sputtering in effort to regain her breath.
Recovering her composure, Aeris looked up to see no one in her sight.
Rob had vanished again.
By the time Aeris was on her feet, he had zapped back into reality just behind her, bass guitar of course still in hand.
Aeris turned her head, watching the descending shadow of the bass guitar being brought down on her like a baseball bat.
In a moment of adrenaline-fueled panic, she raised both arms up, grabbing the end of the guitar and pushing back against Rob with all her might.
Somehow, Rob was able to strum with his free hand, and the bass glowed with rainbow light as it absorbed her kinetic force, sapping her of her strength in the process.
Aeris was strong, all the things considered, but the weakness put upon her was clear as she was soon forced onto her knees.
Her arms seemed ready to give way under the strain, only for her mind to realize the precarious situation that Rob had now placed himself in.
For all the amazing things a Music Master could do with a Synkronized instrument, they could still only play one song at a time.
And so despite the power of I Got The taking Aeris’s physical strength away, Rob could no longer escape blows as he pleased.
She hoped that she’d be forgiven for this moment that would be her only chance at taking down Rob Prototype.
Aeris gritted her teeth, forcing blue lightning through her fingers and right through the body of the bass guitar that threatened to slam against her head.
From her position, Aeris could see Rob’s eyes underneath his cap, and she could see them widen as the encroaching electricity reached him.
His body shook under the sudden, intense pain, but Aeris didn’t relent as she made absolutely sure he’d be down with the count.
Lightning crackled in the dead of night, as Rob’s senses left him and his mind passed into quick unconsciousness.
He swayed in his standing position, before his cap slipped off and fluttered for a moment in the air.
Rob then dropped like a rock, his bass guitar now held within Aeris’s arms as he lay defeated at her feet.
Aeris Fairfield said nothing as she looked down upon his fallen form.
No matter how much she wanted to look away, she couldn’t seem to pull her gaze from him.
Seeing was enough of an awful reminder of her actions, but downing him like this was a memory Aeris knew she would never forget.
She continued to hold the guitar in her hands, even as the observers behind her finally made themselves known as soon as the coast appeared clear.
“I really thought Craven was kidding. That psycho actually thought you could take down the Rob Prototype by yourself.” said Helia, no cigarette in hand this time, as she was far too invested in the outcome of this now finished fight.
Next to her, a usually nervous Renaldo looked much more calm and composed.
He stared down at the unconscious form of Rob on the grass, not completely believing what he was seeing.
“She did it though. The proof is right here. And it doesn’t look like he’s waking up anytime soon.”
He eyed Aeris with understanding, remembering the sensation of lightning coursing through him and destroying his previous headphones.
“I know exactly how that feels.”
Helia picked up Rob’s cap, looking at it as if it was some sort of trophy.
Her eyes shifted down to Rob’s chest. He was still breathing, but just barely.
“I just hope you didn’t knock him into a coma. Either way, Ollie is going to be pissed. You just swiped his big catch.” she observed, though Aeris’s reply was beyond monotone.
“I can’t wait to glower in my victory. Look, can we just go already?”
Helia smiled through her teeth. “Yeah. Sure, Benedict Aeris.”
Aeris said nothing to that. She just looked away, and tried to pretend Helia wasn’t there.
Beside her, Renaldo kept quiet, instead focusing as he quickly channeled Sex Bomb, with the accompanying bomb-headed Sentonal proceeding to pick up Rob in its long and spindly arms.
“The drop-off is right by the east entrance of the park, right off Fifth Avenue. Be quick about it, Renaldo.” Helia demanded, before kicking the shin of one of the downed First Beats with quick and sudden annoyance.
“Hey! Sleepy time’s over! We still got work to do, you lazy bums!”
Slowly but surely, the First Beats were roused from unconsciounsness as Helia barked at them with joyful ferocity.
She then turned towards Aeris, a promising gleam present in her eyes.
“All that’s the left now is to wait for little Kim and the rest of her merry gang.
Helia didn’t get much of a response, as Aeris kept that same blank expression. If she was at all truly distressed, she wasn’t showing it for a second.
Helia didn’t seem to mind. She proceeded to cackle like a banshee.
“Look alive, Aeris! It’s not every day you get to double-cross your friends.”