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Different Eyes

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories

Different Eyes

1996, Kanto: a clone of Mew is created and named "Mewtwo". Its imperfect genetic code is completed using human DNA.
2020, Galar: pokémon are going missing, explorers are driven out of the wilds, and a green tech company is hiring experts in gene-splicing.

A story about pokémorphs, genetic engineering, identity, language, secrets, friendship, freedom, and a cat who becomes a person.​


Cover art by @canisaries.


Author's Note:

Different Eyes is my take on the 'pokémon/human hybrid experiments' trope, as a character-driven story from the perspective of pokémon-turned-morphs. You may like this fic if you're a fan of pokécentric fic, scifi, drama, introspection, angst, slow-burn, and of course, anthros.

It's a long-running project, which started with jumbled notes circa 2010 and eventually became a carefully structured project conscious of its own themes in 2020. It has been the subject of much revision! I expect it to reach about 400,000 words and 80 chapters in length by the time it's finished, and I work on it nearly every day.

Updates are irregular, but at the time of writing I have over 70,000 words of buffer material, so this is definitely happening. My goal is a monthly update schedule.

I appreciate any and all civil feedback, however short or long, however gushing or critical. Please do leave a comment, even if it's only to say that you're a fan. I'll appreciate it enormously. Thank you for reading.

Content warnings for trauma and abuse, dysphoria, fantasy violence, profanity.

Index:
Prologue: Conception
Chapter 1: Human Dreams
 
Last edited:

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
2020/04/17: replaced old expository prelude chapter with a full prologue chapter featuring Dr. Fuji, to better indicate the themes and scale of the story.

2020/08/17: revised the prologue as informed by reader feedback, mostly general improvements to prose and trimmed-down faux-jargon.


Prologue

Conception



The first pokémon-human hybrid was floating in a tank full of life-nourishing fluids, silent and still. Its skin was a muted violet, almost white. Its bulbous, purple tail was easily as long as the creature was tall. Through the amber liquid and dim lighting, it was a dreamlike thing to behold. Perhaps it experienced dreams of its own, asleep in its tiny world.

Dr. Fuji reached out to his creation and placed a hand on the tank glass. He willed it to open its eyes and reach out to him, to speak to him, to justify its existence to him.

A horrible thought; it would owe him nothing if it lived.

If it lived, perhaps it would be the first of many pokémon-human hybrids. Capable of sophisticated cognition — endowed with fantastic elemental powers.

…If it lived.

"No choice," he murmured to himself. He had been given no choice but to give life to this creature, or at least that's what he had believed all this time.

At what point did a threshold in science become inevitable, however terrible it seemed? When someone first conceived of it? When it was no longer theoretical, but a practical possibility? Perhaps only once it became an irreversible reality, already in motion, and impossible to stop.

He knew the truth: this had been inevitable only so long as he'd remained committed to it. He could have turned back at any time, right up until the moment of genesis, but instead he had told himself, over and over, that he'd had no freedom to do otherwise.

If there had been a single moment he could identify and say "Yes, there, that's when it became destiny," it was when he'd first said those words —

"I suppose I have no choice."

∗∗∗​

June 1996

Cinnabar Island, Kantō


A black, dual-rotor heliplane cruised over choppy ocean waves and under a clear sky.

It was bound for an island off the Japanese coast, too far out at sea for the mainland to be visible. This was Izu Ōshima, known as Cinnabar Island to tourists and to trainers on the League Circuit. The presence of human structures was visible in a white-grey mottling against the green of the island's forests. Merely a small town, clinging to the coast. The aircraft passed over it and cruised for a few miles inland, the forests soon giving way to the red-brown tones of the central volcanic mountain. At its foot huddled a building complex, squat and angular. A tower at its corner rose well above the tree-line to support a modest landing pad.

The aircraft drew close and made its descent.

A man stood on the platform, his wild hair swept back and lab coat blown about by the airflow from the heliplane. He clutched his glasses to his face and waited for the whirling rotor blades to come to a standstill. When at last they did, another man in a dark suit stepped down from the heliplane, a feline pokémon at his side, and not a hair out of place on either.

The geneticist bent at the waist and waited for the crime-lord to speak.

He kept silent for a long moment as his financier adjusted his jacket and tie. He knew well that this was a powerful man — someone who could afford to keep others waiting, and would naturally take issue with impatience. It would be unwise to give offence by speaking first.

"Ah, you're the one called Fuji, yes?"

"Doctor Fuji," he replied, straightening up. "Sir," he quickly added.

Giovanni did not bow in return. The pause before he replied made Fuji's breath catch in his chest.

"Of course," he said at last. Giovanni's smile grew wide, but it never reached his eyes. "Thank you for your time, Doctor Fuji."

Fuji's breath returned. Perhaps that 'sir' at the last moment had saved him. He'd like to think it was his own value to Giovanni as a scientist, but that would be flattering himself. Now that the sample had been obtained and the groundwork done, Fuji would become ever more replaceable as an asset.

"Naturally," he said. "You are financing the project, after all. Your man on the radio didn't mention the nature of your visit?"

Giovanni merely raised an eyebrow and walked past him, ignoring the implicit question.

When he moved, he did so with unhurried confidence. This was surely a man accustomed to commanding the patience and attention of anyone in his line of sight. Fuji was no scholar of psychology, but he found himself analysing his sponsor's intimidating persona even while hurrying past the man to open the door for him.

His face held no expression but the tense blankness of a person keeping their thoughts behind a mask. He maintained total control of himself. The pokémon was a persian, judging by the gem set in its forehead — a pedigree, no doubt — and it followed at his heel without a sound or a sideways glance. He must have trained it strictly. Despite the Italian name he used, Giovanni's accent, facial features and mannerisms all suggested a Kantō heritage. It was obviously a pseudonym for a man with secrets worth hiding, but he must have had considerable arrogance to disguise the truth with such an obviously fake identity.

At least, that was Fuji's assessment. Perhaps he thought wrong, and an honourable, philosophical man could be found under all that presence and menace.

Giovanni didn't look at him once as they made their way into the facility.

∗∗∗​

Fuji's benefactor appeared unconcerned with the wider facility. Perhaps he genuinely inspected each room they passed and judged what he saw against his private expectations but if so, he gave no indication of his approval. He made no comments of his own, but prompted Fuji to explain what each team had accomplished.

He lingered longest in the psy-assessment area; his cold eyes took in every detail of the psychic pokémon performing their telekinetic tasks under the observation of Fuji's colleagues, armed with clipboards and brain-shielding headwear. So too did he pass his piercing gaze over the rest of the complex, in all its drab, metallic coldness. Narrow corridors, glass partitions, harsh white strip lighting. Evidently, it all passed muster.

He spoke little, except to prompt Fuji to continue talking about the work, and various tangents. To Fuji's surprise, Giovanni seemed to take a genuine — if terse — interest in the research supporting the project.

"I read your report on the South American expedition," he said, as they passed the cafeteria, cordially enough. No time for a light lunch, it would seem. The man probably only ate gourmet fare in any case.

"I'm glad to hear it, sir."

"This genetic sample of yours," continued Giovanni. "It came from an authentic mew fossil, isn't that so?"

Fuji willed his heart rate to remain steady. This man had no reason to suspect any deception.

Besides, it was a subfossil, and the man would know that had he paid attention to Fuji's report.

"Indeed. I — that is, we — believe it to be the fossilised eyelash of an ancient mew. One worshipped by a now-extinct culture several centuries ago."

"Intriguing. It is peculiar that a preserved genetic sample of such great significance should come from something so insignificant. So easily overlooked. Just think how easily such a fragile thing could have been lost forever."

Giovanni's gaze seemed to tug on the secrets in Fuji's heart, but he returned it evenly.

"I quite agree, sir. Although as I did mention in my report, it's not a fully intact sample. We will have to fill in the gaps with appropriate genes from other species — alakazam, for example, given their natural proficiency with psychic power."

"I am aware of this necessity," came the reply. "It is regarding this matter that I have come here. I intend to ensure that the clone you produce for me is not diminished, but enhanced, by the modifications made to its genes."

"I see."

Naturally, someone like Giovanni would see an incomplete genetic code as an opportunity for improvement, rather than a setback to accept.

Fuji prayed that his deception had not been a mistake. Oh, Mew. Perhaps you made a mistake entrusting me with that eyelash.

∗∗∗​

Giovanni almost looked hungry as he stared at the incubation tanks.

"Your report mentioned you had already produced test subjects. Why are these empty?"

Fuji gestured to the engraved stone tablet depicting the ancient mew.

"Pokémon are strange beings, Mr. Giovanni. Their bodies do not behave as ours do, and so they have long been called magical beasts, fae, dæmons, and yokai. Mew's genetic code is stranger still, unlike that of any pokémon yet studied. It would seem the myths of its ability to transform into other pokémon have some truth to them. Whenever we attempt to reproduce it in a fully intact state, the subject becomes…"

He trailed off. The cultural reluctance to name uncomfortable things was strong, even as a scientist with international colleagues. Fuji walked over to the far end of the cloning bay, towards the anomalous specimens containment unit.

"The partial copy we have available is unstable when cloned, and, well… you can see for yourself what the results are of creating life from unmodified mew DNA."

He flicked the light switch, and the lighting overhead came on strip by strip, in flickering bursts.

The vivaria they illuminated contained the subjects he'd mentioned in his reports. These creatures had no official name, given that their existence remained secret. There ought to be a name for them, he thought. After all, one could not possibly call them 'mew' in all good sense.

Each vivarium was a box with glass panels, housing one or more shapeless, pinkish masses. They looked almost gelatinous, each one's epidermis gleaming a little in the artificial light. They moved slowly, somewhat like that of a mundane snail, or a slugma: they stretched out their amorphous bodies and then pulled their mass forwards using the extended part. Their bodies were almost featureless, except for their odd little faces: beady black eyes and a darker line, like a seam, beneath them.

As they both watched the creatures, one of them transformed into a copy of its own water bowl. Another, into a stone.

Giovanni's face remained stiff and his eyes wide, but Fuji thought he could see a hint of a smile too.

"Have you found a use for them?"

"Not yet, sir. They are poor learners, and do not perform well in many tests. They only manifest psychic abilities when they take the form of psychic pokémon, and they only match the abilities of the copied individual. Temporarily at that. Still, they are intriguing. Some of our western staff have taken to calling them 'metamon', 'omnimorph', and 'ditto' -"

"Ditto? That's a strange word."

"It's Galarish, sir. It means 'that which has been said before.' I confess I quite like that one."

"Hmm. You are right to call them intriguing. Monitor them, but use an intern or some other insignificant person. I want you and your useful colleagues to remain focused on the main project until its completion. No distractions."

"Sir, I must-"

"And you may pursue your personal goal as well. I am a generous enough man to permit that. How is she?"

Giovanni's face displayed the slightest flicker of empathy for a mere half-second.

"Much the same, sir. I remain hopeful."

"And your wife?"

Fuji sighed. Felt a tug at his heart.

"She left her ring with her last letter. That was some weeks ago, now. It's no great surprise; I did miss the funeral after all."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

An automatic response, given with little sincerity.

"Thank you, sir. It only gives me more reason to complete my work to the best of my ability. As such, I have since begun living in this facility full time."

"Well. Good luck. May you meet with success in the due course of time, and have your daughter back once more. Just don't let it interfere with the project. Remember, I'm not in the business of human cloning."

"Of course. On my pride as a scientist, I will strive to succeed."

"Very good."

∗∗∗​

"Enhancements, sir?"

"Anything to make this creation the most powerful pokémon to ever exist," said Giovanni, his eyes fixed on a vision that did not include the scientist in front of him. "The most powerful tool. A uniquely dangerous weapon."

Fuji considered his words carefully while Giovanni's full attention kept focused on the statistics, readings and projections arrayed on the table between them. He'd chosen the material carefully to show the competence and potential of his team, while also promising as little as possible in practical results. So far it seemed to hold up to scrutiny.

He spoke with some hesitation still in his voice. "If mew is, ah, truly the most powerful psychic pokémon to ever exist, then its genes are— are already the pinnacle of psychic power. If we can find a way to… to stabilise the DNA and produce a viable specimen, then that would be a great enough achievement to begin with. Ah, one might say."

"I will determine what achievements are sufficient for my objectives," replied Giovanni, without looking up.

Fuji's whole body felt exhausted from the tension. How much more of this before Giovanni left him to his work?

"Of course, sir. I didn't mean to presume. What, then, would be sufficient?"

"Psychic power is only one of the many possible assets this being could have," said Giovanni. "I also require intelligence, aggression, loyalty. The ability to use tools. Communication. Independent strategy. An intimidating physical form. Can you alter the temperament of the clone and so on to achieve these things, but without compromising its power?"

"It's possible, although it will require guesswork. Trial and error. Not to mention a solution to the instability concern."

"As it happens, I've received a most interesting proposition from one of your colleagues. Dr. Katsura, I recall? Interesting man. He proposes splicing the sample with human DNA. Are you at all familiar with this idea?"

Katsura. Of course. The accursed fool.

"He ran the idea by me, yes. I understand the broad underpinnings, although gene-splicing is his specialism, not mine."

Giovanni's raised eyebrow told him to go on.

Fuji cleared his throat. "Ah, well… in the metaphorical tree of life, animals — including humans, of course — and pokémon are considered two different 'domains' of life. This is for good reason: we appear to share no common ancestor more recently than the primordial world of billions of years ago. And yet we are both complex multicellular life forms, with DNA. DNA that could theoretically be spliced regardless of our many differences."

A nod told him Giovanni kept up with him so far.

"The principle difficulty in pokémon genetics is the 'instability' associated with their genetic codes. They change, they adapt, they break down with terrible ease. The mechanism of evolution is possible because unlike us, pokémon are somehow able to use the strange energy they rely on for all their powers to alter their very genes. This same process is what results in the 'ditto' you've seen today. Adding eukaryotic DNA from an animal, perhaps a human, would potentially grant the morphology of the donor to the specimen—"

Giovanni's frown warned him against too much jargon. He licked his dry lips.

"Ah, it would force the creature to remain in a fixed form. A hybrid form. It is possible."

"Is it also possible," said Giovanni, "in your professional opinion, that using human DNA for this process would grant the clone abstract thought, creativity, and complex language, while keeping its mastery of psychic power?"

"It is… possible. However unlikely, it is possible. The specimen could have the same mysterious energy that all pokémon do and if so, it could be incredibly powerful."

Giovanni's smile showed teeth. "And what did you say to your colleague when he explained it to you?"

"I told him it broke countless legal, practical, and ethical restrictions on our work and that we had no compelling reason to adopt the method," said Fuji, as evenly as he could manage.

Giovanni sneered at him as if at an impudent salaryman. "Well, how's this for a compelling reason? If making this thing a human half-breed has a chance of producing a viable more-intelligent specimen, then I expect you to do it. Dr. Katsura tells me it does, and I'm inclined to believe him. He is most articulate on the matter."

Fuji set both his hands against the table littered with documents. His carefully-curated reports were nothing more than paper, now. They'd done nothing to curtail Giovanni's ambitions.

"Even if it did work, and the clone reached healthy maturity, there's no way of telling what the long term consequences could be. A psychic that powerful could have interactions with its genetic relatives in ways we cannot predict or understand!"

Giovanni laughed, abruptly, and held out his hand in pacification.

"I can see you have some anxiety about this, Doctor. Allow me to ease your concerns. I am a generous enough man to relieve you of the terrible burden of finding a genetic donor for this project. You may use my genes."

"What?"

"One of my agents will leave a sample with your medical staff. I am prepared to accept the risks you feverishly imagine. Great rewards are earned through the boldness to take great risks."

"I see. As you say, Mr. Giovanni."

That man had such a cruel smile when he exercised his influence over someone else. Eyes narrowed, the left corner of his mouth curved upward, nose slightly flared. Did he smile that way when he commanded a pokémon?

"I acknowledge you have reservations," he said, "but I've made my final decision. I insist you give your word that you intend to do what I ask of you."

This was it. Fuji's final chance to decline. He could turn down Giovanni now, or else commit to the creation of a hybrid life form, and then there would be no telling where the science would go. Twenty years from now, would such things be commonplace? How could that possibly be in the world's best interests?

Think of something clever. Lie convincingly that human DNA would not stabilise the specimen. Refuse on moral grounds. Insist that the scope of the experiments required would be prohibitively expensive even for Giovanni's endless coffers.

He thought of Ai, and the impossibility of completing her revival without Giovanni's patronage. He thought of the savings he had emptied, the favours he had called in. He had even failed to attend the funeral. He'd been so focused on preserving the precious genetic memories held within those cells. His daughter's soul.

He didn't have anything else.

"I suppose I have no choice," said Dr. Fuji. "I'll do as you say."

Damn you.

"I'm pleased to hear that. Very pleased indeed."

Damn you, Fuji, you coward.

∗∗∗​

As Giovanni's helicopter left, Fuji imagined he could feel the future in his heart.

It seemed a cold, and dark, and heavy future if so.

He remembered Mew. If it had been typical of its species then the clone would be a playful, innocent creature. Curious. Gentle. Already the ditto were inquisitive, bashful creatures.

By stark contrast, Giovanni loved to command others and make unscrupulous demands. Giovanni! King of veiled threats and intimidation! Was he so cruel and uncompromising from birth, or had he grown to become that way? Be it nature or nurture that imbued such malice, his violent character would surely taint Fuji's creation.

Once he gave this thing life, what kind of being would it be?

What would it one day become, in the shadow of Giovanni?

It might be a monster, like him. Or worse, a victim to his cruelties. In either case, what devastation could be wrought by a creature in such conditions?

Fuji gripped the railing on the rooftop's edge. It felt good to put his weight on something solid. He spent so much time leaning on an imagined future, one which contained his daughter once again.

To keep Giovanni from possessing a mew clone to mould in his image, Fuji would have to sacrifice that future.

And he couldn't do that.

Coward.

∗∗∗​

"Katsura! Katsura, you blind fool! Haven't you got any discretion? Katsura!"

Fuji hammered on his colleague's office door, releasing all the pent-up energy he'd contained during Giovanni's visit. He couldn't feel his hands.

"Katsura! Damn you!"

A voice came from inside: "What is it, Fuji, you obsessive bastard?"

"Open this door and explain yourself!"

Katsura wrenched the door open, and it thudded into the wall as he did so.

"Explain what, man?" he barked. "I didn't study at Université de Lumiose to be spoken to this way!"

In addition to being a great scientific mind, Auguste Katsura served as Cinnabar's gym leader and Kantō's fire type specialist. As such, he affected an exaggerated, theatrical persona. In his case, he had chosen a 'mad scientist' aesthetic, which he was suited for in both appearance and intellect.

He cultivated a large, white, paint brush moustache, and kept his scalp perfectly bald. He wore his lab coat open, revealing a flame-patterned tie, worn in a loose knot. His glasses of choice were shaded pince-nez. He looked bizarre. Yet, the man's glower burned so hot even through the glasses, Fuji faltered despite himself, stammering as he replied.

"Y-you sent that proposal to Giovanni! Now he wants us to use his DNA in the project! Haven't you any idea how badly that could go wrong?"

Katsura stared for a moment. Then, he removed his glasses and looked Fuji in the eye. Without the shades, he looked entirely serious. Older, too.

"You'd better come inside."

Fuji nodded, and obliged.

With the door closed behind them, and his colleague making him a cup of hot tea, Fuji's anger left him.

Katsura attended to the tea with industrious efficiency in his tiny kitchenette. He didn't speak again until Fuji calmed enough to sit down. Before resuming the conversation he said, pointedly, "You haven't seen my analysis yet, Fuji. I assure you, the science is sound."

Then he shushed Fuji with a finger to his lips, and activated his dishwasher. It made a great deal of noise, as if he'd left something solid inside. Fuji raised an eyebrow. What was he playing at?

Katsura brought the tea, sat with him, and softened his voice. He left his glasses off.

"Fuji… Yosuke, didn't you think I'd have thought this through?"

"Explain it to me, then. Tell me why you told Giovanni we could make this thing part-human."

Katsura's moustache bristled as he skewed his mouth in irritation.

"You don't know Giovanni as well as I do, old friend. He's not just some wealthy gang boss who wants to win some private pokémon battles with an illegally enhanced pokémon."

"I didn't think that—"

Katsura ignored him. "He's got his filthy hands in high level organised crime, the government of half the prefectures in the country, private businesses, the tech industry, you name it. Even the League. Did you know he's posing as gym leader in Hakone?"

"No, I didn't."

"Indeed not."

"So, what, he intends to— to use our creation to commit some great crime? And you'll help him do that?"

Katsura's brow furrowed with displeasure. "What do you take me for, old friend? Don't you know what kind of man I am? I want him to fail. He's a madman, Yosuke. I've heard the drivel he spouts for his sycophants. Listen, listen to this: 'all pokémon exist solely for the use of Team Rocket.' I heard him say that to justify stealing pokémon from children, for goodness' sake. He's got to be a damned yakuza boss. Of course I'm not helping him. Will you hear me out?"

Fuji took a deep, shuddering breath, and quieted his mind to listen.

Katsura nodded. "Thank you. Just think — he believes that if he controls the most powerful pokémon in the world, that he can rule it. Not from the shadows. Openly."

"Then we can't let him have that!"

"He's going to have that, Yosuke. It's too late for your fudged figures and redacted reports. It's happening. The question is not whether we can deprive him of his prize. Short of destroying every trace of our work, he can find some bright mind to continue it from what our colleagues recall. No. The question is whether we can prevent him using the clone. The question… is whether the creature will actually obey him."

Something clicked in Fuji's mind.

"You don't mean to say that we should teach it disobedience, do you?"

"No. Not exactly. If we do as Giovanni asks, and create a mew-human hybrid, then that creature… well, it would have a mind of its own. The capacity to make decisions. Perhaps if we're lucky and clever, the capacity for better judgment."

Fuji's brain fizzed with countless risks and contingencies. "But Auguste, you're gambling on the hope that what we make here will not only be… be a— a thinking being, but a moral one. A person, I suppose, with a heart good and brave enough to turn on its master. Who won't simply learn to be cruel and amoral from him. Doesn't that strike you as vanishingly unlikely?"

"Perhaps. We may have more control than you think. Consider this…" Katsura jabbed a finger at him. "It will not be Giovanni that raises this child-creature, but you and I, Yosuke. This is how we beat him!"

"Will that be enough?"

Katsura shrugged. "It has to be. Ah! We will do our level best. And consider: it will even grow up alongside Ai, if all goes well. How could the sibling of your little Ai be anything but noble and kind, eh?"

Fuji thought of the cluster of cells that rested in his lab, the preserved essence of his daughter. When he solved the puzzle of restoring life, there she would be. A child, standing in this world of metal and light.

Would not a clone of mew be more or less the same kind of being as a clone of Ai? More so, with human blood in its veins?

He sat back and put a quavering hand to his temple.

"Even if it works… It disturbs me. This idea of giving a semblance of humanity to a pokémon. What kind of life will it have? What if it suffers because of our decision?"

Katsura looked grim. "All humans suffer. So do all living things."

"Yes, but will it thank us for this?"

"Perhaps. What pokémon wouldn't want to be like us? To be human?"

Fuji shook his head.

"Even so… it would be a child of Giovanni. It could… take after him."

Katsura put his glasses back on, and grinned ferociously. "Not if we use a different sample."

Oh.

Of course.

∗∗∗​

The thing floating in the tank wasn't human, that much was certain.

Still, could it really be said to be a pokémon?

It hung there, suspended in its near-weightlessness by diodes affixed to its torso, head and limbs. It almost gave Fuji the impression of…

Never mind.

The creature had three digits on each paw, front and back. Its eyes stayed firmly closed. The proportions almost resembled those of a human child of six or seven years. As old as Ai when she passed. However, the ears were situated high on its head and roughly triangular, the upper torso and shoulders were gaunt and angular, and the lower legs had the thick haunches and elongated feet of a feline pokémon. Then, of course, there was the enormous tail…

It could not possibly be human.

Yet… it still gave him the impression of a sleeping infant.

He checked the readings. He checked them twice. Three times.

Healthy vitals, as far as they could tell. High brain activity. But… disconcertingly like a human's.

With each passing week, Fuji thought the tiny creature in the tank grew just a little larger. Its tail had grown to twice the length it had been a month ago. Already they could detect telepathic probing coming from it, reaching out for other life. Opposite it was Ai's tank. Perhaps it was reaching out for her mind. She looked just like it in a way, suspended in a cocktail of life-preserving compounds. His great hope. He imagined he could already recognise her face.

There they were. The human and the pokémon.

Ah, but there lay his conceit. It wasn't a pokémon either, was it? How could it be, with brain readings like that?

He stared through the glass at it, willing it to open its eyes. To speak with him.

"What kind of life will you have? What will you think of me? What will you feel in your heart?" he asked, out loud. Then, aware of himself, he checked over his shoulders for an errant colleague who may have heard.

No, he stood alone with his creations, and the stone tablet bearing the image of mew. The engraving stared back at him from beyond a thousand-year gulf.

He thought of the mew he'd befriended back in Guyana. What would it think of this copy, this distorted mirror image of itself? None of the potential names felt quite right to him. Mew Clone. Second Mew. Mew-Two.

"Mewtwo," he whispered to himself. "Will you be thankful that we made you the way you are?"

What pokémon wouldn't want to be human? That's what Katsura had said.

Fuji doubted the truth of that.

The first pokémon-human hybrid floated in its tank, dreaming silently in the dim light. What did it dream of?

He prayed silently that its dreams were peaceful.

It had been a long time since his last peaceful dream.
 
Last edited:

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Please note: if you're reading through this thread, the 2018 versions of the early chapters have been left intact. However, the revised chapters have been posted as new replies to the thread, and can be found using the Index in the top post. Cheers.


One
A Stray and Her Aspirations

Before she was a person, Salem was a cat.

As a person, Salem can tell her own story, but the story of Salem the cat must be told for her. Feline pokémon can barely ask for their humans to open doors for them, let alone explain why they want to become human. Salem was a cat who wanted to be human. This is the story that explains why. This story comes first.

Salem didn’t realise the moment she chose to become human until much later, when she was no longer a cat. She chose to become human because of a moment spent cowering and afraid, crouched half-starved under a car at night.

If only she weren’t a cat. If she were a human she would never have had to endure winter rain and winter cold and winter darkness. She’d have a home, or the money to pay for sanctuary and a voice to ask for it. Instead she was a pokémon — a tortoiseshell purrloin, distinguished by the long ears and hooked tail of her species — and she would have to resort to using a pokémon shelter if she wanted to be somewhere safe and warm. There was a problem with that idea, though. Shelters fed you, but they also tried to get you adopted. And Salem didn’t want that. And she never would.

She wanted food, warmth, a roof above her head, and after that she didn’t know. She curled her tail tighter around herself, and glanced anxiously at the various flitting shadows and wind-buffeted leaves that haunted the pavements and the park across the road from her.

Eventually she’d be hungry enough to try hunting in the park again, or rummage through someone’s trash for scraps of meat. But not yet. Not quite.

If Salem were human, she’d be well-fed and warm. If she were human, she’d be with Laura.

This was the moment where she stopped wishing, and simply knew; she would become human, no matter what.

Salem first wished to be human many seasons ago, when Laura refused to let Salem come with her to school. College policy didn’t permit pokémon on the premises, so when Laura left for her first day back at school after their first summer together, Salem stayed home. And waited. And wished. She’d wished every day since, for so long now that she’d begun to think of herself as pre-human, only a pokémon while she waited for the day she evolved. She would become human when she evolved, she knew. It was destined.

For now, she was a small, shivering, dark-furred pokémon, and the most human thing about her was her ability — the privilege of all purrloin — to walk short distances on her hind legs.

Having their front paws free made purrloin excellent thieves, a skill which Salem was happy to employ to obtain food. It was easy to walk into a shop and walk out with a bag of dried jerky, so long as you never tried it a second time.

Otherwise, she was typically feline. She had a dappled tortoiseshell coat, (meticulously maintained, even now), a warbling miaow with a quizzical inflection, and the talent of appearing without a sound at the rustling of food packets. Not so useful without a home and a bed and a human carer.

The memory of such things hurt, and provoked low growls in Salem’s throat. These were things she’d had and then lost. It hurt, not just from her discomfort in their absence, but from the memory of their loss. Salem knew, somewhere deep inside her feline brain, that she was here, now, because of that loss. So she allowed herself to remember it — fuzzy as her memories always were — because if she forgot it, she might let herself go home.

At the time, she remembered only hazy impressions, emotions, desires. Later, of course, her memories came into focus as if adjusted on a camera. Although Salem only clearly recalled these things as a person, they were still buried in her mind as a purrloin.

Salem would never remember what the weather had been like the morning of that day, not because of her purrloin brain, but because she hadn’t looked. It rained later on, but it could have started out sunny or been overcast from the beginning, for all she knew. She would be frustrated forever by this, but it had simply not been part of her routine to sit by a window until after Laura went to school. Cats like routine, and Salem’s had been important to her.

That day began routinely. Her eyes opened at dawn, she stretched luxuriously, and she nudged a reluctant Laura out of bed in hopes of her drowsily squeezing a packet of food into Salem’s bowl. Her previous meal of this kind had been chicken in jelly, a favourite of hers, and she’d spent the day before clinging to the memory of how it had tasted.

She wolfed down her salmon while Laura made herself crumpets. Salem prized her regular meals, but supplemented them with as many stolen or begged treats as possible. She had made the sign for ‘food’ so many times over many seasons that, even now, she did it on reflex when hungry: tilt head, reach paw above head, curl paw, paw to mouth.

Laura usually gave her a treat or two for signing this before she left for school, but on this occasion, she took a new bag out of the drawer, and left it there unopened. Perhaps she had been distracted while Salem signed [FOOD] several times. Still, she cuddled Salem goodbye as normal, and called her a sweet cat. Salem purred boisterously and waited until the front door closed to tear open the unsecured bag of treats with her teeth and gorge herself silly.

Salem spent school days like this waiting for Laura to come home. Laura’s parents were usually out most of the day and generally took their pokémon with them, so she had the house to herself. She used this freedom to laze about uninterrupted. She had plenty of naps, mostly spent sprawled out in that one spot on the kitchen counter, where the updraught from the tumble-dryer kept her warm. From there, she watched taillow in flight and dreamed of pokémon battles and of a future with Laura in which they went on grand adventures.

Sometimes in Salem’s dreams, she was not the pokémon, but the trainer. Human or purrloin, she was always Laura’s partner in her dreams. (Later, curled under vehicles and hedges to sleep, Salem’s dreams never featured such a partnership, and she was always, always human.)

Laura didn’t come home that day until much later than she was supposed to. This was happening more and more often each moon, and she already came home later than she used to. Salem managed to enjoy her time alone by keeping to a routine and sleeping heavily, but by late afternoon she was restless. Restless Salem would pace through the house in endless loops, groom herself and groom herself again, and scratch doors and furniture over and over until her claws hurt.

Of course, nobody was around to see her behave like this, and her claw-marks were indistinguishable from years of previous gashes.

When Laura finally came home, it was early evening. Salem jumped up on the stand by the door, like always, to receive scratches behind her ears, like always.

“Hello, silly cat,” Laura said, like always.

Salem’s habitual reply to this was to turn her left paw pad-upward and curl it inward, approximating a human beckoning gesture, and then brush her own cheek. This was as communicative as she could manage in standard pokésign. She’d signed [WELCOME HOME] as best she could, like always. She was really good at signing that, after years of practice. Other than that and ‘food,’ her signing was stilted, and her vocabulary painfully limited.

Laura went straight to heat up a meal for herself, with Salem sprawled on top of the microwave, soaking up the warmth and purring to match the vibrations. Then Laura forked out half a can of food for Salem, and took it to her room so Salem could eat nearby her as usual. Laura found an episode of ‘Gotta Catch ‘em All’ on her laptop and played it while they ate.

It was Laura’s favourite show, so of course it was Salem’s too. Laura once spent a moon mimicking the voices of the pokémon characters, who would only speak in their species names rather than realistic sounds or with pokésign. Laura said it was too expensive to animate pokésign, and the show was only a marketing tool to sell pokéballs anyway. Salem had no idea what that meant, but certainly the show taught Laura a great many species names despite being unabashedly fantastical. Salem couldn’t have signed [P-I-K-A-C-H-U] if she tried.

Even more fancifully, the show featured a villainous but endearing meowth, who had taught himself to speak English. At least every other episode, he was shown wearing clothes, working a job, or using tools. Salem thought he was practically human. He didn’t have a name, he was just “Meowth,” but he was still their favourite character. Laura used to encourage Salem to copy his example, and was only a little disappointed when Salem could only miaow, purr and chirrup. At least her miaows sounded a little like “meowth.” Salem persisted in private for several moons, until with much frustration, she gave up on ever speaking a word. She never quite forgot her dream of talking to humans in their own tongue.

After the show, Salem expected to curl up by Laura’s side and listen to her read stories, like she always did. Laura tickled Salem’s chin and signed [NO] with her free hand. “Sorry, kitten. I’ve had a long day and I still have homework to do! There was some big news today, too. Let’s just chill, shall we?”

Outrageous!

But Salem’s outrage didn’t stop Laura from moving her laptop to her desk and getting to work. This would not do. Laura tried to do whatever ‘homework’ was so important, but Salem kept butting her head against Laura’s leg, and miaowed raucously, until her human finally relented. Laura clambered into bed, leaning against the headboard, and opened the anthropology magazine that they’d started reading the night before. Salem manoeuvred her way into the crook of Laura’s arm and gazed wide-eyed at the photographs as Laura read the accompanying text.

Salem spent all day every day waiting for this. Each night, without fail, Laura would read to her about countless subjects, from the natural world, to human history, to pokémon battles. With each bedtime reading, Salem would snatch a new truth, each one more precious than the last. There were great forests across the ocean still untouched by humans and their cities. People had once lived in caves and hunted with sharpened sticks, without microwaves and lamps and books to use. Humans could form bonds with their partners that made them more powerful than any wild pokémon.

At night, Salem would churn these ideas over and over in the mill of her mind, trying to grasp the big picture, to form a proper understanding of the world, and always having it slip away from her. She hoped that by learning everything Laura could share with her, that, like Meowth, she could teach herself to be more human. Being human meant never having to be bored and alone again.

Even when Laura became exasperated with her insistence and her questions, like she was now, Salem remained desperate to drink up every word, on any topic. Eventually, of course, Laura tired of reading. It didn’t take so long this time.

“Salem, I’m done. Seriously, I still have way too much to do.”

[WHAT?] signed Salem, cocking her head and chirping uncertainly.

“Mostly uni applications. Plus my normal work. And I got home late, too, so, just, ugh. Basically ugh.”

That meant nothing to her. She cocked her head the other way and chirped again. If she did that, Laura would know to explain in a way she understood.

Laura groaned, and spoke with care. “Okay, so it’s like this. Uni is school that comes after school. And I have to do a lot of work so that I can go to uni. Because if I go to uni, then when I’m done, I can get a better job.”

Salem kept cocking her head. She didn’t know how to ask “but what about our adventure? Why are you doing this and not that?” so she just signed [TRAINER] in desperation, mimicking the overarm throw that humans used to release a pokémon from their ball at range.

“What? Trainer? No, Salem, sweetheart.” Laura brushed her dark hair from her face, which she always did when saying something important, and gently stroked Salem’s cheek fur, which she always did when was about to disappoint her. “I’m not going to be a trainer. You need to start young to do that professionally, and have the right support, and I didn’t, and I don’t.” She signed some of the key ideas as she spoke. [NO TRAINER. I CAN’T.]

[TRAINER!] Salem signed again, harder this time. Her tail thrashed anxiously.

“No, kitten. I can’t just run away and battle with you. I don’t have the money. I don’t have my parents’ permission. I don’t want to, really. It’s one of those things — kids all play at pokémon training, but barely any of them actually run the League circuit when they turn whatever age. It’s like how loads of kids want to be astronauts, but there’s only like, two astronauts from the UK. I think. Pokémon training is… I’m not meant for it. Those playground battles we had with other kids never meant we were going to travel the world doing it seriously. You never even learnt any good moves! And fighting hurts. I’m going to study finance, cause that’s supposed to be good for employability…”

But the words didn’t mean anything to Salem. She didn’t understand ‘money’ even after all Laura’s previous explanations. She didn’t understand ‘permission’ or ‘astronauts’ or ‘meant for it’. She didn’t understand why Laura didn’t care, didn’t want this, didn’t yearn for their shared adventure the way she always had.

She signed helplessly, every piece of communication a continuous struggle. Her paws and body gave her more range of expression than a serperior, or a lanturn, or worse, a voltorb with no extremities at all, but they were still nothing to a human’s hands and face. Her vocabulary was stunted, too; pokésign only accommodated simple ideas. ‘Yes, no, over here, I’m hungry, please stop.’

It was difficult enough to think of what she wanted to say and more difficult still to find a way to say it. Under normal circumstances, she was constantly distracted by the temperature, ambient sounds, loose threads of clothing. Even when focused as she was now, she could never hold more than one, maybe two ideas in her head at once.

When asking about their future adventures went nowhere, she tried to ask something else — [I COME WITH YOU?] — not difficult to sign, but difficult for her to ask with her hopes so recently discarded.

“Salem, pokémon aren’t allowed in halls, honey. I might have roommates that don’t want pokémon around. ‘Roommates,’ that’s like, friends who I live with, I mean. You’ll have to stay home. I’m sorry, kitty.”

Roommates. Friends who Laura lived with, instead of Salem. Laura already spent so much time with friends without Salem, now Salem would always be without Laura.

She tried to ask if she would see Laura — if there would be visits — and miaowed her general distress.

[I SEE YOU? YOU WITH ME?]

“What? Oh, of course I’ll come see you! Everyone comes home from uni for winter holidays.”

[MORE?]

“Every year, yes! Don’t worry, I’ll come back!”

But not every day. Not enough to stop Salem pacing and grooming and scratching for days on days on days.

It was hopeless.

Laura evidently agreed, because after a few minutes of this, her alarm went off and she said “That’s enough. Really. I really have to do my work, so please, please leave me alone.” She took off from the bed and threw herself into her desk chair, headphones on, fingers tapping at the keyboard.

Normally, Salem would have lain down by the laptop’s fan for warmth, or batted at Laura’s fingers, or walked in front of the screen for attention.

But…

‘Leave me alone,’ Laura had said.

She had never said that before.

So Salem left her alone.

She slunk out of the room, went out the flap into the back garden, and left Laura behind. She could never quite explain why, only that she couldn’t stay after that, and that she couldn’t go back even when she was desperate for tinned food and packets of treats.

It had been moons since, but the time between then and now was unimportant. The only important day was today. Today Salem would muster up the nerve to go to the pokémon shelter and ask for help. The time spent cold and afraid — that didn’t matter. What mattered was no longer being cold or afraid, or hungry, or vulnerable, or tired, or lonely.
If only she were human.

Being human meant never being cold and hungry again.
 
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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Hey! I actually think I remember this. Mostly because of the title, because it's calling up memories of a banner with like, a bunch of different Pokemon eyes on it. And also because this was (and still is) the only example I've seen of a Pokemon becoming a morph rather than a human becoming a morph. It's great to see that you've picked it up again! I know how hard it is to start writing after leaving a fic dormant for so long.

I really like how well you tread the line between making Salem very cat-like, with her wants and behaviors and difficulty understanding things like money and college, and yet very clearly not an animal, with her complex emotions, signing, understanding human speech, and wanting to be a human. It's a nicely grounded approach that feels definitely "Pokemon", as opposed to just a colorful animal or a furry human. It's easy to feel how torn she is, adamantly not wanting to go home because Laura isn't there, but not wanting a new home with new humans instead, not really knowing where to go and not having the agency to do what she really wants, and I feel it's that lack of agency that's at the heart of her desire to be human.

It'll be interesting to see how she gets caught up in the Pokemorph project, so I'll check back from time to time to see where this goes. And once again, welcome back!

~Chibi~
 

Marika_CZ

Well-Known Member
Nice! My favorite Pokémon fanfic will be always the one with interesting OC and some sort of new take on the creatures we so love (or the world they inhabit).

I haven't been reading fanfic for long so I am not familiar with this story, but I sure like it. Especially that Real World spin on being Pokémon trainer. If Pokémon were real, I am fraid many of us would end up like Laura.

You described the Salem's past and feelings nicely. The first chapter made me root for her. Looking forward to Chapter Two!
 

diamondpearl876

→ follow your fire.
Yo! So, this is certainly different from the original Different Eyes opener, eh? I remember Salem waking up with amnesia, and either being found by other PokéMorphs just like her or running into them shortly into the chapter. It was almost reminiscent of a PMD setting fic, except it defied all my expectations there. Don't know if I'm off base with my memory, but in any case, this version takes the focus away from the PokéMorph aspect (so far) and the worldbuilding exposition in favor of Salem's character. I dig it.

It's interesting that you separate animals and Pokémon entirely. Usually, they're depicted as creatures that evolved from animals, just as humans did from animals, but really, categorizing them among more fantastical beings makes sense in comparison. Your take on Pokémon having special "energy" as opposed to humanlike sentience and consciousness makes sense and separates this fic from others. It also only makes the fact that "a third kind" - presumably PokéMorphs, the combination of humans and Pokémon - more interesting, as it implies two very separate creatures are going to play into it rather than two types of creatures with some past evolutionary history.

If only she weren’t a cat. If she were a human she would never have been crouched half-starved under a car at night, enduring winter rain and winter cold and winter darkness. She’d have a home, or the money to pay for sanctuary and a voice to ask for it. Instead she was a feline pokémon - a purrloin - and she would have to resort to using a pokémon shelter if she wanted to be somewhere safe and warm. There was a problem with that idea, though. Shelters fed you, but they also tried to get you adopted. And Salem didn’t want that. And she never would.
Anyway! Onto Salem herself. I love the choice of Purrloin and all the catlike behaviors she displays. So adorable, learning about the quirks she has and how she interacts with Laura. Laura's got some depth herself already without her even being the focus, so kudos there, too. :D Oh, I quoted this part in particular because the writing style was stunning. Flowed well and the language is perfect and it hits you hard by the end. This is exactly how I remember your writing style, haha. It's nice to see it again.

Laura once spent a moon mimicking the voices of the pokémon characters, who would only speak in their species names rather than realistic sounds or with pokésign. Laura said it was too expensive to animate pokésign, and the show was only a marketing tool to sell pokéballs anyway. Salem had no idea what that meant, but certainly the show taught Laura a great many species names despite being unabashedly fantastical. Salem couldn’t have signed [P-I-K-A-C-H-U] if she tried.
I wasn't sure what to make of the attempt at explaining Pokémon speaking this way in the anime, but you know what? It works. Tidbits like this are so fun to see in fanfic, haha.

Being human meant never having to be bored and alone again.
And I have a feeling Salem's going to be very, very disappointed at some point in the fic. This isn't true at all.

“No, kitten. I can’t just run away and battle with you. I don’t have the money. I don’t have my parents’ permission. I don’t want to, really. It’s one of those things - kids all play at pokémon training, but barely any of them actually run the League circuit when they turn whatever age. It’s like how loads of kids want to be astronauts, but there’s only like, two astronauts from the UK. I think.
Never really thought of it this way. Still, breaks my heart to see Salem struggling so hard to communicate, then kind of succeeding but also getting shut down hardcore anyway. And she doesn't even understand how badly she's getting shut down, just knows Laura said no and that sadness ensues. Bah.

I... don't really have criticism for you, other than perhaps the prelude sounded a tad lecture-y and stiff in comparison to the actual first chapter, except then I saw it was an excerpt from an official speech given by someone. I'd probably not have been offput by it if that explanation was put right at the beginning rather than the end, but could just be me.

Till next time!
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
To all of you, please PM me if you'd like to be added to a subscription list.

@Chibi Pika Thanks so much for giving this your attention! I checked, and I never replied to your last comment on the old edition - the only review the last chapter got, in fact. I appreciate it! Also, you're right about the distinctive banner, but the same artist has been kind enough to make me this slick new one. What do you reckon? :p I'm glad Salem comes across as being distinctly pokémon, as she is certainly neither animal nor human. I'm also glad you picked up on the agency theme, as that's actually a big deal for the fic and it should already be clear.

@Marika_CZ Thanks for your review! I hope that my OCs and takes on the setting continue to impress. Don't worry about being familiar with the story, it's a complete rewrite from the ground up, and Salem even changed species somewhere during the design process!

@diamondpearl876 It certainly is different! I decided that opening the story with Salem already a morph would never be completely satisfactory, and that the whole point is for her to change drastically. So I have to write her as a cat! I can't believe I didn't see this to begin with. I actually have an in-setting reason for the existence of pokémon, but it won't be addressed for a long time yet! Animals have to exist, I feel, to sustain a sensible ecosystem., but they don't need to feature much. I'm glad you love my style! I personally think it's less dry and stilted than it was six years ago, but it's nice that the 'spark' is apparently the same. Salem certainly will be disappointed, don't you worry~ I'm pleased you managed to find something to criticise despite my intensive editing efforts, it makes your glowing praise sound sincere! ;D Cheers, and I truly hope to keep your interest as a regular reader!

Thanks to you all! New chapter up in a few minutes. I've had a hell of a time the last few weeks, but rest assured I intend to post two updates by the end of each month.
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Two

Salem watched the front window of the local pokémon shelter from the scant canopy of leaves she was hiding in - several shrubs clustered in the grassy median beside a small car park. It wasn’t ideal. She had to press herself low to the ground, which was damp, cold, and shared with worms and insects. Her fur was dark and the winter sun was already retiring, so this hiding place would keep her well out of sight. Yet, it hardly felt like safety. The short flights of the winter sun and her ability to hide at its setting were not a nightly reassurance, but a reminder of all the other pokémon that could be stalking her from the same darkness.

The moon came out from behind the clouds, and briefly lit up the terrain. Salem shrunk back further into the greenery and glowered at it. Its illumination may have been a comforting constant from inside a house, but now it made her visible, and therefore vulnerable. It occurred to her that the moon had lived two full lives since she’d last eaten a proper meal. Slept on furniture. Been petted.

The moon withdrew behind cloud cover, and darkness returned. The pokémon shelter was brightly lit from inside, which gave her perfect vision of the interior. There was one human inside. A young man. After studying him for a few days, Salem felt she could read him well. He was a calm person, never moving suddenly or crying out. She liked that. She had begun to wait for a time when she was certain that nobody else but him was about. If she approached the shelter with only him present, she’d be less vulnerable. Or maybe she was only waiting because she still needed to work up the nerve.

The first few nights she’d done this, a silver-tabby glameow tom had come to join her. He’d taken a perch on the wall around the car park, posed like a sphinx, watching her openly from his exposed position without regard to his own concealment, let alone hers. On one of these nights, he seemed to taunt her. A low, strained miaow, certain subtle flicks of his ears and tail. [BAD HUNTER.] An accusation.

She replied with mirrored gestures and a turn of the head. [NOT HUNTING.]

A brief, shrill chirrup, a certain blink: [YES, THAT’S IT.] By this he meant, “exactly, a good hunter would be hunting right now.” Perhaps he was actually trying to be helpful, but even so he only managed to raise her hackles.

Salem focused her attention on the shelter rather than on him, and he seemed to lose interest for a time, only to return not long after with a dead mouse, freshly caught. The glameow offered her the first bite, nudging the morsel towards her with his nose. She looked away. At the time, she hadn’t understood her position. She hadn’t been ready to trade pride for food. He persisted a little while, before finally eating the mouse himself within earshot, punctuating each crunch with small growls of enjoyment that made Salem’s belly growl in kind. As he did this, the shelter lights went out. That was Salem’s cue to leave.

Every time Salem got up off her haunches to turn away from the shelter, her stomach stabbed at her resolve. When she’d spurned the mouse it had been bearable. Now, she’d been doing this for days and it was a constant gnawing in her gut. There were never enough hunting or scavenging opportunities to keep her strength up. She had made no allies. She had found no home. She wished she had not turned down the glameow tom, for perhaps she would have had several more meals, by now. Food, but also a friend. Sooner or later she would walk through that door and face whatever consequence awaited, or she would give up on ever walking in and eventually meet an unambiguously grim fate.

Tonight the human in the shelter was doing his peculiar ritual with the machine at the front desk. Soon he would start turning the lights off. Last chance to go to him tonight. Last chance before another cold and hungry sleep. Somewhere in the street, she was sure the eyes of another local feral pokémon were trained on her. Last chance.

Salem emerged from under the bushes and approached the shelter door, feeling the moon’s light on her fur like teeth. She reached the door and got up on her hind legs to push it open. It shook, but remained closed. She pushed again, and her paws slipped, so she scrabbled at the glass indignantly. The human didn’t notice, so she miaowed; her voice was strained and squeaky in her ears.

Finally, the human spotted her. He watched her for a second, rubbed one eye, and got up to let her inside. The moment the gap was large enough to accommodate her whiskers, she bounded indoors and up onto the front desk, where she crouched defensively with her chin against her paws. The young man scratched his neck as he appraised her from one angle, then another.

“Well, you’re an unhappy looking thing,” he said at last.

Salem made a noise of discomfort and frustration. A tilt of her head and a ‘grabbing’ gesture from above her head down towards her mouth - [FOOD] - communicated her first need in hasty, dramatic pokésign.

“What’s that? Oh, right.”

The human set to work finding her a clean bowl and some food. She considered signing not to bother with the bowl, but it would take too long to make herself understood. Instead, she wailed incessantly until the food was ready. Within several breaths, he’d found her some jellied meat chunks, into which she shoved her head to wolf down before he’d even let go.

“Wow,” he said. “A purrloin, huh? You know, normally when we get new arrivals, they come with a person handing them to us. You’re gonna make my paperwork pretty difficult, friend.”

She ignored him, paying all her attention to the food. When she was done, she looked up at him with broad pupils, intent on getting more, but he shook his head, smiling. Like most humans, he smiled with his eyes too far open. Laura knew to close her eyes properly.

“I’ll get you some more food in a minute, Purrloin, but if you eat too much all at once after going hungry, it’ll disagree with you.”

Salem didn’t quite believe the excuse, but she could wait for more food. She twitched an ear, pushed her head towards him: a gesture which meant, more or less, “Who are you?”

“Oh, my name’s Jamie. I’m in charge of this place, more or less. You, uh, know what this is, right? You didn’t just turn up at random?”

A nod, and a paw gesture. [YES.]

“Oh right, good. Okay. Well, I can let you sleep here and I’ll give you food but first I’ll have to give you a check up, register you as best I can, that sort of thing. You got a microchip?”

‘Microchip’? The sounds were familiar. She guessed the answer.

[YES.]

“Huh. Gotcha. That’s a welcome surprise. I guess you don’t have a pokéball?”

She shook her head. An awkward movement for her, but humans always understood it.

Jamie hummed to himself, and fetched some papers from a drawer in his desk. As he sat and wrote on them, he let Salem smell his hand. Jamie smelled of pokémon, mostly. All kinds, but especially feline and canine. Also, food. Soon, Salem had persuaded Jamie to feed her another bowl - fish, this time - and he’d scanned her chip.

“Salem, huh? Good name for a black cat, I guess. Or black-white-and-tan, close enough. A witch’s cat, named for a town of witches.”
Salem didn’t really understand, but those were definitely colour words. He was describing her for some reason. She flicked both ears back and forth as she ate. [OKAY.]

“Looks like you belonged to a Laura Weir. Ring any bells?”

[YES,] she replied. Her tail flicked in dissatisfaction. [UNHAPPY.]

“Yikes, okay. I won’t ask. But I still have to do my job, just so you know. I can skip calling up this Laura if you really don’t want me to, but I still have to do my best to get you adopted. I hope you’re okay with that.”

Her tail kept twitching in protest, but she signed her assent. [OKAY. UNHAPPY.]

Jamie sighed, but he gave her a closed-mouth smile and blinked slowly at her like he was supposed to. She wasn’t ready return that gesture of trust, but it did make her feel a little better, so she stopped eating long enough to bow her head for a breath’s span: [THANK-YOU.]

“Hey, no problem. It’s my job to take care of you, after all.”

When Salem had finished her food, Jamie yawned and put his pen down.

“I’m too tired for this, Salem. Normally I’d be home by now. Let’s get you to sleep.”

Jamie’s idea of a nest for her wasn’t a comfortable spot on a bed, but one of the many padded mats in the shared room behind his desk. Most of the mats already had pokémon occupants, generally small mammals, but also some birds and reptiles. She’d never shared a sleeping space with anyone but Laura. She wasn’t ready to be unconscious around other pokémon yet.

While Salem peeked inside out of simple curiosity, a fluffy white rockruff spotted her, and was immediately wagging their tail and perking their ears. Alert, agitated. A threat display? She backed away, her tail quivering uncertainly.

“It’s okay, Salem. He’s making friends!”

Friends? She wasn’t sure Jamie was right. But she could try. She signed friendly intent, or something like it, blinking slowly and holding her tail up. The rockruff let out a couple of muffled ‘woofs’, not barking so loud as to wake any sleeping pokémon, but loud enough to startle her.

She growled her disapproval, and nimbly darted out of Jamie’s potential reach, hissing sharply when he approached. After a round of ineffective persuasion and cajoling from the human and insistent, defensive pokésign from her, he relented. He sighed, his hands on his hips.

“Look, I’m not taking you home with me, no matter how much fuss you make. So I’m going to let you stay in the storefront with some water and a basket, but only if you promise not to mess with anything until I’m back tomorrow, alright?”

That was too many words. She tilted her head to make Jamie explain.

He did, carefully: “You can stay here. In this room. But you have to promise to behave. Okay?”

She tried to remember the movements she needed. Hesitantly, she tried them out. Paw to her mouth, then down to her chest. [PROMISE.]

Of course, a promise made like that didn’t count for anything.

She was given a spot for her sleeping mat on the front desk. Jamie’s gaze lingered on her when he locked the door, his non-feline expression difficult for her to interpret. She met his stare evenly until he turned away, climbed into his car, and left. She had the night to herself at last, it seemed.

A soft chirruping call from behind her sent her whirling into a fierce stance, hackles raised. Her would-be opponent made no such aggressive overtures. Salem was facing a long, lithe creature with cream and violet fur, alert eyes, prominent whiskers. Long, flowing fur hanging down from the forelegs like over-sized sleeves. Female scent, and the scent of Jamie. Salem backed down. The mienshao waved one of her limp ‘sleeves’ at Salem and briefly rolled on the ground in a show of friendliness, and Salem acknowledged the gesture with a peaceable slow blink.

Mienshao’s pokésign was extraordinary. Dextrous movements with her paws, subtle movements of ears and tail, easy mastery of accent-signs using whips of her fur sleeves. It was stunningly complex, hard to follow, and made Salem deeply envious. As Mienshao signed, she also vocalised in an eager chatter which Salem had almost no understanding of whatsoever.

[I watch this place - I do this at night - at night humans are absent - I must care for pokémon - new pokémon like you who are here.]

Salem could take care of herself from here. She tried signing back, ears flattening in concentration.

[AM OKAY. NO HELP.]

[It is okay! - I will help you!]

[NO.]

[This way - this way!]

Either her articulation was more crude than she’d realised, or Mienshao was just oblivious.

Not for the first time, Salem felt that even if she had a mienshao’s body, it still wouldn’t be enough for her. She did her best with what she had, but the thoughts in her head were more than she knew how to say even with pokésign as fluent as that. She was smart for a feline pokémon, or she thought so, but really she was only smart enough to realise how much was beyond her grasp. She had to strain to understand almost all of what humans said to her, living on best-guesses and uncertain interpretations. She tried all the time. Tried so hard to understand. And this mienshao probably understood so much more than she did without really trying.

While Salem was staring into space, tail twitching in bitter exasperation, Mienshao had carried a small, cushioned basket into the storefront, and now offered it to Salem. It smelled offensively of mienshao musk, but it was still more comfortable than the mat. Salem supposed Mienshao must have a nocturnal routine, not that it mattered. She seized the gift, kneading the cushioning eagerly. Mienshao chirruped her delight and went on to bring her a water bowl and litter tray. She hadn’t used a tray in seasons; Laura’s family had a garden she’d usually gone in. Given the peculiar smell, she could figure out the idea.

A couple of the other pokémon in the shelter tried to get her attention by vocalising or signing things to her through the doorway, but she turned away, curling up tight. They could wait. She didn’t want to talk, only to rest, and let the warmth of the shelter sink into her bones a little. There were some aches in her body she hadn’t even noticed were there until they’d already begun to subside. In Mienshao’s basket, Salem drifted off within a few short breaths.

She had shallow, fitful dreams, interrupted frequently by the sounds of traffic or of other pokémon, and filled with distorted memories, running, and hiding. When she woke from a dream about a fight - not a battle for fun, but for survival - she did not return to sleep. It was the deep night, what Laura had always called the witching hour.

Salem soon found herself sat at the front window, staring out at the moon, thinking that it, at least, was constant and sincere. She felt as if she were not truly experiencing that moment in person, but simply recalling some extraordinarily vivid memory. The moon shone as if to seek out her eyes alone, and her eyes welcomed it. No matter how her life changed, she would always have the moon.

But she only had the moon until dawn, even the late dawn of the winter sun.
 
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Marika_CZ

Well-Known Member
Aw, nice character devolepment. I feel a bit sorry for Laura. I can see why Salem is disillusioned, but her human partner must have been worried sick.

This chapter nicely sets up the fact that Salem is really not happy with her life as a Pokemon and explains how come she is heading to such a drastical change that was forshadowed in the very first sentence of Ch1.

And I have a feeling Salem's going to be very, very disappointed at some point in the fic. This isn't true at all.
I agree. I wonder how is @unrepentantAuthor going to explore that, and where they take it after we get to the part where transformation actually happens.

Great job so far and looking forward to Ch3!
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Sorry for the last-minute update, I've been having a hell of a time. I might have to reduce the update frequency to once a month if things don't improve, but I'll continue to do the best I can. Enjoy, and as always, feedback of any kind, however critical or however brief, is most welcome.


Three

Salem woke from another dream in which she had been a human, only to find she was still a purrloin, for now.

In this dream, she had been unable to speak, only to sign falteringly as she already did. She distracted herself from the memory of it by searching by scent for the mienshao, who she found curled up on a shelf between pokémon products, napping soundly. She considered curling up there as well, but she didn’t know how well Mienshao was likely to take it.

When Jamie returned in the morning, Salem was waiting on the front desk, grooming herself. Her swishing tail betrayed her restlessness, but it perked up as he approached. He acknowledged her cheerfully, and when he reached out to stroke her head she did not shrink back, hoping for the first gentle scratching around her ears in moons. Instead, he tickled her chin - this was new, it was different, most of all it wasn’t as good! She tensed up around her shoulders as she warily accepted his peculiar affection.

It was still good to be petted again.

“We’ve got some visitors later on,” he told her, “so don’t be surprised by them! People who work here, people dropping off strays like yourself, maybe guests who might want to take you home with them.”

She growled at this.

“One weird one too,” he continued unabashed. “There’s this woman who booked a slot for later today who says she’s interested in taking on as many pokémon as volunteer for her project, whatever it is. Something about pokémon research, I didn’t understand it. I’d rather get you back home, or else find you a new home, but maybe you’ll be interested in her, huh?”

Salem couldn’t answer. How could she know if she’d be interested? She hadn’t met this human yet.

Jamie went on, rubbing her flank in a way that was only slightly preferable to the chin-tickling thing. “Actually, lemme think. It was research, yeah. For sure. She’s trying to improve communication with pokémon, maybe even to find better ways for pokémon to live with humans. Working together outside of battling, I mean. That’s about the size of it anyway.”

A pulse of anticipation shook her body. Had he said what she’d thought he said? She decided at once to pay careful attention once this person arrived. She couldn’t stay here, she knew that already. Staying here meant being pressured to let someone adopt her. That meant being left at home all day, obviously. This - she didn’t know what it sounded like, but it sounded better.

Much better.

At this point, she was still perfectly ignorant of the choice she was soon to make.

The sun was still young when Salem finished her morning meal. Its lives were shorter each day. This winter dawn was feeble, not quite able to illuminate the trees and buildings visible from her spot on the reception desk. Clouds overhead threatened to stifle it further. To Salem, it was a sun struggling to be born. Struggling to change.

Jamie soon released the other pokémon into a spacious yard behind the shelter to do as they pleased, but Salem stayed in the front room, as if by refusing to enter any other space in the shelter she could avoid committing herself being adopted, while still receiving the food and warmth which Jamie provided. At least until the person Jamie had mentioned arrived. Instead, she tailed him around the store and watched him work. He did a little to open the shelter’s storefront, but mostly he sat at his computer typing. Salem wished that she could read. It was a familiar wish, which flowed readily over the grooves in her brain where it had run before. Every time she wished to read, she wished harder. The grooves deepened. But she did not become literate.

Jamie mistook her spying for friendliness at first, but realised she was wasn’t looking for attention when she batted his hand away with her paw so she could keep her eyes on his work as his fingers clattered away at the keys. She reached out and pressed a paw to the keyboard just to see what it felt like. Clack! Interesting. He smiled at her and shook his head.

“What am I going to do with you, huh?”

She made no sound, no sign. The shelter wasn’t quite real yet, but every word she heard from Jamie made it more so. Whenever he spoke, it was more familiar, more comforting. She didn’t know where she wanted to end up, but it wasn’t in another domestic home. It wasn’t here.

“You know, I’m sure your owner would love to see you again.”

She hissed at Jamie, baring her teeth for long enough to send a message.

“Right, right. Fair enough.” Thus chided, Jamie went back to his work.

More humans arrived sooner than Salem was ready for. She liked Jamie! Jamie was becoming familiar. These ones were all new and crowded around in the same space! When she lived with Laura she had avoided being around more than two humans at once - it was too many for her. She couldn’t do that now, so, she waited behind Jamie’s desk until they separated. Soon, the first was sent by Jamie to tend to the pokémon in the shared room, and the other to unpack and distribute new supplies and merchandise for the shelter.

Salem followed the second human around as she stacked shelves, watching her work and studying her behaviour. She was more like Laura’s mother than like Laura, taller and stronger and more deliberate in her movements. She spotted Salem after a few minutes, and cooed her adoration, stopping to pet her. And this time - an ear scratching! Yes! Perfect! Salem leaned into it, purring like a motor.

“Aw, Jamie, who’s this? What are they, a glameow?” called the human girl.

“She’s a purrloin, Kelly! You can tell by the tail, she’s got that hook at the tip. Glameow have spiral tails.”

“Ah, gotcha! Who’s a sweet little purrloin? Huh? You’re so pretty!”

So, this human female was going to talk to her like that. That wasn’t ideal at all. Salem signed her objection: [STOP - LISTEN!]

The girl turned to Jamie, frowning. “Hey, she’s signing now. What’s she signing?”

Oh. This one couldn’t understand sign.

“Can’t see from here! Don’t get distracted, Kelly.”

“Oh, okay!”

Never mind then. Wait, what was-

The girl scooped Salem up without so much as a warning, and lifted the cat onto her shoulder. Unacceptable! Salem gave a shrill growl and leapt down, pushing off hard from her arm. She cried out in surprise, but did not pursue. Salem left her at a pace, already fretting that the other human might do something similarly startling.

The boy who’d gone to tend to the other pokémon was coming back into the storefront now, apparently in search of Jamie. He looked much older to Salem - greying hair was a sign of ageing in humans, she knew that much - and when she sniffed at his feet she detected wet soil, and the pungent smell of garden fertiliser. She miaowed for his attention, and he looked down at her with his eyes narrowed.

“James, one of the pokémon is in here. Is that allowed?” he asked, the deepness of his voice surprising Salem.

“Sure! You can say hello if you like.”

He stooped to hold out a hand for her to sniff, which was the proper way to do things. He stroked her head, not too hard. Good. This one was okay. She liked this one already.

“Alright, pussycat, I’d best be on my way,” he said. And then he stood back up and headed off to the back yard.

That was it?

Okay.

Okay…

She could handle positive relations with Jamie, she decided. He was the reasonable one. The leader, rightly so. The others, his coworkers? Less familiar, unpredictable, likely to do something objectionable. All the more reason to keep to Jamie’s side. To this end, she allowed him to pet her chin occasionally, and did not bite him when it tickled. Sadly, he didn’t get the hint when she tried head-butting his fingers.

More staff came to filter in past Jamie into the rest of the shelter. She signed to the ones with reassuring body language, and a white-coated vet even signed back for a minute, and signed well! But she was busy, and couldn’t stay. Jamie narrated some of what he and his colleagues did to Salem, as if he were compelled by the power of her curiosity alone to think aloud in her presence.

“You know, we’ve got a lot of larger pokémon in the sheds out back. Biggest one is the mudsdale. We call him Clayton. He’s a big boy, he needs plenty of room. We don’t like to keep you guys in balls too much if we can help it. It’s not healthy, you know.”

‘You know,’ he kept saying. She did not know. She knew very little, in fact.

“Salem, you really should stop pestering people with jobs to do. Go outside, there’s lots of friends to make out there!”

No, she wasn’t ready for that. Humans were hard enough. Pokémon besides other cats would be even harder. But Jamie kept encouraging her to go out back and socialise, and she kept refusing. Eventually, he went that way himself, hoping she would follow him. She resolved not to. She washed herself. She glared suspiciously at the girl stacking shelves. She quickly became bored. And finally, she relented.

There were a few pokémon still in the indoor commons, some sleeping, some watching from high perches, the rockruff chewing privately on his favourite toy. He looked up from his treat and whined plaintively at Salem, tail wagging. She wondered whether he actually knew any pokésign. Perhaps he was only a pup and hadn’t learnt any yet. He was very small after all. The thought that he might not know any sign was still somehow upsetting - how could she make herself understood to him? How would humans manage to interpret his needs?

[FRIENDLY,] she signed.

The rockruff just cocked his head, clueless. The other pokémon here were uninterested in interaction, it seemed. They didn’t respond to her miaows or signs, as a rule. A large, beige-scaled lizard - a helioptile, maybe? - signed a crude [SLEEP] at her before closing their eyes and drifting off again beneath a heat lamp. Maybe all the sociable pokémon went outside during the day.

Salem gave up on them and walked past the rockruff pup to the yard. There, she saw a multitude of pokémon running, playing, grooming each other. A furret was chasing an aipom around the circumference of the grass, apparently for the sheer joy of it. She realised at once that she hadn’t the faintest idea how to approach any of them. She knew how humans worked, she knew how battles worked, she even vaguely knew how territory disputes worked, more or less. But this was completely unfamiliar to her.

She began by approaching another dog pokémon as he finished lapping water from a bowl just outside (she wasn’t sure of the species) and signing her friendly intent. He wagged his tail fervently and hunched up with his head against the ground, signing for playtime with his ears. Salem boxed his head lightly, experimenting, and he responded with mock-snaps near her head.

They continued like this for a minute, their styles of play-fighting not quite matching up, before the dog - a herdier, that was the species! - gave up and rolled over, presumably in submission.
Salem licked his head in peaceable fashion, but she knew she wouldn’t get any proper conversation out of him. What she really wanted was someone who would talk to her and even groom together (since getting a human to read something to her seemed impossible right now). But she didn’t see any other cats that were otherwise unoccupied. This could be a frustrating day, she realised.

She checked for Jamie - he was grooming a piloswine with a fine comb. He’d be there a while, then. Good. Salem scanned the yard in hopes of finding another pokémon like mienshao. One who was more human-like in form and behaviour and therefore likely to know plenty of pokésign. She found one in the shelter of a barn at the far end of the yard, signing stories to a small audience of attentive pokémon huddled together against the massive flank of Clayton the mudsdale.

The storyteller was a throh: a squat, stout, brick-red humanoid clothed in a white martial arts gi, something throh supposedly hand-crafted themselves. On his shoulder perched a chatot, a small and colourful bird, who alternately whistled accompanying tunes and voiced the narration in human words. The pronunciation was terrible, but Salem was awed. The throh grunted expressively as he signed, sometimes laughed at the reactions of his audience, and scratched illustrations in the dirt with his stubby fingers, his prodigious black brow furrowing with concentration. A couple of times he managed short human words, or approximations of them, but the chatot did most of the spoken work.

Salem joined the crowd a little way off, and listened. She was hearing the tail-end of a story about how humans learnt how to make ‘strong stone’ from a tribe of conkeldurr many, many years ago. They must have meant concrete! The throh’s signing was not as elegant as Mienshao’s, but it was more careful, more articulate: [Afterwards, humans began to use strong stone to build a city, and then there were many cities, and then there were many humans to live there, now because of this the forest became smaller, and the pokémon did not thrive the way humans thrived.]

The chatot chirped their rough translation, adding their own spin as the story continued. “What’s that? What’s that? Conkeldurr don’t like it, gonna tell ‘em off, naughty people, naughty people! People wanna have a cake and eat! Say, no no no! Don’t tell me what to do! Conkeldurr boss, he says, please be nice now! Gave you strong stone! People say, you conkeldurr boss, not the boss of me! Forgetting strong stone gift!”

Just then, another shelter volunteer called to Jamie from the building - there was a particular visitor at the front door. He walked back inside and Salem ran back to follow him, unwilling to be left alone with the other pokémon just yet and eager to see this visitor, surely the one Jamie had told her about earlier.

The visitor was indeed much different to the others. She carried herself differently, dressed differently - although Salem could not at the time quite pick up on exactly how. Alisha was young, female, and smelled mostly - almost entirely in fact - of pokémon, but also of things that Salem couldn’t place. She dressed very differently to humans Salem was used to, although at the time she didn’t consider that useful information. She had much, much longer hair and darker skin than the humans Salem was familiar with, too. There was something else, something not quite perceptible, in her eyes and her movement that Salem was sure was unique to her among humans. When she entered the shelter, she slow-blinked at Salem before talking to Jamie. Feeling immediately reassured, Salem returned the gesture. There could have been no better introduction for her.

Salem couldn’t follow the human conversation perfectly. Jamie spoke clearly and simply enough for her to catch the gist, but Alisha talked fast and used words Salem had never heard before. She could make a stab at some of them, if she tried hard. She concentrated, and gleaned knowledge scrap by scrap: Alisha wanted pokémon who were different. Ones who should be somewhere other than here, who couldn’t be domestic pets or journey with a trainer. ‘Re-homing’ wasn’t quite ‘home’ and Salem only knew ‘work’ as Laura’s school books, but she knew ‘misfits’.

Misfits was her.

Jamie showed Alisha the pokémon outside, talking all the while, and Salem watched from the door as this unfamiliar human went forward to meet them. Alisha went from one, then to another, examining and speaking carefully to each of them in turn. She spent longer with the ones who signed back, and longest with the throh and chatot pair. Salem wanted to run over and be the next to sign to her - but she waited her turn to communicate with this human who took the time to use sign with pokémon.

Once Alisha had spoken with all the pokémon that caught her interest she selected a few, calling to each of them to follow her. Salem sat with her tail at attention, quivering with anticipation as this strange human approached.

“What about that one? The tortie purrloin,” Alisha asked.

“Oh, that’s Salem,” replied Jamie. “She turned up last night all on her own. Nobody with her.”

“Salem, huh? I’ve got a good feeling about her. How about it?”

“I don’t know, I can’t really let you have her so soon, I haven’t given her a proper checkup or finished registering her or anything yet.”

“We’ve got veterinary staff, so we’re fine for checkups.”

“Still. Procedure. Actually, I’ve already emailed her previous owner earlier today and I’m waiting for a reply. Almost everyone wants their missing pokémon back, naturally, but I guess if I haven’t heard back in a week, it’d be okay to write them off and you could take her then.”

“Can I at least ask, uh, Salem if she wants to come?”

“I could be in trouble if her owner finds I’ve let her pokémon walk out the door, sorry. She stays. All the best to you, though!”

“Same to you.”

Salem felt as if she’d swallowed a gallbladder whole, bitter bile and all. Jamie had already contacted Laura. He wouldn’t let Alisha make her an offer. He wouldn’t let her go. Her lip pulled back to snarl at Jamie, but she stopped herself. It wouldn’t help her to scold him. She had a better idea. The idea was this: Alisha was surely soon to leave, and Salem could go with her, with or without Jamie’s permission. To ‘re-homing’ and ‘work’ and ‘misfits’. It wouldn’t be easy, though.

The problem was this: Jamie wanted to keep her here for Laura to find. If she tried to follow Alisha out through the door, Jamie would certainly try to stop her. And Alisha might even help him, even while meaning well, because humans were just like that. They always, always chose what other humans wanted instead of what pokémon wanted. But if Salem could escape Jamie’s notice, maybe Alisha would take her with her. Salem needed another route to whatever life Alisha was offering, one that avoided Jamie entirely, and she had one. She’d studied the shelter carefully, and Jamie too. She knew how humans moved and perceived. She could do this. She began to make a plan.

As she did so, Jamie fetched paper for Alisha to write on, and collected her chosen few in their balls and gave them to her along with a bag of supplies and more paper. Once Alisha was done writing, she said something quietly to the pokéballs, and blew on each of them lightly. The pokémon inside wouldn’t know she’d done that, but maybe the gesture was for her own benefit rather than for theirs. Then the humans kept talking, making light conversation in the way that humans did when they made their extended farewells. Salem had her plan now, fixed in her mind.

The plan was this: The fence around the outdoor commons was high, but she had more determination than the fence had height. She could run silently through the indoor commons and out into the back yard, then vault the fence into the car park while Alisha was still loading her things into her car.

Salem did all this without feeling Jamie’s attention on her, scarcely even being noticed by the other pokémon, and landing softly on the tarmac out front without a graze. She looked at the car, almost expecting to see it leaving the parking lot. Her breath caught. Alisha had left a window open. She leapt for the gap, paws clutching the rim of the car door, anxious with every second taken to pull herself up that Jamie might rush out and retrieve her.

Jamie raised his voice. Did he see-?

Salem tumbled into the car, ducked down out of sight. Winded. Alert. Her ears pricked for his approach.

Nothing. Just laughter and human conversation.

Minutes later, when Alisha drove away from the shelter, Salem was pressed flat against the floor of the car with her claws gripping the surface and her jaw tightly shut. Beneath her growing nausea, continuing stress, and the noise of the road, Salem thought about how Alisha had wanted to ask her to come. Ask, not demand. Someone like that would talk to her. Listen to her. Even treat her like a person. Whatever Alisha’s ‘work’ turned out to be, it would be worth toughing out the car ride just for that.

She didn’t know it yet, but very soon, Salem would indeed be a person.
 
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Marika_CZ

Well-Known Member
So - this is going to be a short review, because most of my feelings characters and plot wise are already summarized in my previous one(s). You are moving your pieces to the position hinted at in the first sentence of Ch1. We get more details on why Salem would end up doing something drastic (her personality, feeling like a misfit, running away from her past). Now it is just a matter of time and being given the final push.

There is a new character emerging (at least I think; so far Alisha looks more like a plot device but I assume this is going to change once we get to know her more in future chapters), but can't comment on her since we know almost nothing about her - yet.

So instead I will comment on two interesting points (that might or might not become more important later on):

1. Laura - not sure if this is intentional (if so, well done!) or not. She has been barely mentioned since Ch1, which ironically makes it more chilling. What that girl must have gone through. First the disappearance, then when she finally is about to find Salem she will be too late. She must be heartbroken, scared, tired and possibly angry (I would be). None of this is mentioned, there is just this subtle reminder in one or two sentences per chapter that Laura still exists and therefore we will likely meet her again in the future (I will be seriously disappointed if we don't).

2. Throh & Chatot's story - unless it was just a bit of worldbuilding, mind you. To me it read like a foreshadowing of a conflict between humas and Pokemon (especially since the story is about a pokemon who would rather be human or hybrid). It will be interesting to see how that ties into Salem's personal journey.

Enjoying the story so far, looking forward to Ch4 :)
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
@Marika_CZ, thanks for reviewing! Short comments are still very much appreciated.

The final push is coming soon and it's Alisha that gives it. She's a supporting character, but she'll stay relevant for a long time.

Salem doesn't really have the cognitive capacity right now to mentally model that Laura is going to come to the shelter and discover her childhood partner pokémon has fled her once again. I chose to have Jamie contact her against Salem's wishes partly because Salem will realise this in hindsight, and because whether Salem meets Laura again or not, her former carer is going to cast a long shadow over her path to personhood.

Many chapters in the future, they will meet again.

Throh and Chatot will turn up again! I didn't specify that Alisha took them with her, but she totally did. The story about concrete is more of a folk tale based on a pokédex entry than anything in order to demonstrate that pokémon are capable of maintaining culture, but human impact on the environment and on pokémon will become a major theme of the story, yes.

Thanks again, I hope to have the next chapter up soon!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Caught up now! And I gotta say, I am absolutely loving your approach to writing Poke-POV. It's so wonderfully inhuman, yet clever and relatable at the same time, with plenty of judgements and reasonings that wouldn't work if you were just writing an actual irl cat.

I also appreciate the fact that while you have a protagonist that, until the end of chapter 3, didn't really have much of an idea of what she was doing or where she was going, she's still a very active character who's not content to let things merely happen to her. It was a lot of fun to see Salem interacting with other Pokemon, and the different ways that communication can get muddied across species lines. I especially liked the bit with Throh acting as storyteller and Chatot translating it into humanspeak.

Looks like Salem is on her way to encountering the plot very soon! Here's where things are about to get real interesting...

~Chibi~
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Thank you for your feedback, @Chibi Pika! I'm thrilled to hear that you're enjoying the story so much, particularly parts which I especially enjoyed writing. (Throh and Chatot seem to be popular, which delights me.) Glad to hear that poké-POV and the communication theme are good - you're the first person to praise Salem's activeness as a protagonist, which is something of a relief to hear. The plot is on its way, don't worry - see you next update!
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Thanks for your patience, everyone. The next update is already finished and will be up fairly soon, although it is only a short one. Chapter Five is well on its way. To those that don't know, there's now a worldbuilding thread for this story, the link for which is currently in my signature. Please do take a glance and ask some questions. And enjoy!


Four
The Culmination of a Cat

Oh! How Salem wanted to yowl out loud! Of course, even if she’d dared to cry out she couldn’t have managed to with her torso so tensed up. Instead she only gripped the fabric of the seat-well harder with every swerve and acceleration, her flank thumping against the car until she felt bruised. She began to wish that she would pass out, but she just kept clinging on. Nothing could be as painful as Alisha heading back to the shelter.

By the time Alisha stopped the car, Salem’s limbs ached, her whole body was exhausted, and her belly had churned itself into a nausea she feared would never subside. Still, the car had stopped, and that meant they had arrived! Alisha surely wouldn’t take her back to the shelter now. When Alisha got out, Salem jumped onto the back seat to peek out of the window after her, stomach still lurching. There were cars. A shop? Was Alisha getting food?

Maybe. Definitely, she could smell food. But now there was also an awful smell of petrol. The vile taste of fuel in the air pushed her over the edge.

Vomiting was never pleasant, but relief always followed. There was also the relief of having arrived at Alisha’s destination, Salem not realising what a gas station was or that humans might stop for petrol on long journeys. Unsurprisingly therefore, when Alisha came back from the gas station Salem was sitting on the driver’s seat, looking up at her expectantly. When she spotted the stowaway purrloin in her car, she reacted only with a raised eyebrow. Salem had expected a yelp of surprise, at least.

“So,” she said, grinning as she did. “I guess you wanted to come with me after all. Hey, I won’t tell Jamie you’re with me if you don’t.”

She winked at Salem, and Salem winked back, although since she couldn’t do the little cheek motion or tongue click she was really only blinking with one eye. It made Alisha smile, though, so it was good enough.

Alisha took a minute to clean up Salem’s mess with minimal grumbling, before taking the driver’s seat again. As Salem waited from her spot in the passenger seat, her previous concern with whether Alisha would take her back to Jamie was succeeded by a concern with whether she could go back to Jamie. She hadn’t wanted to. She still didn’t. But she still felt uneasy at the thought that she’d already travelled too far to go back.

The journey from that point on was gentler on Salem. Alisha drove more carefully knowing she had a pokémon riding shotgun, and the passenger seat let Salem watch the scenery go by. Salem spent a lot of time with her front paws up on the dashboard, wide-eyed at the speed of passing trees, signs, vehicles. From time to time she would spot a pokémon in a passing car looking at her and barking, or a wild one travelling on foot beside the road.

Alisha spoke up soon after Salem had her chance to rest.

“So, kitten. You must have really wanted to try something new, huh?”

Keeping her eyes on the road meant Alisha couldn’t look round at Salem to read her pokésign. Instead of signing, Salem miaowed, trying to communicate her desperation and hopes and fears all in one sound.

“That bad, huh?”

Oh! This human was smart. This was good!

“Well, you sure look banged up, I have to say. You must have been out on the street a while, I’m guessing. That’s a yes? Okay, well, you’re not hard to figure out, then. You didn’t get on so well with your human, you didn’t get on okay as a stray, and you didn’t feel happy at the shelter either. Here’s the thing. I’ve got another way for you. If you want it.”

Alisha told Salem about the future that she’d offered the other shelter pokémon, rephrasing things as she went if Salem had any trouble following the explanation. Salem listened attentively, mewing in acknowledgement with each promise. The deal was this: Salem was being offered a new home, along with other pokémon ill-suited to their previous lives. She would be asked to work hard in return, maybe fight battles if she could do that, and she couldn’t turn back once she’d made her choice. What’s more, there was another condition, one which Salem thought was a miracle, not a sacrifice, once she was sure she’d understood. Alisha explained it carefully, building up to the reveal like a hunter stalking quarry.

“I’m sure you want to evolve, one day, Salem.”

She gave an affirmative miaow.

“Maybe you’ve dreamed about it. Changing who you are so completely. Permanently. It must seem terribly exciting.”

It was exciting. Even scary. But it was something she had long aspired to, originally to be stronger on a journey with Laura, but lately just so she could be less vulnerable. To fight other pokémon for resources. Maybe even humans.

“Humans aren’t much like pokémon. Humans don’t have your strength, and humans don’t evolve. There’s no bright light when humans become adults. They change only with age, which is a slow and gradual process that nobody can avoid. You’ve spent your whole life expecting that bright light. Maybe longing for it. Perhaps you’ve longed to be human, too.”

Salem miaowed, quieter this time. That was truer than Alisha could know.

“It’s not impossible, you know.”

Alisha let the thought sink in for a few breaths. It was a strange thought. Perhaps Alisha was only being figurative. Humans did that all the time, Salem had learnt. They were on a long stretch of road now, with many other cars. Salem found herself trying to follow the green blur of roadside trees, which whipped past her field of vision faster than was comfortable for her neck to track. It occurred to her that she had finally left Laura’s city for the first time, and it hadn’t been together. How would the world be different now?

“I knew a zorua once,” Alisha continued at last. “A pokémon very much like you, Salem. She liked to talk, even though signing is difficult, and people don’t pay attention, and she knew she couldn’t ever think the way humans think. She just kept wishing she could. Sound familiar?”

It did. As familiar as hunger, as familiar as the moon.

“She had hope, though. She knew that when she evolved, she’d become a zoroark, and stand on two legs, the better to sign. Of course, even that wouldn’t be perfect. But she’d got this idea that if she wanted it badly enough, she could evolve into a human instead. If she just imagined it hard enough when the time came, she’d be engulfed in bright light, and in a flash have not only hands and fingers but a person’s voice, so she could talk to her human friends properly for the first time. She thought about it all the time. Have you ever had those kind of thoughts, Salem?”

A soft rumbling showed her admission.

“Well, that zorua got her wish, eventually. That’s what we’re doing for the pokémon who agree to our offer. We’re making them human.”

Silence. Then her heartbeat, the sounds of cars and wind and the engine noise all at once. She had to remember to breathe.

“Well, it’s a close enough thing, anyway. They’re hybrids, to tell the truth. Part human. Part pokémon. They may as well be human as far as I’m concerned. They keep all their abilities and much of their original appearance, but they have the shape of a human, and the mind and voice of one too. That makes them people the same as any human, in my opinion.”

Once again, Alisha allowed Salem to digest the idea. The thought fluttered in her stomach like nothing ever had.

“It’ll be tough if you agree to it. The actual change itself is pretty distressing to go through and there’s no way to turn back if you regret it, but it’s a chance to be different, to be better, to have an incredible life. I’d make that choice if I were a pokémon. Would you go for that, Salem?”

She miaowed earnestly, several times for emphasis. Alisha laughed gently, and said she wasn’t surprised. All Salem could think of was what Alisha had said — “the voice of a human.” She would have a proper voice. A human voice. Alisha didn’t say anything else, just turned the music up on the radio and left Salem to her thoughts. Many breaths later, when the sky was growing darker, and the car had travelled countless spans, Salem thought of the questions, “why would you do this for me?” and “are there many others who have done this?” and “how is this possible?” These were questions she didn’t know how to ask. Alisha answered one for her at least.

“It’s a lot like evolution, just slower. Someone found a way to trick a pokémon’s body so that instead of evolving normally, it becomes part-human. I don’t understand how it works any more than you do, but it works. It does take several exhausting days and growing to ten times your body weight is a huge strain, so we’ll just make sure you’re asleep for as much of it as possible and you’ll just wake up afterwards with a new body. You might not even remember any of it, if you’re lucky.”

Salem already felt lucky. Lucky enough to make up for all her months of pained survival, every scratch and bruise she’d sustained in fights over food and shelter, even the loss of Laura’s devotion. She would do anything, anything at all for this.

Alisha tried to talk a few times later in the trip, but Salem found her attention sliding off anything that Alisha said. It was too ordinary — the weather, what their destination was like, how tired she was — nothing about the shock that was her chance to become human. So instead of speaking to a silent Salem, Alisha sang along to the radio. Salem didn't recognise it, and music was mostly just an arrangement of sounds to her, but Alisha was singing with enthusiasm, and Salem enjoyed hearing that.

Later, she slept shallowly on the passenger seat as they sped along the motorway, comfortable in the evening darkness. The winter sun had died before they had even reached their destination.

Alisha woke Salem from dreamless sleep with a gentle nudge, so she stirred, got to her feet and put her paws up on the dashboard. The car pulled in through a security gate and into a large bare-earth car park, past which she saw a broad, squat building complex, surrounded by vehicles and ringed by a network of dirt roads. Further away, fences secured the area. She could have scaled them easily if not for the spooled barbs at their tops. Beyond the complex and to every side, deciduous trees sprawled across a craggy landscape for a great distance, such as Salem had only ever seen in her imagination or on Laura’s television programs. These forests felt both dreamlike and inviting to her.

Alisha got out, and retrieved her things from the back seat. Salem caught the unique scent of new pokéballs from her bags. Would pokéballs still work on her after she evolved into a human? Or a “hybrid.” That was the word Alisha had used. Salem didn’t know that word, but she could infer the meaning. She made an experimental series of swipes with her paw, trying to combine her signs for ‘pokémon’ and ‘human.’ Clawing motions for [POKÉMON.] Tapping her head for [PERSON.] One paw at her temple then slashing downward; [HUMAN-POKÉMON.] That would be her, soon. Her heart and lungs accelerated in anticipation.

“You coming, Salem?”

She chirruped her reply, and bounded up to Alisha, who led her inside one of the buildings. Part of her wanted to know what was in the other buildings and if she’d get a chance to explore them. And the forest, for that matter! Only part of her, though. Almost all of her was fixated on what was about to happen. That is, if she didn’t have to wait long. Would she have to?

They entered through double doors, and Salem scented tracked-in soil and mud, cleaning products, dozens of separate humans, and the tang of new pine furniture. Something else, too. That same peculiar smell she had detected from Alisha. She half-guessed, half-hoped that it was the smell of hybrids. Alisha waved to another human behind a desk, who waved back idly from behind a computer monitor.

As the two humans discussed things Salem didn’t know about in words she didn’t understand, she looked about the room, studying it. She wanted to at least explore if she had to wait to ‘evolve’. There wasn’t much to catch her eye, however, so she stared at the doors that led to the rest of the building, waiting for them to open. She’d been sat still practically the whole day and now her chest was thumping and her breathing was rapid; she would shoot off the first chance she got.

“...called Salem, she was at the shelter too…”

Just as Salem turned her attention back to the discussion, a door swung open for a human coming out, and Salem took the opportunity to rush past their feet and into the corridor beyond. She was grateful to see that several rooms along the length of it had windows for her to look into. She leapt up to each of them in turn, hoping to catch sight of a pokémon who’d become human or even the way in which they were transformed.

She had no luck with the two nearest rooms. The first was occupied by a dozen or so human staff, working at computers and therefore completely mysterious to Salem. The other was unlit and not in use, but she noted stacks and stacks of crates and boxes inside. When she scrambled to perch on the third window’s lip, however, she could see that leaning against the inside wall with their back to the window was a figure with a mane of sand and charcoal unlike any human hair, yet belonging to a fully clothed humanoid nonetheless. They must have heard her jumping up and scrabbling for purchase, because they turned around to look at her, and for scarcely a breath-span, Salem could see red eyes, a protruding charcoal horn, and sandy fur. Not skin. Fur. A hybrid-!

“Salem!”

She lost her grip on her perch and landed heavily on her paws. Alisha towered over her, hands on hips, but she was smiling, not frowning. Salem signed a small apology to Alisha and tried to get her excitement across with frantic mews and gestures.

“Hey, I’m excited too, but you can’t go charging round the place unsupervised, and it’s late already. We gotta get some rest. Don’t worry, I literally just put you down first on the waiting list, just because you were such a sweetheart today. You’ll get your chance tomorrow, okay?”

Tomorrow-! If only tomorrow could be now! But there was no hurrying the sun and moon. Salem would have to wait after all. Even the thought of a single night’s wait was painful!

She miaowed loudly, and signed [HUMAN-POKÉMON! FOUND!], but Alisha didn’t get the message, and lead her elsewhere in the facility. Alisha had a room of her own, and invited Salem to spend the night there. Naturally, she accepted — although, what else could she have done? It turned out Alisha didn’t have proper packaged food manufactured for pokémon consumption, but she did have the contents of half a tuna sandwich and some suitable treats. Good enough. Salem accepted, and although it took her some time to calm down, she eventually had the most restful sleep she’d managed in many moons, curled up on the corner of Alisha’s bed.

In her dreams, she was human. She stood on two legs and her paws were hands. She was walking in a forest that went on forever, when she saw her own face in a clear pool of water.

She looked something like her normal self, and something like Alisha, and something like the hybrid-person she’d spied before. She turned to look at Alisha, standing beside her, and Alisha’s face seemed to be a reflection of her own. She smiled, and felt what it was to smile. Alisha smiled back. She opened her mouth to speak-

-and Alisha was stumbling out of bed, seemingly unaware of Salem nearby.

Salem miaowed a gentle but resentful greeting. Then, when she remembered — today! It was today! This was the morning of the day she would become human! — she voiced a chirruping, lively token of her excitement.

“Good to see you, cheeky kitty,” mumbled Alisha.

Alisha calling her that wasn’t the same as Laura calling her that, but it was still faintly pleasant.

Every breath that Alisha took to wash and dress herself was a breath that Salem spent miaowing, pacing or otherwise fussing. Alisha poked gentle fun at her, called her a silly cat. This reminded her of Laura, and so she stopped agitating so much and tried as hard as she could to be patient. Her patience would be worthwhile. Alisha had a plastic-wrapped bar of something for her breakfast, and when Salem signed [FOOD] she wagged her finger, saying “sorry, kitty, but no solids before the morphing process. Strict rule.” So, no food for her, for now. This, too, would be worth it.

Everything would be worth it.

So, were they going to where she would be transformed, immediately? Not quite.

“We have to give you a little checkup first,” cautioned Alisha. “It won’t take ages, I promise.”

Alisha led Salem through the corridors of the facility, and past several human and pokémon staff, but she didn’t get another glimpse of any hybrids. Alisha spotted her looking around, guessed why, and asked if she’d like to meet one. Apparently it was normal to offer ‘candidate pokémon’ (that was her!) the chance to speak to a hybrid before going through the transformation themselves. Salem accepted with eagerness.

They carried on to the clinic for the ‘checkup’. Alisha passed Salem over to the staff and went to arrange the meeting she’d promised. True to Alisha’s word, the checkup didn’t take all day, but to Salem it may as well have lasted a moon. A veterinary nurse looked her over for injuries, illness and the like, and was kind enough to explain what she was doing as she did it, for Salem’s benefit.

Her temperature was taken, as was a blood sample (against her loud objections) and her microchip. She didn’t realise in that moment what the value of the lost microchip was, being more concerned with the indignity of having her blood taken. No cat would realise the implications of removing such a thing, and nobody would bother giving them an explanation.
Eventually, Salem was pronounced ‘in surprisingly healthy condition, considering’. She was given some tablets for nutrient deficiencies, which she swallowed only after an extended squabble, and allowed to continue on her way.

The small lounge where they were to meet a real, actual ‘pokémorph’ was a cosy place. It had a variety of different chairs, stools and sofas, apparently because comfortable seating standards were different between hybrids. There was a water cooler, a little tray of treats (which interested Salem somewhat) and a small squeeze-toy filled with catnip (which interested her enormously). This was surely all in the pursuit of her comfort! Salem went for the treats, only to be shooed away by Alisha. No solids!

While Salem played with the catnip toy, Alisha sprawled herself out on a sofa, lying on it sideways with one leg over the arm and the other hanging over the side. “I let the staff know I’d like to let you meet Church. He’s our resident ‘retired’ morph, we like him to say hello to new candidates and tell them about what they’re signing on for before they take the plunge.”

[WHAT?]

“Oh, uh, Church is a hybrid. A pokémon-made-human. His job is to meet pokémon like you, so you know what it’s like.”

[THANK-YOU.]

“No problem, kitten.”

They didn’t have to wait long for Church to knock on the door — Salem had yet to tear open the chew toy. The arrival of a [HUMAN-POKÉMON!] was far more important than catnip, however, so she sat straight up and batted the toy away, curling her tail around her paws neatly. Alisha jumped to her feet to get the door for the incoming guest, holding it open as he entered. He moved slowly, deliberately, as if each step was a choice carefully made. Alisha helped him into an armchair.

He struck an imposing figure, at first glance. He was tall, broad, and his head was crowned with enormous black horns, but as Salem watched his tree-trunk limbs move, she noticed a hesitance in his steps. Everything about Church was striking, but nothing so much as his being absolutely covered in fur. Salem had imagined hybrids to look like humans in thick coats, in her naivety, but his off-white and woolly fur thickly obscured all skin. It was especially startling to see fur where human skin would be most visible, around his neck and face. His facial fur was accented by dark markings around his eyes as if he were wearing eyeshadow or a bandit’s mask, Salem preferring to think of it as the latter.

“It’s okay, Salem,” Alisha was saying, wrongly assuming that Salem was alarmed rather than transfixed. “He’s a big teddy bear. You can come over, come say hi.”

She did, creeping up to him like she would an unfamiliar human. He leaned down, seeming like nothing so much as a tree bending in the wind as he did so, and reached out a hand for her to sniff. His hands were hands — human hands! They were furred hands, hands where the middle two fingers had the receded remnants of cloven hooves, but hands all the same. His scent was more like plants and earth than anything. Not as if he’d been rolling in a field, but as if he had been made from a grassy hill dug into the shape of a person and brought to life. He had a short mane of what Salem was sure was some kind of scrub grass, which smelled not entirely unlike a freshly mowed lawn.

As she continued to scent him, taking in the familiar and the strange all at once, he bent down to sniff her in return. With each intake and exhalation of air he made a kind of blowing, roaring snort, like any number of large mammals on the nature documentaries Laura used to watch. Salem at last detected a signature smell both like and unlike human scent and the scent of human things — the familiar smells of uncooked vegetables, and of cotton clothing.

At last, she looked up from his outstretched hand and examined Church’s appearance. He gazed back, as attentive to her as she was to him. His face had a sloping bridge higher than any human’s, and ended in the same sort of soft, leathery black nose as Salem’s. Above that high bridge were the roots of those grand, backward-curving horns that looked like nothing so much as a pair of bike handles. Church wore a pair of cargo shorts, which revealed his legs as still being hoofed and bent like a normal gogoat’s, changing only enough to support his humanoid frame and not to become perfectly human. An orange sleeveless jacket was open to bare his torso and grassy mane; it was bizarre to see something so human framing something so wild.

Seen as a whole, Salem could barely register Church as a real creature. He was like a forest beast out of a children’s book, or something from an urban myth, yet his clothes were the sort of thing Laura’s father would wear in the garden on a summer’s day. If she focused on the jacket, he felt human. If she focused on the horns, he became a pokémon. Hands; human. Hooves; pokémon. It was hard to reconcile the conflicting aspects of his appearance so that she could recognise him as somehow both, but neither. Only his scent seemed perfectly ‘both’, between human and pokémon. She signed her word for ‘hybrid’: [HUMAN-POKÉMON.]

To her surprise, he signed [human-pokémon] back to her, more fluidly than her of course but nevertheless using the same approximate gestures. He repeated the gesture experimentally, and again, until he had comfortably mastered it with a flair Salem could only dream of.

[I am a human-pokémon, yes. Hello, little one. I am-] he signed, and then he used one she didn’t recognise, placing his hands flat together as if in prayer. ‘Church’, she guessed. [It is my pleasure to meet you. I hope that you are well, and comfortable in this place.]

His pokésign was easily the best Salem had seen in her life. Not the throh from the day before, not Laura, nobody had the confident and perfect signing that this gogoat hybrid could manage. Salem missed a breath, stunned.

Alisha replied for her. “Church, this is Salem. She’s a purrloin who snuck into my car while I wasn’t looking, I guess because she was desperate to come with me rather than get adopted out. Could you tell her a little bit about what happened to you?”

“Yes,” said Church. His voice was deeper than any human’s and yet he sounded perfectly human to Salem. “I would be glad to, Alisha. Salem, is it? Welcome, Salem.”

Oh, how Salem wanted that voice for herself. Any voice at all, so long as she could speak her name.

Church told Salem who he was. He was once a riding mount for a human named Shannon Church and her companion for many years. He’d had another name back then. She had died as people often do, of an illness he had not understood, leaving him in the care of her relatives. Where Shannon had understood him perfectly, now he struggled to be heard. Nothing was the same. He had spent too long being that woman’s singular partner. Eventually Shannon’s brother let Church leave for a pokémon sanctuary. He did not belong there either, without purpose as he was. One day, a human very much like Alisha turned up. They made him an offer. He took it.

“It was hard, Salem. Understand this. I chose to become what I am because I could no longer be what I was. I took an entire moon to consider my choice, and it took longer for my body to change. It was gradual, and it was exhausting. Even painful. Do you understand this, little cat?”

[YES,] she replied at once.

Church stroked his chin with a massive hand. “Be careful, Salem. I believe you should take as much time as I did to be sure of what you want.”

Salem was already sure. And as best as she could, she said so.

[I’M HUMAN-POKÉMON. YES, SOON. I AM.]

The effort was tremendous, but Church seemed to comprehend perfectly.

“Alright, Salem. You seem very sure of yourself. I hope you will be as comfortable with your new body and mind as I have become with mine. It was nice to meet you. I trust that when we meet again you will tell me about yourself. Alisha- I am tired now. Please.”

Alisha thanked Church and helped him to his feet. Once she’d let him through the door, she gestured to Salem, who jumped down from her spot to follow her elsewhere.

“You ready now, kitten? All decided?”

[YES!]

She signed so forcefully that she almost tripped herself in doing so. Alisha laughed to herself, and lead the way.

Their destination was a white-tiled room with metal equipment and furnishings. Several beds, though not nearly as plush as the beds Salem was used to. A row of empty glass cylinders reaching from the floor to the ceiling. A small collection of humans and a short pink-and-cream pokémon following the instructions of another human, whom Alisha went to speak to. Salem did her best to listen attentively to the conversation — this was the conversation preceding the most exciting and singular event of her life! — but she only knew a tiny portion of the words being used. Still, she tried to memorise the sounds used, hoping to understand them later, as a hybrid.

There was some bickering between Alisha and the others, and Salem caught her own name. There was gesturing, and raising of voices, and “no, no, absolutely no.” Her breath died in her lungs as she feared that she might be being turned down for this, she would never be human at all, that they might send her back, send her home! But they did not send her away, even though Alisha seemed to have lost the argument. Instead, Alisha lifted her onto a bed and patted her head gently. Her breath returned with a purr.

“Looks like you get to do this the old fashioned way,” Alisha told her. That didn’t mean anything to her, but Alisha spoke so gently and with such confidence, that the fluttering of her heart ebbed at once.

Another human brought a sheaf of papers and a pen. This was what Jamie had had Alisha do — to give a ‘signature.’ She and the white-coated woman with her explained various things to Salem, carefully, but with growing impatience on the part of the stranger. Alisha admonished her more than once for this. Salem listened carefully as she was told about what was to happen. Some she already knew from Alisha or Church, and some she couldn’t understand, but there was something new — it was going to hurt. First when they pierced her skin to make her evolve, and then for days afterwards as her body changed. It would be slow. She would struggle to survive. A machine would even have to do her breathing for her.

[YOU - HELP?] she signed, hoping Alisha would understand.

“I’ll be here the whole time, Salem. I’ll do anything to make sure you make it through, okay?”
Okay. That was okay.

Salem had already struggled to survive for moons before now. If she could be human at the end of this new struggle, if Alisha would stay by her side as she gradually evolved — she would do it. When she thought about the choice, she found she’d already made it long ago, before she knew she had a choice to make.

Salem miaowed her assent and soon enough, Alisha presented Salem with a small black pad. Alisha held her paw to it, and her pads came away sticky and damp.

“Put your paw to this paper when you’re ready, kitten,” said Alisha. “That proves you understand what you’re about to do as best as we can explain to you. It gives us permission to change you.”

She didn’t hesitate. Her paw pressed the paper firmly enough to crease, and the print smudged a little as she pulled away. The woman she didn’t know took a wet wipe and cleaned her paw pad. It was unpleasant, but she wanted the ink gone and so she tolerated the sensation.

“Sorry about this,” she caught Alisha saying. Sorry for what? But she trusted Alisha. She didn’t question this.

“This might sting a little,” said the other woman.

The humans who were still strangers to her prepared a tray of small devices. She recognised the shape from visits to the pokémon centre. These objects were ‘injections.’ Was that the method? One injection and she would evolve? Not quite, it turned out. One of the humans — a man smelling only of disinfectant and not of his history or his life — took a trio of syringes and brought them to her side.

Alisha’s voice from behind him: “Try to relax, Salem.”

She did, even as this human took a buzzing razor and shaved away a patch of fur on her foreleg, held her paw firmly, and applied a syringe to her vein. She knew she was being given her dream, but still she growled through her clenched jaw at the intrusion. It only hurt as much as a warning nip from another cat, but it was all she could do not to tug away. She wouldn’t spoil this. She wanted this. She dug her claws into the bed sheet so that she wouldn’t scratch the man in a panic. He did this again with the other two injections with Salem mewling and growling the whole time, but by the time he’d found a vein for the second, she was already starting to feel different. Not different in any ‘human’ or unfamiliar way, but in the all too familiar sensations of nausea, thirst, and desperation to sleep.

She looked around for Alisha, and tried to sign for water, but she couldn’t raise her paw to her mouth. She licked her lips in vague distress. Alisha’s eyes were somewhere else. Salem turned to see what she was looking at: the other human hooking something into her skin. Not an injection this time, but something else — a transparent, flexible tube, through which ran a pale, translucent fluid. She wanted to make a miaow, just a small one, but the thought never made it from her brain to her lungs. Her mouth opened wide, but Salem could not make a sound as she fell into oblivion.

This was the moment when her story as a cat ended. The moment when the story of Salem the hybrid began.

Salem’s last thought as a purrloin was not fear, but hope.

She hoped that when she woke up, she could thank Alisha with real words.
 
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AmericanPi

Write on
Alright, first Review Game review in probably 2 years. XD It's going to be a lot shorter than my old Review Game reviews, but I hope it's still sufficient.

Overall, this is an interesting story! I'm very unfamiliar with the Pokémorph genre aside from an ill-fated Pokémon/Hunger Games crossover I did a long time ago (don't ask, haha), but I still really enjoyed reading this story, which drew me in despite me not being familiar with the Pokémorph genre. I think part of it is that I'm a sucker for xenofiction, which is basically fiction from the point of view of non-human species. I'm especially fond of stories from an animal's POV, and in the Pokéfic sphere I adore Pokémon-POV stories. The fact that I love cats, and am a huge fan of the Warrior Cats book series, makes this story even cooler for me.

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Opening: I feel that the Prelude can be stronger. Currently it feels a bit dry, like a scientist-type character is explaining things as they are. The opening of a story is one of the most important aspects of a story for me, so I would improve it by maybe starting the story with a less technical scene and then moving onto the explanation. Still, I was quickly interested by the mention of the Third Beings.

Dialogue: PokéSign is, in my opinion, one of the very creative aspects of this very creative setting. It's fascinating how in your setting things are a bit more similar to our real world, and Pokémon are somewhere between animals and anime-canon Pokémon in terms of sapience (whereas in the Pokémon anime Pokémon are somewhere between animals and humans). PokéSign is very believable, with Salem being able to communicate her needs clearly but only thinking about catlike things like food and company. Overall, I think PokéSign is a great middle ground between animal body language and human speech. I have questions about it, like how Pokémon of the same species communicate with each other and how Pokémon like Voltorb communicate, but it's an interesting invention.

Enjoyment: I think enjoyment is the most important factor for me when reading fanfiction, and if I don't enjoy reading someone's fic I kind of feel that the whole purpose of fanfiction is defeated. In this case, while the prelude was a bit dry, I really enjoyed reading about Salem's adventures. Of course, most of it is thanks to me being a huge Warrior Cats fan, and I loved the parallels between Salem's story and that of several Warriors characters. I just love stories of non-humans trying to survive while having human struggles. The unique setting, PokéSign included, was another reason why I really enjoyed this fic.

Plot: So I already mentioned how I love the setting, and unfortunately I didn't find a "Setting" category in the Review Game template. I guess I'll cover setting along with plot. The setting is really interesting because of how it's somewhere between the canonical Pokémon World and the real world, with the Pokémon behaving somewhere between canonical Pokémon and real animals. I haven't seen that kind of setting very much and I think it's cool. As for the plot, it's definitely nicely paced, with something always happening to Salem as she explores the shelter and kicks off what I believe will be a Pokémorph adventure when she hitches a ride onto Alisha's van. I like stories about the different lives of animals, Pokémon, and other non-humans, and Salem's Pokémorph adventure is just a nice bonus.

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I'm not sure how much I'll follow this story because I'm trying to focus just on one-shots on this site for the time being. I've found that I'm an awful chapterfic writer, which is why I'm going to stick to Pokémon one-shots for the foreseeable future. Still, this is a promising fic, and I like it, so great job!

Pi
 

Marika_CZ

Well-Known Member
So, finally got to read Ch4. I am going to be a tiny bit biased because we talk on discord and I already knew about the feedback this chapter got on bulbgarden forums, before I even started to read it.

Overall the chapter does feel a bit rushed. I blame the pressure to finally get to the poke morph business ASAP to be the reason :p
Two points that specifically give the impression we are moving forward too fast:

1. We barely got the glimpse of this poke morph facility / reserach center, or how things work there and we are already moving on.

2. Salem's change seems too fast. She arrives and basically gets to morph into a different form of life - in place of breakfast. No waiting for her spot on the list? No medical exam to check if she is even eligable (diseases, potential biological and chemical reactions...)? No preparation and training phase for the 'transition?' Just go in, get changed? I kinda feels like Alisha is running some sort of elaborate con business (even if she clearly isn't, since we got to see other morphs).

I feel like these points alone deserve an extra chapter. After all, you did invest in Salem staying briefly in the shelter. And that one was actually less important place than Alisha's facility. If anything you could skip or cut the shelter part and use that extra space to tell us more about poke morph facility (personally i liked the shelter scenes tho, i would prefer to keep those and just give the Alisha's facility equal level of detail... however if you are worried about your story's pacing...).

*

On the other hand, Salem's eagerness and naivety match her character perfectly. I recall some reviewers criticising her behaviour in terms of not questioning Alisha, nodding to everything etc.
But that is what I would expect from a mature reasonable person (which is not what Salem is, at least for now). We have had the forshadowing of Salem's naivety/immature take on life from the very start:

1. Escaping from Laura's place and barely acknowledging how this must have hurt her owner
2. Having over the top expectations (Becoming human will resolve all my problems! What could possibly go wrong?)
3. Trusting a stranger who basically offers a candy to her (and having no guarantees about what will happen to her once she leaves with them)

So, intentional or not I think Salem's naivety and eagerness are actually very much in character here. I expect her to wisen up a bit after she does get to morph and realizes not everything will be sunshine and rainbows ever after. So far she didnt have a reason for that because she is just after her dream atm.

That being said, you could do with at least a paragraph acknowledging this. Perhaps a brief moment where Salem realizes Alisha could be liar/kidnapper/con woman, and then quickly brushing it off because she is too excited about her dream coming true? That would show her as being naive or irresponsible, but not neccesarily stupid (and in meta meaning, this would telegraph your audience that while Salem might be naive, you as an author are not since you thought of the possibility too).

*

I also have to commend you on the cat POV. Some other reviewers already commented on this - Salem does feel like a cat just from the way you write her. It also directly leads to most dialogue being "a human and a cat Pokemon." This makes your converstaions stand out. Most of the time I see human and human or Pokemon and Pokemon in PMD. It leads to cute and unique moments like this:
“You ready now, kitten? All decided?”
[YES!]
She signed so forcefully that she almost tripped herself in doing so. Alisha laughed to herself, and lead the way.
"(...)Have you ever had those kind of thoughts, Salem?”
A soft rumbling showed her admission.
I absolutely adore those. What a treat! :)

*

Anyway, those were my main points I wanted to mention. There one or two nitpicks I also have - we can talk about those on discord if you want to.
 
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unrepentantAuthor

A cat who writes stories
Interlude I

SHP

[OPEN ENTRY #C-122F]

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[L1 ACCESS GRANTED]

[WARNING] — The contents of this article are restricted to personnel with L2-SHP clearance or equivalent.

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Perihelion Database

Entry #C-122F

“Species Hybridisation Protocol”

This article describes Species Hybridisation Protocol in general terms. See sub-entry #C-122F-a for more information on the SHP development program from an administrative perspective and sub-entry #C-122F-b for further procedural detail from a medical and scientific perspective.

Overview:
SHP is predefined procedural methodology for the use of multiple technologies in the fields of genetic engineering, medicine, and pokémon bio-energy to alter the genotype, morphology and anatomy of a pokémon so as to closely resemble that of a human being. In other words, it is a process meant to turn pokémon into near-human beings. The requisite technologies are Perihelion patents in perpetuity, but the process itself is confidential, as the existence of pokémon-human hybrids (colloquially known as pokémorphs or morphs) remains restricted information. SHP has several informal names among personnel, most commonly ‘morphing.’

Ethics:
The SHP necessarily cannot undergo a traditional public ethical review by a neutral organisation, due to the sensitive nature of the program. However, Perihelion retains a strong commitment to medical ethics, and so a private ethical review has been conducted as at 2015/11/30. The review was carried out by representatives of several accredited institutional review boards for human and pokémon experimentation in Europe and North America, those representatives having signed strict NDAs beforehand. The representatives voted in favour of approving SHP research and implementation four votes to three. Operative Alisha Renadier was instrumental in securing the winning vote, having demonstrated to the representatives the high standard of care provided for hybrid subjects.

Methodology:
The principle underpinning SHP is the possibility of permanently introducing human genetic material to the genome of a pokémon subject, in such a way as to stimulate the evolutionary mechanism of its bio-energy. This stimulation, resembling that induced by ‘evolutionary stones’ and similar devices, causes the subject to adopt a hybrid physical form. This can be done in several ways, only a few of which are practical. For more information on the scientific principles of SHP, see Further Reading below.

Generation I:
The first successful SHP procedures in 2006 were performed on embryonic subjects sustained in artificial wombs until birth. Some procedures used living surrogates to host the subjects, but this was not found to be practical. The series of experimental trials and procedures using this method, along with all subjects created as a result, are collectively known as G1. G1 hybrids commonly acquired various medical disorders arising from the difficulty in undergoing the morphing process while still in prenatal development. The G1 process was also prohibitively expensive. For these reasons, the G1 protocol has been discontinued. Although G1 SHP has the reputation of being the first successful method of creating pokémon-human hybrids, the ‘ur-hybrid’ is believed to have been created by a covert research team in the Izu Archipelago.
[ATTACHED IMAGE “G1-SHP-31.jpg” NOT DISPLAYED]
[IMAGE CAPTION: “A foetal G1 subject inside an artificial womb, shown after seven months of gestation.”]

Generation II:
Current SHP procedures are performed on living, developmentally mature pokémon using new techniques in genome editing, the most important of which is the use of synthetic retroviruses. The retroviral agent, classified as HIRA, introduces human genes to every cell in a subject’s body, then activates those genes and self-terminates on introduction of a trigger compound injected subsequently. G2 subjects have a high survival rate, rarely acquire medical complications, and experience heightened neuroplasticity for some time after the procedure. The latter effect is of significant utility in allowing new subjects to acquire language and skills at an accelerated rate for as long as six months after the procedure. The G2 process is also dramatically more economical than G1, but still has some drawbacks, particularly the difficulty in acquiring suitable pokémon subjects and the need for intensive life support while they undergo the physical transformation. Additionally, there are many pokémon species unable to undergo the G2 procedure.
[ATTACHED IMAGE “G2-SHP-54.jpg” NOT DISPLAYED]
[IMAGE CAPTION: “A mature G2 subject nearing procedural completion, suspended in a life support tank.”]

Use on Humans:
No ‘reverse’ variant of SHP has proven successful on human trial subjects at this time. No further trials are planned.

Further Research:
Lab teams in Perihelion morphing facilities are currently directed to develop improved standards for the care and training of G2 pokémorphs, and to submit proposals for a third generation protocol which places less strain on a subject’s body. There are several promising avenues for development of ‘G3’ at this time, chief among which is the potential use of depleted evolutionary stones as a vehicle for gene delivery.

Other Applications:
The equipment and technical knowledge developed through the SHP program could theoretically be used to treat genetic disease, increase human longevity, and create modified organisms other than pokémorphs, such as highly productive, nutritious and disease-resistant crops. These applications are a secondary priority at this time.

Further Reading:
See entries for [pokémorphs, genome editing, life support, infinite energy, HIRA, Mewtwo, Izu Group, Perihelion Concordat.]

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[CLOSE ENTRY]
 
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Marika_CZ

Well-Known Member
A very short review on Interlude I and Chapter 4 edits. You already know the details from our discord chat, so in short:
  • Like the Interlude but have very little to say about it. It does its job right, while being completely optional in my head. Nice worldbuilding tidbits to make the morphing process sound more realistic and scientific, tho

  • I approve of Ch4 new version :) It feels less rushed and more polished. The extra medical check up scene gives Alisha and her facility more plausibility and we see more of Salem's thoughts explored before and during the procedure start, which is always a nice touch.
Well done and good luck with Ch5 !
 
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