1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. We have received legal notice about the sharing of certain images for Pokémon Sword & Shield. Due to this, we have a new rule. If you post said images, you will be removed from the forums until 15:00 UTC on November 14th 2019. We have also killed the leak discussion threads for the time being. Thank you for your patience during this. If you have any queries, use the contact form
  3. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

Glitched

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by DeliriousAbsol, Feb 26, 2016.

  1. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I've been working on a new fanfic, quite by surprise. It was one of those that was just begging to be written. It's rather different. I really wanted to get enough written to upload for the 20th anniversary, so here we are! I hope you'll give it a go, despite its oddness, and find it an enjoyable read!
    Allow me to explain, in a quick blurb, what this story is about.

    Set in an AU Cyberpunk PMD universe, a scientific experiment has gone horribly wrong, sucking the capital city of System into a massive glitch called the Fracture, and dragging the human world into it! Humans are scattered throughout the region, some of which have gained strange abilities, or been transformed into Pokemon. Many are lying in comas, leaving only a mere handful of humans alive in System.
    Meanwhile, a small team headed by a mawile called Pixel are investigating an outbreak of a virus believed to be leaking from the Fracture and corrupting Pokemon and the entire region slowly but surely. They team up with a human/talonflame named Switch and a corrupted meowstic named Vector to try and stop the virus at its source, even if that means risking their lives by breaching the Fracture... AKA Glitch City.


    Yes. It's a strange one! I've currently written not quite seven chapters, so updates are going to be weekly while I try to keep my head above the water. Feedback is always appreciated, but so are silent reads! =D (Don't worry. The End is finished and is being updated regularly! This is just something new I'm currently working on.

    Warning: Some scenes have graphic descriptions of blood that some might find disturbing.

    Disclaimer - I do NOT own Pokemon or any of its critters!


    Glitched

    Prologue​

    The air was different in this area of System, heavier, and seemed to have a static about it that made Vector's fur stand on end. The meowstic and his teammates stood a few feet away from the distorted scenery, a corrupted reflection of the abandoned villages around them. Strings of letters and numbers stretched up from the ground towards the sky, changing intermittently. Nothing but jargon to the pokemon that watched them with curious eyes.

    He'd never been this close to the Fracture. No one dared. From the day it appeared, the world had received a massive blow. Seed – the former capital city of System – had, as a result of some unknown event, been sucked into what they could only describe as a 'fracture'. The event had pulled humans into their world, humans who wanted to go back home.

    Vector clenched his fist as he stared at the anomaly. It wasn't news to him that pokemon had sent drones into this thing. Drones that had never made it back. Drones that had lost their signal, that those who sent them had been unable to track.

    “All right, Bridge!”

    The sudden outburst didn't just startle Vector. The pachirisu beside him let out a loud squeak as the pair of them turned to face the speaker – a throh named Raw.

    The large fighting pokemon marched through the small group towards the Fracture, holding a small computer in his hand. He nodded a couple of times then turned back to them.

    “We're going in,” he said.

    Vector felt his throat turn dry and he looked back up at the jumble of letters and numbers that impossibly made less sense than they had previously.

    Going in...

    “Make sure you stick together,” Raw went on. “We don't want any mishaps. Our mission is simple – get in there, trigger what started the Fracture in the first place, and hopefully reverse the problem and bridge a way back home for the humans.”

    Simple...

    It didn't sound simple anymore.

    “We don't know what caused it in the first place,” said Vector.

    Raw looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. “The idea is we find out what it is. Explore. We believed it to be an explosion. If it is, we cause another one.”

    Vector snorted. “What? And risk blowing the place to bits?”

    “Pull yourself together, soldier!”

    Vector stared at the throh, meeting his eyes and reflecting his frown. His paws fell to his sides and he looked away, casting a glance over the rest of the team – the young pachirisu, a frogadier and a graveler.

    “Now hurry,” Raw commanded. “We're going in. We've not a moment to lose.”

    Vector watched as the throh turned away, the rest of the pokemon following after him. His paws wouldn't move. That wall of incoherent text seemed as formidable as steel.

    Raw reached the edge of the Fracture and looked back at him with a scowl. “Vector! Hurry up!”

    The meowstic met his eyes again briefly and shook his head. “Sorry. It's too risky.”

    “The benefits outweigh the risks! We could be saving lives!”

    Vector bit his lip and clenched his paws so tight his claws dug into his pads.

    “What's your problem?” Raw barked. “You were all for this! Most of the ideas here are yours!”

    “We might not come back...”

    Raw's scowl fell as he rolled his eyes. “All right. Forget it. We're going without you.” He turned back to the Fracture and closed the small computer, letting it hang from a belt around his waist. “Come on, Bridge. Vector will stand watch and keep an eye open.”

    It was all he could do to watch.

    The group of explorers vanished through the Fracture wall, their forms distorting and vanishing as the text washed over them, the air once more reflecting the desolate wreckage around it. Former towns, crumbling buildings covered in weeds, trees that seemed hauntingly lifeless even though their branches were full of leaves, swaying on the static-filled air.

    He had no idea how long he stood there. It seemed like an eternity, but the sun had barely shifted in the sky when the wall to the Fracture vibrated, a deep rumble coming from somewhere deep within it.

    An explosion.

    His heart leapt at the thought of them finding it, at the thought of the Fracture breaking and the world returning to normal.

    His dreams were short lived. The wall lurched, a bright flash spanning from it as the explosion dragged up the ground, scattering it into the air where it vanished. A fissure expanded through the floor shaking every rock beneath his paws and he flailed his arms as he tried to run backwards. His eyes didn't leave the endless drop that seemed to be chasing his feet. Nothing fell into it, it just vanished. The buildings, the trees – they all disappeared as the light engulfed them.

    Then it washed over him. An awful, electrical surge that caused his scream to die on his lips. He watched in horror as the blue fur on his arms slowly drained of its colour. The strength drained from his body and he crumpled to the ground.

    Then everything went black.

    ...​

    The flash had seemed like a mere blink on the horizon, but the noise alone caused Switch to falter in the air and almost plummet to the floor. He flapped his red wings frantically as he tried to remain airborne, watching as the light flickered away. It could only have been an explosion, but the location... his heart hammered in his chest.

    He'd been heading that way.

    He stared at the point the light had vanished. It seemed oddly silent now. Almost normal. What had caused that flash?

    The talonflame shook himself sharply and turned a full one-eighty. His curiosity wasn't worth the risk. Whatever had happened over there wasn't any of his business, but he couldn't let the incident go unvoiced. Whatever it was reeked of danger. Maybe someone back at base would know more about it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
  2. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    1 – Bar Room Brawl​

    “Pixel? Pixel!”

    The mawile's dream of frozen berry sorbet shattered and she blinked her eyes open, the former dessert now replaced by fluffy, white clouds blotted across a brilliant blue sky. They moved overhead as the drifting continent floated silently beneath them.

    “Pixel!”

    The face of an ivysaur blocked her view of the sky and he flashed his teeth in a grin.

    “Come on, sleepyhead! We're almost there.”

    “Oh, Leaf.” Pixel sat up and closed her eyes in a smile as she rubbed her paw on the back of her head. “I guess I nodded off.”

    The ivysaur offered his paw and pulled her to her feet. “If I could fall asleep in a sunbeam as easy as you do, we wouldn't be getting anywhere fast.”

    He flashed her another grin and turned away from her, rushing back towards the large tower that marked their headquarters atop Cyan Island. Leaf waved his card key at the door and it slid open, and he held it in place so she could slip in ahead of him.

    “I think we might be getting warmer this time.” Leaf followed her down the spiral staircase. “Raster is one of the towns she was dealing with.”

    Pixel glanced back at him. “So you think Retro might be in Raster Town?”

    Leaf shook his head, making his bobbing shadow behave even more erratic in the flickering light. Pixel filed a mental note to get the bulb replaced.

    “I'd be surprised if she were still there. But someone might know where she went.”

    She bit her lip and turned her attention to the final two steps. She hopped into the hallway and used her card key to open the control room. Flashing lights danced over the buttons and screens on the vast platform that Leaf manned with phenomenal expertise. A pair of emolga twins named Nybble and Byte sat on either side of a large chair checking over information as it popped up on hologram screens, most of which were requests and news from System. One of the boxes was highlighted – the last mission Retro had taken before she vanished.

    The ivysaur scurried over to the control deck and jabbed a claw at an image of a large map. “We'll be floating over it in about ten minutes. You'll have enough time to disembark and ask a few questions before the continent turns to head east.”

    She nodded her understanding as she watched the little blinking dot that was the drifting continent head steadily towards the spot Leaf had marked. If they really could get information on where Retro had got to, it would really help lift the concerns their small team already had. Any news that their boss hadn't actually contracted the virus would give them new hope in actually finding her.

    And maybe the other missing members of their team, too.

    “Get to the drop point,” Leaf told her. “I'll stay in touch over the head set, like I normally do.”

    Pixel nodded again and turned to head back into the hallway. “I'll try and be as fast as I can.”

    “Do.” He scratched his head beneath his headphones. “Remember, all I can do is slow the continent. I can't stop it.”

    She flashed him a grin and bolted from the room, her scarf billowing behind her and almost getting caught in the door as it hissed shut after her. The drop point was only a short walk away, down another flight of steps. Cold air whipped up from the hole at the bottom which provided a fantastic view of the desert and towns below.

    On impulse, she reached out behind her and grabbed the foot of the beam ladder. It looked like nothing more than a horizontal cylinder of pale purple light, but was as solid as steel. She'd never questioned how it worked. As far as she knew, all drifting continents had them.

    “Pixel?” came Leaf's voice from her head set. “I'm letting you down.”

    “Great!” She grinned and pulled her pink-rimmed goggles down over her eyes. “I'm ready!”

    She gripped the beam tight as the ladder dropped from the wall. It descended quickly, making it feel like her stomach had been left behind her. The sound of the other rungs appearing above her rang out in a series of electronic flashes. It slowed down as it reached the ground and she let go, landing on her feet with a soft tap.

    Raster Town.

    It was one of those towns that didn't look as advanced as the cities that sprouted up in the distance. There were no tower blocks, no electronic billboards advertising the latest in berry juice or the most popular music releases. The buildings looked worn, dyed a dingy brown from the dry air of the desert just outside it. Even the street seemed to be made entirely of dirt due to the sand trampled into the tarmac. The only sign that reminded her this town was still connected to System was the giant antennae standing in the middle of it, its narrow point visible over the rickety houses and shop buildings occasionally flashing between blue and green as it transmitted its signal.

    There wasn't a single pokemon on the streets. It felt like a ghost town. She strutted between the buildings casting her eyes over the windows. The shops seemed empty save for one or two customers, giving her reassurance that the town was indeed inhabited.

    As she rounded a corner past a little bakery, the soft sound of music reached her ears. She turned her head to follow it, and standing on her left a few feet away was a bar, its stable doors swaying in the breeze. Leaning against the wall beside them stood a gabite chewing on a stiff twig with his arms crossed.

    A huge smile spread across her face as she swelled with optimism. A watering hole. If she was going to find any information anywhere in this town, it would be there.

    She trotted over to it, her scarf whipped up in the sudden wind. Sand brushed against her fur and she instinctively closed her eyes behind her goggles. As she reached the bar, the gabite peered at her below his wide-brimmed hat and followed her with his eyes. She acknowledged him with a brief nod before pushing through the swinging doors.

    The smell of old fermented berry juice and sweat stung her nose and she masked a grimace, disguising her hesitation as curiosity by pushing her goggles up onto her head and scoping out the inhabitants of the bar. A pair of cacturne and a krookodile sat in a corner playing cards, while in another corner far from the door were a garchomp, krokorok and heliolisk muttering quietly amongst themselves. A handful of pokemon were gathered around the bar on stools while two maractus trotted back and forth serving drinks.

    Most of the pokemon were the sort she'd expect to be living in such a warm, desert area, but what piqued her interest was the bored-looking human sat alone sipping at a green drink. She didn't know a whole lot about humans, but what always fascinated her was the fact that they seemed to make up for their lack of fur by wearing far more accessories than pokemon. However, the amount of layers on this human seemed to be causing him a bit of distress as his untidy brown hair was half-plastered to his forehead, the humidity emphasising his red highlights. From his flight jacket and long brown scarf to his heavy black cargo pants and black boots, he certainly wasn't dressed for the desert.

    She turned her attention away and scoped out the pokemon again. Any one of those here might know something about Retro or the other missing investigators. She just needed to find the right one to ask.

    One of the maractus gave her a smile and she flashed one back, making her way over to the bar. She squeezed between a tyranitar and sandslash, perching on a small step and pulling herself up so she could see over the counter, and waved.

    “I'd like a cheri juice, please?”

    The tyranitar and sandslash burst into laughter, and the latter struck the bar with his claws as he tried to regain himself. She looked from each of them, feeling her face heat up with embarrassment.

    “What?” she asked.

    The maractus smiled. “We don't do cheri juice here,” she explained.

    “Aye!” The tyranitar wiped a tear away from his eye with a claw. “Y'can get yer girly drink in the city, lass.”

    Pixel crinkled her muzzle in a frown and eyed up the incomprehensible menu. “Then... I'll have... what do you do?”

    “Rabuta, watmel, durin and maranga,” answered the maractus. “We also do some apicot and ganlon mixes.”

    Pixel eyed up the tyranitar's rather sour smelling blue drink and decided strongly against it.

    “Watmel, please.”

    The maractus grabbed a glass and filled it with a translucent pink liquid. The glass was placed with a clatter in front of Pixel and she watched the juice slosh around inside before it settled into place. Already condensation was trickling down the surface. She gave it a cursory sniff before sipping it. The sweet flavour she'd expected was somewhat watered down. She thanked the bar maid and handed her a silver coin.

    “I was wondering if you could help me,” she said.

    The maractus raised an eyebrow at her as she absently grabbed an empty glass from the sandslash. The two large pokemon on ether side of Pixel eyed her curiously.

    “I'm looking for someone,” she went on. “A pokemon called Retro.”

    The tyranitar snorted. “Never 'eard of him.”

    “She,” Pixel corrected.

    The tyranitar snorted again.

    “We think she was around here before she went missing,” she said.

    The sandslash quietly sipped his drink while the tyranitar decided to forget about her, clearly more interested in the contents of his glass.

    “I'm afraid I can't help you,” said the maractus. “We know all the regulars here, and no one by the name of 'Retro' has been here. You and the strange human over there are the first new customers we've had in weeks.”

    The tyranitar twisted on his stool to look back at the human and grunted, taking a massive swig of his drink.

    Pixel followed his gaze, then glanced around the rest of the bar. Maybe someone else might know something? Hopefully the cacturne and his friends wouldn't mind her interrupting their game of cards.

    “Oi!”

    The voice made her snap her head round so quickly she almost stumbled off her perch. The garchomp had abandoned his table and stood behind the human with his arms folded, his mouth twisted into a sneer so his sharp canines poked intimidatingly from his lips. The krokorok and heliolisk weren't far behind him, and the pair of them looked as annoyed as he was.

    The human lowered his glass but he didn't look back at them. “What?”

    “We don't have humans here in Raster,” the garchomp growled. “You filth ain't welcome.”

    The human looked back at him now, not a single hint of fear in his eyes. “You think we're here by choice?”

    “You're in this bar by choice,” hissed the heliolisk.

    “Choice or not,” rumbled the garchomp, “it's you stinkin' humans' fault this world's sufferin'!”

    The human looked away and tutted.

    The garchomp's voice took on a dangerous note. “Get out, or we'll throw you out.”

    “We won't just throw you out either,” said the krokorok. “There'll be nowt left of you when we're done.”

    Pixel balled her paw into a fist. She'd seen enough. Abandoning her glass on the bar, she hopped from her perch and trotted over to the garchomp.

    The tyranitar turned in his seat, his eyes wide as he watched her. “No, no, no! Kid!”

    “Hey!” She came to a stop between the dragon pokemon and the human. “Leave him alone.”

    The garchomp's eyes widened with surprise briefly. A chuckle escaped his mouth and he glanced back at his friends.

    “Look at this! This little runt here wants us to leave this vermin alone!”

    Pixel's jaw dropped. “Vermin?”

    The human snorted. “You should be more offended about them calling you a runt.”

    She waved him off. “In what way are humans vermin? There's hardly any of them in this world.”

    The garchomp leant towards her, the smell of fermented berries thick on his breath. “They brought a disease with 'em!”

    She grimaced as her eyes watered and pushed him back firmly by the snout. “They didn't bring the virus with them.”

    He spread his arms wide in a shrug. “Then where's it come from? Eh?!”

    “Where did pokerus come from? Or the common cold?”

    “Pokerus don't harm ya. And the cold only harms the sickly.” He crossed his arms again and leant towards her. “My big brother, however, caught that wretched virus and now his hide is made of ice!”

    She pointed behind her at the human. “It doesn't mean he's got anything to do with it.”

    “Leave it.” The human stood up and fired the garchomp a glance. “I know when I'm not welcome. I'm leaving.”

    The garchomp shoved Pixel aside and she stumbled into a chair with a yelp.

    “No yer not!” he boomed. “I've changed my mind! We're gonna pound yer wretched bones into dust.”

    The human looked back at the garchomp and gave an irritated sigh. He span as the dragon pokemon lurched at him, raising his arms to defend himself against his sharp claws.

    Pixel pushed herself from the floor and leapt between them, raising her horn up in an arc to strike the garchomp on the chin. He keeled back from her into the krokorok and the pair of them fell into their table.

    The resounding crash was followed by a couple of squeals as many of the bar's occupants made the wise decision to leave. Only the card-playing gang, the tyranitar and the sandslash decided to stay, watching the events unfold. Even the two maractus were nowhere to be seen.

    Pixel's heart pounded as she watched the dragon push himself back up. He wiped blood from his lips with a claw and spat onto the dusty floor, fixing her in a yellow leer.

    “You have no idea what you've just got yerself into, squirt.” He rounded on his friends. “Deal with her! I'll sort the human scum out!”

    Pixel braced herself as the krokorok and heliolisk raced at her, sparks dancing on the reptile's body as his frill fanned out and flashed with a blinding light. She closed her eyes and span, catching one of them in the jaws of her horn and swinging him blindly round over her head before she released him to crash into the table. As the dazzle spots cleared from her eyes she realised with a wave of relief she'd caught the heliolisk. He lay sparking on top of the garchomp who spat a chain of insults as he turfed the reptile off him. She brought her arms up to block the krokorok's snapping jaws and tossed him towards his fallen comrade, knocking the garchomps feet out from beneath him.

    “Not bad,” said the human.

    “Okay.” Keeping her eye on the riled dragon, she turned to the door. “I think we can go now.”

    The human placed a hand on her shoulder. “I don't think so.”

    She followed his gaze to the door. The two cacturne and the krookodile stood barring their way, the krookodile's maw flashing two rows of sharp teeth.

    “Pick on my little brother?” he growled. “You've got some nerve!”

    Pixel glanced back at the dazed krokorok and put two and two together. She gulped and looked back at the large crocodile. The garchomp was currently pulling himself to his feet behind them, and his two friends were only dazed. If they managed to pull themselves together, she'd be rather outnumbered.

    “I can deal with the cacturne,” said the human. “You sort out the krookodile.”

    Pixel looked up at him sharply. “What?”

    Her attention was drawn to a chunky watch on his right wrist. He pressed a small button on it and his body distorted and shrank down, turning a dramatic red and black. Two wings shot out to the side as he rose into the air, flames dancing around his body and emanating off him to engulf the two cacturne. As the flames subsided, she got a good look at the creature flying above her.

    A talonflame! She shook her head in disbelief. That human was a talonflame?

    “Watch out, lass!”

    She jerked her head around as the tyaranitar bounded past her and collided with the garchomp, beating him back with his tail. The Sandslash had already intersected the heliolisk during her confusion.

    She shook herself and turned back to the krookodile who was trying in vain to swat the talonflame. Spinning so her horn was facing him, she lurched towards him and caught him in her jaws, swinging him behind her and clearing the way to the doors.

    As they burst outside, the gang of riled pokemon flowed after them. The gabite beside the door leapt back with a squeak and the hat fell off his head to be caught in a sudden breeze. Their yells filled the street as they clambered over one another to get to the fleeing mawile and talonflame. Pixel felt a pair of claws fasten over her shoulders and she was lifted into the air with a yelp. The krokorok skidded face first in the dirt as his tackle missed her, dragging up sand to reveal the tarmac beneath it.

    She looked up at the talonflame's mottled stomach and felt a smile spread across her face.

    “Thanks!” she said.

    He glanced down at her and winked. “Don't mention it. I should be thanking you! So, where are you heading? I don't imagine you're staying in Raster?”

    She shook her head. “No. If you just drop me over there,” she pointed to a spot in the desert cast in a heavy shadow from Cyan Island, “that would be great!”

    “What? In the desert?” He frowned. “I don't think the desert is a good place for a steel type. Besides, the pokemon there are as rough as they are in the town.”

    “I'll be able to get back home from there,” she explained. “I live on that drifting continent.”

    A look of realisation crossed his face as he looked up at the massive floating island and he beat his wings, rising higher into the air.

    “What are you doing?!” She wriggled in his grip.

    “Taking you home!”

    “It's authorised pokemon only!”

    “I'm with you aren't I?” He chuckled. “You can vouch for me!”

    Cyan Island grew closer and closer as the talonflame sped towards it creating a growing dread over her. The secret base of the Cyan Investigation Squad, unknown to those who didn't reside on the island, at risk of being discovered by a human.

    A human...

    She looked back up at the flying pokemon as her mind reeled with confusion.

    He glanced back down at her. “Did I hear you talking about a missing pokemon?”

    “Huh?” Her mind snapped back into reality and she nodded with a jerk. “Yes! We're missing three pokemon actually.”

    “But you were only asking for one?”

    “There was no point asking about all three,” she said. “I was told no newcomers had been in for weeks.”

    “Huh.” He inclined his head on one side. “I travel a lot so I might be able to help you. What pokemon are they?”

    She pursed her lips and watched the base draw closer. “A charmander, a buneary and a mew.”

    His wings went rigid and he swerved precariously, giving Pixel a good view of the desert below. Her stomach lurched into her throat as he lost altitude and she yelled, clutching at his claws with her paws in a desperate bid to not hit the ground. He regained his composure and lifted them back up above the continent again.

    “A mew?” he gasped.

    She tore her eyes from the ground and looked up at him, taking in his wide, surprised eyes. “I guess you haven't seen her then?”

    He fired her a confused glance and looked back at the drifting continent. “No... no, I haven't seen a mew.”

    They flew in silence for a moment, and when the solid ground of Cyan Island appeared below them, he dipped down towards it and her feet finally touched the soft grass. He landed beside her with a thud as he took on his human form and cast his eyes over the little houses at the far end of the island and the tower on their right, separated by a massive meadow.

    “So, tell me.” He turned on the spot to face her. “How are you friends with a mew?”

    “I can't go into detail,” she said. “She's a friend of ours, and she's missing. She went to Raster with Nano and Chip and they didn't come back. That's all I can tell you.”

    He looked away from her, back out at the sky as it passed them by. “Let's hope she's not fallen victim to the virus.”

    She stared at him silently, her eyes trailing down his arm and lingering on his watch. She realised she'd been staring too long when he looked down at her and raised an eyebrow.

    “How -” She paused and cleared her throat. “How do you change form like that?”

    He closed his eyes and smirked. “Science.”

    Her eyes widened in a questioning stare.

    “It's common knowledge that when humans came into this world some stayed as humans and some were turned into pokemon.” He gave her a smile. “But a small number manage to change between the two.”

    “How small a number?” she asked.

    “Two.” He looked away again. “It was actually a huge problem, because neither of us had control of it. It would happen randomly, sometimes in quick succession. Fortunately I found someone who could help stabilize it to such a degree I can go back and forth at the push of a button.”

    “And what about the other human?”

    He was silent as he stared out at the sky. Finally he crossed his arms and closed his eyes as he said, quite flatly, “Quarantine.”

    Pixel played with the hem of her scarf, staring at its pattern of pink squares and rectangles against a blue background. “They got the virus?”

    “No.” He scratched his head and sighed. “Some humans just can't handle being here. Anyway. I need to go back, otherwise they're going to be sending out a search party.” He smiled at her and gave her a wink. “Now I know who you're looking for, I'll let you know if I find them.”

    “Wait!” She grabbed his sleeve as he went to raise his watch. “You never told me your name.”

    He laughed. “It's Switch.”

    She released his sleeve and smiled. “Pixel.”

    “All right, Pixel. Then I'll be seeing you!” He rose into the air as his talonflame form solidified and span to face her, beating at the air with his strong wings. “I don't imagine this continent will be hard to find if I have information for you?”

    She shook her head and smiled. “But I need to remind you-”

    “I know, I know.” He nodded. “Authorised pokemon only.”

    She laughed and he gave her a grin. With another wink, he did a backflip and took off through the sky, performing a small corkscrew as he vanished behind a cloud.
     
  3. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    2 - Gateway​

    Leaf almost dropped his headphones. “You brought a human here?”

    Pixel leant back against the sliding doors and crossed her arms. “I didn't bring him here. He flew me here then left.”

    “Argh.” Leaf closed his eyes and popped his headphones back over his ears. “I can't believe you breached security like that. And a human of all things?”

    “I told him it was authorised pokemon only. I'm guessing that's why he didn't stick around.”

    He ran a paw over his face with a flustered sigh.

    “Besides.” She narrowed her eyes at the ivysaur. “You're not one of those who believe humans brought the virus here are you? I mean... there have been humans living in System for more than a decade, and the virus only cropped up a month ago.”

    Leaf sighed and shifted under the gaze of Pixel and the emolga twins. He turned back to the control deck and scrolled absently through pages of text.

    “There's not enough evidence to support either side,” he said. “We don't know if humans carry the virus or if they can even be affected by it. All we know is three of our members are lying in quarantine while another three have gone missing.”

    She looked away from him and stared at the blank wall. It wasn't unusual for pokemon to react negatively to humans. Since they appeared in System, they'd been forced to live alongside them. Some of them were transformed into pokemon, while many others received such a shock as they were dragged through the fracture they went into comas and had been filling hospital wards for twelve years. Finding one outside the form of a pokemon was an anomaly in itself and Leaf clearly didn't like it.

    It was probably better to change the subject.

    “Where do you want me to go next?” she asked.

    “Call it a day.” He flicked a claw on one of the hologram screens, making the text move so quickly she wondered if he was even reading it. “There are a couple of new situations that have cropped up but they're a good way away yet. I might assign Nybble and Byte to them actually.”

    The two emolga span sharply in their seats on either side of him, giving him identical stares of bewilderment.

    “You don't need us here?” they asked simultaneously.

    “What about the communication system?” Nybble asked.

    “You might need me to answer the phone!” said Byte.

    Leaf laughed and rubbed the back of his head. “Calm down. We're short staffed right now!” He looked back at Pixel. “Besides. I need you in case any news on Retro, Nano or Chip comes up. My heart skips a beat whenever I hear of new cases showing up at the hospitals and quarantine.” His voice dropped in volume as he muttered to himself, “We might not even be able to recognise them any more.”

    Pixel felt her stomach tie in knots. She turned and scanned the door open.

    “I'll be at home if you need me.”

    Leaf waved a paw behind him. “I'll let you know when we start drawing close to Meta City.”

    She quickly glanced the map, catching the blinking dot as it drifted east towards a digital sketched drawing of a group of tower blocks. Meta City. System's main metropolis. If you were looking for it, it was probably there. Somehow she felt they weren't visiting simply for a shopping trip. She turned and paused with one paw on the door and glanced back at Leaf. He had his back to her, still tapping away at the holographic screens.

    “I'm sorry.”

    “Huh?” He raised an eyebrow at her over his shoulder.

    “For bringing someone to the base,” she explained. “I'm sorry.”

    He chuckled and waved her off. “Forget about it. No harm done. See you in the morning.”

    She grinned and trotted from the room as the door hissed shut behind her. Since he'd let her off early, there were a good couple of hours of sunlight left yet. Its rays danced across the grass and cast long shadows from the trees and little houses. She threw herself down into one of the beams and let out a long sigh as she stared up at the sky. Not a single grey cloud threatened her relaxing afternoon.

    It wasn't long before the warm sunlight had lulled her to sleep.

    ...​

    The small city of Spool squatted on the outskirts of System's bustling metropolis. So far it had no recorded cases of the virus. Meta did a good job of keeping the virus contained within the hospital wards. That filled Switch with relief. Spool had its own problems.

    He released his talonflame form and landed in a crouch at the mouth of an alley between a boarded up book store and a beauty salon that even at this time of night stunk of acrylic. He crinkled his nose and moved away from it down the narrow alley, shutting out the jeering voices from the stunky and rattata pair across the street and keeping a careful eye on the piled up bin bags and overflowing trash cans.

    Sirens blared in the distance, growing in volume as the emergency group – police, hospital, he didn't know which it was – drew closer.

    One of the bins opened beside him and he stepped back, bringing his fists up to his chest. Two long ears twitched as a trubbish peered out at him, then turned its eyes in the direction of the sirens.

    “I didn't do anything!” he wailed.

    Switch lowered his arms and turned away. “Then stay in the trash can, Kurg.”

    The trubbish grunted and pulled the lid back over himself.

    Giving a small sigh of relief, Switch continued down the alley until his eyes fell on an open manhole cover. He muttered under his breath and climbed onto the ladder, dragging the cover back over the hole with a loud clatter. The fetid smell of the sewers filled his nose, urging him to speed up. He dropped the rest of the way, the metal grate clattering under his weight. It was a short trot around the corner to a thick cable hanging down from another manhole cover. This one, however, had been put in place fairly recently. He shimmied up it and shoved the lid out of the way, breathing in musty air as he clambered out of the sewers and into a dark corridor. Lights blinked from the room on his left, generated merely from seven computer screens.

    The small room housed two long desks each holding up computers that were retro in design compared to the holographic screens most pokemon operated, however only two were currently occupied. A helioptile and lillipup nattered amongst themselves while the helioptile worked on a strange device at the back of the room. The lillipup had a diagram of it open on his computer screen, but seemed more interested in the conversation they were having which was heavily dominated by the lillipup. The device closely resembled a very old camera, except it didn't have a lens and where the flash would be was instead a large round disc with lots of small bulbs around the perimeter. Ignoring the conversation around him was a pikachu dressed in a suit, sat in a high backed chair with his back to the door. Connor, the very definition of a hermit. He'd founded the small group and made the building impossible to leave or enter without taking a detour through the sewers.

    The lillipup turned his head as Switch entered the room and a grin spread across his face while his tail turned into a blur behind him.

    “Oh! You're back!”

    “Who left the manhole cover open?” he asked.

    The lillipup lowered his head and his ears drooped. “Oops...”

    “Switch!” The pikachu span in his chair, his look contrasting that of the lillipup as he gave him a frown.

    “What?” Switch asked. “No wagging tail?”

    Connor practically bristled. “Where is it?”

    Switch let out a sigh and fell down into one of the spare chairs.

    “The component,” Connor demanded. “You said you were going to Raster for it. Where is it?”

    Switch closed his eyes and shrugged. “I didn't get it.”

    “Then what did you go all the way out there for?”

    “The pokemon that had put out the advert for the dynamo wasn't there,” Switch explained. “And I had no time to go looking for him either. They don't exactly give humans a warm welcome.”

    Connor slammed his paw into his face and groaned. “You moron! You went full-human didn't you! I made you that watch so you could stick to one shape.”

    “You try picking up a glass without fingers.”

    Connor looked down at his paws and narrowed his eyes at him.

    “Or paws,” Switch added.

    Connor leapt from his seat and took a couple of steps towards him, electricity bouncing off his cheeks. Switch did a quick mental calculation of how long it would take him to reach the door.

    “Sometimes I think you find this funny!” screeched the pikachu.

    “Funny? I'm stuck in this world just like you are.”

    Connor snorted and strutted back to his chair. “You don't act like it.”

    The other two pokemon had been sat silently watching the heated discussion, looking back and forth between them. Connor rounded on them and narrowed his eyes.

    “Come on! We've got work to do! Diode, focus on getting that laser to work. And N00b...”

    The lillipup's tongue lolled from his mouth in a grin while he excitedly wagged his tail.

    Connor waved a paw at him and looked away. “Make me some coffee.”

    The little terrier bolted from the room towards the adjoining kitchen. Switch watched him go, briefly wondering if he needed a hand. The sound of shattering pottery solidified his curiosity and he caught a glimpse of Connor ramming his head into the computer's keyboard.

    Switch pushed himself to his feet and went to assist N00b in the kitchen, relieving the lillipup of his duties and suggesting he sweep the floor instead.

    Within minutes, Connor had a steaming cup of coffee and Switch returned to his desk, mug in one hand as he logged into his computer and loaded up information on the Fracture.

    Nothing new.

    Nothing about that flash.

    Several more pokemon infected with the virus.

    “Do you even want to go back home?” Connor asked quietly.

    Switch looked over at him.

    “I've asked you countless times,” the pikachu went on. “And I'm beginning to doubt your answer.”

    Switch shrugged and turned back to absently scroll through the news. “Don't we all want to go back?”

    “That's why I'm asking you. You seem to have accepted your fate here. You changed your name. You've been helping me for three years and I don't even know your human name.” Connor turned his head to look at him. “What is it?”

    Switch avoided his gaze and sipped at his hot coffee.

    The pikachu tutted. “Surely you have someone to go back to, right? Family, like the rest of us? I was on vacation with friends. My parents are probably worried sick.”

    “Then we'll find a way back,” said Switch. “It'll probably go a lot faster if you got out there, or extended our team a bit.”

    The pikachu stared down at his paws.

    “You don't need to keep relying on us three,” said Switch. “I'm sure you can find more pokemon to add to the team if you just ask.”

    Connor's fur stood on end. “I'm not leaving this building.”

    “Why? What are you scared of?”

    Connor picked up his cup and stared silently into the steaming contents. Whatever his problem was, he'd been hiding it for years. Switch wasn't going to find it out any time soon.

    “I can put an advert out!” said N00b. “That'll find us some friends! Right?”

    “No!” Connor rounded on him. “Gateway is a secret group! You put an advert out, you'll ruin everything. We'll have rioters down here in a heartbeat!”

    The little lillipup cowered in his seat and looked away. Diode gave him a reassuring tap on the shoulder and they both returned to their work.

    Switch gave a flustered sigh and sipped his coffee. “Not every pokemon hates humans, Connor.”

    He clicked his mouse, opening up the list of virus-ridden pokemon that had found themselves quarantined in hospitals. Unfortunately, in a bid to find their identity, pictures had been shared with a warning that some were distressing. He quickly scrolled through them absently, hoping to find something they'd missed that would shed some light on where it had come from.

    One image caused him to choke on his drink, and hot coffee fired from his nose to spatter over the computer screen. The words accompanying it brought back the conversation he'd had with the mawile only hours before.

    Connor and the other two span in their chairs to face him.

    “What?” The pikachu left his seat to peer over his shoulder.

    'I travel a lot so I might be able to help you. What pokemon are they?'

    She pursed her lips. 'A charmander, a buneary and a mew.'


    Diode and N00b joined his side, the latter placing his paws on the back of Switch's chair and fixing two wide eyes on the computer screen.

    He couldn't form words. All he could do was stare at the text that accompanied the sludgy photo of a pokemon that wasn't dealing well with the poison type change.

    'We think this might have been a charmander. Awaiting confirmation.'
     
  4. Vernikova

    Vernikova Champion

    Your style and your phrasing needs work. I find that you repeat words ("snort," "grin," and their variations) and phrases ("x flashed y a grin") to where one would be on the look out to catch some of them. You should also pay attention to your choice of words. If we look at this sentence "the former dessert now replaced by fluffy, white clouds blotted across a brilliant blue sky," I think there's some dissonance between the clouds being fluffy and them blotting in the sky.

    I find that you seem to be rushing some things, trying to get from place to place rather quickly. This rushing not only affects the plot but simple interactions as well:

    Vector snorted. “What? And risk blowing the place to bits?”
    “Pull yourself together, soldier!”

    Vector did not sound as if he were terrified. You made it clear later on that he was worried, but at the time it seemed like an overreaction. You could've hinted at this better with Vector's dialogue or describing his actions better. This problem also reflected itself here: "The sudden outburst didn't just startle Vector. The pachirisu beside him let out a loud squeak as the pair of them turned to face the speaker – a throh named Raw"

    It didn't simply startle him, so what did it do? Do you see?

    Other problems can basically be summed up by telling you to read more careful with certain words. Some "onto" to "into," some "on" to "in." Not necessarily those words. Careful with your commas and your voice.
     
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  5. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Thanks for your feedback =) I know I repeat words a fair bit and I appreciate that you mentioned this. I've asked my proof reader to help me pull those out. I'm going through the first submissions and will fix them over time, but this chapter and future ones will be hopefully kept free of that. As for the rushing - I could have made Raw say something else. I may go back and fix that since it does seem abrupt.

    ...

    3 – Broken Sky​

    Soft beeping woke Pixel from her dream, and she blinked her eyes open as daylight flooded through her lightweight yellow curtains. A soft smile spread across her lips as she stretched and kicked off her duvet. The motion caused the hologram screen above her bed to activate and throw up lines of text displaying news headlines, many of which were dated today. She waved an arm to scroll through them quickly, looking for mission opportunities and any sign of their missing members.

    Most of them listed the spread of the virus that caused her smile to falter and she pushed herself up, yawning widely as she dropped onto her feet and grabbed the scarf and goggles she'd discarded on her desk chair.

    A short stop in the kitchen rewarded her with two slices of berry bread and cheri jam. She'd finished one slice before she stepped out of the front door, and just as she was tucking into the second one, a movement to her right caught her eye. She paused in the long grass of the meadow, squinting into the clouds. Something was flying this high habitually? That wasn't normal.

    Giving the flying pokemon another glance, she trotted towards the tower, stuffing the rest of the bread in her mouth simply to free her paws should she need to use them.

    She pushed the button on the strap of her goggles and Leaf's voice rang near her ear.

    “Good morning, Pixel! Is something wrong?”

    “Someone's flying towards us,” she said.

    Leaf made an exclamation of mild surprise. “Who'd be flying this high up?”

    The microphone picked up another smaller voice from one of the emolga. “Maybe they're scared of flying beneath us in case the continent falls from the sky and lands on them?”

    Leaf chuckled. “I think that's just your fear, Nybble.”

    “Can we focus?” Pixel demanded. “They're getting closer.”

    “Give them time. They might fly away from us,” said Leaf. “Hurry up. We've had some new requests arrive this morning.”

    Pixel released the button and picked up her pace, tearing her eyes away from the flying pokemon. Whoever it was didn't seem to be that much closer by the time she reached the door. Maybe Leaf was right? Maybe they were moving away?

    Light flickered from the weak bulb on the stairwell, distorting her shadow as she trotted down them. When she reached the control room she was feeling quite breathless.

    The emolga twins raised their eyebrows at her.

    “Did they chase you?” Nybble asked.

    “They're not on the security footage,” said Byte. “I think she's just being fraidy like you.”

    Nybble elbowed him in the ribs.

    Leaf ushered Pixel to sit beside him and pointed to the screen. “We've got a request to find a missing vulpix. Her mother is worried sick, and thinks she might be in the outskirts of Meta City.”

    “The outskirts?” She felt a small shudder run through her. She didn't quite fancy a stroll through 'the badlands'. Raster was bad enough.

    “You may need to ask around there,” said Leaf. “I've loaded up the recent pokemon placed in quarantine in Meta's two largest hospitals. There is no sign of a vulpix.”

    She watched the photos scroll by, many of which were unrecognisable. He flicked through them at such a pace they seemed to blur together with the text. But one word leapt out at her and she lurched forward, grabbing the ivysaur's large paw in a bid to stop the whirring text.

    “Scroll back up!” she squeaked.

    Leaf obeyed, moving slowly back up the screen. Her fears solidified as she read over the word 'charmander' several times before looking away from the screen.

    “Did you not see that one?” she asked.

    Leaf scratched his head as he stared at the gruesome image. “Yes. It was quite late though. I don't think it registered in my mind.”

    The two emolga sat frozen to their seats.

    “It's not Nano, is it?” Nybble asked.

    “I don't know.” Leaf turned to Pixel and cleared his throat. “Could you go and check? Scan them and see if it picks up her data chip? I'll send the twins to find the vulpix.”

    “What?!” Nybble gasped.

    “Really?” added Byte.

    Leaf looked round at them. “Don't worry yourselves. Grab your head sets.” He turned back to Pixel. “Is that okay? It's not too upsetting for you?”

    “We need to know if it's Nano or not, don't we?” She pushed herself from her seat. “How long until we're over the city?”

    “We're moving over it now.” He pointed a claw to the map. “I was going to wait until we were in a convenient enough location for you to reach the outskirts, but now plans have changed, you may as well disembark.”

    She gave a nod and stood up. “Which hospital does it say the charmander's at?”

    Leaf checked the information once more. “Central Meta Hospital.”

    “Okay.” Pixel adjusted her goggles over her eyes and sprinted from the room. With one glance back, she forced a smile. “I'll keep you informed!”

    She reached the drop point and held onto the beam as it let her drop with the familiar resounding flash as each beam appeared in place. Her mind was elsewhere as she thought about the poor charmander's fate. A whoosh by her face snapped her back to reality and she yelled as two large red wings flapped around her.

    “Pixel?”

    She shook her head sharply as she looked up at the talonflame desperately trying to keep up with her.

    “Switch?!” She glanced down at the floor as it rose up rapidly towards her. “What are you doing here?”

    “I came to tell you something.” His words came in fragmented bursts as he strained to talk over the effort of keeping up.

    “Wait until we're on the ground,” she said.

    It didn't take long. When her feet touched concrete, the ladder vanished beam by beam behind her, and Switch landed beside her in his human form, doubled over with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. Passing pokemon shot him curious looks and some made the effort to cross the busy streets to pass on the other side.

    “So what is it?” she asked him.

    He stood up to his full height and adjusted his scarf. “I read there's a charmander arrived in quarantine.” He gave her a smile. “I told you I'd be back if I heard anything.”

    “Yes, that's why I'm here.”

    “Argh.” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “I worried as much. I guess I wasted the trip.”

    “Maybe.” She grinned up at him. “But I appreciate it. You didn't fly too far, did you?”

    “Not really.” He closed his eyes and folded his hands behind his head. “I should probably head back then.”

    “Okay. Well, thanks for your help.”

    She rummaged through her bag to make sure she had the handheld computer and turned away from him, making her way along the busy street. The main vehicles trundling along were automated, delivering produce to the massive superstores, stopping only at lights or when the more daring pokemon would rush along in front of them. Thankfully their sensitive sensors prevented dangerous collisions. The only other traffic were young pokemon riding hover boards and the tauros, gogoat and bouffalant that made their earnings pulling rickshaws through the city.

    A skidoo skipped up and down the street firing adverts at the passers by. He quickly garbled out something about 'seeing the sights' as she walked past him, and she gave him a polite wave and stuffed one of his fliers in her bag.

    “It certainly feels different here to the smaller cities,” said Switch.

    She looked up at him with a jerk, her eyes widening in surprise. “You're still here?”

    “Turns out we're heading the same way. Central Meta Hospital, am I right?” He chuckled at her blank expression. “I pass it on the way.”

    She gave him a small smile. “Where are you headed?”

    “Spool City.”

    “The outskirts? You don't look like you belong there.”

    He turned his attention back on the sidewalk, nimbly dodging an excited sentret and his mother.

    “I'm an adventurer for hire,” he explained. “You might even call me an 'adventurer of many talents.'”

    “Talents that landed you in Spool City?”

    He laughed. “You could say that. The pokemon I'm doing a job for resides there.”

    Pixel looked away sharply. “Oh...”

    He laughed again and shook his head. “Don't worry. I can't go into detail but I can assure you he's not a shady character.”

    She glanced back at the drifting continent as it moved along in the sky behind them. “Well I guess that's fair. I can't give you the details about my work either.”

    They stopped at a junction as two lorries rolled past. The massive vehicles came to an abrupt halt as a group of pedestrians decided they simply couldn't wait. Red lights flashed in the rear of the lorries, creating a domino effect along the line of traffic and bringing everything behind them to a stand still. Pixel decided to join the flow of pedestrians as the traffic signal changed to green and rang out with a shrill whistle, just audible over the drone of voices and engines.

    This area of the city was filled with superstores and entertainment shops, which meant the streets were crammed with shoppers. Some pokemon had stopped to watch the advertisement billboards causing a roadblock of standing pedestrians that Pixel and Switch had to move single file to get through, bumping elbows and catching heels with strangers. Across the road, a meowth bellowed an announcement into a megaphone for the latest video games in his arcade. Above him a screen looped through a battle between a lucario in a cape and a blaziken.

    Pixel rounded a corner into a much less busy street with a narrow sidewalk, catching the large sign that indicated 'Central Meta Hospital' was only a short walk away. The quieter atmosphere offered a breath of fresh air and she warred with the desire to enjoy it and the urgency of her mission.

    The narrow street ended with a chain of white and red bollards marking a dead end to a one way street. On the left stood a line of emergency ambulances and on the right loomed the grand white building of the hospital with its tall glass doors.

    “Well.” Switch stopped beside her with his hands still tucked behind his head and stared up at the hospital. “This is where we part ways.”

    Pixel nodded and absently checked the computer was still tucked safely in her bag.

    “I'm not sure what to say,” Switch went on. “If it is your friend, at least you know where they are. But that virus... I kind of hope they're not who you're looking for at the same time.”

    She wound the end of her scarf around her paws as she stared at the foreboding doors. A growing sense of dread was washing over her and she licked her dry lips. “Then we're of the same mindset.”

    A chill ran over her, causing her fur to prickle down her back. If it was Nano, then... she grit her teeth and tugged at the fabric of her scarf.

    No cure... there was no known cure...

    “Are you all right?”

    Switch was still standing next to her, eyeing her with a look of concern. She forced a smile and was about to speak, but all that came out was a non-committal grunt.

    “Look, I know you don't really know me,” he went on, “but I'm not in any rush. If it helps, I can go in with you. At least you won't be alone, and after you saved my hide yesterday I kinda feel like I owe you a favour.”

    She cast him a sideways glance as she ran this over in her mind.

    “And afterwards, if you need to take your mind off things, we can visit that games arcade.” He smiled. “Although few have beat me at Pocket Brawlers.”

    She chuckled. “All right. I probably won't be very long anyway.”

    A buzz resounded in her ear and she leapt slightly.

    “Pixel?” Leaf's voice asked.

    She pushed the button on her goggle strap. “Yes?”

    “Is everything okay? Your tracker says you're at the hospital, but you've not gone inside yet.”

    “Everything's fine, Leaf. I just needed a moment to gather myself. I'm heading in now.”

    “Okay. Take your time, don't rush yourself. The base is heading towards the outskirts of Meta City now, so when you're done you may need to hitch a ride to catch up with us.”

    “I'll figure something out. Take care, Leaf.” She released the button and glanced up at Switch. “That was my friend making sure I'm okay.”

    He raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”

    “We'll see soon enough.”

    The doors opened and closed with a gentle whir from their well-oiled motors. A wigglytuff greeted them from behind a desk with a jubilant wave.

    “Good morning!” she said. “How can I help you?”

    “I'm here about the charmander you've got in quarantine,” Pixel explained.

    “Oh!” The wigglytuff tried to mask her surprise behind a professional smile and tapped on a hologram pad, the keys lighting up under her touch. “The species is yet to be confirmed. Are they a friend of yours?”

    Pixel ran a paw over the back of her head and diverted her gaze to the wall. “They might be.”

    “Is your friend going with you?” The wigglytuff eyed Switch curiously.

    “Moral support.” He winked.

    The receptionist cleared her throat and looked back at her screen. There was a short beep and she looked back up at them, her eyes closed in a smile.

    “Follow the right corridor around to the quarantine area. A doctor will meet you there shortly.”

    They thanked her and followed her directions down the pristine white and chrome corridor. A few rooms span off from it, all with 'restricted access' printed in red on the doors. Each one was eerily silent as they passed, and Pixel could feel herself growing more and more uneasy.

    The waiting area had only a scattering of seats, and she dragged herself up into one while Switch plonked down beside her. She kicked her legs unable to keep still, looking left and right at the various screens that displayed moving posters with health warnings and advice. Deciding it was too hard to stay sat down, she leapt up and paced back and forth with her paws clasped behind her back. Switch seemed to be feigning obliviousness as he sat tapping at the screen of a small pocket computer tablet.

    A door whirred open to her left and she froze, following the noise with her eyes. A gallade strolled into the waiting area and looked at Switch and Pixel in turn.

    “You're here to see the 'charmander'?” he asked.

    Pixel nodded. “Yes. I'm worried she might be a friend of mine.”

    “Gender and identity is still unknown,” the doctor explained.

    “That's why I want to see them. I'm going to scan their data chip.”

    The gallade waved a paw. “Already done it. It's useless.”

    Her arms fell to her side as her heart sank. Switch's eyes burned into the side of her head as he watched her silently. Finally he stood up and was about to address the doctor when she finally found her words.

    “Maybe I...” She looked back at the doctor. “If you could let me at least try?”

    He nodded. “I can let you try, yes. If you would follow me? You'll need to wear hazmat suits.”

    They followed him through the mechanical doors and down a corridor that looked identical to the one they'd left.

    “My name is Doctor Hertz. I head the quarantine department here. The pokemon you are visiting is one of many to have arrived recently, and if they are a friend of yours...” He stopped at a door and flashed his name card at it. It hissed open, revealing a curtain of heavy plastic. “I hope you have a strong stomach, Miss.”

    Pixel gulped and followed him through the curtain.

    White hazmat suits with heavy clear masks hung on the walls in varying sizes. He pulled down a small one, muttering something about her size then looked over at Switch.

    “We don't get many human visitors, nor do we have any working here. I'm afraid the largest suit we have is for a pokemon of the size and build of a zoroark. If you think you can squeeze into it, they do have some give to them.”

    “I thought it didn't affect humans?” Switch asked.

    “Such theories are mere speculation. If you're going in, wear this.”

    Switch excused himself behind the curtain while Pixel pulled on the small suit and zipped the helmet over her head. The gallade beside her did the same and checked her to make sure everything was fastened where it should be. When Switch stepped back into the room, she had to stifle a chuckle. The suit was quite loose around the shoulders where it was built to provide room for a zoroark's immense amount of fur. As for the height, it had managed to give quite well. Hertz gave him a quick once over and nodded as he pulled the next set of curtains aside.

    “All right!” said Switch, rather cheerfully. “Let's check on this charmander.”

    Hertz raised an eyebrow at him. “I don't think it warrants much enthusiasm. If this pokemon is indeed a friend of yours, they are in no fit state, and as you know there is no cure for this virus yet.”

    The door slid open, revealing rows of white beds in a room with bare white walls, each one separated by a white curtain. Pokemon filled the beds, chained up to drips and heart monitors. Pixel couldn't help but notice some of them were linked to life support machines, highlighting how severe their situation really was.

    Hertz stopped beside a closed curtain and ushered Pixel towards it.

    “This is the patient you requested to see.”

    She swallowed drily as he pulled the curtain aside, and her paw instinctively went to her mouth.

    If it was meant to be a charmander, the only sign it may have been one was the size and head shape. The pokemon had no arms to speak of, and their tail and legs were hidden away under the damp duvet. Their entire body had been turned purple and seemed to have the consistency of a muk or grimer. The machine wired up to their body beeped in rhythm to the infected pokemon's steady heartbeat, the only sign they were still alive at all. The sight caused her heart to break.

    Putting on a mask of professionalism, she pulled out her computer and pushed herself forward, scanning the holographic screen over the 'charmander'. The device beeped and her heart raced as she snatched her eyes to the screen. The word 'error' stood out in large red letters.

    She grit her teeth in frustration. Was this pokemon her friend or was she still out there? With a sigh she stuffed the computer back into her bag and looked over at Hertz and Switch.

    “You're right,” she said. “Their data chip must have been corrupted.”

    The gallade nodded. “I'm sorry we can't be of more help.”

    Pixel gave one last look at the poor pokemon as the curtain was whipped back around them, and followed Hertz from the room. He stopped them between the door and the curtain and a clear gas washed over them.

    Once they had removed their suits, Pixel turned to the doctor.

    “If you find out who they are, please contact me.” She handed him a small card. “We're missing a few pokemon, and we're desperately trying to find out what's happened to them.”

    He took it with a nod and slipped it into his pocket. “Any others you would like me to keep an eye out for?”

    She shook her head. “We'll keep an eye on the lists. I don't want to put you out.”

    “Well, the offer's there.” He placed a paw on her back and steered her from the room. “Although I do want to say I hope we don't see you again. I sincerely hope your missing friends are okay.”

    She flashed him a smile. “Thanks for your help, doctor.”

    He waved and ducked back into the room, leaving her standing once more in the waiting area.

    Switch looked down at her and shrugged. “I'm sorry we're non-the-wiser.”

    She sighed and headed down the corridor. “Don't worry about it. If it's not her, then there's hope she's still alive and well somewhere.” She shuddered and hugged herself. “Although I doubt I'll be able to get that image out of my head any time soon.”

    “Hey, the offer for a game of Pocket Brawlers is still there.”

    She chuckled and let her arms relax to her sides. “I might take you up on that offer.”

    He grinned. “Like I said, few have beaten me.”

    The breeze from the air conditioning washed over them as they entered the reception and the wigglytuff gave them a huge smile. She waved them farewell as they slipped out through the doors into the street.

    Switch took in a huge breath and stretched. “Ah! Fresh air!” He chuckled drily and let his arms fall to his sides. “Sorry, I don't do well in hospitals.”

    “You didn't need to come in,” said Pixel.

    “Well, let's get to the arcade. I'm itching for a good game.”

    She laughed and adjusted her bag on her shoulder. As she turned away to head towards the main street, she felt a firm hand grab her shoulder. She looked back at Switch and he released her, standing up straight, but his eyes were fixed on a spot above the buildings. She followed his gaze and her heart leapt into her throat.

    A black, jagged line vanished beyond the high roofs of the department stores, glowing with a deep violet light.

    “What... what's that?” she stammered out.

    “I don't know...”

    Switch warped into his talonflame form and spread his wings wide. She reached out and grabbed one, halting his rise into the air.

    “You're not investigating it are you?” she squeaked.

    “Are you kidding? Of course I am! It wasn't there earlier, and I want to know what it is!”

    She released his wing and took a step back, meeting his golden eyes. “Then take me.”

    He inclined his head on one side, his beak slightly open as he considered turning her away. With a sharp nod, he lowered himself to the ground.

    “Get on.”

    She clambered onto his back and he launched himself into the air with such speed her breath was snatched away from her. When he gained enough altitude he paused enough for her to catch her breath and moved over the buildings, leaving the busiest part of the city behind as he headed towards the outskirts. The jagged black line vanished beyond the buildings and always seemed to be ahead of them.

    “I'm going to have to get higher,” he said. “Hold on.”

    She wrapped her arms around his neck as he launched himself upwards like a dart. When he levelled out, lorries in the city below them looked minute. The jagged line was as clear as day now, still ahead of them and curving down towards the ground well outside the city. From this height they could see the outskirts, the berry fields in the suburbs and the lumpy trail of the Backbone Mountain. That was where the jagged line ended, joining more of its kind stretching back towards the Fracture hidden away in the distance.

    Pixel pressed her paw to her chest as she took in the scene. Those jagged lines... they seemed so wrong.

    “What are they?” she gasped.

    Switch shook his head in disbelief.

    “The Fracture... that virus... those strange cracks...” Her head began to feel light and she felt herself slumping forwards. “What's happening to the world?”

    He lifted his head to look back at her. “Pixel? Are you all right?”

    “I don't...” Her grip on his feathers began to slack as her vision blurred.

    “Hold on!”

    He twisted towards the ground and she felt herself losing her grip. She didn't remember even hitting the ground.

    ...​

    It wasn't right.

    It just wasn't right.

    Vector pushed himself through the streets of Meta City, staying as close as he could to the quieter areas. The looks he was getting off the passing pokemon were enough to turn his blood to ice. Parents snatched their hatchlings out of the way, many crossed to the other side of the streets.

    He placed a paw on the wall of an office block to steady himself as he tried to get his breath back. Days... he'd been walking for days... no, weeks... and he felt wrong.

    The hold-up in the rough towns of the outskirts only served to emphasise that fact. Battle after battle had made him feel ill.

    The claws of his black paw dug into the concrete surface as he stared at his fur – black and white. White with black markings. It didn't feel like his own body.

    It was wrong.

    He swayed as he pushed himself back from the building, dragging himself down the quiet streets and bumping between two red and white bollards, stopping only to glance at the sign that marked the giant building of the Central Meta Hospital.
     
  6. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    4 – A Plan of Questionable Morals​

    Pixel's eyes were dazzled by the harsh light from the halogen bulbs, made all the more intense by the pristine white walls and tiled floors. Her heavy paw flopped across her face, shutting out the worst of it as she let out a low groan. Her head felt like someone had stuffed it with cotton wool and a dull pulse thrummed above her ears.

    “Ah! You're awake!”

    She removed her paw and squinted to her left. The unmistakable shape of an ivysaur sat all too close to her bed as he leant forward in his chair. This was confusing. She didn't usually have a chair by her bed. She frowned and placed her paw over her eyes again.

    “Where am I?” she mumbled.

    “Hospital,” Leaf answered bluntly. “Apparently you fainted.”

    “Fain-” Her arm fell to her side as her eyes flew wide open regardless of the pain in her head, and she pushed herself onto her elbow to look around the bright room. “We were flying! Those cracks...” Feeling light headed again, she let herself flop back onto her pillow, fixing Leaf with a look of panic. “What's happening? Have you seen them?”

    He nodded and looked down at his pocket computer. “It's all over the news, but the authorities are assuring us it's nothing to worry about. I don't want you to stress yourself over it. Focus on getting back on your feet so we can get back to our base.”

    Trying not to worry was much easier said than done. She pushed herself up again and looked around the room. The other beds were empty, and from the looks of it, it was only her and Leaf in the ward.

    “Where's Switch?” she asked.

    “After I arrived, he left.” The ivysaur looked up at her. “Said he had places he needed to be.”

    She sighed and rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. “You didn't give him a hard time, did you?”

    “Are you kidding? If he didn't contact me, I'd have no clue you were even here!” He chuckled, drawing a perplexed look from her that prompted an explanation. “He used your headset. Told me you'd fallen from his back, but he assured me you never hit the ground.”

    “That's a relief.” She pushed herself up with a groan, rubbing her head. “I was worried the impact had concussed me or something.”

    “No. You're probably dehydrated. You've been out for a couple of hours now. Drink some water and see if the headache goes away.”

    She accepted a glass from him and downed it in one sitting. He wasn't wrong. She offered her glass for a refill and adjusted her pillow so she could lean against the wall.

    Leaf nodded to the table beside her bed. “He left his contact information in case you need it.”

    She looked over at the table to see a plain scrap of crumpled paper placed beside her bag. Scrawled on it was a number she assumed was for Switch's pocket computer. It would certainly be convenient, and would save him any more wasted flights. She chuckled and stuffed it in her bag, then leant back and sipped her water.

    “Who's at the headquarters?” she asked.

    Leaf grimaced and looked away. “No one. Nybble and Byte are on the vulpix mission. I headed down here as fast as I could.”

    “So... Cyan Island is...?”

    He laughed and rubbed the back of his head. “Well outside the city. We'll have to hitch a ride if we want to catch up to it.”

    Pixel felt a looming sense of dread as she stared into her glass. “Those black lines aren't in its circuit are they?”

    “Nope. No need to worry there.”

    The door opened and they both looked up at it in unison. Hertz the gallade strode in, but he didn't look up at either of them as his attention was fixed on a holographic screen in his paws.

    “Pixel?” he asked.

    “Hmm?” She lowered her glass. “Am I ready to go?”

    “I'm not your doctor,” he said. “Your nurse will be through shortly. I'm here to see if one of your missing friends is a meowstic?” He finally looked up at her.

    She stared back at him for a moment then shook her head. “No. Why?”

    “I just wanted to check.” He looked back down at the screen and pressed a button. It flickered and vanished into thin air. “One has just turned himself in, but we can't identify him.”

    She blinked her eyes in confusion. “Has his data chip corrupted?”

    “If he's not a friend of yours, I can't give you any further information. Hospital policy.” He moved out of the door and glanced back at her over his shoulder. “I hope you are feeling better. Take care, both of you.”

    As the door closed behind him, Pixel looked over at Leaf. They both appeared to be thinking the same thing. Most pokemon were rendered immobile by the virus, so one strolling into a hospital to turn himself in, although not impossible, was an odd occurrence.

    Leaf rubbed his head and looked away from her. “How are you feeling?”

    The brief spectacle with the doctor had taken her mind off her head. She smiled into her glass as she realised that dull throb had finally subsided. “Much better, actually.”

    “Great!” He leant back in his seat and poked at his computer screen with a claw. “Hopefully you'll be released soon. The longer we wait, the more we have to catch up with Cyan Island.”

    “You won't be going anywhere just yet, miss.”

    They both looked up as an audino approached the bed. She scanned over Pixel with her eyes with a look that exuded business and took the glass from her paw. Pixel found herself pinned down by her shoulder as a light was aimed into her eyes much to her displeasure. When the nurse stood back, she tucked the tiny light away and scrawled something onto her clipboard.

    “Why can't I leave?” Pixel asked as she rubbed a paw over her watering eyes. “I'm feeling better.”

    “We need to wait until the tranquilliser is completely out of your system,” the audino explained.

    “Tranquilliser?!” both Leaf and Pixel exclaimed.

    “Yes. We had to knock you out for a while so we could run tests. It was imperative we made sure you didn't show any signs of the virus.”

    “Are you kidding?” Pixel gasped. “I fainted!”

    The nurse shrugged. “You visited quarantine, then left and had a fainting spell. We were being cautious.”

    “That human didn't say anything about this!” said Leaf.

    The audino didn't look up from her clipboard. “That would be because we didn't tell him.”

    Pixel crossed her arms and huffed. “I think this is a little unacceptable.”

    “Just a little?” Leaf asked.

    She silenced him with a wave of her paw. “Why wouldn't you tell him?”

    “We didn't want to spook your friend unnecessarily.”

    “And what did your tests show?”

    “You are clear from any sign of a virus, and that your fainting spell was probably down to a fear of heights.”

    Leaf laughed. “Fear of heights?! We live two-hundred miles above System!”

    Pixel bit her lip. She knew it was down to what she'd seen, but the nurse seemed oblivious to this. She opened her mouth to speak, but the audino cut her off as she finally looked up from her notes.

    “Now.” The nurse forced a smile, but it was still drowned in an air of authority. “In about twenty minutes, you should be clear to go.”

    Leaf slumped in his chair and sighed. “It's gonna be a hard trip back.”

    ...​

    Hertz tapped a few words onto the keyboard. The situation baffled him. All results were coming back negative and it caused his head to spin.

    “What do you think?!” a voice boomed by his ear.

    He flinched and glanced at the exploud sat beside him. “Sample, please. Use your indoor voice.”

    The exploud cleared his throat and muttered an apology, glancing at the doctor's computer.

    “As for your question,” Hertz sighed, “I haven't a clue.”

    “Well if results are coming back negative,” Sample began, “then we can assume the meowstic's clear, right?”

    “One would think.” Hertz steepled his claws together and leant back in his seat. “But explain the mutation.”

    Sample grunted and looked at the ceiling, rubbing a paw over the back of his pipes. Hertz waited a moment to give the exploud a chance to answer, but he didn't actually expect one.

    “You see?” Hertz looked back at his computer. “There doesn't seem to be an explanation, but there must be.”

    “Is there a chance,” Sample said slowly, “that he's had the virus and it's gone?”

    Hertz said nothing as he stared blankly at his screen, the letters swirling and blurring together as his focus went to the exploud's words. A cure... the meowstic couldn't possibly have found a cure?

    But nothing else made sense. The signs of a virus were all there. The mutation – quite unlike the mutations other pokemon had gone through – but it was a change nonetheless. The patient claimed to have forgotten his abilities too, instead using ones he never thought he had.

    But then there was the puzzle of a data chip.

    Instead of an error, he didn't have one at all.

    Hertz let his eyes focus back on the computer screen. “If he has found a cure, then why hasn't he changed back to his normal form?”

    “Maybe it's like when you sew up an open wound from surgery and there's always a scar?”

    “That would explain his appearance, but what about his abilities?”

    He could see Sample scratching his chin out of the corner of his eye. With a sigh, Hertz leant his elbows on his desk and placed his head in his paws.

    “I think he has had it,” he said. “But he's immune to it. I think his body killed it off, but it didn't actually heal, and as such he's still suffering with the symptoms.”

    “Huh!” A smile spread across Sample's large mouth and he nodded. “That makes a lot of sense.”

    “It's the best possible answer.” Hertz looked up at him. “I want that meowstic in his own private room. Make sure it's locked, I don't want any unauthorised access. I'm going to run more tests on him. If we can extract whatever fought the virus, we might be able to stop the spread in our critical patients, and maybe even devise a way to reverse it.”

    The exploud's eyes flitted left and right as his face twisted with confusion. “Erm... he's not really in any fit state to put under anaesthetic. He might not survive it.”

    Hertz stared silently at the computer.

    “I mean, the virus doesn't just change the appearance,” Sample went on. “It attacks everything inside. The heart, the brain... everything! If nothing's showing up in the blood samples, then what do we do? I doubt he'll survive an intrusive examination. And what do we extract to run tests on?”

    Hertz rolled his eyes to look up at Sample, remaining quiet for a moment longer as he warred with his conscience.

    Finally, he glanced away and said, “Would it really be so bad to sacrifice one life if we can save hundreds of others?”

    “I dunno... would you be willing to go through with it in his situation?”

    It was easy to agree with such a hypothetical statement, but in reality... Hertz buried his face in his paws and let out a long sigh.

    “Exactly,” said Sample. “We'd need his permission, and even then, I don't think it's morally sound.”

    “Hundreds of lives are at stake,” said Hertz bluntly. “And goodness knows how many more! Every day, new patients show up with this virus. Every day, many die because of it. If we can save them at the expense of one life...” Everything snapped into place in his mind. He looked up at Sample with such ferocity the large pokemon took a cautious step back. “Gather all the scientists, doctors and nurses working in quarantine. Tell them there's an urgent meeting. Regardless of how it goes, afterwards put him under, because we're starting the experiment.”
     
  7. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    5 – Rescue Mission​

    The buildings blurred past as Pixel and Leaf zipped along on a pair of hoverboards, following the flow of traffic in hot pursuit of their base. Cyan Island was visible above the skyscrapers, trudging steadily along as it followed its circuit.

    “How close are we now?” Pixel asked.

    Leaf looked down at his digital map. “Its moving over Proxy City. That might prove problematic if we need to board there, especially now the sun's setting.”

    She pursed her lips and fixed her attention on the island. Hopefully their fresh purchase of hoverboards (much to Leaf's dismay when he had to fork over three-thousand credits per board) would give them the edge they needed to avoid any unwanted conflict. The outskirts were renown for the hostile pokemon that inhabited them.

    A loud horn rang out through the streets as the traffic came to a sudden stop, shattering any hopes the pair of them had about making it through Proxy City before sundown.

    “What's going on?!” Leaf whined, straining to see around the rear of a particularly large lorry. “Argh, we're never going to make it at this rate!”

    Pixel hopped from her hoverboard and scooted over to the side of the road. The head of the traffic jam was hidden from sight as the chain of traffic vanished around a sharp bend between a department store and an electronics tower that displayed an advert for a new camera on a massive LCD display.

    She returned to her hoverboard and Leaf looked over at her.

    “Any joy?” he asked.

    She shook her head. “We'll have to move on foot if we want to get past it.”

    He dismounted his board with a sigh and tucked it under one arm, waddling onto the sidewalk on his hind legs. She followed after him, casting a glance back at the motionless traffic. Many of the other hoverboard riders followed their example, gathering their boards and deciding to go on foot.

    “You know what would be useful?” said Leaf. “If we could fly like your human friend.”

    “I think it would be more useful if we could get the drifting continent to move backwards and come for us,” said Pixel.

    “You don't want to fly?”

    She chuckled. “Not especially.”

    He grunted and paused at the edge of a narrow road to allow a lorry past as it deviated from the traffic. “I suppose any desire to fly went out the window when you fell off Switch's back, huh?”

    Before she could answer, he waved a paw to silence her and turned his focus onto his headset. They walked across the street in silence, joining the pedestrians on the other side. He appeared to be having some difficulty hearing the speaker on the other end as he apologised a couple of times and had them repeat themselves.

    Finally, he looked back at her, but his expression caused a flood of nauseating anxiety in her stomach.

    “That was Byte,” he explained. “They're actually in Proxy City but they're not having the best time.”

    Her eyes widened and she picked up pace to walk beside him. “What's going on?”

    “They've had a run-in with the vigoroth brothers. We're going to need to hurry.” He pulled out his computer, dodging the pedestrians without even looking up while he scrolled through a map of Meta City. “There are several side streets we could take to avoid this traffic, provided it doesn't go the full length of the city.”

    He paused and looked left and right, muttering the names of the road signs and comparing them to the map. Finally, he stuffed it away and grabbed her paw, dragging her down a narrow street. He ran off ahead of her and hopped onto his hoverboard, causing a squeal of surprise from a young glameow.

    “We need to hurry,” he called back. “They're not known for being understanding.”

    Pixel gave the glameow a quick apology as she zipped past after him, the hoverboards whipping up a light trail of dust.

    ...​

    Proxy City was cast in shadow, rarely getting much sun as it was situated between the high rise buildings of Meta City and the high peak of the Backbone Mountain. Empty wrappers blew across the streets, joining small spirals of debris amongst the wind-traps and moving along the alleys like tiny tornadoes where they joined the garbage filling the gutters and crevices from the overflowing trash cans.

    Curious pokemon daring not to step outside watched Pixel and Leaf as they zipped through the streets on their hoverboards, the sound creating a gentle thrumming in the polluted air. Few pokemon were on the streets at this hour. Even though the sun wouldn't be setting for a little while yet, it still seemed very dark, almost as though it might rain but there were barely any clouds in the sky.

    “Did they say where they were?” Pixel spoke quietly, almost a whisper, keeping an eye on the shadows of the alleyways.

    “They were ambushed at the Metalclaw Tavern,” answered Leaf. “They'd gone in to ask for information, and as soon as they stepped outside they were bundled into an alleyway. The brothers had left them tied up to go and look for someone they were calling Hax.”

    She grimaced. “Hopefully they've not returned with him yet.”

    “I'm hoping that's the case. I dread to think what kind of trouble those kids have landed themselves in.”

    An endless flow of questions ran through her mind. Who would want to harm Nybble and Byte? And if so, what had they done to trigger the anger of the vigoroth brothers? Did the brothers have something to do with the missing vulpix?

    The questions kept on coming as she followed Leaf around another bend, this one revealing a small group of pokemon standing outside talking, clutching glasses in their paws. A sign creaked in the wind above their heads displaying a crude drawing of a bisharp's claws that were designed to look like they were slicing through the sign itself. The group looked up at them as they drew closer, and one of them – a toxicroak – narrowed his eyes in a leer.

    “Newbies!” he grunted.

    “More o' them?” An aggron crossed his arms, fixing one eye on them. “Thought those pesky kids were weird enough.”

    Pixel leant into Leaf and spoke quietly. “Do we talk to them?”

    “Just keep going,” he muttered back.

    “Oi!” The aggron stepped in front of them, and they brought their hoverboards to a halt. “No whisperin'! You got summat t'say, you say it t'me!”

    “Okay!” Leaf stood up as tall as he could. “We're looking for those 'pesky kids' you were just talking about.”

    Pixel grimaced at the ivysaur's use of air quotes and watched the aggron closely, bracing herself for him to lash out in anger. Instead, he pointed at Leaf and looked over at his friends.

    “They lookin' for 'em emolga kids!”

    A durant whistled through his mandibles and looked up at a charizard and the toxicroak. “Think summat's happened to 'em?”

    “Yes,” Leaf went on. “I got a frantic call. They've been taken by the vigoroth brothers, and they've gone to find someone named Hax.”

    The aggron's demeanour changed drastically. He leapt back from Leaf, his weight causing the buildings to shake and the sign to swing dramatically, its rusty hinges screeching with the momentum. His wide eyes reflected fear at some unseen memory and he scurried backwards, almost tripping over the toxicroak. The other pokemon looked uneasy, and the durant walked backwards until he was crouching safely just inside the bar.

    “I take it you've heard of them then,” said Leaf.

    “Heard of them?” The aggron shook his head. “You ain't wanna be messin' wi' them. You turn around an' go back. Those kids are a lost cause. Take my word fer it.”

    Leaf exchanged glances with Pixel and they both looked up at the aggron.

    “They're our friends,” said Pixel. “We're helping them. Where does this Hax hang out?”

    “On the roof tops,” answered the charizard. “Keeps an eye out for easy victims. Has the vigoroth brothers doin' his dirty work, and he comes along and finishes 'em off.”

    The aggron glanced away from them and wrung his heavy paws together. “Look. Ya gonna be messin' wi' him, yer messin' wi' the wrong pokemon.”

    Leaf hopped onto his hoverboard and kicked it off the ground, moving slowly past the now spooked gang.

    “Then don't follow us,” he said bluntly.

    Pixel followed after him, looking back briefly as the aggron shouted after them.

    “Yer brave, ivysaur! But yer foolish!”

    His words didn't seem to phase Leaf at all. He kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead, scouting out the alleys they passed for any sign of their friends. Pixel, however, kept looking up at the rooftops. Those jagged black lines were visible above the low buildings, causing an unsettling feeling to spread throughout her stomach. However, her mind was on rescuing Nybble and Byte right now. If they lost them, that would be to more of their rapidly decreasing team. What kind of pokemon was this Hax and what danger did he pose? She had no idea.

    “Ah!” The tail of Leaf's hoverboard screeched against the floor, digging up the dirt as he brought it to a halt. He pointed a stubby claw into a narrow alley. “I can see them!”

    Pixel's violet eyes widened as a smile spread across her face, but it was soon wiped off when she noticed the two emolga's matching expressions of fear.

    They were both sat on the filthy floor in the shadow of an overflowing trash can, tied up back to back. The wall behind them marking the alley's dead end seeped a green, slimy substance that Nybble flinched away from as it dripped by her head. When they spotted Leaf and Pixel, Nybble almost cried with relief while Byte strained against his tethers.

    “Hurry!” the male emolga hissed. “They said they're coming back!”

    Leaf was already beside them, tugging at the ropes while Pixel kept an eye on the alley's opening. There was no sense in all of them becoming trapped between angry pokemon and a brick wall.

    Leaf ushered the two emolga out of the alley, following close behind and giving Pixel a nudge to follow him.

    “You take Nybble. If we move now, we should be out of this city before -”

    “Where d'ya think yer goin'?!”

    The gritty voice caused all four of them to spin on the spot. Two vigoroth rushed at them, their sharp claws raised above their heads. Above them, whipping up dust with his powerful wings, was a large unfezant, a heavy gold medallion swinging from a thick chain around his slender neck.

    “I'm assuming that's Hax?” said Leaf.

    The emolga twins let out a squeal and threw themselves behind him.

    Pixel grit her teeth and braced herself to launch a counter-attack on the closest vigoroth, but before any of them could reach them, Leaf span in the air, firing a cloud of spores at the three aggressive pokemon.

    The vigoroth sniffed at the air and sneered, flashing their canines in an intimidating grin while the unfezant screeched and beat his wings, sending the spores back at Leaf and his friends. Pixel covered her mouth and nose with her paws, but it was too late. Leaf looked back at her, doubling slightly in her vision.

    “I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking.”

    The vigoroth lunged at them, their roars almost shaking the flimsy windows. She span, bringing her horn up and clubbing one on the chin, but the other grabbed it in his paws and dragged her backwards. As she fell onto her back, she saw Hax strike Leaf and send him rolling backwards into the alley. The large bird battled with a spray of paralyzing spores the ivysaur had scattered during the impact. He beat his wings against the wall, trying to beat them free of the powder, his movements erratic. No longer able to stay airborne, he'd be easier to battle.

    That was, if she'd not inhaled a lungful of sleep-inducing spores. She struggled to sit up, pinned in place as the vigoroth refused to release her horn, but her efforts were becoming weaker as the sleep powder took over.

    Hax cast a glance down the alley and grinned, turning his beady eyes back onto Pixel. She could hear the cries of the two emolga, but they were out of her eyeline.

    “Well!” The unfezant stood over her, watching whatever was going on behind her. “Looks like your friend's out of action. Pity it only took one air slash to take him down. Pathetic weakling.”

    He blurred in and out of focus as he moved with jerky motions, keeping one eye on the vigoroth and the other on her. Her heart was pumping. Any moment she feared she'd fall asleep.

    “Grab those two, and dump them in the alley with the mawile and ivysaur. I've got some questions for them.”

    “Aye!”

    She felt herself hoisted discourteously onto her feet. Sharp claws rammed into her back, pushing her into the alley. She almost tripped over Leaf sprawled in the opening. He groaned as the vigoroth grabbed him and threw him forwards into a pile of trash bags. She rushed to assist him, but the other vigoroth grabbed her horn and threw her further into the alley towards the dripping wall. She landed with a grunt and pushed herself up, fixing the group in what she hoped was an intimidating glare.

    “What do you want with us?!” she roared.

    “Tsk!” Hax strutted over to her, his movements more fluid as his body won the war against the paralysis spores. “I didn't want you. I wanted them.” He nodded to Nybble and Byte.

    The emolga twins cowered between the vigoroth brothers.

    “Giga and Tera told me they'd found them poking around Proxy City looking for a vulpix pup.” Hax shrugged. “I don't really want pokemon sticking their noses into my business. So I wanted to know how much they knew. Then you two showed up!” The large bird looked back at Leaf with a leer then narrowed his eyes at Pixel. “How much do you know?”

    She rubbed a paw over her head and pushed herself into a sitting position. Hax watched her cautiously, his entire body taut like a spring.

    “Not much,” she said. “All we were told was that a vulpix child has gone missing, and her mother wants to know what's become of her.”

    Hax chuckled drily and looked up at the sky. She instinctively followed his gaze to the jagged black line poking above the rooftops.

    “Do you know what that is?” he asked.

    She shook her head. “No.”

    “Neither do I.” He looked back down at her, a smile tugging at the corners of his beak. “All I know now is, you go into it, you don't come back out.”

    Everything inside Pixel suddenly felt very heavy. Her jaw dropped as the realisation of the poor vulpix child's fate fell heavily upon her. Her head shook from side to side of it's own accord.

    “No...” She glanced over at the two vigoroth then back at Hax. “You wouldn't.”

    He closed his eyes and shrugged.

    Her skin prickled as her fur stood on end and she sprang to her feet, but the large bird didn't so much as flinch.

    “You're a monster!” she roared.

    “Hey! At least we know it's not safe, right?”

    The two vigoroth laughed, and an amused smirk spread across the unfezant's face.

    “You killed her! She was a child!”

    Hax inclined his head on one side. “Hey. I never said she was dead. I said she never came back out.”

    Pixel clenched her jaw and glanced away from him. “It's as good as,” she muttered.

    A movement in the trash bags caught her eye, and Leaf winked at her. She looked back up at the unfezant and scowled.

    “Why a child?”

    “She was as curious as I was,” he said. “And an easy pokemon to talk into doing it.”

    The vigoroth chuckled again.

    Pixel placed her paws over her muzzle and shook her head. “I can't believe this. It makes me feel sick.”

    Green spores engulfed the unfezant in a cloud and he let out a squark of surprise, spinning to face Leaf. His legs wobbled and he fell sideways, and Pixel leapt back, narrowly avoiding the large bird's falling body.

    The vigoroth stood wide-eyed, watching their fallen comrade and scratching their heads with their claws. One of them looked up as Leaf raced towards him on all-fours, his head lowered as he picked up speed. The vigoroth dropped the rope he was holding and raised his paws to defend himself. His claws fixed over Leaf's ears as the ivysaur launched himself into a full body tackle, sending his target tail over head.

    The other vigoroth rushed at Pixel, and she raised her horn to meet his claws. His paws struck his own face and he stumbled backwards into the two emolga. His body jerked as electricity coursed through him, and the twins leapt aside to make room for his falling body as he spasmed on the filthy floor.

    “Quick!” Leaf barked at them. “Climb on!”

    Byte joined him on his hoverboard and he waited for Pixel to gather hers and follow after him. Nybble held onto her waist, watching with fascination as the buildings rushed by.

    “Do you think they'll chase us?” she asked.

    “If we're not fast enough!” Leaf jabbed at his personal computer and glanced back at Byte. “How did you get yourselves caught?”

    “They ambushed us,” said Byte. “And that rope absorbed electricity. There was nothing we could do!”

    Pixel crinkled her muzzle in thought. “It sounds like they were prepared for you.”

    Leaf made a thoughtful noise. “Either they overheard you and singled you out, or someone's intersecting our computer.”

    “Which do you think is more likely?” asked Byte.

    “The first one, although I am going to make sure the computer is safe just in case. Ah!” He pressed a claw to his headset. “Yes, police department please.”

    He glanced back as he muttered to the pokemon on the other end of the line. Pixel followed his gaze. No one was giving chase. Hax was likely still under the influence of the sleep powder. Fortunately she'd managed to battle it, otherwise she feared they wouldn't have been so fortunate.

    That poor vulpix...

    A wave of nausea ran through her and she turned her back on the city. Buildings zoomed past in her peripheral vision, but she couldn't shake the mental image of the vulpix child walking straight towards her demise.

    She wasn't sure she'd be able to sleep that night.
     
  8. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    6 - Intelligence​

    The sun beat down on the lush grass of Cyan Island, dusting away the lingering fog of sleep from Pixel's mind. She yawned and stretched widely as she trudged across the meadow towards the control room. Despite only being able to grab around three hours of sleep, she was feeling oddly awake.

    Nybble and Byte, however, were a stark contrast. The latter looked like he was about to take a nap on the control deck while his sister lazily, and absently, flicked through the morning's news.

    Leaf gave Pixel a wide grin as the door hissed shut behind her.

    “You look cheerful,” she said.

    “I have reason to be.” He nodded at the screen then span to face it. “Hax and his goons have been arrested and are locked safely away in Meta Prison. We've received a grateful, yet heartbroken message from the vulpix's mother thanking us for our efforts.” He sighed and scratched his head. “Such a shame we couldn't give her better news.”

    Pixel peered over his shoulder at the long article, skimming over the text. Meta Prison, despite its name, was situated on the outskirts in Server City, providing an imposing threat to the gangs that formed there, forcing them to hang around the other two small cities instead. The article briefly covered the case of the missing vulpix pup along with three other hatchlings believed to have been tricked by Hax and his gang. However, the unfezant denied such claims, saying he was responsible for only the vulpix. The other three – a ratatta, growlithe and patrat – had allegedly been missing for about the same length of time.

    But one thing really struck her. The article only brushed the fact the vulpix had entered one of the black cracks. Other than that, there was no speculation of the dangers the anomalies caused.

    “They're keeping it under their hats, aren't they?” she scoffed.

    “Hmm?” Leaf looked round at her.

    “The cracks. It's as though the situation doesn't bother them.”

    “They're probably wanting to avoid getting the entire of System into an uproar. If the authorities aren't bothered by it, then the rest of the pokemon won't be. What we can take from this recent case is to stay away from them.”

    She made a non-committal grunt. “How come we weren't told about the other three missing hatchlings?”

    Leaf shrugged. “The ninetails messaged us directly. My guess is they were all lumped together in the news. There's only the four of us left now. We can't read everything, Pixel.”

    “I know. I know.” She fell down in the seat beside Nybble and logged in to her account. “Did they hack into our data by the way? You said it was strange that they seemed to know to target Nybble and Byte.”

    Juice flew out of Nybble's nose and she looked between them with a look of surprise.

    “It doesn't look like it,” said Leaf. “But I don't really know what to look for. So I've changed all passwords just in case. I recommend you change your log-in.”

    She nodded her understanding while reaching for a slice of toast on the small table beside her. She appreciated the snack. There'd been no time to make breakfast that morning.

    She couldn't deny it was a real pain to have to change her password. She worried she'd forget it, so she recited it over and over in her mind as she pulled up her tasks for the day. At the top of the list was her daily duty to check the log of newly infected pokemon in the hospitals, first checking Central Meta. Nothing leapt out at her. None of them were pokemon she recognised, which caused both a wave of relief and a flood of anxiety.

    An alarm went off in her mind and she stalled mid-bite.

    She recognised none of them.

    Didn't the doctor mention a meowstic?

    She scrolled to the top again and went through them one by one carefully until she reached the 'charmander'. Just for good measure, she skimmed through the rest.

    “Is there a problem?” Leaf asked.

    She glanced at him then turned back to the screen. “There's no log of the meowstic on here.”

    He grunted and gave a shrug. “If you're worried, check the claimed section?”

    The claimed section... she tapped the screen and a much smaller list of claimed and recognised victims flashed before her.

    None.

    They weren't listed.

    She shook her head and went back to the previous page. “Not there. I wonder why they didn't log him on here?”

    Leaf leant across Nybble to peer over her shoulder, scanning his eyes over the screen. “It could just be a simple error? I wouldn't worry about it.”

    “I suppose it could just be an oversight, but it seems rather careless, especially at this time.” She sighed and leant back in her chair. “Maybe you're right.”

    He pushed himself back to his seat and gave her a reassuring smile. “Don't stress yourself over it. We've got other things to deal with.”

    “I know, but -”

    “There's no easy way to find out what's happened to him, if anything at all. Short of hacking their systems, which none of us can do.”

    She made a non-committal noise and closed the website, then clicked on the icon for her email account. While she waited for it to load, she dropped her bag on the desk and pulled out her personal computer. A small, crumpled piece of paper tumbled out beside it and she picked it up and smoothed it out, revealing a number scrawled across it. A number that flicked a light on in her mind.

    An adventurer of many talents... Maybe one of those was gathering intel?

    A smile tugged at the corner of her lips. There might be some way to find out what had become of that meowstic after all. All she had to do was fire out a quick message.

    ...​

    Lights flickered around the dark room from the various computer screens, many of which were dormant as they flashed through a colourful yet rather retro screen saver.

    Switch threw his feet up on the desk, nudging his mouse and causing the image to break, revealing his previous day's work of sending out requests for a dynamo. Many of them had answers, and the red outline around them told him all of the answers were 'no'.

    Connor bristled beside him as he looked at the man's screen. “You're not getting very far, are you?”

    Switch shrugged and folded his arms behind his head as he leant back in his seat. “It's just a shame Diode can't design one that works.”

    The helioptile looked over at them from his position beside the laser, his sullen expression making him seem small as he almost cowered behind it.

    Connor snorted. “He can design machinery but can't design the parts needed to make it run. Useless!”

    He rammed his paws onto the desk, causing the contents to bounce and sparks to fly from his cheeks. The other two pokemon ducked away, but Switch just watched him out of the corner of his eye.

    “I'm never gonna get home,” the pikachu sighed. He turned his livid expression back on Diode. “Is there really nowhere we can buy a dynamo?!”

    Diode grit his teeth together and returned to tightening a loose screw on the machine.

    “They're old, Connor,” Switch explained. “Parts like that aren't going to come easy to us. We need to find a specialised market.”

    A soft beep followed by a buzz resounded from his pocket. He pulled out his small computer and flipped it open.

    “Then find one,” said Connor. “They can't be that hard to find. There were retro shops all over the place in our world! Surely this place has the same thing!”

    “You'd think.” Switch spoke absently as he read over the text on the small computer's screen.

    'Hi! It's Pixel. I was wondering if you could help me? I was told about a meowstic at Central Meta Hospital yesterday, but he's not listed on their website. I'm worried something might have happened, but right now we're busy trying to find our missing members. Is there any way we can find out? I can pay you.'

    He raised an eyebrow. “Why come to me?”

    Connor's rambling voice cut short and he fixed him with a stare. “What? Because I hired you!”

    Switch looked over at him with a start. “Oh!” He cleared his throat and chuckled, stuffing the computer back into his pocket.

    Connor's eyes didn't leave his hand, his expression becoming more furious as his small muzzle crinkled. “Did you get another job?”

    Switch raised his hands. “I've got to make money somehow, Connor. But I'm always here to help you, you know that.”

    The pikachu snorted and turned back to his computer. “The day you bail is the day you'll regret it. Like I've said before, I seriously doubt you actually want to leave this place. Makes me sick -”

    “Ah, here you go again, be rantin' an' ravin'!”

    All eyes went to the door. A slender leavanny strolled in, pushing a trolley ahead of her with four steaming bowls of soup. She stopped beside Connor and set a bowl down in front of Switch.

    “I tell you now, Connor-boy, you stress too much! When did you sleep last? You got dem heavy bags under yer eyes!”

    “I sleep when I need to, Snippet,” Connor said bluntly.

    The leavanny placed a bowl before a very grateful N00b who wagged his tail in appreciation. She turned back to Connor and shook her head.

    “I be tellin' you before, you got to get some sleep! You can't be doin' all dis with no rest! You'll make yeself ill!” She placed her leafy paws on her hips and frowned. “Stand up, let me have a look at you.”

    The other two pokemon and Switch watched as Connor slid from his chair with a sigh and stood before Snippet, avoiding her eyes. She placed a leaf under his chin and tilted his face up so he was looking at her. Tutting, she released him and took a step back.

    “Dark bags like an insomniac delibird!” She looked at each of the others in turn. “Do none of you tell him to get some rest?”

    N00b and Diode looked away, but Switch caught the amused smiles on their faces. Snippet looked back own at Connor and shook her head again, tutting softly.

    “Young man, you be gettin' yourself to bed, you hear?”

    He clenched his jaw together and turned towards the door. “Fine! An hour, tops!”

    “You'll sleep til you be wakin' up, young man! I'll bring your soup up, an' put yer favourite film on for you. Then, after a good long rest, you'll be fit to continue workin'!”

    He waved a paw in dismissal and vanished through the door.

    Snippet shook her head and tutted again, then grabbed her trolley.

    “I tell you all now, since the day I found him all lost and confused like, he's been nothin' but trouble. But I can't let him suffer now, can I? Poor love. I feel so sorry for him, stuck in a world he ain't no clue about.” She looked over at Switch and gave him a sad smile. “An' you too, dear. You'll both get back home, I'm sure of it.”

    “Thanks, Snippet.” He sipped his soup and gave her a smile. “Good soup, as always. What's in it?”

    “Carrot, lentil an' oran berry! Good for keepin' up dat energy! Now, you lot need to look after each other a bit more, I keep tellin' you dis. I'm happy to be lookin' after you all, but I'm not gonna be around forever, an' wi' dat virus, who knows how long we're gonna be well an' kickin'. I hate to be pessimistic, but we gotta be sensible, ain't we? I'll be back in an hour or so to collect yer dirties.”

    With that, she left the room. They watched her go, then all let out huge sighs of relief.

    Diode left the laser and fell down into his seat, promptly opening up a video website.

    “I reckon he'll be sleeping for a few hours,” said N00b. “Anyone fancy a game of chess?”

    Switch watched the lillipup pull a chessboard from beneath his desk and start lining up the black and white figures. Chess mastery was one of the small pokemon's many surprising talents and trying to finally beat him would surely be a great way to pass some time. Something tugged at his mind and he removed the small computer from his pocket, still showing Pixel's request.

    He still didn't know why she'd turned to him, but if she really wanted this information then there was someone who could help her. His eyes went back to N00b, now neatly lining up the chess pieces so they were all facing the right way.

    “I'll be white.” His tail blurred behind him as he gave Diode and Switch an innocent smile. “If you both want to play, you'll have to flip a coin or something.”

    “I think Diode's quite happy catching up on his dramas.” Switch stood up and moved over to the lillipup, stopping beside him and placing a hand on the back of his seat. N00b glanced back at him out of the corner of his eye as he spoke quietly to his ear. “While Connor's gone, I have a little request of you. Something only you can do.”

    N00b wagged his tail and his tongue lolled from his mouth in a grin. “What is it?”

    “I want you to hack into Central Meta's system and find out what's happened to this meowstic.”

    Switch handed him his pocket computer, letting him read over the mawile's request. He watched his friend's face go from surprise to confusion to concern and once he'd finished he clicked his tongue in thought.

    “Hmm. Suspicious doesn't even begin to describe it.” The lillipup turned his full attention to the computer, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Gimme five... maybe ten minutes.”

    The hospital's website flashed up on the screen as N00b's paws blurred across the keyboard. The image changed so quickly, Switch couldn't keep track. N00b muttered to himself, the odd word more coherent than the others, until he froze on a black screen displaying a chart of green text. He trawled through it, pausing momentarily to jot things down on a notepad.

    Then the images flashed again as the lillipup expertly retraced his footsteps back to his desktop. He leant back on his chair with a sigh and flashed Switch a grin as he hadned him the notepad.

    “There! Didn't even leave a paw print. Got all the information you wanted, and more. I doubt your friend is going to like it though.”

    Switch thanked him and read over his notes. The lillipup's child-like writing left little to be desired.

    'Despite the results of the meeting, Hertz wants to go through with the tests to find out why the meowstic has recovered from the virus. The meowstic won't recover from these experiments, but hopefully we'll find a cure from these tests. If not, his life will have been sacrificed in vain. Hertz refuses to tell the subject anything, in fear he'll decline.'

    The hair on the back of Switch's neck stood on end. “They're not serious?!”

    “I told you.”

    “Hang on. It says here they've put the tests put on hold due to Hertz's health. They will commence on the 22nd.” Switch checked the date on N00b's computer. “That's the day after tomorrow.”

    “It certainly explains why they didn't have him listed,” said N00b. “Too scared someone would come forward and claim him, and mess all this up.”

    Switch snorted. “I can't believe anyone would do this.”

    “He has the world's best interest at heart in the long run. However, his solution is rather warped.”

    “Warped? It's enough to turn your stomach.” Switch tore the page free and stuffed it into his pocket.

    “So what are you gonna do?” N00b asked.

    “I can't tell you that.”

    N00b's eyes widened so much they reminded Switch of a begging puppy. He gave a flustered sigh and shook his head.

    “Fine. I'm going to break him out.” He gave N00b a wink. “Don't breath a word of this to Connor.”

    “I can't anyway.” N00b grinned and wagged his tail. “I won't be here. I'm coming with you.”

    Switch narrowed his eyes. “You'll be staying here. If I take you with me, Connor will have my head!”

    N00b waved a paw. “Forget it. You need me for this.”

    “I need you?”

    “Sure. Data, infiltration tactics. With the plans they've got at hand, they're surely going to have raised their defences.” He nudged one of the pawns across the chess board, then moved an enemy knight across to intersect it. “If you think it's going to be so easy to get past them unprepared, you've got another thing coming.”

    Switch gave a flustered sigh and ran a hand through his untidy hair. “Fine. But you need to keep up.” He glanced over at Diode, meeting a pair of wide, curious eyes. “I can trust you won't say anything either?”

    Diode shook his head and ran a paw across his lips like a zipper.

    Switch smiled. “All right. We'll be back soon, hopefully. Thank Snippet again for her soup for me?”

    N00b cheered rather too loudly and leapt from his seat. “Oh boy! Road trip!”

    “Keep your voice down!” Switch hissed, prompting the lillipup to cover his mouth with both his front paws.

    As he raced from the room, he fired a quick message to Pixel. Hopefully the mawile wouldn't have any plans taking up her schedule for the next couple of days. He had no idea how any of them were going to go about this, but he knew they were going to have to work fast.
     
  9. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    7 - Breakout​

    Fluffy white clouds hung heavily in the sky, casting the drifting continent in a light mist and obscuring the view of the world below. Pixel could just make out the narrow trail of a river making its way towards the Backbone Mountains in the distance.

    “I can't believe you're going through with this.” Leaf crossed his arms and shook his head. “You're risking a prison sentence.”

    “You agreed with me,” she reminded him. “What they're planning is twisted. It's practically murder!”

    He gave a flustered sigh. “You know we only deal with investigations that fall between the cracks. Is this really one of them?”

    “Yes. The police want nothing to do with cases involving the virus. They've left the hospitals completely in charge of such things.”

    “But murder, Pixel.”

    “The doctors would just play the 'virus' card and tell them it's a potential cure. Unfortunately, it's a grey area.”

    He rubbed a paw over his face, nudging his headphones so they fell around his neck. “If they had his permission to perform a risky procedure, I'd understand. But either way, you're putting yourself at risk trying to stop them.”

    “I'm not going alone.”

    “No. You're going ahead with the crazy plans of a human, who – I'm not discriminating – I just don't know so I can't trust him.”

    She rolled her eyes. “You're being paranoid.”

    “Can you blame me? We've lost so many members as it is! I don't want to lose you too.”

    “You're not going to lose me.” She looked over at him, but he didn't meet her eyes. Instead focusing his attention on the misty view below them. “Besides, if we do get caught, we have all the evidence we need. I'm sure the police won't be happy with what Hertz is planning, even with all those suffering from this virus. It's still wrong. It's still murder.”

    “I think they'd be fighting for you to call it manslaughter.”

    “They know perfectly well what the risks are.” She hugged herself as a cold breeze washed over her and looked out at the horizon. “Yet they're still wanting to go through with it.”

    “I'd like to say it's none of our business, but I know you too well to know you're not going to just let this slide.”

    She gave a small smile and shook her head. “No. Not now I know it's happening. Oh! I think that's him.”

    A winged shape beat its way towards them, growing gradually larger as it surged up from the ground below. The unmistakable red and black feathers of a talonflame stood stark against the pale mist before he burst forth, whipping up the air as he landed daintily on the grass. He gave Leaf a nod then fixed his golden eyes on Pixel.

    “Are you ready?” he asked. “There's no turning back now.”

    Pixel clambered onto his back and once he was happy she was securely in place he turned to take off, but faltered as Leaf waved a paw to distract him.

    “Just so you know, I'm not happy about this.” The ivysaur pointedly crossed his arms again.

    “Don't worry.” Switch winked. “We have an expert on our team.”

    “What expert?” Leaf shouted.

    “A friend of mine.”

    His answer didn't satisfy Leaf remotely. He fired several other questions as Switch beat his wings, rising smoothly into the air and leaving Leaf's cries of protest to die out behind them.

    Pixel clasped her paws around Switch's feathers and leant towards his head. “A friend?”

    He flashed her a smile. “Yes. He's waiting for us on the ground.”

    Wind roared past her ears as the talonflame rocketed through the mist towards the world below. The slender form of the river vanished beyond the horizon, replaced with thick trees and the rooftops of houses as they descended into a small town. Waiting patiently beside a narrow street was a little auto-mobile shaped like a bullet. Switch landed beside it and gave the passenger a nod.

    “Pixel, meet N00b.”

    A young lillipup sporting a pair of flight goggles flashed her a toothy grin from behind the vehicle's steering wheel. “Nice to meet you!”

    “You too.” Pixel looked up at Switch. “This is your friend? The expert?”

    He winked. “Don't let looks deceive you. He might be a kid but he's a prodigy. If you're not convinced, he designed that car.”

    N00b gave the steering wheel a playful thump. “Yup! And I call it the awesome rocking bullet!”

    Pixel raised an eyebrow and eyed the car cautiously. “Really?”

    Switch chuckled, and the lillipup burst into laughter and doubled over on the dashboard. “Nah! I'm trolling you. It's the N00b Mobile! Get in.”

    She looked the car up and down again. It was small and narrow in design with a chrome plating and only three seats lined up from front to rear. There was no visible roof. She assumed it was folded away in the trunk. Feathers brushed her back as Switch ushered her forwards, eliciting from her a squeak of surprise.

    “You can trust him, it's safe.”

    “Yeh.” N00b widened his eyes at her. “If you don't climb in, you'll hurt my fuzzy feelings.”

    His words caused her to break into a broad smile and she hopped into the seat behind him. Once the door was shut, she looked back out at Switch.

    “Aren't you joining us?”

    He shook his head and spread his wings wide to prepare to take off. “Those seats are too small for me in either form. Even as a talonflame they restrict my wings. I'll be flying above you.”

    N00b pressed a few buttons on the dashboard and the front of the car lit up with flashing green lights. They stabilised and the display showed a list of numbers, one of which was marked 'speed'. A soft beep came from somewhere near him and he pulled out a pocket computer from the glove compartment and flinched.

    “Argh, we need to be quick. Connor's going to kill us.”

    Pixel's eyes opened wide with surprise. “Connor?” It didn't sound like a pokemon name. She looked up at Switch for an explanation. His wings hung limp at his sides and his face was twisted in a grimace. He shook it off quickly and gave her a smile.

    “He'll probably dock my pay. Oh well. Let's get a wiggle on, shall we? We've got a life to save.”

    With that, he rose into the air and N00b gave a cheer as the engine flared into life.

    “I'm glad to see you have your own goggles!” he said. “I suggest you use them.”

    She didn't question it. The pair of pink framed goggles settled snugly over her eyes just before the little car lurched forwards and took her breath away as it sped along the narrow streets, the buildings going past in a blur.

    “Is this really safe?!” she wailed.

    The lillipup chuckled. “What? You think I'd build a car like this without a collision detector?”

    His dance around her question left her feeling somewhat unsettled. All she could do was hope his statement was merely rhetorical.

    ...​

    The high tops of skyscrapers appeared clear over the low roofs of the outskirts. Travelling through the outlying towns had been trivial, but as the outskirts drew closer, N00b brought his car to a screeching halt, the rear end spinning sideways and sending dust into the air. Pixel choked and wafted a paw over her nose to beat it away. She squinted through her goggles as the dust settled, revealing three pokemon in hazmat suits standing beyond a frame of yellow tape that cut off the end of the road. A large, red sign was what had brought N00b to a sudden stop. The car had halted on level with it, and the little pokemon's attention fixated on the working pokemon, watching them spraying disinfectant over the buildings and street.

    “No.” She shook her head. “Not here.”

    She knew full well if it was an outbreak of the virus the entire town would likely be shut off to become a ghost town. And this close to Meta City too... her heart hammered in her throat and she gripped the back of N00b's leather driving seat.

    The lillipup scratched at his ear with his back paw. “Argh. How are we going to get around this mess?”

    “I could fly over it?” Switch's voice drew their eyes up to him. He hovered above them, beating his wings steadily to stay aloft. “I doubt it goes all around the whole city.”

    “You can't fly over it,” said Pixel. “It's contaminated, and there's no saying you won't catch it.”

    “There's no record of humans catching the virus,” he reminded her.

    “No evidence doesn't prove you're immune. Yes, no humans lying in comas have been found with it, but some humans have turned into pokemon, and the virus renders those who catch it almost unrecognisable! You can go back and forth. You still use a pokemon's body.”

    His body slumped as he sighed and he shook his head slowly. “Very well. Let's try and find a way around it then. It might just be a small number of houses have had an outbreak.”

    The talonflame swerved and doubled back on himself, moving over the tops of the buildings. N00b revved up his car and followed him as closely as he could while sticking to the streets. He moved at a much slower pace now, scouting out the streets for any way through. Every one that led into Meta City culminated in a dead end of yellow tape and 'no entry' signs. Pokemon in hazmat suits became a common sight, and some of them shouted and turned them away. With each road, Pixel's heart sank. It was looking very likely the outbreak had started in the main city.

    Nothing in the news had prepared her for this. It must have been very recent. She pulled her computer out of her bag and switched it on, the holographic screen appearing before her eyes. Loading up the news revealed the latest headlines, and she pawed through them looking for some sign of what exactly was going on.

    Her reward came with a red notice – 'Outbreak in Meta Prison'.

    “It's the prison!” she gasped.

    “The prison?” N00b looked back at her. “It's a secure site. How did it get in?”

    “I've no idea, I-” The image of an infected pokemon graced the screen, his wings covered with a green moss. A flying pokemon...

    Wait... the previous day, the battle with Hax and the vigoroth brothers, resulting in their arrest.

    The whole ordeal with the vulpix and the black cracks...

    She felt her eyes widen slowly and she stared back down at the computer. The text was nothing but a blur to her now as her paws shook uncontrollably.

    It couldn't be. If it was the same pokemon they'd battled the day before... if it was Hax...

    Leaf had taken a nasty blow from that unfezant.

    “No...” the word came out involuntarily and she shook her head sharply.

    “Are you all right?” N00b asked.

    “I don't know. We had a run in with a pokemon who was sent to Meta Prison only yesterday, and now this outbreak...”

    He snapped his head back to her and fixed her with a mixed look of confusion and fear.

    She looked back down at the computer, trying to focus her eyes to read on. Maybe she was mistaken. Maybe it wasn't the same pokemon.

    Switch perched on the seat behind her and trailed a feather over the screen, scrolling through the article. “I thought it showed itself quite quickly. If you had it...”

    “I'm not worried about me,” she said, rather bluntly.

    Truth be told, she hadn't even been thinking about that. The sheer thought, however, made her fur stand on end all down her back.

    “So you had a run-in with this staraptor?” Switch asked.

    “Staraptor?”

    She stared at the picture once more. Hax wasn't a staraptor. Almost instantly, her vision corrected itself and the words stood out as clear as day. She grimaced and clenched her teeth together.

    “No... no, he wasn't a staraptor.”

    He chuckled and struck her in the back with a heavy wing, almost knocking her into N00b's seat. “Then you've nothing to worry about!”

    “So everything's okay?” N00b asked.

    She popped the computer away and nodded. “I was concerned. But it's okay.”

    N00b gave a dry chuckle. “Maybe you should have read the whole article!”

    She flinched back in her seat and folded her paws on her lap. “I'm sorry. We've lost a lot of friends recently. It's easy to leap to the worst case scenario.”

    Switch let out a grunt. “Unfortunately the way they word the headlines doesn't help. 'Virus takes two more' would generate more views for the news stations than 'virus claims poliwag and pidgey'.” He smiled and gave her a wink. “It's not your fault.”

    She felt herself smile back and relaxed into the seat.

    “Let's forget about it and find this meowstic,” he said. “I'll scout for another street through to the city.”

    “Don't bother.” N00b tapped a screen on his dashboard. “I'm looking for a map. It will rule out all closed off streets.”

    “And you weren't using this before... why?”

    “It's in beta right now! I didn't want to get us lost.”

    Switch sighed and shook his head. “Okay! I'll scout on ahead anyway, and keep an eye on you two.”

    N00b stuck his tongue out at the talonflame's tail as he vanished over the rooftops. “Right.” He nodded to the map on the screen. “This thinks we need to rule out Server City entirely and go through Spool.” He grimaced as he revved the engine back into action. “Thankfully Connor never steps paw outside.”

    ...​

    The journey through Spool City was a sheer blur as the little car rocketed down the winding streets. Twice it came to a sudden stop as a pokemon bolted across the road, firing insults at them as they took off again.

    Finally, the car streaked into Meta City, joining the trundling wagons, smaller mobiles and hoverboards in the busy streets. The repetitive stop and start made their previous journeys through Proxy and Spool seem like a breeze. Now it felt like they would never reach the hospital.

    Pixel looked up to see if she could spot Switch, but he hadn't returned yet from mapping out the city.

    “I say we get out and walk,” she said.

    N00b tenderly tapped the dashboard with a paw. “And what do we do with the N00b Mobile?”

    “Park it somewhere.”

    He shook his head and grinned, his tongue lolling out at one side. “We need it. My plan involves a hasty get-away.”

    She raised an eyebrow at the lillipup. “I was kind of hoping for more stealth. Have you thought this through?”

    “Thought it through and penned down every possible outcome. Then I screwed it up and threw it away and decided to go rogue on this one.”

    “So what is your plan exactly?”

    He grinned again and turned his attention back to the road as the traffic moved another three meters further.

    “Wing it. I don't have one. There are several things we could do, but we need to scope out what their security is like.”

    “You haven't already done that?”

    “Yes, but the pokemon work in shifts. It could be any one of them. We'd need to tap into their security cameras first and see which one it is. I'm really hoping it's not the raichu doctor. I don't fancy being on the receiving end of a thunderbolt.”

    “Neither do I,” came Switch's voice from above them.

    N00b's tail became a blur behind him. “You're back!”

    “Take the next right turn,” Switch told him. “Follow the quieter roads. Eventually they lead to the hospital. It's not a direct route but it will certainly be faster than this one.”

    “Roger!”

    The traffic moved forwards again, stopping just as quickly and leaving them a mere two feet away from the right turn. Her nerves were now on end as she tried to think through a way to rescue this meowstic. If it went wrong, all three of them could be facing a prison sentence.

    They could be accused of breaking and entering, abduction, interfering with government projects.

    She was pushed back in her seat as the traffic surged forwards and N00b took this opportunity to speed up and round the corner before he lost his chance. Now they were in the narrow, empty streets, the wind beat at her face as he sped along them.

    Switch barked directions from above them, each one followed without flaw. N00b slowed a couple of times as they encountered a few vehicles that had decided to take the quieter route, but within minutes they had arrived at the red and white bollards that marked the location of the large hospital.

    They'd come from the other direction than Pixel had the day before. It was mildly disorienting as she tried to get her bearings. The line of ambulances stood quietly to her right, and the massive building rose up on her left.

    “Which area is he in?” she asked quietly.

    N00b was pawing at his personal computer, his attention entirely focused on his current task. She waited patiently for him to respond, occasionally casting a glance at the hospital as if she feared the very building itself might be aware of what they were planning.

    Finally, N00b looked up from his computer. “He's in the east wing.”

    “That's right at the other side,” said Switch.

    “Yup, so we'll have to take the car around there and hide it. I've got their security up on screen. Fortunately it's not the raichu.” He shook his head and chuckled at Switch. “Unfortunately for you, it's the wartortle.”

    Switch grimaced and rose back into the air with a mock sigh. “I'll just have to use my speed to my advantage then, huh?”

    Pixel felt her heart leap into her throat and she rose up in her seat. “We're not battling anyone! I want this to be as low key as possible!”

    N00b hissed at her. “Keep your voice down. You'll blow everything.”

    He pulled the car away from the bollards and trundled around the massive hospital, following the narrow road past multi-story car parks and little cafes where pokemon were likely spending their time outside of visiting hours.

    Pixel didn't like the idea of blowing their chance to rescue the poor unsuspecting pokemon, but she also didn't like the idea of running in and throwing attacks at the doctors, making a real scene of something they could do much more low key.

    The east wing was far from the quarantine ward, standing independently from the hospital. The N00b Mobile pulled up behind a wall and they peered over the top of it at the squat building. The sign above the door read 'authorised pokemon only', and standing formidably beside the door was an intercom.

    “Gah!” N00b struck the steering wheel. “Thwarted!”

    Pixel shook her head. “I don't think so. There's got to be another way in.”

    “Of course there's another way in.” N00b was tapping at his personal computer again. He held it up so Pixel could see the screen, displaying a map of the entire hospital. He zoomed in on the east wing and pointed with a claw. “See? A window.”

    She blinked. “The building is full of windows.”

    “Yes, but this one is a patio window, leading out from the dining room. If we get in through there, we'll be inside. And from there...” He flashed her a boyish grin. “We throw on some aprons and deliver dinner.”

    She frowned and Switch gave an audible snort.

    “Sounds like something from a teenage sitcom,” he said.

    N00b shrugged and looked up at him. “You got any better ideas?”

    ...​

    They stood before the patio window, which was unfortunately closed. The summer sun beaming down through the glass pane must have made the dining room feel like a greenhouse.

    While they tried to figure a way in, Switch rose into the air to keep a lookout while Pixel paced up and down looking for an entry point. There was no easy way in to be seen. She turned back to find N00b tapping away at his computer.

    “I've managed to access the cameras.” He looked up again at the corner of the dining room. “I've disabled all the ones in the dining room. They'll think it's merely a fault, and they'll have them back online soon.” He handed the computer to Pixel. “Keep an eye on it. If they go green again, let me know.”

    She nodded as she stared at the strange display. Every camera in the building was listed, and could be controlled through this small computer. How had he gained access to such information? She frowned and looked back up at the lillipup, watching as he used a slender rod of metal to jimmy open the lock inside the window. The only way he could do something like this was if he was a keen hacker.

    Hackers used to be rampant in the outskirts. The police didn't like them. The government had issued a warrant to have all hackers locked behind bars. And here one was, helping her...

    A sharp clink resounded through the pane and he looked back at them with a grin.

    “Tadah! We're in. How are them cameras looking?”

    She looked back down at the computer. Nothing had changed. She handed it back to him and he scanned over it then ushered them towards the window. Switch swooped down from the air to follow them inside and closed it behind him with one of his talons.

    “I have to say, I'd be much more comfortable walking around in my own body,” he said.

    “You'd also stand out like a sore paw-pad,” said N00b.

    “So where are we going?” Pixel asked.

    “Kitchen. Hopefully we can get there before the staff start preparing three-o-clock snacks.”

    The lillipup stuffed his computer back into his bag and trotted towards a door in the far left of the dining room. She had to trot to keep up with him, and Switch had even more difficulty as he hopped along behind her.

    The door led to a kitchen which, unfortunately, had an audino pacing up and down, stirring pans and arranging cakes on a dainty cake tree. She looked at the three of them with a start and raised a paw to her mouth. Pixel braced herself for the worst but instead the audino's eyes widened with delight and she lent forwards, fixing her blue eyes on the little lillipup.

    “Why if you aren't the cutest little thing! What are you doing here?”

    N00b wagged his tail and his tongue lolled out of his mouth. “I'm on work experience! And these two tell me they're interns.”

    She looked up at Pixel and Switch and eyed them curiously. Pixel didn't know what to say. All words had failed her as she just stuttered.

    Switch nodded. “Yup, we're interns. This is our first shift.”

    “Really?” The audino rubbed her chin as she looked them up and down. “I can't see your name cards.”

    “We haven't received them yet,” he said. “There's been a printing error, so we need to wait for them.”

    “Oh, dash it all!” The audino threw her paws in the air and shook her head. “Can't trust machines at all, can you? And we rely on them so much! Here. Grab an apron each, and take this trolley to room B.” She paused with the plate of sandwiches hovering over the trolley and looked at them with a raised eyebrow. “Do you know your way around? I don't imagine you do.”

    “We passed room B on the way here,” said N00b.

    “Of course you did.” She placed the plate down with a small clatter beside a steaming teapot, pausing to neaten out the already neat white tablecloth, long enough to almost reach the floor on all sides, before nudging the trolley over to them. “They'll be waiting for their sandwiches. Please be quick. I don't want Mono complaining she's had to take a late break again.”

    Pixel nodded her understanding and took the trolley from the audino. As she turned towards the door, she eyed Switch now sporting a chequered pink apron and hid a smirk behind her paw. He gave her a wink and followed her out of the door.

    “I don't know what you're smirking at. I think pink's my colour.”

    She couldn't help feeling this was all going a little too smoothly. The trolley rattled on a loose wheel as she pushed it down the hallway with N00b leading the way while Switch followed behind her. The lillipup pulled his computer out again to gather his bearings and turned a sharp right bend. Pixel glanced 'Room B' on their left. She had to hope whoever was waiting for their snack didn't come out to look for them.

    “Which room are we going to?” she whispered.

    N00b's large ear's twitched and he glanced back at her. “It's at the end of this corridor. But there's no doors to the outside, and no windows large enough to get him through.” He nodded to indicate Switch.

    The talonflame rolled his eyes. “A wartortle guard, too big for a quick escape... I'm being a dead weight on this mission.”

    “Don't be a martyr!”

    The lillipup's goofy smile and Switch's chuckle raised the tension from the air, and Pixel felt herself smile as she regained her optimism. A plan was formulating in her mind, but it felt rather cliché. If they could hide the meowstic on the trolley, they could hopefully get to the door without being seen, or close enough for an easy escape.

    N00b paused beside a door at a dead end and rose up on his hind legs to peer through the small window, although he couldn't quite reach.

    “This is it,” he said. “Room F.”

    Pixel abandoned the trolley and scooted over to him, pulling herself up so she could see through the window more clearly. The glass was tinted to keep out light, but she could make out the form of a meowstic sitting on a lone bed with his paws folded in his lap. A wave of relief flooded through her. They hadn't started their experiment yet.

    She placed her paw on the door handle and twisted it.

    Locked.

    N00b met her eyes and looked back at the door, reaching for his computer. “It's a card key panel. It'll take a minute or two for this baby to analyse it, so keep an eye op-”

    The door opened abruptly and a pair of pale blue eyes looked at each of them in turn. It opened fully and Pixel let out a gasp, her paw flying to her mouth as she took a step away from the door.

    The pokemon staring back at them looked every bit like a normal meowstic save for his colouration – white with black markings. It was as though his usual colouring had been reversed and then transformed into a greyscale picture. From the angle he was standing at, she could also make out two long, black, horizontal stripes across his back.

    Her reaction hadn't been met with enthusiasm. He sneered at her and looked away sharply.

    “Just... leave the trolley in the hall. I'll get it when I'm ready.”

    He vanished behind the door as he released it, and it began to silently shut on its heavy closer.

    “Wait!”

    Pixel stuffed her paw between the door and its frame and a surge of pain shot through her paw. It opened again suddenly, and she whipped her paw back, clasping it to her chest and grimaced. She was now stood in the doorway with a confused and irritated meowstic staring at her contrasting the looks of concern (and in N00b's part, mild amusement) from the other two pokemon.

    The door had only been locked from the outside. This pokemon was free to leave, just walk straight out of the room and out if he wanted to. What was keeping him here? If they were wrong, things could take an embarrassing turn.

    “What do you want?” he asked her. “If you need the trolley back, just leave the tray.”

    “We're not here to deliver a trolley.” She kept her voice as low as she could. “We're here to get you out.”

    “Get me out?” He snorted. “What are you talking about? I turned myself in here. They said they could help me.”

    “N00b?” She looked back at the lillipup, his nose buried behind his computer.

    “Already on it.” He handed it to her, the information loaded up neatly on the screen.

    She offered it to the meowstic. “See? From what you said, it doesn't sound like you had this in mind?”

    “Have what in mind?” His eyes widened and his frown slowly turned into shock as he read over the text. The computer was thrust back into her paws and he shook his head slowly as he looked around the bare room. Words stuttered out of his mouth, almost illegible. “What? I don't-”

    “You need to be quick,” said Switch. “I can hear footsteps.”

    “Come on.” Pixel took the meowstic's arm and led him from the room.

    Every ounce of reluctance had left him. His eyes were still wide and looked as though they were glazing over. Switch took him from her and helped him beneath the trolley, making sure the long tablecloth hid him completely from sight.

    It felt a lot heavier now as she shoved it along the corridor back the way they'd come. She was beginning to really question why it had been so easy. The door wasn't locked from the inside. There had been no sign of a wartortle guarding the room. The audino had barely questioned their presence at all.

    If this wing was meant to be high security, it was seriously lacking.

    Footsteps echoed down the corridor on the right, leading back to the kitchen. Pixel's heart began to hammer in her chest. She was really hoping things would continue to go in their favour, and now their only exit was barred off by an approaching doctor.

    The hidden pokemon's shadow spread up the wall, followed by a squat, blue form topped by the pointed, fuzzy ears of a wartortle. She blinked her heavy-lashed eyes as she fixed the three pokemon with a frown.

    “'Bout time! I was wonderin' where our snack was. I just went and asked at the kitchen, and apparently you'd left with it ten minutes ago!”

    Pixel feigned an embarrassed smile and rubbed a paw over the back of the head. Her chuckle mixed with N00b's and Switch's and the lillipup shook his head and waved a paw.

    “I'm sorry,” said Pixel. “We kind of got lost.”

    The wartortle shook her head slowly. “If three of you can't find Room B,” she pointed a claw at the room, “when it's clearly signed, then what hope have you got of stayin' on here? Gimme that trolley.”

    Pixel leant across it protectively, almost knocking over the pot of tea. The wartortle fixed her with a look of surprise and took a step back from her.

    “Sorry!” Pixel gasped. “You see, we need the trolley.”

    “You need it? You always leave the trolley!”

    “Well... you see...” She trailed off. She wasn't good at this. Lying wasn't something she was comfortable with. Behind her, Switch clicked his beak thoughtfully.

    “They've been stolen.”

    The wartortle crossed her arms. “High security ward and trolleys are being stolen? I find that highly doubtful. Aren't you new?”

    He closed his eyes and shrugged. “What can I say? This place has been rather lacking in its security. Whoever is meant to be in charge should be given a firm talking to about abandoning their post.” He caught the wartortle's frown. “But you look very capable. I bet few could get past you, am I right?”

    “Well, I...” She blushed and rubbed a paw over her head. “I do my best.”

    “I'm sure you do.” Switch grinned. “Now, if you don't mind, we need to get this trolley back to the kitchen. So if you want to take your tray?”

    Her blushing smile transformed back into a bitter frown. “I told you, the policy is you leave the trolley! Now give it here before it all goes cold!” She grabbed the opposite end in both paws and pulled, stumbling back as its weight threw her off balance. She held on to the tablecloth and fell onto her back with a shrill shriek, cakes and tea raining down on top of her.

    Pixel yanked the trolley back and shot past the flailing wartortle, the wheels clattering noisily as she bolted for the main door. It felt miles away, and the advancing audino drained what little hope was left from her body.

    “What is going on?!” the audino screamed. “I thought you were interns!” Her eyes went to the bottom of the trolley, where the black and white arm of the meowstic was hanging free and bouncing along the floor.

    Switch gave her an apologetic smile and waved a wing as they sped towards the door. “Sorry. As I'm sure you've now noticed, we were actually on a rescue mission.”

    “Don't just stand there!” barked the wartortle. “Stop them!”

    Pixel ventured a glance back. The wartortle had managed to climb back to her feet and was racing after them with a raichu and two growlithe. Her heart did a flip into her throat and she kicked the ground in a desperate bid to reach the door.

    Not one of them wanted to be on the receiving end of that assault. The wartortle and raichu were troublesome for Switch, and she wasn't happy with the idea of being engulfed in the growlithes' flamethrowers. As for N00b, she doubted a pokemon so small would be able to handle an assault from four strong pokemon.

    “You keep going!” Switch span to face the onslaught. “I'll hold them off.”

    She looked back at him, her violet eyes as wide as saucers. “But... but you can't do it alone!”

    He kicked himself up from the ground and lunged at them, his body a blur as he rocketed through the air. The raichu grunted as he struck him, sending him rolling away tail over head in an explosion of sparks until he crashed into a wall. Switch flailed backwards from him, struggling to stay airbourne as sparks danced across his feathers. His body stiffened and he collapsed to the floor, his wings splayed out at his sides.

    Pixel had almost made it through the door, but her heart had frozen in her chest. All she could do was watch helplessly as the talonflame struggled to rise to his feet, watching as the wartortle prepared to finish him off.

    She relinquished her grip on the trolley and leapt towards the turtle pokemon, slamming her horn hard into her gut. Her feet left the floor with the impact and she arced through the air, over the growlithes' flamethrowers as they aimed straight for Pixel.

    A small collision knocked her sideways and the attacks missed their mark. One of the growlithe yelped as a yellow streak crashed into him, sending sparks along his body and leaving him in a crumpled pile beside the wartortle. N00b stood with his fur on end, facing the recovering raichu and the remaining growlithe. Pixel looked around the room, feeling increasingly helpless. Not only were two pokemon still facing them, the audino had hurried to aid the wartortle and other growlithe, a pulse of pink light emanating from her feelers and healing away the two fallen pokemon's wounds.

    “Switch, can you stand?” Pixel asked.

    He let out a groan as he strained to raise his head, fixing the advancing raichu with a leer. He opened his beak and spat out a single flame, causing the raichu to flinch back as it seared through to his flesh. Switch rounded on the wartortle, still receiving attention from the audino. Another flame spouted from him, burning her on the paw.

    The audino looked back at him, eyes wide as her mouth hung open wordlessly. She looked around at her friends, eyeing the raichu as he beat at his singed fur, flinching in pain. The lone growlithe was looking to her for help, now outnumbered two-to-one.

    She stood up and gave the talonflame a flustered sigh. A small bell began to chime from some hidden area on her body, and with it the burns healed away from her two friends.

    Switch laughed and pushed himself to his feet. Two quick wisps flew from his beak, striking the wartortle and raichu before they could ready their attacks. Then, as quick as a heartbeat, flames erupted from his wings and engulfed the raichu, sending him running with his paws over his ears to escape the heat wave. The fire engulfed the walls, scattering those that couldn't take the heat.

    “You moron!” the wartortle screeched. “You're gonna burn the place down!”

    She leapt into action, spraying the walls with water which sizzled as it struck the smouldering surface.

    “I'm sorry,” said Switch. “I really didn't want to do this.”

    One of the growlithe shot from amongst the flames, snapping at his wings, only to be knocked back down with a full-body attack.

    A stream of water clipped his tail feathers and he yelped, arcing in the air to fix his eyes on the wartortle. Pixel rushed at her and knocked her backwards into the audino's arms. She nimbly dodged a stream of fire from the remaining growlithe and watched gob-smacked as N00b rushed past her, his fur sparking, and crashed into the fire pokemon in a flash of dancing electricity, sending him rolling back through the dwindling flames.

    “Hurry!” The urgency in Switch's voice shook her out of her momentary shock, and she bolted for the trolley.

    N00b pawed at the door, trying to get it open, but it was no use. The automatic button wasn't working.

    “They've disabled it!” he wailed. “There's no time for me to-”

    Glass exploded outwards, raining down around them in tiny shards and clinging to Switch's feathers as he burst through the door, his body engulfed in flames. N00b flinched under the assault of falling shards and shook his head sharply as he raced through them. Pixel followed after him, the shouts of the opposing pokemon and glass striking the metal trolley loud in her ears.

    “The N00b Mobile is just beyond the wall,” N00b told her. “Can you carry the meowstic?”

    She grimaced. “I don't think so.”

    Switch swooped from the air, knocking the trolley out of her grip as he grabbed for its passenger. The meowstic hung limply in his claws and Switch gave her a look of concern.

    No wonder he'd been so quiet. The poor pokemon had fainted.

    A streak of lightning cut through the air, and Switch swerved away from it with a squeak of surprise. Pixel glanced back at the east wing. Smoke billowed through the door, rising into the sky in a thick black cloud. The small group of pokemon stood amongst it. Not only had they recovered, they were now accompanied by two more. An exploud and Hertz. The gallade watched them silently as attacks went off around him, a look of disappointment in his eyes as he looked from her to the talonflame and back.

    A loud horn rang out from behind her, and she span, vaulting the wall and landing nimbly in the seat behind N00b. The engine flared to life and the small car shot away from the hospital with such speed the wall shook, pushing her back into her seat.

    Above them, Switch strained to keep up, holding fast to the limp meowstic.

    “Where to?” N00b asked her.

    “Cyan Island.”

    “Cyan Island, eh?”

    He pawed at the computer, and Pixel watched in fascination as two slender wings erupted from the side of the car. Slowly, it began to rise into the air, and before she knew it they were above the roofs of the skyscrapers.

    “This thing can fly?” she squeaked.

    “Wow!” Switch appeared beside them, his wings beating in steadily to keep himself and his passenger airborne. “You never fail to amaze me, N00b.”

    “It's still in beta. I have no idea how safe it is.” He flashed them a goofy grin. “Good thing Cyan Island isn't far away, huh?”

    Cyan Island... It had been a default answer. There was no way Leaf was going to be happy with all of them landing on their base.

    She looked up at the drifting continent moving slowly to the east in the distance. She couldn't really think of anywhere else to go.
     
  10. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    8 - Berries​

    Hertz scattered documents around his office, knocking over files and pen containers to join the shattered remains of a teacup and saucer on the ground. He span back towards his computer and gave the small waste paper basket another hefty kick. Sample ducked as it flew over his head and bounced off the closed door.

    “I can't believe this has happened!” Hertz roared, not for the first time. “Make a note that I'm going to fire that useless wartortle! She was meant to be on duty and abandoned her post for snack time?!”

    “You can't blame Mono.” Sample spoke oddly quietly, probably too scared to use his natural decibel. “It's meant to be a high security ward.”

    “Yes, with guards!” Hertz rounded on him and clasped his paws behind his back, ignoring the pain radiating through them. “We were meant to be starting our tests tomorrow, and now we have no hope in finding a cure for this wretched virus!”

    He corrected his fallen desk chair and fell down into it. The computer was off – most likely broken – but he steepled his paws together and leant forward on his elbows, staring at the blank screen.

    How many pokemon had died of this virus? How many were suffering? Now they were robbed of their chance of what may have been a sure-fire remedy.

    “I wouldn't beat yourself up over it,” said Sample. “Or your office.”

    Hertz shot him an unamused glare.

    The exploud cleared his throat and diverted his gaze. “You chipped him. Right?”

    Hertz looked back at his screen. “Of course I chipped him.”

    “Then you can find him.”

    He sighed and leant back in his seat, gingerly rubbing his paws together. “We would have had this done by now if it weren't for my wretched circulation.”

    “Yeh.” Sample glanced away from him and rubbed a large paw over one of his pipes. “We also would have been done if you hadn't felt the need to oversee the procedure.”

    “Are you blaming this on me?”

    “No, no!” Sample waved his paws. “When you take that medication, you're in no fit mindset to do anything! What I'm trying to say is, lots of things have gone wrong lately. I think we need better security, and to send someone out to retrieve the meowstic.”

    “Good idea.” Hertz looked over at him, and the exploud cowered back from his intense stare. “I think you'd be the ideal candidate for that. And if Mono values her job, take her with you.”

    “What about you?”

    He sighed and placed his face in his paws, his icy-cold pads cruelly reminding him he hadn't taken his medication that morning. Figy berries. They might well help his circulation, but they were the bane of his existence.

    “I'll be at home,” he said flatly.

    ...​

    The little car touched down on the island and slowed to a stop. The cool air stilled around them, drastically contrasting the desert wilderness passing below them.

    “Ahh!” Switch placed the meowstic on the soft grass and landed beside him in his human form. He raised his arms over his head and stretched. “So good to be back to my normal self!”

    “Tell me about it!” N00b removed his flight goggles and flopped onto his back in the long grass. “Oh, I'm exhausted!”

    Pixel leapt out of the car and rushed over to the meowstic, automatically checking for a pulse. A wave of relief washed over her when she found one and she stood up, looking back out at the world below. It had taken so long to reach the island, and the meowstic hadn't made so much as a peep the whole flight. She'd begun to fear the worst.

    She stood up and pressed a paw to her goggle strap. “Leaf? I'm back.”

    “I noticed,” came the ivysaur's voice. “I'm already on my way to you. I noticed you brought company?”

    She grimaced. “I didn't have much choice.”

    “So, this is your home?” N00b trotted over to her side, looking left and right as he took in the vibrant scenery. He gave a look over the edge of the drifting continent and let out a long whistle. “Living the life of luxury up here, aren't you?”

    She wasn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. Regardless, she gave him a warm smile.

    “I wouldn't call it luxury, but I like it here. It's home, and it's safe from the rough pokemon that live on the land. Besides, you two shouldn't - ”

    Switch rolled his eyes. “I know, I know. Authorised pokemon only.”

    “Authorised?” N00b looked up at her and grinned. “We're with you aren't we? You're our ticket! Now, what exactly are you doing up here? All I see are some scattered houses and an old ruin.” He fixed his eyes on the crumbling tower to their right.

    Pixel scratched her head beneath her goggles and pursed her lips in thought. “Well, you did help me. Leaf's on his way over, maybe he won't mind me showing you around the residential area?”

    N00b's tail became a blur behind him. “I'll do you a deal! You can show Switch the houses, and I'll check out the awesome ruin over there!”

    She placed a paw to her mouth and chuckled. “I'm afraid I can't do that.”

    He raised an eyebrow. “Why? You hiding something?”

    “Leave it, N00b,” said Switch. “The girl said no.”

    The long grass swayed erratically, and parted beside them as Leaf burst through on all fours. He rose up onto his hind legs and eyed Switch and N00b curiously before looking down at the oddly coloured meowstic.

    “Are you sure he's not infected?” His voice wavered so much with worry that it became oddly shrill.

    “Positive,” said Pixel. “He wasn't being held in quarantine.”

    He clicked his tongue and turned his attention to her. “Then what happened to him?”

    “He found out what the hospital's plans were and fainted,” she said.

    “I meant his colour!”

    Pixel shrugged and he gave a small sigh as he looked back down at the meowstic.

    “And he's been like this since he fainted?” He sighed and ran a paw over his head. “I don't like this. He looks infected.”

    “I can assure you he's not,” she said. “He wasn't in quarantine. They're more strict than that.”

    “I know they are. It's just a little hard to believe. Male meowstic are meant to be blue and white not white and black.” He paused and rubbed his head again thoughtfully. “I think we need to get him to a bed and get his adrenaline flowing somehow.”

    “I think he just needs some rest,” said Switch. “He'll recover.”

    Leaf crouched down beside the meowstic but didn't look up at Switch. “Thank you for your help. But I'd appreciate it if you left. You're not meant to be on this island.”

    “Aww, come on!” N00b bounced up and down on his toes. “Pixel promised us a look around!”

    Leaf's eyes snapped up to look at Pixel and she glanced from him to the lillipup and back. “I did no such thing! I said if Leaf's happy to -”

    He waved a large paw and looked back down at the meowstic. “I can't permit it. No unauthorised strangers. I have a spare room. The meowstic can rest there.”

    N00b's ears drooped and he looked down at the ground. “Okay... I'll get my car.”

    “Don't worry, kid,” said Switch. “Connor will want us back soon anyway. We should hurry.”

    He paused with a finger to his watch as Leaf stumbled backwards with the meowstic in his arms.

    A smile played at the corner of his lips. “Need a hand?”

    Leaf snorted at his question and staggered forwards, almost dropping the unconscious pokemon back on the ground. Pixel reached out a paw to steady him and he regained his footing.

    “Are you sure you can carry him all that way?” she asked him.

    He clenched his jaw together and closed his eyes. “All right. You can call carrying him a look around the village, okay?”

    Switch chuckled and took the meowstic from him. “Okay, you twisted my arm.”

    N00b skipped along beside them, his tail wagging jovially.

    “It's pretty awesome having a human around, huh?” he said. “They can carry you when your legs are tired, reach berries from higher branches, lift heavy things.”

    “So can a tyranitar,” said Leaf.

    “Yeh, but...” N00b exchanged glances with Switch and raised an eyebrow.

    “You could try being a bit nicer,” said Pixel. “They did just help me out on this mission.”

    “I wasn't happy with you taking this 'mission' in the first place,” said Leaf. “Were you seen?”

    She grimaced and wrung her paws together. “Actually, yes.”

    He slammed a paw into his snout. “Wonderful! So that means you're a wanted pokemon now?”

    “Wanted by criminals,” said Switch. “What they were planning was abhorrent.”

    N00b bounced up and down with each word. “Warped! Twisted!”

    “I'm not disagreeing with you,” said Leaf. “But we're meant to be assisting pokemon by taking on cases that the police or government don't want anything to do with. Not causing trouble for them!”

    Pixel gave a flustered sigh and ran a paw over her face. “We slipped up, okay! But we managed to rescue the victim in all this.”

    “Yeh!” N00b grinned. “Look on the bright side! Sun's shining, and we saved a life!”

    Leaf said nothing, fumbling for his card key as they trudged the rest of the way over the meadow. He paused beside a squat house amongst houses of various sizes. Some were large enough to accommodate a charizard – something that they'd had to bare in mind when Nano joined them – while others were small enough to not drown pokemon such as Pixel or Leaf.

    He scanned his card over the door panel and opened it, allowing Switch and N00b to enter before him.

    “Wow!” Switch had to duck down as he made his way through the living room after Leaf. “Now I know how Alice felt inside the White Rabbit's house.”

    The three pokemon looked back at him with equal looks of confusion.

    Pixel inclined her head on one side. “Huh?”

    He waved a hand, steadying the meowstic on his other arm. “Nothing. Just something from my world.”

    Leaf opened one of the bedroom doors and nodded to it. “You can place him on the bed. I'll just grab a blanket for him.”

    He moved across to the room opposite and Pixel followed him inside. She watched the ivysaur as he opened a draw beneath his bed then looked around the room, her eyes landing on a photo on the bedside table. She picked it up absently as she looked at the two laughing pokemon – Leaf and a mew wearing a green scarf with white-framed glasses on her head. The lenses didn't match. One was blue and the other red. She knew the photo all too well, especially since she'd been the one who'd taken it two years earlier. Retro had both her paws over Leaf's eyes, and even though she'd surprised him he'd been laughing like a loon.

    “Here it is!” Leaf stood up with a brown blanket bundled in his arms. He eyed Pixel curiously as she placed the photo back on the night stand. “I think I have some sitrus berries. If we drain them into some water that might perk him up.”

    “Maybe.” She gave the photo another glance. “I miss her too, you know. I think we all do.”

    “We'll find her.” He moved over to the door and she turned to follow him.

    “Do you really believe that?” she asked.

    He paused with one paw on the handle and glanced back at her, but he said nothing as he pulled the door open and strolled across to the opposite room.

    “If you could look for those berries, Pixel?” He tossed the blanket over the meowstic and looked back at her. “I might have some in my fridge.”

    She stared at him for a moment, then moved over to the living room's adjoining kitchen. She couldn't shake that look he'd given her. That look that said he was only holding on to the faintest of hopes. As she fumbled through the assorted berries in the fridge, she caught the conversation going on in the bedroom.

    “How do you expect him to eat berries?” N00b asked. “He aint gonna be swallowing anything in this state.”

    “We'll manage, don't you worry.”

    Part of her wondered if he was even talking about the berries.
     
  11. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - That awkward moment where I realise their are inconsistencies with Switch's back story. I can assure you what happens in this chapter is fact. I've just been a dope and not checked. Don't worry, I'll fix up the one-shot later =)

    9 - Stranded​

    N00b sat back in his driving seat and absently scratched his ear with a back paw. He tried to rev up the engine once more, but the engine gave out a mechanical wheeze and stuttered before dying out. The lillipup slumped forward onto the dashboard with a flustered sigh.

    “This car aint going anywhere fast,” he said.

    “I don't get it,” said Pixel. “It was working fine before.”

    “I did say a lot of it is still in beta. It clearly has a fault that puts a lot of stress on the battery.”

    “What's wrong with it?” Leaf paced back and forth before the car, but Pixel knew full well any interest he was showing was just an act. He didn't know the first thing about being an engineer.

    “The battery's dead. If I could get it working, there would be no problem,” explained N00b. “However, I've no means to charge it.”

    “We have two emolga here,” said Pixel. “They could charge it for you?”

    N00b removed his goggles and wiped one of the lenses on the fur of his chest. “They could try, but they'd need to be careful not to blow the battery up.”

    Leaf was already talking loudly into his microphone for the emolga twins, now standing with his back to the car. Pixel watched as N00b lifted up the hood and prodded at the complex machinery, not for the first time. He muttered something about a loose wire and climbed into the car to try again, but the engine didn't so much as cough.

    “Is it more than just the battery?” Pixel asked.

    “No. I thought it might be, but...” N00b scratched his ear again, something Pixel was beginning to wonder might be some kind of nervous habit. “If I can't get the engine started, I won't be going anywhere.”

    “Hey,” said Switch. “I can always carry you back.”

    N00b visibly shuddered. “I'm sorry. I'm not comfortable with that. I get terribly motion sick, and flying... don't get me started on flying.”

    “But... you drive,” said Pixel. “And your car flies!”

    “It's different if it's my own driving! I'm in charge of the vehicle and I'm fully focused.” He looked up as two small voices called out to them. The emolga twins hopped and glided over the grass towards them. Immediately his tail started wagging and he turned to Leaf. “Are these who you were talking about?”

    “Yes. Meet Nybble and Byte,” Leaf answered. “Hopefully they'll be able to get your car started.”

    “What?” Byte stopped beside them and peered at the contraption. “This thing?”

    “You might be able to help me.” N00b hopped from the car and indicated the battery. “Would you mind giving this a gentle charge?”

    Byte stared thoughtfully at the engine and scratched his nose. “Is it safe?”

    N00b gave him a nervous smile. “If you're gentle, yes.”

    Nybble leapt back from the car and hid behind Leaf. “I'm not touching that thing!”

    “Come on, guys!” whined Leaf. “If you can't get their car started, they'll never be able to leave... I mean... go home.”

    Switch rolled his eyes. “If he'd let me carry him back, we'd be out of your hair in a heartbeat.”

    Byte eyed the battery and gave a confident nod. “All right. I think I can do this.” He placed a paw on either side of the battery and electricity sparked from his cheeks, running through his body and out of his paws.

    The group watched with fascination as the pin on the battery's dial span from red to green. Byte removed his paws and turned to the lillipup.

    “Is that enough?”

    The pin slowly retreated backwards towards the negative end of the scale.

    N00b grit his teeth together and his ears drooped. “It's discharging power. I think it's well and truly had it.”

    Leaf grimaced. “Is it enough to get you home?”

    The lillipup shook his head. “Not even close. Not from the desert all the way to Spool anyway.”

    Switch stretched and yawned widely. “It's not too far to the next city. I can fly out and pick up a spare.”

    “You're exhausted,” said N00b. “Are you sure you can make it?”

    “I've travelled in worse conditions.”

    “I doubt anywhere will be open now.” Pixel looked out at the setting sun in the distance, dying the sky in a vibrant orange. The heavy, jagged lines cut across it in an erratic pattern that reminded her of shattered glass. “You will be hard pressed to get one.”

    Leaf rubbed the back of his head with a paw and looked away from them with a heavy sigh. He waved them away and turned back towards the tower. “Stay here. You can head off first thing in the morning.”

    “Are you sure we're not intruding?” The sarcasm in Switch's voice didn't fall on deaf ears.

    Leaf looked back at him and narrowed his eyes. N00b looked from the ivysaur to his friend and back, and his ears flopped to the side of his head as he lowered himself to the ground. Leaf turned away and trudged towards the crumbling tower.

    “Wow.” Switch looked down at N00b. “Are you sure you don't want a lift back down to the ground?”

    N00b fixed him with wide puppy eyes and let out a high pitched whine.

    Switch sighed and turned to Pixel. “I'm really sorry we can't get the car working.”

    “It doesn't bother me.” She turned and headed back towards the little houses. “Just stay out of his way for a while.”

    A burst of static hit her ear, followed by Leaf's quiet voice. “Pixel?”

    “Hmm?”

    “I don't want to leave the meowstic unattended, or those two. So could you all stay in my house and not let any of them wander around unsupervised?”

    “I don't know if they'd be comfortable with that.” She glanced back at them still standing beside the car. “You've not exactly made them feel welcome.”

    There was a pause, but she could still hear him breathing on the other end of the line.

    “Okay,” he said. “Having strangers on the island makes me nervous. Apologise for me?”

    “You can do that when you arrive home later.”

    “I won't be coming home. I have work to do, so I'm staying in the control room.”

    Pixel let out a long breath. “Come on, Leaf. You can't stay up all night. You need your rest.”

    “I'm staying here. You lot stay at mine, but I must implore they stay out of my room.”

    She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. “Fine. I'll see you tomorrow.”

    The communication broke off and she turned back to the car. Switch was sprawled on the grass with his back against it looking out at the sky with a rather depressed-looking N00b. Neither of them wanted to be on this island, and Leaf's reaction hadn't helped matters. She just had to hope passing on his apology would help to fix things.

    “Hey.” She stopped in front of Switch and he fixed his golden eyes on hers. “Leaf sends his apology. He's not used to strangers visiting Cyan Island.”

    Switch closed his eyes and shrugged. “That's pretty obvious. Don't worry, I don't hold grudges.”

    “Neither do I,” said N00b. “I like anyone so long as they don't hurt my friends or pull my tail.”

    Switch laughed and ruffled the fur between N00b's ears. The lillipup's tail struck the ground repeatedly as he chuckled and pushed Switch's hand away with a tiny paw.

    “Anyway,” said N00b. “I'm gonna sleep in the car. See you in the morning.”

    Pixel raised a paw to stop him. “Actually! Leaf offered for you to stay in his house.”

    “What?” Switch raised an eyebrow. “Both of us?”

    “Yes.”

    “But... it's tiny. Is there room?”

    She giggled. “It's not that tiny.”

    He shrugged. “Sure. I'll curl up on the floor like a sandshrew. Come on, N00b.”

    He rose to his feet and followed after her. When she reached his house, she absently swiped her card key across the panel. The door opened, which gave her a mild shock. She hadn't expected it too. Ordinarily they wouldn't, but she'd almost forgotten that Leaf had validated all their card keys to work on every house on Cyan Island after the virus outbreak. It was better to be safe than sorry, and one might find themselves in a situation where they needed to urgently lock down a house for quarantine, or get inside to rescue someone.

    Switch ducked into the house behind her, and adopted a corner beside the door. Sat down, he looked a lot more comfortable. The ceiling was four and a half feet off the ground. Ample room for an ivysaur but a bit too low for someone of Switch's height. N00b hopped onto the sofa and curled up into a ball, immediately making himself at home.

    Pixel wandered into the adjoining kitchenette and poured them each a glass of bottled water. Since Cyan Island didn't have a river or an accessible water source, they had to buy it on the ground and bring it back up.

    Switch accepted his glass gratefully and sipped at it, keeping one eye on the window.

    “I wonder how our new friend is?” he asked.

    Pixel glanced over at the corridor, eyeing the closed door to the meowstic's room. “I've no idea. Leaf didn't seem too concerned after giving him sitrus juice.”

    He narrowed his eyes slightly and sipped at his water. Pixel expected him to say something since he didn't look convinced, but instead he looked over at N00b and smiled.

    Soft snores rose from the sleeping lillipup and she couldn't help but smile herself. She leant back in her seat and turned back to Switch.

    “You two seem close,” she said. “How did you meet?”

    He chuckled and placed his glass on the floor. “It's actually a long story.”

    She shrugged. “We've got time.”

    He ran a hand through his untidy hair and glanced over at the door. “I guess you're right. Well, I may as well tell you, huh? We've got nothing better to do.” He shifted against the wall and crossed one leg over the other. “When I first arrived in this world twelve years ago, I told you I kept going back and forth between a talonflame and a human. Well, unfortunately I suffered quite badly with it and ended up in the hospital wards with the other humans who weren't coping well. Those who'd ended up in comas. They kept expecting me to do the same, but something kept me going. Hope they could help me, I guess.” He shrugged. “I was there for two years, changing form every few minutes. It was exhausting. I slept most of the day just trying to keep my strength up.

    “Then one day, the doctor walks in and tells me someone was there to claim me. Two pokemon who claimed I was a friend of theirs. When he stood aside, there were two small pokemon - a helioptile and a lillipup.” He nodded to N00b. “I hadn't a clue who they were, but I didn't say so. For all I knew, they were friends of mine from my world who had their forms changed. I was wrong.

    “The pair of them were normal pokemon hatchlings, but they told me they had a friend who was a human, but he refused to go outside. He was looking for a way to change his form back, and needed someone to test it on. They promised me if the device worked on me, then they could make me one too, and I'd be able to stay as a human and help them to find a way back.

    “Needless to say, I took the offer. I was clutching at straws at this point. If medicine couldn't help me, and what these two pokemon were offering might, then I was willing to trust them.

    “They resided just outside Meta City, in Spool. Their friend, a human turned into a pikachu, was all too keen to get the experiment started. What they'd devised looked just like a watch. All I had to do was put it on and press the button. Easier said than done when your form keeps changing, but once I had it on and I pressed that button, the form stuck. There I stood, as a human, no going back and forth. He asked me to press it again, and my form flipped back to a talonflame. Again, back to a human.

    “When the pikachu tried it, however, it failed. He was less than impressed, and after a bit of a tantrum decided I could keep it on one condition – I help him whenever he needed it.”

    He drifted off, spinning the watch around on his wrist with his other hand. Pixel stared at him for a moment, waiting for him to go on, and when he didn't she decided to speak up.

    “So you've been with him ever since?”

    He looked up at her and shook his head. “No. A few days later, I parted ways. I went exploring, and found myself helping out a group of pokemon on Luma Island.”

    Pixel's eyes widened. “That's one of the drifting continents!”

    He laughed. “Yes, it is. I joined their investigation team and stayed there for a couple of years before moving on. I'd got a message off Connor telling me they were close to figuring out a way to get back home, and he wanted my help.” He smiled and tapped his nose. “That's a secret, by the way. Keep it hushed.”

    She laughed and waved a paw. “Of course. I mean, you want to go home clearly. It's not my concern, I won't say a thing.”

    He smiled and closed his eyes, leaning back against the wall. A loud thud from the corridor caused his eyes to snap back open again, and startled N00b so much he leapt to his feet and stood with his tail rigid and ears pricked upright. All of them turned to face the sound as a yell and another thud resounded from the corridor as something bashed into the closed door. It exploded off its hinges and the white and black meowstic dashed from it and stood, frozen amongst a rain of splintered wood, as he stared at them. He took a step back and raised his paws, narrowing his eyes as he prepared to raise his ears in an attack. His breaths were coming quick and heavy, and his fur bristled down his back.

    “Where am I?!” he roared.

    Pixel stood up and raised her paws. “You're safe.”

    He shook his head. “You abducted me!”

    “We didn't-”

    “I remember now! You came into the hospital and told me some outrageous lie! And now... what do you want with me?!”

    “We saved your life,” Switch said firmly.

    The meowstic turned his attention to him and his jaw dropped. He waved a paw pointedly and took a step back.

    “No... I know what this is... you... you want me... I'm not going back there!”

    The strength seemed to leave his body and he stumbled backwards. Pixel rushed over to him and steadied him on her arm.

    “Okay. You need to sit down, you're delirious.” She led him to the sofa and he fell down into it, followed by a cool glass pressed into his paws. “Drink that.”

    He tentatively sipped at the water, then gulped it down in three mouthfuls, setting it back down on the table.

    “Now.” She sat down beside him and smiled. “What's your name?”

    He hunched forwards and wrung his paws together, keeping a watchful eye on Switch.

    “Vector,” he said.

    “Okay, Vector. You're safe here. Those doctors wanted to run dangerous experiments on you at risk of your life. You remember us showing you their records?”

    “That was their records?!” He clenched his teeth together and covered his face with his paws. “I thought they were helping me...”

    “But you don't have the virus,” Pixel explained. “What were you even doing there?”

    “Have you even looked at me?”

    She cast her eyes over his white fur. “I suppose...”

    “One would think I had the virus. After what I went through...” His voice trailed off to almost a whisper. “They all died... why did I...?”

    Pixel caught Switch and N00b's confused glances and they all turned back to Vector.

    “They all died?” she asked. “Who? What happened to you?”

    He stared over his paws at the wall, his body rigid. Pixel placed a paw on his back, but when he didn't respond she looked over at Switch and N00b.

    “I think he's got some kind of post traumatic stress disorder,” she said.

    Switch looked back up at the meowstic. “How long have you been like this, Vector?”

    Vector turned his eyes to look at him, then closed them and lowered his paws with a sigh. “I can't even remember... weeks?”

    “Weeks, huh?” Switch ran his fingers through his hair and looked away. “Weeks... they all died...” He looked back up at him. “Were you amidst that flash?”

    Vector stiffened again and his body began to tremble. Pixel turned to face Switch, and he kept his eyes on the meowstic as he waited for a reply. Even N00b was trembling as he looked from the human to the meowstic and back.

    “The flash?” Pixel shook her head in amazement. “You mean that freak incident some believe happened at the Fracture several weeks ago? Nobody knows what happened there, Switch. It's believed to be a rumour started by conspiracy theorists. Especially those looking for an answer to the virus's origin.”

    “No, it happened,” Switch said bluntly. “I saw it, and with the way he's behaving, I think he was there.”
     
  12. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    10 – Conspiracy Vs Reality​

    Vector continued to stare at the wall, his eyes glazed over as his mind went back to some hidden traumatic event. The look on Switch's face contrasted with the pokemon's drastically as he folded his arms behind his head and leant back against the wall, eyeing Pixel as she looked between them both, desperate for an explanation. The room had fallen into silence when Vector refused to give any information. The only vocalisation she had expressed was a long, drawn out 'huh?!' of such a high note it had hurt N00b's sensitive ears.

    “You saw it?” Her heart was still racing. The reaction from the meowstic had made Switch's statement seem more concrete, and she really didn't like it. “It's not just a conspiracy? You were both there?!”
    Switch closed his eyes. “I was flying overhead. I never saw any other pokemon in the vicinity. I wasn't really looking for anyone.”

    “But it happened at the Fracture. Right?” She shook her head in disbelief. “What were you doing there?”

    “I was trying to find scrap machine parts for Connor, and the abandoned towns and cities seemed like a good place to look.” He opened one eye and fixed it on Vector. “I can't speak for him, however.”
    Pixel looked down at N00b who avoided eye contact as he silently sank down beside the wall.

    “Did you know about this?” she asked.

    He nodded sullenly and stared down at his paws.

    “I'm not angry with you,” she said. “I'm just confused. Why has this been dismissed as a conspiracy theory if three of you here witnessed it?”
    N00b raised a paw. “I didn't witness it. Switch told us about it, and I believe him.”
    She looked back up at Switch and he shrugged.

    “You know as well as I do that there are no inhabitants living within a forty mile radius around the Fracture,” he said. “Witnesses are so small in number that the government believe we've formed together to come up with some far-fetched story that's been dismissed as nonsense.”
    Pixel rubbed her paws together. “But... the virus and the cracks. Surely they must believe it now, if they're linked?”

    “Of course they're linked.” Vector's voice startled Pixel and she span in her seat to face him. He continued to stare at the wall, but his eyes looked more focused now. “That explosion, or flash, whatever you want to call it... I was only conscious for a short time. It almost blinded me, but I saw what happened to the world as it came into contact with it – and with me. My appearance should be enough clarification that the virus is linked to that 'flash'.”

    Switch quickly looked him up and down. “But you're not infected.”

    Vector struck his lap with both paws, the sudden movement causing Pixel to scoot backwards into the arm of the chair. “But I must have been! Look at me! I don't even have my own abilities any more! I don't even have a type... not psychic, or normal... nothing...” He placed his head in his paws and hunched forwards, letting out a low groan. “They scanned me, and it came back with nothing. If I don't have the virus, then what happened to me?”

    The other three exchanged confused glances. Whatever had happened to him, they were no wiser than the doctors who'd checked over him.

    N00b cleared his throat and looked up at him. “Maybe it cured itself.”

    “That's what they think,” said Vector. “Or that I have antibodies that can fight it.”

    “And that's why they wanted to run tests on you,” said Switch. “They saw you as a potential cure.”

    Vector flopped backwards into the sofa with a sigh and pressed his arm across his face. “I went to them for
    help... and they were going to turn me into some kind of experiment? I can't believe it.”

    “Well, you're safe now,” said Pixel. “You should probably get some more rest. You look exhausted.”

    “Maybe.” He pushed himself forward and stood up. “I'm afraid I broke the wardrobe... and the door.”

    “It's okay,” said Pixel. “I'm sure we can fix them.”

    N00b struck the floor repeatedly with his tail. “Don't worry! I can fix them in a jiffy!”
    Vector said nothing as he moved towards the corridor. Pixel watched him for a moment then stood and pointed to the kitchen.

    “If you're hungry, I can make you some soup?”

    He stopped by the broken door and shrugged. “Sure. That would be great.”

    She watched him vanish into the room and smiled. A successful mission. The meowstic was safe, he didn't have the virus, and they may be a step closer to finding its origin if the 'flash' wasn't a mere myth. She trotted over to the kitchenette and rummaged through Leaf's refrigerator. Hopefully he wouldn't mind. Whatever she used, she'd make sure she replaced. With a cabbage in one hand and a bag of various berries in the other, she looked back at the human and his friend.

    “I hope you like berry soup. It's Leaf's favourite, and I think it might cheer him up a bit.”

    N00b wagged his tail and hopped to his feet, skipping in circles. “I love berry soup!”

    After a hearty meal, the living room was filled with soft snores as N00b fell asleep on the sofa at Pixel's feet.
    She lay on her back staring at the ceiling, her mind reeling with questions.

    Vector's words rang out in her mind. 'Of course they're linked.' He hadn't gone into detail. He hadn't explained what the 'flash' was or what had caused it.

    The black cracks... the virus... how much did he know? What had he seen? And most of all, would he even be willing to tell them?

    ...​

    Sample mumbled under his breath and gave the pocket computer a shake. Not that he expected it to help. It was more out of frustration. The device hadn't picked up the meowstic's chip, which meant he wasn't in the near vicinity.

    “Tryin' to shake some sense into it?” Mono folded her arms and crinkled her nose as she turned away from him and looked out at the city. “I already told you he took off in a flyin' car.”

    “Yeh, but he could be in the city!” Sample boomed.

    She covered her ears with her paws and flinched away from him. “Keep it down, ya big goof!”

    He fired air through his nose and marched away from her, staring down at his pocket computer as though it was going to throw an answer at him at any moment. He had to quickly side-step a street lamp which seemed to leap up from the ground before him. Mono laughed mockingly as she trotted after him.

    “I was waitin' for you to walk straight into that one! Woulda made my day!”

    “Shut up and make yourself useful.” He span and pushed the computer into her paws. “I'm gonna pop into that cafe for a coffee. You keep searching for him.”

    “What?!” She frowned and held it back out to him. “You do it! It's your computer!”

    “Your the one who lost him! Do you want to keep your job? 'Cos Hertz was all for firing you!”

    She looked away and muttered something incoherent. Sample snorted and turned away, strutting into the coffee shop. A sharp beep froze him in his tracks and he turned back to Mono, who was staring aghast at the screen.

    “What's it doin'?” she shrieked. “It's gone all green on me!”

    He snatched it back and watched as a green dot rippled on the top left corner of the screen. It was above them? He looked up, searching through the clouds and his eyes widened as they landed on the distant form of the drifting continent, slowly making its way towards the outskirts of Meta City.

    “He's on the drifting continent...”

    “I told you he took off in a flyin' car!”

    “Yeh, but you never mentioned no drifting continent.” Sample dialled a number into the computer and held it to his ear.

    “How do you expect us to get up there?”

    “Same way he did. We fly.”

    “We can't fly!”

    “I hope you're not motion sick then.” He looked over his shoulder at her as the dialling tone rang repetitively in his ear. “'Cos the only way we're getting up there is on the back of a pidgeot.”

    ...​

    Pixel had decided to sit out in the meadow for breakfast to enjoy the early morning sun. The air was cool, and within moments the sun's rays had dried the dew on the grass. The sparse clouds provided a fantastic view of the cities as Cyan Island headed towards them, Meta's skyscrapers looming over the rest of the buildings along with the giant antennae flickering its blue and green light. The view would have been relaxing if it weren't for the ominous, jagged black lines that marred the scenery.

    She nibbled on her apple, trying to ignore those black cracks, but the sinking feeling that they posed a much bigger threat than any of the news headlines had stated filled her with an overwhelming anxiety that made her wish she'd just stayed indoors to eat. Or at least wish it was too cloudy to actually see the world below. She placed the half-eaten apple back on her plate with a small sigh and leant back on her paws, looking back at her house.

    Switch followed her gaze and gave her a look of concern. “Are you all right, Pixel?”

    She looked back round at him and caught the questioning gazes of N00b and Vector. It had been a pleasant surprise to find the meowstic was in a much better state of health. He'd already consumed two plate's worth of berry toast and was tucking into his third. Maybe he'd be up for answering a barrage of questions, but she didn't really want to start now and ruin everyone's breakfast.

    Instead, she forced a smile and retrieved her apple. “I'm fine. I was just thinking.”

    N00b made a thoughtful noise and looked up at the sky. “I think all the time.”

    “Even when sleeping?” Pixel joked.

    “Even when sleeping!” said N00b. “I've come up with some pretty awesome ideas asleep, although... sometimes they don't work because they're just too far-fetched.”

    “It's a shame you can't design a dynamo,” said Switch.

    “It's not that I can't, it's that I don't have the parts to make one. I'm an inventor, not an iron smith. I can't just make the parts from scratch.” His ears drooped slightly and he diverted his gaze, tucking back into his toast.

    “A dynamo?” Vector raised an eyebrow. “What on earth do you want one of those for?”

    “I can't go into detail,” said Switch. “All I can tell you is the machine we're making needs one.”

    “Huh.” Vector lowered his plate and stared thoughtfully at the tree behind Pixel. “I don't know where you'd find one of those. They're rather obsolete.”

    “Unfortunately I can't devise another option.” N00b stood up and nodded at Pixel. “Thanks for breakfast. I'm going to try and get the car moving now. Are your emolga friends available?”

    Switch placed his plate on the ground. “You're heading back now?”

    “Yup! I think we're close enough that the car can make it into the city. Maybe all the way back to Spool.”

    “Spool?” Vector eyed the lillipup then rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Do you mind if I hitch a lift with you?”

    “Sure!”

    “You're leaving?” Pixel asked. “Where are you going to go?”

    Vector shrugged. “I actually don't know. But I need to find a way to turn myself back. I can't just hang around here forever.”

    “Oh. Well, we can't force you to stay. If you think you're well enough to leave-”

    “I'm fine.”

    She paused for a moment, a little taken aback by his abruptness. The other two had fallen silent, save for the munching of toast from Switch.

    Turning to the lillipup, she forced a smile. “If you're really okay to drive, N00b, then I'll call the twins out now. They shouldn't be long.”

    “Excellent!” Switch dusted crumbs from his clothes and hands and stood up to follow the little terrier pokemon.

    Pixel quickly fired a message to Nybble and Byte then stood and made her way to the car. Vector zipped past her, joining Switch and N00b beside the little car. He eyed it curiously and followed the lillipup around to the hood.

    “It's just a flat battery,” N00b explained. “Once it's got some juice in it, it should be good to go for a short while.”

    “It won't charge while the engine's running?” Vector asked. “If so, you could go from one end of System to the next after a quick blast from the emolga, even if it won't hold a charge.”

    N00b shook his head. “I didn't design it that way, no room in the hood. It runs completely off a battery. Most of the vehicle's in beta. I guess I could make room for a combustion engine, but I kinda modelled it off one of the automatic lorries. It even has an anti-collision system.”

    Vector's torso had vanished beneath the hood while N00b was talking. Pixel watched his two tails twitch as he fumbled about inside. He pushed himself back and wiped a paw across his head to push back the black tuft of fur between his ears.

    “If you want, I can stick with you for a bit and help you add a battery charger.”

    N00b's little nose crinkled with confusion. “You're a mechanic?”

    Vector shrugged.

    “Huh.” N00b and Switch exchanged glances. “You know what? We could probably use your help. What do you think, Switch?”

    Switch closed his eyes and grinned. “Sure! Once he gets past Connor's rigorous interrogation session.”

    “I take it he doesn't trust others?” asked Pixel.

    He tapped his nose with a finger. “No. He likes to keep our group secret.”

    “Huh.” Vector crossed his arms and frowned down at the engine. “Secrets, huh? I don't want to help you if I don't know what I'm helping with. I assume since you're human yourself, it's not one of those 'anti-human groups', though.”

    “I'm guessing you're not anti-human?” Pixel asked.

    “Not at all! I spent years trying to help them get back home.”

    N00b's eyes flew wide open. “Really?!”

    “Yeh. Guess there's no harm in telling you since the entire of Bridge was killed in that explosion.”

    “So... you were trying to help humans get back home.” She looked back up at Switch and he winked.

    “If you want to help us, I'm sure Connor would be grateful for it,” he told Vector.

    “You're trying to get home, huh?” Vector rubbed his nose.

    Switch shrugged. “Aren't all humans?”

    “All right. It certainly saves walking the streets and risking being turfed back into that hospital. Just bare in mind I'm looking for a cure to my condition, so my focus will be somewhat shared with that.”

    “We're sorry!” Nybble came to a halt beside Vector and squeaked, leaping back and almost crashing into Byte.

    “We were helping Leaf,” explained Byte. “So, you want me to power up your car again?”

    “Please!” N00b bounced over to him. “Enough to get it in the green, then we'll be out of your fur!”

    “All right!” Byte's cheeks sparked and he clasped onto both pins of the battery. “Stand back!”

    The group obliged, watching the emolga as electricity ran from his body and flowed into the battery. Once done, he hopped back and clapped his paws together to remove the grease.

    “All done! You're ready to go.”

    “Hah!” N00b hopped into his car with a cheer. “Thank you, little emolga! I could hug you, but I don't want to risk being electrocuted.”

    “Isn't Leaf coming to say goodbye?” Switch asked. “I wanted to thank him for his hospitality.”

    Nybble and Byte shook their heads in unison.

    “Said he's busy,” said Nybble.

    Switch shrugged. “Oh well. Give him this.” He handed the emolga a single gold coin.

    “Five hundred credits?” Byte gasped. “What for?”

    “Letting us stay in his home.” He laughed at the identical confused looks on their faces. “You didn't seriously think we were going to free-load, did you?”

    “You don't need to do that,” said Pixel. She rubbed the back of her head, feeling her face heat up with embarrassment. “You helped me rescue Vector. I should be paying you.”

    Switch waved her off. “Forget it. Owe me a favour instead.” He pushed the button on his watch and his form warped and shrank down into a talonflame, eliciting another squeak of surprise from Nybble. “All right, get your car in gear, N00b. We're off.”

    The little car revved into life and N00b pulled his flying goggles down over his eyes. He looked over at Vector and tapped the seat behind him.

    “Come on. It's safe.”

    Vector tore his eyes from the transformed Switch to move over to the car and braced himself to leap in, but froze as his pale blue eyes widened at something moving in the distance.

    The others followed his gaze and Pixel let out a small gasp. Two winged shapes were flying towards the island, and they weren't alone.

    “Are those pidgeot?” she asked.

    Switch narrowed his eyes into a frown. “Yeh. And they're carrying someone on their backs.”

    “Can you make out who?”

    “An exploud. And... is that a wartortle?” He threw his wings into the air in exasperation. “You have to be kidding me!”

    Vector's paw tightened over the metal door. “Are they from the hospital?”

    “I can't think of any other reason they'd be flying here. Unless they're customers.” Switch looked back at Pixel. “How many pokemon know of your investigation team on this island?”

    She felt her eyes widen. “You know we're an investigation team?”

    “I'm not stupid. I helped one out and your island is very similar, not to mention you were adamant on rescuing a pokemon who was likely going to be overlooked by the police.”

    She clenched her teeth together and watched the flying shapes as they drew dangerously closer.

    “They're not customers. No one knows where our base is. All pokemon would see if they landed here is a ruin and a village. Requests for help go into a universal database that is accessed by all teams. No location is ever given.” She flinched and looked at each of her friends in turn. “Please don't tell anyone. We'd be destroyed.”
    Switch stared at her for a moment then nodded, turning back to the flying threat.

    “I'll intersect them and throw them off. When it's safe, N00b, head back to Spool.” He spread his wings and launched himself into the air, zooming towards the pidgeot.

    “How have they found me?” Vector asked.

    “I'm wondering the same thing.” Pixel pulled her computer tablet out of her bag and turned to him, scanning the computer over his body.

    A small beep was audible over the sound of the car's engine and she looked down at the screen. No red. Instead it showed a small profile for a meowstic with no photo. It had his name 'Vector', his gender and an age of nineteen. His occupation was apparently an analyst and his home was listed as Central Meta Hospital.

    “They said they couldn't identify you,” she said. “But you have a chip.”

    He looked over her shoulder at the information and frowned. “The only things correct on there are my gender and name.”

    She looked back out at the pidgeot. “I... I think they gave you a tracking chip.”

    Switch struck one of the birds from below, causing it to reel backwards and the pokemon on board to lose their balance. Something small and unidentifiable fell from the Exploud's paws and plummeted down towards the ground.

    Pixel's heart pulsed in her throat. If Switch knocked those pokemon out of the air, they wouldn't survive that fall. He'd end up with a price on his head.

    “He needs to stop,” she said. “How do we stop him?”

    “You're joking, right?” Vector shook his head in bewilderment. “If he stops, they'll reach this island and we're all going to have to fight.”

    “But the only way that fight out there is going to stop is if one side loses!”

    Switch struck one of the pidgeot again, causing it to drop down dangerously. It regained itself, flying backwards until it was parallel with its comrade. All three birds paused to face each other, flapping their wings to stay airborne.

    “I think they're aware of that,” said Vector.

    “That's Switch for you,” said N00b. “He's willing to defend his friends even if it means risking his life.”

    The engine revved and the car lurched forwards, turning through the grass so it was facing the battle.

    “What are you doing?” Pixel gasped.

    “Helping him.”

    “But those pokemon work for the government! If they fall -”

    “Their intention is to retrieve and kill Vector in hope of a cure,” said N00b. “He now knows what they're up to, yet they're still trying to retrieve him. Who's to say their intentions have changed? They're not taking him back.”

    She met N00b's eyes and nodded. “Then take me with you.”

    “Pixel!” Leaf burst through the grass and skidded to a halt beside her. “What's going on? What's all that?” He pointed a stubby claw at the three birds, now spiralling each other and lashing out with their talons.

    “They're here for Vector,” she explained. “Switch is trying to stop them.”

    “And what about you?” He watched as she climbed into the car.

    “I want to stop that battle and tell them if they want one it's got to be on solid ground.”

    “And that ground would be...”

    “Most likely here since it's closer.”

    Leaf flinched and avoided her gaze. “I knew letting you rescue that meowstic would bring nothing but trouble.”

    Vector snorted and crossed his arms. “Fine. I'll leave. Then I'll draw them away from your island -”

    “You're not going anywhere!” snapped Pixel. “Not with that tracking chip!” She rounded on Leaf. “Why don't you figure out how to take the tracker out of him? At least then the hospital won't be able to find him.”

    Leaf looked over at Vector and the meowstic took a step back from him, raising his paws to his chest.

    The car's engine roared as it took off towards the battle. The two pidgeot screeched as they beat Switch back with their wings, raking their talons across his back. One of them had taken a nasty scratch, the creamy feathers of its belly dyed red with blood. A loud voice boomed over their cries, demanding them to take the fight to the ground, while a female screamed and cried out for help. As they drew closer, Pixel could make out the wartortle clutching the neck of her pidgeot so tight his face was turning blue beneath his pale feathers.

    “Stop this!” Pixel had to scream to be heard over the chaos. “If you want to fight, do it on solid ground! Someone's going to die at this rate!”

    The car roared past the battle and she caught Switch's eye. The glimmer of anger left his features, but the pause was too long as the exploud lashed out and clubbed him across the face. He grunted as his head snapped to the side, turning below his body as he flipped upside down and began to plummet towards the ground. His long, black scarf billowed behind him like a streamer.

    N00b cried out something Pixel couldn't make out. The little car took a nosedive, curving back towards the falling talonflame. It looked like they weren't going to make it, but the car's weight gave them an advantage as they overtook him. N00b levelled out the car and Switch's body landed uncomfortably in the seat behind Pixel. She looked over her shoulder at him, searching for a sign of life. His chest rose and fell steadily and she found herself letting out a long breath she'd not been aware she was holding.

    “It looks like he's okay,” she told N00b.

    “That's a relief.” N00b glanced back at her and nodded up to the drifting continent. She followed his gaze and her blood turned to ice in her veins. The two pidgeot had reached the perimeter, nimbly dodging streaks of electricity as they flashed through the bright, summer sky. “Unfortunately I can't say the same for your base.”
     
  13. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    11 – Sudden Dangers​

    The exploud ducked as the N00b Mobile careened over his head towards the grass. He watched in bewilderment as the car zigzagged through the meadow and came to a stop several feet away.

    Pixel vaulted over the door and rushed to join Leaf's side. He stood between the emolga twins, keeping Vector behind him as they faced the two pokemon and their bristling pidgeot comrades. The meowstic didn't look remotely scared. Instead he looked infuriated. She wondered if the two pokemon facing them had been in charge of his care during his time at the hospital. He'd probably trusted them, and here they were, invading the drifting continent with every intention to take him back and perform their ridiculous experiment.

    The exploud and wartortle eyed her with vehemence before turning back to Leaf.

    “Move it!” the exploud's voice caused them to flinch, but they refused to back down. “That meowstic is government property. If you don't hand him over, you'll find yourselves behind bars!”

    “Government property?” Leaf gave a bitter laugh. “So murder is legal now?”

    “Murder?!”

    “Sample!” The wartortle rounded on him with her paws over her fluffy ears. “Your voice!”

    He muttered something and brushed her aside with his large paw. “Murder?” he repeated, much quieter. “What makes you think we're murderin' pokemon now?”

    Leaf bit his lip and Pixel looked from him to the exploud and back. There was no logical explanation why any of them should know such details. If they admitted to hacking the hospital's database, she could almost guarantee they'd all end up behind bars. If they went so far as to make up some story about being told the information from a hospital worker, they'd need to give the pokemon's description. Not only would they be called out as liars if no such pokemon existed behind the hospital's walls, if they did then the hospital could deny such claims and an innocent pokemon might lose their job.

    And they'd still end up in prison for breaking and entering, and also slander.

    “Come on!” Sample crossed his arms and tapped his foot on the floor. “We aint got all day. You hand him over, we'll let this one slide, eh?”

    Let it slide? Pixel blinked a few times as the words sank in. Of course. Her lips turned up into a smile and she laughed.

    “So you do have something to hide.” she said.

    “What are you talkin' about?” the wartortle scoffed. “Somethin' to hide? What trash!”

    “It's simple. If the police got involved, they'd want to interview Vector to get his side of the story. If he told them what you're really up to, no matter how much you deny it they'll want to see your database.”

    “That makes your invasion of this island also illegal,” said Leaf. “You're also breaking and entering.”

    Nybble and Byte crossed their arms and nodded.

    Sample narrowed his eyes and spoke slowly, keeping his voice low. “What makes you think there's something on our database about murder?”

    Pixel clenched her teeth together and glanced over at Leaf and Vector. Both of them shifted uneasily as they searched their minds for a response.

    “Is there a hacker amongst you?” the exploud boomed.

    “I wouldn't call myself a hacker.” N00b skipped forwards with all the nonchalance he could muster, stopping just beside Leaf. “I'm more of a designer. I build machines and components, and certainly know my way around a computer – physically and digitally.”

    “So you hacked into our database.” Sample spoke bluntly and crossed his arms.

    “I wouldn't say 'hacked' more 'obtained valuable information'. If you hadn't said on there you were going to risk Vector's life without his consent, then there wouldn't have been any reason to rescue him. You wouldn't have even known I'd been there. Right now, your insistence on retrieving him is suspicious in and of itself. I mean, he's standing right back there. He seems healthy enough, albeit a bit discoloured. He's not infected. No reason to barge onto this innocent little island and start a fight, is it?” N00b inclined his head on one side and waited for a response.

    The exploud and wartortle exchanged nervous glances while all Pixel's team could do was watch with open mouths. The two pidgeot shifted uneasily and one of them clicked his beak in frustration.

    “You never said anything about murder!” he said. “You told us this was a rescue mission!”

    “They're lying!” said the wartortle.

    “I highly doubt it,” said the other pidgeot. “This whole endeavour smells funny. I want no part of it. You can keep your money.”

    He spread his wings and rose into the sky, leaving the panicked wartortle with no choice but to run to the edge of the islands and wave her fists in anger. She rounded on the remaining pidgeot and frowned.

    “At least you had the decency to stay.”

    He chuckled, and she took a step back.

    “I'm not on your side, little wartortle,” he said. “I'm just sticking around in case they need an extra hand.”

    The exploud and wartortle gaped at the group of pokemon, calculating the odds that were now drastically not in their favour.

    Sample stuttered and backed away slowly. Then he looked around frantically, rubbing his paws together.

    “How do I get off this wretched island?!”

    “I think we can help with that.” Leaf span and sprayed spores over the two pokemon. They crumpled to the floor and the sound of panic was replaced with soft snores.

    N00b stared at the sleeping pokemon for a moment then looked round at the ivysaur. “Why didn't you do that sooner?”

    “I wasn't exactly going to risk it when the pidgeot were against us, was I? I've learned that lesson once already.” Leaf examined the two pokemon and turned to their unexpected ally. “Can I please trouble you to take them off this island?”

    The pidgeot gave a shy shrug. “Sure. I'm terribly sorry for the trouble we've caused. I had no idea what they were up to.”

    “Fed you lies, huh?” Leaf scoffed.

    “Please apologise to your talonflame friend for me?” The pidgeot looked over at the unconscious form still sprawled over the back seat of the little car. “I hope he'll be okay.”

    “He'll be fine!” said N00b. “But I need to ask you a favour. Please, please, please keep my poking around government files hush hush.”

    The pidgeot smiled broadly. “Hey. It's no business of mine.”

    He hopped over to the two sleeping pokemon and turned to face them again. He saluted them with his wing and rose into the air, grabbing a pokemon in each talon. They watched as he carried the cumbersome duo away almost effortlessly.

    “Well that could have gone a lot worse.” N00b skipped over to his car to check on Switch.

    “You're right,” said Leaf. “But what I want to know is what are we going to do now?”

    Vector cleared his throat and placed a paw on Leaf's shoulder. “What we do is I leave.”

    Pixel looked round at him sharply with an exclamation of confusion.

    “I was going to leave anyway,” he said. “But if I stick with any of you then you're at risk. Those two aren't exactly out of action. They'll be looking for me, whether I have this tracking chip or not.”

    “Yes, but I'm going to remove it,” said Leaf.

    “And once it's gone, they won't find you in our base,” said N00b.

    “Exactly. You'll be safe,” said Leaf.

    “But they'll find you,” said Vector. “Your island isn't exactly invisible, and you know what they're up to now. Not only that, but you ruined their plans. They've already shown themselves to lack morals. Not just with what they planned to do with me, but look what they did to your friend!”

    They followed his paw to Switch. The talonflame was now coming round, blinking his eyes open and letting out a long groan. He pushed himself up slowly and flopped spread-eagled onto the floor.

    “Did anyone get the number of that truck?” he groaned.

    “Are you all right?” Pixel dropped to his side.

    “I have a cracking headache,” he mumbled as he pushed himself to his feet.

    “We'll get you some berries,” Leaf told him. “You'll be back to yourself in no time, then you can get yourself to safety. In the meantime, I think we need to take what Vector said on board. This island isn't safe for us any more, not while they're looking for him. They'll want to erase all evidence of their plans, and they now know that we know what they're up to.”

    “So what are we going to do?” Pixel asked.

    “We're not leaving this place are we?” Nybble covered her mouth with both paws, her eyes now impossibly wide. “This is home. And it's safe here.”

    “Yeh,” said Byte. “There's less of a virus risk up here. No one lands on this island.” He looked over at Switch and N00b and cleared his throat. “Well, not usually.”

    “I think we need to consider evacuating,” said Leaf. “We'll have a meeting about it later. Right now we need to get our new friends back on their feet and on their way safely back home.”

    New friends? Pixel gave him a small smile. “I think we could all use a nice cold glass of berry juice too. Why don't we all go back to my house for a bit? We can plan our next move from there.”

    “Good point.” He looked out at the passing clouds, bobbing slowly along in the sky. “It's going to be hard to leave this place. I guess we all have to move on at some point.”

    ...​

    Sample groaned as light penetrated his vision. The world looked a lot smaller right now, and seemed to be passing by below him almost as if he were flying.

    Wait... he was flying!

    He craned his neck to look up at the cream belly of a pidgeot.

    “Oi!” he boomed.

    The pidgeot swerved and Sample felt his claws lessen around his leg. A scream escaped his throat as the ground lurched up towards him. It stopped just as abruptly as the pidgeot secured his hold, and his scream ebbed away to be replaced by one from Mono, hanging helplessly from the pidgeot's right claws.

    “All right, enough's enough!” Sample reached up and tried to prise open the pidgeot's talons. “You're gonna put us on the ground, you hear me?”

    “I don't think so,” said the pidgeot. “I'm taking you two straight to the police station. Once they hear what you guys are up to, your whole department will be closed down.”

    Sample's skin prickled and he looked over at Mono. Her small face twisted with worry as the same thoughts flowed through her mind. Closed down... their project in finding a cure for the virus would come to an end. Lives depended on their research.

    “Well, Mono,” he said. “I hope you can bounce.”

    He opened his mouth wide and roared. Mono clasped her paws over ears and screamed. The pidgeot's wings faltered as he struggled to stay airborne and his face creased with pain. Sample felt himself slipping from his grip, but the large bird held on. The ground rose up steadily towards them, the supple desert sand rising in dunes, the warm brown broken up only by prickly cactuses and the occasional palm tree.

    The wind flew out of Sample's body as his back struck the soft sand. Mono landed beside him, followed by the pidgeot. The bird pokemon rounded on his two captives and snapped his beak in anger.

    “What do you think you're doing?! You could have got us all killed!”

    Sample pushed himself to his feet, rising up to his full height so he could look the bird in the eye.

    “You're taking us nowhere,” he said slowly. “You can go back quietly to your own job, your own home and family and let us get on with our work. You got that?”

    The pidgeot shook his head and laughed. “Oh no. I don't think so. I can't just turn a blind eye to this! Whether or not I take you with me is irrelevant. They'll track you down and find you, mark my words.” He spread his wings to rise back into the air.

    “We can't let him do that,” said Mono.

    “No,” said Sample. “We can not.”

    He opened his large mouth again and blasted noise out from every pipe on his body with such force the palm trees swayed, dropping their fruit onto the sand. The pidgeot keeled backwards, his wings peppered with a coat of ice. The feathers cracked and struck the ground like shards of glass as the ice spread across his body, only to be cracked by Sample's sound waves. The pidgeot fell onto his back, his beak open in an unvoiced scream that had died before it even left his throat.

    Sample closed his mouth with a smack and stared at the motionless pidgeot. His heart was thumping in his chest with such ferocity he thought it was going to break free. Mono stood beside him as equally surprised, wiping frost from her lips.

    “What...” He swallowed and tried again. “What just happened?” He rounded on the wartortle and waved a paw at the maimed pidgeot. “Did you ice beam him?!”

    “Hey, don't try to pin this on me!” said Mono. “You're the big buffoon who decided to boomburst the poor bird!”

    “Well, what are we gonna do now?!” Sample turned back to the pidgeot and crouched down beside him, quickly checking for a pulse. “Yup. He's dead all right. Fantastic!” He stood up and threw his arms in the air, turning his back on the fallen pokemon. “Now we are murderers!”

    Mono scratched her nose in thought. “What are we gonna tell the agency?”

    Sample didn't have an answer. Instead, he crouched down and began digging up the sand in huge piles.

    “Makin' him a grave?” she asked.

    “Yeh, and it'd go a lot faster if you got down here and rapid span some of this sand away.”

    “No way! I ain't cleanin' up your mess.”

    “I think you'll find we're both responsible for this.”

    “But not tellin' no one? This pidgeot has a family!”

    Sample stood up and wiped a sandy paw across his wet brow. “Do you want to go to prison? 'Cos you're pretty old.”

    Mono flashed her canines and balled her paws into fists. “What?”

    He shrugged and returned to his digging, throwing up sand at her feet. “Just sayin'. You wouldn't see daylight ever again.”
     
  14. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    12 - Reprogramming​

    Vector winced as Nybble pulled the stitching tight and snipped the thread.

    “There you go! All done.” She popped the needle on the little table and wiped her paws on a hot towel.

    He rubbed his upper arm and admired the emolga's handiwork. The only sign anything had been done was the slight tint of red around the incision area which would wash off the next time he bathed.

    “How are you feeling?” she asked.

    “A little sore, but that's to be expected,” he said. “Thank you.”

    The little emolga flushed and rubbed the back of her head. “Heh. It's nothing, really.”

    He looked over at Leaf, Pixel and N00b sat at the foot of the sofa, deeply engrossed in their computer work. “How are you getting on with that?”

    “It looks completely authentic.” Leaf looked down at the tiny microchip. “Anyone who scanned this would think nothing of it. To them you would be a nineteen year old patient at Central Meta Hospital.”

    “This would fool anyone who didn't know you.” N00b turned the microchip around in his paws. “They went the whole hog. It's not a counterfeit device. It's a standard RFID microchip with a full duplex.”

    “What I want to know is why they made it all up,” said Pixel. “Surely they'd have got more right than this if they did their research.”

    “They made up all the information I didn't give them, or that they didn't ask for,” said Vector. “I had no idea they were going to chip me.”

    “They didn't ask for your age?” asked Leaf.

    “Yes. I told them I'm twenty three. They clearly didn't listen.”

    “You'd think they'd at least make notes,” said Switch. “It's pretty sloppy work on their part.”

    Pixel pursed her lips together. It really was sloppy work. You'd think professional scientists would do a better job at covering up a fraud microchip. She eyed Vector curiously. It was hard to believe he was five years older than her. Maybe they hadn't listened at all, they'd just looked at him and hazarded a guess. When he noticed her staring, she cleared her throat and looked back down at the chip in N00b's paw. “So you're not an analyst?”

    Vector shook his head. “No.” He paused and rubbed his paws together. “I suppose there's no harm in telling you now, since my team disintegrated. I was an undercover scientist and soldier working for a project called Bridge.”

    “From what you said, you were searching for a way to help humans get back home?”

    Vector nodded stiffly.

    “I'm pretty excited about you joining our little project,” said N00b. “We might actually get somewhere with an extra scientist on board.”

    “Well, now this is out of you,” said Leaf, “they won't be able to track you. Wherever you go, you're safe unless you hang around Meta City. As for us, we need to get off this island fast before they return.”

    “First they'll need to find another way to get up here,” said Pixel. “And I'm guessing that pidgeot turned in those two pokemon, so we may have a little while yet.”

    “That's a little while longer we can be on the ground looking for a place to retreat to.”

    N00b and Switch exchanged a silent message.

    “Why don't you come with us?” N00b asked. “They won't find you in our base, I can assure you.”

    “That's a kind offer,” said Leaf. “But I'm afraid we have our own mission to take care of.”

    Switch rubbed the back of his head and laughed. “Yeh. I don't think Connor would let you go about freely doing your own thing. If you enter our base, I'm pretty sure he'd rope you into working for him.”

    “So where do we go?” Pixel asked.

    Leaf shrugged. “We'll head towards Backbone Mountain. So long as we put as much space between us and Meta City, that's all that counts.”

    “Leaf?” Byte poked his head around the door, panting heavily. He paused with one paw on the door frame as he tried to catch his breath.

    “What is it?” Leaf asked.

    “We can't back up all the data,” he explained. “We've not got enough portable memory.”

    Leaf gave a flustered sigh and removed his headphones to scratch his head. “Fine. Back up all you can and lock down all the computers.”

    “Wait.” N00b frowned. “Lock down all of them? Won't the drifting continent stop... well... drifting?” He motioned with his paws to imitate something falling out of the sky.

    “No, no.” Leaf chuckled. “The island operates on a different system. It'll still follow its circuit.”

    “Circuit...” N00b licked his lips in thought, his eyes going distant. “It follows a circuit...”

    “Yes, it circles around the desert, the little villages leading up towards the city, the outskirts and Meta City then loops back.”

    “What if you reprogrammed it?” N00b asked. “Then it could go anywhere.”

    “Reprogrammed it?” Pixel and Leaf gasped.

    “You can't do that!” said Leaf. “It wouldn't be safe!”

    “It would throw System out of balance,” said Vector. “There are three drifting continents all with their own circuits – Cyan, Magenta and Luma. They're designed to stick to one specific area. As such, they never meet.”

    “I know all that,” said N00b. “They're some ancient structure from hundreds of years ago. Artificial, for the most part. They're not going to throw off the natural balance. Think of it as some gigantic flying ship! They all have controls, right? All I need to do is tweak them so you can control it perfectly!”

    “The only problem is, if they saw our island moving then they'd be able to follow us,” said Leaf.

    “Yeh, but it'd be harder for them. Besides, you'd be able to drop down wherever you wanted. You wouldn't have to risk being caught by landing in an area they'd expect.”

    Pixel nodded her approval. “You have to admit, it's a brilliant idea. We could go anywhere in System. It would even make branching out our investigation into larger areas much easier.”

    “Okay fine!” Leaf waved a paw in dismissal. “Toy with it. Just don't crash it.”

    N00b chuckled.

    “Don't worry, Leaf,” said Switch. “N00b's not exactly a rookie in computer and machine technology.”

    “And I can always assist him.” Vector rose to his feet. “After all you guys have done for me, it's the least I can do.”

    “We should have it done before we even reach Spool!” N00b skipped towards the door with Vector in tow.

    Pixel looked up at Leaf and opened her mouth to speak, but the ivysaur's mind was elsewhere. He wound the headphone cord around his paws as he stared absently out of the open door.

    He let out a long breath and closed his eyes. “Have we really exhausted our search in this area?”

    ...​

    The corridor filled with loud, blaring screams as the unown A flew down it, crying out like a siren. The sound grew with intensity as the small pokemon shot into the lab like a dart, stopping over the head of a dainty, pink feline who wasn't remotely phased by the unown's outburst. She lay sprawled over her desk with her chin on her paws and bottom in her chair, staring at an abstract map of jagged lines on an old, boxy computer screen. Colourful lights raced up and down the walls on either side of her, along with blobs of neon oil bouncing up and down inside thick, glass containers.

    “Retro! There's trouble! Trouble!”

    “What is it, Alarm?” she asked.

    “I heard a voice!” the unown answered. “It came from above us! What was it? There's nothing on the security cameras!” She screamed again and bolted back and forth. “Oh no! There's an invasion! It's spreading down here too!”

    Retro rolled her eyes to look up at her. “Calm down. We're safe here.”

    “Yes! Be quiet!”

    She flinched at the voice, pushing herself upright to look over her shoulder. The unown exclamation hovered over another boxy computer beside an unown X, shuddering with frustration.

    “Your voice is remarkably loud!” he said. “It's enough to give one a migraine!”

    “You're one to talk,” chuckled Retro. “You should watch your volume too, Amp.”

    “X-actly,” said X. “It's x-tremely hard to work with your voices at such x-traordinary volumes.”

    Retro laughed. “I'm sure it's nothing, Alarm. It never is.”

    “Yes! What was it last time?!” asked Amp.

    “A butterfree landing on a flower, I believe,” said X. “X-tremely ridiculous assumption on her part, if you ask me.”

    “No! It isn't nothing!” Alarm wailed. “It's the lines! They're spreading! They're all over the jungle!”

    “Huh.” Retro raised an eyebrow and looked back at the computer screen. “More lines...”

    “It's like a maze!” said Alarm.

    “Is it a-maze-ing?” asked X.

    Amp flicked him away with a burst of rainbow energy. The little unown hit the wall and slid down it with a groan.

    “Sorry, old boy, but I don't think this is time for your puns!” Amp joined Retro's side and peered over her shoulder. “Have they not appeared on your map?!”

    She clicked the mouse to zoom out from the map. Sure enough, there were more lines. The entire northern part of the jungle was engulfed in them, almost like a giant spinarak web. X bobbed next to her head and let out a small gasp.

    “You're right, Alarm,” said Retro. “They are spreading.”

    “What if they come down here?!” Alarm asked.

    “I don't think we have anything to worry about. They seem to be staying on the surface.”

    “If you would like, we could go on an x-cursion to investigate?” X suggested.

    “I don't think that's a good idea. You know what happened the last time.”

    Retro looked over at the corner of the lab. Propped up against the wall were two more unown. A G, who's body had been turned into solid brown rock, and K who had started to turn into water. Both of them had entered a state of hibernation, which interestingly had halted the virus's progression. This had prompted Retro's research into the virus. She'd been there. She'd come into contact with it, yet for some reason, it didn't effect her.

    “Retro? Are you listening?”

    “Huh?” She looked round at X's narrowed eye. “I'm sorry, did you say something?”

    “Yes. I said we can be x-tra careful this time. If you keep us in a bubble, the virus can't get to us.”

    “No.” She leant her chin back on her paws as she stared at the ominous web. “We already know where those black lines have come from, and what they're doing. What we need to focus on is how to erase them.”

    ...​

    The small amount of light in the engine room came from N00b's tiny torch clasped between his teeth. Pixel watched with fascination as he tweaked with wires and other components that were completely alien to her.

    “Just a little more and there!” He slammed the cover to the motherboard shut. “All done and dusted! I just need to tweak the computer system and then you'll be able to steer this island wherever you like!”

    She wiped an oily paw across her nose. “Fantastic! And you're sure this will work?”

    “As sure as my tail is attached to my spine,” he said.

    “Let's get back up then,” said Vector. “This room stinks of oil.”

    Their paws clinked on the metal grating as they walked back to the old, rusting ladder. Vector stood aside to let Pixel climb up first, then steadied N00b onto the rungs. Light leaked down from the floor above, almost dazzling after spending such a long time in that dark chamber.

    The door to the control room hissed open and Leaf looked back at them.

    “How did you get on?” he asked.

    “We're almost there,” said N00b. “I just need to borrow your computer for a second.”

    Leaf hesitated as he thought this over. For a moment, it looked like he was going to retaliate, but he scooted his chair aside and gestured for the lillipup to take a seat.

    N00b hopped into one of the desk chairs and its wheels rattled on the floor as he dragged it towards the computer desk. He flexed his paws and began tapping at the holographic keyboard. Images and text flickered across the screen with such speed Pixel couldn't keep track of them. Soon, the entire screen went black with green text which scrolled into a migraine inducing blur. Whatever was going on, N00b knew what he was doing. His paws scurried across the keyboard as fast as the text moved over the screen. Finally, it stopped and he let out a cry of 'aha!' It was only for a moment, however, as everything began to blur together once more.

    “Have you figured it out?” Leaf asked.

    N00b's eyes never left the screen. “Yep. Pretty ancient system. Its firewalls are like paper.”

    “Is that a bad thing?”

    “If you don't want anyone hacking into your database, then yes.”

    The computer settled back onto the page Leaf had been viewing, and N00b kicked himself back from the desk. Pixel wobbled as the island came to an abrupt halt, stumbling into Vector. He steadied her with a paw and she looked around the room at the confused faces of her friends.

    “Wahay! It worked!” N00b cheered. “It's all sorted! You can test it when you're ready!”

    “Won't it fall?” Pixel squeaked.

    “Nonsense!” N00b leant forward and pushed the control stick forwards, normally used to speed up or slow down the continent. The island flared into life and Pixel kept her eyes on the green flashing dot as it moved forwards once more.

    Leaf let out a long sigh of relief.

    “Told you it would work,” said N00b. “You can steer it wherever you like now!”

    “That's good,” said Leaf. “Because we're about to fly over the outskirts.”

    “Then this is where we leave you.”

    Pixel looked down at N00b. “Really?”

    “Of course! We've got a job to do.” He looked back at Leaf. “Thanks for the lift, and for the hospitality. I know we were a bit of a burden.”

    “Don't be ridiculous.” Leaf turned back to his map. “If you hadn't assisted Pixel, then those lunatics would have been much more trouble. You helped us out a lot. How do I control this thing?”

    N00b rose up so he could see the control deck. “That stick you normally use to speed up and slow down? Well now when you twist it, you'll be steering this island left, right, back and forth! You push it forwards now, then it'll keep going forwards. You go left, it'll go left. You get me?”

    Leaf looked around at him and smiled. “Let's give it a try then, shall we?”

    He grabbed the stick in one paw and turned it left, keeping one eye on the map. The blinking dot deviated from its path, turning towards the left of the outskirts. Pixel teetered as she lost her balance, but quickly regained it as he levelled the island back out.

    “Fantastic!” he gasped. “It's never done that before!”

    N00b laughed and struck him on the shoulder. “I told you it was possible. Well, maybe we'll see you again.” He hopped away from the desk and made his way to the door, pausing to look up at Vector. “Are you coming?”

    Vector gave one last look around the control room and followed after him.

    Leaf's voice followed them out of the room. “You take care now.”

    Pixel followed them up the stairs, the flickering light casting erratic shadows across the walls. She couldn't deny she felt a little sad. All she could hope was that they'd be able to stay in touch some how.

    Switch stood at the edge of the island, watching the world below. N00b skipped over to him and gave him a fond smile.

    “Shall we be off?” he asked. “It looks like Byte's charged my car up nicely. It should get me back to Spool from this distance.”

    Switch gave him a sideways glance but didn't say anything.

    “I'll take Vector, and we'll try to keep up with you.” N00b turned to skip away.

    “Thanks again for your help,” said Pixel.

    “It's nothing, really!” N00b called over his shoulder.

    Switch crossed his hands behind his back and looked up. “I'm not going back.”

    “Eh?!” N00b's tail went rigid and he froze mid step to look back at him.

    “Something's wrong with this world,” Switch went on. “Those black cracks, the virus... I think our main focus should be on that. Sure, humans want to get home. But if I go back with you now, Connor will make it incredibly difficult to get to the bottom of all this. I personally wouldn't feel right if we found a way home and I went back, leaving this world in such a state.” He looked back at them. “I've been here twelve years. I've made this place a home. Why let it just... fall apart?”

    Pixel shook her head in disbelief. “Switch...”

    Vector looked down at his paws then back out at the marred skyline. “You have a good point. I guess I'll investigate as well. I want to find a cure anyway.”

    “So...” N00b blinked a few times as he took this in. “We're not going back?”

    “You can go back,” said Switch. “Connor needs your help. You can stay in touch with us from there.”

    “Argh!” N00b sat down heavily and his ears drooped. “My loyalty is torn between you and Connor! I can't abandon one of you. It's easier when we're all working together! What am I gonna tell him when I show up without you?”

    “Tell him the truth,” said Switch. “Tell him I'm trying to fix this world and find a cure for the virus.”

    “He doesn't care about this world. He won't understand.”

    “You're his friend aren't you?” Switch gave him a warm smile. “I don't think he'd want you to catch it. Or Diode.”

    A small smile creased N00b's lips. “Okay. I'll go back. But be sure to keep me updated, all right?”

    “Sure thing.”

    N00b rounded on Pixel and Vector. “You too, okay! Make sure he doesn't go off the grid, or forget to message me!”

    Pixel laughed. “Don't worry. I won't let him forget about you.”

    They all moved over to N00b's car, and once he was buckled in place, he pulled his goggles over his eyes and leant back in his seat.

    “I'll see you when I see you then?”

    Switch bent over and ruffled his head. “I'll pop in to visit you! And once this is sorted, if you've not already found a way to get Connor and the rest of us home I'll be back to lend a hand!”

    Pixel leant into the car and threw her arms around the lillipup's neck. “Thank you, N00b! You've helped us out a lot!”

    “Hey, hey.” He pushed her back with a paw. “Don't do that. You're making me weepy! I won't be able to see where I'm going!” He nudged his goggles up to wipe tears away from his eyes. “Look after Switch for me.”

    The little car's engine roared and two wings shot out of either side. He turned away from them, giving them a wave before it rocketed across the grass and off the edge of Cyan Island. It wasn't long before it was a mere dot in the sky.

    “He's a sweet kid, isn't he?” Pixel asked.

    Switch made a grunt of agreement. “Probably the best friend I've ever had.”

    “So where are you going now?” she asked.

    He sighed and folded his hands behind his head. “I guess I need to be on my way. I can't hang around here. I feel like I've overstayed my welcome already.”

    “That goes for me as well,” said Vector. “I'm not safe up here. It won't be long before they come looking for me.”

    “Well, we need to drop you off outside the city,” said Pixel. “If you disembark here, you'll be landing right in the thick of it.”

    “I could carry him.” Switch looked down at the meowstic. “Provided you're okay with heights.”

    Vector opened his mouth to reply but Pixel cut him off.

    “I want to help you,” she said.

    “What? You're looking for your friends!” said Switch.

    “I know I am, but what if they've got the virus and there's no way of finding out? You saw the state that 'charmander' was in. It wouldn't be impossible that they've all ended up in a similar situation. They might not even have ended up in hospitals yet.”

    “So you're saying your priority is to find a cure?” Vector crossed his arms. “I'm not objecting.”

    “What about Leaf?” asked Switch.

    “What about me?” Leaf stopped behind them.

    Pixel let out a small gasp. She hadn't even heard him coming towards them.

    “Pixel has a point,” he said. “I want to keep looking for our friends, but if they have met that awful fate then they're going to need all the help they can get. I'm happy to break the team up to split the job in two.”

    “Are you sure?” Pixel asked.

    He shrugged. “What other answer do we have? As for you two, you might not be members of this team, but you've shown your loyalty. Especially Switch. Feel free to use this base if you need it.”

    “Wow!” Switch laughed. “I didn't see that one coming.”

    “Now this island is manoeuvrable it'll be easier for you to get around.” Leaf turned away from them. “I can't imagine you can carry both of them?”

    Switch watched him leave then let out a sigh and fell onto his back in the grass. “Well, I suppose I should enjoy the ride.”

    Pixel sat down beside him and stared out at the horizon, marred by those ominous black cracks. Vector shifted uneasily beside her then moved over to the edge of the island, staring out at the passing scenery. Like her, she doubted he was enjoying the view.
     
  15. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    13 – No Entry​

    Hertz barged around his office, kicking out at the metal waste paper bin which clattered deafeningly off the walls and desk. Books flew from the desk as he whisked them aside with his paws towards the door, causing Mono to duck and Sample to leap aside as it whistled past his ear almost clipping it off the side of his head.

    The gallade stopped amidst the debris and clasped his paws behind him, keeping his back on the other two pokemon.

    “So you lost him,” he said calmly.

    “Yeah,” said Sample.

    “And also killed a pidgeot flier.”

    Sample nodded and wrung his paws together, keeping one eye on the door. “It was an accident. We buried him in the desert. Mono even said a few words -”

    “A few, a dozen. I don't care if she wrote a novel!” They leapt back as he rounded on them, fixing them with a crimson glare. “You two were foolish! We already have enough conflict with the public's side of the government. The hospital and the police don't get on, but we're meant to obey the same laws!”

    “So what do you want us to do?” Sample asked. “Turn ourselves in?”

    “Don't be ridiculous. You do nothing.” He turned his back on them again. “Where is the meowstic? Still on the island?”

    “We don't know. We lost him.”

    “Yeh,” said Mono. “Think he lost his trackin' chip.”

    Hertz looked back at them over his shoulder. Lost... was this now a lost cause? No. He might still be on that island.

    But if not, then it was indeed a lost cause. Finding one little meowstic would be impossible in this vast region. He could be anywhere.

    The only option they had was to somehow check that island.

    “It's the continent that hovers across Meta City, right?” he asked.

    Sample and Mono exchanged surprised glances.

    “Yeh,” said Sample. “Do you want us to go back up there?”

    Hertz snorted. “We can hardly hire another flier can we? News of one going missing will travel fast! It won't be long until they trace him back to you two. No. We're best staying away from the fliers for now.” He moved past them towards the window. “It passes by here once a day, although the time varies. If we can get a drone up there, then we can transmit the footage back to...”

    He drifted off as something in the sky caused his stomach to knot. His paws fumbled at the window clasp, desperate to get it open.

    “Is something wrong?” Sample and Mono joined his side, following his gaze to the sky.

    “Yes.” He squinted at the sky as he leant through the window, the fresh breeze stirring his fur. “It's not normally that far away. Is it?”

    He couldn't mask the doubt he felt. Every day that island passed by his office window, drifting high over the office blocks and superstores. Now it was miles away, drifting well outside the outskirts. Moving away from the city with no indication it was going to turn and follow its normal circuit towards the centre of Meta City.

    “I don't understand,” said Mono. “What's it doin' all the way over there?!”

    “I've no idea.” Hertz dragged himself back into his office and closed the window. “But I'll be surprised if he's not on that island now, using it as some form of getaway.”

    Sample's brow furrowed in confusion. “So what do we do?”

    “Simple. We follow it.” Hertz scurried over to his desk and switched off his computer then scooped up his keys. He paused by the office door to look back at them, still standing there staring at the tiny speck of a continent bobbing in the sky. “Grab your bags. It's going to be a long trip.”

    ...​

    The sun had decided it just didn't want to come out that morning. Pixel left her home feeling rather groggy and she stretched in the cool morning air as a refreshing breeze whipped through her fur and made the grass tickle her legs.

    “Good morning.”

    She opened her eyes and spotted Switch leaning back against a tree trunk with his arms crossed behind his head. He winked.

    “Sleep well?” he asked.

    She shrugged. “As best I could. It's a little strange knowing the island you've called home since you were born has gone rogue.”

    He shook his head and laughed. “You're giving an island a personality. Don't worry yourself. N00b assured you it would be fine. All that's happened is you can control it now.”

    “I know. But I have no idea where we are.” She cautiously moved over to the edge and peered down. All she could see was the canopy of a large forest and a few little villages surrounded by fields. Nothing about it was familiar. She looked back at Switch. “Do you know where we are?”

    He pushed himself up and joined her side, following her gaze to the forest canopy below.

    “Looks like Spring Forest,” he said. “If that's the case, that residential area will be Gear Village.”

    “You've been over here?”

    “Sure. A few times. I've flown over most of System. I don't think we're that far outside of Meta City. Maybe ten miles or so.”

    “Ten miles is enough for me.”

    They both looked round at Vector. Neither had noticed him joining them.

    “I've spoken to Leaf,” he said. “I'll be disembarking soon.”

    “Really? You think there'll be a cure in the forest?” Pixel asked.

    “Who knows.” The meowstic crossed his arms and looked out with a sigh. “Look at the state of that.”

    She followed his gaze towards the mountain. It's usual rocky grey surface mottled with green was criss-crossed with horrific black lines. Almost like someone had painted it and someone else had tried to scribble it out with a pen.

    “We might be able to find a cure for the virus,” said Switch. “But will we ever find a cure for that? I mean... we don't even know what it is.”

    “Like the incident at the Fracture, it followed with the virus.” Vector turned his back on it and started to walk away. “Whatever cure we find for the virus might destroy that corruption too.”

    “That's a good point,” said Switch.

    “Then I had better get ready to disembark.” Pixel turned to hurry back home.

    “Disembark?”

    Vector's voice froze her in her tracks and she looked back at him, meeting his confused and somewhat unimpressed gaze.

    “Yes,” she said flatly. “We're helping you find a cure, remember?”

    “I said I didn't object to you looking for one. I don't recall anything about joining me in my search.”

    “Of course we're joining you! It'll increase the chance of finding one.”

    He frowned. “If you want to increase the chance, then go your own way. Cover more ground! You don't need to stick to me like glue!”

    Pixel's jaw dropped. She couldn't think of anything to say.

    “Hang on.” Switch cut between them and fixed the meowstic in a glare. “The girl's just trying to help you. There's no need to be rude.”

    Vector let out a flustered sigh and ran a paw through the black fur between his ears. “I'm sorry. It came out wrong. I'm just saying there's no point staying with me. I've caused you enough trouble already.”

    “So you're trying to scare us off?” Switch closed his eyes and shrugged. “Well it isn't working. I've dealt with worse attitudes than yours.”

    “You can't go out alone,” said Pixel. “If you find yourself in trouble, you'll need help.”

    “No.” Vector took in a deep breath as he tried to stop his fur from bristling. “We'll go our separate ways. Okay?”

    “Fine.” Switch waved him away. “Have it your way.”

    Pixel found it hard to mask the fact his words had stung her. Vector stood near the edge of the continent, watching the world go by below them. She couldn't fathom why he wanted to do this alone. A mere two days ago he was stuck inside Central Meta Hospital with pokemon that wanted to harm him. What was he even doing there in the first place? If he'd turned himself in suspecting he had the virus, only to be checked and come out clean, then how was he kept inside? With the promise a potential cure might help him?

    'I went to them for help... and they were going to turn me into some kind of experiment? I can't believe it.'

    She was pretty certain that may have been the case.

    Now he had no type, lacked his own abilities, and he planned to go out there alone. There was no way she was going to let that happen.

    “Leaf?” she spoke into her headset.

    There was a pause, then a crackle as the ivysaur's voice came back to her. “What is it?”

    “I'm letting you know I'll be leaving the island soon.”

    “All right. How are you leaving? Taking the ladder?”

    Her eye went to Switch. She doubted he'd be taking the ladder. Her unintentional stare dragged his attention from the passing clouds.

    “What?” he asked.

    “Will you be flying down?”

    A nervous smile crossed his features, and he rubbed the back of his head and laughed. “After seeing you drop down on that thing? Definitely.”

    “Do you think you could carry us both?”

    He looked from her to Vector, catching a frown from the meowstic, and nodded. “I think so. I might have to carry one of you in my talons though.”

    “Let that be me,” grunted Vector. “That way you can drop me off easier.”

    “Switch is going to carry us,” she explained to Leaf.

    “Very well,” he replied. “Stay in touch. And take care, Pixel.”

    She gave him a quick reply of acknowledgement as Switch's talonflame form appeared before her eyes. He lowered himself for her to hop onto his back then rose into the air, snatching Vector in both his claws. The meowstic gave a small yelp of surprise as he was lifted off the ground.

    “Stay still,” Switch warned him. “If you wriggle, I might drop you, and as you can see, it's a long way down.”

    Vector went rigid, keeping both eyes on the approaching canopy. The buildings beyond the trees became clearer, along with small fields for farming, but one thing that remained the same as every other residence in System was the tall antennae blinking its blue and green lights.

    “Where am I taking you?” Switch asked.

    “You can drop me anywhere,” said Vector, somewhat shakily.

    “Then I'll drop you just outside the village. I think that would be safest.”

    Switch levelled out above the forest canopy and glided effortlessly over it. The fresh, clean countryside air reached their nostrils and Pixel let out a satisfied sigh.

    “This is such a nice change to the city,” she said.

    Switch chuckled. “Tell me about it. Sometimes I fly out this way just to get away from the hustle and bustle of it all.”

    He released Vector onto the ground and dipped his wings, landing lightly in front of him. A few small cottages sat on either side of the street, a couple of which had grass pokemon sat out in their lawns or watering their plants. Pixel looked back at the meowstic and smiled.

    “You have our contact information, right?”

    He looked away from her. “Yeh. Leaf gave it to me.”

    “So if you need help -”

    “I'll be fine!”

    Pixel flinched away from him and diverted her gaze to the village. Something blinking above it caught her eye and she looked up at a sign that made her heart flip into her chest.

    Switch let out a sharp laugh and shook his head. “You won't be fine if you stick around here, pal.”

    “What was that?” Vector's voice was thick with a warning tone, but his face fell as he looked up to follow their gaze.

    The large sign was the same as any other advertising billboard. Digitally controlled, brightly coloured, and as clear as day.

    Pasted over the bright blue backdrop were the cheerful words 'Welcome to Gear Village.' Below that was the word 'virus' written in black, surrounded by a giant red 'no entry' sign. If that wasn't enough of a deterrent, below it in clear, red letters was written 'any contaminated pokemon will be terminated'.

    Pixel could feel the stares of the grass pokemon in the surrounding cottages that now felt like they were closing in around them. She looked down at Vector, watching as his eyes flitted back and forth over the foreboding sign, desperately avoiding eye contact with the pokemon staring at him from their gardens. If he went into that village looking like a victim, he wasn't going to come out alive.
     
  16. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Sorry about the long delay on this! After we moved we had mobile broadband for a bit so I kept updating to FFnet and Wattpad but I kinda fell out of the habit of updating my 'fics to forums. I'll try and get back on it.

    14 – Short Circuit​

    There wasn't much time to think. A loud siren blared through the village, reaching the outskirts and sending the staring pokemon back into their houses. One of them must have sounded the alarm, but whoever it was didn't stick around to watch. Flashing lights drew closer along the narrow street and Pixel could just make out a car beneath it before Switch flicked a wing in front of her face.

    He ushered her away from the village, keeping one eye over his shoulder to watch the advancing police car. "We need to get out of here."

    Vector didn't need telling twice. Pixel watched as his two black and white tails fled for the woods.

    "Do you think he'll be okay?" She didn't expect an answer from merely voicing her inner thoughts but Switch placed his wing across her shoulders to steer her away and cleared his throat.

    "No. I don't."

    She felt her heart sink.

    "Not unless he can outrun them," Switch explained, "and their numbers might extend into the woods."

    He ushered her onto his back and rose into the air. Pixel looked down at the horde of police cars manned by various grass pokemon. Gear village seemed to be heavily populated by grass types, but amongst them she could make out an ampharos and two marshstomp. A lombre hopped out of the leading police car and shouted something she couldn't make out. It must have been an instruction to attack because it was followed by three streams of water that carried the ampharos's electric attack straight at them.

    "Switch!"

    Screaming his name was a devastating mistake. Everything seemed to go in slow motion. He looked back over his shoulder at the oncoming attack, his eyes widening with every inch the water moved. It struck him in the tail, throwing him further into the air, and his body turned rigid as electricity coursed through him. Pixel felt her nerves burn as the current engulfed her, but any scream that had tried to come out with it died in her throat. The ground rose up towards them, the impact forcing the air out of her lungs.

    She turned her head stiffly to see Switch's body lying twisted in the road. The sheer thought he might be dead crushed her and she heard a small whimper leave her lips as she strained to push herself up.

    "You aren't going anywhere." A foot pushed her back down and she looked up to see the lombre standing over her. "Where's that contaminated meowstic you were seen with?"

    She blinked to try and bring him into focus, but it seemed impossible. It looked like he was shimmering, or surrounded in a bubble. Her arm felt like lead, making it hard to rub her paw across her eyes. It wasn't a bubble. He was wearing some kind of translucent hazmat suit.

    "What have you done to him?" She looked over at the motionless talonflame. If she felt as rough as she did having taken the secondary hit, then what damage must he have taken being drenched in water then zapped with electricity? "Is he dead? Did you kill him?!" She rounded back on the lombre. "None of us have that virus!" Her voice cracked and it took every ounce of will power she had to not rub at her sore throat. To not show any weakness.

    The lombre merely pointed a claw at the billboard. "You saw it. That's why you ran. Any pokemon with the virus are to be exterminated."

    "But none of us have it." The exasperation in her voice seemed to reach him, as he blinked away the confusion in his eyes. "My friend isn't even a talonflame. He's a human! They can't catch it!"

    "But there's no evidence they can't carry it, and that meowstic clearly has it." He looked away from her and nodded to a roserade. "You take over here. SWAT squad, follow me into the woods."

    A group of quilladin and breloom raced after the lombre, lugging thick metal shields with them. The purpose of those shields would likely be more to prevent the hazmat suits being damaged, since their primary fear would be contracting the virus rather than receiving a fatal attack.

    Pixel looked around at the roserade. He stopped beside her and clapped his floral paws together. He wasn't wearing one of those full body suits. It covered his head and that was it. She didn't need to be told what would be coming next. Some kind of status inducing spore – toxic to finish her off, or something to knock her out so they could finish her quietly.

    There was no way she was going to let that happen. If there was any way she could save Switch and Vector then she was going to try.

    The roserade's paws dropped slightly and his eyes flitted to her right, wide with fear. He'd felt it before she did. A rising heat that grew with intensity. Switch had his eyes open, but he hadn't moved from that uncomfortable position. Flames danced along his feathers, heating up the paving stones and singeing any of the grass pokemon that were unfortunate enough to be stood too close.

    This was her opportunity. She span her horn around in an arc, clubbing the roserade on the jaw. He flew away from her with a grunt and landed motionless several feet away. Pokemon rushed at her, and she leapt to her feet, fending them off with her horn and swinging them over her head back towards the village and into gardens fences, the wood splintering under their weight. Somewhere in the chaos, Switch was still lying sprawled out, but she could still see the flickering flames and hear the screams of the pokemon caught in the heat wave. It was even beginning to effect her. Fatigue slowly took over her body until the sheer numbers overwhelmed her and she soon felt herself struggling, receiving blows she was unable to defend. Vines wrapped around her and she covered her muzzle with her paws to avoid breathing in the spores that filled the air.

    A looming yellow shape blocked out her line of sight and there, staring down at her, was the ampharos. He said nothing as he looked from her to Switch and back. Static danced along his fur and spread out in all directions. She braced herself for the impact. It struck her in the back, bowling her forwards... towards the ampharos?

    Her eyes flew open as a yelp escaped her throat. Vector's black and white form stood before her, his fur lit up yellow and blue with the electricity. The ampharos's face was twisted into a mocking grin as he watched the meowstic flinch back from him. Once the attack had died off, Vector stood motionless. The ampharos's grin widened as he let out a triumphant laugh, but it died in his throat as his attack was deflected back at him in a flash of light, bowling him tail over head into the nearest garden fence.

    The meowstic span to face Pixel's attackers. The vines fell from her body as a frightened tangela scurried backwards. With his untidy fur and a bruise showing over his left eye enhancing his scowl, Vector looked a lot more intimidating. A pair of servine whipped up tornados of leaves and grass which rushed at him, growing in size until they engulfed him. Another flash flew from him, sending the servine duo crashing through the trees. The ground rumbled as the marshtomp leapt up and down, knocking everyone off their feet. Pixel landed hard on her bottom, watching helplessly as Vector tumbled over. His paw struck the ground and where it hit, cracks extended from it, rushing towards the marshtomp and knocking them off balance until they fell heavily into a pile of rubble. Gasps and squeals rang through the remaining pokemon, and many of them moved away to a safe distance, unsure what to do without their lead commander barking out orders. The lombre hadn't returned, nor had his SWAT team. The roserade was unconscious, and most of the grass pokemon weren't wearing protective gear. The battle had become a free-for-all and none of those still standing wanted to play a part in it.

    "Switch!" Vector bellowed. "Pull yourself together. We need to get out of here!"

    The talonflame struggled to push himself up by his wings. Pixel staggered over to him and crammed her shoulder under his chest, lifting him with what little strength she had left.

    "He can't fly like this," she gasped out.

    "He'll have to." Vector backed towards her, keeping his ice blue eyes on the frightened pokemon. He wiped a paw across his mouth which came away sticky with blood. Something unseen had gone down in those woods. The remaining pokemon were muttering amongst themselves now, some of them backing into the trees while others flexed their claws or vines.

    "Do you have the strength to get us away from this village?" she asked Switch.

    "I don't have much choice." His voice cracked but she heard a chuckle behind it.

    He flapped his wings stiffly, rising uneasily into the air. Both her and Vector were hoisted into his talons and he veered away from the village and the angered pokemon. Some of them fired shots at his retreating tail, but without the marshtomp or lombre, the only attacks that skimmed them were feeble leaves that barely left a scratch and burned away on his still hot feathers.

    The short flight seemed a lot longer than it actually was. The electric attack had seriously stiffened his wings and several times Pixel worried he would lose his grip. She latched onto his claws with her paws, watching the ground below, the green marred with the black lines criss-crossing its surface. He struggled to hold on to Vector while the meowstic's body shook with a violent cough, wiping more blood from his mouth. When Switch let them go, it wasn't a gentle descent. Pixel landed in a crumpled heap amongst rocks and stiff plants, and he crashed down behind her, taking on his human form and rolling along the rocks. He landed in a tangle of limbs and scarf and let out a long, pained groan.

    "Are you okay?" Pixel berated herself for such a stupid, impulsive question. Of course he wasn't okay. None of them were. And there wasn't a single berry tree in sight, or a shop in the near vicinity that would serve them with Vector amongst them.

    She glanced at the meowstic huddled against a rock. His fur looked drastically unkempt and that bruise was growing worse.

    She pawed through her bag, hoping to find something that might be of use. A flood of relief came over her when she found two fat lum berries. She gave one to Switch which he took gratefully and handed the other to Vector.

    He stared at it, narrowed his eyes.

    "Take it," she said. "You need it."

    "What for?"

    "Whatever's got to your chest. It might be toxic." When he didn't move, she edged closer, trying to get it into his paw. "I saw you coughing. Take it."

    He gave a bitter laugh and snatched it from her. "What makes you so certain you don't need it?"

    "You two need them more than I do."

    Switch pushed himself up and sat back against a slender tree. He wiped the juice on his hands onto his jacket and shook his head slowly.

    "You could be a little more grateful," he told Vector.

    "So could you." Vector kept his eyes on Switch as he licked juice from his paw.

    Pixel let out a sigh and closed her eyes. "He's right. If it weren't for him, we'd be dead."

    Vector moved over to her and stuffed the remains of the berry into her paw. She blinked at it in confusion.

    "Finish it," he said.

    "I told you, you need it more than I do."

    "I'm fine."

    "But-"

    "I feel better now! Can we move?" He turned his back on her and staggered across the grey landscape.

    "Vector," said Switch. "I'm thankful you saved our lives and all, but we really need to rest. Including you."

    "If you want to sleep out in the open, that's your call. But I'm looking for shelter."

    "He's got a point." Switch pushed himself up with a groan.

    "I'll contact Leaf," said Pixel. "He might know somewhere we can-" She trailed off, pressing the ear piece closer to her head. Nothing. Not even static.

    "Is something wrong?" Switch asked.

    "I've lost my radio feed." She felt her pulse quicken as she realised how isolated she now felt. The world felt a lot bigger suddenly and she looked around at the rocky landscape. Rocks. Stiff weeds. Weak trees. More rocks. "I think the electricity shorted my transmitter."

    "Don't worry. I think mine still works."

    "That's a relief." The small smile that had started to play across her lips faltered and she looked up at him quickly. "I'm just relieved your watch didn't get fried."

    He chuckled. "That's Connor's doing. If he made a watch for a flying pokemon that couldn't withstand an electric current, I'd have been in trouble a long time ago. Come on."

    He ushered her forwards and they followed after Vector as he scrambled over rocks, moving higher and higher up the steep slope. Despite the lum berry, the climb caused both Pixel and Switch a great deal of discomfort. They had to pause for breath multiple times before they caught up with the meowstic.

    He stood motionless, staring out at the landscape. She dragged herself up beside him and followed his gaze.

    "Finally!" Switch doubled over with his hands on his knees, panting to catch his breath. "Remind me mountain climbing is not a good idea after a thorough electrocution."

    Neither of them responded. Pixel's jaw hung open in shock. The mountain looked like a giant puzzle, sliced apart by black lines radiating a violet light. She reached out and grabbed Switch's hand, muttering out a chain of incoherent words as she struggled to string the right ones together. He opened his eyes and an exclamation of surprise echoed across the mountain.

    "Whoa!"

    Vector glanced up and him and grunted, crossing his arms over his chest. "I know." He gave a sigh as he looked to his left, down at the villages and woods below. They'd received the same fate. Sliced up by dangerous, ominous, jagged cracks. "It's getting worse."
     
  17. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    15 - Deletion​

    Connor's muttering filled the small, dark office as he tapped violently at his pocket computer. N00b and Diode watched from the safety of their projects, occasionally exchanging concerned glances. A whoosh cut through the muttering and the helioptile let out a squeak as he ducked just in time to avoid the pocket computer from colliding with his nose. The spanner he'd been holding clattered to the floor with a deafening clang and N00b tugged his ears down over his head and flinched.

    "Foolish moron isn't answering my calls!" Connor shrieked. He rammed both paws onto his desk, making the keyboard bounce along it. "Where has he gone?! Why didn't he tell me?!"

    N00b peeked out from beneath his paw and cleared his throat. "No offence, but... maybe it was because he didn't think you'd let him go?"

    Connor's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Of course I wouldn't! And don't get me started on you! Going out, rescuing a potential virus victim? You could have brought it back here!"

    N00b's shoulders hunched and he let out a low whine. "There was zero risk to you. It doesn't affect humans."

    "That's not been proven yet." Despite the lower volume, Connor's voice was thick with exasperation. "You're fortunate that pokemon was clean. And the rest you were gallivanting around with."

    Diode dropped his spanner again, drawing Connor's frown towards him. The look on the helioptile's face was less than impressed.

    "You know," said N00b, "I think you need to learn to trust others more."

    "I trust those who I know don't treat me like vermin."

    "You know what the problem is? You met members of the small minority that do."

    Connor snorted laughter. "No, I think I've got the small minority that don't sitting here in my office."

    N00b sighed and looked away from him while Diode fixated himself on silently tweaking the laser.

    "I just think Switch's priority should be on getting us out of here," said Connor. "Not... whatever it is he's doing."

    'Whatever it is'? N00b had explained at great length. He sighed and glanced at his pocket computer lying silently on the desk. Connor wasn't the only one who's messages Switch appeared to be ignoring, and it was causing him a great deal of anxiety. 'Whatever it is' happened to be dangerous. The virus, those cracks, both of which were eating away at the entirety of System.

    "I personally think what he's doing is more important," said N00b.

    "You think there's something more important than getting us humans out of here?!" N00b could almost see the steam coming out of Connor's ears. The pikachu's cheeks sparked dramatically and jolts of electricity danced over the computer monitors. "We're trying to get back into our own world! What's more important to him than that?!"

    N00b masked his nerves with a shrug. "Let's face it. You want to get out of here, sure. But you've seen the effects of the virus, and read about those strange cracks that are cropping up everywhere. Seriously, Connor, what would you do if there was no world left to escape from? What do you think would happen to you all then?"

    Connor's jaw fell open and he looked from N00b to Diode. The helioptile nodded sullenly and diverted his gaze back to the laser. Connor slipped from his desk and slumped across the office, pausing with one paw on the doorway.

    "Then we'd better find a way home quick," he mumbled. "Hadn't we?"

    N00b felt his heart sink as he watched the pikachu vanish from the room. One human desperate to get home. His priorities warped. Or were they?

    "I don't know what to think," he said as he turned back to his computer.

    "Hmm?" Diode raised an eyebrow.

    "I know he wants to get home but... doesn't he care what will happen to us when he's gone? If this world is still in shambles?"

    Diode gave a solemn shrug and absently tightened a nut on the machine. His unfocused eyes were a clear indication his mind was elsewhere.

    "Or maybe he cares too much," said N00b, "He's worried and this is just his way of dealing with it."

    Silence fell across the office, broken only by the squeak of metal as Diode worked away. The computers, N00bs pocket computer, Diode... everything was silent. N00b slumped across his desk, resting his head on his paws as he stared at the colourful lights swimming across the black of his computer screen.

    "Yeah." Diode's voice startled him and he looked up at the helioptile with with a jerk. Diode wasn't even looking at him, still working on that same nut. "I think you're right."

    ...​

    It took a while for Switch's muscles to loosen up. He staggered behind Pixel for a majority of the day, and it wasn't until an orange hue painted the horizon that he was able to keep up with her. Vector was a different case. Despite the apparent pain in his body, enhanced further by the difficulty in navigating the mountain's uneven, rocky surface, he pushed himself on. A couple of times he stopped for a good cough, but those fits appeared to have eased off significantly.

    Pixel hadn't been feeling as sore as she'd worried she would, so finding a place for them all to rest had become her main priority while remaining vigilant for her friends. There hadn't been a suitable cave for the past mile or so, and the risk of a landslide was increasing the higher they rose into the mountain. They'd not really had much choice. It had been the only way to avoid an intricate web of black cracks. Once they'd thinned out she'd advised they move back down to lower areas perchance they stumble upon a village but after their last experience Vector had been adamant to avoid any residential areas. He'd told them to go along without him, but she'd refused. His health had been worrying her, but now he'd improved it crossed her mind that they could leave him and look for a village. It wasn't as if they'd be out of contact, and she really wanted to repair her head set.

    She paused to look out at the vast mountain range again. The towns and villages below looked minuscule from this height, and the vehicles were mere colourful specks travelling along in neat little rows between tiny houses. She couldn't even see any other pokemon from this position. Even the trees looked less like trees than they did fluffy green puddles splattered around the blocks of colourful buildings. The only thing that marred the sight were those cracks, surrounding the villages like an army threatening to move in on them and consume them until there was nothing left. Like that poor vulpix pup.

    She swallowed drily and tore her eyes away, focusing instead on Vector's retreating black and white form. She broke into a trot to keep up with him, scrabbling over a small outcrop to rise onto the flat ground he'd found. Her foot slipped and a clatter echoed through the empty landscape as a pebble broke loose and bounced down the mountain side. Her heart froze as she watched it disappear below them.

    "Careful!" Vector looked back at her through narrowed eyes. "You'll cause an avalanche."

    "Then slow down!" She pulled herself upright and patted down her fur.

    Vector shook his head with a sigh and pressed on, not making any effort to slow down in the slightest. If she was going to keep up with him then she had no choice but to jog. Switch's footsteps echoed steadily behind her, heavy in those black boots. She glanced back over her shoulder to make sure he was okay. The level surface they were on now was much friendlier, made up mainly of soil with the odd patch of soft, cool greenery that was much more pleasant on her paw pads. Spacious too, for her and Vector, but with Switch's size he didn't have much room to work with and he kept a cautious eye on the mountain's steep slope.

    "Are you okay?" she asked.

    "I'm fine." He smiled and nodded over her shoulder. "If you want to keep up with him then you'd better keep moving."

    Vector had almost vanished out of sight. She sped after him, hopping over ledges and scrambling over outcrops until she almost collided with his back. He'd come to a sudden stop, staring anxiously ahead of them. Cutting across their path and dominating most of the remaining mountain was crack after crack after jagged crack, spreading across the ground and rising up into the air like frozen, deadly lightning bolts. The eerie light they emitted dyed the grey surface of the mountain in an inky violet.

    "Great." Vector crossed his arms and snorted. "How are we meant to get past this?"

    Pixel had no words. She followed the chaotic path the cracks led up and down the mountain. Getting around them would be nigh impossible. They'd need to either see how far they went on the other side of the mountain, or walk for miles and miles back down it and hope to eventually find some way around, and that would likely go against any desire Vector had to avoid any residential areas.

    "I can check?" said Switch.

    Pixel looked back at him. "You're in no fit state to fly."

    "I wasn't earlier but I managed to carry the both of you. If it comes to it, I can get us all over this mess."

    "I don't know..." Pixel eyed the anomaly warily. The lines were rather tightly knit, leaving little space to pass through even in the air. "Do you think you can really fly through that?"

    He shrugged. "I can give it a try."

    "I'm not risking it," said Vector. "If there's no way around it then we'll have to go back. Look for another way through. Surely they don't span the entire region?"

    "Hopefully not." Switch warped into his talonflame form, and with one beat, he rose into the air, rising gradually higher as he circled above them.

    Pixel squinted, watching the shadow of the talonflame in the darkening sky as he swept back and forth. She thought she caught him shake his head a few times which only made her stomach sink but it wasn't until he landed that the sombre look in his eyes confirmed her fears.

    "It goes all the way over the mountain," he said. "I can see no end to it. Even the Binary Jungle is consumed by them."

    Pixel clenched her jaw. The Binary Jungle was well beyond the Backbone Mountain. It was a good two day's walk without rest. Her eyes went to the ground and her arms fell limp at her sides. Was it really hopeless? What was happening to the world?

    "You can't get us over it?" Vector asked.

    Switch shook his head sadly. "There's not enough room between the cracks. I'm not risking all three of our lives."

    "You're not risking your own either," Pixel said bluntly.

    Switch just crossed his arms and shrugged, scanning his eyes over the mesh of jagged lines. With every second night pulled in, and the less light there was to go by, the more difficult the cracks were to see. But the violet light still reflected off his pale face.

    The entire mountain range now felt immensely unwelcome as those cracks became an invisible danger.

    Pixel hugged her arms around herself and backed away. "I think we should go back."

    "You do that," said Vector. "I'm going to keep looking for a way through."

    The meowstic moved away from them, carefully examining the black cracks as he paced up and down. His close proximity to them made Pixel's heart leap into her throat and it was everything she could do to not leap forward and pull him back. Switch let out a flustered sigh and ran a hand through his hair.

    "Look, Vector. It's no use. I've checked, there's no way past them."

    "You checked from the sky," said Vector. "That's not enough evidence. There might be a way underneath and I'm going to find it."

    "Maybe so, but do you really want to be that close to them?" Pixel asked.

    Vector didn't answer. If anything, he moved even closer, placing both front paws on the floor and peering beneath the cracks.

    "I don't know about you," said Switch, "but I'm not forcing my way through a small gap. What if one of those cracks appears to fill in the space and runs right through me?"

    "With the speed and spontaneity these things seem to appear, that could happen where you're standing," said Vector. "I don't see what difference it makes."

    Switch threw his arms into the air and tutted. "Fine. Let's look for a way through them then."

    "Even if there is a small gap," said Vector, "who's to say you'd fit through it?" He looked back at Switch over his shoulder, meeting the human's golden eyes.

    Switch's face twisted into a frown and he folded his arms. "Then you go on without me."

    Vector tutted and stood up, wiping his paws on his white chest and leaving streaks of dirt behind. "Fine by me. I planned to go alone anyway. You two just insisted on following me."

    "What's with the attitude?" asked Switch. "We wouldn't be following you if we hadn't just saved your life!"

    "And I saved yours!" barked Vector. "I returned the favour! If it weren't for me, you two would have died in that village!"

    "And if it weren't for my wings, all three of us would have died!"

    "Stop it!" Pixel cut between them, waving her arms. "Stop arguing! It's getting us nowhere!"

    Vector tutted through his teeth and moved away from her. "Look. You saw what happens if you stick with me. Go your own way."

    Switch laughed bitterly and shook his head. "So now you're turning your foul attitude into a martyr act?"

    His words cut into Vector and he span on the spot, his blue eyes livid. Pixel wasn't sure what happened next. From the angle she was at, the meowstic ether tripped or was shoved by Switch, but the latter was quickly blotted out as the human's face twisted into fear, his eyes widening at the sight of Vector falling away from him. Stones tumbled down the hill as Vector stumbled backwards, flailing his arms. The only thing that would stop his fall lay in the form of a massive boulder behind a mesh of black, glowing cracks.

    Pixel shrieked his name as she lunged forwards, stretching out her paws as far as they would go. The fear on his face stabbed through at her heart and she would have met the same fate if Switch hadn't grabbed her by the horn, tugging her back onto the path. All she could do was watch Vector fall backwards into those black cracks, his blue eyes locked onto her violet ones.

    His body collided with the cracks, then there was a snap like someone stepping on a brittle twig, amplified through a loudspeaker. The cracks flashed, creating dazzle spots in Pixel's eyes, before they vanished from sight, one after the other in a trail leading back up the mountain. All wind flew out of Vector as he smashed into the boulder, his eyes screwing shut in a wince of pain. The impact seemed to shimmer as though the boulder was made out of film, as though it wasn't really there, but the impact was very real. Vector placed a paw on his ribs and groaned, slowly opening his eyes to look around him.

    It took a moment for Pixel to realise her paws were clamped over her mouth. Everything seemed so surreal. One minute, there was a net of cracks and Vector was about to meet a tragic end. Now... those cracks were gone. Not all of them. Some still remained, creating an arc above their heads and leading down towards the villages. The ones that had previously stood in Vector's path were gone. That shimmer she'd noticed was now everywhere. The plants, the boulder... they didn't seem real. She stared down at them, trying to pinpoint what it was. What was so strange about them. Then she saw it. A small chain of numbers rose up from them. It was similar to binary code. Zeros and ones that meant nothing to her, but interspersed with other numbers and letters and symbols.

    "What... what is this?" she gasped. "What just happened?"

    Switch blinked and opened his mouth, stuttering as he tried to take it all in. It didn't make sense. What had just happened didn't make sense. Didn't those cracks kill those who entered them?

    "I think he nullified it," Switch finally said.

    Vector stared at them, his breath coming in heavy bursts. He pushed himself back from the boulder and moved slowly through the thin strands of numbers, taking it all in. The numbers weren't phased by his body. They weren't stopped by the presence of a solid being. There was nothing to them at all. Just a strange, unexplained presence created by those cracks.

    "I don't understand." Vector looked down at his paws as though seeing them for the first time. "Did I do that?"

    "It looks like it." Switch smiled and moved over to him, stooping to place a hand on his shoulder. "The upside is we can now move forward."

    Switch moved ahead of him, whistling as he looked up at the remaining black cracks. Deleted. Now the initial shock was over, that was the word that came to Pixel's mind. The best word to describe what had just happened.

    As she followed after Switch and Vector, she couldn't take her eyes off the meowstic. His odd colouration felt akin to the wisps of numbers rising up from the plants and rocks. They were like scars left behind by those horrible cracks.

    No virus. A discoloured body. Was there any possibility he had deleted the virus from his body like he'd deleted those black cracks?

    She looked away from him and shuddered as the thought of Central Meta Hospital's horrific plan rose in her mind. Had they been closer to a cure than even they had realised?
     
  18. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    16 - Binary Code​

    Retro nibbled on a pen – the eraser long since whittled away – while she stared somewhat perplexed at the map of black lines. Something had disturbed them, but she couldn't quite put her claw on it. It was different somehow.

    Three more eyes peered over her shoulders at the computer monitor, having abandoned their own scrutiny of the maps on their screens. Each one showed a different section of the Binary Jungle via external cameras, but it appeared only Retro's camera had picked up on this anomaly.

    "Pardon my assumption, ma'am," said Amp, "but could it be that one of the lines has vanished?"

    "That's what I thought," she replied. "But which one?"

    Alarm let out two short screams, putting Retro's fur on end. She glanced back at the unown A and raised an eyebrow, but before she could open her mouth, the unown scooted closer to her screen and pointed with one of her tendrils.

    "What's that?!"

    Retro and the other two unown leant in closer to the screen, but whatever Alarm had seen was miniscule. Retro clicked her mouse over the area to zoom in and all of them let out simultaneous gasps.

    Amp's eye widened so much it almost consumed his body. "Are those-?"

    "Eggs?" X nodded. "Eggs-actly."

    "Why are there eggs in the middle of the jungle?" Retro scratched her head and frowned at the computer. "It doesn't make sense. They're normally laid indoors."

    "Maybe they were laid in a hurry?" said X.

    "And left behind?" Retro shook her head. "That doesn't seem right. Parent pokemon would take their eggs with them."

    "Not if they were tiny," said X.

    "Tiny pokemon lay tiny eggs," said Amp. "Use your common sense, X."

    "I can't." X closed his eye. "I left it in my sock drawer this morning."

    "You don't even wear socks!"

    "I could wear socks. Besides, whether or not I wear socks would not disprove that I'm in the possession of a drawer to store said socks."

    Amp seethed silently, causing the very walls to shudder.

    "I have to say," X continued, "that your assumption is absol-utely preposterous."

    "You're preposterous!"

    "Boys!" Retro rounded on them, causing them to freeze and blink at her. "You're frightening Alarm."

    The unown A shivered behind Retro's right shoulder.

    "I am so terribly sorry," said Amp as quietly as he could to the timid unown, "that my unwarranted outburst caused your immediate discomfort."

    Retro smiled and nodded. "Good. Now let's put an end to the arguing while we suss this out. Eggs are in the jungle. It should be added to our list of anomalies." She turned back to the computer and commenced nibbling her pencil again. "The question is – why? Why has a crack vanished and revealed those eggs?"

    "I'd like to know why it vanished in the first place," said Amp. "Evidence suggests these things multiply, not vanish!"

    "I agree," said X. "It is x-tremely fascinating. And rather quite terrifying."

    "Terrifying." Retro leant back in her chair, the tip of the pencil resting on her lip.

    Those eggs were still on the silent monitor, surrounded by a web of black cracks. A trail of eggs, leading through the jungle, vanishing out of sight beyond a mass of ferns. Each one seemed to be smoking, or giving off a strange white cloud of mist. She zoomed in again and dropped her pencil on the floor. The discussion that had been going on behind her came to an abrupt end as all eyes snapped back to the computer.

    It wasn't mist those eggs were giving off.

    It was binary code.

    ...​

    The path between the ominous cracks zigged and zagged and twisted sharply left and right so much so it looked at first like there was no path there. Pixel's heart was in her throat most of the time as she desperately tried to avoid touching them. She wasn't sure if it was her imagination, but the binary trailing off the rocks and plants seemed to tickle her fur.

    Violet reflected off Vector's white fur. He kept his paws to his chest, his eyes flitting left and right as they followed the black cracks looming over them. She wasn't the only one who found it daunting. Even Switch seemed on edge, but he didn't voice it. The cracks gave very little room between them, so he'd had to take on his talonflame form to fit comfortably between them.

    Vector exclaimed loudly and came to a sharp stop. Pixel had to put on her breaks and she felt Switch's sharp beak strike against her horn. She glanced back to see him rubbing it with a wing feather.

    "Sorry," she said.

    He shrugged. "Not your fault." Then he added over her shoulder, "What is it?"

    Vector grimaced and balled his paws into fists. "We can't get through. They're too close together here."

    "You can't..." Switch clicked his beak in thought. "Maybe... erase more of them?"

    Vector's yellow eyes frowned at him over his shoulder. "How long have you been wanting to ask me that?"

    "Since I was forced to waddle along with my wings clipped to my sides."

    The meowstic tentatively brought a paw up to his nose to scratch it, then closed his eyes with a sigh.

    "I don't know if I even did that," he said. "I mean... what if it was just a freak coincidence?"

    "What if it wasn't?"

    Vector said nothing, but narrowed his eyes.

    "I agree with Switch." Pixel drew Vector's leer from Switch onto her. "It seems like too much of a coincidence to actually be one."

    "So you want me to risk my life?" Vector snorted. "Voluntarily touch one of those things?"

    "I don't see how much difference it makes," said Switch. "We'll probably end up doing so just turning around to retrace our steps!"

    Vector trailed his eyes over the web of cracks, muttering incoherently to himself. He shifted uneasily then looked down at his paws. Pixel and Switch stood awkwardly, rooted to the spot, desperate to not so much as twitch and come into contact with those strange cracks. She couldn't work out what Vector was saying to himself, but she wondered if it was a bit of a pep talk. Her heart leapt into her throat when he reached out his left paw to touch the glowing, jagged wall beside him.

    The sound of a snapping twig, amplified so much it caused her ears to ring.

    A flash.

    Another gap had opened up around them, leaving Vector standing amongst it with his jaw hanging open, staring at his paw as though it was the first time he'd even seen it.

    "Vector?" She took a small step towards him.

    "What..." He shook his head, still staring at his paw. "What has happened to me?"

    "I don't know," she said. "But those things can't hurt you. Can they?" Her question was shrouded with doubt as she looked over the remaining cracks.

    Vector shuddered from ear to toe. "Why me? Why can I do this?"

    "Listen, man." Switch strutted over to him, stretching his wings out gratefully in the newly opened space. "You've got a gift that can probably save this world! If you can get rid of these cracks... wow! I want to see what would happen if you touched someone with the virus!"

    Vector narrowed his eyes on him, letting his paws drop down at his sides. His lips turned up into a sneer, revealing his sharp canines.

    "Wouldn't that be willingly offering myself a death sentence?!"

    Switch raised his wings in a shrug. "Not if it has the same effect as it does on these cracks."

    Vector deflated and waved a paw at him. "Anyway. What does it matter? Haven't I already had the virus?" He paused and looked down at his paws again. "Maybe that's why..." His eyes drifted up to the web of black and violet. They were barely visible against the quickly darkening sky.

    "You think the virus destroys these cracks?" Switch asked.

    Vector shook his head. "I don't know. If it does... then it doesn't make sense."

    "They don't make sense in the first place! They just came out of nowhere, along with that virus."

    "No. They came out of the Fracture," said Vector. "I saw them. It looked like the world was breaking."

    Pixel blinked in confusion. "What do you mean? You saw them?"

    "Yes." Vector met her eyes. "They swallowed up anything that fell into them."

    "Like the vulpix..." Her voice trailed off and she looked away from him. Swallowing up the world... stretching out like a spider's web, destroying everything they touched. He'd seen it. Hax hadn't lied when he said that vulpix didn't come out of the cracks. Had the other missing children wandered in out of curiosity? Stumbled and fallen inside? Maybe been forced in as one of the cracks appeared right through them?

    She cringed at the last thought and gave her head a sharp shake to clear it away. It didn't bare thinking about. It was too awful.

    "Are you okay?" Switch placed a wing on her shoulder and she came back to reality.

    She gave him a small smile and nodded. "I'm fine. Let's find somewhere to rest."

    Vector's eyes lingered on her for a moment. The expression of concern in his eyes was enough to make her wonder if he'd asked the question and not Switch. He tore himself away and cleared his throat.

    "Yeh. I'll be surprised if we don't at least find a cave we can hide in."

    ...​

    It wasn't a cave, but it was certainly shelter. Pixel trailed her eyes up and down the wooden structure – a little hut up in the mountains, most likely used as a quiet retreat by someone at sometime in its existence, although she couldn't quite fathom why. It didn't look out at a spectacular view. It perched on a flat, sturdy outcrop facing a shallow, rocky drop down towards a scattering of stray trees and a river which was peppered with fallen boulders. The hut itself had seen better days. Right now, in the dark of the early morning, it had a sad and lonely feeling about it. A derelict little hut that at some point suffered a blow from an avalanche which had taken out a chunk of its roof. Its state of disrepair spoke loud and clear about its current abandonment.

    The inside was no better. The door creaked open on loose hinges to reveal a mildew-ridden sofa standing beneath the roof's hole which was severe enough to not keep out the rain. At the other end, by a blocked up fireplace, stood a wobbly table beneath a thick layer of dust. In the middle of the table was a vase, the only thing that actually remained in good condition. It crossed Pixel's mind to move it somewhere safer, but part of her didn't have the heart to disturb anything. Before they even entered, her senses were assaulted with the sharp scent of mould and dust.

    Vector flopped onto the floor with his back against the wall and let out a long groan. He sat with his eyes closed and his head resting against the blackening wood, not so much as twitching when Switch collapsed down next to him with a hefty sigh.

    Pixel gave the sofa a sorry glance before joining Vector's other side, but despite how tired she was she wouldn't close her eyes. She kept them fixed on the world outside, which fluttered in and out of her vision as the door creaked back and forth in the wind. She didn't know why she felt so nervous. Maybe it was because she was sitting in an abandoned hut, which she'd never done before in her life. However, they weren't exactly in any danger. No one was in the mountains, especially not at this hour.

    She forced herself to close her eyes and huddled down against the wall, hugging her knees to her chest. When she opened them again, light was pouring in through the door tinting everything it touched in a pale orange.

    "Sunrise," she muttered, rubbing a paw over her eyes. She hadn't expected to actually sleep. She didn't even recall her dream.

    The two boys were still sound asleep. A weak smile spread across her lips and she pushed herself up, her body aching from all the scrambling they'd done up the mountain. Her stomach growled and she glanced back to make sure she'd not woken her friends. Neither of them stirred. With a sigh of relief, she moved out onto the outcrop and had a look around. The dull grey of the mountain was dyed in an inky orange from the rising sun which reflected off the river as it gurgled around the rocks below her. The trees around it were heavy with berries. She did a quick calculation to see if her aching muscles would allow her a gentle climb and decided against it. Her stomach rumbled in protest and she gave it a sympathetic pat as she looked around. A small gasp escaped her when she spotted the tree growing beside the hut. All of them had been too tired to notice it the night before, their minds focused on getting some sleep, but there stood a cheri tree with enough low branches bearing its bright red fruit. She quickly gathered them up and stuffed them into her bag until it was fit to burst. What wouldn't fit she scooped into her arms and scurried back into the hut.

    "Breakfast, boys! I found cheri berries!"

    She fell to her knees and dropped the berries onto Switch's lap. He rubbed a hand across his eyes and yawned.

    "How long have we been asleep?" he asked.

    "I've no idea." She tugged her scarf from around her neck to use as a makeshift picnic mat. "I was too hungry to think about it."

    Switch deposited the berries onto her scarf and helped himself to one. He took a bite out of it and nodded to Vector. "Should we wake him?"

    Pixel stared at the meowstic as she considered this. His ears twitched a couple of times but her excited outburst hadn't woken him. She shrugged.

    "Yeh, I think we should give him a little longer," said Switch over a mouthful of berry. "I don't want to get bitten."

    She chuckled and tucked into the berries. They ate in silence for a while, watching the sunrise through the door. The light spread throughout the hut, cut off periodically as the door swung lazily on its weak hinges. It smacked against the wooden frame as a gust whipped in through a crack in the window, cutting off the sunlight and stirring up the dust on the floor. Switch cleared his throat and stood up.

    "I don't know how much longer we're going to be here, but it's pretty musty. I'd rather prop the door open."

    "You could use one of the chairs?" Pixel suggested.

    Four dining chairs were positioned around the wobbly table. He grabbed one and lifted it, but there was a creak and a snap as it fell from his hand and clattered onto the floor. A heavy feeling of guilt spread through Pixel's chest as she stared open-mouthed at the chair's remains.

    Switch wiped the splinters onto the leg of his jeans and grunted. "Wood rot."

    "Urgh, would you cut it out with the noise?" Vector stretched and wiped a paw across his nose. He snorted and coughed as he strained to push himself up.

    "Oops. We poked the sleeping beartic," said Switch.

    Vector narrowed his eyes at him then beat the dust from his fur.

    "Sleep well?" Switch asked flatly.

    "Yeh. But my lungs feel like someone's attacked them with a cheese grater." He staggered across the room and wrenched the door open, and when he stepped outside, he stood on the edge of the outcrop and took in deep breaths.

    Pixel followed after him and handed him a berry. "I picked breakfast."

    He took it from her gratefully and sat down with his feet hanging over the edge.

    "Are you still recovering from yesterday's attack?" she asked.

    He shrugged. "I think I'm more sore from the climb."

    "I meant your chest."

    Before he could answer, Switch appeared beside her and draped her scarf over her head. "I think it's just allergies."

    Pixel lifted her scarf from her face to look up at Vector. He paused to lick the berry juice from his paw then let it fall into his lap.

    "Your friend's right," he said. "My mother had to keep the house immaculate. I never could tolerate dust or damp." He sighed and shook his head, his eyes locked on the trees below. "I wouldn't mind getting down to that river for a drink."

    "We passed a spring yesterday," said Switch. "We could backtrack a bit. It's not far."

    Vector gave him a dismissive grunt and pushed himself up. "I don't want to retrace my footsteps. I'm going to follow that river, see where it takes me." He pointed to the sky and Pixel followed his paw. A speck flowed smoothly up by the clouds. Too smoothly to be a flying pokemon. "You two could get back to your island. You'd be safer there than with me."

    "That's Cyan Island?" Pixel gasped.

    "Huh. So it is." Switch smiled. "Well, I guess it does move faster than we do."

    "Are you sure it's not one of the other two?"

    "Well, it's not pointy enough to be Magenta. And there's no water trailing off it, so it's not Luma. It has to be yours."

    "I've never seen Magenta or Luma, so I wouldn't know." She watched the floating speck, warring with the desire to go back where it was safe. Where she could repair her head set, tell Leaf about Gear Village's hostility, about Vector's ability to erase the black cracks. She clenched her paws and braced herself to ask Switch to take her back, but Vector's vanishing form over the rocky mountainside abolished any such desires and she found herself trailing after him.

    "We're staying on the ground then?" Switch asked as he followed after her.

    Vector's ears flicked backwards, silently acknowledging their presence. He didn't slow for them to catch up, clearly reverting to his initial intention to go his separate way. After what they'd all been through, Pixel wasn't going to allow that.

    If she left him, she'd have no idea if he was okay. No idea if the scientists at Central Meta Hospital had tracked him down and abducted him. No idea if any other towns, cities or villages had the same policy Gear Village had and the worst had happened.

    Getting in touch with Leaf would have to wait.
     
  19. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    17 - Taking Out the Trash​

    Hertz had been staring at the same spot in the sky for some time, drawing confused looks from Mono and Sample and any other pokemon that passed by him. A few glances went to the spot he was fixated with, but it only caused the shaking of heads or a shrug before they went about their business.

    Hertz stroked his chin with a claw as his eyes trailed away to the black cracks, and not for the first time. He wasn't mistaken. He couldn't be. One of those cracks had vanished, flickered out on his peripheral vision while he was tracking Cyan Island. He was convinced there was less of them now. Not only that, Cyan Island had changed course. The rogue drifting continent was heading for the same spot. It was the only explanation. One of those jagged cracks had... popped.

    "I don't know, I don't keep track of 'em." Sample's deep voice rumbled by his ear and he gave the exploud a sideways glance. The exploud shifted uneasily, diverting his gaze to the rundown buildings that were plentiful in Spool City.

    "I'm sorry?" said Hertz.

    "The cracks," said Sample. "I don't keep track of 'em. But they just appear randomly so I guess they can vanish n'all."

    "The buffoon has a point," said Mono. "If they appear out of the blue, then why can't they vanish as well? Their behaviour is probably just random. We should focus on gettin' to that island."

    Hertz made a thoughtful noise and let his paws fall to his sides. "It's heading that way anyway. So if we follow it, we'll still find answers."

    "I don't think an answer is just gonna drop outta the sky, Hertz," said Mono.

    "Well if we don't find anything, then it will solidify your 'random' theory."

    The wartortle shrugged and trudged along behind him, doubled over beneath the weight of her rucksack. Hertz couldn't care less how she felt. Along with Sample, the two of them were responsible for manslaughter and if they stayed around here they'd likely be caught. Then he'd be down two assistants. Their careless mistake had also obliterated any chance they had of hiring a flier to speed things up, now they had to walk or find a vehicle and he didn't quite fancy riding around on a hover-board. It had crossed his mind to hitch a ride on a wagon, but the chance they'd stumble across one heading in the same direction was slim. The wagons were all automated, following set tracks like the drifting continents were meant to.

    He watched the rogue island as it vanished inside a low cloud. They were going to lose it if they weren't careful.

    "I wonder if anyone does log the behaviour of those cracks?" he said, mostly to himself.

    Sample gave a shrug. "No idea. It wouldn't surprise me if there is someone though. Like stargazers tracking the night sky."

    "You make it sound romantic," Mono snorted.

    "It is, stargazin'. The cracks though..." he waved a paw. "I can think of better things to take a lady to."

    Mono sputtered laughter and almost buckled completely beneath her bag. Sample reached out a massive paw and dragged her back up right by one of the shoulder straps.

    "Don't show weakness around here," he grunted into her ear.

    "No. Don't," said Hertz. "Otherwise I'll be leaving you behind."

    Mono frowned and picked up pace beside him, casting her eyes over a group of skuntank gathered around a bar, enjoying what was left of the sun's rays before it vanished behind a grey cloud. Two of them watched her curiously, sipping at some nauseatingly green liquid from grimy glasses.

    Hertz abruptly turned a corner, causing Mono to stumble as she tried desperately to keep up with him. She crashed into the back of his legs as he froze and followed his gaze to an open garage door on the corner of an alley. A small brown pokemon ducked inside it, immediately followed by the clanging of metal.

    What was strange about it was not many pokemon had need of garages. Hover-boards were small enough to be kept inside a house. A garage nowadays was a luxury that took up too much space. Extra space to store excess stuff. Many of them had been demolished to make way for new buildings or turned into home extensions. For a garage to be functioning in Spool City, this tiny – and oddly familiar – pokemon must be paying out of his nose.

    Hertz strutted towards the metal shutter and peered inside. As he passed the alley, a trubbish shouted something from inside a trash can. He didn't give the trubbish a second glance. His attention was fixated on the pokemon inside the garage. He hadn't been wrong. The brown pokemon was indeed familiar. A little lillipup lay flat on his back as he worked away with a spanner beneath a bullet-shaped car. A car identical to the one he'd watched fly away from the hospital. The same car that had accompanied the pokemon who had taken the meowstic from him. The sour look plastered across Sample and Mono's faces told him he wasn't wrong.

    The thought of revenge coupled with the reward of flying away in a vehicle that would make their journey a lot easier elicited a purr from deep in his throat.

    "Excuse me," he said.

    The little lillipup turned his head to look at him. A smile began to cross his lips then faltered as his eyes moved between Sample and Mono.

    "I'm terribly sorry to disturb you," Hertz began, "but I have need of your car."

    The lillipup flipped himself onto his feet and tried to give the gallade as nonchalant a look as he could muster, but the recognition had been plain on his face.

    "I'm sorry, it's not for hire." He turned away and deposited the spanner into a toolbox much too big for him to carry.

    "I didn't say I was hiring."

    The lillipup's ears stiffened as Hertz stepped into the garage. He watched him out of the corner of his eye, all the fur along his hackles rising. Hertz thought he caught the glimpse of a canine poking out of his lips. It looked like the runt was going to put up a fight.

    Not surprising. He'd been audacious enough to assist in a breakout. He wasn't just the convenient getaway driver. But if he thought he could stand up to three adult pokemon, one of which had a type advantage, he was very much mistaken.

    "All right, boss!" Sample slammed his paw onto the hood of the car, but the lillipup didn't so much as flinch. "I'll drag this thing outside so it doesn't get a dent in it, right?"

    Hertz waved a paw at him. "Sure. I'm going to need some space."

    The lillipup's face fell as he watched Sample hoist the front of the car onto his broad back. The exploud screwed his eyes shut under the strain as he dragged it across the concrete floor. The lillipup's eyes flitted to the door and back and he fell back onto his haunches, covering his muzzle with his paws.

    "No! Don't take the N00b Mobile!" His voice was muffled behind his paws, and he watched Sample with eyes so wide they made his already tiny face look minuscule.

    Hertz laughed bitterly and slammed a fist into his paw. "You'll be needing your own set of wheels when we're through with you."

    He fixed the gallade with his wide eyes, paws still clasped over his muzzle.

    "You don't meddle in government business and get away with it, little mutt," Hertz continued. "Mono, if you could hold him still? I'm not really in the mood to chase this runt around the garage."

    "It'll be my pleasure!" Mono laughed and took a step forward, and stopped. Her nose twitched and she lifted it into the air, her face twisting with disgust.

    An almighty crash shook the foundations as Sample collapsed beneath the car, sending it onto its side. The lillipup let out a pained whine from behind his paws.

    His paws...

    Hertz felt his own nose twitch and his face fell. He lowered his fists and strained to glance over his shoulder, but the putrid smell in the air only intensified as it penetrated further into the garage. His stomach lurched and he doubled over, emptying the contents of his breakfast onto the floor. He wasn't the only one. Mono dry-heaved beside him before rolling onto her side with her paws clamped over her nose.

    It was pointless. Whatever toxins had been spewed into the air had already began their job. Hertz's vision clouded over and he watched the lillipup smiling at him, his muzzle still hidden safely behind his paws.

    ...​

    N00b scurried from the garage on his hind legs and finally uncovered his muzzle to take deep breaths of clean, uncontaminated air. He leant back against the wall and smiled down at the trubbish. The poison pokemon didn't smile back at him. His attention was fixed on the garage's opening as he eyed up the three unconscious pokemon.

    "Thanks, Kurg!"

    The trubbish shrugged his tentacles. "Don't mention it. I did you a favour. I owed you one anyway."

    N00b chuckled. "You owed me nothing. I think I'm in your debt."

    "All right. I'll hold you to that." He crossed his tentacles and frowned at the three pokemon. "So what do government cronies want with you?"

    "I'm afraid I can't answer that."

    Kurg shrugged. "All right. Suit yerself."

    N00b watched him waddle back towards the alley, past the open shutter. Those three pokemon wouldn't be unconscious for much longer. Their presence alone set alarm bells ringing in his mind. They'd come looking for something, but they'd not expected to find him. Or had they?

    He clenched his teeth together and kicked himself back from the wall.

    "Kurg?"

    The trubbish peered back at him. "What?"

    "I think I need to owe you two favours. I need to get away from here. I think it's obvious to you that those guys know me. You see, I got... mixed up in something. I can't risk them finding Connor, and I'm too small to move them, especially the exploud."

    Kurg scratched his head with a tentacle. "What d'ya expect me to do?"

    "Do you know anyone strong enough? We need to move them before they wake up."

    "There's me dad. He could shift them, but he won't be nice about it." Kurg narrowed his eyes questioningly. "What did you get mixed up in? You're a good pup."

    N00b grimaced and diverted his gaze. "Like I said, I can't tell you. But they're bad pokemon. Please, Kurg. If they find Connor..."

    "I know, I know. Don't stress your tail off. Since they're the bad guys in all this, I guess it don't matter if me dad's not nice about it. I'll go get him. You make like a beedrill. Okay?"

    N00b's heart felt a lot lighter. He almost squealed with relief. "Roger!"

    He ran back into the garage with his tail wagging. His poor car was still lying on its side. It took all his strength to pivot it back onto its wheels and by the time it was upright, he was out of breath. When the engine fired into life, he breathed out a 'thank you' and revved it out onto the street.

    He didn't know why those three wanted his car. His only guess was they had a lead on Vector's whereabouts. He looked over at the horizon as the N00b Mobile sped down the empty streets. There, drifting just below the clouds was Cyan Island, but Vector wouldn't be up there now. If they were heading towards that, then he'd be okay. Unless they thought he was somewhere else? Or they wanted Leaf...?

    He tugged out his pocket computer and stabbed at Switch's name with a claw. Hopefully he'd answer and shed some light on the situation.

    But his heart sank with every single ring until it hit his answering service.

    ...​

    Hertz took a deep breath then immediately regretted it. Garbage fell around his ears as he pushed himself up, lifting the lid off the skip and taking gulps of cleaner air. Sample and Mono joined him, the latter looking like a fuse was about to snap in her mind.

    "Why that little-!" She clenched her jaw and peeled a rotting sitrus rind from her cheek. "When I get my paws on him..."

    Hertz said nothing as he pushed himself out of the skip. His paw brushed paper and he paused, plucking the crumpled sheet free from its sticky tape. Mono's ramble became background noise as he read over the scrawled lettering, his brow furrowing with each syllable.

    'We took out the trash. Now it's time for some snacks. See ya!

    Mildew and Kurg.'

    He clenched his fist around the mocking sheet and let the crumpled mess fall to the floor. Mono's rant came to an abrupt end as his eyes locked on her and Sample.

    "Find me that lillipup," he said. When the two didn't budge, he narrowed his eyes into slits. "Now!"

    The exploud and wartortle launched themselves from the trash in a shower of debris, half slipping half running from the alley. Mono stumbled as she threw the bag onto her back, ricocheting against the grimy wall. Hertz clasped his paws behind his back and stared down at the ball of scrunched up paper. With a snort he kicked it beneath the skip and followed his assistants out onto the empty street.
     
  20. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    18 - Pointing Claws​

    The cool water was revitalising with every refreshing gulp. Soon every cobweb of sleep was washed away. Pixel stood up and wiped a paw across her mouth, scattering droplets onto the vibrant grass. Vector was still doubled over on all-fours with his face almost submerged in the running water. He gulped noisily while Switch crouched down beside him, throwing water over his face and hair until it wet the collar of his coat. He shook the water free, but it still dripped down his face. He fell back into the grass with a sigh and yawned widely.

    "I could easily go back to sleep again in this sun," he said.

    Pixel hummed in agreement and stretched languidly. If they were going to make any progress, she'd have to not settle down in the sun's rays.

    Vector finally stood up and swiped the back of his paw across his lips. "Be my guest," he said. "But I'm not stopping."

    "Oh! What have you done?!"

    All eyes shot up to spot the speaker. Clambering out of the bushes came an old feraligatr, fear plain on his wrinkled face.

    "You've contaminated the river!" he shrieked, his voice wavering with age. "That water feeds a village of water pokemon. Goldeen and barboach live in here, amongst others. Do you have no respect?!"

    Pixel rose to her feet, bracing for an attack, but all Vector did was snort and wave a paw at the feraligatr.

    "Don't worry yourself. I'm clean," he said.

    "You don't look it," the feraligatr grunted. "Ain't seen any other white meowstic in my life."

    "No one had seen a golden one until it hatched from an egg."

    The feraligatr crossed his arms and frowned. "You hatch that colour?"

    "No." Vector narrowed his eyes. "I had the virus, and it's gone. I'm no threat to you."

    "A likely story! I had you pegged from the start! There ain't no white meowstic!"

    Pixel cut in front of Vector before he could retort, squaring herself up to the feraligatr. The only thing between them was the river, and despite his age he was likely a much better swimmer than she was. But the chances of him confronting them without a protective suit were about as likely as her ability to out-swim him.

    "He said he's clean," she told him. "You don't need to worry."

    "Yeh? Right!" The feraligatr laughed drily. "There's no cure for that wretched virus! You've probably got it yourself! Travelling with a contaminated pokemon? And with a human of all things?! That's two threats right there!"

    If Switch was bothered by the feraligatr's words, he didn't show it. Pixel turned her eyes back on the giant reptile but before she could say anything more, Vector's paw landed on her shoulder, sending a jolt of surprise through her body. She craned her neck to look back at him, but his blue eyes were locked on the feraligatr.

    "Don't worry," he said flatly. "We're leaving."

    They turned away to walk up the river, away from the feraligatr and in the opposite direction of the town.

    "You do that!" his voice called after them. "But that won't fix what you've done! You should know better!"

    Vector's face creased into a grimace and he tutted between his teeth. His paw still rested on Pixel's shoulder as he steered her along the riverbank, and his grip tightened as his entire body tensed.

    "There'll be a SWAT team looking for you!" The feraligatr's voice was much quieter now. Pixel ventured a glance back, spotting him as he vanished beyond the trees. "I'll tell them everything!"

    "Just walk away," said Switch quietly.

    "Yes, and quickly." said Vector. "We'll want to outrun that SWAT team. I doubt he was just all talk."

    "I don't understand," said Pixel. "You told him the truth. You've done nothing wrong."

    Vector snorted. "You didn't exactly react well when you first saw me."

    She felt her cheeks heat up and she looked away from him. "I was just surprised! I wasn't expecting it. I know you're clean."

    "You only know that because I was scanned. Would you really have believed me if you had no evidence to prove it?"

    He released her and marched ahead of them, his feet stamping over the grass and snapping brittle twigs beneath his pads.

    She could feel Switch's eyes on her as she seethed silently, her paws balling into fists. After they'd rescued him from that hospital, he really thought so little of her?

    "Yes." Her voice came out louder than she'd intended. He faltered momentarily in his tracks, his ears flicking back to her. "No one wants that virus," she went on. "I don't think any pokemon would just walk into a town like a ticking time bomb to contaminate anyone. It's no terrorist attack. I don't believe for a minute that the virus is made by a malicious pokemon. I believe it's linked to all this." She waved a paw at the surrounding cracks that marred the sky. "The virus showed itself before these cracks, and from what you said it followed whatever went on inside the Fracture!"

    Vector halted with his arms hanging limply at his sides. The three of them stood in silence, the only sounds coming from the rushing river and the wind stirring the leaves in the branches above them. A dry chuckle came from his throat and he closed his eyes.

    "It wasn't made by a malicious pokemon, huh?" He ran a paw over the black tuft of fur between his ears and chuckled again. "I don't know about malicious, but that flash was caused by a pokemon, Pixel. My group went into the Fracture to set off a bomb in hopes another explosion would reverse the damage and give the humans a way back home."

    The gasp that escaped her throat had been at the surprise of any pokemon entering the Fracture. There was no way out. Drones had been lost in there, all connection with them destroyed the second they went beyond the static that surrounded it. From the look in Vector's eye, he hadn't picked up on that.

    "That bomb was my own invention," he said. "The whole amazing plan had been my idea. I'm responsible for the flash, the virus, those cracks."

    Pixel's jaw went slack. All strength was leaving her legs. His eyes opened wider under her stare, but the seriousness behind them didn't change. He'd made his point and as he turned away everything about him told her he'd expected her reaction. She watched him walk further away until he vanished around the river bend.

    The world was breaking. All because of an attempt to send the humans home.

    "But it was an accident." Her voice came out weak and she slumped onto her knees. "Wasn't it?"

    The doubt behind her voice drew Switch's golden eyes onto her. He'd been oddly silent during Vector's revelation. Nothing to say. An explosion, followed by a deadly virus and dangerous cracks. All because a group of pokemon had tried to help the humans by giving them a way home.

    If the humans didn't have enough negativity aimed at them already, they would if that news got out.

    ...​

    The N00b Mobile's engine wasn't holding up like N00b had expected it to, but he could liken that to the massive upgrade he'd barely finished installing. The lillipup let out a long sigh as he eyed the dial above his steering wheel. Sure, he was flying at a steady ninety miles per hour, but the engine was making a rather stomach-turning 'puttputt!' noise as it tried to keep the car in the air while straining to keep up with the increased power it was trying to put out. If it kept up like this, he feared he'd need to land before he reached Cyan Island.

    And it might not be a voluntary land, either...

    The sheer thought caused the fur along his hackles to rise and he gave one last look at the speck gliding along in the distance before he pulled the gear stick to lower the gear and slowly steered the bullet car's nose towards the ground. The engine immediately complained less as the car descended, almost as if it knew it's struggling was soon to end.

    "Don't worry," he told the car. "I'll get that engine sorted out before I put you through that again."

    The car's wheels touched down on a bed of soft, lush grass, and N00b looked around at the fields and distant woods. Giant stalks of corn waved in the breeze beyond a low wall, their golden-yellow ears showing they were ripe for harvest. Just a few feet away a brook babbled through the middle of the field on its journey from the Backbone Mountains. The only building in sight was a lone farm shack at the far end of the field.

    His nose twitched at the crisp air and he bit his lip. "There's just one problem." He gave the car's dashboard a sympathetic pat. "I've no idea where I'm going to fix you."
     

Share This Page