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System:Reboot (PMD)

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
I'm not really convinced by the tracking chip thing. Okay, so maybe it's illegal to use it to track someone – but am I to believe that nobody has ever used it to try and track Macro, the most wanted pirate around, anyway?
Yikes!! After reading this feedback I realised I'd made a heck of a mistake. Thanks for pointing that out! I guess that's a pantsing issue XD I've gone back and fixed it now (the same goes for the other platforms I submit to!), but I'll nutshell it here. Data chips can not be used for tracking, as it goes against pokemon rights. DL was given a tracking chip, just like Vector was in Glitched.



Chapter Eighteen​

BackDoor hovered at a safe distance from the fleet of porygon z as they traveled back and forth in the blackness of System Sky’s north east corner. He had no idea what Yobi had been thinking when he designed Zero Day. The raichu had clearly incorporated the old data from the lone ‘Porygon’ of many centuries past, along with its upgrade ‘Porygon 2’ who sported a much sleeker design than its retro eight-bit predecessor. However, these things looked like they’d had their limbs pulled part, held in place by nothing more than an electromagnetic force. Their heads flopped and lolled about above their bodies, capable of turning a full three-sixty as they surveyed the area. Their three limbs seemed attached, but the two at the front moved around their torso along some invisible track. Much like BackDoor, their antennae was hidden away inside them, most likely their ‘tail’ which bobbed about like a rudder, steering the monstrosities through space.

One of them turned its bird-like face onto him, fixing him with crazed yellow eyes ever so briefly before turning back to inspect some blank canvas. To anyone else, it was merely looking around, but he’d received its message loud and clear.

D1m3nsssssi0n L0kated. W0rLd - unkn0wn.

Ridiculous things couldn’t even speak properly. It sounded like some kind of incoherent, high-pitched buzz like a bug pokemon trying to speak with only its wings.

What do you mean ‘world - unknown’?’ he shot back.

Th4t isssszz f0r y0u t0 inssp3kt. 0ur j0b isss d0n3.

The rest of Zero Day bobbed backwards and their bodies jerked erratically, sending their heads spinning with an audible whir. Their tinny voices chimed in ‘d0n3! Itssss d0n3!’ over and over until BackDoor was forced to grit his teeth and rush towards them, waving his paws in protest.

“All right! I get it! Back off!”

The porygon z turned their heads simultaneously towards him and their eyes swirled with a yellow light.

Thr34t d3t3kt3d! Thr34t d3t3kt3d!

Tri-coloured beams shot from their faces straight at him and he let out a small yelp and dropped below them.

“Cut that out!” he barked.

With a wave of his paw, Zero Day were swallowed in a shadowy void and reappeared several feet away. Their bodies and heads still jerked unnaturally but they turned tail and drifted further away through System Sky.

Silence filled his mind once more and he turned back towards the ‘unknown world’.

“Morons,” he muttered.

The government fleet that had been waiting a good mile away at least began to move in, their golden hulls glittering in the starlight. Curiosity had clearly got the better of them, venturing closer regardless of the risk Zero Day’s impromptu return might pose. Those things were like carvannha, savaging anything that encroached on their territory that wasn’t one of them. It was like their eyes just couldn’t recognise what their mechanical brains could.

BackDoor span in a circle, cutting into the ‘unknown world’ with a golden light. It spread out into a glowing ring and the inside immediately softened into a watery substance. It swirled slowly, picking up speed until it gave off an ultraviolet light. His face split into a large grin and he bobbed backwards away from it, just in time for the fleet to arrive and snap up whatever unfortunate creature dared to come through it.

Any idea what world this is?’ a disembodied voice called from one of the ships, right into his head.

No clue,’ he replied. ‘Just like the other countless times.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I really hope it’s not prehistoric times. I really don’t want to wrestle with a tyrunt again.

BackDoor rolled his eyes. ‘It was one tiny dinosaur! Good grief!

Tiny?! I have you know that thing could have smooshed me with its foot!

BackDoor couldn’t help but laugh. A tiny electric rodent, crushed beneath the foot of an extinct creature. It was perfect.

Tinkling laughter came from the void almost matching his own. The hoopa’s humour died in his throat and his grin slowly melted away. A long, silvery tentacle reached from the tear, followed by another, then another. A couple of the government ships fell back while one dared to draw closer, the nozzle atop it glowing with a pink light.

BackDoor?’ the voice that reached him this time was different, deeper. ‘We don’t like the look of this. Do you think you can close it?

Another tentacle snaked through, groping at the emptiness around it. BackDoor bobbed closer, but before he could reach it, a silvery white mass broke through, spreading itself out as the vortex propelled it forwards into something akin to a tentacruel. The jellyfish-like creature let its tentacles droop back down again and it remained stationary as it tried to take in its surroundings, although how was a mystery since the creature lacked any visible eyes.

BackDoor threw himself backwards and grinned once more, clapping his mitten paws together.

“Are you guys seeing this?!” he shrieked. “This is awesome! So awesome!”

Flashes of pink flew from the closest ship, striking the creature on its head. It raised one of its tentacles to deflect the next blast then brought it down onto the ship. Metal creaked and splintered as the tentacle snaked around it, crushing the ship until it was unrecognizable. The golden vehicle was launched over the heads of the remaining ships, many of which turned tail and fled, leaving their comrades to deal with the aberration.

BackDoor clapped his paws again and pointed at the jellyfish. “Are you seeing this?! She’s got to use this one! She’s got to!”

He laughed jovially and turned his back on the monster. Its tinkling cries filled the air as the fleet took aim, shooting at its head and flailing limbs. Socket’s face filled the space before BackDoor and he grinned widely.

“What is it, BackDoor?” she scoffed. “This had better be good, I was just having my supper.”

“Oh it’s good, all right! Look at this!” He pointed a paw behind him and Socket’s expression turned from pensive to shock. “I think we’ve found you a winner!”

...​

Socket watched in sheer horror as the tentacled beast decimated two more members of her fleet. The ships that got too close to the void in their bid to stop the creature were whisked out of System Sky into the unknown. Every chain thrown at the monstrosity was torn to shreds and fell harmlessly away. The beast’s tinkling voice filled her office with a deafening intensity. BackDoor’s face was twisted into a euphoric grin as he looked from Socket to the massacre and back.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. “My data readout tells me it’s some species of pokemon!”

“It’s not one I’ve ever seen!” Socket gasped out. “Send it back this instant!”

“Aww come on!” The hoopa’s feigned pout turned her blood cold. “Give this thing a chance! I’d say it’s a billion times better than a human. They’re more like super pokemon!” He rubbed his chin with his paw. “No, hang on… I can do better than that… ultra beasts!”

“You told me it’s a pokemon,” she said. “Whether or not it’s from our world, the law would still apply! Just because it’s alien doesn’t create a loop hole! Send it back! Now!”

Her eyes widened as something beyond the monstrosity tore her attention from the massacre. Tentacles reached out from the void, flailing as another jellyfish creature was dragged from its world into System Sky. The fleet reeled back from it into the first one’s flailing limbs and one of the ships was swallowed up into its hidden maw.

“Ooh, another one!” BackDoor clapped his mitten-paws. “They must be some kind of race. Whatever they are, they’re super amazing. Not like pokemon at all. I don’t care what my read out says, I like them!”

“BackDoor, listen to me,” said Socket. “Those things are dangerous. Even you are at risk. Stop them, and send them back.”

He rolled his eyes and sighed. “All right, fine. Ruin all my fun.”

The hoopa shot towards them and span in a corkscrew up their lashing tentacles, binding them in place with a golden thread. With a ‘hup!’ he tossed the first one back through the glowing gate. The next one met the same fate, soaring after its comrade.

BackDoor turned back to Socket and folded his paws. “There. You happy now? No ultra beasts for you!”

She stared over his shoulder and pointed a claw. One of the creature’s tentacles reached back out from the void. The golden thread fell away like water as the beast was expelled once more. Its flailing limb swung down into the side of BackDoor’s head and he vanished briefly from the holoscreen’s display. He turned his frown onto the creature but it span away from him and took off into the blackness of System Sky.

“Why didn’t you close the gate?!” Socket shrieked. “Quick! Before the other one comes back through!”

BackDoor shot towards the void and snapped his claws. The void closed with a sucking sound just as another tentacle reached through. Tinkling screams filled the air as the tentacle was cut away, leaving a stream of purple blood as it dropped towards the ocean below.

The hoopa let out a whistle and looked after the escaping creature. He turned back to Socket and grinned widely.

“Oops?” He shrugged.

Socket’s nose crinkled in a frown. She clenched her paws so tightly her claws cut into her pads. The little wretch…

“Oops?” she spat.

He shook his head and gave her a chilling smile. “We all make mistakes.”

...​

Pulse City’s hospital ward was a small building situated just outside the busiest part of the city centre. It was an area reserved for helping the space pirates inhabitants, mostly consisting of apartment blocks, hotels and small super markets. Despite the contrast with the bustling entertainment centre and black market, it managed to blend in by keeping the same atmosphere. Billboards advertising the latest gadgets and video games were spammed over the tall buildings. Even the hospital had its own fair share of adverts. The walls were painted chrome and black, and the inside lacked the pristine white of the rest of System’s hospitals. In fact, it was grey. Clean (shockingly) but grey.

Macro perched on a seat just outside the minor surgery ward, leaning forwards on his knees as he kept one eye on the closed door. Anchor sat beside him humming to himself while scrolling over the screen of his wrist computer. Matrix had refused to stay, agreeing with Switch that hospitals made him uncomfortable so the pair had instead gone to the Moonlight Lounge to play Assassin Strike.

Hospitals made Macro uncomfortable as well, but he was adamant to stay. There was no way he was going to let DL wake up to find herself alone in the oppressive place. If it weren’t for her overreaction to having a small incision made in her left arm, they wouldn’t have had to put her under in the first place. They would have been in and out by now with just a few stitches and the reassurance they wouldn’t be able to be tracked any more. But no, she just had to be terrified of sharp objects.

The door opened and the smiling face of a mienfoo peered out at them.

“All done,” he said. “She’s starting to wake up but she’ll be groggy for a while.”

Macro grunted and pushed himself to his feet. The two space pirates trudged into the ward after the surgeon. The mienfoo nodded to the sleeping pachirisu who looked impossibly small in the large, low bed. No discrimination in Pulse City, everything had to be accessible to everyone. That meant all beds were designed for pokemon the size of a tyranitar and as such they drowned the smaller species.

“Here it is.” The mienfoo held out his paw. “We removed the old chip like you asked and replaced it with a new one using the details you gave me.”

The tiny microchip lay between his paw pads, both inconspicuous and ominous at the same time. Macro took it in his claws and held it up to the light.

“Huh,” he said. “Looks every bit like your everyday chip.”

“I think that’s the point,” said Anchor, still messing with his wrist computer.

“Well, it’ll be no use to Socket anymore,” said Macro. “Just a few minor adjustments and it’ll never work again.”

He dropped the chip to the floor and stamped on it.

It stared back up at him without so much as a scratch.

The mawile frowned and tried again. And again.

“What is this thing made of?” he said. “Steelix hide?”

Anchor brushed him aside and rammed his paw into the tile. When he stood back up, the microchip lay crushed to dust.

“Huh…” Macro scratched his scar.

Anchor nodded at him. “You’re welcome.”

“What was that noise?” DL’s groggy voice was somewhat incoherent and she sat up slowly, rubbing at her head.

“Don’t worry,” said Macro. “It was just Anchor being a brute.”

The granbull didn’t look up from his computer. “Well, I am good at it.”

A small smile played at her lips and she turned her sleepy brown eyes back onto Macro’s. Warmth spread through his chest as though someone had dipped his heart in chocolate fondue.

“How are you feeling?” His voice came out oddly weak and he diverted his gaze to the wall.

DL sat up fully and brushed her blue lock of fur back from her eyes. “I have a bit of a headache.”

“That’s normal,” said the mienfoo.

Macro had almost forgot the surgeon was there. The fighting pokemon busied about beside the pachirisu as he filled a glass of water. She gratefully accepted it and gulped it down loudly.

“I’ll have them send in some light breakfast,” he said. “And I’ll check on you again later on. Okay?”

Before any of them could respond, the mienfoo trotted from the ward and the doors swung loosely back and forth behind him.

“Refreshments aren’t a bad idea, actually.” Anchor finally looked up from his computer and turned to Macro. “Do you want anything?”

Macro narrowed his eyes. “You’re seriously gonna buy something from that overpriced hospital cafe?”

Anchor shrugged. “I’m parched. Besides, hospitals have gotta make money somehow, Cap’n.”

“I think they’ve made enough off us.” Macro folded his arms. “That procedure was alarmingly expensive and DL doesn’t exactly have health insurance.”

The pachirisu sank down into the sheets and glanced towards the wide window.

“All right, fine. I’ll meet you at Moonlight Lounge.” Anchor stomped towards the door.

The huge double doors swung back and forth with much more force than the mienfoo’s exit. It crossed Macro’s mind to stop them before they broke their hinges but DL’s plaintive whimper drew his mind away from them.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?” he asked.

“That you’ve had to pay for this…” She absently rubbed at the invisible stitches. “I… I’ll pay you back.” She clenched her jaw and glanced back to the window. “Somehow…”

“Look.” Macro moved over to her and flopped into a small plastic chair. “You don’t have to pay me back. It wasn’t much.”

“You said it was ‘alarmingly expensive’.”

He grimaced. She’d even used air quotes.

“I will pay you back,” she said. “But… I don’t have money. How about I work for you?”

He looked up with a start. “Work for me?”

“Yes. But rather than pay me, just keep everything until it’s completely paid back.”

“So… you want to be a space pirate?” He raised an eyebrow as she nodded then looked back down at his paws. “Wow. I guess I really do need to get you a gun.”

“I can pay you back for that, too,” she said.

“Don’t bother. I’m sure I can get one without paying. I might have to chase up some favors.” He slipped from the seat and gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll be back in an hour or so. Hopefully by then the doctor will have discharged you.”

“I hope so.” She hugged the sheet to her chest and glanced around the room. “I don’t really like hospitals, and this one is oddly grey.”

“Really?” Macro looked up at the bare walls. “I rather like it. Much less blinding when you’re coming out of a deep sleep.”

She chuckled, causing a small smile to play at his lips. He waved and pushed himself through the swinging doors.

His first stop would have to be Moonlight Lounge. He strongly doubted Worm would want to return any favors after he’d refused to sell him any coils. And even if he did sell him a gun, if he knew the sewaddle like he thought he did then it would very likely be missing its key component as a way of getting back at him.

Macro glanced over the pirates he passed, grouped in doorways engaged in drunken banter or bickering. A majority of them were rock, ground or dragon type pokemon with a couple of scrafty and scraggy mixed among them. Some of the pirates fixed him with a pointed glare that he met with as much confidence as he could muster. None of them made any advancement. The dragon types wouldn’t have stood a chance and the rock and ground types knew exactly what lasers he was packing.

Moonlight Lounge was as busy as it always was. Voices and sweat hit him like a wrecking ball no sooner he stepped through the door. He spotted Worm’s small green body on the bar instantly. The bug pokemon had his nose buried in a shot glass while the stunky runt sat beside him cheered him on.

“Good morning, Worm.” Macro leant on the bar beside the sewaddle.

Worm looked up from his shot glass with a start and frowned. “You just ruined my record.”

“By two seconds!” The stunky sipped at his own drink and smirked.

Macro raised an eyebrow at Worm. “I thought you already beat that last month.”

“Well, it doesn’t hurt to better yourself.” Worm nudged his glass towards the bartender. “Same again, Bit.”

Macro waved the mienshao before he could scurry away. “Occa and shuca cocktail for me.”

Worm’s brow furrowed and he tapped his tail on the counter. “I hope you’re not expecting me to pay, Macro.”

The mawile waved a paw and closed his eyes. “Never expected that for a second.”

“Good. ‘Cos you’re buyin’.” Worm jabbed Macro in the chest with a stubby leg.

The mawile absently brushed down his scarf and reached into his pouch just as the bartender returned with their orders. He slammed a ten credit bill onto the bar and Worm chuckled.

“You’re too easy sometimes.” The sewaddle pawed at his glass. “Or… are you just after something?”

Macro let out a single laugh and sipped his drink. “Maybe.”

“Oh, here we go. You stiff your old pal on coils that pirates have been demandin’ off me, even throwing threats, and now you want something.”

Macro sipped his drink again. “You didn’t manage to get hold of any?”

“No. I did not. Those things are like gold these days.”

“So there’s no sense in me cadging a laser off you then?”

“What do you want one for?” Worm eyed him up and down then frowned at his belt. “You already got two. Or are they in need of replacing?”

“It’s not for me.” Macro picked up his drink and scanned over the bar. “Guess I’ll snoop somewhere else. See you later, Worm. Good luck beating your record.”

The sewaddle tutted and turned back to his glass. The little stunky’s cheers started up and then were drowned in the chaos of the lounge.

“Oi, Macro!”

Macro stopped and looked around at the various pokemon. A familiar pink paw waved at him from a shaded booth. The small table was rather crowded. Anchor sat between a gabite and magmar while a bisharp sat a safe distance away on a metal stool. Any sign of bitterness had vanished from Anchor’s face, but Macro put that down to his beer.

He recognised the gabite as a Moonlight Lounge regular, but the magmar and bisharp were completely unfamiliar. A pile of dice lay scattered in the middle of the table along with credit coins and bills.

“We’re playin’ farkle,” Anchor told him. “You in?”

A slow smirk spread across Macro’s face which he hid behind his glass. Farkle… that might be an opportunity to win a few credits and maybe con one of the other players out of a laser. He looked over the strangers again, trying to work out what their lasers might be. He could rule out the bisharp. His paws were blades, rendering a laser completely useless. If he used any modified weapons they’d be cutting ones.

“All right.” Macro pulled himself up into the chair beside the gabite, spilling some of his cocktail on the leather seat much to the land dragon’s disgust. “Count me in.”

The magmar’s beak twisted into a sneer and he tapped the pile of credits. “You want in, you pay.”

Macro reached into his pouch. He didn’t often keep loose credits on him. He’d have to make sure he won if he was going to stay in the game long enough to get what he wanted, and he could guarantee the magmar would have it. He met the fire pokemon’s eyes and tossed a ten credit bill onto the pile, all the while keeping his own personal dice hidden in his paw.

“Cheapskate,” the magmar muttered as he gathered the scattering of dice together.

Macro pretended he hadn’t heard him, but kept his eyes on the magmar as he tossed the white dice across the table. They clattered, rolled and bounced until they came at a stop near the small pile of credits. Two fours, two twos and a three. The magmar’s snout creased and he shot Anchor a leer as the granbull jotted down the magmar’s score.

Macro chuckled under his breath. Ones mattered in this game, as did fives. And it was preferable to roll three or more of any number, although those were the most preferable.

The bisharp went next, neatly flicking the dice up onto one bladed claw and tossing them into the air like tiny pancakes. They pattered across the table, revealing a score of three sixes and two ones. The steel type thrust a blade into the air in a cheer and scooped the dice along to Macro.

“Full house,” said Anchor. “Nice.”

The bisharp closed his eyes in a smile.

Macro pursed his lips together as he took them into one paw. Using his trump dice right now was too much of a risk. He would have to rely on sheer luck.

He rolled the dice across the table and watched in anticipation as they landed on two fives a one and two fours. Well, it wasn’t terrible.

He set the one aside and re-rolled the rest of the dice. Three fives and a four. He could re-roll the four… but it probably wouldn’t do much good. He banked the fives and passed them along to the gabite.

The gabite completely failed his throw, not rolling a single scoring dice. He slammed them down before Anchor who had his own turn. After successfully rolling four threes and a one, he let out a sigh and waved a paw at the bisharp.

The bladed pokemon scooped all the credits towards himself with a gleeful squeal.

Macro narrowed his eyes and leant his head on his paw. If he was going to stand any chance of winning this and conning the magmar out of his laser, he was going to have to up his game. He wondered how long he could go without using the trio of loaded dice. He kept them locked in his fist, holding them so the sixes were against his paw. Hopefully that would send the weights towards them and roll him a constant nice set of ones when the time came.

Three turns and a lot of trash talking later, Macro was down fifty credits, despite the win on his third go. He begrudgingly watched as the bisharp scooped his winnings together and poured them into his bag.

“Off already?” the magmar grunted.

“Places to be,” said the steel type. “Besides, I don’t want to risk losing a decent streak.”

Macro quickly checked the time on his optical display. It had almost been an hour since he left the hospital. He really needed to get back and collect DL. He let out a sigh and watched as Anchor passed the dice along to the magmar.

“Come on! Give me some hot dice for once!” The magmar unleashed the dice onto the table and rammed his paw into his face as each and every one stopped on an unscoring number. “You have to be kidding me!”

Macro laughed and leant across the table to retrieve them.

“This really isn’t your day is it?” he quipped.

“It ain’t yours either,” said the magmar. “And it really won’t be at all if you don’t watch that mouth.”

Macro caught the gabite’s leer as he silently chewed on the end of a thin bone. Where had he got that from? Macro didn’t even want to know.

The mawile quickly threw the dice, slipping his own in with sleight of paw. The real dice remained clasped in his other paw and he watched with anticipation as three dice showed ones and the other two showed fours. He snatched the two fours back, deeply relieved that they were considerably lighter than the three he’d been holding. That meant his loading had worked. He tossed them, landing on a five and another one.

Macro fist pumped the air with a ‘yes!’ and gathered the dice back jubilantly. The gabite and magmar groaned audibly. Macro subtly switched out the three heavier dice for the originals as he pushed them towards the dragon pokemon.

The gabite snorted as he took the dice. “If you’d not been doing such a sloppy job, I’d be suspicious.”

Macro chuckled and tucked his paws behind his head, watching as the five dice bounced along the table to land the gabite on a one, three fives and a six. The dragon took the opportunity to re-roll the six, landing himself another five. He shoved them towards Anchor with a grunt.

The granbull didn’t even look up at Macro as he had his own roll, which he completely failed. He leant across the table and shoved the winnings towards Macro with his left arm. The mawile snatched it up with glee and tossed fifty credits into the middle of the table.

“Oh come on!” The magmar threw his arms in the air. “How am I meant to meet that?”

“I’m out.” The gabite leant back in his seat and looked up at the ceiling. “I ain’t wastin’ another credit.”

Macro felt a smirk spread across his face. “You could always bet your weapons?”

“Sod that,” said the gabite. “You fairy types are the bane of my existence. I ain’t travellin’ around without protection.”

“Me neither.” The magmar met Macro’s eyes with a frown. “What use would mine be to you anyway? You already have water and grass lasers.”

Macro shrugged. “Can’t hurt to have a backup. Besides.” He grinned. “Don’t you want to try and win everything back?”

The magmar met his grin with a scowl. With a defeated sigh, he reached into his belt and tossed a green-tinted laser into the middle of the table. Fifty credits from Anchor joined it and the magmar took the dice and tossed them into the air.

They rained down in a combination of three sixes and two fives.

Macro’s heart hit his stomach. He stared at the dice with his mouth ajar.

“Full house! ’Bout time!” the magmar roared.

He shoved the dice towards Macro.

The mawile gathered them together, switching them out for two of his own dice as subtly as he could. He had to play it safe and make sure his score wouldn’t come across as remotely suspicious. Three ones on his first turn might raise some eyebrows and earn him some pointed claws (and maybe even a new scar). He might very well roll three ones in the end result. But if he couldn’t roll something else decent to best the magmar’s score then he was going to lose miserably, and miss out on getting a free laser.

He grit his teeth together and tossed the dice, scoring two ones, two fours and a three. He gathered the unscoring dice, slipped out one for his remaining loaded dice and rolled again. The dice pattered across the table, landing at another one a four and a six.

With a heavy sigh, he took the four and six and clenched them in his paw. The magmar was beginning to look worried, and all three pairs of eyes were on him now. He tossed the dice into the air and let them fall. One of them span on its corner for a moment before landing flat beside the other scoring dice. Another one and a six.

A huge grin spread across Macro’s face and the magmar threw his arms into the air with a roar.

Macro quickly retrieved the pile, dragging the dice back towards him. With a quick and practiced sleight of paw, he gathered them up, switching out for the real ones and tossed them towards Anchor.

“Well done, Cap’n,” said the granbull.

Macro chuckled as he poured the credits into his pouch. “Pleasure playin’ with ya!” He slipped from the seat and tossed the laser in his paw. “And thanks for the new toy.”

“You’re leaving?!” The magmar rose to his feet and heat radiated from his body. “I don’t think so. You’re gonna give me a chance to win that back.”

“No can do,” said Macro. “I won it fair and square. Besides, I gotta get back to the hospital. I’m picking someone up.”

“Can’t do that with broken arms.”

The magmar reached down to grab Macro by the horn, but Anchor’s huge paw slammed down on his assailant’s. The magmar took a step back, meeting the granbull’s cold eyes.

“Fine,” the magmar spat. “Whatever.”

The fire pokemon fell back down in his seat, drawing an apologetic look from the gabite.

“Go quick,” Anchor whispered to Macro. “I’ll meet you back at the ship.”

Macro turned to leave but was stopped as Anchor added;

“Oh, and Cap’n?”

He looked back over his shoulder.

“I want my money back,” said Anchor close to his ear. “Can’t say I approve of you using your deceiving ways against your own crew.”

Macro winked and turned to trot from the lounge.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Before the chapter proper...

Data chips can not be used for tracking, as it goes against pokemon rights. DL was given a tracking chip, just like Vector was in Glitched.
Maybe I haven't read far enough into Glitched for this, but I'm not sure I see the point with that explanation. Like, not scanning a data chip seems very minor considering what Socket is currently up to. Is there, like, some sort of watchdog organization that detects a tracking chip if it were activated and arrests the Pokémon responsible/informs the public about it? Because then I'd buy the excuse, since Socket's whole operation would go up in smoke if she got arrested for that. But I digress...

Starting off, 1337 sp34k for Porygon-Z's huh? It's certainly one way to show them being erratic, I'll give it that. Good lord it's been awhile since I've seen this used in anything, to be honest.

Another tentacle snaked through, groping at the emptiness around it. BackDoor bobbed closer, but before he could reach it, a silvery white mass broke through, spreading itself out as the vortex propelled it forwards into something akin to a tentacruel. The jellyfish-like creature let its tentacles droop back down again and it remained stationary as it tried to take in its surroundings, although how was a mystery since the creature lacked any visible eyes.
Why hello, Nihilego. What are you doing here? In retrospect, I should've expected a story involving space-time craziness to end up puncturing a hole into Ultra Space or whatever. Curses! I thought I'd be the only doing UB stuff...

He rubbed his chin with his paw. “No, hang on… I can do better than that… ultra beasts!”
Sorry, that reads a bit forced, even with BackDoor's whack-o personality. That wouldn't be the first thing I'd expect someone to jump to in this situation.

And then BackDoor lets a Nihilego go. Gee, I wonder when it's going to encounter some of the other parties in this story?

Moving on... wait, so what was the point of obsessing over DL's chip if they were just going to go ahead and replace it in the very next chapter anyway? Hold on, I think my head hurts now. @.@

Macro narrowed his eyes. “You’re seriously gonna buy something from that overpriced hospital cafe?”
Having worked in hospitals I can confirm this is 100% true. *sigh*

Also, d'awww, how adorable, Macro and DL are getting all buddy-buddy after all. Admit it Macro, you like her.

Back to the bar, we have a dice game! Complete with Macro wanting to cheat. He's a pirate, I'd expect nothing less. I will say you made things sufficiently tense with the Magmar at the end there, and Macro having to coyly make the switch. For a second I thought he'd get jumped for sure. But that didn't happen. He's too cunning for his own good sometimes.

Naturally, the big draw this time around is the opening scene. I am very curious if the whole UB family will be dropping in, with the possible inclusion of the Nebby brigade to boot. Needless to say I'm very excited to see where it goes!
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
You might want to ‘bird up’ again.
BIRD UP
EVERYBODY SAY
WHEN YOU HEAR THE CALL YOU MUST BECOME A TALONFLAME


“Oh yes! Already I’ve copied the program from TimeSkip into Zero Day, and they are being deployed to all corners of System Sky as we speak!”

“Urgh, not Zero Day.” BackDoor slammed a paw into his face. “Whenever I communicate with those things it’s like having a million voices in my head all vying for first place.”
Well I'm intrigued.

BackDoor hovered at a safe distance from the fleet of porygon z as they traveled back and forth in the blackness of System Sky’s north east corner. He had no idea what Yobi had been thinking when he designed Zero Day.
So that's what they are! That's freakin' awesome. :D I would never have guessed "swarm of porygon-z".

The hoopa let out a whistle and looked after the escaping creature. He turned back to Socket and grinned widely.

“Oops?” He shrugged.
I love this hoopa.

Ok, so. There is now a nihilego on the loose! That's one heck of an interesting development. Wonder if that's gonna pop up again at some point. A thing like that could pose a fair threat to a fairy-type crew, regardless of their lasers.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
A/N - I'm really powering on with this story. Once NaNoWriMo hits, I might end up firing out chapters! Would anyone be interested in updates twice a week, or should I just stick to Fridays?

Sorry, that reads a bit forced, even with BackDoor's whack-o personality. That wouldn't be the first thing I'd expect someone to jump to in this situation.
Yeh, it was a little cheesy. I have to admit. When I read over it again I was like "That's... not as cool as I initially thought it sounded, but we'll keep it." XD

Moving on... wait, so what was the point of obsessing over DL's chip if they were just going to go ahead and replace it in the very next chapter anyway? Hold on, I think my head hurts now. @.@
Like Macro said earlier, everyone in System has a data chip with all their vital details on. They were just giving her one without a tracking device so she wasn't walking around without some form of ID. Sorry if that wasn't clear X__X

So that's what they are! That's freakin' awesome. I would never have guessed "swarm of porygon-z".
Starting off, 1337 sp34k for Porygon-Z's huh? It's certainly one way to show them being erratic, I'll give it that
Yeh, Porygon Z just totally fit the part for crazy androids XD As for L33T SP34K... guess that shows my age XD

Chapter Nineteen​


The holoscreen’s ringing display vanished to be replaced with Yobi. He didn’t look up straight away, too busy faffing with whatever he was building. Socket tapped her foot irritably and cleared her throat, dragging the sparksurfer raichu’s attention from his work to her. His heavily ringed and bloodshot eyes widened slightly and he stuttered.

“Apologies, Madam Mayor.” He brushed the unseen item aside. “You caught me at a bad time.”

Socket narrowed her eyes and he glanced away, immediately regretting his words.

“I think you’ll find this is much more urgent,” she said. “That foolish robot you built has gone and unleashed what I can only describe as a potential catastrophe on System.”

“Potential?” he asked.

“So word hasn’t got back to you from my decimated troops?” She folded her arms and met his confused look with a leer. “I believe BackDoor’s name for the abhorrent creature is an ‘ultra beast’. A pokemon from another world that went berserk and trashed several of my ships. He managed to get them both back into their own world, but one escaped just before he closed the void.”

“So it was an accident?”

“Oh I’d be more inclined to say the silly android wanted to keep one as a pet! I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if he actually allowed the to creature escape.”

Yobi scratched behind his ear and sighed. “What did this thing look like?”

“What does that matter?!”

“It matters a lot if we’re going to retrieve it, Madam Mayor.”

She grit her teeth together and seethed. “A rather out-of-place alien that resembles some kind of mutant tentacruel.”

The raichu nodded his understanding and glanced towards his work.

“How do you suggest we retrieve it?” she asked. “Since it’s your silly invention that went and released the wretched beast.”

He scratched his ear again. “If it’s too dangerous to send your own troops, then… we could use Zero Day?”

“Zero Day are far too busy searching for time pockets.”

“Well, if you can hang on another few days I’ll have this android up and running and it can track down this creature and apprehend it.”

“Apprehend?”

He raised his paws and shook his head. “Only until BackDoor sends it back.”

“And if he refuses?”

“Short his circuits.” Yobi retrieved his work along with a screwdriver. “Unfortunately that’s our only option since you requested he not have an ‘off’ switch.”

She pursed her lips together and spoke with a dangerous air that set the raichu’s fur on end.

“Are you insinuating that this is my fault Yobi?”

He looked up with a start and shook his head, but his eyes gave away his answer. “No… not at all, Madam Mayor. This is just an unfortunate accident.”

“I hope for your sake you aren’t lying.” She tapped her claws along her arm. “And what of Download Database? Any joy in cutting her off from the network?”

“Like I said, it can’t be done. But… I do have an idea.”

“Humor me.”

“We install a worm.” He looked up again and put down his screwdriver. “One that shuts her down until it’s removed, which should be long enough to retrieve her. No damage to her brain or the Download Database.”

Socket looked down at her feet and nodded. “How long will that take?”

“It might take a couple of days to make a harmless worm,” he said.

“We don’t have a couple of days.”

“But speeding things up could be risky.”

“Set your little project aside for now and let’s focus on getting that space pirate out of my fur.”

Yobi yawned and dropped his screwdriver. “I’ll do what I can.”

“And get some sleep,” she added as she hung up.

...​

The tiny onion-like form of TimeSkip glided elegantly a good couple of meters or so ahead of BackDoor. The tight curves it took as it followed the invisible signal given out by the time pockets were proving difficult for the hoopa to maneuver. He let out a growl and zipped along to cut the celebi off before it took yet another turn.

“Just point,” he said.

The celebi fixed its lifeless eyes on his and raised a gangly limb, pointing one of its stubby claws to the spot behind the hoopa’s head.

He turned on the spot and let out a ‘huh’. TimeSkip slipped past him and darted ahead another few feet before stopping beside the invisible time pocket.

BackDoor grinned and zig-zagged over to it. A ring of light spread out, filling up with the swirling ultraviolet mist. Then he dropped his paw, staring into the nothingness.

“How many years back did you say this is?” he asked.

TimeSkip sent a spray of binary code into his mind that translated to ‘One thousand and seven years.’

“So there’d be humans back there, right?” He frowned and folded his arms. “From the databases I have, not many humans could fly like that talonflame we dragged through. They’d all be on the ground.”

TimeSkip merely met his eyes but said nothing.

“So… opening time holes in the sky is…” He waved a paw. “Pointless.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Socket’s such a moron.”

The celebi looked from the swirling void to BackDoor.

“You know what? I’m gonna decide you agree with me.”

The hoopa span in the air, closing the void. He turned back to TimeSkip and placed a mitten paw on his chin as he turned his attention to the ocean below.

“When System was apparently filled with humans, they were sick. That meant they would have filled hospitals, right?”

TimeSkip bobbed over to his side and followed his gaze to System Ground.

“Every time pocket we open reveals the exact same place but at a different time,” he said. “Yeh, they might very well drag things through with gravity, but if we want more accuracy then we’re gonna have to break some rules.”

TimeSkip looked up at him again. Its eyes were as emotionless as its limited binary voice. Even if it did have something to say, it could do nothing more than answer a few basic commands.

BackDoor placed a paw on its head and laughed.

“Come on, TimeSkip. We’re gonna visit Central Meta Hospital. The chances of finding a human there would be boosted greatly.” He waved a paw, bringing up a small swirling vortex. “Socket’s gonna love us when we hand her a hoard of humans, right?”

He grabbed TimeSkip’s paw and dragged it after him into the swirling ultraviolet light. The vortex closed behind them, reopening just above Meta City.

The streets were bustling with life as pokemon went back and forth from shops and office blocks. Right in the centre stood Socket’s mansion. Work and home. The hoopa lifted his head to look beyond it. A mile or so beyond her office stood Central Meta Hospital. There was no saying the hospital would be the same one it was one thousand years ago, and if it were there was no saying the layout would be the same.

Another vortex and the two androids were floating above the pristine white building. Sirens filled the air as two ambulances pulled out of the parking lot and hovered along the streets before rising into the sky. They didn’t see the two androids, but BackDoor watched curiously as the ambulances vanished beyond the skyscrapers.

He turned his attention back to the hospital, scanning over the vibrant signs. Each department was colour coded. Red for accident and emergency. Purple for quarantining contagious diseases. Neither of those would be likely to take him to the humans, and Socket would have his head if he brought back a contagious pokemon and unleashed an epidemic into System. He chuckled, briefly considering doing that just for the fun of it.

“What department do you think we want?” he asked the celebi.

TimeSkip looked up at the sign but, as usual, said nothing.

BackDoor let out a groan and slammed his paw into his forehead. “This is so boring! It’s huge! Where am I meant to go?”

Searching for time pockets.

The binary took him by surprise. TimeSkip’s eyes glazed over with a flat, green light, and the celebi’s wings hummed as it moved forwards over the large building.

Pocket detected.

The celebi took off like a dart.

“Finally!”

BackDoor did a small somersault and zoomed after the celebi. It was no easy feat to keep up. Why the silly onion fairy couldn’t move in a straight line was anyone’s guess.

...​

DL’s smile lit up the small ward. Macro faltered in the doorway and absently trailed his claws over the hilt of the ‘new’ laser poking out of his belt pouch.

“The doctor says you’re ready?” he said.

DL nodded enthusiastically and trotted to his side. “You’re a bit later than you said.”

“I got caught up in something.”

He turned and strolled from the room, leaving the pachirisu to catch up with him.

“What’s the plan now?” she asked.

“We’re meeting Anchor and the others back at the ship, then we’re gonna track down your next memory.”

She fell into pace beside him and scratched behind her ear. “Really?”

“You seem nervous.” He gave her a sideways glance. “What’s wrong?”

“I… I’m a little anxious.”

“Really? I thought you’d want to get your memories back.”

“I do, but…” She wrung her paws together. “I’m worried I’ll remember… this whole…” She pawed at the antennae and grimaced.

“I doubt you’ll remember having that put in. They wouldn’t have done it while you were awake.”

She shook her head. “Not that. The part leading up to it. Why? Did I agree to it? Or was it forced on me? That’s what I don’t want to know.”

He stared at her for a moment then looked away to push through a door.

“I doubt you’d have agreed to it,” he said. “I mean, who would want their entire memory wiped? Some memories, sure, we all have things we wish to forget. But the whole thing? No sane pokemon would want that.”

“Who’d want any memory wiped?” DL asked. “I mean… they make us who we are, right? You learn from mistakes, so if you forget them then you’ve not learned anything.”

Macro looked at her again and his fur prickled as the image of a blazing building filled his mind. He shook his head sharply and barged out onto the street, letting the cold air wash over his body.

Her thickly furred feet pattered over the paving flags as she rushed to catch up with him. “Is something wrong?”

“I just want to get back to Wildcard Gamma,” he said. “If you don’t wanna get left behind, then keep up.”

She muttered something under her breath as she joined his side again. “You can be really cold sometimes you know.”

He chuckled. “You learn fast.”

“Do you usually push others away? Or is it just me?”

“Oh, it’s not just you. Space pirates aren’t nice pokemon, DL.” He spread his arms and span on the spot, fixing her with a playful smirk. “And you want to be one! How about that?” He turned and marched on ahead of her. “The general consensus is you look out for Number One. Your crew, significant other - should you choose to have one - and the safety of others all comes second. Or last, depending on your general world view.”

“And what’s your world view?”

He stopped and turned to face her. His eyes trailed from hers to the antennae poking out behind her left ear and he frowned.

“What do you think?” He turned and marched on again. “You might not have much memory of the world, DL, but Socket and those who reigned before her ruined it. The laws were meant to make things better but instead turned into an epic disaster. If you’re too poor, you die. If you live in the water, you die. If you turn your back on the law and try to do something about it, you die. That’s where space pirates came from. We all decided we’d had enough and founded our own little civilization. Believe it or not, it grows every day but they also get caught every day and put to death.” He grunted and tucked his paws behind his back. “I’d like to say it can’t get any worse, but it can. Sooner or later, System Ground could be left to rot and those who can afford it will move to the skies and leave those who can’t stranded to die in their own waste. And what if meat eaters decide they’re bored of only munching on water dwellers and beg for more variety? What will it be next? Plant pokemon? Bugs? Or those who only eat berries?”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” she said.

“Then rightly worry!” He walked backwards so he could face her. “I might be a steel type but I still have flesh like the water dwellers. And so do you!” He pointed. “You eat meat?”

She shook her head.

“Good.” He turned to walk forwards again. “’Cos there’s no room for meat eaters on my ship.”

DL was silent for a while, but she kept her distance, no longer desiring to walk beside him. He balled his paws into fists so tight his claws pricked his pads. There really was no need to lash out at an innocent pachirisu, especially not one who’d fallen victim to Socket’s craziness.

“Then why don’t you do something about it?” she asked. “Why doesn’t someone stop her?”

He relaxed his paws and let them fall at his sides. “You really think it would make a difference?”

“As far as I’m aware, it only takes something small to make a difference.”

“Really? Well. If someone took out Socket, someone else would come along to take her place. And believe me, it’s gonna take something bigger than a space pirate to make a change to this rotten world.”

“Then we should all work together.”

“Socket’s already dealt with that one, DL. Is there anything about division in those files of yours?” He cast her a glance over his shoulder. “’Cos getting pokemon to work together ain’t gonna be a task for the faint hearted. Not even in Pulse City. There’s division here, too. Other types are merely tolerated.”

Her body stiffened and her eyes flew wide open. She looked around at the buildings and space pirates then trotted to join his side. It was as if she hadn’t even realised she didn’t share the same type as him.

He sighed and shook his head, turning the corner to step onto the docks. The giant schooling wishiwashi stood proud beside a barboach ship. Anchor busied himself beside Wildcard Gamma, his head stuffed inside a hole in the hull.

“What’s the problem?” Macro asked.

The granbull stood up suddenly and a huge clang echoed from the ship. He ducked out, rubbing between his ears.

“Cap’n!” He grinned weakly. “Think you might’ve given me a headache.”

“What are you doing poking around inside the ship?” Macro asked.

Anchor turned back to the hole and aimed a tiny LED flashlight at its innards. “Checking for damage. I’ve been a little concerned after that fight at the secret government building where we found DL. But it looks like nothing got damaged, which is a relief. Just a loose wire that connects to the lights.”

“Will it take you long to fix it?” Macro asked. “I’d like to get going.”

“I ain’t riskin’ fixing it after two ciders, Cap’n. Besides, the hull needs repainting. We took a nasty scuff.”

Macro followed Anchor’s paw towards the tail of the ship. The blue paint had been scratched away to grey, taking a chunk of the final ‘D’ in the vibrant red ‘Wildcard Gamma’ away with it. He groaned and shook his head.

“So we’re staying in Pulse City tonight?” he asked.

“Looks like it,” said Anchor. “Nice excuse to eat out at least. Might wanna let Cookie know. Something sweet is coming out of that fan so he might be expecting us for dinner. I’ve already made reservations at the Moonlight Lounge.”

“When did you do that?”

“About five minutes ago when I realised there was a loose wire.”

Macro tutted and pulled out his computer. One quick message to Cookie was all it took to bring the brown slurpuff to the entrance hatch. He peered down at them with the saddest look Macro had ever seen on the chef, and he’d been there when Cookie had burnt a batch of chocolate waffles. He was less upset about his missing fur.

“You’re really not having lunch here?” he whined. “I’ve made a cheri and chocolate gateau!”

Macro scratched his head and looked back at the bustling street. DL on the other paw licked her lips and fidgeted on the spot.

“Sorry, Cookie,” said Macro. “More for you, huh?”

The slurpuff beamed and nodded his head. “I guess so!”

“Take the night off.” Macro waved a paw. “Put up your feet and relax. Maybe join us in the Lounge?”

Cookie stiffened and glanced over his shoulder. “Erm… Too many pokemon for me, I’m afraid.”

“All right.” Macro shrugged. “See you later then.”

The door began to hiss and DL trotted towards it with a cry of, “Save me a slice!”

A small smile tugged at Macro’s lips as he watched the pachirisu. She caught his eye and a look of bewilderment crossed her eyes.

“What?” she asked.

Macro shook himself and his mind went to the laser in his pouch.

He scanned his paw to open the door. “Come with me.”

She followed him up the small neon ladder. Macro caught a raised eyebrow off Anchor as the door hissed shut again behind them.

“You said you wanted to work for me,” said Macro. “Well I got you a laser.”

“Really? That was quick!”

“I got lucky really.” He stopped by his room and paused to look over his shoulder before opening the door. “But it’s no use unless you have a belt.”

He threw the door open and strutted over to his night stand. Fortunately he had two spare belts just in case. DL wasn’t much smaller than him, so one of his belts should fit. He pulled one out and checked it over before turning back to her. She was waiting in the doorway, casting her eyes over his sparsely decorated room.

“You could have come in,” he said.

“You don’t allow girls in here.”

He shrugged and strolled over to her. “Fair point. But it’s not like I was sleeping.” He handed her the belt and took a step back. “That should fit.”

She looped the belt around her slender waist and clipped the buckle together. It slipped at an angle over her left hip and she jigged it about to no avail.

“Hmm…” she said.

“We can always get it altered.” He reached into his pouch and pulled out the laser, flicking open the back to check the contents. “This has water, grass and electric. But… Since you are an electric type, I doubt you’ll need the electric one.”

He slid the yellow cylinder out and handed her the gun. She turned it around in her paws then popped it into the holster on her right. It tugged the belt down towards her right hip and she chuckled.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to get it altered.” She fixed him with a beaming smile. “Thank you.”

He cleared his throat and placed a paw on her shoulder to steer her out of the doorway, letting the door close behind him.

“Let’s get some lunch,” he said. “I’m starving.”

...​

Surge was growing increasingly agitated. The signal she’d been using to follow Wildcard Gamma had been cut off, leaving her at a huge disadvantage in her pursuing of the ship. It had ended at Pulse City, and thankfully the giant wishiwashi was still parked in the docks.

A huge granbull moved away from it, dusting his paws down and smoothing out his purple mowhawk. One of Macro’s crew, she guessed. If he wasn’t boarding the ship then that meant it was going to be parked up for a fair bit longer. She’d just have to wait, and hope she never lost track of it.

With a deep sigh, she leant back in her seat and ran her paws over her face. Twice she could have killed Macro, and twice she’d failed. What on earth was wrong with her? She’d had crushes before, but they’d never interfered with her work.

She spread her claws and peered through them at Pulse City’s neon streets. Maybe it was because she knew what that ‘living computer’ actually was. She knew that Download Database was in safe paws.

No… that wasn’t it. Macro kept interfering in government business. He had to be stopped before he went too far. But how far was too far? Had it already surpassed that? Whatever those government fleets were doing at that dimensional gate was disrupted. Whatever they had pulled through was stolen. But were they going too far?

She let out a loud groan and sank even further into her seat. “I can’t be doing with this!”

She unbuckled her seatbelt and slipped from the leather chair towards the hatch. A good drink might sort her head out. She just deeply hoped she didn’t run into Macro in the bar. Maybe it would be best to find a different, more low key pub.

Her eyes fell on Wildcard Gamma and her mouth turned dry. Another deep sigh escaped her lungs. Of course, she’d lost the tracking signal.

Nope, that ruled that out. She needed to keep him in her sights.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
“Oh I’d be more inclined to say the silly android wanted to keep one as a pet! I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if he actually allowed the to creature escape.”
If that's the case, why don't you deactivate him and/or reprogram him? This is all your fault! :p

“Short his circuits.” Yobi retrieved his work along with a screwdriver. “Unfortunately that’s our only option since you requested he not have an ‘off’ switch.”
Socket, you've clearly not read enough sci-fi literature. You always put a self destruct feature into your robots for when they get outta line. >.>

“Are you insinuating that this is my fault Yobi?”
Yes! ... because I'm protected by the 4th wall and you can't do anything hurt me. Nya, nya.

Moving on, BackDoor and TimeSkip prove to be a fun little comedic duo. TimeSkip's purely automoton behavior gels nicely with BackDoor's overly-enthusiastic, overly-talkative persona. Now, when are they going to turn on Socket and strike out on their own?

As for the second part of the chapter, d'aaaaaaaw DL and Macro are so adorable together. Her optimism and belief that one can make a difference is definitely chipping away at Macro's whole "the world sucks, look after no one but yourself," schtick. He just refuses to admit it. I do like that bit you drop about memories early in the conversation. I imagine that'll be a point of contention coming up and it seems like there may be something up with Macro's past if that burning building stuff was anything to go by. Lots of juicy morsels and teases of big things to come, it would seem.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
As for the second part of the chapter, d'aaaaaaaw DL and Macro are so adorable together. Her optimism and belief that one can make a difference is definitely chipping away at Macro's whole "the world sucks, look after no one but yourself," schtick. He just refuses to admit it.
Thanks! I love writing their interactions XD

...

Chapter Twenty​


Moonlight Lounge was still heaving with pokemon of wildly varying sizes. Macro and DL slipped unnoticed between the feet of a rhydon and ducked through the crowd towards the far end. A wide sofa sat at the edge of a stained carpet. The familiar illumise that often accompanied Matrix wherever he showed up in the Lounge was stood right beside the sofa. The ribombee wasn’t wearing the virtual reality helmet this time, however. Instead he was cheering on his companion, Switch, who was acting like he’d never worn a VR set before in his life.

Macro stopped behind the sofa and leant across it. “First timer?”

Switch flapped his wings and shouted something at the holoscreen, oblivious to the mawile’s presence. Matrix looked over his shoulder and gave Macro a small smile.

“I’m guessing so,” he said. “But… he’s doing a better job than I am.”

The ribombee turned back to the screen and wound his antennae in his paw. A swift wing beat from Switch sent the virtual head of a tyranitar rolling away down a metallic mountainside.

“Pokemon play stuff like this?” DL asked.

“Yeh,” said Macro. “Pretty popular with the younger generation.”

“Huh.” She ran a paw over her right ear. “It doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

“Take her away, Macro,” said Matrix. “She’s killing my buzz.”

DL chuckled and Macro pushed himself back from the sofa.

“We’re actually gonna get some lunch,” he said. “Wondered if you were ready to join us?”

Switch raised his talons to his head and wrenched the helmet free. He shook out his feathers and turned his head to look at Macro.

“Lunch?” he asked. “I could eat.”

“That got your attention did it?” Macro tutted.

Switch shook his head again to smooth the last straggling feathers out and hopped from the chair with a little flutter, an unusually beguiling gesture for a large raptor.

The dull drone from Matrix’s wings cut through the mishmash of voices as the group made their way over to a table tucked away in a quiet corner of the lounge. Only two other pokemon occupied the corner. A pair of rattata, one of which had fallen asleep, sprawled across their table with his glass clasped in one paw.

Macro climbed onto the seat at the free table, trying his best not to look the other rattata in the eye. A look of greed had crossed his face and he eyed Switch cautiously while keeping one eye on the mawile. He swigged the last of his drink before clambering down and strutting over to the bar.

DL scooped up the tattered and slightly damp menu and shook it open. “What do you recommend?”

Macro shrugged. “I don’t know about you, but I’m having my usual. Occa and nutpea burger and fries.”

Switch leant over her shoulder and the bridge of his beak creased. “Quite a varied menu.”

“It isn’t bad,” said Macro.

“Oh, I’m not impressed,” said Switch. He raised a claw and jabbed it into the damp card. “What’s this? Flambe seaking fillet?”

Macro let out a long ‘oh’ and leant across DL so he could speak quietly. “I guess they didn’t eat meat in your time then?”

“No they did not!” Switch’s eyes opened impossibly wide and he turned them back onto the menu. A look of realisation crossed his young face. “You mean… this is actually meat from a pokemon? That’s disgusting!”

Macro threw himself across DL who let out a squeak of surprise, and clasped his paws over the talonflame’s beak.

“Keep your voice down!” he hissed.

He looked back over at the opposite table. The dozing rattata had woken up and rubbed a paw over his groggy eyes. He fixed them on Macro’s table and let out a dry chuckle.

“Hey, how ‘bout that? Hunter’s gone and got ‘imself a hostage.” He looked over at the empty spot beside him and his grin fell. “Hey… where’d my brother go?”

The rattata slipped from his seat, sloshing what was left of his drink down his chest, and staggered away from the table. He searched the crowd briefly before it swallowed him up and drowned out his near-incomprehensible shouts.

Macro released Switch’s beak and the talonflame brushed his wing feathers over it.

“So this is normal?” Switch asked. “You pokemon eat each other now?”

“Are you telling me humans never ate meat?” Macro asked quietly. “Because the fairy tales I’ve read tell me otherwise.”

Switch’s beak hung open slightly as his eyes narrowed into slits almost as dangerous as the glinting end of his beak. Macro shuffled in his seat and retrieved the menu from DL.

“Does my reaction look like I eat meat to you?” he spat.

“I guess not,” said Macro. “So those stories were wrong then?”

“Not exactly,” said Switch. “But some humans are vegan.”

“The same could be said for this world, too,” Macro explained. “And not a member of my crew would touch so much as an egg.”

“But this is wrong,” said Switch. “Do you see no issue with this? You’re the same species! It’s cannibalism!”

“Of course I see an issue with it! But unfortunately the current mayor doesn’t. You wanna do something about it, then take it up with her.”

“I think I will! I’m surprised no one else has already!”

“They have.” Macro turned his violet eyes onto Switch. “They all died.”

Switch’s beak snapped shut and he stared back at Macro. Then he sighed and sank slightly in his seat.

“What’s happened to this world?” he asked.

“How much time have you got?” Macro folded the menu and placed it back on the table. “’Cos explaining it’s gonna take a while.”

DL fixed Switch with a pitiful gaze. “I’m still learning myself.”

Switch sighed and ruffled his feathers. “I don’t think I want to eat here.”

“Believe me, you want a vegan diet then you’re gonna have a hard time finding anywhere,” said Macro. “Best place I can suggest is Luma City, but it’ll take about a day to fly there in my ship and I’m hungry now.” He paused then added, “Although Cookie might appreciate some company if you wanna go back to my ship.”

“I don’t know…” Switch looked around at the bar and shuddered. “I want to go back home.”

“Well, that ain’t happening any time soon is it?” Macro shoved the menu at him. “You have three choices. You choose something off here that doesn’t have meat in it, you go back to my ship and eat cake - although I’m not promising there’ll be any left, Cookie has a huge appetite - or you starve. You pick.”

Switch eyed the menu as though he was suspecting poison then took it in his left talons. DL took it back off him and gave him a warm smile as she spread it open on the table for them both to view it. Whatever they said to one another didn’t reach Macro’s ears, drowned out by the drone of voices.

Macro leant back in his seat and rubbed at his temples.

“Culture shock.”

He turned to face Matrix, but he was watching DL and Switch while winding his antennae around his paw.

“That’s what it is,” he said. “He’ll get over it, just like we all have.”

Macro tutted and folded his arms. Get over it… he wouldn’t have worded it quite like that.

He took the opportunity to fire all their orders over the bar as a brief breath of fresh air. After all their meals were delivered, they sat around the table tucking into them in a complete, awkward silence. It made his occa and nutpea burger taste oddly bitter, although that was also likely the work of some jealous chef yearning for forty thousand credits.

Anchor flopped down into the seat opposite them, clutching a plate in one paw and half a toastie in the other. The smell of grilled root vegetables and sour sauce made Macro’s nose crinkle. The granbull took a bite out of his meal and looked at each of them in turn.

“Wow. Somethin’ happen while I was away?” he asked.

Macro looked up from his burger and wiped the back of his paw across his mouth.

“You took a while,” he said. “I thought you were right behind us?”

“I took the chance to have a shower,” he said. “Was greasy under that panel.”

“Is something wrong with your ship?” Switch asked.

“Loose wire,” said Anchor. “Also discovered one of the turrets has taken some damage. Just exterior stuff,” he quickly added before Macro almost fell off his seat. “Both will take a jiffy to fix, but it’ll have to wait until later. My head’s still feeling fuzzy.”

“At this rate, we might not leave until morning,” said Macro. “Can no one else fix it?”

“You trust anyone else to repair your ship?” Anchor snorted.

Macro hugged his arms across his chest and diverted his gaze to the red wall. No… no, he did not.

DL shifted beside him and raised her arms as she stretched languidly.

“That was good,” she said.

Macro spun his head around and his eyes flew wide open when he spotted her empty plate. “Did you inhale that?!”

Anchor laughed and struck the table repeatedly with a broad paw. “Gotta appreciate a girl who likes her food, eh Cap’n?”

“I think I’d like something sweet,” she said. “I’m feeling rather tired.”

“You could take a nap?” Matrix suggested.

She shook her head. “It’s much too early for that.”

“Best time,” said Anchor. “You nap later in the day, then you won’t sleep well tonight.”

“The doctor told me it’s normal,” she said. “I’m still getting the anesthesia out of my system, and I don’t really want to sleep the day away. I’ve not spent that long with my memories yet.”

Macro tapped his claws on the table and spoke cautiously. “By memories, you mean…”

“I really want some cheri ice cream,” she said.

Macro sighed and waved a paw. “All right. I’ll take you for ice cream. Switch, shuffle out.”

The talonflame scooted along the leather seats and plopped onto the floor, allowing DL and Macro to clamber out.

“But you’ve not finished your burger,” Anchor said with some surprise.

“I’ve lost my appetite,” said Macro. “And I’m fairly certain someone’s soaked it with jaboca berry juice.”

“Ooh!” Anchor’s eyes widened and he dragged Macro’s plate towards himself.

“I’ll meet you back here in a bit,” said Macro. “Since we’re gonna be stuck here a while, we might as well watch a movie or something.”

“I’m on it!” Matrix pulled out his pocket computer.

Macro grabbed DL’s elbow and steered her through the crowd towards the door, blatantly ignoring the sneers thrown his way. Fortunately there was no sign of the magmar he’d conned the laser out of. Good. He really wasn’t in the mood to be dealing with any conflict.

“So where are we going?” DL asked as they stepped outside.

“Totally Rad Ice,” he said. “It’s not as awesome as it sounds.”

“Hmm. But they do cheri ice cream, right? How many parlors are there?”

“Three. But this one is affordable and probably the only place that won’t mess up my order.”

“So they’re friends?”

“Not exactly.” He shrugged. “But I did introduce them to Cookie.”

“Oh!” DL chuckled. “Then I imagine he buys a lot from them.”

“Sometimes. He’s a good chef. He taught them about flavor combinations and their sales exploded.” He folded his arms and smirked. “They paid well, too.”

She crinkled her nose in confusion. “I thought you said it wasn’t as awesome as it sounds?”

“It isn’t,” he said. “It’s just a dockside ice cream stand. Not your luxury, five-star ice cream parlor with sundaes and crepes.”

The small ice cream stand stood beside Dockside Dogs, the blue and white awning stretching out to provide shelter from the sun. Although it wasn’t exactly a sunny day. Only one other customer stood before the shop, waiting patiently for his ice cream. Beside the shop stood a statue of a vanilluxe, a common occurrence at ice cream parlors. Vanilluxe’s pointed body and slushy head was said to have inspired the use of cones to serve ice cream.

A young cubchoo peered down at Macro and beamed widely.

“Macro!” he said. “Great to see you. What can we get you?”

Macro nudged DL forward. She stared up at the menu and pointed a delicate claw.

“Cheri and chocolate please?” she said.

The cubchoo nodded energetically, the long dangle from his nose swinging harmlessly. He shouted to his companion, a snorunt, who eagerly got to work.

“Nothing for you?” the cubchoo asked Macro.

The mawile folded his arms and stared at the long menu. It couldn’t hurt.

“Mago and razz berry,” he said.

The cubchoo called out his order then stretched his paw down to take his credits. Macro held out a credits bill which the cubchoo snatched up with a small cheer.

“Made my day,” he said. “It’s been awful quiet.”

The snorunt appeared with their ice creams and the pair took them and turned towards the docks. DL gave the two ice pokemon a cheerful wave and trotted to Macro’s side.

“You really need to remember your p’s and q’s,” she said.

“Sorry?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Please and thank you,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say either.”

He shrugged. “I don’t ever think about it.”

He leant on the rail, staring out at the mass of blue dotted here and there with themed ships. One shaped like a gorebyss turned to pull into the docks whereas several were moving away.

“You should be more aware of it,” she said. “You come across as rude and you’re only going to make more enemies with that attitude.”

He waved a paw at her. “Pish posh. It’s not like I haven’t got loads already.”

“Well, it’s never too late to correct your attitude.” She leant beside him and lapped up a trail of cherry before it dripped over the end of her cone. “This is good. You sold them short.”

He chuckled and licked at his own ice cream. “You clearly haven’t had one of Moonlight Lounge’s sundaes.”

She smiled and leisurely tucked into her snack. Macro turned back to the ocean of marine-themed ships drifting through the calm sky. For a rare moment, he actually felt peaceful. No one would have assumed a single one of those ships was at odds with another. In most instances, it wasn’t the case. Pulse City might have been classed as a dangerous place, but at least a majority of the space pirates actually got along in spite of type differences. Although very few tended to mingle in their ships. Most ships carried a mono-typed crew much like his own.

“You know, they said they couldn’t remove this.”

DL’s voice snatched him out of his reverie. She pawed at the antennae behind her right ear while her other paw held what was left of her cone. The smile on her face had vanished and she let her arm flop back onto the rail.

“You… asked them to remove it?” he asked.

“Not immediately. It seems to be the only way I can get my memories back. But… I don’t want it forever.”

“No, I can understand that.” He watched a trickle of mago ice cream drip onto his black paw.

“It’s rooted into my brain,” she said. “They told me if they remove it then it could do some serious damage.”

He shrugged. “Then I guess you’re stuck with it, unfortunately.”

“But I don’t want to be stuck with it,” she said. “It’s distorting and hideous.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“But it is! It’s horrible, and it makes me look hideous.”

“You’re not hideous, DL.”

She fell silent and he could feel her chocolate eyes burning into the side of his head. He waved a paw and sighed.

“Besides,” he said. “A lot of pokemon have modifications like that. Some even do it to give themselves a more realistic experience playing games. You’re not exactly out of place.”

She sighed. “It’s just so alien.”

“I don’t know.” He let his arm flop over the edge of the rail and his ice cream fell free and flopped down into the glass dome. “Drat. Anyway… think of the positives.”

“What positives?” She laughed bitterly. “You can turn me off at the flick of a switch.”

“Well… I’m not saying that’s positive. But you have access to a computer in your head. Not many can claim that without plugging themselves in first.”

“How is that positive?”

“You have access to some kind of encyclopedia, right?” said Macro. “That could be pretty useful at say a quiz.”

“That’s cheating.”

“If it’s in your head, it’s knowledge as far as I’m concerned.”

She laughed again and stuck the last of her cone in her mouth. “Thanks for the ice cream.”

He shrugged. “Don’t mention it.”

Silence fell over them again and he stared back out at System Sky. Memories… if it weren’t for Socket, DL wouldn’t be having to go through this. Nothing he could say would take that wretched technology out of her head.

She stiffened beside him and he snapped his head around to look at her. The antennae began to flash orange and green and her large eyes turned distant.

“Retrieving information from TimeSkip.”

Her body went limp and he leapt across to catch her before she struck the floor.

“Information received. Location - System. One thousand and seven years ago. Relaying co-ordinates.”

He crouched onto the floor, letting DL lie against him as he pulled out his pocket computer. His memory was nowhere near as good as Matrix’s, but he tried his best to punch in the co-ordinates. As the map on his screen pinpointed the location, his heart sank. Meta City? That was where Socket was located. If he’d got it right, the time pocket was right inside Central Meta Hospital. There was no way he could beat her from where he stood. His arms flopped to his side and he looked down at the disoriented pachirisu. She ran a paw over her eyes and pushed herself away from him as she stared out at the vast blue sky. He followed her gaze and swallowed dryly. He’d have to let Socket have this one.

...​

BackDoor chuckled as he floated before the swirling black and ultraviolet hole just outside its gravitational pull. The excitement was too much. Beyond that time pocket there could be hundreds of humans. One of them should surely satisfy Socket’s desires. As for the others… well, she could make a whole army of living computers.

The smile fell from his face and he turned a glare onto TimeSkip.

“What’s taking so long?!” he screeched.

The emotionless android didn’t even look at him. He wasn’t even sure it was looking at the time pocket. Probably just existing like empty androids did.

He folded his arms and pouted. They’d already been waiting an eternity for the hospital ward to vacate. Whatever the room was, it was empty save for a bed. The walls were peeling, too. Crammed with shelves filled with various medical equipment. One would think they’d take better care of a storage room. He had no sense of smell to speak of, but he could imagine one who did would be assaulted with various chemicals and cleaning fluids.

A female scream reached his ears, followed by incoherent shouting from deep beyond the swirling mass. He clapped his paws together eagerly and drifted away from it. The swirling mist distorted and filled with a gangly shape. Whatever it was, it shifted back and forth between gangly and winged, growing ever larger the closer it got to their world. His eyes narrowed in confusion. That hadn’t happened before. Usually things stayed the same shape. Had they made some kind of critical error?

With a loud yell, the form solidified and flew from the hole, landing sprawled on the pristine white floor. Gangly, winged, gangly. Then it looked up at him. Long black fur surrounded a naked face. Two green eyes locked onto him with a look that made him burst into sporadic laughter.

“What are you laughin’ at?!” she shrieked.

The hoopa’s mouth snapped shut and twisted into a smirk. “Looks like we found a human. Wahay! High five!” He span to face TimeSkip and raised a paw.

The celebi merely stared at him through lifeless black eyes. BackDoor frowned and turned back to the human.

“Spoil sport,” he said. “Ruin all my fun.”

The human’s form melted down into the winged form of a prehistoric archeops. Sharp teeth sneered at him and she twisted her reptilian head around to look at the swirling mass. It blinked out with a strange sucking sound and her jaw dropped.

“Sorry.” BackDoor shrugged. “Guess you’re stuck with us.”

She looked back at him, breathing heavily. Her form changed back into that of a lanky human girl but her posture was every bit as primal as the previous pokemon form she’d sported.

“Stuck with you?” she gasped. “Where am I?!”

“System,” he said. “Only one thousand and seven years later.”

Her jaw dropped again and he laughed.

“You mean…” She sat up and flopped onto a feathered bottom, raising a claw to her jaw as if she wasn’t even aware her form had changed. “You mean I time traveled?”

“You could say that.”

“So… I’m a time traveler?” She looked down at her feathered body and made a thoughtful noise. “Always thought I was an archeops. Maybe they got it wrong, huh?”

Her eyes grew distant and she kept saying the words ‘time travel’ and ‘archeops’ over and over until the words began to blend together. At one point he was fairly certain she’d said ‘time archeops’.

BackDoor blinked his eyes in confusion. What on earth had they got hold of? He exchanged glances with TimeSkip and shrugged.

“Oh well,” he said. “I’m afraid you’re coming with me. I ain’t waiting for another human, you’ll have to do.”

She looked up with a start as he span in circles around her, fastening her interchanging limbs in place with gold strands. She let out a yelp of surprise as she was tugged into the air.

“What are you doing with me?!” she screamed. “Put me down! This instant! Wait…” She paused. “What day is it?”

“Come on, quick!” he snapped at the celebi. “Before someone sees us!”

They zipped from the small window, too small for their charge who’s head bounced off the window frame. His laughter drowned out her screams and protests and he even did a small somersault in the sky, waving her around like a ball and chain.

“I think you’ll quite like your new home,” he told her. “Socket’s got big plans for you!”
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I have to say, DL continues to inspire the best reactions from the pirates. This one in particular had me laughing:

“Huh.” She ran a paw over her right ear. “It doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

“Take her away, Macro,” said Matrix. “She’s killing my buzz.”
It also doubles as a stealth pun because Matrix is literally always buzzing around. Ha!

I also got a laugh out of just how blunt Macro's explanation of what happened to those who took up complaints with Socket. It read as black comedy to me. That said, Switch's reaction to the whole meat-eating thing seemed a bit, I dunno, overblown? Like, the Pokédex has entries speaking of predator-pray relationships are Pokémon are animal derivatives. I think I'm just applying logic somewhere where logic doesn't need to go. Regardless, I like the more argumentative tones between Switch and Macro, since I've read a little bit of Glitched and know that Switch has a much friendlier dynamic with a certain other Mawile. And it also stands in contrast to his interactions with DL. He tries to be his usual cynical self but somehow that doesn't end up working and her situation seems to just turn him into more of a nice guy. Their conversation by the docs was quite cute, though it's quickly derailed because her computer brain starts going off.

Meanwhile, uh-oh, BackDoor's got a... something. I'm not sure how worried I should be and I also do not know if this is another Glitched reference. Because if it is, I'm not far along enough into that one to know what this is yet. Whoops.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Switch's reaction to the whole meat-eating thing seemed a bit, I dunno, overblown?
I see where you're coming from, but he's spent years living in a universe where all pokemon are seen as equal, and eating each other would be considered barbaric.

It also doubles as a stealth pun because Matrix is literally always buzzing around. Ha!
XD I hadn't noticed that!

Chapter Twenty One​


“So this Socket has opened another time pocket?” Switch asked. “Much like the one I came through?”

“I’d say it’s exactly like it,” said Macro.

Wildcard Gamma and their two clients sat huddled in one of Moonlight Lounge’s entertainment rooms. Eleven rooms occupied one floor, each one with its own screen that allowed the space pirates to choose between a selection of movies and video games. Even karaoke. Macro sat with his feet up on the table and his paws tucked behind his head, staring at their current sci-fi drama movie more so than actually watching it. He wasn’t even sure any of them were actually watching it.

Switch shuffled in his seat and ruffled his feathers. “I’m not sure how to take this.”

“None of us are,” said Macro. “Until yesterday I didn’t even believe humans actually existed.”

“And now there might be an army of them,” said Anchor.

“That’s highly probable,” said Switch. “Central Meta Hospital was filled with humans in comas. One thousand years on, you might have a cure for that now.”

“A quick search of my records,” said DL, “tells me the hospital was also home for victims of a fatal virus.”

Switch shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about that. That might have been a huge issue back then, but the entity responsible for it doesn’t exist in your time line. They’d likely just be cured as soon as they passed through the time pocket.”

“That’s good,” said Macro. “We don’t have to worry about an epidemic.”

Switch said nothing as he huddled further down into his seat. All eyes were on the movie but Macro wasn’t sure any of them were really watching it.

No, he wasn’t going to worry about an epidemic. Socket wanted humans, and if she’d managed to successfully drag any through then her rabid search across time and space might finally come to an end. Of course, there was always the possibility her search could go the other way, literally. If she sent something or someone back to the Fracture’s time-line, she could change history. Make it so humans were more readily available.

A cold shudder ran down his spine and he hugged himself, trying to focus his paranoid mind on the movie and not on his swirling thoughts. There was no way she’d want to re-write history. How would that benefit her? No… she had other plans. She wanted to do something with the humans. He wanted to find out what and put an end to it.

“How many humans do you think she could have taken from that time line?” Anchor asked.

Switch shrugged and let out a sigh. “I’ve no idea. It could be one, it could be hundreds. All I know is the hospital was struggling to find room. It sparked a lot of hate between humans and pokemon, and was seen as an invasion more than an accident.”

“That’s not exactly fair!” Anchor scoffed.

Switch chuckled dryly and shook his head. “You might have been singing a different song if you lived back then.”

The granbull huffed and folded his arms. “Little judgmental there, Switch.”

“Believe me, I met a lot of perfectly nice pokemon who were wary of humans. I’m sorry if I sounded judgmental, I was going from experience.”

Anchor shrugged. “Forget about it. Maybe you’re right.”

“I guess it’s easy to be wary,” said Matrix, who’d been rather silent since they entered the room. “I was wary of DL at first. Something alien can be unsettling.”

“Yeh, and you fainted when Switch transformed.” Macro chuckled.

“Hey!” The ribombee frowned. “I’m surprised no one else did!”

“You went rather pale yourself,” said Anchor.

Macro felt his face heat up and he looked away from the granbull, catching a nod off DL. He grit his teeth and went back to the movie. He’d completely lost track of what it was about.

“I’m beginning to think,” said Switch, “that something huge is going on here. I don’t know enough about this world, but I do know that Socket needs to be stopped.”

“That ain’t gonna be easy,” said Macro. “It would take an army, and hers is pretty big. She’s got electric pokemon backing her somehow. I’m wondering if that’s how she got her paws on DL.”

The pachirisu stiffened at her name and fixed her chocolate eyes on him. “You think I worked for her?”

“No idea. But I’m sure we’ll find out when you get more of your memories back.” Macro turned back to Switch. “Nevertheless, if you’re not prepared, you’re gonna die. Simple. With a weapon ban throughout System, you’re gonna stand no chance against her army.”

“I shouldn’t need a weapon,” said Switch. “None of you should! You’re pokemon, you’re born with attacks. You learn them as you grow! Weapons are unnatural! Don’t you think that’s what she’s trying to teach you with this ban?”

Anchor roared with laughter and struck his paw on his knee repeatedly. “Teach us?! She uses them herself! Her army’s fleet are equipped with laser turrets!”

“And I’ve seen her goons firing lasers before now,” said Macro. “Those who don’t carry them don’t work for her directly.”

“Well, I don’t plan to use a weapon,” said Switch. “I can take care of myself just fine.”

“Really?” Macro raised an eyebrow and leant back in his seat. “You’re a flying type, right? Also fire type. That means your major weakness is rock. One stone edge and you’re as good as dead.”

The bridge of Switch’s beak creased and his yellow eyes narrowed into slits. Macro met his leer head on and shrugged.

“I’m right, aren’t I?” Macro asked. “I strongly recommend you equip yourself with some leaf blade talons. Scour the black market tomorrow and see what Worm can do for you. Failing that, someone else might sell them. Either way, I wouldn’t go anywhere in System unprepared, especially if you’re planning to fight back against Socket’s army.”

“Leaf blade talons?” Switch spat. “And what do you suggest I do about electric and water types?”

Macro ignored his heavy sarcasm and shrugged. “Use your imagination, eh?”

The door cracked open and a drowzee peered inside. He was oddly wobbly and almost spilled his drink over his waistcoat. The room fell into silence as the psychic tapir looked over them each in turn, lingering on DL for a moment before turning his head to look at the movie.

“Androids Dreaming?” he asked in a heavily slurred, deep and dreary voice. It made him sound sleepy, and his words made Macro’s fur stand on end. “Mind if I join you?”

“It’s a free country,” said Switch.

The space pirates fixed the talonflame with equal looks of surprise, but he didn’t return them. He continued to stare at the screen, his beak held tightly shut.

“Cool.” The drowzee stared at his glass and then looked over at the table. “I’m gonna get another beer. Save me a seat.”

The door slammed shut after him, making Macro jump slightly. Burning anger rose in his chest and he rounded on the human.

“Free country?!” he spat. “You just invited another space pirate to join us?! Do you even know where you are?!”

“No,” said Switch. “I don’t. This isn’t the System I know. This is some alien universe, and I think there’s a lot you’re not telling me.”

“Really? I think we’ve told you a lot. What do you want to know, exactly?”

“Maybe you could start with what exactly is going on? Why is there a weapon ban? Why were you in exactly the right place at the right time to stop Socket obtaining me? Because the way I see it, after seeing this city and the way the pokemon act here, it’s pretty obvious you’re not the good guys.” His eyes narrowed. “A weapon ban, in my opinion, is a good thing. Maybe the good guys are those in charge of this world, and you’re just a bunch of anarchists.”

Macro flashed his canines and rose to his feet, reaching for his laser.

“No!” DL’s soft paw grabbed his wrist. “Stop it!”

His paw relaxed and he sighed, but his violet glare didn’t leave the talonflame. “You’ve seen and heard what she’s trying to do and you think she’s the good guy? I told you! There are no good guys. You pick a side, and you fight for it.” He paused and frowned. “Now which side is it gonna be? If I were you, I’d choose carefully.”

Switch rolled his eyes and hopped from the seat. “I need some time to think.”

Macro watched as he pulled the door open with his beak and strutted from the room. The door closed behind him with an ominous click, and the mawile fell back into his seat with a sigh. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and groaned.

“Making more enemies,” said Anchor. “Well done, Cap’n.”

“He started it,” Macro hissed.

“I dunno. I’d say it’s fairly even.” Anchor picked up the remote and cranked the movie’s volume up. “Let’s just unwind for a bit, shall we?”

Macro leant his head back on the headrest and stared at the screen. Nonsense. It was just a load of nonsense.

DL shifted beside him and he turned his head to look at her.

“Were you really going to shoot him?” she asked, somewhat disappointed.

Macro shrugged and turned back to the movie. “Only if he struck out first. Like I said, you need to look out for number one. You don’t, you die.”

Anchor grunted with agreement. “Sadly that’s the case.”

...​

“Knock knock!”

Socket looked up from her desk and stared aghast at her closed office door. That voice… what was BackDoor doing in her office? She didn’t have much time to ask as the door flew open with a cry of ‘Special delivery!’ followed by a white-robed gangly mass. It struck the floor with a cry of protest and pushed itself up to leer at the floating hoopa android.

BackDoor burst into fits of giggles and struck TimeSkip on the back with a mitten-like paw. The onion-like pokemon lurched forwards under the impact, but its expressionless face didn’t give away any sign of discomfort.

Socket turned her attention from the two androids to the creature sprawled on her floor. No longer a pile of limbs, it was instead covered with rugged yellow and blue feathers. Reptilian eyes fixed on Socket’s and it pulled its lips back from a row of sharp teeth. Vicious, but she could rest assured it was tightly fastened in glowing chains.

“What is this?” she asked.

“A human,” said BackDoor.

No sooner had he said it, the reptilian bird changed form to that of a lanky bald creature who’s only visible fur congregated at the top of its head and fell down over its face and shoulders like an ebony waterfall.

“A human?” Socket stood up and moved around her desk to get a better look at the creature. It shifted once again into its feathered form. She rounded on BackDoor and hissed. “You flew over Meta City carrying this?! Did anyone see you?!”

BackDoor shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t care. Fact is you now have a human. We can finally get the ball rolling and move on with our plans!”

“They’re my plans, BackDoor. You are merely a tool.”

The hoopa shot over to her with such speed she took a step back. He waved his paw and a golden ring stretched out just behind the human. Black mist swirled inside it, lit up by ultraviolet light.

“If I shoved you through there, you’d die in seconds.” BackDoor grinned and looked down at the spot between her and the human. “Oh. And there’s another right beneath your feet.”

A cold chill ran down Socket’s back. She cleared her throat and looked back down at the human.

“I guess… this is suitable,” she said.

The swirling mist disappeared to be replaced with her familiar office. BackDoor folded his arms and nodded.

“I should hope so,” he said. “Took us long enough to find one of these things.”

Tweak’s jingling echoed over the room as he flopped towards them, stopping mere inches from the human’s reptilian face.

“Looks like an archeops,” he said. “Those things are extinct, right?”

Socket’s heart plummeted towards her feet. Of course. She hadn’t considered that. The strange pokemon form the human kept taking was prehistoric. Extinct. As out of place in System as the human species itself. She slapped a paw to her forehead and groaned.

“This won’t do at all,” she said. “It will stand out like a sore paw pad!”

The human roared and thrashed in an attempt to sit up. “I’ll give you a sore paw pad if you don’t get these wretched chains off me!”

Socket narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you talk to me like that. I’m the mayor of System and while you’re here you’ll listen to and obey me. Understood?”

“Crystal.”

Socket straightened her spine and stared down at the human. That didn’t even make any sense.

“Anyway, tell me,” Socket said slowly. “Why do you keep changing form? Is it some kind of self defense? Are you trying to break free?”

“Of course I’m trying to break free!” Her form switched again to the archeops. “As for this. Well… it’s a sickness. I was in a hospital before that goof snatched me.”

Tweak snorted laughter and looked up at BackDoor. “She called you a goof.”

BackDoor’s nose crinkled and he leered at the human. “Yeah. I’m not impressed. I might send it back.”

“No!” Socket raised a paw and shook her head. “No, leave it. We’ll keep the human. I can work something out. Tweak, fetch me Yobi. He might know something about this form changing issue.”

“Roger!” Tweak raised a tiny paw in salute.

BackDoor watched the chingling flop from the room and turned back to the human. A wide smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth as she switched rapidly from her human form to the archeops and back.

“You think… you can fix this?” she gasped. “’Cos I really hope so. This is exhausting.”

“I can imagine,” said Socket. “What is your name, human?”

“It’s Annie.” She pushed herself up as best she could until she was sat on her knees. The golden chains still surrounded her limbs, fastening her arms around her chest in a way that was reminiscent of a straight jacket. “So let me get this straight. You’re gonna fix me… then send me home?”

“Home?” Socket scratched behind her left ear. “I’m not sending you anywhere. You’re going to work for me in return for…” She waved a paw at her, “repairing this.”

Annie switched back to her archeops form and fell sideways. Her long tail thrashed the floor as she flailed in a blind rage.

“For goodness sake, BackDoor!” Socket snapped. “Release her!”

BackDoor mumbled under his breath as he snatched the chains away. They vanished under his touch, melting away from Annie like butter.

“Ruin all my fun,” he scoffed.

Annie pushed herself up and checked over her feathers, which vanished to be replaced by the long sleeves of her white robe. She looked up at Socket and BackDoor and gave a curt nod.

“Thanks,” she said. “Been a long time since I was in confines like that. Didn’t care for it at all.”

“Well you’re out of them now,” said Socket. Her eyes flicked to the door as it creaked open. “Ah, Yobi. Come see what we’ve found.”

“Tweak told me it’s a human?” The sparksurfer raichu joined her side and his mouth fell open when he spotted Annie. “That… that’s a human? Looks like an archeops to me.”

“Give it time,” said Socket.

The feathered form flickered like a bad connection, revealing the gangly limbs of the robed human, before settling on the archeops once more. Yobi stuttered and Socket looked down at him.

“Can you fix this?” she asked.

His yellow cheeks had turned pale, and he scratched at one of them anxiously. “I don’t know. It sorta reminds me of that issue some ditto have.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Socket. “Impostor ditto aren’t always in control of their ability.”

“There’s only one problem.” Yobi’s voice ended in a squeak as Annie’s human form took over. “Ditto are rare, so that means their help is rare. Since they can’t breed, they’re… well, they mitosis and even then, that’s an odd occurrence. Their bodies are completely different to ours, even prehistoric ones. So there’s no saying the stuff that helps them will help… well, her.” He nodded at Annie.

“We could at least give it a shot,” said Socket. “Get me the medication and we’ll try it.”

“It might take me a while,” said Yobi.

“Then get it before morning.”

Yobi pursed his lips and backed towards the door, not taking his eyes off the shape-shifting human. As he reached the door, he turned and hopped onto his tail, zipping down the corridor out of sight.

Tweak whined and looked up at Socket. “Wish I could do that.”

“Now.” Socket looked back down at Annie. “About you. I think it’s best if we get you a private room somewhere. We can’t exactly book you into a hospital since there are no humans in System.”

“None?” Her eyes widened. “I thought System were full of them. Did they lie?”

“That was back in your time line,” said Socket. “Here, there are no humans.

“Huh.” The archeops scratched her head with a wing claw. “Interesting.”

Her eyes drifted to the open door and she muttered the word ‘interesting’ over and over in the following silence. Socket shifted from one foot to the other and followed the human’s gaze to the door.

“Well,” she said. “Fortunately I have a spare room in this building that you can borrow for the time being. Come with me.”

She strolled towards the door and ducked as BackDoor and TimeSkip took off over her head. She rounded on the two androids and scowled.

“You two need to get back to work!” she barked.

“Not a chance!” BackDoor waved a dismissive paw. “I wanna see how this unfolds.”

Socket tutted and shoved past the two androids. Realizing Annie wasn’t following her, she looked back to find the human still kneeling on the floor while winding a lock of black hair in one finger, her white robe spread out around her like a pool of snow.

“Annie!” Socket snapped.

She looked up with a start and blinked her green eyes.

“Come on. Do you want help or not?” Socket turned and marched from the room.

...​

It was oddly dark when Macro opened his eyes. The movie room was almost empty. Only Matrix and DL accompanied him, and Switch hadn’t come back since he’d stormed off. None of them had any idea what had become of the talonflame. There was also no sign of the drowzee. He’d been oddly silent during the film, innocently sipping at his seemingly endless supply of beer while casting the occasional glance in Macro and DL’s direction. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Macro had stayed put, relying on the safety of his crew. There was no chance of Anchor letting the drowzee anywhere near him, and either the tapir had known that or he’d simply just wanted to watch the film. Nevertheless, he was now gone, leaving the three sleepy pirates alone with the movie’s ending credits.

Matrix stretched and yawned so wide his jaw clicked. “Well, if you’re now up, I think I’m gonna head to bed.”

“I think I might follow you.” Macro rubbed his eyes. “I can’t believe I fell asleep with that drowzee here.”

“Yeh.” Matrix looked around the room with a start. “We think he influenced it.”

Macro’s eyes flew wide open and he looked down to check his weapons and pouch. Everything in place, and as for his pouch, DL was using it as a pillow. Her long, thick tail curled up to her chest and her right paw wound into his long leg-fur. His own paw hovered above her uncertainly as he tried to work out how exactly to deal with the situation.

“I doubt he’s done anything,” said Matrix. “Anchor and I had a good look around and everything’s still here. Drowzee just… have that affect on others.”

“Huh?” Macro looked around at him then nodded. “Yeh, sure.”

“I mean, they eat dreams.” Matrix buzzed sleepily into the air and yawned again. “He might have just been hungry.”

“Anchor might know what went on.” Macro turned back to DL and let out a sigh between his teeth. “I need to wake her up somehow. I’ll meet you back at the ship.”

Matrix buzzed over to the door then paused to look over his shoulder. “Take care, all right? I don’t know where that drowzee went.”

Macro waved a paw at him before he slipped through the door to leave him alone with the sleeping pachirisu.

To the untrained eye, she looked just like any other pachirisu. White and blue fur, thick curly tail. No one would have suspected she had any modifications from his angle. The antennae was hidden completely behind her right ear, and the jack socket was so small it was barely noticeable until she turned her back.

Her nose twitched and she curled up smaller, burying her face into her tail and tightening her paw around his fur. Part of him really wanted to dislodge her, jump up and make a bee-line for the door. The other part, however, was transfixed by the low, blue light reflecting off her glossy fur. Every small curve of her body seemed to be highlighted by it. It was little wonder the drowzee kept looking in their direction. Any sensible male would be attracted to such a beautiful creature.

That was it, wasn’t it? The drowzee had been after something the entire time. Deep, burning anger rose in his chest and his paw fall onto her shoulder almost of its own accord. He jumped, snatching back his offending paw. The motion snapped her awake and she released his fur to brush her own out of her face. He leapt to his feet and glanced over at the door, trying to mask his sudden embarrassment and anger behind a mask of nonchalance.

“What happened?” she asked. “Where’s everyone gone?”

“Bed,” he said. “The movie’s over. We’re going back to the ship.”

She pushed herself up while she yawned and stretched. “All right. Just give me a minute.”

“Now, DL,” he hissed.

She fixed her chocolate eyes on his and he diverted his gaze to the holoscreen. It was still on. A quick flick of the remote sorted that out.

“What’s the problem?” she asked.

“The problem is, like I’ve said before, space pirates aren’t nice pokemon. Now get back to the ship.”

She slipped from the chair, muttering under her breath as she left the room. He held the door open, watching as she vanished into the ladies rest room. She couldn’t wait until they got back? It was like she was just trying to wind him up.

A shadow fell on the wall as someone rounded the corner, and he looked up into the confused face of the drowzee. The wobbly pirate was clutching yet another glass of beer, but in his other paw was what looked like a blue cocktail, complete with tiny umbrella. He looked past Macro into the movie room and his long face fell.

“Hey,” he said in that deep, dreary voice. “Where’d the pretty pachirisu go?”

Every hair on the back of Macro’s neck stood on end and he flashed his canines, watching as the drowzee slipped into the room for a good look around. He let the door slam shut behind him, separating him from the drowzee, more so for the tapir’s sake than his own.

No. Space pirates were not nice pokemon.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Yeah, now that I finished Glitched I better understand Switch's attitude at the meat tidbit. ^^;

Speaking of which, look, more nods to this story's ancestor. Basically serves the purpose of showing how much of a fish out of water Switch is this time around (even more than the whole human in a Pokémon world thing). It's also funny seeing Switch so contentious with Macro when he pretty easily buddied up to a certain other Mawile back in his own time. Although, I must admit it's kind of strange to see him thinking the current System government might be in the right when, in the past, he sneaked into a government-run hospital because he didn't agree with a gov't doctor's decision. Maybe it just exemplifies the "there is no right and wrong, only different sides" bit Macro's spewing.

And, look, it's Annie. Who kind of showed up in Glitched but her character didn't really go anywhere. Now I guess she's here to be the "evil" counterpart to Switch? At least, that's what it seems like with what Socket has planned. Though, with the way BackDoor acts, I'm expecting a double-cross eventually.

The scene at the end does make me think Macro's totally falling for DL. He just doesn't want to admit because that's a liability in his line of work. That sleezy Drowzee is going to get thwacked next chapter, I'm just sure of it.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
And, look, it's Annie. Who kind of showed up in Glitched but her character didn't really go anywhere.
I really wanted to give her a bigger part in Glitched, so I'm having so much fun writing her in this story XD

When System's power went down in Glitched, I wanted to write her escaping the cell and getting up to some shenanigans, but nothing ever came of it.
I kind of toyed with only bringing her back and not Switch, but by that time I'd already kind of planned ideas for Switch later down the line. So... they're both here. Yay!

Chapter Twenty Two​


Blue paint sloshed over the hull of Wildcard Gamma, filling in the unsightly metallic grey scuff that marred the poor ship. Macro hung from the fin by a thick rope, and while clutching the other end of it tightly in his paw, the other paw worked away running the roller over the ship’s side. It would take a while to dry before he could repair the name. Part of him wanted to ask Matrix to do that, since he could fly. But he wasn’t entirely sure he could trust the ribombee’s artistic skills to perfectly match the chosen font.

He loosened his paw enough to lower himself, careful to not burn his pads on the rope’s rough surface. Using his feet, he dragged himself along the ship’s hull to reach the farthest end of the scuff. Another quick flick of the roller and it was soon filled in.

“All right there, Macro?”

He froze and turned his head to look down at the speaker. Switch stood on the docks, stretching his neck out to his full height to look up at him. A small smile played at his beak, and beside him sat a paper bag.

“Huh.” Macro turned back to his work. “Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again.”

“Yeh, I wanted to apologize,” said Switch. “I said some horrible things. Do you have stripes on your back?”

The surprise in the human’s voice almost made Macro drop his paint roller. He’d almost forgotten he’d removed his scarf to avoid getting it covered in paint. He cast Switch a glance back and scooted backwards to neaten up an area the rope had unfortunately smudged.

“It’s a birth mark,” he said. “I’ve had it since I hatched. My mum had the same exact thing. I don’t care about it.”

“Huh… A friend of mine has the same markings,” said Switch. “Only his are dark blue. He’s a meowstic. His mate is a mawile. I wonder if you’re related?”

“I don’t really care,” said Macro.

“Really? Because they’re great friends of mine,” said Switch. “They just had a kid of their own before I got sucked in here. They made me an uncle. If you are related, then that would make them you’re… I dunno… Great Times Fifty grandparents, and me your Great Times Fifty uncle.”

Macro raised an eyebrow. “Great Times Fifty?”

“Hey, I’m trying to apologize here,” said Switch.

Macro snorted and absently painted over the already re-painted section. “You’re no uncle of mine, Switch.”

“Come on, Macro! I need your help. I don’t have a clue where I am,” said Switch. “You say it’s System, but to me, it’s not. At least, it’s not the System I know. One minute I’m in this world filled with green and forests with floating islands and hover boards. Sure, there are similarities but… from what I can gather, it’s wildly different. Pokemon eat meat, there’s a mayor, space pirates, ships… the closest thing to a ship where I came from was my friend’s flying car! Nothing else flew except flying type pokemon and ancient drifting continents!”

“And that warranted accusing me of the bad guy?” Macro scoffed. “After I saved your hide n’all?”

“You told me there are no good guys,” said Switch. “And from the information I picked up last night, I’m inclined to agree. But it doesn’t mean there can’t be any.”

“Everyone keeps to themselves,” said Macro. “You should do that, too.” He finished filling in the bare patch and turned to look down at him again. “What do you mean ‘information’?”

“I chatted to some guys,” said Switch. “Tried to find out what on earth is going on here. Turns out you have quite the price on your head.”

“That’s what I get for annoying Socket.”

Macro tossed the paint roller towards the paint pallet, missing by a mile and leaving a nice blue smear on the docks. Using both paws, he shimmied his way down the rope. It was no easy task. His side kept bouncing off the hull as he swung back and forth.

Claws dug into his bare shoulders and he let out a yelp, releasing the rope to grab at his assailant’s legs. With two beats of his wings, Switch was back on the ground. As soon as Macro’s feet touched the docks, Switch released him and landed at his side.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you,” said the talonflame. “But the way you were swinging, you would have got yourself covered in paint and ruined all your hard work.” He winked, taking Macro quite by surprise. “By the way, here.”

He reached into the paper bag with his beak and pulled out a wad of neatly folded fabric. Macro took it cautiously and looked it over. It was a black scarf, the ends of which were decorated with a checkered blue pattern. Towards the end of the design, the blue squares thinned out as though they were being dragged apart, losing control of gravity entirely to drift towards the middle of the scarf.

“I bought it as an apology,” said Switch. “I just assumed you liked scarfs since you wear one all the time. This one has a bit more colour. I thought it matched your lasers’ blue trim.”

Macro stared down at it for a moment before meeting Switch’s golden eyes. “How did you buy it? I don’t imagine you came here with a pocket full of credits.”

“I joined some guys in poker last night,” Switch explained. “One of them was rather generous and offered to lend me some so long as I gave him half of my winnings if I won. Not only did I get the information I wanted, I got lucky and won four thousand. That left me with two thousand after I’d honored my end of the deal.”

“A generous space pirate?” Macro couldn’t help but laugh. “I think he was using you as an extra paw at winning.”

Switch shrugged. “Well it worked in both our favours.”

“Colour isn’t usually my thing.” Macro kept his eyes on Switch’s, but the talonflame merely smiled.

Macro sighed and turned back to the paint pallet. He tidied the roller away and gathered up his familiar all-black scarf, tossing it around his shoulders twice so the long length fell down both his front and back.

“You weren’t wrong,” said Switch. “Everyone here thinks very little of Socket.”

“That opinion is pretty rampant on System Ground as well.”

“From what I gather, most areas down there are toxic.” Switch paused. “What happened?”

“Destruction,” said Macro. “Pollution. You name it, it happened. There ain’t a single tree left in System except for cultivated berry orchards, and even they’re rather limited outdoors. The air near the cities just kills them.”

“Why wasn’t something done sooner?”

“I tell you what.” Macro rounded on him and placed a paw on his hip. “You travel back six hundred years ago and ask the first mayor what exactly he was thinking. All right? Because all this followed him and his laws about pollution reduction. Dumped it in the outskirts of Meta City and things backfired ridiculously. My personal opinion was that it was all down to discrimination. He just didn’t like poison types.”

“And what about this law about meat?”

Macro tossed the paint pallet into his tool bag and dusted down his paws. He fixed Switch with a raised eyebrow.

“You didn’t raise that during your little game did you?” he asked.

Switch shook his head. “Not while one of them was munching on a fillet, no.”

“Well, that was down to the next mayor,” Macro explained. “Allegedly there was a famine. Pollution reduced where berry orchards could grow, and there was a month long drought that killed off a lot of trees and bushes. Desperate for food, pokemon looked to the ocean. Seaweed and other plants didn’t have much appeal, so they turned on the water dwellers. Since they spend all their life in the water, they weren’t seen as helpful to the community. So they ‘made them helpful’. Since then, the rule stayed.”

Switch’s beak was clasped so tightly shut Macro feared for a moment it might break. The talonflame let out a sigh and shook his head.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said.

“Like I said. You wanna put things right, you take it up with the mayor. I can personally guarantee you that you won’t come out of it in one piece. Keep your head low and just get on with things until we can get you back to your time line.”

Switch nodded and scooped up the tool bag before Macro could grab it.

“I can promise you something, though,” said Switch. “When I do get back, I’ll make sure everyone understands turning to the ocean is not an option.”

Macro stared at him, dumbfounded. “You’re going to try and change the future?”

Switch nodded again.

Macro burst out laughing and took the bag from Switch’s beak. “That’s a good one!”

He turned and clambered up the neon ladder towards the entrance hatch.

“I’m serious!” said Switch.

“So am I!”

...​

It had been a rough night in the mansion. Socket’s new ‘guest’ had complained throughout the most of it, expressing great distress at her constant form changing. The gothitelle had begun to wonder if she’d been putting it on. Nevertheless, she didn’t want to lose the human, so she’d made Tweak her personal butler. All night, the chingling had been back and forth carrying trays of water and biscuits, supplying blankets, removing blankets, guiding Annie around the mansion whenever she’d wanted to use the facilities. At one point, he’d had to check the wardrobe for monsters. Either Annie was a fantastic actor, or she’d seriously believed something was in the wardrobe. Between that and her frequent muttering and word-vomit, Socket was beginning to wonder if the human was in complete control of her faculties.

It didn’t matter. After her form had been stabilized, every essence that made up her individuality would be removed and destroyed, leaving Socket with an empty, prehistoric shell.

She really needed to work out how on earth she was going to hide an archeops, or pass it off as ‘normal’. They’d not been seen in System for thousands of years. How had the pokemon reacted a thousand years ago when a human took on that form? Since it was a human, it likely didn’t have the same impact as a living fossil being discovered on a remote island.

Socket stared down at the human as she lay asleep in the large bed. Black and white sheets bunched up around her legs, exposing her bare feet. One arm lay sprawled along the pillow, reaching out over the edge of the bed towards the night stand. The other arm lay over her chest. Loud snores flew from her wide-open mouth in a way that would put a tyranitar to shame. For a brief moment, Socket considered grabbing the other pillow to stifle the wretched noise. However, the desire was shattered as Annie’s form changed, shrinking slightly and replacing the snores with a snarl as she turned over.

Plop; jingle; plop; jingle. Tweak wriggled through the ajar door, which opened wide after him as someone followed him into the room.

“Yobi’s here!” he cheered.

Socket craned her neck around to look at the raichu. “About time. Did you get the medicine?”

Yobi ducked as BackDoor and TimeSkip darted in over his head, the hoopa letting out a squeal of glee.

“What are you doing here?” Socket asked him. “You two are supposed to be working.”

“Hey, I ain’t missing this.” BackDoor folded his arms and nodded at the human. “I wanna see how this plays out.”

Socket sighed and turned back to Yobi. “You really need to be more assertive over your creations.” She gave a nod to the androids.

He raised a transparent blue, plastic jar and jiggled it. Its contents rattled around inside softly and he set it in Socket’s waiting paw.

“She should try two a day at first,” he said. “Ditto are a lot smaller, and one tablet probably won’t do the job.”

“Well, let’s try it then.” Socket leaned forward and poked the archeops in the shoulder. “Oi. Annie. Wake up.”

Annie grumbled and tugged the duvet higher with her claws.

“Annie!”

Socket took hold of her shoulder and shook her rather abruptly. Annie’s reptilian head spun round, her eyes flashing, and white teeth snapped at the gothitelle’s paw. Socket snatched it away and took a step back, checking herself for any signs of injury. Fortunately, there were none. She ignored BackDoor’s irritating laughter and fixed her blue eyes onto Annie’s.

“That was uncalled for,” she said.

“So was waking me.” Annie’s form changed right as she was brushing a paw over her head. A look of confusion crossed her face and she tugged at the black strands of disheveled hair. “I was having a good dream, too.”

“Sorry to disturb you,” Socket said, unemotionally. She shoved the jar at the human. “Take two of these. They’re meant to keep your form steady.”

“So this will fix me?” Her form changed once more as she unscrewed the lid.

Socket held her breath, watching the archeops swallow two tablets then reach for her glass. Her form snapped back to human again and she necked the remaining tepid water. With a satisfied sigh, she released the glass to clatter back onto the night stand and looked down at herself.

“I feel different,” she said.

“Different how?” Socket’s eyes trailed over the human’s gangly limbs and black hair, fearing the worst.

“Like… well, it’s like when you get hiccups then suddenly they’re gone.”

Socket’s nose crinkled and she pouted her bottom lip. It was an odd way of wording it. It was rather easy to forget you’d even had hiccups.

“Is this it?” she asked Yobi. “It’s worked?”

“They work pretty quickly,” he replied. “I’d say, going off what she’s said, that her form has settled.”

“So she’s stuck like this?!” Socket spat. “What am I supposed to do, Yobi? Dress her in a onesie?!”

The raichu’s mouth opened and closed as he struggled to find words. “Erm… Well… She does need to take them once a day to remain-”

“So we wait?”

Annie kicked her legs over the edge of the bed and stretched. A huge smile spread across her face and she picked up the jar of tablets.

“Can I keep these magic pills?” she asked.

“They’re not magic,” said Yobi. “They’re medical. And yes. I have a repeat prescription, actually-”

Socket snatched it from his grip and eyed it over. “Fantastic. So I’ll be sure to give them her once a day, and hope she stays in the form of a pokemon!”

“I dunno,” said Annie. “I quite like this form. It’s awkward running around with wings.”

“Well you don’t blend in at all,” said Socket.

“Really?” BackDoor asked. “I think it’s a lot more fun this way, personally.”

Tweak looked up at Socket and blinked. “Shall I go find a onesie?”

Socket fixed him with a leer. “Tell me, Tweak. What do you think?”

“I’m thinking charizard or infernape. Back in a tick.”

He turned and flopped from the room, his jingling bell fading away while Socket groaned inwardly.

“He has a point,” said BackDoor. “She does have the figure to pull off an infernape.”

Socket bit back the urge to threaten the hoopa with dismantling and turned back to Annie. The human examined each of her limbs as though seeing them for the first time. Her green eyes seemed to take up half of her face as she slowly turned her hand back and forth.

“It’s so cool,” she said. “It’s not changing!”

Yobi let out a sigh of relief and flopped sideways into the wall. He wiped his brow with a paw and smiled, chuckling to himself.

“Are you okay, Yobi?” Socket asked. “You still appear to be sleep deprived.”

He shrugged. “I’m fine. So… what’s next? You want to bring her to my lab, or-”

“Lab?” Annie looked up with a start.

Socket’s wide eyes narrowed on the raichu and she launched him backwards in a psychic bubble.

“Fool!” she snapped.

“Look.” Annie slipped from the bed and adjusted her weight on either foot. “I appreciate the help n’all, but I’m kinda plannin’ on leaving here now. So… if you don’t mind.”

She reached for the pill bottle, but Socket snatched it away. The gothitelle met Annie’s raised eyebrow with the sweetest smile she could muster.

“These things work both ways, dear,” she said. “I helped you, now if you wouldn’t mind returning the favour and helping me-”

Annie raised her arm and in a flash brought it down against the gothitelle’s jaw. Pain exploded through Socket’s face. She flew sideways and hit the floor in a sprawl, sending the pill bottle into the air. Annie reached out and caught it in one hand, and quickly checked it over for any sign of damage. BackDoor let out a gleeful squeal then burst into fits of laughter that bounced off Socket as she tried to process what on earth had just happened.

“No thanks,” said Annie. “I don’t do paybacks.”

She stepped over the stunned mayor and slipped though the door, not meeting the raichu’s concerned eye.

Socket pushed herself up and shook her head sharply so her long ears bounced off her cheeks. Her jaw pulsed where the wretched human had struck her, and she rubbed at it trying to soothe it away. As realisation slowly washed over her, her fur began to bristle.

“That was awesome!” BackDoor roared. He wiped an imaginary tear from his eye and nudged the silent celebi. “Did you see that? Oh my… I would have paid to see that!”

Socket turned her livid, icy stare on him. “Shut up, BackDoor! We have work to do.”

“Oh great.” His smile fell and he threw his paws into the air. “You’re gonna make us look for another human, aren’t you?”

“No. I want that one retrieving. She’s going to pay for this.” She pushed herself to her feet and turned towards the door. “Yobi, pull yourself together and retrieve her. The guards will have stopped her at the door, so she shouldn’t get very far. BackDoor-” She turned on the hoopa. “Commence stage two of my plan.”

His eyes lit up with glee and a huge grin spread across his face. “Stage two? About time!”

Before she could even begin to throw the finer details at him, he was out the window with TimeSkip in tow.

Socket turned back to the door where Yobi was still sprawled against the wall. She frowned and tapped her foot.

“Yobi?”

He fixed his bleary eyes on hers and cleared his throat. “Sorry, Madam Mayor. I think… I might be…”

He pushed himself to his feet and staggered from the room, almost tripping over his own tail.

She groaned and followed after him, tugging her pocket computer from her waist pouch. “Security! I need a strange creature apprehended. Do not be alarmed, but do not let down your guard either-”

“Sorry, Mayor.” The voice that came from her computer sounded awfully terrified. “Whatever it was, it left the mansion moments ago. Two of my men fainted at the sight of it. I’ve had to call an ambulance. It’s just me on the door now…”

Socket bit her lip and trotted after Yobi. Before she could reach him, he slumped to the floor onto his front. She stopped at his side and bent down to shake him awake, but she snatched her paw back as his shoulder nearly burnt her. A fever?

“Has the ambulance arrived yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, Mayor.”

“Then when it does, tell them there’s a casualty up here, too.”

“Roger!”

She groaned and sank to her bottom, and threw her computer onto the tiled floor. “Great! Now what am I meant to do?”
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
And there we have the Mawile connection coming in. Good thing Macro's absolutely nothing like Pixel and Vector, eh? I gotta feel sorry for Switch. He's basically a genuine nice guy thrust into such a cruddy world. Clearly trying to make the most of things. The contrast is really stark when compared to Macro, who tries his darnedest to keep everyone at arm's length. His goody-goody nature clearly has Macro telling him he's going to get himself killed. And he's willing to violate the laws of time and space to fix everything. Silly Switch, changing the past will just create an alternate timeline. Or break the universe.

Meanwhile, magicmedicine. Although, to be frank, medicine is just magic with a fancier sounding name, as far as I'm concerned. For some reason, I expected Annie to end up in her Archeops form. Probably because DL's a Pokémon already. And, oh my god, Annie just straight up rock-'em sock'em robot'd Socket in the jaw. Go Annie! I mean, Socket hasn't done all that much to earn my ire yet, but that was satisfying read.

On the other hand, that ending though. Please don't tell me that fever means what I think it means. My poor Amby heart can't take that in addition to all this timey-wimey stuff. XD
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 19:

The way TimeSkip communicates is really interesting. Sort of comes across as psychic and digital at the same time--befitting a celebot.

BackDoor is such a little ****, meanwhile. X3 Somehow I get the feeling that unleashing an epidemic on the present-day population is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to horrible things he'd contemplate doing for fricks and giggles.

DL raises an interesting point. Having horrific cybernetics thrust upon you is a terrifying notion, but the possibility of having deliberately chosen them when you can't for the life of you remember why you would is its own kind of scary. The "do I really know myself" kind.

(Incidentally, I'd be lying if I said there weren't things in my memory I'd gladly be rid of. But certainly not everything.)

Chapter 20:

DL... is certainly braver than I am. I just... yeah, there's no way in heck I could accept anything edible from a cubchoo without shuddering so hard that I fall apart. Just... snot. Can't handle the stuff. XD;

Meanwhile, HI ANNIE. :D I'd hoped we hadn't seen the last of her. Very interested to see where that particular little thread leads.

Chapter 21:

Maybe I'm off the tracks here, but omehow I'm not entirely sure that Socket wouldn't resort to rewriting history. At the very least, I can't entirely put it beyond her and her lackeys to bork the timeline in some accidental fashion, or some way that otherwise isn't something she'd have wanted. Especially given that she has that aforementioned joker of a hoopabot on board...

And ESPECIALLY after that portal stunt. See Socket, this is why you ought to have installed an off switch on this guy. :p

Now here I am, contemplating all the ways that giving Annie ditto medicine could go wrong. What if it turns her into a ditto?

...And what if that's not exactly something going wrong, in the end?

Creepy drowzee is creepy, meanwhile. Creepy, and a creep. Ew.

Chapter 22:

Imagine if he had asked Matrix, and Matrix had indeed failed to match the font. Now imagine that missing letter in the ugliest, most laughable font you can think of. :p

Congrats, Macro, you have your very own AZ. Sort of. If Switch is right about your ancestry, that is. I'm inclined to suspect that he IS right, but one never knows. Unless we're talking about the one behind this story, of course. :p

System's sure gone through a heck of a lot since Switch's time, put VERY mildly. I don't envy him, being pulled into such a starkly different time and society like that. Of course, I envy the ones who get the short, lethal end of the stick as a result of this "new" order even less.

Annie and I apparently have something in common, meanwhile. We're both basically fossils We both apparently need our feet out of the covers in order to sleep worth a frell. :B

...Oh my. Looks like BackDoor might just be getting to see his morbid little fantasy play out after all. I'm sure he'll be delighted. Yobi, I would imagine, will not. Especially if this sickness plays out anything like the sickness in a certain other story set in this universe...
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Meanwhile, HI ANNIE. I'd hoped we hadn't seen the last of her. Very interested to see where that particular little thread leads.
Ohhh, she's one of the most entertaining characters to write XD

Imagine if he had asked Matrix, and Matrix had indeed failed to match the font. Now imagine that missing letter in the ugliest, most laughable font you can think of.
I can almost hear Macro's teeth grinding...

Annie just straight up rock-'em sock'em robot'd Socket in the jaw.
Best description ever! XD Yeh... Annie is such a loose, unpredictable cannon.

Part Three - Invasion

Chapter Twenty Three​

Tracer stepped out of the mini market, clutching a fresh cigar in two claws while his other paw tucked the newly bought pack into the inside pocket of his trench coat. Clean air washed over him and he took in a deep breath of it before reaching for his lighter. Widget scratched behind his ear with a rear paw then looked up at him with a little grin. Before the eevee could speak, a loud ring came from Tracer's pocket.

The delphox reached inside and pulled out his pocket computer. Socket. He let out a long sigh and stubbed out his cigar on the wall of the building before answering. It was better than letting it burn away to nothing.

"Yes, Mayor?" He recoiled slightly from the screen. Oddly enough, she had an ice pack pressed against her jaw. "Have you had a tumble, ma'am?"

"No, I have not had a tumble," she snapped. "I'm ringing you as a last resort, Tracer. I know you're terribly busy rounding up space pi - wait a moment. Are you in Meta City?"

Tracer glanced around at the high buildings and clear sky then nodded. "Yes. Not too far from your office if you want me to meet you there?"

"No. No, that won't be appropriate at all. You are meant to be in the outskirts! What are you doing in my city?"

"Buying cigars," he said. "They don't sell them in the outskirts, and I'm not reducing myself to those thin, vile sticks they try to pass off as cigarettes."

Socket sighed and removed the ice pack from her face to reveal a rather large, red bump around her jaw.

"Please tell me you didn't bring that ragamuffin of an eevee with you?" she groaned.

Tracer glanced down at Widget who returned his look with raised eyebrows. He flinched away and looked around blankly at the buildings. To cover his tracks, Tracer pretended he was doing nothing more than trying to locate the source of a convenient siren.

"Of course not," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Can anyone else hear this call?" she asked.

"I can lower my voice."

"Good. Do that. Now listen, this is of dire importance, Tracer, and under no circumstances are you to let this out." She paused to retrieve a fresh ice pack off Tweak. "A human has found their way into System. I tried to apprehend it, but it attacked me, as you can see."

Tracer raised an eyebrow and leant back against the wall. "A human? Are you sure you're not sick, Mayor?"

"No, I am not sick. They attacked me, then escaped into the streets. Goodness knows where they are now. Two of my guards fainted and the one who didn't is receiving expensive therapy to deal with the shock! Before some unfortunate catastrophe unfolds, I need to you apprehend this human and bring it back to me."

"All right." Tracer scratched his ear. He didn't remotely believe the gothitelle's nonsense. Too many late nights, that's what it was. He sighed. "What does it look like?"

"At the moment, an ape-like creature with long black hair, wearing a white robe."

"At the moment?" he repeated.

"Yes. At other times it looks like the prehistoric pokemon, archeops."

Widget let out a loud laugh and shook his head. "She really has gone mad."

Socket's face fell and she dropped the ice pack. "You did bring that ragamuffin with you!"

Widget grimaced and mouthed a quick apology to Tracer. The delphox shook his head and sighed.

"Sorry, Mayor," he said. "Go on. Human. Archeops."

"You don't remotely believe me, do you?" she said. "Well, that can be easily rectified. I am going to forward you the CCTV footage. It may aid you in your search. Do be careful. We have this creature listed as 'dangerous and unstable'. Also be aware I will pay you well for your services. We'll cover that in the email."

The image cut out and Tracer lowered his computer with another sigh. She really did sound like she believed it, and if she was willing to send him CCTV footage then something must have happened. Maybe something that had been completely misunderstood? A rogue attack from another psychic type pokemon inflicting the gothitelle with an illusion. Maybe even a rogue zorua or zoroark had invaded the mansion disguising itself as a monster the mayor had described as a human. Those things were grotesque in pictures.

His computer beeped and he opened up the email. One video file, marked with the current day's date. He crouched down enough for Widget to see and lit up his cigar as he waited for it to load.

The image was crisp, showing every detail of colour in the sparse room. The same date stood in the top right corner, joined by seconds rolling by beside the time. Under the green and white sheets was some kind of bird, but it wasn't a bird for long. It switched to some strange creature sprawled on the bed, snoring loudly. Socket strolled in and stood there, watching it. Tracer raised his eyebrow and removed his cigar to puff out a stream of smoke.

"If this is an alien creature," he said to Widget, "then why has she given it a bed?"

The eevee shrugged. "Peace offering?"

Tracer grunted and continued watching the video. The creature's form changed again shortly before the room filled with several other pokemon. Two of them he'd only seen in paintings. Legendary. What were they doing there? Socket leant forward to touch the creature and it span around to bite her.

"Certainly hostile," said Widget. "Pretty cool looking though, huh?"

Tracer said nothing as he watched the rest of the video. They'd given it some form of tablet, and after it took it, it sat in its white-robed form, stable. Then, it attacked. Smacking the gothitelle right across the jaw before taking the jar of tablets and strolling from the room. So it had wanted the tablets. Whatever it was, it clearly had no control over its shape-shifting ability. Had the tablets fixed that?

The pair watched the video one more time, then sat in silence against the shop's cold, stone wall. The video footage itself had been hard enough to digest. From the nature of the transformation, it wasn't a zoroark. Or, if it was, they were highly skilled. But why would a zoroark have wanted the tablets? Most of Meta City was filled with psychic types. Even those strange legendary creatures accompanying Socket were rumored to have been psychic type. A zoroark could have made short work of them all. So what was this creature doing? What was Socket doing?

"So," Widget said, dragging the delphox back into reality. "That's a human?"

"Seemingly."

"Doesn't look like any of the ones I've seen in history books." He paused. "The archeops is pretty on point, though."

Tracer 'hmm'd and scrolled through the email. The price Socket was willing to pay was certainly generous. Maybe she was aware how dangerous the human really was, and knew he'd be risking his life. Nevertheless, things didn't add up. Why would she give a dangerous creature a bed? Why show him if it was secret? Why lie? Of course, she hadn't lied outright. She'd said she'd apprehended the creature. That meant taken into custody. Bed or not, it was in her custody at the time. But still… was she helping it? Trying to coax it out of posing a threat by being welcoming? Or was it something much more sinister?

"Are we taking the job?" Widget asked all too keenly. "'Cos this has got me pretty excited, I must admit."

"Yes. We're taking the job." Tracer sent out a stream of smoke then flicked ash into the drain. "But I am beginning to wonder," he said slowly, "if Socket has told me the entire truth."

...​

Annie trudged through the dirt-ridden streets. It was a stark contrast from the bustling city. Enough to make one wonder if they'd stepped through yet another porthole into another world.

It also stunk.

Boarded up buildings made up the most of the scenery, their yellowing stonework marred with various posters. Outdated concerts; clubs; products; video games; wanted criminals. All of it was covered with graffiti. A lot of it was insults aimed at the mayor, some of which still dripped with fresh paint.

She kept her eyes forward, scanning the route ahead. It was quiet. Good. She had grown tired of the looks and screams from the pokemon in the city. Their obnoxious voices had given her a headache. Despite the stench, it was a nice change of pace.

Blinds across the road rattled and she caught a round face staring out at her, but it didn't linger long enough for her to get a good look. The blinds whizzed shut, blocking out the peeking tom.

She folded her arms and pouted. "How am I supposed to get back home?"

She stood still, mulling over the recent events. If she was in the world she'd left, only later, and pokemon didn't know what humans were… did that mean they eventually did go back home? She scratched her chin and looked up at the yellow-tinted clouds.

"So I time traveled… if I'm a time archeops then I should be able to get back myself." Pause. "One would think. Now how do I do that?"

Her hand found the pill bottle in her pocket. Magic pills that held her form. All she needed to do was time it right then she could hold the form of the archeops and work out how to get back.

Something shuffled ahead of her. Whimpering. Someone was crying? Whatever it was, they were limping. Or crawling. She couldn't tell.

She crept forwards, following the sound to a building slightly taller than the rest. Wooden steps ran up to the door that stunk of rot, and looked like something had turned them into a snack then given up. The whimpering came from beneath them. A small, fish-like creature floundered and flopped, dragging itself along the damp ground. Its eyes were screwed shut, and it was leaving behind a trail of red.

Annie stooped and grabbed it in both hands, lifting it up to her face. The creature yelped and opened its eyes, which widened slowly as it took her in.

"What are you crying for, little fish?" she asked.

Its mouth dropped wide open and it let out a panicked scream. She looked back over her shoulder, turning her head left and right.

"What? Is someone following me?" she asked.

"What are you?" The fish's voice was male, young. A choked sob came from his throat. "Don't eat me!"

Annie frowned down at the orange and white fish. "Eat you?" Her eyes fell on the red lacerations in his side. "Oh… I thought you'd crashed into some paint."

He shook his head, wincing with the effort. "No. I'm trying to get home…"

She lowered him slightly to eye the buildings. "Which one is your home?"

"The river," he said. "I live in the river…"

His voice was awfully weak, and growing weaker with each passing moment. Of course. Fish. River. It all made sense. The poor creature needed water. She tucked him under one arm and trotted along the road past the rotting stairs. If the fish was going to stand any chance at living, then she was going to have to find him water. Any kind of water. Enough to transfer him in.

Her mind lurched back to that blind and she turned one-eighty and made her way back to the house. It wasn't too far away. She found it instantly, since that round, orange face was staring out at her again. It vanished, but she reached the door and banged on it with such force it shook.

No answer.

She took the handle and forced it open, almost walking straight into the orange pokemon. Loose skin hung around his waist like baggy pants, and a sickly pale red mowhawk stood erect in the middle of his head. His sleepy brown eyes narrowed at her and he raised a paw to shove her away.

"Get out!" he snapped. "I don't know what you are, but we don't want you here."

She held up the fish. "I need water for this."

"Go find your own water!" he growled. "We're on short supply here. I ain't givin' out charity!"

"But he's dying," she said. "Just give me some water so I can take him back home."

The baggy pokemon's leer fell away to be replaced by surprise. He opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was an 'uhm'.

"What's going on, Trojan?" Another pokemon strode into the hallway.

This one Annie recognized. A skuntank. Her long tail wasn't carried along her back like she'd expected from pictures. Instead it was dragged behind her like a purple carpet. She eyed Annie curiously. Fearlessly, actually. Then her eyes went to the fish.

"Did I hear you right?" she asked Annie. "You want to help that goldeen?"

"Goldeen?" Annie looked down at the fish. He was panting, now. His little gills fluttering back and forth. "Is that what you are? Well, yes. He's lost, like me. I want to get him back home."

The skuntank frowned slightly, inclining her head on one side. "It looks like he escaped from the fishery."

"Fishery?"

"That's where they turn pokemon like your goldeen friend there into food." She looked up at Annie. "Meat, to be precise."

Annie almost dropped the goldeen. "Pardon?"

"Meat," the orange pokemon, Trojan, spat. "You know what that is? Or are you an oblivious vegan?"

"Oh, I know what meat is. But I've not tasted any in years." Annie looked down at the goldeen again. His eyes were wide open, almost bulging from his head. "Doesn't seem very nice here, though." She turned to the other two pokemon. "How would you like being turned into kebabs and burgers?"

The skuntank looked up at Trojan and nodded to the stairs behind him. "Get her some water."

Before Trojan could mount the stairs, a firm "No" stopped him in his tracks.

Yet another pokemon, this one resembling a tall owl, strolled from the room behind the skuntank. The most alarming thing about him was the silver, ornamental sheath over his beak which ended in a vicious point.

"The water we have will kill him in a heartbeat." The owl reached behind Annie's head with his wing for a metallic quiver of arrows and threw them over his shoulders. "I'll get some from the river. Hopefully he'll survive long enough."

"Oh, come on, Waveform." The skuntank sighed. "You take that quiver everywhere. What you really need is a bucket."

He fired her a glare over his shoulder. "I'll get one from the outhouse." He nodded to the goldeen. "Patch his wounds and keep him moist."

Trojan folded his arms and huffed. "Guess I'll go and find some thread and needles then." He clambered up the stairs, muttering to himself. "Helping a flippin' water dweller. What a joke."

The skuntank nodded for Annie to follow her into the kitchen. A large wooden table stood in the center, surrounded by chairs. Six in total. The sink was overflowing with dirty crockery and the work top looked like it needed a jolly good scrub. Annie flopped into one of the seats and set the goldeen on the table.

"Wait! Wait!" The skuntank rose up onto her hind legs, clutching a towel in her forepaws. "Lift him back up. There'll be blood everywhere."

There certainly was blood everywhere. The towel did a good job at soaking it up, and the goldeen was set back down on top of it. His eyes were screwed shut as his breaths came in shallow bursts.

"How long ago did you find him?" the skuntank asked.

"Shortly before I came here," said Annie. "I don't know how long exactly. Maybe seven minutes and thirty two seconds. I know I'm a time archeops, but… I don't know about time details."

The skuntank's brow knit together and she opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off as a small tin clattered onto the table. Trojan threw himself down into a chair and leant back, pushing the seat onto two legs as he kicked his feet up onto the table.

"What the jack is a 'time archeops'?" he scoffed.

"An archeops who can travel through time," Annie explained. "Although I don't recall trying. I'm trying to get back to my own time, but I haven't the foggiest how."

The two pokemon exchanged glances.

"Well, maybe you can explain a bit more once we've helped this goldeen," said the skuntank. She reached for the tin and clawed it open. "My name is Webber - Web for short - and the grump there is Trojan. The decidueye who just left is Waveform. We're the only three pokemon that live here." She looked up at Annie while clutching a fine needle between two claws. "What's your name?"

"Annie." Annie paused. "I think."

Trojan raised an eyebrow. "You think?"

"Well, I'm considering changing it to Time Archeops."

"Forgive me for saying this," said Web. "But you look nothing like an archeops."

"I don't at the moment, no." Annie took some thread from the box and began to unwind it. "I go between forms. Right now, I'm a human. Pretty stabilized thanks to these magic pills I got off the mayor."

She pulled the tub from her gown pocket and slammed it onto the table.

Trojan's large eyes widened. "You got those off the mayor?!"

"Yeh. She gave them to me. Said they'd hold my form."

"Just… gave them to you?"

"Well, she wanted something in return. So I gave her a good clobbering and now I'm here." She pointed to the needle in Web's claws. "You might wanna sterilize that. Got any fire?"

"Yes… right." Web shook herself and looked over at Trojan. "Light?"

Trojan reached into his baggy pant-like fur and tossed a lighter over to Web. A small smile played at his lips and he chuckled.

"You clobbered the mayor?" he asked.

"Darn right I did," said Annie. "I don't do paybacks. Besides, something didn't smell right. She had this weird look in her eye. Hungry. Made me paranoid."

She craned her neck around to look over her shoulder at the wall. The window was awful grimy. She could barely see through it. Oh well.

"Have we got any sitrus berries, Trojan?" Web asked. "He's gonna need some if he's gonna survive."

Annie looked back round at the skuntank. She'd pulled the goldeen closer as she stitched up his wounds. Most of them were concentrated on his right side, and the formerly off-white tea towel was dyed a bright red.

"You don't think he'll survive?" Annie asked.

Web shook her head. "I wouldn't hold your breath, girl. He's lost a lot of blood."

"Huh." Annie leant back in her seat and tucked her arms behind her head as she watched the skuntank work. "How's he supposed to get back home if he doesn't survive?"

"In an urn," said Trojan bluntly.

"Don't be ridiculous," said Annie. "How's he meant to swim around in an urn? Way too small."

Trojan raised an eyebrow and pushed himself back up in his seat. "Are all humans off-key like you?"

"Trojan!" Web snapped. "Don't be rude."

He snorted and stood up. "I don't have time for this. Once the goldeen is fixed, both he and the… time archeops… can get the jack outta here. I want nothin' to do with any of them."

"'Either'," Web corrected. "Make yourself useful and grab some sitrus berries from the larder."

He snorted and stomped from the room.

"Don't take it personally, girl," Web told Annie. "He lost his brother last week."

"That was careless," said Annie.

The skuntank frowned slightly and snipped off the loose thread. "I'd hardly call it careless. He was awful sick. This air does no favours for the body." She paused. "You said you arrived yesterday?"

Annie nodded, and Web's muzzle creased in thought.

"So you really aren't from here?" she asked cautiously. "You haven't a clue what's going on?"

"Nope!" Annie yawned widely. "Don't rightly care, either."

"Oh, I think you'll care." Web began sewing up one of the goldeen's smaller wounds. "You seemed rather upset that pokemon eat meat. To be honest, I'm not keen, but beggers can't be choosers. If you got those pills off the mayor, then I'm assuming you were in Meta City. So you'll have seen the difference between Spool and Meta."

"Yeh, it stinks here," said Annie.

Web chuckled. "Proxy City smells a lot worse, believe me. But anyway, the air is poisonous. Ideally you're meant to wear a mask, but I severely doubt they filter out everything."

"But you're a poison type, right?" Annie asked. "So it wouldn't bother you."

"Doesn't matter," said Web. "It affects everyone, whether you're grass, poison or steel. It's pollution. A poison in its own right in that it kills everything. If you're exposed to it for long enough, you'll eventually get cancerous tumors afflicting your lungs and air ways."

Annie scratched her nose. "Huh. That doesn't sound pleasant."

"Far from it." Web cut the thread and examined the goldeen's remaining wounds. "They don't look as bad. They'll heal on their own, given time. But a freshwater fish like this isn't going to survive long here."

She waddled to the sink and washed her paws. The water that came out was tinted with a faint yellow. Web grabbed another tea towel and wet it thoroughly. This was tossed gently over the goldeen, and the skuntank joined Annie at the table.

"It's not the best water," she said. "But I don't want him to dry out."

Trojan stormed back in and tossed yellow berries onto the table. They bounced about, clattering onto the floor and bouncing off walls. Annie shrieked and dived under the table with a cry of "Bakudan!"

"There's your berries," said Trojan. "Now I'm goin' out for a bit. Don't you dare follow me."

Web gathered them up, casting Annie an apologetic look.

"Seriously, Trojan!" she said. "And don't go graffitiing the detective's office again!"

Annie crawled out from beneath the table and pulled herself back into her chair. She grabbed one of the sitrus berries and examined it carefully.

"I know these," she said. "They gave them to me at the hospital. Sour things, these."

"They do the job," said Web. "Hopefully they'll perk him up, but… anyway. Where is it you're going?"

"No clue." Annie set the berry back down. "I was looking for a way to get back home. But I guess I have to wait until the tablets wear off then I can change back into an archeops and try to re-enact what I was doing before I ended up here."

"Well, I certainly hope you manage." Web paused her peeling of one of the orange fruit. "I've never met a human before. But I have heard stories. If you're from a different time, is it the same world as this one?"

"System? Aye."

"Before you go anywhere," Web said slowly, "would you mind telling me what it's like?"

Annie chuckled and leant back in her seat. "I'm afraid I didn't see much outside the white walls of a mental ward."

Web sighed and finished peeling the fruit. "That's a shame. I'd like to know if it really did have trees everywhere, and how clean the air was."

The door opened again and the decidueye strolled in, sloshing water over the edge of a green bucket.

"Got this from the river," he said. "Should be okay for a goldeen, right?"

"Perfect," said Web.

She dropped the fruit to retrieve the bucket, but Waveform pushed past her to place it beside the worktop. Instead, Web scooped up the goldeen and popped him into the water with a soft 'plop'.

"He won't drown, will he?" Annie asked.

Waveform looked over his shoulder at her and narrowed his eyes. "He's a fish."

"Doesn't mean he can't drown," said Annie.

Waveform shook his head and sighed.

"Did you run into Trojan?" Web asked him.

"Yeh. Told me this human hit the mayor," he said. "Well… 'clobbered' was the word he used."

Annie yawned and stretched, drawing another look from the decidueye. Something flashed behind his eyes. Curiosity? No… Whatever it was, it made her a little nervous. She masked her fidgeting with another yawn.

"You have anywhere to stay?" he asked.

Web looked up at her, waiting for an answer.

Annie scratched her nose again in thought. "I don't think so."

"Then she can stay here," said Waveform. "Fine by me, anyway."

"I was hoping you and Trojan might agree to that," said Web. "At least until her friend here is fit to leave."

"The little fish isn't my friend," said Annie. "I don't have friends. I was trying to help the lost fish get home, that is all."

Web smiled and a small chuckle left her nose. "That's what friends do, girl."

Annie waved a hand and stood up. "Whatever. I'm tired. Is there a bed? Or do I have to sleep in hay?"

"There's beds." Web moved past Waveform towards the door. "Come with me, girl. I'll show you around."
 
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Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
You know nobody knows what a human’s like when Tracer thinks Socket’s totally lost it. Though, you’d think considering she basically rules the place he’d keep his trap shut. Also, probably not a good idea for Socket to go giving Tracer footage that shows her with a Hoopa and a Celebi doing weird science stuff to Annie. Kind of rooting for Tracer to put two and two together and realize Socket’s doing something underhanded. Come on, you hard-boiled detective, you.

Now the Annie scene strikes me as particularly interesting. First off, because, unlike Switch, she does not seem all that familiar with Pokémon. The other part is, of course, the Goldeen. For one, it's quite literally a physical representation of Annie's scenario (she is a fish out of water in the most extreme way possible). And second, well, it's really the first glimpse we've gotten at a water-type given their backstory as explained by Macro in the last couple of chapters. And, boy, it is definitely rough. But, to my surprise, Annie's able to find Pokémon that are willing to help. I was expecting it to die in her arms. Also, speaking as someone with a bit of a medical background, I like the inclusion of airborne carcinogens, and how they can even effect poison-types. I do hope Annie gets some more interactions with the Goldeen, since they're both in similar scenarios, having escaped from dangerous situations by the skin of their teeth.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
First off, because, unlike Switch, she does not seem all that familiar with Pokémon. The other part is, of course, the Goldeen. For one, it's quite literally a physical representation of Annie's scenario (she is a fish out of water in the most extreme way possible).
That's a pretty cool way of looking at her and the goldeen. I'd not really considered that. As for her unfamiliarity with pokemon, there's a reason for that. It'll be coming up in later chapters. I'm closing in on writing it, actually.

Also, speaking as someone with a bit of a medical background, I like the inclusion of airborne carcinogens, and how they can even effect poison-types.
It came from me fixing a booboo given Macro wore a filter mask when he entered the toxic cities in Chapter One. I'd given a pokemon immune to poison a filter mask.... I needed to fix it and I'm pretty chuffed it worked out! It also opened up world building and plot development, so... little insight into the mind of a pantser.

Chapter Twenty Four​



Two disks down and three to go. That’s what Macro kept telling himself as he looked over the list of four remaining locations. Botnet City, Cyan City, Meta City, and The Cache. Since he’d hit two and retrieved two disks, he was getting dangerously close to eventually hitting the red herring. If there even was one. There was always the possibility Surge had been incorrect in discovering there were only five disks.

His eyes lingered over Meta City for a moment. The huge red cross on his internal map. Even the name reeked of danger, and after DL’s revelation that yet another hole had been torn in time and space right in the centre of it, he was even less inclined to venture there. Surely Socket knew DL could pinpoint these rifts. What if she’d simply been trying to lure him in?

“Struggling?” Switch poked his head around the cockpit door.

Macro looked up at him and sighed before turning back to the list of cities.

“You could say that,” he said.

The talonflame strutted into the room and peered over his shoulder. Heat radiated from his feathers and Macro found himself instinctively feeling for his laser.

“I’d like to see Cyan City, personally,” said Switch.

Macro snorted. “You’ve been here for what… a day? And you already have a list of sight seeing destinations?”

“Not exactly,” said Switch. “Back home, I spent a lot of time in a place called Cyan Island. A drifting continent. You know them, right? They float over System, and I’m guessing it’s been moved to a city status now. I want to know what changes have been made.”

Macro raised an eyebrow at him over his shoulder. “Drifting continent? Don’t be ridiculous. Cyan City, like every other city in System Sky, is an artificial slab holding towering skyscrapers above the clouds. It can’t go anywhere. It’s encased in a perspex dome like everywhere else up here.”

“So what’s happened to the drifting continents?” Switch asked. “Are they barren now?”

“There are no ‘drifting continents’,” said Macro. “Rumors and legends like you humans and that Fracture nonsense.”

“You still don’t believe the Fracture even happened?”

“Oh, I believe it now, but it’s still nonsense. If it weren’t for the fact I’d managed to obtain a human, I’d still think it were all fairy tales.”

Switch let out a sigh and ruffled his feathers. “Then what happened to Cyan Island?”

“I haven’t a clue. Some say they crashed and that’s why they don’t float any more. But there’s no evidence to support that.”

“Then… has anyone searched the oceans? They had engines in them, Macro. And they were huge! They couldn’t just vanish. There must be remains somewhere, right?”

Macro stared at him for a moment, then flicked his computer off and stuffed it back into his pouch.

“All right, Switch, I’ll make you a deal.” He shifted his weight to one foot and pointed a claw at the talonflame. “I’m gonna show you System Ground, and you can see for yourself this ain’t your world no more. All right?”

Switch frowned but said nothing, keeping his golden eyes on Macro as he moved out of the cockpit.

The mawile poked his head out of the exit hatch, squinting in the bright sunlight. Anchor was still fiddling with the small wishiwashi turret, whistling a jaunty tune as he worked away with DL sat beside him. The pachirisu’s nose was streaked with grease, and she clutched a spanner in her paws, watching the granbull intently.

She looked tiny compared to the large, pink bulldog, but she wasn’t the least bit intimidated by him. With the belt around her waist she didn’t look out of place either, and at some point she’d acquired a green neckerchief that did look out of place amongst her blue markings. Sunlight reflected off her white fur with an almost dazzling intensity. Macro tore his eyes away and cleared his throat to address the granbull.

“Almost done, Anchor?” he asked. “Kinda wanting to fly soon.”

“Yup,” said Anchor. “Just gotta fasten this panel back in place. It got a bit bent, so it’s tricky, but we’re nearly there.”

DL looked up at Macro and smiled. That smile alone flooded his chest with warmth, killing any retort on his tongue. He snatched his head back inside the hatch and leant back against it. With a sigh, he tugged his goggles free and ran a paw over his face.

“I really need to do something about this,” he muttered.

...​

“Where do we even find a human?” Widget asked.

The eevee skipped along beside Tracer, his mask completely hiding his face. It was near impossible to tell if he was joking or genuinely curious without seeing that cheeky glimmer in his eye.

“I’ve no idea,” Tracer answered. “And since we’re forbidden to interview anyone about this, then finding its trail is going to be incredibly difficult.”

“Didn’t Socket’s guards faint at the sheer sight of it?” Widget asked. “’Cos I’d say we just look for a trail of stunned and terrified civilians.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if you’re being sincere.”

Tracer stopped at his office and opened the door. Defrag didn’t even look up from her desk, too focused on whatever task she was occupied with.

“Of course I’m being sincere!” Widget hopped on his toes with enthusiasm.

Before he’d even fully entered the office, he started to remove his mask. Tracer slammed the door quickly in a desperate bid to prevent the eevee from being poisoned. Despite Widget’s claims to be immune to sickness, he was taking no chances.

Widget looked up at Tracer then nodded to Defrag. “We telling her?”

“Telling me what?” The lopunny flicked her long ear back to look over her shoulder.

Tracer shook his head at Widget and sighed. The eevee gave him an apologetic grin and slinked over to his desk. Tracer flopped heavily into his chair and turned on his computer.

“There’s been… a problem in Meta City,” he explained. “But it’s top secret and if I tell you, it must not leave this office.”

Defrag turned her chair fully to face him and crossed her legs. “Go on.”

“I trust your professional attitude, Defrag-”

“But not enough to tell me before Widget spilled the beans,” she retorted.

Tracer rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Let me finish, please.”

“No. I get a little tired of being left out of your investigations.” She folded her arms and her nose creased in a frown. “You do this all the time. It’s like I’m just some kind of desk jockey to you.”

“You are not a desk jockey, Defrag. You’re admin. You do the administration work, which is just as, if not more, important!”

“But it’s less fun.” She paused. “Now tell me, what’s going on?”

“There’s a human in System,” said Widget.

Defrag stared over her shoulder at him. Widget picked up his cup and sipped at it with all the nonchalance he could muster.

“Don’t insult my intelligence, eevee,” she said dangerously. “We all know humans don’t exist.”

“He’s not lying.” Tracer pulled out his computer, along with a fresh cigar, and opened Socket’s email. “See for yourself.”

Defrag took the computer and the room fell into silence as she watched the footage. Any sound had been muted out, but the image was as clear as day. A shape shifting human, lying in one of the mayor’s rooms, resulting in the gothitelle being assaulted.

Once it had played out, Defrag lowered the computer to her lap and met Tracer’s eyes.

“Is this some kind of joke?” The waver in her voice betrayed her anxiety.

“Oh, it’s no joke.” Tracer gently retrieved his computer from her grip. “Socket sent me the footage herself. She seemed very intent on catching this shape shifting human. Evidence states that its highly dangerous, as you’ve seen for yourself.”

“If it were dangerous, why not kill Socket?”

Tracer shrugged and lit his cigar. “Maybe they simply didn’t want to? Either way, assaulting a figure of authority tells me its dangerous and has no fear or respect for those around it.”

“And did you see the way it just left the room?” Widget feigned a shudder. “Terrifying.”

“You’re not remotely scared,” Defrag snorted.

“Nope,” said Widget. “Crazy human? Bring it on.”

“You think it might be crazy?” Defrag asked.

“Of course! Did you even see it? It has crazy written all over its face!” Widget took another swig of his drink. “Either that, or they just have no emotion whatsoever.”

“History states humans were indeed emotional beings,” said Tracer.

“Ordinarily, I’d be inclined to correct you that they are in fact fairy tails,” said Defrag. “But after seeing that, I don’t know what to believe any more.”

Tracer blew out a stream of smoke and leant back against his desk. “You don’t think it’s enough evidence?”

“It could easily be fake,” said Defrag. “I mean, we have the technology to create convincing videos. The only thing that makes me think it might even remotely be real is the fact that Socket sent it to you, and asked you to capture this creature.”

Tracer shrugged. “Then I guess we’ll have to accept that, for the time being, there’s a potentially dangerous creature living in System. We’ll have to be extra careful, and make it our number one priority to catch it.”

“’Our’?” Defrag asked.

“Yes, ‘our’. You are every bit as involved as Widget and I. I want you to scour the internet and dig up every shred of evidence you can about where this human is located. Sightings, hoaxes or otherwise. Suspicious damage, crimes, missing pokemon. Anything that might lead us to this creature’s whereabouts.”

Defrag pursed her lips and glanced sideways at her computer. “So, yet again, I’m to remain in the office?”

“Not indefinitely.” Tracer turned his chair so he was facing his desk. “I’ve no idea how powerful this creature is. We might well need your assistance in the field.”

...​

The ship was finally ready to go, with Cyan Island as the next main destination. Macro stood beside his chair, watching Pulse City turn out of their field of vision as Wildcard Gamma pulled out of the docks.

Cyan Island may well be their next destination, but there was something he desperately wanted to do first. That was prove to Switch that the world he knew was no more. Any sign of the ‘drifting continents’ that were rumored to have once filled System’s skies were gone.

Macro hadn’t believed in them. He hadn’t believed in any of it, and the human’s constant yammering about things of legend were really beginning to grate on him. If showing him what state System now lay in would shut him up then he was more than keen to do so.

Raster Town. That was the destination he’d chosen. It was one of - if not the most - worst places on System, almost tying with the Analogue Isles. A smirk tugged at his lips and he glanced over at the navigation desk. It would be dawn by the time they arrived at Raster Town. Somewhat safer than it would be at night. Somewhat.

Switch huddled in the corner of the cockpit with his wings slightly spread. The motion of the ship turning clearly unsettled him. Macro had never considered a flying pokemon wouldn’t like traveling in a flying vehicle, but in some way it made sense. Having no control over the movements, and only having two legs and a pair of wings to balance with, he could only begin to imagine the difficulties.

DL strolled into the cockpit, yawning widely. Her fur was still damp from her late shower. Either she didn’t know how to use the fur drier or she couldn’t be bothered with it. Her fur stuck out at funny angles around her shoulders, and crinkled around her ears. Somehow, she still managed to pull off the look.

She clambered up into his seat and he looked down at her, forcing a leer.

“Why do you insist on stealing my seat?” he grumbled.

“I’m not stealing it, I’m borrowing it,” she said. “Besides, there’s plenty of room.”

“It’s the captain’s seat,” he said.

“You’re not using it.” She fastened the seatbelt around her waist and leant back, keeping her melted chocolate eyes on his. “Would you rather I fall about, instead?”

“She has a point,” said Switch. “You really could use two extra seats.”

“I’d vouch for three,” said Matrix. “We’re picking up new pokemon at an alarming rate recently.”

“We have no room for any more,” said Macro. “We’ve already filled the two spare bedrooms we had. If we pick up anyone else, we’d have to share.” He frowned. “And I’m not sharing with Anchor.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that, Cap’n,” said the granbull. “I don’t quite fancy sharing with you, either. You’re a cover hog.”

Anchor met Macro’s glare and laughed, striking the dashboard with his paw.”

“You can’t talk to me like that,” said Macro.

“Why?” Switch asked before Anchor could even throw a playful retort. “You talk to everyone else like that.”

“Because I’m the captain.” Macro rounded on him and his right paw fondled the handle of his laser. “You need to watch it, human, or you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of my water laser.”

“Water pistol.” Switch smirked then winked.

Macro opened his mouth to throw a remark but caught DL’s concerned face in his peripheral vision. Instead, he let out a sigh and ran a paw over his face.

“I’m getting a headache,” he said. “I’m gonna get to bed. And don’t anyone dare disturb me.” He threw this last comment at the pachirisu.

She sank slightly in his seat, but that concerned expression never fell. Was she worried for him or for Switch? He didn’t know, and he didn’t want to know.

“I’ll be back out before dawn.” He stomped from the cockpit.

“What if we need you?” Anchor’s voice froze him at the door.

“Define ‘need’,” said Macro.

“Erm… government fleet attack?”

Macro snorted. “Throw up the shields and fly fast. Maybe tie Switch down so he doesn’t break anything.”

As he stormed down the corridor, he heard Switch ask Anchor in a wavering voice;

“Does he mean bones or computers?”

Macro slammed his bedroom door behind him and threw himself onto the bed, flinching as the handle of his right laser jabbed him in the kidney. He wriggled out of his belt and tossed it unceremoniously onto his chair. With a groan, he fell onto his back and pressed his paws over his face. Things were beginning to get rather confusing.

Ordinarily, he wouldn’t help anyone directly. Space pirates took on jobs - heists, for the sake of a better word. His jobs had always consisted of raiding machine and weapon parts to sell on the black market or to clients; obtaining information about the state of an area; invading government buildings to obtain maps for those who wanted to raid it but wanted low risk (and taking the things they wanted in the process).

Having unfamiliar pokemon on board was never part of the question. Switch’s situation was beyond unusual, and as for DL, obtaining her memory disks could have been described as heists in their own right.

DL…

Scratch that. Things were becoming ridiculously confusing.

He was beginning to get rather worried - no, scared - that he was developing feelings for the pachirisu. Feelings brought pain. He needed to nip that in the bud and fast.

Space pirates always looked out for Number One.

If he was going to stop things growing any more confusing than they already were, he needed to do something about DL. Of course, he couldn’t just let a pokemon without her memories walk around System on her own.

He groaned again and dragged his claws down his face. That was the gentlemon talking. After all her memories were retrieved, that was it. She had to go.

...​

Wildcard Gamma chugged along in the sky at a steady pace. The cockpit was awfully quiet, but it also meant it was much less tense. Macro was still in his room, refusing to come out. Not that anyone had even dared to wake him for fear of laser retaliation. DL was still sat in his seat beside Anchor, watching the world outside with a look of awe. Anchor hummed to himself, carefully steering the hulking mass of a ship through the darkening sky. Matrix monitored the navigation screen, or at least that’s what he was meant to be doing. The radar had been minimized to occupy a quarter of the screen while he played some strange retro game Switch hadn’t seen in years even inside his own time line.

The talonflame squatted down in a corner, fearing he’d be tossed back and forth around the ship like the pixel ball on Matrix’s screen, but things were going so smoothly it was like they weren’t moving at all.

“Everything seems…” Switch cleared his throat as he thought over how to word things. “Very relaxed.”

“Mm-hmm,” said Anchor. “We have our orders, and now we’re simply sticking to them without claws at our back.”

Switch chuckled and looked over at the door. “Can I ask you something?”

“Ask away.”

“Is he always so… strict with you?”

Anchor burst out laughing and struck the dashboard with a heavy paw. DL leapt slightly in her seat and watched the dog’s arm warily.

“That’s a funny way of putting it,” said Anchor. “But I’d keep your voice down. Don’t go blaring that around the Cap’n.”

“I’m serious,” said Switch. “The way he talks to you makes me wonder why you stick around.”

Anchor fell silent, the jovial smile melting from his face. DL looked up at him curiously, while Matrix wound his antennae in his paw and looked at each of the other pokemon in turn.

“It’s a long story, Switch,” Anchor explained. “I can tell you, but… if I hear his door open, I’m gonna stop. You all right with that?”

Switch cast a cautious glance into the hallway, then nodded.

“Okay. Prepare yourself.” Anchor pushed the steering stick forwards then looked over his shoulder at the talonflame. “This crew ain’t always been the way it was, you know. I met Macro a long time ago. Six years ago, to be exact. Was only a wee kid at the time, myself.”

“Kid?!” Switch’s eyes flew wide open. “How old are you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Pull the other one!”

Anchor roared with laughter again and looked away. “Nope. I tell no lie, Switch.”

“Then how old is…” Switch fell silent, fearing the mawile might respond to the sound of his name and cut off the granbull’s story. So he merely nodded down the hallway.

“The Cap’n’s older than me by like… three years, I think. I lose count. Too many crew members and I don’t do numbers.” He paused as he steered the ship past a high cloud. “Anyway, like I said. It’s not always been this way. He used to belong to another crew, quite a mixed one. Can’t remember the name, but when I met him there were just him and a young lass named Digit. Pretty little buneary, she was. Think he were soft on her.”

DL’s ear twitched and she looked up at the granbull.

“Anyway,” he went on, “When I met Macro, it was in Seed City. He were stealin’ sheet metal from one of the supply depots. I were gonna stop him initially, but when I spotted his lasers I knew he were a pirate. Terrified, I decided to help him. Carried several sheets back into one of the surrounding villages. Can’t remember its name. Him and his friend were fixin’ up a ship, see. Looked like a magikarp and he’d named it Wildcard. Pretty basic thing. Not one of them knew how to build a vehicle, and suffice to say the ship never even took off. Burst into flames, actually. We put it out and I told him I’d design the next one. That’s when Wildcard Beta came along. He designed it, decided he wanted a huntail ship. Went with his alias. Way back then, he went by the name Hunter everywhere. It were the name given to him by his former captain.

“He told me exactly what happened. They’d been on a raid in the Analogue Isles, but run into another pirate fleet. This was all dragon types, and they decimated the ship’s crew. In a bid to save Digit, Macro had got hit really bad by the leader - a garchomp wearin’ steel claws. Almost lost his eye. But he managed to fight him off and get Digit to safety. After that, they decided to set up their own crew, but first they needed a ship.

“I were pretty moved and scared, if I’m honest, but I decided to join them. Personally, I felt he’d kill me if I didn’t. But of course, I learned really soon he’s got a heart bigger than he shows. Sadly, that weren’t enough for Digit. Thanks to Macro’s wiles, they were often at odds, and after a rather… unfortunate heist… she decided he couldn’t take things seriously. Like everything was a joke. He takes too many risks, I’ll admit, but she couldn’t take it any more. So she up and left, leavin’ us down a navigator. Neither of us can navigate to save our lives, so we put out some feelers in Pulse City, and that’s where we found Matrix, lurkin’ in the Moonlight Lounge.”

Matrix released his antennae and nodded towards the kitchen. “Cookie wasn’t too far behind, either. We needed a cook.”

“Could burn water, our Cap’n,” said Anchor. “And I hate to cook.”

Switch chuckled and gave another glance down the corridor. “So… you see through that icy exterior.”

“Right through.” Anchor gave him a warm smile. “Give it time, Switch. He ain’t all bad. To be honest, he ain’t got a bad bone in his body. Besides, someone has to keep him sane. I often fear if I weren’t around, he’d take one risk too many and be dead in less than a week.”

Switch nodded. “Makes sense. We all need someone.” He paused, his mind going to the mental image of a huntail ship. “So… what happened to Wildcard Beta?”

Anchor took in a sharp breath through his teeth. “We don’t talk about Wildcard Beta.”
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Chapter Twenty Five​


As Wildcard Gamma descended below the clouds, the temperature inside began to escalate. The air conditioning whirred as it tried to keep the occupants cool, and Matrix buzzed his wings rapidly to keep his own body temperature down. The only one who had no complaints was Switch, huddled in the corner keeping his eyes on the windscreen.

“I think we’re here.” Macro stood and motioned for the talonflame to follow him.

“Five more minutes,” said Matrix. “We’re still passing over the desert, but the town is right ahead of us.”

Macro nodded his acknowledgment, but went to the hatch anyway. It would take five minutes just to get set up. He reached into the cupboard inside the hatch and pulled out two masks. One for himself, one for Switch.

“What are these for?” Switch asked as he eyed the offered mask.

“Air’s toxic,” said Macro. “You breathe that stuff in, you’ll die in days.”

The talonflame didn’t need telling twice. He took the mask and tugged it over his head with his talons. Macro fastened his in place, watching the large raptor struggle to get the mask on. It was certainly not designed for a bird, despite the beak-like nose piece.

Macro reached up to help Switch fasten it around his head, and he gave it a quick check over to make sure there were no gaps. It was actually a little on the small side.

“Thanks.” Switch’s voice came out muffled and he shook his head sharply.

“Don’t dislodge it,” Macro scoffed as he returned to fastening his own mask in place. “You don’t want any of that air getting in.”

“You said it’s toxic.” Switch turned the green glassy eye covers on him. “So surely you’d be immune, right?”

“Doesn’t work like that. It’s not toxic like say a nidoran or a salazzle. It’s pollution. Even a poison type doesn’t wanna breathe that stuff in.”

“But surely grimer and muk would thrive?”

Macro shook his head. “They still have to breathe, Switch. That polluted air rots the lungs.”

“So it’s uninhabitable?” Switch asked.

“Completely.” Macro leant back against the cupboard and looked out through the small window. “Pokemon cleaned up in places like Meta and Seed City. So efficiently that the local grimer and muk began to transform. With no sewage left to eat, they had to eat garbage instead, but then the civil war struck and all poison types were shunned to the toxic outskirts. Those transformed grimer and muk died out in mere days. You’d think something would adapt to be able to survive in those areas, but nope. No life can live in it.”

Matrix’s voice echoed out over the intercom. “Arriving in Raster Town now. Get ready to drop.”

Anchor strode into the hatch and grabbed a large mask from the cupboard. It was over his face in seconds and he braced himself behind Macro.

“You’re joining us, too?” Switch asked the granbull.

“Of course,” said Anchor. “Wouldn’t leave my Cap’n to fend for himself in the desert of all places.”

Macro said nothing, but his jaw clenched tightly shut. Fire and ground types. Bane of his existence.

He grabbed the neon pink ladder and plummeted towards the barren landscape. Hot air assaulted his body and his pads began to sweat. Switch zipped past him like a red dart, but the ladder picked up speed, passing the talonflame and hitting the ground before he even had time to land. Anchor dropped down behind Macro and the pair of them looked up as Switch swooped gracefully down beside them.

The sand was red hot on Macro’s pads and it wasn’t even noon yet. He dreaded to think how hot Raster Town got during the middle of the day. He could already feel himself weakening.

“So this is Raster Town?” Switch hopped in a circle as he took in the scene. “The sky is yellow!”

“That’s the pollution,” said Anchor. “I wouldn’t worry yourself over that. What you need to worry about is what’s on the ground.”

Switch looked down then followed Anchor’s eyes towards the town.

They were right on the edge of it. Squat sandstone buildings dotted throughout the small town, many of them boarded up. It was a common sight in the outskirts of Meta City. Raster Town was one of the furthest towns away from the capital, and just like the outskirts it couldn’t afford to keep shops open. Mainly because it struggled to fill them with produce in the first place.

Only a small number of pokemon were awake. Macro spotted a young larvitar scurrying about in the dusty streets with no sign of a parent. A few feet away on a rock outside the town, a salandit lay basking beside a gabite. Early risers. Neither of which he wanted a run-in with.

Macro tapped Switch on the wing and nodded past the basking reptiles.

“Follow me,” he said.

Switch looked around warily and hopped after the two space pirates. Keeping one eye on the two sunbathing lizards, Macro led the talonflame around them. What he wanted to show him lay at the end of Raster Town. One of the very reasons it fell into such disrepair, if legends were to be believed.

A huge hulking mountain rose out of the ground, surrounded with small boarded-up houses and shops. Only one or two of the buildings even had pokemon living in them. The mountain, however, was barren. Dotted with ruins and the remains of blackened trees. Cacti had taken up growing over it, supported by the dry and sandy terrain.

“This,” Macro said, “is what is believed to be the remains of a ‘drifting continent’.” He raised his paws in an air quote.

Switch stared up at it, his eyes wide behind the glass protectors.

“This?” he stuttered. “Why didn’t they get it flying again? Why leave it?”

“I’m not even completely convinced it was one,” said Macro. “But, if what they teach us in history books has any truth behind it, there are three of these mounds. Two of them are in the ocean. This one is said to have crushed half of Raster Town. Apparently they’d crashed once before, and they got them back in the air again. But when they crashed down about one hundred years later, they were deemed too dangerous and stripped of their mechanical parts. Rumours covering up a pile of tauros poop if you ask me.”

Switch ducked beside the mound, trying to peer inside a tiny cave.

“I don’t believe you,” he said. “What really happened to them?”

“Is this not one?” Macro asked.

Switch flapped his wings and rose up to inspect higher up.

Macro sighed and shook his head. “I really thought this would put him to rest.”

“He doesn’t belong in this time line,” said Anchor. “I think we need to get him back and fast.”

“I agree. And then he’ll be out of my fur.”

A deep rumble shook the ground and Macro staggered backwards into Anchor. Sand exploded beside them and he looked up with a start, right into the gaping jaws of a steelix. The metal snake roared, revealing row upon row of lumpy alien growths. Not a tooth in sight. The stench of death and decay poured from its mouth, permeating the vents on Macro’s mask and causing him to gag. The large spikes along the metal snake’s segmented body rotated like a windmill, filling the air with a deafening grating screech.

Macro pressed his paws over his ears and moved behind Anchor. He really needed his gun, but that screech was too much to bare.

“Look out!”

Switch darted down from the mound, his body glowing orange with intense heat and distorting the air around him. He collided with the steelix, the pair of them exploding in flames. The steelix opened its mouth wide and roared as it surged sideways. Switch arced up into the air and swooped back down for a second attack.

Macro and Anchor leapt apart in a bid to avoid the intense heat radiating from the talonflame. Macro reached for his gun, quickly loading up his ground laser.

“I’m gonna blast this thing back into the hole it came from!” Macro barked.

“Don’t be too harsh, Cap’n,” Anchor warned him. “He’s sick.”

“Sick or not, he attacked us first.”

Macro aimed his laser, firing out what looked like a stream of sand and dirt. It vanished as it collided with the steelix’s body, and Switch recoiled back with a squawk of surprise. The huge metal snake hit the ground, throwing up a cloud of dusty sand. Switch screeched and flew backwards, shaking his head violently.

Macro swore under his breath and fired off another stream. There was no way any sand got through the bird’s mask. It was impossible.

The steelix rolled backwards with the impact, his long tail flailing like a bludgeon. It came crashing down sideways, right towards the disoriented talonflame.

“Switch!” Anchor roared. “Move it!”

The granbull leapt towards him as Macro readied another shot to fire at the steelix’s immense tail. His shot missed by a hair’s breadth. Anchor collided with Switch head on, ramming him into the ground. He grunted and rolled backwards, pulling Switch out of harm’s way.

The steelix’s bludgeon of a tail came crashing down, and Switch let out a shriek of pain.

Anchor sat bolt upright, clutching his stomach with one paw. Macro let his gun fall to his side. There was no way the talonflame had been hit? Was there?

Macro stepped warily to the side. Switch flailed, flapping on his back as he strained to pull himself away from the steelix. That heavy tail had landed on the tip of his wing, pinning him to the ground.

Anchor stood up, keeping his paw clasped to his stomach. He shoved his other paw beneath the steelix’s tail and lifted. Tendons showed in his arm as he strained beneath its weight, but it wouldn’t so much as budge. He moved his arm from his stomach, leaving a tiny trail of blood as it trickled from his claws, and tried to hoist the tail up with both arms to no avail.

Macro raised his laser again and aimed it about a foot from the talonflame’s pinned wing.

“Stand aside, Anchor.”

Anchor looked back at him, confusion reflecting behind the green glass of his goggles. He looked from the laser to the talonflame and cautiously returned to Switch’s side.

“Brace yourself, Switch,” said Macro. “I’m gonna have to blast you free.”

The talonflame seized his frantic flapping and snapped his head around to fix on Macro’s laser. His golden eyes opened wide with fear and his entire body froze.

Macro fired.

Sand and dirt exploded beneath the steelix and talonflame, blowing the latter into the air with the intensity of a geyser. The steelix rolled sideways, creating a trail of dust that blocked out the sight of the mound and run-down town.

Switch squawked, flapping his wings helplessly as he tried to right himself. He came down on his back and turned in the air, using his wings to glide the rest of the way. Regardless, he still hit the ground with some force and he grunted with the impact. He skidded forward slightly, marring his underside with a sandy yellow-brown.

Anchor stood up slowly, his paw once again clasped to his gut.

“You all right, Switch?” he asked.

Switch winced and turned sideways, lifting his wounded wing cautiously. The effort alone caused him to whine. He rolled onto his back, using his talons to switch his form back to that of a human. Then both hands clasped around his ankle as he let out a rather loud scream.

Macro looked up with a start, checking the unconscious steelix and making sure no one in the town could see them. Switch was making a lot of noise despite the mask that must have been suffocating him. A gabite sat outside one of the bars, his neck straight as he listened to the racket. Fortunately he hadn’t seen them, thanks to the angle of the mound.

“Change back!” Macro demanded.

Reluctantly, Switch released his ankle and pressed his watch, shrinking back down to a talonflame. Anchor dropped down beside him and checked his wing, much to the human’s complaints.

“He’s broke it,” he said. “We’re gonna have to get back to Wildcard and fast.”

Macro rolled his eyes and tugged his computer from his pouch.

“Matrix?” he said into it.

The ribombee didn’t reply with his voice. Instead, the words ‘is there a problem?’ appeared on the screen, followed by a smiley face.

It was no time for a smiley face.

“Yes, there’s a problem!” Macro snapped. “I’ve got a wounded talonflame and I’m pretty sure Anchor’s wounded as well. Send down the ladder.”

‘Just a moment’ was the ribombee’s response.

Macro sighed and stuffed his computer back into his pocket. He eyed the two wounded pokemon and shook his head. How on earth were they meant to get Switch back up there if Anchor only had one free arm to hoist himself up?

He pulled his computer back out again and said into it, “Maybe come down yourself, too, with some rope.”

Moments later, the neon ladder flashed into place with metallic ‘chinks’. It appeared long before Matrix did, and Macro had long since finished discussing his plan with Anchor.

The mawile kept a wary eye on Raster Town. So far, no one had ventured from it, and the steelix was still unconscious. Macro was beginning to worry he’d accidentally killed the huge steel snake, but due to the consistency of its body it wouldn’t be easy to check without standing by its head, and there was no way he was putting himself anywhere near its deadly mouth.

Matrix landed beside them and unwound the rope from over his shoulder.

“I hope there’s enough,” he said. “What do you plan to do with it?”

Anchor released his abdomen, revealing two deep gashes just below his ribs. When Switch noticed them, he poured out a string of apologies interspersed with grunts at his own pain.

Anchor ignored them, instead hoisting the talonflame onto his shoulders. Macro grabbed the rope and fastened it around Switch’s wings and body, tying him firmly in place over the granbull’s back.

“All right,” said Macro. “That should at least get him on board the ship. You go first, just in case anything disastrous happens.”

He fired another glance at the town as Anchor mounted the ladder, leaving Macro to grab the bottom two rungs. Matrix zipped up ahead of them, and once he was inside the hatch the ladder began to ascend.

“I’m really sorry,” Switch gasped out.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Anchor. “It’s only a scratch.”

Macro snorted at the granbull’s response, his eyes going to the ground as he followed several drips of crimson blood. ‘Scratch’ his left foot.

...​

Annie stared up at the slatted ceiling, clutching the duvet over her chest. She had no recollection of falling asleep in such a strange room. It smelled damp and a little of feces. She glanced under the cover. Nope, she was good. The smell must have been coming from the bathroom. Oddly enough, she knew where that was, but the bedroom was rather unfamiliar.

Things slowly came back to her as she perched on the edge of the bed, stretching her arms until her shoulders and back popped. This wasn’t a cell. It was a house that belonged to some weird pokemon. Ones that didn’t want to fill her up with tablets so she’d stop rambling about the colour of the walls.

Tablets!

Her eyes flew to the blue container perched on a dresser, right beside a glass of yellow-tinted water. The water was rather warm and had a funny earthy smell to it. Not exactly palatable, but it would do. Her plan began to come back to her. Time travel. Time archeops. Wait until the effects of the tablets wore off before taking another one, and hope she’d secure the feathered form of the exotic reptile bird thing.

She tapped her foot in irritation and looked over at the window. The pair of yellowed curtains billowed as wind whipped through the cracked windows. Daylight. It was totally daylight. So why was nothing happening?

There was a soft rap at the door, followed by it moving inward with an audible, complaining creak. A rather gentle face peered in. Purple and white, with thick fur around her jaws. She stood almost bipedal as she held the doorknob in one large paw. A skuntank. Web. That was it.

“You’re awake,” she said. “That’s good, I was a little worried you might still be dozing. Are you free?”

Annie looked from the skuntank to the pill bottle and back. With a shrug, she stood up and carried the bottle and glass of tepid ‘water’ with her as she followed Web down the creaking stairs.

“It was touch and go most of the night,” said Web. “Up until around three AM when the little guy finally opened his eyes. Then things were much easier.”

Annie inclined her head on one side as she tried to absorb the skunk pokemon’s words. Her answer came in the form of a bucket beside the kitchen sink. Trojan - she recognized the scrafty - tucked into what appeared to be sandwich with some berry filling. His eyes went from the bucket to Annie and he frowned.

“You snore,” he scoffed. “Really loud, n’all. Kept me up for hours.”

It was then that Annie noted the dark rings under his eyes. Not exactly something she wasn’t accustomed to, herself. She shrugged off the scrafty and went over to the bucket. Peering up at her from beneath the off-colour water were the wide, slightly bugged eyes of a goldeen. His lips curled up into a smile and he flicked his tail, splashing water spray over the edge of the bucket.

“Hi!” he said. “You’re the one who helped me yesterday!”

“Yesterday.” Annie looked up at the ceiling and raised a finger to her chin. “Yes. You’re that little fish.”

“Thanks to you, I’m healing! My name’s Zip! What’s yours?”

Annie stood up straight and stared down at him for a moment longer. The stitching on his side certainly looked like small zips.

“It’s Annie,” she said. “At least… I think it is.”

“You think?” He chuckled.

“It’s been a long time. I’ve probably forgotten and warped it over the years.” Pause. “Or made it up entirely.”

Trojan took a huge bite out of his sandwich. “You’re not entirely sane, are you?”

Annie turned to Web and nodded at the bucket. “He needs to be in the river like a normal fish. Where is it?”

Web blinked a few times and eyed the bucket warily. “The river… would not be safe for him right now. In his state there’s no way he could escape the nets set for water dwellers.”

“Nets?”

“Yes. Pokemon catch and eat them.” She looked up at Annie, her eyes wide with confusion. “Have you forgotten what we talked about last night?”

“Maybe.” Annie paused and looked over the skuntank’s shoulder. “So he can’t go back in the river. That means you have a fish in your kitchen.”

Web laughed and shook her head. “I really don’t mind. And I’m sure both Waveform and Trojan are okay with it, too.”

Trojan snorted. “Kinda in the way, but whatever.”

A strange feeling began to surge through Annie’s body, making her fingers tingle. She clenched them tightly and glanced around the room with quick movements, like she was trying to track a yanma.

“Well. I’ll leave him in your hands then.”

Her limbs exploded with yellow feathers and the room suddenly grew larger. She hit the floor with a yelp. Wait… no, that was Web’s yelp. The skuntank fell back from her, and her face grew so pale it made her nose look white. Trojan even dropped his sandwich.

Annie looked down at her feathered body and leapt to her feet with a cheer.

“They wore off! The pills wore off!”

She scrambled up to the table and scooped up the tablet bottle. Her scaly claws fumbled with the container until she managed to prise the child-locked lid free. Two tablets were all she needed. Two to fasten her in the form of an archeops, provided she didn’t change last minute and stick to the non-time-traveling human form.

She grimaced slightly at the taste of the tepid water, but once the tablets were washed down she slammed the glass back onto the table top with a satisfied sigh. Then she spread her wings and looked down at herself, waiting.

One.

Two.

Nothing.

She was still an archeops.

A grin spread across her face, flashing two rows of sharp teeth.

“Space!” she shouted. “I need space!”

She scrambled from the kitchen on all fours, her claws skittering over the wooden floor. The stairs were nothing in her archeops form. She scrambled up them like a lizard until she reached her room.

Space. There was ample enough of that in the sparse bedroom.

“Now what was I doing,” she asked herself slowly, “when I time traveled?”

It was a good question. She’d been doing a lot of things. Talking to herself, answering questions that had come up in her mind. Arguing with herself when her mind told her the answers were wrong. Discussing the wall colour. White was such an abrasive colour, and it was everywhere in that cell. Eating. Yes, she’d had some berries.

Leaping.

That was what she’d been doing.

Whenever she took on that bird’s form, she liked to see if she could fly. She’d been leaping, her form changing intermittently in the process. The archeops could leap higher than her human form. So it must have been that. She’d been an archeops, leaping around until she’d leapt so high she’d managed to change time lines. That must have been it!

So she leapt.

Back and forth in the bedroom, flapping her undeveloped wings and gaining some level of altitude. Her head struck the dangling light fitting, and it swayed back and forth dangerously. She didn’t care. She needed to be higher.

She stopped and looked over at the window. The roof. Maybe she should try the roof.

She scurried to the window, prising it open against its stiff latch. It barely moved an inch.

“Stupid window!” she snapped. “Let me out!”

“Annie!”

She froze and turned her head to look over her shoulder. Web stood in the doorway, her face twisted with concern. Trojan stood behind her, chewing on his sandwich with a look of amusement.

“What are you doing?” Web asked softly.

“Trying to time travel,” Annie said, as though it was the most obvious thing ever. “It’s how I got here, right? I jumped around and here I am.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” said the skuntank. “Come down from the window before you hurt yourself.”

“No! I need to get higher! I leapt super high before I got here!”

“Leave her.” Waveform appeared behind Web, and Trojan stood aside wearing a disgruntled expression on his face. “If she wants to leap higher, then let her. It might be rather enlightening for her.”

Web looked up at the decidueye, and her eyes widened as realization fell on her. With a nod, she looked back at the archeops.

“Fine. You take her to the roof the safe way,” said Web. “I don’t want her falling out of the window or cutting herself on glass. We’ve had enough casualties under this roof to last a lifetime.”

“I’d hardly say one fish is gonna last you a lifetime.” Annie hopped from the bed and turned to Waveform. “So you’re taking me to the roof?”

The decidueye appeared rather nervous, but he nodded regardless.

“How are your wings?” he asked. “Can you fly?”

“Kinda. I more hop and flap around.”

“Like a hatchling.” He reached down and placed his wing feathers over her shoulders. “Come on. I’ll carry you if I have to.”

“This I’ve got to see,” said Trojan.

Annie trotted after Waveform, following him down the stairs. He went straight out of the door, grabbing his quiver on the way. She thought she heard Web tut.

The decidueye stopped just outside the house and looked up at the roof.

“Follow me,” he said.

In one graceful bound, he spread his wings and lifted himself towards the roof. Not a single sound came from his wings. Deadly silent. It almost gave Annie chills.

She shook out her own feathers and leapt after him, flapping her wings constantly to try and stay airborne. She didn’t even make it to the second story window before she crashed back down to the ground, knocking the wind out of herself with the impact.

“Try again!” Waveform called.

She shook her head sharply and tried once more, this time reaching the window before crashing back down like a sack of spuds.

Before she could stand back up, a set of talons dug into her back and she let out a surprised yelp as she was lifted from the ground. Waveform carried her effortlessly up to the roof and let her go on the slippery tiles. She had to dig her claws into them to stop herself from sliding off.

He towered over her, locking her in a vermilion stare. It wasn’t aggressive, impatient or threatening yet somehow she found it oddly intimidating.

“Try here,” he said. “There’s no ceiling blocking your reach of the sky.”

Annie pushed herself up and looked up at the clouds. Her entire body was trembling with the effort of holding herself in place. There was no saying she wouldn’t slip to her death. But if she didn’t try, she’d never get back.

And if she could do this, she could go anywhere.

She relaxed her claws and, with her back legs, sprang straight up. Her wings were nowhere near as developed as Waveform’s, but she beat them as hard as she could, sending herself over his head and landing in a sprawl behind him. Her claws slipped over the tiles and she clawed at them until she managed to scramble back onto the peak. Then, another leap, sending her back over his head to the other side.

All the while, he watched her, turning his head almost one-eighty as she leapt back and forth. Every time she slipped, he tensed up and raised his wings ever so slightly.

After her seventh attempt, she landed behind him, gasping for breath.

“What am I doing wrong?” she asked herself. “I’m a Time Archeops!”

“You’re not a ‘Time Archeops’.” He reached down and tugged her to her feet, turning her with both wings to face him. “I think we’ve proved that, don’t you?”

She blinked at him, meeting his somewhat intimidating vermilion eyes.

“Then explain how I got here,” she said.

“You said you were leaping,” he said. “What else happened?”

“I got sucked through a smoky mist,” she said. “Then someone took me to the mayor.”

“Who?”

She shrugged. “I don’t really remember. Some creepy guy and something that looked like an onion.”

He stared at her, unblinking, for an uncomfortably long time.

“Did you ever stop to think,” he said slowly, “that this ‘creepy guy’ and ‘onion’ might have had something to do with it?”

Huh.

She glanced away at the vast array of rooftops.

“Because,” he said, “as much as I struggle to believe it, there’s drawings of a pokemon that looks like an onion that is said to be able to travel through time.”

She looked down at herself then met his eyes again. “I do not look like an onion!”

“Not you!” He took a deep breath and shook his head. “It’s some pokemon called Celebi.”

“Huh.” She raised a claw to her chin and looked up at the yellow sky. “Then if I want to get back, I need to get my claws on this onion.”

“I’d say so.”

“Waveform, right?” She met his eyes again and set her jaw. “You gonna help me?”
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Let's play some catch up here...

Ch 24
Continued references to Glitched are continued. I think Switch is still, in some ways, in shock. Maybe he's suddenly second-guessing his decision to stay behind in System, given what he now knows the future is going to be like (even if he'll be dead by then). And I'm surprised to see Defrag actually getting some attention (though to be fair, she even points that out). The more scenes you give us with Tracer, the more of N00b I'm starting to see in Widget. Especially with his cheerful responses to Annie's existence. I'm guessing this was, of course, intentional.

And then we've got everyone snarking at Macro again. Poor guy was built up as quite the tough customer at the start and now he's slowly but surely losing that tough guy status. It'd be nice to see a bit more of him trying to resist and go back to acting like he used to, rather than just getting told he felt that way by the narrator. But, knowing you, that's probably coming in the future. The backstory for the various pirates is nice and decently well-timed. Ages don't really concern me, as I consider age a pretty relative concept with Pokémon.

Ch 25
Ah, the toxins are back with a vengeance. Feels like the crew hasn't really had to deal with them in quite a while.

“But surely grimer and muk would thrive?”

Macro shook his head. “They still have to breathe, Switch. That polluted air rots the lungs.”
Do Grimer and Muk really have lungs, though? I feel like they wouldn't...

Raster Town is certainly quite barren. It'd give off total ghost town vibes if there weren't a few Pokémon scurrying around. They don't exactly paint the most threatening picture. The sickly Steelix on the other hand is definitely threatening. And it does a pretty nice job of showing how far out of his league Switch is compared to being back in his time. I mean, yeah, he took on MissingNo, but a lot of crazier stuff is happening now. Although I'm quite surprised he hasn't brought that up by now.

By contrast, the scene with Annie is much sillier. I guess in a twisted sort of way? It's just kind of funny how her attempts to apply "logic" are really basic and sometimes nonsensical. Also, imagining a Decidueye giving flying lessons to an Archeops is good for a laugh or two. I'm wondering if her drinking that yellow water is going to be a problem though. Seems like it could be toxic...
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
And I'm surprised to see Defrag actually getting some attention (though to be fair, she even points that out).
Defrag needs more love, and she knows it =3

The more scenes you give us with Tracer, the more of N00b I'm starting to see in Widget. Especially with his cheerful responses to Annie's existence. I'm guessing this was, of course, intentional.
I'm gonna admit, I did want a N00b-like character, since he was my favourite character in Glitched XD

Do Grimer and Muk really have lungs, though? I feel like they wouldn't...
I do tend to animal-ize pokemon quite a bit. So even if they don't in the main games, in my stories I tend to give them animal traits. Like a banette with fur and zipper markings rather than a 'living doll'. Dunno if that's just me XD


Chapter Twenty Six​

Fortunately, Cookie knew a thing or two about first aid. The brown slurpuff sat with his tongue poked between his lips as he fastened the splints in place around Switch’s wing. The talonflame grimaced, but at least his screaming and groaning had come to an end.

Macro sat back in his seat, having turned it all the way around to observe Cookie’s first aid skills. No one would assume a chef would have a clue about binding bones, but with all the accidents he’d inflicted on himself it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Anchor had retired to his room for a lie down. Cookie’s first priority had been to stitch up the deeper of the two gashes. The second was merely a scratch in comparison. He didn’t think any damage had been done to Anchor’s internal organs, and neither did Anchor. But the pain killers had wiped him out and he’d fallen asleep before his head even hit the pillow.

Macro rubbed the bridge of his nose and stifled a groan, not for the first time. Things had taken a major whack, putting every one of his plans on hold. At least Switch had seen some of Raster Town to get an idea of how things worked in System. Now, Macro would have to take the bull by the horns and steer Wildcard Gamma himself if they were to have any chance of reaching Cyan Island in the next twenty-four hours.

“All done!” Cookie released Switch’s wing and stood up, beating his paws together. “Don’t go bumping it, okay?”

Switch eyed his wing cautiously and tried to fold it at his side. His face twisted with pain and instead he held it at a funny angle at his side, not quite completely tucked in place.

“Thank you,” he said, forcing a smile.

Cookie beamed. “No problem! I’ll get right on making some sitrus berry waffles! That should help us all feel better, right?”

With that, he waddled from the cockpit.

Switch tentatively flexed his wing and turned to look at Macro. Macro merely turned back to the dashboard, scanning his eyes over the complex controls.

“That thing was barely alive, was it?” Switch asked.

Macro looked over his shoulder with a start. “Huh?”

“The steelix,” said Switch. “It was barely alive.”

“It seemed pretty alive to me,” said Macro as he turned back to the controls. “But I don’t know for how much longer.”

“It didn’t even have teeth. It’s mouth was riddled with something else, instead.” Switch paused. “Is that was the toxic air does? Or is there some disease I’m not aware of?”

“It’s the air all right,” said Macro. “It rots the air ways, often resulting in tumors. That steelix were riddled with them.”

“Yet it still attacked you?”

“Yeah. Either it wanted to die, or it wanted the money from turning me in, maybe hoping it could afford the medical treatment to remove those tumors. Maybe even buy some bionic lungs.”

“Do they even exist?” Switch sounded mildly amused.

“Oh, there’s bionic everything,” said Macro with some disgust. “You name it, they’ve made it. Some wealthier types even shell out to have their organs or skeletons replaced with bionic versions.”

“I don’t see the point,” said Switch. “I mean, medically, sure, it makes sense. But pokemon just buy modifications?”

“Yup.”

“What if they have to evolve?”

“They can’t,” said Macro. “End of story. Need to use an everstone or they’d die a horrible death in the process.”

Switch tutted and shifted uneasily. “Why? I just don’t get it.”

“Fashion. Plus, if you lived in the rough areas you’d find loads of pokemon with bionic body parts. A lot of them are cowboy jobs as well. Pokemon take risks if they fear for survival. Weaker, unevolved sorts desire a quick fix to boost their strengths at the cost of their evolution. Worm is one of them. You might have seen him in Pulse City. He was young and foolish at the time. No idea what he’s had done, he’s never said, but he probably regrets the decision.” He paused. “That might be why he drinks so much.”

Switch shuddered and rose to his feet. “I’m gonna get to bed and sleep this pain off. Thanks for the nightmares.”

Macro chuckled dryly and watched the talonflame leave the room. It was just him now. Matrix was still in the kitchen ‘having a snack’. Macro was beginning to assume it was a three course meal. As for DL, he guessed she was helping out Cookie. He sighed and turned back to the controls. Still daylight, and they were wasting it drifting aimlessly in the air miles above Raster Town.

He shook his head and growled under his breath. “Where do I even begin?”

...​

Annie sat at the kitchen table, sipping at a bowl of berry soup. It was strangely bitter, and the bread to go with it was stale. But she was hungry.

Everyone else was silent, slowly tucking into their own meals. Web claimed she wasn’t the best chef, but Annie felt it impolite to agree. Instead, she said nothing. If there was one thing she remembered from her childhood, it was her mother telling her ‘if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing.’ It had taken her several months to realise she didn’t mean literally say ‘nothing’.

The goldeen poked his head out of his bucket and fixed them all with a smile.

“Do you have any sitrus berries left?” he asked. “I’m really hungry.”

“You’re gonna have to ration that appetite, Zip,” said Trojan. “We barely have enough berries for dinner.”

Annie let her bowl clatter to the table. “Then we have to get more!”

“With what money?” Trojan scoffed. “I’ve been out of work for a month now, since my bar closed down. And as for him,” he nudged Waveform with an elbow, causing him to spill soup down his feathers, “he ain’t exactly turning up with pockets full either.”

“Space pirates don’t just drop out of the sky, you know,” said the decidueye.

“Space pirates?” Annie raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” said Web. “Rebels of the skies. They steal, cheat, raid, even take lives.”

“They murder?”

Web flinched. “That’s a harsh way of wording it. They’re reckless. Accidents happen.”

“Webber should know about that,” said Trojan. “She used to be one”

Annie looked from Web to the other two pokemon, then counted things off on her claws. She looked back up with a start, turning her head back and forth between the skuntank and decidueye.

“Waitaminute,” she said.

“We have a weird relationship,” said Trojan before she could even ask her question.

“We all struggle to make rent,” said Web. “I’m no longer an active pirate. Haven’t been in two years. There’s a truce between us in exchange for helping one another out.”

Annie pointed a claw between Web and Waveform. “So I won’t have to pull you two apart, then?”

Web chuckled but Waveform picked up his bowl and closed his eyes.

“Her help is worth far more than the five hundred credits I’d get for turning her in,” he said.

Trojan grunted and folded his arms. “I’d saw my own leg off for five hundred credits. But I ain’t one to break a truce.”

Annie let her feathered limbs fall onto the table on either side of her bowl. “So life’s hard then?”

“You could say that,” said Web.

“I blame Socket,” Trojan scoffed. “Won’t help out anyone who can’t afford it. That’s why the outskirts have virtually turned to sludge.”

“Sludge, eh?” Annie scratched her chin. “Socket’s the mayor, right?”

“Yeh,” said Trojan. “The one you slapped.”

“Whoa!” Zip almost fell out of his bucket. “You slapped her?!”

“Oh, yeh, the grabby one.” Annie looked up at the ceiling in thought. “Then why don’t you just get a new mayor?”

“It ain’t as easy as that,” said Trojan.

“One would have to be voted in,” said Web. “And no one is brave enough to confront her.”

“All who have tried died trying,” said Waveform somewhat unemotionally.

“Hmm.” Annie pursed her lips. “Then we should try en-mass.”

Web and Trojan sat up bolt upright, the former with such force her chair teetered dangerously backward and she flailed her forelegs to right herself. Waveform’s bowl clattered to the floor, sloshing the remains of his soup all over the table and his feathers.

“We?!” Trojan spat. “You’re saying we should do something?!”

Annie shrugged. “You want to see an end to this struggle, right? Get a new mayor? I can offer to help you, since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. At least not until I get my Time Onion.”

“Okay.” Trojan turned in his seat and waved a paw at her. “Firstly, I’d really like to know why you suddenly believe there’s a Time Onion. But more importantly, what the jack are you suggesting?”

“I’m suggesting a rebellion.”

Web’s jaw dropped, while Trojan merely stared at her. She could see Waveform beginning to tremble over his shoulder. Was he cold? She shrugged it off and picked up her bowl to swig more of her soup.

“Okay, Annie.” Web waved her paws as though trying to calm down a tantruming child. “You need to think about what you’re saying here. A rebellion would be… Well, it would be…”

Annie looked up and smiled. “Awesome?”

“Not… quite the word I was looking for,” said the skuntank.

“Look, you said space pirates are rebels of the skies, right?” said Annie. “And from what I’ve gathered, pirates are a problem. Like rattatas back in my world. Too many of them, so humans try to execute them. Like Waveform is doing with space pirates.”

“I don’t execute them,” said Waveform. “I turn them in.”

“That, to me, says there’s a lot of them.” Annie folded her wings. “So. We’d have a lot of potential pirates to get behind us. Overwhelm the mayor.”

Everyone fell silent, staring at her slack-jawed. All except Zip. He placed his flippers on the edge of his bucket and pushed himself up so he could meet her eye.

“I can help, too,” he said. “I… because of Socket’s silly law about eating us, I lost my mum and all my brothers and sisters. My dad was killed long before we even hatched. I never met him. I… I want to see an end to all this!”

He looked away from her to meet everyone else’s gaze, his huge eyes pleading.

Web placed her face in her paw and sighed.

“You know what you’re askin’, right?” Trojan looked down at Annie. “You’re suggesting we start a war.”

“I’m suggesting we start a rebellion.” Annie folded her wings again and locked her green eyes on his. “’Rebellion’ sounds cooler.”

Waveform gave Trojan a sideways glance. “She’s right. It does sound cooler.”

Trojan, just like Web, placed his face in his paw and sighed.

“Now, if we’re gonna recruit space pirates,” said Annie, “we need to think like space pirates. How do space pirates think?”

This question was directed at Web. The skuntank ran a paw through the fur between her ears and glanced away.

“How do they think? Wow that’s a tough one. Well…” She looked thoughtful. “They steal and cheat, like I said. And given the name, they fly around in ships.”

“Like boat ships?” Annie asked.

“No, not quite. But in tribute to their traditional sea-faring ways before they took to the skies, the ships are all marine themed. A majority of them being designed after fish pokemon.”

“Like me!” Zip puffed out his chest.

Annie leant her head on her wing claws and stared at Zip. “No offense, little fish, but I don’t really want a… girly looking ship.”

The goldeen pouted his bottom lip.

“It needs to be more imposing.” Annie sat back in her chair and turned her attention to the ceiling again. “Now what kind of marine pokemon would we use?”

“Well, if you want imposing,” said Trojan, “I’d suggest a sharpedo. Most imposing pokemon in the sea.”

“Or a huntail,” said Waveform.

“No, no! Kyogre!” Zip thrashed with excitement, spilling water onto the tiles.

“Kyogre don’t exist!” Trojan snapped.

Annie pointed a claw and her eyes widened. “Pyukumuku!”

Everyone went slack-jawed again.

“What’s imposing about a pyukumuku?” Trojan scoffed. “You poke them and they spit!”

“Yes! Spit like a rebel!” Annie laughed.

“Come on, if you wanna do this, be serious!”

“I am being serious!” Annie rammed her claws onto the table top. “We are having a ship designed to look like a pyukumuku! And y’all will like it!”

Trojan crossed his arms and sulked.

“Now, how do we make it?” Annie asked. “I guess ourselves, right?”

“You need the materials,” said Web. “Which are expensive, and we don’t have any scrap metal lying around.”

“You said pirates steal, though, right? So we’ll just have to get some.”

“Don’t go thieving,” said Waveform. “I’ll get the metal.”

The decidueye pushed his bowl away and stood up from the table, marching silently from the room.

“He’s gonna go turn in some pirates,” said Trojan with a chuckle. “Oh, the irony.”

“I never said we were space pirates,” said Annie. “We’re merely masquerading. You a good artist?”

He eyed her with a sideways glance and frowned. “I throw graffiti up around Spool City. So yeh, I’d say so.”

“And you can build things?”

“I’ve dabbled with engines here and there.” The scrafty tried his best to not look smug.

“Good. Design me my pyukumuku ship and I’ll make you my chief engineer.”

Trojan stood up so violently his chair fell backwards with a clatter and skittered across the floor. He stuffed his paws into his baggy trouser-like fur and stomped from the kitchen muttering something about pyukumuku under his breath.

Annie beamed and struck the table with both paws. “Meeting adjourned!”

Web stood up straight beside the bucket, holding a wet towel in her paws. Zip was diving up and down, splashing yet more water onto the floor with cries of ‘yay! Rebellion!’

The skuntank shook her head sadly. “I don’t know about this, Annie.”

Annie climbed from her seat, not taking her eyes off the larger pokemon.

“You want this mayor gone, right?” she asked.

Web rung the towel absently, draining the water back onto the tiles. “I think we all do.”

“Well then. Let’s ride this ship to freedom and clean air.”

With that, she strutted from the room to find something a pirate might wear. A space pirate wouldn’t look the part in a white hospital robe.

...​

It had taken Macro the whole of an hour to figure out how to firstly get Wildcard Gamma moving, and also how to keep it moving in a straight line. It didn’t help that Anchor’s chair was significantly lower down than his own, and he’d had to crank it up to its full height and stand on it in order to reach the controls. He muttered under his breath about size discrimination then fell onto his bottom, running his paw over his face. At least it was moving now, hopefully in the right direction.

There was absolutely no way he was going to try and figure out the navigation system, too. He wasn’t exactly oblivious when it came to computers, or maps, but he’d had enough for one day. It was moving in the vague direction of Cyan City. He’d worry more about getting it right on target later. Right now, he was emotionally and mentally exhausted.

With the hum of the engine as his only company, he found all those niggling thoughts clearing from his mind. Humans, time pockets, BackDoor, DL… It was like white noise, blocking out everything else and replacing it with peace. He began to feel himself being lulled to sleep. He shuffled down in the over-sized seat and closed his eyes, letting the dull drone drag him into a light slumber.

It was a seemingly uneventful dream that followed. Wildcard Gamma was flying through System Sky, but there was nothing there. No cities. No other ships. Just blackness. Despite the lack of anything, it all felt tranquil.

They flew along for what felt like hours, just cruising through the night sky. Random banter erupted between Anchor and Matrix, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. He was aware of Switch dozing behind them, and DL pressing up against his side, but nothing bothered him. Everything was just… ordinary.

Then something flickered in the distance like a star. Macro’s eyes flew to it, realising there had been no stars at all up until that point. Just one light, flickering in the darkness.

Then it grew, blinding him and sending him off his chair onto the floor.

His eyes flew open, and he found himself lying on the cockpit floor, his fur covered in a slick sweat. Yet that strange dazzling light remained on his vision, slowly fading out until it left a small dazzle spot that looked like the combination of a flower and a sun, its rays extending off it and alternating in size, narrowing towards the end like petals.

He rubbed his eyes to remove the lingering effects and pushed himself back to his feet.

What on earth was that? It had been like any other mellow dream up until that point. His shoulder hurt where he’d landed on it, and it pulsed as he strained to pull himself back into the driver’s seat. Maybe he should have lowered it first.

Forget it. He was gonna take his own comfortable seat, or go to bed. One or the other.

As he looked out of the window, he realised it was still daylight. A quick check of his computer told him it was growing closer to dinner time. He’d only been asleep a few minutes.

That didn’t make sense.

He rubbed at his eyes again and stared out of the window, shielding them from the brightness as the sun reflected off the surface of the fluffy white clouds.

Despite how much he tried to rub it away, he could still see that sun-like spot.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Fortunately, Cookie knew a thing or two about first aid. The brown slurpuff sat with his tongue poked between his lips as he fastened the splints in place around Switch’s wing. The talonflame grimaced, but at least his screaming and groaning had come to an end.
Don't worry, Switch, if I had a giant, living cake trying to fix my broken/dislocated limb, I'd be screaming too. I'll stop before Sike gets mad at me for stealing his jokes.

More bionic limb reasoning/rationale. Though, in a PMD-style, trainer-less universe, wouldn't it be harder for the average Pokémon to just evolve. Then again, this is super futuristic System, so I'll bet they sell evolution-inducing drugs on the black market or something. But if they did, what would be the point of the bionic limbs and agggh... I think I just gave myself a headache here. The point is that, as much of a stubborn prick as Macro's being right now, I'm waiting for Switch's optimism to give out and him to finally admit that Macro's right and this version of System doesn't have redeemable values.

There's something very strange about Annie casually suggesting a rebellion, only to then talk about Time Onions. And then to refer to one as awesome. I guess she was watching too many movies while she was all locked up? Which is all the more confirmed by her half-baked plan to masquerade as a space pirate with an odd choice of ship. I'm interested in seeing how, if at all, you're going to incorporate Pyukumuku's Innards Out into a spaceship. I say that since the Schooling bit for Wildcard Gamma is very inventive; gives me high expectations.

And the ending bit is... interesting. Clearly foreshadowing for something very screwy that's going to happen. The mention of suns and bright spots makes me think Solgaleospace kitty is going to show up at some point (because Ultra Beasts). Alternatively, Xurkitree. But I'm probably jumping to conclusions here.
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
More bionic limb reasoning/rationale. Though, in a PMD-style, trainer-less universe, wouldn't it be harder for the average Pokémon to just evolve.
Pokemon can evolve in the PMD games, and in the wild in the main series games, so I'm just going off that. I guess they evolve by practicing combat and play fighting.

There's something very strange about Annie casually suggesting a rebellion, only to then talk about Time Onions.
This statement made me laugh XD Annie is rather strange, it has to be said.

I'm interested in seeing how, if at all, you're going to incorporate Pyukumuku's Innards Out into a spaceship. I say that since the Schooling bit for Wildcard Gamma is very inventive; gives me high expectations.
Thank you =D I have big plans for that pyukumuku. You'll have to wait and see ;)

Chapter Twenty Seven​


Macro hadn’t slept again since that dream. He’d been wide awake, even after the sun had set. The dazzling light in his eyes had subsided, although it had taken a while. System Sky was now as dark as it always was at night, dotted with twinkling stars that he couldn’t help but obsess over.

It was just a dream. He knew it was just a dream. Yet every time a star caught his eye, he stared at it, nearly daring it to flash and dazzle him.

Just a dream.

One of the bedroom doors opened and he leapt in his seat, turning his head and straining his ears. Heavy footsteps. Anchor. Yet Macro’s fur was still on end.

The granbull yawned and strode into the cockpit, and his eyes opened wide when they fell on the mawile.

“Cap’n?” Anchor seemed to be questioning whether or not he was still asleep.

“Yeh, it’s me.” Macro turned and leant back in his chair. “I’ve been watching the cockpit. No sense in risking us crashing into a city.”

“You could always have set it on auto,” said Anchor. “Circle somewhere inconspicuously for a while, you know?”

“I don’t know how to set that up,” said Macro. “And Matrix had gone to bed before I could even think to ask him.”

“Coulda woke me, I’d have done it real quick.”

Macro waved a paw. “That was out of the question.”

“Anyway. You should get some sleep.” Anchor narrowed his eyes at him. “Otherwise you’ll be nodding off trying to fight off soldiers in Cyan City.”

That was a very good point.

Macro slid from his seat, mumbling a thanks to the granbull before marching from the room. He paused in the doorway and looked back over his shoulder.

“How’re your stitches?” The words surprised him as they left his mouth.

Anchor gave a belly laugh and shook his head. “I’m fine, Cap’n. I’ll be by your side tomorrow, fists ‘n’ all.”

Macro smiled and chuckled nervously before leaving the cockpit. He hadn’t even been asking that. For some reason, he’d merely felt the urge to check up on his first in command… without even thinking.

Was he turning paranoid?

He ran a paw over his scar and paused by the rest room. Maybe a shower was what he needed to clear his head.

Tugging off his belt, he strolled into the room and tossed it aside on the unit. Lavender scented water cascaded down, soaking into his fur, and he realised all too late he’d forgotten to remove his scarf. He cursed silently under his breath and wrenched the now-sodden black scarf from his shoulders and launched it across the room.

What had got into his head?

Once the shower was off, he collected his discarded garment under one arm and his belt under the other, and made his way to his room. Hopefully he’d remember which one it was.

Thankfully he did.

Once the scarf was hanging over the foot of his bed frame, he climbed under the sheets and tried to summon sleep.

Unfortunately, it didn’t come. His attempt was wrought with racing thoughts and much tossing and turning. After that dream, nothing felt normal. Things felt… different… and he couldn’t place what had changed.

Paranoia didn’t even seem an appropriate word to use.

The moment daylight leaked from his window, he abandoned all efforts to sleep and dragged himself out of bed.

His scarf was still soggy, and had even left a nice pool of lavender scented water on his tiled floor. He opened his draw to search for a spare and let out a groan. The only one left was worn and tattered. His first one, if he remembered correctly, and it smelled of must.

He looked over at the chair, still sporting the neatly-folded package Switch had given him. Black. With blue squares at either end, drifting away from their black and blue brick-like formation to meet in the middle as though they were being pulled apart by some invisible force.

Two colours wasn’t that bad.

He let out a defeated sigh and grabbed the new scarf, tossing it over his shoulders like he always did. It was a little longer than his chosen scarves, but nevertheless, it kept his tiny form neatly disguised.

He almost threw himself from his room, and stomped his way towards the cockpit. Anchor raised an eyebrow at him and fixed him with a look of concern.

“Wow, Cap’n. You’re up early.”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Macro climbed into his seat and fastened the seatbelt over his waist.

Anchor shook his head slowly and turned back to his controls. “Well, I sure hope you’re fit for battle. ‘Cos we’re almost at Cyan City.”

“I’ll be fine.” Macro brushed back a lock of long black fur from his eyes and sighed. “How long?”

“About an hour. Enough time to grab a quick breakfast, unless you wanna hover over the city for a while. Give us time to prepare.”

“No. In and out.” Macro leant back in his seat and disguised hugging himself as ‘folding his arms.’

“You all right, Cap’n?”

Dang. It hadn’t fooled Anchor in the slightest. Macro sighed again and shook his head.

“I’m fine. Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

“Really, Cap’n-”

“I said I’m fine!” He flashed his canines at the granbull.

Anchor shook his head and looked back out of the window. “If you say so.”

Macro couldn’t take much more. He unfastened his seatbelt and dropped from his seat, aggravating his sore shoulder. He’d completely forgotten about that.

The kitchen was filled with inviting smells and Cookie looked up with a start when he entered. He clutched a ladle in one paw, hovering it over a pan as it dripped melted chocolate back into it. Macro’s stomach rumbled and he grabbed his usual seat at the table.

“It’ll be a while yet,” said Cookie. “You’re up mad early!”

“Just serve me whatever’s ready first,” said Macro, slumping over the table with his head in one paw.

“Okie dokie!” Cookie began to spoon the chocolate sauce into a bowl.

Macro watched curiously. Was this some kind of new recipe, or a joke at his statement? He couldn’t tell.

The bowl was popped down before him, complete with a side of cookies.

The slurpuff beamed. “Chocolate dip with cookies! Bit of an improv, but… the sauce was ready first, so…”

Macro wasn’t going to complain. He was hungry and the combination sounded oddly tempting. He picked up one cookie - complete with its own chocolate chips - and dipped it into the steaming chocolate. One bite and he practically swooned.

Cookie let out a sigh of relief. “I was really worried you were gonna throw it back at me!”

Macro chuckled and waved the slurpuff away. “Get back to your cooking, all’s good here.”

Cookie waddled back to his stove and continued working away, stirring at something Macro couldn’t identify from the table.

As he moved onto his second cookie, the door opened and DL looked around, her nose twitching at the different smells. Her eyes fell on Macro and his ‘breakfast’ and she raised an eyebrow.

“That’s an odd combination,” she said. “Is it one of Cookie’s latest creations?”

“It is now!” the slurpuff quipped.

DL pulled up a seat and waved at the chef. “I’d like some too, please.”

“Coming right up!”

Macro stared at DL, his chocolate-coated cookie hovering mere millimeters from his lips. His appetite had been shot in the gut, replaced by some fluttery feeling he really didn’t want. He grabbed his bowl and plate of cookies, and headed straight out of the kitchen.

“Wait! Where are you going?” DL asked.

“I’ll eat this in the cockpit,” he said. “You stay right there and enjoy your breakfast.”

He didn’t see the pachirisu’s reaction. He didn’t want to. He just wanted to put as much distance between DL and himself as possible.

And if that meant spilling chocolate all over the ship’s controls, so be it. He’d explain to Anchor later.

...​

Cyan City floated miles below them, its vibrant lakes reflecting the blue of the sky. The lakes were by no means natural, but Cyan City tried to make them look as if they were. Surrounded with stone, they gave the pokemon-made structures a natural feel, and that was also aided by the berry bushes that grew in abundance, maintained by the clean air pumped up and filtered through from System Ground. Wild trees didn’t exist. Everything was cultivated, grown only in areas that had clean air and the pokemon willing to farm them.

As Macro dropped down on the neon ladder, the pokemon below came into view. Marill and azurill gathered around the lakes, harvesting berries into the backs of small trucks. Squirtle played in the lake along with froakie and mudkip. Totodile and croconaw basked on the rugged rocks.

Macro diverted his gaze to the horizon. Tall skyscrapers. A common sight. Above them rotated tall, white windmills, generating the city’s electricity via the air. Fortunately they generated more than the air conditioning used.

His feet touched the ground, hidden away from the working and playing pokemon. Anchor landed beside him and quickly checked his wrist computer.

“Location is right nearby,” he said. “It’s stored on the second floor of a storehouse. Usually stores berries and food produce. Bit of an odd location if you ask me.”

“Maybe Socket was desperate,” said Macro.

Anchor shrugged. “Maybe she thought it would throw you. Be a good disguise.”

“Or this place is the red herring.” Macro scratched his scar and sighed. “Oh well, we’re here now. Let’s get it over with.”

“What’s the rush?” Anchor fell into step behind him, glancing over at the workers beyond the bushes. “You seem rather hasty today.”

“I’m not hasty, I just want this job done.” Macro grit his teeth together. “Then we can finally get back to a normal life.”

“You’re talkin’ about DL?” Anchor asked. “Or Switch?”

“Switch doesn’t need these memories,” said Macro with some venom. “Nevertheless, I’ll be glad when we’ve got him back home, too.”

“This is all wiggin’ you out, ain’t it?” Anchor scratched at his stitches and his face twisted in a way that said he regretted it.

“Kind of.”

“Kind of?”

“Look, I don’t wanna talk about it.” Macro waved him off. “Forget it. Let’s focus, shall we? We’re gonna end up drawing attention to ourselves.”

Anchor fell silent, his heavy footsteps the only reassurance Macro had that he hadn’t bailed on him. The mawile clenched his paw beside his gun and looked over at the lake. No one had spotted them. Fortunately.

“Peaceful, ain’t it?” Anchor asked.

Macro looked over his shoulder. The granbull’s eyes were on the lake, his paws clasped behind his head.

“You wouldn’t think they were currently at war,” said Anchor. “Makes one glad it’s only on a small scale.”

Macro nodded but his paw didn’t leave his laser. If they got caught up in the water type pokemon’s war, he wanted to be prepared. He flexed his claws, keeping his ears and eyes open as they moved silently towards the city’s depths.

As they reached the end of their cover, he faltered, scanning the streets around the lake. It wasn’t as busy as Binary City. Few places were. But he had to remind himself he was no longer safe in System Sky. His reward had spread. Anyone could turn him in now unless they were a pirate.

That reminder left a bad taste in his mouth.

Anchor’s sturdy paw fell onto his back and nudged him forwards. The granbull’s eyes were on a young family across the lake - a mother slowbro ushering her two children along. Even if they spotted Macro they wouldn’t be able to keep up with him.

He darted from his hiding spot and paused at the corner of the road leading into the city. With his back pressed against the cold stone wall of an apartment block, he searched the road. Windows. Doorways. Only the odd pokemon, most of them heading away from the lake towards the centre of the city. Many of them carried re-usable shopping bags.

The city centre… that would be where they’d have the hardest time, he could smell it. His paw went to his pouch and he considered strongly adding the electric laser capsule to one of his trusty lasers. Water wasn’t exactly a weakness, but would it be ethical to add it? He didn’t need it. He always had his grass laser to fall back on if need be.

He cursed under his breath, drawing Anchor’s attention. Macro scratched his neck beneath his scarf. He’d never considered ethics before. Usually if he had a new laser capsule he’d use it, no questions asked. Or sell it.

Maybe he should sell it.

Flicking his right laser to grass, he marched down the road, keeping his eyes ahead but his ears open to his surroundings. The quicker they got to the facility the faster they could get the memory disk and leave.

Childlike laughter reached his ears, accompanied by the irregular hollow thud of a ball bouncing off walls. He glanced down a wide alley, spotted the culprits. A pair of oshawott twins chasing after an orange ball designed to look like a giant sitrus berry. Keeping an air of nonchalance, he crossed the road and put the giggling children behind him.

Then a sweet smell reached his nostrils.

His nose twitched and he raised his head to follow the smell. It was oddly irresistible, yet he couldn’t place it. Every building along the road was an apartment block. No bakeries in sight. No restaurants. His only assumption was that it was coming from a window or air vent. He tried to ignore it, but his nose kept going back to the air and his head turned almost involuntarily.

Anchor was in no better state. He’d turned a full one-eighty and stared back towards the alleyway.

“We should have packed snacks,” said Macro.

“It ain’t food, Cap’n.”

Macro licked his watering lips and returned to the granbull’s side. “What is it then?”

“You know when Cookie is in a real bad mood and starts to sweat?”

It wasn’t the most attractive image, but Macro nodded anyway.

“Well, it’s like that,” said Anchor.

“So someone’s baking pokepuffs. Let’s get a move on.”

It was easier said than done. All Macro wanted to do was retrace his steps to find the source of that smell.

“It ain’t pokepuffs,” said Anchor. “Like I said, it ain’t food.”

Macro looked up at him with a start. He hadn’t noticed earlier, but Anchor wasn’t all that interested in the smell itself. It hadn’t pulled him in like it had Macro. Anchor’s brow was furrowed as he stared back at the alleyway. He wanted to know what was causing it. No… he knew.

It was blindingly obvious now.

Macro’s paw shot to his laser and he pushed past the granbull.

“Wait, Cap’n.” Anchor grabbed his shoulder. “I’ll go help the kids. You go and get that disk.”

Macro looked from the alley to Anchor, then towards the city. A space pirate looks out for number one. He wasn’t going to get caught up in the water pokemon’s war. Besides, what would a grass type want with a pair of oshawott barely out of their eggs?

Yet he refused to relinquish his laser.

Anchor met his eyes and his jaw set in place. “Look. I know it ain’t what we usually do, but I can’t ignore kids in trouble, Cap’n. And I know-”

“We don’t look out for others,” Macro said, emotionless. “It only comes back to bite you in the ***.”

His eyes drifted again to the alley. To the source of that smell. Then he rolled his eyes and struck Anchor in the hip with his laser.

“Come on,” he said.

If he’d looked away fast enough he’d have missed the look of surprise that flashed across the granbull’s eyes. The larger pokemon followed him closely back towards the alley, keeping up with Macro’s brisk trot.

No more laughing. No more bouncing ball. Instead, the sitrus-like sphere lay motionless in the middle of the road. The scene was like something from a horror movie. As he stood staring at it, their laughter echoed in his head and sent shivers down his spine.

Whoever had taken them had either been incredibly stealthy, or invisible.

Then he realised that smell had gone. His spine stiffened and he looked up, fixing wide eyes on the back of the alley.

That smell had been a lure, like it had almost lured him in. Yet it had had little to no effect on Anchor. Targeted. The kids were targeted.

He grit his teeth together, letting out a low growl, and cocked his laser beside his head.

It was like the Analogue Isles all over again. A lone kid drawn in by an irresistible signal. A cry for help that had ended three lives and almost claimed two children.

Almost claimed his own.

He shoved the thought aside and focused on following the non-existent trail through the alley, being careful not to nudge the ball. Any sound would be detrimental, and he needed complete silence if he was going to pinpoint the kids’ invisible abductor.

Anchor snuffled and lifted his head.

“Keep going,” he whispered.

“You can smell it?” Macro replied.

Anchor nodded. “Trail’s faint, but it’s there.”

Macro gave a curt nod and pressed on, daring not to breathe. The end of the alley seemed oddly ominous, when just moments before it had been a place of fun. He half expected to see blood on the walls or hear a whimper coming from a trash can.

“Giga! Gigi!”

Macro leapt out of his skin, spinning on the spot to aim his gun towards the alleyway mouth. A dewott stood with her back to them, shouting into the streets. Great. The mother. He grimaced. Any chance they had of catching the culprit had been shot in the foot.

Anchor groaned and slammed a paw into his head.

“You deal with it,” Macro spat. “I’m gonna find those kids.”

Anchor pointed a thick claw at the dewott and his eyes widened. “You want me to go and talk to her?”

“Yeh. Use your words.” Macro turned his back on him and crept further into the alley.

“Okay.” Anchor was hesitant and he cleared his throat. “I’ll think of something to say. Shout if you need me.”

“You come straight back,” Macro hissed. “I ain’t doin’ this alone.”

...​

The young dewott looked close to tears, her paw clasped at her mouth as her black eyes searched the empty road. Anchor had no idea what to say to her. He moved slowly, keeping one paw raised as he reached her.

“Excuse me, ma’am.”

The dewott span on the spot and her eyes bulged. Clearly she wasn’t expecting to see a fairy type in Cyan City, let alone a space pirate. Her jaw dropped and her scream died in her throat as Anchor hushed her, waving his paws in a desperate bid to calm her down.

“Are you lookin’ for two kids?” he blurted out.

Her mouth snapped shut and she nodded, eying him suspiciously. Then she looked past him and her cold look melted as tears filled her eyes.

“That’s their ball…” Her voice choked. “Where are they?”

“That’s the thing,” said Anchor. “We don’t know.”

“We?”

Anchor waved her question away. “They were right there, playin’ as we passed. Then there was this smell. Almost drew my Cap’n away until I told him it weren’t food.”

“A smell?” The dewott looked up at him again and blinked her tears back. There was that look of suspicion again. “What kind of smell?”

“I dunno. A sweet one?”

Her eyes widened and she pushed past him, but he reached around and grabbed her by the arm.

“Let me go!” she barked.

“You go after them, you might ruin everything! Calm down! I’m tryin’ to help you here!”

“Help me?” Her eyes went from his face to his gauntlets and back. “Aren’t you a pirate?”

“I admit, ma’am, I ain’t exactly here with good intentions. But I ain’t heartless enough to ignore a pair of missing kids.” He paused, watching her eyes go from cold to tearful again. “Now. You gonna accept our help or not?”

“They’re my babies…” She glanced back down the alley and her voice croaked. “I guess I don’t have much choice. But who is this other mysterious pirate?”

“You know him as Hunter.”

Anchor raised an eyebrow as a look of fury flashed across her eyes, but it was quickly replaced by tears again as she fidgeted her paws together, looking back down the alley.

“He… he’s gone after them?” Her voice was hesitant.

“Yeh.” Anchor paused and cleared his throat. “You still want his help? ‘Cos I can nearly guarantee you those kids will come out of this alive.”

“How? He’s dangerous.”

“That’s exactly why. He might be crazy and take a lot of risks, but he gets the job done.” Anchor folded his arms and smiled. “You want our help or not? ‘Cos I need to get back in there. He’s relyin’ on my nose.”
 
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