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System:Reboot (PMD)

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
As for the Switch part. This is probably the most threatening I've ever seen Sweet Scent manage to be in the fics I've read so far. And combining it with some sort of massive power aplication device to cause a ton of damage is pretty cool. His plan is practically Macro-levels of reckless. But I do lack that Tropius' larger frame is used to cause some serious damage in this battle. It's a nice use of a Pokémon attirbutes (and Dex characteristics) to do stuff beyond their typical learning movesets. And, at least, it's interesting given how a lot of the more creative battling elements so far have been related to the tech in System, as opposed to Pokémon characteristics. What I'm saying is, it's a nice change of pace. ^^
Thanks! =D I was worried by creative license spin on Sweet Scent might not go down too well here. I'm glad you liked it. Also, toying around with technology and pokemon moves is a LOT of fun! I'm really loving merging cyberpunk with PMD! XD

Chapter Thirty Six​

Macro could still hear the commotion coming from the square, and it was far behind him. Screams, crashes, explosions… He ventured a glance over his shoulder, spotting the thick dust cloud over the tops of the tower blocks. What on earth was going on back there? Were Anchor and Switch okay? He swallowed dryly and joined Jumper’s side.

“I think he went in here,” said the frogadier.

“You serious?” Macro scratched his nose. “It’s an apartment block.”

“I know,” said Jumper. “That’s what worries me. Why’s he gone into an apartment block?”

“You sure you ain’t mistaken?”

Jumper looked hesitant as he eyed the huge white building. “I don’t know. But I’m sure I saw him enter through the door.”

“It’s card key activated, right?”

“Yes.”

Macro placed a paw on his hip and stared at the card key panel. Had the ivysaur hacked it? That was always a possibility. He pulled out his pocket computer and held it up to the panel.

“What are you doing?” Jumper asked.

“There’s two answers to that question,” said Macro. “Firstly, I’m checking to see if there’s any damage or evidence left behind from someone busting through its coding. Secondly, I’m hackin’ my way in.”

“You’re not just going to run in guns blazing?” Jumper snorted. “I thought that was more your style.”

“As much as I get a thrill from combat, I don’t quite like buildings burning down around me.”

“I find that quite hard to believe, given your reputation.”

“Really?” Macro fired him a sideways glare. “You ever been in a burning building?”

Jumper was silent for a moment, then he sighed. “Well, I guess I’m more equipped to putting out a fire than you are.”

“Aye. Water lasers are pretty shoddy when it comes to dousing flames.” Macro scrolled through the jumbled text on his computer screen. “They can make a charizard run for the hills, however. Aha!” His face lit up with a grin. “Looks like you were right, Gov. Some sneaky fool’s cracked their way in, and done a bad job of it n’all. It’s about as obvious as a burglar leaving a smashed window and upturned bedroom.”

“Are you saying you could have done a better job?”

“Eh, I ain’t no hacker. I’d have made a mess n’all.” Macro paused and gave the frogadier a sly smile. “Besides, I like other pokemon to know I’ve visited. Means they’ll know I’m on to them.”

The card panel beeped and the doors rattled open along their runners.

“Wretched grass type has wrecked the doors,” muttered Jumper.

“No, that was me.” Macro pocketed his computer and laughed. “Told you I do a shoddy job.”

“Seriously,” Jumper groaned. “If you weren’t offering to catch this criminal, I’d make you pay for the damage.”

Macro chuckled and trotted into the building. The walls were as white inside as they were outside, and chrome hand rails ran up the sides of the stair wells. Typical of most buildings the stairs were a little too high for Macro to scramble up. He eyed them warily then turned on the spot until he found a sign for the elevator.

“No idea what floor he might have fled to?” Macro asked Jumper.

The governor scratched his head and sighed. “Not a clue. I’d take the stairs and ask for witnesses.”

“I can’t climb those stairs.” Macro tried to hide any sign of regret. “We’ll need to take the elevator.”

“But he could get past us if he knew we were following him.”

Macro shrugged. “If he knew we were taking the stairs he could just as easily take the elevator.”

“Split up?”

Macro met the frogadier’s eyes. Sincere. Did he actually trust him? The thought made Macro feel a little funny inside, and it wasn’t exactly a bad kind of funny.

He cleared his throat and diverted his gaze to the stair well. “I guess I could take the elevator if you can handle the stairs. You ain’t much taller than me, so…”

“I can jump. Also.” Jumper reached under a panel beside the stair well and flicked a switch. The far left of each step popped open and let out a smaller step, increasing their number but making the climb much more manageable. “We don’t discriminate in Cyan City.”

Macro’s face split into a smile and he folded his arms, fixing the frogadier with one eye. “System Ground could learn a thing or two from you.”

“So.” Jumper inclined his head on one side, but he met Macro’s smile with one of his own. “Which are you taking? Stairs or elevator?”

“Hmm. The elevator does bring its own element of surprise,” said Macro. “And I gotta say, I don’t think witnesses are gonna be all that willing to talk to me, and I’m not too happy talkin’ to them either. Price on my head and all that jazz.”

“So I’ll take the stairs then?” Jumper nodded. “In that case, take care, Hunter.”

“You too, Gov.” Macro pulled his laser from its holster and flicked it around in his claws. He turned his head towards the elevator and nodded. “I’m gonna go straight to the top and work my way down. My guess is he might be waitin’ for a ship.”

“Well, if you chase him down we can corner him. Here.” Jumper reached into his belt pocket and whipped out a card. “This is my contact information. You spot him, you call me.”

Macro frowned slightly then reached into his own pouch. He tugged out a small notepad and pen, then scrawled out his own number before exchanging it with Jumper’s.

“Likewise,” he said. “See ya in the melee, Gov.”

The mawile turned and sprinted to the elevator, that funny feeling still heavy in his gut. As much as it made him feel warm inside, part of him wanted to get rid of it. In his line of work, trust often led to pain.

The elevator doors slid open silently and he slipped inside. As he watched them close after him, he caught Jumper’s lithe blue form bounding up the stairs two at a time. He silently wished him luck and braced himself for the inevitable battle, watching each number light up as the elevator carried him towards the roof top.

Ten, eleven, twelve…

The chime as it reached his destination made him jump out of his skin. He berated himself for being a nervous wreck and held his gun to his chest as the doors opened. Cold air beat his face, carried down the drafty corridor. A set of grey stairs ran up towards a door that betrayed the modern look of the apartment block. The alarm bar across it was locked in place, keeping the door firmly shut despite the breeze.

Macro’s first thought was to seek out the panel that would adjust the stairs, but the small flight was already equipped for smaller pokemon. An emergency feature to save time should the building need to be evacuated. He hopped up them and paused at the door, listening for any sign of life. With one kick, it flew open, an the alarm resounded throughout the entire apartment. He cursed under his breath and turned away from the roof top. No one had been through that door. If they had, the entire building would be in an uproar.

Unless…

He peered out onto the roof. Empty. Carefully he closed the door and let the alarm bar fall back into place, but the siren kept on blaring out regardless. If Root had no idea he was being hunted, he did now.

Grumbling under his breath, Macro bounded back down the stairs and made for the stairwell beside the elevator. This time there was a panel, and he pushed the lever to adjust the stairs to his liking. As convenient as it was, it wasn’t exactly a time saving method, nor a silent one. Maybe for the next flight he’d slide down the hand rail.

Before he reached the next level, voices reached his ears. He paused and peered through the railings, watching a sea of colourful bodies flooding down the stairs. The entire building’s water pokemon population were fleeing for their lives, but one voice rang out clearer than the others.

‘…orderly fashion. I repeat, make your way to the ground floor exit in an orderly fashion.’

Macro smirked and looked up at the speaker poking out of the corner of the ceiling. Jumper was a quick thinker to use Macro’s blunder with the alarm to his advantage. There was also no way Root would risk trying to blend in with the water types. That ivysaur would be lurking somewhere, most likely taking advantage of the evacuated rooms.

Macro waited for the final stragglers to leave the floor then hopped over the last few steps. His heart sank as he looked down the corridor at the row of apartments, noting the neat bends as the corridor forked off to the left and right.

Huge.

Where did he even begin?

He considered bringing up a map of the apartment block for easier navigation, but doing so would cost valuable time. Instead, he raced down the corridor, pausing to check each room. As he reached the third one, he wished desperately he had a heat tracker. It would make searching for a hidden pokemon a lot easier.

He faltered at the end of the corridor, turning his head left and right. Both corridors looked identical, save for a wreath of artificial berries nailed to one of the doors. Both ended at a dead end, complete with a large window looking out over the rooftops of Cyan City. Keeping his ears pricked, he checked the rooms on the left, then the right. Nothing in any of them.

As he retraced his footsteps, he muttered to himself, feeling his heart sink further and further. Somehow, the whole thing felt like a wild zangoose chase.

The double doors swung wildly as he raced through them. He grabbed onto the hand rail and spun himself down the stairs. Each flight had been adjusted after the evacuation, making things a lot easier. He leapt over the last few steps onto the eleventh floor, then the building shook. He lost his footing and landed in a sprawl, his snout smooshing onto the tiled floor. The tremor subsided as suddenly as it had happened, and Macro lifted his head, rubbing his snore nose with a paw. His gun had skittered towards the wall and he scrambled to retrieve then climbed to his feet.

“What on earth was that?” he asked as he looked around.

Light flickered up the stairs and he leant through the railings to look at the corridor below. One of the lights was blinking on and off erratically, damaged by the sudden shock. His mind leapt to explosion. Two of the storehouses had already been attacked. But why an apartment block? Was there a storehouse nearby, and the towering building had been caught in the aftermath?

He turned away from the stairs to search the rooms, but as he reached the double doors his nose twitched. The faintest smell of smoke…

He looked back at the stairwell. That flickering light seemed even more sinister now. If he could smell smoke, the building might be on fire. Had the explosion come from the apartment block? Had it even been a bomb, or a weapon’s misfire?

He clutched his laser tightly and gave one last glance down the corridor. If the building was on fire, he couldn’t exactly stay inside it. He tutted loudly and spun towards the stairs, taking two at a time. The smell of smoke grew heavier, confirming his suspicions that it wasn’t coming from outside. Each corridor he passed seemed to beckon, mocking him for not seeing his job through to the end. They could mock him all they wanted. He wasn’t going to stay in a burning building, and neither was that ivysaur. It would be suicide for the both of them.

His feet skidded over the tiles of the fifth floor and his eyes widened with fear. Heavy smoke billowed up from the fourth, curling up towards the floor above him. How had he not noticed that? His heart hammered in his throat and he glanced down the corridor. Dead ends at either end. One flight of stairs for the entire apartment block. How was that even possible?

Of course… water types. They could fight fires as they escaped. But if one end collapsed…?

He shook his head and threw himself into the smoke. Something crashed into him, sending him sprawling onto his back. The jagged edge of a step struck him in the back of the head and he yelped, almost dropping his gun. A gasp came from above him, and a heavy paw pressed into his chest. Macro blinked his eyes, bringing them back into focus. The grinning face of an ivysaur stared down at him and a dry chuckle came from his throat.

“Boy oh boy!” the ivysaur laughed. “This is my lucky day!”

Macro snorted and tried to push the reptile’s huge foot away. “I’d hardly call being stuck in a burning building your ‘lucky day’.”

“Oh, I do. Because everything is going according to plan. Create a distraction, and flee to the roof top where Spider will come and get me. But look at this! I run into forty thousand credits on the way!”

The ivysaur roared with laughter, his peppery breath spraying Macro in the face. Spider. That was the tropius the ivysaur had called on for back up. Not the carnivine as Macro had first thought.

“Let me guess,” said Macro. “Root, right?” He chuckled and lifted his paw to aim the laser at the ivysaur’s ribs. “Today ain’t as lucky as you thought it might be. Not for you, anyway.”

Root’s eyes flashed towards Macro’s laser. The ivysaur’s left paw smacked Macro’s arm aside and pinned it, sending his laser tumbling down the stairs. Root’s leering face locked back onto Macro’s and split into a smirk.

“I don’t think so, little mawile,” he said.

The building shook, sending the ivysaur sprawling on top of Macro. Pain radiated through his ribs and his head smashed into the step yet again. He groaned and shoved Root up off him, but his heavy paw didn’t leave his chest.

“Look,” Macro groaned. “This whole building is gonna go up in flames, and if it does neither of us are gonna get paid.”

“Paid?” Root laughed. “So Cyan City got so desperate they hired a space pirate? Such filth…”

“Filth?” Macro’s muzzle creased and he fixed his dazed eyes on Root in what he hoped was an intimidating glare. “You turn innocent bug pokemon into mindless eating machines and you think you have the right to call the pokemon in this city ‘filth’?!”

Root laughed and shook his head. “Anyone who hires someone like you to do their dirty work is filth. Turning some wretched bugs into tools is nothing compared to what you do, shrimp.”

Tools? Macro grit his teeth together so tight it hurt. That was it. That ivysaur had drawn his last straw. Macro braced himself, pulling his feet up to his chest. Every step beneath him jabbed his spine, but he screwed his eyes shut trying to ignore the pain. Then he brought his feet into Root’s gut.

The ivysaur grunted and staggered back. Then his mouth formed a neat ‘o’ as he fell backwards away from Macro. Root hit each step with a grunt, and Macro pushed himself up, rubbing the back of his head as he watched the ivysaur land in a sprawl on the floor beneath him. Macro’s laser lay only three steps away. He snatched it up, wincing as a searing pain stabbed through his back. He made a mental note not to lie on stairs ever again.

Root staggered to his feet and fixed Macro with a glare. But the glare melted away into a snicker and the grass pokemon bolted away from him towards the floor below.

Macro stuttered, teetering on the steps as he watched the ivysaur vanish into the black smoke.

“Wait!” he roared. “What are you doing, you moron?!”

Smoke filled his mouth and nose and he choked, beating it away from his face with a paw. The urge to give chase and the desire to race to the roof and wait for Wildcard Gamma to pick him up warred inside him. He was meant to stop Root, and leaving him would mean he’d left a job unfinished. Surely the ivysaur wouldn’t race blindly into flames? He must have another plan. Maybe he was trying to lure Macro into the flames to weaken him, but in doing so that would only weaken himself. Right?

Macro tutted and backed away as smoke billowed up towards him, smoky tendrils reaching out like deadly claws desperate to grab his throat. Orange flames licked at the walls, creeping their way up towards the fifth floor. Shadows danced and strobed over the white walls. He could feel the heat licking at him, warming through his thick coat and causing his paws to break into an uncomfortable sweat.

He became very aware of his breathing. Quick and frantic. He took a step back, not taking his eyes off those flames. Deep in his mind he could hear the cries of a frightened child. His whole mouth turned dry and he took another step back, bracing himself to run.

Then he heard Root laugh. Faint. Swallowed up under the roar of flames.

Macro shook his head violently, shaking himself back to reality.

No.

No, he had a job to do. He couldn’t just let Root get away. Besides, Jumper wanted him alive. Root was taking a huge risk and there was no way Macro was going to throw his job, to cause Cyan City to lose out on getting answers to this attack and putting an end to this ridiculous type war.

He clutched his laser tight in his damp paw and carefully descended the stairs. The tiles were hot on his feet, he couldn’t stand on them for long. He kept close to the rail to avoid the crawling flames, raising a paw to shield his face. A groan escaped his lips as his horn began to heat up and he warred with the urge to run back up the stairs and make a beeline for the roof top.

He reached the double doors and his paw faltered at the handle. Fire doors. He could see the blaze beyond them, burning like an inferno. He turned his head slowly at the flames creeping up the stairwell. Fire door. Inferno.

Back draft.

His mouth curled into a smile and he chuckled.

“Well played, Root,” he muttered. “But not today.”

He turned away from the doors and carefully crept towards the stairs. Smoke rose up them, but less than the previous floor. So the fire had been started on the fourth floor? Then that meant, hopefully, the blaze would be less and he’d actually manage to make it out.

But of course, fire spreads.

He stopped at the doors to the third floor apartments. One of them was wide open, flames licking down from above it like living, burning stalactites.

Deadly. Dangerous.

His mind once again filled with blazing flames and sobs. He shook his head sharply and fixed his eyes on a point beyond those flames.

“Come on, Macro,” he said. “You got this.”

He ducked through the door, feeling the heat lick at his horn, spreading through it towards his head. He screwed his eyes shut and staggered into the corridor. Once he opened them again, he was safely on the other side.

Well, safely was stretching it a bit.

The fire behind him was spreading across the ceiling, and two of the doors behind him were already ablaze. The other rooms would very soon meet the same fate. And ahead of him, where the corridor broke off into two, was filled with black smoke.

First thing was first, he had to find the one Root was hiding in.

He crept along the corridor, laser in paw, and pushed each door open as he passed. Some of them were locked and wouldn’t so much as budge. The closer he drew to the smoke, the hotter it became. He feared very soon he’d have to turn and go back. He ventured a glance over his shoulder and swallowed dryly. The flames had already claimed another door, and the fire doors had learned the meaning of irony. His only other option was to bust a door down and take a leap of faith from someone’s window. He wondered if Root had already done that, leaving him to burn with the building. Then he’d come back, collect his remains and half of his bounty. It was probably a more attractive idea than putting up a struggle in a blazing building with a stubborn pirate who knew how to fight his own battles.

The next door he checked moved inward. Second from the end. The heat was intense and it was giving him a killer headache.

His violet eyes searched the room, squinting through the smoke that filled it no sooner had the door opened. By the window he could just make out the leafy back of an ivysaur.

“Found ya.” Macro’s voice came out as more of a groan than he’d intended, but his loaded laser made his point.

Root looked back at him, his face twisted with fear and rage. But he said nothing, just turned back to the window. Macro followed his gaze. The window overlooked the square, and the end of the square was ablaze, just like the apartment block. Water pokemon stood around it, firing their attacks to beat back the flames.

A dry chuckle escaped Macro’s throat and he readied his laser at Root.

“Spider burned down with the rest of your army, huh?” he mocked. “Your plan backfired? Guess that means there’s no one to come and get you.”

Root rounded on him and flashed his sharp canines. “I don’t need anyone to come and get me.”

“No. But you and I both know if you jump from that window the only way you’re leaving Cyan City is if someone scrapes up your remains and sends you back to Luma in a coffin.”

Root glanced left and right, then took a step back.

“Come with me,” said Macro. “I’ll get us both out of here. No one has to die.”

“No.” Root extracted his vines from the bulb on his back. “I guess they don’t.”

Macro’s first thought that Root might be offering to lower them both into the streets was quickly filed under ‘foolish expectations’. The ivysaur reached into his belt and whipped out a tiny laser, much more advanced than the one Macro held. He aimed it at the door, firing a beam that chilled Macro’s fur and peppered it with ice. It struck the door, blasting it shut and freezing the card key panel.

Macro glanced at his shoulder, the ice now melted away into tiny droplets over his fur. The card panel thawed just as quickly. Macro grit his teeth together. Such a sudden change in temperatures would have destroyed that in an instant. They were both trapped. The only way to escape the inevitable inferno was to leap from the window.

He met Root’s grinning face. The ivysaur threw his head back and laughed. Laughed so hard he had to lean against the wall to stop from falling over.

“I guess they don’t,” he repeated. “But we’re gonna. I’m taking you with me, Hunter. If I can’t have forty thousand credits, no one’s gonna have it. They’ll be sending us both away in urns, not coffins! That is… if they can separate us from the rubble.”

More laughter. Hysterical. Mad.

Macro seethed and aimed his laser at the ivysaur. He didn’t want to fire. Root was no use to them dead. But all Jumper had given him was a flying laser, and the heat of the blaze had already done enough damage to the both of them.

“Look!” Macro snapped. “If we co-operate, we can get out of here alive. Surely you don’t want to die, right?”

“Oh, I was always prepared to,” said Root, somewhat calmly. “Any good space pirate knows the captain always goes down with his ship, right?” His face split into a sinister grin. “It’s the same principle.”

“It’s nonsense. There’s nothing for you to die for here, is there?”

“My legacy.” Root spread his arms wide. “Cyan City is gonna suffer for years! Those bugs will become cocoons. They’ll breed. They’ll create more mindless eating machines! If things go well, Cyan City will be no more. They’ll have lost, and I’ll have won. Magenta City is already dealing with their own infestation.”

“Magenta?” Macro’s chest lurched and he almost dropped his laser.

“Yes,” Root said calmly. “I guess you could think of them as a test run.”

He really was mad. This whole war between the three types was pointless.

“Why are you doing this?” Macro asked. “You’re making innocent bug pokemon suffer for the sake of your own dumb war.”

“Bugs are pests! They’re no better than the water dwellers!” Root roared. “Besides. Do you think it’s easy to watch Cyan City flourish? Watch them grow food for free, while Luma and Magenta suffer? Magenta were better off than we were, however. But grass types should be able to grow food in our own wretched city! However, it weren’t easy. We had to order everything. We put our heart and soul into trying to prepare orchards, but nothing would take. Every ounce of dirt we ordered from System Ground were toxic, and Cyan City wouldn’t help us out. They told us we could buy from them. They’d offer us a good price.” Root spat onto the floor and it sizzled away. “You can blame them for the war.”

“Who fired the first shot?”

“Huh?”

“I’ll blame whoever fired the first shot,” said Macro.

“You think allowing us to starve isn’t firing the first shot?”

Macro shrugged. “They offered you a good price, right? Cheaper than System Ground?”

“We didn’t need a price, we needed charity!”

“Charity?” Macro shook his head. “I understand charity, but can you really say you needed it? Or just wanted it?”

Root curled his lip in a sneer. “You know nothing, filth!”

Macro’s paw shook, making it hard to aim his laser. He grabbed it in both paws and aimed the nozzle towards Root’s head.

“So all this warranted a war?” Macro spat. “A war where others are killed, pokemon have their identities taken from them… and you kidnap two little children?!”

Root threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, the children!”

“Where are they, Root?! They didn’t need to be a part of this!”

Root fixed his eyes on Macro’s and the corner of his mouth tugged up into a smirk. “Dead.”

Macro’s paws slackened, lowering his laser so it was aiming at the ivysaur’s feet, and his jaw dropped. “You killed them?”

Root shrugged. “They served their purpose. I had no more need for them.”

“You killed them?! Two little kids?!” Macro regained his steady paw and aimed it back at Root’s head. “I have every right mind to end your life right now.”

The ivysaur smirked. “Go on. Shoot. Add to the inferno!”

“No,” said Macro. “Because unlike you, I’m not a monster.”

Another tremor shook the floor, less violent than the first one. Macro looked over his shoulder at the closed door, the solid wall. Embers glowed around the wooden frame, smoldering and crackling, sizzling away what was left of the moisture from the ice.

“That was the fourth floor coming down.” Root’s voice drew his attention, and a smirk crossed the ivysaur’s face. “Won’t be long now until this one follows. Or the ceiling above us rains down, trapping us. Well… trapping you. This… monster… will already be long dead.”

Macro shook his head. “I’m not going to kill you, Root. We’re both gonna climb out that window, and the Governor can deal with you. And you can explain to that poor, worried mother exactly what happened to her innocent children.”

“No chance. I ain’t talking to no water types.”

Root grinned, then there was a nauseating sound. A pop. Blood trickled from between his teeth and he crumpled to the floor. Macro watched as the ivysaur’s eyes rolled back into his skull.

“Drat.” Macro looked back at the door. Flames had begun to lick away the woodwork as they fought their way into the small apartment. “Drat!”

He rushed to the window and threw it open. The glass felt hot and it cracked under his paws. He leant over the ledge, trying to judge the distance to the ground below. The third floor… he wouldn’t survive a drop like that. He fumbled in his pouch and pulled out his computer and Jumper’s contact card. His paws were shaking so much he punched the wrong number in twice. He swore loudly and tried to focus, keeping one eye on those creeping flames. Finally, he got it right. The ringer sounded in his ear, going on for far too long for his liking.

“Hunter?” Jumper’s voice sent a wave of relief through his body.

“What took you so long?” Macro shrieked. “I’m trapped on the third floor. I’ve got a window open but all I can see is a crowd below me. There aren’t even any fire fighters.”

“They’re tackling the inferno on the south side of the building,” said Jumper. “Which side are you on?”

“No clue.” Macro looked back outside, searching the opposite building for anything that might serve as a landmark. “There’s a sticker on the window opposite me for a band called Giga Impact.”

“That doesn’t help me, Hunter,” said Jumper. “Is there a street name or anything?”

Macro tried his best not to scold the frogadier. He craned over the window ledge again and squinted into the streets. Smoke was billowing from a window below him, making it hard to see the road below.

“I can’t really see it,” he said. “There is a street sign. I think it says… Aqua Street.”

“Aquaring Court,” said Jumper. “I’ll send someone around to you as fast as -”

The ceiling above Macro caved in and he let out a squeak, leaping aside and dropping his computer. Plaster and wood came raining down on him, dragging with it a small, blazing arm chair. It crashed to the floor, tearing a huge wooden beam free. It landed right across Macro’s thigh, pinning him to the ground. The arm chair’s leg struck his computer, crushing the screen and cutting off all contact from Jumper.

Macro stared at it, his eyes widening as he watched the chair burn. Flames spread from its peeling fabric to the wooden floor, creating a trail that cut off his only escape route. He reached forwards and tried to lever the wooden beam free, but it wouldn’t budge.

He turned back to the window and shouted at the top of his lungs one word he hadn’t cried in years.

“Help!”

Flames licked down from the gaping hole in the ceiling and he craned his head back to look up into it. The foot of a bed teetered right above his head. His entire throat tightened and he placed a paw to his chest. He scanned the room for something, anything, that might get the wooden beam off him. His eyes fell on his laser lying a mere arm’s stretch away. He leant across for it, his claws brushing its butt and pushing it further away. With a shout, he threw himself forwards. Every muscle in his side screamed, and he clenched his jaw to stop himself from screaming with them. He grabbed the tail end of his gun and snatched it back, aiming it at the wooden beam. One shot could either go incredibly well, or incredibly badly.

He closed his eyes and fired. The wood splintered, and sharp air tore through his flesh. He screamed and dragged himself free, throwing the splintered wood aside. He placed a paw on the wall and pushed himself to his feet, limping away from the threat of the falling bed.

Over the crackling and popping he heard a roar. Not a vocal roar, but a roar of power. His eyes flew open and his heart did a somersault. Water gushed through the window, pushing back the flames and soaking the small armchair through to its framework.

“Hunter!” The voice came from outside. “Hunter, can you hear me?!”

He staggered over to the window and looked down. Jumper stood beside the blastoise he’d previously argued with. The huge officer and a fleet of wartortle aimed their attacks at the building, concentrating on Macro’s fiery prison. A smile split his face and he leant against the window frame.

“I’m afraid I’m a bit stuck, Gov!” he called down.

“Don’t you worry, Hunter,” said Jumper. “We’re gonna get you down. Hover! Over here!”

White wings beat down from above him, wafting away the smoke. A graceful swanna swooped towards the window, but her back was already occupied by a dewott.

Lossy.

Macro felt his heart break. He couldn’t even look at her. No one needed to have to tell a mother her children had been mindlessly killed.

He climbed onto the swanna’s back behind her, choking as fresh air filled his lungs, and watched the ground rise up slowly below them.

“Macro?” The dewott’s voice was weak, shaken. “Did you find my children?”

He couldn’t answer. He bit his tongue, keeping his attention on the street below.

“Macro?”

His eyes welled up and he took in a trembling breath. With a shake of his head he said, quietly, “No. I didn’t find them.”
 
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Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I suppose it wouldn't be reckless Macro if he didn't, um, brag about his piracy to a government official? I mean, the whole alliance b/w them has been a bit weird, I suppose. I guess it's casual danger dialogue. Still, for someone who cares about keeping himself from falling into law enforcement's hands, Macro's got no problems talking about his line of work. Though, I suppose it could be some character development for him. He seems chummy with Jumper, and if that "System Ground could learn a thing or two from you," is to be believed, perhaps he's grown a begrudging respect toward him? At least, it's certainly a contrast to how he views Socket.

Though, I'm not really sure why Macro thought it'd be a waste of time to bring up schematics, since he clearly wasted quite a bit of time searching the wrong area. The tech in System seems pretty responsive. Would it really have taken him that long?

Root himself actually turned out to be worth the dramatic build up, I believe. He seems to have a plan, but with Switch managing to mess up Spider, it very quickly goes downhill and he slips right into a villainous breakdown. In comparison to other battles, which were guns blazing and explosions everywhere affairs, this is much different. Having the two of them scrambling through a burning building creates a rather tense atmosphere (if a bit odd for me because how is this building burning this long and maintaining its structural integrity?) that, in some regards, feels like something out of an FPS game. And it all builds up to the revelation that Root intends to take Macro down with him and, oh yeah, he offed the kiddies too. So, while it's certainly unsatisfying that he goes out with a cyanide pill like his flunkies, it's certainly more realistic in this type of scenario (especially since Macro didn't seem to have a means to paralyze him).

Oh, I guess the building does start collapsing, creating a firefighter scenario. I'm a bit confused with the ending, because Macro's really emotionally invested in these kids he saw for, like, a few minutes topped. The crying seemed a bit much for me.

Also,
“No,” said Macro. “Because unlike you, I’m not a monster.”
Technically you are. After all, you're both pocket monsters. :V
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
I made a huge booboo by having Jumper refer to Macro by name rather than alias D= I'ma go back and fix that real quick.

Though, I'm not really sure why Macro thought it'd be a waste of time to bring up schematics, since he clearly wasted quite a bit of time searching the wrong area. The tech in System seems pretty responsive. Would it really have taken him that long?
Matrix is usually the one who finds schematics and sends them to him. I doubt a city apartment block would have been that easy to stumble across. But I don't know much about these things. I'll just let the little bee handle it.

Root himself actually turned out to be worth the dramatic build up, I believe. He seems to have a plan, but with Switch managing to mess up Spider, it very quickly goes downhill and he slips right into a villainous breakdown.
Thank you =D This scene was very fun to write, and very different to other confrontations.

Chapter Thirty Seven​

Socket tapped her foot irritably. Yobi’s look of concentration as he worked on some hidden computer on the other side of the holoscreen made her blood boil.

“Well?!” she snapped.

He jerked his head around to look at her and scratched behind his right ear. “It’s gonna take a little more time, Madam Mayor.”

“If we want to stop that pesky mawile from interfering,” she said slowly, “then we need to shut down Download Database!”

“I know, I’m working on it!” Yobi’s eyes widened at Socket’s purse-lipped leer and he quickly backtracked. “I mean… these things don’t happen overnight, Madam Mayor. I could work faster, but… you’re making me sleep, and-”

“Are you implying this is my fault?”

“No!” He waved his paws frantically. “No, not at all. It’s just… okay. I’ll have it out before tomorrow morning. I’ll pull one all-nighter, get this virus sent through Zero Day to Download Database and then I’ll sleep until lunch. If… if that’s okay with you?”

“That’s perfectly fine by me provided you actually get it finished!”

The sparksurfer raichu’s long ears flopped back and forth as he nodded. “I will get it finished. I promise you that.”

“Good. Be sure that you do.”

Socket flicked off the holoscreen before Yobi could even bid her farewell. She didn’t need farewells.

“That was rather rude,” said Tweak.

Socket turned her head to look at the chingling. He was bouncing and jingling around on his desk, stamping through Socket’s reams of paper work. A pile she thought was much too large and overdue for an efficient assistant.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I said it was rather rude,” said Tweak. “Didn’t even say goodbye or nothin’.”

“That slacker doesn’t need to be shown manners.” She stomped over to the window, keeping one eye on the busy chingling. “And watch your mouth, Tweak. Otherwise I’ll be looking for another assistant, as well as another scientist.”

Tweak dropped the stamp he was holding and looked up with a start. “You’re looking to replace Yobi?”

“Not yet. But if he fails to get this virus out before lunch time tomorrow, I shall be. His experiments have let me down too much already.”

“In all fairness,” said Tweak as he gathered up his stamp, “part of that failure was your own fleet.”

“Well, they’ve been decimated by that creature BackDoor dragged through, haven’t they? So I have to look for new ones anyway.”

“Oh yeh, what’s become of that creature? Ultra beast, he called it, right?”

“Last I heard, it’s now making its way towards Pulse City.”

“Pretty dangerous thing since it’s already destroyed Favicon City,” said Tweak. “Aren’t you going to stop it?”

Socket’s lip curled into a half smile and she chuckled. “Why would I stop it? It’s not exactly threatening one of my cities right now, is it?”



The swanna landed outside Cyan City’s hospital and lowered herself to the ground to allow Macro to disembark. Jumper hopped off first and offered a paw to the mawile. Macro took it hesitantly and carefully clambered down. He winced as he landed too heavily on his wounded leg and staggered into Jumper.

“Careful.” Jumper steadied him on his feet and placed an arm around his waist. He then turned to address the swanna. “Thank you, Hover.”

Hover nodded and took off back into the sky with one graceful flap of her wings. Macro watched her go and let out a sigh, which only made him choke into his paw.

“Oh to be able to fly,” he croaked.

“Come on.” Jumper encouraged him towards the hospital doors. “Let’s get that leg looked at. I’m also rather concerned you might have inhaled too much smoke.”

Macro hopped along beside the frogadier. “How do I tell her, Gov?”

“Hmm?” Jumper looked at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Lossy,” Macro went on. “How do you tell a mother her kids have been killed?”

“We don’t know that for certain,” said Jumper. “All we have is the word of a deranged criminal.”

“And he ain’t in any state to talk now, is he?” Macro sighed again. “What sort of nutter kills themselves when they’re cornered?”

“The kind that don’t want to talk.” Jumper pushed the doors open and led Macro into the lobby.

He caught the eye of an azumaril behind the desk, who let out a squeak of surprise when she saw Macro.

“I need to get this ‘mon emergency treatment,” said Jumper. “Smoke inhalation and a possible broken leg.”

“It ain’t broken, I can walk on it,” said Macro. “It just hurts. A lot.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not broken.”

“No, it does not,” said the azumarill. She pressed a button on her head set and spoke quickly yet clearly into it. “I need a stretcher at A&E stat. I have a pokemon with a possible broken leg.”

Macro let out a long sigh followed by another irritated cough. He waved Jumper off and slumped into the nearest seat.

“Look, Gov,” he groaned. “Just let me get back to my ship.”

“I can’t do that,” said Jumper. “You’ve helped us out a lot, and I’m not going to send a wounded ‘mon away. You can consider this part of your payment.”

Macro raised an eyebrow. “Payment? You’re gonna pay for all this? I do have health insurance, you know. Pirate health insurance, but it still works.”

Jumper laughed and fell into the seat beside him. “Insurance or not, I’m not letting you pay a single credit. So stop complaining and let the doctors do their work.”

Macro grinned and shook his head. “I can’t decide if you’re being overly generous or just plain foolish.”

“Maybe a bit of both?” A loud ringing came from Jumper’s belt and he scooped out his pocket computer. A swift push of a button revealed a disheveled empoleon. “What is it, Sergent? You’re on video phone.”

“How many listeners?” HeatSink asked.

“Just myself, Hunter and the receptionist.”

“All right. Well, the battle has died down in the square now, Governor,” said HeatSink. “But… we’ve lost several lives. We’re just dragging out the survivors now. Two grass types have been apprehended. A bayleaf and snivy. Both of them are unconscious, but we can’t guarantee they aren’t gonna blow themselves up once they come around.”

“Rush them to the hospital and we’ll have their explosives removed,” said Jumper. “Is there anything else? You look anxious.”

“Yes. There is.” HeatSink scratched his head and glanced to the side. “That talonflame… I’m not sure if I want to say this out loud since anyone who overhears might get a bit of a shock.”

Macro leant over Jumper’s shoulder so he was in the camera. “What’s happened to him? He didn’t get killed, did he? And what about Anchor?”

“No, they’re both fine. They’re rather wounded, however,” the empoleon explained. “But… how much do you know about this Switch, Hunter?”

Macro frowned. “Quite a lot. He’s a client. I’m tryin’ to help him out.”

“So you know he’s not… exactly… a talonflame?”

“What are you talking about, Sergent?” Jumper snapped. “Make your point!”

The doors into the hallway swung open and two croconaw waddled into the lobby dragging a large stretcher. The front one raised an eyebrow when he saw Macro, then looked over at Jumper as if prompting an explanation.

“I’m sorry, Sergent,” said Jumper. “I have to go. The doctors are here with a stretcher.”

HeatSink let out a flustered sigh. “All right. I’ll call you back.”

“Give it fifteen minutes,” said Jumper.

“Well, we might see you there, actually,” said HeatSink. “We’re bringing all casualties over. Pokemon or otherwise. Got a few soldiers here who fainted from shock.”

Jumper pocketed his computer and fixed Macro with wide eyes. He shook his head slowly and sighed.

“How much have you not told me?” he asked.

Macro shrugged. “Some cases are confidential. Besides. You heard. Some soldiers ‘fainted from shock’. Wanna be counted in that number, Gov?”

He pushed himself from the chair and as soon as his feet struck the floor he crumpled under his own weight. The doctors rushed to his side to lift him up before he could even blink.

Jumper followed the doctors into the corridor as they wheeled Macro away on the stretcher. The mawile peered past the croconaw’s shoulder to catch the governor’s attention.

“I can tell you everything if you promise me you won’t faint,” said Macro.

Jumper shrugged and clasped his paws behind his back. “Going off what I know so far, I can assume this friend of yours is not a pokemon. Knowing that, I’m still standing, aren’t I?”

“Yeh… I’m wondering if that’s really a good thing.”

“Well, Hunter…”

“Macro.”

Jumper raised an eyebrow and stared down at him.

“Call me Macro. Hunter’s just an…” Macro waved a paw. “An alias.”

“Really? Well… Macro.” Jumper smiled. “If I was an easy fainter, I wouldn’t exactly be cut out for this job. And given the recent events - empty bugs, sudden space pirate invasions, and a raid from a psychotic grass army - I think I’m all ready for alien creatures disguising themselves as pokemon.” He pulled his computer back out of his pocket and waved it at Macro. “Given three of your crew, including yourself, are going to be held in this hospital for a little while, it makes sense to alert the rest of your crew. Don’t you think?”

Macro flinched as the stretcher was thrust through another set of double doors. “I would, but I kinda lost my computer in that blaze.”

“I can always contact them, or you could use my computer. It’s up to you.”

Macro tucked his paws behind his head and yawned, evoking another coughing fit. He wanted to wrench his scarf from around his neck and throw it.

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” he said. “I don’t know my ship’s number. I always had it on speed dial.”

“What about your crew?”

“Same again. Speed dial.”

Jumper pursed his lips together and stared down at his computer. “Well, I suppose Anchor will be arriving here soon enough. Other than that, we could try to hack your ship’s computer? It seems only right to let everyone know their Captain and two of their friends are safe, but stranded for a while.”

Macro stared at him, then flinched again as he was thrust into a large and rather white ward.

“I suppose it might actually sway you into giving me that chip if you met DL,” he said. “So go ahead. Hack away.”

Jumper chuckled and tucked his phone back into his pouch. “You’re rather optimistic. I’ll leave you in their capable paws and be back shortly.”

The croconaw doctors watched him leave then turned back to Macro.

“Broken leg, huh?” The larger one leafed through a clip board. “Shame it ain’t a broken spine.”

Macro’s heart hit his stomach. Why he’d expected everyone to suddenly be as welcoming as Jumper was a mystery. He glanced to the door, gauging the distance and trying to work out if he could actually run for it. But before he could push himself up, the large croconaw snapped his claws.

“Grab the x-ray machine,” he told his colleague. “Let’s see what we’re working with.”

...​

Annie threw the back door open and let out a loud yawn.

“Wow! Got so much done today.” She flopped into a chair at the kitchen table and stared across at the glass bowl.

Zip didn’t look up at her. He floated with his tongue poking between his lips, scrutinizing the contents of a sheet of lined paper.

“What have you got there, little fish?” she asked.

Zip looked up with a start then beamed. “I’m working on our rebellion action plan!”

Web waddled into the kitchen clutching a towel in her paws. “Oh, he’s been working on that all afternoon! Waveform has been helping him with it.”

“Huh.” Annie scratched her head and looked up at the door. “Where is the big old bird?”

“Having a nap.” Zip looked back down at his ‘action plan’.

“Mind if I have a look at that?” Annie reached across and took the sheet. The writing it contained was completely illegible to her. “What language is this? Sanskrit?”

“It’s our language, dear,” said Web. “Can’t you read it?”

“No. I wasn’t taught… whatever this is.”

“But you speak it well.”

“Yeh, I really don’t understand how that happened.” Annie turned the page left and right. “How do I read this?”

“I can read it to you.” Zip splashed in his bowl. “Put it back down, okay?”

Annie placed the sheet back onto the table.

“Wrong way.” Zip laughed. “Turn it one-eighty.”

She twisted it round then sat back in her seat. She waved a hand at him then steepled her fingers together, much like an executive starting a meeting.

“Right, so, the first thing is we build the ship!” Zip raised a mechanical leg to tap the paper. The motion sent him toppling backwards and he let out a surprised ‘whoa!’

Web gasped and dropped her tea towel, rushing to help him. But Trojan rounded the door and caught the bowl before it could shatter on the kitchen floor. Zip was pushed back to his mechanical feet with much grumbling from Trojan.

“Good grief, kid!” the scrafty scoffed. “Watch what you’re doin’ on them legs! ‘Cos I ain’t buildin’ you another mech.”

“Sorry.” Zip sank in his bowl. “I’m useless, aren’t I? That’s why you all eat us water dwellers.”

“I don’t eat meat,” said Annie. “I prefer my fruit and veg. Better for the bowels.”

“I eat whatever I can get my paws on,” said Trojan. “But I ain’t gonna eat Zip. Ain’t got enough meat on his bones anyway, since he hardly ever eats anything.”

A small smile played at the goldeen’s lips. “You’re funny.”

“I’m bein’ serious.”

“He’s right, Zip,” said Web. “None of us are going to eat you, and if I had it my way, none of us would ever eat meat. But beggars can’t be choosers in this world, dear. Besides, you don’t eat much. It worries me. If you don’t eat your berries, those wounds are just going to get more and more angry.”

Annie’s eyes went to the stitches on Zip’s side. They did look rather red. She reached over her shoulder for Web and nodded to the goldeen.

“Shall I force feed him?” she asked.

Web laughed and shook her head. “I’ll liquefy them into his water if I have to.”

“I’ll eat!” said Zip. “But I’m just busy. This is important. So… we finish the ship. Then, once we’ve got it flying, the first thing we should do is get weapons. I suggest Pulse City for that, since weapons are banned everywhere else. Right?”

“Not everywhere,” said Trojan. “Waveform gets his arrows from somewhere.”

“He’s the one who suggested Pulse City,” said Zip. “Well, after that, we start recruiting more pokemon for the rebellion. Adverts, marches, city talks-”

Annie opened one eye and fixed it on him. “Recruiting?”

“Of course!” said Zip. “It only makes sense. How can you start a rebellion with such a small number?”

“The ship is small,” said Annie. “Too small for more than…” She counted on her fingers.

“Five, dear,” said Web. “May I chime in?”

“Of course!” said Zip with a smile.

“I think going around promoting a rebellion would be much too risky.” She pointed a claw at the goldeen. “And you, sir, are not just too young for all this. But you’re also wounded. You should be focusing on recovering.”

“No!” Zip splashed in his bowl. “I’m helping out with this rebellion! It’s important to me. If we can stop pokemon eating water dwellers-”

“I know, dear, but-”

“Let me finish!” He paused and wiped a fin over his eye. “My family were killed! I want to stop more families being torn apart like mine for the sake of meat! I’m being a part of this and you’re not going to stop me!”

The kitchen fell into silence, save for the bubbles wildly flowing from Zip’s gills. A smile spread across Annie’s face and she pointed at the goldeen.

“This fish got fire!” she said. “I like your plan, little fish. But can I suggest a few tweaks?”

“Of course!” said Zip.

“Okay. First, you take your berries. I don’t want a sick member on my team, okay?”

“Okay!”

“And you need rest. You look like you haven’t slept. Even rebels need to sleep.” Annie paused and scratched her head. “Also, put fund raising on there. Ship might need maintenance.”

“I’d suggest odd jobs,” said Trojan. “Not sure how many pokemon are gonna fund a rebellion.”

“Add that too,” said Annie.

Zip stared at the paper then looked up at Trojan. “Please could you write it for me?”

Trojan sighed and grabbed the pen and paper.

“Now sleep,” said Annie. “Chop chop. Move them legs.”

Zip chuckled and skittered from the room with a cry of, “Aye aye, Captain!”

“Well done,” said Web. “I’ve been trying to get him to rest all day. Those wounds are starting to look pretty angry. I had to change his water earlier and it’s not easy to find clean water around here.”

Annie turned in her chair to address the skuntank. “Which berries are best to fight infections?”

Web scratched behind her ear and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’m gonna be honest with you, Annie. All we’ve got are sitrus and none are good for infections. He needs medicine.”

Annie responded with a rather dramatic whisper, “Where we gonna get that then? Doctors? Hospital?”

“We can’t really afford it.” Web shrugged. “All we can do is try our best and hope his body is strong enough to fight it off.”

Annie grunted and grabbed the sheet from Trojan. Not that she could understand the contents.

“Well, we’ve got a rebellion to focus on,” she said. “Hopefully the little fish will make our point. Meat is bad. The mayor is bad. The whole world is bad and needs a reboot.”

...​

White light blinded Macro when he opened his eyes. For a brief moment, the sun-shaped dazzle spot spread across his vision and he let out a small groan. With his right paw he rubbed at his eyes, pushing himself up with his left.

No pain.

He looked down at his injured leg, hidden beneath a bed sheet. How long had it been since the croconaw doctors had put him under? He’d remembered having to breathe in loads of oxygen to clear his lungs before they could even do it. The oxygen tank still stood next to his bed, patiently waiting for its next patient. His leg, however, no longer hurt.

“Rich city medicine, eh?” He chuckled and whipped the duvet away.

“Yeek!”

He jerked his head around and fixed wide, frantic eyes on the small shape picking herself up off his bed. DL sat up in a plastic chair and rubbed her paws over her eyes.

“What are you doing here?” he gasped.

“Sorry.” She yawned and stretched languidly. “We got a call and… I’m not sure how long I’ve been here, they don’t have clocks in this place.”

“Yeh.” Macro scratched his head, realising with anguish that his goggles were missing. “They mustn’t want patients complaining about the time dragging.”

He reached for his belt, realising that was also missing. His eyes flew around the room then landed on DL. The pachirisu held out his belt and goggles while wearing a small smile.

He took them gratefully and fastened his goggles back around his head.

“The frogadier also asked me to give you this.” DL held out a pocket computer in both paws.

Macro eyed it suspiciously. It was smaller than his previous one, and looked more modern as well. Not a space pirate issue at all. He took it and turned it around in his paws.

“Is there something wrong?” DL asked.

“Just worried he might have had a tracking chip installed, is all,” Macro answered.

“I can’t see why he’d do that. You helped out his city.” DL paused and scratched behind her ear. “Besides. Matrix already checked it over. There’s nothing suspicious about it at all. It’s just a new computer to replace your broken one.”

“Oh. Well in that case.” Macro fired it up, going straight to the settings. It connected to his visor with ease. Every ounce of information backed up onto his visor synced to the little computer. A small smile spread across his lips. “Back in action.”

He brought the time up on his optical display and chuckled. It worked like a charm. It was already almost supper time. That meant he’d been out for about three hours. He tucked it into his pouch and kicked his legs over the edge of the bed.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Leaving,” he said.

“You can’t just leave!” she gasped. “You need to be discharged!”

He shrugged. “Don’t care. I can’t hang around here. I’ve still got to retrieve your memory disk.”

“About that.”

He looked up at her, but she was staring at her paws.

“I don’t think I want it,” she said. “I appreciate all your help, but… I really don’t want to remember why I have this database in my head. If I find out I actually offered, or that I even worked for a pokemon wicked enough to even do something like this-”

“DL.”

She looked up and met his gaze, momentarily freezing his breath in his throat. He looked away and coughed into his paw.

“I’m getting it back regardless,” he said. “You have every right to have your memories. They’re who you are. Besides, you might be an innocent victim in all this. If you are, that could cost Socket her position as Mayor! Anyone who does something like that to another pokemon against their wishes-”

“But what if she had my permission? That makes me as guilty as her!”

“Who in their right mind would offer themselves up like that? Voluntarily become some mindless computer?”

“Exactly,” said DL. “Someone who was insane? A psychopath? A convict offered an alternative to death?”

Macro frowned and looked down at his paws. “You seem far too innocent for that.”

“Of course I do,” she said. “I only possess a sense of self and my likes and dislikes.”

“You also have a personality.” He kicked himself off the bed and landed on his feet, flinching as a shock of pain radiated up his left leg. “Drat. I guess rich city medicine isn’t perfect, huh?”

“I told you they need to discharge you first,” said DL. “You haven’t had a final examination yet.”

Macro waved her off and marched over to the door. He paused with one paw on the handle and looked back at her.

“Switch is still here, isn’t he?” he asked.

“Yes. I visited both him and Anchor before I went to find you. They’re on the same ward.”

“Which one?”

“Ward Eight.” She slipped from the chair and joined him at the door. “I’ll lead you, but you must promise to have a final examination before you leave.”

“I ain’t promisin’ anything.” He barged through the door. “If I can get that disk easily I’m gonna do it.”

“Even though I just told you I don’t want you to?”

“Yes.” He faced her and folded his arms, meeting her frown with his own. “Look, sweetheart. If, say, in two weeks time you decide you do want all your memories back, you’re gonna regret not taking an easy opportunity like this.”

She sighed and glanced away from him, raising a paw to brush at her ear. The action reminded him of Matrix and he raised an eyebrow.

“Fine,” she said. “Go get the wretched disk. But I don’t want it.”

“That’s my girl,” he said with sarcasm. “Now which way do we go?”

She tapped his elbow and turned right out of his room. He followed behind her, casting his eyes over the various posters and diagrams of bone fractures and physio exercises. Before long, she’d stopped at an elevator.

“It’s just up on the next floor,” she explained. “I doubt Switch will be ready to leave any time soon, but Anchor might be. His wounds were less serious.”

“What kind of wounds?” Macro asked.

“Third degree burns,” said DL. “Both of them. Although… Switch has taken some heavy damage from his fight. He could barely speak when I saw him.”

Macro’s spine stiffened and he blinked a few times as he processed the first part of her sentence. He’d barely even heard the final part.

“Are you kidding me?” he gasped. “Switch is a fire type!”

“Well… yeh…” DL rubbed at her arm as she watched the numbers change above the elevator. “But his human form isn’t.”

Macro’s jaw went slack. Of course. He hadn’t considered that. What had happened in that battle exactly? Why had the foolish human decided to reveal his true form?

The elevator’s oddly cheerful chime dragged him out of his thoughts and he followed DL inside the glass chamber. He found himself staring out of the window behind them at Cyan City’s streets as the elevator carried them up to the next floor.

The door hissed open and DL placed a paw on his shoulder. He looked back and met her eyes, filled with concern. She said nothing as she led him out into the corridor. He was immediately assaulted by the sharp smell of disinfectant. It made his nose almost retreat into his face.

“Wow.” He clasped a paw over his muzzle. “I don’t think they need to worry about germs surviving in the air here, never mind the floor!”

“What you’re smelling is the creams they use on the burn patients.” DL pushed open the nearest door. “We’re here.”

Macro strolled into the room, catching Matrix’s bright eyes. He waved a slender arm then returned to whatever game he was playing on his pocket computer. Macro looked over at the occupied beds. Anchor and Switch lay opposite each other, while the only other patient was a vaporeon Macro recognized as Floppy. The granbull looked up and waved, flinching slightly. A huge patch of his pink fur had been burned away to reveal angry, red flesh. The damage spread from his elbow to his collar bone.

“Good to see you standing,” he said. “Jumper told us you’d broken your leg.”

“It healed.” Macro stopped beside Switch’s bed. “What on earth happened to you?”

Switch lay in his human form under a light sheet. His skin looked dry, cracked and angry in blotchy patches and part of his floppy brown fur had been burned off the side of his head. The human was asleep, his mouth and nose covered by an oxygen mask. The canister pumped away beside him noisily.

“He won’t say anything,” said Matrix. “He’s been out cold for hours.”

“Aye, he’s lucky to be alive.” Anchor pushed himself up and flailed for his pillow.

DL rushed to help him, placing the fluffy pillow against the wall so the granbull could lean back against it.

“Thanks, DL.” He grinned widely then turned back to Macro, his grin melting into a frown. “That Spider. He had us all under the influence of sweet scent. I tell ya now, Cap’n, it’s a dangerous tool in the wrong paws. It doesn’t just make targets easier to hit by luring them in. Whatever he were doin’… it were sendin’ us mad, Cap’n. We were attacking each other, ourselves… I don’t know if that’s what it usually does or if it’s been genetically enhanced. But Switch figured it out and managed to snap me out of it. But it weren’t the only tool that tropius were using. He also had an amplifier for solar beam. Half the city is lyin’ in ruins.”

“That’s an overstatement,” said Matrix. “I calculate the damage to be about fifteen to twenty percent.”

The other three pokemon fixed the ribombee with identical frowns. He looked up and wound his antennae around in his paw.

“What?” he asked. “It is.”

Anchor sighed and turned back to Macro. “Anyway. The battle escalated into a blaze. We needed to shut down Spider’s sweet scent attack at its source, so while I did that Switch tried to get rid of the rest of the army. But once Spider went down, he fell. Landed right on top of Switch and took down more buildings with his amplifier. The impact struck Switch’s watch and morphed him into his human form, right before rubble bounced off his ribs. If he were still in his talonflame form, he’d be dead, Cap’n. That accidental blunder saved his life. Just cost him a few broken ribs, fractured arm and a punctured lung.”

“And a few burns,” added Matrix.

Macro looked back down at Switch. An innocent human, trapped in another time-line and almost died. Macro had heard of the butterfly effect. One small change to history could have a huge impact on the present. He had no idea what would happen if Switch wasn’t sent back to his own time. Would losing his life change history, and as a result alter the present? One of the biggest events in their history - one Macro had believed to be only fiction - had already been rectified before Switch came through the time pocket, and he’d played a huge part in it. Allegedly, so had Macro’s ancestors. But what other events had Switch been involved in? If he really was close friends with Macro’s ‘great times fifty grandparents’, how much of an impact would accidentally changing history have on his life? His heart lurched into his throat and he launched his gaze towards the window.

“You all right, Cap’n?”

Macro looked over at Anchor. The granbull scratched his mohawk as he cast his eyes over him curiously. Macro became aware he was breathing heavily.

“Yeh.” He sat down in a chair beside Switch’s bed. “Yeh, I’m fine. Just… having a little wake-up slap.”

“Really?” Matrix raised an eyebrow. “What about?”

“Just… we really need to get Switch back to his own time-line,” Macro explained. “Soon. With little to no margin for error.”

“Is that even gonna be possible?” Anchor asked. “I mean… we don’t even know how Socket is opening these gateways. Do we?”

“No. So we need to find out.” Macro folded his arms and leant back in his seat. “I suggest we do some more snooping around.”

“None of us know how to hack,” said Anchor.

“I have the most computer skills out of all of us,” said Matrix, “and even I don’t know.”

“And DL’s access to the BackDoor project has been blocked.” Macro looked over at her and sighed. “Guess we either hire a hacker or pay Socket a visit.”

“I ain’t ‘visiting’ the Mayor,” said Anchor. “I’m with hiring a hacker. Who did you hire the last time?”

Macro scratched beneath his goggles and stared blankly at the wall as he weighed his options. Memories of those weird ‘dates’ were still fresh in his mind. Somehow he really didn’t want to ask Surge to perform another hacking job…
 
Last edited:

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 23:

Good. She had grown tired of the looks and screams from the pokemon in the city. Their obnoxious voices had given her a headache.
And probably lowered the heck out of her defense.

"Seriously, Trojan!" she said. "And don't go graffitiing the detective's office again!"
Oh he's gonna.

Annie certainly has a lot to learn. One suspects she'll be learning a lot of it the hard way.

Chapter 24:

“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?”
...That's actually a good point. What of the wreckage?

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?”
I get the feeling the answer is "yes". :B

Macro, you are Doomed. You fancy Ms. Squirrel, and there is no escape.

And of course Anchor's refusal to talk about Wildcard Beta makes me Very Extremely Curious about said ship. :B

Chapter 25:

Switch being reluctant to believe that's what's left of a floating continent is probably just him not wanting to believe it, yet I find myself what-iffing all the same.

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.
Looks like someone forgot to walk without rhythm.

Did sand get into Switch's mask? If it did, something else might have as well. Sucks to be him!

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.
PFFFF

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.
I wouldn't go there, either. It smells. :p

“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?”
Fun fact: when I lived in California ages ago, I had goldfish. One of them was called Zip. :D

“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!”
This is the best response she could have possibly given.

Chapter 26:

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!”
I know I like it! :D

Interesting dream Macro had. That looked like an explosion at the end of it. Of course I wonder if the dream's significant/foreshadowing at all, and if indeed that was an explosion...

Chapter 27:

Macro leant back in his seat and disguised hugging himself as ‘folding his arms.’
Awww.

Sweet scent: yet another of those moves I give entirely too little thought to. Maybe I'd have respected it a bit more if I were a horde hunter, but the possibility of multiple shinies appearing at once keeps me from that. :p But yeah, quite the effective lure, that. If none of them had been familiar with the smell at all, who knows what could've happened. Props to Mr. Pastry Fairy for inadvertently saving their hides.

Chapter 28:

Anchor, I know you meant well. But bringing a distraught parent along rrrrreally wasn't the wisest idea. Could've gone pear-shaped quite easily. Y'all dodged a bullet.

Annie going for a walk falls under the category of "not the wisest idea", too. Remember what I said about her being liable to learn a lot of things the hard way? Yeah. She's right on track for that.

Although she has still got her ability to punch things in the face on her side, I see. :B Not entirely helpless. Just outclassed. No elemental lasers at her disposal. Without the element of surprise (or rescuer owls) on her side I'd imagine she'd be in Trouble.

Chapter 29:

“Like I’ve said before, space pirates don’t just drop out of the sky into my lap! If we’re gonna get this thing built-”

“Why is this so important to you?” Web asked.

Waveform necked the contents of his glass and slammed it down onto the table, then he rose to his feet and marched from the kitchen.
Why indeed. I suspect an interesting backstory's on the horizon...

“What do you want?” he snapped.

Annie turned her attention back to him and pointed to the goldeen.

“He needs legs,” she said. “Can you make him legs?”
...FISH LEGS, FISH LEGS, CYBERNETIC FISH LEGS
FISH LEGS, FISH LEGS, EAT... no, don't eat those, actually

Chapter 30:

Well I'm certainly curious about Yobi's new little project. Another mythical? Possible treachery against Socket? I have the feelign we haven't seen the last of that bot, so perhaps we'll see.

...Only now is it occuring to me that if Zip's gonna get cyborg parts, he's gonna need some everstone worked in there too. Of course there's no guarantee he's even going to survive long enough to evolve, is there.

Christmas Episode:

He lifted his paw and discarded the squashed maranga innards across his room.

“Ew! What…”

The feminine voice took Macro quite by surprise and he sat bolt upright, tugging the duvet up to his chest. He looked around to see DL sat in a chair beside his bed, peeling the discarded maranga slime off her cheek.
Look on the bright side, DL. At least it wasn't mistletoe berries and therefore poisonous. :B

“Oi.” Annie put a hand - and the onion - on her hip and pointed a delicate finger at him. “Watch how you talk to me. I’m a lot bigger than you.”

As though to contradict her point, her form shrank right down and feathered out.
PFFF. Perfect timing.

Non-canonical though this episode was in general, I'm inclined to suspect there was a bit of legit backstory in the past segments...

Chapter 31:

Another odd dream, another apperance of the weird light. Some sun-based legendary being foreshadowed, maybe? Or perhaps some light-based one. Something with a starburst shape on the back of the head. Hmm...

Chapter 32:

Ah, legs on the bowl. That... makes a lot more sense than giving him cyberlegs, now that I think of it. Of course he'd still need water. I don't know why that didn't occur to me sooner. XD

Looks like I was right about Lossy being trouble--just not in a way I'd expected.

“You guys fret too much,” Macro spat, sinking to the floor. “Don’t worry, we got this.”
Fate = tempted, probably. :B

Chapter 33:

He cursed under his breath and slid from the ship, landing in a squat and pausing only to fire the archeops a leer.
Whoops, there goes her defense again!

His voice was laced with warning, but the zubat merely shrugged it off. “Ain’t nowt wrong with my hearing, fox.”

Java spread his wings and launched himself off the windowsill, curving in a neat arc towards the door. He missed the mail box by a foot and smashed into the solid woodwork.
Another example of great timing. XD

That's some deep dookie Macro and co. have gone and landed themselves in, isn't it. Makes for quite the cliffhanger.

Chapter 34:

The mention of how the detonators sound when they go off was a nice, disturbing touch. Incidentally I kind of sort of wonder if these guys really are activating the devices themselves or if someone's doing so remotely. The latter would imply that someone's actually watching all this from wherever and I'm not sure if that could actually be the case or if things would've played out much differently if someone out there had an eye on it all.

Chapter 35:

Ah, so they were setting off the detonators themselves. I wonder how easily it'd be to set one of those off accidentally, or for someone else to set it off. Someone socks you in the face just so and whoops, there it goes. If the detonators aren't prone to that all I can figure is that, well. There were Casualties in the development of the things, before they'd quite fine-tuned their sensitivity.

Oh man, there's another strong cliffhanger. I legit couldn't tell you right now if Switch survived that.

Chapter 36:

Well. Frick. I definitely wouldn't want to be Lossy right about now. Finding out her kids are gone, just gone. Possibly no seeing them again, dead or alive--in which case, no closure for her. Some cruel, desperate part of her left to wonder if no, maybe it's not too late, maybe if they just keep looking...

Yeah. For her sake, I do kind of hope they find the bodies, or that Root was lying. Somehow I don't think he was though.

Chapter 37:

“Oh yeh, what’s become of that creature? Ultra beast, he called it, right?”

“Last I heard, it’s now making its way towards Pulse City.”

“Pretty dangerous thing since it’s already destroyed Favicon City,” said Tweak. “Aren’t you going to stop it?”

Socket’s lip curled into a half smile and she chuckled. “Why would I stop it? It’s not exactly threatening one of my cities right now, is it?”
Careful, Socket. I'm not entirely sure if nihilego have mouths, exactly, but that thing could come back and bite you in the butt regardless. ;)

Good to know Switch made it, meanwhile.

“Well done,” said Web. “I’ve been trying to get him to rest all day. Those wounds are starting to look pretty angry. I had to change his water earlier and it’s not easy to find clean water around here.”
I'd wondered if they were changing his water (and hoped they were).


Quite a lot of action these past several chapters. I've enjoyed them. :D
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Quite a lot of action these past several chapters. I've enjoyed them.
Thanks so much for your reviews, Sike! I really enjoy reading them =D

Chapter Thirty Eight​

Socket barged through the doors to Proxy Prison, sandwiched between two pidgeot. She wrenched the filter mask from her face and stuffed it into her handbag. A small yelp of protest came from deep within it, and in one fluid motion Tweak leapt from her bag and landed with a jingle on the clean, tiled floor.

“I don’t know why you insisted on coming with me,” she grumbled.

He smoothed out the stringy fur atop his head and looked up at her with a beaming smile reminiscent of a creepy doll.

“I got curious,” he said. “Besides, all my crime dramas got canceled.”

She shook her head and followed after the leading pidgeot guard. “Flying here has put my fur on end. A shower won’t be enough to get this grime off me. Nothing will be enough.”

“You could shave?”

Socket resisted the urge to trample the chingling into mosaic art and instead focused on following her body guards through the winding corridors. It felt like it would never end. But at least, being a government facility, the prison had some level of cleanliness compared to the outside streets. The air was clean, the floors were mopped daily. But everything was grey.

The leading pidgeot paused beside a small, single door and stood aside for Socket.

“This is his office, ma’am,” he said.

“Really?” Socket took a deep breath and rapped on the door. “He’d better make this quick.”

“Come in!” The voice was irritatingly cheerful.

She shoved the door open, revealing a squat desk displaying a significant lack of organization. A stack of trays stood at one side, oddly empty save for one unopened envelope. Crumbs and sugar littered the paperwork while an empty donut container had found a second job as a pen holder (despite the plastic cup designed specifically for the job lying beneath a mound of newspapers.)

A grumpig sat with his feet on the desk, licking sugar off his paws. He looked up at her and smiled broadly. A smile intended to be warm but instead it lit a fire in her stomach that radiated out of her eyes, melting the smile back off his face.

“So sorry to drag you out here, Mayor Socket.” He lifted his feet off the desk and adjusted himself in a bid to appear more professional. “But it’s important you see all this first hand.”

She waved a paw at his office. “I hope whatever it is can be found in your dump.”

“Oh yes,” he said with a nervous laugh. “Some of what I want to show you is on the computer.”

“Really? And you couldn’t just email it to me?”

“Well… it’s kind of confidential, and given recent events…” The grumpig’s eyes wandered to the pidgeot then drifted down towards Tweak.

Socket followed his gaze to the grinning chingling and tutted. “You’re all excused. Allow me to talk to this officer in peace.”

The pidgeot guards retreated from the room, the last one holding the door open for Tweak. However, the tiny psychic type didn’t budge.

“Tweak?” Socket’s voice was laced with ice.

“Nah, I wanna stay,” said Tweak. “I’m taking notes.”

Socket didn’t even want to ask where he pulled his notebook and pen from.

She tutted and looked back up at the grumpig. “He’s fine. He won’t spill anything because he knows full well if he does he’ll be turned into an ornamental wind chime… A silent one.”

Tweak chuckled and waved his pen at her.

“You think I’m joking,” she said.

“I actually don’t,” said Tweak. “That’s why it’s funny.”

The grumpig shook his head and waved a paw. “If you trust him, Mayor, then I’ll take your word for it.”

Socket nodded to the waiting pidgeot and they let the door close silently. She turned back to the grumpig and her expression turned steely.

“So?” she asked. “What is it?”

He cleared his throat and ushered her towards his desk. When she didn’t move, he turned the computer monitor towards her, knocking several documents onto the floor.

“As you can see, we’ve been interviewing Troll.” He met her raised eyebrow and inclined his head on one side. “The croagunk? The one you had arrested for hacking?”

“I know you mean the croagunk,” she said. “I’m the one who asked you to question him. Get on with it.”

“Oh yes, well.” He turned back to the computer and scrolled through the masses of text. “He’s been pleading ‘not guilty’ since we got here. We’ve had an impromptu court case, but results have been less than reliable. So many have accused him of this crime but their reasons were… shaky at best.”

“Shaky how?” she asked slowly.

The grumpig stuttered and looked between her and the computer. Tweak bounced up and down, jingling euphorically.

“Oh! I know, I know!” he said. “They’re scared of you, Mayor!”

The grumpig paled and fixed one eye on the chingling. The hairs on the back of Socket’s neck stood on end, but she clasped her paws before her and forced a smile which only seemed to chill the officer even more.

“Well,” she said. “At least we know where their loyalties lie. Do continue.”

The officer shifted in his seat and continued scrolling through the text Socket was making every effort not to read.

“Given… that… reasoning,” he said, “we decided to run more thorough lie detector examinations. They met the same results as the ones given prior to the court case. Each plea he makes that he didn’t hack, and that he doesn’t even know how to, were shown to be true.”

“So he’s either a convincing liar or innocent,” said Socket.

“I’d go with convincing liar,” said Tweak. “We traced his number right back from the hacked systems.”

“Someone could have stolen his phone,” said the grumpig. “But it is very positive evidence. However, something else keeps coming up, which is partly why I’ve asked you to come here, Mayor.”

Socket raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“He keeps mentioning a pokemon’s name,” he said. “Keeps saying he ‘should never have trusted Surge’.”

Socket’s spine stiffened and she fixed the grumpig with a piercing glare. “Surge?”

“I know you’ve hired her,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to tell you. Given she’s a mercenary and had been working for Tracer, word must have got back to this croagunk. I don’t know what he means. Maybe he thinks she’s falsely turned him in for revenge or something. I get the impression he either hired her himself, or worked for her. Or both. I dunno but gut feeling says she’s got something to do with him being here.”

“Have you quizzed him on this?” she asked.

“Yeh, we’ve tried,” said the officer. “But it’s hard to ask questions to such a hazy clue, Mayor. He said he’s worried she traced hacking back to him. She’s apparently a Jack of All Trades, but he doesn’t know if she’s a hacker or not. Apparently the work she did for him was… well… assassination.”

“You’re saying she killed someone? I’ve hired some murderer?”

“Well…” The grumpig reached under his desk and pulled out a fresh box of donuts. “I’m not… entirely-”

“Are you seriously going to eat those in my presence?” Socket hissed.

He froze, paw half inside the box. “I’m sorry, Mayor. When I’m stressed, I eat.”

“Well wait! Now… do go on.”

He gently closed the lid and sighed. “It’s difficult to say, Mayor. The lie detector test for this particular interview tells us he’s telling the truth, but covering something up. He wouldn’t give the name of the pokemon he had assassinated. All he would tell us was it was a pirate. So, given your current law, not exactly murder given the pirate was turned in and the price was split forty-sixty, with Troll getting the short end of the deal. Apparently he’d had a bit of a dispute with the pirate, but again wouldn’t go into details. So it depends if you consider a personal dispute against a pirate murder, or a genuine turn-in of the bounty.”

She pursed her lips and tapped her claws along her arm. “That is something we can use against him to get to the bottom of this then… isn’t it?”

“Blackmail?” the officer asked.

Tweak looked up at her with a start, almost dropping his pen.

“How much do you trust this Surge, Mayor?” the grumpig asked.

“I trusted her when I hired her,” said Socket. “Although she did seem rather on edge. I could put that down to her merely being in my presence, but events have unfolded recently that have aroused my suspicion. There’s been a crisis in Binary City where a magnezone and his fleet were attacked by a heat laser, but I wasn’t sure if that was Hunter having obtained one, or if it were Surge since I gifted her one for the task of rounding up Wildcard Gamma. I was willing to push it aside until further evidence was obtained, but if Surge really isn’t to be trusted… if she actually did hack into government files… who was she working for then? Curiosity? Or has Hunter got her wrapped around his paw?”

“So you think it might have been her?” the grumpig asked. “She’s somehow traced the hacking back to Troll to cover her tracks?”

“There’s only one way to find out,” said Socket. “We have to trick the information out of him if he’s not willing to give every teeny tiny detail.”

“He might not know the fine details,” said the grumpig. “If he’s been framed, he’s not going to know how, or when, or why. Is he?”

“I say we find out if his plea that he can’t actually hack are really true, and leave that as our evidence,” said Socket. “Give him a task where the stakes are high. Something that drives the most motive to actually try to successfully hack into a government file. One that it doesn’t really matter if he sees.”

“Like last year’s air cleanliness records?” Tweak suggested.

“Exactly,” said Socket. “For Meta City.”

“And how do we drive him to do it?” the officer asked. “Reward him if he actually can? A cash reward?”

“No. That’s not driving enough,” said Socket. “He might merely shrug it off. A criminal can get his money another way, can’t he? No. I say we raise the stakes. If he can hack, he gets a reduced prison sentence. Ten years taken off, there and then. And if he fails, he dies.”

The grumpig dropped his donut box onto the floor, scattering sugar and sprinkles everywhere. Socket eyed the mess with malevolence and dug her claws into the soft flesh of her arm.

“But what if he actually can’t hack?” the officer gasped. “If he’s telling the truth, you’ll be sending an innocent pokemon to his death!”

“The stakes are a lie,” she said. “They’re to drive him. And I’ll be the one to give him the stakes because I sincerely doubt you could do it with a straight face. He’d see right through you.”

He trembled in his seat, the motion making his soft flesh jiggle. “Very well. Then… what are the real stakes?”

“If he’s telling the truth, he’s excused. Any motive to have that unnamed space pirate assassinated will be written off and he’ll be sent free. No ifs or buts. However, if he’s lying and he truly is the hacker, he’s to be put to death.”

The grumpig nodded slowly. “Okay, Mayor. We can arrange this. Let’s see, when can we run this test?”

He reached for his desk calendar, but Socket’s voice froze him to the spot.

“Now.”

“Now?” He snapped his head around to face her. “But Mayor, the room isn’t even set up. The test isn’t ready-”

“I said now,” she said. “I’m done wasting my time here. Get Troll and bring him to the exam room. I’ll have Tweak set up the files for hacking.” She rounded on the chingling. “Make it difficult. I don’t want any false results.”

“Aye aye, Ma’am!” Tweak saluted and tossed his note book up to her.

She caught it instinctively and stared down at the illegible scrawl. With a sigh, she stuffed it into her purse and followed the officer and chingling from the room.

...​

Several times Macro had almost dialed Surge. Several times he’d become too nervous and backed out. DL and Anchor sat watching in fascination while Matrix looked up from his game whenever Macro so much as twitched.

“I doubt she’s going to dial you,” said the ribombee. “You really need to get a wiggle on.”

Macro let out a flustered sigh and stuffed his computer back into his pouch. “Forget it. I’ll do it later. I’m too sore to put up with any of her tricks right now anyway.”

“What tricks?” Matrix and Anchor asked in unison.

Macro waved a paw. “Nothing you need concern yourself over.”

Anchor and Matrix exchanged glances.

“You thinking what I’m thinking?” Anchor asked.

“Maybe.” Matrix looked back down at his computer. “I was picking up some vibes off her. Maybe I might be able to learn a thing or two.”

“Seriously?” Anchor sat bolt upright. “Macro gets a girlfriend and you’re picking up flirting vibes?”

Macro jolted in his seat and stared at the granbull slack-jawed. DL looked between each pokemon in turn.

“Oh.” Matrix glanced up at Anchor. “Guess we weren’t thinking the same thing. I just assumed she was a prankster and it’s been a while since I last played a practical joke on one of you. I mean, you were both so easy it kinda got dull.”

Macro groaned and ran a paw down his face. “She is not my girlfriend.”

“Then what are you so nervous about?” Anchor asked.

“You haven’t met her.” Macro stood up and paced over to the door, faltered, then turned and walked back to his chair. “Man, I’m getting cabin fever being cooped up in this place. I just wanna get back to my ship.”

“That might be able to be arranged.” Jumper’s voice froze him before he reached his seat.

They all turned to look at the door. The frogadier leant against the frame, a small smile playing at his lips.

“I was worried I’d missed you,” he told Macro. “I went to your ward and when I saw you weren’t there I assumed you were off somewhere trying to find that disk.”

“I’m kinda planning it out,” said Macro. “Just waitin’ on Matrix to download me a map of every government building in this city.”

“And I’m totally not doing that right now,” said Matrix.

Macro fired him a glare but Jumper silenced him with a raised paw.

“You have no need for maps,” said Jumper. “I actually need to talk to you. All of you. You see…” His eyes drifted to DL then went back to Macro. “I’ve had some of my officers round up as many bugs as they can find in the orchard. It’s like watching the undead. There really is nothing left inside them, is there?”

“Nope,” said Macro. “And I’m gonna hazard a guess that unlike DL their personalities aren’t stored on disks somewhere.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you,” said Jumper. “But until we can get into Luma City and find out for certain how to rescue these poor pokemon, there’s not much we can do for them. A lot of research will be put into memory removal and installation, but until then, every bug will be collected and confined in cells for the foreseeable future.”

“All right, so you’ve got the bugs sorted. But what of the grass army and the twins?” Macro folded his arms and inclined his head on one side. “Has anyone even found their bodies? Will there be another attack? As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got your work cut out for you here, Gov.”

“He’s right.” Anchor sipped at a glass of water. “That army put up a fight. If it weren’t for Switch I don’t think we would have won that battle.”

Jumper looked over at the unconscious human and sighed. “Yes, I agree with you there too. That fight could have escalated into an even bigger disaster. Really, Wildcard, I honestly can’t thank you enough.”

Macro let out a small chuckle. “So. About them maps. You said I have no need for them, so what are you gonna do? Hand them to me as a thanks and let me run riot for a while? ‘Cos I’m all up for a bit of fun.”

“Not quite.” Jumper fixed his eyes on his. “I might have to cut your fun short, Macro.”

Macro kept his eyes on the frogadier’s paw as he reached into his belt pouch. Macro’s first thought was that he was reaching for a gun, but instead Jumper pulled out something tiny and black and held it out in his open paw.

“I know you were all up for searching for it,” said Jumper. “But my guards aren’t up for playing with you right now. I might as well cut your search short.”

Macro’s mouth went from a neat, stunned ‘o’ to a huge grin. He took the tiny disk in his claws and stared at it, half believing that at any moment he was going to wake up and it would just be a dream.

“You’re just giving me this?” he asked.

“Yes, but I still don’t think it’s thanks enough.” Jumper shrugged. “It feels more like I’m just doing the right thing. Seeing all those bug pokemon, while your friend DL here is on her way to recovery… who am I to stop her from making that recovery?”

“So you believe me?” Macro looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. “For all you know, I could be filling you with lies to acquire government secrets.”

“That thought did cross my mind,” said Jumper. “But I’ve met DL. While you were out, we had a little chat. She’s told me everything, and your stories match up. Well… what she can recall, anyway.”

Macro smirked and placed the disk in his belt pouch. “I think you’re a little gullible, Gov.”

“Perhaps. That makes my next offer a rather risky one.” Jumper fastened his paws behind his back. “Given all you have done for us, I want to personally offer you sanctuary in Cyan City.”

Macro let out a yell and Anchor dropped his glass, spilling water all over his lap. The vaporeon in the bed next to him almost leapt out from beneath the sheets. He fixed wide eyes on the occupants of the room and flopped back down onto his pillow. Anchor folded the sodden sheet over itself in an attempt to stop water spilling onto the floor.

“You serious?” he gasped.

Macro pointed at the frogadier. “You’re gonna offer us space pirates sanctuary? In a government run city?”

“I agree it’s a huge risk,” said Jumper. “But I’m hardly going to turn away pokemon who helped us avoid destruction, am I?”

“And what’s Socket going to say?”

“Socket doesn’t need to know.” Jumper’s expression turned steely. “Given what she’s done to DL, and what you are doing to help her, who do you think the good guys are in this situation?”

“Pirates ain’t good guys,” said Macro.

“That’s in the eye of the beholder.” Jumper fixed DL with a warm smile. “I think this one would be inclined to agree with me.”

“So do I.” The vaporeon’s voice came out weak. “No pirate would have risked being turned in just to save one city. Especially not one they’d planned to invade.”

Macro eyes flicked from Floppy back to Jumper. He opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Instead he fell back into his seat and looked over at Switch.

Jumper smiled and shrugged. “See? I’m sure many others will agree, too. And don’t worry about your friend. My offer extends to him. He can safely recover here if you need to be on your way. I’ll contact you when he’s ready to be collected.”

Macro let out a dry laugh and shook his head. “And you seriously don’t think this offer is enough of a thank you…”

“I think you’re nuts,” said Anchor. “In a good way.”

Jumper laughed and turned towards the door. “I’ll leave you be. If I don’t see you before you leave, have a safe journey. I’ll be in touch, and remember. Don’t be a stranger.”

They watched the frogadier leave the room, then DL turned to Macro, her chocolate eyes sparkling.

“Is it weird that I want to cry?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Matrix.

“Ignore him.” Macro hugged his arms around himself and looked at the wall. “It’s not weird at all.”

“I don’t think you’re the only one.” Anchor wiped his eyes on his bed sheet then offered it to the pachirisu. “Here.”

A croaking laugh came from Floppy’s bed. “You pirates are as soft as butter.”

Macro snorted but didn’t look back at him. “Then be glad you’re not a bread roll.”

“Ah, don’t take offense.” Floppy laughed again. “It’s a good thing. Believe me.”

...​

Annie stared up at the huge pyukumuku ship. It looked a lot bigger than its framework had made it look. It stood proud in the back garden, fully fleshed out with an impact resistant shell and sporting what Trojan had assured her was ‘state of the art weaponry’. Of course, she couldn’t see it. It was inside the ship, rather than marring the pyukumuku’s appearance with bulky, ugly turrets.

Trojan pushed a button in the hull of the ship and an oblong door clattered open, falling towards the ground like a draw bridge. Annie’s eyes lit up, and a squeal of delight came from the fish bowl beside her.

“It’s so awesome!” Zip cried as he skittered over to the drawbridge. “I can’t wait to see inside!”

“Oi!” Trojan called at the goldeen’s tail. “Don’t you go splashing water everywhere now, you ‘ear me?”

“Whoa!” Zip’s voice came from the shadows. “It’s so cool!”

Web wiped a tea towel over her brow and turned her eyes onto Annie. “Are you seriously going to fly off in that thing?”

“Of course.” Annie placed a hand on her hip and grinned. “It’s the perfect ship for a rebellion.”

“I don’t know…” Web wound the towel in her paws. “It looks less like a ship and more like a shipwreck waiting to happen. I fear it’ll come down no sooner you get it into the sky. Where’s its wings?”

“Pyukumuku don’t have wings,” said Trojan.

Annie looked at Web and nodded towards Trojan.

“Have you even test flown it yet?” Web asked.

“Nope. That’s what we’re gonna do now.” Trojan turned to clamber into the ship.

“Really?” Web’s brow knitted into a frown. “With a child on board?”

“Hey, he climbed on first,” said Trojan.

“I want him off that ship,” said Web. “I need to know it can actually stay in the air longer than five minutes before I allow him, or Annie, onto that thing.”

“No can do,” said Trojan. “As soon as this thing is in the air, it’s stayin’ there. It’s not gonna be the easiest thing to land without a good mile to plan, at least.”

Web’s jaw dropped and she looked away. “I really don’t like this.”

Waveform strode from the house with a sack slung over his back. He gave Web’s shoulder a squeeze then strode past her towards the ship.

“You too?” Web gasped.

“Yup.” The decidueye paused by the drawbridge and tossed the sack inside to be swallowed up by the shadows. “I don’t plan on staying around here a day longer.”

Web’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Why is this so important to you?”

Waveform met her look head on and shrugged. “You come with us, you’ll find out.”

Trojan watched the decidueye climb on board then looked back at Web, her questioning gaze now fixed on him.

“Don’t look at me, I don’t know either,” he said. “I’m just glad there’s another sane ‘mon on board.”

The scrafty mounted the drawbridge and vanished inside the pyukumuku. Annie looked back at Web and smiled.

“Well, it’s been lovely,” she said. “But I’m gonna have to go head this rebellion now. Put the kettle on, we’ll be back by tea time.”

“No we won’t,” said Trojan. “We’re headed to Pulse City. It’s a three day round trip, provided this thing can actually move faster than a real pyukumuku.”

“Oh.” Annie scratched her chin and looked up at the night sky. “All right then. Three days. I’ll be needing that coffee.”

Her heavy feet clattered over the hollow iron sheet that formed the drawbridge door. When she reached the inside, she looked around at the ship and let out a long whistle. The paneled wall had been given a brisk coat of paint, but graffiti still showed through in parts. That, coupled with the low lighting, gave it a somewhat grungy feel. Her entire body tingled with excitement. She gave one last look over her shoulder at the skuntank, still standing staring up at the ship.

“You sure you don’t wanna see this?” Annie asked. “Last chance before we fly.”

Waveform placed a wing on her shoulder and steered her away from the door.

“Come on,” he said. “Web told me she won’t step paw in Pulse City. She left that side of her past behind years ago.”

“But we’re not space pirates,” said Annie. “We’re rebels.”

“They may as well be the same thing,” said Web. “Besides. You lot won’t survive five minutes in Pulse City. Especially not you, Waveform. You’re a bounty hunter, and a famous one at that! They’ll have your hide and turn your feathers into ink quills!”

Waveform sighed and opened his beak to speak, but Trojan appeared beside him and pointed a claw at the skuntank.

“Look!” he said. “You gonna come aboard this ship, or just stand there shoutin’ at us until we take off? ‘Cos if it’s the latter, you’re gonna wanna take several steps back. This thing uses thrusters to get into the air and I reckon it’s gonna make a jackin’ mess.”

Web shook her head slowly and took three steps back. Annie caught a glare off her as the drawbridge rose, then she was hidden from view as the door clattered into place.

“All righty then.” Trojan fell into a leather seat and struck something on the dashboard. “Let’s get this party started, shall we?”

Lights flooded the ship and Annie raised a hand to her eyes with a squeal. As she blinked the dazzle spots away, she looked around at the spacious cockpit. It was like viewing it from a new angle. A brighter, yet still grungy, angle.

“I’d find yourselves seats if I were you,” said Trojan.

Annie took the one beside the scrafty. Another leather chair. The other seats were rickety. Two plastic foldaway chairs screwed to the tinny floor. Zip found his spot in a heartbeat. Little supports had been fastened to the floor and they clamped over his mechanical feet firmly.

The engine flared to life, its roar filling the small space and shaking the entire ship so much the door rattled.

“Hey!” Web’s voice cried over the din. “Hey! Open up, I want in!”

Annie and Trojan exchanged looks and the human rose to her feet. The drawbridge door fell back abruptly, eliciting a squeak from the skuntank. She quickly regained her composure and fixed Annie with a glare.

“Thank you,” she said, pushing past Annie. “Quick, close it up before I change my mind again.”

Annie shrugged and pulled the door closed, then returned to her seat. Web took the only free chair beside Waveform.

“What made you change your mind?” Trojan asked without looking up.

“Oh, just the thought that all of you might be slaughtered in Pulse City,” she said. “You need someone with experience dealing with those sort of pokemon.”

“You mean Space Pirates? I’ve been dealin’ with one of those for years.”

Trojan pulled the steering stick back and the ship lurched into the air, silencing Web’s retort before it could leave her mouth.

Annie was thrust back into her seat, then left it as the ship fell back down again. Her stomach shot into her throat and she let out a loud cheer and threw her arms into the air. Another thrust sent them soaring higher into the sky.

“This is awesome!” she yelled over the engine. “Viva la rebellion!”

Zip cheered as well, waving his tiny fins.

The ship fell down again several feet before the thrusters blasted them back into the sky, higher and higher as the pyukumuku was raised over the rooftops.

Annie’s laughter filled the cockpit, drawing a glare from Trojan and a worried glance from Web.

“Anyway.” She stopped laughing as fast as she’d started and turned to address Web. “Glad to have you with us, Number Two.”

“Number Two?” Web and Trojan asked at the same time, the latter with a snort.

“Yeh,” said Annie. “Web’s always been my number two.”

“Really?” Trojan grumbled. “I thought if Waveform were your Number One, then second in command would be me.”

The ship leveled out in the air, slowly rising up towards the clouds. Heavy clouds, black against the deep blue sky.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Annie. “You’re my engineering officer.”

“Oh.” He shrugged. “All right then.”

“Then what am I?” Zip asked. “His assistant?”

“Oh no, no.” Annie twisted in her seat to face him. “You, little fish, are my Assistant in Rebellioness. I’m hoping I can count on you.”

Zip cheered again. “You can count on me for anything!”

Web groaned and ran a paw over her face.

Waveform looked down at her. “Having second thoughts?”

She shook her head and sighed. “No. I actually think I’ve done the right thing. Someone needs to keep all of you in check.”

...​

Macro had refused to go back to his room. Instead, he remained sat in his chair while the doctor checked him over. With a nod, the croconaw sat back and jabbed something into his computer screen that the mawile couldn’t see.

“You’re all clear to go,” he said. “Just take it easy for a while. Don’t stress your leg too much.”

Macro nodded and looked up at Anchor. The granbull sat on the edge of his bed, stretching his stiff limbs. More fur had been burned away than Macro had initially noticed. Bare patches mottled Anchor’s chest and right leg, but they didn’t look angry.

‘Rich city medicine.’

Macro looked over at Switch, still lying unconscious. Was there really nothing they could do to bring him around before he went back to his ship?

Jumper kicked back from the wall and smiled at the space pirate. “I guess if you’re ready to leave, then this is goodbye?”

Macro snorted but a smile spread across his lips. “Can’t wait to get rid of me, eh Gov?”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” said Jumper, meeting his smile. “I actually hope you’ll come back and visit. I’d love to see how young DL is getting along with her memories.”

DL smiled and raised a paw to try and cover up the blush that dusted her cheeks.

“Well, if Switch is stayin’ here then it’s highly likely.” Macro rose to his feet, ignoring the helping paw from the croconaw. “All right, crew. Let’s beat it back to Wildcard Gamma.”

Anchor dropped to his feet, flinching with the impact. A look of concern crossed the doctor’s face, but it melted away when Anchor trudged past him to join Macro’s side.

Matrix buzzed beside the mawile’s head while staring at his computer. “The ship is parked above the hospital. I can get the ladder down to the roof if you want to exit that way?”

“Why?” Jumper inclined his head on one side. “You’re not escaping, you’re just leaving. You can use the street. No one’s going to stop you.”

“This is mighty alien, Cap’n,” said Anchor quietly.

“Embrace it,” said Macro. “Because I highly doubt this will happen again any time soon.” A light went on in his mind and he absently pawed at the empty holster on his belt. “What about our weapons? Those things ain’t cheap, yanno.”

“I have that covered,” said Jumper. “You can collect them at reception on your way out. They don’t generally allow firearms in the wards.”

Macro snorted and shrugged. “Ain’t like Pulse City hospital, that’s for certain.”

Jumper ignored his remark and led them to the door. Macro paused beside it, his eyes drifting back to the unconscious human.

“We’ll be back for you, Switch,” he said. “I promise you that. We’ll get you home. I never leave a job unfinished.”

As the door closed, his mind drifted back to Lossy and his stomach tied itself in knots. No. He never left a job unfinished, but it wasn’t often he failed at one either.

“Hey, Gov,” he said. “Give Lossy our condolences won’t you?”

“Of course, Macro,” said Jumper.

“And if we hear anything about the twins… well, I’ve got your number.”

Jumper chuckled. “I understand. I’ll keep you updated.”

A flood of relief spread through Macro’s body and he kept pace beside Jumper until they reached the reception. Before Macro could remind the Governor, he retrieved a bag from beside the azumarill, almost collapsing under its weight.

“I think you’ll find everything is in here.” He dropped it at the space pirate’s feet.

Anchor tugged it open and grinned, retrieving his gauntlets as though he’d not seen them in years. Once Macro’s guns were back in place he let out a small, satisfied sigh.

“I don’t really understand you space pirates,” said Jumper. “But I trust you won’t say anything of us dodging a weapon ban?”

“Nope,” said Macro. “Ran plenty of errands for those dodging the ban. You now know who to call if you need any parts or upgrades. Right?”

Jumper chuckled, giving a shake of his head, and steered them towards the exit. Matrix was on the ball, drawing the neon ladder down above the hospital’s doors.

Despite it being the crack of dawn, a small audience had gathered outside, their eyes on the sky as they stared at Wildcard Gamma in fascination. A group of children stood at the front, bouncing up and down as the ladder descended.

When Macro stepped outside, the audience broke into a cheer, and not the kind of cheer one hears when a bounty had been obtained. This one was genuine, happy, grateful cheering.

Macro stiffened and stared dumbfounded at the crowd.

“Okay,” he said. “This is surreal. I’m going home.”

He grabbed onto the ladder and climbed up a few rungs to allow Anchor and DL to join him. He gave one last look down at Jumper and smirked.

“Thanks for everything, Gov,” he said.

“No. Thank you, Macro.” Jumper returned his smile and saluted. The gesture almost sent the space pirate falling from the ladder. “See you again soon. I’ll keep you updated on Switch’s progress.”

Macro let out a nervous laugh and turned his eyes onto the hulking wishiwashi. The ladder ascended and Matrix landed gracefully two rungs above him. Within no time flat, they were back on board Wildcard Gamma.

The door closed behind them, but unlike the rest of his crew he didn’t look back down at the city. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he knew full well if he did he’d want to go back.

With a sigh, he drew the disk from his belt. “Well, I guess we’d better get this installed in you, eh DL?”

DL shifted uneasily and slumped into the cockpit. Before Macro could reach it, Cookie poked his head out of the kitchen door.

“You’re back!” His jovial smile fell and he looked at Anchor aghast. “What on earth happened down there?!”

“We’ll fill you in later,” said Macro. “It’s a long story.”

“Oh good. We haven’t had a night time story in a while.” Cookie waved his ladle. “I’ll make extra helpings just for that!”

Macro waved the slurpuff off and joined his crew in the cockpit. Anchor leant back in his chair with a sigh.

“Oh, it’s like putting on a second skin,” he said. “Where too, Cap’n?”

“I dunno yet,” said Macro. “I’m thinking Pulse City. Get some fuel, and maybe a burger at Moonlight Lounge.”

He handed the disk to Matrix and sank into his seat, kicking his feet up on the dashboard.

Soft, fluffy clouds drifted by, painted orange from the rising sun. It wouldn’t be long until Cyan City was far behind them.

“Whoa, Cap’n!” Anchor’s cry drew Macro out of his reverie.

He followed the granbull’s paw to something in the distance. Something squid-like flew away from them, its long tentacles pulsing back and forth behind it as it swam through the sky. It was nothing like Macro had ever seen.

“Think it’s another of Socket’s little victims?” Macro asked. “Something else to toy with since we took DL and her human away?”

“I dunno.” Anchor scratched his head. “What do you suggest we do?”

Macro nibbled on a claw as he watched the creature drift further away from them. None of them knew what it was, yet none of them had ever seen a human before either. Of course, Switch had been disguised as a talonflame. What if this was another human trapped in the form of some unseen pokemon?

“I say we catch it,” said Macro. “I ain’t letting Socket have the satisfaction of catching some other innocent creature.”

“We don’t even know if she wants this thing,” said Anchor. “I mean… there’s no government fleet pursuing it.”

“Catch it anyway.” Macro shrugged. “There’s every chance it wants to get back home like Switch does. Wherever home is. And what if she is trying to catch it? If we beat her again, then that’ll just add to the fun.”

“All right.” Anchor pushed the steering stick forwards. “Let’s catch the jellyfish thing.”

Matrix looked up from his computer. One paw held the jack lead, but DL had rose to her feet to join Macro’s side.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “Almost translucent. Look how the sun reflects off its body.”

“Anything in your data banks about this thing?” Macro asked her.

She shook her head, but her eyes wouldn’t leave the creature.

“Are you sure about this?” Matrix asked. “We don’t know what that thing even is.”

“If this has anything to do with Socket opening time and space,” said Macro, “then it’s probably a pokemon from another world.”

“But what if that world is hostile?”

Macro ignored him, keeping his eyes on the strange pokemon. Wildcard Gamma gradually caught up with it, and the jaws of the ship opened wide to trap the creature. In seconds, the tentacled pokemon was safely in their cargo hold.

“All right.” Macro slipped from his seat with DL in tow. “Let’s go see if we can talk to it. Find out where it’s come from.”

Matrix watched him, winding his antenna around in his paw so tightly Macro worried he might pull it off.

“You two ain’t goin’ alone, Cap’n,” said Anchor.

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

Macro paused by the door and looked back at the ribombee. His wings buzzed as he lifted himself off his seat.

“Matrix, you stay here with DL,” said Macro. “I might need you in the cockpit.”

Matrix shrugged and landed back in his seat with a plop. “Sure. I don’t even wanna know what that thing is. It looks like something from a horror game.”

Macro tutted then followed Anchor down the corridor towards the loot room. DL’s soft footsteps followed after them and Macro looked back over his shoulder at her.

“I told you to stay with Matrix,” he said.

She shook her head and slipped past him, catching up with the granbull. Macro muttered under his breath and plodded behind them until they reached the door. One scan of the mawile’s paw opened it and he slipped in ahead of them. Before they could reach the next door, a loud crash came from beyond it and the entire ship shook. Macro’s heart lurched into his throat and he flashed the next door open. Had the creature hurt itself? He raced down the stairs towards it. Another crash sent him rolling head over heels down the remaining steps until he landed in a heap at the metal door.

“Cap’n!”

Anchor dived down the stairs after him, but it was DL who appeared at his side first. She placed a warm paw on his shoulder and he looked up, meeting her eyes.

“I’m fine,” Macro muttered.

She took his paw and pulled him to his feet. Anchor stared at the door, his paws balled into fists.

“I dunno what to think of this,” he said. “Somethin’ don’t smell right.”

Macro took a deep breath and reached for the door panel. “Well, I’m giving this thing the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably terrified, and if it understands us then-”

The door slid open, revealing the vast cargo hold. The jellyfish creature swam in circles, but when it spotted them it froze in the air. Its tentacles drooped down beneath it, reminiscent of legs and arms.

Macro folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Not seen anythin’ like you before.”

A tinkly cry came from the creature, and it waved its tentacles in a fluid motion. Had it understood him?

“Are you a pokemon? Or a human?”

DL slipped past him, her eyes locked on the creature.

“Well, whatever you are,” said Macro, “Socket can’t hurt you here. So-”

A red glow emanated from the creature, reflecting from the walls of the cargo hold. Then like a flash it lurched towards them. Macro whipped DL behind him and span to the side, slamming his paw over the door panel. The door shut just before the creature reached them. It bounced off the metal with an almighty clang, leaving a huge dent protruding from the surface. Anchor’s eyes widened and he looked from the damaged door to Macro.

Clang after clang came from within the cargo hold. Macro clutched the pachirisu to his chest and shouted into his ear piece.

“Matrix! It’s hostile! Let it out and fire! Fire!”

The noise coming from the cargo hold was unbearable. His heart leapt with every crash and he screwed his eyes shut.

It seemed to go on for an eternity. Then it ended. The silence was almost deafening.

Macro looked up, his breath coming in heavy bursts.

“Did you hit it?” he asked Matrix.

The ribombee’s voice resonated in his ear, “Nah. I missed.”

“You missed?” Macro hissed.

“Hey, I might be able to use the controls in here, but I’m not a good shot.”

“All them video games didn’t teach you anything?” Macro sighed. “What’s happened to the creature?”

“It got away.”

Macro leant his head back against the wall and ran a paw over his face. The darn thing got away… Little claws dug into his chest and he opened his eyes again, meeting DL’s frightened chocolate gaze. All his fear melted away to be replaced with a burning battle spirit.

“Where is it going?” he asked Matrix.

“Pulse City.”

Macro’s heart sank. He exchanged glances with Anchor and the granbull nodded.

“We’ll beat it there, Cap’n.” He trudged up the stairs, flinching slightly on his burned leg.

Pulse City… Macro groaned and rubbed at his scar. What had he got himself into? He cracked an eye open, fixing it on DL’s terrified face. Her little nose twitched and she glanced away from him towards the damaged door.

His blood froze in his veins. Everything suddenly seemed a lot darker.

All this had started when he’d picked up that box. What would have happened if he’d left it? One thing was for certain. He’d be blissfully unaware.

But it was too late now. He was already in too deep.

She shifted again, feeling tiny under his paw. The scent of lavender wafted up from her fur, dusting away that dark cloud and stirring something else entirely deep inside his stomach. He couldn’t be doing with this. It frightened him. The wild emotions the pachirisu caused him were a cocktail of confusion.

His muzzle creased and he shoved her aside, marching up the steps towards the cockpit. He only paused to let her out of the loot room so he could make sure it locked behind her.

Once he reached the cockpit, he fell into his seat with a heavy sigh.

“Sorry,” said Matrix flatly. “Don’t ask me to fire the guns again.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Macro turned his head to look at him. “Hurry up and get that disk installed on DL.”

“But…” DL stuttered and faltered in the doorway. “But I told you I don’t want it.”

“You’re having it!” he snapped. “The deal was we’d get your memories and in return you’d work for me. So you can stick to our deal and take them, and be flippin’ happy about it, all right?! Besides, the sooner you get them all back the sooner you’re done.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“Wasn’t it clear enough?” He turned away from her and leant back in his seat. “Once all this is over, I want you gone.”

Macro could feel Anchor’s eyes burning into the side of his head.

“Where’s this come from, Cap’n?”

The granbull’s voice was quiet, but Macro was fairly certain the entire cockpit heard it. Nevertheless, he didn’t answer. He closed his eyes and tucked his paws behind his head.

“Fine.” DL’s voice wavered. “I’ll take my memories and then I’ll leave, if that’s what you want.”

Macro shrugged, but somehow her words stabbed him. It wasn’t her fault. None of this was her fault.

He cracked one eye open and caught her reflection in the window as she sat at Matrix’s feet. The ribombee plugged the jack in place and Macro let his eyes close again. Why was it so hard to apologize?

“This one looks rather big,” said Matrix. “It might take a while.”

No… it wasn’t fair. She said she didn’t want it, so why was he forcing it on her?

Macro licked his lips and ventured a glance back at them. But before he could say anything, DL’s entire body stiffened. The antenna behind her ear flashed erratically and her eyes turned lifeless. Then her mouth flapped open and closed at an alarming rate, throwing out a stream of nonsense.

Matrix dropped his computer and buzzed into the air, hovering as he wound an antenna round in his paw. His eyes traced over the pachirisu then he looked back at Macro.

Macro leapt over the back of his seat and dived to catch DL as she fell backwards onto the floor. Anchor rose to his feet, looking at each pokemon in turn.

“What’s happening?” Macro barked at Matrix.

Matrix looked from him to DL. “I… I don’t know.” He swooped from the air to snatch up his computer and his eyes widened. “It’s frozen.”

Macro stared up at him, his mouth hanging open. DL’s incomprehensible babble filled the cockpit, driving his anxiety sky high. He wasn’t a computer whizz like Matrix, but there was one thing he knew about computers… if they froze, they needed a reboot.

He grit his teeth together and reached behind DL’s head, flicking her switch into the off position. Her body went limp in his arms, but in the silence that followed he could hear his own heart beating. Racing at a mile a minute. He took a deep breath and switched her back on.

But she just lay there. Lifeless.
 

Negrek

Lost but Seeking
All right, it's been way too long on this. I'm going to try to catch up! Like I usually do when going through a lot of chapters at once, I'm going to break things up into smaller groups, starting with five chapters at a time and then maybe varying it a little more based on the arcs that emerge in the story. Hopefully I won't fall this far behind again!

Chapters 6-10

So I basically left off before the main plot kicked into gear! Or at least before we find out what DL's deal is and see her begin to actually interact with the crew. I like how you handle her artificial personality, and the way that you show it changing as her memories are returned to her. The effects of the first disc were, I thought, particularly good--quite subtle, but also there. I loved how DL's total disdain for sweet/unhealthy stuff played into Macro realizing there had been a change, and also the fact that Macro picked up on that little moment at all. With the most recent disc acquisition (okay, slipping into talking about the next block of chapters for the moment), it kind of feels like most of DL's personality has returned, albeit not all of her memories of how she ended up in that situation. That disappoints me a little bit; I was enjoying the slow morph from mechanical to more organic, but the most recent disc load appears to have taken her more or less all the way back to "normal, but amnesic."

I also have to admit that Socket's plan seems really... bad? Like if the idea is she's going to co-opt humans as computers, rather than pokémon because people will actually care about killing pokémon, I can kind of get that. But retaining all of DL's memories because that isn't technically "killing" her? Iiiiii dunno, that really sounds like a distinction without a difference, and not one that most pokémon are going to care about. Like, if somebody gets their body co-opted and personality overwritten by a computer program, I'm going to find that pretty weird and not okay. The fact that it isn't technically murder, maybe, in some sense, isn't going to change my mind about that. Kidnapping people and using their bodies for your own purposes is still pretty bad, you know?

It also seems overly complicated, considering that there's already a whole category of pokémon nobody seems to care about: water-dwellers. Evidently the vast majority of pokémon don't care about them getting literally killed and eaten, so "killing" one by destroying its personality would seem like an obvious plan. No need to keep back-ups! So rather than a pachirisu... why not grab a squirtle or something to use as your living computer? Or a chinchou/lanturn or something if it needs to be an electric-type for some reason?

Now it could totally be the case that there's more going on here and e.g. Socket had some personal vendetta against this pachirisu in particular, and that's why she was chosen as a host. But the way the crew discusses it and decides that Socket's not-murder plot is what must be going on, like "yeah, that makes sense," kind of weirds me out. Surely they'd think there was more to it than that?

In general, though, there's clearly interesting stuff going on here. Opening up rifts to other worlds sounds like a recipe for disaster, even if you leave the kidnapping out of it, and I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of dimensional shenanigans are in store for the future! I wonder if there would ultimately be some push to try and either export System's pollution or import clean stuff from other worlds/times; in general the environment of System seems kind of, uh, crappy, and if you have all these other worlds you could exploit for resources...

Probably the least interesting part from this set of chapters, to me, was the chapter where Macro goes to retrieve the first disc. It's pretty much all action sequence, which isn't a problem in and of itself, but the government facility itself felt a bit artificial to me. Like, rather than being a place where pokémon really live and work, more like a video game level with corridors, offices, and obstacles included so the characters would have somewhere to infiltrate, rather than because they make sense as part of an actually-operating facility. The place itself, and the opponents Macro's fighting, were kind of faceless and not particularly interesting to me.

On the other hand, what I appreciated most was DL's interactions with Macro and the rest of the crew. You've put them in an interesting spot here, where Macro in particular wants to do something to rectify what's been done to DL. And she brings out an interesting side in him, of course. ;) I'd love to see a little more of how she gets along with Matrix and particularly with Anchor. I think they're a little less sold on DL and her problems (though the end of Chapter 15 would suggest otherwise), and it would be cool to get more of an idea of where their relationships stand.

Chapters 11-15

And here we finally get to see more of what Socket's plan entails. Legendary androids! I'm a little curious about how their abilities work. Like, Yobi says that they can't make a celebi 'droid that can actually time-travel. But BackDoor appears to have hoopa's usual dimensional abilities, even making the characteristic golden-ring portals. How does that work?

Regardless, it's nice to see stuff moving on that front. It's also been interesting to get some insight into what Tracer and Widget are up to. I'm curious how their story will fit into the larger narrative. Something to do with Surge, I'd have to guess, but what? In particular the way Tracer deals with the down-on-their luck pokémon that live near his office suggest that he's not super all about the way things are run at the moment and might end up becoming an ally to Surge and by extension Macro and his crew.

Probably my favorite chapter from this arc was the one where Macro goes to retrieve the memory disc from Binary City. The last disc-acquiring chapter was pretty much straight battles, but I thought this one had more genuine tension, and I was way more into Binary City, too. I like that we got a chance to see some of the other inhabitants of the city just living their lives and not, like, immediately attacking Macro & co. :p Surge's dilemma was a great moment, too--although I was always sure she was going to save Macro, it was great to see her wrestling with the decision. Pretty brutal way of doing it, though... I don't know if her intent was to actually kill the officers or not, but the way it worked out it's only going to cause more problems for Macro in the future. All in all I thought this chapter balanced worldbuilding, action, and character development well. Although I will echo... I think it was Cutlerine--and say yeah, it seems kinda strange that Socket would have sent one of these important memory discs to be watched by some dude in his apartment. Looking forward to seeing what happens when Surge resurfaces... as is basically every character in the story at this point, lol. I imagine she's trying to lie low and work through what she just did, but she can't hide forever!

And at the end here we're off to try fighting one of Socket's constructs. It was always clear that Macro was going to get sucked into the bigger scheme here, despite his protests, and it'll be nice to see that happening. It looks like the next few chapters are going to go interesting places!

Chapters 16-20

So Switch gets involved! It's a good thing I read that one-shot about him, heh. I can't deny that a dash of time travel is an excuse to pull beloved characters out of retirement. I don't actually think it would have been that big a deal if I didn't recognize Switch... I don't think his backstory has really had a great deal of bearing on the plot so far, so I don't believe I'd be lost even if I hadn't the first clue who he was. Maybe there's something from the previous story that will end up being relevant down the line, but as of now I don't feel like I'm missing out.

To me, what's most interesting about Switch being here is the "culture shock" aspect. This is something I probably wouldn't be so fascinated by if I'd read the other story, actually, and would already know this, but I'm really curious about how the current System is different from past-System and how one would have evolved into the other. We definitely get some info on that here, what with Switch's horror over things like the pokémon-eating, but I want more! I guess that's a good impetus to go out and read Glitched, isn't it? Always good when a sequel (or not-quite-sequel) makes someone eager to go out and track down the previous story, heh.

He didn’t look like he’d expected humans too, however. The old fairy tale books he’d read as a hatchling depicted them as some strange passimian-nuzleaf hybrid with a pair of lightly furred paws with incredibly long fingers that could have given a galvantula leg envy.
I love this description. It's so bizarre, but at the same time you can kinda see where it came from, like it makes sense given how things are going to get exaggerated over a thousand years of humans not being around.

I found the situation with the tracking chip a bit confusing. So all the pokémon have some kind of identity chip in them, but DL had one that also serves as a tracker? So tracking is illegal, but presumably the only reason there's a tracker in DL is for exactly this situation, where Socket needs to be able to figure out where she is after she's gotten lost. So why wouldn't Socket have activated it long ago? If she's so worried about the legality aspect, why put a tracker chip in DL at all, since she knew she wouldn't be able to use it? It's also possible I'm just misunderstanding this and actually DL's chip isn't special, but even then Socket not being willing to track a chip because it's illegal seems kind of out of line with all the other questionable stuff she does. Just an odd line to draw in the sand, IMO.

Surge does mention this being the way she was following Wildcard Gamma around. Was that something that came up earlier? If not, I think it might be better to mention that earlier, so the tracking chip is established and just kind of just doesn't pop up here and then get resolved immediately. Right now that little arc feels a bit out of place to me.

I did like the callout to the hospital being unable to remove DL's network link. I hadn't even considered that when she went in for surgery, but yeah, that would be an obvious choice. For a second I was like, wouldn't the surgeon be suspicious about the whole computer-brain thing? But I guess pokémon have so many implants and mods in this story that it probably doesn't register as anything too remarkable. An interesting little moment that reminds how different this setting is from the regular PMD world.

I was also surprised that Socket referenced needing to find time to interrogate the croagunk she'd had thrown in prison. Given how big an issue Macro's been for her, I would have thought she'd have gotten around to that waaaaay earlier.

In Chapter 20 I was pretty confused by Switch's shock at them serving pokémon meat. I thought they went over that already back in Chapter 16?

In Chapter 18, the dice game they're playing... is that Yahtzee? :p I wasn't really into the game, tbh. I think it dragged on a bit, and the details of what exactly all the different players rolled didn't really make it any easier for me to follow for me, just made it read a bit dry. I think it would have been better to focus more on the emotions associated with the game, the tension of the throws, rather than what exactly each player was doing, and maybe shorten it up a little.

This struck me as one of the shakier sets of chapters, mostly because it centered around things like Socket's decisions, which still don't make a lot of sense to me. The introduction of Switch is definitely an interesting development, though, and the highlight here for me. I'm sure we'll see much more of him in upcoming chapters, and it's going to be great!

Chapters 21-25

Ah, now here we get a bit more insight into what Switch thinks of the new System compared to the old! I particularly liked the confrontation he had with Macro in Chapter 21; logically it doesn't make much sense for him to think the government might be the "good guys," but on an emotional level it absolutely does. Switch is feeling lost, and scared, and this version of System just seems so much worse than the one he remembers! And the people he's fallen in with seem pretty unnervng, and they even say they're pirates... It makes so much sense for Switch to hope that somewhere out there are people who are nicer, there's a world more like the one he remembers, that this really isn't what System's become. The argument he has with Macro is such a great character moment and is nicely done.

In general I like how Switch plays off the rest of the characters. He really does seem like a ray of optimism and positivity in contrast to the cynicism of most of the crew, and DL's fearfulness, and that provides some nice contrast and tension for his interactions with the other characters. Obviously it annoys the pants off Macro, and I know his idea in taking Switch to see the remains of the floating continent was to shock him out of his optimistic attitude and make him realize what he's really dealing with, but I hope that doesn't end up working! I feel like he's bringing out interesting aspects of the crew by kind of challenging their assumptions about the way the world works, and that that's letting us, the readers, see them in a new light as well.

Like with what we learn about Macro's past in Chapter 25! It really is nice to see a bit of, "Why are these people flying with him if he can be such a reckless jerk?" It's true, we've seen he has a soft side, but he's still damn grumpy most of the time. What I'd really like to get more of is info about Anchor and Matrix in particular. Why did they become pirates, and why do they hang around with Macro? What are their goals or hopes for the future?

But what we got about Macro was still good, starting to fill things in. I get the sense that whatever the real traumatic thing in his past was that he doesn't want to talk/think about hasn't been touched on, presumably having to do with the destruction of his last ship. That's probably going to be where the meat of his story lies. And I look forward to when we finally get it!

The other big star of this set of chapters is Annie, of course. Before talking about her directly, I gotta say:

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

“Then get it before morning.”
I love that Socket's idea of "in a while" is "within the next twenty-four hours, or else."

Annie up and punching Socket in the face was such an epic moment. I was at least as shocked as all the characters, and the totally nonchalant way that she just nabbed the pills and waltzed out was fantastic. It does seem a little weird that nobody managed to apprehend her, considering that one thunderbolt or something would no doubt be enough to put her down for the count, but at least for a bit people being so shocked/unsettled by her is an okay excuse. Since that encounter with Socket didn't go the way I was expecting, I'm definitely wondering what her role in the story's going to end up being. We have a ton of plot/character threads going now, what with Macro's group, Tracer's group, Surge, Socket and Backdoor/TimeSkip kind of being separate, and now Annie... I know this is going to be a very long story, but it does feel like we're probably getting past the point where you want to be introducing major new characters/arcs and starting to move towards tying things up. But! Annie looks like she'll be a solid addition to the cast and cause some interesting things to happen, so I can't really complain. :p

I really liked these chapters! I felt like there was a lot more emphasis on worldbuilding and characterization than there is in a typical section of the story, and it answered a lot of things I was wondering about (how System's changed and the crew's backstories in particular). Everything to do with Annie was interesting, too. I was expecting her to get trapped into Socket's service, with Socket holding the promise of the stabilization pills over her head while forcing her to do whatever, but nope! She totally took things into her own hands, and it was great. She seems like she's a pretty wildcard character, and it'll be great to see how she shakes things up.

Chapters 26-30

Bah. I'd really like to address the Cyan city stuff all in one section, since it's probably the most coherent multi-chapter arc in the story yet, or at least the most coherent that's lasted more than a couple chapters, but it's just too long. Would get unwieldy. So what I'll do is catch the beginning of it here, then put all 31-38 all together. That bit has my favorite chapters from this arc

Well, Macro's attempt to get the disc back certainly took a different turn in Cyan City! And yeah, both he and Anchor seem a lot less concerned with "looking out for #1" than they usually are. idk, it's hard for me to say, since to me Macro always seemed like a bit of a softie, but perhaps he really is changing a bit! I wonder where that will ultimately lead him.

I was really surprised that Macro and Anchor went with the Dewott to see the mayor, though. Like, I understand they want to make sure she's taken seriously, but with the bounty on Macro's head that should be a huge risk, not just for the fact that they're going to the mayor, but even because they could be seen walking down the street. There was no reason the Dewott couldn't haul the caterpie over there by herself and try to make her case. I would have found it more believable if that was exactly what happened and the mayor blew her off for some reason, and only out of desperation did Macro/Anchor agree to go along, to force the guy do something if they had to. One way or another, despite Macro bemoaning the huge bounty he's been saddled with, it hasn't actually ever been a problem in practice, outside of some minor pranks played on him by other pirates. To have even literal government agents willing to forego makes it seem like it really isn't an issue at all.

The grass army invading Cyan City was definitely a surprising element for me. The prejudice of one type against another has been brought up several times, but I didn't realize it was to the extent of big bands of one type attacking others. Seems like Socket's got even bigger problems on her hands than all the pollution and class-based resentments, if there are such intense type-based tensions. (I eventually remembered you had said something about a water/fire/grass war earlier in the story, but I'd competely forgotten about it by this chapter... maybe bring it up again a little closer to the start of Macro's mission to remind readers about it?)

I do have to wonder how an entire army ended up in the middle of the park without people noticing. Like, that's thousands of pokémon that have to come together at that point... no matter how stealthy you're being, there's simply no way to move even hundreds of people subtlely, unless maybe you can do super-massive teleports.

The personality-stripped bug pokémon are really horrifying, though. Is that technology of Socket's that got out somehow (or this group is in league with the government), or was it invented independently? One way or another, it is ****ed UP, as is, in general, attacking a city's food supply in hopes of starving it out... It's war, okay, but that's "war crimes up the wazoo" territory for sure. I'd say the grass army are some of the most intimidating and dirty fighters we've seen so far this story, and I'm really liking it. It's great to see Macro and Anchor put in a situation where they can't just run in shooting and hope to come out okay on the other side. (And Macro hates it so much ahahaha.) When I read these chapters I wasn't expecting the Cyan City stuff to go as deep as it did/escalate to such an extent, but I think that was a great decision. After a lot of challenges that Macro's managed to solve in a chapter or two, it was fantastic to see him tackle a larger problem, where he's hugely outgunned, and where he ultimately loses. Very character-building!

Annie's rebellion seems like pretty much the worst idea ever, and her more or less the worst possible person to lead it. At this point I have to think that Waveform has serious ulterior motives in going along with it--well, clearly he wants it to happen for some reason, though why Annie's arrival is the catalyst. It does seem a bit weird that he's able to scrounge 2500 credits to pay for ship parts when it's apparently a struggle for anyone in the house to even pay for medicine and basic needs sorts of stuff... it makes it seem like money isn't actually that difficult to come by, and previously Waveform's been too lazy/tightfisted/up to something to help the people he's living with out. Regardless, I don't particularly trust the guy. He's been quite explicit that he intends to manipulate Annie to advance whatever his aims are, here, and he hasn't done anything to convince me that those are noble. For all her flightiness, Annie's shown that she can hold her own, if only by being so crazy-unpredictable that she does stuff no one else would be audacious enough to do, so it's entirely possible that if it comes to a fight over leadership, she might end up winning.

Ahh, man, I admit I'd forgotten about the nihiego sub-plot! It's clever how the jellyfish similarities make it seem like it might be a herald of water-dweller revenge. System has some serious problems going on, doesn't it? One way or another there is going to be a water-dweller uprising, it seems, there's all the pollution problems, and also this war that I apparently forgot about up until now. She doesn't seem like the most effective leader, so in a way it isn't a surprise that there are so many problems, and most of them directly or indirectly her fault. But at this point it seems like the entirety of System is basically on the brink of social collapse! Plus also, aliens. We'll have to see whether it looks like there's a way forward to better times at the end of this all.

Chapters 31-38

Okay, so this sees us the rest of the way through the Cyan City arc. I think this is the best arc in the story yet, so I'll be talking mostly about that, although we'll get to some stuff about Annie and whatnot towards the end.

In a lot of ways this arc feels very different from the ones that have come before it. While it starts out in a similar way, with Macro and Anchor going to get one of DL's memory discs, it ends up playing completely differently. They get sidetracked by an unexpected problem, they're going up against a completely different enemy than the government troops (or, well, random bar-brawers) they've faced in the past, and they're working on the problem because Macro thinks it's wrong to leave it alone, rather than because it directly serves his goals. In particular, I think this arc integrates the external threats to Macro's success with his internal barriers to success. We see him embracing far more than ever the idea that he should look out for more than just #1, but it's a struggle! (And of course, he gets scared and regresses at the end of the arc when he yells at DL.) This makes it a lot more interesting than him zapping a bunch of mooks with his lasers! It may be dangerous at times, but blasting mooks is something he's comfortable with. Facing danger on account of someone else and taking a faceful of painful flashbacks into the bargain? Not so easy!

And the enemies here feel much more real than the ones we've seen in previous chapters. There wasn't a lot of interest to them--they were pretty much just mon hired to do a job, doing that job by trying to shoot Macro. They weren't very intimidating, either. Here, though, the enemies do have motivation, and it only tangentially has to do with Macro. He's the one getting in their way, rather than the other way around. And they actually mean business! Again, although previous encounters with Socket's forces have technically been dangerous, they never really seemed threatening to me, personally. It seemed like a pretty sure thing that Macro was going to get away without suffering any long-term problems. But here the opponents were far more competent, and downright ruthless, and I think that really upped the tension and made the various action pieces feel much more intense.

My particular favorite chapters were 31, 32, and 37.

Chapter 31 just embodied a lot of what I enjoyed about this arc in general. It's really super tense, with Macro and Anchor aware that they can't alert the grass-types to their presence or they'll have a whole army on their hands, but where they also have no idea where those grass-types are, or where their targets are, or what they're up against, really... That uncertainty, the real stakes, and the kind of dread that permeate their creeping progress through a park full of mindless bug-drones is just great. Throughout this arc you have a lot of places where you do great work making the reader feel the danger of the situation, and this was perhaps my favorite. Super tense and a bit creepy, and then it turns out that Macro and Anchor's lack of planning and huge disadvantage actually results in them not gettng what they're after! It's great all around.

The turnabout in 32 was just great. Macro wondering the whole time whether the dewott was really acting was a fun bit of nerviness on his part, but when it turned out she wasn't it totally floored me. You basically never see it work out that way! But of course it makes perfect sense... Lossy has no connection to these space pirates, they're no doubt terrible people anyway, and if turning them in will get her her children back? Hell yes she is taking that deal. It was just a fantastic moment.

And 37! This is the climax of the arc, which you really want to be sure lives up to its purpose as the capstone, and this one definitely did. It can be hard to handle a more classically "evil" character like Root, especially when he's only been introduced recently and there hasn't been a lot of opportunity to build him up. It sounds like the guy does have some legitimate grievancecs, but of course that doesn't justify the way he's decided to go about fixing them. He's not a typical "evil-crazy" villain, but he's also obviously not inhibited by a lot of the same sorts of "morals" or ideas of "self-preservation" that most of us are! His gambit with the burning building was cool, and his "I'm taking you down with me" attitude kept those stakes high. And of course it was great that his plan just happened to dredge up some of Macro's least-favorite memories. You definitely managed to tie the character development together with the plot here, and it was fantastic. I can tell Macro won't be forgetting about this encounter anytime soon, and for a lot of different reasons. Once again he let himself care about someone else, and once again he only got (literally) burned...

Runner-up mention for Chapter 35, which I think represents the best battle so far in this story so far. I loved the use of sweet scent to first attract pokémon and then confuse them. A great spin on an often-overlooked attack that really changes how the batltle plays out. But in general I think this is just a well-choreographed battle, with a lot of twists and turns, and which really ups the stakes in terms of what the opponent's throwing around and how much the city's getting trashed in the process. It was very entertaining to read.

Overall, then, this is a long arc, but I think it's a really good one. It serves to advance both the plot and the characters, and it's entertaining all the way throughout. I also think that it really showcases your strengths as a writer, especially with the tense, suspenseful scenes and the action set-pieces. Even Jumper's failure to arrest Macro felt a bit contrived early on, but by the end of the arc I was willing to buy him handing over the disc no problem. (Though offering Macro permanent sanctuary was maaaaybe a bit much.) Just really good all around!

So, over to Annie, who's got the other primary plot thread through this series of chapters. This one I do like a bit less; we do get Tracer and Widget catching on, a bit, to what's going on, and we see Annie gathering her troops, as it were, but it's pretty smooth sailing, really. Annie pretty much proposes things and the people around her go along with it.

I do have health insurance, you know. Pirate health insurance, but it still works.
Okay, but "pirate health insurance" is one of the most hilarious phrases I've ever heard.

To me, it seems weird how little other people take issue with what she's doing. Like, not even within the group she's landed with, but other people in the neighborhood. Annie goes around as a human, and as far as I can tell the whole spaceship getting built in the backyard isn't in any way concealed, so the neighbors have probably noticed. I mean, Tracer and Widget were getting all sorts of reports in... Surely the police would have gotten the same? Or if the police don't really do that part of town, which is entirely possible, then there would be some other citizen or criminal organization that would have moved in to handle "law and order" in that area. Yet no one but Widget or Tracer appears to have any interest in what's going on with Annie. People are clearly upset and unsettled by it, but no one actually confronts the group about it, outside of the detectives? It doesn't really make sense to me.

Neither does Tracer and Widget letting that group go about their business up until they ultimately leave without encountering any reistance. Wanting to monitor them to get more info I understand, up to a point, but surely that means they kind of noticed when the pyukumuku was nearing completion, so they'd know they needed to apprehend some people or they were going to blast off? Or did Tracer have a change of heart and decide he wanted their rebellion to succeed? I imagine we'll learn what exactly was up with that when next we check on his group, but as of right now it honestly looks like he's deliberately letting Annie and company slip through his fingers, along with all the other authority figures in the city.

What I'm getting at is there isn't a lot of interest in the Annie parts, at least to some extent because there isn't any real tension or conflict. Nobody puts up more than cursory resistance to her rebellion stuff, even though it's, well, pretty batshit. This is all the more obvious when her scenes come alongside what's going on with Macro in Cyan City, which is some of the most high-impact stuff that the story's dealt with so far.

He grit his teeth together and reached behind DL’s head, flicking her switch into the off position. Her body went limp in his arms, but in the silence that followed he could hear his own heart beating. Racing at a mile a minute. He took a deep breath and switched her back on.
Okay, so this scene is super dramatic and emotionally charged, but I kept thinking "have you tried turning it off and on again?" and cracking up here.

Now, the last chapter is pointing us towards the next arc. Looks like we might finally be seeing the collision of the Macro and Annie sides of the plot, if they're all headed for the space pirates' hangout. And also like Surge is probably going to factor into things again soon, seeing as both Socket and Macro have had her on their minds recently. If this is an arc that's going to kind of tie together the various disparate plotlines running through the fic, then that's great! I think it's exactly what the story needs. (Note that I haven't really commented on Macro's sunspot stalker, but I have noticed it; we'll see if that comes up soon, too.) I really enjoyed the Cyan City arc, so I hope the next arc turns out to be even more epic!

Overall

All right, that's what I'm thinking about as I read through. Let's take a step back and look at the story overall so far.

I think the first and most obvious thing to talk about here is the setting and the cyberpunk themes. I love it! It's fun to see all the futuristic things you cram into the story. I love the fish-themed pirate ships in particular, for whatever reason; I guess it makes them stand out from generic "spaceships," I guess, and it's cool to picture a giant gorebyss or whatever cruising around in the sky. The technobabble can get pretty babbly, but that feels like just what you want for a kind of bombastic sci-fi setting; it's really about what's cool, and there's a lot that's cool in System. I don't know, there's almost a kind of retro feel to the story, like eighties sci-fi. I can't really put my finger on it. But yeah. It's a lot of fun!

And the way this is written is really fun, too! Things took a bit of a darker turn in the Cyan City arc, but in general this is a very bombastic, action-y story. Lots of throwing caution to the wind and barging in with lasers blasting. Again, just a lot of fun, and which gives this story a real blockbuster action-flick feel. Meanwhile, I don't think the tone of the Cyan City arc is a mistake, as I hope everything I've said above communicates, but rather shows your ability to create atmosphere and suspense as well as straight up blasting. I think a nice balance of light and dark is really appealing in a story, and the Cyan City arc was kind of showing how you can work in both modes. It's the same with System as a setting, really: you have the glitzy cities, the starships and the lasers, but you also have the slums, the sometimes-questionable body mods, the pollution... This is a story that has a lot going on in it. But there's a lot of punching (or shooting) things, and I'm always here for that. :p

Macro's showing some real evolution as we get deeper into the story, and it's great. I think you've done a great job of parcelling out what we know about his past and his issues, and that he's making progress on resolving them at a reasonable pace, too. His dilemma is a pretty simple one, and a classic; anybody looking in can easily say, "Okay, come on, Macro, it's okay to trust and care about other people, being a super uptight grump really isn't a good look." But it's also understandable how it would be difficult for him to recognize that for himself, how he could get stuck desperately pushing people away so he doesn't get hurt. (Also I keep forgetting how he's supposed to be only... nineteen, I think? He does read a bit older to me.) DL has obviously been the catalyst for a lot of things, but the Cyan City arc also shows that it's not going to be a simple case of Macro making ever more progress over time until he finally gets his head on straight. It'll be a rough journey, and therefore all the more satisfying when Macro (I'm guessing) grows into a more happy, fulfilled person at the end. Most likely with a girlfriend, with the way things have been going up to this point. :p

I did mention earlier that I'd like to see more of some of the main cast, and that's definitely still the case. Now, you have a lot of characters here, and not all of them need to be complex with detailed backstories or anything like that. But for characters like Anchor and Matrix especially I feel a little weird about how little I know about them, even though we're nearly 40 chapters in at this point. Matrix in particular has been a very background character, since he's typically up on the ship while Macro and Anchor are off doing actual missions. Not necessarily a problem if he isn't intended to be one of the "main" main cast--I wouldn't expect you do much with Cookie, for example, but the way Matrix was introduced I was thinking he would be quite important.

The plot also feels quite scattered to me right now. Like, there are a ton of sub-plot threads running through here, and new ones keep popping up all the time. The overarching one has to do with Socket's human-abduction plan, and all the sub-plots generally do fit under that umbrella, but they feel pretty disconnected from each other. Like, the thing with Surge has kind of been on-again off-again for the whole story, and as of now it's been off for, what, around fifteen chapters or so? I'm okay with plots getting picked up and dropped again for a while; that can even be really cool, when something you barely remember comes roaring back and takes center stage. Like, the whole Cyan City is, itself, a nice arc, I think. But it kind of shows up and shoves the DL plotline, the Surge stuff, and the Socket plotline to the back burner. Meanwhile we alternate with Annie's stuff, which is less interesting than what's going on with Macro tbh and which not only gets Tracer and Widget tangled up with it, but also looks as though it might interact with the nihilego stuff. There's just a lot going on! To me the organization of the various subplots has felt kind of scattered, like characters are just getting swatted around from one crisis to another, with new ones showing up all the time, without a lot of overarching structure. And because I don't really have a clear idea of where this is all going and to what extent we're making progress. Again, I know this is supposed to be a very long story, but it looks like you're setting yourself up with a lot of stuff to untangle, and you seem to be complicating more rather than trying to prune some of these plotlines down.

The structure isn't helped by the fact that I find the antagonists here pretty underwhelming. Like, Socket really just doesn't make sense to me. I don't really get what her ultimate goal is, or why she's going about it in such a ludicrously convoluted way. More than anything, though, she just strikes me as incompetent and not all that much of a threat. One of her own lackeys even openly laughs at her, constantly, and although she threatens she never actually does anything about it. This would be one thing if she otherwise meant business, but in nearly forty chapters she hasn't really accomplished... anything. Her position is substantially worse than it was at the start of the story. There's just not a lot of threat there, and she's been going about trying to fix that in a really cack-handed way. She's supposedly super serious about catching Macro, but all she's actually done to try and catch him is raise the bounty on his head a couple times (no one seems to actually care about this, and it hasn't helped in the past) and send a single bounty hunter after him. Sure, there's no way she could have known Surge would find herself unable to apprehend Macro, but if one bounty hunter isn't getting the job done, she could always... send more? Or make use of her army somehow to make his life more difficult? Commission another custom android to go after him? I mean, she's apparently got dictatorial power, here; I feel like she should at least be able to ensure the guy isn't swaggering around blatantly in port the way he is now. Yelling at people about how she seriously wants Macro caught for real this time isn't that threatening or effective.

Something I really enjoyed about the Cyan City arc is it felt like Macro and Anchor really were at a disadvantage against the grass-types. Their opponents actually were trying to get rid of them, and they actually got pretty close at points! Whereas whenever he's going up against the government it's always felt to me like Macro was going to be fine because at times it almost seems like people are going out of their way to find ways not to capture him/turn him in. (Jumper's definitely guilty of this.) In a similar vein, Annie is BLATANTLY wandering around as a human, people in the neighborhood are well aware that she's there, Waveform isn't making any attempt to hide what they're up to... And yet it takes DAYS for Tracer to figure out where she's staying? And when Web slams the door in their face they actually... leave? After taking some photos, yeah, and Tracer goes on about how he wants to know more about what they're up to so they just won't turn her over to Socket immediately. And that makes some level of sense, but it seems like characters are always coming up with excuses to not take the various outlaw characters in. After a while it starts to feel as though the antagonists are actively trying not to stop the protagonists, which is kind of the opposite of their jobs!

There are some persistent little grammar/word usage issues you have going on throughout the story: one, the past tense of "spin" is "spun," not "span." There are a whole lot of characters who "span" around, etc., and it looks really odd. Two, it's "yeah," not "yeh." Three, "antennae" is plural, "antenna" is singular, so unless I'm confused DL has an antenna, not antennae. And the past tense of "grit" is "gritted," so it's usually "[person] gritted their teeth," not "[person] grit their teeth."

Of course, these are minor points, and overall your writing mechanics are damn near spot-on, with an enviable lack of typos. After a while those particular errors started to get on my nerves, though, heh.

And most of those complaints are broad, structural concerns; I think that scene to scene you put on a much better show. You have an interesting world and some solid characters, and I think you write action and suspense well. There are a lot of scenes here with genuine tension and uncertainty about their outcomes, which is fantastic. You have all the elements of a swashbuckling adventure story for sure. Right now the larger plot isn't really gelling for me, and I think the cast could use some stronger villains, but there's a lot to like about this story, and it keeps going new and cool places. You announced a hiatus just as I was wrapping up this review, but I hope you'll come back to this with a lot of new ideas and more fun action scenes!
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Announcement - Arc 3 is now completed and uploaded as of the previous chapter. Due to an increased workload, I'll be putting updates on a hiatus for approximately one month while I work on Arc 4. All being well, I should be back to regular Friday updates some time early April.

Thank you so much, Negrek, for your review and feedback! =D I really enjoyed reading it. I'll be taking things into consideration for future writing and any edits I may make to Reboot in the future.

I'm so glad the Cyan City arc has been so well received. It was quite a random and unexpected occurrence for me while writing. It went on for so much longer than I'd anticipated, and took me on a wild ride with its complexity and intensity. Being a pantser, I absolutely love it when things like this happen. But whoa boy did it delay the scenes I'd wanted to write so badly XD

I'm a little sorry to leave you all on such a cliffhanger, but I hope the start of Arc 4 will be just as well received! Think of it as a sort of 'mid season break'. ;)
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
A/N - Sorry for the delay. I appreciate your patience in waiting for this update. I wasn't able to finish writing Arc 4, but I've got enough of it written that I can justify returning to regular, weekly updates. This is a bit of a short lead into it, but it's necessary to get the ball rolling for the plots this arc brings up =D

Thanks to all who are reading this story! It's a roller coaster of a ride even for me, and I'm the one writing it! XD

Arc 4 - Reign of the Ultra Beasts

Chapter 39​

Troll's face twisted as he stared at the computer screen. A combination of fear and anger. Sweat radiated off him in a cloud of stench that Socket could smell from her view behind the one-way window. His paw trembled over the touch screen panel, occasionally brushing against it and bringing up random text on the holoscreen.

The gothitelle's eyes wandered to the timer, not for the first time. Thirty seconds. The croagunk criminal had only thirty seconds left, and he was losing them rapidly. A small movement caught her eye and she watched a bead of sweat trickle down the back of his neck and over his hunched shoulders where it vanished into the modest chair cushion.

"I don't think he's got this." The grumpig officer took a bite out of his donut. It was a good thing the croagunk couldn't hear a word they said. "Either that or he's willingly throwing his life away."

Socket hmm'd and pursed her lips together. "Or he's on to me."

"I doubt that," said the officer. "You were pretty convincing. I don't even think our lie detectors could have given you away."

Socket hmm'd again then leant back in her seat. It creaked loudly and she leant forwards again, fearing the flimsy furniture would give way.

"Always told you ya should've got a job in acting." Tweak hopped from the donut box and shook himself loudly, sending sprinkles all over the table. "That snack should last me until tea time."

Socket recoiled and raised a paw to dust stray sticky strands from her velvet fur. "I brought you here understanding you were taking notes."

Tweak didn't so much as flinch at her warning note. Instead he beamed and nodded to her bag.

"I would, but you never returned my notebook," he said.

Socket shot him a leer and looked back out of the window. The timer let out a loud ring, snatching her attention away from Troll's trembling body.

The officer silenced it with a heavy paw then switched on his microphone.

"Time's up," he said. "Step away from the display."

Troll muttered something incoherent and pushed himself to his feet. He shuffled backwards from the computer and shot a leer at the one-way window.

The three pokemon flowed from the soundproofed room and gathered around the croagunk. He gave them a venomous look but didn't move from his spot. The three psychic types were a gentle reminder that he didn't need cuffs to be restrained. His severe weakness alone was his restraint, and he was greatly outnumbered.

The officer checked the display and nodded slowly.

"Looks like you failed," he said.

"Were a weird-ass test." Troll sneered at the mayor. "Those stakes spoke numbers that you want me dead. You know I ain't guilty, you just want to fry us poison types in your sick chair."

"I take no pleasure in killing you," said Socket. "Your plight is in your own paws."

"What you talkin' about?" Troll balled his paws into fists. "You know full well you could help us but you just don't wanna."

"I'd watch what you're saying when your life is in my paws." Socket folded her arms and locked her icy gaze on his, putting out the fire behind it. "You failed the test. You were meant to succeed."

Troll's lips curled into a sneer. "You're a real sicko, you know that?"

The officer turned his back on the computer and leant against the desk. "Every single attempt was a fail. You weren't even close. It's as though you don't even know the basics."

"And you do?" Troll rounded on the grumpig.

The officer shrugged. "I know a little. I have to, given this is my job. I couldn't even begin to hack government files, however. Those fire walls and barriers... That's advanced stuff."

"I feel like you three set me up." Troll clenched his teeth together and roared. "Right, fine! Take me back to the cell. Do me in. Do whatever you flippin' well want. Anythin's better than livin' in this toxic dump!"

"No." Socket moved towards him, daring not to breathe as the toxic sweat from his body permeated the very air around him. "You failed that test. That means only one thing."

"I'm a dead 'mon."

"Not at all. It means you weren't the one who hacked into my systems."

"Eh?" Troll's jaw went slack.

"You don't have a clue, do you?" Socket tapped her claws along her arm as she examined the dumbfounded amphibian. "This was a test. Of course you'd hack if your life depended on it. I needed to give you those stakes to get answers."

"So you tricked me?!"

He span to face her fully and the officer leapt back from the desk to her aid. Socket raised a paw and the grumpig backed down, standing no more than two feet away from her and the criminal.

"Yes, I tricked you," said Socket. "Your life is safe. But!" She froze his words before they left his mouth, leaving it hanging open like a victreebell's trap. "That doesn't mean you're off the hook. If you want a reduced sentence, you have to give me some answers."

"What answers?" The croagunk folded his arms and met her icy stare head on. "What could a humble little dealer livin' in the outskirts have to offer System's Mayor?"

"Oh, you could offer me many things," said Socket. "The location of every single wanted criminal living on System Ground, for example. The source off all your toxic sludge dens." A small smile spread across her lips and she stared at the croagunk until he cowered back from her. "But that's for another time. Right now I want you to tell me everything you know about Surge."

His eyes widened and he looked back up at her with a start. "Surge? What do you wanna know about her?"

"Given I've foolishly hired her," said Socket slowly, "I want to know everything."

...​

"I know I said I wanted you gone..." Macro's voice cracked. "But this isn't what I meant!"

It wasn't the first time he'd said it. He'd lost track of how long he'd been sat beside DL's bed watching her. Waiting for any sign she might wake up.

But there was none. The only thing that reassured him she was alive was her breathing. She looked just like she was sleeping, except there were no eye twitches. Nothing moved except her chest with every breath she took.

It pained him. His mother often told him to be careful what he wished for. He'd spoken off the cuff... and look what had happened.

He let his head fall into his paws and rubbed them over his face, trying to stem any tears. He wasn't even sure he had any left.

The door whirred open and he snatched his paws from his eyes, looking up to meet Anchor's concerned face. The granbull strolled across the room and his eyes went from Macro to DL.

"Not woken up yet?" It was a rather redundant question to ask.

Macro sighed and shook his head. He leant back in his seat and let his paws flop into his lap.

"I'm at a loss of what to do." He looked over at his computer lying on the bedside table.

Matrix hadn't a clue how to 'fix' DL. If it was an issue with the database, then it was a computer issue. But one that was out of the ribombee's expertise. If it required hacking into her to examine, there was only one pokemon he knew could possibly help them. And she'd not been answering his calls. It had been well over an hour since he messaged her to call him urgently.

"I think we're all at a loss," said Anchor. "If it's any consolation, Matrix has been tryin' to look for problems in the disks. But he says he can't see anything in the code that rings any warning bells. They all look alike. Nothing alien about them."

"It could be hidden amongst it, camouflaged," said Macro. "Anyone could have jeopardised the disk to get back at me."

"What makes you think they'd be getting back at you? It's DL's memories, not yours."

"Because I'm the one who wants them!" Macro's violet glare locked on Anchor. "Not her! I'm forcing them on her!"

"It ain't your fault, you got her best interests at heart. Right?" Anchor paused as he watched Macro sigh and look away. "You ain't seriously still thinkin' Jumper did this are you? Or someone else in Cyan City?"

"Yes. I am. It's where we got the disk from, and that frogadier went from refusing to give me the disk to rewarding me with it." Macro rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I shouldn't have trusted them so easily."

"Well I still don't think it were them," said Anchor. "What if they didn't even know there were something wrong with it? You said there were too many locations on that list to match the number of disks. What if this one were a fake one?"

Macro jolted. "You mean this could be the red herring?"

"Maybe. Or the right disk but coded wrong. Matrix thinks it could be something as simple as a typo in the data."

"How can someone's brain have a typo?" Macro asked sourly.

Anchor shrugged. "I dunno. We all so easily make them." When Macro said nothing, he went on. "Matrix described it like this. When you install a new operating system on your computer, if something goes wrong where it don't read right, it can cause the whole system to fail at start up."

"This failed while it was downloading."

Anchor scratched his head and sighed. "Look. He's tryin' to help. We all are. But we ain't gonna get answers without a thorough search. Have you found anyone who can help her?"

"I might have. But she hasn't got back to me."

"Ah. Well, let's hope she does soon." Anchor turned to the door, then paused to look back at Macro. Just A heads up, Cookie rang the lunch bell fifteen minutes ago. If you're quick, there might still be some left."

"I'm not hungry."

"All right." Anchor cleared his throat and tucked his paws behind his back. "But you also missed breakfast."

Macro shrugged his shoulders.

Anchor sighed and scratched his mohawk. "I know it ain't easy, but you have to eat something."

"I'll eat when I'm ready."

"Fair enough." Anchor slipped from the room, letting the door hiss shut behind him.

Macro leant back in his chair and groaned, running his paws over his face. His stomach was in knots. He couldn't eat anything if he tried.

Suddenly, the room filled with a jaunty jingle. He sat bolt upright and groped for his computer. He almost dropped it to the floor when he saw the name. 'Surge', perched above the dancing symbol of a ringing phone. He pressed it to his ear and answered as confidently as his worn out voice would allow.

"Surge! Finally."

"What do you want, Macro?" Her voice was so icy it sent chills through his entire body.

"I don't know what's got your gogoat," he said, "but I've not been messaging you for a chat. I actually need your help."

"Oh?" She paused and for a dreaded moment he thought she'd hung up. "It's gonna cost you."

"You don't even know what it is yet," he said.

"No, but I don't do favors."

He grit his teeth together. "I got that much from my last request."

"Anyway. What is it?"

"Remember that living computer I told you about?" His eyes went to DL. "We've been trying to retrieve her memory disks and... well, something's gone wrong with the third one. She won't wake up."

"You've killed her?" Surge didn't sound remotely surprised, and along with her choice of words, it stabbed at him.

"No. I..." He paused and choked back a sob. "I don't know!"

"How do you expect me to help? I'm not a medic."

"No, but you're a hacker, right? You can get into that... computer thing... in her head and find out what's gone wrong. Right?"

Surge sighed and he heard her scratch her ear. "I don't know. That kind of goes beyond my realms of expertise."

"So you won't do it?" He let his disappointment hang in the air.

"I didn't say that. But we're not talking about a computer here, we're talking about someone's brain. If anything goes wrong and I end up killing her, I'll be tried for murder."

"It's not murder if you're trying to save her life. How many pokemon die in hospitals during surgery or resuscitation? It's the same stinkin' thing!"

"No it's not. I'm not a doctor. It'll be malpractice."

Macro clenched his jaw together. "Let's not get into the legalities behind this, considering what's been done to her is already illegal! I'm asking you to help her as best as anyone possibly can!"

Surge was silent for a long while, and he heard the creak of a chair or bed as she moved on it.

"Okay, Macro. I'll help her."

His heart leapt into his throat with such force he almost left his seat. "You will? Oh man, you have no idea-"

"But it's not free."

His heart sank again and he slumped into the chair. "How much? Where do you want me to take you this time?"

"We'll discuss that when you get here. I'm in Pulse City, staying at number twelve Neon House. It's opposite Moonlight Lounge."

Before he could reply, she cut him off.

His arm went limp over the arm of the chair, still clutching his computer. He looked up at DL, still 'sleeping'.

He reached over and took her paw in both of his. Still warm. Still alive.

So, Surge would help her.

Somehow the idea filled him with both hope and dread.

...
Surge stared at her computer, her claw still pressed over the spot the 'hang up' option had been. Macro's words still rang around her head.

He wanted her help, and he'd sounded desperate.

Everything she'd heard about Hunter, from long before her bounty hunting days, he'd never struck her as the kind of pokemon who'd genuinely care for another. And from the day he'd hired her, everything she thought she'd known had turned out to be a lie. Even his 'name'.

She stuffed her computer into her pocket and let out a long sigh. Her head was a mess. Socket had hired her to turn in the space pirate, even if it meant taking his life. If she didn't... well, Socket wasn't exactly the kind of pokemon you wanted to make angry. The thought alone left a bitter taste in Surge's mouth. Someone's life would be taken, and it would be Macro's or her own.

Yes, she'd help the pachirisu. But she'd be using her as bait for an elaborate trap.

...​

Tracer puffed on his cigar, his eyes fixed on the sky. Or what he could see of it through the yellow smog. He stood with his back against his office wall, the cool brick penetrating the heavy leather of his trench coat.

He'd seen it take off, that strange pyukumuku-shaped ship. That meant the human had left System Ground, and going off the state of the house, so had the pokemon she'd befriended.

She was up to something. Something he felt he needed to put an end to. But it hadn't felt right to catch her and turn her in.

'That mayor said something about taking me to a lab. I spent years with four white walls around me. I ain't bein' locked in no lab. Capiche?'

Her words had left him feeling cold inside. What was Socket planning to do? Was it really idle curiosity or something much more sinister? One thing was for certain. Something was going on in System, and his investigator instinct was itching to get to the bottom of it.

The door was thrown wide open and Widget strolled outside, struggling to fasten his mask over his face. He fixed a perplexed eye on Tracer and snorted, shaking the mask to the floor.

"I wanna call hypocrisy!" The eevee pointed an accusing paw. "You always tell me to wear a mask, and you aren't wearing one!"

Tracer blew out a stream of smoke, keeping his eyes on the sky. "I'm thinking, Widget."

"And the masks prevent that. Got it."

"It's not that." The delphox flicked ash onto the floor. "There's a lot to go over, and I needed to calm my nerves."

Widget sat down heavily and shook out his fur, briefly revealing the everstone embedded in his sternum.

"It stinks rotten," he said. "What happened overnight?"

"My guess is they dumped more waste in the back streets," said Tracer. "Even your mask wouldn't filter out the stench. Which you do still need to wear, by the way."

"I'll put mine on when you put on yours," said Widget. "Hypocrite."

Tracer glanced down at the eevee, receiving a playful grin. The delphox sighed and flicked more ash to the floor.

"This is about that human, ain't it?" Widget asked.

"Yes. I believe she's now in System Sky." Tracer looked back up at the yellow clouds. "How on earth we're meant to go after her now confounds me."

Widget made a thoughtful noise. "Surge has a ship."

"I know. But she's not been returning my calls."

"Keep mithering."

"That's not my style." Tracer took another drag of his cigar. "Nor is it hers to put up with constant badgering."

Widget let out a whiny sigh and sat back on his haunches to lean against the wall. "Well I'm at a loss."

"Join the club."

"You thought about hiring?" Defrag's head appeared around the door. Her nose twitched at the stench then almost retreated back into her face. "Okay, I was baffled enough when you used the term to begin with, but this is your idea of 'fresh air'?!"

"I needed to think," said Tracer. "And inside was too stuffy."

"At least the air is filtered." Defrag flicked her long ears back and fixed pink eyes on his. "Anyway. Like I was saying. You could hire a ship?"

"From who?" Tracer stubbed his cigar on the wall then pulled out another, prompting a raised eyebrow from the lopunny. "Ships are primarily a space pirate thing. Unless you're suggesting I ask Socket to lend me a government ship?"

"Couldn't hurt," said Defrag. "She's asked you to track this human down. If she still wants you to catch her, she needs you to get into the sky."

"Good point." Widget looked up at Tracer. "She does want this human, so I'm sure she'd be more than willing."

Tracer took a long drag of his fresh cigar and looked back up at the sky. Hiring a government ship? It wasn't an unreasonable request, given the circumstances. Of course, he'd need to lie a little. There was no way he was going to rush the human girl to Socket, not without better knowledge of what might befall the poor creature.

"Okay," he said. "It's a move I hadn't really considered. But I'm assuming Socket will lend me a ship given the human she's requested I catch for her has zipped off into the unknown."

"And you don't have wings," said Widget.

"Even bird pokemon can't fly all the way into System Sky, Widget."

"Do you even know how to drive one?" Defrag asked.

"As far as I know, air ships are pretty intuitive," said Tracer.

"All right, so long as you don't suddenly crash and burn."

Tracer shrugged and said nothing, fumbling in his deep pockets for his computer.

Defrag frowned at the dingy streets. "Well I've said my piece. I'm going back inside before my lungs rot."

"See ya later then!" The eevee watched the door slam shut then fixed Tracer with a grin. "So, we're hiring a ship, eh?"

Tracer made a grunt of acknowledgment and pulled up Socket's name on his computer, bracing himself for the potential earful he was about to receive.

"Ooh, this is so exciting!" Widget squealed and shifted his weight rapidly from paw to paw. "Can I drive?"

Tracer's cigar almost fell from his mouth and he cleared his throat before hitting the dial button. The eevee's sparkling eyes fixed on the side of his head. This all felt like a set up for potential disaster.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Okay, I think now would be an appropriate time for me to give my longass review. However, it might not be as long since I haven't exactly been taking notes and I may have forgotten some things, but I digress.

To start off, I want to talk about the characters, and who else to start with other than Macro? Honestly, I can't say I'm not very pleased with how far this character has developed since chapter one. He started off as this reckless die-hard mawile who didn't care about the risks and always got the job done. I'll be honest, I didn't really like him in the first few chapters, but that quickly changed as time went one.

I expected him to keep up his ‘I don't care’ attitude throughout, but now, it's like he's just trying to make himself think he doesn't care even though he cares a lot about his crew and other Pokémon enough to endanger his life for them. Though, sometimes he still does things for no other reason than to pursue his interests.

As for the rest of the crew, Anchor has to be my next favorite. I know it's a bit of a trope for a reckless main character to have a more grounded buddy to back him up in times of need, but this was done well enough when it comes to Anchor and Macro’s chemistry. Anchor is surprisingly a versatile character, albeit not a jack of all trades, and these guys wouldn't be the same without him. Also, a kudos to this story for making me care about a granbull, Heheh.

Also, I wanna say a few things about Annie. Everything about her, from her words, thoughts, and movements are just bizarre in a good way. You make no effort to hide just how much you enjoy writing her, and that's a good thing. She's not done anything major right now, other than giving Socket a good punch to the face, but I can't wait to see the results of her efforts in trying to start uo a rebellion. Given the state of System, it won't be surprising if she gets a little bit more than successful in riling up a crowd.

My opinions on the story's main antagonist, Socket, range between confusion and other mixed views. Initially, I thought she wasn't really the main baddie, and there was someone else pulling the strings from the background, but hey, we make do with what we have. I for the most part saw her as a woman with a lot of toys to play around with, but keeps getting frustrated when the toys don't act the way she wants them to.
She's most certainly not as intimidating as you'd hoped to make her, but that's mostly because we've already seen her vulnerable side multiple times already, the biggest example being how she's more or less afraid of Backdoor’s capabilities. However, I'm sure you'll rectify that moving forward. Perhaps, Socket will eventually go too far, because so far, she's hardly gone far enough.

In my opinion, the Cyan city arc, which ironically was intended to be filler, is my favorite arc so far. It gave us a good look at some of the Civil tensions occurring between pokemons of different types, most of which had only been alluded to prior to this. It goes to show just how easy it is to manipulate such tensions just for the sick fun of it like that Ivysaur did. Thought there was more to his actions, but nope, he was just a sociopath.

Watching The Wildcard Pirates (yes, I'll be calling Macro’s crew that now) go about on risky escapades to recover DL’s memory disks has been pretty darn fun, though I feel like that mission has been de-empathized with all the new subplots and other things that have risen over the course of the story. Still, it serves as the main driving force of the plot, and the story would be dull if retrieving them was all the story was about.

In conclusion, this story is absolutely worthwhile to read. It has some funny moments, some sad moments, and even moments filled with tons of emotions. There's no single chapter i can say was badly written or any moments that felt awkward and out of place. It was well crafted and planned out amazingly. For that, I say, you did good, Del.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
So, chapter 37 brings us to the fallout. Jumper is shockingly patient with Macro, to the point where Macro is willing to tell the guy his real name. That's... I suppose it's a bit of development for him, considering the chapters before this arc had him fighting with Switch over the idea of "always looking out for number 1." The fact that he's willing to let Jumper reach out to his crew to stop them from worrying only adds to that sentiment, I suppose. On the other side of things, Web is emerging as Team Mom for Team Annie. And that might be necessary, because I'm not sure Zip's gonna do all that well in his current state.

I'm a little baffled with DL, though. Because her sudden opposition to the memory disks came completely out of left field. Unless I missed something, she didn't give any indication she was having second thoughts. And given she's been absent for this arc, this struck me as a weird way of re-introducing her into the story.

Onto chapter 38. First off: Star Trek references. I see what Annie did there. She's not fooling me. Her team needs Web more than she's willing to admit. Next up, Socket. So, this is probably the most despicable we've actually seen Socket being this entire story. I bring that up more to reiterate what some other folks have said about Socket not honestly feeling like a very threatening antagonist. Nothing has gone her way this entire story and, even now, it still seems like you're leaving us to have to believe what Macro's saying about how cruel and underhanded Socket is. That's a bit of a tough sell at this point in the story. If someone like Surge can get the better of Socket, it really doesn't speak well as to the actual threat level she poses.

Meanwhile, Jumper is again super-trustworthy. Almost suspiciously so. To the point where I'm wondering if he was tipped off by Socket about what was going on and gave Macro a bugged disk to short-circuit DL. That would be an interesting twist. Regardless, I think this would've been a much better place to have DL suddenly get panicky about the memory disks, given what just happened to her. Also... Nihilego is a factor again. And, from the looks of things, it's about to cause some serious problems.

Chapter 39 is predominently just setting things up. I do think the part with Socket shows off something Negrek brought attention to. And that's that Socket has a strong tendency to use unintuitive methods to get what she wants. If she really wanted etails on Surge that badly, why not simply offer him a deal in exchange for information? Generally speaking, a guy like Troll will sing like a canary if he can get a reduced sentence (or avoid the death penalty!). Or... better yet... why doesn't Socket employ her psychic powers? If she got to be the mayor of all of System, then surely that means she's relatively powerful as a Pokémon. Otherwise her own creations probably would've offed her by now. I'll have to see exactly what direction this arc goes in. As it stands, I feel like Socket is doomed to get swept aside by a greather threat. Like, say, the UB's.

For some final thoughts.
Macro raised an eyebrow. “Payment? You’re gonna pay for all this? I do have health insurance, you know. Pirate health insurance, but it still works.”
What kind of shoddy hospital is going to take pirate health insurance? That's a recipe for disaster!

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” he said. “I don’t know my ship’s number. I always had it on speed dial.”

“What about your crew?”

“Same again. Speed dial.”
Macro strikes me as the type of person I wouldn't want to have delivering a message for me.

The whole world is bad and needs a reboot.
I'm counting it. Roll credits! *ding*

“Sorry.” She yawned and stretched languidly. “We got a call and… I’m not sure how long I’ve been here, they don’t have clocks in this place.”
How's a doctor supposed to call time of death, then?

Macro had heard of the butterfly effect.
If this is a world of only Pokémon, then shouldn't it be the Butterfree effect? Or the Beautifuly effect? :p

He wasn’t a computer whizz like Matrix, but there was one thing he knew about computers… if they froze, they needed a reboot.
Roll credits... again! *ding*
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
A/N - Thanks for all the feedback! I really appreciate it =D I would reply to some reviews, but the new forum doesn't allow me to see them while posting a new reply, and I'm kinda in a rush this morning. I'll try to get around to it in a new thread, or with next Friday's update.

Chapter 40​

Sheets of paper littered Socket's desk. Every single note both the Proxy Prison officer and Tweak had scrawled had been transcribed on her computer and printed off for easier reading. Everything had been bullet pointed, listing each and every task Surge had completed. Well... every task that had wormed its way around the outskirts. Troll could only tell her what he knew, and given he desperately wanted that reduced sentence, he'd been a fountain of knowledge.

Assassinations. Burglaries. Illegal trade deals. Ship hijacking and scrapping. Bounty hunting.

Hacking.

There it was. The key crime. Surge was, in every sense of the word, a professional hacker.

And Socket had hired her.

'I never miss my target.'

Of course not. An assassin never would.

Her eyes wandered to the photo of the molten magnezone fleet poking out beneath a wad of discarded paperwork. There was only one logical answer Socket had for that scenario. As much as a bounty hunter like Surge would lust after a huge price tag on a space pirate, she'd deliberately missed her target and shot the magnezone instead. But why?

It was as clear as day now that Hunter had hired Surge to obtain information on Download Database, including the locations of her memory disks. But wasn't he just another client to the 'jack-of-all-trades'?

A soft knock at Socket's door drew her out of her deep, analyzing thoughts. She already knew who it was, and despite whether it was good news or bad, it still offered her a break.

"Come in," she said.

The door cracked open and Yobi slipped through a gap she thought was much too small for the raichu. The action reminded her of a muk sliding through a drain.

"What do you want?" she asked icily.

"It's done," he said.

"What's done?"

"The virus," he said. "I sent it out this morning."

That got her attention. She lowered her pen and steepled her paws together. "So Download Database is now disabled?"

"I assume so. I designed it so it would render her inoperable, but I don't know what affects it will have on her. I couldn't exactly test it, you see."

"So you have no idea if it's damaged Download Database or not?" Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Seems rather irresponsible."

"I know, but there was nothing I could test it on. And I needed to make sure it got through Zero Day quickly enough to not damage them, either. They're already unstable as it is."

Socket huffed and retrieved her pen. "So long as Hunter is no longer able to follow our every move, then I can deem it a job well done. Now we just have to wait until Download Database is back in our paws."

Yobi shifted his weight from foot to foot. "And what of the human girl? Is she still part of this plan?"

Socket looked up at him again and frowned. "That human has a death sentence. Tracer is on that job, so she's out of my paws."

"You aren't wanting to use her, too, then?"

"I might do. It seems a fitting revenge plan. She'd be considered dead whatever the outcome."

"Good grief!" Tweak dropped his stamp and looked up at them. "All she did was hit you."

Socket's eyes flew to the chingling, locking him in a blazing fury. But all he did was laugh as he retrieved his stamp, returning eagerly to his work and all the while creating the most obnoxious jingle.

Socket sighed and shook her head, turning her attention back to Yobi. "Is there any way to find out what state Download Database is now in?"

He scratched behind his ear and fixed his gaze on the window. "Not really. The androids can't connect to her any more. I asked BackDoor to check and he's getting nothing. And with her tracking chip being disabled, she's not going to be easy to retrieve either."

"Well, that's Surge's problem."

Surge...

Socket looked back down at her paperwork, but the text just blurred together as her mind went elsewhere. She should probably fill Yobi in on their recent discovery... She shook her head sharply and blinked her paperwork back into focus.

"Our priority now is part two of my plan," she said. "If I have to wait any longer for a convenient android to fill me in on all the details, we'll never get started. So we may as well make progress while I wait."

"I'm guessing BackDoor is still doing a good enough job at keeping you updated on the progress?" Yobi asked.

She pursed her lips together. "He complains a lot. But as a temporary means, it's fine. And I mean... temporary."

Yobi nodded and took a step back towards the door. "I'll continue work on this new android then. That might speed things up."

"What's this one's function?" Socket asked.

A small smile tugged at the corner of Yobi's lips. "To keep pests at bay."

Socket looked up with a start. "So it's an anti-pirate weapon?"

"Of sorts."

Yobi gave her a wave and let the door close after him, leaving Socket to only wonder what exactly the raichu was up to.

...​

Wildcard Gamma pulled in neatly at Pulse City's docks, gliding between a gorebyss ship and another themed around an eelektross.

Anchor opened the hatch and mounted the neon ladder, which formed itself into a small staircase. But before he descended he looked back over his shoulder at Macro. The mawile stood trembling slightly under DL's weight. The small squirrel pokemon lay clutched in his arms, but despite her slight form she wasn't much smaller than Macro.

The granbull cleared his throat and scratched his chin with a claw. "You sure you don't want me to carry her?"

"I'm fine," said Macro. "Lead the way, I'll follow."

"You don't look fine," said Matrix as he buzzed over his head to follow Anchor off the ship.

Macro stifled a tut and slowly and carefully descended the neon steps. It took a lot of forward planning since he couldn't see very far past DL. He wobbled slightly on the second-to-last step. In a desperate bid of faith, he threw himself onto the docks and staggered forwards. Something tugged the back of his scarf and he yelped, finding himself dragged backwards into Anchor's steady paw.

"Whoa!" A warm body brushed Macro's foot as someone dived for safety. "Watch where you're stepping!"

Macro's eyes flew to the tiny form of Worm. The sewaddle leered up at him as he thumped his stubby tail on the floor. Macro clutched DL tightly, his heart hammering in his chest.

"Sorry," the granbull grunted. "That were a bit discourteous of me, Cap'n, but I ain't scoopin' you both off the bottom of the dome."

"But you're fine scraping me off the stinkin' docks?" Worm rolled his eyes. "No one thinks about us little pokemon. You're just a load of huge, stompy feet to us."

"That's why I fly," said Matrix.

"Anyway." Worm locked his eyes on Macro's. "I saw your ship coming in. Wondered if you fancied a drink."

Macro shook his head and pulled himself away from Anchor. "Sorry. I've got stuff to do."

"You sellin' that... erm..." Worm pointed a foot at DL.

"No, I am not selling her." Macro frowned. "What monster do you take me for?"

"Oh! It's organic?" Worm chuckled. "I'm sorry. I thought it were one of them fancy new androids and you were trading it for parts."

"Got your hopes a little high then, huh?" Macro turned his back on him and made for the street. "That new technology doesn't just drop out of the sky."

"One can hope." Worm wriggled after them, huffing and puffing as he struggled to keep up. "So. Drinks later, then? What, may I ask, is wrong with the girl?"

"Dunno."

Worm turned to Anchor but the granbull merely shrugged.

"Well, it must be serious if you're having to carry her like a hatchling!" said Worm.

"It's not something we can really talk about," said Matrix. "Anyway. You might want to let everyone know to keep their eyes on the skies. Something is heading this way and we're worried it might be hostile."

"Oh drat. It ain't that thing that's been attacking cities is it?"

Every muscle in Macro's body stiffened and he clenched his jaw. With all the chaos concerning DL, he'd forgotten about that alien creature.

"It's been attacking cities?" Anchor asked.

"Aye. It totally wrecked Favicon City," said Worm. "Pirates have since swooped in to loot the place dry, so don't get your hopes up. There's nowt left. As for the other cities, they've received... well... a glancing blow in comparison. I guess it pays to be prepared."

"Well, prepare yourselves," said Macro. "Once we've dropped DL off, we'll be back out to help you if you need it."

"Have you seen it?" Worm asked. "Is it as monstrous as the reports say?"

Macro's muzzle crinkled. "It looks like someone got a tentacruel, jellicent and ditto, merged them all together then gave it a rock hard shell. Thing trashed my cargo bay."

"You tried to catch it?! Are you a moron?!"

Macro grunted and marched on. "Sometimes I wonder."

Worm huffed and came to a stop, gasping to catch his breath. "Well. Someone's a martyr today."

Macro rounded the corner onto the main street running through Pulse City. The huge sign for Moonlight Lounge stood on his right. He scoured the building names and numbers on the opposite side of the road, searching for Neon House. It wasn't hard to miss. The large apartment block stood almost opposite the Lounge, and running up the side of the door was a control panel with a bell for each apartment.

He juggled DL in his arms, straining to reach the panel.

Anchor placed a paw on his horn, stopping him. "What number?"

"Twelve," Macro muttered.

Anchor's huge claw drowned the tiny bell, and a deep buzz came from the panel's speaker. Within no time, Surge's voice rang out at them.

"Who is it?" she asked.

"It's me," Macro responded.

Surge 'hmm'd' and clicked her tongue. "Hardly narrows it down."

"It's Macro. Let me in."

There was a painful pause, and Macro shuffled his feet as he stared up at the door. He half wondered if he should buzz again, then the door beeped and clicked.

Anchor wrenched it open, and Macro trotted inside, followed closely by Matrix. Macro paused, checking over the sign for the room numbers. Twelve was on the first floor. Since he was carrying DL, that meant he needed the elevator.

Anchor called it down and leant against the wall, folding his arms.

"You know, Cap'n," he said. "You've not told us much about this Surge. Are you sure we can trust her?"

Macro sighed and watched the elevator as it came down from the fourth floor. "She's helped me a few times. She's the one who fired the torpedo when we stole DL. I'd say we can trust her more than most other pokemon in this city."

Matrix looked up from his game with surprise, and Anchor scratched at his mohawk.

"She fired it? Well..." He cleared his throat. "Guess I don't need to worry, then?"

The elevator let out a cheerful chime and its doors rattled open. The lone light flickered, causing their shadows to dance over the peeling walls. As it rose, the entire cabin shook and Macro had to steady himself against the wall. When the doors opened again, the elevator wasn't quite in line with the floor and he had to lift his foot to climb out else risk sprawling over the already cracked tiles.

Number twelve was right beside the elevator. Macro let Anchor knock, his huge paw almost sending the door off its hinges. Surge answered, her eyes narrowed into slits. But her expression softened when she saw Macro and his unconscious burden.

"Bring her inside." She vanished back beyond the door.

No 'hello'. No pleasantries. She was as blunt as she had been on the phone. Macro sighed and followed the zigzagoon into her apartment. It was sparse of decoration, unless her weapons counted as such. Pots and pans lay in a heap in the sink and her bed was still unmade.

Anchor let out a long whistle and nudged Macro with his elbow. "You found a pretty one."

Macro grit his teeth together and gave Anchor a violet leer. He clutched DL tightly and trotted to catch up with Surge.

She tossed the sheet aside for him to set DL down. He slipped her onto the mattress and gently shoved her along so she was away from the edge.

"You've certainly got a lot of toys." Anchor looked over the vast array of weapons.

"They're not toys, so don't touch anything." She then turned to Macro. "So, you - What on earth have you got on your scarf?"

Macro looked down at himself and let out a long, pained groan. White powdery residue clung to his black and blue scarf in unsightly clumps reminiscent of fungus. Of course, none of his crew had said anything. Anchor was about as observant as a sock unless it concerned something he was interested in. Macro would like to say the same for Matrix, but he likely noticed and kept quiet for a laugh.

"It's caterpie silk." Macro beat it down and it flaked away under his paw, leaving behind grey marks.

Surge stared at him, her mouth slightly open as she watched him struggle to straighten the fabric back out.

He cleared his throat and waved a paw in dismissal. "It's a long story."

She shook her head and sighed. "Anyway. You said she froze? Something to do with a disk you installed."

"Yeh." His eyes went over to DL briefly. "But before we get into that, I suppose I should introduce you to the rest of my crew." He turned to look at Surge then nodded at the other two pokemon. "This is Anchor. He's my weapons expert, pilot and ship engineer. You already know Matrix."

"Oh yes." Surge leant back against the kitchenette counter. "I know the cute bug."

If Matrix was embarrassed, he didn't show it. He reached into his small bag and pulled out the disks.

"I've gone over these," the ribombee explained. "I can't find anything wrong with them. No discrepancies in the coding. My only assumption is there's a typo or missing command somewhere."

Surge took the disks and rifled through them. "There's nothing written on them to even say what they are."

"They're her memory disks," said Macro. "Socket obviously wanted to make them hard to find."

"And low key," Anchor added.

"They've also been locked," said Surge. "So no one can erase or write over them."

Macro took one of the square black disks off her and looked over it. Sure enough, the safety tag normally located in the top right corner had not only been moved into its 'lock' position, it had been broken away. A permanent measure often found on video games.

"That means if anything is wrong with this recent disk," said Surge, "whichever one it is, then it will be impossible to fix."

"That means it downloaded with an error?" Macro asked. "Or it was altered out of malice before the disk was finalized?"

"Or it's nothing to do with the disk." Surge shrugged. "Let me have a look over her before we jump to any conclusions. Don't touch that!"

Anchor's paw hovered over a large gun and he retracted it slowly to his side.

"I was just lookin'," he muttered.

"Look with your eyes." Surge took a deep breath and ran a paw over her face. "Seriously, if that misfires, the entire building is gonna come down around our ears."

Anchor took a step back from the gun, then rejoined Macro's side.

Surge sighed and shook her head, moving over to the bedside unit. Macro watched her like a hawk as she looked over DL. Then she opened a drawer and pulled out a long, black cable.

"It must be so strange to have a jack lead adaptor in your head," she said, more to DL than to the space pirates. She then turned to Macro. "Are you wanting to stay and wait while I do this?"

"I was planning on it." Macro folded his arms and inclined his head on one side. "How long do you think this is gonna be?"

"Yeh," said Matrix. "'Cos I might go to the Lounge and play games."

Surge tutted and attached the cable to her computer. "Abandoning your captain? Not exactly a loyal little bee, are you?"

"I'm used to it." Macro pulled up a chair beside the coffee table.

"If I have time, I'm taking advantage of it," Matrix protested.

"It could be a while," said Surge. "I'm going to treat what's happened to her as a computer crash and leave my tablet running a full diagnostic. You might want to help yourselves to drinks."

"I'm on it." Anchor marched over to the refrigerator and tugged it open. "Woo. Berry juice. Not a bad selection. Someone likes their vitamins."

Surge rolled her eyes.

"I'm guessin' Macro's on the pecha juice," said Anchor. "Can I get you anything, Surge?"

"Pecha for me, too, please," said Surge without looking up.

Matrix buzzed over to Anchor and helped him pour out five glasses. Anchor sat opposite Macro with a sickly green juice that made Macro's nose crinkle.

Matrix raised his glass and nodded. "I'll just finish this and be out of your fur. You know where to find me."

Surge said nothing. Too focused on her task, or plain ignorance. Macro couldn't decide.

He sipped his drink, keeping one eye on the zigzagoon. His heart was hammering as his mind ran through every single worse-case scenario that resulted in DL never waking up. Trapped in an eternal sleep.

A loud scream came through the window, causing Macro to drop his glass. Anchor let his drop to the table, splashing the worn wood with bitter juice. All eyes went to the window, and Matrix shot towards it like a yellow dart.

A cacophony of voices melded in the street below. Shouts, cries, screams.

"It looks like a riot or something," said Matrix.

Macro pushed himself to his feet and ran to join the ribombee. Anchor and Surge appeared on either side and Matrix opened the window, allowing them all to lean out to get a clearer view.

It wasn't a riot.

Pokemon were gathering weapons or belongings and making a beeline for the docks.

"Think our friend showed up?" Anchor asked.

"Looks like it." Macro pushed back from the window and turned towards the door. "Come on, crew. We're gonna head it off."

"Where are you going?" Surge demanded. "What 'friend'?"

Macro stopped by the door and looked back over his shoulder. "There's a monster on the loose. Probably some dimensional beast Socket's warped plan has let loose. It was heading this way."

"And you were going to tell me all this when?"

Anchor spread his paws and looked from the zigzagoon to Macro. "You didn't warn her? You warned Worm."

Macro waved his arm at DL. "Excuse me if it kinda slipped my mind!"

"How could it slip your mind?" Matrix asked. "It wrecked our cargo hold."

More cries came from the street, distressed and frightened mixed with angry and commanding.

Macro gave himself a mental shake and threw the door open.

"Look, I'll explain later," he said quickly. "But right now, I wanna help destroy that thing. It's our fault we let it go in the first place. Look after DL."

He darted from the door with Anchor and Matrix on his tail.

"Just don't ask me to shoot it this time," said the ribombee.

"Macro! Wait!" Surge's voice faded out as the space pirates vanished into the elevator.

...​

Pulse City was in an uproar. The streets heaved with pokemon of varying size and species. Some towered over Macro, stepping over his head and making him feel oddly vulnerable. Space pirates and residents stampeded back and forth, but most of them were heading towards the docks.

From the crowds and sirens, Macro guessed the docks was where the beast had been spotted. All the ships were crowded out, and pokemon shoved their way through to reach their respective ships. Some were pulling out, turning tail and heading into the vastness of System Sky.

Above them, the familiar shape of the strange jellyfish creature zoomed in on the horizon. So it hadn't reached them yet... Macro felt a flood of relief.

"Get to the ship," he told his crew. "We'll head it off and fire."

"So we're hunting strange, ominous creatures," said Anchor. "Gotcha."

Macro paused as he looked over the sea of scrambling bodies. "We just need to work our way through. I can dart between legs while Matrix can fly overhead. But you-"

"Nah, we're stickin' together," said Anchor. "I ain't losing you - or time - in all that."

The granbull scooped up Macro under one arm and barged through the crowd. The mawile waved his arms and shouted in protest, but was silenced by sparks flying from Anchor's flaming fangs. Pokemon darted out of the way as heat singed their fur, and they shot the space pirates looks of venom.

Macro raised his paws over his head, shielding himself from bumps and scrapes as Anchor powered his way through hard, scaly and thorny bodies. He didn't open his eyes until Anchor set him back down beside his ship.

"Made it," said the granbull. He ushered Macro onto the stairs. "What do you plan to do with the creature when we've shot it?"

"Well I don't plan on catching it again, that's for certain," said Macro. "I guess we just let it fall."

"But there's land beneath us," said Anchor. "What if it falls on someone, or crushes a building?"

"That's for System Ground to deal with." Macro fell into his seat and gestured to his crew. "Let's get this ship in the air and start firin'."

Anchor grumbled under his breath as the schooling wishiwashi fired to life. Wildcard Gamma pulled out of the docks and, unlike many of the other ships, turned towards the alien creature. Macro caught a glimpse of confused and angry faces staring up at them from the crowd below.

As they moved along the outer dome of Pulse City, the crowd thinned out. Larger space pirates herded the frightened mass towards the ships while the bolder of the group worked together to defend against the alien. Gathered on the outermost edge of the dome, space pirates of all sizes gathered, decked out in thermal suits and helmets. Frost clung to the light fabric and their breath misted over the surface of the perspex glass. Smaller pokemon aimed their lasers, waiting for the monster to draw close enough, while a massive aggron stood with a missile launcher resting on his plated shoulder.

The city turrets aimed towards the creature, lying dormant as the pokemon manning them waited to fire.

"Hope we don't get caught up in all that onslaught," Anchor muttered.

"Then make sure to dodge it," said Macro. "Hopefully they'll appreciate a helping paw."

Matrix eyed the small army and wound his antenna in his paw. "Seems a bit overkill."

"If that thing's been destroying cities, I worry this might not be enough," said Macro. "Just concentrate all our fire power on that... jellyfish thing."

Anchor brought Wildcard Gamma to a stop, turning to face the alien head on. The strange creature didn't appear remotely phased. It kept 'swimming' towards them at the speed of knot, its long tentacles pulsing back and forth.

"Should we shoot now, Cap'n?" Anchor asked.

"Wait a minute," said Macro. "Wait for it to get a bit closer. We don't want to risk missing and agitating it."

"If I were to hazard a guess," said Matrix, "I'd say it's already pretty agitated."

"Still," said Macro. "Give it a little time, then we can get a nice good shot in."

No sooner had the words left his mouth, a narrow laser beam shot past the ship towards the creature, glancing off its head. The jellyfish swerved to the side, bringing its tentacles up to lash out at its invisible foe. Then it turned towards the onslaught and darted towards them with alarming speed.

The entire small army went into an uproar, firing bullets, missiles and lasers right at the creature. It ducked and swerved, dodging the majority of them while the remainder hit its billowing tentacles and head frill.

"What are they doing?!" Macro roared.

"Guess your message didn't reach the turrets." Matrix rolled his eyes.

"I didn't send them a message!" Macro bit back.

"Exactly." Matrix turned back to his navigation system, silently winding his antenna in one paw.

The ship shook, lurching forwards and sending Macro sprawling onto the dashboard. A torrent of narrow lasers skimmed past the window, driving the creature to the right of Wildcard Gamma. Macro pushed himself back up, catching Anchor's concerned glance. The mawile swiftly buckled himself into his seat and sighed, shaking his head slowly.

"We're gonna go down in flames." He groaned and ran a paw down his face. "Just fire."

"Roger." Anchor's paws flew over a series of buttons on the dashboard, then he began to steer the ship forwards.

The familiar sound of the smaller wishiwashi snapping into place filled the cockpit, followed by a deep whir as they spun around the barrel of the ship. Bubbles flew out in a stream, exploding before they could reach their target. The impact blew the creature back and it floated on the spot, its eyeless face peering out at the bubble bombs as though it was reconsidering its actions.

"I don't think it likes it," said Matrix.

"Of course it doesn't," said Anchor. "They're bombs."

"Water type bombs," Matrix added.

"He's got a point," Macro told Anchor. "Get closer! Pepper that thing with them!"

Anchor silently drew the ship closer to the alien. Macro craned his neck around to try and get a view of the army. Their weapons flashed by the windows, skimming Wildcard Gamma's hull. But Macro's eye was drawn in by a flood of colourful ships pouring towards them from the docks. The lead ship was a gorebyss, followed by a magikarp and two basculin.

A grin spread across Macro's face. Back up. The more fire power aimed at that monster, the faster it would fall.

He turned back to the battle, just as another stream of bubble bombs flew from the ship's turrets. The strange creature doubled back then raised its tentacles. Hundreds of glowing rocks shot from it, striking the bombs before they could hit. They exploded on impact, drawing closer to Wildcard Gamma and creating a shock wave. The ship lurched backwards, right into the line of fire from the turrets.

Macro's seatbelt jabbed into his ribs as he jolted forwards in his seat.

"Oi!" He called over his shoulder, not that he could even see the pokemon manning the turret. "Watch where you're firin'!"

"That attack was power gem," said Matrix. "That creature is using the same attacks pokemon know."

Macro met the ribombee's eyes and he glanced away nervously, winding his antenna around in his paw so tightly Macro feared he might tug it off.

"You telling me that thing's a pokemon?" Macro asked.

Matrix shrugged and glanced out of the window. The strange creature was heading straight for them.

"Send out another bubble beam!" Macro told Anchor. "Even if it doesn't hit, it'll delay it getting to us. Then we can think up another plan."

Anchor gave a noncommittal grunt and the ship's turrets fired into action once more, spraying the beast with exploding bubbles. It reared back to counter attack, but the bubbles lit up with a blue light as a stream of ice flowed through them, hitting the creature head on. The gorebyss ship pulled up beside them, the long fin on its head glowing with a soft, silver-blue light. Once the attack ended, it faded out and a soft bubble surrounded the entire ship.

Fire then shield. One of those lasers that needed a bit of recharge time.

Macro turned back to the alien. It was still reeling from the laser attack. Frost clung to its head and right tentacles, and it flailed as it tried to dodge the slower bubble bombs as they exploded around it. Loud tinkling flew from an unseen mouth as it thrashed in the air, desperate to avoid the onslaught.

"I have an idea," said Anchor. "I'm gonna get behind it."

"What for?" Macro asked, aghast.

"I'm gonna herd it towards the army," Anchor replied. "Get it close enough that they can hit it with their weapons. Put it completely in the line of fire and see if it can handle all of that. If it works, it'll go down like a sack of rocks."

Before Macro could reply, Wildcard Gamma ducked to the side, drawing away from the gorebyss. The elegant ship took their previous spot and the fin atop its head began to glow softly, almost pulsing as it charged up its next aurora beam imitation.

The basculin ships seemed to have the same idea Anchor had. They came at the monster from the opposite side, the frowning faces of their ships screaming business. If they weren't going to herd it towards the army, Macro assumed they meant to tackle it head on. He doubted it, however. Ships that relied on physical, brute strength often didn't survive very long in the sky.

Wildcard Gamma drew closer to the creature's left, then fired another stream of bullets. It moved away from them, rather than towards the small army, putting it in striking distance of the basculin. The creature swung around in an arc, throwing glowing rocks straight at Wildcard Gamma. Several hit the bombs, while those that didn't struck the hull and window. Macro flinched back from the windscreen, raising his paws to shield his head. When he looked up, he was greeted by a spider web of cracks and a pitiful groan left his mouth. He'd have to deal with that later.

His eyes went back to the basculin ships. They were much closer to the beast now, and the furthest one opened its cargo hatch mouth wide. It sent out a stream of steaming water, all the while still moving towards it. The creature screeched as it skimmed its tentacles. A glancing hit, designed to drive it away from them. The other basculin opened its mouth in the same manner, but rather than fire a weapon, it instead snapped it shut with a speed that caused Macro to flinch.

Another screech came from the creature and it flailed, striking the ship with its tentacles. A stream of purple flowed from its wounded limb, raining down onto System Ground. The basculin span behind the creature, one of it tentacles clasped in the tightly closed jaws of its cargo hold like a tiny noodle.

"Alright," said Anchor. "Looks like it's workin'."

But the creature held on with one tentacle, hanging from the basculin ship's exit hatch. It pulled itself up as the ship slowed down, spreading out on top of it like a tiny hat.

Macro raised an eyebrow. What was the creature up to?

The basculin ship span on the spot, opening its jaws wide. It snapped them closed over the side of the other basculin, tearing a huge hole in the hull. The other ship retaliated with steaming water, missing its sudden foe and instead striking Wildcard Gamma on the nose.

"Oi!" Macro waved his paw. "What are you attacking each other for, you fools! Hit the creature!"

"I think it's taken over the ship," said Matrix.

The hostile basculin turned on the spot towards Wildcard Gamma, letting the friendly ship plummet towards the ground below. Macro's heart sank as he watched the ship vanish through the clouds. His eyes went back to their former ally. Through the basculin eye windows he caught sight of the pilot. An emolga, desperately trying to bring the ship under its control.

Matrix was right. The creature was controlling it somehow.

Its tinkly voice filled the air, and the ship opened its jaws. A stream of boiling water flew at Wildcard Gamma.

Anchor threw his weight against the steering stick and the ship lurched to the side, narrowly avoiding the attack. Steaming water skimmed the hull of the ship, followed by a stomach-churning crack. There went one of the turrets...

The gorebyss sent forth an ice attack, hitting the creature in the head. It flailed, smashing the head of the basculin and spraying purple acid over its head and windows. The corrosive liquid burned through the metal and the emolga went into a panic, rushing away from the ship's controls.

Wildcard Gamma launched another stream of bubbles, catching the creature's limbs and driving it from the basculin ship. It finally released it, letting the abandoned ship plummet through the clouds.

A small yellow and black shape leapt from it, followed by two other small pokemon. Their parachutes kicked in, drowning out their small bodies as they followed their ship towards System Ground.

"All right. New plan." Macro ran a paw over his face. "Don't let that creature touch my ship."

"Gotcha." Anchor fired up the turrets once more.

Bubbles flew at the creature before it could gather itself. It backed away from Wildcard Gamma, dodging some of the bombs but not quite getting out of the way of the attack. It was blown backwards towards Pulse City. The gorebyss ship closed in behind it, hitting it with another ice laser. The ice and bombs combined sent the creature like a ping pong ball right towards the army.

The waiting troop caught on, sending a torrent of weapon fire right into its bulbous head. Missiles, bullets and lasers struck home, blowing it backwards towards the waiting ships. Anchor didn't hang around, and neither did the gorebyss. All attacks concentrated on the creature, drowning out its cries. Then the attacks lessened off, and the tentacled monstrosity dropped like a stunned ducklett towards the world below.

"We did it." Anchor sat back in his seat and wiped a paw across his brow. "Wow. It took an army to stop that thing. What was it made of?"

Macro said nothing. He watched the creature vanish into the blackness, his claws digging into the dashboard. Anchor's words were spinning around his head, breaking him into a cold sweat. They'd saved Pulse City, but what city was below them exactly?

Never mind the creature alone falling on top of a city. It had followed two fallen ships. A sudden rain of shrapnel, bringing a brutal end to another city.

Save one, lose another. He hoped desperately that was the only monstrosity to come from Socket's toying with time and space.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Whoo, so, we see the defenders of Pulse City jump in to save the day from a very angry Nihelego.

Though before I go into that, it looks like Socket is truly onto Surge now it seems, since she knows beyond doubt that Surge was the hacker. I'm guessing she's probably going to lay a trap for Surge, and Surge is likely gonna fall for it unless she finds out her covers been blown.

I wonder if Surge is actually going to help Macro this time, and maybe she will and then betray him. It's highly possible, given that she's not exactly thrilled with the fact that her crush on him is interfering with her work. Ah well, that remains to be seen at this point.

It's interesting how you incorporated Nihelegos parasitic nature by making it able to possess ships. Though, I'm curious to know just how that even works. Also, just how massive are Nihelegos in this fic? They didn't look all that big in the games or the anime, then again, fanfics are free reign territory for creativity.

If it took them this much to take down one Nihelego, imagine what it'd take to take down an army of ultra beasts!

All in all, this was a solid chapter. I look forward to the next one.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Starting off, here, the Socket scene kind of continues the issue that I have with her. That being... she's really not doing anything and it's tough for her to feel threatening. The scene really sets it up that Socket has done the math and knows that Surge hacked her systems and may, in fact, be working a job for Macro. What's she going to do about it? Nothing, apparently, other than watching Yobi continue to work on some new robot that's related to BackDoor. I'm sure there's some sort of endgame that you have in mind right now. Unfortunately, I can't see it, and there doesn't seem to be anything pointing toward Socket's grand scheme to put the galaxy firmly under her iron grip.

On the more interesting side of things is good ol' Nihilego. Acting much like a kaiju in this scenario... complete with giant spaceships acting as our war machines in this scenario. I liked the ships' attacks being extensions of legitimate Pokémon moves. Hearkens back to the schooling torpedos from way back when and feels like an extension of the typing lasers that we've already seen in action. And, of course, more ships means more water-types. Unloved ones, at that. Not that I'm a real fan of Gorebyss or Basculin, to be honest. Anyway, Nihilego was quite destructive. There was plenty of give and take on both sides before Nihilego finally went down. I'd have like to see a bit more of its possession schtick. Seems like Wildcard Gamma is able to to get around that rather quickly. The ending makes it seem like we're not quite done, though. Guess there'll be some fallout to contend with next week!
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
I want to talk about the characters, and who else to start with other than Macro? Honestly, I can't say I'm not very pleased with how far this character has developed since chapter one.
Thanks =D I do enjoy creating character development, and Macro is super fun to work with. I'm so glad people like him.

Anchor is surprisingly a versatile character, albeit not a jack of all trades, and these guys wouldn't be the same without him. Also, a kudos to this story for making me care about a granbull, Heheh
Granbull is a pokemon that teaches you should never judge on appearances. Anchor is no exception to that rule ;)

What kind of shoddy hospital is going to take pirate health insurance? That's a recipe for disaster!
Pulse City. But yeh, I get your point XD

If it took them this much to take down one Nihelego, imagine what it'd take to take down an army of ultra beasts!
I am really trying to make them super threatening. Feel free to nudge me on this if I fail =x

Starting off, here, the Socket scene kind of continues the issue that I have with her. That being... she's really not doing anything and it's tough for her to feel threatening
If I do things right here, she'll be much more threatening later on, believe me.

I liked the ships' attacks being extensions of legitimate Pokémon moves. Hearkens back to the schooling torpedos from way back when and feels like an extension of the typing lasers that we've already seen in action. And, of course, more ships means more water-types. Unloved ones, at that.
I'm glad you're enjoying this. I'm having so much fun with weapons and pokemon moves XD
...​

Chapter 41​

BackDoor flew with his arms tucked behind his head, his eyes closed as he was deep in thought. TimeSkip’s flying was far from silent. His wings filled the air with a deep, droning buzz which was really beginning to grate on BackDoor. He snapped one eye open, fixing the odd onion-like android with a glare.

“Can’t you fly more quietly?” he growled.

TimeSkip said nothing, fixing its blank eyes on the vastness behind him.

BackDoor turned his head to look over his shoulder, then looked back at the celebi.

“There’s nothing there,” he said. “Have you picked up another time pocket?”

Silence.

BackDoor narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth together. “All right, this has gone on long enough. I’m bored. Say something!”

The celebi stared blankly ahead, the only sound coming from its rapid wing beats.

BackDoor glided towards it, fixing his eyes on the celebi’s emotionless bug-like, glassy ones.

“Hmm… not like you to disobey. I think you might have a problem,” he said. “Run a full diagnostics.”

The celebi fluttered before him, still not looking at him.

BackDoor let out a sigh and muttered under his breath. “I have to do everything, don’t I?”

He reached behind TimeSkip and, clutching him under one arm, flicked the power switch with his free paw. He counted silently to ten then switched it back on again. The celebi flared to life, lifting its heavy head to look right at him.

“Feeling better?” BackDoor asked. “Gonna speak to me now?”

A spray of binary flew through the hoopa’s head and he shook it sharply, raising a paw to silence the celebi.

“I don’t want your life story,” he said. “Run a full diagnostics then tell me what was wrong in a nutshell. ‘Kay?”

The celebi fell silent and its glassy eyes went even more blank as its internal computer searched through every inch of its system.

BackDoor leant back on his arms and yawned. Given the celebi android’s short life, it shouldn’t take too long to search through its data banks.

He peered over his shoulder at the emptiness of System Sky. They were far away from any of the floating cities. Supposedly the perfect spot to search through time and space for a new System. TimeSkip hadn’t found a single suitable time pocket. They’d all been dangerously prehistoric or a mere hundred or so years ago. Any other worlds had been either empty or toxic. Searching for somewhere clean for Socket and her select elite to retreat into had got off to a bad start, and TimeSkip’s silence for the last… half a day?… had likely cost them some progress. He looked back over the celebi’s shoulder and sighed.

“Don’t think I can be bothered going all the way back to see what you missed,” he muttered.

Binary filled his head and he snapped back to reality.

‘Diagnostics complete. Ready to relay information.’

“Shoot.”

‘Detected and repaired damaged communication components,’ said TimeSkip. ‘Damage caused by passing virus on route to Download Database. Successfully quarantined all traces and irreparable data.’

BackDoor raised an eyebrow. “Passing virus? When did you pick up a virus?”

‘Damage dates back to around six thirty AM.’

“Huh.” BackDoor scratched his head. “That’s about the time I got a headache. If it’s been sent to Download Database, I’m gonna guess Yobi’s used my network as a means to transfer it, and damaged you in the process. Maybe I should run a diagnostics on myself?”

A million voices filled his head at once and he clasped both paws over his horns. With a groan, he filtered them out to make some level of sense.

‘P0ck3t f0uNd. L0c4Ti0N UNkN0wN. ReL4yiNG c0-0rDiN4T3ssssszz.’

He looked back up at TimeSkip as a stream of numbers registered in his mind. “Guess a diagnostics will have to wait.” A large grin spread across his face. “Sounds like Zero Day have found another world.”

‘Affirmative.’

“I say we go play with them for a little bit, huh?”

The two androids doubled back then zipped towards the porygon-Z fleet’s co-ordinates.

...​

Macro gave a quick glance over his ship. Blue paint peeled back from the hull, and the metal was melted away in parts. A huge hole graced where one of the turrets had been positioned, revealing the intricate wiring and water pipes. Anchor had confirmed that one of the small wishiwashi had been torn clean away from the turret belt. There was no retrieving that. They’d have to have another one built, or repair the damage and make do with a missing turret. The damage this time was immense compared to previous damage. His heart sank at the sight of it and he felt himself break out into a cold sweat.

“I’ll deal with this.” Anchor dropped a heavy paw onto Macro’s shoulder. “You go check on DL.”

“You sure you can fix this?” Macro gestured to the wishiwashi’s exposed innards.

“I can sure give it a shot,” said Anchor. “I helped build the thing, after all. Pretty sure we can get the bits and pieces we need from Pulse City, if you’re fine shelling out for it. Worst case scenario, I’ll have to take a pod to the outskirts to gather scraps, and you’ll be stuck in Pulse City for a couple of nights.”

Macro scratched his ear and brought his bank balance up on his optical display. Just over thirty thousand credits. Thankfully the winnings he’d received from their game of farkle had cushioned it out nicely. Still… space pirates could charge a pretty credit for scrap materials.

“Have a hunt around.” He closed his display and gave Anchor a wave as he turned away. “You know where to find me.”

Macro marched down the street with Matrix buzzing at his head level. He cast the ribombee a sideways glance then tucked his paws behind his head.

“Part of me can’t believe we actually took down that thing,” he said. “If it weren’t for the damage to my ship, I’d think I’d dreamt it.”

Matrix shrugged and pulled out his small computer. “At least it’s not posing a threat any more.”

Macro snorted. “I dread to think what the pokemon living in the city below us are thinking right now. Because that wreckage will have obliterated it.”

“It’s Baud City,” said Matrix as he thumbed his computer screen. “The damage is immense, and there’s been over a hundred casualties. Twenty are confirmed dead.”

Macro grit his teeth together and flinched. More accidental lives he could add to his list.

“But the damage is concentrated to the business district and coast line,” Matrix explained. “The apartment blocks on its outskirts are still intact. The antenna connecting it to System’s grid has received some level of damage, giving it a power outage for fifteen minutes. But that’s back online now, so I wouldn’t worry. The city itself is still intact. Somewhat.”

Matrix popped his computer away, not a single look of remorse on his tiny face. Of course, that wasn’t to say he didn’t care. He was about as easy to read as a blank notebook.

“I’m gonna get to Moonlight Lounge,” the ribombee explained. “I really wanna sink myself into Assassin Strike for a while.”

Macro let out a small sigh and glanced away from him. “To be honest, I was hoping you’d come with me to Surge’s apartment.”

“What for?”

“I dunno. I… just don’t really wanna be alone with her.”

Matrix rubbed beneath his goggles and looked up at one of the passing billboards. “All right. I’ll come with you for a few minutes.”

“Make it thirty minutes and I’ll buy you dinner.”

“What?” Matrix raised an eyebrow. “You’re being weird today.”

“I just almost destroyed a city trying to save this one.” Macro stopped in the middle of the street and spread his arms wide. “Pokemon have died because I tried to stop that creature potentially destroying Pulse City. Forgive me if I seem a little off right now!”

“Okay.” Matrix stared at him until he started walking again. “But I dunno what almost destroying a city has to do with Surge.”

“She’s pushy,” Macro explained. “I’m worried if she goes too far I’ll end up doing something I regret.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. Shoot her?”

Matrix chuckled and paused to look over at Moonlight Lounge. “So if she gets too pushy, I get a free dinner? Guess I’m game.”

Macro said nothing as he pushed the buzzer to Surge’s apartment. The zigzagoon’s voice came out from the intercom no sooner he took his claw off the button.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Macro. Let me in.”

He thought he heard her tut before the buzzer rang and the door opened. He exchanged glances with Matrix then slipped inside, making a beeline for the elevator. The precarious contraption rattled its way up to her floor, opening its doors and revealing its trip-hazard of a step up onto the carpet.

Surge was waiting for them at her door, a small frown creasing her cream and brown face.

“I see you brought your cute bodyguard,” she said.

“Eh?” Macro froze slightly and his jaw went slack.

“I heard you from the window, moron.” Surge turned and marched back into her apartment, leaving the door wide open for the two space pirates.

Macro followed behind her and his eyes went straight to the bed in the corner of the small apartment. DL lay on her back beneath the blankets, a long cable stretching out from the back of her head. The other end of which was attached to Surge’s computer tablet.

“How is she?” Macro asked.

Surge gestured for him to sit down and he pulled up a seat at the kitchen counter. Matrix landed atop it and sat with his long legs hanging over the edge. The zigzagoon didn’t look up from her computer, feigning interest in the contents of the screen.

“I ran a full diagnostics,” she explained. “Her mind is filled with damaged files, and it’s great enough to render her unconscious. I’d actually call this some form of coma.”

Macro felt his blood turn cold. He looked over at the pachirisu, seeming so small beneath the sheets. His heart ached. What had happened? A lump rose in his throat and he tore his eyes away, instead staring at his black paw as it contrasted with the nicotine-coloured kitchen counter.

“She has a fully functional anti-virus system installed,” said Surge. “Which is sensible given the confidential information she’s been installed with. The diagnostics found a lock on those confidential files, which blocks her from accessing them. With a bit of tweaking, I’ve manage to give her access to that again.”

“I’m not bothered about that,” Macro said through his teeth. “What’s happened to her?”

“I’m getting to that,” Surge growled. “I thought at first the lock might have done something. Like it had locked her out of her own consciousness. But it’s not that. A bit more poking around revealed all the damaged files, most of which are memories tied with her self awareness and brain function. I believe those are contained on the second disk you installed. Her default could be likened to an android brain, only in data form and not physical in any way. My second suspicion was that they were competing and it had shut her down. It’s not that either. What I did find is actually very interesting.”

She turned in her seat to face Macro and showed him the computer screen. He couldn’t make head nor tail of it, but Matrix leant forward on the kitchen counter to get a better look.

“Wow!” the ribombee gasped. “Is that what I think it is?”

“Depends what you think it is,” said Surge. “It behaves in every way like a worm.”

“A worm?” Macro looked up at her, meeting her eyes briefly before she looked back at her computer. “Are you saying DL has a virus?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Surge turned away from them again and pawed over the screen. “I had my doubts at first, but the anti virus she’s been installed with can’t detect it. It’s as though it’s been made specifically to override it. Automatic updates, even forced updates, won’t give her any antibodies to fight this virus. I tried to get rid of it myself. I even tried transferring it to my own computer, but it won’t budge. As such, I’ve had to quarantine it. To do that, I had to unlock her access to the Download Database and lock it away in there.”

“Won’t it destroy those files?” Macro asked.

Matrix glanced him out of the corner of his eye and wound his antenna in his paw. “Not if it’s quarantined.”

“Matrix is right,” said Surge. “I’ve locked it away in one of the furthermost corners of that database. It’s stuffed inside a redundant file and locked up. I don’t know how it behaves, since I’ve not had enough time to study it. There’s every chance it will eat its way free. But I’ve done my best. My only other option was to completely wipe her, Download Database and all. That would have meant wiping out all her memories, old and new. But part of me feels you wouldn’t have wanted me to do that.”

Surge cleared her throat and looked back up at the pachirisu.

Wiping all her memories, old and new… that would have meant she’d have no idea who Macro even was. Surge had avoided it. The thought left Macro feeling a little warm, yet worried at the same time. If that virus got free, the same thing could happen again. He bit his lip, fighting back the urge to ask her to just go ahead with it. Was he being selfish?

A heavy lump rose in his throat again and he turned in his seat so he was no longer looking at DL.

“There’s an upside to this,” said Surge. “Given I had to unlock Download Database, you now have complete access to it. If you want to fight back against it, DL is your weapon. You’ll always be one step ahead.”

Macro nibbled on his claw and gave Surge a sideways glance. “So what are you doing now?”

“Re-installing all her memories in hopes it will repair the damaged files,” she said. “It’s my home-run swing before I resort to wiping her completely and starting fresh. But I don’t want to do that.” She looked up at him over her shoulder briefly. “Could you imagine being stuck with all these mechanical parts in your head and having no idea why?”

“She currently doesn’t have any idea why,” said Macro.

“No. But with access to the Database she might be able to find out why she was created.”

Macro’s heart did a somersault. Were they really about to find out?

“I think I’ve worked out which disk is which,” Surge explained. “I’ve not detected a virus on any of them.”

“That’s a relief,” said Macro. “I was worried the recent disk had been tampered with.”

“It definitely hasn’t,” she said. “I’m going to try and install the first two you did before we go for the most recent one.”

Surge reached for one of the disks and slipped it into her computer. DL’s eyes flew open and stared blankly at the ceiling. The antenna behind her ear flared to life, flickering as it received the information from the disk. Macro was on the edge of his seat, his heart pounding in his throat. He dared not breathe, watching as Surge removed the first disk for the second. Not a peep came from DL. It was unlike the first times they installed the disks. She’d been awake. This time… why wasn’t she responding?

As the second disk uploaded its information, everything seemed to go by so slowly, but the clock on Surge’s oven told him it had been merely ten minutes since they’d arrived and the first two disks had been re-installed.

When Surge removed the disk from her computer, the light behind DL’s ear flickered and she stretched languidly, rubbing her paws across her eyes.

Macro leapt from his seat, balling his paws into fists. His heart was hammering in his chest. Had it worked? Did she have her recent memories?

She looked up at him and let her paw fall to her side as her chocolate eyes widened.

“Macro?” She looked around the room. “Where am I?”

His legs went weak. In his mind, he’d thrown his arms around her. But in reality he sank to the floor, clenching his paw so tightly his claws dug into his pads.

“Oh, DL…” He grit his teeth together and looked up at her so sharply she recoiled slightly under the duvet. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

Tears welled up in his eyes and he screwed them shut, turning his face to the floor. He felt them break free and he whisked a paw over his face, letting them soak into his fur.

“What did I do?” DL asked quietly.

“You did nothing,” said Surge. “Ignore him. He’s a grump.”

She reached behind her for the third and final disk.

“You’re installing my memories again?” DL asked weakly.

“Yes.” Surge looked back at her. “How are you feeling?”

“A little confused.” DL blinked her huge chocolate eyes and stared at the far wall at the foot of the bed. “I don’t know who you are, but I recognise Macro and Matrix. Also… I have some memories but it’s as though I can’t focus on them.”

“That will be because of the virus. It’s corrupted the files Macro recently installed into you.” Surge popped the disk into her computer. “Brace yourself. If this works, they’re about to become a lot clearer.”

DL clutched the duvet in both paws and cowered back behind it. Then her eyes went blank as the third disk spewed its information into her brain.

Macro remained on his knees, gritting his teeth together so tightly it hurt. Part of him doubted it would work. The image of DL ‘malfunctioning’ was too crystal clear in his mind. He made a silent promise to her. If this failed again, he’d drop this mission. He’d let her have peace, and start afresh without those wretched disks.

Her eyes refocused again and she let the duvet go slack. Surge reached across her and removed the jack lead, opening her mouth to speak. But before words could leave her mouth, DL let out a pained, terrified scream.

Macro leapt to his feet and his paw flew to his laser. But it relaxed beside it as DL slumped forward, tugging the duvet up to her face.

“I know now!” she wailed. “I know everything!”

Everything…

That was the disk she’d been terrified of.

Macro crept over to her and perched on the edge of the bed.

“She did this to me,” DL choked out. “She’s a monster!”

There was nothing he could say. He reached out and pulled her into him, letting her head rest against his chest. Her paw wound itself into the fur of his shoulder and she let out a long, shaky sob.

“I trusted her!” Her words were muffled into his scarf. “I trusted her and she took everything from me!”

He fastened his arms around her and ran a paw over her back. “Well she can’t hurt you any more.”

“No, but she wants me back.” Her words were interspersed with sobs. It pained him. “If she gets me back… she’ll use me like some machine…”

“She won’t get you back,” he said. “I promise that.”

“You don’t know what she’s done! What’s she’s planning!” Her entire body shook with violent sobs and coughs. “She’s insane. Absolutely insane!”

...​

No more than fifteen years old.

The young pachirisu sat at the back of the craft room, colouring in a recently drawn picture. The scene depicted was full of grass and berry orchards. Not that such scenes were prominent in System. She’d never been to System Sky. Never seen the orchards that grew in Cyan City.

Two years she’d spent in the orphanage, although her memory as to why was hazy. Her parents had died, that much she knew.

A small espurr shuffled over to her to grab a pencil box, his tiny paws barely reaching the edge of the table. She smiled down at him and plopped the pencil box gently into his outstretched paws.

“Thanks, Loop,” he lisped before waddling over to the hatchling corner.

The pachirisu gave him a warm smile before returning to her drawing. She’d barely put pencil back to paper when the old door creaked open. She craned her neck around, her eyes falling on the lithe form of a furret. Behind her stood a tall, dark pokemon. Her body was covered in a frilly black fur, adorned with white ribbons. Loop’s heart froze in her chest and her pencil clattered to the table, leaving a red scuff on the green grass of her orchard.

“This is her,” said the furret. “Young Loop here has been with us for two years. None of her family are alive, so…”

“Such an odd place for an electric type,” said Socket. “I thought she’d be in Botnet Orphanage. Not Meta City.”

“Sadly they’re full,” said the furret. “After the accident-” her voice blurred, not coming into focus.

Loop placed both paws over her ears, cowering over the table. What did the mayor want with her? She could feel her icy eyes burning into the side of her head.

“I can offer her a home.” The gothitelle’s face melted into a warm smile. “I’ve been wanting a daughter.”

Loop’s young heart did a backflip. Was she actually getting out? And to live with System’s mayor? Thoughts raced through her mind, not settling on one scenario. She’d made friends at the orphanage, but to have a normal life… go to a normal school…

“I’ll have my PA deal with the paperwork,” Socket told the furret.

“That’s not… ordinarily…” The furret backed down from Socket’s stare and nodded briskly. “That’s fine. I know you’re busy, and being the Mayor and all…”

Before she knew it, Loop found herself being bundled into a sleek, black limo. A tiny chingling looked back at her from the driver’s seat, beaming through the bullet-proof glass separating him from the back seats. Driving was almost unnecessary. The orphanage was only a ten minute walk from the mansion.

The first thing to greet her were a pair of intimidating pidgeot guards. Their beady black eyes watched her every move as Socket led her up the small staircase to the large, ornamental doors.

“I’ll show you to your room.” The chingling flopped past her, his internal bell ringing with each small movement. “Socket’s a busy ‘mon.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Socket. “I’ll show my new daughter to her chambers.”

“Seriously?” The chingling looked a little taken aback. “I don’t get this kind of treatment.”

“You don’t need it. Now get back to work.” Socket stared at the back of the chingling, watching until he vanished around a corner. She then turned back to Loop and waved a paw for her to climb the stairs. “Come with me. It’s just up on the second floor.”

The plush carpet cushioned her feet as she clambered up each luxurious step. Two flights and she found herself surrounded by closed doors. Socket led her a little way down the corridor and paused beside one of the identical doors, throwing it open.

Loop’s breath was taken away. The room was just as ornamental as the rest of the mansion. A huge bed perched at one side, surrounded by four posts. The bed had its own curtains to match the ones over the window. Blue and white, trailing down to the smooth, polished wooden floor. She could almost see her reflection in the wood as she stepped inside. Her first instinct was to examine the wooden desk by the window, pulling out the little drawer.

“There’s a pencil set in here,” she said.

“Of course,” said Socket. “You like drawing, don’t you? I don’t want to deprive you of that.”

She looked back at the gothitelle, all previous anxieties washed away. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll leave you to settle in.” Socket stepped back from the door and began to pull it closed. “Oh. One more thing. Dinner is at seven. I’ll send Tweak to get you.”

“Of course. I look forward to it.” Loop smiled as she watched Socket vanish behind the closed door.

Almost three years went by, the first of which was pure bliss. Loop attended school and was picked up promptly each day by Tweak. Socket involved her in her work on Saturdays, showing her the ropes of being a mayor. The promise was one day Loop would take over, and she took it very seriously.

Drawing was soon replaced by studying the laws of System until they were emblazoned in her mind. Air cleanliness, water dwellers, space pirates, prison sentences, crimes… her mind span. Once she’d finished school, she went straight into law.

When she came home during her first break from Binary College, she couldn’t wait to relax in her own room. Being the Mayor’s daughter had been met with hostility and sleepless nights. She made her way to Socket’s office and knocked softly.

“Come in.” The reply felt cold. Unwelcoming.

She pushed the door open and shot one of her beaming smiles to the gothitelle. “It’s me. I’m back-”

“Loop, finally.” Socket leant back in her seat and waved her paw towards a huge holoscreen display. “Meet my genius in science, Yobi.”

Loop stepped into the room, looking warily up at the screen. The chubby face of a sparksurfer raichu peered curiously down at her.

“So this is the young pachirisu I’ll be working with?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Socket. “I expect good work from the both of you.”

Loop turned her head to look at Socket and her paws went to her chest. “Science? I thought I was pursuing law.”

Socket waved a paw. “Forget that. I need you to team up with Yobi. I have huge plans for System, and they don’t include law. Not at this early stage.”

“But-”

“No buts. I’ve already handed your notice into Binary College. You won’t be going back.”

Loop’s heart sank. Part of her thought she’d be happy to see the back of Binary College. But no longer pursuing law… something she’d poured two years into…

Little did she know her new direction of science was the start of a nightmare.

Yobi’s lab was filled with all kinds of niknaks, from screws and bolts to robotic limbs. It was like a cybernetic morgue. He talked her through mechanics and computer coding, none of which made sense. What did stand out to her the most were the technicalities of dimensional travel. History books were thrown at her. Well… he called them history. To her, it was all mythology. Books on pokemon legends such as dialga and palkia, pokemon believed to control time and space. Celebi, hoopa… they came next. Glowing gateways into different worlds all made little sense to her.

She voiced her concerns many times to Socket over dinner - it was becoming the only time they ever spoke - but the Mayor merely waved it off and changed the subject.

So Yobi’s lessons went on.

Why he was forcing this stuff into her head, she had no idea. She was beginning to wonder if Socket had hired a lunatic.

Until one morning.

Violent paws shook her awake and her eyes flew open. It was still dark, but the gothitelle’s blue eyes were glowing fiercely. She found herself lifted to her feet in a bubble of purple energy.

Paralyzed.

“What are you doing?!” Loop screamed. “Put me down!”

“Not yet. You’re a part of this.” Socket lugged her down the hallway, leaving the pachirisu to thrash inside her bubble prison. “Besides. If I told you where we were going, you wouldn’t obey.”

Tossed into a car and driven to the other end of Meta City. Her shouts fell on deaf ears as Tweak steered them through the busy streets. Once again, she was lifted into the air and lugged after the Mayor, to be dropped unceremoniously onto Yobi’s laboratory floor.

The room was dimly lit, casting the lab in shadows reminiscent of a nightmare. Murky light reflected off a glistening metal trolley behind the raichu, lighting up sharp scalpel blades and needles.

“It’s time,” said Socket. “Make it quick.”

Yobi stuttered and rubbed his paws together, looking from Loop to Socket and back.

“I still don’t understand,” he said. “Isn’t she your daughter?”

“Yes.” Socket folded her arms. “I’ve told you repeatedly - that’s how it’s meant to look. Pokemon have seen me with her, almost every day. I think it’s safe to say we’ve eluded their suspicions.”

Yobi rubbed the back of his ears and stared down at the trembling pachirisu. “If you’re sure there’s no one else-”

“There’s always you.” Socket’s voice was laced with ice, freezing Yobi to the spot.

“No, no. I can work with her,” he stuttered.

“Good. Now get that database uploaded into her and let’s get on with our job.”

“But… it’s a delicate procedure,” he said. “I’ve not got all the kinks worked out yet. It could spell disaster.”

“You’ve been working on this for a year,” Socket spat. “Are you telling me you can’t download an entire database into a brain?”

“Oh, I can… I’ve got the device made and everything. But-”

“But what?”

Loop’s heart was almost hammering its way out of her chest. She scurried backwards across the dusty floor, only to be stopped by another psychic bubble. Tweak’s grinning face stared back at her from the other side and he swung his whole body around, sending her back to the Mayor’s waiting feet.

“Well, the thing is…” Yobi wrung his paws together. “She’s a bit of a… how do I put this… a strong personality. Do you really want all this confidential information uploaded into someone who could turn rebellious?”

Socket scratched her chin. “You’ve mentioned this to me before. Several times, in fact. My answer remains the same. You can upload information, so why not remove it, too?”

“And I told you that’s murder! You’re removing her very essence! You’re the Mayor, you can’t just take someone’s life away.”

“What?!” Loop tried to climb to her feet, but it was like moving in a vat of glue.

“Be quiet!” Socket waved a paw, silencing Loop’s voice in her throat. Then she turned back to Yobi. “She’d still be alive.”

“Look. See it this way.” Yobi spread his paws. “What makes a pokemon is their personality. Without their memories and personality, they’re just… vegetables. You’re asking me to turn her into a vegetable. At least try to think up a legal loophole. How about I… I dunno… try to save all her essence to a disk? At least then, she’s still got it. It’s just… downloaded elsewhere.”

“Fine. Download everything, save it, then upload Download Database. I want her wired to the BackDoor network before dawn tomorrow. Then we can get looking for a new world.”

New world? Loop’s heart was hammering inside her chest. All that information. Hoopa, celebi, palkia and dialga… it hadn’t been for nothing.

Socket strolled from the room with Tweak in tow. As the door closed behind her, Loop was released from her bubble. She stared up at Yobi, trembling from ear to toe.

“Sorry.” He trapped her in another bubble and reached behind him towards the metal trolley. “I promise you won’t feel a thing.”

...​

DL’s sobs lessened off, but the fur over her cheeks glistened with tears.

That awful nightmare of a story filled Macro’s mind with vivid, horrific images he wished to lock away in a tiny box in the corner of his mind. Who would do that? Trick a child into a lie of security, just to use them as a tool in a warped, vindictive plan?

DL’s trembling breath tickled the fur on Macro’s chest, and as she shifted against him the scent of lavender filled his nose. It left him feeling physically weak, but a fire ignited deep within him. His grip slackened and he let his claws trail over her fur as he fixed the headboard with a piercing, violet leer.

“She’ll have to kill me before she can ever lay her paws on you again.” The words left his mouth before he’d even had time to process them.

His paw faltered over her spine, but he didn’t take his eyes off the headboard. Her sobs had become a snuffle and she was stock still, her claws wound into the fabric of his scarf. He pulled away from her but she didn’t relinquish his scarf. She clutched it in her paws, her wide, glossy chocolate eyes flying around the room and settling on anything but him. They trailed over the wall, Matrix, Surge…

Surge cleared her throat and rose to her feet to head towards the kitchen. Macro looked from the zigzagoon’s tatty tail to DL’s terrified eyes. His heart clenched in his chest and he let himself fall onto his bottom on the floor as he wiped his face dry.

“I think we need to give… Loop, I guess?… time to come to terms with things,” said Surge.

“Don’t call me that,” DL hissed. “Don’t you ever call me that.”

“But it’s your name, isn’t it?” Matrix wound his antenna in his paw thoughtfully.

DL gave her head a violent shake. “No. No, it’s not! The last pokemon to ever call me that was her. I don’t want anything to do with her. That name died that night.”

“She’s right.” Macro stared down at his paws as he straightened out his scarf. “Nothing wrong with having two names. I do it.”

“Yes, but your alias is to throw other pokemon off your scent,” said Surge. “If someone were to find a dead mawile, your chip would say ‘Macro’, am I right?”

He snorted and waved the zigzagoon off. “Anyway. Let DL use whatever name she wants. I don’t blame her for wanting nothing to do with Socket. That mad Mayor has just given me another reason to see her fall.”

“What’s all this about looking for a new world?” Matrix asked.

DL trembled and fixed her gaze on the wall. “I’ll tell you later. I’m still coming to terms with it. Some things are blurrier than others. Like… I don’t have any memories prior to being in that orphanage. None at all. No idea what even happened to my family. But the details concerning her plan… I’m sure they’re in the database, but my own memories of them are hazy. Like I’ve repressed them.”

“You probably have,” said Surge. “Give it time.”

DL nodded and leant back against the wall.

“Anyway,” said Surge. “Who wants tea? You’ve not told me about your fight with that monster yet, Macro. I could hear the commotion all the way out here.”

“What monster?” DL’s voice wavered and she looked over at the mawile.

“I don’t even know,” said Macro. “It was like some weird jellyfish thing. But it’s gone now. We took care of it.” He paused and scratched his scar. “Anchor’s currently repairing the damages.”

Surge chuckled. “Did it wreck your ship?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Monsters… So much has happened. I feel like I’m missing something.” DL shook her head then looked over at Surge. “I’m still unsure who you are. Is this your apartment?”

“Yes, but I’m sure Macro can explain everything,” said Surge. “I’m just a helpful mercenary who’s expecting a fat paycheck after this.”

“A paycheck for what?”

Surge wiped her hands on a tea towel and turned back to DL. “You had a virus afflicting your memories. I dealt with it, and I don’t work for free.”

“In that case, if we’re all done here,” said Matrix, “I’m gonna go play Assassin Strike for a bit.”

“Hey, you promised me thirty minutes!” Macro barked.

“Well, if Surge’s paycheck is as fat as she hopes it will be, I doubt you’ll be buying me lunch.” Matrix buzzed to the door and paused to wave over his shoulder. “Glad to see you up and about, DL. Buhbye!”

The door slammed shut behind him, shattering Macro’s confidence. He cleared his throat and pushed himself to his feet.

“Well.” He climbed back into his seat at the counter. “Guess I’d better explain everything, then?”

DL shook her head. “No need. I actually think I could use a walk.”

She clambered to her feet, her legs trembling as she struggled her way towards the door.

“Wait.” Macro lifted a paw to stop her. “Don’t go alone. I’ll come with you.”

“No…” She fixed one eye on him over her shoulder. “I don’t want to be a burden.”

Her words stabbed him through the heart. He flinched and looked away from her. “You’re not a burden. Just wait by the elevator, and I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve paid Surge.”

DL pursed her lips together and slipped through the door, letting it close softly behind her.

Macro slid from his seat and reached into his pocket. “I have some cash, if-”

Surge grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and backed him into the wall. He looked up with a start, opening his mouth to speak, but his words were silenced as she brushed her lips against his. He jerked his head back, but all that came from his throat was a feeble choke as something cold pressed against his chest. He glanced down, and his eyes widened slowly as he spotted the glowing rim of a laser right above his heart.

Red.

Red for fire.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
Well, now we finally have the full-ish backstory on Dl, or Loop. To think that Socket was willing to go that far for such an elaborate plan, and that Loop was nothing but a prototype in the end.

Socket really is as heartless as it gets tbh, and she really deserves the string of bad luck she's been having recently lol. I've kind of forgotten what her end goal is in all of this, and I could use a reminder tbh, but whatever it is, I'm convinced that she's way in over her head.

Also, oh no, Surge is about to kill Macro? Will Macro survive? Does Surge have what it takes? Did I leave the oven on? Find out next time on System: Reboot!!

I can't wait :D
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
Also, oh no, Surge is about to kill Macro? Will Macro survive? Does Surge have what it takes? Did I leave the oven on? Find out next time on System: Reboot!!
This tickled me XD I'm glad you're enjoying, thank you =D
...​

Chapter 42​

Macro’s breath froze in his throat. His entire mouth had turned dry, and his paws felt like useless, clammy lumps stuck to the end of wooden limbs. He couldn’t move.

Sandwiched between the solid wall and the hostile nozzle of a laser. Its rim lit up, loaded. He could already feel the heat from its coil as it readied itself to fire.

That was it. No way out, nowhere to run. As soon as she pulled that trigger, he’d be dead. There was no way he was living a blast of fire at such close proximity. He wasn’t fast enough to counter it. He daren’t even move. One twitch and she’d fire.

That would be the end of him. He hadn’t stopped Socket. He hadn’t got Switch back to his own time line. He hadn’t fulfilled his promise to DL. He hadn’t even apologized to her, and at that moment he wanted to do that more than ever.

The laser jerked, jabbing into his ribs, and Surge let out a strangled choke. His attention snapped from the laser to her face, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her lips curled back into a grimace, and her eyes were screwed tightly shut. The one ear he could see lay parallel to her skull, reminiscent of a scorned hatchling. Her paw trembled violently and she let out another choke, letting the laser clatter to the floor.

“I can’t do it!” She flopped into him and he raised his paws to catch her.

That breath finally left his throat, and he fixed the far wall with wide, violet eyes. He gave himself a mental shake and dragged his focus back to Surge. The zigzagoon sobbed into his scarf and wrapped her paw over his shoulder, her claws digging into his flesh. It felt a whole lot more intimidating than it should have done, given the circumstances.

He took a steadying breath and turned her towards the bed, giving her a gentle shove until she was seated. Then he smoothed his scarf down and gave the laser a hefty kick. It skittered across the floor and vanished beneath her dressing table.

“Gonna tell me what that was about?” he growled.

She didn’t look up at him, just stared down at her paws. He caught a lone tear which vanished into her brown fur.

“That job I took?” Her breath rattled as she wiped a paw across her eyes. “I’ve been hired to kill you.”

“Let me guess.” Macro folded his arms and leant his weight on one leg. “Socket hired you?”

She nodded weakly.

“And that’s why you’ve been following me, ain’t it?” He let out a bitter laugh and shook his head. “It all makes so much sense now. Our ‘stalker’ vanished once we removed DL’s tracking chip. Threw you off the scent, huh? Bet you couldn’t wait to get me cornered behind these walls.”

“It’s not like that!” she snapped. “I’ve spared your life three times now!”

“Oh. Thanks.” He flashed a canine and glanced over at the window. “Gonna give me a chance to run before you give chase again? Never should have trusted a mercenary.”

“Shut up.”

“So. Should I just up and leave now? Get a head start?” He pointed at the door, then his eyes widened slightly and he wiped a paw across his mouth. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that sneaky little kiss of yours were an attempt to poison me.”

“I’m not a poison type.” She fixed her pale brown eyes on his, fierce yet still wet with tears.

“It’s a valid assumption. Given the enhancements you’ve had done to free up your paws so you can carry your weapons. Bet you couldn’t walk on four legs again if you tried.”

“Will you shut up!” She tugged her bandanna from her head and wound it tightly in her paws. “Good grief, you could poison with your words alone.”

“Well excuse me for being a little bit suspicious of the girl who just had a gun pressed against my chest!”

Surge flinched away from him and stared blankly across the room. Fresh tears welled up in her eyes and her shoulders rose and fell as she desperately tried to calm herself.

“Anyway,” Macro said, a lot calmer. “I’m off. Don’t think I’m giving you a single credit. I think attempting to take my life nulls any payment you were about to receive.”

“No.” Her words froze him before he could turn away. “No, don’t go. There’s… a reason I can’t kill you.”

He turned his head to frown at her. “And what’s that?”

“I don’t… I don’t think you’re in the wrong.” Her green checkered bandanna was wrapped so tightly around her left paw it resembled a glove. “It’s murder. I can’t murder you. I couldn’t murder anyone, but you…”

“Oh, I see.” He glanced up at the ceiling and sighed. “Paying you with ‘dates’ is starting to make a lotta sense.”

She flinched and looked away from him. “This is why bounty hunters don’t generally form attachments. It makes our job a lot harder.”

“Same could be said for space pirates.” He tapped his claws against his arm and inclined his head on one side. “And if I knew for a minute ‘bounty hunter’ was part of your title, I would have avoided you like the plague.”

“You knew why I was in Pulse City, Macro.”

He snorted and looked over at the door. It almost beckoned to him. He itched to leave.

“Thing is,” she said, “I never thought it would even be possible that I’d ever fall for a space pirate.”

He jerked his head around to look at her again, his mouth slightly ajar.

“But you see,” she went on, “I need to cover my tracks. I had to take this job. I was worried sick that Socket was gonna suss out I was the hacker. She knows you’re responsible in some way, Macro. I couldn’t let her think for a minute that-”

“So you were happy to kill me. Hot and cold, Surge. That about sums you up.”

“No! I wasn’t happy to kill you! I’m still not!” She clenched her teeth together and shook her head violently. “I don’t want to kill you, but if I don’t-”

“Leave it.” He waved a paw at her and turned towards the door. “You do have a choice, you know. You can continue this job and try to hunt me down - and I’ll fight back, believe me. Or you can drop it.”

“Wait.” Her paw fastened around his wrist and he looked back over his shoulder at her, meeting her frantic eyes. “I can drop it. If you stay with me… one night… I’ll drop it.”

His jaw went slack and he shook his head slowly. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. I’ll drop it, then I’ll hide. Socket will have to scour all of System to find me. And you.”

“Are you even aware of what you’re asking me?” he spat.

“Yes,” she said. “Once night. That’s all I ask.”

“Forget it. I don’t bargain my life like that.”

He snatched his paw away and marched over to the door. As he pulled it open, he looked back at her. She stared down at the bandanna, slowly unwinding it from her paw. Those fresh tears fell free, but she wouldn’t look up at him.

“It’s the pachirisu, isn’t it?” she said. “She got to you first.”

“DL doesn’t have anything to do with it,” he said. “I warned you that you were playing a dangerous game, Surge. Now look at the state of you. Maybe you should quit. Don’t you think you’ve hurt yourself enough?”

“In that case.”

Her voice was laced with a warning. He paused with one foot outside the door and glanced back at her over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing dangerously.

“As soon as you leave this room,” she said slowly, “we’re enemies.”

“Fine.”

“No more favors. That’s it. I’m not risking my life for you any more. I’ll track you across System like a shadow, and you’ll never see me coming.”

“I have a radar on my ship. I’ll see you coming.”

Surge chuckled and shook her head. “Did I mention your ship? I highly doubt you spotted me in Binary City, but you saw what I did to that magnezone and his fleet.”

Macro’s jaw dropped. “That was you?”

“Of course it was me. Let that be a warning to you that I never miss my target.” She let the bandanna drop to her lap and fixed him with a confident stare, betrayed only by her damp eyes. “Mark my words, Macro. Once you leave this building, the chase is on. I’ll give you an hour’s head start from the second your ship leaves the docks. Given the damages it’s taken, it’s only fair. But after that, Hunter becomes the hunted.”

Macro leered at her for a moment, trying to work out any deceit behind her words. None. She looked as confident as her words sounded. He snorted and slammed the door behind him.

No more favors.

He could live with that.

He shook himself sharply, trying to dislodge the lingering cobwebs that followed him from Surge’s ‘den’. As he marched over to the elevator, a sinking feeling hit his gut.

“Darn it, DL. I told you to wait!”

He rushed towards it and hit the button to call it back up to him. He stood with his arms folded, waiting for the ancient contraption to rattle its way up to him. He’d lost track of how long he’d been stuck in Surge’s apartment. It could have been minutes, it could even have been an hour. He hoped desperately DL hadn’t gone far. If she had, hopefully she’d be on his ship, safe.

The elevator seemed to mock him with its slow, creaking doors. He forced his way inside before they’d opened fully and pressed the button to close them. They didn’t even meet, giving him an unnerving view of brick walls interspersed with the shadowy drop down the shaft.

An echoey ping resounded before the doors rattled open. Had it made that noise before? He looked up at it curiously as he exited into the lobby, then searched around for DL. His eyes fell on the pachirisu waiting by the door. She shifted from foot to foot, peering out at the bustling street.

“Decided to wait down here?” he asked.

She glanced at him then looked back outside. “I followed Matrix but… I don’t know, I just didn’t fancy going into the Moonlight Lounge right now.”

“Pity. I was gonna get some dinner.” He moved towards the door, holding it open for her to pass him.

“You took a while,” she said.

“Yeh, well. I kinda had to sort some stuff out.”

“Like what?”

“Leaving with my life intact for one thing.” He caught a confused look from her and chuckled. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Well… I thought she seemed nice.” DL stopped in front of him and fiddled with her belt. “Listen, I’ve been thinking. I’m clearly a burden to you, and if it helps, I can look for someone else to work for. I don’t need the rest of those disks, but… I am wondering what happened to my parents. And there are a lot of pirates here who can-”

“Wait.” Macro held up a paw. His heart was doing somersaults at every word and it was beginning to make him feel sick. “Slow down, DL. I don’t want you gone. I was just… upset.”

“Upset?” She shook her head slowly. “You were upset with me. I could tell.”

“It’s not you who upset me.” He scratched the base of his horn and glanced away. “Well… I guess it might be perceived as you, but the problem is all me, okay.”

“I don’t think I understand.”

“It’s simple.” He met her warm eyes and spread his paws. “I’m a jerk, okay? I get upset easily then I say things I don’t mean. I’m a total jerk.”

“Are you trying to apologize?”

“I guess I am, yeh.” He let his paws fall to his sides and sighed. “You’re not a burden. I’m just… this isn’t something I often admit to, but I’m absolutely terrified right now.”

“Of Socket?”

“Of everything! This time and space nonsense, a human showing up, that creepy monster we shot down.” He ran a paw over his head and hissed through his teeth. “Sometimes… all this stuff with your memories and BackDoor… it reminds me of it all, and I get scared all over again.”

“So you’re scared of me…” She glanced away from him and wound her paws together.

“No, I’m not scared of you. It’s this ridiculous situation. You’re innocent in all this. Just like me, you’ve found yourself pulled into it all. I should be helping you, not making you feel like trash.”

“But you don’t have to help me,” she said quietly.

“Who else is going to?” He bit his lip as she looked away from him, then threw his back against the wall with a groan. “See what I mean? I’m a total… argh…”

“No,” she said quietly. “I am amongst space pirates. You’ve told me enough times they’re not nice pokemon. And I can’t exactly ask government officials or the police for help, can I? Since they all work for her.”

The venom in her voice as she referred to Socket sent a chill down Macro’s spine.

“Well I want to help you,” he said.

“Do you?” Again, the tone in her voice chilled him.

He bit his lip and stared past her. “Yes. I do. It’s just… Like I said, things frighten me. Not just all this nonsense with Socket, but… I told you a space pirate always looks out for number one, right? You never know who you can trust. So I have this shield I put up to stop myself getting hurt. You make me drop that shield, and it worries me.”

She looked right at him, meeting his eyes. Any coldness behind them melted away and he had to divert his attention to the wall, fixating on a poster for Spiced Tapu Cocoa.

“The last time I let anyone get close,” he said, “I ended up getting hurt. Badly. Not just emotionally, either. She thought I were too reckless, and I’d stopped a freaking garchomp from slicing her up with his iron claws.” His paw went to his scar and he sighed and shook his head.

“So you push others away,” said DL.

He nodded and folded his arms. “Yeh. It’s much easier to deal with pokemon I can’t stand, if I’m honest.”

“Wow.” She let out a single laugh. “I’m not entirely sure whether or not to take that as a compliment.”

“Don’t,” he said, looking straight back at her. “I’m a jerk. Just let me make it up to you, okay. I promise, if you still want my help, we’ll get the rest of your memory disks back. After that, if you want to work for me on Wildcard Gamma, you can. If not, then…” He shrugged. “Then you can go. It’s your choice, I’m not forcing you into anything.”

She was silent for a moment, meeting his eyes. It took every nerve in his body to force himself to look back at her. It no longer felt like he was being plunged into chocolate fondue. It was more like drowning. Suffocating.

She inclined her head on one side and nodded. “Call me crazy, but I think I still want your help. Afterwards, however, I think I’ll go my own way. That way, you still get shut of me.”

Yep. Drowning.

He looked away from her and nodded, trying to hide any pain behind a dry chuckle. “It’s a deal.”

“Well, I guess we should get back to your ship.” She looked over her shoulder at the still bustling street. “I could use a nap.”

“Seriously?” He raised an eyebrow at her. “You’ve been out cold since dawn.”

“I know, but I’m oddly tired.”

“I’m more hungry than tired.” It was a lie. He had no appetite whatsoever. “Since I didn’t have to pay Surge, my wallet hasn’t been sucked dry. So if you want some dinner-”

“No thank you.” Her words sliced right through him. “I think I’d rather just have a nap.”

He nodded and kicked himself back from the wall. “All right. I’ll message Matrix that we’ve gone back to the ship. Although I doubt he’ll have finished his game yet.”

...​

Government ships were rather intuitive in design. Widget had picked up the basics at the drop of a hat, so Tracer sat back and enjoyed the ride. Another thing that had struck him was how smooth and fast they were. They’d been flying for about a day and a half, leaving Meta City - and Socket’s scowling face - miles and miles behind them.

The small cramped space didn’t do wonders for the back, however.

Tracer stretched, his spine popping audibly. Widget flinched and looked over at him, his muzzle creased into a grimace.

“Wowzers,” he said. “That can’t be good for you. Sure you ain’t getting arthritis?”

The delphox tutted and scratched behind his ear. “It’s just the downside of sleeping in a chair. Man, I can’t wait to get out of this ship and stretch my legs. Why won’t they build sleeping quarters into these things?”

“Because they ain’t long-haul ships.”

Tracer scratched at the fur inside his left ear and yawned widely, then he reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his cigars. As he popped one between his teeth, he caught a raised eyebrow off Widget.

The eevee rolled his eyes and looked away. “Good job we ain’t returning this ship, ain’t it?”

Tracer almost dropped his cigar. “Pardon?”

“Oh yeh. Sorry.” Widget laughed, creasing the green tattoo over his eye. “I guess I dreamt that conversation with you while you were sleeping. Yeh, we ain’t returning it.”

Tracer removed his cigar from his mouth, still unlit, and let it rest in his paw on his lap. “Care to elaborate?”

“Well, I was thinkin’,” the eevee said, rather quickly, “that since we’re chasin’ after this human and her crew, a government ship might stand out a little bit. So I kinda changed our course.”

Tracer’s eyes narrowed as the reality of Widget’s words sank in. He already knew the answer, but he asked anyway, cautiously, “May I ask where to?”

“Pulse City.”

Tracer groaned and leant back in his seat, slapping his paw into his face.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” said Widget all too cheerfully. “We’ll sell this thing for spares and buy a better ship. One with beds, for one thing.”

“You’re trading government property for a space pirate ship…”

“Aye. Thought we could name it Undercover Shamus.”

“That defeats the entire purpose of being undercover in the first place.”

“Gotta admit though, the idea of an undercover detective flying around in one of them fish-themed ships is a pretty neat idea. Because this ship practically screams ‘arrested’.” Widget beamed at him then looked back out the window.

Tracer sighed deeply and lit up his cigar, taking a long deep drag to calm his nerves. Socket was going to hang, draw and quarter them. She already wasn’t happy with him taking ‘the little ragamuffin’ on board. Now he was suggesting they sell the very ship she’d lent them. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a valid point. He did. And there was no way either of them could afford to buy a ship from space pirates without first making a decent amount of money.

It was work. Maybe Socket would see it that way.

He let his eyes close and fell back into his seat. “How long until we reach Pulse City?”

“About fifteen minutes,” said Widget. “I just gotta throw up the cloaking device. I don’t want them sniping at us before we even reach the docks.”

“Great. That leaves me with almost no time to try and blend in,” the delphox groaned.

“Well I blend in fine!” said Widget. “You can borrow my scarf and wear it as a bandanna if you like?”

“When did you last wash it?”

Widget looked up at the ceiling in thought. “It was snowing.”

“So more than six months ago.” Tracer ran a paw over his head. “Fine, I’ll consider it. Unless there’s something stowed away in one of the little cupboards.”

The delphox rose from his seat to check the little drawers and doors in the far corner of the cockpit.

“I also suggest dropping your cigars,” said Widget. “I sincerely doubt space pirates smoke those things.”

Tracer’s tail drooped and he scratched his nose, grimacing slightly. “Fine.”

Widget’s humming filled the small ship as Tracer rummaged through the drawers and cupboard. Tools and metal knickknacks for ship repairs filled one drawer, while others were empty or unexciting. Booklets and papers piled up around him in small heaps as he discarded them to search further back, most of which were user guides for the ship’s intricate weaponry. If they were going to sell the ship, then they should probably burn them. Tracer eyed them for a moment, mulling over the predicament before dismissing it and returning to his search. He was soon rewarded by a pair of mittens cut away around the claws. From the shape alone, he assumed they must have belonged to a pokemon such as electabuzz or orangaru. Either way, they didn’t fit him. But maybe he could use them…

He grabbed the tool kit from the first drawer and pulled out a pair of tiny scissors. He soon began working away at one of the gloves, cutting it along the sides and removing the cut-off claws. He held his handiwork out in two claws and frowned at it. A long, floppy length of black cloth. What on earth was he supposed to do with that?

“We’re arriving at Pulse City,” said Widget. “If you haven’t found anything by now, you’ll have to borrow my scarf.”

“It wouldn’t take a pokemon with a good sense of smell to know it isn’t mine,” Tracer muttered under his breath.

Widget laughed and hammered the dashboard with his paw. “I have you know I smell like daisies.”

Tracer grabbed the rag in both paws and fastened it over his head at the back. As he returned to his seat, his reflection stared back out at him. His ear was cocked down to the right, and the former glove fastened like a badly fit bandanna. A thick tuft of orange fur stuck up in the middle of it like a candle flame. He licked his paw and tried to smooth it back to no avail.

“Trendy,” said Widget.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Tracer. “I look like a fool.”

“I never said you didn’t.” The eevee flashed his canines in a playful grin then pointed a paw at a city in the distance. “Arriving at Pulse City in T-minus five minutes!”

Tracer bit his lip and reached for his cigar. He didn’t have the heart to tell Widget that made no sense.

As he puffed away, filling the cabin with smoke, he watched the neon city draw closer and closer. Obnoxious music filled the air filters, drumming against his ears. One of the turrets perched outside the glass dome turned as they passed by, following them closely. But it didn’t fire. Just a threat. Something to say ‘I see you’ even though the ship was invisible to the naked eye.

Tracer raised an eyebrow at it and took a final drag of his cigar. So Pulse City had its own radar system. Duly noted.

Unwilling to fire perchance it was a friendly ship. He expected to find the docks manned to the gills with armed pokemon waiting to see if the invisible ship was a threat. His heart was in his throat. As soon as the cloak went down, they’d be exposed as government officials.

And Widget didn’t look remotely scared. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying himself.

“All right!” The eevee turned the steering stick, spinning the ship around rather too fast in a bid to aim its nose at the docks. “We’re here! Get ready to leap off, ‘cos I’m lowering the cloak.”

Just as Tracer had thought. Several imposing pokemon gathered at the docks, each with their own weapon. Varying sizes, but a majority of them a lot bigger than him. A tyranitar looked out at the sky, trying to spot any sign of an invisible ship, while a sceptile stood beside an aggron, keeping one eye on the ships while chatting to his companion.

There wasn’t a single chance he was hanging around to see what happened when their ship was exposed. He leapt to his feet and made for the door, reaching behind him for his trusty stick. Widget struck the dashboard with a paw and back-flipped from his seat, landing beside him with a thud and a mechanical whine as his enhanced skeleton absorbed the impact.

The door whirred open, letting in a cacophony of voices. Angry, curious. Clicks as weapons were raised and aimed towards the government ship. Tracer’s heart was racing as he warred with staying aboard it and leaping off into gunfire.

Widget shot past him, landing heavily on the metal floor. A loud clang rang out, drawing all eyes to the small pokemon. One, an electivire, had rushed at the ship with his bionic arm raised, glowing and sparking with electricity.

“Woo! Whaddaya think?” The eevee strutted along the docks past the sparking giant, his tail held high. He nodded to the golden ship and grinned. “Stole her myself.”

The electivire’s eyes went to Tracer, and the detective nodded at him as he clutched his stick at his side. Refusing to relinquish it until the other pokemon put their weapons away.

“I mean, it was just parked up but I saw a chance!” Widget went on. “Bet ya don’t see one of these very often, huh? Put her there!”

He raised a paw to the tyranitar. The space pirate eyed the eevee skeptically, then lowered a rocky paw towards him. Widget slammed his paw down onto the tyranitar’s, causing the hulking pokemon to visibly flinch. Then Widget turned away to grin at the other waiting pokemon.

It wasn’t a friendly gesture or clownish behaviour. It was a disguised display of strength, and the space pirates knew it.

“Now,” he said, “refresh my memory. Who do I sell ships to around here?”

“You’re selling this?” the aggron growled, although not in a threatening manner. He looked from the ship to the two detectives and back.

“You bet I am,” said Widget. “I reckon pokemon would vomit cash for a ship like this! It ain’t often you see government weaponry for sale here, is it? Not your usual retro stuff, or bootleg junk.”

“Squirt’s got a point.” The sceptile folded his arms and looked over at the tyranitar who was desperately trying not to nurse his paw. “We ain’t seen government weaponry here in years.”

“So who does it go to?” Widget asked. “I’ve been away for a while, and I ain’t lugging this thing into the black market. It’s got a funny wheel.”

Tracer stared down at the eevee. Still playful, but with a fire behind his eyes. How could he just outright lie like that? And so convincingly? Sure, a reformed criminal blended in a lot better in Pulse City than he himself did, but not once had Widget ever said he’d stepped paw in Pulse City. He’d kept all his conning and thievery inside Meta City and the outskirts.

“I think you’re looking for me.” A sandslash stepped out from a hut beside the docks, narrowing his eyes on the eevee. “I trade in ships in these parts. You wanna sell that government ship, then I might have a deal for ya.”

Widget grinned from ear to ear. “Fantastic! What are you offering?”

The sandslash gestured for them to follow him, fixing the rest of the pirates with a leer. The curious group holstered their weapons - or in the electivire’s case, switched them off - then skulked away into the streets.

“You might wanna cloak that.” The sandslash nodded to the golden ship.

“Oh.” Tracer cleared his throat and pulled the keys from his pocket. “Of course.”

He pushed a small button on the control key, and the ship vanished from view like rippling water.

“Now, you’re not wrong,” said the sandslash as they entered his hut. “We haven’t ever seen a government ship here. Not in one piece, anyway.”

Tracer’s nose crinkled as the sharp smell of oil tickled it, and he looked around the hut. Engine parts, wires and pipes adorned the walls, and heavy duty tools lay haphazard over the floor and the pirate’s desk.

The sandslash fell back into a seat behind it and cleared some of the clutter aside with the sweep of a large paw.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t show up any earlier,” he said. “You might’ve gotten torn to bits.”

“Torn to bits?” Tracer resisted the urge to reach for a cigar.

“Aye. Some weird creature showed up just outside Pulse City. Took four ships and a small army to take it out, and it didn’t go down without a fight. Took two ships down with it. Space pirates are calling it The Kraken.”

Tracer scratched behind his ear and exchanged glances with Widget. “What did it look like?”

“I dunno. Some mutant jellicent or somethin’.” The sandslash kicked his feet up on his desk and crossed one leg over the other. “Its remains are scattered over Baud City. Surprised you ain’t heard of it, actually.”

“We’ve been pretty busy,” said Widget. “Stealin’ a ship ain’t easy, yanno.”

“Yeah. I can imagine. Especially a government ship.” The sandslash scratched his nose. “In fact, we don’t get government weapons here very often at all anymore. Hunter were one of our main dealers, gatherin’ up guns and explosives. But he quit that job years ago. He just deals in small jobs now, occasionally gatherin’ weapon parts for our lasers. Nowhere near as insightful. Such a pity.”

Tracer folded his arms and leant against the wall, careful to avoid knocking a saw down on himself. “I’d heard he’d dropped out of that. But I thought it were just a rumour.”

“Guess you don’t spend much time in Pulse City.” The sandslash tapped his long claws on the desk. “Because such parts have been like gold showin’ up here.”

Widget frowned slightly at Tracer and raised an eyebrow. Tracer took the hint and shrugged his shoulders, saying no more. Widget then turned back to the sandslash and inclined his head on one side.

“So you’re interested in my little treasure, then?” Widget flashed a grin.

“Aye. For a ship in good condition like that,” the space pirate scratched behind his ear as he looked past the eevee, “I think I can offer two hundred and fifty thousand credits.”

Tracer’s jaw dropped, and a squeal came from Widget.

“You aren’t serious?!” the eevee barked.

“I would have offered more.” The sandslash shrugged. “But you said it has a funny wheel.”

Widget sat with his mouth hanging open, staring dumbfounded at the sandslash. He shook his head sharply, his long ears flapping about on either side of his head, then laughed.

“Oh boy,” he said. “The wheel let me down, eh? If it helps, I can fix it in no time flat.”

Tracer scratched beneath his makeshift bandanna. Both he and Widget knew full well there was nothing wrong with the wheel. The ship was in perfect health. He wondered if Widget feared that and wanted to rush out and break it with a solid take-down attack.

The sandslash waved a paw. “No need. I can fix a wheel. Is it a deal? Or do you want to try sellin’ it elsewhere? ‘Cos there ain’t no other ship dealers in Pulse City. I’m all you’ve got. Black Market will offer you peanuts for scraps. I doubt you’d even get one hundred thousand for parts.”

Widget shrugged his shoulders. “Nah. It’s fine. I’ll take you’re offer. We’re actually looking for a new ship, if you’ve got one for sale?”

“I’ve got two.” The sandslash rose to his feet and limped towards the back of the hut. “I keep them in my yard, if you wanna follow me?”

Tracer kicked himself from the wall and followed Widget carefully through the obstacle course of ship parts. The yard opened out into a separate section of the docks. Two ships stood looking lost and alone in the vastness. One was in the shape of a feebass, while the other was modelled on an alomomola. Neither of them looked particularly appealing.

Widget sat looking between the two and he raised an eyebrow, stretching the green chip-board tattoo over his left eye.

“Is this it?” he asked.

“Yep, this is all I’ve got in for now,” said the sandslash. “Both are in good, working order. I test fly them from time to time just to make sure.”

“Both rather girly.” Widget sighed and flicked his tail. “Which one do you think, Number One?”

Tracer jolted slightly. Number One? Another part of Widget’s crazy act. He looked up at both ships and let his left paw rest in his pocket.

“Do they have beds?” It was an important question, given how much time they’d be flying.

“The alomomola does,” said the sandslash. “Although it only has two rooms. A lot of pirate crews tend to build their own ships, or modify them. If you wanted me to upgrade the feebass into a milotic, I’d only charge you the excess from the trade. One hundred and forty thousand credits.”

Tracer heard his bank balance scream.

Widget shook his head. “Nah. That won’t be necessary. We’ll take the alomomola. How much is it?”

“Hundred and seventy thousand,” said the sandslash. “But since you’re tradin’ that ship for it, I can do you a deal. Make it hundred and fifty. And I don’t often do deals, but I’m interested in that ship. I wanna know what makes their weapons so effective.”

“All right, deal.” Widget closed his eyes in a smile and wagged his tail. “The change should fill her tank nicely.”

The sandslash laughed and reached into his pouch, pulling out a small computer. “You’re overestimating how much she can hold, kid. What’s your bank code?”

Widget’s ears drooped dramatically, but fortunately the sandslash didn’t see. He looked over his shoulder at Tracer with an imploring stare. In their line of work, both their names were known on System Ground. There was every possibility Pulse City would have heard them, and they wouldn’t react well to a pair of pirate hunters standing in their little haven. Tracer sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. So the eevee’s lie only went so far.

He had to think fast.

He pulled out his own computer and searched through his bank transfers, feeling the sandslash’s eyes on his.

There. Defrag.

He quickly read out the code, catching the space pirate’s nimble claws flying over his tablet’s screen. With a beaming grin, he said ‘Done!’ and popped the computer back into his pouch.

Tracer let out a silent sigh of relief and slipped his computer back into his trench coat pocket. He’d have to explain to Defrag later and have her transfer the money to Widget.

“I trust you know how to get the panel to recognise your chip?” the sandslash asked.

“Oh yes,” said Widget. “That’s fairly basic.”

“Then she’s all yours,” said the sandslash. “Enjoy sailing the skies, boys.”

The two detectives watched the pirate vanish back into his hut. Once he’d gone, Widget looked up at Tracer and nodded.

“That were some quick thinking,” he said.

Tracer clenched his paws tightly and bent over, more from relief than frustration. “How could you not think that selling the ship would mean we might need-”

“Hey.” Widget flicked his tail. “Did you think about it?”

“No, but-”

“Then don’t jab me.” Widget stood up and padded over to the ship. “Let’s get on this thing and hot-tail it out of here.”

Widget’s paws flew over the panel, and the light turned from red to green. He nodded at Tracer to place his paw on it, and once he had the door whirred open. A musty smell greeted them instantly as stagnant air was blown out of the air lock.

“Test fly from time to time my dewclaw.” Widget flopped into the driver’s seat and chuckled as he eyed the dashboard. “I’ve always wanted to drive one of these.”

“You look oddly at home behind those controls,” said Tracer.

“It’s just common sense at the end of the day. Not exactly science.”

Tracer took the seat beside him and pulled a cigar out of his pocket. “I think we need to talk.”

“Oh?” Widget didn’t look up. “What about?”

“Did you outright lie back there, or have you been here before?”

Widget shrugged. “Been lots of places.”

“You never mentioned it.”

“Yeh, well. It’s a pretty scary time of my life. I got caught trying to con a space pirate once. Sold him a dodgy laser and he dragged me all the way out here.” Widget flashed him a grin. “Had to con someone to take me back down to System Ground. Turns out space pirates are willing to do a few favours if you just throw your weight at them.”

“Well, you can switch off your silver tongue,” said Tracer. “I’m uncomfortable hearing you lie like that.”

“I’m uncomfortable doing it, to be honest.” Widget fired the ship’s engine up and looked around the cockpit. “Might need a quick top up. Wanna hop out and grab the hose?”

“Sure, if you ring Socket and tell her you just sold her ship.”

Widget let out a bitter laugh. “Not on your life. I think I’ve dodged execution enough times already. Besides, I’m sure she’ll understand when she finds out and discovers why.”

“You mean after she skins you alive?”

“She’ll have to get through you, first.” The eevee gave him a playful wink.

Tracer sighed and pushed himself back to his feet. Part of him feared using his own credits would signal Pulse City to his presence. Or Socket, for that matter. Fortunately, the little machine didn’t work like that. All it cared about was getting paid, even if it did overcharge a little.
 

DreamSayer

Name's Adam.
So, Surge is now a proper antagonist now eh? I just hope a major consequence will come from this setup, because I'll be really let down if this turns out to be an empty threat from Surge, or she decides to let it go for some reason. That aside, I kinda chuckled at Macro’s awkward attempt at apologizing to DL, too bad she's bent on leaving once everything is over. Whether she sticks to that resolve in the conclusion of the story remains to be seen.

We also got to see a new side of Widget in this chapter, with how easily he was able to assimilate into the pirate folks. Even though he says he was uncomfortable with lying left and right, I'm not entirely convinced he finds the action repulsive all that much. But eh, can't wait to hear Socket's reaction once she realizes they sold a government ship off to a bunch of pirates lol.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Ch 41
Okay. If I'm reading this right, Socket's purpose for tearing open wormholes actually has something to do with wanting to faff off to a new reality and live a life of luxury. Or at least, now it does, possibly due to UB's. If this wasn't a recent development, I think you'd have benefitted from bringing this up earlier. Because it really would've explained Socket's motivations a lot better. The bits about Surge's attempts to fix DL were, frankly, a bit cloudy for me. Probably because you were mixing up real-world medical stuff with computer hacker talk... and personifying aspects of routine anti-virus software. Everything gets kind of jumbled up but the result is that DL finally remembers stuff... and has a literal kill switch sitting around inside of her. Poor gal.

And the flashback fills in a lot of gaps. I'm... gonna be honest, not a lot of that flashback suggests "insanity" as far as Socket is concerned. A bit megalomaniacal, to be sure. But she herself doesn't do all the much despicable right up until the very end. However, this does seem to suggest that she's been desperate to find other worlds, which again makes me thing knowing the exact reasoning earlier in the story might've better explained Socket's motivations. It feels like a case of withholding info from the readers just because.

On the less serious side of things:
“Don’t call me that,” DL hissed. “Don’t you ever call me that.”
A Pokémon that doesn't want to be called by its name? Now, where have I heard that before? :p

Surge grabbed him roughly by the shoulder and backed him into the wall. He looked up with a start, opening his mouth to speak, but his words were silenced as she brushed her lips against his. He jerked his head back, but all that came from his throat was a feeble choke as something cold pressed against his chest. He glanced down, and his eyes widened slowly as he spotted the glowing rim of a laser right above his heart.
Black Widow kill. That's a fic sin! *ding*

Ch 42
Well, that was anticlimactic. :V

Though, we did know Surge has a crush on Macro. But how it's a kinda sorta love triangle thingy. I say, but I really don't know how that stuff works. And once Macro says no, why exactly does she just let him walk out and not try to blast him? Unless she's lying through her teeth and has no intentions of doing anything to harm Macro, of course. Which is my guess. The following part offers a nice introspective look into Macro's psyche. Despite his tough outer sheel it's clear his line of work is definitely getting to him. And with everything's that happened, he doesn't wind up closer to DL, like you'd expect. Instead, it seems more like an "enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation.

The entire bit that follows is Widget essentially channeling N00b. Running on insane troll logic? Check. Managing to do something completely ridiculous like pull the wool over a bunch of big ol' pirates' eyes? Check. Doing so with a very chipper attitude despite a crabapple of a partner? Also check. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a Hitchhiker's reference. I saw a Star Trek one. But this is Chapter 42, dang it! Where's my answer to life, the universe, and everything? worst story 0/10, dislike, unsubscribe I'm joking, of course. Good work!
 

DeliriousAbsol

Call me Del
We also got to see a new side of Widget in this chapter, with how easily he was able to assimilate into the pirate folks. Even though he says he was uncomfortable with lying left and right, I'm not entirely convinced he finds the action repulsive all that much.
Of course not, he's Widget! =D

Widget has a deep back history I'm yet to find space for in this 'fic. It would explain a LOT about this particular scenario.

Okay. If I'm reading this right, Socket's purpose for tearing open wormholes actually has something to do with wanting to faff off to a new reality and live a life of luxury. Or at least, now it does, possibly due to UB's. If this wasn't a recent development, I think you'd have benefitted from bringing this up earlier. Because it really would've explained Socket's motivations a lot better. The bits about Surge's attempts to fix DL were, frankly, a bit cloudy for me. Probably because you were mixing up real-world medical stuff with computer hacker talk... and personifying aspects of routine anti-virus software. Everything gets kind of jumbled up but the result is that DL finally remembers stuff... and has a literal kill switch sitting around inside of her. Poor gal.

And the flashback fills in a lot of gaps. I'm... gonna be honest, not a lot of that flashback suggests "insanity" as far as Socket is concerned. A bit megalomaniacal, to be sure. But she herself doesn't do all the much despicable right up until the very end. However, this does seem to suggest that she's been desperate to find other worlds, which again makes me thing knowing the exact reasoning earlier in the story might've better explained Socket's motivations. It feels like a case of withholding info from the readers just because.
Yeh, this is partly a pantsing problem. I also kinda left things so you'd find out when the Macro and his friends found out. Given DL was shut off from the files up until this point, there was no way for them to find out until she had access or the relevant memories. I guess it didn't work all that well?

Also, while everyone may not find Socket's actions insane, DL is certainly going to think so. She basically turned the poor girl into a computer!

The only thing that seemed to be missing was a Hitchhiker's reference. I saw a Star Trek one. But this is Chapter 42, dang it! Where's my answer to life, the universe, and everything?
Dang it, how did I overlook this? So sorry. Is it too late to fix? D= For now, I shall leave the chapter named as '42' instead of typing it as words. Laziness meets Accidental Hitch-hiker's Hat Tip.

Chapter Forty Three​

The pyukumyuku ship chugged through the sky towards Pulse City's docks. Its ungainly form turned in a bid to park between a gorebyss and relicanth. It ended up parking at an odd angle, leaving a sizable gap between the door and the docks.

The exit hatch dropped open, flopping uselessly down the side of the ship. Annie peered over Trojan's shoulder and he let out a groan, slapping a paw against the hollow hull.

"Guess we're jumpin'." The words had all but left Annie's mouth as she hopped over the edge of the ship and landed in a crouch on the metal docks. The almighty clang drew eyes from all directions, and an incineroar's jaw hit the floor as he stared at her.

She rose to her feet and grinned. "Land ahoy!"

Trojan landed beside her and eyed the space pirates, a frown creasing his discoloured face. "I don't like the look o' this."

An electivire, his right arm entirely replaced with a robotic limb, stomped towards them with a tyranitar in tow.

"What's this?" The electivire pointed a claw at Annie, but his question had been aimed at Trojan. "We already took down one monster today. Don't go draggin' another one into Pulse City."

"I'm not a monster." Annie folded her arms and closed her eyes. "You are."

"This isn't some school ground joke, dear," came Web's voice from the ship. The skuntank turned her head to the electivire. "I can assure you she's no threat. She's just a little lost."

"Just a little lost?" The electivire waved a huge paw at her. "What is she? Ain't no pokemon I ever seen."

"She's an archeops." Trojan's voice drew a confused sneer from the huge electric type.

"A what?"

"An archeops," Trojan repeated. "Apparently they can shape-shift."

Annie puffed out her chest and grinned. "Name's Annie. Now where can we find some beds?"

"What? You don't have any beds on your ship?" the electivire sneered.

"Nope. 'Scuse me." Annie moved past him, pushing him aside with her hand. Her entire limb filled with static and she shook it sharply. "Wow. Tingly."

A low growl came from the electivire and he turned his entire body to leer down at her.

"Rather bold, aintcha?" he said.

"Yup." Annie wiped her hand on her jacket and looked up at him, not a hint of fear in her eyes. "Now. Beds. Where do I find one?"

The electivire's mouth hung open slightly, then it closed as he brought his jagged teeth together.

"You ain't armed," he said quietly. He brought his bionic arm up, electricity bouncing off it like a storm cloud about to strike. "Foolish mistake."

"Oi."

The warning was quiet, but firm. Enough to drag the electivire's head around to spot the threat. Waveform leant out of the ship door, a green and red arrow drawn back on one of his vines. The entire lower half of his face was hidden behind a black neckerchief, and his red eyes were narrowed into slits.

"Step away, and I'll let you go," he said. "Touch her, and I'll turn you into a pin cushion." He then nodded towards the tyranitar. "The same goes for your silent friend."

The electivire looked from Waveform to Annie, then his eyes wandered over to Trojan. The scrafty placed a paw inside his trouser-like fur and wiped his other paw across his nose.

"You wanna throw the entire docks into a brawl?" he asked.

Web leapt from the ship door and landed daintily on the docks. Her tail fell over her back to rest on her head like the barrel of a cannon, but her expression remained soft.

The electivire took a step back and nudged his companion. They both marched away, casting glances over their shoulders as they vanished beyond the ships.

"Well done, crew." Annie turned to face them and beamed. "Shall we go look for beds now? Because I'm really tired and no one wants a grumpy Annie."

Waveform leapt from the door, using his wings to steer himself over the docks. Zip let out a cry of delight, his entire contraption held steadily in the decidueye's talons. He placed him gently beside Annie and landed on her other side with a gentle beat of his wings. He'd completely abandoned his silver quiver, leaving it on the ship.

He looked down at Web. "Can you recommend anywhere?"

The skuntank shrugged her shoulders and let her tail relax behind her. "It's been a long time since I was last here. Things might have changed."

"Then I suggest we ask someone," said Annie.

"What the jack kinda idea is that?" Trojan scoffed. "You saw what just happened."

"She has a point," said Web. "And I know where we can ask. We need to buy weapons anyway, so we'll pay a little visit to the black market."

Annie yawned widely and shrugged. "I was gonna leave that until tomorrow, but all right. If you think it'll get us a bed sooner."

They turned and marched down the docks. The incineroar turned his head to watch their every move, his jaw still hanging open.

Web led the way through the bustling streets, trying her best to ignore the shouts of surprise from the space pirates. Annie strolled along sandwiched between Trojan and Waveform, while Zip skittered along ahead of her, casting wary eyes over the rabble of pirates.

"Everyone's looking at me," he whispered.

"That's because you're awesome," said Annie. "Keep walking, kid."

The goldeen swallowed audibly and caught up with Web, trying to distract himself by engaging her in conversation. But the skuntank's mind was elsewhere as she eyed the passing buildings and billboards.

Annie folded her arms and huffed as they passed a magmar who reached for his laser as soon as his eyes fell on her.

"You'd think this lot had never seen a human before," she said.

"Of course not," said Waveform. "None of us have ever seen a human. Or an archeops."

"You're one of a kind," said Trojan.

"I am pretty unique," she said.

Waveform placed his wing around her shoulders and steered her away from a set of bared teeth. As she pulled back she realised they belonged to the enraged face of a kommo-o. The lanky lizard bounced on his feet then rushed at them, claws raised. Trojan brought his arm up in an arc and struck the kommo-o's jaw with a sickening crack. He went reeling backwards into an outdoor table occupied by a pair of cacturne, and sending playing cards flying into the air. They drifted down onto his dazed body like giant snowflakes.

The two cacturne snapped their heads up and leered at the scrafty.

He placed his paw into his trouser fur and tutted. "You guys head to the market without me. I'll be right here."

Waveform shook his head and sighed. "Couldn't wait to get into a brawl, could you?"

Trojan said nothing as he tugged a small electric saw from his fur.

Annie let out a long whistle and found herself steered away down the bustling street under Waveform's wing.

"We're going to lose Web at this rate," he said.

The skuntank strutted on ahead of them, casting an occasional glance over her shoulder. Her jaw went slack slightly when she spotted Trojan and she shook her head. Regardless, she didn't stop.

A large building spread across the road ahead of them, almost as though it was trying to look imposing. 'Market' was written across it in giant, green letters. Or it was meant to be. It was missing a 'k'.

Voices rose to a crescendo inside, amplified by the bare walls. But they began to fade out as Annie strolled through the crowd with her entourage. Mouths snapped shut or hung open as eyes - surprised, confused, angry, scared and worried - all fixed on her. The entire inside of the market was like a cocktail of emotions, and it washed over Annie like a harmless wave.

Web scanned the market stalls, eyeing the sellers and their goods. Many of them sold weapons, but the pokemon behind the tables did not look welcoming. As she turned her head to scan the fifth row of stalls, her shoulders jolted and she picked up pace, trotting towards the unmanned table.

Or at least it looked unmanned.

The pokemon behind it was rather… small. And green.

The small bug tried to look as imposing as possible, narrowing his black eyes at the towering human. He glanced at Web and stretched up onto his back legs.

"I think I recognise you," he said slowly.

"You should do. I was in here almost every day," she said. "The name's Web."

He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully then they snapped wide open. "Oh! Web! Yes… not a name that makes one dance with joy, I can tell ya. I recall you ripped me off more than once."

"What? You scammed this poor bug?" Annie raised an eyebrow at Web and shook her head. "Shame on you."

The skuntank shrugged. "Little Worm here scams his own fair share of pirates. The whole city does. But they don't like it when you scam them back."

"What do you want, anyway?" he asked. "'Cos whatever it is, I ain't got it."

"Weapons," said Web. "I can see you have quite a selection here."

"Aye, but many of them don't have coils," he said. "You can take that little dispute up with Hunter."

"Hunter?" Annie scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling.

"He's one of Pulse City's most wanted space pirates," Web explained. She turned back to Worm and smirked. "I guess he scammed you?"

"Hunter's one of my main providers," said Worm. "But he did stiff me on some coils. I made him buy me a drink as compensation and I'm not done with him, either. He owes me several for that little stunt."

"Friends, then?" Web shrugged. "We'll take four guns with all their parts."

"That's ten thousand credits a piece, my fine lass," said Worm.

"Ten thousand?!" Web's jaw dropped. "Who has that kind of money?!"

"Space pirates," said Worm. "Cough it up."

"Pay the 'mon," said Annie.

Something creaked in her ear and Worm's eyes flew wide open. Annie glanced out of the corner of her eye to spot Waveform with an arrow held against his vine string.

"What are you aiming an arrow at me for?" Worm squeaked. "Fine! Seven thousand each, and I go no lower!"

Another creak.

"Make it five thousand," said Annie.

"Wait… what's with the change in attitude?" Worm stuttered. "All right, fine. Five thousand each. Just don't kill me."

He sobbed and ducked behind his table.

Waveform's vine snapped back into his feathers and he reached into his belt pouch. Two ten thousand credit bills landed on the table amongst the chaos of weapon parts.

Worm jerked his head up and removed his paws from his leafy head. An audible sigh left his throat and he gathered the over-sized notes into his over-sized bag.

"Four lasers." He fixed cold eyes on the two pokemon. "Grab 'em and go."

Annie leant forward but Web beat her hand aside. She reached for two guns and quickly examined them, her expert claws flying over the tiny parts before dropping one of them into Annie's hands.

"Put it in your pocket," Web instructed.

She retrieved another two guns, checked them over, and handed one to Waveform.

He waved a paw at her and turned his back to leave. "I don't need one."

Web's jaw dropped and she chased after him with Annie and Zip in tow. "What do you mean you don't need one?"

Annie faltered and looked back at the market stall. Zip skidded to a halt and turned to join her.

"What are you waiting for?" he asked. "We're going to lose them?"

"Oi, Worm." Annie marched back to the table, drawing the bug pokemon's attention.

His entire body quivered and he looked away from her.

"We need beds," said Annie. "Know anywhere?"

"Moonlight Lounge," he said. "If that's too pricey, you want Fuchsia Avenue. Little place on there called Bricked Inn. Place is a dump but you can get a week's worth o' nights there for the price of one at Moonlight Lounge."

Annie nodded and turned away. Zip's mechanical feet followed close behind her. She paused and glanced over her shoulder.

"Which way?"

Worm chuckled and looked up at her. "Newbie, eh? Follow the main road. You can't miss Moonlight Lounge. Fuchsia Avenue runs behind it."

Annie gave him a wave and turned to march through the market. She pushed through a startled crowd of onlookers then bumped face first into a feathered torso.

"What the-"

She wiped a paw across her face and looked up into Waveform's scarlet eyes. He narrowed them slightly then his shoulders relaxed with a sigh.

Annie raised a hand and pointed a finger towards the door. "I found us some beds."

...
Tracer leant on the side of the alomomola ship, now docked amongst the other space pirate ships. Regardless of Widget's concerns, he finished off his cigar, puffing smoke into the clean air.

"Pretty shoddy parking, huh?" Widget frowned at the pyukumyuku ship, situated at an angle so it was almost touching the relicanth beside it.

Tracer stubbed his cigar out on one of the bollards and popped the remains in his inside pocket.

"Given the creature driving it was likely not a space pirate nor a pokemon, I'm not surprised," he said.

"What makes you think the human were driving it?" Widget asked.

Tracer shrugged. "I'm not saying she was. Regardless, that ship and its crew are a hazard, and I'm loathe to leave Pulse City while they're still flying that monstrosity throughout System."

The delphox kept his voice low so as not to drag attention from the surrounding space pirates. Occasional glances were fired their way, but given Widget's little performance earlier on, it was likely more envy or repressed admiration than suspicion.

Tracer looked up from the pyukumyuku to the other docked ships. Standing huge and proud amongst the rabble was the familiar blue form of Wildcard Gamma. The schooling wishiwashi looked like it had seen better days. All its turrets were out, stationary around its middle. Every now and then, a muscular granbull appeared around the nose to stare at the ship before vanishing once again. Tracer had already been to see what he was doing. He was repairing a huge hole in the side of the ship where the detective guessed one of the turrets had been blasted away.

Likely in that attack the ship dealer had told him about.

He reached into his pocket for another cigar.

"Want me to get you some pirate cigarettes?" Widget asked. "Because as far as space pirates are concerned, you look like a fool. A posh fool."

"I'm not sucking on those vile sticks," said Tracer. "Let me mull things over, will you?"

"Then do it on the ship."

"I don't want to. It smells like sweat and wet fur." Tracer lit up his cigar and leant back on the ship's pink hull. "We have a predicament here, and I'm trying to work it out."

"Whether or not to ring Socket and cough up that we stole her ship?" Widget whispered, snickering slightly.

"You're enjoying this way too much for any sane 'mon," said Tracer.

"I just love winding up Socket."

"Well, one day, that might land you in the execution seat." Tracer removed his cigar and blew out a stream of smoke. "And I'm not willing to keep bending the truth to bail you out."

"Then use bribery."

"As much as I have suspicions about our lovely Mayor, I'm not going to bribe her. That's ridiculous."

Widget shrugged his shoulders. "Then say nothing. Wait until we've apprehended the human girl. Socket'll be putty in your paws then."

"You two keep mentioning a human." A huge, towering shadow fell over the two detectives. "And I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear you sayin' you're workin' for the Mayor."

Tracer looked up with as much confidence as he could muster, while Widget let out a nervous laugh. An incineroar stood over them, leaning on the alomomola's nose. He scratched his whiskered chin, sending a small flurry of dandruff down onto his broad shoulder.

"I dunno," said Widget. "Would it be completely out of the ordinary for Socket to hire a couple of space pirates to do her dirty work?"

The incineroar seemed to consider this. Then he frowned, his striped brow furrowing.

"Yes," he said.

The word sent a chill down Tracer's spine.

"Anyway, you mentioned a human," the space pirate went on. "I think I've seen one."

"Really?" Tracer stubbed out his cigar on the bollard again and popped it into his pocket. "What makes you think that?"

"'Cos there ain't no pokemon look like that." The incineroar tapped the side of his head with a claw. "I ain't no dense brick, delphox. I seen some weird creature with long black fur on its head walkin' through Pulse City with a water dweller on mechanical legs. And three other pokemon, but I don't remember what they were. I were too bothered by the strangeness of it all to really process everythin'. They came in that pyukumyuku there."

Tracer followed his claw to the badly parked ship.

"Yes," he said. "We saw them take off in that. Did you see where they went?"

"They were headed to the Black Market." The incineroar folded his arms and leant back on the alomomola. "What's goin' on? Where did a stinkin' human come from?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out." Tracer popped his unlit cigar back between his teeth then pulled out his computer. "I usually love puzzles, but this one has me pulling out my fur."

"It ain't related to that weird squid thing everyone saw earlier, is it?"

"Squid thing?" Widget's nose crinkled.

"The Kraken," the incineroar said. "It's all over Pulse City's news. You can't have missed it."

"No, we've heard about that." Tracer pulled up the relevant article. "As for whether or not they're linked…"

His voice trailed off as he read over it. The picture was as clear as day. A huge, jellyfish-like creature with no face to speak of. It looked eerie. Almost ethereal, as though it didn't belong in System at all. Pretty fitting, given it didn't.

In one of the photos, it was wrapped around a basculin ship, stuck to its head like a barnacle. The basculin had hold of another ship in its jaws, wrenching the metal away. There wasn't enough of the target to see the ship in detail as it was blocked out by Wildcard Gamma's spinning turrets.

Someone had thought to photograph the fight rather than flee… That was some bravery. It meant there was evidence that something very wrong was going on in System.

Tracer lowered his computer and tried to puff on his cigar, realising too late that it wasn't lit. He let out a small sigh and looked up at the incineroar.

"You want to know what's going on," Tracer said. "That's understandable. Your city has fallen under attack, and now there's a rowdy human walking around in it."

"Certainly were rowdy, aye," said the pirate.

"What's your name, sir?" Tracer asked.

The incineroar burst into laughter, sliding down the side of the ship. He caught himself before his tail hit the floor and shoved himself back to his feet.

"Sir? Ain't no one called me sir since I were a kit." He took a few breaths to gather himself and wiped a claw across his eye. "Wow, you ain't no pirate. That's for sure."

Tracer bit down on his cigar, bracing himself for the burly tiger pokemon to turn on him. But instead, the incineroar flashed him a toothy grin. Both unnerving and friendly at the same time.

"Name's N0ize," he said.

Tracer nodded and looked back down at the news article, looking over its photos again. "Very well, N0ize. How would you like to help us?"

"Help you?" N0ize frowned and looked the two detectives up and down. His eyes lingered for a while on Widget. "You ain't pirates. You bounty hunters?"

Tracer exchanged glances with Widget, noting the warning look in the eevee's eyes.

"I can assure you we aren't bounty hunters," said Tracer. He dropped his voice to a near whisper, and N0ize had to cock his ears to hear it. "We're detectives, asked to track down that human you saw."

N0ize's lip curled into a sneer and he looked away from them, folding his huge arms as he leant back on the ship.

"Pair o' runners, eh? Snoopin' around. Knew somethin' smelled off 'bout you two."

Widget flicked his tail and pulled his ears back, but if N0ize noticed he didn't perceive the eevee as a threat.

"You honestly must be curious?" said Tracer. "That creature. Now a human. Something is amiss, and it might be threatening System."

"Did the Mayor send you?" N0ize asked.

"Did she send us to Pulse City?" Tracer tapped his computer on his paw. "No. She did not."

"So you're here of your own free will? Just flew here in a government ship?"

"Then sold it," said Widget. "Yes."

N0ize roared with laughter and shook his head. "Mayor's own cronies sell her ship. Love it. You guys got guts, I'll give you that. Some real guts, just marchin' into space pirate territory. Couple o' little fuzzies like you."

"And you're just stood here talking to us," said Tracer.

"That's 'cos you guys puzzle me." N0ize scratched behind his ear. "Come here, and sell the Mayor's ship? Tells me you don't trust her."

"Where'd you pick that up?" Widget asked. "Just from that?"

"'Cos a space pirate's ship is his essence. It's his personality, right? Everything he stands for goes into that ship. You fly here in one of Socket's ships and sell it? It's like you're gettin' shut of her."

Tracer wiped a paw across his nose and looked back down at his computer, but he wasn't really seeing it. The incineroar's words were ringing around in his mind.

That CCTV footage. The human's words. A lab.

"Are you going to help us or not?" Tracer's voice came out firmer than he would have liked, given the circumstances.

He cast a wary glance to the large space pirate, but all that greeted him was a toothy grin.

"Go on then," said N0ize. "Let's track down that human. But I don't work for free."

Tracer readied himself to bring up his bank account. "What's your price?"

N0ize grinned from ear to ear. "Information."
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I feel like it's been awhile since we've seen the seedy underbelly that is Pulse City be, well, a seedy underbelly. It clashes pretty strongly against Annie's... uh... let's call it "extreme densitude." I'm pretty sure you're aiming for comedy here with her interactions with all these space pirates. I just feel sorry for all the poor 'mons she's dragged into this crazy mess. She doesn't have any real idea what she's doing, does she? Also, gonna guess that Web knew Macro (or maybe worked with him) sometime in the past. It's too convenient not to work that way.

As for theo ther half, Widget's equally as cheerful about this whole affair, which makes me think he's definitely an ex-con of some sort. He's far too good at smooth-talking and can spout legally ambiguous stuff like nobody's business. Maybe Tracer bailed him out of something in the past, but that remains to be seen. It certainly seems like Tracer's growing more and more skeptical of whether or not it's a good idea to keep working for Socket. Helps that Widget is the little shoulder devil whispering in his ear to hang around pirate turf. I'm not entirely sure what can come from working with Noize, or what the guy's deal even is. Going to need to see where this all goes before I form more of an opinion on it.

"Guess we're jumpin'." The words had all but left Annie's mouth as she hopped over the edge of the ship and landed in a crouch on the metal docks. The almighty clang drew eyes from all directions, and an incineroar's jaw hit the floor as he stared at her.

She rose to her feet and grinned. "Land ahoy!"
I think I see what you did here... "Isn't it a bit late to declare 'land ahoy' after you've already arrived onshore?" :p

He reached into his pocket for another cigar.
No... but really... where does he keep getting these all from? Can he magically conjure up cigars? I must know the science behind this!

"The Kraken," the incineroar said. "It's all over Pulse City's news. You can't have missed it."
No, that'd be a Tentacruel. Nihilego is just a big ol squishy jellyfish. Like the ones in Spongebob. Y'know... FRIIIIIIEEEEEEEND.
 
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