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System:Reboot (PMD)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by DeliriousAbsol, Jun 2, 2017.

  1. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Name's Adam.

    Man, this N0ize fella sure is noisy... I'll show myself out...

    But before I do, I liked that we finally got to see more of Annie's adventures, and her Perpetual lack of self awareness. Seriously, if it wasn't for her band of misfits, she'd probably be dead by now lol, or seriously hurt. At this point, all that's left for her to become 100% mad is to start breaking the 4th wall.... nah, that'd be a bit much.

    I wonder what sort of information N0ize wants from Tracer and Widget, though I have a few guesses, I could be wrong about any of them, but it was kinda funny seeing them slip up like that. Ah well, I await what develops from this.
     
  2. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I have no idea where I can insert Widget's back history. I'm considering some kind of canon special, rather than the hint drops.
    But wow, you've no idea how accurate you are here.

    I am SO glad you caught that! XD

    Good question. I'd like to say he just buys them in bulk, but it'll probably end up as mysterious as 'where Enigma keeps his bell' in my other 'fic...

    Well, this is Annie. I can't remember if she ever has broken the 4th wall tbh... there have been very minor 4th wall breaks (DL did it with her comment on 'fangirls' much earlier on in the story before she even got her first memory disk) but Annie does toss some odd spanners about.

    ...​

    Chapter Forty Four​

    Macro smoothed down his clean fur, feeling a lot better after a good, long shower. He’d worried nothing would have been enough to get that experience off him. The battle was eerie enough, but Surge’s attempt at his life and following perverse request had left him feeling rattled and filthy. He shook the memory from his mind then turned to the wash basin. His scarf lay in a pool of bubbles, still soaking to remove the remains of caterpie silk. A quick rinse and drain revealed his attempts - well… third attempt - had been successful in getting rid of it all.

    Now he just had to dry it.

    With a defeated sigh, he resigned himself to the idea of being scarfless for a little while. He flashed open the washroom door and slipped out into the hallway, turning towards his room. A movement to his left drew his eye and he spotted DL on her way from the kitchen. She paused to look at him and raised a paw to wipe a smear of chocolate from beside her nose. That suggested to him she’d probably eaten more than she’d been making. Where did she put it all?

    “You look smaller without that on,” she said, nodding to the soggy bundle in his arms.

    He shrugged and absently smoothed the sodden article over his arm. Ordinarily such a sugar coated insult would have angered him, but somehow the sheer fact she’d said anything at all was a blessing in and of itself.

    “It’ll be dry and back on in no time,” he said.

    She made a little noise that might have been ‘oh’ and leant against the door frame, turning her head to look back at the cockpit.

    The attempts at small talk pained him. He grimaced inwardly and made his way towards his room.

    “Supper will be in ten minutes,” she called after him.

    He paused mid-step, but didn’t look back. One nod, then he pressed on towards his room. Whether or not she saw it he didn’t know.

    Once his scarf was tossed over the foot of his bed frame, he turned to leave and faltered. The black scarf he’d left drying on the frame previously lay in a crumpled heap just beneath the bed amongst the dust. One colour… well. If you discounted the grey clinging to the black fabric. With a heavy sigh, he left it and marched back towards the cockpit.

    Anchor’s seat was still empty. Loud clanging noises came from outside as the granbull repaired the ship’s damage, hidden completely from view. Matrix, however, was situated in his navigator’s seat. His tiny paw flew across the keyboard as Macro entered, chatting on some online community, and he fired a quick greeting over his shoulder.

    “Don’t shirk work,” said Macro.

    “Well we aren’t going anywhere,” said Matrix.

    Macro fell into his seat and rubbed at his exposed neck. The draft from the open door was unbearable. Wow, he felt naked.

    “We’ll be going somewhere soon enough.” He pulled his computer out of his pocket and brought up the list of disk locations. “As soon as Anchor’s done with the repairs, we can bid goodbye to Pulse City.”

    “You make it sound final,” said Matrix.

    “It might be.”

    The ribombee span his seat around and fixed him with a look of utter confusion. His eyes were impossibly wide, making his already tiny face look even tinier.

    “We’re not coming back?” he asked, calmly. “What did you do?”

    Macro sneered and looked back at his computer. “I didn’t do anything.”

    “Did you cheese off Surge?”

    “Turns out she isn’t an ally,” said Macro. “Drop it.”

    Matrix’s seat made a small squeak as he turned it back to the navigation system. Macro thought he heard him load up one of his retro games again.

    Macro scanned over the locations. Botnet City and Meta City both left a bad taste in his mouth. As he looked down at The Cache, his heart froze. Had the list always had that sun-shaped emblem behind it? And if so, why have it right at the bottom of the page? The way it was written, The Cache was printed right over it. None of the other locations so much as touched it.

    His ears filled with ringing and he dropped his computer onto the dashboard. Twisting in his seat, he caught Matrix’s eye. The navigator raised an eyebrow.

    “Someone’s jumpy.” He fluttered from his seat, the dull drone of his wings joining the obnoxious bell. “Woo, supper time!”

    Macro sank back into his seat and rubbed at his temples. What had gotten into him? He retrieved his computer, stuffing it into his pouch as he headed towards the kitchen.

    Anchor passed him in the hallway, wiping his huge paws with an oily rag.

    “Suppose I’d better get freshened up,” he said. Then he looked Macro up and down, a small frown creasing his features. “You alright, Cap’n? You look a little spooked.”

    Macro waved him off. “I’m fine. How much longer until we fly?”

    “We’re about done. I just have to check the repairs don’t mess with the turrets. I’ll fire ‘em up after supper and if they spin, we can go.”

    Macro nodded and tried his best to shrug off the black cloud hovering over him.

    “Fantastic. Sure you can’t do that now?” he asked.

    “I am pretty hungry,” Anchor grumbled.

    “Okay.” Macro really couldn’t shake that black cloud. “Let’s just have supper.”

    He tried to mask his anxiety by rubbing at his face with both paws, slowly making his way into the kitchen. Anchor’s warm paw fell onto his bare shoulder, freezing him in his tracks. Macro craned his neck around to look up into Anchor’s face. The granbull’s brow was furrowed so much so his eyebrows almost met.

    “You sure you’re alright?” he asked.

    Macro stared back up at him, open-mouthed. What was he supposed to say? That he felt awful about DL? Betrayed by Surge? Tell him everything that went on, and that they’d be fleeing for their lives?

    Surely he should tell them the latter.

    He pushed Anchor’s paw away and turned into the kitchen, taking his usual seat opposite DL. The pachirisu met his gaze briefly before reaching for a bowl of soup.

    Soup?

    Macro took a bowl and sniffed it cautiously. Not Cookie’s usual sweet supper, that was for sure. Instead it smelled savoury. And… was that nutpea he could smell? His mouth filled with saliva and he grabbed a spoon, almost knocking Matrix off his seat.

    “Easy, Captain.” Cookie chuckled as he leant over the table, holding a plate of steaming buns. “We have bread to go with it, too.”

    Macro’s nose twitched. There was the sweet stuff he was familiar with. Yet not a single layer of frosting in sight. Regardless, he grabbed one, still warm in his paws.

    “I thought we’d try something different,” said DL. “Somehow, I already knew this recipe. I guess it came with the recent memory disk.”

    Macro was going to respond, but his mouth was full of bread. Instead, Anchor lowered his spoon and beat him to it.

    “How are you handling that, by the way?” he asked.

    “The memories?” DL shrugged. “I think I’m past the shock. I’ve actually been doing some thinking.”

    “Cooking’s pretty good for that.” Cookie fell into his own seat and began pouring sugar into his soup. “I do a lot of thinking in this kitchen.”

    DL smiled at him warmly, her paws twitching slightly as she watched the slurpuff’s soup fill with sugar. Macro feared for a moment she’d start wrestling the dispenser out of Cookie’s paws.

    “It does help, he’s not wrong.” She turned to the other space pirates. “But… I’ve decided I do actually want all my memories back. So retrieving those disks isn’t in vain anymore.”

    “It was never in vain,” said Macro. “It’s in your right to have them.”

    She shrugged. “To me it felt like that. But I actually want to know what happened that landed me in that orphanage. Was I always there? Or did something happen to my parents?”

    Macro looked down at his soup as he spooned some into his mouth. “Valid questions.”

    “Do you remember anything else?” Matrix asked. “Anything related to… well, Socket’s crazy idea?”

    DL snorted, a sound that didn’t suit her remotely. The look of disgust on her face lit a fire in Macro’s chest and he remembered exactly why they were doing all this. Any child could have ended up in DL’s situation. Taken into a warm home and then deceived. Turned into an experiment.

    “Like I said, I remember all of it,” she said. “And then some. I have access to the Download Database again, and amongst all that is the very reason Socket even adopted me.” DL leant her head on one paw and poked at her bread. “She never wanted a child. It was all planned from the start. Adopt the oldest child in the orphanage, lure them into a false sense of security and get everyone familiar with them as her adopted child. Oh, lovely Mayor! Adopts a child in need! Once that was all established, when the child turns eighteen, her plan gets thrown into action. No one suspects a thing.”

    “So it was an elaborate trap?” Macro scoffed.

    Matrix wound his antenna in his paw and leant on the table. “I prefer the term ‘ruse’.”

    “’Trap’ sums it up nicely,” said DL. “It certainly felt that way towards the end.”

    “Something doesn’t add up though,” said Anchor. “You said you were turned in at a lab in Meta City. But we picked you up from some strange distribution centre at the edge of System.”

    DL’s eyes went distant and she scratched her jaw. “That would be The Cache.”

    Macro dropped his spoon into his bowl, splashing hot soup down himself and eliciting a small squeak of surprise from Matrix.

    DL jolted in her seat and fixed him with wide, chocolate eyes. “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing.” Macro grabbed a towel from Cookie and dabbed down his creamy fur, now sticky with berry soup. “I’ve just heard of that place. It’s one of the locations for your memory disks.”

    “Oh.” She rubbed her nose and looked away from him. “Well I’m guessing it’s not a distribution centre like you believe. I think Yobi must have done something prior to me going there. Because that’s listed as the location I was ‘made’.”

    “Maybe he changed your data chip,” said Matrix.

    “Maybe. Because what I remember of that chip you had removed, the information doesn’t match up. It was just lies.”

    “Yeh,” said Macro. “If it were your original one from birth, it would have said ‘Loop’ and not ‘Download Database’.”

    “Why change it?” Cookie asked. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to leave it, cover their tracks?”

    DL pointed at the slurpuff. “He has a valid point. But… that chip was more for tracking. And given I wasn’t ‘Loop’ anymore, they changed it. It’s not uncommon for pokemon to change their names. Is it?” She gave Macro a pointed stare.

    He sank slightly in his seat and absently stirred his soup.

    “Well, in that case,” said Anchor, “if The Cache is that secret government building, I guess our next stop is Botnet City? Save the dangerous zones for last.”

    The mere name of the city left a bad taste in Macro’s mouth. He bit his lip and stared into his soup. It was a logical suggestion. They had a higher chance for success. But sooner or later, they’d have to visit Meta City and The Cache. Did it really matter what order they did it in?

    Everyone’s voices blended together as Macro mulled over their options and DL’s story. It felt like things were both falling into place and becoming more confusing at the same time. He barely tasted his soup, eating it more out of habit than anything else. Once he’d scraped the bowl clean, he pushed it aside and slipped from his seat. It was only then he realised that Matrix and DL had both vanished, and Cookie was already cleaning the dishes.

    Anchor leant back in his seat as he tipped his bowl to drain the contents, slurping loudly. With a satisfied sigh, he brought the bowl back down to the table and wiped a paw across his mouth. His eyes flicked towards Macro and he grinned.

    “Not wanting seconds?” he asked.

    Macro shook his head and pointed towards the cockpit. “I’m gonna go fire up our next location. You wanna check the turrets? Sooner we leave, the better.”

    The granbull stood up, his chair scraping across the floor like claws on a chalkboard. “May as well.”

    He followed Macro into the cockpit then flopped into the driver’s seat. Macro hesitated beside his own chair. DL was already buckled in, fiddling with the dashboard’s controls.

    “What are you doing?” he asked her.

    “Learning.” She looked up at him briefly. “If I’m going to become a space pirate I need to know how these ships work.”

    “You’ve already had weapons training,” he said.

    She shrugged. “Maybe I want to know how to drive? Or be a captain?”

    Macro grit his teeth together, but not out of anger. It was much clearer to him now. She really was considering leaving.

    Anchor, however, hadn’t picked up on that at all. He roared with laughter, slamming his heavy paw on the dashboard.

    “Careful, Cap’n,” he said. “Sounds like she’s plannin’ a mutiny!”

    Macro shook his head and fell into the seat beside her. He didn’t even bother with the seatbelt. He tugged his computer from his pouch and brought up the locations again.

    “Alright, here we go!” said Anchor. “One turret test comin’ up!”

    “Make sure Pulse City know what you’re doing this time,” said Matrix.

    Anchor muttered something under his breath, then the familiar clunks and clangs of the turrets firing into position echoed throughout the cockpit.

    Macro scrolled through the locations with a claw, reading each of them. Three down. Two more disks to go. Three locations remaining. Meta City and Botnet City looked imposing even in text. As he reached The Cache, that yellow sun symbol was still there.

    Maybe Anchor was right. Maybe they should just get Botnet out of the way.

    The turrets whirred, the racket drowning out the voices in the small cockpit and Cookie’s jovial singing. Macro continued to stare at the list of names, a rising dread filling his chest and making his pulse race.

    His eyes unfocused, then something flashed. He didn’t know what it was, but his first thought was that another pirate had fired at them. But there was no impact. No angry shouts, no retaliation from Anchor.

    Macro’s computer slipped from his paws, landing with a clatter on the floor. His paw went to his head and he groaned, clenching his teeth together. He couldn’t see a thing. Everything was just noise. Turrets, voices, singing. More voices. He became increasingly aware that someone was shaking him.

    He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. It didn’t hurt, not remotely. If anything, his head felt like a cloud. The ship came back into focus, save for some random dazzle spots. Every time he turned his head, they followed, like he was looking at a map of the stars. And there was one. Much bigger than the other, shaped like a sun.

    He turned to look down at DL, her eyes wide and fearful. Her paws were wrapped around his arm tightly and her shoulders rose and fell as she tried to calm herself. Over her shoulder he spotted Anchor and Matrix, both of them staring at him in bewilderment. Anchor’s jaw was slightly open and he cleared his throat before speaking.

    “You alright, Cap’n?” he asked.

    “Yeh.” Macro rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the dazzle spots. “Yeh, I’m fine.”

    “You sure? ‘Cos you look like you need a lie down.”

    “I said I’m fine.”

    Macro bent in his seat to retrieve his computer. It had landed just underneath the dashboard. As he looked over it for any damage, he realised the page was still open. His eyes fell on The Cache, still emblazoned on its sun symbol.

    And beneath it were its co-ordinates. Had they always been there? As he looked over the other locations they were blank. No co-ordinates, just The Cache. Something felt odd about it. Why write them down? Why give this place special treatment?

    “Put these co-ordinates in, Matrix,” he said. “Two, four, six, three, five, seven.”

    Matrix twisted in his seat and raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”

    “What are you talking about?” Macro turned to face him. “They’re right here.”

    He held out his computer to the ribombee. Macro knew nothing about co-ordinates, but his suspicions were rising about The Cache. And with his suspicions came curiosity. He was adamant more than ever to find that place, even if it meant searching the far corners of System to track it down again.

    Matrix frowned at his computer, flicking his antenna around in his paw. “There’s nothing there.”

    “Yes there is!” Macro snapped. He leapt from his seat and pointed over Matrix’s shoulder right at the string of numbers. “It’s right there!”

    Matrix shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”

    “Right there! Written beneath ‘The Cache’ in black numbers! Right here, in this sun shaped symbol thing!” He traced a claw around the symbol.

    “Sun?” Matrix narrowed his eyes and looked up at Macro. “Are you having an episode?”

    Macro’s jaw went slack and he stared at Matrix, dumbfounded. He couldn’t see it? Macro looked back down at the screen. There it was, as clear as day. A yellow sun behind The Cache. The co-ordinates, or what he thought were co-ordinates.

    Anchor and DL stood behind him on either side, both staring at the computer.

    “There’s nothing there, Cap’n,” Anchor said softly.

    Macro shook his head slowly. “But I see it.” He turned to DL. “Do you?”

    The pachirisu shook her head and looked back down at the computer. Silent. Pawing at her left ear anxiously.

    Was he going crazy?

    Macro swallowed dryly. No. He wasn’t going crazy. He could see it. He knew he could see it.

    “Put in those numbers anyway,” he told Matrix.

    “But they won’t work,” said Matrix.

    “Just do it!”

    Matrix muttered under his breath and turned to his keyboard, punching in those numbers. Macro watched with bated breath. It had to work. He had to know he wasn’t going crazy.

    The navigation screen zoomed out, showing Wildcard Gamma as a blinking green dot. Another dot flickered on the screen, up in the far north-east corner.

    Matrix let out a stunned ‘uh’ then looked at Macro over his shoulder. “It found it.”

    “They work?” DL gasped.

    Macro felt his head spin and he staggered backwards into Anchor. A chuckle left his throat as it sank in. He wasn’t going crazy. Or if he was, he looked a little saner for a while.

    “Well, I don’t know what’s going on,” said Anchor. “But I was about to send you to bed due to overwork.” He steadied the mawile back on his feet and looked him over. “Although I’m still considering it.”

    Macro waved a paw, still chuckling. “Let’s get a move on.”

    “You can certainly get a move on,” said Anchor, turning him towards the door. “Right to bed. I don’t think you’ve slept since DL passed out.”

    The pachirisu looked up at Macro with a start. He cleared his throat, wanting to bite back at the granbull. But he found himself being steered down the corridor towards his room.

    “Fine, I’ll sleep,” he said. “But you promise me you won’t let Matrix change those co-ordinates.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Anchor. “I reckon he’s as intrigued as you are that they’ve worked. But I’ll bop him one if he tries, okay?”

    Macro strutted towards his room with Anchor’s paw on his back. The granbull didn’t relinquish his grip until they reached the mawile’s door. There, he turned him to face him and his large muzzle was set in a concerned frown.

    “Did you really see all that?” he asked. “Or were you pullin’ our legs?”

    Macro scratched his scar and looked away from him. That sun… it looked every bit like those dazzle spots. He hadn’t realised it straight away. And that dazzle was still on his vision, although not as bright.

    “Where’d that flash come from?” he asked Anchor. “The one that blinded me in the cockpit?”

    “What flash?” Anchor asked.

    Macro felt his heart sink. So no one had seen the flash or the numbers and symbol? “It went off right when you were testing the turrets.”

    Anchor shook his head then sighed. “I really think you need some rest.”

    “This has been happening a lot lately, Anchor.” Macro spread his paws. “I fall asleep then something blinds me and I see this sun symbol. Now I’m seeing flashes while I’m awake and stuff no one else can see?”

    Anchor’s eyes widened. “How long has this been going on?”

    “I don’t know, a few days?”

    “I think you might need to see a doctor.”

    “I ain’t seeing a doctor. Not yet, anyway. Since those co-ordinates worked…”

    Anchor scratched his mohawk and looked away from him. “Gonna be honest, Cap’n. That might’ve been a glitch.”

    “I don’t know,” said Macro. “But if they actually work, I might get some answers.”

    Anchor fixed him out of the corner of his eye. “You really think they might work?”

    Macro shrugged. “No idea. Let’s find out. Staple Matrix’s arms to his sides if he tries to change them.”

    Anchor chuckled and gave a salute. “You got it, Cap’n. Now get some sleep.”

    ...​

    The outskirts of System Sky were completely devoid of life. If it weren’t for the porygon-z fleet drifting back and forth, BackDoor would have found it peaceful. He floated in the air with his arms tucked behind his head, reclining backwards as he watched the fleet work.

    A small group of them stood aside, rotating their heads back and forth as they eyed the dimensional pocket to the ‘unknown world’. Getting close to them would be nigh impossible. They’d already thrown a tantrum upon his arrival, worse than he was familiar with. Something about them seemed very amiss.

    Their movements were more erratic. What passed off as ‘limbs’ rocked back and forth dramatically, the gravitational pull almost throwing them completely backwards when they came to a stop. Then throwing them forwards again when they started moving. The strange, dramatic rocking reminded him of one of those bobbing bird toys that tipped into a glass as though it were drinking. But unlike those birds, their heads span. Sometimes doing a complete three-sixty.

    BackDoor tutted. He needed to get closer to that dimensional pocket and tear it open, then he could get as far away from the fleet as possible. The only issue was that it might come at the expense of his own limbs.

    He sat up and gave TimeSkip a nudge. “You wanna go over there and lure them away?”

    The celebi looked around silently, not absorbing a word he said.

    BackDoor sighed and drifted higher into the air. “Fine. I’ll do it. But if they try to blow me up, I’m using you as a meat shield.”

    As he floated towards Zero Day, TimeSkip followed close behind him. BackDoor rolled his eyes but kept his attention on the fleet. One wrong movement (from their perspective at least) would see him reduced to scraps.

    “All right, back up, Zero Day,” he said. “Let me open that gate.”

    One of the passing porygon-z span its head around and its pupils retracted into pin pricks.

    ‘Thr34T d3T3cT3d! Thr34T d3T3cT3d!’

    Their already distorted voices seemed to have exaggerated as much as their movements.

    “Calm down!” BackDoor snapped.

    The rest of the porygon-z followed suit, their heads spinning freely above their bodies as their distorted voices joined in.

    The hoopa sighed and faltered slightly just outside the fleet. Then he threw himself through the air and warped beyond them. Twenty eyes snapped onto him, pupils like dots.

    ‘R3m0vInG Thr34T. C0mm3Nsssss3 CL34NuP.’

    Before BackDoor could retaliate, beams of tri-coloured light shot at him. He threw himself backwards into a warp and sent himself back to TimeSkip’s side. The hoopa’s face twisted with rage and he removed the ring from his right horn. With one swift flick of a paw, the ring expanded above Zero Day, warping them away several feet. They span on the spot before looking back at him and moving slowly away across System Sky.

    “Morons!” BackDoor spat.

    The sheer limit of his abilities ground in his gut. If he’d been given Hoopa’s alleged full capabilities, he could have sent them outside System’s galaxy. He let out a low growl and span towards TimeSkip, his lips curling into a snarl.

    He waved a paw, distorting time and space. Small, black voids appeared and vanished quickly around the android’s body, dragging its limbs through them and twisting them into knots. A flash of light exploded from cracks along its metal body, reducing it to scraps that rained down into the ocean below.

    “There.” BackDoor beat his paws together and looked back at the spot the fleet had previously occupied. “That feels much better.”

    He drifted over to the dimensional pocket and eyed it curiously. Another world. ‘World - Unknown’. Curiosity gnawed at him and he removed one of his golden rings. He just had to see what was inside. Not just because he’d been made merely to find a new System, but because of that creature. What if there were more?

    He span in a circle, tracing a perfect ring in the air. It glowed with a yellow light and spread out, filling the inside with an ultraviolet mist. A grin spread across his face and he waited, keeping himself a safe distance from the portal. Through the ultraviolet mist he could see it perfectly. A world filled with strange flora. Glowing mushrooms, rocks that leaked out eerie light. A permanently dark sky lit up by a vibrant moon. And something moving. No… not something. Things.

    They were growing closer. All tentacles and billowing heads. More of those beasts! And they were coming right at him.

    He clapped his paws together and laughed, performing a backwards somersault. Tinkling voices reached his ears and one by one the beasts were launched through the gate. The first one paused, spreading out its tentacles as it took in its new world. Its companions joined behind it, looking equally as dazed. Then the first one launched itself towards BackDoor.

    The hoopa span out of the way and raised his paws.

    “Oi! Don’t attack me, I’m your new master!”

    The beasts tinkled at him, turning what he guessed were their heads to seek him out. How? They had no eyes to speak of. Wow, these things were intriguing.

    More came through the gate, some big, some small. But one of them looked vastly different. It landed amid the others with much less grace. It seemed bouncy, and colourful. The same shaped head, but filled with what he could only describe as candy sprinkles.

    Its body was lanky and lacked tentacles. Instead it appeared to have limbs. More colourful splodges adorned its body. It was as though the ultra beasts had absorbed a Mr Mime, turning it into one of their own.

    BackDoor laughed hysterically. So the tentacled beasts weren’t the only anomalies the gates could reveal?

    The creatures gathered themselves and headed down towards System Ground, their tinkling voices reaching out to each other. Guiding each other as they worked their way through the world. The odd bouncy ultra beast didn’t follow after them. It turned to look at BackDoor, then took off like a dart over his head.

    “That’s right!” BackDoor laughed. “Enjoy this world! Do as you please! We won’t be staying here long anyway!”

    He clapped his paws and turned back to the gate. Leave it open? Or close it? The atmosphere inside was completely useless to Socket. An eternal night would drive pokemon to the brink of insanity.

    He inclined his head on one side and stroked his chin thoughtfully. Then, with a drawn out ‘naah’, he zipped it shut.
     
    DreamSayer likes this.
  3. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Sorry it's a little late! I was on vacation. Updates should return to normal from this Friday.

    Chapter Forty Five​

    The Bricked Inn squatted between two tall buildings along Fuchsia Avenue. One could have easily overlooked it if it weren’t for the old, wooden sign creaking in the artificial breeze.

    Annie had insisted on checking out Moonlight Lounge first, which her friends implored desperately against. And not just because of the price, it seemed. After Annie had terrorized about a hundred different space pirates using only her presence alone, Trojan had dragged her out by her collar, muttering something about ‘jackin’ humans being jackin’ impossible’ before he finally released her in a narrow alleyway.

    Annie pushed the old door to the Bricked Inn open, and a tinny sound rang out over her head. She ducked and skittered into the room, wafting at whatever it was that had made the intrusive sound. An ancient wind chime hung over the door. A tiny starly swinging back and forth between four hollow tubes, striking each one with a metal ball.

    “Calm yer ass,” Trojan muttered as he pushed past her towards the desk. “Don’t you think you’ve terrorized enough ‘mon today?”

    Annie stood up straight and beat down her blouse. Web caught her eye and raised an eyebrow before following the scrafty into the lobby.

    A dark-furred meowth sat behind the desk, her entire body trembling. Her whiskers quivered as she stared wide-mouthed at the human. Annie stared back at her and inclined her head on one side. The feline seemed to be about to faint.

    “Don’t worry ‘bout her,” Trojan told the meowth. “She’s with us.”

    “What…” the meowth gasped out. “What…”

    “I said don’t worry ‘bout her!” the scrafty snapped. “Can we book two rooms, or not?”

    The meowth reached under the desk, not taking her eyes off Annie, and pulled out a tattered folder. Even as she opened it, her wide eyes remained on the human.

    Trojan tapped the desk with his claws, loud enough to drag the meowth’s terrified eyes onto him.

    “S-sorry,” she sputtered. “I’ll… I’ll just check.”

    Annie felt a wing flop onto her shoulders and she tore her attention from the quaking meowth. Waveform stood beside her, keeping a close eye on the receptionist.

    “They’ll get used to you,” he said quietly.

    Annie shrugged, causing Waveform to remove his wing. “I’m not bothered if they get used to me. I’m going home anyway, once I get my hands on that Time Onion.”

    Waveform’s eyes widened slightly and he turned back to the receptionist. “Well, I’m sure we’ll find it. We just need to know where to look.”

    “We’re still starting a rebellion, right?” Zip’s small voice rose up from her right.

    She looked down at the glass bowl containing the goldeen. Those stitches still looked very red and sore but they didn’t seem to bother him at all. His tiny eyes sparkled, almost pleading.

    Annie simply shrugged. “Sure. Why not. Gotta stop these weirdos eating themselves, right?”

    Waveform’s paw fell over her shoulder and he let out a sharp ‘shh!’, giving her a violent jerk. Annie let out a yelp as she fell sideways into the decidueye.

    Zip’s laughter at her clumsiness lifted any suspicion from them, despite the fact the meowth was still as tense as a bow string about to snap. Trojan rolled his eyes at them and returned to whatever it was he was doing. Where had he got that pen from?

    He slammed it down onto the counter and the meowth took it, hiding it away under the desk along with the folder. She then turned her back on them, glancing over her shoulder occasionally to look at Annie. The meowth pulled over a stool and climbed onto it to reach a cork-board full of… keyrings?… behind her.

    “Here are your keys,” she told Trojan. “Don’t lose them, or it’ll be fifty credits each.”

    Trojan snorted and tucked them into his baggy fur.

    “Your rooms are on the second floor,” said the receptionist. “Check out is at noon.”

    He waved a paw at her then gestured for Annie and the other pokemon to follow him.

    Waveform ushered Annie ahead of him, all the while keeping an eye on the receptionist. Annie wanted to ask him what his problem was. What had the meowth done to deserve being stared at like that? Nevertheless, she forgot all about it as she climbed the stairs to the second floor.

    Trojan was already stood outside one of the rooms, twirling the keyring-like key-thing in his claws.

    “They’re opposite each other,” he said with a nod to the opposite room. “Made sure we weren’t split up. Here’s your key.” He handed the one he was twirling to Annie then narrowed his eyes. “Don’t lose it ‘cos I ain’t payin’ for it.”

    Annie frowned down at the black lump of plastic. “It looks like something you’d use to lock a car.”

    All four pokemon fixed her with equal looks of confusion. She looked up at them and glanced at each one in turn.

    “What?” she asked. “You never seen a car before?”

    “We aren’t that retro,” said Zip.

    Trojan nodded at the fish. “What he said. Now, get in your room and get some sleep.”

    The scrafty flashed his key fob at a panel beneath the door handle and it let out an audible click. He turned the handle and tried to push it open. The catch caught in the frame and he muttered under his breath, using his shoulder to barge the door open. The wood splintered slightly around the catch, but it eventually swung inward, revealing a room that looked like it hadn’t been slept in in decades.

    “So I guess I’m sharing with Web?” Annie turned to her room. “I hope she doesn’t snore.”

    “You ain’t sharin’ with Web,” said Trojan. “You’re with Zip and Waveform.”

    The scrafty waved a paw at the skuntank and she gave Annie a shake of the head as she followed him into the room.

    Annie raised an eyebrow. “What’s that about?”

    Waveform took her key fob and opened the door. It opened a lot smoother than Trojan’s had, but the room was in an equal state of sadness.

    “They’re married,” he told her.

    Annie looked up at him with a start.

    “You didn’t know?” he asked.

    “Hadn’t a clue.” She retrieved the fob and ducked under his wing to enter the room. “They bicker like-”

    “Like an old, married couple?” Waveform chuckled, which Annie thought was rather uncharacteristic. “They’ve been married for about ten years now. That’s why Web gave up being a space pirate. She wanted to stay on System Ground.”

    Annie sat on the edge of the bed. “Why didn’t Trojan just join her as a space pirate?”

    “His job.” Waveform leant against the door frame, inching aside as Zip scurried past him. “He didn’t want to leave his bar.”

    “Yeh, and that went to pot.” Annie yawned and stretched, flopping backwards onto the musty sheets. “This room is gonna give me a headache.”

    The decidueye strolled across the room towards the lone, pokey window. He hoisted up the blind and shoved the window open. Fresh air rushed into the room, clearing up the musty air like an obsession.

    Annie finally looked around the room. One bed. Single. One dressing table. Grey with dust and falling to bits. One chair. Three legs, the other lying against the wall. A crimson rug. Threadbare.

    “Who gets the bed?” she asked.

    Waveform turned and leant against the wall, searching the room with his scarlet eyes.

    “I don’t need a bed,” said Zip from beside the dressing table. “So I’m fine here.”

    Waveform turned to look at Annie then kicked himself back from the wall. “You take it. I’m going out for a while.”

    Annie watched him as he marched across the room towards the door. “Where to?”

    “I need to pick up a few things.” He placed his paw on the handle and gave her a nod. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back before dawn.”

    Annie yawned widely and let herself flop back onto the bed. “All right. But I can’t guarantee the bed will be free.”

    He said nothing. She didn’t even hear him move from the room. The only thing that truly betrayed his exit was the click as the door locked itself behind him.

    ...​

    Tracer poked his head out of the narrow alley, watching the decidueye cross the street. The owl didn’t even look around him at the other space pirates. A black scarf was fastened securely behind his head and covered his silver-clad beak, making his crimson eyes stand out even more.

    Clever. Quite clever.

    Waveform had taken a huge risk coming to Pulse City and he knew it. A bounty hunter like himself would be a prime target and space pirates wouldn’t bat an eyelid at giving him a hard time. They might even have resorted to killing him. The scarf coupled with the lack of his silver quiver and arrows would remove suspicion from most, if not all, of the space pirates.

    Tracer warred with the desire to follow the decidueye and to stay true to his job. His curiosity was getting the better of him. Why on earth would Waveform so brazenly enter Pulse City with his reputation?

    Widget shifted beside him as he poked his head out around Tracer’s knee, dragging the delphox right back into reality. He became uncomfortably aware of the incineroar stood behind him, leaning back against the damp wall. Not remotely watching the events unfolding. Good. If he’d noticed Tracer’s interest he’d have pushed him for information on the decidueye’s identity. Tracer had already told the space pirate enough as it was.

    So long as that never got back to Socket, he didn’t have to worry.

    “What you waitin’ around for, fuzzy?” N0ize’s voice sent a chill down Tracer’s spine.

    He looked back over his shoulder at the space pirate, meeting his eye.

    “I think the coast might be clear,” said Tracer. “I was just waiting for her friend to leave.”

    “Y’ain’t followin’ him?”

    Tracer shook his head. “It’s not him I’m after.”

    “Fair enough,” said N0ize. “But you might’ve been able to punch him for information.”

    “I think you mean ‘pump him’,” said Widget.

    N0ize laughed heartily. “I really don’t, kid. I want information and someone ain’t willin’ to give it, I punch ‘em up.”

    Tracer wanted to reply with an ‘I can believe it’ but decided he much preferred his spine intact. Instead he nodded for the incineroar to follow him and slipped around the corner, hugging tightly to the wall.

    Widget, however, marched boldly down the street to the Bricked Inn, then vanished inside.

    “Kid’s got guts,” said N0ize, somewhat impressed. “Way more guts than you.”

    “I sometimes worry he has more guts than any sane pokemon should have.” Tracer shook his head and waved a paw at the open door. “Let’s just follow him inside.”

    Widget stood on his hind legs, leaning his forepaws on the reception desk. Only his nose poked over, but he spoke confidently to the dark furred meowth. The meowth squinted down at him, having to stand on her chair to see him clearly.

    Dark fur. One of the several changes a paw-full of pokemon had undergone when the types split. A result of a lack of steady sunshine and a drastic change in career path had resulted in the meowth being more suited to night time excursions. Tracer hadn’t seen one on System Ground, but finding one in Pulse City didn’t remotely surprise him.

    “So if you could tell us where she is,” said Widget, “I’d be very grateful.”

    “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said the meowth. “It’s my policy.”

    “How about I pay you?” Widget went on. “Five thousand credits.”

    The meowth’s eyes almost spun in her sockets. Tracer even thought he saw the charm flash on her forehead, but it was more likely the light from a well-timed laser fire outside. Her lips curled into a smile and she chuckled as she fell back into her seat.

    “You know how to spin a bargain,” she said. “Make it seven thousand and I’ll even give you a key to her room.”

    Widget looked like he was about to reply, but Tracer placed a paw on his shoulder and made him back down.

    “I don’t think that’s necessary,” the delphox said around his cigar. “I’m sure she’ll let us in.”

    “You sure about that?” The meowth smirked. “You don’t look like space pirates.” She then looked up at N0ize and her smirk faltered. “He does. But you two? Not even in the slightest.”

    “Hey!” Widget protested. “I like to think I look more like a space pirate than my friend here.”

    “Which one?” the meowth asked. “The delphox? Sure.”

    Tracer removed his cigar and toyed with the urge to flick ash onto the floor. It went against everything he believed in, but if he went outside to do it that would only solidify the meowth’s accusations. So he flicked it right onto her desk.

    “I think you have us wrong,” he told her. “Now kindly tell us where we can find this strange creature who’s taken a room here.”

    N0ize chuckled and stepped up beside him, ramming his fist into his open paw. The meowth cowered behind her desk and did her best to disguise it by pulling out a tattered folder.

    She didn’t even need to open it. She spewed out the room number before she even got to the page, then tossed a key fob right at N0ize.

    The incineroar caught it and twirled it around his claw. “Thank ye kindly.”

    The malicious note in his voice pushed Tracer’s fur on end, making him oddly grateful for his long coat. They left the lobby and followed the meowth’s fractured directions towards the stairs.

    “That was fun,” said Widget. “We should do this more often.”

    “I am not becoming a space pirate,” Tracer muttered under his breath. “I think you need to get your priorities straight.”

    “Keep talkin’ like that,” said N0ize icily, “and you’ll find yourself shaved and tremblin’ in a gutter.”

    The delphox gulped as quietly as he could and trotted silently after Widget. The eevee found the room before they did and stood sniffing at the floor.

    “I think this is the one,” he said. “Smells like a skuntank rolled around on the floor.”

    Tracer puffed on his cigar as he eyed the door. It was definitely the right room. The faded numbers on the wood showed where the metal plates used to hang, until someone decided they’d rather steal them and melt them down into something else. He lifted his paw and knocked rapidly.

    Someone moved around inside, their feet clattering over the wooden floor. Something scraped against the door as though someone was desperate to claw their way out.

    “Argh, I can’t do it,” a young voice said. More clattering. “Annie! Annie, someone’s at the door.”

    Mumbles. Heavy footsteps.

    The door creaked open and the contrast of long, black fur around a pale, bald face stared back at them. She rubbed a hand over her green eyes and frowned.

    “I know you,” she said. “You’re that fox. What are you doing here? Waitaminute… Are you a clone?!” She looked left and right frantically and backed into her room.

    “I can assure you I’m not a clone,” said Tracer. “I’m here because I need to talk to you.”

    “You ain’t talkin’ to me,” she said. “I don’t talk to strangers.”

    N0ize stepped closer to Tracer, towering over him as he smacked his paws together.

    Annie stared up at him and her green eyes widened. “That’s a pretty big pussy cat.”

    “What’s going on here?”

    The voice came from behind Tracer. He turned but struggled to see past N0ize. He caught a glimpse of purple fur and a fluffy tail spread out over a skuntank’s back.

    “We’re just here to talk to the girl,” said N0ize. “Nothin’ you need to concern yerself over. Wait… I know you. You’re Webber!”

    Web tutted. “I was hoping you’d have forgotten by now, you big lout. What are you doing hanging around with a couple of detectives? You changed sides?”

    “Hey, I’m just a curious bystander.” N0ize turned back to Annie and grinned at the amusement on her face. “Listen here. You’re gonna talk to these fuzzies, and I’m gonna listen. You understand?”

    “I don’t think so.” This voice was male, and a familiar scrafty stood behind Web, his paws tucked into his baggy fur. “You ain’t makin’ her talk. You’ll turn her over to the jackin’ mayor!”

    “I don’t have jack to do with the mayor!” N0ize roared. “I just wanna know why some lanky, bald creature is livin’ in System.”

    “I think we all do,” said Web.

    “Oi!”

    Annie dragged all their eyes back to her. She stood with her arms crossed and her lips pulled down into a perfect frown.

    “I have you know I don’t like being called ‘bald’,” she said. “Lanky, sure. But not bald. Nor just ‘creature’. I’m a human, okay. Well… now, anyway. But when I’m a human, it’s ‘human’. And when I’m an archeops, it’s ‘archeops’. All right? Not ‘creature’. Not ‘bald thing’. Not ‘weirdo’-”

    “We’ve never called you ‘weird’, dear,” said Web softly.

    “I heard him do it.” Annie pointed at Trojan.

    The scrafty shrugged at Web’s disapproving frown. “I was tired and grumpy.”

    “You’re always tired and grumpy,” said the skuntank.

    “Now,” said Annie firmly. “If it’ll get Mister Fox off my back, I’ll tell him whatever he needs to know. But I can tell you one thing for certain.”

    She stopped, making Tracer’s fur bristle. He removed his cigar and met her eyes dead on.

    “And what’s that?” he asked.

    She frowned. “I ain’t ever goin’ back to that mad mayor. She ain’t putting me in no lab. Capiche?”

    Tracer puffed on his cigar, fixing his amber eyes on hers. A mixture of craziness, fear and anger stared back at him. This wasn’t a creature he wanted to mess with, that was for sure.

    N0ize looked between the two and a loud laugh came from deep within his chest. “A lab?! So the mayor’s experimentin’ on living things now? Man, somethin’ makes me think I’m gonna love this.”

    ...​

    When Macro woke up, it was dark. He rubbed a paw over his eyes and let out a long groan as he pushed the sheets off himself. The idea of staying in bed until the sun rose fluttered through his mind and he briefly considered lying back down and going back to sleep. Then he remembered those co-ordinates.

    His eyes snapped open, all sleepy fog expelled from his mind with the force of a typhoon.

    No, he couldn’t go back to sleep. He had to find out if those co-ordinates were working, and if so, where exactly they were taking them.

    He slipped from his bed and made for the door, being sure to grab his scarf and goggles on the way. His scarf was still damp, but he didn’t care. Light flooded the corridor as he stepped outside, the automatic signal triggering as it detected him.

    No one was awake?

    He’d never been up so early before. Matrix often put the ship into auto-pilot, but surely the ribombee would want to know if the co-ordinates were legitimate?

    Macro cautiously entered the cockpit, his nerves getting the better of him. The ship felt barren, and not a single member of his crew was awake. What time was it? He glanced at the navigation screen, first checking the time.

    Two in the morning.

    His heart sank and he warred with the desire to return to bed. But first, he needed to check where they were.

    Navigation systems were alien to him. All he really knew was that the green dot was his own ship, while red ones usually meant trouble. Large splodges indicating cities scattered over the screen, their names clearly marked. The fainter ones were System Ground, and most of them were behind them now, leaving nothing but a stretch of sea and the Analogue Isles far to their right. Only two of System Sky’s islands could be seen, one of which they’d just passed. He didn’t care to check the name. He was too bothered that the co-ordinates were taking them well out of System’s boundaries. Across the ocean. The vast ocean that seemed to have no end. Towards a block of coldness that would freeze the ship’s fuel and then send them to an icy death.

    Macro hugged himself as he watched the green dot travel over the blackness. Sure, they’d gone outside System’s boundaries before. That’s how they’d found DL. But something felt different this time.

    He pushed himself from the navigation system and turned towards the window.

    Blackness. Blackness dotted by stars.

    Not a city in sight.

    Wildcard Gamma’s own lights lit up ahead of them, revealing nothing. It all felt so empty.

    Macro pinched his upper arm tightly then stifled a yelp. Nope. He was definitely awake. He absently paced towards his chair and placed one paw on the back of it, searching the nothingness.

    Wait… Something was on the horizon.

    He squinted into the darkness, wondering if it were his imagination. But Wildcard Gamma’s lights danced over something far ahead of them. Whatever it was, it was moving. No… they were moving. Back and forth, like bright specks in the dregs of black coffee. He leant forwards, holding himself steady against his seat. They grew gradually clearer as Wildcard Gamma encroached upon them. Their forms becoming more defined. They appeared to be pokemon, but pokemon couldn’t fly freely in System Sky. The air was too thin, and too cold. They’d die of suffocation if the cold didn’t kill them first.

    One of them rotated its head, looking straight at Wildcard Gamma. Then it froze. The others froze beside it, their limbs flailing with… with what? Were they flying? No… it was irritation. Whatever they were, they weren’t happy to see them.

    Then it hit him. They weren’t pokemon at all. They were androids. Hundreds of them. All designed to look like the tried and failed Porygon Z.

    And they were not happy to see him.
     
    DreamSayer likes this.
  4. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Forty Six​

    The blaring siren wailed through Wildcard Gamma, slicing through the silence like a machete. Macro scrambled over the controls on the dashboard, first turning off the ship’s headlights. But doing that meant they could no longer see the porygon z. Muttering under his breath, he flicked the lights back on and resigned himself to dimming them.

    When he looked back up at the robotic army, his heart almost stopped. They’d gathered themselves together, forming a formidable angry wall. All eyes were on the ship. Hundreds of eyes. Their legs rotated back and forth, causing them to rock, but their eyes never left Wildcard Gamma. If Macro didn’t know any better, he’d say they were looking right at him.

    “What’s with the racket?” Anchor’s voice startled Macro so much he squeaked. “Sorry, Cap’n.”

    The granbull fell into his seat and yawned, his jaw popping loudly. Usually it would have made Macro grimace, but right now he had bigger things to worry about.

    “We’ve run into some trouble,” he told Anchor. “Got a load of porygon z blocking our path.”

    “A load of what?” Anchor’s mouth was open but it was Matrix who’d spoken.

    Macro looked over his shoulder to see the ribombee at his desk, winding his antenna in one paw while the other scrolled over the navigation screen. He didn’t even bother to look up at Macro.

    “Porygon z,” Macro repeated. “At least that’s what they look like. We’re not all that close.”

    Anchor leant over the dashboard to squint at the mass of robots. They were a lot closer to the ship now than before Macro set off the alarm. Clearer, almost unmistakable if his memory served. But a second opinion might clear away any doubts he had.

    “Certainly look like them from photos I’ve seen,” said Anchor.

    Macro rolled his eyes and fell back into his seat with a groan. “Do you think this has anything to do with BackDoor?”

    “I dunno. Might just be a new government fleet design.” Anchor shrugged. “What do you suggest we do about it?”

    “Those co-ordinates are leading us right through it,” said Matrix. “We could always dodge them?”

    “Do that,” said Macro. “They’re giving me the creeps.”

    Anchor mumbled his acknowledgement and steered the ship sharply to the left. Macro watched the porygon z drift out of Wildcard Gamma’s field and a grin spread across his face. It was that easy. All they had to do was-

    One by one the porygon z shot through the sky, then slowed as they kept pace with the ship’s movements. All eyes still on them. Bodies rocking back and forth.

    Macro’s grin fell into a distressed frown. “You’re kidding me?”

    Anchor let his paw fall from the steering stick and turned to face his captain. “I can fire at them if you’d like?”

    “What if they fire back?” Matrix asked. “There are way more of them than there are of us.”

    Macro nibbled on a claw as he stared out at the imposing army. Fire… it was such a simple solution, but what if they could attack back?

    A white paw appeared on the arm of his chair and he looked down at DL as she stared out of the window. She wasn’t wearing her scarf or her belt.

    “That’s Zero Day,” she said.

    Macro dropped his paw into his lap. “What?”

    “Zero Day,” she said. “They’re part of the BackDoor network.”

    He looked from her to the porygon z. So they were part of BackDoor. They weren’t government ships. Somehow that made them even more terrifying.

    “Do you know what they do exactly?” Macro asked.

    DL’s eyes went distant as she searched her recently unlocked database. “They’re made to search for pockets in time and space. Their main goal is to find a suitable world where Socket can build a new System, but they’re not able to open them. That’s BackDoor’s job.”

    “And BackDoor is…?” Macro nodded to the fleet.

    DL shook her head. “BackDoor is one single entity, but its identity is unknown. They’ve kept it out of the database.” She looked back out at the porygon z and swallowed audibly. “Zero Day is meant to be spread out across System Sky, not grouped together like this. I’m not sure what’s going on.”

    If DL thought their behavior was strange then something was definitely amiss. Macro’s mouth turned dry and his claw found its way back to his mouth.

    “Can these things attack us?” he asked.

    “Yes,” said DL. “All androids are equipped with their own self defense mechanisms, except for TimeSkip. TimeSkip had only one job to fulfill, and was made with haste. But BackDoor and Zero Day are all able to attack.”

    “And what attack does Zero Day use?”

    “They’re equipped with the facilities to emulate ‘tri attack’.”

    Macro closed his eyes and sank even further into his seat. “We’re all gonna die.”

    “Don’t be a martyr, Cap’n!” Anchor rammed his paw into the dashboard, startling Macro out of his rain cloud. “We can get through this, we just need a plan!”

    A plan…

    Macro sat up straight again, keeping his claw fastened between his teeth. Zero Day was still ahead of them, spread out like a barrier. All eyes locked on Wildcard Gamma. If the ship got any closer, they’d inevitably attack. He needed to work out their range and stay out of it. Hopefully the schooling cannons could reach further than Zero Day’s tri attack.

    “Attack them,” said Macro. “Engage schooling.”

    “Roger,” said Anchor.

    The cannons whirred into place, the familiar sound settling Macro’s nerves. Bubbles spiralled out ahead of them towards the porygon z. Their heads snapped towards the bubbles, rotating back and forth as they tried to organize themselves. Then they fired. Bubbles exploded several feet from the porgyon z. Every single bubble, picked off by each individual android. When they got within range, they were detonated, the impact blowing the fleet back slightly. But no sooner had they been blown back, they sped back into formation and picked off the next threat. The cannons settled down, and once the last bubble had been dealt with, all lifeless eyes snapped back towards Wildcard Gamma.

    Macro silently gnawed on his claw as he stared back at Zero Day, his mind playing back their strategy.

    “Well, that was fairly pointless,” said Anchor.

    “No it wasn’t.” Macro lowered his paw. “They could only target the bombs that were close enough. I’d say they have a range of about sixteen feet.”

    Anchor turned his head to look at him. “That’s not much different than our range.”

    “No.” Macro returned to his gnawing. “We’re gonna have to be sly about this. Try to reel back after we’ve fired.”

    “Zero Day aren’t all that intelligent,” said DL, “but they are equipped with basic battle strategies. I wouldn’t underestimate them.”

    “Then what do you suggest we do?” Macro asked her.

    DL tapped her claws on his arm rest as her eyes went distant once more. Then she shook her head.

    “I have no idea,” she said. “You’ve got more experience with aerial combat than I have.”

    Macro scratched beneath his goggles and sighed. “My idea is get close enough, fire, then double back. Anyone have any better ideas?”

    Mumbles filled the cockpit and the rest of his crew shook their heads.

    “So… we’re goin’ with my idea?” Macro turned back to the window and sighed. “All right. Make sure our shields are up and advance.”

    Wildcard Gamma slowly drew closer to Zero Day. With each foot covered, the porygon z grew more and more agitated, their limbs flailing and eyes spinning. DL clambered up into Macro’s seat and he shuffled aside for her as she settled into place and fastened the seatbelt over them both. It was a good idea. With the imminent barrage of attacks they were about to receive, he was taking no chances.

    Zero Day grew larger and more imposing. Macro could see the fine details of their eyes. Tiny pupils contracted into pin pricks in an ocean of yellow and orange rings. Their heads bobbed back and forth, independent from their bodies. Even their limbs weren’t attached, spread out around their bodies and held in place by some invisible force.

    A small number of them broke away from the group and their eyes flashed, sending out a tri-coloured beam of light.

    “Fire!” Macro barked.

    The turrets whirred and clanked noisily, and another spiral beam of bubbles fired out at a rapid pace towards Zero Day. Two of the bombs met their attacks, but the remaining beams struck the ship with such force Macro fell sideways into DL.

    He mumbled an apology and pushed himself back up, catching her unconsciously smooth out her fur. A distressed look spread across her face and he followed her gaze back to the window.

    Zero Day had separated into three groups in a bid to dodge the exploding bubbles. The remaining bombs exploded, catching the stragglers and blowing them back. Several of the porygon z fell from the air, plummeting down towards the ocean.

    “Well, we took some of them out,” said Anchor.

    Macro barely processed his words as he watched the three groups Zero Day had formed zip away from each other. Two of them drifted around either side of the ship, their eyes locked on it, while the third group bobbed backwards through the darkness.

    “I think they’re taking evasive manoeuvres.” Matrix wound his antenna loosely around his paw as he watched the events unfold. “I’d brace ourselves for-”

    The ribombee flew from his seat as Wildcard Gamma shook violently. Zero Day launched a barrage of attacks at either side of the ship, chipping away at its precious shield.

    “Move it!” Macro roared, diving across the dashboard for the steering stick.

    Anchor swatted him away like a flea and the mawile crumpled to the floor.

    “Sorry, Cap’n,” Anchor said flatly. “But if you take over, we’re dead.”

    Macro rubbed his head, feeling a slight bump from his collision with the floor. Muttering under his breath, he returned to his seat. A look of pity washed over DL’s face and she watched him out of the corner of his eye as he tried to slide back under the seat belt.

    Anchor steered Wildcard Gamma up and away from Zero Day. Macro was forced back into his seat as the schooling wishiwashi rose higher into the sky, then it turned on a pivot to nose dive back towards Zero Day. Bubbles flew ahead of it, exploding as they struck the third porygon group. More of the deranged androids fell towards the ocean while the group split into two and went off in opposite directions. Something appeared before the ship. Black and uninviting.

    Macro’s stomach flipped nauseatingly. “Back away, Anchor! That’s one of them porthole things!”

    Anchor threw himself back into his seat, steering Wildcard Gamma back up and away from the porthole.

    “That’s not right!” DL gasped. “Zero Day aren’t meant to be able to open pockets like that!”

    Macro snapped his head around to face her. His mouth opened, but he couldn’t find words.

    “That’s BackDoor’s job,” said DL, answering his unasked question. “Zero Day are only meant to find them. How have they… when…?”

    Vibrations rocked the ship and Zero Day zipped ahead of them on either side, their tri-coloured lasers streaming from their faces reminiscent of a dazzling light display.

    Bubbles met lasers. Lasers met bubbles. It was a constant back and forth as Wildcard Gamma struggled to get through the onslaught.

    Porygon z after porygon z fell towards the ocean, but the ones they’d taken down were replaced just as quickly as more flew in from the separated groups. Tri-attacks hit the ship’s tail, spinning it almost ninety degrees. Bubbles flew around it, not firing out far enough and catching the ship in the blast’s aftermath.

    Macro grit his teeth together and dragged his claws down his face. “We’re gonna have to bail!”

    “We’re not gonna have to bail!” Anchor roared. “Just calm your mudbrays and let’s think of another plan!”

    “My ‘other plan’ is to bail!” Macro snapped. “We’re getting our tails whupped!”

    Anchor’s muzzle creased, revealing one of his canines, but he said nothing. Wildcard Gamma twisted out of the way of one of the porygon’s next attacks and found itself receiving another tri-attack right to the nose. Macro flinched back from it, the light dazzling his vision. When he opened his eyes, a fine crack had spread across the glass like a cobweb.

    For the first time in many years, Macro actually felt overwhelmed. He wanted to run. Grab the neon ladder and drop towards the ocean. He’d worry about what to do next once he was there.

    “I can hear them.”

    He snapped his head around towards DL. Her chocolate eyes were wide and frantic, almost crazed.

    “What?” he gasped. His heart was racing, and he looked between her and Zero Day.

    “I can hear them,” she said. “So many voices. They’re terrified. They want us to leave.”

    “Terrified?” Anchor snorted and cast her a sideways glance before setting off another stream of explosives. “They’re robots!”

    “Well they’re terrified!” she snapped. “I can hear them, and I can’t stand it!”

    “What are they saying?” Macro asked.

    “It’s hard to make out,” she explained. “But they’re treating you like a computer virus and trying to eradicate you. They keep calling you a threat, and throwing themselves into a panic.”

    “So basically they’re acting like antibodies?”

    “In a sense, yes.” DL’s paw clutched around the seatbelt until her knuckles turned white. “They’re trying everything. Everything. How on earth have they discovered how to open pockets?”

    Zero Day broke apart once more, leaving only a few to fire at Wildcard Gamma. It looked at first like the ones leaving the group were heading towards the ship’s tail, but instead they hovered in the air, their heads spinning crazily.

    Several black voids opened above the ship and it trembled as each one emitted its own forcefield. The entire ship shuddered as each porthole tried to suck it into its void.

    “They’re trying to break us apart!” Anchor barked.

    Macro stuttered over his words as he scrambled to get out from his seatbelt. “Get… get us away!”

    “I’m trying!”

    “Guys?” Matrix’s voice was uncharacteristically wobbly. “Something’s coming right at us, and it’s big.”

    The ship surged, plummeting towards the ocean. Macro’s stomach shot into his throat, left somewhere above them. Then the ship levelled out, outside the pockets’ reach. Zero Day hovered above them, their eyes trained on the ship. What Macro could see of them, anyway. They didn’t move towards them, or move away. They just sat… watching.

    Macro opened his mouth to ask what had just happened, but his words came out in a strangled scream. His eyes were fixed on the windshield as a long shadow appeared outside it. A smile in a face with no eyes. Long, leathery hide billowed around it, trailing over the glass. A slender neck that looked almost skeletal or plant like.

    Its mouth opened and a long, wailing scream flew from its throat. Macro’s own scream died before it left his mouth. He felt all consciousness leave his body. The last thing he remembered was something warm embracing him, and the sensation of Wildcard Gamma dropping from the sky like a stunned swanna.

    ...​

    The police station cafeteria was bustling. Voices filled the room, each one competing to be heard over the rest. Few batted an eyelid at the human limping through, a small tray clasped in his hands. One or two threw a hello or a grin in his direction, but most of them were more occupied with the contents of their plates or worried they might miss out on a joke.

    Floppy looked up from his burger and gave Switch a nod. “You’re lookin’ well.”

    The vaporeon was sat with Jumper and Heatsink. He eagerly tapped the table beside him with a paw and grinned.

    Switch fell onto a stool a bit too low down for his liking. It jarred his body slightly and he released his tray to the table with a clatter in favour of rubbing his ribs.

    The frogadier raised an eyebrow. “I think you spoke too soon, Floppy.”

    “Nah!” the vaporeon shook his head and waved a paw at Switch. “He’s fine!”

    “I really am fine,” said Switch. “Just a little sore still.”

    “I still think they discharged you too early,” said Jumper. “If you’d like, I can get back on at them again?”

    “No need.” Switch took a huge bite out of his burger. “I’ll be flying again before you know it.”

    Jumper’s brows knit together in a frown. “You talk as though injuring yourself is a common occurrence.”

    “It certainly isn’t a common occurrence,” said Switch. “But I’m beginning to think it is in this time line. I mean, I’ve been nearly crushed by two huge pokemon and I’ve only been here a week!”

    “Well.” Jumper dabbed at his lips with a napkin. “After lunch, you head back to my apartment and rest. It’s no good pushing yourself when your bones are still healing.”

    “If you say so.” Switch sighed and let his hand fall back onto his plate, spilling tamato slices out of his burger. “Man, I just want to get back out there. I wonder what Macro’s doing?”

    Floppy looked up with a start. “He’s still not contacted you?”

    “No. I can’t believe he just took off without me.”

    “That’s how he treats his ‘clients’?” Floppy flashed his canines. “I oughta show him a thing or two.”

    “That’ll be enough, Floppy,” said Heatsink. “I believe Macro had Switch’s best interests. He’s safe here.”

    “Aye.” Floppy sank to the table until his head was between both paws. “Fine, I’ll shut up.”

    “I know you said you didn’t want to call him yourself,” said Jumper. “But you do have his number. I made sure of that.”

    “I know,” said Switch. “But he could just as easily ring me.” He gave Jumper a wink and the frogadier rolled his eyes.

    “You’re both as stubborn as each other,” said Jumper.

    “But you all have a good point,” said Switch, ignoring his remark. “Once I can fly I’ll track him down, give him a firm word, most likely receive one back, and get back to finding a way back home.”

    “Well.” Jumper looked up at him a little sadly. “Until then, you’re very welcome to keep helping out around here.”

    “What little use I am,” said Switch. “I can’t even use my full potential yet. I’m only fit for pushing paper.”

    “Pull the other one!” said Floppy. “You still believe the twins are alive somewhere. Most of the force has given them up for dead. If they are alive and you weren’t here, we’d not even be bothering looking for them.”

    “So don’t you dare believe you’re a dead weight,” said Heatsink.

    “Besides, someone’s got to do the paperwork,” said Jumper.

    “I just let the shredder do it.” Floppy flashed Switch a grin, which he returned with a wink.

    “Well.” Switch picked up his tray and grimaced as he pushed himself to his feet. “I’d better get on with that rest then, hadn’t I?”

    “You haven’t even finished your dinner,” said Jumper.

    “Yeh, I don’t really know what I was thinking when I asked for nutpea mustard.” Switch smiled down at him. “I’ll see you when you get home.”

    “Take care now.”

    Switch felt the frogadier’s eyes on him as he made his way from the cafeteria. He paused to empty the contents of his tray into the compost bin then strolled through the double doors to outside seating. A small path cut its way around into a small park and he took in a deep breath of fresh air. Filterted or not, it was still fresh and carried the fresh scent of leaves and ripe berries.

    He stuffed his hands in his pockets and followed the path through the park. A few hatchlings stopped their ball game to throw surprised looks his way, their large eyes impossibly wide in their little faces. Switch gave them a warm smile and a playful wink which seemed to satisfy their curiosity. The ball bounced on the grass and a couple gave chase after it, while the remaining stragglers watched him over their shoulders as they ran after their friends.

    Switch chuckled under his breath and continued his way through the park. He knew exactly where he was going. He’d made the trip several times now. Every lunch break he’d had available, every evening, even in the mornings when he’d made a deliberate point of leaving the apartment after Jumper had already gone. A little path shot off through the trees until it met a wild bramble bush. Switch clambered through it, thorns tugging at his cargo trousers. Beyond it was a long rail blocking access to the glass dome.

    He leant across the rail and let his weight fall onto his arms, grimacing slightly. He adjusted his weight to be more comfortable and let out a wistful sigh. An ocean of blue spread before him, creating a gradient from the sky to the land below. What he could see of the land was a spray of colour. Deceptively beautiful from so high up, but he knew most of those yellows were nothing more than toxic air.

    He looked back up at the sky, dotted with white fluffy clouds. In the distance he could see a ship flying gracefully over them. Its form was that of a fish painted in hues of pink and purple. He couldn’t see it in detail, but he was fairly certain it was a bruxish.

    So far it was the only ship in sight. Sometimes he didn’t see any at all. And he never, ever saw Wildcard Gamma. He pulled his computer out of his pocket and held it between both hands. It was still new, handed to him by Jumper before he left the hospital. His thumb slid over the screen, bringing up his contacts. Only two were listed. Jumper and Macro. He’d been assured Macro had been sent his details, that he would contact him. It crossed Switch’s mind several times a day to ring him, find out where he was and if he was coming back. Several times a day he checked the news, made sure Macro was still listed as ‘wanted’. At least that way, he was ninety percent certain he was still alive, then went back to warring with himself over ringing at him.

    But it gnawed deeply at him that he wouldn’t answer. Somehow that felt a lot worse than waiting. Then he’d be worrying. Worrying he wanted nothing to do with him. Worrying he’d actually been killed somehow, and not at the paws of Socket.

    Not answering actually frightened him, something he wasn’t proud to admit.

    Once again, ‘no’ won the battle. He would just wait. Macro knew where he was, and he knew why he was there. But still… he was more than ready to leave. To find his way home.

    He slipped the computer back into his pocket and gazed back out at the vast sky.

    “Where are you, Macro?” he asked. “Why haven’t you come back for me?”
     
    DreamSayer likes this.
  5. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Updates are being changed to a Saturday as it suits me a lot better, given I'm often busy on Fridays and having to rush.

    Chapter Forty Seven​

    Macro felt like he was floating in a cloud. A warm cloud, bathed in sunlight. His mind was filled with a dense fog that refused to clear. Everything was dark.

    Then he realised his eyes were closed.

    He forced them open and bright lights dazzled him, chasing the fog away. He raised a paw to rub at his eyes, willing them to adjust to the brightness.

    “You with us now, Cap’n?” Anchor’s voice sounded distant, lost in all that light.

    “Hnh?” Macro mumbled.

    “Cap’n?” Anchor was clearer this time. Louder.

    Wildcard Gamma’s familiar cockpit revealed itself around him, and his eye immediately went to the fine crack along the windshield. It all came rushing back and his heart flipped into his throat.

    “We’re… we’re still flying!”

    His voice sounded mechanical and he coughed into his paw. A violent, racking cough that caused whatever he’d mistaken for a cloud to shift behind him. He looked down at DL’s white paw clasped over his scarf. Her other paw was fastened snuggly around his left wrist. She released his paw as though she expected him to sit back up, but his heart was still racing and he worried if he did he’d just collapse again.

    “Thank goodness,” said Anchor. “You gave us a right fright. Thought that thing had scared the life outta ya.”

    “So I wasn’t the only one who saw it?” Macro croaked. “How long was I out?”

    “About a minute,” said Matrix. “So not long.”

    “Fifty six seconds,” said DL.

    “Seconds?” Macro ventured to push himself upright but found himself restrained in DL’s arms.

    “I can’t let you up,” she said. “You’ve had a shock. I’ve every right mind to put you in your bed.”

    “I’m fine. It ain’t the first time I’ve fainted.” Macro wrestled himself free and let himself flop onto the opposite arm of his seat. “Besides. I wanna know what happened. Where are Zero Day? What was that… monster I saw?”

    “Zero Day have fled,” said DL. “I believe there was more than one of those creatures, and they chased off Zero Day.”

    “As for what it was…” Anchor raised his paws then let them fall back onto the dashboard. “No clue.”

    “It looked like something out of a nightmare,” said Macro. “All skeletal with no eyes.”

    “I’d say it looked more like a plant.” Matrix wound his antenna slowly as his eyes drifted to the window. “It reminded me of bamboo. A bamboo scarecrow wearing a weird veil-like hat.”

    “It scared more than just crows,” Macro muttered.

    “It’s gone now, anyway,” said Anchor. “Took off like a rocket. Blasted the ship in the process. I thought we were gonna fall.”

    Macro ran a paw over his face and clenched his teeth together. After everything they’d just been through, he dreaded to think what repairs his ship would need. There was nothing he could do about it now, not when they’d travelled so far across System. Besides, turning around would likely only put them in the thick of Zero Day once again.

    His eyes snapped open and he stared out at the vast, black sky. “You said it’s gone…”

    “Yeh.” Anchor was hesitant. “Like I said, I dunno where.”

    “And there’s more than one.” Macro bit down on his claw. “They’re gonna be attacking cities just like that jellyfish thing, aren’t they?”

    Anchor bit his lip but he didn’t look at him. “Cap’n, I think it’s safe to say the end of the world is nigh.”

    Macro groaned and his head fell into his paws.

    “I mean, that thing were huge!” said Anchor. “Half the size of our ship!”

    “I’d say it were at least ten foot tall,” said Matrix. “And if a number of them could chase off those deranged porygon z…”

    “Let’s just hope they dealt with some of them,” said Macro. “Give us less to worry about.”

    Anchor grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. “We can hope.”

    “Anyway.” Macro turned his head towards Matrix. “How are we gettin’ on following those co-ordinates?”

    “We’re still going,” said Matrix. “It estimates we’ll have reached them by about five am.”

    “All right. If all that’s cleared, I guess I’ll take DL’s advice and lie down.”

    Macro slipped from his seat, but as soon as his feet hit the floor his head felt light and the whole room began to spin. His paw shot to his head and he staggered backwards into his seat. DL was beside him like a dart and caught him before he fell to the floor.

    When Macro opened his eyes again, the room was still spinning slightly and Anchor looked as taut as a spring about to snap.

    “I think she’s right,” said the granbull. “But I think someone should carry you.”

    “I’m not being carried like some invalid,” Macro growled. “I’ll be fine. I just need to… go slow.”

    Anchor frowned slightly. “You’re real stubborn, Cap’n.”

    Macro turned away from him and moved slowly out of the cockpit. He felt Anchor’s eyes on him the whole way, and Macro knew if he so much as bumped into the doorway he’d be scooped up in the granbull’s arms before he could blink.

    DL beat him to the door and slipped an arm around his back. Part of him wanted to protest, but the other wanted to fall into her and let her lead him down the corridor. He didn’t think either would go down well, so he settled for an in-between and walked quietly at her side, reassured that there was little chance of him falling over since the ship just wouldn’t stop spinning.

    “I don’t know if you realise this,” she said, “but your crew actually care about you.”

    “Oh, I know,” he said. “We all have a funny way of showing it.”

    “You’re saying you care about your crew?” She raised an eyebrow. “About Anchor, Matrix, Cookie…?”

    He snorted out laughter, the effort throwing his balance. He had to steady himself against her, and his arm found its way around her back. “Of course I do.”

    She stiffened slightly and her eyes wandered to his paw fastened around her waist. For a moment he thought he should snatch it back, but she relaxed and continued leading him down the corridor.

    “What about me?” she asked.

    “DL.” He stopped and turned his head to look at her. Man, everything was still spinning. “Do you really think I’d be helping you get your memories, and keeping you away from Socket, if I didn’t care?”

    She shrugged, avoiding his eyes. “Some of the things you say sometimes make me wonder.”

    He flinched and looked away from her, and she pressed her paw into his back to encourage him towards his room.

    “Come on,” she said. “We’re almost there.”

    “Listen,” he said. “I honestly don’t mean everything I say. I just get… pretty heated sometimes.”

    “I’m beginning to learn that.” She stopped beside his room and nodded to the panel beside it. “Let yourself in. I’m not sure it will recognize me.”

    He shrugged and placed his paw on the panel. The doors slid open silently.

    “It recognizes all my crew,” he said. “All the rooms do. In case of emergencies.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he pulled himself away from her to lean against the doorway. The image of a blazing room filled his mind and he rubbed the bridge of his muzzle in a desperate bid to remove it. “I don’t take any chances.”

    She pulled him back towards her and fastened her paw around his waist. The warmth of her body shooed away the awful memory and he let himself lean against her as she steered him into his room.

    “Okay,” she said. “You get yourself in bed.”

    She released him and took a step back. He flopped onto his bed, cold in contrast to her warm fur.

    “Can I get you anything?” she asked.

    He became aware he had his eyes closed. He cracked them open, meeting her chocolate gaze. A strange bubbling sensation welled from his stomach into his chest and he took in a trembling breath as he tore himself away. He pressed one paw over his eyes and waved the other one at her.

    “No,” he said. “Just leave.”

    “So… you don’t want me here?” she asked.

    He shook his head but didn’t look back at her. “Don’t take it personally. It’s just my ‘no girls in my room’ rule.”

    “I understand.” She crept across his room and paused at his door. “If you do need anything…”

    “I’ll call you.”

    His door hissed shut and he rubbed his paws over his face. That strange sensation didn’t leave. Every heartbeat felt like a flutter, and oddly enough he didn’t hate it.

    What he did hate was knowing DL wasn’t going to stay on his ship. Sooner or later, she was going to leave. And every second he drew closer to the next disk was another second closer to her leaving. The thought alone felt like a hot blade running through his heart.

    And he had only himself to blame.

    Well, that put an end to the pleasant flutter.

    He took in a few quick breaths as nausea decided to join in with the spinning room, and wiped away a few stray tears from his eyes. Why was he such a jerk?

    He rolled onto his side and grabbed one of his pillows, clutching it to his chest. He buried his face into it, trying to stifle out the dizziness and self loathing.

    He didn’t want her to leave.

    He wanted her to stay.

    He wanted to make her happy. To see her smile. To hear her laugh.

    Somehow, he needed to fix things between them. The problem was, he’d never been all that good at fixing things.

    ...​

    “So let me get this straight.” N0ize spread his arms, making the little stool he was sat on look even smaller. “You say you came from a different time line, and the mayor wants to stick you in a lab?”

    Annie nodded her head, each bob rather over-dramatic although she didn’t appear to be aware of it.

    The incineroar scratched his nose and gazed up at the yellowed ceiling. “Huh. Not sure if I believe it.”

    Tracer removed his cigar from his lips and puffed out a ring of smoke. Annie watched it drift in front of her in fascination.

    “It is rather hard to believe,” he said. “But given the footage Socket sent us, I’m not going to swat it aside so freely. I mean… we have a human sat right here. That’s evidence enough that something’s amiss in my books.”

    “Between a form-changing human and a water dweller with mechanical legs, this feels like more of a freak show,” said N0ize. “How do we know Socket ain’t just toyin’ with us?”

    “Because we gave Zip his legs.” Trojan leant against the door and frowned at the space pirate. “Annie found him flailing in the street and brought him to us.”

    “Seems an odd thing to do.” N0ize nodded at Zip. “Don’t take this the wrong way, kid, but I only ever see your kind displayed in meat shop windows.” He grinned, flashing two rows of sharp, glinting teeth. “Or on plates.”

    Zip cowered towards the bottom of his bowl and his bottom lip quivered. “Annie…”

    Annie snatched her attention from the smoke ring, locking her eyes on the incineroar’s. “Sorry, pussycat, but that little fish is off the menu.”

    “I weren’t gonna eat him.” N0ize snorted and looked away. “Not got enough meat on him anyway.”

    Zip groaned and edged closer to the human, his mechanical legs creaking with each movement and their sharp feet scratching over the wooden floor. The graceless movements reminded Tracer of a drunken hitmonlee he’d had to apprehend once.

    “You said the mayor sent you footage?” Trojan shifted his weight, almost stepping on the skuntank curled up at his feet like a rug. “I wanna see this footage.”

    “You can’t take Annie’s word for it?” Tracer waved a paw at the human who was more occupied with admiring the peeling wallpaper.

    “You initially wanted to apprehend her,” said Trojan. “Now you’re as baffled and… fascinated… as we are. The difference here is, you have first hand information that we don’t. All we know is Socket said somethin’ to Annie and she retaliated and gave the mayor what for.”

    “Oh, I gave her what for all right.” Annie grinned and balled her fist. “I weren’t goin’ back in no lab. So I took my magic pills and booked it.”

    Tracer met the scrafty’s eyes and took a long drag on his cigar, mulling over whether or not to show him the footage. After all he’d heard, he was growing more and more suspicious that Socket was the one in the wrong.

    He breathed out a long trail of smoke and said slowly, “There’s no sound in this footage, be aware of that.”

    “Wait.” Widget looked up as Tracer removed his computer from his pocket. “Didn’t Socket tell you that’s confidential?”

    “If we’re going to get to the bottom of things, we need to be open with one another,” said Tracer. “Besides, we’ve already shown it to N0ize, so we’ve broken that deal already.”

    “Yeh but… that was in exchange for…” Widget rolled his eyes and let his ears droop. “Whatever. Why do I even care? It’s not as if Socket and I get on anyway.”

    Trojan took the computer and crouched down so Web could see the screen. Small clicks came from Zip as he strolled over to them, and water sloshed around harmlessly in his glass bowl. The room fell into silence for the whole five minutes the footage played out for, the only sounds coming from Annie as she muttered to herself about the yellowing walls. Tracer thought he heard her liken them to a summer’s day.

    The scrafty snickered, then burst into fits of laughter. Web shook her head, but a small smile played at her lips. She retrieved the computer and rose up onto her hind legs to offer it back to the delphox, but before he could take it a large shadow loomed in the doorway.

    Waveform looked at them each in turn, his wing paw held millimetres from the scarf covering the lower half of his face. When his eyes fell on Tracer and N0ize he froze and his feathers bristled.

    N0ize grinned from ear to ear. “The mysterious owl returns.”

    “Here.” Trojan took the computer from Web and held it up to Waveform before he had a chance to speak. “You’re gonna wanna see this.”

    The decidueye took the computer cautiously, giving the detective one last glance before activating the video.

    “Pretty interesting,” said Trojan. “Know what I think? I think it should be broadcast across all of System so everyone can see what a jackin’ mess the mayor truly is.”

    N0ize threw his head back and roared out laughter. Tracer flinched and pulled his ear back.

    “I think that would be incredibly foolish,” he said, bringing N0ize back to silence. “Have you any idea of the implications that could-”

    “What?” Trojan spat. “’Cos she trusted you with it and you’ve gone and shown it to space pirates and thugs?”

    Tracer opened and closed his mouth as he stared at the scrafty. The only word he could find was a staggered ‘well…’

    Trojan spat, keeping his eyes on the delphox. “Yeh. ‘Well’, indeed. Shamus only cares about his own hide. Don’t care jack about us livin’ hard in the outskirts.”

    Tracer placed a paw to his chest and lowered his cigar. “I live in the outskirts!”

    “So do I,” said Widget. “And Defrag.”

    “Yeh, local coppers,” said Trojan. “Fear factor, just like Proxy Prison. Or is it really ‘cos Socket don’t want you in Meta City?”

    He turned that question onto Widget. The eevee’s ears drooped slightly but his brown eyes were fierce. Even the fur along his back bristled and his tail whipped from side to side, flicking up dust from the threadbare rug. Tracer began to fear for the scrafty’s safety, so he placed a paw on his small friend’s back.

    “Leave it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter why we live in the outskirts. But he’s not wrong to assume it’s a fear factor.”

    Widget let out a strangled laugh and fixed Trojan with one of his cheeky grins. “You’re right. I’m not allowed in Meta City. But it doesn’t mean I don’t go there.”

    Trojan’s face fell and N0ize let out another roar of laughter.

    “He really has got guts!” said the space pirate.

    “Anyway.” Tracer popped his cigar back in between his lips and turned back to the distracted human. “We’ve gone wildly off topic. Annie?”

    “Huh?” She snapped her head around to look at him. “Have I missed something?”

    “Nothing important.” Tracer leant back into the rickety chair. “You’ve not told me why exactly you are in Pulse City?”

    “Oh, that’s easy.” She leant against the wall and tucked her arms behind her head. “We’re just recruiting space pirates to take on the mayor and throw her off her high horse.”

    Tracer’s jaw went slack and his cigar bounced off his knee and landed on the bare floor. Had he heard her right? She was basically a catalyst starting off a rebellion?!

    Waveform looked up from the computer and stuffed it back into Trojan’s paws. He lifted a wing and pulled out a long, slender feather, the end of which glinted dangerously in the low light.

    “You’ve said too much,” he told Annie as he strolled into the room.

    “Wait!” Web gasped, rising to her feet. “Don’t be an idiot!”

    Tracer watched Waveform like a hawk as he turned to face the detective, pulling out one of his long vines - a sickly green from spending too long in the outskirts. The decidueye pulled it back like a bow string and aimed the feather right at Tracer’s head.

    It sprang towards him, whizzing as it sliced through the air. A crack resounded through the room and all eyes were on the delphox. He crouched in his seat, his trusty stick raised above his head. The arrow quivered as it hung embedded in the ceiling, the reverberations slicing through the sudden, heavy silence.

    Tracer snapped his head up to meet Waveform’s eyes and lowered his stick, holding it defensively before him.

    “Sorry, but you’re not going to win this one,” said Tracer. “Any night when I can’t see you, sure. But if you think you can best me in a face to face duel, you are sadly mistaken. And also, outnumbered.”

    He glanced at his two comrades. Widget was on his feet, his body taught and ready to pounce. N0ize, however, stuck his claw in his ear and scratched it while his other arm was behind his head. He watched the two disagreeing pokemon with morbid amusement.

    Waveform snorted and lowered his vine. “When you leave here, you’d better watch your back, detective.” He turned to leave the room, pausing to look at Annie. He turned back to Tracer and pointed a feather at him. “No one lays a claw on her, you understand me?”

    Tracer raised an eyebrow and lowered his fire stick. “One day, I hope you’ll tell me what your fascination is.”

    Waveform span towards the door, his feathers billowing behind him like a cape. He tucked his wings to his sides and stepped past Web and Trojan effortlessly.

    Web looked up at Tracer and let out a sad sigh. “I think it would be safer for you to book a room. He won’t let this go, believe me.”

    N0ize removed his claw from his ear and examined it. “Sounds like a shady decidueye I know. Well… not know personally. But news ‘bout bounty hunters gets around here, yanno.” He paused and looked at Tracer somewhat aghast. “You don’t think it’s him, do ya?”

    “If he is, he’s a dead ‘mon walking.” Tracer pushed himself to his feet. “Well, I’m going to take Webber’s advice. Widget, if you could book us a room?”

    Widget looked up at him and smiled. “With a view? Lakeside, park side?”

    He laughed and skipped from the room with his tail held high. Tracer looked back at Annie and folded his paws together on his lap, not relinquishing his stick.

    “I hope you are aware,” he said slowly, “of the repercussions of such an endeavour?”

    She blinked at him, still leaning back against the wall. “Pardon?”

    Tracer sighed and retrieved his smoldering cigar. It had left a small black patch on the worn wood.

    “Your actions,” he said. “If you are truly planning on rebelling against the mayor, which is what I took from your statement, then it could go disastrously wrong. She is a force to be reckoned with, Annie, and you are already in her bad books. She hired me to retrieve you.”

    She shrugged, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Tracer.

    “She needs dealing with,” she said. “She’s allowing pokemon to eat each other, she pulled me from my own time line with some weird time onion, and now she… wait…” She scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “What were we talkin’ about?”

    Tracer blinked at her, dumbfounded, while N0ize laughed yet again.

    Web shook her head and stood up. “I think we all need to get some sleep. Tuck yourself in, dear. The nice detective is done with you now.”

    “Hardly,” N0ize grunted. “I wanna hear more.”

    “No. She’s right. It’s very late.” Tracer stood up and returned his stick to his thick tail. “I trust you have somewhere to stay, N0ize?”

    “Aye. Your room.” The incineroar grinned at Tracer’s stunned expression. “I ain’t done here. I hope you’re comfortable on the floor ‘cos I don’t share.”

    Widget paused in the doorway with a key fob between his teeth and looked between the two. He sighed and turned to go back the way he came. “I’ll upgrade to a family room then, eh?”

    ...​

    It was late. Almost three in the morning, and Socket hadn’t left her office. She paced back and forth beside the window, occasionally glancing out over Meta City. Lights flashed intermittently as hover cars sped past on their air tracks, and pokemon still trotted along the sidewalks coming from or going to she couldn’t care less where.

    The only thing that occupied her mind was Surge. Surge the liar. Surge who she’d doubted since she received the photos of the magnezone and his fleet. Their gruesome bodies melted and deformed, sopping wet after their plunge into the lake. Mechanical eyes frozen in fear and shock. She didn’t particularly care how the pokemon had felt. What she cared about was that Surge had gone against her orders, and murdered a large number of pokemon. That Surge had hacked into Socket’s files and obtained her top secret plan. That, knowing that, Surge may very well tell others her plan. That Hunter obviously knew her plan given he was retrieving memory disks. If Socket’s plan got out, the entirety of System would be thrown into an uproar. Pokemon may very well claim Socket’s head.

    How much did Surge really know?

    Socket stopped in her tracks and tapped her claws over her arm for the umpteenth time that night. Her lips pursed together and she looked over at her holoscreen deck. If she were to contact Surge, what would she say? She wanted that zigzagoon behind bars, waiting to fry in her electric chair. But at the same time… something gnawed at her that Surge had a link with Hunter. Why else would she spare his life by melting a magnezone police fleet?

    She hit the control on her desk and the holoscreen appeared before her.

    “Ring Surge,” she said.

    The screen rang out, more times than she’d had cared for. Finally, Surge’s face appeared on the screen. Her eyes were bloodshot and heavy rings made them look sunken as though she’d experienced years of severe stress.

    “Mayor Socket.” The zigzagoon yawned widely, flashing two rows of sharp teeth. “It’s three in the morning.”

    “I’m very aware what time it is,” Socket snapped. “Where are you right now? You look like you’re on your ship.”

    “I am.” Surge vanished off screen briefly and the faint beep of a computer emanated from the holoscreen’s speaker. “I was following Wildcard Gamma. But I think I’ve lost them.”

    “Lost them?” Socket raised an eyebrow. “How do you lose a ship that size?”

    “I don’t know. I was receiving electrical interference, and then the ship just… vanished. My navigation system puts me at… the outskirts of System Sky?!” Her yelp of surprise bristled Socket’s fur. Surge’s voice dropped to a mutter as she spoke more to herself. “Why on earth is he travelling this far out?”

    “Well, Surge. I need you back here in my office.” Socket tapped her claws against her upper arm. “How long will it take you?”

    The zigzagoon raised an eyebrow and scratched beneath her green bandanna. “You’re calling me back? I was hot on his trail. Isn’t it something you can tell me over the phone?”

    “I’ve acquired some new information,” Socket said slowly. “It requires you right here in my office. And if you aren’t willing to come to me, I’ll send someone to retrieve you, and they won’t do it nicely.”

    Surge’s eyes flitted from side to side and her mouth opened and closed like a seaking. “I’m sorry, Mayor, but you’ve asked me to bring him in, and-”

    “Are you actually going to?” Socket’s words drew Surge’s attention right back to her. “Or are you going to slaughter another fleet of officers to save that pirate’s hide?”

    Surge stared back at her, dumbfounded. Her expression was even more like that of a seaking. One that was gasping for life, plucked from the ocean and left to dry on the sand.

    “I’m sorry,” she said carefully. “I don’t understand.”

    “Oh, I think you do.” Socket reached behind her for the photos and leafed through them. “A reliable source has told me that you’re not just any mercenary. But you are actually a jack of all trades. Does the name Troll ring any bells?”

    A flash of realisation flew across Surge’s face and she tugged anxiously at her bandanna, desperate to avoid Socket’s eyes.

    “I see it does.” Socket picked out one photo and dropped the others, turning it to face the holoscreen. “I’ve been torturing myself over these photos, Surge. I didn’t want to believe it was you. But when you stab someone in the back, they talk. And Troll talked. A lot. Apparently you know your way around a computer. ‘Hacking’ being the term I’d like to use here. And I believe it was you who hacked into my systems to obtain valuable information, and then you relayed that back to Hunter. How much did he pay you?”

    Surge’s face paled with every word. Those heavy rings around her eyes almost vanished and she sank into her seat, fidgeting her paws together.

    Socket chuckled and dropped the photo with the others. “A lot, I guess?”

    Surge shifted uneasily and her paw vanished out of view. Socket watched her silently, waiting for her to flick off the holoscreen. To prove her guilt. To flee.

    She stayed, breathing deeply and smoothing out her bristling fur, still avoiding Socket’s eyes.

    “May I ask you something, Surge? Why on earth would you risk your own life sparing his, rather than turning him in for the generous reward I was offering you?”

    The past tense got the zigzagoon’s attention. Or was it something else? Nevertheless, she looked at Socket head on before continuing.

    “I don’t know,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right.”

    Socket raised an eyebrow at that. “Oh?”

    “I think you need to ask yourself something, Mayor.” Surge leant forward in her seat so her entire face filled the screen. “Who’s the guilty party here? You or him?”

    Socket’s jaw dropped and she staggered back into her desk. Her paws found the edge, stopping herself from slipping to the floor. She knew. The wretched zigzagoon knew!

    Surge nodded and fell back into her seat. Her paw vanished from the screen again and she looked Socket in the eye, a smile tugging at her lips.

    “I think that answers my question,” she said, reaching for the hang up button.

    “Wait!”

    Surge froze and looked back up at her.

    “You’re playing a dangerous game,” Socket told her. “You hacked into my system, Surge. You’ve acquired information that you know nothing about. Leaking it could cause a massive uproar. That alone will list you with a death sentence. Then all I have to do is put up a poster and all of System will be on your tail.” She grinned at the sullen look on Surge’s face. “That’s right, little rat. Even space pirates. I’ll stop at nothing to turn you in. And him. I know you’ve told him everything. Why else would he be breaking into government property to obtain little black disks?”

    Surge shrugged. “Maybe the living computer he stole told him everything?”

    “I’ve shut her off,” said Socket. “Not only is she forbidden access, she’s frozen. She’s nothing now.”

    Surge shook her head and sat back in her seat. “Oh my dear Socket. How little you know. If I’m a dab hand at computers, surely a little computer program installed in a pokemon’s brain is no problem?”

    Socket felt all the blood leave her face.

    Surge grinned and once again reached for the hang up button. “Check mate.”

    The screen flashed off, leaving Socket feeling cold and lost.

    That wretched zigzagoon. That wretched Hunter. Oh, she’d catch them. She’d catch them and she’d kill them both. Personally.

    She shook out her fur and brought the screen back up, this time shouting for Yobi. The raichu’s sleep-deprived face filled the screen, alarming the gothitelle so much she actually screamed.

    What was wrong with her?!

    “Madam Mayor?!” Yobi dropped whatever it was he’d been holding, creating an almighty clatter as it bounced off the tiled floor. “What’s the matter?”

    “Surge!” she barked. “I want a wanted poster made for her. Mark it at fifty thousand credits. Do the same for Hunter, and the rest of his crew.”

    “But…” Yobi scratched behind his ear. “Isn’t that usually Tweak’s job?”

    “He’s asleep. I need this doing now!”

    “Wouldn’t it be better to… just send out your fleet?”

    “They’re scattered all over System Sky trailing Zero Day while stopping that little tyrant BackDoor from dragging in more aliens!” she spat. “I can’t send them out after space pirates and hackers!” She went thoughtful, nibbling on her claw.

    The raichu yawned and set aside his project. “All right. I can do it. Just send me the raw files and I’ll get it out before dawn.”

    “Make sure you apply it to all of System. All of it. Space pirates and all.”

    Yobi looked up with a start, his ears flopping back and forth wildly. “Wait… what?”

    “This is urgent. I want them turned in. They know too much, Yobi. Surge, Hunter and most likely the rest of his crew. They know our plan. If it gets out-”

    “I understand. I’ll do it. But… what if another wanted pirate turns them in?”

    Socket laughed bitterly and looked away. “Then we kill them as well. After we’ve paid them of course. But don’t put that on the posters.”

    Yobi nodded again and the screen flashed out. Socket sank down against her desk, a bitter laugh rising from her throat. It became even more hysterical the more she went over what she’d just said. The day she’d resort to using pirates… she’d never seen it coming.

    It tasted vile.
     
    DreamSayer likes this.
  6. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Forty Eight​

    Macro couldn’t sleep. He lay on his bed, forcing his eyes to stay closed in a desperate bid to at least snatch fifteen minutes. The battle with Zero Day was still fresh in his mind, whirring around in a chaos of flash backs and worse-case-scenarios. Then there was that horrible, screaming beast. Add to the list the crazy noise the ship’s engine was making, sleep just wouldn’t come at all. And they were too far out from Pulse City to do anything about the engine now. Nowhere safe to land. Below them was just ocean and icebergs. Icebergs so desperately cold that nothing could get close to them without freezing to death, let alone live on them.

    Then there was DL. The thought of her leaving made him feel sick, so he forced the thought to the back of his mind and focused on the recent battle with Zero Day. If they encountered them again, how could they handle things differently? Where did they go wrong in that battle? There were so many of them. So many tiny robots kitted out with the same kind of fire power you found on battleships. Wildcard Gamma was equipped with turrets to deal with aerial combat. More so as a means of defence rather than offence. It seemed Zero Day was made the same way. They defended themselves. Took out those who were unfortunate enough to witness what they were up to.

    He checked the clock on his computer. Almost four thirty in the morning. If Matrix’s assumption was correct, they should be at The Cache very soon. He clambered out from beneath the sheets and retrieved his scarf. It lay in a strewn heap over his chair, tossed there shortly after DL had left him. His goggles lay beneath it. He fastened them over his head and tossed his scarf over his shoulders, trying to ease out the creases. It was now dry, and given how it had been lying for the past hour, sported some pretty intense creases. Hopefully it would iron itself out with the warmth of his body.

    He pushed himself to his feet, wobbling slightly as nausea and dizziness overtook him. Great. He was still feeling rough from his faint. He placed a paw on the side of his head and strode carefully out of his room. When his door hissed open, he froze. DL’s door lay wide open, and he spotted her perched on the edge of her bed. She looked up at him and a small smile played at her lips, but it was washed away very quickly as though she was trying to hide it. Confusion gnawed at him and he fought the urge to march away.

    “We should be there soon,” he said. “So I’m going back to the cockpit.”

    She rose to her feet and walked silently to the door. “How are you feeling now?”

    He shrugged. “A bit better. But I need to be up. Got work to do.”

    “The Cache isn’t going anywhere. I’m sure when we get there we’ll wait for-”

    He silenced her with a wave of his paw. “I’m not just going to sleep through it. What if this place is heavily guarded? Wildcard Gamma needs her captain, and darned if I’m gonna let a little wooziness stop me from doing my job.”

    “Okay.” She wound her paws together and leant against the door frame. “I just don’t want you to do anything foolish.”

    “Since when have I ever done anything foolish?”

    “Oh, I don’t know.” Her voice was thick with sarcasm. “How about stealing me? Rushing into heavily armed buildings? Throwing yourself off a rooftop to escape being caught? Aggravating gangs and mobs in the outskirts?” At his raised eyebrow, she nodded. “Matrix talks a lot over breakfast.”

    “That’s not foolishness, sweetheart, it’s work.”

    “No, it’s foolishness. You just happen to come out of it very well.”

    He sighed and turned away towards the cockpit. “Foolishness or not, if it gets the job done I’ll do it. You coming to the cockpit or getting some sleep? ‘Cos it looks to me like you ain’t had any.”

    “Well.” She looked back at her bed, still rubbing her paws together. “If we’re almost there, then I guess I’ll join you.”

    “Don’t wanna be the only one asleep, eh?”

    He adjusted his goggles and marched towards the cockpit, silently berating himself for speaking so harshly. Before he reached the kitchen, he let himself flop against the wall and rubbed a paw over his scar.

    “Look, DL, I’m sorry. I’m just super stressed right now.”

    For a moment, he thought she’d gone back into her room. But a warm paw fell on his shoulder and steered him away from the wall. He looked up to see her beside him, not looking his way. He picked up his pace, walking out of her arm and into the cockpit.

    Anchor sat in his usual seat, his arms tucked behind his head as he surveyed the starscape. Loud snores came from Macro’s left and he looked around at Matrix. The ribombee lay back in his seat, his head lolling against the head rest and his mouth wide open. Macro reached out and tapped him on the head. Matrix sat up with a snort and shook out his antenna, then looked back at Macro.

    “Sorry, Captain,” he said. “Pretty tired.”

    “Tell me about it.” Macro fell into his seat. “How long now?”

    “Estimates about thirty minutes until we’re there,” said Matrix.

    “Then we should brace ourselves,” said Macro. “They might be heavily armed.”

    “Way ahead of ya,” said Anchor. “Turrets are already armed and ready to go.”

    Macro had nothing to say to that. Instead, he gave the granbull a huge grin, receiving one in return.

    DL climbed up into the seat beside Macro and he shuffled along to allow her to buckle herself in. Not that he felt he needed the seatbelt, but he didn’t want to argue with her. Besides, if they ended up in combat, it was better to be safe than sorry. He didn’t really fancy smacking into the windshield.

    Stars zipped past Wildcard Gamma as it advanced towards an unknown destination. Doubts gnawed at Macro’s gut. What if the co-ordinates really were just his imagination? He fumbled in his pouch for his computer and whipped it out, switching on the display. The disk locations glared back at him almost blindingly in the darkness of System Sky, still open from the computer’s previous use. As he stared back at it, his mouth turned dry. No sun symbol burned behind the writing. No co-ordinates were listed under The Cache. He looked up with a start, his mouth hanging open.

    “Are you okay?” DL asked softly.

    He said nothing, staring straight ahead. Anchor sat humming away, oblivious to Macro’s distress, carefully steering the ship through the emptiness. Soft snores were the only sounds coming from Matrix. Macro warred with the desire to tell his crew and to keep it quiet. Tell them he was mistaken, or play the oblivious fool. He glanced back down at the screen, desperate to see that sun symbol and those odd numbers. But they were as plain as when Surge sent them to him. Maybe they’d always been plain? He was clearly going crazy. Tiredness. Stress. That’s what it was.

    Soft cracking sounds flooded the cockpit and he looked up again, and his eyes widened slowly. The entire windshield was being consumed by frost, the cobweb shapes spreading from the edges towards the centre of the window.

    Anchor’s humming came to an abrupt stop. “I don’t like this, Cap’n. I don’t think many pokemon have been this far out.”

    “We appear to have reached the Dead Glacier,” said Matrix. “I fear if we travel much further over it, the fuel will freeze.”

    Macro’s computer trembled in his paws as he watched the frost creeping over the window. There was no way. No way they could make it over the Dead Glacier. Temperatures on the surface were rumoured to reach as low as absolute zero during the coldest months. Of course, no one could get close enough to actually find out. It created a permanent barrier around System, and many believed it marked the edge of the world. That beyond it was nothingness.

    Metal creaked as it contracted and small cracks spread from the corners of the windshield, jerking out erratically. Cold air whistled through them, blasting Macro’s face and peppering his fur with frost. He swiped at it and tugged his scarf tighter around himself. DL shivered next to him and he released his computer to wrap an arm over her shoulders. He turned his head to speak to Anchor but words died on his tongue. The granbull’s face was twisted with worry and his eyes fluttered left and right.

    “I’m trin’ to turn around.” Every word he spoke formed mist in the air. “But she ain’t listenin’ to me.”

    “The fuel’s not f-frozen yet.” Matrix’s wings buzzed frantically over his voice in a desperate bid to stay warm. “At least… I don’t think s-so?”

    Frozen fuel or not, something was up. Wildcard Gamma crept further into the glacier’s territory, the entire hull complaining with the shock of cold emanating from the surface. Sharp cracks shot across the glass, letting yet more freezing air into the ship.

    DL huddled into Macro’s side, her paws winding into his thick fur. Her breath formed misty clouds that froze into dust on his scarf. He let his computer fall to the floor in favour of wrapping his arms around her. At least they could keep each other warm. Frost dusted her fur and he swept it away, feeling the cold bite through his paw pads.

    Anchor hugged himself and rubbed his arms frantically, casting Macro a look of utter distress. That look alone confirmed Macro’s fears.

    If the ship refused to turn around, its body would inevitably shatter. The fuel would freeze. They’d plummet to the surface and die before they even hit the ground.

    Macro took in a trembling breath and closed his eyes.

    “Anchor? I… You were right. I was seeing things…” He shook his head slowly and pulled DL closer into him. “There were no numbers… on that list.”

    Anchor sighed and huddled into his chair. “I weren’t gonna doubt ya, Cap’n.”

    “S-so what you’re s-saying is,” said Matrix, “that if we d-die… it’s your f-fault?”

    Macro bit his lip and stared out of the window, not that he could see anything anymore. “Yeh.”

    “Don’t be ridiculous, Cap’n!” Anchor roared. “You wouldn’t have knowingly sent us out to the freakin’ glaciers!”

    “No, I wouldn’t have.” Macro looked up at him and flashed his canines. “But I forced you to follow somethin’ that was clearly formulated by my exhausted brain!”

    Anchor shook his head slowly but he never took his eyes off Macro. “Exhausted or not, you coulda been right, and we’re with you ‘til the end.”

    Macro stared at Anchor for a moment then DL caught his gaze. She stared up at him, no anger behind her eyes. Instead she looked fearful… sad… and she wound her claws into his scarf. Macro turned around stiffly to see Matrix huddled on his seat, his wings beating wildly in intermittent bursts. Whenever they stopped, Macro noted the very edges had turned red. The ribombee nodded, agreeing with Anchor’s words, and Macro sank back into his chair feeling tears prick at his eyes. Crying would be a foolish mistake. A lump rose in his throat and he huddled into DL, but what little warmth she gave off was washed away with every biting draught seeping through the cracked windshield.

    All the lights blinked off and the entire ship shook, sending Macro’s stomach shooting into his chest.

    “This is it.” Anchor ran his paws over his face then went back to hugging himself. “We’re gonna fall.”

    DL practically climbed into Macro’s lap, her wild eyes fixed on the frosty glass barrier.

    Everything was completely obscured, and with every tremble and lurch from Wildcard Gamma, Macro’s heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t tell if they were falling or not. All he could do was brace himself for impact.

    “I want you to know somethin’, Cap’n. No… Macro.” Anchor’s voice trembled. “I know it might sound soppy, but I don’t give a ratatta’s tail. You’re the best friend I ever had.”

    Macro grit his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut. “Likewise. I know I can be an ass.”

    “Oh yeh, you can be an ass.” Anchor laughed bitterly. “But what friends aren’t asses with each other at times?”

    Matrix’s buzzing cut out and his voice cracked. “I don’t say things like this often at all, but… same here. You’re both asses and I love you.”

    Macro didn’t even care if he was trying to be funny. At least it lifted some of the tension from the air. A dry chuckle left his throat and he felt DL shift in his arms.

    “Macro?” Her voice was weak.

    He looked down at her, meeting those warm fondue eyes. For a fleeting moment he didn’t feel cold anymore. She opened her mouth to speak, but the entire ship shook violently and she threw herself back against him. Macro fell back into his seat as the ship’s nose turned towards the sky. Were they seriously going to fall tail-first? It didn’t even make any sense.

    Then he remembered where the engines were. Held in the pelvic fins at the rear of the ship. If the fuel had frozen, then…

    He bit his lip so hard he tasted blood.

    But instead of falling, the ship crept upwards. Further and further towards the sky. Then it levelled out ever so slightly, still moving up at an incline. Were they caught in some kind of tractor beam? He opened his eyes, but his view was obscured by the heavy frost.

    “I think something’s pulling us in,” he said.

    Anchor twisted to look at him. “But what? Some kind of rescue vessel?”

    Macro’s heart fluttered in a desperate bid to break free. What vessel would rescue Wildcard Gamma? Bounty Hunters? No… he’d rather freeze to death.

    He released DL and slipped from the chair.

    “Where’re you goin’?” Anchor watched Macro stagger from the cockpit.

    The mawile paused by the door and looked back over his shoulder. “Bailin’.”

    “But it’s close to absolute zero down there!” Anchor roared. “Get your fuzzy butt back in your chair!”

    A deep buzz filled the cockpit and Matrix hovered in the doorway with his arms spread. Despite being a blur, his wings looked sore and cracked, and his face contorted as he strove to stay airborne. “You aren’t g-going anywhere.”

    Macro flashed his canines and swept an arm through the air, narrowly missing the ribombee. “Move it.”

    “Make me.”

    Macro looked around at the cockpit and his brow furrowed. “Do you really think anyone who’s rescuin’ us is doin’ it out of kindness?”

    “Maybe not,” said Anchor. “But at least their ship works! Ours is gonna crash if we keep flyin’.”

    “I ain’t lettin’ them turn me into Socket!” Macro snapped. “I refuse to give her that satisfaction!”

    “Who says they’re even workin’ for Socket?” Anchor asked. “You ain’t got a clue.” He waved at the frosted window. “We can’t even see their ship!”

    “That don’t matter! You know the price on my head! Pokemon’s eyes swirl with credits signs whenever they freakin’ look at me!”

    “So what? You’re just gonna throw yourself to your death out of paranoia? Not everyone’s against you, Macro! Look at Jumper and Cyan City! Even Surge has bailed us out a few times, right?”

    “Really? Surge?” Macro sneered and felt his fur bristle. “Turns out she’s workin’ for Socket n’all. Tried to freakin’ shoot me.”

    Anchor’s jaw dropped. “When?”

    “Back in Pulse City. Look, it don’t matter. I ain’t lettin’ anyone turn me in. You wanna take that risk, you take it. But I’m not. I’m goin’.”

    DL poked her head over the back of Macro’s seat, her eyes glistening with unshod tears. “Don’t… please…”

    Macro dug his claws into the door frame and tried to look anywhere but at the pachirisu.

    “Look. Put it this way.” Anchor spread his paws. “Once we’re aboard their ship, if they’re hostile, we fight! We got a whole loot room full of weapons. Once we’re free, we shoot right out of the Dead Glacier’s territory and get back to Pulse City for a good, warming drink. ‘Kay?”

    Macro choked and screwed his eyes shut, sinking down against the wall. “I don’t wanna die…”

    “And you won’t,” said Anchor. “Provided you stay on this ship. We can do this. Reason your tag’s so high is ‘cos Socket can’t flippin’ catch you.”

    Macro’s heart was racing. He couldn’t recall a time he’d ever felt so defenceless. He sank down to his bottom and buried his face in his paws, letting out a long groan. There was no way he was going to let anyone turn him or his crew in. He’d go down fighting if he had to.

    Soft footprints crept closer to him and he cracked his claws apart to see DL reaching down to him. He waved a paw to push her away and clutched the wall, dragging himself to his feet. But he was thrown against it as the ship rocked violently. Yelps flew around the cockpit and he heard a thud from the hallway. He did a quick head count. No sign of Matrix.

    “Are you all right, Matrix?” Macro barked.

    “Yeh,” came a feeble cry from the corridor. “J-just a little b-bruised.”

    Macro looked over at the windscreen. Frost melted away into water and flowed over the nose of the ship. The entire ship groaned as the ice thawed away, creaking and cracking ominously, shuddering as parts fell away into the abyss. A huge crack exploded from the corners of the window right across the centre of the glass, then the entire thing erupted into shards, peppering the cockpit and bouncing off its occupants. Macro instinctively covered his nose, expecting the air to be sucked out of his lungs. But nothing happened. He lowered his paw and stared transfixed at the world outside.

    Well… it wasn’t so much a world as an anomaly. No sky. No blackness. Just a huge, bright light broken up into a swirling checkered pattern of blue and white. Dazzling, yet it wasn’t impossible to look at. It swirled around them like a tube and Wildcard Gamma was being dragged along inside it.

    “This ain’t no ship.”

    The words flew out of Macro’s mouth before he had any time to even process them. He half expected Anchor to reply with a ‘duh!’ but instead the granbull just shook his head, staring aghast at the strange sight before them.

    Then Macro noticed one key fact. They were no longer freezing. Wherever they were, it wasn’t the Dead Glacier. He dragged himself back to his feet, still staring from the window. Matrix buzzed back into the cockpit and hovered at Macro’s head.

    “Where in System are we?” The ribombee darted to the navigation system and shook his head slowly. “We’re not even on the map anymore. Wait…”

    Matrix stared down at the computer, wrapping his antenna around his paw. His face seemed to pale and he sank down into his chair.

    “Is something wrong?” Macro asked.

    Matrix continued to stare at the screen. “Two, four, six, three, five, seven.”

    “Eh?”

    “Those are the ‘co-ordinates’ you gave me.”

    “I don’t care for the air quotes, Matrix.”

    Matrix looked back at him and pointed a claw at the screen. “They’re here. Listed. No map, just a black screen and those weird numbers.”

    Macro crept over to him and peered over his shoulder. He wasn’t wrong. Across the black display was a string of yellow numbers, and they blinked erratically as though being disturbed by some invisible magnetic field.

    Heavy footsteps and panting reached his ears and he glanced back to see Cookie staggering into the cockpit. He leant against the wall with one paw, his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he desperately tried to catch his breath.

    “What… why is the ship slanted?” he gasped.

    “We’re currently trying to work that out,” said Anchor.

    Cookie finally looked up at the window and a surprised, husky squeak squeezed from his throat. Then his eyes rolled back and he fell heavily onto his back, sliding from the door head first. DL leapt to her feet to chase after him and grabbed him by his stubby legs.

    “I can’t hold him for long,” she whined.

    Anchor stood and grabbed Cookie by the scruff, placing him into Macro’s chair.

    “Poor ‘mon’s not seen outside in years, and this is the first thing that greets him?” Anchor shrugged and fell heavily into his seat. “If it were me, I’d faint n’all.”

    The ship jerked again and Macro clutched tightly to the back of Matrix’s chair. All eyes were on the anomaly before them, swirling slowly as the ship was dragged along. At the end of it was bright light, and it grew in intensity. Macro shielded his eyes as the ship shot through it at a breakneck pace. The entire ship filled with light, then it fizzled out, leaving the ship feeling warm and secure.

    It was an odd feeling, after all they’d been through.

    Macro opened his eyes and looked around. Light. That’s all he could see. Soft, golden and warm.

    A peaceful silence washed through the ship. The only sounds were the exhausted breathing from Macro and his crew, and snuffles as Cookie came back around.

    “Where are we?” DL asked.

    It was a valid question. Macro mulled it over as he stared out at the vast expanse of warm light. Sat in an unknown location, after the ship had been dragged in by some invisible force. He was certainly beginning to get his suspicions.

    He scratched beneath his goggles and turned to leave the cockpit. “I don’t know. But I’m gonna find out.”

    “Hey, we don’t know if it’s safe,” Anchor called after him.

    Macro didn’t look back as he vanished through the door. “It’s gotta be safer than the Dead Glacier though, right?”

    Anchor muttered something and rose to his feet to follow Macro. The mawile stopped by the exit hatch as all of his crew gathered behind him.

    “What?” he asked. “All of you are comin’ with me?”

    Cookie shifted uneasily and looked back at the kitchen. “I uhm… I don’t do outside.”

    “It ain’t normal ‘outside’,” said Macro. “I’m beginning to think we got pulled through one of them porthole things.”

    “If that’s the case, who opened it?” Anchor asked. “’Cos I seriously doubt Zero Day coulda survived that cold. Our ship barely survived!”

    Macro folded his arms and shrugged. “Maybe BackDoor did.”

    “If BackDoor is also an android,” said DL. “Then it’s safe to say it wouldn’t survive this cold either.”

    Macro sighed and opened the exit hatch. “Then let’s have a look then, shall we?”

    The ground wasn’t far down at all. Wildcard Gamma appeared to have sunk into the floor like quicksand and lay submerged in it. Macro tentatively touched the floor with his toes, feeling warmth and solidity. When he stood on it, it was like climbing over a foam mattress. Soft and springy, yet not so much so he couldn’t keep his balance. The warm light washed over his fur like a comforting cloud and he found himself feeling much more relaxed than he had simply looking out at it from the ship’s shattered window.

    He paused and looked back at the ship. Anchor, Matrix and DL were all following him, looking around at the expanse of light. Matrix perched on Anchor’s shoulder, his cracked wings hanging limply behind him. Blood seeped from the cracks and the very edges of his wings had turned black amongst the angry red. Macro wondered how on earth the ribombee wasn’t so much as grimacing.

    Cookie stood in the ship’s doorway, peering out and trembling. He slowly climbed down from the ship, muttering to himself quietly. Then he trotted after them until he reached Anchor’s side.

    “Are you okay?” DL asked softly.

    “No, but…” Cookie swallowed audibly. “It’s not like a city or anything, and I’m not staying alone on that ship while we’re in such a strange place.”

    DL took his paw and the slurpuff calmed down slightly, keeping in pace beside her as they traversed the unusual landscape.

    Warm and bright. It never changed despite how far they moved from Wildcard Gamma. The springy ground became less and less disorienting, instead providing a huge comfort after their freezing ordeal. Macro hadn’t realised how sore his paw pads had been until they felt soothed on the warm, soft ground. It was everything he could do to not stop and sink into it, letting it soothe every aching and sore part of his body.

    Something appeared in the light ahead of them. Almost a shadow, but not. It seemed to be radiating light itself, a darker glow amongst the brightness. With each step, it grew larger and larger, almost as if it was moving towards them despite not moving at all. It was unearthly. Like nothing Macro had ever encountered. Yet somehow he didn’t want to rush back to his ship, or reach for his laser.

    As the shape solidified - that was the best word Macro could think to describe it - it seemed to take on the form of a pyroar. But as it grew larger, it was definitely not a pyroar. It was too large, and the mane too pointed. If Macro were to liken its mane to anything, it would be a sun. They were also completely the wrong colour for a pyroar. Whatever they were, they were white, and radiated yellow light.

    A pair of glowing, blue eyes looked down at them, and for the first time, Macro felt truly intimidated. Yet the eyes weren’t threatening. They were welcoming, as if the being they belonged to had been expecting them.

    “Macro.” The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, and was as deep as a lion’s roar. “Wildcard Gamma. Welcome.”

    Macro’s jaw went slack. He froze and stared up at the large, white lion. “You know me?”

    “I know all of you,” said the lion. “I called you here.”

    Macro stuttered and looked down at his paws. Everything was slowly starting to add up. He looked up again slowly and licked his dry lips.

    “You… you put those co-ordinates on my computer?”

    The lion nodded.

    Macro didn’t know what to say. Anchor let out a flustered breath and brushed back his mohawk.

    “This is all a little too much to take in,” said Anchor. “I don’t even know where we are right now.”

    Cookie trembled audibly and ducked behind DL, who wasn’t looking much better herself.

    “But… who exactly are you?” Matrix asked. “Why have us fly over the Dead Glacier?”

    “Because that’s how you get here.” The lion smiled. “I’m Solgaleo. And this is the Altar of the Sunne.”

    Macro’s legs buckled beneath him and he landed hard on his bottom. Or it would have been hard if the ground hadn’t been so soft. He stared aghast at the huge, white lion. Solgaleo… that was a name he hadn’t heard of since he was a hatchling. So long ago that he’d near forgotten about it. A pokemon that was said to bring light from the sun. But along with many legends, Macro hadn’t believed them. Legends had either become extinct, and if there were no evidence, deemed to be fabricated entirely from imagination.

    “Okay,” he muttered to himself. “Wake up, Macro. This is just another of them dreams you’re having. You’re just… lying frozen on your ship somewhere on the glacier’s surface…”

    “You are very much alive,” said Solgaleo. “But you may wish to remain seated for what I’m about to tell you.”

    Macro looked back up at him. He seemed even larger from his position on the floor, and he just couldn’t will his legs to push him back up again. He wound his scarf around in his paws and looked over at his crew. Anchor was still scratching his mohawk, while Matrix was looking around at the bright landscape. DL was trying to coax Cookie out from behind her to no avail, while not taking her eyes off Solgaleo.

    “There’s a reason I’ve called you here,” said Solgaleo. “You already know there’s a being travelling around System, opening pockets in time and space.”

    “Yeh,” said Macro, finally pushing himself to his feet. “It’s called BackDoor. But I didn’t know it was a being, I thought it was a network.”

    “It’s the main root of the network,” Solgaleo explained. “And it takes the form of a Hoopa.”

    “Huh.” Anchor let his paw fall to his side. “That explains the golden rings we’ve seen. Like that one Switch came through.”

    Macro pursed his lips together then sighed. Another legend to dig up from the depths of his childhood memories.

    “However, this Hoopa is an android,” Solgaleo explained, almost as if he was soothing Macro’s confused mind. “It is not a creature of legend, merely inspired by it. Its capabilities are not akin to the real Hoopa, however it strives to be so. It can create pockets in time and space, but it struggles to find its own due to its restricted capabilities. Instead, it relies on the entities Zero Day and TimeSkip to find them. However, TimeSkip is one less android for you to worry about.”

    “You say this BackDoor is trying to be more like Hoopa,” said Matrix. “Does that mean it can change shape?”

    “No,” said Solgaleo. “It doesn’t currently have the coding to allow that. But it can, unlike Hoopa, travel and manipulate its powers through digital waves. It would merely have to look at live video footage and it could open up a pocket behind it.

    “But BackDoor itself isn’t the reason I’ve called you here. I know you’re already aware of its existence, but what you might not be aware of is the invasion of dangerous beings being dragged through time and space by this android. You’ve already encountered two of them.”

    Macro let a small pause fly between them, just in case there was more Solgaleo wanted to add.

    “Yeh, we… killed one of them,” said Macro. “As for the other thing… well I don’t know where that went to.”

    “It was Zero Day who let that through,” Matrix added.

    Solgaleo nodded. “Yes, I still need to explain the issue with Zero Day. But BackDoor has become obsessed with these creatures. He’s dubbed them ‘Ultra Beasts’ and is hoping to find even more of them. The creature you destroyed, its species is nihilego, and there’s an entire flock of those swarming throughout all of System. While another similar creature, a blacephalon, is wrecking havoc on System Ground.”

    “What?” Macro gasped. “There’s more of those jellyfish things?!”

    “A lot more. In their own universe, they are nothing to be feared. They are merely pokemon from another world, but to you they are aliens. In System, they pose a huge threat. They struggle to survive here. The atmosphere is different, and in many places toxic. Toxic even to you, let alone creatures from a world that lacks civilisation. They are trying to adapt, and as such are manipulating System to their own liking. Their food sources are vastly different to what you would eat. For example, nihilego is a parasite that attaches itself to living beings and injects a neurotoxin to control them. It then feeds on their very life source.”

    “Like it controlled that ship?” Matrix asked.

    “Precisely. It was the pilot it was controlling. Not the ship itself.”

    DL shuddered. “It sounds terrifying.”

    “And System’s gonna be flooded with them.” Macro sneered at the ground then looked up at Solgaleo. “So what are we supposed to do? It took a small army to stop just one of them!”

    “That’s why you are here,” said Solgaleo. “Your weapons are nothing to these Ultra Beasts. You need something far more powerful. You need to drop these weapons you control and go back to your roots.”

    “Eh?” Macro raised an eyebrow. “But our weapons cover our weaknesses. Sure, I could take on a dragon type or a rock type single handedly, but if I was up against a fire type-”

    Solgaleo raised a huge paw and waved him off. The size of his paw alone was enough to choke off Macro’s words.

    “I’m aware every pokemon has their strengths and weaknesses,” said Solgaleo. “I don’t expect you to do this alone, Macro. You’re to work as a team. A much bigger team than you are right now. And you’re to take with you a powerful weapon. Each of you. One that amplifies your own signature moves.”

    He waved his paw again and a long, flat box floated before them. It opened of its own accord, revealing two rows of small, colourful diamond-shaped jewels.

    “These are Z Crystals,” Solgaleo explained. “And each of them unlocks its user’s full potential.”

    Macro and Anchor both reached forwards and picked one up. The one in Macro’s paw was blue with the black outline of a water drop inside it. With the warm light flowing through it, it looked dazzlingly beautiful.

    “I’ve never heard of a Z Crystal,” he said.

    “Neither have I,” Anchor grunted, turning the silver crystal left and right.

    Matrix leant forwards and plucked it from his claws. “There’s more than eighteen in that box. So I can’t imagine they’re all for different types?”

    “There are thirty four in total,” said Solgaleo. “But you’ll be taking with you only a small number.”

    “So we’re still gonna be a small team?” Macro asked. “Thirty four seems a much more comfortable number to me.”

    Solgaleo laughed and shook his head. “The team I’ve selected will be plenty. Allow me to explain these Z Crystals. Each of its owners will wear a ring around their wrist to contain it. Then, when you unleash your signature move, for example you, Macro, would be utilising ‘play rough’, hold the crystal above your head and it will then unlock the Z Move to go with it.”

    “Wow,” said Macro. “I was worried there’d be more to it than that.”

    “Yeh,” said Matrix. “Like having to strike a crazy pose.”

    “No, just hold it high,” said Solgaleo. “It’s that simple. However, you can only use the move once every twelve hours. The results of using it are exhausting, not just for you but for the Z Crystal itself. As such, make sure your timing is right.”

    “Exhausting?” Macro placed the blue Z Crystal back into the box. “I dunno. I’m not sure how much I like the idea of using these over my trusty laser. At least I can use that over and over.”

    “But your laser can be taken and used against you,” said Solgaleo. “If a pokemon takes your Z Crystal, not only can they not use it if they don’t know how, they cannot if they don’t have the corresponding attack.”

    Macro looked up at Solgaleo, his mouth pulled into a frown. He couldn’t deny he was torn. Having a weapon that couldn’t be turned on him was an attractive idea.

    “I can understand you’re hesitant,” said Solgaleo. “But I need to ask you to trust me. These are much more reliable and valuable to you than a mere firearm.”

    Macro stood up straight and scratched behind his head as he stared down at the Z Crystals. “Alright. You’ve sold me on them. We’ll try them out.”

    Anchor nodded with a small grunt and took the blue crystal back off Matrix to return it to its box.

    “I’m happy to hear that,” said Solgaleo. “Then I’ll explain to you each what your own crystal will do. Matrix, yours will be Buginium Z. That will allow you to utilise Savage Spinout via your bug buzz attack.”

    “Wow.” Matrix’s huge eyes became even larger. “That sounds brutal.”

    “Anchor.” Solgaleo turned his eyes onto the granbull. “Yours will be Firium Z. That will turn your fire fang into Inferno Overdrive.”

    Anchor grinned and folded his arms. “I’m really liking the sound of these moves.”

    “DL. Yours will be Electrium Z. That will turn your discharge into Gigavolt Havoc. Cookie.”

    Cookie yelped and peeked out from behind DL.

    “Your’s will be Grassium Z. This will turn your energy ball into Bloom Doom, or if you prefer a more supportive roll, will change the affect of your aromatherapy to heal damage. And Macro, yours is Fairium Z. That will allow you to turn play rough into Twinkle Tackle.”

    Macro almost fell over backwards. His arms fell limp to his side and he looked from his friends to Solgaleo and back. Anchor smirked as he tried to stifle a laugh, while Matrix chuckled behind his paw.

    “Twinkle Tackle?” Macro turned back to Solgaleo and tried desperately to regain his composure. “I didn’t mishear you, did I?”

    “No,” said Solgaleo. “The fairy type Z-Move is Twinkle Tackle.”

    “I… what?” Macro stuttered. “It doesn’t sound very intimidating. I mean, compared to Savage Spinout?” He gestured a paw towards Matrix.

    “It doesn’t need to be intimidating,” said Solgaleo. “See it as its name covering up its hidden strength. Much like yourself, Macro. You may be small in stature, but your strength and bravery more than makes up for that.”

    “He’s right,” said DL. “This move definitely suits you.”

    Macro felt like he’d been struck with a tranquiliser dart. Those words made it sound a lot more personal, as though it had been carefully chosen. He reached forward and took the Fairium Z.

    Solgaleo smiled and nodded. “Use them wisely. As for the others, you’ll be taking them and searching for the pokemon - and humans - I’ve selected you to work with.”

    “Hang on… humans? Plural?” Macro blinked in bewilderment. “There’s more than just Switch?”

    Solgaleo nodded. “Yes. There is one more. You have not met them yet.”

    Macro’s mind reeled back to Pulse City. DL leaning on the rail while they enjoyed ice cream, receiving a sudden update that a time pocket had been opened.

    “So Socket doesn’t have a human?” he asked. “Or are you asking me to get them from Meta City?” His voice wavered with the second question, and a wave of cold washed over him despite the warmth coming from the light.

    “This human is not in Meta City,” said Solgaleo. “They escaped from Socket, and have teamed up with a group of reliable pokemon. They are who you will be taking the Z Crystals to, amongst others. But fret not. You will know them when you meet them.” As he listed each one, they floated up out of the box to hover above it. “Rockium Z, Flyinium Z, Waterium Z, Poisinium Z, Normalium Z, Fightinium Z, Psychium Z, Icium Z, Ghostium Z, Darkinium Z.”

    Macro stared at the hovering Z Crystals. So each one had its own designated owner, and he hadn’t a clue who to deliver them to. He guessed the flying Z Crystal was for Switch, but as for the others… some mysterious human he’d not yet met and a whole load of other pokemon. Despite the mystery of it all, he felt a whole lot more comfortable knowing his small army had increased exceptionally in size.

    Solgaleo waved a paw and Macro felt a small weight tug at his wrist. He lifted it to find a curved, stone bracelet fasted around it, complete with the Fairium Z. A quick look around told him his friends had received a similar surprise.

    “These will contain your Z Crystals,” said Solgaleo. “You can remove them if you wish. But take care not to lose them.”

    “So… I kinda want to practice this,” said Macro.

    “Same,” said Anchor. “But… I’m a little exhausted. That was a lot of information to take all at once.”

    “Take your time,” said Solgaleo. “These moves will take some getting used to. Rest first, then practice them.”

    “And we’re meant to use these to get rid of those…” Macro waved a paw as he tried to remember the name. “Those Ultra Beasts?”

    Solgaleo shook his head. “These moves will aid you in saving System, but those Ultra Beasts are not guilty. They’re innocent victims. Living beings from another world. Your task is to get them back to their own worlds with as few casualties as possible. They will be volatile, and you will need to defend yourselves, even so far as to use your Z-Moves. But go with care.”

    Macro paled. How on earth were they meant to get volatile creatures into their own worlds without a means to open them up first?

    “But…” he stuttered. “But we can’t open time pockets.”

    “You will find a way,” said Solgaleo.

    “Huh.” Matrix wound his antenna in his paw. “So I guess we have to capture BackDoor or one of those Zero Day things?”

    Macro did not care for that idea, but he swallowed back a retort and examined the sparkling Z Crystal on his wrist.

    “Like I said, go with care,” said Solgaleo. “I now wish you a safe journey. But I give you one warning. Do not head back to Pulse City.”

    Macro looked up with a start, and Anchor let out a surprised ‘what?’

    “It is no longer a safe haven for you,” said Solgaleo. “Socket has increased the reward for your detainment, Macro, not to mention the rest of your crew.”

    Anchor let out a surprised bark, almost knocking Matrix off his shoulder in the process.

    “She has extended the reward to Pulse City,” Solgaleo continued. “Even pokemon you thought were allies may well turn against you.”

    Macro suddenly felt very sick. His legs buckled again and he sank back to the floor. A wave of exhaustion took over him. Not again. What had he done this time?

    “This increase is out of nothing more than spite and fear,” Solgaleo explained. “But so long as you do not do anything reckless, it should be no trouble to you. There is another safe haven for you. You know it already. Head there.”

    “But what about DL?” Macro looked up at him. “We still have two more disks to find…”

    “If DL still wishes to obtain Loop’s memories, then by all means find them. They are in Botnet City and Meta City, the latter heavily guarded. But be warned that chasing down these disks will result in pain for the both of you.”

    Those words left a bad taste in Macro’s mouth. He continued to stare up at Solgaleo, digesting what he’d just said. Everything. Everyone would be after him now. System was being ravaged by Ultra Beasts. And if he kept trying to help DL, then pain awaited the both of them.

    He hoped desperately he could avoid that, or at least spare DL the pain.

    “I never leave a job unfinished,” he said.

    Solgaleo nodded once. “That’s noble of you. Until we meet again.”

    The world around them warped and Solgaleo faded away into the warm light. The light shrank down around them like a warm embrace, dazzling Macro’s eyes so much he had to close them. It felt like he was being lifted, floating in a cozy cloud. When he opened his eyes again, he was lying on the floor of his ship, back in the cockpit.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2018
    DreamSayer likes this.
  7. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    I've got serious catching up to do. My apologies! DX

    Ch 44
    lowkey i can totally ship Macro x scarf. "I'll never forget you, scarf-senpai... scarfpai!"

    Fffft... look at this dork, thinking he's Wigglytuff.

    This was an unusual scene. I don't remember the other foreshadowing with what I'm assuming is the sun insignia from the Pokémon Sun (or Ultra Sun) logo. So, maybe something to do with Solgaleo? It's very strange and intriguing since it all mashes up together with Macro's clear sign of stress and overwork, which is never any fun. The other scene is equally as interesting. Because BackDoor actually turns threatening. Just straight up blasted TimeSkip out of existence! RIP robo onion fairy... pressing "F" to pay respects. And it looks like BackDoor accesses the Ultra Deep Sea and unleashes a bunch of Nihilegos just because he can. That's a sudden shift into the creepy side of things.

    Ch 45
    Annie, sweetie, I've got some bad news for you...

    I'm kind of baffled the pirates response to Annie is genuine fear. Like, humans don't immediately look threatening. If you're going for an animalistic fear reaction, I feel like the pirates would be far more likely to just try and kill her instead. On a sweeter note, interesting that Web and Trojan ended up married. Especially if I'm right and Web had ties to Macro. If Trojan's the reason she left, that could make for an awkward meeting sometime down the road. I also got to say that I like the shift in dichotomy that Noize brings to Tracer and Widget... because he's pretty much encouraging all of Widget's less-than-lawful tendencies. And it's just funny that the tiny little Eevee is so cheerful around the big Incineroar while a Delphox is cowering at the sight of him. :p

    Only because you brought this up... I have to question the "Two in the morning" part of the next scene. If these pirates are travelling through an entire solar system and going to different planets... how can time possibly stay consistent? Even if they were staying on the same planet, they'd be jumping time zones or something, right? Is there no equivalent of jetlag for space travel? If you're gonna write a space opera and talk about time, you've gotta address that, danggumit! It distracted so much I kind of didn't pay attention to the cliffhanger.

    Ch 46
    More ship combat! This strikes me as very Star Trek-esque, with projectiles going back and forth and every hit seeming to rattle everyone on the bridge until the ship can't take any more of it. The bit with opening up the portals also reminds me of what happens at the end of the reboot movie, where Nero's ship and the Enterprise are dealing with this destructive portal looking to suck them. Also, was that a Celesteela at the end? The description's a bit lacking and hard for me to get a clear mental image of. :(

    Also, I suppose your timing for going back to Switch was pretty good since I'd kind of forgotten about the guy. *nervous laugh* Though, as it stands, you have a lot of different factions and it's strange we've gotten this far into the story without them overlapping all that much. I'm really curious how you plan to resolve this stuff, because given how distant most of the groups are to one another, I'm not entirely sure I see a resolution at this point.

    Ch 47
    Ah, so it was Celesteela. That... might've been more helpful to know upfront. And DL continuing to very slowly chip away at Macro's "armor" so to speak. I like that you've been consistent with his reflexive, kneejerk reaction of pushing someone away when they get too close. But I do think that, given how far we are in the story, he'd be showing a bit more progress than that. I sense things should hopefully change soon, though. Likewise, Widget's objections to showing the footage seems out of character for him given his behavior (he even lampshades it!). I'm also kind of iffy on the altercation between the two groups here. Like... they're in agreement that the mayor is bad, but Tracer doesn't want to do anything about that? I'm a little unclear on motives in this situation. Is he just worried showing the footage would trace back to him and he'd be a dead 'mon walking? If so, that needs to be shown.

    On the flip side... yeah, again, if your efforts here are to make Socket look very threatening... it didn't read that way for me. She basically got one-upped by Surge and the best retaliation she can come up with is to put a price on her head? Not go after her? Not send some ultra-powerful force after her? And her rant to Yobi reveals that she's apparently lost control of BackDoor, too. called it!I'm starting to get the feeling that, as far as antagonists go, her days are kind of numbered and the real threat will be popping up.

    Ch 48
    Uh... okay, I'm-a put on my nerd glasses for a moment to say that my willful suspension of disbelief can't hold up on a glacier being absolute zero. Like, that's a theoretical tempreature point where particles should cease moving all together. Meaning, even at tempreatures close to that, Wildcard Gamma would come to a stop and its crew would freeze to death pretty much instantaneously, not in movie time. *takes off nerd glasses* And, okay, with the description of this barrier, is System supposed to be a planet, then? Or some sort of very flat landmass that stretches out in different directions? I'm actually kind of unclear as to what it is, which follows up on my time zones thing. I thought these were different planets, but I guess I was wrong? XP

    Onto the juicy stuff, I suppose. First off, the apparent death scene stuff was pretty dang cheesy, but it was nice to see Macro finally admit that he cared about his crewmates... even if he immediately backpedalled into his usual paranoid mode when the ship got pulled into the void. *sigh* Well, so much for that development. Though I guess it wasn't a full regression since he let his crew mates come out with him. Also... HELLO SOLGALEO, you're looking Liger Zero-y as usual. Totally called it, btw. *throws confetti*

    And... this is certainly odd seeing game mechanics popping up in this cyber punk story. It's a shocking swerve and I wasn't expecting it in the slightest. XD

    But the pose is the best part! o3o

    This feels vaguely familiar... *cough*

    So, I guess this answered my question of how the different factions are going to get brought together. Good ol' Solgaleo Exposition ex Machina. Though I'm going to do my usual schtick with these big Legends and ask... if he's doing all this stuff for the Wildcard Gamma crew, then why can't he step in and help out with the UB's, exactly? also totally believing that BackDoor is now the Big Bad and Socket is just a Big Bad Wannabe... and if it's true than I called it way back in the awards! XD
     
  8. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Hi! I read the first chapter of the story and found it pretty swell, so here are some of my thoughts.

    On the technical side, all seems to be well. Couldn't spot a single typo and had no big trouble reading through any sentences. However, at the very start, this paragraph had me confused on who was named what for a while:

    The bolded "he" I now know to refer to Macro the mawile, but upon initial reading, it seemed like it referred to the granbull. Took a bit before I pieced together who was which, and just a small tweak could delete the risk of confusion.

    This brings me to the characters. We didn't get to see too much of their individual personalities yet, but Anchor and Macro play off each other nicely and I enjoyed their interactions. It's also cool to see some less popular mon featured. Despite granbull being an anthropomorphic dog, I haven't seen it used much anywhere. Also, can I just say that a pink mohawk fits the species perfectly?

    The description of Proxy City and the muk were wonderfully vivid and detailed. Beside sight, touch and smell were also used, especially the latter. The prose reminds me a lot of Lucarioknight's Unequivocant, which is a fic I like a lot, so that's definitely a compliment! It's also a PMD story, and also one that isn't as close to the source material as a lot of PMD fics, but the spirit of the games is there. Wildcard Gamma being wishiwashi-inspired is neat - however, I would have liked more description on its interior as well.

    Anyway, I liked what I read so far and I'll be sure to keep reading!
     
  9. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Official pairing - confirmed by Del! XD Maybe I should do a silly one-shot now, just because?

    Ack. Okay. Explanation time - I'm not sure how obvious this has been. System itself is a world where the pokemon fled the pollution into the air, inhabiting floating cities reminiscent of the drifting continents in Glitched. Each city in the sky is encased in a dome, since it is outside of the safe atmosphere (not too big of an issue in Cyan City where they open the dome during scheduled hours to allow sunlight in and to air the crops. In that case, most pokemon opt to stay in doors.) Yes, the ships space pirates make can go much higher than these cities, into space (hence the trash belt Wildcard Gamma flew through), but System itself is just a pretty big 'region' barred off by the Dead Glacier. What lies beyond that? Even I don't know. As for the time differences, they likely do exist but maybe not all that dramatically. It's not something I've given much thought to, tbh.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I am clearly NOT a scientist. Hubby, however, has a physics degree, and when I'd asked him about coldest temperature, he hadn't realised I was working it into my 'fic. So... I've been called out on that! I shall go back and fix.

    lmao! I don't wanna spoil too much, but he is in a way helping. Explanation pending in Arc 5.

    Thank you so much! Yes, granbull is underrated. I also love the mohawk. Hopefully GameFreak will give us one as a special 'mon in the future? (One can hope!)

    Thank you =) I do love describing things, but I can go over the top at times! Sorry to let you down on Wildcard Gamma's interior. I don't think Macro has much love for decorating! I plan to check out Unequivocant sometime in the near future =D

    ...

    Chapter Forty Nine​

    The small tympole ship drifted along the edge of the Dead Glacier, frost dusting its perspex windows. Surge had no idea how long she’d been drifting back and forth. The navigation screen beeped feebly as it tried to locate Macro’s ship, but she was having no joy. Why she was even still bothering trying to find him she had no idea.

    Her eyes went back to her computer for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes. The news site was still open, still glaring at her with blinding intensity. Her face stared back out amid a sea of yellow, topped with a red ‘wanted’ sign. Beneath it, a prize. Fifty thousand credits. Half of what Socket had been offering her. Then there was Macro, updated, followed by each of his crew. Each one, fifty thousand credits. Their crime? Hacking government files and stealing government property.

    And to top it all off, the prize was open to space pirates.

    It didn’t take a genius to work out that Socket was desperate. ‘The scum of the skies’. ‘The bane of her existence.’

    Well, Surge wasn’t heading back to Pulse City any time soon. She could bid her little apartment goodbye.

    She sank into her seat with a groan and rubbed the bridge of her muzzle. What was she to do now? Where was she to even go? If she tried to join Macro, he’d be unlikely to welcome her with open paws. Especially after she’d threatened him. There was a bigger chance he’d see that poster then try to turn her in. He was still a space pirate. He still wanted money to survive in the skies. Fifty thousand credits could fuel his ship for two years and still leave him with enough to pay his crew. But would Socket merely reward him, pat him on the head and send him away with a clean slate? After years of trying to capture him? It was extremely unlikely.

    And what about Surge? Would she find herself at the gothitelle’s mercy if she still tried to hand over Macro? After her little stunt with the mayor, that was also very unlikely.

    Surge flopped forward over her dashboard and rested her muzzle on her arms. Lost. Empty. Cold. Like a hollowed out rock.

    Her eyes flitted over to her window, but she could see nothing in the vast darkness. Macro was long gone. If her calculations were right, he’d gone over the Dead Glacier. But why? Wouldn’t he freeze? She knew full well if she’d gone over it, her little ship would freeze up with her inside it. She wouldn’t survive the night. What was he after?

    Her navigation system chirruped a little tune, snapping her out of her thoughts. A red dot blinked far to the east of her ship and she leapt over to it to get a better look. Her jaw fell open and she shook her head slowly. It couldn’t be. If it were Macro, how had she missed it? It was as if the entire ship had materialised out of thin air one mile away from where she’d lost him.

    She shook her head and trained her ship onto his. It was only when she was well on her way towards him she began to question her sanity.

    ...​

    Macro pushed himself up slowly and looked around at the cockpit. The rest of his crew were in a similar state. Cookie lay at his feet, shuddering and muttering as he looked around their surroundings. Anchor was silent, stroking his mohawk and exchanging baffled glances with Matrix. It was DL who was the first to speak.

    “There’s no frost on the windows.”

    Macro span his head around to look at her. She was sprawled over his chair, propping herself up on one arm, as she admired the windscreen.

    “The crack has gone, too,” she added.

    Macro leapt to his feet then steadied himself with a paw on the back of his chair.

    “Hang on.” He brushed back a lock of black fur from his eyes. “What are you saying? Weren’t we over the Dead Glacier?”

    “I believe so,” said DL. “But it’s hard to say. There’s no evidence we were even there.”

    Macro opened his mouth to reply, forgot every single word he wanted to string together, and instead said, “Wha’?”

    DL shook her head slowly and absently pawed at her ear.

    “Erm…” Anchor cleared his throat and rose to his feet. “Permission to be ridiculous, Cap’n?”

    Macro sighed and waved a paw. “Go ahead.”

    “Is it at all possible,” Anchor said slowly, “that we’ve all had the same dream?”

    “I’m beginning to wonder.” Macro hugged himself tightly and leant against his seat. “I mean… it’s pretty common knowledge if you fly over the Dead Glacier, then you freeze to death.” He paused and looked out the window. “But how?”

    “I can suggest one solution,” said Matrix. “There’s every possibility that the huge creature… or Ultra Beast… that attacked the ship could have given off some kind of toxin that induced a synchronised dream or mass hallucination.”

    Macro jolted at the term ‘Ultra Beast’ and cast a wary glance over his shoulder at Matrix. The ribombee was pawing at something out of his line of sight that Macro assumed to be his computer.

    “So that creature did this to us?” Macro asked.

    “It’s plausible, but I’m willing to rule it out.”

    “Why?” Macro frowned slightly.

    “Because all those Z Crystals Solgaleo gave us are right here.”

    Macro span on the spot and looked down at the ribombee. What Macro had so quickly thrown aside as his computer turned out to be an open box revealing the collection of Z Crystals Solgaleo had given to them. It was only then that Macro felt the weight on his paw, and he lifted it up to his face. His eyes widened as he took in the Z Ring and the sparkling Fairinium Z reflecting back every light in the cockpit.

    “This is all too much to take in,” said Cookie. “Please excuse me. I’m going to go and cook things…”

    Macro muttered an ‘okay’ to the slurpuff’s retreating back, not taking his eyes off the Z Crystal.

    “So, erm…” Anchor cleared his throat again. “It all actually happened?”

    “Apparently.” Macro lowered his paw and looked down at the box of crystals. “I… I have no idea what to make of all this.”

    “Then let’s recap.” Matrix sat back on one paw and used the other to twist his antenna. “We met with Solgaleo, who was in some kind of strange wormhole. He told us this BackDoor thing is releasing Ultra Beasts into System. They’re a threat, and we’re meant to round them up. But we’re going to need help, which is why we have these Z Crystals.”

    That had all gone a little too fast for Macro. He looked from Matrix to the box and back and bit back the desire to ask him to repeat himself… slowly. The ribombee had already removed the blue Waterium Z from the box and was turning it around in his paw.

    “Going off the number alone,” he said, “it looks like we’re meant to ask for a lot of help.”

    “Yeh, but who?” Macro crouched down before him and reached for the white Z Crystal. “The only normal type I know is Surge, but I can’t see why it would be her. Besides, it will be too early whenever I see her again.”

    “Why?” Anchor and DL asked.

    “I thought I’d already told you this,” said Macro. “She tried to kill me.”

    Anchor’s jaw went slack, and DL stared blankly at the mawile. A glimmer of anger flashed across her eyes and she diverted her gaze to the window.

    “I know you said she’d tried to shoot you.” Anchor brushed his mohawk back and sighed. “Guess I hadn’t really processed it, huh?”

    Macro snorted and continued fumbling through the Z Crystals. “I don’t think I know any rock types, either. Or any others who can use these attacks.” A long sigh left his throat and he lowered the Normalium Z back into the box. “Well, I’m at a loss.”

    “Give it time,” said Matrix. “He said we’ll know them when we meet them.”

    Macro gathered the long box and stood. “I’m going to guess one of these is for Switch. As for this other human and her allies… if she can shape shift like Switch, then she’s gonna be really hard to find.”

    ...​

    Annie sat up in her bed and sneezed. She scratched a claw under her reptilian nose and frowned at the dingy room.

    “Huh. Is someone talkin’ about me?” She yawned and curled back up into her pillow. “Whatever, I’ll bite them later.”

    ...​

    “Well.” Anchor shrugged his shoulders. “Guess we’d better keep an eye open.”

    “And I guess we won’t be going back to Pulse City,” said Macro. “Wow, this is going to be really strange.”

    He tucked the crystals away into a drawer beneath the dashboard and turned to the rest of his crew. Anchor looked as lost as he felt, and Matrix was still sat on the floor. Macro blinked at the ribombee as he processed something he’d missed. His wings…

    “When did your wings lose their frost bite?” he asked suddenly.

    Matrix looked back at his wings as if for the first time and flexed them. “Oh… I hadn’t noticed the feeling come back. Well, I guess I don’t have to sit on the floor any more then, do I?”

    He fluttered into the air and returned to his navigation screen.

    Macro shook his head and looked around at the ship again. Matrix’s wings, the crack in the windshield… Something truly amazing had happened. It both excited and terrified him.

    Macro climbed into his seat beside DL and she fastened them both in.

    “Where to, Cap’n?” Anchor asked.

    Macro shrugged and bit his lip. “I’ve no idea. Maybe Cyan City?”

    “Not a bad idea, if you ask me,” said the granbull.

    The giant schooling wishiwashi turned in the air as the navigation system locked them onto Cyan City.

    “Erm, I think we might have one small problem,” said Matrix. “We appear to have a stalker again, and they’re gaining on us pretty quickly.”

    Macro raised his head to look out of the window. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness, but his heart was hammering against his rib cage. A stalker… or a bounty hunter? It wasn’t happening already, was it?

    “Want me to fire on ‘em?” Anchor asked.

    “No.” Macro shook his head. “Just get us away as fast as we can without hitting hyper drive. If they give us problems, then shoot them.”

    “Alrighty then.”

    Wildcard Gamma surged away from the Dead Glacier and trudged back towards the inhabited parts of System Sky. All the while, that red dot trailed after them, leaving a horrible taste deep in Macro’s mouth.

    ...​

    Meta City felt heavy with static. Long coated pokemon traversing the streets had their fur fluff out dramatically and struggled to beat it back down. Frowns were thrown at the mechanical trees and profanities were muttered under breaths as the victims trotted away from the structures.

    Deep in an alleyway, BackDoor drifted in the air upside down, his mitten paws tucked behind his head as he watched Zero Day at work. The static in the air made him feel wildly uncomfortable as it tingled his circuits, but he was too engrossed in the porthole that had opened conveniently out of sight of Meta City’s prying eyes.

    It had taken some work to lure the deranged fleet of porygon z away from the more inhabited areas. Zero Day had broken into smaller numbers and five of them had found themselves in Meta City. Whether or not they’d been spotted, BackDoor didn’t really care. But Socket would, and he’d tried to keep damages to a minimum. That’s why only a handful of pokemon had seen them. Only a couple of photos had been taken. Speculations would be made, propaganda would hit, then they’d be swatted aside as another conspiracy theory just like the Ultra Beast. Well… until the evidence was found. Where the rest of Zero Day had got to, he had no idea. And frankly, he couldn’t care less.

    The hoopa eyed the porthole curiously. He liked to believe he’d found it first, but Zero Day had been looking for something. Seemingly this particular porthole, going off their frantic behaviour. A couple of them fired pulses at it, their heads spinning as they sprayed binary taunts. BackDoor didn’t know where the taunts had come from, or what they were aimed at. Perhaps they’d evolved a higher intelligence along with the ability to open up portholes. Breaking up to cover more distance did seem a rather advanced idea for a group of androids constructed merely to follow orders. Whatever it was that had happened to them, BackDoor was incredibly intrigued.

    More static flooded from the porthole and the two porygon z closest to it staggered back, their pupils expanding and contracting dramatically. Their heads wobbled precariously and they span their legs in a bid to get away from the damaging electricity. It was certainly a bigger surge than the last time. Even BackDoor felt it, and he drifted a little higher out of the way until he felt its effects lessen off.

    Strands of lightning shot out of the ultraviolet mist, lighting up the alley. It narrowly missed one of the porygon z as it swerved to the side, not taking its lifeless eyes off the porthole.

    More electricity danced out from deep within, striking at random points and scattering Zero Day further into the alley. The area around the porthole strobed as each jolt gave off a brilliant flash of light. BackDoor righted himself and watched with fascination. His mechanical heart was doing somersaults, racing at a mile a minute and adding years to his artificial life. But he didn’t care. All he wanted to know was what fantastic creature was going to leap out of the porthole.

    It didn’t take long for his answer to arrive. Lanky, black limbs stretched out amongst a torrent of electricity, a stark contrast to the vivid, bright lights that flowed from its wiry tendrils. But that’s all it seemed to be. A wiry mass of tendrils creeping across the floor, each limb flopping over the next like an intoxicated arachnid. Then it separated into two and each one pushed itself up onto five limbs, topped with a head that looked like a jagged, static-filled fur ball. Electricity danced around their feet, catching in collected puddles where it erupted into deadly sparks.

    BackDoor let out a single laugh and clapped his paws. “Amazing! These might be even cooler than that jellyfish thing!”

    One of the creatures turned its head towards him, not that it had any eyes to speak of. It lifted one limb like an arm and fired out a string of electricity from its wiry fingers. BackDoor lurched to the side, shouting profanities, and came to a halt atop the roof of a bakery.

    “Watch where you’re firing at!” he scolded. “You almost shorted me!”

    But the creature didn’t respond. It turned and scurried off on two of its limbs, the others wiggling beside it like the arms of an excitable hatchling. The fifth limb waved behind it like a long tail, swishing side to side and toppling trash cans. The other creature didn’t wait around for long. It sauntered off in a similar manner to the first one, then leapt over fallen obstacles as though its legs were made of springs.

    BackDoor frowned and folded his arms. These creatures were impossible. How was he meant to control them when they kept attacking him? Electrical Ultra Beasts would make short work of him. One stray bolt and he’d be turned in for scraps before he could blink.

    Zero Day looked equally as perplexed. But from the binary that filled BackDoor’s head, they’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the porygon z drifted back to the porthole, its nose lighting up as it prepared itself to close it again. Before it could reach it, electricity engulfed the android and it let out a binary screech. BackDoor slammed his paws over his ears, but it was no use. The sound was completely in his head. An endless, agonised scream. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had started. He opened his eyes and looked down at the smoldering mass. The porygon z’s eyes kept zooming in and out as it struggled to focus. The remaining Zero Day looked on at the porthole, their limbs slowly rotating back and forth. Their pupils had contracted into pinpricks, but they were silent.

    Then another of those creatures came out of the porthole. Then another. Then another. Zero Day backed away, not taking their eyes off the slowly growing army.

    Each creature stood like a tree, surveying its surroundings before taking off down the alley. Zero Day scattered, desperate to avoid the thin jolts of electricity that endlessly streamed from their bodies. Each movement seemed to generate it, and they danced down the scrawny tendons of their limbs like live wires.

    Not one of them seemed to care about the porygon z that watched them like a hunter watches its prey. Then why had they attacked the one that had returned to close the porthole? Had they known? Had they wanted to enter this world?

    BackDoor returned to hovering upside down, watching the creatures curiously. They broke off into three groups, each taking a different route in the alley. Their strange, faceless heads turned left and right, and they stretched out their wiry arms. Static danced across them, and all heads turned towards the mechanical trees. Their bodies went taught, then relaxed again, letting their tail-like limbs sway just above the floor. BackDoor couldn’t help wondering if a silent decision had just been made.

    A spray of binary filled BackDoor’s mind and he quickly strove to decipher it. A war cry. One of the porygon z doubled back and launched a tri attack, knocking one of the creatures over. Then the porygon z returned to hover over its fallen comrade. The irreparable android smoldered beneath its feet, and the rest of Zero Day joined its side, their eyes lit up with the fire of battle.

    The lanky creature quickly clambered back to its feet and rounded on the porygon z. It said something. Something BackDoor couldn’t comprehend. It sounded like an electrical screech mutated into words. But the rest of the creatures understood it clearly. They gathered themselves and looked around at Zero Day. Even without facial expressions to go off, it was clear what they were thinking.

    A threat.

    Electricity flooded the alley, dancing up walls and trailing over moisture, engulfing anything that conducted it. Zero Day were drowned as it washed over their mechanical bodies.

    BackDoor took that as a clear message to get out of there. With a flick of his paw, he vanished into the nearest transmission signal and sent himself back to the safety of System Sky.
     
    DreamSayer likes this.
  10. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    So, it's more like a continent, then? That... might've been helpful to know earlier. That wasn't the impression I got. Also, continents (and countries) can span multiple time zones, so... :p

    I suspect Surge is our Normalium Z user in this quest to build up an Anti-UB Super Sentai Pirate Squad. which begs the question why angry/wealthy socket isn't building a silvally to deal with this, but i'll save that for another time, i suppose. Also, technical nitpick, in canon material it's "Z-Crystals" (with the hyphen) and it looks rather weird the way you have it written, especially following it directly up with Solgaleo. Might want to change that going forward.

    Eeyup, did I call it or what? :V

    Also, sneeze cut confirming Annie for Rockium Z user... and her merry band of misfits are all going to get roped into this, too. Shame Waveform likely won't get Decidudium Z (or whatever it's called). And I see you using that sneeze cut. Guess you really do like it, huh. ;P

    Meanwhile, Xurkitrees crawling out of the woodwork. I'm not entirely sure how to explain this... but something felt a bit detached about the way the Xurkitrees were described in this scene. I think it might be the fact that you constantly referred to it as "the creature." It just read rather stiffly to me. Perhaps you would've been better served having BackDoor give it a nickname when he mentions Xurkitree being better than the jellyfish and running with that nickname for the rest of the part. It might've helped liven the part up for me.

    Substance-wise those, these are far from the goofballs I like to imagine Xurkitrees are. So, clearly, we're in for a bad time. :V
     
  11. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I did consider Decidium Z, but I didn't want it to be too obvious he would be amongst the ones to help. So Ghostium Z it is. And yes, I do like the sneeze cut XD

    Yikes, sorry. He should have named them, 'cos that's what he does with the UBs. I'll try and fix that at some point!

    Yup, the Ultra Beasts are really threatening in this story! Not out of pure malice, but out of survival. They've been really fun to write =D

    ...​

    Chapter Fifty​

    The black market seemed a lot larger from Annie’s current angle. She waddled through the crowds, holding her wings out at her sides awkwardly as she stretched up to her full height in a bid to see just a little bit higher. Only a couple of days ago, she’d borrowed Waveform’s computer to do a little research on the extinct pokemon archeops. Allegedly it was meant to be around four foot seven inches tall. She wondered if that was either an over estimation, or from nose to tail, because she certainly wasn’t standing four foot tall. The top of her head didn’t even reach the decidueye’s ribs.

    “Grumble all you want,” said Waveform. “You’re the one who overslept and forgot to take your pills.”

    Annie bit her tongue and looked up at him with a frown. “I wasn’t grumbling.”

    “You were, I heard you.”

    “That was my stomach.” Annie fluffed out her feathers and looked over at the market stalls. “I’m hungry.”

    “Then you should have eaten your soup.”

    “It was gross! Like slimy slop!” She threw her claws into the air. “Besides, who has soup for breakfast?”

    Web loomed over her and looked up at Waveform, who met the skuntank’s gaze with a frown.

    “Someone’s clearly woken up on the wrong side of the nest,” said Web. “Come on. Let’s do what we came here to do then go and get something to eat.”

    “Yes,” said Annie. “Some proper breakfast. Good breakfast. Cereal or pastries or something.” She shot Waveform a leer. “Not slop.”

    With that, Annie waddled through the crowd, shouting ‘excuse me!’ and ‘oi! Watch the tail!’ at the larger space pirates. One would have expected her to be stamped on, but the market’s occupants threw her concerned or worried looks and stepped aside.

    It was almost impossible to find what she was looking for. Somewhere in the market was a pokemon who specialized in ‘distributing news’. Unfortunately, the species name wasn’t one Annie was familiar with. When she’d asked N0ize for a description, he’d merely shrugged and said, ‘I dunno. He’s a bird.’

    “Bird,” Annie muttered to herself. “Feathers. A bird. With feathers.”

    As she strolled on, scanning over all the tables, the sentence lost all meaning and became more of a habit. The surrounding pokemon threw her questioning looks, but she wriggled past them and craned her reptilian neck as far as it would go. One of the tables was crowded, and plastered with posters. Some of them looked like wanted posters. Why would there be wanted posters for space pirates amongst… well… space pirates?

    She narrowed her eyes at one, and a mawile leered back. Fifty thousand credits. How much was that in Sinnohan money?

    The crowd parted just enough to reveal the vibrant body of a feathered pokemon. They were considerably smaller than Annie. Small enough to scurry around the table, shouting loudly and gesturing with a bright blue wing. Unlike most space pirates who wore a belt around their waist, he had a small pouch strapped to his scaly, right leg. Although it looked much too small to fit anything in. Atop their black head was a tuft of feathers that looked like they’d been chewed away, resembling a mangled musical note.

    Annie’s eyes widened. A bird. With feathers. One she did actually recognise from a book she’d been forced to read called ‘Perappu Says’.

    She strutted over to the stall, forced herself between a rhydon and a scyther, and placed her wing claws on the table. Her eyes went to the posters again and she tugged one free and stuffed it unceremoniously into her bag. The vibrant bird paused mid-sentence to cast her a curious glance. He froze with his wing still spread, and his hooked beak flapped open and closed like a beached fish.

    “I think you’re who I’m looking for,” said Annie. “Do you specialise in ‘sending out information’?” She raised her claws for air quotes.

    The bird didn’t say anything. He continued to stare at her, still unwilling to lower his wing. His eyes then went to the top of her head, and Annie found herself drowned by a large shadow. She craned her neck around to look up at Waveform.

    “So you found him,” he said. “Pretty good for someone who hasn’t a clue what a chatot is.”

    The parrot pokemon blinked and finally folded his wing neatly at his side.

    “Well,” he said. “I guess we’re even, since I have no idea what you are.”

    “I’m Annie,” she said. “I’m guessing you’re… wait… I’ve got this.” She scratched her chin with a claw and looked up at the ceiling.

    “Name’s Hatter,” said the chatot. “Pulse City’s very own Information Acquisition and Distribution Entrepreneur. And I’m afraid I have quite the queue so you’ll have to wait a while.”

    Annie’s lip curled and she pulled her head back slightly. “A what?”

    “It’s all fancy talk,” said Waveform. “He’s a spy.”

    She let out a long ‘ohh’.

    Hatter strutted away, commencing his talk once more. It sounded more like the shouts of someone trying to drum up a sale.

    Annie leant forward and tapped a claw on the table. “Oi! Oi, bird! We can pay you!”

    Hatter turned back to her and fluffed out his chest. “I have a name. Besides, you have to pay me. I don’t work for free.” He turned away from her and fired a sneer over his shoulder. “Now wait your turn!”

    Annie bristled and cast a glance up to Waveform. The decidueye rolled his eyes and reached into his wing, fixing his finger-like feathers over one of his arrows.

    She reached up her claws and placed them on his wing, freezing him in an instant. His crimson eyes widened for the briefest moment and locked onto hers. She gave him a playful grin and leant back across the table.

    “Oi! Hatter! I ain’t done with you!” She reached out her claws and grabbed the chatot by his tail.

    A loud squawk flew from his beak and he flapped his wings frantically as she dragged him backwards across the table.

    The large pokemon surrounding her leapt into action, drawing lasers and raising fists encased in gauntlet-like weapons. Hot beams erupted from the lasers, narrowly skimming Annie’s feathers. She leapt aside with a yelp, bringing Hatter up to her face as a meat shield. He screamed as a laser brushed his wing, searing away a couple of primaries.

    Waveform leapt before her, tugging out one of his vines to fire off his arrows, but Annie beat him aside with her wing while clutching the flailing chatot in the claws of the other. As she swung back her free wing, rocks erupted into the air and hovered precariously. Stray laser beams collided with them and evaporated harmlessly, leaving the rocks completely unscathed. The space pirates glanced from the rocks to her, still clutching their weapons.

    “Annie!” Web’s voice cut through the sudden silence.

    A column of flames shot over the crowd, narrowly missing Waveform’s head. He ducked aside and quickly re-aimed his arrow at the small crowd gathering behind Hatter’s unimpressed clients.

    Several of the space pirates span on the spot to aim their weapons at their assailant. Web ducked a brown laser beam then skidded to a halt between Trojan and Zip. The latter let out a nervous squeak and skittered aside to dodge a sparking flurry of electricity. Behind them, Annie could just make out Tracer and N0ize. The delphox had his stick raised, ready to launch another attack.

    “Oh no you don’t,” said Annie slowly. “I’d drop your weapons if I were you. All of you.” She lifted the terrified chatot to her face and smirked. “Besides. I think y’all are gonna like what I’ve got to tell you.”

    Hatter’s eyes lingered over the hovering rocks before the archeops. A strange glow radiated from them in a manner the whole crowd deemed threatening. Annie merely smirked at her audience and lifted the chatot even higher. His wings flailed helplessly against her feathers as he desperately tried to right himself.

    “Go on then!” one of the space pirates roared. “What’ve you got to tell us that involves holdin’ our main source of ‘secret’ information hostage?”

    Annie’s eyes widened and she nodded to the chatot. “I ain’t holdin’ him hostage. I’m borrowin’ him.”

    Pokemon from across the market slowly trudged over to the crowd, keeping a watchful eye on Annie while their paws clutched their holstered weapons. While many pirates less inclined to get involved made for the exit, a lot more watched from a safer distance, as taut as coiled springs.

    Waveform ducked towards her slightly but he didn’t take his eyes off the frightened and angry space pirates. “Get to the point.”

    “You see. I’m here to make a difference.” Annie gestured with the flapping pokemon still clutched between her claws, and placed her other wing on her hip. “Where I come from, pokemon don’t eat meat. Gotta say that sickened me when I found out about it. Could one of you nice space pirates please tell me how exactly you fish them up?”

    The crowd became a mixture of twisted sneers and frightened eyes. One of the gruffer looking ones - a sandslash with icicles for armour - looked her in the eye.

    “We use nets.” His raspy voice created a fine mist in the warm air. “Electrified nets to stun ‘em.”

    “Hmm. Seems rather barbaric.” Annie glanced up at the ceiling and stroked her chin with a claw. “Don’t they scream?”

    The sandslash shrugged, as did most of her audience.

    “We cancel out the noise with earplugs and headphones,” a female voice explained.

    Annie snapped her attention back to the audience, spotting the speaker immediately. A yellow and black head poked above the smaller members of the crowd. Ampharos, if she guessed correctly. An electric type.

    Electric nets.

    So they trapped the fish, electrocuted them, and couldn’t even hear their screams? She glanced down at the parrot in her grasp. He stared back out at the crowd, drooling slightly. Well, at least he’d stopped flapping about.

    “Yanno what?” She turned back to the space pirates. “I think I need to introduce you to someone. Oi! Little fish!”

    The crowd fell silent as mechanical creaks rose into the air. Pokemon leapt aside as Zip slowly crept through the crowd, cautiously watching them as though he was scared they were going to pluck him from his bowl and swallow him in one bite. Looks of disgust and anger crossed their faces, but no one said a word.

    “Go on,” Annie told him. “Introduce yourself to these nice space pirates.”

    “Erm.” Zip released his controls and turned in the water to look at the sceptical audience. “I’m Zip. Annie rescued me when I escaped from a fishery.”

    Those angry looks melted away as the crowd stared back at Zip. Jaws went slack, while others tensed and looked away.

    “We don’t like being eaten,” Zip told them. “I tried to beg for my life while a scyther tried to cut me up. But he wouldn’t listen. Or couldn’t, through his huge headphones. I was lucky enough to escape with my life.”

    The space pirates looked on in stunned silence, although a couple of them broke away to move into the market. The ampharos had turned deathly pale. She span on the spot and vomited audibly onto the floor. The sandslash leapt aside with a squeak.

    “I’d never even spoken to a land pokemon before then,” Zip went on. “I didn’t think anyone would listen. Then I met Annie and the rest of my friends, and they showed me not all land pokemon want to eat me! In fact, they want to help me!”

    The small crowd exchanged glances, muttering amongst themselves. The ampharos looked back up at Zip and wiped a paw across her mouth.

    “Are you going to help me?” Zip asked them.

    “I… I used to be vegan.” The sandslash diverted his gaze to the wall. “But money got pretty tight, you know?”

    “I don’t know if I can handle this,” said the ampharos. “I need a lie down.”

    Annie placed both wings on her hips and frowned. “You can have a lie down when you’ve told me why y’all are actin’ like you didn’t even know fish could speak!”

    “I-it’s not like we didn’t know.” The ampharos couldn’t even look at her. “In my job, we’re told not to speak to them. To not even listen to them. We’re given equipment that cancels out their voices. You see… they tell us the sound of a dying fish pokemon is deafening, and that they’re persuasive and will lure us into the water. So we have to protect our ears.”

    Annie creased her muzzle. “Sounds like a load of baloney.”

    The ampharos shrugged weakly and looked away. “It’s protocol.”

    “Ba-lo-ney!” Annie crossed her arms and looked at the rest of the crowd. “So. Whatcha all gonna do? Help us out, or keep on fishin’?”

    A few of the remaining space pirates turned angry again, and a gabite flexed his claws as he sneered at her.

    “Is that why you’re here?” he scoffed. “To bring this little runt along and convince us to stop eatin’ meat?”

    Annie shrugged and shook her head. “That’s not the only reason. It ties into my big reason, see. You know that mayor who bosses us all about? She’s the big cheese around here, right?”

    “Not here she ain’t,” said the gabite.

    “No?” Annie looked up at Waveform who shook his head. “Oh, fair enough. But she’s mayor of System. She makes the rules. She tells you that you can eat fish, so you eat fish. Well… she’s the reason I’m here. Not here in Pulse City, but here in this weird, polluted place you still call System. Air is rancid. Pokemon don’t get along. You fly around in these fish-shaped ships, yet you happily eat them off your plates! Well, what if I told you it ain’t all roses and wildflowers?”

    The angry pirates returned to looking stunned. And somewhat confused.

    “You see, that mayor of yours pulled me right out of my own time-line,” Annie went on. “’Course, I weren’t happy there. I spent my days sat in a cell changing form back and forth. Sure, Socket gave me magic pills and I can stand before you as an archeops rather than yo-yo-ing like some kinda circus freak. Then we’ve got some monster flying around destroying cities. What part of this sounds like a conspiracy to you?” She stretched out both claws to make her point, Hatter swinging like a pendulum. “I show up, monster shows up. This is her doing. What is she up to exactly?”

    “Wait a minute.” The gabite was oddly talkative. “You’re tryin’ to tell us that Socket pulled you from another time-line? How exactly did she do that?”

    “She used a Time Onion,” Annie said flatly.

    The dragon rolled his eyes and looked back at the rest of the space pirates.

    “I think this bird’s got a screw loose,” he said.

    “She’s a jackin’ archeops!” Trojan shouted from behind them. “Aren’t they meant to be extinct? Use your brains!”

    Annie looked out at the space pirates and grinned widely. The looks of confusion and anger had melted away once more, replaced instead by fear and realisation.

    “You got a bone to pick with anyone, pick it with Socket,” she said. “I’m gonna go and spread this message throughout System.” She nodded at the dazed chatot. “We’ll see what colour that mayor really is.”

    The large rocks she’d been holding in the air rained down like an avalanche, shaking the market’s foundations. The pirates ducked and raised their paws as dust trickled from the old rafters.

    Giving Waveform a pat on the back, she hopped over the rocks and strolled towards the exit, letting him sandwich Zip between the two of them. The crowd parted, keeping their eyes on her and her odd, aquatic friend. A few of them muttered amongst themselves, aiming leers at the archeops and drawing their weapons, but they didn’t pursue. Too stunned by her story, unnerved by her ancient power, or wanting to avoid accidentally killing their ‘bringer of secret news and high-paying jobs’.

    “Well,” she said as she rejoined the rest of her crew. “I don’t know about you lot, but I think that went rather well.”

    “Are you insane?” Tracer gasped, flashing a glance back towards the muttering crowd. “You’re going to start an uproar.”

    “Of course,” said Annie. “That’s part of starting a rebellion. First everyone gets angry about something, then they rebel!”

    Tracer let out a groan and placed a paw over his face. “What are you doing?”

    “Starting a rebellion,” Annie said, pointlessly.

    “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda curious,” said Widget.

    “That makes most of us.” Trojan looked down at Annie’s claws. “What exactly do you plan to do with that pirate?”

    “Get him to spread a message,” said Annie. “All he has to do is tell each and every city in System exactly what Socket is up to.”

    “But we don’t know what she’s up to,” moaned Tracer. “We don’t even know why she dragged you out of your own time-line.”

    Annie looked up at him and shrugged. “So? She wants to stick me back in a lab. She likely unleashed that monster thing. I’d say she’s not a very good mayor, wouldn’t you?”

    “But without any evidence-”

    “I’m evidence!” Annie thumped herself in the chest. “Besides. You’re a detective, right? If you want more evidence, get researchin’. We’ll show the whole of System what a rubbish mayor this Socket is.”

    Tracer stared down at her, his paws and ears twitching. For a moment, she thought he’d broken into a sweat. N0ize erupted with deep laughter and smacked the delphox hard on the back.

    Widget looked between them then locked eyes with Annie. “Rubbish mayor, eh? I’ve been saying that for years.”

    ...​

    Outside was sheer madness. Tentacled beasts clambered up Meta City’s mechanical trees, electricity dancing from their bodies and striking the terrified pokemon below. The streets were swiftly emptying as pokemon fled back to their homes, or from the city altogether.

    Socket watched, her mouth wide open in a silent scream, as the mechanical trees failed under the beasts’ attacks. Yellow air flowed in from the outskirts, billowing in a victory dance over the trees’ defeat. Electrical monstrosities clambered over buildings, attaching themselves to air filters and dangling from street lamps.

    BackDoor.

    That notorious android had to have something to do with this.

    Socket tore herself from the living nightmare and brought up her holoscreen. Before she could even dial out to BackDoor it began ringing, the dancing cartoon phone filling the screen.

    She clenched her teeth together and answered, silently willing it to be a useful call and not a panicked Meta City resident.

    Yobi’s panicked face appeared before her, his ears trembling and his paws free from any tinkering tools.

    “M-Madam Mayor,” he sputtered. “I… I think-”

    She raised her paw to silence him. “I am assuming you’ve seen what’s going on outside?”

    “Yes,” he said, trying to gather himself. “I think-”

    “Is it that disobedient creation of yours?” she demanded.

    Before he could answer, she dialled out to BackDoor. The screen split in two, ringing away. Yobi glanced sideways as though he was trying to see the dialling animation. A painful five seconds passed before BackDoor graced the segment with his grinning face.

    “Socket!” he laughed. “What can I do for you?”

    The gothitelle waved a paw towards the window, and the hoopa’s eyes went to the scene. His face split into another grin and he clapped his mitten paws together.

    “I see those Ultra Beasts have made themselves right at home!” he said.

    Yobi’s face paled, and Socket’s ribbons stood on end.

    “This isn’t their home!” she snapped. “What are they doing here?! Why have you let them out?!”

    “Me?” BackDoor feigned innocence and placed a paw on his chest. “It wasn’t me who did it. It was Zero Day.”

    “Zero Day can’t open dimensional gates,” said Yobi. “I didn’t program that ability into them.”

    “Well, it was them.” BackDoor drifted upside down and tucked his paws behind his head. “I watched them do it.”

    “If you watched them do it, then you could have stopped them,” said Socket.

    BackDoor shrugged. “I wasn’t gonna get in the way of those creatures. I watched them fry any porygon z that tried.”

    Yobi leant forward on his desk, looking in BackDoor’s direction. “So Zero Day were destroyed?!”

    “Not all of them.” The hoopa yawned. “They’ve split up into little groups.”

    Yobi fell back into his seat and his jaw went slack. Socket looked from him to the android and back.

    “I’m getting the impression this is unexpected behaviour?” she said.

    “Yes…” Yobi scratched behind his ear and glanced away from her. “I’m not sure what’s going on…”

    “BackDoor.” Socket snapped her head back around to the android, still drifting upside down with his eyes closed. And was he humming? She frowned and folded her arms, tapping her claws along her fur. “I want you back in Meta City. Round up these creatures before they destroy everything!”

    BackDoor cracked one eye open. “You want me to deal with your problem?”

    “Is it beyond your capabilities?” she asked. “You can open these gateways. We can’t.”

    “No can do, love.”

    Socket’s spine stiffened and she stared at the android, aghast. He chuckled at her expression and closed his eyes again.

    “I won’t go anywhere near those things,” he said. “I don’t want my circuits fried.”

    Socket seethed and she took a step towards the holoscreen. “This city is swiftly being destroyed! I demand that you do it!”

    “Really?” BackDoor’s eyes snapped open and he stared straight at her, chilling her through to her bones.

    A deep humming filled the room and she felt herself being dragged backwards. She looked over her shoulder, straight into spinning ultraviolet mist. Then another opened beside her, then another at the far end of the room. She felt her ears dragged towards the ceiling and her eye went to yet another spinning below her ceiling fan. Each portal tugged at her, increasing in intensity. She span to grab hold of her desk, but every joint in her body felt like it was being pulled apart. A shrill scream escaped her throat and she reached across her desk to secure her grip.

    “What are you doing?!” she screeched at the holoscreen. “Close them! Close them, now!”

    She heard BackDoor yawn loudly. “No. I think I’ll leave them right there.”

    “Okay!” she gasped. “Okay, you can leave the ones in Meta City! We’ll have Zero Day close them! Just… get these things out of my office!”

    “Alright, alright, fine.” He sighed and one by one each of the portholes closed with a nauseating sucking sound. “Well, I think you’ve learned your lesson.”

    She looked over her shoulder at BackDoor’s jovial face, contrasting wildly with Yobi’s stunned silence.

    “Zero Day are the ones that did it,” said BackDoor. “So they can deal with it. Not. My. Problem.” He waved, an action submerged in a mask of innocence. “Bye bye!”

    His half of the screen blinked out, allowing Yobi to take over it. Socket stared back at the raichu, her chest still heaving as she tried to calm her blazing nerves.

    “I don’t know what’s going on.” He answered her unasked question. “Zero Day can now open gateways, and BackDoor’s behaviour… I think they might be out of control.”

    Socket smoothed down her fur and leant back against her desk. Her eyes flit around the room, checking for any remaining pockets.

    “You don’t say?” she said. “What could have caused that?”

    Yobi shrugged and looked down at his desk, absently running one paw over his arm. “I… I don’t know. But I think we might have to shut them down. Postpone our plan until we’ve got them back under control.”

    “Postpone our plan?!” Socket gasped.

    “I’m afraid so.” Yobi glanced back up at her then back at the table. “If they’re out of control, then they pose a threat to System, and to us.”

    Socket tapped her foot on the floor and looked over her shoulder at the window. Those electrical creatures. The rapidly discolouring air. She could already smell it drifting through her air filter. She reached across her desk to switch the filter on before turning back to Yobi.

    “How do you plan on doing this?” she asked.

    “I can create another virus,” he explained. “One that can deactivate every android in the BackDoor network. If I had more time, I could create one that would give me remote access and direct them back to me, which would save time in rounding them up. But a program like that is complex… if you’re wanting a faster approach-” He looked up to see Socket’s nod. “Then I’ll need to deactivate them and hunt around System to find them. Collect as many as I can and re-program them back to factory settings.”

    “That could take months, if not years. How about just one Zero Day model?”

    Yobi scratched behind his ear and ‘hmm’d’. “I suppose I could do that, but it might be a little more complex. I’d need to get it to just one model, and that won’t be easy. Maybe if I just hunted one down-”

    “Then do it quick,” she said. “I want to leave this place before it gets any more toxic.”

    ...​

    Defrag leant back in her seat as she sipped a steaming cup of tea. Both feet lay across her desk and one of them bobbed back and forth to the deep beat of the music blaring from her computer’s old speakers. As another tune cut through it, her eyes snapped open and tea sloshed over her chest. She yelped and placed the tea down with a clatter, reaching first for the box of tissues before grabbing her phone. She shot Tracer’s name a venomous glare then answered it.

    “Yes, Tracer?” she muttered as she dabbed at her fur.

    “Are you all right, Defrag?” he asked quickly.

    “Yes, just a little wet.” She paused and narrowed her eyes. “Why? Shouldn’t I be?”

    “Oh no, you just sound stressed. Anyway, I have a little job for you.”

    She sat bolt upright, kicking her feet back to the ground. “A job?”

    “Yes. Could you please contact Surge?”

    Her heart plummeted and she sank back into her seat. “I thought she had a job with the mayor?”

    “That’s exactly why I need you to contact her,” he said quietly. “Tell her we’ll pay her double what Socket is. All I need her to do is find out exactly why Socket wants a human, and if she’s responsible for that monster.”

    “Plural.”

    “Pardon?”

    “I said plural.” Defrag retrieved her keyboard and turned on her screen. Meta City News was still loaded, filled with ominous photos. “There’s been an outbreak of monsters in Meta City. They’re draining the city’s electricity supply by attaching themselves to the air filters.”

    She could practically hear Tracer gasp and stutter as he struggled to find words.

    “The infestation is bad, too,” Defrag went on. “More and more monsters are showing up by the hour. It’s only a matter of time until those trees give up and Meta City shares the very same air as us.”

    “Have they…” He paused to clear his throat. “Have they found out where they’re coming from?”

    “Yes. Apparently they’re coming through some kind of porthole,” Defrag explained. “They’ve also found the remains of destroyed robots in that very same area. Something from the old Porygon line, they believe. But it’s difficult to tell which exactly from the burnt and melted remains. Socket has said they were sent in to try and close the porthole secretly, so as not to create an uproar, while her scientists deal with the threat. She claims to know nothing about it, but that there seems to be an outbreak of dimensional gateways opening across System and letting in what she’s dubbed Ultra Beasts.”

    Tracer was silent as he took this in.

    “You still want me to contact Surge?” Defrag asked.

    “Socket obtained a human,” he said. “A human that claims to be from a different time-line. And you’re telling me she’s calling these anomalies ‘Dimensional Gateways’?”

    Defrag scrolled through the interview. “That’s what it says here.”

    “I have my doubts,” said Tracer. “Contact Surge and ask her to keep an eye open. Quiz her on everything she knows. Call her back to the office if you need to.”

    “Fine. I’ll do just that.”

    “Tell me exactly what she says,” he went on. “And if you find out anything else, tell me. Don’t delay.”

    “You got it.”

    “Take care, Defrag. Let’s hope those things in Meta City stay there.” He hung up.

    Defrag let out a long sigh and let her arm flop over the arm of her chair. The article stared back at her, depicting a clear image of one of those strange, electrical monsters.

    More desk work. And, by the sounds of it, Surge would get all the fun.

    She lifted up her phone and dialled the zigzagoon’s number. As it rang out, a soft scratching sound filled the office. She turned in her seat to face it, the phone still pressed to her ear. A shadow passed beyond the mucky window. Probably some little goon looking in again. She frowned and turned away, but it moved once more. Jagged limbs stuck out in an almost perfect star shape. It hovered there for a moment, then turned and took off towards the sky.

    Defrag stared at the window, her heart racing. Her mouth hung open as she tried to catch her breath.

    “…Hello? Defrag?”

    Surge’s voice snapped her back to reality and she took a few deep breaths to steady herself.

    “Oh, Surge. Sorry… I…” She shook her head sharply. “Bad connection.”

    Surge was quiet for a moment. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

    “Yes.” Defrag turned her chair fully from the window and brought up the Meta City News main page. “I’m just ringing to pass on a message, really. Tracer has a job for you.”

    “Well, that couldn’t have come at a better time.” Surge chuckled dryly. “I’ve just been fired from my old one.”

    Defrag felt her heart sink again and she released her computer mouse. “I’m not sure how much use you’ll be then. He wants you to spy on Socket and see what she’s up to.”

    “Explain.”

    “You’ve probably heard about this already, but apparently strange ‘Dimensional Gateways’ are opening across System, releasing monsters into our world.”

    “Oh. That.” She chuckled again. “I know all about that, hon.”

    “Seriously?” Defrag raised an eyebrow. “What did Socket hire you for?”

    “To take out that nuisance Hunter. He’s been all up in her plans lately.” Surge laughed again, but it didn’t sound remotely jovial. “And so have I. You even seen the news? Check out the wanted posters.”

    Defrag hesitated for a moment, then opened the news site’s Most Wanted link. There, right at the top, were Hunter and the rest of Wildcard Gamma. But beside them was a smiling picture of Surge. All of them were wanted for fifty thousand credits.

    Defrag bit her lip and leant back in her seat again. “What did you do?”

    “Let’s just say I know everything about these ‘Dimensional Gateways’.” Surge paused, and Defrag thought she heard her smile. “So… what do you need to know?”
     
  12. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Whoa, it's the big chapter 5-0! Congrats! *throws confetti*

    I like birb!Annie better, mostly because she's hilariously bad at being an archeops. Also, I don't think you stated this before (or I forgot), but I'm surprised Sinnoh is her home. I suspected it was somewhere with pokémon and I guess that region didn't occur to me as a possible home for her. And we're introduced to Hatter (as in, what, Mad Hatter?), who sadly missed an opportunity be not calling himself Pulse City's Info Distribution and Acquistion Entrepreneur. Because then he'd be Pulse's IDEA. :V

    those gosh darn spies! always sappin' mah sentry!

    There's a brief skirmish here, that gets a bit chaotic and difficult to follow, mostly because I think some of your verb tenses are a bit off. Or, rather, you're using words that don't exaction exist. For example, "span" is not the past tense of "spin," that would be "spun." And that mistake pops up frequently. To "span" is to extend something across a length (like a bridge).

    And then the Socket scene gets even more confusion for me. In the sense that it leaves me scratching my head for numerous reasons. Why isn't Socket shutting down BackDoor if he's this disobedient? Why isn't BackDoor just killing Socket and Yobi if they're being buzzkills who could theoretically shut him down? How would any plan Yobi have to get a Zero Day unit work quickly enough if the xurkitrees are tearing the place apart? Wouldn't they also threaten destroying Socket's mansion? She really needs to be actively engaged and doing something at this point, because she's been a bystander the whole story... and now it doesn't feel like she really has much of a purpose to me. Annie and Macro keep acting like Socket is the big problem... but her scenes have convinced me that she's basically a nobody. A Big Bad Wannabe, to use TV Tropes parlance.

    Hmm... having trouble visualizing this. This is either a karatana (who doesn't have jagged limbs, if you ask me) or, heaven forbid, a necrozma. If it's the latter, are they the big enemy Macro's gonna need to stop? Cause it's not gonna be Socket. :p
     
  13. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    No, it's never come up before. You slowly, slowly learn more about Annie's past as the story unfolds. She's a puzzle, and very fun to write. (Also, I like birb!Annie, too =3 I like Annie full stop, but her archeops form is a lot of fun because she just can't handle it well XD )

    Sorry to let you down D= (is it a reference? Because I feel like I should know it but don't...)

    I make this mistake way more often than I'd care to admit. I'll try to be more alert with my correction skillz!

    I'm fairly sure this was mentioned much earlier on (but the story is long, and I only update weekly...) BackDoor doesn't have a kill switch, because Socket and Yobi felt it would be too hazardous should someone get their paws on him. If he gets shut down by an outside source, he'd not only be hard to retrieve but their plan would be blown to bits. Basically, not adding one was a recipe for disaster ;)

    Admittedly, Socket is merely an agoraphobic, uppity gothitelle with too much power and a convoluted idea. She only cares for her elites, and doesn't care a jot what happens to the poorer pokemon and the criminals, or what happens to System provided she's not in it. A bad dictator with a time-bomb of a plan.

    I can assure you there are no necrozmas in this story, as I'm wanting to avoid similarities to other Ultra Beast 'fics (although yours so far is the only one I've read!) So your first guess is correct ;)

    ...

    Chapter Fifty One​

    Floating cities drifted by on the horizon as Wildcard Gamma moved swiftly through the inhabited areas of System Sky. Macro leant on the dashboard, struggling to keep his eyes open. He yawned widely and watched one of the cities draw closer to his ship. Which one it was, he had no idea at this distance. But it wasn’t their destination, that much he knew.

    The clatter of a mug appearing beside him snapped him out of his daze, and he looked down at a steaming mug of coffee.

    “I really think you could use some sleep,” DL told him as she released the handle.

    He took the mug in both paws before it slid off the dashboard to meet an unfortunate fate on the cockpit floor.

    “I’m not sleeping until we’re back in civilization,” he told her.

    “We are.” She placed her paws on her hips and frowned. “So get some sleep. You’re of no use to anyone the state you’re in now.”

    “Coffee and some fresh air and I’ll be right as rain.” He sipped at his coffee and immediately regretted it as it burnt his lips. He set it back down quickly and whisked a paw across his mouth. “Besides, I’m not going to sleep while Ultra Beasts are wreaking havoc in my home.”

    “It could take months to sort this out!” she gasped. “Get some rest.”

    He waved a paw at the windows and looked at her pointedly. “We’ll get my ship somewhere safe, then I’ll sleep. ‘Kay?”

    The pachirisu rolled her eyes and gazed out of the window. “Fine. But this macho attitude of yours isn’t doing anyone any favours.”

    “Macho?” He narrowed his eyes as he took another - more cautious - sip of coffee.

    “Yes. You think you’re stronger than you are.” She picked up a tray he’d failed to notice and made her way out of the cockpit. “You’re just another pokemon like the rest of us. And, just like the rest of us, you need sleep.”

    Macro watched her go, still clutching the hot coffee in his paws. With a sigh, he turned back to the window and slowly sipped his drink.

    The cockpit was oddly quiet. Anchor had gone for a lie down, and Matrix had decided to take a break and play some video games in his room.

    Macro didn’t like to leave the cockpit empty, but DL was right. He did need sleep.

    He placed his mug carefully on the dashboard, then let his head fall onto his arms as he sprawled across it. As soon as he closed his eyes, all he could see were distorted monsters. Blurry shapes that manifested into otherworldly creatures. Then that screaming bamboo face filled his vision. Its unearthly voice wailing through his mind.

    His eyes snapped open again and he found himself trying to catch his breath. That beast had got to him. It was enough to make him miss his fiery nightmares.

    A light paw fell on his shoulder and he glanced to the side, meeting DL’s gentle face. The warmth in her eyes chased away those frightening cobwebs and he lifted his head slightly to get a better look at her.

    “I can take over in here,” she said. “Go on. Bed.”

    “You know,” he said as he pushed himself up. “That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.”

    “Glad to know I’ve got through to you.”

    She stood aside as he clambered off his chair, then immediately pulled herself up into it.

    “I might only nap for an hour or so,” he said. “I don’t think we’re too far from Cyan City.”

    “Take as long as you need.”

    She didn’t even look back at him. Somehow, that stabbed at his chest. He shook it off and reached into his pouch for his computer. At least he could get some reading done and catch up on things before letting sleep take over. Clear his mind.

    As he left the room, he looked down at the screen. It was already lit up, showing the main page of Meta City News. His breath flew out of his lungs and he staggered into the wall. Wide, frantic eyes lingered over the screen as he tried to take it in.

    Strange, black and white creatures clambered over buildings and the mechanical trees. Their bodies discharged electricity, engulfing those unfortunate enough to get too close. The headlines claimed they sucked electricity out of anything that produced it. The mechanical trees were twisted and broken beyond repair, allowing putrid air to enter Meta City.

    His computer clattered to the floor, landing with the screen face up. Still broadcasting the horrific news. He slid down the wall but before he hit the floor he found himself caught in DL’s arms. She lowered him to the floor and sat down beside him, her entire body trembling. But somehow she managed to maintain her composure as she read over the nightmarish news.

    “They’re going to be everywhere, aren’t they?” she said. “It makes me wonder how many there are, and how dangerous they really are.”

    Macro’s eyes flitted towards her, but words failed to form. What did she mean? Surely those pictures alone showed how dangerous they are? Hadn’t that jellyfish killed other pokemon? That strange bamboo monster almost took out Wildcard Gamma!

    The antenna behind her ear began to flash sporadically and her eyes went distant. Macro felt his heart sink, but the blank look in her eyes was fleeting.

    “I’m getting a message,” she said.

    “Ignore it.”

    His voice came out strained, and he stared at her, silently pleading. But she took no notice. She just stared down at his computer, not seeing it, as she retreated into her own head.

    No. He wasn’t having any of this BackDoor nonsense. Not on top of everything else.

    His breath came in quick, shallow bursts and his eyes flickered towards the back of her head. He could stop it. He could stop BackDoor’s interference with his life. All he had to do was flick that switch.

    He raised a trembling paw towards the base of her skull.

    “It’s not off BackDoor.” She released him and reached for the computer. “Where’s the jack cable?”

    Macro let his paw fall weakly onto his lap and he leant against the wall, watching DL as she scrambled around the cockpit. His head rolled back, stopped only by the cold wall, and he let out a strangled sob. Had he seriously tried to do that? To switch her off? She was a living pokemon, just like him. It was monstrous to even consider it.

    Tears stung his eyes, threatening to leak out, and he clasped both paws over his face to stifle them. Or hide them. He felt too weak to hold them in.

    “I’ve found it,” said DL. “I just have to download some data.”

    Her words barely registered. He raked his claws over his face and took in a few deep breaths, but nothing could shake that dark cloud. That horrible realisation he’d just tried to get rid of her. Switch her off like some machine. He didn’t even know what damage that could do now she had her memories. Would she lose them? Revert back to a mindless computer? It didn’t bare thinking about.

    Silence filled the cockpit, the only sounds his frantic breathing. He cracked his claws and peered through them. DL sat beside him with the jack lead in the back of her skull. The other end was in the bottom of his pocket computer. Her antenna flickered rhythmically, but she appeared as alert as ever, watching the screen patiently. Then she lifted a paw and removed the jack lead.

    Macro lowered his paws and stared at her with his mouth open. He took a few breaths to steady himself, and she looked up at him with a smile.

    “Done,” she said. “I think you might appreciate this.”

    “I thought you… I dunno… went dormant when you had a jack cable in?”

    She shrugged and retrieved his computer. “You’re usually downloading things to me at the time. I guess it’s different when I’m downloading data to a computer.”

    He took another deep breath and pushed himself up, but he still felt weak. Guilty. Wretched.

    “What did you do?” he asked.

    “I got a message from Solgaleo,” she explained. “He sent me a data file containing information on all the Ultra Beasts. He called it an UltraDex.”

    Macro sank back against the wall.

    Solgaleo…

    Solgaleo could send her data?

    Of course he could. He’d been contacting Macro for days prior to reaching the Dead Glacier. Through dreams, sun-like images, and through a message on his computer no one else could see.

    Macro grit his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut, letting out a strangled sob.

    “Macro, are you okay?” DL asked.

    He shook his head violently. “I… I thought it was BackDoor. I tried to switch you off…” His voice trailed off, but he dared not look at her. “You’re not just some machine, DL. Especially not to me. I don’t know what got into me. I… I’m terrified.”

    He heard her shift, every movement tearing at his heart as he pictured her leaving the room.

    “I think everything’s got on top of me,” he choked out. “What’s happening to my home?”

    DL scooped an arm under his and gently lifted him to his feet. He opened his eyes and looked down at her, but she wasn’t looking at him. It pained him. He’d done it again. He’d hurt her.

    He closed his eyes again and leant against her as she walked him from the cockpit.

    “I’m sorry,” he choked. “I’m a real-”

    “If you call yourself a jerk I’m gonna pour that coffee over your head.” She shook her head and sighed. “It’s understandable you’d be scared, Macro. I could easily have been assaulted by BackDoor, and if it did do anything… untoward… to me, then I’d want you to switch me off.”

    “I will never do that to you.”

    “If it was to save my life, or yours, or anyone on this ship, I’d want you to.”

    Macro stiffened and glanced at her. But she still wasn’t looking at him. She stopped outside a door and he realised they’d reached his room. A quick flick of her paw opened the door and she steered him inside.

    “Get yourself settled down,” she said softly. “I’ll be back shortly with a cocoa.”

    He watched her leave, then climbed onto his bed, sitting hunched on top of his duvet. He didn’t want to climb under it. Didn’t want to sleep. His mind was a swirling mess and guilt still gnawed at him.

    He looked around for his computer, but it was nowhere to be found. Maybe DL still had it? He sighed and leant back on his paws, looking up at the bare ceiling. Those wiry monsters were still clear in his mind, dragging down the mechanical trees and causing havoc in Meta City. He hoped desperately the city would be okay. He might not care for Socket, those monsters were mainly her fault, but there were still innocent pokemon living there. Innocent pokemon having their lives ruined by rampaging Ultra Beasts. Creatures they knew nothing about. Creatures that couldn’t be controlled or communicated with.

    And it was all linked to BackDoor.

    His mind went back to DL and he grimaced, trying to force the guilt away. But it was no use. It ate away at him.

    The door hissed open and DL strolled in carrying two steaming mugs. A familiar, spicy smell filled his room as the door closed, trapping the steam inside.

    “I made us occa cocoa.” She gave him a small smile. “I thought it might help you sleep.”

    He took one of the mugs, not taking his eyes off her. She set the other one on his bedside unit then perched on the edge of his bed.

    “Scooch,” she said.

    His mind whirled with a new kind of confusion but he obeyed, edging along enough to allow her to sit beside him. She adjusted his two pillows against the wall and leant back, reaching into her pouch and pulling out his computer.

    “What are you doing?” he finally asked.

    “We’re going to look at this stuff Solgaleo sent us,” she explained. “He said it might help us to put things into perspective. Especially as we’ll be rounding those Ultra Beasts up.”

    She loaded up the file and a little animation played across the screen. Some kind of blue and silver ball spun in the centre of the screen before it split in two like doors opening. A list of names filled the screen, each one numbered from one to eleven. The top one was Nihilego, which Macro instantly recognised.

    “Let’s start with this one.” DL tapped the creature’s name and brought up a new display.

    This one showed the creature in a little box, which changed at regular intervals to display it in different positions. Beside it’s picture was it’s typing. Rock and poison. Just like a pokemon, it had it’s own type.

    Macro leant over her shoulder to read the description.

    ‘Nihilego, also known as ‘Symbiont’, is an Ultra Beast that resides in a dimension called Deep Sea. It produces a neurotoxin to control other creatures, making them do its will. It can also control inanimate objects. Creatures and objects under its control often react in a violent way, but this is believed to be the creature’s way of defending itself. It will often resort to violence if it feels it’s suffering.

    ‘When it’s not reacting in a volatile manner, it behaves in a very innocent manner. As it drifts around in its own environment it moves in an almost hypnotic fashion. It cannot survive for long outside of toxic air.’

    “Sounds like it would be right at home in Proxy City,” said Macro.

    “It also might explain its volatile manner while it was flying around System Sky,” said DL. “But it makes me wonder how long it can survive outside of toxic air, given it was in System for quite some time.”

    Macro shrugged. “Even though they cleaned up the air, we’re still polluting it. Maybe it was enough to sustain it for a little while.”

    “Maybe.” She sipped at her cocoa then tapped on another name. “Let’s look at this one.”

    The next Ultra Beast looked like a large, muscular insect. The one following it was a lot more feminine. Macro wondered if they were from the same world, despite the different location names. When they got to the next one, Macro almost spilt his cocoa.

    That electrical beast. The one he’d seen in the news report. Its name was Xurkitree. With a name, its existence seemed a lot more solid.

    Xurkitree. An electric type, from a dimension called The Lightning Plantation.

    ‘It energises itself with electricity, preying on anything that produces it. Although it prefers non-organic sources. As such it’s a common sight around electrical plants in its home world.

    ‘It stands like a tree, with all five limbs pressed into the ground as it searches for electricity. It often draws lightning to itself in this position. The inhabitants of The Lightning Plantation sometimes tame them to use them as lightning rods, diverting lightning away from vulnerable areas.’

    “Tame them?” Macro gasped. “They didn’t look like they could be tamed from those photos.”

    DL shrugged. “Do you look good in all your photos?”

    “Well… I… erm…” He stuttered and sipped at his cocoa. “I like to think I do.”

    She chuckled and turned her head to look at him. “Shall we keep looking over this list? Or do you want to try and get some sleep?”

    “I still don’t think I can,” he said, although a yawn betrayed him.

    “Want me to read them to you?” she asked. “Then you can at least close your eyes.”

    He shrugged and shuffled down against his pillow. “Sure.”

    She opened up the next Ultra Beast, but the image made him sit up again. That bamboo creature… he’d only seen its head, but he recognised its face instantly. The rest of it was huge, sporting two cannons floating at its sides.

    Steel and flying type. Apparently lived in a place called The Crater. It made him think of the moon, riddled with craters from meteor impacts. With those cannons, he wouldn’t be surprised if it made them.

    “Celesteela,” said DL. “Despite being a steel and flying type, it draws nutrients from the soil like a plant. It can also create large roots, anchoring itself in place. Its cannons fire out various debris, from iron to fire. It’s been known to burn down entire forests. It shoots a flammable gas from its cannons to propel itself through the air for high speed flight.”

    Macro clutched his mug tightly to stop his paws from trembling.

    “C-can they… tame that one?” he asked.

    DL placed a paw over the screen, blocking out the text and photo. “It doesn’t say. But… there’s no reason why not, is there?”

    Macro looked away from her, fixing his attention on the door.

    “Look, at least we know its weakness now,” she said.

    “Yeh. Steel flying type.” He clutched his mug close to his lips. “I can’t do anything to it.”

    “No, but Anchor can. And so can I.”

    He turned to look at her again, catching a reassuring smile.

    “Tomorrow, we’ll land somewhere and try out those Z-Moves,” she said. “Meanwhile, get some rest or you won’t be joining us.”

    He sighed and returned to his pillow, shuffling down so his shoulders were resting against it. He quickly downed the remains of his cocoa then handed the mug back to DL.

    She slipped from the bed and gathered up her own mug. The bed suddenly felt really cold, despite the warmth lingering behind where she’d been sat.

    “Do you want me to leave your computer?” she asked.

    “Please.” He diverted his eyes from hers. “I might need it.”

    She nodded and placed it carefully on the night stand. Then she turned to leave his room. The door opened, but she paused in the doorway and looked back at him.

    “I’ll be in the cockpit if you need me,” she said.

    He watched the door close, leaving him feeling very cold and alone. But at least she wasn’t annoyed with him. That gnawing guilt had been swiftly expunged. With a sigh, he shuffled under his duvet and rearranged his pillows. A soft scent wafted up from the one DL had been leaning against. It smelled just like her. A soft sweetness hidden beneath the lavender from the ship’s shower. It warmed him from the inside. Enough to make him want to run after her.

    He bit back the urge and tucked the pillow beside him, turning his back on it. But it was still there. He stared at the wall, trying to ignore it. But he was convinced it was getting worse. It was oddly soothing…

    As he closed his eyes, he found himself rolling over, snuggling into the pillow. Before he knew it, he was sound asleep.

    ...​

    Annie burst from the Moonlight Lounge, still clutching the dazed chatot in her claws. A loud laugh escaped her and she turned to shout over her shoulder.

    “I thought that might motivate you!”

    The rest of her crew were mixed amid the riled rabble that pursued her down the street. Lasers fired left and right, widely missing her as the space pirates intended to slow her down more so than actually hit her. Something whizzed over her head, slicing through the air, and she ducked with a squeak. A silver disk bounced ahead of her, rolling down the street on its serrated edge. An arrow lay discarded behind it, the sharp point of its feather blunted where it had struck something solid.

    She trampled over it and glanced back at the crowd. Waveform had caught up with her now, notching another feather onto his vine. Widget’s brown tail bobbed up and down behind the decidueye as he ran in circles, throwing his weight around to knock the faster pirates back into the mob. Those less fortunate to land on their feet were trampled beneath those bigger than them, creating a trip hazard to slow the space pirates down.

    “Not too far now,” said Waveform. “Keep running.”

    Annie laughed and picked up her pace, speeding around a corner onto the docks. Adrenaline fired through her veins, and her lungs felt fit to burst. It was fabulous.

    The colourful hulls of the ships filled the docks, as did the colourful forms of many more pirates. Bright eyes widened as the mob followed the maniacal archeops, fixing on the angered faces and the frantic feathers clutched in her claws. The irritating chatot decided to dig his hooked beak into her claws between desperate cries for help that were drowned out beneath the enraged voices that filled the street.

    Annie made a beeline for her pyukumyuku ship, and her smile widened when she saw the pokemon waiting around it. Web and Zip stood behind N0ize, the incineroar’s nonchalance contrasting wildly with the fear in the other two’s eyes. He stood with his arms folded and flashed her a single canine in a playful grin. Another pokemon stood a few feet away from him, leaning on a bollard. A magmortar, his right arm decked out with a flashy cybernetic canon. His eyes were locked on Annie and Waveform, occasionally going to the bird flapping in her grip. Blue, white and yellow feathers drifted around her feet as she rushed towards her ship, but not without another glance over her shoulder.

    “Y’all might wanna think about what I said!” she roared.

    More lasers fired, more items were thrown, another arrow went whizzing over her head to impale another disk into the immaculate hull of a lanturn ship. Some pirate was going to be very upset about that.

    Annie skidded to a halt before N0ize and lifted Hatter up high above her head. His beak aimed for her eye, reaching just shy of it. The archeops didn’t so much as flinch.

    “Alright, listen!” she snapped at the oncoming mob. “I’m gonna take off with this parrot, and y’all are gonna let me!”

    The mob didn’t stop running. Some of the bystanders abandoned their leisure to intervene, trying to hold some of the angry pirates back. Others decided to join in, rushing at her from the street only to be held back by a gunk shot from Web. Lasers and elemental attacks whizzed over the heads of the living barrier, skimming Annie’s ship and narrowly missing her feathers.

    Widget cut through the barrier of pirates, landed at her feet and turned his back on her. “Get on your dumb ship, human!”

    “Come on, Annie.” Web placed a paw on her shoulder and steered her to the door. “We’re not wanted here.”

    “They just want to eat me,” Zip said weakly.

    Annie didn’t budge. The goldeen’s mechanical feet clambered up the tinny door into the ship behind her, and he paused at the doorway.

    “Hurry, before they add archeops to the menu!” he cried.

    “Flambeed parrot, anyone?” Annie waved Hatter at the crowd. “Because mark my words, I’ll plunge him into one of your laser attacks!”

    “What?!” Hatter screeched. “Are you crazy?!”

    “Yes.”

    N0ize strode to her side and shoved her backwards. A stray laser nearly clipped his ear, singing the fur at the tip, but he didn’t appear to notice or care.

    “All right, I think we’ve had enough here, don’t you?” he said.

    The magmortar abandoned his post against the bollard and cut her off from view, aiming his cybernetic canon at the mob. A deep, pulsating noise filled the air, followed by a beam of electricity. It flew out of his canon with a deafening screech, causing those closest to him to cover their ears and flinch back. The mob was brought to a halt as the beam flew over their heads and punched a neat hole a billboard atop a casino. The beam blinked out as rapidly as it had started, plunging the docks into silence. The damaged billboard teetered backwards then crashed down onto the roof with an almighty clatter.

    “I think we’re all better’n this,” N0ize rumbled. “Get yer fuzzy asses back to Moonlight Lounge, you drunkards.”

    “She’s taking off with Hatter!” came a very squeaky voice from deep within the mob.

    Other voices rose up to join in, each stating their concerns for the chatot. A majority of the concerns were more about needing him to run a few errands or pay their rewards, which Annie thought was a little unfair.

    The magmortar raised his cannon again, and the voices all cut off simultaneously.

    “Yeh?” N0ize spat towards the lanturn ship then fixed a leer on the crowd. “You ever thought she might have good reason?”

    “Bounty hunter!” someone cried. “She’s a bounty hunter!”

    “Waltzing in here for that jackin’ mayor!” said another.

    “I don’t work for no mayor!” Annie put her paws on her hips and flinched as Hatter dug his beak into her scaly leg. “I thought I made that clear in that… Mooney… Loungey place.”

    Waveform backed towards her, keeping his arrow notched. Tracer came from the other side, watching the mob over his shoulder with his paw clutched over his stick, which was partially buried in his tail. He ducked his head as someone let out an electric attack, and the sparks bounced off an innocent bollard, shattering it on impact. He looked over at Annie, wide-eyed, and opened his mouth to speak, but a loud shout from the crowd cut him off.

    Trojan bolted from amid the group, eyes filled with fire. Tracer seemed to relax momentarily and he looked up at the scrafty.

    “Where did you get-”

    “Get on the ship!” Trojan’s roar had been aimed at Annie.

    He bolted past her, knocking the detective off balance, and clattered up onto the ship, causing it to rock precariously. Tracer stumbled backwards, steadying himself against the lanturn ship.

    “Come on, Annie.” Waveform placed a paw on her shoulder and backed towards the pyukumyuku. “We’re leaving.”

    Annie didn’t even look up at him. Her attention was still fixed on the angry mob.

    “I have you know I don’t work for the mayor!” she said. “I’m trying to stir all you pirates up into a frenzy! One day, that mayor will be gone and we’ll have ourselves to thank!”

    She thudded her chest with her claws, Hatter swaying unceremoniously. His face had turned a little pale beneath his black plumage.

    “Lies!” one of the pirates shouted.

    This was enough to stir up the others. They pushed back against the barrier of pirates, not so much as flinching as the magmortar raised his railgun cannon once more.

    The pyukumyuku flared to life, its tinny hull rattling like a can of coins.

    “Annie!” Web poked her head out of the door. “Come on! We’re leaving!”

    N0ize chuckled and shook his head, while Tracer fidgeted his paws together. He brandished his stick and aimed it into the crowd.

    “Time’s running out.” He sent out a flamethrower, singing the fur of a purugly. “I hope you’ve got a backup plan other than spouting another monologue!”

    Web looked back into the ship, stepping aside to let Waveform on. Trojan had sat himself down at the steering controls, muttering curses as he stared at Annie’s back.

    “Do we have a backup plan?” Web asked. “She won’t move.”

    “I’m on it! Don’t nag me.” Trojan lifted a paw and struck The Big Red Button.

    A white, sticky mass shot out of the pyukumyuku’s nose, stretching out like a set of claws. Annie was on a ramble about mayors and fishes, much to the confusion of the space pirates since it had stopped making any coherent sense. The gooey claws fastened around her waist, plucking her from the docks.

    A small yelp left her throat as the stretchy mass shot back towards the pyukumyuku’s nose, dragging her deep within its confines. The last thing the crowd heard as it snatched her on board was:

    “This is mutiny!”

    Trojan grimaced and looked back at Web and Waveform. The pyukumyuku rose from the docks, sending the two off balance. Zip’s metal claws screeched over the surface as he slid backwards into the skuntank’s arms. She made sure the goldeen was securely locked in place then settled herself into her seat.

    “I don’t think she liked that,” said Zip weakly.

    “I have to agree,” said Waveform. “I feel it was a little discourteous.”

    “I don’t really care,” said Trojan, rubbing the back of his neck with a grimace. “She was causing a jackin’ ruckus. We coulda been killed.”

    “Murder is illegal, even in Pulse City,” said Web. “The worst that could have happened-”

    “Is monslaughter,” said Trojan. “I reckon some got trampled to death in that mob and it’s all her fault. I have every right mind to keep her in the cargo bay until we reach… I dunno…”

    “Wave City,” said Zip. “She told me we’d go to Wave City and talk to the water types.”

    Trojan leant on his paw and frowned at the blackness ahead. “Right now, I couldn’t care less.”

    Banging came from beneath them, shaking the seats. The scrafty grit his teeth together and fought back the urge to stamp his foot in response.

    “Anyway, she can stay there for a while,” he grumbled. “I need to cool off.”

    “Can’t she get out?” Web asked.

    “’Course not,” said Trojan. “What kinda jackass leaves a cargo bay door unlocked? That’s just askin’ for trouble.”

    “Then someone should go and get her.”

    Waveform glanced back down the ship then made his way towards the captain’s seat. Before he could lower himself into it, Trojan looked up at him and froze him in place with a glare.

    “Then I vouch you do it,” he said. “’Cos if I see her, I’m gonna pluck her feathers out.”

    Waveform’s face paled and his eyes flit left and right. He cleared his throat and lowered his scarf from his metallic beak.

    “I speak for all avians when I say please… don’t do that.”

    “She ain’t avian. She’s human.” Trojan waved a paw, brushing off Waveform’s crimson leer. “Go get her. Then use your scarf to gag her.”

    “What’s got your gogoat?” Web snapped.

    Trojan scoffed and snapped his head around to face her, flinching with the momentum. “I got trampled! Trampled! I ain’t ever been so freakin’ humiliated!”

    Web’s jaw dropped and she rose to her feet.

    “Sit down!” Trojan snapped, watching as she slumped back into her seat. “Worst thing was that shamus saw everything. That look of concern on his wretched face, fighting back as he got swept away. Like I wanted his help…” The scrafty yawned and leant back in his seat, spotting Waveform still watching him. “You gettin’ her or what?”

    Waveform shook his head with a sigh and turned towards the cargo bay. The little hatch was built into the floor, right at the back of the ship. He pulled it open and leant his head inside, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Something small crashed back and forth, bouncing off the walls and squawking insults. It turned and shot towards Waveform, startling the decidueye back onto the ship. A loud hoot escaped his beak, much to his dismay, and he watched the chatot bolt from the hatch and crash into the ceiling. He fell back through the hatch like a stunned chick.

    Waveform clambered down, scooping Hatter up under one wing. He spotted Annie lying in a tangled sprawl a few feet away. She writhed beneath the sticky mass, fixing her eyes on him.

    “A little help here?” she asked.

    Waveform deposited Hatter and scrambled over to her. The pyukumyuku’s ‘innards’ were still fastened around her small frame. He grabbed at them in his paws and tugged them free. They weren’t so much sticky as they were gooey and difficult to latch onto. Once he’d prised them free, Annie staggered to her feet and shook out her dishevelled feathers. A few yellow ones fell free, joining a goopy mass of them on the floor. Waveform shook a couple from his paws then wiped them down on his chest.

    “Thank you,” she said. “Now I need to speak to the designer behind this ridiculous yet genius idea and request they never use it on me again.”

    He gave her a curt nod and gathered up the stunned chatot. Fortunately Trojan had installed a ladder, making climbing out of the cargo bay relatively easy. Once they were back on board, Annie marched to her seat and flopped back into it, kicking her talons up onto the dashboard.

    Trojan fired her a sideways glare and smirked. “You’re the one who requested a pyukumyuku.”

    “Yeh, that was genius.” She scratched some goop off her shoulder and grinned at him. “Do that to me again and you’re fired.”

    “Where do you want our hostage?” Waveform asked.

    She turned to look at him and frowned at the parrot cradled in his right wing.

    “Do we have a cage?” she asked.

    Waveform’s beak fell open and both Web and Zip gaped at her wordlessly.

    “What?” Annie shrugged. “Back in my world, we sometimes keep birdies in cages.”

    “Well we’re not in your world,” said Trojan. “A cage is a prison cell.”

    “Then… set him in a corner somewhere until he wakes up.” Annie yawned and leant her head back in her seat. “I’ll give him my request later. Then we can discuss how much we can pay him.”

    “Pay him?” Trojan scoffed.

    “We don’t really have much money, dear,” said Web. “We can’t pay him.”

    “Then we make money.” Annie reached into her pouch and pulled out the poster she’d claimed from Hatter’s stall. “There are a couple of guys we can round up. They’re worth a pretty penny.”

    Waveform took the poster from her and unravelled it. “Hunter? His bounty’s gone up again.”

    “You know this mawile?” Annie pointed a claw at the wanted poster.

    “Not personally. But there’s not a pokemon in System who’s managed to get so much as close to arresting him. You think we can catch him, you’re living a pipe dream.”

    “What about the other one then?” She tapped the sheet.

    He turned it over, revealing the second target. “Surge? What did she do?”

    “Sounds like you know her then.”

    “We’ve done a job or two together,” he said. “Split the reward, although she always left with more so I stopped bothering. Sounds like she’s got her paws dirty in government secrets.” He looked up at Annie and cleared his throat. “Much like us, I guess.”

    She waved a wing at him and turned away. “I ain’t no government secret.”

    Purple streaked across the sky like a dart and she leant forward, straining to make it out. She wasn’t alone. Trojan stared at it too, frowning at the anomaly.

    “Is that a shooting star?” she gasped. “Didn’t think they were purple.”

    “That ain’t no star, we ain’t high enough,” said Trojan.

    “What is it then?” Annie nudged him. “You got a telescope?”

    He beat her claws away and urged the ship forward. “No I ain’t got no telescope. Shut up while I try to get us closer.”

    “You seriously think we can catch it in this…” Web waved at the ship’s walls. “This… hunk of-”

    Trojan and Annie both glared over their shoulders.

    The skuntank cleared her throat and smiled. “Hunk of fantastic design?”

    “The engine I bought might not be the latest model.” Waveform sat in his seat and secured himself in. “But I can assure you we can at least catch up with that creature.”

    “Creature?” Annie looked back at him. “You think that’s a creature?”

    “Is your vision not as good as mine?” Waveform asked. “I can make that out clearly. It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

    Annie squinted at it. “It just looks like a purple blob to me.”

    “Wait for it,” said Trojan. “We’re getting up to five hundred and fifty miles per hour here. If I were to guess, that thing is flying closer to four hundred.”

    She clapped her claws together and bounced in her seat. “Oh! This is getting exciting!”

    “I’d like to ask what you expect,” said Trojan. “But given random creatures have been showing up, I’m gonna hazard a guess this is one of them.”

    “I think you might be right,” said Waveform.

    “Well, we’re gaining on it quickly,” said Trojan. “And it appears to be slowing down.”

    “What do you plan to-” Waveform’s voice cut off with a grunt and he keeled forward in his seat.

    Hatter shot over to Annie and landed on her shoulder, screeching in her ear.

    “You crazy moron! What do you think you-” He trailed off and looked out of the window. His tiny eyes widened like saucers and he clutched her head with both wings. “What on earth is that?!”

    “Hang on a sec…” Annie grinned widely, brushing the chatot aside. “It looks like an onion!”

    The odd, purple creature turned its bulbous head back towards them. When it spotted the ship, it flicked its long tail and tried to speed up.

    “Are you jackin’ serious?” Trojan leered at her. “What kind of freak-ass onions did you used to eat?”

    “The ones that came on my plate,” said Annie. “Can this hunk of fantastic design go any faster?”

    He muttered under his breath and pressed the ship onward. It gained fractionally in speed, drawing them closer to the fleeing creature.

    “What do you expect us to do when we get close to it?” Web asked, somewhat apprehensively.

    “Simple.” Annie kicked her feet up again and leant back, almost sending Hatter to the floor. “We catch it with that goop thing you used on me.”

    “I have to say,” said Waveform. “This creature doesn’t look much like the celebi I’ve seen in drawings.”

    “Neither does Annie’s archeops form,” said Zip.

    “Exactly,” said Annie. “So let’s hurry up and catch that Time Onion.”

    Web pointed a claw at the blob. “You actually want to catch this?”

    “Yep.”

    “Without knowing for certain that this is a celebi?”

    “Yep.”

    “And hold it in this ship?”

    “Yep.”

    Web shook her head and let it fall into her open paws.

    “I got a question.” Trojan turned fully in his seat to face her. “Are you crazy?”

    “I’ve already answered that question once today.” She yawned again and glanced down at The Big Red Button. “I guess that’s the one you use to set it off? Or… it deposits the ship’s engine like in those daft films I watched as a kid.”

    Trojan leant defensively over the button. “I’m not having some unknown creature on this ship.”

    Annie looked back out of the window. The creature was in plain view. A violet body with a long, reptilian tail. Its bulbous head had some kind of needle-like appendage sticking out of it, yet its arms and legs made its appearance oddly cute. It looked quite like a pokemon, except one she’d never seen. Although that was hardly a feat given she’d not seen all that many. Nevertheless, it did look onion-like in an odd not-quite-an-onion kind of way.

    Maybe it was a red onion?

    She scratched her nose and looked back down at what she could see of The Big Red Button. She hadn’t seen how far Innards Out could reach. And with Trojan guarding the button like a mighteyena with a bone, she only had one chance to get it right.

    Her eyes flew to Hatter, cowering on her shoulder, his beak hanging open as he stared at the blob’s purple bottom.

    “Hmm…” She ran a claw under her chin and glanced up at the ceiling.

    “She’s plotting something,” whispered Zip.

    Closer now. Still out of her own physical reach, but the creature’s head kept turning back and its bright eyes kept widening whenever it saw them.

    Annie reached up and grabbed Hatter, eliciting a squeak from him. Then she tossed him at Trojan’s face. Flapping wings and scrambling talons sent the scrafty reeling back in his seat, roaring profanities. She leapt across the dashboard and struck The Big Red Button. The white goopy mass lurched out of the ship’s nose much faster than the ship could physically fly. It engulfed the creature full on, swallowing it up in the stretchy, claw-like tendrils. It then retracted back into the ship with just as much speed as it left.

    A grin split Annie’s face and she leant back into her seat, kicking her talons back up onto the dashboard.

    The ship fell silent. All eyes were on her. Hatter perched on the back of Trojan’s chair, clutching the scrafty’s cheek in both wings. Trojan didn’t seem to care. His expression went from terrified to angry in the blink of an eye, and he exploded from his seat, sending Hatter flapping over to Web.

    “I told you not to press it!” he roared.

    Annie wagged a claw at him. “You never, ever tell someone not to press a red button. It makes it even more tempting!”

    “But now we have a strange, potentially dangerous creature on the ship!”

    “No we don’t.” She rose to her feet and strolled towards the hatch. “It’s Annie’s Time Onion. By the way, it’s dark down there. Does anyone have a torch?”

    ...​

    Tracer and Widget watched the pyukumyuku ship surge into the horizon, its movements ungainly and sporadic. The mob had died down now. Pokemon returned to their previous endeavours, or boarded their ships to leave Pulse City. Tracer had held back perchance any had tried to pursue the human, but so far the only ships that had left the dock had gone off in other directions.

    “We’re not going after her?” Widget asked.

    “Oh, we are.” Tracer stubbed out his cigar on the remains of the shattered bollard and thrust his paws into his trench coat pockets. “I just don’t want her to think we’re giving chase.”

    “She gets much further out, we’re gonna lose her.”

    “I wouldn’t worry about that.” N0ize’s voice startled the two detectives.

    Tracer looked over at the incineroar, leaning against the hull of their alomomola. The magmortar was still with him, feverishly polishing his railgun appendage.

    The incineroar flashed a grin. “My ship could track her no problem. Got sensors that can pick up ships hundreds of miles away.”

    Tracer choked on his own spittle while Widget almost fell over on his haunches. Tracer strove to regain his composure and tried to mask his surprise behind clearing his throat.

    “I’d like to ask how you got your paws on such equipment,” he began, “given the distance most top government ships can reach is only a couple of hundred miles.”

    N0ize maintained his grin for a painfully long, silent moment, causing Tracer to sweat under his coat.

    “That’s classified,” said the space pirate.

    Tracer’s ears sank and he nodded sullenly. “Well, we hate to disappoint you, but-”

    “We’ve got our own ship,” said Widget.

    “What?” N0ize nodded behind him at the alomomola. “This pink thing? Little girly, ain’t it?”

    “It’s not girly!” Widget yapped.

    “It is a little girly,” Tracer told him.

    “All right, fine.” Widget rolled his eyes. “It’s girly. But it flies, and it has two bedrooms.”

    “Not really enough room for little you if your boss and I each get a room, is there?” N0ize folded his arms and smirked.

    Widget’s tail went limp and his jaw went slack. He looked between the incineroar and Tracer, fixing the latter with pleading puppy eyes.

    “I’m not so sure what makes you think were taking you with us,” said Tracer. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate your help-”

    “He helped?” Widget asked.

    “-But I think we’re okay from here,” Tracer finished, blatantly ignoring his small companion.

    “You’re kiddin’ me, right?” N0ize scratched inside his ear and flicked away what Tracer desperately hoped wasn’t a flea. “You get me all involved with this human of yours and you expect me to just go away quietly? I got questions, fuzz. Besides, I really wanna see how this all plays out. She caused quite a stir here. I reckon she’ll cause even bigger stirs down on System Ground.”

    The incineroar’s face split into an even bigger grin, flashing one of his sharp canines. The magmortar looked up from his railgun and frowned between the space pirate and detectives.

    “So… where’s she goin’ next?” N0ize asked.

    Tracer shrugged. “No idea. But she appears to be heading in the direction of Meta City.”

    “She lands there, she’s got a death wish.” N0ize nodded to the other fire type who returned to his polishing. “She’s gonna need a little backup.”

    Tracer’s heart sank. So both pirates were wanting to squeeze themselves onto his ship? Things were starting to feel a little cozy. And somewhat dangerous.

    “Thank you, gentlemon,” he said. “But we’ll be taking our leave now.”

    N0ize laughed while the magmortar rolled his eyes.

    “You hear that, Cyph3r?” N0ize nudged the magmortar with his elbow. “They think they’re just gonna leave us behind!” He fixed Tracer in a leer decorated with a grin to make it even more menacing. “I think not, fuzz. You need backup. This has gone too deep even for you. With Socket, and with Pulse City. You turn away from us, you’ll leave yourselves vulnerable to a whole host of enemies waiting to tear you limb from limb. Those pokemon you cheezed off in Moonlight Lounge? They’ll recognise you, and they’ll come for you. It also won’t be long until Socket realises you’ve turned tail on her, helpin’ the human raise a rebellion against her, against meat eaters, and whatever else sparks her fancy. ‘Cos let’s face it, she’s a tickin’ time bomb of disaster waitin’ to happen. And I wanna see it! So get your two fuzzy tails onto my sharpedo and we’ll head on out to tail that human you’re so fixated with.”

    Tracer stared at him, open mouthed. Widget gave a pained whimper beside him, his brown eyes fixed on the alomomola. Tracer counted off his list of crimes. Failing to apprehend Annie, more and more willingly with each fail. Selling a government ship. Assisting in causing a scene. Partnering with space pirates. Now he was going to abandon his ill-gotten ship to hot tail it across System with a pair of space pirates who only wanted to see the mayor fall off her high horse and all of System to go into an uproar.

    All for the sake of fun.

    Fun or not, two large pokemon backing him wouldn’t be a terrible thing.

    “Okay. We’ll go with you.” He pointed a claw at N0ize’s chest. “But I’m in charge.”

    The incineroar threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Of course. This is your little mission after all. We’re just hired paws.”

    N0ize met Tracer’s confused gape with yet another grin and moved away around the other side of the alomomola. Tracer followed after him with Widget in tow.

    “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” the eevee muttered.

    Tracer said nothing. But oh how he wanted to agree.

    Sat in the docks, dwarfed by the alomamola, was the stout form of a sharpedo. Painted along the side of it was a word Tracer never wished to repeat. N0ize stood beside its jaws and beckoned him on board.

    “We board through its mouth?” Widget’s voice didn’t hide his disgust.

    “I guess so,” Tracer muttered.

    “Goin’ off the size of it, you and I will be bunking in the cargo hold,” the eevee snorted.

    As they stepped forwards, the ground lurched. Voices rose into an uproar, and Tracer turned slowly with a sinking feeling deep within his gut. Surely the human hadn’t actually left a ‘ticking time bomb of disaster’ somewhere deep within Pulse City?

    “Tracer…” Widget’s voice wavered.

    The delphox followed his friend’s eyes towards the tall buildings in the distance. Towering over them was a creature he’d never seen before. Tall, slender at the top and wide towards its shoulders. The rest of it vanished beyond the buildings. Then there was the scream. An unearthly scream coming from that very monster. Two canons sat at either side of it, and it lifted one, aiming it towards the heart of Pulse City. Towards them.

    “Get on the ship!” Widget yapped.

    He turned tail and Tracer followed after him. They dived after N0ize, and the shark-shaped ship’s jaws snapped shut behind them.

    Cyph3r was already at the controls, pulling the ship out of the docks. Tracer stared from the window, his eyes locked on the glowing cannon.

    “What is that thing?” N0ize asked, his voice wavering uncharacteristically.

    Tracer shook his head slowly. “I regret to say I’ve no idea.”

    A flash split the sky as the cannon fired into Pulse City. Then a sound like thunder. An explosion of green and ruin.
     
  14. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Nah, just fun with acronyms. :p

    Okay... I guess. It's just he, y'know, threatened to kill them, so you'd think they'd be a bit more worried.

    Agoraphobia is not what I got from her. You'd need to show that a lot more, with fear of going outside (she went to DL's orphanage) or taking some sort of medicine. <.<;

    I think "paper-thin" might be a better description for kartana limbs, then.

    A god discovered social media, we're doomed.

    I think the first part with Macro was a nice, quieter scene. I mean, sure, there was a significant amount of tensions. But I think you do a good job showing Macro progressively wearing down and getting more unhinged from all the stress of what's going on around him. He actually cares that this System (which he thinks of as a trashy place to start with) is getting ravaged to the ground. And his feelings for DL are starting to show through more and quelch that selfishness of his. I think it works out well, while at the same time showcasing glimpses of the UBs doing bad stuff throughout the world. Tense and effective, in my book.

    Wow DL is very forgiving since he just contemplated killing her. Or she's channeling a PMD protagonist. "I'll happily disappear to save everyone."

    Macro's EGO leveled up!

    Annie's scene was much more, well, chaotic. I think everything was illustrated clear enough to see what was happening. I'm just not entirely sure at what point Annie proceeded to get chased by an angry mob. I thought she was channeling some anger amongst the pirates, but not necessarily toward her. I think I must've missed something somewhere. @.@
     
  15. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    Finally back for chapters 2 and 3.

    Chapter 2

    The description of the setting and its details is neat in this chapter. However, there could have been a clear mention right here at the start that it was nighttime - it might have been mentioned in the previous chapter, maybe, but people do forget things and there's no way it could be considered repetitive to remind the audience just once.

    Interesting idea. Metal leaves do sound kinda hazardous for passersby or flying-types, though... but maybe their edges aren't that sharp.

    Also, question: if berry plants can grow in this place, why do they need their grass to be artificial? You'd think grass would be less picky than berry plants when it comes to purity and nutrients. Are they just cheap on the seed costs?

    This part kinda struck me as odd. In the first chapter and for most of this one, Macro and Anchor banter with each other just as much, and it isn't really implied too much that Macro would do lots of risky tricks on the expense of his crew's safety. The one we see here is the first - Macro acts pretty professional before this. With the ladder, it was Anchor in the first chapter that inconvenienced Macro with it, so the divide is even bigger. Also, the taunting seemed more like he was buying time, so I'm not sure why Anchor's mad about that. The guards were going to attack anyway.

    I feel like it could be less jarring if the dialogue was a bit different. Anchor yells at Macro, asking what he's doing, but if Macro really does this so often, Anchor could acknowledge this with something along the lines of "Are you seriously doing this again?".

    On another note, spotted a typo, "beginning is ascent".

    General Comments:

    Elemental laser-pistols are cool. It would make a lot of sense for weapons to develop to counter certain types in a world divided by exactly those.

    Chapter 3

    I'm not sure if there are other kinds of arcades? "Games arcade" sounds kinda redundant to me. "Arcade" would do just fine in my opinion, as I doubt Matrix would go look for just a "series of adjoining arches", especially in a grimy city like this.

    Why did he place it in his eye? Surely there are other parts of his body that would hold a piece of everstone and not cause damage to an organ as important and fragile as the eye.

    That said, everstone usage makes sense - I had some like this in an own fic of mine too, so it was cool to see another have the same idea.

    Wait, wasn't it just said earlier in the chapter that pirates didn't get bounties? I'm confused.

    I really liked this particular part. The analogy, the word choices, even the mere inclusion of this detail. Just so well put.

    Violent?

    General Comments:

    The new zigzagoon character felt kinda silly to me, acting so cool while being such a small, weak and non-intimidating-looking mon. Not sure if it was the intention, but that was how I reacted.

    The description of the setting in this chapter took another step up in detail and I think it was wonderful. The arcade and the mon of the city were especially vibrant.

    The story so far hasn't really been building up to anything much. It's been kind of episodic, showcasing different environments. That's not bad by itself, but as we're three chapters into the fic now, I'd like to see an indication of the main plot starting soon.

    That's all for this time! See you again soon.
     
  16. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    There are two agoraphobic characters in this 'fic. Cookie is the more stereotypical/extreme case, whereas Socket is based more on the level I used to suffer with. She can leave her mansion, yes, but only to familiar places and with an escort. She'd also be much more relaxed indoors. She absolutely hates to do so, however, and made her displeasure known when she was called to Proxy Prison. I've not written in any anxiety attacks induced by such endevours, however, but we can assume she would have them.

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked that =D

    She understands his fear, and clearly saw he was distressed by his actions. Macro is, very clearly, not in a fantastic place right now...

    XD That amused me when I read over it in proofing!

    Yeah, I didn't really want to rewrite her going off on a rant/speech again. But giving a speech against eating meat in a restaurant/bar filled with meat eaters was never gonna go down well! (Neither would making off with Pulse City's huge income and information provider!)

    I don't think I really thought about that. But berries struggle to grow. Grass would deprive the trees of nutrients? System Ground doesn't generally grow its own food, but some places try.

    Macro takes risks, and has his bravado moments. That scene was inspired by the first episode of Kaitou Joker, where Joker throws himself from a high building to escape the police, then flies off on a bubble-gum balloon. Macro has a fair few inspirations gone into him. Of course, he wasn't gonna fly away with bubble gum. Anchor's frustrations with him are because he's somewhat sick of him pulling stunts like that and thus potentially endangering his crew.

    I'm kinda separating them from the gambling arcades rampant in UK tourist spots (even if they do have the odd, old game arcade system.) The ones in System are more inspired by those in Japan (where they also have Pachinko Arcades, which are a different thing). System does also have gambling arcades.

    Worm is pretty tiny =3 but yeh, strange place to put it. Maybe he didn't have much choice? I'm not even aware of what his enhancements are, and I wrote him XD

    It doesn't stop them from trying, although rarely.

    Thank you =3

    You mis-read it. It's 'violet', the colour of his eyes.

    Aww, poor Surge =( zigzagoon aren't intimidating, but Surge definitely is. There are loads of pokemon species in System, and even the cute ones aren't necessarily super cute and cuddly!

    Thank you so much!

    The story really gets rolling from chapter 4 ;)

    ...

    Chapter Fifty Two​

    Macro woke up in a tangle of sheets with his face still buried into his pillow. At some point he’d flipped over, dragging the pillow with him. He propped it against the wall and rolled onto his back to reach for his computer. A faint trickle of light came through the window, but it wasn’t enough to gauge what time it was.

    Eight thirty in the morning. He’d slept right through the breakfast alarm.

    He groaned and unwound himself from his sheets, hastily remaking the bed as a final decision to not climb back into it. Then he grabbed his belt and scarf and made for the door.

    His sleep had been somewhat dreamless, and he’d needed it. The immense grogginess that filled his head was something he’d become accustomed to after a good night’s sleep. After a strong coffee and a pile of steaming pancakes to clear the cobwebs away, he’d be good to go.

    He yawned widely and paused to poke his head into the cockpit. Matrix leant back in his seat with his over-sized headphones on, nodding along to some music Macro could only faintly make out. A loud clatter came from the kitchen and Macro slipped into it, spotting Cookie doubled over by the oven. He swiftly mopped up what looked like caramel, muttering to himself about being a klutz, while DL silently set the table. She beamed when she spotted Macro, causing him to flush under his fur.

    “You’ve got a late start,” he said.

    “I know. I requested it.” She turned back to Cookie and stooped to help him mop up the sticky mess. “I thought you could all use a lie in.”

    Stomping feet thundered down the corridor and Anchor exploded into the kitchen. He grabbed the doorway and stared inside, his chest heaving. He looked over at Cookie and DL, eyed the set table and the steaming stove, and immediately relaxed.

    Macro grabbed his seat and sank down into it. “I appreciate the thought, DL, but your message clearly didn’t reach the rest of the crew.”

    “I did leave a note on the door for anyone who got up early.” She rung out the wet cloth into the sink. “Matrix is obviously the only early riser.”

    As though on cue, the ribombee buzzed over Anchor’s head and landed gracefully in his seat.

    “I trust you slept well?” DL asked Macro.

    “Like a log.” He yawned again and leant his groggy head on his paw. “Is there an ETA on the coffee?”

    “Coming right up!” Cookie straightened and grabbed the cafetiere from beside the stove. “I’m a little out of sorts this morning, so please forgive me if it’s a little weak.”

    Macro poured a coffee for himself and Matrix then took a sip from his mug. It was a little weak. He frowned slightly but let it slide, settling back in his seat.

    Cookie clenched his paws over his stomach, eyeing Macro curiously. “So it’s okay? Thank goodness.”

    Matrix sipped his coffee and spoke without looking up. “It could have used an extra minute.”

    The slurpuff stuttered and looked over at Macro again.

    Macro cracked an eye open. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

    Cookie waddled back to his stove and busied himself over various sticky sauces.

    Anchor slumped down beside Macro and poured his own mug. “Someone either slept like a king, or is just desperate for a coffee this morning.”

    Macro said nothing as he sipped his drink, feeling it warm every nerve. He watched DL assist Cookie, muttering things to him that had some kind of placating affect on the jittery slurpuff. Her thick tail was held in a neat curl over her back as she moseyed back and forth, and the warm light from the fluorescent bulb highlighted every subtle curve of her body. Her gentle smile and chocolate fondue eyes only added to the warmth and peacefulness she seemed to radiate.

    “Cap’n?”

    Macro blinked and looked away from DL to meet Anchor’s raised eyebrow.

    “Did you hear me?” he asked. “I said we’re only fifteen minutes away from Meta City. Is that our next destination?”

    Macro almost spilled his coffee. A few drops sloshed over the side as he tried to steady it, peppering the table with little, dark spots.

    “I thought we were headed to Cyan City,” he said. “When did we-”

    “Don’t worry, we’re not going to Meta City,” said DL. “I spoke to Matrix last night. We agreed it might be a good idea to scope out the damage these Ultra Beasts are doing.”

    “What?” Macro fixed wide violet eyes on hers. “But I thought… aren’t they actually in Meta City?”

    “Yes, but we can get a feel for that in the outskirts,” DL explained. “You can still see the mechanical trees from the outskirts, right? So we’ll be able to see the Xurkitree’s behaviour for ourselves. Rather than reading up and absorbing mindless propaganda.”

    “It would have been nice if you’d run it by me first,” said Macro. “I mean, with everything that’s going on right now - even space pirates are after me! - it’s not safe for us all to just go down into the outskirts.”

    “Not to mention our bounty’s gone up.” Matrix nonchalantly sipped his mug while thumbing over his computer screen.

    “What?” Macro stared, dumbfounded at him.

    “You did know that, right? Fifty thousand credits?” Matrix turned his computer so Macro could see it. “Not just you and Surge. All of us are wanted now. Fifty thousand big ones. Except Cookie.”

    “Not a space pirate,” Cookie chimed from the stove.

    Macro blinked as it all came back to him, and his mug clattered to the table. He tugged at the fur on his head and groaned. “That complicates things even more!”

    “Come on, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We were all wanted ‘mon anyway. How does this change things?”

    “A bigger price attracts more bounty hunters,” said Macro. “And no space pirate is gonna sniff at fifty thousand, let alone the opportunity to claim it three times over!”

    Matrix shrugged and dragged his computer back to himself, holding his mug in one paw as he continued reading over the recent news.

    “We’ve been asked to turn these beasts in,” said Anchor. “I say we not let this mishap put us off.”

    Macro narrowed his eyes at him. “Mishap?”

    “Aye. I mean, would you let it put you off getting the rest of DL’s memories?”

    “I might proceed with some caution.”

    “Since when did you use caution?” Anchor choked back a laugh. “You show up guns blazin’ no matter what the situation.”

    Macro turned away from him and clutched the hot mug to his chest. “This is different. Space pirates now want me, there are strange alien beasts destroying cities, and we’ll be right in the thick of the action from both the beasts, thugs and Socket’s goons!”

    “And if there are any space pirates down there,” said Matrix, “you can add ruffians to that list.”

    DL chuckled and popped a plate of pancakes in the middle of the table.

    Macro eyed them, suddenly void of his appetite. Nevertheless, he grabbed a couple and dropped them onto his plate. If he was going to go with DL’s bonkers plan, he was going to need his strength.

    “So who’s going down into the outskirts?” Anchor asked.

    “I was thinking we could discuss that.” DL pulled up a seat beside Macro and placed a hot pan of chocolate sauce before him. “Like Macro said, we need to be cautious.”

    “And none of us have practised these Z-Moves,” said Macro. “I sense a problem there already.”

    “We’re not going to fight the Ultra Beasts,” she said. “We’re gathering data. We need to get them home, like Solgaleo said.”

    “And what if one attacks us?”

    “Beat it back and run. Just don’t hurt it.”

    Macro stuck his fork into his pancakes as the screaming face of Celesteela filled his mind. ‘It’s been known to burn down entire forests.’ Blazing trees receded into burning buildings and he shook his head sharply to dislodge the onset of another flashback.

    “You alright, Cap’n?”

    He met Anchor’s concerned face and returned to his pancakes, stuffing a forkful into his mouth. He barely tasted it.

    “I’m just not ready for this,” he said.

    DL reached for his paw, then retracted back, her eyes going distant. Then she reached for the chocolate sauce and spooned a ladle-full over her plate.

    “Look,” said Macro. “We’ll go. We’ll scope it out. Spend no longer than an hour, two hours tops. But someone needs to stay on the ship with Matrix as back up. Because if something happens to me, Wildcard Gamma has to keep going.”

    “Nothing is going to happen to you,” DL told him. “You’ll stay in touch, and if you need us then we’ll swoop in.”

    “Wait!” Macro raised both his paws and looked at each of his crew members in turn. Even Cookie had stopped what he was doing to listen in. “Am I going in there alone?!”

    “Of course not!” Anchor spat. “I won’t allow it!”

    “That’s exactly what I want to hear from my second in command.” Macro spooned more pancake into his mouth.

    “But if it’s information you’re gathering,” said Anchor, “might I suggest you take someone small? Easier for you both to hide.”

    Macro looked up with his fork still in his mouth. His eyes wandered from Anchor to Matrix, taking in his tiny form. The ribombee wound his antenna in his paw, glancing between Macro and Anchor. Then he glanced towards the end of the table and Macro followed his eye to DL.

    The pachirisu shrugged and leant back from her empty plate, almost spotless save for some chocolate streaks.

    “If you need me to go with you, then I’ll go,” she said. “I’ve actually still got all that information Solgaleo sent me saved in my brain.”

    “That sorts it then,” said Anchor. “Since she’s basically a walking Ultra Beast Encyclopedia, then take DL.”

    Macro sank into his seat, fixing Matrix with a pleading look.

    “Don’t look at me,” said Matrix. “I’m the only one who can use the navigation system. Do you want Wildcard Gamma to veer off course and leave you stranded?”

    No. Macro didn’t want that.

    He looked back over at DL as she wiped chocolate from her pink nose. She gave him a reassuring nod, but it didn’t serve to alleviate his nerves.

    If anything, knowing he was going to be taking her down into the outskirts, System’s single-most dangerous place outside of Pulse City, only served to fuel his fighting spirit.

    ...​

    The Time Onion didn’t put up much of a fight. Since Annie and Waveform had untangled the thing from the ship’s innards, it had gone from wriggly to placid quite quickly.

    The pyukumyuku trundled on across System Sky in the vague direction of Wave City, but Annie didn’t particularly care about that. She was more intent on getting the creature to talk, or move, or something.

    She sat it back up on her knee, but its head lolled pathetically onto its shoulder, weakly tickling her with its antennae thing. It had three of them, and an odd wheezy noise kept coming from them. Sometimes musical, sometimes whiny.

    “I still think that’s how it communicates,” said Web.

    “I still think it ain’t no celebi,” said Trojan.

    “Neither of you are being helpful,” Annie said, somewhat calmly. “Either make a Time Onion to System-glish Dictionary, or find a clear picture of a real celebi and then we’ll talk.”

    “System-glish?” Zip laughed, blowing a stream of bubbles from his gills.

    The creature wheezed again, then struggled to lift its head. Its head was rather ungainly compared to its tiny body. If it kept lolling dramatically, it would fall off her lap sooner or later. Not to mention its body was sticky. Like a dried, thick sweat that made it easy to grip but repulsed her at the same time.

    “I think this onion might be off,” she said. “Does someone else want to hold it?”

    “Not really,” said Waveform. “My feathers still feel gammy from the last time.”

    “Is it slimy?” asked Zip.

    “Not so much slimy as sticky,” Annie answered. “I feel like if I chuck it at the wall, it’ll cling to it.”

    Web placed her paws on her hips. “You’re not chucking it at the wall.”

    “Like jack you’re gettin’ the walls sticky,” said Trojan. “We don’t even know if it’s toxic.”

    “I say chuck it, right back out the window,” said Hatter. “That thing ain’t right!”

    Annie turned the creature to face her and stared down at it. More wheezing. It didn’t even open its mouth. It kept it tightly closed, and its glazed eyes drooped as it stared blankly at her feathered chest.

    “What’s wrong with it?” Annie asked. “Looks fine to me.”

    “You’re kidding, right?” Hatter gasped. “Not only is it monstrous and alien, it’s clearly dying!”

    “Dying?”

    “I didn’t want to say this earlier, dear,” said Web. “But I think he might be right. I don’t think that’s a celebi. It’s got to be one of those creatures that have been showing up. It’s alien and clearly doesn’t belong here.”

    “Huh.” Annie frowned at it. “Well, let’s make it better then ask it how it can get me back home. Right?”

    “Back home?” Zip glugged to the top of his bowl. “You mean after the rebellion, right?”

    “Nope.” Annie continued to stare at the creature. “If this guy can get me home, I’m off.”

    “But-”

    “You can lead your own rebellion,” she said. “Once I’m gone, you’re in charge, little fish.”

    Everyone fell silent, staring at her open-mouthed. Eyes were either narrowed, or in the case of Zip, wide and frightened. She looked around at the cockpit, clutching the limp creature in her claws.

    “Why y’all starin’ at me?” She waved a wing to get their attention. “Hello? Did someone freeze time?” Her eyes snapped back to the creature. “Was it you, Mister Time Onion?”

    Web let out a sigh and Trojan shifted in his seat, tearing his glare away from her.

    “I ain’t sayin’ nothin’,” he said.

    “Well I do have something to say!” said Web.

    “Save it for later,” said Trojan. “Let’s just get our asses to Wave City.”

    “Not so fast.” Annie returned to staring at the ‘Time Onion’. “If this little guy really is sick, then we need to get him better. Can we do that in Wave City?”

    “It has some of the cleanest air in System,” said Waveform. “Doctors often recommend it for those with asthma or chest infections.”

    “But the air in System Sky is clean, too,” said Web. “Probably cleaner than on the ground where there’s pollutants. If this creature had a breathing condition, it should be clearer up here.”

    “It’s also thinner,” said Waveform. “Which makes it harder to breathe.”

    “It doesn’t mean you can’t,” said Web. “And we’re lower down than most space pirate vessels fly right now. Not to mention our air filters and life support systems.”

    “Which are feeble at best,” muttered the decidueye.

    “I reckon it’s the atmosphere,” said Trojan. “It’s alien to this world and can’t breathe our air. It’ll be dead before we hit the ground.”

    “That’s no good!” said Annie. “It can’t get me back home if it’s dead!”

    She adjusted her grip, but the creature lolled back in her hands. It’s eyes were screwed shut and its breathing came in shallow bursts. There was only one thing for it. She had to resuscitate it. How did they do it in the movies again?

    A lightbulb went off in her mind and she lay the creature across her lap.

    “I have to issue mouth to mouth!” She leant forwards towards the creatures tiny mouth.

    A firm paw grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back before she could even position herself properly.

    “Don’t be so foolish!” Waveform growled in her ear. “We don’t know what stuff is coating it’s body! It might be toxic!”

    “Toxic…” Annie turned away from him and stared out of the window. “Toxic… toxic…”

    Trojan muttered under his breath and looked away from her. “She’s off on one again.”

    “Toxic.”

    The lights below them blurred into a cacophony of colour as her mind went to that word. ‘Toxic’. She mulled it over, tasting it, trying to figure out where it fit in her reality.

    Sticky creature. Possibly toxic. Toxic meant poisonous. Death.

    Reality snapped back into focus and she turned in her seat to face Trojan.

    “Get us back home,” she said.

    “Home?” he scoffed. “You think I can time travel now?”

    “Not my home. Your home.” She pointed a claw at the window. “That yellow, mucky place with the poisonous air.”

    Trojan stared at her, his lip curled up at one side in a confused sneer. A look of realisation crossed Web’s face and she nodded.

    “I think I understand,” she said. “I’m not sure it will help the little creature, but it’s worth a shot if we’ve no way of getting it back to its own world.”

    “Exactly,” said Annie. “I want to help this Time Onion. It’s my only chance to get home.”

    “I don’t believe for one minute that air can help anybody,” said Trojan. “But if you think so, we can give it a shot.”

    The ship lurched so the nose was pointing downward, and sank at a steady pace. As Annie clutched the little creature, it wheezed musically. Four notes, two high and two flat. Out of rhythm, but an unusual sound nontheless. As though its head was some kind of primitive pipe organ attempting to play a melancholic tune. In, out. In, out. Her eyes wandered to the long proboscis-like appendages on its head.

    “We’ll land in about five minutes,” said Trojan. “Think the little guy can hang on that long?”

    “I don’t know,” said Annie. “But I think you might be right about the air. That noise it’s makin’… I think it’s trying to breathe.”

    “Do you want me to check it’s not got any obstruction?” Web asked. “You know, from the innards-out stuff?”

    “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s that.” Annie turned it so she could examine the protrusions. “I don’t believe it breathes through its mouth. It seems to be breathin’ through these things.”

    Web stood and relieved Annie of the creature, then settled back into her seat as she checked over its proboscis.

    “Why, you really are a sticky little fellow, aren’t you?” she said. “Well… if it’s not the slimy stuff from the innards-out, then let’s hope your theory is right, Annie, and it’s the air.”

    “Me too.” Annie tucked her hands behind her head and leant back in her seat. “Because if it’s not and it dies, then I guess I’m stuck here.”

    “Well the longer you’re stuck here, the more I’m gonna kick your lanky ass,” said Trojan. “And don’t think I’m scared of your ancient power, ‘cos I aint.”

    “What did I do to warrant you kicking my ass?” Annie asked.

    “You serious? You jackin’ serious?!” Trojan span in his seat and waved a paw at Zip.

    The goldeen slumped in the bottom of his bowl, resting his head on his fins. He wouldn’t look at either of them. Small bubbles rose from his gills to fizzle away on the surface.

    “I’ll leave you to think about it,” Trojan said, turning back to his controls. “I need to focus on landing this wreck before I end up killin’ us all.”

    The ship jerked and levelled out again. The crumbling rooftops of Spool City spread out before them, bouncing out of view as the ship leapt over them. It then came to a crashing halt in their back garden.

    Annie flew forwards in her seat, throwing out her claws to catch herself on the dashboard. She shoved herself back into her seat and shook out her feathers.

    “Whew!” She turned to look at the scrafty. “Might I suggest seat belts?”

    Trojan sneered and rose to his feet, then stomped towards the door. It fell open with a clatter, and the ship immediately filled with the putrid, polluted air.

    The creature’s wheezing lessened slightly and its breathing became more desperate. Its head expanded and contracted as it sucked up air through its three proboscis.

    “Goodness!” Web gasped and looked up at Annie. “I think you were right!”

    She rose to her feet, cradling the creature in her arms, and raced from the ship.

    Annie stood up slowly and exchanged glances with Waveform. The decidueye narrowed his eyes slightly and gestured for her to leave ahead of him, then turned to Zip. She paused in the doorway to look back at him crouching before the goldeen, shrugged, then clambered from the ship.

    Web stood in the back garden, beaming from ear to ear. The wheezing had faded out completely, replaced with loud gasps reminiscent of someone breathing frantically through a straw. The creature’s eyes were open, although still hooded. It stared blankly at the sky, its mouth slightly open.

    “Look!” Web turned to Annie. “This horrible air has revived it! Who would ever have guessed this deadly air that can even kill steel types could actually give life to something?”

    Annie peered over her shoulder at the creature. Its pupils focused onto them and it looked at each of them in turn.

    Web cradled it in her arms like a hatchling and smiled. “You might be the only creature that can survive in this place.”

    It blinked a couple of times and opened its mouth again. “Where am I?”

    Its mouth didn’t move with each word. Annie thought the voice had only happened in her head. She blinked at the creature, wondering whether or not she should actually answer, when Web did instead.

    “You’re in System, honey. Where are you meant to be?”

    “Ultra Metropolis.” It blinked again. “Why am I here? What happened? Who are you? What are you? Where’s my trainer?”

    “I don’t think we have all the answers,” said Web. “But we can help you. Can you tell us what you are?”

    “He’s a Time Onion,” said Annie. She stretched out her claws and flexed them. “Gimme!”

    Web steered the creature protectively away and asked again, “What are you?”

    “My name is Poipole,” he said. “The same as every other member of my race.”

    “So you’re not a Time Onion?” Annie asked.

    “What’s a Time Onion?” he asked.

    “She thinks you’re a celebi,” explained Web.

    The creature shook his bulbous head slowly. “I’m a poipole.”

    Annie snorted and wiped her claws on her feathers. “So you can’t get me home?”

    When the creature didn’t answer, she folded her wings and frowned at him.

    “That’s disappointing.” She turned and headed towards the house. “I’m going to go and get a shower. I feel oddly sticky.”

    The house was as cold as outdoors, as was the water. The open shower fixed to the top, left corner of the bathroom sprayed yellow water over her feathers, the walls and the floor. The drain gurgled a few times before refusing to take in any more water, creating a puddle in the concave tiles surrounding it. Annie clawed at her feathers until most of the goop from innards-out and the poipole’s sticky body were off her. She never liked feeling sticky. Or wet. But a shower was the lesser of the two evils.

    As she strained her feathers dry, her stomach growled. Having no watch or clock nearby she had no idea whether or not it was even meal time. Regardless, she was hungry. Hungry and tired. A quick snack and a good long sleep sounded absolutely delicious. She stomped through the pooling water and strutted out into the hallway, her claws leaving little wet patches as she hopped down the stairs. Droplets of water still fell from her feathers, spattering the wall and peeling woodwork. She was too busy watching where she put her feet, enjoying creating perfect prints on the dry wood, to see where she was going. As she landed on the final step, her snout found itself buried in fluffy, warm, white feathers.

    “I think we need to have a little chat.” Despite the calmness in his voice, there was a warning note that didn’t settle well with her.

    She pulled her head back and looked up into Waveform’s crimson eyes. His face was as calm as his voice, yet somehow he seemed a lot bigger.

    Annie raised an eyebrow and inclined her head on one side, taking him aback ever so slightly. He’d tried to mask it, but she’d seen it.

    “Oh?” she said. “What about?”

    He glanced over his shoulder at the voices coming from the kitchen. Muffled and incoherent. Then he turned back to her and frowned.

    “’What about’,” he scoffed. “Get upstairs. We can’t talk here.”

    He span her around with his wing and nudged her forwards, causing her to stumble on the steep steps.

    “But I’m hungry,” she whined.

    “You can eat later. This is more important.”

    “Hardly.”

    She tutted and hopped back up the stairs. Her wet prints were already fading away. When they reached the top, he steered her towards her room and followed her inside, closing the door behind them silently.

    Annie looked from her still unmade bed to the decidueye and raised an eyebrow again.

    “Couldn’t we talk somewhere else?” she asked.

    “I’m afraid we lack a meeting room, and I don’t really want to make a scene in the kitchen.” He tucked his wings under his collar and stared down at her like a teacher scolding his pupil. “I think we need to go over your recent actions.”

    “What recent actions?” She spread a wing towards the window and grinned. “All that awesome?”

    “Awesome?” Waveform spat. “You think what you did in Pulse City was ‘awesome’? First you tell a detective and some space pirate crony everything about your ‘plan’ and where you came from, then you kidnap another space pirate who, by the way, is still cowering on the ship. Don’t even get me started on your malicious handling of him, either. I know I don’t think much of space pirates. My job is to round them up and turn them in, but I can’t turn a blind eye on you waving him around by the tail! Then you go and upset Zip. The little fish you’ve adopted and promised - blindly - to rescue him and his kind from being turned into meat.”

    He paused and she stared up at him, unblinking. He took a breath, unfurling his wings to cross over his chest, and leant back against the wall.

    “I know I backed you,” he said. “I thought you had a good premise. Sort out the mayor, free the water dwellers, clean up the outskirts. No more toxic air. Give those living in unfair persecution a voice. I liked it. But seeing all this… I honestly don’t think you’re capable.”

    She finally blinked. Silently.

    “You’re no captain,” he went on. “A captain doesn’t behave like that. A captain cares about their crew. The ship goes down, they go with it. You know as much about being a captain as you do about being a pokemon. You go around looking like one, but you can’t play the part.” He waved a wing-paw at her soggy form then tucked it away again. “I think you need to take a good look in the mirror and tell me if you really, truly believe you can handle this.”

    “I don’t got a mirror.” She took a step back and glanced over at the yellowed wall and lop-sided drawers. “Besides. I got this, believe me. Everything is going fine.”

    “It’s not going fine! We’ve got a terrified space pirate holding his breath on your ship, and a depressed goldeen in the kitchen. Not to mention that creature you’ve abducted and the fact we’re back exactly where we started. Back in Spool City breathing toxic air. If it’s bad for Webber I can’t imagine how bad it must be for you. You weren’t even born here.”

    Annie folded her arms and stared sideways at him. “If we didn’t come back here, that little creature would have died.”

    “You only wanted to save it because you thought it was a celebi.” He met her stare and narrowed his eyes. “If you knew it wasn’t what would you have done? Sent it back out into the atmosphere?”

    “Of course not. I’m not a monster.”

    “Says the human swinging a chatot around by the tail.”

    “Look!” She raised her wings and flexed her claws. “I’ve got tiny hand-things here. And no one gave me anything to put him in. How was I meant to carry him?”

    “Carrying is not the same as swinging around. Nor is threatening to kill him.”

    She let out a low groan and trailed her claws down her face. Anger bubbled up inside her like an overheating pot of stew that she fought desperately to put a lid on.

    “Fine!” she snapped. “You think it’s so easy being captain, you take over.”

    “I’m not saying it is easy being captain. Quite the opposite. And I’m not taking over.” He crouched down so he was level with her, and placed a paw on his knee. “I’m just saying you need a bit of a reality check here. You need to think things through more. Apologise to Hatter, give him your request and let him go. And don’t worry about paying him, I’ll deal with that.”

    She cracked her claws to peer at him. “You can pay him?”

    He shrugged a shoulder, and she thought she saw him smile. There was that lid.

    “I thought you said we had no money,” she said.

    “Like I said, don’t worry about it.” He paused and trailed his eyes over her. “Now. You’re well out of your element here. And from what I can gather from your back story, you’ve not had much chance at freedom. I hope our little talk has made you realise you’re going about it the wrong way. You might think you’ve got a crew behind you with this rebellion, but if you keep behaving like this, before long Web and Trojan aren’t going to back you. Web used to be a pirate, and I wouldn’t blame her if she accused you of giving them a bad press. That stir you caused in Pulse City will have done more damage than good. As for Trojan, you can only push him so far before he snaps.”

    “So I gotta apologise to them too?”

    Waveform nodded.

    “Alright. I’ll do it.” She tried to move past him, but he stretched out a wing to block her way. “Do you want me to apologise or not?”

    “I’m not done.” He gently scooted her back in front of him. “You have to learn to walk before you learn to run. You’re not going to make a good space pirate or rebellion leader if you don’t know how to act like you actually belong in System.”

    “But I don’t belong in System.”

    “That’s why I said ‘act’. Now…” He grabbed her claws in his paw and held up her left wing. “No bird goes around looking like they’ve just rolled in a thorn bush.”

    She furrowed her brow and pouted. “Hey! I have you know I just showered.”

    “Yes, and I’m going to guess you squeezed your feathers dry rather than shaking the water off. Am I right?”

    “Maybe.”

    Waveform released her and placed his wing back across his knee. “Do you know anything about birds, Annie?”

    “They have feathers, lay eggs and fly.” She folded her wings and puffed out her chest. “They also evolved from dinosaurs.”

    “And you are…?”

    “Annie.”

    He slapped his paw onto his face. “Yes, but not quite what I was going for here.”

    “I’m an archeops,” she said. “Evidence to prove my point.”

    “Yes, a prehistoric bird that scientists believe were weak fliers. But that’s not to say they couldn’t fly. You appear to really struggle in that area, and if the way you treat your feathers is anything to go by then I think we’ve figured out why.”

    Annie raised her wing to examine it. The blue and yellow feathers lay in a haphazard fashion, still sodden with water.

    “Archeops weren’t just tatty-looking birds?” she asked.

    “Well, you’re feathers are primitive but they don’t look like those of a dodrio. I’d say you could likely fly given the chance.”

    “Wow. I’d really like that.” She grinned widely. “You gonna show me how?”

    “First thing’s first, you need to learn a little feather maintenance.”

    “What? Preening?”

    “Exactly.”

    “But…” She frowned again. “But I don’t have a beak.”

    He merely shrugged. “I don’t think you need one. Just… comb your feathers with your teeth. Knit them together, get them into the right position.”

    “Huh.”

    She turned her reptilian head towards her right wing and frowned at the long, blue feathers. Then she grabbed them in her teeth and dragged them through, pulling off odd strands and spluttering as she tried to avoid swallowing them.

    Beside her, Waveform grimaced. “Stop! Stop.”

    She looked up, flicking out her tongue to remove the coarse, blue strands. Waveform didn’t look her in the eye. He was too preoccupied with the mess she’d made of her already messy feathers. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his beak above its armour.

    “I guess I’m going to have to show you,” he said.

    She shuffled around so she was facing him and stared up at him expectantly. He raised his own wing and opened his beak… then hesitated. Instead, he cleared his throat and lowered it again.

    “I think you’d learn faster if I used your own feathers,” he said.

    “Hang on.” She raised her claws. “You asked me what I know about birds. I just brushed over it. Perappu Says told me birds engage in… what did he call it?” She scratched her chin and looked up at the ceiling. “Mutual preening.”

    Waveform’s cheeks flushed and he fell back from her. “What…! How do you expect chicks to learn?”

    “I ain’t a chick,” she said. “I’m technically an adult. And Perappu Says made it pretty darn clear that mutual preening is a mating ritual.”

    “What-?”

    “No offence… but I ain’t interested in that.”

    Waveform cleared his throat again and swiftly regained his composure. The surprise in his eyes hardened into seriousness and he folded his wings neatly, uniformly.

    “If you want to get into the technicalities,” he said, “it is an affectionate thing. But also between friends and hatchlings. If you want to learn to tidy yourself up and fly, you need someone to teach you.”

    “What about Web?”

    “Web isn’t a bird.”

    “Po-ta-to, po-tah-to.”

    He narrowed his eyes and fell silent for a moment until he had her full attention.

    “Do you want me to teach you or not?” he asked.

    Her wings fell limp at her sides and she slumped. “Fine.”

    She turned her back on him and let him take her left wing in his.

    “Just don’t cut me with that metal thing on your face,” she said.

    “It’s no more serrated than my beak is, don’t worry.”

    “Then what’s its purpose?” she asked.

    He said nothing, taking two of her longer feathers in his beak and running them through. All she felt was a tug, and she watched as they smoothed out and knitted into place. He did this a couple more times until he was satisfied.

    “See?” He said without looking up. “Now you try.”

    She shrugged and turned to her other wing. He didn’t release her, working away at her ‘primaries’. Another word coming back to her from her childhood books. She tried to copy him, getting much better results and less strands in her mouth. She wasn’t sure whether or not still being wet from the shower was helping, but it certainly looked smoother. Like when you wet your hair to smooth down the frizzy strays.

    When she felt the cold metal brush her skin, she froze and snapped her head around to face him. He had his eyes closed, combing through the smaller feathers over her arm. She’d always been anxious of hair dressers nicking her with their deadly scissors as a child. But his precision felt more like a metal comb. She relaxed herself and returned to her work.

    She was barely half done when Waveform released her and stood up. She looked from him to her wing, noting the tidy display of blue and yellow feathers.

    “I think you get the idea.” He turned to the door. “We’ll try flying tomorrow morning. I’ll be back shortly with some breakfast for you.”

    “No, I’ll come with you.” She tried to follow him, but he pulled the door shut before she could leave, wedging himself between the frame.

    “You’ll wait here,” he said. “Give everyone a chance to cool down. I need to relieve Trojan from watching your captive. Be grateful I came here to talk to you instead of him.”

    “That bad, huh?” she asked.

    He nodded then gestured to her bed. “Get some rest, then we’ll all sit down and have a little chat.”

    The door closed behind him, and she stared at the bare, stained wood. Oh well. A good rest did sound like a grand idea. She hopped onto her bed and finished straightening her feathers out before clambering under the musty sheets.

    ...​

    As Wildcard Gamma dropped slowly towards the ground, Macro could make out more and more of the run-down rooftops of Spool City. The worn streets looked a sickly brown through the heavy smog, darkening to a black as his ship dropped a little lower.

    DL stood beside him, her breathing noisy through her filter mask. He checked it was fastened properly around her antenna and then gave his own a second check over. It was more of a nervous tic. For the first time, he’d be taking DL onto System Ground. A place she’d not walked since her memories were taken away. A place she’d probably never seen with her own eyes, never even smelled, never once experienced except maybe for the faint smog one could see on the skyline from one of Meta City’s skyscrapers.

    It tied his stomach in knots.

    He steadied himself onto the neon ladder and nodded for DL to join him. She clambered down until she was almost beside him, and he looked down at the ground below. He could feel her trembling. Heights? Anticipation? Maybe memories she’d not told him about? The entire ladder shook and he reached out a paw to pull her into himself, just in time for the neon bars to drop noisily towards the outskirts.

    Wind whipped past his ears, blowing his long fur up over the goggles of his mask. DL screwed her eyes shut, cowering into him and clutching the ladder so tightly he could see her knuckles through her fur.

    Before long, they were on solid ground. He offered his paw to help her down, then looked up and down the street. They’d been dropped just shy of an alley. If it weren’t for the fact they were in Spool City, he’d have thought it an ideal hiding spot. But the trash cans were often teaming with trubbish and garbordor, and the drains were perfect lurking spots for grimer and muk as they spied on their rivals’ turf.

    He lifted his paw to activate his visor, but it was held firmly in place. He glanced down at DL’s white paw still clasped around his. She wasn’t looking at him, instead anxiously eyeing the buildings before them. Windows blocked off by curtains and wooden boards. Walls plastered with posters of wanted space pirates, both recent and long since captured. Several of them were for himself, some dating back to the days where he was only wanted for ten thousand credits.

    It might only have been a mere couple of weeks, but those days felt long gone.

    “She really doesn’t like you, does she?” said DL.

    Macro stared back at a poster of himself, frowning at his sneer. “No. She doesn’t.”

    He steered her away from the space pirate montage and led her towards Meta City. His heart was in his throat, pulsing nauseatingly. He could see the skyscrapers dominating the skyline. Tatty rooftops backed by a pristine white, tinted yellow with the Spool City air. But beyond that he knew they were white. He’d seen them. He’d been there.

    Deep voices reached his ears and he froze, straining through the green tint of his mask. He’d still not activated his visor. Spool City was unfamiliar to him. Unlike Proxy City, not many of Spool’s inhabitants had hired him, so he’d had no reason to walk its streets.

    The voices rose into a crescendo of shouts. Gang war, most likely. Nothing he wanted to be a part of. He ducked though a narrow alley and came out on the other side. He crouched against a boarded-up wall and wriggled his paw from DL’s grasp. A quick flick of his ear piece and his visor flashed before his eyes. Maps. Maps was what he wanted. It took a moment to find it, but an outline of Spool City from the sky overlaid his view of the buildings. He let his paw relax to his side, where it was immediately snatched up by DL.

    He restrained himself from looking at her, instead straining his ears to pick up those voices. They’d gone. All he could hear was the wind, and the flapping of hundreds of posters. Loud, papery flaps. Loud enough to drown out a quieter voice.

    He straightened up, bracing himself to move, but no sooner was he back on his feet something wet slapped him across his mask. He beat it aside and stood back, watching as a damp poster for Giga Impact fluttered in the wind, torn right across the dates. Neatly. Something wasn’t right. He stood back and looked up at the wall, taking in all the posters.

    All of them flapped around noisily. Damp. Torn. Not untidily, either. Each cut was perfectly straight. Angled. Slices were cut out, littered along the damp sidewalk and plastered on the road. Every single poster had been sliced with the precision of a blade. And it wasn’t just the posters either. The wall beyond it had also been sliced. Sliced like butter.

    His eyes flew across each one, taking it in. Trying to fathom what in System could have done it. Various pokemon rolled through his mind. Pawniard and bisharp? Their claws weren’t sharp enough to slice through brick or stone. Neither were skarmory, or scyther. Scizor could take out chunks, but not slices.

    Something zipped past behind him, whipping up the air. He spun on the spot, searching the empty streets. On the other side, a curtain fluttered. He caught the flashing eyes of a dark furred meowth, before the curtain fell back into place. But they hadn’t been watching him. He wasn’t even sure they’d seen him.

    He grabbed DL’s paw and ducked back into the narrow alley, not taking his eyes off the vacant street.

    Whatever it was whipped past again, in the same direction. Small. Glinting in the dull light. Then, like a flash, it was gone.

    DL pressed herself up against him, fixing her terrified eyes on the street. Her breath came in quick bursts, and a couple of times he thought she was about to say something.

    Then they saw it again. Retracing its footsteps. Slower. Slow enough to just make it out.

    A small creature, far different from any pokemon he had seen before. Papery, but its limbs glistened in the weak sunlight. It turned away from them, zooming out of view.

    Then he heard a scream. A blood curdling, terrified scream.

    He instinctively fastened his arms around DL, pulling her into him. Her entire body trembled and she buried her face into his scarf. His heart was racing. He scanned the street, straining his ears, but nothing else came. No creatures. No voices. All he could hear was the fluttering of the posters.

    One thing was for certain. They couldn’t stay here. Not unprepared. If these were more of those Ultra Beasts, they needed to know exactly what they were and come back with the tools to deal with it. He took a steady breath and licked his dry lips as he removed one paw from DL to reach for his pouch.

    Light footsteps exploded into the alley on his other side and he moved his paw from his pouch to his laser. He snapped his head around to spot the ruffian, but instead what he saw was a slender lopunny, her head covered with a filter mask. She stood with her back against the wall and something sparking in her right paw. He glanced down at it. A taser. Then back up at her. She’d spotted them. Her eyes went between the two of them, then over at the silent street. She lifted her free paw and gestured for them to join her.

    Macro grit his teeth together, unseen beyond his mask, and shook his head slowly.

    She lifted her paw to gesture again, more urgently this time.

    Macro kept one eye on her and grabbed the butt of his laser, slowly dragging it from its holster. She watched him carefully, then took a step towards the alley mouth. Both her paws rose to her chest, still clutching the taser, but it was a defensive pose. Not a threatening one.

    Then she wasn’t a ruffian. Or if she was, she wasn’t a very good one. He met her eyes, a pale rose colour, lit up with fear. A fear he’d not seen since he was a child, reflected in the eyes of his friend. A fear elicited by a monster.

    It stunned him, as though he’d been shot through the chest. He released his gun and relaxed his hold on DL, falling slightly against the wall. The lopunny lowered her weapon and tiptoed around the garbage towards him. She lowered her head to his, keeping both eyes on the vacant street.

    “It’s not safe here,” she whispered. “Come with me.”

    Macro stared up at her, narrowing his eyes with confusion. There was something about that voice…

    DL pulled back from him and took his paw again, guiding him after the lopunny. The lopunny paused occasionally to look around, her long ears slightly raised. Then she ducked out of the mouth of the alley, turning a sharp right. Macro followed after her, keeping at DL’s side. His paw found his laser again, and he searched the walls for any sign of damage. The further they followed the stranger, the more posters were torn. Ominously flapping in the wind, like the clapping of an invisible audience. It chilled him.

    The lopunny stopped beside a rundown building, and Macro paused to take it in. She fumbled with a set of keys, too many for one lone building. The building had no sign. It stood between a boarded-up shop filled with sliced up posters. On the other side was a club that looked like it hadn’t been frequented much in years. One thing about the lopunny’s chosen residence struck him. Painted across the wall in scarlet paint were the words ‘shove off shamus’.

    Macro’s mouth went dry.

    The lopunny finally got the door open and stood aside, ushering the space pirate inside. He frowned up at her, but lurched forwards as DL dragged him after her. The lopunny was on his back in a flash, shoving him into the building. As she slammed the door, Macro spotted one of the creatures zipping past the window. If it had seen them, it didn’t show any interest. A neat clipping from one of the posters drifted down like a fallen feather onto the street.

    Macro turned back to their rescuer and folded his arms. “Mind telling me what a detective is doing saving my ass?”

    “Oh, I think that’s fairly self explanatory,” said the lopunny.

    She unbuckled her mask and pulled it over her head, shaking her ears into place. Then she fixed her rose coloured eyes onto his.

    Macro’s jaw almost struck the floor and he staggered back, groping for a chair. Failing to find one, he slid down against a desk. DL crouched beside him to try and drag him back to his feet, but his legs wouldn’t obey. He stumbled over his words, unable to take his eyes off the rabbit pokemon.

    “Digit?” he gasped out.

    DL snapped her head around to look at him, then spun to face the lopunny.

    “Long time no see, Hunter.” The lopunny kicked herself back into one of the office seats and set her mask on her desk. “But it isn’t ‘Digit’ anymore. I go by Defrag now. Welcome to Spool City’s little undercover detective agency.”

    ...

    A/N - Did anyone see that twist coming? ='D Just so you're aware, the Wonderland Episode will be coming on Monday 16th July, all being well!
     
  17. canisaries

    canisaries sometimes i get a deadache, yeah

    I see, it just felt like an odd phrasing to me and I didn't remember / know his eyes were violet, so my mind jumped to that conclusion.

    This is the logical assumption to make, yeah, but I expected a character to comment on how odd it was given the statement on the government not rewarding pirates was so absolute.

    Anyway, might as well finish chapter 4 and give my thoughts on it while I'm here.

    Chapter 4

    The "it" of the second sentence could be replaced with "the snow". It's deductible from the context what the "it" refers to, but it doesn't fit in well with the former sentence.

    Rattatas and Carvanha, you mean?

    The end to this chapter felt pretty sudden to me, like it was cut in the middle of a paragraph. I think it's the final sentence. It just doesn't seem like a chapter-ending sentence.

    General Comments

    I think I unfortunately have to say that my reading interest has waned out at this point. I know you said chapter 4 gets the plot rolling and it does seem like it with that mystery box on board, but I find myself not invested enough in the characters or world to be dying to see how they'll fare in the upcoming conflicts.

    Having multiple chapters before the plot is actually started is risky in itself. The reader's interest must be piqued by something that can keep it there until the story actually begins. Several things can accomplish this - compelling characters, worldbuilding that hints of all sorts of wonders to come, even comedy... for me, though, none of the boxes were ticked - or more accurately, gauges filled above the critical line, as there have been elements of all three, but personally just not enough for me.

    To elaborate: there has been worldbuilding, but it's kind of all been tell and not show for all but appearance and some tech. There are pirates and outlaws, but they don't seem to be especially unhappy or suffering. The ice types are said to be on thin ice (I'm sorry, I had to) but we haven't seen any of this on grass-roots level - no scenes to really sell the reader that they should be rooting for the cast, such as a poor cubchoo being kicked around or something along those lines. I just don't get the sense of unbalance or conflict in the world that a setting with an oppressive government and heroic pirates would bring.

    I can't really think of a reason why I should be invested in Macro other than the fact that he's the main character. He doesn't have any charm Anchor wouldn't have, and on the scales of likability he loses to the granbull given the risky moves he pulls without the agreement of his crewmates. However, he's not unlikable enough to qualify for a jerk I'd like to see fail and get his comeuppance, either.

    Anyway, I'd like to stress that this is all my opinion and it might be somewhat biased as I'm not the biggest fan of sci-fi. What's not enough for me is probably more than enough for people more interested in this type of fiction. I'm also sorry that this post had to turn out pretty negative, but I've kind of already mentioned everything I find positive in previous reviews - and they do still stand. I do hope I've at least managed to be constructive with all this.

    Don't know if I'll try reading some more some day, but for now I can only wish you good luck with this story. You do already have a whopping 50+ chapters for it! I admire that kind of longevity.
     
  18. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - This is a day early, as I have to proof read the special episode for Monday, and it's quite long! Also... I'm just super excited to get this chapter up, followed by The Wonderland Episode ;) Chapter Fifty Four will be posted next Saturday as usual!

    Chapter Fifty Three​

    It was all Macro could do to stare at the lopunny. Sitting there, staring back at him, was a former member of his crew. A pokemon who’d left him because he was ‘too reckless’. The very pokemon who’d left him feeling wounded and heartbroken. And now she was living in Spool City, as a detective, rounding up ruffians and space pirates.

    He snapped his jaw together and flashed a canine as he tried to lever himself up on DL’s offered arm. A pointless expression since Defrag couldn’t see his face.

    “So what’s this?” he asked. “Trying to reform yourself? Gotta say, I didn’t think a former space pirate could get a leg up in law enforcement.”

    “You just need to know the right pokemon.” Defrag turned her chair to face her desk and idly tapped at her keyboard. “Some offer you the chance to reform yourself.”

    “And Socket is fine with that?” he spat.

    “Socket doesn’t know I used to work for you,” she said. “Fortunately for your crew, after your little fiery feat only your face was plastered all over System Ground. I managed to get away from that by the skin of my teeth.”

    DL lowered her head to his. “What’s she talking about?”

    “It doesn’t matter.” He took the pachirisu’s paw and made for the door. “Come on, we’re heading back.”

    “Oh it does matter.” Defrag span her chair around and flicked one of her long ears over the back of it. “So you go and drag another girl into your little exploits and refuse to tell her anything? Typical.”

    “Just drop it, Digit!”

    He flashed a snarl at her, keeping his free paw on the door handle. His heart was hammering in his chest as he tried to mentally shake off the flashbacks. Defrag’s demeanour softened and she looked between the two of them. DL struggled in his grip and he became aware he was almost crushing her paw. He relaxed his grip and fired her a sideways glance.

    “Sorry,” he muttered.

    “Huh. Would you look at that.” Defrag crossed one leg over the other and twirled back towards her desk. “I assumed you enjoyed causing trouble. I guess I was mistaken.”

    He stared at the back of her head for a moment, trying to piece everything together. Things hadn’t ended well. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been calling him every name under the sun. Now she had him in a detective’s office, and she wasn’t even watching him.

    A smirk tugged at his lips and he secured his grip on the door handle. “You’re not a very good detective, are you? You’re just gonna let me go?”

    “Not exactly.”

    He twisted the handle and tugged, but it wouldn’t budge. His eyes snapped back to it and he tried again, jerking it up and down in a vain attempt to jiggle the door open.

    “I’ve locked it.” She turned back to him and ran a paw over one of her long ears. “You really think I’m going to let you go when that creature is still out there?”

    “Alright. So you’ve got me.” He shrugged. “Forty thousand credits standing in your office. But I have you know, I am armed.”

    “So what? So am I.” She shrugged. “But I know for certain you’d never shoot a girl. That’s the only noble thing about you.”

    Every hair along Macro’s spine stood on end. “Only noble thing…” He narrowed his eyes at the lopunny and pointed a claw at her. “I saved your life!”

    Defrag rolled her eyes. “We all know why you saved my life, little mawile! But you don’t go around saving lives. You’re a criminal, not a hero.”

    “I’m not gonna stand here and take this.” He reached into his belt for his gun and aimed it at the door.

    “You damage that, you’re paying for it,” said Defrag.

    “Look, I don’t need to redeem myself to you,” he said. “And I ain’t payin’ for a manky door. I’ve got a job to do, and right now you’re stopping me from doing it.” He tapped the door with the nozzle of his laser. “Open it, or I’ll blast it off its hinges.”

    Defrag watched him curiously and flicked her ear again. “What job have you got here in Spool City? A deal in black sludge? Poison barbs? Some ruffian owe you a favour?”

    He let out a bitter laugh. “Not this time, sweetheart. I’m gettin’ rid of those beasts.”

    Her eyes widened briefly, but she quickly regained her composure. “Really? You? Fighting those bladed monsters? I’ve watched them cut pokemon down. What could you possibly do?”

    “Find out where they’re coming from, for one thing.” He glanced towards DL and let his gun fall to his side. “Given what we know about it, any chance you can tell me which one it is? Might dictate which laser I use.”

    “Easily,” said DL. “I read about each one in detail last night.”

    DL had both Macro’s and Defrag’s attention, the latter with a look of surprise.

    “There’s only one that fits a bladed description,” said DL. “It’s name is Kartana. Steel and grass type. It can cut through metal and rock with its limbs, but is so light it rivals gastly in weight.”

    “So if we face it head on it turns us into sashimi.” Macro flexed his claws over the butt of his gun and looked back at the door. “Not one of us has a type advantage against that thing. I guess we’re relying on fire power. Ground laser it is.” He loaded up his ground type module with a flick of a claw.

    “Interesting.” Defrag tapped her claws over her folded arm. “You appear to know a lot about these things. Now I’m even more reluctant to let you go.”

    “Well, if you don’t let us go, we can’t round them up,” said Macro. “And I don’t really wanna stay. You’ve got one more chance to open the door.”

    Defrag pursed her lips together, not taking her eyes off him. He sighed and lifted his gun to the door again.

    “Don’t shoot,” said Defrag. “I’ll let you out. But only if you tell me why you’re really here, and how you know so much.”

    “I told you. I’m rounding up those beasts.”

    “So you’re trying to be a hero? Trying to fight something that is clearly much more powerful than you? If your little friend is right, then those things can cut through you as though you’re nothing.”

    “I’m aware of that! I ain’t goin’ in there unprepared,” he said. “I’ve been told to do this.”

    “By who? The Mayor?”

    He snorted and tucked his gun away. “No. You’re kiddin’ right?”

    “Then who?” Defrag asked. “Did someone in Spool City hire you?”

    “Gotta be honest with ya, my first port of call wasn’t actually Spool City. I was headin’ for Meta City to look at those electric beasts. Find out what the damage is, and where they’re comin’ from.”

    “I can tell you all of that from right here.” Defrag twisted back to her computer and tapped at her keyboard, bringing up a news article. “They’ve traced their origin back to some strange porthole in one of the back alleys. From that evidence alone, it’s pretty obvious they’re not from this world.”

    Macro darted to her side and leant on the desk, skimming over the information. It was all there, detailing the porthole complete with its swirling mist. There was no picture to prove its existence, but he didn’t need one. Neither did DL or the rest of Wildcard Gamma.

    “That sounds exactly like the one Switch came through,” said DL.

    Macro nodded silently.

    “Who?” Defrag looked down at them and frowned. “You’ve seen this porthole?”

    “Not this one exactly.” Macro pushed himself back from the desk. “But if there’s one in Meta City, there might be one in Spool n’all. I say we find it.”

    “And then what?” DL asked. “How do you suppose we close it? You know they pull us in!”

    Macro sighed and let his paws fall at his sides. She was right. They couldn’t close them. He looked back at her and shrugged his shoulders.

    “But at least we’d know where it is,” he said. “Easier to track down and get those creatures back home.”

    “All right!” Defrag rose to her feet and placed a paw on her hip. “I want to know exactly what’s going on. If it weren’t for seeing those creatures with my own eyes, I’d think you were pulling my leg! If you know something, you tell us. System has a right to know.”

    Macro chuckled and folded his arms. “Why exactly?”

    “So the Mayor can do something about it!”

    “The Mayor is the reason it’s happening!” Macro threw his paws wide. “If System needs to know anything, it’s that!”

    Defrag’s jaw dropped and she stared down at him, dumbfounded. Her eyes narrowed slightly and she shook her head.

    “What are you talking about?” she asked.

    “It’s a long story, I ain’t got time.” He nodded to the door. “Open that or I’ll whip out my old, tried and tested method.”

    “Nutshell it,” she said. “Then I’ll open the door.”

    Macro took a deep breath and placed a paw over his mask. “Okay, fine! But you better keep it to yourself. I don’t wanna be responsible for a rebellion.”

    Defrag merely nodded.

    “Socket is tryin’ to tear open time and space,” he began, “in a bid to find a new world to settle in. But only the rich will get a look in. She’s gonna leave everyone else - the poor, the criminals and the space pirates - right here to suffer in all this rot.”

    Defrag stared down at him, meeting his eyes. Her expression was unreadable, and he braced himself for a string of accusations. His paw went back to his laser and he cast a fleeting glance to the door.

    “I believe you,” she said.

    He snapped his head back around to face her and his jaw fell open. She believed him? Had he heard that correctly?

    She shrugged. “What can I say? I’ve come across some information recently that’s left me rather sceptical of Socket. I won’t go into details, but you telling me she’s responsible for these creatures… I can’t doubt that.”

    “So workin’ for the law hasn’t changed your opinion, eh?”

    Defrag turned back to her desk and reached beneath it. A sharp click came from the door. Macro drew his laser and crept over to it, straining his ears to hear outside.

    “I’m not letting you go alone,” she said. “If there really is a porthole somewhere in Spool City, I’m going to help you find it.”

    “Sure,” said Macro. “You go one way, DL and I will go the other.”

    She let out a single laugh. “I might not be afraid to hunt around Spool City alone, but there’s safety in numbers. From what I’ve heard, there are two of those beasts. Three of us versus two of them? I think we’ll have the upper paw.”

    Macro turned back to her and leant against the door, folding his arms. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

    “Let me tell you somethin’, sweetheart,” he said. “It took four ships and a small army to take out one of those… Ultra Beasts. That’s their name, all right? They come in many shapes and sizes. This one was all tentacled. You probably read about it.”

    “I did.”

    “Well. Wildcard Gamma, three other ships, a small army… and it took out two ships. One creature took out two ships! So don’t underestimate these things.”

    “Given one destroyed an entire city, that’s not all that difficult to believe,” she said. “So wouldn’t it make more sense to stick together?”

    “Wouldn’t make an ounce of difference.”

    “I think it would.” She frowned down at him and inclined her head on one side. “Now. Tell me, where did you find out their name? Or is ‘Ultra Beast’ something you space pirates have coined? ‘Cos it sure isn’t on any websites.”

    “I ain’t got time to explain.”

    “Nutshell it.”

    Macro rolled his eyes and threw his paws in the air. “Fine! Socket’s pesky creation named ‘em. The thing she’s got opening these portholes. Can we go?”

    He jabbed a thumb towards the door and turned on his heel, tugging the door open. Putrid air assaulted him instantly, permeating the mask. He did his best not to cough, and frowned up and down the empty street.

    “Sure is quiet, huh?” he said. “Don’t like it.”

    “No one wants to come outside because of those beasts,” said Defrag. “The sooner we find out where they’re coming from, the better.”

    “Well, if no one wants to come outside then it gives me less oppression to deal with.” He stepped out into the street, keeping his gun cocked and ready. “I’m surprised something part grass type is willing to stick around in all this pollution.”

    Defrag stepped out beside him and locked the door. “If they’re not from this world, who’s to say their typings work the same way ours do?”

    “No clue.”

    Macro moved away from her, ushering DL beside him. The only sounds were the flapping of torn posters and the breeze stirring litter along the gutter. He paused beside the alley they’d previously lurked in, straining to see through to the other side. That’s where they’d seen the creatures. Were they still there?

    One of the trash cans rustled and wobbled. He aimed his laser at it and took a step back. The lid cracked open, revealing the yellowed eyes of a tired trubbish. They widened and fixed on his laser, then vanished back into the trash can. The lid clattered closed behind him before teetering towards the floor. The trubbish reached out a tentacle to grab it and tugged the lid back in place with a loud clang.

    “Already terrorising the locals, I see?” Defrag stopped beside Macro and nodded towards the end of the alley. “That’s where they’ve been seen the most. If you’re going to find those beasts, that street is your best bet.”

    “I’d rather find their way home first,” he said. “That way we can herd them towards it.”

    “But what if it’s that way?” DL nodded towards the street. “If they’ve been seen there the most, they might be sticking close to their way home.”

    “And willingly stay in System?” Macro snorted. “I’m gonna bet they’re lost. But if you both believe we should check there first, then by all means.”

    He strutted along the alley, hopping over fallen trash bags that Defrag managed to tiptoe around with ease. The parallel street was just as quiet. It chilled him.

    He looked up and down it, the fur on the back of his neck standing on end. The fluttering of the posters sounded like a thunder clap. To his left, a drain gurgled noisily for a good, long minute before fizzling out to a trickle.

    “Cap’n?” Anchor’s voice resounded in his ear. “How are ya gettin’ on?”

    “We’re still in Spool City,” Macro said back quietly. “Apparently they’ve got their own little Ultra Beast invasion.”

    “Really?” said Anchor. “What about Meta City?”

    “Meta City can wait a while. They already know where their porthole is. I’m gonna search out this one.”

    “Alright. Keep me posted.”

    Defrag and DL looked at him expectantly. Macro shrugged and gestured with his laser to get moving. He gave the noisy drain a wide berth and cast a quick glance down another alley. Everything was so quiet. It was like a ghost town. If it weren’t for the curious eyes peeking through windows, he’d think the place were deserted.

    Killed off by the kartana.

    He swallowed dryly and looked up at the sky. Just through the smog he could make out Wildcard Gamma. A huge shadow casting a wave of reassurance over him.

    The kartana could cut through steel. They were as light as a gastly, if not lighter. But how high could they fly? Could they cut down Wildcard Gamma?

    He tore his eyes off the ship and focused on moving forward. The wind was picking up again, stirring the posters beside him. He looked over at the street at a sliced up billboard, no longer playing its club animation. Wind whipped past his face and he stood aside, catching the glint as something sharp darted through the air. A few black strands of fur drifted after it before vanishing into the wind.

    Defrag and DL joined his side, each of them clutching their own laser. The three of them cast their eyes around them as the wind picked up again.

    “Duck!” shouted Defrag.

    The trio crouched to the ground and a shrill whistle cut the air as another kartana swept overhead, narrowly missing his horn.

    “They’re too fast!” said DL. “We can’t fight them like this. We need to slow them down!”

    “Got any electrical attacks that can do that?” Defrag asked, firing a blind stream of fire in the direction of the kartana.

    DL shook her head. “I’ve not tried.”

    “Now is as good a time as an-ahh!” Defrag ducked again, raising her paws over her head.

    There was the sound of metal against metal, and when Macro opened his eyes he spotted the nozzle of her laser bounce across the tarmac. Defrag looked down at her ruined gun then looked after the kartana.

    It was doubling back, its limbs outstretched like wings. Paper thin, glinting in the dim light.

    “Step back,” Macro said, rising to his feet. “I’ve got this.”

    He fired his gun, sending a stream of dirt towards the kartana. The attack struck the ground, creating a geyser of mud and tarmac. The kartana rose higher into the air, dodging the attack with nimble grace, and arced over his head towards the rooftops.

    “You’re going to bring the city down!” Defrag snapped.

    “Shut up and let me do my job!” Macro rounded towards the kartana and fired off another beam.

    He didn’t know if it was his attack or the Ultra Beast, but the chimney slid from the roof and clattered to the floor in a shower of brick and mortar.

    Macro wiped his paw across the goggles of his mask and strained to see through the dust cloud. He could still hear it, slicing through the air as it danced around him. He caught a glimpse of it and aimed his gun, but it vanished before he could pull the trigger. Then again, to his left. Then his right.

    There was more than one.

    His heart sank and he took a step back towards his allies. Defrag with her fire laser down. DL with nothing but a water and grass laser, neither of which could do anything to the kartana.

    It was just him. One small mawile against two… no, three… four? Ultra Beasts that could slice through steel.

    “There’s too many,” he said quickly. “We’re gonna have to bail.”

    He pushed the button on his ear piece just as one of the kartana zipped towards him. He spun aside, firing his laser blindly. The creature zig-zagged away from him, spinning off balance in the air. He’d just clipped it.

    “Cap’n?” came Anchor’s voice.

    “Send down the ladder,” said Macro.

    He ducked again then looked up into the air. The ladder wasn’t coming down on their street? He grit his teeth together and grabbed DL’s paw. Then he turned to Defrag.

    “Move it!” he barked.

    He took off down the alley, pushing DL ahead of him. When they got to the alley mouth, his eyes went instantly towards the ladder. He almost threw DL at it before diving after her. Something flashed to his right and his eyes flew wide open. His gun clattered to the floor and he brought his paws to his chest, catching the kartana’s limbs in his paws. His back struck the floor, knocking the wind out of his lungs. He kicked his feet into the air and threw himself backwards, throwing the kartana over his head. Then he brought his horn up in an arc, smacking it square across the body. The sharp Ultra Beast flew back the way it came.

    Macro wiped his bleeding paws onto his scarf, retrieved his fallen weapon and turned back to the ladder. DL was still waiting at the bottom of it, her eyes wide and frantic. Defrag stood beside her front door, fumbling in her pouch for her key card. But she didn’t take her eyes off him or DL.

    He clenched his paws into fists to stem the bleeding and bolted for the ladder. He shouted at DL to get on, throwing a paw at her to make his point. He could hear that whistle of air being sliced, growing in intensity. Crouching, he threw himself at the ladder, reaching for it.

    The whistle stopped, and he was knocked to the ground. He heard his laser skitter across the tarmac.

    “Macro!” DL dropped from the ladder.

    The kartana was on him, but it felt no heavier than a large sheet of paper. He tried to take a breath, bracing himself to launch it off him with a swing of his horn. But his breath cut off as his entire mouth filled with metallic blood. Then he felt it shift. A searing, hot pain as it pulled its limb free from his body.

    DL picked up his laser, aiming it at the Ultra Beast. He watched her, pleading with his eyes. He opened his mouth to shout ‘no’, but all that came out was a strained gag.

    She fired, blasting the creature from his back in a spray of dirt. It seared across his body, and he screwed his eyes shut. Everything hurt. It hurt to breathe. He could feel blood pooling in his mask as it looked for a way out, clogging up the filter.

    The last thing he saw was DL and Defrag rushing to his side before his world went black.
     
  19. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Here it is! Those in Discord have heard a fair bit about me working on this. I've been waiting to upload it. I hope you enjoy! It's a little long, a little funny, and a lot crazy. Welcome to Macro's psyche, displayed in a crack-fic style that is so my sense of humor.
    (I do not own Alice in Wonderland or Pokemon! I just love them both and threw them together in a glorious crack-fic frenzy!)


    Special Episode - Macro in Wonderland​


    When Macro opened his eyes, everything was dark. Cold, damp grass tickled his paw pads, and dew soaked through the fur of his stomach. Somewhere nearby, there was water. The sea? A lake? It swept back and forth, gently lapping some unseen land. He blinked his eyes a few times, allowing them to adjust to the darkness, before pushing himself to his feet. His head hurt. His body hurt. What had happened?

    He smoothed out his scarf and looked up at the sky. Stars. Twinkling and… moving? Their patterns were erratic, but they cast a dim glow down onto his surroundings, reflecting off miles and miles of water. He looked down at his feet, hidden among long grass. But all around him was water. What little island he was standing on, it wasn’t much bigger than himself.

    “Oi!”

    His head snapped back up, meeting a pair of angry, glittering eyes leering at him from the water. The head was both avian and reptilian, flashing two rows of sharp teeth.

    “If you’re gonna cry that much, at least warn a girl first!” The bird thing pulled a wing from the water, yellow feathers dripping wet. “Look what you’ve gone and did!”

    Macro blinked down at her. An archeops? Weren’t they extinct? Where on earth was he? He looked around again. What he’d mistaken for stars were a swarm of volbeat and illumise desperately fleeing the water. They gathered in the branches of trees stretching up from the lake, or congregated in roots that expanded above him like the roof of a splendid, ancient, underground palace.

    “Where am I?” His voice came out hoarse and he coughed into his paw. “Where are my friends?”

    “Friends?” the archeops scoffed. “You mean there’s more of you crybabies?”

    “Annie!” A skuntank paddled towards her, and it took a moment for Macro to realise she was riding on a huge book. There was a grinning cat on the cover. “Oh, thank goodness you’re okay.”

    “I’m fine! Just a little wet.” The archeops blinked at him before climbing aboard the skuntank’s book-boat. “So what’s your story, shorty? What made you cry so much?”

    “’Shorty’?!” Macro spat.

    The archeops merely nodded.

    “All right. Well… I don’t remember.” Macro looked down at the lake and shook his head. “I really haven’t a clue.”

    “Really? ‘Cos it looks to me like you’ve been put through the ringer.” She paused and lifted a claw. “Actually, that ain’t a bad idea. Anyone got a mangle? That aughta get us dry quick.”

    The skuntank frowned at her. There were now two other pokemon on her book. A scrafty and a small, purple creature Macro didn’t recognise.

    “A mangle’s a bit old fashioned, ain’t it?” said the scrafty.

    “I am not being squeezed through a mangle!” Macro rubbed his ribs. “I already feel like I’ve got a chest infection. I ain’t adding broken ribs to that list.”

    “Spoilsport.” Annie folded her wings. “All right then, plan B. Stand aside, we’re gonna climb aboard and run in circles ‘til we’re dry.”

    Something white fluttered in the distance, snatching Macro’s attention from the archeops. A fluffy, blue and white tail vanished beneath the water, sending his heart into his throat.

    “DL?” he gasped.

    “Eh?” Annie snapped her head towards him, half on and half off the little island. “I said ‘circle’. I suggest you start runnin’ too, else you’ll never get dry.”

    “No, I’d rather not,” said Macro. “I need to get off this island and catch her before she drowns.”

    “There’s no way off,” said Annie. “You’ll be swimmin’ for days.”

    “Good thing I can swim then, ain’t it?” He put one toe in the water and grimaced. “Wow, that’s cold.”

    Before he could drop his entire weight onto one leg, the entire water surged. He let out a squeak as something hidden beneath the surface dragged him across the lake and away from the island. He glanced back, wanting to scream for help, but Annie and her friends were busy running in tight circles around the rapidly shrinking island. He turned back to face where he was going and screamed. The water moved down, away from him like a waterfall. Before he could fully process his potential demise, the water launched him over the edge and he landed flat on his face on a cold, tiled floor.

    “What in the world?” He pushed himself to his feet and rubbed his sore nose. “This is not a good day.”

    Somewhere, a door slammed. He spun on the spot to locate it, taking in his surroundings. Wherever the waterfall had launched him, it wasn’t a beach or a river bed. Black and white tiles stretched out before him like a chessboard. The entire hallway was filled with doors - huge, towering doors - and at the far end was a red curtain. With all those doors, finding which one had slammed shut would be nigh impossible. And there was no sign of DL. He looked back up, but all he saw was a ceiling. No water. No waterfall. And no way to reach it even if there were. The hallway was bare save for a small, glass table. Well, given the size of the hallway, it looked small. It actually towered over Macro’s head. Through the glass, he could see a lone key.

    “Well, that’s a bit rotten,” he muttered. “Guess it opens one of these doors. But there’s more than one way to get that key down.”

    He reached for his laser and gasped. His paw fastened around nothing. He twisted to check his belt, grimacing at the effort. Two holsters and nothing in them. Where on earth were his lasers?! He’d never felt more exposed.

    He groaned and turned away from the table to the doors. He wasn’t even going to try and climb it. Maybe the doors weren’t even locked? He trotted to the nearest one and groped for the doorknob… except it didn’t have one. He craned his neck back to look up at it, seeing if it had been placed mockingly out of his reach. But it hadn’t. There was, in fact, no doorknob. Just a keyhole. He muttered under his breath and checked another door. Same result.

    So all the massive doors held their keyholes well out of his reach, and the key was placed atop a huge table. He was beginning to feel very claustrophobic. He absently rubbed his chest, giving the hallway a disheartened glance. Then his eyes fell on the curtain. He half-ran, half-skidded down the hallway towards it and wrenched it aside. A door! A normal-sized door! A mawile-sized door! With a doorknob! He grabbed it in both paws and twisted. It didn’t budge. He jiggled it a bit. Nothing. Then he saw the keyhole just below the doorknob.

    “Drat!”

    He spun on the spot to face the table, now seeming so far away. Still tall, still holding a key. And there was no way he could reach it.

    “Somewhere,” he said, “a sadist is laughing.”

    He strutted over to the table, keeping his eye on the key. There had to be some way to get it back down. As he stared at it, it began to grow closer. And… smaller? Before he knew it, he was staring down at the table, hunched over in the now minuscule hallway.

    “What is happening?!” he roared.

    “Oi!” Annie’s archeops face poked through the tiny door. “Would you keep it down? I’m trying to hold a chess tournament in here!”

    He stared at her, aghast. A small draft stirred his fur from the open door. Oh, how he desperately wanted to bolt through it. But there was no way he’d fit now. He couldn’t even fit his paw through.

    “Sod your chess tournament!” he said. “I’m stuck in here!”

    She made a thoughtful noise and inclined her head on one side. “You clearly didn’t take me calling you ‘shorty’ very well, did you?”

    He flashed a canine and growled. “I’d rather be short than folded up in this corridor like a deck chair! Get help!”

    “Sorry, can’t,” she said. “But before you go cryin’ again, take this. It might bring things back down to size a bit.”

    She tossed a wing into the air and vanished back through the door. Something small and round bounced along the floor to stop at his hip. He stared down at it and his heart sank.

    An onion. Attached to it was a gift tag that read ‘eat me’.

    He picked it up in his claws, and its skin crunched under his touch.

    “You have to be kiddin’ me?” The thought of eating the thing whole, and raw, made him briefly consider remaining stuck in the hallway. But it was getting hard to breathe. “Oh well. You only live once, huh?”

    Given it was much too small to faff around with peeling, he tossed the whole thing into his mouth and swallowed it like a tablet. Then gagged.

    “All right,” he choked. “Maybe next time, just peel the wretched thing.”

    He deeply hoped there’d never be a next time.

    The walls began to grow, as did the doors. And the glass table.

    “Oh no. I’m not letting this chance get away.”

    He pushed himself to his feet and swiped the key in his left paw, then bailed towards the red curtain. As he lowered the key, it jerked in his paw and he snapped his head down towards it. A klefki struggled in his grip, its eyes closed tight as it struggled to pull the key free.

    “Hey!” he snapped. “Let go! I’m using this!”

    “But it’s mine!” the klefki wailed.

    “I’ll give it back! Now let go!”

    Macro snatched the key back, sending the keychain pokemon rolling away from him through the air. He turned back to the door and realised with a sinking heart that he was still shrinking. He stood on tiptoes, jammed the key in the lock and twisted. The door swung away from him, revealing a lush garden. He tossed the key back towards the klefki and raced into the open air.

    “I’m free!” he shouted. “I’m free!”

    Long grass tickled through his fur as he raced between manicured flower beds. Bugs hummed in the air and the sweet smell of nectar filled his nose. Tall flowers swayed from side to side, almost looking at him. In fact… they were. The large faces of vibrant coloured florges stared down at him, frowning.

    “Rowdy little bug, isn’t he?” one of them asked the other.

    “A bug?” said another. “He has no wings, and too few legs. I’d say he’s a weed.”

    “Oh yes,” said a pink florges. “Much too ugly to be a garden flower.”

    “Yes, a common weed,” said the second one.

    Macro glared up at them. “Excuse me?”

    “Oh.” The first florges lifted her arms to cover her mouth. “I think we offended it.”

    “Worry not, dear sister,” said the third one. “I’ll call for the weed spray.”

    Macro knew when he wasn’t wanted. He turned and raced through the flower beds towards the trees. The manicured beds gave way to a field dotted with sparse woodland and fruit baring trees. Huge mushrooms rose up on either side of him, florescent in the dim light. Amongst them, a thin trail of smoke rose into the sky.

    “Well, I think I’m far enough away from the psychotic flowers.” He sank to his bottom with his back against a mushroom. “I think I need a rest to figure this out. Now… what did I eat last?”

    “An onion, I’m guessing.”

    Macro waved a paw. “Well, aside from that. What could have caused this trippy dream?”

    “What makes you think it’s a dream?”

    Macro was about to answer when words froze in his throat. He craned his neck around to spot the speaker. Atop one of the smaller mushrooms sat a small, green bug pokemon. The sewaddle stared back at him, holding a hookah pipe in one little leg. He blew a stream of smoke from his mouth, that formed a huge question mark above his little head.

    “Worm?” Macro gasped.

    “I know not of this Worm,” said the sewaddle. “I’m a mere, humble caterpillar.” He took a long drag of his hookah then frowned at Macro. “Now, what in the world are you?”

    “I’m a mawile,” said Macro. “Come on, Worm! You know me!”

    “I do not know you, and you didn’t answer my question.” Worm narrowed his eyes. “What… are… you?”

    A sickly green question mark flew at Macro’s face. He coughed and wafted it away. “I told you I’m a mawile! A space pirate! A rogue of the skies! Did you hit your head or somethin’?”

    “My head is fine.” Worm returned to his hookah. “It is yours that is not.”

    Macro hissed through his teeth and folded his arms, scanning the mushrooms for any hint that Worm might have ingested something that sent him loopy.

    “All this aside,” said Macro, “do you know where my crew might have gone? Or where I am? Like… what city is this? Where in System are we?”

    “I did not say we could shove the matter aside,” said Worm. “As for where we are, we are amongst mushrooms.”

    “I can see that. What city?”

    Worm took a long drag of his hookah and slowly breathed out a stream of smoke. It formed a huge heart in the sky, then deformed into a grinning hoopa.

    “I haven’t a clue,” he said.

    “You don’t even know how we got here?”

    “Oh, I know how I got here,” said Worm. “I woke up this morning on this mushroom like I do every morning. As for you…”

    “I feel like I fell.” Macro rubbed his ribs. “Or something punched me.”

    “’Fell’ is more likely,” said Worm. “That happens when you go tumbling through rings and wormholes.”

    Macro frowned and looked over at the mushrooms. Lots of them had holes in. With bite-marks. Was Worm being jokingly literal?

    “I don’t recall any rings, or wormholes,” said Macro. “I just woke up in a lake.”

    “That explains why you look wet.”

    “Exactly.” Macro paused. “But I haven’t a clue what happened leading up to all this!”

    “Maybe you hit your head.”

    Macro reached up and rubbed beneath his goggles. Then he straightened them out. His head didn’t feel sore, so he could rule that one out. Right?

    “You look concerned,” said Worm. “Let’s see if we can figure out why you are clearly having memory loss. Recite ‘How Doth the Little…’ for me.”

    Macro raised an eyebrow. “Eh?”

    “No, not ‘How Doth the Little E’!” Worm took a huge drag on his hookah. “Try again.”

    Macro wound his scarf in his paws, fixing the sewaddle in a violet glare. All the bug pokemon did was stare back, nibbling the end of his pipe. Macro let out a resigned sigh and threw his arms in the air.

    “Fine. ‘How doth the little krookodile improve his shining tail-’”

    “Wrong!” Worm blew out a huge, red cross. “It has nothing to do with krookodile or tails. Besides, who dragged shiny pokemon into all this? What makes them so special?”

    Macro’s jaw dropped.

    Worm turned his nose into the air. “Try again.”

    “No!” said Macro. “I am done playing your games! I’m not gonna continue makin’ a fool of myself reciting non-existent poetry!”

    “Why not?” A question mark flew from Worm’s mouth.

    “Because it’s silly! And I have friends to look for. I saw DL, but I lost her and have to search for her in all… all this!” He spread his arms over the field of mushrooms. “And right now I’m a measly what… three inches high?”

    “That is a splendid height.”

    “No it’s not! I hate being so small! I can’t even reach the key on the table! Just get me out of this nightmare and back to normal height!”

    Worm’s face turned red and the smoke surrounding him formed lightning bolts. “What is wrong with being small?!”

    Macro stuttered and took two steps back. He’d seen Worm angry before, but this was a whole other form of angry. The bug pokemon’s back prickled and his eyes began to glow yellow. Even the milky one with his everstone.

    “I’d say three inches is a very grand height indeed!” Worm exploded in a flash of light.

    Macro ducked, raising his paws over his head, but all that flew over him was smoke and glitter. He looked back up, spotting Worm’s face hovering above him. Out of his back sprouted a pair of butterfree wings.

    “What the…” Macro muttered. He rose to his feet and pointed a claw at Worm. “That’s not even the right freakin’ evolution! If my dreams are gonna be wacko, they should at least get their science right!”

    “Science is nought but a myth,” said Worm. “You need to take in what’s around you and accept the extraordinary.”

    “What are you wafflin’ about?!”

    “If you hate being small,” said Worm, “then maybe you should turn to the trees?”

    The sewaddle-butterfree fluttered away from him, abandoning his hookah to the mushrooms. The odd contraption slowly sank into the mushroom’s cap, leaving behind a gnarly hole. Macro frowned and turned to the trees. His heart sank. Whatever was growing in them, it wasn’t apples.

    Onions hung from the branches like baubles, looking as out of place as Worm’s sudden wings. Both red and white, growing on the same trees. He sighed and picked up a stone, lobbing it at the vegetables. Two of them broke loose and thudded to the floor, narrowly missing his toes. He skittered backwards, then stooped to grab them. One red and one white. What were the odds? He shrugged it off and shoved them into his pouch.

    “Dunno what he were goin’ on about,” he said. “But since the last one helped me to shrink back down, maybe these might get me out of some tricky situations n’all.”

    ...​

    The field of mushrooms felt like it went on forever. Each one cast a neon purple glow, giving the entire stretch an unearthly feel. When Macro finally spotted the roof of a house rising over the mushrooms, he found a renewed vigour. Trotting through the multicoloured stalks, he found his way onto a path and almost skidded to a halt. Just ahead of him sprinted a frogadier, clutching a huge envelope beneath one arm.

    “Jumper?” Macro gasped, taking off after him.

    The frog pokemon ran at such a pace Macro felt his legs might fall off. His breath came out in raspy bursts and he lifted a paw, screwing his eyes shut as he tried to find his second wind.

    “Jumper! Wait!”

    The frogadier looked over his shoulder and ‘hmm’d’, hopping to a stop. “Are you shouting for me, good fellow?”

    “Of course I am!” Macro stopped before him, placing his paws on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. “Boy, can you run!”

    “That’s because I’m in a rush,” said Jumper. “So if you could make this quick?”

    Macro looked up at him then slowly straightened up. “Can you tell me where we are? Like… what’s going on? Where’s DL and the rest of my crew?”

    “We’re at the Duchess’ house,” said Jumper. “And I’m delivering an important message from the Queen. So if you don’t mind-”

    Macro grabbed his arm before he could sprint off again. “And DL?”

    “I don’t know any DL.”

    Macro’s heart sank like a lead brick and he released the frogadier’s arm. First Worm and now Jumper? No… something was very amiss.

    Jumper nodded to the little house. “I’ll be off now, shall I?”

    Macro waved a paw and let him go. The frogadier sprinted at an unbelievable speed towards the door, and threw the letter through the mail box like a ninja star. Then he leapt into the air, bounding over the roof out of sight.

    “Curiouser and curiouser.” Macro cleared his throat and ventured towards the house.

    He lifted his paw to knock, then a sharp rap at the door took him by surprise. He stared at it. Did someone just knock from inside? He knocked back, only to get another knock in return. Muttering under his breath, he twisted the handle and pushed it open. Then ducked. A saucepan whizzed over his head to vanish into the mushroom field.

    “What the…?”

    He removed his paws from his head and peered into the house. It was just one room. A large sofa spread out at his left, with a very noisy chingling sat upon it. He wailed with laughter, his bell jingling loudly. Beside him sat a very disgruntled zigzagoon Macro recognised in an instant. But before her name could leave his mouth, someone sneezed and another saucepan soared over his head. He spotted the culprit by the stove. Cookie waddled back and forth, throwing pepper left and right in a bid to season some unseen dish. The cloud of pepper spread to the sofa, causing the chingling to fall into a sneezing fit. Surge refused to look up from her book, frowning at the pages.

    “Cookie?” Macro gasped.

    The slurpuff didn’t look up from his preparations. A cloud of pepper wafted from the shaker, sending him into his own sneezing fit. He launched a plate in frustration. It narrowly missed Surge’s ear then shattered against the wall, scattering porcelain in all directions. The zigzagoon didn’t appear to notice.

    Macro ducked into the house and closed the door behind him. An idea he soon regretted, as Surge looked up from her book and trapped him with her eyes. He swallowed a nervous lump in his throat and reached for his missing laser.

    “What?” he growled. “Gonna kill me?”

    “No.” She looked back down at her book. “I might kill this annoying chingling though, if he doesn’t stop laughing.”

    The chingling rolled onto his back and kicked his tiny legs in the air, erupting into a fit of maniacal giggles interspersed with sneezing.

    Macro gave another glance around the room, and his heart froze in his chest. Something hung beside the stove, something he’d missed. Hanging by its tail was a spoink, missing the pearl on its head.

    “Oh that?” Surge followed his eyes. “We had pearl soup for dinner last night. We’ll be having spoink curry tonight. Care to join us?”

    Macro felt unbelievably sick. He backed towards the door, but before he reached it another pan clattered against it just above his head. Then it knocked on the door and poofed away in a cloud of smoke.

    He turned back to Surge and flashed his canines, but she didn’t acknowledge it, too interested in her book. “Why in the world are you eating a spoink?!”

    “The Queen permits it,” she said flatly. “’Livestock’, she calls it.”

    “It’s cannibalism!”

    “Take it up with the Queen,” said Surge. “I’m nought but a Duchess.”

    “I think I shall!” He turned to the door and paused with his paw over the handle. “Where can I find this Queen?”

    “Heart Palace.”

    That wasn’t a name he was familiar with, but it wasn’t a world he was familiar with. He licked his lips and spoke without looking back, “Have you seen DL?”

    The already loud laughter increased in volume and mania. Surge leapt to her feet and grabbed the chingling by his tassels, lobbing him towards the kitchen. He clutched onto the spoink’s head, dragging the pig pokemon from its nail. Its eyes flashed with life, and it landed on its springy tail and bounced towards the door with the chingling still clutching onto its head. Macro wrenched it open, watching as it bounded away towards the forest which had oddly replaced the mushroom field.

    He didn’t wait around for Surge’s answer. Instead, he ducked a meat cleaver and fled from the house, slamming the door behind him. The meat cleaver embedded itself in the trunk of a tree with a ‘twang!’ as it wiggled with the impact.

    “What a crazy-ass place!” he gasped.

    “Certainly.”

    He jerked his head back to look into a tree. Sprawled on the branch was a pachirisu, leaning her head on one paw.

    “But here, you might be perceived as the crazy one,” she said.

    “DL?” he gasped.

    She watched the spoink hop away into the trees and sighed. “Such an annoying chingling, but he makes a rather handsome spoink pearl.”

    “What are you doing here?” Macro gasped. “I mean… what are we doing here? And you didn’t drown! Thank goodness.”

    She peered down at him and yawned. “Why would I have drowned?”

    “I saw you in the lake.”

    “The Lake of Tears?” She shrugged and a huge grin split her face. “Pachirisu can swim, you know.”

    He stared at her dumbfounded, then shook his head sharply. “Where are we? Do you know?”

    “We’re here.” She spread an arm across the forest. “That’s all you need to know.”

    “Rather lax on the details, DL,” he muttered. Then he spoke more loudly, “This is a ridiculous place. How do I get back to my own world?”

    “I think this is a splendid place,” she said. “But if you want to get back, I guess you have to take things up with the Queen. She rules this world, not me. I’m just a humble pachirisu.”

    “And how do I get there?”

    She pointed to her right. “That way.” Macro was about to head in that direction then froze as she pointed to her left. “Or was it that way?”

    He frowned up at her. “Come on, DL. I’ve no time for jokes.”

    She grinned from ear to ear and drifted into the air. Then she leant on her back, flicking her long tail up below her legs.

    “We’ve all the time in the world,” she said. “Enjoy a little madness.”

    “Madness? This world is totally crazy! Everyone I meet seems mad!”

    “Oh, we can’t help it. We’re all mad here.” She pointed to herself, then to Macro. “I’m mad, you’re mad-”

    “I’m not mad!” he paused then looked up at the canopy. “… Am I? I mean… I’ve clearly dreamt this place up…”

    “Exactly.”

    “But I don’t want to be mad!” he shrieked. “I want reality! I’ve got a girl to save, and a crazed robot to stop!”

    She turned and drifted towards the ground until she was hovering upside-down before him. “So it’s all about the romance is it?”

    His entire face flushed and he stuttered. “N-no! It’s not.”

    Another grin. “Lies.”

    If this was DL, she was clearly at the mercy of this crazy world. Maybe they were all imposters? Whatever it was, he had to fix it.

    He pushed her aside and marched through the trees. “Forget it. I’ll find Heart Palace myself, and get myself back to reality.”

    “If you keep going that way,” she said, freezing him in his tracks, “you’ll find the Mad Hatter.”

    He glanced back at her, then turned to head the other way.

    “And that way leads to the March Hare,” she said.

    “Doesn’t sound so bad.” He kept marching on. “Rather him than some Mad Hatter.”

    “You say that now,” she said. “But have you ever seen a hare in March?”

    He inclined his head on one side and she chuckled.

    “Of course, this is May so perhaps she won’t be quite so mad,” she explained, “but I guess you can take your chances.”

    A golden ring appeared behind DL and she vanished into it. Macro’s jaw dropped as he watched it close up after her. Then it reopened again higher up in the canopy.

    “Oh, by the way.” She poked her head out of it. “Are you to play croquet with the Queen today?”

    “I beg your pardon?” he asked.

    “Croquet,” she repeated. “She’s been sending out invitations.”

    “Well I’m afraid I haven’t got one,” he said.

    DL shrugged then grinned. “Well if you do show up, I’ll be there.” Then she vanished back into the ring.

    Macro shook himself off and looked left and then right. “Both mad, eh? Well, I guess I’ll take my chances with the March Hare.”

    ...​

    The woodland thinned out into a clearing, where sat a house with long buneary ears. The roof was thatched with fur, and it towered above Macro’s head. He ducked by a tree root and placed his paw upon it.

    “I can’t enter there,” he squeaked. “What if she eats me? I don’t know if mawile is on the menu in this crazy place!”

    Then he remembered the onions. He plucked one from his bag, the red one, and stared at it. It seemed a lot bigger than one would have looked had his paws been their ordinary size.

    “If I remember rightly,” he said, “it was a white one that made me shrink. So maybe a red one will make me grow?”

    So he took a nibble, and before he knew it, he shot right up in size. The trees looked ordinary, the house looked ordinary. But the sudden change felt very surreal. He popped the onion back into his pouch and tiptoed towards the house.

    Voices reached his ears. Laughter, singing, and the clatter of crockery. Thankfully no one was throwing it around. A cute, white picket fence surrounded a long garden, and in the middle of the garden sat a long table. Only three pokemon sat around the table. A delphox, a lopunny and an eevee. The eevee lay sprawled with his head on his paws, snoring loudly, but the other two didn’t appear to notice.

    “Digit?” he gasped, eyeing the lopunny.

    But she didn’t look up at him. Too engrossed in whatever the delphox had to say. Given his run-in with Worm, Surge and Cookie, he wasn’t sure whether or not to be reassured at a familiar face.

    Nevertheless, Macro vaulted the low fence and strolled towards the table. The delphox looked up from his cup of tea and upon seeing Macro almost dropped it, sloshing steaming liquid onto the table. The lopunny let out a cry of distress and reached for a napkin, but the delphox didn’t take his eyes off the mawile.

    He flicked his top hat so it was resting between his large ears and shouted, “No room!”

    The lopunny looked up at this and added, “No room!”

    “What are you talking about?” Macro spread his arms wide. “There’s plenty of room!”

    “No there isn’t,” said the delphox, who Macro assumed with a sinking feeling must be the Mad Hatter. “You are imagining it.”

    “Definitely imagining it,” murmured the eevee. “You are but dreaming. Twinkle… twinkle…”

    Macro pulled up a seat anyway and helped himself to a teacup. The March Hare slapped his paws aside and frowned at him.

    “Do I know you?” she asked.

    Familiar face or not, it wasn’t the Digit he knew.

    He looked up at her and shrugged. “I’m beginning to wonder if anyone I think I know here is either off their rocker, or an impostor.”

    She scrutinised him for a moment then nodded. “Good answer.”

    The table fell into a long, painful silence as the two pokemon continued to stare at him. The only sound came from the snoring eevee who Macro realised had fallen asleep on a plate of scones, and his entire chin and chest were coated with jam and cream.

    Finally, the Hatter broke the silence. “Your scarf needs washing.”

    Macro looked up with a start then glanced down at his scarf. He fixed the delphox with a frown. “No it doesn’t.”

    “It smells.”

    Macro flashed a canine. “It’s rather rude to make personal remarks, you know.”

    “Of course!” said March. “You should know.”

    “You’re also rather short,” said the Hatter. “You should eat more onions.”

    Macro seethed silently and picked up his teacup. But there was nothing in it. Instead, all the tea had drained out of a hole in the bottom.

    “Answer me something,” said the delphox. “Why is a murkrow like a writing desk?”

    From one extreme to the next. Macro mulled this over for a moment, then wondered why on earth he was bothering.

    “What kind of nonsense is that?” he asked.

    “It’s a riddle,” said the Hatter. “I am testing your intelligence.”

    Oh, so it was an insult. A bit of a back-handed one at that. Macro snorted and discarded the teacup to the seat beside him.

    “I haven’t a clue,” he said. “Go on, tell me.”

    “Can’t.” The Hatter shrugged. “I don’t know the answer myself.”

    “The answer is simple.” The eevee lifted his head and rubbed a buttery paw over his eyes, smearing the fur back from his chipboard tattoo. “It’s because they can both make a few notes, albeit flat, and you can’t place either with the wrong end in front.”

    March pointed a claw at the eevee and beamed. “Genius!”

    “That makes no sense!” Macro roared.

    “It makes a lot of sense!” the Hatter roared back. “Now shut up and drink your tea.”

    A cup scurried across the table to Macro and poured tea from a pink teapot into itself. It seemed to go about it for a good long while. Long enough for the Hatter to check the time on his pocket watch.

    “Do you know what’s going on in this place?” Macro asked.

    “What’s going on is that Time has stopped working,” said the Hatter. “At least for us, anyway.”

    Macro decided to brush past that little statement. “I mean where am I? What happened to System? My home?” He paused and continued watching the teapot pour out its endless stream of tea into the tiny teacup. “I mean, it took me ages to find DL and then I lost her again.”

    “I like to do that too!” March leant forward across the table all too eagerly. “I check the alphabet every day just to make sure none of those pesky letters go missing!”

    Macro stared back at her, unsure of what to say. The lopunny retracted to her seat, looking all too pleased with herself.

    “What day of the month is it?” the Hatter asked.

    “Dunno,” said Macro. “But last I checked, it was the fourth.”

    “Just as I thought.” The Hatter lifted the watch to his ear and sighed. “Two day’s slow. I guess butter just didn’t fix it.”

    “It was the best butter,” said March sadly. “The kind we used to oil the eevee. And he’s working just fine!”

    “No he’s not, he’s sleeping again.” The Hatter leant across the table and poured scalding hot tea onto the eevee’s nose. “Come on, wake up!”

    The eevee sat up spluttering and wiped a paw over his muzzle. “Oh dear! Did I nod off again?”

    The Hatter said nothing as he checked over his watch. “Typical. Still six o clock, still tea time.”

    “Still March,” said March. “I guess Time really has stopped.”

    Macro waved a paw at the Hatter. “Just get a new watch!”

    March glanced at Macro and wiggled in her seat. Her eye twitched. “I really wanna box your ears.”

    “Well, I’ve had enough.” Macro shoved his cup towards the middle of the table, startling a teapot, and stood up. “I need to find the Queen.”

    “Good luck,” said the Hatter. “We were playing hide and seek with her last…” He checked his watch and shook it. “Oh bother. I don’t remember. But we never found her.”

    “Nope!” said March. “I spent three days stuck in a tree. Had to eat onions to stay alive.”

    “Hmm, no wonder you’re so tall,” Macro joked.

    March grinned broadly and sipped at her tea.

    “Anyway, I’ll be off then,” said Macro.

    Hatter said nothing, still shaking and checking his watch. March returned to her tea, staring off into space. The eevee had nodded off again on his ‘bed of scones’, snoring into a plate of melted butter.

    Macro shook his head and vaulted over the fence, glad to leave the mad tea party behind. Still non the wiser as to how to get to Heart Palace.

    ...​

    The woodland spread out around Macro, its trees standing tall like sentinel soldiers. Signs were nailed to the trees, promising to guide him in the right direction. But closer inspections made his stomach sink.

    ‘This way.’

    ‘No, this way.’

    ‘You sure you want to go that way?’

    ‘Don’t listen to him, it’s this way!’

    And so on, and so forth.

    He shrugged off the signs and resigned himself to finding his own way, with no idea to how far he’d come, or whether or not he was moving in circles. Thanks to the promise of yet another arrow sign, he was strongly beginning to think so. He could still hear the mad tea party well in the distance, and it greatly unsettled him.

    “I can’t seem to put them far enough behind me,” he muttered. “There’s got to be some way out of these woods. That flippin’ Digit. Threatenin’ to box my ears.” A canine poked out of his lip and he cast a glance over his shoulder. “It’s like she knows I won’t fight back. But I won’t go down eas-”

    Thud!

    Solid wood met face. He staggered backwards, rubbing the side of his jaw.

    “What the-?!” He glared up at a wide, ancient tree. “Where’d that come from?!”

    The hollow trunk sported a mawile-sized door. And right above it, a wide arrow sign pointing down at it. ‘Trust me, it’s this way.’

    “Really?” he asked the door. “You want me to open you? And what shiny, terrifying delights do you hold, hmm?”

    The door didn’t answer.

    Macro sighed and grabbed the handle. To his surprise, it opened freely, swinging away from him. Beyond it was a glorious garden that almost took his breath away. Vibrant flowers and grass so green he wondered if it were an illusion. Until he stepped on it, feeling its soft blades stroking his paw pads. The door slammed and he twisted on the spot towards it. But it had vanished. No tree. No door. No sign.

    A trap?

    He deeply hoped not.

    Oh well. Now he had several directions to choose from. He turned back towards the colourful flowers. Most of them were red, and shaped like hearts. Even the neatly manicured topiaries.

    He shrugged and began heading towards them. “Guess I’ll go this way.”

    “You sure you wanna head that way?”

    The familiar voice snapped his head up to the air above him. Slowly, bit by bit, a pachirisu began to manifest. First her tail, then her feet. Then her ears. Until gradually, her body met in the middle. She floated on her back, arms tucked behind her head.

    “It’s a dreadful place,” she said.

    Macro glanced at the bushes and flowers. The lush green grass. Almost baiting him to keep moving forwards.

    “What exactly is it?” he asked.

    “Heart Palace.”

    “Then that’s exactly where I want to go!” He waved her off and pressed on.

    She drifted along above him, backwards, her tail acting as a rudder. One eye fixed on him and she grinned widely.

    “Have you met the Queen?” she asked.

    “No,” he said. “But she can’t be as mad as that tea party I’ve just come from.”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said DL. “Compared to the Queen, those two are a real treat. A fine Earl Grey.”

    Macro faltered and glanced back over his shoulder. Behind him was just green. Dotted here and there by a spray of red flowers. Beyond that was a flat stretch of hedges.

    “What’s back that way then?” he asked.

    “A maze.”

    “A maze?”

    “Yep.” Another grin. “It’s a-maze-ing.”

    Puns? Not once did Macro recall DL using puns. He waved her off and kept heading towards Heart Palace.

    “If I see the Queen,” he said, “she might be able to get me back to my own, sane reality.”

    “And what makes your reality so sane?”

    “Well everyone makes sense for one thing! And Digit doesn’t threaten to box my ears. Worm can’t evolve, and Cookie is about as violent as a day old hatchling on tranquilisers!”

    “I don’t know any of those pokemon,” said DL.

    He pointed a claw at her. “And you can’t float! Nor… disappear and reappear at will.”

    “Really?” she raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that?”

    With that, she grinned once more, and slowly faded away. First the white parts of her body. Then the blue. The last parts to fade were her grin, yellow cheeks and chocolate eyes. They hung around for a few seconds after the rest of her had vanished, leaving Macro feeling greatly unsettled. Once they’d gone, he smoothed out his fur and let out a flustered breath.

    “To Heart Palace it is, then,” he said to no one.

    He reached the topiaries, and between them sat an archway. Ivy trailed up it, red blossoms buzzing with life. On closer inspection, he saw a flying mudbray no bigger than his index claw. It rocked back and forth on wooden supports, then whinnied as it flew to another blossom. Shooing a tiny butterfree aside. Which had bread for wings. Buttered bread.

    “What kinda crazy-ass place is this?” he muttered.

    He strolled through the arch and weaved his way along the path between the heart-shaped topiaries. It seemed to stretch on forever, until voices reached his ears. Familiar voices. He followed them into a large courtyard.

    Anchor stood beside a quagsire, both of them waving around paintbrushes laden with red paint. Small trees stood in neat rows on either side of the square, their red roses dripping red paint onto the grass. Macro turned back to the frantically painting pokemon. Above them flew Matrix, wielding a paintbrush much too large for him with very little effort (or enthusiasm).

    All three pokemon sported unusual garments. A long, flat shirt that came down to their knees. Both their shirts and trousers were white, as were their helmets. Each shirt was designed to resemble a playing card in the Hearts suit. Anchor was seven, the quagsire was two, and Matrix was three.

    Macro strolled towards them and eyed the dripping bush. White roses dotted it, each one fated to receive a thick coating of red paint.

    “What exactly are you doing?” Macro asked them.

    “Painting the roses red,” Anchor growled all too rapidly.

    Macro cleared his throat and asked, politely, “May I ask why?”

    “Well, you see.” Anchor lowered his paintbrush to face Macro. “We were asked to plant red rose bushes. But Three, here,” he pointed the brush at Matrix, “went and planted white ones.”

    Matrix paused what he was doing to grin at Macro.

    “So if we don’t paint them red,” Anchor said as he returned to his work, “the Queen will have our heads.”

    “Does she have something against white roses?” Macro asked.

    “You could say that,” said Anchor. “She’s the Queen of Hearts. Hearts are red. So all her flowers have to be red.”

    “It’s only logical,” said Matrix. “Why would the Queen of Hearts want white flowers?”

    “Then why did you plant white flowers?!” Anchor snapped.

    “I got bored,” said Matrix. “I wanted to see her reaction.”

    “Her reaction is to remove our heads from our bodies!” Anchor sighed and ran a paw over his face, leaving a small smear of red paint on his forehead. “Why can’t you just be sensible like Two?”

    The quagsire said nothing, silently painting the roses with all the neatness of an artist.

    “If it were just Three’s fault,” said Macro, “why are you two worried for your own heads?”

    “Well all three of us planted the bushes,” Anchor explained. “So, whether or not we knew what we were plantin’, we’re all responsible. So we gotta cover up our crimes.”

    “Crimes?!”

    “Yeh. Plantin’ the enemy’s colour.”

    “This Queen sounds mighty violent,” said Macro, more to himself. “Kinda wish I’d picked the other route.”

    “Well you’re here now,” said Anchor. “So start paintin’.”

    Macro found a large paintbrush shoved into his paws. With a shrug, he dipped it into the paint tin and started painting what was left of the white roses.

    A trumpet blast erupted through the square, and the three soldiers dropped their paintbrushes onto the grass.

    “Oh jack, it’s the Queen!” Anchor barked. “Quick, get down!”

    The three suits threw themselves face first onto the floor. Macro looked from them to the oncoming parade and back.

    “Get down!” Anchor barked at him.

    Macro sighed and slumped onto his belly, pressing his face into the grass. It seemed like an odd thing to do. Why not just kneel, or bow as she passed? Why lie flat like a playing card?

    Heavy footsteps marched across the square towards them. Then stopped. A familiar voice shouted, “Here! The Queen of Hearts!”

    Macro cracked an eye open to look up at the speaker, but the first thing he saw was a gothitelle standing before them. She clutched an ornamental staff in one paw, topped by a ruby encrusted heart. She gazed around at the rose bushes, each rose as red as the bows that adorned her body. Previously white bows replaced with red ones. Behind her, kitted out like a Queen’s Prime Minister, was DL. Macro opened his mouth to gasp out her name, but swallowed it back.

    Socket paced around the rose bushes, a smile on her face.

    “Ahh, my precious rose bushes,” she said. “The blooms have really come into their own, haven’t they?”

    She paused beside one to sniff it, holding the blossom delicately. A grimace twisted her smile and she released it, staring at her paw in horror.

    “Paint?” she gasped. Then she turned to her entourage. “Paint?!”

    The army stood to attention, keeping their eyes trained ahead of them.

    “Who’s been painting my roses red?!” she roared.

    DL pointed a trembling paw at the suits lying face down. Socket marched over to them, eyeing each one in turn.

    “Who are you?!” Socket asked. “Stand at once!”

    The three suits scrambled to their feet, smoothing out their suits. Socket’s scowling face leant towards Anchor’s.

    “Why are you painting my roses red?” As calm as her voice sounded, it was laced with danger.

    Anchor stuttered and twisted the hem of his shirt in his paws. “You see… your majesty… there was an accident and-”

    “And what?” she asked.

    “Well… you see… we accidentally planted white roses…”

    “White roses?” Socket pulled her head back and narrowed her eyes.

    “Yes, your majesty.” Anchor glanced away from her. “I’m terribly sorry. We’ve been trying to fix it-”

    “In the hopes I wouldn’t notice?” Socket tapped her staff on her arm. “I suppose you thought that was noble?”

    Anchor and the quagsire stuttered while Matrix twirled his antenna in his paw.

    The Queen straightened up and opened her mouth so wide Macro feared she was going to swallow them whole. “Off with their heads!”

    The army surged forwards and grabbed the three suits, then marched them from the square towards the palace.

    Socket watched them go then turned to Macro. “And who are you? You don’t work for me. You aren’t in suit.”

    “I’m just a humble, lost mawile,” said Macro.

    Socket leered at him, tapping her arm with her staff. “I’m just a humble, lost mawile what?”

    “Eh?” Macro cocked an eyebrow and his muzzle creased with confusion.

    “I said,” Socket said, her voice laced with ice, “’I’m a humble, lost mawile what?’”

    Macro shook his head and shrugged. “Nope. I can’t work out this riddle, I’m afraid. It could rival the Hatter’s riddle about the writing desk.”

    “You are meant to address me as ‘your majesty’!” she snapped. “Now try again!”

    A vile taste filled Macro’s mouth at the mere sound of those words. Surely having to say them would poison him? He took a step back, fixing the gothitelle with a look of sheer horror.

    “Just do it,” DL said meekly from behind her. She lifted a paw and sliced it across her throat, making a clear point to Macro what would happen should he fail to address the Queen with her favoured title.

    “I’m just a humble, lost mawile,” he said through gritted teeth, “your majesty.”

    Socket smiled and nodded once. “Much better. Now… do you play croquet?”

    “Croquet?” Macro’s eyes widened as he recalled DL mentioning such a game to him. “But I never received an invite.”

    “I am offering you one,” said the Queen. “And it is non-optional. You shall join me in a game of croquet, or it will be your head.”

    If he declined, she’d probably use his head as the ball. With a nod, he resigned himself to his fate.

    “Excellent!” Socket turned to follow after her entourage. “We will start post-haste.”

    Macro exchanged glances with DL, and she lowered her head to scurry after the Queen. With a sigh, he followed behind her.

    ...​

    The Queen’s Court was bustling with various colourful guests. Amongst them scurried her suits, throwing themselves around the court and bending with all four paws on the ground, arching their backs reminiscent of croquet hoops. Macro barely got a word out before a small doduo was stuffed into his paws. He stared down at it, then looked up at Socket.

    “What is this?” he asked.

    “Your croquet mallet,” she answered.

    His brow furrowed and he opened his mouth to retort, but DL stuffed her paw into it, turning his comment into a surprised muffle.

    “And this,” Socket stooped to place a togedemaru at his feet, “is your ball. Commence!”

    The gothitelle turned and marched away, clutching her own doduo in one paw. She shouted commands to the other players before vanishing into the thick of it all.

    Macro turned to DL and gestured to the doduo hanging obediently from his paw by its legs. “What on earth is this?”

    “Croquet,” she said meekly.

    “With live pokemon? It’s barbaric!”

    DL waved her paws and let out a long, sharp ‘shh!’ She glanced over to where the Queen had vanished then moved closer to him and lowered her voice.

    “The Queen has standards,” she said. “Those that don’t fit them have their rights removed. Turned into meat or… entertainment.” She nodded to the togedemaru who was peering up at Macro over her shoulder.

    The small hedgehog pokemon raised her arms. “We doin’ this or not? ‘Cos I haven’t got all day.”

    “Oh… of… of course.” Macro readied his doduo behind the small togedemaru and she curled up into a tight ball.

    “Ready!” the doduo barked. “Aim! F-”

    “No!” Macro dropped the doduo, receiving surprised looks from both heads and the togedemaru.

    “What’s he doing?” one head asked the other.

    “Not a clue,” it replied. “But at this rate, the Queen will-”

    “Sever his head for sure!” The first head trembled.

    “Took the words right out of my mouth,” said the second.

    “I’m not doing this,” Macro hissed. “You have rights.”

    “Hey, I’m just glad I’m not on a sandwich,” said the togedemaru. “Now use that doduo and smack me towards that croquet hoop before it moves again! I wanna be on a winning team for once.”

    Macro shook his head and turned away. “No. I will not do something so barbaric.”

    “Why you…” The togedemaru waved a tiny fist. “Bleeding heart!”

    Macro looked back to find DL, hoping to drag her away from the barbaric game. But she’d seemingly vanished. He let out a sigh and continued on towards the heart-shaped topiaries.

    “Curious fellow, aren’t you?”

    DL’s voice snapped his head up towards a broad tree branch. He wasn’t surprised to find every single blossom was red and heart shaped.

    “DL?” he squeaked. “How did you get up in that tree?”

    “I’m a squirrel.” Her answer became redundant as she slowly drifted into the air. “Now. You seem rather perplexed by the Queen’s wonderful game.”

    “Wonderful?” he scoffed.

    DL merely grinned. “Why don’t I introduce you to someone who can put things into a better perspective?”

    He snorted and folded his arms, glancing back at the game. The Queen shouted something in the distance that sounded very much like ‘Cheater! Off with his head!’

    “If it gets me out of here,” he said, turning back to DL, “then sure. Introduce me.”

    She let out a silent laugh and tucked her paws behind her head, drifting backwards away from him. “Very well. Follow me.”

    Macro ducked through the bushes, the sounds of the game fading away behind him. Pretty soon, he lost track of the pachirisu.

    “DL?” he shouted. But he got no reply.

    With a sigh, he pressed on. The path weaved through the topiaries like a maze, and he soon found himself running into dead ends. He muttered under his breath and turned one eighty to retrace his footsteps. The path turned sharply to the right, and he let out a squeak as he found himself face to grinning face with the floating pachirisu.

    “Good grief!” He placed a paw against his pulsing rib cage then flashed a canine at her. “What game are you playing?”

    “Just hide and seek,” she said. “I’d say ‘you’re next’, but we’re here.”

    She drifted backwards through a neatly manicured gorse bush (with red, heart-shaped berries) and Macro ducked after her. The thorns snagged his fur as he scrambled through them, shielding his eyes which they seemed intent on scratching out. Once on the other side, he gazed out at a heart-shaped pond which was, surprisingly, not red. Beside the pond sat a snoring talonflame, his head lolling forward against his chest.

    “This is the Queen’s mysterious creature,” DL explained. “He can tell you everything.”

    With that, she did a little back-flip in the air and vanished through a golden hoop. Macro looked from the spot she’d occupied back to the talonflame.

    “Switch?” he asked, tentatively.

    The talonflame jerked his head up, letting out a loud, surprised snort. He blinked his bleary eyes and fixed them on the mawile.

    “You need to keep your voice down when others are sleeping,” said Switch. “Otherwise, you’re just being rude.”

    “Sorry.” Macro shrugged and shifted his weight to one leg. “But DL said you might be able to help me.”

    “I don’t know who this DL is,” said Switch. “But he’s no friend of mine.”

    “She,” Macro corrected.

    Switch appeared to not notice. He craned his neck around and started preening his right wing, snubbing Macro completely. The mawile cleared his throat, and Switch looked at him out of the corner of his eye, not stopping his preening.

    “She brought me here,” Macro began, “because she thought you might be able to explain the Queen’s barbaric game of croquet.”

    Switch dropped his wing, letting it fold neatly against his side, and turned fully to Macro.

    “Barbaric?” he repeated. “I’d be inclined to agree with you. A lot of pokemon here have little to no rights. Those that fall into that category are either abused or turned into meat. One such pokemon has met the latter fate many times.”

    “Eh?” Macro raised a confused brow.

    “Well… not personally,” said Switch. “His family, mainly. One by one. Gone. Would you like him to tell you about his sorrow?”

    Macro’s eye wandered to the pond. A fish pokemon? That would have been his first guess. But seeing the spoink, and the croquet game, he decided he couldn’t very well just assume.

    “All right,” he said, perching on a rock beside the talonflame. “Go ahead.”

    Switch cleared his throat and turned his head to the water. “Oi! Mock Squirtle!”

    Squirtle? Ripples spread across the water, drawing closer towards them. The first thing he saw was a long, blue fin, slicing through the glassy surface like a blade. Then two blue paws clutched the bed, followed by a lithe, blue body. Drops of water fell from their fur. No. Not a squirtle at all.

    A vaporeon sat down… rather floppily. Macro recognised him immediately.

    “Floppy?” he gasped.

    The vaporeon blinked his glassy, black eyes. The last time he’d seen them, they’d been filled with mischief despite his injuries. Now… they were filled with sorrow.

    Floppy let out a wistful sigh and flopped onto the rocks, letting his chin fall onto his forepaws.

    Switch inclined his head on one side then nodded to Macro. “I thought you might want to tell this young fellow about your sorrow.”

    “Sorrow?” Floppy sighed again. “What’s the point. No one cares.”

    “Hey!” Macro narrowed his eyes. “I care! Everything that’s goin’ on in this place? It’s madness!”

    “Precisely,” said Switch. “Everyone is mad here. Because she’s mad.”

    “The Queen?” Macro asked.

    “The Queen,” Switch and Floppy answered.

    Floppy raised his head and blinked his huge, sad eyes. “Ever since she became the Queen, the world turned violent. Heads rolling, pokemon turned into slavery and meat. All because they don’t fit her criteria.”

    “And what would that be?” Macro asked.

    Floppy shrugged. “She doesn’t have one, really. If she doesn’t like you, or you wrong her in some way, she’ll have your head. If you’re a bird, or a water type, or fall into her ‘livestock’ category, you’re meat.”

    “And what of the togedemaru?” Macro asked.

    Floppy shrugged again. “Oh that’s obvious. She needed pokemon that roll.”

    “Exactly,” said Switch. “And all the voltorb she tried to use exploded. Made a jolly mess of the palace grounds.”

    “This is insane!” Macro roared.

    “Of course it is,” said Floppy. “Because she is!”

    Heavy panting came from the bushes and DL exploded through them. She stood, trying to catch her breath, then looked up at him.

    “There you are,” she said. “Come on! The trial’s about to start!”

    “What trial?” Macro asked.

    “What do you mean ‘what trial’?” DL gasped. “Yours!”

    Macro’s jaw almost hit the floor. “What on earth did I do?”

    “No time to explain.” DL grabbed his paw and dragged him after her through the maze. “We have to go now!”

    His heart hammered in his chest with every foot step. The maze zipped past him all too quickly, and before he knew it he was dragged through the palace doors to the Queen’s court room.

    Socket sat in her throne, high up where everyone could see her. A plump sparksurfer raichu stood behind a podium, leafing through sheets of paper each of which had the Queen’s heart motif printed on them. Macro was thrown into a seat before the jury. Various small pokemon filled the jury booth, each one clutching a small black slate.

    “A call to silence!” Socket roared.

    It hadn’t been all that necessary. The pokemon in the courtroom hadn’t so much as squeaked.

    She fixed her livid eyes on his. “Hunter. You are being tried for stealing something that belongs to me.”

    Macro’s entire voice turned dry. He stuttered, but she went on, silencing him.

    “You have stolen my tarts,” she said. “And for that, I find you guilty.”

    “We can’t rush just yet,” said the raichu. “We haven’t brought in any witnesses.”

    Socket sat back in her seat and sighed, rubbing between her eyes. “Fine. Bring in the first witness.”

    “Calling the first witness!” the raichu roared.

    The double doors were thrown open as a tatty looking archeops scurried through them. She looked up at the Queen and grinned.

    “Yo there, your Majesty!” She flopped into the witness booth. “How can I help you?”

    “Do not address me with such vulgarities!” Socket snapped. “If I didn’t need your evidence, I’d take your head!”

    Annie shrugged and kicked one gangly leg over the other.

    “Now then,” said the raichu, turning to his papers. “You say you saw Hunter take the tarts?”

    “I never said such a thing.” Annie faltered and placed a claw under her chin, glancing up at the ceiling. “Or did I? I don’t remember. What day was it?”

    “It was a Friday,” said the raichu.

    “Hmm…” She inclined her head on one side. “I don’t remember Friday.”

    “That’s very important!” the raichu shouted to the jury.

    The small pokemon scrambled to write this all down on their slates with their claws.

    “Next witness!” the Queen roared.

    Suits rushed to the witness booth and picked it up, carrying Annie out of the courtroom. She let out a cheer and raised her wings into the air as she was whisked through the side doors into the yard. The entire booth went flying and the suits slammed the doors before rushing to erect a new one. Right before the Mad Hatter strolled in with March and the eevee.

    “Hater,” the raichu said slowly.

    “It’s Hatter,” the delphox corrected.

    “Apologies,” said the raichu. “You claim to have dined with Hunter recently? What was his behaviour like?”

    “Rude,” said March. “He just invited himself in.”

    “Despite us telling him there’s no room,” said the Hatter. “All unclean with his mucky scarf. Not quite the gentlemon at all.”

    “Not at all,” added the eevee.

    “So… technically…” said the raichu slowly, “he stole from you?”

    “You could say that,” said March. “Helped himself to tea and scones.”

    “I never touched a scone!” Macro barked.

    “You did,” said the Mad Hatter. “And you got fur in them.”

    “That might have been me, actually,” said the eevee.

    “Write that down!” the raichu barked at the jury.

    Macro pointed at the eevee then looked directly at the Hatter. The delphox shrugged, before the suits were ordered once again to ‘remove the witnesses’.

    “Third witness!” the Queen roared.

    The doors flew open and in marched a figure that left Macro chilled to the core. A mawile… complete with a scar and black scarf. Goggles topped his head, and he frowned at Macro as he took the witness booth.

    “Now… tell me in all honesty,” the raichu said to the mawile, “did Hunter steal the Queen’s tarts?”

    The mawile said nothing, almost staring into Macro’s very soul. Macro staggered backwards, toppling over the jury booth onto the small pokemon. Yelps of protest came from beneath him as they tried desperately to scramble free.

    “Yes,” the mawile said flatly.

    “No!” Macro roared. “I didn’t steal anything! I rescued them!”

    No sooner had the words left his mouth, the Queen roared “Off with his head!”

    The suits lurched forwards, almost flying at him. A bone chilling scream left Macro’s throat.

    “Admit it, Macro,” he heard the other him say. “You know you stole them. Whether or not you’re trying to be the hero now, it doesn’t change the fact you’re a criminal. And you know it.” The other mawile grinned widely, morphing slowly into a grinning pachirisu. “You deserve this.”

    Macro watched, stuttering, through the flying suits, as she rose into the air. Morphing, twisting, into the form of a grinning hoopa.

    “Let’s hear it again!” squealed BackDoor. “Off with his head!”

    The suits rushed at Macro with more speed, their bodies morphing like origami. Their forms became more pointed, more knife-like, and Macro realised with horror they were morphing into kartana. A strangled scream erupted from him as their bladed limbs slashed at his body. That soreness in his chest flared up into a full-blown stabbing pain as one of them ran right through him. Red filled his vision. Then a white light started in the centre like a pin prick. It exploded like a star, dazzling him with a blinding white rose. He shut his eyes tightly, clutching the bleeding wound in his chest. He staggered back beneath their wicked blades and rolled backwards onto the floor as he groped for his missing lasers with his free paw.

    Soft ground enveloped him like a mattress. The soreness lessened in his chest as he felt the last of the kartana vanish from him like dust. He blinked his eyes back open. Soft, white light surrounded him, and he found himself looking into Solgaleo’s smiling face.

    “Time to wake up,” said the lion.
     
  20. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Fifty Four​

    Everything seemed to go in slow motion.

    Defrag clutched the ladder rung below DL, firing Macro’s laser at the kartana below. Fortunately they couldn’t fly very high. Once the pokemon were above the rooftops, they were out of the deadly Ultra Beasts’ reach. But that didn’t satisfy Defrag. She kept a watchful eye on them, keeping the laser aimed on their drifting, swooping bodies, while DL tried to steady herself and Macro on the ladder.

    Despite Defrag’s offer, the pachirisu had insisted on carrying him. Defrag had been surprised at the smaller pokemon’s strength. But in a crisis, one can often amaze others with what they can do. They can even amaze themselves.

    The ladder came to a stop and DL scrambled through the hatch, stumbling under the mawile’s weight. Defrag steadied her, gripping the laser in her teeth to free her paw. But DL was swiftly whisked through the hatch by Anchor.

    “What on earth happened down there?!” The granbull gathered the unconscious mawile into his arms, much to DL’s protests. “Steady on, DL! Tell me what - Digit?”

    He spotted the lopunny as she scrambled through the hatch. She looked up, meeting his eyes, watching as the look of surprise melted into a frown.

    “I ain’t got time for this,” he muttered. “He needs help, quick. Matrix! Set co-ordinates for Cyan City. Hyperdrive!”

    The ribombee’s head poked out of the cockpit door before vanishing like a dart.

    “Cookie!” Anchor demanded. “Follow me with your first aid kit!”

    “Roger!” The quirky voice came from the kitchen.

    A dumpy brown slurpuff waddled into the corridor. He did a quick double-take when he saw Defrag, then almost fainted when he spotted Macro. He stuttered a few times, but Anchor dismissed it with his free paw.

    “Hold it together. We need you right now,” he said.

    Anchor stomped down the corridor, stopping at the final room. With Macro in one arm, he scanned the door and marched inside before it had fully opened. DL was hot on his tail, her eyes never leaving Macro.

    Defrag leant on the door and briefly glanced around the sparsely decorated room before looking back at the space pirates.

    “Well he’s a bloody mess.” Anchor fumbled with the mawile’s mask. “At least he’s breathing. What happened down there?”

    “It was the kartana.” DL shook from ear to tail. She clasped her paws to her chest and sank down into a little chair beside the bed. “They chased us. One of them ran him down before we could get onto the ship.”

    When Anchor finally removed the mask, his face paled. Macro’s muzzle was crimson. Defrag’s paws went to her mouth and she backed out of the room. DL let out a whimper and turned away in her seat, covering her eyes.

    “I’d say they did more than run him down,” said Anchor weakly.

    Cookie placed the first aid kit at the foot of the bed and pulled out a full ream of bandages. He nudged Anchor aside and commenced removing Macro’s scarf before trying to stem the bleeding. From what Defrag had witnessed back in Spool City, it would be no easy feat.

    “I daren’t check over the wound,” he said. “I don’t want to disturb him too much. But…”

    The sheets were already soaked with blood. Hopefully it just looked a lot worse than it was.

    “I’m not sure how much help I can be,” the slurpuff went on. “I’d say he needs a surgeon, not a chef who passed a course in first aid with health and safety.”

    He knotted the bandage as tightly as he could then took a step back, wiping his bloodied paws on his berry-stained apron.

    Anchor stared down at Macro for a while then placed a paw on Cookie’s back. “You’ve done what you can. Let’s just hope it’s not too long until we reach Cyan City.”

    “How fast is your hyperdrive?” Defrag asked.

    Anchor looked up at her again with surprise. He’d likely forgotten she was even there. He brushed back his mohawk and replaced his surprise with another frown, before marching from the room.

    “Come on, DL,” he said. “We’ll leave Cookie with him. He knows what he’s doin’. We’ll only be in the way.”

    “No.”

    He looked back at the pachirisu. She’d turned her chair back, and clasped Macro’s paw in both of hers. Her eyes were screwed shut, cheeks wet with tears, and she shook her head to further emphasise her answer.

    “I’m not leaving him,” she said. “I can’t!”

    The slurpuff looked up and gave Anchor a sad smile, still with his tongue poking out. “It’s okay if she stays. She’s not in my way.”

    Anchor nodded solemnly and let the door close behind him. He fired Defrag a leer then marched down the corridor. She faltered by Macro’s room before resigning herself to following the silent granbull. Despite his blood stained paws, he pulled out his phone and held it to his ear.

    “Hi, Jumper?” he said, then paused as he listened to the speaker on the other end. He twitched his claws and Defrag thought she heard him mutter under his breath. “No, sorry. Things aren’t alright. I’ve got an emergency here. It’s Macro. We’re rushing him to Cyan City now.” Another pause. “It doesn’t look good, Governor.”

    Defrag felt her stomach knot and she faltered by the bathroom as Anchor ducked inside with his phone. He wasn’t in there very long. When he came back out, his phone was tucked away and he wiped his wet paws on his chest. He gave her another suspicious scowl then waved her off.

    With nowhere else to go, she ended up in the cockpit. Matrix looked up from his navigation desk, winding an antenna in his tiny paw. He raised an eyebrow at her, then returned to the detailed layout on the screen.

    Anchor fell into a large seat and leant back, frowning out at the world zipping by.

    She looked around at the cockpit and tucked her paws behind her back. “It doesn’t look much different to the old ship.”

    Anchor said nothing, staring silently ahead.

    “What happened to the huntail?” she asked.

    “You should know what happened to it,” he grunted.

    She shifted her weight to one foot, not taking her eyes off him. “I leave and he gets a new ship? Or is it something to do with that raid in Botnet?”

    “Isn’t it funny,” said Anchor, “how whenever you’re around, something bad happens to him?”

    She creased her nose and leered at the back of his head. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “The Analogue Isles, saving your hide, he almost died. That weapons raid you took in Botnet City, he almost died. Now he runs into you in Spool and look what’s happened!”

    “How is any of that my fault?! And you were there during that raid! I had nothing to do with it!” She frowned as he glanced over his shoulder. “I’m not the one who almost took his eye out! I’m not the one who set the building ablaze! And I’m not the one who ran him through with that monster, it did that itself!”

    Anchor flashed his canines and turned back to the controls.

    “Besides,” she went on. “Are you seriously telling me nothing like this has happened since I left Wildcard?”

    “Of course not.” Anchor sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “’Mon’s as reckless as he’s always been. Just… I’m a little scared, that’s all. I’ve never seen him like this.”

    “To be honest, so am I.” She shrugged and flopped into Macro’s much smaller chair. “I’ve watched those creatures slice up walls and posters, run down random pokemon in the streets. But I never thought they might…” She trailed off and sighed into her paw.

    “It ain’t your fault, Digit,” said Anchor apologetically. “Anyway, what’s a nice lass like you doin’ in Spool City?”

    “I work there,” she said. “For a detective named Tracer.”

    He snorted and rolled his eyes. “From one extreme to the next.”

    “Anyway. Enough about me. How long is it until we reach Cyan City?”

    “It’ll be another twenty five minutes,” said Matrix.

    Defrag started slightly. She’d almost forgotten the little bee was there. She turned back to Anchor and folded her paws in her lap.

    “Do you think he’ll make it?” she asked.

    “Dunno.” Anchor sighed and brushed back his mohawk. “I’m kinda clutching at straws.”

    “Then why Cyan City, exactly?” she asked. “Isn’t Pulse City closer?”

    “Kinda, but we ain’t welcome there,” said Anchor. “Besides, we’ve got friends in Cyan City. Plus, their medicine is much more effective.”

    “I guess.” She paused and brushed a paw along her ear. “I’m a little surprised you’re welcome there.”

    “Well, I’d tell you why but it’s a long story.”

    “We’ve got over twenty minutes. We may as well kill some time. Take our mind off things.”

    “All right then.” Anchor flashed her a grin. “I’ll tell ya. Kinda lookin’ forward to the surprise on your face.”

    ...​

    Annie was feeling rather irritated. She’d managed to sleep through until the mid hours of the morning, and in her scramble for her magic pills had managed to secure her human form. All that time spent pruning her feathers and she was now as bald as a plucked ducklett.

    She pulled her clothes on and stomped down the wooden stairs to the kitchen. Voices spoke in hushed tones and as she rounded the corner, Web turned her head and looked her up and down.

    “Good to see you looking rested.” The skuntank paused and cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve got your jacket on upside down, dear.”

    Annie stared down at herself, then removed her jacket to put it on the right way up.

    “It’s also inside out,” said Trojan.

    Web cuffed him over the head fin and tried to give Annie a reassuring smile. The human let out a sigh and flopped into a chair as she dragged the sleeves back out the right way.

    “What are we doin’ back in this dump?” she asked. “I thought we were in Pulse City.”

    Everyone fell silent and stared at her, mouths agape. She looked back up at them, clutching a sleeve in one hand. Her eyes wandered from each pokemon until they fell on two unfamiliar faces. A ruffled looking chatot and a strange, purple creature…

    She lifted a finger and wagged it at the blobby alien thing. “The Time Onion… it’s coming back to me now.”

    “She serious?” the chatot asked Web a little too loudly.

    Web tried to hush him, but Annie sat back and kicked her boots up on the table. “Yes. It is coming back to me. We found my way home, right?”

    “I’m afraid, dear,” Web said slowly, “that Poipole isn’t a time traveller. He’s not the celebi you’re looking for.”

    “What on earth’s a poipole?” Annie scoffed.

    Both Web and Trojan pointed a claw at the alien’s head, while the chatot waved a wing at him.

    “I already told you,” said the alien. “I’m not a Time Onion.”

    Annie sighed and ran a hand over her face. The previous day was a blur.

    “Anyway, I’ve got a question,” said the chatot. “What exactly do you want with me? First thing I know is some crazy prehistoric bird is kidnapping me, now I’m sat on a table with another extinct species. You draggin’ me into some kind of conspiracy or somethin’?”

    Web looked up, meeting Annie’s eye. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to explain to Hatter what you want with him. Because you didn’t tell us anything.”

    Annie scratched her head as she stared at the chatot blankly.

    “Try to remember, dear,” Web went on.

    Annie shook her head and sighed, throwing her arms in the air. “I ain’t a clue.”

    Her hand brushed something sticking out of her belt pouch and she looked down at a roll of paper sticking out of it. She grabbed it and unfurled it on the stained table top. The grimacing face of a mawile stared out at her, disfigured by an ugly scar. Below his face was a large number. A much more handsome figure. Fifty thousand credits.

    Yes… it was starting to come back to her now.

    She tapped the picture with a finger and looked up at Hatter. “I think I know what I wanted with you. You’re a messenger, right?”

    “I exchange information,” he said. “I only have those posters because space pirates can now get in on arresting the most wanted ‘mon in System. And his girlfriend, too.”

    “Girlfriend?” Annie squinted at the portrait. “Where?”

    “Other side.”

    She flipped it over to be greeted by the pretty face of a zigzagoon. Same price.

    “So let me get this straight.” She frowned across at the parrot. “We arrest these guys, we get… what… a hundred thousand credits?”

    “Exactly.” Hatter grinned. “But you want my help, I want part of that deal.”

    Annie huffed and shoved the poster aside, replacing it with her steepled hands. “I don’t exactly want you for no arrest mission. That’s a little bit on the side to fuel my ship. I want you… to get the pokemon all riled up about eatin’ water dwellers.”

    “Hang on.” Hatter’s grin fell away and the bridge of his beak creased in a frown. “What’s this got to do with arrestin’ some pirates?”

    “Nothing. We can pay you. You just have to spread a little message. The mayor is crazy. She’s having pokemon eat each other, and how far is it gonna go? Is it gonna stop at the fishes, or are they gonna start having marill on toast? Squirtle soup? Slowbro flambe?” She leant forwards and the corner of her mouth tugged up in a smirk. “Grilled chatot?”

    He squawked and leapt back with a flap of his wings, but he quickly regained his composure and returned her smirk with a leer. “They wouldn’t!”

    Annie shrugged and leant back in her seat. “I reckon the fishes thought that too before restaurants upgraded their menu.”

    The chatot glanced from side to side, inclining his head slightly to get a good look in all directions. His movements were jerky, like the birds she’d seen in videos. The kind of action that was often followed by a swift bolt towards the nearest exit.

    “So are you on board?” she asked.

    “How much you offerin’?” His voice was a near-growl.

    Web fixed one eye on Annie. “I want to ask how you plan to pay him?”

    Annie shrugged. “It’s in my head that we can do it.”

    “How?”

    “Dunno.”

    Web groaned and ran a paw down her face. She stood, her chair screeching over the floor. “I can’t handle this. I need a walk.”

    She scooped up the poipole and whispered something to him that Annie couldn’t pick out.

    “I’m comin’ with you.” Trojan fixed Annie in a leer and rose to follow the skuntank.

    The two halted in the doorway and stood aside as Waveform strolled in with Zip in tow. The decidueye looked from the two dark types then up at Annie and Hatter.

    “You could cut the tension in here with a knife,” he said. “Have you apologised?”

    “What for?” Annie asked.

    Waveform’s eyes widened and he stood aside as Web excused herself and slipped out of the door. He glanced back at the two retreating pokemon then marched over to the table.

    “What do you mean ‘what for’?” he hissed. “Don’t you remember our conversation?”

    She looked up at the ceiling and stroked her chin with a finger nail. “Not all of it.”

    “What do you remember?”

    “’A captain cares about their crew. The ship goes down, they go with it.’” She tucked her hands behind her head, not taking her eyes off Waveform’s. A look of surprise crossed his features and he tucked his wings under his collar. “They have a choice, you know. They don’t have to come with me. And neither do you.”

    “Have you told them that?” he asked.

    “No. If they follow me back onto the ship, then I’ll know where they stand.” She stood up, sending her chair skittering over the floor. “Pay Perappu. He’s gonna send out my message to the big cities of System Ground, and we’re off to Wave City.”

    Zip’s large eyes widened and he almost danced on his mechanical legs. “You mean we’re still going?”

    “Of course, little fish. I did make you a promise.”

    As she left the kitchen, she felt Waveform’s eyes on her back.

    “Annie?” his voice froze her in the doorway, and she looked back at him. “I really would tell them. They’re not mind readers, and you still owe them an apology. I explained your actions in Pulse City were rash.”

    “But I don’t remember my actions,” she said.

    He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. They do.”

    She sighed and nodded, then turned out of the front door. There was no sign of Web, but Trojan stood with his back against the wall. A tatty cigarette hung out of his mouth, the sight of which took her by surprise. The same surprise reflected over his face and he quickly removed the foreign object from his mouth.

    “Oh jack,” he muttered. “Don’t say anythin’ to Web, alright? She thinks I quit.”

    Annie shrugged and hugged her arms over herself. “Where is she?”

    “Went to get berries. Need to fill the ship, right?” He put the cigarette back and glanced down the vacant street. “It’s awful quiet. Never used to be like this.”

    Annie was silent as she followed his gaze. All she could hear was the wind, and the occasional puff from the scrafty as he contributed to the toxic atmosphere.

    “I’m under the impression I owe you an apology,” she said. “For… my reckless actions.”

    He waved a paw at her. “Forget it. We can all get a little wild at times.” He removed the cigarette again and folded his arms, letting it hang limply from his claws. “But I gotta suggest you don’t do it again. I don’t wanna get maimed by angry pirates, and Web don’t like seein’ pokemon mauled and swung about. But she’s a mother duck. No sooner you apologise, she’ll be makin’ you nutpea soup and fresh bread.”

    “So you’re both still with me?” she asked. “’Cos I don’t know where Wave City is.”

    He laughed and flicked ash into the gutter. “Of course. Any excuse to get out of this dump. Besides, we need to get Poipole home, right?”

    “I guess.”

    Annie hugged herself as the wind picked up around her. A crisp packet whipped up in the gutter and she followed its lonely trail towards the shops. It was eerily quiet. It had always been quiet in Spool City, as far as she knew. But there were no pokemon on the street. No voices. No faces peeking out of windows.

    She was about to open her mouth to suggest they leave that day, but a shrill squeal reached their ears. Trojan dropped his cigarette into a questionable puddle and turned to follow the noise. Another one sliced through the silence, louder and more clear. Panicked.

    It was followed by Web’s purple shape as she rounded a corner, chasing after Poipole’s floating form. The strange creature fired something from his head. A stream of glistening sludge that propelled like a bullet towards the bend in the road. The creature ducked nimbly as something flew towards him, glistening in the dull light. White and yellow with four limbs stretched out to the side like a plane. It doubled back like a boomerang, aiming straight for Poipole.

    Web shouted at him and dashed towards Annie and Trojan on all-fours, her tail held over her head like a cannon.

    “Get inside!” she barked.

    The creature zipped towards her and she ducked, firing a cloud of smoke from her tail. It engulfed the creature, sending it up in an arc to avoid it.

    “What is that thing?” Trojan asked, stunned into a state of unnerving calm.

    “I said get inside!” Web screamed.

    She charged into him, bowling him through the door. Annie faltered behind them, looking back at the creature as it raced up the side of the wall, slicing stone and sending tiny shards raining down like hail. It pulled itself free effortlessly and launched towards her like a dart. She span aside and it skimmed her arm before crashing into the wall where it lodged like a knife. A flailing knife.

    There was the sound like toothpaste being launched from a tube, and a torrent of slimy purple gunk struck the creature, plastering it to the wall. One of its bladed arms sliced through it, then flailed as it fought to wrestle itself free. Annie felt something soft strike her back and she ducked into the house. She found herself grabbed in one of Waveform’s wings as he whisked her away from the entrance to slam the door shut right as Poipole flew over her head into Web’s waiting arms.

    “Again,” said Trojan, more panicked. “What the jack is that thing?”

    “I don’t know,” said Web. “But I suggest we don’t wait around and find out.”

    “Get to the ship,” said Annie. “It can’t get us in there.”

    “It’s a kartana,” said Poipole. “They can slice through steel.”

    “A what?” Trojan asked.

    “If you get the ship up high enough,” Poipole went on, “it won’t catch us. They can’t fly very high. They use the wind current to glide.”

    “I’ll take your word for it.” Annie herded them towards the back door. “Off to Wave City it is. Let’s head to the ship.”

    “It was slicing up Spool City,” said Web over her shoulder. “Two of them.”

    “How many do you think there are?” asked Trojan.

    “I dread to think…”

    “They tend to hunt in small numbers,” Poipole explained. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were five or six of them.”

    “Okay.” Annie paused by the back door and pulled it open with a flourish. “Run to the ship.”

    Trojan was first out of the door. He bolted towards the pyukumyuku and wrenched the tin door open. At the wave of his paw, the rest of the pokemon scurried out towards it as Annie watched. Web closed up the rear, making sure Zip was ahead of her. She checked over her shoulder and clambered over the ramp into the ship.

    Waveform placed a paw on Annie’s back and led her out into the yard. He gave her a hefty shove and they raced for the ship. Annie threw herself on board and Waveform landed gracefully behind her, tugging the door shut.

    “Not a single one in sight,” he said.

    Annie snorted. “I guess the one that attacked us must still be trying to pull itself free from our new friend’s glue attack.” She turned to the poipole sat in Web’s lap. “I think I’m gonna call you Sticky.”

    Poipole blinked once. “But I’m Poipole.”

    “Not any more.” Annie fell into her seat and crossed her legs at the ankle. “It’s Sticky.”

    Poipole stuttered and shook his head. “Please don’t…”

    Annie waved her hand at the grimy window. “Let’s get this thing in the sky, eh?”

    “I’m already on it.” Trojan pawed at a few buttons on the dash and the entire ship began to shake.

    “Look…” Web pointed a claw at the house.

    One of the kartana glided over the roof, then shot down like a dart out of sight. A second one rose up alongside it, shaking purple globules from its limbs.

    “Hurry up, ship.” Annie’s voice came out oddly calm.

    As if on cue, the pyukumyuku began its lurch towards the sky, bounding over the worn out roof tops. Annie thought she saw a chimney tumble towards the road.

    Waveform climbed from his seat before they’d finished ascending and tugged his black bandana from his belt pouch. “Give me your arm.”

    Annie frowned up at him and raised an eyebrow. “I’m afraid it’s rather attached.”

    “You’re wounded,” he said flatly.

    “Eh?” She looked down at her left arm and her eyes almost popped from their sockets. Her white shirt was dyed bright red from just below her shoulder to her elbow. “When did that happen?”

    “Unless you wish to undress,” said Waveform calmly, “I’m going to have to cut the sleeve off.”

    Annie began to feel a little dizzy. She turned away from the stained sleeve, becoming increasingly aware of a dull ache beneath all that blood.

    “Do as you will,” she said weakly. “I think I’ll just lie down on the floor for a little…” Her voice trailed off as her surroundings became a blur.

    ...​

    It was noon when Wildcard Gamma reached Cyan City. Anchor had Macro tucked comfortably on one arm as he clutched the ladder with another, descending down through the city’s open dome. The cold air bit through his fur, and despite being used to it he was worried his trembling would cause him to drop his wounded captain.

    Jumper stood below them by the lake, watching the ladder with his paws tucked behind his back. Beside him was an ambulance, its lights flashing from blue to green to red and back. Once the ladder had descended enough, Anchor dropped down beside him. The frogadier’s eyes went straight to Macro and they almost popped from his head.

    “Good gracious! What on earth happened to him?!” he gasped. “Quickly. Into the ambulance.”

    He stepped aside to allow Anchor into the ambulance where a croconaw relieved him of the unconscious mawile. DL rushed to catch up with them with Defrag in tow, and he heard the ladder flash away rung by rung from Cyan City. Once they were all inside the ambulance, the doors slammed shut and it took off, sirens blaring.

    “What’s happened to him?” the croconaw asked.

    “Stab wound,” Defrag told him before Anchor could even open his mouth.

    That was all the paramedic seemed to need to know as he rushed to his trolley and rustled through the various tools.

    “Will he make it?” DL asked weakly.

    A wartortle placed something over Macro’s claw and stood back to watch the screen on the attached tablet.

    “It’s too soon to say,” she said. “But we’ll try everything.” She turned to the croconaw. “His oxygen’s low.”

    Anchor said nothing as the paramedics busied themselves around the stretcher. When the croconaw placed an oxygen mask over the mawile’s muzzle, Anchor felt his heart sink into his stomach.

    “You could have come in at the docks,” said Jumper quietly. “I told you, you are welcome here.”

    “Well, old habits die hard,” said Anchor. “Thanks for opening the dome for us by the way.”

    “It was scheduled to open now anyway,” said Jumper. “Dawn and noon for optimal sunshine. The trees don’t do as well in a completely closed off climate. It gets too hot for them, and the glass reduces the needed nutrients from the sun. So, are you going to tell me what happened?”

    “I don’t know what happened,” said Anchor. “Apparently some invasive creature ran him through with bladed arms.”

    “Are you sure it wasn’t a pawniard?”

    “It wasn’t a pawniard,” said Defrag.

    Jumper looked back at her and his eyebrows raised slightly. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Are you another of Macro’s crew?”

    Defrag shook her head as Anchor snorted.

    “She’s a former crew member,” said the granbull.

    “I’m a detective, actually,” said the lopunny. “Macro just happened to be in my city while I was investigating those creatures.”

    “There’s been a lot of strange stuff happen recently,” said Jumper. “That attack on Favicon for one. I am guessing it’s related?”

    Defrag’s face creased in a frown. “I’m guessing news of the massacres in Spool City haven’t made it this far?”

    The frogadier’s eyes widened and he blanched. “No…”

    “Typical.” Defrag tutted. “Rich cities don’t care, do they?”

    Jumper regained his composure and frowned, turning away from her as the ambulance came to a halt. The paramedics hoisted the stretcher from its stand and rushed out into the hospital, followed by Anchor and his companions. He only caught a glimpse of the croconaw’s tail as it vanished through swinging doors to the ‘Emergency Wards’.

    Jumper settled himself into one of the many chairs and motioned for Anchor and the others to sit. DL faltered by the double doors, peering through the glass after the paramedics.

    “I’m afraid they won’t let you in,” said Jumper. “Not just yet, anyway.”

    DL glanced from the frogadier to the doors then flopped into the chair beside him. She huddled into herself, staring blankly at the floor.

    “I’m afraid it’s just a waiting game now,” said Jumper. “But I can assure you Macro is in very good paws.”

    “I sure hope so,” said Anchor. “I’ve never seen him like this…”

    DL shuddered and wiped a paw across her face. Jumper glanced towards her and placed a paw on her trembling back.

    “I’m not sure how much help this is,” said Jumper. “But there’s a cafe if-”

    “I couldn’t eat a thing right now,” said Anchor. “I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut by a close combat throwing lucario.”

    Defrag brushed back one of her ears and took in a shaky breath. “A coffee might actually calm my nerves.”

    Jumper looked over at her then at Anchor. The granbull shrugged his shoulders and knitted his paws together.

    “You guys go,” he said. “Take DL. I’ll wait here in case anything comes up. Don’t want ‘em lookin’ for us.”

    Jumper narrowed his eyes with concern. “If you’re sure-”

    “I’m sure.” Anchor waved a huge paw. “Go. Don’t worry about me. It ain’t me you need to be worryin’ about.”

    The frogadier nodded and rose to his feet, motioning DL to join him. She looked over at the door again then clambered shakily to her feet.

    “I-” she stuttered. “I don’t want to leave him…”

    “If you want to wait here, I can bring you something?” said Jumper.

    She shook her head slowly, then violently shook her ears before bolting through the double doors.

    “DL!” Jumper took off after her and skidded to a halt in the hallway. “Oh, DL…”

    The pachirisu sank down against one of the closed doors, the light above it a vivid red. It lit up her white fur like a sunset, and she placed a paw against the blue wood. Tears streaked from her eyes and she sobbed loudly, her entire body trembling.

    Jumper crouched down beside her and placed a paw on her back. She pushed his paw away and screwed her eyes shut, trying to stifle the tears.

    “I don’t want him to die,” she sobbed.

    “Neither do I.” Jumper’s voice came out husky. “But I trust the surgeons here. Come on, trust him into their paws.”

    “I… I didn’t know how dangerous those things were,” she said. “We were only trying to find out the damage to Meta City. We didn’t expect Spool City to… He was trying to get me onto the ship first. Then it…” She looked up and fixed watery, brown eyes on his. “If they’re that dangerous, how are we meant to get those creatures back to their own world?!”

    She broke down again, curling into a ball at the foot of the door. Jumper crouched beside her and gathered her into his arms, guiding the trembling pachirisu back to her feet.

    “Let’s get you sat back down. I’ll get you a drink.” He turned back to the doors to find Anchor watching them, waiting to see if he was needed. He fixed the granbull with a raised eyebrow. “You’ve really landed yourselves in quite the conspiracy, haven’t you?”

    Anchor let out a gruff ‘hmm’. “I don’t think it would have been such a rough landing if we’d gone in prepared.”

    ...​

    Blinding sunlight filled Macro’s vision. He flinched back from it and narrowed his eyes, straining to see through it. But it was all he could see. It was everywhere, blanketing his entire body. Blinding. Dazzling. Yet it was warm, not burning.

    A shape formed inside it. A sun shape, solidifying into a face. A face he recognised.

    Solgaleo looked down at him, his face soft and gentle. Yet Macro felt humbled, like he needed to fall to his knees. He became aware he was lying down, unable to move. His arms were paralysed at his sides.

    Solgaleo smiled and he heard his voice coming from every direction at once.

    “Wake up, Macro,” he said. “It’s not your time yet.”

    The light faded out into a soft white, then the white grew with a blinding intensity. His arm suddenly obeyed him and he lifted the heavy limb to his eyes. Solgaleo’s face faded away, replaced by the soft, furry features of a worried pachirisu.

    DL stared down at him, clutching his paw tightly in hers. He removed his other paw from his eyes and squinted into her warm, chocolate ones.

    “Wow.” His voice came out husky and sore. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

    DL’s face split into a beaming grin that rivalled the halogen lighting, and she clutched his paw to her chest. Fresh tears streamed over her damp cheeks and she shook her head slowly.

    “I’m so glad you’re awake.” she said. “I was worried sick!”

    Macro sighed and closed his eyes as the events came back to him. It was like a nightmare, yet he could still remember vividly the sensation of blood flooding his mouth and running out into his mask. The searing pain as the kartana withdrew its blade. He grimaced and lifted his paw to his face again, feeling the oxygen mask covering his muzzle. It was too familiar to the filter mask. He wanted to wrench it off. He fastened his claws underneath it, feeling a slight tug as he tensed his paw. He snapped his head around to it, spotting the drip fastened into his flesh. The sight made his stomach do an uncomfortable flip. In a hospital, strapped to a drip, having just clung onto life… His blood turned cold and he released the oxygen mask.

    “I’m just glad to be alive.” He took in a painful breath and let his eyes close again. “Argh, I feel like someone attacked my lungs with a cheese grater.”

    “The doctors said you’re very lucky to be alive,” said DL somewhat painfully.

    Macro rubbed a paw over his groggy eyes. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a near death experience.”

    He felt tiny claws dig into his paw. “They thought they were going to lose you. More than once. At one point… they really…” She choked back a sob and shook her head violently. “You almost bled to death! It’s only thanks to Cookie’s first aid skills you even made it to the hospital! That kartana sliced open your left lung and severed two of your ribs. It only narrowly missed your heart. If it had been a fraction closer…”

    She trailed off and Macro cracked an eye open. She wasn’t looking at him, instead staring at the foot of the bed. Her paws were still clasped around his, too firmly for him to wriggle it free. But not only did he feel too weak to try, he didn’t want to. Instead he fastened his claws over her soft paw and she snapped her head around to look at him. Her mouth curled down at the sides and she let his paw flop onto the bed so she could wipe the tears from her cheeks. His paw felt oddly cold and he flexed his claws a couple of times before tucking it into his sheets.

    “I’m so sorry,” she choked.

    “What for?”

    “If I hadn’t gone with you,” more tears flooded from her eyes, “then you wouldn’t have had to look after me. You wouldn’t have-”

    “What, you think this is your fault?!” Macro regretted raising his voice and he grimaced. “This isn’t your fault, DL. Whether you went with me or not, those creatures would still have been there tearing up Spool City.”

    “Yes, but I shouldn’t have gone with you. Anchor is much stronger than me. You should have taken him.”

    “It’s still not your fault. I’m the captain. It’s my job to make sure my crew is on the ship in dangerous situations. Or off it, for that matter.”

    “What about ‘look out for number one’?”

    He opened his mouth to reply, but his brain wouldn’t process a response fast enough. He stared back into her eyes, still glistening with tears. Yet they were still warm. He felt himself melting into them, and his paw was desperate to find hers again. He clutched it to his chest, unseen under the sheets.

    “I can’t be a captain without a crew, can I?” he finally said.

    Before she could reply, the door opened and Anchor strolled in clutching two steaming cups of fruit tea. When he spotted Macro he almost dropped them.

    “Wow, Cap’n,” he said, steadying the cups before the tea escaped to the floor. “The docs said you’d be asleep most of the night. It ain’t even ten o’clock yet.”

    “Really?” Macro groaned as he rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. The oxygen mask was growing uncomfortable. “I guess I recover fast.”

    “Yeah? Hold on to that thought.” Anchor turned to DL. “I thought you might want a tea.”

    “Thank you. But… I should probably let Jumper know Macro’s awake.”

    She rose to her feet then stared down at Macro, her paws twitching at her sides. She lifted them back to her chest then headed for the door, gathering her cup off Anchor as she passed.

    Anchor watched her go and waited for the door to close behind him. He turned back to Macro and shook his head sadly.

    “She hasn’t left your side since we were allowed in,” he said.

    “Really?” Macro’s heart fluttered and he watched Anchor stroll across the room to claim DL’s empty seat.

    “Aye,” he said. “Blames herself.”

    “But it isn’t her fault,” said Macro.

    “Sadly she don’t see it that way. But I do. I know you.” Anchor sipped his hot tea then placed the cup on the bed’s little stand. “What happened down there, Cap’n?”

    “Has no one told you?”

    “Two terrified girls have relayed me a story about a bladed Ultra Beast knocking you down and running you through with its arm,” said Anchor. “Apparently you tried to take it on.”

    “That’s true, I guess.” Macro grimaced as he tried to sit up.

    “You stay lay down!” Anchor barked. “I don’t want you comin’ undone!”

    “If they did a good enough job, I shouldn’t do.”

    Anchor placed a heavy paw on his shoulder and narrowed his eyes into a leer. “You stay lay down or I’m sittin’ on yer legs.”

    Macro rolled his eyes and wriggled into his pillow.

    “There’s a good captain.” Anchor took another sip of his tea and kept hold of his cup, warming his paws. “So you tried to take it on?”

    “Yeh. It was fast. Couldn’t hit it.” Macro shrugged his shoulders painfully. “Once I’d angered it, that was it. It wanted blood.”

    “Aye, it got it n’all.” Anchor frowned into his tea. “What were you playin’ at?”

    “I was trying to do my job. Find where they were comin’ from. They’re killing pokemon, and for what?”

    “Your alarm should have gone off when you heard that! Get back on the ship, formulate a plan. Not run in there guns blazin’ like you always do!” Anchor put his cup back down before he accidentally lobbed it across the ward with dramatic hand gestures. “I’ve told you before you’re reckless. Throwin’ yourself off buildings to escape, threatenin’ government officials, jokin’ about blowin’ things up. It’s like you forget you’re mortal! Now look what’s happened…”

    “I know I’m mortal, Anchor.”

    “Then why act like that?”

    Macro said nothing, letting the room fall into silence. He stared up at the ceiling, watching the fan spin rhythmically as it wafted cool air through the ward.

    “I worry about you,” said Anchor. “I might not bail on you like Digit did. I’ve always got your back, you know that. But I worry.”

    “You don’t need to worry.” Macro knew his words were pointless, and the glare from Anchor only served to prove his theory.

    “Of course I need to worry! Look at you!” Anchor sighed and leant back in his seat. “I worry one day I’m gonna lose you, Macro. It frightens me. You’re not just a captain to me, you’re my best friend. No… you’re my brother. And I’m not gonna let you behave like a reckless fool no more. You get me?”

    Macro looked at him out of the corner of his eye. His throat tightened as a lump rose into it, but he choked back the threat of tears. Anchor stared down at him, his large eyes glistening, but his jaw was set with the sternness of a teacher waiting for a naughty hatchling to sit down.

    Macro licked his dry lips and croaked out, “What if the situation calls for it?”

    “Like what?”

    He shrugged. “I dunno. We might all die anyway?”

    Anchor let out a single laugh and retrieved his cup. “All right, sure. I’ll let you have that one.”
     

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