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System:Reboot (PMD)

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

  1. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Fifty Five​

    Macro couldn’t help but feel relieved that he’d been removed from the drip. Sat back against a pillow, he sipped at what must have been his third cup of tea that morning.

    Switch sat beside him in one of the many plastic chairs situated around the room, comfortable in his human form. None of the doctors were phased by his appearance. From what little he’d said since he’d arrived, Macro guessed he’d been walking around the entire city featherless.

    Macro glanced at the time on his computer, and not for the first time. Thirty minutes had passed since Switch had walked in, all smiles and sunshine. Yet whenever Macro glanced him out of the corner of his eye, he looked bothered. Sad. Lonely? Whatever it was, he covered it up with a smile or one of his winks and what had been an awkward, fractured conversation about Macro’s ‘recent injury’.

    “Okay.” The mawile sighed and adjusted himself painfully so he could place his half-drunk still piping-hot tea back onto his bedside table. “I have to ask. Why are you walking around Cyan City with your human out?”

    Switch raised an eyebrow and let out a confused ‘huh?’

    Macro gestured towards him with a paw. “This. I thought you’d be staying as a talonflame. You know… since there are no other humans in System?”

    “That’s where you’re wrong.” Switch sipped at his own cup. “There’s one other human in System.”

    Wildcard’s conversation with Solgaleo came back to Macro and his eyes widened slightly. “Oh… Oh yes, there is, isn’t there? They escaped from Socket.”

    “A female,” said Switch. “Apparently she’s also been sighted as an archeops, and she’s not shy about it either. In fact…” He fastened both hands around his cup and leant forward on his knees, staring blankly at the closed door. “I know who she is.”

    “Oh?” It was Macro’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “A friend of yours?”

    “No, but we were both in the same hospital when we first entered System. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to stabilise her form. Only one watch was made, and it wasn’t by a doctor. The only reason I have it is because it turned out to be a failed experiment.”

    “What? And they couldn’t make two?”

    “Didn’t want to.” Switch shrugged. “Besides. This other human is very… mentally unstable. It’s believed to be from her condition. That being unable to stabilise it sent her mad. But… If it was that, it was a very immediate thing. I doubt even with a stabilising watch she’d have been allowed out of her cell.”

    “I think that’s pretty rotten, if I’m honest. How can they be so sure?”

    Switch shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently her form is pretty stable now, somehow. And she punched the mayor.”

    Macro sputtered laughter, sending jolts of pain through his chest. He clasped his paw over it and took a few steadying breaths. When he looked up again, Switch was on his feet, staring down at him with a fearful look of concern.

    “I’m fine,” Macro wheezed. He stifled another wave of laugher, twisting his lips into a smirk. “Just… the thought of someone actually punching Socket really tickled me.”

    Switch slumped back down into his seat and let his face fall into his hands. His floppy red and brown hair fell between his fingers, masking what little Macro could still see of his face.

    “What’s the problem?” Macro asked. “I said I’m fine.”

    “If I’d been there,” Switch muttered, “we could have handled those kartana.”

    “What are you talking about?” Macro spat. “Those things are deadly.”

    “Not entirely.” Switch looked up again but he remained hunched over his knees. “They’re apparently grass and steel type. One overheat from me and they would have been reduced to cinders. No threat to anyone.”

    “You’re talking about killing them? We’re meant to be getting them home!”

    “How?! They can cut through iron!”

    Macro shrugged and looked away, clutching his claws around his duvet. “I don’t have it quite figured out yet.”

    “No, your last attempt to ‘figure it out’ almost got you killed!” Switch paused as Macro flinched at his words. “And where was I? Left here in Cyan City, forgotten about.”

    “You were recovering!” Macro swiftly regretted raising his voice. He screwed his eyes shut and huddled back into his pillow.

    “Well…” Switch stared at him pointedly. “Now the shoe is on the other foot.”

    “What? You’re gonna leave me here? Fly off and try to wipe out those kartana?”

    “Not exactly. I’m going to wait for you to recover and help you wipe out those kartana.”

    “We’re not wiping them out. We’re getting them home.” Macro flashed a canine. “And until you can get that into your thick skull, I won’t tell you a single other thing about this mission.”

    “Too late.” Switch sat back and tucked his hands behind his head. “Your crew already have.”

    Macro’s jaw dropped and he stared back at the human, speechless.

    “So unless you can find a box that they can’t cut through,” Switch went on, “I’m stumped as to how we’re gonna get them back into their own world. Because I doubt they’re going to listen to reason.”

    “We could bait them?”

    “How? Dangle you in front of them like a carrot?”

    Macro visibly flinched and fired Switch a glare. “What?”

    “I dunno, I just thought they might want to finish you off.” Switch winked and looked back at the door. “I’m sorry. I’m just a little bitter that the only time you even bother to come back here is when your crew is dragging you half dead across System Sky.”

    Macro closed his eyes and sighed. It was inevitable Switch would feel that way. How was he meant to explain that Cyan City was the safest place? He’d almost died. His loss could alter history, affect the present in unimaginable, unpredictable ways.

    “I promised we’d get you home,” he said. “You really think we weren’t gonna come back for you?”

    “It was getting that way. But… I kept myself busy.” Switch pulled his computer out of his pocket and scrolled over the screen. “I’ve been looking into where the twins might have been taken, since no one has found their bodies. And the bug types are being rehabilitated and studied in hopes they can get some identity back. So I’ve been assisting there, too.” He glanced up briefly. “It pays well.”

    Macro let out a non-committal grunt. “We were gonna come back. One of the Z Crystals we were given is meant for you.”

    “I believe you.” Switch looked up from his computer and let it fall into his lap. “Just remember I’m more useful to you on your ship than hidden away in this city.”

    “But they’ve needed you, right?”

    Switch shrugged. “I’ve just been making myself useful, really. Helping clean up after that invasion, doing detective work… I’d much rather be trying to get myself back home.”

    “Well, once I’m out of here, we can sort that out, can’t we?” It was becoming a strain to talk. Macro reached for his teacup, claws barely reaching it.

    Switch leant forwards and handed Macro his cup before rising to his feet. “I’ll let you finish resting. I need to get back to the station anyway. Floppy will be wanting his break.” Macro watched him cross the ward and he paused at the door. “Take care of yourself. Don’t do anything foolish. It’ll take a while for those wounds to heal, even with Cyan City’s advanced medicine.”

    With that, he slipped out of the room.

    Macro sighed and sipped at his tea, now almost tepid. He considered downing it, but the effects of three cups of tea and several glasses of water were really beginning to take their toll on him. He discarded the cup back onto the table and carefully swung himself over the edge of the bed. His eye went to the bucket tucked underneath it and his muzzle creased in a grimace.

    No. Not today.

    It might have been a private room, but it wasn’t an en-suite. Not being attached to that drip was a real blessing. It meant he wouldn’t have to drag it after him.

    He dropped to the floor with a grunt and staggered to the door, peering out into the hallway. Switch was already long gone, and the only other pokemon he could see was a cleaner. A minccino. One of the few normal types he’d seen in Cyan City. He wouldn’t stop him.

    Macro placed a paw to his chest and walked as carefully and as evenly as he could to the rest rooms. Fortunately only a stone throw a way. They were as brightly lit with florescent lighting as the rest of the hospital, reflecting off the porcelain with a blinding intensity he felt ashamed to admit he’d grown used to. The biting smell of bleach and floral air freshener meant the minccino had recently cleaned everything until it shone. The yellow slip hazard cone was still situated in the middle of the floor, fortunately not providing a trip hazard.

    He briefly considered resigning himself to the bucket but shook it off. Not when he knew for a fact DL was due to visit him within the next ten minutes. Knowing his luck, she’d be early.

    Every movement was a chore, and the slippery floor didn’t help. He moved at a snails pace to the nearest convenience and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. It was either the lighting, or he looked pale. He couldn’t tell. Sure he’d lost a lot of blood, but they’d given him a transfusion to replace it so that wasn’t an issue. Maybe it was the food? He’d grown too used to Cookie’s cooking or something. He sincerely doubted he was still in shock.

    He grimaced as he turned himself away towards the door, grateful for the automatic flush feature. There was no way he’d be able to stretch for one. Washing his paws was enough of a chore.

    As he paced slowly back into the hall, the smell of cleaning alcohol biting at him, he scratched a claw over his scar. Rose petals wafted up from his paw, or they may as well have done. Everything just smelled wrong. Oh how he yearned for his ship.

    When he staggered back into his room, DL spun on the spot to face him, almost scaring him out of his skin. His chest complained and he pressed a paw against it as he made for his bed.

    DL caught him and helped him back upon it, her face turning from worried to angry in an instant.

    “What on earth are you doing?” she scolded. “I thought you’d gone and left!”

    “I had to use the bathroom,” he grumbled. “Like any normal ‘mon.”

    DL pursed her lips together and glanced down away from him towards the floor. He knew where she was looking and he rolled his eyes, expecting a lecture. Instead, she picked up a plastic bag from the chair.

    “I brought you lunch,” she said. “I know you’re sick of hospital food.”

    “You’re a star.”

    He tried to push himself up, suddenly feeling a lot more alert. She stopped him so she could adjust his pillow and let him sit back against it. Once she was satisfied, she returned to rummaging through the bag. Her tail was held high over her back, ears forward and nose crinkled slightly as she occupied herself with her task. Seeing her like that made him feel warm inside.

    “I know you like your nutpea and occa burgers, but they didn’t have that,” she explained. “They did, however, have nutpea and occa sandwiches. Not quite the same, but-”

    “It sounds great.”

    She looked up at him and smiled, then held out the neatly wrapped sandwich. He took it from her in both paws, meeting her eyes briefly.

    “Do you need me to open it?” she asked.

    “I think I’m okay.”

    She nodded and scooped more items from the bag, setting them on the fold over table the doctors generally reserve for plated meals. From the variety she laid out before him, she may as well have been organising a buffet. Fruit cups, jelly, cakes, sweet bread, cereal bars, and a couple more sandwiches. She caught the baffled look on his face as he sat with his sandwich half way to his mouth.

    “Yeh…” She chuckled and looked over the spread. “I went a little crazy.”

    “Well, at least I won’t be going nuts over the bland food anymore.” He took a bite from his sandwich and nearly swooned.

    She sat in the chair beside him and reached for a sandwich of her own, which from a glance may have been cheri jam.

    “Switch visited today,” he told her.

    “Yes, he said he was planning to.”

    “He’s pretty wounded we left him here,” Macro explained. “I guess I should have called him.”

    “Ideally.” DL stared at her sandwich thoughtfully then took a bite.

    “So you think I did the wrong thing?”

    She shrugged and swallowed her mouthful. “We were busy. I mean… you probably never really found time… a lot has been going on.”

    “Why do I feel like you’re giving me the same explanation you gave him?”

    “It’s difficult,” she said through an exasperated sigh. “We’re meant to be helping him. So leaving him here seemed sensible. He almost got killed.”

    “Exactly.” Macro took another bite of his sandwich. “If he got killed, how would it affect us? Now, in this time-line?”

    She looked up with a start, the surprise marred slightly by a streak of jam across her nose. “What exactly are you worried about?”

    “You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, right?”

    She nodded.

    “If he really is connected to my ancestors, then if something happened to him… what would happen to me? That’s just one example. There’s also issues with System, too. How much of an impact did one human staying in System have on the rest of history? It’s hardly a trivial matter living with an alien species, is it? You just have to look at what the Ultra Beasts are doing to understand that.”

    DL stared down at what little was left of her meal. “I hadn’t really considered that.”

    “Neither had I until he almost got killed.” Macro took another huge bite of his sandwich.

    “I guess we need to be careful, don’t we?”

    The room fell into a heavy silence and Macro felt his appetite being pulled away from him. Regardless, he resigned to finish the majority of his sandwich before discarding the remains into the waste paper basket.

    DL licked jam off her paws and looked from him to the small table. “Which cake would you like?”

    “None right now, thank you.”

    “Okay, maybe later then?” She leant forwards and scooped the rest of the ‘buffet’ into her shopping bag. Her paw faltered over a heavily iced cake and her claws flexed.

    “If you want one, have one,” he said, masking a chuckle.

    She made a thoughtful noise and glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Maybe later.”

    “That’s some restraint.” He tucked his paws behind his head, grimacing with the effort, and leant awkwardly back against his pillow.

    “I was… hoping to share that one with you.” She placed the cake carefully in the bag then looked over at him. “If it hurts, don’t sit like that!”

    “It’s not so much pain as stiffness.” He moved his arms back in front of him and tried to stretch them out, flinching visibly. “It’s my lung and ribs that hurt.”

    “You’re probably stiff from the surgery.” She watched him lean forwards, then she sat up with a start and reached under her seat. “That reminds me, I got your scarf repaired.”

    He looked over his shoulder at her then sat upright again. She pulled his scarf out of another plastic bag and unravelled it. The damage was barely noticeable, save for where the neon blue pattern didn’t quite line up.

    “It got quite cut up in that battle,” she said sadly. “I had it cleaned and repaired. You will barely be able to tell when it’s on.”

    “Thank you,” he said.

    “I guess you don’t want to wear it in bed, but it’s here for when you want it.”

    She folded it neatly and carried it over to the bedside table where she tucked it away in its lone drawer. As she returned to her seat, she eyed him stretching again. Her paw went to her ear and she sat back down, glancing towards the door.

    “I feel a bit awkward offering this,” she said. “But if it’s really bothering you, I can help ease the tension out?”

    He stared at her, but she wouldn’t meet his eye, instead nervously glancing around the room particularly at the door.

    “I know I’ve done it before, but I didn’t have my memories or my personality then,” she said. “So if you think it would be too… weird…”

    “Hey, it helped the last time.” He diverted his gaze to the far wall. “It might help again, so…”

    “Okay. I’ll be sure to avoid your damaged ribs.” She perched on the edge of his bed and reached up to his shoulders. “But if this hurts at all, you tell me. I don’t want to make things worse.”

    He chuckled dryly and rolled his eyes. “Yes doctor.”

    If she responded, he didn’t see it. She fastened her paws over his shoulders and squeezed them together, working into his muscles. His eyes fell shut as he felt the tension being slowly worked out. If anything, it was less the surgery that had caused the tension and more recent events wrecking havoc on his stress levels. Lying in bed for the past two days hadn’t helped matters either.

    “I’m still curious about these markings.” She trailed a paw down his back then lifted it back up to his right shoulder.

    “I haven’t a clue either,” he said. “My mother had them too. She always said it’s cos she thought we might have a pikachu in our family tree. But if that were the case, why don’t more pokemon have odd markings?”

    She let out a small laugh and began working down his back, widely avoiding the left side. “I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned your mother.”

    “Yeh, I don’t like to think about it.”

    “Really? Did something bad happen?”

    He was silent as his mind went back to his childhood, and he hugged his arms around his knees. “She was really sick. She died before I even left school.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry.” DL faltered and he felt her claws brush through his fur as she sat back slightly. “We can change the subject if you want?”

    He shrugged. “I was a jerk of a kid. I just wish I’d done more. Not long after she passed I became a space pirate, for crying out loud.”

    “And I guess that’s when you met Digit?”

    “Yeh.” He paused and cracked an eye open. “What happened to her, anyway? I’ve not heard from her since she showed up to drag Anchor off for dinner yesterday.”

    “She’s still here.” He winced as she dug into his right shoulder and she muttered something about him having a knot. “She’s lurking around the police station. She can’t go very far since she used your ship to get here.”

    The tone in her voice told him he was better changing the conversation. He glanced over his shoulder, but all he could see was the white of her paw.

    “Any news about the Ultra Beasts?”

    “Don’t worry about them,” she said. “Focus on getting better. Then you can go back to worrying and maybe we can even try out those Z-Moves.”

    “That sounds like a plan.”

    “It would also be a good idea to give Switch his when we do. I’m sure he’ll be happy to practice with us.”

    She trailed her paws down his back and he let his eyes close again. Not worrying. It was easier said than done, especially when he knew full well that strange creatures from other worlds were destroying System and killing pokemon. He’d almost added to that list of casualties himself. He took in a deep breath, noting the awful stab in the left of his chest. How long would it take him to recover from that? Would he be going back into battle before he’d fully recovered?

    His mind snapped back to DL, her paws still trailing up and down his back. But it wasn’t so much a massage any more than her claws combing through his fur, starting at his waist where it grew longer to form his skirt then all the way up to the shorter fur around his shoulders. It stirred up odd bubbles in his stomach and he straightened, raising his right paw to grab her left. He twisted to face her, meeting her warm eyes. Chocolate fondue that he could get lost in. As she stared back at him, it made every bubble pop one after the other. She was close enough that he could feel her breath on his muzzle. She slipped her paw out from his and reached up to his face, brushing back a lock of black fur.

    The door flew open and she leapt back from him like a hatchling from a hot stove hob. Jumper strolled into the room and looked from each of them back to Macro.

    “You’re looking much better.” Jumper turned back to DL and gave her an apologetic smile. “Would you mind excusing us for a moment? I have something I’d like to discuss in private.”

    DL muttered an apology and adjusted Macro’s pillow before gathering her bag and trotting towards the door. She paused in the doorway to give Jumper a pointed look.

    “Don’t stress him out with bad news,” she said.

    “Oh, I can assure you it’s good news,” he said.

    “That’s okay then.” She slipped from the room, letting the door close quietly behind her.

    Jumper turned back to Macro and cleared his throat. “She seems rather highly strung.”

    “It was the other way around before.” Macro fell back against his pillow and tucked his arms behind his head, much easier this time. Then he raised an eyebrow at the frogadier. “What do you want, Gov? Is it really good news?”

    “It depends on your perspective.” Jumper leant against the wall and folded his arms. “I am under the impression you are no longer welcome in Pulse City?”

    “No, I’m not. Socket raised the stakes.” Macro narrowed his eyes at him. “Why?”

    Jumper cleared his throat again and diverted his gaze to the window. “Your problem with pirates trying to claim your bounty may be very short lived.”

    “What are you getting at, Governor?” Macro’s voice came out as a growl.

    “One of those Ultra Beasts has set up home there,” said Jumper slowly. “The city is being reduced to ruins.”

    ...​

    Huge.

    Immensely huge.

    That’s how that creature was burned into Tracer’s memory.

    Huge. Towering over the buildings. A haunting scream echoing as it blasted the city to oblivion.

    And what had Tracer done? Screamed at them to run. N0ize hadn’t needed telling twice. He pulled his ship away and leapt into hyperdrive, leaving Pulse City and its inhabitants to the mercy of the monster.

    Run…

    Tracer lay on musty sheets, his arm plastered over his eyes. The dull drone of the engine melded with Widget’s snores and a deep rumble he assumed was one of the space pirates. Given he’d shared a room with N0ize not two nights before, he assumed the racket belonged to him.

    The delphox let his arm fall to his side and stared at the black ceiling. Blackness. Nothingness. The space pirates’ choice of decor didn’t make him feel any better. He pushed himself up and slumped forward, all energy failing him. His eyes felt heavy, yet sleep wouldn’t come to him. All he kept seeing was that monster. Mortified at the thought of leaving hundreds of pokemon to make their own escape, or to fight against it.

    He was meant to stop crime. Put the needs of other pokemon first. And what had he done? He’d ran.

    He reached into his trench coat and pulled out a cigar, ignoring the scorning mental voice that followed. What N0ize didn’t know didn’t hurt him. He leant back against his pillow and lit it up, watching as a trail of glowing embers trickled from it to land harmlessly on his warm fur. Well… if he did accidentally light the sheets on fire, at least they’d add some light to the pitch black room.

    A soft yawn came from the floor and Widget’s eyes fluttered open, fixing on Tracer. What dim light his cigar gave off reflected off the eevee’s eyes, amplified by some hidden device, and shined back at him like a pair of tiny torches. Something that only worked in dim lighting, making up for the pokemon’s lack of night vision.

    “Still can’t sleep, huh?” Widget asked before yawning again.

    “No.” Tracer puffed out a ring and lost sight of it as it drifted slowly away from him. “I was hoping this might soothe me to sleep.”

    Widget rolled onto his back and stretched his legs towards the ceiling. “I think you said that about an hour ago, too.”

    So time was going by that slowly? Tracer took another drag and narrowed his eyes at the shadows. He needed off this ship. He needed to know what was happening in Pulse City. But the news hadn’t updated since the previous morning. For all he knew, it had been reduced to a floating hunk of steel and rock. Raining its remains down onto Baud City. As if that city hadn’t suffered enough already.

    He pulled his tablet computer from his inside pocket and checked their progress. The intricate interactive map told him they were flying away from Spool City in a vague northerly direction. Either they were drifting aimlessly, or Annie was on the move again. Fortunately after their fright, they’d picked up her location. She’d been lurking in the outskirts for some unknown reason, and rather than drop in they’d stayed above the clouds and waited for her to make the first move. Unfortunately his computer didn’t tell him where she was.

    He let his arm flop to the bed, where the tablet shone its weak light towards the ceiling. It lit up a portion of his face and cast erratic shadows against the drapes.

    “I need to get off this ship,” he said with a sigh.

    “Aye.” Widget sat up and scratched behind his ear with a hind foot. “I’m gettin’ cabin fever.”

    Tracer swung his legs over the edge of the bed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle between two claws. “If we don’t land soon, I’m grabbing a parachute.”

    “It’ll be a long way down.” Widget grinned from ear to ear. “Count me in. It sounds fun.”

    Tracer let out a bitter laugh and shook his head, looking over at the weak light slowly making its way through the heavy curtain. “I guess it’s dawn.”

    “Guess so.” Widget yawned so wide his jaw popped. “Mind if I open the drapes? I wanna see the clouds again.”

    The eevee rose to his hind feet and whisked the curtain aside. A deep orange glow reflected off the surface of the wide, fluffy clouds, paling to a golden glow at the edges. Tracer had to hand it to the space pirates. They got to see sights like this almost every day. New clouds. New locations. New sunrises.

    He sighed, blowing out a stream of smoke that almost seemed to merge with the dramatic skyscape. A new dawn. Yet sadly, many pokemon wouldn’t get to see it.
     
  2. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Ch 52
    While I do like the tense planning scene, I can't help not feeling as nervous about Macro's situation as I should. We haven't really seen an instance of a fellow pirate or bounty hunter going after him in a very long time. Surge is the closest we got and even then there wasn't really direct conflict.

    So, it looks like Annie netted herself a Poipole. It was hard to tell from the description, but it's the only UB remotely close to Celebi in appearance. Annie actualy reasons it out pretty well how to help Poipole. And doubly thank goodness someone's finally getting tired of her crap. Yes, you tell this loony birb-girl off, Waveform! She completely deserves it! I'm glad you had Waveform reign her in, because she was starting to peter dangerously close to being the type of cloudcuckoolander character that rubs me the wrong way. One question, though, is Poipole supposed to be from Ultra Megalopolis, the canon locale? Ultra Metropolis is close, but would be an original place. :p

    Well the setup with the kartanas was creepy enough. And then Defrag's reveal at the end. I was expecting Widget to know Macro from somewhere, but this is still interesting. :p

    Ch 53
    I liked this chapter quite a lot. I think you build up the dramatic stakes well as far as kartanas lurking about in the street and then zipping to and fro, proving to be too difficult of a struggle for Macro to handle. Then you end it with the frenzied rush toward the ship's ladder that goes about as successfully as you'd think, though I wonder why the kartanas didn't just try to slice the dang thing in the first place. In any event, in all comes to a cliffhanger with Macro sustaining a seemingly-fatal wound. It's not overdescribed, either, so it felt all the more shocking.

    Defrag's little questioning session was interesting, though I admit I find it strange DL didn't question her past association with Macro more. I would think, if I was in her position, I'd want a pretty concrete explanation, y'know?

    I'll have to catch up on the rest at another time, I'm afraid. ^^;
     
  3. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    She definitely had it coming. She was becoming much too dangerous, and it was a good opportunity to build on their platonic relationship. She's not very good at being a bird, or a pokemon for that matter XD

    That's very likely a booboo on my part. I probably misread it when researching, or mis-remembered the name. Yikes. Oh well XD

    I'm glad it was creepy! =D And that the Defrag reveal was surprising! I was pretty excited to right this plot, so I'm glad it's settling well.

    When I first got the idea for this scene, I wondered what on earth I was doing to my poor main character. As for the neon ladder, it's not a material that can be cut. It's made up of hard light like the hologram doctor from Star Trek Voyager, or Red Dwarf's Rimmer, so it could only be destroyed if damage came to the matrix that controlled it. The ladder in earlier chapters was described as 'each rung flashing into place'. Sorry if it was confusing.

    DL does have her quiet moments. They were originally an oversight that became a solid part of her character as the story progressed. Sort of silently analytical. But given that she already heard about Digit from Anchor in an earlier chapter, she doesn't have much to ask. So I think it sort of suits her to fall quiet around Macro's former love interest.

    ...​


    Chapter Fifty Six​

    Socket stared out of her office window with a combination of mourning and loathing. The strange lanky creatures sprawled themselves over the mechanical trees and the walls of every building she could see. Every building except hers. A huge, perspex dome surrounded the mansion, cutting her off from the outside world and greatly reducing the invasion of toxic air from the outskirts.

    Mechanical trees lay bent like bows amid debris from fallen ships. They hadn't even stood a chance, becoming fodder for the electrical monstrosities. Barely a dent had been made in the creatures' numbers. Some of the trees were even broken completely, their innards sparking as the aliens fed from them. But they had no faces to speak of, no mouths to feed with. They used their 'legs', attaching them to the wires and letting the current run up their wiry limbs to fuel the jagged fur that formed their 'heads'.

    Her gut burned, flooding her body with hatred. It wasn't BackDoor that was solely responsible for this. Sure, the android had opened a gateway to another world, but that was its job. No, it wasn't BackDoor's responsibility. It wasn't her perfect plan that had gone awry. It was that wretched space pirate. If she'd had Download Database, she'd have been able to keep a tab on the gateways. Monitor them. Close them if things looked to be getting out of hand.

    But no. She hadn't had Download Database. Her connection to the portholes had been fed through BackDoor's own childish rambling and gloating reports. Rather than send the information directly to Download Database, along with every other android in his network, he'd had to report back to Socket himself. A pokemon who rarely went outside. A pokemon who relied on her scientist. A pokemon who only wanted what was best for those who stuck to her law, and that wretched Hunter had wrecked everything.

    Now she'd had to press her big, red eject button before her plan had even reached completion. Her eyes went up to the cloud of toxic fog slowly darkening the sky to a murky yellowish brown. It wouldn't be long until it penetrated the mansion's barrier.

    She span towards her holoscreen and flicked it on, her claw automatically dialling Yobi. It only rang once before the sparksurfer raichu appeared before her.

    "How are you getting on?" she asked before he could even open his mouth.

    "Time is of the essence, Mayor," he replied. "We should hopefully be out of Meta City by dawn."

    Socket nibbled her claw and looked over her shoulder at the electrical apocalypse.

    "That dome is state of the art," he told her. "It's meant to hold back a full blown riot. Not to mention it doesn't even give off a charge. Even a thunderstorm couldn't wreck it. I doubt those creatures will."

    "But the air…"

    "Can get through, yes. We still need filters, and for something pretty old it's doing the best it can."

    "How long before that air poisons us?"

    The raichu's ominous silence set her fur on end. She leered at him until he finally met her eyes again.

    "I erm…" He scratched his nose, leaving behind a greasy streak. "I'm working on getting us out of here non stop, but everything is ancient. I can only go so fast."

    "Go faster."

    Yobi stared out at her for an uncomfortable moment, watching the gothitelle twitch as her eyes went from the window to the holoscreen. All she could hear from his lab was the dull drone of some hidden machine and Tweak's jingling and chuckling. Finally, he let out a sigh and nodded.

    "I promise you, we'll be out of here by dawn," he said.

    She spun back to him with a start. "So it will be ready?"

    "It might not be perfect, but it will at least get us out of the air. And out of range of those creatures."

    "I thought you said this barrier was impenetrable to them?" She narrowed her eyes, prompting a response.

    "I didn't say 'impenetrable'," he said. "I said 'I doubt they can wreck it'. Besides, with all the electricity they're indulging in, I can't see them turning on the mansion in a desperate frenzy anytime soon. Hold tight. Sleep if you need to."

    Before she could reply, he cut out, vanishing before her eyes. She leant back against her desk and gazed around her office.

    Empty. Silent.

    It crossed her mind to call Tweak back from his laboratory assistance, but that may only slow things down. For the first time in a long time, she really didn't want to be alone.

    ...​

    Macro stared at Jumper, dumbfounded. Had he heard him right? No… surely it was just another nightmare?

    He pushed himself up against the pillow and fixed the governor in a violet plea. "You're lying, right? Pulse City isn't…"

    "I'm not lying, Macro," said Jumper. "Most of System is under attack from these monsters. Your crew explained to me about what happened in Spool City, and that wasn't even your target for investigation. You were trying to monitor the chaos in Meta City, which, as we speak, is falling apart at the seams. The only footage we have of Pulse City is a blurred shot taken from a fleeing ship, uploaded to the Underground News, and what we can make out looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland."

    Macro narrowed his eyes, fighting back tears. But a couple betrayed him and hung around at the corners of his eyes. "Are you trying to hurt me? Pulse City is my home!"

    "I'm not trying to hurt you!" Jumper gasped. "Of course not. I felt obligated to let you know. It would be deceitful of me to let you go back there without telling you what state it lay in. Hundreds have been killed already."

    "Hundreds…" Macro flopped back against the pillow and rubbed his paws over his face. "I have friends there. Sure we're a rough lot, and I also had a lot of enemies and rivals. But I still had friends! How am I meant to know-"

    Jumper raised a paw to silence him. "We don't know for certain who managed to escape and who was trapped, but there's a list of confirmed casualties from those who… witnessed things before they managed to leave."

    "Any idea which Ultra Beast it is? Which one that done it?"

    Jumper clasped his paws behind his back and leant against the wall, diverting his gaze to the window. "It has been described as a bamboo cannon with a deathly wail."

    Macro felt his blood turn cold. Every fur on his body stood on end and he tugged the duvet up to his chest. Unconsciously, he followed the frogadier's gaze, but his mind was on that creature. The same thing that had terrified him. And it had reduced Pulse City to ruins…

    "I can't handle this, gov." He shoved the duvet off himself and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Every movement caused his chest to complain, but he grit his teeth and pushed through it. "I need a walk. Clear my head."

    "I can't allow that." Jumper was at his side and placed a paw on his shoulder. "The only activities you're meant to have are your scheduled rehabilitation exercises. If you push yourself too much you're going to hamper your recovery time. Maybe even take a step back."

    Macro narrowed his eyes. "I thought rich city medicine was supposed to encourage a quick recovery?"

    "It does, but it doesn't work miracles. You still need rest."

    "I can't rest with that nightmare of an image floating around my head!"

    Jumper sighed and released the mawile. "Maybe I told you too soon. I just felt you had a right to know."

    "No, you did the right thing." Macro leant forward on his knees and stared at the door. He clenched his teeth together and dropped to his feet. "No sense in dreamin' about a home that ain't there anymore, is there?"

    Jumper watched him as he reached for his scarf, grimacing at the effort to wrap it around his shoulders.

    "At least let me get you a wheelchair," the governor offered.

    "I ain't no invalid."

    "Right now you are!" Even though Jumper didn't raise his voice, it was firm enough to cause Macro to glance at him. "I implore you, please look after yourself. If you want to go out and clear your head, that's fine. We have a means of getting you there, and the hospital has a beautiful garden."

    "But I don't want others to see me like that."

    Jumper raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

    Macro shrugged, painfully, and looked away. "It makes me look vulnerable."

    Jumper was silent for a moment, but he didn't take his eyes off the mawile. Macro shifted under his gaze, feeling his strength wane with the effort of holding himself up. He took a step back towards the bed just to give himself something to lean on, an action he immediately regretted.

    "We're all mortal." Jumper's words caused him to look up with a start. "We're all vulnerable for that reason. You nearly died. You're fortunate to even still be here."

    "It ain't the first time I nearly died. First time, I almost lost an eye. This time, I lost my pride. I've never fallen in battle like that."

    "You don't need pride. What others think is irrelevant." Jumper gave him a small smile. "Besides, I've been in a wheelchair before. Voluntarily. I did it to raise awareness, and I have to say I enjoyed it. You might find it quite fun."

    Macro's muzzle creased into a sneer. "This ain't about fun."

    "Listen here, Macro. The only way you're leaving this room is in a wheelchair. It's in your best interests, and if you keep being stubborn I'm going to encase you in frubbles and bury you in sheets."

    Macro raised an eyebrow and looked from Jumper's face to the scarf-like foam around his neck. His heart sank. He was in no shape to fight, and he actually didn't want to. Part of him understood the frogadier's concern. He let out a defeated sigh and rolled his eyes.

    "Fine, get the wretched chair." Before Jumper could reach the door, Macro locked him in a violet glare. "But I'll make you a deal, okay? I only use it when I can't walk no more."

    Jumper stared at him over his shoulder and he shook his head. "You're a stubborn one, aren't you? Fine. If you want to go down fighting, I'll let you have this one. But they aren't light. You may need assistance. You won't be able to push it yourself in your condition."

    Macro's lips formed a frown as the image of Anchor wheeling him along lit up in his mind. No… he was meant to carry his crew, not the other way around. What was left of his pride shattered like brittle glass. He forced his dismay to the back of his mind and fixed his eyes on Jumper.

    "Anchor or DL would be fine," he said. "I doubt Matrix could - or would - do it."

    "Very well." Jumper gave him a nod and slipped from the room.

    Macro stared at the door as it closed behind him, his eyes slowly narrowing. No. He wasn't having that. It was the last straw that would break his back.

    He pushed himself from the bed and walked as steadily as he possibly could to the door. Peering out, he checked the coast was clear. No sign of Jumper or any of Wildcard. It would take too long to get the schematics for the hospital. He'd need to rely on signs, and he didn't even know what floor he was on. From his window, he knew it wasn't the ground floor.

    He let the door close behind him and turned towards the double doors at the end of the corridor. Using his paw to steady him against the wall, he pushed himself towards them. Only three more private wards separated him from what he hoped was an elevator to the entrance.

    Unlikely.

    And he didn't see a single sign for the garden Jumper had told him about.

    The double doors swung open with ease, a necessity given the number of stretchers whipped through them to emergency wards. But Macro's heart sank as he stared out at a waiting area filled with patients, visitors, chairs and nurses. Two nurses bustled around a small kitchenette making up fresh drinks for the ward, and perched on a chair amongst all the water type pokemon was Anchor. The granbull had his head down as he messed with his computer, a look of pure focus on his face. Macro had no doubts he'd be able to sneak past him.

    Provided the nurses didn't give him a hard time.

    He wrapped an air of nonchalance about himself and strut-staggered his way across the room. A convenient nurse passed him, blocking him from the granbull's peripheral vision. But as he reached the next set of doors, a simipour nurse eyed him curiously. She followed him with her eyes as he pushed through the doors, trying his best not to look at her.

    "Excuse me," she said quietly, so as not to draw attention to them. "I don't think you're meant to be out of your ward."

    Macro kept going, drawing the nurse after him. A quick glance over his shoulder told him Anchor had looked up but only to retrieve a steaming cup of tea from a marill.

    "I need some air," Macro said flatly. "Where's this 'amazing garden' this hospital is meant to have?"

    "It's on the ground floor," the simipour explained. "Just before you reach the cafeteria. But you still shouldn't be walking."

    "Don't worry, I won't take the stairs." He paused and licked his lips thoughtfully. "Where's the elevator?"

    The simipour stared at him as though trying to read him, her eyes narrowed slightly. In one paw she held a digital Clipboard, a computer specific to hospitals, and if Macro were to guess his information would be on there amongst the host of other patients she attended to. Either way, he didn't recognise her. Maybe she'd attended to him when he was unconscious? Half dead, clinging to life… The thought made him bite his lip hard.

    "You're close," she said. "Go through the next set of doors and you'll reach the stairwell. They're right there. Go to the ground floor and turn left. You can't miss the garden."

    He glanced up at her, noting her flick through the Clipboard's screen. She met his eyes briefly and she nodded to the doors ahead of them. He muttered a quick 'cheers' and guided himself along the wall with his paw. She said nothing as she watched him go. Watching him intensely in case he collapsed.

    He wasn't going to let that happen.

    Just as she'd said, the elevators rose up on his right. One was already waiting, and he climbed inside, clutching the rail. The glass chamber gave him a fantastic view of Cyan City. The lush green grass, clean air, happy pokemon. Most of it had been repaired after their clash with the grass types.

    Pulse City floated through his mind, a ruined mound topped with a wailing monstrosity. He shivered. How long would it take to repair? Would it even be possible? He hoped desperately Jumper's use of the term 'ruins' was a huge overstatement.

    The elevator came to a smooth stop and let him out on the ground floor. It was oddly empty. He found the garden straight away, on his right. It appeared to be attached to the cafeteria, but just like the hallway it was empty. The cafeteria was a different matter. He could see it clearly through the glass panels that made up the wall, providing diners with a clear view of the garden, complete with its own horsea-shaped water fountain. He could hear its gentle gurgling from where he stood.

    The doors to it weren't open, but a push of a button made them slide open with a gentle hiss. He soon discovered why it was empty. There was a slight chill to the air. He glanced up, but the dome was still above them. Cyan City sometimes opened it for the orchards. Perhaps noon was one of those times?

    He hugged his scarf around himself and found a suitable bench, slumping down onto it with a pained sigh. Finally. Some air. Some peace. Some time to mull over what a mess his life had become over the past few weeks.

    Socket cranking up his bounty. Getting sucked into her twisted conspiracy. Almost dying. Losing his home. He quite literally had the past, and the responsibility for his own present and future, resting in his paws in the form of a lost human. And on top of getting Switch home he had to also find a way to send back a host of dangerous creatures who, from his experience, would no sooner look at a pokemon than kill them.

    Part of him wished it was all a bad dream. That he'd wake up from a bad night at Moonlight Lounge with a killer hangover. He rubbed the bridge of his muzzle between two claws and groaned. He felt groggy thanks to those powerful painkillers. And exhausted. Maybe he could just curl up on the cold bench and…

    "Macro!"

    He looked up, one arm resting on the arm of the bench while the other still rubbed at his muzzle. Anchor raced into the garden with DL and Switch in tow. Behind them he spotted both Matrix and Jumper on the other side of the glass. Not a wheelchair in sight. The frogadier looked sullen. Disappointed. For some reason, that bothered Macro greatly.

    He grimaced and looked away, straining to push himself back up.

    "What on earth's got into you?" Anchor asked.

    "Nothin'," said Macro. "I just needed some air."

    "Air my ass." Anchor stopped before him and placed a claw under Macro's chin, lifting his face so he could meet his eyes.

    Macro swiped his paw away, fixing the granbull in a leer. "I said I needed air. I had to get out of that stuffy room and clear my head."

    Anchor stood back and sat beside Switch on the stone wall around the fountain. DL was the only one who clambered up onto the bench beside Macro. She hugged her tail into her lap, looking anywhere but at her friends.

    "Look, Cap'n," said Anchor. "We're worried about you. That nurse said you had a warnin' look in your eye. Like if she stopped you, she'd regret it. I know you're reckless 'n' all, but… You can't blow our freedom here, we ain't got nowhere else to go."

    Macro sighed into his paw. "I weren't gonna hurt her. I just…"

    "This is about Pulse City, isn't it?" Switch asked, letting his computer fall limply in his lap. "Believe me, I understand how you feel. I lost a lot of friends when the drifting continents crashed."

    Macro glanced up at him and shook his head sadly. "Friends, home, work… I don't even know who got out. Did Worm? Surge?"

    Anchor shrugged weakly, not meeting his eyes. "I dunno. But I mean… space pirates bounce back. Once we get them creatures home, it can be rebuilt."

    "Listen to yourself," Macro groaned. "'Once we get them home'. How? You've seen what they can do! How are we meant to catch them and get them back? Use a huge net?!"

    He immediately regretted raising his voice. His breath caught in his throat as pain shot through his ribs and he coughed violently into his paw. Anchor and Switch leapt to their feet, while DL spun on the spot and placed a paw on Macro's shoulder. He shrugged her off and waved his paw, taking steady breaths to ease his breathing. A metallic taste filled his mouth. He looked down at his paw and relief flooded him when he saw it was clear of any blood.

    "Look," said Anchor. "You clearly need to get back to your bed. We can plan how to do this while you're recovering, if it helps. Get the ball rollin'."

    "But the damage they're causing." Macro wheezed as he pushed himself upright off the arm of the bench. "They need getting out of System sooner, not later."

    "Exactly," said Anchor. "And we're the 'mon that have been asked to do it. But the more you try to rush your recovery time, the longer it's gonna take for you to get outta here. And, as a result, the longer those Ultra Beasts are gonna be wreckin' up the joint."

    "He has a point," said Switch before Macro could retort. "Before you got yourself hurt, you didn't have my help. But now you're back here, you do. So your team isn't one 'mon down. We can come up with a plan while you recover, and we'll discuss things with you. Once you're out, we can get straight to work. I suggest we start with the smaller threats."

    "What would you deem a smaller threat?" Macro asked.

    "I dunno." Switch flicked his computer and turned it to Macro. A large, clear picture of the xurkitree feeding off mechanical trees filled it. "I'd say these. Off the top of my head, we could bait them. Give them something electrical to chase after. Lure them into their home world."

    Macro blinked up at the human, absorbing what he'd said. It made sense, and it just might work. But it was still only one Ultra Beast species out of the several that had invaded System. He sincerely doubted an electronic lure would work on the celesteela wreaking havoc on Pulse City. Nevertheless, he gave Switch a weak smile.

    "All right," he said. "You all work together. Come up with some ideas. We'll iron them out and put them to the test when I can get out of this…" He waved a paw at his surroundings, wanting to say 'cell'. But it was hardly a prison. He let his paw flop to his side and took a ragged breath. "You know what I mean."

    The look on Anchor's face told him he'd assumed 'cell'. The granbull nodded then gestured to the frogadier waiting in the doorway. "Want us to get your chair and wheel you back?"

    "No." Macro shook his head, not daring to look at the governor. "I still need some air and space to think. Alone, not with doctors fussing over me. I'll see you later."

    Anchor raised an eyebrow, a small frown playing at his muzzle. "But how do you expect to get back?"

    "Same way I got here."

    "Cap'n…" Anchor's voice was a near-growl.

    "Look, if I need help I'll ask for it." Macro sighed, feeling his energy draining away. "Just leave me for a while."

    Anchor opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. His expression softened and he nodded once before ushering Switch after him. Macro watched him go, catching Jumper's eye. But he didn't look as irritated as he had previously. Maybe he'd overheard everything? Macro watched them go, then turned back to the fountain.

    "You not going with them?" he asked.

    DL shifted beside him and hugged her tail into her lap. "No."

    "I thought I said I wanted to be alone."

    She combed her claws through her tail, watching them vanish into her thick fur. "I don't think you really want to be alone. No one would after something like that." She paused. "No one should after something like that."

    He clasped his paws together, not taking his eyes off the fountain. Clear water gushed from the horsea's mouth to gather into a pool beneath it. The soft splashing filled the garden in an almost tranquil and harmonious way.

    "I mean, you've lost your home," DL went on. "Personally, I always thought of Wildcard Gamma as being more of a home, but Pulse City was… It was always a retreat. Somewhere to go to get off your ship."

    "It was more than that, DL. I used to have an apartment there," Macro explained. "Sold it in favour of living on my ship. But still. That city was home."

    She was silent, but he could feel her watching him. He leant back in his seat and sighed, raising a paw to his forehead.

    "A lot's happened recently," he said. "It's hard to get my head around it all. Like… where did I go wrong? When did my life end up such a mess?"

    "If you're talking about now, I don't think it is a mess," said DL softly. "You've just had some accidents trying to put things right. System's suffering because of Socket, not you."

    He lowered his paw again and looked down at her. She was still clutching her tail, watching her fur part as she absently combed her claws through it. If she'd intended her words to have a soothing effect, it had worked. But recent events still gnawed at him, making him wonder what he could have done differently. Like if there was any way he could have prevented the attack on Pulse City? Should he have acted to prevent the other human being pulled into everything? Was the fight with the kartana possible to win? He took a deep breath to still his thoughts and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the fountain, but all he could think about instead was the pachirisu at his side. She was innocent in all this. She didn't need to stick with him, yet she chose to. His paw sought out DL's, scooping it from her fluffy tail and bringing it to rest on his knee. Still encased gently in his, he brushed his thumb over her soft fur and leant his head back against the bench.

    She scooted closer to him, her warm body pressing against his side. Her head fell to rest on his shoulder and she let her other paw rest on his arm. His stomach flipped up a flurry of bubbles, dominating the pain in his chest until he barely even noticed it. That's when another thought entered his head. Another 'what if?'. What if Jumper hadn't interrupted them earlier?

    He looked down at her, catching a whiff of lavender from the fur between her ears. A scent he'd often wondered why he even bothered having on his ship, but on her it was perfect. Oh how he wanted to re-ignite that moment from earlier. He lifted his free paw towards her, but the image of Pulse City flashed in his mind in a bid to win the tug of war with his emotions. Instead, his paw joined the other around DL's and he nuzzled the soft fur between her ears, letting the lavender consume him and that memory with it. She looked up slowly until her nose brushed his, and he looked back into her chocolate eyes. Warm, inviting… he was desperate to get lost in them. To hold her close. To breathe her in. To forget about the disaster and the pain.

    He pulled back slightly and closed his eyes. At some point her paw had found the long fur around his face, and he took hold if it and gently pried her free.

    "Macro?"

    "I'm sorry," he said. "My mind is a mess right now. I really don't want to hurt you."

    "Then I won't let you."

    There was no disappointment in her voice, and he could no longer see her face. She curled up into him again, nuzzling into his shoulder. He couldn't deny his feelings for her, but he didn't want to let his emotions get the better of him and lead him to do something he'd regret. He still had hold of her paw, small, easily nestled in his. He lifted it to his lips and brushed them against her soft fur. She shifted to look up at him, but he kept his eyes closed, dotting her small paw with slow, tiny kisses. After a moment he stopped and nuzzled it before he sank down in his seat, clutching her paw in his lap. She wound her claws between his and snuggled back into him with a small sigh. His strength was failing him again. He could easily fall asleep listening to the fountain, with DL huddled into him.

    "You know, DL," he said slowly as he let his heavy eyes close. "After everything that's gone on… you're the one part of it all… I would never change."

    ...​

    Across from the small garden, behind the glass wall, Surge sat watching. Thanks to the angle of the horsea fountain, Macro couldn't see her, but she could see him clearly. Her cup of steaming cocoa was clutched in both paws, hovering just beneath her chin, almost forgotten about.

    No one from Wildcard Gamma knew she was there. She'd followed their ship into Cyan City fully cloaked, slipping through the dome to hover behind it as it deposited its crew. She hadn't been sure she was going to stick around until she witnessed the fallen mawile being whisked off in an ambulance. With no idea what had happened to reduce him to such a state, she parked her tympole at the docks between Cyan City's less elaborate ships, leaving the cloak up. She'd had to re-jig her appearance slightly, removing her trademark bandana and waistcoat in favour of a small, brown dress and black neckerchief. Fortunately for her, Cyan City had its own share of normal types so no one batted an eyelid at her presence.

    She'd been unsure how to approach Macro, instead lurking around the hospital's cafe as she tried to work up the courage to catch him or another member of Wildcard. Find out what exactly had happened. Maybe even apologise.

    But the scene that had unfolded before her eyes left a gnawing feeling deep in her gut. A feeling that left her questioning her own sanity. Her claws fastened tightly around the porcelain mug and it trembled in her paws, spilling sticky cocoa onto the glass-topped table.

    She'd been a fool. Risking everything for that mawile until she'd landed herself on Socket's 'most wanted' list.

    She let the mug clatter onto its coaster and stood up, her chair screeching across the tiles. A few irritated glances were flashed her way from the closer tables and she gave those pokemon an apologetic nod before strutting, seething, from the cafe. She passed a lombre at the entrance, and he followed her with his eyes. It wasn't until she reached the square that she realised the walking lily pad was tailing her. There was every chance he just wanted to go to the square, so she ducked into an alley, stopping beside a set of bollards. The lombre was still following her. She leant back against one of the bollards, fixing him with a raised eyebrow.

    "Problem?" she asked innocently.

    The lombre's beak-like muzzle turned up into a smirk. "I recognise you. You're that chica, Surge, Socket wants turning in."

    "Really?" Surge examined her claws. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

    "Quit with the innocent act, chica," he scoffed. "I know you've been conspiring with that space pirate. Well, he might be protected here, but you ain't. So I'm gonna take you all calm-like to the governor's office and turn you in. That's a nice fifty thousand credits for old Midi here."

    So the sneaky lombre wanted to make a quick credit, did he? Surge stifled a smirk of her own as an idea manifested in her mind. A way to get the lombre off her back and potentially get herself cleared from Socket's radar.

    "I'd hardly say I conspired with him," she said.

    "Ain't what I heard." Midi's muzzle creased and he flashed a sharp canine. "Apparently you gave him government information."

    "Lies." She pivoted against the bollard to face him fully and folded her arms across her chest. "He hired me, I took the job to win his trust. I've been after that mawile for months."

    Midi chuckled and fixed her with a look that turned her blood to ice. "Not exactly in the best place to apprehend him, are you? And given the state he's in, I'd say it would be pretty easy right now."

    A soft laugh rocked her shoulders. "Well. You're not in the best place to apprehend either of us. I'm not a wanted 'mon anymore. I explained my case, and I've been given another chance."

    "Eh?" A confused sneer tugged at his face.

    "I have… oh, I dunno… two weeks to catch Hunter and turn him in before the authorities are back on my tail. So I'm lurking about here until I can catch him when he leaves."

    "Say that much louder and you'll be locked up in our prison," he scoffed. "You ain't much good to me there."

    "Like I said. I'm not much good to you anyway."

    "That's a nice story, chica, but I ain't buying it. Socket doesn't give second chances."

    "I admit my actions weren't completely innocent," said Surge. "But when I explained, at length, what I was actually doing, she let me go on that condition. For Hunter to be at her feet in no more than two weeks. Dead or alive." She chuckled and fixed him with a playful smirk. "And I even get an extra bonus. Double the reward."

    "Even if he's dead?"

    "Yup."

    "Pull the other one!"

    Surge laughed and pulled her computer from her dress pocket. Fortunately she still had the old email Socket had sent her. He didn't see the date on it, she made sure of that. Socket's signature was all that was needed to convince him. She watched as his eyes almost bugged out of his head.

    "You ain't lying!" he gasped.

    "Nope." She popped her computer back into her dress pocket. "Now. I'm at odds here. Given I can't apprehend him, I'm going to need something that will prove to Socket I'm still on the case while cluing her into something she might find pretty interesting. You see, Hunter knows me. He knows I'm hunting him down. If he recognises me, I won't have a chance at catching him."

    "What you telling me for?" he scoffed.

    "Because if you help me, I'll give you a cut of my share. Say… ten percent?"

    "Twenty."

    "It's ten, or I walk away and do this without you."

    The lombre met her eyes with a leer, but Surge wouldn't let it shake her. He scoffed and let his shoulders slump. "Fine."

    "All right." Surge popped her computer back and nodded back towards the hospital. Its tall chopper landing point rose high above the lower buildings. Clean, white and as clear as day. "Hunter stole something that belonged to Socket. Well, kidnapped would be the better term to use. A pachirisu."

    "That little pachirisu belongs to the Mayor?! I ain't buying this, chica. What would Hunter want with a fluffy pachirisu?"

    "Hostage," Surge said flatly.

    Midi's face blanched.

    "That little Loop is her daughter."

    Midi's jaw dropped. "That's the kid she adopted?!"

    "Exactly. Now. Your job in all this is to spy on him," she explained. "You get a photo of them together and bring it back to me. I want proof for Socket that her little pachirisu has gone renegade. I don't know if it's Stokholm Syndrome, but I'm under the impression there's something going on between them. Socket needs to know this."

    "Let me get this straight," said Midi slowly. "You want me to take photos of a couple of pokemon being all lovey dovey?"

    "Exactly."

    "Can I tell you something?" He paused, meeting her eyes again. "I think you might be crazy."

    "Really?" Surge folded her arms and leant back against the bollard. "How would you feel if someone kidnapped your kid or your wife, or even your niece, and then that poor innocent pokemon fell in love with her kidnapper?"

    Midi snorted. "Well, since you put it like that. But it ain't gonna be very easy given he's in hospital. I can't very well waltz in there and start snapping."

    "Take all the time you need. I doubt he'll be leaving this city any time soon."

    The lombre looked hesitant as he tried to read the zigzagoon's expression.

    "Look, you take this photo," said Surge slowly, "then ten thousand credits of my reward is yours."

    That melted away any doubt on the water pokemon's face. She held out a flat, LCD screen camera to him and he took it with a flourish. "You got yourself a deal, chica."
     
  4. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Fifty Seven​

    Wave City was awash with chaos. Strange, blobby creatures drifted above the water, a trail of black mist following their jellyfish tentacles. Water pokemon stood on the shore, firing hydro pumps and water pulses at the invasive creatures. Somewhere deep below the water’s surface, electricity rose to the top and spread out in a blanket of static, illuminating the night sky. Those creatures unfortunate enough to be too close received a nasty shock and their twitching, paralysed bodies vanished beneath the surf.

    “What’s going on down there?” Annie asked as she peered through the cockpit window at the commotion below.

    “I dunno,” said Trojan. “And I’m loathe to find out. I say we change our plans.”

    “We can’t do that!” Zip whined. “We need to get some backup in our rebellion and the water types are our best option!”

    “I’m sorry,” Trojan scoffed. “But none of us are equipped to deal with these monsters, let alone you.”

    “They aren’t monsters,” said Poipole.

    “What’s that, Sticky?” Annie peered over her shoulder at the poipole in Web’s lap.

    “I said they aren’t monsters,” he repeated. “They’re nihilego. Creatures from a region called Deep Sea.”

    “Never head of it.” Annie turned to the rest of her crew. “You?”

    Everyone else exchanged glances and shook their heads.

    “Of course you haven’t. It’s not part of your world.” Poipole let out a wheeze. “I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

    Web looked down at him with a start. “Oh… your atmosphere… we rushed off without even thinking!”

    “Well, given all that mist they’re spewin’,” said Trojan, “if it’s poison, he’ll be all right. Right?”

    Poipole gave a weak nod. “It is poison…”

    “Well, I’ve got plenty of that,” said Web. “But I can’t very well flood this cabin.”

    “Take him to the cargo hold,” said Annie. “Then spray him with it. We’ll be fine up here.”

    “It ain’t air tight, yanno,” Trojan scoffed.

    Annie shrugged. “Provided she doesn’t fill the cargo hold with it, we should be fine.”

    “Easy for you to say,” Trojan muttered. He looked up and fixed her with a sneer. “But what about your buddy Waveform, eh? He’s a grass type.”

    “I’ll be fine,” Waveform said bluntly. “If it will keep Poipole alive, I’m backing Annie’s point.”

    “Spoken like a true Number One.” Annie grinned and gave him a playful punch in the shoulder, causing the decidueye to twitch with agitation. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

    Everyone fell silent and stared at her. She tucked her arms behind her head, watching the battle below.

    It was Trojan who finally broke the silence. “That don’t even make sense in this scenario!”

    Annie waved a hand towards the cargo bay door. “Time is of the essence. Take Sticky and spray him!”

    Web scooped Poipole up and vanished through the hatch into the cargo bay. It fell back into place in a manner Annie chose to decide was not an angry slam.

    “So what are we going to do?” Zip asked. “How are we going to get down there?”

    “That’s easy, little fish,” said Annie. “We land.”

    “Where?” Trojan scoffed, waving a paw at the battle. “The city is riddled with this… what did that runt call them? Nil Leggy or something?”

    “I believe he said ‘nihilego’.” Annie scratched her chin in thought. “The name rings a bell for some reason.”

    All eyes were on her again as she wracked her mind. Where had she heard of these creatures before? She watched them curiously, drifting like little, ghostly girls in the air. A torrent of water fell shy of the ship as it struck one of them, only for the creature to retaliate back with a beam of shining stones. They didn’t reach their target, instead peppering the ocean and creating a spray of colour. Along with the electricity sparking over the water and the vibrant lights from the city, it was like a laser light show, awakening the night in a sparkling song and dance.

    “You’re going to tell us you’re from their world, aren’t you?” Waveform asked slowly.

    “Nuh-uh.” Annie shook her head. “You see, I did a lot of travellin’ when I were in my own world. Although I didn’t see much outside of four white walls. But they made me do a lot of readin’. Thought it would calm my mind. I probably read its name somewhere, ‘cos I sure don’t recognise it physically.”

    “Hmm.” Trojan pursed his lips and fixed her out of the corner of his eye. “Anythin’ come to mind about how to fight them?”

    “Nope.”

    “All right, guess we’re skirtin’ round ‘em and landin’ somewhere in the middle of the city.” He brought the ship up in a sharp arc and a surprised squeal came from the floor below. “Let’s just hope those things aren’t infestin’ the entire jackin’ place, eh?”

    As they drifted over the ocean, one of the nihilego let out a spray of tinkling reminiscent of laughter and took off after the pyukumyuku. Black mist trailed from its tentacles and it brought them up to fasten itself to the ship’s hull. The lights flickered and the dashboard lit up briefly before the cabin was plunged into darkness. It swerved sharply to the right, facing the eerily glowing bodies of an ocean of nihilego.

    “Erm…” Trojan stared at his paws fixed over the steering stick.

    “What are you doing?!” Waveform roared. “Turn us away!”

    “I didn’t do nothin’!” Trojan barked back. “It did that itself!”

    The cabin floor shook as someone struck the floor beneath repeatedly. Trojan cursed under his breath and brought his foot down on the floor in a fit of rage. His lips curled into a sneer and he fought with the steering stick, but instead the ship drifted closer to the nihilego. They raised their waiting tentacles in a mesmerising fashion, stretching them out towards the ship.

    The hatch exploded open and Poipole re-entered the cabin, making a beeline for the door.

    “Poipole, wait!” Web followed after him, catching a confused glance from Annie. “He won’t listen to me…”

    “I have to fight them!” he squeaked. “Or they’ll take over the ship!”

    “But you’re too weak!” Web cried as he wrestled the door open.

    “I’m immune to their poison attacks,” he told her. “I’m you’re only chance of you getting free from their parasitic hold.”

    “Parasite?” Trojan and Waveform spoke at the same time.

    “They’re controlling the ship?” Trojan stared, slack jawed, at the strange creatures.

    Web stopped short of the door as Poipole rushed out into the ocean air. She turned back to the cockpit, watching the nihilego with horror.

    “He’s not going to stand a chance,” she said. “It’s too clean here.”

    “Let’s just give him a shot,” said Waveform. “If he starts to falter, we’ll find a way to get him back. I’ll fly out and grab him if I have to.”

    One of the closer nihilego lifted its tentacles, and they began to glow with an eerie light. Before it could unleash an attack, it found itself doused with thick, purple slime. The slime proved too heavy, and it dropped like a boulder into the ocean. The rest of the nihilego turned their attention to something above the ship. The entire ship lurched backwards and the long, stretchy innards out reached up, forming a giant flat hand. It swiped the air, causing Poipole to swerve to the side and enter their field of vision.

    “Aww, now that just plain ain’t fair!” said Annie. “They’re tryin’ to swat him out of the air like an over-sized bug!” She rose slightly in her seat and waved her fist at the nihilego. “Oi! That’s our trick!”

    The innards out swung around like a flailing arm, changing from a flat palm to a club to a fist. Poipole dodged each swing, turning to fire sticky goo from the needle-like appendage on his head. Many of his shots fell short, but those that hit home sent the nihilego dropping like stunned flies. The pokemon beneath the ocean surface cottoned on to the creature’s strategy, lighting the water up with electricity to engulf the fallen nihilego.

    “Yeah! That’s right!” Annie cheered. “Toast them! Toast them like marshmallows!”

    One of the ocean dwellers rose to the surface, almost unidentifiable amid the chaos. It sent a bolt of electricity right up towards them, striking the ship and causing sparks to fly over the surface. Annie ducked and covered her head with her arms, but a small jolt coursed through her body. She heard grunts from her crew mates and a squeal of pain from Zip. She looked up with a start and twisted in her seat towards his water-filled bowl.

    “You okay, little fish?” she asked.

    He opened one eye and fought back his pained grimace with a weak smile. “I’m… I’m fine…”

    She spun towards the window and waved her fist at the ocean. “Watch where you’re aimin’! I didn’t ask you to toast us, you fools!”

    “They are watching where they’re aiming,” Waveform croaked. “They see us as a threat since our ship is trying to strike Poipole!”

    Annie’s jaw dropped slightly. “Ohh…”

    Poipole dodged another swipe as one of the water pokemon threw a thunderbolt straight at the ship’s weapon. It fizzled harmlessly on the gooey surface, doing nothing to stop its pursuit of Poipole. Another bolt struck the ship, this time causing sparks to fly from the dashboard’s wires.

    Trojan leapt back with a yelp and stuck his paw in his mouth. “We’re gonna sink if this keeps up!”

    The ship shuddered and the innards out flopped limply forward. A splash came from below and the ship hung there in the air harmlessly. Trojan grabbed his steering controls and the ship juddered as it drifted backwards.

    “I can’t call back the innards,” he said. “Whatever they’ve done, they’ve fried it.”

    “But we’re free, right?” Waveform asked. “Do we have any backup weapons to show we’re not a threat?”

    “Nope.” Trojan dropped to the floor and opened up the dashboard to reveal its circuits. “I suggest you get onto the roof and start fighting the nihilego. That’ll gain the army’s trust.”

    The ship shook again and the scrafty cursed loudly as his head struck the inside of the dash.

    Annie rose to her feet and turned to her crew. “He’s right. We need to climb on up there and start firing our attacks. I suggest you two go first, since you have range to your advantage. As for you-” She turned to Zip and Web cut her off.

    “You and Zip will stay in here,” she said. “He’s too young and you are not a pokemon at this present time.”

    Annie looked down at herself then met Web’s eye. “What’s your point?”

    “You can’t use attacks.”

    Annie folded her arms and closed her eyes, lifting her nose in the air. “I have you know I punched the Mayor lookin’ like this.”

    “And I can fight!” Zip snapped. “I can use water pulse. Unlock my legs and I’ll fight alongside you!”

    Web sank slightly and let out a sigh. “Fine. Punch some jellyfish then. And keep a close eye on Zip. Make sure he doesn’t tumble off the ship or something.”

    The skuntank marched towards the door and tugged it open. Cold air immediately flooded the cockpit and she twisted her body through the door to climb up the crude ladder to the roof. Annie followed after her, sandwiched between the skuntank and Waveform. The latter had Zip clutched under one wing as he used his other to hoist himself up. Once they were on the roof, another tremor shook the ship.

    “Whoa!” Annie flailed her arms as she teetered backwards.

    Web span and grabbed her arm, tugging her back onto the roof. “Be careful!”

    Annie dusted herself down and looked out at the ocean of nihilego. There looked to be a lot more from her new vantage point. Some were even drifting over the top of the ship, only to be shot down by Poipole’s gunk shot.

    Waveform set Zip down in the centre of the roof between two of the pyukumyuku’s spines then turned and aimed one of his silver arrows into the fray. It fired off towards the nihilego with a twang, leaving behind a trail of purple stars. It struck one of the nihilego right in the centre of its gelatinous head, engulfing it in a cloud of purple. It sank towards the ocean into a wet, electrical embrace.

    “Hey, look!” Annie pointed at the electric-firing water types. “They’re turning their attention away from the ship!”

    “I guess they’ve taken our point,” said Waveform. “Now focus your own attention onto the nihilego.”

    Poipole shot between them, engulfing an enraged nihilego in sludge. It dropped, clipping the ship and leaving behind a sticky trail.

    “Eww.” Annie’s lip curled with disgust. “That’s gonna leave a stain…”

    The small, purple creature zipped away from them to fire his sludge bomb into the chaos. Many of his attacks missed home, but those close enough found themselves struggling to stay airborne. Web joined him, firing sludge bombs of her own. Each one left the tip of her tail with the force of a canon ball. Zip stood beside her, launching water pulses from the opening in his bowl.

    The nihilego retaliated, launching a barrage of sparkling rocks. They peppered Web and the ship, bouncing off like large hail stones. Web flinched and raised a paw to shield her face, then when she found a break in the attack she fought back with another sludge bomb.

    All Annie could do was watch. She stood with her arms at her side, watching as the nihilego dodged attacks only to find themselves in the firing line of another. Their tentacles outstretched to try and claim the ship, or grab one of her crew. Tiny stones rained down around them, scuffing the pyukumyuku and tumbling into the water to strike the helpless water types.

    Waveform nailed one of the aliens right in its flailing tentacle, spearing it with an arrow and sending the creature reeling back in pain. Tinkles and screeches filled the air, rising to a crescendo as the nihilego’s attention was drawn from the city to the giant pyukumyuku.

    Some of the water pokemon on the docks dived into the ocean, carrying smaller members on their backs. Those who braved to swim though the electrically charged waters were completely unfazed, throwing their heads back to fire at the nihilego at closer range. The ones being carried joined their own attacks, combining to create an even more powerful stream of water. It exploded beneath the nihilego, blowing several of them out of the air. Their bodies rained down, creating an almighty splash that pushed the water pokemon back. Electricity surged over the surface, combining with the spray to give those not immune a rather painful shower. But they shook it off and kept going, water gushing from their mouths with the power of a jet hose.

    “Keep it coming, guys!” Annie called towards them.

    She turned back to the nihilego just in time to catch one that had broken free of its assault. She raised her fist to sock it right between its ‘eyes’. Her fist plunged through its flesh, vanishing into its soft insides. The nihilego merely stopped and for a second she was convinced it was staring at her. Grinning. Clearly she’d not hurt it. It raised its tentacles, an eerie glow emanating from the tips. One of them wrapped around her arm, dragging her further towards its body as though it wanted to consume her. A high squeal flooded through her head, followed by the rumble of a million voices. Her eyes widened as she looked back at her own face, hazed as if she was looking at herself through a sheet of purple crystal.

    Water engulfed it, shattering the illusion and ending the voices. She staggered back from it and watched as the creature blew back from her towards Waveform’s waiting arrow. Annie’s arm was released from it with a soft plop, leaving a hole wide enough for the nihilego’s life fluids to gush from. The creature fell, crashing onto the roof then sliding off towards the ocean. Annie looked up, clutching her slimy fist in her other hand. Zip skittered past her to launch a water pulse into the chaos. Waveform gave Annie a nod and turned back to the battle.

    “That was a close call,” he said. “I guess you can’t exactly punch them.”

    “Aye.” Annie shook her fist, sending slime onto the roof of her ship. “It was like punching jelly.”

    “You might be more use to Trojan,” he said. “Get back inside.”

    Every nihilego diverted its attention from the city to the pyukumyuku. They drifted around the ship in a circle, waving their tentacles and firing out their sparkling rocks. The pokemon flinched back and Annie lifted her arms to block the attack. Seeing an opening, the aliens moved in, wrapping their targets in their tentacles and taking hold of the ship.

    Waveform struggled against a nihilego, straining back as it tried to grab his head. The alien jolted and Waveform let out a sneer, staggering back as the creature fell bleeding onto the roof of the ship. He gave it a hefty kick and launched an arrow to free Web from the clutches of another.

    The numbers were too great, and Annie and her crew found themselves back to back in the middle of the ship’s decorative spines.

    “I don’t like what they do to your head,” Web gasped. “All that chaos…”

    “Then don’t let them touch your head.” Waveform fired an arrow right through the centre of one of the creatures, knocking it from the sky.

    “I can’t help but think we’ve overestimated our abilities.” Web followed his attack with a sludge bomb. “We might very well die here.”

    “Then go down fighting,” Waveform told her.

    “Alright. You don’t need to tell me twice.” Annie shrugged and reached up, grabbing a flailing tentacle. She spun on the spot and launched the creature like a shot put right into one of its friends. The two crashed down onto the roof. But they shook themselves off and raced back with even more vigour.

    “Oh great, you’ve angered it,” said Waveform as he fired off another arrow.

    It didn’t hit home, however. It found itself buried beneath a nihilego and a pile of sludge. Poipole floated in its place before turning to shoot another nihilego down.

    Water gushed up from the ocean, sparking with electricity. Two more nihilego found themselves knocked from the sky, only to meet a shocking demise in the charged ocean.

    The ship shook again, but not due to electricity or attack. The long innards out retracted back into the ship, and the contraption turned so the mouth was facing the nihilego. The occupants of the roof could hear Trojan’s voice above all the chaos, muffled only by the ship’s tinny body.

    “Take this, suckers!”

    The innards out shot forward with the force of a bullet, punching one of the nihilego and sending it rocketing backwards like a snooker ball. It crashed into one of its allies, and small cracks shot across its body, leaking out gelatinous goop. Its ally fell unconscious towards the water while the assaulted nihilego tried to shake the attack off. It rushed forward with two others, only to be caught by a downward swatting palm. They struck the charged ocean like raining pebbles.

    Annie threw her hands in the air and let out a euphoric ‘woo!’ The innards out struck left and right, doing more damage than their combined attacks. Nihilego began dropping like flies, their heavy bodies creating loud splashes in the ocean. Pokemon were blown back from the impact, and many of the water types decided to return to the shore, leaving the ship and Annie’s crew to deal with the threat. Before long, the nihilego were in retreat, their numbers greatly reduced.

    Annie watched them fly off over the golden ocean, her arms crossed over her chest. In the distance, the sun was rising, adding an orange hue to the electrically charged water. Her crew joined her side, their breaths coming in heavy bursts.

    “Well,” she said. “I think we saw them off. Good work, crew.”

    Web let out a loud puff of air. “I’d say. That was a workout and a half. I think I’m ready for some breakfast.”

    “And I helped too,” said Zip. “Right?”

    The goldeen looked from Annie’s beaming face to Web’s apologetic smile.

    “You did great, little fish!” said Annie.

    “Annie’s right,” Web agreed. “You’ve certainly shown you can put up a fight. We’ll be calling on you again.”

    Zip fluttered his tail from side to side as he pushed up against the glass, a huge smile taking over his face. “I’ll never let you down! You can count on me!”

    Poipole shot from the air, hovering before Web. A sharp, musical wheeze came from his proboscis but his face looked very relaxed.

    “The threat is gone,” he said. “But I think they may return. They will want to avenge their fallen members, or look for survivors.”

    Annie raised an eyebrow at him. “What? Those things think about stuff like that?”

    “Of course they do, they’re sentient,” said Poipole. “They knew to take over your ship, didn’t they? To use it against me?”

    Annie let out a thoughtful ‘hmm’ and looked out at the ocean and the nihilego’s retreating forms. “Then just how much of a threat do they pose to this world?”

    “A big one,” said Poipole. “They don’t belong here. They’ll ruin this world to make it habitable for creatures like them. Like me.”

    He floated there, exchanging glances with each of them. Web shook her head sadly and led them back towards the ship.

    “Oh, I’ve so many questions,” she said. “Let’s get to Wave City. See if we can find somewhere to get something to eat and talk all this over.”

    They climbed back into the ship to find Trojan sitting triumphantly at the helm, a huge grin on his face.

    “Did you see that?” he said. “Sent ‘em packin’!”

    Web gave him a playful grin and flopped into her seat, exhausted. “Get us to the docks, you goof.”

    Waveform didn’t take his seat. He stood beside Annie, watching the docks grow closer. Water pokemon were still gathered on it, their limbs flailing in the air, all eyes on the ship.

    “Well, if we were expecting a hostile reception for riding around in a space pirate’s ship,” he said, “then I think we’re going to be disappointed.”

    “What are you getting at?” asked Annie.

    “What I’m saying is I wouldn’t be surprised if Wave City offered us a badge of honour.”

    ...​

    BackDoor sat atop one of Wave City’s tallest buildings. A communications tower dedicated to gaming, news and entertainment. Well, it would have performed that job if its main antenna hadn’t been broken by one of the tentacled Ultra Beasts.

    A chuckle came from deep within him and he sat back on his paws, watching the Ultra Beasts drift away across the ocean. That pyukumyuku ship had given them a run for their money. They’d been greatly outnumbered, and the combined efforts of Wave City’s aquatic army and the crude weapon of a shoddy-looking ship had taken them on. And that purple blob thing darting about… he didn’t recognise that. But it wasn’t mechanical. He could pick up no signal from it. It was definitely organic. Had it slipped through a dimension pocket without him realising? He found that hard to believe. Maybe it was from one of the pockets he’d left open. Or Zero Day had been doing his job again.

    He needed to put an end to Zero Day. They were ruining all his fun.

    The hoopa rose from the roof and looked over the city. Its inhabitants were waiting eagerly for that ship. He could hear their cheers. Their obnoxious cheers. Beating back his wonderful Ultra Beasts didn’t warrant such celebrations.

    He turned from Wave City and zipped over the rooftops. He needed another plan. He needed more of those Ultra Beasts.

    A quick scan picked up another of their home worlds deep within Wave City. He started towards it, but then his mind reeled, filling with several new ideas at once.

    No… he didn’t need those tentacled beasts. What he needed was something new. A bigger toy to play with. He scanned again, picking up three different pockets but none of them were close. They were outside Wave City. The closest one was in the Backbone Mountains. Oh well. It was close enough. Maybe what he found there would be fast. Fast enough to trample Wave City to dust. He’d teach them never to ruin his fun again.

    BackDoor changed his course, heading towards the mountains and his new toy.
     
  5. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Sorry for the delay! I've been busy with family stuff and meant to update yesterday, but it kinda slipped my mind. Saturday should have an update as normal.

    Chapter Fifty Eight​

    Anchor took a step back as Switch lunged at him with his beak, narrowly missing the talonflame’s aerial ace. He spun on the spot, meeting Switch’s golden eyes as another aerial ace was launched his way. Anchor brought up his fist and struck the talonflame with a feint attack right across the beak. Switch staggered backwards, blinking with surprise. He shook his head sharply and flashed Anchor a wink.

    “Caught me off guard there,” he said.

    Anchor laughed and wiped his paw over his chest. “I do have a trick or two up my sleeve.”

    “You’re supposed to be practising your fire fang,” Switch reminded him. “Given that’s what’s meant to set off that Z-Crystal’s special move, right?”

    The talonflame nodded to Anchor’s wrist. Fastened in a stone bangle was the sparkling, red Z-Crystal, catching the morning sun’s rays. Switch was right. But they’d been fighting for over an hour, and he just wasn’t getting anywhere with it. Hold it high, Solgaleo had said, and it would turn his fire fang into inferno overdrive.

    “Should we really be doing this?” DL’s voice drew their attention to the bench she was sitting on. “I mean, Macro isn’t here. We should really be practising these moves together.”

    “My answer is the same as it was an hour ago,” said Anchor. “Macro can’t be here right now and we need to be practising, otherwise we’ll end up unprepared.”

    “But the doctor said he’ll be fit to go home in a couple of days,” she said. “Can’t we at least wait?”

    “I believe his words were ‘he’ll be fit to go back home to his own bed’,” said Anchor. “He’ll need the all clear to be able to fight again. That could easily be another week. I doubt BackDoor will conveniently wait that long. Look what happened to Pulse City! Some of us are gonna need to be able to fight while he catches up.”

    “Anchor’s right, DL. You saw what happened to him,” said Switch. “If some of us know to activate these moves, it might prevent the same thing from happening again. And it might speed up his learning process and get the ball rolling much faster.” He finished his sentence with a wink. “You in?”

    DL stared at them for a moment then gave a curt nod. She slipped from her seat and adjusted the bangle around her right wrist.

    “What about Matrix and Cookie?” she asked. “They should be here too.”

    Anchor grunted and turned back to the talonflame. “You wanna drag Matrix from Assassin Strike, be my guest.”

    DL considered this for a moment then shrugged it off and turned towards Switch. The talonflame shifted uneasily and cast a cautious eye at her.

    “You don’t plan to practice your move on me, do you?” He gave a nervous laugh.

    “Well, erm…” She looked from Switch to Anchor and twirled the bangle around her wrist with her other paw. “Either, really. I don’t mind.”

    “Okay, well.” Switch cleared his throat. “I’m not too sure how I feel about being struck with a powerful electric move. You might end up roasting me alive.”

    “He has a point,” said Anchor. “I’ll be your punching bag. Let’s get you warmed up first. Hit me with your best shot.”

    The granbull took a step back and spread his arms wide. DL moved around so she was facing him and fixed her eyes on his. He could see the determination in her eyes. A real look of confidence. He’d never seen her try to fight or use her attacks even once. But this was no meek pokemon staring at him. He grinned widely and thumped himself twice in the chest.

    “Come on,” he said. “Throw a discharge at me.”

    DL closed her eyes and pursed her lips, an expression reminiscent of a pichu trying to control its electricity. Then her ears stood upright and her eyes snapped back open, all that previous confidence lost in an instant.

    “I… I don’t know how!” she said.

    “Eh?” Anchor inclined his head on one side then rubbed the back of his mohawk. “Erm… do you know any attacks? Spark? Thundershock? Tackle?”

    Her eyes went distant and she stared off into space, but he knew he was checking her database. Then she shook her head slowly and looked back at him.

    “No,” she said. “I’ve no recollection of ever using any attacks.”

    “Really?” Anchor stared back at her dumbfounded. “Nothing at all? Why not try again? Just a small jolt or something?”

    DL closed her eyes again and tensed up her entire body until her fur was on end. Both paws were clasped into fists so tight Anchor feared she might puncture her flesh with her claws. Then she let out a frustrated growl and looked back up at him.

    “I just can’t do it!” A lone tear trickled down her cheek and she flopped onto her bottom. “Why? I… I guess it’s not in any of the memories I have.”

    Anchor exchanged glances with Switch, and the pair of them moved over to the pachirisu’s side. Anchor sat down beside her and placed a paw on her shoulder.

    “It kinda makes sense,” he said. “Those memories of yours only go back as far as… well, your early teen years. Right?”

    DL nodded bitterly. “But you’d think there’d be something? Pokemon are learning new moves well into their teen years. It’s how you get stronger.”

    “Yes, but you need something to go off,” Anchor explained. “I don’t know much about electric types, but moves get stronger, right? Little pokemon scratch, then later they’ll really slash with their claws. Tackle becomes take down. Headbutt into head smash. That kinda thing. I guess the same works with electricity.”

    “It actually makes more sense with electricity,” said Switch. “The current gets stronger, just like the flame in a fire type.”

    Anchor let out a single laugh. “Well, you would know. Unlike you and DL here, I don’t use special type moves. I’m more of a brawler.”

    “You both made clear points.” DL gave them a weak smile. “Thank you. But this leaves me with a bit of a problem.”

    Both pokemon looked down at her silently, waiting for her to elaborate. She grabbed her tail in her paws, brushing her fur absently as she gazed down at it. She took in a steady breath and glanced them out of the corner of her eye.

    “I’m not sure I want any more of my memories,” she said. “That last disk really hurt me. Bringing all that back, knowing what Socket did to me… what else happened to me? My parents, my home? How did I end up in an orphanage? What exactly happened to me that landed me in that wicked pokemon’s clutches?”

    Anchor scratched his mohawk again and stared off at the lake. “I… I dunno. But if you want to use your Z-Move then you need to be able to attack.”

    “Can’t I just learn again?” she asked. “From scratch, like a hatchling?”

    “You could,” Anchor said hesitantly. “But it would take a really long time, and that’s time we don’t have.”

    She looked up at Switch, eyes pleading. “How long did it take you to learn? You’re not even really a pokemon, so you have to have learnt at some point, right?”

    He shifted uneasily and cleared his throat. “It took me months just to get the basics down to a fine art, never mind building on them. But the ability was always there, within me. It’s a case of unlocking it.”

    “Yeh, but like you said, it took you months,” said Anchor. “We don’t have months, let alone enough time for her to learn discharge!”

    Switch fell silent and huddled into himself, fluffing out his feathers.

    Anchor sighed and ran a paw down his face. What a predicament. He hadn’t expected any setbacks like this.

    “Then I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?” DL’s voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

    “You do,” said Anchor. “Two choices. You either get your remaining memories back so you can use your discharge attack, and therefore your Z-Move. Or you leave it and don’t…” He threw his paws into the air. “Don’t help us.”

    DL flinched and squeezed her tail, her paws vanishing into the fur completely. “Then I was right. I don’t have a choice. I’m to help you, and I want to help you. So I need to get my memories.”

    “Hey, don’t be too hasty,” said Anchor. “You made it clear you don’t want them. Think things over first.”

    She nodded curtly and rose to her feet. As she turned to walk away, Switch lifted his head.

    “Hey,” he said. “There are other ways you can help, you know. You need to put yourself first here.”

    She froze and glanced back at him over her shoulder. “You sound just like Macro. ‘Look out for number one’.”

    “Well, whereas I can find that mawile rather selfish,” said Switch flatly, “he might actually be right here.”

    “Part of me thinks you’re wrong.” DL turned away and sighed. “I don’t know. Give me time to think about it.”

    Anchor sat back on his paws as he watched her walk away, head down, arms limp at her side, and her usually perky tail trailing along the ground.

    ...​

    Annie stretched languidly as she strolled down the sunlit streets of Wave City. Not a toxic cloud in sight. Clean, crisp, ocean air filled her sinuses and she let out a satisfied sigh.

    Despite the warm and thankful welcome the human and her team had received, Wave City’s inhabitants still seemed rather jittery. The local pokemon cast her nervous glances, but none of them fled. News of a human had spread across System, not that Annie really cared. Somehow, she’d managed to take her medicine before her archeops form took hold, securing her another day at her full height on steady, human legs with steady, human hands, rather than scurrying around as a clumsy prehistoric bird.

    Not that she minded the archeops. It was just nice to be herself for a little while longer.

    All of her team appreciated the clean air. Trojan leant against a shop wall with his arms crossed and he raised an eyebrow at her. The irony of clean air lay between his claws in the form of a cigarette, a clear sign Web was still back at their hotel. Most likely with Zip and Poipole. The purple creature was the only one not happy with the clean air. He’d taken to hiding in the skuntank’s tail in a desperate bid to inhale toxins.

    Annie paused beside the scrafty and glanced from his face to the smoldering ashes dropping to the floor. “Any joy?”

    Trojan snorted and flicked the remains of his cigarette into the drain. “You mean making Poipole a bowl like Zip’s? Fat chance. I told you that last night.”

    Annie shrugged and stuffed her hands into her pocket, glancing over at the docks. Keeping the little creature with them was looking to be almost impossible.

    “We’re probably gonna have to release him into the outskirts,” Trojan explained. “Although I ain’t too happy about it. He really saved our hides in that fight last night.”

    “Aye. Those creatures could have overwhelmed us.” Annie rubbed the back of her head and sighed. “Well. Whatever’s best.”

    “You’re bein’ rather dismissive about it.” Trojan narrowed his eyes at her. “Way I see it is you two are exactly alike.”

    “Hey! I ain’t no purple slimy blob!”

    “I ain’t sayin’ you are!” Trojan growled. He let out a sigh and pushed back his head fin. “What I’m sayin’ is you’re two lost aliens. Stuck in a world where you don’t belong. You both need understandin’ types, not to be left to your own devices. That Poipole needs friends. We let him loose in the outskirts, what’s gonna happen to him? You think he’s gonna just buddy up with some other gang?”

    Annie shifted her weight to one leg and stared off at the ocean. She pursed her lips together, searching for the right response. But Trojan went on.

    “He also knows what those creatures are,” he explained. “Knows how to fight ‘em. He’s a valuable ally. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really wanna discard him like that. We need to find a way to keep him healthy.”

    “He seemed quite comfortable in Web’s tail,” said Annie.

    “Comfy or not, it ain’t a permanent solution.”

    She scratched her head and frowned at the skyline. Something Trojan had said had really grated on her. She cast the scrafty a sideways glance and stuffed her hands back into her pockets.

    “You really think I don’t belong here?” she asked.

    “You ain’t a pokemon, are you?” he grunted.

    “I kind of am.”

    “Yeh. An extinct one.” He reached into his baggy skin and pulled out a cigarette pack, frowned at it, then stuffed it back in place. He folded his arms again and raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m right, aren’t I? I know I’m right. You wanna get home as much as Poipole does.”

    Annie frowned down at him and puffed air out of her nose. “I’m free here.”

    Trojan shrugged and turned his head to look back at the hotel. “You might feel free, but after a while it might start to feel like a prison. I know I wouldn’t wanna be stuck in some alien world without my own kind to talk to.”

    “My own kind aren’t very interesting. They force me to read books and watch videos, rather than mingle. And they talk about celery and people named Mark.”

    He let out a dry chuckle and waved her off with a paw. “Then by all means, go and mingle. I’m just sayin’ you might change your mind after a while.”

    Annie shifted her weight again and turned away from the Scrafty to look back at the ocean. She’d become oblivious of the other pokemon during their chat, but now she could feel all their eyes on her again. She shrugged them off and marched towards the docks, to her waiting ship. The pyukumyuku still looked rather stained, its glossy black hull marred with neon purple streaks.

    Waveform sat beside it, his feet hanging over the docks. They were high enough not to touch the ocean, but the spray dampened his feathers and left little drops on his scales. His quiver lay beside him with his silver arrows scattered around, and he held one in his wing paw while his other polished it with a dirty rag. She slumped down beside him, letting her own feet hang over the edge. Immediately the surf peppered her worn boots with water droplets and soaked into her trousers.

    “I always thought decidueye use their feathers as arrows,” she said. “That’s what I read in a book, anyway.”

    “I prefer it this way,” he said bluntly.

    She leant back on her hands to stare out at the ocean, letting the repetitive, steady roar of the tide soothe her. But it did little to remove her recent conversation. Trojan’s words still niggled at her. She stifled a sigh and watched as the tide consumed a smooth rock blocking its path.

    The decidueye looked up from his arrows and examined her face with his large eyes. “You look bothered.”

    “Hum.” She inclined her head on one side, avoiding his gaze. “I guess I kinda am.”

    Waveform returned to polishing his arrows, running the rag along the shaft and over the deadly, pointed nib in an almost obsessive fashion. They sat in silence for a while, the only sounds being that of the ocean waves and the occasional squeak as he polished the arrow to a shine. Annie watched the water lap in towards the docks and feebly reach up towards them, narrowly missing as it retreated back into the surf to be followed by another wave. Frothy surf formed on the surface, some of which clung to the rocks far below the wooden supports. She thought she saw the first signs of wood rot where the damp had got to them. Like her, it wasn’t meant to be there. Slowly eating away at the wood until, if left unchecked, the docks would plunge into the watery depths, dragging unsuspecting pokemon with it.

    “I’d like to ask what the problem is,” Waveform said, breaking the silence.

    She looked up with a start, but didn’t look at him, instead gazing off at the horizon. “I feel like there should be a ‘but’ at the end of that sentence.”

    He shrugged. “Well, I’ll admit I am worried I won’t get a straight answer.”

    She leant back on her hands and let out a bitter sigh. “I’ve just been told I don’t belong here.”

    Waveform lowered his arrow and turned his head to look at her fully. She didn’t meet his eye, but a frown creased his features, distorting what little she could see of his beak.

    “Who on earth told you that?” he asked. “Wasn’t one of the water types, was it?”

    “No, it was Trojan.”

    He let out a snort and returned to his arrows, discarding the one in his paw in exchange for another. “I’d take what he says with a pinch of salt.”

    “Oh, I dunno. It’s left me feeling salty enough.” She dipped the toe of her boot into the surf as it rose up again and flicked it, scattering water droplets as far as she could toss them. “Just like this ocean here.”

    “Why did he say that, exactly?” Waveform asked.

    “Because I’m a human. Just like little Sticky, I don’t belong in this world.” She paused. “But unlike him, it’s not killing me.”

    Waveform paused with the rag held over his arrow, then tossed it to his side. “You’re from System’s past, right?”

    “That’s what I’m led to believe. But all white-walled cells look alike to me. For all I know, the doctors could have been in cosplay.”

    “But you turn into a pokemon.”

    “Yes, I’ve not always done that.” She nodded dramatically. “So I guess that answers your question, yes.”

    “Then in that case, they’ve tried to get humans home already.”

    She turned her head to look at him. “They succeeded, right?”

    “That’s what I’m led to believe.” He shrugged, not meeting her gaze. “But evidence says they failed. Not all humans went back home. But… most pokemon don’t want to believe that. They say it’s a myth. That the Fracture never happened, or if it did that it didn’t happen the way the stories tell it.”

    “What, they don’t have history books?”

    “It was allegedly all destroyed.” He picked his rag up again and absently polished his weapons. “But they can’t destroy everything.”

    “So there’s evidence?”

    “There’s blood.”

    Annie paused as a rather gruesome image filled her mind. She blinked a few times and stared at him, questioning. “What do you mean ‘blood’?”

    He let out a sigh and tossed his rag aside again, but with his arrow this time. It landed among the others with a small clatter that seemed to ring across the docks but it didn’t draw any attention from the dock workers. He gave them a wary glance then pulled one of his legs up to his chest, letting his wing fall over his knee.

    “I’m going to tell you something you can’t repeat to anyone,” he said quietly.

    She shrugged and scratched her nose. “I probably won’t remember anyway.”

    “Oh you will, because I want you to.”

    He glanced at the dock workers, then at Annie. When she only returned his stare, he tapped the floor beside him. She took the hint and scooted to his side.

    He lowered his voice to a near whisper. “There’s a group of pokemon out there who strongly believe they’re descended from what humans remained in System. It used to be quite a large group, but it’s dropped in size considerably over the last two hundred years.”

    “Really? Pull the other one,” she scoffed. “Humans can’t breed with pokemon.”

    “They can if they have pokemon bodies,” he retorted. “When you’re an archeops you have the biology of one, right?”

    She blinked slowly. “What do you mean?”

    He let out a flustered sigh and shook his head. “I’m starting to think this is pointless.”

    “No, no. Wait.” Annie scratched her chin and looked up at the sky. “So I get feathers. And… my sense of smell gets stronger. Not that good a thing in Spool City, I gotta say.”

    “So you get my point.” He ran a paw over his armoured beak and fixed his eyes on the horizon. “Anyway. Like I said. Since this group believes they’re descended from humans, then you belong in System like any of them do. Just like their ancestors who chose to stay here. The only difference is, you’re pure blood. To them, you’re gold.”

    “So you think they’d want me in their group? There’s somewhere I can belong?”

    “Hah! I’m making it my personal duty you never fall into their paws.”

    A frown creased her features. “Why?”

    “Like I said. You’re gold.” He gave her a glance out of the corner of his eye. “You like being free, don’t you? If they got hold of you, you’d end up trapped in their circle. There are a lot of pokemon in that group who want to make their blood as pure as possible. To try and regain what they deem a ‘lost breed’.” He paused as he took in her look of confusion. “There’s been a hammer dropped on this group. They’re not bad pokemon, but they’ve become rabid with this idea. I told you all the written evidence had been destroyed. It had been destroyed years ago by those who were ‘anti human’. Well… ‘anti myth’. Since this group had proven there was something different with their blood, the authorities wanted to disband them. Many were locked up for ‘disturbing the peace’, but like I said. You can’t destroy blood. The anti-murder laws meant that nothing could be done about them. They’d not done anything that warranted being put to death, so their lines continued. Albeit in a very small sense. The only ones left are fanatics.”

    “And how do you know about them?” Annie asked. “If they’re so small.”

    “My great grandfather was amongst them,” Waveform explained. “Strongly believed his was of human decent. Roped my grandfather into it and wanted him to marry into the circle to continue on the genes. But he didn’t. My mother, however. She went with my grandfather into the circle and found her place there.”

    “You make it sound like some sort of cult.”

    “That’s what I thought it was, if I’m honest.” He paused and ran his feathers over his knee. “I went with her a couple of times, but I wasn’t sure I believed any of it. They were just a bunch of crazy fanatics in my eyes, spouting nonsense.” He paused again and glanced Annie out of the corner of his eye. “Then you came along.”

    She blinked a few times as she tried to take it all in, putting the pieces together like an elaborate jigsaw with no image to guide by. Then she lifted a hand and pointed a finger at the decidueye’s chest.

    “So let me get this straight,” she said slowly. “You’re telling me… that you are part human?”

    “Allegedly.”

    “And there’s a group of pokemon out there who are also part human?”

    “Exactly.”

    She rolled her eyes and turned to fall back on her hands. “Whoa, what kinda crazy world did I fall into?”

    Waveform let out a long groan. “What I told you was meant to make you feel like you belong.”

    “But it’s fact, right?” she asked. “Not some tall tale?”

    “Of course it’s fact.”

    “And are you gonna take me to this group? Let me see it with my own eyes?”

    “I told you!” He rounded on her and grabbed her arm in his wing. “If I took you there, you’d never see the light of day again! They’d be fighting over you! A pure human might even break them. They’d be at each others throats!”

    “Would they?” Annie folded her arms and gave him a pointed stare. “Or is it you doing the fighting? You just don’t want to share the gold that landed in your lap.”

    A frown twisted his features and he staggered back onto one paw. “You seriously think that?”

    “They’ve been looking for an answer, haven’t they? And what, you’re not gonna let them know they were right the whole time? I’d say you’re the one being greedy.”

    “You moron,” he gasped. “I’m trying to protect you! From crazed fanatics, from the mayor, and from nosey detectives! Even psychotic space pirates! And you have the nerve to think-”

    “Hey, hear me out here.” She raised a hand to silence him.

    “No, I won’t hear you out! I’m a bounty hunter. My job is to hunt down the next big target that will net me a fortune. Do you know how much I could get for you if I took you to the right buyer? A lot! I can’t even guess the zeroes! And where are you right now? That’s right, you’re free! Sat on the docks in a wealthy city, free as a bird!”

    “Alright, I get it. But you need to understand where I’m coming from. You’ve basically just told me there’s a jar of candy and you won’t give it to me.”

    “What?”

    “I’m not alone. There’s kind-of-humans here.”

    “Yes, and you’re talking to one.” He retrieved his arrow and returned to polishing it.

    “So that means if there’s humans here, I don’t need to go back, do I? I don’t need the Time Onion to get me home, because technically I am home.” She sat back on her hands again. “I can be free here.”

    He snorted. “Then I guess we’ve both learned something new. You’ve learned there’s human descendants, and I’ve learned you don’t trust me.”

    She swivelled to stare at him and inclined her head on one side. “Would you trust someone who won’t introduce you to your own kind?”

    He lowered his arrow and met her eyes. “Would you introduce Zip to sharks, just because they were another kind of fish?”

    “Zip, huh?” She diverted her gaze to the sky in thought. “The little fish. I suppose… I wouldn’t want to be thrown to the sharks either.”

    “That’s exactly what I’d be doing to you if I took you there. You’ll just have to trust me. Your family here aren’t crazed part-humans. You belong with pokemon who care about you. Like Trojan and Webber.”

    He scooped up his arrows into his quiver and rose to his feet, tossing it over his left shoulder. She had to crane her neck back to look up at him.

    “Not includin’ yourself in that little list?” she asked.

    He turned on his heel to return to the city, not even glancing back at her. “There’s no need to include myself. You can trust the pokemon I trust. That’s all you need to know.”

    She watched as he strolled away into the city, shedding two long green feathers as he left. One of them drifted over to her and she scooped it up without thinking. A few of the delicate barbs broke away under her fingers, and she trailed one over them delicately to try and neaten them back out.

    Dry and brittle. She’d always expected them to be soft.
     
  6. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Fifty Nine​

    “It looks like you’re ready to leave.” The azumarill flicked through her digital Clip Board as she read over Macro’s notes. “The doctor has given you a clean bill of health.”

    “Oh, finally. Some good news.” The mawile tried to resist grimacing as he pushed himself up against his pillow. ‘Clean bill of health’ clearly didn’t mean ‘no pain whatsoever’. Although it was significantly better than it had been two days ago. “So when do I leave?”

    The nurse raised an eyebrow at his eager tone. “You can leave today. But not until I give you the doctor’s guidelines.”

    He sighed and flopped back against the headboard, waving her on with a paw.

    “He says you’re to take it easy for a few days,” she said, returning to the screen. “Rest, don’t work. Do very little exercise outside of walking, and don’t try to lift anything. Practice your breathing exercises every morning, and take pain killers when you need to. He seems optimistic that you won’t really need them in a couple of days.”

    Macro stifled a scoff at that and rubbed his ribs beneath his duvet.

    “You’re to pop back in for a checkup in seven days.” She looked up to lock eyes with him. Warm but as hard as rock. Like a mother scolding a hatchling. “Jumper will be on your back about that, as will your crew. The doctor has warned me how stubborn you can be.”

    “Seven days. Check up. Gotcha.” He tossed the duvet aside and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “And believe me, ma’am, I won’t be lifting anything heavier than a dinner plate.”

    “All right. Well, I can see you’re already confident I’m going to tell you you’re good to go.”

    He paused as he reached for his scarf and goggles to glance the nurse over his shoulder, but she wasn’t looking at him. “I am good to go, right?”

    “Of course.” She snapped the cover over her Clip Board and looked up at him with a forced smile. “See you in seven days.”

    She left the room before he could, letting the door swing shut behind her. Macro let out a flustered breath and tossed his scarf over his shoulders, followed quickly by his goggles. After not wearing them for a few days, they felt a little alien and he jigged them about a bit until they felt comfortable in front of his horn. As he left the room, DL almost collided with him in the doorway.

    “Oh!” She took a step back, her eyes widening momentarily. A warm smile spread across her face and she looked him up and down before meeting his eyes. “I see you’re ready to leave.”

    “I was ready days ago, they just wouldn’t let me.” He fell into place beside her and turned down the corridor towards the stairs.

    “They wouldn’t let you because you were critically wounded,” she said flatly. “But I can understand. I wouldn’t want to be cooped up in here either.”

    “Well, it’s a lesson well learned to not be reckless.” He glanced her out of the corner of his eye. “Is everyone else waiting somewhere?”

    “Anchor and Switch are practising using those Z-Crystals,” she explained. “Not that they’re having much joy getting them to work. I told them I’d collect you and we’d meet them for dinner later on. Matrix is having lunch in a gaming cafe, but he said he’ll join us later. He also had breakfast there, too. In fact, he’s barely left since we got here. He’s attracted quite the fan base.”

    Macro tutted. “Sounds like Matrix. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even know what day it is. Don’t expect him to show up at dinner.”

    “Really?” A look of concern crossed her features. “I told him you were getting out today and he said he’d buzz on over with some breakfast. I’m guessing he’s not been?”

    “Nope. I had to have porridge again.” Macro stretched, flinching as his ribs twinged. “Gah, I can’t wait to have Cookie’s pancakes.”

    DL’s lips curled up in a smile. “Cookie’s really looking forward to making them for you.”

    Macro glanced the elevator as they passed, briefly considering their smooth journey. He shrugged them off and began descending the stairs, already adjusted to a smaller pokemon’s height.

    “Have you had lunch?” DL asked him.

    “Nope. When I heard I might be getting out, I decided not to order one. I’m tired of hospital food. I wanna hit one of those fast food vendors.”

    “In that case, let’s head to the market square,” she suggested. “I spotted a few of them this morning. I think one of them does berry burgers.”

    “Oh good.” He burst through the door into the lobby, taking some of the waiting pokemon by surprise. “Given this city is filled with water types, I’m gonna guess it’s fairly safe they don’t serve meat.”

    A poliwhirl let out a squeak of surprise and almost fell off her seat.

    “I’ve not seen anywhere that might,” said DL quietly, giving the tadpole pokemon an apologetic smile. She trotted to keep up with the space pirate and grabbed the door as he held it for her. “Everything looks like it might be made from locally grown produce.”

    “That’s a relief.” He took in a breath of fresh air and stretched again, feeling much less sore. “Ahh, freedom. How I’ve missed thee.”

    DL took a deep breath as well then let out a sigh. “The air is nice here.”

    He looked down at her, letting his eyes linger on her for a moment before steering her from the hospital. “So… you said something about a burger vendor?”

    She chuckled and took his arm, leading him down the street towards the square. “I believe it’s near the end of the market. If it’s still there, maybe we could take them to the lake? It was a little busy on my way over.”

    “I don’t mind busy markets. I lived in Pulse City, after all.”

    The thought of his former home gnawed at him and he shook the thought away, letting the sunlight pouring through the dome clear the threat of a storm cloud from his mind. When he looked up again, he spotted the market bustling with pokemon. The last time he’d been in Cyan City the market had been closed. With so much activity it looked like a different place entirely.

    As they strolled through the crowd, various voices and smells struck him at once. Children begging their parents for games or candied fruit, market sellers calling out their wares, the smell of frying fritters and chocolate fountains competing with savoury dishes. Colourful bodies zipped back and forth - hairy, scaly, feathery - brushing against him or skittering out of the way, providing obstacles to duck by. With his tender ribs, it was quite the chore to get through unscathed.

    When DL came to a sudden stop, she steered him to the side out of the way of a pair of boisterous children on their way to a crepe van. She gave him a warm smile and nodded behind her at a digital menu. Macro finally realised they’d made it.

    A squat van perched beside the menu while a watchog manned a hot plate of sizzling burgers. The vendor promised a selection of delights, but lacked his favourite occa and nutpea burger. Each one had its own name, but one that stood out to him was The Sunscorched Burger. Chople and lansat dressed with moomoo cheese and a tamato relish. It promised to be the spiciest in System Sky. The customer before him moved aside and Macro eyed the menu once more.

    Well… you only live once.

    DL shuffled up beside him, drawing an affectionate smile from the watchog. “I’ll have a Sunscorched Burger please.”

    The watchog jolted with surprise. “Wow. A sweet girl like you? I guess you like your spices.”

    Macro reached into his pouch and handed the watchog a ten credit bill. “Make that two. And a large mago juice. Please.”

    DL twitched her head around to smile at him. A smile that warmed him from the inside. He diverted his gaze to the market place, distracting himself with the hustle and bustle. His eyes fell on a small, round table not too far from the vendor and he nodded towards it.

    “Fancy saving us a seat?” he asked.

    DL nodded and moved past him to claim the empty table. She immediately picked up the plastic menu stand and read over it, mouthing the contents to herself. A clatter drew Macro’s attention back to the vendor, and he spotted the large mago juice beside his arm, dripping condensation onto the counter. Whether the watchog was insinuating something or not, two straws lay at lopsided angles against the rim of the glass. The burgers followed, plonked down onto a glossy black tray. Macro scooped everything up and carefully waddled over to the table. DL looked up immediately, her nose twitching as the steaming burger was placed in front of her.

    He flopped down into the chair opposite her and picked up his burger, spilling relish onto the plate. “I think I’m looking forward to this more than any sane ‘mon should.”

    Before DL could answer, he took a bite out of it akin to a half-starved tyranitar and an involuntary groan left his throat. The pachirisu chuckled and tucked into her own meal with much less vigour. Just like it had advertised, it was spicy. A pleasant heat unlike the unbearable curry he’d once encountered in Raster City. That thing could have melted a steelix’s hide.

    “It’s good,” she declared with her mouth full.

    “Tell me about it. I might come back here for dinner.” He glanced up at her, noting the relish smeared over her cheek. “So. Have you been training with Anchor and Switch?”

    DL paused mid bite and licked her lips slowly, reaching for the mago juice. She looked thoughtful, diverting her gaze to the market place as she took a long sip through the straw. Finally she glanced at him and shook her head.

    “Really?” Macro sat back in his seat and a huge glob of tamato fell from the bun and splattered onto his scarf. “Drat.” He swiped it aside and licked the remains off his paw, the heat from the spices making his skin tingle. “Why not? You’ve got a new move to practice too, right?”

    “Yeh.” She lowered her burger back to her plate but didn’t relinquish it. “I erm… I don’t know how to use any attacks.”

    “Oh!” Macro almost dropped his burger, but managed to get it back onto his plate rather than down his front. “I hadn’t… considered you wouldn’t know any.”

    “I think I know them,” she explained. “I just don’t know how to use them. I guess they’re on another memory disk.”

    He made a thoughtful noise and trailed a claw over his scar, staring at the skyscrapers behind her. “That’s interesting. I assumed they’d just be instinct. You know… like biting and scratching.”

    “I guess they’re learned behaviour.” She took another bite of her burger.

    “Then if you can’t use them, I suppose we either have to get the other two disks or find a way to teach you how.”

    “It might be faster to get the disks.” She shook her head and sighed. “After what happened last time… I wasn’t sure I wanted the rest of those memories.”

    “You’re speaking as though you’ve decided you want them.”

    “I feel I have no choice. I’m useless to you if I can’t fight.”

    Macro’s muzzle creased in a frown. “You’re not useless. You’ve got a gun, right?”

    “Yes but…” She dropped her burger and glanced around before lowering her voice. “But Solgaleo said we’re to use the Z-Moves to fight BackDoor, right? He gave me one of those Z Crystals. That means I’m expected to use one.”

    He leant his head on his paw and sighed, absently rubbing under his eye. What were they to do then? He was expected to remain in Cyan City for another week. Retrieving DL’s memory disks would only delay their duties, and he highly doubted the Ultra Beasts or BackDoor would wait for them. He flinched as his eye began to burn and he snatched his paw away.

    “Okay…” he whimpered. His eye began to stream, leaving a cool trail over his cheek. “Don’t touch the relish and then your eye.”

    He snatched up a napkin and held it to his face, looking back at DL with his free eye. The pachirisu chuckled and nudged the glass towards him. He picked it up and took a swig, but it only served to make his mouth burn more than it already had been. He let out a laugh of his own and picked his meal up again, keeping the napkin pressed to his face.

    “Okay, it’s hot,” he said. “I’ll give them props for that.”

    DL licked what was left of her vanished burger from her paws. “Shall I get us some ice cream? It might help cool you down.”

    “What?” He frowned again and removed the napkin. “Didn’t you find it spicy?”

    She shrugged and pushed the chair back as she stood up. “It was okay.”

    “You’re kidding, right?” He turned his head to follow her as she made her way to the crepe van. “Do you have no taste buds? A bionic tongue?!”

    She laughed and stuck her tongue out at him as she reached the small queue. Well it certainly didn’t look bionic. He turned back to his burger and challenged himself to finish it. There was no sense in wasting good food, even if it did threaten to burn his mouth away. He caught the watchog’s eye from the van, and the normal type laughed and shook his head before returning to his task of wiping down the counter. Macro thought he heard him say ‘rookie’.

    To distract himself, Macro pulled out his computer and loaded up the locations of DL’s remaining memory disks. He’d somewhat committed them to memory, but he felt the need to prove himself wrong. As expected, the last two were in the two locations he never wished to step paw in. Botnet City and Meta City. He couldn’t even decide which one was the easiest for him to face. One thing was for certain, he didn’t want to go there before he felt ready to take on Socket’s loyal army.

    Once his burger was suitably demolished, he reached for his straw and supped up half of the mago juice. It didn’t do much to soothe away the spices. DL appeared beside him and held a cheri and cream crepe before his nose. He took it from her and gave it a hearty lick. There. Spices neutralised.

    He chuckled and stood up, scooping up the tray with his free paw. “Shall we head to the lake?”

    “Definitely.”

    She took the tray from him and placed it on the top of the trash can. The watchog thanked them with a friendly wave which DL returned gladly. Macro gave him a more cautious one and followed the pachirisu out of the square.

    It wasn’t far to the lake. He spotted the berry bushes surrounding it and a couple of azurill running around them. A few feet away from the playing children was a small row of benches, each spaced enough apart to give their occupants a little privacy. He pulled himself up into an empty one and looked over at the two hatchlings. It left a hollow feeling in his gut as his mind went back to Lossy. Part of him hoped deep down Cyan City would get to the bottom of her missing children.

    One of the azurill dived into the lake with a soft splash, all but their tail vanishing beneath the surface. The other one laughed and raced along the side of it as they tried to beat them to the other end.

    “It’s so peaceful here,” said DL.

    “Aye.” Macro nibbled at his dessert. “Even more so to me now, after my first visit here. Be glad you didn’t see that.”

    “I am.” She paused as she licked melted cheri ice cream from her paw. “But some good came of it.”

    “What good? It was a war.”

    “Well… they got to see who you really are, for one thing.” She glanced him out of the corner of her eye. “Rather than the reputation the media gives you.”

    “Some of that is self earned,” he scoffed. “Not that I’m happy about it.”

    She took a bite of her crepe, leaving a streak of cheri on her nose. “You’ve changed a lot since I first met you. That’s definitely a good thing.”

    “So you didn’t like me when we first met?”

    “I’m not saying that.” She leant back in her seat and fixed her chocolate eyes on him. “Bad pokemon don’t offer to help others. Saying you were keeping me just to get back at Socket… I don’t think that was your main motive.”

    “To be honest, it was up until I realised you were a real flesh and blood pokemon.”

    “Exactly.”

    Macro stared down at his crepe and ran his free paw over his head. He let out a small sigh and looked over at the lake. “To be honest, DL… you’ve changed me a lot.”

    “Me?”

    “Yeh.” He paused, watching the ice cream melt down the side of his crepe. “You gave me someone to care about other than myself.”

    There was a small silence before she asked, “What about your crew?”

    He shrugged. “To be honest, I’d never realised I actually care about them either. For years, I was just their captain. You know… Captain of a sky ship with a crew who’s always got each other’s backs, like any space pirate. The hunted Hunter, wanted all over System. I’d never seen my crew as a family or anything. I guess you’ve changed that, too.”

    He could feel her watching him, but he couldn’t look round at her. Ice cream dripped over his paws and peppered the floor with small, sticky pink puddles.

    “I want to help you, DL,” he said. “And if that means stepping paw in Botnet City to get your next memory disk, I’ll do it. And if that won’t help you use your electric attacks, then I’ll march into Socket’s mansion and get the other one.” He paused and looked over at her, meeting her chocolate gaze. “But only if you want them.”

    “What I want?” Her crepe found itself folded back into its wrapping and placed beside her on the bench. “What I want is for everything to be normal… and to just stay here in this city. With you… and the rest of our friends.”

    He gave a bitter laugh and took a bite out of his rapidly melting ice cream. “I’m afraid life ain’t that easy, sweetheart.”

    “Then I guess we just need to enjoy it while it lasts, don’t we?”

    Another splash came from the lake and he looked up at the azurill. Still playing, alternating with diving as far as they could beneath the water. Their life-guard tails preventing them from completely vanishing out of sight. Peaceful. Not a care in the world.

    “Well, I do have seven days until I’m ‘fit for work’,” he said, forcing a smile. “I guess we could just… pretend aliens aren’t taking over System?”

    DL chuckled and leant back into the bench. “That’s a rather dark way of putting it.”

    “I suppose we don’t have to go as far as forgetting everything,” he said. “The media won’t let us anyway. But we could enjoy the peace and quiet for a while.”

    His ice cream had turned what was left of his crepe into a soggy mess. He considered giving it one last, desperate lick then shrugged it off, tossing it into the trash can beside them. It had left his paws feeling sticky, so he gave them a wipe on his scarf. It needed a wash anyway, still stained with tamato relish.

    “Right, well,” he said, stretching. “Maybe we should go and find Anchor and Switch?”

    Before he could rise, DL’s paw fastened around his wrist. “Erm…”

    He looked down at her, but she avoided his gaze, pawing at her ear.

    “I kind of claimed you for the day,” she said.

    His stomach did a flip and he found himself letting out a strangled, “Really?”

    Her eyes snapped back to his, dragging him into their chocolatey depths. He sank back into his seat and adjusted his paw so he could take hold of hers. The way the sun reflected off her fur with highlights of silver and gold was mesmerising. Part of him wondered what she meant by ‘claimed for the day’ but he didn’t want to ruin the suspense by asking. A smile tugged at his lips and he lifted a claw to wipe the cheri streak off her nose. Her tiny nose twitched at his touch, causing him to chuckle.

    “I guess I don’t have much choice then, do I?” he said, feigning resignation.

    “No.”

    She scooted over to him and brushed her lips against his. He jolted slightly, his heart leaping in his chest and causing him to drop her paw. She snatched herself back, a soft blush dusting her cheeks beneath her white fur. Her eyes flitted away from him and she wound her paws together.

    “I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought that-”

    He regathered himself and placed his paw on her cheek, gently moving her face back to his. Her eyes widened slightly but all anxiety melted away as he brushed the back of his claws over her jaw. He leant forward and placed a small kiss on her nose, then placed another one on her lips. He pulled back and gazed into her eyes again before letting out a soft sigh as he moved in to catch her in another kiss. She wrapped her arms around his neck, melting into him, and he let himself forget about everything else. Relishing in the fact that for the first time in years he wasn’t afraid to let himself care about someone else.

    ...

    Wet footsteps dragged Surge’s attention from the news report she’d been reading. She blinked away mental images of sparking aliens to focus on the pokemon walking towards her. Midi stopped beside her, dripping water onto the floor where it pooled around the legs of her little, round table. He dropped her camera onto it, encased in a waterproof ziplock bag. It splashed droplets of water around her coffee mug and the remains of a nanab berry cake.

    “I got them,” the lombre told her. “Took enough photos you could make them into an album.”

    Surge picked up the bag and removed the camera, oddly surprised it was still completely bone dry. She loaded up the photos and her stomach tightened into knots. Her muzzle stiffened and she forced a nonchalant attitude as she scrolled through what looked like the contents of some sappy romcom.

    “Good enough for you?” Midi asked. She didn’t look up at him, but she could almost hear the smile in his voice.

    “Good enough for Socket,” she said. “This should prove a thing or two to her.”

    “And secure you in her good books?” He folded his arms and frowned down at her. “’Cos I don’t work for free, chica. I expect my side of the bargain whether you get your reward or not.”

    She pulled her computer from her pocket and began to wirelessly link it up to her camera. “Oh, you’ll get your side of the bargain. I’ll be surprised if Socket isn’t happy to receive this new little bit of information. What else did you find out? Any idea where they’re going?”

    “He said something about getting her memories from Botnet City.” Midi paused and inclined his head on one side. “Rather dubious. What’s so special about that pachirisu, anyway?”

    “That’s classified.” Surge didn’t look up at him. Her claw slid over the photos, selecting as many as she could to attach to her email.

    “Spill,” Midi snorted. “I wanna know what I’m gettin’ into.”

    “Should have thought of that before you agreed to help.” She shot him a brief leer. “I’ve been told not to breathe a word to anyone, and that includes you.”

    “Fine. So… how do you think the Mayor’s gonna react to these photos? He clearly ain’t hurtin’ her. Aren’t you worried it’ll backfire?”

    “Not at all. Socket has the right to know her daughter is currently being wooed by some sleezy space pirate.” Surge glanced up at him. “If you were her, how would you react to this information?”

    “I don’t need to be Socket to know how I’d react,” he spat. “If some space pirate got his paws on my little girl I’d have him hung, drawn and quartered!”

    Surge let out a bitter laugh and fixed him with a sly smile. “Then you understand.”

    Her claw hit the ‘send’ button, and she heard the familiar whoosh as her computer sent the email and its contents to Socket. It also took her confidence with it, but she hid that under a sip of her tepid coffee.

    ...​

    The entire mansion shuddered, sending Socket to her bottom. She fixed her eyes on the holoscreen and shrieked at Yobi’s face.

    “What are you doing?!” she demanded.

    “Don’t worry, it’s normal,” he said.

    “Normal? We’ve never flown this thing before!”

    “These engines are pretty old, you know,” he explained. “It’s to be expected. Lifting the entire mansion out of Meta City is gonna take some doing.”

    Socket cast a nervous glance to the window. Those electrical creatures were still sprawled over anything that still gave off electricity. The smog hung in the sky, thick and heavy and dark. Above them, it threatened to rain. Rain would bring down the smog, filling the very streets with toxins so potent her feet itched at the sheer thought of stepping in it. She was convinced there were even more of those creatures, scrambling around broken and splintered electric trees, and clinging to what remained of the buildings’ lights and air filters.

    Her own air filter was humming away safely behind her glass dome. The dome had become both a prison and a sanctuary. The creatures had tried to climb it, but their scraggly legs couldn’t grip the smooth surface.

    Now the entire thing trembled, attracting dozens of the aliens to her mansion. Their lanky bodies tried once again to climb it, with more persistence than they’d previously shown. Tweak filled the office with jingling laughter as he watched them flailing in a desperate bid to access the precious electricity it promised.

    She snatched her head around to Yobi. “Fine! Get it up. Then get in here and explain things to me. I’m done with talking to a holoscreen.”

    Deep down she hoped Yobi hadn’t translated her desperate need for company. She gave another fearful glance to the creatures. Deep rivets had appeared in the ground outside the dome as the mansion shook itself free. Concrete sprayed up into the air as the entire building jerked to the side. Socket slid away from her desk, but it moved towards her with an alarming speed. She rolled to the side and watched as it crashed into the far wall, shattering the holoscreen emitter before Yobi could give her an answer.

    “Drat!”

    She pulled herself to her feet and rounded on Tweak. The chingling lay upside down against the wall, waving his tiny feet and giggling like a maniac.

    “Tweak!” she spat. “Pull yourself together! This isn’t a joke!”

    His laughter stopped abruptly and he fixed his upside-down eyes on hers. “Oh, but it’s just so funny. Like… the mansion is gonna fly. Just like them islands you claim never existed! And what’s funnier? You’re using their salvaged engines to do it!”

    Socket balled her right paw into a fist. “I suggest you silence that mouth of yours before I do it for you!”

    He stared up at her and opened his mouth in a wide smile, letting his tongue hang free. She growled and turned to her shattered holoscreen. Unsalvageable. Now she’d no idea what Yobi was up to. Whether or not the mansion could actually get them safely out of Meta City.

    She looked back out of the window. One end of the mansion’s faux garden had lifted cleanly out of the ground. The entire building still shuddered, although not as violently. The floor levelled out, sending her sprawling face first across the tiled floor. A scream of frustration left her throat and she kicked and punched the ground.

    “I want things back to normal!” she shrieked.

    The door flew open and a warm paw fastened over hers. It dragged her back to her feet and she turned to see Yobi’s concerned face. She took a deep, steadying breath and folded her arms.

    “So tell me,” she began. “Is this little experiment of yours going to fail or not?”

    “It’s working fine.” He nodded to the window and she turned to look through it.

    The grounds were level, but she could see nothing of the streets. The aliens slid down the glass and clutched the edge of the grounds feebly before plummeting out of sight.

    “As you can see, we’re in the air,” said Yobi.

    Socket ventured to the window. The garden crumbled away to drop into the city miles below, leaving a hefty gap between the dome and the mansion. But there was no way the aliens could reach it now. The air filter hummed in overtime, but soon they would be above the smog.

    Yobi joined her side and chuckled. “For being thousands of years old, those engines are working a treat.”

    “I still don’t understand why we hadn’t just installed new, trustworthy engines,” she said. “Whatever my great, great grandfather was thinking, I’ll never know.”

    “Well, let’s face it.” Yobi turned to her and folded his arms. “Look at System Sky. Those cities float, sure, but can they be steered? Do they move?”

    Socket stared at him blankly. He was making a solid point, but doubt still gnawed at her.

    “At least we know these engines were designed to move huge islands,” he explained. “Islands bigger than this mansion. Sure, the controls are clunky. But given it was installed as a huge ‘eject button’, I doubt it was ever expected to actually be used. Given time I might have been able to modify it, but… there are no modern engines designed to actually fly an island.”

    Socket pursed her lips together and stared out of the window. Not an alien in sight. “So I guess we’re just going to have to trust ‘mythical’ technology to get us through a promising gateway.”

    “Yes. I’m sorry.”

    “It doesn’t matter. At least we’re safe.”

    A beep came from her desk and she moved over to it. Her small computer tablet lay against the wall, a narrow crack adorning its screen. She tutted and attempted to wipe it off to no avail before frowning at the name strewn across it.

    “Surge,” she growled. “What does she want?”

    “Beggin’ for her life, probably,” said Tweak. At some point he’d hopped onto her desk.

    She turned and leant against it as she brought up the email. The words ‘I thought you might want to see this’ were scrawled above a series of photos. Socket’s eyes widened with each one. Macro and DL, wandering around a lush city. Eating together. And…

    Her lips curled into a smile and she let out a dry laugh, before bursting into fits of laughter.

    “Is something the matter, Madam Mayor?” Yobi’s voice wavered with nerves and he took a wary step towards her.

    “Oh no. It’s perfect.”

    Tweak hopped up onto her shoulder and let out a long whistle. “Smooth isn’t he?”

    She picked the chingling up by his hairs and dropped him back onto her desk. Then she continued scrolling through the photos until she reached another two lines of text. The space pirate’s next destination, along with a request from Surge that she was still available to help. Pathetic.

    Yobi peered over her shoulder and his eyes widened like saucers. “So… little Loop got herself a pirate boyfriend?”

    Socket resisted the urge to slap the raichu in the face with her computer. One crack was enough. “That and Surge begging for forgiveness. She seems to think this will sweeten me up. Hunter’s next destination is Botnet City, looking for the next memory disk. Apparently they’ll be heading there in a week. It looks like our little pirate has been injured.” She let out another chuckle. “Botnet City… that’s bold of him. Those electric types will skin him alive. By any chance do you know which disk that is?”

    Yobi pulled out his own computer and pawed through its contents. “Its memories date back to her very young childhood.”

    “More recent ones?”

    “No. They’re here in your office.”

    “And where is Botnet’s disk?” she asked.

    “Botnet Town Hall, just like you asked.”

    “Arrange to have that disk exchanged with the one here,” she said. “And change its location to Strobe Street Apartment, number forty eight. Tweak?”

    The chingling looked up from his sprawled position among her pens. “Yes?”

    “You’re to exchange them. Today. Make sure it’s not guarded, and evacuate that entire block until Hunter has the disk.”

    “Roger!” Tweak whisked the drawer open and rummaged through it for the disk.

    “Today?!” Yobi gasped. “They’ll be out of their homes for over a week!”

    “Not necessarily,” she said. “Knowing that little sneak, he could arrive there as early as tomorrow. Injured or not.”

    “Then where are you evacuating them to?” Yobi stuttered.

    “Don’t care. Just get them out of the way,” said Socket. “No one is to touch a hair on that mawile.”

    A sinister smile crossed her face and Yobi looked up with a start. “M-Madam Mayor, what are you saying? You actually want her to have her memories? I might alert you to the consequences-”

    Socket waved a paw at him. “Oh, she’s beyond repair already.” She flicked her computer off and held it to her chest. “Besides… these memories might prove to be quite useful.”

    “Useful?”

    Socket chuckled, her eye darting to Tweak as he zipped out of her room in a beam of light.

    “What about Hunter? He’d be a sitting ducklett! You don’t want to take this opportunity-”

    “No.” A wicked grin split her face and she let out another chuckle, oblivious to Yobi taking two steps back towards her window. “There’s more than one way to hurt him. And once he’s wounded, he’ll be easy prey.”
     
  7. DreamSayer

    DreamSayer Dreamzone Trainer

    Okay, this scene made me cackle a bit.

    I like how Backdoor was basically "Lol nope!" when the Xurkitree's decided to go violent, and boy, even he should know that summoning more is a bad idea at this point, come on! Backdoor, when will you learn?
     
  8. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Thanks for the review, DreamSayer =D I'm glad I could make you laugh!

    ...

    A/N - Sorry for the delay. My Asperger's has been giving me a hard time this weekend. I actually worried I'd have to leave it until tomorrow, but I'm feeling a fair bit better now.


    Chapter Sixty​

    Annie followed her crew into the large auditorium. Eyes trailed over her body, widening with shock and fascination. But any vocalisations were kept quiet, nothing more than hushed whispers. The blastoise led them to the front and motioned for them to sit down facing the audience. He turned to the podium and clapped his large paws together by the microphone, reminiscent of a thunderclap as it rang out from the speakers.

    “Order!” he roared.

    The audience fell into silence, all eyes on Annie and her crew.

    “As you well know,” the blastoise began, “this group of space pirates helped us to eliminate a large threat. A threat that had previously ransacked other cities. One that had grown in numbers! Now I know their captain might look funny. I know she’s drawn many curious looks and scepticism, but they’ve been here almost a full day and no harm has befallen us. I feel it is only right that, rather than turn them in, we hear out exactly why they are here.”

    He turned to look over his shoulder and stood aside for Annie to approach the microphone. She frowned out at the audience then threw her arms in the air.

    “Alright, yeh, I’m a human!” she said. “A shape shiftin’ one from the past. A Time Archeops, if you will.”

    “I thought we were past that name,” Trojan whispered to Waveform and Web.

    The latter two merely shrugged and hushed the scrafty.

    “When I first arrived in your time line,” Annie went on, “I found myself in Mayor Socket’s clutches. She wanted to stick me in some lab, but I ain’t no lab experiment. So I escaped and found myself a crew. And I learned a little somethin’.” She lent forwards over the podium. “Your world is a mess. Not only do crazy mayors try to run experiments on innocent, helpless individuals like myself, you actually eat each other?!”

    A few yelps rang out from the audience, and she could see pokemon shaking their heads or cowering back in fear.

    The blastoise placed a heavy paw on her shoulder and she met his narrowed eyes.

    “Not in Wave City we don’t,” he rumbled. “You think we’d eat our own kind?”

    “What about sharpedo?” Annie asked. “Carvannah?”

    “Extinct,” he said flatly. “At least in Wave City they are. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater.”

    She huffed and turned back to the audience, then lifted a hand to the blastoise. “See? Now my human world is a little different. Back there, pokemon do eat each other, but they ain’t like you. You are more sentient, more aware of right and wrong. Not driven by instinct like they are. I mean, yeh, sure, human world pokemon are intelligent. At least… that’s what I’ve read. They eat each other, they eat eggs, and I ain’t gonna deny it. Humans eat pokemon too.”

    Gasps spread across the audience and a few pokemon threw enraged questions at Annie. She raised a hand to silence them, but not all of them calmed down. One individual fired an ice beam at her, but she strafed to the side, letting it spread over the back wall. Waveform let out a surprised hoot and swivelled his head around towards it.

    “I ain’t sayin’ I eat pokemon. But I think, given humans were once in this world, we’ve discovered where this little problem came from. Humans probably missed meat. You were all desperate for food. So pokemon turned to the ocean, turning you lot into victims! I say that’s wrong. That’s like turnin’ on your own family. Just ‘cos you’ve got sharp teeth doesn’t make you a meat eater! We should write that all over System!”

    “Yay!” Zip cheered, drawing the audience’s attention. Silence washed over the assembly as they finally spotted the goldeen.

    “You heard it, little fish.” Annie beckoned the goldeen forward. “Now. I found this little guy floundering wounded in a polluted street, desperately clinging to life and the hope he could make it back home. He opened my eyes to this corrupted world. Why… oh why… are y’all eatin’ one another? You know what we call that back in the human world? Cannibalism! I know y’all are different sub species, but y’all are sentient. All the same inside.”

    “She’s right!” Zip clattered towards the podium, standing beside it so the audience could see him. “I know I can’t walk on land. I’ve had this device kindly made so I can help Annie and my friends make their point. But I can see pokemon here who also can’t walk on land.” He looked over at a small pool at the front of the hall, diverted in from the ocean. Hundreds of eyes peered back at him. “We shouldn’t need to live in fear. Pokemon shouldn’t be fishing us up as a cheap and easy food source.”

    Mutters came from the pool as the pokemon nodded in agreement.

    “I know System was desperate once,” Zip went on. “I know we can’t grow fruit trees or vegetables on System Ground anymore. But turning to us for meat just because we ‘couldn’t help in other ways’? We’re not useless! I saw what you all did to stop those nihilego! We’re every bit a part of System as any other pokemon, and we shouldn’t be persecuted just because we don’t have legs!”

    Cheers came from the audience, particularly the pool. Small fish leapt into the air, splashing and smacking the water with their tails and fins.

    “Exactly, little fish!” Annie placed a hand on the rim of his bowl and beamed at him before turning back to the audience. “So what are y’all waitin’ around for? I say confront the mayor! Make her notice you are more than just meat!”

    “Actually.” The blastoise placed a paw on her shoulder again and steered her back from the podium, meeting her gaze with a steely glare. “You don’t need to do that. You even seen the news?”

    “Huh?”

    Annie found the sea turtle’s computer thrust into her hand. She stared down at it and her eyes almost bulged out of her head. A grin split her face and she twirled back to the audience.

    “Oh this is just perfect! Can we get this up on the big screen, please?”

    “No,” said the blastoise flatly.

    It was too late. Waveform plugged his own computer into the projector, bringing up the front page of Meta City News. A huge, detailed photo of the mayor’s mansion floating miles above the city, encased in a perspex dome, contrasted a smaller photo of the city itself being ransacked by aliens and toxic smog. A few of the water pokemon screamed, and Annie heard something crumple to the floor with a thud. Someone had clearly fainted.

    Annie waved a hand towards the photo. “This is your mayor! Bailing on the very pokemon she’s meant to look after, leaving them to the mercy of… of…” She squinted at the photo. “I dunno. Aliens. And poison.”

    Mutters came from the audience as they pulled out their own computers.

    “So I say one thing,” Annie went on. “Rebellion! Who wants a mayor like this? Throw her off her high horse! Get shut of this careless, wicked gothitelle and take a pokemon like Zip as your mayor!”

    Zip almost fell off his mechanical feet as Annie ushered him forwards. The audience cheered and rose to their feet. A few of them started chanting Zip’s name, ushering the others on until hundreds were shouting it. A deep voice called from near the front ‘Down with the mayor!’, filling the auditorium with another chant. Claps and splashes erupted like thunder.

    “Me?” zip squeaked, his face turning crimson.

    “Enough!” The blastoise’s voice was barely heard over the chaos in the auditorium. He pulled Annie away from the podium and frowned down at her. “You come along here raving about starting a jackin’ war?”

    Annie raised a finger to correct him. “Rebellion.”

    “It’s the same jackin’ thing!” Spittle flew from his teeth and peppered her face. “How do you think System is gonna respond to a speech like that?”

    “I dunno. But surely water types outnumber the rest? I mean half the world is water.”

    “It doesn’t matter!” He released her, pushing her back into Waveform’s waiting wings. “I need you lot out of this city. I can’t thank you enough for helping us, but I can’t have you around, risking starting a war! The water types are already at odds with the fire and grass types. You want to literally throw us into the mincer?”

    “You sound scared,” said Annie.

    “Of course I’m scared!” he roared. “At the moment, they don’t eat any water pokemon that have legs!” He waved his limbs. “An uproar might upgrade the menu!”

    “So it’s okay to eat water types so long as it’s just the fish?” asked Zip.

    “Of course it ain’t okay,” said the blastoise. “But we can’t exactly do anythin’ about it.”

    Annie looked back at the audience. The smiles on the water types’ faces. The jubilation from the pool. She turned back to the blastoise and frowned.

    “That’s where you’re wrong.” With that, she turned to steer Zip away towards the emergency door.

    The blastoise followed them but he didn’t leave the auditorium. Annie gave one last glance back at him. His expression was unreadable.

    “Did we fail?” Zip asked quietly.

    “I wouldn’t say so,” said Annie. “I’d say we succeeded.”

    “How did you get that from what just happened?” Trojan spat.

    “Easy.” She aimed a grin at the scrafty. “We sowed a little hope.”

    He raised an eyebrow and let out a confused ‘eh?’

    “The water types have been gifted a voice.” She tucked her arms behind her head and marched towards the docked pyukumyuku. “All they gotta do now is use it.”

    “And what about us?” Web asked. “What’s next in your big plan?”

    “Oh that’s easy.” Annie grinned from ear to ear. “We’re gonna shoot down a flying mansion.”

    ...​

    Tracer thought his fur would never stop standing on end.

    He read over the Meta City News article for the third time, hoping that in some way he’d managed to misunderstand it. But there it was, clear as day. A photo to back up the propaganda infested article. Socket’s mansion had risen into the sky, abandoning her home city to the fate of aliens. He’d be inclined to think it were a misunderstanding were there any evidence whatsoever that her army was trying to rid the city of the invasion.

    But first it was the jellyfish, ransacking cities. More cities followed at the tentacles of a whole host of jellyfish. Pulse City had been reduced to rubble thanks to the onslaught of a seed-bombing cannon. Now there was something he could only describe as ‘live wires’ tearing down Meta City.

    He lowered his computer and ran a paw over his large ears. “What’s happening to System, Widget?”

    The eevee wagged his tail, and not in the comical, jovial way that Tracer was familiar with. It was more of a nervous tail-thump.

    “I don’t know,” he said. “But I gotta say, I only enjoy these scenarios on a big screen. Living one?” He lifted a paw and swiped it to the side. “Whole different story.”

    “Aye.” N0ize turned around in his captain’s seat and fixed them with a grin. “I’d describe it more like a bad dream. Can’t say I’ve ever found myself without a home to retreat to. Right, Cyph3r?”

    The magmortar shrugged his shoulders, keeping his eyes on System Sky.

    N0ize continued to stare at Tracer, pushing his fur even more on end. “You all right, Fuzz? You’re startin’ to look a lot like an alarmed quilfish.”

    “I’m fine.” Tracer looked back down at his computer but N0ize’s grin was emblazoned in his mind. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your home.”

    “Ah, forget about it.” N0ize exploded with raucous laughter. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Still tailin’ that human you’re so fixated with.”

    “How are you getting on there?” asked Widget. “’Cos not gonna lie, I don’t exactly have sky legs.”

    “We’re landin’ in five minutes, but you wanna hurl, you know where the toilet is.” N0ize swivelled back to the windscreen. “She’s docked at Wave City. We’ll be on ‘em before you know it. Oh wait… hang on a sec…”

    Tracer looked up again and raised an eyebrow at the back of the incineroar’s head. “Is there a problem?”

    “I’d say so. Little scoundrel is on the move again.”

    Widget let out a loud groan and slumped onto his belly.

    “Calm down, Widget,” Tracer told him. “You’re creating a scene.”

    “I can’t help it!” Widget whined. “I’m so sick of flying! I’m built to run. Run, I tell you. Run!”

    He smacked the floor with his forepaws then buried his nose between them. His long ears drooped at either side of his head and he frowned at the floor.

    N0ize laughed again and shook his head. “Such a drama queen. Well, I guess she’s done whatever it is she came here to do. You wanna check on that, Fuzz?”

    Tracer trawled through the news sites, but it didn’t take him long to find Wave City atop the live news feed. Video footage started playing straight away, and his eyes widened at every word from the marshtomp’s mouth.

    ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ the water type gasped. ‘I can’t turn a single corner without fish pokemon braying for their freedom! A small army is on its way into Meta City. I keep saying it’s suicide, just like everyone else. But they just won’t listen!’

    Tracer looked up, the following words barely registering. Widget had lifted his head again, ears pricked and trained on his computer. N0ize peered with one eye over his shoulder, a sly grin painted on his face.

    “Looks like she did it then, eh?” The incineroar gave a hearty laugh and swivelled away from them. “Wave City’s in an uproar, just like she wanted.”

    “I’d hardly say that’s a good thing!” Tracer barked.

    Cyph3r fixed one eye on him but said nothing. The delphox looked back down at his computer. The interview was still playing out, but the footage had changed to display the fish pokemon and all who supported them gathering in a river, preparing to swim down towards Meta City. They’d be risking ploughing through polluted water, so many of them had been kitted out with special masks that reduced what toxins their gills would otherwise be filtering.

    No. It wasn’t good at all. With Socket soaring miles above System Ground, Wave City threatening an attack on Meta City and all surrounding fisheries would have a huge impact. And quite possibly a disastrous one. One of the concerns brought up on the screen only solidified his worries.

    ‘What’s next?” the blastoise roared. ‘The fish rebel and what’s next? All water types thrown into the mincer? Bugs? Grass types? I tell you, she’ll upgrade the menu. It’s been done once before, so what’s stopping them from doing it again just to shut the rebels’ mouths?’

    “He has a point,” said Widget weakly. “What is stopping them from turning on other pokemon for meat? Berries and vegetables are getting harder and harder to grow in all this toxicity.”

    “Aye,” N0ize agreed. “It’s all one big, epic fight for survival. I can’t say I blame the fish for getting fed up with it, but eh. Food with a face is gonna argue back at some point, right?”

    Tracer felt his fur bristle along his spine and a canine poked out from his lips. The combination of N0ize’s flippant attitude and the rising calamity System was facing was seriously taking its toll. Between the alien invaders and Socket’s bailing, Annie’s ploy to start a rebellion was only adding to the chaos.

    “We need to stop her,” he thought out loud.

    Widget pushed himself up so he was sitting and frowned at Tracer. “What? Please tell me you’re not wanting to shoot Socket down. Not that I’m complaining, I mean… think about the mess!”

    “No, no. I’m talking about Annie. The human.”

    “The lass you’re fixated with?” N0ize cocked a confused eyebrow and waved a paw at the window. “You wanna shoot her down instead?”

    “I’d rather not, but if it comes to it, it might be necessary,” said Tracer.

    “I don’t get it,” said Widget. “You went against turning her into Socket because you were worried for her wellbeing, and now you’re willing to take her out?”

    “Think about it,” said Tracer. “Amongst everything that’s going on, she’s only making things worse. System is practically falling apart at the seams, and most of that is to do with these alien invaders. Annie isn’t from our System, Widget. She might be from a System, but it’s not ours. Just like those aliens, she’s invasive. We don’t understand what the aliens are up to. Can they understand us? Are they sentient? Why are they damaging our world? What if they’re just trying to adapt, and in doing so are restructuring the environment to suit them? They’re trapped here, just like Annie is. But unlike them, we can understand her and she can understand us. Back in her time line, pokemon didn’t eat one another. So, in a way, just like those aliens she is trying to restructure System to her own liking. Therefore, she is a threat.”

    Widget narrowed his eyes and let out a muffled ‘huh’.

    “We’ve been studying her.” Tracer looked back down at his computer. Now it was showing footage of Annie’s speech at the assembly. “I’d like to think she’s reasonable, but I’m really not sure. If anything, I’m worried she’s very unwell. Either that, or she doesn’t think through her actions, acting merely on impulse. That would make her closer to the alien invaders than to us.”

    “I can see where you’re comin’ from.” N0ize stuck a claw in his ear and twisted it back and forth. “To be honest, I couldn’t give a rattata’s ass if we ate meat or not. I like it, yeh. But throwin’ the entire world into chaos for the sake of a bit of fun? I like the fun part, but not so much the chaos. Let’s tail her and shoot that pyukumyuku outta the sky, eh?”

    Before Tracer could retort, the ship picked up speed and rocketed through the sky.

    “Hang on a second!” he barked. “I never said we’re shooting her now. I said if it were necessary-”

    “It is, ain’t it?” N0ize burst into laughter and leant back in his seat.

    All Tracer could do was stare through the windscreen at the speck on the horizon. He could just make out the pyukumyuku’s decorative spines.
     
  9. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Okay, so, a lot's happened since the last time I was here clearly. In lieu of reading-as-I-go thoughts, I'm just going to hit the highlights, if that's okay with you. It's better for my sanity that way.

    Let's get the crackshot out of the way. It was... weird. That's really all I can say about it. Macro's bluntness really doesn't gel with the Alice in Wonderland schtick the crackshot has going. I realize that was probably the point, but I think you meant it to be a comical juxtaposition and it just didn't really hit the mark for me. I think that's because the crackshot needed some sort of visual element to it to seal the deal. Restricting it to purely written word sells some of the descriptors a bit... short. Like some of the weird hallways Macro was in, or the Socket of Hearts' domain and the courthouse that followed. Hell of an acid trip for Macro, I suppose. :p

    First big thing we've got here is the fallout surrounding the kartanas. I think this is the biggest leap Macro's head as far as character development goes because he's finally forced to sit down and look his reckless actions in the face. And it's hammered into him that, yes, his crew cares about him, so it's time he started to return the favor. I'd say this is show in his interaction with DL and their subsequent, uh, "date" for lack of a better word. Also reading Macro's "You've made me learn how to care for people," stuff gave me the strangest sense of deja vu for some reason. I wonder why... :V

    Next: Surge. Holy cow, how much of a spiteful, jealous bit can you be, huh? I... can't really get a read on her actions here. They strike me as "If I'm going down, I'm taking you with me," but her actions are, like, the equivalent of a high-schooler who's spreading rumors about this one kid they don't like. Seems really petty for someone of her profession... and not entirely like the attempt to save her own hide it's getting portrayed as. So, I hope that's what you were going for.

    And then we have Annie. First off, the Nihilego army battle was nifty. Cool to see Innards Out get turn against them like that, combined with the friendly fire from the water forces down below. I think you could've done with showing off a bit more of Poipole in action. I didn't get the best sense of what he was doing, since you mostly focused on Annie. Overall, she still rubs me the wrong way. I think it's because she's been in the story for quite awhile now, but I'm not entirely sure I've seen much in the way of meaningful change like I have with Macro and some of his crew. She's still reckless, does and says things that upsets her allies. And their justification for continuing to support her feels flimsy, except for Zip and, eventually, Waveform. I thought Waveform's earlier talk snapped some sense into her, but she seems to have pulled an early Shane and reverted back to the norm. So, she needs a dose of humble pie, quickly. Waveform's stuff came a bit out of left field, though not in a bad way. Which leads me into...

    ... my weird guess is that Socket's descended from the same "group." She knows about the old floating islands and has their engines at her disposal. And she is very clearly not right in the head, to the point of breaking into temper tantrums, which won't solve anything. And now she's trying to faff off. My bet is that she was trying to find this "new home" for others like her and leave all the "common filth" behind. It could add some much-needed depth to her. Since, now that the UB's are here running amok, she doesn't feel like a threat. Even her latest "evil scheme" doesn't have me worried. It's just, "Go after Macro's newfound love life." As I keep saying, more curious about what BackDoor's up to than her, I'm afraid.

    Aaaand we're caught up. Maybe I won't fall so far behind anymore. ;~;

    One last thing...
    "A cult you say? Heeheeheehee... fascinating! Do tell me more."
     
  10. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    No worries on falling behind. I'm kinda in the same ship myself with my current 'fic reading. I'm glad you found it weird. The bluntness is kinda my humor, but I guess it's not for everyone XD And yes, it was a real acid trip for Macro.

    I was definitely going for 'jealous high-school girl' with Surge, here. Her heart has taken over her head, and this is possibly her lowest moment, or one of them at least.

    I really enjoy writing Annie, but yes, she can rub others the wrong way. Her friends care about her and sort of see past all this. Just like Poipole, she's a lost alien and one who isn't all that capable of caring for herself. There's a fair bit of character development for her coming up, which I hope will explain her a bit better. I appreciate the statement their support of Annie seems flimsy. I'm musing over that, and if I were to give the story a second edit I'd try to fix it up a bit.

    ...

    Chapter Sixty One​

    The morning sun cascaded down through the glass dome over the lake, reflecting off Macro’s pocket computer. The anti-glare coating was doing little to stop the rays dazzling his eyes. But he read on regardless. In front of him, Anchor charged with flaming fangs towards Switch. The talonflame dodged to the side with a graceful flap of his wings. Switch followed this up by kicking up his leg before launching an aerial ace at the granbull. The pair of them paused to look down at their Z-Crystals, and Anchor let out a huff.

    “We just ain’t gettin’ this,” he said. “It’s been what… three days now?”

    “I guess like all moves, they just take practice.” Despite his words, Switch didn’t sound convinced.

    Matrix buzzed onto the back of Macro’s bench and wound his antenna in his paw. “Aren’t you joining in?”

    Macro glanced him out of the corner of his eye, then brought up Meta City News. “I can’t. I’m meant to be resting.”

    “That’s never stopped you before.”

    The mawile snorted and fixed his attention on the screen. His heart did a small flip in his chest and he struck the top headline. A quick read over the article set his blood boiling.

    “Are you freakin’ kiddin’ me?!” he roared.

    Anchor and Switch spun on the spot, almost crashing into DL on her way back from a snack run. One of her ice cream cones deposited cold, pink ice cream onto the floor and Anchor’s right leg. The granbull let out a startled squeal, then cleared his throat as he regained his composure.

    “Somethin’ wrong, Cap’n?” He ducked to wipe his leg before the cheri ice cream turned into a sticky puddle.

    “I’d say,” Macro scoffed. “Socket’s gone and bailed on Meta City.”

    “She’s actually left?” Matrix leant over his shoulder. “I thought she was agoraphobic. She like… never leaves her mansion except in extreme circumstances.”

    “Well she’s not exactly left her mansion.” Macro turned the computer so everyone could see it. “Her mansion has left the city.”

    DL’s eyes widened and she dropped her other ice cream. “Is that what he was working on?”

    “I’m sorry?” Macro lowered the computer to look at her.

    “There was…” DL wound her paws together and glanced away. “There was this door that was always locked. I saw Yobi go into it a few times when I was meant to be helping him. He’d never let me in, we’d only go to his lab. Every time he came out, he’d be covered in grease. I guess… it must have been some kind of engine.”

    “An engine that allows you to fly a mansion,” Macro said bluntly. “No engine can control something much bigger than Wildcard Gamma. Very rarely do I see ships larger than mine. It’s playing a risky game. This city we’re sat in? Can’t move. It just hovers. So how, do tell, can an engine fly a mansion?!”

    DL cowered back. “I don’t… know…”

    Macro sighed and rubbed his paw over his scar. “I’m not having a go, DL. I’m just confused. This technology… has she been hiding it from us?”

    “Remember those floating islands I told you about?” Switch asked.

    “Yes, I believe you called them ‘drifting continents’.”

    “Well, they could move on a specified path,” Switch went on. “But if you overrode the commands, they could be steered. Controlled, perfectly.”

    Macro looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. “Then if that technology existed way back then, why don’t we have improved versions of it now? We could probably fly the entire region.”

    Switch shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve no idea. But you did say they never found any engines in what you believed to be the former drifting continents.”

    “I never believed they found these legendary islands,” Macro hissed. “Are you trying to tell me Socket’s had their technology stored away in her mansion all this time?!”

    “I might be,” said Switch. “It’s hard to say, but her mansion is in the air. So either there is improved technology that allows something larger than a ship to be flown, or she has the islands’ old engines.”

    “But such technology would be archaic,” said Matrix. “Not to mention rusted beyond belief after so many years. How on earth would she get it to work?”

    “Maybe Socket wasn’t the one who found it,” said DL.

    Everyone looked up at her, but her eyes were distant. She stared at a tree behind Macro’s bench, pawing at her ear.

    “That mansion is hundreds of years old,” she went on. “Someone else could have found the engines and installed them.”

    “So this Yobi was performing maintenance work?” Matrix suggested.

    “Possibly.” DL cleared her throat and glanced at her friends. “But Socket’s plan has been in the works for a long time. Since before she even adopted me. It’s in this Download Database thing. The reason she adopted me was because she wanted to get her plan in action faster. A younger child would have been easier to manipulate and get on board with her plan, but an older child would mean she wouldn’t have to wait for very long. I was the oldest one there. So you could say that for the three years I was with her, her plan was in full motion. She wanted to find this gateway into a new world to build a new System. And to get there, she would fly her mansion. That way she’d never have to leave her house, never have to risk inhaling toxic air. And she’d have a home, while everyone else would have to build theirs from scratch. I’d imagine Yobi was making sure everything was running smoothly so there were no hitches in her plan.”

    Macro clutched his computer tightly and hissed. “That gothitelle is about as toxic as all the outskirts combined…”

    “So how was everyone else gonna get to this world, eh?” Anchor asked. “Does she have ships built for this?”

    “Only enough for her select elite,” said DL. “Everyone else - commoners, criminals, space pirates - they’d all be left behind.”

    “Select elite, eh?” Macro scoffed. “So this new would would primarily be made up of psychic, electric and normal types. With a few water types dragged along for food, I’d imagine.”

    “So all of us would be left here to rot,” Anchor growled. “That’s brutal.”

    “That’s the job of an uncaring mayor.” Macro rose to his feet. “I think I need a walk. This has really got my gogoat.”

    “Then you might not wanna hear this,” said Matrix, scrolling over his own computer. “But Quantum City has been destroyed by another Ultra Beast.”

    Macro’s fur prickled along his neck and he glanced over his shoulder at the ribombee. “Which one?”

    “Dunno.” Matrix turned his computer to face him. “You tell me.”

    The photo didn’t show any living creature. All it showed was a huge monument surrounded by rubble. Not an Ultra Beast in sight.

    “I can’t gauge it from the damage alone, Matrix,” Macro spat.

    The ribombee shrugged and placed his computer back in his lap, twirling his antenna with his right paw. “Well, it said this huge thing dropped from the sky and destroyed the city. What it’s showing you here is a crater and the thing that landed.”

    “So these ones arrived in a ship?” Macro took the small computer from the ribombee and frowned at it. “Weird lookin’ ship.”

    DL looked over his shoulder and made a thoughtful noise. “The picture’s not clear enough. I can’t match it to any Ultra Beasts in the UltraDex.”

    Macro returned the computer to Matrix and turned away. Such news had done nothing to lift his mood. If it weren’t for Socket’s rotten plan, System wouldn’t have been under attack from Ultra Beasts in the first place. He turned on the spot and waved a paw.

    “I’ll be on my ship if you need me,” he said.

    “All right, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We’ll be here trainin’. All that’s got me riled up, I could do with burnin’ off some energy.”

    Macro silently agreed, gritting his teeth together. Oh, how he’d love to join in with them. He absently rubbed his ribs as he strutted towards the docks. DL’s soft footsteps followed him, but he dared not look back at her. With the mood he was in, he worried he might say something he’d regret.

    A loud whoosh followed by a yelp of surprise snapped him around one-eighty and his eyes widened as a spiral of flames washed towards the lake. The end of the inferno tapered towards Anchor’s mouth. The granbull’s eyes were wide with surprise, but there was no sign of Switch. The inferno subsided and the talonflame flapped like a dazed hatchling from the scorched floor. Flames trailed over the ground towards the lake, slowly rising as they ate away the grass.

    “I…” Anchor gasped. “I think I got it to work.”

    Switch wobbled and slumped to the floor onto his stomach, wings spread-eagled at his sides.

    “Are you all right, Switch?” Anchor rushed to his side and placed a paw on his back.

    Switch let out a feeble ‘yes’, reassuring the space pirate.

    Macro trotted to the lake to join the water pokemon in putting out the remains of the blaze. He grabbed a bucket from the emergency stand and tossed its contents onto the flames. They sizzled before fizzling out, leaving behind blackened grass. His heart hammered in his chest, and he fixed worried eyes on the two pokemon.

    “Okay.” His voice wavered slightly and he pointed a claw at Anchor and Switch as he strolled past them. The latter was still sprawled on the floor, eyes rolling in his head. “I’ll be on my ship. Don’t burn down the city while I’m away, all right?”

    “Roger,” rasped Switch.

    Macro trudged towards the docks, rubbing a paw under his goggles. His mind was reeling. Yet more Ultra Beasts had invaded System, destroying yet another city. In his own attempts to save Pulse City, he’d destroyed another beneath it. Meta City was slowly being reduced to a toxic wasteland, and kartana were tearing up the outskirts. The memory of those bladed beasts made his ribs hurt and he found himself feeling short of breath. He paused to lean against a lamp post and pulled his goggles from his head.

    “Are you all right?” DL placed a paw on his shoulder.

    He nodded and gave her paw a soft squeeze before pushing himself on. Once he’d reached his ship, clattering came from the kitchen as Cookie shot to the door and poked his head around it.

    “Captain!” Cookie’s face lit up with a smile. “Are you wanting some lunch? I’m making chocolate chip pancakes!”

    “Ring the bell, I’ll see how I feel.”

    Macro watched the slurpuff duck back into the kitchen, then made for his room. He closed the door before DL could follow him inside, and threw himself onto his back on the bed.

    “Macro?” Her voice was muffled slightly by the door. “Can I get you anything?”

    “No.” He let his arm flop over his eyes. “But I’ll call if I change my mind.”

    “All right. I’ll be helping Cookie if you need me.”

    He heard her shuffle away down the corridor. With a flustered sigh, he let his arm fall back down beside him and stared up at the ceiling. Five more days. He had five more days before he would be potentially declared fit for work. ‘Potentially’ wasn’t a guarantee. It didn’t sit well with him.

    Every second he spent lounging around Cyan City was another second Socket was rolling with her plan. Another second that Ultra Beasts were allowed into System. Another second that a city was at risk of falling under attack, that pokemon were being killed, that cities were falling. Another second towards the risk of an Ultra Beast striking Cyan City while he was nothing more than a sitting ducklett.

    But it wasn’t Socket opening those gateways herself. It was BackDoor. Socket’s androids were scattered over System Sky looking for a gateway into a new, clean world. If they took out the androids, then her plan would screech to a halt. Solgaleo had gifted them a way to stop BackDoor. Anchor had managed to get his Z-Move to work. It would only be a matter of time before the rest of them would get their Z-Crystals under control. However, Macro was in no fit state to fight. Neither was DL.

    DL… her electric moves could prove to be very useful in this upcoming battle. Androids were riddled with wires and circuits. One jolt and BackDoor would crumple into a sparking, useless scrap heap.

    Macro sat up straight as his reeling mind slowed to a halt. That was it. If they were going to stop Socket, DL needed to use her Z-Move. But with no knowledge of her electrical attacks, there was no way she could master it. The sooner she got them back, the sooner she could get practising. And by then, he’d be able to fight as well, whether he was given the all clear or not. He flipped himself off his bed and rushed out of the room towards the cockpit. He stopped before the controls and looked over them. A jumble of mess he’d never been able to get his head around. He grabbed the steering stick and gave it a wiggle. Nothing.

    “Come on, Macro, think!” he barked.

    His eye fell on a panel beside the stick and he placed his paw over it. The ship flared to life. Another jiggle of the stick made the ship lurch and before he knew it, they were moving backwards.

    Claws skittered over the floor as DL dashed into the cockpit. She glanced around before stopping beside him, fixing Cyan City with frantic eyes.

    “What are you doing?!” she squeaked.

    “Getting your other memory disks,” he said flatly as he loaded up what he desperately hoped was the auto pilot feature.

    “Without the rest of your crew?” she gasped. “Are you nuts?!”

    “Nope, I am actually thinking straight.” A surge of relief flowed through him as he found a list of locations logged into the auto pilot. “Thank goodness this is here, ‘cos I don’t know nothin’ about co-ordinates.”

    “Could you explain yourself?” DL snapped. “Before I’m forced to call Anchor? Or Jumper?”

    He looked up at her, meeting her chocolate glare. “We need your moves, DL. If you can use your electric Z-Move on BackDoor, it’ll short circuit it. Socket’s plan will screech to a halt, and we can get a jump on her. Stop all this nonsense before it goes any further.”

    “But what about the rest of your crew? You’re just leaving them?”

    “They’re in the best place right now. They can practice their attacks, get a head start on them while the two of us aren’t able to train. If they can utilise Z-Moves, they might be able to teach us faster. And even if things are a little slow, three of my crew being able to use them will put us at a huge advantage when we face BackDoor.”

    “So you’re leaving your crew behind, including Anchor who’s had your back more times than I could even guess, in order to get my memories? Just so we can launch ourselves into battle against a deranged robot?!”

    “Yes!” Macro fixed her in a violet stare. “With that android flyin’ around out there, Ultra Beasts are being dragged into System and it needs to stop!”

    “It will stop.”

    “Yes, after I’ve ‘recovered’! In the meantime, System is under attack and Socket’s army is doin’ nothin’ to stop it! We’ve been tasked to stop this android and mark my words we’re gonna succeed! Now strap yourself in, sweetheart, ‘cos I don’t know what I’m doin’.”

    DL let out a sigh and shoved him aside, taking over the controls. He watched as her paws flew over them with expert speed and precision. Well… Anchor had successfully trained her. He climbed into his seat, leaving DL to take Anchor’s over-sized chair.

    “Where are we going?” She still didn’t sound remotely impressed.

    “Botnet City.” He tucked his paws behind his head and leant back in his seat. “We’ll tick that one off the list first. Then we’ll worry about Socket’s floating mansion.”

    ...​

    Matrix pointed a tiny paw, drawing Anchor’s attention away from Switch’s attack. The talonflame was already in full swing, but Anchor was rendered oblivious as he watched Wildcard Gamma drifting across the sky, away from Cyan City. His eyes widened and he opened his mouth to shout, but was cut short as Switch’s aerial ace collided with his jaw. Anchor staggered sideways, flailing his arms to right his balance.

    “What in the world?!” he roared.

    “Sorry,” said Switch. “It was too late to stop. What distracted you?”

    “That!” Anchor pointed a claw at the ship. “Macro has gone and left us here! The lunatic!”

    “He did seem rather riled up,” said Matrix.

    Anchor locked his eyes on the ribombee’s, but Matrix merely shrugged as he span his antenna around his paw.

    Switch’s jaw stiffened and he looked from the space pirates to the ship and back. “I’d like to say he has good reason for this, but none of us are bedridden this time.”

    “Good reason my tail.” Anchor barged past Switch, flames flickering from his jaws. “I’ll drag him back here by his scarf.”

    Switch fluttered his wings as he struggled to keep up with him. “How do you plan on going after him?”

    “I’ll see if Jumper has a ship I can borrow. Macro can barely fly Wildcard Gamma so it shouldn’t take me too long to catch up.”

    “But DL does,” said Matrix. “And she’s with him.”

    The granbull snorted and fired a glance towards the rapidly vanishing ship. “Then I’ll chase that mawile across System if I have to.”

    “Have you any idea where he’s going?” Switch asked. “Or why he’s doing this?”

    “He’s doin’ it ‘cos he’s crazy and got no patience,” said Anchor. “He’s throwin’ himself in harm’s way right after that kartana attack, and I ain’t about to let him do that! As for where he’s goin’? If it’s for DL’s disks, then it’s one of two places. Botnet or Meta. And I’m gonna bank all my credits on it bein’ Botnet. ‘Cos he might be crazy, but he ain’t daft enough to face up against Socket when he’s barely able to fight a hatchling.”

    Anchor marched across the square, pushing through the crowds towards the town hall. The blastoise on duty cast them a filthy look before he stepped aside. Anchor muttered a ‘thanks’ then stomped over to the Governor’s office. He didn’t even knock. Jumper looked up with a start and was about to dismiss them, but his eyes widened when he spotted the three pokemon.

    The frogadier lowered his stamp and his face fell. “What’s happened?”

    “Macro’s high tailed it outta here,” said Anchor. “Left us behind.”

    “Seriously? But he’s in no fit state to work!”

    “I know, but he clearly don’t care.”

    “So he’s just gone, like that? What ever for?”

    “I have a good, solid guess.” The granbull folded his arms and snorted. “Any chance you’ve got a ship we can borrow? ‘Cos I’m gonna go after him, and I’ll hijack one if I have to.”

    “There’ll be no need for that.” Jumper rose to his feet and gestured for Anchor to follow him. “I’ve got three government battleships, and you are free to borrow one. Just… please try to bring it back in one piece?”

    “Aye.”

    “A battleship?” Switch stuttered. “We’re taking after him in a vehicle of war?”

    “I personally think that’s awesome,” said Matrix.

    Anchor faltered by the door and scratched his mohawk. “I’m not entirely sure we’ll be thinking of it as ‘awesome’ when we catch up with him. Mood he’s been in, he’ll fire on a government ship.”

    Jumper looked over his shoulder at him. “Well I’m afraid I don’t have any other option.”

    Anchor let out a sigh and waved a paw in defeat. “Fine. We’ll take one. Unfortunately it means we’ll have to give him a heads up, especially if you want it back in one piece.”

    “I’d rather you all came back in one piece, not just the ship.”

    Jumper led them out the side of the town hall and towards the docks. Hidden away from the smaller, domestic ships was a neat row of glistening, golden government battleships. Their pointed appearance was intimidating despite their small size. There would be little chance of sleeping on them, and for three pokemon to fit inside would be rather snug. Matrix might have been able to find a corner out of the way, but Switch and Anchor would be shoulder to shoulder.

    “Given you’re only intending on catching up with him,” said Jumper as he led them along towards them, “It shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. Once you’re back at your ship, I imagine you could deliver mine back in its cargo hold?”

    “Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Anchor.

    A small clang rang out from behind him and he span on his heel. Matrix appeared almost out of thin air and bobbed backwards, slightly dazed. He shook out his antenna and pointed a paw.

    “There’s a cloaked ship here.” His voice wavered slightly.

    “Eh?”

    They all stared at the spot, aghast. If it was a cloaked ship, it was a very good cloak. System Sky was as clear as day through it. Matrix vanished back beyond the cloak, humming to himself as he zipped back and forth out of sight. He buzzed backwards away from it and rubbed his chin.

    “It’s a tympole ship,” he said.

    “Really?” Jumper’s eyes widened briefly then his snout creased into a frown. “There’s another space pirate here?”

    “I guess so,” said Anchor, eyeing the invisible ship with admiration. “Must have cost a pretty penny, that cloak. And I thought ours was good.”

    “So whose is it?” Jumper asked. “Do you know them?”

    “Not sure, if I’m honest,” said Anchor. “I see a lot of ships. Pirates come and go. There’s new ships being built every day. Has to be, since they can get pretty beat up. Wildcard Gamma is our third, yanno.”

    “So you’ve no idea at all?” asked Jumper. “No idea who I need to look for?”

    “Exactly. If they’re a water type, they’d blend in pretty well.”

    “Then maybe I should stay behind and assist the police force?” said Switch. “Get to the bottom of it.”

    “Might be the best plan,” said Anchor.

    “No need.” The female voice made them all jump out of their skin.

    Anchor spun on the spot, and his expression fell at a zigzagoon’s familiar face. She looked at each of them in turn, her claws flexing at her sides. Itching as they sought out her hidden laser.

    “Well, well.” Jumper folded his arms and shifted his weight to one leg. “I have to say, I’m a little disappointed such a pretty young girl has set out on a life of piracy.”

    “I’m not a pirate,” she said. “I’m a mercenary.”

    “Oh.” Jumper jolted slightly. “How can I believe you?”

    “Scan me if you wish.” Surge nodded towards her invisible ship. “Now if you don’t mind, I have a pirate to chase after.”

    “Hang on one stinkin’ second!” Anchor grabbed her shoulder and spun her back towards him. “I ain’t just gonna let you chase after Macro like that! What kinda heartless lass are you anyway? Helpin’ him out then turnin’ on him like this?”

    Surge’s muzzle stiffened and she swatted his paw away. “I’m doing my job.”

    “What? Are all mercenaries traitors?”

    “Someone pays me, I do their job. Macro paid me, so I worked for him. Socket is paying me, so I’m working for her.”

    Matrix ‘hmm’d’ and twirled his antenna. “Last I heard, Socket was after your head.”

    Surge flashed a canine and let out a low growl. “She’ll be singing and dancing when I turn him in to her.”

    “What, you think she’ll let you off the hook?” Anchor growled.

    “Given how long she’s been after him, yes.”

    Those words made Anchor’s heart sink. He balled his paws into fists and hot cinders trickled from his teeth. Jumper placed a paw on his arm and ushered him aside. The frogadier’s eyes were trained on Surge, and Anchor spotted a ball of frubbles hidden in his paw behind his back.

    “Listen, ma’am,” he said. “Wildcard Gamma are under my protection in Cyan City. Whereas you might see this as controversial, I can’t ignore your attempts to harm my good friends. I think I speak for the entire city. So I suggest you come with me, or my entire armed forces will be out here to apprehend you.”

    Surge let out a bitter laugh. “So you speak for the entire city, do you? If only you knew. I’ve not been working alone here, Governor.”

    Jumper jolted again, enough for Surge to whip out her laser and back towards her ship.

    “Stay back!” she barked. “I’ve got almost ever type, and I’ve not come in here unprepared.”

    “Bragging?” Switch whispered to Anchor.

    “I’d say,” the granbull whispered back.

    He shot Matrix a grin and the ribombee nodded, ducking down towards the ship. Surge was too focused on the larger pokemon to notice. She reached beneath her jacket and the ship de-cloaked, revealing the smiling tympole. She took another step backwards and a grimace spread across her face. She looked down at her foot and tried to lift it, but sticky webs held her fast to the docks.

    Jumper let loose his frubbles, knocking the laser from her paw where it landed harmlessly encased in the foamy mass. Anchor barrelled past her and she let out a wail as she tried to spin towards him.

    “What do you think you’re doing?!” she screeched. “Get off my ship!”

    Anchor threw a grin in her direction before following Matrix onto the ship. Switch followed after him, winking at Surge as he hopped past.

    “Thanks for the sweet ride,” he said. “We’ll be sure to give it back.”

    Surge seethed and sank to her bottom, clenching her paws so tightly her pads bled. Jumper crouched behind her and tugged her paws towards him behind her back, before securing them with his frubbles.

    “You’re coming with me, ma’am,” he said.

    “You can’t hold me for long,” she hissed. “Socket won’t stand for it.”

    “Oh, I’m aware,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t answer questions.”

    Anchor burst into laughter as he watched the zigzagoon be steered away, then familiarised himself with the controls.

    “This is just perfect,” he said. “Not tiny, and it looks like a space pirate ship. Not to mention Surge can’t give chase without it.”

    “That’s well and good and all,” said Matrix from the navigation dash. “But there’s just one tiny hitch in our plan.”

    “Oh? What’s that?” Anchor asked.

    “Macro made it very clear that Surge isn’t an ally, and I’m fairly certain he knows her ship.”

    Anchor and Switch blinked at him.

    “Yeh,” Matrix went on. “So it doesn’t really matter what ship we take off in. He’s still gonna shoot at us.”
     
  11. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Then consider this your official call-out, pardner. Saddle on up and get moving!

    ... i'm kidding, please don't hurt me ;~;

    Anyway... good grief, I thought he was ready to drop his reckless streak and be all teamwork-happy after these last few chapters but not only has he regressed to the mean... he's arguably gone past it with this latest little stunt. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised at that, given Annie experiences similar regressions even after someone gives her a stern talking to. I suppose I just have to caution you, as someone who wrote characters guilty of similar things in the past, that continuously having important characters walk back on lessons they've learned risks exhausting your audience and losing them. I can't speak for everyone, but I like my developments to stick around and have other flaws be found and worked on. At least, in his foolishness, he's settled on BackDoor as the larger threat compared to Socket. Since, again, she really hasn't done much. And, like, if she's flying around her house that she's refusing to leave, I don't imagine she's capable of doing all that much.

    Which I suppose speaks to a curious thought I had while reading this. Socket's "forces" have been mentioned countless times in the story but, like, we haven't really seen them in awhile. It might've been good to have shown them doing something significant by now. I think the last time we saw anything related to them was battleships back when Switch and/or the first nihilegos arrived, if I'm not misremembering. But other than that... they've completely disappeared. It also makes me wonder exactly what the government structure is for this world, exactly. Like, Socket's "evil" plan is to faff off to another reality, but would that really mean the current world would descend into total anarchy? You've got other 'mons in power like Jumper, so I'm a bit confused as to how this all ranks up. What's stopping someone more level-headed from taking over once Socket's gone and undoing the damage some of her laws did? Besides the UB's of course. My thinks his might be a bit of a pitfall with your pantsing writing style, so I thought I'd bring it to your attention.

    But, hey, we've got stakataka on the horizon and that is something I'm definitely looking forward to... even if it means you beat me to showcasing that UB. Curses! *snaps fingers*

    And, to end of, the usual snark...
    Simple. Disney magic! *jazz hands*

    Damn it, Macro. Rule number one of recovering from surgery: paws off the scars!

    How does a raptor hawk go spread-eagle? *insert thinking emoji here*
     
  12. RocketKnight66

    RocketKnight66 404: Consistent Schedule not Found

    Hey there! I've been wanting to read this one for a while, honestly. It sounded like something I'd be really into, and I was finally able to sit down and read the first couple of chapters.

    First thing off, I definitely want to talk about the setting and style of this. I tend to like sci-fi a fair bit, especially when it's put together in a world that maybe wouldn't have a lot of high tech stuff. PMD with a dystopian sci-fi flair? That sounds awesome! Sign me up!

    I was drawn into the presentation of this pretty quickly. The cities are pretty cool and the prose itself is great at painting that picture for me. It's a ton of fun to read, too.

    Speaking of fun, that's exactly what I think of the characters so far. Everyone's got an interesting personality that I could make out fairly quickly, and the dialogue between Macro and Anchor tended to be pretty entertaining in particular.

    The action in the second chapter was very fast paced and I was having a good time the whole way through. It definitely peaked at the end, though. Macro just messing with the military like that was awesome. He's just a really fun character, definitely liking him right away!

    I can see that there may be a bit of tension between him and Anchor after that little stunt, though. I'm absolutely loving this so far, and I'll be sure to check out what happens next!
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2018
  13. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    At last I have caught up. :D Let's see, then...

    First off, the vs. nihilego fight that the WG crew took part in was quite the battle. That thing just did not want to go down! It was like watching an especially stubborn boss encounter play out. And the nihilego taking over that ship... wow. Didn't see that coming, despite the thing's known abilities.

    I'd wondered if DL's memories would be painful for her. Wondered if it'd have turned out that yeah, she did sign her life away. What I didn't expect was for not only the answer to be no but also to be something even more painful. Socket, you are such a crappy mom, good grief.

    It's rad to see more UBs appearing. Granted, I can say that since I'm not a resident of one of the cities they are destroying the actual frick out of, but yeah. The celesteela in particular is really memorable; I like how eerily that one's being portrayed. And now it looks like a stakataka's touched down somewhere, so to speak. I'd be interested to see how that might be handled, seeing as that thing is seriously weird, even for a UB. <3 Come to think of it, I wonder what that blacephalon's been up to. Explodey stuff, probably. Good grief that thing seems dangerous. 8D

    Gosh, the glacier scene. You could really sense the cold, deep despair in the situation. I didn't really think they were goners, of course, but I definitely wondered just how they'd get out of it. The bleakness of the situation came across such that it was hard to see past the imminent danger. Well done.

    BackDoor is officially terrifying. 8D What he did to TimeSkip was pretty brutal, which was underscored when he threatened Socket with the same thing. That sure would've been messy!

    Meanwhile Annie has pretty much taken the award for My Favorite Character Here and run with it. She's just so much fun. :D I was especially amused by her mistaking Poipole for a celebi.

    This has all already been a heck of a ride, and I get the sense that there's still quite a bit to come. Should be fun. :D
     
  14. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Yup, Macro is reckless, but this time his actions are out of fear as opposed to style. It would be wildly out of character for him to just sit by and let this happen, just because he's 'got a booboo'. How it will play out for him, however, well... time will tell! (Very soon, actually)

    Socket is just the catalyst setting off all the chaos, at the moment. BackDoor is definitely the bigger threat. For now.

    Oops, sorry =P Stakataka is fun. One of my fave UBs. So unique. So many eyes. Leg day.

    Yup, pantsing problem. Wouldn't surprise me if they'd all been destroyed and Socket (and the author) had no idea. Guess it's like... forgetting the stove is on...

    Consider yourself signed up! =D

    Thank you. I do love painting with words.

    I'm really glad. These characters are a bundle of fun to work with.

    That's Macro for you. Glad you like him. I think he's been a bit of a marmite character for some.

    Man, I'm glad you thought so. Nihilego is tiny compared to those ships. It was a fun idea to work with, and made it feel a lot more dangerous to me.

    Definitely painful. Socket was never a good mother. Never had the intention to be. Poor DL =(

    Celesteela is kinda creepy to me, anyway, so I'm glad that came across.

    I strongly hope I don't disappoint. Blacephalon definitely has a part to play.

    Thank you! It was a fun idea to work with =D

    BackDoor is definitely terrifying! I'm glad you mentioned the TimeSkip situation. It was quick and unexpected, which is what I was going for. Like that, he was gone. BackDoor has that power and abuses it.

    Yes! She's one of my favourite, too, next to Macro. She's been kinda like marmite, I feel. But she's so much fun, and very much a scene stealer.

    ...

    Chapter Sixty Two​

    Jumper stared across his desk at Surge, his eyes narrowed in a way that greatly unnerved her. His chin rested on his steepled paws, and not a single glint of uncertainty crossed his features. The fact her paws were still trapped in sticky frubbles did nothing to aid her confidence. No way to defend herself. Surrounded on all sides by members of his police force. A quagsire sat beside her with a small lie detector hooked up to a tablet computer. It didn’t intimidate her in the slightest.

    A large empoleon the frogadier had addressed as ‘Heatsink’ jabbed her in the side with one of his sharp flippers, prompting her to speak. She hissed at him and shuffled in her seat, masking her attempts to remove her restraints as an attempt to make herself more comfortable.

    “I’ll ask you again.” Jumper’s voice was steady and patient. “You said you’ve not been working alone. Now who were you working with?”

    “And I told you that would be a breach of confidence,” she replied.

    “I think you’ve got a lot more to worry about right now than a breach of confidence.” The governor sat back in his seat and rapped his fingers on his desk. “There is a law in this city that no one is to harm pokemon under our protection. I owed that to Wildcard, given they saved this city from a war resulting in famine. Thanks to them, one of the biggest scourges in Luma City’s army has been removed, and while we’re still recovering from the aftermath, we could have ended up a lot worse off if it weren’t for Macro and his friends.” He narrowed his eyes again. “So tell me who you’ve been working with.”

    Surge’s lip curled up into a smile. Luma City… a place filled with grass types. That Midi was starting to look a little suspicious now. Who’s side was he really on?

    “You can smirk until the miltank come home.” Jumper shook his head. “It’s not going to help you.”

    “I’m just thinking,” said Surge, “that you might want to consider that not everyone in this place is on Cyan City’s side.”

    Jumper raised an eyebrow, and the vaporeon behind her let out a gasp.

    “Are you saying there are traitors out there?” Jumper asked. “Spies?”

    Surge shrugged as best she could. “No idea. But I’d take things with a pinch of salt.”

    Floppy bounced to her side and fixed her with cold, black eyes. “You’d better talk! Because I’m feeling pretty trigger happy right now!”

    His cold breath frosted over her fur and she grimaced.

    “I’m not saying anything,” she said. “Not after you let Macro’s goons take off in my ship!” She leered across at Jumper and he sighed, swiping a paw over his glossy desk. “Besides, you can’t keep me here for long. Socket wouldn’t stand for it. She’s hired me!”

    “You’re right,” said Jumper. “I can’t keep you here for long. Not if Socket did indeed hire you. But I’m afraid this says otherwise.”

    He pushed a flier towards her. Her face frowned back at her, complete with fifty thousand credits scrawled below her chest. And there with it, her crime. Hacking. No further details, just plain and simple.

    “Now, allow me to put the pieces together,” he explained. “You’ve shown up here looking… how do I put this? Different from this poster. No bandana, a black dress rather than a waistcoat. And you’ve brushed your fur so much it looks like a transition between zigzagoon and linoone.”

    She glanced down at her tail, smoothed out yet still ragged, a dead giveaway to her species. Regardless, it took away that rugged look she’d worn for years.

    “If you indeed are working for Socket,” said Jumper, “then why has she put out a wanted poster for you?”

    Surge tightened her jaw as she stared back at him. Why, indeed? It was written right on the poster. Socket didn’t like hackers, that much was obvious. But her targets very rarely rose over ten thousand credits.

    Jumper steepled his paws together again and leant towards her. “You said you’d done some work for Macro. I’m well aware of what DL is. Socket took her memories, made her into a machine.”

    “Computer,” Surge corrected.

    Jumper shrugged. “Computers are machines. But you’ve only aided in proving my point with that little statement. I suspect Macro hired you to hack Socket’s databases in order to find out what exactly happened to little DL. Am I right?”

    She pulled her lips back from her teeth but said nothing. The frogadier was really beginning to get on her nerves.

    “I think you want to catch Macro in order to make amends with Socket,” he went on. “But I highly doubt that she’ll-”

    “She’s already wiped my slate.”

    Jumper raised an eyebrow.

    “I’ve forwarded her new information,” Surge went on. “As a result, she’s given me a second chance to catch him. Although my payment has taken a pretty big hit.”

    “I’m not certain I believe you.”

    The quagsire looked up and nodded. “This says she’s telling the truth.”

    Jumper examined her from his seat, trailing his eyes up and down her body for any hint of a lie. Surge chuckled and shook her head. Useless. As if she hadn’t trained with lie detectors before.

    “You heard it straight from a tangle of wires.” She shrugged. “Can you really take the chance in keeping me here, then? If I’m right, Socket might execute you. If I’m wrong… well, you’ve let a wanted ‘mon escape.” A smirk tugged at her lips and she chuckled again. “I’d hate to be you right now.”

    Heatsink frowned and looked at Jumper, keeping his bladed flipper near Surge’s neck. “Lie detectors ain’t perfect. You really wanna take that risk?”

    Jumper rubbed a paw over his face and sank back in his chair. “No. Not really.”

    Surge resisted the urge to grin.

    “Now, about that pokemon who helped you,” Jumper went on.

    “If I tell you, what will happen to him?” she asked.

    “He’ll be locked up here in our cells,” said Jumper. “I can’t say how long, that will take a jury to decide. But if I were to hazard a guess… for attempting to hand a protected citizen over to his death… I’d say fifteen years.”

    Fifteen years… She’d never even have to look back at Cyan City. “All right, I’ll tell you. His name’s Midi.”

    “Really?” Jumper’s eyes almost bugged out of his head. “So you’ll happily hand him over to us then? I’ll guess you made a deal and don’t want to follow it through. What did you offer him? A cut of your share? Before Socket docked it, no doubt.”

    Surge shrugged. “A ‘mon’s gotta get by.”

    “You’re notorious.” Jumper jotted the name down on his pad. “Heatsink, see Surge to a cell and locate this Midi. I believe he’s a lombre.”

    Heatsink snorted. “I’ve had dealings with him before. I know who he is.”

    The empoleon jabbed Surge with his flipper and she slid to her feet. She aimed a glare at Jumper and wrestled with her restraints.

    “I thought you said you weren’t gonna keep me here!” she barked.

    “I don’t really want to,” said Jumper. “But your ship is currently AWOL.”

    She spat on the floor. “Yeh, no thanks to you!”

    Jumper closed his eyes as he leant his head in one paw and waved the other. “Take her away. I’ll deal with her once her ship has been returned.”

    “You really think Wildcard’s gonna return her ship?” Floppy asked. “Macro knows she’s after him. If I were him, I’d leave it somewhere. Like the bottom of the ocean.”

    “Then we’ll find another way to get her out of the city. I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Jumper shooed the other pokemon out of his room. “Go. I need to file all this.”

    Surge glared at him over her shoulder, but searing cold shot up her spine as Floppy launched an ice beam at her tail.

    “Keep walkin’,” he growled.

    She muttered under her breath and turned to exit the office. Trapped between three large pokemon, she stomped after them as they led her to the cells.

    ...​

    The sharpedo ship grew steadily closer to the pyukumyuku, covering distance at a speed Tracer found difficult to describe. Any second now, Cyph3r would unleash an attack. The delphox’s heart sank. That pyukumyuku looked harmless. The aquatic pokemon the ship was modelled on, however, was packed full of surprises. If you hit one, it would hit you back with twice as much force. Tracer stroked his chin as he wondered how that would be incorporated into a ship built in a criminals’ back yard out of scraps. The flimsy structure looked like it would fall apart if he so much as breathed on it.

    “All right!” N0ize grinned at his pilot. “We’re close enough. Unleash the torpedoes.”

    The magmortar’s single paw nimbly flew across the dash, lighting up an array of buttons. Something deep within the ship whirred like a well-oiled motor. It probably was.

    N0ize chuckled and leant back in his seat so far it creaked beneath his weight. “These oughta punch through that hull like a knife through cheese.”

    “I think butter would be a better description,” said Widget. The incineroar leered back at him, but he didn’t so much as flinch. “It’s softer,” he added.

    N0ize grinned from ear to ear and pointed a claw at the eevee. “I like you, little mutt.”

    Widget snorted through his nose but said nothing.

    The whirring stopped, followed by a deep roar. Ahead of them, three grinning carvanah whizzed towards the pyukumyuku. The rickety ship dropped several feet before the missiles had a chance to hit, letting them soar harmlessly overhead.

    N0ize’s face fell and he scratched inside his ear. “Nimble piece o’ junk, eh? Make us swerve up and down and send a barrage. Let’s see if they can dodge that.”

    Tracer leapt to his feet and dived across the cockpit, grabbing the magmortar’s paw in both arms. He fixed a leer on N0ize.

    “Is this a game to you?” he barked.

    N0ize stared back at him and Tracer’s fur stood on end as an electrically charged hum emanated behind him from Cyph3r’s railgun.

    “What if it is?” the incineroar rumbled. “You want that human threat removed, and I’m just providing pest control.” A grin split his face, chilling Tracer to the core. “If I’m havin’ a little fun doin’ it, so what?”

    Tracer’s lip twitched as he searched for any reason the pirates should call off the attack. Static was slowly filling his fur, turning him into a bronze brush.

    “It’s murder,” he said flatly. “Other pokemon are on that ship.”

    “Aye, criminals.” N0ize grinned again. “We’d be savin’ Socket a job.”

    “I doubt she’d see it that way.”

    “What does she care, anyway?” The incineroar threw a paw in the air. “She’s miles above Meta City dealin’ with them alien things. Let’s shoot this human down and put an end to this rebellion. Either way, rebellion or not, I don’t rightly care. I’m just in this for the fun. Hit it, Cyph3r.”

    The magmortar clubbed Tracer over the head with his railgun arm and a grunt came from the detective’s nose as he crumpled to the floor. Before he could jump back up, that whirring filled the ship again. It swerved up and down, sending a wave of nausea through Tracer’s gut. Although that was more likely to do with the whack he’d received. At some point, Widget had attached himself to the magmortar’s arm. The large fire pokemon waved him off, sending Widget sprawling across the cockpit floor to land in a heap against the wall. Tracer rolled towards the eevee and pushed himself up, wobbling slightly. His ears were ringing. He barely heard the roar as the missiles flew towards Annie’s ship. Twelve of them, soaring towards her in a figure eight. They’d been aimed in such a way the ones at the top and bottom of the attack were curving towards the ship.

    “They’re not gonna dodge that,” Widget muttered.

    The eevee pushed himself up and shook out his massive ears. The pair of them watched in horror as the pyukumyuku tried to dodge. At least… that’s what it looked like. The ship swerved to the side and just kept going, turning to face towards them. A long, stretchy arm swung out from its nose, sweeping towards the missiles in an arc. The top most ones were caught in its slimy appendage and knocked towards the ones below it. They exploded on impact, blowing both ships away from each other.

    The sharpedo shook and keeled backwards. N0ize let out a grunt of surprise and blinked a few times.

    “Guess it’s got more defences than I thought.” He roared with laughter and struck the dash. “I like it! Send another flurry, let’s see what else this piece of junk can do.”

    Cyph3r sent out another torrent of missiles. Five more carvanah flew at the pyukumyuku. It swatted aside three of them, but one of the missiles hit its ‘innards out’. The missile exploded, shrapnel striking the ship and its lone weapon. The slimy thing was torn to ribbons, and a huge chunk of it fell with the missiles still wrapped in its gooey fist.

    If a ship could look surprised, the pyukumyuku managed it down to a T. It turned tail and tried to saunter away to freedom.

    “We’ve got it!” N0ize barked. “Chase after it!”

    The magmortar pointed a claw at the dash and fixed N0ize in a glare. The incineroar leant over to see what he was pointing at and grunted.

    “All out of missiles, eh?” He shrugged. “Guess we’re usin’ our close range attacks then. Full speed and crunch!”

    “Close range?” Widget gasped. “Oh boy. We’re gonna die.”

    “You don’t sound very distressed,” Tracer muttered.

    “I’m running on adrenaline. This is awesome.”

    N0ize flashed the eevee a grin. “That’s the spirit, mutt. You wanna evolve into a flareon and join my ranks?”

    “Nope, can’t and don’t want to.” Widget puffed out his chest, flashing his everstone. “I’m awesome just the way I am, thank you very much.”

    N0ize turned away and scratched inside his ear again. “Such a waste. All right! We’re close enough!”

    The sharpedos jaws opened slowly, gaining on the pyukumyuku inch by inch. Tracer pulled himself up on the dashboard and fixed wide eyes on Annie’s ship. Were those decorative spikes trembling? How much damage had they done? The thing was about to fall apart. Shredded to bits at the jaws of some deranged space pirate’s vessel. He glanced at each of the space pirates in turn, a deep dread rising within him. He’d made some pretty bad mistakes in his life, but this one definitely took the biscuit. His paw sought out his stick. One dazzling gleam and he was taking over the sharpedo.

    A flash of green caught his eye and he snapped his head around just as two of the spikes launched from the pyukumyuku on rusted chains. They struck the sharpedo, one spike striking the side of its jaws. The other one smashed through the windscreen, almost impaling N0ize to his seat. The incineroar let out a squeal that didn’t suit his appearance at all.

    The spike retracted back towards the ship, their rusted chains rattling and creaking. They didn’t quite make it back, dangling behind the ship like a pair of tails.

    Cyph3r leant over the dashboard towards N0ize and aimed his railgun arm out of the window. It hummed, growing with intensity as the entire length of the coil lit up. Then, a long beam of electricity shot towards the pyukumyuku. Something hidden in that beam struck it, creating a hole in its tail. Shrapnel rained down around it, and the small ship ducked and swerved as it tried to regain balance. Then… it began to descend towards System Ground.

    Tracer’s jaw dropped as he watched it vanish through the clouds. He swallowed dryly and licked his lips.

    “What have you just done?” he whispered.

    N0ize blinked as he tried to gather himself and ran a paw over his ears. “Wretched thing’s busted my windscreen.”

    Widget’s head appeared on the other side of his lap, his brown eyes livid. “Yeh? Well you just busted their entire ship!”

    “Just doin’ my job.” N0ize glared at the shattered glass and rubbed his arms. “Let’s turn back and head somewhere we can do repairs. I ain’t flyin’ with a wrecked window. It’s freezin’ up here. All six of my nipples could cut glass!”

    Tracer let out a growl and retreated to the back of the cockpit, Widget in tow. The eevee sat down heavily and looked up at him.

    “I think you’re suffering from a rare case of ‘moral dilemma’,” he said.

    Tracer pulled a cigar from his pocket. N0ize couldn’t exactly complain now the window was smashed. He fixed Widget with an unreadable look and let a lick of flames light the end of his cigar before popping it between his teeth.

    “What makes you say that?” he asked.

    “You can’t make your mind up about the girl,” the eevee explained. “Now we have two choices. Find parachutes and bail, or wait for this ship to land and go find her.”

    “You two ain’t goin’ nowhere,” said N0ize. “It’s your target that busted my ship, so you’re payin’.” He glared at them over his shoulder, a glare that chilled Tracer so much he feared he’d been frozen solid. “You got a problem with that, there are other ways to squeeze the credits outta you. I can think of twelve ways off the top of my head.” A grin. Not a friendly one. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.”

    The incineroar turned away and Tracer’s cigar dropped from his mouth into his lap. Widget looked up at him, his ears slightly drooped.

    “Man, Tracer… I think we might have just been abducted.”

    ...​

    “Did you install any parachutes in this thing?” Web desperately clutched her seat while Poipole clung to her back in sheer panic.

    “No, I didn’t install any parachutes!” Trojan barked back.

    “Why? Did it just not occur to you?!”

    “Clearly not!”

    “I hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” said Annie. “But two of us have wings.”

    All eyes flew to the human. A sneer crossed Trojan’s face only to be quickly wiped away by fear as the ship swerved towards the ground once more.

    “Well I also hate to be the one to speak the obvious,” he growled, “but you currently don’t!”

    Annie looked down at her human self.

    “Are we gonna die?” Zip squeaked.

    Water sloshed from his bowl with every stomach-churning lurch.

    “No we’re not,” said Trojan. “Because I’m gonna fix this bag o’ bolts. All right?” He vanished beneath the dashboard, stumbling as the ship continued to lose altitude. “Someone man the controls!”

    Waveform pushed Annie back into her seat and took Trojan’s seat. A few tugs of the steering stick and the ship levelled out. Annie’s eyes widened and she removed her hands from her head.

    “Have you fixed it?” Her bottom left her seat as the ship dropped another few feet. “I guess not.”

    “I have a question,” said Web. “How does a hole in the tail of the ship affect the engine if it’s in the front?”

    “It doesn’t,” said Trojan. “The engine’s fine. That blast, whatever it was, removed the rudder and shook up the thrusters that keep us in the air.”

    “So what are you trying to do?”

    He pulled his head out and glared at her. “Increase the thrust so we can at least land on dry ground!” Another plummet. He struck his head on the dash and swore loudly. “Everyone shut up and let me work, alright?!”

    Annie sank into her seat and placed a finger on her lips, just like children are told to do when they’re required to shush. Waveform raised an eyebrow at her then turned back to the controls.

    “Well if we’re probably gonna die,” said Zip quietly, “I want to thank you guys for helping me. And being a friend. For showing me that other pokemon actually care for us water dwellers.”

    “We ain’t gonna die,” said Trojan. “Shut your berry hole.”

    “You’re very welcome, Zip,” said Web. “And ignore him, he’s just as scared as the rest of us.”

    “I want to thank you as well,” said Poipole. “Other pokemon had tried to shoot at me.”

    “Well, if we’re all doing the thanking thing,” said Annie, “then I want to thank you all for… erm… doing this rebellion thing. And… dang it, I was sure there was something else.”

    “Taking you in?” Web helped.

    “Yes! Yes, exactly.” Annie folded her hands behind her head, but the ship gave another lurch that pushed her to cower in her seat. “I don’t like this. I want off.”

    “We all want off,” said Waveform. “But that’s not an option. This ship needs her captain.”

    Annie removed her arms from her head and looked around at her crew. Terrified faces. Except Waveform who looked as collected as he often did. She cleared her throat and sat up straight.

    “All right!” she said. “Onward to dry ground! We ain’t sea pirates, we’re space pirates! We don’t do the swimmin’ thing.”

    “I do,” said Zip.

    “Well… the rest of us aren’t as talented as you, little fish. I don’t like getting wet.”

    “Seconded,” said Waveform.

    “Thirded,” added Poipole.

    “Where’s the closest dry land?” Annie asked.

    The thrusters roared and the ship levelled out. The hull still trembled like a terrified child, but things felt… firmer.

    Trojan climbed out from the dashboard and shooed Waveform from his seat.

    “There,” he said. “That should get us to the coastline at least.”

    “So it’s fixed?” Web’s eyes narrowed. “I find that very hard to believe.”

    “It ain’t fixed,” he said. “It’s merely tweaked so we don’t crash and die in the sea. Is that good enough for everyone?”

    A chorus of ‘yes’ echoed through the cockpit.

    Trojan nodded and turned back to his controls. “That’s what I like to hear.”

    The ship trembled and ducked slightly, causing Zip to yelp.

    “What was that?” Annie asked.

    Trojan didn’t even look up. “Let’s not talk about it.”

    ...​

    The beartic leant towards the camera, as close as he could get to the microphone without knocking the camera ‘mon over.

    “What do you mean it’ll all blow over?!” he screamed at the interviewer. “Between here and Wave City, fisheries have been dragged to the ground! Electricity, scalding water, rocks! Smashed to bits! Pokemon have died!”

    The interviewer pushed him back so she could get back into the camera shot. The young gardevoir brushed her paw over her head, trying her best not to sigh with frustration.

    “All wars come to an end eventually,” she said. “Let’s not get System riled up over pointless propagan-”

    “Pointless?!” the beartic hissed. “The water types are revolting and the mayor couldn’t give a -” Someone managed to beep out the beartic’s language. Most likely an exploud.

    The ice type was taken away, while the gardevoir returned to the camera.

    “As you can see,” she said, “the oceans have done a double take. Turning to the land to right the massive wrong made centuries ago, riding on the coat tails of a group named Time Archeops. Will the little goldeen and his friends manage to turn this around? Will fisheries fall? Or will all of System fight back, brining an end to any rights the water dwellers currently have left?”

    Anchor groaned and closed his eyes. “Switch it off, Matrix. It’s depressin’ me.”

    “But you don’t eat fish,” said the ribombee. “What’s the problem?”

    “It’s not the fish that’s the problem, it’s the situation!” Anchor waved a paw towards the dark space ahead. “System’s fallin’. Any other time, I’d be backin’ a rebellion like this. But now ain’t the time! We’ve got bigger fish to fry, if you’ll excuse the expression.”

    “I will not excuse it,” said Switch. “I think it was in very bad taste.”

    Anchor sighed and brushed back his mohawk. “Sorry. I’ll try to think of better words to use when my brain is frazzled. Let’s just… focus on catchin’ up with Macro, okay?”

    The cockpit fell into silence as Matrix stuffed his computer back into his belt pouch. The lone tympole ship trundled along, growing gradually closer to the schooling wishiwashi, while miles below the oceans glowed yellow as the lanturn rallied their masses. Somewhere, another fishery fell, washed away beneath the chaos that the Ultra Beasts were bringing.

    ...

    Not gonna lie, I'd forgotten about the fish. Guess that's why all my dolphins left and never thanked me...
     
  15. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    Ah, yes. More interrogation and more ship combat. I... don't exactly have a lot to say in that regard, since it's stuff we've pretty much already seen before. I kinda thought we were done with the grass army business but if Midi's an indication then it looks like that subplot might get brought back up? Cor dear... that's an awful lot of plot threads you've still got dangling considering you said you expected the story to end somewhere in the 70s as far as chapters went. That's... not too far off, now... and I'm wondering if that means something might get left by the wayside. ^^;

    Welp, Annie's ship got totally trashed. Good... maybe now she can link up with the slightly more sensible pirate crew we've been following throughout this story. Seriously... they have all the Z-Crystals, everyone's gotta come together eventually, right? Otherwise this story's never gonna find its conclusion. Unless that's the big plot twist: there is no conclusion! *gasp* Consider yourself found out!

    I, uh, don't think Frogadiers have paws...

    Good boy, Widget. Flareon is garbage-tier and everyone knows it.

    Oh. Well. I sure hope Macro has an Eevium Z on hand. Alternatively... "We interrupted this cyberpunk distopia story to bring you Let's Go Eevee promotional material." *ding!*
     
  16. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    The plot might be over but the aftermath is not. The city will remember it for a long time, and trust will be hard to maintain. Given that lombre are both grass and water type, allegiance could be considered hazy.

    Sometimes it really feels that way, but believe me, there is...

    Poor flareon!! D=
    ...​

    Chapter Sixty Three​

    Surge’s tympole ship was fast. Certainly fast enough to catch up with Wildcard Gamma. If Macro had noticed it, he certainly hadn’t acted. His schooling wishiwashi trundled along as nonchalant as a ship could appear.

    “We’re almost there,” said Matrix. “Either this ship’s cloak keeps us off Wildcard Gamma’s radar, or he just couldn’t care less.”

    “Or he knows it’s us,” said Switch.

    “He won’t know it’s us,” said Anchor. “Surge has been following us all across System. Maybe he just doesn’t see her as a threat?”

    “I’m banking on him not seeing us.” Matrix lazily wound his antenna and glanced over his shoulder at the granbull. “Unless DL’s driving and she doesn’t know how to deal with a threatening ship?”

    Anchor jolted and fixed his eyes on Wildcard Gamma’s tail. “I thought I taught her how to use the weapons.”

    “You’re worrying about that?” Switch gasped. “Be glad she’s not firing on us!”

    Anchor looked back at the talonflame, but before he could speak, Switch flapped his wings in what little space he had available.

    “Eyes on the road!” he snapped.

    “Sheesh, calm down.” Anchor turned back in his seat and steered the ship as Macro’s turned towards Botnet City’s blinking antenna. “Anyone would think you were scared of flyin’.”

    “No, I am fine with flying,” said Switch. “I just prefer to be in control of my own wings.”

    “I know that feel,” said Matrix.

    “Well, I’d say it’s about time he noticed us,” said Anchor. “Before he throws himself into danger. ‘Cos I sincerely doubt Botnet’s gonna welcome him with open paws.”

    “Do most places?” Switch asked. “’Cos I get the feeling not many places welcome you.”

    “Botnet City is a whole kinda special on that regard.” Anchor reached across the dashboard and launched the tympole’s turrets. “One missile oughta get his attention.”

    “You’re actually firing on your own ship?” Switch gasped.

    “Just the one,” said Anchor.

    “But that’s crazy!” said Switch. “You could kill him!”

    “Not if I know where to hit. Besides, it’s a secret space pirate language. Single shot fired, then strafe to the side and hold off firin’. Let’s them know you only want their attention.”

    “Well I still think it’s nuts.” Switch huddled down into his feathers. “I’d bail this ship if I had the chance. What if he fires on us?”

    “He shouldn’t. Now let me focus.” Anchor reached for the missile button. “I don’t wanna do too much damage, especially since I’ll be the one doin’ the repairs.”

    ...​

    The closer they drew to Botnet City, the more hollowed out Macro began to feel. Without his crew, he felt very exposed. No sooner had he spotted the blinking antenna in the distance, he retreated to his room. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind. Given Botnet wasn’t a billion miles from Cyan City, it had taken them less than a day to reach it. Each mile they grew closer to it, the more anxious he became. His yellow fur was damp with sweat and he tossed and turned on his bed, desperate to think about anything else.

    A violent tremor shook the ship and Macro hit the floor nose first. He pushed himself up, groaning as he rubbed his snore snout, and looked over his shoulder at his closed door. What on earth was that? Botnet’s missiles couldn’t reach this far, could they? Unless he was much closer than he’d initially thought.

    He sprang to his feet and bolted from the room, fastening his goggles in place as he sped down the hallway. A frantic DL turned the corner before he could stop, and she crashed straight into him, bowling him backwards onto his bottom. He caught her before she hit the ground, her weight knocking him flat on his back. He pushed himself back up and opened his eyes, meeting DL’s. That hollowed feeling seemed to fade away, filling up with something warm and fuzzy. He brushed his claws across her cheek and chuckled.

    “I think we need a ‘no running’ rule,” he said.

    She grabbed his paw in hers, but that frantic look didn’t leave her eyes. “It’s Surge’s ship…”

    Macro clenched his teeth together and pushed himself to his feet. “That wretched zigzagoon sure is a mood killer.”

    DL followed him as he stomped his way towards the cockpit. “What’s she doing following us?”

    “Oh, she just wants to kill me is all.” He paused at the controls, noting Surge’s smiling tympole on the camera.

    “Kill you?” DL gasped. “But she helped you! I thought she was a friend.”

    “Makin’ friends ain’t easy when you’re in my line of work, sweetheart.” He sighed at the smaller ship and shook his head. “Apparently Socket hired her after I did.”

    “But she’s wanted as well, right?”

    “Apparently she doesn’t care.” He nodded to the weapons controls. “Fire back. Blast it into the ocean.”

    DL clenched her paws together and looked from the controls to Macro and back.

    “What are you waitin’ for?” he asked. “At this rate, she’ll shoot us down first!”

    “I can’t do that,” she said. “She helped me.”

    “Yes, and now she’s trying to kill me!”

    DL stared at him for a moment, then let her paws relax at her sides. She approached the weapons and her paws flew over the controls.

    “Maybe we can incapacitate her,” she said. “Knock her weapons out so she’s no threat.”

    Macro leant on the dashboard beside her, eyes fixed on the tympole as his ship spun around to face it. The familiar whir of Wildcard Gamma’s turrets spinning around its hull filled the cockpit, and he watched a stream of bubbles head for Surge’s ship. It ducked to the side, narrowly avoiding the bombs. Two of them hit its tail rudder, snapping it clean in two. The tympole spun precariously through the sky until it righted itself at Wildcard Gamma’s left side.

    “Nice shot,” said Macro. “With its rudder snapped, that might slow it down.”

    “I wasn’t aiming for the rudder.” DL spun the ship around again to face the tympole head on. “I was aiming for its face.”

    More bubbles launched forth, but the tympole was unable to dodge. The bombs collided with a missile just as the tympole launched one from its mouth. The two explosives detonated, sending a shockwave that blew Wildcard Gamma back several feet. Macro stared wide-eyed at the smoke. There was no sign of the ship. DL’s jaw was slack, her paw still on the weapons controls. Once the smoke subsided, the tympole hovered a good few feet away. Its face was gone, replaced by a hollow, black hole. It made no attempt to go after them. How it was staying airborne, Macro had no idea.

    “Well, I think that sorts that problem.” He fell into his seat and rubbed his face with a paw. “Let’s just get to Botnet.”

    DL turned the ship back towards Botnet City’s blinking antenna. “Can you contact her? I want to know she’s okay.”

    “I ain’t contacting a ‘mon out to assassinate me, DL.”

    She glanced behind them in the tympole’s direction, but it was well out of their view. With a sigh, she turned back to the controls.

    “Then if this is the sort of thing space pirates do,” she said, “I’m not sure I want to be one anymore.”

    Macro leant on his paws, keeping his eyes on Botnet City. That horrible feeling was back, gnawing at his gut. “To be honest, neither am I.”

    ...​

    Anchor pulled himself out from beneath the dash, choking on smoke. The ship’s filters rattled away in a desperate bid to clear it, but the impact from those missiles had greatly reduced their efficiency.

    “Good grief, Matrix!” he spat. “What on earth were you thinking launching another missile?”

    “I was trying to blow back their attack.” Matrix’s voice was weak. “Given you refused to do it.”

    Anchor wafted the smoke aside, trying to locate the ribombee. His ears twitched and he turned to face the dull buzz of his wings. He thought he could make out his tiny form in the far corner of the cockpit, right beside Switch.

    “Are either of you injured?” Anchor asked.

    “I’m all right.” Switch exploded into a coughing fit. He tried to stifle it to say, “But Matrix hit the wall pretty hard.”

    “I’m fine.” Matrix groaned and his wings buzzed for another split second. “Actually, I think I’ve broken something.”

    Anchor fought the urge to curse and instead kicked aside the dashboard’s cover. “Great, now we’re stuck here.”

    “Why can’t we just contact him?” Switch asked.

    “Because I ain’t been thinkin’ straight,” said Anchor. “Macro might be a reckless buffoon, but he doesn’t normally pull stunts like this. I didn’t wanna risk a thorough ribbing off him, but like a fool I’ve always got his back!”

    “So we went after him in his enemy’s ship, and fired at him in a ‘secret pirate language’,” said Switch. “Great plan!” He clapped his wings together, wafting up the smoke enough for Anchor to see his golden eyes.

    “I don’t appreciate the sass, Switch,” Anchor growled.

    “Then why not contact him now?” Switch asked. “Tell him it was us! Then he might come back and get us!”

    “Because my computer got crushed in that explosion!”

    “Mine’s fine.” Matrix winced as he reached into his belt. “I can contact him.”

    Anchor slumped to the floor and rubbed his temples. Another cough racked his body, making him desperately wish for a filter mask.

    “Oh wait…” Matrix threw his tiny arms in the air. “The battery is dead.”

    Switch’s beak fell open and he fixed Matrix with a look that said ‘are you kidding me?’

    “Any chance the power still works so I can charge it?” Matrix asked.

    Switch sighed and hung his head. “Maybe I can carry us to Botnet City? It’s not that far away, and my wing has almost completely healed.”

    “Flying types can’t fly this high,” said Anchor. “Atmosphere’s too thin. You’ll die before we reach it.”

    He stared blankly at the far wall. The power must have been working somewhere since they’d not dropped towards the ocean yet. One of those thruster ships with the engine in the rear, complete with its own separate power supply. But for how much longer it would last he had no idea. Let alone if it would be capable of charging a computer. He’d probably have to re-route the power to the ship’s computers, and none of those were working. If they were going to get the ship moving again, he’d have to get to work. He sighed and pushed himself to his feet. It was going to be a long day.

    ...​

    Botnet City. Home to electric type pokemon. A city of entertainment, with its own share of natural greenery. There was very little fruit grown. Most food was imported from towns and cities that could grow it, mostly Gear Village and Cyan City. The air hummed with static, pushing Macro’s fur on end before he even left his ship. He smoothed it back down and glanced at DL who gave him an amused smile. The smile faded away as they checked their weapons and made for the hatch.

    “I don’t remember much at all about this city,” she said.

    “Well, I know it quite well,” he said. “So I wouldn’t worry. Sure you don’t wanna wait on the ship?”

    “No. I don’t want you going in alone. You need backup.”

    He grimaced but bit back a retort. He’d much rather she was safe on his ship, but he’d already made that clear. “It’ll probably be pretty dangerous.”

    “I can handle it.”

    He met her chocolate eyes, the warmth melting him. If there was fear there, she hid it well. He took her paw and pulled her into him, catching her lips in his. Her warm body wove around his and for a brief moment he thought about bailing on the mission altogether. Just taking off to somewhere else in System and starting over. But he couldn’t do that to her, or to System. The world was relying on them.

    He pulled back from her and took a steadying breath. “Then let’s get this over with, huh?”

    She nodded, smoothing down her fur.

    “It says the memory disk is in a safe in the town hall,” he explained. “City Governor’s office. It’ll be a straight in, straight out job. No time to get reacquainted.”

    “I understand.” She opened the hatch.

    Macro poked his head out and glanced around. No one was around to see him. No one on the docks, at least not this end of it. His ship was completely invisible to the naked eye, but the cloak drank fuel like water. They’d need to be quick if they were to make it back to Cyan City. He had no desire to tap a government ship for fuel, or use the city’s refuelling station. Such feats would not go unnoticed.

    They hopped out onto the docks and ducked towards the city dome’s entry point. Unfortunately it needed a code. Fortunately, Macro had that code thanks to the dark underbelly of the internet.

    Not a pokemon was in sight. No security waiting at the dome. No government soldiers keeping an eye open for invading ships. What was going on? Was Botnet City also under threat from Ultra Beasts and everyone was dealing with that? If so, he desperately hoped he didn’t encounter it.

    But it was just so… surreal. Not a single pokemon in the streets. Music hummed from entertainment buildings, billboards flashed their animated adverts, the data antenna blinked its red and green lights at regular intervals. But it was broadcasting to a ghost town.

    “Why is it so empty?” DL asked.

    “I dunno, but I don’t like it.” He placed a paw on her shoulder and steered her towards the square. “Come on, let’s just hope the town hall is just as empty. It’ll make our job easier.”

    Part of him worried everyone would be in the square waiting for him. But just like the rest of the city, it was empty. It made the town hall feel miles away, when in fact it was only a few short footsteps. When he reached it, he expected it to be locked. He got his computer out just in case, but the door opened smoothly under his paw.

    Empty.

    His jaw dropped. “What on earth is going on here?”

    His voice came out as a whisper. An unnecessary whisper. But he feared any loud noise might draw out a lurking mob. He tiptoed across the hall to the town hall’s map. The governor’s office was on the ground floor, just like in Cyan City. He paced down the hallway with DL in tow, her thickly furred feet silent on the tiled floor. The both of them readied their guns and crouched beside the closed door to the governor’s office. Macro nudged it open and slipped inside laser first. A soft ringing reached his ears. His wide eyes flew around the room until they landed on the desk. A tiny chingling sat atop it, eating a sandwich much to big for him. His black eyes lit up when he saw Macro and he lowered his sandwich to give him a wave.

    “Hiii!”

    DL’s eyes narrowed and she lowered her laser. “Tweak!” she hissed.

    “Socket’s PA?” Macro sneered. “What on earth are you doin’ here.”

    “I’m here to relay a message.” Tweak flopped across the desk and picked up a scrap of paper. He cleared his throat as if he was about to give an important speech. “Eggs, paper, ink… Oh wait, this is the governor’s shopping list. Hang on.” The chingling discarded the scrap in favour of another one. “’Relocate the memory disk to Strobe Street Apartment. Number forty eight.’”

    Macro’s heart felt like lead. His laser faltered and he stared at the grinning chingling, dumbfounded.

    “’Make it easy’.” Tweak looked up at him, still grinning. “That was my order.” He discarded the paper and winked at Macro and DL. “Have fun! Maybe we’ll meet again.”

    At that, Tweak vanished in a beam of purple light.

    Every muscle in Macro’s body trembled. He clutched his laser so tight he almost fired off an accidental ground beam at the wall. He placed it back in his holster and steadied himself against the door. Why that apartment? The wretched gothitelle… what was she planning?

    “I don’t like the sound of this,” said DL. “Why ‘make it easy’? Is it some kind of trick?”

    “I’d say so,” said Macro.

    “Then let’s leave it,” said DL. “I can just relearn my attacks like a hatchling. We’ll get there.”

    “But you want to know what happened to your parents,” said Macro. “I can’t exactly teach you that.”

    “No. But I could find out some other way.”

    “But you wouldn’t know them,” he explained. “They wouldn’t be your memories. Just words from someone else. Didn’t you have friends? Brothers or sisters?”

    She fumbled with her belt and looked away from him. “I don’t know.”

    “Then… then let’s get this disk.” Macro turned from the room, keeping his paw on the wall. “Maybe he wasn’t lying about it being ‘easy’.”

    “I don’t understand why she’s chosen this apartment,” she said. “Do you think I used to live there or something?”

    “I don’t know.” Macro’s pads began to sweat, leaving marks on the wall. He retracted it to his side, avoiding DL’s eyes. “You said you were in an orphanage.”

    “I know. Maybe something happened there?”

    Macro stumbled out into the square, his legs turning to jelly. No, it was impossible. He scoured the skyline for the apartment block, clocking it just beyond the square. Then he grabbed his laser again and motioned the pachirisu towards it.

    “If anything, she’s getting at me,” he explained. “I don’t exactly have good memories about that apartment.”

    “Oh?” She turned her head to look at him. “What happened?”

    “I don’t like to talk about it,” he said, getting a disappointed look in return. “Listen, I’ll tell you everything once we’re out of this place. I just wanna put it behind me. It gives me the heebie-jeebies. And all this eerie emptiness ain’t exactly helpin’ matters.”

    Strobe Street was just as Macro remembered it. It opened out onto a park which served as the lone apartment block’s garden. Along the street was a club that seemed to exist solely to emulate the street’s name. At night a strobe light flickered in the doorway, making anything that got too close also strobe like a badly executed stop-motion animation.

    “Well, here we are.” Macro approached the apartment’s door. “Now to see how ‘easy’ he’s made this.”

    Before attempting to use his computer to hack the door open, he instead stuck his claws in the side and pulled. The door slid open like a well-oiled machine. Macro’s eyes widened and he felt his heart lurch in his chest. So far, things were going ridiculously easy, and he hated it.

    “We don’t have to do this.” DL’s soft voice placated him. “It’s clearly upsetting you.”

    “No, I’m fine. We’ll be quick. Quick and painless, like a band-aid.”

    He didn’t even need to look at the floor chart. He knew exactly where forty eight was. It was on the forth floor, right beside the back stairwell. If they took the elevator, they’d be there in no time flat.

    He called for it, and it came down smoothly. No rattle. Nothing like a Pulse City elevator. No indication it had ever been damaged. The musical chime as it reached them seemed so loud in the silence that Macro almost leapt out of his fur. DL placed a paw on his shoulder and he flushed, trying to mask his embarrassment.

    The mirrored interior did nothing to alleviate the crushing claustrophobic feeling. Already he could smell smoke. Smoke that wasn’t there, yet grew in intensity the closer they got to the fourth level. When the doors opened, everything was fine. No smoke. No blackness.

    He sought out the door numbers, and groaned when he realised they were at the wrong end of the corridor. Forty and forty one.

    The tiled floor was the one thing that was different since his last visit. No carpet. Nothing that can feed a fire. He rubbed his arms as a chill washed over him, and he tried to beat back an intrusive memory. A crying child’s voice wailed in his mind and he shook his head violently, trying to dispel it. DL gave him a concerned look, and he realised she’d asked him something.

    “Sorry?” he asked, running a hand over the base of his horn.

    “I asked if you’re okay?” She paused and pointed at a door. “Because we’re here.”

    He fixed his eyes on the door. Open. Why was it open? He gave it a push, revealing a plush room. Definitely not as he remembered it. It had previously been filled with black and chrome furniture, belonging to a male. This clearly belonged to a mother and her family. He shrugged it off, relieved that he wasn’t going to be reliving his time here much longer.

    The disk sat on the dining table, right beside a plush pichu. His heart lurched into his throat and he snatched the disk, turning away from the plush toy.

    “Got it. Let’s go.” He slipped past DL and out into the hallway.

    “So it really was easy,” she mused, closing the door behind them.

    “Too easy,” he said. “I don’t understand it at all.”

    He held the disk between his thumb and index claw, scrutinising it. It looked like any other disk. He leant back against the elevator’s glass wall and frowned, turning the disk back and forth. It was locked, just like the others. Deep down he worried it had been infected, and that dread was slowly growing. How was he ever meant to find out without putting DL at risk?

    Once out of the apartment, he was glad to have it behind him. He popped the disk into his belt and walked as quickly as his legs would allow towards the docks. Still not a single pokemon in sight. Where was everyone? Had Tweak hidden the entire electric population?

    “I’m gonna be honest, DL. I’m worried she’s done something to this disk.”

    DL pawed at her ear and ‘hmm’d’. “It was rather too easy. But… you did wonder if it was a way of getting to you?”

    “Right now there’d be no better way of getting to me than hurting you.” He paused beside his ship, realising what he’d just said.

    She shifted beside him and looked out at the sky. “But… she doesn’t know that, does she?”

    “I dunno.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe she does? I have been trying to help you, haven’t I?”

    “Well it would still be criminal.” DL sighed and met his eyes. “You’re going to install it anyway. If there’s a chance at getting my moves back, I want that. But…” She trailed off and looked away from him, clawing at her ear.

    He took her paw and steered her onto his ship. Once they were back in his familiar cockpit, a flood of relief washed through him. That was it. Botnet City would be miles behind them before he knew it. Back to Cyan City for a drink and a good rest. Unless it was the wrong disk… but after all that, Meta City could wait a day or two.

    “Let’s set this to auto pilot back to Cyan City,” he said. “Then… then we’ll install that disk.”

    It was a safety measure. He didn’t know how to pilot the thing, and if DL ended up incapacitated, he didn’t want to be left stranded. She said nothing as she coded in the co-ordinates. The ship flared to life, pulling away from Botnet City. Further away from his nightmares.

    He pulled the disk from his pocket and popped it into his computer. A message popped up on the screen from Matrix. Probably wondering where he’d gone. That would have to wait until later.

    The jack lead was tucked neatly away beneath Matrix’s navigation deck. He pulled it out and connected one end to his computer. He had to sit down. His nerves were on fire, making everything tremble.

    DL took it from him and loaded up the disk, then connected the jack lead to her socket.

    “It’s easy,” she said. “Matrix just drags everything over. But… promise me something?”

    He met her eyes as he took the computer back from her.

    “Just…” She stuttered. “Every memory has had its own fair share of shocks since the second disk. I really don’t want to be alone.”

    “You’re not alone,” he said. “We’ve never left you alone during this.”

    She sank into him, and he lifted a trembling paw to her shoulder. Now he understood what she meant. Her claws wound into his scarf, and he looked down at the computer. Such a simple procedure, yet it filled him with dread.

    “I guess now isn’t a good time to tell you I’m terrified, huh?” he asked.

    Silence. Claws digging into his chest. He ignored it and dragged all the information from the disk to DL’s internal computer.

    She went limp, making his heart leap and stirring up nausea. His eyes snapped to her antenna, but it wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. That filled him with relief and he let out a sigh as he pulled her into him. Her concerns about the memories made a lot of sense to him now. If she was old enough to remember what happened to her parents, then she might not take it very well. He knew that feeling. When he lost his own mother, he’d not had anyone to turn to. No family. No friends.

    The blinking light returned to its normal steady blue glow, and DL came back to her senses. Her claws dug back into his scarf. He trailed a paw over her shoulder and opened his mouth to speak, but her entire body turned rigid. Something collided with his chest, knocking him back into the dashboard. She scurried back from him on her bottom, her chocolate eyes cold and livid.

    “It was you!” she screeched.

    Macro’s jaw dropped. “What?”

    “You! You’re the one who killed my parents!” She pulled herself up against the door, her entire body shaking. Her tail bristled like a brush.

    He pushed himself to his feet and stretched a paw out to her. “Wait… DL…”

    “Get away from me!” Electricity sparked from her yellow cheeks, but the sparks trailed behind her and she screamed, clutching a paw to the jack at the base of her skull. She removed the lead and threw it to the floor. “You’re the reason I ended up in that orphanage. You’re the reason I ended up with her!”

    She turned and bolted down the corridor.

    Macro sank down against the dashboard, tears pricking at his eyes. It all made so much sense now. Why Socket had sent him to that wretched apartment. Why it had been so ‘easy’. A sob shook his body and he lowered his head into his arms. Tears soaked through his fur and he let out a low whine. DL had lived there. And he’d burnt it to the ground.

    ...​

    Anchor let out a cheer as the dash hummed to life. He leapt to his feet, smacking his head on the dashboard in the process. He ducked out from beneath it, rubbing at his mohawk.

    “Looks like we’ve done it, guys!” he called to the back of the ship.

    Switch scurried out from the engine room with Matrix on his head. The ribombee tapped at his tiny computer.

    “Success,” he said. “Power is re-routed from the engine, while still providing us with the means to move. The ship now has full power, and Macro still hasn’t answered my message.”

    “Probably in the thick of trouble,” Anchor growled.

    Switch opened his beak to speak, but Anchor silenced him with a wave of his paw.

    “I’ve had enough of your sass right now!” he said. “If you’re gonna keep goin’ on about my bad decisions, you can keep that beak shut.”

    Switch raised a wing. “I wasn’t going to give you any sass.”

    “Then what were you gonna say?”

    The talonflame closed his beak and huddled down beside the door.

    “Thought so,” said Anchor. “Let’s get this bag of bolts to Botnet City then, and lend Macro a paw.”

    He sat back in the captain’s chair and steered the ship towards Botnet City. It rocked and swayed as what was left of the tympole’s rudder tail strained to push them on.

    “I have a bad feeling about this.” Switch keeled forward, turning pale beneath his feathers.

    “Me too. There ain’t no way we’re gonna make it in time,” said Anchor. “I’d send another message, just in case he didn’t hear it the first time.”

    “Already well ahead of you.” Matrix popped his computer away and landed on the dash beside Anchor. “Wow, it feels like we’re sailing through the ocean.”

    Switch dry-heaved behind them.

    Anchor sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Come on, Macro. Give us a sign of life at least.”

    ...​

    Fire. So much fire.

    No matter what Macro did, he couldn’t clear the image from his head. He huddled against the dashboard, staring blankly at the door, watching the blaze in his mind.

    A little voice cut through the inferno, snapping Macro back to reality. “Captain?”

    He jerked his head up to meet Cookie’s concerned face. The brown slurpuff stood with a tray in his chubby paws, topped with a pink ice cream smoothie.

    “I brought you something,” he said. “Since you missed lunch.”

    “I’m not hungry.”

    Macro let his paws fall from his lap to his sides. His claws brushed his computer and he looked down at it. ‘Matrix, 2 messages’.

    “Okay, well…” Cookie shuffled his feet. “If you change your mind-”

    “I’ll tell you.” Macro picked up his computer and opened the messages, quickly reading over them. “You have to be kidding me…”

    ‘Hey, Macro. That ship you hit? That was us, you big goof.’

    He shook his head as he opened the next one.

    ‘We’ve got it running again, but it sucks. Come get us.’

    Macro pulled himself to his feet, stuffing his computer into his pocket. So he’d almost killed his own crew. He’d almost lost everything… He bit back a sob and turned to the controls. How on earth was he meant to steer this thing? To find them? How far behind were they now? He checked the messages again. The most recent one had only been sent five minutes ago. That gave him some hope at least.

    He fired off a message of his own, telling them to look for him. That he was only ten minutes away from Botnet City, in auto pilot to Cyan City. Then he stuffed it back into his pouch and leant back against the dashboard.

    Cookie was still stood in the cockpit. Macro fixed one eye on him, prompting the slurpuff to speak.

    “Is something wrong?” he asked.

    “Yeh. Anchor and the others are in Surge’s ship. I almost blew it up.” Macro waved a paw at Cookie and moved into the corridor. “Do with that what you will.”

    “DL doesn’t look too good either.”

    Macro froze in the doorway, not looking back at Cookie. “Yeh well… that’s because I killed her family.”

    Cookie let out a squeal and dropped the tray. The smoothie glass smashed on the floor, sending ice cream everywhere. Macro didn’t even flinch.

    “Yeh,” he went on. “I’m a walking wreck. My past always comes back to haunt me. Now I’ve hurt her, too.”

    He shuffled out of the cockpit towards his room. Soft sobs froze him in his tracks and he looked over at DL’s door. The knife in his chest twisted. He turned and placed a paw on the panel, letting the door slide open. DL lay huddled on top of the duvet, but her ear twitched at the sound of someone entering.

    “Go away,” she growled.

    “No,” he said. “Not until you hear me out.”

    “Go away!”

    She sat bolt upright as she launched a pillow at his head. It bounced off and hit the floor. He flinched. How on earth did a pillow hurt?

    “DL, listen to me,” he said. “That day you’re remembering is the worst day of my life.”

    “Yeh? Well oddly enough it’s not the worst day of mine.” She flopped back onto her bed and turned her back on him. “Yet you’re responsible for both of them.”

    “It was an accident. A terrible one!”

    “An accident doesn’t bring my family back, or take this computer out of my head.”

    “I know. I don’t have the power to change any of that. But believe me, I want to help you.”

    “And what makes it worse?” She lifted her head slightly and stared at the wall. “I’ve kissed my parents’ killer. The sleazy pirate responsible for landing me in that orphanage!”

    He clenched his paws so tightly his claws dug into his pads. He let out a choked sob and collapsed against the door.

    “I had a sister, too,” she went on. “Not even a year old. She also died in that fire. And given I had no surviving family prior to that, I am well and truly alone.” Her voice broke off and she sobbed into her pillow. “Now go away.”

    “I’m sorry,” he choked.

    “I don’t want to hear it. Now leave!”

    “No! Please, just listen to me!” He sank down to the floor. “I’m not some murderous monster!”

    DL didn’t answer, but he could see her body shaking as she sobbed silently, curled tightly into a ball. She clutched her thick tail like a comfort blanket. All he wanted to do was scoop her into his arms and comfort her, hating the pokemon who’d done this to her. He screwed his eyes shut and swiped the tears away with the back of his paw.

    “You must have noticed other pokemon call me Hunter,” he said. “Well, truth is that was never my real name. It was some dumb alias I adopted from the first group of pirates who took me on.”

    “What’s that got to do with anything?” she spat.

    “Everything.” He paused and wound his paws together. “Hunter died that day.”

    She wiped her eyes with a paw, but she didn’t look back at him. Her ears pricked up, that was enough to spur him on.

    “You see, Anchor and I took a job in Botnet City,” he said. “Was a weapons raid, someone had tipped us off that Socket had links with a guy who made explosives. Government weapons are like gold in Pulse City, and I was their main supplier. Things never went easy, but I couldn’t turn my nose up at one guy making them in his apartment.

    “When we got there, getting in was easy. Simple hack job, broke the door. Same old, same old. His apartment were empty though, and filled with chrome and black furniture. I remember that little detail clearly. Stuffed in his bedroom, or what would have been his bedroom, was a lab full of explosives. We grabbed all we could as quick as we could and made to leave. Three sacks between us. Anchor carried two.

    “What we weren’t expecting was to run into a heavily armed, almost entirely cybernetic electabuzz in the hallway. No sooner he saw us, he was swinging his mechanical arm about, slicing at me with leaf blades, throwing water shurikens. All stuff electabuzz aren’t meant to know. But in this day and age, it’s hardly surprising. So we fought back. Dropped the bags, well Anchor dropped his bags, I kept mine on my shoulder and fired my laser with my free arm. I was aiming for his bionic parts. ‘Take them out, he can’t do anything.’ They weren’t impervious to my ground lasers, but they kept bouncing off and hitting the wall. Left horrible scuff marks, and some blew chunks in them. That’s where part of the disaster happened.

    “You see, Anchor was relying heavily on his fire fang. Trying to get in close-”

    “Don’t you go blaming him for the fire!” DL hissed.

    “I’m not!” Macro snapped. “Like I said, it was an accident! Anyway, he couldn’t hit the guy with his fire fang. So he tried his gauntlets. Good thing he brought them along, because a few thunder punches and he shorted the electabuzz’s main weapon arm. So he retaliated back with a thunder punch of his own. Met Anchor’s gauntlet head on. Sparks flew and hit the exposed wires. They overheated and ignited, sparking all along the corridor and burning through the paint. That’s when I decided to bail. Fired one more ground laser at his legs and ran.

    “I thought Anchor was behind me, but he wasn’t. He was still fightin’ that electabuzz. He had Anchor cornered against the wall. So I fired again, blowing the electabuzz back. I kinda caught Anchor in the blast. Injured his leg. He grabbed one sack of the explosives and limped after me. But that electabuzz weren’t down for the count. He got back up and fired off his other, weaker limb. So I panicked. I fired back and the lasers hit. Water and ground. It’s so ironic that they caused a blast that ignited the bombs. Nails flew everywhere from that sack, along with sparks, igniting newly exposed wires. The wall and floor caved in, and that guy’s room collapsed. I fell right through to the floor below, but Anchor didn’t come with me.

    “He looked down at me. Asked if I were okay. I weren’t, I’d landed on a sack of explosives that thankfully hadn’t blown me sky high. But fire were everywhere. Another explosion came from outside and shook the building. There went the rest of the guy’s work. Thankfully not taking the whole place down with it. I told him to find the quickest way out and take it, I’d do the same.

    “When I looked around, I were sat in a smoldering pile of rubble. And it was growing quickly. I had to get out, but the window was blocked off by wood and steel. Wires sparked right by it, lighting up whatever they touched. So I turned and ran for the door.

    “That’s when I grew aware of alarms blaring. Pokemon fled from the apartment. I had to duck back into the room and wait for them to clear. No sense being caught and accused for it all. The floor above me was ablaze now. There was no runnin’ to the rooftops and waitin’ for Wildcard Beta. No waitin’ for Digit to send down the ladder. No waitin’ for Anchor to bail me out. I grabbed the sack of explosives and tried to find the most fire-free route.

    “It weren’t easy. It spread fast along the wires. Fuse boxes exploded. The alarm went off, plunging the place into silence. All the screams were outside, so I guessed everyone had got out. That gave me a lot of freedom to find my own way without getting caught. I tell you, there’s little as frightening as clambering through a blaze with a sack of explosives. But I weren’t leaving it behind to blow up in the blaze. Noble or foolish? I think it were the latter. Place was already falling to bits.

    “But when I got to the second floor, the stairs were blocked up. Hot fire licked at my fur, reminding me if I climbed through it, I’d go up with the bombs. So I had to find another way. I tell you, I’ve never been so scared. I never admitted it to Anchor either. Or Digit. As I climbed along a blazing hallway looking for a window, I heard crying. A little kid crying, not an adult. It froze me. I realised I wasn’t the only one still in there. Pokemon were trapped.

    “I kicked the door down, not wanting to fire off my laser again. It took more than one kick, too. Three hits and I was in, and greeted by thick smoke and intense heat. They’d been two floors below the blast, yet bits of ceiling and furniture lay about the place where it had fallen through. Flames licked down like stalactites. It were like some fiery cave. The crying was louder, and I spotted two pokemon under all that rubble. A raichu, and the tail of a female pikachu. It didn’t take a genius to work out the both of them were dead.” His voice broke off and he took a steadying breath. “I’d never witnessed that. But I tried to shut it out, find the crying child. I took the room to the right, climbing over a fallen beam. The tiny room was in a better state than the other one, but smoke billowed down from above. And there, standing in a cot-bed screaming for his parents was a pichu.

    “I grabbed him under one arm, told him we’d get out of there. He kept asking where his parents were, but I wouldn’t let him see the mess. I couldn’t. I dropped the sack, grabbed my laser, and blasted a hole into the next apartment. The entire place could’ve come down, I don’t know what I was thinkin’. I suppose seeing your own mother lying dead does weird things to your head. You don’t want anyone else to experience the same, especially not a kid barely two years old.

    “I grabbed the sack again and, with the pichu under one arm, climbed into the next room. I checked the window - too high up. If we jumped, we’d both die. I needed to get down another floor. So I ran for the door, but before I reached it the floor began to give way. Flames erupted up from it like a flippin’ volcano. I back-pedalled to the window and took another look out. Grass. The park. Teaming with pokemon. Was it really worth jumping two floors?

    “I had no choice. I dropped the sack, grabbed the kid in both arms, and threw myself backwards out the window. I heard screams. Yelps of surprise. But I missed the grass by a good way, landing in a pond. I rose up sputtering, nudged aside by a water dweller. The seaking stared at me, questioning. I apologised. Told him I had to run, and could he get the kid to shore? The pichu shouted for me, but I left him. Clambered out and ran as fast as I could out of the park.

    “If anyone gave chase, I’ve no clue. But they knew I were responsible. I wouldn’t have been worth forty thousand credits if no one knew. But that’s when things really fell apart. Digit told me I were crazy. She left the next day. And I made the decision to scrap Wildcard Beta. Hunter’s trademark huntail would fly no more. That were its last mission, and one I desperately wanted to forget.” He took in a trembling breath and stared at the window. “But I can’t. I don’t think I ever will.”

    DL shuffled on the bed, briefly glancing up at him. “More than twenty pokemon died in that blaze.”

    “I know.”

    “I’m glad you thought to rescue Cogs, but that doesn’t make up for it.”

    “I know.”

    She sighed and rolled back to face the wall. “No one ever mentioned Cogs’ mysterious rescuer. Or the seaking. All I know about it is he somehow survived and made it outside when his parents didn’t. He kept saying it was a pirate, but no one believed him. Thought it was just childish babble, or that he was traumatised. He ended up at Botnet City orphanage, taking one of the few places left, while I ended up in Meta City.”

    “I don’t expect recognition, I started the flippin’ thing.”

    “Loop spent years hating Hunter for what he did,” said DL.

    Macro looked up at her, but she still had her back to him.

    “Now I don’t know,” she went on. “I want to forgive you, but I don’t think I can. Not right now.”

    There was that twisting knife again. He leant forwards on his knees and buried his face into his arms.

    “I’ll stay here until we get back to Cyan City,” she said. “Then I’m going my own way. I’ll get that last disk somehow, but I won’t be accepting your help anymore.”

    He lifted his head again and wiped fresh tears from his cheeks. “I have escape pods.” His voice wavered.

    “Huh?”

    “I have escape pods,” he repeated. “You may as well use them. I’ll be scrapping this ship after all this is over anyway. This will be the last job I ever take.”

    “What are you talking about?” she scoffed.

    “I’m saying Wildcard is over. I can’t take this anymore. Living in fear and pain.”

    “Now you’re trying to be a martyr?” She gave a single, dry laugh. “I’d say you’ve brought it all on yourself. Now leave.”

    He pushed himself to his feet, anger burning inside him. He flashed a canine in her direction and scanned the door open. “You want that pod or not?”

    “I’ll take it. I guess getting it back doesn’t matter since you’re ‘scrapping this ship’.”

    He stomped from the room and let the door close behind him. His throat tightened as he repressed a sob and pushed himself towards the cockpit. Right before him flew a huge tympole, struggling to stay airborne. It looked like it had just done a lap of Wildcard Gamma and was preparing to do another one. He muttered under his breath and pushed the button for the cargo hold. The wishiwashi opened its jaws, swallowing the tympole whole. It closed again behind it, and he turned to head to the cargo hold.

    Before he reached it, a disgruntled granbull threw the door open.

    “What in the world, Macro?!” he snapped. “First you take off, then you take forever and a day to spot us? Or were you just watchin’ for… Good grief, are you all right?”

    Matrix landed on Anchor’s shoulder and leant forward to examine Macro. “Your eyes are all puffy.”

    “DL’s leaving,” said Macro. “She’s taking one of the pods.”

    Anchor’s jaw dropped. “What happened?”

    Macro moved across the loot room to the far side, where two small escape pods waited. There were two on either side of the ship, each one resembling a tiny part of the schooling wishiwashi. The little blue fish were big enough for two pokemon of Anchor’s size to comfortably sit in.

    Switch shuffled behind him, watching his every movement. “You two looked so happy back in Cyan City. What could happen in only a day?”

    “Remember that fire back in Botnet?” Macro asked Anchor. “Well apparently her parents lived in that apartment.”

    “You’re kiddin’ me?” Anchor scoffed. “So you got her memories then?”

    “Yep. And Socket made it real easy for me by vacating the entire city, and relocating the disk to the very apartment number all of that started in.”

    “The vindictive little…” Anchor clenched his fists and seethed. “So now she’s leavin’… Guess it’s some sneaky way of Socket gettin’ her alone, huh.”

    Macro froze with one paw over the escape pod’s panel. He hadn’t considered that.

    “Then there’s no way she’s going alone.” He turned to face his crew, and his eyes fell on Switch. “Could you… would you go with her?”

    His voice cracked again, and he bit back fresh tears. No, not in front of his crew.

    Switch nodded his head. “Of course. Anything.”

    Macro took a steadying breath and moved away from the pod. “Look after her then. Make sure Socket doesn’t get her wicked paws on her.” His voice broke off and he slumped into the wall, wiping away fresh tears.

    ‘If DL still wishes to obtain Loop’s memories, then by all means find them… But be warned that chasing down these disks will result in pain for the both of you.’

    The memory of Solgaleo’s words caused a dry, strangled choke to escape his throat. If he’d known exactly what pain they’d have caused… would he have still gone after them?

    “Go and lie down, Cap’n,” said Anchor. “We’ll sort this out.”

    Macro waved a paw over his shoulder and slumped to his room. Exhausted, beaten and sore. Fresh tears continued to fall long after he heard the escape pod rattle away.
     
  17. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin I'm just here

    So, y'know, I was prepared to open this by asking "What the heck happened in Botnet City to make Macro hate it so much?" But, lo and behold, I get an answer! I'll get to that in a second. First I just want to say that you really know Macro's character has regressed when he's just blindly opening fire on the Tympole ship he ignored for the entirety of this story.

    Okay onto the big reveal. Content-wise it was quite the brutal twist that did seem to answer a few questions I had. We know roughly what happened to DL's family, how she wound up in the orphanage, why Digit left, why Macro's bounty got so ridiculously high, and the fate of a previous ship, to boot. That's a lot of threads getting tied in one fell swoop. Here's the issue with it though... and this is a piece of feedback someone gave me about something I did. I tried to wrack my brain and think about if there was any real foreshadowing for this twist... and I drew a blank. I can't really count Socket's villainous scheming because it didn't really offer any clues as to what was actually happening. Sure some of these plot threads had been mentioned, like Digit quitting or Macro not going by Hunter anymore. As it stands, it reads like what TV Tropes terms Diabolus ex Machina. Essentially, a twist that comes almost or completely out of left field for seemingly no reason other than making things worse for the heroes and/or better for the villains.

    Don't get me wrong, I think the twist is really interesting and I'm curious where things will go, but I think it could've been better had there been breadcrumbs scattered in the earlier chapters to point us toward this. In this case, flashbacks would've worked really well, I think, since the whole explanation is one long ramble from Macro. If you ever do decide to go back and make some changes to earlier chapters, I'd add in some foreshadowing that this twist was coming. It doesn't have to be blatant, but maybe expanding a bit more on some of the actual events would've helped this scene get the result you were looking for. Less important and more of a nitpick is the fact that Macro suddenly picks up a nasty habit of improperly using "weren't" where he should say "wasn't." I think he's occasionally done this before, but here he's practically doing it every sentence and it sticks out for the wrong reasons. ^^;

    Overall the chapter was extremely shocking, but the twist itself was more like a slap in the face for me because it didn't feel like there was any build up to it. Unless I'm really forgetting something, here. @.@

    That is a terrible language idea. Anchor ought to go sit in the corner and think about what he's done.

    I see he's brought back the "sweetheart" line. Good grief.

    YOU HAD ONE JOB, MATRIX!

    Seriously, what kind of job security does this guy have? He's incompetent! I'd have fired him twenty times already.

    It kind of hurts my perception of Macro being a gruff space pirate when you have him say things like heebie-jeebies. XD
     
  18. RocketKnight66

    RocketKnight66 404: Consistent Schedule not Found

    I have returned to have more fun reading this fic!

    Chapter 3

    We've got the crew touching down at Pulse City. Apparently it gets it's energy illegally and it's untouched by the law... well it is now, anyway. The city has a neat story and it looks just as interesting as the others I've seen. The worldbuilding is really on point so far.

    Another interesting thing was Worm. I'm not surprised that there would be cybernetic enhancements in a sci-fi world such as this one, but this type of stuff still interests me to no end. The everstone makes enough sense, since evolution would probably not go together well with the enhancements like the text mentioned.

    Oof, that's a pleasant mental image.

    The Midnight Lounge is pretty neat, and I love that there's video games and arcade machines in this world. Does this mean there's a SHMUP I could play here? Matrix seems to be good at them, and he also seems to have a bit of popularity around these parts, what with the fangirls and all.

    Popularity doesn't appear to be much of a good thing in Macro's eyes however, immediately getting suspicious of that Zigzagoon when she mentions his bounty. I guess I can understand, when someone's been a space pirate as long as him, and especially one so notorious, distrust likely comes easily.

    Hey, at least it ain't bootleg video games.

    Yeah, getting a fire extinguisher seems kinda important!

    Gotta love the banter.

    Chapter 4

    Well, things certainly picked up. Macro wakes up and learns that a mysterious ship is following them. That was a bit of an interesting scene with a rather amusing (and slightly disgusting) end. That'll be fun to wash off...

    Boolean continues the trend of cool looking areas, although I'd definitely not want to live there. Me and Macro seem to have similar feelings about winter. :p
    And then they did drop off the parts with their client, and they got overpaid, to boot! That's sure gotta be nice. What isn't so nice is government ships flying through for some reason. Macro took an interest in them however, and wanted to follow them and see what they were up to. He definitely seems to enjoy this kind of thing a bit much... I have a feeling that's going to bite him eventually.

    It seems like it may have worked out this time though, finding that crate with apparently confidential contents. It'll be interesting to see what's in that, and just how important it may be.

    They didn't get away without a scratch though, they had a whole squad after them! That part was a ton of fun to go through, to say the least. And then that mysterious ship made another appearance and gave a helping hand. A potential ally perhaps? I guess that will have to wait for now though, since Wildcard Gamma warped away from them. I'm still really enjoying this, and I can't wait to see where the plot goes from here!

    Not gonna lie, I was getting some Thunder Force vibes from this. Probably because the way it functioned here reminded me of the CRAW System from those games. I'm sure it's a coincidence, but as a SHMUP fan I found that pretty cool regardless.
     
  19. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - I'm gonna put the quotes in spoiler tags as sometimes they can be a bit long and make it harder to get to the chapter.

    Also... today... you have a special chapter. I would have posted it mid-week to avoid disrupting the flow, but decided I'd post it this weekend in a strategic delay without... well... posting nothing. Basically, it gives me more time to finish off Widget's backstory as that will hopefully be going up in a couple of weeks (if that!). Otherwise... it'll be posted too late to tie in with the part of the story its revealed. Eek. I need to get a wiggle on.


    He's getting incredibly fed up and locked in a downward spiral until he finally pulls himself together somewhat.

    Oh, there is. Macro has suffered fiery flashbacks since early Arc 1. He's always had a nervousness towards going to Botnet City since the moment he found out one of the discs was there. I'm also pretty certain it mentions he's wanted for 'monslaughter' earlier on, too, amongst other things. Given how slow my updates come (weekly is still pretty slow for a steady read from say, a finished novel) it's easy to forget all this. I'm considering adding Tweak mentioning something along the lines of 'isn't that the same building Loop used to live in?' but I really don't want it to be too obvious as it's meant to be a bit of a shock.

    It was planned for a very, very long time.

    That might be an error... I think I made him talk a bit like N0ize. No one needs that... I may fix it at some point, but... we'll see.

    Pirates, eh?

    I love his 'sweetheart' line =3 it's like Switch's 'wink'.

    So would I. But I love writing him.

    He's adorable. Adorable with guns.

    Thanks! I enjoy writing it XD

    Me, too. It's already getting cold here =(

    Ohh, you have no idea.

    ...

    Special - The Fall of Wildcard Beta​

    There was a scratch on the hull.

    Hunter's lip curled into a sneer as he stared at it. An unsightly blemish in the blue hull of his trademark ship. Not even three years old, and its first real damage had lay at the fin of a drunkard's ship as he'd reversed out of Pulse City's docks. At least, that's what he'd hoped it was. He'd not witnessed it. But it wouldn't be unheard of for a pirate to act out of spite. Seeing the trademark huntail ship with Wildcard sprayed across its left flank would be enough to set off a more envious, less successful pirate.

    "Wow," came a familiar voice. "That is quite the scuff!"

    Hunter glanced down at a sewaddle who had sidled up beside him, craning his neck back to look up at the ship's wound with his one working eye. The other one had been reduced to a milky white by an everstone.

    "Who did that?" Worm asked.

    "No idea. I didn't see them." Hunter folded his arms and looked out at the sunset sky filled with aquatic-themed flying ships. "But when I find out I'll be painting over it with their face."

    "You might need to fill in the groove a bit, too. Unless you want it to have a scar like you? I mean, it's not over the huntail's muzzle, but…"

    The mawile rolled his eyes and sighed, turning back to his ship. "What do you want, Worm?"

    "Oh, nothing much," said the sewaddle. "I've just closed up shop and was on my way to Moonlight Lounge when I saw your ship in the docks. Thought you might like to get a drink?"

    "I suppose I could do with one." Hunter kicked himself back from the bollard he'd been leaning against. "But you're buyin'."

    "Dang it." Worm flailed his tiny legs and wriggled off ahead of him. "You called me out before I could even weasel you in."

    "Hey, I've gotta shell out for some more paint. It doesn't exactly come cheap in this hole."

    Hunter kicked at a tin can, sending it over the barrier around the city and into the dome. What remained of its contents splashed out and coated his scarf with a pungent, yeasty froth. His muzzle creased and he beat at it with his paws, but it only soaked into the black fabric.

    "This is not a good day," he growled.

    Worm stifled a laugh, but a chuckle betrayed him as he continued on through the busy street.

    "I guess you now have to shell out for a dry cleaner?" he called over his shoulder.

    Hunter shook his scarf and muttered to himself as he followed after the bug pokemon.

    Moonlight Lounge rose up on their right and he strolled inside, instantly assaulted by the smell of alcohol and the voices of drunk and excitable space pirates. He scooted to the side to avoid the large foot of an armoured rhyperior and ducked between the legs of an aggron, keeping his eyes on Worm's small body. The sewaddle had no problems, weaving between feet and bodies like a pro. Before they reached the bar, a loud voice drew Hunter's eye to a crowded booth.

    "I've had enough!" roared an incineroar. "I bail! You're nothin' but a dirty cheat!"

    He pushed himself from the booth, throwing a rude gesture at an oranguru. A magmortar followed behind him, tossing his cards back onto the table. He waved his railgun attachment between himself and the gorilla pokemon as he stomped off, leaving just the oranguru and two other pokemon at the table. Two dark types. Although the weavile looked rather jittery, staring intently at his cards. The scrafty was incredibly calm and composed in comparison.

    Oranguru… Hunter didn't know him by name, but his game was to play and control his opponents moves. Why did pokemon bother to even play? Because they wanted to see if they could resist his tricks. Hunter had no interest in such games. Not since Anchor had lost five hundred credits to the oranguru's little game.

    Speaking of whom…

    Anchor sat at the bar beside a small buneary. The granbull's eye went to Worm as he wriggled up the leg of a stool and clambered onto the bar counter. He said something to Anchor that was drowned out by other voices, but he looked over his shoulder and beamed from ear to ear.

    "Cap'n!" Anchor raised his glass. "I hear you're buyin'?"

    "He'd better be," said Digit. "Because I'm all out."

    "No you ain't," said Anchor.

    "He doesn't need to know that." Digit glanced at Hunter as he climbed up onto the stool beside her. She gave a small smile over her glass. "Oops."

    "Let me get one thing straight." Hunter pointed towards Worm. "I'm buyin' his drink. I pay you two."

    Digit tutted and swirled the remaining contents of her glass. "But I blew it all in the market upgrading my laser and getting my ears fluffed."

    "Then that's your fault," said Hunter. "'Fraid you'll be on rations for the next two weeks, sweetheart." He waved a paw at the scrafty as he passed by. "Oi! Barkeep!"

    The scrafty leered at him and begrudgingly took his order.

    Digit sighed and rubbed her finger over the rim of her glass. "Rations, eh? We could really use a chef."

    "I can't afford a chef," said Hunter.

    "I suppose." She sipped her drink. "I mean, you can barely afford me."

    "Hey, I pay you the exact same I pay Anchor." Hunter pointed over her shoulder at the granbull's amused yet baffled face. "And all you do, Digit, is sit in the navigation seat lookin' pretty."

    The buneary flicked her ears back and chuckled. "Oh, you cad. I thought I told you to stop that."

    "Yeah, well." Hunter shrugged and took his drink from the bartender. "You can tell me to stop all you want. I'll get through to you eventually."

    Digit scoffed and nudged her glass back towards the bartender. "Another please. Put it on his tab." She nodded to Hunter who spat out his drink and snapped his head around towards her.

    Anchor guffawed and slapped a large paw on the bar repeatedly. "Yanno, sometimes I can't tell if you guys are kiddin' or serious."

    Digit cocked a claw towards Hunter. "Getting him to buy me a drink was serious."

    "I don't know why I put up with you two," Hunter scoffed.

    Anchor laughed again and nudged the sewaddle, causing him to spill his drink onto the bar. Worm stared at it in dismay and shoved his glass towards the scrafty. He looked pointedly at the mawile.

    "Another one," said Worm. "Put it on Hunter's tab."

    Anchor almost fell off his stool into a hysterical heap.

    "You know what?" Hunter slipped from his stool and waved his glass in protest. "I don't deserve this punishment! I'm gonna find a booth and you guys ain't gonna join me."

    "Leave the tab open!" Worm called after him.

    Hunter promptly closed his tab, paid the bill begrudgingly, and slipped into a vacant booth right behind the poker players. At least… he thought it was vacant.

    Two yellow eyes fixed on him from the shadows. He stared back at them over his glass, trying to suss out the shadowy pokemon. They edged along the seat, the dim light reflecting off blue and black feathers. A chatot, his head topped with a tattered musical-note crest.

    "I usually like to sit alone," he squawked, as quietly as he could.

    "Yeah, well." Hunter put his glass down on the table and folded his arms. "I'd rather like the peace myself right now."

    "No other vacant booth?" The chatot waved a wing towards the restaurant doors. "Maybe fork out some cash and get yourself one of them fancy chambers, eh?"

    Hunter narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you?"

    "You gonna challenge me?" The chatot fluffed out his feathers, but it wasn't as intimidating as it was amusing. "Oh, forget it." He slumped back into his shadowy corner. "Do what you want."

    Hunter sipped his drink, keeping one violet eye on the parrot pokemon. "Hatter, right?"

    The chatot waved his wings and shushed him, his eyes flitting in all directions. "Keep it down! They'll mob me!"

    "Why?"

    "Because they want news." The chatot shuddered and huddled against the wall. "I'm tired. I need sleep."

    "Then go fly off to your nest."

    "I'm a nomad. I don't have a nest."

    Hunter raised an eyebrow and lowered his drink back to the table.

    "Stop staring at me," hissed Hatter. "They'll notice me."

    Hunter diverted his gaze to the booth behind the bird, but he couldn't help noticing every twitch out of the corner of his eye.

    "You could rent a room?" he suggested. "Bricked Inn is the cheapest place I can think of."

    "I ain't stayin' there again. Walls are paper thin. 'Oi, Hatter? That you? You in there?'" The chatot shuddered. "They won't leave me alone."

    "Well, this is a side of you I ain't ever heard of." Hunter sipped his drink, avoiding looking at the chatot head on. "I'd offer you a drink, but that would just draw attention to the fact there's someone else in this booth, won't it?"

    "Hmm… I actually like the sound of that."

    "Seriously? A second drink on the table, right before your beak, won't alert the other pirates that you're sat right there?" Hunter waved a paw towards him.

    "Stop gesturing," Hatter hissed. "Look, you get me a drink and put it on this seat right here beside me." He tapped his talons on the leather. "It should relax me enough I can get some shut-eye. You do that, I'll pay you back."

    "Pay me back how?"

    "Drink first, pal."

    Hunter sighed and clambered from his seat. "What's your poison?"

    "Aspear cider," said Hatter. "Splash some cinnamon spice in it while you're there."

    Hunter shrugged and crept to the bar, staying out of Digit and Anchor's line of sight. The bartender at this end was different. A female dark-furred persian with some kind of spinal adaptation. She mastered the art of walking on two legs, but her movements were ungainly. When she spotted Hunter she purred deeply and leant towards him.

    "Well, if it ain't the handsome mawile." She grinned, flashing two sharp canines. "What can I get you?"

    Hunter frowned up at her and placed a five credit bill on the counter. "Aspear cider. Splash of cinnamon spice."

    Her whiskers twitched with surprise and she straightened to look over his head at the other space pirates. He tapped the counter irritably, drawing her attention into one of his violet leers.

    "That's Hatter's drink, isn't it?" she asked.

    "Well, now it's mine." He nudged the bill towards her.

    The persian tutted and took the bill, pocketed it then turned to pour his drink. "If you're keeping secrets, so am I. No one needs to know a drink's gone unaccounted for, eh?"

    "What about my change?" he growled.

    She winked at him and popped the glass on the counter, then handed him the cinnamon sprinkler. Her voice came out as a whisper scented with pilfered ale. "Let me keep it and I'll keep my mouth shut that the little chatot is huddling against the wall back there like a scolded hatchling."

    Hunter glared back at her then nodded stiffly. Once she'd stood to tend to the next customer, he scattered cinnamon over the cider and carried it back to his booth.

    "Ahh, that's the stuff," said Hatter. "Nice 'n' easy now, nice 'n' easy."

    Hunter reached beneath the table to set it down beside Hatter. The chatot steadied it in his wings and hid it between himself and the wall.

    "Now you hold up your side of the bargain," said Hunter. "Cough it up."

    "Psh. Never patient, you space pirates." There was a rustle of paper and something brushed Hunter's leg. He reached beneath the table for it. "I think you'll find that to your liking?"

    Hunter spread the paper out on his lap and read over it. A report, complete with Socket's letter heading. No, not a report. A request. An order to a bomb manufacturer who'd set up base in Botnet City. What did Socket want with bombs? Well, Hunter didn't exactly care. All he saw was a sheet full of credit symbols that nearly caused his eyes to spin like a jackpot machine.

    His eye went to the address. Forty eight, Strobe Street Apartment, Botnet City. Apartment? What was a weapons expert doing manufacturing bombs in an apartment building? No, scratch that… what was Socket doing ordering them from such a place?

    He hastily folded the letter and stuffed it into his belt pouch. "I'd like to ask how you get your claws on such things, but I guess that's a trade secret, eh?"

    Silence.

    He looked back up at the chatot. His head lolled to the side against his glass, held close to his body by his wing. A soft snore left his beak, and his eye twitched a couple of times. Out like a light.

    Hunter slipped from his seat and grabbed his own glass, turning back to the bar. Anchor and Digit were still there, the latter sprawled out with her head on her arms. Anchor looked up when he saw him and raised his glass.

    "Back for another round, eh?" he asked.

    Hunter popped his glass on the bar and motioned towards the exit. "Come on, we've got a job."

    "A job? But it's night!"

    "Crime never sleeps, Anchor." Hunter turned to the door. "You're either with me, or you don't get paid."

    Anchor slipped from his stool and nudged the buneary.

    "I'm up!" She jerked her head from her arms and looked around. "Wait, what am I doing here?"

    Anchor grabbed her wrist and dragged her after him, following Hunter back to the docks. They skidded to a halt as Hunter opened the hatch, but Digit's eye went to the hull.

    "Aww man." She nodded to the scratch. "Who did that?"

    Hunter bristled but said nothing as he climbed on board. He fell into his captain's seat and kicked his feet up onto the dashboard. When Digit entered the room, he reached behind him and handed her Socket's letter.

    "Key in this address," he said.

    "Socket's mansion?" Digit gasped.

    Hunter rubbed the bridge of his nose and bit back a sigh. "The other address."

    Digit clambered into the navigation seat, then the ship lurched and she toppled off over the other side. Hunter snapped his head around to Anchor who mouthed an apology and released the steering controls. He twisted in his seat to look at Digit as she clambered back into her seat.

    "Might I request seat belts?" she hissed.

    "Sorry. My bad." Anchor raised his paws and turned back to his captain. "I think we should set her in autopilot, Cap'n. I think I had one too many ciders."

    Hunter pinched his muzzle in his claws, feeling the onset of a sick stress-headache. "Noted."

    ...​

    Botnet City, home to electric types. Even in the dead of night, the city hummed with life, its tall skyscrapers reaching up towards the glass dome. Bright lights contrasted against the black sky, drowning out a majority of the stars. The city hovered to the far east of Meta City, System's capital, who's pride of place was slap bang in the middle of System Ground. Botnet was a rather quiet city in comparison. More of a family place than a business district. Yet pokemon still moseyed up and down the streets, occupied in their own little world as they travelled back home from late night studying or overtime at the office.

    Its docks were fairly vacant, the only ship being a large government trade ship unloading supplies into the cargo hold. Had Hunter arrived during the day, there would most likely have been three or four such ships, but the others had long since left having been emptied of their goods.

    Wildcard Beta drifted in beside it, the cloak up. Not a single pokemon heard or saw it, too occupied with lugging huge boxes from the golden ship. Hunter braced himself in Wildcard Beta's exit hatch, hidden safely behind the cloak. Once the pokemon had entered the trade ship once more, he slipped out onto the docks, followed closely by Anchor. Wildcard Beta hung around for a while as the two space pirates ducked behind a metal shipping crate.

    Hunter's heart pounded as he kept his ears pricked for the pokemon behind him. Digit had sent over a map for the city well in advance, and he loaded it up on his visor. The location, Strobe Street Apartment, lit up in the chaos of the map. Almost in the centre of the city. That was a fair trek. He leant back against the crate, scouting for the best route. Best being the fastest, yet least inhabited areas. Alleyways, side streets. Anywhere that would avoid busy bars and main roads where he'd stand out like a beacon. Most pokemon would jump at the chance to turn him in for three thousand credits.

    He motioned to Anchor to follow him, and keeping an ear on the busy electric types unloading their cargo, he ducked off the docks and into an alleyway.

    One thing that always astounded him was how clean rich city alleys were. Not an overflowing bin bag in sight. Everything was neatly tucked away into skips and trash cans that looked like they received regular cleaning as much as they did emptying.

    The alley opened up into a busier road. One that still had commuters trotting back and forth. Many of them had their heads down and eyes on their computers as they sent messages to unseen recipients. Some, however, had their wits about them, and one such luxio sent Hunter back into the alley, unwillingly nudging Anchor back with his horn. The granbull stumbled into a skip and Hunter froze before ducking behind the nearest trash can. The luxio glanced their way, eyes trailing over the alley for any signs of trouble makers, before he gave up and padded down the street, eyes wandering to posters, restaurant menus and venue signs.

    Hunter clambered out from his hiding spot, noting Anchor as he wriggled out from behind the skip. He brushed back his mohawk and grunted.

    "Not as clean behind there as one might hope." He peeled a soggy sheet of torn poster from his fur and tossed it into the skip's open mouth. "Come on, Cap'n, I can see a break in the traffic."

    Hunter muttered under his breath, sticking close to his partner as he dashed across the busy street towards the next quiet spot. The mawile cast his eyes left and right, but the only commuter he spotted was a togedemaru right before he was about to crash into her. The space pirate leapt behind her, causing her whiskers to twitch. She looked up from her computer briefly, then tutted as she muttered something about 'boisterous kids these days', returning to her news browsing.

    Hunter let out a sigh of relief as he joined Anchor in the side street. The look on his partner's face told him he should be more careful and look where he was going, but the granbull decided to stay quiet rather than irk his captain. Instead, he nodded towards the cross roads ahead of them.

    "Which way?" he asked.

    "Right." Hunter pushed past him. "It's not far from here. If we stick to the quiet streets, we'll be in and out before we know it."

    "Raids in these flying cities always make me anxious." Anchor kept pace behind him and turned his eyes to the glass dome. "It ain't easy gettin' in and out like it is on System Ground."

    "Well, I guess that's one reason Socket's chosen some couch manufacturer to make her explosives then." Hunter paused at the crossroads, checking to make sure the coast was clear. It was. "Puts us off attempting to ninja her."

    Their location on Hunter's map overlay blinked along the street as they reached the next road. Strobe Street. A long street that ended in a huge, lush park. One thing about System Sky was that it had grass and berry trees in abundance. Botnet City, however, was more about aesthetics than farming. The park was ornamental, although still very much real. The trees produced berries, but not enough to feed a city. In places like this, a license was needed to pick them. At the edge of the park lay a pond. Home for water dwellers and, much to Hunter's dismay, a fishing spot. Part of the city's income, no doubt. Electric types were the perfect candidates for fishing up water dwellers for meat.

    Hunter turned his eye to the apartment block. Huge, towering. As wide as it was tall. If he were to guess, more than five hundred pokemon lived in it. And that was if there was only one to each apartment.

    He scurried around to the front of it, relieved to find what appeared to be a main street was a quiet one. One entirely for housing with not a bar in sight. Most families were indoors, getting ready for bed, if not already asleep. He brought out his computer and lifted it to the lock, hacking into the system. Within seconds, the panel beeped and the door rattled open, the right side jamming part way.

    Anchor slapped a paw into his face and groaned. "You really need to learn how to do this without breaking doors, Cap'n."

    "It would take too long." Hunter put his computer back into his pouch and beckoned Anchor to follow him. "Besides, I got it open, didn't I?"

    Anchor said nothing, sticking close to Hunter as he made for the elevator. Fortunately the stairs were the kind that allowed pokemon of all sizes to clamber up and down, but taking them left them both at risk of running into an occupant.

    So did the elevators, but at least he could get away faster.

    A little chime rang out and the doors hissed open, revealing an empty glass and chrome chamber. Hunter dove inside and brought his computer out again, lifting it to the panel.

    "Don't break it," Anchor warned. "I'm not gettin' stuck in one of these with you again."

    "I can't promise anything."

    Hunter keyed in an override and the lift rose smoothly to the fifth floor. A weapons manufacturer. Making bombs. Three floors from the very top of an apartment block filled with families young and old. What on earth was Socket thinking? He was doing the city a favour. After he'd raided the place, he'd expose the culprit. Botnet's officials wouldn't stand for it, and Socket would likely feign ignorance. Possibly even execute the very pokemon she was paying.

    The doors opened just as silently, and the pair stepped out onto a plush carpeted floor. White. Spotless. Everything was immaculate. Almost sterile.

    The pokemon they were looking for lived close to the elevators. Close enough to the emergency stairs to book it should anything go awry. Another key panel. Another broken door.

    It swung inward, revealing a room decked out with black and chrome. A black leather sofa; a glass-topped coffee table rimmed with black, perched on chrome legs; a modern television set sat on a black unit with a chrome frame; black curtains blending in with black and white checkered walls and carpet. Bookcase, rug, fireplace…

    Hunter shook it off and ducked into the apartment, confirming it to be empty. They'd need to work quickly. Find the explosives, bag as many as they could and get out.

    "Found it."

    Anchor's voice drew Hunter away from the bathroom door towards the other side of the apartment. The granbull stood aside from the open door into what would have been the pokemon's bedroom. But instead it led into a laboratory. The lack of black and chrome made it feel as though the door led to another world entirely. The lab of some crazed scientist, filled with tables and sharp, glinting knickknacks that could do more damage than good in the wrong paws. Nails and screws scattered about the floor, mixed with plastic and metal boxes alike. Wires, sharp bits of steel, soldering iron, and the sharp scent of metal and disinfectant.

    "It's all in here," Anchor called from the back of the room. "Three boxes of various explosives."

    Hunter reached into his pouch and dragged out three rolled-up heavy-duty sacks. "Here, bag 'em up. As many as you can."

    "Roger."

    Anchor shook one sack open and began carefully loading it up with bombs. Hunter crouched beside him, one ear on the door, as he bundled the weapons inside with a little less care than the granbull. Anchor's larger paws meant he could handle more and had two sacks filled before Hunter had finished filling his first one. Anchor took over while Hunter watched the door, one paw on his right laser.

    "All right, got as many as we can carry." Anchor lugged two of the sacks over one shoulder. "Grab the other, let's go."

    Hunter hoisted the other sack, stumbling slightly under its weight, and followed the granbull from the apartment. But Anchor faltered, causing Hunter to almost crashed into his tail. Before Hunter could open his mouth to berate his partner, his eye fell on a hulking electabuzz. Or what he thought was an electabuzz. His entire body was almost completely cybernetic. Armour coated his legs, cables bulging out as he advanced towards them. He brought up one arm, almost indescribable, and a large blade erupted from it. A leaf blade. He brought it down towards Anchor's face, but the granbull lifted his free arm. The weapon bounced harmlessly off his gauntlet, save for a few sparks from the impact.

    If they were going to stand a chance in this battle, they had to take out the electabuzz's enhancements.

    Hunter grabbed his laser and fired, knocking the electabuzz back out into the hallway. The brown ground-type beam bounced from his cybernetic parts, scuffing the wall beside him. The mawile tutted, but at least they'd knocked him off his feet.

    Anchor bolted from the room with Hunter in tow, but the electabuzz wasn't down. He pushed himself to his feet and shot out a series of water shurikens from his right arm's cannon attachment. Anchor stumbled back to avoid running right into them, but one caught his foot. He yelped, dropping the bombs to free up his arms. He brought his fist around over Hunter's head and struck the electabuzz in the jaw. He staggered backwards, counter attacking with his leaf blade attack. The attack struck Anchor on the chin, sending the granbull careening backwards. Flames erupted in his jaws and he kicked the floor, launching himself back towards the electabuzz. He locked his flaming jaws over the electric type's cannon in a bid to overheat it. But water shurikens erupted from it, blasting him back down the hallway towards the elevator.

    "Aim for his weapons," Hunter barked. "Without them, he can't do anything."

    Hunter aimed his laser, aiming at the electabuzz's legs as he rushed towards him. The electric type tripped as one beam struck him on the right ankle, then bounced off towards the wall. Rather than a scuff, it tore through the plasterboard to the wires beneath, exposing them. A pity. The hallway had looked so pristine. Hunter's mind went back to the gouge on his ship's hull and a canine poked from his lips as he fired again. The electabuzz leapt right over it, bringing the leaf blade down towards Hunter's head.

    The attack struck his horn and he grunted, slumping onto his bottom. The electabuzz brought his arm up for another attack, but was barrelled backwards as Anchor leapt clean over the mawile, rolling away from him in a tangle of limbs. The electabuzz brought up his leaf blade to strike Anchor in an attempt to get the large pokemon off him, but it met Anchor's sparking gauntlet. The electricty shorted out the electabuzz's weapon, rendering it useless.

    The electabuzz swore loudly and flipped Anchor off him with more strength than a normal pokemon should have. His other weapon, a mechanical fist, sparked as he lifted it to strike the granbull. An amplifier. A means to strengthen his electrical attacks. Anchor lifted his own gauntlets to counter the attack, the impact sending out a shower of electricity. It danced over the carpet, grounding down to the floors below. But some hit the exposed wires, causing them to sizzle and pop. Small flames erupted from them, rushing along the wall in a neat criss-crossed pattern. The heat ignited the plasterboard, eating away at it as the wires continued to overheat. A siren began to ring out, throwing the entire apartment into a panic. Voices reached his ears and below them he could hear pokemon stampeding down the stairs. Those on their floor cast one glance at the warring pokemon amongst the flames and turned towards the other fire exit. Had they recognised Hunter through all that chaos?

    No, there was no time to worry about that. The fire was spreading too quickly on a floor filled with explosives, eating up the carpet in a desperate bid to consume everything. They couldn't stick around for much longer. Hunter fired one more ground laser at the electabuzz's legs, shattering the armour and sending the electric type slumping to the floor.

    "Anchor, move it!"

    Hunter turned and bolted towards the elevators. He pushed the button, and the door opened immediately. Not a single occupant would opt to use the lift with a fire burning away at the walls. He looked back, ready to bellow for Anchor to get a move on, but the electabuzz hadn't given up. He stood awkwardly on his damaged leg, using his shorted weapon to pin the granbull up against the wall. Flames licked at Anchor's canines as he snarled at the electabuzz, looking for a way in to deal some more damage and free himself. Above his head, fire ate away at the plasterboard, spreading rapidly as heat travelled along the wires. If Hunter were to guess, the heat had been too much for the safety fuses to handle. Or they'd failed. Either way, if they didn't get out soon, they'd become trapped in the growing inferno.

    Hunter swore under his breath and fired off a ground laser, knocking the electabuzz back from Anchor. The granbull roared and staggered back as the laser skimmed his leg. But he didn't berate Hunter. The mawile scurried back to him, asking if he was okay, eyeing his wounded leg. But the granbull just grunted and motioned towards the elevator. He grabbed one sack of the explosives and limped past him, putting as much distance between him and the electabuzz as he could.

    Before either of them could reach the elevator, the electric type was up. Aiming his weaker limb. The thunder punch amplifier. Flames roared from the wall, sending down flurries of plasterboard burnt to cinders. It only served to make the electric type appear more sinister than his sparking, damaged components already made him. But it wasn't electricity he threatened with. A water laser erupted from a nozzle above the fist, and Hunter panicked, firing a ground laser to fend off the attack as they desperately tried to flee. The tiles beneath the carpet had cracked in the heat, crunching beneath Hunter's feet as he leapt back from the colliding lasers. Water and ground. Yet the explosion was enough to ignite the remaining sack of explosives.

    The entire building shook as shrapnel went flying. Nails tore away the plaster, exposing the sparking and flaming wires beneath. The weakened ground gave way, taking most of the explosives expert's apartment with it. But not without claiming Hunter. He fell down to the apartment below, grunting as his back struck his own sack of explosives. He braced himself, gritting his teeth together. Dreading the following explosion. But it didn't happen. Just the sirens, the roar and crackle of flames and the pattering of shattered tiles and wooden beams raining down around him. Smoldering wood bounced off his head, and he swatted it aside with a paw.

    "Cap'n!" Anchor roared.

    Hunter craned his neck back, looking up into the granbull's worried face. Anchor coughed and wafted smoke from his face, then leant further into the hole.

    "Are you all right?" he called.

    "Yes, I'm fine." It was a lie, but the last thing Hunter needed was Anchor worrying about him. "Find a way out and call for Digit. I'll… look for another way, I guess."

    He clambered from the sack as Anchor confirmed his orders, vanishing from the gaping hole. Hunter took a moment to look around. The room was a mess. Black and chrome furniture lay haphazard about the room, crushing what remained of the apartment's previous decor. Smoke assaulted his senses and he choked, waving it away from his face. Not that it did much good. Flames ate away at the walls, spreading over the laminated floor. The rubble he'd landed amongst smoldered like coals, the main culprit for the smoke. His eye went to the window, but it was blocked off by heavy wooden beams and the remains of the electabuzz's chrome-framed book case. Resigning himself to the potential fate of a fiery maze, he tiptoed around the broken glass of the coffee table and made for the door.

    That's when Hunter became hyper aware of the sirens. They'd been blaring for a while, but at that moment they seemed deafening. Coupled with the screams and shouts of the building's occupants. He ducked back inside the apartment and waited for the pokemon to pass. His heart hammered in his chest as his eye went back to the floor above them. A floor still filled with bombs. Flames licked down from above him like an upside-down volcano, spitting out smoldering wood to add to the kindling. The floor above him was blazing, and it was spreading.

    If he went out there, the inhabitants would see him. Know it was him who'd caused it. Maybe the bolder pokemon would try to drag him along and turn him in. He could hold his own, but it was meant to be a quick and easy mission…

    Once the commotion outside had died down, he threw the door open and stepped out into a blazing hallway. Another tremor shook the apartment as the explosives above him went off, and rubble rained down outside his vision. The opening created a back draft, blowing him down the hallway. Flames licked his fur and he yelped, scrambling out of them towards the stairs. They felt miles away. Right at the other end of the corridor. He spotted the retreating tail of an emolga vanish beyond the double doors before they swung back into place, trapping Hunter with the flames.

    He fled towards it, heat soaking through his horn, disorienting him. He shook it off, but his head was already beginning to throb. He didn't do well in heat, no steel type did.

    Once he was through the door, cooler air caressed over him. Then he spotted the open window. Four floors up. He couldn't survive that. He'd have to take the stairs.

    Half running, half stumbling, he bounded down the stairs, the sack of explosives crashing against his spine with each leap. Twice he almost crumpled beneath the weight. His eyes glanced the floor numbers as he passed them. Three. Two…

    A wall of heat blocked his way and he faltered, staring down into an inferno. When did it reach the second floor? He turned to the window, but flames cascaded down from the crumbling plaster around it. His heart hammered against his ribs as he looked back at the stairs, warring with the desire to flee or leap through the blaze. Then his mind went to his load. If he leapt through that, he'd go up with the bombs. He shook his head and fled through the double doors onto the second floor hallway.

    Heat. Fire. Climbing down from the ceiling and travelling along the wires. Heating up the steel parts that formed a majority of the building's structure. If they were even as hot as his head was beginning to feel, it was little wonder the place was ablaze. He scurried through the hallway, checking doors finding each one locked. A window. He just needed to find a window. Two floors. Surely a fall that distance wouldn't kill him? A broken bone or two, sure, but he'd survive. He'd survived worse.

    Then crying reached his ears.

    He faltered by a door, straining his ears against the sirens and roar of fire. A sob. Words. A child. A child? His heart plummeted. There wasn't seriously a child locked in there?

    He took a step back then launched a kick at the door, but bounced off it. What was it made of? He considered throwing an iron head, but an action like that in this heat would probably knock him unconscious. Instead, he threw another kick. Then another. The door splintered, plastic and wood, as he stumbled through it. Right into a wall of heat. Flames licked down from the ceiling like fiery stalactites. The whole room was like a cave of fire. The crying was louder, to his left. But his eye went to the rubble. The entire ceiling above had caved in, bringing the room above them with it. Two bodies lay beneath it. He spotted the heart-shaped tail of a female pikachu poking out from beneath wooden beams and a burning sofa. Beside her lay a raichu, his head buried in the rubble. He tore his eyes from it and turned towards the bedroom. Crying. Frantic pleas for his mother.

    Hunter gave himself a mental shake, berating himself for what he was about to do. He'd not wanted to run into anyone, and now he was running to the rescue. Practically handing his life away. But he couldn't leave a child to die in that fire. Not a fire he was responsible for. He'd gone for the bombs. He'd fought back against the electabuzz. It was his laser that had exposed the wires.

    He stumbled into the bedroom, his violet eyes fixing on the terrified face of a pichu. Probably not even two years old, standing in a cot-bed. His tiny paws gripped the bars as he tried to pull himself out.

    "Mummy?" he whimpered. "Where's mummy?"

    Hunter died inside.

    He rushed to the child and hoisted him with his free arm out of the cot-bed. Then he turned to the window. Smoke and fire barred his way, alongside the teetering end of a bed. His eye went to the ceiling and his heart skipped a beat. It bulged under the weight of furniture where the beams had cracked and burnt away. They could go back the way he'd come in, but… He tried not to think about the pichu seeing his parents. Crushed under the rubble. Getting the answer to his incessant, terrified question.

    "Where's my mummy?" the child sobbed. "Daddy? I'm scared…"

    "Don't worry." Hunter dropped the sack and reached for his laser, keeping one eye on the ceiling. "We'll get out of here. Just hold on."

    He fired, blasting a ground beam straight through the wall to the apartment next door. The dust had barely begin to settle as he grabbed the weapons and launched himself though the hole with the child, gritting his teeth as he braced for the bed to finally fall into the room. But it didn't. He glanced back, stunned, then pushed himself to his feet. Still cradling the pichu in his left arm.

    He backed up towards the window, wary of the flames slowly eating away at the curtains and wall. The park was below them. He could see the pond, not too far from the window. A fair leap, totally manageable. But if he missed it… then there was a chance they'd both die. It was too much of a risk, especially if he wanted to spare the kid's life. No… he needed to get down another floor.

    He rushed towards the door and stumbled as the ground gave way. Flames erupted up from below it like a volcano, blocking all access to the door. Then he heard the bed finally give way. Crashing down into the pichu's bedroom, shattering the cot-bed as if it were made of toothpicks. The tiny pokemon screamed, soaking Hunter's scarf with his frantic, terrified tears. Tiny claws dug into the mawile's flesh.

    The window it was. He dropped the sack, clutched the pichu to his chest in both arms, and leapt backwards from the window. Glass shattered against his horn and snagged his fur. The pichu screamed. Screaming for his parents. Kicking his legs against the space pirate's torso. Then water cascaded around them. Cool water. Obliterating the heat from his horn in a dizzying frenzy. He almost sank to the bottom, still clutching the writhing hatchling.

    Then something nudged him. Pushing them back to the surface. He opened his eyes and met the worried face of a seaking. The fish pokemon looked between the space pirate and his charge, then to the burning building.

    Hunter spat water from his mouth, gasping as he gulped down clean, cool air. Then he met the seaking's eyes. "I'm sorry."

    "What for?" the seaking asked.

    Hunter said nothing, pushing the pichu onto the seaking's back. The tiny pokemon gasped for air, his breath wheezing. His yellow fur was still peppered with grey.

    "Please… get him to shore," said Hunter. "Save him."

    The space pirate kicked himself across the water, rushing towards the berry bushes. Surely pokemon had seen him. Knew it was him. Knew he was responsible and were braying for his blood.

    "But what about you?" the seaking called.

    Hunter ignored him. He fled through the bushes, keeping his ears open and casting glances to the commotion. Yet more sirens. Ambulances. Fire patrol. Their emergency blue and red lights strobing across the busy street. Water gushed towards the flames, driving them back. Drowning them out. He reached up a paw and brought up his visor. It failed. His heart sank. Stranded. Pokemon glancing his way. Pointed claws.

    Several advanced towards him and he instinctively reached for his laser. Another explosion drew their eyes back towards the crumbling apartment block as the final sack of bombs succumbed to a fiery fate. The very room he'd leapt from caved in, sending down a rain of rubble.

    Then the dome cracked, shattered, blown apart by a freezing beam of ice. Wildcard Beta's ice laser. The neon ladder drifted down towards him, and he heard Digit's voice in his ear. Slightly distorted from the heat damage.

    "Hunter!" she screeched. "Grab the ladder! Now!"

    He didn't even need telling. He leapt towards the neon rung and found himself whisked away as the occupants of Botnet City watched. Looking between him and the blazing building. Looks of terror and anger on their faces. He remembered the thunderbolts. The ones that missed, and the one that struck him just before Digit reached out through the exit hatch and dragged his stunned body back on board.

    He also remembered her face.

    ...​

    "I can't believe you!" Digit roared. "What did you do?!"

    Hunter flinched at her words, cowering back on his bed as the buneary marched back and forth. It had been a painful hour. She'd worked in silence, tending to their wounds as she bristled with rage. A long, painful silence. The medical kit she'd been tending him with lay discarded at the foot of the bed. Anchor didn't look much braver, either. He stood in the doorway, occasionally glancing out of the corridor.

    She pointed a claw at him. "Oh no. Don't you think you're leaving."

    The granbull lifted his paws. "Wouldn't dream of it." Then he added under his breath, "It's less scary standing right here."

    Digit had heard it. She frowned and turned back to Hunter.

    "That apartment block is reduced to a hollowed out shell!" She tugged her ears and growled. "What happened? How did it…? What did you…?"

    "It was self defence," said Hunter.

    "So you keep saying. But I can't see how an attempt at 'self defence' causes a blazing fire and three separate explosions!"

    Hunter had nothing to say. He hugged his arms around himself and turned his eyes to the window.

    "It were an accident," said Anchor. "Sparks flew and ignited some exposed wires-"

    "How did the wires get exposed?" asked Digit. "Because I doubt an apartment in one of System's wealthiest cities-"

    "It was me." Hunter's voice drew her attention back to him, but he couldn't meet her eye. "I fired. I tried to disarm him. The beam bounced off his armour and tore a hole in the plasterboard. It was me, all right?"

    Digit's arms fell limp at her sides. Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head slowly. "You fired?"

    Hunter shrugged and closed his eyes.

    "You fired while carrying three sacks of various, unknown bombs?!" she snapped. "In an occupied, residential building?! Hunter, they've counted thirteen bodies so far. And they've not even gone through the entire wreckage yet! It's still burning! It's still dropping to bits! One of the fire 'mon got crushed in the falling rubble!"

    Hunter flinched. He already knew all that. It's not like he'd not had the news site open for the past hour, monitoring the damage.

    "I've put up with your reckless behaviour, Hunter," she spat. "For two whole years. Stunts of bravado, running into jobs guns blazing. The trigger-happy mawile who, somehow, manages to make most other space pirates look bad at their jobs! Pulse City's main gatherer of weapons! Taking on any job that pays well. Well, bravo." She clapped slowly. "You've got one sack of explosives to pawn off over at Worm's stall tomorrow." She paused and folded her arms, fixing her eyes on the window. "Pity I won't be there."

    Hunter snapped his head around to look at her. His jaw went slack. "What?"

    "I bail." Digit threw her paws in the air. "I've had enough. I can't put up with this. Every job you take has me worried sick. Not just for your sake, but for everyone else's, too! And I think today has confirmed one of my worst fears. In fact, no… I never actually thought it would get this bad." She waved a paw to his computer. "'Hunter. Now wanted for forty thousand credits for a suspected terrorism attempt on Botnet City. One of System's finest meat suppliers.'"

    He groaned and let his head fall into his paws. Of course it would say that. Every pokemon across System knew of his attempts to draw pokemon away from slaughtering the water dwellers in the name of meat.

    "I'll be dropping off at the next suitable stop," said Digit. "Unfortunately that happens to be a fair way away from where I'd like to go. But I can always hitch a ride towards Meta City."

    Hunter looked up at her, but she avoided his gaze as she stormed from his room. He caught Anchor's eye and swallowed back a lump that threatened tears.

    "I'm sorry, Cap'n." Anchor shrugged his shoulders. "But we can't force her to stay."

    "I don't want to." Hunter leant forward on his knees and turned his attention to his pocket computer screen. "I guess I deserve this."

    "Don't talk like that."

    "Just let her go." He waved a paw at Anchor. "She'll need you to let her off. Where is the next stop, anyway?"

    "Seed City."

    "Oh, of course." Hunter rubbed the bridge of his nose. "A city of fairies. Convenient, eh?"

    "What do you mean? You're as wanted there as you are anywhere."

    "Convenient because it's where we built Wildcard Beta." Hunter fixed an eye on him. "And it's where she's gonna fall."

    Anchor raised an eyebrow and let out a confused 'eh?'

    "Hunter is no more." The mawile flicked off his computer screen as the death toll confirmed two more. "Makes sense to scrap my trademark ship."

    "So what are we gonna do? Abandon our life as space pirates?" Anchor scoffed.

    "Of course not. I'd be a dead 'mon walkin'." Hunter turned his head to look Anchor in the eye. "We'll build a new ship. Start a new life. And you, along with everyone on this ship-"

    "So just us two, then?"

    Hunter shot him a sneer. "We'll find a new navigator. But from now on, it's Macro."

    "You're reverting to your birth name?" asked Anchor. "I thought you hated it."

    "Well…" The mawile smoothed out his scarf over his legs. "Macro didn't kill fifteen pokemon and counting."

    Anchor nodded stiffly. "Very well, Cap'n. I'll be in the cockpit ready to let Digit disembark."

    He turned and limped from the room, leaving Macro to return to his computer and watch the death toll slowly rise.

    ...​

    Twenty three. Twenty three pokemon confirmed dead in the blaze.

    Macro stood back as he watched Anchor pull apart Wildcard Beta. He didn't want any of its scraps. Its engine. Its shell. Nothing. Every piece would be turned in for credits. They'd already found a buyer. A pawniard living just outside Seed City. He owned a scrap heap that salvaged parts, and practically panted when Macro turned over his ship. At least he wasn't panting for the mawile's life.

    Not like the rest of System.

    Thankfully, the charges against him had been altered. No more a suspected terrorist attack. Instead, he was wanted for arson and monslaughter. Clearly Socket had thought it better to alter that little accusation, for fear of sending System into an uproar. To her, his attempts would have been obvious. Get to the explosives before they reached her. She knew his line of work. Knew he stole then sold government weapons across System, primarily to Pulse City. Why cause a panic when she could just as easily sugar-coat the truth? A failed weapons heist gone awry. Leave herself out of the picture, and point the claw at the other culprit. The electabuzz, who, unfortunately, had died in the explosion. Unable to say his piece.

    A bitter taste filled Macro's mouth as he watched the two pokemon dismantle his ship. Not because he missed it. After what had happened, it would be wrought with bad memories. He tore his eyes away and looked down at the schematics for his new ship. Like Wildcard Beta, he and Anchor had designed it together. The new one came with a hidden message. A new life. Teamwork.

    A schooling wishiwashi.

    Complete with spinning turrets that fired off an explosive bubble beam, just like his huntail the new ship would leave a mark in the skies. And hopefully not a destructive one. He sipped at his hot cocoa from his flask and looked up at the two pokemon. Something had caught their eye. Someone scurrying around… inside his ship? He pushed himself up and plodded towards it.

    "What's going on?" he asked.

    "You've got a lodger." The pawniard pointed a claw into his ship. "Happens a lot in my scrap heap. But this one is a particular nuisance."

    Macro poked his head inside the ship. Cowering by the cockpit was a small, brown slurpuff.

    "Keeps climbing inside things," the pawniard went on. "Took me two days to get him out of an old shipping crate some space pirate wanted to buy off me."

    "So he doesn't have a home?" Macro turned back to the slurpuff. "Is that right?"

    The slurpuff shook his head violently. "Don't kick me out! Please! I… it's so… big out there…"

    Macro stared at him, formulating an idea in his head. A negotiation. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

    "You want shelter, then fine. I can offer that." He waved a paw at the inside of his ship. "This is being scrapped. No ifs, no buts. I need the cash, and you're currently stoppin' me from gettin' it. I need the cash 'cos I gotta fly. We're building a new ship. If you want shelter, you can join my crew. You wanna be a space pirate?"

    The slurpuff shook his head. "No. Not at all. Space pirates are way more scary than…" He fixed an eye on the pawniard.

    "All right, so you don't wanna be a space pirate." Macro rolled his eyes. "I'm selling this ship. What do you want to be? An engineer? Cleaner?"

    "A chef." The slurpuff tugged at his fluffy fur, avoiding Macro's eye. "I want to be a chef. My mother was a chef. My father was a chef. My grandfather-"

    Macro raised a paw, silencing him. "I get the idea. You're from a long line of chefs. Well…" He chuckled and leant against the doorway. "I actually could use a chef."

    The slurpuff looked up with a start.

    "The offer's there." Macro waved a paw and turned to leave. "Take it or leave it."

    "I won't have to fight?" the slurpuff asked. "I won't need to be a space pirate? I won't have to… talk to any…?"

    Macro looked back at him and shrugged. "You're talkin' to me, aren't you? Besides… how can I have a chef who won't even speak to me?"

    The slurpuff began to tremble from head to tail.

    "What's your name, kid?" Macro asked.

    "C-Cookie."

    "Cookie, eh? Can you make pancakes?"

    The slurpuff nodded so quickly his berry bobbed back and forth. "Yes! Yes! I love pancakes. With chocolate sauce, and berry coolie, butter, jam, sugar!"

    "Good. So do I."

    "Will I get my own kitchen?" Cookie squeaked.

    "Kid, you'll get your own room! Just please, let the good pawniard do his job!"

    The slurpuff leapt to his feet and followed Macro off the ship. Then there was a squeal, and Macro's leg felt very heavy. The slurpuff had wrapped himself around it, burying his face into his fur. At first Macro thought he was just incredibly happy. Then it struck him. It was fear.

    "He always does that."

    A new voice. Macro looked up to spot a ribombee sitting atop the huntail's fin. A small computer lay on his lap as he wound an antenna in his left paw, eyeing Cookie curiously. Unlike Cookie, the ribombee didn't look homeless. It was more than likely he'd fluttered out of an apartment window when curiosity got the better of him.

    Cookie turned his trembling head towards him. "Matrix?"

    "It's agoraphobia," the ribombee explained. "A fear of wide open spaces. He likes to hide in things, and doesn't like busy places. I've tried to get him to play games with me but… he doesn't like the arcades. So sometimes, we compromise." He buzzed into the air, tucking his computer back into his pouch. "I'll go and get a barrel."

    With that, he was off into the scrap yard.
     
  20. Virgil134

    Virgil134 PMD Writer

    Hey there! Like I promised, here’s my review for the first three chapters.

    So first of all, I have to confess I was initially quite skeptical about the setting. I love PMD and I like sci-fi, but I wasn’t all that sure if combining them was really the best idea. I like my low-tech PMD settings quite a bit and it’s actually why I didn’t start reading the story last year. That said, I’ve warmed up to it as I read more! Mostly because I think you’re doing a really good job at executing the cyberpunk PMD idea. Although I still don’t like it as much as a low-tech PMD setting, I like your setting overall and can enjoy it as I continue reading.

    Anyway, the setting isn’t the most important thing to me anyway. The most important aspect of a fic to me are the characters, who from what I’ve seen so far are quite enjoyable! I think the crew of the Wildcard Gamma will be fun to follow as the story progresses. I can’t comment too much about the plot since I’m only three chapters in, but the premise about stealing a living computer does sound very interesting. We’ll see when that comes up, since so far the crew has just been stealing weapons. Regardless, I enjoyed these first three chapters quite a bit and they definitely pulled me in.

    Onto some specifics from the chapters that stood out to me:

    Chapter 1

    Well now, someone’s a little touchy, now isn’t he? Sorry I couldn’t resist

    Despite that they just had to make a delivery in a very filthy city, the work conditions of a space pirate don’t sound all that bad if you got pancakes and a hot shower waiting for you upon returning to your ship. Real life pirates would be jealous!

    So this is definitely interesting and gives a good idea of the sort of world they’re living in. I’m gonna go ahead and guess that Socket is the main villain of the story? (Or at least for the moment. Who knows how things will change down the line.)

    Chapter 2

    Looks like their laser weapons are all elemental. That’s definitely a neat take on cyberpunk weapons! I first thought they’d just be your typical sci-fi lasers, but this is a really cool way to mix the Pokémon aspect into it. I like it.

    I’ll use this particular bit as an example, but seems like in this world a lot of Pokemon are divided by what type they are (though it doesn’t seem to apply to the space pirates, but piracy has always been a multicultural thing anyway). I’m guessing this is because of Socket? It’s definitely not a thing you’d expect from a cyberpunk story. I know you’ve mentioned on Discord how you originally had a cyberpunk idea and an idea for another story, before you combined the two into System: Reboot. Is this aspect taken from that other story? Regardless, I find it quite intriguing and will look forward to how this plot element develops. Especially since they’re gonna deliver those weapons to the Ice-Types soon.

    Chapter 3

    I’ll be honest, I’m surprised Macro didn’t demand seven and a half :p

    I’d make a fun comment about noodle incidents, but considering what I read on Discord about the special you just published, I guess this is a lot closer to early foreshadowing, huh?

    Wow, the Pokémon here sure are something, huh? Doesn’t sound like a very pleasant to be. That said, I think this paragraph does do a good job at establishing what the atmosphere is like for the reader, so kudos for that.

    I definitely feel like we haven’t seen the last of Surge. Maybe she’ll be a recurring antagonist? That or Macro really is paranoid lol.

    Also you forgot a “z” there and accidently typed “zigagoon” instead of “zigzagoon”.

    And that’s it for the first three chapters. There’s some other stuff I want to get to first, but I promise you I’ll continue reading this and catch up eventually! I’ll be sure to let you know on Discord how that goes.
     

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