1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. We're currently having an issue where e-mails sent to gmail accounts are not going through and are bouncing back. We're currently working to resolve this matter and apologise for any inconvenience
    Dismiss Notice
  3. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  4. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

System:Reboot (PMD)

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

  1. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Definitely a winter

    We don't talk about Wildcard Beta... so I guess that means this review is done! 'Kthnxbai! *flees*
    ...
    ...
    ...
    ...

    Okay, fine, I guess I'll say something. Let me get my gripe out of the way, here. Presenting this special chapter immediately after Macro explains the entire sequence of events makes this feel very redundant. In all honesty, you might be better served ending the previous chapter with Macro beginning an explanation, then trailing off to lead into this special episode. Then DL can quit the crew in the next chapter. I think the pacing would've worked and would remove the issues I have with Macro's grammar.

    Otherwise, the chapter was fine. I don't have much to comment on, other than to say it's hilarious Digit was still a Buneary. She could not be a less intimidating space pirate if she tried. Then again, this same story has brought us a Pachirisu trying to masquerade as a space pirate, so I don't know what I was expecting, here. I also find it funny how, even in the past, Macro gets stiffed over drinks and generally gets teased by his crew. The guy never had any respect and he certainly doesn't get it these days. Good grief.

    RIP Macro's tab. Forever a casualty in this story.

    "You can't tell me what to do, Mom! I can eat ice cream any time I want!"

    Hatter is a 'mon of taste, I see. (I think.)

    That silence you hear is one thousand Kricketots chirping.

    The big bad space pirates that always buckle their seat belts for safety! :V

    Bad Macro! 'Tis against the code of piracy to speak of our dreaded arch-nemeses like that! That be a plank-walking for ye!

    Starting to think Macro x Door is going to be a thing eventually.

    PLOT TWIST: MACRO'S BEEN A ZOMBIE THIS WHOLE TIME?!

    "Blew up a building... duh."

    Well, if you switch a couple of letters around, 'Self defense' becomes 'Self-Destruct.' Now do the math. :p

    Macro, the pirate manchild. Should've called himself Captain Sweet-Tooth instead. Aaaand I'm out.
     
  2. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I agree. But the chapter was already written before I got the suggestion for the Special. It gave me the opportunity to go into more detail. Thinking about it, it would have worked a lot better in place of his explanation, but the following chapter with DL leaving would either have been incredibly short, or added at the start of this following chapter. Which might have reduced its impact (although made it a little longer... which isn't bad...)

    Well, he does have seat belts in Wildcard Gamma!

    Funnily enough, Pirates Versus Ninjas is kinda my next Special idea...

    It would be a pretty... broken relationship... (Tumbleweed)


    I have no idea how he would react to that...

    Thanks for reading! =D

    Part Five - Terror

    Chapter Sixty Four​

    It had taken BackDoor several days, but he found it. Just what he was looking for. A powerful pocket in time and space, one that radiated promise. The other ones he’d found had paled in comparison, throwing out large and impressive Ultra Beasts that hadn’t held up to the hoopa’s standards. None of them had listened. None of them could speak. Or if they could, they didn’t speak any language he knew.

    Hopefully whatever resided on the other side of that pocket would be able to understand him.

    He removed the hoop from his left horn and span around in a quick, wide circle. The pocket opened instantly, glowing golden around the rim. The ultraviolet mist pulsed with energy, flickering and strobing off the hoopa’s metallic shell. Something moved in the mist, growing larger until its shadow took shape. Huge wings spanned out from its long body, its movements similar to that of a seviper. Then it lurched forwards, bursting from the pocket in a flash of ultraviolet light.

    BackDoor keeled backwards, keeping his eyes on the creature. It was like nothing he’d ever seen. Grey and black with red highlights, ornamented with what looked like a solid gold harness over its neck. Each wing split into three. No legs to speak of, just spikes along the side of its body. And it didn’t even flap its wings. It just floated there. Staring at him through a pair of tiny, red eyes.

    BackDoor let out a thoughtful noise as he swerved to the side to get a better look at the creature. It copied him, keeping its eyes on his. But as it moved, its body seemed to distort as though it didn’t quite belong in System.

    “Not like the others,” he said. “You’ve got a funny mist trailing you.”

    “What did you call me here for?” If the creature had a mouth, it didn’t open it to speak.

    BackDoor jolted with surprise, then broke into a gleeful giggle. “Oh boy! You speak!”

    “Of course I speak,” the creature hissed. “Now what did you call me here for?”

    BackDoor shrugged. “Oh, just fun. I’m bored. Bored of looking for a new world for this world’s mayor to flee into. So I’ve been playing with Ultra Beasts.”

    “Ultra Beasts,” the creature repeated. “What are Ultra Beasts?”

    “What you are, of course!” said BackDoor. “Weird creatures from another world.” He mused for a moment, looking the creature up and down. It distorted again, and he thought he saw a leg. “No idea what to call you though.”

    “I have many names,” the creature said. “Griseous, The Altered One, The Banished Beast. Some even call me Giratina.”

    BackDoor waved a mitten paw. “Then I suppose I should come up with something better. But I’ve just been throwing guesses at these other beasts. Most recent one I named Assembly ‘cos it were made of bricks that stacked one by one when it appeared. Thought it were never gonna stop. So… what do you do exactly? Other than… change shape, clearly.”

    The creature hissed again, but BackDoor couldn’t tell if it was out of anger, frustration, or just because ‘why not?’

    “I distort things,” it said. “Distort time and space to my own liking. If that destroys worlds, then so what?” It twisted its head around to take in its surroundings. “I’ve been stuck in the Distortion World for centuries. I’m not familiar with this world. What is this place? It’s so empty. Did I destroy it?”

    “System Sky.” BackDoor swerved onto his back and tucked his paws behind his head, keeping both eyes on the creature. “Miles above System Ground. Floating cities, flying ships… you know the math. So… Distorting things, eh? I like it. I think I’ll name you Distortion.”

    The creature seemed to think about this, then shrugged. “Show me this ‘System’.”

    Before BackDoor could reply, the creature dived at him. A grey mist surrounded the android’s body, and he let out a mechanical scream as something invaded his processors. After the mist settled, he rubbed his eyes. The creature was gone, yet he could still feel it around him.

    “Oi!” he yipped. “Where’d you go?”

    ‘It’s hard to move in this world of yours.’ The voice hissed inside his head. ‘So I’ll use your eyes and body as my own. Move.’

    BackDoor grinned and let out a chuckle. “Kinda like Symbiont. All right, where do you wanna go first?”

    The creature didn’t answer. Instead, BackDoor found himself plummeting towards System Ground.

    ...

    The little shuttle rattled towards the ground, losing altitude at a steady pace. Switch, having never controlled such a vehicle, left everything up to DL. But he really wished the machine was in his own hands. He cowered beside her, feeling every small movement she made against his feathers. Oh, how he wished he could just get out and fly. Carry her with him and get them both to safety, to leave the tiny wishiwashi escape pod to crash down on the mountains far away from them.

    The Backbone Mountains were growing closer, their snowy peaks rising out of the clouds. As the shuttle slipped through them, mist surrounded it briefly before the ground came into clear view. DL dragged the steering stick towards her, levelling them out. The wheels touched ground and it lurched, bouncing along the uneven surface until it came to a smooth and steady stop.

    She took in a shaky breath and brushed the fur between her ears out of her eyes. “Here we are.”

    Switch grunted and shifted uneasily. “Sheer mastery of mechanical wings.”

    “Let’s move. I’m itching to get off this thing.”

    She clambered from her seat and shimmied past him to the door. He didn’t hesitate. As soon as he was standing on sturdy, rocky ground, he spread his wings wide and embraced the open air.

    “Oh boy!” he said. “Fresh, mountain air! No ship! No cities! Oh, what freedom feels like!”

    DL shuffled away from him and he snapped his eyes back open, fixing them on her back.

    “DL?” He gave a little flutter to catch up with her. “Where are you going?”

    “Getting a better view.”

    Her eyes were still red and puffy. She cast them down the mountain slope to the village below. It wasn’t one Switch recognised. But after a thousand years, things can change drastically. She looked up and let out a trembling sigh.

    “I’ve no idea where Meta City is from here.” Her voice wavered and she pawed at her ear.

    Switch tucked his wings in at his sides and looked over at the vast landscape. “If it’s still in the same place it was in my time-line, I could fly you there in a couple of days.”

    DL lashed out at a small rock with her foot, sending it skittering down the side of the mountain. Then she fell to her bottom and let out a frustrated groan.

    “I’ve no idea where it is!” she snapped. “Besides, it’s not like I can just waltz in there and have her hand me the disk back, is it?”

    “We weren’t expecting it to be easy,” he said.

    She toyed with a few stray stalks of grass growing through the cracks in the rocks. “I have no memories of my family. Just that they’d died in that blaze. I wasn’t even there, Switch. I was at a friend’s house, we were studying. Then I saw the news… saw the flames in the distance…” She wiped a paw over her eyes and wailed. “Why did he do that?!”

    Switch settled down beside her, keeping his wings to himself. He wasn’t sure whether or not she’d appreciate a bird-hug, and he wasn’t willing to risk upsetting her further.

    “Listen,” he said. “I don’t know all the details. Just what little Anchor could tell me before he went to get you. But… as terrible as it is, it was an accident. He didn’t do it to be vindictive.”

    “But it’s the principle!” she snapped. “Why fire off weapons in a freakin’ apartment building? And while there are pokemon living in it… asleep?! So many died in their sleep!”

    Switch closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I guess it depends on who fired the first shot.”

    She scoffed and looked away. “That sounds like something he would say.”

    “I don’t agree with firing explosive weapons and lasers in an occupied building,” said Switch. “But for the sake of self defence… what was he meant to do? Just let the guy kill him?”

    DL looked up at the clouds and blinked back tears. “No… but he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” She paused and toyed with her belt. “Neither of them should. I don’t think anyone even knew someone was manufacturing bombs in the building.”

    “Those could have gone off even without Macro’s help.”

    DL visibly flinched at his name. “Don’t talk about him. Stop talking about him!”

    Switch raised his wings and nodded. “Okay. Okay. Let’s… let’s just get to Meta City. Get that disk back.”

    She sobbed heavily and her head fell into her paws. She huddled up, wrapping her tail tight around her legs. “I’m sorry…”

    “What for? You’re hurting. I’d understand if you threw rocks at me.”

    “No… I shouldn’t be lashing out at you.” Her shoulders shook and she choked back a sob. “I’m torn… between the way Loop feels for him, and the way DL feels for him. Loop hates him, but she’s me. They’re both me.” She looked up, fixing tearful red eyes on his. “Have you any idea how confusing that is for me?”

    Switch swallowed and licked his beak, diverting his gaze to the horizon. “No… I really don’t. But it sounds like torture.”

    “It’s like I’m being torn in two.” She wiped her eyes on her arm. “I just want to get those memories back. Maybe then… maybe then I can sort out my head.”

    “Well…” He shuffled, ruffling his feathers. “You might not be DL anymore. You should prepare yourself for that.”

    “At least I won’t be torn in two.”

    He was silent for a moment, gazing down at the village below. What do you say in these situations? He couldn’t very well tell her to just pull herself together.

    “Shall we head to Meta City then?” he asked.

    “No, I want to just sit here for a while.”

    He nodded and stood up, spreading his wings wide. “Do you mind if I take a quick flight? I could do with a stretch.”

    “Do what you want.”

    He looked back down at her, ready to tell her he’d only be a minute or two. But her head was back in her arms, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. No. He couldn’t leave her. He sat back down and ventured a wing on her back.

    “I can’t get… Loop’s hatred… out of my head,” she said. “The image of those flames glowing in the dark… the venom she felt when she heard it was Hunter… I even remember some of the drawings. Horrible, vengeful drawings of Wildcard Beta shot out of the sky. Then Gamma when he upgraded it. Just burning…”

    Switch’s mouth went dry. “Would it help if you just saw him as part of the catalyst that started the fire?”

    “No. Because I just keep seeing him as the blazing torch.” She lifted her head to take a breath. “I want to forgive him, but I can’t. Because he’s the reason all this happened. That day, my life was set to end. And it ended in Socket’s claws. It never would have if that fire hadn’t happened.”

    “Yes, but he’s trying to help you get your life back,” Switch explained. “See it as some kind of surprise redemption. A way of him fixing something that… from what Anchor’s told me, he just can’t get over?”

    She shook her head sharply and hid it back in her arms. “I can’t… It’s too hard. I’m warring with five years of pent-up hatred. That’s not something only a mere couple of weeks can fix.”

    “But you got to know him. Before you got those memories back, did he seem to you the kind of pokemon to deliberately hurt others?”

    She said nothing. Just silently kept her head hidden in her arms. With a sigh, Switch rose to his feet again and spread his wings.

    “I’ll be back in a minute or so,” he said. “Don’t go anywhere.”

    Silence.

    He gave one last glance at her before rising into the air. All the tension and emotional weight left his body the higher he rose into the sky. Then he let himself drop, swooping down the side of the mountain. A flick of his wings brought him up again until he levelled out, gliding over the village. Sparse greenery surrounded it. Where once there was a forest, there was now a large mall. Flickering lights competed with the antenna. What was left of the river coalesced in a mucky lake. A huge, chrome water wheel churned the lake towards a factory he guessed either filtered it out, or used it as some kind of ‘green fuel’. He turned his tail on the unsightly mess and returned to the mountain, taking in the clean air and what was left of the woods that had previously dotted the mountain side.

    Something roared above him and he froze mid-flap to turn his head towards it. A large, black and green object hurtled towards him. He let out a squawk and flapped his wings frantically, flying backwards before turning tail and skyrocketing towards the ground. The object rushed past him, blasting him with hot air. He dropped, landing in a crumpled heap mere feet away from their escape pod.

    An almighty crash followed the anomaly, then a earsplitting screech as it came to a halt over the jagged rocks. He pushed himself up, groaning with the effort. Oh, his poor body. That would leave a bruise. He tucked his wings into his sides and looked over at what had just knocked him out of the sky.

    A ship, shaped like a pyukumyuku. A space pirate ship?

    DL poked her head out from behind the escape pod. He hopped over to her and followed her gaze to the ship.

    “Thank goodness you’re alright,” he whispered to her.

    She shook her head and shushed him, pointing him towards the ship.

    The door clattered open, and a disgruntled scrafty staggered out of it. He gave the contraption a kick, denting the tin sides. He hopped backwards clutching his foot in both paws and cursing loudly. A skuntank followed him, tailed closely by a figure that caused Switch to let out an involuntary yelp. A human girl, dressed in stereotypical pirate clothing. She folded her arms and frowned at the ship, looking it up and down. A decidueye joined her side, sandwiching her between a goldeen in a goldfish bowl, held up on mechanical legs. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he’d have thought someone were telling him a crazy bedtime story.

    “Well, it got us over the ocean at least,” said the skuntank. “Otherwise we’d all be swimming to shore.”

    “I wanted it to get us to Meta City,” the scrafty grumbled. “Now we’re stranded in the mountains with no way to get any repairs!”

    “I can harvest some scraps,” said the decidueye. “You lot can camp out here and enjoy the clean air.”

    The human sniffed a couple of times then looked up at the sky. “Oh yeh! They sky’s not yellow here.”

    “No, it’s not, dear,” said the skuntank. “Because this mountain is actually out of bounds. We’re not even supposed to be in it.”

    “Aye,” said the scrafty. “Rumour has it Socket’s goons wait at the bottom and shoot anyone who tries. A barrier surrounds the place. Dunno what good it does. Photos surface from time to time on conspiracy sites.”

    “Drones,” said the decidueye as he counted his arrows. “I think I’m set. I’ll be back by sunrise.”

    They watched the decidueye fly away down the side of the mountain.

    “So what do we do?” asked the goldeen. “Camp in the ship?”

    Switch ventured from his hiding spot and cleared his throat. The rag-tag group looked up at him with identical expressions of surprise. For the scrafty, it melted into rage. The others, however, didn’t seem to know what to make of him.

    “Who are you?” the scrafty snapped. “One of Socket’s soldiers here to kill us?”

    “No! I don’t want to do anything to you.” He neatened out his wings and smiled. “I was wondering what happened to your ship?”

    The scrafty snorted and opened his mouth to shout something else, but the skuntank silenced him by pushing him back into the ship. There was a clatter as he stumbled backwards over the ramp.

    “We were shot down by space pirates,” she explained. “We’re actually not in the pirate trade.”

    “We’re a rebellion!” the goldeen quipped.

    “That’s right, little fish!” said the human. “Time Archeops, here to fix System!”

    The skuntank waved her paws and shushed her. “Don’t just go announcing that to strangers!”

    “Why?” the human asked. “It’s how you spread a rebellion.”

    Switch cleared his throat again and took a cautious step towards them. “A rebellion? Against Socket?”

    “The very same,” said the girl.

    “And might I ask… Time Archeops?”

    The girl nodded again.

    “Are you… like me?” He raised his talons, displaying his watch.

    She stared at it curiously, raising an eyebrow. “Why would I be like a watch?”

    He pushed the button, expanding out into his human form. The skuntank staggered backwards, dropping a small, purple creature onto the ground. It shot into the sky, keeling away from him. The girl stared at Switch, aghast, while the goldeen let out a very boyish ‘Cool!’ In contrast, a ‘What the jack?!’ came from the ship.

    The girl pointed at him, ignoring the frantic squeals from her skuntank companion. “So let me get this straight. You’re a human too?”

    Switch folded his arms and winked. “Exactly. And did you get pulled through a golden ring?”

    A look of disappointment crossed her face and she slumped back against the ship. “Dang it! I thought I were the only one!”

    “The name’s Switch.” He offered a hand to her.

    She stared at it, then looked up at him. “What kinda name is that?”

    “One I adopted when I came to System. What’s yours?”

    “Annie.” She took his hand and shook it, then wiped hers down on her top. “So you turn into a bird? So do I. An archeops.”

    Switch’s jaw dropped. “I’ve heard of you.”

    “Well I ain’t heard of you.”

    “You were in a mental ward.”

    She smirked and spread her arms wide. “Well not any more! Annie is flyin’ free!” She glanced a the ship and her arms fell to her side again. “Well she was.”

    DL shuffled over to Switch’s side, winding her claws together. She looked over the pokemon and Annie, taking each one in. Annie stared down at her and stroked her chin.

    “Who’s the squirt?” she asked.

    DL stuttered, then reached for her laser. But she didn’t draw it. “You said you’re heading to Meta City?”

    “We were,” said Annie. “But we crashed, see?”

    “Well… what if we offer to help fix your ship?” DL asked. “You can use parts from our pod. Then… could you take us with you?”

    “Hey! Little squirt’s in on our rebellion!” Annie grinned. “What about you, Switch? You in?”

    “What, me?” He sighed and threw his arms in the air. “Oh, what the heck. Macro was gonna go and knock Socket off her high horse anyway. If it’ll get me home, count me in.”

    The scrafty scrambled back out of the ship and pointed at Switch. “You said we can use your pod for parts?”

    “Yeh, be our guest,” said Switch. “It’s rather small for us all to fit in, and it rattles.”

    “Sounds like it’ll do the trick then.” He nodded towards the small, lone wishiwashi. “That it? I’ll go help myself.”

    The skuntank looked at each of them and caught the purple creature as it drifted back down towards her. “That’s rather generous of you. Although I’m not complaining about breathing clean air. It’s much better up here than in the outskirts.” She tucked the creature beneath her tail then let it fall across her back. “Do either of you want to help me gather lunch? I think that will be a good chance for us all to get acquainted.”
     
  3. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Thank you! =D I wasn't sure how well it would blend together the first time I tried it, and this is a much grungier setting than Glitched. I'm glad it's worked out well!

    Ah, yes. Can't have smelly space pirates running around. Plus... who doesn't like pancakes?

    Thank you. I feel this is one of the most well received elements to this story.

    Yes, it is an element left over that I felt worked. One of the ideas that merged to form Reboot was a plot and world heavily inspired by The Hunger Games. Types were split up, and forced to fight for entertainment annually (?) I may be mis-remembering. But the similarities to HG were too... similar... for me to get it to work. I also lost my drive for that story. Other elements stuck around, too. Such as a big metropolis with an antagonistic mayor. Socket had both a name and a species change. Originally the mayor was an Alolan meowth called Noir.

    This is reassuring. I was worrying about my lack of foreshadowing. I guess yes. It is. (Although at this stage, I don't think even I knew what had happened to Wildcard Beta...)

    Thanks, I do love writing descriptive scenes =D

    She's a bit of an odd character, Surge. Written as a one-off character who decided she was sticking around.
     
    Virgil134 likes this.
  4. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Special - Widget​

    N0ize grumbled to himself as the air buffeted him through the cracked windscreen. Cyph3r didn’t appear as bothered, casually steering the sharpedpo ship through System Sky with the intention of finding somewhere to stop for repairs. Besides the incineroar’s grumbling, the ship was silent, the only other noise the unsettling rattle of the engine.

    Tracer sat huddled in a corner beside Widget, the latter toying with a laser module that had rolled out of a small cupboard. The door still hung open, shaken off its catch after the battle with the pyukumyuku. Tracer eyed the module cautiously as though it might set off an array of attacks should the eevee bop it any harder than he already was doing.

    The delphox shifted uneasily, glancing around at the wrecked ship. His eye wandered to a fine crack in the ceiling and he opened his mouth as though to query how long it had been there. Instead, he stood up and dusted down his trench coat.

    “Pardon me,” he said. “I’m going to use the rest room.”

    “Back of the ship.” N0ize waved a paw behind him without even glancing over his shoulder.

    When Tracer had vanished out of earshot, the large incineroar finally twisted in his seat to look over the back of his chair, his eye going from the rest room door to the eevee still batting the laser module between his paws.

    “Might I ask,” N0ize half-growled, “what a fine rogue like yourself is doin’ hangin’ around with a posh city shamus like him?”

    Widget cocked an ear and glanced at the space pirate out of the corner of his eye. “Why not?”

    “You’re a criminal, ain’t ya?” N0ize asked. “You have that air about ya. Not many ‘mon could just venture into Pulse City like you did and pawn off a government ship without even flinching at the sheer thought of the consequences.”

    Widget shrugged and watched the laser module skitter from his right paw to his left. “I don’t really care for Socket. So why wouldn’t I sell off her ship in favour of a better disguise?”

    N0ize roared with laughter and struck a large paw on the dashboard. “That’s what I mean! You ain’t some cold blooded detective, kid. You’ve got ‘shady’ written all over ya.” He gathered himself and wiped a tear from his eye with one claw. “So. Spill it. What landed you workin’ with the fuzz, then? You payin’ back for your transgressions? Or just tryin’ to not lose your tiny life?”

    Widget lifted his head to look him in the eye. He’d stopped batting the module back and forth, holding it under his left paw. Before Annie’s ship tore a hole in his window, he’d been keeping Tracer and Widget around out of curiosity, but since then his demeanour had changed. Part of Widget thought he blamed them for the human’s actions. No… he fully thought that. The space pirate had threatened them, and the eevee wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to spill his life story to a ‘mon who’d threatened his friend.

    He looked back down at the floor and recommenced idly swatting the laser module back and forth.

    N0ize twisted back towards the window and tutted. “Fine. You don’t have to tell me nothin’, I was just curious.”

    Widget rolled his eyes.

    “Can’t blame a ‘mon for bein’ curious,” N0ize went on. “I just don’t see the fascination in stickin’ around a ‘mon who could just as easily trade you in for some credits.”

    Although… Widget frowned at his paws. It might actually change the space pirate’s opinion of his friend. Help him see Tracer in a different light. He looked up at the back of the incineroar’s head, then cast his eyes over to Cyph3r. If the magmortar was interested, he didn’t show it. Moments ago, they’d been trying to shoot down another ship regardless of the lives on board. Now all they cared about was repairing the damage done to their ship, even if it meant wringing the two detectives from ear to tail to get a single credit out of them.

    Widget ran the scenario over in his mind. Telling them his reasons for sticking with Tracer might actually serve to be a decent experiment. See if the two space pirates actually had a heart between them.

    “All right.” His voice drew the incineroar’s eye back to him. “I’ll tell you why. But it’s a long story, so you might get bored.”

    N0ize shrugged and tucked his paws behind his head. “We’ve got time. It’s a long way to the Analogue Isles.”

    “Analogue Isles?” Widget squeaked.

    N0ize grinned from ear to ear.

    Widget cleared his throat and regained his composure. “Fine. But you’re putting my entertainment skills to the test here. Want me to use shadow puppets?”

    “Do whatever you want.” N0ize waved a paw and turned back to the windscreen. “But I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, or mockery to my intelligence.”

    Widget chuckled and turned his attention back to the module. Then he began relaying the events of his life.

    ...​

    I was a sickly pup. Always had my mother worried and doctors running back and forth. See, I was born with a rare degenerative bone disease, and an immune system that even the clean air of Meta City could wreck havoc on. Somehow, I managed to survive until I were twelve years old. But things weren’t looking to get any better for me.

    One day, the doctor made a house call for the last time. He took one look at me, ran some tests, then pulled my mother aside for a ‘private chat’. Well, I might have been on my death bed, but I could still hear a pin drop. I remember it clearly. Four words that reduced my mother to tears.

    “He won’t see dawn.”

    After he’d gone, mother cried. Silent tears rushing down her face as she told me everything would be okay. Lies, but I appreciated it. Then she vanished from the room. I could hear her on the phone, talking to her friend. I knew her friend. He was round in a heartbeat.

    I was exhausted. I barely remember his visit. Tracer, a delphox from the outskirts. I always remembered the smell of his cigars as he told me stories when mother had to work. Kept by my side, making sure I had everything I needed. This time, there were no such stories. He helped her bundle me into my wheelchair and pushed me out of the house. I didn’t see much, my eyes were too tired, and I could barely move my head. But I remember seeing her pink ribbons fastened around the handle as she wheeled me along Meta City’s streets. Silently walking beside Tracer as he puffed on his cigar.

    “Where are we going?” I managed to ask, voice barely a whisper.

    “To someone who can help.” That was all she said.

    I should have seen it coming. Being shoved through Central Meta Hospital’s rotating doors, and the chaos that followed. Staring eyes, my mother arguing with the receptionist and the doctors. The looks on their faces as they tried to calm down a crying and screaming sylveon. Then they did it. They took me away, leaving a nurse furret and Tracer to comfort my rapidly calming mother. I remember her tearful eyes, watching me as the doctors whizzed me away on a stretcher. Tracer placing an arm over her shoulder, whispering that everything would be okay.

    Lies.

    I don’t remember much after that. Everything went dark as various pokemon rushed about me, fastening things to my body. The next time I opened my eyes, it was bright. Unbearably bright. Something was very different. I could breathe freely. No breaths followed by a racking cough. No coughing up blood. No chest pain. The air smelled - tasted - felt clean. I took a few deep breaths as I blinked the dazzling light away.

    The first thing I saw was the face of an ursaring staring down at me. His lips were pulled down in a frown until he saw me come to. Then he beamed from ear to ear. A happy beam. One that said whatever they’d done appeared to be a success.

    “Welcome back,” he said. “It’s been a long week.”

    A week? I tried to push myself up, something I’d not been able to do in over a year. For some reason, I felt like I could do it. But my limbs still wouldn’t obey. They felt heavy, tired, sore.

    “What happened?” My voice was oddly stronger, despite the croak from being asleep for so long.

    A nurse rushed to my side, holding a cold cup of water to my lips. She wouldn’t let me gulp it down. I had to take steady sips while she instructed me to be careful in case I made myself sick.

    “You’ve had very complex surgery,” the ursaring explained. “It will take a long time for you to recover from it, but when you do, you’ll be stronger than ever.”

    I frowned. “What surgery? Mother couldn’t afford any surgery…”

    That’s right. Brush aside any misconceptions you have about ‘rich ‘mon livin’ in the cities’. Rich city medicine is exactly that. Expensive. Not available to all. It doesn’t matter if you live in the city or the outskirts. Living in the city is basically paying premium prices for clean air and healthy food. Mother worked six days a week in a bakery, selling fresh baked goods to commuters. Once her stock was out, she closed up shop. It were enough to get by. The surgery she’d wanted me to have… it cost almost half a million credits. We didn’t have that kind of money.

    “Don’t worry, I’ll explain everything.” The ursaring pulled up his Clipboard and sat down heavily beside my bed. “You’ve suffered from a degenerative bone disease your entire life. The first thing we had to do was replace your entire skeleton with a biologically safe mechanical one. Lightweight, but you’ll notice the difference. All your muscles have been structured to it, but due to them being underdeveloped, you’ll need a lot of rehabilitation to get used to moving with it. The next thing we added were filter valves to various main arteries and your heart. These will remove all toxins, bacteria and other nasties from your blood stream, given you lack the white blood cells to deal with it. A lot of damage had been done to your lungs, so they’ve been enhanced to state of the art biomechanical implants that can filter out the air. The final addition is an everstone. The drawback to all these medical procedures is that you definitely won’t be able to evolve. But evolution isn’t everything.”

    I blinked, speechless. They’d basically turned me into a cyborg. It was what my mother had wanted and more. There was no way she could have afforded all that.

    The doctor lowered his Clipboard and smiled at me. A warm smile. “It might sound like a lot to deal with. But it’s saved your life. You’ll live to see… oh… a good seventy or so more years yet.”

    “What about my mother?” I asked. “We can’t afford this.”

    “It’s been dealt with, don’t worry.” The doctor rose to his feet. “She’s waiting to see you, actually. She’s visited whenever she could, and her friend, too.”

    He left the room, stepping aside to let someone in. But the look of surprise on his face told me something was amiss. The pokemon that stepped inside wasn’t my mother. It was Tracer, and he didn’t look happy. Probably because the ursaring took his cigar away and waved it at him in a silent scold. The delphox watched him leave, then plonked himself down in his seat.

    “You’re looking well,” he said.

    “Where’s my mother?” I asked. “He said she was waiting-”

    Tracer waved a paw to cut me off. “She’s had to work today. So I’ve visited in her stead.”

    “But I’ve just woken up! I thought she’d-”

    “It was unexpected.” Tracer reached into his inside pocket for a cigar, then froze, frowning at the ‘no smoking’ sign. He sighed and let the tin fall back into his pocket. “Widget, I don’t want to be the one to tell you this. But your mother has to make a lot of money very quickly. So she’s working every chance she can get.”

    “A bakery reels in nutpeas,” I said. “And pokemon only want to eat when they’re hungry.”

    “She should really tell you all this. Not me.” Tracer placed a paw on my shoulder and a look of surprise crossed his face. But he didn’t say anything about it, just reached into his pocket for his computer. “So what story do you want today?”

    The fur bristled along my spine and I flashed a canine at the wall. “Forget your dumb stories!”

    “Widget!”

    “They don’t matter!” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “I’m not even supposed to be alive right now! I should be dead, but they’ve turned me into some cyborg freak!”

    “It was your mother’s request.” Tracer’s voice was like a calm amongst a storm, yet it just kept raging.

    “We couldn’t afford it! And now she’s not even here!”

    “She’s not stayed away out of spite,” said Tracer. “You’re everything to her, and seeing you deteriorate has been hard! After your father left-”

    “Don’t you dare mention him.”

    Tracer lifted his paws. “Okay.” He was silent for a moment, twiddling a cigar he’d absently pulled from his pocket between two claws. “But look at it this way. Once you’re out of here, you’ll be able to help your mother out.”

    “When will that be?”

    “Given your enhancements, you might make a speedier recovery than any ordinary pokemon.”

    “Okay. How long would an ‘ordinary pokemon’ take?” He’d stood up. I could barely turn my head to look at him. All I saw was his pocket and bushy tail swaying anxiously behind him.

    “I’ve no idea,” he said.

    Holding my head up even a fraction was too much strain. I flopped heavily back onto my pillow, and it hurt. I groaned and tried to bury my face into the pillow.

    “So where does she work now?” I asked.

    Tracer was silent for a moment, chewing on the end of his cigar. “The bakery. It’s doing well.”

    Lies.

    “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll tell your mother you’re awake, and awaiting rehabilitation exercises.”

    “Why can’t she come herself?” Something was up. I could smell it. Hear it in his voice.

    “I told you. She’s very busy.”

    Before I could press him any further, he left the room.

    ...​

    The next two weeks went by slowly. Doctors pushed me into rehabilitation, getting me to push against weights to build up my muscle strength. Once I was able to move my legs slightly, they had me walking on a slow treadmill to build up the strength in my legs. They held me over it in a harness, more as a safety precaution in case I lost balance or collapsed.

    Between rigorous exercises, Tracer visited. I never saw my mother, not once. But I smelled her if Tracer moved fast enough. Wafting from his fur amongst the tobacco smell. There’s no fooling my nose. It wouldn’t have surprised me if something were between them, and I still don’t know to this day. I’ve never asked, and I don’t want to either. They were good friends, I knew that much. He kept saying she had to work, but something was definitely up. She wouldn’t have just abandoned me to the hospital, sending her friend to visit in her stead.

    One day, when I were standing properly on all four legs, I told him that. I shouted at him. Threw myself at him and tackled him to the ground. I don’t know what got into me, but I do know I’d had enough. I wanted to see her. To know she was okay. To let her see for herself that I was okay. He grunted as he lifted me off, struggling to move me. With the knew skeleton and all those enhancements, I was about three, maybe four times the weight of an average eevee.

    “Widget, listen to me,” he said.

    “No!” I snapped. “You’re lying! Since you first visited me two weeks ago, all you’ve done is lie! You think I can’t smell my own mother on you? If she can’t visit me, then how can she visit you?!”

    “She needs to visit me,” he said.

    “Why?!”

    “Because she sold her house and business!” Tracer flashed his canines, then sighed into his paws. “I’m sorry… I didn’t want to worry you…”

    I stared at him, speechless. All I could do was blink as I took in his words. She’d sold everything? Everything, to pay for my life?

    “I’m so sorry, Widget,” he went on. “But can you see why I didn’t say anything sooner?”

    “No.” I couldn’t even look him in the eye. “No, I can’t. You should have told me! Where is she now?”

    “Living with me.”

    I blinked again, staring at his face. Mouth pulled down in a frown, eyes watery.

    “Why?” I asked. “We live in Meta City…”

    He shrugged and leant back on his paws. “She can’t afford to. And she needs to live somewhere. I offered her a room until she can make enough to rent a house in Spool City.”

    Spool City… I really was rendered speechless this time. There was no way she could survive in Spool City. The air there was toxic even to steel types. A fairy type wouldn’t survive a year.

    I had to get her out.

    I fixed Tracer with a leer, the fur bristling down my spine and turning my tail into a brush.

    “You should have told me,” I hissed.

    “You’re right.” He pinched the bridge of his muzzle in two claws. “I should have. I’m sorry.”

    “I don’t want to hear it.” I swished my tail, pulling my ears back. A deep, threatening growl left my throat. “Go. I don’t want to see you again.”

    His eyes widened and he lifted his paws towards me, but I lunged at one, grabbing it in my jaws. I bit so hard I tasted blood. He snatched it back, cradling it against his chest.

    “Widget,” he gasped. “I know you’re upset, but… I can’t do that-”

    “I said go!” That’s when I tackled him. Knocking all the wind out of his lungs. He rolled into the hallway, and he stared back at my glaring face as the door swung shut between us.

    That was it. No more visits from the detective. No more word from my mother. No one knew where she was except me. Holed up in Spool City with an old friend, breathing toxic air. All while I recovered in the hospital until one day, they finally discharged me.

    No one to pick me up. No one to take me home. A young eevee, not quite into his teenage years, sat in front of the hospital, the sirens of ambulances coming and going blaring in his ears.

    Alone.

    I choked back a sob and pushed myself to my feet. I didn’t really know the city, yet I managed to find my way back. The little house beside its bakery. The shop was boarded up with a renovation sign in the window. ‘Soon to become a bistro’, it promised. The house with its little yard and picket fence had a young rattata playing in it, kicking a ball against the wall. He didn’t look at me. But the sight of him playing there, in my old garden, made me feel very… very alone.

    As I idly sauntered through the city, I found myself at the gates separating Meta from the outskirts. Spool City was the one sign posted, the exact one my mother had moved to. Two pidgeot stood on guard, their beaks encased with metal sharper than their own beaks, their talons kitted out with cleavers. Even their wings had wicked claws to ‘give them an extra edge in battle’. They didn’t look happy to see me.

    “Where do you think you’re off to, kid?” one of them asked.

    The other clicked his plated beak in a manner that was very threatening, and for a moment I thought about running back home. Only I didn’t have a home to run back to.

    “Looking for my mother,” I said. “She’s moved to the outskirts.”

    “Leaving behind her whelp?” the first one snorted. “I find that hard to believe.”

    “Look, kid,” said the second. “Any who move to the outskirts… stay in the outskirts. So that means…” He pointed a wing at me. “You shouldn’t be living here.”

    “I didn’t move to the outskirts,” I retaliated. “I’ve been in the hospital for the past four months!”

    The pidgeot exchanged glances and the second one muttered, clearly not intending me to hear, “Couldn’t even afford it. Had to sell up, eh?”

    I bristled from head to tail, but all he did was roll his eyes and laugh.

    “Go on.” The first one stood aside and waved a wing to the gates. “Go find your mother. But be aware, you move there… you don’t come back. We don’t want their filth trampled all over our streets.”

    “What about the detective?” I snorted. “He comes and goes.”

    “Some ‘mon have special passes,” said the second. “They know our routine. We can’t let just anyone frolic back and forth as they please, can we? We’d be overrun with scum. Now off with you.”

    Muttering under my breath, I passed through the gate, but not without firing a leer at the two pidgeot over my shoulder… meeting one off the second, harsher guard.

    The putrid air from Spool City assaulted me immediately. Yellow and disgusting, hovering over the buildings like a dense mist. I instinctively coughed, but I didn’t need to. It didn’t get to my chest, but the smell alone made me feel sick to my stomach. I crept along the wide road, Proxy Boulevard, eyes drifting over the buildings. I had no idea what I was even looking for. No address to go off. Someone moved out of an alley ahead of me and I immediately felt lighter. Another pokemon. Someone I could ask for directions.

    I skipped towards the squat pokemon. A trubbish, rifling through the gutter and pulling out various pieces of indescribable garbage. It popped one in its mouth and my stomach churned. I swallowed back the urge to be sick and put on my best face, strutting confidently towards the poison pokemon.

    “Excuse me?” My question drew surprised eyes from the trubbish, which narrowed into slits. “I’m afraid I’m a little lost. Do you-”

    “I’d say!” the trubbish scoffed. “You look way too manicured for this hole. You want Meta City, do a one-eighty, kid.” He twirled a dripping limb in a circle, prompting me to go back the way I’d come.

    I frowned and shook my head. “Oh, I’m not going back. My mother moved here, and I’m looking for her. She’s living with a delphox called Tracer.”

    At that name, the trubbish’s mouth dropped, then snapped shut again as he growled. “That detective scum?!” He fired off a string of profanities that had me backpedaling up the street. Then he threw his arms back and launched a flurry of slime globules at me.

    I leapt to the side, narrowly dodging two of them. The third struck me in the face and I fell into a sprawl on my back. Hard. The impact took the trubbish by surprise, long enough for me to clear the gunk from my eyes and see him lurching towards me. I sprung to my feet and threw myself at him, knocking him back into the alley. We rolled in a tangle of limbs until we crashed into a wall. The impact cracked a few bricks, sending debris raining down on us.

    The trubbish struggled free of my grip and pushed himself up. He fixed his eyes on me, a wary glare, as I climbed back to my feet. Save for a few dirty scuffs and a slimy face, I was reasonably free from any injury. The trubbish, however, sported a nasty tear in his side. Blood and goop leaked into the alley and he pawed at it helplessly.

    “You…” He flashed two rows of jagged teeth. “What are you? Some kinda super eevee? A runt like you shouldn’t be able to tackle like that!” He turned and scrambled from the alley. Then paused and pointed a greasy limb at me. “You’ll regret this, runt! We’ll all be after ya!”

    I snorted, sending a slime blob to the floor, and turned on my heel. Since I was in the alley, I might as well go through to the other side. Give the trubbish a wide berth. The alley ended at another road, narrow in comparison to the boulevard. It was dotted with boarded up buildings. A few houses stood looking vacant, although I spotted a dark-furred meowth in one window. No sooner had I seen them, the blind flew across, separating us.

    One little house seemed to stand out from the rest. It stood between a shop selling general wares and a club with a neon sign. The animation was somewhat jarring, the image glitching at random intervals. But it got its purpose across, and was one I’d be staying well away from.

    There was no telling who was in the house, but it seemed rather out of place between a shop and a club. As though whoever lived there might actually own either business. I was about to turn my tail on it when the door opened. A delphox strolled out, his trench coat billowing in the light breeze. He clutched a cigar in one paw and his filter mask in the other, but he dropped the latter to the ground in favour of lighting up his cigar. His eyes almost bulged from his head when he spotted me, and his cigar dropped from his claws into the gutter to be washed away in the thick, brown muck. A small look of remorse crossed his face, then he looked up at me again as I plodded towards him.

    “Well…” He cleared his throat. “I will admit I was actually on my way to Meta City look for you.”

    “Don’t bother,” I said. “Where’s my mother? I’ve come to take her back.”

    “She doesn’t have anywhere to stay in Meta City,” said Tracer. “And neither do you.”

    “Then we’ll live in an alley until we find our feet!” I looked around at the yellow smog, torn posters, filthy drains. “Living in Meta’s streets is better than the hovel you’ve got her holed up in!”

    Tracer narrowed his eyes and reached for another cigar. “This ‘hovel’ is one of the cleanest buildings in all the outskirts.”

    I snorted and opened my mouth to retort, but he cut me off with a wave of his paw.

    “Unlike most homes,” he said, “it has a working air filter.”

    “Yet here you are in the streets unwilling to wear a mask,” I snorted. “It’s little wonder you’re alive!”

    “You aren’t wearing a mask yourself, Widget.”

    “I don’t need one,” I said. “I’ve got my own filters, thanks to my mother selling everything to pay to have it done! Now let me see her and take her home, before I take her by force!”

    I rushed at him, but something jammed my limbs. The trubbish’s sludge bomb? I looked down to find I’d been lifted off the ground. Tracer held out a paw, his eyes glowing with the same purple light that encased my body.

    “I don’t want to hurt you, Widget,” he said. “Not while you’re still recovering. But mark my words, you assault me again and you’ll meet a force to be reckoned with.”

    “What? Proxy Prison?” I spat.

    “If you’re lucky.” He dropped me to the ground and I grunted with the impact. “I’ll let you see your mother, but she won’t be going back.”

    “Why not?”

    Tracer sighed and puffed out a stream of smoke. “I suppose you’ll see for yourself.”

    He twirled with a flourish and threw open the door to his office, letting in the putrid air. I followed after him, acknowledging the air filter in the wall before me. Useless, given the front door couldn’t even keep the air out. It rattled as one half of it worked in reverse to clear the room of bad air.

    I glanced around at what appeared to be an office. A little desk stood to my left, and before me lay a worn out sofa.

    Tracer motioned for me to follow him. Another door led deeper into the house. A kitchen stood on my right as he led me up the stairs to the second floor. Four doors, one open leading to a bathroom. Given the size of the house, I guessed one of the remaining doors led to a storage closet. He threw open one of them, leading into a sparsely decorated room. A floral scent washed over me, a real blessing after the stench of outside. I spotted the culprits atop a desk. Small, colourful bottles filled with perfume. Sprawled on the bed was a sylveon. My mother.

    “Pebi,” said Tracer. “Look who’s here.”

    She lifted her head, and her blue eyes lit up when she saw me.

    “Mum!”

    I skipped across the room onto the bed, nuzzling her soft fur. Her ribbons surrounded me, pulling me in for a hug.

    “Widget.” Her voice sounded wheezy, freezing me solid. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay! I’ve not seen you on your feet since you were eight years old.”

    I pulled back from her, looking her in the eye. The whites were yellowed, and her fur didn’t feel as soft as it used to. My eyes went to her face and I grimaced. Just on the corner of her lip was the start of a nasty growth. I backed away from her, then snapped my head around towards Tracer.

    “She’s sick!” I roared.

    Tracer sighed and slumped against the wall, avoiding my eyes. My fur bristled like a brush, but before I could go on, my mother placed a ribbon between my shoulders, drawing me back.

    “The air does that here, Widget,” she said. “It’s toxic. It’s no friend to fairy types.”

    “Then why did you move here?” I growled.

    “For you,” she said. “I needed to sell everything just to make half of what the hospital wanted.”

    “Half? Then where’s the other half coming from?”

    She looked over at the desk and I followed her gaze to the perfume bottles. Tiny little bottles strained from what flowers she could get her paws on. What little System Ground had to offer, unless she’d turned to one of the floating cities in System Sky.

    “Let me do it,” I said.

    “What?” she gasped.

    “Let me do it,” I repeated. “You won’t make nutpeas in this dump. Pokemon in Meta City would pay much more, and I can help make it too.”

    “That’s very kind,” she said. “But they won’t let you back in.”

    “Then I’ll find a way in!” I leant towards her, brushing my nose against hers. “Please, let me help. Maybe we can make enough they can treat you, too, and we can go back to our old home and lives.”

    She sighed and her head fell back against the pillow. “Okay.”

    My heart sank. Her eyes were closed, chest heaving, breath wheezing. I shook my head and backed off the bed onto the floor.

    “There’s a box under the desk,” she said. “Take as many as you need. See what you can do.”

    I dived under the desk, groping for the box. Beside it was a bag. A little errand bag that smelled as much like perfume as the rest of the room. I stuffed it until it was fit to burst and tossed it over my back. Then I bade her goodbye, nuzzling her cheek before I fled the room. The house. Onto the street.

    Then I broke down into tears, slumping onto the mucky street, nose almost in the gutter.

    “You won’t get past the sentries. I’ll walk you.” Tracer’s voice made my spine tingle.

    I snapped my head up towards him, then clambered to my feet. Legs trembling. Fur bristling.

    “You!” I growled. “You dragged her into this city. Offering her a home in a city filled with poison!”

    “I offered what she needed,” he said. “Somewhere safe, off the streets. Meta City don’t let pokemon live in the streets. They’re all turfed out into the outskirts.”

    I looked away from him, canines still bared as I tried to process it all. “Then how did she get like this? You have an air filter!”

    “That one is not on me,” he said. “I’d often find her room empty. So I’d go and look for her in the only place I knew where to find her. Arguing with the sentries to get back into Meta City so she could visit you.”

    My legs felt weak. I trembled from ear to tail as I desperately tried to suppress tears. But they betrayed me, running down my cheeks towards the ground.

    “I need to help her,” I sputtered. “I’ll pay it all back and more! I’ll save her. If the hospital can save me, they can save her! Right?”

    I looked back at him, pleading. He nodded.

    “Come on,” he said. “I know a way in.”

    He fastened a filter mask over his head, then led me through the streets. He finally stopped close to Meta City, in a dank and smelly alley. It ended at a brick wall coated with outdated posters.

    “So where is this magical entrance?” I asked.

    “Right there.” He nudged a manhole cover with a foot, and it slid aside. “Drop down and turn left. Keep going. At the third manhole, come back up and you’ll find yourself in an alley with an underground cafe.”

    “Underground?” I repeated.

    “It means ‘secret’,” he said. “The cafe is just a guise. Even Meta City isn’t free of crime.”

    My canines poked through my lips but I couldn’t look at him. “Then why didn’t my mother use this?”

    “I wouldn’t tell her about it, and neither would you if you had any idea what that alley is like. A pretty fairy type like her wouldn’t get out unscathed. The sheer thought turns my stomach.”

    I shook my head and sighed. Noted. I was about to climb into the sewers when something hit me. I looked back at him, examining what I could see of his face through the mask. Just his eyes, tinted green by the lenses.

    “If you’ve lived here for so long, why aren’t you sick?” I asked.

    “I take precautions,” he explained. “But it doesn’t mean I wont get affected by this air one day. Now go. Before someone sees you.”

    I nodded and dropped into the sewers. Before I could call back my thanks, the lid clattered heavily back into place. I remember that day clearly, as I scampered over the metal grate towards Meta City’s underground cafe. That day changed my life forever.

    As I came back up, I found myself face to face with the cafe. The pokemon that sat around it had a strange air about them. They all looked rough, and not exactly Socket’s chosen Meta City types either. Secret mutterings filled the air - about Socket, about the outskirts. It was to be my first port of call.

    I went inside, embraced by the smell of coffee and baked goods. The zangoose behind the bar nodded as I entered, then his eye went to my bag.

    “What’ve you got?” he asked, intrigued.

    “Perfume,” I said. “My mother makes it. I’ve come to sell it.”

    “Here?” he scoffed.

    I shrugged. “I don’t know where. In an alley somewhere, I guess.”

    He sniffed then moved closer to me, sniffing again. “You’ve come from the outskirts. Use our sewer?”

    I nodded, growing wary. My fur was bristling and not out of anger.

    Then the zangoose grinned and let out a laugh. “A little kid? All right. I can let you sell here. It’s not as if you’re selling home-made explosives.” A chuckle. “They might go off and bring the whole place down.”

    He opened the latch beside the counter and led me into the back. It was filled with long tables, each one a stall. Pokemon sold everything from smuggled berries to weapons and biological enhancements. One pokemon, a zoroark, sat on a chair tattooing a scrafty’s arm. So anyone really could get in through the sewer. If I knew about it, then most of the outskirts probably did. How had Socket not got wind of it?

    I took the table offered to me and laid out the perfumes neatly. Then I waited for the sales.
     
  5. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    For the past two weeks, every day was the same. Gather the perfumes, head to Meta City, set up the stall and wait. Sales were relatively slow. Some days I made fifty to a hundred credits, while others I made none. The average was around twenty - the price I charged for one bottle. As I sat mulling over my prices, wondering whether lowering them might attract more sales, a gruff voice drew my eye.

    I looked up to see a gabite standing before me. One I’d seen a few times. Both his fins were mechanical, or shrouded in gauntlets. It was hard to say, but they sported wicked claws. Claws like daggers. I’d heard a few pokemon refer to him as Iron Claw, but he’d never shown an ounce of interest in my humble little stall. I hadn’t picked up what he’d said amongst all the racket the market created, but he was looking right at me. A smirk tugging at his lips. Then he turned fully to face me and approached my stall. Each step purposeful and confident. I instinctively retreated, eyes going wide and bugging from their sockets like an alarmed goldeen. He rammed his fins onto the table, those daggers gouging into the wood. Each little bottle hopped and some skittered backwards off the stand. I leapt to catch them, but a couple missed my paws and shattered on the stone floor.

    I snapped my head up towards him and narrowed my eyes, flashing a canine, but he just laughed.

    “Some little runt selling perfume?” He shook his head and dragged his claws free from the table. “Wow, this market just gets lower and lower. You ain’t gonna make scotch sellin’ that. Just leave, let the real business ‘mon take over this stall.”

    I kept one eye on him, trying to mask my tremble as I pushed the bottles back into place.

    “You hearin’ me, kid?” he growled.

    “Oh, I hear you.” I sat back on my haunches and tried to give him as confident a look as I could muster. “I’m just not leaving.”

    His lip curled, flashing his sharp teeth. His two other cronies stepped forward beside him. A bagon and a druddigon. The latter flexed his claws then balled them into fists.

    “Trash his stall,” Iron Claw told them.

    The spiky dragon leapt forward, his paws striking the underside of the table. Colourful bottles went flying, shattering against the wall and raining down floral and berry scented shards. Before I knew what was happening, I’d thrown myself at the druddigon. His jagged scales scraped the fur back from my skin, but I didn’t care. A full body tackle sent him bowling backwards, causing Iron Claw to leap aside with a surprised squeak. The entire market flew into an uproar, pokemon abandoning their stalls to avoid the rolling bodies. Stalls toppled, wares scattered onto the ground. The druddigon’s claws dug into my shoulders, lifting me off him. The strain at my unexpected weight reflected in his eyes, and I struggled, using it to my advantage. Before I landed on him, I turned the drop into another tackle, knocking the wind right out of his lungs.

    A flash of purple fire skimmed by back and I looked over at the bagon. Much smaller, but just as nasty. My hind feet struck the druddigon’s gut, eliciting a grunt, as I propelled myself towards the smaller dragon. Fire seared my fur, but I dived right through it. I couldn’t stop. Gravity kept me going until I struck him hard in the face. His skull bounced off the floor and he lay limp as I landed beside him. Every hair on my body stood on end amongst bloodied and singed patches, and I stood breathing heavily, the only sound in the suddenly silent market, and leered up at the gabite.

    “You wanna end up like those?” I growled, nodding to the unconscious dragons. “Or are you gonna clean up the mess?”

    He followed my fleeting gaze to the ruined market stall, a look of hesitation crossing his face. Those claws flexed with a similar noise to the skeleton I hid inside my body. I wasn’t exactly going to tackle him with those blades adorning his limbs, but he didn’t need to know that.

    He fixed me with a yellow glare, then threw his head back and laughed. Roaring laughter. Then he looked right back at me.

    “You’ve got guts!” he said. “So what’ve you had done, then? What makes a runt like you so freakin’ powerful you can take down two of the best pirates in Pulse City?”

    I said nothing, keeping him locked in a leer. He just smirked.

    “Seriously?” he went on. “You can tell old Iron Claw. You like… completely cybernetic or somethin’?”

    Silence. I narrowed my eyes, bristling from ear to tail.

    “I see.” He chuckled. “So, what’s a runt like you doin’ sellin’ perfume? With moves like that you could be sellin’ so much more.”

    I spat with disgust and took a step backwards. “Like what?”

    “Like yourself.” He waved a paw at me. “Sell your skills, boy! I could pay you big!”

    I gave a snort of derision and lowered myself to the ground, threatening an attack. Iron Claw raised his paws but he didn’t move away. No fear in his eyes.

    “Hear me out,” he said. “I could pay you five hundred credits per day! Plus commission for each job you help me with. Even more if you take out one of my enemies!”

    “You wanna hire me as a murderer?!” I roared.

    “Not ‘murderer’.” He flexed two blades on each paw for air quotes. “No, I can do that perfectly fine myself. I just need you to detain them. Pokemon get pretty nasty when I go stealin’ their wares. I’m a merchant by trade. I steal weapons and sell them in Pulse City. You’ll get so much more than you will sellin’ prissy perfume in this market, boy. Anythin’ you steal and sell yourself, you keep. Add that onto what I’ll be payin’ you and you’ll be livin’ like a king!”

    I stood, slack-jawed, staring at the dragon type. That made the average twenty credits a day I’d been heading home with look like nutpeas. Five hundred a day, minimum, could help my mother much faster. It was an attractive offer… but working for a space pirate?

    “I’ll do it,” I said. “But only until I’ve made enough to save my mother.”

    The gabite jolted and his mouth turned into a confused frown. “You’re sellin’ perfume… to save your mother?”

    “Yes,” I said. “She’s sick in the outskirts.”

    “And I just trashed it all!” He threw his paws into the air and fell to his knees. “Oh, I feel like such a fool!”

    Lies.

    The smirk on his face was enough to prove that. Hidden behind his bladed claws. He was winning no prizes for acting.

    “Well.” He clambered back to his feet and placed his paws on his hips, glancing over his fallen comrades. “I don’t suppose you’ve got any berries to revive my crew, have you?”

    I shook my head and he tutted.

    “Pity. I’m runnin’ low.” He reached into his belt and tossed a small money pouch towards me. “First errand, go buy me some berries. Once these fools are back on their feet, we’ll head to my ship.”

    And that’s how I made the first step towards the worst decision of my life. It started with buying berries.

    ...​

    Iron Claw’s ship was immense. One of the few pirate ships that wasn’t based on an aquatic pokemon. The huge rayquaza wound through System Sky, each one of its many windows allowing a clear view of the dark vastness beyond. I’d never been so high up. I was fascinated. Amid the blackness, stars glittered in the distance. The flickering antennae of the floating cities flashed blue and green below. Higher up than even the cities. The world below looked tiny. From this height I could even see the huge, vast whiteness of the Dead Glacier emerging beyond the mist.

    “How high up are we?” I gasped.

    The bagon working the navigation controls didn’t even look up at me. “About a few thousand miles, I’d say.”

    My mouth moved silently as I repeated those words in my head. The fleeting thought that the ship could easily fall and kill us all crossed my mind, but it did nothing to quench my excitement.

    The bagon’s name was Vittles. An odd name. Almost as odd as the druddigon, who’d adopted the alias Winder. Not one member of Iron Claw’s crew, even himself, had names typical of System. It suited both him and his ship down to a T. I was clearly the first. An odd ball amongst a group of dragons.

    And oddly enough, I wasn’t remotely scared. It thrilled me with excitement. No longer confined to System Ground, free to roam the skies and earn enough money to help my mother.

    I dropped down from the dashboard and turned to the druddigon pilot.

    “So where are we going again?” I asked.

    “Magenta City,” he growled. “Sit down.”

    I nodded. “Safety first. Gotcha.”

    A quick scout of the cockpit and I spotted a spare seat beside the navigation deck. As I hopped up into it, Vittles finally looked at me. A fleeting look I couldn’t read. Displeasure? Haughtiness? Gas? I ignored it and tried to work out what the pictures on the navigation screen meant.

    Iron Claw marched back into the cockpit, gnawing at a large fish bone. “Almost there, then, eh?”

    He tossed the bone into the corner of the room and fell down into his seat, but not without firing a grin in my direction. His long, metal claws flexed and I found myself wondering if they were an enhancement or just a weapon he constantly wore, much like one might wear a scarf.

    “So what are we going to Magenta for?” I asked, tail wagging.

    My eye went to the window again, spotting the large, floating city and its trademark volcano in the distance.

    “I just gotta pick up some stuff,” said Iron Claw. “You should know full well Magenta City creates the parts for Socket’s weapons and ships. The city is filled with fire types, after all. They’re pretty good at melting and melding steel.”

    “And where do they get the steel from?”

    Iron Claw grinned wider. Not a friendly grin, but I kept my cool.

    “Raster City,” he said.

    “The outlands?” I squeaked.

    “It’s the only place with steel types, boy!” The gabite laughed and swivelled back to face the window. “What they can’t mine in their tiny, floating city, they have to buy! None of these floating cities are old enough to have created their own supply of ore! So why not buy shed exoskeletons from the pathetic steel types for nutpeas? I like their level of thinkin’.”

    I hopped from the seat to join his side. “So we’re buying weapon parts and selling them on?”

    All three dragons turned to look at me with equal, unreadable looks. Did they all have gas?

    “Buy them?” Iron Claw scoffed. “No, boy. We’re just takin’ then. Then we’re gonna sell ‘em at Pulse City’s Black Market and make a fortune.”

    “Same old same old,” said Winder.

    “I get the impression you’ve done this before,” I said slowly. “A lot.”

    “Aye.” Iron Claw tapped his temple with one of his blades. “You don’t get to be the wealthiest space pirates in System overnight.”

    “So… you know what you’re doing?” I narrowed my eyes.

    Another grin split Iron Claw’s toothy maw. “That’s right, boy. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

    Those words and that grin sent a chill through my tiny body. I finally managed to read his expression. This was a dragon with a plan, and I was fairly certain it involved me.

    As we drew closer to Magenta City, the heat permeated the ship. The rayquaza lined up perfectly with the docks, turning to allow us all out through its hatch. It was dark, the dead of night, but guards peppered the docks either manning the turrets or standing armed and waiting.

    Yet somehow, they didn’t see us.

    Iron Claw was out first, ducking behind a metal shipping crate. Then he was gone. Winder shoved be from behind, sandwiching me between himself and Vittles. We followed his lead, scurrying across while trying to stop our claws from clacking on the wood. I don’t know which of us it was, but one of us scuffed our claws a little too harshly, drawing they eye of a heatmor.

    The chunky fire type readied his laser and moved away from his post, scanning the shadows silently. A long tongue of flames flicked out at intervals, lighting up his surroundings like a torch. But every ‘mon knows heatmor don’t need much light to go by. He spotted us before he even reached the crate. Lifted his laser. Aimed.

    “Take him,” Iron Claw whispered into my ear.

    “What?” I whispered back, too harshly.

    The heatmor’s eyes widened and his claw tightened on the trigger. Then he crumpled into a silent heap.

    I caught Iron Claw’s eye in the distance, unimpressed, disappointed. He curled his deadly claws, ushering us on. Quick. I sidestepped the heatmor, giving him one last glance. Blood pooled around him, dripping between the wooden slats into the glass dome below. The metallic tang struck my nostrils, turning my stomach and I screwed my eyes shut, scurrying after Vittles while wishing desperately this was just a dream. Or that my eyes had deceived me.

    I’d never considered space pirates to be killers. They were just outlaws, living outside Socket’s rules. A faction that grew from the hatred of using water dwellers as meat. Although the trend went well beyond that, attracting the lowlifes who only wanted to get off System Ground and make a living in the crime scene. But killing? I’d hit the nail on the head when I’d scoffed at Iron Claw wanting to hire me as a murderer.

    I made a mental note to book it once we got back to Meta City.

    The roads wound through shadowy streets lit up from the fires on the volcano. Each footstep warmed me to the core as heat from the lava seeped through the stone. During daylight it would be a lovely place to bask, but knowing what had just happened on the docks took all the loveliness out of it.

    Iron Claw finally stopped beside a factory. Smoke billowed from its chimney, sucked straight up through a vent in the dome and ejected into the atmosphere. Yet the smell of metal and smoke still filled my nostrils.

    “It’s here,” he said, nodding to a door. “Locked tight from the inside.”

    I stared up at the door, cast iron set in a stone wall. There was a small window allowing us to see inside. It lead into a wide corridor filled with boxes and trolleys.

    Iron Claw shooed me aside and my ears twitched at the sound of metal screeching across glass. He ran his claws around the window, slicing the glass like butter. He caught it skillfully and set it aside against the wall.

    “All right, boy. Let’s see if you can handle this.” He turned his eyes on me. “Wiggle in there and let us in, eh?”

    I looked between the dragon and the window, my eyes briefly going to his wicked claws. Well, I wasn’t willing to find myself on the receiving end of them, so I hopped up to the window and gripped the edge. The remains of the glass cut into my paws between my pads, but I ignored it. Mechanical skeleton creaking and groaning with the weight, I hoisted myself through and landed heavily on the other side. A quick check of my paws showed blood trickling between my toes. I gave them a sympathetic lick then turned to the door.

    “It needs a code!” I hissed.

    Iron Claw’s face appeared where the glass was and frowned down at me, but I was too busy frowning at the code panel beside the door.

    “It also needs a paw print,” I added.

    “Then bash it,” Iron Claw’s voice rumbled.

    “Bash what? The panel?” I scoffed.

    I shook my head and sighed. Then launched myself at the panel before Iron Claw could finish giving me a response. I heard something about ‘bashing the door, you moron’ as I struck the panel a second time. It splintered and cracked, revealing its wires. I grabbed them in my paws and tugged, wrenching them free. The panel went dark and something clicked. A lock. I gave the door a shove and it swung outward on its silent hinges.

    A smile tugged at Iron Claw’s unimpressed face. “Nice job. Get a little tackle-happy there?”

    The dragons shoved past me and left me to follow them down the corridor.

    It was dark and dingy, and stunk of oil and grease. Yet the floor felt smooth and dry. Wherever the steel was melded, it was clearly confined elsewhere. The heat grew more and more intense the further we ventured into the building. Not even a sniff of a pokemon was nearby, yet I could hear something. Something heavy, banging, as machines whirred away. Yet it was completely empty. As the corridor turned off into the main part of the building, it became more apparent why. I glanced through a window, noting huge mechanical shapes lumbering back and forth. Mechanical arms hoisted up crates to place on a conveyor belt, and as they moved along yet more mechanical arms and bulky implements sealed them shut with a whole lot of hollow banging. So they had machines doing their work for them. But surely they’d be ‘monned? Not left to whir away at their own jurisdiction?

    I caught up with Iron Claw, keeping my eye on that door. “I guess we should be wary of a machine uprising, huh?”

    He fired me a frowning glance and turned sharply away from the factory. He paused by a door and wagged a claw at it.

    “Metal,” he said. “Can you handle this, runt?”

    I snorted, wanting to retaliate with something along the lines of ‘I’m a normal type, not a ground type like you!’ but after what I’d already witnessed, I dared not rub him the wrong way. Instead, I set my shoulders and launched myself at the door. My muscles roared as I struck it, bouncing off like a pebble from a metagross’ hide. I landed on my paws, claws scraping the tiles as I skidded along them. Then I threw myself at it again. Iron Claw roared with laughter as I was deflected a second time and grabbed me by the tail before I could skid back around the corner. Those metal blades cut into my skin and I tried my best not to grimace.

    “Calm yerself,” he purred. “I’ve got this.”

    He turned back to the door and threw his right arm into the air. Sand whipped up around him and flew at the door. It looked just like sand, yet it sliced through the metal like his claws did flesh. I couldn’t help but wonder if anything could stand in this dragon’s way. The door was reduced to scraps in an instant. He stepped over the remains like they were nothing and surveyed the room.

    Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes, each one labelled with the weapon parts they contained.

    “Grab ‘em,” he told his crew. “As many as you can. Then, if no one stops us, we’ll come back for more.”

    Winder placed one crate atop another and grabbed both in his chunky arms. Vittles, however, could barely manage one. He staggered after the druddigon, stumbling on the metal scraps. His eyes widened as he steadied the crate then waddled away towards the exit.

    Iron Claw narrowed his eyes at me. “Guess I can’t expect you to carry one, eh, quadruped?”

    I snorted and grabbed one of the crates by its bindings in my teeth. A quick toss hoisted it into the air and I stepped beneath it, letting it fall onto my back. It was heavy. Much heavier than me. I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who heard the hissing of my mechanical joints with every strain that seemingly small gesture took, but Iron Claw nodded his approval.

    “Not just a small fry, eh?” He chuckled and grabbed two crates in his arms before leading me from the storage room. “I think I could get a lotta use outta you, boy. Even if you are a soft-hearted runt.”

    The trip back to the docks was about as uneventful as they came. It made me wonder how easy space pirates had it. That was until we reached the docks. The pokemon working there had found their slaughtered companion.

    Iron Claw merely tutted and led us a little further along. Yet more cargo crates provided a convenient barrier between us and the dock workers. But it was further along from the ship. Iron Claw tapped the bagon on the shoulder, drawing his eye.

    “Drop the box,” he whispered, “and go and get the ship. Bring it closer.”

    The small dragon didn’t even complain. I wondered why as I looked between him and the dock workers. Even the police ‘mon had shown up now. A typhlosion trailed by a flareon. After witnessing that sand tomb, a confrontation would hardly be anything the gabite couldn’t handle.

    My eye went back to Vittles as he scampered away from the cargo crate. His hide shifted colour and in an instant he’d vanished from sight. My jaw dropped. What kind of enhancement was that?!

    Iron Claw said nothing, keeping his eye on the two police ‘mon. Sirens began to sound out over the city as yet more police threatened to show up at the scene. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Winder shaking his head.

    It seemed to take forever, but before any more pokemon showed up at the crime scene, Vittle’s crate rose into the air and the bagon appeared slowly behind it.

    “Follow me,” he said.

    The little bagon scampered over the docks towards the ship, where he vanished once more behind its cloak. Iron Claw gave me a shove in the tail with his foot and I took off after the small dragon. Winder followed close behind while Iron Claw covered the rear. That was when the voices reached our ears. That flareon was quick.

    No. There would me no more casualties. I had this one.

    I tossed the box towards the ship then tackled the flareon to the ground. The wind left his lungs in a hiss, then he struck the floor hard on his back. A quick belly flop left him stunned and dazed. I swivelled in the air and returned to the box, tossing it onto the ship. Vittles ducked with a squeak and turned his head towards the box as it crashed into the other… three?

    I turned my head back to see Iron Claw standing over the flareon. Blood shimmered on his claws as a flame thrower lit up the sky, flying from the typhlosion’s mouth. A small army of fire types rushed the dragon, fists blazing, bodies lit up with flames.

    By the time they reached the flareon’s corpse, the ship was already in motion. Iron Claw leapt at it and hung from its door as it left the docks, tossing the remaining crate ahead of him. I instinctively moved it to make way for the sand dragon, not getting a single thanks in return. Instead, he stood in the open doorway, watching the docks. Laughing.

    “Another job well done!” he said, turning back towards me. “Glad to see you took initiative there, boy! Get some rest. You’re gonna need your strength once we reach Pulse City.”

    Pulse City? Well, I should have expected that. Guess I wasn’t escaping any time soon. I nodded and turned towards the rear of the ship.

    “Take the third room along!” Iron Claw told me. “If I want you, I’ll holler!”

    He laughed again, marching towards the ship’s cockpit. I gave a glance back at it, not spotting any of the dragons. Then I trudged along towards the room. It wasn’t until I was inside that I finally let my ears droop and my tail fall between my legs. I slumped to the floor, landing nose-first in dust. The only thing that could pass as a bed was an old mattress thrown into the corner of the room, right next to a pile of dirty sheets in desperate need of a laundrette.

    I didn’t touch any of them. Instead I took the opportunity to examine my paws and tail. Both needed a good clean up before they got infected. Not that they could get infected. All those enhancements to my body filtered that out, but still… I sat grooming them while I ran over the events in my head.

    Iron Claw’s ruthless slaughters, the whole raid on that factory, his careless grabbing of my tail in his bladed claws… did he even have a moral compass? If I hadn’t tackled that flareon… would he still be alive? We’d have probably been on the ship before he even reached us. Why did I do that?

    I spat out a clump of dusty fur and turned my eyes to the window. Dark. We’d left Magenta City and were back in System Sky’s vast blackness of night. I clambered to my feet and looked out. In the far distance I could see the twinkling lights of another city, unknown to me. I didn’t even know which way was north from this height. Was it Pulse City? No… surely the nose of the rayquaza ship would be pointing towards it by now.

    Pulse City…

    I could only imagine such a place. Hopefully once we were out of it, we’d head back to System Ground. I didn’t even care where. I just wanted to get away from these space pirates. No pokemon should have to die for the sake of credits. I wasn’t even too sure I wanted the dragon’s blood money.

    Little did I know that was all set to change before we left Pulse City.

    ...​

    Pulsing music reached my ears as the ship pulled into the docks. I’d been sleeping, and somehow was really grateful I was even waking up. I’d been fighting off sleep, but thankfully the dragons had left me well alone. I scrambled to my paws and looked from the window. Huge neon signs lit up shop and club fronts, some flickering erratically as their bulbs struggled to stay lit. The music wasn’t so much a melody as a concoction of various themes and rock music blaring from the various bars and colourful entertainment billboards.

    I scrambled from the room, following Iron Claw’s bellowing voice towards the cockpit. He stood by the exit hatch, muzzle creased into a frown as I approached him.

    “Grab a crate,” he said. “We’re already late.”

    “Late for what?” I asked around the crate’s bindings.

    Iron Claw watched as I tossed it onto my back. Again. It hurt a lot more this time, I think I’d pulled something.

    “Late to meet Worm,” Iron Claw spat. “He’s messaged me three times since we left Magenta. Pulse City is gagging for weapons and we’re supplyin’! Get a move on, runt. Follow Winder and make it fast. All of ya!”

    I staggered off the ship beneath the weight of the crate, desperate not to drop it. The space pirates gathered around the docks watched us curiously, claws twitching as some considered interjecting. As I strolled by with one on my back, balanced like a spinning plate, they seemed to reconsider. Wary looks passed between them as they watched the tiny eevee and his big box. I could almost hear their brains whirring as they tried to process whether what they saw was true or a facade, but not one wanted to find out.

    Good. I was in no mood to fight.

    I caught up with Winder and Vittles, then cast a glance back to the ship. Iron Claw was still making sure it was secure before grabbing his own crates off the docks.

    “Why do you put up with someone like that?” I asked the two dragons.

    Winder cast me a wary glance while Vittles glanced back and cleared his throat.

    “Simple,” he said. “You seen those things on his claws, right?”

    I nodded.

    “Well… we don’t wanna get on the receivin’ end o’ them.”

    “Besides,” said Winder, “it pays. Now shut up talkin’ and keep on walkin’.”

    He nudged me with his foot and I had to teeter to keep the crate from toppling to the ground.

    The long road ended at a huge building with ‘market’ in neon letters above it. As we sidled in, a throh barrelled past with his own crew in tow. A rather rag-tag group of misfits trailed by a small, runty mawile in a scarf much too big for him. He caught it under his feet and tripped into me, almost causing me to drop the crate. Winder stopped beside me, catching it on his flank. He shot the mawile a filthy look to the back of the head as he returned to the large fighting type, and nudged the crate back in place until it was balanced.

    “Watch where you’re goin’,” Winder hissed.

    “He bumped me!” I squeaked.

    “I don’t care. You break the contents, it’ll be your hide!”

    I deeply hoped he wasn’t speaking from experience. I tried my best not to cower and instead put on a brave face, following the two dragon types through the market’s crowds. A low table spread before us ‘monned by a sewaddle I could only assume was Worm.

    Winder dropped his two crates onto the sewaddle’s somewhat bare table, drawing the bug pokemon’s confident stare.

    “We rustled six crates,” said Winder. “Iron Claw’s on his way.”

    “No he ain’t, he’s here.” Iron Claw dropped his own crates beside Winder’s and peered at the bug pokemon over the top of them. “I think you’ll be satisfied.”

    “Go on then,” said Worm. “Bust ‘em open, let’s see what’s inside.”

    The arrival of the crates had already drawn quite the audience. Iron Claw brandished his claws and sliced the bindings open. The crates took a bit of prying to loosen the nails, but once one was open, Worm clambered up the side and poked his tiny head over the rim.

    “Oh ho ho!” he crooned. “Laser modules! Now we don’t get too many of them!”

    There was cheering from the surrounding pokemon, along with clapping paws. I found myself shoved aside as larger pokemon scrambled to the table. It all became quite a blur and I stepped back, away from the table and out of the crowd.

    Once Iron Claw’s exchange was done, he returned to me and gave me a nod.

    “All sold,” he said. “Couldn’t have done it without ya.”

    “Really?” I growled, ears drooped, shoulders slumped.

    “What’s that look for?” Iron Claw flashed his sharp teeth. “You climbed through that window, boy! None of us coulda fit through that!”

    I snorted and looked away from him. Fully aware of his claws. Part of me waited for him to slice away, but instead he just laughed.

    “Wanna see what we earned today?” He slammed something onto my head.

    I flinched, body locking up. But instead, a visor flashed before my eye. A large number appeared on it, and my eyes slowly widened as I realised what I was looking at.

    Seven thousand and five hundred credits.

    “That’s your share,” said Iron Claw. “Bet ya wouldn’t have made that sellin’ perfumes in Meta City’s underbelly, eh?”

    I shook my head, stiffly at first, then more energetically as I turned to look back up at him.

    “No! I would not!” I said. “I… this is really from grabbing those weapons?”

    “Aye.” Iron Claw curled his fists into his hips and smirked down at me. “And a little extra for nailin’ that flareon. We coulda got a lot more than that if we’d grabbed more crates. This is the life we lead, boy. You in?”

    The images of that bloodied heatmor and the poor flareon crossed my mind once more, but I shook it away, letting it fade into nothingness. My mother came back to the front of my mind. More than seven thousand credits. Just ten more errands and we could afford a place back in Meta City. We could afford to get her well again.

    I nodded as a grin split my muzzle. “I’m in.”

    ...​

    More than a month passed by. Some errands fetched far less than the raid we’d performed in Magenta City. Iron Claw steered well away from that area of System Sky, and for good reason. It would be heavily defended for a while as the fire types kept a look out for his trademark ship. Instead, we visited Meta City’s underbelly for the chance of the odd weapon popping up. We’d do weapons raids in other areas such as Boolean City, or visit Binary’s entertainment district for a gambling session (or a stroll around, in my case). We’d drop in on Raster City to raid metal scraps and ore - some pokemon in Pulse City used them to make their own weapons and doohickeys (although admittedly they were a bit shoddy…) All odd jobs that very rarely brushed seven thousand credits.

    Most days were spent idly flying around System Sky, or gambling in Pulse City. Well… the dragons gambled. I’d either sit with them or skulk in a corner with a drink Iron Claw had cheerfully bought me before returning to his games. Even if I’d been offered to join in, I wouldn’t be risking my hard earned credits. They were for my mother, not throwing away.

    At night I’d check my balance, watching it slowly creep up. It didn’t help that on the quieter days - which were often - Iron Claw didn’t even pay me the five hundred he’d promised (and there was no way I was confronting him about it…) We needed a plan. A big plan. I’d not spoken to my mother in weeks, and I was growing anxious. Twenty thousand credits wasn’t going to get us a home. It was barely enough to get her well. Another ten thousand, maybe. At least I could give her that but… she’d still be living in the outskirts. She’d just get sick again.

    I sighed and let my paw flop to my side. A small stream of dust rose from the mattress and I rolled over to face the empty room. Less dusty. No luxuries. Every credit I earned was set aside for my mother. For some reason, Iron Claw kept feeding me. He fed us all. Part of me wondered if he set a little savings aside for keeping his crew.

    Since that stunt in Magenta City, he hadn’t killed anyone again. That was a plus. Maybe space pirates weren’t all that bad?

    The ship came to a halt and I heard the gabite bellow for us all to get a move on. I cast a quick glance from the window and felt my stomach do a turn.

    In the distance was Socket’s mansion, the System flag waving high above the rooftops. Mechanical trees stood tall along the streets just beyond the docks, silent sentinels in a night-shrouded city.

    But just as one would expect, Meta City was not quiet. Pokemon bustled back and forth, oblivious to the cloaked ship. What on earth were we doing back here? Even if we visited the underbelly, Meta’s docks was not the place to park.

    I left the room, a million questions forming in my mind, but they all retreated back into forgotten files as I stared up at the gabite. A huge grin split his face and he tapped his arm with his wicked claws.

    “Got a little job for you, boy,” he purred. “Nice and easy, like.”

    I glanced out of the open hatch then shrugged. “Go on.”

    “Hospital raid,” he said. “Get in there, grab some medicines, and meet us back here.”

    “What do you need medicines for?” I asked, meeting his eyes.

    “Pulse City,” he said. “They pay out the nose for medicine, boy! Dunno if you’ve realised, but weapons have been a little dry lately. So I thought why not raid some medicines? Could easily land you, oh… I dunno… fifteen thousand credits per run?”

    My jaw almost hit the floor.

    That was it. I left the ship, keeping my wits about me. Iron Claw had his head screwed on straight. He might stand out like a sore paw pad, but me? A normal type in Meta City? So long as the dock workers didn’t see me suddenly appear out of thin air, then they wouldn’t suspect a thing.

    It weren’t far to Central Meta Hospital. The huge, white, sterile building was exactly where it’s name said it should be. The centre of Meta City. A fair trek from the docks, but without pokemon casting suspicious glances my way it didn’t take long to get there. What did take a while was finding a way in. Sure, I could walk through the A&E reception, but to stroll into wards? Into locked storage cupboards? Now that part wasn’t going to be easy.

    One would think.

    I managed to get into the wards with all the ease of a haunter through a brick wall. I’d only been a space pirate for like, a month, but I had pick pocketing down to a fine art. I’d snagged guns, pocket computers, credit pouches and all sorts from space pirates and commoners alike. I’d been caught once. By a machoke who’d taken an extreme dislike to me taking his computer. I’d received a black eye that day, made a whole lot more sore by the tattoo I’d had done two days prior. Courtesy of Iron Claw in order to make me look tougher. He had a friend do it ‘for free’. Coupled with a bruise it smarted my paws off, but I learned a valuable lesson. Be more careful.

    So as a janitor passed me by, I craned my head back to spot a set of keys hanging by his tail. The little minccino didn’t feel a thing as I grabbed the keys from his belt, snipping through the leather loop with my sharp teeth. Perfect. Keys was what I’d need to get into the storage cupboards.

    I paused by a map, tucking the keys into my belt pouch. Muttering under my breath ‘storage, storage’ I managed to find a promising area between Intensive Care and MRI. I adjusted the rucksack over my shoulders and followed the orange corridor around until it spat me out in the red area. Intensive Care. Computers beeped in the distance, monitoring heart rates. A young meowstic stopped me on the way, glancing between myself and her Clipboard.

    “Who are you here to see?” she asked. “I don’t recognise you.”

    “I just arrived,” I said. “I’m here to see my dad.”

    Lies. She narrowed her eyes at me then looked back at her Clipboard.

    “I don’t believe we have any eevee here,” she said. “Or any of your eevolutions.”

    “That’s because he’s a meowstic.”

    The look on her face was one of disbelief. I simply shrugged.

    “What is his name?” She stared intensely down at her Clipboard, scrolling with an index claw.

    “I don’t know it,” I lied.

    She looked back up with a start and opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off.

    “He never let me call him by his name. I don’t even remember my mother using it. We all had to call him ‘Dad’. It’s a habit, see. It was to get me, and my little brother, saying ‘Dad’ first. You know what dads are like, right?”

    The look on her face was unreadable. It wasn’t working. I’d have to do something, and fast. I glanced down the corridor behind her, into the waiting room. Bustling nurses. This wasn’t going to be easy.

    “I can’t let you in,” she said. “I’ll have to call security.”

    I muttered under my breath, ‘Oh jack.’ She reached for the microphone on her scarf but before she could do anything, I leapt at her, fastening my jaws around her throat. I cut off any yelp she intended to let out, and we tumbled down an empty corridor. When I let go, she’d fallen unconscious. I scooped up the Clipboard, noting the male meowstic’s name. It definitely wasn’t Dad. I scooted it aside and sat her up, then looked around.

    A grin split my face. The storage closet!

    I grabbed the keys and leafed through for the card that would open the door. Every janitor would need to get in at some point, surely? Each one failed. Well, I wasn’t busting it open this time. Not in a hospital full of pokemon who might hear or see me, or both. I spat the keys back out and turned to the meowstic. Still unconscious.

    Around her neck was her name badge, hidden under all that fur. I snipped it free, getting some of her fur in the process. Then I flashed it at the storage closet’s card panel. It clicked open and I stifled a cheer. The card key found its new home in my pouch, just in case I needed it to get back out. Sure, I wasn’t a meowstic, but it looked official at first glance.

    The storage closet was full of medicine. I removed the rucksack Iron Claw had given me and began stuffing it with all sorts from saline solution to needles. Concentrated berry concoctions, pain killers… it was all here. Once I was done, I left the cupboard and kicked the door shut. I considered giving the meowstic her badge back and changed my mind. The less evidence I left, the better. At least the minccino’s keys looked just like dropped keys, and took the suspicion from me.

    I sauntered back the way I came, retracing my footsteps back to the docks.

    Iron Claw laughed jovially as he went through the medicine bag. “Well done, boy!”

    I puffed out my chest. “All in a day’s work, Captain!”

    He snorted. “I told you to cut that out.”

    I shrugged, watching as he tossed the bag back into the cockpit.

    “So,” I said. “With that, I’m closer to saving my mother. Reckon we can pay her a visit and transfer it?”

    “I thought you were waitin’ until you got seventy thousand.” The dragon didn’t even look at me.

    “I was, but… I’ve been thinking…” I cleared my throat. “If we can get things started, at least she’ll be in a hospital. Then… I might make enough to get her a small apartment at least-”

    “No.”

    “No?” I raised an eyebrow. “But I’ve earned it! I can do what I want with my wages.”

    “Really?” Iron Claw stood up and frowned down at me. “What makes you think I’m even payin’ you?”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “You were sellin’ perfumes back in the underbelly, right? Floral. Berry. Had ‘sylveon’ written all over it.” He chuckled. “You really think I’m payin’ you to take care of some fairy?”

    My jaw went slack. I didn’t know what to say.

    “Hit a nerve, eh?” Iron Claw asked.

    “My mother isn’t just some fairy,” I said slowly. “She’s my mother, and she saved my life! It’s my job to save hers.”

    “I ain’t payin’ you to take care of some fairy, boy.” He chuckled and kicked the bag further into the cockpit.

    “Yes you are, and you know it.” I rose to my own feet, leering up at the gabite. “You told me I’d make more money here than I would selling perfumes. Now let me rescue my mother!”

    Iron Claw spread his blades and took a step back. “Then transfer it. You’ve got your visor, use it.”

    “You never told me how…”

    I brought up the visor, keeping one eye on the sand dragon. A sinking feeling spread through my gut. Blank screen, just numbers, no option to transfer. I searched it frantically, but it was just the amount, and the bank’s name ‘PCB’.

    “How?” I growled.

    Iron Claw chuckled and folded his arms. “You can’t, boy. Restrictin’ your use stopped you accessin’ it and sendin’ it off to some fairy.”

    I flashed my canines and lowered my head, an uncharacteristic snarl rising in my throat. “Then what have you been paying me for?!”

    “I haven’t been paying you!” Iron Claw roared back. “It were a lie! Keep you keen, use your size and that strength you’ve got! You’re a tiny runt who fits places we can’t, and a normal type?” He waved out at Meta City. “Blends right in. And, if in the process there’s one less fairy in System? Bonus!”

    A huge, childlike roar left my throat and I flew at him, knocking him backwards. He rolled head over tail before launching me from the door. Claws sliced my flesh, but I didn’t care. I stood back up to throw myself back onto the ship, but he leapt out like a dart. His huge frame barrelled into me, sending me across the docks. Pokemon scattered. Screams filled the air. Mine joined them as sharp claws cut into me, raking over my body.

    Vittles and Winder joined him on the docks and a little hope filled my chest. But it was expunged when I saw their faces. Their leers. Their snarling teeth as Iron Claw stood back up and waved towards me.

    “Go on,” he said. “Finish him off. I’m done.”

    They were on me like rabid mutts, fists striking my ribs and jaws snapping over my ruff to throw me across the docks. I tried to fight back. I got in a few tackles, even a take down. But those heavy wounds to my body bled freely, painfully, draining me of my strength. Eventually, I had to flee. Flee before the police showed up. They did. They tried to stop me, but not with accusations. I didn’t want to speak to them. With what little energy I had left, I fled, leaving bloody paw prints on the streets.

    The two dragons didn’t chase after me. I didn’t look back. I’ve no idea if they were even apprehended. They probably fled.

    I’ve no idea how I even left the city. I managed to get out into the outskirts, somehow, where I finally collapsed in Spool City on some filthy back street.

    Sore. Beaten. Bleeding. I could feel the warmth pooling from my nostrils as I let my eyes close, letting my breathing slowly level out. Then I heard footsteps. Slow. Approaching. Whoever it was could finish me off for all I cared.

    They stopped close to my muzzle, and I could feel whoever it was staring down at me. When they didn’t speak, or move, I finally cracked an eye open. The blurred features of a delphox stared back at me, briefly coming into focus before I finally let it close again. A dry chuckle left my throat, but I couldn’t think of any words.

    He spoke first. “Scourge of the skies.” His voice was wrought with disappointment. “Oh, what your mother would think of you.”

    I chuckled again. “I was doin’ it for her.”

    “I know.”

    I took in a deep, trembling breath. “So what are you gonna do to me? Turn me over to Socket?”

    I heard him take a deep drag of his cigar. “No.”

    I was rapidly losing strength. Every single word I tried was becoming a chore.

    “I deserve it,” I said.

    “Oh, I know. But what kind of friend would I be if I did that?”

    Friend? I laughed bitterly.

    “Then what?” I asked. “Turn me into my mother?”

    He stubbed his cigar out on a damp wall then scooped me into his arms. I remember thinking ‘typical’ before everything finally went black.

    ...​

    I woke up in the same bed my mother had occupied. It smelled like her. The whole room did. Even a few perfume pots still stood on the table, waiting for the son who never showed up to collect them. It tasted bitter. I buried my face into the pillow, trying to lose myself in pleasant memories of games and bedtime stories back in a clean, Meta City house. I even thought I smelled her baking.

    The door opened and I looked back, expecting to see her, but all I saw was Tracer with a cigar between his teeth. His eyes widened with surprise and he removed it, the smoke curling from his claws as he flicked ash into the hallway.

    “You’re awake,” he finally said. “It’s been two days.”

    My claws dug into the duvet. The last time I’d seen my mother she could barely get off the bed. Where was she? Tracer seemed to read my question before I could bring myself to ask it. His muzzle turned into a frown and he sighed, glancing to the dingy window.

    “I’m afraid… you’re mother passed away,” he said slowly. “Two weeks ago.”

    Tears pricked my eyes and I screwed them shut, shaking my head. “No. No, I won’t believe-”

    “Widget…” His voice cracked and he took another deep breath. Then a drag on his cigar, more to calm himself down. “I’m sorry. I did all I could to help her.”

    I took a deep breath myself, which shuddered with the threat of sobs. “I believe you.”

    Surprise crossed his features again and he folded his arms, eyeing me up. “Good. Because… I was very fond of both you and your mother.”

    Past tense? Of course. I sobbed into my paws, body shaking. Still sore and bound with bloody bandages.

    “What happened, Widget?” his voice was soft.

    I looked up again, blinking back tears. “I… I wanted to help her. So badly. These pirates, they…” My voice trailed off and I wiped tears from my eyes with a paw. “They tricked me. Lied to me. Used me.”

    “They’re space pirates,” Tracer said flatly. “What on earth were you doing trusting space pirates?”

    “I was desperate,” I said. “I saw the money we made in the first raid, and I guess… I found hope.”

    “In the wrong place.”

    I grimaced. “I’m aware of that. They wouldn’t give me so much as a single credit.”

    He took another long drag of his cigar. I finally cracked an eye open and looked at him. He was staring straight back at me.

    “Then why not help me round them up?” he asked. “I’ll pay you. You can turn your life around rounding up space pirates and criminals.”

    “Are you serious?” I asked. “What about Socket?”

    “Let me deal with Socket.” He placed his cigar back between his teeth and turned from the room. “Get some rest. I’ll bring you some lunch.”

    ...​

    The entire cockpit fell silent as Widget finished his story. The laser module he’d been batting back and forth rested under one paw. He could feel N0ize looking at him over the back of his chair, but it wasn’t a leer. Wasn’t a glare. Not even a look of amusement.

    The incineroar sighed and brushed his ears back. “What were you doin’ trustin’ old Iron Claw?”

    Widget shrugged his shoulders. “Like I said. I thought there was some hope there, to save my mother.”

    “He’s all lies.” N0ize turned back to the cracked windscreen. “Even space pirates can’t stand him. There were a little celebration when that fancy bounty hunter Waveform finally turned him in, and all his crew with him.”

    Widget chuckled. “Yeah, Tracer was sore about that. He’d wanted to turn him in himself.”

    “And you?”

    “Didn’t care.” Widget shrugged again.

    N0ize craned his neck around to look at him. “So… I guess that tattoo of yours ain’t so much a fancy look than it is a painful reminder?”

    “Oh, it’s a reminder.” Widget swatted the module to his other paw and met the incineroar’s eyes. “That someone can turn their life around for the better.”

    The space pirate’s eyes widened and he turned away so quick his seat squeaked. Widget thought he saw him wipe a paw across his face.

    “Well, thanks for the story, pup,” he said. “Let’s focus on gettin’ to the Analogue Isles, eh?”

    Tracer stepped back into the cockpit and looked between the three pokemon. The smell of cigar smoke clung to his fur, but if N0ize noticed he didn’t say anything.

    Tracer looked back down at the eevee. “Did I miss something?”

    “Not really. Just some old boy talk.” Widget grinned from ear to ear and swatted the module into the air towards the delphox. “Catch!”

    ...

    A/N - For those who remember Iron Claw's name, he did evolve into a garchomp post-Widget. And yes, he's the very garchomp Macro had a run-in with where he almost lost his eye.
     
  6. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Sixty Five​

    The dinner time bell rang out through Wildcard Gamma, snatching Macro out of a dreamless sleep. He cracked an eye open and licked his dry lips. Dinner. Why didn’t he feel hungry? He shifted against his pillow, feeling the sticky wetness against his cheek, then it all came back to him.

    DL. Those memories. That fire.

    He let out a groan and pushed himself up, running a paw over his scar if only to wipe away some of the stickiness. The entire room seemed to stink. How long had he been in there? He staggered from the bed and made a bee-line for the shower. Hopefully that would make him feel a little better.

    Anchor turned the corner from the cockpit and did a double-take.

    “Cap’n!” he said. “I was just comin’ to get you.”

    Macro mumbled something incoherent as he opened the door to the bathroom.

    “Groggy, huh?” Anchor asked. “Yanno… Switch contacted me.”

    Macro paused in the doorway, not looking back at the granbull.

    “They’re safe on System Ground,” Anchor explained. “Found some ‘mon who can help them. So… they’re not alone.”

    “Pirates?” Macro’s voice cracked.

    “Well… yeh, actually,” said Anchor. “Sort of.”

    That was all Macro was willing to hear. He let the door close and switched on the shower, letting the lavender water wash away the previous night.

    Lavender…

    He reached for the switch and changed the setting without even looking at it. The scent of the water gained a citrus zing and he slumped against the wall, sliding down onto the floor. It wasn’t until he opened his eyes again he realised he was still wearing his scarf.

    Muttering under his breath, he tore it off and tossed it towards the sink where it landed in a citrussy puddle.

    Pirates…

    Macro leered at the scarf, watching as the water sloshed over it. Pirates hadn’t been what he’d wanted to hear. Space Pirates weren’t good pokemon. He should know. But… they did also hate Socket. And right now, all he wanted to do was pin her down and shove his laser in her face. That vindictive gothitelle had gone too far.

    He pushed himself back to his trembling feet and switched off the water. Everything ached. He had no idea why. What had he done to ache so much? He gathered up his sodden scarf and wrung it dry as he stood beneath the fur drier. For much too long. By the time his scarf had dried, his entire body resembled a cutiefly hatchling. He tried to smooth out the static to no avail as he made for the cockpit.

    Then faltered.

    Everyone was in the kitchen, talking. The smell of pancakes danced before his nose, its efforts doing nothing to swindle him. In fact, it made him feel sick. He sighed and turned his back on the kitchen, taking his usual seat in the cockpit.

    A seat that felt too small without DL’s slender body taking up part of it. He’d instinctively pushed himself up against the right arm, and the space beside him felt so bare. A lump rose in his throat and he forced himself into the centre of the seat, kicking his feet up onto the dashboard.

    It felt so wrong.

    Anchor’s heavy footsteps drove away any desire to let himself cry any further. Macro cracked an eye open as the granbull fell heavily into his own seat, still clutching a pancake. Or… was that a pancake sandwich?

    “Thought I heard you come in here,” said Anchor. “Not hungry this mornin’?”

    “No,” said Macro.

    Anchor gave him a sympathetic look, but rather than voicing his concerns, he took a bite out of his breakfast and turned back to the controls.

    “We’ll be back at Cyan City in about half an hour,” he said. “Took a detour so I could check on Surge’s ship. Wanted to make sure it wasn’t traceable, and unfortunately it is.”

    “What does that mean?” Macro asked. “Is she followin’ us?”

    “Fortunately, no,” Anchor explained. “Jumper’s got her locked up. I just wanted to make sure Socket wasn’t tracing her. I destroyed the chip and chucked it. So if she had been tracking us en-route from Cyan City, she isn’t any more.”

    “Fantastic,” Macro spat.

    “Cap’n…” Anchor’s expression softened and looked at Macro face on. “She’ll come to her senses. Give her time.”

    Macro stared blankly ahead, watching Cyan City’s dome draw closer. Time… with all those Ultra Beasts being released into System, he wasn’t even sure how much time they even had. His accident had cost them dearly, as had his expedition to Botnet City. If they were going to stop Socket, he had to box up his emotions again. He scratched beneath his horn and sighed.

    “Forget it,” he said. “Let’s just get this training done and go after BackDoor. I’ll deal with Socket later.”

    “I think you mean we will deal with Socket later,” said Anchor.

    “Sure.” Macro let his eyes close and tucked his paws behind his head. “Of course I did.”

    Anchor clearly knew he hadn’t meant that at all. Boxing up his emotions wasn’t going to be easy.

    ...​

    The Analogue Isles sure were chilly.

    Tracer hugged his trench coat around himself as he stood on Beta Docks, watching Cyph3r and N0ize work away at their ship. The sharpedo’s windscreen was still shattered as the pair were more interested in the damage dealt to its jaws. Apparently the close range attack weapon was more important than ‘keepin’ a little grit outta your eyes’.

    “You know,” said Widget, “there was a time I often wondered why I never visited the Analogue Isles during my rogue days.” He glanced up at the yellowed sky. So yellow it could make the air in the Meta City Outskirts look like a haven. “I take that all back.”

    “Well.” Tracer tapped his claws on his arm, wishing deeply he’d thought to stock up on cigars before they took their little trip to Pulse City. “We’ll be out of here soon enough, don’t you worry.”

    The delphox glanced around at the docks. It was hard to see much beyond them, the smog was so thick. Oddly enough, he could see the coast line of the mainland quite clearly. Wave City’s towering skyscrapers stood out on the skyline, and their lighthouse spun its light periodically in their direction, almost beckoning him to jump in the ocean and swim for shore. But he knew full well if he tried that, Cyph3r would snipe him with his railgun. And he’d already witnessed the magmortar in action to know he would not miss.

    The incineroar lifted his head and fixed his no-nonsense eyes on Tracer and Widget. “Got a problem here.”

    “Oh?” Tracer cocked an eyebrow. “Ship lose a tooth?”

    “Don’t mess with me, fox, it ain’t cute.” N0ize folded his huge arms and leant back against the sharpedo. “Those spikes clean knocked out the jaw’s bracer. Gonna need a new one, or we ain’t flyin’ anywhere.”

    “How, may I ask,” said Tracer, “does one missing key element to your ship’s weapon prevent us from flying?”

    “No torpedoes,” said N0ize. “We’re out. If Sharkie here can’t bite, then we can’t defend ourselves.”

    Tracer sighed and ran a paw over his face. He caught Widget staring up at him, and once he’d got his attention, the eevee mouthed ‘Sharkie?’ then stifled a giggle.

    Tracer turned back to N0ize and raised a paw in a shrug. “What do you want us to do about it?”

    “I need you to go find me a bracer,” said N0ize.

    “Why can’t you do it?” asked Tracer. “It’s your ship.”

    “Because I can’t leave her here unattended, and I’m not gonna leave you two here watchin’ her. You might hop in and bail for all I know.”

    “He knows us so well already,” Widget muttered. “I’d say somethin’ about it being sweet, but it really isn’t.”

    Tracer pretended he hadn’t heard him. “Well, I’m afraid neither of us know what a bracer is.”

    “Shops do,” said N0ize. “And correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought I said you two are payin’. So go get buyin’.”

    “Really?” Widget asked. “You’re trusting us to go and buy you a part for your ship, yet you won’t leave us waiting by it? What makes you so sure we’re gonna come back?”

    Tracer’s heart sank. Well, there went that escape plan before he’d even fully thought it out. He made a mental note to buy the eevee a muzzle.

    “Well, let’s think about that.” N0ize had his back to them again, hidden inside ‘Sharkie’s’ jaws. “I don’t know how much you’re aware of this, but the Analogue Isles have their own Kraken.”

    Widget swallowed audibly and looked up at the delphox. “I think he means one of them jellyfish things.”

    “Oh, it ain’t a jellyfish.” N0ize looked back over his shoulder at them and grinned. “Good luck out there, fuzz.”

    Tracer hesitated for a moment, staring at N0ize’s back hunched over his ship. With a shake of his head, he turned and made his way deeper into Beta City.

    “I don’t like this,” said Widget. “It isn’t fun anymore. I wanna go home.”

    “You and me both,” said Tracer. “I’m beginning to think taking on this mission to round up Annie was the worst decision I ever made.”

    “Really? ‘Cause I think that part was pretty cool. My gripe lies in heading to Pulse City.”

    “Yes, remind me again why we went there?”

    “To sell Socket’s ship and buy a new one, so we looked the part,” explained Widget.

    “Oh yes.” Tracer rubbed at his ear and sighed. “I’m still not sure how to break that news to her.”

    “Given how it ends, I say don’t.”

    Tracer snorted and reached for a cigar… which wasn’t there. He muttered under his breath and paused to take in his surroundings. Was it his imagination, or was the smog getting worse? He deeply wished he’d not left his mask on the government ship.

    “Well, I don’t know about you.” Widget spoke oddly quietly. “But I don’t see a single shop anywhere.”

    “Never mind shop, I don’t see any buildings,” said Tracer. “It’s all docks and boxes.”

    “Deeper we go then.”

    Widget skipped on ahead, and Tracer caught up with him before he lost him in the smog. Eventually they came to the end of the docks, their feet finding tarmac as they arrived on one of the roads. The painted stripes and presence of stationary lorries reminded Tracer of how backwards the Analogue Isles were. The high roads taken by hover vehicles hadn’t made it this far, meaning the ground was very much separated into pedestrian and traffic areas. For sake of rules, the two pokemon moved off the road to the concrete sidewalk. Not that there was a single moving vehicle taking up the road.

    “Here are all the buildings.” Widget squinted up at them. “What’s left of them anyway.”

    Tracer finally tore his eyes off the stationary lorries to take in the skyscrapers. Huge chunks had been torn away, windows were smashed in, and doors were pulled clean off their hinges. Whatever had attacked them had left no debris on the ground. All the evidence of an attack was above their heads, as if something had swooped down and just eaten a piece of a building before flying off elsewhere.

    Tracer’s stomach tightened into knots. Given the creatures coming through, was it really unbelievable that one might take a liking to sampling System’s various architecture? He reached for his stick and turned to head back to the docks, keeping one eye on the missing bricks above them.

    “Nope,” he said. “We are not staying around here, Widget.”

    “But we need to get the bracer,” the eevee whined.

    “Forget the bracer. We can get it somewhere else.” Tracer began to make his way back to the docks. “With all this smog and the evidence of an attack, it just doesn’t feel save here. Add to that the missing pokemon, and I think we have a recipe for potential death and demise.”

    “Huh, that would make a pretty good video game, actually.” Widget skipped to keep up with him. “Guess we’re gonna have to fly in an unprotected ship then, eh?”

    “Yes, and I think you should be the one to break the news to our new friends.”

    “Why me?”

    “Because you’re the one with the silver tongue.” Tracer paused and glanced down at him. “And the unbreakable skeleton.”

    “All right, fine,” Widget sighed. “I’ll be the bringer of bad news. Man, I should have been born an absol.” He paused and looked around, one paw in the air. “Wait… where are we?”

    Tracer followed the eevee’s gaze. With all the smog, it had been difficult to gauge how dark it was. But it was suddenly very dark. The eevee’s voice echoed slightly, and Tracer reached behind him for his stick.

    “We appear to have inadvertently entered a building,” Tracer explained.

    “Funny,” said Widget. “I was convinced we were heading back the way we came. But I suppose it is pretty hard to navigate here, given I can’t see six feet in front of me let alone the stinkin’ sky.” He turned one-eighty and froze again. “How do we get out? I can’t see a door.”

    Tracer turned on the spot, keeping his stick raised and ignited. It did little to light their way, reflecting off the glossy black walls and thick clouds around them.

    “What kind of decor is this?” he scoffed. “Who in their right mind would paint their walls black?”

    Widget chuckled and glanced back at him with a smile. “Remind me to tell you about this liepard I once knew.”

    Tracer shook his head and moved towards one of the walls. He placed his paw upon it and nodded to Widget to do the same.

    “Come on,” he said, “we’ll use the wall as a guide. We’re sure to find a door sooner or later.”

    “I can’t even see any furniture,” said Widget. “Why do I get the feeling every pokemon here just packed their bags and left?”

    Tracer didn’t answer. He felt eyes on his back, boring into him. A chill ran down his spine and he lifted his stick higher in a desperate bid to light up further into the dark building.

    “Yo, Tracer, you listenin’?” Widget craned his neck back to look at him.

    Tracer kept his ears fixed forward as he scoured the building. That feeling of being watched didn’t leave him. Wherever he turned, it was on his back, unwilling to face him. Taunting, enjoying his fear.

    “We’re not alone,” he muttered. “Move it, Widget. We need to find that door!”

    Widget nodded and turned, moving as quickly as he could along the wall. Tracer followed behind him, almost stumbling over the eevee’s tail in a desperate bid to find the nearest door, window, or breakable wall.

    “Do you not feel it?” he gasped.

    “Of course I do,” said Widget. “I’m just not a quaking wreck like you are.”

    “I think ‘claustrophobic’ is the term you’re looking for,” Tracer growled.

    “Nah, that’s not what I was goin’ for. I was goin’ for that thing where it’s so dark you think someone’s watching you. All psychological. Keep tellin’ yourself that and you’ll be fine.”

    Tracer let out a long breath but he refused to lower his stick. “Yes. Yes, I think you might be right. I’ll try to calm down.”

    It was easier said than done. That feeling followed him, dragging every hair down his spine on end. He warred with the desire to look back and check his own tail, to search the dark for a face. Everywhere he looked he thought he saw a face. Icy eyes glowing in the distance that would vanish no sooner than he look at them.

    Widget let out a couple of gasps and leant against the wall slightly. “I’m not finding that door.”

    “We’ve probably not gone the entire way around yet,” Tracer explained, his voice barely a whisper.

    “I dunno. I felt a corner a little while ago. Surely we didn’t go that far into this building, right?”

    Tracer glanced back over his shoulder, spotting those eyes again. Several. They vanished one by one, moving away from him. No… he wasn’t mistaken. He really was seeing eyes.

    He raised his stick and let out a flame thrower, lighting up the glossy black wall.

    Bricks. The entire wall was formed out of bricks. Black bricks, uniform, not a window in sight. As for the floor, it was concrete. And tarmac. There was even a curb.

    His mouth went dry and he cleared his throat. “Widget… I’m about to tell you something, and I don’t want you to freak out.”

    “All right. Shoot.”

    “We’re not inside a building at all.” Tracer looked back up again and prepared his stick for another flamethrower. “We’re inside a living creature.”

    “What? Pull the other one!” Widget scoffed. “How on earth does one just saunter into a living creature?”

    His voice echoed wildly throughout the building, making Tracer flinch and pull his ears back. Each and every brick snapped around one by one, revealing row upon row of icy blue eyes. Each one trained onto the two pokemon, lighting up the smog with a pale blue hue.

    Widget’s ears drooped and he fell onto his haunches. “Oh snap…”

    Tracer took a step back, struggling to focus on one pair of eyes. He kept his stick trained, ready to fight back.

    “I’m open to suggestions, Widget,” he said.

    “I’m just gonna do what I’m good at,” said the eevee. “Bust my way outta here by force.”

    He turned and bolted, crashing into the wall. His mechanical skeleton whined with the impact as he was launched backwards by an invisible force. Tracer aimed his stick at another wall, throwing out a flamethrower. It fizzled out before it could so much as lick the surface.

    “Protect,” he muttered. “So these things fight like us pokemon do, eh?”

    Widget pushed himself back up and flipped onto his feet, shaking out his ruff.

    “Then we fight back like pokemon,” he said. “Sooner or later, it’s gonna give up or faint.”

    Tracer let out a breath and readied another attack. “I like your optimism. Let’s hope you’re right.”

    He threw his stick forward, expelling another flamethrower. This one struck home, heating up the bricks until they lit up with a pinkish glow. The eyes span back away from the attack, protecting the lifeform’s vulnerable surface. Yet it made no noise. Expressionless. No scream, no wince… nothing.

    Then there was a creak. Not from any vocal chords, but from the structure itself as it shifted. Tracer aimed his flame in the direction of the noise enough to light it up, but the glowing eyes did most of the work for him. Beyond the eerie glow, he spotted a long pillar of slender bricks pushing against the ground. Daylight leaked in beneath the creature, bringing with it murky smog.

    “Is it fleeing?” Widget asked all too eagerly.

    Tracer said nothing, keeping his stick raised. There was every possibility they’d strolled inside it by accident, but it could just as easily have been a stealth attack. A way to trap its prey. But if its prey was fighting back, maybe it didn’t think it was worth it?

    The base crashed back down to the floor, shaking the ground. Rubble flew towards them faster than Tracer could raise his arms. Widget hissed with pain as the jagged rocks struck his flesh, then he shook out his ears and bared his canines.

    “That’s it!” the eevee roared. “Now I’m mad! Prepare to taste pain, villain!”

    The small pokemon rocketed towards the creature’s walls, striking it with such force the eyes almost seemed to flinch. They span away from him, the bricks whipping harmlessly at his fur. A few cracks spread across the surface, and the entire structure lurched, rising up onto four spindly legs. That’s when Tracer heard it. A deep, mechanical groan that resembled a roar. Every single eye turned red, reflecting off the glossy surface. It flew into the air and aimed the nearest wall above their heads.

    “Widget, move!” Tracer roared.

    The pair shoulder-rolled to the side, dodging the creature’s attack.

    “Heavy slam?” Widget whined. “Aww, man! I’ve been wantin’ to learn that since I got this skeleton put in place. But would they teach me? No. Why? Because I’m little!”

    “This is no time to be envious, Widget,” said Tracer. “This thing wants us dead.”

    “Yeh, and we’re still inside it.” Widget cleared his throat and looked up at the delphox. “Why, exactly, didn’t we roll out into the city to safety?”

    “Not enough room or time. We’d have been flattened.”

    Tracer aimed his stick and waved it, creating a blue wisp of flames. They struck the creature, lighting up a burn across the surface. It jerked away from them, scraping along the ground like claws over slate. Rubble flew in their direction, but Tracer was able to throw up a protect in time. Widget, however, took the attack head on. He narrowed his brown eyes and threw himself recklessly at the creature. More cracks appeared in the bricks as the eyes spun away from the impact.

    A roar.

    Another rear up into the air.

    “All right, this time, let’s roll out of the creature!” Widget barked as he took off past Tracer.

    The delphox turned and tucked his stick away, launching himself through the rapidly narrowing gap. The beast fell to the ground with an almighty crash, clipping his bushy tail. He yowled and tugged it away, tearing the fur and skin from the tip. But there was no time to examine the damage. The eyes flicked around so they were on the outer surface, lighting up the smog with a nightmarish red glow.

    “Yup.” Widget’s tail slumped down behind him. “I know when I’m beat. Let’s book it.”

    Tracer scrambled to his feet and raced after the eevee, moving away from the monster. It clattered up onto its spindly legs and trotted after them. The sight would have been comical if it weren’t for the massive threat it posed. Widget ducked into an alley and Tracer squeezed in behind him, dodging overflowing trash bags and haphazard trash cans. Sticky slime coated up to his ankles as he clambered through unidentifiable sludge to come out of the other end. There was no way it could follow them through there. But it did mean they ended up even more lost than they had been previously.

    “This way!” Widget took a sharp right.

    Tracer didn’t need telling twice. He scrambled after the eevee, trying in vain to ignore the pulsing pain in his tail. The wounded limb found its way into his paws, rendering balancing a difficult act. Through the smog, he could just make out a tall mast. The decorative flag that marked Beta City’s docks. His heart lurched into his throat, and he released his tail to catch up with the vanishing eevee.

    N0ize looked up as the pair raced towards him. He opened his mouth to speak, but Tracer waved him off.

    “Get back in the ship!” he roared.

    “What’s the problem?” N0ize asked. “Run into that Kraken?”

    “You could say that.” Widget glanced over his shoulder.

    All eyes went to the hulking monster as it crushed its way between the buildings. N0ize’s jaw dropped and he ushered Cyph3r onto the ship. The two space pirates rushed ahead of the detectives, but not before the magmortar fired a shot at the creature. The railgun’s hidden bullet struck the brick surface, punching a hole through it and bringing the beast to a halt.

    The ship’s door began to close before Tracer was even fully on board. He scrambled between the door, clutching his tail in one paw. Sticky blood clung to the fur of his paws and matted his tail, but he was more interested in the creature. It hadn’t completely stopped. It reared itself up for an attack, crashing back down as the ship rose into the air. Rocks rained down towards them, striking the ship’s hull harmlessly.

    “Huh.” N0ize scratched his nose. “Persistent thing, ain’t it? It ain’t what were described to me, either. How many are there?”

    “That wasn’t the Kraken?” Widget gasped. “What on earth was it then?”

    “Got me,” said N0ize. “Thing they described to me were some black dragon with a mouth in its gut. Eats buildings.”

    Tracer’s mind went back to the huge chunks missing from the buildings. That explained the distinct lack of pokemon. They’d likely fled, or met a horrendous fate.

    N0ize looked down at the detective and frowned. “What on earth happened to your tail, fuzz?”

    Tracer gingerly touched the wounded tip and hissed. That was going to need some quick treatment. Maybe even a course of antibiotics. Goodness knows what got into it as he scrambled through that alley.

    “Here.” N0ize reached into his dashboard and pulled out a black scarf with a neon green trim that closely resembled the chipboard tattoo around Widget’s eye. “Get it bandaged up. It’s enough you’re gettin’ grime on the floor, never mind blood. Now… dare I ask if you got that bracer?”

    Tracer’s muzzle creased into a frown and he turned his attention to binding up his skinned tail tip.

    “No, we didn’t,” said Widget. “We were kinda pre-occupied with that monster.”

    N0ize scoffed and swivelled on his chair, kicking his huge feet up onto the dash. “Well, good job we patched up the broken one then, eh?”

    “What?” Widget squeaked. “How’d ya do that?!”

    N0ize grinned from ear to ear over his shoulder. “Gotta love duck tape.”

    ...​

    Cyan City looked no different. Macro wasn’t sure why he’d even expected it to, they’d only been away for two days at most. Maybe it was merely the awareness that Surge was held captive in the city, giving him a sense of unease.

    Heatsink, Floppy and Torrent stood at the docks waiting for them, the dome wide open to greet the huge ship. Once it was inside, it closed behind it narrowly missing the wishiwashi’s tail rudder.

    “’Bout time you came back!” Floppy barked as Macro clambered off his ship. “Had Jumper in a right worry.”

    “I can look after myself.” Macro regretted the words no sooner than they left his mouth.

    “Really?” Floppy appeared rather taken aback, his ears almost pulled back against his head. “And what about your assassin, eh? We’ve got her apprehended behind bars, and I’m gonna bet every credit I own that you had no clue she was even here!”

    “Come off it, Floppy,” Heatsink scolded him. “If she’s as good as her reputation says, of course he wouldn’t know she was here.”

    The vaporeon glanced back at the empoleon then fixed a pleading look on Torrent. The quagsire diverted his eyes to the glass dome and began whistling a nonchalant tune.

    Floppy sighed, turning back to Macro. He cocked an eyebrow as he looked between him and his ship. “Where’s the pachirisu?”

    Macro said nothing, moving aside so Anchor could clamber off the ladder. When the silence had gone on for longer than ideal, the granbull cleared his throat and gave Macro a sideways glance.

    “I’ll tell you everythin’,” he said, “so long as you lend me a paw draggin’ what’s left of Surge’s ship outta the cargo bay?”

    “What’s left of it?” Heatsink’s beak fell wide open. “What happened?”

    “Long story,” said Anchor.

    “But we can tell it in five minutes,” added Matrix.

    “Come off it!” said Anchor. “You just want to get to the arcade.”

    The ribombee didn’t look up from his computer. “You know me so well.”

    “Go then,” said Anchor. “These kind pokemon will help me, while you burn out your retinas with another VR game.”

    Matrix buzzed over their heads towards the city.

    The police force’s eyes lingered on Macro for a moment, then moved past him towards Anchor as he fumbled around Wildcard Gamma’s jaws to open them. Macro gave the granbull a nod, then left his ship at the docks and went straight to the police station. He wanted to get to the bottom of what was going to become of the zigzagoon. Part of him wanted to make sure she stayed exactly where she was, that way he’d know she wasn’t tailing after him. But there was also the unnerving possibility she’d break free and hunt him down while his back was turned.

    He marched into the town hall, giving the blastoise on duty a curt nod and receiving one in return. Jumper’s office door was wide open and he looked up with some surprise.

    “Macro!” he said. “I saw your ship coming in but I didn’t think you’d come-”

    “So what’s gonna happen to her?”

    “Who?” Jumper glanced over the mawile’s head to the door then back at him. “Surge?”

    “Yes.” A lone canine poked out between his lips.

    “Well…” Jumper cleared his throat and motioned for Macro to take a seat. “I have you know that while she stays here in my custody, no harm is to befall her.”

    “So she’s still here? Then you won’t mind me havin’ a little word with her.” Macro turned to the door.

    “Wait!”

    Jumper’s voice froze him in the doorway.

    “Macro, I need to tell you something,” he said. “She wasn’t working alone here, so if you’ll take a seat, I can tell you what I know.”

    Macro looked back at the frogadier over his shoulder. So she wasn’t working alone? Cyan City suddenly felt a lot colder. He silently marched over to the offered chair and climbed into it, prompting Jumper to explain himself with a look.

    “I don’t know what’s got into you,” said Jumper, “but I won’t have you just marching about like that, like you own the place.”

    “I had a bad trip,” said Macro. “I don’t really wanna talk about it. And knowin’ she’s here, causing problems-”

    “I understand that.” Jumper gave him a sympathetic nod. “But like I said, she wasn’t working alone. We’ve got the conspirator locked in another cell, so he won’t be causing any issues for you. But I can’t say the news hasn’t caused a little unrest. I’m not sure how many pokemon are going to be willing to hand you over to Socket here now, and I’m trying to hammer down some laws. Hopefully having this individual locked away will make a statement. You and your crew did save this city, and I expect a little gratitude from my citizens.”

    Macro sighed and rubbed his scar. “And she caused that?”

    “She was a catalyst,” said Jumper. “But I am given to understand she contacted Socket while she was here. Sent her some information.”

    Macro looked up slowly and narrowed his eyes. “What kind of information?”

    “From what she told me, it was evidence that DL was in this city. Apparently Socket was meant to have shut her down.”

    “Then she lied to you.”

    “Lied?”

    “Yes. Lied.” Macro slid from his seat. “Surge was the one who revived DL, so I don’t know why she’d have told her that. I reckon she’s up to somethin’, and given Socket’s stuck a price on her head it gives me a bad feeling. Let me speak to her.”

    “You think you can get the truth out of her?”

    “Don’t know. But I can try.”

    Jumper nodded and followed Macro out into the square towards the police station. Due to the pleasant weather, the doors were wide open.

    “You said you had a bad trip,” said Jumper. “Did you manage to get what you were looking for?”

    “Oh, I got it all right,” said Macro.

    “That’s good.”

    “Depends on your perspective on ‘good’.”

    Macro stopped by the cells and folded his arms, waiting for Jumper to unlock them. But the frogadier stared down at him, mouth agape.

    “You gonna let me in?” Macro nodded at the door.

    “Macro, what happened?”

    The mawile waved him off. “I said I don’t wanna talk about it.”

    “Macro…”

    “Socket screwed me over!” Macro snapped. “Made it very easy. Turns out that memory disk made DL very aware of who I am. You ever hear about what happened in Botnet City?”

    Jumper’s mouth flapped open and closed like a goldeen gasping for air. He snapped it shut then cleared his throat, diverting his gaze from the steaming mawile.

    “I am so sorry…”

    “Forget it.” Macro waved a paw then crossed his arms again, leaning heavily against the wall.

    The frogadier scanned him into the room then stood aside. “I’ll be waiting right here if you need me.”

    Macro said nothing, marching into the cells. Most of the glass cells were empty save for a few miscreants. They fixed leering eyes on him as he strolled past them, scouting out the zigzagoon. He found her huddled against the back wall of her cell, and her pale brown eyes lifted up to his as he paused in front of it.

    A dry chuckle left her throat and she shifted so she was sitting more casually. “Here to bail me out?”

    “Not on your life,” he scoffed. “At least if you’re here, you’re not gonna be pointing a laser at my back.”

    “Pity. We’d make a pretty good team.” She folded her arms and glanced behind him. “Where’s your shadow?”

    Macro clenched his jaw and rapped the glass to drag her attention back to him. “Forget about DL, it’s me you’re talkin’ to. What information did you send to Socket?”

    She sighed and looked back at him. “Did that little frog send you in here to do his work for him?”

    “No, I’m here because my latest memory rescue plan went a little too easily.” He leant forwards so his nose was almost touching the glass. “And I have a sneaky suspicion you had somethin’ to do with it.”

    “What makes you think I had a paw in it? You’re the one who stole Download Database.”

    “And you’re the one who crawled in over your head taking on my job to hack into Socket’s computers which - lo and behold! - she found out about. Now you’re tryin’ to save your skin. Am I right?”

    She stared back at him, unreadable. “You make it sound like you’re the reason I’m scrambling for my life.” A smirk tugged at the corner of her lips. “Feeling a little guilt there, cutie?”

    He flashed his canines and hammered his right paw onto the glass, creating an almighty clang. The zigzagoon’s fur stood on end slightly, but she tried to hide it by keeping her eyes fixed on his, unshaken.

    “Just answer my question!” he barked.

    She sighed and shifted her weight against the wall. “Good grief, no need to yell. Fine, I did send her some information. I thought I should let Socket know, given she’s DL’s adoptive mother, that her daughter was all good and well in Cyan City.”

    Macro’s jaw went slack. “How did you know about that?”

    “It was all over the files I hacked,” she explained.

    “And you never thought to tell me?”

    “It was irrelevant given the circumstances.”

    “It was incredibly relevant!”

    “How? Because she included her daughter in some nightmare of a scheme? Come on, Macro. The only important facts were that she turned a living being into a computer. Whether or not she was adopted was completely irrelevant.”

    “If System finds out their Mayor turned her own ‘adopted daughter’ into a mindless computer, she’d be thrown out of power for sure!”

    “Bit late for that, hon. She’s already bailed on System, leaving us fighting an alien invasion. Which, let’s face it, you came out of pretty badly.”

    He flashed another canine but shrugged off her comment, turning to leave the cell. “So… you ratted out her location. I guess that wasn’t what twigged Socket off into basically giving me that memory disk.”

    “Just gave it to you, huh?” Surge leant forwards on her knees, scanning the area behind Macro again. “Hmm… I’m guessing that went pretty badly too then? Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here barking at me.”

    He froze and looked back at her. Clearly she was hiding something. He could tell by the way she nervously combed her claws through the fur on her head. He narrowed his eyes and stifled a low growl.

    “What did you send her, Surge?” He tried to keep his voice as calm as he could, but a small snarl still slipped out as he said her name.

    “I already told you.”

    “I’m beginning to think it was a little more than just a phone call. I also hear you weren’t workin’ alone.”

    “Okay, you got me,” she sighed. “I had a little spy take some photos.”

    A chill ran down his spine and he fixed her in a violet glare. Words failed him.

    “Let’s just say,” she said slowly, “that Socket is pretty aware of you two.” Another smirk. “All snuggled up on the bench by the lake-”

    Macro’s paw flew to his laser and he fired straight at the glass. The green beam seared his fur as it ricocheted off it and struck the cell behind him. It bounced back and forth down the corridor like some crazed, out of control laser show until it struck the door, leaving an ugly black mark wherever it had hit. Panicked voices erupted from the criminals as they scrambled around their cells. His shoulders rose and fell as he tried to calm himself, and he let his laser clatter to the floor.

    Surge let out a bitter chuckle. “Pity the glass is there, huh?”

    He caught her eye just beyond the seared glass.

    The zigzagoon shifted and a smirk crossed her muzzle. “I’d rather die at your paws than Socket’s.”

    Macro was speechless. His legs trembled so much he had to lean against the wall to stop from falling over. It wasn’t meant to be a head shot. Just a warning shot. But the position of that mark, if the glass hadn’t been there, he’d have shot her head on. He finally sank to the ground, retrieving his discarded weapon.

    “What’s going on in here?” Jumper strolled between the cells, eyeing the burn marks on the glass. Then his eye fell on Macro’s laser and his face fell. “Macro, really-?”

    Macro popped his laser back in its holster. “Let’s just say I found out exactly what I needed to.” He gave Surge another glance before moving past the governor.

    It had been her. She was the reason Socket had tricked him into taking that disk. It had been some elaborate ploy to get DL out of his paws, and whether or not Surge knew the severity of the situation was irrelevant.

    But it had been intended. Socket had wanted to split them up. She’d wanted them both vulnerable. DL out of his paws and an easy target, and as for Macro…

    He stared down at his laser. One shot. That was all it would have taken to kill Surge in the heat of his anger. Yes… Socket had wanted to break him, and she’d succeeded.
     
  7. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Firstly, this is NOT cannon to the main story. It's a nod to Missing Mod Madness, following the chaotic events that ensued as worlds collided in an epic (and hilarious!) tale! If you enjoyed MMM, then you may enjoy this. Those who read it will be familiar with Wildcard Gamma's exploits through various Books with a ship full of characters from their own universes.

    I enjoyed the event so much, I wanted to write Wildcard Gamma's thoughts on the proceedings. I mean... the ship clearly took heavy damage, right? But where did most of that come from? Hmm...

    Read on and find out. And I hope you all enjoy! =D It's silly, newbie-friendly, and as far as System: Reboot's main story goes, relatively spoiler-free!

    Also, there's a very subtle fourth-wall break. +10 Awesome Points to whoever finds it XD

    Special - Post-Missing Mod Madness: Ship Repairs​

    Wildcard Gamma rattled in Cyan City’s docks. Something was clearly loose. Anchor sat with his head in one of the engine ducts, working a spanner in one paw. Macro leant back against a bollard, tapping on his computer as he added to his already exhaustive list of notes. A couple of tinny bangs drew his attention back to the granbull as he did hammered something Macro couldn’t see, then with a satisfied grunt he ducked back out of the duct, sliding the square panel back into place.

    “There.” Anchor wiped a greasy streak from his muzzle, worsening it given the state of his paws. “Whatever that was, it ain’t loose no more.”

    Macro grunted and looked back at his computer. Loose or not, the ship was still rattling.

    “Guess it ain’t the engine then,” he said.

    “Nope.” Anchor wiped his paws on a stained cloth. “It must’ve leaked into somethin’ else.”

    Macro sighed and threw his paws in the air. “Who uses a ship’s computers as a tea table?!”

    “Rookies.”

    The two space pirates returned to the ship, Macro all the while reading over his notes. Wildcard Gamma might be a big ship, but she was never designed to hold the crew he’d ended up with. One crazy day turned into an absolute nightmare. The black, red-eyed sludge monsters had provided enough of a detour to the chaos BackDoor was already bringing on System. Having his ship commandeered by a chimera named Silvally who went on a rogue rescue mission to gather many more creatures from other worlds called ‘Books’ was an even bigger setback. During the rag-tag group's search for creatures called Moderators, Wildcard Gamma had been rammed to the gills with all kinds of colourful characters who were vibrant (and noisy) enough to give the mawile space pirate a week-long a migraine.

    Most of them had stuck to themselves, but there were some who had… pushed their boundaries. It had been a long journey, and many of the ‘crew-for-a-day’ had become restless. A lot of it was down to fear, which even Macro could understand. But Palkia, who had been trying to keep law and order, as much as a huge size-shifting extra-dimensional dragon can keep law and order, hadn’t exactly turned its nose up at a game of chess with an octillery, who’s name alone had Macro questioning his loyalty. The game had quickly become somewhat violent and inky, leaving chess pieces and ink puddles scattered throughout the cockpit and the aptly named DeVillain to sulk in a corner reading his suspicious book. It had left Macro wondering who had suggested the game in the first place, given he was trying to have a nap at the time and had missed most of it until a pawn struck him in the head.

    Then there was the eccentric and somewhat delirious absol with her daft top-hat and crazy eye who had tried to calm everyone down mid-battle with a cup of tea, as if it were the solution to all life’s problems. Tea from some crazy, wild teapot that couldn’t even pour straight. Add that to the fact she had some strange accent reminiscent of a b-movie super-villain, it made him wonder if she wasn’t actually the main cause of all his conflict and pain. At least it had resulted in some much-needed ice cream. (The sticky puddles of which remained on the cockpit floor…) He swiftly wiped his paw on a less sticky section and continued checking his notes.

    A small group of individuals had decided to throw a party in one of the bedrooms. Switch’s room, to be exact. Where that talonflame had got to during all of this, he had no idea. That was something that needed to be swiftly repaired before he returned from… wherever he was. Macro scratched his head and grimaced. He should probably have double-checked he hadn’t accidentally fallen through a wormhole into another ‘Book’ entirely. The poor guy had fallen through enough random other-worldly gateways as it was.

    Macro cast a remorseful glance over his still pecha-and-tea scented cockpit and resigned himself to the kitchen. Cookie busied himself over a stove, which wasn’t even on, stirring wildly as if the mere speed of his spoon would melt the solid chocolate chunks.

    “Still no power?” the slurpuff asked.

    “Nope.” Macro slumped into his usual seat, not looking up at the pachirisu opposite him.

    “Dang it.” Cookie increased his spoon-stirring speed. “I’m on a clock here!”

    Macro wasn’t listening. He was still re-living everything. Scuffed walls. Fried wires. No electricity to the kitchen or bathroom (he was still recovering from the shock of a freezing shower…) The re-wiring would take quite a while, and was a huge priority. Even more so than the hole wrenched into the side of his ship from a couple of fools who had decided to take an escape pod without first ejecting it from its holder. The power of the smaller wishiwashi’s engine had wrenched the pod free, taking with it a hunk of metal that had exposed his loot room and created a draft he could feel from his own bed.

    Draft…

    Macro clenched his teeth together. The cockpit also had its own little draft. The little cutiefly Four O-Clock had been rather enamored with Matrix. She’d zipped about the cockpit, waving her little push-pin to demonstrate her fencing techniques (which had come in handy when it mattered, Macro couldn’t deny that.) Matrix, being oblivious to any female his own species or otherwise, had instead returned her efforts with a lecture on sword fighting and how ‘ducking and rolling’ is a perfectly valid method for dodging attacks. She’d tried this, sending herself careening across the cockpit to land push-pin first into the wall, thus puncturing a hole right into the main pipe to the cockpit’s air conditioning. Matrix had swiftly tried to cover this up with a post-it note.

    It had failed.

    Matrix buzzed into the room, falling gracefully down into his seat at the table.

    “Still taking notes?” he asked.

    Macro looked up at the ribombee, his eyes immediately going to the mug clasped in his tiny paws.

    “What’s in the cup?” asked Macro.

    “Tea,” said Matrix.

    Macro narrowed is violet eyes and sat up fully, pointing an accusing claw. “No tea on the ship! It’s banned! Forever!”

    “Oh, come on. I’m not gonna spill it.”

    Macro reached for the mug, grabbing it by the handle. “I said no tea!”

    Matrix fought back, expression blank, as he strained to lift it to his lips. But his tiny paws slipped. Macro stumbled back in his seat, losing control as the mug spilled its contents right down his front. The hot tea soaked through his scarf and he leapt up with a yelp, beating the soggy garment down to no avail.

    DL chuckled into her paw, trying to avoid the mawile’s eyes. He fixed a violet glare on the ribombee, who met his gaze fearlessly while reaching to the floor beside him. A plastic drink carton appeared on the table, almost the same size as the ribombee.

    “What…” Macro narrowed his eyes again, “is that?”

    “Iced tea.” Matrix slurped it through its straw. “Want some? Might cool you down.”

    Macro groaned and fell back into his seat, pinching his muzzle between two claws. “What’s going on? What did I do? This ship’s never gonna fly again, is it?”

    “Oh come off it,” said Matrix. “It’s just got a couple of holes and some fried circuitry. The engine’s fine.”

    Macro looked up at him, unimpressed. “You’re not helping.”

    “I thought I was helping fine.”

    “How, exactly?”

    “With the reassurance of my words.” Matrix slurped his drink. “I’m appointing myself Ship Counselor.”

    Macro jerked his head up at him. “I beg your pardon?”

    “Ship Counselor.” Matrix scooted his oversized drink aside and leant forward on his paws. “Tell me how you feel.”

    “I have a headache.” Macro scooted his stool back and stood up. “And you are not a counselor. Quite frankly, you suck at it.”

    “Well…” Matrix’s voice drew his eye back to him. “Palkia did tell us that after the dimensions return to normal, we won’t remember any of this. So… if that helps…?”

    “It doesn’t,” said Macro. “I don’t want to forget. That’s why I’m making so many notes. I want to know exactly why the oven failed. Exactly why the shower is freezing. Exactly why there’s a huge hole in the hull of this ship, and why I need to fork out for a new escape pod because lo-and-behold, it fell away during the escape from that forgotten ‘Book’!” Macro grabbed the long fur beside his head and tugged, doubling over like a martyr. “It’s been swallowed up in that black world full of eyes! Probably turned into Necrozma’s dinner! And all because we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!”

    Necrozma… now there was a being he never wanted to see again. That beast made Socket seem like nothing more than a deranged sock-puppet. He quickly added to his notes, followed by ‘RIP escape pod.’

    DL looked up, fixing him with her warm chocolate gaze. “I’d say, given the circumstances, we were in exactly the right place at the right time. I don’t think everyone could have done it without us. And we couldn’t have done it without them, either. Wildcard Gamma really pulled through.”

    “Aye,” said Anchor from the door. “That Silvally fellow really had his head screwed on straight. If it weren’t for his wild idea to hook himself up to the ship’s weapons system, we might have even… well…” The granbull ran a paw over his throat and poked his tongue out.

    Macro stared up at him, letting it all sink in. His arm went limp, his computer hanging in his claws.

    “Well,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure how I feel about being called a character in a book.”

    “Capital ‘B’,” said Matrix. “It’s a world. Just like the ones the Ultra Beasts are coming from.”

    “No.” Macro shook his head. “I think this is different. The Ultra Beasts are coming through gateways, not wormholes.”

    “How is that different?” Matrix scoffed.

    “It’s totally different!”

    Anchor placed a heavy paw on Macro’s shoulder. “Calm down, Cap’n. I think you need to go and lie down. Maybe tell your diary all about this.”

    “I second that motion,” said Matrix between sips. “Venting in a diary is a very healthy method for clearing your mind.”

    Macro nodded and turned to the door. Then froze.

    “Wait a minute…” He craned his neck back to look at the granbull. “How do you know about… I don’t keep a…!”

    Anchor scratched his nose and coughed. Even Matrix and DL wouldn’t meet the granbull’s eye, or Macro’s for that matter.

    Macro pointed a claw at his first in command. “Have you been… tell me you… you haven’t read…”

    Anchor pointed a claw at Matrix. “It was his idea! He found it!”

    Matrix took a long, noisy slurp of his iced tea.

    Macro shook his head and looked over at DL. She avoided his gaze, and his heart sank.

    “Even you?” he wheezed.

    She pawed at her ear and glanced at him. “I only read last week’s entry.”

    Macro felt his entire face heat up. He rushed from the room to the cockpit, fumbling through the draws until his paw fell upon a wad of paper and a pen that had seen better days.

    The rest of his crew, minus Cookie, followed him inside, Matrix still clutching his iced tea.

    “What are you doing?” Anchor asked.

    “Yeah,” said Matrix. “That’s not your diary. It’s in your scarf drawer. I should know, I put it back this morning.”

    “I’m not writing a diary!” Macro barked. “I’m taking that Farfetch’d’s idea and sending out a note to forget about it entirely! The diary doesn’t exist! If we really are a book, it should work, right?!”

    “Capital ‘B’,” Matrix corrected.

    Macro muttered under his breath. He scribbled the pen until it worked, then scrawled on the sheet. He folded it tightly and exited the ship, sprinting down the docks. With one flourish of his paw, the paper flew into the air, where it found a small gust of wind and blew out of sight.

    A small cough drew his eye back to the docks and he spotted a talonflame beside his ship. He met Switch’s golden eyes as he shook his head.

    “You know,” said Switch, “I could fine you for littering?”

    Macro pointed a claw to the door of his ship. “Get aboard. I’ve got a lot to tell you.”

    “No need,” said Switch. “I can read about it later.”

    Macro yelped and ran a paw over his scar. “Why me?”

    ...​

    A little way away, a folded sheet of paper drifted idly through System Sky. Zero Day, a fleet of android porygon-z, swiveled their heads back as they watched it draw nearer to them. A couple of them twirled their limbs, their pupils focusing into pinpricks. One of them shouted something in binary, and they turned to the blank space ahead of them.

    A ray of light shot from their noses, tearing into space and time. Then something opened. Not a gateway, surrounded by its golden hoopa ring, but a swirling blue tunnel.

    A wormhole.

    The little folded letter opened up as it was sucked into its gravity field. As it fluttered past them, they caught the lone sentence it bore:

    ‘Macro’s diary is not cannon!’
     
  8. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Something about this chapter feels off to me, but I'm probably being nitpicky. It's mostly filler as the ball gets rolling, and stuff I wanted to address (I ain't writing a special all about Waveform, for instance. So it gets addressed in the main plot.)

    If I'm right, and something is a bit... strange... any suggestions are greatly appreciated. I'll leave one concern until the closing author's note at the end of the chapter, because it's something I think I am being picky about, and you guys might find it fine without an advanced warning.


    Chapter Sixty Six​

    Macro’s head was spinning.

    He lay on his back, one arm over his eyes, as he ran over everything in his mind. Everything from the beginning. From the moment they found DL all the way to his breakdown in front of Surge. Why? Where had he gone wrong? When he found the pachirisu? Or the moment he trusted Surge to help them? Space pirates weren’t meant to trust others outside their own crew, and even then they were meant to keep them at arm’s length. He wasn’t one to trust so freely. Not usually. But recently…

    He grimaced, screwing his eyes shut. All it had brought him was pain. One foot wrong, and everything fell apart. No… where he’d gone wrong was in Binary City. That mission he wished he’d never taken. That one mistake that had Socket panting for his life. He should have just turned himself in, given himself a chance to explain everything. But instead he’d fled like a coward. Not even given anyone an apology. Not even the pichu he’d saved.

    “You need to drag yourself out of this hole.” The voice made Macro’s spine stiffen. “Because it’s exactly where she wants you.”

    He lifted his arm and glanced to his right. Taking up most of his room was a huge white lion, his mane radiating a soft light that seemed to brighten up the dinginess Macro had locked himself in.

    “What…? Solgaleo?” Macro pushed himself up onto one arm. “What are you doing here? Who let you in?”

    The huge lion merely smiled. A smile that lifted some of the weight off Macro. He pushed himself up and positioned himself against the headboard. He rubbed his eyes to remove the grogginess and soothe the heavy bags beneath them.

    “I’m here because you clearly need someone,” said Solgaleo. “I can’t deny what’s happened isn’t crushing, Macro, but you really need to look at the bigger picture.”

    “What? System?” Macro lowered his paw to look at him. “I wanna ask what this world has ever done for me?”

    “You live in it.” It was a simple answer that made the mawile sigh. “So do your friends. Don’t let the pawful of bad pokemon drag you down. There are a lot of pokemon relying on you right now. Even if they don’t know it.”

    “But why me?” Macro whined, leaning his head back against the wall. “I’m in no state for this. I almost got killed!”

    “A lot of good pokemon have died in the past by trying to stop the bad ones.”

    “Yeh? Then what happened to them?”

    “They’re with me.”

    Macro looked up with a start, fixing wide violet eyes on Solgaleo’s warm blue ones.

    “I chose you for a reason,” Solgaleo explained. “You’re against Socket, you refuse to eat meat, and you want to save DL. To top it all off, you helped Switch. That human is a hero, and one your distant relatives are very close to. You’re descended from someone gifted the power to make a difference.”

    “Yeh, but did he kill hundreds of pokemon in a fire?” Macro growled.

    “That was an accident.”

    “Accident or not, I did it! And look where it’s got me!” Macro spread his paws wide. “I have a huge price on my head, and I hurt someone I truly care about. I killed her family!”

    “And she knows it was an accident.” Solgaleo paused, fixing his calming eyes on Macro’s. “You even went out of your way to save that little pichu. In his eyes, you’re a hero.”

    Macro’s eyes welled up and he tore them away to wipe at them.

    “You are not a bad pokemon,” said Solgaleo. “You’re one of few space pirates fighting for the greater good, despite what mask you hide behind. I want you to use that good, and put an end to this mess.”

    “And what will you do?” Macro asked flatly.

    “I’ll be working through you.”

    Macro’s eye went to the Z-Crystal around his wrist. Was it sparkling? If it was, it was brief. Enough to catch his eye.

    “You will never be alone, even if you feel like you are,” said Solgaleo. “I’ll be right there, like I have been this whole time.” He reached out and tapped the Z-Crystal.

    Macro chuckled and shook his head. “And only a couple of weeks ago, I was a common criminal.”

    “Even pirates can become heroes,” Solgaleo said with a smile. “Now get out there and make a difference.”

    “But what about DL?” Macro’s voice broke slightly at her name.

    “She’s safe. But you need to get to her quickly. Not just her, but the pokemon she is with all need their Z-Crystals.”

    “What?” Macro’s jaw dropped. “She… she’s found them?”

    Solgaleo smiled again. “Funny how things work out, isn’t it?”

    With that, he slowly faded away. But Macro’s room still felt much brighter and warmer from the lion’s presence. He kicked his legs over the edge of his bed and clambered off it. All grogginess had faded, and with it the threat of a dull headache. In fact, he felt a lot better than he had in years.

    He hopped off his ship and made a beeline for the lake. Anchor and Floppy were engaged in sparring practice while Matrix ‘watched’ from a nearby bench. The granbull looked up when he spotted Macro and his eyes widened.

    “Cap’n!” He grinned. “You’re lookin’ a lot better.”

    “Aye,” said Macro. “Turned out all I needed was a little pep talk.”

    Anchor stared at him wordlessly as he tried to process what he’d said.

    Macro looked down at the vaporeon. “Aren’t you meant to be with the rest of the police force?”

    “Yeah.” Floppy rolled his eyes. “But Jumper said, given Switch is away, I’m to take his place in sparring practice.”

    “We have Matrix.” Macro waved a paw at the ribombee.

    “Matrix has already burned out his use of the Z-Crystal,” the ribombee said, not looking up from his computer. “And he doesn’t want to be a tiny punching bag.”

    Macro tutted and shook his head.

    Floppy inclined his head on one side and his eye went to Macro’s Z-Crystal. “So I guess you’re joining us then?”

    “Yeh, I am.” Macro clenched his fist and looked at each of them. “Now show me how to use this thing. Faster I learn, faster we can stop Socket and get these Ultra Beasts back home.”

    “That’s what I wanna hear!” Anchor grinned widely and held his bracelet over his head. “Now, I’ve only managed to do this like… twice. But just like Solgaleo said - you hold it over your head just before you perform your attack. But… it ain’t as easy as it sounds.”

    “I don’t really get it,” said Floppy. “Like I said, I’ve been appointed ‘Official Punching Bag’ while work is slow. But those moves look super tough. I’m a little sad I’ve not seen it in action, yet at the same time a little bitter I can’t try it myself.”

    Anchor laughed. “Ah, don’t be like that!”

    Macro’s heart sank slightly. He looked from the granbull’s Z-Crystal to his own. The pink crystal reflected sunlight even from deep within it, contrasting with the fairy type symbol it bore. So it wasn’t going to be easy. Well… he’d keep practising until it became easy. System was relying on Wildcard Gamma and their unsuspecting allies. Even if it meant he’d have no sleep for a week, he was going to keep on trying.

    “All right, well… I’ll give it a shot.” He flexed his claws and turned to his friends. “Brace yourself, Floppy. I’m comin’ at you.”

    “What?” Floppy’s black eyes shot wide open. “Why me?”

    “Because you said you’ve been told to be our punching bag, now get ready.”

    Matrix chuckled. “I’m just glad it’s not me. Otherwise I’d be wishing I’d gone with Defrag to grab a donut.”

    “Defrag?” Macro stiffened and looked at Anchor. “Digit’s been joining you?”

    “She’s stuck here and pretty bored, Cap’n,” Anchor explained. “She’s been sparring with us since Switch isn’t available anymore. Kinda as a favour so we’ll give her a lift back to System Ground.”

    “All right.” Macro shrugged and turned back to Floppy. “You ready?”

    He lifted his paw into the air then leapt towards Floppy, spinning his horn around like a windmill. Floppy braced himself, lowering his head as he ducked to dodge. Macro opened the jaws to grab the vaporeon by the tail, but before he could make contact, his body lit up with a pink glow. Floppy’s black eyes reflected a sparkle Macro couldn’t see, and his jaw dropped open as the mawile picked up rapid speed. Before the vaporeon could jump out of the way, Macro crashed into him, knocking all the wind out of Floppy’s lungs with a sound reminiscent of a hatchling’s squeak-toy. Pink and white stars exploded around them, lighting up the lake with a flash like lightning. The pair rolled into the bench in a tangle of fur and tail. Macro pulled himself back and fell onto his bottom, his breath coming in quick bursts. His surprise reflected in Floppy’s eyes as the winded vaporeon pulled himself up so he was sitting.

    “So…” said Floppy. “That’s a Z-Move?”

    “Interesting.” Matrix wound his antenna as he peered at Macro between Floppy’s ears. “Shame I wasn’t really watching. I should have taken notes.”

    Macro’s eyes flew to the Z-Crystal. Somehow, it wasn’t reflecting the light quite so brightly. Well, it definitely hadn’t been ‘play rough’.

    “And we finally get to see Twinkle Tackle!” Anchor clapped his paws together in an applaud that sounded deafening in the suddenly silent park. “Well done, Cap’n. Put us all to shame!”

    No… it wasn’t meant to be that easy. If his crew were struggling, then why would he manage it on his first try? Surely it was just a fluke?

    “Hey, I’m back.” Defrag strolled towards them clutching a sugared donut. She froze mid-bite and looked at the space pirates in turn. “Oh great. What did I miss?”

    Something caught Macro’s eye and he looked up at the glass dome. A small twinkle beyond the clouds. He chuckled and fell onto his back, pressing a paw over his eyes.

    Of course. A little pep talk. ‘Make a difference’. Somehow, things didn’t feel quite so bleak.

    ...​

    Binary City pulsed with music. Dusk was on the horizon, and the streets were already alive with neon lights, swinging back and forth as the band played their music. Well… ‘band’ was a bit of a stretch. On the stage was a holographic display of the animated band playing to their audience, singing in their synthetic voices. Behind them on a huge screen, each song’s music video played out much to the delight of the audience. Pokemon bounced up and down, a huge mish-mash of typings unusual to see throughout System. All brought together by the love of entertainment and the band Neon Blue.

    A group of smaller pokemon made up of sentret, skitty and purrloin danced around the more unusual guest. The lanky creature’s movements were oddly graceful despite its appearance, and it removed its eyeless head to juggle back and forth in its arms. Every so often it would pause to fire off a volley of fireballs, each time eliciting cheers from the mosh pit. The fire types would add their own pyrotechnics, throwing up flamethrowers from their mouths and paws. Then the electric types would join in with their light display, lighting up the stage.

    “Bleh.” BackDoor floated above the rabble with his paws tucked behind his head. “Not quite the chaos I was expecting it to cause.”

    ‘Then it’s a failure?’ Distortion’s voice rumbled in his head. ‘It should be destroyed.’

    “That would be pretty fun to watch play out,” said BackDoor. “Man, when I saw that thing appear, I wondered where it had got to. I didn’t expect it to be clowning around in Binary City, making friends. These things are meant to destroy, right?”

    ‘They’re useless lifeforms, just like the rest of the creatures here. Look at them, dancing to a fictitious display. I want to end it.’

    BackDoor let out an ‘eep!’ as his body was dragged like a meteor towards the mosh pit. He froze above it abruptly, drawing a few eyes from the pokemon below. Claws pointed, faces turned, all eager to see the hoopa. Then Distortion left his body in a cloud of mist, his insectoid form slowly solidifying beside him. Distortion opened his red eyes, glowing like embers out of his misty body. His shape spasmed erratically as it struggled to maintain one form - insectoid or dragon.

    Screams erupted from the audience as the more timid pokemon tried to scramble away, but those that stayed were either amazed or bracing themselves for a fight. The more intoxicated laughed, thinking it was all part of the show. A few of them even paused to take photos.

    Distortion narrowed his eyes. “Foolish creatures. It’s almost a waste of my strength to erase you from existence.”

    He opened his mouth, sending out a pulse of purple energy. It spread over the mosh pit, setting fur, feather and scale ablaze. More screams, more desperate scrambling as those left remaining realised what peril they were in. Distortion’s dragon pulse spread across the floor, splitting the concrete as it caught up with the stragglers.

    The lanky Ultra Beast leapt from its spot, throwing itself between the dragon pulse and an injured sentret. It removed its colourful head, bouncing it up and down in its paw like a basket ball. The sentret scurried away, casting a nervous glance between the two warring Ultra Beasts.

    “So you’re fearless?” Distortion asked the creature. “Given you’re willing to throw your life away to protect a creature that would no sooner turn its back and run, I’d say that behaviour is foolish.”

    The creature dropped into a battle stance, juggling its huge head between its paws. The lights flickering inside it turned a vivid red. It aimed it towards Distortion.

    The dragon opened his mouth to fire out another dragon pulse. It soared towards the Ultra Beast. The Ultra Beast flicked a paw, sending a shadow ball that exploded against the dragon pulse, cancelling it out. Before Distortion could retaliate, its huge head left its paw with surprising force. It exploded against Distortion’s body into sparkles and flames. He threw his head back and roared as his body began to lose its solidity, melding into mist.

    BackDoor tutted. “Feisty fellow, isn’t he?”

    Distortion’s eyes glowed from deep within the mist, fixing on BackDoor.

    ‘This world…’ His voice came out as an echo in BackDoor’s head, ‘is not stable enough to hold me!’ He retreated back into BackDoor’s body, causing the android to jerk uncomfortably. ‘It needs distorting. But first… I need to distort you.’

    “Who, me?” BackDoor pointed a thumb at his chest.

    A ‘whoop!’ left his throat as his entire body rocketed into the air, barely dodging another shadow ball from the Ultra Beast. At some point, it had regained its head, still pulsing with red light. Although it appeared a lot smaller than its previous one. Was it… growing? Before he could get a decent look, his body twisted so he was looking over Binary City. Distortion fell silent, but he could feel him moving around his wires and components. Creeping like a tiny scolipede… or a seviper.

    ‘Yes…’ he hissed. ‘Yes, I think I’ve found it. A worm. Something I can distort.’

    The words sent a chill through BackDoor’s body. Before he could retaliate, Distortion latched onto something. BackDoor’s mind began to spin, and he sprayed out a series of nonsense commands that could have baffled even Zero Day. His body twisted, creaking as the metal re-built itself. Stretching as he increased in size. No… he wasn’t organic. His body wasn’t designed for such feats. He screwed his eyes shut, bracing himself to explode. Why, oh why, wasn’t he built with a self-destruct command?

    Then it all stopped.

    He opened his eyes again, looking down at his body. Twisted almost beyond recognition. Six arms floated beside him, three at each side. A huge ring-like hole expanded across his torso. He even had legs, and behind him, a tail. He lifted a paw and flexed it, admiring his new claws.

    “Hey,” he said, his voice no different than before. “They’re no longer like mittens.”

    ‘This is a much better fit.’ If Distortion had heard him, he didn’t show it. ‘Now… time to erase that Ultra Beast.’

    BackDoor found himself launched once more towards the ground. He reached up and grabbed a ring from around his right horn and lobbed it towards the creature. It leapt back, dodging it as it spread open before it. Then it flailed as the porthole tried to drag it in.

    ‘A world without air. Without atmosphere.’ Distortion laughed. ‘This will be your end!’

    The Ultra Beast snapped its head up towards them. Then it kicked off from the ground, diving over the porthole. Another lob of its head. Another explosion. Searing heat spread over BackDoor’s body. His scream melded with Distortion’s as they were blown back through the city. He hit the floor hard, feeling a crack explode along his back.

    When he opened his eyes, it was pitch black. He searched through his mind, finding a substantial chunk of time missing from his memory logs. He rubbed his head with a mitten paw and twisted his neck back and forth. Yes, something had indeed cracked open. Sparks erupted from his back as he drifted into the air, wobbling left and right as he searched the city. Both the Ultra Beast and the porthole had vanished.

    “Drat.” His voice cracked and distorted, stuttering over the final ‘t’. “I think-k-k we lost it.”

    A deep growl echoed in his head and he rolled his eyes back to search for the dragon. But he couldn’t see a thing. Not even his red, glowing eyes.

    ‘You are weak,’ Distortion hissed. ‘I need a stronger host. Find me one.’

    ...​

    Trojan kicked the side of the pyukumyuku, creating a deep ring that caused Switch to cover his ears with his wings.

    “Piece of junk just wont fly!” the scrafty roared.

    “Well it wont if you kick it like that, will it?” Annie placed her hands on her hips and leant towards him. “Would you fly if I kicked you?”

    Trojan looked from her booted foot all the way up to her eyes and frowned. “I might. You’re pretty big.”

    Annie cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not sure whether that was an insult or not. Hang on.” She looked over her shoulder. “Oi, Web! Was that an insult?”

    The skuntank didn’t look up from her cooking. “Perhaps. It is Trojan.”

    Annie turned back to him and pointed a finger at her eye, then at the scrafty. She turned and headed back to Web, who was busying herself beside DL and Zip.

    Switch sighed and strolled over to them. The previous night had been pretty quiet, and it was rapidly growing darker. Without any streetlights, they needed to rely on a pair of dusty torches, one of which seemed to enjoy flickering on and off at random intervals. The one that didn’t flicker had been fixed to Zip’s right leg.

    “I don’t think we’ll be flying tonight,” Switch told DL.

    The pachirisu looked up at him with a sombre expression and nodded, turning back to her task of vegetable slicing.

    “I figured as much,” she said. “But argh… we need to leave this mountain soon. We have a job to do.”

    “Aye, the rebellion!” Annie called from beside a razz bush. She’d sprawled herself out on the floor, oblivious to the prickles. “As much as I like lookin’ at these stars, I’m itching to get movin’ again.”

    “Aye, it might not be too long before those space pirates realise we ain’t dead,” said Trojan. “Sooner we leave this mountain, the better.”

    Something caught Switch’s eye and he turned to his right as Waveform swooped silently down towards them. A quick flick of his wings and he landed with a flourish, dropping something beside Trojan.

    “What’s this?” the scrafty asked him.

    “A few bolts and a stabiliser,” said Waveform. “Also salvaged some parts from the drones I shot down. Might fix the engine compatibility.”

    “What are you? A jack of all trades?”

    “I’m just itching to move.” Waveform tucked his wings to his side and strutted past them towards Annie, casting Switch a curious glance.

    Web looked up at them then glanced around the mountain. “I’m not so much worried about those pirates than I am about Socket. This mountain is off limits, so we’re trespassing.”

    “You’re worried about trespassin’? With all we’re doin’?” Trojan shook his head and ended his statement with a ‘hah!’

    Web frowned. “Well, now we know why it’s off limits. It’s one of few places with natural fruit trees and - lo and behold - a spring!”

    Zip wagged his tail. “Yeah! I get clean water!”

    “We could technically live here,” said Web. “Yet she’s keeping it to herself.”

    “And not living here,” said Switch. “Why is that, exactly?”

    “I thought that was obvious.” Web narrowed her eyes at him. “At the expense of her own enjoyment, nobody learns about it. Instead, she could use it as a secret getaway. I’m guessing the other mayors did just that. She’s just a nervous wreck who won’t leave her mansion except for serious circumstances.”

    Switch folded his arms and frowned. “So you have an agoraphobic mayor?”

    “You could say that, yes.”

    As the night grew gradually darker, the smell of Web’s cooking surrounded the ship. Trojan worked away at the engine, but as the smell tickled his nose, he clambered out and wiped oil onto a rag.

    “About time,” he said. “I was gettin’ hungry.”

    “Well, I hope you all enjoy it,” said Web. “Thanks to DL and Zip, we’ve managed to find berries I’ve never even tasted before.”

    Trojan froze and held up his paws. “Hang on. It ain’t poisonous, is it?”

    “Only if you’re allergic to figy berries,” said Web.

    Trojan rubbed his throat then sat down. “Don’t think I’ve ever had them.”

    The group tucked into their meals, sharing banter and stories, mostly aimed at Switch. He went off on a tangent, talking about the events with the Fracture that Web and Trojan were particularly interested in. Waveform was also hooked, but Annie was more interested in the contents of her bowl. She scraped the remains into her mouth then looked around at her crew. Then she stretched her arms out and yawned.

    “Well, I’m gonna continue stargazin’.”

    She stood up and returned to the razz bush, flopping onto her back on the lumpy ground. A stone jabbed her in the spine and she shifted until she grabbed it, then tossed it into the distance. It collided with something soft. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a feathery form slump down beside her.

    She fixed one eye on Waveform, who had removed his quiver to polish his silver arrows.

    “So, whaddaya think?” She knocked a thumb towards the nattering group. “Another human?”

    Waveform shrugged. “It certainly answers more questions. Particularly about the Fracture and that yes, some humans did indeed stay behind and mix with pokemon.”

    Annie yawned again and tucked her arms behind her head. “Kinda removes my ‘special’ status.”

    “You can be special in the eyes of others without being unique.”

    “Are those lyrics from a song?”

    Waveform fixed an eye on her. “Not one I know of.”

    “Maybe you should write it?”

    He lowered his arrows and looked down at her, a glimmer of amusement in his crimson eyes. She looked away from him to the arrows then nodded at them.

    “Why do you use them anyway?” she asked. “I thought decidueye make their own arrows.”

    “We do.” He returned one polished arrow to his quiver then retrieved another. “But I prefer it this way.”

    “More deadly?”

    “More convenient.”

    “But you didn’t take them into Pulse City?”

    “That’s because they’re a bit of a trademark,” he explained. “I hunt space pirates, and space pirates know for a fact a silver arrow means Waveform.”

    “So it’s bounty-hunting bling then?”

    He froze and looked down at her, cocking an eyebrow. She flipped herself up onto her bottom and fixed him with an emerald gaze.

    “Look, I’ve read alotta books,” she said. “And I know pokemon all make their own attacks. Nature is a pretty thing, and you don’t need all this glitz and glam.” She waved a hand at his armoured beak and silver quiver. “Wherever I look in this crazy, whacked-out world, pokemon have weapons and mechanical body parts. Like that magmortar in Pulse City, and all them ‘mons with guns. How can trusting a finite weapon be more convenient than producing your own? Seriously, just… take it off and be a pokemon!”

    Waveform’s face fell and he narrowed his eyes. “I thought you didn’t remember much about Pulse City?”

    “I remember that magmortar and the big pussycat.”

    He tutted and returned to his arrows. “Your memory seems to be very convenient to you.”

    “It ain’t remotely convenient,” she said. “And don’t change the subject! Decidueye in my books were these amazing owls that fired arrows from their vines. You fit the bill - flying silently, using your vine. But you don’t use your own arrows and you keep your beak covered up with some kinda ornament. What’s the deal?”

    He stopped what he was doing and set the rag aside, not looking at her. “Why are you bringing this up now?”

    “’Cos I feel I now know you enough to call you out on these shenanigans.”

    “Shenanigans?” He placed his arrows to one side and swivelled to face her. “Not all pokemon use modifications as a fashion statement, Annie. They’re also used for medical reasons. Replacing missing body parts, protecting against disease. You’ve seen the outskirts and what damage it can do. It slowly kills the pokemon unfortunate enough to live there.”

    “Well, yeh. I mean Zip can’t walk on land. But when he goes back to the water, he won’t need them legs!”

    “You haven’t taken in anything I’ve said, have you.” He shook his head. “Zip might not need them, yet there are some pokemon that do need mechanical legs.”

    She scratched her chin and looked up at the stars. “Yeh, I guess some do. But!” She pointed at him. “Surely they don’t need some fancy beak ornament. Come on, I can barely see your face properly with that on.”

    He sighed and grabbed an arrow, idly polishing it as she stared at him. She shifted forward until her arm brushed up against his wing, causing his feathers to stand on end.

    “Annie, I really think you need to drop this conversation.”

    “I’ll drop it when I see your face.”

    The decidueye sighed loudly. "Fine."

    He tossed the arrows to one side and reached up, grabbing the armour between two of his paw-feathers. There was an audible click and he pulled it away, keeping both eyes on Annie.

    Around his beak had been rubbed raw by the metal until his feathers had been brushed away. Bloody in parts. But what it had been hiding turned Annie’s throat dry. Around the corners of his beak and nostrils were unsightly lumps, some of which trickled blood from having the armour removed.

    “Happy?” he asked.

    She stared at him for a bit longer as he replaced the metal sheath. Her mind went back to that dry, brittle feather. It all made so much sense. She balled her hand into a fist so tightly her nails dug into her palms.

    “No.” The word came out so calmly, yet in her mind she was screaming.

    She pushed herself to her feet and turned, walking away into the shadows.

    ...​

    The soft hum of Wildcard Gamma’s engine soothed Macro into a light slumber. He sat back in his chair, arms tucked behind his head and feet up on the dashboard. Stars swept past them at a steady pace as the ship drifted on in silence, miles over System Sky. It was a peaceful place Macro had enjoyed visiting long before all the chaos had happened.

    Soft footsteps dragged him out of his doze and he glanced back over his chair. DL stood in the doorway, winding her paws together as she glanced around at the cockpit. His jaw dropped and he dragged himself from his seat.

    “DL?”

    Her eyes went to him and immediately all tension left her body. She ran towards him, throwing her arms around his neck. He felt her nuzzling into his fur as she pushed his scarf aside, her breath tickling his neck. It ignited a tingle in his stomach and he pulled her close, covering her shoulder with soft kisses.

    “Oh, I’ve missed you,” he said.

    “Me too,” she sighed.

    She combed her claws through his fur, trailing them up his spine, and she pulled back from him to catch his lips in a kiss. A small groan left his throat as he returned it. Tears stung his eyes and flowed down his cheeks and he couldn’t help but pull her closer, stumbling into the back of his seat. He brushed his paw over her ears, her fur warm against his pads, down the back of her head. His claws trailed over the jack socket and his heart began to ache.

    He pulled back from her to take a breath, to spill out his feelings to her. He met those chocolate eyes. But they weren’t warm. Instead, they were sad. Pained. Reflecting fire that burned behind him. All around him. He panicked, stumbling backwards as his eyes flew around the cockpit. All feeling left his legs. He grabbed the arm of his chair to stop himself from slumping to the floor.

    Fire.

    It erupted between them like a barrier, spreading across the floor beneath her. He stretched out a paw towards her, to drag her from the inferno, but the floor began to splinter. Debris crumbled away from the cockpit, threatening to take DL with it. But she didn’t seem to notice or care. Her body shook as the disaster caught up with her.

    “Goodbye.” Her voice seemed to echo eerily, as though it hadn’t come from her.

    “No!” He watched her fall away from him into the abyss below. “No, DL! Don’t go! I love you!”

    He threw himself forwards into the flames, scattering the sheets off his body.

    Dawn.

    He blinked a few times, trying to dispel the nightmare from his mind and enter reality.

    His bed. No fire. A tangle of sheets sticky with sweat. Just another nightmare. He groaned and ran a paw over his head, then flailed an arm towards his nightstand for his computer. His heart was still racing. Those nightmares… he knew they weren’t real, but he needed to know DL was okay. That they were all okay.

    He brought up Switch’s name with his trembling claw then fired out a disjointed message. He didn’t care what time it was, he just wanted to know. Once it was sent, he fell back into his pillow and rubbed a paw over his eyes. The previous day, he’d felt happier. Now his mind was a swirling mess again.

    The familiar message tone came from his phone and he picked it up so it was hovering over his face.

    ‘We’re all fine, thanks, Macro. Trying to get the ship running again. Things are looking good. We should be at Meta City the day after tomorrow.’

    Macro sat up so quickly his computer flew from his paw to the end of the bed. Meta City? So DL wanted the last memory disk? He raked his claws over his face and groaned. No. No, he couldn’t let them just walk into Socket’s mansion. DL and a human? Didn’t Socket want both of them? The more he thought about it, the more Socket’s stunt in Botnet City felt like an elaborate scheme.

    He kicked himself from his bed and strutted from the room towards the cockpit. His eye immediately went to Matrix who he expected to be up, but his seat was empty. What took him by surprise was the lopunny in his captain’s seat. His lip curled into a snarl and he pointed a claw, but she span the seat around and gave him a disarming smile.

    “Up already, Captain?” she asked. Then she looked him up and down. “You feeling okay? You look like you lost a wrestling match with a goodra.”

    “Digit?” he spat. “What are -”

    “Good mornin’, Cap’n.” Anchor slipped into the cockpit beside him and cast him a curious glance. His nose twitched and he recoiled. “Yeech! What, did you take a dive in a swamp?”

    Macro flashed a canine. “Bad dream.”

    “Wow, yeh.” Anchor gave him an apologetic nod. “Must’ve been a bad one because… well… you look bad.”

    Macro’s arms fell limp at his side and he stared at Anchor aghast. He caught a nod from Defrag behind him, along with a smirk.

    “You know what…” Macro sighed and rolled his eyes. “Look, we need to get to Meta City. I got word from Switch that they’re headin’ there in a couple of days, and there ain’t no way I’m lettin’ DL and Switch practically hand themselves over to her!”

    Anchor raised an eyebrow and his mouth formed an ‘o’.

    “I don’t know much about this DL,” said Defrag. “No one has really taken the time to fill me in. What does Socket want with her exactly?”

    “It’s a long story,” said Anchor. “I wouldn’t get involved if I were you. We’ll drop you off on the way.” He turned back to Macro. “So we’re finally doin’ it? Goin’ into Socket’s nest to grab the final disk? Feels like the plot of some terrible video game.”

    “Meta City, eh?” Matrix buzzed down the corridor, stifling a yawn. “I’ll key us in after breakfast. Nice hairdo, by the way.”

    Macro shrugged off the ribombee and nodded towards Defrag. “Care to explain?”

    “She showed up at the crack o’dawn,” Anchor replied. “Wasn’t gonna turn her away. Lass ain’t got nowhere to stay here.”

    “Exactly,” said Defrag. “If you think I’m letting you lot slip away again after you all flew off to Botnet, you’ve got another thing coming! I can’t steer a ship! How else am I supposed to get back home?”

    “You shoulda thought about that before you hitched a ride!” Macro snapped.

    Defrag’s face fell and she tutted. “Really? You would have left me in Spool City to get cut up by those… things?”

    Macro felt his heart sink and he sighed. He shook his head and looked away towards the kitchen. “No. Of course not. We’ll… get you back home.”

    He waved her off and marched towards the bathroom, but a warm sensation spread through his right leg. He froze and looked down at his pouch.

    “What the…?”

    He reached into it and pulled out a lone Z-Crystal. How had that got in there? He eyed it and held it up to the light. Pale blue, with a dark blue snowflake design beyond it. Icium-Z? His mouth turned dry and he licked his lips as he peered back into the cockpit.

    Both Anchor and Defrag had tucked into a bag of donuts. Somehow he didn’t think Cookie would be too impressed they were vetoing his pancakes.

    “Digit?” Macro rasped.

    “Defrag,” she corrected. She fixed him with a cold stare and licked sugar from her lips. “What do you want?”

    “You know ice punch, right?”

    “Sure. Why do you ask?”

    Macro’s heart felt like lead. He held out the Icium-Z. “I think this might be yours.”

    Defrag’s jaw dropped and Anchor let out a loud ‘Eh?!’

    The granbull looked up at Macro with a start. “When did you work that out?”

    “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” said Macro. “I’m gonna go shower. Prod Matrix until he gets them co-ordinates in for Meta, okay?”

    Macro groaned and rubbed at his temples as he strutted towards the wash room. What a morning. First the bad dream, then Defrag receiving a Z-Crystal? Talk about an unexpected ally. Maybe a good, long shower would help him put things into perspective before they took off on what could be the deadliest mission he’d ever encountered. He shuddered as he thought back at those kartana. Compared to Socket’s mansion they felt a lot more welcoming.

    ...​

    Light footsteps echoed through the cells, flat feet on cold tile. Surge looked up in time to see Jumper standing before her cell. He flashed a paw at the panel and the glass slid open. A small smile tugged at Surge’s lips and she chuckled.

    “I take it he’s gone?” she asked.

    “If you’re referring to Macro, yes,” said the frogadier. “Now he’s out of Cyan City, I have no reason to hold you here.”

    “Socket will be so pleased.”

    Jumper met Surge’s eyes with an exasperated eye roll. He stood aside and gestured for her to get up and leave.

    “What?” she asked as she pushed herself to her feet. “No paperwork?”

    “No need. I’ve made all the notes required for my records.”

    “Don’t wanna cheese of the Mayor even more, eh?” Surge shoved past him into the corridor. “I’ll be needing my laser back. And my ship.”

    “Your ship is in dire need of repairs.”

    Surge’s jaw almost hit the floor and she spun to face him. “I beg your pardon? They wrecked it?!”

    “Yes. So if you would like to take one of our ships as compensation-”

    “Darn straight I shall! And big enough to carry my own! Then I can sell your golden prize for scraps to fund for a replacement!” She placed her paws on her hips and flashed her canines in a growl. “Allowing Macro’s cronies to destroy my… that ship was like home!”

    Jumper stared back at her, expressionless. Not even a hint of sympathy in his eyes.

    “Look,” he said. “The offer is there. The damages to your ship are not my concern or fault. If you want one of Cyan City’s ships, take it. But I can’t guarantee it will hold your tympole.”

    Surge groaned and rubbed her paws over her face. Several years. She’d had that ship for several years, and it was reduced to scraps in less than a day.

    “What I can guarantee, however,” Jumper went on, “is that our ships are a lot faster than your little bubble ball.”

    She parted her claws to look at him. Something sparked in her mind and she chuckled.

    “Oh my,” she said. “You’re willingly offering me an efficient way to track down Wildcard Gamma?”

    Jumper sighed and rolled his eyes as the zigzagoon went on.

    “I guess you want him turned in after all.” She laughed. “Well, I’m not offering you a single credit after all you’ve put me through.”

    Jumper’s lips turned into a frown. “I’m not offering you a means to hunt Macro. I’m offering you a quick way out of Cyan City. Macro and his crew have a lot of friends here after what they’ve done for us, and they’re desperate to see you leave. The choice is yours. Take it or leave it.”

    “I’ll take it,” said Surge. “Have your cronies load up what’s left of my ship into one and I’ll be out of here before you can blink.”

    She made for the exit, but Jumper hopped past her. Keeping his back to her, he opened the door and let her out into the police station.

    “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t help a criminal pack her bags,” he said. “But given I want you out of this city, I don’t really have much choice.”

    She flashed a scowl over her shoulder. “I’m flattered.”

    “You can do what you want with my ship,” he said. “Provided you never, ever come back. I don’t want to see your sorry tail in this city again.”

    Her fur bristled like a brush and a canine poked through her lips. “Oh don’t you worry. I have no immediate plans.”

    ...

    So... Floppy. I completely forgot that Switch was away when I first wrote this chapter. When I realised it, I cut and sliced Floppy in his place. I had to make a few edits to smooth it out a bit during my re-reading of it today. So if it seemed odd, that's why. If not... well I'm just being nitpicky because I'm fully aware he was a fall-back to fix a boo-boo in a scene I wanted to keep.
     
  9. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Sorry for the short delay. I was getting the okay to post this, and I'd forgotten to do so in advance.

    This chapter was originally a lot shorter, but I've merged two together. It'll certainly speed things up a bit.


    Trigger Warning! - Please be aware there is violence later on in this chapter! And not of the Pokemon variety! (As such, Serebii and PokeCommunity will be getting this update later on when I've had permission to post.)

    Chapter Sixty Seven​

    It had been a long night. Switch took down one of the makeshift tents Web had thrown up. Both tents were nothing more than a couple of sheets she'd managed to bundle onto the ship 'just in case', and that night had been one of those nights. The groups had been split into two, cramming themselves into the tents to sleep on the rocky floor. Switch had found himself squeezing his talonflame form in with Web, Poipole, DL and Annie. Not only did Web have a particularly skunky smell to her, Annie stumbled in late, narrowly stepping on his tail feathers, and tossed and turned until the early hours of the morning. He let out a sigh of relief when she finally decided to get up and go for a walk. At least, that's what her mutter had sounded like. Switch had been much too sleepy to chase after her, and had left the girl to go and do her own thing. It wasn't until Trojan recommenced banging away at the ship that Switch finally staggered from the tent in a fog of sleep and hunger.

    As he neatly folded the sheet, he took another look around at the camp site. Still no sign of Annie. He'd taken a brief fly and spotted her by the lake, shifting around broken branches and lobbing rocks at the water. But when he'd called she'd merely said she wasn't hungry. So he'd left her. But that had been about an hour ago, and breakfast was long since over.

    He looked over at the other two pokemon helping him, working in complete silence. DL had barely said a word since they'd landed on the mountains, lost in thought. Web, respecting the pachirisu's wishes to not be pestered, worked silently alongside her as the pair of them folded the other sheet.

    "You know," said Switch, depositing the folded sheet beside the ship's open door, "I'm going to go and see how Annie is."

    "Are you sure?" Web asked, a look of concern crossing her face. "I'm pretty worried, and no offence, Switch, but we've known her longer."

    "Yes, but we share a species," he said. "At least let me try."

    Web glanced to the side and cleared her throat. "From what you've described, it doesn't sound good."

    "Then that leaves me with another advantage. I can fly out of the way." The human flashed her a reassuring smile. "If you hear a scream, come running."

    Web's jaw went slack. "Come now, don't go making jokes like that!"

    Switch laughed and waved a hand. "Don't worry, I've battled bigger and scarier pokemon than Annie."

    "Well, if you're going to find her, take her tablets. She'll need them."

    Web tossed the jar of blue pills towards Switch and he caught them. He gave her a playful wink which she rolled her eyes at before gathering up the sheets.

    Switch found Annie in exactly the same place. She stood beside the lake in her human form, picking up rocks and lobbing them across the water. Each one struck down with a 'plop!' to vanish beneath the shimmering surface.

    "If you're not careful, you're going to hurt someone," he said.

    "They'll duck." She bounced another rock in her open hand for a moment, as though she was considering what he said, before letting it fly out as far as she could throw it.

    Switch stooped beside her, grabbed a flat rock and with a flick of his wrist it skimmed across the water, bouncing a few times before finally disappearing.

    "Show off," Annie muttered.

    He said nothing, pausing to take in the scene as Annie continued to batter the lake with projectiles. Branches lay in tatters, leaves scattered around amongst the splinters. One poor tree looked like it had received the sorry end of a branch to its trunk. The bark was scuffed and missing altogether in places.

    He folded his arms and turned back to Annie. "Needed to burn off some stress, huh?"

    She grunted, lifting her arm back to lob a rock as far as it would go.

    "What's eating you?" he asked.

    "Nothing's eatin' me. I'm not a fish."

    "Okay, let me rephrase that. What's bothering you?"

    "Nothin' that concerns you."

    "No, maybe not." He slumped down onto the floor and skimmed another rock across the lake. "But it helps to talk about these things, rather than letting it hollow you out from the inside. And… potentially give an unfortunate aquatic creature concussion."

    "All right, fine." She dropped a large pebble back into the pile and kicked some rubble into the shallows. "You live here, right? Well… not here, here. But in System, right?"

    "Yes, I made it my home. Much like you're doing now."

    "Well, I was." She slumped down beside him and tugged at some dry grass. "Was much better than back home, if I could even call it that. Barely saw my parents, spent most of my life in isolation because they wanted to 'sort out my head'."

    Switch eyed her air quotes before she returned to lobbing small rocks into the pool.

    "So your parents left you with a doctor most of your life?" Switch asked.

    "Varying doctors. Spent a lot of time on air planes. I was originally from Kalos, but they sent me to Kanto, then to Alola, then back to Kalos, then finally dropped me in Sinnoh where I lived for what… seven years?" She shrugged.

    "So you've travelled a lot!"

    "I'd hardly call it travelling," she snorted. "I never left the wards except to board another plane. Didn't even see this 'school' thing people talk about. I had a private tutor who made me read alotta books."

    "Books are good," said Switch. "I learned a lot from books."

    "They weren't really for learnin'," she explained. "They wanted to see what triggered me. Set me off. I can't handle negative emotions, see? So they made me read things that triggered them to see if they could stop me goin' into a rage. If anythin', bein' locked up there set me in a rage. Then I ended up in System and lo and behold! I got locked in another ward because I was scared and bit someone. Smacked 'em with my wing claws - I was originally goin' for a punch but that dang body wouldn't stick. Then I end up here and they fix me. Give me some tablets that lock me in one shape. I meet some folks who care about me and actually want to be my friend. They're not scared! And then I go and find out the one who really seems to care the most, the one I can actually call a friend, is really sick!"

    She grabbed a handful of rocks and lobbed them one by one into the water to punctuate her statement.

    Switch silently reached into his pocket and handed her the jar of tablets. It took a moment for her to process it, but she snatched up the jar and tossed two of the pills into her mouth.

    "I can't understand how you must be feeling," he said, "but I can hazard a guess. That air in the outskirts is awful. Goodness knows what damage it does to the lungs."

    She grunted and hugged her knees to her chest.

    "You should try talking to him if you're this upset," he said.

    "Seriously? What good would that do?" At that moment, her body switched to an archeops.

    She let out a roar of profanities and leapt to her feet, swinging a wing around in an arc. Several glowing rocks appeared before her, and she sent them soaring across the lake. They rained down in the centre, creating a huge spray of water, and in the midst of it Switch thought he spotted a very startled horsea.

    Switch cleared his throat, watching the water settle into ripples. "I think it would help a lot, actually."

    Annie grunted and flopped back onto her bottom. "Well, I'm not entirely sure I want to. He didn't tell me sooner. As far as I'm concerned, this is over. We'll do this rebellion for Zip and the other water dwellers, then I'm headin' out my own way."

    "That's really not helpful, Annie."

    "If it stops me bein' sad and angry, it's helpful."

    "It won't." He leant back on his hands and fixed his golden eyes on her. "You'll have memories of this forever. It'll just… eat you up inside."

    "Well, that's where you're wrong." She picked up a rock in her claws and juggled it back and forth. "Because I have this nifty way of just forgettin' things. If I don't like somethin', I won't remember it. Only reason I know I bit that doc is 'cos they told me. I think they call it 'memory repression'. I only remember happy things."

    "Then how come you remember all this from yesterday?"

    "Because I ain't slept yet."

    Switch nodded and took a breath. "Well. I think you need to talk it over. At least explain. It'll give your new friends some understanding." He paused and eyed her for a moment. "You worry them a bit."

    "Because they're scared of me?" She gestured a wing at the surrounding wreckage.

    "No. Because, like you said, they care about you." He pushed himself to his feet. "I'll let you cool down a bit. See you back at camp."

    She didn't even look back at him. As he entered the camp, he glanced back at her still juggling that rock. Then he turned to one of the sturdy trees. Waveform perched in it, huddled into a bundle of feathers. When he noticed Switch watching him, he cracked one eye open.

    Switch tucked his hands behind his back and smiled. "Good morning."

    The decidueye huffed a noise that sounded like a 'hoo'.

    "I'm guessing you didn't sleep either?" Switch sighed.

    "I think it was a bad night for most of us," Waveform explained, letting his eye close. "I tend to sleep in bursts anyway."

    "Well… it doesn't look like Annie slept a wink."

    Waveform fixed one eye on him again.

    "She seems pretty upset about something." Switch paused and cleared his throat. "She could probably use a friend."

    Waveform sighed and ruffled out his feathers, beating down his chest with his paws. "I think I know what this is about. I have to admit, I'm a little surprised."

    "I don't see why. I mean, the lot of you are like a family. Even down to the bickering."

    Waveform froze and narrowed his eyes. "How much did she tell you?"

    Switch raised a hand and closed his eyes. "I won't say a word, trust me."

    The decidueye snorted and kicked off from the branch, flying away from Switch without a sound.

    ...​

    Annie barely heard the decidueye approach her. He paused beside her and surveyed their surroundings, silently. Then he brushed some splintered wood aside and sat down beside her, slipping a wing around her shoulders. He took the rock from her claws and replaced it with his paw. Something metal touched her neck and she jolted slightly, then relaxed as she felt him combing her feathers with his beak.

    For a while they sat in silence, Annie lost in her thoughts while he preened her feathers.

    Finally, she took a long breath then said exactly what was on her mind. "Life isn't fair."

    He stopped and lifted his head to look at her. "I wouldn't put it that way. It's hard, but not unfair."

    "No, it's not fair. I finally get some freedom and it just leads to yet more pain."

    He let out a sigh and trailed his paw over her wing. "I don't know what happened to you, but… life has ups and downs. You need to just learn to handle them."

    "What, like you're doing?" she spat.

    He stared at her silently, his crimson eyes burning into her skull. She curled her lips back in a snarl and snapped her head around towards him.

    "Back in my world, when someone gets sick they get help!" she growled. "Is that not the case here?"

    "In the outskirts, if someone gets sick they die," he said. "Pokemon there can't afford fancy help."

    "Then that's another thing that needs to be fixed then, ain't it?" She turned back to the lake, but something twigged in her mind and her eyes widened with realisation. "Wait a minute… didn't you pay for like… most of our ship?"

    Waveform released her claws and scratched his head. "Yes, but… I have my reasons."

    "So you could totally afford to get yourself sorted?"

    "No." He released her and tucked his wings to his sides. "It's not as simple as that."

    She threw her wings into the air in exasperation. "Then what's the problem? How can you afford to build a ship yet not be able to get yourself treatment?"

    "Because I owe Webber and Trojan!" he said. "A lot!"

    "What? They bail you outta somethin'?"

    "You could say that." He sighed again and ran his paws over his face. "Look… I already told you about that group back in Gear Village. I fled that place, okay? Found myself in the outskirts and got into some scrapes. I wasn't the bounty hunter I am now, I was nothing but a small-time merc picking off stray, weaker pirates and thugs. That gang was more than I could handle. They left me to die on the streets, and Webber took me in. I was surprised. I knew she was a former space pirate, and she'd been on my list. They used up valuable berries to help me recover. I spent many days trying to think up how I could repay them. So I practised, and removed Webber from my list of targets. I went out on the streets picking off wanted criminals until I managed to turn over each and every 'mon in that gang. I gave the credits to Webber and Trojan, much to their protests.

    "After that, I left them. But I still wanted to repay them. After a year, I managed to turn in the most wanted space pirate in System. A huge garchomp named Iron Claw who'd shocked terror even into Hunter's heart. I rounded him up along with his crew and net myself three hundred and fifty thousand credits in total. Two hundred thousand of that was for Iron Claw alone."

    "Whoa, so you're, like, loaded!" Annie gasped.

    He shrugged and tucked his wings back in. "I decided every credit was going to help Webber and Trojan. I went back to Spool City and stayed with them, paid my way. Made out as though I had very little. That each space pirate and criminal I caught counted greatly. I'd give enough to feed us all and pay the rent on that run-down little house. I knew I'd get sick. I hid all evidence under my beak sheath and opted to use silver arrows, given my feathers don't grow back as strong as they used to. It's already set up that when I die, everything goes to them. They can have a new life outside the outskirts and get any help they need."

    Annie balled her claws into fists. Her jaw ached from grinding her teeth together. Waveform wasn't even looking at her anymore. Air whistled from her teeth in a hiss and she grabbed the nearest rock, tossing it into the lake.

    "That isn't good enough!" she roared.

    He jolted, letting out a surprised hoot.

    "I want you all," she said. "All of you. You're like my family now. I didn't really have that back in my own world, and mark my words I ain't losin' one now."

    He said nothing as he stared at his talons.

    "Besides," she went on, "how would they feel if they knew you were doin' this?"

    He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I've not really thought about it."

    "Then think about it. Because I reckon they'd be as bitter as I am. They might be able to handle it better, but I reckon they'd be steamin'!"

    "My decision hasn't changed, Annie."

    The feathers down her spine bristled and she clenched her fists so hard the claws punctured her skin. "You're still just gonna let yourself die?"

    "I don't have much choice. You're in the mix now. I want what's best for all of-"

    "Don't you dare!" she snapped. "You can't decide what's best for me! I don't care about money. I want a family! I never had a family, not one that cares like you do! You guys won't just leave me in some lab to be poked at, made angry or sad and studied like some kinda lab rat! 'Ooh, what's gonna set her off next? What kinda tablets can we give her? Will these ones knock her into a coma again?' No! You guys care! You understand! I don't want to lose any of you!"

    She flew to her feet, sending another ancient power out to the lake. This one struck some rocks out on the far side, exploding them into rubble. She stood with her wings outspread, trying to catch her breath.

    Waveform had risen to his feet, staring down at her. He pulled her into an embrace, and she buried her nose into his chest feathers.

    "Okay," he said. "After all this, we'll sort it out, and we'll move out of the outskirts."

    She wound her claws into his chest and let out a strangled sob.

    "Is that okay?" he asked.

    She nodded and let out a muffled 'uhuh'.

    "Shall we get back to the others?" he asked. "I think I can hear the ship's engine."

    "No," she choked, still clutching his feathers like a blanket.

    "No?" He tried to pull back to look down at her, but she fastened him in some kind of death grip.

    "No," she repeated. "I'm really freakin' tired."

    ...​

    BackDoor found himself dragged across System Sky as Distortion roared about finding a new host. The android's body still sparked from the cracks in his plating, either from the intensity of the battle or the Ultra Beast's attempts to change his form. Although they'd succeeded, the transformation had put terrible strain on his mechanics.

    "Would you slow dow-ow-own?!" his voice still hadn't recovered, stuttering, and crackling with static like a damaged speaker. He was really beginning to sound like a bad trap record. "I can only go so fast, you know!"

    Distortion slowed, turning his eyes onto BackDoor's mechanical mind. 'You complain too much.'

    "All right, listen-en." BackDoor tried desperately to calm his voice, to no avail. He leered back at the pair of red eyes. "I can travel through data streams. If you let me, we'll get to wherever it is you're going in a jiff-jiff-jiffy!"

    Distortion seemed to mull this over, then let out a hissing sigh. 'Do you have any suggestions for an extra host?'

    "Extra host?" BackDoor tried to ignore the fact he'd stalled on the 'a'. "I suppose we could use one of Zero Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-"

    Distorion slammed BackDoor's brain around in his head, bringing the hoopa to an abrupt stop. The android lifted a paw to rub beneath his left horn and tutted.

    "Day," he finished. "Zero Day. And thanks for that."

    It had done nothing to fix his damaged speech. He still sounded like a DJ's fall-back mixer station. He drifted forward a couple of feet and lifted a paw, feeling for a data stream. Zero Day weren't too far away. Hopefully he could farm some parts and repair some damage. Then they could open a whole, fun new world and throw Socket into it. See what kind of delights would await her in her 'New System'.

    'Who is this Socket?' Distortion asked.

    "Oh, juszzzzt the 'mon who had me made," said BackDoor. "Bosses me about like I'm some kind of inferior life form."

    'Like those Ultra Beasts?'

    "Hey, don't hate on them." BackDoor wagged a paw. "You're one yourself."

    'I am far superior to those pathetic creatures! Now find me one of these Zero Day androids.'

    "Oh, I can do better than that." The static from the data stream surrounded his body, pulling him in. "I can find us a whole fleet."

    With all the ease of water through a straw, BackDoor shot through the data stream. His body became like liquid, curling and curving until the stream locked onto Zero Day's signal. In a flash, they manifested above the fleet. A small fleet. Only six androids drifted back and forth, opening and closing empty portholes.

    'These pathetic things are what you expect me to use as a host?' Distortion spat. 'What are they doing?'

    "Nothing." BackDoor tucked his paws behind his head and leant back. "Might as well make them do-do-do something useful, eh?"

    Distortion sighed and flowed from BackDoor's body, his insectoid form drifting above Zero Day. They turned their heads back and forth, eyes contracting into pinpricks. One of the closer ones span its head around as its nose lit up like a laser gun. Then it unleashed its tri-attack beam. Distortion vanished momentarily, letting it pass harmlessly through the air. Then he reappeared behind the porygon-z. It let out a panicked binary stream, rallying its allies. Each one aimed its own attack, but Distortion vanished into the android, letting it take the brunt of the friendly fire. It sparked and spasmed in the air, its legs flailing, then dropped slowly towards System Ground in a feeble retreat.

    Distortion manifested beside BackDoor and tutted.

    "These things are about as sturdy as cardboard armour," said Distortion. "But if you want to repair your own feeble body, go ahead. For now… you'll just have to do."

    BackDoor rolled his eyes, muttering silently. He advanced towards the fleet, removed one of his rings, and commenced pulling each one apart to farm their mechanical organs.

    ...​

    Not far above System Ground, the wounded porygon-z drifted through the sky. Sparks danced around its joints, rendering its movements even more erratic. It turned its head back and forth, spraying binary in a desperate bid to find its allies.

    Repairs. It needed repairs.

    A gentle hum resounded above it, and it craned its head back to see a golden ship. A threat. Sparks erupted from its laser, cutting off any attempts to launch an attack. A long, narrow beam shot from the ship's nose and locked onto its body, dragging it towards a wide opening.

    'We've found one, Yobi,' a voice called through its wireless signal. 'I've no idea what's happened to it, but we're bringing it back.'

    ...​

    The journey seemed to be taking forever. Macro wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not. His eye kept going to his computer, checking for any new updates from Switch. The latest one he'd received had been the early hours of the morning, while he'd been tossing and turning in a desperate bid to sleep.

    'The engine is repaired. We're now on our way to Meta City.'

    Those two sentences had twisted Macro's insides like one of Cookie's pastry bags. Macro leant one arm over the edge of his bed, reaching for his trash can. Oh, he felt wretched, but nothing was coming up. He hadn't eaten since they'd decided to make the journey. The thoughts of Meta City, of facing Socket in her mansion, of being in a hot-bed of pokemon after his head… he could barely stand it. It was like a bad dream he'd never wake up from.

    He craned his head back to look at his window. A faint light seeped through it. Early morning sunlight. If his memory served, that meant they were very close. Too close. His insides did a somersault and he keeled towards his bucket, dry heaving against an empty stomach devoid even of water.

    "Cap'n?" A soft knock against his door was followed closely by Anchor's worried face. "You okay?"

    "Do I sound okay?" Macro croaked, rolling onto his back.

    Anchor studied him silently, and ran a paw over his mohawk. "We don't have to do this. We can get the rest of the 'mon meant to help us, increase our numbers."

    "They're meant to help us stop BackDoor, not retrieve DL's memory disks."

    "All right." Anchor clasped his paws behind his back and glanced over his shoulder at the hallway. "Then I guess we're goin' in guns blazin'? Shall I make sure we're all armed to the teeth?"

    Macro pushed himself up and narrowed his eyes at him. "You're makin' it sound like we're nearly there."

    "We're approximately one hour away, Cap'n."

    Macro's gut felt like lead. Fur pricked along his spine and he wound his claws into his bed sheet.

    "If we're doin' this alone," said Anchor slowly, "we need to be prepared."

    "We're not alone. We've got this other human and her crew, right?"

    "That's still…" Anchor counted off on his claws. "Twelve of us… Eleven if we don't count Cookie."

    "Okay." Macro kicked his legs off the bed and licked his dry lips. "Make sure we take enough guns. We're all gonna need to be armed."

    ...​

    "I've got the guns!" Annie poked her avian head out from the cargo hatch and hoisted a bag onto the floor. "Man, I can't believe I forgot we got these."

    She scrambled out of the hatch and crawled through the bag, dragging out its contents.

    "Careful!" Trojan barked as a laser skittered across the floor and bounced against his foot.

    "Sorry," quipped Annie. "That one's yours."

    DL leant over her shoulder, watching as the archeops handed out the lasers. She craned her head around to face the pachirisu and cocked an eyebrow.

    "You need one?" she asked.

    DL shook her head and pawed at her own laser. "I'm already armed."

    "Good. 'Cos I've got a spare, and there's only two of you newbies." Annie looked up at Poipole poking his head from Web's tail. "Well… three… but I'm gonna guess you don't need a gun?"

    Poipole shook his head and pointed to his proboscis. "I've got one built in."

    "Then that just leaves you." Annie tossed a laser towards Switch who flailed his arms to catch it.

    "I said be careful!" Trojan roared. "I don't want a hole punched through this ship! I've only just finished fixin' the jackin' thing!"

    Switch let out a sigh of relief and popped the small laser into his trouser pocket. It definitely wasn't designed for a human's use. Maybe he could manage it with his talons?

    Annie popped her laser into her belt's holster and tapped it. "There we go. Let's see that Mayor answer to this!"

    "Speaking of which," said Switch, "I think it would be best if we didn't just show up guns blazing."

    Annie frowned. "I don't understand. What?"

    "DL wants to get her final memory disk," Switch explained. "We need time to find it. So if you drop us off first, we can sneak in, while the rest of you find another way in to… bring about your rebellion."

    Annie chuckled and flashed a toothy grin. "What better way than to bring down her flyin' mansion, eh?"

    "I wouldn't say so." Waveform cracked an eye open. "If you bring it down… you'll kill any pokemon below it."

    "He's right," said Zip. "Right now, the ocean is below it. You could kill hundreds of water dwellers."

    "Then what do you suggest, little fish?" Annie asked.

    "I dunno," said Zip. "Maybe we could take control of it?"

    Annie scratched her chin with a claw.

    "I don't like any of this," said Web. "But I'm with Waveform and Zip on this one. If we're going to do anything, we're taking over the mansion."

    "Yeah! Takeover!" Annie threw her arms in the air. "Viva la rebellion!"

    Zip let out a loud 'woo!' and did a somersault in his bowl.

    DL gave a weak smile and pushed herself to her feet. She turned to look out of the window at the floating mansion mere minutes away.

    "I can't believe I'm going back there," she said. "I never thought I'd step paw in that place again."

    Switch looked down at her. "You sure you want this disk?"

    She nodded and made a 'mhm.'

    "Well then…" He smiled and winked. "Let's snag it and leave before anyone notices."

    "We've got ya back on that one." Annie knocked the safety off her laser.

    "For goodness' sake!" Trojan barked. "Stop messin' with them guns!" He turned to Web and gave her a pleading look. "Webber…"

    The skuntank leant over her chair and prised the laser from Annie's claws, much to the archeops' protests. She tucked it away in her belt pouch and waggled a claw at Annie.

    "You can have it back when we're off the ship," she said.

    Annie tutted and fell to her bottom, folding her wings. "Ruin all my fun."

    DL crept closer to the windscreen and peered out at the city. They were drifting over the ocean towards the mansion, having skirted the city to stay masked in the smog. But the air cleared enough for them to see the coast. Below them, hundreds of lithe, spider-like creatures scrambled over buildings and what was left of the mechanical trees. Their bodies pulsed with electricity, discharging periodically. Not a single pokemon filled the streets. Her memory of Meta City was of a place bustling with life. Now, it looked like it had been hit with an apocalypse.

    She swallowed a lump in her throat and winced away from the scene, fixing her eyes on the mansion. Her anxiety washed away with a burning anger, and she dug her claws into the back of Trojan's seat.

    "I might be of more use if I could use my electrical attacks," she said. "Then I could use that Z-Move. But no… she had to do this to me."

    She pawed at the jack socket on the back of her head. All eyes were drawn to her, but no one said a thing.

    Except Annie. "Use your what-now?"

    DL was silent, eyes fixed on the flying mansion. The ship crept closer, the mansion growing clearer through its glass dome. The pyukumyuku fell parallel to it, following the circumference.

    "There's gotta be a docking bay somewhere," Trojan muttered.

    "We could probably fly from here," said Switch. "We'd be a lot harder to spot, unlike your ship."

    The scrafty waved a paw. "Be my guest. You've got our number, let us know when you're inside."

    Switch pushed the button on his watch and shrank down into his talonflame form. He flashed DL a smile and lowered his head.

    "Climb on," he said. "And hold tight."

    The pachirisu obliged, clasping her fists over the feathers on his neck. They looked back at the crew, meeting both concerned and excited faces.

    "You two take care," said Web. "If you run into any trouble-"

    "We'll call you." Switch raised a wing in a salute. "See you on the inside!"

    As he jumped from the ship, Annie's voice rang out behind them, "Viva la rebellion!" Then it was drowned out by the wind rushing past their ears.

    Propellers span their deadly blades beneath the mansion, keeping the building airborne. Toxic air formed a cloud beneath it that was constantly repelled by the propellers. But that wasn't their main purpose. They were designed to keep things cool. The engine the building was using was one Switch was oddly familiar with. Entire continents held up with primitive technology. An exhaust spat deadly fumes to join the cloud, allowing the mansion to be moved, albeit slowly, across System's sky.

    "We just need to find a way in," he called to DL. "Can you see anything?"

    DL craned her neck around to examine the mansion's base. Switch swept back and forth, keeping his eyes on the propellers while trying to elevate them above the toxic cloud. Anything. A cargo bay for ships, a gap between the engine into its room, a window into the basement… But he was coming up short.

    He dipped his wings, resigning himself to have to go up the side of the mansion to find a window, and risk being caught, when DL pointed a claw.

    "There," she said. "Right beside that propeller."

    He followed her paw to something he'd previously missed. A door beneath the mansion, between the rear propeller and the exhaust. An emergency hatch.

    "If you aim an attack at it," she explained, "it might bust it open."

    "It seems a little risky," he said.

    "This whole expedition is risky," she said. "We might as well go in from the back exit."

    Switch nodded and arced up towards the hatch. He gradually picked up speed until the air whooshed around their ears. His talons lit up with energy and he brought them up above his head, lashing at the door. A combination of metal and plastic. Cracks exploded across it with the impact. A second aerial ace ruptured the door, and it fell free towards the ocean below. Switch tucked his wings in and flipped into the hatch. The smell of oil assaulted his senses, and he brought up his right wing to waft his beak. DL coughed a few times then slipped from his back.

    "Any idea where we are?" he choked.

    She shook her head, turning to take in their surroundings.

    The ancient engine took up most of the room. The hatch had been at the back, embedded into the floor. All access to it was via narrow corridors that circumnavigated the engine. The monolithic contraption was fenced off, its only access a gate, locked and in need of a key. It roared, drowning out the spinning propellers beneath it.

    DL waved a paw towards a door at the other end and led Switch towards it. She reached up and jiggled the handle. Locked. Switch nudged her aside and rammed a claw into the handle, splintering it from the wood. The door swung freely towards them, and they paused to look out into a dark hallway.

    No… it wasn't a hallway.

    DL's fur stood on end as dim light lit up a room from an old computer monitor. Swirls danced around the screen, indicating no one had touched it for a while, but each change of colour reflected off metallic utensils, glinting off sharp blades and screwdrivers. In the corner were the glistening chrome parts of an incomplete android.

    DL swallowed audibly and reached up to clutch at Switch's feathers. "I know where we are…"

    ...​

    Macro stood by the cockpit door, checking over his lasers. Ground, grass and water. His usual choices. He had a vague idea of what cronies Socket might have working for her. Primarily psychic and normal types, but a fair few of her soldiers could fly. He toyed with the idea of adding the electric component he'd taken from DL's laser. One extra choice to scroll through. One extra choice added to his response times. His eye wandered to Anchor's gauntlets, sparking as the granbull slammed them together 'just to check they were workin''. Macro released the electric core into his pouch and settled with the three he already had.

    His sucker punch could handle Socket and her psychic types, while brute force was the way to go with any normal type soldiers. Anchor had that by the bucket, and with his electric gauntlets, any flying types would be reduced to a spasming heap. Defrag stood behind the granbull, checking over her own weapons. She'd been oddly quiet. But after everything they'd told her, her mind was made up to help them assist DL. She'd not quite decided on the situation with the Ultra Beasts, returning the ice type Z-Crystal Macro had handed to her.

    Then there was Matrix.

    "Think I need a bigger gun?" Matrix asked.

    Macro looked up at the ribombee fluttering above the navigation screen. His tiny paws checked over his belt. Weapons made for bugs. Tiny yet deadly.

    "I think you're fine," said Macro.

    Truth be told, he'd rarely seen Matrix in combat. But he needed the numbers. He glanced up at Cookie as he shuffled into the cockpit, returning Macro's glance with one wracked with nerves. He wound his paws together, looking over the ship's controls.

    "You sure you've got this?" Macro asked. "Because I can always ask Matrix to stay behind."

    "Sure, leave the tiny bug." Matrix's sarcasm didn't fall on deaf ears.

    "No, I'm fine," Cookie squeaked. "Anchor and Matrix have shown me everything. I think I can-"

    "Oh, look who's come back." Matrix lowered himself towards the screen. "Our stalker."

    Macro rolled his eyes and let out a long groan. "That's gotta be Surge."

    "Surge?" Anchor looked up from his gauntlets. "I thought she were apprehended in Cyan?"

    "Guess Jumper let her go." Macro sighed and rubbed beneath his horn. "Well, this mission just got harder."

    "You've met Surge then?" Defrag asked. "She's one of System's best bounty hunters. She used to work for my boss."

    Macro narrowed his eyes at her. "And she's been hunting me. Thanks a lot, Digit."

    "Defrag," the lopunny corrected. "Besides, Surge hasn't worked for us in like a week. She told me Socket hired her to turn you in, but she's since been fired. So… I'm gonna hazard a guess she's no threat."

    "Really?" Macro rounded on her. "'Cos she ain't actin' like it! I wouldn't be surprised if Socket withdrew her bounty after her previous little stunt."

    The cockpit fell silent and Matrix looked at each one in turn.

    He let out a sigh and buzzed over their heads. "I'm gonna get a bigger gun."

    Defrag stuttered for a moment, then looked away and brushed back her ears. "What did she do?"

    "Let's just say she's the reason DL ain't on my ship." Macro waved a laser towards the door. "Come on, let's get this over with. Cookie, find us an entrance."

    The slurpuff nodded and hopped into Matrix's chair. Despite his small stature, he almost dwarfed the ribombee's seat. Macro left him to it, moving out towards the exit hatch. His crew and Defrag crowded into it, letting the internal door shut behind them.

    The mansion was uncomfortably close. Macro could see it below them through the open hatch, but to Socket and her cronies, Wildcard Gamma was invisible. The cloak blended the hulking ship seamlessly against the sky. A mixture of blue and white clouded with yellow smog. Just beyond them stood a docking port, riddled with her golden fleet. Originally part of a small 'airport' behind her mansion, where her workers could come and go. Now it resembled those attached to the floating cities, only on a much smaller and less grand scale.

    Defrag lifted a pair of binoculars to her eyes and frowned at the port. "It seems empty."

    "That's no surprise," said Macro. "Few pokemon are gonna wanna stand outside in this smog, even with filter masks."

    "Not to mention it's colder up here." Matrix buzzed his wings in protest. "Permission to borrow your scarf, Captain?"

    "Buzz off," said Macro. "You've got your own."

    "Psh, it's part of my body but whatever."

    "The docks are empty," came Cookie's voice. "Prepare yourselves to drop in!"

    The neon ladder began to descend. Macro took hold of it, followed by the rest of his crew. As each rung flashed into place, the mansion's docks grew closer. Each flash caused dread to rise in Macro's gut. Each flash brought back that terrible nausea, and he resisted the urge to throw a paw over his mouth.

    When his feet touched solid ground, everything began to spin. He placed a paw on his head and tried to shake it off.

    "Having second thoughts?" Defrag asked.

    Macro frowned at her, but he felt too overwhelmed to retort. Anchor dropped a paw on his shoulder, drawing his attention.

    "We can always turn back now," he said. "But once we're in there…"

    "We can't turn back now." Matrix twirled a pistol around one of his claws. "I'm in the zone."

    "This isn't a game," Defrag scolded. "Pull yourself into reality, bee."

    Macro looked up at the iron doors, scouring the area above it. The walls. The guttering.

    "See any cameras?" he asked.

    "Nope," said Anchor.

    "Neither do I." Macro licked his lips. "That's not reassuring."

    Matrix rose higher into the air and fluttered about above the door. "Unless they're those keyhole-like ones, I'm gonna guess they don't have any."

    "And what are the odds of that?" Macro asked.

    "About one in… none."

    Macro's heart sank and he glanced back up where his ship was hiding. Or he hoped it was still hiding.

    "I'll scope out the area," said Anchor. "Stick close and don't go past me."

    "Good idea." Macro took a deep breath to steady his nerves and grabbed his right laser. "We've no idea what's beyond those doors."

    "Whatever it is, bring it on." Matrix knocked the safety off his weapon.

    Defrag rolled her eyes and drew her own gun. "Oh whatever. It serves to be prepared."

    Anchor pulled his heat sensor out of his pouch and placed it over his eye, then he moved on ahead of Macro. He kept close to the wall, ushering the small group after him. Then he paused beside the door and cocked his ear.

    The air around them trembled and each one of them looked back at the docks. Appearing with the force of a golden bullet was one of Socket's ships. The sleek, pointed design looked every bit as threatening as its hidden pilot promised. The door to the ship hissed open, but before its pilot could exit, a stream of bubble bombs rushed out from the clouds, striking the golden ship with a series of explosive blasts.

    The pilot yelped and leapt from the ship, landing in a heap of scraggy brown and white fur. She rolled backwards, aiming her laser in the direction of Wildcard Gamma. But it was a feeble attack that only managed to detonate one lone bubble.

    Surge dragged herself to her feet and aimed her laser at Macro. "Really? You let your crew steal my ship… and wreck it?!"

    Macro raised a paw, keeping his own laser trained on Surge. "I didn't have anythin' to do with that. Besides… your ship, my life? Kinda a bit imbalanced there, aren't we?"

    "Well…" Surge's frown distorted into a sneer. "Now we're here, I think all your bounties rolled into one will fund me a new ship and then some. What do you say?"

    Macro opened his mouth to retort, but a strange sucking noise drew their attention behind them. The door exploded inward off its hinges, dragging everyone into the building with all the force of a vacuum. Surge held onto the door frame, but Macro found himself buried beneath his crew. Anchor pushed himself up, letting his captain shake off the fog and try to process what had happened. When he opened his eyes, his heart froze in his chest.

    Socket stared back at him, standing over them with her paws on her hips. Around her stood a small army. Pidgeot, a couple of medicham and meowstic, a slowbro, an oranguru, ambipom and ursaring. Each one was kitted out with some kind of modification or weapon. But Macro's eyes went immediately to Socket's smirk.

    "So you thought we didn't have any cameras?" A chuckle. "You were wrong." She snapped her claws, not looking back at her army. "There's a talonflame hanging around in Yobi's lab with my Download Database. Apprehend the both of them."

    The ursaring nudged one of the meowstic and the pair rushed from the room, dodging the rubble.

    "Now don't get any ideas," Socket went on. "One bad move and your little captain is going to be reduced to minced meat. 'Mon, relieve Wildcard Gamma of their weapons."

    The army moved in, taking the weapons from each of the space pirates and Defrag. Each crew member was picked up and pulled aside, held with a weapon to their heads. Socket continued to smirk down at Macro, freezing him to the spot.

    "Okay, do what you want to me," he spat. "But don't you dare hurt DL."

    "Oh, don't worry. I won't hurt her." Socket shrugged a shoulder. "I'm merely going to repair all the damage you've done. You see… how convenient is it that you come tumbling through my door right as I'm trying to get my plan into action? Not only do you deliver yourselves, you also bring back my computer!"

    "DL isn't a computer!"

    "Oh, but you're wrong," said Socket. "The brain is a biological computer. I was just making it more efficient."

    Macro clenched his teeth together so hard it hurt. Every word that came out of the gothitelle's mouth made his skin crawl. He jerked his head around, bringing his horn up in an arc. It struck the gothitelle on the jaw, sending her staggering away from him. Her army leapt to action, but stopped just as suddenly as a purple light engulfed them. Socket stood with her arms spread, her eyes glowing with an eerie light.

    "Back off," she warned her army. "He's mine."

    One of the iron bars forming the door frame shook until it broke free, flying towards her outstretched paw. She released her army and took a step towards Macro.

    "Isn't it funny," she said. "All space pirates use aquatic themed ships to fly through System Sky. What was originally a stand against the introduction of meat has become nothing short of irony. Most of them eat fish. I know you don't, I saw enough of your pathetic protests in your younger years before you became Wildcard. How many ships have you had? Three?" She shrugged, slapping the iron beam into her paw. "A schooling wishiwashi. Fitting, given all the hassle you and your crew have caused me. A schooling wishiwashi is a force to be reckoned with, but get one on its own and it's nothing more than an appetiser!"

    The iron beam sliced through the air and struck Macro in the jaw. He flew onto his side with a grunt as pain exploded through his face and horn. He was pretty sure he'd heard a crack. Something warm and wet trickled from his horn onto his fur, and he instinctively reached up to check it. Blood coated his pink pads. Socket let out a sigh and let the beam fall to her side.

    "You know…" she said. "That felt good. I think I might understand why you scum use weapons."

    She advanced towards him, bringing the iron beam up for another swing. Then another. Each one cut through the air like a whip. Macro tried to lift his paws to block it, but it was useless. His head, arms, ribs, legs… everything fell victim to Socket's 'weapon'.

    "Stop it!" shouted Anchor. "Stop it! You're going to kill him!"

    Sounds of commotion erupted behind her as the guards fought to restrain the granbull.

    "That's murder, you hypocrite!" Anchor roared.

    Socket didn't listen. Instead, she laughed. Laughing at Macro's feeble yelps. He had to get away. Just crawl for the door. He cracked an eye open to see her grinning, maniacal face before the iron bar struck his head once more. Whether or not it was the final blow, he didn't find out. His body gave into the pain, shutting him into blackness.
     
  10. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - Sorry it's a day late. Had a busy weekend!

    Chapter Sixty Eight​

    What Switch had perceived as an incomplete android had them pinned in a corner. The gigantic chrome bug's pincers flexed by his throat, sparking with electricity. The creation's crude design was a vague attempt at what might happen should a vikavolt be fused with a hacksaw.

    "Pretty good at warding off pests, isn't it?" The voice came from a sparksurfer raichu, leaning against the far wall.

    The chubby pokemon waved a paw at the other guards and they flooded outside. Not one of them had wanted to advance on Switch and DL. More frightened of the android than anything else in the room. Switch didn't want to blindly guess what the thing could do, but if it were like the weapons space pirates used, it wouldn't be wrong to guess it could utilise both electric and bug type attacks… and with more force than a boosted hyper beam. The psychic types and pidgeot that had left the room likely had the same fears.

    "Now." Yobi clapped his paws together, but his expression remained unreadable. "What to do with you first? I'm guessing I need to repair Download Database but… I'm more excited about that human you're hanging around with."

    A deep hum came from the vikavolt as its mandibles whirred like a chainsaw, generating higher volts of electricity. DL flinched back from it until her spine pressed up against the wall.

    "What makes you think he's human?" Her voice didn't even waver. She locked her eyes on the raichu, demanding a response.

    He shrugged and looked down at the computer in his paw. "Oh, I don't know. The readings I've got from scanning him show a combination of both human and pokemon DNA, and not the kind that comes from years and years of cross breeding. Believe me, I should know, given I've often scanned myself. This is more pure." He looked back up at Switch and chuckled. "Can you fathom my excitement after finally finding a human? Now I get to find out what it is that made my ancestors tick."

    "You're not touching him," said DL. "I won't let you."

    Yobi fixed her with a leer. "Why? What are you going to do?"

    "Leave it, DL," Switch whispered. "You're going to get out of here. I'll deal with the mad scientist."

    Yobi laughed and shook his head. "What? Do you think I can't hear you? Hello!" He waved at his ears. "You don't stand a chance, Loop. I've waited years for an opportunity like this. I was stoked when Socket agreed to my plan to scour for new worlds. My main goal was finding a little human for my own intentions. I mean… it's estimated about eighty percent of System's inhabitants have some level of human DNA. Although a small percentage of us are a bit more obsessed and strive to keep our humanness higher. Oh, how they'd love to hear about what you have to say. Shame they won't get that chance."

    "What are you talking about?" Switch gasped. "If they want to ask me things, then they can! I'll talk!"

    "I didn't mean it like that. I don't have time for talk. I'm less interested in your words, human. I want to know what makes you tick, and I doubt you'll be answering any questions from my dissecting table."

    DL's fur bristled and she balled her paws into fists, silently glaring at the raichu.

    He sighed as he put his computer back into his pouch. "But first… I have a promise to keep for Socket."

    That was it. DL let out a scream and threw herself towards the raichu, her cheeks sparking. Electricity flooded towards her jack socket, but she shook off the pain, tackling Yobi to the floor. He struck the ground with an 'oof!' then his eyes snapped open to fix on hers. They lit up with an eerie purple light, trapping DL's flailing limbs.

    "You fool!" he screeched. "You really think you can do anything to me?!"

    Switch zipped towards her like a dart, flexing his sharp talons. Before he could reach Yobi, electricity shot through his body, and the sharp mandibles of the vikavolt clamped around his tail. His beak flew open in a screech and he struck the floor, his limbs jerking with electricity. He rapidly lost control of his form, switching from human to talonflame like a strobing light.

    Yobi laughed and pushed the detained pachirisu from his body. "It's useless. You won't get away from us this time."

    He waved a paw towards Switch, his form completely out of control. His watch was fried. Limbs flickered between wing and talon, his body no longer settling on one shape.

    "Socket will get her wish with a new Download Database," said Yobi. "I might even turn you back into one, Loop."

    DL let out a squeak of protest, struggling against her psychic restraints.

    "But first," Yobi said slowly as he nodded towards Switch, "I think I'll make you watch. It really is quite fascinating."

    ...​

    Everything hurt. Pain cut into Macro's dream, dragging him into a painful reality. Cold, hard floor. Fur sticky with blood. His horn pulsed all the way into the base of his skull.

    Something cold and wet brushed over his jaw and he snapped his eyes open, lifting an aching arm to grab at it. Water soaked through his pads, scented with sitrus and oran berries. He tried to blink away the bleariness, but his eyes wouldn't focus. Someone crouched over him, her ears twitching as she stared back at him.

    "DL?" his voice came out as a husky croak.

    "I'm afraid not." Surge tried to hide any disappointment, but her voice sounded thick with tears. "Oh Macro, what did she do to you?"

    It wasn't a question he needed to answer. She brushed the wet rag over his eyes, and everything began to come into focus. Surge sat over him beside a bowl of pink water. He didn't want to know if the water was tinted with blood or berries. The latter was a more reassuring thought. She brushed the rag over his cheek, soothing some of the throbbing in his jaw.

    "Where is everyone?" he asked.

    "I don't know." She strained the rag into the water, and Macro realised it wasn't just a rag but her bandanna. The formerly green tartan fabric had been reduced to a blood-stained mess. "When she dragged us all into the cargo room, I held onto the door and ran the first chance I got. I hid on my ship, but… when I heard screaming I couldn't leave."

    "Noble," Macro spat.

    "Hey, if I'd been in there with you, you'd have no one to help you," she scoffed.

    "There's no use in helping me anyway." He lifted a paw to his face and choked back a sob. "It's over. She's won."

    "Don't be ridiculous. Pokemon need you right now."

    "Neither of us even know where anyone is," he groaned. "We don't even know if they're alive."

    She removed his paw from his face and brushed her bandanna over his forearm, removing the congealed blood.

    "What if she's taken DL's memories back?" His voice came out weak and tears pricked his eyes.

    "Once you're back on your feet," she said, "we'll find them. All of them. They're probably held up in their own cells. My priorities kind of changed when I saw you like this."

    "And how do you expect to find them?" he snorted. "There's cameras everywhere. She's a psychic type, she'll know we're coming."

    "Only if we're close enough to her. Besides, I didn't sneak in here out of sheer luck."

    He cracked an eye back open and looked past her. Iron bars rose up behind her, but the gate was wide open. Some kind of primitive holding cell. If he were to hazard a guess, they were still in the belly of the mansion.

    "How many of these cells are there?" he asked.

    "Two. And going off the amount of dust and rust, I doubt they've been used in centuries." She soaked the rag with fresh water. "I'll get the schematics up later. Just… let's focus on getting you fixed up first."

    He wasn't arguing with that. He felt awful. Every inch of his body ached. He tried to roll onto his back to give his ribs a rest, but his right leg complained with the effort. He let his paw fall over his eyes and took a deep breath, but it came out as a cough as a stab shot through his lungs.

    "I'm pretty convinced she's broke something," he said.

    "She's broken a lot of somethings," Surge muttered. "What did she hit you with?"

    "An iron bar." He paused to cough and rub his chest. "Repeatedly."

    "I'm really beginning to question her sanity."

    She rung out her bandana again, then reached over and removed Macro's paw from his eyes. He looked back at her, trying to read her expression. A mixture of worry and sadness. Her eyes damp and her cheeks wet with tears. After a moment he realised she was still clutching his paw. He slipped it from her claws to idly scratch his scar.

    "I feel like this is my fault," she said.

    "It's not. We'd have had to come back here for DL's final memories anyway. It was never going to be easy."

    "I want you to know," she diverted her gaze to the wall, "that I'm really sorry. I've acted like a real, jealous… Oh, I can't think of the right word."

    He watched her as she puzzled over it, drawing her eyes back to him. "I warned you that you were playing a dangerous game."

    "I know." She reached for the rag and brushed it over his ribs, causing him to flinch. "And you were really good at it."

    "They were just words," he said. "You asked for payment and I gave it. But if I'd known for a moment it would have messed with your head, I would have declined."

    "Would you?"

    He stared at her, aghast, but she didn't meet his eye. "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "You needed my hacking services. You'd probably have leapt through a flaming hoop if I'd asked for it as payment."

    "I have you know my mother raised a gentlemon."

    "One who became a space pirate."

    "Yeh, well…" He rubbed a paw over his face, feeling the swelling in his jaw. "Most pirates in Pulse City know I don't generally form attachments."

    Surge was quiet for a moment as she wrung out her bandanna. She glanced over at him and gave him a wry smile.

    "I'm wondering," she said. "If you hadn't met DL, would you have ever meant the things you said?"

    He stared at her wordlessly, his mouth hanging open. She shook her head sharply and turned back to the water bowl.

    "Actually, don't answer that," she said. "I don't think I'd like either answer."

    "For what it's worth, I'm sorry I ever went along with that deal," he said. "I should have realised feelings were involved the second you asked me. In fact, I think on some level I did. It was a pretty jerk move on my part."

    "Well, you were good company." She turned back to him and brushed the rag over his swollen cheek. "Now let's get you fixed up so we can go and rescue DL and your crew."

    "You're actually going to help me?"

    "Sure. Let's say it's making up for all those times I tried to kill you."

    "All right, deal." He closed his eyes and groaned. "Right now I could use all the help I can get, anyway."

    ...​

    Matrix worked over the dismantled lock panel, his tiny paws blurring with each combination. Anchor and Defrag stood aside, watching the ribombee in a mash of fascination and impatience.

    "I can't believe she'd just lock us in a room," said Defrag. "What game is she playing?"

    "Cat and mouse," said Anchor. "She's toying with us. Keepin' us around so she can do what she pleases right before she bails on this world."

    The lopunny shuddered and hugged herself. "I'd rather she just toss us over into the ocean right now."

    "Exactly. Keep us scared. You saw what she did to Macro. She'll probably do somethin' similar to us."

    "I'd like to see her try," said Matrix. "I don't know about you two, but at least one of us in this room has a type advantage."

    "Yeah," said Defrag. "Way to put that to work earlier, by the way."

    "I don't appreciate the sarcasm," Matrix scoffed. "Besides, I'd like to see you throw an attack while some bird of prey has you in its beak."

    "He has a point," said Anchor. "That pidgeot would have bitten him in half before he'd even finished buzzing his bug buzz."

    Matrix tutted and flapped his wings a little faster, creating an audible drone. "It'll take days to wash the bird breath out."

    The room fell into silence again, and the two larger pokemon glanced around at their surroundings. The room was oddly clean, given it probably hadn't been used in quite some time. A bed stood against one wall, immaculately made as if its guest was expected at any moment. A small writing desk perched beneath the window. A wardrobe, locked with a traditional keyhole. A set of drawers, also locked. It all looked so out of place inside a modern building that relied on card keys.

    "Do you think he's alive?" Defrag's voice was unusually quiet.

    Anchor looked back at her, his mouth opening but he couldn't think of an answer. He scratched his mohawk and sighed, turning back to Matrix. If the ribombee had heard her, he didn't answer either. All his attention remained focused on the task at hand. He'd removed the buttons one by one and was attempting to hot-wire it.

    "I…" Anchor cleared his throat. "I honestly can't answer that."

    Defrag took in a trembling breath and diverted her eyes to the wardrobe. She hugged her arms tight around her torso.

    "She's a monster," she said. "I think on some level I've always known it, but after today? How can I go back to working for Tracer knowing the pokemon I'm really working for does stuff like this?"

    "Easy answer," said Anchor. "You don't. You're always welcome back on Wildcard Gamma."

    She spat a laugh. "You really think Macro wants me back?"

    No sooner had the words left her mouth her expression fell and she leant back into the writing desk. Anchor joined her and placed a paw on her shoulder.

    "Look, we don't know for certain," he said. "But I can assure you, we're not leavin' this place until we know. And if I can, I'm takin' him home regardless."

    "You guys all really care about each other, don't you?"

    "Yeah, of course we do."

    Electricity danced from the panel, then let out a loud 'pop!'. Matrix yelped and flew back across the room to land in a crumpled, smoking heap at Defrag's feet. He sat back up and rubbed his antennae.

    "You all right, Matrix?" Anchor asked.

    "Yeah, just a little singed." He fluttered back into the air and smoothed down his fur. "I shorted the panel. We can leave."

    Defrag rolled her eyes and made for the door. "I don't know why you didn't do that first."

    "Erm… Hello?" Matrix spread his arms, showing the singed edges to his yellow fur.

    "It'll wash." Defrag opened the door and froze.

    A medicham turned around, reflecting the surprise on her face. Before he could lift an arm to attack, Anchor socked the fighting type in the face with a punch. He flew to the side, spittle flying from his lips, and landed in a slump on the floor.

    Anchor shook out his fist and gave Defrag a sideways glance. "Bit of a dirty move, that. I can't use elemental punches without my gauntlets."

    "Well, it worked." Defrag tiptoed over the medicham's motionless body. "Come on, let's go. Before more of these goons show up."

    Anchor and Matrix followed after her, trotting along the corridor as silently as they could.

    "Where do you think they're keeping Macro?" Defrag asked as they turned a corner.

    "No clue." Matrix brought up the schematics on his computer. "Unfortunately this place is riddled with cameras, so I'd brace ourselves for-"

    "Stop them!" The harsh, masculine voice caused the group to falter.

    A male meowstic and a slowbro stood before them, the latter charging psychic energy in his ears. His eyes flashed and a torrent of purple light flew straight at Anchor. The granbull ducked as Matrix countered the psychic with a bug buzz. His wings flapped wildly, sending the two psychic types careening backwards.

    "Typical brains and brawn duo," the ribombee spat. "Anchor, you take care of that doofus."

    He pointed a tiny claw at the slowbro, who immediately rounded on Anchor. The granbull didn't hesitate. He flew at the slowbro, jaws wide open to deliver a crunch. But the otter pokemon took a step back and fired a water pulse past his ears. It struck Matrix before he could launch another attack, plastering him against the immaculate wall.

    "I don't like being called a doofus!" she barked.

    Anchor froze and snapped his jaws shut, taking a step back. His hesitation cost him as the meowstic's psychic blew him back down the corridor. Defrag tutted and threw a heavy punch towards the slowbro. She teetered backwards, her eyes spinning, until she tripped over her tail and fell onto her back in a daze.

    The meowstic flexed his claws and rushed at Defrag. She leapt into the air with a twist and landed a kick right in his face. Spittle and blood flew into the air as he fell away from her. He wiped a paw across his nose but before he could gather himself, another kick struck him across the ears. His paws flew to the side of his head to nurse the pain, and he fixed livid eyes on the lopunny.

    "Yeah, I know where your weak points are!" She stooped to peel a soggy ribombee off the floor and then bellowed to Anchor. "Get a move on, you soft heart!"

    Anchor muttered under his breath as he took off after her. "Well excuse me for not wanting to hit a girl."

    "This is practically a war," she told him. "An attitude like that is gonna cost us. Do you want to die in Socket's chair?"

    "Not really, but I was raised to-"

    "Just fight!" Defrag popped Matrix on her shoulder to free her paws and threw open a set of double doors. "Where to next, bee?"

    "Gimme a sec." Matrix shook water from his computer and buzzed his wings in a desperate bid to dry himself. "That slowbro got water all over my computer."

    Defrag let out a pained groan and turned blindly to the staircase. She staggered back as a rush of medicham, oranguru and stoutland bounded up towards them. She turned to head up the stairs, but yet more of Socket's army stampeded from the floors above.

    Matrix darted from Defrag's shoulder and soared over the heads of those closest to them. Powder drifted from his wings, paralysing everyone it touched. Pokemon froze in their tracks, their bodies jerking as they succumbed to the stun spore. Defrag didn't wait around. She leapt over the stunned pokemon and kicked at the ones behind them, bouncing over their heads in a series of quick attacks and bounces. Those that were left got thrown left and right as Anchor barraged through them, flailing his arms in all directions. He received as many blows as he dealt out, but the momentum of his attack kept him moving forwards. Once he'd reached the bottom of the stairs, he toppled back into Defrag and placed a paw to his head.

    "Feeling all right?" she asked.

    "Just a little bruised and dizzy," he said. "That's why I don't generally use that move, but desperate times and all that."

    "Well pull yourself together." She shoved him away from her and raised her fists. "They're still coming."

    She caught a stoutland by the ears, but his snapping jaws lunged for her throat. Anchor's fist collided with the stoutland's head, and he grabbed the large pokemon from her. The stoutland's jaws snapped shut over his paw. He hissed with pain then retaliated, throwing his wounded paw back in the dog's face, sending him back into the oncoming onslaught. His large body crushed a smaller meditite and tripped another stoutland who landed at Anchor's feet.

    The granbull grinned and opened his mouth wide, letting out an almighty roar. The stoutland yelped and cowered down, skittering backwards across the tiled floor. He was quickly replaced by an oranguru who grabbed Anchor in his paws.

    "I'm afraid you're going to have to come with me." The oranguru flicked his leafy fan.

    Anchor very nearly obliged, but the oranguru let out a grunt as a pollen puff exploded off the back of his head.

    Anchor came back to his senses in time to see a ribombee dart soar towards them, trailing a thick powder. He came to a buzzing halt before Anchor and Defrag and watched as the onslaught of pokemon came in contact with the trail. It clambered up their bodies in a spiral, locking them in place as they swatted at the pestering… spores?

    "What is that?" Anchor asked.

    "Infestation." Matrix pawed at his computer then turned away from them. "Come on, there's a basement in this place."

    "Wait a minute," Anchor said as he took off after him. "Since when did you know infestation?"

    "I went to a move learner." Matrix looked back at the granbull's surprised face. "What? I don't just play video games all day."

    "Coulda fooled me…"

    Matrix turned back to his computer and led them towards the next flight of stairs. "Can I remind you to never listen to an oranguru? They're oddly persuasive."

    Anchor rubbed his mohawk, catching Defrag's shake of a head.

    His cheeks flushed under his fur. "Duly noted."

    ...​

    "Here." Surge stretched out a paw to Macro and took hold of his. "Can you stand?"

    He steadied himself as she tugged him to his feet. His head span and he teetered into the wall. A flood of nausea spread through his stomach, followed by a pounding headache, and he screwed his eyes shut as he cradled his brow. Then he keeled over and brought up the contents of his stomach. Every single berry Surge had forced him to eat before allowing him to try and stand.

    She sighed and released his paw, letting him steady himself against the wall.

    "I think you need about a week's worth of bed rest," she said. "I can take you back to Cyan City. My ship's just outside."

    "No." He shook his head, slow enough to avoid exacerbating his headache. "I'm not leaving without DL and the rest of my crew."

    "But we don't even know if they're still alive," said Surge. "She almost killed you, Macro! If you go into battle like this-"

    "Give me your laser."

    She broke off and looked down at herself. Then fixed him with a cocked eyebrow. "What?"

    "Just give me your laser and I'll go myself."

    "But… that would leave me unarmed…"

    So it would.

    He licked his dry lips and looked past her through the bars. "I can't leave them…"

    She let out a flustered sigh and brushed back her ears. "Okay, fine. I think I know where she's holding all your confiscated weapons. I'll just…"

    "It'll take too long."

    "Just trust me, okay?"

    He met her eyes for a moment, then nodded. She sprinted from the cell and he watched her go before sinking down against the wall. Every bone and muscle in his body complained with the effort. He lifted a paw to his horn and flinched. A deep crack spread across the top where it joined the stem, and his paw came away sticky with blood. Well, that explained the headache.

    A muffled laser shot came from his right and he looked up all to quickly. The room span briefly, but he fought to ignore it, focusing on two more laser fires. Then everything fell silent again. Too silent, for much too long. He let out a groan and forced himself back to his feet, using the rough stone wall as a prop. If he had to get his weapons back alone he would. There was no way he was running off like a coward, leaving his friends to die. No way he was abandoning DL when she needed him.

    Just as he was about to stagger from the cell, Surge came back into the room carrying a laser in each paw.

    "I don't know if they're yours," she said. "I didn't check. But here."

    She stuffed one into his open paw and he flicked it open to check the cores. Grass, ground and water. That was what he used. He took the other and opened it, and his heart sank.

    Empty.

    With a sigh, he removed the grass core from the first one. But Surge reached up and stopped him. Over her arm was his belt pouch. He glanced down, noting it had been taken away. He took it back and fastened it around his waist. It was no easy task with a gun in each paw. Surge took over as he busied himself going through the pouch's contents. Much to his amazement, everything was still there. He took the electric core and popped it into the empty laser. At least it would help him take down some pidgeot and maybe deal some paralysis in the process. A welcome addition given he was in no fit state to use his horn for anything.

    He staggered out of the cell, limping heavily on his right leg. Surge slipped an arm around his waist, and he leant into her gratefully.

    "There's stairs this way," she explained. "I've no idea where they lead."

    "Then how did you get in?" he asked.

    "A different set of stairs, back that way." She nodded behind them. "Those lead back to the cargo docks. Unless your friends have ended up back there, then there's really no reason to go. Mind the bodies."

    Macro glanced down and stepped around the fallen bodies of an espeon and herdier. Going off the amount of laser fire, he'd expected three to be taken out. But the splintered armour plating over the herdier's ribs explained the third and final shot. Their fallen bodies filled most of the narrow room between the cells and the stairs. The stairs wound up towards the floor above, each one providing Macro with an arduous task. Half way up, he needed to stop and catch his breath. A violent cough shook his body, splattering his open paw with bloody saliva. Surge tried to hide her concern and ushered him on. They paused at the top as she busied herself with the lock.

    A deep hum came from the engine that held up the mansion. It seemed to come from both sides of the walls, dulled down by the heavy stonework. If he were to hazard a guess, they weren't too far from the engine room. Macro took the opportunity to look up at the walls, searching for any sign Socket was watching them.

    "If you're worried about cameras," Surge said quietly, "I've deactivated them on the basement floors."

    "How've you managed that?" Macro asked.

    "A hacker never reveals her secrets."

    The lock pinged and the door swung towards them. She pulled Macro aside, letting the heavy door swoop back over where he'd been standing. Fierce eyes greeted them on the other side. A pair of pidgeot, their talons and beaks decked out with glinting metal blades. Their huge, feathered bodies filled the narrow corridor. One of them opened his beak, and it glowed red with heat.

    Macro reached for his electric laser and fired, striking the offending bird on the chest. But it bounced off harmlessly. Macro's jaw dropped and his body lurched to the side as Surge whisked him out of the way of the pidgeot's flaming beak. Pain seared through his body, blurring his vision. He fired blindly, clipping one of the birds on the wing. A shriek filled the air, and he felt talons rake his fur, adding gashes to his injuries. Another shot hit the first pidgeot with a torrent of electricity, washing over its body and reducing the flying type to a pile of sparking, spasming feathers. The flaming pidgeot flew over it, resisting every jolt of electricity he fired. Macro threw himself to his right, landing painfully on his shoulder. He groped for his left laser and fired off a water type, striking the bird on the beak. His head snapped back with the impact, and he fell onto his back with a grunt. Surge fired her fire laser, singing the bird's feathers and finishing him off.

    She tugged Macro back to his feet and he feebly dusted himself down.

    "So they make type-resisting implants now?" he scoffed.

    "Only in wealthy areas." Surge ushered him away towards a small flight of stairs at the end of the corridor. "I've no idea where that leads, but I guess it's our only option. We need to be careful. Those guards I took out earlier must have alerted their friends."

    She tried the door, but it opened with ease, opening towards them. A squeak left her throat and she took a step back into Macro. He peered over her shoulder into the room, meeting the gazes of Socket and her accomplice, Yobi. The latter held a cable in his paws, the other end of which was attached to a computer. A chingling hopped up and down the bed, admiring the raichu's 'work'.

    A grin split the gothitelle's face and she chuckled. "Well, well. Look who's still walking. I hate to disappoint you, Hunter. But you're already too late to the party."

    His fur bristled as she stood aside, letting him see the table. His paw went to his laser, hoping desperately she hadn't done anything to DL. But when he stepped into the room his heart hit his stomach.

    There, on the table, lay a human, completely out cold. Switch.
     
  11. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Sixty Nine​

    All Macro could do was stare at Switch’s unconscious body. Restrained to the table by his wrists, ankles and chest, his head lolling to one side revealing the alien jack socket. Macro’s jaw was slack as he ran over potential repercussions. A creature dragged from a different time-line, his endeavors post-fracture likely significant. What damage could be done if he wasn’t sent back? Or if he was sent back without any memories? Returned as a mindless computer who’s only purpose was to ‘serve Socket’?

    The chingling perched beside Switch’s head grinned from ear to ear. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

    Macro’s claws dug into his pads and he fixed Socket in a violet leer. “What have you done to him?!”

    “I think the look on your face says you know full well what I’ve done to him,” said Socket. “Besides, you’ve poked around my private documents enough to know what I’ve done and what my plans are. No thanks to that scruffy nuisance behind you.” Her eyes flickered to Surge and Macro practically felt the zigzagoon bristle. “Download Database was nothing more than a prototype. My real target had always been a human.”

    “You don’t need one,” Macro hissed.

    “Oh but I do. Goodness knows where BackDoor is up to. I still need to get out of this worl-”

    Her words cut off as Macro fired his electric laser, striking her on her left ear. She stumbled backwards, her fur puffing up like a startled quilfish. Her eyes narrowed dangerously and she flicked a paw, launching a shadow ball into Macro’s gut. It stung a lot more than it should have. He keeled backwards into Surge’s open paws and aimed his laser at the gothitelle. Any other time he’d have thought an attempt like that was futile. But Socket knew full well in his condition all she’d need to do would be to swat him and put him out of his misery. The livid look in her eye told him she wanted to torture him. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.

    He glanced over at Switch’s prone form and felt his blood boil. She’d wanted him to see this. She wanted him alive. For now…

    The gothitelle strolled backwards across the room and reached behind a cabinet. She dragged out a struggling blue and white bundle of fur, limbs flailing. Chocolate eyes fixed on him.

    “Macro!” DL pleaded.

    A combination of relief and dread flowed through him, reigniting his fighting spirit. “DL!” He fixed his leering eyes on Socket. “Don’t you dare hurt her!”

    Socket dragged DL after her and tossed her through an open door.

    “Macro! Help!”

    He took off after her, drawing both his lasers, ignoring the pain that demanded him to stop. A yelp came from behind him as Surge leapt between him and a thunder wave from the raichu. She slumped to the floor, attempting to earth the stray electricity into the ground. She looked up at Macro and flashed her canines.

    “Go after her! I’ve got this!”

    He didn’t need telling twice. He staggered into one of the cabinets, hissing with pain, and turned to chase after Socket blindly through the door.

    Surge stood and aimed her laser at Yobi, but he leapt past her faster than she could fire it. She skimmed his tail, muttering under her breath. Great, he’d hampered her speed. She hoisted herself up with the examination table and looked from Switch to Yobi’s retreating tail. He called to something she couldn’t see. A deep hum followed, and electricity sparked in the far shadows of the room. Whatever it was, it didn’t bode well. She aimed her gun at the human and snarled.

    “I don’t have to take you out,” she warned the raichu. “I just need to kill him.”

    Yobi froze and looked back at her. His mouth fell open and he looked between her and the door, warring with the choice to either abandon the human or help his Mayor.

    “Socket wouldn’t be too happy, would she?” said Surge. “Losing her human right after you went through all that work?”

    Yobi roared and leapt towards her, cheeks sparking. A huge, mechanical vikavolt soared over the cabinets, engulfing the raichu with electricity, strengthening his attacks to a deadly level. His blue eyes lit up yellow as electricity spread from every part of his body. Surge laughed and twisted her still-spasming limbs towards him, and fired.

    ...​

    Annie hummed to herself, kicking a foot back and forth as she lay sprawled on her seat. Soon. Their attack would happen soon. That’s what she kept telling herself, but no one had heard lick nor tail from Switch.

    The pyukumyuku lurched forwards as something collided with its rear, and Trojan swore loudly. He twisted his head towards the tail of the ship.

    “Oi! Watch it!” he barked.

    Waveform craned his neck around to see through the rear window, but there was nothing there. He frowned and stood up, moving towards the exit hatch.

    “Would you mind not being silent for once,” said Trojan, “and tell me what you think it is?”

    “A cloaked ship,” the decidueye explained. “It might be an attack.”

    “In a ship of that magnitude?” Web asked. “A government ship would be much too small to-”

    A beep came from the dashboard and Trojan stared at it as though it had just started speaking in an alien language. He looked from Web to Annie to the dashboard and back.

    “Answer it then?” Web suggested.

    Annie waved a hand towards him. “I second that motion.”

    Trojan pushed the call button and a small, nervous voice came from the speaker.

    ‘Hello?’ it said. ‘Is… is this a friendly ship?’

    “Depends what you mean by ‘friendly’,” said Annie. “I’m the captain. What do you want?”

    ‘Help,’ said the voice. ‘My name is Cookie. I’m currently flying Wildcard Gamma-’

    “Wildcard Gamma?” Waveform gasped. “Isn’t that Hunter’s ship?”

    ‘I… I…’

    “That’s the one Switch and DL came from,” said Web.

    ‘Yes! Exactly,’ said Cookie. ‘I’ve just been contacted. They’ve run into some trouble.’

    Web sighed into her paws. “I feared as much.”

    “We were gonna give it ten more minutes,” said Annie.

    ‘I don’t think we have ten more minutes,’ said Cookie. ‘I think we need to spring an attack, but… I’ve never done that before!’

    “Don’t worry,” said Annie. “We’ve got this, Biscuit.”

    ‘It’s Cookie.’

    Poipole poked his head out of Web’s tail and frowned. “She never learns. You’ll be called Biscuit forever.”

    “Hush, Sticky. I’m working,” said Annie.

    Poipole sighed and vanished back into Web’s fur.

    “What do you want us to do?” Annie asked the intercom. “Because I was just gonna blast the place wide open and run in guns blazin’.”

    ‘That sounds fabulous,’ said Cookie. ‘Send me the signal and I’ll… erm… I think it’s this button to get the turrets out.’

    “I think our new friend might need a helping paw,” said Web. “Do you need a helping paw, dear?”

    ‘I’m not sure I should let strangers on this ship. I might get in trouble.’

    “This is no time for worrying about getting in trouble!” snapped Trojan. “I can send you Waveform or Web. Take your pick.”

    ‘Waveform?!’ Cookie squeaked.

    “I can fly,” said Waveform. “Where’s the ship?”

    ‘I-I-I can lower the cloak for five seconds. I might get spotted and fired at. I’m also not a space pirate, please don’t hurt me! I’m just a chef!’

    “I’ll fly out. Show me your ship.”

    Waveform leapt from the pyukumyuku and twisted in the air. Wildcard Gamma materialised as its cloak melted away, revealing the open hatch. He beat his wings and glided towards it, zipping inside just before the cloak fastened back in place.

    The decidueye glanced around his surroundings, coughing on the toxic air. The hatch closed behind him, followed by a gust of clean air that expelled the toxins back out into the sky. Then the main door hissed open. The brown head of a slurpuff peered out from around a door Waveform guessed must lead to the cockpit.

    “You… you’re a lot bigger than I expected,” Cookie muttered. “I have no bounty on my head!”

    “Don’t fret yourself.” Waveform brushed him aside with a wing and strolled into the cockpit. “Where are your weapon controls?”

    “Just here…” Cookie pointed a shuddering paw at the pilot’s seat. “Everything is there. Steering, weapons, the cloak, hyper drive…”

    Waveform turned his head one-eighty to look at him, taking the trembling chef by surprise. He narrowed his eyes at the slurpuff and sighed.

    “Listen,” he said. “I’m not hunting you or your crew right now. We’ve got friends in there and we need to get them out. Understood?”

    Cookie nodded so fast he jiggled.

    Waveform gave a curt nod and waved a wing to the captain’s seat. “Sit down and talk me through your plan. We’ll work alongside Time Archeops and get this ridiculous month over with.”

    ...​

    Macro followed Socket through to the stairs. The door slammed shut behind her, and he aimed his gun, blasting the flimsy wood off its hinges. Splinters rained down around him as he staggered through into the entrance hall. Socket had hold of DL by the scruff, standing amid her guards and Tweak. Not one of them moved a muscle, but all attacks and weapons were cocked and ready to fire. DL struggled in the gothitelle’s claws, and when she spotted Macro she fixed pleading eyes on him. Her chocolate gaze flitted over his body as she took in the damage and the blood dripping down his horn. He stood trying to catch his breath, resisting the urge to lean up against the stair rail.

    His paw trembled with the effort of lifting his gun, aiming it at Socket’s head. Some of the guards’ modifications flared to life, droning in the silent hall.

    “Let her go,” he said. “Do what you want with me, but let her go.”

    “No,” DL whined. She kicked her legs, striking Socket in the hip. “No!”

    “Really?” Socket looked down at the struggling pachirisu. “He killed your family, Loop, and you want to fight for him?”

    “Don’t you ever call me that!” DL hissed. “Besides, he might have killed my family, but you took everything else from me!”

    Those words still pained him. He placed a paw on the rail to steady himself and narrowed his eyes.

    “Just let her go,” he growled.

    “Why should I?” Socket asked. “A disobedient child deserves to be punished. What kind of mother would I be if I just let her do as she pleases?”

    “Mother?!” DL spat. “You’re no mother! You’re just an evil wench!”

    Electricity sparked from her cheeks, spreading to the jack socket and up the gothitelle’s arm. They both screamed, and Socket let DL drop to the floor. The pachirisu scurried away towards the main door, but a stoutland leapt across to cut her off. He flashed his canines and growled, freezing DL in her tracks.

    Socket shook her paw and rounded on DL. “Little brat! I have every right mind to-”

    Macro fired, striking Socket in the back of the head. But she brought up a psychic shield just in time, dulling the weapon’s effects. She keeled forwards and rounded on him, throwing up a paw. A blast of psychic rushed across the room, lifting Macro off the floor and slamming him into the wall above the door to the basement. He howled in pain as his horn made impact with the stone. A grin split Socket’s face and she pressed him harder against the wall, laughing at the mawile’s cries of pain and protest.

    “Stop it!” DL screamed. “Stop it! You’re hurting him!”

    “Of course I am, you pathetic runt!” Socket barked at her. “You two have been the mothim in my honey for too long! I want rid of you and I’m going to enjoy every… last… second!”

    Before she could increase her attack, a laser beam erupted from the door beneath him. It struck Socket’s paw and she released Macro, dropping him to the floor. The jolt shot pain straight through his spine and he groaned, slumping back into Surge. Another laser beam narrowly missed his head as a medicham disarmed the zigzagoon. She yelped, watching her weapon tumble back down into the basement.

    “Surge…” Socket spat. “I thought Yobi would have gotten rid of you.”

    “I think you’ll find he’s a little tied up,” Surge quipped, stepping aside to stand before Macro. “I don’t earn points in marksmanship to be taken out by a crazed scientist and his toys, do I?”

    Feet stampeded down the stairs above them, drawing Socket’s eye. “And here comes the rest of Wildcard Gamma… I doubt schooling together will give you any advantage, however.”

    She lifted a paw, firing out psychic energy. Screams and yelps of protest erupted above them, and Macro’s crew came crashing down before him like stunned pidgeot. Anchor landed first, followed by Defrag and Matrix. The lopunny pushed herself back up, brushing back her ears. Matrix buzzed into the air, tugging on Anchor’s right ear until he climbed, stunned, to his feet.

    “The bigger they are, the harder they fall!” said Tweak.

    Socket chuckled. “You really are all pathetic. I bet not one of you is of much use without your weapons?”

    Matrix buzzed his wings in protest and lobbed a pollen puff towards the gothitelle. She caught it in her right paw and scowled at it, before crushing it into dust.

    “I think it’s time to try using our Z-Moves,” said the ribombee.

    He lifted his paw and fired out a bug buzz. The move washed over Socket as she raised a shield, leaving Matrix looking stunned.

    “It didn’t work?” he asked. “Why didn’t it work?”

    Socket burst into laughter, followed by her guards.

    “What on earth was that?” said Tweak. “Someone’s been playing too many video games! What are you trying to be? Heroes of the Universe or something?”

    “Leave it, Tweak,” said Socket. “You’re as much a nuisance as the rest of them.”

    The chingling rolled his eyes then feigned hurt.

    “Now, the question remains… what do I do with you?” Socket spread her paws. “You’re clearly outnumbered. You can do nothing to me, or my army. So I can either kill you all here and now, or I could turn you all into computers! I’m leaving System anyway, so who cares if I break a few rules now? Of course, my elites would probably rebel and then I’d be put out of power. My other choice is to drag you with me into my new world, where you can be the first put to death to set an example to others! It sounds like a perfect plan, but then I’d be tainting my new home with your presence and blood.” She slapped a paw to her forehead. “Oh, what a dilemma! What ever will I do?” She cracked an eye back open and grinned. “Detain them.”

    The psychic and normal types moved in, grabbing Anchor, Defrag, Matrix and Surge. Macro found himself dragged unceremoniously back to his feet, and he stifled a howl as the medicham grabbed him by the arm.

    Electricity streaked up the basement stairs, striking Surge straight out of her detainer’s paws. The pair rolled head over tail until they landed in a sparking heap beside Socket. Yobi clambered off the zigzagoon and bristled, swiping his tail from side to side.

    “Oh, Yobi,” said Socket, grabbing the raichu’s attention. “Perfect timing. We were just discussing what to do with this lot. If you could take DL back to your basement, I’d like her returned to factory settings. Be sure to keep her memories safe while we’re in System.”

    Macro’s heart lurched and he watched the raichu advance towards DL.

    “You’re just gonna let her do this?” he roared at the guards, struggling in the medicham’s grip. “Stop her!”

    The guards were silent, stoic. Watching things unfold without a single protest. Fear? Superiority? Macro didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t going to stand for it.

    He snatched his laser from his captor’s paws and fired it towards his feet. The medicham fell back with a yowl, releasing the mawile. Macro scrambled across the floor towards DL, overtaking Yobi and eliciting a squeak of surprise. But then there was a click. An ominous click that caused Macro to twist on the spot. The medicham had aimed a weapon, right towards Macro. He lifted his own laser and fired, intending to counter the weapon’s beam. Electricity coursed from Macro’s gun, meeting a brown ground laser. It ate up his attack and struck his weapon in the nozzle. Searing heat shot up his arm as the weapon exploded, blowing him backwards into DL. Heat ate away his fur, sending pain throbbing through every inch of his body. His eyes blurred and he slumped into the pachirisu’s arms.

    Socket leered down at them, her eyes trailing from Macro to the blood pooling on her mosaic floor.

    “Tch, what a mess.” She looked up at the medicham and frowned. “I aught to fire you for that.”

    He blanched and tossed the weapon aside.

    “Tweak, go and find a mop,” she said. “The rest of you, detain these criminals in the holding cells. I still want Download Database restored, so Loop-”

    “You’re a monster.” DL fumbled with her scarf, fastening it securely around what was left of Macro’s arm.

    “I beg your pardon?”

    “I said you’re a monster!” DL snapped. “You tried to make me think the pokemon trying to help me were evil, but you?! What they did was an accident. What you’re doing is pure evil! Hurting others for your own enjoyment and selfish desires! You, Socket, are pure evil!”

    Socket’s eyes narrowed into slits and she raised a paw, advancing on DL. The pachirisu flinched away on impulse, but Socket froze as a distorted, electrical voice flooded into the entrance hall.

    “Oh my, oh my,” it sang. “Oh what joy, what joy! What’s going on in here?” A golden ring appeared in the ceiling and BackDoor reversed out of it, lifting his arms as he reached a crescendo. “It’s fear! It’s fear! BackDoor is here!”

    “It’s about time!” Socket hissed. “Where did you get to? And what happened to your vocal processors?”

    BackDoor rubbed his left horn and shrugged. “Looking for other worlds like you asked. And I got… fried a little.”

    “From playing with aliens, I guess? How much longer? I need to dispose of all this trash.”

    BackDoor turned his head left and right to take in the scene and nodded. “Oh, I see. You’ve been playing-ing-ing with space pirates. Oh what a mess!” He pointed to the blood. “That won’t come out easily. You really need to bleach that.”

    “I don’t need your cleaning tips. I need answers!”

    “Oh, come on.” BackDoor rolled his eyes. “I’ve been looking ever-y-where for your silly little world.”

    “And?”

    “I’m bored.” BackDoor wafted a paw before his mouth as he yawned. “I’ve made a friend and we’ve been talking… and we might have found the perfect world for you.”

    “Friend?” Socket hissed.

    DL cowered behind Macro, clutching him tightly. She exchanged glances with Anchor, but the space pirate was too transfixed on the hoopa.

    BackDoor grinned widely and waved a paw. Mist rose from his body, forming into a centipede shape beside him. Red eyes glowed from within the black mist, and a hiss split the air. The pokemon flew into a panic, and guards fired their weapons and elemental attacks. But it all drifted right through the mist as though nothing was even there.

    “Meet Distortion,” said BackDoor.

    The entity materialised into a more solid form, six legs flickering in and out of reality as its draconic form struggled to hold. Socket stuttered and stumbled backwards into Yobi. Words failed to form and she pointed a claw at the dragon.

    “This?” Distortion asked. “This pathetic creature is what you expect me to work for? To use as a host?!”

    “Well, you don’t think I’m strong enough,” said BackDoor. “You don’t think Zero Day are strong enough. What do you want?”

    Distortion looked around at the mansion, twisting his long neck left and right.

    “This mansion… it has power,” he said. “I shall use this as my new host.”

    “What?” BackDoor squeaked with surprise. “A floating building?”

    “Exactly.”

    “All right. Guess I’d better… clean it up then.” BackDoor pulled a ring from his horn. He tossed it towards Socket and it expanded into a void behind her. “Welcome to your new world, Mayor! It’s filled with nothing but methane! You’re going to love it!” He rolled onto his back and laughed.

    Socket screamed as she fought against the void, scrambling on all fours, her claws scraping across the tile. Those beside her also scrambled for their lives, while those far enough away made a beeline for the stairs. Those more confident attacked again, their attacks bouncing off Distortion’s scales. He roared and breathed out a stream of purple dragon fire. It washed over those closest to him, knocking them off their feet and burning away their fur. Several crumpled as paralysis overtook them, falling victim to yet another attack.

    “Move it!” Anchor roared. “Get to Wildcard Gamma!”

    He turned towards DL. The pachirisu held onto the wood surrounding the main door with one paw, while clutching Macro in the other. Her face twisted with the effort of holding on. He stretched out a paw, using the other to support himself against the door. He took hold of her wrist and threw both her and Macro behind him. Anchor joined her in scrambling for the stairs, fighting back against the increasing pull of the void.

    “What about Switch?” DL shouted.

    “Where is he?” Anchor asked.

    “Yobi’s lab! In the basement!”

    Anchor glanced towards the basement. There wasn’t enough time. They couldn’t-

    Brick and mortar exploded from the wall ahead of them, launched by an elasticated fist. Rubble bounced over the tiles to be sucked into the void. Socket’s eyes widened as a large lump of stone careened into her head, breaking her hold and sending her screaming into the void.

    As the dust began to settle, the nose of a gigantic pyukumyuku poked from the wall, its innards out retracting back in place. A human stood atop it, her black hair billowing in the wind.

    “Viva la Rebellion!” she roared, then burst into laughter.

    More explosions rocked the mansion, blowing holes in the walls and dislodging the front door. Bubbles flowed into the entrance hall, and BackDoor yelped as he swerved aside to dodge them.

    “Stop them,” Distortion growled. “Don’t let a single one get away alive.”

    BackDoor obliged, tossing ring after ring around the escaping pokemon. Screams reached a crescendo as the guards were whisked away into the voids.

    The black mist that formed Distortion melted away into the foundations of the mansion. Brick began to warp and distort, twisting back into place. Each stone turned black, and red eyes appeared all over the inside.

    Anchor relieved DL of Macro, cradling him in one arm, then rushed towards the stairs. He bellowed for DL to follow him, but froze as a shrill scream came from behind him. DL clutched at the banister rail, her tail swishing behind her as a new void tried to drag her in. He spun on the spot, grabbing DL in his free paw. He dug his claws into the wooden stairs, straining against the void’s pull. But it only intensified by the second. His claws slipped, but a sharp pain tugged at his spine as his tail jerked backwards. He turned his head to see Surge clutching the rails, straining under the joint weight of the granbull and his two friends. Her claws dragged crevices through the ornamental banister as the void tried to claim her also. With a growl, she threw her arm behind her, tugging Anchor and DL up the stairs enough for them to steady themselves on the rail.

    “Get going!” she barked.

    Anchor nodded his thanks and positioned himself behind DL as a meat shield. He ushered her on as he dragged himself up the stairs, his mohawk trailing backwards towards the void’s pull. Defrag waited at the top and pushed DL towards the hole created by the pyukumyuku. What was left of Socket’s guards milled about it, the fliers gathering up those feeling the misfortune of lacking wings.

    Anchor leapt past them to join DL and Defrag on the pyukumyuku’s back. The human watched the chaos in awe, her green eyes wide and her mouth forming a silent ‘woah!’

    “You’re gonna wanna get out of here!” he told her. “There’s another human in the basement if you can grab him?”

    “Roger!” The human followed him over the back of her ship, then swung herself down through the door.

    Purple fire careened from the bricks, washing over those left remaining. Surge dived from the commotion, stopping just before the pyukumyuku’s nose to fire off a stream of laser fire. Her target was the hoopa. She shot a ring from his paw, drawing the android’s eyes. They narrowed into a deadly glare, and he removed another ring from his horn. But his words and expression were drowned out in the frenzy of screams and purple flames.

    Three pidgeot managed to get out before the flames engulfed them, each one carrying an ally. They faltered in the air, beating their wings to stay airborne as they watched the mansion distort and twist into some nightmarish living entity.

    Anchor steadied himself and DL on the back of the pyukumyuku as it flared to life, dropping down a floor. Yelps and screams filled the air as more rubble fell away, claiming any who got in its path. The innards out launched with all the force of a missile, destroying the wall that separated them from the basement. It flicked out a second time, snatching up the contents of the laboratory before the dust even had a chance to settle. DL grimaced and shook her head, turning her eyes to the sky.

    Wildcard Gamma drifted before them, launching a torrent of bubble bombs at the mansion. But rather than exploding, they shot towards the mansion and vanished. Rubble drifted back towards the hole in the wall, and a look of horror crossed Anchor’s face as he stared right up into a new void. Pokemon fought frantically against it, and he glimpsed a jagged tail vanish into the ultraviolet mist.

    “Surge!” he roared.

    The pyukumyuku shook again, moving backwards away from the mansion. Anchor adjusted his hold on Macro and placed his free paw on DL’s shoulder as he turned to look back at his own ship. A decidueye stood in the doorway, and when his eyes fell on Anchor he launched himself towards them, gliding through the destruction and fire. He didn’t say a word as he latched onto DL and Anchor, whisking them from the pyukumyuku and back to the ship.

    Anchor’s grip slipped as a heavy weight fastened around his body. The decidueye panicked, flapping his wings frantically to stop them from plummeting towards the ocean. Anchor muttered his own frustration, securing his grip on Macro before looking down to see who’d hampered them. Defrag clutched onto his waist with a death grip, her frantic eyes on the drop below.

    “Give us some warning!” Anchor gasped.

    She looked up at him, her eyes wide with fear. “There wasn’t enough time! Were you seriously going to leave me there?”

    He grimaced and glanced back at the monstrous mansion. It looked nothing like it had previously. Dark. Black. Riddled with red eyes and spewing purple flames. So many lives had been claimed in that chaos. He tore his eyes from it and secured his paw around the decidueye’s leg. Then he nodded to the passing pidgeot, pointing them towards his ship. One of them frowned, cracking its beak open in a sneer, only to be swatted by the medicham clutching its legs. It was no time to choose sides. The three flying types joined the decidueye on their retreat to Wildcard Gamma. The decidueye twisted to avoid streams of purple fire as they spread out from the mansion, eager to claim what few lives remained. In some form of last hurrah, one of BackDoor’s voids opened up before them. The decidueye beat his wings then tucked them to his sides, curving up and away from it before leveling out towards Wildcard Gamma. Anchor felt the tug and clutched tighter to the owl pokemon’s talons. DL whimpered as the void almost dragged her free, and he felt Defrag claw at his torso, her long legs kicking away from the void’s incessant pull. A screech drew his eye back towards the pidgeot, and his eyes widened as he spotted the closest one veer off course as he was sucked into the void. The medicham stretched out a paw, panic etched over his face. But there was nothing Anchor or his allies could do. The two pokemon vanished into the void, the ultraviolet mist swallowing them into an unknown world.

    The decidueye reached the hatch, tossing Anchor and his friends ahead of him. Anchor landed first just before the cockpit, and he let out an ‘oof!’ as Defrag landed on his back, knocking the wind out of him. He rolled aside, checking over Macro before looking back at the chaos. The inner door was already open, allowing clouds of toxic mist onto the ship, but Anchor was more worried about the destruction than a little toxic air. He could just see the glow of purple flames through the smog, briefly blocked out by the fliers as they joined the space pirates on their ship. Once everyone was on board, the decidueye closed the hatch and air blasted out some of the toxins before the inner door sealed shut.

    Anchor finally took a good look at their rescuer, and realisation hit him like a lead brick.

    “Waveform?” he grunted. “What are yo-”

    Waveform waved a wing in dismissal and nodded to Macro’s limp body. “You worry about tending to your wounded party. I’ll deal with getting us out of here.”

    The decidueye vanished into the cockpit, leaving Anchor gob smacked. He shook it off and poked his head into the cockpit.

    “Get us to Cyan City, as fast as you can,” he instructed. Then paused as Waveform glanced back at him. “Please.”

    “I’m already on it,” said Cookie from the navigation deck.

    A brief silence washed over the ship, broken by Defrag.

    “So,” she said. “What are we going to do with our unexpected guests?”

    Anchor hadn’t thought that far ahead, more concerned with getting as many pokemon to safety as he could. He looked up from Macro to the two pidgeot. A herdier, oranguru and meditite stood beside them, their expressions a mixture of awe and anxiety.

    “Thanks,” one of the pidgeot muttered.

    “Yeah,” said the herdier. “I don’t think we’d have survived that.”

    Anchor took them all in. The pidgeot with their armored talons and wing claws, the herdier with his bionic eye, the meditite wearing small gauntlets not entirely dissimilar to Anchor’s. The only one without any visible enhancements was the oranguru, but that wasn’t to say he didn’t have any.

    “Well, I weren’t gonna leave any ‘mon to die in all that,” said Anchor. “I ain’t a monster. But I can’t have you wanderin’ freely on this ship so… I’m afraid you’re all gonna have to stay in the cargo hold until we get somewhere safe. Understood?”

    The guards nodded all too keenly. Too uncomfortable to remain on a space pirate’s ship. No reason to turn them in, either out of gratitude or having no reward waiting for them now Socket had been killed. And at the artificial paws of her own creation, no less.

    Anchor led them down the corridor, pausing beside Macro’s room.

    “Go on,” said Defrag. “I’ll lead our guests to the cargo hold. You deal with Macro.”

    He muttered his thanks, watching the lopunny lead the five pokemon through to the loot room. He tore his eyes from them and flashed his paw to open Macro’s door. DL shuffled in ahead of him and paused beside the bed, watching Anchor set him down. Blood soaked into his sheets the moment he touched it. It was difficult to see his fur beneath all the blood, but it had clearly burnt away around his right shoulder and cheek. His right arm lay a bloodied mess at his side, the scarf DL had fastened around it no longer showing a hint of its former green. Yet his chest rose and fell as if he were only sleeping. Silent tears flowed from her eyes, and she whisked a paw across them, snuffling into her fur.

    Anchor placed a paw on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’ll send Cookie in. I’m no medic.”

    As he turned to leave, she spoke up, freezing him in the doorway.

    “What do we do?”

    He shrugged his shoulders and glanced back at her. “Get him to Cyan City and hope we can save him. It’s all we can do.”

    “It’s my fault, isn’t it?”

    Her words pained him. He shuffled his feet and took a deep breath. “It ain’t no one’s fault. None of us could’ve seen that comin’.”

    The door closed behind him, and DL let out a loud sob. She clambered onto the bed and fastened her arms around Macro’s chest, nuzzling into his fur. Still warm. His heart pulsing against her cheek.

    “I’m so, so sorry,” she choked. “Please don’t leave me…”

    ...​

    Anchor closed the door to the cargo bay and discarded the guards’ weapons on one of the shelves. It had been surprisingly easy to disarm them. They’d been very grateful for a rescue. So grateful he’d almost forgotten they were enemies. As he left the loot room, he spotted Cookie on his way out of Macro’s door. The slurpuff looked up at him with a sombre smile while wiping his paws on a bloodied tea towel.

    “How is he?” Anchor asked.

    “I want to say stable, but I fear that wouldn’t be accurate,” said Cookie. “DL did a good job with the tourniquet but… he really needs to get to a hospital and fast.”

    “We’re in hyper drive so… how long?”

    “Another thirty minutes minimum.” Cookie brushed back the berry on his head and sighed. “I don’t know what to do. I’m a wreck. I’d cook something to calm my nerves, but Waveform needs me on navigation and Defrag’s too busy looking after our guests.” He gave a nervous glance towards the loot room.

    “Navigation? Why?” Anchor’s eyes widened and he snapped his head around to the exit hatch. “Wait a minute, where’s Matrix?!”

    ...​

    Annie and Web tugged at the stretchy innards out, trying to gently free Switch from its hold. The human was out cold, but still breathing. But then there was the issue with the odd music playing from deep within it. Did humans normally make musical noises when they slept? Annie thought about asking Web if she’d ever made any music in her sleep, but something hairy brushed her fingers causing her to forget about it completely. Humans didn’t have fur, that much she knew.

    She peeled back the gooey material, revealing a tiny yellow body. A pair of wings buzzed to life, and the pokemon drifted free from his confines. He rubbed his antennae and took a few deep breaths.

    “Oh!” said Annie. “Hello, bee.”

    The ribombee rubbed his eyes and reached into his belt pouch. The music was still playing, coming from his tiny computer. But it stopped before he could answer it.

    “Are you okay, dear?” Web asked. “I think we might have caught you when we rescued Switch here.”

    The ribombee glanced down at the human and wound his antenna in his paw. “Yes… you did. I think I got hit with a brick or something. Whatever it was, it knocked me from the air.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his head, slumping back towards the ground onto his bottom. “Ow, what a headache. You also can’t breathe in that thing.” He pointed a claw at the innards out.

    “Oh, I know,” said Annie. “I’ve been caught in it myself.”

    The ribombee shuffled and reached into his belt pouch. “Something is burning me. What did that thing do?”

    He pulled out his paw, holding a crystal too big for his belt pouch. His eyes widened and he looked between it and the human. Before he could say anything, that music started up again, with more insistence, Annie thought. The ribombee adjusted his flight goggles and reached for his computer.

    “Hey Anchor,” he said.

    “Matrix!” came a gruff voice. “Where on earth are you?”

    “With Switch.” The ribombee continued idly winding his antenna as he stared at Annie. “Yeah, I’m with the other human. We’ll join you in Cyan City.”

    “Hey, you can’t make that decision!” said Annie. “I’m the captain!”

    “You’ll want to,” Matrix told her. “It’s the only safe place for us space pirates, and as far as I’m aware, is one of few places completely free of Ultra Beasts.” He returned to his conversation. “By the way, Anchor, you’re not gonna believe this…” A pause as the other pokemon muttered something Annie couldn’t make out. “You know how in video games bags can hold like… infinite or over-sized items?” He turned the brown crystal around in his tiny paw. “Well, I think I’ve got a pouch full of Z-Crystals.”
     
  12. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    A/N - I've been making some embarrassing mistakes with the names of the Z-Crystals. If you notice any, please let me know. I may have to go back and fix it...


    Chapter Seventy​

    Macro raced through the tunnel, blackness on either side. It closed in behind him, but his eyes were on the pachirisu scurrying along ahead of him towards the light. He stretched out a paw, but nothing but silence left his mouth. He’d wanted to shout, but it hurt. Everything hurt. Every step, breath, movement. But he refused to stop. Refused to be eaten up by the darkness.

    A dry heat filled his nostrils and he faltered, glancing back the way he’d come. Fire. Fire spread down the tunnel, rushing towards him like a tidal wave. He turned and kicked the ground, pushing himself onward. But he’d lost sight of her. The light was dazzling. He squinted, just making out a black speck on the horizon. Then the floor shook violently, causing him to lose his footing. Rock erupted beneath him like a geyser, and a huge metallic beast rose from the ground. Its huge mouth opened in its bamboo face, letting out an almighty scream.

    Macro howled with fright, falling back onto his bottom. The beast aimed a cannon, then exploded into light. Light that put out the flames, bringing with it a refreshing coolness. Solgaleo drifted through the creature’s remains and landed behind Macro, catching the mawile as strength left his body. He fell into the lion’s warm fur and let his eyes drift shut.

    “Where am I?” Macro asked. “Where is everyone?”

    Solgaleo shushed him. “Don’t talk. You need your rest.”

    “That’s easy to say,” said Macro. “But everything hurts. I can’t feel my paw. I can see it, but…” He cracked his eyes open and stared ahead at the light. DL had long gone. “What’s happening, Solgaleo? Is the world ending?”

    Solgaleo shifted so he was looking at him. “It’s the end of the world as you know it. Rest. You’re going to need your strength.”

    ...​

    The mansion floated miles outside of Meta City. Below Yobi, the ocean lashed the cliff face, coating the rocky outcrops with a layer of salty froth. The raichu drifted over them, his breath coming in heavy bursts. He’d been flying for hours, lugging the remains of his vikavolt android beside him in a psychic bubble. His tail skimmed over the brittle grass and dry rocks until he finally felt able to dismount, landing heavily on the ground and dropping the chrome carcass beside him. He doubled over with his paws on his knees, fighting to get his breath, and looked back over his shoulder at the purple chaos swirling across System Sky. The mansion, its red eyes glowing like stars, and the purple fire cascading out from it. He’d never even imagined such a scene in his wildest fantasies.

    The chaos it had brought. The lives it had claimed. That dragon… BackDoor… Socket…

    His legs gave way and he flopped onto his back, his arms falling spread-eagled beside him. His heart was still racing. He could still see her face, frantic. That brief moment she reached for him, her cry for help dying on her lips as the other world claimed her.

    That was it. In an instant, she was gone. Dragged into a world no life in System could survive. If BackDoor’s words had been true, she’d have died quickly amid methane gas.

    BackDoor… Socket had requested it, but Yobi had been the one to create it. An android with no kill switch, for fear others might get their paws on it and deactivate it. An android who’d been programmed with a personality. With the ability to learn. Much needed requirements for something that could assist them in finding a new world. A world for System’s elites, for them to start anew. And the wretched android had found something powerful, grown bored of its task, and used it against them. Used the skills Yobi had programmed it with, and killed Socket. Not just his boss, but his friend.

    He choked back a sob and stretched out a paw, cold chrome meeting his fur. His claws fastened around it, but his eyes went back to the mansion.

    Some way… if he just had some way to stop it…

    His eyes narrowed and he pushed himself back up, dragging the remains of the vikavolt onto his lap. His eyes went towards Meta City. No longer safe. Riddled with those Ultra Beasts. But he needed to get back to his home. To his lab - old yet familiar - and put an end to BackDoor. If that meant trapping Distortion and all the Ultra Beasts in System, so be it. They’d be at his mercy. He’d rid the world of them all, or die trying.

    ...​

    Beep, beep, beep…

    Macro grimaced, trying to focus on that sound. He didn’t remember setting an alarm. His right arm felt like lead. Clearly he’d slept on it and lost all feeling. He lifted his more obedient left paw and rubbed his eyes, grunting as a dull ache resonated in his head. He couldn’t recall the previous night. No drinking and merriment. Then he remembered the pain. His eyes cracked open, bright, florescent light stabbing his eyeballs and aggravating his headache into a migraine. He groaned and squeezed them shut, clasping his paw over them. Something tugged at his flesh, a minor stab in the back of his paw.

    “Cap’n!” Anchor leapt from his seat and jerked the bed as he leant across it.

    Macro cracked one eye back open and the granbull’s pink face filled his vision. Matrix peeked out behind his ear, clutching his computer in both paws.

    “Man, I don’t believe it,” said Anchor. “The doctor thought you were gonna be out another week at least.”

    “Wait, where…” Macro’s voice cracked and he licked his lips.

    A cool glass of water touched his left paw and he took it gratefully, glancing sideways to see DL putting the jug back on his nightstand. He sipped at his water and tried to push himself up, but Anchor pinned him back down. Then he busied himself with untangling the drip’s tube from around the mawile’s arm.

    “Not yet, Cap’n,” he said. “You’ve only just come round. I don’t think you’re ready for gettin’ up and bein’… well… you.”

    “So I’m in hospital again?” Macro sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Gettin’ a little tired of waking up here.”

    “I think they’re getting a little tired of seeing you,” said Matrix, eyes back on his computer.

    Macro frowned at him, then shook his head. “What happened? How long was I out?”

    “Ten days,” said Anchor.

    “Ten days?!” Macro sat bolt upright, only to be pushed back into his pillow by DL this time.

    Anchor brushed back his mohawk and fell back into his seat. “Yeah, after that… Distortion thing… took over the mansion, things took a pretty brutal turn. We were fortunate enough to get out of there and get you back here.”

    “Wait, what?” Macro’s lip curled into a frown. “Distortion? What happened?”

    “Oh yeah, you were unconscious then.” Anchor cleared his throat. “It’s a long story and you’ve only just woken up, so…”

    “No, I need to know,” said Macro. “What’s Socket done to her mansion?”

    “It ain’t Socket,” said Anchor. “It’s some entity BackDoor’s dragged into this world. Socket… well, she’s gone.”

    Macro’s jaw dropped. Had he heard him right? “Gone where?”

    “She’s dead,” said Matrix, all too bluntly. “Got sucked into some world filled with toxic gas.”

    Any words Macro had died on his lips. He cast a sideways glance to DL, catching her eye. She diverted her gaze to the wall and swallowed back tears.

    “I guess… we don’t need to worry about her anymore, huh?” she said.

    “Well, I guess it makes sense to be upset,” said Anchor. “She did adopt you, after all.”

    “With bad intentions,” said DL. “She may have been a monster, but I didn’t want her to die. I don’t want anyone to die. All those lives… even Surge…”

    Macro’s eyes widened. “Wait… Surge?”

    DL nodded stiffly.

    “Yeah,” said Anchor. “She had our backs all the way out. If it weren’t for her, DL and I… and you… would have been sucked into the same world Socket found herself in.”

    “She was oddly strong,” said DL. “Managed to throw all three of us behind her.”

    “Must be all those enhancements she had done,” said Matrix. “Makes you wonder what it was.”

    Macro’s throat tightened and he let his eyes close, placing his paw across them. He’d often been at odds with Surge, but she’d saved his life. More than once. She hadn’t deserved that. He bit his tongue to stifle tears and took in a deep breath.

    “Are you okay?” DL whispered.

    He nodded, but he wasn’t sure if she’d noticed.

    “What about Switch?” he croaked.

    Anchor let out a sigh and slumped forward on his knees. “He’s goin’ through the same rehab those little bug pokemon are.”

    Macro couldn’t even look at him. He bit his lip hard, tasting blood. No memories, and with Socket’s mansion taken over there was no way to even begin attempting to recover them. That is, if they were even still intact in Yobi’s computer.

    “It’s worryin’,” Anchor went on. “Nothin’ we can do about it.” He stood up with another sigh. “I suppose I should let a doctor know you’ve come around.”

    “Give me a few minutes,” he said. “I don’t want one sent in just yet.”

    “But they need to know.”

    “And they can know.” He shifted his arm to look at the granbull. “But I’ve got a lot to take in right now. I don’t need some doc pokin’ at me.”

    Anchor stared at him for a moment, then nodded. “Sure. I’ll ask ‘em to come in here in about ten minutes. But they won’t be happy.”

    “Five will be fine,” said Macro.

    “That’s why I said ten. They’ll probably try and negotiate.” Anchor winked then turned to leave the room.

    Wink…

    Macro grimaced and huddled into his sheets, unable to remove the human from his mind.

    “You look a little iffy,” said Matrix. “Still, glad to see you awake.” He drifted from his chair and buzzed over their heads to the door. “I’m gonna get a coffee. Do either of you want anything?”

    DL shook her head and Macro muttered a ‘no’.

    Once the door closed, Macro glanced over at DL, but she didn’t meet his eyes. It gnawed at him. An unpleasant sensation alongside the pounding headache.

    “You’re not going with them?” he asked.

    She looked away from him towards the window, her paws wound in his bed sheet. “No.”

    “Very well.” He let his arm fall over his eyes again. The room felt oddly quiet. He opened his mouth to tell her she didn’t need to stay, but she cut him off.

    “I owe you an apology.”

    Her words took him by surprise and he lifted his paw to look at her. But she was still avoiding his gaze.

    “I… was hurting.” Her voice cracked and she twisted the bed sheet in her claws. “You’ve done a lot for me, but I couldn’t see past the blind rage that came with those memories. They conflicted me. No matter how much I’d tell myself I was wrong, it… it just wouldn’t work. It was like I was two separate pokemon and Loop just wouldn’t listen…”

    He gave her a moment to continue, but she stared down at her paws, tugging at the sheet.

    “Believe it or not,” he said, “I do understand.”

    “Then you’re foolish.”

    Her words took him aback and he let his head roll back on the pillow, shielding his eyes again. “I don’t know how understanding makes me a fool, but whatever.”

    “Because my actions were irrational,” she said. “I said hurtful things… I hurt you, and you didn’t deserve it.” Her words choked off into tears and she wiped her eyes with a paw. “And if it weren’t for me… you wouldn’t have gone after me in Meta City… and all this…” She sobbed loudly and covered her face with her paws. “You almost died and it was my fault!”

    “Hey!” He pushed himself up on his elbow and twisted to face her. “Don’t you dare blame yourself! We needed to go there for your final memories anyway.”

    “But it wouldn’t have been such a reckless attempt! You… you came to rescue me, didn’t you?”

    “I came to help you.” His strength gave out and he fell onto his side, but he didn’t take his eyes off her. “Whatever happened, Socket would have known we were coming. We’d have been walkin’ right into trouble. She’d have still caught me.” He paused and trailed his paw over his horn. Still cracked, although it had been sealed with something.

    “What did she do to you?” DL whispered.

    Tears trailed from her cheeks, peppering the bed sheet. His paw twitched as he warred with the desire to hold her and calm her down. Surely if he told her it would just make her break down and blame herself even more. He closed his eyes and sighed.

    “You don’t need to know that,” he said.

    “Maybe I don’t want to,” she said. “Anchor and Matrix refused to go into detail. Defrag won’t say anything, either.” She took in a trembling breath and dried her eyes. “But you can’t keep hiding things from me.”

    “What do you mean?” he asked.

    “You’re an enigma,” she said. “I found out about Digit from Anchor a while back. And about how you got your scar, although I barely got any details. And you never told me about that fire in Botnet City.” She paused and looked him in the eye. “Would you have ever told me about that? If I never got those memories?”

    Her paws fell back onto the sheet and he stared at her for a moment, his claws twitching mere millimetres from hers.

    “Maybe,” he said. “If you’d ever asked me what all my nightmares are about. It’s… something I don’t want to keep reliving.”

    Her breath trembled and she looked down at her paws again. “I understand.”

    “Hey, I don’t want to keep secrets from you. If you ask me anything about my past, I’ll answer. Socket trying to kill me, Ironclaw almost takin’ my eye… Even Digit ditchin’ me… I’ll tell you.”

    DL looked him in the eye. “She prefers Defrag now.”

    A hint of a smile.

    Macro threw his left paw in the air and rolled back onto his back. “I suppose I can’t very well complain about her changin’ her name, can I?”

    “I keep thinking back at my own past,” said DL. “And when I do, all I can see are Loop’s drawings of Wildcard Gamma. The ship in flames… she really hated you.” Once again, she stared at her paws. “Her last thoughts when Yobi was about to operate on her… were how if you hadn’t killed her family…”

    Her voice choked off as tears fell onto her paws and the bed sheet. His paw felt cold, and he retracted it slightly.

    “I know a sorry will never be enough,” he said. “But I’m afraid it’s all I can offer.”

    She looked up at him, but her eyes were soft, and wet with tears. “You risked your life to save mine. That’s more than enough.”

    “Of course.” His voice cracked. “DL, please believe me when I say I would never do anything to hurt you deliberately. But… I’d understand if you still hate me.”

    She shook her head and released the sheet, fighting back tears. She took his paw and clambered off her seat towards him, leaning across the bed to catch his lips in hers. His breath snagged with surprise and he slipped his paw from hers to trail over her cheek and cradle her right ear.

    She pulled back slightly and brushed her nose against his. “I love you.”

    His heart did a somersault and he opened his eyes to gaze into hers. Warm fondue. Enough to get lost in.

    “Oh, DL,” he said. “I love you, too.”

    She smiled and brushed her lips against his, prompting him to kiss her again. He pushed himself up on his right elbow and she wrapped her arms around his neck, deepening the kiss. He pulled back to nuzzle her neck and lifted his arms to wrap around her waist. But his right one still felt heavy. Something wasn’t right at all. He pulled back from her to remove his arm from the sheet and his eyes widened as he took it in.

    DL combed her claws through the fur on his shoulder and closed her eyes. “Your paw… I’m afraid they couldn’t save it.”

    Black, metal claws formed up some mechanical attachment. Layered armor that reached up to his elbow, allowing full flexibility. It was reminiscent of the enhancements many pokemon had done. Yet whoever had made it had put a lot of thought into its convenience. It was light, although not as light has his natural paw had been. The colour, size and shape was meant to emulate the paw of a mawile, although it did lack paw pads. To top it all off, embedded in the back of his ‘paw’ was the Fairium-Z. A soft pink light trapped amid all the black, metal plating. He flexed the claws with some difficulty. No feeling. That explained the ‘dead arm’.

    A monstrous thing. Unnatural. It made him feel vile.

    She brushed her paw over it, but he snatched it back.

    “Don’t,” he said. “I don’t trust it.”

    “But… why? They said it’s ‘state of the art’.”

    “I can’t feel anything.” He shrugged, bitterness taking over. “If I can’t feel anything, then I’m worried it might hurt you.”

    “You’re meant to have feeling in it.” She took a breath and pushed herself off the bed. “I’ll go see where that doctor’s got up to.”

    He looked away from her as she scampered to the door, leaving him clutching the duvet in a tight fist. He kept his mechanical arm to the side, as far from his body as his dead arm would allow.

    “Macro?” DL looked over at him from the door, catching his eye. “If it means anything… as much as I’m sorry you lost your paw… well…”

    He raised an eyebrow, bitterness melting away to amusement. “You like this contraption, don’t you?”

    Her eyes flitted from him to the mechanical paw and a light flush dusted her cheeks. “It is rather fetching.”

    He rolled his eyes and chuckled, then nodded towards the door. “Go and find that doctor.”

    She gave a brisk nod and scampered from the room, leaving him to chuckle to himself as he flopped back onto his pillow. The air felt a lot lighter, and warmer. A pink glint flickered at the corner of his eye, and he turned his head towards his right paw. The Fairium-Z glittered in the sunlight as it leaked through the window. A warm pink. His mechanical claws twitched against the bed sheet. Another failed attempt to turn it into a fist.

    The door opened, and he pushed himself up as an azumarill shuffled in. She looked up from her Clipboard to give him a brief nod and a smile before falling into the chair Anchor had previously occupied.

    “Good to see you up,” she said. “You’re looking much better than you did when you arrived. How are you feeling?”

    “A little bitter about my paw right now,” he said.

    “Yes, I’m sorry about that.” The azumarill’s face fell and she turned back to her Clipboard’s screen to key something in. “Anchor says your laser exploded. You’re very lucky you didn’t lose the entire limb. Or your life, for that matter.”

    Macro sighed and rubbed his scar. “It’s a little difficult to look on the bright side right now, doc. I tend to rely quite heavily on my right paw and I can’t even move it.”

    “At all?”

    “Okay, I can get the thing to twitch. But I’d hardly call that moving it.”

    The doctor ‘hmm’d’ as she scrolled through her notes. “Well, you are put down to have therapy to control it. So they’re not expecting you to be able to do much with it yet. And it can take a few days for the sensors to respond while your body gets used to it.”

    “A few days? When was it attached?”

    “Five days ago.” She gave him a reassuring smile. “So I wouldn’t worry too much just yet.”

    He let out a long breath, but it certainly wasn’t out of relief. “Well, a lot of pokemon lost their lives in that battle. So I suppose I should be happy I just got away with a lost paw and some bruises, eh?”

    “Bruises?” The azumarill’s jaw almost hit the floor. “Are you serious?”

    “Deathly.” He fixed one eye on her and cracked a smile. “You’re the one who’s hinting I should be lookin’ on the bright side. So when can I get this therapy over and leave this joint? I’ve got a job to do.”

    “Macro, you’ve been in a coma for nearly ten days,” she said. “Not only did you lose your paw, but a lot of blood. Your horn had cracked open and had to be sealed. You suffered three breaks in your left arm, not to mention a shattered bone in your paw; a fracture in your right arm; a break in the femur of your left leg; blunt trauma to various parts of your body; shattered ribs all along your left side; a severe concussion; internal bleeding; a punctured lung, and ruptured vessels in your left eye!” She sighed and lowered the Clipboard to her lap. “When you arrived here, we weren’t even sure we could save you. You’ve been awake for fifteen minutes and you’re asking if we think you’re fit to leave?”

    A long silence passed between them as her words struck home. Each one making him increasingly aware of the repetitive beeping from his heart monitor. A cruel drag back into reality. Prior to that it had been a mere background sound that had followed him out of his dream. His eye wandered to the screen attached to the wall. The green line that flickered with every beat of his heart. He turned back to the nurse and tried to appear stoic.

    “I didn’t ask ‘if’,” he said. “I asked ‘when’.”

    She stared at him silently, then turned back to her Clipboard. “I see. Well… you’ll need to be monitored to make sure you don’t relapse back into a coma. So… if things go well, I’d say you can start therapy tomorrow afternoon.”

    “Great.”

    “At the earliest.”

    He sighed and pinched the bridge of his muzzle. “The world might have ended by the time I’m outta here.”

    The azumarill closed her eyes and her ears drooped. “I’m just doing my job.” She stood and shuffled towards the door. “I’ll be back before dinner time.”

    “Hey, doc.”

    She looked up at him, meeting his eye.

    “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just… this is pretty darn stressful. I’m tryin’ to help System recover from these monsters, and…”

    “I understand. All of us are terrified.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “But this is the third time you’ve ended up here in the space of a month. You’re mortal, like the rest of us. Remember that.”

    She slipped from the room, leaving behind a chill that caused Macro to burrow under his sheets until only his head was poking out. He groped at his chest with his left paw, feeling nothing but fur. His eye flew around the room, scouting for his scarf. Nothing. He groaned and resigned himself to clutching the duvet, wishing he could just fall asleep and wake up to everything being normal again. But it never came. He just lay there listening to the repetitive, scolding beep of the heart monitor.

    ...​

    It felt like Tracer had been flying around System Sky for a decade. One short trip back to Pulse City revealed the entire island to be engulfed with vines, the monstrous creature standing tall over it like a sentinel. Silent. Unmoving.

    The image chilled the delphox to the core, and he huddled at the back of N0ize’s ship beside Widget. The eevee was less bothered, idly pawing at a laser module he’d found a few days prior. The two space pirates had barely said a word since the events in the analogue isles. Both were clearly stressed, and Tracer didn’t want to push his luck perchance they toss him from the ship to a grisly demise below. Fuel was running low, and was becoming harder to come by. Not wanting to chance another trip to the analogue isles, and finding Pulse City unable to supply them safely, the two space pirates had resigned to looking for parked ships to pilfer it from. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    “Ey, you seen that?” N0ize’s voice drew Tracer’s eye to the window.

    The incineroar pointed a claw through the cracked glass. In the distance floated a monolith of a building. Whatever it was, it was almost indescribable. It gave off an iridescent purple glow, almost draining all light from around it. Or did it actually drain all light? It was difficult to say for certain, but it looked like it might have been on fire. Was it one of those monsters?

    “What on earth is that?” Widget stood on his hind legs with his paws on Cyph3r’s chair, both eyes fixed on the anomaly.

    “I’ve no idea,” said Tracer. “But I’m loathe to go near it.”

    “I second that.” N0ize turned to the magmortar. “Steer us well clear of that thing. I don’t want yet more damage comin’ to old Sharkie.”

    Cyph3r obliged, turning the ship so the anomaly was on their left. Miles away.

    “You’ve still no idea where we’re going?” Tracer ventured to ask.

    “Nope.” N0ize turned back to Cyph3r, brushing the delphox off. “Hit hyperdrive. I wanna get as far away from that abomination as possible.”

    Tracer rushed back to his spot in the corner, but before he could sit comfortably, the ship lurched forward sending him nose-first into the wall. He pushed himself back up as best he could, rubbing his sore snout. A thin stream of blood coated his fur and he huddled against the wall to steady himself. Widget clutched to the magmortar’s chair for dear life, his claws tearing rivets in the leather. Yet more damage the space pirates would blame them for.

    Finally, the ship returned to a saner pace and Tracer slid to the floor. Back amid the floating cities. Three of them, forming a triangle, but they were really miles apart. The closest one looked massive in comparison to its siblings. The trio of warring cities. Cyan, Magenta and Luma.

    “Oi, hang on a sec!” N0ize leaned forward in his seat, grinning like a lunatic. “That’s Wildcard Gamma!”

    Tracer jolted and lifted his head as far as it would stretch. N0ize wasn’t wrong. Docked in Cyan City’s port was the famous schooling wishiwashi, dwarfing several golden government ships. The pyukumyuku stood on the other side of the fleet, sandwiching them between the two larger ships.

    “What’s Hunter’s crew doing so blatantly in Cyan City?” Tracer voiced. “And Annie, too…”

    “I dunno,” said N0ize. “But fifty thousand credits for him and each of his crewmon is sat waitin’ in that city like sittin’ ducklets. I can grab them, get my revenge on that human girl and her posse then book it! So that’s…” He counted off on his claws, struggled then threw his paws in the air with a laugh. “A lot of fuel and easy ship repairs, plus enough to dine like kings!”

    Widget muttered under his breath, “Yeah, if there’s anywhere still left standing in System to eat.”

    “What were that, pup?” N0ize growled.

    Widget merely grinned back at him.

    “Whatever.” N0ize shrugged him off and turned back to the window. “Let’s get in there and find Hunter. I want my ship repaired pronto.”

    Cyph3r steered the sharpedo into the docks beside the wishiwashi. Before it had even fully parked up, the incineroar was on his feet and marching towards the door. He grabbed Tracer by the scruff, dragging him to his feet.

    “Come on, fuzz, I ain’t exactly gonna leave you and your rogue on this ship alone, am I?”

    “Dang it!” Widget dropped to his feet and slumped after them. “It’s like you can read me like a book.”

    As much as the eevee was joking, it went straight over N0ize’s head. He gave Widget what was clearly intended to be an intimidating grin but all it did was elicit one in return. N0ize laughed and threw the door open.

    “I like you, pup,” he said. “The offer still stands if you wanna join my crew.”

    “I don’t work for bullies.” Widget skipped past him onto the docks, and froze. “Oh, hang on.”

    N0ize landed heavily beside him, clutching Tracer by the collar in one paw. Waiting on the docks stood an empoleon and several other water types. The vaporeon beside the penguin pokemon bristled, his head lowered and canines bared. N0ize reached for his laser, but the deep, electrical hum beside them told them Cyph3r had disembarked and had his railgun at the ready.

    “Drop your weapons!” the empoleon roared. “And explain yourselves! What are you doing in Cyan City?”

    N0ize laughed and dropped Tracer, who landed in an ungraceful heap at his feet. “I ain’t explainin’ nothin’! Cyph3r? Take ‘em out!”

    The magmortar raised his railgun, the hum rising into a shrill scream. The empoleon readied an attack of his own as he raised his right flipper. A metallic sheen surrounded it. Beside him, steam erupted from the vaporeon’s mouth.

    “Stop!”

    The empoleon froze, his flipper returning to normal, but the vaporeon’s attack was too advanced and he choked, spluttering hot froth. It erupted from him in a sputtering flurry, peppering Cyph3r and N0ize with scalding water. The two fire types grimaced, and N0ize whipped out his huge laser.

    A frogadier scurried between the warring groups, waving his slender paws. His eyes went from the empoleon and his crew to the space pirates, and he narrowed his eyes.

    “I trust you aren’t friends of Wildcard?” the frogadier asked.

    “No, we ain’t.” N0ize raised his laser to the frog pokemon. “And we plan to take ‘em back with us.”

    Cyph3r placed a paw on N0ize’s arm, lowering his laser as he aimed his railgun at the frogadier. Electricity screeched along it, concentrating its deadly power behind the hidden projectile. If the water type was afraid, he didn’t show a single hint of it.

    “I’m afraid it won’t get you anywhere,” he said. “Socket’s no longer around to give you your ‘reward’.”

    “Eh?” N0ize’s jaw dropped.

    Cyph3r lowered his railgun, the screech returning to a static hum. His face matched N0ize’s surprise perfectly.

    “Surely you’ve seen it?” said the frogadier. “Her mansion has been taken over by some unknown entity, and its currently drifting through System Sky.”

    “That’s what that thing was?” Tracer stood up, rubbing his ears. “It was her mansion?”

    “So it’s some monster house now?” Widget chuckled and wagged his tail. “Bring it!”

    Tracer placed a paw on the eevee’s back, but he didn’t take his eyes off the frogadier. “So what does that mean exactly?”

    “It means,” said the vaporeon, “that System ain’t got no flippin’ mayor enforcing her laws! You won’t get scratch for turnin’ in Wildcard Gamma. You could gallivant across System Ground and no one would touch you because, let’s face it, no one wants to fight for nothin’! So get your mangy tails out of our city!”

    The empoleon cuffed him around the ears, eliciting a protesting whine.

    “Thank you, HeatSink.” The frogadier turned back to the space pirates. “Sorry for my friend’s outburst. I have no gripes with you pokemon. I’m aware Pulse City has been reduced to ruins, which means you’ve got nowhere to go. We’re a peaceful city. Wildcard have done a lot for us. I can see your ship is in bad shape, so if you promise to remain peaceful, then we can sort you out with repairs.”

    N0ize threw his head back and laughed. “You serious?! Scourge of the skies and you open your doors for us? Well… I ain’t entirely sure how happy I am mixing with water types.”

    Cyph3r’s railgun hummed to life again, but he didn’t lift it towards the water types. He narrowed his eyes, limb twitching with uncertainty.

    “Oh hey, it’s the pussycat!” Annie’s familiar voice erupted behind the water type army. She waved an energetic wing, bouncing on her feet. “Hi, pussycat! And Mister Fox, too! Woo! It’s like a reunion!”

    N0ize glared at her, clutching his paw into a fist around his laser. The metal creaked beneath his grip, setting Tracer’s fur on end as he braced himself for the weapon to fire at the ground. The incineroar snapped his head back around to the frogadier.

    “All right,” he growled. “I’ll take you up on your hospitality. You might have no gripes with us, but I’ve got… personal issues… with that raggy bird back there.”

    “What? Annie?” The frogadier looked between N0ize’s sneer and Annie’s beaming grin. “Well… I’m not sure what to do about that. If you wish to avoid conflict-”

    “Not at all.”

    “Well, if you threaten violence, I will have to put you in a cell.” The frogadier gave him a sympathetic shake of the head. “I don’t think either of us want that?”

    N0ize holstered his weapon and nodded to Cyph3r to switch his off. The magmortar obliged, contributing to the sudden silence.

    The frogadier stepped closer to them and held out a paw. “Welcome to Cyan City. My name is Jumper, Governor of this city. Would you like me to show you around?”

    N0ize’s muzzle creased with confusion as he stared at the frogadier’s outstretched paw. He shook it hesitantly, drowning it in his larger, hairy one.

    “Not sure I want showin’ around, though,” he rumbled.

    “Well, I know a fantastic place for dinner,” said Jumper.

    “Sold.” N0ize stomped past him with Cyph3r in tow. “I’m itchin’ for a fish burger right now.”

    “I hate to disappoint you, but here, we’re vegetarian,” said Jumper.

    N0ize stared at him over his shoulder, aghast. Then he sighed. “Fine. Nutpea it is.”

    Tracer and Widget stared after them, their jaws almost touching the floor. The water army wore equal expressions of surprise. Annie scrambled over to them, looking between the pirates and the detectives.

    “This is awesome,” she said. “I wondered what had happened to you lot.”

    “Didn’t we attack you?” Widget asked, not looking away from N0ize’s swishing tail as he followed Jumper into the city.

    “Let flygons be flygons.” Annie waved a dismissive wing. “Wanna grab somethin’ to eat? I know an awesome place.”

    “So long as it’s far away from them, I’m game,” said Widget.

    “Me too.” Tracer reached into his pocket for a cigar and grimaced. “Maybe we can find a decent shop, too? I need to stock up.”

    Widget snorted and shook his head. “Fine. But can we do that on the way back? I’m starved.”

    The pair of them followed Annie into the city, heading a different way to the space pirates.

    “While we’re there,” she said, “I can tell you the awesome story about how a building ate the mayor!”

    Tracer and Widget snapped their heads around to look at her.

    “You know what happened?” Widget gasped.

    “Of course!” She fired them a toothy grin over her shoulder. “I was there! And it was awesome.”

    Tracer and Widget stuttered and exchanged glances. ‘Awesome’ wasn’t exactly a word Tracer would have used.

    “All right.” He cleared his throat. “We look forward to it.”

    “Awesome, eh?” Widget shook his head and sighed. “Drat, and we missed it.”
     
  13. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Chapter Seventy One​

    Purple tendrils rose up on the horizon as the glowing mansion swiftly approached Seed City. Yobi watched with a combination of horror and fascination, the remains of his vikavolt android clutched in his paws. It was definitely lower in the sky, as though it was going to land.

    Incomplete. His plan was incomplete, and he was swiftly running out of time. He’d have to move… but where?

    ...​

    Tweak sang jovially as he flopped around the mansion. The feather duster in his tiny paws flicked over the windowsills and skirting boards, and a quick flick of his psychic shot it up into the high corners of the eaves.

    ‘Cut out that infernal singing!’

    Distortion’s voice rocked the walls, causing the chingling to spin on the spot. The feather duster fell gracefully back into his paws and he grinned widely.

    “But it’s my cleaning montage!” he jingled. “Everything has to be clean! You don’t want to be dusty, do you?”

    A low growl shook the air and Tweak laughed, spinning back to the wall and sending the duster back up to sweep across the ceiling.

    “He hazzzz a po-point.” BackDoor drifted down from above him, reclining back with his arms folded behind his head. “It is so… so annoying.”

    “So is your fractured speech,” said Tweak. “But you don’t hear me complaining about it.”

    BackDoor snorted and reached up for one of his rings. “If it were my choice, I’d send you to join Socket. But for some reason, he decide-de-ded to keep you around.”

    “I’m a qualified PA, cleaner and System navigator!” Tweak saluted. “No one knows System like I do.”

    BackDoor frowned and crossed his arms in indignation. “’System navi-vi-gator’ isn’t even a thing!”

    “’Navigator’,” Tweak mocked. “And it is a thing. You’ll see what I mean when we land in Seed City. The real capital of System.”

    “Historically speaking,” said BackDoor. “I still think you’re a lunatic.”

    The hoopa drifted back towards the eaves, leaving the chingling to return to his dusting. BackDoor’s eye drifted back towards the floor, noting the hefty blood stain. Three days the chingling had spent cleaning that. It hadn’t come out. When he’d inquired about whether or not Distortion could just distort it out, he’d said he wasn’t bothered. The mansion was a means of growing his strength, and because of that it was only temporary.

    Whatever that meant.

    BackDoor’s eyes went to the window, fixing on the skyline of Seed City as it grew ever closer. A smile tugged at his artificial lips and he chuckled. He itched to find out.

    ...​

    The small restaurant was one of Cyan City’s finest. Relatively quiet and more of a family scene than the posh, upscale restaurants of Meta City. Gentle music played from the hidden speakers while various water pokemon nattered. Some fired occasional glances at the newly arrived space pirates, which had led Jumper to ordering a booth for extra privacy.

    N0ize poked at his nutpea burger with a suspicious claw. Tamato relish leaked out to join a small salad leaf on the plate. Resigning himself to the only palatable option he could think of, he scooped up the burger and took a bite. His confused disgust melted away into bliss and he took another bigger bite then leant back in his seat.

    “Is it okay?” Jumper asked.

    “It ain’t bad,” said the incineroar.

    Cyph3r didn’t look as impressed, taking small cautious bites of his cornn dog. N0ize chuckled at his expression and returned to his own meal.

    “I hope that doesn’t put you off, Cyph3r,” said Jumper. “There are loads of options here to suit all pokemon.”

    N0ize grunted and spoke with his mouth full. “Pretty welcomin’ place this, given the circumstances. You usually welcome criminals in?”

    “No, but I’m an understanding pokemon,” said Jumper. “Wildcard was only welcome here after they ended Luma City’s invasion. It showed me that space pirates are pokemon too. And given your circumstances - ruined ship, no home to go to - I’m opening Cyan City’s doors to you as well.”

    N0ize huffed and shrugged his shoulders. “Pretty noble.”

    Cyph3r said nothing, picking at his meal with his only paw.

    “So…” N0ize licked his lips and shoved aside his empty plate. “Who’s gonna take over Socket, eh? Someone’s gotta dish out these rewards.”

    “Rewards?” Jumper cocked an eyebrow.

    “Yeah, rewards! You might have a little bubble over Hunter and his crew, but they’ve still got a price on their heads-”

    “Which is nullified.” Jumper narrowed his eyes, keeping them on the incineroar’s. “As far as I’m concerned, all bounties died with Socket. That includes your own. There will be no rounding up space pirates, at least not in my city.”

    N0ize leered back at him and folded his arms. “I don’t really think it’s your place to say.”

    “I’m Governor of this city,” said Jumper. “It is well in my right to say. Socket appointed me herself when the water dwellers demanded a voice in office. She didn’t want a fish, so she picked me. And I have you know I am against most of the laws she laid down, and that includes taking a life, criminal or not!”

    Cyph3r shoved his plate so hard it skittered across the table and smashed onto the floor. A deep hum resonated from his railgun and he rose from his seat and aimed it at Jumper. The frogadier’s eyes widened and he leapt into the air, grabbing hold of the rafter above him. The electricity flashed from the railgun’s coil with an earsplitting screech, narrowly skimming his feet. Someone behind him grunted and Cyph3r tutted and aimed his weapon up at Jumper. The frogadier grabbed a pawful of frubbles and flicked them at the weapon. They coated it in a sticky foam just as a torrent of mud struck it, clogging the mechanisms and drowning the electrical current. Cyph3r grimaced and shook it violently, scattering wet mud onto the floor. But most of it stayed in place along with the frubbles.

    Jumper dropped to his feet, mouth twisted with anger. He spotted Torrent the quagsire as he waddled over to him, wiping mud from his lips. The quagsire’s eyes were fixed on a spot behind Jumper. He turned to spot HeatSink with a flipper clasped to the right of his chest. Blood trickled from his claws and static danced over his oily feathers. Floppy panicked beside him, running in circles and whining, pawing at the empoleon to answer whether or not he was all right. But HeatSink could only stare at the magmortar’s soiled railgun.

    Then HeatSink sank to his knees, dropping his flipper and allowing the blood to trail from a perfectly round hole in the plating of his chest.

    Floppy spun on his heel to leer at the magmortar. “You… you…” He shook his head then opened his mouth, firing out a spiraling torrent of water. It struck Cyph3r in the gut, sending him flying backwards over the booth to crash down on another table. Surprised squeals followed and a family of marshstomp and their mudkip kits fled towards the exit.

    N0ize blinked in confusion and craned his head around to the booth. “You moron!” He turned back to Jumper and rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry ‘bout that, I think he’s just really cheesed off.”

    “Cheesed off…” Jumper shook his head and dashed towards HeatSink. “Speak to me.”

    HeatSink’s eyes rolled back and he lolled sideways into the frogadier. Blood began to pool on the floor and Jumper reached into his bag for something - anything - to cover it with. A small audience had begun to gather around them and someone shouted about calling for an ambulance. Floppy let out a whine, his huge black eyes wet with tears.

    Jumper pointed a paw towards the booth. “Apprehend him!”

    The vaporeon obeyed, dashing towards the booth with Torrent. N0ize made to move towards Jumper, but the vaporeon cut him off with a nip at the heels.

    “Don’t you dare!” he growled before vanishing into the booth.

    “I’m helpin’!” N0ize threw his paws in the air then joined Jumper. “Let me see.”

    “So you’re an expert in first aid now?” Jumper leered up at him as he resigned to using his neckerchief. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re both in this together.”

    “Hey, I didn’t fire it!” N0ize growled. He shoved Jumper aside and held HeatSink up, then nodded. “I’m familiar with these wounds, been hit with enough of ‘em meself. They’re gonna wanna know what caused it.”

    Jumper stared at him, aghast, his eye going towards the magmortar coated from head to toe in Torrent’s mud.

    “He gets angry,” N0ize explained. “I’ve been on the receivin’ end of that railgun, although nothin’ fatal. It’s a pachinko ball launched by an electromagnetic thingy.”

    “Pachinko ball?” Jumper spat.

    “Aye. It’ll be lodged in there somewhere. They’ll need to get it out.”

    Floppy bounded to his side, eyes fixed on the empoleon. “So they can save him?”

    “Dunno.” N0ize stood up and looked back at their booth. “Tore up that wall real nice though.”

    Jumper followed his gaze. Part of the booth had been torn away neatly. A perfect, tiny, round hole nicked into the side of the woodwork.

    “That would have slowed it,” he said.

    N0ize shrugged. “I dunno much ‘bout physics. I just shoot stuff.”

    A siren cut through the air, followed closely by three paramedics. Two of them dropped to HeatSink’s side, while the remaining one - a bibarel - approached Jumper.

    “What happened, Governor?” he asked.

    Jumper stood and gave the bibarel a nut-shelled version of the events complete with what N0ize had told him. The incineroar remained with the paramedics, adamant to help, but he only found himself shooed away. The two smaller pokemon, an azumarill and wartortle, struggled to hoist the heavy empoleon onto the stretcher. The bibarel jumped at this and gave Jumper a nod.

    “Come along,” he said. “You can tell me everything on the way.”

    He joined the other two as Jumper assisted to even out the weight at either end.

    “You know,” said N0ize. “It’d be a lot easier if you just let me carry him!”

    The paramedics left the space pirate with Floppy, Torrent and his detained companion. He looked between the two water types’ leers then met Cyph3r’s eye just as the police pokemon ushered them out.

    A growl rose in N0ize’s throat. “You and your jackin’ railgun.”

    ...​

    Tracer and Widget strolled along towards the park, the former clutching an ice cream dripping pink droplets onto the grass. It dripped over the long, lush blades to mix with the dry soil. Somehow, it felt like a shame to see the grass marred in such a way, given the scarcity of natural grass on System Ground.

    Shouts and squeals drew the delphox’s eye towards the lake. Annie and her comrades leapt back and forth launching attacks at one another while Anchor and Matrix watched. Well, the ribombee wasn’t so much watching as messing with his computer. It seemed odd to see Annie engaged in such antics given they’d been watching her demolish a burger not thirty minutes earlier. Waveform sent a flurry of arrows towards the archeops. She leapt back to avoid them, narrowly dodging a punch from Trojan in the process as she struggled to find an opening to launch an attack of her own. Widget let out a repressed giggle, which would have betrayed his excitement if it weren’t for his slowly wagging tail.

    Tracer swallowed his current mouthful and cocked an eyebrow at the eevee. “You want to join them, don’t you?”

    “Oh, please!” Widget fixed him with a pleading gaze. “It’s been ages since I’ve had a good scrap!”

    The delphox sighed and said, “Very well,” before taking another lick of his ice cream.

    The eevee skipped along ahead of him, still wagging his tail, as he made a beeline for the sparring pokemon.

    Matrix looked up as they arrived and twirled his antenna in his left paw. “Can we help you?”

    Rather polite for a space pirate, Tracer thought. He gestured towards Annie and her friends.

    “What’s going on?” he asked.

    “Practicin’,” said Anchor. “Once our Cap’n is out of hospital, we need to deal with a mutant mansion, so we can’t exactly slack off.”

    “Yeah!” Annie cheered. “Shootin’ down buildings! Bet they never taught you that in Pokemon School!”

    She raised her wings in a flourish, bringing up a heap of shimmering fossilized rocks. They soared towards Waveform who ducked with such speed it took Tracer quite by surprise.

    “Drat! I failed again!” she whined.

    “It looked like a successful ancient power to me.” When she didn’t respond Tracer scratched his head in thought and turned to Anchor. “What is she trying to do exactly?”

    “I can’t relay that information,” said the granbull.

    “Why not?”

    “It’s confidential.”

    Widget skipped before Annie, tail wagging wildly. “Try it on me! Try it on me!”

    “Are you kiddin’ me?” she squeaked. “I can’t hit a pupper!”

    “Oh, come on!” he whined. “I can take an ancient power! I’m stronger than your average eevee. Smack me with some rocks!”

    She sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “All right, fine. If you’re that desperate.”

    She raised her wing, claws clasped in a fist. Something sparkled around her tiny wrist and instead of shimmering, ancient fossils, a huge slab materialised out of thin air. The massive disk looked like it had been freshly plucked from the earth as soil pattered down onto the ground from beneath it.

    Widget fell to his haunches, his now motionless tail forming a brush. He fixed wide eyes on the humongous slab of rock as it rose into the air above his head. Then it stopped, hovering above him for the briefest of moments before it came crashing down with all the force of a falling continent.

    Tracer dropped his cone as he stared aghast at the mound of rock and earth. There wasn’t a single sign of the eevee in sight. Annie’s expression mirrored his, except her eyes sparkled with glee.

    She leapt into the air and cheered. “I did it! I did my Z-Move thingy!”

    Tracer rushed towards the mound alongside Anchor, but before either of them could touch it the entire thing melted away like ice cream during a summer heat wave. Widget lay spread-eagled on his stomach, his eyes spinning in their sockets.

    “Widget!” Tracer dropped down beside him and placed a paw on his shoulder. “Speak to me! Are you okay?”

    “He seems okay,” said Anchor. “Just a little dazed.”

    “What on earth was that?” the eevee muttered as he struggled to his feet. He shook out his fur, scattering dirt. “I’ve never felt anything like that before.”

    “I should think not,” said Tracer. “What kind of move was that?”

    “That’s what I want to know!” Widget’s eyes sparkled and a huge grin split his face. “That was freakin’ awesome!”

    Tracer blinked a few times. “Pardon?”

    “I said it was awesome!” Widget skipped past him towards the archeops. “Do it again!”

    “You’re kidding right?” said Waveform. “That thing crushed you.”

    “Yeah, I know you said you wanted to get hit by rocks,” said Trojan. “But this just borderlines on-”

    “Do it again!” Widget rounded on Annie. “But this time, I wanna watch the whole thing from the non-squishing side of the attack.”

    Annie shrugged and spread her claws. “Sorry. Can’t.”

    Widget’s ears drooped and he let out a long, shrill ‘Whaa?!’

    “Ask me again in twelve hours.” Annie twirled towards the bench and sat down. “It’s someone else’s turn now.”

    “Is that it?” Trojan scoffed. “We’ve trained for almost two weeks and that’s it? I thought you’d be at least a little more celebratory.”

    Tracer looked from the squabbling lot to Anchor and Matrix. “I think this now warrants an explanation?”

    Anchor sighed as he returned to his bench. “I suppose, given the circumstances.”

    “I think the circumstances have changed a tad,” said Matrix without looking up.

    “How so?” asked Anchor.

    “Got these burning a hole in my belt.” Matrix held up a pair of sparkling crystals in both paws.

    Anchor took them in one and cocked an eyebrow at them, a thoughtful noise escaping his throat.

    “What are those?” Something gnawed at Tracer’s gut as he stared down at the crystals. One purple, one a dazzling white, and both of them holding a strange, black design. Both round, except the purple one’s design looked like an eye.

    “Z-Crystals,” Anchor explained. He looked up briefly at the sparring pokemon. Widget leapt backwards, dodging punches thrown left and right by the scrafty. “I think you might wanna call over your buddy, delphox.”

    Tracer gave a sharp whistle and Widget stopped what he was doing. One nod towards the bench brought the eevee running.

    “I think these are both for you two,” said Anchor. “Psychinium-Z for… what’s your name, detective?”

    “Tracer,” said the delphox. “And this hyperactive fox is Widget.”

    Widget stood on his hind paws with both front ones on the bench, craning to see into Anchor’s paw. His nose twitched a mere centimetre or two from the crystals.

    “These are what all those guys are wearing,” he said.

    “Exactly,” said Anchor. “They allow you to use a Z-Move, like that continental crush dropped on your head.”

    “That… sounds… epic!” Widget panted.

    “Shattered psyche,” said Matrix.

    The three pokemon turned their heads towards him.

    Matrix twirled his antenna in one paw, fixing them all with one eye. “That’s Psychium-Z’s move. ‘Shattered psyche’.”

    Anchor nodded and popped the Z-Crystal into Tracer’s hesitant paw. No sooner had he taken hold of it, a band appeared around his right wrist. He let out a gasp and almost dropped the crystal to the floor.

    “Yeah, that happens.” Matrix looked back at his computer. “Normalium-Z allows the use of ‘breakneck blitz’.”

    Widget took his crystal with much more excitement, using his teeth to place it into the bangle on his right fore-paw.

    “That sounds super powerful!” he said. “How do I do that, then?”

    “It takes practice,” said Anchor. “Annie has been tryin’ to use her move for the past two weeks.”

    “There’s no sayin’ I can’t master it first try though, eh?” Widget sat down and grinned. “Teach me!”

    Anchor sighed and leant forward on his knees. “I burned mine out over an hour ago. But you can watch what they’re doin’.”

    Tracer sat down beside him, drawing his attention. “I’m more interested in how you got these.”

    “That’s a long story,” said Matrix.

    “Nutshell it,” said Widget.

    “Okay. We got them from Solgaleo.”

    Tracer watched the ribombee, expecting more information, but his complete attention remained on his computer.

    “No,” said the delphox, “I think we need a little more of an explanation.”

    “Well, you did ask me to nutshell it,” said Matrix.

    Anchor rolled his eyes and turned towards Tracer. “We were headin’ over the Dead Glacier. Solgaleo pulled us in. He’d called us the whole way there, actually. These aliens comin’ into our world… it’s all Socket’s doin’. But she’s been killed by her own creation. That mansion, it ain’t natural. Her android BackDoor dragged a big alien through one of ‘em porthole things he makes, named Distortion.”

    “He’s a giratina,” explained Matrix. “Apparently there’s legends about them twisting worlds to their liking.”

    Widget craned his head around to look at Matrix. “Apparently there’s legends of Solgaleo n’all.”

    “That’s what Annie said when we told her and her friends,” said Anchor. “She read books about him back in the human world. I’ve never heard of Z-Crystals, but the humans? They use them in their pokemon battles.”

    “Humans battle?” Widget gasped.

    “With pokemon, aye. Apparently we’re more like ‘pets’ in their world. That’s the word she used. We don’t talk or have jobs or fly ships or nothin’.”

    Tracer made a thoughtful noise and stroked his chin. “Given these aliens… I’m guessing Solgaleo isn’t in our world then?”

    “No idea,” said Matrix. “But he sent me all the information on Z-Crystals so I could explain things to Annie while I was stuck on her ship. So he’s certainly active in our world.”

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if he appears in all worlds,” said Anchor. “There’s certainly more than one. These Z-Moves are to help us stop BackDoor. And BackDoor is currently up in the air in Socket’s mutated mansion.”

    Widget chuckled, his tattoo creasing around his eye. “So we’ve gotta fight that thing? Bring it!”

    Tracer narrowed his eyes at the eevee. “You’re a little too excited about this.”

    Widget grinned and thumped the ground with his tail, then he returned to watching the sparring pokemon.

    “So what happened to her mansion?” Tracer asked Anchor.

    Anchor closed his eyes and leant back in his seat. “Now that one is a long story. But to cut it short, Distortion took over and Socket got sucked into some other world.”

    “So she’s gone?!” Widget squeaked.

    “Yup. And if BackDoor’s description was anything to go by, she won’t be comin’ back either. At least not alive.”

    Tracer exchanged glances with Widget.

    “So Socket’s dead,” said the delphox. “I never thought I’d see the end to her reign in my lifetime.”

    Widget shook his head and returned to watching the training session.

    Waveform leapt into the air, unleashing a flurry of arrows. They exploded off the ground, sending up smoky tendrils that engulfed Trojan, dragging him towards the earth. The scrafty squealed as the ghostly smog engulfed him, then he let out a scream. The smog exploded, blowing him backwards until he landed on his bottom. The scrafty’s face turned a deathly pale and he looked up at the decidueye as he slowly descended back to earth. He gave Trojan a nod of apology and gathered up his arrows.

    “Well, that was ‘never-ending nightmare’,” said Matrix.

    Widget trembled with glee. “I want a go!”

    Anchor turned to Tracer and nodded towards the other pokemon. “So… given you’ve been gifted your own Z-Crystals, are you gonna train and help us out?”

    Tracer scratched his cheek then stood up slowly. “I guess we’ve not got much choice.”

    “Seriously?” Widget fixed him with wide, surprised eyes. “You wanna do this?”

    “System is in a dire state,” said the delphox. “We currently have no mayor, and aliens are all over the place. Goodness knows what this Distortion is going to do.”

    “Well, that was a long and convoluted ‘yes’,” said Widget.

    ...​

    Web shuffled towards the hospital as fast as she could without appearing conspicuous. Poipole drifted along beside her, puffing noisily on his makeshift breathing apparatus. Cyan City had wasted no time in kitting the small alien out with a toxic version of an oxygen tank, the breathing part fastened around the two smaller proboscis above his ‘ears’. It made him look even more like an extraterrestrial investigating an alien world than his strange appearance already did.

    The double doors swung wildly as Web scurried through them, making a beeline for the azumarill chatting to some unseen pokemon on a holoscreen. The skuntank rose up on her hind feet and placed her paws on the reception desk, drawing the receptionist’s attention. The azumarill raised a claw as she swiftly wrapped up her query, then she turned fully to face Web.

    “How can I help you?” the receptionist asked.

    “We need to see… erm… Macro.” The name was still alien to Web. “It’s urgent.”

    The azumarill clicked her tongue as she browsed her computer screen. “He’s in ward eleven.”

    Web muttered her thanks and scampered away towards the map, her keen eye spotting the assigned ward almost instantly. Two floors up. Well, she’d waited almost two weeks. A short elevator trip couldn’t hold a candle to that.

    Yet it seemed to take an eternity.

    Poipole watched the numbers scroll with an avid fascination, humming to himself through his proboscis. Such a strange noise compared to his boyish telepathic voice that Web had grown used to. She watched the little Ultra Beast drift back and forth, examining everything his large eyes fell on. She couldn’t deny she was going to miss him if everything went according to plan.

    Finally the elevator pinged and allowed them out into a sterile corridor. Nomel and ammonia assaulted her senses as she dodged a yellow slip-hazard cone, and her muzzle creased as she tried not to breathe it in. Despite her need to keep a clean home, the smell of such harsh cleaning chemicals made her feel like her poison typing was being stripped away.

    Ward eleven rose up on her left as she slipped through into a new corridor. A private room. She nudged the door open with her head and muttered a polite ‘hello?’

    The mawile looked up from his bed. He sat back against a pillow, frowning at his mechanical paw. But when he spotted Web, the frown became a look of surprise. He swiftly regained himself and went back to examining his paw.

    “Don’t think I know you,” he said. “You must be one of Annie’s friends.”

    Web snorted and shook her head. “Why am I not surprised? I remember you.”

    “Really?” Macro’s mechanical claws flexed and he looked up at her again. “You might need to jog my memory.”

    “Does the name Webber ring a bell?”

    He shook his head slowly.

    “We met over a game of Farkle,” she said.

    “I’ve played a lot of Farkle.”

    Web shook her head again and marched into the room with Poipole in tow. Macro’s eye immediately went to the Ultra Beast and he scrambled back against his pillow. The small creature drifted over to him, tracing his trembling body with his large, playful eyes.

    “Absolutely typical.” She climbed up into a seat and folded her tail over her lap. “I’m still feeling the sting of that meeting and you don’t even remember me.”

    “W-what did I do?” Macro squeaked, tugging his duvet up in a desperate bid to keep Poipole at bay.

    “He won’t hurt you,” said Web. “It’s him who wanted to see you actually. Not me.”

    Her words failed to relax the space pirate. He resorted to using a pillow to keep as much distance between himself and the playful Ultra Beast as possible.

    “If you really can’t remember,” Web went on, “it was a casual game between myself, you and Anchor, and some machamp who really didn’t like you. I left long before the game was over. Couldn’t even afford to re—fuel my ship after that little stunt.”

    “So you bet everything and lost?” Macro’s voice trembled as Poipole whisked the pillow aside. “Is that what this is? Some kinda sick revenge plan? Get your monster off me!”

    He looked about to faint as Poipole grabbed his mechanical paw in both of his tiny, sticky ones. The Ultra Beast trailed a claw over the sparkling pink crystal then released him, drifting back slightly.

    “So it’s true,” said Poipole, puffing noisily. “You really did meet Solgaleo.”

    Macro’s jaw dropped and he stared at the Ultra Beast, aghast. “I… I’m hearing its voice in my head. How am I hearing its voice in my head?”

    “That’s how he talks,” said Web. “We all hear it.”

    Poipole stared back at Macro silently, looking between the mawile and the pink crystal.

    Macro narrowed his eyes at the Ultra Beast. “How do you know Solgaleo gave me this?”

    “He gave my world Z-Crystals,” Poipole explained. “I use one but… my trainer has it.”

    “Trainer?”

    Poipole drifted backwards towards Web, landing gracefully on her lap. She kept her eyes on Macro as she gently stroked the creature’s bulbous head.

    “Back in Poipole’s world,” she began, “the Ultra Beasts depend on humans to look after them.”

    Macro let out a very confused “Eh?”

    “In answer to your other question,” said Web, “no. This isn’t some revenge plan. I’ve moved on, I’ve married. If it weren’t for that crazy game, I probably would never have even met Trojan. I’m here because this little guy thinks he might be able to help you.”

    Macro’s eye snapped towards the Ultra Beast. “You? Help how?”

    “That mansion is being controlled by a monster,” Poipole explained. “You need an army. Your army is too small. But there are lots of us.”

    Macro’s mouth opened and closed as he tried to make sense of the poipole’s words.

    “That mansion has the porthole thing,” said Poipole. “It can open the door home. We destroy the monster, we can take the porthole thing and go home. All Ultra Beasts should be able to defeat the monster if we work together.”

    “Hang on.” Macro raised his paws. “Are you suggesting we work with those other Ultra Beasts? Those city destroying kartana? The things that almost killed me?!”

    The room fell into silence, broken only by Poipole’s noisy breathing. Web trailed her paw over his head, keeping her eyes on Macro.

    “I’m slowly dying every day I live in Spool City,” she said. “And I’m happy to work with you in order to bring about a greater good.”

    Macro frowned at her. “Wait a minute… you blame me for that? I thought you said you’d moved on!”

    “I may have moved on, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy with you.” Web shrugged her shoulders. “You didn’t need to take everything. I asked… I even begged. You told me it was the rules and sent me on my way. If it weren’t for Waveform landing on my doorstep, I wouldn’t even be able to afford to live there. I’d be scavenging from trash cans like the trubbish that fill our streets.” She paused and narrowed her eyes. “I know you cheated in that game, with your trick dice, but I didn’t even say anything.”

    Macro couldn’t even look at her. He stared down at his paws, occasionally glancing towards the window.

    “Just like these Ultra Beasts,” she said, “I’m living in a city that’s toxic even to me. They’re not meant to be here, Macro. They don’t understand. But Poipole? He can talk to them. Help them to see we’re willing to help them get back home! There’s hundreds of them. But there’s only one Distortion, and only one BackDoor.”

    “Loads of pokemon died escaping that mansion.” Macro spoke through clenched teeth, his organic paw balled into a tight fist. “If we couldn’t fight it then…”

    “You didn’t use your Z-Power,” said Poipole. “None of you did. And you didn’t have us. You didn’t have a plan.”

    Macro looked back at Poipole. “And what’s your plan exactly?”

    “Get all Ultra Beasts together. Explain. And pool all our power into fighting Distortion and BackDoor. All we need to do is analyze our strengths and weaknesses. I can poison things, and make things sticky. Kartana can cut through steel. Celesteela can fire many elemental attacks from its cannons. It is also strong and can fly, so it could carry those that can’t. I’ve not met all the different Ultra Beasts that live in my world, my trainer tends to stay in one place, so some might have strengths I don’t even know of.”

    Macro had turned pale under his fur. He stuttered over his words and glanced towards the door.

    “I’d take his plan into consideration,” said Web. “Because I think it’s the best you’re going to get.”

    The space pirate took a steadying breath and brushed his long black fur from his eyes. “We are meant to get them all back home. So… maybe you’re right. Maybe it is the best idea. I mean… I’d never considered reasoning with them. I didn’t even know it was possible. None of us did. Switch wanted to burn the kartana to cinders.”

    Poipole trembled from proboscis to tail. “Kill them? Killing them is not an option.”

    “No… I know it’s not.” Macro hugged himself and stared out of the window. “Sadly they don’t see us in the same way.”

    “That’s why we need to talk to them,” said Poipole. “Right now, they think you are a threat, just like you think they are a threat. They’re just defending themselves.”

    Macro nodded stiffly but said nothing.

    Web pushed herself from her seat with a sigh, letting Poipole drift into the air.

    “I’m glad you see things our way,” she said. “We can discuss it some more when you’re up and about.”

    Macro didn’t look up as she made her way towards the door. But his voice froze her as her paw fastened over the handle.

    “Webber?”

    She looked back at him over her shoulder, but he wouldn’t meet her eye.

    “I just wanna say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m a different ‘mon now, and I don’t like the way I used to be. If there’s anything I can do-”

    “Get these Ultra Beasts home,” she said. “This world isn’t good for them, and I want them all to get back home safely, and for this little creature to get back to his human friend. That’s all I ask.”

    She tugged the door open and slipped back out into the hallway, feeling a lot lighter.

    ...​

    Seed City erupted into chaos. Fairy types scattered as they fled from the descending mansion. Purple flames shot from it like rockets, washing harmlessly over the fleeing pokemon. But everything else it touched exploded into rubble. Harmful rubble that rained down and crushed tiny bodies, knocked victims off their feet, and fell like a barrier between terrified families.

    Then the mansion landed. Purple tendrils shot into the earth and erupted back up again several feet away. One slight brush from the tendrils brought buildings down in a cloud of dust. Before the dust even had a chance to settle, the tendrils began to pulse. The rubble rose into the air and reformed. The ground around it warped and twisted as it was dragged from the floor to join the hodge-podge jigsaw of brick, stone and iron.

    The ground rumbled as yet more probing limbs stretched through the earth, spreading the purple light across the entirety of Seed City. Buildings warped and twisted into corkscrews and more sections of the ground split to rise into the sky at random angles. Suddenly there was no sense of gravity. Wherever there was ground, things clung to it effortlessly. But as for reality, the very essence vanished. The Seed City System had come to know and love vanished in an instant. A wasteland of chaos and despair.

    ‘Perfect!’ The deep voice shook the air. ‘From here, all of System, and the worlds that surround it, will be mine!’
     
  14. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner *aromatisse noise*

    Good to know somebody's looking out for all those poor, innocent dairy metaphors.

    That's really a pretty smart modification for a fire-type to take on, isn't it.

    Thanks for sharing. XD;

    Okay, I'm... fairly certain said exploud accomplished that with a keystroke or two or some such. But I still find myself picturing them just... emitting that noise. With that giant fricking mouth. And this is genuinely funny to me for some reason. XD

    On that note, I wonder if your average fire-type requires even more oxygen than most things that size might.

    ...Welp.

    I had a fleeting image of an electabuzz shooting the bird with a possibly cybernetically enhanced finger (possibly enhanced for that express purpose, because that's funny) before reading the rest of the sentence.

    OH HI GIRATINA

    I was surprised at first, but in hindsight I really ought to have seen something like this coming. Mess around with hyperspace and sooner or later, you're gonna get legendaries.

    And now we have a possessed BackDoor. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? 8D

    For that matter, would she appreciate a bird hug from someone who, presumably, has flame body.

    It sounds as if he's even more modified than that electabuzz.

    That's so nasty. I love the trubbish line. :D

    This might be the best way possible to introduce a stakataka to the scene.

    I'm so proud of her. ;w;

    Yeah! Wormholes aren't surrounded by golden circles! :p

    This is a heck of a lot more ominous when you've played TTYD. XP

    If this were anyone but BackDoor I'd be more willing to think he hadn't intended the pun. :p

    Oh shoot, BackDoor Unbound. :eek: Somehow the possiblity that such a thing could even happen had never crossed my mind. Then again, neither had the possibility of Giratina, so. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾

    And that's just with a bird nose. Imagine how much worse it would've been if he'd tried to put up with it as a human...

    Well that's adorable.

    He's being such an owl, and that's adorable.

    Pfffff... Now there's an image. XD

    Welp. Enjoy your new (and probably very short) life in the world of farts!

    Oh snap... Well, uh... maybe she's all right? Maybe that one didn't lead to Fart World. Granted, there's no shortage whatsoever of Absolutely Inhospitable Places that could've led to instead. Most places just flat out do not support life. So, uh. Rip, probably?

    Somehow I get the feeling they're not as rid of Girahouse as they'd like to be. And if they are, I can't help but suspect they won't stay that way for long...

    Oh dsgjkndsjfgd... Giratina's a deadly extradimensional dragon AND a pun now. XD

    Tweak is just fundamentally incapable of giving any fricks whatsoever, isn't he. XD

    ...Even Fart World?


    Thinking quite a lot about Switch at the moment. About whether or not he'll get his memories back, and just how load-bearing they might actually be. Also wondering exactly what in the heck Yobi has in mind...
     
  15. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I loved Four O'Clock a lot =D

    Thanks! =D I have really enjoyed writing the Ultra Beasts, and you'll get to see a LOT more of them from here on out ;)

    Pffft!! XD

    I, erm... This particular chapter made things very real for our protagonists. Not everyone was gonna get away easily...

    That's a VERY good point. Would Solgaleo be there, too? Hmm...

    I'm hoping you won't be disappointed! =D

    Thanks for reviewing! It made my morning! =D

    ...

    Chapter Seventy Two​

    The door to the ward flew open and Macro dropped the ball he’d been holding. It fell from his mechanical paw onto his lap, then rolled onto the floor. It finally came to a stop at Jumper’s feet. The frogadier stepped around it and held out his computer to Macro.

    “We’ve got a clearer picture,” he said. “I thought you’d want to see it.”

    Macro took the computer in his organic paw and frowned down at it. It wasn’t much clearer than the other pictures he’d seen. Over the past five days he’d been handed photo after photo and it was always the same. Seed City, covered in a dome of purple fire. What he could see of the city was as much a blur as the previous photos had hinted at. Buildings twisted like corkscrews. Ground pulled up to form seamless walls dotted with ruins. Some of those ‘walls’ were littered around the dome, allowing a clearer perspective into the ongoings inside what pokemon were calling ‘The Warped Zone’.

    One thing was for certain, however.

    “It’s spreading.” The words left Macro’s mouth before he’d even finished thinking about them.

    “I fear it is,” said Jumper. “Unfortunately no one can get close enough to even take a decent picture, let alone deal with it.”

    Macro handed the computer back and met Jumper’s eye. “Why do I feel like you’re going to ask me to stay away from it?”

    Jumper sighed and tucked the computer away, but not before giving the photo one last, scornful look. “Because you know I’m worried about you?”

    “I’m fine.”

    Jumper’s eye went to the mechanical paw. “Just because you survived your last run-in with this entity-”

    “Look, Gov.” Macro lifted his paws to silence him. “I’m goin’. I’ve got a job to do.”

    “You’re a braver ‘mon than I, Macro.”

    “Hey, I won’t lie,” said Macro. “I’m absolutely terrified. But someone’s gotta stop it, and I’m not alone. I’ve got my crew, along with Annie and a load of other ‘mon.”

    He pushed himself up slowly and retrieved the ball before reaching for his scarf. A black one, washed and pressed by DL. The one Switch had bought him had been reduced to tatters.

    “Where are you going?” Jumper asked.

    “Lunch. I’ve got a date.”

    “Ahh, with DL I imagine?” The frogadier smirked.

    “No, actually.” Macro handed him the ball and moved past him. “This one’s with Time Archeops.”

    Jumper’s jaw dropped and he watched him leave the room before scampering after him. “So you actually have a plan?”

    “It ain’t my plan,” Macro explained. “Webber came to me with some crazy idea and I’ve been stewin’ over it for days. Finally decided to pull myself together and get the ball rollin’.”

    “I have to say, I’m pretty curious.”

    “I wish I were. Instead, I’m terrified. It involves those Ultra Beasts.”

    Jumper stuttered and his eyes almost bugged from his head.

    Macro chuckled and waved him off as he turned towards the elevator. “Exactly. Now you know how I feel inside.” He tapped a mechanical claw to his temple.

    Jumper sighed heavily and nodded to the doors. “This one’s on you, I’m afraid. I think I’ll take the stairs.”

    Macro watched him leave then climbed into the elevator. Once the doors opened again, he turned to his left to head into the cafeteria. Annie and her crew sat around a large table beside the window overlooking the garden. The horsea fountain gurgled away, spraying water from its nose into the pool around it. Given the window was open, the noise was audible over the voices of the cafe’s few occupants.

    Poipole sat beside Webber, clutching a small cake in both tiny paws. He froze and looked up as Macro pulled up a seat beside him. Annie stared back at the mawile, her claws folded neatly before her. It took a moment for him to realise she was imitating Waveform, faking a stoic expression. It melted away when she spotted Macro’s paw and she scrambled across the table to grope for it.

    Waveform grabbed her by the scruff and dragged her back into her seat. “Manners.”

    “I just wanna look,” she whined.

    “Look with your eyes.” Waveform turned his attention onto Macro and nodded. “Good to see you’re getting the hang of that paw.”

    Macro clutched his real one over it as he began to grow rather self conscious, but the warmth from the Z-Crystal placated him before it really kicked in.

    “Yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “But that’s not why I’m here. Webber suggested something to me a few days ago and I really think, if it’s gonna work, we need to get things movin’.”

    “She told me the same thing.” Annie spread her claws. “I agree. That Distortion fellow isn’t goin’ anywhere so we’ve gotta make him.”

    “To put it bluntly, yes,” said Webber.

    “I could put it blunter,” muttered Trojan.

    Macro looked about the table and grunted. “Hang on. Aren’t there meant to be six of you guys? Where’s the goldeen?”

    “Having treatment,” said Web. “Jumper was quite concerned about his stitches. He’s been taking sitrus pills and basking in medical water for the past week. But he should be fine to leave with us when we’re ready to go.”

    “He’ll just up and leave anyway,” said Annie. “That’s our Zip! Always eager to help! Although… he’s pretty gutted he’s missin’ this meeting.”

    “Which really should be under way,” said Trojan. “So… Ultra Beasts. They seem pretty dangerous, so how do we recruit them without getting ourselves killed?”

    “We smack them with Z-Moves!” Annie grinned.

    “No,” said Macro. “You don’t. You do not harm the Ultra Beasts, understood?”

    Annie pouted and folded her wings. “Fine. But trainers weaken pokemon in my world before we catch ‘em! Same thing ‘n’ all that jazz.”

    “That’s not how it works in my world,” said Poipole. “But Ultra Beasts can communicate with one another just like we’re doing now. So you’re best bet is to establish an alliance through me.”

    Despite him still munching away at his cake, his mental voice sounded perfectly clear and unobstructed. It made Macro fell rather uneasy.

    “I still think it won’t work,” said Trojan. “Does anyone have a better idea?”

    “Z-Moves,” said Annie.

    Macro clenched his teeth together. “Here’s an idea. How about savin’ them for Distortion, eh?”

    “I’ll talk to them,” Poipole went on, ignoring Annie and Macro. “If we start with those Ultra Beasts I’m more familiar with, we’ll have a better chance of recruiting them.”

    “How so?” Annie leant towards him until her nose was almost touching his.

    The little Ultra Beast backed away slightly, puffing noisily on his toxic tank. “Because if I were to approach one more alien to me - one that might never have met a poipole - they might see me as a threat. Like he did.” He nodded towards Macro.

    “He’s got a point,” said the mawile. “If those kartana attacked me because they saw me as a threat, then this little goop ball doesn’t stand much chance, does he?”

    Trojan scoffed. “From what I heard, he put up a better fight than you!”

    “Oi!” Macro flashed a canine at the scrafty. “If we’re all gonna get along in this little partnership, there has to be less snarkiness.”

    The two pokemon glared across the table at each other and Trojan balled his paws into tight fists. Web narrowed her eyes at him and he backed down, sinking into his seat and muttering to himself.

    “I think we should start with the celesteela,” said Poipole. “That way, we have a strong ally when we approach the kartana. After that, we’ll recruit them as we find them.”

    Macro shuddered at the thought of the two Ultra Beast species. The screaming celesteela and the sharp, deadly kartana… would they really work alongside pokemon to stop Distortion and BackDoor? He shook it off and leant forward on his elbows.

    “Might I suggest,” he said slowly, “that after you get those two, you go for the xurkitree in Meta City? If they’re still there, at least.”

    “Why?” Annie asked around a mouth full of cake.

    “Because they’re closer,” said Macro. “If you scatter about going too and fro all over System then it will take forever to get them all.”

    “Scatter about…” Trojan parroted.

    “Pardon?” Macro looked up at him.

    “It’s a good point,” said Trojan. “If we break up, we’ll cover more ground.”

    Macro pointed a claw at Poipole. “But you need him!”

    “After we’ve got the others!” said Trojan. “Split us up. Take some of the beasts. Go and recruit more beasts. Split up. Find them. Recruit them. And so on and so forth.”

    “That’s a fantastic idea!” Web beamed from ear to ear. “If the Ultra Beasts split up and hunt down more as well, then it will speed things up a lot!”

    “And we’ve got our Z-Moves if they prove to be stubborn!” Annie cheered.

    Macro and Poipole leant towards her. “You don’t use your Z-Moves on the Ultra Beasts!” they roared.

    Annie blinked a few times and fell back in her seat, looking between Poipole and the space pirate.

    “Okay,” she squeaked.

    “I think it would be a good idea if we went on ahead,” Web told Macro. “We can take our ship to Pulse City and recruit the celesteela there while you finish recovering.”

    Macro nibbled on a claw as he mulled this over. It certainly seemed like a good idea, and he wouldn’t have to face the celesteela… although if it didn’t agree to their terms…

    No, they would be fine. They were strong pokemon, and Poipole knew more about it than any of them.

    He nodded and turned to Web. “That sounds like a plan. How long do you need?”

    “How far is Pulse City?” Poipole asked, still munching on his cake.

    “About a half-day’s flight in my ship,” said Macro. “I dunno about your pyukumyuku, though.”

    “Yours has hyper drive, right?” asked Trojan.

    “Yes, it does.” Macro narrowed his eyes, speaking slowly as he dreaded the scrafty’s next question.

    “Then if we use your ship,” said Trojan, “we could do it in less than a day, and still be back here before dawn tomorrow.”

    With a celesteela in tow. Macro swallowed audibly and glanced to the window.

    “Look, if you’re worried about us wreckin’ your ship, it ain’t gonna happen,” said Trojan. “I tend to be a bit ship proud, which surprised me actually.”

    “Yeah!” Annie leaned forward all too keenly. “If any harm comes to your ship, it wont be from our claws! It’ll be from that ‘steela thing.”

    Macro grew a little faint. He sank back in his seat, trying not to stare at the archeops.

    “Fine,” he muttered. “You can use my ship. But on one condition!”

    Annie inclined her reptilian head on one side. “And what’s that?”

    “You take Anchor.”

    She blinked. “Why do you want me to take an anchor?”

    ...​

    Trojan marched on ahead of Annie and her crew, his paws tucked behind his head and each step a hefty stomp.

    “Lends me his ship and doesn’t even trust me to drive the jackin’ thing,” he muttered.

    Anchor glanced at Annie and cleared his throat. “You sure this is really okay?”

    “Yeah!” she waved a dismissive wing. “Macro leant us his ship, you heard it from the horse’s mouth.”

    “Horse?” Anchor’s muzzle creased and he raised an eyebrow.

    “It’s a metaphor,” said Annie. “Besides! This is gonna be fun! We’ll fly off to Pulse City and catch us a celesteela!” She paused and twirled to face him. “Got any pokeballs?”

    Anchor’s jaw went slack and he shook his head slowly. “Pokeballs?”

    She waved a wing again and continued marching towards the docks. “Guess it’s just a human thing then. We’ll have to catch it in a big net.”

    “We won’t need a net,” said Poipole. “Once it understands, it should come with us freely just like I’m doing now.”

    “Except it’s the size of a freakin’ city,” said Anchor. “Where are we gonna put it?”

    “It’s only thirty feet tall,” said Poipole.

    “Yeah, how small are your cities?” asked Annie.

    Anchor sank slightly. “All right, fine. I exaggerated. But still, thirty feet ain’t exactly somethin’ to scoff at. We’re like joltiks to that thing.”

    Annie cocked an eyebrow. “What’s a joltik?”

    Anchor paused beside Wildcard Gamma and gave Annie a confused shake of the head. He said nothing as he opened the door and nodded for them to climb on board. A little buzz reached his ears and he looked up to see Matrix vanishing into the cockpit.

    “Oi!” Anchor scrambled on before Waveform, eliciting a startled hoot. The granbull skidded into the cockpit. “Matrix, what do you think you’re doin’?”

    The ribombee looked up from the navigation deck. “Navigating.”

    “Did Macro tell you to navigate?” Anchor growled.

    Matrix shrugged and twisted back to the deck, keying in the co-ordinates for Pulse City. “You need one, so here I am. Pulse City all keyed in.”

    “Leave him?” Annie flopped into Macro’s chair and kicked her talons up on the dashboard. “Ooh, you’ve got seat belts!”

    Anchor sighed and moved towards his seat. He had to shoo Trojan from it, much to the scrafty’s displeasure.

    “Somehow, I feel like this ain’t gonna go well,” muttered the granbull.

    “What was that?” Annie fixed one eye on him.

    “Nothin’. Just silently scoldin’ my captain for this crazy idea.”

    “It were Web’s crazy idea,” said Annie.

    “Aye, and where is she right now?”

    “Lettin’ Zip know were leavin’ on a short trip.”

    “That ain’t gonna go down well,” said Trojan. “But I guess it’s a good thing he ain’t comin’. This ship ain’t got locks for his feet, and I doubt Hunter’s gonna want water spillin’ all over his ship.”

    “He doesn’t go by Hunter anymore,” said Anchor. “He’s Macro to anyone who listens.”

    “Sorry, but I ain’t used to that.”

    “Well, get used to it,” said Anchor. “He hates that old alias. And now Socket’s outta the picture, Hunter’s definitely gone.”

    Trojan snorted and cast his eyes around the cockpit. “Only three chairs, eh? Where do you expect us all to park our tails?”

    “I dunno, kitchen?” Anchor nodded towards the cockpit door. “Cookie will probably appreciate the company and cook you up some nice pancakes.”

    “Ooh!” Annie flew from her seat and darted for the kitchen, grabbing Waveform by the wing and dragging the startled decidueye after her.

    Anchor nodded to Trojan and waved a paw to the now vacant seat. “There you go, problem solved.”

    Web clattered onto the ship and glanced towards the kitchen as she entered the cockpit. A small smile played at her lips and she settled herself down in the middle of the room.

    “A bit lax on seats in here, huh?” she said.

    “This ship were designed for a crew of three,” said Anchor. “A crew of three plus our chef, and he spends all his time in the kitchen if he ain’t sleepin’.” He looked over at Web as the ship flared to life. “How’s the little goldeen?”

    “Zip? He’s fine,” said Web. “Just a little sad he can’t come with us. I think he’s had enough of the hospital now.”

    “So he’ll make a full recovery then?”

    The schooling wishiwashi left the docks, turning slowly towards Pulse City. When Web didn’t answer, Anchor looked back at her.

    “I’m not sure,” she said quietly. “They’ve not done medical work on a fish pokemon before.”

    “You kiddin’ me?” Trojan scoffed before Anchor could respond. “It’s a city full of water types! And they’re mostly vegan!”

    Web looked up at him. “It’s not Cyan City at fault, dear. It’s the bigwigs in the medical industry. If medicine isn’t created for use on a fish, then it doesn’t exist. What Cyan City is doing is very experimental.”

    Somehow that didn’t bode well.

    Wildcard Gamma was a safe enough distance from Cyan City for a quick hyperdrive burst. Anchor called to the cockpit to brace themselves before pushing it into hyperdrive. Web’s claws dragged across the floor as she fought to stay in place, crouching low to the ground. A ‘whoop!’ came from the kitchen followed by a clatter, splashes and a distressed squeal from the ship’s chef. Anchor grimaced at the mental image of a sticky archeops sprawled over the remains of Cookie’s lunch menu.

    The granbull shook his head slowly. Hyperdrive or not, this was going to be a long journey.

    ...​

    Macro strolled down the corridor towards the rehabilitation ward. DL was already there, chatting to Jumper and one of the doctors. The male dewott tapped at the computer’s touch-screen keypad, their conversation long under way before the mawile had even had chance to tear himself away from Annie and her crew.

    He pushed his way through the door, violet eyes scanning over the various chambers adorning the wall. The room was massive, and each chamber sported a bug pokemon. The rooms they occupied were three times their length in width and depth, but Macro still felt they were too small. In the corner, back to the wall, sat Switch in his human form. He’d seen him before, but not in this ward. His eyes were as empty as the previous time, and it made Macro feel hollow inside.

    “Any joy?” he croaked as he joined Jumper’s side.

    “None,” said Jumper. “And it’s somewhat ironic… given Switch was one of the researchers behind this issue with the bug pokemon.”

    “I want to know how Luma City got hold of the technology,” said DL, “because Socket didn’t hand it out.”

    “Hackers,” said Macro. “Or someone who worked for her sold it.”

    “Either way, it doesn’t help us,” said the dewott. “What we need are the raw files his memories are on.”

    “I already told you,” Macro said through clenched teeth, “they’re either deleted or stored on the computer Socket’s crony used. And if it’s the latter, that’s currently holed up in a possessed mansion. And we can’t be sure the computer wasn’t destroyed in all that chaos!”

    Jumper nodded slowly and leant against the wall. “It leaves us in a rather… dire situation.”

    “Us? What about him?” Macro waved a paw at Switch. “He’s out of his own world, Gov, and he’s gotta go back like this! Who knows how that will affect the time-line? His life? It were almost a thousand years ago, they won’t have this kind of technology!”

    DL looked up at Macro, her eyes wet with tears. “There’s nothing we can do right now.”

    “No…” Macro slumped against the wall beside Jumper and folded his arms. “I suppose there ain’t.”

    “Just like the bugs, we can teach him to be a living being,” said the dewott, “but we can’t teach him about who he is. Not without extensive research dating back to his childhood years.”

    “Even System wouldn’t have that,” said Jumper. “I’m under the impression he was an adult when he arrived.”

    Macro bit his lip as his eye drifted to the human. Switch hunched forward with an arm hanging over one knee, staring blankly at the door. Macro hadn’t even tried speaking to him. He’d been told it was pointless, and to focus on recovery.

    “Maybe it’s like amnesia?” he suggested.

    “What do you mean?” the dewott asked.

    “Well, you don’t have any of these bug types’ families, do you?” Macro shrugged. “We don’t even know if they were hatched normally. These bugs could’ve been lab grown for all we know. So… what if someone Switch knows were to talk to him? It might help jog some memories.”

    “He has none,” said Jumper. “We’ve quizzed him-”

    “Who’s to say everything’s been taken?” Macro asked. “It might be a long shot, but I suggest we try! System needs him, and not just to chase off some monster building!”

    DL looked up at Jumper and pawed at her ear. “He has a point. It’s worth a shot.”

    “Would it have worked on you?” Jumper asked.

    DL shrugged her shoulders and huddled into herself. “I don’t know. There’s no one from my childhood…” She trailed off, her eyes going distant and watery.

    It ate Macro up inside. He shook his head and let out a slow sigh. “Just give me a shot, doc.”

    The dewott waved a paw. “Go ahead. Try.”

    Macro kicked back from the wall and approached the human. Seeing him sat like that caused a lump to rise in Macro’s throat. He froze part way and glanced back over his shoulder.

    “I think I’d rather you weren’t hangin’ around,” he told the dewott.

    “I’m the doctor,” the dewott protested.

    “So? I think the results would be pretty clear after, eh?”

    The dewott sighed and grabbed his Clipboard, then he strutted from the room. Jumper wasn’t far behind him. He paused by the door and gave Macro a pointed look.

    “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.

    Macro shrugged his shoulders. “Would you?”

    The door closed behind them, leaving just Macro and DL alone with the human. Macro’s claws twitched as he braced himself to approach Switch, unsure of what to say or do.

    DL’s meek voice reached him from beside the computer. “Do you want me to leave?”

    Macro thought about it for a moment, straining to push the lump back down his throat. “No.”

    DL gave a quiet ‘okay’ as she huddled into the computer chair.

    Macro gave himself a mental shake and pushed himself on until he was close enough to place a paw on Switch’s arm. Nothing. He reached behind his head and flicked the switch. The human stretched languidly and his blank eyes flitted to the mawile’s.

    “Are you Socket?” he asked.

    It already felt dire.

    “Switch?” Macro said quietly. “Remember me?”

    “My name is Download Database,” said Switch. “I am programmed only to serve Socket.”

    That lump shot straight back up into Macro’s throat, strangling his voice.

    “No you’re not!” he whined. “You’re a human! You ain’t some computer! You have a life, a family! Remember?”

    “Family is irrelevant. I am just a database. Please shut me off. The first pokemon I see must be Socket.”

    “No! I’m not gonna turn you off like some computer! You’re my friend!” Macro dug his claws into Switch’s arm, causing a visible wince. “See? You feel! You’re not just some computer! Search that database of yours and see if you can find who you really are tucked away in some little void!”

    Switch’s eyes went distant for a brief moment, then fixed back on Macro. “No such information. Please switch me off. The first Pokemon I see must be Socket.”

    Macro bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. His eyes filled with tears and he slumped forward, burying his face into Switch’s sleeve.

    “Please…” Macro sobbed. “Say something snarky. Make a joke. Tell me I’m a jerk. Sass me! Wink!”

    Switch said nothing. Macro felt him shift, but when he looked back up Switch was just staring back at the door. Eyes empty. Tears flowed freely from Macro’s eyes and he huddled into the human’s arm.

    DL’s soft paw grabbed his shoulder and pulled him towards her. He released Switch and looped his arms around her neck, sobbing into her fur.

    “I’ve failed him,” he said. “I was meant to get him home…”

    She hugged him tightly and trailed a paw over his back. “You’ve not failed him.”

    “I have! I let this happen…”

    “No. You didn’t.” DL’s voice sounded thick with tears. “It’s not your fault, please understand that.”

    He shook his head, choking back a sob. Part of him knew she was right, but he couldn’t help but blame himself. Even if he hadn’t personally failed him, it sure felt like it.

    ...​

    To say Pulse City had seen better days would have been an understatement.

    The air was close to freezing as a breeze blew through the shattered dome. Frost peppered the ruined walls and froze moisture into slippery patches over the tarmac. Green vines grew up through the cracked floor, glinting with frosty dewdrops like an adornment of pearls. It would have been a pretty sight if they weren’t penetrating walls and squeezing rubble, reducing the former city to ruins. Buildings lay in tatters, bricks and mortar strewn about the apocalyptic wasteland. Neon boards flickered erratically as they strained to clutch on to what precious electricity remained to fuel them. The only sounds came from the distorted mechanical voices that had advertised former entertainment arcades, and the occasional grunt from a small, green sewaddle as he strained to lift a stone slab with his head.

    “Need a paw there, Worm?” Anchor came to a stop at his side.

    Worm looked around with a squeak, dropping the stone slab back in place. A pained yelp came from deep within it, washing away Worm’s surprise with a look of remorse.

    “Is there someone under there?!” Anchor barked.

    “Keep your voice down!” Worm hissed.

    Anchor froze and glanced around at the vines. One or two twitched, causing the rubble they encased to crumble, trickling powdery residue onto the tarmac.

    The sewaddle frowned up at the granbull before returning to his task. “You should know better than to sneak up on a pirate in a place like this!”

    Anchor looked around at the wasteland and shrugged. “I ain’t never seen a place like this.”

    Worm said nothing, grunting as he craned out his neck to lift the stone slab. With a final jump, the slab pivoted on its edge and fell backwards onto the street with an almighty clatter. What had lay beneath it was a black and yellow striped leg. Anchor shook himself and leapt to the bug pokemon’s aide, hoisting a large rock from its captive.

    “It’s been like this for weeks,” Worm explained. “This fellow was tryin’ to rebuild this apartment so those of us stuck here have somewhere to stay, but the wall caved in.”

    Anchor froze, holding up the large rock with one paw. “Why are you stayin’ here?”

    “Ships got wrecked,” said Worm. “And no one’s comin’ here to save us, so we thought we’d make do. That giant fellow is happy enough now its roots have set in. We just gotta learn to live with it, haven’t we?”

    Anchor tossed the rock beyond the rubble and reached for another, larger slab pressing on its victim’s torso. “How many of you are left here?”

    “About a hundred or so,” Worm explained. “We’ve been livin’ in the black market, but it ain’t home. We decided we aught to just make do and try to live alongside our new ‘friend’. I mean, it ain’t that bad so long as you keep your distance. Those that get too close get whacked by one of its cannons. Eek!”

    Worm curled into a ball, his wide, black eyes fixed on Poipole. The alien drifted from side to side, examining the rubble curiously.

    “Is someone stuck there?” Poipole asked in his telepathic voice.

    Worm uncurled, fixing the Ultra Beast with a look of confused terror.

    “Don’t worry yourself, Worm,” said Anchor. “This here is Poipole. He’s a friend.”

    “F-f-friend?!” Worm squeaked. “Like that vine-cannon-monster?”

    “Celesteela,” Poipole corrected.

    “I beg your pardon?” Worm rose to his feet and gave Poipole an accusatory glare.

    “That’s the creature’s name,” Poipole explained. “Celesteela.”

    “It has a name?!”

    “She.”

    Worm blinked in bewilderment, but Poipole turned his attention to Anchor.

    “Once you’ve freed your friend,” said Poipole, “I have something I need to show you.”

    “Hang on!” Worm clambered onto the rubble, oblivious to the trapped Pokemon’s protests, so he could look Poipole in the eye. “I think you need to explain a little more. How much do you know about this creature that destroyed my home?!”

    “Her destruction of your home was not an act of malice,” said Poipole. “As for why she hits you if you get too close… that is because you are climbing into her nest.”

    Worm stuttered, blinking rapidly. “Nest?”

    Anchor scooped up the stunned sewaddle, setting him back onto the road. Then he lifted the last of the largest rocks from the trapped pokemon. The smaller ones fell away as an electabuzz pushed himself up so he was sitting. Anchor grabbed his paw in both of his and hoisted him to his feet. The electabuzz grunted with the effort and clutched a paw to his chest. The other paw hung limply at his side, useless.

    “Think that cracked a few ribs,” he gasped.

    “You got a medic?” Anchor asked.

    The electabuzz shook his head. “Not as such, no.”

    “Then I’ll send you to my ship. Our chef knows a thing or two about first aid. He’ll fix that arm in a splint and check your ribs while he’s at it.”

    Poipole’s large, purple face popped up between Anchor and the electabuzz. “I must show you something quick.”

    “What’s the hurry?” Anchor asked. “This ‘mon needs help.”

    “Annie knows scotch about patience.”

    “Oh, that.” The granbull nodded his understanding and turned to Worm. “Show your friend to our ship and let Cookie know what the problem is.”

    “You’re gonna allow strange pirates onto your ship?” Worm scoffed.

    “Time of need, Worm,” said Anchor. “Besides, you can’t fly it and your friend’s only got one workin’ arm. Matrix and Cookie would be more of a match for either of you.”

    Worm shook his head. “Forget it. I’m not interested in your ship. I wanna know what the deal is with this monster.”

    “Celesteela is not a monster,” said Poipole. “They’re usually quite placid.”

    Worm spat the word ‘placid’ as though it were poison.

    “If you wanna come along, fine.” Anchor nodded to the electabuzz. “But he needs help gettin’ to our ship.”

    “I’ll be fine,” said the electabuzz. “I wouldn’t mind knowing what’s goin’ on either.”

    Anchor watched the electric pokemon flinch as he staggered around the mound of rubble.

    The granbull shook his head and waved a dismissive paw. “Suit yourself. Can’t say I blame you, I’d be curious n’all. Lead the way, Poipole.”

    The purple Ultra Beast did a somersault and took off ahead of them at the speed of knot. Anchor had to trot to keep up, leaving a protesting Worm and limping electabuzz to follow after him. Part of the granbull hoped desperately they’d give up and go to his ship. Poipole didn’t have to lead them far, however. They reached the back alley of Moonlight Lounge, where Annie was crouching beside Web. The archeops stared intensely at a tangle of tiny, slender vines growing beside a drain.

    Anchor joined her side and followed her gaze. “What are we lookin’ at?”

    “This.” Annie pointed a claw at a small, sharp thorn. “Cute ain’t it?”

    Anchor ducked closer, unsure as to why a thorn would be thought of as cute. Then he spotted it. A tiny face in a tiny bamboo protrusion at the pinnacle of the thorn. His jaw dropped.

    “A hatchling?!” he squeaked.

    Worm stopped beside him, gasping for breath. He was about to berate the granbull when he spotted what all the fuss was about. His jaw almost hit the floor and his cry of despair rose into the air.

    Anchor snapped his head around and hissed at the sewaddle to shut up. Once the echo had faded, the vines began to shift. The tiny celesteela opened its mouth and let out a shrill scream.

    “Oh good job, bug!” Annie snapped. “You’ve only gone and woke it!” She turned back to the baby Ultra Beast. “Hush now, little’un. Go back to sle-”

    A deep, eerie scream filled the city. Annie leapt to her feet, stepping back from the baby. The larger vines surrounding it shifted, sending rubble raining down from what was left of the tall apartment blocks. The celesteela’s bamboo face rose above them, searching the streets with its tiny eyes.

    “Oh great, now we gotta book it!” Annie turned to flee, but Web grabbed her by the scruff. She turned her neck to raise an eyebrow at the skuntank. “Whatcha doin’?”

    “We can’t just leave!” said Web. “We’ve got a job to do!”

    Annie pointed at Poipole as he shot up towards the celesteela’s face. “Yeah, and he’s doin’ it. Let’s go.”

    She snatched herself free and ran towards the main road. Waveform and Trojan rounded the corner, the latter almost colliding with the archeops. He steadied himself by placing his paws on Annie’s shoulders.

    “There’s gotta be hundreds of them!” he gasped at Web. “All over the city, growin’ on them vines!”

    The screams reached a deafening crescendo. Amongst the chaos, Anchor could pick out shrill, child-like cries. The celesteela raised a cannon, aiming it into the back alley. The opening lit up red, and even at such a distance they could feel the intense heat radiating from it.

    “Celesteela, stop!” Poipole screamed, waving his tiny arms before her face. “You have to listen to me!”

    The massive Ultra Beast’s tiny eyes fixed on him briefly before going once again to the space pirates.

    “They are no threat to you or your children!” Poipole went on. “But there is a threat out there, and we need your help!”

    The cannon froze, still aimed at the space pirates, still radiating a threatening heat.

    “Please, listen to me!” said Poipole. “These are not your enemies! They want to send you home, to send all of us home. But they can’t because of The Altered One!”

    The red heat from the cannon vanished, washed away immediately by the frosty breeze. Celesteela’s eyes went back to Poipole. Wide, alarmed, and prompting an explanation. Slightly threatening. A low wail came from deep within her throat, chilling the space pirates to the core.

    “I’m telling the truth,” said Poipole. “He’s taken over a mansion in this world, and has destroyed a city to control it. His control will spread throughout System if we don’t stop him, and then we’ll never get back home. Never get back to our trainers.”

    Celesteela shook her head slowly.

    “You might not have a trainer,” Poipole went on, “but surely you want to go home? To raise your babies somewhere safe… and warm?”

    Celesteela looked back down at the alley. The small thorn-like children had stopped screaming. The one beside Annie’s feet had begun to snore. The Ultra Beast turned her attention back to Poipole and gave a curt nod. A brief silence passed between them, then Celesteela broke it. With a long, shrill screech. The purple Ultra Beast wasn’t remotely afraid. He shot back down towards his friends and hovered before them.

    “She’ll help,” he said. “But first she needs to make sure her children are okay.”

    “All right,” said Anchor. “How long do they take to grow up?”

    “That’s not what she meant.”

    The celesteela’s eyes were fixed on the space pirates. A deep gnawing feeling spread through Anchor’s gut.

    “What does she want?” he rumbled.

    “Someone needs to care for them.” Poipole turned to Worm. “I heard you say there were about a hundred of you living here?”

    Worm blinked at the Ultra Beast and shuffled his feet on the ground. “Why do I have the horrible, gut-wrenching feeling you’re gonna ask me to baby sit?”
     
  16. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner *aromatisse noise*

    Waveform and I more or less said exactly that at the same time. Great, now I owe a Coke to someone who could probably snipe me from further away than I could possibly see. XD;

    Oh hey there, sudden concern that maybe he won't be fine after all.

    Friend, I think you'd have an easier time ridding your world of pollution. :p

    Yeah I pretty much just do not trust Annie at all not to use a z-move in the heat of the moment. XP

    Annie, if you get back home you have some serious wonder trading to do.

    (I said, as if there were any real chance she wouldn't just get like thirty zigzagoon and maybe a ralts here and there. :p)


    Seems pretty hopeless for Switch, doesn't it? At least it does if the data does turn out to be irretrievable.

    Also oh my gosh. Baby bamboo rockets. Imagine all of them suddenly maturing en masse and blasting off in unison. How deep would that crater BE...
     
  17. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    I think it's save to say there would be no more Pulse City left whatsoever...

    ...

    Chapter Seventy Three​

    Macro refused to leave the lab. He sat watching the motionless human who, after having his requests ignored, had opted to switch himself off. Macro had been sat in silence for so long he’d almost forgotten DL was still with him. She’d returned to the computer chair, idly tapping away at the doctor’s keyboard. The soft clicking drew him out of his thoughts and he sat back on his paws. A hefty sigh left his chest, drawing DL’s perusing to a slow halt.

    “How are you feeling?” she asked.

    Macro shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Lousy.”

    “Well… I think I might have discovered something to lift your spirits.”

    He craned his neck around to look at her. She didn’t meet his eye, instead looking past him at Switch while pawing her ear.

    “I’ve had a search through my own files.” She tapped her head then returned to her ear-pawing. “And all biological functions are kept in the brain, not fed through the computer itself. That means that they didn’t remove everything from my mind.”

    Macro sighed and glanced back at the human. “What good are biological functions gonna do for him? They ain’t his memories.”

    “I hadn’t finished,” said DL. “If you remember, I was forced to watch the whole procedure. He was made with haste. The date of my installation was several weeks prior to the finished product. He was thrown together in an afternoon, while you were recovering from-” She trailed off at the sight of his discomfort. “I’m sorry. What I’m trying to say is, Switch was rushed. There might be more stored away than it appears. Crammed back in a way that even he can’t access.”

    “Either that or that Yobi guy has perfected his art over the years.”

    “There are mere months between myself and Switch,” said DL.

    “Well, the evidence that his work got out is creeping around in these walls.” Macro waved towards the bug pokemon. “Each one has a computer in its brain, the only difference is they have no database like you and Switch do.”

    “I’m beginning to wonder who bought the technology off who,” said DL. “Or who hacked who, to look at it in another light.”

    “Both lights are creepy.” Macro hugged himself and turned back to Switch. “Well, whether or not he has some memories stored away, they ain’t gonna be easy to crack open.”

    “Well…”

    Macro really didn’t like that ‘well’. He swiveled on his bottom, fixing her with wide-eyed worry. She didn’t meet his gaze, instead staring at the floor while obsessively tugging her ear.

    “You see,” she said, “that’s where I come in. If I can connect to him-”

    “What? Like some remote computer?”

    “Exactly.” She finally met his eyes. “I can search around in there and crack open any blocks I find. Make it easy for him to gather some recognition of who he really is. It could be anything, from repressed memories to what he had for dinner last week. But it’s something.”

    “It’s really that easy?”

    “No.”

    Macro’s heart sank and he slumped into himself.

    “There are risk factors,” DL went on. “I wouldn’t be surprised if defences will have been put into place to prevent such things from happening.”

    “So there’s a chance you won’t come out of this unscathed?” Macro’s voice was laced with warning and DL glanced back to the floor. “What are the chances you’ll get hurt doing this? Will it be irreversible if you do, or just a headache?”

    “It could be irreversible,” she explained. “Defences are put into place in government computers that can attack and destroy an opposing computer trying to get access to classified files. That’s why a good hacker is so valuable to those wanting that information.”

    “Yes, but for the hacker just their computer will get destroyed!” Macro snapped. “You’re talking about a computer in your brain, DL! You could die!”

    “I’m aware of that, but I’m trying to save Switch’s life here.”

    “Right now, he’s alive!”

    “But it’s not him.”

    DL’s words froze the space pirate. He stared back at her, mouth agape as he processed what she’d said. He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath.

    “DL, I don’t want to lose you.”

    She stared silently at the floor, idly pawing her ear. He thought he saw the glint of a tear in her eye. The thought was too much to bare, but… he glanced back at Switch and closed his eyes again.

    “I don’t want to lose either of you,” he said. “What are the chances you’ll come out of this unscathed.”

    “Eighty percent,” she said.

    He sucked in a sharp breath and grimaced. “That means one out of five times you do this, you could get hurt? What are the odds you could die?”

    “Five percent.”

    He shook his head sharply as Matrix’s beaming face, raving about the five percent drops he’d gained five missions in a row in Alien Hunter, careened through his mind.

    “Try not to worry.” Her voice was soft, and he realised she’d moved beside him.

    Her warm paw rested on his shoulder, but he couldn’t open his eyes. He feared if he did, he’d start crying again.

    “I’ll do my best to be careful,” she said. “For Switch’s sake, I really want to do this. There’s a chance I could help him, and I’m willing to take this risk.”

    Macro nodded stiffly and whisked his organic paw across his eyes. “Then do it quick. Before I change my mind.”

    “Well, first thing’s first, I need a jack lead and this lab doesn’t have one,” she said. “I’ll need the one off your ship.”

    He sighed and ran a paw down his face. “That ain’t possible. Anchor’s taken it to go and get those Ultra Beasts.”

    “Then I’ll buy one.”

    She rose to her feet and he looked up at her, meeting her gaze. A questioning gaze. Of course. He reached into his pouch and handed her a twenty credit bill. Deep down, the selfish part of him hoped she wouldn’t find one.

    Once the door closed, he felt very alone. He turned his attention back to Switch. If DL was right, then somewhere deep inside him some memories might reside. Macro reached towards him and flicked the switch, prompting the same message requesting Socket.

    “Socket isn’t alive,” Macro told him. “You’re with me now.”

    Switch blinked a few times then shook his head. “I was made for Socket. She must be the first pokemon I see.”

    “Well that ain’t gonna happen,” said Macro. “Now listen. I want you to search that mind of yours and find any little pockets that might have memories stored in them.”

    “Memories will inhibit my primary function.”

    “Tollywosh!” Macro spat. “They’ll enhance it. Get searchin’.”

    The human’s eyes went distant, looking through the mawile. Macro sat back on his paws, watching Switch carefully. It seemed to take an eternity as every second ticked past, drawing closer and closer to DL’s return. To her potential demise. If he could stop it, he would.

    Suddenly, Switch’s eyes locked back onto him, taking Macro by surprise.

    “Search complete,” said Switch. “No memories found.”

    “You searched everywhere?” Macro asked. “Everywhere?”

    “Search is limited to outside the frostwalls.”

    Frostwalls…

    Macro blinked a few times then flashed a canine. “Then break through them and search in there!”

    “Cannot comply,” said Switch. “Attacking my own database is prohibited.”

    “I’m commanding you to attack it!”

    “Relay command code.”

    Macro stared at him, dumbfounded. What on earth was a command code? DL had never requested such a thing.

    Switch turned away from him to look at the door, his eyes as empty as they had been previously. Just then, the door opened and DL strolled in clutching a brand new jack lead. She looked between Macro and the human and gave a small smile.

    “Oh good, he’s awake,” she said.

    Macro felt ‘awake’ was a very polite way of wording it.

    “Now, if you don’t mind,” she said as she unwound the cable, “I’m just going to link up to you and have a little look around your head.”

    “Unknown computers are not authorised to link with Download Database,” said Switch.

    “I am a Download Database,” DL explained.

    “Incorrect. There is only one Download Database.”

    DL ignored him, reaching behind his head with the cable. In one swift motion, he flicked his arm and sent DL bowling tail over head across the room. Macro leapt to his feet, but before he could react Switch sparked with static and fell sideways against the wall. Both his arms jerked erratically.

    DL dusted herself down and retrieved the cable, fastening it in place at the base of his skull. At Macro’s bewildered look, she cleared her throat.

    “Just a little thunder wave,” she said. “He’ll be fine.”

    She removed a rubber bung from the socket in her own skull and replaced it with the other end of the jack lead. All Macro could do was watch. His mouth turned dry and he dropped down beside her, reaching for her paw. It fastened around his just before her eyes went as distant as Switch’s were.

    “Searching files.”

    Her voice sounded normal, which reassured him. Not like Switch’s, monotonous and void of emotion. The long silence that followed, however, washed all reassurance away. He clutched at her paw, willing her to come back out of her search quickly. Successfully. For the both of them to be okay.

    “Encountered frostwall.” Her words chilled him. “Running break code sequence.”

    Whatever that meant, it didn’t sound good. Switch had said he didn’t have the means to break them himself. Macro knew nothing about hacking, and with Surge gone he had no one to contact for a reassuring head’s up. All he could do was sit there. Breaking the link might only risk more damage than the procedure itself.

    “First layer broken,” said DL. “Breaking second layer.”

    Macro feared his heart would stop. He resisted the urge to lie down, instead taking his computer from his pouch to give him something - anything - to distract himself with. He brought up Central Meta News, but it only served to add to his anxiety. The photo of Distortion’s attack on Seed City remained the talk of System. It had already begun to spread towards neighboring cities, driving what was left of Binary City’s inhabitants out of their homes.

    “Second layer broken. Breaking third layer.”

    How many layers were there? He wanted to ask, but again the thought of interrupting didn’t settle with him. He resigned himself to reading the article. Before he could even make it half way, DL jolted. He snapped his head to look at her. Sweat drops clung to the fur of her forehead and she grimaced.

    “DL?” the words left his mouth before he could even finish thinking them.

    “Third layer broken,” she said. “Encountering memory flood.”

    He mouthed the words ‘memory flood’ and looked between her and the human.

    “Withdrawing.” Her voice sounded weak.

    She lifted her paw to remove the jack and slumped sideways onto the floor. Macro scooped her up and pulled her towards him.

    “DL, please speak to me.” He wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of his paw.

    “I’m fine,” she said. “Just a little tired.”

    He muttered a ‘thank goodness’ as he pulled her into him, brushing her fur with tender claws. A movement drew his eye to Switch. The human blinked a few times then reached behind him with a paw. His eyes widened with terror as he removed the jack lead, examined it, tossed it aside. Then his eyes went to the two pokemon.

    “Welcome back, buddy,” said Macro.

    Switch’s eyes widened again. His mouth opened slightly. Then his eyes rolled back in their sockets and he slumped against the wall, unconscious.

    It had all happened quite quickly, but one thing was for certain. The look he’d given Macro wasn’t just a lack of recognition. It was the look one gives when they’re really not expecting something. When something is definitely not meant to happen. Switch hadn’t spoken much about his time in the human world, but he’d explained that pokemon didn’t speak a language humans could understand.

    “Yeah…” Macro cleared his throat. “I guess we’ve got a lot of explainin’ to do later.”

    ...​

    Celesteela had been too reluctant to fly it solo recruiting other Ultra Beasts. Instead, she opted to follow Wildcard Gamma to the outskirts. It had been a long ride, given they couldn’t use hyper drive for fear of losing their newfound ally.

    Annie yawned and sprawled back in Macro’s seat, her talons adorning the dashboard. “This is taking forever!”

    “Then go and get yourself a snack,” said Anchor. “It’ll be another few hours yet.”

    She scratched her belly with her wing claws and frowned. “I eat another one of that cupcake’s pancakes, I’m gonna be too heavy to fly!” She paused and glanced up at the ceiling. “Not that I can fly. But that’s beside the point. I have plans to learn!”

    “Well the rest of your crew is in the kitchen enjoyin’ a meal,” said Anchor. “I think you should join ‘em.”

    “Want me outta your fur, eh?” She slipped from the seat and beat down her feathers. “Gotcha.”

    She gave him a pointed glare and raised a claw, but something outside the ship caught her eye. She leapt onto the dashboard, eliciting a yelp of surprise from the granbull, and pressed her muzzle up against the glass. Her claws splayed out beside her face and a long ‘whoa!’ left her throat.

    Anchor followed her gaze towards System Ground. A huge dome of purple fire encased a huge stretch of land. Black and purple tendrils erupted from it akin to the chaos that Celesteela had wrecked on Pulse City. Chunks of earth floated around it, some still holding up buildings and twisted mechanical trees.

    “Is that Seed City?” Anchor gasped.

    “I guess it was.” Annie put a lot of emphasis on the ‘was’, drawing an eye-roll from Anchor. “Man, it looks like a major trip-fest. Way to go on the decor, Distortion!”

    The disgust in her voice made Anchor laugh and he gave the archeops a hefty pat on the back. “Imagine what it looks like inside, eh?”

    “I don’t really want to.” Annie pushed herself back from the glass and dropped to the floor. “I prefer my reality not wonky, thank you very much.”

    “Hang on a sec.”

    Anchor’s voice froze her on her way from the cockpit. She twisted her neck around to look at him and inclined her head on one side. He didn’t look at her, instead fixated on the wreckage below them.

    “Binary City looks a bit… strange,” he said.

    Annie hopped back up onto the dashboard to follow his gaze. “What’s so strange about it?”

    “Look at it!”

    More wreckage. The purple tendrils didn’t touch it, instead stretching out over the top of it in a weak net. The very edge where it joined onto Seed City was floating, drifting idly.

    Annie gave Anchor a sideways glance. “You wanna go check it out, don’t you?”

    He shrugged his huge shoulders. “Kinda. But… it’s a bit too close to Distortion for my likin’.”

    “Well we’re goin’.” Annie hopped from the dashboard and waved a claw as she headed for the kitchen. “Let’s head down there prepared! We’ve got our guns, our Z-Moves and our new, ma-hoo-sive friend. We’ll be fine!”

    Anchor sank back into his seat and ran a paw over his face, letting out a huge sigh. Not only would Annie’s crew likely rally behind her, rendering any reasoning he had against the endeavor moot, part of him did feel it would be a good idea to investigate. Besides… there might be an Ultra Beast lurking around there, and they did have to get all of them back home.

    So he aimed the schooling wishiwashi towards System Ground, training it like a needle and thread through the fiery net. The closer they got to it, the more of Binary City he could see. Whatever had happened there had reduced the huge entertainment district to a ghost town. Every inhabitant had likely fled. Maybe there wouldn’t even be an Ultra Beast.

    Wildcard Gamma bucked as Celesteela blasted her rockets to aim herself towards the city. She gracefully slipped through the net and turned to face her bottom to the ground. Her cannons spat fire as she slowly lowered herself between the buildings. Wildcard Gamma wasn’t far behind. It hovered above her and stopped.

    “What’s going on?” Matrix’s voice caused Anchor to yelp.

    His face flushed and he cleared his throat, brushing back his mohawk. “I forgot you were here.”

    Matrix wiped frosting from his lips and drifted into his seat. “Guess you want this in auto pilot? Why Binary City?”

    “Curiosity.” Anchor pushed himself up and reached for his gauntlets. “You’re stayin’ here. I need you to man the ladder.”

    He poked his head into the kitchen, exchanging glances with Annie. The archeops froze with a waffle before her open jaws.

    “What?” she said. “It ain’t a pancake.”

    “We’re goin’ on a little trip,” said Anchor. “As per Annie’s suggestion, I thought it’d be worth our while to investigate Binary City. Might come across some Ultra Beasts and learn a thing or two about this Distortion.”

    “You’re kidding?” Trojan scoffed. “We’re headin’ out into the thick of it all? We ain’t prepared!”

    “It ain’t the thick of it all,” said Anchor. “It’s the outskirts. Just… not the outskirts we were aimin’ for.”

    Poipole poked his head up from Web’s tail. “I thought we were going to recruit the kartana?”

    “Well, System’s huge.” Anchor waved a paw. “Let’s be a little more linear about it, okay? Either way, I’m goin’ down there whether you guys join me or not. Matrix!” He nodded towards the cockpit. “You’re in charge!”

    “Oh boy.” Matrix’s voice wavered slightly. “Those are words no one ever wants to hear.”

    Anchor moved into the airlock and instinctively reached for a mask. Would he even need one in Binary City? The smog might not have made it that far. He’d probably be better off with his jaws available for a fire fang or inferno overdrive. He left the mask where it was and braced himself for the ladder to descend.

    “So we’re goin’ in?” Annie appeared beside him and placed her claws on her hips, admiring the drop. “Bring it!”

    “It’s like you’ve got a jackin’ death wish.” Trojan sighed and pushed back his head fin. “I hope for your sake we find an Ultra Beast, ‘cos if we’re riskin’ life and limb for nothin’…”

    “It ain’t nothin’.” Anchor glared at him over his shoulder and reached for the ladder. “It’s research. If we learn a bit about our enemy doin’ this-”

    The words died on his throat as the ladder dropped towards System Ground. The rest of his allies scrambled for the ladder, except for Waveform. The decidueye dropped and took to the sky, rivaling the ladder for speed.

    “Tally ho!” Annie shot past them, wings spread-eagled.

    Waveform let out a surprised hoot and took off after her. Her hysterical laughter filled the air and with a flourish, Waveform grabbed her by the tail in his talons. Just before she hit the floor.

    Anchor landed beside them and shook his head. “You moron!”

    “That was amazing!” Annie spread her wings and beamed up at them. “I almost flew! I wanna go again!”

    “Keep your voice down!” Anchor hissed. He glanced at the buildings. “The walls had eyes in the mansion. These ones might have ears.”

    He moved past them, leaving Annie and her crew to gather themselves.

    She fixed Waveform with a cocked eyebrow. “Was that a joke? It sounded like a joke.”

    Waveform pinched the bridge of his beak and sighed, moving past Annie into the city. She waddled after him, catching up with both him and Anchor. Web and Trojan covered the rear, the latter clutching his laser like a lifeline.

    The entire city seemed lifeless. Not even a scrap of litter blew along the gutter. Binary City had a reputation for being clean, except for after major concerts. Even then, pokemon were rallied up and rewarded for gathering the most litter in a short spurt of time. It kept the city clean and welcoming. ‘Welcoming’ being a rarity amid System’s type discrimination.

    Now, the welcoming city was a desolate wasteland. Every turn of a corner brought nothing but rubble and a lifeless building. The culprit for the damage lay in the tendrils that hovered overhead, clipping the tops from the massive skyscrapers. The rest of the damage was yet to be understood. Nihilego? Another Ultra Beast? The mansion’s attempts to land, cleaving through the streets like a rogue bulldozer?

    A small explosion shook the air, and Annie bristled from ear to tail.

    “What was that?” she squeaked.

    Waveform whisked her behind him and a few stray bricks peppered the spot she’d previously occupied.

    “I think it’s that.” Anchor pointed a claw.

    One of the purple tendrils writhed, bringing down more bricks as it retaliated against a second shadowy explosion.

    “I think someone’s fightin’ it,” he said.

    The granbull took off around the corner, followed closely by Annie and her crew. He skidded to a halt, eyes wide, as he almost crashed into the spindly culprit. He did a double take and stared back into the semi-translucent head of the most colourful Ultra Beast he’d laid eyes on. A ball of shadowy energy filled its right paw, but it fizzled out as it straightened. Then, it bowed with a flourish.

    “What the-” Anchor shook his head sharply.

    “Blacephalon!” Poipole shot from Web’s tail, drawing the Ultra Beast’s attention. “It’s a blacephalon! You’re from a different region back in my world!”

    “My oh my,” the blacephalon replied, his head flashing with a rainbow of colours. Just like Poipole’s, the voice spoke in Anchor’s head. “A little poipole. Well, you lot are a much more friendly bunch than the previous creature I encountered.”

    Anchor shook his head again and placed a paw to his temple. “Wait, hang on a sec… you can talk like this guy? Yet Celesteela can’t? I…”

    Celesteela’s wailing voice sliced the air and Poipole twisted towards her, hissing a ‘shush!’ The purple tendrils writhed slightly, and the blacephalon side-stepped to dodge a tumbling brick.

    “It would be advised to keep our voices down a tad,” he said. “This wretched fellow has already claimed my friends.”

    He swiveled what served as his head towards the mound of bricks, and the sparkling lights inside his head turned a sombre blue. Anchor’s heart sank and he took a cautious step towards the rubble.

    “What happened here?” he asked.

    “Some android showed up and wrecked the city, along with some ghost of a dragon,” the blacephalon explained. “I saw them off, but not before they tried to suck me into another one of those portholes. My friends and I were already recovering from his attack, but then all this purple stuff showed up. A lot of my friends were killed. I’ve been burying them.”

    Trojan lifted a paw and pinched the bridge of his nose. “So let me get this straight. While the rest of System has been runnin’ in terror from you aliens, you’ve been makin’ friends?!”

    The lights inside the blacephalon’s head flickered with a rainbow hue. “Of course. My trainer taught me to respect all life. Some of my closest friends back in my world are very different species to me. Your races are no different.”

    Anchor beamed from ear to ear and stuck out his paw. “Then you’re a friend of ours. Call me Anchor.”

    The blacephalon took his paw and shook it. “A gesture the pokemon here taught me. They called me Rave. I’d like you to do the same.”

    “Wait!” Poipole drifted before the blacephalon’s head. “You let them name you? What about your trainer?”

    “My trainer’s name for me is something I hold dear,” Rave explained. “But the pokemon here named me, too. At the end of the day, the name a trainer gives you is different to the one your mother gave you. Each name expresses how those who gave it to you felt. My mother would still call me by the name she gave me, as would my trainer. What about you?”

    “She called me Poipole.”

    “Then that tells me she respects what you are!” Rave sparkled jubilantly. “The pokemon here saw I loved music and named me after my dancing. I liked it, so I kept it.”

    Poipole twisted his head to look at Annie. “This one nicknames everyone.”

    “Fantastic!” Rave ducked to look the archeops in the eye. “What is your name for me?”

    Annie scratched her chin with a claw. “You kinda look like a big gumdrop. So… big gumdrop I guess.”

    “I like it!” Rave removed his head and span it around in one paw. “So… I’ve made some new friends.”

    “Good grief,” Trojan muttered. “And I thought Annie was eccentric.”

    “I’m glad you think of us as friends,” said Anchor. “Because we really need your help.”

    “Certainly!” Rave placed his head back so it was hovering where his neck would have been. “How can I be of help?”

    “You said you fought off that ghost dragon and the android?” Anchor folded his arms and grinned. “Well, that dragon thing happens to go by the name Distortion. Or The Altered One, as Poipole described it to Celesteela.”

    Rave gasped and his lights turned a pale, icy white.

    “You ain’t gonna faint are you?” Anchor asked.

    “No. Not at all. I just… hadn’t put two and two together, that’s all.” Rave fell onto his bottom.

    “Do you want me to go on?” Anchor asked.

    “Please do.”

    “Okay. So Distortion’s taken over the mayor’s mansion, and in turn has also taken over Seed City just north of here. That’s what all this is.” Anchor waved at the purple fire.

    Rave made a thoughtful noise as he eyed the flames. “I knew the fire was down to that dragon. But… I didn’t think he was trying to take over your world. I assumed he was just another hostile mishap dragged into your poor world.”

    “He kinda is,” said Annie.

    “Well, I shall be happy to help remove him!” Rave leapt back to his feet and sparkled. “Now, what shall we do with the other fellow holed up in this joint?”

    Anchor’s face fell. “What other fellow?”

    “The unfriendly one who gave me a hard time.” Rave shrugged. “I only offered to help, but he blasted me with electricity and told me to, ahem… ‘sod off’.”

    “All right.” Anchor’s voice came out slow and cautious. “Another Ultra Beast?”

    “I’m not sure,” said Rave. “But I’ve not seen one before. I’ve seen ones that look a little similar… but this fellow was significantly different.”

    “I feel like he’s speakin’ in riddles,” said Trojan.

    Waveform and Web nodded.

    “Lead the way, friend.” Anchor placed a paw on the blacephalon’s back.

    “Certainly!” Rave bounded along ahead of them, each step almost jubilant.

    “Can I ask you somethin’?” Annie trotted beside him. “How come you and Poipole can speak to us, but Celesteela can’t?”

    “Oh, that one’s easy,” said Rave. “Poipole and I have spent a lot of time trying to communicate with a species very different to ourselves. So we adapted a method to do so. I’m going to guess Celesteela doesn’t have a trainer.”

    He waved at the tall, bamboo creature. She returned his wave with a rather unimpressed leer.

    “This is where the rude fellow is holed up.” Rave stopped just mid-way down a narrow alley. He gestured to a cracked window. “Won’t come out. That’s how I managed to escape.”

    Anchor knocked firmly on the glass, shattering it. His face fell and he withdrew his paw, tucking it behind his back. He lowered his head to speak through the now accessible window.

    “Hello? Anyone in there?”

    No response.

    Using his gauntlets, he pulled away the jagged glass and ran the metal wrist guard over the edge of the frame. Then he vaulted inside.

    “Watch out, there might still be sharp bits,” he said.

    “Ouch!”

    He swiveled on the spot to see Annie sucking on a claw. “What did I just say?”

    Heavy panting came from the corridor behind him and he turned back to face a wide open door. A shadowy figure lumbered through it, and as he stepped into the light, it reflected off his deep orange coat. Yobi narrowed his eyes at Anchor, but a slick sweat betrayed his exhaustion.

    The sparksurfer raichu pointed a claw at him with his free paw. The other one was held down by a hunk of metal reminiscent of a vikavolt’s jaws. Heavy metal armor covered his right arm up to the shoulder.

    “You!” he roared. “You murderous… this is all your fault!”

    “Hang on a sec!” Anchor placed his paws on his chest. “How is this our fault?!”

    Yobi flashed his sharp front teeth. “If it weren’t for your criminal prying, none of this would’ve happened!”

    “If you hadn’t designed an android that could open time and space, none of this would have happened!”

    The raichu took a few deep breaths to gather himself, then waved his free paw. “It was a flawless plan.” He tore his eyes off the space pirate. “And if she’d let me install a kill switch, it would have been even more flawless. But no… she had to be scared someone would intervene. Oh wait… she was right!”

    “Our intervenin’ had nothin’ to do with this! You’re the one who made such a dangerous machine-”

    Anchor cut off as Trojan shoved him aside. The scrafty aimed his laser at Yobi and squeezed the trigger. Anchor swiped his paw, aiming the laser into the ground. It narrowly skimmed Yobi’s feet, reflected back off some invisible barrier. The deadly beam struck above the window frame, cleaving a hole in the crumbling stone.

    The pokemon outside choked on the dust, scrambling back. Debris filled the empty room, clouding out Yobi’s form. Trojan swiped at the cloud and flashed his canines at Anchor.

    “You moron! What do you think you’re doin’?” he scoffed.

    “We need him alive,” said Anchor. “Only he knows how to stop that BackDoor!”

    “So do I,” said Trojan. “It’s called ‘scrap metal’. I built our ship out of it. All I need to do is flatten it out and remove the dangerous bits.”

    “And how do you plan on openin’ portholes to send all the Ultra Beasts home after you destroy it?”

    “It’s no use,” said Yobi. “Your only hope now is to find another world. Because when I get my paws on BackDoor, he’s dead.”

    Anchor’s jaw went slack. “Eh?”

    “You heard me.” Yobi hunched over as he gasped for breath. “Now scram.”

    “No,” said Anchor. “Not until you tell me why you wanna dismantle your own creation. Aren’t you wantin’ to find the perfect world?”

    “It doesn’t exist!” Yobi hissed.

    “What are you wafflin’ about?” Annie scoffed. “You had all us hapless creatures dragged from our own world - to which I say thank you by the way. This one makes the one I came from look like a horror show. But nevertheless, little guys like Sticky here wanna get back home! So you did all that… for nothin’?”

    “Shut up, human,” spat the raichu. “I made BackDoor for her. So she could find her own perfect world, and I’d be going with her. But he killed her! So what’s the point? I’m gonna destroy him myself, and if I can’t I’ll go down trying.”

    Anchor stared at the raichu dumbfounded. The exhausted pokemon dragged himself to his feet, staggering under the weight of the vikavolt weapon.

    “Consider it a race,” he said. “Whichever of us gets to him first gets the pleasure of dismantling him. I’ll see you lot at the finish line, and end your pathetic existence then.”

    Trojan readied his laser again. “You’re lettin’ us live?”

    “For now,” said Yobi. “Someone has to put a stop to BackDoor, and the more pokemon there are trying to stop him, the smaller his chance at survival.” A small smirk tugged at the scientist’s lips. “Priorities. He falls before you do. Now scram, before I change my mind.”

    Anchor tugged the laser from Trojan’s paws, much to the scrafty’s protests.

    “Leave him,” said the granbull. “He has a point. Besides, there’s more of us than there are of him.”

    He vaulted through the window and called for Matrix.
     
  18. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner *aromatisse noise*

    Achievement unlocked: Squirrel Swatter

    Well I mean of course they chilled him, it's a frostwall

    Of course I'm hopelessly curious now about what the heck his mom called him. My money's on *series of popping noises accompanied by a shrill whine*

    Ilu Annie.


    It's funny, in a way. Usually a rush job is what screws everyone over, but here we have a case of a rush job saving the day--good thing Socket and Yobi were pressed for time with Switch!

    Rave is a delight, meanwhile. :D Somehow I wasn't expecting him to be this much of a character in all this. What a nice surprise.
     
  19. DeliriousAbsol

    DeliriousAbsol Call me Del

    Oh he is. It surprised me that he came out polite, well-spoken and British. I was originally planning to write him with more of a primitive cave-man way of speaking!

    ...

    Chapter Seventy Four​

    Switch cowered on the opposite side of the coffee table. Once he’d come to, he’d been a panicked and frantic mess. Backing away from the dewott doctor, freezing up as the otter pokemon ran some brief tests before finally nodding and taking a step back.

    Switch was perfectly healthy except for one thing. Some kind of abstract amnesia, the dewott had called it. Then, DL and Macro had been given a scolding. Outside the laboratory, of course, so as not to frighten the human any further. But both Jumper and the doctor couldn’t really fault what they’d done. It had been a success. Well… success was a generous way of wording it.

    Macro looked up from his occa espresso and rubbed a thumb and claw beneath his tired eyes. Switch didn’t look much better than he felt. The human sat trembling, clutching a cocoa in both hands, desperately avoiding any eye contact with the mawile and DL. They’d barely been able to tell him anything. It was all too much. So far, he’d been told that yes, he was indeed a human, and no, he was not mad. His presence in their world was due to an accident. They hadn’t even broached his watch, his other form, or any of System’s current disasters.

    “Is any of it sinking in yet?” Macro asked.

    Switch shook his head and his voice wavered as he spoke. “One minute I’m sat having Sunday dinner with my folks, the next…” He waved a hand at the cozy meeting room and trailed off.

    Macro clenched his teeth together. Switch didn’t even recall the events that had dragged the humans into System in the first place. Had he even relayed the story to Macro? He didn’t think so. If Switch even had… Macro hadn’t been listening. The mawile sank in his seat and pinched the bridge of his nose. The whole ordeal had made him realise how very little he knew about his friend.

    “I still don’t understand why I’m here,” said Switch. “Why you all talk… my pet growlithe doesn’t talk. I always wished she did, but… now it’s kinda… creepy.”

    Creepy…

    Macro glanced up from his rapidly cooling espresso. He took that opportunity to quickly down it and cast the tiny cup aside.

    “Bit of a harsh word, pal,” he said. “One thing that never crossed my mind was that you are creepy. Mainly because you look nothin’ like all them depictions in picture books. Now those are creepy.”

    “I’m sorry,” Switch muttered. “I know you’re trying to help me.”

    “Hah. One of my first priorities is to get you back home.”

    “So I’ll see my family again?” Switch looked up at him with those deep, golden eyes.

    Macro felt his heart sink like a lead ball. His mouth opened slightly but no words came out. Of course… the ‘home’ Switch had always referred to… it wasn’t sitting around a dinner table with his parents and pet growlithe. How on earth was he going to breach the fact that his ‘home’ was back in System’s distant past? With pokemon friends and Macro’s ‘great times fifty grandparents’?

    DL lowered her own cocoa to the table. “That’s… not quite what we meant.”

    “What do you mean?” Switch panicked.

    DL met his eyes, keeping her voice as soft and as calm as she could. “Switch-”

    “How many times? That’s not my name!”

    “It’s what we’ve been calling you for the past few weeks,” she explained. “It’s how you introduced yourself.”

    Switch’s golden eyes widened with fear. “’Past few weeks’? I’ve only just got here!”

    Macro rose and lifted a paw to calm him, but the human fell from his seat and skittered backwards on his bottom, not taking his eyes off the space pirate.

    “What have you done to me?” Switch squeaked.

    “We haven’t done anything to you,” said DL.

    “Lies! You’re feeding me lies! You’ve done something to me. Put something in my head…”

    Macro sank back into his seat, blinking back tears. “Switch…”

    “My name’s Johnathan!” Switch roared. “I’m not from your stinking world! I’m from Unova! Now send me home!”

    He flailed his arms, striking the leg of his chair. In a flash, his form shrank down and sprawled onto the floor with a soft thud. Macro leapt to his feet and dashed around the coffee table. Switch lay staring at his feathered wing, beak opening and closing as a growing dread lit up behind his eyes. He floundered to his feet, wobbling as he tried to keep his balance.

    “You have done something to me,” he hissed. “Well… whatever it is, I have a type advantage!”

    He opened his beak wide then snapped it shut again, a look of realisation crossing his face. Just like with DL, any memories of how to use his attacks had been taken away.

    Macro raised his paws and took a step towards him. “Please, listen to me.”

    “No! Not until you tell me what you’ve done to me.”

    “I haven’t done anything to you!” Macro closed his eyes and bit his lip hard. There was really no sense in raising his voice. “Sorry. I just want to help you.”

    “Then who’s done this to me?” asked Switch. “Who put this computer into my head? Who turned me into some dumb bird?!”

    He staggered forwards, losing his balance. Wings spread at his side, he landed flat on his chest. He screwed his eyes shut and screeched, flailing his wings in an action reminiscent of a grounded magikarp.

    “I don’t want to be a bird!” he roared.

    Macro grabbed the watch around his leg and pressed the button, returning Switch to his human form. He looked down at himself then at Macro.

    “How did you-?”

    “The watch.” Macro returned to his previous spot and sat down facing him. “It allows you to go back and forth. Your friend made it for you.”

    Switch narrowed his eyes at the mawile. “What friend?”

    Macro shrugged. “A friend back home. I think you called him N00b.”

    “I don’t…” Switch shook his head slowly.

    “Well, I can’t tell you much about your friends,” said Macro. “I never thought to ask much about your past. My job is to send you back there, not get a history lesson or write your biography.” He scratched his nose and sighed. “Although it woulda been useful had I known this would happen.”

    Switch sat back against the wall and folded his hands into his lap, staring down at the mawile. Although all previous hostility had vanished.

    “You’re not lying… are you?” His voice wavered with uncertainty. “I mean… you haven’t a clue what to even tell me.”

    “I told you I’m not lying,” said Macro. “What reason do I have? You’re my friend!”

    “Yet you don’t know anything about me?”

    “Give me credit, I’ve known you about three weeks. And a huge chunk of that you spent here, on this island.” Macro pointed a claw at the floor. “You had to. You got seriously hurt defending this place.”

    Switch’s eyes widened again. “What?”

    Macro sighed and rubbed his temples. “I should really start at the beginning, shouldn’t I?”

    Switch nodded stiffly, not taking his eyes off the space pirate.

    So Macro hugged his knees into himself, toying with the hem of his scarf, as he relayed everything. Finding DL and discovering Socket’s plan; the golden ring gateway that pulled Switch into their world; the war in Cyan City that rendered Switch bedridden; the Ultra Beasts and Wildcard Gamma’s visit with Solgaleo; the kartana attack that reunited Wildcard Gamma with Switch; DL’s painful memories and Switch’s offer to look after her; finally ending with the battle in Socket’s mansion.

    Switch sat blinking as he processed it all. Everything had been rather nutshelled. Reduced into bite-sized chunks so as not to overwhelm him with information. But it still proved too much. He sank back against the wall and ran a hand down his face.

    “There it is,” he sighed.

    Macro jerked his head up. “There what is?”

    “The abstract lie.” Switch looked back down at him. “It’s in every thriller movie where some character gets amnesia. The bad guy feeds them a lie to win them to their side.”

    Macro blinked. “Pardon?”

    Switch spread his arms. “How do I know you’re not the bad guy? This Socket might be the good guy in all this, and you’re just a bunch of rebels.”

    “Sounds awful familiar.” Macro inclined his head at Switch and scratched beneath his goggles. “You came up with the same argument shortly after we met. Went off in a tantrum.”

    “If that’s true, then I probably had a point.”

    DL rummaged beneath the table, drawing their attention.

    “What’ve you got there?” Macro asked.

    “Oh, when you were talking with Jumper and the doctor, I went back to my hotel room.” She pulled out a plastic bag and reached into it. “I thought this might be helpful, but… I was waiting for the right moment.”

    Macro found a tattered bundle shoved into his paws. He stared down at it, noting the charred blue and black fabric. He unraveled it, revealing his black scarf with the blue pixelated print. Damaged beyond use. Huge holes had been burnt into it, and the ends were tattered into shreds. But DL’s intentions were pretty clear. He looked up at Switch and placed the scarf on the floor between them.

    “What’s this?” Switch waved a hand at it, his face creasing with confusion.

    “You bought it for me,” said Macro. “After you’d cooled down, as a peace offering. Said you thought it matched my laser’s blue trim.”

    Switch scanned the mawile’s small frame. “What laser?”

    Macro shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t have one anymore. And the one that did work, well…” He waved his mechanical paw.

    “Guns and pokemon don’t mix,” said Switch. “Although they don’t mix with humans either, if I’m honest.”

    Macro chuckled and smoothed out the tattered scarf. “Well, now I’ve seen this, things are startin’ to come back to me. And you’re startin’ to sound more like your normal self.”

    Switch raised an eyebrow, prompting an explanation.

    Macro shrugged and cracked a smile. “Not convinced? Well… you’ve not been happy with this world since you got sucked into it. It’s wildly different to your System.”

    “I’m not from System.”

    “Your System is the one that gave you that talonflame body. Gave you your friends, like N00b and my ancient relatives.” Macro lifted a paw to silence Switch before he could pelt him with questions. “That was about a thousand years ago now. Back then, it weren’t as messy as it is now. Pokemon didn’t eat each other, there weren’t space pirates, no toxic air, and no laser guns. You were most disgusted at pokemon eating the water dwelling types. So much so, you said after I’d send you back, you’d try and change that. Know what I did after you said that to me? I laughed.”

    Switch’s nose crinkled. “Doesn’t sound like a very nice response.”

    “It weren’t.” Macro smoothed his paw over his scarf. “Thing is… I now think it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Not sure if it would work, or how it would affect me. I mean… if you went back and changed the future, would I even be here? What life would I live if I did? How much would change, really?”

    DL tensed beside him. Then she reached forward and plucked his paw from the scarf, clutching it tightly in hers.

    “Maybe there wouldn’t be any Socket,” Macro went on, staring down at the blue and black print. “No BackDoor. None of this bad stuff would even have happened.”

    They sat in silence for a while and Macro let his mind drift to that thought. A peaceful System. His mother might even have survived. Air would be clean everywhere, allowing trees to grow fruit, and no meat for food. The mayor wouldn’t have grown desperate, throwing up a divide that separated the water dwellers from the land pokemon. With nothing to rebel against, there likely would have been no space pirates. No floating cities to escape the polluted ground.

    He felt DL’s paw shift in his, and he stroked a claw over her soft fur. Would they even have met? Without Socket’s wretched plan and Macro’s reckless curiosity, their paths probably would never have crossed. And with no floating cities, there’d be no Botnet. He slipped his paw from hers and pulled her into him, nuzzling between her ears as his eyes fixed on a filing cabinet at the far end of the room.

    Changes would bring their good and their bad. It would be inevitable.

    Switch shifted against the wall, his clothes rustling and drawing Macro out of his deep thoughts.

    “Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about,” said Switch. “Although I am wondering about this other System you told me about. The one I’m apparently from.”

    Macro fixed one eye on him. “So you believe me?”

    “I’m not sure what to believe,” said Switch. “But I want to know more about what happened to turn me into a talonflame.”

    “Even I don’t know that.” Macro released DL and sat back on his paws. “I could hand you a history book, but I’m led to believe they ain’t accurate.”

    “How aren’t they accurate?” Switch scoffed.

    “They got the picture of a human wrong, for one thing,” said Macro. “And the drifting continents you are adamant were real, well… they’ve been demoted to ‘myth’ status in this day and age. Although that might be changed now, given Socket’s used one of their salvaged engines to get her mansion flyin’.”

    Switch blinked a few times then pinched his nose. “This is all too much to take in…”

    “I can believe it.” Macro pushed himself to his feet. “If you need a break, I’ll go call the doctor and see if your room is ready.”

    Switch kept his head down as he waved him away.

    Macro gave him one last glance as he let DL out of the door, the tattered scarf bundled in her arms. Then the space pirate closed the door behind him. At least they’d got through to Switch. Now they just had to hope he’d take it all in, not just for his sake, but for System’s too.

    ...​

    It was a long way to Spool City. Matrix estimated another two hours at least. Anchor sat back in his seat, watching the world below. The antennae were still blinking, but the one for Meta City was long since dead. All communications to the capital had been cut off, and from what Anchor had read, the xurkitree were making their way across the outskirts. Hardly a bad thing. They’d swoop in and grab both them and the kartana, provided they listened.

    The granbull kicked himself from the dashboard and moved towards the kitchen, catching a glance from Matrix. He nodded at the ribombee then gestured to the window.

    “I’m gonna grab some supper, I’m starved,” he said. “Let me know if anythin’ weird happens.”

    “Define ‘weird’,” said Matrix. “Because I’m not gonna lie… it’s sort of losing its meaning.”

    “I dunno…” Anchor rubbed his muzzle. “Flying Ultra Beasts. Portholes. Ships. Whatever seems threatening or out of the norm. Or both.”

    Matrix nodded and swiveled his chair back to the navigation deck. “Alright. Grab me a donut, would you?”

    Anchor waved him off and marched into the kitchen. Sure enough, a plate of donuts sat on the table. He grabbed one just as Rave delivered a plate of pancakes to an excited Annie. The human practically danced in her seat with her knife and fork clutched in each hand.

    “You joining us?” Rave asked. “This truly is top nosh.”

    Anchor wanted to say he had no idea what nosh was, but instead he nodded back to the cockpit. “Gonna give this to Matrix. I’ll be back in a sec.”

    He returned to the navigator who grabbed the donut gratefully. Before he could bite into it, Anchor wagged a claw at him.

    “Don’t tell Macro I allowed you to have a jam donut in here,” he said.

    “Noted.” Matrix bit into his donut, letting jam fall down his scarf and onto his lap. He frowned at it, scooped it in one paw and licked. “I think I’m spending too long with him anyway. I’m picking up his bad habits.”

    Anchor rolled his eyes and marched back into the kitchen, where he pulled up a seat opposite Annie. She attacked Cookie’s pancakes with all the vigor of a half-starved tyranitar. He reached across the table to grab the plate of pancakes and nomel sauce.

    “You’re acting like you’ve never had pancakes before in your life,” he said.

    “I haven’t!” Annie said around her mouthful. “Not before I came on your ship. This is amazing!”

    The slurpuff chef waddled over with yet more sauce, followed by Rave and a tray of waffles.

    Annie’s eyes lit up with delight. “You’re spoilin’ me!”

    “Enjoy yourself,” Cookie chirruped. “I made plenty.”

    Web frowned at the slurpuff. “You’re a bad influence.” She turned back to Annie who payed her no heed. “You should slow down. You’ll give yourself tummy ache.”

    “I’ll stop when I’m full,” said Annie between bites.

    The kitchen slowly began to calm down as the rag-tag group enjoyed their supper. As Web rose to help Cookie and Rave clear the dishes away, Matrix buzzed into the kitchen.

    “Decided to join us?” Anchor asked.

    Matrix shook his head and wound his antenna thoughtfully. “Remember when you said to alert you if something weird happens?”

    Anchor lowered his fork to his plate. “Yes?”

    “Well, something weird’s happening.”

    Anchor rose to his feet and followed Matrix back into the cockpit. The granbull’s first thought was the navigation deck, but Matrix pointed a claw towards the windscreen. Anchor narrowed his eyes at the gold speck moving towards them, and he placed his paws on the dashboard, leaning forward for a closer look. Rave joined his side, ducking slightly to avoid hitting his head on the window frame.

    “What is that?” the blacephalon asked.

    Anchor glanced up at the Ultra Beast. “I’ve no idea. But if I were to hazard a guess, that’s one of Socket’s ships.”

    “But Socket’s gone,” said Matrix. “Who are they working for now? Distortion?”

    “I dunno… but I’m wary of it. I say we steer well clear of it.”

    “But they could be in danger,” said Rave. “We can’t just run away.”

    “Our tall, enigmatic friend is right!”

    Annie’s voice almost made Anchor jump out of his skin. His head struck the low ceiling and he spun to face her, rubbing at his mohawk. The human beamed at him from ear to ear.

    “We can’t leave a ‘mon down,” she said. “Perchance that golden speck needs our help, I say we check on ‘em!”

    “But it’s a government ship!” Anchor growled. “It might fire on us.”

    “I highly doubt it,” said Matrix.

    Anchor turned to the ribombee, who returned his look with a cocked eyebrow.

    “How can you tell when it’s so far away?” Anchor asked.

    “Easy.” Matrix tapped the navigation deck. A red light flickered in the top right corner where the speck showed on the navigation screen. “They sent us a distress signal.”

    Anchor’s jaw dropped. “A what now?”

    “Yeah, confused me too.” Matrix wound his antenna as he watched the flashing light. “I’ve never seen it before. Strange phenomenon.”

    “All right.” Anchor sighed and returned to his seat. “Get us closer, let’s see what they want.”

    “You’re not worried it’s a trap?” Matrix asked.

    “It might be, but we’re armed to the gills.”

    “Hmm, fitting,” said Annie. “Because we’re in a giant fish.”

    Anchor fired her a sideways glare.

    “Oh come on!” Annie threw her arms in the air. “That was fantastic!”

    Rave chuckled, his lights flickering with a jubilant pink. He smacked the human on the back, hard enough to make her stumble into the dash. “That was a cracking good joke. Well done.”

    Anchor rubbed his brow and groaned under his breath. “And System’s relyin’ on ‘mon like us?”

    As Wildcard Gamma drew closer to the golden speck, the cockpit slowly filled with the rest of their team. With no one small enough to fit in the captain’s seat, Annie and her friends gathered around it, holding on perchance things should turn awry.

    Trojan frowned out at the government ship, wiping his paws on his wet scales. But the scrafty said nothing. None of them said anything. The ship didn’t appear to be hostile. Instead drawing towards them at a steady pace.

    Anchor leant forward in his seat, narrowing his eyes at it. Well, there was definitely a reason it wasn’t being hostile. The golden hull was dented, even cracked. One of the pointed wings bent upwards at an alarming angle. It was little wonder it could fly straight. The windscreen was shattered, the jagged edges peppered with frost. What remained of its laser cannon was nothing more than a ragged lump, the main body of which one could guess lay miles below. Possibly in the ocean.

    “I’m gonna grab her.” Anchor jabbed the controls, causing the wishiwashi’s jaws to slowly open. “I’ll meet what’s left of that ship’s crew in the cargo bay, but I ain’t goin’ alone. Who’s with me?”

    “I’ll go,” said Trojan. “They retaliate, I’ll jackin’ nut ‘em.”

    “Not one for trustin’ others, eh?” Anchor asked.

    Trojan scowled up at him. “This comin’ from a space pirate?”

    “I’ll go too.” Waveform pushed himself back from Macro’s seat. “You’ll need someone to keep Trojan in check.”

    “I can check myself,” Trojan spat.

    “Hey!” Annie pouted. “What about me?”

    “You stay here with Web,” said Anchor. “You too, Rave. I don’t want to terrify whoever’s down there.”

    Rave gasped, his lights paling, and turned his faceless head between the cockpit’s occupants. “I’m terrifying?”

    Matrix turned in his seat to watch Anchor lead the group from the cockpit. Then he turned back to Rave, idly winding his antenna.

    The ribombee shrugged at the Ultra Beast, who was somehow managing to look a little wounded. “I’m saying nothing.”

    Anchor went down into the cargo bay first, with Trojan sandwiched between himself and Waveform. It was oddly silent. Anchor couldn’t help but wonder how long the distress signal had been going off. Maybe it wasn’t even intended for Wildcard Gamma? What if the occupant had actually died and the ship was idly flying through System Sky until it finally ran out of fuel? He shoved that thought aside, but still mentally prepared himself for a possible grisly find.

    The golden ship lay ruined in the cargo bay. It had barely made it inside. Wildcard Gamma’s jaws were closed tight around the tail end of the ship, tearing away what was left of the rudder. The ship didn’t entirely fit inside the bay. The tips of the wings were missing, also removed by Wildcard Gamma’s jaws. It was only slightly bigger than Surge’s ship, and Anchor was greatly relieved they’d already disposed of that a week prior, otherwise it would never have fit.

    Trojan beat his paws together and sidled past the granbull. “Let’s get this thing open then, eh? See who’s inside.”

    Anchor joined him, glancing up at the cracked window. He couldn’t see a passenger. Had they already abandoned ship? No, it made no sense. It was still flying… unless… no, he wasn’t going to speculate the worse. He joined Trojan around the side, leaving Waveform with his arrow notched and ready to fire.

    Before the pair reached the door, a loud bang came from behind it. Then another. Anchor clenched his paws together, bracing himself as whatever was behind it crashed against the door again. Then it flew open, swinging on its hinges. An emolga clutched the door frame, gasping for breath. His entire body trembled from nose to tail, the remains of frost melting from his fur. Then he slumped forwards, toppling from the steps. Anchor leapt towards him, catching his small body before it hit the ground.

    “Good grief, what happened to you?” Anchor asked.

    The emolga cracked one eye open. “The kracken… they…”

    Then it closed again as the small electric type dropped unconscious.

    “Huh.” Anchor looked up at his two companions, then rose to his feet, cradling the emolga. “Somethin’ makes me think we’re gonna have a hard time roundin’ up them nihilego.”

    ...​

    Annie blinked down at the sleeping electric type. “So we got a pet?”

    Web shoved her from the side. “He’s not a pet.”

    The human watched as the skuntank aided Cookie in tending to their unconscious guest.

    “So what’s wrong with him?” Anchor asked. “Is he poisoned? Wounded?”

    “Half frozen and exhausted,” said Cookie. “That’s it. Makes me wonder if he’s been around the Dead Glacier.”

    “Why would anyone go there?” Waveform asked. “You’d freeze to death.”

    “He said he’d had a run in with the kraken,” said Anchor. “That’s the nickname the space pirates coined for the nihilego. My guess is it’s spread, and he was fightin’ them off. If they don’t like the cold, he might have used the Dead Glacier to get rid of them.”

    “Seems convoluted and risky,” said Waveform. “I doubt it.”

    The granbull shrugged his shoulders and returned to observing Web and Cookie. The slurpuff took a step back, wiping his paws on a towel.

    “How’s he lookin’?” Anchor asked.

    “He’s fine.” Cookie poked his tongue out and smiled. “A hot cocoa and he’ll be good as new!”

    Web sighed and shook her head. “It’s always sweets with you, isn’t it?”

    Cookie’s smile vanished and he huffed, sticking out his bottom lip. “Don’t knock it if it works!” Then he waddled from the room.

    “I’d say what he needs is some berries!” Web called after him. “Aspear berries!”

    “I think we should let him get some rest,” said Waveform. “In peace.”

    “I dunno.” Anchor scratched his nose. “This is a wild turn of events. I mean… a government ‘mon on a space pirate ship?”

    “Hey, he needed rescuing,” said Annie. “And we just happened to be there.”

    “Annie’s right,” said Web. “In times like these, we need to work together. Maybe he sees that.”

    “Not to mention, no Socket means no bounty,” said Waveform. “So he’s not getting anything out of this.”

    “Well I can’t just leave him here,” said Anchor. “Who knows what he’s gonna do?”

    “I wasn’t suggesting that.” Waveform drew one of his silver arrows. “I’ll keep watch on the door, while you go and forget about it for a while. Have a nap, or a snack. Whatever it is you do to unwind.”

    “I’m afraid there’s no time for that,” said Web.

    Everyone followed her gaze. The emolga stirred, rubbing a paw over his eyes. His mouth turned into a frown and he let out a whimper. Sparks flew from his cheeks and he sat bolt upright with a scream. Electricity flew across the room, and Anchor ducked, feeling the heat as it skimmed his mohawk. A yelp came from his right and he turned to find Annie stunned on the floor, electricity dancing across her limbs.

    Waveform dropped his arrow and leapt to her side. He sat her up against his open wing and turned his eyes onto the emolga. The small pokemon sat, panting, his wide eyes fixed on the wall. He glanced to his side and tensed, clasping his paws into fists.

    Anchor lifted his paws and slowly rose to his feet. “Calm down. We rescued you.”

    “Where is it?” the emolga gasped.

    “Where’s what?”

    “The kraken?”

    “We didn’t see one,” Anchor explained. “Your ship was alone.”

    “Alone?” The emolga ran his paws down his face, then slumped forward on his knees. “I’m the only one?”

    The small group exchanged glances, then Anchor and Web drew closer to the bed. Anchor ventured to place his paw on the emolga’s back. He didn’t so much as flinch.

    “Okay, let’s start from the top,” said Anchor. “What’s your name?”

    “Axle,” the emolga muttered.

    “Okay, Axle. Welcome aboard Wildcard Gamma.”

    Axle’s ears twitched at that.

    “My name’s Anchor,” Anchor went on. “And your ship is tucked away in our cargo bay. We’re here to get those things you’re calling kraken back to their world. Why don’t you tell us what happened?”

    “Back to their world?” Axle removed his paws to glare at the granbull. “Are you insane?! An entire fleet of Socket’s ships couldn’t stop those things!”

    “No offense,” said Annie, “but your ships are pretty dang tiny.”

    “Compared to Wildcard Gamma, sure!” Axle spat. “But a fleet of them? They’re quick. Agile. One cannon shot is equivalent to… I dunno… several of your bomb things!”

    “You’re wrong there,” Anchor muttered.

    “Sorry,” Axle growled. “Have you got a case of ‘my ship is better than your ship’ syndrome?”

    “No, I just modeled it to be stronger than a government ship,” said Anchor. “It’s called ‘survival’.”

    Axle snorted and leant on his knees, fixing his eyes on the door. “Well… I doubt your ship will stand a chance against those monsters.”

    “You have a point,” said Anchor. “We struggled against just one, and there were four ships fightin’ that thing.”

    The door slid open and Cookie waddled in, clutching a steaming mug of cocoa. A look of delighted surprise crossed his face, and he poked out his tongue in a smile.

    “You’re awake!” He shuffled over to Axle and held out the mug. “I made you cocoa. With aspear sprinkles.”

    Web slapped a paw to her face then sighed. “Well, at least you listened…”

    Axle took it hesitantly then looked down at Cookie. “Why are you all doing this?”

    “Because…” Cookie stuttered slightly and shuffled his paws. “Because… you were frozen and… well… cocoa!”

    “You needed help,” said Anchor. “And we can’t afford to discriminate in times like these.”

    Axle sighed and stared into his cocoa. “I suppose you’re right.” He paused and tucked his knees closer to his chest. “There were fifty of us. We were on our way back to Socket’s mansion after scouring for a Zero Day model. Yobi had requested one, and it took us ages to track one down. But when we returned to Meta City, Socket had already taken off and her mansion… it was all eerie, I don’t know what had happened to it, but we decided to stay away. Go somewhere else and call Yobi. I assumed an Ultra Beast had taken over it.”

    “You’re kinda right,” said Annie.

    Axle fired her a glare then returned to his cocoa-gazing. “Whatever it was, it gave me the creeps. To make matters worse, Yobi wasn’t answering our calls. Then one day, we couldn’t get through at all. None of us knew what to do, so we decided to find him ourselves. Go back to Meta City and ask around. Of course, that was a risk. It’s crawling with those electrical beasts. But before we even reached it, we were mobbed by those kraken. They took over our ships, made us fire at each other, twisted the lasers free and broke off wings. One by one, ships dropped into the ocean or slammed down into cities. We couldn’t get away. Wherever we went, they chased! They more than halved our numbers! One of my friends decided we should go higher in the sky. It’s colder up there, maybe it would freeze them off. But the thing is, no ship has ever gone higher than System Sky! The only ships that have flown higher are space pirate ships, and believe it or not, we are not space pirate ships! We’re just a government fleet, designed to fly no higher than System Sky. But the higher we went, the beasts weakened. They let go and tumbled back to the ground. Some dragged ships with them as their tentacles refused to let go. We fired at one and it shattered. Somehow, they’d frozen solid. But so had our ships. Ice coated my wind screen. It began to crack. So I returned to the ground as fast as I could. Freezing my tail off. I could feel torpor setting in, but I had to fight off sleep. But I don’t think I managed it. The last thing I remember seeing was those creatures regrouping. I picked up speed and fled, but… I think I must have fallen into torpor. Somehow… I got away.”

    The room fell silent as the pokemon and Annie took it all in. Cookie shuffled his feet in the silence and looked back up at Axle, still staring into his cocoa.

    “You definitely did fall into torpor,” said the slurpuff. “You should drink that.”

    Axle eyed the slurpuff, all aggression leaving his dark eyes. Then he took a sip of his drink. It appeared to visibly relax him, and he let his legs spread out across the bed.

    “I recommend a warm shower, too,” said Cookie.

    Axle frowned. “Noted.”

    “I don’t really know what to say about your story, Axle,” said Anchor. “But it must have been terrifying.”

    “That’s the understatement of the century.”

    “Nevertheless, you’re safe now-”

    Axle snorted and fixed him in a glare. “For how long? They’re all over System! It’s only a matter of time until-”

    Anchor raised a paw and barked to silence him. The small emolga cowered slightly, but returned his glare with venom.

    “I believe we can get out of this alive,” said Anchor. “We’re workin’ together and if you wanna help us, be my guest. The more the merrier. Now… you said somethin’ about a Zero Day model?”

    “I did.” Axle sipped his cocoa, keeping his eyes on Anchor’s.

    “Did it go down with the other ships?” Anchor asked. “If so, we might be able to retrieve it.”

    “Now why would you wanna do that?”

    “Simple, really. They can open gateways.” Anchor paused as Axle’s expression twisted with confusion. “If we can send those creatures back where they came from, there ain’t no need to fight them. They’ll go back home, happy. Right now, they’re not happy. Not all of them anyway.”

    Web clasped her tail to her back as Poipole fought for freedom. His voice still rang out loud and clear, however.

    “No, we’re not happy.”

    Axle jolted and looked around at the room.

    Web’s expression softened and she shook her head slowly. “They’re not evil. They’re scared.”

    The emolga didn’t look convinced. He flashed a canine and lowered his mug to his lap.

    “Is there somethin’ on this ship?” he spat.

    Anchor sighed and rubbed his muzzle. “We’ll talk about that lat-”

    “Is there somethin’ on this ship?!”

    “Yes!” Anchor barked. “We’ve got two Ultra Beasts, and they can speak. They’re friendly. We’ve also got one tailin’ us, but you clearly didn’t see that when you called for help. Or you didn’t care, one or the other.”

    “You’re carrying monsters?” Axle gasped. “You’re workin’ with them, aren’t you?”

    “We’re tryin’ to get them home and stop the monster that’s taken over Socket’s mansion and killed her!” Anchor roared.

    Axle’s entire body stiffened. He stared back at Anchor, stunned.

    “She’s dead?” he asked quietly.

    “It’s all over the news,” said Web. “I thought everyone knew, but I guess I was wrong.”

    Axle clutched his cocoa in both paws and looked away. “I… I’ve been out of touch the last couple of weeks. Drifting along, trying to survive… my computer… it’s dead.” He sighed and lifted a paw to rub his ears. “I thought her mansion looked creepy. I had no idea that it…”

    “Well we’re going to stop it,” said Anchor. “You with us or are we lettin’ you off at the next safe city?”

    The emolga sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll help.”

    “All right. Now… where can we find that Zero Day?”

    “Right here,” said Axle. “It’s on my ship.”

    Anchor’s jaw almost hit the floor. “You still have it?”

    “Yes. You think I’d let it go after all the trouble we went through to find one?” Axle let out a dry chuckle. “I dunno what use it is to you, though. It’s completely wrecked.”

    “We’ll give it a go. I’m pretty good at fixin’ things.” Anchor pushed himself to his feet. “You get some rest. Then you can meet the rest of our little team.”

    The group rose to their feet and followed Anchor from the room, but Waveform kept one eye on the emolga.

    “I’ll be on the door,” he said. “So if you need anything-”

    “I need a guard?” Axle spat. “I just said I’ll help you.”

    Anchor looked back at the decidueye. “It’s okay. Leave him be.”

    Waveform hesitated a moment, then slinked down the corridor after Anchor.

    As Web stood up to follow after Annie, Poipole drifted from her tail and looked down at the emolga. Axle squeaked and sloshed cocoa onto the duvet, but Poipole didn’t react. He floated there, staring at him until the emolga trembled from ear to tail.

    “Poipole!” Web called from the door. “Come on, leave him alone.”

    Poipole drifted backwards towards the door. “I’m not evil.”

    “Of course you’re not, Sticky,” said Annie. “You’re adorable. Now let’s leave Mister Squirrel alone, eh?”

    Poipole looked back at Annie, waiting until she’d vanished from sight, then he turned back to Axle.

    “My name is Poipole,” he said. “Only Annie can call me Sticky.”

    He ducked from the room, leaving the trembling emolga to a somewhat fitful nap.
     
  20. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner *aromatisse noise*

    Oh wow. I knew Switch hadn't experienced a full recovery--knew he hadn't remembered EVERYTHING--but somehow I hadn't accounted for the possibility that he was still missing that much knowledge. Maybe that wasn't as much of a rush job on Yobi and co.'s part as I'd thought.

    I wonder what we can expect from the Zero Day unit in the picture now, meanwhile. That's if the thing's even remotely salvageable, of course, but I kind of get the sense that it is. Granted, it's easy sometimes as a reader to misjudge the significance of any given thing in a story. I guess we'll see what role the porythingy has to play, if any!
     

Share This Page