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uA's "Different Eyes" [Chapter Two]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by unrepentantAuthor, Apr 18, 2018.

  1. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Hello, all. This is a fanfic I've been working on from time to time since 2006. It won Best Story and Best Dark Fic on Bulbagarden in Spring 2012 when I last published any version of it. It's a story about pokémon-human hybrids, personhood, the implications of advanced genetic engineering, pokémon sapience, and personal agency. It's also a story about a cat who wants to be a person, and how she becomes one.

    I hope you enjoy it.

    Updates twice monthly or more frequently. Will contain upsetting scenes of physical and emotional distress, extended sequences of fantasy violence, and the use of profanity by characters.

    Index:
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2018
  2. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Prelude

    Welcome, all. I trust your journeys were pleasant. Now, I understand that you expect greater transparency from the executive management about our research and development programs. This is perfectly reasonable, and so I would like to take some time to tell you the facts as they really are.

    This is the truth you seek:

    A new form of intelligent life has come into existence.

    Permit me a preamble to explain the significance of this, before I disclose our current and future enterprises.

    Until now, there were two kinds of sentient life in the world. The first kind are the mundane beings we call animals, of which humans are the most remarkable species. The second kind are creatures of inscrutable energy, which have been called magical beasts, fae, daemons, kami, and in our generation, 'pokémon.'

    It will soon become clear that a third kind now exists.

    The relationship between humans and pokémon is intimate, despite the difficulty in communication between us. Humans are able to form bonds with pokémon, and thereby unlock their inner potential. Historically, this was done only by exceptional humans, but the mass production of 'capture balls' is changing this relationship. Now that almost any human can legally own a pokémon, they are an irrevocable part of all our lives, everywhere. There is now no symbol more widely recognised in this world than the pokéball.

    Most people believe that only humans are gifted with sophisticated consciousness: abstract thought, creativity and complex language. That pokémon instead have the gift of mysterious energy, with which they wield their incredible powers. Moreover, that our physical forms are fundamentally incompatible, with no likeness between our DNA. This perspective is unsupported by modern research, but it persists nonetheless, perhaps because people are uncomfortable believing otherwise.

    You may have heard rumours that in 1996, a hybrid was created by researchers in the private sector. Using genetic material from an uncatalogued pokémon species retrieved in the Guyanese Amazon, combined with the DNA of humans and other pokémon, a new kind of creature with the intellect of a human and the power of a pokémon was given life, not naturally, but through technology. This being, according to urban legend, soon destroyed its creators, and their research with them, before vanishing forever.

    No significant investigation has been made into these allegations, but the idea of human-pokémon hybrids is now loose in the world as a conspiracy theory, a sci-fi trope, the stuff of children's make-believe. It grips people - the idea of a crossbreed between ourselves and pokémon, the concept of synthetic life, the thought that we might no longer be alone as intelligent beings on our world.

    In truth, we have never been alone.

    Pokémon intelligence aside, the hybrid life-forms, also known as 'pokémorphs,' are the third kind of sentient life, and we now share our world with them. Yes, 'life-forms,' plural. Many have been created, and more are being made even now. Only, they are no longer being cloned from fossilised DNA. They are being made from living, breathing pokémon, transformed through our innovations. It should not be surprising to learn this. There are plenty of volunteers.

    After all, what pokémon wouldn't jump at the chance to become a person?

    -Excerpt from address to the Perihelion board of directors, Q2 2016
     
  3. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    One

    Before she was a person, Salem was a cat.

    If only she weren't a cat. If she were a human she would never have been crouched half-starved under a car at night, enduring winter rain and winter cold and winter darkness. She'd have a home, or the money to pay for sanctuary and a voice to ask for it. Instead she was a feline pokémon - a purrloin - and she would have to resort to using a pokémon shelter if she wanted to be somewhere safe and warm. There was a problem with that idea, though. Shelters fed you, but they also tried to get you adopted. And Salem didn't want that. And she never would.

    She wanted food, warmth, a roof above her head, and after that she didn't know. She curled her tail tighter around herself, and glanced anxiously at the various flitting shadows and wind-buffeted leaves that haunted the pavements and the park across the road from her. Eventually she'd be hungry enough to try hunting in the park again, or rummage through someone's trash for scraps of meat. But not yet. Not quite.

    If Salem were human, she'd be well-fed and warm. If she were human, she'd be with Laura.

    Salem first wished to be human many seasons ago, when Laura refused to let Salem come with her to school. College policy didn't permit pokémon on the premises, so when Laura left for her first day back at school after their first summer together, Salem stayed home. And waited. And wished. She'd wished every day since, for so long now that she'd begun to think of herself as pre-human, only a pokémon while she waited for the day she evolved. She would become human when she evolved, she knew. It was destined.

    For now, she was a small, shivering, dark-furred pokémon, and the most human thing about her was her ability - the privilege of all purrloin - to walk short distances on her hind legs. Having their front paws free made purrloin excellent thieves, a skill which Salem was happy to employ to obtain food. It was easy to walk into a shop and walk out with a bag of dried jerky, so long as you never tried it a second time.

    Otherwise, she was typically feline. She had a dappled tortoiseshell coat, (meticulously maintained, even now), a warbling miaow with a quizzical inflection, and the talent of appearing without a sound at the rustling of food packets. Not so useful without a home and a bed and a human carer.

    The memory of such things hurt, and provoked low growls in Salem's throat. These were things she'd had and then lost. It hurt, not just from her discomfort in their absence, but from the memory of their loss. Salem knew, somewhere deep inside her feline brain, that she was here, now, because of that loss. So she allowed herself to remember it - fuzzy as her memories always were - because if she forgot it, she might let herself go home.

    At the time, she remembered only hazy impressions, emotions, desires. Later, of course, her memories came into focus as if adjusted on a camera. Although Salem only clearly recalled these things as a person, they were still buried in her mind as a purrloin.

    Salem would never remember what the weather had been like the morning of that day, not because of her purrloin brain, but because she hadn't looked. It rained later on, but it could have started out sunny or been overcast from the beginning, for all she knew. She would be frustrated forever by this, but it had simply not been part of her routine to sit by a window until after Laura went to school. Cats like routine, and Salem's had been important to her.

    That day began routinely. Her eyes opened at dawn, she stretched luxuriously, and she nudged a reluctant Laura out of bed in hopes of her drowsily squeezing a packet of food into Salem's bowl. Her previous meal of this kind had been chicken in jelly, a favourite of hers, and she'd spent the day before clinging to the memory of how it had tasted.

    She wolfed down her salmon while Laura made herself crumpets. Salem prized her regular meals, but supplemented them with as many stolen or begged treats as possible. She had made the sign for 'food' so many times over many seasons that, even now, she did it on reflex when hungry: tilt head, reach paw above head, curl paw, paw to mouth.

    Laura usually gave her a treat or two for signing this before she left for school, but on this occasion, she took a new bag out of the drawer, and left it there unopened. Perhaps she had been distracted while Salem signed [FOOD] several times. Still, she cuddled Salem goodbye as normal, and called her a sweet cat. Salem purred boisterously and waited until the front door closed to tear open the unsecured bag of treats with her teeth and gorge herself silly.

    Salem spent school days like this waiting for Laura to come home. Laura's parents were usually out most of the day and generally took their pokémon with them, so she had the house to herself. She used this freedom to laze about uninterrupted. She had plenty of naps, mostly spent sprawled out in that one spot on the kitchen counter, where the updraught from the tumble-dryer kept her warm. From there, she watched taillow in flight and dreamed of pokémon battles and of a future with Laura in which they went on grand adventures. Sometimes in Salem's dreams, she was not the pokémon, but the trainer. Human or purrloin, she was always Laura's partner in her dreams. (Later, curled under vehicles and hedges to sleep, Salem's dreams never featured such a partnership, and she was always, always human.)

    Laura didn't come home that day until much later than she was supposed to. This was happening more and more often each moon, and she already came home later than she used to. Salem managed to enjoy her time alone by keeping to a routine and sleeping heavily, but by late afternoon she was restless. Restless Salem would pace through the house in endless loops, groom herself and groom herself again, and scratch doors and furniture over and over until her claws hurt.

    Of course, nobody was around to see her behave like this, and her claw-marks were indistinguishable from years of previous gashes.

    When Laura finally came home, it was early evening. Salem jumped up on the stand by the door, like always, to receive scratches behind her ears, like always.

    "Hello, silly cat," Laura said, like always.

    Salem's habitual reply to this was to turn her left paw pad-upward and curl it inward, approximating a human beckoning gesture, and then brush her own cheek. This was as communicative as she could manage in standard pokésign. She'd signed [WELCOME HOME] as best she could, like always. She was really good at signing that, after years of practice. Other than that and 'food,' her signing was stilted, and her vocabulary painfully limited.

    Laura went straight to heat up a meal for herself, with Salem sprawled on top of the microwave, soaking up the warmth and purring to match the vibrations. Then Laura forked out half a can of food for Salem, and took it to her room so Salem could eat nearby her as usual. Laura found an episode of 'Gotta Catch 'em All' on her laptop and played it while they ate.

    It was Laura's favourite show, so of course it was Salem's too. Laura once spent a moon mimicking the voices of the pokémon characters, who would only speak in their species names rather than realistic sounds or with pokésign. Laura said it was too expensive to animate pokésign, and the show was only a marketing tool to sell pokéballs anyway. Salem had no idea what that meant, but certainly the show taught Laura a great many species names despite being unabashedly fantastical. Salem couldn't have signed [P-I-K-A-C-H-U] if she tried.

    Even more fancifully, the show featured a villainous but endearing meowth, who had taught himself to speak English. At least every other episode, he was shown wearing clothes, working a job, or using tools. Salem thought he was practically human. He didn't have a name, he was just "Meowth," but he was still their favourite character. Laura used to encourage Salem to copy his example, and was only a little disappointed when Salem could only miaow, purr and chirrup. At least her miaows sounded a little like "meowth." Salem persisted in private for several moons, until with much frustration, she gave up on ever speaking a word. She never quite forgot her dream of talking to humans in their own tongue.

    After the show, Salem expected to curl up by Laura's side and listen to her read stories, like she always did. Laura tickled Salem's chin and signed [NO] with her free hand. "Sorry, kitten. I've had a long day and I still have homework to do! There was some big news today, too. Let's just chill, shall we?"

    Outrageous!

    But Salem's outrage didn't stop Laura from moving her laptop to her desk and getting to work. This would not do. Laura tried to do whatever 'homework' was so important, but Salem kept butting her head against Laura's leg, and miaowed raucously, until her human finally relented. Laura clambered into bed, leaning against the headboard, and opened the anthropology magazine that they'd started reading the night before. Salem manoeuvred her way into the crook of Laura's arm and gazed wide-eyed at the photographs as Laura read the accompanying text.

    Salem spent all day every day waiting for this. Each night, without fail, Laura would read to her about countless subjects, from the natural world, to human history, to pokémon battles. With each bedtime reading, Salem would snatch a new truth, each one more precious than the last. There were great forests across the ocean still untouched by humans and their cities. People had once lived in caves and hunted with sharpened sticks, without microwaves and lamps and books to use. Humans could form bonds with their partners that made them more powerful than any wild pokémon.

    At night, Salem would churn these ideas over and over in the mill of her mind, trying to grasp the big picture, to form a proper understanding of the world, and always having it slip away from her. She hoped that by learning everything Laura could share with her, that, like Meowth, she could teach herself to be more human. Being human meant never having to be bored and alone again.

    Even when Laura became exasperated with her insistence and her questions, like she was now, Salem remained desperate to drink up every word, on any topic. Eventually, of course, Laura tired of reading. It didn't take so long this time.

    "Salem, I'm done. Seriously, I still have way too much to do."

    [WHAT?] signed Salem, cocking her head and chirping uncertainly.

    "Mostly uni applications. Plus my normal work. And I got home late, too, so, just, ugh. Basically ugh."

    That meant nothing to her. She cocked her head the other way and chirped again. If she did that, Laura would know to explain in a way she understood.

    Laura groaned, and spoke with care. "Okay, so it's like this. Uni is school that comes after school. And I have to do a lot of work so that I can go to uni. Because if I go to uni, then when I'm done, I can get a better job."

    Salem kept cocking her head. She didn't know how to ask "but what about our adventure? Why are you doing this and not that?" so she just signed [TRAINER] in desperation, mimicking the overarm throw that humans used to release a pokémon from their ball at range.

    "What? Trainer? No, Salem, sweetheart." Laura brushed her dark hair from her face, which she always did when saying something important, and gently stroked Salem's cheek fur, which she always did when was about to disappoint her. "I'm not going to be a trainer. You need to start young to do that professionally, and have the right support, and I didn't, and I don't." She signed some of the key ideas as she spoke. [NO TRAINER. I CAN'T.]

    [TRAINER!] Salem signed again, harder this time. Her tail thrashed anxiously.

    "No, kitten. I can't just run away and battle with you. I don't have the money. I don't have my parents' permission. I don't want to, really. It's one of those things - kids all play at pokémon training, but barely any of them actually run the League circuit when they turn whatever age. It's like how loads of kids want to be astronauts, but there's only like, two astronauts from the UK. I think. Pokémon training is… I'm not meant for it. Those playground battles we had with other kids never meant we were going to travel the world doing it seriously. I'm going to study finance, cause Mum says I can work anywhere after that…"

    But the words didn't mean anything to Salem. She didn't understand 'money' even after all Laura's previous explanations. She didn't understand 'permission' or 'astronauts' or 'meant for it'. She didn't understand why Laura didn't care, didn't want this, didn't yearn for their shared adventure the way she always had.

    She signed helplessly, every piece of communication a continuous struggle. Her paws and body gave her more range of expression than a serperior, or a lanturn, or worse, a voltorb with no extremities at all, but they were still nothing to a human's hands and face. Her vocabulary was stunted, too; pokésign only accommodated simple ideas. 'Yes, no, over here, I'm hungry, please stop.'

    It was difficult enough to think of what she wanted to say and more difficult still to find a way to say it. Under normal circumstances, she was constantly distracted by the temperature, ambient sounds, loose threads of clothing. Even when focused as she was now, she could never hold more than one, maybe two ideas in her head at once.

    When asking about their future adventures went nowhere, she tried to ask something else - [I COME WITH YOU?] - not difficult to sign, but difficult for her to ask with her hopes so recently discarded.

    "Salem, pokémon aren't allowed in halls, honey. I might have roommates that don't want pokémon around. 'Roommates,' that's like, friends who I live with, I mean. You'll have to stay home. I'm sorry, kitty."

    Roommates. Friends who Laura lived with, instead of Salem. Laura already spent so much time with friends without Salem, now Salem would always be without Laura.

    She tried to ask if she would see Laura - if there would be visits - and miaowed her general distress.

    [I SEE YOU? YOU WITH ME?]

    "What? Oh, of course I'll come see you! Everyone comes home from uni for winter holidays."

    [MORE?]

    "Every year, yes! Don't worry, I'll come back!"

    But not every day. Not enough to stop Salem pacing and grooming and scratching for days on days on days.

    It was hopeless.

    Laura evidently agreed, because after a few minutes of this, her alarm went off and she said "That's enough. Really. I really have to do my work, so please, please leave me alone." She took off from the bed and threw herself into her desk chair, headphones on, fingers tapping at the keyboard.

    Normally, Salem would have lain down by the laptop's fan for warmth, or batted at Laura's fingers, or walked in front of the screen for attention.

    But…

    'Leave me alone,' Laura had said.

    She had never said that before.

    So Salem left her alone.

    She slunk out of the room, went out the flap into the back garden, and left Laura behind. She could never quite explain why, only that she couldn't stay after that, and that she couldn't go back even when she was desperate for tinned food and packets of treats.

    It had been moons since, but the time between then and now was unimportant. The only important day was today. Today Salem would muster up the nerve to go to the pokémon shelter and ask for help. The time spent cold and afraid - that didn't matter. What mattered was no longer being cold or afraid, or hungry, or vulnerable, or tired, or lonely.

    If only she were human.

    Being human meant never being cold and hungry again.
     
    Marika_CZ likes this.
  4. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Hey! I actually think I remember this. Mostly because of the title, because it's calling up memories of a banner with like, a bunch of different Pokemon eyes on it. And also because this was (and still is) the only example I've seen of a Pokemon becoming a morph rather than a human becoming a morph. It's great to see that you've picked it up again! I know how hard it is to start writing after leaving a fic dormant for so long.

    I really like how well you tread the line between making Salem very cat-like, with her wants and behaviors and difficulty understanding things like money and college, and yet very clearly not an animal, with her complex emotions, signing, understanding human speech, and wanting to be a human. It's a nicely grounded approach that feels definitely "Pokemon", as opposed to just a colorful animal or a furry human. It's easy to feel how torn she is, adamantly not wanting to go home because Laura isn't there, but not wanting a new home with new humans instead, not really knowing where to go and not having the agency to do what she really wants, and I feel it's that lack of agency that's at the heart of her desire to be human.

    It'll be interesting to see how she gets caught up in the Pokemorph project, so I'll check back from time to time to see where this goes. And once again, welcome back!

    ~Chibi~
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  5. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    Nice! My favorite Pokémon fanfic will be always the one with interesting OC and some sort of new take on the creatures we so love (or the world they inhabit).

    I haven't been reading fanfic for long so I am not familiar with this story, but I sure like it. Especially that Real World spin on being Pokémon trainer. If Pokémon were real, I am fraid many of us would end up like Laura.

    You described the Salem's past and feelings nicely. The first chapter made me root for her. Looking forward to Chapter Two!
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  6. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → soul sick.

    Yo! So, this is certainly different from the original Different Eyes opener, eh? I remember Salem waking up with amnesia, and either being found by other PokéMorphs just like her or running into them shortly into the chapter. It was almost reminiscent of a PMD setting fic, except it defied all my expectations there. Don't know if I'm off base with my memory, but in any case, this version takes the focus away from the PokéMorph aspect (so far) and the worldbuilding exposition in favor of Salem's character. I dig it.

    It's interesting that you separate animals and Pokémon entirely. Usually, they're depicted as creatures that evolved from animals, just as humans did from animals, but really, categorizing them among more fantastical beings makes sense in comparison. Your take on Pokémon having special "energy" as opposed to humanlike sentience and consciousness makes sense and separates this fic from others. It also only makes the fact that "a third kind" - presumably PokéMorphs, the combination of humans and Pokémon - more interesting, as it implies two very separate creatures are going to play into it rather than two types of creatures with some past evolutionary history.

    Anyway! Onto Salem herself. I love the choice of Purrloin and all the catlike behaviors she displays. So adorable, learning about the quirks she has and how she interacts with Laura. Laura's got some depth herself already without her even being the focus, so kudos there, too. :D Oh, I quoted this part in particular because the writing style was stunning. Flowed well and the language is perfect and it hits you hard by the end. This is exactly how I remember your writing style, haha. It's nice to see it again.

    I wasn't sure what to make of the attempt at explaining Pokémon speaking this way in the anime, but you know what? It works. Tidbits like this are so fun to see in fanfic, haha.

    And I have a feeling Salem's going to be very, very disappointed at some point in the fic. This isn't true at all.

    Never really thought of it this way. Still, breaks my heart to see Salem struggling so hard to communicate, then kind of succeeding but also getting shut down hardcore anyway. And she doesn't even understand how badly she's getting shut down, just knows Laura said no and that sadness ensues. Bah.

    I... don't really have criticism for you, other than perhaps the prelude sounded a tad lecture-y and stiff in comparison to the actual first chapter, except then I saw it was an excerpt from an official speech given by someone. I'd probably not have been offput by it if that explanation was put right at the beginning rather than the end, but could just be me.

    Till next time!
     
    unrepentantAuthor likes this.
  7. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    To all of you, please PM me if you'd like to be added to a subscription list.

    @Chibi Pika Thanks so much for giving this your attention! I checked, and I never replied to your last comment on the old edition - the only review the last chapter got, in fact. I appreciate it! Also, you're right about the distinctive banner, but the same artist has been kind enough to make me this slick new one. What do you reckon? :p I'm glad Salem comes across as being distinctly pokémon, as she is certainly neither animal nor human. I'm also glad you picked up on the agency theme, as that's actually a big deal for the fic and it should already be clear.

    @Marika_CZ Thanks for your review! I hope that my OCs and takes on the setting continue to impress. Don't worry about being familiar with the story, it's a complete rewrite from the ground up, and Salem even changed species somewhere during the design process!

    @diamondpearl876 It certainly is different! I decided that opening the story with Salem already a morph would never be completely satisfactory, and that the whole point is for her to change drastically. So I have to write her as a cat! I can't believe I didn't see this to begin with. I actually have an in-setting reason for the existence of pokémon, but it won't be addressed for a long time yet! Animals have to exist, I feel, to sustain a sensible ecosystem., but they don't need to feature much. I'm glad you love my style! I personally think it's less dry and stilted than it was six years ago, but it's nice that the 'spark' is apparently the same. Salem certainly will be disappointed, don't you worry~ I'm pleased you managed to find something to criticise despite my intensive editing efforts, it makes your glowing praise sound sincere! ;D Cheers, and I truly hope to keep your interest as a regular reader!

    Thanks to you all! New chapter up in a few minutes. I've had a hell of a time the last few weeks, but rest assured I intend to post two updates by the end of each month.
     
  8. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Two

    Salem watched the front window of the local pokémon shelter from the scant canopy of leaves she was hiding in - several shrubs clustered in the grassy median beside a small car park. It wasn’t ideal. She had to press herself low to the ground, which was damp, cold, and shared with worms and insects. Her fur was dark and the winter sun was already retiring, so this hiding place would keep her well out of sight. Yet, it hardly felt like safety. The short flights of the winter sun and her ability to hide at its setting were not a nightly reassurance, but a reminder of all the other pokémon that could be stalking her from the same darkness.

    The moon came out from behind the clouds, and briefly lit up the terrain. Salem shrunk back further into the greenery and glowered at it. Its illumination may have been a comforting constant from inside a house, but now it made her visible, and therefore vulnerable. It occurred to her that the moon had lived two full lives since she’d last eaten a proper meal. Slept on furniture. Been petted.

    The moon withdrew behind cloud cover, and darkness returned. The pokémon shelter was brightly lit from inside, which gave her perfect vision of the interior. There was one human inside. A young man. After studying him for a few days, Salem felt she could read him well. He was a calm person, never moving suddenly or crying out. She liked that. She had begun to wait for a time when she was certain that nobody else but him was about. If she approached the shelter with only him present, she’d be less vulnerable. Or maybe she was only waiting because she still needed to work up the nerve.

    The first few nights she’d done this, a silver-tabby glameow tom had come to join her. He’d taken a perch on the wall around the car park, posed like a sphinx, watching her openly from his exposed position without regard to his own concealment, let alone hers. On one of these nights, he seemed to taunt her. A low, strained miaow, certain subtle flicks of his ears and tail. [BAD HUNTER.] An accusation.

    She replied with mirrored gestures and a turn of the head. [NOT HUNTING.]

    A brief, shrill chirrup, a certain blink: [YES, THAT’S IT.] By this he meant, “exactly, a good hunter would be hunting right now.” Perhaps he was actually trying to be helpful, but even so he only managed to raise her hackles.

    Salem focused her attention on the shelter rather than on him, and he seemed to lose interest for a time, only to return not long after with a dead mouse, freshly caught. The glameow offered her the first bite, nudging the morsel towards her with his nose. She looked away. At the time, she hadn’t understood her position. She hadn’t been ready to trade pride for food. He persisted a little while, before finally eating the mouse himself within earshot, punctuating each crunch with small growls of enjoyment that made Salem’s belly growl in kind. As he did this, the shelter lights went out. That was Salem’s cue to leave.

    Every time Salem got up off her haunches to turn away from the shelter, her stomach stabbed at her resolve. When she’d spurned the mouse it had been bearable. Now, she’d been doing this for days and it was a constant gnawing in her gut. There were never enough hunting or scavenging opportunities to keep her strength up. She had made no allies. She had found no home. She wished she had not turned down the glameow tom, for perhaps she would have had several more meals, by now. Food, but also a friend. Sooner or later she would walk through that door and face whatever consequence awaited, or she would give up on ever walking in and eventually meet an unambiguously grim fate.

    Tonight the human in the shelter was doing his peculiar ritual with the machine at the front desk. Soon he would start turning the lights off. Last chance to go to him tonight. Last chance before another cold and hungry sleep. Somewhere in the street, she was sure the eyes of another local feral pokémon were trained on her. Last chance.

    Salem emerged from under the bushes and approached the shelter door, feeling the moon’s light on her fur like teeth. She reached the door and got up on her hind legs to push it open. It shook, but remained closed. She pushed again, and her paws slipped, so she scrabbled at the glass indignantly. The human didn’t notice, so she miaowed; her voice was strained and squeaky in her ears.

    Finally, the human spotted her. He watched her for a second, rubbed one eye, and got up to let her inside. The moment the gap was large enough to accommodate her whiskers, she bounded indoors and up onto the front desk, where she crouched defensively with her chin against her paws. The young man scratched his neck as he appraised her from one angle, then another.

    “Well, you’re an unhappy looking thing,” he said at last.

    Salem made a noise of discomfort and frustration. A tilt of her head and a ‘grabbing’ gesture from above her head down towards her mouth - [FOOD] - communicated her first need in hasty, dramatic pokésign.

    “What’s that? Oh, right.”

    The human set to work finding her a clean bowl and some food. She considered signing not to bother with the bowl, but it would take too long to make herself understood. Instead, she wailed incessantly until the food was ready. Within several breaths, he’d found her some jellied meat chunks, into which she shoved her head to wolf down before he’d even let go.

    “Wow,” he said. “A purrloin, huh? You know, normally when we get new arrivals, they come with a person handing them to us. You’re gonna make my paperwork pretty difficult, friend.”

    She ignored him, paying all her attention to the food. When she was done, she looked up at him with broad pupils, intent on getting more, but he shook his head, smiling. Like most humans, he smiled with his eyes too far open. Laura knew to close her eyes properly.

    “I’ll get you some more food in a minute, Purrloin, but if you eat too much all at once after going hungry, it’ll disagree with you.”

    Salem didn’t quite believe the excuse, but she could wait for more food. She twitched an ear, pushed her head towards him: a gesture which meant, more or less, “Who are you?”

    “Oh, my name’s Jamie. I’m in charge of this place, more or less. You, uh, know what this is, right? You didn’t just turn up at random?”

    A nod, and a paw gesture. [YES.]

    “Oh right, good. Okay. Well, I can let you sleep here and I’ll give you food but first I’ll have to give you a check up, register you as best I can, that sort of thing. You got a microchip?”

    ‘Microchip’? The sounds were familiar. She guessed the answer.

    [YES.]

    “Huh. Gotcha. That’s a welcome surprise. I guess you don’t have a pokéball?”

    She shook her head. An awkward movement for her, but humans always understood it.

    Jamie hummed to himself, and fetched some papers from a drawer in his desk. As he sat and wrote on them, he let Salem smell his hand. Jamie smelled of pokémon, mostly. All kinds, but especially feline and canine. Also, food. Soon, Salem had persuaded Jamie to feed her another bowl - fish, this time - and he’d scanned her chip.

    “Salem, huh? Good name for a black cat, I guess. Or black-white-and-tan, close enough. A witch’s cat, named for a town of witches.”
    Salem didn’t really understand, but those were definitely colour words. He was describing her for some reason. She flicked both ears back and forth as she ate. [OKAY.]

    “Looks like you belonged to a Laura Weir. Ring any bells?”

    [YES,] she replied. Her tail flicked in dissatisfaction. [UNHAPPY.]

    “Yikes, okay. I won’t ask. But I still have to do my job, just so you know. I can skip calling up this Laura if you really don’t want me to, but I still have to do my best to get you adopted. I hope you’re okay with that.”

    Her tail kept twitching in protest, but she signed her assent. [OKAY. UNHAPPY.]

    Jamie sighed, but he gave her a closed-mouth smile and blinked slowly at her like he was supposed to. She wasn’t ready return that gesture of trust, but it did make her feel a little better, so she stopped eating long enough to bow her head for a breath’s span: [THANK-YOU.]

    “Hey, no problem. It’s my job to take care of you, after all.”

    When Salem had finished her food, Jamie yawned and put his pen down.

    “I’m too tired for this, Salem. Normally I’d be home by now. Let’s get you to sleep.”

    Jamie’s idea of a nest for her wasn’t a comfortable spot on a bed, but one of the many padded mats in the shared room behind his desk. Most of the mats already had pokémon occupants, generally small mammals, but also some birds and reptiles. She’d never shared a sleeping space with anyone but Laura. She wasn’t ready to be unconscious around other pokémon yet.

    While Salem peeked inside out of simple curiosity, a fluffy white rockruff spotted her, and was immediately wagging their tail and perking their ears. Alert, agitated. A threat display? She backed away, her tail quivering uncertainly.

    “It’s okay, Salem. He’s making friends!”

    Friends? She wasn’t sure Jamie was right. But she could try. She signed friendly intent, or something like it, blinking slowly and holding her tail up. The rockruff let out a couple of muffled ‘woofs’, not barking so loud as to wake any sleeping pokémon, but loud enough to startle her.

    She growled her disapproval, and nimbly darted out of Jamie’s potential reach, hissing sharply when he approached. After a round of ineffective persuasion and cajoling from the human and insistent, defensive pokésign from her, he relented. He sighed, his hands on his hips.

    “Look, I’m not taking you home with me, no matter how much fuss you make. So I’m going to let you stay in the storefront with some water and a basket, but only if you promise not to mess with anything until I’m back tomorrow, alright?”

    That was too many words. She tilted her head to make Jamie explain.

    He did, carefully: “You can stay here. In this room. But you have to promise to behave. Okay?”

    She tried to remember the movements she needed. Hesitantly, she tried them out. Paw to her mouth, then down to her chest. [PROMISE.]

    Of course, a promise made like that didn’t count for anything.

    She was given a spot for her sleeping mat on the front desk. Jamie’s gaze lingered on her when he locked the door, his non-feline expression difficult for her to interpret. She met his stare evenly until he turned away, climbed into his car, and left. She had the night to herself at last, it seemed.

    A soft chirruping call from behind her sent her whirling into a fierce stance, hackles raised. Her would-be opponent made no such aggressive overtures. Salem was facing a long, lithe creature with cream and violet fur, alert eyes, prominent whiskers. Long, flowing fur hanging down from the forelegs like over-sized sleeves. Female scent, and the scent of Jamie. Salem backed down. The mienshao waved one of her limp ‘sleeves’ at Salem and briefly rolled on the ground in a show of friendliness, and Salem acknowledged the gesture with a peaceable slow blink.

    Mienshao’s pokésign was extraordinary. Dextrous movements with her paws, subtle movements of ears and tail, easy mastery of accent-signs using whips of her fur sleeves. It was stunningly complex, hard to follow, and made Salem deeply envious. As Mienshao signed, she also vocalised in an eager chatter which Salem had almost no understanding of whatsoever.

    [I watch this place - I do this at night - at night humans are absent - I must care for pokémon - new pokémon like you who are here.]

    Salem could take care of herself from here. She tried signing back, ears flattening in concentration.

    [AM OKAY. NO HELP.]

    [It is okay! - I will help you!]

    [NO.]

    [This way - this way!]

    Either her articulation was more crude than she’d realised, or Mienshao was just oblivious.

    Not for the first time, Salem felt that even if she had a mienshao’s body, it still wouldn’t be enough for her. She did her best with what she had, but the thoughts in her head were more than she knew how to say even with pokésign as fluent as that. She was smart for a feline pokémon, or she thought so, but really she was only smart enough to realise how much was beyond her grasp. She had to strain to understand almost all of what humans said to her, living on best-guesses and uncertain interpretations. She tried all the time. Tried so hard to understand. And this mienshao probably understood so much more than she did without really trying.

    While Salem was staring into space, tail twitching in bitter exasperation, Mienshao had carried a small, cushioned basket into the storefront, and now offered it to Salem. It smelled offensively of mienshao musk, but it was still more comfortable than the mat. Salem supposed Mienshao must have a nocturnal routine, not that it mattered. She seized the gift, kneading the cushioning eagerly. Mienshao chirruped her delight and went on to bring her a water bowl and litter tray. She hadn’t used a tray in seasons; Laura’s family had a garden she’d usually gone in. Given the peculiar smell, she could figure out the idea.

    A couple of the other pokémon in the shelter tried to get her attention by vocalising or signing things to her through the doorway, but she turned away, curling up tight. They could wait. She didn’t want to talk, only to rest, and let the warmth of the shelter sink into her bones a little. There were some aches in her body she hadn’t even noticed were there until they’d already begun to subside. In Mienshao’s basket, Salem drifted off within a few short breaths.

    She had shallow, fitful dreams, interrupted frequently by the sounds of traffic or of other pokémon, and filled with distorted memories, running, and hiding. When she woke from a dream about a fight - not a battle for fun, but for survival - she did not return to sleep. It was the deep night, what Laura had always called the witching hour.

    Salem soon found herself sat at the front window, staring out at the moon, thinking that it, at least, was constant and sincere. She felt as if she were not truly experiencing that moment in person, but simply recalling some extraordinarily vivid memory. The moon shone as if to seek out her eyes alone, and her eyes welcomed it. No matter how her life changed, she would always have the moon.

    But she only had the moon until dawn, even the late dawn of the winter sun.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2018
  9. Marika_CZ

    Marika_CZ Well-Known Member

    Aw, nice character devolepment. I feel a bit sorry for Laura. I can see why Salem is disillusioned, but her human partner must have been worried sick.

    This chapter nicely sets up the fact that Salem is really not happy with her life as a Pokemon and explains how come she is heading to such a drastical change that was forshadowed in the very first sentence of Ch1.

    I agree. I wonder how is @unrepentantAuthor going to explore that, and where they take it after we get to the part where transformation actually happens.

    Great job so far and looking forward to Ch3!
     

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