Thread: [Pokémon] Anima Ex Machina [R]
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Old November 29th, 2008 (11:16 AM). Edited March 17th, 2009 by JX Valentine.
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Join Date: May 2004
Location: Harassing Bill
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Three
(The war machine springs to life, opens up one eager eye.)

Project Stardust was essentially a hierarchy. At the bottom were the very fundamental grunts of each individual complex, the interns and such who worked on the project but had very little actual information on the overall situation. Then, there were several different levels of scientists, based on credentials and ability. Near the top was the complex director, people like Oak who oversaw the entire facility and every happening within it.

Above that was the Committee.

Its full name was hardly ever used by its members, and no one else who knew about its presence ever felt the need to know what it was. All anyone knew was that it was simply a board of individuals who oversaw the funding and activity of government-sponsored scientific endeavors. In other words, they were the ones currently in charge of Project Stardust, monitoring all operations, collecting all information, and deciding the best choice of action based on the research they received. They funded the efforts, summoned each scientist, and most importantly, watched each designated research facility carefully.

Presently, they sat behind their long desk as shadowed figures with unseen eyes fixed on the screen in front of them. On it, the image of Oak flickered, waiting for their comments. One of the board members flipped through a stack of papers sitting in front of him without even looking at it.

"If I understand you correctly," he said, "you have lost one of our researchers – the one we've selected after careful deliberation based on your reports – to the infection of XP-494."

Oak fixed his jaw, refusing to show any emotion but serenity. "He's infected, but I wouldn't call him lost."

Another board member leaned over the table and gazed towards the center man. "Professor Oak is correct. While we may have lost the specimen as an individual, reports state that hundreds of others have hatched in the facility."

"From the carcass of a test rattata," a woman added. "Yes, we have no shortage of XP-494A."

Oak furrowed his eyebrows. That wasn't the first time he'd heard a letter being tacked onto the end of a temporary designation. Typically, when the name of a new pokémon species was pending according to the Pokémon Symposium, it was simply referred to as XP, followed by its number in the National Dex. Therefore, XP-494 literally meant "Unidentified Pokémon #494," the first entry after the documented legend, Arceus. Letters at the end of such designations, Oak recalled, tended to be rare and usually indicated alternate forms: A for the first, B for the second, and so on. In fact, the practice was so rare, only a handful were documented as such prior to receiving their official names, with the last noted case being XP-423A and 423B – gastrodon from the western seas of Sinnoh and gastrodon from the eastern, respectively. If the pokémon he knew as XP-494 was merely only the A form, he wondered briefly what terrible forms XP-494B might take.

"As for the victim," the second man continued, "perhaps there may be some use for him. It would be beneficial to our race to understand the infection and the aftermath. He is only one individual – surely not dangerous if contained properly. If we can gain further insight to the behavior of XP-494, then perhaps we should keep him in Polaris Institute."

A third woman, the one next to the first, leaned over the table to look at him. "May I remind you that the victim has already displayed violent tendencies. A specimen this large and equipped with an arsenal we do not fully understand—"

"Which is why I propose he should be under careful surveillance. If we take care in handling XP-494B—"

Oak couldn't help but interject. "XP-494B? When did we receive one?"

The Committee fell silent. For a moment, Oak's steady glance wavered to betray his uncertainty. However, he had a feeling the leader smiled in the shadows.

"Allow me to explain," he said with careful patience. "XP-494A is, by itself, its own pokémon with only one attack: Leech Life. You've documented this well."

Oak said nothing. He knew it was true. All those weeks, and that was one of the only things Polaris Institute knew for certain.

"But," the leader added, "it is primarily a parasite. For reasons unknown, when it comes in contact with pokémon, it merely lacerates them and lays eggs in the victim's body. You've also documented this well. However, when it comes in contact with a human being, it excretes a mutagen that triggers a complete biological transformation within the host."

"It's been theorized by Sinnoh's team that it tests the stability of all its hosts, but human beings possess weaker natural defenses than pokémon life," the first woman added. "So, rather than attempt to consume and lay eggs within a weak body, they fuse with and alter their hosts to serve as vessels for their own survival."

Oak's shoulders tensed. "In other words, the pokémon you designate as XP-494B is…"

"Is both the parasite and the human host," the leader said with a nod. "There is no actual evolution involved, but we consider it comparable to the relationship between shellder and slowbro. The shellder – in this case, XP-494A – is its own pokémon, but it feeds and benefits primarily on the host. The host, meanwhile becomes the primary pokémon, though genetically, it is simply a hybrid of its human self and XP-494A. You've proven this through the results of the blood and skin tissue samples taken from McKenzie."

For a long moment, Oak was silent. His face remained expressionless as he let what they were saying sink in. Even then, what he'd just heard was almost dizzying.

"I'm not sure I understand," he said.

"We do not expect you to right now," the leader said. "It will be your job to learn what you can from McKenzie."

Oak raised his eyebrows. "You're letting him stay at the Institute?"

The leader bowed his shadowed head. "Frankly, Professor, and I forcibly speak on behalf of the rest of the Committee, I do not see a benefit in either destroying the specimen or exiling him to Hoenn. If we carefully monitor his behavior as my colleague had said, then he may help us understand the alien more than we could have simply observing its A form."

Oak nodded. He didn't quite feel right considering one of his colleagues to be a lab subject, but he couldn't argue with that logic, either.

"Of course," he said. "I thought as much."

"Yes." The leader raised his head. "We must warn you, though. Have you heard the news about the Orange Islands' Valencia Center of Science and Technology?"

"I'm afraid I haven't," Oak said with a shake of his head.

The lead man leaned back in his dark chair. "In that case, send him the clip."

There was a clacking sound nearby as a technician worked on a computer in the corner of the room. Oak stood back, waiting for whatever the Committee was sending him as the leader tilted his head to the side.

"What you are about to see is the subject known as Codename Pandora," he said. "Early in the project, a young intern from Valencia Center was infected with the parasite you know as XP-494A during a routine experiment. Over the next week, she underwent physical changes not unlike the ones you have observed with McKenzie's transformation. This tape was found several months later when rescue efforts attempted to retrieve the bodies of the research team from beneath the rubble of Valencia Center."

Immediately, the Committee disappeared to Oak's eyes. In their place was a black-and-white clip of a young, dark-haired woman in a hospital gown seated in an otherwise empty room with the parasite glistening on her exposed shoulder. At first, it was simply a shot of her, swaying as she tried to remain conscious in the chair as tendrils flicked beneath the skin of her shoulder. The clip cut abruptly to the image of the woman with her head craned back and several scientists gathered around her. One of them attempted to administer an anesthetic through a long needle, but her flailing arms knocked the syringe flying. Pale crystals jutted out of her skin, which hung in shredded flaps from her infected shoulder.

The clip cut again. This time, her hair had fallen out, and a pair of rounded horns jutted out of her skull. Her entire body took on a shimmering coat of ice, interrupted every so often by a crystal spike jutting from the skin. As she shivered, the creature's thin arms wrapped around her naked body. The parasite glistened like a third eye on her shoulder as she cried out, silently due to a lack of audio. A few more men in lab coats immediately responded by approaching her with syringes in hand. Their bodies shielded most of her from view, save for the limbs that flashed above their heads as she entered another seizure.

It cut again. The girl sat with her long, pale hair shielding her pallid face. Beneath the chair, a tail, seemingly made of crystal, flicked back and forth. The chair's occupant sat perched with her knees hugged tightly to her chest and her clawed feet curled around the edge of the chair. The back of a scientist appeared in the side of the shot. His hands moved as if he was speaking with her, to which she responded by lifting her head.

In the next instant, no one was in the chair, and the scientist had disappeared. Something dark sprayed across the lens of the camera, partly obscuring the image of the otherwise empty room.

Then, a mouth with a pair of long fangs appeared in the shot, followed by a split second of a claw.

Static followed, the only sound that broke the long silence.

The clip was replaced by the image of the Committee, who waited in a dark stillness for Oak's response. He fell silent. His face was pale, but he set his jaw in a stubborn drive to maintain composure. Without saying a word, he waited for the Committee to speak. At long last, the leader cleared his throat.

"As you can see," he said, "XP-494B is not a creature to be taken lightly. While we do not wish to believe that one of our own is capable of reaching this state, we cannot take any chances. Observe him carefully. Do not sedate him or attempt to control his behavior. We fear that will produce inaccurate data. However, keep your staff well separated from him. Have Pandora be a reminder to you as to what will happen if you neglect to keep your distance."

The leader paused for a beat, as if to let his orders sink into Oak's brain. Then, he drew a breath.

"Incidentally," he added, "if you would like to know the end result of that error, the National Defense Force has placed Valencia Island under the same quarantine as Hoenn. Do not let the same happen to Cinnabar Island. We cannot afford it."

Oak listened carefully and nodded once the leader paused. "I understand."

The leader straightened. "Additionally, we will send you the reports salvaged from Valencia on Pandora to establish your base of information. In the meantime, we request that your reports designate McKenzie as Codename Adam to similarly protect the subject's identity so we may share your findings with other institutions."

Like Johto's, Oak thought. He still hadn't been able to track down Bill's father, and the last thing he knew the man would want would be to find out about his son's condition through a lab report.

"Yes, of course," Oak finally said. "Is there anything else I should know?"

The leader shook his head. "Just that we will take special interest in Polaris from now onward. Very rarely have we been able to study XP-494B. The first and last instance was Pandora, who had completely surprised us with both her generation and her behavior. We can only emphasize that if a similar reaction occurs every time XP-494A comes in contact with a human being, it should be quite obvious that maintaining Adam's captivity at this moment is of the utmost importance."

Oak inhaled. "Yes. I understand."

"Very good."

Before Oak could say anything else, the call cut off, and the screen faded to complete black. Oak leaned back in his chair, his eyes staring steadily at his wide, wooden desk. Slowly, his eyelids lowered, and he felt himself already drifting off to sleep.

No sooner had he begun to doze when a knock broke his stupor. Looking up, he cleared his throat and responded.

"Come in!"

It took a moment, but the door opened to allow a small, dark-haired girl to shuffle in. He immediately recognized her as one of the interns from the biochemistry team and, for her, straightened and forced a smile to make her feel less intimidated. She, meanwhile, still looked heavily nervous about being in that office.

"Yes?" he asked. "Go on."

She drummed her fingertips on a manila folder in her arms. "I'm sorry, sir, but the biochemistry team sent me to deliver the results of the blood tests you ordered."

Stepping forward, she slipped the folder on Oak's desk. He opened it and began to read the reports.

"Thank you," he said, his smile still lingering on his face.

She nodded and stepped back. For a few moments, she waited by the door for his dismissal. Her limbs were stiff at her sides, and she stared at the old man with the look of a terrified buneary. He looked up, blinking in confusion as to why she was still there.

"You can go now," he said. "I'm sure you have work to do in Lab 9."

Shifting on her feet, she looked a little nervous. Laboratory 9, after all, was the room with the infected human. As if to read her mind through her expression, Oak chuckled.

"Don't worry. He's harmless," he said, although inside, he wasn't sure if that was the total truth. "There's nothing to be afraid of."

"No, it's not that," she said with a slow shake of her head. "It's just that we're a bit behind schedule. The psychology team."

Oak raised his eyebrows. "What about the psychology team?"

The intern stiffened. Clearly, she'd thought he'd already heard. "I… I, um…"

Gently, Oak tapped the folder close. "Go on. What happened?"

"They spent an extra half an hour attempting to revive the specimen," she murmured as her head bent low. "Apparently, they tried to subdue him with sleeping gas, but then, they had to administer resuscitation because he stopped…"

Before she could even finish, Oak was on his feet and storming out the door.

---

Bill was really getting tired of nearly dying every time he went to sleep. As soon as he passed out from the sleeping gas, he found himself drawing inward and observing things from the back of his mind again, just as he had hours ago. There, he sensed his heart and his breathing falter, the rhythm of his body slowly drawing to a stop. In the darkness, he could hear vague voices, a commotion outside, but for the life of him, he couldn't make much more of it.

You're dying.

The voice in his head sounded like his, but it startled him to hear it float through his mind.

Well, yes, he thought. I suppose I am.

In the void, he saw a flicker of red light.

Do you do this often?

If he could move his body, he would have blinked at the question.

Dying? Not frequently, no.

At that point, he felt something for the first time since he'd fallen asleep. Something warm caressed his heart. He felt the thing seize it and grip it. The sensation wasn't exactly painful, but it took him by surprise. Whatever it was – and it was almost certainly his companion – it was forcing his heart to keep beating.

That won't do, the voice said. Stay alive.

He opened his mouth in a shuddering gasp. Outside, he could hear the voices grow frantic. He wasn't sure if his body was moving without his consent again.

Eventually, the rhythm of his breathing returned. The warm hands retreated from his heart, and it beat on its own. He stared in uncertainty at the red glow.

Good. Now, wake up.

Although the voice in his head made Bill feel unsettled, he felt compelled to follow its advice.

---

In Laboratory 9, Professor Oak stood by the window, his dark eyes staring wearily through the window. Nettle had been dismissed. The affair was polite, but it essentially ended with Oak asking her who gave her permission to gas a pokémon whose internal physiology and reactions to chemicals were still unknown. She had nothing to say to that, luckily enough, and now, he was mostly alone to direct scientists who had fewer urges to literally kill the subject.

He shifted on his feet and turned the terms over in his head again. There really wasn't much choice but to face the facts, and the truth was that Bill was classified as not only a new pokémon but also a lab subject. That was what the Committee stated, and Oak was in no position to contest it.

Closing his eyes, he exhaled. It was entirely too overwhelming. In all his years as a researcher, he'd never seen anything like what had taken place within the past several days.

"Professor," an intern said at his side, "we're getting some activity inside."

He opened his eyes just as the groan came across the speakers. Stepping forward, he watched as Bill moved, placing both hands on his head.

"Ow," Bill murmured, seemingly unaware that his voice carried through the sound systems to the other room. "My head…"

Claws felt the wiry hair and the horns. Bill paused, lingering on the feeling of sharp metal on bone. Then, he forced himself to sit up, eyes looking down at his legs again. Wearily, a hand reached behind him and tugged at the wire jutting out of his back until his tail pulled free from under his weight.

"Oh," he whispered as he stared at the wire. "I'd nearly forgotten."

Oak frowned slightly. "He sounds all right. Open a channel."

The intern at the controls nodded and flipped a switch. Keeping his eyes on the window, Oak put on his warmest smile.

"Bill?"

In response, his former colleague jumped and nearly toppled off the bed. His wide eyes darted around the room in search of the speakers until they fell on the window. He blinked as he stared in surprise at the visitor.

Oak began to grow a little concerned by his expression. What if Nettle was correct?

Drawing in a breath, Oak's smile faded slightly. "Do you remember me?"

Bill tilted his head and responded in a soft voice. "Certainly, Professor. I couldn't possibly forget you."

Oak nodded. "Of course. Do you know who you are?"

"Yes, of course." There was a beat of hesitation before Bill's voice lowered in volume. "Is something wrong?"

"No, no." Oak shook his head. "Don't worry. You're fine now."

Bill ventured a small but uncertain grin. "I suppose, Professor, compared to a moment ago. What happened?"

Oak's smile completely faded. "Professor Nettle ordered you to be sedated with sleeping gas because she thought you were being hostile. I'm sorry, Bill. We had no idea it would affect you that severely. We should have known better than to use something on you when we don't know how you would react to it, but I'm happy to see you came through all right." With that, the smile returned.

Bill listened to his explanation, nodding slowly until Oak was finished. "I assumed as much, but…" He rubbed his head with one of his clawed hands. "I meant what happened? What exactly am I… and how did this occur?"

At that point, Oak exhaled slowly in thought. He glanced towards the other scientists, who were working fervently at their stations. Then, he turned his gaze back towards Bill. He wanted nothing more than to answer the youth's questions, but even he was at a loss for explanations. All he could do was offer a reassuring smile as he wondered briefly not only why Bill seemed oddly calm about the situation but also how to keep him that way. It would, as Oak thought, be infinitely easier to deal with a rational person than someone in a panic.

"You haven't eaten in awhile, have you? Are you feeling up to it?"

Bill straightened where he sat and blinked. "Well, ah… Now that you mention it…" He looked away and placed a hand over his stomach. When he spoke again, his voice was even softer than usual. "I am a bit hungry… but…"

Oak waved a hand in the air. "In that case, let's have lunch." He turned to the intern beside him. "Would you mind preparing something for our friend there? The specifics should be the same as those for the A form. Give him water too, in case it doesn't agree with him."

The intern nodded. "Right away, sir."

At once, the young man sitting beside him stood and prepared to leave. After a moment, Oak reached for his shoulder.

"Oh, and, ah…"

The intern raised his eyebrows. "Yes, sir?"

"I could use a turkey sandwich on rye and some water myself," he said with a sheepish grin. "Don't forget to keep my meal separate from his."

For a long moment, the intern stared blankly at him. Then, finally, he nodded.

"Right away, sir."

That was one good thing about being the director: with the exception of Nettle, people often listened to him.

---

It had taken some insistences for Oak to convince the scientists to let him in and for one of Nurse Joy's chansey to be sent there as a guard. Minutes ticked by until finally, after more than a half an hour, Professor Oak sat in the chair he'd dragged to the bedside. A tray with his order sat on his lap. Meanwhile, the intern he'd spoken to moments ago was handing Bill a covered, paper cup. Without another word, the intern retreated to the corner of the room closest to the door with another cup filled with water still in hand. Oak watched Bill with a cautious eye as the latter took the cover off and examined the contents of the cup.

"How are you feeling?" Oak finally asked.

"A bit like Gregor Samsa," he murmured, "but other than that, I…"

Bill closed his eyes. Strange smells were plaguing his nose at that point. He'd become aware of the ones Oak and the others brought with them into the room. The humans smelled sweet and sour, almost unpleasant. There was a scent of sweat that lay thick on top of the other odor he couldn't identify. He could smell the paper cups, the chansey (who, to him, smelled sweet and earthy), and the sandwich that sat in front of Oak, but when he removed the lid of his cup and stared at the red liquid, he caught the scent of something powerful. It had a bitter smell, one he would readily describe as being "coppery." He couldn't completely define what it was about that odor that made him sway, but it did.

That, naturally, made Oak straighten in his seat.

"Bill? Are you all right?"

Opening his eyes, he cast Oak a confused glance. "Ah… Yes. I-I'm fine. I just… feel a bit weak right now."

Bringing the cup to his lips, he took a small sip. A salty, metallic taste spread across his tongue, and that alone made his stomach rumble with hunger. Something about it made him feel relaxed.

Noting the lack of a violent reaction and Bill's expression, Oak exhaled with relief a moment after his younger colleague took his first sip. The elder researcher hoped both meant the rest of the conversation would go easily.

"Eh, I should've figured as much," he said. "You've been in and out of consciousness for nearly two weeks."

Bill jolted, his eyes growing wide. "Two weeks?"

Oak nodded. "Yes. We were worried we wouldn't be speaking to you again."

"Professor…" Bill's hands curled around his cup with a slightly tighter grip. "The team…"

"Don't worry!" Oak said as he waved a hand. "They're doing just fine, and all of them understand you couldn't possibly put in a day's work. No one's going to make you get out of bed if you're not feeling up to it."

Bill pursed his lips for a moment in thought. He stared at his cup in the meantime until finally, he took another sip.

"I think," he said, "I should be getting back to work tomorrow."

Oak leaned back in his chair. "Tomorrow? Bill, as much as I love a person's enthusiasm about pokémon, don't you think you're pushing yourself too much? You'll have to stay here for another day or two to recover. You only woke up today, after all."

"I know." Bill sighed. "I need to know, though. As soon as possible."

Raising his eyebrows, Oak studied his companion carefully. "What do you need to know?"

Bill brought the cup to his lips. Whatever the liquid was, it acted almost like a sedative. He could feel himself relax, rather than panic or plead for information. Instead, he asked his next question just as casually as a question about how fine the weather might have been.

"What happened to me?"

Oak drew in a breath. He knew that question was coming, yet despite that, he was having difficulties preparing an answer. Bill's dark eyes were on the professor now, and as Oak stared into them, he found it difficult to lie or withhold the information the Committee had told him. Knowing Bill, Oak knew very well that he would find out either way, regardless of whether or not he told him. After all, Oak knew that finding out even the most carefully guarded information was something that Bill was very good at doing.

"There are two forms of XP-494," Oak explained. "XP-494A is the form we've been studying since the first day. XP-494B is the form that's just been discovered in the time you've been out."

Bill furrowed his eyebrows. "XP-494B?" His voice broke slightly as he continued. "Professor… how does this answer my question?"

Oak exhaled slowly. "While you were out, I've had the institute split into two groups. One continued studying XP-494A, which we've hatched from eggs found in that experimental rattata you worked with the day of the accident. The other began studying XP-494B."

There was a silence. Oak looked at Bill's face, but all he could see was an expression of confusion. Bill, meanwhile, felt as if there was an obvious truth right there, but his mind refused to touch it. He kept it out of his reach with the hope that if he didn't think about it, it wouldn't be true.

Unaware of this mental block, Oak hunched over slightly as he finally delivered the truth. "Bill, XP-494B is you."

Looking up, Oak waited for a response. The expression of confusion melted away, leaving nothing but blankness behind. Bill sat with the cup in his lap and his lips turning pale. Then, after a moment, they drew into a small smile. Oak gripped his tray. He didn't quite know what to make of it – if it meant Bill was slipping away.

But when he answered, it was definitely his voice. "There must be some mistake."

Immediately, Oak felt pity for him. Denial was one of the reactions he predicted Bill would have, but he'd hoped the youth was better than deluding himself from the obvious.

"I'm sorry, Bill," he said with a cold edge of seriousness in his voice, "but it's true. You're not human anymore."

Bill looked down at himself. He saw his lap, uncovered and completely metal. He saw the claws, the tail curled around him, the alien feet. His hands gripped his cup, and with shaking motions, he took another sip. The liquid calmed him, but he still couldn't help but feel as if he was on the brink of breaking down.

"How did this happen?" he asked quietly.

Oak shook his head. "We don't know yet. We've run some tests on blood samples we've taken for the past several days with the hope that something there might give us a hint. The results are in my office, but I haven't had a chance to look at them."

Bill stared at the cup. "Do you think that perhaps… it may be joint-evolution?"

"We wish it could be that simple to explain. The process you've undergone took far too long to be considered evolution by itself or joint-evolution, even if XP-494A had that capability."

Bill furrowed his eyebrows again. "Then what…?"

"We're working as hard as we can to find out." Oak lowered his head. "Just be patient, Bill. We'll figure it out."

Bill turned his head to look at Oak. When he spoke next, his voice was trembling with fear. "What do I do now?"

"That's your decision. We're all hoping you'll agree to be studied. After all, we could use the data we'll gather from you to fully understand XP-494."

Oak expected a horrified glare. It was what a number of the other scientists would have most likely done, and he couldn't blame any one of them. To be a test subject, one had to undergo a constant violation of privacy, and that number of scientists – Bill included – were usually very private people.

However, what he got instead was a slightly surprised glance and the opposite end of the spectrum of possible responses.

"Of course." Bill nodded as his voice came across in barely over a whisper. "Until we find a way to change me back, I'm obligated, aren't I? I'm fused to our original subject. I'm… I'm a new pokémon." He said the last three words in an even softer tone, as if he was afraid they would rip apart his tongue on the way out.

At that point, Bill turned a smile towards Oak, but the elder researcher shifted in his seat. Oak noticed a forced element in his colleague's smile – an uncertain glisten in the eyes, the corners of the mouth pulling awkwardly. He sighed, and tried to find something remotely reassuring to say, but given the situation, it was a struggle.

"You're not obligated to do anything," Oak said. It was a lie, given his orders from the Committee, but he felt it was the most humane way to put things.

"Thank you, Professor, but…" He shook his head. "I must." Bill's shoulders relaxed, and he stared into his lap. "I… ah… I will agree, of course under one condition."

Oak lifted his head. "Anything."

"Let me go wherever I could as a member of the scientific team." He looked beyond Oak, to the window. "Out of this room, to my dormitory… I will participate in experiments, but I still wish to work."

For a long moment, Oak stared at his colleague. The glimmer of helplessness he'd seen earlier in the youth's face was already fading, replaced quickly by the determined expression Oak was far more used to seeing.

Oak closed his eyes. "Escorted at all times, and I'll find you a place on the team studying XP-494A."

Bill paused. He wasn't sure he was completely comfortable with the idea of being escorted, but on the other hand, he valued his freedom to come and go as he pleased and his right to knowledge.

"Very well," he said.

Oak opened his eyes. "Then consider it a deal."

The conversation lapsed into silence. Oak eventually began to unwrap his sandwich, reminding Bill of the cup in his hands. Once again, the youth brought it to his lips and drank. This time, he took in more of the liquid and held it in his mouth for a moment. His tongue played with it, tasting its flavors and feeling its viscosity. Something was familiar about it, but he couldn't quite tell what.

"Professor," he said, "what is in this cup?"

Oak had nearly taken a bite of his sandwich when he stopped at the sound of the question. He didn't even have to speculate over what Bill's response to the answer would be. After all, he knew Bill's code of ethics very well. On the other hand, he reminded himself of Bill's talent with finding information. That was what stopped him from lying to the youth in the first place, and that was what stopped him right then.

"Rattata blood, diluted in water," he said.

There wasn't even a moment's beat before the cup flew out of Bill's hands and across the room where it hit the wall, rolled across the table, and fell onto the floor. Bill himself backed against the opposite wall, his claws digging into the mattress until stuffing came out around them. His chest heaved with rapid, deep breaths, and he stared wide-eyed at the fallen cup and the red stain it left across the wall and table.

"What?" he gasped. "No! No!"

"It wasn't killed for your sake. We just drew enough to sustain you," Oak said as calmly as he could force his voice to be. "We didn't have a choice, Bill. Your digestive system changed just as drastically as your external biology. We tried a feeding tube when it was clear you weren't waking up, but everything we tried to put in you resulted in a violent reaction. The only thing we could come up with was the same thing XP-494A feeds off of. If we didn't resort to blood, you'd have starved to death."

By then, Bill was shaking. Those internal changes. Those deaths he'd experienced. All of his dream flooded back to him with more clarity than he'd had when he first found himself changed.

With it, one image resurfaced with alarming detail.

"Oh no," he whispered. "Oh no. That couldn't have happened."

Oak glanced towards chansey, who stood rigid in the corner of the room. He didn't quite feel the need to call her yet, but he wondered if he would have to.

"What couldn't have happened?" he asked quietly.

Bill put his hands on his head and shook it vigorously for a moment. The image was still there, etched deep into his mind. Slowly, he looked towards Oak.

"The doctor," he said. "That hand…"

Oak paled slightly, then put the tray down on the floor next to him. Gradually, he straightened.

Without even looking at Bill, he said, "You weren't aware of what you were doing."

Bill's eyes widened to an almost impossible degree, and his voice was nearly inaudible. "It happened?!"

Oak nodded. "It did. Don't blame yourself, Bill. You weren't yourself."

He said it aloud as if to reassure Bill, but mostly, Oak was attempting to convince himself. This was Bill. He was a reasonable human being. A pacifist. He didn't even like pokémon battling, which in itself was mild and involved less violence than cutting off the hand of a surgeon himself. There wasn't any way he would have intentionally done it.

And even then, Oak knew every member of Polaris well, and he valued each one of them as part of a community – an entire body of reasonable people. None of them would do what Bill had done in the operating room, and Oak refused, for that reason, to believe that a member of Polaris deserved to be controlled, sedated, euthanized, or heavily guarded. Bill wasn't himself then, and Oak hoped to every deity he could think of that Bill wasn't about to suffer a relapse.

Glancing at his colleague at last, he found him visibly shaking. Bill had pulled his knees tightly to his chest. His arms were folded over his knees, and his face was half-buried behind them. When he realized Oak was staring at him, Bill turned his head to look away.

"Bill?" Oak asked softly. "Are you…?"

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."

Oak extended a hand. "It's all right, Bill."

"How can you possibly say that?!"

Oak leaned back in his chair as he studied his companion carefully. Bill, seemingly unaware of this reaction, buried his face further in his arms and shook with each breath.

"I hurt someone," he whispered. "That was me, and I didn't try to stop it."

"It wasn't you."

This time, Bill looked up in surprise. He'd never heard Oak speak with such sharpness before or stare at something with such an intense glare. A shiver went down Bill's spine.

"It wasn't you," Oak repeated. "I know you, and you know yourself. Would you really intentionally hurt someone else like that? Whatever it was, it wasn't you, and you had no control over what you were doing." He paused, glancing at the bit of red on Bill's chest. "It was some sort of reaction. Maybe a self-defense mechanism XP-494 was trying to use. We were trying to remove it from you, but none of us really thought about what it might try to do. Even if it was part of your body that it used, you had no control over what was going on. You can't blame yourself."

Bill sat there with his mouth slightly open in a dumbfounded expression. Oak looked up, offering a solemn glance. Mentally, he turned the Committee's orders over in his mind, eventually coming to the decision that perhaps accurate results could be sacrificed.

"Regardless of what happened, you're awake and aware now. Whatever happens from now on, Bill, don't let this break you. Remember who you are."

With a vague motion, Bill nodded. He lifted a hand to wipe at his eyes before stopping to examine the claws. Knowing from that what Bill was trying to do, Oak leaned over, pulled a napkin from the tray on the floor, and offered it to his companion. A grateful smile crossed Bill's face as he reached out for it, but before he could touch it, the alarms of the institute screamed to life.

A sharp cry tore from Bill's throat. He covered his ears and flinched, trying to ward off a pounding headache. Oak, meanwhile, hesitated for a moment before glancing at the intern near the door.

"Find out what's going on," he said.

With a nod and a "yes, sir," the intern pulled a remote out of one of his pockets and pressed a button to open the door. Moments later, he passed into the other room.

Oak turned his attention back to Bill. He moved closer and placed his hands on the cool, metal arms with a gentle touch. Bill forced his eyes to open and fix on the elder researcher as he felt his hands being pulled a slight distance away from his ears.

"Are you all right?" Oak asked.

Bill shook his head. "The noise!"

Oak straightened. "What? The noise?"

He received a nod in response. That, he knew, was a bit odd. Bill had heard the alarms before, both during the accident and in periodic drills. Never had he reacted as intensely as the way he did then.

Before Oak could think much more about it, the intern burst back into the room.

"Professor Oak!" he shouted. "You've got to come see this!"

With a concerned glance, Oak turned towards the intern. "What? What is it?"

The intern motioned wildly at the other room. "Out in the hall! There's bodies out there!"

"What?!"

Without another question, Oak ran as quickly as he could to the door. The intern turned and darted across the eerily empty room and to the door at the other end. When his elder approached him, the intern opened the door and stood aside to let Oak through. Cautiously, Oak peeked into the hall.

Strewn across the floor every few feet were the bodies. Some of them were slumped against the walls. Others lay curled on the floor. Bodies, both human and the guard growlithe, lay in puddles of blood, their lifeless eyes still staring down the hall, towards other bodies and their own guts scattered and crushed on the linoleum.

Drawing in a breath, Oak straightened and backed out of the door. He could find no words to fit the situation. Luckily, he soon didn't need them. Instead, a roar, halfway between a human scream and the sound of something grinding against a stone, floated down the hallway. Oak felt his body go cold, but he knew he needed to find the source. Polaris was his responsibility. He needed to know what was out there if he wanted to do anything to stop it.

Peeking back out, he was just in time to see a figure turning a corner. It was a hulking creature, taller and wider than himself. Stones covered its skin like the face of a cobblestone street, save for the creature's very human face. Like his young companion, it stood on a pair of three-clawed feet, but each looked as if they were made of jagged rock, rather than sharp, well-defined metal. Its hands were out to its sides, rock claws flexing around garnet palms. On its head, all it had was a cobblestone scalp surrounding a pair of rounded horns. Behind it, a thick, club-like tail rose and smashed into the floor to send cracks lacing across the linoleum beneath it.

Oak froze, half-hidden in the doorway as he silently prayed the creature wouldn't notice him. It lifted its head, nostrils flaring as it smelled the air. Then, it turned its face and, with a pair of dark eyes, looked directly at Oak.

In the next instant, the monster roared and started forward. Oak and the intern jolted away from the door, and the intern slammed it shut and locked it as tightly as he could. Yet, even with that, both he and his superior could only wonder if the door would hold up to rock fists.

Turning away, Oak was prepared to run back into the other room when he saw Bill standing in the doorway. His eyes were wide and scared, and he gripped the doorframe with both hands.

"What's going on?" he rasped.

"Get back inside!" Oak replied. "There's another one!"

Bill straightened. "Another one? Another XP-494B?"

Oak started towards him with a nod. "Yes, and I don't think he's thinking as clearly as you are!"

As if to confirm this guess, the door shook. Another roar rose behind it, and dents appeared on the metal face. The intern backed away slightly, glancing over his shoulder to seek more advice. Oak, meanwhile, was pushing Bill back into the other room as the terrified creature stared with wide eyes back at the intern.

Seconds later, the door burst open on broken locks, swung to the side, and flew off its hinges. Before the intern could turn and look to see the monster on the other side of it, a rock hand grabbed him by the neck and squeezed until there was a crunch. The victim's eyes went wide as blood dribbled out of his mouth, but soon, he couldn't see or feel a thing. As if completely unaware that he'd killed a human being, the creature lifted him to its face and sniffed at the blood. A tongue snaked from its lips and lapped at a corner of the mouth. Then, with a grunt, it threw the body aside and lumbered further into the room.

By then, both Oak and Bill had retreated into the latter's room. Oak stood by the door, angled to allow his colleague to stand behind him, hidden by the wall. The elder's dark eyes peered around the door frame, watching the monster carefully. A mental curse ran through his head as Oak realized the monster stood between himself and his only means of communication with the rest of the complex: the phone on the other side of the laboratory. He tried desperately to piece together a plan. All he had was Nurse Joy's chansey, sitting huddled underneath the window. Glancing back, he looked at her, trembling with her stubby paws over her now-bare head.

That's when he saw Bill leaning forward to glance through the window. With wide eyes, Oak reached out with the intent to pull Bill back, but by then, it was far too late. The monster stared directly at the window, at the side of the face that leaned a little too far out to see it. In response, it reared back, another roar blasting through its throat. Then, with its rocky hands, it moved to the side to pick up one of the large, metal towers of one of the computers. Bill's eyes immediately widened as he realized what was about to happen, but his dodge was far too slow. Seconds after the creature picked the machine up, it sailed through the window and smacked the side of Bill's head with a corner. Twisting around violently, Bill slammed into the ground. His eyes were already closed, and pain throbbed through his skull. He could hear Professor Oak scream his name, but he could do nothing to get up – nothing to stand and defend his elder from the monster that was now shaking the floor in a stampede towards the room. Already, he could feel his thoughts drift away, though he tried to will himself to stay conscious – to get up and stop the thing in the other room.

Yet, on the other hand, even if he did get up, what could he possibly do? They were alike, yes, but the giant was a rock. A rampaging rock. He didn't know anything about his body, nothing that could remotely help him, and he didn't think he could talk sense into something that just sent a computer hurtling through a window at a fellow victim.

As he turned these thoughts over and slipped further into the darkness, a voice entered his mind.

If you won't get up and fight, I will.

Surprised by the voice, he could do nothing but feel himself get up.

Don't worry. I won't let you see, but I won't let you die, either.

It tucked him in the back of his own mind, and once again, his body moved on its own.
__________________
Professional ninja. May or may not actually be back. Here for the snark and banter at most.

Need some light reading?
Anima Ex Machina (Chapter 20 now available)
The Leaf Green Incident (SWC 2012 winner)
Braid (Creepypasta apparently)
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