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To darkcowboy: Never played Halo, surprisingly... But, guess she was right in what she did...
To Xanthine: Stargate is one of those few series in the fantasy and sci-fi genres that truly deserves the hype it’s received. Though, I can’t exactly say I’ve seen every single episode have in the series, nor have I movies like Stargate Continuum and Arc of Truth… (Yet, at least. My dad owns a copy of Arc of Truth, but I haven’t seen it) But, I digress. At least you kind of know about the series even if you haven’t seen any of the shows (though, I really hadn’t heard of Stargate Infinity before now…).
Anyways, sorry if I’m hogging your thread; it’s just I really do like your fic. Too bad there aren’t more interesting fanfics out there like yours. Don’t mean to sound negative, but there aren’t a whole lot that I like on bigger boards like this and Bulbagarden…not anymore at least (I haven’t looked at fanfics the same way after trying to read Dragonfree’s Quest for the Legends a while back. It was just too much for my tastes)… It’s really ‘hit-and-miss’ nowadays since it seems like everyone on Serebii.net seems to be piling into PokéCommunity.
But, to kind of answer your question… Biohazard is actually one of two fics that involve some of the same Legendary Fakemon, but in different scenarios. The other, Feral Twilight, is really the one that involves my demons of “Dark Nostalgia” that try to break the main character as the story progresses. In Biohazard, they play a different role; trying to help the hero, a guy turned Buizel, remember his past involvement with a manmade Pokémon. Though, nobody ever said it was to make things better for him. Guess this doesn’t mean much now since I had them closed so I could do revisions on them for the umpteenth time.
As a matter of fact, Skunter is right. there are hardly any good fics out there anymore. T^T
I'll have to agree with you about the fandom, though. It's really frustrating to see all of these fics that are essentially the same thing with different names. Of course, it means that somewhere along the line, there was something original that everyone keeps trying to emulate, but it takes a lot of effort to dig back that far to find it. And even then, sometimes, the cake is a lie (excuse the meme), and the original's not as great as you thought it'd be. (Pokemon MASTER, for example. You know, the one everyone says is the first epic Pokemon fic? Couldn't even get through the first couple of chapters. Oh, the character rape! The character rape! *curls up and cries*)
Oddly enough, I haven't read too much of Dragonfree's epic. I've been meaning to because the first couple of chapters make it seem interesting, but I've also got a fairly short attention span when it comes to reading things online. (This is why I've also never finished Pokemon Rebirth: Ultimatum, which is supposedly the only other really good trainer fic out there, from what I've heard. People keep raving about it, but I get distracted by shiny objects.)
(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."
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
Okay, I got behind over Thanksgiving, so I apologize for this again belated reply and in advance for the kind of copy-paste thing I do instead of regular quotes (I never figured out how to quote multiple responses in a single thread, either…).
“As a matter of fact, Skunter is right. there are hardly any good fics out there anymore. T^T”~darkcowboy
Yep, there sure aren’t. Though, most people really resent it when I bring that fact up, and that’s why I tried not mentioning it here…not up until now at least.
“I'll have to agree with you about the fandom, though. It's really frustrating to see all of these fics that are essentially the same thing with different names. Of course, it means that somewhere along the line, there was something original that everyone keeps trying to emulate, but it takes a lot of effort to dig back that far to find it. And even then, sometimes, the cake is a lie (excuse the meme), and the original's not as great as you thought it'd be. (Pokemon MASTER, for example. You know, the one everyone says is the first epic Pokemon fic? Couldn't even get through the first couple of chapters. Oh, the character rape! The character rape! *curls up and cries*)”~Xanthine
This actually sums up my feelings pretty well (though, I’ve never actually read Pokémon MASTER. Heard of it, yes, but that’s all). But…that’s cult mind; one person comes up with something good and everyone has to do it too. Reminds me a lot of an episode of the South Park Imaginationland Trilogy (which was just as funny as it was stupid), where they stated straight out in the beginning that Star Wars parodies are amongst the most “lame and unimaginative” things anyone could ever do. Not sure if that’s the best comparison, but it makes some sense with how Star Wars spoofs are bland and almost never good anymore (save perhaps Robot Chicken’s ones. Okay, I’m aware that I probably sound like a really big nerd with all these references to TV shows I keep making).
However, I must say I’ve enjoyed a few fics on smaller forums recently whose authors were actually kind of genuine with the ideas that were theirs and honestly admitted to where they spoofed some when they did. So, I can’t say that every fanfic out there follows cult ideas.
“Oddly enough, I haven't read too much of Dragonfree's epic. I've been meaning to because the first couple of chapters make it seem interesting, but I've also got a fairly short attention span when it comes to reading things online. (This is why I've also never finished Pokemon Rebirth: Ultimatum, which is supposedly the only other really good trainer fic out there, from what I've heard. People keep raving about it, but I get distracted by shiny objects.)”
Eh… Dragonfree has some pretty nice writing skills, but the length of her fic was really what got to me. Now, I can’t say a whole lot about chapter size since I’m used to long ones, but the amount of chapters was a bit too much, I thought. Otherwise, I thought it was just a little bland for what people made it out to be.
“Really? Hmm. I wonder if I can YouTube it, then.”
As for YouTube-ing Stargate, yeah, you probably can. But, I’m not sure what you’d get… I never took well to the YouTube fad because a lot of the stuff on it is just crap.
Also, thanks for wishing me luck on my revisions. I’m planning on having something back up after Christmas or sometime in January, depending on progress and how much work I get (but it’s been notoriously slow lately with the economic slump and all)…
Mmm okay, enough of my ranty replies, onto my critique!
This chapter, overall, I thought to be a lot more interesting than the last one and, of course, because of the plot progression. I especially liked how insightful this chapter was in terms of things like diversity of the aliens and why they were given their classification XP-494. But, there was something about this part that really got to me…
“"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."”
I guess for a moment I was taken aback to the countless sci-fi things that involve alien insects. Not that this brought the quality of your fic down or anything, but I found laughing at this comment a little bit because the use of alien pheromones on humans always strikes me as kind of passé. DO NOT get me wrong, though; this still left a good dramatic impact! It just left me a little with the impression I got from Starship Troopers, which was kind of half-good and half-not because they were fighting against giant bugs (at least, I think that was Starship Troopers… It’s been so long since I’ve seen it, though).
Otherwise, this is still going really strong, and I’m loving every minute of it, so to speak.
I mean, yeah. Sheep mentality in Pokémon fanfiction. It's bad. *thumbs up* >_> <_<
Seriously, yes, pretty much. But on the other hand, I can understand it, too. I mean, they're thinking that whatever made X fic popular should make their fic popular too. Which is incredibly faulty logic because the vague concept's only the most basic part of writing a fic, but.
(Unfortunately, I tried YouTubing Stargate Caramelldansen, and there are, surprisingly, none out there. On the other hand, there's plenty o' fan music videos for it, but is anyone really surprised by that? No? Okay then.)
On to the response to the analysis!
I'm glad you liked the chapter, and frankly, I'm surprised you thought it was more interesting. I thought it was addled with exposition, but then again, I'm also the author and therefore biased by obligation. XD
Now, I can't honestly say that laughing at it because you know for a fact that this is biologically impossible and the equivalent of sticking a character near an open jar of plutonium and expecting them to get super strength is a good thing, of course. I almost want to rewrite the beginning chapters and try to work out a possible way where it doesn't quite rape the laws of science because of it. I'll have to think about it. All I know is that, yeah, it's a bit of a plot point (one that's gradually coming to light if you caught some of the conversations going on in Bill's head) that the transformation comes as a result of the fusion of a human and one of the parasites. How, though, is something I've yet to really get down on paper. (Oh, my somewhat basic-to-intermediate knowledge of biology.)
Anyway, thanks for the review and compliments. ^_^
Ahhhhh, why didn't you make me read this earlier, Jaxxie? xD This is some more great writing from you, and I agree with Skunter in that I found the most recent chapter very interesting. Exposition is underrated. :D
I did find one little error, near the end of the chapter:
But a little typo like that is never going to be enough to put me off a good fanfic. Now make sure you write some more. :D
Actually, I don't see a problem with it. It may be improper grammer, and Jax probably didn't mean to do it, but in dialogue I feel that it's perfectly fine. In my fic, the MC (main character) speaks with a southern drawl (i think that's how you spell it) and minor grammer mistakes, but that's because he's supposed to be a cowboy. Jax can fix it if she wants, but I like it the way it is. Oo I know... I'm strange... -hides-
Another great chapter, Xanthine. I was delaying the reading, but it's very interesting...
Given that he's an intern, I think I'll just go ahead and change that under the assumption that he'd make an effort to be grammatically correct. XD Thanks for pointing that out. (But in your defenses, darkcowboy and Ninja, you do have a point that dialogue doesn't always have to be grammatically correct, even if the character is otherwise educated. Oh, Special!Bill. Your dialect is so painful.)
Thanks for the compliments. =D
XDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD I'm glad he cleared that up in the G/S Volumes. The accent just so totally didn't fit Bill.
Apologies for how late this is, guys. Next chapter should be up a bit sooner.
(Therefore, the lords sent Adam from the Garden of Eden.)
Bill awoke first to the sounds of people. At first, he could only hear a murmur of people, but gradually, the voices increased in volume until he realized many of them were either shouts or voices crackling from radios. Something beeped and whined every so often, and hundreds of feet tapped across linoleum.
He flinched. Someone above him seemed to notice this.
"Sir, he's waking up."
The radio crackled. "You have your orders."
Slowly, Bill opened his eyes to find himself staring at a pair of black boots. With steady breaths, he turned his head to look up towards the faces of the four soldiers standing above him. Each one wore the green helmets emblazoned with the national flag – a red leaf on a white background. Every face was pale and expressionless, the eyes blank.
Right about then, he realized each one of them had a rifle. He sat up with a start.
"What's going on?" he murmured.
The soldier directly in front of him was the first to speak. "Adam, by order of the National Defense Forces, you are hereby to be apprehended and quarantined in the Hoenn Region."
Bill scrambled to his feet, and immediately after, he stopped and stumbled backwards. His head swam; the soldiers became fuzzy, blurred images weaving back and forth. Seconds later, the floor came up to meet him again. Around him, the soldiers merely backed away to give him room, but none of them so much as flinched.
"If necessary, we will use force," the first soldier stated. "It is advised you cooperate."
Rubbing his head, Bill squinted as he turned over and supported himself on his opposite hand and knees. Past the legs of the soldiers, he caught sight of a pile of rocks, arranged neatly like the face of a cobblestone street. A slick coat of red covered a few of the stones.
Suddenly, Bill remembered.
"Professor Oak," he murmured. He looked up and over his shoulder. "Professor Oak! Where is he? I need to—"
He stopped short. Turning over, he gasped and tried to back away, but he felt the muzzle of a gun against his back. Unable to go further, he stared with wide eyes at the soldier directly in front of him. In one of her hands was an ultra ball. Its black and white shell gleamed in the lighting of the laboratory.
For the second time since he awoke, Bill scrambled to his feet. This time, although the world wobbled around him, he maintained his balance with a wince.
"What is that?" he demanded. "What are you doing with it?"
The soldier said nothing as she posed herself to throw it.
Opening his eyes, Bill stepped back. "Wait! There must be some mistake!"
"No mistake," the soldier beside him drawled. "We're here to detain the XP-494B known as Codename Adam, on orders of the National Defense Forces."
Bill shot a confused glance towards the second soldier. "Then you have made a mistake! My name is—"
Before he could finish the sentence, he felt something hit his shoulder. A split second later, he saw a flash of red light, followed by nothing at all.
There was no sense of time there. It was a space, but it wasn't a place. The black was tangible. The body was not. There were no hands, no feet, no head. Just… black.
Voices. There were voices outside.
Every other moment, Bill had a vague memory of a place outside this darkness, with color and sound. He vaguely remembered being able to touch his hands, to hear his own voice, to smell the air. But those memories felt like another dream, a patchwork of haze and color.
It took him awhile – how long, he couldn't tell – before he realized someone was there with him. The someone came in the form of a presence, something pressing in on his being with a sense of warmth.
He wanted to speak, to address it, but for whatever reason, he felt like he couldn't. The thing intertwined itself with him.
Why do you not escape?
His being shifted in response and reached outward to press the walls of the ball. They felt like the rock walls of a planet's heart, with layers upon layers of earth and stone pressing down on him on all sides. A force as strong as gravity pressed him into its center, and for the life of him, he couldn't force himself outward, past the thick layers of the orb and to the outside world. Part of him wondered if he wanted to escape at all. The place was cramped and dark, but it was safe – not the cold unknown beyond its surface.
The presence seemed to read his actions. When it spoke, it had only a disappointed murmur as a response.
It was fading away, intending on leaving Bill in the darkness. Desperately, he reached out for it, grasped part of it to keep it from escaping entirely. It came back and brushed him with a warmth.
Are you certain you wish to have me as your companion? Not many reasonable people would.
Bill twisted his essence around the other mind.
Very well, then. I will stay with you. Do you know, though, that this cage was not built for more than one creature?
At once, Bill fell still. The presence wrapped around him.
How right you are. Just wait, child. It is one of your old sayings that goes, "All good things come to those who wait."
Someone opened the ball, and Bill found himself in a field. The bright lights nearly blinded him, and he winced as he wondered briefly if real pokémon got used to that sudden dash of brightness. Blinking, he felt the dream fade like an old photograph until it was gone completely from his mind. What was he thinking about?
A crack alerted him to the fact that he wasn't alone. Looking back, he saw a gardevoir with a band emblazoned with the red leaf of the NDF's logo around one arm and the ultra ball that captured him between her green hands. Her eyes glowed with blue light, and the ball, in its blue aura, split apart until it broke down into dust. Letting go of the tiny cloud of dust, she watched it rain onto the green grass at her feet. Bill stood, uncertain of what to make of the broken ball.
Before he could decide, she turned and started walking south. As she moved further away, a blue glow began to surround her body. It took a moment for Bill to realize what was about to happen.
"Wait! Don't go!"
He started forward, reaching a hand out to grab one of Gardevoir's, but he was a moment too late. Just as he neared her, she vanished, teleporting to parts unknown. Bill's hand closed around empty air.
A shudder of fear ran down his spine, and he looked up to get his bearings. The place was totally unfamiliar to him. It was a field fringed on its northernmost edge by rows of buildings. To the south and east, a sparkling, blue river wound under a bridge and out of sight, beyond a forest that shielded the east and part of the north from view. To the west, there was nothing but another forest.
For a long moment, Bill stood in the middle of the field as his mind scrambled to find a name that matched the place. A breeze blew across his skin, and despite its warmth, he wrapped his arms around himself and realized he felt incredibly naked and vulnerable in the open. Figuring a town was just as good a place as any to begin an investigation, he started trudging northward.
It took awhile for him to realize it was oddly quiet. A few steps away, he stopped and turned. His eyebrows furrowed as he turned this fact over. No birds cried in the forests or overhead. No field pokémon chattered in the tall grass. Not even a water pokémon disturbed the surface of the river. Everything was still. Silent.
Drawing in a breath, Bill tried to run for the town. Several times, he tripped over his own feet or stumbled and crashed into the ground, but his mind was in a whirl of panic. The place was too quiet, too open. Something was definitely wrong there, and he knew it.
The sun was directly overhead when he finally reached the first row of buildings – small, squat structures along the edge of the city. His claws scratched on the cement as he bolted from dirt paths to civilization, and his eyes flicked frantically from building to building in search of some sign.
Eventually, he realized the city was empty too. Slowing to a stop, he looked around himself cautiously. No one was on the streets. Not a single person, not a pokémon, nothing. Panting to catch his breath, Bill felt himself grow cold as he stared at the desolation. Slowly, he walked down the street, peering into windows and down alleys in search of anyone. Once again, he wrapped his arms around himself in growing fear.
Behind him, someone knocked over a garbage can with a loud bang. Bill jumped and turned just in time to watch full garbage bags pour out of an alley he'd just passed. Moving towards it, he peered down the walkway to spot two people running away from him. Gasping at the fact that this was probably his only means of help, he started forward, only to stumble over trash bags. His claws ripped them open easily, and in seconds, Bill was sprawled across the ground with garbage strewn at his feet. Looking up, he saw one of the people hesitating, glancing over her shoulder with blue eyes. Her distinctive, pink loops identified her easily as a Nurse Joy, despite the fact that she wasn't in uniform. She shielded the other person, a child, from view as she stared back at Bill.
Scrambling to his feet, Bill held out a hand. "Wait. Don't run away."
With a sharp cry, Nurse Joy pushed the child forward, launching the two of them into a run. Bill took several steps to follow them, but as they turned a corner and darted out of sight, he stopped.
"It's no use," he murmured to himself.
He lowered his hands and bent his head to examine his own sharp claws. Closing his eyes, he realized the exact problem. He needed a way to look more human, but with nothing but himself – no money, no identification, not even a human appearance to help him – where would he be getting anything remotely worthy for a disguise?
Before he could dwell any further on his own question, a sweet and sour smell floated into his nostrils. Wincing, he shuddered and tried to assume it was merely the garbage. However, soon after he settled on that decision, he heard a shuffle. Jumping slightly in surprise, he whirled around to find himself face-to-face with an Officer Jenny. Before he could get a good look at her, she yelped sharply and swung her arm – one that wielded a nightstick – at his head. The club hit the side of his skull with a crack, and seconds later, he felt himself receding into his mind.
By the time he hit the ground, he was already gone.
Bill didn't open his eyes, but he awoke with a small gasp, followed by a shiver. A groan rumbled from his throat. His body felt cold, nearly numb.
"—shouldn't jump to conclusions like that. Maybe we can learn something from it."
He squirmed at the sound of the voices. They filtered into his ear as a low murmur at first, but as he returned slowly to consciousness, the voices grew louder until it became a roar of chatter all around him. He clenched his teeth, trying to ignore the voices, but they pounded through his already aching head. Nausea followed soon after. The noise threatened to drown him. It felt stifling, disorienting.
"How can we learn anything from this thing? You've seen what they can do!"
"We can't keep it here! What'll happen if it breaks out?!"
"What if it calls more?! Oh God, what if there's more of them in the city?!"
"We've got to take it to the edge of the city and let it go. That's the only way we can be safe."
"Are you a dumbass or what?! If you let it go at the edge of the city, it'll think we can't fight it and come back to finish us off!"
"Then what do you propose, jackass?!"
"We've gotta kill it!"
Bill groaned again. The noises were too much. His head throbbed with pain, and all he wanted was peace and quiet. He tried to lift a hand to rub his aching skull, but something stopped him. Slowly, he opened his eyes.
"Oh my God, it's awake!"
Immediately, Bill winced. Oh, please, no…
Despite his mental prayers, the voices around him rose in a series of screams and shrieks. He winced and shuddered, praying for it to stop as he squirmed. Something clung to his body, limiting his movements and keeping his back against something cold and hard. Eventually, he forced himself to open his eyes just enough to spot a chain wrapped tightly over his front. With a gasp, he pushed himself forward as if in the hope that the chain would break if he pushed it hard enough.
Unfortunately, this seemed to only make the shouting and screaming grow louder. He flinched, unable to bear much more of the noise. Each second it continued, he felt himself slipping, drawing back into his mind, and there, he heard a growl.
The growl ceased, and the screams and shouts died away. Bill felt the pain in his head recede slowly until his mind could clear. He panted softly as he opened his eyes and looked up. In front of him, he saw crowds of people standing at the foot of the cement pedestal he sat on. Between the crowd and him, he could see the blue back of an Officer Jenny.
"No one is going to be killing this thing unless you want me to book you for animal abuse!" she shouted into the crowd.
Immediately, the chatter resumed. Bill winced and tried to stand, but the chains kept him tight against the slab of granite and bronze at his back, with no room to slide without grinding his back against the raised letters of the monument.
One of the townspeople raised his head. "What're you saying? That we just keep it here and wait for it to break out and kill us all?!"
The crowd shouted in agreement. Officer Jenny turned her head to glance at the entirety of the crowd. Her feet shuffled backwards with uncertainty. Behind her, Bill cringed, bowing his head and bringing his knees close to his face.
"Please stop…" he whispered.
Their voices drowned out his. He felt himself grow dizzier as the sounds assaulted his ears. Closing his eyes, he summoned his strength and his voice.
"Please stop!" he repeated.
His voice sounded sharper than he meant, but it got the effect he wanted. The people fell silent. Opening his eyes, Bill lifted his chin to find the entire crowd staring at him with pale faces. Even the Jenny had to turn her head and gaze in surprise at him over her shoulder.
"Please," he said, softer this time. "Please listen. I-I apologize for disturbing all of you. I don't want to hurt any of you. Believe me."
"He can speak?" one of the townspeople murmured. "Can they all do that?"
"I don't know," one of the other people replied. "They usually don't stop to talk."
"They usually don't stop at all, especially not to be caught," a third added.
Officer Jenny furrowed her eyebrows as she turned to face Bill. She held a nightstick in her hands, but after a moment of thought, she slipped it back onto her belt.
"You can talk, so you'll answer our questions, right?" she asked.
Slowly, Bill nodded. He couldn't imagine why he wouldn't.
"Good." Jenny tilted her head. "Let's start with the basics. Why are you here?"
"It was the first place I found," he replied. "I wandered here from the field near here. I apologize if I'm not welcome here. I didn't realize—"
Jenny tilted her head. "You're from there?"
Bill lowered his eyes slightly. "No. I was left there."
"By your kind?"
Jenny's voice was low, and one of her eyebrows raised. Bill looked up, blinking at the sound of the question.
"Well… I suppose you could say that," he said.
A low murmur ran through the crowd. Bill glanced at them, shifting uncomfortably under the metal chains and the sound of their confused voices.
Jenny held up a gloved hand and waited for their silence to speak again.
"Where are they now?" she asked.
Bill pressed himself against the monument. "Who?"
Jenny frowned. "Your kind. The other ixodida!"
"Ixodida?" Bill tried once again to stand. "I… I don't understand. Ixodida?"
The murmur bubbled through the crowd again.
"It doesn't know what it is," one of them rasped. "How can that be?"
Bill flicked his tail, scraping it against the bottom of the pillar. He wasn't used to be called an it, but then again, he couldn't blame them for the confusion anyway.
Jenny ignored the murmuring. She was far too busy studying the captive carefully.
"Ixodida," she repeated. "That's what the people in Littleroot are calling you and the rest of your kind."
Bill's eyes widened as he snapped his gaze towards Jenny. "The rest of my kind? There's more of…?"
"What the hell kind of game are you playing?!" one of the townspeople shouted.
Immediately, Bill cringed at the voice. He looked towards the crowd to see a large man ambling forward. Jenny pulled her nightstick from her belt and brandished it towards the man. That hardly stopped him, and he drew himself just a few inches away from Bill. A meaty hand lashed out, and Bill felt a rough grip close around his metal-and-flesh throat. He gagged as he struggled against both the chain and the hand.
"I don't care if you are a monster," he growled. "We could easily kill you if you don't stop bullmukting with us. Tell us the truth. Are there or aren't there other ixodida in this city?"
Bill's eyes widened as he felt the grip around his neck tighten. Jenny holstered her nightstick and loomed over the man's shoulder. She bent slightly to wrap her gloved hands around his arm.
"Get off, Thompson! Let go! Now!" she shouted.
The man's blue eyes narrowed. "Answer me! Are there other ixodida in this city?!"
Jenny stepped back and drew a gun from a holster at her hip. Her coffee-colored eyes narrowed as she swung her arms upward to point the gun at Thompson.
"Let go! I'm warning you!" she snapped.
Contrary to Bill's own expectations, Thompson completely ignored the police officer. Instead, his other hand followed the first, and soon, Bill found himself unable to breathe. His eyes seared with tears as he gagged and struggled to free his arms in order to fight back, but he could do nothing but stare into the man's face. Eventually, he moved to shake his head, twisting his neck under the large hands.
Suddenly, Thompson yelped and stumbled back, tearing his hands away from Bill's neck. Bill's body spasmed in a coughing fit as he strained to catch his breath. His vision blurred from the tears and his efforts as he lifted his chin enough to observe Thompson. The man knelt at the foot of the pedestal with his hands held in front of him. Screams tore from his throat, and the crowd backed away in horror. Jenny holstered her gun and rushed to his side, peering over the man's shoulder at the deep gashes across his palms.
Panting, Bill sat in shock. He could feel something trickle down the armor along the sides of his neck – something that dripped from the edges of each plate. The scent of blood wafted into his nose, and he squirmed uncomfortably. Around him, the people spoke in hushed whispers. Some clung to one another. Others ran from the scene into the darkness of the city. Jenny lifted her head and scanned the remaining.
"Nurse Joy!" she cried.
A few moments passed before a young woman with her pink hair in loops pushed her way through the crowd. Her loose, green jacket was familiar; Bill had seen it on the woman as she rushed down the alley earlier that day. Behind her, a young girl followed closely but stopped at the edge of the crowd and let go of Joy's pale hand. As the nurse stepped closer to Thompson, the girl stood in plain sight. Bill took one look at her, and instantly, he froze. He knew her – the pale face, the green hair pulled into a pair of tight buns on the sides of her head, everything about her. She was taller than he remembered, but the loose-fitting clothes she wore (black and purple shirt over a pink, long-sleeved shirt; red, knee-length skirt over rainbow tights; black rain boots) made her look small and frail. Around her neck, a small, silver pendant glinted in the lights around the monument. Even that was familiar. He remembered clearly the day he gave it to her.
But the eyes were what drew his attention. He and the girl looked vaguely alike, but it was the eyes people said the two of them shared. Hers were deep, dark brown, and wide – full of water and emotion, like the glimmer of fear she felt then. Those eyes were their father's, their ancestors', hers, and his.
Right then, Bill realized he was holding his breath and let it out in a rush. His body was shaking, and although he was staring directly at the girl, he mentally tried to will away her image, tried to convince himself she wasn't actually there.
His lips and voice moved in a mumble. "R… Ro…"
By then, Joy knelt beside Thompson and took his hands in hers. She bit her lip and listened to his whimpering for a moment as her blue eyes stared deep into the cuts. Then, with a sigh, she stood.
"They'll need stitches," she said. "Come on. If we hurry, we can fix you up in the pokémon center."
With that, she and Jenny stooped to pull Thompson up by his arms. He whimpered again but rose to his feet without much of a resistance. Slowly, Joy turned him and started guiding him back towards the crowd.
"Hopefully, this will teach you not to jump into action so quickly," Joy whispered.
When Joy's back was turned, Bill finally calmed himself. Taking a deep breath, he watched as the girl tore her eyes away from him and stumbled towards Joy quickly.
Before she and the nurse disappeared into the crowd, Bill opened his mouth. His voice followed quickly after, louder than he intended.
The girl stopped. The crowd fell silent. Even Nurse Joy had to pause and turn to stare at the creature chained to the monument. Bill struggled to stand up, eventually succeeding in pushing himself into an awkward stoop. He stared at the girl, who gazed back at him with large, frightened eyes.
"Rosie," he murmured. "It's me. Bill."
She turned slightly, but he could see from where he stood that she was trembling. Her eyes filled with tears, and she inched closer to Nurse Joy. Bill could feel his heart drop slightly. He realized she couldn't recognize him.
So, without taking his eyes off her, he added two more words.
Although the NDF troops were still investigating and aiding the rebuilding of the complex, Polaris Institute stood quietly in the darkness of Cinnabar's night. The surviving scientists were recovering in their respective dormitories and the medical wing, and the troops occupied the dormitories of the dead or dismissed. For once, the halls were quiet, unmoving.
In the director's office, one of the few members of Polaris was still awake and working. The computer on the desk hummed quietly, but its monitor was shut off. Its user, Professor Nettle, stood behind the desk, her eyes turned to the screen on the wall behind her. Her hands were folded neatly in front of her, and her face was expressionless as she waited for the Committee's response.
"According to the reports we've received from the NDF," a shadow at the end drawled, "Adam has been transferred to the Hoenn Region. We did not order this."
The leader nodded. "I realize this, but the military has been known to ignore our requests. We could only have hoped we would have had more time before they would realize we had Adam, but the incompetence of the janitorial staff of Polaris Institute have prevented this. Security must be increased, and we expect the staff to be thoroughly analyzed."
Nettle nodded, but she said nothing in response.
"In the meantime," the leader said, "we should hope the device has been installed properly."
Nettle straightened. "I took the liberty of planting the monitoring device sometime after Adam defeated the second XP-494B."
For a long moment, the leader merely listened carefully, nodding as he took in the information. "Is it functional?"
Before Nettle could respond, a shadow at the other end of the line interrupted. "According to the information link between us and Polaris Institute, yes. We've already received a tracking feed that places his location in Mauville City. Additionally, we are currently recording both biological changes and environmental stimuli. Everything he experiences, we will know. It's only a matter of time before we find XP-494's weaknesses and their queen."
Again, the leader nodded. "Very well. Professor Nettle."
She perked up at the sound of her name. This was the moment she was waiting for.
"It is not necessary for you to monitor Adam's movements, but if you wish, establish a team to record the same information we're receiving through this feed," he said.
Nettle nodded. "Does this mean…?"
The leader nodded. "In light of Professor Oak's return to Pallet Town for recovery, we currently have no director for Polaris Institute and can spare no one to send to you. Given the productivity of your particular team – even after the infection of one of its members – we have determined that you are the most capable leader and thus the best candidate. Therefore, we hereby appoint you as director of Polaris Institute."
With a nod, Nettle repressed a smile. "I understand, and I'll do my best to work to your expectations."
"We expect nothing less," the leader responded. "Report to us in a week with your progress."
Before she could respond, the screen went blank. For several moments, Nettle stared at the screen to ensure that the Committee had disconnected. Then, reaching behind her, she tapped a key on the computer's keyboard. At once, the screen flashed on, and on it, the image of a dark-haired man in a tailored, orange suit leaned back in a chair. Dark eyes glared at the screen as a large hand stroked the head of a persian next to him. Nettle turned to face the screen with her posture straightened and stiffened.
"Were you able to hear that conversation, sir?" she asked.
His stern expression broke into a smile that slithered across his face. "Yes. You've done well so far, Professor Nettle."
She bowed. "I aim to please you, sir." She looked at the screen. "I await your next orders."
"Of course." His hand rested on the cat's head. "Once the National Defense Forces withdraw from the institute, you will contact headquarters to have one of our own enter to collect a specimen of XP-494A. In the meantime, half of your team will raise form A. The other half will continue to monitor form B to send information directly to our laboratories."
Nettle bowed. "Yes, sir." She looked up. "If I may ask, wouldn't it have been more convenient to keep Adam in this institution?"
The man shook his head. "From what I understand of your reports, Adam is too human. Perhaps if we test him to his full extent in the wild, we may find a way to break him and control him."
"Test him, sir?"
He nodded. "Yes. There are already agents in Hoenn. They will test him when the time is right. In the meantime, wait to infect another victim. Doing so this soon will attract unwanted attention, but perhaps it would be to our benefit to create another form B to observe the power of a specimen under our control. Understood?"
Nettle bowed again. "Yes, sir."
"Very well." His hand moved across the purring cat's head once more. "Get to work, Professor Nettle. The glory of Team Rocket relies on your findings."
With that, the image of the man vanished with a click, and the normal desktop returned. Nettle closed her eyes for a moment before reaching to the keyboard to tap a key. The screen went blank at her command, and she opened her eyes to glance at it for a moment. Then, without a word, she walked to the door, opened it, and passed into the darkness of the hallway beyond it. Even in the middle of the night, she had work to do.
In many places, no lights shone. The street lamps flickered or failed to light at all, and the buildings were completely dark. Overhead, the nearly full moon provided most of the light, with the rest coming from the lights at the base of the monument. Otherwise, the city was dark and still. It was late, but how late, Bill couldn't tell.
The crowd left soon after Thompson was guided away. None of them wanted to face the creature chained to the monument, so one by one, they filtered away until only Jenny was left, standing guard in front of the memorial. Even she could hardly count; every attempt to strike up a conversation resulted in awkward silence.
Although he awoke hours ago, Bill found that he had no chance to fall asleep. The night air felt cold, and the position he was in – sitting again, on a slab of hard stone and metal – was far too uncomfortable to let him doze. A dull ache radiated from his lower back, but he did his best to ignore it. Instead, he sat awake with his eyes on Jenny's back.
He opened his mouth for the umpteenth time. For a moment, he tried to think of something to say, but realizing he'd receive no response, he closed it again and sighed. Closing his eyes, he tried to sleep, though he knew no matter what he did, he most likely wouldn't get a minute of it.
A quick tapping filtered into his ears. Opening his eyes, he lifted his head slowly to see a pair of shadows moving quickly towards the monument. Jenny tensed, her gloved hand drifting towards the gun at her hip.
"It's okay," Nurse Joy called as she drew closer.
Jenny relaxed. "What're you doing here? It's late." She paused, glancing at the smaller shadow walking beside Joy. "Shouldn't she be in bed?"
"She followed me out," Joy replied. "Besides, I can't leave her alone in the center."
The two came into the light. Bill craned his neck to gaze around Jenny and study the girl's face again. She refused to look at him. Instead, she held Nurse Joy's hand and stared into the darkness to the side.
"How's Thompson?" Jenny asked.
Joy sighed. "Stitches in both hands. The cuts were nearly to the bone, but we treated him quickly enough. He should be fine." She glanced around Jenny to Bill. "I can't blame it, though. It didn't do anything wrong. Mr. Thompson was the one who was threatening it… It was only trying to defend itself."
Bill stiffened. His face felt hot, and he clenched his teeth in response to the way she spoke about him. Mustering up his voice, he responded before Jenny could.
"I have a gender," he murmured. "I'm not an it."
Joy jumped as her blue eyes widened. Jenny glanced over her shoulder while her friend stepped forward cautiously.
"I'm sorry," the nurse said. "Don't be offended."
Bill watched her approach. She carried a plastic box in one hand. Tilting his head, he watched her kneel beside him and undo the latch.
"I didn't mean to. I didn't know I could hurt someone like that," he whispered.
Joy looked up sharply. "What do you mean you didn't know?"
Bill shook his head. "I haven't been like this all my life. In fact, I've only been like this for only a day, if we don't count the time that I've been unconscious. I don't know much about… my situation."
Joy rested her hands on the cooler. Jenny turned completely to face him, and the little girl crept closer to the police officer. Bill glanced at all three and shifted uncomfortably.
"Why is that so shocking?" he asked.
Joy tilted her head. "What's your name?"
Bill sighed. "My name is Bill. I'm a pokémon researcher from Kanto, and I—"
"Kanto?" Jenny asked.
Joy and Jenny exchanged glances. Bill noticed and struggled to stand again. He winced as the letters on the monument scraped against his back to produce a high-pitched screech, but otherwise, he did his best to keep it from preventing him from answering.
"Yes," he said. "I was taken from there today."
Jenny raised her eyebrows. "The epidemic's spread to Kanto?"
Hesitating for a moment, Bill cast his glance to the side and frowned. "No. Not exactly. It's… it's a long story."
The women were silent for a long while. Bill lifted his head, glancing at each of them cautiously. He couldn't tell if they believed him. For that reason, he shifted uncomfortably, feeling the chains against his body.
"Why is this necessary?" he asked, almost absentmindedly as he stared at the chains. "I promise you, I won't hurt any of you."
Joy looked up, offering a sad glance. "I'm sorry, but it's a precaution. We don't know…"
When Joy trailed off, Bill furrowed his eyebrows. "You don't know what?"
"What you'll do," Jenny said.
Bill looked up, glancing at Jenny's face. Her expression wasn't as hard and cold as he expected. Instead, it was distant, almost forlorn.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Joy frowned. "This is Mauville City, the very heart of the Hoenn Region. In order to go south to Slateport, west to Fortree and Lilycove – essentially anywhere – you'd have to pass through here. Unfortunately, because of that, we don't have protection against outside forces. Or, at least, we don't have protection that's as strong as we need."
Inside, Bill began to feel cold. "Is that so?"
"Yes," Joy replied with a nod. "But… that's not all. Sometimes, we get ixodida here. Not all of them come to the city, and the little parasites avoid us altogether. There's not enough food for them in the cities, but they still come because we block their way to the fields to the east and west." She looked at him. "Every time they've come here, they've destroyed part of the city."
"They take some of us to be infected, and the ones that they capture but can't use, they kill off," Jenny continued. "There's less than thirty of us left because of that."
Her voice was flat. Monotone. Although what she said was chilling enough, the tone was what sent a shiver down Bill's spine.
He forced himself to speak, but his voice barely rose above a whisper. "I didn't realize… but I… I promise you I won't."
Jenny stared at him with her coffee-colored eyes. She said nothing in response, and Bill couldn't quite read her expression to tell what she was thinking. In the meantime, Joy drew a plastic pouch from the cooler. At a glance, Bill took it to be a hot water bottle from the shape until Joy unscrewed the cap at the top. Right after, Bill caught scent of a familiar odor – the same one he detected from the cup Oak had given him a day ago. Pressing himself against the monument, he trembled.
"What is that?" he whispered.
Joy approached him, offering the bottle. "Donated blood. It's okay. We have too few pokémon in the city to need what we have. If we keep it, the other ixodida might find it."
Bill cringed and turned his head away. "I… I can't accept that."
Withdrawing slightly, Joy tilted her head. "It's okay. Really. As ironic as it sounds, it's not helping anyone. If the ixodida knew we had this much because we can't use it—"
"It's not that," Bill said. His voice rose a notch, and as soon as he realized it had, he hesitated and blushed. Then, looking away, he spoke in a softer tone. "I-I just can't drink pokémon blood, donated or otherwise." He closed his eyes. "I can't."
Joy's shoulders fell as she frowned slightly. "Why not?"
"Because pokémon are my life!" Bill hissed. "Drinking the blood that came from one – even without considering that I'm taking blood that could be used to help another one – I…" He shook his head. "I can't. It's pokémon blood."
By then, he was shaking. The chains clicked against him as he tried to keep the others from seeing his face. He knew he shouldn't have been breaking down, that he should have been slightly stronger and calmer, but he couldn't resist the flood of emotions. On one level, he felt disgust and anger – towards what, he couldn't quite define. Beneath that, however, was the unshakable feeling of fear. He was terrified of what he was, what it meant, and what might happen to him in the future.
Jenny furrowed her eyebrows at this display. "If you don't feed, you'll die. If you die, the parasite will lay eggs in your body, and—"
"Officer Jenny!" Joy snapped as she threw a glare at the other woman.
At once, Jenny recoiled and looked away. "Sorry."
Joy didn't respond. Instead, her expression softened, and she turned her glance back to Bill. She was hardly surprised to find him staring wide-eyed at the two of them, but it was slightly more of a surprise to her to find tears trickling down his cheeks. Studying his face carefully, she couldn't help but offer a reassuring smile.
"She's right, though," she said. "You need to drink – if not for us, for yourself." She stopped to screw the cap back on the bottle. "Let's make a deal. If you agree to drink this, we'll take the chains off."
Jenny turned a sharp glance towards her. "What?!"
Ignoring her, Joy continued. "Just think of it as tomato soup. It'll be okay. I promise. What do you say?"
Bill's eyes fell on the bottle again. He bit his lip as he turned over his options. The scent of the blood still hung on his nose, and he couldn't ignore the feeling of hunger. Already, he felt weak as he shifted slightly and hung his head.
"Okay," he whispered.
Joy glanced at Jenny, who hesitated on the spot.
"You can't be serious about this," she said.
"Of course I am," Joy responded. "Look at him."
Jenny looked. All she saw was a trembling creature, something she would compare to a kicked puppy if the rest of the ixodida race was a pack of mightyena. She narrowed her eyes, looking for any sign that this could have been a trick. Instead, she found drying tears.
With a frown, she shook her head.
"No. No! I don't care what you say, Nurse Joy. That thing can kill off the rest of us if we let it go."
Joy shook her head and reached a pale hand towards Jenny's arm. "Officer Jenny, please! Just listen to him! He sounds human! We can't do this to him! Besides…" She looked back at Bill. "He didn't attack Rose and me when he had a chance. In that alley. Remember?"
Jenny jolted and stared at Joy. She was caught off guard by Joy's comment, but she couldn't argue against that point.
With a sigh, she unclipped a set of keys from her waist and walked around to the back of the monument. Bill twisted, trying to keep an eye on her until he lost sight of her completely. A few moments later, he heard her footsteps stop somewhere behind him, followed by a jingle and a click. Immediately, the chains fell to the ground with a clatter. Bill exhaled in relief and rubbed his arms.
Joy smiled and held out the bottle for him, but before it could be passed between them, a sharp shriek came from the throat of the previously quiet Rose. With a small cry of her own, Joy jolted as she felt Rose's hands pull on the back of her coat. The small girl had buried her face in the cloth and refused to look up as Joy tried to turn to face her.
"Oh! Rose!" she breathed. "No, no. Don't worry. Look at me."
The girl shook her head vigorously. With a sigh, Joy handed the bottle to Bill and turned completely around to place both hands on her shoulders. Jenny stormed to the front of the monument just in time to see Bill stumbling back against it.
"What's going on?!" Jenny demanded.
"It's Rose," Joy said with a sigh.
For a moment, Bill stared at Joy and Rose with a tilted head. The woman bent over the girl, who slumped to her knees with a shaking sob. Rose's arms were wrapped around Joy's legs, and her face was obscured by Joy's body. Jenny stepped back and crossed her arms.
"Poor kid," she muttered.
Bill glanced at her with a startled expression. This child was certainly not the amiable little girl he remembered. She was a mouse, a trembling, traumatized little girl, and it was obvious to him she wouldn't have lasted on her own, what with the way she clung to Joy and demanded her comfort.
"How did she come here?" he murmured.
Jenny shrugged. "She's a coordinator, from what we can tell. We found the Verdanturf Ribbon and a couple of pokémon with her. She must've been between here and there when the epidemic started, though. Probably thought she could've taken care of herself. Couldn't tell you how long she's been out there, but we found her on the outskirts in the southwest about a month ago. Joy's been looking after her ever since." She glared at him. "Aren't you going to drink that?"
At once, Bill's eyes fell on the bottle, and for a long moment, he stared at it as Rose's whimpering quieted down. Part of him had no desire to even touch the contents of the bottle. The other, stronger feeling told him he didn't have much of a choice. With a trembling hand, he brought the bottle to his lips. The aroma of blood dispersed through the air, and he felt something warm enter his chest. Swallowing hard, he took the first sip, shuddered, and brought his eyes back to Joy, who was murmuring something to Rose in a hushed tone. Already, questions formed in his mind about the presence of the girl.
"Why hasn't anyone evacuated?" he asked.
"Quarantine," Jenny snapped. "We can't. No one goes in, and no one goes out. No one except the NDF. And you, apparently, but I doubt you'll be getting back out."
Bill looked at the ground. He listened to Rose's whimpering and Joy's hushed whisper for a moment, and all of a sudden, a rush of guilt flooded him. Clenching his teeth, he walked around the other side of the memorial. An instant later, he heard Jenny's feet rap against the cement.
"Where do you think you're going?" she hissed.
"Perhaps I should be somewhere she can't see me," Bill replied. "Behind here. That's all."
He moved to place the monument between himself and Joy. Jenny continued to follow him, but her footsteps grew softer. When the two of them were on the other side, Bill took another drink. He refused to look at Jenny for fear he'd meet just another glare.
"What did you mean, 'your brother'?" she asked.
Blinking, he looked at Jenny cautiously from the corner of his eye. "What?"
"Earlier tonight," she said as she crossed her arms again. "What did you mean when you said you're Rose's brother?"
Bill tilted his head again. "I meant it literally."
Jenny quirked an eyebrow. "Literally?"
He swallowed another sip. "Well, yes. I don't know how to explain it other than that. We have the same parents, the same surname, we even have some remote family resemblance…"
"Is that so?" Jenny's voice dripped with skepticism.
Bill sighed and looked at her. "Yes. Is it such a surprise to you that I have a family?"
"In a nutshell, yeah," Jenny replied.
Jenny frowned. For a long moment, she could only pause and look at the stranger, standing next to her with a bottle in his claws. The only real semblance of humanity in him was his face; the scales stopped at the sides of the neck to leave the head almost untouched save for the horns, the wire hair, and the fangs. Other than that, he was, in her eyes, every way a monster.
Sighing, Bill opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, he was interrupted by the sound of an explosion. Looking up, he remained still. Jenny had her gun in her hand the instant she heard the noise, and already, she was moving around to the other side of the monument. Bill followed a beat later, stumbling around the monument until something else followed the blast.
A pair of screams rose into the air. Bill froze, a shiver running down his spine as he listened to them. For several seconds, the high-pitched shrieks filled the hush of the streets before dying down into silence. A cold feeling crept into Bill's heart. It felt familiar to him, though he knew it wasn't human. Worse off, he almost felt compelled to answer. Once he realized that, he let the bottle slip through his hands, and he scrambled the last few steps around to the front of the monument.
There, he found Jenny standing with her gun pointed towards the buildings straight ahead of her. Next to her, Joy stood with her wide, blue eyes on the buildings and Rose wrapped tightly in her arms.
"What is that?" Bill whispered.
Joy gasped in surprise, followed shortly by Rose's whimper. Jenny glanced at him through the corner of her eye.
"Don't you know?" she asked. "That's what a pair of ixodida sound like."
Bill stiffened. His breathing quickened as he felt his heart beat with panic.
"Ixodida?" he gasped.
"You didn't bring them here, did you?" Jenny hissed.
"Officer Jenny!" Joy snapped. "Now isn't the time for this! We need to get inside!"
Jenny frowned. "With this thing? We don't even know if he has something to do with them!"
"I didn't," Bill said. "Honestly. I would never—"
"Please!" Joy turned her head sharply towards the both of them. "We need shelter before they come!"
Immediately, Bill cringed, then relaxed. He glanced at Jenny with a small frown.
"She's right," he said. "If they are as dangerous as you claim, then we can't be in the open."
Jenny narrowed her eyes. "Where do we go, then?"
"The pokémon center isn't too far from here," Joy replied. "We can go there."
Relaxing her aim slightly, Jenny glanced from the nurse to the stranger and back. She considered the idea for a bit until another crash rose from not far away. Then, she holstered her weapon and glared at her three charges.
"Fine," she said. "Let's go."
The city seemed darker when the group reached the center. Somewhere along the way, the power had been cut, leaving the streets in utter darkness. No stars appeared overhead, and shadows loomed between each building. The air hung cold around them as they approached the small building, its face unlit in the lack of electricity.
Although neither of them could see their way, Jenny and Joy knew the city well enough to walk the way from the monument to the center blindfolded. Hence, the women huddled around the girl, hurrying her to the pokémon center with no light and minds full of wariness and fear for the possibility that an ixodida would appear from the darkness at any moment.
Bill, meanwhile, was preoccupied with yet another new discovery. He followed the women a short distance away, but his eyes drifted to the world around him. Although he knew it was quite possibly pitch black, he could see the way as if the streetlamps were still on. Everything appeared in monochrome, but the details were still sharp and vivid. Brick walls, garbage cans, even the cracks in the cement – he could see everything.
Taking a shaking breath, he nearly walked completely past the group when they stopped. Jolting to a halt, he glanced at the façade of the building: the metal P on the round sign above the door, the glass windows in the brick face, even a few chairs and tables just beyond the window.
"The power may be out," Joy said. "The doors won't—"
Before she could finish, she approached the door. She lifted a hand, fully intending on resting it on glass. Instead, it passed through to the interior easily. Drawing in a breath, she glanced at her companions worriedly. Behind her, the three shadows stopped and said nothing.
Cautiously, she turned and stepped through the hole and into the center. Her shoes crunched against broken glass with each step she took further inside.
"Nurse Joy!" Jenny hissed. "Get back here!"
Joy continued into the darkness, completely ignoring Jenny's warning. Jenny kept her hands on Rose as the girl cringed against the officer. Bill glanced at the both of them and then at Joy's back, drifting further into the darkness. With a deep breath, he followed her inside. It was either that or stand in the open, and even beyond that, he hardly wanted her to be alone. His eyes fixed straight ahead, at the reception desk at the opposite end of the room and the door to another room behind it.
He took no more than four steps into the room, across the broken glass, when he realized something was wrong. The air inside the building was heavy with the bitter scent of ammonia, but overpowering that was a scent that was already familiar to him by then.
"Blood," he whispered.
Joy turned her head. "What?"
He glanced at her. "I can smell blood. It's straight ahead."
She hesitated for a moment, then walked back towards the door. "Let me turn on the lights."
Whirling around, he faced her. "Don't. Something may be here."
Stopping halfway to the wall, she turned and looked at him. He could see her wide eyes, her curious expression as she studied him.
"Whose blood is it?" she asked.
Pausing, Bill closed his eyes. He drew in another breath through his nose, and with that breath came not only the scent of ammonia and blood but also something else. Something familiar. Turning, he followed the scent to its source, behind the desk. Without a word, he worked his way around it until he felt something slippery beneath his feet. Opening his eyes, he glanced at the object on the ground, and immediately, he froze.
At his feet, he could see the black-and-white image of a chansey. Rather, he could see what was left of a chansey. Her face was frozen in an expression of terror, staring at the ceiling with unseeing eyes. The egg in her pouch was smashed, coating half her body and her fine, pink fur with a slick, whitish film. All over her body, chunks of flesh were partly ripped out, but very little blood save for a few drops around her body remained. Otherwise, she was drained. Her skin puckered with lack of moisture, and the exposed muscles, even for monochrome vision, appeared oddly pale.
Drawing in a gasp, Bill stumbled backwards. His chest heaved in a pant, but he couldn't tear his wide eyes away from the dead chansey. Although Joy couldn't see him, she could hear the scuffle of his claws against the hard floor and his gasps. With a frown, she stepped forward, closer to the desk.
"Bill?" she asked. "Who is it?"
Turning his eyes towards Joy, he took a deep breath and prepared to choke out a response. Before he could, something else caught his eye. Behind Joy, a creature stalked forward. She looked almost human with the face of a young woman. Besides that, she appeared to be covered in spikes, spines jutting out of every bare patch of skin except her face. Her horns jutted out of her head, surrounded by long spines that rose slightly as she drew closer. Behind her, a tail, tipped with a stinger dripping with poison, swayed with each step.
Immediately, Bill reacted before he thought about it.
"Run!" he screamed as he darted forward.
Immediately, the other ixodida leapt towards Joy with fangs bared and a hiss ripping from her throat. One clawed hand drew back and took on an eerie, purple glow. Joy turned her head when the room lit up with the attack, and when her blue eyes fell on the face, she instantly shrieked. The noise caused Bill to stumble into a flinch. In the corner of his eye, he saw Joy turn away and the hand lash towards her. The claws slashed across her shoulder, spraying drops of blood onto the floor as poison leaked into the wound.
Joy fell. Bill twisted himself, lashing an arm outward to grab the wounded nurse. Kneeling, he stared with wide eyes towards the other ixodida, who stooped and hissed as her arms swung beneath her.
"Please," he whispered. "Please, if you and I are the same… Please, you must…"
She can't hear you.
Bill froze at the sound of the voice. He felt a warmth and someone's stare, as if he was being watched from the inside.
Its host is asleep. She can do nothing to fight against it.
As if to prove the voice right, the other ixodida lashed out, one of her clawed hands swinging towards Joy's crumpled body. Joy flinched, ready to take a fatal blow, when on instinct, she heard the screech of nails on metal. Glancing up, she saw Bill blocking the creature's strike with his arm. He clenched his teeth, feeling the claws dent his armor and the poison roll harmlessly off his skin. Before he could pull away, however, the hand flicked to curl around his arm as the female's eyes narrowed into a glare.
Before he could do anything else, he found himself sailing through the air, only to come crashing down across the room and skidding into a wall. He hadn't even felt the female throw him. Shaking his head, he forced himself to his hands and knees and glanced towards Joy. The ixodida stood over her with quills rising in preparation. He could hear Joy's soft cries, the quiet sobbing of pain. Slowly, the ixodida lifted a hand above her head, spreading her claws as each one took on another purple glow.
With a bang, a bullet took out two of the glowing claws. The ixodida shrieked and whipped her hand downward to hold it in front of her with her other hand. Turning her head, she narrowed her eyes angrily at the door. Bill followed her glance to see Officer Jenny standing in the doorway with a gun pointed towards the purple glow.
She can't see her enemy.
Bill stood cautiously as he listened carefully to the voice. His heart felt like it was clenching, and he couldn't decide if that was because of the parasite or because he knew the voice was right.
She will be killed.
"Killed?" Bill whispered.
Yes. So will the others.
The ixodida growled and turned. Her wounded hand dripped black blood as she held it out to her side, and her good hand spread its claws as she held it in a similar position. Her back hunched, and she crept closer to Jenny, who simply stood in the doorway, unaware of the approaching threat.
You must move. You must move, or they will die.
Bill's voice caught in his throat. He opened his mouth, but his voice came out as nothing more than a hoarse whisper.
The voice in his head didn't seem amused.
You must fight if you wish to save them.
Bill shook his head and trembled. The claws of his right hand flexed, spreading as the jewel in the palm began to glow with a silver color. Glancing down at it, he realized in horror that he could no longer feel it – or, rather, that he could, but it felt foreign, like it was no longer his hand. The numb sensation ran up his arm and spread to the rest of his body like an electric current until he could feel nothing at all. He felt his mind being pulled back, and though he could watch himself, he knew he was slipping to the darkness.
You will watch, then, and I will fight.
No. No! Please, let me go!
The ixodida lunged towards Officer Jenny. At once, Bill's body launched forward, running in a dash towards the ixodida. He missed most of her, but his hands wrapped around her long tail. Jenny stumbled backwards as a gasp of shock caught in her throat at the sight of the ixodida's claws swinging towards her face but missing by just a short distance.
Instead, the female was flung through the air by her tail, back into the darkness of the center. Releasing her, Bill's partner let her fly through the air and slam into the floor. A shriek tore from her throat before she crashed, and the sound lingered long after the shock of impact as the ixodida rose to her feet. Lifting her arms in front of her face, she forced the quills running from her wrists to her elbows to rise.
In the meantime, Bill watched his hands spread again. The parasite pulled energy from his body, and he felt an electric sensation running down his arms. His claws took on a bright, silver glow just as the quills on the other ixodida turned white. Before he could react, pins shot from the female's arms.
Bill knew that had he been in control, the pins would have struck him in the face. For that reason, he couldn't quite decide whether or not it was a blessing he wasn't. He could only stare in a mixture of wonder and horror as his body acted on its own, flicking its glowing hands in front of him. The pins ricocheted off his claws with metallic pinks as he raced forward, closer to the female.
With a gasp, the female realized her target had deflected her attack. Flinging her arms to the sides, she channeled her energy once again until her claws took on a purple glow. She swung her poison-tipped claws upward, slashing Bill's face. Bill could feel the claws, the sting of sharpness ripping across his cheek and the warm blood trickling down to the corner of his lips. His body turned away with a hiss as his claws gently rose to touch the blood and the venom running down the side of his face.
The female seemed indifferent to the wounds of her opponent. Raising her right hand again, she bared her teeth as her claws took on a purple glow once more. A growl rumbled from Bill's throat as another electric sensation ran down his spine. His body crouched as his tail stiffened behind him. At once, he recognized the attack.
Iron Tail. Metal Claw. I can… I can attack like a pokémon?
Inside, he heard a chuckle. No. But I can.
Bill's body sprang into the air and twisted. A scream blasted from his throat, and at once, his mind froze. The sound possessed an unsettling quality, like the howl of an animal. He had a strange feeling about what was about to happen, but he could do nothing to stop it.
His opponent reached forward with her glowing claws to deflect the attack, but like a blade, his tail sliced cleanly through her hands. The arrowhead tip, meanwhile, cut halfway into her skull, gliding through the thick bone and soft tissue underneath.
She didn't even scream. Instead, she merely slumped onto the linoleum, blood pouring out of her half-cut head. Bill's body landed with a clatter onto the tiled floor. Immediately, he dropped to his hands and knees and crept closer. His tongue ran across the top row of his sharp teeth as his heart began to beat faster at the scent of blood.
What are you doing? he thought. She's dead!
She may be, but there's something else here that isn't.
Bill's hands flipped the body onto its back. Claws drifted up the smooth arms – first the left one and then the right one. Red light pulsed quietly on the right arm, just before the arm met the shoulder. It bulged out of the side, and for a moment, Bill couldn't recall why he'd missed it before.
The hand stopped on it. Bill could feel its smoothness as he watched his hand spread over it.
What are you doing? he asked.
The other voice didn't answer. Instead, he let Bill watch.
Claws dug into the flesh of the shoulder and pierced through the mesh of tentacles at the base of the female's parasite. Then, with a quick yank, Bill's hand wrenched the parasite from the shoulder. The tiny beast screeched as its upper body was severed from its legs and mouth, and from its bulbous form, glowing, green fluid splattered onto the wound.
What are you doing?!
His body brought the thing to his mouth. It was still alive, and it flashed with an angry, red light as the remnants of tentacles at the base of its body thrashed. A grin spread across his mouth, flashing white fangs just before his jaws parted.
Only when he bit the thing in half did it stop screaming.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
Ignoring him completely, his body devoured the rest of the parasite. He could taste the blood and acid on his tongue. He could feel his teeth crunching on the hard shell. He could detect it dissolve into a warm liquid that trickled down his throat. All the while, his mind was blanking.
Relax. It's the only way we can be sure.
Only when the last of the parasite was gone, his body stood, towering over the dead female. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the wound.
For a long moment, there was only silence. Bill mentally whimpered, but his body made no audible sound. Instead, it turned its head towards first the door behind the counter, then the one leading to the street. There, Rose stood, trembling in the doorway – and, even worse, alone.
Rosie. What is she doing here?
Suddenly, the room flooded with light. Bill's body flinched and hissed before shielding his eyes with an arm. His lips curled back in a snarl as his tail twitched in aggravation over the sudden blindness. Squinting, he saw Officer Jenny, pale-faced and still with a gloved hand still on the light switch a short distance from the front door. Her brown eyes widened at the sight of not only Bill's blood-stained claws and face but also the two bodies – one of the ixodida and the other of Nurse Joy – lying oddly still between them.
"What did you do?" she whispered.
Inside, Bill recoiled. I didn't mean to! This isn't me!
His body turned to face Jenny. Her hand trembled, but she stood stiffly where she was. For a moment, Bill thought it was because of the sight of him, but then, he heard a low growl rumble behind him. Whirling around, his body faced another figure creeping behind him. He could only get a glimpse of a second quill-covered creature before glowing, purple claws smashed into the side of his head. His body stumbled to the side and crashed to the floor as his vision blurred in a dazed haze.
Growling, Bill's body slowly flipped onto his stomach and twisted to look at his opponent. His vision resolved, and he saw towering above him the other ixodida. This one, he'd determined, was male, judging by the lack of female curves. He otherwise looked remarkably like the female, with purple skin and purple quills with toxic-green tips running up his back, arms, and scalp.
The other ixodida raised his arms, and the quills stood on end. Moments later, the quills took on an eerie, white glow, all-too similar to one of the female's attacks. Yet, this one wasn't aimed at Bill.
His body glanced at Officer Jenny, directly in the path of the male's Poison Sting attack. Her gloved hands reached towards the gun at her hip, and she crouched to aim. Glancing from her to the male, Bill's body sprang to his feet. Although Bill wasn't the one coming up with a plan for attack, he could sense the parasite forming one for him. It forced his body to dart between the human and the ixodida, with his back towards the male's Poison Sting. Seemingly unaware of this new barrier, the male fired, and the quills shot spurts of energy in the form of venomous needles. Each one struck Bill's armored back and ricocheted backwards, onto the tiled floor.
A roar erupted behind him as Bill's hand reached downward and prepared another Metal Claw attack. Energy began to flow into his claws, but before he could focus his attack, the male seized his arm and yanked him off his feet. Without letting Bill resist, the other ixodida sent him flying through the air and hard into the wall behind him. Seconds later, he was on the floor, and his vision blurred and spun as his head, which he was sure had struck the wall, throbbed with an intense ache. The warmth and electric sensations receded, and numbly, Bill realized he could move his hands by himself again.
In the meantime, the male turned towards Officer Jenny again, but before he could launch another attack, three gunshots rang out. Blood splattered from the male's forehead, and he flinched and stumbled backwards for a few steps. Seconds later, he collapsed onto the floor next to his mate. The pool of blood around them spread.
Bill felt himself fading. He squinted, trying to force his blurred vision to focus. Eventually, he realized he was losing his sense of time. One moment, Jenny was on the other side of the room, and the next she was kneeling next to Nurse Joy. She seemed to spend an eternity by the nurse's side, but as soon as Bill blinked, she moved to his. A hand rested on his shoulder before drifting to the back of his head.
"Are you okay?" she asked. Her voice sounded distant, like it was at the other end of a long and empty hallway.
His lips moved. A second later, he forced his voice from his throat in a low whisper.
He closed his eyes, and a moment later, he fell into the darkness.
In a different kind of darkness, the Committee convened. The leader at the center, First, cleared his throat. To his right and left were Second and Third, respectively, and at the ends sat Fourth and Fifth. All of them studied the papers on the table in front of them as they waited for someone to begin.
"We've just now collected new data from Adam," Second finally said. "His power is not the strongest we've ever recorded."
"Likewise," Third added, "his mind seems to be severed from the parasite's."
Fifth nodded. "How curious. He's nothing like anything else we've recorded."
On the right end, Fourth shook her head. "It's a shame the National Defense Forces insisted on his quarantine. We can't use him, and it's far too late to remove the device and choose a new subject. If only we had been a bit more discreet about his presence. He would be far more useful in the Institute where we can study XP-494's physiological arsenal."
Second glanced at Fourth. "Perhaps, but we find that this second personality in Adam renders him far too dangerous for captivity. Both personalities controlling that body leave him unpredictable. We couldn't possibly keep him with our scientists. If we attempt to control the alien in him, we become inhumane to his human self. If we treat his human self as an equal, we risk leaving our scientists vulnerable to his alien side. It's a blessing that the NDF intervened."
"Then what should we do?" Third asked.
First straightened. "We leave him in Hoenn. We have already obtained fascinating information from him. He can provide us with more, regardless of inaccuracies regarding his psychological state."
"I agree," Fifth replied. "Besides, this turn of events may allow us to see XP-494 at its full potential."
First nodded. "Perhaps."
(The affable Archangel had forewarned Adam to beware.)
The odd thing, as Bill found out, about having metal as skin was that it changed so frequently according to temperature. At night, he felt the water in the air condense and leave tiny droplets on his cold armor. Now, which could only have been the day, he could feel the scorching heat of the plates exposed to the sun. It felt somewhat uncomfortable to be so hot after being so cold, yet he was numbly aware it felt almost natural.
Opening a dark eye halfway, Bill realized first that he was lying stomach-down on the cement. His entire body felt heavy, and for that reason, the ground felt oddly comfortable in comparison. Squinting, he dragged a hand next to his face to feel the pavement in wonder.
"You're awake," Jenny said. "Good. That makes this easier."
Bill turned his head slightly to glance at Jenny's knees beside him. She was bent over him, fiddling with something at the back of his neck. Behind her, he could see the legs of his sister. He tried to crane his neck to get a better look of her, but Jenny placed a firm hand on the side of his head.
"Hold still," she said. "I've got to get this off you before they come back."
He closed his eyes and shifted uncomfortably. "What?"
"They put a collar on you," Jenny explained. "You're chained to the city square again. I tried to convince them it's not necessary, but after what happened at the pokémon center…"
Her voice trailed off, and Bill froze. A jolt of pain rushed through his head as a flood of memories came back to him. He recalled the image of the dead female, the male towering over him, Joy on the floor…
"Nurse Joy," he whispered.
Jenny stopped. "She's dead. Poison."
Her voice sounded strained. The words she used felt foreign to Bill, yet he understood on a very distant level. Turning his head, he rested his chin on the cement. He felt Jenny's gloved hands touch the back of his neck and fiddle with the band around his neck, something he was conscious of for the first time since he woke up. The images continued to burn through his mind, but now, he felt numb about them, as if they weren't his memories. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for awhile as his skull throbbed.
"My head hurts," he murmured.
Jenny frowned. "I wouldn't be surprised. You slammed into a wall." She hesitated. "What happened in there, anyway?"
Bill stared at the cement. For a long while, he said nothing as he recalled the night one more time.
That didn't happen, did it? he thought. It couldn't have.
"Hey," Jenny said. "Are you okay?"
He began to tremble under her hands. The image of the dead thing burned through his mind. Although he knew he couldn't have killed her, he couldn't help but feel a mixture of horror and disgust over what he could do. He shut his eyes tightly and felt hot tears trail down his face.
Immediately, Jenny removed her hands. "Hey! Are you okay?"
He cringed, moving to curl on his side. "I… I didn't…"
Jenny frowned. Then, with a sigh and a surprisingly gentle touch, she pulled at the collar until the lock faced her.
"You can't be all that bad. You saved my life, you know." She patted his shoulder. "Come on. We've gotta get you out of here. The others aren't happy that you're still here."
She reached down to fiddle with the lock again, but before she could go any further, a voice rose behind her. It was still far off, but it was still loud enough for her to hear.
"****," she muttered.
She stood and turned to face the voice. From his angle, Bill couldn't see who was approaching, but what he could see was several pairs of feet. Shutting his eyes tightly, he couldn't help but to start shaking.
Above him, Thompson approached and pointed a bandaged hand towards Bill.
"Move aside, officer," he said. "Thanks for keeping an eye on it."
Jenny stood her ground. "And what do you plan on doing?"
Thompson lowered his hand slightly. "Kill it. Before you stopped those things in the pokémon center last night, they killed eleven of us. We can't risk leaving one to kill the rest."
Jenny frowned. "He was with me the whole night. He didn't kill anything."
Bill raised his eyes. His mind struggled to figure out what she was doing.
"It didn't kill anything yet. You don't know what it'll do," Thompson replied. He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you defending it?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Jenny asked.
She looked past Thompson to glance at the crowd behind him. What literally must have been the rest of the city – all fifteen people besides herself and Rose – stood behind Thompson. Some of them cast glares towards Jenny, as if already, they'd labeled her a traitor. The others stared at Bill with wide, frightened eyes.
"Did you all agree to this?" Jenny asked with a sharp edge to her voice.
"Do they need to?" Thompson growled.
Jenny turned a fierce glance towards Thompson. "I'd say so! You're proposing to execute a living being without a fair trial, with no evidence whatsoever that he's remotely violent! I can name at least three reasons why that's inhumane!"
"You know what's also inhumane?" Thompson snapped. "Expecting us to live in this city with a thing whose kind wiped out a couple hundred thousand people in a few days! That's what's inhumane, officer, and if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're asking to get that badge revoked!"
Jenny narrowed her eyes. "You're out of line."
"No, you're out of line!" Thompson pointed a thick finger at her. "I'm the mayor's son, and you have no right—"
"You're the mayor's son," Jenny said. "You have no power over the police force!"
There was a silence over the entire crowd. No one wanted to get involved in the argument, but now, not even Thompson had anything to say. Only a moment later did Jenny realize her mistake in evoking the memory of the dead the way she did, but her expression only softened slightly.
"Eddie, look, you may not think he deserves to live, but it isn't right to kill him without any evidence that he – this specific ixodida – did anything," Jenny explained calmly. "In fact, it's a felony to kill a pokémon like that, or have you already forgotten that part?"
"A felony? Even if letting it stay here will give it a chance to kill us all?" Thompson grumbled through clenched teeth.
"We can't stay here," Jenny replied. "There's less than twenty of us now, and one of the others was killed with the parasite still in it. You know what happens when that happens." She paused. "And, for that matter, you were about to add another one to the heap. Remember what happened a month ago when we shot and killed one of these things without getting rid of the parasite?"
Thompson looked at his feet. In the ensuing silence, Bill lifted his head. Something felt cold about what she'd just said. He couldn't imagine what kind of significance having the parasite attached to him would have when he died, but Jenny's words sounded foreboding.
The silence over the crowd was broken by a quiet voice in the back of the crowd.
"There were two monsters, weren't there? What happened to the other parasite? Is it alive and in the city?"
Cut open our stomach if you want to find it that badly.
Bill shuddered. It was that voice again, the one that wasn't his but sounded as if it was him speaking. He could almost feel something smirking in his mind, and he drew a shuddering breath. For a long moment, he could do nothing but shiver as he felt the presence. He wanted to will it away. The longer it was there, the more real the events of the night before became. Soon, he could smell the blood again, taste the parasite melting in his mouth. It was all real, and he didn't want it.
Pay attention, Bill. Those people are about to ask a very important question.
"I don't know," Jenny admitted. "That's the least of our concerns right now. The other one has eggs in its body. We have only a few hours left to evacuate the city before we're overrun with parasites again. At our numbers, we'll all be infected if we stay here."
"But we'll all be infected if we go out there! That's where they are!" a voice protested.
Another voice cried out, "Leave Mauville? But-but how can we? Where will we go?"
Ah. There it is.
"Well, we certainly can't stay here," Jenny responded. "The longer we stay here, the more danger we put ourselves in."
"We have no place to go from here!" someone else shouted. "They'll kill us either way!"
"I say we stay here," Thompson said. "We've got nothing to gain by running, and this is our home. It's our duty to protect it!"
Jenny glared at him. "Protect what? There's nothing left here! Our city is dying!"
"Only because the people we rely on to protect it failed!" Thompson snapped.
Immediately, Jenny narrowed her eyes. "What are you implying?"
"I'm implying the obvious," Thompson replied. "You failed. Your fellow officers are dead. How can we rely on you to lead us out of this city and to someplace safe?"
"I'm doing the best I can!" Jenny hissed.
"As anyone can see," Thompson drawled. A hand lazily motioned towards the creature behind her. "You're doing a wonderful job by telling us to leave our homes while you protect that thing. Why don't you just shoot us all right here and feed us to it?"
There was a chatter among the crowd. Some sided with Jenny in their desperation for safety. Others – a larger group – sided with Thompson and attempted to push forward. The noise pounded through Bill's skull as the crowd closed in around the monument. Jenny and those who sided with her pushed back, trying to drive away the ones who sided with Thompson as their voices rose in the heat of an argument. Lifting his eyes, Bill squinted as his vision blurred. Above him, he saw Rose trying to protect herself from the lumbering crowd. A bulky arm swung around, trying to get at a wiry man next to her but knocked her back instead. She tipped forward with a small cry, and at her angle, she would have smashed into the monument.
Instead, she found herself caught by a pair of metal arms.
The crowd stopped and turned to face the two: the girl who shook with shock and the creature that knelt beside her with his arms wrapped around her to keep her from falling. Bill didn't even think about moving. He just recalled lifting himself in a fluid motion to catch her. Now that he did, he wasn't sure what to do after that. Instead, he held her in surprise as a sweet scent floated into his nose. For that single moment, he felt her warmth and her weight, and he drifted into his own thoughts.
He was snapped back into reality when felt something collide into his shoulder with a loud ping. Blinking, he turned his head to find a member of the crowd stooping to pick up another rock beside the monument.
"Hey!" he shouted. "Let her go!"
Unable to think clearly, Bill instinctively held Rose tighter. She cried out sharply, and he turned to her with wide eyes to find her struggling against him.
"Rosie," he whispered. "Wait…"
Another rock struck his shoulder, followed by more as other members of the crowd joined in to strike or hold Jenny back. He winced, trying to move himself and Rose away from the pebble storm. Rose planted her hands on his chest and pushed as another cry escaped her throat. Surprised by the feeling of his sister pushing away from him, Bill let go, slipping his clawed hands away from her as she stumbled backwards to be caught by one of the townspeople.
Slowly, Bill stood. Only then did he feel the weight of the collar and chain around his neck as it jingled and tugged at him. More rocks flew towards him, to which he responded by shielding his head.
"Stop it!" Jenny screamed as she struggled against the hands that held her back. "Let go of me!"
Peeking beyond his arm, Bill managed to peek at Rose, who stared at him with wide eyes set into her pale face. Then, with a small cry, she turned and broke out of the crowd to run down the empty street. With a gasp, Bill started forward to go after her, but with a jingle, the chain reminded him of its presence. He choked as he was jerked back, the chain holding him tight against the monolith. The townspeople's voices rose in a loud commotion as the crowd backed away.
"It's going berserk!" one of them shouted.
Bill struggled against the chain, digging his claws between it and his neck as he desperately tried to pull it off. "No… Please… My sister…"
Thompson rounded on Jenny with a glare on his face. "See what I mean?! We can't keep that thing with us! It's better off dead!"
At Thompson's argument, Bill cried out and pulled on the chain again. "No! Rosie!"
Suddenly, time seemed to slow. Even though he could see the townspeople shouting, he could no longer hear them. Instead, he felt something warm creep across his chest as the familiar voice entered his brain.
You can break through the chain if you used Iron Tail.
Iron Tail? he thought. But… these people will catch me again if I try to escape.
They're afraid of you. They won't touch you.
Do you wish to save your sister? She'll be infected too if she's alone in the city.
Bill furrowed his eyebrows and stared in the direction his sister ran. He couldn't argue that he wanted to protect her. She was his sister, after all.
Before he fully reached a decision, his tail seemed to act without him. He felt it stiffen behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder to watch it rise and take on a white glow. The crowd around him screamed, but for once, it didn't pound through his head. Instead, it sounded muffled, like he was hearing it through cotton.
Here. Allow me to free you.
With a snap, his tail cut cleanly through the chain's links. He felt the remaining end hit his back with a tap, sending him stumbling through the crowd and onto a knee in the empty space behind them. His eyes widened as he reached behind him to examine the chain.
How could I cut through this? he thought.
Inside his mind, the voice grew impatient. Never mind that now! Run!
Drawing in a gasp, Bill scrambled to his feet and darted down the street. Behind him, the crowd scrambled to follow him. He could hear their shouts, and for a moment, he winced at the noise. Attempting to shake it off, he narrowed his eyes as he tried to peer into the maze of concrete in front of him. It occurred to him that he didn't know an inch of its layout, and Rose was nowhere to be seen by then.
A cold feeling rose in his chest.
This is a city! he thought in panic. Where do I go?
The voice stirred. Why, Bill, the answer is simple. Go where your sister went.
Glancing over his shoulder, he could see the townspeople slowing, hesitating in the shadows cast by the buildings. Already, he could see the flashes of light from several poké balls, and he knew from them that he only had a limited amount of time.
I can't see her. How do I know which way she went?
The voice sighed. Honestly, are you one of the brightest in the human race? Allow me to give you a hint.
Bill felt something warm pass across his face, and immediately afterwards, a thousand different scents seemed to punch his nose. He gasped and stumbled to a lamp post for support as a trembling hand covered the lower half of his face.
With a shuddering breath, Bill obliged. He could smell everything: dirt, asphalt, oil, rust – all the odors of a half-dead city. Closing his eyes, he tried to focus on the scents, searching for something familiar.
As the shouts of the people behind him grew louder, he finally caught something. It was faint – earthy and sour yet, at the same time, sweet. It was certainly familiar. After all, he'd caught it in the crowd not long ago.
Ah yes. She smells like that, doesn't she? Pleasant… but nothing I would prefer.
Bill opened his eyes. Is that so?
Oh yes. Now. Follow it.
Slipping his hand from his mouth, Bill took another deep breath to catch the aroma one more time. Then, he launched forward.
The daylight played across the broken glass and the blood-stained floor in the pokémon center. Nurse Joy and Chansey's bodies had been removed to be prepared for proper burial, but no one dared to touch the purple creatures – one ripped apart and the other shot to death – that lay in the middle of the floor. Still, it was to this place that Rose returned. It was the only thing she knew, the only home she had in that city.
Slowly, she walked from the door to the side of the room, taking care to keep her distance from the creatures. Neither had the familiar crystals on their bodies, but one oozed a green gel from the wound where its parasite had been. Rose didn't think too much about this substance. Instead, she approached one of the booths to the side of the room and sat down with a heavy thump. With a sniffle, she slipped forward to bury her face in her arms.
After that, the tears came freely. Her cheeks and eyes felt hot as tears stung her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. Each sob shook her body. Part of her mourned the loss of the woman who had taken care of her for those past months. Another part wept from the sheer terror of the situation. All that was left was a tiny percentage of the city, and she didn't know where she would go next or what she would do. She was lost and, in her heart, incredibly alone.
Minutes passed like this until finally, she lifted her head. With a hiccup, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Her teeth bit her lower lip, and she tried to quiet herself in case someone happened to be listening. Trembling, she listened to the quiet of the center.
Something clacked behind her.
Straightening, she swallowed, the act painful, as if she was forcing down something large and hard. Behind her, the large parasite that had been in the male crept closer, trailing loose tentacles across the back of the seat until one slipped and caressed her shoulder. Slowly, she turned her head to see it perching on the top of the seat as its red glow pulsed.
Immediately, she scrambled backwards until her back smacked into the wall. A scream tore from her throat as she cringed, unable to move to escape. The parasite clamored forward, its body flashing hungrily as it approached as quickly as it could.
Before it got halfway across the back of the seat, a set of metal claws came down hard onto it, piercing through its large, red body. Blood trickled down the seat as the parasite's legs flailed for several moments. Finally, it stopped moving before bursting, spraying blood onto both its attacker and its intended victim.
Rose wrapped her arms around her knees and curled into a tight ball as she lifted her dark eyes. In the meantime, Bill withdrew his claws.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "It's a good thing I can follow your scent. A second more of trying to find you, and…"
He trailed off as he offered her a small smile that faded when he glanced at her. She stared at him with wide eyes, the tears still trickling down her cheeks to wash away the droplets of blood. At once, Bill stiffened, then slipped into the booth.
"Are you all right?" he repeated. "It didn't bite you, did it?"
When he got no response, he frowned slightly and lifted a hand to touch her face. She flinched away from him and closed her eyes tightly to avoid looking at him. Realizing the problem, Bill turned to face the table and sat down on the end of the seat, keeping a small distance between himself and his sister.
"You're still afraid of me," he said before glancing at her. "I wish there was a way to convince you I don't intend on harming you."
He glanced at his own claws. Each one glistened with blood, and only then did he realize what he'd done. He was so focused on protecting his sister that he didn't think twice about killing a living creature.
Then, he realized how serious that actually was. He knew that in his normal mindset, he would, without a question, avoid something that extreme at all costs. It was against his own principles. So, as he stared at his blood-stained claws, he couldn't help but wonder why he did it then.
What's happening to me?
It was a question that echoed through his mind for the past two days, but only then did he get a response.
Only that which is natural. Normally, the victim's mind submits quickly to a total transformation. Yours… yours is strange. It resists, but regardless…
In the meantime, Rose pressed herself into the wall. Her dark eyes stared at the creature beside her. A worried look crossed his face, but he did or said nothing more to her. She trembled. In all her time in Hoenn, she'd never seen one of his kind up close. With the others, that would have marked her lucky. The others killed whatever got this close. However, this one hadn't made a move against her yet. Nothing except the attempt to caress her cheek, and even then, he hadn't really touched her.
Still, she was trapped by him. To escape, she would have to go over or under the table to her left or over the seat to her right. Either way, she knew he'd catch her if she tried. She could only hope that one of the townspeople would come to save her.
Right then, she realized how much she actually missed Nurse Joy. The nurse had protected her for the past several months, but now…
Her whimpering snapped Bill out of his thoughts. The voice cleared from his mind, and for that brief moment, he forgot why he was so concerned a moment ago. Turning his head, he saw Rose staring at him with tears running down her cheeks. Jumping, he twisted himself in the seat.
"Rosie, what is it?" he asked softly. "No, no, don't cry! I promise you, I—"
Behind him, he heard a crackling. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught sight of the green gel in the dead male moving. Slowly, he reached towards Rose with an arm. She cried out in fear and cringed, to which Bill responded with a soft hush as he kept his eyes on the gel.
Suddenly, it broke open, and a red wave of parasites flooded out.
"Oh no," he whispered. Then, he turned back to Rose. "Rosie, listen to me. I know you're afraid of me, but I need to get you to someplace safe. Will you trust me?"
She cringed in response and shut her eyes tightly. Wincing at her response, Bill looked over his shoulder again at the flood of red that was creeping towards him. Resolving himself, he reached for Rose and grabbed her. Immediately, she screamed, causing Bill to flinch and turn away. It took him several deep breaths for him to reach back, pull her out of the booth, and lifted her in his arms. He nearly dropped her on the way out, and for that, his tail rose and wrapped around her waist, an act that was answered with more screaming. Involuntarily, Bill shuddered at the sound. The sound pounded through his ears, but by some miracle, he managed to steady himself and avoid dropping his sister. Instead, he bit his lip and tried to brace himself against the noise until his teeth drew blood. The pain helped only slightly, and as a result, his first movements away from the booth were actually more of a stumble.
"Rosie, I'm sorry for this," he said.
Right then, he felt something on his feet. Looking down, he saw the parasites crowding around him and biting into his clawed toes. With a sharp gasp, he shook them off his feet and started quickly for the door. The red wave hesitated for a moment as if in collective thought, then followed him outside.
Stumbling into the open, Bill squinted into the sunlight and clutched his sister tighter to his chest. No sooner had he appeared than several howls rose into the air. Raising his head, he turned his eyes to find the townspeople rushing towards him. Several pokémon – mostly manectric and electrike – galloped beside them at their feet.
"There it is!" one of them cried. "It's got Joy's girl!"
Thompson shoved himself to the front of the pack and stopped several feet from Bill. The creature took a few steps back, a look of uncertainty crossing his face as he tightened his grip slightly around his sister. She responded with a whimper and a squirm.
"Let her go! You're not taking her!" Thompson snapped.
Bill glanced to his side to see the red wave washed from the door to the road. He took a shuddering breath and turned back to the townspeople.
"Please! Run!" he shouted.
The parasites pooled around his ankles. He could feel them try to bite him, but none of them seemed interested in him. Taking a few steps back, he no longer heard the crowd shouting at him. Instead, he stared downward at the wave of red pulling away from his feet.
Useful, isn't it? They know their own kind – and, for that matter, their own predator.
Blinking, he watched as the wave moved towards the other signs of life: the townspeople. Drawing in a gasp, he found he could do nothing except watch as the parasites surged towards the pokémon first to consume them in blankets of red. Electricity shot in all directions as the creatures howled in surprise and tried to retaliate against a mass. The people shrieked and fled in a confusion, some directly into the wave, some in the opposite direction, and some to the sides. Those who ran directly into the wave were immediately consumed, just like the pokémon. Several parasites bit into their legs at once, and with shouts, they fell into the masses.
Bill felt something curl around his neck. Looking down, he realized Rose was whimpering helplessly as she clung to him. She closed her eyes and turned her head, pressing her forehead into his chest.
Resolving himself, Bill went inward to address the voice.
Tell me. How can I drive away these things?
For a moment, the voice was silent. Then, he heard its drawl.
Widening his eyes, he took a step back.
Then what do I do now?
What else would you do? Run.
And abandon these people?
If their fate is hopeless. There are too many of our kind and too few of theirs. They will be consumed, and you cannot save them except for the little one in your arms if you run now.
Lowering his eyes briefly, Bill contemplated his options. Rose clutched his neck tighter, and he felt her hot tears trickling across his metal skin.
A sharp cry and several gunshots jolted him back into reality. Looking up, he saw Officer Jenny backing away from the wave with her gun pointed at them. Without thinking, Bill started forward, towards her. Her eyes rose to flash a startled glance towards him as he placed himself between her and the wave. The parasites pooled around him and attempted to bite his ankles for a moment. He crept slightly closer to Jenny, unwrapped his tail from Rose's waist, and twisted it to curl on the ground around Jenny's feet. Immediately, he could feel the parasites biting into his tail, and he winced slightly but kept his back against Jenny's. Feeling him against her, Jenny drew in a gasp.
"What are you doing?" she hissed.
"Confusing them," he replied. "Stay close."
A flash pulsed through the other parasites, and slowly, they crawled away from their feet. None of them seemed to even detect Jenny's presence. Jenny holstered her gun and pressed her back against Bill's.
"What…?" she murmured.
"I'll explain later," Bill said as he whipped his tail back and wrapped it around his sister. "Run and don't look back!"
With that, he held Rose close and darted down the street, away from the wave. Jenny didn't need to be asked twice. She followed him down the street.
For a long while, neither Bill nor Jenny said a word to each other, and Rose merely whimpered into her brother's chest. Together, they dashed across the city, weaving through rows of empty buildings to place as much space between themselves and the waves of parasites as they possibly could. Overhead, the sun swung across the blue sky indifferently, without any concern for the panic beneath it.
Only when the buildings began to give way to the open fields beyond the city did Jenny slow down. She stopped, took several steps towards a lamp post, and leaned against it to catch her breath. Bill continued for a few more steps before realizing his companion had lagged behind. He stopped, panting as he glanced over his shoulder towards her.
"Are you all right?" he asked, his throat burning with each word.
She nodded and pushed away from the post. "Yeah. Just… Just need to rest for awhile."
Bill nodded and glanced towards the outskirts. He wondered briefly where the road that trailed out of the city would lead, but before he could speculate any further, he felt a sharp pain rush through his tail. Gasping, he sent a glance downward to find Rose frantically pulling at it. She whimpered as her fingers yanked at segments in an effort to pull the tail off. Drawing in a breath through a wince, Bill held her tighter, which was met with another squeal and more urgent struggles from Rose.
Jenny cast a glance towards the two of them and frowned.
"Put her down," she said.
At her words, Bill stared at her for a beat, then awkwardly leaned down to put Rose on her feet. As soon as he unwrapped his tail from her waist, she yelped and reached up to shove him away. He stumbled backwards in surprise for a few steps and watched with wide eyes as Rose darted behind Officer Jenny.
"Rose!" Jenny murmured.
Swallowing hard, Bill looked away, towards the edge of town. A sense of guilt for scaring the child hit him, and he couldn't help but blush with shame. Clenching his teeth, he studied the road intently and tried to push the thought of Rose's reaction out of his mind.
"Where does this road lead?" he asked. His voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.
Jenny gazed down the path. "That's the north road. Beyond here's the desert, Mt. Chimney, Lavaridge, Fallarbor, all the mountain towns."
Bill straightened at the list. One name stuck out for him, just enough to push the guilt completely out of his thoughts.
"Fallarbor," he echoed. "Lanette…"
Jenny shot him a strange look. "Huh?"
Bill ignored her for the moment and quickly ran through a possible plan. He touched his chin in thought as he remembered the red-head.
"She may provide some help," Bill said, mostly to himself.
Jenny furrowed her eyebrows. "Who? Are you okay?"
Staring at the path, Bill moved his claws to cover his mouth. "What if she's infected too? …But there may still be a chance she isn't…"
"Who?" Jenny asked as she stepped back, herding the girl with her.
Bill glanced over his shoulder with a slightly startled expression, as if he only just now realized she was standing there. Then, his expression shifted, changing to one of extreme gravity.
"We should go to Fallarbor Town," he said. "There's someone there that I would like to speak to."
"Who?" Jenny asked. Then, something else about what he just said struck her. "Wait. We?"
Bill glanced towards the road. "Her name is Lanette Rousseau. She's a colleague and very good friend of mine. I know she may have some information that could be of use." He paused to give Jenny a small grin. "I assume you'll be coming with me. Someone must help me watch over Rosie, and you were very right in your observation that there may be nothing left here."
Jenny straightened and shook her head. "Oh no. I can't. I've… I've got to go back!"
With that, she turned and started for the center of the city again. Before she could take so much as three steps, Bill darted forward and blocked her path. She stopped short and found herself staring into his eyes.
"Please, officer!" he whispered. "If you go back, you'll be running back into grave danger! I can't allow you!"
Jenny's hand moved to the gun holstered on her hip. "It's my duty. I've got to protect the city."
Bill's expression softened slightly. "There were too many of them. We were entirely outnumbered. There's no one left to protect."
A silence lapsed between the two. For a long moment, Jenny glared at him; his words stabbed her with cold pain. He stood in her way, arms and claws stretched at his sides to keep her from passing him. His face took on a worried shade, and his sharp teeth poked from his mouth to bite his lower lip lightly.
Suddenly, in the distance, a noise rose. Several eerie shrieks – human with a distinct, animalistic tone – rose and mingled with each other. Somewhere in the middle of the sound echoed a scream that crept into the bones of the three at the end of the city and chilled their bodies. Bill looked over his shoulder, towards the sound. Taking the opportunity, Jenny reached outward and rested a gloved hand on the opposite shoulder with the intent of pushing him out of the way. However, something grabbed her other hand, and she stopped where she was.
Glancing towards her with wide eyes, Bill found Jenny's hand on his shoulder but her head turned towards something clutching her other hand. On Jenny's other side, Rose kept close, her small hands gripping Jenny's wrist and her eyes lowered. Both of her older companions hesitated, watching the glistening tears trailing down the child's cheeks. Then, slowly, they turned to glance at one another, and without exchanging a word, they came to a truce.
"Fine," Jenny said. "I'll go. For the both of you."
Bill relaxed. "Thank you, Officer."
With a sigh, Jenny took off her badge. She turned and pulled away from Bill to walk towards the road leading away from the city. Her coffee-colored eyes remained on the gold of the emblem in her hand while the other sought Rose's. The girl kept close, her hands clutching the officer's as tears continued trickling down her cheeks. Jenny didn't seem to notice as she dropped the badge and motioned for Bill to follow.
"I can't be much of a police officer without a precinct," she said.
Bill fell into step behind her. He wanted to say something to comfort her, but nothing came to mind. Instead, all that came was a question.
"Then what should I call you?"
Jenny glanced at him. "My name is Veronica. Veronica Jenny. And you?"
Bill tilted his head. "I told you already."
Blinking, Bill fumbled with a response. "I… My… Ah." He shook his head. "Bill McKenzie."
Veronica nodded and lifted Rose's hand. "And Rose McKenzie."
Quietly, the trio stepped out of the city and continued onward, leaving the deathly silence behind them. After a few beats of silence, Veronica exhaled.
"God help all three of us," she murmured.
Side note, but I'm also in the process of editing chapters one through six for errors. Just in case anyone wanted to know. Should be done by tomorrow, but check the edited by lines to see if I managed to get through it all.
(The plural of I is we.)
In a dimly lit room in Pallet Town, Professor Oak sat with a book on his lap and his eyes half closed. Although he was normally very active for a man in his sixties, ever since he'd returned from Polaris Institute, he didn't do much except sit in thought. Occasionally, his assistant Tracey Sketchit would, after going through the daily list of chores, open the door to the researcher's study to check on him, but invariably, he'd find Professor Oak sitting alone in the wheelchair to which he'd been bound. Tracey assumed by then that the chair – or even the stump of a right leg, gained during a strange incident a week ago that even the NDF refused to talk about – was the source of the elder's strange silence. In any case, for the past week, he barely got much in the way of words out of his mentor.
Instead, he ran the household as best as he could and, when that was done, tried his best to coax Oak into his former sense of cheeriness. He'd even recruited the help of Delia Ketchum, a housewife whose company usually brightened Oak's day without fail. That particular day, however, was the first time for as long as Tracey knew the researcher that even her presence wasn't enough for Oak.
Currently, Delia sat on the arm of a couch. Her pale hands were folded neatly on her lap, and her dark eyes were fixed on the professor's haggard face. He was awake, and she knew it. Yet, even though they mutually understood they were aware of each other's presence, he pretended to nap in the wheelchair.
The long silence between them was heavy. She'd arrived there early that morning to help Tracey with the chores, and when he insisted on doing the afternoon ones himself, she wandered into the office and took a seat to perform her other duty in that lab: keep the old professor company. That was three hours ago, and her conversation was largely one-sided.
"Professor," she said at last.
Then, there was a pause. She couldn't think of what to say after that. So, instead, she said the first words that came to her mind.
"I found a new recipe for pineapple upside-down cake," she said cheerily. "It wouldn't be any trouble at all to make one for you. What do you say?"
Predictably, there was silence in response. The only thing that interrupted it was the sound of a doorbell, followed shortly by the pounding of Tracey's feet against the floor.
"I've got it! Don't worry!" Tracey announced from somewhere in the hall.
Delia paused, listening to the muffled sounds of Tracey slowing down as he reached the door. Seconds later, she heard his voice, but she couldn't make out what he said. Instead, she turned back to Oak and smiled as sweetly as she could.
"Tracey's a good boy," she said. "You're lucky to have him. He's honest and hard-working, just the kind of help anyone would love to have."
When she didn't even get a response from that, she tilted her head.
"Last week was Ash's birthday. It's hard to believe it's been so long since he left home." She sighed wistfully. "My baby is all grown up already, Professor. Just last week, he won—"
Before she could tell the professor about her son's latest exploit, there was a knock on the door. She looked up just as Tracey opened the door and peeked into the room.
"Professor, you've got a visitor," he said. "She'd like to see you right away." Then, he glanced at Delia. "Mrs. Ketchum, could you help me in the kitchen?"
Delia, of course, was no fool. Even though Tracey said it as a side comment, it was meant to tell her the visitor, whoever it was, wanted privacy. With a nod, she stood, offered Oak a sympathetic glance, and walked out of the room.
As she followed Tracey into the hall, she caught sight of the visitor. Much to her surprise, it wasn't anyone she knew. The visitor was dressed in a pantsuit that conformed to her skinny build yet made her look somewhat shorter than she must have been. Her dark, narrow eyes were cast towards the door, rather than Delia, and for that, Delia saw only the woman's profile: the slightly upturned nose, the pale skin, and the dark hair pulled into a tight bun. In some sense, the woman bore a kind of beauty, but Delia could see it was foreign – both literally and metaphorically. The woman's face simply looked expressionless. Distant.
Without a word to either Tracey or Delia, the stranger glided into the office and shut the door quietly behind her. That enough was a cue for Delia to turn and walk down the hall. There was something about that woman that didn't quite sit right with her, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out what.
Inside the office, the stranger walked to the same spot Delia had taken a moment ago and carefully perched herself on the arm with her own pale hands folded neatly on her lap. For several moments, neither the professor nor the stranger said a word.
Finally, she broke the silence.
"Hello, Professor Oak."
Oak raised his head. The voice sounded quiet, and it was tinged with an accent. Even though it had been years since he'd heard it, to his ears, that voice hadn't aged.
"Mrs. McKenzie," he rasped.
She smiled, but it wasn't the same warm, familiar smile as Delia's. "Riko."
Oak nodded slowly and moved his head to stare at the book in his lap. "How did you know I was here?"
Riko unfolded herself and stood. With slow movements, she wandered to the closest window to pull back the curtain. A beam of white light entered the room and illuminated a cloud of dust motes floating lazily in the air.
"My husband was transferred to Polaris Institute last week," she explained. "We arrived there two days ago, and when we inquired about you, we were told you had returned to Pallet Town on medical leave. Cornelius sent me here."
"You left Cornelius to come here," Oak murmured with a shake of his head.
She turned and offered a small smile. "You know me well. Do you know why I've traveled here?"
Oak fully opened his eyes. "I tried to call you."
With a nod, she moved to return to her seat. "That's right. What did you try to tell us?"
For that beat, Oak was silent. He clenched his jaw and resolved himself. Slowly, like a crab crawling out of its shell, he unfolded himself from the daze he'd been in for the past week. He stared at Riko's heart-shaped face and saw only determination – not anger, impatience, or even fear. It wasn't anything he'd expected. There was no other emotion there but pure resolve, as if it was a battle of wits on her side, and she had every intention of winning.
"Professor," she said, "when Cornelius and I arrived at Polaris, we were surprised to find that my son wasn't there. You remember him, don't you?"
Oak nodded. "Bill."
Riko's expression softened slightly. "We'd looked everywhere for him, but he was nowhere to be found. What's more, no one wanted to tell us where he was." She leaned towards Oak slightly at this point, as if to emphasize her next statement. "You were trying to tell us something about him, weren't you?"
Oak merely fixed his eyes on her. His throat felt dry, and he couldn't bring himself to tell her. Yet, he knew all too well that Riko was smart, quite possibly sharper than her husband, or at least, she knew how to coax information she wanted out of the source. Oak knew he couldn't lie to her, not that he ever really wanted to, anyway.
"Professor," she said. Her voice softened and dropped in volume. "Answer one question for me. Where is William?"
Oak didn't look away. Instead, he sought her eyes and stared deep into them.
Another silence lapsed between them. Riko leaned back, her already milky face paling even more. Yet, the rest of her face refused to change, to betray any of her emotions as she stared at the aged researcher.
"Hoenn?" she whispered.
Oak sighed in his chair and nodded. "There was an accident just before I first tried to call you. Bill was infected with the parasite XP-494, and he was taken to Hoenn to be quarantined." He paused for a beat, realizing how cold and mechanical his own words sounded. "I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. McKenzie."
The silence was so heavy it almost physically hurt Oak at that point. He struggled to find the courage to look at her. After all, he'd lost a son too, years and years ago. He knew what it felt like to stand in the cold, dark silence helplessly as the heart burst with disbelief at the thought of never seeing the same smile ever again.
It was the shuffle of Riko slipping off the arm of the chair and rising to her feet that forced him to look up, towards her face. She was faster, however, and before he could see her expression, she turned away, her arms swinging behind her to clasp neatly at the small of her back.
"I see," she said.
Her voice was contemplative, almost light – hardly what Oak expected. For that, he shivered.
"Mrs. McKenzie," he said, slightly louder than he intended.
"In that case, William is the second one I've lost to those creatures," she said. After a brief pause, she lifted her chin. "Well, then, it's of the utmost importance that we begin our own research."
"Sorry?" Oak gave her a strange look. "Our own research?"
Riko turned and smiled. Her hand motioned to his computer.
For a beat, Oak hesitated. He wasn't sure what to expect, but nonetheless, he nodded slowly. Riko's smile grew as she moved to the computer, booted it up, and quickly navigated to an inbox. Oak couldn't quite see what she was doing, but he noticed a porygon appearing on the screen in the corner of an e-mail.
"My husband is a clever man," she told him. "He never truly trusted the Committee. Not after…" She glanced over her shoulder. "You recall what my son did."
Oak nodded. It was an incident he was almost certain was kept from the Committee. Bill had never fully explained himself past mere curiosity over the levels of security on the reports from other institutes – valuable information that could have helped the rest of the network of laboratories involved with Project Stardust. Nonetheless, it was one of Bill's most serious infractions, and it was a wonder the Committee never contacted Oak about the fact that one of his own had hacked into a classified database. It took hours of work to cover it up, and ever since Bill had discovered the caches, Oak hadn't quite settled on what to make of it.
"Cornelius has not been able to trust the Committee after William told us what they were doing," Riko explained. "Since then, he had been working on this, but only now can we find a use for it. Come see."
With a blink, Oak rolled himself forward, just enough to see the screen fully. There, he realized the porygon wasn't just a graphic. It moved, producing white boxes from its beak which it placed in the inbox. Each square turned into an unread message, its title in bold. The list grew, but the titles were all similar: Committee reports, all neatly numbered from twenty-six down to one.
"Daily reports," Riko said. "Cornelius created a chain of porygon to copy and relay these messages. I can't entirely understand what they mean, but perhaps you can."
At once, Oak understood his role. He watched Riko straighten and turn to him, and with a smile, she continued.
"This is what I mean by we, Professor," she told him. "Cornelius will relay the reports to me, and you will read them and interpret them. Perhaps we can form a cure or at least find some way to rescue my children."
Oak hesitated. On the one hand, he was getting tired of being helpless in his laboratory. Yet, at the same time, Riko was no researcher, and her goals were lofty. That was, of course, beside the fact that his laboratory was ill-equipped to study the parasites, and he had no idea how long Cornelius could continue to steal reports from the Committee.
Noticing his silence, Riko walked towards him and leaned down to his level.
"Professor," she said, "both my son and my daughter are in Hoenn. They are hardly the only ones, as well. Think of all the people we can help if we work quickly. The Committee is dedicated to studying these things, but what results are they producing now?"
Oak took in her words and let a silence lapse afterwards. His fingers played across the edge of a wheel. Then, slowly, he nodded.
"Well, it's a lot better than doing nothing," Oak replied. "Let's get to work."
The man's old smile returned to his face as he pushed himself to the computer. One by one, he opened the messages and filled the screen with charts and text. Before he read a single one, he glanced at Riko.
"Mrs. McKenzie," he said, "would you mind if I asked you something?"
She moved to perch on the arm of the sofa again. "Hmm?"
"You don't seem too affected by your children being in Hoenn. Why?"
Riko offered a knowing smile. "Professor Oak, neither of them are dead yet."
About a week's journey north of Mauville, there was a place – a division between the green of the foothills, the brown of the mountains, and the vast desert that took up no more than an eighth of the region's area. Cliffs rose over grassy fields and one of Hoenn's many lakes, and the perpetual dust storm that veiled the desert valley swirled between the walls of its canyons. Yet, even then, the shadow of Mount Pyre still cast over them, imposing like a giant over the heads of children.
At the edge of one of those cliffs, not even close to the foot of the mountain but still in its shadow, Veronica Jenny sat with her coffee-colored eyes towards the city she once helped to protect. It had been a week of arduous foot travel through the fields, but it seemed like months since she left the limits of the already desolate Mauville City. In any case, she certainly didn't feel like a police officer anymore. Since then, she'd broken into at least one abandoned cabin along the way. The people were long gone (no mystery because the ixodida preyed on the people who lived in isolation), but the things they left behind were more than useful to herself and the child with her. Blankets, clothing, food, water – all the things that kept them alive. She'd long since disposed of the skimpy officer's uniform in favor of the jeans, boots, and coats that were left in the abandoned Winstrate household, and she was glad she did. Nights in that part of Hoenn were cold and unforgiving, although the sun often blazed overhead during the day.
Behind her, at the crackling fire closer to the cliff walls, the child slept. Rose curled in the salvaged blankets. She hadn't said a word for weeks, even before the group departed from Mauville. Really, Veronica wasn't surprised. The only person who got a sound from her was Ellen Joy, the local nurse and the one who took care of her after the girl was found wandering along the edge of the city. Joy was gone now, dead from the venom of one of the monsters, and unfortunately, Veronica was too slow to hide the body from the girl. Yet, she seemed to trust Veronica, possibly because she'd frequented the pokémon center enough to be considered a friend of Joy's. Hence, Rose kept mostly to Veronica (literally, as she didn't wander more than five feet away from the officer at any given time) when she was awake, although she didn't say a thing to either of her companions.
Partly, it was because of the third member of their small party. Even Veronica, despite all the bravery she gained from several years on the police force and her silent efforts to convince herself her companion was harmless, felt some sense of discomfort with the creature for a variety of reasons. First, it was the fact that he spent much of each evening after the first one away from the party. He never said what he was doing, but Veronica knew enough about his kind to figure it out. Not only that, but it seemed painfully obvious to her what he was doing. He grew violently ill from the berries and canned food they found the first night, and every night after that, he would disappear for an hour or two and return with the joints of his hands still tinted red. Veronica shuddered and tried not to think about it.
Second, it was the way he thought. Despite what Veronica had – and hadn't – seen him do, he still seemed disturbingly human in mindset. In fact, from what Veronica could tell, he seemed clever, possibly even eloquent at times, to the point where she had no doubt that he possessed a higher level of intellect than she did. That made her uncomfortable mostly in that she couldn't tell what he was thinking. He had yet to make a move that she could take to be a threat, but on the other hand, she would have preferred that he was simple, easy to read. Instead, he kept himself just out of her reach.
Even more than that, the other reason why she was unnerved by his mindset was the fact that a member of a species she took to be mindless killers could have ever been human at all. To add to the latter feeling, he insisted he was Rose's brother, a fact that added to the girl's anxiety towards being a member of the party. At the same time, his possible relationship with the girl tied him to the human race, which further forced Veronica to consider the idea that the creatures she thought were bloodthirsty monsters could possibly be of her own species.
Third, there was a combination of the first two, in which no matter how hard Veronica tried to remain wary of where he was and what he was doing, he still had a knack for catching her off-guard. Although his body was metal and his movements were clumsy when she watched him (and never mind the presence of the collar and chain from over a week ago), when she wasn't looking, he somehow moved silently around her to the point where Veronica always lost track of him. Always.
So, when she heard a voice in her ear, she of course wasn't expecting it in the least.
Involuntarily, Veronica jumped and twisted around, her wide eyes falling on the creature as he stumbled backwards. His long tail twisted around his ankles, and with a sharp cry, he lost his balance and landed with a bang on his rear. The two stared at each other in shock as nearby, Rose shifted and groaned in her sleep. Drawing her legs up from the edge of the cliff, Veronica glanced first towards Rose, then towards her third companion.
"Bill!" she hissed. "For the last time, don't do that!"
The ixodida relaxed as a weak smile crossed his lips. "Sorry. I tried not to be discreet this time."
Veronica huffed and turned back towards the city. "You make ninjask look like exploud."
For a long moment, there was silence between them. Veronica never quite knew what to say to him – or Rose, for that matter – so these silences weren't a particularly uncommon event. Usually, as if he could sense her discomfort with him, it was Bill who broke the quiet.
"It's a beautiful night, isn't it?" he asked.
He moved to sit beside her. She stiffened, listening to his joints click and the chain trailing from his collar jingle against his back. While she was relieved he was making a conscious effort to make his presence known, she still couldn't help but feel tense with him that close to her.
"Yeah," she said as she drew her knees up to her chest.
From the corner of her eye, she saw him turn his head to stare at her. The light from the campfire illuminated a crescent of his face in an orange glow, and in that crescent, she saw the corner of a small frown.
"Am I making you uncomfortable?" he asked.
He nodded and slid back onto the cliff. Veronica shifted in her seat, then turned to look over her shoulder. Behind her, Bill stood and walked the few steps to Rose's side. He glanced down at her for a few moments before lowering himself to one knee.
"How is she doing?"
Veronica frowned. "Looks like she's sleeping well. Don't bother her."
Bill didn't respond. He didn't move, save for the lazy wag of his tail. Tilting her head, Veronica pulled herself towards him, crawling across the cliff on her hands and knees until she reached the campsite. When he finally realized she was approaching him, Bill turned his head to watch her until she knelt by his side.
"So," she said.
"I thought I was making you uncomfortable," he murmured.
She scoffed. "I never said you were." Then, she glanced at him. "Do you want that thing off your neck now?"
"What?" Bill's hand rose to his neck. He paused and relaxed. "Oh. That. It's… it's not necessary."
"It's gonna rust on you," she said. "C'mon. Over here, so we won't wake up Rose."
Without thinking, she grabbed him by the wrist. At once, she hesitated slightly. The metal was cold to the touch, hardly what she'd expected. Involuntarily, she shivered.
Noticing her reaction, Bill pulled at his arm. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Veronica replied quickly.
Before he could protest, she stood, pulling at him as she went. He didn't resist, simply rose and followed her to the edge of the cliff. There, she placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed downward. Following her direction, he knelt in front of her, allowing her to stoop over him. One of her hands found the lock at the back of the collar, and the other reached up to pull the clip from her blue hair. Her ponytail spread at once to cover her neck as she carefully pushed the metal piece of the clip into the lock. Slowly, she moved to kneel, and sensing her shift in position, Bill slid to perch and slouch on the edge of the cliff.
For a long moment, Veronica worked quietly, trying to find the mechanism in the lock that would spring it open. Every so often, she'd sigh in frustration. The thing was already rusting.
"Aren't you uncomfortable with this on you?" she muttered.
Bill shrugged. "I don't even notice it."
"Really? I would." Veronica frowned. Then, after a short pause, she added, "What was Rose like?"
At once, Bill tried to turn to look at her. Drawing in a breath, Veronica placed both of her hands on the sides of his head to keep him straight.
"Stay still. I can't get this off if you move," she hissed.
Bill smiled. "I'm sorry. You just surprised me with that question."
Veronica found the lock and pushed the metal of the clip in again. "Really?"
"Well, yes. It seemed like a non sequitur."
Veronica paused. "A what?"
"Ah… something that one says that has nothing to do with the conversation."
Bill punctuated this definition by trying to shift his tail, but it came in contact with one of Veronica's arms. She jumped and then swatted it away.
"Stay still," she hissed. "That means this thing too. Honestly, maybe I should just tape all your joints together."
He curled his tail around his front instead. "I'm sorry."
"And—" She frowned. "—you're avoiding the question."
"I'm not entirely sure I understand it," Bill admitted. "What was she like? When?"
Veronica tilted her head. "Before she came to Hoenn. When Nurse Joy found her near Mauville, she was already traumatized. She couldn't have been like that before, but damned if I could get much out of her. The only person she talked to was Nurse Joy herself." She hesitated. "So, what was she like?"
A small period of silence lapsed between them. Bill stared at his lap as the tip of his tail swayed back and forth in front of him. His claws dug into the earth, and he swallowed slightly.
"Rosie has always been shy… and rather selective when it comes to company," Bill replied slowly.
"Oh." Veronica stopped for a moment. "So, she's always been that quiet?"
"To strangers, yes."
"But you're not a stranger, right?"
Bill shrugged. "She can't recognize me physically. As it is, I'm practically a stranger to her."
Veronica paused for a moment in thought before playing with the lock again. "Well, uh, I'm sure she'll open up to you again. It just takes time."
A long silence fell between them. At first, Veronica thought Bill simply had nothing to say, but the longer the silence drew on, the more she felt a sense of awkwardness, as if the emotion had become tangible. The air felt heavy and cold, and as if to react to the sudden change, Bill pulled his legs close to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. Veronica stopped.
"What?" she asked.
Bill lifted his head slightly.
"What?" Veronica repeated. "Is it something I said? All I said is she might be shy now, but you don't have to worry. You two are siblings, right? She'll learn to trust you ag—oh. Oh." Her hands began to work slowly. "It wouldn't be 'again,' would it?"
"No, it wouldn't." Bill's voice was softer than usual at that point.
"So, is it just age difference?"
With a slight twist, Veronica found the catch in the lock, and it sprang open without much protest. She exhaled a sigh of relief before slipping the clip out of the lock and, with her other hand, the lock out of the collar. The chain clattered against Bill's skin as the collar fell from his neck and neatly into his hands. He stared at it blankly for several moments as Veronica took a seat beside him. Her hands busied themselves with pulling her coarse, blue hair back into its usual ponytail.
"I guess I can relate," she said. "All my sisters went off to different cities before I got out of the academy, and don't get me started about family reunions. You might think we all look exactly the same, but we can't hold a conversation with each other if we tried."
A small smile crossed Bill's lips. "Thank you."
At his quiet response, Veronica smiled. For once, she felt relaxed around him, but she couldn't explain why. The question hovered in her mind for a moment. Hundreds of reasons flitted through her head as to why she should be wary, why the creature next to her should be considered dangerous. Yet, at the same time, she sat close to him without a second thought or a weapon in her hands while she chatted with him as if he was a friend.
She snapped back into attention and glanced towards Bill. He was looking outward, towards the patch of darkness that was the dead skyline of Mauville. His claws were wrapped around the collar, and the chain jingled softly.
"What?" she asked.
"It's Rosie," he said.
Veronica snapped the hair clip back into place and lowered her arms. "What about her?"
Bill looked over his shoulder. The orange light played across his face as he glanced towards his sister with a solemn expression.
"I need your help," he replied. "She won't trust me, but the last thing I want for her is to become infected."
Veronica shrugged. "What do you want me to do?"
He turned his head and, in the dimness of the campfire, he looked into Veronica's eyes. She stopped, unable to look anywhere except at Bill's stare. A shiver went down her spine as she realized his eyes – the expression itself – was completely and undeniably human. He opened his mouth, and the next four words came out low.
"Help me protect her."
Getting to sleep, Bill realized, was a difficulty unto itself. He never particularly liked sleeping outdoors on the ground in the first place. Yet, it seemed that his body went out of its way to make every possible position he could have taken as a human even more uncomfortable on the ground next to the campfire, what with his metal armor making a hard bed harder and his new appendages working their way into awkward positions halfway through the night. Sleep was short and rare, and when it came, it was hardly restful.
After all, when sleep came, so did the dreams.
Bill knew about the things he did – or, rather, the things the parasite made him do. The thing was he tried not to think about it, tried to pass it all off as a bad dream, but when he slept, that was when things got bad. Over and over again, every single night, he'd see the same thing – the female, the male, all of his victims when he hunted. He smelled their blood, tasted the salty remains of the parasite on his tongue, felt bones break under his hands.
Yet, the most terrifying thing of all was the fact that when he was awake, he didn't think twice about those things anymore. For whatever reason, he couldn't. Instead, he thought about survival, about getting through the wilderness of Hoenn. But there, in the confines of his dreams, he thought about it. He thought about what was happening to him when he was awake, the people and pokémon he hurt, and most importantly, what it all meant. It was only in his dreams that he felt completely and unshakably human. And that part of him was terrified.
That night, however, after the images flashed through his mind, he found himself someplace else. In every direction, all he could see was gray. The soft, forest floor was carpeted with dead, gray leaves. Overhead, bare, gray branches laced like old fingers across the gray sky. There was nothing else there. No wind. No pokémon. Nothing.
At first, he simply walked. He had no idea what was beyond the forest – or if, in fact, the forest ever ended. The longer he spent, the more he realized the latter was a very likely option: that the forest simply stretched outward in all directions forever. After what felt like hours, he stopped. The thought of the forest being infinite was heavy on his mind, and for that moment, he felt a sudden wave of loneliness. His breathing quickened, and he turned swiftly, as if to catch a glimpse of some hope, some sign of life that proved he wasn't trapped in a cold and gray forest of nothing forever.
All he got was the voice.
Human beings, it said, are fascinating creatures.
He stopped. The voice was there, and he strained his ears to listen to it and figure out where it came from.
As if to ignore his attempts to locate it, the voice continued. There is, for one, you. Right now, you find yourself in a sea of despair. Why? Is it because you have no one here?
Bill chose not to answer, but the voice seemed to know what he was thinking.
And those other dreams. You feel agony over hurting others. Why? They are not you.
The voice, Bill realized, was coming from everywhere all at once. He closed his eyes and took a step back.
"Where are you?" he asked. "Show yourself!"
Fear. That, I believe, is the most intriguing emotion of all. You fear for that girl's safety. Why? Is it because you feel guilty, perhaps? And what of this other fear? Fear of yourself? Fear of… me?
"You," he whispered. Then, his eyes opened as it suddenly dawned on him. "How…"
We are one, are we not? Of the same body, within the same mindscape…
He felt a pair of metal arms slide around his flesh shoulders and tighten. A face leaned close to his ear, and he could feel the hot breath of the creature, the same one he'd become, caress his skin.
"One," it said.
Bill drew in a shuddering breath. He couldn't move, and his body felt stone cold. All he could do was breathe and feel his heart race as the parasite held him.
"Perhaps we should talk," it said. "I should explain what I gave you."
The arms pulled at Bill, and he found he could do nothing but follow. His bare feet stumbled backwards, slipping on the dead leaves until finally, the creature forced him to sit down at the base of the tree. Bill found himself staring into the face of the other being, and though he'd never seen himself in his new form, he was certain it would have looked exactly like his companion did now.
"No," he said. "No, this is some kind of…"
The parasite smiled. "Of trick?"
He bit his lip. "We're not the same. You…"
"Not the same?" The parasite chuckled. "Perhaps. But if not, the answer to your question is that I am inside you thoroughly and utterly. That is how I know what your reasons for protecting that little girl are. She means nothing more to you than—"
An instant after he said it, Bill realized what tone he was using. With a tired sigh, he rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.
"Please," he said in a far gentler tone. "Please don't."
"Don't what? Read the truth in your mind? Oh, come now, child, we can never have secrets between us."
The parasite curled around Bill's feet like a cat. There, it closed its eyes and waited for a response. For a long moment, its host said nothing. Instead, a single thought floated through his mind.
What do you want from me?
A grin crossed the parasite's face as it reached into Bill's thoughts. Not a word would be spoken between them, but the messages still floated through Bill's mind clearly.
Now, you begin to understand, the parasite replied. From you, I want nothing but my survival. I would have died, had you not stopped that day. For that, I give you my thanks.
Bill couldn't help but grin. Is this how your species typically gives thanks?
Another chuckle rose from the parasite. Ah, sarcasm. You are indeed bright for your kind. Regrettably, I cannot leave you as you wish. If I were to do so, you would die. Therefore, we must make an agreement now.
An agreement? Bill furrowed his eyebrows.
It will require no further sacrifice on your part, the parasite promised. All that I ask is that we continue to live in this arrangement. You will share your body with me, and I will do what I can to keep the two of us alive.
Bill closed his eyes. I don't entirely understand. It's in your power to take full control of me. Wouldn't that make it easier, rather than try to negotiate?
The parasite sighed. I will not lie to you. If I could, I would have the moment your physical transformation was complete. However, something inside you has prevented me from doing so.
"Something inside me?" Bill opened his eyes. "What?"
The parasite opened its eyes. Slowly, it uncurled itself and crawled onto Bill, pinning him to the tree. The tail snaked its way up his body to his chest, where the tip hovered over his heart for a moment. Bill looked down with wide eyes, just before the tip thrust itself into his flesh. He felt something wrap around his heart and squeeze.
Intense pain shot through his entire body, and he doubled over as his throat strained in a silent scream. Tears ran down his cheeks as he struggled against the parasite's hold. The creature's claws pinned his wrists to the tree, leaving him unable to so much as move for those brief moments of blinding torture.
It only lasted a few seconds before the parasite finally withdrew, but for Bill, it felt like he was on the brink of death for hours.
"That," it said. "You, unfortunately, are dreadfully mortal – and a weak mortal at that. If I push myself onto you too quickly, you will die, and then you will be of no use to me at all. At most, I can only make you comfortable in our arrangement. Perhaps you have already noticed a slight change to your waking mind."
Bill stared at the parasite through bleary, tear-flooded eyes. Although he felt too weak to respond, a realization dawned on him.
"Yes," the parasite replied grimly. "That is me bleeding onto you. It is for us. If your mind remains as it is, you would have refused to hunt, is that not true? You would have refused to fight the others to protect yourself. You – the true you, before we became one – are a danger to the both of us."
Bill struggled to open his mouth and speak, but all that came out was a hoarse breath. Instead, he opted for the same mental channel he'd discovered moments ago.
The parasite grinned and pulled itself away from him. "Kill you? Were you not listening a moment ago? If you die, then I will die too. Upon the death of my host, I will need to find another within a short time frame, or else my children would hatch and devour me. And who would be a suitable host if you should die? Your sister, that trembling twig of a girl? Or perhaps that police officer, as naïve and stupid as she is. No, you are my host, and you will be my host for as long as possible. You are my best possible choice right now."
It stood, leaving Bill slumped at the base of the tree. With a smile, it tilted its head and studied him closely.
"Besides, you are a very fascinating creature," it said. "And your freedom of thought is refreshing." It turned away to stare into the endless forest. "Tomorrow, I will teach you how to fight and hunt properly. I will tell you when. Until then, carry us."
With long strides, the creature walked briskly into the forest and disappeared behind a tree. Bill lay where he was, breathing heavily as his heart beat frantically against his ribs. Above him, he heard a great crack, and looking up, he saw the branches of the tree bend downward, reaching towards him until it obscured his vision in black.
The first thing he felt when he awoke was the distinct sensation of being shaken. His limbs felt numb, and a dull ache radiated from his chest. Despite that, he could feel a pair of hands on his shoulders, moving him roughly. Slowly, he opened his eyes. His vision resolved, and in the gray of the early morning, he saw Veronica kneeling over him and Rose standing above him.
He exhaled and blinked.
"Are you okay?" she asked. "You were moaning and tossing. Are you sick? I mean, do we need to find a pokémon center? I don't think I can take care of you myself."
Bill squinted. His mind still felt muddled with a dream that was fading as quickly as it came. For a beat, he tried to make sense of Veronica's question until finally, he understood and shook his head.
"No. I'm… I'm fine," he muttered. "It was just a nightmare."
Gently, he pulled himself away from Veronica and forced himself to sit. A clawed hand reached up to rub his head. The fingers spread around the base of a horn and felt the wires – already inches in length – under the metal armor. Part of him felt disappointed that the dream wasn't real, that he was really no longer human in body.
"Are you sure?" Veronica asked as she knelt beside him. "You looked like you were in pain."
Bill smiled. "It was a rather vicious nightmare."
Veronica straightened. "Do you want to talk about it?"
The smile faded slightly. Bill contemplated telling his companions about what he saw, about the parasite's mind trying to intrude on his own. For that moment, he felt it watching him from inside, but at the same time, he felt another stare outside. Looking up, he saw Rose, her eyes wide and her feet taking small shuffles backwards. At once, the smile returned.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'd rather not."
Veronica frowned and then sighed. She stood and walked to the campfire, which, in the cold of the morning, had dwindled to only a few small embers. With a shrug, she moved around it to her pack, knelt, and began rummaging through it.
"We need to get you some clothes or something," she commented. "You're shivering. Here, I think I've got something. You want it?"
Bill glanced her way and grinned awkwardly. He opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, a howl filled the air. All three travelers stopped and looked skyward, but only Bill knew what it really meant.
"They've found us," he whispered.
Whew... Scary s***, Xanthine! Even if it is like a parody of a B-list sci-fi movie. Sorry I hadn't replied to this since December, but things have been so screwy at work with the economy the way it is I haven't been able to get online and do much critiquing (at least not more than basic commenting).
Saw that you did re-edit some parts of the earlier chapters, and it looks good.
It's completely cool that you got caught up in real life, though. After all, real life > fanfiction. Still, I hope things'll be all right with you. Hopefully, we'll crawl out of the recession we're in, so it might be a bit easier for all of us. x_x
Anyway, thanks again for the review and compliments. =D Admittedly, I haven't finished editing all of the chapters yet, but I'm working on it.
EDIT: read up till the end of the latest chapter and fixed some typos in this original post (it was late at night, also in dim light, what did you expect? DX)
I've just read up to the end of chapter one, and holy... Words can't describe how... it just grabs my attention and harnesses it.
I feel tired - thanks to the fact it's 11:40PM - but this is so captivating with such an excellence touch of description and imagery that I don't want to fall asleep. Hell, I want to finish up to the most recent chapter tonight! But unfortunately with mock trial research and jury selection at school tomorrow, I won't be able to sink my teeth into this rich piece of literature anymore tonight.
I find it funny how when it comes to horror or anything remotely scary in real life, it's a given that it'll scare me to death. Yet when I'm reading about how pocket monsters (or in Bill's case... about to be, I assume, thanks to that lovely red parasite spiked into his chest) are devoured and picked clean absolutely... fascinates me. (For instance, I couldn't take my eyes off of Maggots of Society, either) And so far I can't say I've disliked one use of a certain word or feel that something came off as confusing.
I wish I could capture some form of advice to give you, Jax, but I couldn't in my wildest dreams. Bravo thus far, I'm going to try and hook up the printer tomorrow so I can read this at school as well.
Thank you, for... this, really.
Now that I've read up to the end thus far, wow. I... didn't expect him to turn out... that way. XD A completely different storyline and plot from what I expected. I honestly thought Bill would just die for the sake of your own laughter, but I forgot one key piece, you prefer to torture him. ): And damn, what a cliff hanger, can't wait till the next chapter.
I like how, as the story develops, you also develop more description of his image. In the beginning stages I thought "What, does he look like a metal Charizard? o_0" but with time your bits and pieces glued together more description of his overall look. But even with that, I still feel that there's something you haven't pointed out yet, like an incomplete painting. Perhaps deliperate? Or maybe I just need to go re-read to fully understand his... current form's image.
Nothing to complain about, though.
Love it, Jax. <3
credit to easterly
So, basically, "I can get the edits done by tomorrow" translates into "I can get the edits done in two days, and why did FFNet strip all my line breaks? ;_;" Sorry, guys. In any case, now the editing is done, and we're all caught up and actually matching the FFNet version.
Seriously, thanks for the compliments. =D I'm really glad you like it. It's pretty much my baby at the moment. (With MKD being like the jealous older child.)
Thanks again for the review. I'm really flattered. ^_^
But, dang, this recession is truly a nightmare. My hometown's food bank has seen more then three times the people it used to see this time last year (and its not that big). I mean, it was a little embarassing when my family (who's never really had it easy, being in the lower class and all) had to start going to it after I took off from college. Now, it's really dire seeing people who I knew were pretty well off coming as well. Even our church has gotten more attendees praying for relief. I've never seen it services so packed. Signs of the times, that's for sure.
Some good news, though, a few people I know have started building again, so that means work for my carpet business *grins maniacally*.
I've only read the prologue so far, but I will admit that it alone is excellent. Was that red thing perhaps Deoxys?
Credit goes to Sgt Shock for my signature and avatar
Still, I really would like some of those ideas Obama had to come into fruition instead of watching politicians and CEOs going "lolwut." I'd really like to have a job after I graduate.
Unfortunately, the red thing is not Deoxys. I say "unfortunately" because you find out what it actually is and what it likes to do in the next chapter.
Well, I've now ready Chapter 1 as promised, and I still don't get it. What is that red thing? Whatever it is, it's making for a very interesting storyline. There were one or two errors, but they were alreay pointed out by other members. The chapters are well written and I really like the fic. If you have a PM List, Xanthine, can you please place me on it?
Credit goes to Sgt Shock for my signature and avatar
To explain, the prologue takes place some time before the first chapter. In the first paragraph of chapter one, it states that Hoenn succumbed to a mysterious epidemic, the waves of red. (It should be noted that there's a mention of pokémon carcasses at the end of the prologue. You find out in chapter two that the parasite lays eggs in dead pokémon, so all this time, they've been reproducing. Hence why it's an epidemic.) In response, the government took over scientific institutions in other regions in order to study what's going on, and to do that, they've captured samples from Hoenn to send to the places they've designated. Right now, they've found that the waves are made of eight-legged parasitic pokémon they've temporarily designated as XP-494. (You find out in chapter three that they know it's a pokémon because of its ability to attack with Leech Life, and in chapter four, you find out that the people in Hoenn refer to them as ixodida.)
In other words, the waves of red are a parasite/hunter the government has decided needed to be studied in order to figure out how to handle them. The specimen that's isolated, studied, and nearly captured by Team Rocket in chapter one is just one individual of these waves.
Generally speaking, XP-494 is an alien pokémon that survives by eating the internal organs and blood of pokémon and laying eggs in their carcasses. They also possess the ability to mutate human beings for reasons and through procedures that aren't yet fully understood.
Thanks again for the review.
Gasp! A new chapter so soon? I may actually start updating on the schedule I said I would.
(A happy blossom hears you sobbing.)
The screams continued as the group walked quickly along the bottom of a canyon. Veronica held Rose's hand firmly as her eyes moved from the sky to her alien companion every so often. He said nothing since they'd left the campsite. His own eyes were steady on the path, and his face was tensed in an expression of serious concentration.
"Are they getting closer?" Veronica asked.
Bill shook his head. "They think I'm hunting you, so they're lingering behind."
Veronica blinked. "You can understand them?"
He lifted his chin slightly and narrowed his eyes at the sky. "No, the parasite can, but it translates for me."
In response, she gave him a strange look. "The parasite? You mean it's got a mind of its own?"
With a nod, Bill replied, "It's strange, but think of it like… there's a voice in my head that tells me things about myself. That's what guided me to fight against those other ixodida, and it's what's telling me what they're—"
Abruptly, he stopped when he noticed Veronica was no longer beside him. He turned and found her staring at him with a blank expression. Realizing the problem, he shifted on his feet and rubbed the back of his head.
"That sounded a lot saner in my mind," he mumbled.
Veronica quirked an eyebrow. "Did you run it by the voices in your head first? Sometimes, second opinions help."
As an embarrassed flush colored Bill's face as he turned away. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, a cry rose not far away. All three travelers immediately froze. As it faded, Rose pulled herself closer to Veronica.
"Another ixodida?" Veronica asked.
Bill shook his head. "No. Something else."
Without putting too much thought into what he was doing, he started towards the scream, leaving Veronica and Rose behind. Veronica jolted, watching him run.
"So you're going towards it?!" she snapped. "You don't know what's over there! Get back here!"
He disappeared around the corner without a response.
Veronica gritted her teeth. "Bill!"
When he didn't return, she turned to Rose. The girl stared at her with wide eyes as her small hands grasped her shirt. At that, Veronica sighed.
"Sorry, kid," she said. "We'd better go after him before he does something stupid."
With that, she squeezed Rose's hand and started forward.
It took Bill a few minutes of winding through canyon paths before he finally found the source of the sound. When he did, he stopped short, and his eyes widened in shock.
The path split into a fork. One end wound out of sight around the rock walls. The other, which Bill faced, was considerably shorter and tapered into a dead end less than twenty feet from him. On a rock beside the end stood a male numel; his stubby feet scrambled to keep his balance on the rock as his small mouth bleated scared cries. Between the numel and Bill, a sea of red pulsed. The closest parasites attempted to climb the rock, only to fall off either by themselves or after being struck by small balls of fire shot from the terrified camel's mouth. They squealed, fell into the sea, and tried to remount the rock as if nothing had happened.
In his head, Bill heard the parasite's voice.
Well, this is certainly a predicament.
Bill furrowed his eyebrows. We should help it.
Mm. We should?
As if ignoring the voice, Bill glanced at the sea again. Maybe I can chase them away.
He took a step forward but stopped when he heard footsteps and a gasp behind him. Wincing, he turned and glanced at Veronica and Rose, both of whom stared at the sea with wide eyes.
Ah, the parasite said, now things are a bit more interesting.
Ignoring it, Bill held up a hand with his palm turned towards the girls. "Stay there. Don't move."
"What are you doing?" Veronica hissed. "We've gotta get out of here!"
Seemingly unaware of what she had said, Bill turned towards the rock walls, looking for a way to climb up. The walls, unfortunately, were smooth. A narrow ledge, not even large enough for more than one person to stand on, laced along the right edge a few feet from the canyon floor. Narrowing his eyes, Bill pulled himself onto the ledge and carefully edged his way towards the numel.
"Bill!" Veronica hissed. "What are you doing?!"
"I can't leave this numel here," he replied.
Veronica frowned. "Why don't you just walk through? They won't bite you, right?"
"They'll run, and the only way out is towards you."
Without another word, Veronica watched as her companion reached towards the camel. The numel swiveled his head towards him and, at the sight of claws edging closer, opened his mouth to release a loud bleat. Fire flashed from its throat and blasted past his jaws in three balls of flame. Bill flinched, shielding himself with an arm to let the flames flash across his metal skin instead of his face. Underneath his armor, nerves flared, and blinding pain washed from the tips of his fingers to his shoulder. He felt as if the appendage was on fire, even after the flames died. For that reason, he lost his balance and fell into the sea of red with a cry.
At once, Veronica pulled Rose close as her eyes widened. "Bill!"
He felt the parasites scratch at his armor and skin. Red flashes flared around him as he lifted his head.
"Run!" he shouted.
The sea parted in a circle, washing around the rock and outward towards the opening. Veronica only hesitated slightly before rushing back up the path, pulling Rose with her.
As soon as they moved, so did Bill's good arm. He realized with alarm that he couldn't feel it, much less control what it did. It rose, palm facing one of the rock walls by the opening. A white light gathered in front of his hand until a beam blasted from the gem in its center. The light struck the edge of the opening, blasting rocks from near the top of the canyon wall before doing the same to the other edge. In seconds, a rock slide blocked the opening, and the parasites beneath the fallen boulders squealed in death. The others pooled before the wall and flashed red light.
Shaking, Bill pulled his arm back. Feeling gradually returned to it as he turned over his hand. In the palm, the jewel faded from a bright white to a blood red.
"What?" he murmured.
One of our powers, the parasite replied. I will explain later. Save the creature. You came for it, did you not?
Bill turned to see the sea of red gathering at the rock once more. The numel cried loudly as it scrambled to the peak of his perch. Drawing in a breath, Bill crept forward, cautiously as he steadied his eyes on the creature.
"I'm not here to hurt you," he said. "Please let me help."
The numel looked up and, without hesitation, shot fire from his mouth at his rescuer. With a gasp, Bill dodged the fire but not the heat. His side seared, causing him to flinch and fail to dodge another volley. Fire hit his chest, sending him to his knees. A hand rose to touch the spot gingerly. It felt soft beneath his claws – melted. With a gasp, Bill winced.
What should I do? he thought.
He watched helplessly as the sea lapped the rock and attempted another climb. The numel bleated, its legs frantically flailing for a higher perch. Resolving himself, Bill pushed forward slowly and carefully. With a sharp cry, the numel fired more balls of flame at him. Flinching, he shielded his chest and face but felt fire lick his arms. The pain steadily increased, and he felt as if at any moment, he would drop in torture.
By some miracle, he pushed himself to the rock. His arms reached to take the numel, to which it responded by firing another Ember into his stomach. Bill winced and bit back a scream. His vision blurred, but he forced himself to stare at the yellow blob in front of him. With another deep breath, he grabbed the creature by its sides and hefted it over a shoulder. The camel kicked, screamed, and blew fire at Bill as he turned and walked to the rock slide. Beneath his feet, the parasite flashed and pooled around his ankles like dogs waiting for their master to drop a plate of food. Several times, Bill nearly did just that before, finally, he reached the rock wall, climbed over it, and collapsed on the other side.
Bill lay on the ground just beyond the block. He inhaled ragged breaths as the creature he'd saved stumbled away from his shoulder. The numel shook on his stubby legs and glanced back. A flame flickered in his mouth, prepared to finish his enemy off. Before he could attack, however, a green hand reached down and slammed its head into the dirt.
Another pair gently lifted Bill from the ground and turned him over. Above him, a human face floated, but it was framed by vine hair and a green neck. A pink flower decorated one of her green shoulders. Its petals quivered to release a sweet fragrance. Fingers gently ran along the half-melted spots of Bill's armor, and with her touch, Bill took a shuddering breath at the sharp pains that radiated under her claws.
"Burn," she murmured.
He couldn't respond. Instead, he watched as the flower opened and emitted a warm breeze from its golden heart. Bill couldn't help but take it in, inhaling the sweet and spicy aroma. At once, he felt calm as a warmth spread through his entire body. He could feel the pain ebb away and his armor work on reinforcing itself.
"Thank you," he whispered.
The female carefully placed him on the ground as her blossom closed. Her hand ran along his tail. The sensation sent cold pangs up Bill's spine, but he didn't stop her.
Suddenly, she looked up as her companions, two other green ixodida, leaned over the numel.
"Stop!" she snapped.
The pair looked up as their vine hair flicked and curled around their heads like Medusa's snakes.
"His!" she hissed. "Hurt for it!"
One of the others snarled, "Injured. Ours now."
The female reached for his tail and pulled it up for them to view. He winced but watched as she presented the arrow tip.
"Monarch!" she snapped. "His!"
The other two ixodida glanced at one another. Then, both leaned back. The quiet one opened a blossom on her stomach and spewed a blue powder from its core. The numel, realizing what it was, flailed under the hands of the other. His head gained a shimmering coat of blue, and because of that, when he was unable to hold his breath for much longer, he was forced to breathe the powder in. For a few moments, he continued to struggle until finally, he slowed. His eyes closed, and his body went limp. Then, the female holding the numel down, the one Bill presumed was the leader, stood.
"Take to clan," the leader said. "Him too."
The quiet one scooped the sleeping numel in her arms. In the meantime, the leader moved to Bill's feet. As the first picked him up by the shoulders, the other took his legs.
Then, much to Bill's surprise, all three sprouted pink insect wings from their backs and took flight.
Veronica had many definitions of the word "screwed." Light bulbs were one. Her ex-boyfriend, as much as she didn't like to think about it, for another. Coming in late to work got her screwed, and so did getting disarmed by a gang of thieves when her backup was across the city.
Facing three ixodida with one growlithe, however, was something she decided deserved a whole new level of screwed.
It hadn't been long at all since Veronica led Rose away from the dead end. She paused only briefly to consider running back to help her companion, but as soon as she turned to head back, hands seized her, tore her away from the girl, and lifted her into the air. Before she knew it, she was dropped on top of the cliffs, high above the floors of the chasms. Rose was dropped next to her, and the pink-winged ixodida landed, staring at the two of them with dark eyes.
All Veronica could tell was that they were waiting, judging by how still they were for those long moments. She couldn't determine much more. All they did was stare at her intently without making another sound or move. Veronica only put up with it until she realized none of them were about to attack her. Then, she dropped her pack on the ground, pulled a ball from a pocket, and released her only pokémon partner. Rose drew close to Veronica as the officer's growlithe appeared in a flash of light. In response, the flowers dotting the ixodida's green bodies opened and spewed blue powder.
"Sleep Powder," Jenny gasped. "Rose, cover your mouth! Growlithe, Flamethrower!"
Both girls immediately covered their faces with their hands and backed closer to the cliff behind them. In the meantime, the puppy opened his own mouth and exhaled a jet of fire that cut through the cloud of powder. Flames engulfed the ixodida in front of him, and instantly, her leafy body caught fire. At once, she screamed and writhed, dancing in the flames until she finally collapsed in a burning heap.
Meanwhile, her sisters' vine hair lashed out to ensnare the distracted dog. He yelped as the tendrils lifted him into the air and slammed him into the ground. Another cloud of blue plumed from their flowers, and Growlithe, unable to escape, could only inhale the cloud. Soon, a wave of weariness washed over him, and despite the jarring impact of his body hitting the earth, he slowly drifted off to sleep.
Upon seeing her limp pokémon be thrown to the ground one last time, Veronica's eyes widened.
"No! Growlithe!" she shouted. "Rose, you've got pokémon, right?"
She turned to find the girl wide-eyed and whimpering. With a frown, Veronica drew her gun from the holster hidden beneath her shirt and fired several rounds. Each bullet hit the grassy bodies, but the sisters only flinched as they started forward. Meanwhile, every hole in their flesh closed as quickly as they were made. Soon, Veronica's gun clicked uselessly in her hands, and her eyes widened as she backed towards the canyon.
Suddenly, a shriek pierced the air from above. Both the ixodida and the humans looked skyward to see three green figures descend and land between Veronica, Rose, and their attackers. One of the newcomers dropped a numel unceremoniously on the ground, but the other two carried a silver body between them. Veronica didn't need to see a face to feel her heart sink with hopelessness.
"Bill," she whispered.
"Monarch," one of the newcomers said. "Hurt. Burned."
One of Veronica's captors pointed to the fallen sister. "Burned."
The grass ixodida huddled together, gently placing their metal brother beside their sister. Veronica started towards them.
"Hey! Leave him alone!" she shouted.
Before she could take a step further, a volley of fireballs blasted between her and the fire sisters to engulf her growlithe. The sisters shrieked and whirled around to face the source of the flames while Veronica gasped and stumbled backwards. Her growlithe, meanwhile, took in the heat of the fire and howled. Fully awakened, he rose to his paws and glanced at the standing numel. Upon seeing his new partner rise, the camel snorted and aimed another volley of fire towards the closest sister.
Once again, she shrieked, but this time, she shielded her face with her arms. A second ixodida lashed at Numel with her vine hair, but Veronica's growlithe leapt forward, snatching the vines in his jaws. Pausing only to inhale, Numel blasted another firestorm from his throat to engulf the face of the ixodida. At that moment, Growlithe released, took a breath, and breathed his own fire into the sister's chest. For several moments, she was engulfed in flame until finally, her writhing stopped, and she fell to the ground.
With collective shrieks, three of the remaining sisters opened all of the pink flowers on their bodies and spun. A storm of pink petals flew in a rose-colored tornado towards both fire-types. The two creatures cried out as the petals whipped them, leaving cuts and welts across their skin.
"No!" Veronica screamed. "Growlithe! Flamethrower!"
The dog's ears twitched from within the twister. He reared back, inhaling through his nose. Numel eyed him and followed his example, bracing himself against the tornado and breathing in. Simultaneously, the dog and the camel exhaled fire to light the tornado ablaze. The sisters screamed as their attacks rose in a twisting pillar of flame to engulf them and burn off their flowers. As their blossoms blew away in showers of red embers, each sister fell into the inferno, their bodies burning until they turned black.
Then, the fire slowly died down. The ashes rained softly on the burned bodies of the sisters. In the center of the circle, Numel and Growlithe stood, still bleeding but otherwise calm. Veronica took a few steps forward but stopped when a groan rose behind the two pokémon. Slowly, Bill stirred, shakily forcing himself to his knees as a hand held his head. A smile crept across Veronica's face.
"Are all of you all right?" she asked.
Growlithe and Numel ignored her as they turned and growled at the awakened ixodida. Bill drew in a breath and struggled to stand.
"Whoa! Hey!" Veronica stepped forward to place herself between them. "It's okay. He's with us."
After a moment's hesitation, Growlithe relaxed. He barked towards Numel until, finally, the camel glanced at him and backed away. Veronica exhaled and continued forward to kneel and examine her injured dog. With a sigh, she drew his poké ball from her belt and recalled him.
"You missed all the excitement," she finally said to her companion. "Are you okay?"
Bill offered a weak smile. "I think so."
Before he could say anything else, a scream rose from behind Veronica. Both adults looked Rose's way to find her held by the last ixodida. The female's clubbed tail wagged as her mouth opened to expose glistening fangs. With a hiss, she leaned towards the shaking girl's neck.
A rush of fireballs slammed into the ixodida's side. She screeched as Numel closed his mouth. The ixodida's eyes widened as she lost her footing and pitched over the edge of the cliff. Although her grip on Rose loosened, she still pulled the girl with her before letting go of her arm completely.
Without much thought, Bill ran forward. He felt a rush of adrenaline course through his body as he quickly reached out to grab Rose's wrist. Unfortunately, he had no time to stabilize himself on the cliff, and before he realized it, he fell over its edge as well.
One arm wrapped tightly around Rose while the other flailed for holds in the cliff's side that weren't there. Rose screamed as she wrapped her arms around his neck. In the confusion of panic, only one word could flash through Bill's mind in response.
The parasite responded at once without speaking.
Veronica raced to the cliff and looked down at the distance between her and the canyon floor. A cold feeling seized her heart.
"Rose! Bill!" she cried. "No…"
The girl's screams stopped. For a moment, Veronica believed the worst as he heart skipped a beat.
Then, she heard a hum.
Slowly, the siblings rose from the canyon. Stunned expressions were etched on both their faces as Bill hovered to solid ground and let his sister down. When Rose was safe, Bill lowered softly to his feet. Behind him, something flashed until finally, they stopped. Four wings – long, silver blades – extended from his back. Glancing at them in shock, he breathed and fell to his knees.
Veronica turned and blinked. "I didn't know you could do that."
Bill smiled softly. "Neither did I until a moment ago."
Then, without warning, he pitched forward and planted his face in the ground. Veronica gasped and darted forward as the injured numel crept closer to Rose. Unaware of the camel's actions, the officer knelt beside the ixodida and turned him over, only to find his armor half-melted.
"No wonder you're so weak right now," she murmured as she ran her fingers over the deformed metal. "Great. We've got to get out of here before those things lay eggs."
She stood and tried pulling at Bill's arms. Veronica couldn't lift more than half of him off the ground before feeling her muscles protest. Exhaling, Veronica dropped him.
"Naturally, you're too heavy to carry," she muttered. "What now?"
Pausing briefly, she looked him over again and furrowed her eyebrows. Then, she glanced over her shoulder at Rose, who was feeding the numel one of the berries from Veronica's pack.
"Rose," Veronica said.
The girl looked up.
"You're a coordinator," Veronica continued. "Do you have a spare poké ball? I want to try something."