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Old January 27th, 2016 (5:36 PM). Edited August 27th, 2018 by Sike_Saner.
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Sike_Saner Sike_Saner is offline
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    Join Date: Oct 2006
    Location: Earth
    Age: 35
    Gender: Female
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    Posts: 162
    Chapter 36 – What Was Lost

    It wasn’t the first time Solonn had been in Convergence in recent memory, but it felt like it all the same. Possibly because, for the first time in years, he was out in the open, looking upon its streets and landmarks directly rather than through a window.

    Directly, and with his own eyes.

    “Okay, this… this is not what I expected somehow.”

    Solonn turned toward Evane and the others who were now left alone with him, their teleporter already back in Mordial. That’s right, he acknowledged, they’ve never been here before. The issue wasn’t an unfamiliarity with human civilization; he knew that much. If anything, it was the familiarity of the place that was throwing them off.

    “Weren’t expecting it to be this human, were you?” he asked.

    “Well… no,” Evane said. “I mean, from the way you described it, with pokémon wandering about and doing human jobs… it didn’t really sound like any human place I’d ever been.”

    “It’s not like most other human places in general,” Solonn told her. Which was still true, he suspected. This city was being maintained by the pokémon trained to work here, but the majority of human cities probably looked more like Wisteria, or worse.

    He heard heavy metal armor grinding against the pavement and turned to regard Grosh. “Guess we might as well start looking, right?” the steelix said.

    “Guess so,” Solonn replied, though he had no solid idea of where to begin.

    Echoing his thoughts, “Where should we start?” Alij asked. “Where you left him’s probably out, I’d imagine.”

    “Probably,” Solonn agreed; Jen’s new keepers had almost certainly taken him home by now. Or keeper, if the suspicions that he and the others shared were true. The more he’d thought about it, the harder it had become to believe that the gardevoir from the Haven had truly been unable to restore Jen’s memories. Why he’d chosen not to, however, was still anyone’s guess. “We’ll come back to the Haven if we must, but I strongly suspect he’s elsewhere.”

    “Right. So I guess here’s as good a place to start as any,” Moriel supposed aloud. She swept a glance down the avenue. “This way, maybe?” she asked, nodding toward one of the closer streets.

    “You can go that way. I think the rest of us would do well to split up,” Solonn said. “But we won’t go alone, any of us,” he quickly amended. “We’ll go in pairs, and then the remaining three can go together.” Not that they’d be much less vulnerable if they were cornered that way, of course. But they’d be less conspicuous than they would in a unified search party, and possibly quicker and more effective. Which would likely do Jen a favor, as far as Solonn was concerned. The sooner his brother was extracted from this mess, the better.

    “How does that sound?” he asked the others.

    Grosh made a rumbling sound. “I don’t know,” he said, rotating a few of his segments. “I don’t think I like the idea of leaving you alone with God knows what going on around here.”

    “Then you can come with me,” Solonn suggested.

    “I meant all of you,” Grosh said. He looked down at the small crowd of glalie and the lone claydol with unease. “After all you people have done for me, and for her memory… I’d just hate for something to happen to any of you that I could’ve stopped, you know?”

    Solonn didn’t respond, other than to avert his gaze slightly. Yes, he understood. But…

    <We do have a better chance of finding some sign of him if we split up,> Oth spoke up, unwittingly sparing Solonn a few breaths and a bit of guilt. <If the ones who are keeping him see us coming all at once, they will most likely anticipate an attack and flee. With all of us moving in the same direction, they could simply keep fleeing.>

    “By that reasoning, we should all go in separate directions. No pairs, no trios,” Viraya said.

    “Huh. All right, then. We’ll have a vote,” Moriel suggested. “All in favor of each of us going alone?”

    Viraya nodded without hesitation. Alij followed suit soon after.

    “All in favor of all of us sticking together?”

    “Aye,” Grosh said.

    “All right, and all in favor of us splitting into small groups?” Here Moriel cast her own vote, inclining her head. Solonn did likewise, and shortly after he did, “That’s four in favor of small groups. The majority wins.”

    “Hold it,” Grosh said. All eyes shifted his way. “You’re talking about pulling random people off the street and questioning them. How do you know you can trust what they say if you don’t have them to confirm it?” He dipped his head toward Oth.

    That, Solonn had to admit, was a valid point. Especially with the possibility of a rogue psychic in the picture, who could be making people believe things that weren’t true. Oth could not only detect lies but also signs of mental tampering. Their abilities might prove vital in obtaining actual leads.

    But a solution, or the closest thing to one that he could think of, occurred to him quickly. It occurred to Evane, too; “We’ll just have to bring anyone who’ll cooperate to a meeting place,” she said. “Oth can scan them all once we’re finished for the day.”

    “It’s not ideal,” Moriel said, “but I think it’s going to have to do.” She glanced around, thinking; then, “Let’s meet back here when we’re done, okay?” she suggested. Most of the others nodded in agreement, and almost no one raised any objections.

    Almost no one. Grosh grumbled again, louder this time. But he circled around the crowd to Solonn’s side all the same. “Take care of yourselves,” he pleaded with the others. “Please.”

    “We’ll do our best,” Evane promised. “Come on, sis,” she said, and Viraya began following her away. Moriel and Alij paired off soon after.

    <I will be accompanying the two of you, then,> Oth said to Solonn and Grosh, <assuming neither of you mind.>

    “It doesn’t bother me at all,” Solonn said. Nor did it surprise him, really.

    Beside him, Grosh shook his head in reassurance, and Oth took that as their cue to move the rest of the way forward. With that, the three of them took off, avoiding the streets the others had chosen.

    Traffic was light, relatively speaking. Lighter than Solonn remembered it being during this time of the evening. He wondered how many of Convergence’s surviving citizens had given up driving since the Extinction. Or for that matter, how many had simply up and left the town.

    There were still plenty who hadn’t, though. Some were presently strolling or floating down the street by their own power, and nearly all of them stopped in their tracks to take note of the noisy metal serpent grinding along past them. The three took those opportunities to ask the locals if they had any leads where Jen was concerned, but thus far, none of them did.

    They seemed less unnerved by his presence than the Virc had, at least. Considerably less unnerved, in fact. Only one of them actually had any noticeable adverse reaction to Grosh’s presence: a joltik who took refuge in a nearby trash can.

    “You don’t think…?” Grosh began, letting the question hang.

    “No, I don’t.” Odds were the poor little bug really was just terrified of the relatively gigantic creature who’d just shown up on the scene.

    <I will check regardless. The joltik may still know something valuable.> Oth waited for an opening, then drifted across the street to speak with the frightened bug. Solonn saw tiny blue eyes and a bit of yellow fuzz poke out from under the lid after a few moments. Shortly after that, Oth returned.

    <The joltik has seen no one of your kind prior to our arrival, nor does she know anything about a shiny gardevoir,> they reported.

    “We’ll keep asking around,” Solonn said. “This isn’t exactly the biggest city in the world. There’s probably at least someone around who’s seen something.”

    Whether they realize they do or not. Oth hadn’t found any signs of tampering in anyone they’d questioned thus far. But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. In fact, the more Solonn thought about it, the more certain he was that if they did find someone who knew anything, that fact would only come to light after digging through a pile of implanted memories.

    With one last glance back at the trash can—the joltik was finally emerging, and noisily at that—Solonn carried on, as did the others. Fewer people than he would’ve preferred crossed their path as they continued their search, but it was a large enough sample that at least one of them should’ve been able to help out. So he figured, at least, as he finally signaled to the others, with no small measure of disappointment, that it was time to call it a night. The streets were only growing emptier by the hour. There was little else to do for now.

    As they slowly neared the meeting place, the fact that they had nothing to report was plain before any of them even said a word. The same was true of the other two teams already waiting there for them.

    “No luck, huh,” Moriel surmised aloud.

    “None,” Solonn confirmed.

    “If it’s any consolation, we didn’t have any, either,” Alij said. Then he grimaced a little. “What am I saying; of course that’s no consolation.”

    “We’ll find your brother eventually,” Moriel assured Solonn. “And that gardevoir. I swear it.”

    Solonn met her gaze, trying to show at least some comfort at her words. “Thank you,” he said, and managed a weak smile. She had a point, really. The search had only just begun. They still had a chance.

    “Hey!” a familiar voice called out from somewhere behind the party. It was Evane, and her sister wasn’t the only one at her side. A sceptile was jogging alongside them, looking slightly winded but still managing a strange, placid smile.

    “You found someone,” Solonn said, eyes wide. So he hoped, anyway. There was still one last thing that needed doing to confirm it.

    “We did,” Viraya said. “This is Sylvan. She works at a place called the Hope Institute… and according to her, Jen is a frequent visitor.”

    The sceptile nodded. “He hasn’t missed a meeting in weeks,” she said, sounding a bit breathless.

    Solonn had never heard of the place in his life. It must’ve come up at some point after the Extinction, he figured. “If Jen goes there regularly…”

    “We’d do well to hang around the place,” Grosh said, sounding more than a little eager.

    That eagerness proved infectious; a tentative sort of smile made it to Solonn’s eyes. “Yes. Yes we should.”

    “But first things first,” Moriel said, and she glanced meaningfully at Oth.

    Oth parted from the rest of their team and moved toward Sylvan. <There may be a psychic pokémon interfering with our search,> they told her. <I will need to check your mind to ensure he has not interfered with you.>

    “You certainly may,” Sylvan said, with a dismissive wave of her hand and no signs of trepidation on her face. “I’ve nothing to hide.”

    Oth got to work with no further delay. Before long, their eyes opened and they moved back. <Her memories and perception have not been altered,> they assured the others, <and her words have been truthful.>

    Hope welled up inside Solonn. “I think we have our lead, then.”

    “I think so.” Moriel turned to face Sylvan. “Would you mind if we went back to your… institute with you? We want to check it out for ourselves.”

    “And we want to be there when Jen shows up again,” Grosh added.

    Sylvan clasped her hands together and smiled warmly. “I would be delighted to have you around. Our president would be more delighted still.”

    Several icy brows rose at this. “Your president?” Solonn said. Who could that be? And why would he be so glad to have them in his institute?

    The possibility that somehow, the gardevoir was involved with this place—that he might even be the ‘president’ Sylvan spoke of—reared its head, and Solonn felt a good measure of his hope turn to unease.

    Oth, it seemed, was having similar thoughts. They rattled inscrutably to themself for a moment, half their eyes closed. <We wish to learn more about your president,> they said. No one contradicted them.

    The sceptile nodded toward the claydol. “Very well. You were bound to discover the truth eventually.”

    Now what did that mean? Solonn eyed her warily as Oth initiated another scan. The sceptile was being incredibly complacent about all this, even moreso than anyone else they’d encountered. Was she leading them into a trap?

    Oth jerked back suddenly, all of their eyes snapping open. They made a sound that would have probably come out as a gasp if they actually breathed.

    “What is it?” Solonn asked, concerned.

    <It… it is not possible… and yet…>

    “What isn’t possible?” Alij asked.

    Moments passed before Oth could pull words together. <Her memories tell that the president… is human,> they said, and were instantly met with incredulous and skeptical looks and astonished gasps. <Nothing at all within her mind contradicts it.>

    No one responded to that right away. No one could. “That can’t be possible…” Evane finally said, nearly whispering.

    “But it is,” Sylvan assured her. “And it’s the reason why he needs you. There are some who would do anything in their power to purge the last remnants of humanity from the world. He will ask you to guard him and his beloved institute.”

    The glalie all exchanged looks. Disbelief was still plain on many of their faces.

    <We would do well to investigate,> Oth said. Whether or not they kept that message from Sylvan, Solonn couldn’t tell.

    At any rate… he had to agree with them. Whether or not there really was an actual, live human at the Hope Institute, the fact remained that Jen frequented the place. This was the sort of opportunity they needed. Especially if the president hadn’t always been human.

    Solonn shuddered hard, hoping with all his heart that they weren’t dealing with someone who could forcibly change a person’s form. Gods knew he didn’t want to go through that again. And he wanted Jen to go through it far, far less. “We’d like to speak with the president,” he said, his voice cracking a bit mid-sentence. He swallowed, trying to relieve his dry throat. “Can you take us there now?”

    Sylvan nodded again. “Of course. Right this way…” she said, then turned back from whence she’d come. Evane and Viraya flanked her as she left, and the rest moved to follow with next to no delay.

    As they followed the sceptile through the streets of Convergence, Solonn couldn’t help but look around to see what else about the city had changed from what he’d known. The answer, as far as he could tell, was nothing at all, apart from the reduced traffic and lack of human presence.

    “Oh, wow… Have a look at that.”

    No sooner were Moriel’s words out of her mouth than Solonn saw exactly what she was talking about. In the middle of the plaza they were now crossing, a rather large bronze sculpture stood conspicuously, shining in a way that told that it hadn’t been there long. Certainly not before the Extinction.

    Solonn knew for a fact that he’d never commissioned a statue of his human self, alongside one of Jal’tai’s mirage and another of a porygon2, during his time as mayor.

    He looked away from the sculpture, feeling oddly self-conscious of a sudden, and tried to fix his sights on the path ahead, with no real success. His eyes, or at least his wishful thinking, kept catching glances of suspiciously-sized, conical shapes here and there. He couldn’t help but shoot them second glances. But most of them revealed nothing, and the only exception had nothing but a pylon to show him.

    Just as Solonn was beginning to wonder when they’d arrive at the institute, another unfamiliar sight came into his vision: a sprawling, single-story building that frankly looked as though it had seen better days. As they drew closer, he could make out the writing on the crude sign plastered above its large, metal doors; “HOPE”, it read, in hand-painted unown-script.

    Is this really the right place? Solonn couldn’t help but wonder, only to feel his doubts weaken just as soon as they’d come up. Of course their president would be conducting his work in the most unassuming place he could, if there truly were people who’d object so strongly to him. Of course he wouldn’t want to draw too much attention—whether he was truly human or not.

    Sylvan rapped on the door a few times; seconds later, they slid open, pulled aside by a hitmonlee waiting within. “It’s them,” the sceptile told him. “They’ve come to meet with the president.”

    The hitmonlee sized them all up, his eyes finally traveling up the length of Grosh’s neck. He whistled, though how was anyone’s guess. “That’s some crew.”

    “Yes,” Sylvan agreed, nearly grinning. “He’s sure to welcome them.” She turned to face the visitors once more. “Come, right this way,” she said, and motioned for them to follow her into the hall beyond.

    The path they took was long, much moreso than Solonn had anticipated. The building was even larger than it appeared on the outside, it seemed, and its internal layout gave him the impression of something designed to confound intruders.

    Eventually, “And here we are,” Sylvan said as she stopped before a pair of doors. At her words, they opened of their own accord. Beyond them was a sizable lounge, at the far end of which was an armchair presently facing the wall.

    There was a click, and a number of tiny, red lights came to life on a number of devices encircling the perimeter from above. Cameras, from the looks of them—or turrets, the thought occurred to Solonn, at which his unease and suspicion spiked.

    It seemed he wasn’t the only one to take it that way; “Mind explaining why you’ve got guns turned on us as soon as we show up?” Grosh growled from the hallway outside.

    “They’re not guns,” came a voice from the general direction of the chair—a voice speaking a glalie-language, Solonn realized, and the alarm bells went off inside his head once more.

    “They’re cameras, and they’re only gonna be a problem for you if it turns out you’re actually a pack of terrorists bent on keeping our world human-free,” the voice went on. “I trust that’s not the case?”

    <That is correct,> Oth assured him.

    “And I trust your agent has been honest about what you are?” Solonn countered, trying to sound composed despite his growing fear. He didn’t quite pull it off.

    The person in the chair gave a laugh. “‘Agent’? Sylvan’s just a greeter. I just didn’t happen to have anyone else on hand at the moment other than Cain and Skrekt, and those two have their hands full around here.”

    “Anyway…” Here the speaker turned the chair around with an audible effort. “Whew… I really need to see about getting a better chair. Anyway, Skrekt told me you’ve got a claydol with you… and yep, that’s a claydol, all right. They can check me out if you still need proof I’m on the level. Just try not to go poking around in my dreams, all right? Some of those are kinda embarrassing,” he said with a self-conscious little laugh.

    Solonn just stared at him and kept staring, his jaws parted, his eyes very wide. Yes, he still needed proof that this man was as he seemed. Moreso than ever, now, with what looked for all the world like a human face, a human being, standing before him: a person with chin-length, reddish-brown hair and wide, bright brown eyes that almost made him look eager.

    Almost. There was something a little off about the man’s expression, as if he weren’t accustomed to making that face.

    Wordlessly, soundlessly, Oth moved toward the impossible creature. The human—if indeed that was what he was—sat back down, giving the claydol the go-ahead by way of a thumbs-up. Seconds of silence passed, followed by a faint and distinctly awed-sounding utterance from Oth as they drifted slowly backward from their subject.

    <Sylvan was right…> they confirmed, and their mindvoice sounded every bit as amazed as their true voice. <He is human. He has always been human.>

    “Sylvan’s not really the lying type,” the human said. “and neither am I. At least not where friends are concerned. Or potential friends.”

    Solonn relaxed visibly, letting out a breath he’d been unwittingly holding. At the same time, part of him wondered what had compelled Oth to make certain the president had never been anything else. Even after all this time, Solonn still hadn’t told them about what had been done to him in Convergence, about the body he’d been forced to wear for nearly half a decade. After all these years, he still hadn’t felt like talking about it. He’d barely wanted to think about it, though of course he’d done so regardless.

    They might’ve suspected that he was wearing a mirage of some kind, the thought occurred to him. Or that he was a ditto. Though the latter seemed unlikely, if memory served him with regards to what he’d learned about ditto during his own time as a human. Apparently ditto could only maintain a perfect disguise in the presence of the person they were copying. The president probably hadn’t seen another human being in a long time.

    Probably. Solonn shook his head, trying not to get caught on that question. Maybe other humans had survived. He couldn’t know for sure yet. But thanks to Oth, he could at least trust that there was one such survivor here—one who hadn’t been forced into that form.

    The president stood once more and offered his hand to the claydol, who floated nearly stationary in place for a couple of moments before letting one of their own hands float free for him to shake. “The name’s Sylvester DeLeo,” he said, “and I’d like to think we’re gonna be real good friends from here on out.”

    “I think we’d all like that,” Moriel said, “but… well, I think I speak for everyone here when I ask: how? How the hell are you still alive?”

    DeLeo shrugged. “Don’t know. That’s part of what we’re here to find out. If whatever killed off the rest of humanity is still out there, it won’t do us any good to bring ’em back if we can’t provide them with some kind of immunity. We think I’m the key to that, some way or another. We just haven’t figured out how yet.”

    For a short time, all Solonn could do was sit there and digest what he’d been told. It was almost too much to make sense of at once. But Oth’s vision had never steered them wrong before. What they saw was certainly true…

    But wait. Wait. The rest of what DeLeo had said finally clicked properly, and if Solonn weren’t already goggling at him, this would’ve done it.

    “When you say ’bring them back’… what do you mean by that, exactly?” he asked tentatively.

    DeLeo gave a strange, sort of wistful smile. “Do you believe in the afterlife?” he asked.

    Solonn felt his heart skip a beat. He can’t be suggesting what it sounds like. It’s not possible… “…I do, yes…” he finally responded.

    “Well, that makes two of us, and then some.” His smile grew both wider and shakier. “We’re not just trying to whip up a fresh new batch of humans. We want to bring back the old ones, too. After all… don’t they deserve another chance?” He swallowed audibly. “I think they do,” he said, softly but resolutely.

    A heavy silence hung over the room and the hall outside for several moments. “…So do I,” Grosh said, his bottomless voice cracking like split stone. “I’d be honored to help protect you and your mission.”

    Solonn finally pulled his gaze away from DeLeo to look up at his father. Tears were already shimmering in those red eyes, ready to fall at any moment, and Solonn got the immediate, heart-wrenching impression that Grosh hadn’t had humans in mind when he’d voiced his support—and he immediately sympathized with the steelix.

    It was very, very difficult to believe that anyone could raise the dead. But gods knew Solonn wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe, difficult as it was, that he’d be able to tell Jen that yes, he’d see his parents again someday.

    “So would I,” Evane spoke up. Her tone was hard to read. Her sister nodded at her side. Gradually, the rest of the party gathered their wits again and voiced or otherwise showed their own agreement, Solonn included.

    DeLeo’s cause was almost certainly hopeless. But defending it would get them close to Jen, at least.

    DeLeo took a deep breath, his eyes glued to the floor for a moment. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said as he lifted them again. “You’re not just gonna be guarding this building, you know. You’re not just guarding me, either. You’re gonna be guarding the future of humanity. The future that should’ve been. Thank you,” he said earnestly. “From the bottom of my heart.”

    “Thank you, as well,” Solonn felt obliged to return. Gods, if there’s any chance at all this could work… All the faces that he, and Grosh, and Jen, and who knew how many people might see again swam before his mind’s eye, making the light in his own eyes flicker.

    He tried, but failed, to shake them out. Don’t get your hopes up, he warned himself, feeling a knot build in his throat as he spoke silently. Not all of them.

    “So… when do we start?” Alij asked.

    “When do you start? Right now, if you’re ready. Of course… we do have some very sensitive research material here. Including but not limited to yours truly. What that means is I have to stay here twenty-four-seven. And as my guards, well… so will you, for the most part. Are you up to that? Got anyone you wanna spend a little quality time with before you move in?”

    Solonn averted his gaze awkwardly. Most of the living people he’d want to touch base with were so far removed from his life at this point that they’d just miss him more if he suddenly showed up on their doorstep only to promptly leave. The rest were either right there in the room with him or could be reached via Oth and Quiul. “I don’t,” he said.

    “None of us do, unless I’m mistaken,” Evane said, and no one argued with her.

    “So I take it that’s a ‘yes’, then,” DeLeo said, at which he was met with a wave of affirmative responses. “All right, then. I’ve got a few rooms that, combined, ought to be able to hold you all. Yes, even you,” he said, pointing to Grosh. “And don’t worry: I’ll keep the AC running for you,” he added with a wink. “Sylvan, if you could show them to their rooms, please?”

    “Of course,” the sceptile said, then began to turn back toward the corridor behind them.

    “Wait,” Viraya spoke up before anyone else could follow her. “One more question.”

    DeLeo spread his arms wide. “Shoot,” he prompted.

    “…How in the hell do you know our language?” she asked. “In all my time among humans, none of them could speak it. They couldn’t speak any pokémon language.”

    “Even she couldn’t,” Evane said quietly, and her tone and eyelight told that a part of her had drifted elsewhere and elsewhen.

    DeLeo gave another smile; this one seemed less sad and more proud. “I’ve got years and years of studying under my belt,” he answered. “I practically busted my brain trying to cram it all in. But it was worth it, in the end, to be able to talk to anybody I want. Or, well, almost anybody,” he added, and that smile turned slightly wistful again.

    Solonn raised a brow at him but said nothing. Oth had proven that DeLeo wasn’t a transfigured pokémon. And it sounded as though the human had learned whichever pokémon languages he happened to know the hard way rather than by the Speech—if his words could be taken at face value. Solonn reckoned that if push came to shove, Oth could investigate things again. They could make sure DeLeo had never been in league with a certain latios or anyone else with similar ambitions.

    For the time being, as Solonn finally followed Sylvan away with the rest of the party, he silently reminded himself to keep his own linguistic talents under wraps.